Israel to pay Turkey $20 million in compensation after six-year rift


Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday submitted to parliament a settlement deal with Israel that would see Israel pay Ankara $20 million within 25 days in return for Turkey dropping outstanding legal claims, ending a six-year rift.

Relations between the two countries crumbled after Israeli marines stormed a Turkish ship in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, killing 10 Turks on board.

Israel had already offered its apologies for the raid. Both countries are to appoint ambassadors, and Turkey is to pass legislation indemnifying Israeli soldiers as part of an agreement partly driven by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals.

European anti-Semitism exploding: It’s not just about Hamas


Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the current explosion of anti-Semitism across Europe is caused by the war with Hamas in Gaza. But it’s not that simple. The riots on the streets of Paris, the vicious anti-Jewish graffiti defacing the ancient streets of Rome, the unanswered threats to Jews living in the shadow of Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, all point to a much deeper malaise.

To be sure, Hamas has done more than its share to stoke the flames of genocidal hate. Anti-Semitism is the one battlefield in the asymmetrical war against the Jews they know they have a chance to win. Their self-generated “martyrs on demand” fill 24-hour news cycles and infect social media platforms, and the searing visuals of dead babies are more than enough to send young revenge-seeking Arabs and Muslims into Europe’s streets to attack The Enemy.

And the “enemy” is? The Jewish people. Jews in their synagogues, their community centers, their kosher butcher shops, their religious gatherings.

But the virulent anti-Jew narrative was well underway before the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members on the West Bank and the unending rocket and missile attacks on Israel’s heartland led to the current war in Gaza.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a key player in supercharging anti-Jewish sentiment. Erdogan co-opted former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s game plan by bullying Israel, in word and (often) in deed, to win over the Arab and Muslim streets. His hate recently reached its apex by libeling the Jewish state’s counterattack against Hamas as “barbarism that surpasses Hitler.”

Turkey, a country that for half a millennium earned a record of tolerance for its Jews, now boasts members of parliament who participate in violent demonstrations against the Israeli embassy and a leading singer who proudly tweets, “May God Bless Hitler” and “It will be again Muslims who will bring an end of those Jews, it is near, near.”

The damage done by Erdogan and company not only endangers Turkish Jewry, it has helped further validate extreme anti-Jewish invective by Turkish imams in Germany and the Netherlands.

Last year, Dutch social worker Mehmet Sahin found his life turned upside down after he had the audacity to confront anti-Semitic Dutch Muslim youth on national TV. That Friday, the imam in the mosque he and his wife attended publicly accused Sahin of “being a Jew,” forcing him and his young family to flee into a witness protection program.

“Rabbi,” Sahin told me recently, “you don’t understand. It was never like this before, but today, ‘Jew’ has become a dirty word in our community.”

In the United Kingdom, where Israel has been pounded for decades by media and cultural icons, the current situation includes attacks against rabbis and synagogues and racist death and firebomb threats. In Manchester, The Jewish Chronicle reported that a shop selling Israeli cosmetics reported phone calls threatening to burn down the shop and beat up or kill staff.

One caller threatened: “You would be wiped out right now … if [your owner] puts more videos on Facebook I will f*** him up … I will kill you with it.”

Another threatens, “I will burn your shop down,” and posted on the shop owner’s Facebook page was, “I hope he burns in hell like the rest of the Jews.”

Without question, however, anti-Jewish violence was at its worst in France, where only the presence of gendarmes averted a disaster in Paris, as rioters almost breached synagogues and their worshippers. For days, Jewish neighborhoods were subject to violence, looting and intimidation. In Toulouse, not even the memory of Jewish kids murdered in the schoolyard in 2012 spared the already traumatized community — with the local JCC firebombed.

But let us remember that, well before this conflagration, many French Jews, alarmed by the establishment’s unwillingness or inability to protect them, had already packed their bags and left.

And there are other threats looming. Last month, I met with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace as he confirmed to a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation that 1,000 French citizens had been active in Syria. “Thirty-one have died, and some others suffered trauma, but the majority have returned to France and melted into the population,” Hollande confirmed, adding that many were armed and that authorities had no idea where the ticking human time bombs were. He didn’t have to remind us that both the Toulouse murderer and the terrorist who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels were both French Muslims, trained by jihadist terrorists overseas.

The threat to Jewish continuity in Europe goes beyond angry Muslims. It goes to the heart of Europe’s elite. Why did the mayor of The Hague refuse to order the arrest of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters who threatened Jews in the center of the city on the very day that ISIS was tweeting photos of its beheaded prisoners in Iraq? Where are the Dutch people in Amsterdam to reassure their Jewish neighbors that they don’t have to remove the mezuzahs from their doorposts for fear of attack? Why have German officials failed to take action against an imam in Berlin who called for the murder of all Jews from his pulpit? Where is the outrage when Green Party members join far-right and Muslim extremists amid chants of “Gas the Jews” on the streets of Germany? Where is Swedish civil society to finally demand of elected officials and police that Jewish citizens of Malmo be fully protected from constant anti-Semitic harassment? Who in Belgium will call out the doctor who refused to treat a Jewish patient because of Israel’s alleged misdeeds in Gaza? When will the churches, non-governmental organizations and cultural elite of Europe — from the UK to Spain to Norway — who never miss an opportunity to stand in silent tribute to 6 million dead Jews — finally have the decency to acknowledge that 6 million live Jews have the rights to pursue their destiny in the democratic Jewish State of Israel?

The canary-in-the-coal-mine analogy is often invoked to describe the plight of Europe’s Jews. But in 2014, unlike 1938, Jews can leave. The Jew is no longer the clueless canary, but European values themselves are in real danger. We Jews will survive; we have Israel and we have each other. But if current trends continue, Europe will wake up one morning to find itself, bereft of its Jews, surrendering, yet again, to the forces of evil.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Israeli concerns about Turkey and Qatar fuel dispute with Kerry


Behind the feud between John Kerry and Israel over the secretary of state’s efforts to broker a Gaza cease-fire is a larger tension concerning the role of Turkey and Qatar in Palestinian affairs.

Israeli officials rejected the proposal for a cease-fire advanced by Kerry in part because of what they see as the outsize influence on his diplomatic efforts of these two regional powers with agendas increasingly seen as inimical to Israeli interests. While both countries are traditional U.S. allies, they are also supportive of Hamas.

“Qatar, financially and politically, diplomatically and through Al Jazeera, is supporting a terrorist group,” an Israeli official told JTA. “Instead of contributing to the development of the area, they are contributing to terror in the region.”

Israeli officials point to the anti-Israel rhetoric of Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has reached new heights during the current conflict, with his suggestion that Israel is worse than the Nazis.

Israel prefers to have Egypt as the main interlocutor because the country’s current military-backed government has a deep antipathy toward the Islamist Hamas movement.

Israel had previously embraced an Egyptian cease-fire proposal that was rejected by Hamas, which saw its terms as decidedly unfriendly.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state for the Middle East in Obama’s first term, said that Turkey and Qatar are necessary interlocutors because Hamas needs credible representatives of its interests in the negotiating process and because the two countries are not tempted to sabotage cease-fire efforts.

“I understand why Israel and Egypt are uncomfortable seeing regional actors friendly to Hamas involved in these talks. If they are not involved, they could spoil a cease-fire,” said Wittes, who is now the director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy. “You have to get them engaged so they have reason not to act in an unconstructive manner.”

Tensions between Israel and the Obama administration over Kerry’s cease-fire efforts escalated over the weekend.

In comments to the Israeli press by unnamed Israeli officials, Kerry was depicted as a hapless bumbler who, however unwittingly, seemed to be negotiating on behalf of Hamas.

U.S. officials have told Israeli and U.S. media that they are offended by the Israeli backlash.

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called on Israeli leaders to tone down the attacks on Kerry, saying such broadsides undermined Israel’s ability to face down its true enemy, Hamas.

“I understand there are disagreements between the United States and Israel, and maybe the secretary of state and Israel,” he said. “But those disagreements do not justify the ugly name calling. It undermines the relationship of the only true ally Israel has. In times of disagreement, one needs to embrace our friends.”

The exact nature of Kerry’s cease-fire proposal and how it came to be rejected by Israel’s Security Cabinet is not clear. But it is clear that the Security Cabinet’s eight ministers believed that it was tilted toward Hamas.

In a briefing for Israeli reporters, a senior American official is said to have argued that the document the Cabinet reviewed was simply one including the latest ideas for consideration and not a final draft.

Israeli officials, speaking anonymously to the Israeli media, have said they understood it as a final draft and that, in any case, even being asked to consider such a document was deeply unsettling.

Israelis say they were offended by the document’s detailed emphasis on what would be seen as wins for Hamas: Talks on opening borders and transfer of emergency funds to pay the salaries of employees in Gaza who had worked for the Hamas-led government and now are supposed to be incorporated into the Palestinian Authority under the recent Palestinian unity agreement.

Israel’s concerns, including the removal of rockets and missiles from Gaza and the destruction of a tunnel network that reaches inside Israel, were confined in the document to three words: “address security issues.”

There were also concerns, shared by Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Western European countries, that the proposal would strengthen Hamas at the expense of the P.A.

On Sunday night, President Obama called for an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a White House readout describing the phone call.

The readout nodded to Israeli concerns by reaffirming U.S. support for Egypt’s cease-fire efforts, while also stressing that Obama’s cease-fire call was building on Kerry’s efforts.

The readout also emphasized the importance of addressing Gaza’s economic plight, something that Hamas has made into a key precondition for a cease-fire.

“The President underscored the enduring importance of ensuring Israel’s security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, and enacting a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza’s long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority,” the readout said. “The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.”

 

Arab rifts may complicate search for Gaza truce


The push for a Gaza ceasefire risks becoming mired in a regional tussle for influence between conservative Arab states and Islamist-friendly governments, with rival powers competing to take credit for a truce, analysts and some officials say.

The main protagonists are Arab heavyweight Egypt and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar, on opposite sides of a regional standoff over Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, and its ideological patron the Muslim Brotherhood.

Both camps suggest the other is motivated as much by a desire to polish diplomatic prestige and crush political adversaries as by the humanitarian goal of protecting Palestinian lives from the Israeli military.

“Gaza has turned very suddenly into the theater in which this new alignment within the Arab world is being expressed,” said UK-based analyst Ghanem Nusseibeh.

“Gaza is the first test for these new alliances, and this has affected the possibility of reaching a ceasefire there.”

He was referring to Qatar, Turkey, Sudan and non-Arab Iran, the main members of a loose grouping of states which believe Islamists represent the future of Middle East politics.

That camp stands in increasingly overt competition with a conservative, pro-Western group led by Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, most of whom are intent on crushing the Brotherhood and see it as a threat.

That cleavage is now apparent in the diplomacy over Gaza.

CEASEFIRE PLAN

Qatar bankrolled the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who was overthrown by the military a year ago. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have since poured in money to support strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the takeover and has since been elected president after outlawing and suppressing the Brotherhood.

Under his rule, Egypt has tightened its stranglehold on the southern end of the Gaza Strip, closing tunnels to try to block supplies of weapons and prevent militants crossing.

Egyptian officials suspect Qatar encouraged Hamas to reject a ceasefire plan Cairo put forward last week to try to end an Israeli assault that has now killed more than 500 Palestinians as well as 18 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians.

Palestinian officials said the proposal contained little more than Israeli and U.S. terms for a truce. Hamas has its own demands for stopping rocket fire into Israel, including the release of prisoners and the lifting of an economic blockade.

With Egypt's initiative sidelined, all eyes turned to Doha, where visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who lives in the Qatari capital, a senior Qatari source told Reuters.

An official in Cairo said the Gaza battle “is part of a regional conflict between Qatar, Egypt and Turkey.

“Hamas … ran to Qatar, which Egypt hates most, to ask it for intervention, and at the end we are sure Hamas will eventually settle with an agreement that is so similar to a proposal that Egypt had offered, but with Doha's signature.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, due in Cairo late on Monday, is likely to have to mediate between Egypt and Qatar in a bid to end the fighting in Gaza.

“The dilemma is now to get Egypt and Qatar to agree. It is obvious that Hamas had delegated Qatar to be its spokesman in the talks,” said an Egyptian diplomat. “Kerry is here to try to mediate between Qatar and Egypt to agree on a deal that Hamas would approve.”

Another foreign ministry source said: “Egypt will be asked by Kerry to add in Hamas' conditions and then Kerry will go to Qatar and ask it to ask Hamas to approve the amended deal.”

For reasons of history and geography, Egypt has always seen itself as the most effective mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in neighboring Gaza.

But critics say Egypt's strongly anti-Islamist government is trying to pressure Hamas into accepting a truce offering few concessions for the group. Its aim, they say, is to weaken the movement and allied Islamist forces in Egypt.

Hamas leaders said they were not consulted on the Egyptian move, and it did not address their demands.

With peace efforts delicately poised, Gaza now appears to be a test of strength in a regional struggle for power.

INTERFERENCE

Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said Gaza mediation had seen “a lot of political interference”.

“Qatar was unhappy with the Egyptian ceasefire (plan). They are very uncomfortable that it came from Egypt. The Qataris are trying to undermine Egypt politically, and the victim is the ceasefire that Egypt has proposed.

“The terms of the problem is — who will present the ceasefire? Who will win the first political match between those two new camps within the Arab world?” Abdulla said.

At the root of the rift are opposing attitudes to the Muslim Brotherhood, which helped sweep Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt in 2011 only to be ousted itself last year.

Its ideology challenges the principle of conservative dynastic rule long dominant in the Gulf: Some of its leading members are based in Qatar and broadcast their views via the country's media, angering other Gulf Arab states

Qatar is accused of using its alliance with Hamas to elbow its way into efforts to mediate between the movement and Israel.

Critics suspect Qatar wants to repair an international image clouded by months of allegations of poor labor rights, alleged corruption over the 2022 World Cup and political tensions with its Gulf Arab neighbors.

But Western governments see Qatar, maverick though it be, as a potentially significant regional mediator because of its links to Islamist movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.

Qatar denies any ulterior motive and notes that Washington has openly asked it to talk to Hamas. Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said on Sunday Qatar’s role was just to facilitate communication.

“BLOODSHED NEEDS TO STOP”

A source familiar with the matter said Qatar will not press Hamas to change or reduce its demands.

In Saudi Arabia, where suspicion of Hamas is particularly strong, as an ally of the Brotherhood and of Iran, Riyadh's main regional adversaries, newspapers have abandoned a tradition of blaming Israel alone to also attack the Palestinian group.

“The Hamas leadership, from Egyptian blood to Palestinian blood,” was the headline of an opinion article by Fadi Ibrahim al-Dhahabi in the daily al-Jazeera newspaper on Sunday.

He argued that Hamas was stoking the war in Gaza not for the sake of Palestinian liberation, but as part of a wider Muslim Brotherhood campaign against Egypt's government and to win favour with Iran.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, part of a recently formed national unity government intended to overcome rivalry between Hamas and the more secular Fatah nationalist movement, told Reuters he had seen no tug-of-war among Arab states.

“This is not the case. There is no competition between Arab countries, they all want to stop the bloodshed,” he said.

“All Arab countries want to bring an end to this fountain of blood in Gaza, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt are all in agreement. And the leaders of these country's have put their differences aside and all agree that the bloodshed needs to stop”.

Israel cuts diplomatic presence in Turkey amid protests


Israel said on Friday it was reducing its diplomatic presence in Turkey after protesters angered by its ground offensive into Gaza pelted its consulate in Istanbul with stones and draped Palestinian flags on the ambassador's residence in Ankara.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry accused Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of “incitement”, saying it was ordering the return of diplomats' families and trimming staffing to a minimum.

Erdogan had accused the Jewish state on Wednesday of terrorising the region and likened an Israeli MP and member of the governing coalition to Hitler. On Friday he said there would be no improvement in relations between the two countries while he or his administration remained in charge.

“(Israel) has always been oppressive, and continues to oppress. Hence, as Turkey, I cannot think of positive developments with Israel as long as I hold this duty,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul.

He also criticised the West and the Muslim world for what he said was their silence in the face of “inhumane attacks”.

“Westerners may say I am stirring up tensions, but I have the mission of winning the consent of people and God.”

Israel stepped up its land offensive in the Gaza Strip with artillery, tanks and gunboats on Friday after Islamist militants there rejected a proposed truce and kept firing rockets into Israeli territory. Israel warned it could “significantly widen” an operation that Palestinian officials said had killed at least 260 people in 10 days, most of them civilians. [ID:nL6N0PT00D]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Istanbul and said that Palestinian authorities were working with the international community and “brotherly Muslim countries” towards an immediate ceasefire.

Early on Friday, Turkish riot police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters outside the Israeli mission in Istanbul, but did not intervene in Ankara, where windows of the ambassador's residence were smashed, local media reported.

3,000 PROTESTERS

“Die out murderer Jew” had been scrawled on the wall across from the consulate in Istanbul.

“Israel strongly protests the blatant breach of diplomatic regulations … which were grossly violated by the Turkish authorities and security services during the demonstrations,” a statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

Around 3,000 people poured onto the streets of Istanbul after Friday prayers, chanting anti-Israel slogans and waving Palestinian flags, while passing cars honked in support.

“These protests will go on until all Israeli embassies are closed. I will attend all protests if I have to. I can't even begin to express my anger at the massacre in Gaza,” one woman, who was pushing her baby in a pram, told Reuters.

There were also smaller demonstrations in Ankara and the eastern city of Diyabakir, but no repeat of earlier violence.

NATO member Turkey was once Israel's closest ally in the region. But Erdogan has been a strident critic of its treatment of the Palestinians, and has issued a series of broadsides against the Jewish state since the Gaza hostilities erupted.

Anti-Israeli sentiment runs high in Turkey, particularly among Erdogan's largely conservative Sunni Muslim voter base, who he hopes will hand him victory in Turkey's first direct presidential election next month.

While bilateral trade remains largely unaffected, Israel's diplomatic presence in Turkey had already been downgraded.

Relations reached a nadir in 2010, when Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara sailing as part of a flotilla challenging the Jewish state's naval blockade of Gaza. Ten people were killed.

Efforts to mend fences picked up after Netanyahu last year apologised for the raid and pledged to pay compensation as part of a U.S.-brokered rapprochement. But progress later stalled.

International court to look into Israel’s 2010 Gaza flotilla raid


The International Criminal Court prosecutor said she would open a preliminary examination into the 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, which left nine Turkish activists dead.

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement Tuesday that she was obliged to open a preliminary examination following a referral from the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros, where one of the vessels that were raided was registered, Reuters reported.

Few preliminary examinations ever lead to a full investigation, let alone a trial. Activists have repeatedly attempted to involve the court in The Hague in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it has so far declined to investigate events in the Palestinian territories.

The raid, in which Israeli special forces rappelled down onto the ships of activists who were seeking to break an Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza, caused a breakdown in relations between Turkey and Israel.

“My office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met,” Bensouda said.

The referral from the Comoros was relayed to the ICC by a Turkish law firm, Elmadag, according to Reuters.

The United States has been promoting a reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, two of its allies. Since then, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for “any error that may have led to loss of life” and talks have begun on compensation.

Ergogan disregards Kerry request to postpone Gaza visit


Turkey's prime minister will go ahead with a planned visit next month to Gaza, despite a request from US Secretary of State John Kerry to postpone.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly refused Kerry's request Sunday to postpone the visit, during a meeting between the two leaders in Istanbul. Erdogan had previously postponed his visit from this month until next, to take place after a scheduled meeting in Washington in mid-May.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also asked Erdogan to delay the visit during a meeting between the two men in Istanbul, saying it could harm relations between the West Bank and Gaza.

Erdogan reportedly plans to visit Gaza on or around May 31, the three-year anniversary of the Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli naval commandoes raided the ship attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

Israeli negotiators on Monday met in Ankara with Turkish officials to discuss paying compensation to the families of the victims of the 2010 raid.

The negotiations are part of the process of restoring diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey which were severed following the raid and which began the process of being repaired following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apology last month to Erdogan.

U.S. urges Turkey, Egypt, others to encourage Hamas to de-escalate


The United States has asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the group to stop its recent rocket attacks from Gaza, a White House adviser said on Thursday.

“We've … urged those that have a degree of influence with Hamas such as Turkey, and Egypt and some of our European partners to use that influence to urge Hamas to de-escalate,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor, in a conference call with reporters.

Asked whether the United States was concerned that Israeli ground forces would enter Gaza, Rhodes said: “Ultimately it's up to the Israeli government to make determinations about how they're going to carry out their military objectives.”

Israel seizes pro-Palestinian activist ship, Estelle off Gaza


The Israeli navy seized an international pro-Palestinian activist ship on the Mediterranean high seas on Saturday to prevent it breaching Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, a military spokeswoman said.

She said no one was hurt when marines boarded the SV Estelle, a three-mast schooner, and that it was rerouted to the Israeli port of Ashdod after it ignored orders to turn away from the Hamas-governed Palestinian enclave.

The Estelle was carrying 30 activists from Europe, Canada and Israel, humanitarian cargo such as cement and goodwill items such as children's books, a mission spokesman said on Saturday.

Shipboard activists could not immediately be reached for comment on the interception, which was carried out in international waters as they were on their final Gaza approach.

Greece, five of whose citizens were among the activists, said in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Athens that all of the Estelle's passengers were in good health.

Citing a need to stem arms smuggling to Hamas and other Palestinian militants, Israel maintains a tight naval blockade of Gaza. Israel and neighbouring Egypt also limit overland traffic to and from the territory.

Palestinians describe the curbs as collective punishment for Gaza's 1.6 million residents, and their supporters abroad have mounted several attempts to break the blockade by sea. Most were stopped by Israel, and detained foreign activists repatriated.

In a May 2010 interception, Israeli marines killed nine Turkish activists in clashes aboard their Gaza-bound ship.

An inquiry into that incident commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found the Gaza blockade legal but faulted the Israeli navy for excessive force.

Israel goes to U.N. in effort to halt Gaza-bound ship


Israel asked the United Nations to stop a Swedish-owned ship carrying human rights activists from attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, called the ship Estelle a “provocation” that “raises tensions and could easily spark a serious escalation of the conflict.”

“I want to stress that Israel is not interested in confrontation but remains determined to enforce its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — and will take all lawful actions to this end,” Prosor wrote in a letter delivered Tuesday to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Part of the Freedom Flotilla movement, the Estelle reportedly is carrying humanitarian aid such as cement, basketballs and musical instruments. The small vessel began its journey in Sweden and toured Europe, including Finland, France and Spain, before arriving earlier this month in the Gulf of Naples. It is due to arrive in Gaza's territorial waters early next week.

The boat, flying the Finnish flag, also is carrying at least 17 activists from Canada, Norway, Sweden, Israel and the United States. Members of parliament of four European countries reportedly boarded the vessel at sea near Greece on Tuesday, according to the Swedish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, which said there are now some 30 activists.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 after the terrorist group Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. It says the sanctions are to prevent weapons and other terror material from being smuggled in to Gaza,

The Freedom Flotilla's first attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists after Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel's naval blockade.

Israel mishandled Gaza flotilla incident, comptroller report finds


Israel’s State Comptroller issued a report highly critical of the government’s handling of the Mavi Marmara Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza in 2010.

The report, issued Wednesday on the eve of Micha Lindenstrauss’ leaving his position, said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision-making process was flawed and that the strategy did not follow the recommended protocol.

In addition, the report said, key agencies were kept in the dark about what was happening and the possibility of extreme or fatal violence was ignored. There also was no proper documentation of discussions surrounding actions taken against the flotilla nor the decisions that were made.

“Israel’s democratic process includes institutional mechanisms for independent oversight and we thank the State Comptroller for his work,” Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said in a statement.

“We reiterate that the panel established by the UN Secretary General to investigate the flotilla incident clearly ruled that the maritime blockade to prevent weapons reaching the terrorists in Gaza is legitimate self defense and that Israel’s decision to intercept the flotilla was indeed legal under international law. Ultimately, weapons that reach Hamas in Gaza end up being used against Israeli civilians.”

Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip. Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American man, were killed in clashes during the raid.

Lindenstrauss also criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak for not looking into whether the army was prepared to deal with a violent response from the Marmara’s passengers.

The report also criticized Israel’s public response to the incident, saying it maintained silent for too long while Palestinian supporters capitalized on the tragedy in the media.

Israel’s government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that the blockade of Gaza was legal.

The United Nations’ Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel.

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to have been illegal. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

Turkey ready to issue indictments in Marmara incident


Turkish government prosecutors have completed their investigation into the incident aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara in 2010.

The prosecutors have requested from Israel’s Foreign Ministry the names of the Israeli soldiers to be listed on the indictment, Turkish Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said Tuesday according to the English-language Today’s Zaman, citing the Anatolia news agency.

Israeli naval commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara,which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning it not to sail into waters near Gaza. Nine Turkish nationals, including one Turkish-American man, were killed in the clashes.

The Israeli government-appointed Turkel commission investigated the incident, despite calls from the United Nations to hold an independent investigation. The commission found that the government and the military behaved appropriately and that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was legal.

The UN-appointed Palmer committee also found the Gaza blockade to be illegal but said that Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel. .

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to have been illegal.

Israel ready to stop boats heading for Gaza


The Israeli navy will prevent two yachts carrying pro-Palestinian activists which left Turkey on Wednesday from breaching an Israeli blockade and reaching the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military official said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, speaking to reporters by telephone, would not say how the boats might be stopped, saying only “we will have to assess and see if we are facing violent passengers.”

Israel was aware two yachts had set sail carrying Irish, Canadian and U.S. activists, Leibovich said. Describing their journey as a “provocation,” she said they were still far from the Israeli and Gazan coast.

Israel would offer to unload any aid supplies on board and deliver them to Gaza, Leibovich said. Israel blockades the Gaza coast to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Palestinian gunmen in the territory, she added.

The military spokesman’s office said the navy was “prepared to contact” the vessels and had “completed the necessary preparations in order to prevent them from reaching the Gaza Strip.”

Israel has blockaded Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, after routing Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel permits humanitarian aid and supplies to reach the territory through a land crossing, and Gaza also shares a border with Egypt.

An Israeli government official told Reuters earlier that Israel “will take whatever measures will be necessary” to maintain its blockade.

Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals on one ship in a Gaza-bound flotilla last year when the activists fought them with clubs and knives as the commandos tried to seize control of the ship to enforce the blockade.

The incident badly damaged ties between Israel and Turkey, which reached a crisis point two months ago when Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel rejected Turkey’s request for an apology for the flotilla deaths.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Tim Pearce

Erdogan: Turkish warships will escort aid vessels to Gaza


Turkey said on Thursday it would escort aid ships to Gaza and would not allow a repetition of last year’s Israeli raid that killed nine Turks, setting the stage for a potential naval confrontation with its former ally.

Raising the stakes in Turkey’s row with Israel over its refusal to apologize for the killings, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera television that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources in the Mediterranean.

“Turkish warships, in the first place, are authorized to protect our ships that carry humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Erdogan said in the interview, broadcast by Al Jazeera with an Arabic translation.

“From now on, we will not let these ships to be attacked by Israel, as what happened with the Freedom Flotilla,” Erdogan said.

Referring to Erdogan’s comments, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: “This is a statement well-worth not commenting on.”

Relations between Turkey and Israel, two close U.S. allies in the region, have soured since Israeli forces boarded the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid ship in May 2010.

Ankara downgraded ties and vowed to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in the escalating row. Israel says it acted legally against ships that tried to breach its blockade on the Palestinian enclave which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.

Israel has said it will enforce the blockade, which it says is needed to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said earlier on Thursday that Israel and Turkey will eventually mend fences rather than become foes, describing their unprecedented dispute over Gaza as “spilled milk.”

Noting that an inquiry commissioned by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had vindicated the blockade, Barak predicted that wider Middle East upheaval would help bring Israel back together with its Muslim ex-ally.

“Ultimately this wave will pass. We recognize reality. They recognize reality,” Barak told Israel Radio. “We are the two countries that are most important to the West in the region … I am certain that we can overcome these (disagreements).”

But Erdogan appeared to raise the heat, saying NATO member Turkey has taken steps to patrol the Mediterranean, and vowed to stop the Jewish state from exploiting natural resources in the area.

“You know that Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean,” Erdogan said, apparently in reference to Israeli plans to exploit offshore gas reserves found in areas that are also claimed by Lebanon.

“You will see that it will not be the owner of this right, because Turkey, as a guarantor of the Turkish republic of north Cyprus, has taken steps in the area, and it will be decisive and holding fast to the right to monitor international waters in the east Mediterranean,” he said.

Turkey says oil deals granted by the Greek Cypriot government, which represents the island in the European Union, are illegal as the borders of Cyprus remain undetermined while Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots pursue reunification talks.

Turkey’s plan to flex its naval muscles may fuel Western unease about Turkey’s reliability as a NATO partner and its penchant for actions designed to court popularity in the Muslim world.

Asked whether Israel might yet say sorry for the seizure of the Turkish vessel, Barak said: “Look, it’s spilled milk. It’s not important right now.”

In addition to an apology, NATO-member Turkey has demanded that Israel end the Gaza blockade. Israel says the closure is needed to keep arms from reaching Palestinian guerrillas by sea.

“A normalization or improvement in Turkey-Israel relationships shouldn’t be expected unless they apologize, pay a compensation and lift an embargo on Gaza,” Erdogan said on Thursday.

Reporting by Omar Fahmy; Aditional reporting Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Karolina Tagaris

Report: U.S. to offer Turkey major role in Mideast talks if it stops Gaza flotilla


The U.S. government is considering to offer Turkey a deal in which Ankara would stop a second Gaza flotilla that is due to depart later this month in exchange for the opportunity to host an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit in Ankara, the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman reported Friday.

Israel has been preparing to block the second aid flotilla sailing from Turkey to Gaza, one year after the Israel Defense Forces’ deadly raid on the first Gaza flotilla in which nine Turkish activists died. Turkey has demanded Israel apologize for the raid in order to restore Turkish-Israeli ties.

Today’s Zaman quoted the Turkish Hurriyet daily as reporting that the U.S. was due to officially ask Turkey to host a major peace conference in return for mending its ties with Israel and preventing the second Gaza-bound flotilla. The proposed peace summit would be similar to past major talks such as the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference and the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israel’s Arab neighbors may hold key to summit’s success


As the Annapolis peace parley rapidly approaches, some of the Arab and Muslim players expected to play a key role in creating conditions for a favorable outcome are proving to be more of an obstacle than an asset.

Egypt, Syria and Turkey have been complicating efforts to hold what the United States envisions to be a tipping point in the long-dormant peace process.

On Tuesday, one of those nations seemed to reverse course: Egypt threw its support behind the peace conference after Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Syria, however, has proven more of a problem. If Annapolis is supposed to trigger a process of reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world, it is imperative that Syria attend. But Syrian leader Bashar Assad said he has no intention of coming to Maryland unless a much clearer offer of a deal with Israel is put on the table.

Complicating matters further are strains between Israel and Turkey, which reportedly is trying to mediate between Jerusalem and Damascus.

The difficulties on the Palestinian track could be helped by a Syrian presence in Annapolis. Although Assad says he has yet to receive a serious offer, he went to Turkey on Tuesday for regional talks that were to include discussion of Israel. Assad told the Tunisian daily al-Shuruq that the Turks have been mediating between Israel and Syria for the past six months.

Just two weeks ago, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan came to Jerusalem after visiting Damascus. Before that the Turks initiated a failed back channel involving former Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Liel and Syrian-American Abe Suleiman.

Ironically, some Israelis believe the chances of accommodation with Syria are greater in the wake of the reported Israeli air strike last month against an alleged Syrian nuclear facility. Top Israel Defense Forces generals believe there now is a real chance for a dialogue with Syria, and Israel should explore it.

In farewell interviews, the outgoing deputy chief of staff, Maj.-Gen Moshe Kaplinsky, argued that detaching Syria from the Iranian-led “axis of evil” was a vital Israeli and American interest.

At one point, the Turkish mediation effort seemed hampered by strains in ties between the country and Israel. The Turks were angered by Israeli planes flying over their airspace during the reported operation against the Syrian nuclear facility, as well by what they saw as Israeli influence on U.S. Jewish groups lobbying for congressional legislation to recognize the Armenian genocide.

Although the visit to Israel this week of the Turkish chief of staff, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, seems to indicate business as usual, there are major concerns in Israel about Turkey’s geopolitical alignment. The fact that Ankara is now ruled by an Islamist government and president, and seems to be gearing up for military action against the Kurds in northern Iraq, raises questions about its position within the moderate pro-Western camp.

Just as the Western camp would like to pluck Syria from the axis of evil, Iran is making renewed efforts to draw Turkey away from its Western orientation.

As important, Israel and the United States had hoped that Egypt, the key moderate Sunni nation in the region, would encourage the Palestinians and other regional protagonists to make peace with Israel the way it did in 1979.

Instead, Israeli officials have been complaining that Egypt has been playing a negative role, turning a blind eye to the unimpeded smuggling of weapons across the Egyptian border to Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis said this was creating a major military threat that could scuttle the November gathering even before it began.

For months, tons of explosives and weapons have been flooding across the porous Egyptian border with Gaza, Israeli officials say. Dozens of Palestinian terrorists also have been slipping back into Gaza through Egypt after training in Iran, Syria or Lebanon.

Before the Hamas takeover in Gaza in June, there was a semblance of border control. Now, Israel says, the Egypt-Gaza border has become a “smugglers’ highway.” So great is the increase in smuggling that Israel says it constitutes a “strategic threat” both militarily and politically.

In mid-October, Israeli officials fired off an urgent message to Washington: “The smuggling of weapons and terrorist experts,” they said, poses “a real threat to the holding of the Annapolis conference.”

The nightmare scenario is this: The smuggling encourages Hamas to launch rocket attacks on Israeli urban centers, drawing Israel into a large-scale military operation in Gaza and pushing Annapolis off the agenda.

This week, however, the Egyptians announced they had uncovered new tunnels to Gaza. Three Palestinians found inside one of them were arrested, and bombs, bullets and drugs found inside another were confiscated.

Israel foresees two major military problems if the smuggling remains unchecked: The introduction of longer-range rockets and the industrial wherewithal for Hamas to produce its own missiles on a grand scale. This would give the terrorists in Gaza the capacity to threaten Israel in the southern and central regions of the country in very much the same way the Lebanese-based Hezbollah does in the North.

Israeli officials also are concerned by Egyptian attempts behind the scenes to effect reconciliation between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ moderate Fatah movement and Hamas.

“Egypt is working against everything we are all trying to achieve,” senior Israeli officials complained recently to the Americans. “We are organizing a summit, trying to strengthen Abbas, and they are strengthening Hamas.”

The Egyptians see things differently. They claim Israel is to blame for the difficulties in the run-up to Annapolis.

“There are people in Israel who are trying to prevent prior agreement on the core issues, without which the conference will fail,” the Egyptian Foreign Minister Gheit charged.

Gheit softened his tone somewhat after meeting Tuesday with Rice, who had come to the region to get the agenda back on track.

Rice has three main goals: To bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to agreement on a statement of principles, to impress Israeli government hard-liners of the need to go forward and to get Israel and Egypt back on the same page.

One thing is clear: In the run-up to Annapolis, the geopolitical stakes are rising.


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent of the Jerusalem Report.

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.