Israel to cut $6M funding to UN ‘anti-Israel bodies’


Israel will cut approximately $6 million of its annual contribution to United Nations’ bodies it deemed “anti-Israel,” following the passage by the U.N. Security Council of an anti-settlement resolution.

The resolution adopted last month — for which 14 countries voted in favor with only the U.S. abstaining — called Israeli settlements “a flagrant violation of international law” that damage the prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the resolution and said he was planning to cut Israeli aid to U.N. bodies, according to the Israeli daily Maariv.

The funding cuts represent “an act of protest” in response to the Security Council resolution and target “the portion of the U.N. budget allocated to anti-Israel bodies,” said a Friday statement by Israel’s U.N. mission.

Those bodies include the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Division for Palestinian Rights, the Work of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, and the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine of the U.N. Department of Public Information.

Israel’s annual contribution to the United Nations amounts to over $40 million, a spokesman for Israel’s U.N. mission told JTA in an email. The U.N.’s budget for 2016-2017 totals $5.4 billion, with the U.S. being the largest contributor, followed by Japan and China.

Israel’s decision to cut funds is “the first in a series of steps under consideration by the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Mission in reaction to the recent Security Council resolution,” said the statement.

The mission is planning to move ahead with additional initiatives after the Donald Trump takes office on January 20.

Trump had called for a U.S. veto of the resolution, and slammed President Barack Obama after the vote for treating Israel with “total disdain and disrespect.”

American presidents have long protected Israel from extreme censure at the U.N. As recently as 2011, Obama vetoed a similar resolution on settlements that, like this one, was adamantly opposed by Israel.

On Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, urged the U.S. to cut taxpayer funding to the U.N., unless the international body repeals the anti-settlement resolution, according to a statement.

Illegal buildings in West Bank settlement razed, new construction approved


Two illegal buildings in a West Bank settlement were demolished amid violent protests, but the Israeli government authorized new housing for the Beit El community.

The buildings were razed on Wednesday afternoon after Israel’s Supreme Court that morning upheld earlier rulings to demolish them and one day before the court’s deadline.

Protesters for a second straight day gathered at the site, throwing rocks and setting tires on fire. Police dispersed the protesters using water cannons and other methods.

The buildings were found to be built on Palestinian land that had been seized by the Israeli military in the 1970s.

Following the court’s decision and pressure from parties in his government coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced approval for the construction of 200 housing units in Beit El. He also approved the planning of 500 new housing units in Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.

Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett, whose party threatened to leave the coalition over the incident, commended Netanyahu for the approval, saying in a tweet: “I praise the prime minister for his quick, correct and Zionist decision.”

On Tuesday, about 200 protesters were removed from the buildings; 50 were arrested. Clashes between protesters and police continued throughout the day and evening.

Also Wednesday, some 200 people remained for a second day on the site of the former Sa-Nur village in the northern West Bank despite warnings that they would be evacuated by force if they had not left by Tuesday afternoon. Many of those who have taken up residence in the remains of an old British fort on the site were evacuated from their homes 10 years ago during the Gaza disengagement, which included four settlements in the northern West Bank. The protesters have said they intend to remain.

Path to Israeli-Palestinian peace starts with meeting the neighbors


Palestinian peace activist Ali Abu Awwad shared the stage with an Israeli settler on May 28 as part of his ongoing attempt to accomplish what some might consider the unbelievable. 

“I couldn’t imagine that one day, I would be standing next to a settler, talking about any hope,” he said, “but sometimes we don’t reach solutions in life because we believe that we can’t do them.”

Listen to their stories – story continues after the video.

Awwad, who teaches nonviolent resistance as a means for pursuing peace, was joined by Zionist settler and Orthodox Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger. Together, they headlined the Painful Hope Tour, which took place at the Pico Union Project near downtown Los Angeles.

Schlesinger, who divides his time between Texas and the West Bank settlement Alon Shvut, serves as the founder and executive director and community rabbinic scholar for the Jewish Studies Initiative of North Texas. He is active in promoting peace initiatives in Texas and Israel. 

He and Awwad are part of Friends of Roots (friendsofroots.net), a collaborative effort between Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. It brings together local children from both sides of the conflict through after-school programs and summer camps that promote fun and friendship. Friends of Roots also runs a leadership program that unites 65 Israeli leaders who dedicate their lives to tolerance education.

Schlesinger told his story first during the local event: Born and reared in Israel, he found a profound disconnect between Israelis and Palestinians. He talked about the first time he left his settlement and ventured over to see Awwad after previously meeting at an event in the United States. 

“Until a year and a half ago, I’d never met a Palestinian,” he said. “I opened the front door and walked 20 minutes to the Palestinian vineyards, fields and orchards that surround my house to meet the neighbor that, until then, didn’t exist for me.” 

As for Awwad, he told the audience about how, before turning to nonviolence, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for being part of a militant cell as a young man. Three years into his sentence, he held a hunger strike, demanding to see his mother, who was also detained. It was then that he realized nonviolence was far more effective than its alternative. His sentence was reduced, and he was released after the Oslo Accords. 

“It’s OK to be angry and act nonviolently,” he said. “Violence will not erase the anger. The pain will not disappear. But nonviolence is the management of that anger. When we act nonviolently, we celebrate our existence.” 

After the event, Schlesinger commented to the Journal about the cognitive dissonance that affects those who struggle with the possibility of peace between Israel and Palestine.

“What I see today is just so different from what I saw a year and a half ago. We ask ourselves, ‘Which reality is true?’ The truth is that they are all true. Each reality comes to us differently depending on what assumptions we come with. Sometimes we don’t even know what those assumptions really are. What you have to do is examine these assumptions. Think of the drawing that, if you look at it one way, you see a woman, but if you look at it another way, you see a vase. You wonder, ‘Which is it really?’ It really is both!” 

Awwad said the evening at the Pico Union Project gave him hope and strength. 

“We are dealing with a very complex subject in a very crazy reality over there,” he said. “This event shows that people want a solution.” 

Friends Noor-Malika Chishti, a Muslim, and Rachel Landsman, an Orthodox Jew, were moved by what they heard. Both women are members of the West Los Angeles Cousins Club, a group of Muslim and Jewish women that meets monthly in the spirit of peaceful sisterhood. 

“We really believe that to know one another is to love one another,” Landsman said. “The path of reconciliation and nonviolence is what I’ve been waiting to hear.” 

Audience member Oren Rehany, an Israeli-born writer, actor and producer who has been living in Los Angeles for 12 years, said the only way peace will happen is through the efforts of everyday people like Schlesinger and Awwad.

“Politicians are probably not the ones who are going to make peace happen. Grass-roots movements like this one will make the change,” Rehany said. “This grass-roots style of education gives me a lot of hope as an Israeli. The only thing Schlesinger and Awwad are attacking is the demonization of either side of the conflict.”

Words matter: How vocabulary defines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Settlements or Jewish communities? West Bank or Judea and Samaria? East Jerusalem or eastern Jerusalem? Those are some of the language choices that journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are faced with each day—and those choices should not be taken lightly, experts say.

“It’s the terminology that actually defines the conflict and defines what you think about the conflict,” says Ari Briggs, director of Regavim, an Israeli NGO that works on legal land use issues. “Whereas journalists’ job, I believe, is to present the news, as soon as you use certain terminology, you’re presenting an opinion and not the news anymore.”

“Accuracy requires precision; ideology employs euphemism,” says Eric Rozenman, Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

At the conclusion of his famed essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell argues that writers have the power to “send some worn-out and useless phrase—some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse—into the dustbin, where it belongs.” Many Jewish leaders, organizations, and analysts wish to do just that with the following terms, which are commonly used by the mainstream media in coverage of Israel.

West Bank

Dani Dayan believes the “funniest” term of all that are used in mainstream coverage of Israel is “West Bank.” Dayan is the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization representing the municipal councils of Jewish communities in an area that the Israeli government calls Judea and Samaria, in line with the region’s biblical roots. Yet media usually use “West Bank” to describe the area, in reference to the bank of the river situated on its eastern border.

“[The Jordan River] is the only river on planet earth that on its good days is a few feet wide, and people claim that it has a bank 40 miles wide [spanning across Judea and Samaria],” Dayan tells JNS.org. “There is no other example of such a thing in the geography of planet earth. That proves that West Bank is the politicized terminology, and not Judea and Samaria, as people claim.”


The Jordan River. Photo by Beivushtang via Wikimedia Commons.

Member of Knesset Danny Danon (Likud) calls it “ridiculous” that West Bank—a geographic term that once described half of the Mandate of Palestine that the British government promised to the Jewish people—has “taken on a political meaning that attempts to supersede thousands of years of Jewish tradition.”

“The correct name of the heartland of the Land of Israel is obviously Judea and Samaria,” he tells JNS.org.

CAMERA’s Rozenman, the former editor of the Washington Jewish Week and B’nai B’rith Magazine, draws a distinction between Palestinian and Jewish communities in the area.

“If I’m referring to Palestinian Arab usage or demands, I use West Bank,” he says. “If I’m referring to Israeli usage or Jewish history and religion, etc., I use Judea and Samaria. Israeli prime ministers from 1967 on, if not before, used and [now] use Yehuda and Shomron, the Hebrew from which the Romans Latinized Judea and Samaria.”

West Bank is fair to use “so long as it’s noted that Jordan adopted that usage in the early 1950s to try to legitimate its illegal occupation, as the result of aggression, of what was commonly known as Judea and Samaria by British Mandatory authorities,” adds Rozenman.

Dayan, meanwhile, prefers to call Palestinian communities in Judea and Samaria exactly that.

“The area is Judea and Samaria, and in Judea and Samaria there are indeed Palestinian population centers, and that’s perfectly okay,” he says. “We cannot neglect that fact, that yes, we [Jews] are living together with Palestinians. And in Judea and Samaria there is ample room for many Jews, for many Palestinians, and for peaceful coexistence between them if the will exists.”

Settlements

Judea and Samaria’s Jewish communities are often called “settlements,” a term that some believe depicts modern-day residents of the area as primitive.

“[‘Settlements’] once referred in a positive manner to all communities in the Land of Israel, but at some point was misappropriated as a negative term specifically against those Jews who settled in Judea and Samaria,” Danon says. “I prefer to use ‘Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria’ when discussing the brave modern-day Zionistic pioneers.”

Dayan believe “settlements” is not pejorative, but still inaccurate. He analogizes the Israeli city of Ariel, home to one of Israel’s eight accredited universities, to the American municipality of Princeton, N.J., home to the Ivy League school of the same name. While Ariel is labeled as a settlement, nobody would give such a label to Princeton, Dayan argues.

“It’s a politically driven labeling in order to target those [Israeli] communities,” he says. “Most communities in Judea and Samaria are not different from any suburban or even urban community in Europe, in the United States, in Israel itself, or elsewhere.”

Green Line/1967 lines

The Israeli government’s decisions to build housing units beyond the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and Jordan are commonly defined as construction projects across the “Green Line.” But that term is a relic of the 1960s, according to Dayan.

“The Green Line ceased to exist in 1967 [during the Six-Day War],” he says. “The moment the Jordanian army, with the Palestinians, joined Egypt and Syria in attacking Israel, they shattered the Green Line and that very moment the Green Line ceased to exist.”

“1967 lines” are another popular term to describe the same entity, yet those lines “do not signify a political border between two political entities, and they never did,” says Dayan.

“I am always puzzled by the sudden sanctity that [the ‘1967 lines’] gained,” he says. “In the [1949] cease-fire agreement between Israel and Jordan that was signed in the Greek island of Rhodes, it was stated very clearly by an Arab demand that those lines are devoid of any political significance. They’re only a reflection of the military outcome of the [1967] war. Suddenly today we see that people say that east of the ‘Green Line’ is not part of Israel, it’s ‘Palestine,’ etc. That’s nonsense.”

East Jerusalem


The eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. Photo by Faigl.ladislav via Wikimedia Commons.

Though Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, some refer to the city’s Arab-heavy portion as “East Jerusalem”—with the uppercase “E” implying that the area is its own municipality.

“There is a typo here,” says Danon. “There is the western part of Jerusalem and the eastern part of Jerusalem, but there is only one capital city of the State of Israel. … We should treat and invest in all parts of the city equally and make sure the world understands that Jerusalem will forever remain united.”

Even if spelled with a lowercase “e,” Dayan notes that the area media call “east Jerusalem” actually comprises the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the city. “Take for instance the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in Jerusalem, it’s not in east Jerusalem, it’s in south Jerusalem. Or take for instance Pisgat Ze’ev—it is in north Jerusalem and not in east Jerusalem,” he says.

Rozenman says, “One day an Israeli-Palestinian agreement might establish a new ‘East’ and ‘West’ Jerusalem… but until then, journalistic usages of ‘East Jerusalem,’ let alone ‘Palestine,’ are prejudgements.”

Militants

By describing Palestinian terrorists as “militants,” newswire services such as the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters set the de facto industry standard, as their coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reprinted by their numerous client newspapers.

After the Nov. 18 attack by two Palestinian terrorists on a Jerusalem synagogue, numerous headlines in major newspaper who ran the AP story read something along the lines of, “Palestinian militants kill 5 in Jerusalem synagogue attack.” The impact of not describing terrorists as “terrorists” is destructive, Danon says.

“Any news outlet that uses ‘militants’ to describe the savages who brutally murder Jews at prayer is dishonest and possible even anti-Semitic,” he says. “This attempt at moral equivalency does no one justice and only serves to encourage violent terrorism.”

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) issued an Aug. 20 press release on media usage of “militants” to characterize members of Hamas, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Islamic State, and Hezbollah.

“These groups intentionally murder innocent Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others across the globe. … To call them ‘militants’ greatly understates and minimizes the horror of their vile actions and may even camouflage the appropriateness and the imperative of those who fight them,” ZOA said.

Palestinian Bedouin

Bedouin, in its simplest form the Arabic word for “nomad,” can turn into a charged term depending on what comes after it, according to Regavim’s Briggs, whose NGO’s stated mission is “ensuring the responsible, legal and environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands.”

In United Nations documents’ description of land disputes related to Bedouins living in Israel, Briggs sees a trend of “trying to connect what is a local problem to a larger national problem.”

“Ten years ago they spoke about Israeli Bedouins, five years ago they spoke about Israeli Arab Bedouins, three years ago they spoke about Bedouins living in Israel, and now they talk about Palestinian Bedouins,” he tells JNS.org. “And they’re talking about the same Bedouins. What you find is that to try to politically charge an issue, or to try and connect what is a social, local, limited geographic issue to a larger national conflict, you need to change the terminology used, and that’s why we’ve see this shift.”

Haram al-Sharif

Briggs also notes the Arab push to have the United Kingdom-based BBC stop using “Temple Mount” to describe the Jerusalem compound on which the first and second Jewish Temples were built. Instead, “Temple Mount” opponents promote the usage of the Arabic term “Haram al-Sharif,” which translates to “noble sanctuary.”

But if media abandon “Temple Mount,” not just Jewish history is re-written, Briggs explains.

“What’s most interesting there is that a lot of Christianity is based on these stories of Jesus clearing out the money-changers standing at the entrance to the Temple, and if the Temple never existed as [media are] now being told, then what does that do to Christianity?” he says.

“The journalist has to understand that when they use certain terminology, when they remove certain terminology from the lexicon, then they’re impacting things a lot bigger than just a news story,” adds Briggs. “They’re impacting a religion.”

Israel approves 78 new settler homes in East Jerusalem


Israel on Wednesday approved the construction of 78 new homes in two settlements in the West Bank, likely to aggravate Palestinian anger at a time when violence has flared, including a deadly attack on a synagogue.

Jerusalem's municipal planning committee authorised 50 new housing units in Har Homa and 28 in Ramot, a municipal spokeswoman said. Israel describes those two urban settlements as Jerusalem neighbourhoods.

Jerusalem has seen unrest in the past few weeks over access to the city's most sacred and politically sensitive site, holy to both Jews and Muslims. On Tuesday, two Palestinians killed four rabbis and a policeman at a Jerusalem synagogue, the worst attack in the city since 2008.

The Palestinians have also been angered by a recent slew of plans Israel has advanced for about 4,000 housing units on West Bank land annexed to the city.

The Palestinians want to establish a state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War. They fear the Israeli enclaves will deny them contiguous territory.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said of the latest announcement: “These decisions are a continuation of the Israeli government's policy to cause more tension, push towards further escalation and waste any chance to create an atmosphere for calm.”

Israel's settlement activities have drawn criticism from the European Union and from the United States, which like most countries views settlements as illegal.

U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke stressed Washington's “clear and consistent opposition to construction activity in East Jerusalem” and said: “During this sensitive time in Jerusalem, we would see such activity as inconsistent with the goal of lower tensions and seeking a path toward peace.”

Israel, citing Biblical links to Jerusalem, says Jews have a right to live anywhere in the city. It regards Jerusalem, including parts of the city captured in 1967, as its “indivisible” capital. U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in April.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff

Israel approves 184 new settlement homes


Israel's Jerusalem municipality approved building plans on Wednesday for 184 new homes in two Jewish settlements in the West Bank, drawing anger from Palestinians engaged in faltering statehood talks.

A municipality spokeswoman said the local planning committee had approved requests by private contractors who purchased the land years ago for the construction of 144 homes in Har Homa and 40 dwellings in Pisgat Zeev.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), accused Israel of trying to derail U.S.-sponsored peace talks in which the future of settlements on land that Palestinians want for a state is a major issue.

“It is has become evident that Israel has done everything possible to destroy the ongoing negotiations and to provoke violence and extremism throughout the region,” Ashrawi said in a statement.

Israel says Palestinian refusal to recognize it as a Jewish state – a step Palestinian leaders say was already taken in interim peace deals – is the main stumbling block.

Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev settlements are in a part of the West Bank that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after capturing the territory in the 1967 Middle East war. The annexation was not recognized internationally.

Palestinians are seeking a state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They say Israeli settlements, regarded as illegal by most countries, could deny them a viable, contiguous country.

Israel regards Pisgat Zeev and Har Homa as neighborhoods of Jerusalem that it would keep under any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

The two sides resumed U.S.-brokered peace talks in July, but the negotiations appear to be going nowhere. Washington is struggling to formulate agreed principles that would extend the talks beyond an original April target date for a final deal.

More than 500,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are home to about 2.8 million Palestinians.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Robin Pomeroy

Israel frees Palestinian prisoners, pushes settlement plan


Israel set free 26 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday as part of U.S.-brokered peace efforts, after pledging to press ahead with plans to build more homes in Jewish settlements.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose shuttle diplomacy led to a resumption of the negotiations in July after a three-year break, was due to return on Thursday to seek a framework agreement in talks that have shown few signs of progress.

Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners – the latest group is the third of four to go free – as part of the U.S.-led efforts that coaxed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiations after a three-year break.

In tandem with the prisoner releases in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has announced new construction in settlements in the West Bank.

Most of the 26 inmates going free were convicted of killing Israelis and almost all were jailed before the first Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals were signed 20 years ago.

Palestinians have jubilantly welcomed the return home of brethren they regard as national heroes. The families of Israelis they killed or injured have voiced anger and mounted unsuccessful court challenges against their release.

Last week, an Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government – which includes pro-settlement parties – would announce plans after the latest release to build 1,400 more homes for settlers in the West Bank.

Palestinians see the settlements, which most countries regard as illegal, as an obstacle to achieving a viable state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Middle East war and pulled out of the Gaza Strip, now ruled by Hamas Islamists opposed to the U.S. peace efforts, in 2005.

Palestinian officials have cautioned the settlement push could kill chances for a peace deal. Israel says the housing projects are in areas it intends to keep in any future agreement.

In another move that drew Palestinian anger, an Israeli ministerial committee on Sunday endorsed proposed legislation to annex an area of the West Bank likely to be the eastern border of a future Palestinian state.

The step, promoted by far-right members of Netanyahu's Likud party, could weigh on the peace negotiations. But centrist Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator, said she would use her powers to block the legislation from being voted on in Parliament.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer

Grappling with troubled peace process, Kerry urges Israeli settlement limits


Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israel on Wednesday to limit settlement building in the West Bank to help push peace talks with the Palestinians back on track.

Faced with grim Israeli and Palestinian assessments of progress in the talks, Kerry also appeared to slap down Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and warmly endorsed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's commitment to seeking a two-state solution.

Friction over the talks has risen this past week on the back of Israeli plans, announced in tandem with its release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, for some 3,500 new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“Let me emphasize at this point the position of the United States of America on the settlements is that we consider them… to be illegitimate,” Kerry, reaffirming long-standing U.S. policy, said after discussions with Abbas.

Speaking to reporters in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Kerry said it would be better if settlement building was “limited as much as possible in an effort to help create a climate for these talks to be able to proceed effectively”.

Palestinians have warned of a brewing crisis if Israel continues to assert that they had effectively agreed to turn a blind eye to the settlement campaign, in exchange for the progressive release of 104 long-serving inmates.

Kerry dismissed Israeli suggestions there had been an understanding with the Palestinians about settlement expansion and stated “unequivocally” his belief that Abbas was “100 percent committed” to peace talks.

“I want to make it extremely clear that at no time did the Palestinians in any way agree as a matter of going back to the talks, that they somehow condone or accept the settlements,” he said.

In Jerusalem earlier, Netanyahu had said the U.S.-brokered negotiations had failed to make any real progress.

Speaking to reporters with a stone-faced Kerry at his side, Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of creating “artificial crises” and of trying to “run away from the historic decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace”.

Hours later, Kerry said Abbas “wants to try peace and he understands it requires compromise by all the parties”.

The chief U.S. diplomat, citing “difficulties” in the peace process, had said earlier in Jerusalem that the United States was convinced that Netanyahu was also determined to pursue an end to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“As in any negotiation there will be moments of up and moments of down, and it goes back and forth,” Kerry said.

Kerry, whose shuttle diplomacy helped to revive the talks last July after a three-year break, has set a nine-month schedule for an agreement, despite widespread skepticism.

PALESTINIAN FRUSTRATION

Few details have emerged from the negotiations, held at unannounced times and at secret locations in line with pledges to keep a lid on leaks.

But Palestinian officials have been airing frustration over a lack of movement on core issues such as the borders of a Palestinian state, security arrangements, the future of Israeli settlements and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Abbas, in a speech on Monday, said that despite all the meetings nothing had changed on the ground.

Netanyahu said he hoped Kerry's visit would “help steer (the negotiations) back to a place where we could achieve the historical peace that we seek”.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians seek for a state along with the Hamas Islamist-run Gaza Strip, are considered illegal by most countries.

Israel cites historical and biblical links to the land, where more than 500,000 Israelis now live alongside 2.5 million Palestinians.

In another development, Netanyahu said former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would return to the cabinet after his acquittal in a corruption trial on Wednesday.

The right-wing powerbroker is a hardliner on Palestinian peace talks, which he has said have no chance of succeeding.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said any deal reached by Abbas, a rival of the Islamist group, “would not be binding on our people”.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Israel says it will announce more settlement building


Israel said on Thursday it would press ahead with plans to build in existing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in an apparent bid to appease hardliners opposed to peace talks with the Palestinians.

Local media said new building tenders could be announced next week, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular seeks to douse opposition from right-wingers in his government to a planned release of Palestinian prisoners.

“In accordance with understandings reached on the eve of the restart of peace talks with the Palestinians, in the coming months Israel will continue to announce it will build in settlement blocs and in Jerusalem,” part of the statement by the unnamed official said.

“Both the Americans and the Palestinians have been aware of these understandings,” the statement added.

There was no immediate comment from either of those parties.

The announcement came a day after Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Rome where the Israeli-Palestinian talks were on the agenda.

The pro-settler Jewish Home party, one of Netanyahu's main coalition partners, said on Thursday it would propose a bill to bar the release of Palestinian prisoners, which has been linked to the talks.

The U.S.-brokered discussions were revived in July after a three-year hiatus but have shown few signs of progress.

Israel's chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said in Tel Aviv on Thursday she could not divulge any details but a senior Palestinian official in the West Bank town of Ramallah described the talks as very difficult.

Jerusalem is one of the most divisive issues in the talks on creating a Palestinian state in territories Israel captured in a 1967 war.

The sides are also divided over the future of Israeli settlements, where borders should run and Palestinian demands for a “right of return” for refugees and their descendants.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its “eternal” capital. In a move never recognized internationally, it has annexed the city's eastern sector.

The settlements that Israel has built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal by most countries. Israel cites historical and biblical links to the areas, where about 500,000 Israelis now live alongside 2.5 million Palestinians.

They want those two territories and the Gaza Strip for a future country but fear that more settlement building will deny them a viable state.

Israel withdrew in 2005 from the Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas Islamists who are bitter rivals of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said last week that housing starts in West Bank settlement are up by 70 percent this year. It said there were 1,708 housing starts in January-June this year, compared with 995 during the same period in 2012.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Holland opposes banning any Israeli product, Dutch premier says


The Netherlands opposes any kind of import ban on Israeli products, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, though it must enforce European Union legislation on labeling settlement goods.

“I would like to stress that the Netherlands opposes any type of import ban or the boycott of Israeli products,” a Dutch official wrote in Rutte’s name last month to the European Jewish Congress, or EJC.

The letter, obtained by JTA, was sent to EJC President Moshe Kantor in response to Kantor’s letter to several EU heads of states, including Rutte, in which Kantor warned that labeling products from areas the European Union considers as illegal settlements was counterproductive to efforts to reach a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Rutte’s letter followed reports in July that several Dutch supermarkets were boycotting settlement goods, though the supermarkets denied they had such a policy.

In March, the Dutch government advised business owners to refrain from labeling products from the Golan Heights, West Bank and eastern Jerusalem as made in Israel.

A decision last year by the EU Foreign Affairs Council to label settlement goods “obliges the Dutch government to fully and effectively enforce existing E.U. legislation,” Rutte wrote.

The council has yet to release practical guidelines on labeling.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague struck a less conciliatory note in his reply to Kantor’s letter.

“I am afraid that I cannot agree with your concerns about E.U. labeling of settlement produce,” he wrote. “The settlements are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace.”

On Sept. 16, Kantor published a full-page ad in the Financial Times of London arguing against new EU guidelines prohibiting EU funding for Israeli projects in areas the European Union considers settlements.

The ad said the guidelines singled out Israel for criticism and “serve to minimize the chances for lasting peace.”

Most Israelis support peace deal; Bennett vows settlement expansion


With Israeli-Palestinian talks set to begin, a poll has shown that a majority of Israelis would support a final-status agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

Conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Dialog Institute, the poll showed that 39 percent of Israelis would vote for a peace deal if it were brought to a referendum, while 16 percent said they would probably vote for a deal. Twenty percent of respondents would vote against a deal, while five percent would likely oppose it. Twenty percent of respondents said they were undecided.

The poll questioned 511 Israelis and had a 4.3 percent margin of error.

Earlier this week, Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advance a bill requiring that any final-status agreement with the Palestinians be brought to a referendum. Netanyahu also supports the  bill.

In addition, on Tuesday, Bennett pledged to continue building in Israeli West Bank settlements.

Bennett is the chairman of the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, which won 12 Knesset seats in January’s elections running on a platform of vehement opposition to a Palestinian state.

“We will continue building, and you will see this soon,” said Bennett at a Tuesday event in Shiloh, an Israeli West Bank settlement, according to the Times of Israel. “I am sending the message from here to all the parties in the negotiations: The land of Israel belongs to the nation of Israel.”

The Palestinian Authority has long demanded that negotiations come along with a freeze on settlement expansion. But other Israeli cabinet ministers have expressed opposition to such a freeze. Last week, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, from the right-wing Likud, said a freeze “isn’t on the table.” Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel — also from Jewish Home — said Sunday that a freeze would be “inappropriate for the Jewish people, for the land of Israel and for a sovereign state” and that “we are in favor of building as much as possible,” according to the Times of Israel.

On the Palestinian side, Palestinian United Nations representative Riyad Mansour accused Israel of committing “war crimes” and supporting “terror” against Palestinians through its activity in the West Bank. He said that along with a settlement freeze, the Palestinians should insist that any negotiations be based on Israel’s pre-1967 border, with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

“Israel speaks of negotiations without preconditions, but sets conditions on the ground,” Mansour said, according to Ynet News. “Settlements are the main obstacle to peace and sabotage any effort to achieve a two-state solution.”

As Kerry meets with Abbas, new West Bank housing advances


An Israeli committee approved the construction of West Bank housing on the same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Jordan with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The settlement subcommittee of the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration, the body that oversees governance of the West Bank, on Wednesday approved the building of 732 apartments in Modi’in Ilit, located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and 19 in Kfar Adumim.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon must approve the construction.

Deliberations on more than 300 housing units for several isolated West Bank settlements was postponed at the request of Yaalon, Haaretz reported.

Kerry was in the region in his continuing bid to jump-start peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He met in Amman with Abbas, who was to brief the Palestine Liberation Organization on the talks the following day, according to Reuters.

“It has become a trend to see such Israeli behavior each time an American or an international official visits the region to push forward the negotiation track,” Mohammed Ishtayeh, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, told Reuters.

Also Wednesday, Kerry met with officials from several Arab countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to Reuters, trying to ensure that the Arab League would back a resumption of the peace process.

“The Arab delegates believe Kerry’s ideas proposed to the committee today constitute a good ground and suitable environment for restarting the negotiations, especially the new and important political, economic and security elements,” the Arab League said in a statement following the meeting.

Kerry has welcomed the Arab League’s revival of its 2002 peace initiative, which posited comprehensive peace in exchange for a return to the 1967 borders as the basis for restarting peace talks.

Israeli court orders halt to construction in West Bank settlement


Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the state to halt construction of 40 homes in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

The court issued the injunction Thursday in reviewing a petition filed by Palestinian residents near the settlement, Army Radio reported.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said in an interview with Army Radio that the plan to build the 40-home project “has nothing to do” with the visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began on Thursday.

Kerry, who has met multiple times since assuming his job in February with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders, hopes to jumpstart peace talks. In the past, Palestinians and some peace activists have accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of timing building launches to sabotage such peace bids.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told Army Radio the plans were approved by his predecessor, Ehud Barak.

On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Municipality approved construction permits for 69 new homes in Har Homa, a neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have demanded Israel halt construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank before peace talks resume. Israel says such talks should go ahead without preconditions.

The U.S. State Department called Israel’s continued settlement construction “unproductive” and “unhelpful” to US efforts to bring the sides back to the negotiating table, a department official told Bloomberg News on condition of anonymity.

Now, business leaders oppose settlements


“We come from the field, and we’re feeling the pressure; if we don’t make progress toward a two-state solution, there will be negative developments for the Israeli economy. We’re already noticing initial signs of this. The future of the Israeli economy will be in danger.” This, reportedly, is the message delivered last month to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by a member of a group of prominent businesspeople, just before they met, on May 26, with Palestinian counterparts in Jordan under the auspices of the World Economic Forum.

The group, organized and led by legendary high tech investor Yossi Vardi and Veritas and Sadara general partner Yadin Kaufmann, also included Shlomi Fogel, the owner of Ampa; Ruth Cheshin, from Teva’s board of directors; Shmuel Meitar, a founder of Amdocs; Benny Landa, a founder of Indigo; and Rami Levi, owner of supermarkets and a cell phone company (and probably Israel’s largest employer of Jerusalem Palestinians).

The message is disquieting; the messengers are the ones we’ve been waiting for. As I argued in “The Hebrew Republic,” the spine of any successful peace movement has to be Israel’s business people, concerned about global isolation, not (or not only) Israel’s liberal intelligentsia, concerned about the corruption of democracy. For ordinary Israelis, but especially young people, the only compelling rival to the claims of Greater Israel, which by now seem second nature, are the claims of Global Israel, which are learned firsthand.

Those latter claims are, or should be, threefold: the opportunity cost of conflict, the dangers to high tech of isolation and the novel facts of new, networked economies — in short, a political economic vision. The business persons’ group seems willing to advocate for the first two. About the third, let us just say we need more work.

First, the opportunity cost of the conflict, which is not widely appreciated. Indeed, many foolishly claim that the Israeli economy is not only unharmed by the occupation but may actually gain from it. Some on the right — including Netanyahu, reinforced by sympathetic polemics like “Start-up Nation— claim that Israel’s war economy, heavy on high-tech military organization and R&D, engenders technologies that seed the country’s lively startup culture. Others, especially on the left, assume that Israel’s consumer and telecom corporations are happy to have a captive market of an additional 3 million consumers.

Most, in short, look at Israel’s fairly steady rates of growth and compare those rates to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average. They understand that the country’s current austerity crisis and high, chronic inequality are burdensome. Yet they refuse to believe that peace would make much difference.

What both sides fail to understand — something Levi no doubt understands — is that Israelis who are not in the startup world are paying a heavy material price for this conflict, since Israel is not growing nearly as fast as it could have, especially in food processing and retail, tourism and construction — the medium-tech industries that would be partners for short-term Palestinian economic growth if the occupation were lifted and investment from Jordan and the Gulf would pour in. The OECD average, in this sense, is almost entirely irrelevant to what Israel is, namely, a large, technologically advanced urban hub — a kind of city-state — networked to the global system on the one hand and to Palestine on the other.

Israel’s growth rate, as economist Stanley Fischer has insisted, is actually not nearly as fast as it could be, or enough to outpace the social tensions prompted by persistent inequalities, between Israeli Jews and Arabs, especially. Fischer, departing the Bank of Israel, added his voice to the business delegation, calling for seriousness about peace. Now, compare Israel’s growth to some average of Singapore, Pittsburgh, Boston and Berlin, not to some average of Ireland, France and Greece. (Stay tuned: A project I’m co-leading at Dartmouth is planning to do just this.)

But, then, what of high tech? Is it not true that high defense spending, and the defense posture generally, is good for technology businesses? This brings us to the second point, the dangers of isolation. To some extent, of course, high defense spending, the team-based problem-solving of the Israel Defense Forces, the 8200 intelligence unit, etc., seed new technologies.

But, for the most part, technology businesses have to build relationships with global customers: They have to become solutions companies for problems defined by the product development plans of global technology and medical corporations. And unless Israelis sell apps, software packages, components or devices that are so exotic, powerful and unique that nobody else can supply them, global corporations will increasingly shun Israel startups the way Spanish crowds shun visiting Israeli basketball teams. Already, Indians and Indian companies are proving far more important to Silicon Valley than is Israel.

Third, and perhaps most important, Israeli business leaders — the natural leaders of Global Israel — understand the nature of the new economy, which young Israelis experience but can’t necessarily find the words for whenever they fly from Ben Gurion Airport or flip on one of their three or four screens. Israel’s business leaders, in other words, have the moral responsibility to define what a two-state peace must really look like, given the indispensability of economic growth to both states, and the new drivers of growth, which businesspeople perceive more clearly than old-school officials, politicians and journalists. Are they exercising it?

Alas, on this point Vardi et al. have been reticent, not just “so far,” but in the way they’ve crafted their mandate. They have defined themselves merely as a “pressure group,” to highlight the importance of a two-state solution, but not a group to describe what a solution might actually look like. Vision, they say, is the job of the political leadership. Really?

On the contrary, high tech and other business leaders need, urgently, to spell out the political implications of the world they live in and embody. They must advocate for the very thing their photo ops in Amman implied, infrastructural integration and political interdependence. 

 Only the business leaders Vardi has assembled have the moral prestige to sketch out this vision and take it mainstream. As long as young Israelis fail to envision a plausible peace, they will fail to embrace the steps necessary to move to it, including demanding an end to the settlement project.

Israel and Palestine — it cannot be stressed enough — exist in a globalized, networked, densely populated, urbanized land. Negotiations over two states must anticipate moves toward greater integration — hence, confederated arrangements — both to mitigate the fears each side has of the other’s “self-determination” and provide a framework for each economy to grow.

The jurisdictions these states would exercise would encompass much more than police, education, civil law and cultural affairs — what the Palestinian Authority has hypothetically exercised under the Oslo Agreements. Rather, these jurisdictions also would cover water and sewage, bandwidth and telecom, health care delivery and control of epidemics, labor law, certification and integration of tourist services, banking and currency controls, roads and bridges, railways, construction standards and technical university certification.

Vardi and his group should be arguing for this vision, two nations, but one urban infrastructure; for shared, or confederative, jurisdictions to help Israel and Palestine work cooperatively and grow reciprocally, just as their joint conference implies. 

The point is, only businesspeople can argue with the necessary authority for such new styles of cooperation, which are inexorable, that is, if we are to avoid violence and war. Vardi, an admirer of Marshall McLuhan, often tells us that the medium is the message. In this case, however, the messenger is the medium. Just say what you are and how you work.


Bernard Avishai is adjunct professor of business at the Hebrew University, and visiting professor of government at Dartmouth College. His new book, “Promiscuous: Portnoy’s Complaint and Our Doomed Pursuit of Happiness,” was just published. He is the author of “The Hebrew Republic” and “The Tragedy of Zionism,” and contributes regularly to Harper’s and The Nation. Reprinted with permission.

EU envoy targets settlements


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reinicke suggested that the labeling policy would soon be adopted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murder of Jewish settler sparks West Bank clashes


Israeli settlers and Palestinians clashed in the West Bank more than a day after the murder of a Jewish man by a Palestinian attacker.

Jewish settlers threw rocks at passing Palestinian cars, and settlers and Palestinians threw rocks at each other in the northern West Bank on Wednesday, according to reports.

Late Tuesday night, the words “Price Tag” were sprayed on a house in a Palestinian village near Ramallah, and five cars there were damaged by rock throwing, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“Price tag” refers to the strategy that extremist settlers and their supporters have adopted to exact retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or Palestinian attacks on Jews.

Eviatar Borovsky, 31, a father of five from the Yitzhar settlement, was killed Tuesday morning as he waited for a bus at the Tapuach Junction. The stabber then took Borovsky's gun and began shooting at Border Guard officers. The officers returned fire, injuring the Palestinian, who was taken to an Israeli hospital to be treated for his wounds.

Following the attack, a group of Yitzhar residents set fields afire and threw stones at a Palestinian school bus, Haaretz reported.

Since the murder, at least 15 Jewish settlers have been arrested for violence against Palestinians.

Several hundred people attended Borovsky's funeral. Later, a photo of one of his young sons hugging his lifeless body draped in a prayer shawl went viral on Facebook.

In January, a 17-year-old Israeli was stabbed at the same junction.

Legal treatment of alleged ‘price tag’ vandals reportedly akin to terror suspects


Israel's Supreme Court upheld a police decision to prohibit three Jewish suspects in “price tag” attacks from meeting with their lawyer for three days after their arrest.

Wednesday's decision reportedly places their Dec. 2 vandalism attacks on the same level as Palestinian acts of terror.

The men, residents of Jewish West Bank settlements, were arrested after a car was set ablaze in the Palestinian village of Dahariya, near Hebron. The words “price tag” were spray-painted on a wall near the arson attack.

Price tag refers to the strategy that Jewish extremists have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians and Arabs in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions, or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

By preventing them from meeting with legal representation, the alleged crimes are being placed on the same level as acts of terror, Ynet said, citing a legal source. It is usually practiced by the Shin Bet security service in terror or security-related cases, Ynet reported.

The alleged attackers, arrested near the village, were caught with gloves, weapons, a flammable liquid and spray-paint cans, according to Ynet. The men, from Beit El, Kiryat Arba and Yakir, were linked to other price tag crimes.

Attorney Yehuda Shoshan, who represents one of the suspects, told Ynet, “None of the articles of the law, which was formulated to battle Arab terror against the state, mentions arson. I doubt the legislator ever thought this law would be used against three youngsters who sprayed graffiti as revenge against Arabs.”

Police accused the suspects of offenses such as illegal association, vandalizing property, obstructing police, conspiracy to commit a crime and nationalistically motivated arson, according to Israel Hayom.

State Dept. warns ‘E-1’ construction would damage two-state prospects


Building in the E-1 area between eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim would be “especially damaging” to efforts to reach a two-state solution, the State Department said.

“The United States opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations,” Mark Toner, the State Department deputy spokesman, said in a statement. “This includes building in the E-1 area, as this area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution.”

The statement Monday came after Israel leaked plans to build in the area, in apparent retaliation for the Palestinians' success last week in winning non-member state status at the United Nations General Assembly.

The first State Department reaction on Friday, by Toner's boss, Victoria Nuland, expressed concern over E-1 while also noting U.S. opposition to enhanced U.N. status for Palestine.

“We’re going to be evenhanded in our concern about any actions that are provocative, any actions that make it harder to get these two parties back to the table,” Nuland said.

Toner's statement on Monday was focused only on the proposed E-1 building, suggesting that the Obama administration would be aggressive in opposing E-1 development.

“We have made clear to the Israeli government that such action is contrary to U.S. policy,” Toner said. “The United States and the international community expect all parties to play a constructive role in efforts to achieve peace. We urge the parties to cease unilateral actions and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations so all the issues can be discussed and the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security can be realized.”

Israeli governments have long planned such building, which would link the bedroom community of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem, but successive U.S. administrations have opposed it, saying that developing the corridor would cut off Palestinian populations centers from each other in a future Palestinian state.

E-1 was a flashpoint of tensions between the administration of President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

U.S. rejects call for boycott by UN Rapporteur Falk


The Obama administration slammed U.N. special rapporteur Richard Falk's call for a boycott of private companies that are profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise.

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, in a statement Friday called Falk's boycott call “irresponsible and unacceptable.”

Falk called for the boycott in a report Oct. 25 to the U.N. General Assembly. “My main recommendation is that the businesses highlighted in the report — as well as the many other businesses that are profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise — should be boycotted until they bring their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards,” Falk said.

The report highlighted the activities of companies that he said are involved in the establishment and maintenance of Israeli settlements.

Among the firms named were U.S. companies Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett Packard and Motorola and Israeli companies Ahava, Elbit Systems and Mehadrin. The report also cited  the Volvo Group and Assa Abloy of Sweden and Veolia Environment of France.

“Mr. Falk’s recommendations do nothing to further a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indeed poison the environment for peace,” said Rice in her statement. “His continued service in the role of a UN Special Rapporteur is deeply regrettable and only damages the credibility of the UN.”

The statement also said that “throughout his tenure as Special Rapporteur, the Mr. Falk has been highly biased and made offensive statements, including outrageous comments on the 9/11 attacks.”

In 2011, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon publicly criticized Falk's statements in a blog posting in which the special rapporteur proposed consideration of theories that the United States had orchestrated the 9/11 terror attacks.

Israel approves more expansion of settlement near Jerusalem


Israel on Thursday issued a detailed plan for the building of some 800 new homes on annexed land in the West Bank that is certain to attract further international condemnation of its settlement policies.

A planning committee issued a call for bids from contractors to start building 797 housing units on the western slopes of the urban settlement of Gilo, an area that Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war and later declared part of Jerusalem.

The annexation has never been recognized internationally.

Palestinians want to create a state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

But they say Israeli settlement building around the city, such as at Gilo, which is home to 40,000 Israelis and lies between mainly Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem, will cripple the viability of any future state.

Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank, which it calls Judea and Samaria. Some 500,000 settlers live in territory seized in 1967.

Previous Israeli announcements and subsequent settlement building have always drawn worldwide rebukes, including from Israel's main ally, the United States.

Hagit Ofran of the Israeli anti-settler group Peace Now, said construction could begin within a few months.

“The government could stop the process before building begins but is taking advantage of the upcoming elections in order to set facts on the ground and will make the possibility of peace with the Palestinians even harder to achieve,” she said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called elections for January 22.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Jon Hemming

United Church of Canada poised to approve settlement boycott


Canada’s largest Protestant church stands poised to approve a boycott of products made in Israeli settlements.

Meeting in Ottawa, members of the United Church of Canada’s General Council on Wednesday affirmed a resolution supporting a boycott of goods produced in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

A final vote is scheduled for Friday, when the church’s governing General Council can choose to accept or reject an overall motion that includes recommendations contained in a report on church policy on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

But the tone seems to be set, said church official Bruce Gregersen.

“The mind of the council is pretty clear,” he told Postmedia News. “The main recommendations were approved by a fairly overwhelming vote.”

The key proposal affirmed Wednesday calls on church members “to avoid any and all products produced in the settlements”; requests that the Canadian government ensure that “all products produced in the settlements be labeled clearly and differently from products of Israel”; and requests that products produced in the settlements not be given preferential treatment under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

The proposal is not anti-Israel, Gregersen said.

“We are solidly behind Israel as a legitimate Jewish state. We don’t want to demonize in any way Israel or Jewish people,” he said. “The problem is the occupation and the settlements.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it was “outraged” at the development.

“This decision represents a radical shift in the United Church’s policies, betrays the views of the vast majority of its members and flies in the face of decades of constructive interfaith dialogue,” a center statement said.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies said it is troubled, as well. In a statement, its president and CEO, Avi Benlolo, said that “I don’t know if church members truly understand how utterly offensive and imbalanced this proposal is, or whether a latent anti-Semitism within the church is slowly coming back to life.”

EU includes central Israel city on list of settlements


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New date set for Migron settlement evacuation


Israel’s Supreme Court said that the evacuation of an illegal West Bank settlement must take place by Aug. 21.

The judges granted the government request Friday to postpone the eviction of the Migron, home to about 50 families, until Aug. 21, according to Haaretz. An earlier postponement had decided the date would be Aug. 1.

The state requested that the delay not take place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan amid worries of “price tag” reprisal attacks by settlers that could have inflamed tensions with Palestinians, according to Haaretz.

Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel recently said that “the request for a delay today, is preparation for another request to delay next month.”

In March, the Supreme Court ruled against an attempt by the government to postpone to 2015 the demolition of Migron, which the Palestinians say is built on their land. Deferrals against the demolition stretch back to 2006.

The settlers, who deny that Migron is built on private Palestinian land, had signed a deal with the Netanyahu government agreeing to relocate to a nearby hill over the next three years.

Activists attack contractors at Ulpana site


Activists threw rocks at contractors inspecting the Ulpana neighborhood in preparation for the evacuation of five apartment buildings there.

The inspection came as caravillas, or portable homes, were being delivered Wednesday to a military base adjacent to the community where the evacuees will be housed until their apartments are relocated. The caravillas reportedly were disguised to avoid being damaged by activists who support the neighborhood on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement.

Hours before the attack on the contractors, the rabbi of Beit El, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, called for a “decisive struggle” against the evacuation of the five apartment buildings housing 30 families. In a public letter issued Wednesday, Melamud called for “dedication and sacrifice,” and said the struggle should consist of dialogue as well as protest.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in September that the neighborhood should be razed, siding with a lawsuit filed by Palestinians who said they owned the land. A deadline of July 1 is set for the evacuation.

Israel unmoved by U.S. criticism of settlement plans


Israel shrugged off on Thursday U.S. criticism of its plans to erect 851 more settler homes in the occupied West Bank, projects that appeared aimed at placating settlers angry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“They need to condemn. We need to build,” Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias told Army Radio.

Facing down settlers and their supporters in parliament and in his right-wing Likud party, Netanyahu defeated on Wednesday an attempt by ultranationalist lawmakers to legalise all settler homes on private Palestinian land in the West Bank.

The anti-settlement Peace Now group says some 9,000 of the 65,000 housing units Israel has built for the 311,000 settlers in the territory fall into that category. Some 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.

The bill was proposed after the Supreme Court ordered the removal by July 1 of five apartment buildings erected on disputed tracts in the settlement of Beit El.

Netanyahu said he had no choice but to abide by the ruling, which put him at odds with an increasingly rebellious core of staunchly pro-settler activists and lawmakers in his party.

But he scrambled to soften the blow by promising shortly after the legislation was voted down to build 851 new homes in West Bank settlements.

Washington has repeatedly clashed with Israel over settlement expansion and was swift to voice its displeasure.

“We are very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, in a refrain long familiar to Israeli leaders.

HELD BACK

U.S.-sponsored peace talks broke down in 2010 in a row over settlements and Palestinian leaders say they will not return to the negotiating table until Israel halts all building on land they say is rightfully theirs.

The World Court considers Jewish settlements, built on territory that Israel captured in a 1967 war, illegal.

Attias, in a Reuters interview, said the U.S. criticism came as no surprise and “there would have been stronger condemnation” of Israel if the law to legalise the Beit El homes had passed.

“It’s not as if we can build as much as we want to,” he said. “We appreciate what the Americans ask from us, so we build a lot less than what is needed there. There is natural growth: people get married, they want to live near their parents, they want to expand their house.”

Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan al Khatib said the United States and other countries “must make a bigger effort to force Israel to abide by international law and put an end to Israeli settlements”.

At Beit El, settlers set up protest tents outside the five dwellings that are to due to be lifted from their foundations and relocated to an adjacent military installation, in what is likely to be a complex engineering project,

“There is a lot of anger,” Reut Lerer, one of the residents slated to move, told reporters.

“We feel abandoned. We are fighting for the Land of Israel. Demolishing homes here is an injustice … We cannot let this pass quietly and we all feel there should be protests.”

Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah

Ulpana activists begin march to Jerusalem


Hundreds of settlement activists began marching Monday from the Ulpana neighborhood on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement in the West Bank toward Jerusalem.

The protest march is against plans to raze five apartment buildings in Ulpana, which are on land claimed by Palestinian families.

Some 300 supporters of Ulpana waving flags and carrying signs set out from the neighborhood to march to a protest tent in Jerusalem located outside of the Supreme Court, where hunger strikers have been sitting. They plan to reach Jerusalem on Tuesday.

The marchers are supporting a bill to be voted on in Knesset on Wednesday that would that would override a Supreme Court decision to remove the Ulpana buildings. The legislation would retroactively legalize buildings built on contested land if the owner does not challenge the construction within four years.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in September that the neighborhood should be razed, siding with a lawsuit filed by Palestinians who said they owned the land.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a three-point plan to physically move the buildings to land that is not claimed by Palestinians, build new housing and vigorously defend the neighborhoods in future litigation.

The plan requires the approval of Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who spent Sunday in consultations about the possible move.

Knesset passes bill giving tax breaks to settlement donors


The Knesset passed a bill that provides tax benefits to Israelis who donate to West Bank settlements.

The bill, an amendment to the Income Tax Act, grants a 35 percent tax break on donations to nongovernmental organizations that encourage settlement anywhere in the country, such as the Negev and the Galilee, and including the West Bank.

A vote on the bill’s second and third readings passed the Knesset plenum Monday evening by a vote of 33 to 13. Several members of the Kadima party joined the opposition in voting against the bill.

Donors to non-Jewish settlements also receive the tax break.

Palestinian leaders reject Netanyahu letter to Abbas


Palestinian leaders reportedly have rejected the contents of a letter delivered by Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal envoy Isaac Molho to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

“The content of [Netanyahu’s] letter did not represent grounds for returning to negotiations,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters.

The letter delivered Saturday night was in response to a letter sent to Netanyahu last month from Abbas in which the PA chief blamed Netanyahu for the stalled peace process. The Abbas letter said the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table only if Israel accepts a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with “limited” land swaps, halts all settlement building and releases Palestinian prisoners.

Molho and Abbas issued a joint statement following the meeting saying that “Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace, and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal.”

A statement issued Saturday night from the Prime Minister’s Office did not divulge the contents of the letter. But Palestinian leaders said Sunday afternoon that Netanyahu’s letter rejected the Palestinian’s requirement for a halt to building in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem and called for a return to stalled peace talks without preconditions.

During the meeting with Molcho, Abbas reportedly brought up the plight of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and asked Israel to accede to their demands, including no solitary confinement and family visits for prisoners whose families live in Gaza.

Israeli court orders removal of settlement houses


Israel’s Supreme Court rejected on Monday a government request to delay the demolition of five apartment buildings in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, ruling the houses must be removed by July 1.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government agreed last year to remove the houses at Ulpana, on the edge of the Beit El settlement, after a court ruled they were built on private Palestinian land.

But Netanyahu came under intense pressure from within his own Likud party and from other pro-settler coalition allies to delay the demolition, and his government petitioned the court on April 27 for a three-month postponement.

The Supreme Court said in its decision on Monday that the government, which in part wanted more time to allow further checks into whether the land had been purchased legally by the current occupants, had not provided justifiable reason to “renew the discussion”.

About 30 families live in the buildings, officials say.

Israel distinguishes between settlements it has approved and outposts which were never granted official authorization.

Palestinians fear that settlements Israel has built in the territory it captured in a 1967 war will deny them a viable state.

About 310,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Alison Williams

Netanyahu wants postponement of settlement dismantling ruling


The Israeli government plans to request that an Israeli Supreme Court order to dismantle part of a West Bank settlement be postponed for 90 days.

The court has ordered that a neighborhood of the Beit El settlement, north of Jerusalem, be dismantled by May 1. The neighborhood, which contains five structures and is called Ulpana, is built on Palestinian land.

But according to Haaretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked his state’s attorney to request that the decision be delayed for 90 days. Netanyahu hopes to use that time to propose an alternative plan to the court’s decision.

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