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Latest Israel News – 10th July

Maccabiah 2017 opens with a high-energy ceremony — and a surprise wedding

Thousands of Jewish athletes, their families and spectators filled Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium on Thursday night to launch the opening of the 20th Maccabiah Games, as well as celebrate the surprise wedding of a Canadian hockey player and his girlfriend.

It was a night of celebration, as some 10,000 athletes from 80 different countries, marched into the center of the stadium by delegation, against a backdrop of dozens of undulating images of each of their flags.

The name of each nation was announced, from countries like Albania with three athletes, Jamaica with two and Morocco with one, to China and Puerto Rico, each participating for the first time, or the US and Israel, each with the largest delegations of 1,061 and 2,400, respectively.

In addition to the singing and dancing celebrating the games as well as the diversity of Israel, the opening ceremony included Canada’s Avi Steinberg proposing on stage to his girlfriend, Rachel, who had recently completed her conversion to Judaism. After she accepted, the hosts of the opening ceremony pulled out a wedding gown and huppah, and the couple’s rabbi from Canada officiated at a ceremony in front of the beaming athletes and spectators.

“Then, in the year 1932, the skies over Europe had already began to darken. And today, today we stand here, marking the 20th Maccabiah Games themed around the 50th anniversary of liberation of Jerusalem,” he said, welcoming the athletes to “the rebuilt and free, eternal capital of Israel.”

“Jerusalem is the stronghold of Beitar (and of Hapoel),” said Rivlin, referring to the local soccer teams. “Once every four years, Jerusalem is home to the Maccabiah.”

The president also paid tribute to the four Australian-Jewish athletes who were killed during the 15th Maccabiah Games in 1997 in the tragic bridge collapse, and to the Israeli athletes murdered in 1982 by Palestinian at the Munich Olympics – some of whom, the president noted, were Maccabiah champions. “Our hearts are with their families,” he said.

Netanyahu spoke as well, poking fun at himself for athletic adventures, past and present, in which he broke some limbs.

“I was pretty athletic when I was young and I tried out for the wrestling team. I broke my arm at 14. Then recently, I thought I’d take a shot at soccer. I played in a soccer game of young Jews and Arabs in Israel. I broke my leg,” he recounted.

“So, I cannot tell you, dear athletes, break a leg. I say: succeed, excel, win. You are all winners, you are all champions,” he said.

The prime minister invoked the ancient Maccabees, for whom the games are named, referring to the five brothers who “liberated our land against all odds.”

“The people of Israel are strong, and the state is strong,” he said, to the cheers of the crowd. “We are all descendants of the Maccabees.”

Bibi at Maccabiah

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, and Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev attend the opening ceremony of the 20th Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem

Anthony Ervin, a US swimmer who won gold medals in the 2000 and 2016 Olympics, lit the Maccabiah flame for the quadriennial competition that has been dubbed the “Jewish Olympics.” He was joined carrying torches by Yarden Gerbi, an Israeli judoka who took the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio; Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA and now a member of the world champion Golden State Warriors; Fabien Gilot, a French- swimmer and three-time medalist; Neta Rivkin, the first Israeli rhythmic gymnast to win a medal in both the World and European championships; Moran Samuel, an Israeli rower who medaled at the Rio Paralympics in 2016, and Ori Sasson, an Israeli judoka who also won a bronze in Rio.

The Maccabiah’s 20th Games will have competitions in 40 sports, including two new ones, lacrosse and bridge. The biggest competition is in soccer, with 1,401 athletes from 20 countries. Swimming is the second largest, with 712 competitors from 34 counties, followed by tennis and basketball.

There’s the Maccabi Man competition, which includes a half-marathon, cycling and swimming in open water, with 140 athletes from 19 countries participating. There are paralympic events as well, in basketball, table tennis and swimming.

Throughout the two-week event, participants will have the chance to attend Friday night services in Jerusalem, attend some of the capital’s street parties as well as those in Haifa and Tel Aviv, participate in a night race in Jerusalem, celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah at the Western Wall, and inaugurate Jerusalem’s professional ice hockey hall at Pais Arena, where some competitions will take place.

For many families, the Maccabiah is an opportunity to visit Israel, and for many it’s their first time.

The Riveras, from Pacific Palisades, California, were present at the Maccabiah in force, as Dana Rivera’s three sons, Jake, Luke and Nicky, are all members of the USA ice hockey team, and brought their entire family along with them for the games.

“They were recruited,” said Rivera, who is in Israel with her parents, her mother-in-law, Jan Rivera, her husband, Rick Rivera, and her daughter and boyfriend. “They’re at a place in life where they wanted to come and wanted to be able to play together. So we all came with them.”

It was a similar story for Lynn and Alan Crown, from Sydney, Australia, who were in the stands with their grandchildren, Mia and Aden Goodrich, waiting for the three members of their family to march in with the Australian delegation. The Crowns’ daughter and granddaughter are both swimmers, and their son-in-law is the coach for the juniors team.

It’s not their first trip, nor their first Maccabiah, but they were relishing the chance to experience it with their grandchildren.

Candace Swick Hnatok’s daughter is also a junior swimmer, and Hnatok, hailing from Winnipeg, Canada, said that the Maccabiah was probably the only chance for their “interfaith family” to come to Israel.

“This is it,” she said. “It’s our one and only opportunity.”  (the Times of Israel)

UNESCO: Cave of the Patriarchs belongs to Palestinian Authority

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on Friday announced their decision to award Israel’s Cave of the Patriarchs (Me’arat Hamachpela) to convicted terrorist and Hevron Mayor Tiyassir Abu Sanina, as a representative of the Fatah’s Palestinian Authority.

The resolution passed 12-3, with six abstentions, and declares the site to be an “endangered” “Palestinian heritage site.”

Adam and Eve, as well as Avraham and Sarah, Yitzhak and Rivka, and Yaakov and Leah, are buried in the cave, which Avraham bought from Ephron the Hittite, long before Islam existed.

“The hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) said. “The Palestinians campaign of incitement and lies via UNESCO.”

“UNESCO’s obscenity has been exposed: While ISIS destroys historical sites in Aleppo, Palmyra, Mosul, and other areas, UNESCO chooses to concentrate on Hevron and the Cave of the Patriarchs, which was never, and were never, under any threat for as long as the State of Israel has existed.”

“You cannot rewrite history, and you cannot erase it. Our father Avraham bought the Cave of the Patriarchs and paid for it in full. It is, and has always been, the burial place of our forefathers.”Our response will be to strengthen and deepen our connection to the Jewish city of Hevron.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) said, “The Jewish connection to Hevron has existed for thousands of years. Hevron was the cradle of King David’s dynasty, and the Cave of Machpela is the first Jewish acquisition in Israel, and the burial place of our nation’s fathers and mothers. It is one of our most ancient our ancient heritage sites.”

“We should contemptuously reject UNESCO’s decision, and work with increased vigor to strengthen our forefather’s city.

“We had a continuous presence in Hevron from the time of our forefathers until 1929, when the Arabs slaughtered dozens of Jews in the city. But even that horrific slaughter did not manage to break our connection to the city and to the Cave of the Patriarchs, which has been a Jewish site since the days of the Bible.

“No vote will change these simple truths.

“It is disappointing and embarrassing to see time and again how UNESCO denies history and warps reality in order to serve, consciously, the interests of those who wish to destroy the Jewish state and wipe it off the map.

“Israel will not cooperate with UNESCO until the organization ceases to be a political goring tool instead of a professional organization.”

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon responded, “This attempt to sever the ties between Israel and Hevron is shameful and offensive, and eliminates UNESCO’s last remaining shred of credibility.”

“To disassociate Israel from the burial grounds of the patriarchs and matriarchs of our nation is an ugly display of discrimination, and an act of aggression against the Jewish people.”

This is not time UNESCO has announced a blatantly anti-Israel decision. In October 2016, UNESCO published its decision that Israel has no rights to Jerusalem, and that Jews have no connection to the Western Wall and Temple Mount.  (Arutz Sheva)

Netanyahu cuts $1 million more from UN budget after UNESCO Hebron vote

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Friday that Israel would further reduce the amount it gives annually to the United Nations in membership fees by another $1 million following a decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to list the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank as an endangered Palestinian world heritage site.

That decision was preceded by a UNESCO resolution Tuesday denying Israeli claims to the Old City of Jerusalem.

In a statement Friday after UNESCO passed its Hebron motion, Netanyahu said the funds would instead go toward “the establishment of a ‘Museum of the Heritage of the Jewish People in Kiryat Arba and Hebron’” and to other projects related to Jewish heritage in Hebron.

“In the face of UNESCO’s denial, the prime minister is determined to present to the whole world the historical truth and the thousands of years of deep Jewish roots in Hebron,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Friday.

The cut brings Israel’s slashing of funds to the UN to $10 million since December of last year. The announcement Friday marks the fourth time in eight months that Israel has reacted to UN resolutions it deems biased against it by announcing the slashing of its payments to the body. Israel will now pay just $1.7 million into the UN budget

In December, after the Security Council passed Resolution 2334, Netanyahu ordered $6 million cut from Israel’s payment to the UN. And in March, after the Human Rights Council passed five anti-Israel resolutions, Netanyahu vowed to cut an additional $2 million.

In May, after UNESCO’s executive board ratified a decision disputing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, Netanyahu cut another million.

Israel reacted furiously to Friday’s Hebron resolution as well as to Tuesday’s decision on Jerusalem.

Netanyahu said the motion to declare the Old City of Hebron, home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, revered as the biblical burial place of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs, as “delusional” and vowed to protect the site.  (the Times of Israel)

Haley calls UNESCO Hebron motion ‘an affront to history,’ says US to review ties

Hours after UNESCO declared the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank, an endangered Palestinian world heritage site, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the move was both “tragic” and an “affront to history,” and that the US would review its ties with the world body as a result of the decision.

On Friday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed its second anti-Israel resolution in less than a week.

During the World Heritage Committee’s 41st annual summit, currently taking place in Krakow, Poland, twelve countries voted in favor of the Hebron decision while three opposed it and six countries abstained. Both the US and Israel protested vigorously against the motion.

The voting took place in secret, whereas in the past, votes to inscribe sites onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List are done by a show of hands among all the member states. But three countries — Poland, Croatia and Jamaica — requested a secret ballot, much to the objection of other countries.

“The UNESCO vote on Hebron is tragic on several levels. It represents an affront to history,” Haley said in a statement.

The resolution, she said, would stultify ongoing attempts by the Trump administration to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a major foreign policy priority for Washington.

“It undermines the trust that is needed for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to be successful,” she said. “And it further discredits an already highly questionable UN agency. Today’s vote does no one any good and causes much harm.”

She went on, “The United States is currently evaluating the appropriate level of its continued engagement at UNESCO.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the motion earlier Friday by calling the measure “another delusional UNESCO decision” and ordered that another $1 million be pulled from Israel’s UN funding to establish a museum showcasing Jewish heritage in Hebron.

Earlier this week, the World Heritage Committee passed a resolution denying Israeli claims to the Old City of Jerusalem. Although the text was much softer than similar resolutions passed in previous years, Israel condemned it strongly.

The United States has made an issue of UNESCO decisions in the past.

After the body admitted the Palestinians as a member state in 2011, former president Barack Obama withdrew US funding from the agency.

While the US is still on UNESCO’s 58-member Executive Board, it no longer has voting rights in its General Conference.  (the Times of Israel)

Terror tunnels ‘will become deathtrap for Hamas in next war,’ IDF warns

Three years after Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, senior military officials said Thursday that while Hamas’ is sparing no efforts to rebuild its grid of terror tunnels, the IDF’s countermeasures will turn the underground passageways into a “deathtrap” for Hamas terrorists in the event new hostilities erupt.

Hamas’ grid of terror tunnels was significantly crippled during the 2014 military campaign and according to senior defense officials, the IDF is confident that it is now far better equipped and prepared to deal with the threat, having invested tens of millions of shekels to develop and procure advanced technologies and equipment, as well as build a counter-tunnel obstacle around the Strip.

As part of Operation Protective Edge, the IDF destroyed 32 terror tunnels dug near and under Israel’s southern border. However, the scope of the tunnel grid and the fact that some of reached deep into civilian areas prompted concerns of they could be used in an offensive against the civilian population in border-adjacent communities. It was only after the 2014 campaign that the IDF appropriated massive resources to devising a solution to the tunnel threat.

Israeli intelligence suggests that the majority of Hamas’ investment in the underground enterprise is actually diverted to digging a network of defense tunnels, inside Gaza’s territory. The terrorist group has built a complex labyrinth of underground passageways stretching dozens of miles. From inside the tunnels, Hamas leaders can command and control operations and terrorist can lie in wait for their next mission or fire rockets at Israel.

Over the past three years, the IDF has developed tactical plans and combat doctrines meant to deal with the tunnel threat. Alongside the continued search for technological solutions, which has been largely successful, the IDF’s Engineering and Infantry corps have developed various countermeasures, and regular and reserve soldiers have undergone extensive tunnel warfare training.

The military has also built several new training facilities where troops would be able to simulate combat situations involving terrorist operatives, placing a special emphasis on underground warfare.

Yahalom, the Engineering Corps’ elite special operations unit, has been tasked with heading the IDF’s efforts to develop counter-tunnel measures. The unit has grown significantly over the past years, focusing its efforts on the development of rapid-response and robotic measures by which the tunnel threat can be neutralized.

The Israeli Air Force has also drawn the necessary conclusion from the 2014 conflict, which military officials said would be implemented should future escalation demand it.

The issue of Hamas’ offensive tunnels remains a top priority for the military. As the IDF cannot peg the exact number of viable terror tunnels the Islamic group has at its disposal, Military Intelligence and its counterpart in the Shin Bet security agency are monitoring Hamas’ digging operations very closely.

Meanwhile, the IDF is also focusing its efforts on the construction on a physical counter-tunnel obstacle around Gaza, with aim of dealing Hamas’ tunnel grid a deathblow. An IDF official explained the logic behind the construction on a physical barrier is simple: It will stop the digging of a tunnel in its tracks, and the sophisticated obstacle will alert the IDF to the new tunnel threatening to breach Israeli territory.

The defense establishment hopes to complete the obstacle within two years. Construction is prioritized according to the IDF’s security situation assessments and the distance of the communities most affected by the threat from the border.

Security considerations bar the IDF from disclosing the full nature of the advanced technologies developed and deployed to counter the tunnel threat, but military sources said the IDF’s ability to counter the underground threat has significantly improved in 2017.  (Israel Hayom)

On the brink of a Hamas-Israel exchange deal?

Israel and Hamas are close to an agreement on conducting the first stage of a prisoner exchange within the next three months, Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Saturday.

The two sides reached a deal with the involvement of Russia, Egypt, and UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, according to the report. Al-Akhbar stressed that “Israel green-lighted the first stage in the deal.”

That first stage would resemble the exchange for IDF tank gunner Gilad Schalit six years ago. Hamas is expected to send via an intermediary a video of the Israeli hostages. As in 2011, after the video is delivered to Israel, the exchange will begin to take place.

According to Al-Akhbar, the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in action in the Gaza Strip during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, will be returned to Israel along with three Israeli citizens, Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Jumaa Abu Ghanima.

In return, Hamas demands all the prisoners who were released during the Schalit deal, but were later rearrested by Israel (after violating the terms of their release). In addition, Hamas demands that female inmates, teenagers and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council detained in Israeli prisons be released.

In his latest speech, Hamas Politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh claimed that “the release of prisoners could be imminent.”

Hamas sources told the Lebanese newspaper that they are “very close to a prisoners exchange deal” with Israel.

Furthermore, these sources added: “In addition to the two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, the organization is holding captive a person who will enable the release of all [Hamas] inmates in Israeli prisons.”

While the official position of Israel is that both soldiers were killed in action, Hamas repeatedly claims they are alive.

The second stage of the deal is, according to the sources, to include the release of more Palestinian inmates. Ahmed Sa’adat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in prison for heading an illegal terrorist organization and for his responsibility for all actions carried out by his organization, particularly for the murder of tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001; and Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti, serving five life sentences for five terrorist murders, are on the top of the list of names.

Again according to the Hamas sources, “Israel has agreed to release all the prisoners [released during the Schalit deal] who were apprehended again, with the exception of 53 prisoners, including Nail Barghouti whom they want to hold until the last stage of the deal – but Hamas refuses to accept this condition.”

Nail Barghouti, who killed bus driver Mordechai Yekuel on the Ofra-Shilo road on January 29, 1978, is the longest serving terrorist prisoner in Israeli prison.

He was released in the Schalit deal, and rearrested two years later after violating the terms of his release.  (Jerusalem Post)

Amb. Dennis Ross: Premature Palestinian state recognition should be discouraged

At an exclusive AIJAC press briefing in Melbourne, Anti-Defamation Commission guest and veteran former US Middle East peace envoy and Ambassador Dennis Ross spoke out against calls for the immediate recognition of a Palestinian state, saying such gestures place ‘symbols over substance’ and makes peacemaking harder.

Recently, resolutions were passed in the Labor-controlled South Australian parliament and at the Tasmania state Labor conference urging the recognition of a Palestinian state, while all eyes are on the influential New South Wales state Labor conference later this month where a similar resolution is being considered.

When asked whether such resolutions should be encouraged or discouraged, Ross said:

It should be discouraged, for a simple reason. I would say the thing that plagues the Palestinian National Movement more than anything else has been an historic preoccupation with symbols, not substance. Instead of building a state, the Palestinians would like to get a flag. Give me a flag at the UN. The day after they get a flag at the UN, nothing changes. The cynicism among Palestinians is a function of seeing nothing changes. And the instinct to pursue the symbols is, symbols are great and doesn’t require anything of us.

Well, building a state actually requires something of them.  It actually requires assuming responsibility, assuming a kind of accountability. Being prepared to make hard decisions. Pursuing the symbols is a way of avoiding the hard decisions. You don’t do the Palestinians and their national movement any favors when the message to them is, let’s continue pursuing the symbols.

Look, we have 130 countries now recognise us. Does that change one iota on the ground? Not at all. I think, you know, the message to the Palestinians should be, we’d like to work with you on building a rule of law. We’d like to help build your infrastructure. We’re going to recognise you as a state, and, of course, you won’t be a state and nothing is going to change on the ground and the day after you win applause for that people look around them and say, once again, we were promised things and nothing changes. That also deepens disbelief. But the instinct to reach for the symbol, to avoid real decisions, to feel that you don’t have to deal with Israel, because the international community will solve it for us. When the international community solves it for us, again, it won’t require anything of us.

One of the hard problems when you get the UN resolutions is, nothing is ever required of the Palestinians. I’m a big believer [that] both sides have responsibilities. Both sides have obligations. I have no problem asking something of the Israelis. I have a hard time asking only of the Israelis. You know, there is supposed to be two states for two peoples. It can’t be that all the onus is on one side.

Yes, Israel is the stronger party. That has frequently been used as kind of an excuse to say, well they are the ones who have to do things, not the Palestinians. And that’s a mistake for the Palestinians. It delays the day when they will actually have a state.

So, mark me down as someone who is not a fan or believes in that.

At the press briefing, Ambassador Ross discussed a range of issues affecting the Middle East, including the Iranian threat, the war in Syria, the blockade of Qatar, the fight against ISIS and Islamist extremists.

Warning against power vacuums that invariably get filled by “some of the worst elements”, Ambassador Ross provided his take on what the US could have done better policy-wise and, he said, what must be done to repair the damage, particularly in regard to addressing the inherent weaknesses in the Iranian nuclear deal.  (J Wire)

Modi visit shows Israel can improve foreign ties even without a peace process

During 3 jam-packed days in Israel, the leader of the world’s second-largest Muslim population did not mention the two-state solution even once

By Raphael Ahren              The Times of Israel

http://www.timesofisrael.com/modi-visit-shows-israel-can-improve-foreign-ties-even-without-a-peace-process/

There can be no doubt that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Israel this week was a major success. The first-ever visit from the leader of the country with the world’s second-largest Muslim population, which just a few decades ago insisted that its passports are “valid for any country except Israel,” underlined how things have changed.

The three-day visit was brimful with grand gestures — including plenty of Modi’s trademark hugs — and mutual declarations of love and admiration. Modi’s jam-packed itinerary comprised political talks with the government and the leader of the opposition, and secret talks on improving counter-terrorism coordination. There was an emotional meeting with an 11-year-old Jewish boy who lost his parents in the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. Modi addressed a Bollywood-infused concert/rally for Israelis with Indian roots. And after paying his respect to the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, he spontaneously visited the nearby grave of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl.

On the economic front, too, the visit will have an impressive lasting impact. Israel and India established a $40 million Industrial R&D and Innovation Fund, and individual companies from both nations signed deals worth millions. Jerusalem and Delhi signed seven bilateral agreements, covering technology, agriculture, water and even space research. “We already agreed that the sky is not the limit because we’re doing it in space, but I think that the talents that we have in India and Israel are amazing and the possibilities are amazing,” Netanyahu said Thursday at the launch of the Israel-India CEOs’ Forum.

Modi formally invited Netanyahu to visit India, something the Israeli leader had dreamed about for years.

But amid all the compliments paid and deals struck, perhaps most striking about Modi’s historic visit were the things that weren’t mentioned. Iran — a close Indian ally — for example. The Islamic Republic’s ongoing destabilizing actions in the region and continuous calls for Israel’s destruction were not raised, or at least not publicly.

In meetings with world leaders, even those with good relations to Tehran, Netanyahu usually doesn’t shy away from talking about Iran. Last December in Astana, for instance, he asked Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to send a message to Tehran. “Ask … why Iran continues to threaten us with annihilation. Don’t you understand: we’re not a rabbit. We’re a tiger,” he said.

Hosting Modi, Netanyahu refrained from belligerent statements directed at Tehran, despite the fact that Iranian terrorists were responsible for a 2012 terror attack in New Delhi, during which an Israeli was wounded. India never made any arrests in this case.

More importantly, the Palestinian issue was entirely absent from Modi’s visit. The Indian leader’s intention to separate Delhi’s friendship to Israel from its support for the Palestinians was evident once it emerged that Modi would visit Israel but skip the Palestinian Authority. But it was even more remarkable that in several speeches Modi made in Israel, he never cited the issue.

In a two-page joint statement the governments of Israel and India released Wednesday, the two leaders dedicated but one of 22 paragraphs to their discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “They underlined the need for the establishment of a just and durable peace in the region,” the declaration read. “They reaffirmed their support for an early negotiated solution between the sides based on mutual recognition and security arrangements.”

The premier of India — a state which in 1947 opposed the UN Partition Plan and, 65 years later, supported granting the “State of Palestine” nonmember state status at the UN General Assembly — did not endorse Palestinian statehood once during his time here. He did not mention the two-state solution or the principle of two states for two peoples.

By way of contrast, Australia — arguably the most pro-Israel country in the world today — explicitly “affirmed its support for a two-state solution” when Netanyahu visited Down Under in February. (That trip occurred after US President Donald Trump’s inauguration, when the Israeli prime minister had already started avoiding this terminology.)

India, of course, still supports the Palestinian cause. The excellent personal relationship between Netanyahu and Modi notwithstanding, New Delhi refuses to promise to dramatically change its voting pattern at international organizations in Jerusalem’s favor. “We will vote on a resolution based on its merit and not based on friendship,” India’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, Pavan Kapoor, told The Times of Israel a few days before Modi arrived.

That a successful visit full of friendly gestures does not necessarily change a country’s long-entrenched views on Israel/Palestine became obvious this week, when Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan — Muslim-majority countries Netanyahu visited seven months ago — voted in favor of a UNESCO resolution denying Israeli claims to the Old City of Jerusalem.

“My hope is,” Netanyahu told Ukrainian President Nazarbayev in mid-December, “that the great partnership that we are building here will also be reflected in international forums like the UN. That’s beginning to happen.”

It obviously hasn’t happened yet.

And yet, Modi’s three-day trip, which included a helicopter ride to Haifa during which Netanyahu showed him “Israel’s narrow waist and explained the area to him,” according to his aides, undoubtedly enhanced the Indian leader’s understanding of and sympathy for the Jewish state.

The fact that he entirely detached his principled support for the Palestinians from his desire to strengthen ties with Jerusalem cannot be seen as anything but a total success for Netanyahu. It marks a certain vindication, too, of his theory that it is possible to strengthen Israel’s foreign relations even in the absence of progress in the peace process.

Palestine push puts Labor Party into worrying territory

by   Peter Baldwin                     The Australian

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/palestine-push-puts-labor-party-into-worrying-territory/news-story/6acdb68a18be0c527cdf5572f6085b36

Bob Carr is at it again, working hard to shift the ALP away from its (and his) previous position of strong support for Israel to one of seriously unbalanced support for Palestinian demands.

Talk about strange bedfellows. Carr has congratulated Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, a person he strongly criticised in the past, for her “very strong and very brave” efforts on this issue. High praise for someone who consistently reduces the Israel-Palestine issue to wooden Marxist cliches about “oppressor and oppressed”.

Later this month, the NSW Labor Party conference will debate a motion, strongly backed by Carr, calling on a future ALP government to “recognise Palestine”. The proposition will then go to the ALP national conference next year, at which it is expected to pass with the support of the national left and the NSW right.

This would represent a significant hardening of the position adopted at the 2015 national conference that called on a Labor government to “discuss” Palestinian recognition with other nations if the peace process stalled and Israeli settlement building continued. The 2015 resolution was itself a major change from the party’s earlier stance, which recognised that a Palestinian state could emerge only from a comprehensive negotiated settlement with Israel.

 

So, assuming this goes as expected, a Labor federal government would be formally bound to grant immediate and uncondi­tional recognition to a Palestinian state.

But before turning to the merits of this proposition it is worth digressing to reflect on the political dynamics at work here that are symptomatic of some local and global trends that should worry not just Israel’s supporters but anyone concerned with the integrity of policymaking processes in our main political parties.

Last week Carr gave a talk on Palestine to a gathering of ALP members organised by the party organisations in the Watson and Grayndler federal electorates. The MPs for these seats Tony Burke and Anthony Albanese, frontbenchers affiliated with the right and left factions respectively, were present.

Carr’s talk consisted of an unbroken recitation of alleged Israeli villainy, devoid of even the slightest suggestion of fault on the Palestinian side. There was no reference to the repeated two-state offers by Israel and no acknowledgment of the genocidally hostile “negotiating partners” that Israel has had to deal with.

The whole tenor of the speech was grotesquely unbalanced, as must have been obvious to Carr and the senior MPs present. Yet there was not the slightest dissent from anyone at the meeting. Labor members of left and right now are starting to sound like Rhiannon.

So what is going on here? The obvious explanation is to point to electoral demographics, the string of western Sydney electorates with large Arab and Muslim populations, Blaxland topping the list with Muslims comprising about 25 per cent of the electorate.

But more significant than straight electoral demographics, I suspect, is the changing composition of party branches, some of which are drawn overwhelmingly from these communities, so that MPs may have more reason to fear loss of party preselection than defeat in the general election.

I can speak on this as someone who was closely involved in the “branch stacking” wars in the 1970s and 80s that for a time convulsed Labor branches in inner Sydney.

When it comes to branch stacking, there is nothing to match an industrial scale “ethnic stack” in which “community leaders” deliver the votes en masse. Local members are rightly terrified of this phenomenon, and typically fall over themselves trying to appease whichever group, or individual, is responsible.

The risk is that the Labor Party — and not just the Labor Party — becomes a vehicle for sectional interests. For a warning of where this can lead consider Britain, where extremism and anti-Semitism have become rife within the Labour Party, leading to two official inquiries and where party gatherings are starting to be segregated by gender in some areas.

Even the Oxford University Labour Club has been rent by disturbing allegations of anti-Semitism.

I don’t think it is possible to overstate the importance of this sinister development.

But returning to the Palestinian recognition issue, we need to ask what kind of Palestinian state would be being recognised?

Under customary international law, a proper state must meet certain criteria set out in the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933).

As well as having a permanent population and a defined territory, it must also have a single centralised administration that can assert its authority over and maintain order among the people in its territory without the assistance of another state.

Furthermore, it must be able to enter into relations with other states and be able to deliver on any international agreements it makes.

To suggest that a Palestinian state based on the West Bank and Gaza Strip could, under anything like present circumstances, go anywhere near meeting these requirements is patently ludicrous. Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 the territory has been controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, which seized control in an armed coup in 2007 that culminated with Palestinian Authority officials being hurled to their death off tall buildings.

The two factions remain bitterly divided to this day, with the Palestinian Authority controlled by Fatah recently cutting off electricity to Gaza.

Hamas has used its control of Gaza to mount repeated attacks on Israel, most recently in 2014, with appalling consequences for Israel but most especially for the people of Gaza.

The position of Fatah in the West Bank is tenuous, and increasingly devoid of any shred of democratic legitimacy. It is loathed for its corrupt and incompetent administration. The last legislative elections were held 11 years ago and were won decisively by Hamas.

In 2014 the Fatah administration was saved from being overthrown by a Hamas coup only by the intervention of the Israeli domestic security agency, Shin Bet, Israel reasonably taking the view that Fatah was the lesser evil compared to Hamas with its explicitly genocidal ideology.

A lesser evil, perhaps, but Fatah is still pretty bad. Back in 2015 the “moderate” chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, praised those who participated in a “stab a Jew” campaign that arose from a blatantly confected campaign suggesting the Israelis were about to change the status of the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Mosque holy sites to allow Jews as well as Muslims to pray there. This was what Abbas posted on his personal website: “Al-Aqsa Mosque is ours … and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem … We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood.”

But back to Hamas.

Just a month ago Hamas leaders emphatically rejected the right of Fatah figures such as Abbas to negotiate on their behalf after the latter gave certain commitments when meeting US President Donald Trump: “No one has authorised Mahmoud Abbas to represent the Palestinian people and no one is obligated to any position he’s issued.” So much for the requirement that a legitimate state be able to enter into and adhere to international agreements.

Just recently Hamas released a new policy statement that some in the West hailed as replacing its genocidal charter that (in article 7) looks forward to the day when the last Jew can be exterminated. This is delusional: Hamas has made clear that the new document does not supersede the charter or alter it in any way.

Importantly, the new document that Hamas’s apologists in the West hail for its “moderation” makes clear that a state based on the West Bank and Gaza would be no more than a transitional step to the ultimate goal of Israel’s complete destruction. As the document spells out: “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”

This chimes with numerous statements by senior Hamas officials through the years, such as this one from Mahmoud al-Zahar, who has served as foreign minister in Hamas’s Gaza regime: “We don’t want to establish an Islamic emirate in Gaza; we want an Islamic state in all Palestine.”

Zahar went on to say that if Hamas could move part of its assets to the West Bank, “we will be able to go for a successful battle that we will win it at the end.”

What does he envisage happening “at the end”? In 2010 he boasted about the anticipated annihilation of the Jewish people in these terms: “We extended our hands to feed these hungry dogs and wild beasts, and they devoured our fingers. We have learned the lesson — there is no place for you among us, and you have no future among the nations of the world. You are headed to annihilation.”

Let us suppose hypothetically that the international efforts to secure a Palestinian state under present circumstances were successful and that Israel was forced to concede a state based on the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and withdraw all of its security forces. What might eventuate?

I think we can confidently predict that the results will not be pretty.

Consider the Gaza precedent. In 2005 the government of Ariel Sharon carried out a complete withdrawal of the Israeli civil and military presence in Gaza. The 9000 Jewish settlers were forced to leave, in some cases having to be dragged out.

There was a great deal of optimism at the time, the decision receiving high praise interna­tion­ally. There was even talk of Gaza becoming a “Singapore on the Mediterranean”. A Jewish businessman financed the purchase of a complex of high-technology greenhouses that supported a thriving horticultural industry and donated it to the Palestinians.

We all know what happened. There was a vicious power struggle in which Hamas emerged triumphant over the Palestinian Authority and began the militarisation of the strip, building a huge subterranean infrastructure of tunnels, command posts, weapons and storage dumps below the densely populated areas of the strip.

Key military assets were deliberately placed near hospitals, schools and mosques to maximise the adverse publicity for Israel when the inevitable battles began. Since then, there have been repeated rounds of vicious conflict. Israel has been terrorised with rocket attacks and Gaza civilians suffered even worse as Israel retaliated. Parts of Gaza where the military assets were placed have been repeatedly reduced to smoking ruins, the economy crippled, the civilian population immiserated.

Now consider: who is likely to prevail in a fight for control of a Palestinian state based on the West Bank as well as Gaza between the rancid, corrupt and unpopular Fatah and the jihadist fanatics of Hamas? All recent precedent suggests the latter will be the “strong horse”.

Having thus secured control, Hamas would be in an incomparably stronger position to pursue its ultimate goal of completely destroying Israel.

It would have far more territory, much greater proximity to the main Israeli population centres, and much longer borders that would be impossible to secure to prevent infiltration of arms.

The result would be “Gaza writ large”, an unimaginable catastrophe for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Peter Baldwin was a minister in the Hawke and Keating governments.

Five reasons the UNESCO Hebron decision matters to Israel and the world

By   Seth J. Frantzman    The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Five-reasons-the-UNESCO-Hebron-decision-matters-to-Israel-and-the-world-499084

Now that the UN agency has decided that the Old Town of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs are an endangered Palestinian heritage, the conflict takes a new and alarming turn.

In a contentious secret vote, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee declared the Old Town of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs a Palestinian heritage site in danger.

The decision was condemned by Israel, but welcomed by the Palestinians. Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry Riyad al-Maliki said that the world had “recognized our right to register Hebron and the Ibrahimi Mosque under Palestinian sovereignty and on the World Heritage List.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tweeted “UNESCO seems intent on sprouting anti-Jewish lies, while it remains silent as the region’s heritage is destroyed by brutal extremists.”

The UNESCO decision has wider implications for Israel and the Palestinians, and for UNESCO as well. Here are five major impacts and issues that were raised by the vote on Hebron.

Palestinians on a winning streak at UNESCO

While the Palestinians have been thwarted on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza to create a state or remove Israel’s presence from areas they claim, they have been successful in international forums like UNESCO. The Palestinian Authority successfully sought membership in UNESCO as a state in 2011, as part of a campaign to join numerous UN agencies. It won membership in a vote of 107 to 14, presaging the vote on Friday in which 12 voted in favor of inscribing Hebron and three against. At the time, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, condemned the decision.

Since 2011, the Palestinians successfully got the Church of the Nativity and pilgrimage route in Bethlehem inscribed in 2012 and the “Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir” inscribed in 2014. UNESCO, which declared the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls a world heritage site in 1981 at the behest of Jordan, has frequently criticized Israeli actions in Jerusalem. On Tuesday, it labeled Israel an “occupying power” in Jerusalem and criticized archaeological excavations. Israel lost a vote in May at the UNESCO executive board that also negated Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. This has been the routine for years. UNESCO, like other UN bodies, criticizes Israel’s actions, and it will continue to do so. Lobbying by Israeli allies or even whittling away at the automatic pro-Palestinian majority hasn’t worked. Palestinians will likely use the coming years to try to register more sites, especially those they think will undermine Israel’s rule in the West Bank. This could include campaigns regarding Rachel’s Tomb, or sites such as Nabi Samwil or even the monastery inside Ma’ale Adumim.

Politicizing world heritage

The votes at UNESCO, especially related to Hebron and Battir, have been more about politics and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians than a purely historical interest in preserving world heritage. Without Israel and the Palestinians being involved in Hebron, the site would still merit inclusion on a list of sites of extraordinary value in the region. With thousands of years of history, it is the burial place of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah of the Bible. The main building was built by Herod and is considered one of his best preserved structures. It was later used as a church under the Crusaders and additional Islamic elements were added to it in the 14th century that led to its present form. Declaring it and the area around it a unique site is no different from what UNESCO has done with parts of Mexico City or the historic center of Cordoba. However UNESCO notes at Cordoba that “in the 13th century, under Ferdinand III, the Saint, Cordoba’s Great Mosque was turned into a cathedral.” In Mexico City there is no attempt to deny the Aztec heritage. With Hebron, there is an attempt to minimize the Jewish connection to the tomb, as if thousands of years of Jewish connection and the fact that the current building was built as a Jewish site initially, is of less significance. An article in The Guardian on the UNESCO decision only mentions that the building was constructed as “the Ibrahimi mosque, also known as the Sanctuary of Abraham, in the 14th century.” The opposite terminology as that used to describe the Cordoba mosque that became a cathedral.

UNESCO declares the Cave of the Patriarchs as Palestinian, angering Israel

UNESCO declares the Cave of the Patriarchs as Palestinian, angering Israel (Reuters)

The same politicizing was done at UNESCO to get Battir inscribed. It was mostly pushed through to stop Israel from constructing the security barrier alongside the village. Battir is of no unique or special value in comparison to hundreds of other villages that are similar, yet it became a UNESCO site because of its dispute with Israel. Since its inscription, there has been no major investment in it and few tourists visit it. In addition, the Jewish connection to Battir, Beitar of the time of the rebellion against Rome, is erased from the site’s inscription, and it is said to be “representative of many centuries of culture and human interaction with the environment.” No mention of it being the site of the Bar Kochba revolt, or even the fact it is still called in Arabic “Khurbet al-Yahud,” meaning “the ruin of the Jews.”

Palestinians sites are always “in danger”

The Palestinian Authority has exploited UNESCO to declare all three of its sites “in danger,” including Hebron, Battir and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Old City of Jerusalem is also on the list of 54 UNESCO sites in “danger.” This puts Palestinian sites “in danger” up there with Libya, Mali, Iraq, Congo, Syria and Yemen. The other countries are undergoing vicious wars, and in Iraq and Syria sites have been totally razed by ISIS. ISIS demolished Hatra and blew up parts of Palmyra. Battir, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem’s Old City are not in danger in the way other sites UNESCO lists as “in danger” are. The decision to keep voting them onto the “danger” list is part of a Palestinian campaign against Israel, not an honest weighing of whether these sites face any danger. For instance, the Bethlehem sites are under the control of the Palestinian Authority, yet in “danger” ostensibly from Israel. This disproportionate claim of “in danger” is used as a tool to attack and undermined Israel’s rule in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Ironically sites like Sebastia, the important historical site of ancient Samaria, which is actually in danger after years of neglect, go unrecognized by UNESCO.

Israel has nine UNESCO sites

Israel has nine UNESCO sites, including Masada, the White City of Tel Aviv and the Necropolis of Beit Shean which was inscribed in 2015. Israel should recognize that, although it won’t win at UNESCO in any areas over the Green Line or in Jerusalem, all of which is not seen as part of Israel by the UN, Israel has ample opportunities to develop and register new UNESCO sites in other areas. In recent years, it has registered the Caves of Maresha at Beit Guvrin, for instance. Rather than arguing with the Palestinians at UNESCO, Israel might consider seeking to add more sites to its list.

Will UNESCO be reformed?

The Israel-Palestinian conflict playing out at UNESCO is not good news for archaeology or history. The concept of UNESCO was supposed to be a way for the world to acknowledge a list of sites, now numbering 1,052, that are of special cultural, historic, scientific or other significance. The sites would be protected, monitored and be a sort of “bucket list” of places in the world of supreme worth. Turning sites into part of a religious, ethnic or political conflict runs contrary to the purpose, but because of the way UNESCO is run, with countries represented and voting, the ability to prevent politicization is difficult. Sites such as Preah Vinear on the Thai-Cambodian border have also found themselves in the middle of national disputes. The difficulty of registering sites in Taiwan, which is seen as part of China, mean sites are less likely to be recognized there. Other international disputes or religious disputes or reluctance of countries to declare a place a UNESCO site because it means they should preserve it, all go against the ideal of UNESCO.  The dispute in Hebron could engender attempts to reform how sites are registered or shed a light on which sites are declared “in danger.”