Letters to the Editor: U.N. 1947 vote, Roy Moore, PLO and ‘Wonder’


The Miracle of the UN’s 1947 Decision

While I enjoyed David Suissa’s editorial, I would correct one error: The date Nov. 29th is important enough to Israelis that streets are named after that date (“Homeless for 1,900 Years … and Then a U.N. Vote,” Dec. 1).

Louis Richter, Reseda


Where Does Truth Lie in Moore Controversy?

I see Ben Shapiro’s point in equating the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Al Franken and Judge Roy Moore (“Roy and Al,” Nov. 24).

However, Al Franken was photographed with his victim on that USO Tour — caught in the act, clearly a crime. He has acknowledged that interaction and apologized. Other accusers have come forward, citing a propensity for his behavior.

Roy Moore, who is running in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat, has vehemently denied any veracity to allegations by several accusers, 40 years after they supposedly occurred. His attorney requested to have the only tangible “evidence” — an autographed yearbook — belonging to accuser Beverly Young Nelson, be submitted for independent, forensic examination. The accuser’s attorney, Gloria Allred, has refused.

We have seen this mischief many times before.

Last year’s presidential campaign saw even The New York Times gather several women who had worked with Donald Trump. The slanted point of view of The New York Times was that Trump was a sexual harasser and unqualified for public office. The women, to their credit, immediately said that their comments were misconstrued and manipulated.

The current brouhaha with Moore was propagated by The Washington Post, another “leftist bastion.” After several statewide election campaigns in Alabama, why have these allegations of sexual impropriety against Moore not surfaced before? Why now, when Moore is leading in the race?

Allegations in the mainstream media grab attention, but where is truth?

Enriqué Gascon, Los Angeles


A Hanukkah Poem

Rock of ages
Mount Sinai’s thunders,
Angels whisper
Masada’s secrets of old.

Of freedom almost lost
In the City of Gold,
A Temple defiled
And Maccabees had restored.

The miracle of oil
A spark in our soul,
Liberty for all creeds
Letters on dreidels spins.

Holocaust’s nightmares
Never again shall repeat,
The promise of a rainbow
The waters that split.

The gathering of exiles
To their promised land,
Where mountains rejoiced
And bright stars tallied twelve once again.

Danny BenTal, Tarzana


How to Change the Mood in America

Another great editor’s note: “Make America Grateful Again” (Nov. 24). While reading it, I felt the uneasiness of David Suissa to “balance polarities.” And he is quite honest in describing the mood of this country. His first sentence is quite correct: “America is in a lousy mood.” I was myself in a worse than lousy mood for the past three years, so I can relate to that. And I know how difficult it is to get out of the “mess.”

I have always considered good journalists to be like the consciousness of the society and to be among its teachers. Yes, good teaching begins with asking questions. And the better teaching begins with asking the right or more important questions. For example: How can one change the mood for the better of a society of 300 million people?

I was born and lived most of my life in a socialist country. If most of my countrymen were grateful for and had faith in our leaders at that time, my country would have not changed toward democracy.

So, I am very grateful to live in a democratic society now.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles


Plight of the Rohingya Has Many Facets

Stephen D. Smith effectively shines the light on the plight of the innocent Rohingya living in Myanmar. However, he omits historical context which harshly judges the Buddhist government and fails to address its  legitimate  fears (“It’s Time to Speak Up for the Rohingya,” Dec. 1).

In the past millennium, approximately 80 million non-Muslims were killed by Muslim jihadists. Smith quotes the Polish Jew Raphael Lemkin and the 1933 Madrid conference, which tried to legislate against barbarity.

Ironically, Smith mentions the book “The Yellow Spot: The Destruction of the European Jews.” Smith seems unaware that Nazis borrowed the yellow Jewish badge from the Muslim practice adopted in the eighth century called the Pact of Umar, which relegated Jews and Christians to subservient class status beneath Muslims. Hitler heartily approved of the Muslim approach toward Jews.

Perhaps the words of history scholar Andrew Bostom best explain the current religious conflict in Myanmar: “The origins of the Bengali Muslim Jihad in Western Myanmar in the late 19th century through the World War II era, illustrates that it is rooted in Islam’s same tireless institution of expansionist Jihad which eliminated Buddhist civilization in Northern India.”

Richard Friedman, Culver City


PLO Hasn’t Changed Its Spots

The 1993 Oslo Accord recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole representative of the Arabs of Palestine. This terrorist group was supposed to change its spots, but it has not.

In return for ignoring other Arab leaders and factions, it was invited to set up headquarters in Ramallah and to begin a peace process with Israel. It pledged to prepare the population for life alongside Israel and to end violence and enticement to violence. It also pledged not to attack Israel in international forums.

Well, it lied from Day One. It has rejected every peace offer from Israel, even those offered by Barack Obama’a administration. It is apparent the PLO/Fatah has manipulated everyone. It’s time for them to leave the stage. With support of major Arab League players and the United States, the Palestinians can find new leadership. If not, they will remain the world’s major welfare recipients and others will determine their fate.

Brian J. Goldenfeld, Woodland Hills


Jews, Christians Share Love of Israel

As the holiday season nears, I’m reminded how grateful I am that tens of millions of American Christians strongly support the State of Israel. It’s a miracle that so many Christians have reversed nearly two millennia of anti-Semitism and joined Jews in our pride and love for Israel.

Because Christian loyalty guarantees continued American support, vital for Israel’s survival, they have become our true brothers and sisters under God, and I welcome them with love and joy.

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

Rueben Gordon, Calabasas


AND FROM FACEBOOK …

“‘Wonder’: A Call to Our Better Angels” (Dec. 1)

This is an excellent film. I find it sad and disgraceful that people use this film as the latest way to attack President Donald Trump. Why can’t we just enjoy a good film without someone dragging this nonsense into it?

Jay Lehman

“So many lessons to learn in this beautiful film. Well done.”

Marilyn Sommer

US president Donald Trump with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a welcoming ceremony in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23. Photo by Flash90

With America’s blessing, Abbas signals a reconciliation with Hamas


The Trump administration is encouraging the Palestinian Authority to assume control of the Gaza Strip and leaving the door open for a role by Hamas in the subsequent Palestinian government.

But if such a move was once seen as a traditional predicate to a two-state solution, top Palestinian leaders are hedging their bets, saying they would not rule out a “one-state” solution in which Palestinians have the same one-person, one-vote rights as Israelis. Israeli leaders have long said that would mean the end of the Jewish state.

Palestinian Authority government officials returned this week to the Gaza Strip, the first en masse visit — by Cabinet and security officials along with top bureaucrats — since Hamas’ bloody ouster of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement a decade ago.

It was a visit twice blessed by the Trump administration, first through a statement last week by the Quartet, the grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and Russia that guides the peace process, and again Monday with a statement from Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator.

“The United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza, as noted in the September 28 Quartet statement,” Greenblatt said in a statement he posted on Twitter.

The Quartet statement, while itself also abjuring mention of “two states,” made it clear that it foresaw a single Palestinian entity under P.A. rule. It urged “the parties” — the Palestinian Authority and Hamas — “to take concrete steps to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority.”

This week’s P.A. visit to Gaza, brokered by Egypt, a key ally to the United States and Israel, is only for several days, but Husam Zomlot, the PLO envoy to Washington and a top Abbas adviser, anticipated a consolidation of the Palestinian Authority presence there.

Zomlot, speaking Monday to reporters here, noted that Hamas dissolved its governing body last week and said the Palestinian Authority expected this week that Hamas would formally hand over governance of the strip. The final stage, he said, would be elections.

“The return of the Palestinian Authority” to Gaza “is a milestone for the Palestinian Authority and of President Trump’s deal of the century,” Zomlot said, using a phrase Abbas used in a meeting with Trump on Sept. 20.

A signal of the White House’s seriousness is the likelihood that Hamas will continue to play a role in governing the strip. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, heeding Israeli concerns, rejected any role for Hamas in Palestinian governance, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly it would be a deal breaker.

Now, however, careful phrasing by U.S. and Palestinian officials strongly suggests that Hamas will not fade into the night. Zomlot called the changes in Gaza “the return of the consensus government,” the joint Hamas-P.A. venture that existed uneasily in 2006-07 and infuriated the administration of George W. Bush.

Greenblatt in his statement nodded to concerns about Hamas, a State Department-designated terrorist group, but in language vague enough to accommodate a Hamas role.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said.

That elides over earlier Israeli demands that not just a Palestinian government, but all of its components, must renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Netanyahu, speaking Wednesday to a Likud party meeting in the West Bank, maintained — at least in part — a tough line on the terms of a reconciliation acceptable to Israel. He said Hamas must be disarmed, but did not count out explicitly keeping Hamas figures within the Palestinian Authority bureaucracy.

“We expect everyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel and, of course, to recognize a Jewish state, and we are not prepared to accept bogus reconciliations in which the Palestinian side apparently reconciles at the expense of our existence,” Netanyahu said in Maale Adumim, a settlement of 40,000 located just east of Jerusalem.

“Whoever wants to make such a reconciliation, our understanding is very clear: Recognize the State of Israel, disband the Hamas military arm, sever the connection with Iran, which calls for our destruction, and so on and so forth. Even these very clear things must be clearly stated,” he said.

Without mentioning the two-state goal, Greenblatt’s statement nevertheless called on the Palestinian government to abide by “previous agreements.” These would presumably include the 2003 “road map” that was to have culminated in Palestinian statehood.

Still, Zomlot said the Palestinians wanted more clarity from the Trump administration.

“We cannot travel a journey without knowing a final destination,” he said. Zomlot referred to Trump’s news conference with Netanyahu in February, when the president said, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

From the launch of the Oslo process in 1993 until now, Palestinian Authority officials have spoken of a one-state outcome only in pessimistic terms, casting it as a dystopia engendered by a failed process. Last month, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Abbas in a first for a Palestinian leader said that if the two-state option collapses, Palestinians could embrace one state. It would not be a predominantly Jewish state covering Israel and most of the West Bank, an outcome popular among the Israeli right, but a binational state in which West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have full rights as citizens.

Abbas warned in his U.N. address that in the failure of a two-state solution, “neither you nor we will have any other choice but to continue the struggle and demand full, equal rights for all inhabitants of historic Palestine. This is not a threat, but a warning of the realities before us as a result of ongoing Israeli policies that are gravely undermining the two-state solution.”

Zomlot expanded on that possibility at his news briefing Monday.

“As long as we mean one man and one woman, one vote, we are fine with this,” he said, adding however that the two-state solution “remains absolutely the best option.”

Zomlot also addressed the Taylor Force Act, legislation named for an American stabbed to death last year by a Palestinian terrorist that would slash funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continued to subsidize the families of Palestinians jailed for or killed attacking Israelis.

Palestinians say the payments mostly go to the families of the wrongfully imprisoned. Zomlot said the Palestinians proposed a tripartite commission, to include the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that would consider whether to remove some families from the payrolls.

“We have engaged with the administration, we have a trilateral commission,” he said. “We would offer to the United States to be the sole arbitrator and we will accept [the decision]. Guess who rejected it? Israel.”

A senior Trump administration official suggested that Zomlot was overstating the offer.

“We only received a brief general outline about this proposal which did not answer key questions or present a viable solution to the real problem, which is the official policy of paying terrorists and their families,” the official told JTA.

A senior Israeli official told JTA that the offer missed the point — the Palestinians can stop the payments on their own.

“The Palestinians don’t need Israel, the U.S. or anyone else, they just need to do it,” the official said. “Unfortunately they won’t.”

A visitor looks at the portraits of the Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics at the Olympic Village displayed inside the Memorial Center on Sept. 6. Photo by Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

45 years after the Munich Massacre, murdered Israeli Olympians get a memorial


Forty-five years after the murderous PLO attack on Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 games, a memorial dedicated to the victims is to open in Munich on Wednesday.

The memorial features the biographies of the 11 Israelis — athletes and coaches — and a German police officer killed in the attack on panels with texts in German, Hebrew and English.

“We wanted to give the victims their identity back in the eyes of the public,” Bavarian Minister of Culture Ludwig Spaenle told the media on Monday during a preview of the site, which is cut into a hillside in the former Olympic park.

The memorial cost 2.35 million euros, or about $2.8 million. The funding came primarily from the State of Bavaria, the German federal government, the City of Munich and the International Olympic Committee.

Until now, the main memorials have been a sculpture and plaque. Plans for the memorial were announced in 2013.

Finally, the human stories are being told and the lessons of history underscored, Jewish leaders said ahead of the opening ceremonies this week.

The new memorial attests “to the bloodshed that soaked what should have been a joyous celebration of sport” and camaraderie, Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, said Tuesday in an email to JTA.

Lauder, who will address the opening ceremony along with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, said it was “regrettable that it took nearly half a century after the saddest moment in Olympic history” to reach this point, but lauded the German government for its “role in this significant tribute.”

He also said that life for Jews has changed for the better in Europe over the past 80 years, despite a recent increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

“We should also be encouraged by the fact that so many European governments are vigilant in their defense of Israel and of all of their citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike,” Lauder added.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish Community of Upper Bavaria and Munich, and former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement released Tuesday, “The [1972] attack was not just against Israel, not just against Jews. It was an attack on all of us, on the Olympic idea, the vision of freedom and peace for all humans.”

She applauded an additional as yet incomplete element of the memorial — a “school of democracy” to be located in the tower at the Fürstenfeldbruck airport, site of the botched rescue attempt.

Knobloch thanked Spaenle for his “outstanding commitment” to realizing a memorial “that gives the victims a face, tells of their lives, remembers them — and warns us never to take life, freedom or democracy for granted.”

The memorial was designed by a team under the auspices of the Bavarian Ministry of Culture in consultation with family members of victims, the consul general of Israel, experts from the concentration camp memorial at Flossenburg, the Jewish Museum in Munich and the Bavarian State Ministry for Political Education.

Ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony, the German news media featured interviews with family members, several of whom are expected to attend.

Among them will be Ankie Spitzer, who was 26 years old when she lost her husband, the coach and fencing master Andre Spitzer, in the attack. She told Deutschlandfunk radio that she could not deal with the fact that her loving husband had been brutally murdered and “no one regretted it.”

“It took 45 years, but I don’t regret the long and lonely journey that brought us to this day,” she said. “This is what I wanted.”


Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.

A Palestinian man watches a joint press conference by President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a coffee shop in the West Bank city of Hebron. Feb. 15. Photo by Mussa Qawasma/REUTERS.

Palestinians blast Trump’s break with two-state policy


Palestinian officials slammed President Donald Trump for breaking from decades of U.S. policy supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One unnamed official told Israel Radio on Wednesday, after Trump at a joint White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he “can live” with either a one- or two-state solution, said the president’s words were “the biggest disaster it was possible to hear from the American president.”

The official also said that no regional approach to the Arab-Israel conflict will be successful without a solution for the Palestinians.

The Trump administration had suggested in recent days that a two-state solution was not a necessary outcome of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. During the news conference, Trump did not commit to any particular solution.

“I like the one the two parties like,” Trump said in answer to a question about what solution he prefers. “I can live with either one.”

The Palestinian official told Israel Radio: “What’s this two state or one state? Why not five states already? This is worthless talk.”

He added that the Israeli prime minister is not the only player in the region and that Trump should also listen to the Palestinians’ opinion on the issue.

“If Trump would like to be in touch with us, we are here and not going anywhere,” he said.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the PLO, responded to Trump’s remarks in a statement.

“If the Trump administration rejects this policy it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad,” Ashrawi said. “Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy.”

Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, deputy speaker of the Knesset, told CNN in an interview following the news conference that if a one-state solution gives Palestinians the vote, he will run for prime minister and win. He also said that a solution other than two states “could lead to violence.”

Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Union coalition, called it “sad and shameful” to see Netanyahu “twisting and turning just to avoid the idea of separating from the Palestinians in the form of two states.”

“Every Israeli should be concerned tonight about the very concept of one state between the sea to the Jordan, which means no Jewish state. This is a very dangerous disaster and we will fight it in every way possible,” Herzog said.

Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, celebrated Trump’s backing away from a two-state solution.

“A new era. After 24 years, the Palestinian flag is lowered and the Israeli flag is put in its place,” Bennett wrote on his Hebrew-language Facebook page. On his English language page he posted:

“A new era.
New ideas.
No need for 3rd Palestinian state beyond Jordan & Gaza.
Big day for Israelis & reasonable Arabs.
Congrats.”

Following the meeting, Netanyahu tweeted: “@realDonaldTrump, thanks very much for the warm welcome. Israel has no better friend than the US; the US has no better friend than Israel.”

Palestinian statehood: An idea whose time has passed


J Street is worried. It sees its cherished dream of a Palestinian state slipping away.

J Street recently sent a letter to its supporters in which it complained that the Republican Party left Palestinian statehood out of its platform this year, and that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee reportedly left the issue out of a talking points sheet that it recently distributed.

Here’s another reason for J Street to worry. Speaking Dec. 4 at the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem, Knesset Member Michael Oren said that the election of Donald Trump “spells the end of the two-state solution.” Oren is not some extremist. He is the widely respected former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., a representative of the moderate Kulanu Party, and himself a supporter of Palestinian statehood (with certain limitations).

It’s time to read the writing on the wall: Palestinian statehood is an idea whose time has passed.

It’s not as if creating a Palestinian state is some kind of cherished principle that has been recognized and supported by everybody since time immemorial. In fact, it’s a very recent proposal, and has always been fraught with problems.

There have been 12 American presidents since 1948. Only two (George W. Bush and Barack Obama) advocated creating a Palestinian state. Official U.S. policy has favored Palestinian statehood during only 16 of the 68 years since Israel was founded.

I’m not including those who advocated Palestinian statehood after they left office, namely Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. When presidents are in office, they need to deal with the real world, which is why a cockamamie idea like creating a Palestinian state has never come to fruition. Once presidents no longer have to deal with real-world consequences, they feel free to advocate any irresponsible policy that suits their post-presidential convenience. 

There have been 12 different Israeli prime ministers since the Jewish state was established in 1948. Only two of them (Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert) advocated creating a Palestinian state. I’m not including Benjamin Netanyahu, because his concept of a fully demilitarized “Palestine” that accepts Israel as a Jewish state is so far removed from what the Palestinians and their supporters demand that his position is really only hypothetical.

There have always been two arguments in favor of creating a Palestinian state. Neither of them has withstood the test of time.

The first was that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Arabs had given up their goal of destroying Israel and had forsaken terrorism. According to this argument, they had changed their ways, so they could be trusted with their own state in Israel’s backyard.

This argument faced two major tests, and failed both times. President George H.W. Bush accepted this argument shortly after his election in 1988, and recognized Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Eighteen months later, when a major PLO faction tried to attack Israeli beachgoers in Tel Aviv and the nearby U.S. embassy, Bush realized he had been wrong and ended his relationship with Arafat. Then the U.S. recognized Arafat and the PLO a second time, after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. That blew up when Arafat tried to smuggle 50 tons of weapons into Gaza on the motor vessel Karine A in 2002.

The second argument for a Palestinian state was what became known as the “demographic time bomb” — the allegation that because of the high Arab birthrate, Israel will need to agree to a Palestinian state or it will become an apartheid-like ruler over the Palestinians. Yitzhak Rabin resolved that problem. In 1995, he withdrew Israel’s forces from the cities where 98 percent of the Palestinians reside. Now, they are residents of the Palestinian Authority, and they vote in Palestinian elections. They will never be Israeli citizens, will never vote in Israeli elections and will never threaten Israel’s Jewish demographic majority.

So Arafat settled the first debate. And Rabin settled the second debate. The debates are over. It is now plain as day that the Palestinians have not given up terrorism or forsaken their goal of destroying Israel, and would use a Palestinian state to advance that goal.

There may be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in our generation; not all international conflicts have solutions. One thing has now become clear: A Palestinian state next to Israel is not the solution. 


Stephen M. Flatow, a New Jersey attorney, is vice president of the Religious Zionists of America and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 1995. 

U.S. court voids $655 million verdict against PLO over Israel attacks


A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday threw out a $655.5 million verdict against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization for damages suffered by American families from terrorist attacks in Israel.

By a 3-0 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said a lower court judge erred in concluding he had jurisdiction over the case. The appeals court ordered that the civil lawsuit, which began in January 2004, be dismissed.

“The terror machine gun attacks and suicide bombings that triggered this suit and victimized these plaintiffs were unquestionably horrific,” Judge John Koeltl wrote for the appeals court.

“But the federal courts cannot exercise jurisdiction in a civil case beyond the limits prescribed by the due process clause of the Constitution, no matter how horrendous the underlying attacks or morally compelling the plaintiffs' claims.”

Wednesday's decision is the latest in a series of setbacks for Americans seeking to hold foreign entities liable in U.S. courts for damages tied to international terrorism.

The 10 families who won the verdict had sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which lets American victims of international terrorism sue in U.S. courts.

“The very terrorists who prompted the law have now hidden behind the U.S. Constitution to avoid responsibility for their crimes,” Kent Yalowitz, a lawyer for the families, said in an email. “This cruel decision must be corrected so that these families may receive justice.”

Gassan Baloul, a lawyer for the defendants, said in an email they were gratified that the appeals court accepted their “consistent position” that U.S. courts lacked jurisdiction.

SIX ATTACKS

The families had sought to hold the Palestinian Authority and PLO liable for six shootings and bombings between 2002 and 2004 in the Jerusalem area. The attacks killed 33 people, including several Americans, and wounded more than 450. They have been attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas.

The families contended that late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and his agents routinely arranged for payments to attackers and to families of attackers who died. But the defendants have said they condemned the attacks, blaming them instead on rogue employees who acted on their own.

In February 2015, after a six-week trial, a federal jury in Manhattan found the Palestinian Authority and PLO liable and awarded $218.5 million, a sum automatically tripled to $655.5 million under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act.

The appeals court said the trial judge, George Daniels, erred in letting the case proceed at all.

Koeltl noted the attacks “occurred entirely outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States” and found no evidence the attackers targeted Americans.

He also said that while the Palestinian groups maintained a mission in Washington, D.C., and promoted their cause within the country, this did not make them “essentially at home” in the United States so that courts there could exercise jurisdiction.

OTHER LEGAL SETBACKS

Wednesday's decision is the second in eight days by the Manhattan appeals court against victims of attacks in Israel.

On Aug. 24, the court said it lacked jurisdiction to hold Lebanese Canadian Bank SAL liable under the Alien Tort Statute to victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks, for allegedly helping finance that group through a New York bank account.

In December, the court said thousands of non-U.S. citizens could not pursue claims against Jordan's Arab Bank Plc for allegedly providing support to Hamas, al-Aqsa and others for attacks in Israel.

In August 2015 Arab Bank settled separate litigation brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act over its responsibility for attacks in Israel. That accord is conditioned on an appeal of the Brooklyn jury's 2014 underlying liability verdict.

The case is Sokolow et al v. Palestine Liberation Organization et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-3135.

Palestinian Authority, PLO appeal U.S. terror support verdict


The Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization on Tuesday urged a U.S. appeals court to toss a more than $655 million award won by a group of American families who accused them of supporting terrorist attacks in Israel.

A lawyer for the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, the government and diplomatic representative of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, argued to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that the case should never have reached trial.

A U.S. jury in 2015 found the defendants liable under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act in a case that could bolster efforts by Americans to use the law to hold foreign entities responsible in U.S. courts for overseas attacks.

Mitchell Berger, the lawyer representing the Palestinian Authority and PLO, on Tuesday said U.S. District Judge George Daniels incorrectly concluded his court had jurisdiction over the 10 families' claims despite changes in law at the appellate level.

Berger said Daniels was “plainly wrong” in concluding the Palestinian Authority and PLO could be sued in the United States by the families.

“Their own experts said the brunt of the injury, which is the key question, was on Israel, not the United States,” he said.

But Kent Yalowitz, the families' lawyer, said U.S. courts had jurisdiction as evidence showed the attacks at issue were partly aimed at influencing U.S. policy and killing Americans.

“There was extensive evidence that the orchestrated terrorism campaign was not only to coerce and intimidate the government of Israel but also to coerce and intimate the government of the United States,” he said.

The U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act lets U.S. citizens injured by acts of international terrorism pursue damages in federal court.

Jurors in the February 2015 trial found the PLO and Palestinian Authority liable for six shootings and bombings between 2002 and 2004 in the Jerusalem area, which have been attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas.

Those attacks killed 33 people, including several U.S. citizens, and injured more than 450.

The families claimed late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and his agents routinely arranged for attackers to be paid and made payments to families of attackers who died.

Lawyers for the PLO and Palestinian Authority have said the entities condemned the attacks, which they blamed on rogue low-level employees.

The jury awarded the families $218.5 million, a sum automatically tripled under a U.S. anti-terrorism law to $655.5 million.

Palestinian lawmaker sentenced to 15 months in Israeli prison for incitement


A member of the Palestinian parliament will spend 15 months in an Israeli prison for incitement to violence.

Khalida Jarrar was convicted in Israeli military court of incitement to violence and belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an illegal organization banned by Israel. The plea agreement reached Monday also carries a 10-month suspended sentence and a fine of approximately $2,600, according to Haaretz.

Jarrar was arrested at her West Bank home in April. Her lawyer said she agreed to the plea because she doesn’t trust the court.

An Arab-Israeli member of the Israeli Knesset, Aida Touma-Suliman, lambasted the decision to imprison Jarrar.

“The decision of the occupation authorities to jail a member of parliament because of her political stance, and after eight months of administrative detention, proves that the Israeli government is bent on aggravating the escalation,” Touma-Suliman said, according to Haaretz. “This government has nothing to offer but scaring Israelis and oppressing and disinheriting Palestinians.”

Yitzhak Rabin: A statesman among politicians


Almost half a century ago, at the Israeli Air Force flying school, I received my wings from then-Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gen. Yitzhak Rabin. Soon after, he became the hero of the Six-Day War, then ambassador to the United States, Israeli prime minister and then defense minister under the National Unity Government. I watched him from afar, being busy with my own military career.

Then in 1992, after returning to the prime minister’s office for the second time, he appointed me as the director of the Government Press Office. Thanks to this surprising closing of a cycle, I was privileged not only to be privy to history in the making, but to work for a leader who was a statesman, not a politician.

What is the difference between the two? The statesman thinks about the future of his country, while the politician thinks only about the coming elections.

Here is an example: One of the main priorities Rabin set for his new government was raising the standards of living among Israeli Arabs. Not that he suddenly became an Arab lover — he fought Arabs most of his life. However, being an honest man, he recognized the decades-long discrimination against the Israeli Arabs — one out of every five Israelis — and decided that he should stop that trend and reverse it. A task force under the director general of his office was established, to launch a campaign of affirmative action in Arab towns and villages.

Being perceived as sympathetic to the Arabs wasn’t politically popular in Israel then, as it isn’t today — see Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning on the eve of the last elections, that the Israeli Arabs were “flocking” to the polls. Rabin recognized the potential political damage, but as a statesman, he looked toward a Jewish state where its Arab citizens should feel equal and proud.

More dramatic, of course, was his decision to make peace with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Like the rest of us around Rabin, I was parroting the party line, that we would neither speak with the PLO nor accept a Palestinian state, when the news about Oslo broke. We were first stunned, then puzzled: Had Rabin the hawk turned into a dove just like that?

In hindsight, Rabin had given a signal for this amazing change of course. Addressing the Knesset in January 1993, he made a surprise announcement that Iran was launching a military nuclear project. Then he said: “That is one of the reasons why we should take advantage of the window of opportunity and move forward to peace.” None of us in the hall — except Shimon Peres, then the foreign minister — knew that he wasn’t speaking in the abstract, and that as he spoke, the talks in Oslo were gearing up.

Iran wasn’t the only reason for Rabin’s surprise move. Professor Shlomo Avinery, a political scientist who had served under Rabin as the director general of the Foreign Ministry, disclosed last week that already in 1975, Rabin had told him discreetly that Israel should be withdrawing roughly to the 1967 borders, because it shouldn’t be ruling millions of Palestinians. However, cautioned Rabin, Israel should first rehabilitate its deterrence vis-à-vis the Arabs, which had been harmed by the Arab surprise attack in the Yom Kippur War. Only then, from a vantage point of power, Israel should make the momentous moves required to preserve its Jewish character and its democracy.

Only 18 years later he was able to make it happen. On Sept. 13, 1993, on the South Lawn at the White House, I heard him say that “we who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough.” Millions of Israelis, who have been watching this with awe on their television screens, knew perfectly well that this wasn’t rhetoric only: Rabin the soldier, who had sent Israelis to die on battlefields, expressed their quest for peace. At the same time, the way he shook Arafat’s hand  — or rather was coerced by President Bill Clinton to do it —  conveyed to the Israelis a parallel message: I’m doing it reluctantly, because I care about your security, but I don’t have a better option.

 Rabin invested a lot of efforts in convincing the Israelis that he had chosen the right path for them. He said: “I believe that in the long run, separation between Israel and the Palestinians is the best solution for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And at the same time he reminded them that “you don’t make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.” To say that Oslo was a bad gamble for Rabin would be the understatement of the century. It wasn’t even the ballots that put an end to his political career, but the bullets that took his life. Yet his legacy carries on, and unlike others who try to define what that legacy is, to me it’s clear: With the kind of challenges Israel faces, and for Israel to exist and prosper, it needs leaders who are statesmen, not politicians.

People often ask me what would have happened today had Rabin not been assassinated. I usually refer them to a book by English historian E.H. Carr titled “What Is History?” Carr dismissed the theory of “Cleopatra’s nose,” promoted by French philosopher Blaise Pascal, who had claimed that if Mark Antony hadn’t fallen for Cleopatra because of her amazing nose, the Second Triumvirate would not have broken up, and therefore the Roman Republic would have survived.

Ignoring Carr’s wise caution, though, I am willing to guess that Rabin today, regardless of internal political calculations, would have acted to safeguard Israel’s most important interest: remaining both Jewish and democratic. With a credible Palestinian partner, it means a Palestinian state next to Israel, with all the painful evacuation of settlements and the security risks involved; with the absence of one — unilateral moves.

One thing for sure: Doing nothing wasn’t an option for Rabin. Except that he is not with us anymore.


Uri Dromi is director general of the Jerusalem Press Club. He served as spokesman of the Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres governments from 1992 to 1996, during the Oslo peace process.

Rabin’s grandson remembers losing a great leader


The night Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in downtown Tel Aviv, his grandson, Jonathan Benartzi, was two weeks away from completing his three years of duty in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a paratrooper. He was also in the crowd with his sister that fateful night — two “anonymous faces,” as he said in a recent telephone interview with the Journal from Tel Aviv.

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U.S. judge says Palestinian Authority must post bond in terrorism case


A U.S. judge ordered the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization on Monday to post $10 million in cash or bond while they appeal a jury's finding that they supported militant attacks in Israel.

At a court hearing in Manhattan, U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan said the defendants must also deposit $1 million each month pending the appeal of a February jury verdict worth $655 million in favor of 10 American families.

The order came after the Obama administration took the unusual step of urging Daniels to “carefully consider” the Palestinian Authority's financial condition, saying too high a bond could compromise its ability to function.

A collapse of the Palestinian Authority “would undermine several decades of U.S. foreign policy and add a new destabilizing factor to the region,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a court filing earlier this month.

Daniels said that in fashioning his order he had given “serious consideration” to the State Department's position, despite objections from the plaintiffs that the amount was far too low.

A federal jury in February found the PLO and the Palestinian Authority liable for six shootings and bombings in Israel between 2002 and 2004, which have been attributed to Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

The attacks killed 33 people, including several Americans, and injured more than 450.

The lawsuit, filed in 2004 by U.S. victims and their family members, was brought under a federal statute that automatically tripled the jury's verdict of $218.5 million to $655.5 million in damages.

A lawyer for the defendants, Mitchell Berger, said the Palestinian Authority was willing to make a $10 million upfront cash deposit and subsequent monthly payments of $1 million but warned that even those funds would severely hamper its efforts to rebuild schools and provide for needy families.

Kent Yalowitz, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the money was a “token amount” and criticized the Palestinian Authority, saying it made payments to terrorists in jail.

“Instead of focusing on rebuilding schools, maybe it ought to focus on taking terrorists off its payroll,” he said.

Berger countered that the prisoners in question are administrative detainees, not convicted terrorists, and the payments constitute “cigarette money.”

Daniels said the full judgment would remain on hold while the appeal is ongoing, unless the defendants fail to make the monthly deposits.

He also denied a request from the plaintiffs to add $165 million in pre-judgment interest.

Palestinians want world pressure on Israel after Netanyahu win


Palestinian leaders on Wednesday called for international pressure on Israel and support for their unilateral moves towards statehood after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's election win.

Netanyahu's surprise victory, after pledging in the final days of the campaign that there would be no Palestinian state as long as he was in power, left Palestinians grim about prospects for a negotiated solution to a decades-old conflict.

“It is clear Israel has voted for burying the peace process, against the two-state choice and for the continuation of occupation and settlement,” Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with Israel that collapsed in April, told Voice of Palestine radio.

Seeking to shore up right-wing votes and saying that Islamist militants would move into any territory relinquished by Israel, Netanyahu also vowed to keep building settlements on land Palestinians seek for a state.

Palestinian leaders said a fourth term for the Likud party leader meant they must press forward with unilateral steps towards independence, including filing charges against Israelat the International Criminal Court.

“This makes it more necessary than ever to go to the international community, and to go to the ICC and escalate peaceful resistance and boycott against the occupation,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a Palestine Liberation Organization leader, told Reuters.

The Palestinians are due to become ICC members on April 1.

Erekat called in a statement on the international community to back Palestinian efforts “to internationalize our struggle for dignity and freedom through the International Criminal Court and through all other peaceful means”.

Netanyahu's stand against a Palestinian state had already threatened to strain ties with the United States and Europe.

The parliaments of several European countries, including Britain and France, have called on their governments to recognize an independent state of Palestine in the past year, reflecting exasperation at continued settlement building. Sweden formally recognized Palestine in October.

Netanyahu, who in 2009 had endorsed the two-state solution, seemed on course to form a coalition government leaning further to the right than his outgoing cabinet, which had included two centrist parties and engaged in the U.S-brokered peace talks.

“MASQUERADE IS OVER”

In his new coalition, Netanyahu is expected to include his natural allies, religious and far-right parties, as well as one centrist party which campaigned on internal social-economic issues rather than on matters of war and peace.

Yariv Oppenheimer, head of the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now, said he was concerned that as head of rightist-dominated government, Netanyahu would move forward more easily towards expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, enclaves many countries view as illegal.

“Netanyahu's masquerade is over. Everything's clear now, we're talking about a man who has sworn allegiance to the right, not about a centrist,” Oppenheimer said.

Adding to Palestinian frustration is Israel's January decision to withhold $127 million tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, a retaliatory step after the Palestinians moved to join the ICC.

Though Israeli officials have indicated no imminent change, Gaza-based political analyst Hani Habeeb said Netanyahu may unfreeze the funds, which cover around two-thirds of the Palestinian budget, now that the election is over.

“I do not rule out Netanyahu releasing the PA tax revenues to improve his (international) image,” Habeeb said. “He used it as a card during the election campaign and now he won.”

Erekat suggested the Palestinians may press on with their pledge this month to suspend security coordination with Israel, a move that could have an immediate impact on stability in the West Bank.

But Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, did not close the door completely on negotiations with Israel.

“We are not bothered by who is head of government in Israel, what we want from the Israeli government is to recognize the two-state solution and that east Jerusalem be the capital of the state of Palestine,” he said.

Arafat was not poisoned, French prosecutor says


Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat did not die of poisoning, a French prosecutor said.

The prosecutor told the French news agency AFP that French experts found that Arafat was not poisoned, despite rumors to the contrary.

Arafat’s widow, Suha, had filed legal action in July 2012 asking French authorities in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre to look into claims that her husband was poisoned. Traces of radioactive polonium were found on Arafat’s belongings. French prosecutors in August 2012 opened a murder inquiry into Arafat’s death.

After the opening of the inquiry, Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah was opened to allow teams of French, Swiss and Russian investigators to collect samples.

Suha Arafat based her lawsuit on a 108-page report released to her by the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland, which maintains that the theory that Arafat was poisoned is most consistent with their results. Russian experts have maintained that Arafat was not poisoned.

The French experts “maintain that the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature,” Nanterre prosecutor Catherine Denis told AFP.

Arafat led the Palestine Liberation Organization for 35 years and became the first president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996. He fell violently ill in October 2004 and died two weeks later, at 75, in a Paris military hospital.

The medical report published after Arafat’s death listed the immediate cause as a massive brain hemorrhage resulting from an infection. Doctors ruled out foul play; some had contended that Arafat died of AIDS.

Many Palestinians continue to believe that Arafat was poisoned by Israel because he was an obstacle to peace. Israel has denied any involvement.

PLO votes to cut security cooperation with Israel


The central council of the Palestine Liberation Organization has decided to end all of its security cooperation with Israel.

In a statement issued Thursday, the PLO explained that the decision was made in response to “Israel’s systematic and ongoing non-compliance with its obligations under signed agreements, including its daily military raids throughout the State of Palestine, attacks against our civilians and properties.”

It is not clear whether PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas will confirm the move, which is the latest in a series of escalatory actions by Israel and the Palestinians. Sources told the Guardian that Abbas supports the decision.

Since the Oslo Accord in 1993, the Palestinian Authority and Israel have shared intelligence information in order to prevent violence. Israeli troops coordinate with Abbas’ forces in the West Bank.

In January, Abbas attempted to join the International Criminal Court of the United Nations in order to charge Israel with alleged war crimes during last summer’s conflict in Gaza. Israel countered by withholding tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority. In response, Abbas’ Fatah committee enforced a boycott of Israeli goods last month.

The PLO statement added that “Israel must pay the price for its refusal to assume its responsibilities under international law, including the systematic denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination.”

Palestinian president calls Israel a ‘gangster’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel attack victims awarded over $218 million in PLO trial in NY


A U.S. jury on Monday ordered the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority to pay more than $218 million for providing material support to terrorists, a victory for Americans suing over attacks in the Jerusalem area more than a decade ago.

The verdict in the politically sensitive trial in Manhattan federal court added a new dimension to the long-running Middle East conflict, as American victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sought to use U.S. courts to seek damages.

Jurors found in favor of 10 American families suing over six attacks attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. The award could be tripled under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.

Victims and their families had requested more than $350 million, or over $1 billion after tripling, over shootings and bombings from 2002 to 2004 that killed 33 people and injured over 450.

The PLO and Palestinian Authority are expected to appeal, and it is unclear whether victims would be able to collect if the award were upheld.

Head of U.N. inquiry into Gaza conflict to quit over Israeli bias claim


The head of a U.N. inquiry into last summer's conflict between Israel and Gaza said on Monday he would resign after Israeli allegations of bias due to consultancy work he did for the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Canadian academic William Schabas was appointed last August by the head of the United Nations Human Rights Council to lead a three-member group looking into alleged war crimes during Israel's military offensive in Gaza.

In a letter to the commission, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, Schabas said he would step down immediately to prevent the issue from overshadowing the preparation of the report and its findings, which are due to be published in March.

Schabas' departure highlights the sensitivity of the U.N. investigation just weeks after prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague said they had started a preliminary inquiry into alleged atrocities in the Palestinian territories.

In the letter, Schabas said a legal opinion he wrote for the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 2012, for which he was paid $1,300, was not different from advice he had given to many other governments and organisations.

“My views on Israel and Palestine as well as on many other issues were well known and very public,” he wrote. “This work in defence of human rights appears to have made me a huge target for malicious attacks (…).”

Israel had long criticized Schabas' appointment, citing his record as a strong critic of the Jewish state and its current political leadership. Schabas said his work for the PLO had prompted the Human Rights Council's executive on Monday to seek legal advice about his position from U.N. headquarters.

“I believe that it is difficult for the work to continue while a procedure is underway to consider whether the chair of the commission should be removed,” he wrote.

The commission had largely finished gathering evidence and had begun writing the report, he added.

The commission is looking into the behaviour of both the Israelis and of Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza and calls for the destruction of Israel.

The appointment of Schabas, who lives in Britain and teaches international law at Middlesex University, was welcomed at the time by Hamas but was harshly criticised by Jewish groups in the United States.

Schabas had said at the time he was determined to put aside any views about “things that have gone on in the past.”

Bombing victims testify at U.S. trial on PLO role in Israel attacks


Seconds after the blast hit downtown Jerusalem, Jamie Sokolow lay on the ground, her right eye damaged by shrapnel and her face feeling as though someone had set it aflame.

“I thought, 'I'm 12 years old, I'm from New York, and I’m going to die,'” she testified in Manhattan federal court on Monday, at times breaking down in tears.

The Sokolow family is the lead plaintiff in a civil trial against the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority that will decide whether the groups should pay up to $3 billion for allegedly providing support for six attacks in the Jerusalem area between 2002 and 2004.

The attacks killed 33 and wounded more than 450, including the January 2002 bombing that injured Jamie Sokolow, her sister Lauren, her mother Rena and her father Mark, all of whom testified on Monday.

Kent Yalowitz, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, has told jurors that Palestinian leaders approved payments they knew would contribute to attacks.

Defense lawyers have argued the Palestinian government should not be held liable for the crimes of a few militants who acted on their own or at the behest of more radical organizations such as Hamas.

The plaintiffs are seeking triple damages under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act that would bring total liability to $3 billion. Any award would likely be subject to appeal.

Mark Sokolow, a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter, is no stranger to close calls. He worked in the World Trade Center in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, and fled after the first of two airplanes slammed into the twin towers.

In Jerusalem, the family was visiting his oldest daughter, Elana, who was studying abroad. He had planned to leave his other daughters behind for safety, he said, but the Sept. 11 attacks convinced him that “terrorism could happen anywhere.”

Rena Sokolow, his wife, said the attack broke her leg, leaving the bone exposed.

A few feet away, she said, she saw a woman's severed head. Her daughter Jamie lay nearby, although the blood on her face made her virtually unrecognizable.

“I said, 'It'll be okay,'” she tearfully told the jurors.

The trial, which began Jan. 13, is expected to last another few weeks.

Last September, a federal jury in Brooklyn found Arab Bank Plc liable under the anti-terrorism law for providing support to Hamas. A damages trial is scheduled for May 18.

The case is Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 04-00397.

Jurors seated in civil trial over PLO role in Israeli attacks


Victims of attacks in Israel more than a decade ago will look to prove the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority were behind the violence and should pay up to $1 billion, after jurors were selected Tuesday in a civil trial. Six men and six women will consider whether to hold the defendants responsible for seven shootings and bombings from 2001 to 2004 in the Jerusalem area that killed 33 people and wounded more than 450.

The trial before U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan is expected to last 12 weeks, and adds a new dimension to the long-running Middle East conflict.

Victims and their families claim that the defendants helped carry out and finance the attacks, in part through support for Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which the U.S. government has labeled terrorist organizations.

The plaintiffs said this was done to coerce Israeli civilians, and the Israeli and U.S. governments, into accepting the Palestinians' political goals. Damages could be tripled to $3 billion if the plaintiffs prevail.

Both defendants have denied the claims, in which they are accused of violating the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act. Any award may be subject to appeals.

Among the jurors is a watchmaker, a fourth-grade school teacher, a man who works as a school aide during the day and a custodian at night, and an actor who takes what he called “survival jobs” while freelancing at a sports website.

Eighteen prospective jurors had been questioned. The two who told Daniels they have traveled to Israel were excused.

The lead plaintiff is Mark Sokolow, a lawyer at Arnold & Porter, who said he and family members were injured in a January 2002 bombing in downtown Jerusalem that killed one person and injured more than 150.

The trial is beginning less than a week after the United Nations confirmed that Palestinians will formally join the International Criminal Court on April 1. That decision clears the way for that body to potentially open probes into alleged Israeli crimes on Palestinian lands.

Palestinians wish to form a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands Israelcaptured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Last September, a federal jury in Brooklyn found Arab Bank Plc liable under the anti-terrorism law for having provided material support to Hamas. A damages trial is scheduled to begin on May 18.

The case is Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 04-00397.

Palestinian Authority must face U.S. trial over terror support


U.S. victims of bombings and shootings in Jerusalem more than a decade ago have cleared a final hurdle to take the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization to trial in New York for supporting the attacks.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan largely denied bids by the Palestinian Authority and the PLO to dismiss the long-running $1 billion lawsuit ahead of a jury trial scheduled for Jan. 12.

At a court hearing on Thursday, Daniels also reaffirmed his decision in 2008 finding that his court had jurisdiction over claims against the Palestinian Authority and PLO despite changes in law at the appellate level.

Mark Rochon, a lawyer for the Palestinian Authority, said in court his client was “considering whether to seek appellate relief on that issue.” He declined to comment after the hearing on Daniels' other rulings.

Daniel's ruling on the dismissal motion was issued late on Wednesday.

The lawsuit seeks $1 billion on behalf of 11 families who say the PLO and Palestinian Authority provided material support and resources for seven separate attacks in Israel that killed and injured American citizens.

“We are looking forward to presenting the evidence to the jury,” said Kent Yalowitz, a lawyer for the families.

Should the case go to a jury, it would mark a rare trial in a lawsuit under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act. A federal jury in Brooklyn in September found Arab Bank Plc liable under the law for providing material support to Hamas.

The judge's decision allowing the case to go forward comes amid continued unrest in recent weeks in Jerusalem. On Tuesday, two Palestinians killed five people at a Jerusalem synagogue during morning services, the worst attack in the city since 2008.

The lawsuit, filed in 2004, accused the PLO and the Palestinian Authority of violating the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act through support of Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which the U.S. government deems terrorist organizations.

In his ruling, Daniels said the plaintiffs had presented triable issues over whether the PLO and the Palestinian Authority directly supported Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades with money, weapons and personnel, as well as by harboring purported terrorists.

The judge also said most of the plaintiffs could pursue claims that the Palestinian Authority was vicariously liable for its employees' alleged participation in attacks in 2001 and 2002.

The case is Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 04-00397.

Met opera scores a ‘fail’


About five months ago, it was revealed that the NYC Metropolitan Opera had scheduled the performance of the opera titled, the “Death of Klinghoffer”.  I, along with many others, wrote the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, and urged him, due to the opera’s humanizing of terror and the current upsurge in terrorists and anti-Semitic/anti-Israel events taking place around the world, to replace the two weeks of Klinghoffer performances with a different operatic production.  In my naivety I imagined that the Met would want to be socially responsible.

My letter received no response. Upon writing to Gelb a second time, I received a very short “form letter”. The response was disappointing not because it was a form letter, but because the letter ignored addressing, as well as showing any thought or consideration for, the serious issues which I and others had raised.

Days later, it was announced that the Met decided to cancel its 2,500 simulcast HD theater showings of the Klinghoffer Opera which would be seen around the world. In this cancellation announcement, Gelb stated that the Klinghoffer Opera was neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel. However, since there was a worldwide rise in anti-Semitism, the opera might incite additional anti-Semitic violence. Therefore, it was decided that the Klinghoffer opera live performances at the NYC Met would not be cancelled, as if anti-Semitism anti-Israel sentiment were not American problems.

Gelb proclaimed the Klinghoffer opera to be a modern day musical masterpiece written by one of the finest composers of our time. The twenty-three year old opera had not been performed in many venues due to constant community protests against the opera’s offensive fictionalized content that gives credence to terrorists.  However, thirteen years after 9-11, for the 2014 Met Season, Gelb felt compelled, as if it was a religious calling, for him to bring this contested opera to the famed NYC’s Met stage.

Within days of Gelb’s announced decision to ignore the community protest and move forward with the opera’s performance, the Klinghoffer libretto was sent out over the Internet.  Except for Abe Foxman at the ADL, key Jewish leaders who read the opera’s words found the text to be highly egregious, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, promoting a deceptive ahistorical narrative which is being popularized by today’s anti-Israel protests and boycott movements, on the internet, in the news media, and at universities across America and throughout Europe.

Who in their right mind would ever have thought that the abhorrent PLO murder of Leon Klinghoffer would become the story for an opera? How did that happen? Who would have imagined that the ugly and tragic Klinghoffer story would be fictionalized to the extent that the terrorists would be humanized and the helpless victim would be shown to be flawed?  Who came up with that idea?

 If anything, the Klinghoffer Opera would have been titled, “The Murder of Klinghoffer” since the event was a cold blooded murder and not a passive death. The opera would have been a complete condemnation of PLO terrorism and all terrorism.  The opera would have been a clear message of abhorrence at any and all terrorist murder of innocent human beings.

But, who decided to make this opera into the fictionalized opposite of what actually took place and why would that be done? Who tirelessly fought and pushed this idea through all the necessary hurdles in the music and entertainment performance industry? Who pitched this opera to investors and opera funders and effectively argued that this opera would make money for the investors and for the opera houses? Who selected the writer and what qualifications were sought for the person who would create this story?  

The answers to the above questions would provide a profound insight into this opera production.

What is known is that the words to the opera were written by Alice Goodman, a woman from a Reform Jewish home who from childhood disagreed with her Zionist parents. Goodman’s thinking about Israel denied any historical basis as an acceptable justification for its existence. Goodman claimed in an interview published in the Guardian that “romantic nationalism” was the worst and most dangerous evil in the world.  Goodman’s powerful feelings on this topic were specifically targeted at Israel and Zionism’s 3,400 year romance with the Land of Israel.  In the interview, she made no comment on Arab romantic nationalism which apparently didn’t bother her if she even noted its overwhelming presence during it’s less than fifty year existence. 

While writing the Klinghoffer opera, Goodman officially disconnected from Judaism, converted to Christianity and joined the Church of England where she became an Anglican Church Rector.

In the same interview, she indicated that she offended her Jewish parents with this opera and it was a problem to her that her parents were still alive when she published the libretto.

Furthermore, Goodman disclosed that a film was made of the Klinghoffer opera and submitted to a Palestinian Film Festival. Anticipating high praise for the film and the opera, to Goodman’s surprise, the festival rejected the film. The Palestinian Film Festival judges rejected the film not because it immorally justified the PLO murder of an innocent person, but because the film stated some pro-Israel positions.

In the same interview, Goodman admitted that her mistake in writing the opera’s libretto was that she made the terrorists too human and she showed the victims to have significant flaws in their personalities. Her position was that the terrorists were not all bad and the victims were not all good.

She also erred in her story’s attempted moral logic. Ideally, the PLO needed to have murdered a young Israeli “occupier”. But they didn’t.  Instead, they murdered a defenseless, wheelchair restricted, 69 year old American Jew who had nothing to do with the anger and outrage and demands of the PLO terrorists.   Even with the total lack of logical or moral connection, Goodman still made peace with the terrorist murder and completed her libretto.

Goodman took elements of a real story and made it into a fantasy story designed to state her political message. Her artistic effort was to normalize, explain and nuance terrorist intent and thereby provide a justification for murder by negating the qualities of decent, innocent people.

Hours after the opera’s opening night performance in NYC, a Hamas/Fatah member terrorist in Jerusalem turned his car into a live guided missile and attempted to run over and kill as many Israelis and Jews as he could.  Does this terrorist killer, as Alice Goodman’s Klinghoffer opera teaches, have a human face and the three month old infant and twenty year old Ecuadorian tourist who he successfully killed have justifying personality flaws?

To Peter Gelb and the Met, in our country imbued with freedom of speech, you certainly have the right to perform and produce any opera that you so please and exercise artistic freedom. No one wants to take that right away from you.

If our current society was strong and solidly sane, and was not worrying about the continued success of ISIS recruitment efforts, your Klinghoffer masterpiece of the 20th century opera would pass with little more than a yawn and not a trace of citizen protest.  But our world is not so sane with several hundred million people in support of radical terrorism and the murderous call for death to all infidels.

Those who opposed the Klinghoffer opera were not treading on your freedom of speech that you and other media frequently claimed.  The protest against the presentation of the Klinghoffer Opera was a protest against your freedom from responsibility.  It was not about your right to make this performance happen, it was only about your wisdom to pursue this goal at this time and under the current circumstance.

Alice Goodman perhaps didn’t understand that the terrorists’ dream was not just about destroying the borders of Israel and ridding the world of Israel’s evil romantic nationalism.  Today, it is known that the terrorists’ goal is to destroy the “evils of Western civilization”, which includes music, opera, dance, art and our freedoms.

Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera and Alice Goodman, you may not get it, but you, innocent you, are the so-called humanized enemy’s target, not just wheelchair restricted Jewish Mr. Klinghoffer and his make believe personality faults.

Perhaps your opera choice would be appreciated as benign art if it were a wordless painting hanging on the wall of a world-class museum. But the Klinghoffer opera is a political statement asking compassion and understanding for terrorists at a time in human history when innocent Western journalists’ heads are being removed, innocent young women are being kidnapped and forced into sexual enslavement, communities are being murdered, civilized civilization is being targeted for its demise, Israel is being internationally isolated and boycotted and Jews around the world are living under threats unknown since Nazism.

Virtually every review of the Death of Klinghoffer states that the opera lends support to the terrorists by presenting their side and claim of oppression that can be used to justify their actions. No published review of Klinghoffer states that the opera served to condemn and stop the terrorizing murder of innocent civilians or that it left the audience with a message not to accept any justification or rationalization for such actions.

Many concerned citizens, along with the appalled Klinghoffer family members who begged you and the Met not to present this opera, felt that your performance of the Death of Klinghoffer at this time was grossly irresponsible and insensitive to today’s current concerns.

Those who protested the Klinghoffer opera can’t understand your profound lack of wisdom which ignores that collective guilt has been indiscriminately placed upon all of our heads.  The protesters can’t relate to your pride and your boast of success claiming that this opera will open the audience’s mind to compassion and sympathy for those who want to end our culture. It is understood by many who care about art, culture and our civilization that our existence is now under direct terrorist threat and any conjure up excuse is clearly unacceptable. This is why, in the eyes and hearts of many, your proclaimed “Death of Klinghoffer” performance “success” merits a grade of “FAIL”.

Dr. Daryl Temkin is based in Los Angeles and frequently writes and lectures of topics of Judaism, Israel, technology and innovations. He is the Founder of the Israel Institute for the Advancement of Alternative Energy which serves to teach and promote Israel based innovations for advancing the world. He can be contacted at: DarylTemkinPhD@Gmail.com.

‘Klinghoffer’ ticket-holders talk back


By now, the complaints of those protesting the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of “The Death of Klinghoffer” are well known.

The production—depicting the 1985 of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old Jewish-American passenger in a wheelchair — is allegedly anti-Semitic, exploitative, hostile to Israel and sympathetic to terrorists.

But that didn’t stop some New Yorkers from enjoying a night at the opera. Hundreds poured into the Met, braving jeers, and angry chants from protesters, who gathered at ticket entrances to heckle.

One such heckler was Robert Grunstein, who greeted opera goers with the admonition, “Shame on you.”

“I just want to arouse some level of shame, to let people know they are seeing an anti-Semitic opera, in New York, where 9/11 happened,” he told JTA.

Many in the mostly middle-aged crowd appeared undisturbed, ignoring Grunstein and other protesters. A few volleyed shouts back, returning the “shame on you” sentiment, and adding other, more colorful ones.

Others said they felt unfairly judged by people who hadn’t seen the show.

One well-dressed elderly gentleman danced past the group of hecklers, singing a spirited version of “Am Yisrael Chai.” Another elderly man in a retro New York Mets jacket attempted, unsuccessfully, to engage protesters in civil discourse. He threw up his hands in frustration, finally shouting, “I’m Jewish! What you are doing is an embarrassment.”

Like this man — and presumably the dancing one — many more shared that they, too, were Jewish. More than once, protesters accused these people of being “self-hating Jews.”

A middle-aged, Russian-accented Jewish man who identified himself as Boris said he did not consider himself self-hating. He noted that there was a chance, however, that he might find the show distasteful. “I understand the issues, I just want to see it with my own eyes before making a decision,” he explained.

“It’s a work of art intended to open up a dialogue,” said another silver-haired man.

One of the younger men in the crowd countered the claim that the show glorified violence by telling protesters that their own behavior was in fact violent. And a woman who said she works in the show but wasn’t allowed to speak with the media told protesters that the show was “very gentle, beautiful.”

“There is no way you can watch it and think it is pro-PLO,” she added.

 

PLO’s Abbas inadvertently reveals true intentions?


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

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

Here are the other two topics Abbas will be addressing:

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

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

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

Supporting Palestinians should not mean supporting Hamas


Last Saturday, our reporter Ryan Torok covered a massive anti-Israel rally in front of the Federal Building in Westwood. The crowd swelled to an estimated 1,500 to 3,000 people, outgrew the plaza, then spontaneously spilled onto the street, shutting down Wilshire Boulevard as it made its way east toward the Israel Consulate. The protesters chanted “Free Palestine!” and waved posters reading “Zionists, Get Out of Gaza Now!” and “Israel Is Mass Murdering Children.”

That was the message they wanted to send to Zionists. So, naturally, Ryan asked them: What message do they want to send to Hamas?

This is what they told him:

“They have to fire more rockets, and they have to fire stronger. They have to be more aggressive,” Darka Raicevic, a Serbian woman, said.

Jami King, 41, who lives in San Diego and drove to Saturday’s rally with her boyfriend, Ammar Khan, said: “I don’t have a direct message for Hamas. … I just want the [Israeli] siege to stop and for people to sit down and figure out a solution. It’s not for me to say what Hamas’ part in that is.”

Khan, 36, a Pakistani and engineer: “Hamas, their biggest problem is not having a vision for the future and not having a long-term view. … what we [the United States and Israel] do in response doesn’t justify that. … Who are we to lecture them? The U.S. has lost its moral high ground.” 

Waylette Thomas, 22, a member of the pro-Palestinian group ANSWER and a student at Cerritos College, to Hamas: “We stand with you.”

It’s not for me to say what Hamas’ part in that is. … Who are we to lecture them? … We stand with you. … Fire more rockets.

Of all the hypocrisies in the Gaza conflict, this has got to be the most galling: There is no pro-Palestinian outcry against Hamas. No messages on Facebook or slogans on protest posters addressing its leaders. No pro-Gazan street protests calling on Hamas to stop firing rockets and stop digging tunnels.

Hamas is proud of the fact that its military wing, the Qassam Brigades, uses suicide bombers, rockets and hidden tunnels to kill or threaten Israeli civilians, including women and children. If people at a “peace” rally can’t stand in moral judgment of child murderers — well, we can forget peace.

Here’s the issue: If you want to scream at Israel for inflicting civilian casualties, fine. And if you want to protest President Barack Obama for supporting Israel, OK. But if you really care about the fate of the Palestinians, if you would prefer innocent Palestinians live rather than die, you should also send a simple, two-word message to Hamas: “Stop shooting.”

Hamas needs to get the message from the worldwide pro-Palestinian movement: Resistance to Israeli control and occupation is legitimate. Violent resistance is not. Pick your reason: because violence against Israeli civilians is immoral, or because it will never, ever work. Either reason will do, but just stop.

If Hamas had stopped shooting rockets, and the Palestinians instead had used all the tools of mass nonviolent protests to draw attention to their plight, is there any question that thousands of innocent Palestinians would be alive today, living in homes untouched by bombs?

Why is the pro-Palestinian movement not marching for justice and against violence? Why does it conflate support for the doomed tactics of Hamas with support for Palestinians? 

That well-meaning souls on the streets of Los Angeles misguidedly support Hamas’ violence is especially mystifying because so much of the Muslim world opposes it. When the conflict began, Palestinian Authority officials lambasted Hamas. They know violence and unrelenting terror won’t bring about a lasting solution. How do they know? Because they’ve already tried it. 

In the early 1960s, Yasser Arafat, influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, proclaimed, “Liberating Palestine can only come through the barrel of a gun.” Arafat’s Fatah movement set off on a course of terror, which grabbed headlines, left thousands dead and pushed a just solution further and further away.

“The list of Fatah’s original founders doesn’t contain the name of anyone sophisticated enough to understand that conquering Israel was beyond their capabilities,” Palestinian-Egyptian historian Said Aburish wrote

Eventually the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed to recognize Israel and attempt to negotiate a two-state solution. Not because the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. had settled over Ramallah, but because the PLO leaders realized there was no way to defeat Israel militarily. Egypt, Jordan and the rest of the Arab world came to the same conclusions after wars in 1967 and 1973. Hamas didn’t get the memo.

Unfortunately, the anti-Israel protesters in front of the Federal Building are either too young to remember this history, too naïve or too blinded by hate to understand. 

If they did understand, they would peel off and set up in front of the Qatari or Turkish consulates (9355 Wilshire Blvd. and 6300 Wilshire Blvd., respectively), calling on them to cut off Hamas’ remaining sources of support in the Arab world. They would start a social media campaign calling on Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to abandon violence in the name of the Palestinian people. They would tweet Hamas @Qassam_English using hashtag  #NonviolentJihad. They would demand a diplomatic solution that would trade open borders and development for demilitarization. They would make sure Hamas uses every pound of concrete and steel for buildings, not tunnels.

In short, they would stop pretending that you can save Palestinian lives by spilling Israeli blood.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Woman battling deportation cites judge’s Jewish ties in recusal request


A woman convicted in Israel in connection with a 1969 terrorist bombing filed a motion to recuse the judge presiding over her deportation case because of his Jewish community ties.

The motion filed this week and first reported by Politico suggests that Rasmieh Yousef Odeh will allege at trial that she was tortured and raped while in Israeli custody.

Odeh is facing charges that she failed to note her Israeli conviction when she applied to enter the United States in 1993 and then when she became a citizen in 2004.

“Clearly, one who has been a life-long supporter and promoter of Israel and has deep ties to the State of Israel spanning over 50 years, who no doubt believes that Israel is a great democracy and protector of human rights, cannot be ‘reasonably’ said to be impartial when these claims of torture and illegality are raised by a Palestinian defendant,” Michael Deutsch, a lawyer for Odeh, wrote in the motion.

Paul Borman, a U.S. District Court judge in Detroit, and his wife have donated at least $3 million to the Detroit Jewish federation, according to the motion.

Deutsch casts Borman’s involvement with the federation as purely pro-Israel, although it is unclear from the motion how much of his donations and activism were designated for Israel-related activities.

For instance, Deutsch cites Borman’s earning the title of “Builder of Israel,” apparently unaware that the term dates from the biblical Book of Ruth and often is a rubric for an array of Jewish community activities.

Borman also has been credited by the federation for being “instrumental in bringing hundreds of Detroiters to Israel,” including state lawmakers, according to the motion.

Israel jailed Odeh for life for her involvement in a number of Jerusalem bombings in 1969, including one at a supermarket that killed two Hebrew University students, Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe.

She was released in a prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1980 and immigrated to the United States from Jordan in 1995.

Odeh was arrested last October for failing to disclose her terror attack conviction in her immigration papers. Her trial date is Oct. 21.

Palestinians aiming to join dozens of international bodies, agreements


The Palestinians will attempt to join 60 United Nations bodies and international agreements under a plan adopted by the PLO’s central council.

The council adopted the plan during a meeting Sunday in Ramallah following confirmation that Israel has frozen plans for 19 Palestinian construction projects in the West Bank.

An unnamed Israeli official told the French news agency AFP that the decision to freeze the housing projects came after the Palestinian Authority last month applied to join 15 international organizations and treaties. The applications were filed after Israel missed a deadline to free a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners as part of the current U.S.-backed peace negotiations.

Israel suspended its participation in the negotiations last week after the Fatah party-led P.A. signed a unity agreement with Hamas, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.

The peace negotiations, which started last summer, are scheduled to end on Tuesday.

First PLO delegation since 2007 war heads to Gaza for Palestinian unity talks


The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) sent a delegation to Gaza on Tuesday to negotiate unity with militant group Hamas for the first time since their 2007 conflict, potentially boosting Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's position.

Few Palestinians expect a breakthrough in the deadlock that has paralyzed Palestinian politics, and many have low expectations of any resolution to the seemingly endless duel.

A deal could restore a measure of sovereignty to Abbas in Gaza and boost his negotiating power with Israel in any future peace talks, although such a partnership could also provoke a backlash from Israel against the PLO in the West Bank.

The reconciliation mission coincided with a meeting between Abbas's Fatah-led group and Israeli peace negotiators in Jerusalem to try to extend talks beyond an April 29 deadline.

Hamas and Fatah have failed since 2011 to implement an Egyptian-brokered unity deal because of disputes over power-sharing and the handling of conflict with Israel.

Azzam Al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official, denied that the attempt to negotiate a deal with Hamas was designed merely to strengthen Abbas's hand in peace talks with Israel.

“We want to end the division whether there is negotiation (with Israel) or there isn't. We want to build Gaza and the West Bank and end the (Israeli) occupation,” Al-Ahmed told official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

If Palestinian unity talks end with a deal, paving the way to hold elections and plan a national strategy towards Israel, not only might Abbas gain negotiating power, but Hamas, hemmed in by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, might become less isolated.

The two sides disagree on policy toward Israel. Islamist Hamas refuses to renounce using force against the Jewish state and secular Western-backed Fatah wants a deal with Israel to set up a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Both Hamas and Fatah also persistently trade blame over their arrests of rival members. Dozens of prisoners have been held by each side since Hamas took control of Gaza and Fatah remained the predominant party in the West Bank following Hamas's surprising win in 2006 parliamentary polls.

“If Fatah possesses the political will to implement the agreement, we would be going forward on the right direction to please our people,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

“My feeling is closer to pessimism than optimism,” Palestinian Gaza political analyst Talal Okal said.

Editing by Louise Ireland

Israel approves 184 new settlement homes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is a two-state solution still possible?


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

A trumpeter playing sorrowful songs outside of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art seemed to symbolize the melancholy many of the proponents of the two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel feel these days.

Former Israeli Intelligence Chief Yuval Diskin was speaking at a conference on the roadmap for a two-state solution called the Geneva Accord. He told an overflow crowd at the museum, that dividing the land is still feasible.

“I know that the risks are great and that our success is not guaranteed. It is a deep seated issue, and much blood has been spilled,” Diskin said. “There are economic, mental and cultural gaps between the two sides. There are many, many years of disappointment. But I still believe that a true leadership, with a true vision and path can push this forward so that we can provide hope for a new momentum in the Palestinian and the Israeli streets.”

The Geneva Accord, which calls for a Palestinian state in virtually all of the land that Israel acquired in 1967, was crafted in the midst of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising from 2000 to 2005. Palestinians killed 1000 Israelis, mostly civilians, and Israeli soldiers killed 3000 Palestinians during violent clashes.

The Accord, released ten years ago, was meant to flesh out many of the longstanding issues between the Israelis and Palestinians in order to create an agreement independent of the political process.

Secretary of the State John Kerry is in the Middle East for the eighth time since August trying to push Israelis and Palestinians toward a deal. This time, he has brought a security plan to boost Israeli confidence after a potential withdrawal from much of the West Bank.

Some international observers believe time is running out for a two-state solution.

“This is an opportunity to capitalize on the promise of regaining peace,” said Robert Serry, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process. “I also feel that the international community is becoming increasingly impatient. That is why we stand to lose much if the talks fail again. We cannot afford to remain complacent.”

Diskin said Israel is making a mistake by focusing on Iran, rather than on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I am here because I believe that the consequence of this conflict left unresolved is much more existential than the Iranian nuclear threat,” Yuval Diskin said to a thunderous round of applause. “I know that this is not popular to say, especially these days, but I believe it with all of my heart. I believe that we must reach a resolution now before we go beyond a point to reach an agreement.”

Some of the biggest roadblocks to a two-state solution continue to be the same issues that have been sticking points for the past 20 years –the future of Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

“These are very heavy decisions to make. These are decisions that touch upon the essence of both Judaism and Palestinian identity. For Israel to have Jerusalem, this is our Zionist ideal,” Professor Shmuel Sandler, a professor of political science and a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Institute at Bar Ilan University (BESA) told The Media Line.

Israeli and Palestinian officials each blame the other for the lack of progress toward a two-state solution.

“If the right position is taken, of course it is feasible. But the situation on the ground shows that the Israelis do not want there to be an agreement,” Xavier Abu Eid, an advisor to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) told The Media Line. “The culture of impunity that Israel has continued allows it to violate international law without paying any price for its actions.”

The ongoing split between Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and the Islamist movement which controls Gaza, is also an obstacle.

“The drift away from the two-state solution politics in Israel and Palestine is one of the problems,” Ghassan al-Khatib, a former spokesman for the Palestinian Authority told The Media Line. “Every new election in Israel is bringing more right-wing politics into power. Public opinion is moving away from the two-state solution in Israel. The political reality within Palestine is no less of a problem. The split between Fatah and Hamas and the fact that the last election was won by Hamas is a problem.”

The current round of negotiations began in July after a five-year freeze. Secretary Kerry has made it clear that he is going to push both sides hard for a deal.

“I think Secretary Kerry has been very adamant and has been trying his best in order to reach peace between Israel and Palestine. And we definitely do appreciate his commitment for peace,” Abu Eid said. “I think that our side is very serious with him. We have gone along with everything we have committed to with Secretary Kerry. The other side has continued to undermine everything that Secretary Kerry has said.”

Recent polls have also shown that while both populations want a resolution to the conflict, neither side believes that the revived negotiations will end successfully.

“To recognize the right of Israel to exist, that’s the main obstacle. They have to cross a Rubicon,” professor emeritus Avraham Diskin (no relation to Yuval Diskin) of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told The Media Line. “Israel is not a legitimate entity for most of the Arab world, most of the Muslim world. So to sign an agreement recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state (is difficult).”

Yet many on both sides say there is no alternative to a two-state solution, and the question is not if it will be implemented, but only when.

Palestinian investigators: Israel only suspect in Arafat ‘killing’


Palestinian investigators named Israel the “only suspect” in the death of Yasser Arafat after laboratory tests suggested the Palestinian leader died of poisoning.

“We say that Israel is the prime and only suspect in the case of Yasser Arafat’s assassination, and we will continue to carry out a thorough investigation to find out and confirm all the details and all elements of the case,” Tawfiq Tirawi told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the French news agency AFP reported Friday.

Tirawi, who is leading the Palestinian inquiry, said the investigation had studied the findings of Swiss scientists, released on Wednesday, which “moderately” supported the notion that Arafat had been poisoned with polonium, a radioactive substance.

Palestinian officials on Thursday demanded an international inquiry into Arafat’s “killing.”

Wasel Abu Yusef, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official, said polonium ”is owned by states, not people, meaning that the crime was committed by a state.”

Speaking to reporters in Lausanne Thursday, the Swiss team said the test results neither confirmed nor counted out that polonium was the actual cause of death, although they provided “moderate” backing for the idea Arafat was poisoned.

The team said the quantity of the deadly substance found on Arafat’s remains pointed to the involvement of a third party.

“We can’t say that polonium was the source of his death … nor can we rule it out,” said Professor Francois Bochud of the Lausanne Institute of Applied Radiophysics.

Arafat died in France on Nov. 11, 2004 at the age of 75 after falling sick a month earlier. Doctors were unable to specify the cause of death. His remains were exhumed last year.

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