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Latest News in Israel – 23rd June

Hamas: Turkey dropped condition that Israel lift Gaza siege before normalization

Amid reports about an approaching normalization deal between Israel and Turkey, Hamas claims that Turkey has renounced the condition that Israel lift the siege on Gaza that it has defined as a prerequisite for reconciliation.

In a conversation with the daily-Arab London-based newspaper Rai al-Youm, unnamed Hamas officials said: “Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced to Hamas’s leadership that he has done everything possible to lift the siege or ameliorate it, but the Israeli government stubbornly rejected his attempts.”

“Erdogan told the leadership that he must make progress on the normalization deal with Israel in order to serve Turkey’s interests,” the officials in Hamas added.

These officials said that they expect Turkey to take strong measures against senior Hamas officials residing in Turkey, mainly by limiting their freedom of movement within the state, to meet Israel’s condition for normalization.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that his country will never give up on the condition that Israel lift the siege on Gaza., adding that Turkey’s relations with Hamas are “not subject to any discussion” and that it will continue its relations with the Palestinian terror organization.

Lately, senior Hamas leaders have halted their visits to Turkey. Hamas’s political bureau chief, Khaled Mashaal, neither attended the annual conference of Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP, that took place in Ankara in May, nor participated in Erdogan’s daughter’s wedding.

Yaakov Nagel, acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, said on Tuesday that Israel and Turkey are “very close” to a rapprochement agreement, echoing equally upbeat assessments coming out of Ankara.

Nagel’s comments in an Israel Radio interview come just before Israeli and Turkish teams are scheduled to meet on Sunday in an undisclosed European location, to put final touches on an accord that has been in the works for months to reestablish relations.

The Israeli team will be headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, Joseph Ciechanover, and the Turkish delegation will be led Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, a former ambassador to Israel.                                   (Jerusalem Post)

‘If the PA didn’t incite, Israel wouldn’t need to use force’

Israel’s foreign ministry has dismissed Palestinian Authority accusations surrounding the death of a Palestinian youth during stone-throwing attacks against Israeli traffic along Route 443.

Three motorists were injured when Arab terrorists hurled rocks, bottles and other projectiles at their cars early Tuesday morning. IDF soldiers opened fire on the rock-throwers in the course of a chase, accidentally killing one person and wounding two others – all three of whom were later revealed to have been uninvolved bystanders.

Two suspected rock-throwers were arrested soon afterwards.

The PA foreign ministry accused Israel of “extrajudicial killings” and called for international sanctions against Israel in response.

But Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanual Nahshon firmly rejected the PA’s accusations, branding it “cynical”, and instead blaming the Palestinian leadership for stoking the violence.

“Were it not for the difficult security situation – which is entirely the fault of Palestinian incitement and terrorism – Israel wouldn’t be forced to use force to defend its citizens,” he responded.              (Arutz Sheva)

Liberman denies poor ties with US delaying defense package, says deal likely by November

Negotiations between the Prime Minister’s Office and the White House’s National Security Council on the coming decade’s American defense assistance package to Israel will likely conclude with a deal by November this year, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told military reporters here on Tuesday.

Liberman denied reports saying that talks were stalled because of poor bilateral diplomatic relations, saying that they were at the very last stages before a deal.

“The Americans are well aware of the threats we face, the terrorism that exists of every kind, on our borders, and of Iran’s destabilization efforts,” Liberman said.

He affirmed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was leading the talks for the defense assistance package, known as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), but that he had found an “existing situation” of talks at an advanced stage during his visit to the US, and had helped further them along.

“There is full coordination between the prime minister and myself in this field. The prime minister is managing the talks,” Liberman said.

He also offered rare praise for his predecessor, Moshe Ya’alon, for what he described as good management of previous contacts with the US over the MOU.

“The talks are being run well and correctly,” he said. “There are concerns in the Israeli defense industries… [but] my assessment is that this will be concluded by November,” Liberman said.

Part of Israel’s decision to purchase an additional 17 F-35 aircraft in addition to the 50 it already acquired lies in how the MOU talks pan out, Liberman said, since a good portion of the jets will be paid for using American defense aid.

“We will try to purchase the additional jets,” Liberman said.

Liberman said he was interested in hearing the views of US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who has spent decades in the American defense industry, adding that the two traded perspectives on a range of Middle East security developments.

Despite its small size, he said, Israel has won American appreciation for its ability to share high quality intelligence, and its technological innovations in the world of defense.  (Jerusalem Post)

Gaza offshore island project gaining steam, says intelligence minister

A proposal to provide the Gaza Strip with an outlet to the rest of the world through a man-made island could soon become a reality, Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz said Monday.

Although the idea of building this artificial island has been floating around for years, real headway has only been made in the recent months, according to Katz, who estimates the project will cost some $5 billion.

The project would include a 5 km. bridge from the Gaza Strip through Israeli waters and into the planned 8 sq. km. chunk of land, which likely would have a marine port and, eventually, an airport, in addition to a hotel and small port for yachts.

Hamas has said that among its conditions for a long-term truce with Israel are the reopening of the Strip’s Yasser Arafat Airport and construction of a new seaport. Such an option on existing Gaza land, Katz said, would put Israel’s security at risk and allow Hamas to misuse funds allocated for its construction.

The alternative, if the island is not built, Katz said, is for Israel to keep increasing – and paying for – the amount of water, electricity, food and other goods supplied to Gaza.

According to Katz, the process is still being deliberated by officials who are mainly trying to decide how exactly Israel would be involved in maintaining security at a port that would be internationally funded and secured.

Gaza

The minister said the project would not be built or funded by Israel in any way. Rather, he said, the initiative is more of a statement of support were this plan come to fruition and Israel would allow international entities to enter Israeli waters in order to carry out construction.

Katz acknowledged that the island would not necessarily put an end to weapon smuggling and rocket firings at Israel, but would help the populace to become less radical as it receives a better standard of living and the possibility of traveling and commerce with the rest of the world without Israeli involvement.

The project, which Katz said has the support of a number of high-profile global figures including Tony Blair, is one of a number of regional-cooperation projects, using the oft-stated slogan of “doing what we can wherever it’s possible” and finding areas in which regional “frenemies” can find issues on which to cooperate.

In May, Katz announced an initiative that would transfer Turkish goods to Jordan and onward to the rest of the region through Israel via a train route from the Port of Haifa to Beit She’an, which is a 15-minute drive from the Sheikh Hussein Border Crossing into Jordan.    (Jerusalem Post)

Veterans Develop New Gun Lock to Prevent Friendly Fire

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans have developed a new gun lock that can prevent accidents and keep the owner’s weapon secure.

Zore X is a caliber-specific device that has two modes. The first mode is “awareness” — alerting the owner if someone tries to tamper with the gun. For the second mode, if someone tries to load the gun while it is locked, the locking mechanism “immediately expands, preventing the gun from being loaded.”

The Israeli start-up Zore has also developed a watchdog alert system that notifies gun owners on their smartphone that someone is tampering with their firearm. CEO Yonatan Zimmerman and CTO Yalon Fishbein co-founded Zore and have already raised $94,000 of the start-up’s $100,000 goal on Indiegogo crowd-funding platform.

Zimmerman told Geektime that Zore was founded to deal with the well-known problem of friendly fire in the military. The specific catalyst for the invention came when 21-year-old IDF Capt. Tal Nachman was killed by fellow soldiers who misidentified him as a Hamas terrorist near the Gaza border in 2014.

“We don’t believe that the solution will come from Silicon Valley. It needs to come from people that know and understand the importance of guns,” Zimmerman said.   (The Algemeiner)

Smugglers in West Bank Open Door to Jobs in Israel, and Violence

A thriving industry allows West Bank residents to get past what Israelis call a security barrier. It has a dangerous side effect: Attackers sneak through as well.

by James Glanz & Rami Nazzaliune                                          The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/21/world/middleeast/west-bank-israel-palestinians-smugglers.html?ref=world&_r=0

At 4:15 a.m. on a dead-end street, a 33-year-old Palestinian man came running from the shadows between buildings with a rickety wooden ladder. He slapped it against the hulking concrete wall and climbed up, hoisting himself the last six feet because the ladder was too short.

The wall, which Israel began building more than a decade ago to thwart the suicide bombers of the second intifada, is supposed to prevent Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank from entering into Israel outside military checkpoints where their papers can be examined.

But the Palestinian man perched in a gap in the concertina wire that tops much of the snaking 400-mile route of the wall. He motioned to a white Daewoo sedan that had lurched to a stop below, and one by one, four young men stepped out of the car, climbed the 13-rung ladder, and slid down a rope on the other side. Within minutes, another car was speeding the men to construction sites in Israel, where they did not have permits to work, and the man with the ladder was leaving to look for more job-seekers willing to pay to scale the wall.

“In the West Bank, you have hustlers,” said the man, who, like more than two dozen other Palestinians interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was breaking the law. “You can either call them hustlers, or you can call them brokers.”

This furtive predawn crossing is part of a thriving smuggling industry that allows untold numbers of people to pass over, under, through or around what Israelis call the security barrier — for a price.

The industry offers economic benefits for everyone involved: Palestinian workers earn double or quadruple the wages they can in the West Bank; Israeli contractors and restaurant owners pay less for illegal labor than for Palestinians with permits; and the smugglers collect $65 to $200 for each person that passes. Punishment for those caught is generally being sent back to the other side.

The system punches a hole in Israel’s system for regulating Palestinians’ access to work inside Israel, and has security implications: Attackers like the two Palestinian men who fatally shot four people this month at a Tel Aviv cafe sneak through as well.

The two men lived in Yatta, a village in the West Bank’s south, near where the unfinished barrier consists mostly of a metal fence with numerous gaps and holes. Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said they had entered Israel illegally, “most probably via one of the areas which are open or not completed.”

The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, says that from Oct. 1 of last year to Feb. 1, 21 Palestinians who attacked Israelis were in the country illegally.

Since the Tel Aviv attack, Israel’s Defense Ministry has promised to extend a more effective form of the barrier to the south, an area heavily trafficked by smugglers. But the government’s other response to the shooting, the cancellation of 83,000 special permits for Palestinians to cross during the holy month of Ramadan, may reveal how difficult it will be to stanch the flow.

At the Qalandiya checkpoint outside the city of Ramallah on the Friday after the attack, men stood at the edge of the restive crowds no longer able to pass through, shouting “tahreeb, tahreeb” — Arabic for “smuggling, smuggling.”

“We have to understand that you will never solve the problem,” said Nitzan Nuriel, a retired Israeli brigadier general and the former head of the prime minister’s counterterrorism bureau. “Whenever you have illegal workers, it is part of the reality, it is part of the economy.”

The challenge, said Mr. Nuriel, now a counterterrorism expert at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, is filtering potential terrorists from ordinary workers. “You have to decide,” he said, “which fish to catch and which fish you can allow to swim.”

Low Risk, High Reward

The economics of the smuggling business are straightforward — and irresistible.

Unemployment among West Bank Palestinians is about 20 percent over all, and is even higher for young people. Starting wages per day, according to Khalil Shikaki, the director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, are 70 to 80 shekels, or $20. Numerous Palestinians working illegally at Israeli construction sites said they made $80 to $100 a day.

That is still a major bargain for Israeli companies, who have to treat Palestinians with work permits similar to Israeli workers in terms of wages and benefits, covering sick days, vacations, health insurance and pensions.

There are currently about 55,000 Palestinians with permits working legally in Israel, and an estimated 20,000 in the settlements, according to Palestinian Labor Ministry. That is down from a peak of 140,000 before the second intifada in 2000, the ministry says (when the population was about two-thirds the size).

Estimates vary widely on the number of illegal workers. Mr. Shikaki said 30,000 was a reasonable guess; Mr. Nuriel said it was closer to 60,000, depending on the time of year. Most work in construction, agriculture or restaurants.

Mr. Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, said that hundreds of illegal workers were picked up each week, but that the authorities were “focusing on arresting those that are attempting to bring in the Palestinians illegally.”

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The first time someone is caught in Israel illegally, he said, the police simply record the incident and release the worker back to the West Bank. Repeat offenders “will appear before the courts” and may face other penalties, Mr. Rosenfeld said, adding that anyone suspected of links to terrorism is referred to the military.

But Palestinian workers who have been arrested multiple times said in interviews that the most serious consequences they have faced have been an interrogation and being dropped off at a checkpoint as far as possible from where they were picked up.

Mr. Nuriel, the counterterrorism expert, said that it would be too costly to keep such a large population in jail and that even widespread arrests were impractical, asking, “Who is going to interrogate them?”

An Anxious Routine

At a large construction site in Israel, an illegal worker in a yellow hard hat who goes by the name Abu Khalid estimated that he had gone over the wall dozens of times in the last year alone. Like many others interviewed, he said his routine was to cross the wall, work inside Israel for a few days or weeks, and then go back to the West Bank for a short rest. Some employers house workers in trailers, some workers stay with relatives or friends, and some, like Abu Khalid, camp outside.

At 50, he has a lined, deeply tanned face and, the sign of his seniority on the job, a walkie-talkie in his pocket. Abu Khalid said that a package deal for the jump over the wall and transportation to his work site costs about 800 shekels for a solo trip; when three men go in together, he said, they can cross for perhaps 300 shekels each.

“That’s a lot of money,” Abu Khalid said.

Workers “punch in” as soon as they arrive at a job site, he added, and both Israeli and Palestinian contractors know they have no permits. At day’s end, Abu Khalid continued, “we go find a water pipe to take a shower, and then we find a nice tree and sleep under it.”

Passage is not always as simple as going up a ladder and down a rope. Two young workers — Ahmad, 19, and Bassem, 21 — sat on a terrace in their village, north of Ramallah, and chuckled about a time when tight security forced them to go under the wall, not over it.

“We used to go through a water main like snakes,” Bassem said.

Ahmad’s father, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of legal repercussions, said his son provided a prime source of income for the family. But Ahmad is also a source of deep anxiety because of how he travels to work.

“When he goes and he comes, I have my hand on my heart in fear of something happening,” the father said.

Terrorism Is Bad for Business

Nowhere is passage more perilous than the West Bank’s south, where the Tel Aviv suspects, who are cousins, most likely crossed.

“You don’t know who you are walking with,” said Mahmoud Khalil, 19, a Palestinian who was working at an Israeli construction site but had no permit.

Mr. Khalil is from Yatta, like the suspects, but he said he did not know the cousins and came to Israel only to earn money for his family. He said he paid 250 shekels for safe passage through a large gap in the barrier near the village of Dahriya, southwest of Yatta, and transportation to the work site.

One recent day near Dahriya and neighboring Ramadin, pickups jammed with illegal workers played cat-and-mouse with Israeli military Humvees, racing from gap to gap as smugglers chattered on phones nearby. Workers and smugglers alike understand that terrorism is bad for business.

A driver for the smugglers in Dahriya who spoke on the condition that he be identified only as Abu Ramzi said that he and his colleagues alert Palestinian security forces at the first hint that a client intends to commit violence in Israel. He complained that the Israeli military had stepped up patrols of the southern barrier since the Tel Aviv shootings.

“Before this last attack, the army would act as if nothing was going on — 30 or 40 workers would cross into Israel all at once,” said Abu Ramzi, 34. “This last attack has temporarily complicated our operation.” Still, he said, “we will always find ways to get these workers in.”

That resolve was tested after nightfall last Monday, when five pickups and a Mazda sedan filled with workers massed in the center of Dahriya. With their lights off, the vehicles made two attempts to cross the web of rutted, rocky dirt roads and reach gaps in the fence, but they turned back because spotters saw Israeli Army Humvees converging on the same areas.

Finally, the smugglers’ vehicles roared toward another spot, throwing up thick billows of dust and bouncing the workers mercilessly in the beds of the trucks. At the bottom of the hill, two lookouts were talking on their cellphones under an olive tree. To the west, past the fence, nothing was visible but the distant lights of Israeli towns and cities.

Then the lights of the cars sent to pick up the workers on the Israeli side could be seen approaching on the bare hills. A smuggler yelled, “Yalla, yalla!” — “Go, go!” — and workers leapt from the trucks and began running toward a gap in the fence that had been flimsily repaired. Someone pulled it open, and someone else carefully lifted a few strands of razor wire that had been tossed in the dirt to make the passage more difficult.

The workers, many toting backpacks stuffed with clothing, slid under the razor wire and met the cars. The last man lifted the razor wire himself, slipped under and ran toward the cars, which drove off toward job sites among the distant lights.

From Ron Weiser

Game of Thrones (GoT) is looking more and more like a straightforward yarn compared to the changing alliances inside Israeli politics.

And some of those who considered Lieberman’s re-entry to government a potential disaster just a few weeks ago, now GoT like look to him as the potential fixer.

Prime Minister Netanyahu faces increasingly strident criticism from an ever growing number of some of the most senior people and leaders in Israel and especially from those who served under or with him at the highest levels.

Till now, whatever the situation, the people of Israel have continually stuck with Netanyahu. And even if the main reason for many was simply that there is no-one else with his stature and experience, that itself is good reason enough.

It is clear however, that the search for an alternate leader, and the public calls for this swelling from even within traditional Likud quarters, are increasingly ominous for his leadership long term.

The general public’s impatience comes in two policy areas.

On the matter of Israel and the neighbourhood, it is not so much what Netanyahu is or is not doing and not too many who can convincingly offer something else given the intransigence of the Palestinian leadership. It is not even Netanyahu himself.

It is more the perception that the government he has formed will not allow him to take the steps he might want to in order to respond to the ever increasingly interesting steps and pronouncements emanating from president El Sisi in Egypt and the Saudis.

And the second area is the inability to deal with the many internal social and status issues that his coalition, to emphasise again not so much Netanyahu himself, is not built to deal with.

And in neither policy area is the entry of Lieberman seen as the stumbling block.

On the contrary.

I am surprised that so many so called experts say they in turn are surprised by Lieberman.

A good example is a column by J.J. Goldberg writing in the Forward on June the 13th

He writes:

“It could turn out to be the biggest surprise of the year in Middle East diplomacy: Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s blustering, ultra-nationalist new defense minister, just might be the key to reviving the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Lieberman’s significance lies in the fact that despite his fearsome reputation as an anti-Arab provocateur and bigot, he’s not opposed in principle to Israel yielding significant parts of the West Bank and allowing a Palestinian state.”

None of the above should really surprise anyone. Lieberman is not ideological about land, only about demography – about the size of the Jewish majority required to keep Israel a Jewish State.

And for that he has always been about relinquishing territory.

One thing you can say about Lieberman is that he is consistent, at least when he is in government.

Goldberg agrees:

“Lieberman, is almost frighteningly consistent. He does what he says he will, for good or ill.”

That’s an unusual trait in a politician. Most would say it is a good one.

The other thing is that Lieberman is also a believer in the separation of religion and state, reforming the Chief Rabbinate to deal with matters of conversion and personal status as well as an advocate of electoral reform.

Many of his positions therefore on both the external and internal questions resonate with the general public.

And he will be a force for progress on these two fronts from inside government, but a spoiler from outside.

By the time this is published, all being well, I should find myself in Paris for the Board of Governors (BOG) meeting of the Jewish Agency (the Sochnut).

The BOG meets in Israel 3 times per year, but every few years one of these meetings takes place instead in a community in distress or under stress – ergo the forthcoming meeting in France.

Such meetings serve a dual purpose – to show solidarity and to support those communities both by programmes and budget as well as to demonstrate to their governments that they are not alone.

It is also usually very enlightening for us, the participants.

The Jewish Agency has prepared some background on the French community and like all statistics, they have a margin of error and generate discussion, but they also present a pretty good general picture.

Here follows some of that information:

–      Before the NAZIS occupied France in 1940, the Jewish population was about 320,000

–      Approximately 90,000 French Jews were murdered during WW2 by the NAZIS aided by the Vichy French deportation of its own Jewish citizens

–      After WW2 many French Jews returned, as well as Jews from elsewhere and rebuilt the community

–      In the 1950’s and 60’s there was a great influx of Jews from Nth Africa with a doubling in the size of French Jewry

–      By 1990 the Jewish population of France was about 530,000 which has shrunk by some 30,000 Jews today

–      Approximately 40% of French Jews self-identify as Sephardi and just under 30% as Ashkenazi, as to the rest,????

–      About 13% of French Jewish families have at least 1 child enrolled in Jewish Day School

–      Intermarriage in France is around 45%.

–      From 2013 to 2015 there has been a 97% increase in the number of acts or attempts at anti-Jewish terror, murder, physical attacks, arson and vandalism

–      French Jewry is less than 1% of the general French population but is the target of 49% of violent racist attacks

–      Aliyah has gone from just under 2,000 olim in 2012 to just over 7,500 in 2015.

As part of the meetings, the Israeli delegation will include some government ministers and opinion makers.

One of those will be Sofa Landver from Lieberman’s party – Yisrael Beiteinu, who has re-joined the government and regained her old ministry.

Should be interesting.

 

 

 

The “Occupation” Ended 20 Years Ago – Efraim Karsh (Jerusalem Post)

The declaration of principles (DOP, or Oslo I) signed on the White House lawn in September 1993 by the PLO and the Israeli government provided for Palestinian self-rule in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On September 28, 1995, despite the PA’s abysmal failure to clamp down on terrorist activities in the territories under its control, the two parties signed an interim agreement, and by the end of the year Israeli forces had been withdrawn from the West Bank’s populated areas with the exception of Hebron (where redeployment was completed in early 1997).

On January 20, 1996, elections to the Palestinian Council were held, and shortly afterward both the Israeli Civil Administration and military government were dissolved.

Israel relinquished control over virtually all of the West Bank’s 1.4 million residents. Since that time, nearly 60% of them have lived entirely under Palestinian jurisdiction (Area A). Another 40% live in towns where the PA exercises civil authority but Israel has “overriding responsibility for security” (Area B). Some 2% of Palestinians continue to live in areas where Israel has complete control, but even there the PA maintains “functional jurisdiction”(Area C).

In short, since the beginning of 1996, and certainly following the completion of the redeployment from Hebron in January 1997, 99% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has not lived under Israeli occupation. As the virulent anti-Israel and anti-Jewish media, school system and religious incitement can attest to, during these years, any presence of a foreign occupation has been virtually non-existent.

This means that the presentation of terrorism as a natural response to the “occupation” is not only completely unfounded but the inverse of the truth.

The writer is emeritus professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at Kings College London, and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.

What Happens When Palestinians Pose as Israelis in Gaza?

In a just-for-laughs, candid camera-style of reality TV, two actors on a Palestinian show tricked people into thinking they were Israeli reporters. What happens next, demonstrates what would occur if a real Israeli civilian walked around Gaza – and it’s frightening.

The video, while without English translation, clearly shows how Arabs react when they discover the person they are talking to (an Arab actor) has an Israeli flag on his back.

For the most part, the older Arabs, who remember when the Jews often shopped in their towns, were kind to the “Israeli.” On the other hand, the youth were filled with rage and even resorted to violence.

This video is a true eye opener and confirms the level of animosity toward Israelis among young Palestinians.   (United with Israel)

The beauty of Israel