At the General Assembly: Abbas slams UN inaction, Netanyahu says UN ‘war against Israel’ is over


At the United Nations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would push for a resolution condemning West Bank settlements, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said ties between Israel and the rest of the world were improving and that “the war against Israel at the U.N. is over.”

Speaking to the crowd of international leaders in New York on Thursday, Abbas continually blasted Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, while also criticizing the U.N. Security Council for not coming down harder on the Jewish state’s settlement expansion.

In his speech, during which he kept emphasizing that the Palestinian Authority was “the sole representative of the Palestinian people,” Abbas said the P.A. will push for a resolution condemning Israeli settlements and that he hoped “no one will cast a veto against this draft resolution.”

“What the Israeli government is doing in its pursuit of its expansionist settlement plans will destroy whatever possibility and hopes are left of the two-state solution on the 1967 borders,” he said.

Abbas, who referred to Palestine as “a state under occupation,” also said Britain should apologize for signing the “infamous” Balfour Declaration, a 1917 letter that declared its support of Israel as the Jewish homeland.

The declaration, he said, “paved the road for the nakba,” an Arabic term referring to Israel’s victory in its war of independence and the displacement and dispersal of Palestinians that resulted.

The Palestinian leader also appealed to countries who had not yet recognized Palestine as a state to do so.

“Those who believe in the two-state solution should recognize both states, and not just one of them,” Abbas said.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the international leaders that their governments at home were changing their views of Israel for the better.

“The change will happen in this hall because back at home your governments are rapidly changing their attitudes toward Israel, and sooner or later that’s going to change the way you’re voting on Israel in the U.N.,” he said after blasting the international body’s past condemnations of Israeli policy.

The Israeli prime minister cited improved ties with African and Asian countries, but said relations with neighboring countries were the most significant change.

“The biggest change in attitudes towards Israel is taking place elsewhere, it’s taking place in the Arab world,” he said, calling peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan “anchors of stability” in the Middle East.

Netanyahu said he welcomed “the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative,” a nod to Saudi Arabia, which initiated the peace proposal that has not been accepted by Israel.

He mocked Abbas’ call to  launch “a lawsuit against Britain” over the Balfour Declaration, saying it was as “absurd” as suing Abraham for buying land in Hebron in the Bible.

But Netanyahu also said he was open to dialogue, inviting Abbas to speak in the Knesset and saying he would be open to speaking to the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah.

In his speech, which came a day after he sat down with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu also emphasized the strong bond between Israel and the United States.

“We never forget that that our most cherished alliance, our deepest friendship, is with the United States of America, the most powerful and most generous nation in the world,” he said, adding that while “the U.N. denounces Israel, the U.S. supports Israel.”

 

Abbas reportedly rejects meeting with Netanyahu


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly turned down an American request that he meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a bid to jump-start peace talks.

Secretary of State John Kerry made the request of Abbas at their July meeting in Paris, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds reported  Thursday.

Abbas refused the meeting, the newspaper said, telling Kerry that he would only acquiesce after Netanyahu froze all settlement construction and released the last group of Palestinian prisoners that were slated to be freed as a goodwill gesture in the 2014 peace talks.

It’s unclear after false starts what might be next. In May, Netanyahu said he was willing “to meet President Abbas today in Jerusalem.”

But Gershon Baskin, founder and co-chairman of IPCRI-Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, who in the past has acted as a conduit between the Netanyahu government and Palestinian officials, told JTA in May that Abbas offered three times to begin secret, direct negotiations with Netanyahu. Each time, Baskin said, Netanyahu refused.

The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently denied the report, saying “Netanyahu continues to call on President Abbas to meet anytime, anywhere, without pre-conditions. Unfortunately, President Abbas has refused.”

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process collapsed two years ago, and progress now appears unlikely before President Barack Obama’s final term ends in January.

Abbas says some Israeli rabbis called for poisoning Palestinian water


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israeli rabbis on Thursday of calling for the poisoning of Palestinian water, in what appeared to be an invocation of a widely debunked media report that recalled a medieval anti-Semitic libel.

The remarks drew strong condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who termed them a “blood libel”, in a statement issued by his office.

Abbas's remarks, in a speech to the European parliament, did not appear on the official transcript issued by his office, suggesting he may have spoken off the cuff as he condemned Israeli actions against Palestinians amid stalled peace talks.

“Only a week ago, a number of rabbis in Israel announced, and made a clear announcement, demanding that their government poison the water to kill the Palestinians,” Abbas said.

“Isn't that clear incitement to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people?”

The Israeli statement said that Abbas had “showed his true face in Brussels,” adding that “by refusing to meet with the Israeli president and with … Netanyahu for direct negotiations, and by spreading a blood libel in the European parliament, his claim that his hand is outstretched for peace is false.”

Abbas's remarks were made as Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, made a parallel visit to Brussels. Rivlin's office said Abbas had declined a European proposal that the two meet there. A spokesman for Abbas said any such meeting would require more preparation.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

Abbas, who received a standing ovation from EU lawmakers after his speech, gave no source for his information — and there has been no evidence over the past week of any call by Israeli rabbis to poison Palestinian water.

Israel said in the statement that it “awaits the day when Abu Mazen (Abbas) will stop spreading lies and be involved in incitement. Until then, Israel will continue to protect itself from the Palestinian incitement which generates acts of terror.”

MASSACRES

Reports of an alleged rabbinical edict emerged on Sunday, when the Turkish state news agency Anadolu said that a “Rabbi Shlomo Mlma, chairman of the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank settlements”, had issued an advisory to allow Jewish settlers to take such action.

The same day, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, on its website, cited what it said was a water-poisoning call from a “Rabbi Mlmad” and demanded his arrest.

Reuters and other news outlets in Israel could not locate any rabbi named Shlomo Mlma or Mlmad, and there is no listed organization called the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank.

Gulf News, in a report on Sunday, said a number of rabbis had issued the purported advisory. It attributed the allegation to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of veteran soldiers critical of the military's treatment of Palestinians.

A spokesman for Breaking the Silence told Reuters the group had not provided any such information.

For Jews, allegations of water poisoning strike a bitter chord. In the 14th century, as plague swept across Europe, false accusations that Jews were responsible for the disease by deliberately poisoning wells led to massacres of Jewish communities.

For Israel and the Palestinians, the peace plans just keep coming


Here a plan, there a plan, everywhere a peace plan.

Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian Authority may not exactly seem conducive to peace — Israel just formed what may be its most right-wing government ever, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is aging and becoming less popular.

Yet peace plans have been coming at the region from all sides. No less than three Israeli-Palestinian peace proposals have been put forward in recent weeks, spanning a range of countries, leaders and organizations.

  • conference of some two dozen countries in Paris on Friday reiterated the need for a two-state solution.
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi reportedly has been pushing Netanyahu and Abbas to meet in Cairo.
  • This week, the U.S.-based Israel Policy Forum, a center-left pro-Israel group, presented two plans in tandem that are designed to lay the security groundwork for a peace treaty.
  • And despite their limitations, Netanyahu and Abbas have also said they’re game for talks. On Sunday, Netanyahu declared his commitment to a two-state solution and praised the Arab Peace Initiative. Last month, JTA reported that Abbas allegedly sent Netanyahu three separate negotiation proposals in recent years.

So is peace in the offing, or is it all talk? Here are the plans on the table, what Israel and the P.A. are saying and why these efforts are coming together now.

Three paths to peace: International intervention, a trusted ally or confidence-building steps

The Paris summit that took place Friday was more than a year in the making. It was based on the idea that after more than two decades of inconclusive direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, it was time for the international community to take a more active role. Nearly 30 countries attended the summit; neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were invited.

It ended after five hours with a statement asking the Israelis and Palestinians to demonstrate “a genuine commitment to the two-state solution in order to rebuild trust.”

France, which organized the meeting, plans to convene another conference including Israel and the Palestinians by year’s end. But while the P.A. has praised the initiative, Israel has demurred, saying the only way to peace is through direct talks. Israel objects in particular to a French pledge to recognize a Palestinian state should talks fail.

Sissi’s initiative, reported last week in the Israeli publication Ynet, may be more promising. Sissi hopes to organize a tripartite meeting of Egypt, Israel and the P.A. to restart talks. Israel views Sissi as a trusted security partner, and he’s an ally of Abbas — so he could be better able to coax both sides back to the table.

On May 17, Sissi gave a speech urging relaunched negotiations. Egypt didn’t want to lead the initiative, he said, but would “make every effort” to reach peace.

third push, meanwhile, has come from a coalition of American and Israeli military officials hoping to reassure Israelis that a Palestinian state would not degrade their security. They see Israeli security fears as one of the primary obstacles to peace.

The plan by Commanders for Israel’s Security, a group of pro-peace former generals, calls for Israel to complete its security barrier around the West Bank, freeze settlement construction outside the barrier and provide incentives for settlers outside it to relocate within Israel. The plan calls on Israel to forfeit sovereignty over the West Bank and acknowledge that sections of eastern Jerusalem will be part of a future Palestinian state.

A parallel plan from the Center for a New American Security focuses on the details of security arrangements in a future Palestinian state. It calls for a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank based on a timetable and benchmarks. It would also place an American security force in the Jordan Valley, the border between the West Bank and Jordan.

Both the CIS plan and the CNAS plans were promoted by the Israel Policy Forum, a group of Jewish community leaders aiming to build support for a two-state solution.

Netanyahu and Abbas both say they’re ready — but won’t meet.

Netanyahu and Abbas have not met formally since 2010. Each insists he is not the obstacle to another round of talks. Netanyahu has called several times recently for direct talks and welcomed Sissi’s speech. He offered qualified praise for the Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 Arab League proposal that calls for full relations with Israel in return for a Palestinian state, Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Golan Heights, and a negotiated solution for Palestinian refugees.

“The Arab Peace Initiative includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians,” he said Sunday at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. “We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in the region since 2002, but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples.”

Abbas also says he is committed to peace. Gershon Baskin, an Israeli who has acted as an unofficial conduit between Israel and Palestinian leaders, told JTA last month that he personally delivered three Abbas offers for direct talks to Netanyahu’s office over the past three years. Netanyahu’s spokesman denied the claim. And in a March interview on Israel’s Channel 2, Abbas said he was “prepared to meet Netanyahu anywhere, any time.”

But the leaders’ declarations haven’t led to action. Abbas refuses to meet with Netanyahu absent prior Israeli commitments or concessions. He also lacks the support of his constituents. According to a September 2015 poll, two-thirds of Palestinians demanded Abbas’ resignation.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, refuses to participate in international peace conferences, demanding only direct talks. In addition, the pro-settler Jewish Home faction, as well as many in Netanyahu’s own Likud party, oppose Palestinian statehood.

Observers worry the window for peace is closing.

Despite adverse conditions, advocates for peace say there is an urgent need for another round of negotiations. They say continued settlement growth, as well as growing disenchantment among Israelis and Palestinians, mean a two-state solution may soon be impossible to reach.

Israeli and Palestinian actions are “dangerously imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution,” said a statement released by the foreign ministers attending the Paris conference, which “underscored that the status quo is not sustainable.”

Even if talks are unlikely, detailed proposals are still important, said Ilan Goldenberg, lead author of the Center for a New American Security study. By showing Israelis and Palestinians that an agreement is still possible, he said, the study keeps the opportunity for peace alive until Netanyahu and Abbas are ready.

“Abbas and Bibi have a complicated personal relationship, and that makes this more difficult in the short term,” he said Thursday at a briefing for reporters, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “But that doesn’t mean this isn’t the solution in the long term.”

Netanyahu’s office denies Abbas offered direct talks


A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied a claim that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas offered to begin secret, direct talks with Netanyahu three times but was rejected.

In a statement to JTA Tuesday, Netanyahu spokesman David Keyes flatly denied the assertion made a day earlier by Gershon Baskin, who has acted as an unofficial conduit between the Netanyahu government and Palestinian leadership.

“There is no truth whatsoever to the claim that President Abbas offered to begin secret direct talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Keyes said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to call on President Abbas to meet anytime, anywhere, without pre-conditions. Unfortunately, President Abbas has refused.”

Baskin told JTA that he personally delivered the requests from Abbas over the past three years.

“Netanyahu is paying lip service to the public and the world because Abbas has offered Netanyahu on three opportunities a request to enter into secret, direct negotiations,” Baskin told JTA.

On Tuesday, Baskin told JTA, “There are at least three times I know of because I sent the messages for Abbas.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas faces heat for UN resolution wavering


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

A set of Palestinian initiatives aimed at advancing policy through anti-Israel measures at international organizations, or using international forums, appear to be in disarray following a series of setbacks.

Late last week, Irinia Bokova, the director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was forced to repudiate a Palestinian-backed initiative that ignored all historic Jewish ties to the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem’s Old City.

“This decision was made by the economic council and the management council of UNESCO which are both management bodies, and was not made by me,” she clarified, in a statement, adding that she maintains “Jerusalem is a Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people, nothing should be undertaken to alter its integrity and authenticity. It is a mosaic of cultures and peoples, whose history has shaped the history of all humanity. Only respect and dialogue can build the trust we need to move forward – this is the strength of UNESCO, for the benefit of all.” 

It was the second time this year that Bokova, who aspires to succeed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, was forced to step in when an anti-Israel move crossed the bounds. In January, she condemned Iran for sponsoring a conference denying the Holocaust. 

Bokova’s backtracking followed another embarrassment related to Palestinian initiatives. Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced that, following a Palestinian about-face, his country would not install CCTV cameras on the Temple Mount, called Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, by Muslims, which is the site of Islam’s holy Al-Aqsa mosque and, for Jews, known as the site of the ancient temples. 

In an interview with the semi-governmental Petra news agency, Ensour disclosed that, having disposed of initial Israeli opposition to the idea, “we were surprised since our intention to carry out the project, by the response of some of our Palestinian brethren to the project, adding that they voiced their concern and cast doubt on its aims and objectives.” 

The Palestinian government declined to explain its reversal following months of demands that cameras document “Israel police violations.” In recent weeks, as the prospect of cameras placed on the contentious site grew more plausible, a number of banners declaring, “We don’t need any cameras here. Only Allah sees all,” and “the picture is clear – so no cameras are needed,” among other mottos, have appeared.  

Ensour said “we decided to halt implementation” of the plan out of respect for “our brethren in Palestine.”   

For many Israeli observers, the volte-face, and the embarrassment to Jordan, were the consequence of long-time and inaccurate Palestinian accusations that Israel “is invading” the holy site, which were cameras present, might be exposed as frauds.

On Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is visiting New York, was blasted by his own political allies when it emerged that he is leaning towards shelving the Palestinian effort to secure a UN Security Council resolution condemning and declaring as illegal the ongoing construction in Israeli West Bank communities, at the behest of France, that hopes to convene its own Israeli-Palestinian peace summit this summer.

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials have told numerous local media outlets that the French government has demanded that the Palestinian delegation stand down so as not to sabotage its own efforts.

“The opportunity to go to the Security Council will always be there and we want to give a chance to the French initiative because, in the end, this is an initiative that serves us and not one that hurts us,” one Palestinian official told the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Another setback, the third in two weeks, has provoked expressions of frustration form Abbas supporters in Ramallah, who fear their hands are tied as a long, hot summer recess looms and as issues such as the ongoing killing in Syria and the refugee crisis in Europe have overshadowed Palestinian demands in the international arena. 

Until Monday, despite hints of official wavering, Palestinian diplomats continued to assure Western diplomats and the international media that the demand for a vote on the Palestinian resolution was not in question. The confusion is such that Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, in New York with Abbas, confirmed the Haaretz report one day after his office in Ramallah denied it.

Some exasperated senior Palestinian officials, who have not been kept in the loop of the president’s thinking, believe shelving the resolution is a mistake when, in fact, there is no inconsistency between the resolution and the French-sponsored conference.

Mustafa Barghouti, the head of the government-affiliated Palestinian National Initiative and a longtime insider of the Palestinian corridors of power, who many consider a possible successor to Abbas, said that

“It’s impossible to rely solely on the French initiative, since to this day we don’t know what it’s based on, and on the other hand, we know very well that Israel and the U.S. won’t lend a hand to implementing such an important move, and Israel will continue building in the settlements and expropriating large parts of the West Bank as if there were no global public opinion.”

“Therefore, if there’s a trend we should support in practice, it’s increasing anti-Israel boycott activity and intensifying the popular struggle.” 

Abbas nixes rumors about collapse of Palestinian Authority, his resignation


The Palestinian Authority is not going to collapse, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said, addressing at least one report to the contrary.

“The Palestinian Authority exists and it is here. It will be followed by a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority is one of our achievements and we won’t give it up,” Abbas said Wednesday night from Bethlehem, where he was attending Orthodox Christmas celebrations.

“We won’t accept any other scenarios,” he said.

Haaretz reported that Israel’s Security Cabinet convened twice in recent weeks to prepare for the possibility of the PA’s collapse, a scenario described by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as undesirable for Israel.

Abbas also said that during meetings next week, the PLO will make an official decision on whether or not to cancel agreements signed over the years with Israel, including the security coordination enshrined in the Oslo Accords from the 1990s.

Prior to the speech, rumors had circulated that Abbas was planning to resign amid reports that he was seriously ill, including being treated for a stroke.

Abbas called on the international community to impose a peace agreement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said the Palestinians remain committed to a two-state solution.

“We shall remain on our land and Israel is not permitted to establish an apartheid state or a state with two systems,” he said.

Abbas also called for all West Bank settlements to be dismantled.

“This is our land and all the settlers must leave, he said, “and they will leave as was the case in the Gaza Strip.”

Israeli government, military disagree over unrest


Two months into a wave of stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks by Palestinians targeting Israelis, gaps are emerging between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the military and intelligence chiefs over what is driving the violence.

The rifts raise questions about whether the right tactics are being used to quell the unrest, the most sustained that Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank have experienced since the last Palestinian uprising, or intifada, ended in 2005.

While there is agreement between Netanyahu, the military and the Shin Bet security agency about broad aspects of the violence – that it is being carried out by “lone-wolves” active on social media and that tensions over the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem have contributed – the deeper causes are disputed.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused 80-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of directly inciting the unrest. He also describes it as a manifestation of Palestinians' hatred of Jews and unwillingness to accept Israel's right to exist.

“What is driving this terrorism is opposition to Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, within any borders,” he said as he left for the climate talks in Paris on Sunday.

In contrast, the military and Shin Bet have tended to point to a variety of economic and socio-political factors that they see fuelling Palestinian anger and frustration, particularly among young men and women in the West Bank.

While they have criticized Abbas and his Fatah party for tacitly condoning the violence, including praising “martyrs” who have carried out stabbings, they have avoided accusing the Palestinian leader of inciting it directly.

“The motivation for action is based on feelings of national, economic and personal discrimination,” the Shin Bet wrote in an analysis last month. “For some of the assailants an attack provides an escape from a desperate reality they believe cannot be changed.”

At a cabinet meeting in November, the head of the army's intelligence division gave a similar description, leading to a row with at least one minister who was angry that the general's briefing was not in line with the government's position.

The details were leaked to Israeli media and confirmed to Reuters by a government source who attended the meeting.

Since Oct. 1, when the violence began, 19 Israelis and an American have been killed. Over the same period, Israeli forces have shot dead 97 Palestinians, 58 of whom were identified by Israel as assailants.

“PINPOINT ACTION”

As well as differences in identifying the causes, there are gaps in the approach being advocated to quell the situation.

The military, which has been in the West Bank for 48 years and is minutely involved in maintaining stability, in coordination with Palestinian security forces, is pushing for pinpoint operations that target specific perpetrators.

Senior ministers who sit on Netanyahu's security cabinet want a heavier toll to be exacted on the Palestinian population, arguing that it is the only effective deterrent.

So far, Netanyahu has shown no inclination to launch a large-scale military operation, despite ramping up deployments in the West Bank by 40 percent and calling up reserve units.

He has also rejected suggestions by Israeli and U.S. officials that he offer concessions to the Palestinians to diffuse tension. Violence has to end first, he says.

Instead, there is a strong presence of Israeli troops and checkpoints across the West Bank, without the sort of iron-fisted tactics that marked the last intifada, although the homes of several attackers have been destroyed.

“This is about taking pinpoint action to tackle specific challenges,” a senior army officer told Reuters, saying operations focused on three particularly unruly areas.

Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said the military was trying to ensure that the bulk of the population, which is not involved in violence, is as unaffected as possible.

One example of the balance the military is trying to strike is in Beit Ummar, near Hebron, the most volatile West Bank city. On Friday a 19-year-old from the village, Omar Zaakiek, got into his car and drove into six Israeli soldiers, who shot him dead.

Within hours Netanyahu's security cabinet announced Beit Ummar would be put under “closure”, with cars barred from entering or exiting, except via a winding back road, and pedestrians having to pass through an Israeli checkpoint.

Locals accused Israel of collective punishment. The mayor said Zaakiek's family was told their home faced demolition, a tactic the army and Shin Bet have called counterproductive.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz acknowledged the rift between some ministers and the military and said the latter's policy of trying to isolate the attackers was flawed.

“It is legitimate to have an argument about distinguishing terrorists from the Palestinian population,” he told Channel 10 TV. “It is completely clear that the more you differentiate, the more your ability to deter is limited.”

So far Netanyahu has headed off the pressure. But the situation remains precarious. Given the complex roots of the violence, Michael said there was no military solution.

“This reality cannot last long,” he said. “Ultimately one side will make a mistake and the situation will spin out of control.”

Netanyahu, Kerry at Berlin meeting call for end to incitement


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting in Berlin called for an end to incitement to violence against Israelis.

Netanyahu singled out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for blame.

“I think it’s time for the international community to say clearly to President Abbas: Stop spreading lies about Israel. Lies that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, lies that Israel wants to tear down the Al-Aqsa mosque, and lies that Israel is executing Palestinians. All that is false,” Netanyahu said Thursday in Germany.

Kerry did not assign any blame for the violence but said it and incitement had to stop. He also said that the leaders need to “settle on the steps that will be taken that take us beyond the condemnation and beyond the rhetoric” and move toward a larger peace process.

Deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis have sharply increased in recent weeks amid tensions over the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif, a Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims. Driving the tensions in part have been reports among the Palestinians that Israel is planning to alter the site, which houses a mosque compound. Abbas himself has made the charge, which Netanyahu vehemently denies.

Netanyahu also said that “Israel is acting to protect its citizens as any democracy would in the face of such wanton and relentless attacks.”

He is scheduled to meet in Berlin with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.

Kerry is scheduled to meet over the weekend in Amman with Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Kerry says no joint Abbas-Netanyahu meeting for now


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said a joint meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is unlikely.

“I’ve talked to President Abbas and I’ve talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu in the last few days, and we could meet if we chose to,” Kerry said Tuesday, answering reporters’ questions at a climate change conference. “But I think it’s not – that meeting together in the same country is not – this is not the moment, obviously.”

A sharp increase in Palestinian attacks on Israelis in recent weeks has killed eight Israelis, an Eritrean refugee and nearly 50 Palestinians, as tensions swirl around claims to the Temple Mount, the Jerusalem site holy to Muslims and Jews and known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.

There had been reported discussions of setting up a possible meeting between Abbas, Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah, who is responsible for the Muslim supervision of the site, as a means of tamping down tensions.

Kerry said he would meet separately with the leaders during his forthcoming tour of Europe and the Middle East.

“I’ll be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu either in Germany or in the region, and I will be meeting with President Abbas and meeting with King Abdullah and others,” he said Tuesday. “And we will go back to some very basics here with respect to what the expectations are for the administration and the Haram al-Sharif and the Temple Mount, and hopefully begin to open up enough political space to begin to move on some other areas.”

Netanyahu and Abbas speak for first time in 13 months


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the phone, marking the first time the two have spoken in over a year.

Netanyahu phoned Abbas on Friday to wish him a happy Eid al-Fitr, Haaretz reported. Eid al-Fitr is the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the month of Ramadan.

During the call Netanyahu said Israel’s citizens want peace and Israel will continue to act to ensure stability in the region, according to a news release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Abbas said it was important to reach a peace deal in the coming year, Haaretz reported, citing a Palestinian news agency. The two leaders have not spoken directly since June 2014, when Abbas called Netanyahu to say he condemned the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank.

Palestinian unity government resigns


The Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah has resigned and the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister has been asked to form a new government.

Resignation letters were given to P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday, the French news agency AFP reported. The possible collapse of the 14-month-old-government was signaled on Tuesday, despite P.A. denials.

Abbas received the resignations from the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, then asked Hamdallah to form a new government, AFP reported, citing Nimr Hammad, a close aide to Abbas.

The Palestinian unity agreement was signed in April 2014.

Hammad reportedly said that Hamas would be included in consultations to form a new government. Hamas reportedly had been against the dissolution of the government and said it was not consulted by Fatah, Abbas’ party, before the resignation were submitted.

The announcement of the resignation comes amid reports of indirect talks between Hamas and Israel in order to reach a long-term truce in the wake of last summer’s Gaza conflict. Arab and European countries reportedly have mediated the talks.

Armed Palestinian police expand security control


Armed Palestinian police have expanded security control to Palestinian towns bordering Jerusalem.

Under a deal with Israel, the patrols began working in Abu Dis, A-Ram and Biddu, Reuters reported. The patrols include 90 officers.

The towns have been under Israeli security control since the peace process began with the Oslo Accords in 1993.

The Palestinians have threatened to halt security cooperation with Israel since it withheld tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority beginning in January. P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas refused the revenues earlier this month when Israel held back some of the money for utilities payments.

Israel withheld the money as a punitive measure for Abbas signing requests in late December to join the International Criminal Court and other international conventions as a result of the failure of the United Nations Security Council to pass a Palestinian statehood proposal.

Abbas rejects Israel’s partial transfer of Palestinian tax revenue


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday Israel had released frozen tax revenue to the Authority but that he had ordered the funds to be returned because money had been deducted to cover debts to Israeli utility companies.

Israel started withholding around $130 million a month in tax and customs revenue in December. The move came after the Palestinians announced that they were joining the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move finalised on April 1.

Under international pressure, Israel agreed last week to resume the transfers, saying it would immediately pay around $400 million, the withheld revenue minus the amount owed by the Palestinians for utilities supplied by Israel.

Abbas said those deductions amounted to a third of the total sum that Israel owed the Palestinians.

“We are returning the money. Either they give it to us in full or we go to arbitration or to the court (ICC). We will not accept anything else,” he said in a speech.

An official at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel had deducted a portion of the Palestinians' electricity, water and health bills from tax revenue it transferred and was “willing to transfer back to the Palestinian Authority the sum that was returned whenever it wishes”.

In February, Israel's state-owned electric company briefly cut power to several Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank to press for payment of what it said was $492 million owed by the Palestinian government.

Palestinians in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War, are largely dependent on electricity supplied by Israel Electric Corp.

Palestinian president calls Israel a ‘gangster’


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “gangsterism” on Wednesday over its decision to withhold the transfer of more than $100 million a month in tax revenues it collects on the Palestinians' behalf.

Opening a two-day meeting of senior Palestinian officials, when overall ties with Israel and the possibility of suspending security coordination with the Israelis will be discussed, Abbas described the tax move as a provocation.

“How are they allowed to take away our money? Are we dealing with a state or with a gangster?” he asked a gathering of the Palestine Liberation Organization's central council, its second-highest decision-making body.

Israel announced in January it was halting transfers, saying it was in retaliation for a Palestinian decision to sign up to the International Criminal Court, where it plans to pursue war crimes charges against Israel.

It is not the first time the payments, covering around two-thirds of the Palestinian budget, have been suspended, but in the past it has usually lasted only a few weeks. This time, the policy is unlikely to change until well after Israel's March 17 election, once a new government is in place.

European and American diplomats are worried such a long suspension would push the Palestinian Authority to the brink of collapse, affecting stability across the West Bank.

Already many of the PA's 140,000 civil servants have had their pay cut by around 40 percent and there have been bouts of unrest in Ramallah, Bethlehem and other West Bank cities.

Security coordination with Israel, a critical agreement dating back to the Oslo peace accords of the mid-1990s, may end up suspended simply because police and other personnel cannot be paid, Palestinian officials have said.

“How are we going to pay the salaries?” asked Abbas, adding that as well as the tax revenues, Israel owed 1.8 billion shekels ($450 million) in unpaid salaries to Palestinians working for businesses in Israel.

Relations between the two sides have grown dangerously brittle since the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks in 2014.

If a decision is taken to suspend security coordination, it would have an immediate impact on stability in West Bank cities such as Hebron, Nablus and Jenin, where anti-occupation demonstrations are common.

As well as not transferring the tax income, Israel's state-owned electricity company has cut power to Nablus and Jenin in the past 10 days to press for payment of $492 million it says is owed by the Palestinian government.

Earlier this week, the Israeli military mobilised 13,000 troops in the West Bank in a surprise drill, a reflection of the rising security concerns.

While some members of the PLO are determined to suspend security coordination immediately, the more likely outcome is a partial suspension or an increase in the threat to do so.

Genocide, the Jews and why they call Israelis Nazis


We’ve long witnessed Mahmoud Abbas – “the moderate” – naming public squares after Palestinian terrorists whose hands are dripping with Jewish blood. He posthumously bestowed the “Star of Honor” on Abu Jihad, the mastermind of the 1978 Coastal Road attack where 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were killed, calling him “the model of a true fighter and devoted leader.” He named a public square about Dalal Mughrabi, the Palestinian woman who led the attack, in 2011. Last August, Abbas gave a hero's welcome to Palestinian murderers who were stupidly released by Israel as a goodwill gesture.

We’ve also watched as Abbas has slowly become yet another Arab dictator who, once he is elected, ceases all elections. We’ve watched as Abbas has turned the Palestinian Authority into a kleptocracy enriching his two sons Tarik and Yasser as they’ve illegally taken control of the cigarette, construction, and other trades. 

Now comes the news that Abbas’ response to last weeks’ shooting by a Palestinian terrorist of an Israeli-American activist in Jerusalem was to write the murderer’s father praising him as a Palestinian hero.

All this from the Abbas who wants peace. The man Israel is supposed to be doing business with. The man who is not Hamas. The man who would lead a peaceful Palestinian state.

Last September, three days before he went before the UN and accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinians, Abbas spoke at Cooper Union’s Great Hall to a crowd comprised mostly of NYU students. Many gave him a standing ovation as he repeated his blood libel about the Jewish state. And this in a University with more than 8000 Jewish students. 

Only one protest was staged outside the building on the night. It was organized by my son Mendy, an NYU undergraduate, who wisely focused on the positive message of the American values of democracy, racial harmony, and freedom of expression and how Abbas contravenes all three. Abbas is in the 10th year of his 4-year term as President and has no plans to go to elections. In July 2103 he promised that no Jews would be allowed to remain in a Palestinian state. It would be judenrein. And his Palestinian Authority continues the practice of Yasser Arafat before him of punishing independent news editors who may be critical of his leadership.

I was very proud of my son and his siblings and friends who joined him in the protest. The American campus is now a battleground for Israel and how can a battle be fought without fighters? 

On 17 November we will go beyond that protest and organize a proper response in an evening panel featuring the greatest living Jewish personality and one of the three most respected people alive, Elie Wiesel, the living face of the holocaust and the world’s most respected voice on genocide. Who better to respond to Abbas’ lie of an Israeli genocide against the Palestinians. Prof. Wiesel has been my friend and I have been his disciple for 25 years. This past summer he and I published a full-page ad in the world’s leading newspapers that assailed Hamas for engaging in human sacrifice by intentionally firing rockets from schools and homes and encouraging Arab children to devote “their shoulders and bodies” to the Palestinian cause. 

The world needs Prof. Wiesel’s voice right now as so much slaughter and human rights abuses take place around the globe. We also need to him to safeguard the word genocide – the most powerful in the English language – so that it is not abused by those with a political agenda, be they Jew-haters who wish to trivialize the holocaust and compare Jews to Nazis, or tyrants like Recep Tayyip Erdogan who scapegoat Israel so as to conceal their destruction of Turkish democracy.

Holocaust denial started as an attempt to undermine the suffering of the Jewish people and delegitimize Israel. For if  the Jews of Europe were not exterminated, what were they doing coming from Germany and Poland to take away Arab land?   Abbas himself wrote his shameful Ph. D. thesis on holocaust denial. 

There was one problem, however. No matter how much anti-Semitic historians like David Irving and murderous tyrants like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran tried to deny the holocaust, there were just too many Jews who died with too much evidence to suppress it.

So another idea arose. OK, millions of Jews were killed by the Nazis. But rather than the Jews becoming more humane and sensitive as a result, they have internalized the hatred of their tormentors. They have become Nazis themselves. They are engaged in the extermination and genocide of the Palestinians people.

Thus, ignoramuses like Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz along with self-hating Jews like Naomi Wolf and terrorist-lovers like Mahmoud Abbas have been parading the ultimate blood libel, that Jews are engaged in genocide. What better way to destroy the State of Israel than to make it impossible to defend itself.  

On 17 November I have also asked my close friend Professor Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, whose Rabbi I was during his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford, to join our panel to help legally define the term genocide and give it moral and political context so as to impede its abuse. Noah is one of the foremost public intellectuals and legal scholars in the world and played a central role in the formation of the Iraqi constitution. Noah and I do not agree on all things political. But few people are more respected as experts in the fields of human rights. 

And we’re especially honored to have my friend Samantha Power, America’s Ambassador to the United Nations, giving the introduction and special tribute to Elie Wiesel. Samantha’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning work A Problem from Hell is the foremost book on genocide ever published and influenced my life deeply. Since becoming Ambassador Samantha has traveled to areas around the world where true genocides are taking place, like the Central African Republic and South Sudan, not to mention having just visited, at great personal risk, West Africa to help lead the world’s efforts to fight the Ebola Virus. As our Ambassador and voice the UN she is a great American light unto the nations. 

When genocide is trivialized it is not just the six million of the holocaust who suffer. It is the 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks. It is the 2.5 million Cambodians murdered by the Khmer Rouge. It is the 800,000 Tutsis slaughtered by the Hutu. And it is all the innocent victims in Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo. 

It’s time for people who truly care about human rights to start responding to those who use the murder of the others as a smokescreen to camouflage their despicable treatment of their fellow man.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books including “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Lived Life.” He has just published “Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer”. Tickets for “Genocide and the Jews: A Never-Ending Problem” on 17 November are available at “>www.thisworld.us. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Netanyahu: No chance for peace deal if Israel sued for war crimes


A Palestinian push to try Israeli officials for war crimes at a United Nations tribunal would end any chance of reaching a peace deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu spoke to Army Radio on Friday, a day after the Palestinian Authority’s envoy to the United Nations said his government would join the International Criminal Court if the U.N. Security Council refuses to set a deadline for Israel to withdraw from all Palestinian territories.

“We may end up there,” Netanyahu said of the prospect of war crimes charges being brought against Israel at the Hague-based U.N. tribunal. “If Abu Mazen attempts it, this will have dire consequences,” he added, using another name for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “He could bring the Hague to do it, bringing us to the destruction of any chance of a sane peace deal.”

On Thursday, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authority’s U.N. envoy, told the Associated Press that his government has turned to the Security Council “to force Israel to negotiate in good faith the end of the occupation within a time frame.”

The Palestinian Authority hopes the council will adopt a draft resolution setting November 2016 as the deadline for an Israeli pullout from the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

“But if this additional door of peace is closed before us, then we will not only join the ICC to seek accountability,” Mansour said. “We will join other treaties and agencies” to build evidence “that we exist as a nation, we exist as a state, although the land of our state is under occupation.”

 

PLO’s Abbas inadvertently reveals true intentions?


In a press release advertising an upcoming speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at New York’s Cooper Union, organizers write that Abbas will address, among other things, “Why violent protest is the best method by which Palestinians should seek their rights.”

Does this herald the coming of a new intifada, or is this a Freudian slip — or just a typo?

Here are the other two topics Abbas will be addressing:

  • His view on how peace and inter-religious co-existence can flourish in Israel and Palestine with the help of the next generation.
  • Why terrorism as practiced by Al Qaeda on 9/11 and ISIS is inconsistent with Islam.

UPDATE: The PLO says it was a typo — and blamed the auto-correct. Here’s what Samer Anabtawi of the PLO’s U.S. delegation wrote me:

Sorry, we have sent an amended version, the software we used didn’t recognize the hyphenated version of ‘non-violent’ and did an auto correction, an amended version has been sent out to all recipients.

For Israelis in the western Negev, each day is ‘Russian Roulette’


When the tzeva adom, red alert, screams its siren as Yasmine Parda eats out in Ashkelon at her favorite restaurant, she waits and hopes for the best—no rocket shelters are reachable by foot within the siren’s reported 15-second warning interval.

“We sit in the restaurant and wait,” said the 27-year-old secretary as she stopped for a few moments along Yig’al Alon Street in Sderot on Aug. 14, the morning after a five-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was announced.

Paya Amirov, Parda’s friend, described her life as a game of “Russian Roulette”—she can’t know whether the next minute, hour, or day will be quiet or chaotic, with the ever-present possibility of needing to drop everything and run from scorching metal and shrapnel that falls from the sky shortly after being fired from the neighboring Gaza Strip.

Michal Tweeto, who lives on Moshav Tkuma, a community next to Gaza, with her husband and three children, brought two of her kids—Tova, 5, and Avraham, 3—to a massive indoor playground and community center in Sderot so they could enjoy some respite for the day. In recent weeks, the kids have barely been able to leave the house. And even during this ceasefire, there’s no guarantee of safety.

“My kids are afraid. That’s the biggest problem for me,” Tweeto said. “I’m more afraid from the trauma than from the rockets.”

At the $5 million, 21,000-square-foot facility, which was built by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 2009, recreation rooms and play areas double as bomb shelters, giving parents like Tweeto the peace of mind that they enjoyed before 2001, when rocket fire from neighboring Gaza became a regular occurrence.

Located in an old warehouse on the eastern edge of Sderot, the facility has basketball courts, a café, computers and a small movie theater. On a recent visit, the happy screams of children playing rang through the air as parents sat at tables and socialized with each other.

This $5 million, 21,000 square foot indoor rec center in Sderot was built by the Jewish National Fund in 2009 as a response to rocket fire.

Just one mile away from the indoor playground, another stark reminder of life here, particularly for children, is made apparent by a large structure on an outdoor playground on Ha-Rakefet Street. Artfully built into the playground, the structure looks like a large friendly snake with a hollowed out interior play area.

This snake-like structure on an outdoor playground doubles as a bomb shelter.

Approaching it, though, a sign on it reads in Hebrew: “When the tzeva adom sounds, you have to enter under my protection beyond the orange line.”

This sign at an outdoor Sderot playground tells children to enter the inside of what is a playful looking snake if they hear the “red alert” siren.

Moshe and Linor Barsheshet, Netivot residents who came for the day to the indoor JNF playground with their two children, Haddas and Yonatan, left home for Beit Shemesh during the war and returned during the first cease fire two weeks ago.

Government officials asked residents in the south to return home, expecting that the cease-fire would hold—Hamas broke it on the morning of Aug. 8, firing a volley of rockets over the border and further shattering the confidence of many locals.

“It’s impossible to leave the house,” Moshe said.

Arnold Rosenblum, who came to Israel five years ago from Russia, recently moved to Sderot to enroll at Sapir College. Walking in the downtown shopping area, Rosenblum, 23, sat down for a few minutes to speak with a reporter.

“What can I say?” Rosenblum said, asked how the rockets and sirens have impacted his life. “We are getting used to this. First time is very hard and you really think maybe you should leave Sderot.”

After that initial shock, though, he said, the regular interruptions just become normal. “I say like this: if I made a choice to live here, no Hamas, no someone else can make me change my choice.”

During parts July and August, when classes at Sapir were cancelled due to the war in Gaza, Rosenblum worked at a plastics factory in town. He said that, during work, if the siren rang, people would have 13 seconds to find the nearest bomb shelter—he said that by the time the red alert goes off, two seconds have already been shaved off from the 15.

When he is home during the siren, he said his two and three-year-old nephews and nieces panic amidst the rush to get to a shelter.

“Everyone is screaming. Everyone is crying,” Rosenblum said, adding glumly when asked about the current lull in fighting: “It’s very sad.”

Hesitant to offer his opinion on the war and on the government’s decision, for now, to halt its operation, Rosenblum instead offered some dark humor:

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin asks God, ‘What do you think? When is it going to be the end of terrorism in Chechnya?”

“Not in your [presidential] term,” God said.

“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu asks God,” said Rosenblum. “‘What do you think? When is it going to be quiet in Gaza?’”

“God said, ‘Not in my term.’”

What a dying business in Sderot looks like, even during cease-fire


In a narrow alleyway just next to Begin Square in the center of this Israeli city, shops, cafes and bakeries are so tightly packed together that with every few steps brings a new business.

These merchants have, for years, been accustomed to the inhospitable reality of life in Sderot. By virtue of its proximity to Gaza (Begin Square is two miles from the border), normal daily activities are routinely interrupted by a screeching siren that gives residents a 10 to 15 second warning to shelter themselves from a rocket that was fired seconds earlier from within the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Those interruptions, which have made life here grim, have made doing business here nearly impossible for many shopkeepers. On Thursday, even as the city was enjoying its fourth day of calm—with a new cease fire possibly ensuring an additional five—the sight of gray metal shutters in front of nearly every shop in this alleyway was a stark reminder that this city’s store owners know better than to think that temporary quiet will soon bring customers back.

“I can’t continue like this. It’s hard,” said Moshe Yifrach, 21, who helps manage his family’s image and photography store, “Agfa Image Center.” He was one of the few shopkeepers who decided to remain open into the mid-afternoon and was the only person in the store. But, with little or no business up to that point on Thursday, his decision to keep the lights on may not have particularly mattered.

The Yifrachs produce photographs, create albums and assist with images for passports, weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Behind the counter on shelves sat rows of albums and frames in varying colors

Moshe Yifrach helps his father run the family's Sderot store. He said sales have dropped 70 percent this summer.

When life in Sderot is relatively normal, Yifrach said that his family serves between 50 to 70 customers and earns about 3,000 to 4,000 thousand Shekels per day. This summer, though, during Israel’s most recent battle with Hamas, in which nearly 3,000 rockets have fallen in and around Israeli cities, he said sales have dropped by about 70 percent and customers have come in at a trickling pace.

Some residents here left amidst the chaos for some respite in towns further north and many simply no longer feel confident in venturing into the city. Tourism, meanwhile, has plummeted, with most visitors coming from abroad on solidarity missions, not nearly enough to compensate for the many Israelis who no longer travel south for a few pleasurable days in the country’s southern desert region.

The family has two other stores, in Jerusalem and Kiryat Gat, so Yifrach said he, his parents and 11 siblings could get by without their Sderot store.

“We have other places, so we have it easier than others,” Yifrach said. “But the ones that have only here and nowhere else, it’s very hard.”

Even during the height of the war in July and early August, Yifrach’s father kept the store open. When a red alert siren blared, whoever was in the shop would shelter in the doorway or underneath the awning that encloses the alley outside—the nearest shelter is more than 15 seconds from the store, not enough time for him or any customers to safely reach before the Qassam makes impact.

While a cease-fire that produces calm for an extended period would likely improve business for the Yifrachs if residents and tourists begin to return, he sees no long-term relief for his family’s business.

Agfa Image Center

Yifrach, like so many Israelis, particularly in the south, wants the government to order the military to destroy Hamas and end the rocket attacks. That step appears increasingly unlikely, though, following the complete removal of ground troops on Aug. 5 and the moderate progress of truce negotiations in Cairo.

“There’s no solution,” Yifrach said. “If you want to have a cease fire, so for a year it will be fine and everything will be good. [But] slowly, slowly [Hamas] will advance.” He predicts that the terrorist group will use the calm to improve its rocket arsenal to create Sderot-like situations as far north as Tel Aviv and Haifa.

That, Yifrach said, is one reason he sees no point in moving further north. “I don’t think that in the north it’s much better because there too you have Hezbollah,” he said. The quasi-governmental Lebanese terrorist organization has tens of thousands of missiles and rockets and has the capability to reach Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. In Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, approximately 15 Haifa residents were killed in missile and rocket attacks.

“I will stay in the south. This is my house and here I’m going to stay,” Yifrach said briskly.

Asked, though, how much longer his family’s store can survive in Sderot under current conditions, he responded, “Half a year, no more.”

Fired by Netanyahu in midst of Gaza campaign, rival aims to give voice to Likud’s hawks


Former Israeli deputy defense minister Danny Danon did not seem bothered by the fallout from his rift in mid-July with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—a spat that ended with Netanyahu removing Danon as this country’s Deputy Minister of Defense.

In fact, he seemed more relaxed than he did during previous in-person and telephone interviews as he sat down at a Tel Aviv café Wednesday morning.

The ambitious young Knesset member and chairman of Likud’s powerful Central Committee has always seemed more than willing to promote his ideology to English-language media, whether to The Times of Israel, Al-Monitor or Glenn Beck.

And on Wednesday, Danon, 43, cited his public opposition to Netanyahu’s acceptance of a failed July cease-fire with Hamas as the most recent example of his willingness to call out Likud leaders when he believes their actions stray uncomfortably to the left.

But for someone who aims to represent Likud’s right-wing bloc in the future, perhaps as a cabinet member or even tPrime Minister, whether Danon can successfully balance his commitment to what he says are the party’s core values with the need for political gamesmanship and acuity is yet to be seen.

Asked whether he now regrets publicly opposing Netanyahu given the political fallout, Danon said he “absolutely” does not, adding that his opposition to the Prime Minister’s acceptance of a July 15 cease-fire with Hamas (which the group rejected) was validated when an Israeli ground invasion that began July 17 revealed over 30 underground cross-border tunnels that Hamas planned to use in terror attacks and kidnappings.

“I did the right thing by criticizing it, otherwise we would have woken up Rosh Hashanah with hundreds of Hams terrorists [inside Israel],” he said, alluding to reports that alleged Hamas was planning a massive September assault on Israeli towns and communities near the border. “Today, people say the highlight of the operation is that we dealt with the tunnels.”

A public opponent of the two-state solution and a proponent of annexing large portions of the West Bank and returning much of the Palestinian population to Jordanian rule, Danon had already butted heads with Netanyahu in March when he announced that he would resign his deputy minister post if 26 Palestinian prisoners were let go as part of a final stage of releases that were agreed upon as a prerequisite to embarking on the most recently failed peace negotiations.  

Netanyahu shelved the release in March, effectively allowing Danon to (temporarily) hold his minister post while at the same time holding firm in his opposition. In a Spring interview with Al-Monitor, asked whether he was worried about being fired by Netanyahu for his repeated antagonistic public remarks, Danon responded that no, he was not worried and that receiving the boot from Netanyahu “will only strengthen me.”

“I am fighting to bring the faction back to life,” Danon told Al-Monitor. Wednesday, too, Danon portrayed himself as the bearer of Likud’s flag and someone who “will make sure the Likud party stays in the right direction” amidst a Prime Minister who, he said, “is shifting” too far left.

“If for example Netanyahu will become a subcontractor of [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni or who like [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon will decide to adopt a different ideology,” Danon said, “I will be there to block it.”

Unsurprisingly, Danon, like many Israelis and most Likud members, wishes Israel increased the intensity of its Gaza campaign and removed Hamas from Gaza. Somewhat surprisingly, though, given his opposition to negotiating with Hamas, he suggested that if Israel refused to provide economic relief to Hamas and Gaza until the group demilitarized, it may decide that doing so is in its best interest.

Asked why Hamas, given its historically violent resistance to Israel, would voluntarily disarm itself, Danon likened the situation to America’s threat to use force in Syria in Aug. 2013 amidst that government’s use of chemical weapons on its own civilians. The Assad regime eventually capitulated and agreed to part with a significant portion of its stockpile.

“People thought Syria would never give away their chemical weapons,” Danon said. “And it happened.”

On West Bank security concerns, Danon advocated for the construction of a settlement on the land where three murdered Jewish teens were discovered in June and called for the deportation of the murderers’ families to the Gaza Strip and for the destruction of their West Bank homes. As for the Palestinian Authority, Danon is skeptical that it will be the “heroes of the Palestinian people.”

While the outspoken Knesset member’s consistent and vocal opposition to the head of state is nothing new for Israeli politics, his rapid rise within Likud and his recurrent coverage in the media at such an early stage in his career—without having the benefit of either cabinet experience or a place in Israeli military lore—indicates that Danon has thought through how he intends to climb the political ladder. He cited his close relationship with Sharon (who was his oldest son's godfather) before the Gaza disengagement and said that the former Prime Minister told him that there's nothing wrong with seeking positions of greater political influence.

In Likud’s 2012 primary elections, Danon finished fifth, ahead of current President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. And today, he says much of Likud is alarmed at Netanyahu’s tilt away from the base on security issues.

Wednesday, though, Danon rejected any comparison of his role within Likud as similar to the Tea Party’s role within the Republican Party—a conservative faction seeking to keep the party in line.

“The Tea Party is mostly new people who joined the Republican Party,” Danon said. “The people that I represent are the people who grew up in the party.”

While Danon said he has “no fear” of running for higher office if Likud’s leaders stray “in terms of ideology and policy,” for the foreseeable future the price he paid for criticizing Netanyahu may result in lost political influence.

Asked whether he still has the Prime Minister’s ear after the flap one month ago, Danon responded:

“As of today, not—but things can change.”

Obama’s sit down with Thomas Friedman


Last Friday, President Obama sat down for an interview with NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman about foreign affairs.  Although the topics were broader than the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the topic was broached.  When asked about whether he should be more vigorous in pressuring Prime Minister Netanyahu and Abu Mazen to strike a land for peace deal, the President answered that it has to start with Abbas and Netanyahu.  Pointing out that Bibi’s poll numbers are better than Obama’s, the President does not believe that Bibi will make peace without internal pressure forcing him to make necessary compromises.  Abu Mazen according to the President has a different problem; he is too weak to make peace.  In other words, while Bibi is too popular, Abbas is not popular enough.

In Obama’s world, Bibi needs societal pressure to take on the settler movement and make the necessary hard compromises that are against his natural inclinations.  Obama continues to focus on settlements in the territories as the key issue.  It is as if he has completely ignored Operation Protective Edge and most of the last six years he has been President.

According to Obama, Abbas is just too weak to make peace.  But what does that mean?  Just for a moment, consider the assumption that Abbas is prepared to accept the legitimacy of Israel being the homeland of the Jewish people and is willing to live in peace in a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel and that refugees will be repatriated only in a Palestinian state.  I am totally aware of the lack of realism regarding these assumptions but let this argument play out.  Abbas is weak because his positions are not reflective of the society that he represents.  His solution has not been accepted by the Palestinian street; he is out ahead of Palestinian public opinion. 

How does one establish one’s bona fides in Palestinian society as a leader?  The best way to do so seems to be to murder Israelis.  Recent polling data indicates that less than 30% of the Palestinians support a two-state solution.  Mainstream Palestinian society is still not prepared to accept the permanence of the State of Israel and live in peace alongside of it. So in the world according to Obama, Bibi is to push his society place their trust in a 79 year-old leader in the 9th year of his 4-year term whose views do not reflect those of his society when the significant likelihood is that Abbas’ successor will have dramatically different views about a Palestinian state.  And all of this is ignoring the possibility of rocket fire from the Judean hills down into the coastal plain and shutting off Ben Gurion Airport and Israel’s connection to the outside world. 

Then we move on to Bibi.  I wish our constitutional law scholar President had bothered read or re-read James Madison and Federalist 10 about the nature of democracies and representative governments.  It might have given him a better understanding of Israeli politics.  Madison’s problem with pure democracy was the combination of people with similar economic or social interests into a tyranny of the majority, which he described as the violence and damage caused by factions.  Madison posed two possible solutions to the problem of factions, eliminate its causes or control its effects.  In a free society, the elimination of factions is impossible because interest groups are inherent to liberty.  Only a totalitarian society can eliminate the cause of factions, such as the one in Gaza. 

Madison’s solution was a representative government, a government in which the many elect the few who govern. A pure democracy is incapable of controlling conflicts between factions because the views of the largest faction control, and there is no way to protect weak factions against the actions of an obnoxious individual or a strong majority.  Madison’s belief was that the elected representatives would represent the best of society and be able to govern with wisdom and discernment.  I cannot say that that portion of Madison’s analysis is applicable to the Knesset, but Madison’s solution still works.

With broad coalitions necessary to achieve power, compromises must be made to establish a majority coalition and in the process take into account all the disparate views of the factions forming the coalition.  That’s where Federalist 10 speaks directly to Israeli politics.  In order to form a government, Bibi has put together a disparate coalition that includes Tzipi Livni, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, which in the aggregate is reflective of the views of the a broad spectrum of Israeli society, constituting the vast majority.  There is ambivalence in Israeli society, which sees both the necessity of a Palestinian state combined with the utter impracticality of having one, given the impact of such a state on the ability of Israelis to live in peace and without fear of rocket fire or terrorist attacks.  Even though Operation Protective Edge has increased Bibi’s popularity, Bibi is nevertheless reflective of that societal ambivalence.  The left has not convinced the Israeli public that its policies are a viable alternative.  On the other hand, neither has the hard right convinced the public of the benefits of their policies either.  That sort of gets you to Bibi by default.

Netanyahu’s views are reflective of those of his society; Abu Mazen’s are not.  So why is it that Netanyahu has to be pressured when Palestinian society, according to President Obama is not prepared to make peace?  The rational move would be to influence the views of the Palestinians so that Abbas’ views are not dismissed on the Palestinian street and isn’t that where the President should be directing his energies?

Douglasworkman@sbcglobal.net

Rallies at LA Israel consulate show strong feelings about renewed Israel-Gaza violence


Dueling rallies on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 7, outside the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles showed strong feelings about renewed Israel-Gaza violence.

On the south side of the street at  11766 Wilshire Blvd., protestors held Palestinian flags, which flapped in a reporter’s face as the people waving them chanted slogans, infusing strong emotion into a demonstration critical of Israel held outside the Israeli consulate’s office in West Los Angeles. 

Chants alternated between being anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian.

“Netanyahu you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” went one chant. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” went another during the rally, which, according to a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) official estimate, drew approximately 300 people.

The rally began at 4 p.m. and ended around 7 p.m.

The event turned the sidewalk on the south side of Wilshire Boulevard, near Barrington Avenue, into a scene of controlled chaos. The sound of car horns filled the air. Pro-Palestinians sang their chants into microphones. Many of them students, the crowd pushed up against the curb, their bodies pressed up against large pro-Palestinian banners, as buses and other cars drove by.

Across the street, a somewhat more subdued gathering of supporters of Israel drew about 100 people, according to an LAPD estimate.

The rallies took place even as rockets flew between Israel and the Gaza Strip, an escalation of violence in the wake of the recent abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers – and the subsequent revenge killing by Israelis of a Palestinian teenager.

After two weeks of hope, a community mourns slain Israeli teens


Only 18 days after joining together in a hopeful prayer vigil for three Israeli teenage boys abducted at a bus stop outside their school, 1,500 members of the Los Angeles Jewish community grieved together in a memorial service for the teens—Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Frenkel—whose bodies were found on June 30 in a field north of Hebron.

Teary-eyed audience members embraced one another in the dimly lit sanctuary at Beth Jacob Congregation, as Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad, eulogized her nephew and denounced his kidnappers, garnering multiple rounds of applause over the course of her ten-minute speech.

Standing on the bimah beside three yahrtzeit candles and in front of photographs of the three slain teens, Shaar said that she had been hoping to plan a major celebration for the day that her nephew would be rescued alive.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Shaar said about the death of her brother’s son. “For the last 18 days, never for a moment did I ever think that Gilad, my dear nephew, was anything but alive.”

Shaar, who recently moved to Los Angeles to receive medical treatment, shared with those in attendance the meaning behind the Hebrew name “Gilad,” or “happy forever.”

“I always thought he’d be ‘Gilad,’ happy forever, but the terrorists brought a sudden end to ‘forever,’” she said. “He was my wonderful, talented, bright and cool nephew.”

The audience applauded when Shaar said that Israelis should be able to live securely in the West Bank and towns like Alon Shvut, where the teenagers were kidnapped just down the road from the high school that two of them attended.

Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad Shaar.

“We, as proud Jews, have a right to stand in our land,” she said. “It’s not a crime.”

Holding back tears, she expressed gratitude for the Israeli military’s restless search for the boys and to the local Jewish community, which, since news broke of her nephew’s kidnapping, has embraced and supported her.

Throughout the hour-long service, the messages from six speakers conveyed a mixture of sadness and grief, with Israel’s local consul general, David Siegel, reflecting on the unity of Jews around the world since the kidnapping.

“We are one nation, from Beverly Hills to Jerusalem,” Siegel said. “We pray together, we hope together and tonight, unfortunately, we cry together.”

He added that Israel, in its hunt for the two Hamas suspects, “Will leave no stone unturned, literally, until justice is done.”

Rabbi Adir Posy, who led the service, read a communal blessing in Hebrew for the Israeli military, also asking those in attendance to stand respectfully for the “Mourners Kaddish,” a traditional synagogue prayer recited by Jewish mourners.

The evening concluded with a rendition of the Israeli national anthem, led by Cantor Arik Wollheim and local teenage members of the international religious Zionist youth group, B’nai Akiva, of which Gilad Shaar was also a member.

At 8 p.m., as the synagogue slowly emptied, a few community members lingered behind. Charles Hale, a member of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, related how “chilling” it was for him to hear, earlier in the day, the just-released audio of an emergency call placed by Gilad Shaar just after the kidnapping.

Multiple media outlets have reported that Israeli investigators believe the abductors shot the boys to death upon realizing an emergency call had been placed.

Shanee Michaelson, a Beth Jacob congregant, told the Journal it was difficult for her to focus at her office when it was announced Monday that the teens’ bodies were discovered.

“I really thought they were going to survive,” a somber Michaelson said.

Palestinians killed in Israeli raid, peace talks continue


Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinians during an early morning raid in a West Bank refugee camp on Monday, hours before negotiators met for another round of peace talks, Palestinian sources said.

Israeli border police said they entered the Qalandiya camp, near Jerusalem, to arrest a man and were confronted by a crowd throwing firebombs and rocks.

Witnesses said the Israeli forces opened fire and hospital officials told Reuters three men were killed.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides aid to Palestinian refugees, said one of its employees, a 34-year-old father of four, was among the dead.

“Credible reports say that (Robeen Zayed) was on his way to work and was not engaged in any violent activity. He was shot in the chest,” said UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness.

A military spokeswoman confirmed that troops had been shot at and returned fire in self-defense. She added that the forces arrested the man they had come to detain.

“Large, violent crowds which significantly outnumber security forces leave no other choice but to resort to live fire for self defense,” Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, another military spokesman, said.

The riot had become “so large and violent that it was vital for forces to assist in containing it,” he added.

An Israeli security source said an investigation had showed live fire was only directed towards rioters.

PEACE TALKS CONTINUE

The U.S.-brokered peace talks carried on after the clashes, though no details emerged of the discussions.

Talks resumed last month after a three-year stalemate caused by Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in 1967 which Palestinians seek for a state along with the Gaza Strip.

Neither party has expressed much optimism for a major breakthrough and the negotiators have met largely in secret, alternating between Israeli and Palestinian locations.

Thousands of residents of the tightly-packed camp, later carried the three men's bodies, draped in Palestinian flags with their heads wrapped in traditional black and white chequered scarves, in a funeral procession that wound its way through its narrow alleyways.

Around ten masked Palestinian militants fired their automatic weapons into the air in salute.

After the funeral, dozens of local youths threw stones towards Israeli soldiers at the Qalandiya checkpoint, a main crossing between the West Bank and Jerusalem, and they were met with volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Nabil Abu Rdaineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, described the killings as “assassinations”.

“The series of Israel crimes and new settlement tenders constitute a clear message on the real Israeli intentions towards the peace process, and there will be negative consequences to these actions,” he said in a statement.

The Israeli police arrested a local man who had previously served a nine-year prison sentence for alleged militant activity, residents said. About a dozen protesters were wounded in the clash, they added.

Israeli troops often enter Palestinian-controlled territory to detain people suspected of planning attacks, usually conducting the raids during darkness to minimize confrontation.

Violence in the West Bank has worsened since the beginning of 2013.

With Monday's deaths, Israeli forces have killed 14 Palestinians there this year, most of them in clashes, compared with three fatalities in the same period in 2012, according to United Nations figures.

Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Ori Lewis and Andrew Heavens

U.S. State Department denies Israeli-Palestinian peace talks canceled


The U.S. State Department on Monday denied reports that U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians had been canceled following clashes in the West Bank.

“I can assure you that no meetings have been canceled,” State Department spokeswoman Mari Harf told Reuters. “The parties are engaged in serious and sustained negotiations,” she said.

Earlier on Monday, Israel's Haaretz newspaper quoted a senior Palestinian official as saying that the Palestinians had canceled talks with the Israelis after Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinians during an early morning raid to arrest a suspected militant in the West Bank.

Peace talks resumed last month after a three-year stalemate over Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by David Brunnstrom

Palestinian prisoner release on track after High Court ruling


Israel was set to free 26 Palestinian prisoners within hours to help underpin renewed peace talks, after its High Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal against their release by relatives of some of the Israelis they killed.

Authorities planned to transport the group from jail in the dead of night in the early hours of Wednesday. The men, arrested between 1985 and 2001, were to return to homes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli official said they would be taken in vehicles with sealed windows to prevent a repetition of scenes in which released Palestinian prisoners have stretched out their hands in V-for-Victory signs.

Disdain for the prisoners is strong in Israel, whose media have featured detailed accounts of their attacks on Israelis since a release roster was published two days ago. Palestinians regard the men as heroes in a struggle for statehood.

The three-justice High Court panel ruled the government had been within its purview to free them, although Chief Justice Asher Grunis wrote in the decision that “our hearts are with the families, who are victims of terror”.

Yet Ada Kuenstler, whose 84-year-old father, Avraham Kuenstler, was killed in 1992 by a prisoner due to be released, said she understood Israel's political considerations in freeing Abdallah Salah from his 99-year sentence.

“I want peace and do not ask for revenge, and I am not objecting to this move because I want to hope that this will bring peace a little closer,” she told Reuters.

Hours after the release, U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians, which opened in Washington on July 30, were due to resume in Jerusalem, with further negotiations expected later in the West Bank.

The talks broke down three years ago in a dispute over settlement building in territory Palestinians seek for a state.

Israel's announcement on Sunday of plans to expand settlements drew Palestinian anger but no formal threat to withdraw from negotiations, whose resumption was driven by intensive shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The United States is seeking to broker a “two-state solution” in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

The United States, European Union and United Nations on Monday condemned Israel's announcement of construction plans for about 2,000 new settler homes.

Most world powers regard all the settlements as illegal. During a visit to Colombia, Kerry called on the Palestinians “not to react adversely” to Israel's latest plans.

HAMAS REACTION

Israel dismissed such criticism, saying the settlement plans were intended for West Bank areas it wanted to keep under any peace deal with the Palestinians.

The 26 prisoners due to be released were among a total of 104 that Israel has agreed to free in four stages.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has vowed to seek freedom for all Palestinian prisoners, is set to gain by the prisoner releases, a highly charged issue in a society where thousands are held in Israeli custody.

“I think this is an important accomplishment, one that gives hope to the Palestinian people,” Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Issa Qaraqe told Reuters.

Abbas's Islamist rival, Hamas, had limited praise for the prisoner release, although it also reiterated its objections to negotiating with Israel, whose existence it rejects.

Some 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem amid 2.5 million Palestinians. Israelwithdrew in 2005 from the Gaza Strip, now governed by Hamas Islamists.

Few expect the latest negotiations to resolve issues that have defied solution for decades, such as borders, settlements, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. The United States has said it seeks a peace deal within nine months.

Netanyahu appears to have decided he can ill afford to alienate the United States at the moment given the turmoil in the region, and led his pro-settlement government into talks.

Neighboring Egypt and Syria are in upheaval and Israel remains deeply concerned Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, something Tehran denies. Israel is widely believed to be the only power in the Middle East with nuclear weapons.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Warren Strobel in Bogota; editing by Mike Collett-White

Give the peace process a chance


The questions come fast and furious: 

Why, of all times, now, when the Middle East is in upheaval and its future course is anyone's guess? 

What's the American obsession with this issue, when Iran, Russia, Syria, Egypt, North Korea, and China all cry out for greater U.S. attention? 

Who's ready to believe the Palestinian Authority is any more willing today than yesterday to engage in serious, purposeful talks? 

How can anyone discuss a two-state deal when Gaza is in the hands of Hamas? 

Is Prime Minister Netanyahu, rhetoric apart, really serious about an agreement? 

And are the Israeli people likely to overcome doubts about Palestinian intentions to support a deal that would entail major sacrifices and risks – indeed, already has in the form of the upcoming, and highly contentious, release of convicted Palestinian murderers (and which, by the way, should be sufficient to answer the previous question)? 

These concerns mustn't be dismissed out-of-hand, but there's more to the story – and it leads to the conclusion that the talks are worth pursuing. 

No, I don't say this, as some have suggested, to curry favor with the Obama Administration, nor to receive more invitations to the White House Chanukah party, nor to get a pat on the shoulder from Secretary of State John Kerry. And no, I haven't succumbed to the fantasy of those on the left who believe a Middle East Woodstock is just around the corner. Not at all! 

Rather, I do so for three reasons. 

First, for friends of Israel, the status quo may seem sustainable. In reality, it's not. 

True, the Israeli economy continues to perform wonders. The IDF is at peak strength. Acts of terrorism against Israelis have been far fewer in recent months. And Israeli life is humming in a way that few on the outside, reliant on the media for their images, could ever fully appreciate. 

But where does this lead? Will the Palestinians disappear? Will their demands evaporate or end up on a back burner? Will the world, led in this case by the European Union and the automatic majority in the UN, one day stop their relentless preoccupation with the Palestinians? Will the U.S. always be there to stand up for Israeli policy, even if Washington considers it short-sighted and self-defeating? 

In other words, would Israel, assuming it wanted to, be able to retain control of the West Bank well into the distant future without taking account of some serious consequences? 

For Israel to remain a democratic and Jewish state, it is in Israel's national interest to seek a way to disentangle itself from rule over as many Palestinians as possible. 

Yes, Israel came into possession of the West Bank in a defensive war in 1967 and, had it not been the victor, the country could well have faced annihilation. And yes, the West Bank is the cradle of Jewish civilization. 

But that doesn't end the argument. Rather, it underscores the need for extraordinarily careful attention to security arrangements in any two-state deal and solid guarantees for Israeli access to Jewish holy sites. 

Second, I've long believed – and, as a result, locked horns with some on the left – that if a two-state deal is to be achieved, it's best done by a hard-nosed, right-of-center Israeli leader with impeccable security credentials. 

That's precisely the case in Israel today. 

The shrill critics of a revitalized peace process seem to have forgotten that the talks are led on the Israeli side by Benjamin Netanyahu, and supported by such top officials as Moshe Ya'alon, the defense minister and former IDF chief of staff, and Tzipi Livni, the justice minister with the Likud Party and Mossad in her résumé. 

The critics may not now trust them, but then again they wouldn't trust anyone who dared to negotiate. There will always be the rash accusations that the leaders “sold out,” or “yielded to inordinate U.S. pressure,” or “are seeking the Nobel Peace Prize.” 

Netanyahu, Ya'alon, Livni and others have had one overarching, life-long goal – ensuring the security and viability of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. 

They know no less well than their critics on the right the immense difficulties confronting them in pursuing this aim – from ongoing Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorists, to profound questions about the regional environment, to concerns about the viability of a future “democratic” and “demilitarized” Palestinian state. 

Have they suddenly turned fuzzy-headed, weak-kneed, or naïve about the challenge before them? No. Rather, they have reached the stark conclusion that the status quo is not in Israel's long-term interest – and that choices in life are not always between “good” and “bad,” but, as often as not, between “bad” and “worse.” 

And third, the chorus of right-wing critics ascribes to the United States malign motives, suggesting this process is sparked by an “unfriendly” President Obama who wants to “damage” Israel in his effort to “reorient” U.S. foreign policy. 

I don't buy the argument. And I don't say so as a partisan, since I'm most assuredly not. 

What does it take to convince the doubters that there's good will on the American side? 

Probably nothing will work, but, despite some early missteps by the Obama administration, there's some pretty compelling evidence here – the bilateral military, strategic, and intelligence relationship has never been stronger, as knowledgeable Israelis will attest; the U.S. has stood up for Israel time and again, often alone, at the UN; and Secretary Kerry's voting record over his long Senate career is a matter of public record. 

Finally, let me frame the issue another way. 

Israel must never hesitate to show up at any serious negotiating table. It does so today from a position of remarkable strength. It cannot be bullied into making a deal potentially injurious to the country's security. It has a powerful friend in the United States. And, yes, it is driven by the age-old Jewish yearning for enduring peace. 

If the Palestinians once again prove they are unwilling partners, as they did in 2000-1 and again in 2008, let the world see who torpedoed a potential deal. 

Sure, there's that enabling pro-Palestinian community – diplomats, journalists, “human rights” activists, entertainers – who are willfully blind, for whom the problem always has been and will be Israel, but others will figure it out. 

And if, miracle of miracles, the Palestinian leadership actually turns out to be a credible partner this time, then, of course, all the more reason to try. 

So, let's give the peace process a chance.

Palestinian prisoner list released prior to renewed talks


A committee of Israeli government ministers released a list of Palestinian prisoners to be freed by Israel in advance of the first round of peace negotiations.

The list released at 1 a.m. Monday includes 14 prisoners who will be transferred this week to Gaza, several of whom are members of Hamas. Eight prisoners on the list were due to be released in the next three years and two in the next six months.

Following the publication of the list, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the release violated agreements with Israel, saying the prisoners were not supposed to be deported to Gaza or abroad.

Abbas and Erekat reportedly told senior U.S. officials that they would not agree to the deportation of any prisoner released, according to Haaretz.

Twenty-one of the prisoners on the list were convicted of killing Israelis or Palestinians accused of being collaborators, and most had served at least 20 years.

Some families of the prisoners’ victims at their request were notified of the release decision before the list was made public.

Under Israeli law, the names of the prisoners must be made public 48 hours before their release in order to allow Supreme Court challenges.

Eventually 104 prisoners jailed before the 1993 Oslo Accords will be released in phases over the next eight months, pending progress in the talks.

Sunday’s committee meeting took place without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who underwent hernia surgery late Saturday night.

Abbas and Erekat also decried Sunday’s announcement by Israel of new construction approvals for hundreds of apartments in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

The peace talks are scheduled to resume Wednesday in Jerusalem following a three-year freeze, but the Palestinians have threatened to skip the meeting, according to reports.

Kerry says Israeli settlements should not disrupt mideast talks


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that Israel's announcement of new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem “were to some degree expected,” and urged Israelis and Palestinians to move head with peace talks due to resume this week.

“What this underscores is the importance of getting to the table, getting to the table quickly” and resolving disputes over settlements and other issues, said Kerry. He added that he had spoken on Monday with Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni and had called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is recovering from surgery.

Israel's housing minister on Sunday approved plans for 1,200 new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as part of their state.

“The United States of America views all of the settlements as illegitimate,” said Kerry, who was on a visit to Colombia.

Reporting by Warren Strobel; Editing by David Brunnstrom