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Latest News in Israel – 24th August

U.S. pushing to quash U.N. ‘blacklist’ of firms doing business in Israeli settlements

The Trump administration is urging the United Nations not to publish what it calls a “blacklist” of international firms that do business in Israeli settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state, diplomats and others said.

The U.N. Human Rights Council voted to approve the database of companies last year, over objections from the United States and Israel, which describe the list as a prelude to anti-Israel boycotts.

American companies on the list drawn up by the Geneva-based council include Caterpillar, TripAdvisor, Priceline.com, Airbnb and others, according to people familiar with it. It is not clear whether the list has been finalized.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, has told U.S. officials he plans to publish the list by the end of the year and has asked for comments by Sept. 1 from countries where affected firms are headquartered, diplomats said.

U.S. officials would not comment on which firms were included on a version of the list recently transmitted to U.S. diplomats. Details of U.S. involvement and the inclusion of specific American firms has not previously been reported.

Zeid, a Jordanian diplomat who was his country’s ambassador to the United States, had agreed to one postponement this year, partly in response to a U.S. request. He has indicated he plans to move ahead now, arguing that the list is a resource for consumers and travelers, according to diplomats from several affected countries who requested anonymity to describe behind-the-scenes jockeying over the issue.

[U.S. says it may pull out of U.N. human rights panel, citing bias]

“The United States has been adamantly opposed to this resolution from the start” and has fought against it before several U.N. bodies, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “These types of resolutions are counterproductive and do nothing to advance Israeli-Palestinian issues.”

The United States joined Israel in unsuccessfully opposing U.N. funding for work related to the database, Nauert said.

“We have made clear our opposition regarding the creation of a database of businesses operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and we have not participated and will not participate in its creation or contribute to its content,” she said.

In a statement Monday, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, called the council’s moves toward publication of the list “an expression of modern antisemitism.”

“Instead of focusing on the terrible humanitarian problems plaguing the globe, the Human Rights Commissioner is seeking to harm Israel,” Danon said.

In ordering that a list be created, the U.N. council invoked the 50-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the “implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people.”

It tasked Zeid’s office with producing “a database of all business enterprises involved” in settlement activity. The list is to be updated annually.

In June, Zeid told the council that the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 violates international law and “has denied the Palestinians many of their most fundamental freedoms, and has often been brutal.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the list would help the Palestinian “boycott, divestment and sanctions,” or BDS, campaign, which he says unfairly singles out Israel for economic punishment.

[Israel imposes entry ban on boycott activists]

U.S. diplomats have argued that the Human Rights Council went beyond its mandate in ordering the list.

The panel has no power to levy sanctions or otherwise punish companies, but opponents of the list say it could put pressure on the U.N. Security Council to follow up.

The idea behind the list arose from efforts to target international businesses that did business with apartheid-era South Africa, and from Arab-led efforts to boycott Israel decades ago.

It is not clear how individual U.S. companies are being placed on the list. Affected firms appeared to be unaware of the list when contacted or did not respond to a request for comment.

In the case of travel-related firms such as TripAdvisor, it is also unclear whether their inclusion is the result of corporate activity inside settlements, such as advertising, or from inclusion of travel data about settlements on their websites.

“TripAdvisor can’t comment on a report it hasn’t seen,” company spokesman Brian Hoyt said. “We have not been contacted by the U.N. We continue to believe in the power of travel to bring cultures together around the world and are happy to discuss our position with the U.N. at any time.”

[All 100 senators sign letter asking for equal treatment of Israel at U.N.]

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the database “shameful” in remarks delivered in Geneva in June. She also said the United States is considering whether to remain a member of the Human Rights Council, which she said was biased against Israel and too forgiving of autocrats and dictators.

“Blacklisting companies without even looking at their employment practices or their contributions to local empowerment, but rather based entirely on their location in areas of conflict, is contrary to the laws of international trade and to any reasonable definition of human rights,” Haley said. “It is an attempt to provide an international stamp of approval to the anti-Semitic BDS movement. It must be rejected.”

A senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy said Washington has argued that the list need not be made public and that the council’s resolution does not compel Zeid to follow up with spot checks or other actions after the list is complete.

The United States has argued that the criteria for including individual companies on the list is vague and arbitrary and that the definition of settlement activity can be unfairly stretched to include broad categories of commercial activity in the occupied territories.

“We are looking for the high commissioner’s office to implement this in the most narrow way possible, if he has made a decision to implement it at all,” said the senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Anne Herzberg, a lawyer and activist against BDS activities with the Jerusalem-based group NGO Monitor, said the list is “punitive.”

“It’s a process that is really extraordinary,” Herzberg said. “There is no due process, they are not contacting companies ahead of time, and they have no basis to evaluate what they are sent about companies.” (the Washington Post)

Trump’s team arrives once again to reignite diplomatic process

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas all facing significant domestic challenges, Washington’s top Mideast negotiators are scheduled to arrive on Wednesday evening to try jump-starting the diplomatic process.

The team, made up of Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner, Mideast negotiator Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, will arrive after holding meetings in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. The three met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman on Tuesday, and according to Arab media, “reaffirmed” their joint commitment to achieving a “real and lasting” Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The delegation is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu on Thursday, and then go that same day to Ramallah for a meeting with Abbas.

Fatah Central Committee Member Azzam al-Ahmad said on Monday that the Palestinian leadership believes the delegation will not lay out a “clear” vision for reviving the peace process.

“The information available to us is that they are coming without clear affairs [positions], and we hope that we are wrong,” Ahmad told Palestine Television, an official PA television station.

Ahmad and a number of other members of the Palestinian leadership have called on the US to declare its support for the two-state solution and ask Israel to freeze settlement activity.

The US delegation is expected to leave well before the scheduled Sunday evening arrival of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will be visiting the country for the first time since taking up his position in January. He will be here for three days.

A senior White House official said earlier this month, in announcing the US team’s trip, that Trump has clearly stated his commitment to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that “would help usher in an era of greater regional peace and prosperity.”

According to the official, Trump feels that the restoration of calm following the Temple Mount crisis “has created an opportunity to continue discussions and the pursuit of peace that began early in his administration.”

But former US ambassador Dan Shapiro cautioned against unrealistic expectations.

In a phone briefing with reporters, Shapiro, now a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said the delegation “is going to confront some very challenging circumstances that will make it hard to make significant progress, and should probably lead to a recalibration.”

The main reasons for this, he said, is the political troubles facing all three leaders.

Netanyahu, he said, is “fighting for his political life.”

Shapiro said the prime minister’s speech to his Likud supporters at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on August 9, where he accused the media and the Left of trying to topple him and “replace him with a government that would make deep concessions to the Palestinians,” suggests he has adopted a strategy that would make it nearly impossible for him to show any significant flexibility.

The reason, Shapiro continued, is that to do so would jeopardize the support of his political base, which “he is now relying on to overcome” the police investigations against him.

Abbas, too, is embroiled in his political problems, as a succession battle swirls around the 82-year-old.

“For a long time he has been in competition with Hamas for influence and leadership among the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza,” Shapiro said, something made more complicated now because of an emergence of an alliance between Hamas and his bit-ter rival in Fatah, former Gaza Strong man Muhammad Dahlan.

Shapiro said Abbas has made it clear he doesn’t believe the Trump administration has a clear path toward a two-state solution, and that he also believes Netanyahu is entering a very inflexible period. “He has every excuse to do nothing but sit on the sidelines.”

As far as Trump is concerned, Shapiro said he is beset by numerous crisis – from North Korea, to the ongoing campaign against Islamic State, the new strategy in Afghanistan, his battles with Congress, the investigations of his dealings with Russia and the aftermath of the Charlottesville marches.

“I don’t see him in a position to be forward-leaning and creative, and particularly interested in the details of peacemaking, especially given the long odds because of the circumstances of the two leaders,” the former ambassador said.

Shapiro’s advice to the delegation is to be more explicit in US support of a two-state solution – something the Trump administration has not done until now – while concentrating on managing the conflict by taking steps on the ground to develop the Palestinian economy and institutions to be ready for a day when “better leadership circumstances emerge in the future.” ( Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu to Tell Putin: Russia, U.S. Must Cooperate to Curb Iranian Presence in Syria

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday in the resort town of Sochi on the Black Sea. Netanyahu will present to Putin Israel’s concerns that the cease-fire agreement now being formulated in southern Syria will perpetuate Iran and Hezbollah’s presence in Syria at the conclusion of its civil war.

A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu would stress that despite tensions between Moscow and Washington, Russia and the United States need to cooperate to reach an arrangement in Syria that would not strengthen Iran.

The meeting on Wednesday will be the sixth between the two leaders since September 2015. Netanyahu will come to the meeting together with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, the new national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat and Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin. In the afternoon, Netanyahu and Putin will meet in a smaller forum after which there will be another meeting in a larger forum. Netanyahu will fly back to Israel in the late afternoon.

A senior Israeli official involved in preparations for the meeting said that the main topic Netanyahu wanted to discuss with Putin was the cease-fire in southern Syria toward which the United States and Russia are now working. The official said that although the cease-fire was declared a few weeks ago, its conditions have not been finalized.

“Meanwhile, there is really no agreement, but only understandings regarding areas where there will be a cease-fire between the Syrian army and the rebels who do not belong to ISIS [the Islamic State] or Al Qaida,” the official said. “All the rest of the details are still coming together. Therefore this is the time to exert an influence and we want to make a quick and urgent effort to ensure that our security interests are protected. The meeting with Putin is precisely for this purpose,” he added.

According to the senior official, the main problem is that since the cease-fire was declared in early July, relations between Russia and the United States have reached such a low point that Russia expelled U.S. diplomats. At the same time, issues like the crisis with North Korea and internal problems at the White House have made it difficult for the U.S. administration to devote time and attention to the matters in Syria. “We believe that an attempt must be made to bring the United States and Russia together,” the senior Israeli official said. “For a real arrangement in Syria, they have to sit down together. Without cooperation between them it won’t work,” he added.

Israel’s main concern is that in the end the Russians and the Americans will make do with understandings on a cease-fire and will not formulate broader arrangements that delineate how Syria should look after the civil war is over. Such a situation could make it easier for Iran, Hezbollah and the Shi’ite militias brought to Syria by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to establish a presence there.

“I intend to discuss with President Putin Iran’s expedited attempt to establish a military presence in Syria,” Netanyahu said Tuesday. “This is evidence, of course, of Iran’s aggression, which has not diminished in the slightest since the nuclear agreement. But that presents a problem not only for Israel, but for all the countries in the Middle East and the entire world.”

The senior Israeli official said that Netanyahu would tell Putin that Israel believes that after the civil war is over, Syria must be one unified country inhabited only by Syrian citizens. According to the official, Netanyahu will say that Israel believes any arrangement between Russia and the United States must ensure that anyone who is not Syrian leaves the country.

As in previous meetings between Netanyahu and Putin, Netanyahu is expected to express Israel’s concerns that weapons supplied by Russia to Iran and Syria are being given to Hezbollah. Over the years Israel has raised similar concerns to the Russians, who repeatedly denied the allegations.

Netanyahu and Putin are also expected to discuss the apparatus established two years ago between the Israel Defense Forces and the Russian army to prevent aerial clashes during Russian military activities in Syria. (Haáretz)

MKs censure Ministry of Interior’s attack on religious-Zionist community

Several religious-Zionist MKs have reacted sharply to disparaging comments made by Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri about the religious-Zionist sector and its rabbis.

Speaking on Monday at a conference of the B’Noam rabbinical association, Deri said that religious-Zionist communities, especially in the Central District of Israel, were “borderline Reform [Jews],” intending his words as an insult against the commitment of such communities and rabbis to Orthodox Jewish law.

Likud MK Yehudah Glick termed Deri’s “name-calling” as “disrespectful,” and insisted that the religious-Zionist sector and its rabbis were very committed to Jewish law.

“Haredim [ultra-Orthodox] are not very inclusive, and anyone who doesn’t keep Jewish law their way is not acceptable,” Glick told The Jerusalem Post. “I have a lot of respect for haredi rabbis, and I expect them to have respect for religious-Zionist rabbis too.”

Glick said that some religious- Zionist rabbis were creating “new melodies in Jewish law,” in reference to the greater role afforded to women in the synagogue and community afforded by some religious- Zionist congregations, arguing that such approaches “strengthen, not weaken Jewish law.”

“I expect haredim to be tolerant and to understand that what others are doing comes from desire to respect and preserve Jewish law,” said the MK.

Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie said that Deri’s comments reflected “a fear of the tremendous success of the religious-Zionist endeavor,” describing the sector as “a huge community which integrates Torah and work, identity and belonging through contribution and involvement.”

While attacking the religious- Zionist community, Deri took particular aim at the Tzohar rabbinical association which has gained great popularity with traditional and secular Israelis with its wedding program and other services.

Deri noted that Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav had lobbied strongly against a recent bill propose by Deri and United Torah Judaism to grant the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly over conversion in Israel.

Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria labeled Deri’s comments as “wretched,” and said that “Tzohar rabbis work tirelessly for the good of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, out of a sense of responsibility for what happens in Israel religiously and Jewishly. I can only hope that more rabbis like those of Tzohar work toward uniting the people and not dividing it.”

Writing in the Post on Wednesday, Stav himself was highly critical of Deri’s comments, saying that the minister’s was creating a wedge within the Jewish people and inhibits Jewish unity.

“While I personally have a differing outlook on Jewish observance and on many aspects of tradition from those held by proponents of the Reform Movement, I continue to contend that we must remain one people with one heart,” said Stav.

“For a minister of the Jewish state to act in such a careless fashion questions his very legitimacy to represent that state.

I would therefore respectfully call upon him to avoid fostering greater division within a society that is already sadly divided,” he continued.

And the rabbi affirmed his pride and commitment to the principles of religious Zionism.

“I would certainly never shy away from the fact that we are an organization of religious rabbis with an unwavering passion for Medinat Yisrael [the State of Israel]. To be included in such a group is a source of great pride and certainly not something for which one should ever apologize.”   (Jerusalem Post)

IDF commanders keep the calm in the West Bank

A month after the Temple Mount crisis broke out and turned the world’s attention to Jerusalem in fear of another intifada, the IDF continues to actively struggle to maintain calm in the West Bank.

“Everything that happens in Jerusalem – we feel the effects. The waves end up crashing here,” said one senior officer stationed in the southern West Bank near the settlement of Tekoa.

“The last two weeks have been very quiet,” he continued, voicing cautious hope that calm had returned, but he stressed that “it can all change in a second. It’s all about keeping the balance.”

Clashes on the Temple Mount have often been the spark for deadly violence between Israel and Palestinians, such as the Second Intifada which broke out following rioting on the plaza in 2000 after a visit by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who at the time was in the opposition.

During the two-week-long crisis the IDF sent reinforcements to the West Bank in addition to the five extra battalions placed on alert shortly after a deadly shooting attack at the holy complex left two Israeli police officers dead.

Following the attack carried out by three Israeli Arabs from the town of Umm el-Fahm, authorities decided to install metal detectors at the entrances of the Temple Mount compound leading to days of violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

It was a move that the police had claimed was necessary to prevent future attacks but one that the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) argued against, warning that changes to the sensitive status quo could lead to sharp reactions by the Palestinians.

One officer in the southern West Bank explained that the symbolism of al-Aksa is paramount for Palestinians, “all attackers wrote on Facebook that the attacks were in response to what was happening at al-Aksa,” he said.

Violent clashes with Israeli troops during the crisis left several Palestinians dead and an infiltration into a West Bank settlement by a 19 year-old Palestinian saw three Israeli citizens stabbed to death in their home.

The security of settlements is the IDF’s responsibility and according to the senior officers it is one of their top priorities. Hence, troops have invested a significant amount of energy and effort into protecting its citizens.

“The troops were not able to stop the attack in Halamish but here we will not, I repeat, will not let that happen. I will not let that happen here,” one senior officer in the northern West Bank told The Jerusalem Post.

With dozens of indications of possible infiltration into communities over the past month, any report is considered to be a possible terrorist attack and is treated as such until troops know otherwise. Infiltrations of Israel by Palestinians is just as worrisome for troops, the officer in the northern West Bank said, explaining that while many cross to work illegally in Israel, some have also crossed in order to carry out terrorist attacks.

“There are illegal crossings almost every day, but most don’t succeed,” he said. “We do everything to stop them. The size of the territory is a challenge but there is no spot that isn’t watched.”

Pointing to a blackened section of the security fence near the Palestinian village of Qaffin, the senior officer stated that on Saturday teenage Palestinians came and burnt tires in order to cause damage to the fence. The officer stated that small incidents such as the one on Saturday happen at least once a week by teenagers who “come to say ‘Hi,’” and while the army has still not arrested the suspects, “we will deal with the perpetrators in due time. We know where they live.”

According to the two officers, while the security of settlement residents is one of their main concerns, the biggest challenge is the security of those on the roads in the West Bank, especially from the threat posed by stone throwing and shooting attacks.

The security forces, including the Shin Bet, the IDF and Israel Police have increased their efforts to uncover workshops producing illegal weapons, carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank.

According to officers the nightly raids have given the IDF the flexibility and upper hand against terrorist attacks. By confiscating fireworks and arms as well as shutting down weapons factories, the price of weapons has increased significantly and greatly reduced the number of illegal weapons that could end up in the hands of attackers.

Troops have also confiscated vehicles and over NIS 1 million in cash in the past year used for terrorism or smuggling, the officers told the Post.

While there have been significantly fewer vehicular attacks as well as stabbings and shooting attacks against IDF troops, they remain a main threat, especially for drivers on the roads shared by Palestinians and Israelis. According to the IDF shooting or vehicular ramming attacks are more likely to be carried out by young men, and boys are behind many of the cases of stone throwing.

Pointing to an elementary school, the officer said that children at that school are responsible for hurling rocks at cars driving on the road as they walk to school.

The officer said that troops have gone to various schools in the area to inform the teachers of what the children were doing and while one school has cracked down on its students, not all have.

“We must differentiate between civilians and terrorists. Not every Palestinian is a terrorist,” the senior officer in the southern West Bank stated, adding that nevertheless “my mission as battalion commander is to make sure that soldiers understand that the threat is always there.”   (Jerusalem Post)

IAF to receive 2 new more ‘game-changing’ F-35 stealth fighter jets

Two more advanced F-35 fighter jets are slated to arrive in Israel next Wednesday, joining the five already incorporated in the Israeli Air Force, Israel Hayom has learned.

By December 2017, the Golden Eagle squadron of F-35 jets is planned to number nine. The IAF said the program to incorporate the planes, renamed “Adir,” meaning mighty, is moving ahead on schedule. By the end of the year, the IAF said, the planes will be declared operational.

The Adir is a game changer, a senior air force official said, explaining that the new addition will change the IAF’s entire offensive aerial approach.

According to the official, a mission that previously required a large number of aircraft, both manned and unmanned, as well as a ground team to decipher data, can now be completed by one F-35 aircraft, or, at most, a handful of F-35s.

“The first time I flew in the plane I felt like it was a simulator,” the official said. “As time passed we realized that there were some problems, and that we don’t necessarily know how to take full advantage of all its functions.”

He added that there were very few issues with the aircraft that surprised the IAF.

The combat protocols for the F-35 jets are currently being formulated in an expedited process, he said.

“Flying the Adir, we are able to see the Middle East in a way that previously required several different platforms — a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] to take pictures, an aircraft with monitoring capabilities, a radar plane that can see. Now, just one or two Adir jets are needed. It changes the way we see the world,” he stressed.

“The plane can act in all arenas simultaneously,” he said. “It is groundbreaking.”

The IAF considers every Adir flight to be an operational flight, and assumes that many players in the Middle East are trying to learn more about the latest U.S.-made stealth planes.

“We want to protect the information, so all flights are operational,” the official said.

He said the working assumption is that even the Russians are trying to learn about the plane’s operations.

Meanwhile, the IAF is making additional adjustments after incorporating the Adir in its fleet. Changes include reassessing the length of the flight path and the placement of the plane’s arresting gear and the mechanism it uses to rapidly decelerate upon landing. In addition, the IAF is recruiting technicians who are fluent in English so that they can handle the American-made plane’s systems.

Israel has decided to purchase 50 F-35i planes, which are to be delivered to Israel periodically until the end of 2028. The IAF plans to inaugurate a second Adir squadron in approximately one year.

The IAF and Defense Ministry are currently considering purchasing 25 more F-35 aircraft from Lockheed Martin, the American company that manufactures the plane.

The deliberation involves the defense aid package deal between Israel and the U.S., as well as another IAF purchase that includes in-flight fueling planes and additional F-15 planes. The F-35b model is also being considered, as it is capable of taking off on a short runway and landing vertically.

Despite this, some in the IAF believe the disadvantages of the plane outweigh its advantages after assessing the models purchased until to now by the IAF. This is due to the high cost and fact that it can carry less fuel.  (Israel Hayom)

Israeli archaeologists uncover rare 1,500-year-old Jerusalem mosaic

A 1,500-year-old mosaic floor with a Greek inscription has been uncovered during works to install communications cables in Jerusalem’s Old City – a rare discovery of an ancient relic and an historic document in one.

The inscription cites 6th-century Roman emperor Justinian as well as Constantine, who served as abbot of a church founded by Justinian in Jerusalem. Archaeologists believe it will help them to understand Justinian’s building projects in the city.

Mosaic

The full inscription reads: “The most pious Roman emperor Flavius Justinian and the most God-loving priest and abbot, Constantine, erected the building in which [this mosaic] sat during the 14th indiction.”

Indiction is an ancient method of counting years that was used for taxation purposes. Archaeologists said the inscription suggests the mosaic dated to the year 550/551 AD.

A conservationist works on a 1500-year-old mosaic floor bearing a Greek writing, discovered near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, August 23, 2017 (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)A conservationist works on a 1500-year-old mosaic floor bearing a Greek writing, discovered near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, August 23, 2017 (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

Justinian was one of the most important rulers of the Byzantine era. In 543 AD he established the Nea Church in Jerusalem – one of the biggest Christian churches in the eastern Roman Empire and the largest in Jerusalem at the time.

“The fact that the inscription survived is an archaeological miracle,” David Gellman, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement.

“Every archaeologist dreams of finding an inscription in their excavations, especially one so well preserved and almost entirely intact.”

Researchers believe that the building of which the mosaic was once part, located beside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, was used as a hostel for pilgrims.

The mosaic, which was unveiled to the media on Wednesday, was discovered earlier this summer. Conservation experts have removed the mosaic and are treating it in a specialist workshop.  (Jerusalem Post)