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Latest News in Israel – 29th December

Britain pulled the strings and Netanyahu warned New Zealand it was declaring war: New details on Israel’s battle against the UN vote

Last Friday, a few hours before the UN Security Council vote on the settlements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully. New Zealand, together with Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela, was leading the move to resubmit for a vote the resolution from which Egypt had backed down the day before.

A few hours earlier, a senior official in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem called New Zealand’s ambassador to Israel, Jonathan Curr, and warned that if New Zealand’s move came to a vote, Israel might close its embassy in Wellington in protest. Ambassador Curr noted this and reported it to his government, but when dawn came in New York Israel understood that things were still moving ahead.

Netanyahu’s phone call to McCully was almost his last attempt to prevent the vote, or at least to postpone it and buy a little time. Western diplomats say the conversation was harsh and very tense and Netanyahu let loose with sharp threats, perhaps unprecedented in relations between Israel and another Western country.

“This is a scandalous decision. I’m asking that you not support it and not promote it,” Netanyahu told McCully, according to the Western diplomats, who asked to remain unnamed due to the sensitivity of the matter. “If you continue to promote this resolution from our point of view it will be a declaration of war. It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences. We’ll recall our ambassador to Jerusalem.” McCully refused to back down from the vote. “This resolution conforms to our policy and we will move it forward,” he told Netanyahu.

Just one month earlier, when McCully visited Israel and met with Netanyahu, he found the latter an entirely different man. Netanyahu was pleasant, friendly and overflowing with warmth. He showed McCully the famous PowerPoint presentation that he had shown in a round of background briefings for the media last summer. Laser pointer in hand, Netanyahu told McCully that Israel was expanding its foreign relations, breaking through in the region and making friends in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The Western diplomats said that McCully, who over the past two years had been consistently pushing the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the UN Security Council, spoke with Netanyahu about the resolution his country wanted to promote. It was a much softer and more moderate version than the motion that passed last Friday. New Zealand’s resolution did talk about freezing construction in the settlements, but also about freezing Palestinian steps in the UN and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and called for direct negotiations without preconditions.

Read more: Netanyahu is dragging Israel into the abyss | Punishing the world for UN vote will be worse for Israel than BDS | World begins to rescue Israel from itself | Obama, where have you been for 8 wasted years? | Why the Palestinians are jubilant and Israel is spooked | Security Council punch knocks Netanyahu down from hubris to humiliation | What will the immediate ramifications of the UN resolution be?

Netanyahu rejected this outright. If it were up to him, the Palestinian issue would not have come up in the meeting at all. His message to McCully was similar to what he said endlessly in public over the past few weeks. The world doesn’t care too much about the Palestinian issue. The automatic majority against Israel in the UN is about to become a thing of the past. “The vote Friday proved differently and showed that Netanyahu’s assessment was wrong,” a Western diplomat said.

Discussions with Western and Israeli diplomats reveal many interesting details about some of what happened behind the scenes at UN headquarters in New York between Thursday afternoon, when Egypt announced it was backing down from the resolution on the settlements, and Friday morning, when New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela announced that they would continue to push for a vote.

Form the moment Egypt backed down on Thursday, the Western and Israeli diplomats say, New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela were pressured to move ahead anyway. The Palestinians were the first to exert pressure, but they were joined by some of the Gulf States and Britain. The Western diplomats said that the British encouraged New Zealand to continue pushing for a vote even without Egyptian support.

The British had become active regarding the resolution a few days earlier. The Israeli diplomats say that from information that reached the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, British legal figures and diplomats had been working directly with the Palestinians on the wording of the resolution even before it was distributed by Egypt the first time on Wednesday evening. According to the Israeli diplomats, the British did this secretly and without informing Israel.

The suspicion in Jerusalem is that the British had been working during all those days for the Americans to make sure the resolution was to U.S. President Barack Obama’s liking, but without the need to intervene directly in formulating it.

“We know how to read Security Council resolutions,” a senior Israeli diplomat says. “This is not a text that was formulated by the Palestinians or Egypt, but by a Western power.” Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, said in interviews with the American media on Monday that Israel had proof that the Obama administration was behind the resolution and had formulated it. It is not clear whether this was what he meant.

Western diplomats partially confirm the description of their Israeli colleagues. They say that the British had indeed played a major role in formulating the resolution and revamping it with the Palestinians. However, they said they have no proof that it was the U.S. administration that was behind the whole move.

“The British helped tone down the text so it would meet the American threshold and so it could be passed without a veto,” one of the Western diplomats said.

Netanyahu’s phone conversation with New Zealand’s foreign minister did not put an end to attempts to prevent the vote on Friday evening. A few hours before the vote, the prime minister called Russian President Vladimir Putin and tried to persuade him. Just the day before, Israel had acceded to a Russian request and had absented itself from a vote in the UN General Assembly on a resolution regarding war crimes in Syria.

It is not entirely clear what happened in the conversation between Netanyahu and Putin, but less than an hour before the vote a real drama took place at the UN headquarters in New York. While the Security Council member-states were preparing their speeches ahead of the vote and the public discussion that was held immediately that was to follow, the Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suddenly asked for a closed consultation.

A Western diplomat said that Churkin shocked the other ambassadors of the 14 Security Council member-states when he proposed postponing the vote until after Christmas. There had not been enough discussion on the wording of the resolution, Churkin claimed, and said he was surprised at the haste of some of the countries to hold a vote as quickly as possible. The deputy Russian ambassador to Israel, Alexy Drobinin, confirmed this in an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday morning.

Drobinin told Army Radio that Russia had objections to the timing of the resolution and that Russia’s representative in New York was the only one who asked to continue discussing it. Drobinin said it should be taken into consideration that a few weeks from now there would be a new administration in the United States, and that Russia was not satisfied with the way the resolution was brought to a vote. He said the problem was not the content, but the timing and the fact that the resolution related only to one out of the many core issues of the conflict.

But Churkin’s remarks fell on deaf ears. Most of the representatives at the meeting rejected them and demanded to move ahead on the vote as planned. A Western diplomat said that the Russian ambassador, who realized that he had not managed to garner support, backed down and summarized the consultation with a typically cynical remark about the proposal abandoned by Egypt – he said that never in his life had he seen so many people wanting to adopt an orphan so quickly.

The meeting ended, the ambassadors entered the Security Council chamber and a few minutes later they passed the resolution.  (Ha’aretz)

Report Reveals Obama’s Collaboration With Palestinian Authority In Cooking Up UN Ambush

The Israeli TV news show Mabat broadcast a report that said Egyptian media Tuesday evening published evidence that the U.N. Security Council resolution against Israel was cooked up in a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and two top Palestinian Authority officials.

According to Oded Granot, the Arabic-speaking Middle East expert of Mabat, Egyptian media published the secret protocol of the meeting between the two Obama administration officials and the two PA officials that took place in Washington on Dec. 15.

The report said the protocol was iron-clad evidence that the procedure that led to the ambush against Israel in the Security Council on Friday was coordinated between Kerry, Rice, PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Ryad Mansour, the PA envoy to the United Nations.

The resolution, which falsely claimed that the so-called Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are illegal, passed by a 14-0 vote with the U.S. abstaining.

Earlier this week the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, told CNN that the Israeli government was in possession of evidence that showed the Obama administration had orchestrated the anti-Israel resolution.

Dermer said the Israeli government would pass on the information to the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump but refused to disclose more details.

The Egyptians apparently didn’t want to wait, said Granot, and published the secret protocol of the meeting Tuesday evening local time.

According to the report, Kerry and Rice told the two PA officials that the Obama administration was ready to cooperate with a Palestinian action at the Security Council on condition that the resolution would be “balanced.”

The two Obama administration officials openly expressed their disgust with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alleged attempt to kill the so-called two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Kerry then reportedly suggested to Erekat that the PA could bring up ideas to set the parameters for a forced permanent solution to the conflict and discuss them with the Saudi government, but Rice opposed the idea.

She said the Trump administration would immediately reject such a solution.

“The Trump administration is dangerous,” Rice reportedly said, adding that “Trump’s opinions about Israel and the Palestinians would be different from all previous administrations.”

The four officials then discussed Trump’s intention to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Rice asked Erekat what the PA reaction to such a move would be and Erekat responded by saying the Palestine Liberation Organization would withdraw its official recognition of Israel and would dismantle the Palestinian Authority.

Erekat also said the PA could request Arab states to expel their U.S. ambassadors.

Rice reportedly expressed her concerns about these measures and then conveyed her appreciation for Erekat.

Kerry and Rice advised the Palestinian Authority not to take steps that would provoke the Trump administration such as dismantling the PA or suing Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

They also urged the PA officials not to resume suicide attacks against Israel because that would “harm the Palestinian cause.”

At the end of the meeting, the report said, they requested that the content of the discussion remain secret because of the sensitivity of the matter during the transition period in the U.S.

Granot said the Egyptians most likely published the protocol to express their frustration with the attitudes of the Obama administration in orchestrating the move behind the back of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi.

Granot added that the protocol showed Kerry and Rice had given compliments to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, who they said had always done what the Obama administration had asked from him.

The Mabat expert warned that the Obama administration could use the weeks left until Trump’s inauguration to prepare more measures against Israel.

He explicitly mentioned Kerry’s intention to push for new parameters for the solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during the upcoming peace conference in Paris on Jan. 15.

Israel fears that the conference will result in another U.N. Security Council resolution against Israel before Trump is sworn in Jan. 20.      (Western Journalism)

Israeli ambassador to US: We’ll give Trump proof Obama drove UN vote

Israel’s ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that the country will present President-elect Donald Trump with “evidence” that the Obama administration orchestrated an anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations Security Council on Friday.

Ron Dermer told CNN that Israel is angry with the US over the resolution because it is “the only country where we have any expectation to actually stand with us at the United Nations.”

The US abstained from the vote, which passed 14-0.

“It’s an old story that the United Nations gangs up against Israel. What is new is that the United States did not stand up and oppose that gang-up. And what is outrageous is that the United States was actually behind that gang-up,” Dermer said.

Confirming claims made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman a day earlier, Dermer said Israel has proof the White House drove the resolution, and will “present this evidence to the new administration through the appropriate channels.”

“If they want to share it with the American people, they are welcome to do it,” he said, sidestepping a question on why Israel would not release the information itself.

Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Netanyahu’s spokesman David Keyes said Arab sources, among others, had informed Jerusalem of President Barack Obama’s alleged involvement in advancing the resolution.

“We have ironclad information, frankly, that the Obama administration really helped push this resolution and helped craft it, from sources internationally and sources in the Arab world,” Keyes told the US media outlet.

The White House has adamantly denied “cooking up” the resolution, rejecting accusations by Netanyahu to that effect.

“We did not draft this resolution; we did not introduce this resolution. We made this decision when it came up for a vote,” Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said on Friday. But because of its opposition to settlement activity and concern for what it could mean for the region, the US “could not in good conscience veto,” he added.

Dermer, in a subsequent interview with MSNBC Monday, called Rhodes a “master of fiction” — a harsh barb that seemed to evoke Rhodes’ past literary aspirations.

Netanyahu held a 40-minute meeting with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro on Sunday evening, having summoned the envoy to explain why the US abstained in the vote on Resolution 2334. He had earlier summoned the envoys of the 12 nations with representatives in Israel that voted for the resolution for a dressing-down at the Foreign Ministry.

Netanyahu on Monday defended the rebukes and the punitive measures he has taken against countries who proposed the resolution, saying that “Israel is a country with national pride and we will not turn the other cheek.

“There is continued importance for this sort of response, even if there are more attempts to damage us in the coming month,” he said, referring to the remaining three and a half weeks of Obama’s term.

But Netanyahu is now actively reaching out to the incoming Trump administration, which takes office on January 20, and to friends in Congress, in the hope of “deterring” what he sees as further potential Obama administration-led diplomatic action against Israel, a report by Channel 2 said Sunday. His aim is reportedly for the Trump team to make plain that his administration will “economically hurt” those countries that voted against Israel in the UN and that do so in the future.

Netanyahu’s fear is that Secretary of State John Kerry will set out principles or parameters for a Palestinian state in a speech that he has said he will deliver in the next few days on his Middle East vision. The prime minister fears that, in its final days, the Obama administration will seek to have a resolution enshrining those parameters adopted by the UN Security Council, the report said.  (the Times of Israel)

 7 questions about the UN resolution on Israeli settlements

The UNSC passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, after the US failed to wield its veto power in the 15-member international body last Friday.

Emotions are running high following the Obama administration’s decision to allow the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Here are seven questions aimed at making sense of what went down and what it could mean moving forward.

  1. Did Obama just double down on failed “settlements first” strategy?

Listening to President Barack Obama’s aides, the decision to allow Friday’s UN Security Council resolution to pass was a last-gasp move borne out of frustration and distrust. But in many respects it resembles the Obama administration’s failed opening maneuver.

Obama took a hot-and-cold approach to Israel, simultaneously strengthening military and intelligence cooperation while stepping up criticism of the settlements. The plan reportedly was to pressure Netanyahu into accepting a settlement freeze, which in turn would potentially lead to meaningful diplomatic gestures from multiple Arab states and get the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. (US abstains from UN vote to end Israeli settlement building)

Netanyahu eventually accepted a modified 10-month freeze, but the Obama folks either over-promised or were rolled by Arab interlocutors and the Palestinians. In one instance, in September 2009, Obama officials said a number of Arab states — not including Saudi Arabia — were ready to announce overtures to Israel, when an announcement of building in eastern Jerusalem scuttled the deal. No meaningful gestures ever emerged from the wider Arab world, and Abbas didn’t show up for talks until the freeze was about to expire — and then promptly insisted on an extension of the freeze in exchange for their continuation.

Instead of providing a boost to peace talks, the Obama strategy produced paralysis. The Palestinians now expect to be rewarded with Israeli concessions simply for showing up at the negotiating table. And if they don’t get any, they apparently are content to sit on their hands and wait for the international community to impose a solution.

By letting the resolution pass, the Obama administration has essentially validated that strategy while boosting right-wing politicians in Israel now pressing Netanyahu to abandon the two-state approach entirely.

  1. Did Netanyahu blow diplomatic gains by Sharon and Olmert?

Depending on which sources you want to believe, former Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert translated warm relations with President George W. Bush into unprecedented US acceptance of continued, albeit limited, settlement construction prior to a final status agreement. Compare that to where things stand today and it makes sense to take a look at Netanyahu’s approach to the Obama administration.

Two caveats before jumping in: Just what the Bush administration agreed to regarding settlement construction and how formal those agreements were are a matter of debate. And let’s acknowledge there is little to suggest that Obama and his aides had any interest in running with the Bush-Sharon/Olmert framework.

That said, if Netanyahu was serious about securing the Obama administration’s support for the maximal Israeli view of the Bush-Sharon understandings — in particular the green light on building in certain settlements — he had a funny way of showing it.

By all accounts, the Israeli quid in the deal was the unambiguous endorsement of a Palestinian state plus the Gaza disengagement and dismantling of the four West Bank settlements. Netanyahu campaigned against all of the above and spent his first few months in office refusing to reaffirm Israel’s support for Palestinian statehood.

Yes, after a few months in office, Netanyahu embraced the two-state goal, but by then suspicions about his true intentions had increased — doubts that were reinforced by Netanyahu’s assertion during the 2015 campaign that no Palestinian state would be created on his watch.

Another, perhaps more important, shift was Netanyahu’s abandonment of Sharon and Olmert’s strategy of bending over backwards to downplay disagreements with the White House. If anything, Team Netanyahu took the opposite approach, from airing public disagreements to disparaging Obama administration officials to playing footsie with Republicans.

However wrong you think Obama was last week (or during the past eight years), it’s still worth asking whether a more cordial and collaborative approach from Netanyahu would have produced a different outcome.

  1. Why did Egypt back this resolution?

A major Israeli talking point in recent years has been that regional chaos in the Middle East and Arab fears of Iran have created a new era of behind-the-scenes Israeli-Arab cooperation. One consequence of this new reality, we’ve been told, is that Arab governments are much more worried about ISIS and Iran than they are about the Palestinians.

Yet it was Egypt that first introduced this resolution. And though Egypt eventually withdrew the resolution under pressure from Netanyahu and President-elect Donald Trump, it ended up voting for the measure anyway after four other countries put it up for a vote.

Was Egypt’s introduction of the resolution and subsequent “yes” vote about coordinating with the Obama administration or addressing domestic audiences? If the latter, it suggests that Arab leaders are still feeling internal pressure to make progress on the Palestinian front.

  1. What does Putin want?

Trump has made clear his eagerness to come to an understanding with Russian President Vladimir Putin on how to calm the region and defeat ISIS. Obama is on his way out, but Putin isn’t going anywhere, so it’s worth noting that Russia voted for the resolution (and is a seemingly satisfied partner to the Iran nuclear deal). What emphasis, if any, will Putin put on Israeli-Palestinian issues when he and Trump put their heads together about the Middle East?

  1. Does Trump want a peace process?

In recent months Trump has consistently stressed a no daylight-style line regarding his future dealings with Israel — a message that some left-wingers and right-wingers alike have interpreted as a willingness to let the two-state solution die and give a green light to Netanyahu to proceed as he sees fit. But Trump also continues to talk about what a great accomplishment it would be if he could help broker an Israeli-Palestinian deal. And in criticizing the UN resolution, Trump sounded very much like someone thinking about the next round of talks, complaining that the move “puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position.”

Another sign that the incoming president could be serious about future talks: His naming of a trusted longtime aide, Jason Greenblatt, the chief legal officer for the Trump Organization, as his administration’s special representative for international negotiations.

  1. If this resolution is good for the two-state solution, why are Hamas and Islamic Jihad so happy?

Among those cheering the resolution are Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two terrorist groups opposed to a two-state solution (not to mention Israel’s existence).

  1. How strong is Jewish opposition to the resolution?

The criticism isn’t just coming from the right. Centrists groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee issued sharp condemnations. The Israel Policy Forum — a staunch advocate of US efforts to secure a two-state solution — came out against the resolution, citing the UN’s abysmal record on Israel, the lack of balance in the resolution itself and the effect of galvanizing Israeli opponents of a two-state solution. Yes, several left-wing groups (including New Israel Fund, J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu) voiced varying levels of support for the resolution. But prior to the vote, the Union for Reform Judaism — the largest liberal group, and a frequent critic of the Netanyahu government and settlements — declared that it stood “firmly against any UN resolution that would dictate the way forward on this complicated issue.”                  (JTA, Jerusalem Post)

Trump urges Israel to ‘stay strong’ till January 20

US President-elect Donald Trump lashed out at the Obama administration on Wednesday over its decision not to veto the recent UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.

Taking to his preferred medium of Twitter, the Republican president-elect said that Washington cannot continue to treat Israel “with such total disdain and disrespect.”

Trump also implied that under Obama, the US was no longer “a great friend” to the Jewish state.

“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but…” Trump wrote. “Not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (UN)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”  (The Times of Israel)

Netanyahu to be investigated for bribery, fraud

A months-long inquiry into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s affairs took a new twist on Monday, with police reportedly convinced that they will be able to open a full-blown criminal investigation against him in the next few days.

Police recently received new documents as part of a secret inquiry that began almost nine months ago, Channel 2 reported. Based on those files police have already turned to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit requesting that he allow them to open a full criminal investigation. The report stated that among the suspected offenses are bribe-taking and aggravated fraud.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said that “it’s all nonsense,” Haaretz reported. “Since Netanyahu’s victory in the last elections and even before, hostile elements have used heroic efforts to attempt to bring about [Netanyahu’s] downfall, with false accusations against him and his family. This [latest attempt] is absolutely false. There was nothing and there will be nothing.”

In June, it was reported that Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich gave his go-ahead on the secret investigation by special police unit Lahav 433, but that he had demanded full cooperation on secrecy and that no details be leaked to the media.

Mandelblit also reportedly instructed employees in the state prosecutor’s office to look into allegations that Netanyahu accepted 1 million euros (about $1.1 million) from accused French fraudster Arnaud Mimran in 2009.

In May, Israel’s state comptroller issued a critical report on Netanyahu’s foreign trips, some of which were taken with his wife and children, from 2003 to 2005, when he was finance minister.

Earlier this month, in an apparently unrelated case, there were calls for the prime minister to be investigated for his role in a Defense Ministry deal to purchase submarines from a German company partly owned by the Iranian government.

The affair dominated public debate in the country last month, as accusations surfaced that the prime minister may have been swayed in the decision by business ties his personal counsel David Shimron had with the submarines’ builder, ThyssenKrupp. The purchase was opposed by parts of the defense establishment, including former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.

On Sunday, police descended on the Defense Ministry to gather information relating to a ship-building contract with Germany, as part of a probe into how negotiations for multi-billion shekel naval deals were handled.  (the Times of Israel)

Brother of Palestinian terrorist arrested in cellphone smuggling case

Balad MK Basel Ghattas, who is suspected of smuggling phones to security prisoners, was released from prison after six days on Tuesday and placed under house arrest for ten days, during which he will be allowed to participate in Knesset votes.

Rishon LeZion Magistrate Court Judge Moshe Mizrachi agreed to the request of Ghattas’s lawyers that he be allowed to vote, on condition that he is accompanied from his home to the Knesset. Ghattas was arrested on Thursday shortly after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity on suspicion of conspiracy, fraud and breach of trust for bringing cellphones and sim cards to two prisoners, Basel Bezre and Walid Daka. Daka is serving a 37-year sentence for the murder of soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.

Mizrachi set bail at 50,000 shekels and Ghattas is forbidden to leave the country during the next six months. Police had requested that Ghattas be placed under house arrest for 45 days.

Police early Tuesday arrested an Israeli Arab man, Asad Daka, on suspicion he gave a cell phone to Ghattas that the latter smuggled to his brother, Walid Daka.  Asad Daka was remanded until Thursday for assisting Ghattas in conveying a forbidden and dangerous object, with Mizrachi saying in court that “there is a reasonable basis for concern that freeing the suspect will endanger public security and lead to disruption of the investigation.”

Asad Daka owns a café in Baka al-Gharbiya. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post in early November, Asad Daka denied that his brother had murdered Tamam. He said his brother “believes in a state of all its citizens with everything open where the minister of defense can be Moshe and the prime minister Mohammed.” He said his brother had a plan for achieving peace.

Meanwhile, a leader of the troubled Balad party charged Monday that the investigation of  Ghattas is being used as part of an effort to delegitimize political activity among Arab citizens.

“There’s a huge attack on the Palestinian minority, part of this attack is on the political leadership,” said Sami Abu Shehadeh, a Balad central committee member. “Netanyahu and his right-wing government are trying to redraw a new line for the political game in Israel and in this new game the Palestinian minority is not a legitimate player.”

Abu Shehadeh said Ghattas was being targeted as part of a larger process. Among the different aspects of the aforementioned process he  included last year’s banning of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, police arrests of dozens of Balad party members as part of a campaign financing probe, Knesset legislative initiatives including the bill to ban loudspeaker in the mosque call to prayer and the passage of a law last July allowing for expulsion of lawmakers for incitement to racism and support of armed struggle against Israel.

Brig.-Gen. Yuval Biton, head of the Israel Prison Service Intelligence Division, said last week that smuggled phones are generally used by prisoners to orchestrate terror attacks rather than contact relatives.           (Jerusalem Post)

Terror cell planning attacks against IDF soldiers busted by Shin Bet, police

A terror cell planning attacks against IDF soldiers in southern Israel was arrested in November in a joint police and Shin Bet operation, it was cleared for release on Tuesday.

According to the Shin Bet, the terror cell, whose members are Israeli civilians, had plotted to carry out a terror attack against IDF soldiers in the Negev in retaliation for Israel’s decision to outlaw the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement.

Two of the suspects, 37 year old Muhammed Masri of Beersheba and 26 year old Abd Allah Abu Ayash from Kasifa are currently under Shin Bet arrest, accused of plotting to attack soldiers in either Dimona, Arad or the Nevatim airbase.

The two arrested suspects The two arrested suspects

According to the Shin Bet, Masri, the leader of the cell, had been released from prison in 2013 after spending 12 years behind bars for planning an attack on a Herzliya wedding hall. During his time in prison he made ties with imprisoned Hamas operatives from both the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including senior Hamas official Yahya Sinwar.

Following his release, Masri joined the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and employed Ayash at his store in Beersheba.

A third suspect from Kalansua was also arrested for his role in the cell.  He was also active in the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and had served time behind bars from 2006-2010 for grave security offenses including the selling of weapons to terrorists in Tulkarem with the intent to attack IDF units there.

Misri alongside Sheikh Raed Salah of the northern branch of the Islamic movementMisri alongside Sheikh Raed Salah of the northern branch of the Islamic movement

During the Police and Shin Bet investigation it was revealed that terror cell had made a thorough tour of the area in which they had planned to attack and gathered information about several location in the area.

According to the Shin Bet, Forces also uncovered a Karlo Gustav rifle that the suspects had stashed, as well as a large amount of systems that operate explosive devices.

Karlo Gustav rifled seized by security forcesKarlo Gustav rifled seized by security forces

Three other Arab Israelis, 21 year-old Abu Bakr Takfa and 22 year old Rami Abu Takfa of Segev Shalom as well as 26 year-old Mohameed Abu Kaf from the Bedouin region near Nevatim have been arrested in connection with the planned attack, and Masri and Abu Ayash are expected to be indicted in the upcoming days.

The investigation is expected to continue and security forces are preparing to conduct several more arrests in accordance with information gathered throughout the investigation.  (Jerusalem Post)

Beyond anger: How to respond to the UN Security Council vote

by Gerald Steinberg     The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Beyond-anger-How-to-respond-to-the-UN-Security-Council-vote-476603

Once President Obama had signaled his readiness to join in this ritual, there was no reason to expect the other 14 members of the UNSC to break with the traditional Israel- bashing.

The seats of Britain and the United States sit empty in the United Nations Security Council chamber.

Israel’s angry response to the UN Security Resolution on Israeli settlements, and the abstention (de facto support) of the Obama administration is understandable, but it is unlikely to be very helpful and is probably counterproductive.

Such attacks in the UN have been commonplace for decades, reflecting both the power of the Arab and Islamic bloc, and the hypocrisy of many of the western democracies.

Once President Obama had signaled his readiness to join in this ritual, there was no reason to expect the other 14 members of the UNSC to break with the traditional Israel- bashing.

In lashing out through the cancellation of a scheduled visit by the Ukrainian prime minister (for voting yes), the threat to stop agricultural aid to Senegal (a co-sponsor of the resolution, along with Malaysia, Venezuela, and New Zealand), and summoning the other ambassadors for a dressing-down, the Israeli government is unlikely to accomplish very much. By the same logic, Netanyahu could have angrily sought to sanction the other Security Council members, such as Russia, China and the UK, but in those cases, it was obvious that discretion (or caution) is indeed the better part of valor.

In formulating realistic and rational responses, in this case as in others, Israeli leaders should first assess the potential damage and then find ways to reduce this impact. The main dangers are from further demonization and delegitimization, via boycotts (BDS) and lawfare. Indeed, the leaders of BDS campaigns are celebrating what they correctly see as a major, if temporary, victory.

The network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’tselem, Breaking the Silence and many more – largely financed by European governments and radical foundations such as the Soros group and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund – has promoted anti-Israel Security Council resolutions for at least 16 years – since the infamous UN Durban Conference of 2001. The NGO Forum at Durban marked the launch of BDS and the political war to demonize Israel, and the widely publicized propaganda presentation of Hagai Elad, the head of B’tselem, in what was supposed to be a closed Security Council consultation on October 14, marked the latest “victory.” For the self-proclaimed human rights community, Israel is “low hanging fruit” ripe for the picking, in comparison to the impotence of efforts to prevent real and monstrous war crimes in Syria, among other venues.

Aggressively marketed by the NGO network, this Security Council resolution will be cited at dozens if not hundreds of university BDS events in the coming months and perhaps years, as well as in the anti-Israel (and often antisemitic) programs involving the World Council of Churches and similar groups. The language calling on the Palestinians to end violence and incitement will, as always, be erased, making a mockery of the Obama administration’s façade of “balance.”

In the legal battleground, and particularly the International Court of Justice, the resolution is likely to give the long-running efforts to open investigations and perhaps prosecutions against Israelis. While there are more than 20 active conflicts around the world involving “occupied territories,” including Cyprus and the Ukraine, Israel will be singled out to an even greater degree.

For many years, the Israeli leadership ignored this delegitimization.

But seven years ago, with the publication of the infamous “Goldstone Report” on supposed Israeli war crimes during the Gaza conflict that began at end of December 2008, the political and military officials woke up to the dangers of “lawfare.”

In his report to the UN Human Rights Council, based largely on NGO claims, Judge Richard Goldstone called for a Security Council resolution leading to ICC prosecution.

After being repeatedly confronted with the refutations of the claims made, Goldstone then disavowed his own report, acknowledging that the evidence on which it was based was inaccurate. As a result, the report lost all credibility, Goldstone’s career came to an abrupt end, and the campaign stalled.

Another effort following the 2014 Gaza war, led this time by William Schabas, essentially ended with the resignation of Schabas.

The current situation is quite different, and in shifting the focus of allegations from “war crimes” to settlements, going directly to the Security Council, and enlisting the Obama administration from the beginning, the human rights network has acted strategically. The excuse is settlements, but the target is Israel, regardless of borders or policy.

To be effective, and go beyond expressions of anger and frustration, Israeli leaders are going to have to counter the sources of the demonization systematically and competently.

Barring foreign BDS leaders from conducting tours in Israel that contribute to incitement and antisemitism, and negotiating guidelines with European governments for funding NGOs claiming to promote human rights are important strategies.

And beginning on January 20, coordinating with the new administration in Washington on this issue is important. And many of the countries that voted for the Security Council resolution might reverse course, if they are not alienated by Israeli overreaction. The resolution will probably remain on the books, but its impacts in terms of demonization can be mitigated or neutralized.

A final insult to Israel

Obama enabled the U.N,’s rebuke of a faithful American ally

Washington Times Editorial

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/dec/25/editorial-a-final-insult-to-israel/

President Obama continues his long march to the rear, where he imagines leadership should reside, and last week enabled the worst elements of the United Nations to condemn Israel once more for its settlements on the West Bank.

A succession of American administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have prevented such one-sided resolutions from getting through the Security Council. But by abstaining from either vote or veto, the United States enabled the Security Council to adopt the resolution by a 14 to 0 vote.

Republican outrage was joined for once by leading Democrats. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s outrage was typical. He called the abstention by the United States “absolutely shameful.” The vote, he said, “is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel. Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel.”

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who will be the Senate’s Democratic leader in the new Congress, was no less outraged. He found it “extremely frustrating, disappointing and confounding that the [Obama] administration has failed to veto this resolution. Whatever one’s views are on settlements, the United Nations is the wrong forum to settle those issues. The U.N. has been a fervently anti-Israel body since the days [it said] ‘Zionism is racism,’ and that fervor has never diminished.

“Knowing this, past administrations — both Democrat and Republican — have protected Israel from the vagaries of this biased institution. Unfortunately, [the Obama] administration has not followed that path and its actions will move us further from peace in the Middle East.”

The man who will get the last word, beginning in just over three weeks’ time, inevitably tweeted what was on his mind, and what was on his mind was clear and relevant: “As to the U.N.,” quoth Donald Trump, “things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

Do the Palestinians Really Want a State?

by David Harris              The Algemeiner

https://www.algemeiner.com/2016/12/26/do-the-palestinians-really-want-a-state/

In all the focus on the December 23rd vote at the UN Security Council — where 14 nations supported a resolution critical of Israel, and the US broke with longstanding policy and abstained instead of vetoing the measure — the question of underlying Palestinian motives has not been addressed.

It should be. In fact, it’s the key to the whole exercise.

First, the Palestinians have rejected one offer after another for a peaceful settlement in the past nearly 70 years. Second, and more tragically, their misguided actions now make any chance of an accord even less likely.

Friday’s UN Security Council resolution is a case in point.

If the goal was to increase the chance of Palestinian statehood alongside Israel (and not in its place), the effort was an abysmal failure, despite the lopsided vote. Those diplomats who rushed to applaud the outcome — and I’ll set aside that thuggish countries like Venezuela that don’t bring a shred of good will to the table — should think twice about what they actually achieved.

If they wanted to excoriate Israel, a longstanding vocation of too many UN member states, then they can thump their chests. But for those truly committed to advancing prospects for peace, they took a big step backwards, once again falling into the Palestinian trap.

Three things should be abundantly evident by now.

First, while Israeli settlement-building is unquestionably a highly contentious matter, the core issue in the conflict has always been the refusal by the Palestinians and their supporters to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and to negotiate in good faith towards a lasting peace deal. That was true in 1947-8, when a two-state solution was proposed by the UN; in 1967; in 2000-1; in 2008; during the 10-month (2009-10) settlement freeze that Israel adopted under Prime Minister Netanyahu in response to an American request; and in 2013-14, the most recent attempt at direct, bilateral talks facilitated by the US.

Evidence abounds for this consistent pattern of rejectionism. One particularly striking comment, as true now as then, came from an unlikely source. In 2003, the Saudi ambassador to the US was quoted in The New Yorker as saying: “It broke my heart that [PLO Chair] Arafat did not take the offer (of a two-state deal presented by Israel, with American support, in 2001). Since 1948, every time we’ve had something on the table, we say no. Then we say yes. When we say yes, it’s not on the table anymore. Then we have to deal with something less. Isn’t it about time to say yes?”

Instead of obsessively and relentlessly focusing only on Israeli actions, why aren’t UN Security Council members asking the Palestinians to explain seven decades of avoiding a settlement of the conflict on terms satisfactory to both parties?

Second, the Palestinians clearly would rather avoid the bargaining table and seek instead to internationalize the conflict. That may produce some short-term victories, given that the UN is dominated by the Arab League, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement. But where has it gotten the Palestinians? Exactly nowhere — if, that is, the real aim is a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

To the contrary, this approach has only convinced many Israelis that the Palestinian leadership has no real interest in finding a solution, only in waging a struggle.

And third, shouldn’t the responsible members of the international community push the pause button and look more closely at how peace might best be attained?

Israel has enduring treaties with Egypt and Jordan. In both cases, these were reached not through the UN, but rather via face-to-face talks. Israel made unprecedented territorial concessions of land it obtained in the 1967 war of self-defense, but it did so confident that Egyptian President Sadat and Jordan King Hussein had made sincere decisions to abandon war with the Jewish state.

Every poll in Israel has shown that a majority of Israelis are supportive of a two-state accord with the Palestinians, but, at the same time, deeply skeptical of Palestinian sincerity. And why shouldn’t Israelis have doubts? Palestinian Authority President Abbas, in the 11th year of his four-year term, talks out of both sides of his mouth, claiming he wants a deal, but then resorting to incitement, refusing to sit down with Israeli leaders, trying to corner Israel diplomatically and presiding, if that’s the term, over a deeply divided West Bank-Hamas polity.

Instead of infantilizing and coddling the Palestinians, isn’t it time to see their actions for what they truly are, and to help create conditions for tangible progress?

When Palestinian leaders emerge who grasp the legacies of President Sadat and King Hussein, extend the front, not the back, of their hand to Israel, and recognize that the legitimate concerns of Israelis must also be addressed in the peace process, then they will find a willing partner. Given his hawkish political background, Menachem Begin may have seemed an improbable candidate to evacuate the vast buffer space, oil deposits, and air force bases of Sinai — but he did so to the last grain of sand for the sake of peace with Egypt.

In other words, history lessons abound, even if history students don’t appear to be in overabundance at the UN these days.

Friday’s vote at the UN Security Council will be remembered as a Pyrrhic victory for the Palestinians — and a step backward in the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Palestinians prefer U.N. blame game over lasting peace

by Jeffrey Robbins      The Boston Globe

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/columnists/2016/12/robbins_palestinians_prefer_un_blame_game_over_lasting_peace

The U.N. in 1947 approved a two-state solution to the dispute over Palestine, one that divided the land into two independent states living side by side: one a national homeland for the Jews, the other for Palestinian Arabs. The Jews accepted the two-state solution. The Arabs rejected it.

In the nearly 70 years since Israel declared its independence — and then barely survived an Arab invasion aimed at wiping it out — one fact has dominated the conflict and caused its perpetuation: the unwillingness of Arab world rejectionists to permit a peace deal that allows Israel to be left alone, and which finally ends the conflict.

Palestinians who profess with a straight face to simply want an independent state have repeatedly thumbed their noses at the opportunity to have one, rejecting peace offers and rebuffing negotiations that would lead to one. They and their backers have resorted over and over to con-artistry and shucking and jiving, choosing that over the independent state they claim to want.

What they prefer to do is use a U.N. that is in the tank to the Islamic bloc to promote resolutions that blame Israel for everything under the sun — including for settlements that never would have been built had the Palestinians accepted a two-state solution in the first place, and which would immediately end if they only did so now.

Yesterday’s U.N. vote condemning Israel for constructing settlements makes no distinction whatsoever between additional housing units in neighborhoods that the parties have already agreed will remain part of Israel in any deal and the provocative, foolish outposts deep in the West Bank. As such, the vote is just another Palestinian-driven move intended to divert attention from their central responsibility for this long-running strife.

No wonder the Palestinians hailed yesterday’s U.N. vote as a “day of victory,” since any day that enables them to slam Israel rather than take responsibility for their own predicament, and for Israel’s, is a good day.

But the Obama administration’s abstention on the resolution and its refusal to veto it made yesterday a bad day for the U.S. as well.

It makes us complicit in encouraging hard-liners in the Arab world, and those who indulge them, to believe that they are better off avoiding peace than making it.

Jeffrey Robbins is a former U.S. delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.