2nd Gaza humanitarian worker indicted for assisting Hamas


A United Nations humanitarian aid worker in Gaza used his position to provide material assistance to the terrorist efforts of Hamas, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said.

Waheed Borsh, 38, was indicted in Beersheba District Court on Tuesday for assisting Hamas. It is the second indictment of a Gaza Palestinian aid worker accused of assisting Hamas in the last week.

Borsh was arrested on July 16 by the Shin Bet and the Israel Police, the Shin Bet said in a statement issued Tuesday. The statement said Borsh confessed that he carried out activities that aided Hamas.

Borsh, from Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip, has worked for the United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, in Gaza as an engineer since 2003. His areas of responsibility include demolishing houses damaged during armed conflicts and clearing the rubble from sites after demolition.

The UNDP, one of the world’s largest multilateral development agencies, conducts development and rehabilitation projects for the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip. The projects include assisting in the rehabilitation of housing damaged during armed conflicts.

The Shin Bet said its investigation of Borsh discovered that he had been instructed by a senior member of Hamas to redirect his work for UNDP to serve Hamas’ military interests.

In one such activity last year, he helped build a military jetty in the northern Gaza Strip for Hamas naval forces using UNDP resources, the Shin Bet said. Borsh also persuaded UNDP managers to prioritize the rehabilitation of housing in areas populated by Hamas members in response to a request by Hamas.

Borsh, who told investigators that there are other Palestinians employed by aid organizations that are working for Hamas, also disclosed information on Hamas tunnels and military bases that he had been exposed to during his work in Gaza, the Shin Bet said.

The Borsh case “demonstrates how Hamas exploits the resources of international aid organizations at the expense of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip,” according to the statement.

On Thursday, the Shin Bet announced the arrest of Mohammed El-Halabi, 32, director of the Gaza branch of the international humanitarian aid organization World Vision, on charges that he funneled tens of millions of dollars from the charity to Hamas.

Israel says has mended fences with EU in Netanyahu-Mogherini call


Israel said on Friday it had resolved its differences with the European Union after weeks of diplomatic tension following an EU decision not to allow goods produced in settlements in the West Bank to be labeled “Made in Israel”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Israel's foreign ministry said.

The two “agreed that relations between the two sides should be conducted in an atmosphere of confidence and mutual respect,” it said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that Israel would no longer insist on the exclusion of EU bodies from peace talks with the Palestinians over a two-state solution to the Middle East peace process.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in April 2014 and there have been no signs of them resuming.

While the United States has traditionally played the lead role in peace efforts in the region, the EU is Israel's largest trading partner and is the biggest donor to the Palestinians, and is looking to play a larger role in peace negotiations

“The conversation resolved the tensions and we are, Israel and the EU, back to good and close relations,” Nahshon said in a text message to the media.

In November, the EU said that goods produced in settlements could not be labeled “Made in Israel” and should be marked as coming from settlements, which the EU considers illegal under international law.

The EU holds the position that the lands Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, are not part of the internationally recognized borders of Israel.

After the guidelines were published, Israel suspended contact with EU bodies involved in peace efforts with Palestinians, although the government said bilateral ties with nearly all EU countries remained strong.

The Palestinians want the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the West Bank for their future state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Nahshon said Mogherini had expressed solidarity with Israel at a time of heightened Israeli-Palestinian violence and had strongly opposed attempts by various groups to boycott Israel.

Palestinian envoy pushes for new UN efforts, ‘collective approach’


Palestinian officials said they want to “keep the hope alive and keep the two-state solution alive” through new efforts at the United Nations.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy to the UN, said Friday, “We will not accept that the year 2016 is a year when we cannot do anything,” Agence France Press reported.

Mansour said the Iran nuclear deal and progress on the Syrian peace track point to a need for a “collective approach” to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, words similar to a statement earlier in the day by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mansour predicted that violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories will probably worsen in the absence of diplomatic efforts.

The Palestinian envoy said he may push for a resolution condemning Israel’s expansion of Israeli settlements, but said a broader plan is necessary, such as sending international observers to the region or convening an international peace conference, AFP reported.

UN remembers 6 million dead Jews as Ban Ki Moon’s words endanger 6 million live Jews


Then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan once acknowledged that the United Nations “rose from the ashes of the Holocaust” to save the remnants of European Jewry and provide the Jewish people with an opportunity to fulfill their age-old aspirations through the new nation state of Israel.

This year the UN explicitly linked International Holocaust Remembrance Day to its own mission by solemnly invoking the theme of “The Holocaust and Human Dignity:”

[WATCH: FULL UN SPECIAL EVENT ON THE HOLOCAUST]

“The theme links Holocaust remembrance with the founding principles of the United Nations and reaffirms faith in the dignity and worth of every person that is highlighted in the United Nations Charter, as well as the right to live free from discrimination and with equal protection under the law that is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Holocaust, which resulted in the destruction of nearly two thirds of European Jewry, remains one of the most painful reminders of the international community’s failure to protect them.”

Unfortunately, what the UN declared about Holocaust Remembrance was mocked by the words uttered by the United Nations’ current Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon. Even as Israelis were burying the latest victim of Palestinian terrorism- a beautiful 23 year old who was stabbed to death in a market as she bought groceries for her grandparents, Mr. Ban declared that the current knife/gun/vehicle Intifada “is a reaction to the fear, disparity and lack of trust the Palestinians are experiencing.”  He went on to ‘explain’ “Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process,” he said, blaming “the occupation” for causing “hatred and extremism.”

The subtext here, was that killings on the streets of Paris or in San Bernardino must be denounced by the international community as terrorism, but the heinous murders of Jews—among them family members of Holocaust survivors on the streets of Jerusalem—was essentially the fault of the Jews, that cold-blooded killers of Israelis didn’t merit powerful condemnation but rather needed to be “understood”.

The Secretary General’s words were splashed across the front pages of Israeli newspapers and outrage was expressed from Prime Minister Netanyahu to an incensed Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, who lamented, “Instead of trying to rationalize Palestinian terrorism, the United Nations should demand that the Palestinian Authority eradicate incitement, which is coming from its highest echelons.”

The timing and thrust of Mr. Ban’s statement is especially deplorable as he missed an historical opportunity to deliver to the Palestinians and all others embracing a culture of death, a crucial lesson from the Shoah itself.

Ban lectured Israelis that, “As oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.”

He invoked powerful words and imagery in making his case: The Palestinians he said suffered from fear, lack of trust, frustration, and humiliation.

He should have told them, “instead of embracing the culture of death of ISIS, Al Qaeda and Al Shabab, why not invite survivors of Auschwitz to al Quds University to discover how they dealt with fear, frustration and humiliation”. They would have heard from people who witnessed and experienced the Nazi Genocide, how and why they were able to embrace life and keep hope alive for a better future.

They would have seen someone, who despite having seen their world and families destroyed, who saw their own lives reduced to a number tattooed on their arms, who themselves were at death’s door when liberation finally came, despite it all, they rejected hatred and terrorism and chose Life.

Instead, on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, Mr. Ban defaulted to a politically expedient mantra, one that never helped a single Palestinian. Whatever his motivation, the effect of his words was to tell Palestinians and by extension anyone with a gripe against Israel, that he understood the pain of terrorist murderers, if the target are Israelis.

What a disgrace.

So on the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Ban Ki Moon did manage to teach us something new. We learn there is something worse than forgetting 6 million dead Jews. It is deploying a cynical double standard that emboldens those who would destroy 6 million live Jews.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. Dr. Harold Brackman is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Israel slams Palestinians’ push to fly their flag at U.N.


Israel on Tuesday complained to the United Nations about a Palestinian initiative to fly their flag alongside full member states' at the world body's headquarters, calling it “another cynical misuse of the U.N. by the Palestinian Authority.”

Currently, only member states' flags fly at U.N. headquarters. While the 193-nation assembly overwhelmingly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine in 2012, a Palestinian attempt to secure full U.N. membership failed. Palestine is considered a non-member state.

But the flags of the two non-member states – Palestine and the Vatican – could soon be flying at the United Nations.

The General Assembly is expected to vote on Sept. 10 on a Palestinian resolution that says the flags of non-member observer states “shall be raised at the United Nations Headquarters and Offices following the flags of the member states of the United Nations.”

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor wrote a letter of complaint about the Palestinian initiative to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and this year's president of the 193-nation General Assembly, Sam Kutesa of Uganda.

“For 70 years the United Nations has raised only flags of full member states,” Prosor said, adding that the Palestinians never held a single round of consultations on their resolution. He called it “another cynical misuse of the U.N. by the Palestinian Authority.”

“Once again the Palestinians prefer to score easy and meaningless points at the U.N., simply because they can,” he said. “It's time to unequivocally tell them: this is not the path to statehood, this is not the way for peace.”

He also accused the Palestinians, who he said appear to already have enough votes for their resolution to pass, of misleading U.N. member states by pretending that it was a joint initiative with the Vatican.

Last week, the Holy See's mission issued a diplomatic note saying it would not co-sponsor the resolution and demanding that all references to it be cut from the draft.

Several days later, it issued a new news release reiterating that it did not object to the Palestinian draft resolution on flying non-member states' flags but without any reference to its earlier demand that it not be mentioned in the resolution. But it made clear it was satisfied with the status quo.

Prosor said the Vatican issued the second statement under pressure from the Palestinian and Arab delegations.

Neither the Vatican's nor the Palestinians' U.N. missions had any immediate response to queries about Prosor's letter.

Israel disputes U.N. report finding it may have committed Gaza war crimes


Israel disputed on Monday the findings of a U.N. report that it may have committed war crimes in the 2014 Gaza conflict, saying its forces acted “according to the highest international standards”.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas, the dominant Palestinian movement in the Gaza Strip, which the report said might bear responsibility for war crimes that included “indiscriminate” firing of rockets at Israeli towns.

“It is regrettable that the report fails to recognize the profound difference between Israel's moral behavior during Operation Protective Edge and the terror organizations it confronted,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement, referring to the 50-day Gaza war last July and August.

“In defending itself against attacks, Israel's military acted according to the highest international standards.”

Saeb Erekat, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement: “The State of Palestine will review the findings and recommendations of the (U.N.) commission with the highest consideration, in line with its staunch commitment to ensuring respect for these esteemed bodies of international law.”

Echoing previous Israeli statements during the year-long U.N. inquiry, the foreign ministry said the report by the U.N. Human Rights Council was commissioned by “a notoriously biased institution” that has a “singular obsession” with Israel.

Citing such alleged bias and what it called a lack of the necessary expertise to conduct a professional and serious examination of an armed conflict, the ministry said Israel would consider the report “in light of these essential failings”.

Israel says U.N. grants Hamas-linked group NGO status


Israel on Monday accused a U.N. committee that oversees non-governmental organizations of granting U.N accreditation to an association that it said promotes “anti-Israel propaganda in Europe” and is linked to the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

Israel's mission to the United Nations issued a statement condemning the decision, by the 19-member U.N. Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, to approve the application of the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), an organization based in Britain.

The statement said that in 2010 Israel banned the PRC because of its ties to Hamas, labeling it “an organizational and a coordinating wing of Hamas in Europe” with members that include senior Hamas officials.

“Until today, the U.N. has given Hamas discounts and let it strengthen its activities,” Israel's U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, was quoted as saying in the statement. “Now, the U.N. went one step further, and gave Hamas a welcoming celebration at its main entrance, allowing it to be a full participant.”

“According to this script, one day we may find Hezbollah sitting at the Security Council and ISIS (Islamic State) voting at the Human Rights Council,” he added. “This is the peak season for the U.N.'s Theater of the Absurd.”

The Israeli statement said 12 countries voted in favor, including Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Turkey, Venezuela, China and Cuba, and three voted against, the United States, Uruguay and Israel. India, Russia and Greece abstained, and Burundi was absent.

Official U.N. status as an NGO gives groups access to U.N. premises and opportunities to attend or observe many events and conferences at United Nations sites around the world.

Neither the PRC nor the British or U.S. missions to the United Nations had an immediate response to Reuters requests for comment on the vote or the Israeli announcement. A U.N. spokesman said it would be up to member states to comment since it was their decision.

The United States and European Union have designated Hamas a terrorist organization.

Since Hamas, and not the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, is the de facto governing authority in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations maintains limited contact with it in terms of aid delivery, education and other activities.

The United Nations' principal Palestinian interlocutor is the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank.

U.S. official in Israel to discuss Mideast nuclear arms ban


A senior U.S. official is in Israel to discuss the possibility of a compromise that would keep alive the idea of someday banning nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, U.S. officials and U.N. diplomats said on Thursday.

Friday is the final day of a month-long review conference on the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at United Nations headquarters in New York. The conference has bogged down on several issues, above all the failure to convene a planned 2012 conference on a Middle East weapons of mass destruction (WMD) ban.

Without agreement on the Middle East issue, diplomats said treaty signatories might fail to agree approve final outcome document at the conference.

Last month, Egypt, backed by other Arab and non-aligned states, proposed that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convene a regional conference on banning WMD as called for at the 2010 NPT review meeting, with or without Israel's participation. Washington and Israel oppose the idea.

The United States has been trying to come up with a compromise that satisfies the Arabs but does not alienate Israel, diplomats said.

A State Department official said on condition of anonymity that Assistant Secretary of State Tom Countryman was currently in Israel to discuss the WMD-free zone and other issues.

“Both the United States and Israel support the creation of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East,” said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. “We are working closely with our Israeli partners to advance our mutual interests, including preserving the NPT.”

Israel neither confirms nor denies the widespread assumption that it controls the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal. Israel, which has never joined the NPT, agreed to take part in the review conference as an observer, ending a 20-year absence.

Diplomats were skeptical about Countryman's prospects for success.

The call for a 2012 conference on a regional WMD ban, approved at the 2010 NPT review meeting, infuriated Israel. But diplomats said Israel eventually agreed to attend planning meetings. The planned 2012 conference never took place, which annoyed Egypt and other Arab states.

Egypt's latest proposals, Western diplomats say, are intended to focus attention on Israel. Washington and Israel say Iran's nuclear program is the real regional threat.

Iran says its program is peaceful. It is currently negotiating with world powers to curb it in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The Jewish state has said it would consider joining the NPT only once at peace with its Arab neighbors and Iran.

U.N. inquiry finds Israel fired on its schools, Hamas hid weapons in its buildings


Israel fired on seven United Nations schools and Hamas hid weapons in at least three empty U.N. buildings during Israel’s operation in Gaza in 2014, according to an inquiry.

Some 44 Palestinians sheltering in the U.N. schools bombed by the Israelis were killed and Hamas also fired at Israel from United Nations buildings, the U.N. inquiry found, according to a summary released Monday.

More than 200 pages, the full report on the incidents during last summer’s 50-day operation, dubbed Protective Edge, is considered top secret and will not be released.

Israel has investigated all seven incidents in which it was cited in the report and cooperated in the investigation, Haaretz reported. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it would study the report’s findings and work with the United Nations to improve the security of U.N. buildings in Gaza.

The inquiry led by Patrick Cammaert, a retired Dutch general and former force commander of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, looked at 10 incidents involving U.N. property. The investigation was ordered in November by the world body’s secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.

“United Nations premises are inviolable and should be places of safety, particularly in a situation of armed conflict,” Ban wrote in a cover letter accompanying the summary, according to reports. “I will work with all concerned and spare no effort to ensure that such incidents will never be repeated.”

The inquiry’s recommendations will be explored, he said.

Eyeing Arab ties, Israel to observe nuclear pact meeting


Israel will take part as an observer in a major nuclear non-proliferation conference that opens at the United Nations on Monday, ending a 20-year absence in hope of fostering dialogue with Arab states, a senior Israeli official said.

Assumed to have the Middle East's sole nuclear arsenal, and having never joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel has stayed away from gatherings of NPT signatories since 1995 in protest at resolutions it regarded as biased against it.

In a position laid out by then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in 1995, Israel has said it would consider submitting to international nuclear inspections and controls under the NPT only once at peace with the Arabs and Iran. Those countries want Israel curbed first.

With Middle East upheaval and the disputed Iranian nuclear program often pitting Tehran-aligned Shi'ite Muslims against Sunni Arabs, a senior Israeli official saw in the April 27-May 22 NPT review conference a chance to stake out common causes.

Israel deems Iran its top threat. The Islamic Republic has said it seeks only nuclear energy, not bombs, from uranium enrichment. Six global powers are negotiating a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran – a process Israel has denounced, fearing it will not restrain Tehran's atomic activities sufficiently.

“We think that this is the time for all moderate countries to sit and discuss the problems that everyone is facing in the region,” the Israeli official, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject, told Reuters on Sunday.

“I see this, coming as an observer to the conference now, as trying to demonstrate our good faith in terms of having such a conversation. We need direct negotiations between the regional parties, a regional security conversation, a conversation based on consensus. This (attendance at the NPT conference) is meant not to change our policy. It's meant to emphasize our policy.”

The question of sequencing – if peace should precede disarmament – has helped mire negotiations on the creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. An Egyptian plan for an international meeting laying the groundwork for such a deal was agreed at the last NPT review conference, in 2010.

Western diplomats at the U.N. say that Egypt is unlikely to take as aggressive a stance against Israel now as it has at past NPT meetings, and that Israel and Arab nations worried about the Iran nuclear deal are united for the time being by a common fear that the United States might concede too much to Tehran in the talks.

The Israeli official doubted the deadlock would be resolved at the pending NPT conference – anticipating, instead, an “Arab proposal that would not adopt the position of direct engagement” with Israel.

Still, the official described the NPT conference as a chance to build on opposition Israel shared with some Arab countries to the April 2 outline nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.

The conference “doesn't contradict a broader possible outreach,” the official said. Without naming specific countries, the official said some Arabs appeared less attentive to Israel's non-NPT status as they were “too busy with bigger problems”.

Among these might be Egypt, which had long been vocally opposed to Israel's nuclear opacity but has recently closed ranks with its neighbor against common Islamist adversaries.

“Our initiative for a Middle East free of non-conventional weapons is a principle. It will not change. But nothing is against Israel itself. It's for everyone – Iran, Israel, everyone,” an Egyptian official said on condition on anonymity.

“Will we go and pressure Israel (at the conference)? I don't think so. I don't think the pressure will be intolerable.”

U.S. may no longer hinder Israel-critical U.N. actions


The Obama administration may reconsider shielding Israel from critical actions in international forums, according to reports.

Politico and the New York Times on Thursday each quoted unnamed senior administration officials as saying that the United States may back a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set the parameters for a two-state solution according to the 1967 lines.

The change comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the lead up to Tuesday’s elections, pulled back from endorsing a two-state solution, saying there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.

In the past, the Obama administration has shielded Israel from critical resolutions, even when such resolutions hewed with administration policy; one famous instance was a 2011 U.S. veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlement expansion that was in line with President Barack Obama’s opposition to settlement building.

Administration officials, asked by JTA for comment, pointed to statements Wednesday by spokesmen for the White House and State Department.

Those spokesmen did not say that the United States would now back, or at least not oppose, Israel-critical actions in international forums, but they did say that a change was possible.

“We are not going to get ahead of any decisions about what the United States would do with regard to potential action at the U.N. Security Council,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in herbriefing for reporters.

“I will reiterate that it has long been the position of the United States under Republican and Democratic presidents, and it has been the position of successive Israeli governments, that only a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and independent Palestine can bring lasting peace and stability to both peoples,” she said. “The prime minister, as we all know, in his comments earlier this week indicated that he is no longer committed to pursuing this approach. Based on the prime minister’s comments, the United States is in a position going forward where we will be evaluating our approach with regard to how best to achieve a two-state solution.”

Israel tells U.N. will defend itself against Hezbollah


Israel told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday it will take all necessary measures to defend itself after an exchange of fire between Hezbollah militants and Israel that has raised the threat of a full-blown conflict.

“Israel will not stand by as Hezbollah targets Israelis,” Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said in a letter to the Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“Israel will not accept any attacks on its territory and it will exercise its right to self-defense and take all necessary measures to protect its population,” he added.

The attack occurred on Wednesday in the biggest escalation of fighting since a 2006 war.

Two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper were killed when Hezbollah fired a missile at a convoy of Israeli military vehicles at the Lebanon border. A U.N. spokesman and Spanish officials said the peacekeeper was killed as Israel responded with air strikes and artillery fire.

“Events in the north continue to unfold and Israel extends its condolences to UNIFIL and the Spanish government over the death of one of its soldiers earlier today,” Prosor said.

“I urge the Security Council to unequivocally and publicly condemn Hezbollah,” he added. “The terrorist organization must be disarmed and the government of Lebanon must abide by its international commitments and fully implement Security Council resolution 1701.”

Resolution 1701 halted the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in southern Lebanon. The south remains a Hezbollah stronghold.

Hezbollah said it carried out Wednesday's attack, which appeared to be in retaliation for a Jan. 18 Israeli air strike in southern Syria that killed several Hezbollah members and an Iranian general.

Abbas seeks to re-submit statehood bid to U.N. Security Council


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday he was discussing with Jordan plans to resubmit to the United Nations Security Council a resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state that failed to win enough votes last week.

Jordan remains a member of the Security Council while several other countries with revolving membership were replaced over the New Year.

The Palestinians hope these states will be more sympathetic to their resolution demanding an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and independence by 2017, although the veto-wielding United States would be all but certain to vote 'No' again, as it did on Dec. 30.

“We didn't fail, the U.N. Security Council failed us. We'll go again to the Security Council, why not? Perhaps after a week,” Abbas told officials at a cultural conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Palestinian seat of self-rule government.

“We are studying it, and we will study this with our allies and especially Jordan … to submit the resolution again, a third time or even a fourth time.”

In the U.N. vote on Tuesday, the Palestinian draft received eight votes in favor, including France, Russia and China, two against and five abstentions, among them Britain. Australia joined the United States in voting against the measure.

But any resubmission would face almost certain failure. The U.S. has veto power as one of the council's five permanent members and has pledged to block Abbas's plan, calling it one-sided and unproductive.

Abbas signed onto 20 international conventions the next day, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, giving the court jurisdiction over crimes committed on Palestinian lands and opening up an unprecedented confrontation between the veteran peace negotiator and Israel.

In retaliation for the move to the ICC, Israel announced on Saturday that it would withhold 500 million shekels ($125 million) in monthly tax funds that it collects on the Palestinians' behalf, in a blow to Abbas's cash-strapped government.

“Now there are sanctions – that's fine. There's an escalation – that's fine … but we're pushing forward,” Abbas said.

Palestinians deliver to U.N. documents to join war crimes court


In a move certain to anger Israel and Washington, the Palestinians on Friday delivered to U.N. headquarters documents on joining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and more than a dozen other international treaties.

The chief Palestinian observer, Riyad Mansour, and U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed the handover at the United Nations. It is a step that will likely further exacerbate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and could lead to reductions in U.S. aid or U.S. sanctions.

“This is a very significant step,” Mansour told reporters. “It is an option that we are seeking in order to seek justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power.”

The U.N. press office issued a statement saying the Palestinians had delivered documentation to join 16 international treaties. “The documents are being reviewed with a view to determining the appropriate next steps,” it said.

According to the Rome Statute, the Palestinians will become a party to the court on the first day of the month that follows a 60-day waiting period after depositing signed and ratified documents of accession with the United Nations in New York.

The ICC move paves the way for the court to take jurisdiction over crimes committed in Palestinian lands and investigate the conduct of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders over more than a decade of bloody conflict. Neither Israel nor the United States belongs to the ICC.

Mansour said the Palestinians have also formally requested retroactive ICC jurisdiction “with regard to the crimes committed during the last war in Gaza.” He was referring to Israel's 50-day war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip this past summer.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed in the July-August war.

Regarding the threat of possible U.S. sanctions or cuts in aid for joining the ICC, Mansour said: “It is really puzzling when you seek justice through a legal approach to be punished for doing so.”

The United States has said the move was of deep concern and unhelpful to peace efforts in the region.

“It is an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement. “Actions like this are not the answer.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas' action would expose the Palestinians to prosecution over support for what he called the terrorist Hamas Islamist group and vowed to take steps to rebuff any potential moves against Israel.

“We will take steps in response and defend Israel's soldiers,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued on Thursday.

U.S. officials say that around $400 million in annual aid could be in jeopardy after the Palestinian move to join The Hague-based court, which looks at cases of severe war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as genocide.

The other signed treaties the Palestinians delivered to the United Nations include the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, two additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The Palestinian government signed the Rome Statute on Wednesday, a day after a bid for independence by 2017 failed at the U.N. Security Council.

Palestinians seek a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

Momentum to recognize a Palestinian state has built up since Abbas succeeded in a bid for de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, which made Palestinians eligible to join the ICC.

Britain says cannot support new Palestinian U.N. draft resolution


Britain joined the United States on Tuesday, declaring that it cannot support a new Palestinian draft proposal calling for peace with Israel within a year and an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories by late 2017.

Jordan on Tuesday circulated to the U.N. Security Council a draft resolution prepared by the Palestinians, who said they want it put to a vote before Thursday. Washington said it could not support the draft because it was not constructive and failed to address Israel's security needs.

British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant was asked by reporters whether his delegation could support the Palestinian draft.

“Well no,” he said. “There's some difficulties with the text, particularly language on time scales, new language on refugees. So I think we would have some difficulties.”

Lyall Grant did not explicitly threaten to use Britain's veto power to help block the Palestinian text if it is put to a vote. Western diplomats have said that if the draft is voted on before the new year it will likely fail to muster the required minimum nine yes votes for adoption.

That would mean neither Britain nor the United States would need to use their vetoes. Washington will not hesitate use its veto to strike down the Palestinian measure if necessary, council diplomats said.

All 22 Arab delegations endorsed the Palestinian draft on Monday, though Jordanian Ambassador Dina Kawar, the sole Arab representative on the 15-nation council, said she would personally have liked more time to consult on the draft.

The Arab delegations were meeting later on Tuesday to discuss when to put the Palestinian draft to a vote. Timing for a possible vote remains unclear.

Israel has said a Security Council vote, following the collapse in April of U.S.-brokered talks on Palestinian statehood, would deepen the conflict. It supports negotiations but rejects third-party time lines.

The Palestinians, frustrated by the lack of progress on peace talks, have sought to internationalize the issue by seeking U.N. membership and recognition of statehood via membership in international organizations.

Washington, council diplomats say, has made clear it does not want a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian issue voted on before Israel's election in March.

The Palestinian draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, calls for negotiations to be based on territorial lines that existed before Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war.

It also calls for a peace deal within 12 months, ending Israeli occupation by the end of 2017.

An earlier Palestinian draft called for Jerusalem to be the shared capital of Israel and a Palestinian state. The final proposal reverts to a harder line, saying only that East Jerusalem will be Palestine's capital and calling for an end to Israeli settlement building.

Question of Palestine Debate


Delivered to UN General Assembly on November 24th.

Mr. President, 

I stand before the world as a proud representative of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I stand tall before you knowing that truth and morality are on my side.  And yet, I stand here knowing that today in this Assembly, truth will be turned on its head and morality cast aside.  

The fact of the matter is that when members of the international community speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a fog descends to cloud all logic and moral clarity.  The result isn’t realpolitik, its surrealpolitik. 

The world’s unrelenting focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an injustice to tens of millions of victims of tyranny and terrorism in the Middle East. As we speak, Yazidis, Bahai, Kurds, Christians and Muslims are being executed and expelled by radical extremists at a rate of 1,000 people per month.

How many resolutions did you pass last week to address this crisis?  And how many special sessions did you call for? The answer is zero. What does this say about international concern for human life?  Not much, but it speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of the international community. 

I stand before you to speak the truth.  Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, less than half a percent are truly free – and they are all citizens of Israel.

Israeli Arabs are some of the most educated Arabs in the world. They are our leading physicians and surgeons, they are elected to our parliament, and they serve as judges on our Supreme Court.  Millions of men and women in the Middle East would welcome these opportunities and freedoms.  

Nonetheless, nation after nation, will stand at this podium today and criticize Israel – the small island of democracy in a region plagued by tyranny and oppression. 

Mr. President,

Our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state.  It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state.

Sixty seven years ago this week, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Simple. The Jews said yes.  The Arabs said no. But they didn’t just say no.  Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon launched a war of annihilation against our newborn state. 

This is the historical truth that the Arabs are trying to distort. The Arabs’ historic mistake continues to be felt – in lives lost in war, lives lost to terrorism, and lives scarred by the Arab’s narrow political interests. 

According to the United Nations, about 700,000 Palestinians were displaced in the war initiated by the Arabs themselves.  At the same time, some 850,000 Jews were forced to flee from Arab countries.  

Why is it, that 67 years later, the displacement of the Jews has been completely forgotten by this institution while the displacement of the Palestinians is the subject of an annual debate?

The difference is that Israel did its utmost to integrate the Jewish refugees into society. The Arabs did just the opposite. 

The worst oppression of the Palestinian people takes place in Arab nations.  In most of the Arab world, Palestinians are denied citizenship and are aggressively discriminated against.  They are barred from owning land and prevented from entering certain professions.  

And yet none – not one – of these crimes are mentioned in the resolutions before you.

If you were truly concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people there would be one, just one, resolution to address the thousands of Palestinians killed in Syria.  And if you were so truly concerned about the Palestinians there would be at least one resolution to denounce the treatment of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps.

But there isn’t.  The reason is that today’s debate is not about speaking for peace or speaking for the Palestinian people – it is about speaking against Israel.  It is nothing but a hate and bashing festival against Israel.

Mr. President, 

The European nations claim to stand for Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – freedom, equality, and brotherhood – but nothing could be farther from the truth. 

I often hear European leaders proclaim that Israel has the right to exist in secure borders.   That’s very nice.  But I have to say – it makes about as much sense as me standing here and proclaiming Sweden’s right to exist in secure borders.

When it comes to matters of security, Israel learned the hard way that we cannot rely on others – certainly not Europe.

In 1973, on Yom Kippur – the holiest day on the Jewish calendar – the surrounding Arab nations launched an attack against Israel. In the hours before the war began, Golda Meir, our Prime Minister then, made the difficult decision not to launch a preemptive strike.   The Israeli Government understood that if we launched a preemptive strike, we would lose the support of the international community.

As the Arab armies advanced on every front, the situation in Israel grew dire. Our casualty count was growing and we were running dangerously low on weapons and ammunition.  In this, our hour of need, President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, agreed to send Galaxy planes loaded with tanks and ammunition to resupply our troops.  The only problem was that the Galaxy planes needed to refuel on route to Israel.  

The Arab States were closing in and our very existence was threatened – and yet, Europe was not even willing to let the planes refuel.  The U.S. stepped in once again and negotiated that the planes be allowed to refuel in the Azores.

The government and people of Israel will never forget that when our very existence was at stake, only one country came to our aid – the United States of America.

Israel is tired of hollow promises from European leaders.  The Jewish people have a long memory.  We will never ever forget that you failed us in the 1940s.  You failed us in 1973.  And you are failing us again today.

Every European parliament that voted to prematurely and unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state is giving the Palestinians exactly what they want – statehood without peace.  By handing them a state on a silver platter, you are rewarding unilateral actions and taking away any incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate or compromise or renounce violence.  You are sending the message that the Palestinian Authority can sit in a government with terrorists and incite violence against Israel without paying any price.

The first E.U. member to officially recognize a Palestinian state was Sweden. One has to wonder why the Swedish Government was so anxious to take this step.  When it comes to other conflicts in our region, the Swedish Government calls for direct negotiations between the parties – but for the Palestinians, surprise, surprise, they roll out the red carpet.

State Secretary Söder may think she is here to celebrate her government’s so-called historic recognition, when in reality it’s nothing more than an historic mistake.

The Swedish Government may host the Nobel Prize ceremony, but there is nothing noble about their cynical political campaign to appease the Arabs in order to get a seat on the Security Council.  Nations on the Security Council should have sense, sensitivity, and sensibility.  Well, the Swedish Government has shown no sense, no sensitivity and no sensibility.  Just nonsense.

Israel learned the hard way that listening to the international community can bring about devastating consequences.  In 2005, we unilaterally dismantled every settlement and removed every citizen from the Gaza Strip. Did this bring us any closer to peace?  Not at all. It paved the way for Iran to send its terrorist proxies to establish a terror stronghold on our doorstep.

I can assure you that we won’t make the same mistake again.  When it comes to our security, we cannot and will not rely on others – Israel must be able to defend itself by itself.

Mr. President,

The State of Israel is the land of our forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It is the land where Moses led the Jewish people, where David built his palace, where Solomon built the Jewish Temple, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace.  

For thousands of years, Jews have lived continuously in the land of Israel.  We endured through the rise and fall of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman Empires.  And we endured through thousands of years of persecution, expulsions and crusades.  The bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land is unbreakable.

Nothing can change one simple truth – Israel is our home and Jerusalem is our eternal capital.  

At the same time, we recognize that Jerusalem has special meaning for other faiths.  Under Israeli sovereignty, all people – and I will repeat that, all people – regardless of religion and nationality can visit the city’s holy sites.  And we intend to keep it this way.  The only ones trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount are Palestinian leaders.   

President Abbas is telling his people that Jews are contaminating the Temple Mount.  He has called for days of rage and urged Palestinians to prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount using (quote) “all means” necessary.  These words are as irresponsible as they are unacceptable.  

You don’t have to be Catholic to visit the Vatican, you don’t have to be Jewish to visit the Western Wall, but some Palestinians would like to see the day when only Muslims can visit the Temple Mount. 

You, the international community, are lending a hand to extremists and fanatics. You, who preach tolerance and religious freedom, should be ashamed.  Israel will never let this happen.  We will make sure that the holy places remain open to all people of all faiths for all time. 

Mr. President,

No one wants peace more than Israel.  No one needs to explain the importance of peace to parents who have sent their child to defend our homeland.  No one knows the stakes of success or failure better than we Israelis do. The people of Israel have shed too many tears and buried too many sons and daughters. 

We are ready for peace, but we are not naïve. Israel’s security is paramount. Only a strong and secure Israel can achieve a comprehensive peace.

The past month should make it clear to anyone that Israel has immediate and pressing security needs. In recent weeks, Palestinian terrorists have shot and stabbed our citizens and twice driven their cars into crowds of pedestrians.  Just a few days ago, terrorists armed with axes and a gun savagely attacked Jewish worshipers during morning prayers.  We have reached the point when Israelis can’t even find sanctuary from terrorism in the sanctuary of a synagogue. 

These attacks didn’t emerge out of a vacuum.  They are the results of years of indoctrination and incitement.  A Jewish proverb teaches: “The instruments of both death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

As a Jew and as an Israeli, I know with utter certainly that when our enemies say they want to attack us, they mean it.

Hamas’s genocidal charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews worldwide.  For years, Hamas and other terrorist groups have sent suicide bombers into our cities, launched rockets into our towns, and sent terrorists to kidnap and murder our citizens. 

And what about the Palestinian Authority?  It is leading a systemic campaign of incitement.  In schools, children are being taught that ‘Palestine’ will stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.  In mosques, religious leaders are spreading vicious libels accusing Jews of destroying Muslim holy sites.  In sports stadiums, teams are named after terrorists.  And in newspapers, cartoons urge Palestinians to commit terror attacks against Israelis.

Children in most of the world grow up watching cartoons of Mickey Mouse singing and dancing.  Palestinian children also grow up watching Mickey Mouse, but on Palestinians national television, a twisted figure dressed as Mickey Mouse dances in an explosive belt and chants “Death to America and death to the Jews.”

I challenge you to stand up here today and do something constructive for a change.  Publically denounce the violence, denounce the incitement, and denounce the culture of hate.

Most people believe that at its core, the conflict is a battle between Jews and Arabs or Israelis and Palestinians.  They are wrong. The battle that we are witnessing is a battle between those who sanctify life and those who celebrate death.

Following the savage attack in a Jerusalem synagogue, celebrations erupted in Palestinian towns and villages.  People were dancing in the street and distributing candy.  Young men posed with axes, loudspeakers at mosques called out congratulations, and the terrorists were hailed as “martyrs” and “heroes.” 

This isn’t the first time that we saw the Palestinians celebrate the murder of innocent civilians.  We saw them rejoice after every terrorist attack on Israeli civilians and they even took to the streets to celebrate the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center right here in New York City.

Imagine the type of state this society would produce.  Does the Middle East really need another terror-ocracy?  Some members of the international community are aiding and abetting its creation.  

Mr. President,                                                                                                                                                                 

As we came into the United Nations, we passed the flags of all 193 member States. If you take the time to count, you will discover that there are 15 flags with a crescent and 25 flags with a cross.  And then there is one flag with a Jewish Star of David. Amidst all the nations of the world there is one state – just one small nation state for the Jewish people. 

And for some people, that is one too many. 

As I stand before you today I am reminded of all the years when Jewish people paid for the world’s ignorance and indifference in blood.  Those days are no more.  

We will never apologize for being a free and independent people in our sovereign state.  And we will never apologize for defending ourselves.

To the nations that continue to allow prejudice to prevail over truth, I say “J’accuse.”

I accuse you of hypocrisy. I accuse you of duplicity.

I accuse you of lending legitimacy to those who seek to destroy our State.

I accuse you of speaking about Israel’s right of self-defense in theory, but denying it in practice.

And I accuse you of demanding concessions from Israel, but asking nothing of the Palestinians.

In the face of these offenses, the verdict is clear.  You are not for peace and you are not for the Palestinian people.  You are simply against Israel.

Members of the international community have a choice to make. 

You can recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, or permit the Palestinian leadership to deny our history without consequence. 

You can publically proclaim that the so-called “claim of return” is a non-starter, or you can allow this claim to remain the major obstacle to any peace agreement.

You can work to end Palestinian incitement, or stand by as hatred and extremism take root for generations to come. 

You can prematurely recognize a Palestinian state, or you can encourage the Palestinian Authority to break its pact with Hamas and return to direct negotiations. 

The choice is yours. You can continue to steer the Palestinians off course or pave the way to real and lasting peace.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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.”

 

On packed flight to Israel, hundreds of American Jews, emboldened by Gaza crisis, start lives anew


Daniel Knafo was wide awake aboard the Boeing 747 as sunlight began peaking over the northern horizon of the Mediterranean Sea early on the morning of Aug. 12.

Less than 10 hours earlier, he was at the departure terminal of John F. Kennedy International Airport with more than 300 American Jews, all of them embarking on a journey to start new lives in Israel.

And shortly before that, the teenager was at Los Angeles International Airport, bidding farewell to the city he called home for the first 17 years of his life.

At about 5 a.m., Knafo was standing in the aisle of El Al chartered flight 3004, which was cruising above the Mediterranean and less than two hours west of Ben Gurion International Airport, where the Woodland Hills native  would step on to the tarmac with the other 338 other Jews onboard—young, old, married and single.

Guy Zohar and Daniel Knafo, both from the San Fernando Valley, at Ben Gurion Airport.

Of those, Knafo was also one of 108 young Jews planning to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces within the first few months of making Israel home. This flight was chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that promotes aliyah to Israel from North America and the United Kingdom. The group assists families and individuals in making the move, with financial support, assistance with the job hunt and other myriad obstacles that immigrants have to navigate.

It was the organization’s 52nd chartered aliyah flight since its founding in 2002, during which time, according to its website, Nefesh B’Nefesh has helped more than 30,000 diaspora Jews move to Israel.

The timing of this particular flight full of immigrants, or olim, may strike some as particularly poignant, given the on-and-off war that has enveloped Israel for the past several weeks—Hamas has fired 3,500 rockets into Israel since July 8, according to the IDF. And in response to the rockets and the discovery of more than 30 underground cross-border attack tunnels, Israel’s military launched a ground and air assault on Hamas’s strongholds in Gaza, most of which are densely populated within civilian neighborhoods. The war has left a reported 64 Israeli soldiers, three Israeli civilians, and 1,881 Palestinians dead.

But for Knafo and numerous other American olim interviewed by the Journal at JFK airport and aboard the flight, the Gaza war is not a deterrent to making aliyah—it is, at least in part, a catalyst to move to the Jewish state.

“I want to be there more than ever,” Knafo said, as dozens of fellow soon-to-be soldiers socialized around him. “Nothing will stop me from joining.”

Knafo, who attended El Camino Real High School and graduated from New Community Jewish High School, hopes to serve either in the IDF’s paratrooper unit (Tzanchanim) or in the elite Golani Brigade. He is honest with himself about the risks he will face. “If they tell you they are not scared, they’re lying,” he said of all the  young immigrants preparing for military service.

Not long before leaving, on July 20, Knafo attended an evening candlelight vigil in Los Angeles for Max Steinberg, another former student at El Camino Real High School who left Los Angeles to volunteer in the IDF. Steinberg and six other soldiers were killed in Gaza when their Golani unit’s vehicle was struck by Hamas anti-tank missiles in the first days of the IDF’s ground incursion.

Knafo said that he felt guilty leading a normal life while Israel was embroiled in war.
“It kills me that while they are fighting I’m in L.A. living the life, driving my car, going to the beach,” he said. “I don’t think its right. That’s why I want to be there more than ever.”

Knafo is one of 49 Jews from California who landed at Ben Gurion Airport early on the morning of Aug. 12 on the chartered flight—25 of whom will be joining the IDF. And while a large swath of the plane’s other passengers were also from New York and New Jersey (117 and 45, respectively), the group of olim hailed from places as far north as Alaska and Canada’s British Columbia, and as far south as Georgia and Florida.

Matt and Ariella Rosenblatt, also from Los Angeles, decided that this would be their last chance to make the move with their three children. Their oldest, Yishai, 8, was approaching the age when, Matt said, he and Ariella wouldn’t feel as comfortable starting a new life for the entire family.

Matt and Ariella Rosenblatt, moving to Israel from Los Angeles, with their three children at JFK after a ceremony led by Nefesh B'Nefesh

The Rosenblatts plan to stay with relatives this week until they receive the key to their apartment in Efrat; Matt, who had a job as an actuary in Los Angeles, will follow up on some work leads in Israel. Shortly before a joyful and celebratory departure ceremony at JFK—where the olim were greeted by Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor and American-born Knesset member Dov Lipman — Matt said he and Ariella discussed the distinctive timing of their move, but decided against delaying or cancelling .

“Had we been there already two months and then this started up while we were already there, we wouldn’t have come back, so, really, what’s the difference?” Matt said.

The Rosenblatts a few moments after landing in Israel. They will soon move into an apartment in Efrat.

Onboard, as the flight neared Israel, Ariella was keeping an eye on 1-year-old Yair, her youngest, and recalling the couples’ conversations about the fact that their children would eventually have to serve in the Israeli military.

“We’ve talked about it. We were like, ‘Wow, that’s two sons in the army,” she said. “It’s scary.”
Feeling “excited” and “a little nervous,” Ariella added, seeing your children serve in the military is a price of living in Israel, and that, “We need to be home when our country is in this situation.”

Throughout the group, not one person interviewed expressed regret or fear, either at the decision to start anew in Israel, or at the choice to go now and not wait until the advent of cease-fires that would endure in longer than 72-hour intervals.

In fact, the spirited mood on board the airplane echoed, on the one hand, the feel of a Jewish summer camp field trip (with teenagers and young adults mingling, sitting on laps and barely sleeping), and on another hand, the patriotic Zionist mission that it was. Many passengers wore shirts that read, “Aliyah is my protective edge,” a reference to Operation Protective Edge, the IDF’s official moniker for its Gaza campaign.

Whenever a Nefesh B’Nefesh staff member referenced over loudspeaker those on the flight who would be enlisting with the IDF, much of the plane erupted in applause.

And, upon arrival at Ben Gurion, the new arrivals were greeted by Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s recently appointed president, and Natan Sharansky, the renowned Soviet refusenik and chairman of the Jewish Agency—as well as hundreds of cheering Israelis and dozens of reporters and cameramen covering the arrival of the newcomers from North America.President Reuven Rivlin and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky greet the olim as they descend to the tarmac.

Lena Elkins, who flew Friday from her hometown of San Francisco to New York, was one of a small number of young olim aboard the flight who will jump straight into her professional life without first joining the military. A recent graduate of the University of Oregon, Elkins’ younger sister moved to Israel last year and is in the IDF.

Living in Israel, Elkins said a few hours into the flight, has been on her mind since a visit six years ago with the Jewish Federation’s Diller Teen Fellows Program. And while she wishes she had served in the military, she said finding work is her priority now. Doing so in Israel, she said, particularly now, is also a major part of the Zionist project.

“I think it [Gaza] honestly has strengthened it [aliyah],” Elkins said. “It’s what Israel needs right now. This is what Zionism is. It’s people being there for Israel.”

Shortly after stepping foot on the tarmac and getting a feel for the love Israelis heap on diaspora Jews who move here, Channah Barkhordarie, a recent doctoral graduate of UCLA, said aliyah entered her mind last September, when her PhD advisor moved to Israel.

Barkhordarie, like Elkins, has no plans to enlist in the military and views her decision to live here as a way to “support this state.”

“Coming here and studying here and living my life here—that’s my show of support,” she said.

Everyone, it seemed, had made their aliyah decision long before this summer’s turmoil but that decision was only rendered more meaningful by the recent war, as well as the deaths of three Israeli teens by terrorists that provoked the fighting.

Toby and Chaby Karan, from Riverdale, at JFK airport.

“We just couldn’t cope with just being here,” Toby Karan, who moved from Riverdale, N.Y. with his wife, Chava, and four children, said at JFK airport before departure. “There were days through the past two months, the hardest days, that we said we’d never more wanted to live in Israel.”

On the flight, Liat Aharon, 18, sat calmly in her seat as many of her friends around her bounced around the cabin. “It seems like a dream,” said the Encino native of the approach to Israel, but she added, “It keeps getting scarier and scarier; I can’t believe it’s already happening.”

When asked, though, whether she felt as if she was leaving home or going home, she responded immediately:

“I’m going home.”

U.N.’s Ban: Hamas stopping rocket fire would stop escalation


U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said an end to Hamas rocket fire was the only means of preventing an Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

“Today we face the risk of an all out escalation in Israel and Gaza with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing,” Ban said Thursday at a Security Council session on the latest outbreak of hostilities.

Ban’s casting of the responsibility for ending the conflict principally on Hamas was unusual for a U.N. official.

Palestinian and Israeli representatives addressed the session of the council, the only body with decisions that have the force of international law.

Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, played the sound of a warning siren during his address. “Imagine having only 15 seconds to find a bomb shelter,” he said. “Now imagine doing it with small children or elderly parents or an ailing friend.”

Israel launched a counteroffensive on Thursday after an intensification of rocket fire. More than a hundred Palestinians have been killed so far in strikes by Israeli combat aircraft on suspected terrorist targets.

 

Ambassador Samantha Power condemns BDS


The Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement against Israel hurts the chances of a just and lasting peace in the region, Ambassador Samantha Power, the permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations, declared Sunday evening, Feb. 23, at UCLA.

Delivering the 12th annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture, Power outlined her critique of the international effort to isolate Israel. 

“I'd say a couple of things,” Power said in response to an audience member's question.  “First, we oppose boycotts and divestments and do not feel as if they are appropriate in this context at all, but also feel that they are disruptive to the most lasting way to bring about dignity and peace to both parties involved, which is this peace process that we have underway.”

The Middle East peace negotiations initiated by Secretary of State John Kerry, Power said, “really does stand a meaningful chance of achieving, again, security, peace, dignity and ultimately prosperity as well for the Palestinian people as well as for the State of Israel.” 

Power went on to condemn all efforts to delegitimize Israel, especially within the United Nations itself.   

She said that for years Israel was excluded from membership in the UN caucus on human rights, despite having a voting record on human rights that surpassed that of the United States.

“Israel has been trying to become a member of that group for as long as that group has existed, and Israel's record of voting coincidence with those of us who are a part of that group is higher than the United States's rate of voting coincidence with these other so called like minded; I mean we were close but Israel is completely like-minded with the countries in the group,” the ambassador said.

Two weeks ago, after months of “relentlessly lobbying” and making Israel's case, Power was finally able to persuade caucus members to admit Israel. 

Before assuming her ambassadorship in August 2013, Power established herself as a leading defender of human rights and an expert on genocide in the modern era. Power served as a senior advisor to Barack Obama in 2008 during his presidential campaign.   In late November 2008, she was named Special Assistant to President Obama and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council and chaired the Atrocities Prevention Board. While serving as ambassador, she has focused  on UN reform, women's and LGBT rights, human trafficking, refugees and the promotion of human rights and democracy.  She is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a study of the U.S. foreign policy response to genocide.  

“It is completely anachronistic that all these years after the country's founding it's literally like the kid in the corner who can't even find its way into a group when at the same time, it's sending, you know, medical doctors to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, it's laying down resolutions in the General Assembly to try to alleviate poverty through entrepreneurship and through new technologies in agriculture, which Israel of course has a lot of experience on,” Power concluded. 

Israel, Power said, “has a lot to offer the rest of the world so we are believers that integration is the best route actually to bring about peace and security and ultimately justice.” 


The full text of Power's reply is here:

“I'd say a couple of things,” Power said in response to an audience member's question.  “First, we oppose boycotts and divestments and do not feel as if they are appropriate in this context at all, but also feel that they are disruptive to the most lasting way to bring about dignity and peace to both parties involved, which is this peace process that we have underway.  It really does stand a meaningful chance of achieving, again, security, peace, dignity and ultimately prosperity as well for the Palestinian people as well as for the State of Israel.”

“I think efforts of delegitimation are counterproductive and something we deal with at the United Nations a lot, and I'll just give you a couple examples of, you know, things we have done in the short time that I have been there.”

“Every country in the United Nations belongs to a kind of regional group in which they do their work.  We do our negotiating within a sort of caucus, it's like caucuses within the Senate, and at the United Nations in New York, we have a little caucus that works on human rights issues; human rights issues, you know let's say South Sudan or LGBT issues and so forth.  Israel has been trying to become a member of that group for as long as that group has existed, and Israel's record of voting coincidence with those of us who are a part of that group is higher than the United States's rate of voting coincidence with these other so called like minded; I mean we were close but Israel is completely like-minded with the countries in the group.”

” Despite years of trying to get Israel into the group it was excluded, and finally two weeks ago just again through relentless lobbying and through making a functional case for why it was in our interest to bring Israel into this conversation and into this grouping, Israel was admitted. This has been a priority of mine… since I [ ] work…slowly in Geneva, Israel had been… there is a regional group known as the Western European and other group and, yeah you never want to be the other until you have no place else to go.  And again, you know, it is in all of our interest to bring Israel into the community of nations.”

” It is completely anachronistic that all these years after the country's founding it's literally like the kid in the corner who can't even find its way into a group when at the same time, it's sending, you know, medical doctors to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, it's laying down resolutions in the General Assembly to try to alleviate poverty through entrepreneurship and through new technologies in agriculture which Israel of course has a lot of experience on and has a lot to offer the rest of the world so we are believers that integration is the best route actually to bring about peace and security and ultimately justice.”

 

Hear Samantha Power's comments in the video above.

Israel says U.N. vote won’t hasten Palestinian state


A U.N. General Assembly vote on Thursday recognizing a Palestinian state will do nothing to make it a reality, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Israel had fiercely opposed the Palestinian bid to become a “non-member state” at the United Nations, but had been unable to prevent wide international support for the initiative, notably among its European allies.

“This is a meaningless resolution that won't change anything on the ground. No Palestinian state will arise without an arrangement ensuring the security of Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by his office shortly before the U.N. vote was to be held.

Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of violating agreements with Israel by going to the U.N. unilaterally. “Israel will act accordingly,” Netanyahu said. “The way to peace between Jerusalem and Ramallah is through direct negotiations without preconditions, not unilateral decisions at the U.N.”

Peace talks collapsed in 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building on territory Palestinians seek for a state.

The Israeli leader used unusually strong language to denounce a speech to the General Assembly by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – who had singled out an Israeli offensive in Gaza last week in which at least 170 Palestinians were killed. Six Israelis died in rocket fire from Gaza.

Abbas's comments were “hostile and poisonous”, and full of “false propaganda”, a statement released by Netanyahu's office said. “These are not the words of a man who wants peace.”

Israel had mounted an intensive campaign, supported by the United States, to dissuade European governments from backing the Palestinian move in the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly, long sympathetic to the Palestinians.

The vote took place on a date burned into collective memory – the Assembly voted on November 29, 1947 for Resolution 181 to partition British-ruled Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish. Arab rulers rejected it and, after bitter fighting, Israel alone was recognized as a state six months later.

“No matter how many hands are raised against us,” Netanyahu said during a visit to a museum in Jerusalem ahead of the U.N. vote, “there is no power on earth that will cause me to compromise on Israel's security.”

Israel, which has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967, says a Palestinian state must be the product of direct negotiations and a peace deal that imposes security measures and charts borders that pose no danger to Israelis.

PUNITIVE MEASURES?

Netanyahu, while hinting Israel may seek to retaliate, made no specific mention of punitive measures, in a shift in tone after eight days of fighting around the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu is running for re-election in a January 22 national ballot and has been accused by critics of harming Israel's international standing through his Palestinian policies.

Israeli officials said Israel will wait and see what the Palestinians do after the vote, which will allow them access to the International Criminal Court where they could seek action against Israel for alleged war crimes.

The Palestinians have signaled they are no hurry to join the ICC, and pledged in their draft resolution to relaunch the peace process immediately after the vote. Recognition by the General Assembly falls short of the legal weight of a similar move by the U.N. Security Council. A U.S. veto on that body ensures that Palestinians have little immediate prospect there.

Just two weeks ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the U.N. Assembly's approval of the Palestinian resolution would “elicit an extreme response from us”.

Another member of Netanyahu's right-wing cabinet, Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, said three years ago that Israeli counter-measures could include annexing some of the 120 settlements in the West Bank.

But in the past week, Israeli officials have retreated from such talk, retrenching after European countries, which had been largely supportive of Israel's November 14-21 Gaza offensive, started showing their backing for Abbas's U.N. move.

Israel is now threatening only one measure: the withholding of $200 million from the monthly transfers of duties that Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority's behalf. It says it will cover the PA's debt to the Israel Electric Corporation.

The deduction, equal to two months' worth of Palestinian tax receipts, would be painful for Abbas's cash-strapped government in Ramallah. But it would stop short of a formal suspension of transfers vital to the economy in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has previously frozen payments to the PA during times of heightened security and diplomatic tensions, provoking strong international criticism, such as when the U.N. cultural body UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership a year ago.

Editing by Crispian Balmer and Myra MacDonald

Israeli tablets to purify water for Syrians


Citing humanitarian reasons, the Israeli Finance Ministry recently gave the green light for a subsidiary of Israel Chemicals – which is owned by the Israeli company but is based in Ireland – to sell water purification tablets for distribution in war-torn Syria, even though it is considered an enemy state.

With clean water availability at an all-time low in Syria, the United Nations international aid agency UNICEF has been working to rehabilitate the country’s water sources.

The organization turned to Medentech, Israel Chemicals’ Ireland-based subsidiary, with a request to buy its AquaTabs water purification tablets. But the law prohibiting Israeli companies from selling a product to a hostile state could have sunk the plan.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was called to authorize the deal and did so, noting that the world’s best-selling water purification tablets would not be sold directly to Syria but rather to the UN agency.

Humanitarianism trumps politics

The Israeli law drafted in 1939 forbids Israeli companies from knowingly selling products that will benefit an enemy state. According to a report in Calcalist, the government must authorize all business agreements between Israel and enemy nations.

The Israeli business daily reported that while this is not the first time the government has okayed such a transaction, it is unusual.

But as Israel is known for its humanitarian efforts around the globe, obtaining special authorization and waiving the law for the water purification deal was more a formality than an anomaly.

The AquaTabs are effervescent tablets that kill micro-organisms in water to prevent cholera, typhoid, dysentery and other water-borne diseases. The chlorine pills are considered a better alternative to boiling water to remove contaminants.

“UNICEF is urgently scaling up its emergency response to reach hundreds of thousands of children with child protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, health and nutrition, and education initiatives,” according to a UNICEF statement.

According to the UN about 1.2 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country, and hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries. The UN also estimates that there are another one million Syrians still living in their homes in need of humanitarian aid.

Australia UN Security Council seat


Australia won a temporary two-year seat on the UN Security Council despite critics suggesting its support for Israel would hamper the bid.

The country, which was up against Finland and Luxembourg for one of two seats in the 2013-2014 term, won 140 votes in the first round of Thursday's secret ballot of all 193 members of the UN General Assembly. At least 129 votes were needed to secure a seat.

Michael Danby, a Jewish government legislator, said the victory was “vindication” that the government “does not need to compromise Australian democratic values to win this position.”

“Never once,” he said, did Australia compromise its support for Israel. Critics, however, point to the government's changed voting pattern on Israel-related UN votes under Labor as compared to the virtual wall-to-wall support for the Jewish state under the previous Liberal government.

Australian Jewish leaders, who previously had declined to comment on allegations that the government's support for Israel could cost Canberra the seat, rushed to congratulate the Labor Party.

The magnitude of Australia's win “refuted decisively” those who claimed the bid was compromised by Australia's support for America and Israel, the leaders of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said in a statement on Friday.

“Australia does not need to weaken its adherence to its long-standing principles and allegiances in order to win international respect and support,” said the Danny Lamm, the group’s president, and Peter Wertheim, its executive director.

Philip Chester, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, said he hoped that Australia would discourage moves at the UN by the Palestinians for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, said he hoped Australia would use the seat to address the UN's “systematic, entrenched and obsessive biases against Israel” and  an impediment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The election is the first time since 1986 that Australia has won a seat on the UN Security Council. Israel is bidding for a temporary seat in 2018.

Iran to enrich uranium to 60 percent if nuclear talks fail


Iran would enrich uranium up to 60 percent purity if negotiations with major powers over its nuclear program fail, an Iranian lawmaker said on Tuesday, in comments that may add to Western alarm about Iranian intentions.

Mansour Haqiqatpour, deputy head of parliament's Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said 60 percent enrichment would be to yield fuel for nuclear submarines, which often require uranium refined to high levels.

But it would also take Iran another significant step closer to the 90 percent enrichment level needed to make atomic bombs, which the West suspects is the Islamic state's ultimate aim. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy only.

Even though it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – and not the parliament – who decides foreign policy issues, Haqiqatpour's remarks were a sign of Iranian defiance in the face of Western demands to curb sensitive nuclear activity.

Iran now enriches uranium to a 3.5 percent concentration of the fissile isotope U-235 – suitable for nuclear power plants – as well as 20 percent, which it says it needs for a medical research reactor.

Israel, Iran's arch foe, says Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability and last week warned the Islamic state will be on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon by mid-2013, referring to its growing stock of 20 percent material.

But Western experts believe Iran is still a few years away from being able to assemble a nuclear-armed missile.

Haqiqatpour's comments, carried by Iran's English-language Press TV, appeared to be an attempt to show the six world powers involved in diplomacy with Tehran that it has no intention of backing down in the long-running nuclear dispute.

The powers – including the United States, Russia, China and six European heavyweights – want Iran to halt 20 percent enrichment, shut down the underground facility where this is done and ship out the stockpile.

Iran wants the powers to recognize its “right” to refine uranium and also ease sanctions on it. Three rounds of talks since April have failed to make any breakthrough.

“In case our talks with the (six powers) fail to pay off, Iranian youth will master (the technology for) enrichment up to 60 percent to fuel submarines and ocean-going ships,” Haqiqatpour said.

The powers should know that “if these talks continue into next year, Iran cannot guarantee it would keep its enrichment limited to 20 percent. This enrichment is likely to increase to 40 or 50 percent,” he said.

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Mark Heinrich

U.N. nuclear chief holds talks in Tehran, hopes for deal


The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief held rare talks in Tehran on Monday after voicing hope for a deal to investigate suspected atomic bomb research – a gesture Iran might make to try to get international sanctions relaxed and deflect threats of war.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano began discussions with the head of Iran’s nuclear energy organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, a few hours after his pre-dawn arrival, according to ISNA news agency.

Amano, who was on his first trip to Iran since taking office in 2009, a period marked by rising tension between the IAEA and Tehran, was also due to meet Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday. There was no word on the course of the talks by mid-afternoon.

“I really think this is the right time to reach agreement. Nothing is certain but I stay positive,” Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat with long experience in nuclear proliferation and disarmament affairs, said before departure from Vienna airport. He added that “good progress” had already been made.

But while Amano scheduled Monday’s talks with Iran at such short notice that diplomats said a deal on improved IAEA access in Iran seemed near, few see Tehran going far enough to convince the West to roll back swiftly on punitive sanctions when its negotiators meet global power envoys in Baghdad on Wednesday.

“We are not going to do anything concrete in exchange for nice words,” a Western diplomat said of the Baghdad meeting, the outcome of a big power session with Iran in Istanbul last month that ended a diplomatic freeze of more than a year.

Two days after seeing Amano, Jalili will hold talks in the Iraqi capital with Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief heading a six-power coalition comprised of the five U.N. Security Council permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – plus Germany.

By dangling the prospect of enhanced cooperation with U.N. inspectors, diplomats say, Iran might aim for leverage for the broader talks where the United States and its allies want Tehran to curb works they say are a cover for developing atomic bombs.

Pressure for a deal has risen. Escalating Western sanctions on Iran’s economically vital energy exports, and threats by Israel and the United States of last-ditch military action, have pushed up world oil prices, compounding the economic misery wrought by debt crises in many industrialized countries.

HOPE VIES WITH MISTRUST

Some diplomats and analysts said Amano, given a recent history of mistrustful relations with Iran, would go to Tehran only if he believed a framework agreement to give his inspectors freer hands in their investigation was close. Iran has been stonewalling IAEA requests for better access for four years.

“Amano would not have travelled to Tehran had he not been provided with assurances that progress could be made. If he returns to Vienna empty-handed, the embarrassment will be more damaging for Tehran than the agency,” said Ali Vaez, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“However, if the IAEA is satisfied with Tehran’s cooperation, Iranian negotiators will have a new trump card to play at the negotiating table in Baghdad.”

The U.N. watchdog is seeking access to sites, nuclear officials and scientists and documents to shed light on work in Iran applicable to developing the capability to make nuclear weapons, especially the Parchin military complex outside Tehran.

Two meetings between Iran and senior Amano aides in Tehran in January and February failed to produce any notable progress. But both sides were more upbeat after another round of talks in Vienna last week, raising hopes for a deal.

“We need to keep up the momentum. There has been good progress during the recent round of discussions between Iran and the IAEA,” Amano said, stressing that he did not expect to visit Parchin during his short, one-day stay in Tehran.

“We regard the visit … as a gesture of goodwill,” Salehi said. He hoped for agreement on a “new modality” to work with the IAEA that would “help clear up the ambiguities”.

DOUBTS

Yet while an Iranian agreement on a so-called “structured approach” outlining the ground rules on how to address the IAEA’s questions would be welcome, it remains to be seen how and when it will be implemented in practice.

“We’ll see if the Iranians agree to let the agency visit Parchin. I have my doubts, no matter what any agreement says on paper,” said one Western envoy ahead of Amano’s visit to Iran.

Such a deal would also not be enough in itself to allay international concerns. World powers want Iran to curb uranium enrichment, which can yield fuel for nuclear power plants or for nuclear bombs, depending on the level of refinement.

Iran, to general disbelief from its Israeli and Western adversaries, insists its nuclear program is intended only to generate electricity in a country that is one of world’s top oil exporters and to produce isotopes for cancer treatment.

Unlike its arch-enemy Israel, assumed to harbor the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, Iran is a signatory to treaties that oblige it to be transparent with the IAEA.

ISRAEL SKEPTICAL

Leaders of the Group of Eight, worried about the effect of high oil prices on their faltering economies, turned up the heat on Iran on Saturday, signaling readiness to tap into emergency oil stocks quickly this summer if tougher new sanctions on Tehran threaten to dry up supplies of crude.

Israel, convinced a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a mortal threat, has – like the United States – not ruled out air strikes to stop Iran’s atomic progress if it deems diplomacy at an end.

Israel believes Iran is using the talks only to buy time.

In Baghdad, the powers’ main goal is to get Iran to stop the higher-grade uranium enrichment it started two years ago and has since expanded, shortening the time needed for any weapons bid.

“What the powers are proposing right now is a kind of interim arrangement … (but) this certainly is not sufficient to stop the military (nuclear) project in Iran,” said Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon.

“Our fear is that from Iran’s perspective this is a sort of sacrifice of a pawn in a chess game in order to protect the king. We are not voicing satisfaction with this move, if it is the final move,” he told Israel Radio.

Iran says it needs uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent for its medical isotope reactor. Enrichment to 5 percent of fissile purity is suitable for power plant fuel, while 90 percent constitutes fuel for bombs.

The IAEA wants Iran to address issues raised by an agency report last year that revealed intelligence pointing to past and possibly ongoing activity to help develop nuclear explosives.

Iran says the intelligence is fabricated, and has so far resisted requests for inspectors to examine Parchin, maintaining that it is a purely conventional military installation outside the writ of nuclear inspectors.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, William Maclean in London, Patrick Markey in Baghdad, Ori Lewis and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich

UN rights body launches probe into Israeli settlements


The United Nations launched an international investigation on Thursday into Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, with the United States isolated in voting against the initiative brought by the Palestinian Authority.

The U.N. Human Rights Council condemned Israel’s planned construction of new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying they undermined the peace process and posed a threat to the two-state solution and the creation of a contiguous and independent Palestinian state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly dismissed the Geneva forum on Thursday evening as “hypocritical” and having an “automatic majority against Israel”.

A source in Netanyahu’s office said Israel would not cooperate with the investigation which he described as biased, adding that Israel did not want to give it legitimacy.

The 47-member forum adopted the resolution to launch a probe by a vote of 36 states in favour, including China and Russia, with one against (the United States). Ten abstained, including European Union members Italy and Spain.

[RELATED: Netanyahu calls Human Rights Council decision ‘hypocritical’]

The text was introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and co-sponsored by states including Cuba and Venezuela.

“In violation of international humanitarian and human rights law, Israel is continuing construction of illegal settlements in the occupied territories including East Jerusalem,” Pakistan’s ambassador Zamir Akram told the talks.

The Council’s resolution called on Israel to take serious measures to prevent settler violence “including confiscation of arms and enforcement of criminal sanctions”, and protection of Palestinian civilians and property in the territories.

The three investigators are to be named at a later date.

About 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war. Palestinians want the territory for an independent state along with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Palestinians say settlements, considered illegal by the International Court of Justice, the highest U.N. legal body for disputes, would deny them a viable state. Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank and says the status of settlements should be decided in peace negotiations.

“DOUBLE STANDARDS”

“This is a council that should be ashamed of itself. The U.N. Human Rights Council has no connection to human rights,” Netanyahu said.

“It was enough to hear the Syrian delegate today talking about human rights to understand how far the Council is detached from reality.”

In Geneva, Israel’s Ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yaar denounced “the level of hypocrisy and double standards” in the Council, which adopted other resolutions on Thursday on Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

“The resolutions are unjustified and counterproductive. They will add tension and bitterness to an already explosive situation. This Council, by its own doing, is adding fuel to a fire which it is our duty to try to extinguish,” Leshno-Yaar said.

Israel is strongly committed to a two-state solution and wants to see the resumption of direct bilateral talks without preconditions with the Palestinians, he told the talks.

The United States said it continued to be “deeply troubled by this Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel, as exemplified by the creation of another one-sided United Nations mechanism related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

It was inappropriate to prejudge final status issues that could only be resolved through bilateral negotiations between Israel and Palestine, U.S. political counsellor Charles O. Blaha told the Council.

“The U.S. position on settlements is clear and has not changed: we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. The status quo is not sustainable for either the Israelis or the Palestinians,” Blaha said.

But Washington could not back a “one-sided resolution that launches an international investigation of Israel,” he said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; editing by Tim Pearce)

You and the UN


If you care about Israel, you have one very clear assignment over the next two months.

In about eight weeks, the U.N. Security Council could vote on whether to recognize Palestinian statehood.

What’s your assignment? Let me give you a hint: It is not to oppose the resolution.

Your job is not to join the well-meaning American Jewish pro-Israel groups who have made this U.N. vote Jewish Enemy No. 1, and who have sworn to keep raising awareness, and spending your dollars, until it goes down to defeat. Taking a cue from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they have made a no vote on a Palestinian state the litmus test for “pro-Israel.”

They mean well, but they’re just dead wrong.

On the other hand, your job is not to blindly support the Palestinians, no matter what the actual wording of a final resolution says. 

Nor, heaven forbid, is your job to reward the grandstanding American politicians who have threatened to cut off American aid to the Palestinians should a resolution pass. 

You know better, and so should they.

Instead, your job is this: Convince your representatives, and your president, to ensure that the U.N. resolution for Palestinian statehood protects Israel’s security, recognizes Israel’s Jewish character and enshrines the two-state solution. 

A properly worded resolution can effectively undermine the power of Hamas, reward the state-building efforts of Salam Fayyad, remove the refugee issue as a permanent thorn in Israel’s side — after all, if the Palestinians have a state, they can’t have refugees — and create a framework for negotiations over the outstanding issues.

In other words, what is being sold to the American Jewish community as a looming disaster actually offers one of the great opportunities of our lifetime. 

I wish I could take credit for concocting such a pragmatic and innovative approach to a crisis that has Jewish organizations and Israeli and American diplomats in spasms. But that credit goes to Gidi Grinstein and the people at the Re’ut Institute, the nonpartisan Israeli think tank he founded and heads. Early on in this crisis, Grinstein saw the opportunity — in fact, his approach served as the basis of a Tom Friedman column on the U.N. vote. 

Grinstein made the argument again at a series of meetings in Los Angeles last week. I caught up with him at a parlor meeting sponsored by University Synagogue at a home in Pacific Palisades. 

Since the mid-1970s, Grinstein reminded his audience, every Israeli government — left, right and center — has understood that Israel must negotiate with the Palestinians. This is a matter of survival for Israel, and every right-wing Israeli leader, once in office, has backtracked on his solemn promise not to negotiate. 

At the same time, the division between Hamas, which rejects Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, makes real negotiation impossible at this time. The left and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof can blame Israel all they want, but it is Hamas that is the true obstacle to peace.

That said, experience has shown that Israel does not gain peace through unilateral action or withdrawal.

So if negotiation and unilateral action won’t work, what’s left could be a third party that can create new facts on the ground.

“When we negotiate, we have to say yes, and they have to say yes,” Grinstein pointed out. But in the U.N., who has to say yes? A third party. So the Palestinians no longer control the process.”

That is Grinstein’s key insight. The Palestinians will have little control over the actual language of the final resolution presented to the U.N. Security Council. By taking their petition to the United Nations, they gave away control. In fact, the United States will have a great deal of power over the wording. The United States can make sure a resolution takes into account the true security needs of the two peoples. 

What would Israel achieve through the language of this resolution? It could pin down the two-state reality by enshrining the idea of two states for two peoples — Jewish and Palestinian. It could acknowledge Israel’s need for complete control over security issues. It could instantly remove the refugee issue — all Palestinians would have a home. All this could be part of a statehood resolution that the Palestinians, even if they didn’t love it, could hardly walk away from.

“In other words,” Grinstein concluded, “there are a lot of benefits to Israel from the opportunity that was created in the U.N.”

Whether Israel takes full advantage of these opportunities depends in part on American diplomatic efforts. And that’s where your job comes in. Let your representatives and your president know that you support a resolution for Palestinian statehood that enshrines two states for two peoples, with secure borders. Tell the American Jewish organizations that you support to stop saying, “No way,” and start saying, “Yes, but …”

“I can’t tell you whether it will happen,” Grinstein said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if, at the end of the process, the resolution we have fought will become a lever for progress, and we could be months away from pinning down a two-state solution.”

There, that’s our job: a new approach for a new year.

To read the Re’ut plan in full, click here.

Israel accepts Quartet’s peace process proposal


Israel has accepted the Mideast Quartet’s proposal to renew peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

The plan accepted Sunday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his eight senior Cabinet members would restart negotiations within a month, without preconditions.

“Israel welcomes the Quartet’s call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions, as called for by both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu,” read a statement issued Sunday by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“While Israel has some concerns, it will raise them at the appropriate time.  Israel calls on the Palestinian Authority to do the same and to enter into direct negotiations without delay,” the short statement concluded.

The concerns included the short timetable for negotiations on border and security issues, and the issues of Palestinian refugees and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Haaretz reported.

The inner Cabinet met last week for five hours and failed to agree to support the plan at that time. 

The Quartet, saying it aimed for a peace agreement by the end of 2012, has urged both sides to refrain from “provocative actions.”

At the United Nations on Friday, a Security Council panel on admitting new members to the U.N. met for the first time on the Palestinian membership bid.

It was the beginning of an assessment process that will pit the aid-dependent Palestinians against the United States, which has said it would veto the bid in the Security Council if necessary, and Israel.

Some diplomats have suggested the issue could stay with the membership committee for weeks or months before it is passed back to the Security Council for a vote, giving mediators more time to try to restart peace talks.

After week of U.N. speeches, the ball is now in Palestinians’ court


After the mutual accusations of ethnic cleansing and the sarcastic posturing, the ball is back in the Palestinians’ court.

The upshot of last week’s Lollapalooza of speechmaking at the United Nations is that the Obama administration has succeeded in persuading the international community to back the resumption of talks without preconditions—a key demand of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A statement released last Friday by the Quartet—the grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that guides Middle East peacemaking—“reiterated its urgent appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions.”

The statement came just hours after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a fiery address to the U.N. General Assembly demanding statehood recognition and setting as a condition for renewed talks a “complete cessation of settlement activity.”

Netanyahu’s U.N. address delivered the same day, by contrast, repeated his readiness to talk without preconditions.

“The day I came into office, I called for direct negotiations without preconditions,” he said. “President Abbas didn’t respond. I outlined a vision of peace of two states for two peoples. He still didn’t respond. I removed hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints to ease freedom of movement in the Palestinian areas; this facilitated a fantastic growth in the Palestinian economy. But again, no response.

“I took the unprecedented step of freezing new building in the settlements for 10 months. No prime minister did that before, ever. Once again—you applaud, but there was no response. No response.”

Such exchanges have been boilerplate for the past year since talks collapsed, but Netanyahu followed up with something new: a public declaration that he was ready to abide by parameters set out by President Obama in a May 19 speech in which the U.S. leader called on the sides to negotiate borders using the 1967 lines, with agreed-upon land swaps, as the basis.

“In the last few weeks, American officials have put forward ideas to restart peace talks,” Netanyahu said in his U.N. address. “There were things in those ideas about borders that I didn’t like. There were things there about the Jewish state that I’m sure the Palestinians didn’t like. But with all my reservations, I was willing to move forward on these American ideas.”

Netanyahu was backing away from his previous insistence that Israel could not abide such conditions, as well as paying back Obama for his U.N. speech Wednesday in which the president made a forceful case for recognizing not just Israel’s security needs but its ancient stake in the region.

“Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it,” Obama told the General Assembly. “Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than 8 million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that 6 million people were killed simply because of who they are.

“Those are facts. They cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland.”

The speech, which was greeted enthusiastically by American Jewish groups, may have sounded like a pitch to a domestic constituency by a president flailing in the polls, but administration officials insisted it was also part of a strategy: To get the parties to talk on the basis of the May 19 parameters outlined by Obama, which he sees as the only viable way toward achieving Palestinian statehood.

“If these negotiations are going to succeed, they must be serious and credible and deal with all of the core issues,” a senior administration official told reporters last Friday evening, requesting anonymity that is customary when discussing strategy. “I think a very important departure point—and it was stressed throughout this statement and in our discussions with the Quartet—has been the fact that the remarks of President Obama in May that are guiding us and that provide the solid foundation for the negotiations to succeed. And in fact, I think the Quartet in the statement is making clear those ideas that are key.”

The Quartet statement also outlines a timeline for talks, and says borders and security should be the priority for the first three months, with a deadline for an agreement of the end of 2012. That made some pro-Israel groups nervous.

“We believe the Quartet erred in setting a preliminary agenda limited to issues of security and borders and timetables for proposals,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement. “By going as far as it does, the Quartet statement misses an opportunity to send the clearest possible message to the Palestinians that the sole path to statehood lies in direct negotiations with Israel.”

Overall, however, the pro-Israel reaction was one of relief at the perception that the onus was on the Palestinians to turn up for talks or explain why they were a no-show. The White House’s top Middle East official, Dennis Ross, briefed Jewish leaders on the week’s events in a conference call last Friday evening just before the Sabbath. One participant described getting the international community on board for talks as a “masterful job.”

It remains to be seen how the U.N. week will play out in the immediate future. Upon returning home, Abbas and Netanyahu both received adulatory welcomes from their respective publics for speeches that included charges of “ethnic cleansing” on both sides.

Democrats and Republicans in the Congress stepped up demands to cut off the approximately $600 million in aid received annually by the Palestinian Authority, both because of Abbas’ statehood bid and because of talks with Hamas aimed at setting up a unity government.

“President Abbas has been warned repeatedly,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives’ foreign operations subcommittee of its Appropriations Committee, in a statement to JTA. “I remain firm: his action crosses a line and should lead to a reevaluation of U.S. assistance for the PA.”

But Israel and some of its closest allies in the pro-Israel community are quietly pushing back against an assistance cutoff, saying security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been key to maintaining the quiet in the West Bank.

The explosion that some Israelis had feared in the wake of Abbas’ statehood demand never materialized, although a father and baby apparently were killed last Friday in a stone-throwing attack near Kiryat Arba. The same day, a Palestinian man died when Israeli soldiers fired on Palestinians near Ramallah who had been clashing with settlers who were torching their groves.

Additionally, Abbas—while sticking to his insistence on a settlement freeze—said he was otherwise ready to come back to the table, and notably did not set a deadline for the United Nations to address his membership request. Meanwhile, his unity talks with Hamas are all but moribund.

Nonetheless, pleas from Israel and its friends might not stop a Congress bent on cutting waste from trimming the Palestinians right out of the budget.

“I understand that Israel might want this funding for the Palestinians,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said on CNN last week. “I’m worried about the U.S. taxpayers.”

In Ramallah, West Bank Palestinians divided between celebratory and cynical


A larger-than-life sky-blue chair with the word “Palestine” dominates the center of Manara Square in downtown Ramallah.

The Palestinian flag, a national symbol once banned by Israel, flies everywhere. Long banners of flags crisscross the square, huge flags decorate the sides of buildings and even police cars sport flags. Nationalist music blares from loudspeakers.

The chair, symbolizing Palestinians’ hoped-for acceptance as a state by the United Nations, is empty for now. Public opinion in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian financial and political capital, is divided over whether the Palestinians’ U.N. bid for statehood will make any difference on the ground.

Some, like Walid Nasser, a manager of 17 radio stations in the West Bank, says that Palestinians are now on the road to an independent state.

“It’s a legal step and it’s very important for our own real state,” Nasser told JTA in Manara Square on Friday, the day Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted the Palestinians’ bid for statehood to the United Nations. “There has never been a U.N. document that registers Palestine as a state. It’s a huge step forward for the Palestinian people.”

Nasser did not seem bothered by the promised American veto of a Security Council resolution calling for the recognition of Palestine.

“We don’t care – let the U.S. be the only one of 130 nations opposing a Palestinian state,” he said. “We deserve a state just like Israel deserves a state. They suffered a lot in the past, but so did we. We want a state that will live in peace with all of its neighbors, including Israel.”

Others say that a Palestinian state would be a chance to right historic wrongs. Qais Adel, 44, a soft-spoken waiter at a downtown Ramallah restaurant, stood outside a grocery store with his wife.

“I was born in Nablus in 1967, and all of my life has been under Israeli occupation,” he said, putting his grocery bags on the ground to rest for a moment. “For years now, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad has been laying the groundwork for a state and now we are ready. Israel already has a state. Now we want a state within the 1967 borders.”

The 1967 borders would mean an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem; Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Those are the same borders that President Obama mentioned cited this year as the basis for negotiations, with mutually agreed swaps of territory. But in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, there was neither mention of the 1967 lines nor a call to Israel to freeze settlement expansion.

In New York, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said a future Palestinian state cannot have Jewish settlers in it. Some 310,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, not including eastern Jerusalem. Even assuming mutually agreed upon land swaps that would keep settlement blocs under Israeli control, at least 120,000 Israelis would have to leave their homes under any peace deal.

In Ramallah, many Palestinians are doubtful that the United Nations gambit will change anything in their daily lives.

Yahya Eid, 23, sat on a plastic chair next to a small stand selling tea and coffee. He said he works 18 hours a day, either at the stand or at a small restaurant he owns. He graduated from university last year with a degree in computer science but couldn’t find work in his field.

He smiled cynically as he surveyed the decorated square, which was mostly quiet on Friday while some flashpoints, like the Kalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, saw clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters. One Palestinian was killed in a flareup between Israeli settlers and Palestinians near the Palestinian village of Qusra.

“If Israel and the U.S. don’t want us to have a state, it’s not going to happen,” Eid said. “And what about President Obama’s speech to the UN? All he said was, “Get back to negotiating.’ ”

Asked whether the armed Palestinian police in the streets of Ramallah and the flags don’t already provide a feeling of statehood, Eid said, “Sure, it feels like a state during the day. But at 10 p.m. our police have to get off the streets and Israeli soldiers can come in if they want to arrest anyone. What kind of state is that?”

Despite his perspective, Eid said he believes there eventually will be an independent Palestinian state – he’s just not sure how long it will take.

For a Palestinian named Nick, 60, the celebrations in Ramallah on Friday marking Abbas’s statehood petition, were a chance to connect with the homeland he had left many years ago.

Nick, who wouldn’t give his last name, said he has lived in Rocky Point, N.C. for 43 years. But he felt he needed to be in Ramallah on Friday.

“Abbas will get support for a Palestinian state in the General Assembly,” he said. “It will remind the world that we still live under occupation.”

Nick’s family left the West Bank in 1968 because there were few economic opportunities, he said, yet despite 40 years abroad, the West Bank still feels like home. He owns a home here and returns frequently to visit. He hopes his children, now young adults, will move back to the West Bank.

Nick says he’s not sure if the United Nations petition will lead to an independent state.

“It’s hard to tell, but we had to do something,” he said. “We negotiated for 20 years and achieved nothing but more settlements. Maybe this will make a difference.”

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