Palestinian U.N. statehood bid at heart of Kerry-Netanyahu talks


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before talks on Monday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that he would defy any United Nations move to “dictate” a time frame for withdrawal from land Palestinians seek for a state.

The pair met in Rome for nearly three hours. Before the meeting, Israel put the United States on notice that it expected Washington to exercise its Security Council veto against any resolutions setting a time frame.

Jordan has circulated a Palestinian-drafted resolution to the 15-member council calling for Israeli occupation of Palestinian land to end by November 2016.

U.S. officials have indicated that Washington did not find the Palestinian draft acceptable but said that with matters still fluid, it was premature to take a position now on any particular Security Council resolution.

“Whether we have the nine votes at the Security Council or we don't, the decision has been taken to present the Palestinian-Arab resolution in the Security Council on Wednesday,” said Wasel Abu Youssef, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Palestinians' highest decision-making body, led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour said that “on Wednesday, most likely a draft will be put in blue.” This means the draft resolution could be put to a vote as soon as 24 hours later, though it does not guarantee it will be put to a vote.

Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar said she had not received any requests regarding action on the Palestinian draft.

When asked if she was expecting any developments at the Security Council this week, Kawar told reporters: “No, no, because Mr. Kerry is having meetings in Europe with a number of ministers so we're waiting to see what happens.”

Kerry planned to travel later on Monday for talks with counterparts from France, Britain and Germany. On Tuesday, he will meet with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in London.

Shortly before leaving for Rome, Netanyahu, who is in the middle of a re-election campaign, told reporters: “We will not accept attempts to dictate unilateral, time-bound moves to us. I will say these things in the clearest manner. Even if there are dictates, we will stand up to them firmly.”

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel expected Washington to use its Security Council veto, if necessary, as it has done in the past in support of its ally.

France is also leading a bid among Europeans to draft a resolution with a less definitive timetable before Israel's March 17 election. A Western diplomat said the Europeans felt the United States was now open to that possibility.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks championed by Kerry collapsed in April. A Gaza war last summer, heightened violence in recent weeks in Israel and the West Bank, and the Israeli election campaign have all dampened prospects that talks will resume soon.

While saying he would support Palestinian statehood under an eventual peace deal, Netanyahu has balked at comprehensive withdrawals from the West Bank, which many Israelis consider a security bulwark and Jewish biblical birthright.

U.N. Middle East peace process envoy Robert Serry briefed the Security Council on Monday and said any resolution outlining the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement would be important, but “not a substitute for a genuine peace process that will need to be negotiated between both parties.”

“The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) hopes that Security Council action will generate constructive momentum toward the creation of a meaningful and effective framework for renewed negotiations. Such a move by the Security Council would constitute a major step on this conflict,” Serry said.

Kerry to Israel and Palestinians: Comply completely with cease-fire


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Israel and the Palestinians to “fully and completely” comply with the terms of their latest cease-fire.

Kerry issued a statement Tuesday evening after the open-ended truce went into effect at 7 p.m. Israel time.

Meanwhile, a second man who was critically injured in a mortar attack from Gaza on the Eshkol Region shortly before the start of the cease-fire died of his injuries. Some 182 rockets were fired at Israel on Tuesday before the cease-fire.

In his statement, Kerry said, “We hope very much that this cease-fire will prove to be durable and sustainable, that it will put an end to rocket and mortar attacks, and that it will help to bring about an enduring end to the conflict in Gaza.”

Kerry called for the acceleration of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.

He commended the Egyptians “for their role in hosting the negotiations in Cairo and for continuing to work to reach agreement on a cease-fire.”

According to reports, the open-ended cease-fire would see the immediate opening of border crossings from Gaza into Israel and Egypt, and the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone. The second phase would begin in a month, with discussion of the construction of a Gaza seaport and the Israeli release of Hamas prisoners.

The sides have agreed to numerous cease-fires since Israel launched its military operation in Gaza early last month to stop rocket fire from the coastal strip.

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank flooded the streets and gunmen fired into the air to celebrate the cease-fire agreement; Hamas claimed victory. Several senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders surfaced in public shortly after the start of the cease-fire for the first time since the start of Israel’s Gaza operation about seven weeks ago.

Six civilians in Israel, including one foreign worker, and 64 soldiers were killed in the operation known as Protective Edge. The Palestinian death toll stood at least 2,127, the Palestinian Health Ministry told an Israeli television station.

On the Israel-Palestinian front, a year of disappointment


One year ago today, Secretary of State John Kerry stood behind a lectern, flanked by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Smiling, Kerry announced the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The goal was to reach a final-status peace treaty establishing a Palestinian state within nine months.

Fifty-two weeks of recriminations and violence later, Israelis and Palestinians couldn’t be further from that goal. In the past three months alone, Israel has gone from faltering talks with the Palestinian Authority to its bloodiest conflict with Hamas in five years — in which more than 50 Israelis and more than 1,000 Palestinians have died. In between, four boys — three Israeli and one Palestinian — were kidnapped and murdered.

For people on all sides and of all political stripes, this has been a year of disappointment. For Israelis on the left, obstinate, failed negotiations were another blow to the long-desired two-state solution. Israelis on the right may take some solace in the talks’ failure, but they also saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a former champion of Greater Israel — make his most vocal statements for a two-state solution.

Palestinians, meanwhile, remain stateless, and those in Gaza are coping with widespread destruction and death. Negotiations toward a Palestinian unity government, begun at the peace talks’ end, have stalled with the outbreak of war.

The past year has also been tough on the U.S.-Israel relationship. Even before talks failed, Kerry weathered repeated statements from Israel’s defense minister opposing his efforts. And Kerry’s attempt at an Israel-Hamas cease-fire — negotiated with Hamas’ allies and lacking Israel’s principal demand — met unanimous disapproval from Israel’s Security Cabinet.

If there’s been one constant in this year of dashed hopes, it’s the pessimism of Israel’s Jews. Soon after negotiations started, the Israel Democracy Institute found that nearly 80 percent of Israeli Jews rated the talks as having a low chance of success. And in a poll released by IDI today, half of Israeli Jews say that “a further round of battle” will follow the current conflict with Hamas.

Obama tells Kerry to broker ‘immediate’ cease-fire in Gaza


WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said Monday in a brief news appearance as Kerry headed to Egypt to attempt to broker a cease-fire.

“And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Obama said he wanted a return to the truce with Hamas brokered in November 2012, but Hamas has rejected such a return. Hamas has added demands including internationally monitored border crossings, prisoner releases and Israel staying out of Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity talks.

“I’ve instructed him to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities,” Obama said.

More than 500 Palestinians have died in the fighting, most of them civilians, while 25 Israeli troops and two civilians have been killed.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad Shaar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry warns Israel could become ‘an apartheid state’


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a roomful of world leaders that Israel could become “an apartheid state” if peace talks fail.

Kerry made the remarks Friday during a meeting of the Trilateral Commission, which includes senior officials from the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan, the Daily Beast reported on Sunday evening, saying it had obtained a recording of the closed-door meeting.

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative,” Kerry said, according to the Daily Beast, “because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”

Kerry reportedly blamed both Israeli and Palestinian leaders for the current halt of the U.S.-backed peace talks.

According to the news website, he reiterated a warning that the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could lead to a resumption of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens. Kerry said he believes a change in the leadership of either the Israelis or Palestinians could help bring about a peace deal, and he heavily criticized Israel for continuing to build in West Bank settlements.

“There is a fundamental confrontation and it is over settlements — 14,000 new settlement units announced since we began negotiations. It’s very difficult for any leader to deal under that cloud,” Kerry said.

He told the world leaders that he is considering releasing his own peace plan and telling both sides to “take it or leave it,” according to the Daily Beast.

Kerry said both sides will have to make the tough decisions necessary for achieving peace.

“There’s a period here where there needs to be some regrouping. I don’t think it’s unhealthy for both of them to have to stare over the abyss and understand where the real tensions are and what the real critical decisions are that have to be made,” he said. “Neither party is quite ready to make it at this point in time. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to make these decisions.”

 

Syria’s Assad denies chemical weapons use; U.S. presses case for strike


Syrian President Bashar Assad denied that he was behind a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, as the White House on Sunday pressed ahead with the uphill effort of persuading Congress to approve a military strike to punish Assad.

The Obama administration faces a crucial test vote set for Wednesday in the U.S. Senate and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough made the rounds of five Sunday talk shows to argue for a resolution authorizing a limited strike on Syria.

In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did not rule out France's suggestion that it go to the U.N. Security Council for an authorization of a possible military strike once U.N. inspectors complete their report on the August 21 attack near Damascus in which more than 1,400 people were killed.

Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, have blocked previous efforts to punish the Syrian government. The United States and France hold that Assad was behind the attack and should be deterred from using chemical weapons again.

Assad denied involvement the attack and said if the United States has evidence, Washington should produce it, CBS reported on Sunday on its news program “Face the Nation.

“There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people,” CBS reported Assad said in an interview conducted in Damascus. The report was a summary of the interview and did not contain any audio or video of Assad.

Assad said he feared an attack might degrade the Syrian military and tip the balance in the 2-1/2-year-old civil war, CBS reported.

The Syrian president also warned that if there was a military strike by the United States, there would be retaliation by those aligned with Syria, CBS said.

In London, Kerry countered Assad, saying “The evidence speaks for itself.”

President Barack Obama faces an uphill climb to persuade U.S. lawmakers returning from a summer recess to vote for military action. During the break, their constituents voiced strong objections to the action, worrying that it would drag the country into another costly, and broader, Middle East conflict.

Opinion polls show most Americans oppose a strike. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said 56 percent of Americans believed the United States should not intervene in Syria; 19 percent backed action.

McDonough, the White House chief of staff, led the administration's lobbying effort on Sunday, part of an intensive push for support that will continue on Monday when Obama sits for six network television interviews and culminate with an address to the country on Tuesday night.

“Are there consequences for a dictator who would have used those weapons to gas to death hundreds of children? The answer to that question … will be followed closely in Damascus, but will also be followed closely in Tehran, among Lebanese Hezbollah, and others. So this is a very important week,” McDonough said on the “Fox News Sunday” program.

While Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is a supporter of the strikes, he said Obama had made “a hash” of his argument to punish Assad.

“It's very clear he's lost support in the last week,” Rogers said on CBS' “Face the Nation.” He said Obama should have called Congress back from its summer break for classified briefings on the proposed strikes, and the administration needed to “regroup.”

“The president hasn't made the case,” Rogers said.

Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said that “if I were the president, I would withdraw my request. I don't believe the support is there in Congress.” He spoke on CNN's “State of the Union”

Congressional surveys make it clear Obama has a difficult task. A Washington Post vote count showed 223 House members either against or leaning against authorizing the use of military force in Syria. That is more than the 217 needed to block the resolution.

The White House has said the president could go ahead with a military strike without congressional authorization, but has not said he would do so.

FRENCH SUGGESTION

French President Francois Hollande, increasingly under pressure at home and among European partners to seek a U.N. mandate before any military intervention in Syria, on Saturday suggested he could seek a U.N. resolution despite previous Russian and Chinese vetoes.

U.N. inspectors are likely to hand in their report later this week roughly at the same time as the U.S. Congress votes on military action. The United Nations has said the inspectors will only determine whether gas was used, not who was responsible for its use.

“On President Hollande's comments with respect to the U.N., the president (Obama), and all of us, are listening carefully to all of our friends,” Kerry told a news conference in Paris earlier Sunday. “No decision has been made by the president.”

Later, a U.S. official said Washington was not seeking a U.N. vote at this time.

Kerry said key Arab countries were leaning towards supporting a G20 statement – already signed by 12 countries – that called for a strong international response.

The top U.S. diplomat met in Paris with Arab ministers, including from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, following talks in Lithuania with European foreign ministers, who blamed the attack in Syria on Assad but refused to endorse military action.

Iran's new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, warned the United States that it would ignite a fire across the Middle East if it attacks Syria.

“We are concerned about warmongering in this region,” Zarif told a news conference while on a visit to Iraq. “Those who are short-sighted and are beating the drums of war are starting a fire that will burn everyone.”

Underscoring the dangers of the Syrian conflict spreading beyond its borders, an Israeli official said on Sunday the United States would notify Israel hours in advance of an attack on Syria.

While formally on the sidelines of the Syrian crisis, Israel fears coming under reprisals from its northern foe should the United States launch strikes to punish Damascus.

A German newspaper, citing German intelligence, reported that Assad may not have personally given permission for the August 21 attack.

Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the Presidential Palace to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last 4-1/2 months, according to radio messages intercepted by German spies, but permission had always been denied, the newspaper Bild am Sonntag said.

This could mean Assad may not have personally approved the attack, intelligence officers suggested.

Reporting by John Whitesides in Washington and Arshad Mohammed in Paris and London; additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai, David Brunnstrom and Jackie Frank in Washington; Dan Williams in Israel; Natalie Huet in Paris; Alexandra Hudson in Berlin; and Raheem Salman and Yeganeh Torbati in Baghdad; writing by Eric Beech; editing by Jackie Frank

Palestinian prisoner release on track after High Court ruling


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAMAS REACTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry says Israeli settlements should not disrupt mideast talks


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

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

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

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

Reporting by Warren Strobel; Editing by David Brunnstrom

Give the peace process a chance


The questions come fast and furious: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rather, I do so for three reasons. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's precisely the case in Israel today. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, let me frame the issue another way. 

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

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

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

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

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

Palestinian prisoner list released prior to renewed talks


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livni: Next round of peace talks in Israel


The next round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will be held in Israel next week, according to Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator.

Livni, the country’s justice minister, told Israel’s Channel 10 over the weekend that the negotiations, scheduled to last about nine months, would alternate between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The next round will be held in Israel during the second week in August, by which time the first group of Palestinian prisoners will be freed, Livni said. Some 104 Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs who have been held in Israeli jails for involvement in terror attacks before the Oslo Accords are set to be freed during the talks, dependent on the progress of the negotiations.

The sides resumed talks late last month following an intensive diplomatic effort led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Israel puts 91 Jewish settlements on priority spending list


The Israeli government put 91 Jewish settlements on a national priority funding list on Sunday, adding six to a roster of dozens of enclaves already eligible for supplemental state cash.

A senior Palestinian official condemned the decision as an obstacle to U.S.-brokered peace talks that resumed just a week ago after a three-year rupture over settlement building on land Palestinians seek for a state.

At its weekly meeting, the Israeli cabinet increased by six the number of settlements built on land Israel captured in a 1967 war on a “national priority” spending list, by adding nine while removing three others.

The “list of settlements with national priority” is a longstanding roster of nearly 700 border towns and settlements eligible for extra development funding above and beyond their normal budgets.

Most communities on the list are either on Israel's northern border with Lebanon or to the south, across from neighboring Egypt.

Ninety-one are settlements built in the West Bank, where Palestinians seek to establish an independent state. Those settlements are deemed illegal by the World Court and are opposed by most countries.

Three settlements were removed from a previous list from several years ago, while nine others were added, among them enclaves deep inside the West Bank, beyond the traditional blocs Israel insists it will keep under any peace deal.

“We condemn this step,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Reuters, accusing Israel of seeking to “put obstacles in the way of U.S.-backed (peace) efforts.”

The Israeli settlement watch group Peace Now said that, by taking steps to expand West Bank settlements, Israel “calls into question whether this government is truly ready to negotiate in good faith.”

Abbas had long demanded a freeze in settlement construction as a condition to resuming peace talks, but Kerry won Palestinian agreement to resume negotiations after Israeldecided to release 104 prisoners, many convicted of lethal attacks and behind bars for more than 20 years.

Israeli media pundits interpreted the unpopular decision to free prisoners as a compromise with ultra-nationalists in Israel's cabinet opposed to curbing settlement construction.

Settler-champion cabinet minister Silvan Shalom said Abbas had rejected an Israeli offer to freeze construction in some settlements rather than free the prisoners, Israel Radio said.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Ori Lewis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Israel, Palestinians deeply divided despite renewed peace talks


Israel and the Palestinians remain far apart over terms of any peace deal, officials from both sides made clear on Wednesday, a day after talks resumed in Washington for the first time in nearly three years.

Israel's lead negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said the parties “need to build confidence” after what she called an encouraging start in Washington, and disputed a Palestinian demand to focus first on agreeing the frontiers of an independent state.

“The goal is to end the conflict,” Livni said on Israel Radio. “It cannot be ended merely by setting a border.”

Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, forecast “huge difficulties” for the talks begun after intense diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Abed Rabbo, speaking on Voice of Palestine radio, cited Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and said any further building there would scupper the negotiations.

He was alluding to Israeli media reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had cajoled far-right allies to back the talks by pledging to permit more settlement expansion.

Kerry has said the negotiators will reconvene in August, aiming to achieve a “final status” deal within nine months.

Previous peace talks collapsed in 2010 over settlement building in the West Bank, which Palestinians see as grabbing land they want for a state that would include the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, all territories captured by Israel in 1967.

Abed Rabbo said borders, which the Palestinians say must be based on pre-1967 war lines, were “the first issue that must be resolved”, countering Israel's demand that all issues, including refugees and Jerusalem, should be tackled simultaneously.

“Putting all the dishes on the table at once may be an attempt to undermine the process,” Abed Rabbo said.

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid defined the ultimate goal of negotiations as the creation of a Palestinian state in “the majority” of the West Bank, but said Israel would keep three large settlement blocs there, as well as East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians might eventually accept this “because they will have no choice”, the centrist minister said. “What we are looking for is a fair divorce from the Palestinians, so that we can stand on one side of the border and they on the other.”

Decades of peace negotiations sponsored by the United States, Israel's main ally, have failed to resolve the conflict.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Peace talks to resume Monday in Washington


Talks between Palestinians and Israelis will resume on Monday evening, the first such formal deliberations in almost three years.

Meetings between top negotiators will take place Monday night and Tuesday in Washington, the U.S. State Department said in a statement. Secretary of State John Kerry has been pressing the sides for a resumption and has visited the region six times since assuming his post in February.

The Israeli side will be represented by Tzipi Livni, the justice minister, and Yitzhak Molcho, the national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, and Mohammed Shtayyeh, who directs the Palestinian Economic Council and who has ministerial status, will represent the Palestinian Authority.

The State Department release said that the talks would at first focus on the procedure for the talks, but added that the basis for negotiations is in place.

“As Secretary Kerry announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, the Israelis and Palestinians had reached agreement on the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations,” it said. It did not elaborate what the basis is.

“The meetings in Washington will mark the beginning of these talks,” it said. “They will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural workplan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months.”

There were conflicting reports in recent days over whether the sides had achieved a basis for the talks, or whether neogitators would convene only to prepare the basis for talks.

Israeli and Palestinian talks have been suspended since October 2010, when the Palestinians walked out over Israel’s refusal to extend a 10-month partial settlement freeze.

A number of reports have said that the talks will be on the basis of the 1967 lines. Such a basis could shake up Netanyahu’s government and lead to the departure of the Jewish Home Party.

A number of leaders in that party and in Netanyahu’s own Likud Party have suggested in recent weeks that a two-state solution, particularly one based on the 1967 lines, is not viable.

Negotiating Table


Israeli minister sees possible Palestine peace talks next week


An Israeli cabinet minister said on Thursday that U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations with the Palestinians could begin next week.

The assessment was not immediately confirmed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who disagree on the terms for reviving direct diplomacy which stalled almost three years ago.

After months of intensive and discreet mediation, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday that the groundwork had been laid for new talks and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were due in Washington soon.

Israel was ready to go, Energy Minister Silvan Shalom said at a regional cooperation conference in the West Bank.

“As I understand, today, I think that the Palestinians will decide to come next week,” Shalom told reporters in English.

“But of course it's not something that I can speak on behalf of the Palestinians,” he said. “If they will do so, as I said, the negotiations will start next Tuesday in Washington.”

Israel says new peacemaking would be without preconditions about the borders of a future Palestinian state in territories it captured in the 1967 Middle East war. But the Palestinians say they want assurances about those borders first.

Netanyahu's office had no comment on Shalom's remarks. An Israeli source briefed on Kerry's brokering mission said Netanyahu awaited an official invitation from the United States to send his delegation.

The conservative prime minister plans to win over ministers from his rightist coalition government who are skeptical about the prospect of new peacemaking when they convene at Sunday's cabinet meeting, aides said.

AGENDAS

Abbas also had yet to receive a U.S. invitation, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rdaineh said.

“The Palestinian delegation is ready,” he told Reuters. “We are committed to the meeting that was agreed to be held in Washington to discuss the issues.”

Abbas' administration sees the planned meeting as a chance to pursue his demand that any peace talks be predicated on a future Palestinian state having borders approximating the pre-1967 boundaries of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

That appeared to run counter to a U.S. descriptions of the meeting as the re-launch of peacemaking.

Hanan Ashrawi of Abbas' umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization said in a statement that Israel must stop its settlement of the West Bank and adjacent East Jerusalem.

Israel, which wants to keep swathes of settlements under any eventual peace accord, has refused to embrace the 1967 borders formula or halt construction ahead of the new negotiations.

In remarks the seemed close to Israel's position, a Western official briefed on Kerry's mission said on Sunday: “There are no terms of reference or any other agreements that the '67 lines will be the basis for negotiations.”

Meeting Israeli military conscripts near Tel Aviv on Thursday, Netanyahu placed the peace onus on the Palestinians.

“You need two to tango. In the Middle East, it seems, you need three to tango,” he said. “Let's hope that they (Palestinians) have the desire and demonstrate the aspiration, the goal-oriented drive, which is crucial in order to achieve an objective like a secure peace.”

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jon Boyle

Obama asks Netanyahu to start negotiating as Kerry ends 6th round of meetings


U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge him to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.

Obama called Netanyahu on Thursday, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with Palestinian negotiator in Amman, Jordan, on Kerry’s sixth visit to the region in recent months to jumpstart peace talks. Kerry is scheduled to leave on Friday.

“The President encouraged Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to work with Secretary Kerry to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement. The statement also said the leaders also talked about security issues in Egypt, Iran and Syria.

Israel Army radio quoted an unnamed senior Israeli source as saying that Obama “urged Netanyahu to start negotiating with the Palestinians as soon as possible.”

Reports say that the Palestinians are ready to resume talks if Israel agrees to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 lines.

Kerry met Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Jordan on Friday to discuss resuming peace talks with Israel, Reuters reported. The Palestinian leadership on Thursday did not accept Kerry’s latest proposal to restart the talks that have been stalled since 2010, but signaled they were leaving the door open for him to continue his peace push, according to Reuters.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Mary Harp said on Thursday that “the situation is fluid and they are following it closely.” She added that the State Department will not respond to rumors circulating in the media.

Kerry: Coming weeks critical to peace process


The coming weeks could decide the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, John Kerry said during a tour of Arab states on his way to attempt to broker new peace talks.

“We share a belief with Saudi Arabia and many countries that these next weeks are perhaps – or at least this next period of time is an important period of time where decisions could be made that could affect this region for years to come,” the U.S.  secretary of state said June 25 in Jeddah, where he met with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal.

The Saudi foreign minister backed the efforts of Kerry, who is due this week in Jordan and Israel, where he will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Saud reiterated his country’s commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which envisions a return to 1967 borders in exchange for comprehensive peace, although he did not explicitly endorse a recent suggestion by Qatar that this incorporate “minor land swaps.”

In Kuwait on Wednesday, meeting with Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Kerry said he wanted to see progress before September.

“Time is the enemy of a peace process,” he said. “Time allows situations on the ground to change and/or to harden, or to be misinterpreted. The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don’t want things to happen.”

Frequent-flyer


Ergogan disregards Kerry request to postpone Gaza visit


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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry, Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem to discuss restarting peace talks


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Jerusalem to discuss restarting negotiations with the Palestinians.

In their three-hour meeting Tuesday, the last day of Kerry's three-day visit to Israel, the two leaders also discussed the Iranian nuclear threat and the dangers of the civil war in Syria.

Netanyahu said in remarks before the meeting that Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and security are “foremost in our minds.”

“I am determined to not only to resume the peace process with the Palestinians, but to make a serious effort to end this conflict once and for all,” Netanyahu said. “This is a real effort, and we look forward to advance in this effort with you.”

Kerry addressed the Iranian issue.

“President Obama could not be more clear: Iran cannot have and will not have a nuclear weapon,” he said. “And the United States of America has made clear that we stand not just with Israel but with the entire international community in making it clear that we are serious, we are open to negotiation, but it is not an open-ended, endless negotiation; it cannot be used as an excuse for other efforts to try to break out with respect to a nuclear weapon.”

Kerry on Monday participated in Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies and met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, a day after meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

It has been reported that Kerry is pushing for the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel a comprehensive peace with the Arab countries in the region in exchange for all land captured in 1967.

Israel stops to remember victims of Holocaust


Israel came to a standstill as a siren sounded for two minutes in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Following the siren Monday morning, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participated in a wreath-laying ceremony in the Yad Vashem Hall of Remembrance as part of Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Kerry then joined Israeli President Shimon Peres for the “Unto Every Person There is a Name” ceremony held each at the Knesset, where Peres read out the names of his relatives who were victims of the Holocaust. Names of Shoah victims also were read by the chief rabbis, ministers, Knesset members, former Knesset members, members of the Yad Vashem administration, members of youth movements, soldiers, world association representatives, and delegations from abroad.

Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday night at the national Yom Hashoah ceremony at Yad Vashem that the hatred of Jews is still strong more than 70 years after the Holocaust began.

“The map of Europe still contains local stains of anti-Semitism,” Peres said at Sunday night's ceremony in Jerusalem, his voice breaking with emotion. “Racism erupted on that land in the last century and dragged it down to its lowest point. Ultimately the murder which came from her, damaged her.”

“Not all the flames have been extinguished. Crises are once again exploited to form Nazi parties, ridiculous but dangerous. Sickening anti-Semitic cartoons are published allegedly in the name of press freedom.”

Netanyahu said in his address to Holocaust survivors and their families, “Hatred of Jews has not disappeared. It has been replaced with a hatred of the Jewish state.”

He followed his assertion with quotes of anti-Semitic statements made by Iranian religious and political leaders.

Six Holocaust survivors told their stories in a prerecorded video before they lit the six torches representing the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust.

The ceremony was broadcast on all Israeli television channels and on several radio stations. On Yom Hashoah in Israel, places of entertainment are closed and Holocaust themed-movies and documentaries are shown on television channels. Memorial ceremonies are held throughout the country.

On Monday, the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael held a joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. The ceremony took place in the Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza.

The ceremony recalled the rescue activities of Otto Komoly, president of the Zionist Federation in Hungary and the chairman of the Hungarian Jewish community’s clandestine Rescue Committee, and later director of the International Red Cross' “Department A” responsible for rescuing Jewish children.

On Sunday, Israeli military chief Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz left for Poland with an Israel Defense Forces delegation to the March of the Living in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Gantz will lead the March of the Living — the first time the march was led by a current IDF chief of general staff. Some 10,000 people from all over the world are participating in the march.

Gantz also was scheduled to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, where a military service will take place.

On the weekend prior to Yom Hashoah, dozens of young Poles who recently discovered their Jewish roots came together in Oscwiecim, the site of the Auschwitz camp,  for a weekend educational seminar under the auspices of Shavei Israel.

Kerry, Abbas discuss reviving peace talks but offer no details


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday discussed reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but neither side offered details on how, when and whether that might happen.

Kerry, who spoke one-on-one with Abbas for about an hour after a 20-minute group meeting, is on his third trip to the region in three weeks, having accompanied President Barack Obama on his March 20-22 visit and returned alone a day later.

A senior U.S. official described Sunday's talks, which took place after a week marked by clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces in the West Bank, as a constructive meeting but said little about substance.

“During the one-on-one meeting, Secretary Kerry and President Abbas discussed the path to peace and they agreed to continue working together to determine the best path forward,” the U.S. official said in an emailed statement.

While focusing on economic issues, the wider talks included a discussion of “how to create a positive climate” for peace talks, said the senior U.S. official.

The last round of direct negotiations quickly collapsed in late 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building on land that Israel captured in a 1967 war and that the Palestinians want for a state.

The U.S. official said that Kerry had asked the Palestinian officials not to discuss the specifics of this discussion, a request they appear to have honoured.

“There will not be announcements (about the results of these interim meetings), but after two months of communications between the two sides and other parties, the leadership will be able to announce the results of all these communications, Nimr Hammad, an aide to Abbas, told Palestine TV after the meeting.

The past week saw violent clashes between youths and Israeli security forces in the West Bank, which raised fears that a new Palestinian uprising, or intifada, might be brewing.

In another sign of the tensions, rockets were fired out of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip for three days running last week, while Israeli warplanes carried out their first strike on the territory since November.

A rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip after sundown on Sunday, as Israel began commemorating its national remembrance of the Nazi Holocaust, striking southern Israel but causing no damage or injuries, an Israeli police spokesman said.

After taking part in a wreath-laying to mark Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, Kerry is to hold separate talks on Monday with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose post is largely ceremonial.

On Tuesday he meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before flying to London for a Group of Eight (G8) foreign ministers' meeting and then on to Asia for talks in South Korea and China. He returns to Washington on April 15.

Additional reporting by Noah Browning and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and by Ari Rabinowitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Stephen Powell

Kerry: Turkish PM’s Zionism comments ‘objectionable’


Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday the United States found a comment by Turkey's prime minister, likening Zionism to crimes against humanity, “objectionable”, overshadowing their talks on the crisis in neighboring Syria.

Kerry, on his first trip to a Muslim nation since taking office, is meeting Turkish leaders for talks meant to focus on Syria's civil war and bilateral interests from energy security to counter-terrorism.

But the comment by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at a U.N. meeting in Vienna this week, condemned by his Israeli counterpart, the White House and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has clouded his trip.

“We not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable,” Kerry told a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, saying he raised the issue directly with Davutoglu and would do so with Erdogan.

“That said, Turkey and Israel are both vital allies of the United States and we want to see them work together in order to be able to go beyond the rhetoric and begin to take concrete steps to change this relationship,” Kerry added.

Washington needs all the allies it can get as it navigates the political currents of the Middle East, and sees Turkey as the key player in supporting Syria's opposition and planning for the era after President Bashar al-Assad.

But the collapse of Ankara's ties with Israel have undermined U.S. hopes that Turkey could play a role as a broker in the broader region.

Erdogan told the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations meeting in Vienna on Wednesday: “Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”

Erdogan's caustic rhetoric on Israel has in the past won applause from conservative supporters at home but raised increasing concern among Western allies.

Ties between Israel and mostly Muslim Turkey have been frosty since 2010, when Israeli marines killed nine Turks in fighting aboard a Palestinian aid ship that tried to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“If Israel wants to hear positive statements from Turkey it needs to reconsider its attitude both towards us and towards the West Bank,” Davutoglu told the news conference.

Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Michael Roddy

Everyone’s Jewish — until proven otherwise


Strange doings in Virginia. George Allen, former governor, one-term senator, son of a famous football coach and in the midst of a heated battle for reelection, has just been outed as
a Jew.
 
An odd turn of events, given that his having Jewish origins has nothing to do with anything in the campaign, and that Allen himself was oblivious to the fact until his 83-year-old mother revealed to him last month the secret she had kept concealed for 60 years.
 
Apart from its political irrelevance, it seems improbable in the extreme that the cowboy-boots-wearing football scion of Southern manner and speech should turn out to be, at least by origins, a son of Israel.
 
For Allen, as he quipped to me, it’s the explanation for a lifelong affinity for Hebrew National hot dogs. For me, it is the ultimate confirmation of something I have been regaling friends with for 20 years and now, for the advancement of social science, feel compelled to publish.
 
Krauthammer’s Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise.
 
I’ve had a fairly good run with this one. First, it turns out that John Kerry — windsurfing, French-speaking, Beacon Hill aristocrat — had two Jewish grandparents. Then Hillary Clinton — methodical Methodist — unearths a Jewish stepgrandfather in time for her run as New York senator.
 
A less jaunty case was that of Madeleine Albright, three of whose Czech grandparents had perished in the Holocaust and who most improbably contended that she had no idea they were Jewish. To which we can add the leading French presidential contender (Nicolas Sarkozy), a former supreme allied commander of NATO (Wesley Clark) and Russia’s leading anti-Semite (Vladimir Zhirinovsky). One must have a sense of humor about these things. Even Fidel Castro claims he is from a family of Marranos.
 
For all its tongue-in-cheek irony, Krauthammer’s Law works because when I say “everyone,” I don’t mean everyone you know personally. Depending on the history and ethnicity of your neighborhood and social circles, there may be no one you know who is Jewish. But if “everyone” means anyone that you’ve heard of in public life, the law works for two reasons. Ever since the Jews were allowed out of the ghetto and into European society at the dawning of the Enlightenment, they have peopled the arts and sciences, politics and history in astonishing disproportion to their numbers.
 
There are 13 million Jews in the world, one-fifth of 1 percent of the world’s population. Yet 20 percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, a staggering hundredfold surplus of renown and genius. This is similarly true for myriad other “everyones” — the household names in music, literature, mathematics, physics, finance, industry, design, comedy, film and, as the doors opened, even politics.
 
But it is not just Jewish excellence at work here. There is a dark side to these past centuries of Jewish emancipation and achievement — an unrelenting history of persecution. The result is the other, more somber and poignant reason for the Jewishness of public figures being discovered late and with surprise: concealment.
 
Look at the Albright case. Her distinguished father was Jewish, if tenuously so, until the Nazi invasion. He fled Czechoslovakia and, shortly thereafter, converted. Over the centuries, suffering — most especially, the Holocaust — has proved too much for many Jews. Many survivors simply resigned their commission.
 
For some, the break was defiant and theological: A God who could permit the Holocaust — ineffable be His reasons — had so breached the covenant that it was now forfeit. They were bound no longer to Him or His faith.
 
For others, the considerations were far more secular and practical. Why subject one’s children to the fear and suffering, the stigmatization and marginalization, the prospect of being hunted until death that being Jewish had brought to an entire civilization in Europe?
 
In fact, that was precisely the reason Etty Lumbroso, Allen’s mother, concealed her identity.
 
Brought up as a Jew in French Tunisia during World War II, she saw her father, Felix, imprisoned in a concentration camp. Coming to America was her one great chance to leave that forever behind, for her and for her future children. She married George Allen Sr., apparently never telling her husband’s family, her own children or anyone else of her Jewishness.
 
Such was Etty’s choice. Multiply the story in its thousand variations and you have Kerry and Clinton, Albright and Allen, a world of people with a whispered past. Allen’s mother tried desperately to bury it forever.
 
In response to published rumors, she finally confessed the truth to him, adding heartbreakingly, “Now you don’t love me anymore” — and then swore him to secrecy.
 

Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist. This article is reprinted with permission from the author. You can reach the author at letters@charleskrauthammer.com

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