Shin Bet says it thwarted 16 suicide bombings, 16 kidnappings, last year
For the first time in 30 years, not a single Israeli was killed by terror attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip in 2016, the head of the Shin Bet security service said Monday, noting that this was due largely to Israeli vigilance and not to a lack of desire by Palestinian terror groups.
But even as Hamas and other groups were kept relatively quiet in Gaza, they were transferring much of their efforts to the West Bank, the Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as part of a yearly review.
Hamas has “significantly increased its efforts to advance terror attacks in the West Bank and Israel,” Argaman said, referring specifically to mass-casualty attacks.
“Hamas has found itself in strategic distress and is interested in undermining the security situation in the West Bank through bombings,” he said.
To thwart those attempts, Israel has stepped up its crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting 1,035 suspected members. Some 114 terror cells were also broken up in 2016, as opposed to 70 the year before — a 62 percent increase, Argaman said.
Some 184 shooting attacks, 16 kidnapping attempts and 16 suicide bombings were thwarted by the Shin Bet in 2016, as were 84 other assorted attacks, mostly stabbings and car-rammings, he said. These figures did not include attacks prevented by Israel’s other security services, like the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police.
Those efforts did not result in a dramatic decrease in the number of Israelis killed and injured by terror attacks during the same period.
In 2016, 16 Israeli citizens and one foreign national were killed in terror attacks, and 149 civilians were injured. This was a relatively minor decrease from the year before, in which 20 people were killed and another 188 were wounded in attacks.
However, for the first time in 30 years, not a single Israeli was killed by terror attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip in 2016, Argaman said. Though one Shin Bet agent was killed in a friendly-fire incident on March 8, 2016.
In Gaza, the situation has remained calm following the 2014 war, with just less than two rockets, on average, fired from the Strip each month — or 23 in total — during 2016.
Most of them were fired by salafist groups, hoping to stir up trouble for Hamas, as they know that the IDF will punish it, rather than them, in response to rocket attacks.
In a public statement before Argaman’s full briefing to the committee, the Shin Bet chief warned that Hamas will likely try to carry out attacks during the Passover holiday next month, in an attempt to instigate large-scale clashes between Palestinians and Israelis.
During the closed-doors discussion, Argaman provided the committee members with additional information on the potential for violence from the West Bank, Gaza and within Israel proper, according to a statement released by the committee after the meeting.
The Palestinian Authority is in a holding pattern, waiting to understand the Middle East policies of US President Donald Trump, according to the Shin Bet chief.
In the West Bank, young Palestinians still see violent attacks as “legitimate means of effecting change in the arena,” Argaman said, despite the fact that most Palestinians understand that there is a “cost” exacted on the population for terror attacks.
Nitzan Nuriel, a former IDF general who once served as deputy commander of the Gaza Division, commented on Monday that terrorist groups in the Strip speak “the language of rockets.”
“If you want to say something, you launch rockets. If you want to shout, you launch more rockets,” Nuriel told reporters during a phone briefing hosted by the Israel Project.
Though Hamas has not itself been firing rockets at Israel since the latest Gaza war, it has not been sitting idly by.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, the terrorist group has been rearming in preparation for future conflict with the Jewish state, Argaman told the Knesset committee.
The Shin Bet chief warned that a breakdown in the humanitarian situation in Gaza could help push Hamas and Israel to war. (the Times of Israel)
Hezbollah says Israeli drone downed over Syria
Hezbollah said on Monday that the Syrian military shot down an Israeli drone above Quneitra, in the Syrian-occupied part of the Golan Heights, according to a report by Hezbollah-affiliated TV network Al Manar.
Minutes later, the Syrian Defense Ministry released a statement that its air defense unit had shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle over the outskirts of Quneitra, though did not specify the drone’s origin.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said early Tuesday morning that the drone fell in Syria yesterday and that it wasn’t downed.
Hezbollah media showed alleged pictures of the UAV, which they say was a Skylark drone.
This is the second time in the past few days that Hezbollah claimed an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle was downed in Syria. It’s the second Skylark drone to allegedly come down in enemy territory in the past week, after one crashed in Gaza on Wednesday.
On Sunday, according to Syrian reports, the IAF struck inside Syria for the second time in the span of 48 hours. An Israeli drone struck a vehicle in the Quneitra countryside, killing the driver, Yasser al-Sayed, who was a commander in Syria’s air defense unit, according to Channel 2.
Hours before that, Syrian media reported that regime forces had “repelled” an Israeli reconnaissance drone near the town of Khan Arnaba, close to where Friday morning’s Israel Air Force strike allegedly occurred. The air force’s Arrow anti-aircraft missile defense system intercepted a Syrian SA-5 missile fired at Israeli jets on Friday night. The jets had already returned to Israeli airspace when they were attacked, after striking targets in Syria. (Jerusalem Post)
Syrian missile intercepted by Israel on Friday had 200 kg warhead
The ballistic missile fired by Syria last week posed a direct threat to Israel and its citizens, a senior IDF officer in the Air Defense Command said on Monday.
“Last week on Friday morning the Air Defense Command understood that Israel faced a ballistic missile threat,” Brigadier-General Zvika Haimovitch, Commander of the IAF’s Air Defense Division, said. “In this situation there is no room or time for question marks or dilemmas. Our operational rules are very clear in this regard, to neutralize any threat which poses a risk to Israel and her citizens. And that is what we did and that is what we will do in the future.”
The missile was launched at Israel during an IAF operation to strike a Hezbollah arms convoy in Syria. Syrian air defense systems fired three surface-to-air missiles at IAF jets. The army made the rare confirmation that one missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system, with fragments of the SAM landing in Jordan.
It was the most serious incident to have occurred between the two countries since the Syrian Civil War erupted six years ago.
A senior IDF officer told reporters Monday that the reason the Syrian missile was intercepted specifically by the Arrow was that it was the best available option at the time of the incident.
“Our job is to protect Israel,” the officer said “The Syrian missile had a 200 kg warhead which threatened the security of the State of Israel and its citizens. Our job is to neutralize the threat. And we did.”
“It’s a privilege to have other options,” he added, stressing that while Israel’s air defense systems are able to protect the majority of the country, “it’s impossible to protect everything at all times.”
Brig.-Gen. Haimovtich said that while not all fronts can be protected simultaneously, Air Defense Command soldiers work “24 hours a day, seven days a week to protect Israel’s citizens.”
He also said that the barrage of rockets recently fired into Israel from the Sinai Peninsula “were fired without any warning or prior intelligence and our soldiers have only moments to neutralize the threats.”
The officer said that despite the past year being one of the the “quietest in years even with what is happening in the region,” the IDF continues to monitor its enemies and has witnessed a significant increase in military exercises by Hamas.
“We are seeing both state and non-state actors using everything in their arsenal against Israel,” he said, emphasizing that while the enemies might be growing stronger, Israel’s Air Defense Command will always strive to be one step ahead. (Jerusalem Post)
David’s Sling air defense shield to be fully operational in Israel in early April
As tensions mount between Israel and its neighbors, the country’s David’s Sling missile defense system will be operationally ready in the next two weeks.
“In the next few weeks we will finish a long process of testing a new weapons system that will join the air force,” said Lt.-Col. Kobi Regev, the David’s Sling battalion commander. “The new and more advanced system, which is connected with our two older systems, the Iron Dome and Arrow Missile Defense System, is more relevant to the threats posed to Israeli citizens.”
Along with the Iron Dome, which is designed to intercept short-range rockets, and the Arrow, which intercepts ballistic missiles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, David’s Sling intercepts tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles fired at ranges between 40 km.-300 km.
Together the systems will provide a comprehensive protective umbrella able to counter threats posed by both short- and midrange missiles used by Hezbollah and Gazan terrorist groups, as well as the threat posed by more sophisticated long-range Iranian ballistic missiles.
On Friday, Arrow intercepted a Syrian army ballistic missile fired toward Israel. It was the first time the system was used since it came into service 17 years ago.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has also warned that his group is able to hit “the entirety of occupied Palestine with missiles,” but according to a senior IDF officer in the Air Defense Command, the addition of the David’s Sling to Israel’s air defenses now enables the IDF to protect more territory from enemy rockets or missiles.
“The addition of David’s Sling’s has brought Israel’s air-defense systems to a whole new level,” he said. “We are now able to protect more of the country from aerial threats.”
A large corps of soldiers have already been drafted to train on the new system, coming from all disciplines with experience in other air-defense systems, he said.
Brig.-Gen. Zvika Haimovich, commander of the Aerial Defense Division, said in July at the ceremony marking the establishment of the David’s Sling Battalion that the “system has a significant added value to the aerial-defense world, and the process of making it operational is complex and doesn’t only amount to integrating the system, but it also has to do with accumulating professional and operational knowledge, with infrastructure and most importantly – with people.”
David’s Sling is a joint Israeli- US project, with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems collaborating with American defense contractor Raytheon, which also produces the Patriot missile system. Other components of the system were developed by Elta, a subdivision of Israel Aerospace Industries, which developed the system’s radar, and the Elisra subdivision of Elbit Systems, which developed the command and control mechanisms. (Jerusalem Post)
Australian probe clears World Vision over Gaza case
An Australian government probe has found no evidence taxpayer money was misused by the World Vision NGO in the Gaza Strip, after Israel alleged millions of dollars were diverted to the Hamas terror organization.
In August 2016, Israel accused World Vision’s Gaza head Mohammed Halabi of siphoning off millions of dollars per year to the Islamist group which rules the Palestinian enclave, claims the NGO said it had seen no evidence for.
Australia had given millions of dollars to the charity’s work in the Palestinian territories in previous years and immediately suspended its funding for World Vision’s Gaza programs, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) announcing a review.
“The review uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government funds,” DFAT said in a statement sent to AFP on Tuesday.
Halabi’s court case is ongoing but his lawyers have accused the prosecution of refusing to hand over much of the evidence.
World Vision itself is also conducting an independent review of its operations to determine whether any graft occurred.
DFAT said funding to World Vision’s programs would remain frozen pending the result of the probe and Halabi’s trial.
Tim Costello, chief advocate for World Vision Australia, said he was “very pleased and very relieved” at the findings.
“Our own ongoing audit has not uncovered any diversion of funds,” he told AFP, though he stressed it would not be finalized until the summer.
“For DFAT to say there was no diversion of funds is very welcome.”
A spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment, saying it preferred to allow the trial to play out. (the Times of Israel)
Netanyahu: Israel and China must cooperate on security and trade
Israel and China celebrated their economic “marriage” and spoke of Beijing’s diplomatic role in the Middle East and with regard to Iran on Monday, the second day of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Israel’s top Asian trade partner.
“There is a great deal of convulsion in the world, including in our part of the world,” Netanyahu said when he met with Chinese counterpart Premier Li Keqiang.
Netanyahu added that he hopes the two countries could “cooperate together for the advancement of security, peace and stability, and prosperity.”
The two met in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People next to a display of their countries’ flags as a band played their national anthems.
“The Chinese people and the Jewish people are both great peoples of the world,” Li said.
China will continue to adhere to its objective and fair stance and play a constructive role for peace, stability and development in the Middle East while working together with the international community for this goal, Li told Netanyahu.
China, one of the world’s superpowers, is looking to increase its role in the Middle East, particularly with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, China said, “The Palestinian issue is the key and the source of the Middle East issue.”
But while Netanyahu discussed regional issues with the Chinese, the trip’s primary focus was economic. China is one of Israel’s top trading partners, along with the United States and the European Union.
Israel has free-trade agreements with the US and the EU, but talks for such an agreement with China were begun only last year and continued during Netanyahu’s visit. He had previously traveled to China as premier in 2013 and in 1993.
With this trip, Israel and China also celebrated 25 years of ties. At a meeting of Israeli and Chinese businesspeople in Beijing, Netanyahu discussed his vision of the “marriage” between Israel and China.
“There is an extraordinary capacity for China to assume its rightful place, as it’s doing, on the world stage. We are your perfect junior partner for that effort,” he said, adding, “We are eager to work with you.”
In the coming days, Netanyahu said, Israel and China will sign a “series of agreements on how we can pursue this cooperation, how we can help China with its plans and how China of course can enable us to participate in its great projects. But I believe this is a marriage made in heaven.”
The two governments agreed to “hasten the establishment of a free-trade zone.” Netanyahu proposed the establishment of a fast track for Israeli and Chinese investors and also raised the possibility of a direct air link between Shanghai and Tel Aviv.
Deng Li, director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s West Asian and North African Affairs Department, told a briefing that both countries have agreed to step up free-trade talks.
“Personally, I am very confident and optimistic about the future of this free-trade agreement,” Deng said.
However, the two governments are far apart when it comes to diplomatic issues. China, which is one of five permanent members on the UN Security Council, supported Resolution 2334 in December condemning Israeli settlement activity. It has recognized Palestine as a state and often votes against Israel at the United Nations.
China was also one of the six world powers that signed the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to curb Tehran’s nuclear capability.
According to the Russian news website Sputnik, the issue of Iran was also on the agenda in Beijing.
“China’s position on the matter is very clear. We think that it is necessary to observe the comprehensive nuclear agreement reached with Iran, and that it is necessary to uphold the international nonproliferation regime,” Deng said. (Jerusalem Post)
Rivlin feted in Vietnam
All the speeches and remarks that President Reuven Rivlin has heard and made since his arrival in Vietnam cannot compete in bilateral symbolism with the little girls attired in full-skirted blue organza dresses with white trim standing and waving the flags of Israel and Vietnam on the grounds of the Presidential Palace. If anything was a sweet sign of friendship – this was it.
Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, were officially welcomed at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi by President Tran Dai Quang, an honor guard, and the cute little girls who wore the Israeli national colors.
This was the second meeting between the two presidents, after Rivlin hosted Quang in Jerusalem two years ago. He said it is an honor to now be in Hanoi.
Rivlin said that he and his delegation had come to Vietnam in the belief that by combining Israeli technology and know-how with Vietnamese creativity and productivity, the two countries could contribute to improving the quality of life of countless numbers of people. As the fruits of such cooperation, Rivlin cited national security, state of the art technology in agriculture, water management technology, education, hi-tech and cyber.
Rivlin also expressed the hope that during his visit progress could be made toward the formulation of a bilateral free-trade agreement. Such an agreement, said Rivlin, would remove all barriers to fully inclusive cooperation at all levels between Israel and Vietnam.
Two agreements that Rivlin expects to be signed during his visit are one for industrial research and development and another for collaboration in scientific and technological research.
Quang spoke of the positive developments in cooperation between the two countries over the years, and said that he and Rivlin had discussed the need to increase the number of exchange delegations at all levels. The working meeting between the two presidents included a discussion on the best means of fighting terrorism with a view to maintaining global peace and stability.
As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned, Quang reaffirmed support for all regional and international efforts to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting solution, whereby a state of Palestine would exist alongside the State of Israel.
With trade as an important factor in bilateral relations, Quang said that he and Rivlin had agreed on a $3 billion target within the next few years.
Rivlin later met with heads of Israeli defense equipment companies who are part of his delegation. Vietnam buys a lot of Israeli defense equipment and has done so for several years. In November 2011, when President Shimon Peres became the first Israeli statesman to visit Vietnam, he was also accompanied by a defense industries delegation.
On Monday Rivlin also met with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who told him that Israel’s successes are an inspiration for the world. Rivlin also met with Communist Party secretary-general Nguyen Phu Trong to discuss areas of cooperation.
In the afternoon, Vietnam First Lady Nguyen Thi Hien took Nechama Rivlin to see a fashion show by one of Vietnam’s leading designers and in the evening the Rivlins were guests of honor at a state dinner hosted by the president and his wife.
At the dinner Rivlin spoke of two relatively young states with ancient civilizations which had fought hard to gain independence and to maintain their security. (Jerusalem Post)
Where does Israel rank in this year’s UN Happiness Index report?
The annual World Happiness Report published on Monday by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network has ranked Israel as the 11th happiest country in the world in 2017, a spot it has held for four years.
Prepared by the network and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the report’s release coincides with UN World Happiness Day on March 20.
When the publication first launched in 2012, Israel was ranked at number 14 out of the 156 countries surveyed that year.
The top 10 countries this year, respectively, are Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Holland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.
Notable mentions include the United States at 14, Britain at 18 and the South American nation of Chile at 20.
The World Happiness Report is a survey of global societal well-being that ranks 155 countries by happiness levels using variables such as GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy. The report also includes extra factors such as social support, generosity, freedom to make life choices and perceived absence of corruption.
Yemen, South Sudan, Liberia, Guinea, Togo, Rwanda, Syria, Tanzania, Burundi and the Central African Republic were at the very bottom of the list, in that order.
“Happy countries are the ones that have a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government,” Jeffrey Sachs, the network director and a special adviser to the United Nations secretary-general, said in an interview.
The aim of the report, he added, is to provide another tool for governments, businesses and civil society to help their countries find ways to improve the well-being of citizens. (Jerusalem Post)
Medical-grade cannabis products to be available in less than a year
Medical-grade cannabis products will likely be available to Israeli patients within the coming year, a Health Ministry official declared on Monday.
“I believe in the near future we are going to see the dream come true – my dream, your dream, the patient’s dream,” Yuval Landschaft, director of the Health Ministry’s Medical Cannabis Unit, said at a Tel Aviv conference. “I believe that in less than a year we are going to have medical-grade cannabis products.”
Addressing participants in CannaTech: Israel’s 3rd International Summit for Accelerating Cannabis Innovation, Landschaft stressed his belief that cannabis can become available in a manner similar to any other prescribed medication. Alongside a variety of other policymakers, academics and entrepreneurs, he spoke of the need to create a whole system – “the cannabis chain” – that oversees medical cannabis from growing to pharmacy.
“We believe that cannabis should be medicine like any other medicine,” Landschaft said. “We don’t mind how you use it – if you swallow it like any other pill or other ways of treatment.”
CannaTech brought together hundreds of researchers, industry stakeholders and policy experts from around the world to share knowledge, as well as position Israel as a cannabis research and development hub. The conference was hosted by iCAN, an Israeli organization that aims to promote and mentor promising startups and innovators in the medical cannabis industry.
Landschaft told participants how he spearheaded the creation of “the Torah of cannabis” regulation. His “Torah of cannabis,” which he also dubbs “Cannacopia,” contains five sections – like the Torah – on Israel Medical Cannabis: IMC-GCP, IMC-GAP, IMC-GMP, IMC-GDP and IMC-GSP (Good Clinical Practice, Good Agricultural Practice, Good Manufacturing Practice and Good Safety Practice).
“We are going to have medical grade cannabis products here in Israel, we are going to prescribe it to the patients,” Landschaft said.
Just last week, 37 Israeli farmers received preliminary permits form Israel’s Health Ministry to construct facilities for the plant’s future cultivation, putting an end to years of legal struggles. While the farmers received these initial permits to build, they cannot yet have possession of cannabis itself – until their farms undergo quality and security checks, and additional permits are issued.
The granting of preliminary approvals to build farms occurred just a week-and-a-half after the cabinet authorized a plan to decriminalize marijuana use by first-time offenders. While recreational use of marijuana remains illegal, medical cannabis has been legal in Israel since the 1990s. However, because the Health Ministry defines cannabis as a “dangerous drug,” working with it requires a special license through the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance.
“We’re seeing medicalization and we’re seeing reform happening quicker than anywhere else,” said Saul Kaye, CEO of iCAN, the hosts of CannaTech. “In general, it’s two steps forward one step back.”
In Kaye’s opinion, medical cannabis is going to be legal all over the world in just a short period of time.
“It might take two years, it might take five years, but it will happen,” he said.
At CannaTech on Monday, iCAN announced a joint venture with the New York-based firm CannRx – initially a subsidiary of Jerusalem’s Izun Pharma Corp – to bring to market a medication called ican.sleep, which hopes to be the first advanced sleep cannabis formulation. The ican.sleep platform will incorporate CannRx’s CannTrap technology, which uses pharmaceutical grade delivery systems to provide stable, controlled doses of cannabis.
One such delivery system that CannRx is promoting involves the inhalation of smoke vapor, while another employs fully water soluble, cannabis smoke in powder, which can be placed into an inhaler, explained Bill Levine, the company’s executive director.
“Think about when you light a joint. You light the end, you inhale the smoke and you expire – not right away,” he said, laughing. “But when half of that dose is coming out of your mouth, how much are you getting in?”
Levine stressed the importance of personalized, precision dosing as a key element toward moving forward with the medical cannabis industry.
“The future is bright, the market is growing, but the standards and quality need to improve,” Levine said.
One person trying to improve the quality is Prof. David Meiri, head of the Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
In Israel alone, there are at least 91 different cannabis strains that can be given to patients, Meiri said. For example, his lab found that one cannabis extract could kill breast and colon cancer cells but do nothing against prostate cancer, while another extract did exactly the opposite, he explained.
Meiri’s team is trying to determine which strains might be used to tackle different cancer cells and what cannabinoid compounds within the plant are responsible for the ability to kill these cells.
“There is a specificity between what is in the cannabis and what is affecting the cells,” Meiri said.
After a year of intensive work, Meiri said that he and his colleagues have now successfully devised a method capable of identifying all the cannabinoids in a cannabis plant. What specific role these individual compounds might play is an entirely different question that has yet to be solved.
“We are not blind anymore,” Meir added. “We know nothing about what [they’re] doing, but we know what we have.” (Jerusalem Post)
A third of secular Israeli Jews want to move abroad
Some 36% of secular Israeli Jews would move abroad given the opportunity, according to a poll released by Masa Israeli – Israeli Roots Odyssey, ahead of its fourth conference held at the Knesset on Monday.
The poll was conducted over the phone by Midgam Consulting and Research, among 509 Israeli Jews. The margin of error is 4.5%+-.
Secular respondents made up the largest group which responded in the affirmative to the question “if you had the possibility of migrating from Israel to another country would you leave?”
A total of 27% of all respondents said they were certain they would leave or they think they would leave. Of those, 6.9% identified as religious, 20% haredi and 23.4% as traditional.
Those most likely to express a wish to leave were identified as single, secular men between the ages of 23-29.
“The fact that so many people say they would leave the country if they could indicates that many Israeli citizens do not feel a sense of belonging to the state,” CEO of Masa Israeli Uri Cohen remarked. “This is an alarming statistic which obligates us all to deal with this difficult issue.”
Another finding of the poll highlighted by Masa Israeli concerns Israeli Jews’ sense of identity. Respondents were asked whether they categorize themselves as Jewish or Israeli. One hundred percent of haredim, 90.3% of religious and 82.9% of traditional respondents overwhelmingly see themselves as Jewish first. The secular camp was more divided, with 53% selecting Jewish, and 43.6% Israeli (3% said they didn’t know and 4% chose neither).
Cohen said this data further pointed to a problem of a sense of identity, belonging and connection to the nation, land and state among a growing population in Israel. “This is already creating division between the Israeli society,” he said.
Monday’s conference sought to tackle these issues by developing “a deep and meaningful discourse as a society and nation to find a shared way and future together here in this country.”
Among the participants of the conference were: Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud), Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) and and former Peace Now Director General Yariv Oppenheimer.
Masa Israeli is a non-profit organization which invests in Israeli youth with the aim of reinforcing individual, Jewish and Zionist identities, while strengthening the connection and sense of belonging of the participants to the people, land and State of Israel, as well as to the specific communities from which they come. (Jerusalem Post)
The peace process need not be dead
by Zalman Shoval The Jerusalem Post
Looking from the outside, one can easily get the impression that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is, if not dead, at least in a state of deep hibernation.
There are valid reasons for this – not only the Palestinian leadership’s perennial refusal to engage Israel in meaningful negotiations, preferring to turn to the UN and other international bodies in order to create political facts favorable to them – but also because the present chaotic reality in the broader Middle East has made it abundantly clear to all but the irredeemably blinkered that solving the Palestinian problem, important as it is to the parties directly concerned, i.e. Israel and the Palestinians, is not the cause of instability and violence in the region.
Contrary to appearances, however, and thanks to Israeli efforts on the one hand and the advent of a new American administration on the other, there may actually be now a new opportunity to reach, if not yet a complete and conclusive solution to the conflict (which isn’t on the cards anyway) then at least ways to address some of its most negative aspects.
In a January 12 op-ed in The Washington Post, veteran peace negotiator Dennis Ross and Stuart Eizenstat, president Clinton’s deputy treasury secretary, pointed out that while the “realities on the ground and political and psychological gaps between Israelis and Palestinians make a comprehensive two-state agreement illusory at this time” – there could nevertheless be interim ways to achieve progress, such as concrete economic steps and limiting Israeli settlement activity mainly to the parameters set forth at the time by president George W. Bush’s agreement with prime minister Ariel Sharon, namely in the large settlement blocs and Jerusalem.
Not having been the proverbial “fly on the wall” in last month’s Trump-Netanyahu meeting (not the press conference which prudently took place before the meeting so as to avoid getting into particulars) one may assume that this was an opportunity for Israel’s prime minister to unfurl a more detailed outline of his ideas for advancing the peace process, including vital aspects of Israel’s security, defensible borders, economic cooperation, eventual Palestinian self-government, Israeli settlements and Jerusalem, among others.
As to the settlements, as Ross and Eizenstat pointed out, and contrary to Palestinian disinformation, these in fact constitute less than 5% of the “West Bank” – nor would they impede the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state. Indeed, under Netanyahu only a small percentage of settlement expansion has occurred in the isolated settlements, i.e.
Those outside of the large, mainly security-related blocs which are expected to remain part of Israel in any case. The above “outline” may also have made it clear that Israel does not intend to annex most of Judea and Samaria (a.k.a the “West Bank”) and that it adheres in principle to the “two-state” formula.
With the proviso that though present circumstances in the Middle East, with Islamist jihadism wreaking havoc and Iran and its proxies threatening Israel’s borders, plus the near certainty that a Palestinian state would in short order fall under the rule of Hamas, make the creation of a Palestinian state here and now an unacceptable option, while not ruling out, however, its ultimate realization.
In the meantime, Israel, with the help of the US, would take steps to promote greater Palestinian prosperity and governance. Another important element in Netanyahu’s concept would be an active inter-Arab input in the peace process prompted by mutual concerns about Iran’s aggressive designs in the regions.
Judging by President Trump’s public statements, he doesn’t seem to be at odds with many of the above ideas and the steps which his administration has taken in this respect, including the recent visit of Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations to Jerusalem and Ramallah, will be helpful in gauging the chances for moving forward. The president’s invitation to Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the Palestinian president, can thus also be seen as a positive sign.
The ideas are not necessarily new – but the environment is.
As Ha’aretz reported, six months ago Netanyahu had prepared a draft proposal for regional peace intended for a summit with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi and possibly Jordan’s King Abdullah which included, inter alia, the two-state solution, a call for an “end to conflict and finality of all claims,” an appeal to the Palestinians “to begin direct, bilateral negotiations without preconditions,” as well as a certain curtailment of Israel’s settlement activities.
Though the above initiative ultimately foundered for a number of reasons, including Palestinian intransigence, Israeli domestic politics and disagreements with then US secretary of state John Kerry about the nature of the proposed meeting (Kerry wanted a full-fledged international conference, to which Netanyahu objected), its principles probably found their way into the ideas discussed at the White House.
Israel doesn’t want to rule over another people, nor does it intend to be faced with the dilemma of having to choose between the impossible, viz. a Palestinian irredentist state now and a “one state” solution, negating its Jewish and democratic character forever. It wants to advance on the peace front and is willing to make sacrifices for that – but will the Palestinians? The author served twice as Israel’s ambassador to the United States and was a member of the delegation negotiating with the Jordanians and Palestinians after the Madrid Peace Conference.
Palestinians: Abbas’s Empty Promises
by Khaled Abu Toameh The Gatestone Institute
Notably, these calls in favor of an armed struggle against Israel were coming from the streets of Ramallah and not the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Abbas can make all the promises in the world to the new US envoy. Fulfillment of any of them, however, is a different story altogether.
Abbas knows anyhow that he would never be able to win the support of a majority of Palestinians for any peace agreement he signs with Israel. No Palestinian leader is authorized to offer any concessions to Israel in return for peace.
On the eve of US envoy Jason Greenblatt’s visit to Ramallah last week, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the city, calling on Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. The protesters also condemned the ongoing security cooperation between the PA and Israel.
“Listen, listen to us, Abbas; collect your dogs and leave us alone,” the Palestinian protesters chanted during what has been described as the largest anti-Abbas demonstration in Ramallah in recent years. They also called for the abrogation of the Oslo Accords with Israel, and denounced Abbas as a “coward” and an agent of the Americans.
It is not clear if Greenblatt had been aware of the large anti-Abbas demonstration, which came in protest against PA security forces’ violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in Ramallah a few days earlier.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with US envoy Jason Greenblatt (left), in Ramallah, on March 14, 2017. (Image source: NTDTV video screenshot)
At that protest, PA security officers used excessive force to disperse Palestinians who were demonstrating against the PA’s decision to prosecute four Palestinians for illegal possession of weapons. PA security forces arrested — and later released — the four suspects, although they had reportedly planned to carry out an attack against Israelis. One of the suspects, Basel Al-Araj, was killed in an armed clash with Israeli soldiers. (Al-Araj was wanted by Israel for planning an attack on Israelis. When Israeli soldiers surrounded the house where he was hiding, he opened fire from at them before he was killed.)
The killing of Al-Araj and the PA’s decision to prosecute his friends triggered the first protest that was brutally suppressed by the PA security forces. The second demonstration in Ramallah, a few days later, came in response to the excessive use of force by the PA security forces against the protesters.
The protests in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians, are yet another sign of growing discontent among Palestinians with Abbas and his autocratic regime. The Palestinians are particularly enraged over the Palestinian Authority’s security coordination with Israel, which is primarily aimed at combating terrorism and preventing Hamas from seizing control over the West Bank.
Yet this was far from a simple a protest against Abbas and his security forces. It was also a rallying cry for pursuing with further vigor the armed struggle against Israel.
“No to peace and no to all the nonsense, we want bullets and rockets,” some of the protesters chanted. Notably, these calls in favor of an armed struggle against Israel were coming from the streets of Ramallah and not the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The protests also reflect Palestinians’ rejection of the so-called peace process with Israel. In addition to the calls on Abbas to step down, the protesters demanded as well that the PA leadership cancel all agreements with Israel, first and foremost the Oslo Accords.
In other words, Palestinians are trying extremely hard to get their message across: Israel is our enemy, not our peace partner.
In a desperate bid to contain the growing resentment on the Palestinian street, Abbas ordered an inquiry into the police violence against the Ramallah protesters. In that episode, journalists and lawyers, too, were among those who were brutally beaten by Abbas’s security officers.
Still, many Palestinians voiced skepticism about Abbas’s intentions, and pointed out that previous commissions of inquiry into police violence have rarely led to punitive measures against those responsible. “The formation of a commission of inquiry into the police violence is another attempt by Abbas to contain the anger of the Palestinian street and avoid an intifada against his regime,” remarked a Palestinian journalist in Ramallah. “Abbas’s Zionist Palestinian Authority poses a threat to the Palestinian cause.”
As Abbas was meeting with the US envoy, a public opinion poll published in Ramallah showed that a majority of 64% of Palestinians would like to see their president resign. Another 61% of Palestinians expressed dissatisfaction with Abbas’s performance. The poll also found that if presidential elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip today, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would receive the same percentage of votes as Abbas.
None of this — not the protests of rage and not the Palestinians’ expressions of disgust — appears to bother Abbas.
This is a president who seems utterly unconnected to reality — namely that a large number of Palestinians are disillusioned with him and see him as a puppet in the hands of Israel and the US. For now, he does not seem to care what his people think about him. But in the long run, he would never be able to deliver on any peace process with Israel without the backing of his people. Like his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, he does not want to go down in history as a “traitor” who sold out to Israel and the Jews.
Abbas, whose four-year-term term in office expired back in January 2009, is reported to have told the US envoy that a “historic” peace deal with Israel is possible. According to a statement released by the US Consulate in Jerusalem, Abbas also “committed to preventing inflammatory rhetoric and incitement (against Israel).”
So here is a Palestinian leader mouthing off about a “historic” deal with Israel, while only a few hundred meters away his people have made their message of rejection — of him and of peace — clear as a bell.
In a further irony, here is a Palestinian leader talking about preventing incitement while he and his media outlets and senior officials still spearhead a campaign to delegitimize and isolate Israel.
Just this week, Abbas decided to decorate for “bravery” senior UN official Rima Khalaf for publishing a controversial report that accuses Israel of “apartheid.” Khalaf has become a hero in the eyes of many Palestinians because of her report and subsequent resignation.
Abbas’s foreign minister, Riad Malki, has meanwhile voiced outrage over the UN secretary-general’s decision to drop the “apartheid” report (the reason Khalaf resigned). Malki said that the PA leadership has instructed all its embassies and representatives around the world to distribute the report as evidence of Israeli “crimes” against the Palestinians.
Abbas’s pledge to prevent inflammatory rhetoric against Israel seems to have missed his editors and journalists.
Take, for example, the Palestinian Authority-controlled media’s response to last week’s Jerusalem marathon. In the PA media, the sports event is depicted as part of Israel’s scheme to “Judaize” Jerusalem and change the “Arab and Islamic character” of the city.
In addition, Abbas’s media continues to portray visits by Jews to the Temple Mount as “provocative invasions” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Jewish visitors are described as “settler gangs” who carry out “suspicious tours” of Islamic religious sites. It is precisely this kind of terminology that is driving many Palestinians to carry out stabbings and car-rammings against Israelis.
Abbas can make all the promises in the world to the new US envoy. Fulfillment of any of them, however, is a different story altogether.
Abbas has had multiple opportunities to reach a “historic” deal with Israel, yet he has never delivered. Quite the contrary: he has repeatedly rejected offers for holding direct talks with Israel, insisting instead on pursuing his campaign to internationalize the conflict with the hope of imposing a solution on Israel.
Abbas knows anyhow that he would never be able to win the support of a majority of Palestinians for any peace agreement he signs with Israel. No Palestinian leader is authorized to offer any concessions to Israel in return for peace.
The “cordial” and “positive” meeting with the new US envoy will change nothing — certainly not Abbas’s stripes.
Abbas’s modus operandi is to flee from his problems at home by presenting himself to the international community as a leader who seeks peace. With every lick of the flames that threaten to engulf his palace of deception, the 82-year-old Abbas runs to seek sympathy among world leaders and international public opinion. Abbas’s promises of peace are as empty as the political sway he parades to his Western donors.
Offering Carrots to the Palestinians Before They Have Committed to Peace Negotiations – Efraim Inbar (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
In March 2017, Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations, was sent to Jerusalem and Ramallah to test the waters for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Israeli consensus is that there is no peace partner in Ramallah and/or in Gaza. Yet, in the absence of a Palestinian peace partner, there is some merit to engaging in a “process” that lowers tensions in the region and removes a sticky, if increasingly marginal, issue from the diplomatic table.
Greenblatt stressed how important it was to President Trump to stimulate the Palestinian economy and improve the quality of life for Palestinians. However, it is odd to offer carrots to the Palestinians before they have committed to returning to the negotiations table they left in March 2014.
The impulse to give out carrots displays the conventional wisdom that the Palestinians must be well fed to prevent their erupting into violence. However, short-term calculations of this kind only prolong the conflict. Indeed, the campaign of terror that started in September 2000, dubbed the Second Intifada, took place after several years of economic progress during which the Palestinian standard of living was the highest in history.
The carrots awarded the Palestinians indicate that their intransigence and unwillingness to compromise have no correlation to the level of support they receive. They will never change if their poor decisions never exact a cost.
The Palestinians are still committed to unrealistic goals like Jerusalem and the “right of return.” Yet without tacit and/or manifest threats, there is little chance that their behavior will improve.
The writer is professor emeritus of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the founding director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (1991-2016).