U.S. President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTSYUJP

Trump wants ‘conflict-ending settlement’ between Israelis and Palestinians

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is seeking “a conflict-ending settlement” for Israelis and Palestinians, his spokesman said ahead of Trump’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The statement Wednesday by Sean Spicer, who was confirming the May 3 visit, is an indication that Trump is determined to extract a deal from the sides.

“They will use the visit to reaffirm the commitment of both the United States and the Palestinian leadership to pursuing and ultimately concluding a conflict-ending settlement between the Palestinians and Israel,” Spicer said in his opening remarks at the daily news briefing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he wants a peace deal, but Cabinet officials to Netanyahu’s right favor unilateral actions, including annexing portions of the West Bank, that would stop well short of a final status deal.

Trump, who hosted Netanyahu in February at the White House, retreated from an explicit U.S. endorsement of the two-state solution — U.S. policy for 15 years — but also surprised Netanyahu by asking him publicly to slow settlement expansion for a period.

One of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers, Jason Greenblatt, has spent time in the region in an intensive canvassing of the principals ahead of reviving peace talks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Czech parliament rejects labelling goods from Israeli settlements

The Czech parliament's lower house called on the government on Thursday to ignore EU rules on labelling goods from Israeli settlements, joining Hungary in breaking ranks over the divisive regulations.

The Czech Assembly said new EU guidelines which require the labelling of exports from Israeli settlements in the West Bank were “motivated by a political positioning versus the State of Israel”.

The vote reflected a long and strong trade and diplomatic relationship between Israel and the Czech Republic, particularly since its emergence from communist rule in 1989.

Brussels has said the guidelines, published last month, are purely technical. But Israel branded them “discriminatory” and suspended contacts with European Union bodies involved in peace efforts with the Palestinians. 

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

As such, goods from there cannot be labelled “Made in Israel” and should be labelled as coming from settlements, which the EU considers illegal under international law. 

The Czech parliamentary resolution was supported by all government and opposition parties except for the Communists.

Culture Minister Daniel Hermann stopped short of saying whether the government would now ignore the EU guidelines, but thanked the lower house for the vote.

“It is necessary to reject these attempts that try to discriminate against the only democracy in the Middle East,” he said.

The foreign ministry said in a brief statement sent to Reuters the country respected its EU commitments but also that it considered Israel as a strategic partner and was keen on developing economic relations with the country.

EU member countries that do not follow the bloc's rules can face infringement proceedings by the Commission and eventually be taken to court.

Hungary's foreign minister said last month it would not label the goods, calling the regulations “irrational” according to media reports.

Is EU discriminating against Israel by labeling settlement goods?

To Israel and many of its supporters, the new European Union regulations requiring separate labeling for settlement goods are discriminatory measures reminiscent of Europe’s long history of institutionalized anti-Semitism.

In a harshly-worded statement Wednesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that by ignoring other territorial disputes around the world, the EU is discriminating against Israel. EU officials dismissed that complaint as emotional and irrelevant, saying the guidelines are merely a reflection of longstanding European policy and are aimed at protecting a consumer’s right to know whether a product was produced within Israel’s pre-1967 borders or in disputed territory.

In making their case about Europe’s double standard, Israeli diplomats have found an unlikely ally: Activists for self-rule in Western Sahara, a disputed territory in North Africa claimed by Morocco. The territory’s government-in-exile claims it is under foreign occupation.

The United Nations General Assembly endorsed that view in 1979, declaring Morocco an occupying force in the former Spanish colony and affirming the “inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara” to independence. In 2005, the EU called for a resolution to the conflict that would ensure the “self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”

But despite formal objections in recent years by the Netherlands and Sweden to labeling Western Saharan produce as Moroccan, the EU has issued no labeling guidelines comparable to those it released Wednesday, which require that certain goods produced in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights be marked to indicate whether they were made by Israeli settlers or Palestinians.

A demonstration in Madrid in support of Western Sahara’s self-determination on Nov. 11, 2006. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

“When it comes to products from Palestine and Western Sahara, there is a clear double standard in the European Union’s behavior, and it’s eroding its credibility across the board,” said Erik Hagen, a Norwegian geographer and activist and former chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch, an advocacy group.

Trade agreements signed in 2000 and 2012 between Morocco and the EU include no mention of occupied land. Yet in 2012, the EU Foreign Affairs Council issued a blanket guideline requiring that “all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

Products from Western Sahara are sold with a “Made in Morocco” label in the same Danish supermarkets where products from the West Bank are marked as originating in Israeli settlements, according to Morten Nielsen, a Danish journalist active in efforts to raise awareness about Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.

Denmark, Belgium and the United Kingdom are currently the only EU member states with special labeling for West Bank products, which, according to estimates cited by the EU, account for less than 1 percent of the total annual trade volume of $32 billion between the union and Israel.

Israeli officials have claimed such measures are merely a prelude to a wider boycott of Israel and have repeatedly drawn comparisons to the boycott of Jews during the Holocaust. “We have historical memory of what happened when Europe labelled Jewish products,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in September. In April, Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said “Europe might as well label Israeli products with a yellow star,” referencing the stars Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were required to wear.

But despite such heated rhetoric, the number of countries labeling settlement products is expected to grow following the publication of the new guidelines, a senior European diplomat who spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity said Tuesday.

The guidelines are limited to Israel, the diplomat said, because they came in response to a letter by 16 EU foreign ministers urging the European Commission to implement a decision it made in 2012 to label Israeli and Palestinian products.

Western Sahara is not the only territorial dispute that has failed to prompt demands for European labeling. Goods produced in Chinese-ruled Tibet, Indian-controlled Kashmir and northern Cyprus, which is occupied by Turkey, do not merit special labels in Europe.

The “unequal use of legal tools owes to the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian profile, because of its historical connotations, is incomparable to others in the level of interest it draws and its visibility in media and politics,” said Hagen. But such factors “cannot explain unequal application of international law, which is being eroded.”

Daniel Rosario, an EU Commission spokesperson for trade and agriculture, told JTA that territorial disputes over the West Bank and Western Sahara “are of a completely different nature.”

“E.U. considers Morocco as the ‘de facto administrator of the territory of the Western Sahara’,” Rosario wrote in an email. ”In this role, the activities linked to the exploitation of natural resources by an administrative power in an ‘non-self-governing territory’ are not illegal, provided that they take into account the needs, interests and benefits of the people of this territory.”

But to Hagen, such legal hairsplitting is merely a smokescreen.

“You can apply any politically expedient definition you like,” Hagen said. “But as long as the European Union applies different standards to issues, instead of a uniform standard based on international law, it will not have any credibility when its representatives speak of facilitating peace and solidarity.”

Soldiers stoned, settlers arrested as IDF destroys illegal West Bank buildings

Settlers threw stones and tires at Israeli soldiers as they demolished four buildings in two illegal West Bank settlement outposts.

The Israel Defense Forces arrested three of the settlers during the incident, according to Israeli news site Walla. No injuries were reported.

The demolitions took place at the outposts of Maoz Esther and Ge’ulat Zion in the northern West Bank. The outposts are near the Palestinian town of Duma, where Jewish extremists allegedly firebombed two houses last month, burning a family inside and killing a father and baby.

This is not the first time the IDF has encountered violence in demolishing settlement structures. Soldiers confronted riots in the settlement of Beit El last month as they destroyed illegally built apartment buildings.

Illegal buildings in West Bank settlement razed, new construction approved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Path to Israeli-Palestinian peace starts with meeting the neighbors

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

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

Listen to their stories – story continues after the video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Netanyahu uses settlement as backdrop for pre-election vote appeal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, trailing in opinion polls, used a strategic Jewish settlement he helped found as the backdrop on Monday for an election eve bid to win back right-wing votes.

His main challenger, Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union, said on Facebook that “Israel will be stuck with Bibi” unless voters turned out on Tuesday for the centre-left alliance, which polls predict will take 24 to 26 seats in the 120-member parliament, compared with 20 to 22 for Likud.

No single party has ever won an outright majority in the legislature, making coalitions the norm. Israel's president picks the political leader whom he believes has the best chance of forming a coalition to have a go first.

Faced with the projected Zionist Union lead, Netanyahu has in the final days of the campaign ramped up appeals to disaffected supporters who have shifted their allegiance to smaller right-wing parties to “come home” to Likud.

“The choice is symbolic: the Likud led by me, that will continue to stand firmly for (Israel's) vital interests, compared with a left-wing government … ready to accept any dictate,” he said in a campaign speech at the Har Homa settlement.

Setting the tone for his three terms in office, Netanyahu promoted the establishment of Har Homa in 1997, in defiance of deep-seated international opposition, after he was first elected prime minister.

The settlement is on a hilltop in a part of the West Bank that Israel annexed, along with nearby East Jerusalem, after the 1967 war. Palestinians, who call the site Jabal Abu Ghneim, have long viewed Har Homa's construction as an attempt to tighten Israeli control around the holy city.

“I thought we had to protect the southern gateway to Jerusalem by building here,” Netanyahu said, with a construction site behind the podium as his backdrop. “There was huge objection, because this neighborhood is in a location which prevents the Palestinian (territorial) contiguity.”

Avraham Diskin, a political scientist at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said opinion polls showed the right-wing and left-wing blocs were both short of a governing majority.

That could make two centrist parties, Yesh Atid led by former TV chat show host Yair Lapid, and Kulanu, headed by former communications minister Moshe Kahlon, kingmakers in the frenetic coalition-building that will follow the vote.

“In all previous elections there were considerable differences between predictions and results,” Diskin said, estimating that between 10 and 20 percent of voters were still undecided.

With some 70 percent of the electorate usually remaining loyal either to left- or right-wing parties, “it's enough for three to five percent to move from one bloc to another to … get a dramatic change in the future government of Israel,” Diskin said.

In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Lapid said “the Netanyahu era is coming to an end”, with the majority of Israelis seeking change. Yet despite having been fired by Netanyahu as finance minister in December, he did not rule out working with him again. 

Netanyahu has focused much of his campaign on security issues, paying a contentious visit to Washington two weeks ago to warn against a potential nuclear deal with Iran.

But political commentators said Netanyahu, who has raised eyebrows in Israel by alleging that foreign powers want to topple him, has underestimated voters' concerns about soaring housing and food prices and miscalculated when he called an early election in December.

Words matter: How vocabulary defines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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

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

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

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

West Bank

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

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

The Jordan River. Photo by Beivushtang via Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Green Line/1967 lines

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

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

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

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

East Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Palestinian Bedouin

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

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

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

Haram al-Sharif

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

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

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

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

Israel approves 78 new settler homes in East Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plans advance for building in eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood

A Jerusalem planning committee has given preliminary approval for the construction of at least 200 housing units in an eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood.

The approval Wednesday is for the Ramot neighborhood on the northern edge of Jerusalem.

The project is several stages and several years away from the start of actual construction.

The housing is slated to be built on private land owned by a haredi Orthodox group, according to The Associated Press.

The announcement comes as Palestinian rioting continues in eastern Jerusalem and following the announcement earlier this month of plans for at least 1,000 apartments in two other eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Jordan to talk about the tensions in Jerusalem with King Abdullah II.


The United States said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” about an Israeli decision to approve construction of 200 new homes in East Jerusalem.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the decision impeded attempts to reach a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“We are deeply concerned by this decision particularly given the tense situation in Jerusalem,” she told a regular media briefing.

“Most importantly they are contrary to Israel's own stated goal of achieving a two-state solution because they make it more difficult to do that,” Psaki said.

More on the U.S. reaction.

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

Eden Memorial Park settles lawsuit in $80.5 million deal

A massive four-year, 25,000-person class action lawsuit against Eden Memorial Park came to an end on Feb. 27, when the Jewish cemetery in Mission Hills agreed to a settlement worth an estimated $80.5 million, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The legal battle, which began in September 2009, centered around allegations that Eden’s management ordered its workers to disturb existing graves in order to fit new coffins in tight spaces. That disturbance allegedly included breaking concrete coffins and then dumping some of the human remains when bones fell out.

The tentative settlement, which won’t be finalized until mid-May, calls for Eden’s parent company, Service Corp. International (SCI), to distribute $35.25 million into a global settlement fund to pay plaintiffs and their attorneys, $250,000 for administrative costs, and fully refund class action members who wish to disinter family members buried at the cemetery. Court documents filed Feb. 27 indicate that the value of the non-cash services Eden will be ordered to provide is $45 million.

Located at Sepulveda Boulevard and Rinaldi Street in Mission Hills, Eden Memorial Park is owned and operated by SCI California, a subsidiary of Texas-based SCI, one of the country’s largest operators of cemeteries and funeral services. About 40,000 people are buried at Eden, which spans 72 acres.

The alleged incidents date back to 1985, when SCI acquired the cemetery. The plaintiffs contend that Eden knowingly broke as many as 1,500 buried concrete vaults between February 1985 and September 2009.

On Feb. 11, the case went to trial at the downtown Los Angeles Superior Courthouse, but not after years of court sanctions, state investigations, evidence tampering and a dispute over whether Jewish jurors would compromise the neutrality of the jury.

In November 2009, state investigators reported that they found no evidence that Eden mishandled graves. But one year later, in November 2010, Judge Anthony J. Mohr of the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the cemetery intentionally cleaned out the cemetery’s dump, where workers allegedly disposed of loose bones and broken concrete sections. In September 2009, the court ordered that all such evidence must be preserved.

For the last several years, both sides have collected extensive evidence, with the legal teams interviewing 110 people during deposition. But only three witnesses had been brought to the stand in the past two weeks, according to defense attorney Steve Gurnee, of Gurnee Mason & Forestiere.

“This trial could have lasted until September,” he said.

He added that of the $35.25 million in cash that SCI will owe if the agreement is finalized, all but $10 million will be covered by insurance.

And while Gurnee said that he is confident his team would have won the case had the trial continued, he said Eden decided to settle for economic reasons.

“The plaintiffs have been making demands in this case for ages that have been stratospheric,” he said. “The company wants to move on.”

Although the amount that each family will receive won’t be known until this summer — the claim deadline is June 5 — plaintiff’s attorney Michael Avenatti of the Newport Beach law firm Eagan Avenatti, characterized the agreement as “no coupon settlement.”

“Families are going to receive significant [money] in this case,” he said.

Israel frees Palestinian prisoners, pushes settlement plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer

The Bedouin, human rights, and ‘legitimacy’: A final word to Gerald Steinberg

Gerald Steinberg has asked that I respond to the specific charges he levies against human rights organizations, my colleague Rabbi John Rosove, and me regarding our involvement in protecting the rights of some 30-40,000 Bedouin to avoid forced expulsion from their homes. At the risk of prolonging our back-and-forth, I will reply one last time before returning to the more pressing work of engaging T’ruah’s 1800 rabbis and their communities in human rights.

In his response to Rabbi Rosove and me, Steinberg perpetuates the myth that the Bedouin settled in their current homes illegally, and without regard for zoning or environmental regulations. On Twitter, representatives of his organization have even used the word “squatting.”

This accusation against the Bedouin is a cruel one. As I indicated in my initial response, the Bedouin are living where the Israeli government moved them in the 1950s. Following the War of Independence, the new Israeli government used martial law to move the Bedouin who remained in the Negev into an area known as the Siyyag (fence), comprising a pocket of land between Beersheva, Arad, Dimona, and Yeruham. Bedouin property outside of this area was confiscated as state land.

This situation might have been sustainable if master zoning plans in the 1960s had not failed to acknowledge the presence of the Bedouin towns in the Siyyag. The villages disappeared from official maps, and all land within the Siyyag became zoned for industrial, military, or Jewish agricultural purposes. Thus, the Bedouin found themselves in a catch-22, forced to live in a place where they could not build legally, and where they were demonized as squatters. Furthermore, without official status, the “unrecognized” villages could not receive health services, schools, or other basic governmental services. No wonder that these are some of the poorest areas in Israel. Imagine what might have happened if the Israeli government had invested in building schools for Bedouin children, teaching sustainable agriculture, and providing medical services.

Tragically, the absence of the Bedouin towns from official maps allowed Israel to build a hazardous waste facility and chemical plants right next to the village of Wadi Na’am. Blaming residents of this village for“squatting in a toxic waste dump,” as one article NGO Monitor tweeted at me did is simply cruel.

Toward the end of the 1960s, Israel set up seven Bedouin townships and relocated approximately half the Bedouin populations there. By all accounts, these towns have been a failure. Separated from their traditional ways of life and their communal structures, most Bedouin have not thrived in these townships. This should be no surprise to any of us Americans who have seen what happens when low-income populations find themselves in cramped urban areas with subpar educational opportunities and few job prospects. Moving tens of thousands more Bedouin into these townships against their will promises to exacerbate the problem.

Are there problems within Bedouin communities? Yes, of course. I won’t excuse crime, mistreatment of women, or any of the other issues that those purporting to help the Bedouin often highlight. But this is not a zero sum game. Despite what Steinberg and often the Israeli government suggest, the choices are not either to allow the Bedouin to languish in their poverty or to move them against their will into townships. The most reasonable option is to build schools, health centers, and other social services in Bedouin villages, and to give these populations the tools they need to flourish. In some cases, as with Wadi Na’am, residents are willing to move, but want to have a say in where they move, rather than being shoved against their will into urban areas. It’s simply not fair to refuse social services to a population, and then argue that the population must move because they have no social services.

Nor is the question of building Jewish communities in the Negev versus sustaining Bedouin communities a zero sum game. The Bedouin claim only five percent of the Negev. There is plenty of room for new Jewish communities to flourish.

Steinberg argues that campaigns to support the Bedouin “erase 4000 years of Jewish history in the Negev (from the arrival of Abraham in Beersheva).” May I remind him that Abraham himself understood the need to share land, as he did with his nephew Lot. Each took land for his own family, lest there be squabbling among them. Furthermore, the Bedouin see themselves as descendants of Abraham and Hagar, and therefore also lay claim to a long history in the region. If we are to demand that others take seriously our own stories about ourselves, we must also pay respect to the stories of other peoples.

As for Steinberg’s claim that we or our Bedouin partners wish to delegitimize Israel, nothing could be further from the truth. What’s missing from his discussion is that the Bedouin are Israeli citizens, who are not trying to give up their citizenship, to question the right of Jews to live in the Negev, or otherwise to delegitimize the state. In fact, the Bedouin are claiming the rights of citizens within a sovereign western state to avoid forced displacement.

Finally, a word about rhetoric. In order to accuse me of a “harsh attack,” Steinberg puts words in my mouth, and then attacks these words. For example, he writes that I claim “that the issues I raised were nothing more than an effort ‘to defame lovers of Israel who dare to believe that the Jewish state can and should live up to the moral values of our tradition.’ Nothing more? Surely, the head of an organization that proclaims Jewish moral values and promotes tolerance might avoid such dismissive and immoral language.”

Actually, “nothing more” are Steinberg’s words, and do not appear in my piece. He further suggests that I do not respond at all to the specifics on the Bedouin dispute, without acknowledging that my piece does, in fact, include a condensed version of what appears above.

As for Steinberg’s accusation of “the soft-power warfare led by NGOs that exploit the language of human rights. (See the latest round of discriminatory academic boycotts.).” He fails here to distinguish between the demand that Israel live up to internationally-accepted human rights standards, which include protection from forced displacement, and specific tactics that some organizations choose to pursue. Neither I nor the organization I represent supports boycotting Israel as a tactic for holding Israel accountable to its human rights obligations. But the fact that some others do use this tactic does not render the human rights complaint itself any less legitimate. I will not attempt here to speak on behalf of other organizations that have not appointed me as their spokesperson.

This whole conversation leaves my wondering: What is Steinberg so afraid of? The question of the future of the Negev Bedouin is a complex, but not intractable problem. It is not an issue of national security, borders, or international diplomacy. There is a happy ending available—one in which the Israeli government does right by its Bedouin citizens, and in which these citizens build a sustainable life in the Negev, alongside their Jewish neighbors. Surely, the right and the left can come together to build this dream.


Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, which mobilizes 1800 rabbis and cantors and their communities to protect human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied territories.

Israeli government shelves controversial Bedouin resettlement plan

The Israeli government is shelving a proposal to resettle tens of thousands of Bedouin residents of the Negev that had drawn fierce criticism.

One of the proposal’s main architects, Benny Begin, told reporters on Thursday that the so-called Prawer-Begin Plan would be revised. He said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had approved delaying presentation of the plan to the Knesset.

The plan was billed as an effort to address the plight of Bedouin living in unrecognized villages without access to infrastructure and state services by resettling many of them in Bedouin towns. But it drew protests from many Bedouin and activists on the left who criticized it as an effort to grab Bedouin lands. The plan was criticized as well by some on the right who felt it gave too much to the Bedouin.

Begin said that action was still needed to improve the situation of the Bedouin.

“Since the bill reached the Knesset,” he said, “all sorts of interest groups have gotten involved trying to take advantage of the plight of the Negev Bedouin in order to achieve political gain.”

German trade union leader opposes West Bank boycott

German trade union leader Michael Sommer vowed to stand up to unionists who want to boycott goods made in West Bank Jewish settlements.

“As long as I am head of this organization, there will never be a resolution that says ‘Don’t buy from Jews,’ ” said Sommer, 61, chair of the Federation of German Trade Unions, accepting the Arno Lustiger Award at the third annual German-Israel Congress on Sunday.

The federation, which was founded in Munich in 1949, is an umbrella organization for eight German trade unions, in total representing more than 6 million people.

The pro-Israel event, which drew more a crowd of more than 1,500 to a congress center in the former East Berlin, took place on the 75th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom, when synagogues and Jewish businesses were destroyed and looted across Germany, Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia.

Co-organized by German Jewish activists Sacha Stawski and Melody Sucharewicz, the event, which in previous years was held in Frankfurt, featured a market of pro-Israel organizations and businesses, guest speakers and “labs” on Israeli culture and business, Judaism and politics.

It concluded with a concert featuring German soul singer Mic Donet and Kathleen Reiter, a Canadian-Israeli singer and the winner of the Israeli version of “The Voice.”

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said he wished there was no need for such a major pro-Israel event in Germany. But with “Israeli bashing in fashion” these days, he said the congress convinced him that “we friends of Israel are not so alone as we sometimes feel.”

“Today we are strong as an ox,” he said.

A small pro-Palestinian demonstration was held across the street from the venue.

In his remarks, Sommer said some unions are especially critical of Israel’s settlement policy, which is the target of the boycott movement. He tells them “that an honest peace means that no one should be threatened. And as long as Israeli is threatened, I stay on the side of Israel.”

Two injured in West Bank firebomb attack

Two people sustained minor injuries when a firebomb hit their car near the West Bank settlement of Efrat.

The car was completely burnt in the attack Thursday night, Army Radio reported. The two victims had burns and were taken by ambulance to a hospital in Jerusalem.

The attack was the third serious incident in the West Bank over the past 24 hours.

On Thursday night, in two separate incidents, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians whom they suspected of carrying out an attack.

The first incident occurred at the Abu Dis checkpoint near Jerusalem. Troops shot a Palestinian man in the abdomen after he tried to stab a Border Police officer, the report said. Medics evacuated the Palestinian man to hospital but he died of his injuries. None of the Israelis was hurt.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, troops killed a Palestinian after he fired a flare gun at Israelis standing at a bus stop near the settlement Tapuach, according to eyewitness accounts.

“There were four people inside the bus stop,” Asher Hoffman told Army Radio. “We heard explosions and saw a terrorist running in our direction. The Border Police intercepted him, fired at his direction and hit.”

Grappling with troubled peace process, Kerry urges Israeli settlement limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Israel says it will announce more settlement building

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

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

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

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

There was no immediate comment from either of those parties.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Holland opposes banning any Israeli product, Dutch premier says

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

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

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

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

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

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

The council has yet to release practical guidelines on labeling.

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

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

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

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

Most Israelis support peace deal; Bennett vows settlement expansion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Kerry meets with Abbas, new West Bank housing advances

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

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

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon must approve the construction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israeli court orders halt to construction in West Bank settlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New eastern Jerusalem housing approved on eve of Kerry visit

The Jerusalem municipality issued construction permits to build 69 new housing units in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.

Wednesday’s approval comes a day before the planned arrival of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as he attempts to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the peace negotiating table.

The housing units are part of a 1,000-housing unit project approved in August 2011 for Har Homa and other nearby communities. Tenders for the project were issued in April 2012.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the approvals.

“Such behavior proves that the Israeli government is determined to undermine Secretary Kerry’s efforts at every level,” he said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Read more: http://www.jta.org/2013/06/26/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/new-eastern-jerusalem-housing-approved-on-eve-of-kerry-visit#ixzz2XNDSDxpm

Now, business leaders oppose settlements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EU envoy targets settlements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reinicke suggested that the labeling policy would soon be adopted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry presses Netanyahu on Jerusalem building

Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised U.S. unhappiness with Israel’s announcement of new building in eastern Jerusalem.

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for Kerry, was asked about such a conversation during the daily briefing on May 31 and said the two had spoken the previous day.

She said Kerry “did raise this issue as part of a broader conversation about the ongoing desire to move back to the negotiating table.”

Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel, the housing minister, last week granted the final approval for the construction of 300 homes in the eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Ramot.

“We feel these activities are counterproductive to the cause of peace,” Psaki said. “They’re not constructive.”

On Sunday, Kerry in a statement welcomed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ appointment of a new prime minister.

Rami Hamdallah, the British-educated president of An Najah University in Nablus, will succeed the Western-oriented Salam Fayyad, who resigned over differences with Abbas.

Kerry had endeavored to persuade Fayyad not to resign; the economist was widely credited with making the P.A. more transparent and cleaning up corruption, and Kerry considered him critical to renewing peace talks, a key Obama second administration goal.

Fayyad’s resignation last month came at an unpropitious time for Kerry, who is trying to revive Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

Hamdallah’s “appointment comes at a moment of challenge, which is also an important moment of opportunity,” said Kerry’s statement, which also recognized what it called Fayyad’s “extraordinary contributions.”

Israel to authorize four West Bank settler outposts

Israel plans to declare legal four unauthorized West Bank settler outposts, a court document showed on Thursday, days before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returns to the region to try to restart peace talks.

Israel has been sending mixed signals on its internationally condemned settlement policy as Kerry pursues efforts to revive negotiations Palestinians quit in 2010 in anger over Israeli settlement building on land they seek for a state.

In a reply to a Supreme Court petition by the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now, the government said it had taken steps in recent weeks to authorize retroactively four West Bank outposts built without official permission.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the move.

“Israel continues to put obstacles and to sabotage U.S. efforts to resume negotiation,” he said. “Our position is clear and that is all settlement is illegal and must be stopped.”

A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on the government's response to the Supreme Court.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki suggested that a decision to legalize the four outposts would be counterproductive.

“We don't accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” she said. “Continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace.”

Most the world deems all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as illegal. Israel disputes this and distinguishes between about 120 government-authorized settlements and dozens of outposts built by settlers without permission.

Peace Now said in a statement that “The intention to legalize outposts as new settlements is no less than a slap in the face of Secretary Kerry's new process and is blatant reassurance to settler interests.”

Last week, Peace Now and Israeli media reports said Netanyahu has been quietly curbing some settlement activity by freezing tenders for new housing projects, in an apparent effort to help the U.S. drive to renew peace talks.

But Peace Now said at the time construction already under way was continuing, and Israel announced last week that it had given preliminary approval for 300 new homes in Beit El settlement as part of a plan Netanyahu announced a year ago.

Kerry, due to meet Netanyahu and Abbas separately next week, has said he believes “the parties are serious” about finding a way back into talks.

The main issues that would have to be resolved in a peace agreement include the borders between Israel and a Palestinian sate, the future of Jewish settlements, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

Some 500,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which was also captured from Jordan in 1967. About 2.7 million Palestinians live in those areas.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Alistair Lyon, Doina Chiacu

Knesset panel advances plan regulating Bedouin settlements

A Knesset committee advanced a plan that would require the resettlement of some 30,000 Bedouin.

The draft ratified Monday by the Ministerial Legislation Committee regulates Bedouin settlements in the Negev Desert. Along with requiring the resettlement of the Bedouin, the Law of Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev — also known as the Prawer-Begin Plan — would resolve some 12,000 land claims, Army Radio reported.

In a news release criticizing the plan, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said it would “cause the displacement and forced eviction of dozens of villages and tens of thousands of Bedouin residents, dispossessing them of their property and historical rights to their lands, destroying the social fabric of their communities, and sealing the fate of thousands of families into poverty and unemployment. All of this while the government simultaneously promotes the establishment of new Jewish communities, some of which are even planned to be built on the fresh ruins of Bedouin villages.”