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Latest Israel News – 3rd February

Amona evacuation comes to violent end as protesters pulled out of synagogue

In a few chaotic minutes of violence, during which at least 17 police officers and several protesters were lightly injured, Israeli security forces evacuated dozens of protesters from the synagogue at the West Bank outpost of Amona on Thursday afternoon, drawing to a close the evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost.

The protesters had made the synagogue their last stand after over a day of evictions from the outpost starting Wednesday afternoon, with heavy clashes marring what police and others had hailed as a mostly orderly operation.

Police said they were attacked with tear gas or similar chemical materials, pepper spray, iron bars, rocks and other materials that the protesters had stockpiled ahead of time.

According to Magen David Adom, 42 of those injured in the two-day evacuation were police and border guards, and 15 were protesters, with injuries ranging from hypothermia to light bruises to a scorpion sting.

One police officer suffered chemical burns after a liquid was thrown in his face. Another officer’s shoulder was dislocated during the clashes with protesters, said a spokesperson for Hadassah Hospital, where 35 of those injured were taken for treatment — 27 to the Mount Scopus branch, 18 to Ein Kerem. Another 12 were taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

“I want to be clear: We did not use those kinds of materials,” police spokeswoman Meirav Lapidot said, referring to the gas which was seen to billow from the synagogue as dozens of elite police personnel forced their way in and evacuated the building.

The rabbi of the illegal outpost, Yair Frank, one of the last to leave the building, refused to answer when asked if he had sanctioned and condoned the violence, and whether it constituted a desecration of God’s name. “We’re not a democratic state,” Frank said. “The people want Amona to stay.”

“The police used violence too,” said Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the leaders of the protest, rejecting the accusation that the protesters had desecrated the place of worship.

Graffiti found on the walls inside the synagogue included a swastika with the Israel Police symbol at its center. Other graffiti called for “Death to Zionists” and castigated “Zion-Nazis” and “Zionists from hell.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan slammed the protesters inside the barricaded synagogue as “hooligans who hold Judaism in contempt and have no respect for religion, the synagogue or rabbis.”

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, who was at the scene, said the protesters crossed a “red line.”

Hours of unsuccessful negotiations had preceded the forced evacuation of the synagogue, the final building to be cleared at the outpost after the 40 homes of its residents were evacuated on Wednesday and earlier Thursday.

“We made every effort” to avoid the forced evacuation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, but stressed that the state had to honor the court order to demolish Amona.

Dozens of police personnel gathered at the entrance to the building, and tried to enter. One was hit with an iron bar. There were reports of paint being thrown and a fire extinguisher turned on the forces. Police held up plastic shields to block the synagogue’s windows as protesters threw bottles and debris at the officers. The police initially tried to enter without helmets or other heavy protection.

Then what was reported to be tear gas billowed from the windows, and several of the protesters, hitherto determinedly staying inside the building, tried to escape the gas, with one emerging on the roof and others from a back window. The cops chased after some of them.

Police, now wearing helmets, then sped up their entry into the synagogue, sawing through window bars and smashing windows so that those inside would not be further affected by the gas.

As the protesters emerged, many were coughing and spluttering. Three police officers took each of them away from the scene. Those who had broken the law would be prosecuted, the police said.

Inside the synagogue, evidence of the violence abounded. Along with the graffiti, water, paint and some holy books were on the floor. Broken furniture was strewn around. So too were tires and debris. There were holes in some of the walls.

A Channel 2 report noted that most of the protesters seemed to be in their teens, or a little older, and said most were not Amona residents, but more likely anti-Zionist extremists, some of them students at yeshivas nearby.

Police said 60 to 70 people were inside the synagogue.

Earlier in the day, several dozen protesters were pulled out of a home where they had holed up during the night, following the evacuation of all of the illegal outposts’ 40 families, many of them being carried out as they showed passive resistance.

The synagogue evacuation came after a day that saw police evacuate nearly the entire outpost on Wednesday, pulling tearful settlers from homes and battling protesters in low-level clashes.

As night fell Wednesday and temperatures dipped to freezing, most protesters either had been forcibly removed from the outpost, left of their own volition or were inside the synagogue and one last mobile home, with only a few milling around.

The synagogue was the largest permanent structure in the outpost, and a particularly sensitive site given its religious nature.

Wednesday’s day-long evacuation was marked by only scattered scuffles and some throwing of bricks and other materials as most protesters and settlers showed only passive resistance.

“Whoever is still around is the hard core of lawbreakers who came to create a provocation, and we are preparing to evacuate the synagogue and the home next door,” police spokesperson Lapidot said Thursday morning.

Police said early Thursday they had removed by force some 800 protesters from the hilltop enclave, as they neared the end of the operations.

On Wednesday, 24 police personnel were taken to the hospital with light injuries, mostly from the fighting, but some from hypothermia. Several protesters were also hurt and taken to Jerusalem for medical care.

Thirteen people were arrested for disturbing the peace and obstructing police work on Wednesday, police said.

Videos taken inside at least one home and the synagogue showed police looking on as protesters, some of them chained to furniture, prayed and pleaded to be allowed to stay.

In one, a weeping community leader compared the court-ordered eviction of residents to the biblical story of the sacrifice of Isaac.

There was “great desecration of God’s name” in turning children out of their beds and forcing people to give up their life’s work, he said.

Another video showed a police officer asking the remaining protesters in a house to leave in a respectable manner that honors their community and sets an example.

On Wednesday, two Torah scrolls were seen being removed from the outpost along with a carful of women who had agreed to leave. The women were part of about a dozen families who chose not to resist the eviction notice during the afternoon. However, a police officer remarked that while they were leaving without force, “at this point, no one is leaving here willingly.”

Frank, the outpost rabbi, told Army Radio that he had spent the night at the outpost after being allowed to briefly return to his home. However, no other settlers were seen attempting to return to their former homes, deemed built on private Palestinian land and ordered by Israel’s High Court to be razed by February 8.

Frank called for nonviolent resistance to continue, comparing the eviction operation to a woman being raped.

“One needs to express this protest, like a raped woman needs to cry out,” he said, repeating a comparison made a day earlier by MK Smotrich.

All the homes in the outpost but one were cleared as of midnight on Wednesday.

By Thursday morning, crews were seen entering the outpost to pack up belongings left behind by the settlers ahead of the eventual razing of the homes and other buildings. (Israel)

The Amona evacuation began Wednesday as unarmed police in blue sweatshirts and black baseball caps made their way up the hill around midday. On the hilltop, hundreds of nationalist youths erected makeshift barricades out of smashed tiles, rusty metal bars and large rocks, as well as burning tires and furniture, to slow their advance.

Some protesters hurled stones, bottles and bleach at police, but most others resisting the eviction order only passively. However, emotions ran sky-high, with protesters and evacuees yelling at officers or pleading with them to refuse the orders.

One border police officer at the scene Wednesday said he would not take part in the evacuation. He was led away by a colleague as protesters ran alongside, praising him.

“This is a dark day for us, for Zionism, for the state and for the great vision of the Jewish people returning to its homeland,” Avichay Boaron, a spokesman for Amona, told Channel 2 TV.

About 3,000 security personnel were deployed to the operation; about 1,000 people — residents and their supporters — were estimated to be at Amona when the evictions began.

Netanyahu announced Wednesday night that he had ordered the creation of a new settlement to replace Amona, the first official new Israeli community in the West Bank in some 25 years.

The announcement came hours after the High Court shot down an agreement for most of the settlers to move to an adjacent plot of land, after the land’s owner came forward.

The deal, struck last month, staved off an earlier evacuation that had also threatened to be met by violence.

After over a decade of delays and legal wrangling, the High Court ruled in December 2014 that Amona, which lies east of Ramallah, was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished. Nine homes in the adjacent Ofra settlement were also due to be demolished.

Residents of the neighboring Ofra settlement announced that Thursday would be a “public fast day.”

The fast — a Jewish sign of mourning — is being called “over the destruction of houses and communities in the Land of Israel, a merciless and unjust [High Court] ruling, and the wantonness of elected officials.”              (the Times of Israel)

Earlier Report:

With last Amona home cleared, police plead with synagogue dwellers to leave peacefully

After a day clearing out settlers from the illegal Amona outpost in the West Bank, police forces were gearing up for a possible battle over the synagogue in the outpost where up 250 people barricaded themselves inside, refusing to leave.

Police said its forces were making last efforts to convince the protesters to depart peacefully, but were getting ready to clear the shul by force if necessary, setting a final showdown in the outpost which was the scene of a violent melee during a partial evacuation in 2006.

The synagogue is the largest permanent structure in the outpost, and a particularly sensitive site given its religious nature. Protesters barricaded the entrance to the building with wooden planks in an apparent effort to slow the security forces.

A police source told Ynet that they wanted the protesters to file out voluntarily “to prevent forcible evacuation and to preserve the holiness of the place. We hope that these efforts will bear fruit and that the evacuation ends peacefully.”

Earlier in the day, two Torah scrolls were seen being removed from the outpost along with a carful of women who had chosen to leave of their own volition. The women were part of about a dozen families who chose not to resist the eviction notice during the afternoon. However, a police officer remarked that while they were leaving without force, “at this point, no one is leaving here willingly.”

All the homes in the outpost were cleared as of midnight on Wednesday. Police said they removed by force some 400 protesters from the hilltop enclave, as they neared the end of the operations.

Throughout the day, police clashed with protesters and pulled tearful settlers from their homes, carrying out a court order to clear the outpost found to be built on private Palestinian land, ending decades of legal battles and political fighting over the settlement’s fate.

Protesters hurled stones, bottles and bleach at police and most others resisting the eviction order only passively. However, emotions ran sky-high, with protesters and evacuees yelling at officers or pleading with them to refuse the orders.

Israeli settlers

Israeli settlers scuffle with security forces at the Amona outpost during an evacuation operation

One border police officer at the scene said he would not take part in the evacuation. He was led away by a colleague as a protester ran alongside, praising him.

“This is a dark day for us, for Zionism, for the state and for the great vision of the Jewish people returning to its homeland,” Avichay Boaron, a spokesman for Amona, told Channel 2 TV.

Unarmed police in blue sweatshirts and black baseball caps made their way up the hill around midday. On the hilltop, home to some 40 families, hundreds of nationalist youths erected makeshift barricades out of smashed tiles, rusty metal bars and large rocks to slow their advance. Some protesters threw rocks at security forces, while others set fire to tires and trash piles.

Twenty-four police personnel sustained light injuries in the fighting, and several protesters were also hurt.

Thirteen people were arrested for disturbing the peace and obstructing police work, while some 400 protesters were simply led by officers off the hilltop with no charges, police said.

About 3,000 security personnel were deployed to the operation; about 1,000 people — residents and their supporters — were estimated to be at Amona when the evictions began.

Police said they planned to work through the night to clear out the remaining homes and protesters.

“There’s no deadline for the evacuation. It’ll end when it needs to end. We don’t want to go into time pressures,” police spokesperson Meirav Lapidot told Channel 2 news.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday night that he had ordered the creation of a new settlement to replace Amona, the first official new Israeli community in the West Bank in some 25 years.

The announcement came hours after the High Court struck down an agreement for most of the settlers to move to an adjacent plot of land, after the land’s owner came forward.

The deal, struck last month, staved off an earlier evacuation that had also threatened to be met by violence.

As the army began to prep for the evacuation operation Tuesday night, protest organizers had told supporters to make their job as difficult and long as possible, and that message was apparently taken to heart.

Hundreds of protesters, most of them religious teenage boys, but also a number of right-wing lawmakers who had flocked to the outpost ahead of the evacuation, locked themselves inside houses and sheds. At one home, several dozen young residents and supporters linked arms, sat on the floor and sang songs, including the national anthem, when police came to remove them.

‘We lost the battle’

On Tuesday residents were given eviction notices, warning them to be out of their homes within 48 hours. The order allowed residents to file a new appeal to the IDF for a further 48-hour extension. Nevertheless, police began the evacuations a day later.

After over a decade of delays and legal wrangling, the High Court ruled in December 2014 that Amona, which lies east of Ramallah, was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished. Nine homes in the adjacent Ofra settlement were also due to be demolished.

The eviction came ahead of the final February 8 deadline to demolish the outpost.

Residents of the neighboring Ofra settlement announced that Thursday would be a “public fast day.”

The fast — a Jewish sign of mourning — is being called “over the destruction of houses and communities in the Land of Israel, a merciless and unjust [High Court] ruling, and the wantonness of elected officials.” (the Times of Israel)

PM Netanyahu compensates Amona settlers with first new West Bank settlement in 25 years

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday announced plans for the establishment of a new West Bank settlement to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, that is currently being evacuated and demolished as per a court order.

The settlement would be the first new one to be built in some 25 years.

While Israel stopped establishing settlements in the early 1990s, outposts set up since then have been retroactively given approval, and existing settlements have expanded their footprints, sometimes being neighborhoods of existing settlements in name only.

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu had instructed a team to look into possible locations for the new settlement. The team consists of his chief of staff, representatives of the settlement movement and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s adviser for settlement affairs.

The statement said Netanyahu a month and a half ago promised the settlers a new community if efforts to save Amona failed.

The announcement was made as police were evacuating the West Bank outpost, which the High Court of Justice has long held was built on privately owned Palestinian land.

After years of legal wrangling, the High Court in 2014 ordered the government to evacuate and demolish the hilltop community by December 25, 2016. But under fierce pressure from settlers and their Knesset supporters, the government sought to reach a compromise with residents that would allow them to remain in their homes without circumventing the court.

In late December, a deal was struck that would see 24 of the outpost’s 41 families moved to an adjacent plot of land on the same hilltop, while the rest would relocate to the nearby settlement of Ofra.

But local Palestinians objected to the government plan, saying the adjacent plot was also privately owned, and the High Court earlier on Wednesday sided with the Palestinian complainants, overriding the deal.

With moving to the adjacent plot off the table, an Amona spokesperson told The Times of Israel that residents would agree to relocating the entire settlement.

“In the absence of any other option, the residents will accept the offer to establish a new settlement,” Ofer Inbar said.

Settlements in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem are viewed as illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians envision for their future state.

US President Donald Trump has signaled a more tolerant approach to Israel’s settlement enterprise. He has nominated a prominent US supporter of the settlements to be his ambassador to Israel, and a delegation of settler leaders was invited to his inauguration.

This has emboldened Netanyahu, who repeatedly clashed with President Barack Obama over settlements, to announce a series of construction plans over the past week and a half.

In the less than two weeks since Trump took office, Israel has announced the construction of some 6,000 new homes in existing settlements, drawing rebuke from the international community.

The Trump White House has remained silent, a dramatic departure from the vocal condemnations issued by Obama.   (the Times of Israel)

Ex-US envoy voices support for ‘carefully’ moving embassy to Jerusalem

After consistently defending the Obama administration’s opposition to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro now appears sympathetic to the idea.

In an article offering advice to the new US administration, he argues that the embassy’s relocation could take place even before a final Palestinian-Israeli peace deal is reached.

The move might also have positive practical implications for American diplomats stationed in Israel, who would no longer need to travel from Tel Aviv to to Jerusalem to meet government officials, he wrote.

“I supported all three presidents’ use of their national security waiver authority to delay the move in the interest of pursuing Middle East peace. But I have never believed that arguments for moving the embassy were groundless, or that it must await a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement,” Shapiro wrote in Foreign Policy Magazine (registration required).

“I’m influenced by my love of Jerusalem — an emotional attachment born of decades studying its history — and sense of justice for Jewish claims to the city that are far too often called into question. The presence of a US Embassy in parts of Jerusalem no one disputes are Israeli territory is one way of acknowledging the centuries of history that link the Jewish people to the city, the questioning of which is closely linked to the denial of Israel’s very legitimacy.”

The former ambassador, who continues to live in Israel so his children can finish school here, offers several pieces of advice on how US President Donald Trump could fulfill his campaign promise to move the embassy in a constructive manner that would not provoke too much protest from the Arab world.

“Done carefully, it could advance American national goals and interests. Done carelessly, it could cause them grave harm and lead to preventable tragedy,” he said.

So far, statements coming from the White House suggest it is not rushing to move the embassy but weighing the question carefully, the ex-diplomat pointed out, calling it “a welcome contrast to numerous off-the-cuff policy pronouncements, from China to Mexico to refugee and immigration policy.”

Earlier this week, Trump said in an interview that there is “a chance” that he’ll move the embassy, but acknowledged that there are “two sides” to this issue and that it is “not easy” to make a decision.

To safeguard a future peace deal based on the two-state solution, of which a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem is a central component, the US Embassy should be located in the western part of the city, Shapiro suggested in the Foreign Policy article. The administration should make it very clear that the move does not constitute an official recognition of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the entire city, he argued.

Furthermore, the US needs to recommit itself to preserving the status quo of the holy sites to “assuage both Muslim sensitivities about the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) and Jewish sensitivities about the Western Wall,” Shapiro wrote.

Neither Israelis nor Palestinians will be happy about such pronouncements, he added, but they could “actually advance the prospects for a two-state solution by shattering self-defeating myths on both sides.”

Before publicly announcing the embassy’s move, the Trump administration should consult with other important stakeholders: the Palestinians, the Jordanians, the Saudis and the Egyptians, the former ambassador recommended.

Arab leaders are likely to protest the relocation and might even threaten some kind of “diplomatic retaliation,” Shapiro predicted, but they also wish to “get off on the right foot with the Trump administration, and several have common strategic interests with Israel.”

Informing the Arab world about the administration’s plan “shows respect” and could actually “dampen the blowback,” he argued.

Washington should avoid linking a possible embassy relocation to this June’s 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, during which Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem, Shapiro suggested. Such a connection would appear to endorse Israel’s subsequent annexation of this part of the city and thus “drag the United States into a historical argument that is not ours.”

Rejecting suggestions that the US could simply put up a sign at its Jerusalem Consulate that says “Embassy,” Shapiro said a new large and secure facility would have to be built in the capital to accommodate the mission’s 800 employees. New residences would have to be found for staffers asked to move to Jerusalem, and solutions found for those who don’t want to relocate.

Such a project — which would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” — needs to be well planned and could take up to 10 years, Shapiro estimated.

In contemplating the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, the US should not be deterred by the prospect of violent protests, but at the same time “we also should not pretend that the risk of violence does not exist,” the former envoy urged.

“Terror and violence can never be justified, but any significant policy change should be accompanied by a professional assessment about the risks of violence and the ability to contain it. Lives may well be at stake if an embassy move is handled cavalierly, and it is simply denial to say otherwise.”

Since leaving the ambassador’s residence on January 20, Shapiro has not been shy about weighing in on matters regarding US-Israel relations. For instance, he questioned the motives of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for Trump’s plan to build a border wall with Mexico, which led to a diplomatic crisis with the Latin American country.

In 1995, when the US Congress passed legislation requiring the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, Shapiro worked as foreign policy aide to Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was instrumental in getting the law’s sponsors to insert a provision allowing the president to waive the move. It is this particular stipulation that has prevented the embassy’s relocation for the last 22 years.

The waiver, last signed on December 1, 2016, by president Barack Obama, expires on June 1.  (the Times of Israel)

British Prime Minister May Calls On Opposition Leader Corbyn to Join Her in Denouncing Muslim Discrimination Against Israeli Passport-Holders

British Prime Minister Theresa May called on Wednesday on Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn to join her in denouncing the discrimination displayed by some Muslim-majority countries against Israeli passport-holders.

As reported on Tuesday, the ongoing global debate over US President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban executive order has drawn attention to the prohibition on entry to Israelis instituted by 16 nations around the world.

At a Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons on Wednesday, May was asked about the issue by Conservative MP Theresa Villiers.

“It is absolutely right that this house should be aware of the discrimination and the ban that exists around the world…particularly for those who are Israeli citizens,” May said. “We are consistent with our approach. We don’t agree with that approach and it’s not an approach that we will be taking. And I wait for the day when the right honorable gentleman opposite actually stands up and condemns it, too.”

May was addressing Corbyn, whose party, Labour, has been mired in an antisemitism scandal and dogged by allegations of anti-Israel sentiment.

The list of nations that bar entry to Israeli nationals include six of the seven countries targeted by Trump’s action.

Photos showing the list — including Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen — have gone viral on Facebook in recent days.

Last week, May received resounding applause and a standing ovation from American Republican Party lawmakers gathered at a party retreat in Philadelphia when she issued a call to protect Israel.

“Whether it is the security of Israel in the Middle East or Estonia in the Baltic states, we must always stand up for our friends and allies in democratic countries that find themselves in tough neighborhoods too,” May said in her speech                      (the Algemeiner)

U.S. Warns Palestinian Leaders Against Suing Israel in International Courts

The U.S. has warned Palestinian leaders that suing Israel in international courts would trigger severe steps including the closure of PLO offices in Washington and an end to economic aid to the Palestinian Authority. A high-ranking Palestinian source told Ha’aretz that President Trump signed an order to execute a congressional resolution, passed in 2015, to bar the transfer of any funds to the Palestinian Authority were it to initiate any investigation against Israel at the World Court or support such an investigation.

“Messages arriving from Washington in recent days made clear that any such step by the Palestinians would lead to a severe American reaction, so much so that some talked about returning the PLO to the list of terrorist organizations,” said the Palestinian source. Palestinian leaders consider the messages from Washington an attempt to sabotage the Palestinian strategy of recent years which involves international diplomacy. (Ha’aretz)

Freedom House: Israel only free state in the Middle East

Civil liberties and political freedoms are under threat worldwide and have been rolled back in the world’s founding democracies, Freedom House declared on Wednesday in its annual report.

Israel remains the only free country in the Middle East, scoring 80 on a scale of 100. That compares favorably with partly free countries in the region such as Turkey (38), Jordan (37) and Kuwait (36), and with countries deemed “not free” by the nonprofit: Iraq (27), Iran (17), Saudi Arabia (10) and Syria (-1), among all other Mideast nations.

While there is no comparison with its neighbors, Israel does score lower than most other nations in the free world, by the measures of this report: European and North American nations all scored between 89 and 100, with the exception of the Balkan nations and Greece, which scored between 80 and 84.

Freedom House calculates its scores based on a complex methodology of political rights indicators and 15 civil liberties indicators – such as electoral process, political pluralism and participation and functioning of government – as well as freedom of belief, rule of law, and several other absolute principles of liberal democracies outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Within its report on Israel, Freedom House classifies the nation’s media as “partly free.” Its full report on Israel will be published at a later date.

The overall findings of the report are stark, warning of “populist and nationalist forces making significant gains in democratic states.” This report marks the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom, it reads.

“There were setbacks in political rights, civil liberties, or both, in a number of countries rated ‘free’ by the report,” Freedom House noted, “including Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Tunisia and the United States.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Russian Invite to Host Arab-Israeli Summit in Moscow Still Stands

Moscow’s invitation for the Arab and Israeli leaders to meet there is still in force and has been accepted by the sides in principle, Russian Foreign Minsiter Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday.

“As you know, President [Vladimir] Putin offered Mahmoud Abbad and Benjamin Netanyahu to meet in Moscow to start direct talks on how to unlock the peace process. This invitation remains in force,” Lavrov said.

Speaking at a Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum in Abu Dhabi, Lavrov said “the parties have accepted it in principle.”

In late summer 2016, Russia put forward the initiative for Abbas and Netanyahu to meet in Moscow to facilitate the revival of deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In September, Netanyahu and Abbas announced their support for Russia’s effort to mediate talks on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but laid responsibility on each other for the fact that the meeting had not been agreed yet.

In January, over 70 states and international organizations took part in the Paris conference for peace in the Middle East. Israel refused to take part in the conference, saying that it preferred to hold bilateral talks directly with the Palestinian side.

Relations between Israel and Palestine have been shattered for decades.

Palestinians seek diplomatic recognition for their independent state on the territories of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which is partially occupied by Israel, and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government refuses to recognize Palestine as an independent political and diplomatic entity, and builds settlements on the occupied areas, despite objections  (IMRA/Sputnik News)

Israeli Knesset Revokes Ban on Lawmakers Visiting Temple Mount

In a move that could reignite tension on the Temple Mount, the Israeli Knesset’s Ethics Committee decided Tuesday to allow lawmakers to visit the sensitive holy site. The committee made the decision in response to pressure from both right-wing factions and the Joint Arab List party.

The Ethics Committee decided to place certain restrictions on visits to the Temple Mount by Members of Knesset (MKs), including a prohibition on television coverage of the visits, as well as requirements to coordinate visits with the police in advance and to obtain permits from the Israel Police commander in charge of the Temple Mount.

Several of the committee members admitted they had made the decision with heavy hearts, and expressed concern that MKs visiting the site may cause provocations that would lead to renewed rioting, in a repeat of events that transpired on the Temple Mount two years ago.

Since the ban on lawmakers’ visits to the holy site was issued, the ongoing violent clashes on the Temple Mount have stopped, and both Jewish and Arab civilians have been able to make visits with minimal disruption.  (the Algemeiner/JNS)

Connecting the dots between settlements and Trump

By Herb Keinon        The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/ANALYSIS-Connecting-the-dots-between-settlements-and-Trump-480297

The timeline tells the story.

Late Tuesday night, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman put out a statement, the second one in just over a week, saying that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to advance and authorize the construction of 3,000 housing units in West Bank settlements.

Eight hours later on, early Wednesday morning, a couple of thousand border policeman trudged up rocky Samarian hills to evacuate the residents – and their backers – of some 40 homes in Amona.

And in exactly two weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a meeting in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump.

Connect the dots.

It is obvious that the government – often labeled the most right-wing government in Israel’s history – wanted to soften the blow of the Amona evacuation by announcing the newest batch of housing authorizations. If it wasn’t obvious, then the fact that it was announced minutes after the IDF ordered that the evacuation would take place Wednesday, made it so.

And if that didn’t do it, the Prime Minister Office’s announcement Wednesday evening that it was setting up a team to begin planning the establishment of the first government-authorized settlement in more than a quarter of a century should have rammed home the message that the settlement enterprise would be compensated for the loss of Amona.

And if even all that wasn’t enough, just listen to what Liberman said Wednesday morning during a visit to Ariel.

First he said his heart was with the residents of Amona. Then he drew a link to the announcements to build thousands of more units, by discussing those plans for new construction and and how it would allow normal life to return to Judea and Samaria. He also said that this would all be accompanied by the building of more roads and infrastructure.

Then he made a comment that led from this dot to the next one, Netanyahu’s upcoming visit with Trump.

Most of the new building permits, he said, “are in the settlement blocs, because there live 90% of the population that has suffered over the last eight years from the [settlement construction] freeze.”

And it is the settlement blocs that will likely be high on the agenda of the Trump-Netanyahu talks next month, with the expectation that some kind of agreement will be reached in Washington regarding where beyond the Green Line building will be allowed to take place under the Trump administration.

One likely scenario is that the Trump administration will revive aspects of former president George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon ahead of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, a letter Jerusalem interpreted as allowing construction inside the settlement blocs.

This will leave Netanyahu with two quandaries. The first is what Trump will ask in return. More businessman than seasoned diplomat or politician, it is clear that if Trump gives something to Israel, he will want something in return.

And the second quandary that Netanyahu will have to deal with is whether a US green light for building in the settlement blocs will be enough to satisfy Bayit Yehudi and the right wing of his coalition.

For even as the recent flurry of announcements over new settlement housing indicates that Netanyahu’s intention is to build in the main settlement blocs inside communities that are close to the Green Line, this policy is not the one that has been adopted by Bayit Yehudi or many of the settlement leaders, who want to see not only construction throughout the territories, but also annexation of at least part of the West Bank.

Satisfying Bayit Yehudi and the settlement leaders will demand more from Netanyahu than merely connecting dots – it will essentially demand that he be able to circle a square.

Can the Palestinians Mobilize the Arab World on the U.S. Embassy Issue?

by Pinhas Inbari,            Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

http://jcpa.org/article/palestinian-reactions-u-s-embassy-move-jerusalem/

  • The intention of U.S. President Donald Trump to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem evoked angry reactions in the Palestinian Authority which is preparing to block the initiative.
  • Arab reaction to the embassy move depends on both Palestinian pressure and whether or not the Trump administration intends to follow through with his election promise to move the embassy.
  • Jerusalem is very important to the Palestinian Authority and the Muslim Brotherhood and is less important to other Arab countries and Saudi Arabia in particular.
  • Husam Zomlut, strategic affairs advisor to PA President Abbas and Palestinian ambassador-designate to Washington, admitted to Hamas TV that the aim of Palestinian diplomacy is to side-line the United States from its role in leading the peace process in favor of Europe and the UN.

The intention of President Donald Trump to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem evoked angry reactions in the Palestinian Authority that is preparing to block the initiative. It is important to note that up until now the Arab world has kept silent on the issue of embassy, with the exception of Kuwait. No Arab country has issued official condemnation of the possibility of the American Embassy transferring to Jerusalem.1 King Abdullah of Jordan warned Members of Congress of negative consequences of moving the embassy while visiting Washington on January 31, 2017.2

This does not mean that the Arab countries will continue to stay silent in the future. Their reactions depend on both Palestinian pressure and whether or not the Trump administration intends to follow through with his election promise to move the embassy.3

General Secretary of PLO Executive Committee, Saeb Erekat, in an interview to Palestinian Television,4 furiously explained why the Palestinian Authority so strongly objected to the idea. He emphasized that the Palestinians reject not only the relocating of the embassy to west Jerusalem, under Israeli control since 1949, but to any part of Jerusalem at all. This means that the Palestinians stick to their old notion that the Jews have no place in Jerusalem, no matter where. Dr. Erekat continued that the move would damage Palestinians because it would annul the latest UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which defined east Jerusalem as occupied territory.

Palestinians Threaten Violence

Moving the embassy even to west Jerusalem, Erekat claimed, is an act of approving the Judaization of Jerusalem. One can deduce from this explanation that as far as the Palestinians are concerned, east and west Jerusalem are all the same; all of it is Palestinian, and Jerusalem cannot be recognised as Jewish in any part. The annulling of resolution 2334 would inflict huge damage to the Palestinian cause, according to Erekat, because it would undermine the foundations of Palestinian international legitimacy which the entire Palestinian diplomacy is based on. Palestinian diplomacy is directed at shaming Israel at the UN agencies and issuing condemnations in the international arena. In this regard, the linkage of Judaism to Jerusalem in any way contradicts international legitimacy, according to the Palestinian Authority. This was the essence of October 13, 2016, UNESCO resolution that made no reference to any link of Judaism to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

Palestinian officials have also levelled thinly veiled threats about violent reactions to the embassy move. If the move occurs, warned a Palestinian senior official, the PLO would take “crucial decisions,” including the cancellation of the PLO recognition of Israel. He referenced the visit of Ariel Sharon in 2000 to the Temple Mount which the PLO blamed for generating five years of intifada. He also mentioned the recent “provocations” of the Likud ministers visiting the Temple Mount which “caused” the “knife intifada.” He threatened Israel with a new wave of violence. Oddly enough, losing Palestinian Authority rule and security control over areas of the West Bank were considered to be major security threats towards Israel; yet the Palestinian Authority is the one levelling threats of violence. In any case, as far as Jerusalem is concerned, in Palestinian eyes, it is a “win-lose” situation, with no room for a “win-win” compromise.

The PA official also directed severe threats towards the United States. He “predicted a windstorm” that would sweep the Arab and Muslim world, hurting U.S. interests. He elaborated the actions that the PA would take to mobilize the Muslim world against the expected move of the president. He stated that the Palestinian flag-raising ceremony in the Vatican on January 14, 2017, was part of its campaign to thwart off the move.

Erekat also explained why this issue is so crucial for the Palestinians, and linked it with the preparatory meetings in Beirut to convene the Palestinian National Council, the PLO Parliament in exile.5

According to Erekat, the collapse of Sykes-Picot Agreement which drew borders in the Middle East 100 years ago will determine the fate of Palestine, too, because new boundaries are sure to be drawn. If Palestine will not be on the map now, it will not be at all. In order to realize the existence of Palestine in the forthcoming regional arrangements, Palestinian unity must exist at all costs. In order to overcome divisions, the Palestinians must re-configure a new PLO Executive Committee that would be declared as the government-in-exile and the Palestinian National Council (PNC) as the Parliament of Palestine (and not the elected Palestinian Legislative Council that is controlled by Hamas). The loss of Jerusalem, at this critical moment, would be a blow to the realization of a Palestinian state in the post Sykes-Picot era, explained Erekat.

Arab Position on Jerusalem

All of these threats sound intimidating and serious, but the influential editor of daily Rai al-Yom, Abd al-Bari Atwan, a Palestinian based in London, didn’t take them seriously and described them as hollow.6 In an editorial, he stated that Abu Mazen would never jeopardize the existence of the Palestinian Authority which he heads, and he has already looked the other way on other serious matters. One hundred and fifty families of the top PA bureaucrats rely on the salaries he is paying them. Abu Mazen cannot tell his underlings to organize and participate in protests against moving the embassy lest the demonstrations turn against him.

To examine Atwan’s claims, we have to analyse the Arab positions towards Jerusalem, and here we can find profound disagreements. First, there’s a disagreement within the Palestinian Authority itself. Erekat said in an interview that “with all respect to the Arab capitals, Jerusalem is more important than all the capitals combined.” It is hard to believe that any Arab country would take this insult to its proud capital easily. This Palestinian approach can be understood as an aspiration not only to confirm their existence in the post-Sykes-Picot era but to use Jerusalem/al Quds to establish themselves as a regional power. Through intimidation and a threat to use the artificial crisis over the al Aqsa Mosque as a symbol, they seek to threaten neighbours all around and even exploit the large Palestinian communities in Israel and Jordan to destabilize both countries. The aspiration of the Palestinians to secure sole rule over Jerusalem suggests they will not be satisfied as an ordinary peace-loving state, but only as a regional power casting a shadow at least over Jordan.

As a matter of fact, it was reported that Jordan asked the Palestinians to avoid the language of threats and apply back-channel quiet diplomacy.7

Augmenting the importance of Jerusalem may play on the nerves of Saudi Arabia as well, especially since the Saudis are anxious to preserve the supreme holy status of Mecca on the background of the Shiite-Sunnite split and the targeting of Mecca by Shiite missiles from the Yemen.8

Actually, Jerusalem is very important to the Palestinian Authority and the Muslim Brotherhood and is less important to other Arab countries and Saudi Arabia in particular, since the status of Mecca is now challenged by the Shia. The Saudis cannot tolerate a rivalry posed by Jerusalem.

At this point, even Hamas and other Muslim Brotherhood affiliates did not endorse the alarm cry of Ramallah. The Muslim Brotherhood’s organ in Amman, a-Sabeel, emphasized the threat to Mecca rather than to Jerusalem.9 Until last weekend, the only report on the issue was that President Trump supposedly notified Abu Mazen about his determination to move the embassy, but a-Sabeel gave no comment on the report.10 However, Hamas TV dedicated a program to the issue in which they issued threats and intimidations.11 At the same time, the Hamas TV program did not present a particular Hamas position, but rather the opinions of several PLO groups. A Hamas participant in the talk show suggested to wait and see whether Trump would indeed move the embassy. It was the Fatah representative, Fayez Kawasmeh, who threatened to launch a popular intifada.

As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, a very large allowance of $500 million for Jerusalem was pledged at the Serte Summit in Libya around 10 years ago. The funds were never transferred to the Palestinian coffers because Saudi Arabia blocked the transmission of the funds.12

Terrorist Salafist movements, such as the Islamic State, have not yet expressed any reference to Jerusalem. Even leaflets circulated in east Jerusalem, which explicitly targeted Christians, mentioned not a word on Jerusalem or the importance of Al-Aqsa.

On January 8, 2017, the terror truck attack by an ISIS sympathizer in Jerusalem was not formally endorsed by ISIS. Hamas stepped into the vacuum in order to take credit for an operation that did not belong to them.13

A Shift in Alliances?

We recently received from Palestinian sources, a report about what happened in a meeting between Abbas and King Salman at their December 21, 2016, meeting. According to this report, while the two were sitting in the king’s palace in Riyadh, a telephone call from President Sisi of Egypt was received to update the king that he had decided, while Mahmoud Abbas was in the king’s presence, to withdraw the Egyptian Security Council resolution against Israel. [It was submitted later by other Security Council members.] The King told Sisi, “Go ahead.” Abu Mazen said, “At least resist Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem,” but Sisi said, according to the sources, “I am with Trump,” while the King of Saudi Arabia kept silent.

Saeb Erekat claims that Europe is also against the embassy move and that the Palestinians would mobilize Europe to their side. Considering the reported talk between Sisi and Abbas, we can analyse that in future, there are possible differences that might arise with the Trump administration and the current governments of Europe, while Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia will be on the U.S. side, and the PA will be on the European side.

Indeed, Husam Zomlut, strategic affairs advisor to PA President Abbas and Palestinian ambassador-designate to Washington, admitted to Hamas TV that the aim of Palestinian diplomacy is to side-line the Americans from a leading peace process role in favor of Europe and the UN.14

Jordan’s Role on Jerusalem

As for Jordan, they have changed their positions over time. After the 1948 war, Jordan annexed the Old City of Jerusalem and West Bank. All Arab countries rejected this annexation and stuck to the UN decision that Jerusalem is an international city.15 At the same time, one has to remember that the planned international zone of Jerusalem is much larger than the boundaries of the city and engulfs large territory that includes Bethlehem that UNESCO already recognised as part of the PA.

When Jordan announced the disengagement from the West Bank, it specifically retained its ties to east Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa mosque, in particular.

The 1994 peace treaty with Israel was based on the status quo agreed upon after 1967 war, in which Israel is responsible for the security of the mosques, while the Jordanian Waqf is responsible for administration of the Temple Mount plaza. The mosques’ plaza is fully Islamic, while the Western Wall is fully Jewish. Jews and Christians can go to mosques as visitors, but not as worshippers. Israel promised to give Jordan a preferential status on the Temple Mount plaza in the permanent agreements.

Although the peace agreement with Jordan deals only with the Temple Mount, Jordan nominated itself as the guardian of other issues, such as the Arabs in east Jerusalem. Jordan floods Israel with complaints and requests in matters of concerning east Jerusalem. Residents of east Jerusalem, outside the mosques, explained their activity as part of the campaign to block the Judaization of Jerusalem.16

This situation changed completely after two Jordanian officials were expelled out of the mosque in disgrace by a violent Palestinian mob in May 2015.17

A furious King Abdullah summoned the representatives of east Jerusalem and informed the Palestinians that Jordan from now on considers itself responsible only for the mosques, and disengages itself of all other matters related to east Jerusalem.19

The Al-Aqsa mosque is crucial to the Hashemite dynasty that sees itself as the protector of the holy sites. Until the Palestinian Authority joined UNESCO, Jordan did not operate against Israel. However, the Palestinians, upon their joining, brought with them a frenzied push and forced Jordan to compete with them on loyalty to Jerusalem, as seen in the recent UNESCO decision.

Jordan foresaw this eventuality and forced the Palestinian Authority to sign an agreement that left in Jordan’s hands the representation of Jerusalem in UNESCO, but as we saw in the last UNESCO decision, the Palestinians did not respect the agreement and took charge of the initiative, dragging Jordan after them.

Basically, as far as Jordan is concerned, if left alone, they would be satisfied with preserving their status at the mosques, with no interest to act against the moving of the embassy, as long as it is located in west Jerusalem.

Historically, both Jordan and Israel provoked the internalization decisions: in the aftermath of 1948, Israel declared the west side of Jerusalem as its capital, while Jordan annexed the east side.20 On the issue of internationalization, Jordan expressed “strong rejection,” but if there was no other way, internationalization should apply to both parts of Jerusalem – east and west.

After the 1967 war, Jordan updated its policy to be more “realistic that [Jerusalem] can be solved peacefully,” avoiding the threat of becoming a religious dispute and keeping it “political.”

After 1967, King Hussein referenced Jerusalem as the “City of Allah”21 which can be interpreted as a version of internalization. However, he meant the Old City and “the Holy Basin” not Jerusalem as a whole.

Given its sensitivities, Jordan will try and convince the Trump administration to avoid moving the embassy, but it is less due to its own interests, but rather because of competition forced on them by the Palestinians. Indeed, the daily Al-Rai Al-Yom reported that Jordan has been operating in secret channels to persuade the Trump administration not to move the embassy to Jerusalem.22

Jordan’s position towards a solution in Jerusalem doesn’t deviate from its main positions in the Arab-Israeli conflict before 1967. Pre-1967, the Arab-Israeli conflict presented an existential crisis for the Jordanians, in which Jordan did not recognize Israel. After 1967, the conflict switched from being an existential conflict to a political one.

Pre-1967, Jordan was strongly against the internationalization of Jerusalem, and that position hasn’t changed over the years. According to Palestinian sources, in a recent conversation between Abbas and King Abdullah, King Abdullah promised Abbas that he would bring up the issue of the Jerusalem embassy with Trump, but that Jordan has many issues that are more pressing to raise with Trump. The Jerusalem issue cannot be at the top of the priority list, the King explained. Abbas requested that the King intercede on his behalf, but the King responded that he wasn’t sure of his position vis-à-vis Trump.