Israeli military razes West Bank shelters built by EU


Israel razed five buildings in the West Bank constructed without permits, including three built by the European Union.

Forces from the Civil Administration tore down the buildings Tuesday in a Bedouin village near Hebron. A day earlier, three others were razed near Jericho.

The buildings taken down Tuesday housed 27 Palestinians, including 16 minors, according to the B’Tselem human rights group.

Six prefabricated homes funded by the EU in the same village were razed in April.

Regavim congratulated the Civil Administration on the demolitions, which the Israeli legal advocacy organization said occurred just days after it filed a complaint against the buildings.

“In recent years, the European Union has unilaterally built over a thousand illegal structures across Area C in violation of international law,” Regavim asserted in a statement. Area C of the West Bank is under Israeli military control.

The European Union says that providing the houses and shelters is humanitarian assistance and should not need permits from the Israeli military.

The EU, Terror and the Transparency Bill


On the 7 December 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt solemnly before the Warsaw Ghetto in contrition. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel faced annihilation, the same Willy Brandt denied German landing rights to US planes carrying emergency supplies to Israel. 

Chancellor Merkel occasionally says that Israel’s “right to exist” is Germany’s raison d’etre.

Like Willy Brandt, Germany appears to be two tongued when it comes to antisemitism. Like the EU,  Germany makes a distinction between antisemitism and objecting to Israel’s policies, which on paper seems to be fair. Thus, giving the Hitler salute and denying the Holocaust are illegal. On the other hand, the annual Iran sponsored Al Quds March through downtown Berlin, calling for the destruction of Israel is legal. Berlin constantly turns a deaf ear to appeals to ban that march.

The JCPOA (Iran Deal) was enthusiastically supported by Germany enabling Iran to fully develop its nuclear program after a decade, whilst currently testing “Death to Israel” marked missiles. However, the same Germany decided that nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes were too risky for Germans. They are to be phased out by 2022.

Germany maintains it has a “special relationship” with Israel while the EU ambassador to Israel explained that Israel is singled out because “you are one of us.”

The EU countries support various NGOs despite being termed “non-government.” Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) provides funding to NGOs as part of its foreign aid programs. Recently Prof Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor exposed the doublespeak of Germany yet further. The German government annually pays 4 million Euros to NGOs in Israel, of which 42% goes to organizations that support BDS and worse, like The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee which advocates violent riots in Judea/Samaria. The German Embassy in Tel Aviv does not deny the funding, but blandly states that Germany does not support boycotts of Israel. They donate to “organizations supporting peace.”

Some of the NGOs funded by the EU are Zochrot, Grassroots Jerusalem and Baladna Arab Youth Association, all of which are committed to getting  Palestinian refugees and their third and fourth generation descendants to “return” even though most have never been to Israel.  I have met some of these “refugees” who lead comfortable middle class lives, in Australia. They certainly do not fit the image of a refugee we see on TV. In my recent satire, “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist,” the story depicts one such comfortable refugee who, like his parents, has never been to Israel. Despite these anomalies, the EU generously funds these organizations that are dedicated to Israel’s disappearance as the Jewish State.

The EU therefore supports some organizations dedicated to Israel’s demise, while paying lip service to its “right to exist,” whatever that means. The EU, led by countries such as Germany, also supports labelling people and products from beyond the Green Line or “Auschwitz Lines” as former dovish foreign minister Abba Eban called it. Thus, while officially declining to support BDS, the same EU countries fund NGOs that do—all with a straight face.

Unlike the vicious murder of Hallel Ariel (z”l) and countless others before and after her, the EU, committed to democracy and human rights, has been “deeply concerned” about the recent transparency law passed by the Knesset, even though there is no suggestion these NGOs would be banned from practising their dubious activities. The State Department termed it “chilling,” despite its funds being surreptitiously used to help influence the outcome of Israel’s last election. In the meantime, Europe is reeling with regular terror attacks, for which Europeans cannot find an answer—except to insultingly compare Israel to Putin’s Russia and be “deeply concerned” with their fellow democracy that struggles to maintain some balance in civil rights while upholding its citizens right to life.

Israel remains a vibrant democracy despite the underhand tactics of the EU. As Europe grapples with increasing terror, their exaggerated concern with an ally threatened daily by internal and external terror is misplaced and misguided.

NGO Monitor has shown in great detail the doublespeak of the EU countries which mouth unconvincing platitudes regarding Israel’s “right to exist,” but simultaneously fund many NGOs that promote exactly the opposite.

At the end of the day, it should be remembered that the hidden agendas of many of these NGOs have little to do with “human rights” per se but more to do with providing conditions that would end  the State of Israel, by stressing the Nakba, hope, resilience and the “right of return” of refugees and their descendants.

That is why it is always worth remembering Willy Brandt 1970 and Willy Brandt 1973. It sums up Europe perfectly.

Ron Jontof-Hutter is Fellow at the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism. He recently authored of the satire “The trombone man: Tales of a misogynist.”

Revolution – Implications for Israel, for the Arab World, and the West


Since Iran became a radical Islamic Shiite state some 46 years ago, it has been recognized as a perpetrator of both regional and global terrorism. The proxy organizations that it has established have turned into terrorist armies. Hezbollah in Lebanon has, for all intents and purposes, taken control of the state.  Hamas in Gaza has been in control there for nearly nine years. The third proxy, the Houthis in Yemen, took control over all of Yemen, but last year lost half of the area under their control to the Saudis and other Arab countries. Up until a year ago, Iran was classified as the country that posed the biggest threat to the Arab world and the West alike, and, of course, to Israel.

The year 2015 will go down in history as the year when Iran's leadership managed to instigate a revolution. No, not in Iran, but in the world in general, and, in particular, among the major global powers.

The US and the EU countries, which had regarded Iran as a problem, began to regard it as a solution.

Iran is now seen as the country that will bring stability to Syria and Iraq and enable the U.S administration to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, and stabilize Yemen.

Russia and China also became swept up in this political excitement, together with the aforementioned countries, as well as with others who see Iran as a land of business opportunities for many years to come. China's president, who recently visited Iran, signed contracts to the tune of $600 billion over 10 years (2.5 trillion NIS). The European company Airbus receivied an order for 150 passenger jets for starters, out of 600 aircraft which will be ordered in the coming years. Russia has begun selling advanced model Sukhoi-30 fighter aircraft to Iran along with advanced weaponry and equipment, as have other European countries.

The Iranian arms and missile industry, which is already fairly well developed, will become a source of weapon sales to other countries in the coming years, competing with Israeli industry.

There is no sight of any sort of deal which would cause Iran to stop, or at least limit its support of the terrorist organizations it has established. Iran will continue to engage Israel with threats and terror attacks carried out by Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. All this is happening without any sign of intervention from the United States, England, France or Germany, because in their eyes, Iran is the solution to their problems in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

For those who believe this is a good opportunity for Israel to strengthen its ties with those Arab states which are also under threat from Iran, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it is important to clarify that the phrase “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, does not fly in Arabic. They have a phrase of their own: “My brother and I against my cousin, and my cousin and I against foreigners.”

Israel and Western countries will always be seen as foreign to them.

The relationship between Israel and the United States now has more importance than ever. The Iranians will now seek to exploit the situation. They have already increased their influence over countries adjacent to Israel, starting with the Palestinian Authority and then Jordan and even Egypt. Syria and Lebanon are already in very deep. Khomeini’s Islamic revolution was only Phase One of the Iranian missile. The second stage is penetration into Sunni Arab Muslim nations. And they will seek to direct the nuclear warhead which will be produced at some point, at Israel. They will want to use the Shiite warhead under construction since 1979 to strike a few countries. thus completing the revolution which Khomeini launched.

Israel's various new defense systems– the barrier wall and its components, the Arrow missiles, David's Sling and Iron Dome– are just part of the response Israel is preparing to deal with the “solution” that Iran has suddenly become.  The professional intelligence gathering performed by Israel and other countries will reveal the true face of Iran.

Hamas, which continues to build tunnels in Gaza, will eventually realize that it is digging the world’s largest terrorist  cemetery– for themselves. The Shiite Hezbollah will learn firsthand that Syria, which is predominantly populated by Sunnis, will not tolerate Assad, an Alawite, even if that will take many years. It will become clear that during a raging storm, the best place to be is in the eye of the storm. Israel will remain there safely until the countries surrounding us calm down.

Member of Knesset Avi Dichter is an Israel politican from the Likud Party. He is the former head of Shin Bet, Minister of Internal Security and Minister of Home Front Defense.

Human Rights Watch report ramps up pressure on Israeli settlement activity


The collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a year ago has led to an accelerating war of words over Israeli settlements, with Israel accusing its growing chorus of foreign critics of prejudging the final terms of a peace deal at best – and anti-Semitism at worst.

The battle heated up this week with the release of a report by Human Rights Watch arguing that doing business with West Bank settlements reinforces Israel’s presence there and contributes to human rights abuses.

The report comes a day after the European Union, which in November announced new guidelines to label Israeli exports produced in the settlements, declared that any agreement with Israel “must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

And the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, while not going nearly as far, decried Israel’s seizure of West Bank lands and what he described as a two-tiered justice system.

“Too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities; too much vigilantism goes unchecked; and at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians,” Shapiro said in a speech Monday that otherwise extolled U.S.-Israel closeness.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was infuriated by the remarks, calling them “unacceptable and incorrect.” But his wider strategy against the settlement criticism has been to lump such efforts together with the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, and liken them to the pre-Holocaust boycotts of Jewish businesses in Europe.

“Because bureaucracies or set patterns entrench themselves, and then we get the absurdity of the EU in Brussels, from European soil, labeling the products of Israeli citizens, of Jews,” Netanyahu told foreign reporters last week. “And the last time that was done on the soil of Europe was over 70 years ago.”

Israel has largely been able to stave off questions about the status of the West Bank as long as it seemed substantially engaged in the peace process. But developments this week seem to confirm warnings last year that the collapse of the peace process, followed by statements from Netanyahu on the eve of his reelection in March that appeared to reject the possibility of Palestinian statehood, would lead the United States and Europe to focus anew on the settlements, if only as a means of keeping open the option for a two-state solution.

The Human Rights Watch report argues plainly that trading with the settlements entrenches Israel in the West Bank and makes businesses a partner in the oppression of the Palestinians. It recommends that businesses “avoid financing, administering or otherwise supporting settlements or settlement-related activities and infrastructure, such as through contracting to purchase settlement-manufactured goods or agricultural produce, to ensure the businesses are not indirectly contributing to and benefiting from such activities.”

The report cites an example of how bringing attention to Israeli practices in the West Bank can impede them. Human Rights Watch contacted a factory in a West Bank settlement that its researchers found provided linens for an American retailer and was underpaying its Palestinian laborers.

“During the conversations that followed, the factory agreed to close its operations in Barkan and locate to new facilities inside Israel,” the group reported, without naming the parties.

“We are not looking for problems,” Human Rights Watch quoted the factory’s co-owner as telling the group. “It seems it really bothers people that we’re there, so we’ll leave.”

Centrist and right-wing pro-Israel groups insist that such efforts to target settlements are aimed at setting the terms of a final peace deal. In December, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee posted a lengthy analysis of the European Union’s decision on settlement labeling.

“The EU’s action — taken outside the context of peace negotiations — is designed to impose Brussels’ vision of Israel’s future borders,” said AIPAC, a prominent pro-Israel lobby. “These commercial attacks against Israel increase the prospect of isolating the Jewish state, while strengthening its most vitriolic critics and slowing the pursuit of peace.”

The fight over settlements is also playing out in Congress and state houses. AIPAC has garnered bipartisan support through congressional statements rejecting attempts to single out settlements. And several state-level legislative moves to target BDS explicitly include attempts to distinguish the settlements.

Pro-Israel groups on the left argue that such efforts are mutually self-defeating. Attempts to isolate settlements are a good thing, they say, as they help neutralize the wider BDS movement.

“A more accurate labeling system, as Israel never annexed the West Bank, will allow European residents to make purchases according to ideological considerations,” Americans for Peace Now said at the time of the European labeling decision. “This system will help curb efforts to boycott Israel entirely, such as those advocated by the BDS movement.”

With Israeli-EU relations strained, Netanyahu looks toward Asia


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, sat kiddy-corner in armchairs at this week’s international climate summit near Paris, talking and laughing.

“We have the best of relations, and they can be made even better,” Netanyahu told Modi at the meeting.

To which Modi responded, “I am happy that often we can talk easily on telephone, we can discuss everything.”

A brief encounter between Netanyahu and European Union foreign policy envoy Federica Mogherini was far frostier. Mogherini approached Netanyahu in the hallway, and they shared little more than a handshake.

The contrast reflects an Israeli warming to the East, just as its relations with Europe have cooled amid disagreements over the peace process and Iran’s nuclear program. In recent years, trade between Israel and Asia has shot up, while Israel and Asian powers have made diplomatic overtures toward each other. And even as Israel’s strongest diplomatic ties remain with the West, there are signs of a pivot eastward.

Israel is considering “an eastern option if things don’t go the right way with Europe and the United States,” Alon Liel, a former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told JTA. “In the last year and a half, there wasn’t a peace process, and in Europe there was disappointment that there wasn’t a peace process.”

Israel has long had amicable relations with Europe, ranging from defense cooperation to economics. Today, the European Union collectively is Israel’s biggest export destination, and Israel competes in European athletic and cultural competitions such as soccer tournaments and the Eurovision musical competition.

The ties are also historical. Israel was founded on the European model of a democratic nation-state. Many of Israel’s citizens are of European descent.

Recently, those ties have deteriorated. Israel almost withdrew from the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, which funds scientific research and innovation,  due to a disagreement about funding projects in West Bank settlements. And it bristled at a French proposal this year to have the United Nations Security Council oversee Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

European-Israeli relations are at a low point now over recently released EU guidelines to label goods produced in Israeli settlements. Israel has lambasted the guidelines as approaching a boycott. In response, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has cut off all coordination with EU institutions on issues related to the peace process.

“We regret that the EU has chosen, for political reasons, to take such an exceptional and discriminatory step, inspired by the boycott movement,” read a Foreign Ministry statement on the labeling guidelines. “This recent step raises questions regarding the role that the EU aspires to play.”

Israeli relations with Asia, meanwhile, have been on the upswing. Israeli exports to Asian countries tripled between 2004 and 2014, totaling $16.7 billion last year — one-fifth of Israel’s total exports. Last year, Asia surpassed the United States as Israel’s second-biggest export destination behind Europe.

Meanwhile, Japan didn’t sell its cars in Israel until the 1990s in order to avoid a boycott in the Arab world. But last year, trade between Japan and Israel rose nearly 10 percent, to $1.75 billion. Israel also increased government grants for joint Israeli-Japanese research by 50 percent this year. Netanyahu also met with Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe in Paris this week.

Israel and China, which established formal relations only in 1992, are working on a free-trade agreement, and Netanyahu created an Israel-China task force within his office this year. Last year, Israel had a so-called “China Week,” when a variety of Chinese government officials and business leaders visited Israel.

India’s Modi has said he plans to visit as well. Meanwhile, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee traveled to Jerusalem in October, becoming the highest-ranking Indian official ever to come to Israel.

“We are very deeply part of the West in many, many ways, but we look to the East,” Netanyahu said at the state dinner during Mukherjee’s visit. “We appreciate Europe, but we admire Asia.”

In 2013, then-Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said during a visit to China that increased trade could open an avenue for “economic diplomacy” with the world’s most populous country. As opposed to Europe, Bennett said, Chinese companies don’t let the Israeli-Arab conflict get in the way of business.

“They never once asked us about the Arabs, or the Palestinians, or the occupation, or the shmoccupation, or anything else,” he said in a video statement. “The only thing that interests them is Israeli high-tech and Israeli innovation.”

India abstained from endorsing the U.N. report on last year’s war in Gaza, which accused Israel of possible war crimes. All European countries on the U.N. Human Rights Council, meanwhile, endorsed the report.

But analysts caution that Israel should not view India and China as alternatives diplomatically to Europe and the United States. Before Modi took office last year, India had historically been pro-Palestinian, supporting Palestinian causes in the United Nations, and Asian nations have generally taken less of an interest than Europe and the United States in Israeli foreign affairs.

While the U.S. has a longstanding policy of vetoing anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. Security Council, China typically votes against Israel. Given the size of China’s economy, analysts say a few more billion dollars in Israeli trade likely won’t mean a Chinese veto.

“Economic relations are driven by the business sector, not because the government wants to give priority,” said Oded Eran, the former director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “We need to remember that China and India are very pragmatic, but they haven’t changed — and I doubt if they will change their vote in the U.N. because of improved economic relations.”

Hungary will not label West Bank products, its foreign minister says


Hungary will not label separately products made in the West Bank or the Golan Heights, its foreign minister said.

Peter Szijjarto, who is also Hungary’s trade minister, said on an overnight visit to Israel that the European Union’s guidelines for labeling goods that originate in Jewish settlements are “irrational” and do not contribute to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Szijjarto announced his country’s opposition to the labeling guidelines on Monday morning at the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, according to reports. Also attending the council meeting was Lars Faaborg Andersen, the head of the EU delegation in Israel.

Szijjarto also called the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night “a strong wake-up call for European politicians.”

Referencing the current refugee crisis, which he said should be called a “mass immigration,” Szijjarto said, “We must make serious decisions to protect our people because we are currently defenseless. We must get back the ability to control our borders. We should not be speaking about how to manage migration, but how to help these people to stay at home.”

He called on the European Union to strengthen its cooperation with Israel in fighting terrorism, citing Israel’s experience, knowledge and technology, according to The Jerusalem Post.

EU diplomats protest Israel’s plan to demolish Palestinian town


Diplomats from all 28 European member states’ Jerusalem consulate traveled to the Palestinian town of Susiya to protest Israel’s decision to demolish it.

The delegation visited the town in the Hebron hills on Monday and urged Israel not to evict its 300 residents, saying that the move would reduce the possibility of achieving a two-state solution, theTelegraph (UK) reported.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled last month that the Civil Administration, Israel’s military governing authority in the West Bank, had the right to demolish Palestinian homes in Susiya because they had been built without permission.

The town’s residents argue that they had no choice but to build illegally because the Civil Administration rarely grants permits to Palestinians in the West Bank’s Area C, a zone officially controlled by the Israel Defense Forces as per the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

John Gatt-Rutter, the EU’s representative in Jerusalem, said Susiya had become “a byword for a policy that has deprived Palestinians of their land and resources,” according to the Telegraph.

Hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians from the group Combatants for Peace demonstrated in Susiya on June 5, a day that the Palestinians call the Naksa, or “setback,” commemorating their loss of land in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Europe wants central role in Middle East peace, Mogherini says


The European Union wants a more active role in seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the bloc's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday on the eve of her first visit to the region.

Six months into her tenure, the 41-year-old former Italian foreign minister is eager to leverage Europe's position as Israel's biggest trade partner and as the Palestinians' main aid donor after last year's failure by the United States to make progress in the latest efforts to broker a two-state peace deal.

“My very early visit has a political meaning,” Mogherini told a news conference following an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels where she discussed the Middle East.

“The European Union is ready and willing to play a major role in a relaunching of this process on the basis of the two-state solution.”

Some EU diplomats believe Mogherini, who meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday and Thursday, sees a chance for EU diplomacy in the absence of a major new push from Washington as President Barack Obama approaches his final 18 months in office.

However, the 28-nation bloc faces deep internal divisions over the Middle East. Many Palestinians see the United States as too close to Israel, while the Jewish state is wary of EU governments it views as too tolerant of Palestinian militants.

Criticized in Israel for past contacts with Palestinian leaders, Mogherini said on Monday she wanted to listen to both sides, especially following right-winger Netanyahu's formation of a new coalition government.

Some European states have grown impatient with Netanyahu, especially over continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Some have recently recognized a Palestinian state, while last week the Vatican decided to recognize the state of Palestine in a treaty for the first time.

Mogherini refused to be drawn on alternatives to the decades-old quest for a two-state solution:

“One thing is clear to everyone in the region,” she said. “That the status quo is not an option.”

Vatican, FIFA, EU put Israel in center of diplomatic storm


This story originally appeared on The Media Line.

The Palestinian decision to internationalize their conflict with Israel seems to be paying off as Israel is coming under diplomatic pressure on several fronts at the same time. The Vatican decision to recognize “Palestine” as a state, an expected French-sponsored resolution to the United Nations Security Council, and the possible expulsion of Israel from FIFA, the international soccer federation, are creating the sense that Israel is losing the diplomatic battle.

“There is a sense of erosion,” a senior Israeli official told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “We see more and more countries and organizations buying into the unilateral logic of the Palestinians.”

But he warned, ultimately it will not be possible to create a Palestinian state without Israeli approval.

“No matter how much the Palestinians obtain in declarations and international organizations it can’t replace negotiations,” he said. “Palestinians have given up on negotiations and we believe it’s a huge mistake.”

The latest decision by the Vatican to sign a treaty with the state of “Palestine”, concerning the Holy See’s activities in the Palestinian Authority, comes before a weekend meeting between the Pope and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. It is an important symbolic move by the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. At the UN, the Vatican and Palestine are both considered non-member observer states. In a statement, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the decision.

“The significance of this decision goes beyond the political and legal into the symbolic and moral domains and sends a message to all people of conscience that the Palestinian people deserve the right to self-determination, formal recognition, freedom, and statehood,” she said in a statement.

Some Israeli analysts said the move by the Vatican, while purely symbolic, was nevertheless important.

“It’s a big deal because the Pope is the spiritual leader of hundreds of millions of Christians,” Eytan Gilboa of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “Christians are being murdered all over the Middle East but what is important for him is the particular recognition of Palestine.”

But others said that Israel should be more concerned about its relationship with the US, then with the Vatican.

“This has basically been Vatican policy all along,” Amiel Ungar, an Israeli commentator. “The big enchilada is how much the Obama administration is behind the European moves.”

France is expected to soon present a new resolution to the UN Security Council to recognize Palestine. In the past, the US has vetoed all such resolutions, but after the election of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said it will “reassess” that decision.

The guidelines of Netanyahu’s new government does not include any mention of a Palestinian state, a change from the previous government. A group of former European leaders and diplomats has called for more pressure on Israel, and charges that EU political and financial aid has achieved nothing but the “preservation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza”.

At the same time, the Palestinians have been campaigning in FIFA, the international football federation, to suspend Israel’s membership or to level sanctions on Israel for limiting the free movement of Palestinian soccer players and refusing them permission to travel abroad. The 200 national leagues in FIFA are expected to vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.

All of this is expected to lead to growing international pressure on Israel, but it could also end up backfiring and encouraging Palestinians to stay away from the negotiating table.

“Israel has only three cards it can use with the Palestinians – giving up territory, international recognition, and the release of Palestinian prisoners,” Eytan Gilboa said. “But if they get the recognition without any negotiations, what motivation do they have to negotiate with Israel?”

Leaked report: EU may sanction Israel over settlements


Sanctions may be imposed on Israel for its increased settlement in the eastern part of Jerusalem, a leaked European Union report warns.

The report, as described by the Guardian on Friday, blames Israeli settlement in eastern Jerusalem for a “vicious cycle of violence … increasingly threatening the viability of the two-state solution.” It said Jerusalem is more divided than at any time since 1967, when Israel assumed control of the city in the aftermath of the Six-Day War.

Among the EU report’s recommendations are restrictions on “known violent settlers and those calling for acts of violence as regards immigration regulations in EU member states.” The report also discourages European businesses from working with new Israeli settlements.

The report comes just days after the reelection of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the lead-up to the vote said in an interview that as prime minister he would not allow the formation of a Palestinian state. He was criticized as well for urging his supporters to vote by saying that “droves” of Arab-Israelis were voting.

Throughout his campaign, Netanyahu repeatedly vowed to continue building settlements in eastern Jerusalem.

Following Netanyahu’s statements and reelection, the Obama administration has indicated that it may change its strategy toward achieving a two-state solution.

Stick to Israeli settlement guidelines, ex-European leaders urge EU


Former European officials and heads of state called on the European Union not to relax new guidelines on Israeli settlements.

Fifteen members of the European Eminent Persons Group sent a letter Monday to EU foreign ministers urging them to keep in place the guidelines, which make Israeli entities and activities in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights ineligible for EU grants and prizes.

Last week, the EU sent to Israel a diplomatic team to talk to Israeli officials about implementing the guidelines.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on the European Union to postpone their implementation, saying it would help facilitate the restarted peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The letter specifically references the Horizon 2020 program to promote scientific research and development. Israel is the only non-European country that has been asked to join the prestigious program and talks on Israel’s signing already are underway.

“With great concern we have taken note of recent calls to delay, modify or even suspend the European Commission guidelines on funding of Israeli entities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967,” the letter read. “We urge you to uphold this commitment by supporting the guidelines and their full application by EU institutions, notably in regard to the ongoing negotiations about Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020.”

The letter suggests that softening the guidelines would “undermine the Palestinians’ trust in the negotiation process and their ability to continue the talks.”

In response to the letter, the European Jewish Congress called the guidelines “discriminatory” and said the letter “is a danger to peace, as it hands one side a political victory without having to compromise and deepens the Palestinian feeling that they can gain more outside of negotiations than in them.”

The European Union has argued that the guidelines put into writing a long-standing policy.

Powerless West gropes for way to sway Egypt


Having failed to dissuade Egypt's military-dominated rulers from launching a bloody crackdown on supporters of an ousted Islamist president, Western governments are venting condemnation and groping for ways to influence the outcome.

The United States and the European Union tried jointly to facilitate a peaceful, political solution to the stand-off between the army and toppled President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, appealing right to the end to avoid violence.

“What could we have done otherwise?” asked Menzies Campbell, a senior lawmaker in Britain's Liberal Democrats, junior partner in the government coalition. “It just emphasizes not so much a failure of Western diplomacy, but a powerlessness.

“These divisions are absolutely fundamental, about the kind of society that each side of the argument wishes to have,” Campbell told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The inability to sway military strongman General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the security establishment leaves the West in quandary as to how to square its democratic principles with a vital interest in stability in the Arab world's most populous nation, straddling the Suez Canal trade corridor.

“The West needs to find a calibrated way of suspending aid and economic benefits that shows the non-military political class, including the business community, that they will pay a price in things that matter to them,” said Daniel Levy, Middle East director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a policy think-tank.

The United States, which has maintained a strategic alliance with Cairo since President Jimmy Carter engineered the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty between Egypt and the Jewish state in 1979, deplored the violence and urged restraint and a political solution.

President Barack Obama strongly condemned the steps taken by Egypt's government and announced on Thursday the cancellation of a major joint military exercise with Egypt, in a symbolic blow to the pride of the Egyptian armed forces.

Facing growing pressure in Congress to curtail the $1.3 billion in annual military assistance to Egypt, the president said he was studying further steps that could be necessary in the relationship with Cairo.

That aid, mainly in the form of arms sales, pales when compared with the $12 billion that Gulf monarchies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait promised Cairo as soon as the army ousted Morsi on July 3 in response to mass protests.

Obama added that Washington wanted to be a long-term partner with Egypt and was guided by national interests in this long-standing relationship.

“BREATHE DOWN ARMY'S NECK”

“The correct reaction now is for America to be breathing down the neck of the army, saying they'll stop the money tomorrow,” said Britain's Campbell, a veteran member of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.

“That won't make the slightest difference to the capability of the army … I wouldn't do it publicly, but I certainly would be saying in private 'do you realize that all this support could be in jeopardy?'”

The Obama administration has few other levers it can pull, having upset conservative Gulf states by embracing Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings, and given the Democratic president's known aversion to U.S. intervention in the Middle East.

Washington and European allies could stop the International Monetary Fund from lending to Egypt, but talks on a $4.8 billion package broke down under Morsi and the new interim government has said securing IMF funds is not its priority.

A visit by outspoken Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham to Cairo last week, intended to help pull Egypt back from the brink, seemed to backfire, enabling the military to rally public opinion against “foreign interference”.

Obama began his term trying to repair ties with the Arab and Muslim world, severely damaged by U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. After initial hesitancy it embraced the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that toppled several autocrats including veteran U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

But Washington appears to have ended up with the worst of both worlds, blamed by many Egyptians for having supported Morsi while being accused by the Muslim Brotherhood of being an accomplice to a military coup against the freely-elected leader.

Levy said General Sisi had either concluded that the United States was bluffing and would not dare suspend aid because of the Israel treaty, or that the amount involved was insignificant compared with Gulf funding for Egypt.

“CIVIL WAR”?

In Europe, French President Francois Hollande found the strongest words to condemn Wednesday's crackdown, in which at least 525 people were killed according to official figures, although the Brotherhood says more than four times that died.

Hollande personally summoned the Egyptian ambassador – a rare diplomatic event – to condemn the use of force and demand “an immediate halt to repression”, saying everything must be done “to avoid civil war”, an official statement said.

Paris also said it would raise the crackdown at the United Nations, although French officials acknowledged that Russia and China, which have obstructed U.N. action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, would probably block any Security Council action on Egypt, arguing that it is an internal matter.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the EU's chances of influencing events in Egypt were extremely limited as hardliners in command in Cairo seemed intent on pursuing a tough course.

The EU would need to look over its aid programs to Egypt, he told Reuters, but economic sanctions would probably have little political impact.

He also saw no room for EU mediation at the moment. “I think the possibilities that might have been there a week or two ago have been blown off completely by what's happened. I think there will be a period of severe repression and problems,” he said.

However, Bildt opposed cold-shouldering Cairo. “Even during that period we should try to keep channels of communication open to all sectors in order to be there once it's possible to do something,” he said.

EU sanctions are often easier to start than to lift, given the requirement for unanimity in decision making.

Jonathan Eyal, director of international studies at Britain's RUSI think-tank, said the worst response would be for the West to retreat into a mood of “self-righteous indignation”.

Suspending aid should be a prelude to trying to engage the Egyptian military with the aim of persuading Sisi to avoid what Eyal called the “ultimate nightmare” of outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood, driving it underground and holding “make-believe elections” that would preclude any compromise in the future.

The ECFR's Levy said the EU should set in motion a process that could lead to the suspension of its association agreement with Egypt, potentially stripping Cairo of trade preferences as well as financial aid, which is relatively small and mostly on hold anyway.

Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said the 28-nation bloc was likely to hold an emergency meeting of foreign ministers next Monday or Tuesday to consider action on Egypt after its mediation efforts failed.

Levy said calibrated, rolling sanctions could strengthen the hand of EU envoy Bernardino Leon and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns in pressing Egypt's rulers for a return to the path of democracy and civilian rule.

Leon said the mediators had put forward not a complete peace plan but a series of mutual confidence building measures, starting with prisoner releases, that could have led to a negotiated settlement to the stand-off.

“I am convinced that there was a political alternative,” he told Reuters. Liberal Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei said the same when he resigned over the crackdown on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by William James in London, Anna Ringstrom and Alistair Scrutton in Stockholm, John Irish and Alexandria Sage in Paris and Arshad Mohammed and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by David Stamp

Israel will not sign EU agreements with settlement guidelines


Israel reportedly wants modifications in the European Union’s new guidelines barring funding for ventures in the occupied territories before it signs any new agreements with the EU.

The decision to ask the EU to reword, or “clarify,” the guidelines was made Thursday at a meeting at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv called by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attended by government ministers, Haaretz reported.

The European Commission last month announced new guidelines making Israeli entities and activities in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights ineligible for EU grants and prizes.

The guidelines are a follow-up to a decision made by the foreign ministers of EU member states at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Dec. 10 in which they said that “all agreements between the State of Israel and the European Union must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, namely the Golan Heights, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

Netanyahu will speak to Ashton in order to inform her of the results of Thursday’s meeting, according to Haaretz. Israeli officials are set to meet next week with EU representatives over one of the agreements, the Horizon 2020 program to promote scientific research and development. Israel is the only non-European country that has been asked to join the prestigious program.

Israel will condition the signing of the agreement and future agreements on changes in the wording of the guidelines.

Among the changes that will be requested, according to Haaretz, are: to drop the demand that Israeli groups be required to submit a written declaration to the EU foundations that they have no direct or indirect connections with groups in the territories; to remove the stipulation that an indirect connection to the settlements makes Israeli groups ineligible for EU grants and loans; and to drop the territorial clause in the agreement, which states that Israel recognizes that it is not sovereign beyond the 1967 lines and that the agreement does not apply to those areas.

The European Union has said it will not cancel, modify or delay the implementation of the guidelines published last month. They are set to take effect in January 2014.

The EU also plans to introduce special labeling for products made in the settlements by the end of this year.

Why Israel-Palestinian peace talks will fail


The conventional wisdom is that the revived Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are doomed to fail. The popular reason cited is that “the maximum the Israelis can offer is less than the minimum the Palestinians can accept.” 

From a pragmatic view, that may well be true, but I think there’s an underlying emotional reason why these talks are doomed to continue the failures of the past.

No one wants to negotiate — let alone compromise — with a thief.

For several decades now, the Palestinians have successfully sold the world and themselves on the narrative that Israel stole their land. This has given them zero incentive to compromise.

Over time, as this unchallenged narrative has taken on the aura of accepted truth, it has undermined all attempts to reach a final peace agreement, as well as expose Israel to a global campaign of boycotts and condemnations.

To make matters worse, whenever there is more settlement construction, the perceived level of “criminality” has only gone up.

I get why Israel never made a big deal of challenging the “illegal occupation” narrative. Because it has already shown its willingness to dismantle settlements for the sake of peace, it probably figured, “Why bring up this red herring? What purpose would it serve?”

Israel’s mistake was to overlook a crucial  truth of the Middle East: Honor trumps all. If you don’t defend your honor, you’re worthy of contempt, not respect. It’s not a coincidence that Palestinian leaders have consistently used contemptuous language in accusing Israel of every possible sin.

Concentrating on pragmatic issues while ignoring this emotional poison is like cooking a rotten fish with a tasty tomato sauce. Eventually, you’re bound to bite into the fish.

We saw another example last week of how dismissive the Jewish world can be about defending Israel’s honor.

A petition signed by 1,000 jurists from around the world was delivered to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton asserting that the E.U. is wrong in holding that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are illegal, and that the term “1967 lines” does not exist in international law.

Remarkably, I couldn’t find any mention of this initiative in the Jewish media, except for the right-wing Israeli news site Arutz Sheva.  No coverage in the mainstream media; no supportive statements from major Jewish organizations.

The jurists who signed are certainly no slouches. As reported on Arutz Sheva, among the signatories are former Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman, former U.N. Ambassador Meir Rosen, Britain’s Baroness Ruth Deech, and law professors Eliav Shochetman and Talia Einhorn, as well as legal scholars from more than 20 countries around the world.

It’s well known that when prominent Jews release public statements encouraging Israel to make “courageous concessions for peace,” they get major coverage.

But apparently, when prominent jurists release a statement defending Israel’s honor, it’s not even worth a news mention.

Even if you’re a J Street-supporting peacenik whose definition of Mashiach is the two-state solution, this state of affairs should trouble you. It’s bad for peace.

However impractical you might think it is to defend Israel’s honor and assert her land rights, in this case there is one very practical advantage: If you have a legal right to the land, it makes your concessions worth something. The concessions of a thief are worthless. 

Sadly and ironically, Israel could have made a compelling legal case regarding her land rights. The settlements may be a bad idea, but that hardly makes them illegal. 

As the man behind the initiative, Alan Baker, explained to Arutz Sheva, “It is true that most of the world thinks so [that the settlements are illegal], but that does not make it true legally. Legally, the clause in the Geneva Convention that they use to say that settlements are illegal was not intended to refer to cases like our settlements, but to prevent the forced transfer of populations by the Nazis. This is not relevant to the Israeli settlements.”

Baker is Israel’s former ambassador to Canada and legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, who was also a member of the three-person committee headed by former Supreme Court Judge Edmond Levy, which pronounced last year that Judea and Samaria were not occupied territory.

Beyond the issue of the strategic or moral wisdom of Israeli settlements, the Levy committee showed there’s plenty of evidence supporting Israel’s legal right to settle the disputed land — including binding international agreements that predate the United Nations and were never abrogated.

In their well-intentioned zeal to challenge the wisdom of these settlements, the pro-Israel peace camp has tragically reinforced the enemy’s narrative that the settlements are a criminal enterprise. The real tragedy is that it’s probably too late now to correct this libelous narrative.

At this moment, it’s clear that external conditions — such as the presence of Hamas, the wide gap between the parties and the instability of the region — mitigate against the success of the peace talks.

But we should never underestimate the power of internal, emotional conditions.

Because even if external conditions were to improve, one human truth will remain: As long as you enter negotiations with the mark of “thief” on your forehead, good luck trying to get the other side to compromise.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

EU envoy targets settlements


Israel’s settlement building is increasingly isolating the country in Europe, leading to European Union policies that could reinforce Israel’s delegitimization, according to the top EU representative to the peace process.

Andreas Reinicke, the EU’s special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said increasing frustration with the settlement movement is leading Europe to adopt policies that single out Israel for punitive measures.

In a June 5 interview at the EU’s Washington mission, Reinicke, in town for meetings with counterparts in the Obama administration, cited two policies in particular: increased levies on goods manufactured in West Bank settlements, which already are in place, and labeling to distinguish products manufactured in Israel from those in the West Bank, which is under consideration.

“What the Europeans feel compelled to do is to make clear that our political position, our understanding of the territory of the State of Israel, which is the borders of 1967 including West Jerusalem, has to be reflected in our legal relationship between Israel and the European Union,” he said.

Reinicke said the European establishment overwhelmingly opposes actions that isolate Israel as a whole, noting for instance the decision by British physicist Stephen Hawking to boycott a conference in Israel this summer.

“The vast majority,” he began, then corrected himself. “Everybody is against this,” he said, referring to the boycott and divestment movement.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the policies distinguishing settlement products from Israeli products reinforce the movement to isolate and delegitimize Israel.

“The danger is there,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good development.”

Reinicke suggested that the labeling policy would soon be adopted.

“The number of foreign ministers who are supporting this are increasing,” he said. “This is a development we should look at, which is not a good development.

“It is almost impossible to explain to any European why settlement is continuing all the time. It is difficult to explain to Europeans why increased settlement activities mean an increase of security for the State of Israel.”

The pessimistic scenario outlined by Reinicke echoed similar warnings this week from John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, and from the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, one of Israel’s staunchest friends on the continent.

“Yes, the United States of America will always have Israel’s back,” Kerry said in remarks to the American Jewish Committee on June 3. “We will always stand up for Israel’s security. But wouldn’t we both be stronger if we had some more company? “

Also addressing the AJC, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg described an erosion of support for Israel in Europe.

“Alarm among Israel’s foreign partners about the continued expansion of Jewish residential areas beyond the Green Line, steadily eroding the size and contiguity of the residual non-Jewish territories, often seems to be felt in Israel as a political nuisance to be overcome rather than a serious questioning of Israel’s political credibility,” he said.

The Czech Republic was the only European nation to join the United States and Israel last year in opposing the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid to enhance its United Nations status to non-member state observer.

Most of the other 27 members of the European Union abstained on the vote. Asked why Europe does not treat the Palestinian Authority’s quest for statehood recognition absent negotiations with Israel with the same seriousness that it opposes settlement expansion, Reinicke said it was hard for European nations to adamantly oppose a diplomatic maneuver.

“We think that the Palestinians should come to the negotiating table without preconditions,” he said. “We had a strong discussion and very, very intensive discussions among the Europeans about how to move. But the bottom line, it is a sort of diplomatic activity. It is peaceful, not a violent one.”

He expressed coolness about a plan advanced by Kerry to seek $4 billion in private investment for the Palestinian areas, noting that economic conditions — in particular the ability to move people and goods about freely — are more important than money.

Kerry’s investment plan, which a number of Republicans in Congress have rejected, won a hearty endorsement from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Reinicke suggested that Europe would soon join the United States in designating Hezbollah — or at least its military wing — as a terrorist entity, which would curtail the Lebanon-based terrorist group’s fundraising on the continent.

“If you see the public statements of the major foreign ministers,” he said, “I think there is a move in this direction.” 

Kerry says Israelis, Palestinians must make tough decisions


Israeli and Palestinian leaders must decide soon on whether to revive long-dormant peace negotiations to end their decades-old conflict, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.

Ending two days of meetings in the region, Kerry said he had had “very productive” talks. But there were no obvious signs of any breakthrough, with neither side offering the sort of compromises needed to end a three-year stalemate.

“We are reaching the time where leaders need to make hard decisions,” Kerry said at the end of his fourth visit to the region in barely two months as he struggles to overcome deeply entrenched positions that have snarled the peace process.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has held separate talks in Israel and the Palestinian territories to voice support for Kerry, told reporters in Jerusalem he had not yet seen any significant progress.

“I don't think we are in a position to say that the necessary compromises have been made,” he said.

“Unless bold leadership is there to make the most of this opportunity, then we face a bleak situation in the Middle East,” he added, warning that time was running out to secure an independent nation for the Palestinians.

The Palestinians have repeatedly said they will only resume negotiations if Israel halts settlement building on land seized in the 1967 Middle East War, where it wants to establish its future state.

OUTPOST ANGER

The Israeli government has said there should be no preconditions and drew anger earlier this month when it turned to the courts to try to legalize four unauthorized West Bank settler outposts.

Kerry said he had raised the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose center-right government includes many fervently pro-settler politicians.

“It is also clear that when actions are taken, whether by court or otherwise, it is our view that those actions can be deemed by some to be provocative…So it is our hope that there will be a minimal effort there,” Kerry said.

On taking office in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama called on Israel to halt its settlement program. Netanyahu agreed to a partial freeze, but did not extend it beyond an initial 10-month period and Washington quietly dropped the demand.

Obama made his first official visit to Jerusalem this March to re-launch U.S. peace efforts, with Palestinian officials talking about a June 7 cut-off point for the U.S.-led diplomacy.

The Palestinians say it is pointless to hold negotiations while the Israeli building continues in the West Bank and east Jerusalem – home to some 500,000 settlers.

In the absence of formal peacemaking, the Palestinians last year gained de-facto statehood recognition at the United Nations. Israel is worried that they will use their new-found status to join the International Criminal Court and pursue war crimes charges against the Jewish state.

EU and U.S. diplomats have warned that the spread of the settlements could prove irreversible and Kerry has said the window of opportunity for securing an historic peace deal might close within two years.

“I made clear in my discussions that the parties should be focused on making progress toward…direct negotiations,” he said on Friday, adding that each side needed to “refrain from provocative rhetoric or actions … that take us backwards.”

Writing and additional reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Angus MacSwan

U.S., Russia seek new Syria peace talks, rebels skeptical


Russia and the United States agreed to seek new peace talks with both sides to end Syria's civil war, but opposition leaders were skeptical on Wednesday of an initiative they fear might let President Bashar Assad hang on to power.

Mindful the conflict may be far from over, Britain has urged fellow European Union states to lift an arms embargo, arguing it would strengthen those rebel groups favored by Western powers.

Visiting Moscow after Israel bombed sites near Damascus and as President Barack Obama also faces renewed calls to arm the rebels, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said late on Tuesday that Russia agreed to work on a conference in the coming weeks.

An East-West disagreement that has seen some of the frostiest exchanges between Washington and Moscow since the Cold War has deadlocked U.N. efforts to settle the Syrian conflict for two years, so any rapprochement could bring an international common front closer than it has been for many months.

Israeli air strikes, reports of the use of chemical weapons and the increasing prominence of al Qaeda-linked militants among the rebels have all added to international urgency for an end to a war that has killed more than 70,000 people.

But with Syria's factional and sectarian hatreds more entrenched than ever, it is far from clear the warring parties are ready to negotiate with each other. Most opposition figures have ruled out talks unless Assad and his inner circle are excluded from any future transitional government.

“I believe the opposition would find it impossible to hold talks over a government that still had Assad at its head,” said Samir Nashar of the opposition's umbrella National Coalition.

“Before making any decisions we need to know what Assad's role would be. That point has been left vague, we believe intentionally so, in order to try to drag the opposition into talks before a decision on that is made.”

In the past, the United States has backed opposition demands that Assad be excluded from any future government, while Russia has said that must be for Syrians to decide, a formula the opposition believes could be used to keep Assad in power.

Opposition members said they were concerned by comments from Kerry in Moscow, echoing Russia, that the decision on who takes part in a transitional government should be left to Syrians.

“Syrians are worried that the United States is advancing its own interests with Russia, using the blood and suffering of the Syrian people,” said National Coalition member Ahmed Ramadan.

Inside Syria, where rebel groups have disparate views, a military commander, Abdeljabbar al-Oqaidi, told Reuters: “If the regime were present, I do not believe we would want to attend.”

There was no immediate response from the Syrian government, which has offered reforms but dismisses those fighting it as terrorists and puppets of outside powers – the West, Turkey and Arab states opposed to Assad's ally Iran.

EU ARMS BAN

If fears of an escalation of the war are driving new peace moves, they have also set some Western powers looking again at their military options. Washington said last week it was rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels, and on Wednesday it emerged Britain has been lobbying the EU to let it do so, too.

Several EU governments are resisting French and British efforts to get the embargo lifted, concerned that the move could escalate the two-year-old conflict.

In a paper seen by Reuters, London suggested ways the ban could be amended to get arms to the National Coalition. Existing sanctions expire on June 1. With France, the other main military power in the bloc, Britain is trying to persuade Spain, Austria, Sweden and others to ease opposition to arming the rebels.

But with the prospect of the conflict spilling across a volatile region central to global energy supplies and transit routes, major powers also have, as Kerry told Putin on Tuesday, “very significant common interests” in pushing for a settlement.

“The alternative,” Kerry later told a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos”.

Both sides fear a failed state in Syria could provide a base for hostile militants willing to strike around the world.

Last June, at a conference in Geneva, Washington and Moscow agreed on the need for a transitional government in Syria, but diplomacy has foundered since then, and the mediator of the Geneva conference, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, quit in despair, saying differences among powers were too wide.

Kerry said the conference might be held as early as this month, though no venue has been set.

Russia, backed by China, has vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions hostile to Assad. Alarmed at Western powers' use of a U.N. mandate to oust Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Moscow and Beijing are wary of such interference in their own affairs.

RISK OF POWER VACUUM

Recent developments have focused minds on the risks of wider war in the Middle East.

The White House said last month that Assad's troops probably used chemical weapons – which Obama has called a “red line” that would mandate a strong, if unspecified, response. The government and rebels each accuse the other of using poison gas, a charge both sides deny. British Prime Minister David said on Wednesday there was evidence Assad's forces “continue” to use sarin gas.

But despite pleading from the opposition, Western leaders have been reluctant to weigh in by arming the rebels, especially as Islamist fighters have pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, highlighting the risk to the West that a poorly managed change of leadership in Syria could bring hostile militants to power.

Israeli air strikes in recent days – which Israeli officials said hit Iranian arms headed for Assad and Tehran's Lebanese allies Hezbollah – underlined the risk of cross-border conflict.

The violence has inflamed a confrontation between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in the Middle East, with Shi'ite Iran supporting Assad, and Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia backing the rebels.

Tehran warned of unforeseeable consequences if Assad were toppled and said only a political deal would avert a regional conflagration: “God forbid, if there is any vacuum in Syria, these negative consequences will affect all countries,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said. “No one knows what will happen.”

Diplomatic sources in Moscow made clear the latest push for peace was being driven by growing alarm following the Israeli air raids, the possibility of foreign arms pouring into Syria and the possible use of chemical weapons.

Moscow and Washington have also signaled they want to improve cooperation on security matters since the Boston Marathon bombings, which U.S. officials suspect was carried out by ethnic Chechens who had lived in Russia. U.S. officials said FBI chief Robert Mueller had been in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the bombings, but gave no details.

In a further sign of Washington's efforts to improve ties with Russia, Kerry avoided any sharp public criticism of Moscow's human rights record when he met civil rights activists in the Russian capital on Wednesday before his departure.

In Syria, Internet connections and phones to the outside world were restored after a day-long blackout that officials put down to a technical fault on a cable but which opposition activists said was deliberately imposed for military operations.

Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman and Arshad Mohammed, Timothy Heritage, Alexei Anishchuk and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Alastair Macdonald, Timothy Heritage and Peter Graff; Editing by Will Waterman

EU diplomats recommend economic sanctions against settlements


European Union diplomats in eastern Jerusalem have recommended economic sanctions against Jewish settlements in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

The recommendations are part of the 2012 Heads of Mission report, which is non-binding. The recommendations were reported Wednesday by the Israeli daily Haaretz, which obtained a copy of the report.

One of the recommendations calls on EU countries to “prevent, discourage and raise awareness about problematic implications of financial transactions including foreign direct investments, from within the EU in support of settlement activities, infrastructure and services.”

Seven of the 10 recommendations found in the report call for direct or indirect sanctions by the EU on companies and organizations involved in settlement construction, according to Haaretz. One recommendation calls for actively encouraging divestment from the settlements.

Other recommendations include applying the free trade agreement between Israel and the EU strictly, so that products manufactured in the settlements do not receive preferential treatment, and requiring products made in the settlements to be labeled as such in stores, according to Haaretz.

The report was given in early January to EU institutions in Brussels and to the foreign ministries of the 27 member states.

It also called on EU member states to respond strongly in order to prevent construction in the E-1 area between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, which it said would prevent the Palestinians from having a contiguous state.

A large part of the report accuses Israel of restricting Muslim and Christian religious practice in Jerusalem, and Israel of attempting to change the religious character of Jerusalem, according to Haaretz.

The report also calls the construction of Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem “systematic, deliberate and provocative.”

EU, Russia condemn Israeli settlement expansion plans


The European Union and Russia on Friday denounced Israel's plans to expand settlements in the occupied West Bank and urged Israelis and Palestinians to take “bold and concrete steps towards peace.”

Israeli officials said this week they would press on with plans to build 6,000 homes for settlers on land claimed by Palestinians, defying criticism from Western powers who fear the move will damage already faint hopes for a peace accord.

“The European Union and the Russian Federation are deeply dismayed by and strongly oppose Israeli plans to expand settlements in the West Bank and in particular plans to develop the E1 area,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

E1 is a wedge of land between East Jerusalem and the West Bank where Israel had previously held off under U.S. pressure.

“The EU and the Russian Federation underline the urgency of renewed, structured and substantial peace efforts in 2013,” said the joint statement after an EU-Russia summit in Brussels.

Stung by de facto recognition of Palestinian sovereignty by the U.N. General Assembly last month, Israel announced it would expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Many countries deem the settlements illegal and have been especially troubled by Israel's declared intent to build in E1.

The EU and Russia, which together with the United States and the United Nations make up the Quartet of Middle East mediators, said the settlements were illegal under international law and were an obstacle to peace.

“The EU and the Russian Federation will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties,” they said.

It was time to take “bold and concrete steps towards peace between Palestinians and Israelis”, they said, calling for “direct and substantial negotiations without preconditions”.

The EU and Russia called for the unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip, and urged Israel to avoid any step that would undermine the financial situation of the Palestinian Authority.

They urged the Palestinian leadership to use Palestine's new U.N. status constructively and avoid steps that would deepen lack of trust and lead further away from a negotiated solution.

Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Alistair Lyon

EU diplomats seek visa ban for ‘violent’ Israeli settlers


European diplomats recommended imposing visa bans on “violent” Israeli settlers, as Denmark helped organize a workshop on labeling settlement goods in the European Union.

The Political and Security Committee — a group of EU ambassadors dealing with conflict zones — suggested the ban at a meeting in Brussels on Nov. 16, according to the news site E.U. Observer. According to the committee memo, “Individual E.U. member states could explore possibilities of denying access of known violent settlers to the E.U.”

Meanwhile, DanChurchAid, a Danish Christian nonprofit, invited European Council officials to a workshop on labeling goods from Israeli settlements. The invitation to the closed meeting on Wednesday said participants would discuss “possible practical actions” by EU states to “avoid inadvertently supporting the viability and growth of settlements.”

According to the invitation, the initiative is “supported by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

The Jerusalem Post reported that Rafi Schutz, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Europe, has complained to the Danish Foreign Ministry and several other EU governments that the labeling drive “unfairly singled out and discriminated against Israel.”

European NGOs call for Settlement boycott


A new report by 22 aid, development and church groups from nine European Union (EU) countries calls for the EU to stop buying goods from Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jewish businesses in East Jerusalem. The report finds the EU imports some $300 million from Israeli settlements, which is 15 times the amount of imports from the Palestinians. 

“We hope this will contribute to a change in EU policy,” Phyllis Starkey, a former British MP and one of the report’s authors, said. “There is clearly a much stronger will across Europe to take effective action against settlements. Denmark has announced labeling guidelines, and Ireland has said it favors an EU-wide ban on trade with settlements.”

Ireland is scheduled to take over the presidency of the EU next year.

The organizations behind the report are not well-known. The list includes names like Cordaid from the Netherlands and Trocaire from Ireland. But it comes amid growing concerns that the traditional idea of a two-state solution may be becoming obsolete and is expected to spark new discussion of that issue. The two-state solution calls for an independent Palestinian state next to Israel.

The report argues that the EU’s policy toward Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem does not make sense. On one hand, they see settlements as illegal under international law, and on the other hand, the report argues, EU trade helps sustain them.

The report makes no distinction between Jewish settlements in the West Bank, where some 350,000 settlers live, and 200,000 in East Jerusalem, areas of the city that Israel annexed in 1967. There is a difference of opinion between Israel and the international community on whether East Jerusalem is a settlement.

“Under both international law and EU policy, everything beyond the 1967 borders is not Israel,” Starkey claimed. “Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the EU or by international law.”

Israeli officials point to a strong difference between East Jerusalem, which has been annexed to Israel, and the West Bank, which remains under Israeli administrative control.

“How can you call half the city a settlement? This empties the word of any meaning, leaving just a propaganda formula,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “Calling the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem a settlement is absolute nonsense.”

Palmor had other criticisms of the report, saying that even the figure of $300 million in trade with settlements is questionable.

“These numbers are approximations at best, since no official statistics are being gathered on this sector,” he said. “No one separates economic activity in settlements from the rest of Israel. They are subjecting economic analysis to political prejudices.”

The report stops short of urging a boycott of all settlement products, but does urge “correct consumer labeling of all settlement products.” Currently, most settlement products say “Made in Israel” on their labels. 

“Despite its firm position that settlements are not part of Israel, Europe has been accepting imports of these settlements’ products with origin designated as “Israel.” 

The EU has agreements with both Israel and the Palestinians that end custom duties.

Palestinian officials welcomed the report.

“These products, which are made from a crime with stolen ingredients on stolen land, can access not only European markets but any market in the world,” Xavier Adueid, a Palestinian adviser, said. “This report shows it is not enough just to label settlement products — they should be banned from all markets.”

“The possibility of a political solution is disappearing because of the actions of the Israeli government,” Starkey said. “As Israel’s biggest trading partner, the EU has to send a strong signal that the international community won’t recognize any sovereignty over Palestinian territory.”

EU’s Ashton condemns ‘hateful’ Iran remarks on Israel


The EU foreign policy chief said on Saturday that comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called Israel a “cancerous tumor” with no place in a future Middle East, were “outrageous and hateful”.

Catherine Ashton’s language was unusually forthright for the West’s chief negotiator over Iran’s nuclear program.

Ashton “strongly condemns the outrageous and hateful remarks threatening Israel’s existence by the Supreme Leader and the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said a statement by her spokesman.

“Israel’s right to exist must not be called into question.”

On Friday, Ahmadinejad told demonstrators in state-organized protests that “in the new Middle East … there will be no trace of the American presence and the Zionists”. As thousands of Iranians shouted “Death to America, death to Israel”, Ahmadinejad called Israel a “cancerous tumor” for its occupation of Palestinian land.

Earlier this week Iranian media reported that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had said Israel would one day be returned to the Palestinian nation and would cease to exist.

Ashton is acting as chief negotiator for six powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain – that are trying to persuade Iran to scale back its nuclear program through economic sanctions and diplomacy. They fear Iran’s nuclear program aims at producing weapons, though Tehran says it serves peaceful purposes only.

Ashton and Iran’s chief negotiator agreed at the start of August to hold more talks about Iran’s nuclear work, but there has been no sign of imminent progress in the decade-long dispute.

Ashton “calls upon Iran to play a constructive role in the region and expects its leaders to contribute to de-escalate tension and not to fuel it”, Saturday’s statement said.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the verbal attacks on Israel were “offensive and inflammatory.

Reporting By Sebastian Moffett; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo

EU includes central Israel city on list of settlements


The European Union has included parts of the central Israel municipality of Modi’in on its list of settlements.

Several zip codes from the city of Modiin, or Modiin-Maccabim-Reut since its merger in 2003, which is located in central Israel about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, appear on the EU’s list of settlements that are not included in the free-trade agreement between Israel and EU member states.

Under the agreements, products originating from outside the Green Line do not qualify for the import tax exemption.

The list, which includes zip codes and names of the settlements, has for the first time been posted on the Internet.

“For anyone who deals in reality, there is not the slightest doubt that the Modi’in, Maccabim and Re’ut localities are an integral part of Israel, and their future is not in question,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The EU ignores reality when it extends the domain of conflict to places and issues that do not belong there.”

A small part of Maccabim is built on what was considered no-man’s land between Israel and Jordan from 1948 to 1967.

The Mission of Israel in Brussels to the European Union has lodged a formal complaint about the list and the fact that it was published before negotiations between Israel and the EU on the issue had been concluded. The list had previously been an internal one for customs agents in each EU country, according to Haaretz.

There are over 80,000 residents of the city. The industrial areas of the city are not on the list. But officials are concerned that since the city’s name appears on the list, distributors will decide not to get involved with any businesses in the city.

Netanyahu urges action on Iran after meeting Putin


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday it was time to ramp up sanctions against Iran to try to curb its nuclear program after discussing the matter with visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his first public comments on the inconclusive round of talks in Moscow last week between world powers and Iran, Netanyahu repeated Israel’s three core demands.

“I believe two things must be done now: strengthening the sanctions and also boosting the demands,” Netanyahu said, without mentioning the possibility of Israeli military action should diplomacy fail.

The international community must call for the cessation of all uranium enrichment in Iran, the removal of all enriched uranium from the country and the dismantling of the Furdow underground nuclear facility, he added.

At the Moscow talks, Russia, the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany set no date for further political negotiations.

Last month, and again in the Russian capital, world powers asked Iran to close the Furdow facility where uranium is being enriched to 20-percent fissile purity, and to ship any stocks out of the country, demands that come close to those of Israel.

Israel wants all Iranian uranium enrichment to stop, but is uneasy about the West’s current focus on halting only higher-percentage enrichment close to a level needed to produce material for nuclear bombs.

OIL EMBARGO

European governments on Monday formally approved an embargo on Iranian oil to start on July 1. Debt-ridden Greece had pushed for a delay because it relies heavily on Iranian crude to meet its energy needs, but EU governments said the embargo would go ahead as planned.

“We had an opportunity to discuss the negotiations under way between the international community and Iran,” Netanyahu said of his meeting with Putin.

“We agree that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran represents a grave danger, first of all to Israel, but also to the region and to the entire world,” he said.

Putin, in his own comments to reporters at Netanyahu’s residence, said they discussed Iran’s nuclear program and the situation in Syria “in great detail”. He did not elaborate.

Russia takes a softer tack than the Western nations and opposes any further sanctions against Iran. Putin has said Russia has no proof that Tehran, which denies it is seeking atomic weapons, intends to become a nuclear-armed power.

His trip to Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan is seen as an effort to increase Russia’s clout in the region at a time when the West and some Arab nations have criticized Moscow for opposing their efforts to force out Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The visit, officially billed as an opportunity to dedicate a memorial in central Israel to the Red Army’s battles against Nazi Germany in World War Two, began a day after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was declared the winner of Egypt’s presidential election.

The outcome of the poll in Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, has raised concerns in Israel.

On Syria, Russia has brushed aside U.S. and Arab calls to stop sending weapons to the government there, saying it supplies only defensive arms. It has also used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to protect Syria.

Assad has helped Russia keep a foothold in the Middle East by buying billions of dollars worth of weapons and hosting a maintenance facility for the Russian navy, its only permanent warm-water port outside the former Soviet Union.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Osborn

EU ministers slam Israel for threatening viability of two-state solution


European Union foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels slammed Israel for threatening the viability of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Their three-page statement released Monday condemned the increased growth of settlement building, and the eviction of Palestinians and demolition of their homes in eastern Jerusalem. It also expressed concern over settler violence.

“The viability of a two-state-solution must be maintained,” the statement said. “The EU expresses deep concern about developments on the ground which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.”

The statement also indicated that the EU reiterates its “fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, including with regard to vital threats in the region. The EU is appalled by recurring rocket attacks from Gaza and condemns in the strongest terms violence deliberately targeting civilians.” It also called for the prevention of arms smuggling into Gaza.

It also expressed concern about recent reports of the arrests of journalists by the Palestinian Authority and for “recent incidents of incitement in Palestinian media and elsewhere.”

In its response to the statement, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “The conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on the Middle East Peace Process do not contribute to advancing the peace process.”

The statement’s accusations, the ministry said, “include a long list of claims and criticism that are based on a partial, biased and one-sided depiction of realities on the ground. Such a public presentation does not contribute to advance the process.

Iran slams EU oil embargo, warns could U.S. targets worldwide


Iran accused Europeans on Monday of waging “psychological warfare” after the EU banned imports of Iranian oil, and President Barack Obama said Washington would impose more sanctions to address the “serious threat presented by Iran’s nuclear program.”

The Islamic Republic, which denies trying to build a nuclear bomb, scoffed at efforts to choke its oil exports, as Asia lines up to buy what Europe scorns.

Some Iranians also renewed threats to stop Arab oil from leaving the Gulf and warned they might strike U.S. targets worldwide if Washington used force to break any Iranian blockade of a strategically vital shipping route.

Yet in three decades of confrontation between Tehran and the West, bellicose rhetoric and the undependable armory of sanctions have become so familiar that the benchmark Brent crude oil price edged only 0.8 percent higher, and some of that was due to unrelated currency factors.

“If any disruption happens regarding the sale of Iranian oil, the Strait of Hormuz will definitely be closed,” Mohammad Kossari, deputy head of parliament’s foreign affairs and national security committee, told Fars news agency a day after U.S., French and British warships sailed back into the Gulf.

“If America seeks adventures after the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, Iran will make the world unsafe for Americans in the shortest possible time,” Kossari added, referring to an earlier U.S. pledge to use its fleet to keep the passage open.

In Washington, Obama said in a statement that the EU sanctions underlined the strength of the international community’s commitment to “addressing the serious threat presented by Iran’s nuclear program.”

“The United States will continue to impose new sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran,” Obama said.

The United States imposed its own sanctions against Iran’s oil trade and central bank on December 31. On Monday it imposed sanctions on the country’s third-largest bank, state-owned Bank Tejarat and a Belarus-based affiliate, for allegedly helping Tehran develop its nuclear program.

The EU sanctions were also welcomed by Israel, which has warned it might attack Iran if sanctions do not deflect Tehran from a course that some analysts say could potentially give Iran a nuclear bomb next year.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “This new, concerted pressure will sharpen the choice for Iran’s leaders and increase their cost of defiance of basic international obligations.”

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, reiterated Washington’s commitment to freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz. “I think that Iran has undoubtedly heard that message and would be well advised to heed it,” she said at a meeting of the board of governors of the American Jewish Committee in New York.

CALLS FOR TALKS

Germany, France and Britain used the EU sanctions as a cue for a joint call to Tehran to renew long-suspended negotiations on its nuclear program. Russia, like China a powerful critic of the Western approach, said talks might soon be on the cards.

Iran, however, said new sanctions made that less likely. It is a view shared by some in the West who caution that such tactics risk hardening Iranian support for a nuclear program that also seems to be subject to a covert “war” of sabotage and assassinations widely blamed on Israeli and Western agents.

The European Union embargo will not take full effect until July 1 because the foreign ministers who agreed the anticipated ban on imports of Iranian crude at a meeting in Brussels were anxious not to penalize the ailing economies of Greece, Italy and others to whom Iran is a major oil supplier. The strategy will be reviewed in May to see if it should go ahead.

Curbing Iran’s oil exports is a double-edged sword, as Tehran’s own response to the embargo clearly showed.

Loss of revenue is painful for a clerical establishment that faces an awkward electoral test at a time of galloping inflation which is hurting ordinary people. But since Iran’s Western-allied Arab neighbors are struggling to raise their own output to compensate, the curbs on Tehran’s exports have driven up oil prices and raised costs for recession-hit Western industries.

A member of Iran’s influential Assembly of Experts, former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, said Tehran should respond to the delayed-action EU sanctions by stopping sales to the bloc immediately, denying the Europeans time to arrange alternative supplies and damaging their economies with higher oil prices.

“The best way is to stop exporting oil ourselves before the end of this six months and before the implementation of the plan,” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted him as saying.

‘PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE’

“European Union sanctions on Iranian oil is psychological warfare,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said. “Imposing economic sanctions is illogical and unfair but will not stop our nation from obtaining its rights.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told the official IRNA news agency that the more sanctions were imposed on Tehran “the more obstacles there will be to solve the issue”.

Iran’s Oil Ministry issued a statement saying the sanctions did not come as a shock. “The oil ministry has from long ago thought about it and has come up with measures to deal with any challenges,” it said, according to IRNA.

Mehmanparast said: “The European countries and those who are under American pressure, should think about their own interests. Any country that deprives itself from Iran’s energy market, will soon see that it has been replaced by others.”

China, Iran’s biggest customer, has resisted U.S. pressure to cut back its oil imports, as have other Asian economies to varying degrees. India’s oil minister said on Monday sanctions were forcing Iran to sell more cheaply and that India planned to take full advantage of that to buy as much as it could.

The EU measures include an immediate ban on all new contracts to import, purchase or transport Iranian crude and petroleum products. However, EU countries with existing contracts can honor them up to July 1.

EU officials said they also agreed to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank and ban trade in gold and other precious metals with the bank and state bodies.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: “I want the pressure of these sanctions to result in negotiations.”

“I want to see Iran come back to the table and either pick up all the ideas that we left on the table … last year … or to come forward with its own ideas.”

Iran has said it is willing to hold talks with Western powers, though there have been mixed signals on whether conditions imposed by both sides make new negotiations likely.

IAEA INSPECTORS VISIT

The Islamic Republic says it is enriching uranium only for producing electricity and other civilian uses. The start this month of a potentially bomb-proof – and once secret – enrichment plant has deepened skepticism abroad, however.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed plans for a visit next week by senior inspectors to try to clear up questions raised about the purpose of Iran’s nuclear activities. Tehran is banned by international treaty from developing nuclear weaponry.

“The Agency team is going to Iran in a constructive spirit, and we trust that Iran will work with us in that same spirit,” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in a statement announcing the January 29-31 visit.

Iran, whose regional policies face a setback from the difficulties of its Arab ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has powerful defenders in the form of Russia, which has built Iran a reactor, and China. Both permanent U.N. Security Council members argue that Western sanctions are counter-productive.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, classifying the EU embargo among “aggravating factors”, said Moscow believed there was a good chance that talks between six global powers and Iran could resume soon and that Russia would try to steer both Iran and the West away from further confrontation.

His ministry issued an official statement expressing “regret and alarm”: “What is happening here is open pressure and diktat, an attempt to ‘punish’ Iran for its intractable behavior.

“This is a deeply mistaken approach, as we have told our European partners more than once. Under such pressure Iran will not agree to any concessions or any changes in its policy.”

But that argument cuts no ice with the U.S. administration, for which Iran – and Israel’s stated willingness to consider unilateral military action against it – is a major challenge as Obama campaigns for re-election against Republican opponents who say he has been too soft on Tehran.

Additional reporting by Robin Pomeroy and Mitra Amiri in Tehran, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Adrian Croft in London, John Irish in Paris, Alexei Anishchuk in Sochi, Ari Rabinovitch and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Nidhi Verma in New Delhi, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Rachelle Younglai and Andrew Quinn in Washington, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; writing by Alastair Macdonald; editing by Robert Woodward and Mohammad Zargham

Bibi praises EU oil sanctions on Iran


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Monday a European Union decision to place sanctions on Iranian oil exports, but said it was unclear if the move could thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” Netanyahu said at a meeting of his Likud faction in parliament.

“For now, it is impossible to know what the result of these sanctions will be. Heavy and swift pressure is needed on Iran and the sanctions must be evaluated according to their results.”

Netanyahu said that despite world pressure so far “Iran is continuing undeterred to develop nuclear weapons.”

Tensions have risen in recent weeks over Iran’s atomic program which Israel views as a threat to its existence and which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes.

Israel has been keen for Western nations to intensify sanctions against Iran to try to persuade the Islamist regime to halt its nuclear program.

The United States has led Western pressure on Iran to curb uranium enrichment that might provide material for weapons.

Washington’s ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, was quoted as saying last week that the Obama Administration was ready to move beyond sanctions if Iran’s suspected atomic weapons ambitions were not curbed.

But Washington was keen to coordinate with Israel, and the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey paid a visit last week which Israeli officials said was to coordinate strategy. Dempsey has said he was not sure if Israel would give him advance warning if it decided to strike Iran.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Stamp

EU covers Israel’s suspended tax money to PA


The European Union approved an extra $124 million in emergency aid to the Palestinians to supplement tax moneys frozen by Israel.

“It is important that access to essential public services remains uninterrupted and the right to social services is respected,” Reuters on Friday quoted Catherine Ashton, the E.U. foreign policy chief, as saying.

Israel stopped payment this week on $105 million in owes the Palestinian Authority on customs duties and other taxes because of the unity agreement the P.A.‘s Fatah Party signed with Hamas, a banned terrorist group.

The E.U. money would go to essential employees and to families in need.

Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rape; U.S. funding Hamas opponents


Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rapeIsraeli police recommended indicting President Moshe Katsav on charges of rape and sexual harassment. Katsav rejected calls to resign, and his attorney said Monday morning that he will quit only if an indictment is submitted. Investigators presented their findings and recommendations to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and senior officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office. The most serious charge is for the alleged rape of two women, but police also accused Katsav of purchasing dozens of gifts with money taken from the President’s Residence budget, Ha’aretz reported. Katsav’s attorney noted that the police recommendations have no legal validity because only the state prosecutor can decide on an indictment.

U.S. funding Hamas opponents

The United States has launched a funding campaign aimed at bolstering groups in the Palestinian Authority opposed to the Hamas government. Reuters reported over the weekend that the Bush administration has earmarked up to $42 million for overhauling Hamas rival Fatah, providing schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that offer an alternative to Hamas’ Islamist teachings, and bankrolling Palestinian journalists and watchdog groups that would monitor the Hamas government. The report cited official documentation and was tacitly confirmed by a U.S. envoy in the region. The report suggested that Washington is pursuing a “hearts and minds” campaign in the Palestinian Authority aimed at undermining Hamas and boosting the Fatah leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, who seeks peace talks with Israel.

Bush signs Darfur Act

President Bush signed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. Jewish groups led lobbying for the act, signed by Bush last Friday. The act bans dealing with Sudan until it abides by a peace treaty with tribes in the Darfur region and allows an international peacekeeping force. Government-allied Arab militias have slaughtered tens of thousands of people in the Darfur region, atrocities the Bush administration and Jewish groups have labeled a genocide.

Israel welcomes North Korea sanctions

Israel welcomed the U.N. Security Council resolution punishing North Korea for its nuclear testing. Israeli officials said Sunday that the unanimous Security Council decision to impose sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its controlled nuclear blast last week could send a message to Iran about its own atomic ambitions.”Iran, like North Korea, is a poor country. Such sanctions have a deterrent power,” one official said.Under the sanctions resolution passed over the weekend, arms shipments going in and out of North Korea are subject to monitoring, a step that could help stem the flow of missile and nuclear technology if applied to Iran, Israeli officials said.

Missiles said to be reaching Gaza

Palestinians are smuggling advanced shoulder-fired missiles into the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli intelligence officer said. Brig. Gen. Yossi Beidetz told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have been bringing both anti-tank and light anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza in preparation for a major confrontation with Israel. The anti-aircraft missiles would complicate Israeli air force efforts to provide cover for ground troops operating in the coastal territory, Beidetz said. He added that Syria is still smuggling weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in violation of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended this summer’s Israel-Hezbollah war.

EU backs forum on Anti-Semitism

The European Union endorsed a high-level conference on anti-Semitism in Bucharest next year. The endorsement was made at an annual meeting last week in Warsaw of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s human rights unit.”These OSCE conferences have become not only opportunities for political leaders to speak to the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism, but they focus attention and government action on steps to address it,” said the American Jewish Committee’s Andrew Baker, who attended the Warsaw meeting and lobbied for the Bucharest conference.

A final decision on the conference is due in December. Jewish groups have worried that the conference will be canceled; several countries wanted the OSCE, which includes 55 member states, to focus on other priorities. The conference would follow similar OSCE events in recent years in Vienna; Cordoba, Spain; and Berlin.

Turkey defends book fair selections

Turkish officials defended themselves against charges of choosing anti-Semitic books for a recent book fair in Germany. The Simon Wiesenthal Center complained last week that three anti-Semitic books were displayed at a Turkish Culture Ministry stand at the October fair in Frankfurt, one of the world’s largest book shows. The ministry said the Publishers Association chose the books, but the association said it was not responsible for the books at the ministry’s stand. The association also denied that any of the books on display was anti-Semitic, but the Wiesenthal Center noted they included an account of alleged Jewish plots against Turkey titled, “The Greater Israel Strategy,” and “Password Israel,” which claims that codes in the Torah show how Jews are planning World War III and the destruction of Turkey. Last year, “Mein Kampf” reportedly became a best seller in Turkey, and several anti-Israel books enjoyed popularity as well.

Russian Jews protest Hitler restaurant

Jewish leaders in a Russian region are protesting against the use of Adolf Hitler’s name by a new pub. The pub, set to open soon in the city of Ekaterinburg, is named Hitler Kaput. In a letter to the local mayor, leaders of the Jewish community said that any use of Hitler’s name to attract public attention is unacceptable. Authorities haven’t yet responded to the Jewish community.

Survivor, Author Normal Salsitz dies

Author Normal Salsitz died of pneumonia Oct. 11 in Boston at age 86. Salsitz, a Polish-born Jew, wrote “Against All Odds,” which tells the story of how he and his wife survived the Holocaust by pretending to be Christian. Salsitz received a false baptism certificate from a Polish priest and fought with the Polish underground against the Nazis. At one point, he killed a group of Polish partisans intent on murdering Jews.

Ukrainian leader coming not coming to Israel

Ukraine’s president will not visit Israel next month, contrary to reports. A press officer for Viktor Yuschenko said last Friday that earlier reports of a state visit to Israel in early November were “a newspaper hoax.” Earlier this month, some media reported from Berlin that Yuschenko announced his upcoming visit to Israel when he and Israel’s vice premier, Shimon Peres, received a prestigious international award in the German capital. A member of Yuschenko’s administration said that the visit is likely to take place at a later date but could not specify when. This is at least the third time in two years that a potential visit by Yuschenko to Israel has been postponed.Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

World Briefs


Israel Asks U.S. Egypt Help in Gaza

The United States and Egypt want to know more about Israel’s proposal for Egypt to help secure Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal.

Dov Weisglass, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s chief of staff, and Giora Eiland, Sharon’s national security adviser, discussed the idea Monday in meetings with Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The Israelis are ready for a total withdrawal, but say they need Egyptian help to keep arms smugglers from crossing the Gaza-Egypt border.

U.S. State Department official said the proposal was not fully worked out and that the Americans are waiting for further details. If the Egyptians are willing, the official said, the United States could help them with incentives.

Nadil Fahmy, Egypt’s ambassador to Washington, said his country was interested in the proposal but needed to know more. Egypt would participate if the withdrawal were part of negotiations with the Palestinians, Fahmy told JTA.

“It has to be in the context of resolving the conflict on the basis of a two-state solution and ending the occupation,” he said. Israel has suggested that its withdrawal could be unilateral unless the Palestinians crack down on terrorism.

E.U. Presses Libya

The European Union called on Libya to join a free trade zone it has boycotted because of Israeli membership in the group. The European Commission said Monday that Tripoli immediately should send officials to Brussels to prepare its application to the group, whose purpose ultimately is to create a free-trade zone bringing together all the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. Libyan President Muammar Gadhafi recently expressed a desire to join the process, but he cannot take part unless he agrees to recognize Israel.

Bush Sends $20 Million to UNRWA

President Bush is sending $20 million to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. The new allocation, authorized Thursday, is from the U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund, and will be distributed through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The request is a response to an appeal for $193 million for humanitarian needs for the Palestinian people, the State Department said.

Group Collects Money for Haitians

A Jewish group is collecting money for humanitarian aid
in Haiti. Donations can be sent to the American Jewish World Service at: AJWS,
Haiti Relief, 45 W. 36th St., 10th Floor, New York, NY, 10018, or online at