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Latest Israel News – 20th February

Security key for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Australia visit

Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Australia for a historic visit on Wednesday, the first by a serving Israeli prime minister.

After endless back and forth concerning the duration and content of the visit, Mr Netanyahu has extended his stay, which at one stage was going to last for little more than 24 hours, to stretch now from Wednesday to Saturday.

He will hold a series of talks with Malcolm Turnbull, and the two leaders will appear together at a number of events. The Israeli leader will also meet Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, as well as Bill Shorten and NSW Premier Gladys Berejeklian. He will also attend a full meeting of federal cabinet and address Jewish community functions.

The two countries will formalise a cyber-security dialogue and enhance cyber-security co-operation.

Israel is widely regarded as a cyber-security superpower, and Mr Turnbull has been personally involved in the development of Australian government cyber policies. Security and economic issues will dominate the visit.

Mr Netanyahu is believed to be bringing a delegation of about 25 leaders of hi-tech industries, including space, agribusiness, cyber and medical devices.

The prime ministers will also finalise an industrial research and development agreement designed to increase hi-tech collaboration.

The security dimension of the visit will cover strategic issues, counter-terrorism and the Palestinian question.

The Turnbull government will reiterate its support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite Donald Trump this week declaring during a press conference with Mr Netanyahu that he would support whatever the parties agreed on, whether it was one state or two. Mr Netanyahu has previously said he does support a two-state solution. The Turnbull government will also emphasise that a peace agreement cannot be imposed by outsiders.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s highest priority on strategic issues is Iran, in particular its nuclear program and recent missile tests in violation of UN resolutions, and its regional destabilisation efforts. He will get a sympathetic hearing on these issues and likely find some support for his position, although Australia will not be as critical of Iran as Israel is.

Israeli leaders are typically reluctant to be far from home for long in case a security crisis breaks out. The fact the visit is going ahead, and that it matches or exceeds in length Mr Netanyahu’s visit to the US this week, is a sign of his appreciation for Australia and the priority he puts on the relationship. This is part of Israel’s burgeoning diplomatic profile in Asia.

There will also be extensive talks on Syria, where Australia is involved militarily, and on the threat of Islamist terrorism. Mr Turnbull is likely to express solidarity with Israel in combating terrorism.

Both leaders will draw attention to the little known Australian troop deployments on three of Israel’s borders.

In March, an Australian major-general, Simon Stewart, will take command of the Multinational Force & Observers in Sinai.

This group of about 1500 military personnel arises out of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty and is mainly sponsored by the Americans. It monitors the compliance of both nations with the terms of the peace treaty, especially in relation to the demilitarised zone which Menachem Begin negotiated with Anwar Sadat. General Stewart will become Australia’s most senior multilateral commander.

Australia also has military observers in the UN Disengagement Observer Force on the Israel-Syria border. This force observes the terms of the ceasefire between Israel and Syria following the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Canberra also contributes small numbers of soldiers to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, which monitors the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Lebanon.

All these troops continue a long tradition of Australian military involvement in the Middle East, and specifically Israel. In the southern Israeli city of Beersheba there is a statue of an Australian light horseman, commemorating the light horse charge of 1917 which led to seizure of Beersheba from the Ottoman Turks.

It is possible Mr Turnbull could announce his intention to attend the centenary celebrations of the Beersheba operation in Israel on October 31 this year.

The two nations have a number of other initiatives in train. They are working on a double taxation agreement, though this is unlikely to be finalised during the visit.

It is also believed that Qantas and Israel’s El Al airline are exploring the possibility of a codeshare operation between Australia and Israel.

Although the two-way trade of $1.1 billion is modest, Israel’s world-beating hi-tech success makes it a central destination for research and development investment and for start-ups.

The Turnbull government is extremely keen for Australian companies to strengthen ties with Israel.  (The Australian)

Netanyahu leaves Sunday for historic visits to Singapore, Australia

Fresh off visits to Washington last week and the week before to London, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Singapore on Sunday afternoon, and from there to Australia on Tuesday, for the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to those countries.

Dave Sharma, Australia’s ambassador to Israel, called the visit to his country “massively significant” and “historic.”

“We have an incredibly close relationship,” Sharma said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “So we attach a great deal of significance to having an Israeli prime minister visit, spend time with the Australian political leadership, with the Jewish community and give Israel’s perspective on world affairs. There is a lot of symbolic and historic significance attached to this visit.”

Netanyahu is well aware of the importance of this visit to the Australian government, which was miffed by the cancellation last year of a planned trip by President Reuven Rivlin who decided at the last minute to travel to Russia instead.

Netanyahu and then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman also canceled separate visits in 2014, and another cancellation would have insulted the Australian government, described by one senior Israeli diplomatic official as arguably the friendliest government toward Israel in the world.

Netanyahu is scheduled, during his one day and night in Singapore, to meet President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and visit a local synagogue.

This is a reciprocal visit to one made by Lee to Israel in April 2016, the first to Israel by a Singaporean prime minister.

Israel and Singapore have a robust relationship that includes some $1.35 billion in trade, massive Israeli investments in Singapore, extensive academic and cultural ties and a long-standing and significant military relationship, with Singapore believed to be one of Israel’s main arms markets.

During his five-day stay in Sydney, which includes a Shabbat, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Australian Gov.- Gen. Peter Cosgrove, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, opposition leader Bill Shorten and Jewish leaders. He is also scheduled to pay a visit to a Jewish school.

Sharma said there is a great deal on the agenda, from peace and security issues in the Middle East to the fight against Islamic State – which Australia is heavily involved in – and the future of Syria.

This type of discussion is important to Australia, he said, because, although a long way away, the country “sees our security immediately affected by what is going on in the Middle East.

As a result, we have always had the view that Australian interests are served by a more stable Middle East and we should be prepared to support that.”

Sharma pointed out that since World War I – through World War II, the first and second Iraq wars, Afghanistan and the campaign against Islamic State – Australian soldiers have long fought in the Middle East. Today, he said, it is the second largest foreign contributor to the fight against Islamic State, with some 400 Australian troops training and mentoring in Iraq, and a significant air attachment flying missions against Islamic State targets.

In addition, an Australian general will soon take over the command of the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai, where Australia has a contingent of 25 soldiers, as well as having forces with UN missions on the Golan Heights and in southern Lebanon.

“We very much have skin in the game in the Middle East,” Sharma said, adding that Israel has a “unique vantage point to offer unique insights as to what is happening in the region.

“We obviously talk to other countries, as well, but Israel speaks the same strategic language as we do and has the same sort of strategic culture so we find the insights and assessments from Israel to be particularly important.”

There is growing concern inside Australia of Islamic radicalization in Malaysia, and – to a lesser extent – Indonesia and the Philippines.

“The overall campaign against ISIS will have an impact on countries in our neighborhood,” Sharma said, pointing out that there are foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

He said that people who “honed their skills” in the Middle East were involved in attacks on Australians, such as in the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005 and the attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta in 2004.

Israel, he said, helps Australia understand “the greater dynamic at work,” as well as helping on the tactical level through cooperation between the two countries’ security forces to combat domestic and “foreign-inspired terrorism.”

Sharma said Australia will also want to hear from Netanyahu about his talks last week with US President Donald Trump and the prime minister’s vision for moving forward with the Palestinians.

“We are not looking to make a breakthrough on this and we recognize we are not a principal actor,” he said. “But we do support a two-state solution, we do support the emergence of a Palestinian state under conditions that allow for Israel’s legitimate security interests to be safeguarded.”

He said Canberra was “concerned about some of the things that have happened in the last few months that suggest that both sides are losing their commitment to preserving the possibility of a two-state solution, even if it is impossible right now, and that includes unilateral moves by the Palestinians in multinational fora, and it also includes some of the settlement announcements in the last month or two, and the [settlement] regularization bill.”

Sharma said Australian concern about settlement construction “will be passed predominantly in private,” and that, in the public comments, “I think we will reaffirm our commitment to a two-state solution.

“We are realistic to know that the US policy on this is not yet settled and we will be interested to hear directly from Netanyahu about how his conversations went in Washington and if there is an agreement between Israel and the US on how to proceed with this.”

In addition, Sharma said, Turnbull will “be keen” on briefing Netanyahu on the dynamics at work in the Asian Pacific region, an area where Israel – with significant ties with China – has a growing interest.

He said one of the big issues for Australia is “the upholding of some of these global norms” from which countries like Australia and Israel have benefited, such as freedom of navigation on the high seas and freedom of commerce.

He added that some of these norms have been challenged recently by militarization in the South China Sea and attempts to impose air defense identification zones.

Asked how Israel could be helpful in these areas, Sharma said it can bring these issues up in diplomatic talks with some of the countries involved. Though he did not mention it by name, this was a clear reference to China.

“Israel is not a major actor in this part of the world, but I think that it is important that when Israel engages, it doesn’t just see East Asia as a market,” he said. “It is more than that, it is a strategic region, and there are issues to consider beyond how big the market is and what you can sell.”

Sharma said Israel does not have this attitude, but it is “important we have these types of discussions to make sure those considerations are in their minds, as well.”

Netanyahu is expected to travel to China in March to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations with the country.

Beyond the strategic issues, Sharma said: “There is quite a full trade, commercial and investment agenda.”

The ambassador said Turnbull is particularly interested in “creating a more dynamic entrepreneurial and innovative Australian economy and wants to take lessons from Israel about how best to do that.”

The two leaders will host a large business event with participants from both countries.

Australia and Israel do $1.1 billion worth of trade each year, with a favorable trade balance for Israel, which exported to Australia some $700,000 worth of goods and services last year.  (Jerusalem Post)

PM: Israel, US have ‘grand mission’ over Iranian threat

In interview with Fox News Netanyahu describes his meeting with President Trump as a “historical moment,” and “a meeting of the minds and hearts” • The nuclear deal has only made Iran more aggressive, dangerous to the U.S., Israel and the world, he says.

Iran’s belligerent rhetoric toward Israel is meant to mask their intentions against the U.S. and therefore Israel and the United States have a “grand mission” in terns of confronting the threat of a nuclear Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Fox News Thursday.

“They want to have [intercontinental ballistic missiles] that can reach your country. That’s what they’re working on right now. Remember, you’re the Great Satan [to them],” Netanyahu told journalist Sean Hannity. “They believe that they’re destined to govern the world. Anybody that doesn’t agree with them, they’ll be able to subjugate or kill, and they’re working on the means to achieve that.”

Netanyahu, who met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday, described the meeting as a “historical moment,” as well as “a meeting of the minds and a meeting of the hearts.”

“I feel we have now, as the president says, an even stronger alliance. A new day, he called it. Maybe a new age,” Netanyahu said.

Commenting on the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran Netanyahu said, “The deal essentially said this, it said no bomb today, 100 bombs tomorrow, in 10 years. Now the assumption was, people [would say] ‘Well, okay, we’re kicking the can down the road.’ But this nuclear can of a single bomb then becomes the capacity to make dozens and dozens of bombs. And Iran doesn’t change its attitude.

“Since the signing of the deal, Iran has become more aggressive, more deadly, sponsoring more terrorism … with more money, a lot more money,” the prime minister said. “They’ve killed Americans all over the place. They’ve sponsored terrorism against Americans all over the place. Now they’re going to build ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] that can reach the United States and have multiple warheads to do that? That’s horrible.”

A nuclear Iran, he stressed, “is dangerous for America, dangerous for Israel, dangerous for the Arabs. Everybody now understands it and there’s an American president who understands it and we’re talking about what to do about this common threat.”   (Israel Hayom)

US officials reinforce Trump support for two-state solution

Top officials in the Trump administration sought to reassure lawmakers and foreign allies on Thursday that the United States remains committed to a twostate solution between Israel and the Palestinians, just one day after their boss said that “one state” endorsed by both parties would work just as well for him.

Testifying before the Senate in a hearing on his nomination as ambassador to Israel, David Friedman said a two-state solution – in which a Jewish State of Israel and an independent Arab state of Palestine live side by side in peace and security, ending all claims in the conflict – remains the “best possibility” for genuine peace in the region.

“A two-state solution, if it could be achieved, would bring tremendous benefit to both Israel and the Palestinians,” Friedman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calling such a solution “ideal.” He said he will not campaign, support or advocate for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, which has long been considered the future home of a Palestinian state.

“First of all, the two-state solution is what we support,” Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, told a group of reporters on Thursday.

“Anybody that wants to say the United States does not support the two-state solution – that would be an error. We absolutely support the two-state solution, but we are thinking out of the box as well.”

Their comments came after Trump said on Wednesday that he was open to ideas beyond a two-state solution, the longstanding bedrock of Washington policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like,” Trump told a joint news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.”

Trump did not specify what a one-state solution amenable to both Palestinians and Israelis might look like, and when asked, Friedman struggled to answer as well, refusing to endorse any plan that denies sovereign rights to Palestinians.

“I don’t think anyone would ever support [an outcome] where different classes of citizens would have different rights,” Friedman said. “I don’t know Israelis on the Right – even on the far Right – who would support that.”

Friedman’s confirmation hearing was dominated by questions over his derogatory and inflammatory comments leveled at Jewish figures and organizations over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, including incidents in which he called Jewish critics “morons” and “kapos.”

Over the last month, he has conducted an apology tour of those he insulted during the campaign, calling most of his critics to express his regrets.

“There is no excuse,” he told the Senate panel. “If you want me to rationalize it or justify it, I cannot. These were hurtful words.”

But the organization which suffered from his harshest criticisms, J Street, has not received a call. He maintains “profound” differences with the group, he said, although he apologized for comparing them to Jews who collaborated with Nazis during World War II.

While Friedman took several opportunities to express hope for peace, he also explained why he so frequently expressed skepticism throughout the campaign that such a peace can realistically come to pass.

He still questions whether Palestinians are prepared to make the concessions necessary: to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and “denounce terror.” And he wondered aloud whether leadership exists in the Palestinian community to shepherd them to peace. He was unsure whether moderate forces would prevail in future elections in the West Bank, and called the Gaza Strip “ungovernable” territory.

“People hang on every word that is issued on this subject,” Friedman said, calling for “private” diplomacy as Trump begins his peace initiative. “I think you have to be careful.”  (Jerusalem Post)

January tally of terrorist attacks in Israel bloodiest in 6 months

The slaying of five Israelis in January by Palestinian terrorists made that month the deadliest since June, according to the Shin Bet security service.

Four of the victims were killed by a terrorist in Jerusalem on January 8, when the assailant drove his truck into a crowd of soldiers near the Armon Hanatziv building in the neighborhood of East Talpiot.

Another man was killed the previous week in Haifa. A total of 100 attacks recorded in January left 16 wounded in total, according to Shin Bet’s monthly report, which was published earlier this week.

Shin Bet recorded 98 attacks in December. Before January, fatalities among victims of terrorist attacks occurred in October, when two victims died in such incidents, and in January 2016, when five victims also died.

Of the attacks documented last month, 81 involved the hurling of firebombs.            (Jerusalem Post)

US and Israel defense ministers meet to discuss ‘Iran, Iran and Iran’

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with his American counterpart Gen.James Mattis on Friday in Munich for the first time since Mattis assumed his position as Secretary of Defense.

During the meeting, the two discussed several matters, with Iran first and foremost among them. A statement released by Liberman’s office said that the three central problems facing the two countries and that must be dealt with were “Iran, Iran and Iran.”

Lieberman stated that there is a “need to build a genuine and effective coalition” to deal with the terrorism that Tehran was spreading throughout the world, including the development of ballistic missiles and its continued attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

Israel’s Defense Minister also stated that North Korea and Iran were “two ends of the axis of evil that also includes Hezbollah and the Assad regime and Iran is the common thread.”

Mattis and Liberman agreed that they must act decisively against Iran, Liberman’s office reported.

During their meeting, the two also discussed other security issues related to developments in the Middle East and ways to strengthen cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem in dealing with them.

The two concluded the meeting stating that the two countries are “true allies” and that “they will continue to work together to maintain common interests of the two countries” and agreed to meet again soon.

Liberman and Mattis have previously spoken only by phone.   (Jerusalem Post)

VP Pence: US will ‘never’ allow Iran to threaten Israel with nukes

US Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday that Washington was committed to ensuring Iran could never threaten Israel with nuclear weapons.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Pence called Tehran “the leading state sponsor of terrorism” and said it continued to destabilize the Middle East.

“Thanks to the end of nuclear-related sanctions under the [nuclear deal] Iran now has additional resources to devote to these efforts,” he said.

“Let me be clear again: Under President Trump the United States will remain fully committed to ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries, our allies in the region, especially Israel.”

Organizers of the conference had on Friday rearranged the agenda for their Sunday morning sessions, which would have seen Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman share a panel with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Liberman and Zarif were set to be two of four participants in a session entitled “Old Crises, New Middle East?” The Israeli minister stated that he was looking forward to the meeting, saying he hoped Zarif would stay in the room to hear “exactly what I think about the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran.”

However, organizers cancelled the 9:45-11:05 a.m. session, and replaced it with a series of separate statements, with Zarif now set to speak an hour before Liberman, and another panel discussion in between them, leaving no likelihood of the two men encountering each other.

Pence Saturday pledged an “unwavering” commitment to transatlantic ties, in an emphatic reassurance to allies including German Chancellor Angela Merkel who pleaded with nations not to go it alone.

Capping a week of whirlwind diplomacy by American officials who have descended on Europe to calm nerves rattled by Donald Trump, Pence underlined the United States’ devotion to its old friends.

“The United States is and will always be your greatest ally. Be assured that President Trump and our people are truly devoted to our transatlantic union,” he told European leaders including Merkel at the conference.

“The promise to share the burden of our defense has gone unfulfilled for too many, for too long and it erodes the very foundation of our alliance,” he warned, stressing that “the time has come to do more”.

At the same time, he did not go further and threaten, as Trump had done, to walk away if the allies failed to pay their way.

The US, he said, will boost defense spending significantly, “to defend our nation and our treaty allies from the known threats of today and the unknown threats of tomorrow”.

“We will meet our obligations to our people to provide for the common defense, and we’ll continue to do our part to support our allies in Europe and in NATO,” he said.

Trump’s criticism of NATO as “obsolete”, his praise for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union as well as his softer approach towards Russia unnerved Washington’s allies.

But over the past week in Europe, key members of his administration have pressed the message that the United States is not retreating into isolation but remains committed to its global role.

At NATO in Brussels on Thursday, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Russia must first “prove itself” and respect international law before there can be any improvement in relations strained to breaking point by Moscow’s Ukraine intervention and annexation of Crimea.

Mattis said the transatlantic bond was “as strong as I’ve ever seen it”, and stressed America remained “rock solid” in support of Article 5 — NATO’s core “one for all, all for one” collective-defence tenet.

Likewise, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was cautious in his dealings with Russia.

Following his first sit-down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Bonn on Thursday, Tillerson said the US would cooperate with Moscow but only when doing so “will benefit the American people.”

Exasperated and worried by Trump’s calling into question long-standing foreign policy givens, Europe’s top politicians have warned Washington not to take transatlantic ties for granted.

They work both ways, they said, and benefit the United States as much as Europe.

Merkel on Saturday warned countries not to retreat from the international cooperation which she says is the only way to solve global problems.

“In a year in which we see unimaginable challenges we can either work together or retreat to our individual roles. I hope that we will find a common position,” she said.

This includes working not only with Western partners, but also with Russia if possible and if Moscow once again respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states such as Ukraine, she said.

She said it was “regrettable” that Europe had not managed to reach a stable relationship with Russia over the last 25 years.

“I will not give up on finding a way for better relations with Russia despite our different views on many questions,” she said, hours before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to address the forum.     (the Times of Israel)

Trump-Netanyahu meeting shatters ‘Palestine First’ regional peacemaking strategy

by Ben Cohen                   JNS


The morning after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first official meeting with President Donald Trump, multiple headlines proclaimed Feb. 16 that the two-state solution­whereby an independent, sovereign Palestinian state would be created alongside the state of Israel within agreed and final borders­was, if not quite dead, fast approaching death’s door.

I want to suggest that those who interpret the outcome of the Trump-Bibi meeting in that manner should dig a little deeper. There is something of a revolution in thinking and approach going on, and what’s being overturned is what you might call the “Palestine First” strategy of regional peacemaking. But that doesn’t have to mean that a solution involving Palestinian sovereignty has been extinguished.

The idea of “Palestine First” was rooted in the mid 1960s, just before the Six-Day War, when Yasser Arafat and his comrades in the Fatah movement took over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)­until that point, the PLO had been an instrument of the Arab League. By asserting Palestinian independence from Arab collective decision-making, Arafat set the stage for a violent struggle against Israel in the name of Palestinian “return” and full sovereignty from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

It took thousands of deaths and several bitter wars for Arafat to realize that his armed struggle was doomed to failure. In 1990, the “Palestine First” strategy took a heavy blow when Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in Iraq invaded Kuwait­an intra-Arab dispute suddenly toppled the Palestinian issue in the hierarchy of Arab priorities. Following the First Gulf War, Israel’s representatives met face to face with the Arab states and the PLO in Madrid, launching a lengthy, inconclusive peace process.

In parallel, however, the “Palestine First” strategy was resurrected when the Norwegian government opened a secret channel between the Israelis and the PLO, resulting in the 1994 Gaza–Jericho Agreement­a follow-up treaty to the 1993 Oslo Accords­which created the Palestinian Authority (PA) and was designed to set the Palestinians on the road to full statehood. More than 20 years and one brutal civil war later, the Palestinians are still ruled by a divided leadership and not a unified state.

That period includes, of course, the eight years in which President Barack Obama was in office. In marked contrast to his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama elevated the Palestinian issue to the center of Middle East politics, further antagonizing Israel by rehabilitating Iran, which explicitly seeks the elimination of the Jewish state, as an international actor through the 2015 nuclear deal. But neither Obama nor Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry could deliver on Palestinian statehood, and the Palestinian leadership embarked on an international campaign to seek unilateral recognition of their independence in various United Nations and international agencies.

That embittered and failed strategy, which saw Palestinian representatives verbally assaulting the historical and religious connections of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and the land of Israel, is the principal memory of the Obama years when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian dimension of the region’s multiple conflicts. It didn’t deliver for anybody, and served only to deepen Israeli fears of Palestinian eliminationism, as evidenced on a minute-by-minute basis in Palestinian school textbooks, on Palestinian TV and across the internet.

This is the environment that Trump walked into when he became president. Were Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) or Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), or Hillary Clinton, in the White House, I’d wager that they would all conclude­as Trump has, in the language that makes the most sense to him­that the current version of the “Palestine First” playbook should be tossed aside. “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said Feb. 15.

“Palestine First” never meant that the Palestinians should rank at the top of the Middle East’s myriad national and religious struggles. It meant acknowledging that the absence of full Palestinian sovereignty, and the unfulfilled demand for the “return” of all the Arab refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants, lay at the heart of the region’s ills. It is that assumption that was so dramatically exploded by the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu.

The Middle East has gone through several extraordinary transformations in the last 20 years, whose cumulative effect has been to question whether the current state system in the region can even survive. Nobody can seriously make the argument that creating a Palestinian state in this context would be a boon for peace, neither with Israel nor more broadly. Nobody­save, perhaps, for a racist­could argue that the Palestinian birthrate poses a greater threat to Israel’s existence than does Iran and its Hezbollah ally in Syria and Lebanon. Nobody can make the moral or strategic case that resolving the question of Palestinian independence is of greater import than, say, that of Kurdish independence, or the profound lack of religious freedom, or the crying need to generate economic and educational opportunities for the youth of the Arab world.

The regional approach to peacemaking outlined by Trump and Netanyahu, grounded in a partnership between Israel and the Sunni Arab states, is foremost a recognition that there are grave problems that run across the borders created in the aftermath of World War I. If Israel is to achieve peace with the Palestinians, and if the Palestinians are to finally turn their Authority into something resembling a functional, accountable state, then those Arab states that are yet to make their own peace with Israel have to lead the way. Doing so will finally unravel the illusion that, just by existing, Israel is the source of the region’s crisis. Should that moment arrive, I hope that everyone ­Arabs and Jews alike­ will find it liberating.

Labor troika fails to see the roadblocks in Palestine

by Michael Danby            The Australian



Fairfax assembled a cast of old predictables ­ Bob Carr, Gareth Evans and even Bob Hawke ­ to sound the siren call that Australia should unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state.

That would reward a Palestinian leadership that has three times walked away from Israeli peace offers on borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem, and encourage it to keep dodging direct negotiations with the Israelis.

Former US president Bill Clinton described the opportunity missed by the Palestinians during the US-brokered peace talks in 2000 and 2001 in the following terms: “(Yasser) Arafat’s rejection of my proposal after (Ehud) Barak accepted it was an error of historic proportions.” The Israelis and Palestinians issued a joint statement saying: “The sides declare they have never been closer to reaching an agreement and it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with the resumption of negotiations.”

Labor supports the right of Israel to live in peace with secure borders with international recognition. It also supports the aspiration for a Palestinian state to exist in peace and security. It believes this can be accomplished through mutual recognition and via an agreement directly negotiated between the parties.

The ALP national platform on Palestine, adopted in 2015, commits Labor to the following:

“If however there is no progress in the next round of the peace process, a future Labor government will discuss joining like-minded nations who have already recognised Palestine and announ­cing conditions and time lines for the Australian recognition of a Palestinian state, with the objective of contributing to peace and security in the Middle East.”

Unfortunately even in the peace talks in 2014, according to US mediator Martin Indyk, Benjamin Netanyahu was “sweating bullets” for an agreement, but Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas just walked away.

Labor and Coalition governments have long supported a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict.

Hawke’s analysis of the conflict included a surprising throwaway that the Palestinians are the “indigenous” people of the Holy Land.

How could anyone, let alone a former prime minister, ignore the plethora of historical documents and archeological artefacts that attest to the unbroken chain of Hebrew, Israelite and Jewish language, culture, religion and civilisation in the Holy Land over the past 3250 years? Our common Judeo-Christian heritage attests to thousands of years of Jewish ties to the Holy Land. Judaism predates Islam by more than 2000 years, especially in geographic areas that now comprise Israel and the West Bank.

Australians and the Labor Party must not view Israel through the prism of one stupid, recent law retroactively legalising “adverse possession”, a law that may well be overturned by Israel’s High Court.

If we are to fetishise about settlements we should equally praise the Israelis for the 3000 Israeli police who dismantled the illegal Jewish outpost of Amona just last week.

Labor notables who insist we only view the Middle East through the distorted prism of settlements discount the strong Australia-­Israel relationship. Trade between Israel and Australia amounts to $1.2 billion. Bilateral dealings in fields of aid and development also include ongoing hi-tech, scientific and medical research. Our security relationship also helps to preserve the safety of everyday Australians from crazies such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic State ­ groups that are classified by the Australian parliament as terrorist organisations.

Israel is a creative bastion, perhaps the epicentre of the world’s technological revolution. In Tel Aviv, 150,000 gay people can peacefully parade.

Equally the same number can light the Christmas trees in Bethlehem or Jaffa, where the only growing population of Christians in the Middle East lives without fear or discrimination. Surely our three wise men understand this context?

Israel is an island of freedom in a Middle East beset by war, genocide, economic failure and ugly sexual violence. As former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said in explaining the US’s abstention in the Security Council on the resolution Hawke mentions ­ “even if every single settlement were to be dismantled tomorrow, peace still would not be attainable without both sides ­acknowledging uncomfortable truths and making difficult choices”. No serious statesman can ignore the regional morass in which this tiny, peaceful, tolerant, technological country lives.

If you were an Israeli who would have to live in peace with your Palestinian neighbours, would you risk another Hamas takeover in the West Bank to please Carr or Evans or the goody-two-shoes New Zealanders?

Recognising the myopic state of Palestine will do nothing to encourage the Palestinians whose adamant continuing refusal to negotiate directly with their Israeli counterparts is the key blockage to peace.

Being rude to the first sitting Israeli prime minster to visit Australia will not serve Australia’s interests.

Sincere engagement with the Israelis will be taken seriously ­ and that is what mainstream Labor should advocate.

An indefensible law that weakens Israel

by Irwin Cotler              The Times of Israel

Irwin Cotler is a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, and emeritus professor of law at McGill [More]


If the Israeli Settlements Law seeking to retroactively validate unauthorized outpost settlements on private Palestinian property was not prejudicial enough, there is now a follow-up proposal by some Israeli Ministers to curb the authority of the Supreme Court itself, long-regarded as a centerpiece for the protection of the rule of law in Israel. As former Prime Minister Menachem Begin put it in an oft-quoted but compelling statement – “Yesh shoftim b’Yerushalayim ­ there are judges in Jerusalem,” reflecting not only respect for the Supreme Court, but for the Court’s decision in 1979 to declare the Elon Moreh settlement illegal. As the Prime Minister added and which is less well-known, “naturally we shall not make any announcements, which are completely unnecessary, saying that the Supreme Court’s decision should be respected. They are unnecessary, because this goes without saying.”

Let me make full disclosure at the outset: I was a strong proponent of the adoption in 1992 of the Israeli Basic Law on “Human Dignity and Freedom,” which ushered in what has been characterized as Israel’s “Constitutional Revolution,” not unlike Canada’s Constitutional Revolution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms of ten years earlier, and on which the Israeli initiative itself drew. Simply put, these Basic Laws in both countries transformed each from Parliamentary democracies to Constitutional democracies. The Supreme Court in each country was vested with the power to declare parliamentary legislation unconstitutional not because the Court sought that power – let alone usurped it – but because parliamentary enactments in each case vested the Courts with that power.

Indeed, as a longtime Canadian Parliamentarian – let alone former Minister of Justice and Attorney General – I am not unmindful of concerns expressed by parliamentarians also in Canada about this constitutional transition which has not always been accepted or understood. In a word, we moved in both countries from the sovereignty of Parliament to the sovereignty of the Constitution, with the Supreme Court having the central role in the interpretation and application of parliamentary legislation for the purpose – as authorized by Parliament itself – of protecting the constitution and upholding the rule of law.

Moreover, as someone who has appeared many times before the Israeli Supreme Court, I have respected its role as a guardian of the Israeli constitution, of the rule of law, and of civil liberties in Israel; and as someone who has worked in the international parliamentary and diplomatic arena, I know also of the respect that the international community has had for Israeli constitutionalism, democracy, and the protection of the rule of law, and the importance of the judiciary in underpinning all these values.

Regrettably, the tabling and timing of the Israeli Settlements Law has undercut and diminished the understanding – let alone respect – for the Israeli case and cause, prejudiced Israeli international diplomacy, and perhaps most important, undermined respect for the rule of law, civil liberties, and the protection of minority rights in Israel.

First, as to the appreciation of the justice of the Israeli case and cause, the Settlements Law has emboldened the perception of those who view the “illegality of Israeli Settlements” as the core of the conflict, if not also the primary obstacle to peace. It has thereby deflected, if not obscured, the mainstream Israeli position – even of those who are critical of settlement policy – that Palestinian rejectionism of Israeli statehood is the core of the conflict. Regrettably, the Knesset Law – and its settler support – is a classic example of one’s “being hoisted by their own petard”.

Second, and again as much a matter of timing as tabling, the legislation has undercut Israeli diplomacy at the very moment that Israel is intensely engaged in it. For example, the legislation was tabled on the very day Prime Minister Netanyahu was meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, which overshadowed the content and core of the meeting, transforming it from one of support for Israel – with Prime Minister Theresa May invoking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in referencing the UK’s longstanding support for a Jewish homeland – to one of focus on the settlements as an obstacle to peace.

This has been paralleled by similar statements from other governments and political leaders including, in particular, German leaders, who in an almost unprecedented rebuke said that Germany’s trust in Israel was “deeply shaken,” while Chancellor Angela Merkel has now canceled the traditional high-level bilateral cabinet government meetings that were scheduled to take place between German and Israeli government leaders. Indeed, the European Union, which was about to hold a summit on deepening relations with Israel and creating a work plan for this purpose – after an almost five year hiatus in this regard – has decided to postpone this high-level meeting, which was much more prejudicial to Israel than the putative advantage this settlement legislation might otherwise bring to its supporters.

Indeed, and as a corollary, in the matter of public diplomacy, one can cite chapter and verse as to how the discourse respecting Israel has now focused on the “illegality” of settlements as the obstacle to peace, thereby, ironically, giving retroactive validation to the otherwise discriminatory UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Clearly, the UN Security Council Resolution was more than just about the illegality of the settlements and often read as a prosecutorial indictment that invited further internationalization of the conflict if not criminalization of Israel in the international arena. But the Settlements Law has now been incorporated by reference in the ripostes by disparate political actors, from the UN Secretary-General to the European Union, to governments themselves, while providing fodder for the NGO community as well.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Settlements Law has invited critiques – if not outright condemnation, often by those who admittedly held these positions anyway – of Israel’s core values of democracy, the promotion of the rule of law, the protection of civil liberties, and the securing of minority rights. Indeed, the critique has drawn sustenance from the refusal of the Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to defend the law before the Israeli Supreme Court – with suggestion that he may appear before the Court in opposition to the Law – and where he has otherwise characterized the Settlements Law as both a violation of Israeli domestic law as well as international law including the Geneva Convention.

This refusal by the Attorney General – in whom is vested the authority to both counsel the Government on the constitutionality of its actions and to represent the Government before the Supreme Court – constitutes a damning indictment of the illegality of the Israeli action and its defiance of Supreme Court principle and precedent in these matters, a view otherwise shared by the Government’s own lawyers.

Regrettably, the illegality of the government action and its persistence in pursuing it before the courts (admittedly, with some who voted for it for domestic political reasons, hoping that the court would rescue them from their political actions) have invited allegations of Israel as an “apartheid state” – even from supporters of Israel. Such a characterization unfortunately lends credence to Israel’s adversaries’ invoking of the same epithet.

In arguing against the Settlements Law, Israeli critics have also raised the specter of Israel being hauled before the International Criminal Court, ignoring that the ICC might otherwise not have jurisdiction to hear any case involving Israel (given that the Palestinian Authority is not yet a state and that the illegality of the settlements does not rise to the “gravity” of the offense required for purposes of ICC jurisdiction). But their very allegations, while designed to deter the Settlements Law, inadvertently risk becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy by inviting ICC jurisdiction, unjustified as such a step would be.

As I write these words, Government Minister Yariv Levin – speaking at a special Knesset plenum discussion marking the 68th anniversary of the Knesset and in the presence of Supreme Court President Miriam Naor – warned the Supreme Court against pronouncing on the legislation. Said Levin, there’s no other example in the world of this situation in which the Court is granting itself ­ without any proper legal regulation ­ the authority to strike down laws that passed the Parliament.”

Minister Levin is wrong both as a matter of fact and law. Indeed, it was an Israeli Parliamentary law – the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom – that, inter alia, invests the Supreme Court with the authority to do this – and where the Government and Parliament had previously acknowledged and respected this authority in general and with regard to such cases in particular. Ironically enough, however – or perhaps not so ironically, but revealingly – it may yet be the Supreme Court of Israel that will relieve and rescue Israel from the political, diplomatic, and legal morass that this Settlement legislation has created.

Simply put, in striking down the law, the Supreme Court can both vindicate the importance of the rule of law and Israeli Constitutionalism, as well as validate the independence of the Supreme Court from the assaults upon it. And more: the Supreme Court will be the very instrument that would pre-empt and preclude any recourse to the International Criminal Court – even if one were to claim that it has jurisdiction – as if the Palestinian Authority were a state – for ICC jurisdiction presupposes that a country does not have an independent legal process that can protect the rule of law – otherwise known as the complementarity principle under international law. One may be able to say yet again, as Prime Minister Begin put it, “Yesh shoftim b’yerushalayim.”

Palestinian Assault on Freedoms

by Khaled Abu Toameh        The Gatestone Institute


The Palestinians seem to be marching towards establishing a regime that is remarkably reminiscent of the despotic and corrupt Arab and Islamic governments.

By failing — or, more accurately, refusing — to hold the PA accountable for its crackdown on public freedoms, American and European taxpayers actively contribute to the emergence of another Arab dictatorship in the Middle East.

Palestinian professor Abdel Sattar Qassem, who teaches political science at An-Najah University in Nablus, is facing trial for “extending his tongue” against PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior PA officials.

Many Palestinians used to say that their dream is that one day they would have a free media and democracy like their neighbors in Israel. But thanks to the apathy of the international community, Palestinians have come to learn that if and when they ever have their own state, its role model will not be Israel or any Western democracy, but the regimes of repression that control the Arab and Muslim world.

A novelist, a journalist and a university professor walk into a bar. Sounds like a joke, but it stops being funny when these three figures are the latest victims of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) crackdown on public freedoms, above all, freedom of expression.

The crackdown is yet more proof of the violent intolerance that the Western-funded PA has long shown its critics.

It is also a sad reminder that more than two decades after the foundation of the PA, Palestinians are as far from democracy as ever. In fact, the Palestinians seem to be marching in the opposite direction — towards establishing a regime that is remarkably reminiscent of the despotic and corrupt Arab and Islamic governments.

PA officials like to boast that Palestinians living under their rule in the West Bank enjoy a great deal of freedom of expression, especially compared to the situation under Hamas in the Gaza Strip. However, a good look at the actions of the PA and its various security branches shows that they are not much different than those enforced by Hamas.

Sometimes it even seems as if the PA and Hamas are competing to see which one of them can most successfully silence critics and cracks down on journalists. This is the sad reality in which Palestinians living under the rule of these two parties have found themselves.

While it is understandable why an extremist Islamic movement like Hamas would seek to muzzle its critics, there is no reason why a PA government funded by Americans and Europeans should not be held accountable for persecuting dissidents and throwing objectors into prison.

By failing — or, more accurately, refusing — to hold the PA accountable for its crackdown on public freedoms, American and European taxpayers actively contribute to the emergence of another Arab dictatorship in the Middle East.

Hundreds of Western-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs), operating in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, pay scant attention to the real problems facing Palestinians as a result of the actions of their PA and Hamas governments. The same applies to Western mainstream media and human rights organizations and advocates.

This willful neglect by the West encourages the Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to continue repressing their own people. There are times, however, when the international community pays attention to the plight of Palestinians: when the complaints concern Israel.

The PA government bans a Palestinian novel and confiscates copies from bookstores. Where is the outcry? There is none to be heard from the international community – because Israel was not behind the incident.

This is what happened last week when the PA Prosecutor-General issued an order banning the novel “Crime in Ramallah” by the author Abbad Yahya under the pretext that it contained “indecent texts and terms that threaten morality and public decency, which could affect the public, in particular minors.”

Yahya said he was summoned for questioning and his editor, Fuad Al-Aklik, was detained for 24 hours. PA policemen raided several bookshops in a number of Palestinian cities and confiscated all copies. The author, who is on a visit to Qatar, has since received multiple death threats and is afraid to return home.

The decision to ban the novel prompted 99 Palestinian writers, academics and researchers to sign a petition criticizing the PA authorities and calling for rescinding the ban. The petition called on the PA to cancel its punitive measures, which “cause harm to the Palestinians and their struggle for freedom from oppression, dictatorship and censorship.” The petition warned that the ban was a “grave breach of freedom of expression and creativity” and creates a situation where authors are forced to practice self-censorship.

The petition signed by the prominent Palestinians does not seem to have left an impression on the PA leadership in Ramallah.

Undeterred, PA security forces arrested journalist Sami Al-Sai, from the city of Tulkarem in the northern West Bank, for allegedly posting critical comments on Facebook. The PA has accused Al-Sai, who works as a correspondent for a private television station, of “fomenting sectarian strife.”

This is an accusation that is often leveled against journalists or authors who dare to criticize the PA leadership. A PA court has ordered Al-Sai remanded into custody for 15 days. Protests by some Palestinian journalists against the arrest of their colleague have thus far fallen on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, Palestinian professor Abdel Sattar Qassem, who teaches political science at An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus, is facing trial for “extending his tongue” against PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior PA officials. He is also charged with spreading “fake news” and “fomenting sectarian strife.” The decision to prosecute Qassem came following a TV interview where he strongly criticized Abbas and commanders of the PA security forces. Qassem has long been a vocal critic of the PA leadership and as a result he has been arrested on a number of occasions; shots have been fired at his home.

Professor Abdul Sattar Qassem (left) is facing trial for “extending his tongue” against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) and other senior PA officials.

These three cases are only the tip of an iceberg of oppression. It is very difficult to distinguish between Mahmoud Abbas’s government and the Arab and Islamic dictatorships, where human rights violations and assaults on public freedoms are the established norm. In his despotic behavior, Abbas has also shown himself to be rather akin to his clampdown-prone predecessor, Yasser Arafat.

Dr. Khalil Assaf, member of the Palestinian Public Freedoms Committee in the West Bank, accused the PA of systematic assaults on public freedoms and human rights.

He noted, for example, that refusing to issue or renew passports was one the measures taken by the PA to punish its opponents. He also accused the PA of “inventing” a law that authorizes its governors to order the detention without trial of any Palestinian. He pointed out that although the Palestinian High Court had ruled that this law was illegal, the PA governors continue to use it to detain Palestinians.

“Palestinians are being detained for days without being brought before a judge and houses are being searched without warrants,” Dr. Assaf complained. “Detainees are often prevented from contacting their families to inform them of their incarceration.” He also noted that Palestinians are sometimes denied driving licenses or jobs because of their political activities. Palestinians are also being detained or summoned for interrogation because of their posts on Facebook, he added.

Many Palestinians used to say that their dream is that one day they would have a free media and democracy like their neighbors in Israel. But thanks to the apathy of the international community, the Palestinians have come to learn that if and when they ever have their own state, its role model will not be Israel or any Western democracy, but the regimes of repression that control the Arab and Muslim world.