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Latest Israel News – 19th May

Lapid: Israel Not the Problem in Negotiations

Yair Lapid, chairman of the Israeli opposition Yesh Atid Party, said Sunday, “Israel has been looking for an opportunity to separate from the Palestinians for years and years now. We have offered three times to the Palestinians more than 90% of the territories in order for them to build a country of their own, and three times they refused. So we are not the problem. The Palestinians are the problem. And we are willing to negotiate with no preconditions, and we are willing to talk, and we are willing to push forward for any kind of peace agreement with the Palestinians. We have never been the problem.”

“I don’t think Israel can offer more. Listen. Take, for example, the disengagement [from Gaza]…in 2005. We left Gaza, we dismantled the settlements, the army left, we even left them with 3,000 greenhouses for them to build an economy for themselves, and instead of doing so, they fired 15,000 missiles on our children and women and elderly.”

“The question is not how you draw the map. The question is the seriousness of the players involved. We are serious. We’ve been serious for many, many years now, and the Palestinians were playing games.”  (Fox News)


Netanyahu to unveil economic incentives for Palestinians on eve of Trump visit

Anxious for US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel and the West Bank to take place in an atmosphere of relative conciliation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly preparing a package of economic incentives for the Palestinians that he will unveil on Sunday, the day before Trump’s arrival.

Netanyahu plans to present the measures to his cabinet for approval on Sunday, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported on Wednesday evening.

In similar cooperative vein, the report said, Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon held talks in Jerusalem earlier Wednesday with his Palestinian Authority counterpart Shukri Bishara.

Among the measures they discussed were the opening of the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan 24 hours a day, progress on industrial zones near Jenin and Tarkumiya (west of Hebron), and more efficient arrangements for handling Israel’s transfer to the PA of taxes it collects on PA exports. A key concern raised by Bishara, the report said, was the high level of unemployment among well-qualified Palestinian graduates.

Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt will meet with Israel and Palestinian officials on Thursday to help finalize some of the specifics of Trump’s visit, which will include an unprecedented visit by a serving US president to the Western Wall, a speech at the Israel Museum, talks with Netanyahu, and a visit to Bethlehem where Trump will also meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Trump said on Wednesday that during his Israel visit, “I’ll reaffirm our unbreakable alliance with the Jewish state.” In Saudi Arabia, his first stop on the trip, he said, he would meet with leaders of the Islamic world and “challenge them” to “fight hatred and extremism” because “we have to stop radical Islamic terrorism.”

According to the Palestinian Authority’s official Wafa news agency, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said Greenblatt met on Wednesday with PA officials ahead of Trump’s visit to Bethlehem on May 23.

Channel 2 said Trump’s busy schedule would leave “no window” for a tripartite meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas, but this report was not confirmed.

Trump’s visit next week comes amid efforts by the US president to renew long-dormant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The US president, who has referred to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as “the ultimate deal,” said earlier this month, when hosting Abbas, that he would be willing to play whatever role was needed to strike an accord.

The new US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told the Israel Hayom daily in an interview published Wednesday that he does not believe Trump will arrive with any specific proposals to help jumpstart the peace process.

“I am fairly confident that the president will not come to Israel with any particular plan or road map or with any specifics on peace,” Friedman said, while adding that “I think he has made it clear that what he really wants to see at the beginning is for the parties to meet with each other without preconditions and to begin a discussion that would hopefully lead to peace.”  (the Times of Israel)

Settler fires on rock throwers who attack his car, kills Palestinian, injures journalist

An Israeli man whose car was attacked by rock throwers shot dead a Palestinian man and injured an Associated Press photojournalist during a riot in the northern West Bank city of Hawara on Thursday, officials said.

A group of Palestinians were throwing rocks at cars along the road near Nablus, when the Israeli civilian, a resident of a nearby settlement, opened fire with his handgun, the army said.

“A violent riot broke out near Hawara, in which hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks at passing vehicles,” a military spokesperson said.

The protest was held in support of hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails on hunger strike since April 17.

A spokesperson for the Binyamin Regional Council said in a statement that it was the third day in a row of riots along the highway near Hawara.

The Israeli driver attempted to drive through the crowd, Palestinian security sources said, and was surrounded by protesters who threw stones at the car, smashing his windshield.

He then exited the car and opened fire along with soldiers who were deployed at the scene, according to the sources.

After shooting, the settler fled the scene. Afterwards, he told the army he had “fired into the air.” The military said, however, that it was aware of two casualties on the scene, apparently from gunshots.

“That’s being looked into,” the army said.

The military broke up the violent protest, using “riot dispersal means,” an army spokesperson said, referring to a host of measures including tear gas, rubber bullets and a stinky spray known as “skunk.”

The killed Palestinian man was identified by the Palestinian Health Minister as 23-year-old Muataz Hussain Tayeh, of Beita outside Nablus.

The photographer was identified by the Associated Press as Majdi Mohammed.

A short while after the shooting, a group of Israeli settlers handed out candy bars to IDF soldiers near Hawara. They candy bars were of the same brand that Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving a life sentence for orchestrating terror attacks, was caught on film eating while ostensibly on the hunger strike.

The head of the ambulance unit for the Red Crescent, Ahmad Jibril, told the official Palestinian Authority’s Wafa news agency that Mohammed, the AP photographer, was shot in his hand and taken to the Rafidia hospital in Nablus for treatment.

He was said to be lightly wounded.

The Associated Press said in a statement: “We are awaiting further details on his condition and the events leading up to the shooting. AP urges a full investigation into the incident.”

A spokesperson for the Binyamin Regional Council said the Israeli man was on his way home from the grocery store when his car was pelted with stones.

A video of the damage to the man’s car shows the smashed windshield and dents along the door, apparently from the rock attack.

“They are blocking the road that goes from the Gav Hahar settlements to the center of the country. They throw rocks at cars full of families and children,” the spokesperson said.

The Gav Hahar settlements — Yitzhar, Alon Moreh, Har Bracha and Itamar — are located in the northern West Bank, near Nablus.

The head of the Samaria Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, said he “totally supports the resident who defended his life and the lives of those around him against attackers.”

A similar incident occurred on Wednesday near the Palestinian town of Silwad, in the central West Bank.

An Israeli settler shot and moderately wounded a Palestinian who thew stones at his car as he drove along a road near the town.

Police detained the shooter and a passenger who was in the car with him, but they were later released after their attorney, far-right activist Itamar Ben Gvir, argued that they opened fire in self-defense because they were attacked with rocks. Police also detained the Palestinian.

(the Times of Israel)

Likud puts pressure on Netanyahu ahead of Trump visit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be able to make concessions to the Palestinians in a diplomatic process initiated by US President Donald Trump, activists in his party vowed on Wednesday.

The activists submitted the 800 signatures of Likud central committee members required to convene the committee within a month to vote on a decision that could tie Netanyahu’s hands.

“Following 50 years since the liberation of Judea and Samaria and our eternal capital, Jerusalem, the Likud central committee calls upon the Likud’s elected officials to act to enable unlimited construction and apply Israeli law and sovereignty upon all the settled communities in Judea and Samaria,” the decision says.

Shevah Stern, who chairs the committee’s nationalist group, insisted that the timing of submitting the signatures is related to the anniversary of the Six Day War, not Trump’s visit next week. But he said he does not mind if it is seen as connected.

“From our point of view, it’s a statement not to Trump,” Stern said. “It’s a statement by the Likud to Netanyahu, the ministers, and the MKs. If the result will be that Netanyahu tells Trump that settling the land is holy for us, we will welcome that. We want building freely and sovereignty, and not gestures made at our expense.”

Close to half the Likud faction signed the petition, including Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis and Minister-without-Portfolio Ayoub Kara.

“We see ourselves as free to build in Judea and Samaria, and we expect construction to increase massively after Trump’s visit,” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said.

Netanyahu decided on Wednesday to give the Communications Ministry to Levin after Tzachi Hanegbi held it on a temporary basis.

Levin rejected the offer.    (Jerusalem Post)

Embassy decision coming ‘after Trump visit,’ US official says

US President Donald Trump will decide whether to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after visiting the region next week, and based in part on what he learns on the ground, a US official said on Thursday.

The official spoke on the matter one day after Bloomberg reported that Trump had already decided against the move.

Trump campaigned on a promise to relocate the embassy — a move that would roil the Arab world, but elate the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the conservative American Jewish organizations that have been consulting his White House.

“Contrary to media reports, President Trump has not yet made a decision on moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, and doesn’t plan on making a decision on this issue until after his visit,” the official said. (Jerusalem Post)

Gillard’s ‘concern’ on Israel settlements

Julia Gillard has warned Israeli politicians of her “mounting concern” over settlement policies that she says will not help achieve a two-state solution.

The former prime minister weighed in to the sensitive Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a lecture titled “Reflections on a Life of Purpose’’ before receiving an honorary doctorate from Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev overnight.

“Like so many other supporters of Israel around the world, I have watched with mounting concern some of the political discussion in Israel which is inconsistent with achieving a two-state solution,” Ms Gillard said in an excerpt of her speech, published by the university.

“I have become concerned that policies about settlements today will create long-lived problems for achieving that peace.

“What is the alternative? An unending security situation that is not in Israel’s best interest. I do not come with a plan or a blueprint but a state of mind.”

Israel’s bill that retroactively legalises unlawful Jewish settlements on privately-owned Palestinian land has stoked unease within the Labor Party.

Former ALP foreign ministers and prime ministers — including Kevin Rudd, Bob Hawke, Bob Carr and Gareth Evans — also sparked division after advocating a change in foreign policy and recognition of a Palestinian state ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic visit to Australia in February.

Jewish Labor MP Michael Danby accused the party “heroes” at the time of “provoking” Mr Netanyahu.

Ms Gillard said a “meaningful” peace process could only be achieved if leaders in Gaza, Tehran and around the world “end the ugly hateful speech that denounces Israel’s right to exist”, but she also wanted to see the “dawn of Palestine Independence Day”.

“I want the Palestinian people to enjoy and pursue their destiny in full, and to have a prosperous and successful country of their own — a nation they call home at long last,” she said.

“Everyone talks about a two-state solution. I did consistently as prime minister. That is my view today. There can be no other course. Nothing else will lead to lasting peace.”

‘If the jibe comes in after midnight, it’s fuelled by alcohol’

Ms Gillard, who was the nation’s first female prime minister and presided over a hung parliament after ousting Kevin Rudd, offered some advice to attendees at her lecture.

She said holding a sense of purpose had been a “defining feature” of her life.

“I had discovered that having a sense of purpose is one thing but sticking with it over time and in difficult circumstances is the real test,” Ms Gillard said.

“To live a life of purpose, you need to look within and define it. What’s driving you, what are your values, what’s your vision, what are you striving to achieve? Then write it out and reread it on the toughest of days, to steady yourself, to keep yourself on track.

“Staying true to your sense of purpose also requires a strong sense of self. Everyone likes to be liked. But living solely for the approval of others will be a life defined by their agendas, not your own. Living a life of purpose may well mean making hard decisions, the kind that divide those around you. It is therefore important to cultivate an inner reserve.”

She noted everyone could find themselves subjected to free and “often not friendly character assessments” on social media in a 24/7 digital world but a “clear sense of self” would help stay on track.

“It also requires the judgement to identify fair and constructive criticism from ugly sniping. Here’s one tip on how to do so that worked for me — if the jibe comes in after midnight on twitter, it’s fuelled by alcohol not acumen,” she said.

“Not every occupation is quite as exposed to harsh critiques as being prime minister.”

Tony Abbott will be presented with an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University tomorrow. (the Australian)

IDF General: Latest Merkava tank, APC, to ensure superiority on the battlefield

The Armored Corps will soon have cutting-edge vehicles capable of winning decisive victories, Brig.- Gen. Baruch Matzliach, head of the Merkava Tank Directorate, said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Second International Ground Warfare and Logistics Conference at Latrun, west of Jerusalem, Matzliach said that Armored Corps combat teams will soon have a range of integrated vehicles, including the Merkava MK4 “Barack” (or Lightning) main battle tank that is currently being developed.

“We have to look at all these vehicles as a family which act like a team. The vehicles won’t be identical, but they will compliment each other,” he said, adding that this will give the IDF superiority on the battlefield.

The Merkava MK4 Barack is designed as a “smart tank” with dozens of sensors to identify the enemy, and rapid fire closure that allows elimination of the target before it disappears from view.

The Armored Corps is fighting more and more unconventional wars and facing new enemy tactics.

According to Matzliach the main challenge facing it today is the “disappearing enemy,” which arrives, attacks and retreats within seconds.

If in previous wars it was usually clear where the enemy was located, today’s enemy is decentralized and much harder to get a fix on, he said. They have become “time sensitive targets,” Matzliach said, adding that the challenge is to strike them immediately after they are detected.

“Man is not capable of processing all the information when it comes to the disappearing enemy,” he said, comparing the sensors and computer in the “Barak” to the WAZE navigation system that makes things easier for drivers.

“We understand that we need a real-task computer in the tank to fuse all the information together, to present it to the tank commander so he can be able to make only the most important decision… so he can really see and identify the target and analyze situation in order to make the decision to shoot or not.”

As a “smart-tank” the “Barak” will have fused sensors and a task computer that will present all information to both the crew inside the tank as well as to other tanks and vehicles present in the field. The simplification and sharing of intelligence and information via C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) and the interoperability of all vehicles is crucial for more accurate and quicker hits.

In addition to the “Barak,” which is set to be ready within the next few years, Matzliach also described the Defense Ministry’s new wheeled armored personnel carrier, known as the “Eitan,” or “Steadfast,” which recently finished its first round of operational testing with the Nahal infantry brigade.

Replace the aging M113 APC, the “Eitan” will be able to carry 12 soldiers – including the commander, gunner and driver – who will enjoy more comfortable seating, air conditioning and touch-screen systems offering a 360-degree view of the battlefield.

While less fortified than the Namer APC that it will complement, it will be equipped with advanced defense systems such as the Trophy active protection system (which will also be installed on the “Barak”) and hi-tech armor designed to protect against rocket- propelled grenades and antitank missiles. The Eitan will also come equipped with an FN MAG 7.62 mm general-purpose machine gun, .50 caliber heavy machine gun, a 30 mm cannon with a range of 2,500 meters, and a missile launcher that can be operated without the crews leaving the vehicle and exposing themselves to the enemy.

“We are taking the APC to a whole new level, turning the Namer into an infantry fighting vehicle, which will allow crew to use it not only as an armored vehicle which wheels them from place to place,” Matzliach said. (Jerusalem Post)

Warm Start With Israel Cools as Trump Prepares Visit. What Happened?

by Ian Fisher               The New York Times

President Trump’s visit to Jerusalem next week has spun into a difficult diplomatic test with Israel, one of the United States’ firmest allies.

Not only has Mr. Trump given Russian diplomats intelligence that officials say came from Israel, but some of his aides have also publicly questioned whether one of the holiest Jewish sites, the Western Wall, truly belongs to Israel. And an accompanying host of small diplomatic misunderstandings and missteps have begun adding up to more than their parts.

Mr. Trump is also testing Israeli politics in a way few on the right here envisioned when he became president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told him Israel had “no greater friend.”

At the heart of it all is Mr. Trump’s quest, with the wider Arab world, for “the ultimate deal” to finally bring peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And during Mr. Trump’s visit here, it is his friend and ally Mr. Netanyahu who is most likely to be seen as the least cooperative, given the pressure he faces from settlers in the occupied West Bank and members of his own coalition, most of them deeply opposed to the idea of a two-state solution — one for Israelis, one for Palestinians.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, seen by many as hesitant, or even obstructionist, may seem to be more open to what Mr. Trump wants.

It is at once a case study in why this region is so unpredictable and a test of whether the new president is in over his head or knows something his many failed predecessors did not.

“We are close allies and share the same worldview,” Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, a member of Parliament from the Jewish Home party, said of Mr. Trump. But she urged Mr. Netanyahu, whose party is a coalition partner with hers, not to discuss two states even if Mr. Trump pushes that as a solution.

“I pray that the process with the U.S. administration will not come to any harm to our close relations,” she added. “I hope we will continue to have good relations, even if we don’t agree.”

Israeli officials are keeping silent on the intelligence breach with the Russians, so it is hard to tell whether it has hurt Mr. Trump’s position with Israel. Some experts speculate that the new tension may make Mr. Trump more likely to fulfill an Israeli dream: having the United States move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, tacitly supporting Israel’s claim that the divided city is its eternal capital.

But no one expects huge progress on Mr. Trump’s trip, which has already been tangled in diplomatic stumbles. In one, a scheduled trip to Masada, where Mr. Trump wanted to deliver a speech at the Roman-era mountaintop retreat that stands as a symbol of Israel’s unwillingness to surrender, was called off on Tuesday.

Feelings here were wounded when American officials declined to allow Israeli leaders, Mr. Netanyahu among them, to accompany Mr. Trump on the first visit of a sitting American president to the Western Wall. (The United States and most other nations have not recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, thus it remains, in policy, occupied land.)

All of this, mixed with a slowly building apprehension here that Mr. Trump might not, after all, be in the mood to give the Israeli right everything it wants, has left the distinct appearance that Mr. Netanyahu will be on the defensive as the president arrives. The two leaders took pains on Tuesday to reassert their working relationship in a phone call, but some chill is likely to last.

On the Palestinian side, there is little to lose in being solicitous of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Abbas’s advisers say that meetings with Mr. Trump’s team here and in Washington have been highly productive and that Mr. Abbas, 82, wishes to be the Palestinian leader who finally makes a deal. Critics note that he is highly unpopular at home and that his survival depends on maintaining power. Thus he has few options other than to restart talks if that is what Mr. Trump and regional Arab leaders want.

“What we want is a state of our own to live side by side with Israel,” said Majdi al-Khalidi, Mr. Abbas’s diplomatic adviser.


The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Mr. Trump in the Oval Office this month. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

David Keyes, Mr. Netanyahu’s spokesman, said the prime minister had consistently called on Mr. Abbas to negotiate but had repeatedly been turned down. “No external pressure is required for him to begin negotiations, and no domestic pressure will prevent him from doing so,” Mr. Keyes said.

The Israeli government’s rising tension with Mr. Trump is a departure from the mood here in the days just after his election, which the Israeli right celebrated with vigor after eight tumultuous years with President Barack Obama. Mr. Trump had promised to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, a step other nations have not taken, and he remained silent as the right announced renewed settlement building and even possible annexation in the West Bank.

There is much less fervor now. Mr. Trump decided not to move the embassy immediately, out of fear of backlash among Palestinians and the Arab world. He also publicly asked Mr. Netanyahu to exercise restraint on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which would mean less land for a possible Palestinian homeland.

While Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, said last week that the president intended to “reaffirm America’s unshakable bond to the Jewish state,” he also said Mr. Trump would “express his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians.” This has made many of Mr. Netanyahu’s allies nervous.

The embassy move remains an issue. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who will be traveling with the president in Israel, has said that no final decision has been made and that the administration is still mulling “what impact such a move would have” on peace talks.

Mr. Trump has until June 1 to decide: United States law calls for such a move, but his predecessors, concerned about reaction in the Arab world, signed waivers delaying the move every six months. (Mr. Tillerson also ruffled feathers here by referring to “Palestine,” a name Israel sees, and rejects, as a recognition of a Palestinian state.)

In what the Israeli news media declared on Monday was the “first” disagreement with Mr. Trump about this visit — suggesting more to come, and they did — Mr. Netanyahu answered Mr. Tillerson by saying that moving the embassy would only advance peace “by shattering the Palestinian fantasy according to which Jerusalem isn’t the capital of Israel.”

Though Mr. Abbas has opposed such a move as a de facto recognition of Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem — the Palestinians demand East Jerusalem as their future capital — he has been mostly silent on the issue these days.

Reaction in Israel to Mr. Trump’s information-sharing with Russia was uncharacteristically muted, with most outlets sticking to citing foreign news reports. It did not appear that any office-holding politician commented on it, and other analysts did so with the greatest of caution.

Among the most pressing questions, though, is whether any of the men — Mr. Trump, Mr. Abbas or Mr. Netanyahu — is capable of reaching deals that escaped the likes of Yitzhak Rabin and Bill Clinton, to name but a few.

“Most Palestinians have lost trust in Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to reach a fair and just deal,” said Fadi Quran, a young Palestinian activist and senior campaigner at Avaaz, a liberal advocacy group.

Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat, a Jewish settlement, who attended the inauguration of Mr. Trump and has met with his envoy here, has been one of the most prominent voices in arguing that two states is a failed enterprise. He asked, “Can any of the three deliver?”

Gilead Sher, a former Israeli negotiator under Prime Minister Ehud Barak and now a senior fellow with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said an almost incalculable number of variables would have to fall in place.

Mr. Netanyahu, he said, could overhaul his government with politicians who support a deal, such as those from the Labor Party. And, he said, Mr. Trump would have to be able to get regional Arab players — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates — on board, as well as restart talks directly between Israelis and Palestinians.

And Mr. Trump himself?

“He’s so unpredictable you cannot know what he will do,” he said. “It’s quite odd, but he might be the man to do it.”