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Latest News in Israel – 12th December

Man who helped subdue terrorist ‘didn’t hesitate for a moment’

The cab-driving pensioner and retired policeman who helped to neutralize the terrorist who stabbed and seriously wounded a security guard outside the Jerusalem central bus station Sunday afternoon said he “ never hesitated for a moment” once he realized a terror attack was taking place.

Yosef Ben Amo from Gilo described the events as they unfolded when he helped apprehend the terrorists who stabbed Asher Elmaliach, a 46-year-old security guard, before attempting to flee the scene.

“I saw a security guard running after someone. I didn’t realize in the beginning that it was a terrorist. He jumped on him and I tried to separate them,” he recalled on Sunday evening.

“At a certain point he told me that it was a terrorist and he had stabbed a guard. I bent over the terrorists, punched him below his belt and my finger was injured a little,” he said about his actions, which earned him a certificate of honor from Jerusalem District Police Commander Yoram Halevi and from the city’s Mayor Nir Barkat.

“He was running in my direction when I noticed that the security guard was also chasing after him and knocked him over and at that point I joined the pursuit and I stopped him,” Ben Amo continued.

“Later more police arrived and took him to the side where they searched him again and checked if he had anything else on him. After making sure there wasn’t anything else, they took him to the police station to continue the investigation.”

Asked whether he had given a second thought to confronting the terrorist, Ben Amo said: “I’m not scared of anyone. I am extremely extremely resilient thank God and I didn’t hesitate for a moment. The second I became aware it was a terrorist I didn’t hesitate.”

Ben Amo also said that the terrorists did try to fight back, but that he couldn’t because “I neutralized him extremely quickly.”

Halevi praised Ben Amo for his actions. “We have a great (security) apparatus in the population, in the public, in the civilians and it begins with the security guard, a real hero, the first who immediately ran after the terrorist was a civilian and police,” he said.

“This is the only place in the world that when there is an incident people don’t flee, but rather they run and respond,” he added.

“The guard responded within a second, ran and caught the terrorist and after him a civilian came and a second later the police came. Everyone played his part for public security and we have a lot to be proud of in this city in all respects.”  (Ynet News)

Netanyahu says Israel will not be lectured to by the likes of Erdogan

Israel will not be lectured to by a leader who bombs his own people, jails journalists and helps Iran and Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a sharp rebuttal to the most recent anti-Israel tirade by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan – who is emerging as one of the main voices in the Islamic world trying to stir passions over US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – on Sunday called Israel a “terrorist state.”

According to the Hurriyet Daily News website, Erdogan, speaking at a meeting of his AKP Party in the central Anatolian province of Sivas, charged Israel with using “disproportionate” force against Palestinians protesting Trump’s declaration and declared Israel an “oppressive, occupation state.”

Netanyahu, who has made it a general practice of refraining from responding to Erdogan’s anti-Israel rhetoric, shot back this time at a press conference in Paris alongside French President Emmanuel Macron.

Asked about Erdogan’s verbal attack, Netanyahu replied, “I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from the leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran go around international sanctions, and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people. That is not the man who is going to lecture us.”

His comments hit a nerve, as Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin issued a statement condemning Netanyahu’s remarks and said: “It is not possible to take seriously the allegations and accusations made by a mentality, which massacred thousands of Palestinians, turned the lands of the Palestinians into an open-air prison, in order to suppress its guilt.”

Kalin, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem, said that those who think they will make Al-Quds the “capital of the occupying state are wasting their time.”

Erdogan called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss the Jerusalem issue.

Erdogan has publicly commented on the issue almost every day for over a week. A Turkish presidential source on Saturday said that Erdogan – who last week threatened to cut off ties with Israel over the move – spoke with Macron and “agreed to continue efforts to convince the US to reconsider its decision.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet with Erdogan in Turkey on Monday, and Erdogan is expected to raise the issue with him as well.

On Saturday, the Turkish president slammed Trump, with Hurriyet quoting him as saying, “Leading the world is not so easy. Being strong does not give you this right.” Israel, he said during an address to the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly, “is an occupying state and their police are shooting youths and children… They are striking Gaza with their F-16s.”

During that speech, he stressed the importance of Turkey’s stability for the Muslim world. “If Turkey is weakened, Palestine, Jerusalem, Syria and Iraq will all lose hope,” he said.

Erdogan’s rhetoric is trickling down. Hurriyet reported that the Turkish Football Federation requested all clubs playing in the Super League, 1st League, 2nd League and 3rd League to open Jerusalem banners while coming onto the field at the beginning of their matches this week.

On Saturday, players on the Galatasaray and Akhisarspor Turkish football teams, held up a banner before their game that read, “Jerusalem is our red line.” According to Hurriyet, banners among the fans in the stands read, “If Jerusalem is not free, the world remains captive.”  (Jerusalem Post)

White House says in snubbing Pence, Palestinians ‘walking away’ from peace talks

The United States accused the Palestinian Authority Sunday of “walking away” from a chance to discuss peace in the Middle East by snubbing Vice President Mike Pence on an upcoming visit.

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” Jarrod Agen, Pence’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement.

The comments come after the Palestinian Authority said that its president, Mahmoud Abbas, would refuse to meet Pence later this month in protest at the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The shift in US policy on Jerusalem was hailed by Israel as historic, but outraged Palestinian leaders and sparked several days of unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were killed in clashes on Friday, and two others died in Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets fired from the Hamas-run enclave. Hamas on Thursday had called for a new intifada against Israel, on Friday urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and has allowed thousands of Gazans to confront Israeli troops at the Gaza border fence in recent days. Its leader Ismail Haniyeh on Friday praised the “blessed intifada,” urged the liberation of Jerusalem, and made plain the group was seeking to intensify violence against Israel.

On Sunday, a Palestinian terrorist, apparently motivated by Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli security guard in the capital.

Over the weekend, Abbas’s diplomatic adviser said the meeting with Pence was canceled “because the US has crossed red lines” on Jerusalem.

Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah party, echoed the sentiment, saying last week that Pence was “not welcome in Palestine.”

But on Sunday, a senior Abbas adviser insisted that Palestinian ties with Washington were not severed by its change in policy, only “interrupted.”

“We are not cutting our relationship with America. We are protesting the move of Mr. Trump,” Abbas’s foreign affairs adviser Nabil Shaath told The Times of Israel in a phone interview. “We think Mr. Trump has acted in a way that makes it impossible for the United States to act as an honest broker. We are just expressing that.”

Despite the Pence snub, Shaath said that all other communications between the PA and the US were not affected.

“We still have a delegation in Washington. There are matters with which communication is still continuing. Communication about the peace process is interrupted,” he said.

Abbas was set to meet Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo Monday to discuss developments related to the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” according to a spokesperson for the Egyptian presidency.

Official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Abbas and Sisi spoke by telephone on Sunday and “continued consultations about the latest developments after the US administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

It said that they agreed “to continue consulting to coordinate common positions.”

Palestine Liberation Organization official Wasel Abu Yousef told AFP he understood that Jordan’s King Abdullah II would also join Monday’s meeting, but there was no official confirmation of this.

In his announcement last week, Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

The move was fully supported by Pence.  (the Times of Israel)

Czech leader slams EU ‘cowards’ on Jerusalem stance

Czech President Milos Zeman on Saturday accused EU states of being “cowards” in their response to his US counterpart Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The European Union, cowards, are doing all they can so a pro-Palestinian terrorist movement can have supremacy over a pro-Israeli movement,” said Zeman, presenting himself as a defender of Israel.

The 73-year-old Zeman, targeting a second term from January and who had Friday said he was happy at Trump’s controversial move, made Saturday’s comment before delegates attending the congress of the far right Freedom and Direct Democracy party, which opposes immigration and the EU.

Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday in a move that outraged Palestinian leaders, but which was hailed as historic by Israel.

Zeman said he had himself spoken in favor of Prague moving the Czech embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv on a visit four years ago—a proposal which met with a reserved political response in his homeland.

Following Trump’s announcement the Czech foreign ministry said it saw Jerusalem as the future capital both of Israel and a future Palestinian state and that Prague could only consider moving its embassy after consulting regional partners.

The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini warned on Thursday that Trump’s move had a “very worrying potential impact” and could take the region “backwards to even darker times than the ones we’re already living in.”

Mogherini added that “the aspirations of both parties must be fulfilled and a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Saturday evening on a two-day official visit to Paris and Brussels, vowing not to accept “double standard” from Europe on Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“While I respect Europe, I am not prepared to accept a double standard from it. I hear voices from there condemning President Trump’s historic statement, but I have not heard condemnations of the rockets fired at Israeor the terrible incitement against it,” Netanyahu said.

“I am not prepared to accept this hypocrisy, and as usual at this important forum, I will present Israel’s truth without fear and with head held high,” he added.

During the visit, Netanyahu is expected to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and with the 28 EU foreign ministers. In his meeting with the French leader, the prime minister is expected to voice his concern over Iran’s ongoing entrenchment in Syria and Lebanon, in light of France’s major influence on Lebanon. Netanyahu and Macron, whose last meeting was five months ago in Paris, speak on the phone often.

On Sunday evening, Netanyahu will fly to Brussels, where he is expected to meet with EU foreign policy chief Mogherini before heading to an informal meeting with the 28 EU foreign ministers, which was initiated by the Lithuanian foreign minister behind Mogherini’s back. The meetings are expected to be tense in light of the EU foreign ministers’ opposition to Trump’s Jerusalem announcement.

The Europeans’ objection to the move was so strong, that Israeli officials stress that Israel’s main problem is actually with Western European countries rather than with the Arab, central and Eastern European countries, whose reactions were predictable and measured.

Israeli state officials blasted the “European hypocrisy,” saying that while the European foreign ministers rushed to strongly condemn Trump’s announcement, they failed to condemn the rockets fired at the southern city of Sderot over the weekend. Government workers said Israel had detected Palestinian attempt to get Ireland, Sweden and other European countries to advance anti-Israel moves in the EU and in other international forums in response to Trump’s announcement.

This will be the first visit to the EU by an Israeli prime minister in 22 years. “During his visit to Brussels, Netanyahu will receive another reminder from the European foreign ministers on the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian issue to Israel’s foreign relations,” says Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of Mitvim—The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

“Netanyahu will be reminded that any progress in the Israeli-Palestinian issue could help Israel gain international support for promoting its vital interests in the Middle East,” Dr. Goren adds.

“In the past few months, the prime minister issued degrading and dismissive statements against the European Union in an apparent attempt to make a political gain from attacking one of Israel’s main partners. The way he organized the invitation to the breakfast in Brussels added to the tensions and is another missed opportunity.

“This is the first time in more than 20 years that an Israeli prime minister visits the EU institutions in Brussels, and when such a visit finally takes place, it shouldn’t be done in such a twisted way and should be coordinated with the EU leaders, including a speech at the European Parliament, which would lead to agreements and progress in Israel-EU relations.”  (Ynet News)

IDF responds to Gaza rockets with attacks on Hamas

The IDF responded to rocket fire from Gaza late Monday with tank fire and air strikes on Hamas positions in Southern Gaza, according to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

Earlier Monday night, a rocket was launched from Gaza and fell in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council.

No one was wounded by the rocket attack.

The IDF put out a standard statement that it considers Hamas solely responsible for any fire that comes from Gaza.

But, as of press time, the IDF had not determined whether the rockets were actually fired by Hamas, Islamic Jihad or a smaller terror group.

Whether Hamas was directly involved in rocket attacks, as opposed to smaller terror groups, often impacts whether altercations between the IDF and Gaza escalate.

On Sunday the IDF destroyed a Hamas attack tunnel that reached into Israeli territory, leading to threats from Hamas of retaliation.

Last week, IDF aircraft struck two Hamas targets in Gaza in response to earlier rocket fire.

A commander in Hamas’s armed wing, Mahar Atalla, reportedly died from wounds inflicted in clashes with the IDF earlier in the day.

A Hamas source confirmed the two men killed in the strikes belonged to the group, which urged Palestinians to keep up confrontation with Israeli forces.

One of Friday’s rockets struck the city of Sderot in Israel’s south, a spokesperson for Sderot reported. The rocket caused damage to several vehicles, though no casualties were reported.

Reports have surfaced that the Nasser Salah Eddine brigades, a Palestinian militant organization operating out of the Gaza, had claimed responsibility for the Friday rocket fire.

IAF fighter jets, reportedly hit two targets, a Hamas training compound and an arms depot.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said at least 30 people were wounded in the strikes on Friday, including six children.

Also, last week Israel’s Iron Dome Missile Defense System intercepted a rocket fired towards Israel from Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)

 ‘Silent’ tunnel neutralization

The Hamas tunnel was “quietly” destroyed using a different method from those destroyed in the past, which were either blown up with explosives or by air strikes, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said.

The tunnel was located by the IDF by a new system using a collaboration between advanced technology and various engineering, intelligence and ground forces units, he said.

The military has been investing extensive efforts in locating cross-border tunnels from Gaza and has been building a ground-breaking underground barrier across the entire border with the Hamas-run enclave. Construction of the barrier is expected to cost over NIS 3 billion and be completed within two years.

The underground barrier is made from bentonite and is combined with large iron cages with a system of advanced sensor and monitoring devices to detect tunnels. On top of the underground barrier, a six-meter-high aboveground fence will be built to prevent anyone from crossing above ground.

To build the underground barrier, the army is using a German hydromill, a powerful drill that can destroy anything that crosses its path as it digs down into the ground. Once it reaches the depth believed by the army to be deep enough, the area is filled with the bentonite, a clay-like mineral that expands and turns into an adhesive when it comes into contact with water.

According to officials familiar with the construction of the barrier, the IDF knows when the bentonite comes into contact with a tunnel because the bentonite drains into it, effectively destroying it.

The two tunnels discovered in recent weeks were found where the barrier has not yet been completed. (Jerusalem Post)

Entering a new era of natural gas

Israel is poised to enter a new era of exporting natural gas to her neighbors as well as displacing coal for domestic energy production leading to a healthier future for Israel’s citizens, according to Binyamin A. Zomer, Noble Energy’s vice president for regional affairs, which operates the Tamar and Leviathan natural-gas fields offshore Israel.

“Israel’s ability to export natural gas has provided a common interest for Israel and its neighbors, including Jordan, Egypt and Turkey,” said Zomer. “Natural gas puts Israel in a new position as energy suppliers and not just energy consumers.”

In 2013, Israel adopted a gas export policy, allowing the country to export about 40% of newly discovered natural-gas reservoirs. Zomer said Israel has more natural gas than it can use.

Currently, the Tamar gas field supplies Israel with around 65% of its power needs. Critics have contended that the current reliance on one source is a national security risk. Zomer said Leviathan will provide Israel with additional energy security.

“Leviathan is going to bring Israel into a new era,” he said. Leviathan is Israel’s largest-ever privately-funded infrastructure project. Noble Energy and its Israeli partners are investing approximately $3.75 billion dollars in developing the Leviathan gas field off the Haifa coast, which is almost 30% complete.

“We will be advancing this project as quickly as possible,” he said. Zomer added that in January 2018, approximately 80% of the equipment for the Leviathan Production Platform will be on location at the shipyard in Corpus Christi, Texas where the platform is being constructed.

As this and a handful of smaller natural-gas projects are complete, natural gas will replace the majority of coal still used in Israel, which will lead to a cleaner and healthier environment.

Offshore Gas

Environmentalists generally favor natural gas over other energy sources. In Israel, environmental protection groups are pushing for natural gas to come to market as quickly as possible, especially in power plants, because natural gas pollutes much less than oil or coal.

Today, coal represents the largest pollutant in the country. The Ministry of Natural Infrastructures, Energy and Water found that in addition to reducing pollution and greenhouse gases, natural gas is much more efficient and can produce almost 20% more electricity than coal or oil.

Already, annual natural-gas consumption jumped from 8.4 bcm. in 2015, representing an 11% growth from 2014, according to a report by the Ministry.

However, residents of the Haifa area are pushing back, charging they don’t want Leviathan to be developed in their neighborhood. “The complaints are based on emotion rather than facts,” said Zomer at the conference. The reservoir operates 5,000 m. below sea level And all treatments will be done in a closed system located 10 km. offshore.

Zomer said that the Ministry of Natural Infrastructures, Energy and Water, the Health Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry are all involved in making sure that not only does the Leviathan project move forward, but that the health and other needs of the people and the country are protected.

Zomer sees a strong future for Israel’s natural-gas industry. Not only does he believe Noble “will be an integral part of Israel’s energy future,” but he said with Noble’s success, he expects more companies to come to Israel, drill and compete. (Jerusalem Post)

Swedish PM condemns attempted arson attack at synagogue as three arrested

Three people were arrested early on Sunday after an attempted arson attack at a synagogue in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, prosecutors said.

There were no reports of injuries and the fire did not reach the synagogue or an adjacent meeting house where Jewish youths had gathered when the attack took place late on Saturday, Swedish media reported.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in a statement he was outraged by the attack.

“There is no place for antisemitism in Swedish society,” he said in the statement, which also referred to a demonstration in the city of Malmo on Friday, at which Lofven said participants had incited violence against Jews.

Swedish newspapers reported that around 200 people had attended Friday’s demonstration at which some participants chanted anti-Jewish slogans, two days after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The World Jewish Congress, which represents Jewish communities in 100 countries, also condemned the attack on the Swedish synagogue.

The Swedish Security Service said it was helping the police in the investigation and was also trying to prevent new attacks.  (Jerusalem Post)

Violence Should Not Determine Policy

by Alan M. Dershowitz                     The Gatestone Institute


Violence should be responded to by police and military action, not by giving in to the unreasonable demands of those who use violence as a tactic.

The reason violence — whether rock-throwing or more lethal forms of terrorism — is used is because it works… as a way to extort concessions from the world. And it works because policy makers often make or refrain from making controversial decisions based on the fear of violent reactions.

Now just imagine what will happen if peace negotiations are commenced and both sides have to compromise. Israel’s comprises will be met with law suits, political pushback and possibly resistance from some settlers who will have to be uprooted….

Palestinian compromises will be met with street violence, terrorism and assassinations. That has long been the modus operandi of Palestinian leaders and dissidents.

A clear message must be sent now to these leaders and dissenters: violence will not be rewarded or tolerated. It will be responded to not with policy changes but with police and military action.

Many who are opposed to President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital point to the call for violence by Hamas and the scattered violence on the West Bank as evidence that Trump was wrong. But violence should never influence US policy. The leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian groups use violence as a deliberate tactic to get their way. If policy-makers allow this tactic to deter them from doing the right thing, it will only incentivize the opponents of a peaceful resolution of the conflict to threaten and employ violence every time they do not get what they want. Violence should be responded to by police and military action, not by giving in to the unreasonable demands of those who use violence as a tactic.

Palestinian violence is rarely spontaneous. It is usually well organized by leaders who decide when to turn it on and off. The reason violence — whether rock-throwing or more lethal forms of terrorism — is used is because it works. And it works because policy-makers often make or refrain from making controversial decisions based on the fear of violent reactions. Palestinian leaders, especially Yasser Arafat, honed the tactic of terrorism as a way to extort concessions from the world. Many countries submitted to this violent extortion, so it continued and spread. If we stopped rewarding violence, it might well abate.

Palestinian leaders called for a violent intifada when they turned down the generous offer of statehood made by former President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000-2001. The result was 4,000 deaths. They again called for violence when Israel opened an exit from the Western Wall Tunnel into the soukh area, even though the new exit brought considerable new business to Palestinian shopkeepers and restaurant owners. And when Israel placed security cameras on the Temple Mount to protect Muslims attending the mosques, the response was not a reasoned call for negotiation or law suit in the Israel Supreme Court – it was violence.

Now just imagine what will happen if peace negotiations are commenced and both sides have to compromise. Israel’s comprises will be met with law suits, political pushback and possibly resistance from some settlers who will have to be uprooted. That is what happened when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the evacuation of all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian compromises will be met with street violence, terrorism and assassinations. That has long been the modus operandi of Palestinian leaders and dissidents.

A clear message must be sent now to these leaders and dissenters: violence will not be rewarded or tolerated. It will be responded to not with policy changes but with police and military action. As the late Yitzhak Rabin put when he was prime minister: “We will pursue the peace process as if there no terrorism, and respond to terrorism as if there were no peace process.”

So, let the peace process move forward toward a two-state solution, regardless of the violence that may be tactically deployed by the enemies of peace. Do not be fooled by those who say that the two-state solution is dead or that it is time to adopt a one-state solution. Under any resolution, Jerusalem would be recognized as the capital of Israel and its holiest places would remain under Israeli control. Do not allow President Trump’s decision to keep his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to become the latest excuse by Palestinian leaders to refuse to sit down, negotiate and make the painful compromises necessary for a complete resolution of the outstanding issues. President Trump’s decision merely restores the balance that was undone by President Obama’s decision to engineer a one-sided Security Council Resolution that changed the status quo.

The time has come to end violence as a tool of diplomacy and for both sides to sit down at the negotiation table and agree to an outcome based on honest negotiations.

To date, Palestinians’ Jerusalem protests are a case of ‘intifada lite’

Fatah and Hamas have been relentlessly urging people to the streets, but only a few thousand have responded. An unpleasant surprise, though, can change that in an instant

by Avi Issacharoff               The Times of Israel


Although Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has enthusiastically described the Palestinians’ violent protests against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a “blessed intifada,” what has actually been taking place on the ground in the territories is nothing like the outbreak of the first intifada 30 years ago. It also does not remotely resemble the first days of the second intifada, in the wake of then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000.

At most, the two days of protests might be called “intifada lite,” and even that would be a bit of an exaggeration. Only a few thousand people have taken to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza.

The IDF has reported 3,000 Palestinian protesters in the West Bank. Even if that number is a low estimate, you could double it and still it would not compare to the early days of the first and second intifadas.

The past two days of protests, furthermore, are not a case of a spontaneous, unplanned, popular eruption of anger. They are, rather, the consequence of an intensive effort by the Palestinian Authority to mobilize the Palestinian public — an effort unprecedented since the days of Yasser Arafat. Fatah and Hamas have relentlessly urged the people into the streets, and yet only a few thousand answered the call.

Thus far, therefore, the prime Israeli concern is not over protests in the streets. The main worry is over terrorism in and from the West Bank, and a deterioration into wide-scale confrontation with Hamas-run Gaza.

Hamas, which is doing everything it can to stir up the West Bank, doesn’t want another Israel-Gaza war right now. It continues to try to prevent a major escalation from Gaza, but with less rigor in the past few days. Somebody in the Hamas leadership has evidently loosened some of the restrictions on terror groups and activists, with the consequent launch of several rockets into Israel. Such rockets attacks raise the prospect of a wider confrontation — which Israel doesn’t want either.

Haniyeh and the Hamas Gaza chief Yihya Sinwar are well aware of that, and are also well aware of the cost to Hamas and Gaza of another major round of conflict. And yet the rulers of Gaza are plainly not acting with sufficient determination to prevent the border from heating up.

The very fact that they have allowed thousands of Gazans to get close to the border to stage protests, knowing full well that this will lead to clashes with Israel and consequent bloodshed, underlines the extent to which they are playing with fire.

In the West Bank, it would appear that the protests will gradually die down — if, that is, there are no surprises. And surprises are, of course, always possible.

It has to be hoped that another incident such as the death at Netzarim junction in Gaza of Mohammed al-Dura, which prompted the Palestinian masses to inflame the second intifada in 2000, does not occur. (A French TV report claimed Israeli troops shot the 12-year-old and he became a symbol of Palestinian outrage and protest. An official Israeli government report concluded that al-Dura was not harmed by Israeli forces.)

In the absence of any such new symbolic rallying point, the Palestinians of the West Bank are unlikely to abandon their daily routines and flood the streets.

Furthermore, while urging demonstrations, the Palestinian Authority itself has not, to date at least, abandoned all restraint. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has declared that he won’t back down over Jerusalem, and won’t negotiate with the US because Trump, he says, has given up the role of honest broker.

But the PA is, for now, being somewhat cautious in terms of direct confrontation with Israel on the ground. Unlike the leaders of other, rival groups, most notably Hamas, it has not sent the message to its activists to “open the gates of hell.”

Trump’s Moment

by Ron Weiser

President Trump’s declaration and recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is undeniably a major symbolic milestone and one that is to be welcomed and applauded.

It is also a courageous move that changes 70 years of Unites States policy.

We should savour the moment.

Symbolism, particularly in that part of the world, is highly important and significant.

I have noted before that when it comes to the Middle East, Trump is much more measured and counterintuitively to how this move looks on the surface, very cautious.

Even the statement itself was delivered by the President reading off a teleprompter and uncharacteristically, without any adlibbing what so ever.

The question of what Jerusalem and whose Jerusalem however, is not answered.

And he has offered the Palestinians a choice.

Trump has approved an abstract concept more than a physical reality.

He has stated the obvious and one should not underestimate the importance of doing so. Jerusalem is the seat of the Knesset, the High Court, the President, the Prime Minister et al. When for example, world leaders came to the funeral of Shimon Peres, they came to the National Cemetery on Har Herzl in Jerusalem.

In truth, nothing will change on the ground. Trump has in fact signed the waiver for the next 6 month period, precluding moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

On Friday Secretary of State Tillerson said the embassy move would take “several years”.

Trump did not take one of a number of immediate steps that he could easily have done, for instance announcing that the US Ambassador David Friedman, would now move his office from Tel Aviv to say, the US Consulate in Jerusalem.

On the contrary, the US State Department said that none of its existing policies would change, including continuing to refuse to name a country of birth in American passports issued for people born in Jerusalem.

Currently some Israelis, particularly on the right, have gone over the top in welcoming the declaration. Minister Miri Regev for example says Trump’s name is now engraved on the Kottel stones.

US recognition of Israel’s capital may or may not come with a price. We just don’t know yet, whether this is a one off, or part of an overall strategy.

If at some point Trump demands Israeli concessions for a future deal, Regev and the Israeli Government will be hard pressed to claim that Trump is not acting in Israel’s best interests.

Israel needs to be careful about painting herself into a corner.

In looking more closely at some of the content of Trump’s statement one can find something to support many different positions. A sort of constructive ambiguity – Trump style.

It should be noted that all of the examples Trump gave about Jerusalem being the seat of Government are in West Jerusalem, the part of Jerusalem Israel has held for 70 years. Not just since the 6 Day War.

Indeed, he referenced 1948/9 not 1967.

“It was 70 years ago that the United States, under President Truman, recognized the State of Israel. Ever since then, Israel has made its capital in the city of Jerusalem.”

No note of 1967 when Israel regained the Holy sites.

However most critically, he also added: “The capital the Jewish people established in ancient times.”

This importance of this statement should not be underestimated.

It recognises the obvious truth of the Jewish connection over the millennia to Jerusalem – and pokes UNESCO et al in the eye. Not to mention the Palestinian’s ludicrous campaign to deny THE Jewish historical connection to the Holy City.

However Trump erred when he said: “Jerusalem is not just the heart of three great religions”. It’s not. It may be important to all three religions, but it is the heart of only one – Judaism.

In his only real reference to the ‘67 war and the liberation and unification of Jerusalem, Trump said: “Jerusalem is today and must remain a place where Jews pray at the Western Wall, where Christians walk the Stations of the Cross, and where Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

I call on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif.”

Nothing there about Israeli sovereignty.

In fact, Trump was at great pains to say: “In making these announcements, I also want to make one point very clear. This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement. We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis, and a great deal for the Palestinians. We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.”

The Czech government followed Trump on Thursday by also recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But were more specific on her boundaries. And simultaneously recognised parts of Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian State.

“The Czech Republic currently, before the peace between Israel and Palestine is signed, recognises Jerusalem to be in fact the capital of Israel in the borders of the demarcation line from 1967,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry noted: “the Czech Republic together with other EU member states, following the EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, considers Jerusalem to be the future capital of both states, meaning the State of Israel and the future State of Palestine”.

In an oddity, it was actually Russia in April this year that recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, before the US.

Then Russia’s Foreign Ministry said: “We reaffirm our commitment to the UN approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

Unlike Trump’s declaration, the Russian statement passed almost without being noticed.

What is clear is that in many ways the whole US announcement is a clever move. It does not recognise any physical size or border for Jerusalem – that is for the negotiations to come. If there will be any.

The Israelis are now locked into Trump’s peace plan if one comes forward.

The wild card is once again, what the reaction of the Palestinians and Arab world will be.

Abba Eban famously said that the Arabs had never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Will they now?

Trump called for deliberations and not violence in response to his announcement: “It is time for all civilized nations and people to respond to disagreement with reasoned debate, not violence.”

If the Palestinians play it smart, they too will get their payday. Trump after all continues with the US position of recognising the Palestinians as a people and as equal players in the unfolding drama. He said: “I ask the leaders of the region, political and religious, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Christian and Muslim, to join us in the noble quest for lasting peace.”

And he concluded his statement with: “Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel. God bless the Palestinians. And God bless the United States.”

There is no change to the ground rules of any future process and the game remains – if Trump presents a deal, and if it should fail – who will get the blame and suffer the consequences?

The Israelis now have no choice but to support a deal if presented. They have received their reward and welcomed it. It remains up to the Palestinians to see if they will use this opportunity to extract their own price for being in the game, or whether they will use this declaration as an excuse to walk away from yet another opportunity to have a state.

By walking away, they will only reinforce Prime Minster Netanyahu’s contention, and crystallise for President Trump, that the Palestinians are really not serious about paying the price for a State of their own. That is, a Jewish State of any size alongside them.

The Jerusalem that Trump recognised is both a reality now and a reality in any future two state deal. The Palestinians give up nothing by simply accepting it. By rejecting this declaration, they risk seeing a Jerusalem that indeed remains undivided and under full Israel sovereignty.

Once again, it is up to the Palestinians – negotiations or violence – deal or no deal.