Shimon Peres obituary: Peacemaker or war criminal?

Jonathan Cook writes: Famously in the late 1990s, [Shimon] Peres [the last major figure in Israel’s founding generation, who died today, age 93] made the mistake of asking a Labour party convention whether he was a “loser”. The delegates roared back: “Yes”.

Over two decades, Peres lost five elections in which he stood for prime minister.

Although he served in the top job on two occasions, he never won a popular mandate.

He briefly took over from Rabin after the latter was felled in 1995 by an assassin’s bullet. He was also prime minister in an unusual rotation agreement with his Likud rival Yitzhak Shamir after neither secured a parliamentary majority in the 1984 election.

Unlike Rabin and Ariel Sharon, two figures of his generation who enjoyed greater political acclaim, Peres suffered in part because he had not first made a name for himself in the Israeli army, Ezrahi observed.

He was seen as more uninspiring technocrat than earthy warrior.

Even on Israel’s left, said Roni Ben Efrat, an Israeli political analyst and editor of the website Challenge, he was viewed as an opportunist.

“His real obsession was with his own celebrity and prestige,” she said. “What he lacked was political principle. There was an air about him of plotting behind everyone’s backs. He was certainly no Nelson Mandela.”

Rabin, who tussled regularly with Peres for leadership of the Labour party, called him an “inveterate schemer”.

With Rabin’s victory in 1992, Peres was appointed number two and returned to what he did best: backroom deals, in this case a peace track in Norway that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

When Rabin was assassinated two years later, it was assumed that Peres would romp home in the general election a short time later, riding a wave of sympathy over Rabin’s death.

Instead he lost to Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who profited from the right’s campaign to discredit the peace process and its architects as “Oslo criminals”.

Peres would see out much of his remaining time in frontline politics providing a veneer of international respectability to right-wing Sharon governments through the second Intifada as they crushed the Palestinian leadership and built a steel and concrete barrier through the West Bank. [Continue reading…]

Anshel Pfeffer writes: Perhaps the final irony of Shimon Peres’ life was that his last act in the service of peace, remains secret and undocumented. As an octogenarian president, he observed the conventions of the ceremonial office and refrained from openly intervening in politics. That didn’t stop the commanders of the army and chiefs of the intelligence services turning to him for advice when they felt their political masters were dangerously wrong. Towards the end of his seven-year term, he was the secret leader of the faction within the defence establishment that successfully worked to block the plans of Netanyahu, the prime minister and the defence minister Ehud Barak to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, before it could build an atomic bomb.

Ultimately he had to rely on the generals and spy chiefs to avert war. He never convinced ordinary Israelis to make the same leap of faith he had. [Continue reading…]


Donald Trump links his Mexico border wall plan to Israel’s ‘successful’ Apartheid wall


The Guardian reports: Donald Trump attempted to draw parallels between Israel’s separation barrier and his much-touted border wall pledge on Sunday after both presidential nominees met the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Trump’s hour-long meeting with Netanyahu at his Trump Tower penthouse, the two reportedly discussed “at length Israel’s successful experience with a security fence that helped secure its borders”, according to the Trump campaign.

Israel’s separation barrier, which runs for 440 miles (700km) near or along the 1949 armistice lines set after Israel’s war for independence, is a fence of most of its length. In contrast, Trump has pledged to build a wall of concrete and rebar as high as 55 feet (17 metres) along the nearly 2,000 mile border between the US and Mexico.

The meeting was the first of two that Netanyahu held with presidential candidates on Sunday, the day before the first presidential debate. Contrary to custom both meetings were closed to the media, the Trump campaign has prevented reporters from any access to his meeting with Netanyahu and aides to the Israeli prime minister reportedly went on to insist Clinton’s campaign abide by the same rules Trump insisted upon.

According to a readout provided by the Republican’s campaign, the nominee signaled support for the controversial moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the real estate developer “acknowledged that Jerusalem has been the eternal capital of the Jewish people for over 3,000 years, and that the United States, under a Trump administration, will finally accept the long-standing Congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel”. [Continue reading…]


Powell acknowledges Israel’s nuclear arsenal

Eli Clifton reports: According to hacked emails reviewed by LobeLog, Former Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged Israel’s nuclear arsenal, an open secret that U.S. and Israeli politicians typically refuse to acknowledge as part of Israel’s strategy of “nuclear ambiguity.” Powell also rejected assessments that Iran, at the time, was “a year away” from a nuclear weapon.

The emails, released by the hacking group DCLeaks, show Powell discussing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech before a joint meeting of Congress with his business partner, Jeffrey Leeds.

Leeds summarizes Netanyahu as having “said all the right things about the president and all the things he has done to help Israel. But basically [he] said this deal sucks, and the implication is that you have to be an idiot not to see it.”

Powell responded that U.S. negotiators can’t get everything they want from a deal. But echoing a point that many Iran hawks have questioned, Powell said that Israel’s nuclear arsenal and rational self-interest make the construction and testing of an Iranian nuclear weapon a highly unlikely policy choice for Iran’s leaders. [Continue reading…]


U.S. will provide Israel with more military aid than ever provided to any country

The Washington Post reports: Israel and the United States have reached an agreement that will provide Israel an unprecedented amount of military aid over a decade.

The State Department said the agreement, known as a memo of understanding, will be signed Wednesday afternoon. Jacob Nagel, Israel’s acting national security adviser, arrived in Washington on Tuesday morning to sign on behalf of his country.

The agreement is expected to give Israel as much as $3.8 billion a year over 10 years, more aid than the United States has ever provided to any country. That represents a significant increase over the $3.1 billion the United States gives annually now, a figure that increases to about $3.5 billion a year with aid supplements approved by Congress. That is also much lower than the $4 billion to $5 billion a year that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought. [Continue reading…]


Russia says Palestinian, Israeli leaders agree to meet

Al Jazeera reports: Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed “in principle” to meet in Moscow in what Russia hopes will relaunch Middle East peace talks after more than two years’ break, according to the Russian foreign ministry.

While it is not clear when the meeting will take place, Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, said on Thursday Moscow had heard from the offices of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the two agreed to meet in the Russian capital.

“The leaders of Palestine and Israel have given their general consent to meet in Russia,” Zakharova told reporters.

“The most important thing is to pick the right timing,” she added. “Intensive contacts on this are ongoing.”

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Jamjoom, reporting from Moscow, said the Russian statement “hardly sounded like a sure thing at this point”, highlighting a comment by a Kremlin spokesperson on Wednesday saying that a meeting between the two sides was “not on the schedule and not on the agenda”.

Earlier this week, Abbas said a scheduled meeting in Moscow had been postponed at Israel’s request.

Abbas has said that he would only meet Netanyahu if Israel freezes settlement construction on occupied lands and carries out a previously agreed-on release of Palestinian prisoners. [Continue reading…]


Soviet document suggests Mahmoud Abbas was a KGB spy in the 1980s

The New York Times reports: Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia may have more in common than an interest in Middle East peace talks. According to a newly discovered Soviet document, Mr. Abbas may have once worked for the K.G.B., too.

The possibility, trumpeted by the Israeli media on Wednesday night and just as quickly dismissed by Palestinian officials, emerged from a document in a British archive listing Soviet agents from 1983. A reference to Mr. Abbas is tantalizing but cryptic, just two lines identifying him by the code name “Mole.” At the end of his entry are two words: “K.G.B. agent.”

The suggestion that Mr. Abbas may have been on Moscow’s roster more than three decades ago might have been just a historical curiosity but for the fact that it comes at the same time that Mr. Putin has been trying to organize new talks between Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. A Russian envoy was in Jerusalem this week to meet with Mr. Netanyahu, but the Israeli and Palestinian leaders remain at odds and no direct talks appear imminent.

“We thought it was important now in the context of the Russian attempt to arrange a summit between Abbas and Netanyahu, particularly because of Abbas’s joint K.G.B. past with Putin,” said Gideon Remez, one of two researchers at the Truman Institute at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who found and disclosed the Soviet document to Israel’s Channel 1. (At the end of the Soviet era, Mr. Putin was a K.G.B. lieutenant colonel.)

Mr. Remez’ research partner, Isabella Ginor, said Mr. Abbas’s past was relevant because of Russia’s possible continuing influence on him. “We don’t know what happened later on and if Abu Mazen went on with his service or work for the Soviets,” she said, using another name for Mr. Abbas. “But now that he is head of the Palestinian Authority, this can be a lever on him.” [Continue reading…]


Will Israel be put on trial for war crimes?

Al Jazeera reports: Israel has agreed to allow the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to send a delegation to Israel and the occupied territories. It was revealed over the weekend in a step that could dramatically increase the risk of Israeli officials being tried for war crimes.

Emmanuel Nahshon, a foreign ministry spokesman, confirmed to Al Jazeera on Sunday that Israel had agreed to the visit in principle, though the “when and how” were still under discussion.

The ICC’s move comes as human rights groups have harshly criticised Israel for closing investigations into dozens of allegations that its military has broken the laws of war during an attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014.

The Hague prosecutors are reportedly interested in examining how effective Israel’s legal mechanisms are in investigating allegations of war crimes.

Under the terms of its founding statute, the ICC could take over jurisdiction of such probes if it is persuaded that Israel is unable or unwilling to conduct credible investigations itself. [Continue reading…]


Religious extremists shut down the Israeli railway system

The Associated Press reports: Israeli commuters began their work week Sunday with massive traffic jams and a cancellation of train service along one of the country’s busiest routes following a religious and political scuffle that had threatened to shake the governing coalition.

The crisis erupted over the weekend after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, made an 11th-hour decision to halt routine railway repairs scheduled on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Orthodox Jewish law forbids work on the Sabbath, and a religious party in the coalition had threatened to quit the government unless Netanyahu halted the repairs.

Netanyahu’s transport minister, Yisrael Katz, canceled a key train route on the Tel Aviv – Haifa line Sunday because of the delayed repairs. The government dispatched extra buses for some 90,000 affected commuters.

The resulting traffic jams offered a physical illustration of the outsized power the leadership of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish minority wields in Israeli politics.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish politicians offer Netanyahu support to stabilize his coalition, while the government carves out large budgets for ultra-Orthodox schools and seminaries. Recent reforms aimed at forcing religious youths to enlist for army service, which is compulsory for most other Jewish Israelis, have been scrapped. [Continue reading…]


As Trump vs. Clinton captivates world, Netanyahu is unusually silent

The New York Times reports: For three hours, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel held forth on all sorts of topics — on Israel and the Middle East, on his record and on his plans. One subject that Mr. Netanyahu studiously avoided in his expansive conversation with American visitors last weekend, though, was the United States election.

Much of the rest of the world is absorbed by the contest between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton, but it is a topic Mr. Netanyahu will not touch. Four years after he was accused of meddling in the American election on behalf of President Obama’s opponent, the hardly bashful Israeli leader this time has taken a virtual vow of silence.

The unusual reluctance comes after years of toxic relations between him and Mr. Obama, culminating in an acrid public feud over the American-brokered nuclear agreement with Iran. With Mr. Netanyahu seemingly aligning himself during that fight with Mr. Obama’s Republican critics, some Israel backers feared the country was squandering its traditional bipartisan support. The prime minister now seems intent on extricating himself from the partisan tussle.

“Everybody understands here in Israel that the most important thing for us is to go back to where we were for the last 68 years, which is bipartisan,” said Yair Lapid, a centrist party leader who hopes to succeed Mr. Netanyahu. “This is why nobody will take sides in a presidential campaign.”

But if Israel is staying away from the American campaign, the campaign is staying away from Israel, too. While it was an occasional topic of questioning during primary debates, it has been all but absent from the discussion in the general election.

In part, that reflects a high-octane campaign of invective that has overlooked many policy questions. But it also underscores the plethora of other issues that have seized Washington’s attention, principally the rise of the Islamic State, the war in Syria and relations with Russia. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute, once a dominant part of any White House foreign policy, seems to be slipping to a second-tier issue. [Continue reading…]


Israel launches up to 50 strikes on Gaza after rocket attack on Sderot

The Guardian reports: The Israeli military has launched dozens of strikes on Gaza in an unusually strong response to a rocket fired from Gaza that landed between two houses in the Israeli community of Sderot.

Responsibility for the rocket attack on Sunday was initially claimed by Ahfad al-Sahaba, one of the small Salafi groups – ultra-conservative Sunnis – that have recently become more active in Gaza, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It prompted a wave of up to 50 retaliatory attacks, according to Israeli military sources, hitting several of Gaza’s armed Palestinian factions.

A security source said raids targeted Hamas’s Izzedin Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s Quds Brigades and the PFLP. Artillery shells also hit the area of al-Bureij in central Gaza and Beit Hanoun in the north. Several Palestinians, including a 17-year-old boy, were reportedly wounded.

The raids broke the pattern of limited Israeli retaliation during periods of relative quiet, leading the Islamist group Hamas to accuse Israel of escalating tensions. According to reports, the Israeli response came in two waves, the first immediately after the rocket attack, the second during the night, involving three Israeli jets and tank fire. [Continue reading…]


Rights groups say Israel behind death threats campaign

Al Jazeera reports: The threats have come via emails, phone calls, and once with flowers delivered directly to the front door.

Amid months of sustained intimidation, harassment and threats, Palestinian human rights defenders are coming forward to denounce a campaign that they say aims to “plant fear” into their efforts to hold Israel accountable for human rights violations.

“This is a very organised and advanced campaign,” said Shawan Jabarin, director of Al Haq, a prominent Ramallah-based Palestinian human rights organisation.

“The goal is to stop us [from] dealing actively with the [International Criminal Court], cooperating actively with the ICC,” Jabarin told Al Jazeera. “They want to plant fear on our side … when it comes to accountability [and] when it comes to our advocacy work.” [Continue reading…]


Swiss court backs Iran in decades-old oil row with Israel, ordered to pay $1.1 billion plus interest

Reuters reports: The Swiss Federal Tribunal rejected an appeal, citing lack of due process, against an arbitration ruling last year. The verdict, dated June 27, was available on the Lausanne court’s website.

It also awarded Iran 450,000 Swiss francs ($461,302) in court costs and lawyer fees.

It remains unclear whether Israel will pay up given restrictions its “trading with the enemy” laws.

Lawyers for each side had been locked in an arbitration over the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co (EAPC), a joint venture set up in 1968, when the two nations were friendly, to transport Iranian oil to the Mediterranean.

For a decade, the pipeline successfully carried oil from the Red Sea for export to Europe. But since the Islamic revolution that brought the ayatollahs to power, Iran has been demanding its share of revenues and assets that remained in Israel.

Since the partnership collapsed, EAPC has grown into a complex of energy assets, now mostly handling oil from former Soviet states.

How much profit it has made or how much it is worth is unknown, largely because it is protected in a similar way to Israel’s intelligence agencies, including by gag orders restricting coverage of its activities. [Continue reading…]