+61 3 9272 5644

Latest News – 21 August

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Hamas gives Israel ultimatum: Implement agreements or face escalation

In the wake of recent terrorist attacks and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, Hamas has threatened to escalate the situation if Israel does not commit to allowing the transfer of Qatari money to Gaza at the same time as the electricity supply increases, a member of the terrorist organization told the Lebanese newspaper Al-Ahbar.

According to the source, “Hamas has renewed its call for mediators to exert pressure on the ‘occupation’ to implement the understandings soon, due to the tense situation in the Gaza Strip. A boiling volcano will erupt in front of the enemy and its soldiers, and escalation is something Netanyahu does not want before the elections.”

Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Amadi is expected to arrive in the next few days to meet with Israeli and Hamas officials, to discuss maintaining the peace and transferring funds to the Gaza Strip.

Yesterday, the Arabic TV station Al-Jadeed reported that Hamas believes the explosive situation between armed militias and the organization raises the concern that “lone-wolf terrorist attacks” will increase in frequency, which could worsen an already tense situation. Hamas does not take responsibility for these attacks, opening the door for young people in the Gaza Strip to to carry out “improvised” attacks – which pose a security challenge in terms of early intelligence detection.

Hamas’s assessment comes in light of the thwarted attempt by five terrorists to infiltrate into Israel through the Gaza border on Saturday night.

Prior to the infiltration attempt, a number of cities in southern Israel sounded “tzeva adom” (color red) alerts, after three rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel. Two of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome system; one of them fell in an open area. In response, the Israel Air Force attacked two Hamas military infrastructures in the northern and central Gaza Strip.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz responded to news of Hamas’s ultimatum to Israel, saying: “This is what blackmail looks like. For those who did not understand: Deterrence was not eroded – it was erased. In a Blue and White cabinet, we will dictate the reality to Hamas and we will not be its dollar providers.” (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli official: Israel is willing to pay for flights for emigrating Gazans

Israel is actively encouraging the emigration of Palestinians from Gaza, a senior Israeli official told reporters accompanying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his current trip to Ukraine.

According to various tweets from reporters on the trip, the official said that Jerusalem is in contact with other countries – including some in the Mideast – to see if they would be willing to absorb Gazan emigrants. The official noted that more than 35,000 Gazans left the area last year.

According to the official, Israel is willing to finance flights from an airport in the south for those who are interested in leaving. The official said so far no country has responded positively to accepting emigrants from Gaza.

According to an NPR report last month, between 35,000 to 40,000 people have left Gaza via Egypt since Egypt opened the Sinai-Gaza border in May 2018. Egypt reportedly allows a few hundred Gazans to cross the frontier each day.

According to these reports, some of those exiting Gaza via Egypt fly from Cairo to the Gulf. Others remain in Egypt, while some fly to Turkey and in the hope of smuggling their way into Greece, and from there to other European Union countries. (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu willing to stand up to Trump on peace plan, says official

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to go head to head with US President Donald Trump over his administration’s peace plan if it contains demands rejected by Israel’s government, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday.

The official, a member of Netanyahu’s delegation to Ukraine who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the prime minister has proven in the past he can stand up to US presidents and is willing to do the same with Trump, if necessary.

Netanyahu has communicated to Trump what polices he would reject, according to the official, among them the demolition of even a single West Bank settlement home, dividing Jerusalem, or allowing Palestinian refugees and their descendants the “right of return” to homes they fled or were expelled from after Israel’s creation in 1948.

The senior official said Netanyahu also stressed that Israel must retain “complete control” of all areas west of the Jordan River, apparently referring to security control.

The premier has previously said he would oppose giving up military control over those areas as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Such a policy is rejected by the Palestinians, who seek a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

The official’s comments came just days after Trump said his administration would likely release its long-delayed peace plan following Israel’s elections in September.

Trump said he thought the US might “release small parts of it beforehand.”

The political portion of the plan was to have been unveiled this summer, but was delayed after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition following the April elections and called a fresh vote, now scheduled for September 17.

The Americans are likely to give the winning party a chance to form a government before releasing the plan, something that could add several weeks to the timetable.

Speaking to reporters before returning to Israel, Netanyahu said there is a “very great likelihood” the peace plan will be released in the coming weeks. He also said Israelis should keep in mind who they want leading peace talks when they go to the polls.

“Israel needs to decide who they want to conduct the negotiations over the peace proposal: Netanyahu or Lapid and Gantz?” he said.

The US has so far kept the political elements of its plan under wraps, while the economic aspects of it were presented in June by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner at an American-led conference in Bahrain. The economic side of the plan would see a $50 billion investment package for the Palestinians and the wider region.

The Palestinians skipped the Bahrain conference and have rejected the peace plan outright, pressing on with their boycott of the administration since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and cut Palestinian aid.

Netanyahu said he is willing to wait and see the contents of the plan, but reiterated he would not compromise on Israel’s security.

No details have been published so far about how the plan tackles key issues such as a potential independent Palestinian state, Israeli control over the West Bank, the fate of Jerusalem and the so-called right of return.

However, US officials have indicated that they will back “Palestinian autonomy” and self-governance, but stop short of endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The senior official also addressed Israel’s decision last week to bar Democratic representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering the country, saying Netanyahu had no regrets about doing so.

The official said Israel would not necessarily bar any US legislator who supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, as the 2017 law allowing BDS supporters to be banned from the country only applies to those who “lead” or “promote” boycotts of the Jewish state.

Tlaib and Omar, however, are “leading spokespeople” for BDS, the official said.

Netanyahu has defended his decision to ban Tlaib and Omar from entering Israel, which was widely criticized by Democratic leaders and leading Jewish groups in the US.

He justified the move by noting Omar and Tlaib, freshman congresswomen respectively from Minnesota and Michigan, support BDS and listed the destination on their itinerary as Palestine and not Israel.

Hebrew media reports claimed Netanyahu had been heavily pressured by Trump to block the two congresswomen. The announcement that Israel would not allow the pair in came shortly after Trump tweeted that the Jewish state would be showing weakness if it gave them permission to come.

Tlaib then submitted a letter requesting to be allowed in despite the ban, citing her elderly grandmother, and promised not to promote boycotting Israel during her visit. The request was approved by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on humanitarian grounds, but Tlaib later said she had decided not to go under “humiliating terms.” (the Times of Israel)

Omar says US should halt aid to Israel until it gives Palestinians ‘full rights’

Democratic US Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan on Monday blasted Israel’s refusal to grant them entry to the country over their support for boycotting the Jewish state, with Omar saying that Washington should halt aid to Israel and that Jerusalem’s decision was incompatible with its position as a US ally and a democracy.

Tlaib and Omar, who had planned to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank on a tour organized by a stridently anti-Israel Palestinian group, are outspoken critics of Israel and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Jewish state. Tlaib has said she is in favor of a one-state formula to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict that would essentially spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

Israel denied entry on Thursday to the two lawmakers — the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress — under a 2017 law denying entry to supporters of the boycott movement, hours after US President Donald Trump tweeted that the Jewish state would be showing weakness if it gave them permission to come. Israel had granted Omar and Tlaib permission to enter in principle last month.

In a news conference in St. Paul, Omar said Monday that Israel’s actions were “not compatible” with being a democracy or an ally of the US.

She denied claims that she had not planned to meet any Israeli officials during her trip, saying she had scheduled meetings with Arab Knesset members, representatives of the controversial left-wing organization Breaking the Silence and other officials.

Omar called the decision to ban her “nothing less than attempt to suppress our ability to carry out our mission as elected officials,” claiming that while the decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been “unprecedented,” it was standard policy toward Palestinians “and those who hold views that threaten the occupation.”

She mentioned Israel’s attempts to deport Human Rights Watch’s American director for Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir, after accusing him of advocating a boycott of the Jewish state, a claim he denies. His court hearing has been repeatedly postponed.

“These actions do nothing for peace — the total opposite, they prevent peace and deepen the occupation,” Omar said.

“Fortunately, we in the United States have a constructive role to play,” she said. “We give Israel more than $3 billion in aid every year, based on it being an important ally in the region and the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’”

“But denying entry to duly elected officials of friendly countries is not consistent with being an ally, and denying millions of people freedom of movement or expression or self determination is not compatible with being a democracy.”

She said Jerusalem should “stop the expansion of settlements on Palestinian land, and ensure full rights for Palestinians if we are going to give them aid.”

She pushed other Congress members to visit, saying “I understand and appreciate congressmen if they avoid visiting Israel until me and Rashida are allowed in. However, I would encourage them to meet with the people we were going to meet with, see the things we were going to see, hear the stories we were going to hear.”

Omar closed by saying that Trump and Netanyahu could not succeed “in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us,” adding: “Occupation is real, hiding it won’t make it go away.”

Tlaib, who is of Palestinian origin and whose grandmother lives in the West Bank, broke down in tears while describing hardships she said her relatives have had to go through.

She said that in the past, she had to “watch as my mother had to go through dehumanizing checkpoints.”

“I remember shaking with fear when checkpoints were put up near Beit Ur al-Fauqa,” she said, and claimed that her father had been “harassed” by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem.

“All I can do as her granddaughter is humanize her, her plight and the Palestinian people,” she said of her grandmother.

Tlaib likened Israel to apartheid South Africa, saying that “history repeats itself” since South Africa had also denied entry to a US lawmaker.

White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley kept up the administration’s criticism of the two lawmakers earlier Monday.

“Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have a well-documented history of anti-Semitic comments, anti-Semitic social media posts and anti-Semitic relationships,” he said in a statement. “Israel has the right to prevent people who want to destroy it from entering the country — and Democrats’ pointless Congressional inquiries here in America cannot change the laws Israel has passed to protect itself.”

Before Israel’s decision, Trump tweeted it would be a “show of weakness” to allow the two representatives in. Israel controls entry and exit to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 war along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — territories the Palestinians claim for a future state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Trump’s recommendation to a foreign country to bar the entry of elected US officials — and Israel’s decision to do so — were unprecedented and drew widespread criticism, including from many Israelis as well as staunch supporters of Israel in Congress.

Critics said Netanyahu’s decision risked further driving a wedge into bipartisan support for Israel, and threatened to undermine ties between the close allies. Hebrew media reports claimed Netanyahu had been heavily pressured by Trump to block the two congresswomen.

Netanyahu on Sunday said that while Israel respects all Congress members and has a policy of automatically granting them entrance to the country, it would not welcome those who back boycotts of the Jewish state.

Tlaib and Omar are known as supporters of the BDS movement against Israel, a movement that seeks to force Israel through economic pressure and social and cultural ostracism to carry out its demands, which include dismantling its military presence in the West Bank. Supporters say the movement is a nonviolent way of protesting Israel’s 52-year military rule over the Palestinians, but Israel says it aims to delegitimize the state and eventually wipe it off the map.

Last week, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Tlaib had requested and been granted permission to enter the West Bank on humanitarian grounds to see her aging grandmother. Deri’s office released a letter that it said was from Tlaib, which promised to respect the Israeli demand that she not advocate for a boycott of the country during her visit. But after the announcement, Tlaib tweeted she wouldn’t allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to “bow down to their oppressive & racist policies” and declined to make the trip.

The two congresswomen are part of the “squad” of liberal newcomers — all women of color — whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for re-election. He subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to “go back” to their “broken” countries. They are US citizens — Tlaib was born in the US and Omar became a citizen after moving to the United States in her childhood as a refugee from war-torn Somalia. (the Times of Israel)

IDF Joins Forces with US Military to Simulate Ship-Hijacking Scenarios

The joint Israel-U.S. drill held last Wednesday comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran in the Persian Gulf and efforts by the Trump administration to set up a naval security mission to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

An official statement Tuesday said that the two militaries “exercised regaining control of a hijacked ship and extracting forces from enemy territory.”

The army said the drill had no connection to recent events and was planned as part of its annual training program.

Israeli media this month quoted Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz as telling a parliamentary committee that Israel was taking part in the U.S.-led coalition to challenge Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf.

During the past several months, the Islamic Republic has seized several foreign ships, threatening sea traffic in one of the world’s most important shipping lanes for crude oil.

In addition to enriching uranium to illegal levels, Iran also continues to arm, fund and train terror proxies throughout the region, including Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen.

While Iran has tried desperately to establish a military foothold in war-torn Syria, its troops are routinely the target of Israeli airstrikes, which have eliminated military personnel and assets. (United with Israel)

Hamas is playing with fire on 2 fronts

For the first time in a long while, Israel must contend with heightened tensions in Judea and Samaria and Gaza. The recent terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria can be tied to Hamas’ efforts to fan the flames but the Palestinian street in Gaza is still largely apathetic, and Israel must choose its responses wisely.

by Yoav Limor Israel Hayom

The string of recent events leaves no room for doubt: The Palestinian arena is trending in a clear and dangerous direction, and for the first time in a while, Israel must cope with combustible situations in both Gaza and Judea and Samaria.

In theory, the two sectors are unrelated. The terrorist who carried out the car-ramming attack in Gush Etzion on Friday acted alone and without direction from any terrorist organization. It’s possible that he was inspired by the terrorists who a week earlier murdered IDF soldier Dvir Sorek in the same area, and took the opportunity to run over the young hitchhikers standing on the side of the road.

Nevertheless, the ramming attack (like the one before it) can still be traced back to Hamas. The terrorist organization was quick to hail the attack, stating it was the result of the struggle for the Temple Mount. These two words – Temple Mount – are a proven recipe for incitement, certainly during the Muslim week of Eid al-Adha, which traditionally sparks regional tensions anyway.

Thus far these terrorist attacks haven’t roused the Palestinian public from its general state of apathy. Judea and Samaria haven’t seen riots or a rise in violent activities (stone-throwing, fire bombings), but Israel cannot ignore the rise in serious terrorist attacks, and especially their contagious effect. For now, decision-makers are still refraining from bolstering forces stationed in Judea and Samaria, but increased vigilance is indeed required to prevent additional attacks.

In Gaza, too, the general public remains largely disengaged from recent events. The border demonstration on Friday was “normal,” without an unusual number of participants, but the rocket fire on Friday and Saturday is already a different story. While Friday’s rocket (which was intercepted) was dismissed within the defense establishment as “yet another act by recalcitrant and disillusioned jihadists” – similar to the infiltration attempts that were foiled in recent weeks – Saturday’s rocket barrage cannot merely be attributed to the neighborhood nut job: There was a guiding hand behind it, or at the very least a blind eye was intentionally turned.

For numerous reasons, Israel doesn’t want another war in Gaza. Hamas understands this, and similar to election-day eve in April, it wants to exploit the situation. It is simultaneously stirring the pot in Judea and Samaria – calling on the masses to take to the streets and carry out attacks, while funding and directing its cells to take immediate action – while continuing to play its familiar game of raising and lowering the flames in Gaza.

Israel will not restrain itself from responding to the rocket attack on Sderot, just as it didn’t restrain itself on Friday. However, the game it now has to play is more complex than simple tit-for-tat use of force. If it responds too softly, Hamas will perceive weakness and continue applying pressure in order to win concessions (from more money to easing restrictions at the border crossings, and other matters that can help it improve Gaza’s dire economic and humanitarian situation). If Israel responds too harshly, it could become enmeshed in another undesired military campaign, which considering the recent uptick in tensions could also spark a serious escalation in Judea and Samaria.

Regardless, the government and IDF’s first and foremost obligation is to the residents of the south. A reality of intermittent rocket attacks on Gaza-adjacent communities is intolerable; it needs to be extinguished immediately, even at the cost of an escalation – with all its inherent risks. If Israel is indeed forced to fight another war in Gaza, better for it to happen while schoolchildren are on summer vacation and residents can be easily relocated to other parts of the country; and when operational conditions are relatively convenient from the army’s perspective (just two weeks ago, the Gaza Division concluded a large exercise and declared it was more ready than ever for a fight).

It’s desirable, of course, for Israel to calm the situation in the south before it boils over into a broad conflagration – as it has done several times in the past 18 months. To this end, Israel can also grant additional leeway to Egyptian mediators and United Nations envoys. But all this must result in one clear stipulation: Hamas won’t be able to play with fire all by itself anymore. If it continues to play with fire (in Judea and Samaria, Gaza, or both) it will be engulfed by a flame that is far worse.

For Most Palestinians, the “Occupation” includes All of Israel – Steve Frank (JNS-Israel Hayom)

Ask someone at random what Israel should do to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the answer you’re most likely to get is “end the occupation.” For most Westerners, this means the West Bank (acquired by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War).
However, for most Palestinians the occupation is not limited to the West Bank, but consists of “historic Palestine,” which includes the whole of Israel. For most Palestinians, the occupation began in 1948 when Israel was born, and they won’t be satisfied by anything less than the elimination of the State of Israel.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Palestinian TV in October 2013: “All Palestinian land is occupied – Gaza is occupied, the West Bank is occupied, the 1948 lands [i.e., Israel] are occupied and Jerusalem is occupied.”
A June 2019 survey by the Palestine Center for Public Opinion found that only 30% of West Bankers would approve a two-state solution. The majority say “the conflict should not end, and resistance should continue, until all of historic Palestine is liberated.”
There is no mistaking the meaning of the chant heard at virtually all pro-Palestinian rallies: “From the river to the sea, Palestine must be free.” The river is the Jordan River and the sea is the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, Palestine is Israel.
The Palestinians memorialize the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” to mourn the 1948 War of Independence and the creation of Israel. That is the occupation they seek to end to this day.

The writer is an attorney who served for 30 years as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Justice Department in Washington.