Defense Minister: There are no Iranian military forces in Syria
There is currently no physical Iranian military presence in Syria, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday, contradicting statements made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“It’s true that there are some Iranian advisers and experts, but there are no military Iranian forces on Syrian soil,” Lieberman told Ynet in an interview, adding that Tehran’s strategy is to create proxies everywhere.
The defense minister’s comments go against the repeated warnings by Netanyahu who has said that “Where ISIS leaves, Iran enters,” and that the Islamic Republic has been building missile factories and other permanent military bases in Syria.
In August, Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, telling him that the growing role of the Islamic Republic poses a threat not only to Israel and the Middle East but the entire world and that Israel will defend itself “in any way against this threat and any other threat.”
Netanyahu, who was joined at that meeting by Mossad head Yossi Cohen and Meir Ben-Shabbat, the recently appointed leader of Israel’s National Security Council, had stated that Iran is “well on its way” to controlling not only Syria, but other countries such as Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
When asked about his apparent contradiction to the prime minister’s stance, Liberman explained that Iran’s physical presence in the country – other than advisers and experts such as the leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds force, Qassem Soleimani – was in the form of their proxy groups.
“After all, they don’t have a physical presence in Lebanon. For this, they have Hezbollah.
They’re not physically present in Yemen, they have the Houthi rebels. They have the same plans in Syria – to create all kinds of militias of Shi’ite mercenaries that they will bring from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he explained.
The defense minister himself has repeatedly warned of Iranian entrenchment in the war-torn country, saying earlier this month “[Israel] will simply not allow for Shi’ite consolidation and Iranian entrenchment in Syria nor will we allow Syria to become a forward operating base against the State of Israel.”
Liberman also has warned repeatedly that while Israel has no interest to enter Syria’s seven-year civil war, there are redlines that Jerusalem has set, including the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and an Iranian presence on its borders.
“We have no intention to enter into any conflict, but I advise our neighbors not to test us,” he said during a briefing with military reporters in July.
On Tuesday, he said, “All the regional forces know we are the strongest power in the area. Israel is a regional power.”
Last week, Liberman asked for an increase of NIS 4.8 billion to the IDF’s budget, citing “significant” changes have dramatically affected Israel’s security situation, including the massive Russian presence in Syria, precision weapons in the hands of groups like Hezbollah and the dramatic acceleration of Iran’s military industry.
“The coalition agreement has a clause that specifically states that if there is a significant change [in the region], we can ask for additional funds,” he explained to Ynet.
Earlier this month, Liberman accused the Finance Ministry of stalling funding for the implementation of a 2014 government decision to increase protection for the home front, especially for communities in the North, which he said was severely lacking compared to southern Israel.
The border area with Lebanon, which has been flagged by the IDF as vulnerable to enemy infiltrations, has seen nine intrusions since 2009. The IDF believes the next war with Hezbollah will see the terrorist group try to bring the fight to the home front by infiltrating Israeli communities to inflict significant civilian and military casualties.
On Tuesday, Liberman again lamented the stalling of the funding, and claimed that the Finance Ministry “doesn’t want to give the money” but that “the finance minister has an obligation to fortify the North.” (Jerusalem Post)
Hamas refuses to disarm, vows to expand in West Bank
The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas vowed Monday to expand its military activities against Israel into the West Bank, underscoring the challenges ahead since the organization began its reconciliation with the Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since winning legislative elections in 2006 and ousting Fatah the following year in a military coup, a move that prompted an Israeli and Egyptian blockade.
In an Egyptian-brokered deal last month, Hamas transferred control of Gaza’s crossings with Israel and Egypt to the PA. Hamas was expected to take further steps to extend PA control over Gaza on Dec. 1, but disagreements between the two parties have intensified.
To restore control of Gaza and secure its authority, Fatah demands that Hamas neutralize its weapon arsenal, which the Islamic group used to eject Fatah and to fight three wars against Israel, in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
“These weapons will not be touched. It’s not for debate or talks,” Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, told reporters in Gaza.
“These weapons will clearly move to the West Bank to battle the [Israeli] occupation there. It’s our right to fight the occupation until it ends,” he said.
Hamas decries the Palestinian Authority’s security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank. Fatah, in turn, accuses Hamas of hindering the Palestinian government’s work in Gaza.
Al-Hayya’s remarks highlight stark differences between the two groups, and the discussion of weapons has been delayed for future negotiations over broader national issues. They threatened to derail the Egyptian-mediated efforts to end a decade of Palestinian political and territorial split. On Monday, Egyptian security envoys hurried to Gaza to meet with Fatah and Hamas officials to try to save the agreement from further setbacks.
A major sticking point between Hamas and Fatah is resolving payments for nearly 40,000 employees Hamas has hired to run Gaza, and sanctions Abbas imposed on Gaza since March to pressure Hamas. Analysts believe the measures, which included electricity and payments cuts, helped bring Hamas to the negotiating table.
Fatah linked the lifting of the sanctions with further Hamas concessions. “We, with our people, will work strongly to force the government to lift the punitive measures,” al-Hayya said. (Israel Hayom)
Israeli band of disabled musicians kicks off world tour in London
Israeli band of disabled musicians Shalva visits Abbey Road in London
The Israeli band Shalva – whose musicians are either physically or mentally disabled – that won hearts with a mashup featuring the hit song ”Let it Go” from the movie musical Frozen, has gone international.
The band’s first tour outside Israel led them to London this week, where they will perform for hundreds of children at several Jewish schools and synagogues. They began their trip at the British Friend’s of Shalva’s benefit dinner at the Montcalm Hotel in March Able, where they left the audience in tears following their rendition of the Beatles’ famed song, Here Comes the Sun.
The dinner, which was attended by some 300 guests, raised 350,000 Pounds ($463,000) to benefit both Shalva band and the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, from which the band was born.
Shalva’s world tour will continue with stops in the US, Canada and Mexico. The band has prepared a number of songs in English to complement their routine Hebrew performances.
Shalva Band was created over 10 years ago as a part of the association’s music therapy program, and has expanded to be its own enterprise. The musicians perform regularly in Israel, often with notable musicians.
“The Shalva Band is having a huge impact and promoting real societal change,” said Avi Samuels, the chairman of the association. ”Every time I watch them perform on stage in front of communities, business groups or even kids, I see them conveying the paramount message that people with disabilities are actually people with very special abilities (Jerusalem Post)
Israel to appoint new envoy to Jordan in bid to heal ties
Israel and Jordan are working on a solution to restore relations badly strained by July’s shooting incident in the Israel Embassy compound in Amman, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Wednesday.
Nahshon’s comments came in response to a Reuters report that Jerusalem plans to name a new ambassador to calm Amman’s anger over current envoy Einat Schlein’s handling of the incident, in which an Israeli guard opened fire after being attacked by an assailant with a screwdriver, killing him and a bystander at the scene.
Following the incident, the embassy’s entire staff – including the guard and Schlein – were returned to Israel. Jordan has said that the embassy will not be reopened until the guard is brought to trial.
Jordan has demanded that criminal procedures be launched against the guard, but earlier this month Channel 2 reported that the Shin Bet finished its investigation into the matter and found that the guard acted in self-defense and was justified in shooting the attacker, Mohammed Jawawdeh.
Jordanian authorities claim the shooting was unprovoked, but could not investigate the guard due to his diplomatic immunity. Jordan was infuriated by a televised welcome the guard and Schlein received from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they returned to Israel after a tense day of negotiations with the Jordanian authorities.
The embassy has been closed since Schlein’s departure.
Reuters quoted an Israeli diplomatic source as saying that Schlein would not return.
“The Jordanians don’t want her back, and this has been a big obstacle in patching things up,” the source said. “We’re looking for a replacement.”
Meanwhile, Jordan’s King Abdullah II is attending meetings around Washington this week, hoping to secure a renewed, robust memorandum of understanding for US economic support to his country in the coming years. But second on his agenda is “intensifying” American efforts to reboot peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Meeting with senior White House officials on Monday, Abdullah “affirmed the importance of the US administration’s commitment to this issue, calling for intensifying efforts to relaunch serious and effective negotiations based on the two-state solution, the Arab Peace Initiative, and international terms of reference,” Amman’s embassy in Washington said in a statement.
In a press release issued days later, after the king met with members of Congress and the secretary of state, Jordan’s embassy further underscored the need for a final settlement to the conflict “arriving at the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel.”
Abdullah once again claimed that a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians would stabilize the wider region.
Abdullah held several West Wing meetings with Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster and Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner, who is leading the administration’s effort to jump-start Mideast peace talks. He also met with Secretary of Defense James Mattis and leadership of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
In a readout of the king’s Wednesday meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Amman said that they discussed ways to restart the Middle East peace process. Tillerson is deeply engaged in this portfolio, which is primarily handled by Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations.
“Discussions at these meetings tackled the strategic partnership between Jordan and the United States at various levels, efforts to push the Palestinian-Israeli peace process forward, and current developments in the region,” the embassy described. (Jerusalem Post)
Australian billionaire James Packer questioned in PM gifts probe, after months of delay
Israeli investigators in cooperation with Australian authorities questioned Australian billionaire James Packer this week as part of a corruption probe of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after months of unsuccessful attempts to set up a meeting, Hadashot news reported Wednesday.
According to the TV report, Packer on Tuesday answered the questions of Australian investigators who had been briefed by Israeli police officials, as the Israelis listened in.
Though police had weighed questioning Packer as a suspect in the case, it was eventually decided that the testimony would not be given under caution, the report said.
Packer’s testimony was needed in connection with the criminal investigation known as Case 1000, involving suspicions that Netanyahu received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen in exchange for advancing their business interests.
The businessmen in question include Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. Packer, chairman of Crown Limited, one of Australia’s largest entertainment and integrated resort groups, is seen as a key figure in the ongoing investigation.
Police are reportedly looking into whether Netanyahu tried to help Packer gain residency in Israel and aided Milchan in a US visa request. Packer, who also bought a home next to Netanyahu in the prosperous coastal city of Caesarea, is reportedly seeking residency status for tax purposes.
Last week Netanyahu was grilled by police for over four hours in connection with the probes into his affairs. Police did not provide any further details on the interrogation, his second this month and his sixth session since he was named a suspect late last year.
Netanyahu faces 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 hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from Milchan.
Last week, 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.
“There were code words for champagne and cigars,” she was quoted as saying by Hadashot. “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.”
Channel 10 news 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 Sara Netanyahu.
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 unremarkable, since the Milchans were their best friends.
As for claims that Milchan kept Netanyahu supplied with expensive cigars on an ongoing basis for the better part of a decade — the lion’s share of the hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of allegedly illicit benefits — the Netanyahus reportedly told police he was merely a “social smoker” and that whenever his friend Milchan came to see him, he would bring just three to six cigars, worth about $10 each.
Netanyahu was interrogated under caution, and was reportedly confronted with Klein’s testimony, among others.
In an effort to shore up the suspicion of bribery, police were also said to have asked the prime minister about a number of “favors” he may have provided for Milchan in return.
Pressed over reports that he asked US secretary of state John Kerry three times in 2014 to arrange a long-term visa for Milchan, an Israeli citizen, to live in the US, Netanyahu has admitted to making a request, but claims it had nothing to do with the gifts he received.
In addition to the US visa, police are reportedly investigating whether Netanyahu intervened in the sale of Channel 10 shares to benefit Milchan financially, and whether the prime minister sought to help the Hollywood producer secure a major stake in Channel 2.
Milchan also allegedly asked Netanyahu to promote a free trade zone near the Jordan-Israel border. The request was said to have been made following consultation with Indian billionaire Ratan Tata, whose Tata business conglomerate may have stood to benefit from the deal. The initiative never went through.
Netanyahu is also a suspect in a second investigation, Case 2000, which is examining an alleged clandestine quid pro quo deal he made 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. (the Times of Israel)
Turkey: 4 arrested for trying to sell 700-year-old Torah scroll
Last week, Turkish security forces arrested four citizens who tried to sell an ancient Torah scroll on the black market. The prospective buyers were undercover police officers.
According to Turkish TV networks, the Torah scroll that was discovered in Muğla, a city in south-western Turkey, is 700 years old. The suspects were trying to sell it for $1.9 million.
The Torah scroll has been sent to a local museum for further examination. One of the suspects is still in custody while the other three have been placed under house arrest. (Jerusalem on Line)
Israel ‘expects’ its chess players to make history by playing in Saudi tournament
Israeli chess players could make history by participating in a tournament in Saudi Arabia after the international chess governing body on Tuesday said it was pushing to allow it to happen.
A spokesman for the Israel Chess Federation told AFP seven players had filed requests for visas to participate in the games to be held in Riyadh on December 26-30 as part of the world rapid and blitz chess championships.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official relations. The presence of Israelis there would be highly unusual, and comes as officials from the Jewish state increasingly hint at covert ties with the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
Israel and Saudi Arabia share a common fear of Iran’s attempts to increase its influence in the region.
Georgios Makropoulos, deputy president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), said that the papers of the seven Israeli chess players — five men and two women — had been handed to the Saudi organizers “and the visa status is currently pending.”
“We are making a huge effort to assure that all players get their visas,” Makropoulos said in a Tuesday statement.
The Israeli chess federation said it “supports FIDE’s policy to hold the tournament in Saudi alongside FIDE’s commitment to ensure the participation of Israelis would not be subject to limitations,” spokesman Lior Aizenberg told AFP.
“We expect the Saudis, aided by FIDE, to approve our requests for visas to play,” he said.
Aizenberg noted the Israeli chess federation chairman Zvika Barkai had discussed the issue of the Saudi visas with Makropoulos as well as with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who recently visited Israel.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said he didn’t believe there would be a problem for the Israelis to participate in the Riyadh games if the visas were granted.
Israeli athletes often face difficulties when competing around the Middle East due to hostility toward their country.
In a recent incident, an Iranian wrestler was lauded by his government after he intentionally lost an international bout at a tournament in Poland over the weekend to avoid having to face an Israeli opponent. (the Times of Israel)
Out of the great war was born a great new democracy
by Colin Rubenstein The Australian
We have just witnessed, in the space of a month, four major anniversaries of watershed events that shaped the story of the rise of the modern state of Israel.
One hundred years ago, on October 31, 1917, Australian troops charged the Ottoman lines at Beersheba, setting in motion the beginning of the end for that empire and its control over much of the Middle East, including what is now Israel. Two days later, on November 2, 1917, Lord Arthur Balfour issued what has become known as the Balfour Declaration, committing to support a “Jewish national home” in Palestine.
Seventy years ago today, on November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 181, calling for the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Finally, 40 years ago, on November 19, 1977, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made his historic visit to the Jewish state, leading to a peace treaty that secured Israel’s place in the region.
Had any of these events not occurred, or occurred differently, Israel as we know it today — a thriving, strong, democratic, hi-tech nation — might not exist.
The charge at Beersheba is a particular source of pride for Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel in Australia. When the outcome of the Great War was far from assured, and against all odds, 800 light horsemen stormed the Ottoman trenches, riding as cavalry rather than mounted infantry, with bayonets in place of sabres.
The town and its strategically crucial wells were secured in an afternoon and the victory paved the way for allied forces to capture Jerusalem six weeks later. It was fitting that the 100th anniversary of this battle — one of Australia’s most impressive wartime successes — was marked with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Malcolm Turnbull in attendance.
While in Israel, the Australian Prime Minister also announced closer ties in the defence industry and cybersecurity to bring our two nations closer still, following up the Israeli Prime Minister’s groundbreaking visit to Australia earlier this year.
Indeed, so strong is the symbolism of the Battle of Beersheba to our two nations that the annual Australia-Israel strategic dialogue that the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council helps to facilitate, co-hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, bears its name.
The Balfour Declaration, issued two days after the famous victory at Be’er Sheva, gave the Zionist movement momentum at a crucial time and was a key part of the chain of events that led to the Jewish people finally realising self-determination in their ancestral homeland. While sometimes presented as an act of Britain alone, the declaration actually reflected a consensus among the allied nations of World War I.
Yet critics of the declaration label it an imperialist act, blaming it for the situation the Palestinians find themselves in today. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah tweeted last month, “Britain should apologise for the historic injustice it committed against Palestinians and correct it” — starkly contradicting the PA’s claims to have recognised Israel and its right to exist. But it is often forgotten that it was not just the origins of the Jewish state that were being put in place after World War I. This was part of a larger process that saw the victorious allies also midwife the birth of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Yemen out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. A Palestinian state could also have arisen, if not for relentless Arab rejectionism.
After a period when Arab revolts saw British authorities limit Jewish immigration time and time again, closing the door even as the looming Holocaust saw millions needing to escape Europe, finally, on November 29, 1947, after years of stagnation, the Zionist dream regained momentum. UN resolution 181, known as the “Partition Plan”, proposed the establishment of a Jewish homeland alongside a new Arab state.
It should be a matter of pride for Australia that this was another juncture in which our country played a leading role in helping create a Jewish homeland, thanks to the principled and canny statesmanship of external affairs minister Herbert “Doc” Evatt in shaping the partition plan at the UN.
While the UN offer was less than what the Zionist movement had hoped for, it was accepted without hesitation. The Arabs rejected it out of hand and started a war aimed at the new Jewish state’s annihilation — a war that Israel won. The Zionist dream of self-determination was realised — and the Palestinian Arabs could have achieved the same dream if only they had accepted the UN decision. Sadly, that missed opportunity has represented a repeated theme in Palestinian history.
Yet the Jewish homeland was constantly under threat, and wars in 1967 and 1973 saw Israel fighting for its existence. That all changed on November 19, 1977, when Egypt’s Sadat, leader of the largest and most populous Arab nation, flew from Cairo to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport to bring a message of peace.
The peace treaty signed in 1979 brought calm and security to Israel’s western border, a peace that has held and has fundamentally and positively transformed Israel’s strategic outlook. Peace with Jordan would follow in 1994.
These four anniversaries outline an amazing story — perhaps the 20th century’s most successful and inspiring story of self-determination and an ethnic people building a thriving new nation-state. That story is not yet over — Israeli-Palestinian peace remains elusive, Iran has risen as a major threat, and still much of the Arab world, despite increasingly significant clandestine and even public dealings with Israel, has not yet extended official recognition. But present trends are such that there is every reason to hope the future will present new, game-changing positive developments, creating additional new anniversaries to celebrate in years to come.
Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.
Storm clouds gathering over the region
By Isi Leibler The Jerusalem Post
The volatility of political activity in the Middle East is dizzying.
The Syrian civil war is almost at an end. President Bashar Assad remains in power and Iran and its surrogate Hezbollah have emerged as the clear victors.
Disconcertingly, both the Americans and the Russians have apparently reached an agreement over Syria that would enable Hezbollah and Iranian ground forces to remain, effectively threatening Israel’s northern borders.
In providing legitimacy for the Iranians to remain in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave assurances that Israel’s security would not be threatened. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly stated that this is unacceptable and that, if necessary, Israel will take military steps to keep the Iranians at bay. This will require a balancing act because Netanyahu does not wish to jeopardize his good relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The tension is further compounded by Iran’s repeated threats to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. This was exacerbated by the upheavals in Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon, with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announcing his resignation while in Saudi Arabia, alleging that he was fearful of being assassinated – and a week later retracting it on his return to Lebanon. At the same time, Lebanese President Michel Aoun alerted the Lebanese army to an imminent attack by Israel.
Alongside this, Israel is developing a common front with Saudi Arabia, where newly entrenched Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman describes Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the new Hitler. IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot stated in an interview with a Saudi newspaper that Israel is willing to share intelligence about Iran with Saudi Arabia. In turn, two Saudi former senior ministers visited a Paris synagogue – an unprecedented occurrence and an important signal.
Yet without detracting from the benefits, this essentially covert alliance between the moderate Sunnis and Israel is based on expedience and cannot be regarded as a long-term situation.
The Saudis remain on record insisting that they have no relationship with Israel. While downplaying the Israeli issue, they are still exerting a major influence on US President Donald Trump in relation to Jerusalem and the settlements and urging him to revisit their original plan, which does not meet Israel’s security requirements. But it is impossible to distinguish between fact and fantasy in conflicting media reports.
Relations with Egypt based on collaborating against Islamic State (ISIS) forces in the Sinai Peninsula and the personal relationship with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi are excellent but the media and the mosques continue their traditional antisemitic incitement.
As to the Palestinian Authority, the Fatah-Hamas unity government has not lessened Hamas’s obsession with obliterating Israel and determination to retain military control of Gaza.
The duplicitous, ailing PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, continues his anti-Israel incitement but maintains military coordination with Israel, which effectively protects him from a Hamas takeover. He has shown no sign of willingness to make any concessions and brazenly continues paying huge stipends to terrorist prisoners – now including Hamas members – and their families, despite being warned by the Americans to desist from this barbarous practice of encouraging murder.
On the international scene, the European Union is now in the process of orchestrating a boycott of Israeli goods produced over the Green Line – an unprecedented step reflecting the bias and double standards continuously applied to Israel.
However, the determining factor in relation to international diplomacy undoubtedly rests with the Americans. US public opinion and the Congress are pro-Israel and, paradoxically, Christian Evangelicals are more supportive of Israel than most Jews.
But there are so many contradictory signals concerning President Trump’s intentions and given his penchant for unpredictability, one can only very tentatively guess what they are.
He failed to fulfill his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and has taken no real punitive action in response to Abbas’s defiance regarding his demands to cease paying lucrative state pensions to terrorists and their kin. In a sense, Trump has extended president Barack Obama’s policy of talking to both parties and ignoring Palestinian intransigence. The US Consulate in Jerusalem continues to act as though its role was to represent the interests of the Palestinians over the Green Line.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that he would close the PLO office in Washington if Abbas initiated war crimes proceedings against Israel at the International Criminal Court and refused to enter serious negotiations with the Israelis. The Palestinians rejected these proposals and threatened to break off relations with the Americans if this was implemented.
In response, the US almost immediately backtracked.
There are unsubstantiated and conflicting reports that early next year the administration will announce a peace plan drafted by presidential adviser Jared Kushner, special representative Jason Greenblatt, deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. According to some reports, this could incorporate the option of a two-state policy, but not one based on the 1949 armistice lines. It is also said to stipulate that no Israelis or Arabs would be displaced and could include limiting settlement growth to the current major blocs. It reportedly does not deal with the future of Jerusalem.
Despite lip service to the contrary designed for the Western media, the PLO has always opposed a two-state solution, as evidenced by its fanatical refusal to compromise over the claimed “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants – a prescription for the elimination of the Jewish state.
These proposals would be accompanied by confidence- building proposals and the Palestinians would receive large amounts of economic aid from the Sunni Arab states. They would be required to cease further international campaigns for recognition and halt the payment of financial rewards to terrorists. Most of Israel’s security needs such as the ongoing presence of Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley would be assured.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American spokesmen have denied the accuracy of these reports and declined to comment, beyond Israel stating that the criteria of acceptance would depend on the provision of its security requirements.
In this highly uncertain, volatile environment, with opposing factors at play and contradictory rumors being disseminated, two aspects remain clear.
The first is that Israel must maintain its military deterrence and be guided exclusively by short- and long-term security requirements.
The policy that the Trump administration proposes will have a significant political impact. Netanyahu is determined to keep Trump on his side and, if given these required security safeguards, is willing to do his utmost to pursue peace. But he rightly believes that there is no chance of achieving peace with a PLO leadership that was and remains fanatically committed to Israel’s destruction. He seeks to persuade Trump to hold them accountable while displaying a willingness to intensify confidence-building initiatives on economic and social issues designed to enhance the quality of life for the average Palestinian.
There is a need for a powerful campaign to deliver this message to the administration and override State Department elements seeking to maintain Obama’s meaningless dialogue. For this to be achieved, Israel must display a united front.
Second, Netanyahu’s personal and political detractors and adversaries must realize that no other Israeli can handle this task as effectively as the prime minister, and should suspend their vendettas until this crisis is over.
The recent histrionic media campaign against Netanyahu reached an all-time low, as exemplified by screaming headlines baying for Netanyahu’s scalp for having accepting gifts of cigars and champagne from a friend and reciprocating the “bribe” by recommending that the donor’s visa to the US be expedited. This is bribery? The Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parliamentary factions threatened to bring down the government with their demands on stricter Shabbat enforcement – a catastrophe at this time.
Our Diaspora allies remain timid and the American Reform and Conservative movements have exploited the issue of mixed-gender prayer at the Western Wall as the basis for a casus belli against Israel. Their leaders are justifiably angered at the despicable Haredi behavior relating to this issue and they are whipping up their followers against Israel, even though 99% of them would not otherwise give the matter a second thought.
The situation was further aggravated by deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, who after being denied the right to address a Princeton University Hillel group lambasted American Jews for turning against Israel. In the context of her remarks suggesting that American Jews have no appreciation for what it means for repeated generations of Israeli youth to face life-and-death situations when they serve in the army or live under rocket fire, she observed that American Jews don’t serve in the volunteer US military. It was an unfortunate blunder, for which Netanyahu scolded her. She issued a clarification but rightly reiterated that American Jews could never appreciate the situation of their Israeli kinsmen surrounded by barbarians seeking their annihilation.
But the disproportionate hysteria generated by the liberal Jews and their media further aggravated the relationship.
Now is surely the time for Israeli and Diaspora Jews to set aside their differences. Those who appreciate the importance of Israel to their future must display unity in the face of the dark storm clouds gathering around us that threaten our existence.