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Latest News in Israel – 4th October

Unlike in the past, Israel not slamming Fatah-Hamas reconciliation moves

In stark contrast to its reaction to the last serious attempt at a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation in 2014, Israel kept a very low profile on Monday as PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah arrived in Gaza for talks with Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in 2014 called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision at the time to form a unity government with Hamas a “great reverse for peace,” has not spoken out publicly about the matter this time.

Instead, what diplomatic officials are saying on background is that Israel’s position is that “Hamas is trying to gain international legitimacy, without accepting Israel’s right to exist, without disarming and without accepting the Quartet principles.”

The Quartet principles for engaging with Hamas, drawn up over a decade ago, stipulated that the organization must first recognize Israel, accept previous agreements with it and forswear terrorism.

Hamas, according to the diplomatic officials, “remains a ruthless, mass-murdering terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s destruction.”

While a security cabinet meeting was convened in 2014 to discuss the proposed Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, and it was unanimously decided that Israel would not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, there have been no similar pronouncements this time.

Construction Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of the security cabinet and a former OC Southern Command, said in response to the recent moves that Israel had three major interests in Gaza: that the area be quiet; that the terrorist capabilities – rockets, tunnels and explosives – be dismantled; and that Israel have no responsibility for anything happening in Gaza.

As a result, he said, Israel “will judge any kind of conversation between Hamas and the Fatah organization according to specific parameters. First of all, are they willing to accept the existence of Israel in this area? Second, are they going to stop shooting and terrorist actions against Israel? And third, do they look to a future of Palestinians and Jews living side by side in this area? If the answer to these questions is positive, there is a lot to talk about. If the answer to these questions is negative, nothing has changed and this is only a camouflage.”

Eran Lerman, who served from 2009 to 2015 as deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council, said that the reason Israel has not responded negatively to the political developments in Gaza this time has to do with Egypt’s key role in brokering the deal.

“The Egyptian role is overt, aggressive, and we basically have the same instincts as Egypt does when it comes to Hamas,” Lerman said in a conference call set up by The Israel Project.

“But of course they have ways of influencing what is happening in Gaza that Israel no longer has.”

Lerman said that Hamas has realized that the Gazans are “sick and tired of the deprivation” caused by its rule, and that it has to “play according to what their people need.”

“If there is an underlying theme here, it is that Hamas as a government has come to terms with things that Hamas as a terrorist organization has refused to come to terms with, and that is a positive,” he said.

At the same time, Lerman added, there is no prospect of real Palestinian unity, since Hamas will not put its arms under the control of the PA security services.

In this sense, he said, from an Israeli point of view, the current developments in Gaza “will make no change in the threats that Hamas continues to constitute.”

Lerman concurred with those who see similarities between what is likely to emerge in Gaza and the Hezbollah model in Lebanon, where the Lebanese government is in charge of collecting garbage and carrying out the country’s diplomatic relations, and Hezbollah retains its arms and full freedom of action.

The US, meanwhile, welcomed the efforts to “create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza.”

Jason Greenblatt, the White House special representative for international negotiations, issued a statement saying the US will be closely watching the developments, “while pressing forward with the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and international donors to try to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

The US, the statement read, “stresses that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations.” (Jerusalem Post)

Greenblatt calls on Palestinians to ‘recognize Israel’

US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt publicly called on Palestinians Monday to recognize the State of Israel and commit to nonviolence in what was a rare layout of the White House’s preconditions to kick-start peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Uploaded on his Twitter page, Greenblatt, who has paid several visits to the region in a bid to inject energy into the moribund peace talks, said “The United States stresses that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations.”

In addition, Greenblatt praised Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and his Fatah delegation for visiting the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to undertake the most ambitious attempt to reconcile the rival political factions since the Islamic militant group seized control of the enclave over a decade ago.

“As the Palestinian Authority Cabinet visits Gaza today in preparation for the October 3 cabinet meeting, the United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza, as noted in the September 28 Quartet statement,” he declared in the brief.

“We will be watching these developments closely, while pressing forward with the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and international donors to try to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” he continued.

Rami Hamdallah began his visit with a message of reconciliation, shortly after arriving in a 30-vehicle motorcade through the Erez border crossing separating Israel and Gaza. He was accompanied by a large delegation of Fatah officials from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, dozens of aides and armed bodyguards.

Upon entering the Gaza Strip, Hamdallah said that he hoped the cooperation would succeed, and that the main beneficiary of the division between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is Israel.

“We return to the Gaza Strip once again to end the division, and I commend the factions and civil society members who have joined together to bring it to an end,” Hamdallah stated.

“It is time to take responsibility,” Hamdallah added. “The only factor that benefits from our division is the Israeli occupation. We praise Hamas for the dispersion of the administrative committee and look forward to working closely with all factions and components of civil society for the benefit of our people in the Gaza Strip.

“The success of the government depends on its ability to carry out its actions in practice. We will continue to resist the Israeli occupation until the blockade over the Gaza Strip is lifted and the crossings are opened.” (Ynet News)

Mossad head declares: Iran is our primary objective

Iran is the primary target of the Mossad’s actions, which number in the hundreds and thousands each year, Mossad head Yossi Cohen said on Monday.

Cohen was speaking at the Mossad headquarters alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a ceremony where Netanyahu initiated what he said would be a new annual tradition of handing out six citations of merit to Mossad employees who took part in operations.

Cohen said the spy organization works within the framework of a multi-year plan that focuses on the top national, security and diplomatic priorities.

“The objectives of the Mossad are clear: Iran continues to hold onto its vision of attaining significant nuclear capabilities, so that it will attain nuclear military capabilities,” he said.

Cohen added that the Islamic Republic continues to aggressively direct military and operational forces in the Middle East closer to Israel’s borders than ever before, both in Syria and in Lebanon; continues to support Hezbollah and, increasingly of late, Hamas; and continues to transfer advanced precision weaponry to terrorist organizations in the region.

In addition to Iran, he said, Islamic State “will continue to challenge us every day in its efforts to harm us and, no less important, our friends around the world.”

Cohen said that the Mossad “undertakes hundreds and thousands of actions every year, some of which are complex and bold, in the heart of enemy states – the target countries.” He added that the organization has a “unique ability to work in the very heart of the target, to penetrate into the most guarded and dangerous places, and to return with a decisive achievement.”

He called the organization a “link in the chain of the lives of our people – an ancient people that strives to be an example for itself and to the world.”

Netanyahu, who called the organization a “synchronized fist,” said he saluted its “initiative, daring and professionalism – both in planning and in execution.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Tel Aviv city hall lights up in red, white and blue in solidarity with US

Tel Aviv’s city hall lit up in red, white and blue on Monday, in solidarity with the United States after a gunman killed at least 58 people and injured over 515 more in the worst mass shooting in the country’s history.

The facade of the building displayed an American flag and an Israeli flag, toggling between the two, to show support after the Sunday night shooting in Las Vegas.

Tel Aviv City Hall

The municipality building’s lights are often used to show solidarity with different causes or following terror attacks around the world.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier Monday that Israel stands “shoulder to shoulder” with the US “in mourning and sorrow.”

“On this terrible day, the people of Israel stand shoulder to shoulder with the American people in mourning and sorrow,” Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, wrote on his Twitter account.

“Our hearts go out to the victims’ families and we wish a speedy recovery to the wounded. We grieve with you.” (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu holds first ever Mossad citation ceremony

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented on Monday the Prime Minister’s Citation to Mossad teams performing special, secret missions, marking the first time the award was given in a ceremony that is to become an annual tradition.

The mark of distinction was granted to entire units within the Mossad, rather than to individual operatives. “I salute you for the initiative, the daring, the professionalism, the planning and the execution,” Netanyahu said during the ceremony which was attended by Mossad Director Yossi Cohen.

Netanyahu praised the operatives and said that behind the words of today’s ceremony are “intelligence operations that respond to the main threats we face.

“Today we are giving citations to these intelligence operations,” continued Netanyahu. “The Mossad works like a synchronized fist. All its parts are recognized in today’s ceremony and what is no less important, really, is the coordination with other bodies. I salute you, and I salute your families, who are an important part of your action.”

Mossad Director Yossi Cohen also spoke at the ceremony, touching on renewed threats posed by Iran—which has reportedly been strengthening its forces in Syria, Lebanon, and with the terror organizations of Hamas and Hezbollah—as well as dealing with ISIS.

“The Mossad is growing stronger, with new capabilities with which to meet the future: in advanced intelligence technology, in building our strength, in human resource. All this is to be prepared for the challenges that stand before us in our mission to carry out covert Mossad operations for many more years,” Cohen said.

“We carry out hundreds and thousands of operations every year,” he Cohen. “Some of them complex and daring, in the heart of enemy countries.”

Cohen also stressed that “it is important to remember that everything we do has to be done as human beings, with consideration, sensitivity and mutual respect for each other.”

He concluded that “we are but another link in the chain of the life of our people, an ancient people that aspires to and must be an example to itself and to the world.”  (Ynet News)

Israel, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt to hold joint air force drills

Several other European countries are expected to join aerial maneuvers as part of nations’ efforts to bolster stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos says • Four nations are considered close regional allies.

Greece’s defense minister says plans are being drawn up for joint air force drills with Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and other European countries as part of efforts to bolster stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Panos Kammenos’ remarks Sunday came after a military parade in the Cypriot capital to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the ethnically divided island’s independence.

The parade included the overflight of a pair of Greek Air Force F-16 jets, the first showing of the Greek warplanes at the event in 16 years.

The island’s Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said there will be no let-up in efforts to reunify Cyprus, despite July’s collapse of peace talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

The Israeli Air Force has held several joint exercises with its Cypriot and Greek counterparts in the past. Israel maintains close security ties with Egypt, its neighbor to the south, particularly over issues concerning the Sinai Peninsula.  (Israel Hayom)

In first since 1973, Israeli minister in ‘private’ visit to Cuba

Culture Minister Miri Regev has traveled to Cuba for a “private family vacation,” her office said Tuesday,  marking the first time that a cabinet member has visited the country since it broke diplomatic ties with Israel in 1973.

The visit, first reported by the Haaretz newspaper, was not organized through the Foreign Ministry and will not include any meetings with Cuban representatives, a spokesperson for the minister told The Times of Israel. But both the MFA and the Prime Minister’s office were informed of the trip, he said.

“This is private family vacation and had nothing to do with her position as a government minister,” the spokesperson said, adding that Regev left on Sunday and the trip would last a week and a half.

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the visit.

With no Israeli embassy in the country, Canada currently represents Israel’s interests in Havana, including assisting the country’s Jewish community.

Despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, Israelis do business with Cuba — Rafi Eitan, a former Mossad officer MK established several large agricultural and construction ventures there — and Israelis regularly visit as tourists. Since 2003, Cuban Jews can visit Israel.

Fewer than 1,000 Jews are now living in Cuba, down from about 30,000 in the 1950s, when Jews began joining the exodus of fellow Cubans who fled the repressive regime.

Regev’s spokesperson  declined to comment on whether she would meet with representatives of the community.

In December 2014, the United States reestablished diplomatic relations with Havana, declaring an end to decades of enmity.  In March 2016, Obama became the first American leader to visit the island since 1928.

For decades, Israel and the US were the only countries that supported an economic embargo of the nation. Given Jerusalem’s close ties with Washington, Israel was widely expected to follow Obama’s course of detente with Cuba. “We have no conflict with Cuba; the disconnect between our countries is unnatural,” a diplomatic official in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel last year.

Jerusalem considers Havana a key player in shaping public opinion in the Latin American left and therefore would like to reestablish diplomatic ties. In the 1950s and 60s cordial relations existed, with Cuba resisting Arab pressure to cut ties after the 1967 Six Day War.

Cuba severed relations in 1973, not because of the Yom Kippur War, but because Fidel Castro sought the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Relations have since been largely bitter. In 2010 Fidel Castro compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Nazi genocide of the Jews. “It would seem that the Fuehrer’s swastika is today Israel’s banner,” the then-83-year-old leader stated.

In 2014, he accused Israel of “genocide” in Gaza and called Operation Protective Edge a “new, repugnant form of fascism.”

In 2010, however, Fidel Castro, who had been replaced as president by his younger brother Raul four years prior, told US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israel has “without a doubt” the right to exist as a Jewish state. Asked by Goldberg whether Havana would consider resuming diplomatic ties, the elder Castro replied that such things take time, but he did not outright reject the idea.  (the Times of Israel)

Thirsty Sea of Galilee sinking toward lowest level ever recorded

Days before tens of thousands of Israelis descend on the Sea of Galilee for the Sukkot holiday, the Water Authority warned that the freshwater lake is at dangerously low levels and expected to reach “the lowest level ever recorded.”

Northern Israel is experiencing one of the worst droughts in 100 years, leaving the country’s water tables with a deficit of 2.5 billion cubic liters of water, compared to non-drought years, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor announced on Monday.

That deficit is the equivalent of one million Olympic-size swimming pools, water that normally flows through Israel’s streams and underground water tables towards the Sea of Galilee and other water sources.

Over the Rosh Hashanah holiday, more than 40,000 Israelis crowded onto the lake’s beaches. Even more visitors are expected over the week-long Sukkot holiday, which begins Wednesday night. They will be greeted by the smallest lake in Israel’s modern history.

The north must receive at least 85 percent of the winter average rainfall this winter, or the country can expect major streams and water sources to dry up, including the Banias River in the Golan Heights, something that has not occurred since meteorological record-keeping began in the region more than 100 years ago, said Schor. Last year, northern Israel received just 10% of the average winter rain.

“We’re now in a permanent situation of climate change,” said Doron Markel, the director of the Sea of Galilee division at the Water Authority. “This is not a period of, ‘a dry season, and afterwards we’ll have a rainy season.’ It’s not like the times of Pharaoh, where seven years of plenty come before seven years of drought.”

The Sea of Galilee is currently at 214.13 meters (703 feet) below sea level, or 1.10 meters (3.6 feet) below the lower red line.

In 2001, the Sea of Galilee was at an even lower level, 214.87 meters (705 feet) below sea level, which was christened as the lake’s “black line.” The black line is a dangerously low level that can create irreversible ecological problems, including an increase in the water’s salinity and algae blooms that can do permanent damage to the water quality and flora and fauna.

MK Yael Cohen-Paran (Zionist Union) warned on Monday that the government needs to take a “significant, strategic approach rather than a temporary solution.” Cohen-Paran said northern farmers should be compensated from a special fund for victims of natural disasters that would allow them to update their equipment and fields to more water-savvy farming techniques or crops. “The drought is part of the climate crisis, and we must understand that it is up to us to adapt our water policy to the current conditions,” she said.

Markel warned that Israelis, who obsess over the state of the Sea of Galilee to such a degree that the hourly weather updates often include the latest water level, should realize that the water level does not tell the whole story.

In 2001, and 2008, when the Sea of Galilee reached a similar level to today, Israel was still pumping upwards of 300 million cubic meters from the lake for consumption as drinking water and agricultural use. But thanks to the five desalination plants humming along the Mediterranean coast, Israel stopped pumping water directly from the Sea of Galilee two years ago. Approximately 150 million cubic meters is still diverted north of the lake for local use, a rate that has stayed stable for the past 40 years, but no water is taken from the lake itself.

Today, the lake is at the same levels as it was years ago, but without hundreds of thousands of people opening their taps to drink Sea of Galilee water.

The situation has gotten so bad that experts are researching possibilities of pumping desalinated water into the Sea of Galilee. That possibility is still a ways away, because all of the 600 million cubic meters of desalinated water is being consumed. But as Israel increases its desalination abilities, including constructing a sixth desalination plant somewhere between Akko and Nahariya, extra desalinated water will first be pumped north of the Sea of Galilee, so residents and farmers in the area will not have to take water from the lake’s watershed. If that still doesn’t solve the problem, Markel has not ruled out the possibility of a pipe emptying fresh water directly into the lake.

“If the climate continues the way we see it and the course we’re on now becomes our long term situation, then we won’t have a choice but to bring water from the outside,” he said.

Markel noted that aside from the incalculable ecological importance, the Sea of Galilee also has important security value for Israel. “Any failure in the desalination plant may cause a dramatic event of undrinkable water supply in cities, and the Sea of Galilee is the only natural water source which, by pushing one button, you can get water to most of Israel,” he said.

“The bottom line of situation is that we get less rain; there’s been this dramatic change in the rain,” said Markel. “We’re dealing with climatic change and drought levels that we have never experienced in history.”  (the Times of Israel)

Why the Arab-Jewish Conflict Remains Unresolved – Rick Richman (Mosaic)

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the 1937 British Peel Commission Report, which first proposed a “two-state solution” for Palestine.

The Palestinian Arabs rejected both the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which formally declared British support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, and the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, even after Britain in 1923 severed the larger portion of Palestine, east of the Jordan River, and recognized Emir Abdullah of Transjordan as its new ruler.

In 1936, the Arabs sabotaged trains, roads, and telephone lines, engaged in widespread violence against Jews, and conducted guerrilla attacks against British Mandate authorities. In response, the British established the Peel Commission to “ascertain the underlying causes of the disturbances” and make recommendations for the future.

On July 7, 1937, the British Cabinet released the Peel Commission Report. It traced the 3,000-year Jewish connection to Palestine; found that building the Jewish national home had been advantageous to the Arabs; noted the very large increases of the Arab population in Jewish urban areas; and observed that Jewish hospitals and clinics served both Arabs and Jews.

The report concluded that the underlying cause of the Arab revolt was the implacable Arab opposition to the Jewish presence in Palestine. The report stated that the “ugliest element in the picture” was attacks by Arabs on Arabs who were suspected of insufficient adherence to the views of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem.

The commission found that Arab nationalism in Palestine, rather than arising from “positive national feeling,” was “inextricably interwoven with antagonism to the Jews.” Thus, even if the Jewish national home were “far smaller…the Arab attitude would be the same.” Nor could Arab “moderates” facilitate a peaceful settlement, since on major issues they invariably ended up siding with the extremists.

Eighty years after the first proposal for a two-state solution, even “moderate” Palestinian Arab leaders still reject its basic premise. They want a Palestinian state, but not if the price is recognition of a Jewish state.