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Latest News in Israel – 6th December

Trump to Keep Embassy in Tel Aviv, but Recognize Jerusalem as Capital

President Trump plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but not to move the American Embassy there for now, people briefed on the deliberations said on Friday, a halfway gesture intended to fulfill a campaign pledge while not derailing his peace initiative.

Mr. Trump is expected to announce the decision in a speech next Wednesday, these people said, though they cautioned that the president had not yet formally signed off on it and that the details of the plan could shift.

Those details, experts warned, are fiendishly complicated. The diplomatic status of Jerusalem is one of the world’s most contested issues, with Israel and the Palestinians claiming it as their capital. Its holy sites are sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, and any change in its status would have vast repercussions across the Middle East and other Islamic-majority countries worldwide.

Mr. Trump promised to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv as one of his first acts as president — a pledge that was popular with his evangelical supporters as well as with powerful Jewish donors, like the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

American presidents must sign a national security waiver every six months to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. In June, Mr. Trump deferred a decision to move it to Jerusalem, under pressure from Arab leaders, who warned that it would ignite protests, and from advisers, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who worried that it could strangle the administration’s attempt to foster peace in the generations-long dispute.

With another deadline looming next Monday, Mr. Trump is expected to sign an order keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv. But he will couple that with a statement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital — something that no president, Republican or Democrat, has done since the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Given the extreme sensitivities surrounding Jerusalem, Middle East experts said Mr. Trump’s plan was fraught with risk. Even after extensive consultations with Arab leaders, which the White House has not done, such a move could provoke volatile reactions.

“The devil is in the details of what they announce,” said Martin S. Indyk, who served as American ambassador to Israel under President Bill Clinton. “If this is not framed properly, far from resolving this issue, it will land the administration in even hotter water.”

Among the questions, Mr. Indyk said, are whether Mr. Trump will restrict recognition to West Jerusalem, whether he will mention Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem and how he will deal with Jerusalem’s status as a holy city — a factor that could determine whether Saudi Arabia supports or abandons his peace project.

News of Mr. Trump’s decision came amid fresh disclosures about how, even before he took office, he worked closely with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scuttle a United Nations Security Council resolution critical of Israel’s settlement policy — subverting then-President Barack Obama, who had decided to allow a vote to go ahead.

Documents filed in connection with the guilty plea of Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, revealed that on Dec. 22, 2016, a “very senior member” of Mr. Trump’s transition team instructed Mr. Flynn to contact foreign officials, including from Russia, “to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution.”

Lawyers identified the senior transition official as Mr. Kushner. Russia rebuffed Mr. Flynn’s request and voted for the resolution, which passed after the United States abstained.

Mr. Trump has kept up his close relations with Mr. Netanyahu, though that may be tested if, as expected, the White House tries to jump-start peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians early next year.

While Mr. Netanyahu supports the decision to move the American Embassy, Israeli officials have not pushed the issue in recent months. Other leaders in the region, like King Abdullah II of Jordan, remain deeply opposed to it.

But Mr. Trump was under immense pressure from pro-Israel and evangelical supporters and is likely to repeat past assertions that it is not a matter of if, but when, the embassy will be moved to Jerusalem. He is also being pressed to declare that next week’s waiver will be his last — effectively promising to devise a plan by mid-2018 to begin relocating the embassy.

Declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital would not itself mark a change in American law. In 1995, Mr. Clinton signed a statute declaring, “Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel.” But administrations have been allowed to decide, as a matter of policy, whether to recognize it as the capital, and none have done so.

That law requires the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, unless the president issues a waiver finding that doing so would be against national security interests of the United States. American presidents have done so every six months since then to avoid prejudging the outcome of — and therefore hampering — an eventual resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to change course. At the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March 2016, he said he would “move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

But he signed a waiver on June 1, and officials said Mr. Adelson was among the supporters who were deeply disappointed by the president’s decision.

Among those pressing hardest for moving the embassy, said people close to the deliberations, was Vice President Mike Pence, who has been a conduit for Mr. Trump to religious conservatives. In a speech in New York on Tuesday, he said Mr. Trump was “actively considering when and how to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

In the short run, the decision could complicate plans for Mr. Kushner and Jason D. Greenblatt, Mr. Trump’s special envoy, to restart peace negotiations. Palestinian officials have warned that Mr. Trump is “playing with fire.”

“If you’re trying to be creative by saying we’re recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, you’d better qualify it,” said Dennis B. Ross, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator. “If you don’t qualify it that means you’ve just accepted the Israeli position on the final status of Jerusalem, which means you’ve lost the Arabs.”  (the New York Times)

Europe rattled Trump may recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Europe is rattled by reports that US President Donald Trump may recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, possibly as early as Wednesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron told Trump he was “concerned” and urged him not to take such a step in a Monday telephone call between the two leaders..

“Mr. Macron reaffirmed that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, particularly those relating to the establishment of two states,” Macron’s office said.

To date, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been held hostage to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The eighty-seven countries with embassies in Israel have placed them in the Tel Aviv area, rather than Jerusalem.

Prior the election US President Donald Trump promised to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv, but has yet to make good on that pledge.

In 1995 Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which mandated the embassy relocation, unless the president signs a waiver every six months.

Trump is expected to sign a waiver, due already on December 1, releasing him from this obligation. But to mollify supporters of the embassy relocation, Trump is expected to announce US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

A White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said an announcement on the decision will be made “in coming days,” Last week 151 member states of the United Nations voted in the General Assembly on a resolution disavowing Israeli ties to Jerusalem.

All European Union countries supported the UNGA resolution.

EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini spoke by phone with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and urged his country to remain calm should Trump recognize Jerusalem.

“It might have serious repercussions on public opinion in large parts of the world,” Mogherini said in a statement issued to the media on Monday after the call. “The focus should therefore remain on the efforts to restart the peace process and avoiding any action that would undermine such efforts,” she said. “The EU will continue to engage with both parties and its international and regional partners, including within the Quartet, to support a resumption of a meaningful peace process,” Mogherini said.

Safadi took to twitter to detail his campaign against such an announcement.

“Spoke with #US Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson on dangerous consequences of recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Such a decision would trigger anger across #Arab #Muslim worlds, fuel tension & jeopardize peace efforts,” Safadi said.

He had also spoken with the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministyr as well as with the Foreign ministers of Oman, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Iraq and Tunisia.

Separately he spoke with the Secretary-Generals of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as with the PLO’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

It would be the “kiss of death” to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief representative in Washington Husam Zomlot told Reuters on Monday.

“President Trump has promised us in every meeting we convened with him, with our President Mahmoud Abbas, and we met him three times in a few weeks, if you remember,” Zomlot said.

“in every meeting he [Trump] said I want to be a fair arbitrator or a fair mediator and fairness is about seeing all the sides and fairness is making sure that the final agreement is going to satisfy the legitimate needs of all involved,” Zomlot said. “Such a move is going to absolutely preempt and we firmly believe this was delivered that those who have thought about this idea of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel want to preempt any possibility of President Trump to actually achieve the ultimate deal,” he said.

Saudi Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman said, ”Any US announcement on the status of Jerusalem prior to a final settlement would have a detrimental impact on the peace process and would heighten tensions in the region,” Saudi Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman said in a statement.  (Jerusalem Post)

Sirens blare repeatedly as at least two rockets launched from Sinai

Two rockets were launched at Israel from the Sinai region of Egypt, the Israeli military said early Tuesday morning as alarms rang out in Israeli communities near the border at least five times throughout the night.

There were no reports of injuries or damage from either rocket, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

Rocket sirens blared in the Eshkol region near the borders with the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula before 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. They went off again an hour later as second rocket was launched.

It was not immediately clear if either missile landed in Israeli territory, the army said.

Sirens sounded a third time at 4:15 a.m., again at 4:50 a.m and again just after 5 a.m. There were no immediate details from the army on possible additional attacks.

Terrorists in Sinai affiliated with the Islamic State occasionally attack Israel, though they have mostly focused on battling Egyptian forces as part of an Islamist insurgency.

Cairo has redoubled a yearslong effort to crack down on the so-called Sinai Province of the Islamic State since a grisly attack on a mosque last month that left over 300 people dead. Israel has reportedly offered limited help in battling the insurgency.

Tensions have also been on the rise with the Gaza Strip.

On Thursday, the Islamic Jihad launched a dozen mortar shells at an army post northeast of the Strip, causing no injuries but some damage to army equipment.

Smoke billows from a Palestinian Islamic Jihad position near Gaza City after Israeli aircraft bombed it on November 30, 2017, in retaliation to a mortar attack that targeted Israeli troops northeast of the Gaza Strip earlier in the day. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The military retaliated with six strikes on terrorist positions in Gaza, four of them belonging to the Islamic Jihad and two to Hamas, which rules the coastal enclave.

On Sunday, the army declared the area surrounding the Gaza Strip a “closed military zone” in light of unspecified activities in the area.

The nature of the military activity in the area and the exact location of the closures were gagged by the military censor.

The army said there were no new special instructions for Israeli residents of the Gaza border region, though existing orders keeping farmers away from certain areas along the border remain in place.

The closures come a little over a month after the military destroyed an attack tunnel belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, which entered Israeli territory from the Gaza city of Khan Younis.   (the Times of Israel)

US ‘has reassured Israel it won’t abandon Syria to Iran’

Washington has sought to calm Israeli concerns that Iran will take advantage of a Syrian ceasefire to cement its presence along Israel’s northern border, assuring Jerusalem that it will maintain its activities in the country until a permanent solution is reached, Channel 10 reported Saturday.

“We’ve made it clear to Israel that we are not pulling out of Syria, we are staying there until the end of the civil war,” an unnamed administration official told the Israeli TV station.

“The ceasefire agreement is the first stage. We will try to widen the buffer zone and push the Iranians back, 20 kilometers (12 miles) at first, and later perhaps as far as Damascus.”

Israel has expressed ongoing concern over the ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia in southern Syria, saying it does not sufficiently address Iranian military ambitions in the area.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that the agreement perpetuates Iranian plans to set up a disruptive long-term presence on Israel’s northern border, something he has repeatedly vowed that the Jewish state won’t tolerate.

Syria’s neighbors suspect that Iran seeks to carve out a land route through Syria that would create a territorial continuum from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon.

On Friday night Arab media reports said Israel fired missiles at a military base Iran has been building near the Syrian city of ​​al-Qiswa, southwest of Damascus.

The alleged Israeli attack came three weeks after the BBC reported that Iran was building a permanent military base in Syria just south of Damascus. The British broadcaster commissioned a series of satellite pictures that showed widespread construction at the site.

Arab media outlets have reported that 12 Iranian troops were killed in the attack.  (the Times of Israel)

Two arrested in connection to murder of Israeli soldier

Two Negev residents have been arrested in connection to the terror attack which killed an Israeli soldier in the southern city of Arad on Thursday night, the Shin Bet cleared for release on Monday.

The IDF and Israel police carried out extensive searches in the southern Mount Hebron area, setting up roadblocks after Nahal Brigade soldier 19-year-old Sgt. Ron Yitzhak Kukia was stabbed in the throat while waiting for a bus outside an Arad shopping mall. His Tavor assault rifle was also taken by the attackers.

The two suspects were arrested on Friday night by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Services) – 24 hours after the attack. According to the Shin Bet, one of the two men who was arrested implicated himself in the attack and led investigators to the stolen weapon. According to Yediot Aharonot, one of the suspects took investigators to the scene of the attack where he reconstructed what happened.

The identity of the suspects and further details of the investigation have been placed under a gag order.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman congratulated the security forces for arresting the suspects quickly. Taking to his Facebook and Twitter pages Liberman said that the “murder of the late Sergeant Ron Yitzhak Kukia once again proves the need apply the death penalty to terrorists.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also praised the Israeli security forces for “capturing the despicable terrorists” who carried out the attack which killed Kukia. “The intelligence-operational activity of the security forces led to a quick recognition of the terror attack and a quick seizure of the terrorists the very next night. The security forces will reach anyone who tries to harm our citizens and the State of Israel will bring them to justice,” he said.

On Thursday evening paramedics received a call around 9:30 p.m. about a man who had been stabbed in his upper body and severely wounded at a bus stop outside a mall.

“When we arrived, we saw a young man of about 20 lying unconscious with no pulse and not breathing with stab wounds on his upper body. We gave him life-saving medical treatment and carried out advanced CPR operations,” said Magen David Adom Paramedic Ziv Shapira.

According to MDA CPR efforts were unsuccessful in resuscitating Kukia who was pronounced dead shortly after.

Kukia was laid to rest Sunday afternoon at Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shaul military cemetery, with some 2,000 people in attendance.

Eulogizing his son Boaz Kukia said that “our Ron was brought up to love and respect people, both in our family and society at large, but he was also brought up to ‘respect them and suspect them,’ especially as it pertains to strangers. I think Ron may not have been suspicious enough Thursday night when he was murdered by the lowest of the low: Israel’s enemies from within.”

Continuing, Boaz Kukia called on “Israelis of all religions and creeds to be more tolerant and less critical of each other, for each group to aspire to be elevated to the same plateau as others and not at their expense.    (Jerusalem Post)

Syrian media says Israel struck near Damascus for second time in days

Syrian state media on Monday said Israel had fired missiles at a Syrian military facility in the Damascus countryside, adding that Syrian air defense systems had intercepted three of the missiles.

“Our air defenses are confronting an Israeli missile attack on one of our sites in the Damascus suburbs and three of the targets were downed,” state news agency SANA said, adding the attacks happened at 11:30 p.m. Monday.

A witness told Reuters late on Monday three strong explosions were heard from the direction of Jamraya, west of Damascus. Another witness said thick smoke could be seen rising over the area.

Jamraya contains a military research facility which was hit by what was believed to have been an Israeli attack in 2013.

Israel in the past has targeted positions of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group inside Syria where the Iran-backed group is heavily involved in fighting alongside the Syrian army.

On Saturday Syrian state media said Israeli missiles struck a military position south of Damascus, and in September Israel attacked a Syrian military site believed to be linked to chemical weapons production.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said they do not comment on foreign reports.

War monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, from its sources, said planes believed to be Israeli had fired missiles into the Jamraya area. (Jerusalem Post)

Trump and Jerusalem

By Jonathan S. Tobin               JNS


In the end, perhaps only a president so completely divorced from diplomatic reality and utterly indifferent to international opinion could do it. Despite the difficulties and the manifest dangers involved with keeping America’s promise—enshrined in U.S. law passed by Congress—to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, President Donald Trump may actually do it sometime in the next week.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the State Department had informed U.S. embassies around the world about a plan to make the move and to begin planning for how to deal with the protests that would inevitably follow.

For U.S. diplomats living abroad—especially those in the Middle East or working in any Muslim-majority country—this is no joke. If Trump makes good on the pledge, the response from the Arab street will likely be nasty and might rival or even exceed the destruction, violence and even murder that resulted when a Danish newspaper published a few satirical cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed. Egged on by Iran and other radical Islamists, protests will be massive and will carry a hefty price tag.

This is why most observers, including those sympathetic to Israel, have been skeptical about talk of an embassy move. Few thought even a president as unconventional as Trump would do something that virtually everyone in the foreign policy establishment as well as moderate Arab nations thinks would not only create a crisis, but also preclude any progress toward a two-state solution or peace.

Why then is Trump contemplating something the smart people are convinced is foolish? The answer from his critics—whose numbers increase every time he lets loose with an ill-considered tweet or statement—is that he is an ignorant fool. Yet, as with those obnoxious tweets, which distract his foes from policy issues and amuse his fans, there may be a method to the madness. It’s entirely possible that Trump is either being guided to or is stumbling along a path that could be saner than the supposedly safer course steered by his predecessors on Jerusalem.

According to The Wall Street Journal, what Trump might do is to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announce plans for the embassy move, but make it clear that won’t happen for several years. In the interim, the U.S. ambassador could work in Jerusalem and peace talks could resume.

This would merely recognize reality. Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1949. The map put forward by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan resolution that set aside the holy city as an international zone, apart from proposed Jewish and Arab states, has been a dead letter for 70 years. Moreover, even if a two-state solution were possible, calling the city Israel’s capital wouldn’t preclude a compromise that might cede its Arab neighborhoods to be the capital of a Palestinian state.

But what Trump’s potential move would do is put the Palestinians on notice that their decades of denial of the legitimacy of a Jewish state and its historic ties to Jerusalem will no longer be tolerated. It would be a symbolic gesture aimed at reminding them that their century-long war on Zionism that is still inextricably tied to Palestinian national identity must end. The conflict will only really cease when the Palestinians get the message from an international community that has enabled their rejectionism that it is no longer willing to keep playing the same game. If they really want an independent state and peace—something the propaganda still emanating from both Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and his Hamas rivals continues to make impossible—they will have to do it with an Israel whose capital happens to be in Jerusalem.

If this is Trump’s gambit, it may well come back to bite him if Muslim riots exact a high cost. It will be easy for some to lump this decision in with his often-irresponsible statements that have undermined the credibility of his administration.

In the end, Trump may be persuaded by the “adults” in his administration to not do it. But peace will never come except by jolting the Palestinians into accepting reality. That’s something more judicious presidents have failed to do. It may be that only a president who doesn’t care about flouting the normal rules of conduct and policy would even contemplate something so radical, yet so important. In this case, a potential switch of U.S. policy on Jerusalem might constitute one of the best arguments that can be made for Trump not being as bad a president as his Twitter account might lead us to believe.

Palestinians: More Missed Opportunities

by Bassam Tawil                    The Gatestone Institute


The PFLP, like Hamas and other Palestinian groups, makes no secret of its goal to “liberate Palestine, from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea.” All should be commended for their honesty. If anyone has any doubts, their plan means the total destruction of Israel. Thus, as chairman of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas cannot say that he represents the entire organization. He has no leverage with the PFLP, DFLP and the remaining terror groups operating under the umbrella of his PLO.

And now we come to the million dollar question: Does Abbas really represent all of Fatah? The answer is simple and clear: No. Over the past few decades, Fatah has witnessed sharp divisions and disputes, resulting in a number of splinter groups that broke away and are now openly challenging Abbas’s leadership and policies.

While Abbas is making noises about a peace process, his own Fatah faction is inciting violence and calling for the destruction of Israel. While Abbas is talking about his interest in achieving a two-state solution, his partners in the PLO, including the PFLP and DFLP, are openly calling for the destruction of Israel and advocating an armed struggle. While Abbas is claiming that he is the legitimate president of the Palestinians, many Palestinians, including senior officials in his Fatah faction, are legitimately stating he has no mandate from his people to sign any agreement with Israel.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas continues to mouth his “desire” to achieve peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution. Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction and PLO partners, however, evidently have a different agenda: to wage war on Israel until the “liberation of all of Palestine.”

In a speech delivered on his behalf by Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, on November 30, Abbas repeated his commitment to a two-state solution based on international law and the 1967 “borders.”

Abbas called on the UN “to force Israel to recognize the State of Palestine based on the 1967 borders as the basis for a two-state solution, and to agree on a demarcation of borders in line with the resolutions of the international community.”

Abbas’s claim to a commitment to the “two-state solution” is a staple of his talks to the international community. It is just not clear who Abbas represents when he talks about the Palestinians’ commitment to a “two-state solution.”

In addition to his title as president of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas also holds the jobs of chairman of the PLO and Fatah, his ruling faction in the West Bank. Do Abbas’s statements regarding peace with Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel represent any of three these bodies? Hardly.

Abbas’s four-year term in office (as president of the Palestinian Authority) expired in January 2009. Since then, he is widely considered by Palestinians as an illegitimate president who does not have the authority to sign any peace agreement with Israel on behalf of a majority of his people. Many Palestinians will legitimately reject any agreement he signs with Israel on the grounds that the 82-year-old Abbas, who is now in his 12th year of his four-year term in office, is not a lawful leader.

Against this backdrop of zero confidence, any agreement Abbas signs with Israel would not be worth the paper it is written on.

Besides, the Palestinian Authority that he heads has no jurisdiction over the two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip or millions of Palestinians residing in Arab countries and elsewhere around the world. At the very most, the PA would be able to implement such an agreement only on those parts it controls in the West Bank.

That is concerning to the PA, a self-ruled body that was established in accordance with the 1993 Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the PLO.

As for the PLO, of which Abbas is chairman, it is worth noting that it is an umbrella organization made up of various Palestinian factions. With the exception of Fatah, the largest faction (also headed by Abbas), the remaining groups are emphatically opposed to a peace process with Israel. Even worse, the other PLO groups continue to advocate an armed struggle against Israel.

Take, for example, the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a famous PLO terror group that does not believe in Israel’s right to exist and continues to engage in terrorism. The PFLP never misses an opportunity to state its support for violence and rejection of any peace agreement with Israel.

Here is what the PFLP thinks about efforts to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel:

“The PFLP confirms its categorical rejection of all international and Arab projects and ‘solutions’ that attempt to undermine the rights of Palestinian refugees and principally, their right of return, in the interest of proposals consistent with the Zionist vision if this fundamental issue.”

The PFLP, like Hamas and other Palestinian groups, makes no secret of its goal to “liberate Palestine, from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea.” All should be commended for their honesty. If anyone has any doubts, their plan means the total destruction of Israel.

Another PLO terror group, the Leninist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), for example, is equally dangerous and rejects any peaceful settlement with Israel. This is what the group had to say in a recent statement marking the 69th anniversary of the “Nakba” (the “catastrophe,” a reference to the establishment of Israel in 1948):

“Let’s make the 69th anniversary of the Nakba a year to liberate our cause from the Oslo compromising ties, a year of national salvation and mobilization of our national forces against the Zionist project on every single inch of Palestine land.”

Some may argue that both the PFLP and DFLP are relatively small groups within the PLO, and that their words are insignificant. However, it is the actions of the terror groups, not only the rhetoric, that matters. With a long history of terrorism against Israel, the PFLP and DFLP will never accept any peace agreement with Israel. How can they accept any agreement when they are already calling for the abrogation of the Oslo Accords?

The PFLP and DFLP are not the only PLO terror groups opposed to any peaceful settlement with Israel. Among the other PLO terror groups are: The Palestinian People’s Party, the Palestine Liberation Front, the Arab Liberation Front and the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front. Their shared ideology: rejection of Israel’s right to exist and commitment to terrorism as a way of “liberating all of Palestine.”

Thus, as chairman of the PLO, Abbas cannot say that he represents the entire organization. He has no leverage with the PFLP, DFLP and the remaining terror groups operating under the umbrella of his PLO. These terror groups would never — ever — sign on to a peace agreement between Abbas and Israel.

That leaves us with Abbas’s dominant Fatah faction. And now we come to the million dollar question: Does Abbas really represent all of Fatah? The answer is simple and clear: No.

Over the past few decades, Fatah has witnessed sharp divisions and disputes, resulting in a number of splinter groups that broke away and are now openly challenging Abbas’s leadership and policies.

Tensions within Fatah have intensified markedly in recent years, especially with the revolt spearheaded by Abbas’s arch-rival, Mohammed Dahlan. Dahlan, a former Fatah official and security commander ousted by Abbas, is currently based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and enjoys the backing of many Palestinian cadres, especially in the Gaza Strip. Dahlan and his supporters are working hard to remove Abbas from power with the help of the UAE and some Arab countries.

Moreover, Abbas’s two-state solution remarks and his avowals of opposition to terrorism also fail to reflect the views of some of Fatah’s top officials and media. A report presented by Palestinian Media Watch to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East details Fatah’s ongoing incitement and glorification of terror against Israel.

The divisions within Fatah are not limited to the political echelon only; they also extend to the faction’s various armed groups. This means that Abbas also does not represent all the armed groups of the faction that he is supposed to be heading under Fatah.

Here, for example, is what one of Fatah’s armed groups, Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — Battalion of Martyr Nidal Al-Amoudi thinks about Abbas’s two-state solution and peace with Israel: “We promise our people to pursue the path of armed struggle and the pure rifle until the liberation of all Palestine and its holy sites.” That statement by Abbas’s terror group was issued in the Gaza Strip on December 2. The occasion: Launching a “training” camp for Fatah terrorists named after Yasser Arafat

Let us get things clear: While Abbas is making noises about a peace process, his own Fatah faction is inciting violence and calling for the destruction of Israel. While Abbas is talking about his interest in achieving a two-state solution, his partners in the PLO, including the PFLP and DFLP, are openly calling for the destruction of Israel and advocating an armed struggle. While Abbas is claiming that he is the legitimate president of the Palestinians, many Palestinians, including senior officials in his Fatah faction, are legitimately stating he has no mandate from his people to sign any agreement with Israel

Abbas is a failed leader who has missed opportunity after opportunity to shepherd his people toward a better and dignified life. While his words may sound good to some Israelis and many in the international community, we are left with the burning question: Exactly who does he represent and on behalf of whom is he exactly talking? The answer is that Abbas is a single-strategy demagogue whose one goal is to hold onto the power to sell mirages to the world until his last breath.

Why so many African-American pro basketball players love Israel

By Gabe Friedman        JTA

Why so many African-American pro basketball players love Israel

Chris Watson played four standout years of basketball at Niagara University, where he became one of the upstate New York school’s all-time leading scorers. So when the 6-7 forward-center went undrafted by an NBA team in 1997, he set out to play on a professional level internationally.

He played two years in Uruguay, then his agent called and said, “You’re going to Israel.”

Watson, an African-American from suburban White Plains — who in his own words did not grow up “watching the news” — said at the time he knew “nothing at all” about the Jewish state.

That quickly changed, and Watson stayed in Israel for more than 15 years, playing for several teams. He also married an Israeli woman, became an Israeli citizen and converted to Judaism.

As David A. Goldstein details in his recent book “Alley-Oop to Aliyah: African-American Hoopsters in the Holy Land,” Watson is far from the only black basketball player to do these things.

Since the 1976 arrival of Aulcie Perry — a 6-10 native of Newark, New Jersey, who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to two unexpected EuroLeague championships — more than 800 African-American players have competed in the Israeli Premier League, which formed in 1954 and is composed of the country’s 12 best teams.

After researching the history of the league and interviewing dozens of former and current players over the span of 10 years, Goldstein found that most of them professed a deep, genuine love for Israel, despite having grown up without a connection to the country.

“Forty-something converted in the ’70s and ’80s … tens of players got citizenship,” Goldstein told JTA. “Hundreds are now kind of advocates or ambassadors [for Israel] in the U.S. or internationally.”

Chris Watson shows off a memento from Hapoel Beersheba’s 2014-15 championship in Israel’s third division at the home of the team owner. (Courtesy of Watson)

In the book, Goldstein explores how the black players adapted to Israel, why they formed an attachment to the Jewish state and how they impacted Israeli sport and society.

Prior to 1976, the use of foreign players was discouraged by a league rule dictating that only one non-Israeli could play at a time for an Israeli team, and only in games held on European soil. But Perry’s success ushered in the first of many rule changes: The lone foreign player could now play in games held in Israel, too. Over the decades, the league continued to adjust the rules, allowing teams to stack foreign players on their rosters.

As Goldstein completed his decade of research, the so-called “Russian rule” — named for the country where it originated — was the operating standard: Teams could sign as many foreign players as they wanted, but two Israeli citizens must be on the court at all times.

The teams tried to exploit the rule in the ’70s and ’80s, rushing foreign players through hasty conversions to Judaism in order to quickly turn them into citizens. But along the way, as Goldstein was surprised to discover, an unexpected number went through legitimate and meaningful Orthodox conversions. Perry, for instance — who was criticized by some for starting the fad — has remained Jewish. (He has also talked about how his mother does not fully accept his Jewishness).

Watson, 42, mainly converted to marry his wife and has not been very observant since they divorced. But, he said, he enjoyed learning about Jewish texts and history throughout his conversion process.

“I didn’t get paid or try to pay anybody for my citizenship,” he said. “I didn’t take any shortcuts.”

Despite the controversy fueled by the league’s rules, basketball teams in other countries have similar quotas for foreigners in order to help foster local talent. Watson, for one, understands the way the Israeli league works.

“The Jewish people have fought so much to get their country,” he said. “They want to see each other succeed, which is natural.”

As Goldstein writes, notwithstanding any of the public hoopla surrounding the quickie conversions, African-American players over the years have had little trouble adapting rapidly to life in Israel. Like many, players with a passing knowledge about Israel have typically expected it to be a war zone where the people wear religious garb.

But once they arrive, the players are surprised by how many Israelis speak English and how welcoming and passionate they are. (Basketball is still second to soccer in terms of general popularity, but its reputation as a competitive league has grown exponentially in recent decades due in large part to the foreign players recruited by a number of teams other than powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv.)

“The No. 1 thing that draws guys there is how easy it is to transition from America,” Watson said. “Guys that have been there for months, they’re like, ‘Wow, I love this place!’ And there’s a lot of guys that think about citizenship after that.”

When it comes to racism, Goldstein said he learned from his interviews that many players have actually felt less overt racism in Israel than they did in the U.S. For example, Willie Sims, who played in Israel for nearly 20 years, was once nearly arrested when he locked his keys in his car and tried to get back into it. Israeli police officers knocked him to the ground and handcuffed him.

“I asked, ‘Did any of that make you want to come back to the U.S.?’ And he said, ‘Are you kidding? All they did was handcuff me. In the U.S., I could’ve gotten shot,’” Goldstein said.

Yet while the players seem to be accepted on a societal level, prejudices remain. No African-American has ever been a head coach in Israel’s first division, and very few have had prominent coaching jobs in the second and third divisions. In a speech to Israeli military members in 2001, then-Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon was fired for saying that lighter-skinned black players were smarter than darker-skinned ones, who he called “dummies” and “slaves.”

“That makes you wonder what guys are really thinking on the inside,” Watson said. “I’ve heard guys say when you’re putting the ball in the hole, it’s all good, it’s all love. But the moment you can’t do that no more, it’s like, ‘Thank you, go home.’”

The Israeli league is far from the only sports league with a coaching diversity problem. In the United States, the NBA boasts the most diverse set of head coaches — yet fewer than half the coaches are black in a league whose players are about 75 percent African-American.

Still, even though an unexpected number of African-Americans have stayed in Israel after retiring from basketball, Watson and Goldstein both say many more would have created lives there if coaching positions had been available.

Watson counts himself among them. He looks back fondly on living in Israel — it’s where he spent his 20s, it’s where he reached his basketball-playing peak. These days, he works as an account manager at a Lifetime Fitness gym in White Plains.

Would he have stayed in the Jewish state had a promising opportunity opened up?

“100 percent,” he said.