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Latest Israel News – 17th February

Netanyahu, Trump avoid two-state solution commitments

Although both Trump and Netanyahu avoided making any clear explicit support of the two-state solution, Trump called for Israel to “hold off on settlements for a little bit.”

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened up their remarks during a joint press conference on Wednesday, expressing a profound friendship with one another individually and on the national level.

“Today I have the honor of welcoming my friend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House,” said Trump, while opening up his remarks. “With his visit, the United States reaffirms our unbreakable bond with our cherished ally, Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replied to Trump in a similar manner.

“Israel has no better ally than the United States and I want to assure you, the US has no better ally than Israel,” Netanyahu said. “Our alliance has been remarkably strong, but under your leadership, I am confident it will get even stronger. I look forward to working with you to dramatically upgrade our alliance in every field.”

“Our administration is committed towards working with Israel and our common allies in the region towards greater security and stability,” Trump noted. “That includes working towards a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States will encourage a peace and really a great peace deal, but it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement.”

Trump stressed that such an agreement would necessitate both Israel and the Palestinians each making compromises.

“As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises,” Trump said.

Netanyahu also reiterated his support for a peace agreement with the Palestinians but stressed that the Palestinians must accept two preconditions before Israel can accede to any agreement.

“Rather than deal with labels, I want to deal with substance,” said Netanyahu.

There are two prerequisites for peace that I laid out several years ago, and they haven’t changed,” he continued. “The Palestinians must first recognize the Jewish state, they have to stop calling for Israel’s destruction. They have to stop educating their people for Israel’s destruction.”

“Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River because if we don’t we know what will happen, because otherwise, we’ll get another radical Islamic terrorist state in the Palestinian areas, exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East,” Netanyahu added. “Unfortunately, the Palestinians vehemently reject both prerequisites to peace.”

Netanyahu also called for alternative and newer pathways in the direction of achieving a final peace agreement.

“We have to look for new ways and new ideas on how to move peace forward,” Netanyahu suggested. “And I believe the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach, involving our new Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace and a peace with the Palestinians.”

Trump appeared to give at least tacit approval to Netanyahu’s idea of adopting a regional approach to solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“I think it’s a terrific thing and I think we have pretty good cooperation from people that in the past would never ever have thought about doing that,” said Trump adding that “I think our new concept that we’ve been discussing is something that allows them to show more flexibility than they have in the past because you have a lot bigger canvass to play with.”

Trump unequivocally backed Netanyahu’s two preconditions for the Palestinians.

“I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some of that hate that they’re taught from a very young age,” Trump stressed. “I’ve seen what they’re taught. It starts at a very young age. And it starts in the schoolroom.”

“The (Palestinians) have to acknowledge Israel,” continued Trump. “There’s no way a deal can be made unless they ready to acknowledge a very important country.”

Responding to a question, Trump also called for a minor and temporary halt on Israel’s part regarding new construction in Judea and Samaria, very succinctly asking that Israel “hold off on settlements for a little bit.”

At the same time, unlike his predecessors, Trump did not explicitly demand a two-state solution.

“I’m looking at two state and one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” said Trump. “I could live with either one. I thought for a while the 2 state looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

Trump added that “as far as the embassy moving to Jerusalem, I’d love to see that happen.”

Netanyahu who was also asked whether he would commit to the two-state solution as he did in 2009, noticeably avoided giving a direct answer. Instead, he touched upon his previously stated case that “settlements” were not the main issue in the conflict.

“I believe that the issue of the settlements is not the core of the conflict nor does it really drive the conflict,” Netanyahu commented. “I think it is an issue that has to be resolved in the context of peace negotiations.”

Netanyahu also hinted that Israel’s policy on “settlements” would be coordinated with the Trump administration.

“We’re also gonna speak about it, President Trump and I so that we can arrive at an understanding so that we don’t keep bumping into each other,” he said.  (World Israel News)

Netanyahu: Yes to Jerusalem building, cautious settlement activity

There will be no limitations on Jewish building in Jerusalem over the pre-1967 lines, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday after his meeting with US President Donald Trump, but added that he had a more cautious approach to West Bank settlement construction.

“Building will continue in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu told reporters during a briefing at Blair House, noting however that when it came to Area C of the West Bank where all the Israeli settlements are located, there was a question of how to move forward in the future.

Netanyahu neatly ducked reporter’s questions, as they tried to pin him down on the thorny issues that were raised regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his joint press conference Trump, including the issue of West Bank settlements.

It had been presumed that Netanyahu would pitch the idea of continued settlement building in the high population density areas of Judea and Samaria.

But Netanyahu refused to say if he had done so and instead said that Israel and the Trump Administration were still working toward finding an understanding with regard to the settlements.

“We agreed to continue to talk about this,” he said as he explained that this was something that would be worked out in the future. Netanyahu indicated that he would be cautious about settlement activity, but did not rule it out.

He did however seem to indicate that he would wait before the government authorized the new settlement for the 40 families who have been forcibly evacuated from the Amona outpost earlier this month.

The prime minister said he had made the it very clear to Trump that Israel “unequivocally” supported the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Trump had not given him a commitment on the matter, but said that he was studying the issue.

Netanyahu did not attempt to interpret Trump’s statement with respect to consider either a two-state or a one-state option to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But in a manner similar to his statement in the press conference, he indicted that he still remained committed to the two-state solution as a resolution to the conflict.

The issue, he explained, is not whether one supports a two-state solution, but rather what do they mean when they speak of two-states.

“It depends on how you define it,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu pointed out that the Israelis and the Palestinians often describe the idea in very difference terms, with the Palestinians refusing to accept that is the homeland of the Jewish people. The Palestinians have also refused to accept a continued IDF presence the West Bank.

“Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state and asks for an IDF withdrawal, that is not acceptable,” Netanyahu said.

The stakes are very high here, he said, without the IDF presence there is a risk that the Palestinians would have a failed radicalized state.

“I have to worry that it will not be a terror state,” Netanyahu said. The question is “Will it [a future Palestinian state] be Costa Rica or Iran?” he asked.

“If the IDF isn’t there, than what military would be placed there to protect it?” he asked.

Netanyahu recalled that he had this conversation with former US Vice President Joe Biden during the Obama Administration.

Biden had been concerned that an IDF military presence in the West Bank meant that the Palestinians would not have a sovereign state.

But one also has to contend with the realistic dangers of the situation, Netanyahu recalled telling him. Netanyahu added that one only needed to look at what happened with the Arab spring to understand why he was concerned.

When asked about the possibility of annexation, Netanyahu spoke about the dangers of not having a Palestinian state.

“My principle is this. I do not want to annex 2 million Palestinians. I do not have any interest in that.”    (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu to Trump: Recognize Golan Heights as part of Israel

The United States should recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Donald Trump when the two men met in Washington on Wednesday.

“His reaction was not earth shattering,” Netanyahu told reporters during a briefing at Blair House after the meeting. He did not elaborate any further about the mountainous area that Israel captured from Syria in the Six-Day war and then annexed in 1981.

The United States and the international community have never recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights.

Israel has long argued that it must maintain that territory for security reasons.

The two men also talked about the civil war in Syria in general, with Netanyahu explaining that Israel had no interest in getting involved in the conflict.

“We want to avoid involvement as much as possible,” Netanyahu said.

Still, he said, Israel would obviously act, as it has done in the past, to halt threats to its security particularly from Iran which is smuggling weapons through Syria to Hizbollah in Lebanon. Iran also seeks  to establish a base in Syria.

Israel has in the past carried out limited airstrikes in Syria. Netanyahu told the reporters that Israel coordinates any activity it takes in Syria with Russia. The prime minister said that he speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin about every two to three weeks.                   (Jerusalem Post)

Officials say PM unlikely to resign in case of indictment

The feeling within Israel’s political establishment is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not step down, even if he is issued an indictment.

On Tuesday, according to a Channel 2 report, officials close to Netanyahu confirmed a report on the website News1 that he has no intention of resigning if indicted.

According to the News1 report, Netanyahu has reached an understanding with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who agreed not to dismantle the government, even if Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decides to indict the prime minister for allegedly accepting illicit gifts.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein also addressed the issue on Tuesday. “No one is happy about a prime minister under investigation,” he said. “He is innocent of all crimes until it is proven otherwise in a court of law, and that’s how it should be dealt with. They ask me: ‘But how is he functioning?’ Fact, he is currently on an official state visit; he appears in the Knesset; he does his job. If he was locked away behind closed doors with his lawyer and only thinking about investigations, maybe I would say: ‘Mr. Prime Minister, this is not how to serve the state.’ As long as he is doing his job, we will wait patiently. I hope the results are forthcoming, whatever they may be.”

Edelstein went on to explain that “according to the wording of the law as well, a prime minister doesn’t have to resign, this is what the law clearly states. These things are situational, beginning with the severity or lack thereof of the indictment and the amount of time left until the next elections.”  (Israel Hayom)

ALP elders lead shift on Israel, call to recognise Palestine

Labor’s Middle East policy is fracturing as parliamentarians, party members and elders believe the peace process has failed because of ­Israeli provocation and intransigence, and it is time to recognise a Palestinian state.

Former Labor foreign ministers Gareth Evans and Bob Carr have added their support to Bob Hawke’s call for Australia to join 137 other countries and grant diplomatic recognition to Palestine. Their decision to go public places Bill Shorten in a difficult position ahead of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Australia next week.

“I have long been totally persuaded by the argument that Israel cannot be simultaneously a Jewish state, a democratic state, and a state occupying the whole of ­biblical Judea and Samaria,” Mr Evans said.

“The demographic reality is that, sooner or later, however many new immigrants arrived in Israel, within those broader boundaries Jews will eventually be outnumbered by Palestinians, and if democracy is to prevail, Israel will lose its Jewish identity.

“If it is to maintain that identity — which … it should — the only ­alternative to recognising a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is to ­become an apartheid state.

“That logic is as compelling today as it was a generation ago, and it remains a tragedy that successive Israeli and Arab leaders, and those outside the region who have tried to move them, have so far proved unable or willing to translate it into a just and sustainable settlement.”

Mr Carr said difficult issues such as the status of Jerusalem and holy sites, refugee returns and ­security guarantees for Israel could be negotiated. “The ­dynamic driving this is the ­remorseless spread of settlements on the West Bank, which is smothering the prospects of a Palestinian state,” he said.

“Without a Palestinian state, Israel has a majority Arab population living under unequal laws and denied a right to vote.

“Clearly there is a tipping point where the world has got to recognise a Palestinian state. That sends a message to the Israelis against settlements, occupation and annexation. It sends a message to the Palestinians that there is still hope of a state achieved through negotiations with security guarantees for Israel.”

Mr Shorten’s Victorian Right faction is mostly isolated in its steadfast support for Israel as the NSW Right has adopted a more pro-Palestinian position in line with the national Left.

Former Queensland Labor vice-president Wendy Turner said Australia should recognise Palestine and Labor’s policy was no longer “tenable”.

“This is a watershed moment,” she said. “There is more sympathy for the Palestinian cause inside the party today because there is a better understanding of the true facts on the ground.

“People want the party to change its policy. This is about human rights and international law, about our values.”                  (The Australian)

Already a ‘Model for Emulation,’ Israeli Airline Security to Undergo Additional Enhancement

Israeli airline security is about to be enhanced, the Hebrew news site Walla reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, the decision to upgrade training for guards and increase other preventive measures on El Al, Arkia and IsraAir planes was taken by the Shin Bet security agency, which declined to comment on the grounds that it does not publicize such information.

This is not the first time that security improvements have been made on Israeli planes, Walla said. Among the technological advancements that have earned the Jewish state the reputation of being a world leader in the field of flight safety and airport security, are systems for intercepting surface-to-air missiles and bullet-proof double doors between cockpits and cabins.

For this reason, airline officials told Walla, Israel has frequently been asked to assist other countries in this realm, particularly since 9/11. Shin Bet agents and representatives of the Israel Airports Authority and El Al have had many working meetings on the topic with foreign counterparts, even observing and critiquing security drills. Indeed, a former El Al security chief told Walla, “Ben Gurion International Airport has become a model for emulation.”              (the Algemeiner)

Forget peace talks — only Palestinians can solve conflict with Israel

by   Bret Stephens                        The Australian/The Wall Street Journal


Jared Kushner will get his first real taste of Mid-East diplomacy this week, when his father-in-law receives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Since the 36-year-old former newspaper publisher has been widely touted as the administration’s point man on Israeli-Arab issues, this week’s column humbly offers four rules Kushner ought to observe in the months and years ahead.

(1) The Clifford Rule. After stepping down as Lyndon Johnson’s US defence secretary in 1969, the late Clark Clifford settled into the life of a Washington superlawyer — the sort of man who, for a price, could open all the right doors for his clients and fix some of their worst problems.

Approached by a man with one such problem, Clifford considered the matter, then advised: “Do nothing.”

Two days later, the man got a bill from Clifford for $US10,000. Infuriated that such seemingly simple advice would cost so whopping a sum, he marched into Clifford’s office to remonstrate.

Clifford replied: “Do nothing.” He then sent the man a bill for an additional $US10,000.

The moral of this (perhaps apocryphal) story is that “do nothing” is often the best advice — and that failing to heed it can cost you dearly.

Had John Kerry adopted the Clifford Rule, he might have been spared his fruitless year-long foray into Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which led to the 2014 Gaza War. Had Condoleezza Rice adopted it, she might not have advocated Palestinian elections that led to victory for Hamas in 2006. Had Bill Clinton taken it, he might have been spared the diplomatic humiliation of being spurned by Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000.

(2) The Kissinger Rule. If “do nothing” is generally good advice, what’s Kushner supposed to do?

Henry Kissinger once observed that “when enough bureaucratic prestige has been invested in a policy, it is easier to see it fail than to abandon it”. So it is with the formulas that govern official US thinking toward the Arab-Israeli conflict: “land for peace” and the “two-state solution”. The State Department has been rolling those boulders up the hill for

50 years, and still it thinks one last push will do the trick. The Kissinger Rule disposes with the futility. It says that if you can’t solve a small problem, fix the larger one that encompasses it. So it was with Taiwan and the “One China” policy, or with Egypt and its post-1973 realignment with the US.

For Kushner, that means the goal of diplomacy isn’t to “solve” the Palestinian problem. It’s to anaesthetise it through a studied combination of economic help and diplomatic neglect. The real prize lies in further cultivating Jerusalem’s ties to Cairo, Riyadh, Amman and Abu Dhabi, as part of an Alliance of Moderates and Modernisers that can defeat Sunni and Shia radicals from Raqqa to Tehran. The goal should be to make Palestinian leaders realise over time that they are the region’s atavism, not its future.

(3) The Bush Rule. In 2004, George W. Bush and then prime minister Ariel Sharon exchanged letters in which the US president acknowledged the world had changed since 1967.

“In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centres,” Bush wrote, “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

The point of the Bush Rule is to dispose with the flim-flam that the Mid-East’s contrived borders are sacred. And the best place Kushner could put the Bush Rule to use is to offer US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, captured in 1967 from Syria.

The benefits: Nobody there, including 20,000 Druze, wants to be ruled by Damascus. US recognition would put the Assad regimen and its Iranian and Russian backers on notice that there’s a price for barbaric behaviour. And it gives the administration an opportunity to demonstrate its pro-Israel bona fides while exerting a restraining influence on settlement building in the West Bank.

(4) The Shultz Rule. Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state held to a clear principle when it came to negotiating with tough adversaries: Establish a reasonable position, announce your bottom line, stick to it. No haggling. It proved effective in dealing with Soviet arms negotiators.

The overworked metaphor for Mid-East diplomacy is the bazaar. The secret to not losing one’s shirt is not to enter the bazaar in the first place.

The US cannot solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; only Palestinians can. The US does have an interest in strengthening ties between its allies, both for their own sake and to counter their common enemies. If the Palestinians want to be a part of the solution, so much the better. If they want to continue to be a part of the problem, they can live with the consequences.

The principles are straightforward. The courage to stick to them will be the test of Kushner’s diplomatic mettle.

Allowing Trump’s talk of a one-state solution to go unchallenged, Netanyahu fails Israel

The President told the world he personally doesn’’t mind if there’s a one-state or a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But a single entity between river and sea means the end of Jewish, democratic Israel. How dare Israel’’s PM not point that out?

by David Horovitz                   The Times of Israel


An American president on Wednesday told the world he really does not mind if there is only a single state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River ­ a development that would represent the collapse of Zionism, of a Jewish, democratic state for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland. And an Israeli prime minister, standing alongside him, chuckled heartily.

At a press conference full of mutual compliments, repeated handshakes and praise for their respective nations, peoples and wives, Donald Trump characteristically spoke of his ambition to seal a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Also true to form, he made clear that he wasn’t familiar with the details, and wasn’t about to familiarize himself, either. Asked by an Israeli reporter if he sought to broker a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the president responded lightly: “So, I’m looking at two state and one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said, as Netanyahu broke into laughter.

“I’m very happy with the one that both parties like,” Trump repeated. “I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

Well maybe Donald Trump “can live with either one.”

But Benjamin Netanyahu knows he can’’t. Yet Israel’s prime minister, who vowed barely a year ago to ensure that “Israel will not be a binational state,” chose not to challenge the cheerful president. He responded by cracking a tired old joke about Israelis having many opinions. He chose not to highlight that because there are almost as many non-Jews as Jews between the river and sea, the establishment of a single sovereign entity in Israel and the disputed territories, a single state of Jews and Arabs, necessarily spells the end of either a Jewish majority Israel, or a democratic Israel, or both.

Trump may not be particularly bothered, but Netanyahu needed to be. And yet he chuckled as Trump made those comments, and then spent the rest of their joint press conference performing verbal acrobatics to avoid saying the words “two-state solution” himself.

Instead, Netanyahu repeatedly reiterated his demands that Israel maintain overall security control between the river and the sea, and that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state ­ even as the president set out a potential formula that would put an end to Jewish statehood.

It took decades before the Palestinian leadership began to even pay lip service to the idea of accepting a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, rather than demanding all of mandatory Palestine. Many, probably most Israelis share Netanyahu’s belief that the Palestinians have still not truly come to terms with the legitimacy of Israel’s existence, with the legitimacy of our revived Jewish sovereignty in the only place on earth where the Jewish nation has ever sought and achieved independence. Many, probably most Israelis also back Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition of any peace accord. And many Israelis support that other key prime ministerial demand, for overall security control in the West Bank, to ensure that Palestinian independence not be abused to harm Israel ­ to ensure, as he put it on Wednesday, that another Islamist dictatorial entity not arise there.

But if the non-expert Trump ­ undermining Netanyahu by demanding a settlement halt one minute (“I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit”), and then undermining Zionism by talking of a one-state solution the next ­ doesn’t appreciate the necessity of some variant of a two-state solution, it was incumbent upon Netanyahu to highlight the imperative.

The prime minister could have reiterated his oft-stated conviction that the Palestinians will have to make do with something less than full sovereignty. He could have repeated his call for a demilitarized Palestinian entity. “What I’m willing to give the Palestinians,” the prime minister reportedly told his cabinet colleagues just three weeks ago, “is not exactly a state with full authority, rather a state minus.”

But he chose not to say that on Wednesday at the White House. He chose to play into the hands of Palestinian rejectionists ­ and of those Israelis who would sacrifice democracy for the sake of sovereignty in the biblical Judea and Samaria, or who prefer to delude themselves by claiming that there aren’t actually all that many Palestinians.

Netanyahu probably bought himself a little time with his hardline coalition partners. (Naftali Bennett, for instance, had threatened “an earthquake” if either Netanyahu or Trump endorsed a two-state solution.) But he failed the Jewish nation.

There was much of substantive interest in the two leaders’ first press conference. Mutual compliments apart, Trump sought to compensate for the omission of Jews from his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, expressed welcome praise for Israel’s resilience, pledged to stand by Israel in skewed global forums, and voiced a determination to tackle the Iranian nuclear threat.

Both men spoke at length about the ostensible opportunity to achieve a great, big regional peace deal between Israel and much of the wider Arab world, in turn pushing the Palestinians toward compromise. This is a possibility Netanyahu has been asserting for years, facilitated, he believes, by the common concern over Iran among the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Gulf states.

There was more laughter when Netanyahu failed to respond with what Trump thought was sufficient enthusiasm to his optimistic talk of such an accord being possible. An understated response? “That’s the art of the deal,” quipped Netanyahu, sycophantically.

Plainly Netanyahu was enjoying himself. For Israel’s second-longest serving prime minster, Wednesday marked his first White House meeting with a Republican president, and he was able to articulate many of his most fervently held beliefs and concerns without fear of contradiction: He spoke of the need to tackle radical Islamic terrorism; stressed the Iranians’ overt efforts to destroy Israel, as evidenced by the threats they inscribe in Hebrew on their missiles; argued that the Palestinians continue to educate their people to seek Israel’s demise. “If anyone believes that I, as prime minister of Israel, responsible for the security of my country, would blindly walk into a Palestinian terror state that seeks the destruction of my country, they’re gravely mistaken,” he said powerfully at one point.

He also said that “the source of the conflict” is “the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any boundary.” And yet, by allowing Trump’s talk of a possible single entity between river and sea to pass without contradiction, Netanyahu himself dealt a stinging, public blow to the Israel we are living in today. For if our prime minister is unwilling to speak up, loudly and clearly, in defense of a Jewish, democratic Israel within internationally recognized borders, who else will? Certainly not President Donald Trump.

Bob Hawke is wrong: recognising Palestine would just encourage intransigence:

by Mark Leibler               The Australian Financial Review


Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke is correct that, as former Israeli PM Golda Meir said, there can be no peace for Israel without an honourable settlement of the aspirations of the Palestinian people. However, there can also only be peace if both parties negotiate that honourable settlement in good faith, and are prepared to make the painful compromises required.

For Israel, as shown by past offers, these compromises involve giving up the equivalent of the whole of the West Bank and Gaza, giving up some control of its capital Jerusalem and taking some risks with its security. For the Palestinians, these involve genuinely accepting Israel’s right to exist, accepting that a peace agreement will mean the end of all claims against Israel and, perhaps most importantly, accepting that seeking to overrun Israel by demanding a “right of return” for five million descendants of refugees is not compatible with a two state peace.

Israel offered the requisite concessions in 2000, 2001 and 2008, but the Palestinian leadership refused, without even offering counter-proposals. In 2009, at President Obama’s urging, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu instituted an unprecedented 10-month freeze on building in settlements, to encourage peace talks, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to talk. In 2014, according to US mediator Martin Indyk, Netanyahu was “sweating bullets” for an agreement but Abbas just walked away. Since then, Netanyahu has repeatedly offered to negotiate without preconditions, but Abbas has refused. Instead of good faith negotiations, the Palestinian Authority has pursued a path of vicious anti-Israel incitement, endorsement of terrorism and delegitimisation of Israel.

Encouraging intransigence

There have been no new settlements in the West Bank since 1999, but there have been extra dwellings added to those settlements.

In the face of such Palestinian intransigence, conferring unilateral premature diplomatic recognition, as Hawke proposes, is not only unhelpful, it is counter-productive. It will only reward, and thus encourage, further Palestinian intransigence.

Mr Hawke was well regarded as a friend of Israel, but now repeats myths often used by those who would go so far as to deny Israel’s right to exist. For example, he claims that, at partition, Jews owned less than six per cent of the land, with Palestinians owning the other 94 per cent. In fact, while Jews did own around six per cent, the Arabs there owned only a little more, with the rest being unowned – the equivalent of Crown land. The partition gave the Jews only the areas with a Jewish majority population, and it would have stayed that way had not the local Arabs and Israel’s Arab neighbours invaded with the intention of destroying the Jewish state at birth.

Similarly, Hawke’s claim that settlements are the main obstacle to peace, while commonly heard, is demonstrably untrue. There was no peace prior to 1967, when Israel had no settlements. Now, Israel’s settlements only occupy 1.7 per cent of the West Bank land, as even Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat has acknowledged. Israel has built no new settlements since 1999 and existing settlements have hardly expanded beyond their geographical boundaries since 2003. Most settlers live in areas it has been generally accepted for over 20 years Israel will retain as part of land swaps in any peace agreement. This is also the case for the recently announced 2500 new housing units – not new settlements as Hawke inaccurately describes them.

In fact, contrary to Hawke’s implications, settlement growth under Netanyahu has occurred at a slower rate than under his three predecessors, Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, who were all regarded as more inclined to seeking peace.

Settlement growth has slowed

When offered peace with Egypt in 1979, Israel withdrew all its settlements from Sinai. In 2005, as a unilateral peace initiative, Israel withdrew all settlers from Gaza, turning over rule of the area to the Palestinians. But instead of a peaceful neighbour, Israel has received over ten thousand rockets and mortars, and terror tunnels.

Ever since United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967, the prescription for peace has been for Israel to cede land it took in its defensive Six Day War, in exchange for genuine recognition and peace, with the exact borders to be negotiated between the sides. In the 1993 Oslo Accords, it was universally agreed that these borders and all other issues could only be determined by direct negotiations.

Yet UN Resolution 2334, cited so approvingly by Hawke, goes so far as to state that the Israeli presence anywhere beyond the 1949 ceasefire lines, including even the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”, even though there were ancient Jewish communities in many of these areas prior to the Jordanian army driving all the Jews out in 1948. Australia’s current government is to be warmly commended for its statements distancing itself from this counterproductive resolution.

It has been Palestinian intransigence, not settlements, that has consistently stymied peace initiatives. Therefore, for there to be any chance of a resolution, the international community must make clear to the Palestinians that they will not achieve their state, or diplomatic recognition, unless they are genuinely prepared to commit to peace, starting by resuming direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions.

How a pro-Palestinian American reporter changed his views on Israel and the conflict

by Hunter Stuart     The Jerusalem Post/Report


In the summer of 2015, just three days after I moved to Israel for a year-and-a-half stint freelance reporting in the region, I wrote down my feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A friend of mine in New York had mentioned that it would be interesting to see if living in Israel would change the way I felt. My friend probably suspected that things would look differently from the front-row seat, so to speak.

Boy was he right.

Before I moved to Jerusalem, I was very pro-Palestinian. Almost everyone I knew was. I grew up Protestant in a quaint, politically correct New England town; almost everyone around me was liberal. And being liberal in America comes with a pantheon of beliefs: You support pluralism, tolerance and diversity. You support gay rights, access to abortion and gun control.

The belief that Israel is unjustly bullying the Palestinians is an inextricable part of this pantheon. Most progressives in the US view Israel as an aggressor, oppressing the poor noble Arabs who are being so brutally denied their freedom.

“I believe Israel should relinquish control of all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank,” I wrote on July 11, 2015, from a park near my new apartment in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood. “The occupation is an act of colonialism that only creates suffering, frustration and despair for millions of Palestinians.”

Perhaps predictably, this view didn’t play well among the people I met during my first few weeks in Jerusalem, which, even by Israeli standards, is a conservative city. My wife and I had moved to the Jewish side of town, more or less by chance ‒ the first Airbnb host who accepted our request to rent a room happened to be in the Nachlaot neighborhood where even the hipsters are religious. As a result, almost everyone we interacted with was Jewish Israeli and very supportive of Israel. I didn’t announce my pro-Palestinian views to them ‒ I was too afraid. But they must have sensed my antipathy. (I later learned this is a sixth sense Israelis have.)

During my first few weeks in Jerusalem, I found myself constantly getting into arguments about the conflict with my roommates and in social settings. Unlike waspy New England, Israel does not afford the privilege of politely avoiding unpleasant political conversations. Outside of the Tel Aviv bubble, the conflict is omnipresent; it affects almost every aspect of life. Avoiding it simply isn’t an option.

During one such argument, one of my roommates ‒ an easygoing American-Jewish guy in his mid-30s ‒ seemed to be suggesting that all Palestinians were terrorists. I became annoyed and told him it was wrong to call all Palestinians terrorists, that only a small minority supported terrorist attacks. My roommate promptly pulled out his laptop, called up a 2013 Pew Research poll and showed me the screen. I saw that Pew’s researchers had done a survey of thousands of people across the Muslim world, asking them if they supported suicide bombings against civilians in order to “defend Islam from its enemies.” The survey found that 62 percent of Palestinians believed such terrorist acts against civilians were justified in these circumstances. And not only that, the Palestinian territories were the only place in the Muslim world where a majority of citizens supported terrorism; everywhere else it was a minority ‒ from Lebanon and Egypt to Pakistan and Malaysia.

I didn’t let my roommate win the argument early morning hours. But the statistic stuck with me.

Less than a month later, in October 2015, a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Jewish-Israelis began. Nearly every day, an angry, young Muslim Palestinian was stabbing or trying to run over someone with his car. A lot of the violence was happening in Jerusalem, some of it just steps from where my wife and I had moved into an apartment of our own, and lived and worked and went grocery shopping.

At first, I’ll admit, I didn’t feel a lot of sympathy for Israelis. Actually, I felt hostility. I felt that they were the cause of the violence. I wanted to shake them and say, “Stop occupying the West Bank, stop blockading Gaza, and Palestinians will stop killing you!” It seemed so obvious to me; how could they not realize that all this violence was a natural, if unpleasant, reaction to their government’s actions?

IT WASN’T until the violence became personal that I began to see the Israeli side with greater clarity. As the “Stabbing Intifada” (as it later became known) kicked into full gear, I traveled to the impoverished East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan for a story I was writing.

As soon as I arrived, a Palestinian kid who was perhaps 13 years old pointed at me and shouted “Yehud!” which means “Jew” in Arabic. Immediately, a large group of his friends who’d been hanging out nearby were running toward me with a terrifying sparkle in their eyes. “Yehud! Yehud!” they shouted. I felt my heart start to pound. I shouted at them in Arabic “Ana mish yehud! Ana mish yehud!” (“I’m not Jewish, I’m not Jewish!”) over and over. I told them, also in Arabic, that I was an American journalist who “loved Palestine.” They calmed down after that, but the look in their eyes when they first saw me is something I’ll never forget. Later, at a house party in Amman, I met a Palestinian guy who’d grown up in Silwan. “If you were Jewish, they probably would have killed you,” he said.

I made it back from Silwan that day in one piece; others weren’t so lucky. In Jerusalem, and across Israel, the attacks against Jewish Israelis continued. My attitude began to shift, probably because the violence was, for the first time, affecting me directly.

I found myself worrying that my wife might be stabbed while she was on her way home from work. Every time my phone lit up with news of another attack, if I wasn’t in the same room with her, I immediately sent her a text to see if she was OK.

Then a friend of mine ‒ an older Jewish Israeli guy who’d hosted my wife and I for dinner at his apartment in the capital’s Talpiot neighborhood ‒ told us that his friend had been murdered by two Palestinians the month before on a city bus not far from his apartment. I knew the story well ‒ not just from the news, but because I’d interviewed the family of one of the Palestinian guys who’d carried out the attack. In the interview, his family told me how he was a promising young entrepreneur who was pushed over the edge by the daily humiliations wrought by the occupation. I ended up writing a very sympathetic story about the killer for a Jordanian news site called Al Bawaba News.

Writing about the attack with the detached analytical eye of a journalist, I was able to take the perspective that (I was fast learning) most news outlets wanted – that Israel was to blame for Palestinian violence. But when I learned that my friend’s friend was one of the victims, it changed my way of thinking. I felt horrible for having publicly glorified one of the murderers. The man who’d been murdered, Richard Lakin, was originally from New England, like me, and had taught English to Israeli and Palestinian children at a school in Jerusalem. He believed in making peace with the Palestinians and “never missed a peace rally,” according to his son.

By contrast, his killers ‒ who came from a middle-class neighborhood in East Jerusalem and were actually quite well-off relative to most Palestinians ‒ had been paid 20,000 shekels to storm the bus that morning with their cowardly guns. More than a year later, you can still see their faces plastered around East Jerusalem on posters hailing them as martyrs. (One of the attackers, Baha Aliyan, 22, was killed at the scene; the second, Bilal Ranem, 23, was captured alive.)

Being personally affected by the conflict caused me to question how forgiving I’d been of Palestinian violence previously. Liberals, human-rights groups and most of the media, though, continued to blame Israel for being attacked. Ban Ki-moon, for example, who at the time was the head of the United Nations, said in January 2016 ‒ as the streets of my neighborhood were stained with the blood of innocent Israeli civilians ‒ that it was “human nature to react to occupation.” In fact, there is no justification for killing someone, no matter what the political situation may or may not be, and Ban’s statement rankled me.

SIMILARLY, THE way that international NGOs, European leaders and others criticized Israel for its “shoot to kill” policy during this wave of terrorist attacks began to annoy me more and more.

In almost any nation, when the police confront a terrorist in the act of killing people, they shoot him dead and human-rights groups don’t make a peep. This happens in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh; it happens in Germany and England and France and Spain, and it sure as hell happens in the US (see San Bernardino and the Orlando nightclub massacre, the Boston Marathon bombings and others). Did Amnesty International condemn Barack Obama or Abdel Fattah al-Sisi or Angela Merkel or François Hollande when their police forces killed a terrorist? Nope. But they made a point of condemning Israel.

What’s more, I started to notice that the media were unusually fixated on highlighting the moral shortcomings of Israel, even as other countries acted in infinitely more abominable ways. If Israel threatened to relocate a collection of Palestinian agricultural tents, as they did in the West Bank village of Sussiya in the summer of 2015, for example, the story made international headlines for weeks. The liberal outrage was endless. Yet, when Egypt’s president used bulldozers and dynamite to demolish an entire neighborhood in the Sinai Peninsula in the name of national security, people scarcely noticed.

Where do these double standards come from?

I’ve come to believe it’s because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appeals to the appetites of progressive people in Europe, the US and elsewhere. They see it as a white, first world people beating on a poor, third world one. It’s easier for them to become outraged watching two radically different civilizations collide than it is watching Alawite Muslims kill Sunni Muslims in Syria, for example, because to a Western observer the difference between Alawite and Sunni is too subtle to fit into a compelling narrative that can be easily summarized on Facebook.

Unfortunately for Israel, videos on social media that show US-funded Jewish soldiers shooting tear gas at rioting Arab Muslims is Hollywood-level entertainment and fits perfectly with the liberal narrative that Muslims are oppressed and Jewish Israel is a bully.

I admire the liberal desire to support the underdog. They want to be on the right side of history, and their intentions are good. The problem is that their beliefs often don’t square with reality.

In reality, things are much, much more complex than a five-minute spot on the evening news or a two paragraph-long Facebook status will ever be able to portray. As a friend told me recently, “The reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so intractable is that both sides have a really, really good point.”

Unfortunately, not enough people see it that way. I recently bumped into an old friend from college who told me that a guy we’d both known when we were freshmen had been active in Palestinian protests for a time after graduating. The fact that a smart, well-educated kid from Vermont, who went to one of the best liberal arts schools in the US, traveled thousands of miles to throw bricks at Israeli soldiers is very, very telling.

THERE’S AN old saying that goes, “If you want to change someone’s mind, first make them your friend.” The friends I made in Israel forever changed my mind about the country and about the Jewish need for a homeland. But I also spent a lot of time traveling in the Palestinian territories getting to know Palestinians. I spent close to six weeks visiting Nablus and Ramallah and Hebron, and even the Gaza Strip. I met some incredible people in these places; I saw generosity and hospitality unlike anywhere else I’ve ever traveled to. I’ll be friends with some of them for the rest of my life. But almost without fail, their views of the conflict and of Israel and of Jewish people in general was extremely disappointing.

First of all, even the kindest, most educated, upper-class Palestinians reject 100 percent of Israel ‒ not just the occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. They simply will not be content with a two-state solution ‒ what they want is to return to their ancestral homes in Ramle and Jaffa and Haifa and other places in 1948 Israel, within the Green Line. And they want the Israelis who live there now to leave. They almost never speak of coexistence; they speak of expulsion, of taking back “their” land.

To me, however morally complicated the creation of Israel may have been, however many innocent Palestinians were killed and displaced from their homes in 1948 and again in 1967, Israel is now a fact, accepted by almost every government in the world (including many in the Middle East). But the ongoing desire of Palestinians to wipe Israel off the map is unproductive and backward- looking and the West must be very careful not to encourage it.

The other thing is that a large percentage of Palestinians, even among the educated upper class, believe that most Islamic terrorism is actually engineered by Western governments to make Muslims look bad. I know this sounds absurd. It’s a conspiracy theory that’s comical until you hear it repeated again and again as I did. I can hardly count how many Palestinians told me the stabbing attacks in Israel in 2015 and 2016 were fake or that the CIA had created ISIS.

For example, after the November 2015 ISIS shootings in Paris that killed 150 people, a colleague of mine ‒ an educated 27-year-old Lebanese-Palestinian journalist ‒ casually remarked that those massacres were “probably” perpetrated by the Mossad. Though she was a journalist like me and ought to have been committed to searching out the truth no matter how unpleasant, this woman was unwilling to admit that Muslims would commit such a horrific attack, and all too willing ‒ in defiance of all the facts ‒ to blame it on Israeli spies.

USUALLY WHEN I travel, I try to listen to people without imposing my own opinion. To me that’s what traveling is all about ‒ keeping your mouth shut and learning other perspectives. But after 3-4 weeks of traveling in Palestine, I grew tired of these conspiracy theories.

“Arabs need to take responsibility for certain things,” I finally shouted at a friend I’d made in Nablus the third or fourth time he tried to deflect blame from Muslims for Islamic terrorism. “Not everything is America’s fault.” My friend seemed surprised by my vehemence and let the subject drop ‒ obviously I’d reached my saturation point with this nonsense.

I know a lot of Jewish-Israelis who are willing to share the land with Muslim Palestinians, but for some reason finding a Palestinian who feels the same way was near impossible. Countless Palestinians told me they didn’t have a problem with Jewish people, only with Zionists. They seemed to forget that Jews have been living in Israel for thousands of years, along with Muslims, Christians, Druse, atheists, agnostics and others, more often than not, in harmony. Instead, the vast majority believe that Jews only arrived in Israel in the 20th century and, therefore, don’t belong here.

Of course, I don’t blame Palestinians for wanting autonomy or for wanting to return to their ancestral homes. It’s a completely natural desire; I know I would feel the same way if something similar happened to my own family. But as long as Western powers and NGOs and progressive people in the US and Europe fail to condemn Palestinian attacks against Israel, the deeper the conflict will grow and the more blood will be shed on both sides.

I’m back in the US now, living on the north side of Chicago in a liberal enclave where most people ‒ including Jews ‒ tend to support the Palestinians’ bid for statehood, which is gaining steam every year in international forums such as the UN.

Personally, I’m no longer convinced it’s such a good idea. If the Palestinians are given their own state in the West Bank, who’s to say they wouldn’t elect Hamas, an Islamist group committed to Israel’s destruction? That’s exactly what happened in Gaza in democratic elections in 2006. Fortunately, Gaza is somewhat isolated, and its geographic isolation ‒ plus the Israeli and Egyptian-imposed blockade ‒ limit the damage the group can do. But having them in control of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem is something Israel obviously doesn’t want. It would be suicide. And no country can be expected to consent to its own destruction.

So, now, I don’t know what to think. I’m squarely in the center of one of the most polarized issues in the world. I guess, at least, I can say that, no matter how socially unacceptable it was, I was willing to change my mind.

If only more people would do the same.