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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rabin’s granddaughter, ex-military and gov’t officials call for Israeli referendum on territories


The granddaughter of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin joined a group of former Israeli military and government officials in launching a campaign demanding a referendum on the future of the West Bank and Gaza.

Groups including Peace Now and Blue White Future also initiated the campaign, titled “Decision at 50,” to consider the future of Israel on the 50th anniversary of its capture of the West Bank. Artists and social activists also signed on.

“This is the most sensitive and explosive issue in Israeli society today, and we demand that after 50 years we will get the right to decide on our own future,” the founders of the initiative said in a statement Monday. “We cannot allow ourselves another 50 years of governments’ indecision, during which decisions are made every day on the ground.”

Officials of the movement on Monday sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for the promotion of a referendum and requested a meeting with him.

“A decision through a referendum on the most critical question for the future of Israel will be a statement regarding where Israel is heading and provide guidance to Israeli governments in their policy making on this crucial matter,” the letter reads.

Among those who have signed on are Noa Rothman, Rabin’s granddaughter; Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet and an ex-Knesset member; Gen (Res.) Amram Mitzna, a former Labor Party chairman; Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former Knesset member; Gilead Sher, chief of staff and policy coordinator to Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and defense minister.

A year on, Israeli team of rivals rules Netanyahu’s coalition


In the lead-up to last year’s Knesset elections, the pro-settlement Jewish Home party released a controversial ad showing party chairman Naftali Bennett smiling alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The message was clear: Netanyahu will be prime minister, but a vote for Jewish Home would give Bennett what he called “a hand on the steering wheel.”

More than having a hand on the wheel, the year since the formation of the new government has seen Jewish Home and the coalition’s other smaller parties driving much of the government’s agenda.  Netanyahu’s Likud party has taken a back seat on everything besides security affairs.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, passed a controversial austerity budget and advanced a bill to conscript haredi Orthodox Israelis. Tzipi Livni, founder of the small Hatnua party, led the first substantive talks with the Palestinian Authority since 2008. Bennett advanced a string of parliamentary bills focused on religion-state reforms.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, has spent much of the past year fighting the same battles he fought in his last term, arguing for a more aggressive stance toward Iran’s nuclear program and taking a hard line on Israel’s security concerns.

With Netanyahu presiding over a team of rivals — a more difficult coalition than the relatively stable right-wing government of his previous term — many of the government’s initiatives have come from his partners, not him.

“What interests Netanyahu is the status quo,” Hebrew University political science professor Gideon Rahat said. “His style is not to do too much. Everyone else makes noise on smaller things.”

Lapid’s budget drew protests for raising taxes and cutting benefits, but proposed religious and social reforms have drawn the most attention.

As the first government without haredi parties in more than a decade, the coalition was able to pass some major legislation eliminating haredi privileges without falling apart. The government cut subsidies to large haredi families and sent the first government paychecks to non-Orthodox rabbis. Bills conscripting haredim and advancing gay parenting rights are close to passage.

The government also has moved toward forcing publicly funded haredi schools to teach English and math, as well as implementing an interdenominational compromise on the Western Wall. Yesh Atid is pushing legislation that would establish civil unions in Israel.

Not all the coalition members concur on the legislation involving haredim. Yesh Atid and Jewish Home broadly agree that haredim must be integrated and religious regulations streamlined, but they disagree on how.

Yesh Atid, a largely secularist party, campaigned on religious and social reforms, particularly on conscription and marriage. Jewish Home, which is largely modern Orthodox, has blocked some of the changes promised by Yesh Atid, opting instead to make religious bureaucracy more accessible while leaving core policies intact.

Their conflict payed out during the recent debate over the haredi draft bill. Following threats by Yesh Atid to quit the coalition, the bill now includes prison time for haredim who refuse to enlist. But because of pressure from Jewish Home, the penalties won’t take effect until 2017 — enough time for haredim to run in another election and possibly re-enter the governing coalition, where they could roll back the law.

The cause of greatest acrimony has been the peace talks. Hatnua was founded to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. Jewish Home opposes a Palestinian state of any kind and supports settlement growth. Yesh Atid, once a quiet supporter of negotiations, has since become a stronger voice for a two-state solution, widening its rift with Jewish Home.

To jump-start Israeli-Palestinian negotiations last summer, Israel agreed to an unpopular prisoner release. As the talks progressed, Jewish Home threatened to leave the coalition. But eight months later, peace talks are on the verge of collapse and the sides seem to be no closer to a deal.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s security efforts haven’t yielded much success. An interim accord between Iran and the Western powers took effect despite the prime minister’s warnings that it was a “bad deal.” When Israel captured a ship this month laden with weapons destined for terrorist groups that Israel said originated in Iran, few world leaders responded.

“The Israeli strategy collapsed after the November agreement,” said Ephraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “The world doesn’t want to hear bad news about Iran. The world is hiding its head in the sand.”

One of Israel’s most significant security accomplishments has been clandestine bombings of weapons shipments to Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group. But with Israel’s policy of deliberate ambiguity, Netanyahu can’t officially take credit for the attacks.

Perhaps Netanyahu’s most notable achievement in the year-old government is that the coalition he cobbled together is still intact.

“Every time he keeps going one more year,” Rahat said. “Staying in power is not easy. He looks like a leader above the fray, and he likes it that way.”

 

Report: Netanyahu agreed to give entire Golan to Syria


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed in principle in 2010 to give back the Golan Heights to Syria, the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot reported.

The daily quotes unnamed American sources as saying that in 2010 “Netanyahu agreed to a full withdrawal from the Golan, to the shores of Lake Kinneret, in exchange for a peace agreement with Syria.” The initiative reportedly collapsed amid the outbreak of Syria's civil war.

In response to the report, the Prime Minister’s Office said the talk of withdrawal was “an American initiative, one of many discussed with Israel, which was not adopted at any stage,” the newspaper said.

According to the account in Yediot, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, was supportive of the initiative. The Israelis “expected” a deal would mean the severing of ties between Iran and Syria, though this was not stated as an explicit demand, the report said.

The Americans quoted in the report said the talks about the proposed deal were at an advanced stage and that the American side was “surprised by the willingness shown by Netanyahu, who offered the Syrians more than his predecessors.”

Iran warns against rumored Israeli military strike


Iran’s top military chief warned that his country would retaliate harshly against an Israeli strike on its nuclear sites, as Israel successfully test fired a new ballistic missile.

Responding to reports that Israel was preparing to launch an attack against Iran, the Islamic Republic’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hassan Fairouz Abadi on Wednesday reportedly told Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency that Iran would strike back hard against Israel and the United States.

“America knows that a Zionist military strike in Iran would cause it major damages in addition to the damages caused to this regime,” Abadi said.

A report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is due next week, and reportedly will offer new details about Iran’s nuclear program.

Also on Wednesday, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview on Israel Radio that most reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are pushing the Cabinet to approve an attack on Iran “have no connection to reality.”  Reports to that effect had surfaced the previous day in the Israeli and international media and have caused “tremendous damage,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman also said that Iran continues to pose a dangerous threat to the entire world and that Israel expects the international community to do “much more” regarding Iran, including imposing sanctions.

Saying that the test of a new ballistic missile was preplanned and had no connection to a possible attack on Iran, the Israeli military successfully test fired a ballistic missile Wednesday from Palmachim Airbase in central Israel, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.

Foreign media believe Israel has missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.