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Latest News in Israel – 18th December

White House: Abbas’s rhetoric ‘has prevented peace for years’

The White House panned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s comments against the US and its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying such rhetoric “has prevented peace for years.”

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “unimpressed” by Palestinians’ angry rhetoric over US recognition of the Israeli capital.

Abbas said earlier in the day that the Palestinians would not accept any future role for the US in the peace process, and threatened to pull out of existing agreements with the Jewish state.

In response, a senior White House official said President Donald Trump “remains as committed to peace as ever.

“This rhetoric, which has prevented peace for years, is not surprising as we anticipated reactions like this,” the unnamed official said. “We will remain hard at work putting together our plan, which will benefit the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.”

The US official also stressed the sides should “ignore the distortions and instead focus on what the president actually said last week: the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties, the United States continues to take no position on any final status issues, and the United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.”

In an address last week from the White House, Trump insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, but has continued to elicit rage in the Arab world.

On Wednesday, an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation declared that Trump’s move had made it so the US could no longer be seen as a mediator in peace talks, declaring that East Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Palestine, with Abbas leading the charge.

The Palestinian leader slammed Trump’s declaration as a “crime” and a “gift” to the “Zionist movement” ­ as if he “were giving away an American city” ­ and asserted that Washington no longer had any role to play in the peace process.

Abbas said the Palestinians had been engaged with Washington in a new push to reach a peace agreement with Israel, the “deal of our times.” But “instead we got the slap of our times,” Abbas said. “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process.” He suggested the UN should take over as mediator.

“We will tell the Israelis that we are no longer committed to any agreement from Oslo until today,” Abbas threatened, and declared that the Palestinian Authority intended to return to the United Nations to gain full membership.

“We agreed with America we would not join international institutions on the condition that American does not transfer its embassy, does not initiate any action against our office in Washington, and orders Israel to freeze settlement building,” Abbas said.

Netanyahu responded to Abbas by saying the Palestinians should “face the reality” that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

“Palestinians had better face up to reality and strive for peace rather than escalation,” the premier said at an event at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

The Palestinians should also recognize that it is Israel that safeguards “Jerusalem’s freedom of religion for all faiths,” Netanyahu noted. “We are the ones in the Middle East who commit to this guarantee as no one else does, and as some often fail disgracefully to do.”

Netanyahu said Israel was therefore “unimpressed” by Palestinians’ angry rhetoric over US recognition of the Israeli capital.

“The truth will eventually prevail, and many nations will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move their embassies” to Jerusalem, he said, echoing similar comments he has made since Trump’s announcement.

Thus far, most countries have slammed Trump’s decision, and only the Czech Republic said it would consider moving its embassy.  (the Times of Israel)

Palestinian President Accuses Jews of ‘Counterfeiting History and Religion,’ Claims Qur’an Says They ‘Fabricate Truth’

On Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation at a summit in Turkey. Understandably, Abbas condemned the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and reiterated Palestinian claims to the city. But then the Palestinian leader ventured into far more disturbing territory: instead of simply assailing the political policies of the United States and Israel, he began to assail Jews. Almost as an aside, Abbas declared:

I don’t want to discuss religion or history because they are really excellent in faking and counterfeiting history and religion. But if we read the Torah it says that the Canaanites were there before the time of our prophet Abraham and their existence continued since that time—this is in the Torah itself. But if they would like to fake this history, they are really masters in this and it is mentioned in the holy Qur’an they fabricate truth and they try to do that and they believe in that but we have been there in this location for thousands of years. (emphasis added)

Typically, Abbas presents his critiques of Israel as anti-Zionist rather than anti-Jewish. But of course, the Qur’an does not mention Zionists or Zionism—a modern political movement. It mentions Jews. Thus, according to Abbas, it is Jews who are “really excellent in faking and counterfeiting history and religion,” who “fabricate truth,” and who “are really masters in this.” Ironically, in this passage, Abbas was attempting to argue that the modern Palestinian people is actually descended from the biblical Canaanites, a dubious claim with little evidence to support it. Thus, he accused Jews of being fabricators of history while engaging in the same.

This is far from the first time the Palestinian president has dabbled in anti-Semitic invective. As has been previously reported:

Infamously, the Palestinian president’s 1982 doctoral dissertation denies the Holocaust, claiming that the number of Jews murdered has been exaggerated. (He posits one million as a more reasonable estimate.) Moreover, the entire genocide, argues Abbas, was in fact perpetrated by the Nazis in collaboration with the Zionists, whom he dubs the Third Reich’s “basic partner in crime.” Thus, while admitting that the Holocaust did technically transpire, he nonetheless manages to blame the Jews for it. To this day, the PhD is featured among Abbas’s other publications on his official web site, and he has reaffirmed its contents in interviews with Middle Eastern media.

Abbas has not only denied the Jewish genocide, he has falsely accused the Jewish state of perpetrating genocide. In September 2014, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Abbas proclaimed that it was “a year of a new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people.” In fact, the Palestinian populations in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel have actually skyrocketed since Israel’s founding in 1948—as Palestinian media and Abbas’s own government Bureau of Statistics regularly celebrate.

In June 2016, Abbas had a similar mask-slipping moment when he addressed the E.U. parliament and went on a tangent about how Israeli rabbis had called to poison Palestinian water. As Reuters reported at the time, this “appeared to be an invocation of a widely debunked media report that recalled a medieval anti-Semitic libel.” During the Middle Ages, Jews were regularly accused of poisoning Europe’s wells, most notoriously during the Black Death. Such slanders frequently led to the murder of Jews, and have resurfaced to the present day. Following an international outcry, Abbas was forced to walk back his bigoted claim. Admitting it was false, he said that he “didn’t intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish people.”

It remains a mystery, then, why he keeps doing it.  (Tablet Magazine)

Palestinians won’t meet with VP Pence, Kushner, Greenblatt or any US officials on peace

The Palestinians will not meet with any United States officials regarding the peace process in the future, in response to US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a senior diplomatic adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

The open-ended boycott includes Trump’s top peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, who is due here this week, as well as the US leader’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

“No one from the American administration will be met to discuss peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, because the [PA] president was very clear on that,” said Majdi al-Khalidi, referring to Abbas’s speech at the Organization of Islamic Countries on Wednesday in Istanbul.

Khalidi added that Greenblatt, who is expected to arrive in the region amid violent protests over Trump’s announcement, did not request a meeting with the Palestinians, with whom he has met on numerous occasions in the past, Khalidi said.

Greenblatt “knows that no meeting will happen, even if he asks,” said Khalidi.

In his speech in Turkey, Abbas said Trump’s Jerusalem decision meant “the United States has chosen to lose its eligibility as an intermediary. It does not have any role in the political process.”

On Abbas’s remarks, Khalidi said: “The statement of the president is self-explanatory.”

The White House said Greenblatt would come to Israel this week and stay throughout the upcoming visit of US Vice President Mike Pence.

The Palestinians last week cancelled a meeting with Pence. According to Pence’s schedule, he will not now be visiting the Palestinian territories at all.

Since the early days of the Trump presidency, Greenblatt has shuffled back and forth between the Israelis, Palestinians and other regional leaders in efforts to restart the peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis.

The US has been the key mediator between the two sides since the early 1990s.

In his speech at the OIC, Abbas said he would now work to seek a multilateral international process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict led by the United Nations. He also said the Palestinians would return to seeking full membership at the UN, an effort they had frozen at the behest of the United States in 2011.

Abbas added that the Palestinians had been engaged with Washington in a new push to reach a peace agreement with Israel, the “deal of our times.” But “instead we got the slap of our times,” Abbas said.

The White House shot back at those remarks, saying that kind of rhetoric from the Palestinian leader had “prevented peace for years.”

“As we have said since the Jerusalem announcement, we anticipated reactions like the ones going on in the region but are going to remain hard at work on our peace plan,” a senior administration official told The Times of Israel on Friday.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state, while Israel considers the whole city its capital.

Trump’s December 6 decision to recognize Israel’s capital was welcomed by Israel, while numerous Arab leaders have railed against it. In his remarks, 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.

Abbas’s foreign affairs adviser Nabil Shaath told The Times of Israel last week that the PA would continue to communicate with the United States on affairs not connected to the peace process.

“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,” Shaath said.

The US is a central source of aid for the Palestinian Authority. In 2016, the US provided $712 million to the Palestinians, and is the world’s largest supplier of such aid.

Just over half of that funding is given to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA).

In Israel, Greenblatt will meet with European Union representative to the so-called Middle East “Quartet,” Fernando Gentilini, the White House official said.

“The president remains as committed to peace as ever,” the official added  (the Times of Israel)

Palestinian shot after stabbing Israeli Border Police officer

An Israeli Border Police officer was moderately wounded Friday after being stabbed by a Palestinian in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Friday afternoon.

The assailant, 19-year-old Mahmoud Iman from Hebron, stabbed the officer twice in his shoulder during clashes and was shot by security forces and evacuated by the Red Crescent in serious condition.

The officer was evacuated to Hadassah Mt. Scopus Hospital.

A picture of the attacker showed him wearing what may have been an explosive vest and the “investigation is looking into reports that the suspect had an explosive device on him or a fake explosive device on him,” read a statement by Israel Police.

This video that appeared on Palestinian television and shared on Social media, shows the aftermath of the stabbing

Israel Police said that they are also investigating the suspicion that the attacker infiltrated the area pretending to be a journalist and that is how he managed to get so close to the force to stab the officer.

“When the other officers saw the stabbing they opened fire that led to him being incapacitated. When the troops approached the terrorist, they identified an explosive belt, which led to additional fire to prevent him from triggering it,” the police said in a statement.

The stabbing occurred during clashes on the second Day of Rage announced by Palestinians over US Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.

According to the IDF some 2,500 Palestinians took part in violent riots in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, Qalandiya, Hebron and Bethlehem, burning tires, throwing Molotov cocktails and throwing stones at Border Police officers. Palestinian Red Crescent reported at least 263 injured in the West Bank, of which at least four were wounded by live fire during clashes outside Ramallah.

In the Gaza Strip some 3,500 Palestinians demonstrated at nine different locations along the border fence, burning tires and throwing stones at IDF troops. Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra was quoted as saying that two Palestinians were killed — including one reportedly shot in the head by IDF fire according to local Gazan media — and 16 others injured, in clashes along the border. (Jerusalem Post)

4 Palestinians dead after violence erupts in new ‘Day of Rage’

Four Palestinians were shot dead and 150 others were wounded with live IDF fire on Friday, in the latest round of violence that erupted between Arabs and Israeli police during a new Palestinian “day of rage” throughout the country.

Most of the casualties were on the Gaza Strip border, where thousands of Palestinians gathered to hurl rocks at Israeli soldiers beyond the fortified fence. Medics said two protesters, one of them wheelchair-bound, were killed and 150 wounded.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, a terrorist was shot dead after he stabbed a Border Police officer, moderately wounding him.

The terrorist was neutralized by Israeli troops shortly after and taken from the scene by a Red Crescent ambulance. The Israeli army said it was investigating reports the assailant, 19-year-old Mahmoud Iman was carrying an explosive vest.

Medics in the West Bank said the assailant and another Palestinian were killed and 10 wounded by IDF gunfire.

Israel Police also said that they were investigating whether the assailant was dressed as a journalist and if that was the reason he was able to get close to and attack the officer.

Clashes also broke out in east Jerusalem, Qalandiya, Hebron and Bethlehem.

Two people were arrested in Jerusalem after Friday prayer services turned into violent riots of Palestinians chanting “with blood and spirit, we will liberate al-Aksa” and “Jerusalem is an Arab city.”

Police heightened security measures throughout the Old City and its gates, after having clashed with protesters in east Jerusalem throughout the week as the city’s Arab residents have been “raging” against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Police have arrested about 80 residents of east Jerusalem as of Thursday.

In Bethlehem, Several were lightly wounded, three were evacuated by ambulance after dozens of masked Palestinian youth clashed with police. At noon, forty men and youth with signs denouncing US president Donald Trump and calling Jerusalem the capital of Palestine marched toward the security fence near Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, a popular spot for Friday protests.

Israeli soldiers used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

More youth arrived with Molotov cocktails, slingshots and stones and started a fire that blackened the sky using tires near the Jacir Palace Hotel. It is the second Friday “day of rage” since the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 263 Palestinians were wounded on Friday throughout the West Bank.

In the Gaza Strip some 3,500 Palestinians demonstrated at nine different locations along the border fence, burning tires and throwing stones at IDF troops.

This comes after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a passionate speech at an emergency session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul Wednesday, organized by Turkish President Rajab Tayyip Erdogan. (Jerusalem Post)

India, China and Russia Refrain From Recognizing East Jerusalem as Capital of Palestine in Joint Statement

Foreign ministers from India, Russia and China notably refrained from recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine at their annual meeting in New Delhi this week – seven days after the US recognized the holy city as the capital of Israel.

The decision not to restate the position on Jerusalem long-held by all three countries was in marked contrast to their joint call at last year’s meeting in Moscow for a “sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital.” At this year’s 15th annual meeting, their statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stressed support for “an independent, viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders,” without mentioning the issue of Jerusalem.

The absence of Jerusalem from Tuesday’s statement is particularly striking given the strident opposition to the US move in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Turkey and Iran, both of whom retain close diplomatic and security ties with all three countries, have led the denunciation of the US announcement on Jerusalem.

India in particular stands out for not having even taken a position on the US decision. Asked for clarification of India’s position on December 7, a spokesperson for the External Affairs Ministry said simply, “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country.” Bilateral relations between Israel and India were handed an unprecedented boost by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s high-profile visit to the Jewish state in July of this year. (the Algemeiner)

US ‘envisions’ Western Wall as part of Israel, senior Trump official says

The Trump administration “cannot envision a scenario” under which the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Second Temple and one of the holiest sights in Judaism, “would not be part of Israel” in a future peace agreement with the Palestinians, a senior official said on Friday.

The official underscored the point in a briefing with reporters on Vice President Mike Pence’s upcoming visit to the country, hampered by a crisis with a Palestinian Authority already livid over US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this month.

Pence will visit Israel this coming week.

“We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not part of Israel,” the official said. “But as the president said, the specific boundaries of sovereignty of Israel are going to be part of the final status agreement.”

​”We note that we cannot imagine Israel would sign a peace agreement that didn’t include the Western Wall,” the official added.​

The Western Wall girds the Temple Mount, one of the most contested sights in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the heart of Jerusalem’s old city.

In pronouncing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6, Trump said that his administration made no judgment on the final status of who will reign sovereign over which parts of the city. Israel insists that all of Jerusalem remain its undivided and eternal capital, while the Palestinians demand a state of their own with its capital in the city’s eastern districts.

Trump was the first president to visit the wall in an official capacity during his visit there in May. The administration official said that, similarly, Pence would also venture to the wall in his role as vice president. (Jerusalem Post)

Australian billionaire says he gave gifts to Netanyahu at PM’s request

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday was presented with testimony given by Australian billionaire James Packer that several Hebrew media reports have said strengthened the likelihood of bribery charges against him.

“I admire Prime Minister Netanyahu and am happy that I was given the opportunity to be his friend,” Packer said in his testimony, according to Channel 10, adding, “I would give him presents with joy, many times at his request and his wife Sarah’s request.”

Packer also claimed that his acquaintance with Netanyahu took place through the mediation of businessman Arnon Milchan.

Netanyahu, on his part, dismissed the probe examining suspicions he received illegal gifts from businessmen, as police investigators concluded a seventh round of questioning at his Jerusalem residence on Friday.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post and tweet. “This time, too, I answered all the questions, and again I say with absolute certainty: There will be nothing, because there was nothing. Thank you for the tremendous support!”

The session, which began just before 9 a.m. Friday at the Prime Minister’s Residence, lasted 4.5 hours.

It was his final opportunity to refute the suspicions before police pass the case on to the State Prosecution for a decision on which charges, if any, will be brought against him in the case police have dubbed “Case 1000,” Hadashot television news said.

Netanyahu was last interrogated two weeks ago when he sat with investigators for four hours at his official residence in Jerusalem.

Channel 10 reported earlier this week that police were expected to confront Netanyahu in Friday’s questioning with testimony from Milchan, an Israeli film producer suspected of giving the Netanyahu family hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of gifts.

Netanyahu is facing two separate criminal investigations, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

Case 1000 revolves around alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family by billionaire benefactors, most notably from Milchan.

In November, Hadas Klein, Milchan’s personal assistant, told police that Sara Netanyahu would call her up regularly to ask for cigars and champagne, Hadashot news reported at the time.

“There were code words for champagne and cigars,” she was quoted as saying. “It went on for years. There was an understanding that Arnon had to supply the Netanyahu couple with whatever they wanted. The cigars were requested by [Benjamin] Netanyahu personally.”

Channel 10 news also reported that Milchan’s driver told investigators he was once forced to leave his home in the middle of the Passover Seder to deliver champagne at the request of the prime minister’s wife.

While leaked reports of the police investigation have indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the better part of a decade, the prime minister and his wife have reportedly told police that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were not strange because the Milchans and the Netanyahus were best friends. Netanyahu has also reportedly told police the items were given willingly, making them gifts rather than demands.

At the end of November, Israeli investigators in cooperation with Australian authorities questioned Packer as part of the corruption probe.

Police are reportedly looking into whether Netanyahu tried to help Packer gain residency in Israel and aided Milchan with a US visa request. Packer, who also bought a home next to Netanyahu in the upscale coastal city of Caesarea, is reportedly seeking residency status for tax purposes.

In a separate investigation, dubbed “Case 2000” by police, Netanyahu is suspected of conducting a clandestine quid-pro-quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister was said to have promised Mozes he would hobble Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth. It was not clear if Case 2000 also came up in Friday’s questioning. (the Times of Israel)

Reality matters in Middle East, not Trump’s Jerusalem symbolism

by Jonathan Spyer                     The Australian


The Jerusalem neighbourhood in which I live, on the seam line dividing Jew and Arab, can be a useful place to take the temperature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In 2015 a wave of stabbing ­attacks against Israelis and Jews began. This was the result of a campaign of incitement by Islamist groups, according to which the government of Israel planned to change the status quo regarding the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Jewish prayer is forbidden on the Mount. The rumours held that this was set to change. Wilder notions of plans to replace the mosques with a rebuilt Jewish temple also were repeated.

Several of the stabbers came from close by, and for a while a police roadblock appeared on the main street. Petrol bombs were thrown at a Jewish house in the neighbourhood in February last year at the height of that period of unrest.

In late 2014, just after the Gaza war, Palestinian youths threw stones at police in the neighbourhood, after the police shot dead a man who had tried to kill a Jewish activist who led a campaign to ­demand Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount.

Since the announcement this month by President Donald Trump of US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, however, the neighbourhood has been quiet. People are going on with their everyday lives.

The difference at ground level with previous periods of tension is significant. Of course, the situation in a single seam-line neighbourhood cannot reflect the whole picture. The occasion has not passed without injury and loss of life. Hamas declared three “days of rage” following Trump’s ­announcement. Two Palestinians were killed and 98 wounded in the subsequent demonstrations. There was rioting in Wadi Ara in the Haifa district of northern ­Israel. An Israeli security guard was stabbed and critically wounded at Jerusalem’s central bus station on Sunday. And in Gaza, the rocket-launching activities of militant groups are leading to a significant rise in tension.

But attendance at the Jerusalem and West Bank protests has been relatively poor — a few thousand across the ­entire area. This week the demonstrations have dwindled further.

What may explain the relatively minor dimen­sions of the protests? First of all, Trump’s declaration was just that — a ­declaration, with no immediate practical import.

But there are other important factors. In Jerusalem, Christmas and New Year bring with them throngs of tourists. Palestinian traders and businesses in the east of the city stand to gain from their presence. Many do not want to help fan the flames of a situation that will lead to the tourists staying at home.

The general quiet of recent months has brought with it opportunities for engaging in commerce and education. People are keen to preserve these opportunities. This situation is fragile, of course. A single incident could transform it. But for the moment it is holding. One also should factor in the searing experience of the second intifada in the 2000-04 period. This was an armed insurgency in which 3000 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis lost their lives. Together with the close-by examples of Syria, Egypt and Iraq, it constitutes a stark warning of the abyss that can wait beyond a decision for revolt.

The relative quiet in Jerusalem and the West Bank is in contrast to the fury expressed further afield against Trump’s declaration.

One of the salient features of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in contrast with other ethno-­religious land disputes in the Middle East, is that it has an enormous symbolic significance for populations in the broader Arab and Muslim world and beyond who have no tangible and practical ­involvement with it.

Those whose interest is in the conflict as a symbol are not, of course, held back by the pragmatic and practical considerations of those who actually live it.

In consequence, in recent days there has been a wave of fury against Israel and Jewish targets far from Israel itself. This has ­included attacks on synagogues in Gothenburg and Malmo in Sweden, angry demonstrations replete with anti-Semitic chanting in London, Berlin and beyond. There has been a grim warning from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Trump that Jerusalem is a “red line” for Muslims, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has told a crowd (via video screen) in Beirut that the US announcement marks the “beginning of the end” for ­Israel. The attempted suicide bombing in New York, too, may have been inspired at least partially by the suffering of Muslims in Gaza.

At the most absurd end, even Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said his country’s armed forces were ready to play some (unspecified) role on behalf of Muslim and Palestinian claims in Jerusalem. What is it about this conflict that makes it raise these emotions across the globe, in a way that the far bloodier neighbouring conflicts in, say, Syria, Iraq or Yemen demonstrably fail to do?

One explanation may be that these other conflicts are intra-­Islamic affairs, while that between Israelis and Palestinians places a largely Muslim people against a largely Jewish one. Another possible angle could be that Israel is ­associated with the democratic West, and hence its actions strike historic chords that are absent elsewhere. A third reason may be the traditional attitudes of contempt towards Jews that prevail according to all polling evidence throughout the Muslim world.

In any case, the reality is clear. Across Europe, the embassies of Iran and Russia remain almost entirely untroubled by protests, despite the role of those countries in assisting Bashar al-Assad to murder hundreds of thousands of his people in the past seven years. In contrast, in recent days US embassies across the Islamic world and Europe have witnessed furious crowds protesting against Trump’s announcement. And while Jerusalem and the West Bank remain largely quiet, the fury farther afield is unabating.

There is a third interesting layer to all this. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas noted on Monday that no Arab country had expelled its US ambassador or taken any active measures following the announcement. Nor is any such action imminent or likely.

In the tangible, decidedly non-symbolic world of Middle Eastern strategy and politics, as in the seam line between neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, the Trump declaration seems of secondary significance.

In the same week that the announcement was made, a far less reported event and the response to it reveals much about the under­lying realities of the region.

An Iran-supported Iraqi Shia militia leader, Qais al-­Khazaleh, in a video released on Saturday, was shown visiting the Lebanese-Israeli border in the company of members of Hez­bollah. “I’m here with my brothers from Hezbollah, the Islamic ­Resistance,” Khazaleh says in the video. “We announce our full preparedness to stand as one with the Lebanese people with the Palestinian cause in the face of the ­unjust Israeli occupation. (An ­occupation) which is anti-Islam, anti-Arab and anti-humanity, in the decisive Arab Muslim cause.”

Khazaleh’s statement quickly was picked up by the main outlets of the Saudi and the Israeli media. The visit became a major subject in media discussion in both countries. Prominent Saudi journalist Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed, whose columns tend to reflect ­official Saudi thinking, noted Khazaleh’s status as a servant of Iran, and wrote in Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat: “Now that Iran dominates Syria, Lebanon’s situation became annexed to the war’s results and agreements. Tehran’s domination increased to an extent that it now dares to send its militias and their leaders to demarcation lines with Israel attempting to drag it into a new war.”

This statement, from a Saudi journalist close to the corridors of power in Riyadh, reflects the real and non-symbolic nature of power politics in the Middle East. Rashed holds the Iran-led camp responsible for any deterioration. Khazaleh, it is worth remembering, is an Arab and a Muslim (Shia). He refers to the Palestinian case as the “decisive Arab cause”. No matter. For ­Rashed, he is aligned with Iran and Israel is Iran’s enemy. So the journalist’s sympathies, without quite stating it plainly, are clearly with Israel.

Whatever the theological disagreements, Israel and Saudi Arabia (along with a host of other regional players including the UAE, Jordan and Egypt) are primarily concerned at the ­advance of Iranian power in the collapsed spaces in the region — in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This core alignment is based on clear shared interests and it is ­unlikely to change as a result of Trump’s recent declaration.

This does not mean, of course, that these countries have any sympathy for Israeli or Jewish aspirations or claims in Jerusalem. They decidedly do not. It does mean, however, that when it comes to practicalities, more tangible and urgent threats will tend to take preference over symbolic matters. The latter will be the subject of lip service, and not much else.

So in the neighbourhoods of Jerusalem’s seam line, daily concerns appear — now at least — to take precedence precariously. In the halls of regional power, too, ­beneath the rhetoric, self-preservation trumps symbolism.

Outside the region, far from danger, pure symbolism can be ­indulged at no potential cost. So ideas and maximal aspirations continue to run free, unfettered by the bonds of reality. In the meantime, Iran patiently is continuing to advance its cause in the collapsed states of the Arab Middle East, amid the collapsed assumptions of Arab politics.

Jonathan Spyer is a journalist, author and Middle East analyst. Based in Jerusalem, he is director of the Rubin Centre for Research in International Affairs and is a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

What a leftist Israeli sees when he visits Australia and New Zealand

New Zealand, one state for two nations

A visit to the site of a 506-day protest 40 years ago by the Maori people – whom Israel’s Arab citizens can only envy – and to the ever-strong pro-Israel bastion Down Under

By Gideon Levy   Ha’aretz


Late-morning light bathed the landscape in bold colors. It’s early summer here, and the sun was already very strong, broiling. It’s also the season in which the pohutukawa trees burst into crimson blossoms along the roadside. The view from the heights of this Auckland suburb of Orakei is breathtaking, like almost every place in the beautiful country of New Zealand: an azure bay, endless green meadows, homes, boats and of course sheep. Only a few skyscrapers spoil the horizon, on the other side of the bay.

The sound of birdsong sliced through the silence. An Australian magpie was perched on a structure atop a hill, singing a song unlike any I’d ever heard in my life. The landscape was equally inimitable. The colors of the magpie, black and white, blended with the black and white of the structure, which serves as a marker for ships at sea. Soon another magpie arrived, and the two began singing to each other, a serenade for two magpies, a hypnotic duet, before flying away.

Unavoidably, Israeli poet Nathan Zach’s “A Second Bird” leaped to mind: “A bird of such wondrous beauty I shall never see again / Until the day I die.”

On the slope below, close to the waterline, is the tomb of New Zealand’s 23rd prime minister, Michael Joseph Savage, with a large stone obelisk rising over it. Savage, who served as the country’s first-ever Labour prime minister, from 1935 to 1940, is considered to be the father of its social-welfare policy. He was laid to rest here in 1940, at Bastion Point on the coast, a gesture of esteem for someone who became a beloved figure to his nation. “The New Zealander of the century,” The New Zealand Herald called him.

But the hill above the grave site of the adored premier is fraught with a more recent, different and painful history. Forty years ago, hundreds of people barricaded themselves here for 506 days. They were Maoris from the Ngahi Whatua tribe, and were joined by white human-rights activists who came to show solidarity with them in what was called an “occupation” but was actually a liberation.

It was an indigenous display of protest and independence, revolving around ownership of the land on which we were now standing, above Bastion Point. The so-called occupation lasted from January 5, 1977, until May 25, 1978, when the protesters were evicted, ending 17 months of a determined civilian, nonviolent struggle. Some 230 people were arrested during the eviction, but no one was hurt. The event became a milestone in New Zealand history.

A television report broadcast here on that May day when the occupiers were evacuated carries the voices and the images. On film, the site looks more like Woodstock than like Umm al-Hiran, the Bedouin town in the Negev where a villager and an Israeli policeman were killed last January. In the footage, hundreds of unarmed New Zealand police and soldiers are seen quietly removing the demonstrators, who had camped here for almost a year and a half in order to restore the land to its Maori owners. No blood is shed, no violence erupts; there’s only singing and weeping. The activists later claimed that the police had orders to open fire at them, but that didn’t happen: The officers were unarmed throughout the eviction. The reporter likened the convoy of police vehicles arriving at the site to a military convoy in World War II, no less, but to Israeli eyes, which have seen violent evictions in the Negev and in the territories, the Bastion Point incident is a model of nonviolence and civil resistance.

The only fatality was little Joanne, a 5-year-old Maori girl who died in a blaze caused by a heating stove that the protesters on the hill lit on a cold winter night in one of the makeshift structures they lived in – tents, trailers and huts. Near the place where she died, on the lower slope of the hill, stands a memorial to Joanne Hawke – a Maori sculpture and a commemorative sign that tells her story.

The Negev Bedouin have reason to be envious of the Maoris’ achievements and of the solidarity that some of the white European population, known as pakeha in the Maori language, have demonstrated for them. In the end, the land in question was returned to its Maori owners, even though they are not permitted to build on it. Bastion Point is now the greenest hill in the vicinity of Auckland, a nature reserve and a national heritage site for the country’s indigenous people. Atop the hill today is a small Maori village with well-kept homes in a uniform style, among them the house of the leader of that protest 40 years ago, Joseph Hawke, the uncle of Joanne. He was a two-term Labour member of Parliament, serving until 2002, and is now a homebody. His son, Parata Hawke, told us the story of the hilltop protest his father led. He was a boy then, and thought his dad was taking him on a picnic.

The younger Hawke, a social activist who has nine daughters, is a handsome man in his fifties, head shaved with only a ponytail in the back, adorned with a traditional wooden ornament. Barefoot and wearing shorts, Hawke first speaks in the Maori language before switching to English. His family’s original surname was Haka, but his father anglicized it, like many other Maoris.

The television in the guest room in his parents’ home, where he’s now staying, is tuned to Al Jazeera in English. He serves his guests homemade bread with butter. A magnificent Maori singer, named Paitangi, with a tattooed chin, will accompany him in her powerful voice, at a solidarity rally with the Palestinian people (where I was speaking). Parata Hawke is active in that movement and is well informed about events in the Middle East. He has a collection of ancient Maori wooden weapons, including a 300-year-old spear, which he forbids strangers to touch.

Roger Fowler, who was active in New Zealand’s large-scale movement against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, was present during the entire “occupation.” He married his Maori bride, Lyn Doherty, on the hill in the midst of the protest. In recent years he’s been a vigorous and determined activist for Palestinian rights. This week he took part in a demonstration of hundreds of people outside the American consulate in the city, against the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. When the Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe’er took part in a tournament in Auckland some years ago, Fowler threw a tennis ball onto the court in an attempt to disrupt the match. He also took part in a raucous demonstration against the apartheid regime in South Africa when that country’s rugby team played at Eden Park, Auckland’s largest rugby stadium, in 1981. It was the South African team’s last game in New Zealand before the regime changed. And speaking of rugby – every match here begins with the haka, the Maoris’ war dance.

About 750,000 residents of New Zealand are Maoris, 17 percent of the population. In most realms of life, the Arab citizens of Israel, whose proportion within the population is roughly the same, can only envy them. There are no Maori ghettos, Maoris are well integrated into society, mixed marriages are a matter of routine, and at Auckland’s international airport visitors are greeted by typical Maori artwork and murals. There are also five Maori universities in New Zealand.

Nevertheless, Parata Hawke says that his people are still in the midst of a battle for their land, their heritage and their national honor. It’s a war of attrition, he says. “They stole our land and killed our people,” he explains, “and until the occupation of the hill, no one even talked about it.” For the Palestinians, he suggests nonviolent resistance. “If we take another route, we’ll lose.”

The Maori Party sustained a defeat in the last election, in September, not managing to get even one seat at the House of Representatives, the country’s legislature, which, like Israel’s, has 120 members; most Maoris vote Labour. But Vincent Peters, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister in the current right-wing government, is the son of a Maori father and a mother of Scottish origin.

The road to having an Arab foreign minister in Israel is still very long.

The foreign minister of New Zealand’s “big sister,” Australia, is not an aborigine. Julie Bishop is white, industrious and ambitious. She receives the guest from Israel warmly and courteously in her office in the Parliament building in Canberra. She even plies the stranger who has come to meet her with gifts: stuffed kangaroo and koala bear toys. Our conversation takes place off the record, but her position on the Palestinian issue wouldn’t shame any Israeli right-wing leader. It’s easy to see why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu felt so comfortable on his visit here last February. Hard-right MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) would feel equally at home here.

Australia’s Jewish lobby wields dramatic influence. Almost every new MP is invited on an “informational” trip to Israel, along with many journalists. And signs of the Israeli propaganda machine are hard to miss here. Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who has changed his views since leaving office, also points to the large donations that Jewish activists make to the two big parties when explaining Australia’s one-sided approach. Carr is one of the few politicians in Australia to have a balanced approach to Israel and the Palestinians, who is not a member of the Greens.

Mark Coulton, deputy speaker of New Zealand’s House of Representatives, a member of the National Party that is part of the ruling center-right coalition, is an anomaly here. He tells us that he returned a few months ago from a visit to the occupied territories – very different from what is seen on the Israeli information tours – and has since become one of the independent, exceptional voices in the House against the Israeli occupation.

Coulton, himself a farmer, was especially shocked by the attitude of the occupation authorities toward Palestinian agriculture. He won’t forget the farmers he met from the Qalqilyah area of the West Bank who can’t access their land because it’s on the wrong side of the security barrier, or the shortage of water they suffer – in contrast to the abundance of water in the Jewish settlements – and the butchered olive trees.

In Australia, in any event, the Israeli occupation can go on celebrating. Its only opponents, pretty much, are the Greens. Beautiful Australia, with its beaches and its affable people, is occupied with other matters. A major furor erupted here recently when it emerged that some members of the House and the Senate hold dual citizenship, sometimes even without being aware of it. Now they have to resign. On the margins of that storm there were also some who asked about the question of dual loyalty of Australia’s Jews, although that question did not come up for public debate. The Jewish establishment there can go on activating its effective, aggressive pro-Israel lobby without interruption. “Israel, right or wrong,” is its slogan, I’m told.

All of that is forgotten as though it’s air on Karekare Beach, about an hour’s drive from Auckland. The sand here is black with bits of glittering iron; the landscape is rocky and wild. This is where Jane Campion’s film “The Piano,” with its unforgettable landscapes, was filmed. Now, in early summer, the beach is empty. Here, on the shores of the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand, opposite the cliff and the rocks, the waves and the black sand, almost everything is forgotten amid nature’s ravishing beauty.