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Latest Israel News – 22nd May

Netanyahu ahead of Trump visit: Israel didn’t occupy Jerusalem, we liberated it

Israel “didn’t occupy Jerusalem fifty years ago, it liberated it,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s historic two-day visit to Israel.

“I want to the tell the world in a loud and clear voice: Jerusalem has always been and always will be the capital of Israel,” Netanyahu said at a celebratory event marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Israel’s capital city after the Six Day War.

“The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will always remain under Israeli sovereignty,” the prime minister added.

Netanyahu’s words were seen as a direct message to Trump, following Israel’s disappointment that the president appears to have no plans to announce the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem during his two-day trip.

Instead, the subject of Jerusalem has become a divisive issue between Israel and the US, ahead of a visit designed to showcase the close ties between the steadfast allies.

Trump is the first US president to arrive in Israel so quickly after his inauguration, and he will be the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall.

Right before the ceremony, the security cabinet voted for a package of goodwill economic and development gestures to the Palestinians, including legalized building in Area C of the West Bank.

Eight ministers supported the measure, while two Bayit Yehudi ministers, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, objected to Palestinian building in Area C, fearing it means the land would not be part of Israel’s borders in a future final-status agreement.

The measures included the establishment of an industrial zone near Tarkumiya and the easing of restrictions at the Allenby Bridge border crossing.

Israel will be the second country, after Saudi Arabia, that Trump is visiting on his first foreign trip as president.

He will meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday, as part of his efforts to restart the peace process after a three-year freeze.

Fireworks over Jerusalem

Fireworks over Jerusalem ahead of Yom Yerushalayim

Netanyahu said on Sunday night that he looks forward to warmly welcoming Trump, who he called a “true friend of the State of Israel.”

He noted that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was in the audience, and that this was the first time that an American ambassador had come to an event celebrating the unification of Jerusalem.

Security issues, including Iran, ISIS and Syria, are expected to be high on the agenda for the Trump-Netanyahu talks. But the discourse around the visit has focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Netanyahu devoted the bulk of his speech Sunday night to the issue of Jerusalem.

“We do not need to explain our presence in Jerusalem, and we owe no one an apology for being here,” Netanyahu said, adding that attempts to sever the Jewish people from Jerusalem were “disgraceful.”

He did not mention the issue of Judea and Samaria, even though US officials have said that Trump is likely to ask him to acknowledge that Israel must restrain construction in the West Bank settlements.

Earlier in the evening, Friedman also attended a private event marking the city’s unification, where he sat at the head table flanked by Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. The latter is the father of White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. He joked that so many parliamentarians were present he wondered if it constituted a Knesset quorum.

“The city of Jerusalem can no more be divided and separated than could the baby before Solomon with the sword in his hand and people asking which side of the baby shall the mothers’ take,” Huckabee said. “Jerusalem is one city. It is the capital of one people, and this week we all celebrate that extraordinary and amazing act of God.”

Also attending the event was Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who said, “Jerusalem is the heart of our existence. With all respect to the Start-Up Nation, we have a spiritual role. Everyone is asking are they [the US] going to relocate the embassy. We would like to see all our embassies in Jerusalem.”

Hotovely also focused on the issue of the West Bank settlements, noting that she believes Trump has a different attitude that his predecessor.

“This administration said, for the first time, that settlements are not an obstacle to peace,” said Hotovely, adding that she feels “the achievement of having a real friend in the White House” would be increased settlement building.

Hotovely spoke against the possibility of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, saying that there is a reason all past efforts have failed.

“This government believes that the people of Israel and the Palestinians can live together, but not in the paradigm of a Palestinian state,” she said. “We definitely are not going to divide Jerusalem, ever. Hopefully we will see a lot of embassies in Jerusalem this year.”

In Saudi Arabia, Trump spoke with Saudi King Salman about the peace process.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told reporters he is optimistic about the peace process, saying, “President Trump, with a new approach and determination, can bring a conclusion to this long conflict. He certainly has the vision and we believe he has the strength and the decisiveness, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands prepared to work with the United States in order to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians and Israelis and Arabs.” (Jerusalem Post)

Trump says hasn’t ruled out visiting Western Wall with Netanyahu

In an exclusive interview with Israel Hayom, U.S. President Donald Trump says, “I love the people of Israel, I am working very hard to finally have peace for Israel and the Palestinians” • On embassy move, Trump says, “We’ll talk about it in the future.”

Israel Hayom Editor-in-Chief Boaz Bismuth and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, Thursday

U.S. President Donald Trump has not yet decided who will accompany him to the Western Wall during his upcoming visit to Israel, but he told Israel Hayom in an exclusive interview Thursday: “We have great respect and friendship for [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”

On Tuesday, the White House said that Netanyahu would not accompany Trump on the first visit to the holy site by an incumbent U.S. president. “No Israeli leaders will join President Trump at the Western Wall,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters.

The decision to visit the Western Wall “with the rabbi is more traditional, but that could change,” Trump told Israel Hayom Editor-in-Chief Boaz Bismuth at the White House Thursday, when asked why Netanyahu would not accompany him.

In the interview, the American president reiterated his desire to achieve a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Q: Now that you’ve met all the leaders, Netanyahu on one side, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, King Abdullah of Jordan, the Saudis, and the leaders of the Gulf states, do you think a deal is still possible for the Israeli-Arab conflict?

“I think there is a great possibility that we will make a deal. … I love the people of Israel, I am working very hard to finally have peace for the people of Israel and the Palestinians. Hopefully that can come about much sooner than anybody has ever projected.

“There is a tremendous possibility. This is a deal that is good for all. … We have the right people on it too, with [U.S. Ambassador to Israel] David Friedman and [Special Representative for International Negotiations] Jason Greenblatt.”

Q: Should we be worried about pressure from the Trump administration not to build in parts of our homeland?

“I don’t want to comment on that, other than the fact that I truly believe that we will make a deal.”

Q: You say that you still want to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem , but considering the pressure coming from Arab leaders, some Israelis are worried that you might not do it.

“We have some very interesting things in the works, we will be talking about that in the future.”             (Israel Hayom)

Trump to offer 6-12 months of peace talks, without settlement freeze

As US President Donald Trump began his Middle East tour in Saudi Arabia Saturday, the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat claimed that the president intends to present Israelis and Palestinians with a new peace initiative when he arrives in Jerusalem on Monday.

According to the London-based newspaper, which quoted unnamed Western sources, Trump will suggest direct negotiations between the sides for a limited time period of 6-12 months. The offer will not include a demand for a settlement construction freeze by Israel, the unconfirmed report said.

The source quoted by the paper said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had told Trump he would agree to the initiative.

Trump was said to believe a new approach to negotiations was needed, though his suggested tactic was not given.

Trump told the Israel Hayom newspaper in an interview Thursday that he “honestly, truly” thinks he can broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I think that there is a great opportunity to reach a deal,” the president said. “I am working very hard so that finally the Israelis and Palestinians will have peace, and I hope that this can happen quicker than anyone ever imagined.”

Trump said that he believes that there is a good chance for peace because it is the right time and he has the right people negotiating a deal.

“It is a great opportunity and it is good for everyone,” he said. “This deal is good for all. We have the right people working on it, [Ambassador] David Friedman and [Middle East envoy] Jason Greenblatt.”

A Palestinian minister said Thursday that the PA was taking seriously Trump’s efforts to help resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“The US president assured [Abbas] he will be able to find a settlement within one year,” Foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said. (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu: Palestinians the stumbling block to peace

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians were the stumbling bloc to peace as he met with Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel A. González Sanz.

“The failure to achieve resolve the conflict with the Palestinians and achieve peace lies with the Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish State in any borders,” Netanyahu told Sanz.

He spoke in advance of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel next week, which is suppose to help usher in a new peace process with the Palestinians. Trump is expected to meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Bethlehem and will speak with both leaders about potential talks.

Trump is not expected to unveil a new peace plan during his two-day trip. His envoy Jason Greenblatt is already in the area meeting with Israelis and Palestinians.

Throughout the week, Netanyahu has issued a number of statements about Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he has meet with foreign leaders visiting Israel, such as Sanz.

Netanyahu asked him to help sway his country to support Israel at the United Nations. Sanz said that his country would consider this.

The two leaders discussed areas of cooperation including tourism, homeland security, water and agriculture.

“I am pleased that we have the opportunity to meet and strengthen the friendship between Costa Rica and Israel,” Netanyahu told him.

Costa Rica recognized Israel in 1948 and for many years was one of only two countries that had an embassy in Jerusalem. In 2006 it recreated the embassy back to Tel Aviv. Two years later, in 2008, it recognized Palestine as a state. (Jerusalem Post)

Like Israeli counterparts, US spymasters ‘frustrated’ by Trump leak

The United States and Israel are publicly brushing aside President Donald Trump’s reported sharing of a highly classified tip from Israel with Russia, but spy professionals on both sides are frustrated and fearful about the repercussions to a critical intelligence partnership.

“I know how things work in Israeli intelligence,” said Uri Bar-Joseph, a professor at Haifa University in Israel who has studied and written widely about the Jewish state’s spy operations. “I have some friends I talk with. They’re upset. They are sincerely frustrated and angry.”

Meeting Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office last week, Trump shared intelligence about an Islamic State threat involving laptops carried on airplanes, according to a senior US official who wasn’t authorized to talk about the sensitive material and spoke on condition of anonymity.

US and Israeli officials have tried to allay concerns. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters that Trump’s disclosure was “wholly appropriate.” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted that the allies will continue to have a “deep, meaningful and unprecedented” security relationship.

But some of the people who’ve spent years safeguarding that relationship say there will be consequences.

Trump made “two very serious mistakes,” former CIA director John Brennan said Thursday at a financial industry event in Las Vegas.

“We shared a lot of sensitive intelligence about terrorism operations that were planned against the Russians,” he said. “But we shared it through intelligence channels, and you also make sure that the language of what you are sharing is not going in any way compromise your collections systems. Mr. Trump didn’t do that.”

Intelligence professionals in the United States are “deeply concerned, frustrated and increasingly disillusioned,” one former intelligence official said. Another former intelligence official said the concern is that Israel will start “fuzzing” intelligence it shares with the US, avoiding specifics or detailing how information is obtained. Both individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to relay the sentiments they gleaned from conversations with current intelligence officials.

Shabtai Shavit, who led the Mossad in the 1990s, said that were he in charge of the intelligence organization today, he would not be inclined to share more information with his American counterparts. “If tomorrow I were asked to pass information to the CIA, I would do everything I could to not pass it to them. Or I would first protect myself and only then give it, and what I’d give would be totally neutered,” Shavit told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. “If some smart guy decides that he’s allowed to leak information, then your partners in cooperation will be fewer or just won’t be at all,” he warned. Danny Yatom, another ex-Mossad boss, told an Israeli radio station that if reports were accurate, Trump likely caused “heavy damage” to Israeli and American security.

Bar-Joseph, the writer, said: “I won’t say they won’t share secrets anymore, but when it comes to the most sensitive information, there will be a second thought.” Of Trump, he added, “If you can’t count on the president, who can you count on?”

Both nations gain much from the exchange of information.

Israel, which lives in close proximity to Arab enemies and Iran, has human spies in parts of the volatile Middle East where the US doesn’t. It also has robust cyber capabilities, enabling it to sometimes get word of plots that the United States doesn’t know about.

Washington, in turn, provides Israel with financial and military assistance, and intelligence that US agencies collect on threats far beyond Israel’s immediate borders.

“They have keen insight into things that we don’t, and obviously, we have keen insights into things they don’t,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, the House intelligence committee’s top Democrat, stressing that he wasn’t confirming that Trump shared an Israeli intelligence tip. “Working as partners, we are both stronger and safer as a result. They have certain skills and accesses that we don’t, and vice versa. We have our blind spots and they have theirs and we share information extensively.”

No one thinks the incident will derail the long-standing alliance. But subtle changes and a more careful approach to sharing may be inevitable.

Soon after the incident was reported, Trump spoke by telephone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom the US leader is visiting next week. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said they talked only about the trip.

“Netanyahu really needs Trump right now to bolster his standing in Israel,” said Elie Jacobs, an analyst on US-Israeli relations, explaining the lack of official Israeli criticism.

But it’s not a threat some Israeli officials didn’t foresee. Even before Trump took office, Jacobs said, Israeli professionals expressed concern that his loose lips would intentionally or inadvertently lead to Israeli intelligence being shared with Russia. That, in turn, might mean the intelligence ends up with Iran, a sworn enemy of Israel.

“It’s possible that high-level information may not be shared for the time being,” he said.

In Europe, where US allies are more directly concerned about the threat from Russia, Trump has garnered support.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he is “absolutely certain” allies can share and handle sensitive information. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it’s necessary to maintain US intelligence cooperation.

Israel and the US have had far more intelligence run-ins over the years. Jonathan Pollard, a former US Navy intelligence research specialist, pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiring to deliver national defense information to a foreign government — Israel — and served 30 years in prison.

And Trump isn’t the first US or Israeli leader to disclose intelligence in a way that made spy professionals cringe.

In the early 1970s, then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir wanted to impress President Richard Nixon and his adviser, Henry Kissinger, with the quality of Israeli intelligence.

Despite opposition from her intelligence chief, Meir took to Washington the minutes of a Moscow meeting between former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The intelligence had been collected by Ashraf Marwan, a close Sadat adviser, who was working for Israeli intelligence.

“My guess is that she wouldn’t have done it with Trump,” said Bar-Joseph, author of a book on Marwan, who was codenamed “Angel.”             (the Times of Israel)

Hebrew U under fire for refusal to play national anthem at graduation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called the decision by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem not to play the national anthem at a graduation ceremony “shameful.”

Prof. Dror Wahrman, dean of the Faculty of Humanities, decided not to play “Hatikva” at the end of the faculty’s graduation ceremony set to take place on Thursday evening, out of consideration for Arab and Muslim students.

“This is the peak of subservience, the opposite of national pride,” Netanyahu said of the decision. “We are proud of our country, our flag, our national anthem, and this only reinforces my decision to pass the nationstate bill that we are advancing in order to anchor in law the national symbols that are so dear to us.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is also head of the Council for Higher Education, called Hebrew University President Menahem Ben on Thursday about the controversy. In the conversation, it was clarified that the anthem will be played at every official university ceremony.

Bennett told Ben Sasson that the question of whether to sing “Hatikva” – one of the symbols of the State of Israel – cannot take into consideration hurt feelings since singing it does not constitute any harm.

The education minister also made clear that the Hebrew University is a public institution and that as such it must respect the country that stands behind it. He added that academic freedom does not equal harming the values of the state.

Ben Sasson responded that he would ensure that the national anthem be played at official university ceremonies and that he would look into this specific incident.

Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed outrage over the decision not to play the national anthem.

“In a place where the “Hatikva” is canceled – there is no hope and no spirit,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said in a statement on his Facebook page.

Edelstein called on the university to reverse its decision, citing national poet Hayim Nahman Bialik’s remarks at the 1925 opening ceremony of the university: “We all know and feel, that at this moment Israel lit on Mount Scopus the first candle for the inauguration of its spiritual life.”

Edelstein added, “A little over 90 years later, it seems that the same university is trying to put out this candle.”

MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) said that as a graduate of the university she called on the president to ensure the anthem will be heard at the ceremony.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is also a graduate of the university, said he was “shocked” by the decision to refrain from playing “Hatikva,” and called on the university administration to change this “odd decision.”

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon tweeted that “canceling your identity in order not to hurt others’ feelings is akin to national suicide. I hope the university administration will come to its senses.”

Right-wing NGO Im Tirtzu, which was the first to publicize the omission, issued a statement praising the political echelon for mobilizing to “stop the foolishness at the university.”

“We ask that Education Minister Naftali Bennett be more involved in Israeli academia so that events like this will not continue and become more extreme,” Matan Peleg, the organization’s CEO, said. “A clear directive must be issued requiring academic institutions entitled to public funding to sing the national anthem at every graduation ceremony.”

The Hebrew University issued a statement in response to the backlash and confirmed that the anthem would not be played at Thursday’s ceremony, as it was not a state ceremony.

“The academic ceremony in the Faculty of Humanities has been held in its current form in previous years, and no new decision was made to ‘cancel’ the singing of the national anthem. Hence, there is no justification for the sharp criticism directed at the Hebrew University,” the university said.

It continued that the national anthem is played at every state ceremony held at the university – as Ben Sasson told Bennett.

The school president added that the decision on how to manage the hundreds of academic ceremonies held at the university every year rests with the heads of the academic and administrative units, which for years have held ceremonies in “a variety of ways.”

“The Hebrew University has served as a symbol and expression of excellence, and of Zionism, for more than 90 years since its establishment by the Zionist leaders of the Jewish community in pre-state Palestine,” the statement read.

“The university’s commitment to the State of Israel, as well as its tremendous contribution to the State, the Israeli economy and the city of Jerusalem, is not in any doubt.

“The Hebrew University operates according to the laws and regulations of the State of Israel and its institutions, while ensuring pluralism and respect for all who enter its gates. In the framework of all its activities, the university provides for academic freedom and freedom of expression, and these values are among the cornerstones of the Hebrew University.”

In the coming weeks, the Council for Higher Education is set to release recommendations, following a request from Bennett, with an “ethical code dealing with politicization of Israeli academia.” (the Jerusalem Post)

IDF clashes with Palestinians at Gaza border and in West Bank

Hundreds of Palestinians flocked to the border between Israel and Gaza on Friday afternoon to participate in a demonstration that quickly escalated when multiple participants started igniting tires and hurling rocks at IDF soldiers deployed in the area.

According to the IDF, riot dispersal means were used to disperse the crowd, including the firing of warning shots into the air and the use of live fire. While Palestinian media reported injuries due to tank fire, the IDF denied the claims.

However, several were injured by gunfire.

Police added that the demonstrators tried to cause damage to the security fence and enter forbidden areas. It was then that undercover snipers prevented the main instigators from approaching the security fence and fired at the four main suspects. No other injuries were reported during the demonstrations in the area.

Simultaneously, across the West Bank several demonstrations took place in the afternoon, with hundreds of Palestinians igniting tires and throwing rocks at IDF troops. Two IDF soldiers were lightly injured by rocks that were hurled in Nabi Saleh and in Hebron. The IDF used riot dispersal means, with no live fire.

Violent riots took place in the cities of Jenin, Nablus, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem. Riots also happened in the Jordan Valley.

Demonstrators blocked a road in Nilin, which is used by Israeli settlers, and in Beit Dagan before they clashed with IDF soldiers. The IDF said it was aware of injured Palestinians.

The demonstrations were held in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners currently on hunger strike in Israeli prisons. Palestinians say that the open-ended strike is in protest against poor conditions in prisons and the Israeli policy of detention without trial that has been applied against thousands since the 1980s.

Additionally, IDF and Border Police forces arrested five suspects who hurled rocks towards Rachel’s Tomb and the suspects are expected to be interrogated by security forces.  (Jerusalem Post)

Letter from Israel

Yesterday afternoon, I went for a consultation in Tel Aviv with an anesthesiologist whose names was Dr. Anis Mohammed. Last night on a very crowded train coming home from Tel Aviv, I spotted this young Israeli Arab woman sitting next to an Israeli Jewish soldier whom you will see in the  picture below. Most of the building trades in Israel are now dominated Israeli Arabs. This includes carpenters, cabinet makers, electricians, plumbers, and plasterers. This I know as we have just completed the construction of our new home. Despite being over 15% of Israel’s population, occupations like pharmacists (90%), doctors (50%), nurses (50%), and retail clerks (50%) are dominated by Israeli Arabs. There are a large number of Israeli Arabs working in Israel’s legal system including Salim Jubran who was appointed to Israel’s Supreme Court in 2004.

on the Train

It must be remembered that more than 1,000,000 Arabs are citizens of Israel and that number is growing. More than 80% of these citizens are Muslims. More must be done to improve their educational situation and financial opportunities, but the fact is that they have more freedom and are better off financially than Arabs living in any of our neighboring states (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or Egypt) and certainly better than those Arabs living under PA or Hamas control.

Up from down under

Prominent Australian businessman Solomon Lew, who has long been friendly with former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, hosted a dinner in his honor on the evening prior to Abbott receiving an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University.

Abbott, who was on his third trip to Israel, brought his wife, Margie, for whom this was her first visit, and she loved every minute of it.

Sharing the large, square table arrangement at Chloélys at the Tel Aviv Hilton with Lew, his fiancée, Rosa Prappas, and the Abbotts were a mix of visiting Australians, Australian expats, Israelis by birth and Israelis by choice. Among them were former Israel ambassador to Australia and current Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem; Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma and his wife, Rachel Lord, who are returning home in mid-June; Ambassador-designate to Australia Mark Sofer, who will take up his post in November; Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler, whose many past and present titles include former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and his wife, Naomi, a former world president of Emunah; Ido Nehushtan, former commander of the Israel Air Force and currently chairman of the Israel, Australia, New Zealand and Oceania Chamber of Commerce; Paul Israel, executive director of the chamber; Frank Lowy, one of Australia’s wealthiest citizens and chairman of the board of the Institute for National Security Studies at TAU; Yigal Sela, Israel representative of the Zionist Federation of Australia; and Dr. Eran Lerman of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies and a former deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council.

Lew said it was a joyous occasion for him to be able to host Abbott on the eve of his being honored by TAU. Lew noted that Abbott, who is still a member of Parliament, speaks out for Israel whenever necessary.

Abbott, for his part, said he is thrilled to receive a doctorate from TAU, and pledged that he would continue to stand up for Israel. He said that the loss of Leibler’s leadership is felt in Australia, but is glad that some members of the Leibler family are still there.

To Rotem, who served in Australia for seven years and was highly regarded, Abbott suggested: “You might want to do reverse aliya.” It is easy to be a friend of Israel, said Abbott, because there is so much about Israel that is similar to Australia.

His closing line was: “If there is one practical thing we can do for each other, it’s to try to ensure that there will be direct flights between Australia and Israel.”

Afterward, Abbott went around the table, chatting to each guest.

When the Post reporter asked him whether he would move the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem if he were still prime minister, his answer was: “We’d say to the Americans ‘If you want to move, we’ll move with you to give you cover.’” It should be remembered, considering that this year is also the 70th anniversary of the United Nations resolution for the partition of Palestine, that Australia led the yes votes.  (the Jerusalem Post)

Old City bathed in blue and white ahead of Jerusalem Day

Old city in blue and white

The walls of the Old City of Jerusalem were bathed in the blue and white of the Israeli flag on Saturday night, as Israel entered a week of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city.

The eve of May 23 marks the beginning of Jerusalem Day, which commemorates that capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, reuniting the city and bringing the Temple Mount and Western Wall back under Jewish control.

During Saturday night’s event, a sound and light show was projected onto the walls of the Old City, including the Israeli flag and iconic images from the war.

It’s the start of a busy week for the city, which is also bedecked in American flags as the country gears up to host US President Donald Trump, who is due on Monday.

There was hope that Trump might announce the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, during the visit, but recent indications point to him not fulfilling his campaign promises in en effort to get peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians back on track.

The Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future state. (the Times of Israel)

Israel since 1967: six days of war, 50 years of stalemate

The Economist/ The Australian


In the beginning they destroyed Egypt’s air force on the ground and knocked out the planes of Jordan, Iraq and Syria. That was Monday. Then they broke Egypt’s massive defences in Sinai. That was Tuesday. Next, they took the old city of Jerusalem and prayed. That was Wednesday. Then they reached the Suez Canal. That was Thursday. They ascended the Golan Heights. That was Friday. Then they took the peaks overlooking the plain of Damascus. In the evening the world declared a ceasefire. That was Saturday. And on the seventh day the soldiers of Israel rested.

In just six days of fighting in June 1967, Israel created a new Middle East. So swift and sudden was its victory over the encircling Arab armies that some saw the hand of God. Many had feared another Holocaust. Instead Israel became the greatest power in the region. Naomi Shemer’s anthem Jerusalem of Gold acquired new lines after the war: “We have returned to the cisterns / To the market and to the marketplace / A shofar (ram’s horn) calls out on the Temple Mount in the Old City.”

This is a year of big anniversaries in Israel: 120 years since the First Zionist Congress in Basel; 100 years since the Balfour Declaration promised the Jews a national home; and 70 years since the UN proposed to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. But the commemoration of the half-century since the Six-Day War will be the most intense.

This special report examines the legacy of that conflict. The territories that Israel captured are the defining issue of its politics and its relations with the world; they are also at the heart of Palestinian dreams of independence. The Six-Day War was the last unalloyed military victory for Israel, and the start of a transition from existential wars against Arab states, which it always won, to enervating campaigns against non-state militias, which it could never wipe out. The threat of invasion across its borders has vanished, but the violence within them is unceasing.

In 1967, Western arms decisively beat Soviet ones. As America allied itself firmly with Israel, Cold War divisions overlaid the Arab-Israeli conflict. And when Charles de Gaulle switched sides to align France with the Arabs in 1968, in effect banning weapons sales to Israel (notably of Mirage jets), he unwittingly laid the foundation for Israel’s flourishing hi-tech industry. These days it is France that buys drones from Israel.

The embattled refuge for the Jews became a mini-empire, ruling over millions of Palestinians. It was, in many ways, an improvised conquest, The Accidental Empire (the title of a book by Gershom Gorenberg), but one that has endured. The war awakened Palestinian irredentism and Israeli zealotry, and added the intractable power of religion to the forces of nationalism. The wall that divided Jerusalem has gone, but Israel has erected many more barriers that atomise Palestinian society. Israel­is have grown rich, which makes the misery of Palestinians all the more disturbing. In uniting the ancient land of Israel, the victory has divided Israel’s people and coar­sened its democracy.

That heady June day in 1967 when prime minister Levi Eshkol heard news of the capture of Jerusalem, he told party colleagues: “We’ve been given a good dowry, but it comes with a bride we don’t like.” His words proved more prescient than he imagined.

Old Israeli soldiers still tell their stories of the war day by day, hill by hill. Reuven Gal was a platoon commander in the Jerusalem Brigade, a unit of reservists from the city who fought within earshot of their homes. After a battle to control the UN headquarters the previous day, Gal recalls advancing at dawn on June 7 towards Jordanian trenches on the hill of Jebel Abu Ghneim. To his relief the position had been abandoned. As his men rested, he heard the radio signal from Motta Gur, commander of the paratroopers who had entered the walled city: “Har habayit beyadeinu” (the Temple Mount is in our hands). All around him, hardened soldiers wept at the news.

After the war, Israelis loved to hike in the ancient hills, rediscovering Hebron, Eli, Shiloh and more; for Gal, Jews “became drunk” with euphoria at taking the lands of their biblical ancestry. And he thought that after such a defeat the Arabs would have to sue for peace. He breaks into a song from the time: “Tomorrow, when the army take off their uniforms / All this will come tomorrow, if not today / And if not tomorrow, then the next day.”

But peace did not come. Every generation of Israelis must still put on the uniform and prepare to fight. Gal became the army’s chief psychologist and later a senior national security official. “Little did we know what this military victory would bring,” he says. “The celebrations were the beginning of the tragedy of the occupation. It has had a tremendous impact on our morality, democracy, the souls of our children and the purity of arms (the morality of the use of force).”

Palestinians, for their part, talk of their dismay at how Jordanian troops gave up Jerusalem’s Old City with barely a fight, and of their surprise at discovering that the armoured vehicles rumbling into the city were not Iraqi reinforcements but Israeli. On the edge of the Jewish Quarter of the walled city, Abu Munir al-Mughrabi lives in a small one-bedroom flat that is a makeshift museum to the loss of Arab Jerusalem. On his wall of pictures of the city, one shows him as a 25-year-old in a suit, standing amid the rubble of his neighbourhood, the Mughrabi Quarter. It was demolished by Israel immediately after the capture of the Old City, turning the alleyway in front of the Western Wall, the most important place of Jewish prayer, into the wide plaza it is today. He holds up his hand-drawn map of the vanished buildings and a list of the 138 families that were cleared out.

Abu Munir had been in Amman when the war broke out. He slipped back to Jerusalem just as his home was being torn down. For a time he smuggled people to and from Jordan. He also smuggled weapons for Fatah, then a rising militant movement, and spent time in jail.

His story illustrates a change of mindset among Palestinians. In the war of 1947-48, when Israel was established, Palestinians fled or were pushed out en masse. Hundreds of villages were destroyed. By contrast, in 1967 most stayed on. “We were lucky that we were defeated so fast and so massively,” says Ali Jarbawi, now a professor of political science at Birzeit, a Palestinian university in the West Bank. “Israel did not have time to kick us out.” There were also some unexpected benefits: Palestinians from the West Bank, which had been annexed by Jordan, renewed ties with Palestinians from Haifa and Jaffa, which had been part of Israel after 1948; and from Gaza, which had been occupied by Egypt. “The Palestinian national feeling re-emerged because of the occupation,” says Jarbawi.

That sentiment burst forth with the first Palestinian intifada, or “shaking off”, in 1987. Until then the Palestinians under Israeli rule had remained mostly placid, while the Palestine Liberation Organisation, dedicated to the removal of Israel by force, conducted cross-border attacks from abroad. The armed struggle was, for the most part, a failure.

The PLO lost a civil war against King Hussein of Jordan in 1970; embarked on a campaign of international terrorism, including the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics of 1972; helped to precipitate the civil war in Lebanon in 1975; and was evicted to Tunis after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

By contrast, the intifada was marked mainly by stone-throwing clashes. It dashed the illusion that Israel could hold on to the occupied territories at little cost. The Oslo Accords of 1993 established an autonomous Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, who returned triumphantly in July 1994. Extremists on both sides set out to destroy the deal with unprecedented violence. A Jewish settler killed 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron in 1994. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both Islamist factions, embarked on a campaign of suicide bombings. In 1995 a right-wing Jew murdered the prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

The second intifada, precipitated by the failure of peace talks at Camp David in 2000, involved guns and bombs. Arafat often seemed to tolerate, or even encourage, the militants. Unilateral Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000, and from Gaza in 2005 (after Arafat’s death), did not bring peace either: Israel fought repeated wars against Hamas and the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, both of which fired numerous rockets at Israel.

The decades of the “peace process” brought much process and little peace. For Israelis, “land for peace” became land for suicide — bombs and rockets. “Most people feel that the occupation is no longer our fault,” says Yossi Klein Halevi of the Shalom Hartman Institute, a think tank. “I came out of the first intifada as a Labour voter. But the second intifada moved me to the right.”

For most Palestinians, the Oslo deal brought a worse occupation: more bloodshed, internal division, loss of land to settlers and territorial fragmentation. Palestinians these days live as refugees in the Arab world; in an open prison in the Gaza Strip run by Hamas; in a patchwork of isolated autonomous enclaves in the West Bank run by the Fatah faction; as neglected “residents” of Israel in Jerusalem; and as second-class citizens struggling for equality in Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

The chaos in the Middle East since the Arab uprisings of 2011 has hardened Israel’s conviction that it is too risky to give up more land: what if Hamas or Islamic State took over the hills of the West Bank overlooking Israel’s most populated areas? Israel came close to returning the Golan Heights in peace talks with Syria. Now that militias such as Hezbollah, al-Qa’ida and Islamic State have ­implanted themselves on the frontier, many Israelis are grateful that the negotiations failed. For their part, the Palestinians feel their cause has been forsaken by Arabs that once held it dear.

Pollsters say that opposition to the idea of peace based on the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is strongest among the young of both sides, those aged 18-24. Their parents may have known a time with no internal barriers and cordial if unequal relations between Arabs and Jews.

These days most young Israelis and Palestinians have little contact.

Life in Israel, safe behind the security wall and the mental one that says “there is no partner for peace”, is more comfortable than it has been for most of the country’s short life. Security has improved, for now. The economy is booming. And even as its politics turns more chauvinistic, its society is opening up in other ways. Arab citizens of Israel, who lived under martial law until 1966, are becoming more integrated economically.

In Jerusalem, some Jews and Arabs challenge each other at backgammon and dance the Palestinian dabke. Israeli music is rediscovering the rhythms and tones of the Orient. The army welcomes women and gays, despite objections by some rabbis. The old conflicts over sabbath observance are, for the most part, a thing of the past. Even in Jerusalem, islands of secularism have emerged.

Visit the beaches or the pulsating bars of Tel Aviv, eating non-kosher Thai prawns, discussing the latest algorithm and watching the handsome youth drift by, and you might imagine yourself in ­California. Fifty years after 1967, it has become too easy for Israel to forget that, just a short drive away, the grinding occupation of ­Palestinians has become all but permanent.

Unrealistic national aspirations

By   Lior Akerman             The Jerusalem Post


In the last few weeks, a number of extraordinary events that could dramatically affect the political arena in the Middle East have taken place right in front of our eyes.

US President Donald Trump is becoming more comfortable in his new position and has embarked on his own Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. The fact that he has chosen to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas so early in his term shows the importance he attributes to reaching an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In addition, it appears that Abbas has also been actively voicing a desire to carry out change. He has not, God forbid, stopped the incitement against Israel, but he has called for a boycott of the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip, and a cessation of the transfer of tax revenues to Gaza. Abbas also declared in Washington that he is committed to reaching a peace agreement with Israel.

There are no similar signs of change in Netanyahu’s stance, but sources close to him claim that he is concerned he might complete his term as prime minister without ever having achieved any political or historic achievements for his people. In addition, Netanyahu is also feeling pressure from Trump to make a number of political moves, which would be tricky considering the limitations of the Israeli government’s unstable coalition.

Not surprisingly, though, the main obstacle to reaching a peace agreement is the Palestinians.

Abbas inherited from his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, an authority that is completely malfunctioning.

It does not function properly on the political, social, leadership or administrative levels. Nothing has changed over the past 20 years; the Palestinian Authority still fully relies on contributions from other countries and on Israel’s government for electricity and transportation infrastructure.

In addition, during all these years, the Palestinian Authority has never developed any industry and still relies completely on Israel. Almost every single Palestinian family depends on Israeli employers for its livelihood. Anyone who walks into a Palestinian refugee camp in Judea and Samaria today will see that it looks exactly the same as it did in 1991 before the Madrid Conference.

In all these years, the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to improve the refugees’ quality of life or living conditions.

Abbas is widely considered a weak leader who lacks charisma and any leadership qualities. In fact, during all the 11 years he has led the Palestinian Authority after being elected for a four-year term, he has not accomplished even one important feat for his people. The Hamas leadership has not failed to take note of this and in recent years has been making inroads in Judea and Samaria in the hope that this area would soon fall under Hamas rule, just as Gaza did.

Fatah leaders realized years ago that Abbas was never going to make any serious achievements. The struggle over who will take over the PA leadership when Abbas steps down began two or three years ago, even though Abbas never officially announced that he would be stepping down. Abbas did threaten a few times to quit politics, but nothing ever happened except for sensational newspaper headlines.

A number of rivals have popped up from within the Fatah ranks over the years, the most prominent of which are Muhammad Dahlan and Marwan Barghouti. A number of contenders have also been securing their position in the shadow of Abbas in an effort to remain loyal to their mentor, including Jibril Rajoub, who in the past was chief of security in the Palestinian territories and now heads the Palestinian Olympics Committee, and Majid Farj, who is the new head of PA security and is Abbas’s righthand man.

No one is expecting the Palestinian Authority to turn into a democracy overnight. It would be a surprise for the Palestinians and the entire world if Abbas were to succeed in making inroads toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. The most likely scenario, however, is that he would do nothing remarkable before disappearing into the annals of history. Abbas is making an effort to secure a successor and he has his eyes are set on Farj. Both Dahlan and Barghouti, however, have no intention of sitting idle and watching Abbas hand over the reins to his protégé.

Dahlan is funneling millions of dollars into the West Bank and Gaza to build infrastructure for his supporters in the refugee camps and also in a few cities and villages.

Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for murder in an Israeli prison, and Dahlan have both garnered a substantial amount of support among Palestinians. Dahlan has publicly stated that he is not interested in being PA president and that he supports Barghouti.

But anyone who knows him knows that he’s aiming as high as possible, and that the only reason he is supporting Barghouti is because he’s hoping that Barghouti will never be released from prison.

The most likely scenario is that, in the absence of any significant change in the Palestinian leadership, it would be difficult to reach any kind of arrangement, even if Israel were to initiate such a move.

We should remain hopeful that the next PA leader will show courage and leadership capabilities, will revolutionize the Palestinian community, be willing to support a peace settlement that Israel can also live with, and forgo fantasies and unrealistic national aspirations.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

The Changing Reality of Arab-Israeli Ties – Evelyn Gordon (Commentary)

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have grown tired of having their relationship with Israel held hostage to the Palestinian problem, and are discussing a proposal to normalize certain types of commercial relations with Israel in exchange for Israeli gestures toward the Palestinians.

In exchange for Israel freezing settlement construction in “certain areas” of the West Bank and relaxing its blockade of Gaza, the Arabs would establish direct telecommunication links with Israel, let Israeli aircraft overfly their countries, lift certain trade restrictions and perhaps grant visas to Israeli athletes and businessmen.

Even if the proposal goes nowhere, these details are significant. They show that Arab leaders are no longer willing to give the Palestinians (or Syria) a veto over their relations with Israel.

The last time Arab states proposed normalization with Israel (in the Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Initiative of 2002), they conditioned it on Israel signing final-status agreements with both the Palestinians and Syria and withdrawing completely to the 1949 armistice lines.

The very fact that this proposal is being openly discussed shows that Arab-Israeli relations are thawing at a faster pace than anyone would have predicted a few years ago.