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Latest Israel News – 23rd February

Netanyahu visit: Israel PM praises Malcolm Turnbull for calling out UN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull for calling out the “hypocrisy” of the United Nations.

Mr Turnbull rebuked the UN for adopting what he labelled “one-sided” resolutions that are critical of Israel’s settlements in Palestinian territories.

Those comments, outlined in an opinion piece in The Australian newspaper, were welcomed by Mr Netanyahu on the first day of his Australian visit.

“I wasn’t surprised by the friendship expressed in the article but I had no advance warning so when I landed I was given the paper, I was delighted to read it,” Mr Netanyahu said.

Is ‘two-state solution’ fiction?

Many took the permits granted for 560 units to be built in three areas of East Jerusalem as further evidence the “two state solution” is drifting towards fiction, writes Philip Williams.

“Australia has been courageously willing to puncture UN hypocrisy more than once.

“The UN is capable of many absurdities and I think it’s important that you have straightforward and clear-eyed countries like Australia that often bring it back to earth.”

Mr Netanyahu is the first sitting Israeli leader to visit Australia and discussed security, science and technology issues with Prime Minister Turnbull.

Mr Netanyahu said Australia was a “very good” friend to Israeli and the trip was “a long time coming”.

Mr Turnbull reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, but said the Government would not join those seeking to chastise Israel alone for the failure of that peace process.

At one point, Mr Turnbull physically turned towards Mr Netanyahu and suggested it could be a good time to restart negotiations with Palestinian authorities.

Bibi and Turnbull

Benjamin Netanyahu and Malcolm Turnbull at Admiralty House

“I agree with you in that the circumstances of the times in your area… do appear to create the opportunity where perhaps the moons are aligning such that this could be a good time to come back to the table and reach an agreement,” he said.

“But of course as with any agreement it needs two to tango.”

The two sides have not had any substantive peace talks since 2014.

Mr Netanyahu also hit out at calls by former Labor luminaries Bob Hawke, Kevin Rudd and Bob Carr, who urged for Australia to recognise Palestine as a state.

“I prefer not to deal with labels but with substance and I ask both former prime ministers what kind of state will it be that they’re advocating? A state that calls for Israel’s destruction? A state whose territory will be used immediately for radical Islam?”

The tension within the ALP about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been simmering for some time.

The 2015 ALP National Conference passed a motion that said if there was no progress towards a two-state solution, then a future Labor government would “discuss joining like-minded nations who have already recognised Palestinian territories”.  (ABC News)

Initial report: Israel Air Force strikes Damascus overnight

Reports claimed on Wednesday morning that the IDF struck targets in the Syrian capital overnight at least twice.

According to Lebanese media, the targets that were hit are affiliated with the Assad regime and are on the outskirts of the capital.

The report also claimed that the IDF struck from within Lebanon so as not to be blocked by the Russian defense systems operating in the area.

Syrian media reports suggest that the attack was aimed at Hezbollah weapons. Syrian witnesses have attested to hearing “loud explosion sounds” in the early morning hours.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit declined to comment on the reports.

The alleged attack comes after a week during which Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah made several aggressive statements in an appearance on Iranian television as well as in interviews with the Lebanese media.

The terror organization’s leader threatened to attack Israel in the near future, saying that “Hezbollah will have no red lines in the next war with Israel,” and also warned Israel from entering into a conflict with Hezbollah: “Israel should think a million times before it goes to war with Lebanon.” (Jerusalem Post)

For Israel, the new road to peace runs through Mecca

by Maajid Nawaz            The Times of Israel Blog


New times mean time for new thinking. It is in this same spirit that  Benjamin Netanyahu followed Theresa May to America.

A key achievement of the Israeli leader’s visit was a symbolic reset of U.S.-Israel ties, an end to the Obama years of barely disguised mutual contempt and a return to the friendship under G.W. Bush.

And for all my reservations around Trump and Netanyahu, these strange times do provide us with an opportunity to push for innovative solutions to the Middle East peace process.

We certainly owe it to stateless Palestinians and war-weary Israelis to try.

The Middle East has changed so much through war in the last eight years since Obama’s presidency that alliances previously thought laughable now seem a necessity.

Russian and Iranian meddling in Syria has been unpopular, as has Iran’s decision to deploy its terrorist Hezbollah militia to Assad’s aid.

The Saudis are not happy, but Israel and Hezbollah happen to be bitter enemies too.

Obama’s sanctions deal with Iran was criticised deeply by the Saudis, as it was by the Israelis.

Iran’s recent missile test may have Israel in its range, but it firmly has Saudi Arabia in its sights over Yemen.  The Saudis and the Israelis are also unified in their desire to prevent a nuclear Iran.

Are you noticing a pattern here yet? For Israel there is an opportunity here.

With the emergence of ISIS, the war in Syria, the sectarian crisis in Iraq, the rise of the Kurds and the civil war in Yemen, a new fault line has emerged demarcating bitter foes locked in a fierce struggle for regional hegemony.

Muslim-majority states have been fighting within and between each other while Israel was neither the cause, nor was she involved.

This is a regional proxy war fought between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia rallies its gulf Arab allies, its Sunni Muslim regional partners like Turkey and its historic ties to America.

Iran, on the other hand, musters support from the Shia Muslim governments of Iraq and Syria, its proxy militias in the Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Yemen- based Houthis, backed up by Putin’s Russia.

Israel, with its existing alliances and animosities, fits squarely in the U.S.-Saudi camp.

Ever since the failed Camp David accords under Bill Clinton, conventional wisdom has been that peace must be sought and secured between Israelis and Palestinians first, before other Arab and Muslim-majority states recognise Israel.

New regional priorities and a lingering Israeli-Palestinian deadlock necessitate creative thinking to break the stalemate.

For Israel, the new road to peace could run through Mecca. This is known as the “outside-in” approach.

Regional peace could achieve local peace.

This year, under their young deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia will undergo some internal economic and social reforms.

As oil prices drop and as alternative energy grows in demand, the Saudis have recognised that their oil days are numbered. They desperately need to open up.

But with his overtures to Iran and a ‘lead from behind’ approach to the Syria crisis, Obama antagonised the Saudis, as well as most regional Sunni Muslim powers.

Enter Trump.

Trump’s energy policies, and his secretary of state pick in oil baron Rex Tillerson, may mean many things to the rest of us, but to the Saudis they are a godsend.

Against every bone in my body that aches over climate change, even I here must concede that an asset for peace is an asset for peace.

A US-Saudi reboot under Trump is eagerly anticipated in Riyadh, and an Israeli-Saudi alliance against Iran already informally exists.

This presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for America under Trump to kickstart formal peace talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel, linked to economic cooperation between the three nations, conditional to a permanent peace being negotiated in the West Bank with Palestinians.

The Saudis desperately need regional allies against their main foe Iran.They need economic trade and diversification  and they need military alliances to contain Iran.  Israel’s economic and military assets and interests meet these needs perfectly.

In return, Israel gains legal regional recognition from the custodians of the Prophet’s mosque, and a Sunni Arab consensus over the protection of its West Bank border, policed perhaps by Arab League, Egyptian, Jordanian or UN forces.

This could also release the pressure valve inside Israel. Netanyahu can pull back on settlement expansion and halt the relocation of America’s embassy to Jerusalem, in the name of pursuing universal peace. It serves domestic Arab reform too.

There is not a single crime that Israel stands accused of that an Arab totalitarian despot or absolute monarch has not committed manifold times and on a daily basis.

From torture and occupation, to proxy wars in foreign countries, to treating non-citizens –including Palestinians – as second class, to a lack of democracy, Arab despots top it all.

Israel has been the perennial “what about” excuse used by Arab despots seeking to silence their domestic opponents as “Zionist collaborators.”

A universal peace between Israel and these Arab regimes would finally do away with this.

A critical mass of Arabs, Muslims and leftists still struggle with Israel’s historic legitimacy, leading us all to constantly overplay our hand in peace negotiations.

Like a broken record, we are guilty of repetitive sloganeering, lazy thinking, emotional decision-making, and a dogmatic approach to what should be the art of politics.

We have allowed our political, religious, and ideological tribalism to shape our emotional response.

Our unwillingness to hear outside our own echo chambers has severely limited our ability to innovate solutions. It is post-truth.

When new thinking on any issue is instantly labeled treacherous, only inward looking violently inbred and dogmatic ideologies such as jihadism can thrive.

All the more reason why creative thinking on this issue among Arabs, Muslims, and the left generally is so important. Peace is more important than our pride.

The Offer that Turns the Gaza Strip into Singapore

by Bassam Tawil              The Gatestone Institute


Last week, Hamas received an offer that no sane entity would turn down. The offer did not come from Hamas’s allies in Iran and the Islamic world. The offer, to turn the impoverished Gaza Strip into “the Singapore of the Middle East,” came from Israel.

“The Gazans must understand that Israel, which withdrew from the Gaza Strip to the last millimeter, is not the source of their suffering — it is the Hamas leadership, which doesn’t take their needs into consideration… The moment Hamas gives up its tunnels and rockets, we’ll be the first to invest.” ­ Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Hamas does not want a new “Singapore” in the Middle East. Hamas wants Israel to disappear from the face of the earth. The welfare of the Palestinians living under its rule is the last thing on the mind of Hamas. The dispute is not about improving the living conditions of Palestinians, as far as Hamas is concerned. Instead, it is about the very existence of Israel.

Hamas deserves credit for one thing: its honesty concerning its intentions to destroy Israel and kill as many Jews as possible. Hamas does not want 40,000 new jobs for the unemployed poor Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It would rather see these unemployed Palestinians join its ranks and become soldiers in the jihad to replace Israel with an Islamic empire.

The Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas has once again demonstrated its priorities: killing Jews. That clearly takes precedence over easing the plight of the two million Palestinians living under its rule in the Gaza Strip.

Since Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, the conditions of the Palestinians living there have gone from bad to worse. Crisis after crisis has hit those under the Hamas rule; electricity and water as well as lack of medicine and proper medical care are in dangerously short supply.

Disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have left the Gaza Strip dangerously short of fuel, resulting in massive power outages. Palestinians there consequently have had to resort to using wood for cooking and heating. Hamas, which has brought about three wars that wreaked havoc on its people, is unable to provide them with basic needs.

Last week, Hamas received an offer that no sane entity would turn down. It is to be noted that the offer did not come from Hamas’s friends and allies in Iran and the Arab and Islamic world. Rather, the offer, which promises to turn the Gaza Strip, where most residents live in the poverty of “refugee camps,” into “the Singapore of the Middle East,” came from Israel.

Specifically, the offer was made by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who proposed building a seaport and an airport, as well as industrial zones that would help create 40,000 jobs in the Gaza Strip, if Hamas agreed to demilitarization and to dismantling the tunnels and rocket systems it has built up.

“The Gazans must understand that Israel, which withdrew from the Gaza Strip to the last millimeter, is not the source of their suffering — it is the Hamas leadership, which doesn’t take their needs into consideration,” Lieberman said in a televised message to the residents of the Gaza Strip. “The moment Hamas gives up its tunnels and rockets, we’ll be the first to invest.”

Only Israel has ever made such an offer to Hamas. Such a plan would vastly improve the living conditions of the Gaza Strip population. All Hamas is required to do is abandon its weapons and plans to kill Jews, and return the bodies of missing Israeli soldiers.

A seaport and an airport would place the Gaza Strip on the global map and open it to investors not only from Israel, but from many other countries as well. Arab and Islamic states, however, are unlikely to rush in to invest in Gaza because, by and large, they despise the Palestinians. One of these countries, Egypt, imposes strict travel restrictions on the Palestinians in Gaza by keeping the Rafah border crossing closed for most days of the year. The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are considered personae non gratae in many Arab and Islamic countries. Why? Perhaps because they see them as a security threat. Or perhaps simply because they hate their Arab brothers.

Still, there is no shortage of investors in the West who, if given the opportunity and the proper political climate, would not hesitate to invest their money in the Gaza Strip.

Sadly for the residents of Gaza, none of this is going to happen. Their leaders in Hamas, some of whom have accumulated large fortunes and are living comfortable lives in oil-rich Gulf countries, are not interested in alleviating their people’s misery. On the contrary; Hamas wants its people suffering, as bitter Palestinians are perfect candidates for recruitment to the jihad (holy war) against Israel, the Jews and the West.

Whither the future of Gaza: to be “the Singapore of the Middle East,” or to more terrorism and war? Sadly, Hamas does not want a new “Singapore” in the Middle East. Hamas wants Israel to disappear from the face of the earth. The welfare of Palestinians living under its rule is the last thing on the mind of Hamas.

But all of this takes some spin — at which Hamas, like its rival, the Palestinian Authority, is masterful. Whatever goes wrong in their territories as a result of their failed policies, Israel is to blame.

Israel’s latest offer to clean up the murderous mess that is now the Gaza Strip was rejected within hours of its delivery. One Hamas spokesman after the other made it clear that the Islamic movement is not interested in turning the Gaza Strip into “the Singapore of the Middle East,” but rather wishes to maintain its current status as a base for jihad and the promotion of extremist ideology, anti-Semitism and anti-Western sentiments.

Why did Hamas reject an offer for a seaport, airport and tens of thousands of jobs for Palestinians? Because Hamas does not see its conflict with Israel as an economic issue. The dispute is not about improving the living conditions of Palestinians, as far as Hamas is concerned. Instead, it is about the very existence of Israel.

“The Israeli offer is a silly one,” explained Palestinian political analyst Ibrahim Al-Madhoun. “Hamas rejected it because Hamas does not wish to turn the case of liberating the land and Palestinians into an economic issue.”

To clarify further: Hamas does not want a new “Singapore” in the Middle East. Hamas wants Israel to disappear from the Middle East and ideally from the face of the earth. The welfare of Palestinians living under its rule is the last thing on the mind of Hamas.

Strikingly, Hamas leaders openly admit all of this. “If we wanted to turn the Gaza Strip into Singapore, we could have achieved that with our own hands,” declared senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar. He went on to say that Hamas is continuing to prepare for war with Israel in order to “liberate all of Palestine.”

The “settlements,” to them, are not Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem; they are Haifa, Jaffa (Tel Aviv), all of Jerusalem, all of Israel. Just look at any map of Palestine: the outline is identical to — superimposed on — Israel.

Hamas deserves credit for one thing: its honesty concerning its intentions to destroy Israel and kill as many Jews as possible. Hamas does not want 40,000 new jobs for the poor unemployed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It would rather see these unemployed Palestinians join its ranks and become soldiers in the jihad to replace Israel with an Islamic empire.

Palestinian leaders are experts at rejecting Israeli gestures and offers for peace. While Hamas continues to say “no” to ending the suffering of the people living under its thumb, the Palestinian Authority continues to reject various Israeli offers for peace. In the past two decades, Palestinian leaders have rejected the advances of all Israeli prime ministers who offered them concessions and compromise. Indeed, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority share a deadly determination to sacrifice as many Palestinians as possible in their war to destroy Israel.

Israel Does Not Cause Anti-Semitism

by Alan M. Dershowitz                      The Gatestone Institute


In a recent letter to the New York Times, the current Earl of Balfour, Roderick Balfour, argued that it is Israel’s fault that there is “growing anti-Semitism around the world.” Balfour, who is a descendent of Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary who wrote the Balfour Declaration a hundred years ago, wrote the following: “the increasing inability of Israel to address [the condition of Palestinians], coupled with the expansion into Arab territory of the Jewish settlements, are major factors in growing anti-Semitism around the world.” He argued further that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “owes it to the millions of Jews around the world” who suffer anti-Semitism, to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This well-intentioned but benighted view is particularly ironic in light of the fact that the Balfour Declaration had, as one of its purposes, to end anti-Semitism around the world by creating a homeland for the Jewish people. But now the scion of Lord Balfour is arguing that it is Israel that is causing anti-Semitism.

Roderick Balfour’s views are simply wrong both as a matter of fact and as a matter of morality. Anyone who hates Jews “around the world” because they disagree with the policy of Israel would be ready to hate Jews on the basis of any pretext. Modern day anti-Semites, unlike their forbearers, need to find excuses for their hatred, and anti-Zionism has become the excuse de jure.

To prove the point, let us consider other countries: has there been growing anti-Chinese feelings around the world as the result of China’s occupation of Tibet? Is there growing hatred of Americans of Turkish background because of Turkey’s unwillingness to end the conflict in Cypress? Do Europeans of Russian background suffer bigotry because of Russia’s invasion of Crimea? The answer to all these questions is a resounding no. If Jews are the only group that suffers because of controversial policies by Israel, then the onus lies on the anti-Semites rather than on the nation state of the Jewish people.

Moreover, Benjamin Netanyahu’s responsibility is to the safety and security of Israelis. Even if it were true that anti-Semitism is increasing as the result of Israeli policies, no Israeli policy should ever be decided based on the reaction of bigots around the world. Anti-Semitism, the oldest of bigotries, will persist as long as it is seen to be justified by apologists like Roderick Balfour. Thought Balfour does not explicitly justify anti-Semitism, the entire thrust of his letter is that Jew hatred is at least understandable in light of Israel’s policies.

Balfour doesn’t say a word about the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to accept Israel’s repeated offers of statehood to the Palestinians. From 1938 through 2008, the Palestinians have been offered and repeatedly rejected agreements that would have given them statehood. Even today, the Palestinian leadership refuses to accept Netanyahu’s offer to sit down and negotiate a final status agreement without any pre-conditions. Nor does Balfour mention Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorists groups that constantly threaten Israel, along with Iran’s publicly declared determination to destroy the state that Lord Balfour helped to create. It’s all Israel’s fault, according to Balfour, and the resulting increase in anti-Semitism is Israel’s fault as well.

Roderick Balfour ends his letter by essentially joining the boycott movement against Israel. He has declared his unwillingness to participate in the Centenary Celebration of the Balfour Declaration, until and unless Israel takes unilateral action to end the conflict. So be it. I am confident that the author of the Balfour Declaration would have willing participated in this celebration, recognizing that no country in history has ever contributed more to the world – in terms of medical, technological, environmental and other innovations — in so short a period of time (69 years) than has Israel. Nor has any country, faced with comparable threats, ever been more generous in its offers of peace, more committed to the Rule of Law, or more protective of civilians who are used as human shields by those who attack its civilians.

So let the Celebration of the Balfour Declaration go forward without the participation of Roderick Balfour. Let Israel continue to offer a peaceful resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians. And let the Palestinians finally come to the bargaining table, and recognize Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish people in the way that the Balfour Declaration intended.

PM Netanyahu arrives in Australia