Israel — Latest News since April 19th 2016

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Distances:Tel Aviv to Jerusalem 63 kms
Tel Aviv to Haifa 95 kms
Source: Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 7th edition — Sir Martin Gilbert;
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor & Francis), 2002;
ISBN: 0415281172 (paperback),
0415281164 (hardback); Map: NPR Online

Extract: Six days and 40 years since Israel asserted itself
Abraham Rabinovich
June 05, 2007

FORTY years after the Six Day War, the consequences of Israel's extraordinary victory are yet to be sorted out. Israel was a tiny Middle Eastern backwater in 1967, with a population of 2.6 million surrounded by a hostile Arab world of 80 million. This disparity seemed to defy the natural order of things and it was a virtual consensus in the Arab world that the Jewish state would fall, sooner rather than later. In Israel itself, the enthusiasm and energy that marked the founding of the state out of the ashes of the Holocaust had been dimmed by the petty problems of getting by in a country with a massive defence burden and a lame economy.

It was the Soviet Union, for reasons never adequately clarified, that lit the fuse that would transform the region. In mid-May 1967, it declared that Israel was massing troops in the north in preparation for an attack on Syria. Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol offered to personally tour the north with the Soviet ambassador to show it wasn't true. The ambassador declined.

There had been small-scale skirmishing between Israel and Syria over the headwaters of the Jordan and Israeli leaders had issued warnings, but there was no massing of troops. Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leading figure in the Arab world, felt impelled to come to Syria's aid by moving his divisions through the Sinai desert towards Israel. With a hostile army deploying on its border, Israel mobilised its reserves.

Nothing happened for more than two weeks. But mobilisation had paralysed the Israeli economy and Jerusalem had to either stand down or strike. On the morning of June 5, Israeli planes, flying low to avoid radar, suddenly rose into the Egyptian skies. Within three hours, the Egyptian air force was destroyed. Soon after, the Jordanian, Syrian and part of the Iraqi air forces were gone, too.

On the third day of the war, the West Bank and Jordanian Jerusalem fell. Syria's Golan Heights followed. The Arab world was stunned, Israel euphoric. The war catapulted Israel into a new era. Brimful of self-confidence and renewed energy, it attracted Jewish immigrants from the West and more than a million from the Soviet Union. Since 1967, Israel's population has tripled to 7.1 million (of whom 1.4 million are Israeli Arabs), its gross national product has grown by 630 per cent and per capita income has almost tripled to $21,000.

A major result of the Six Day War was to persuade the Arab world that Israel was too strong to be defeated. Internalising that view, Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, became in 1970 the first Arab leader to declare readiness to make peace with Israel if it withdrew from all territory it had captured in the Six Day War. Israel insisted, however, on territorial changes.

It took the 1973 Yom Kippur War to persuade Israel to withdraw from all Egyptian territory and for Egypt to agree to peace without insisting on Israel's withdrawal on other fronts as well.

The Oslo accords in 1993, marking the beginning of a dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, also enabled Jordan to make peace with Israel without being accused of betraying the Palestinian cause.

In 2000, Syria announced its readiness for peace. Though negotiations with Damascus broke down, virtually the entire Arab world now accepted the legitimacy, or at least the existence, of the Jewish state in its midst.

But increasing radicalisation has brought to the Palestinian leadership a movement dedicated to Israel's destruction. If there is an answer for Israel, it lies, as in 1967, in bold and imaginative leadership — but this time on the political playing field.

Click here for the whole article.


West Bank Fence

The barrier route as of July 2006.


Extract: Article by Amos Harel,
July 14, 2009

Seven years after construction work began on the West Bank separation fence, the project seems to have run aground. Work has slowed significantly since September 2007. With fierce opposition coming from the United States, Israel has halted work on the "fingers" — enclaves east of the Green Line that were to have included large settlement blocs such as Ariel, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron and Ma'aleh Adumim, within the fence. The military has, in practice, closed up the holes that were to have led to these "fingers." But giant gaps remain in the southern part of the fence, particularly in the southern outskirts of Jerusalem, in the Etzion bloc and in the Judean Desert.

Since the cabinet under former prime minister Ariel Sharon first approved construction of the fence, in June 2002, the route has undergone some dramatic changes. The original route, which was inspired by Sharon, was to have effectively annexed about 20 percent of the territory of the West Bank to Israel.

In February 2005, the cabinet amended the route to include just nine percent of the West Bank. In April 2006 an additional one percent was shaved off by the government of Ehud Olmert.

In practice, however, the route encompasses only 4.5 percent of West Bank land. The four "fingers" in the last map (and which Israel presented at Annapolis in November 2007) were never built, not at Ariel and Kedumim (where a "fingernail" was built, a short stretch of fence east of the homes of Ariel); not at Karnei Shomron and Immanuel; not at Beit Arieh, nor south of that, at Ma'aleh Adumim. Instead, with little publicity, fences were put up to close the gaps closer to the Green Line, at Alfei Menashe instead of at Kedumim, at Elkana instead of Ariel and in the Rantis area instead of at Beit Arieh.

About 50,000 people in these settlements remain beyond the fence. West of Ma'aleh Adumim the wall built along Highway 1 blocks the gap in the barrier and leaves the city's 35,000 residents outside of the barrier, forcing them to pass through a Border Police checkpoint in order to reach Jerusalem.

Large gaps remain in the southern West Bank. Between Gilo in south Jerusalem and Gush Etzion are tens of kilometres of barrier, work on which was suspended due to High Court petitions. As a result access to Jerusalem from the direction of Bethlehem (now a part of the Palestinian Territories) is relatively easy — for commuters and terrorists both.

Click here for some news in Sep 2014.

A second, 30-kilometre gap in the fence, stretches from Metzudat Yehuda (Yatir) in the west to the Dead Sea in the east. The state announced during a recent High Court deliberation of a petition submitted by area Bedouin that work on the barrier there was suspended.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak is "determined to complete the security fence, despite the delays," his office said in a statement. "The minister and the military establishment are working to solve the problems delaying its completion."

Defence Ministry officials pointed out that Barak was "among the first supporters of the fence and did much to advance its construction."

Security officials claim the rate of construction depends on finding a solution to the legal issues and point out proudly that there is an unbroken barrier from Tirat Zvi in the Beit She'an Valley (in Northern Israel, just west of the Jordan River) to the southern entrance to Jerusalem, and from southern Gush Etzion (south west of Jerusalem) to Metzudat Yehuda (south east of Hebron).


Ma'ale Adumim and East Jerusalem

Click here for a larger picture

Click here for an article on East Jerusalem published by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) in mid 2011.


Unilateral Thinking in April 2006

Finally, after years in the planning, construction of an Israeli police station is under way in the now infamous E1 area, 12 square kilometers, a patch of empty West Bank land that stretches from the eastern municipal boundary of Jerusalem to the settlement-city of Ma'ale Adumim, which sits across the Jerusalem-Dead Sea highway some five kilometers (three miles) to the east.

Infamous, because every prime minister of Israel for the past decade has wanted to develop E1 in order to fill in the space between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem, with the intention of securing Israel's hold over the settlement and its smaller satellite communities, which together constitute the Ma'ale Adumim settlement bloc. And every US administration up until now has nixed Israeli development here, on the grounds that it would seriously hamper Palestinian territorial contiguity between the north and south of the West Bank, as well as access from the West Bank to Jerusalem, thereby undermining the viability of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, the only realistic formula on the table for Israeli- Palestinian peace.

Click here for the full article


Updated photo December 1, 2012

The police station built in area E1, now many years ago. Notice there
are no residential areas around it. That will hopefully soon change.
Picture source A Goldstein


Gaza Strip


Map of Gaza Strip

Israeli Gaza Strip Barrier

The Israel and Egypt — Gaza Strip barrier is a separation barrier first constructed by Israel in 1994 between the Gaza Strip and Israel. An addition to the barrier was finished in 2005 to separate the Gaza Strip and Egypt. The fence runs along the entire land border of the Gaza Strip. It is made up of wire fencing with posts, sensors and buffer zones on lands bordering Israel, and concrete and steel walls on lands bordering Egypt.

Background: The Gaza Strip borders Egypt on the south-west and Israel on the south, east and north. It is about 41 kilometres long, and between 6 and 12 kilometres wide, with a population of about 1.5 million people. The shape of the territory was defined by the 1949 Armistice Agreement following the creation of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent war between the Israeli and Arab armies. Under the armistice agreement, Egypt administered the Strip for 19 years, to 1967, when it was occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1993, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation signed the Oslo Accords establishing the Palestinian Authority with limited administrative control of the Palestinian territories. Pursuant to the Accords, Israel has continued to maintain control of the Gaza Strip's airspace, land borders and territorial waters. Israel started construction of the first 60 kilometres long barrier between the Gaza Strip and Israel in 1994, after the signing of the Oslo Accords. In the 1994 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it was agreed that "the security fence erected by Israel around the Gaza Strip shall remain in place and that the line demarcated by the fence, as shown on the map, shall be authoritative only for the purpose of the Agreement" (ie. the barrier does not constitute the border). The barrier was completed in 1996.

The barrier was largely torn down by Palestinians at the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000. The barrier was rebuilt between December 2000 and June 2001. A one-kilometre buffer zone was added, in addition to new high technology observation posts. Soldiers were also given new rules of engagement, which, according to Ha'aretz, allow soldiers to fire at anyone seen crawling there at night. Palestinians attempting to cross the barrier into Israel by stealth have been shot and killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Picture: AP
The Golan Heights is Israel's forever: Benjamin Natanyahu
The Australian
Tuesday, Apr 19, 2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights would 'forever' remain in his country's hands as his cabinet held its first meeting in the territory. 'The Golan Heights will remain in the hands of Israel forever,' Mr Netanyahu said yesterday at the start of the cabinet meeting, in comments broadcast on public radio. 'Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.'

Israeli media have reported that Mr Netanyahu planned the cabinet meeting as a statement amid fears Israel could come under pressure to return the Golan, which it seized from Syria in 1967, as part of a future peace deal for its war-torn neighbour. Haaretz quoted officials from Mr Netanyahu's office as saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had demanded as part of peace talks that the Golan 'be considered occupied territory that must be returned to Syria'.

Urging the international community to recognise Israel's claim on the territory, Mr Netanyahu said he told US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday it was doubtful Syria could return to what it was. The Premier plans to meet President Vladimir Putin in Russia, a key backer of Assad, on Thursday.

'The time has come for the international community to recognise reality, especially two basic facts,' Mr Netanyahu said. 'One, whatever is beyond the border, the boundary itself will not change. Two, after 50 years, the time has come for the international community to recognise that the Golan Heights will remain under Israel's sovereignty permanently.'

Israel seized 1200sq km of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Minister backs Israeli law for West Bank settlements
The Australian
Gregg Carlstrom, The Times
Thursday, May 5, 2016

Tel Aviv: A plan to apply Israeli civil law to Jewish settlements in the West Bank is being drafted by Israel's Justice Minister — a move likely to fuel claims of creeping annexation of the occupied territory. Ayelet Shaked's proposal, announced at a right-wing conference this week, goes against the longstanding policy of her ministry and Yehuda Weinstein, the recently retired attorney-general. However, Ms Shaked hopes to draft a bill within weeks and implement the change within a year. 'I'm giving this matter priority and will dedicate resources to it so that we will have a genuinely equal legislative process,' she said.

Ms Shaked said the change would strengthen workers' rights and give better environmental protection. Her proposal highlights the jumble of laws in the West Bank, which Israel occupied during the 1967 war. It is home to 400,000 settlers and 2.5 million Palestinians, all of them officially subject to military law. Israeli courts and the army have carved out various exceptions for settlers, so they usually face criminal charges in front of civil courts, rather than military judges.

Israeli labour law does not fully apply in the West Bank, so a pregnant woman in a settlement can be fired from her job, which would be illegal in Tel Aviv. Disputes over land in the West Bank are often adjudicated using a combination of British, Jordanian and Ottoman regulations dating back more than a century.

Ms Shaked said her proposed changes would also apply to tens of thousands of Palestinians who work on Israeli settlements. More than half of them do not receive Israel's minimum wage or benefits such as sick pay and medical insurance, according to Kav LaOved, a local NGO.

Another 200,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem, which is also seen as occupied territory by the UN and most of the world. Israel annexed the eastern half of the city and applies civil law on both sides. It has not annexed the West Bank, which Palestinians claim as a central part of their future state, fearing diplomatic consequences.

Ms Shaked said her proposal would not change the status of the occupied territories. Her political party, the right-wing Jewish Home, wants to annex about two-thirds of the West Bank.

Former justice minister Tzipi Livni, who led the last round of negotiations with the Palestinians, warned that the plan would do enormous damage to Israel's diplomatic standing.

Israeli defence minister quits and blasts Bibi
Weekend Australian
Reuters, AP
Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jerusalem: Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon yesterday announced his resignation, citing a lack of faith in the Prime Minister after Benjamin Netanyahu proposed replacing him as part of a move to expand the coalition government. Political sources say Mr Netanyahu offered ultra-nationalist politician Avigdor Lieberman the defence portfolio on Wednesday in exchange for the support of the former foreign minister's ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party. Lieberman served as Israeli foreign minister from 2009 to 2012 and from 2013 to 2015.

'I informed the PM that after his conduct and recent developments, and given the lack of faith in him, I am resigning from the government and the Knesset and taking a break from political life,' Mr Yaalon said on Twitter. Mr Yaalon's exit could put a new dent in domestic and Western confidence in the Netanyahu government. A former chief of the armed forces, Mr Yaalon, 65, had shored up relations with the Pentagon, which provided a counterweight to Mr Netanyahu's policy feuds with Barack Obama over peace talks with the Palestinians and Iran's nuclear program.

By contrast, Mr Lieberman — whose appointment has not been confirmed — is inexperienced militarily and is known for his past hawkish talk against Palestinians, Israel's Arab minority and Egypt, a key regional security partner for Israel. Mr Netanyahu's office did not immediately respond to Mr Yaalon's resignation announcement.

The Prime Minister's offer of Mr Yaalon's cabinet post to Mr Lieberman emerged this week after talks on bringing Labour opposition leader Isaac Herzog into the government failed. The inclusion of Yisrael Beitenu in the coalition would give Mr Netanyahu's Likud control over 67 of the Knesset's 120 seats, up from the razor-thin majority of 61.

Mr Netanyahu and Mr Yaalon have clashed in recent days over the role of the military in public discourse, with the Prime Minister arguing that military officials should not discuss policy matters publicly. Tensions between the two escalated in March when military leaders criticised a soldier who was caught on video fatally shooting an already-wounded Palestinian attacker. The soldier is now on trial for manslaughter. While Mr Yaalon has backed the military, hardliners have backed the soldier.

Mr Yaalon's resignation solidifies the takeover of hardliners in the party. Cabinet minister Gila Gamliel said Mr Yaalon's leaving was a 'tremendous loss' for Likud. She told Israel Radio she believes it was a 'mistake' not to offer Mr Yaalon another position and keep him in the coalition. Polls commissioned by Israeli TV stations broadcast on Thursday show a majority of Israelis prefer Mr Yaalon as defence minister over Mr Lieberman.

Mr Lieberman, 57, is one of the country's most polarising politicians. Over three decades, he has at times been Mr Netanyahu's closest ally and at other times a fierce rival. He has held a number of cabinet posts in the past, including his stints as foreign minister. He was the engineer of Netanyahu's successful run for prime minister in 1996, and became Mr Netanyahu's chief of staff.

His tough stances have long stoked controversy. As a cabinet minister last decade, he called for the bombing of Palestinian petrol stations, banks and commercial centres. He also led a recent parliamentary drive to exclude Arab parties from running for election — a move that was overturned by Israel's Supreme Court.

Yet despite his rhetoric, Mr Lieberman has shown signs of pragmatism. He served as a cabinet minister in two centrist Israeli governments, although he was sacked for opposing Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and resigned to protest against peace talks that begun at the 2007 conference in Annapolis. His plan for redrawing Israel's borders would also mean dismantling some Jewish settlements.

Extract: Israeli Defence Minister Lieberman faces rift with military
The Australian
The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Tel Aviv: Firebrand Avigdor Lieberman, who was sworn in as Israeli Defence Minister yesterday, faces a tough first task in mending a rift with the military that opened over the resignation of his predecessor and his own appointment. At the core of the unhappiness among the army's top officials, according to former military staff, is that many believe they have done a commendable job in calming recent Palestinian violence — and their polarising new boss could heighten tensions.

The ultra-nationalist leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party yesterday sought to calm fears his appointment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will add to unrest in the region. In a speech after being sworn in, Mr Lieberman assured fellow legislators that he supported the creation of a Palestinian state.

'I listened to everything you (the Prime Minister) said and I absolutely agree with every word, including two states for two peoples,' he said. Mr Lieberman, 57, also praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's recent proposal to revive stalled peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, saying it had 'created a genuine opportunity'. 'We must try to pick up the gauntlet,' he said, referring to the Arab Peace Initiative, which he said had 'some very, very positive elements'.

PLO sees a flicker of hope in Paris
Weekend Australian
Saturday, June 4, 2016

Paris: French President Francois Hollande urged Israel and the Palestinians to make a 'courageous choice' for peace as he opened a conference on the conflict in Paris last night. The meeting is aiming to lay the ground for a fully fledged peace conference to be held by the end of the year but few believe genuine progress will be made.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have been invited to the talks and Israel has angrily compared the French initiative to the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement to draw up the region's borders. And although US Secretary of State John Kerry is attending the conference, Washington has made it clear it believes little or nothing will be achieved.

Mr Hollande said a solution would have to come from the Middle East region, but in the end it was up to the Israelis and Palestinians 'to make the courageous choice of peace'. 'The discussion on the conditions of a lasting agreement between Israelis and Palestinians must take into account the whole of the region,' he told representatives of 25 countries, as well as the UN, EU and Arab League.

While scepticism over the new peace bid is high, the consensus among some diplomats appears to be that any effort is better than none at all. After decades of failed negotiations, few believe the climate is right to bring together Israelis and Palestinians for another shot at solving one of the world's longest-running conflicts.

Direct negotiation 'doesn't work', French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault insisted. 'Currently everything is blocked. We don't want to act in the place of the Israelis and Palestinians but we want to help them,' he said ahead of the conference. One French diplomatic source said that without a new drive to find peace, 'we risk heading towards even more violence in an international context where there is no visible American effort on the case'.

The US, the traditional mediator in the conflict, has not moved the two sides towards a new peace process since talks collapsed in April 2014 and Washington has been decidedly cool on the French initiative. 'We're not bringing any specific proposals to this meeting,' a senior State Department official said.

But PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat said France's bid offered 'a flicker of hope' for a resolution to the conflict. In the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Mr Erekat said the Paris talks offered 'a broader framework' than the moribund bilateral track. 'The French initiative is the flicker of hope Palestine has been waiting for and we are confident that it will provide a clear framework with defined parameters for the resumption of negotiations,' Mr Erekat wrote.

Israel, though, is opposed to the French initiative. Senior foreign ministry official Dore Gold said the talks would 'completely fail', and the Jewish state would prefer a Middle East-driven process backing direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

According to diplomatic sources, the French conference will seek to focus on a 2002 Saudi-led peace initiative. Under that proposal, Arab leaders would recognise the state of Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied since 1967, and the creation of a Palestinian state. The plan was largely ignored by Israel at the time, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week he would be open to renegotiating aspects of it with the Palestinians.

'In a way, the French initiative has already had an impact, as it has forced Netanyahu to propose an alternative in the Arab Peace Initiative,' a European diplomat in Israel said. 'If the international community comes together and says the two-state solution is the only option, that is important in itself — after years of people talking about the two-state solution being dead.'

West Bank sealed off after attack
The Australian
Friday, June 10, 2016

Tel Aviv: Israel last night clamped down on Palestinian movements and boosted security after two Palestinians shot dead four people at a popular Tel Aviv nightspot, the deadliest attack in a months-long wave of violence. Officials said they were suspending entry permits for 83,000 Palestinians during Ramadan in a move that was likely to further stoke tensions following the Wednesday night shooting.

Two Palestinians dressed in black opened fire as patrons sat on the terrace of a Max Brenner cafe at the Sarona Market at 9.23pm (4.23am yesterday AEST). Witnesses said it seemed at least one of the gunmen had been sitting at the cafe before standing and opening fire with a Carl Gustav-style submachine gun. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld could not confirm reports the attackers were disguised as ultra-Orthodox Jews, but said they had been wearing black suits.

Five people were wounded in addition to the four killed, and the shooting spread panic, with police clearing the area and crowds running for cover. Details on the victims were not yet clear. Police said one of the attackers was arrested, while the other was wounded by gunfire and had undergone surgery. The market and complex of bars and restaurants is located across the street from the defence ministry and army headquarters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the scene of what he called the 'cold-blooded terrorist murder' after returning from a trip to Moscow and conferred with senior colleagues, including newly installed hardline Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. 'We discussed a range of offensive and defensive steps which we shall take in order to act against this phenomenon,' Mr Netanyahu said. 'There will be intensive action by the police, the army and other security services, not just to catch every accomplice to this murder but also to prevent further incidents.'

Police said the attackers were cousins from Hebron in the West Bank, and one of the Israeli authorities' first moves was to revoke tens of thousands of entry permits. 'All permits for Ramadan, especially permits for family visits from Judea and Samaria to Israel, are frozen,' said COGAT, the defence ministry unit that manages civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank.

COGAT said that 83,000 Palestinians would be affected, adding that hundreds of residents of the Gaza Strip who had received permits to visit relatives and holy sites during Ramadan would also have access frozen. It said it had frozen permits for 204 relatives of one of the alleged attackers. Ramadan began on Sunday night, and thousands of Palestinians visit the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam (Mecca is first, Medina in Saudi Arabia is second), each week during the holy month.

The US called the shooting a 'horrific terrorist attack'. UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov said 'all must reject violence and say no to terror'. 'I am also shocked to see Hamas welcome the terror attack. Leaders must stand against violence and the incitement that fuels it, not condone it,' he said.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said 'we will not be able to put a policeman on every street corner'. 'The lone assailant can appear from any corner,' he said. 'That is the reality with which we have to live.' The city, however, increased security at schools and municipal buildings.

Violence since October has killed at least 207 Palestinians, 28 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese. Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks. Others were killed in clashes or by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. The violence had been steadily declining in recent weeks.

Shooting attacks such as the one that occurred on Wednesday night have been rare, though Tel Aviv has seen two other major incidents in recent months. In March, as US Vice-President Joe Biden visited, a Palestinian went on a stabbing spree along the Tel Aviv waterfront, killing an American tourist and wounding 12 people. On January 1, an Arab Israeli killed three people in a rampage in Tel Aviv.

Many analysts say Palestinian frustration with Israeli occupation and settlement-building in the West Bank, the complete lack of progress in peace efforts and their own fractured leadership have fed the unrest. Israel says incitement by Palestinian leaders and media is a leading cause of the violence. Last week in Paris, representatives from 28 countries, the Arab League, EU and UN met to discuss ways of restarting peace efforts. Negotiations have been at a complete standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014. Following last week's meeting, France hopes to hold an international peace conference before the end of the year. Israel strongly opposes the French plan, calling instead for direct negotiations, while the Palestinians support it.

Khaled Meshaal took control of Hamas in 2004 after Israel assassinated his predecessor.
Hamas chief to quit in shake-up
Weekend Australian
Gregg Carlstrom, The Times, AP
Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tel Aviv: The leader in exile of Hamas will step down by the end of the year, heralding a shake-up at the top of the Palestinian militant group. Khaled Meshaal will not run in the leadership election in a few months' time.

Meshaal, 60, took control of Hamas in 2004 after Israel assassinated his predecessor. He has largely run the movement from abroad — first from Damascus, then the Qatari capital Doha, where he moved in 2012. His influence has dwindled since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. The local leadership has taken on a more prominent role, particularly the military wing.

Meshaal's likely successor is Ismail Haniyeh, the 53-year-old former Gaza prime minister, who has taken an increasingly aggressive stance towards Israel. The next leader of Hamas must decide whether to patch up relations with Egypt, which has accused Hamas of aiding militants on the Sinai Peninsula. Hamas's political wing hopes for a reconciliation with Egypt and the Gulf states, which could provide badly needed aid for Gaza's economy.

Meanwhile, Israel's newly resigned defence minister Moshe Yaalon, 65, said he would challenge Benjamin Netanyahu in the country's next election, accusing the Israeli Prime Minister of scaring the public with exaggerated security threats and allowing a 'radical minority' to take over.

Mr Yaalon, a former military chief, was forced to resign last month after Mr Netanyahu, 66, expanded his coalition government and offered the defence post to former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, the 57-year-old firebrand leader of the hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu party. The election is due by November 2019 (over 3 years away).


Same Day
Bibi and wife spent $675K on NY trip
Gregg Carlstrom, The Times

Tel Aviv: Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife spent more than $US500,000 ($675,000) during a five-day trip to New York last year, according to documents the Israeli Prime Minister tried to keep secret. The cost of the trip to attend the UN General Assembly is the latest controversy over the luxurious life of Israel's first family.

Mr Netanyahu hired a make-up artist, costing $US1750, and the couple spent $US1600 on hairstylists. Taxpayers forked out another $US1860 for meals. The invoice was released under a freedom of information request filed by an Israeli lawyer.

Mr Netanyahu's office tried to block its release, but a Jerusalem court ruled against him this week. 'It's excessive and it shows why transparency is really needed here,' said Ifat Zamir, director of the Israeli branch of Transparency International. 'These revelations will bring a wave of criticism, and they should.'

The trip cost about $US2 million, three-quarters of it for the flight. Hotel rooms for the Netanyahus and their security team at the five-star Loews Regency in Manhattan cost $US392,000. Another $US20,000 was spent removing furniture from their hotel rooms. The invoice also listed $US8.69 spent on matches.

Israeli tabloids have long revelled in the Netanyahus' taste for the high life: in 2013 they dug up a $US2500 state-financed contract to buy a year's supply of gourmet ice cream from a parlour in Jerusalem. The same year they paid $US127,000 to have a bed installed on a government plane for the five-hour flight to London. The scandals are now causing legal problems for Mr Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Last month police recommended filing criminal charges against her in connection with an audit last year of the couple's official expenses. She has lost two civil cases this year filed by former servants, who alleged verbal and emotional abuse.

Authorities are investigating whether Mr Netanyahu received illegal donations from Arnaud Mimran, a wealthy French businessman who is on trial in Paris for fraud.

The Israeli Attorney-General is also looking into reports that the Prime Minister illegally took money from wealthy businessmen and foreign groups to fly his wife and children overseas. The trips, revealed last month by the state comptroller, were between 2003 and 2005 when Mr Netanyahu was finance minister. Again, the accusations revealed a taste for luxury: in one case a British businessman identified as 'B' spent more than $US12,000 to lodge the Netanyahus and their son at an up-market hotel in London. The Netanyahus deny any wrongdoing.

Previous Israeli prime ministers have been brought down over corruption: Ehud Olmert, Mr Netanyahu's predecessor, is serving a 19-month sentence for bribery. However, the growing list of accusations against the present Prime Minister have not led to serious calls for him to resign. 'He's a riddle, because he's been horrible with the way the people's money has been spent,' Ms Zamir of Transparency International said. 'But it hasn't hurt him politically yet.'

Extract: Israeli girl, 13, stabbed to death in her bed by Palestinian
Weekend Australian
Saturday, July 2, 2016

Jerusalem: A Palestinian youth has sneaked into a fortified Jewish settlement in the West Bank, broken into a home and stabbed to death a 13-year-old Israeli-American girl as she slept in bed before frantic security guards arrived and killed him. Hallel Yaffa Ariel became the youngest Israeli victim of a nine-month wave of violence that has seen dozens of Palestinian attacks.

The early-morning stabbing on Thursday, carried out by 17-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Nasser Tarayra, was among the most brazen attacks so far, drawing angry accusations and calls from Israeli leaders for the world to condemn the incident. Israeli officials say the violence is the result of anti-Israeli incitement by Palestinian leaders and in Palestinian social media. Lieutenant Colonel Lerner said Tarayra had been active on Facebook lately, praising previous deadly attacks on Israelis.

'The horrifying murder of a young girl in her bed underscores the bloodlust and inhumanity of the incitement-driven terrorists that we are facing,' Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. 'The entire world needs to condemn this murder, just as it condemned the terrorist attacks in Orlando and Brussels.'

Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said Tarayra got past a fence surrounding the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba and quickly made his way to Hallel's home, where he locked the front door from the inside to prevent rescuers from getting in. Israel's Channel 2 TV said the settlement's private security guards had spotted Tarayra as he infiltrated the settlement and rushed after him to the home but by the time they arrived, it was too late to save Hallel.

The girl's father, who was a member of the patrol, opened the door. The guards shot and killed the attacker, though one of the security men was stabbed and wounded in the standoff. Hallel was related to cabinet minister Uri Ariel, a member of the Jewish Home party. After the attack, Mr Ariel said Israel would make 'every effort' to expand its settlements in the West Bank.

Hundreds of people, including several senior politicians, attended the girl's funeral yesterday. 'You were the light of my life,' said her mother, Rina Ariel. 'Farewell, sweetheart. Have one last hug from mommy.'

Kiryat Arba is a hard-line Jewish settlement of about 7000 residents, located near the West Bank city of Hebron that is home to about 170,000 Palestinians. The city has been a frequent flashpoint of violence. Tarayra lived in the nearby village of Bani Naim.

Israeli security forces have had a difficult time stopping the attackers, largely because they tend to be in their teens or early 20s, acting on their own and not sent by organised militant groups tracked by security agencies. The Israeli military quickly cordoned off Bani Naim and searched Tarayra's home.

His cousin Adnan Tarayreh said Mohammed had dropped out of school and was working in a bakery. He speculated the teen may have been spurred to action after the death of a cousin who was killed while attempting to ram his vehicle into Israelis into Kiryat Arba several months ago. 'I know when someone sneaks into a settlement he is a hero, but I didn't know that my son is bold to this degree,' his mother, Um Kamel, said. Uncle Rajeh Tarayreh said the family was hosting a celebration that's a tradition for every 'martyr' killed by Israel.

Mr Netanyahu said Israel would revoke Israeli work permits for family members and make preparations to demolish the family home.

A peace summit would boost Putin's image as a growing force in the Middle East at the expense of US influence.
Putin offers to host Middle East peace talks
The Australian
Bel Trew, Tom Parfitt, The Times
Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cairo and Moscow: President Vladimir Putin is pushing to host peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in the latest sign of his ambition for Russia to replace the US as chief powerbroker in the Middle East.

Mr Putin made his overture to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who said that it would involve a meeting at the Kremlin between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

"Putin has told me that he is ready to receive Abbas and Netanyahu in Moscow to carry out direct talks to find a solution," Mr Sisi told the state-owned newspaper Al Ahram. "I see that the conviction of the importance of peace is rising among the Israeli side, and the conviction about finding an exit to the issue is a positive sign."

On Tuesday Israel indicated it was open to the invitation. Mr Netanyahu was ready "anywhere, any time, for direct peace talks with no preconditions," his spokesman said. "Unfortunately, President Abbas continues to say no and continues to present preconditions for such a meeting."

The move came after efforts by European officials to host a similar meeting in Paris failed. In May France's President Francois Hollande had hoped to reopen talks, which broke down in 2014, but no date had been set.

Russia has become increasingly assertive in the Middle East since entering the Syrian conflict 11 months ago. It has set up an air base in Syria, flown bombing missions from an Iranian base and fired cruise missiles from a submarine in the Mediterranean. Mr Putin, an ally of dictator Bashar al-Assad, has also positioned himself as crucial to any deal to end the five-year conflict in Syria.

Critics of US President Barack Obama say Mr Putin has moved to fill a vacuum left by Washington's reluctance to get immersed in another war after Iraq and Afghanistan.

Historically, Russia has taken a keen interest in the Israel-Palestine crisis, intermittently backing both sides and becoming part of the Middle East Quartet. In 1988 the Soviet Union was one of the first countries to recognise the state of Palestine. Mr Abbas has often travelled to Moscow for talks and Mr Netanyahu, frozen out by Mr Obama, visited Mr Putin in Moscow in June — their fourth meeting in less than a year.

Mr Putin first tabled the idea of a Moscow peace conference in 2005. His plan was fiercely rejected by the Israelis and Americans. However, as relations between Tel Aviv and Washington have cooled over the Iranian nuclear deal, Moscow is looking to restart the idea. A peace summit would boost Mr Putin's image as a growing force in the Middle East at the expense of US influence.

Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian deputy foreign minister specialising in Middle Eastern affairs, met Mr Abbas last week. The two had a "trusting conversation" about how to create "an independent Palestinian state", the ministry said. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is due to meet Mr Abbas in November.

Last month Mr Putin told heads of state in the Arab League that talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must focus on "creating an independent, viable and integral Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem".

Mr Sisi said last month that Egypt was also making serious efforts to break the deadlock. He added that Cairo could not do this alone, implying that Russia would be the natural partner.

Australian Jewish leaders mourn Peres
Australian Jewish News
Robert Goot, Peter Wertheim, Executive Council of Australian Jewry
Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Optimists and pessimists die the exact same death, but they live very different lives." So said Shimon Peres, the last of Israelís founding generation of leaders, a giant among statesmen who has now sadly left Israel and the Jewish world and passed from the world stage on September 28 (aged 93) at Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer, Ramat Gan, Israel.

Shimon Peres was known as a former Israeli government hawk who became a committed dove, but at all times he remained a confirmed optimist with a positive, can-do attitude. As a young official in the Ministry of Defence in the 1950s, Shimon Peres was instrumental in establishing close relations with France, securing massive amounts of quality arms, including Mirage jet fighters, and establishing the Dimona nuclear reactor.

After Israelís spectacular victory in the 1967 war, he became a leading advocate of Israel making peace with its neighbours, including the Palestinians, and in 1994 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Shimon Peres personified the quality of leadership that is so often lacking in the contemporary world. He dared to dream, and to live up to his own high standards: "To find a cause thatís larger than yourself and then to give your life to it."

He was an inspiration to all of us and will be sorely missed.

Danny Lamm, Zionist Federation of Australia
We are deeply saddened to hear the news of the passing of former Israeli president, prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres. Shimon Peres was a brave and courageous soldier and politician, who never gave up on the ultimate battle for peace. He was internationally respected at the highest political levels. At the same time, even into his tenth decade, he was at the forefront of Israeli innovation, strongly promoting Israel as a nation of cutting-edge technology and creativity. He was and always will be an extremely important part of the narrative of Israel. It is going to be hard to imagine Israel without Shimon Peres as a part of it.

Mark Leibler, Colin Rubenstein, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)
Shimon Peres was a true visionary, a giant of Israeli politics, the quintessential statesman on the world stage. As a founding father of Israel, his uplifting and constructive influence on the Jewish Stateís evolution continued until the end of his life. A pragmatist, at a fraught time he embraced the peace process even though its outcomes remain far from complete. Always the optimist, just two months ago he inspired an AIJAC Rambam group who visited him in his office with his uplifting words of never giving up hope and always striving to better ourselves and the world. At this time our thoughts are with his family and the people of Israel. His memory will long remain an inspiration and he will be sorely missed.

Dvir Abramovich, Bínai Bírith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC)
The ADC mourns the death of Shimon Peres, a towering statesman of enduring strength, steadfast leadership and remarkable devotion to the State of Israel who leaves behind a great legacy. A giant of the founding generation, he was there from the very beginning, taking part in the countryís building and development of the state in many capacities, always engaged and passionate in overcoming the grave challenges the nation faced. A respected figure at home and abroad who offered hope and vision for the future, with his passing, a momentous chapter in the homelandís history closes. Our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. He shall be sorely missed.

Jeremy Spinak, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies
Shimon Peres is the last of a great generation and his contribution to Israel and the Jewish people is immeasurable. A poet-statesman is a rare commodity and his intellect and compassion will be greatly missed by the nation. He strove for peace and in each and every position he held he was a leader of whom Israel could be proud.

Jennifer Huppert, Jewish Community Council of Victoria
Shimon Peres was a great visionary, leader, statesman and peacemaker, whose life story was intertwined with that of Israel. His presence will be missed by Israel and the Jewish community around the world.

Anthony Pratt, Executive chairman, VISY
Although he was someone whoíd made history, he was always more interested in talking about the future. When we first met he was already 90, but he spoke as if he was just setting out to solve the worldís problems with fresh solutions. He was always positive and optimistic about how science and technology could help bring peace to the Middle East, feed a hungry world, and lift countries out of poverty. Shimon Peres will be deeply missed by all peace-loving people.

Jeremy Jones, AIJAC
My prayers are with the family of Shimon Peres, BDE. Over the past three decades, I had the fortune to be in meetings with him on many occasions. The first time I had an opportunity to speak with him (on the subject of anti-Semitism) he said, "You are a typical Jew." I was taken aback, before he added, "Always pessimistic and always enthusiastic". At this sad time, I am not especially pessimistic or enthusiastic — just hopeful that humankind will allow his visions, of mutual understanding and cooperation for the common good, to prevail.

Trump will move embassy Ďunder consensusí
Walid Phares
The Times of Israel
Friday, November 11, 2016

Walid Phares is an American scholar of Lebanese Maronite Church descent

A senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, Walid Phares, told the BBC Radio on Thursday that while Trump was committed to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as other presidential candidates have vowed, he would not do so unilaterally.

"Many presidents of the United States have committed to do that, and he said as well that he will do that, but he will do it under consensus," Phares said. Phares did not elaborate on what consensus would be sought for such a move, which would break with decades of precedent and put Washington at odds with nearly all United Nations member states.

A number of Israeli politicians, including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, have seized on Trumpís victory by asking him to make good on his promises to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís undivided capital and move the embassy there, breaking with long-standing US policy to await a final status agreement on the city.

During the campaign, Trump called Jerusalem "the eternal capital" of Israel and said he was "100 percent for" moving the embassy there.

Jason Dov Greenblatt, Donald Trump's top real estate lawyer and an Orthodox Jew, is one of three members on the Republican nominee's Israel Advisory Committee. Early Thursday, he told Israelís Army Radio that the president-elect would make good on his promise. "I think if he said it, heís going to do it," Greenblatt said. "He is different for Israel than any recent president there has been, and I think heís a man who keeps his word. He recognizes the historical significance of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, unlike, say, UNESCO."

Congress passed a law in 1995 mandating the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, but allowed the president a waiver. Each president since then has routinely exercised the waiver, citing the national security interests of the United States, despite repeated campaign promises.

Walid Phares on Thursday indicated efforts for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would be a top agenda item for Trump, casting doubt on another claim by Greenblatt that Trump would not necessarily prioritize trying to push the Israelis and Palestinians into peace negotiations. On Wednesday, Greenblatt had told The Times of Israel that Trump would only prioritize solving the conflict if thatís what the sides wanted him to do. "He will make it a priority if the Israelis and Palestinians want to make it a priority," Greenblatt said. "Heís not going to force peace upon them, it will have to come from them."

"He is ready and he will immediately move to try and solve the problem between Palestinian and Israelis," Phares said. "He told me personally that, as the author of ĎThe Art of the Deal,í itís not going to be impossible for him to broker a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. At least heís going to go in that direction and not waste eight years — four years for now — not doing something for the Palestinians and Israelis."

The gap in signals coming out of Trumpís camp is consistent with frustration some have pointed to in trying to demystify what Trumpís foreign policy will be.

On the same subject
Russia Today
Sunday November 13, 2016

Palestine's UN envoy promised to make life "miserable" for the White House if it transfers the US Embassy to Jerusalem, following Donald Trumpís remarks suggesting an appeasement to Israelís land claims in the West Bank. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, said in Washington on Friday that the move would represent a blatant defiance of Palestineís rights over occupied Jerusalem. Palestinians would fire back, he said, according to Haaretz.

Mansour, a US-educated diplomat, stressed the possible transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem — partially occupied by the Israelis — would be regarded as a belligerent act towards Palestine. "If they do that, nobody should blame us for unleashing all of the weapons that we have in the UN to defend ourselves and we have a lot of weapons in the UN," he said.

The Palestinian envoy asserted that he "can make their [the US] lives miserable every day with precipitating a veto on my admission as a member state," however noting that appealing to the UN Security Council is an unlikely option due to Washingtonís right to veto.

The modern dispute over Jerusalem dates back to the 1947 UN partition plan that stipulated the creation of two independent states for both Palestinians and Jews. Jerusalem, a symbolic city for Christians, Muslims, and Judaists, was to be given special international status. The plan turned into wishful thinking after Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War with Arab states, declaring all of the city a unified capital in 1980.

Previous White House administrations never favored recognition of Jerusalem as Israelís capital, but the shock results of the US elections have fanned speculations that things might change dramatically. In the middle of his election campaign in September, Trump said Jerusalem has been "the eternal capital of the Jewish people for over 3,000 years," promising to accept it "as the undivided capital of the state of Israel" if he is elected.

Later on Sunday, Trump told the New York Times he is determined to reach "the ultimate deal" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "and do it for humanityís sake." Nevertheless, his staff made it clear that opposing the Israelisí settlements in the occupied West Bank is no longer a White House priority.

Speaking shortly after Trump delivered his victory speech in New York, David Friedman, his Israel affairs adviser, told the Jerusalem Post "there is every intention" to keep the campaign promise and move the US Embassy to the city.

In the years to come, there "would be a stark departure from the long-time American stance that Israeli construction in areas captured in the 1967 Six-Day War makes it more difficult to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians," Jason Greenblatt, Trump's chief legal officer and a top executive at the Trump Organization, commented on Israelís Army Radio.

Trumpís victory was welcomed by the Israeli government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week the President-elect "is a true friend of the state of Israel," adding that "over the years, youíve expressed your support consistently, and I deeply appreciate it."

Trump picks campaign adviser Friedman as US ambassador to Israel
Daniella Diaz and Tal Kopan, CNN
Friday, December 16, 2016

CNN's Andrew Kaczynski and Tami Luhby contributed to this report

Washington: President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday he will nominate campaign adviser David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer with hardline views on Israel, to serve as US ambassador to the country. In a statement issued by Trump's transition team, Friedman said he looked forward to moving the US embassy to "Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem." That would fulfill a promise made by Trump on the campaign trail to relocate the diplomatic mission from Tel Aviv, upending decades of US policy.

Friedman has long held conservative positions on Israel. Earlier this year, called supporters of the progressive Jewish advocacy group J Street "worse than kapos" for supporting a two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kapos were Jews in Nazi concentration camps who were put in charge of other inmates. Friedman has also said in the past that he does not believe Israeli settlement activity is illegal and opposes a ban on construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — another stance that turns US policy on its head.

Friedman also advised Trump throughout the campaign and made waves for suggesting in an interview with an Israeli newspaper that a Trump administration could support annexation of parts of the West Bank, also countering current US policy. He told CNN later that he was responding to a hypothetical question and not necessarily advocating for such a policy. Under his and others' advisement, the GOP platform moved to the right by removing a reference to a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, distinguishing itself from the Democratic platform that recognized both states. The two-state policy has been a pillar of US posture toward Israel throughout past Democratic and Republican administrations. Friedman has written about the need to move away from the two-state solution.

J-Street, the advocacy group, said it "vehemently" opposed Friedman, citing his position on a two-state solution. "As someone who has been a leading American friend of the settlement movement, who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials and who has attacked liberal Jews who support two states as 'worse than kapos,' Friedman should be beyond the pale for senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel," the group said. "This nomination is reckless, putting America's reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk."

In an article published in June on the Arutz Sheva website, Friedman said supporters of J Street were "far worse" than kapos. "They are just smug advocates of Israel's destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas — it's hard to imagine anyone worse," he wrote.

The Republican Jewish Coalition welcomed the selection and vowed to work with Friedman to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. "The selection of Mr David Friedman to serve as United States Ambassador to Israel sends a powerful signal to the Jewish community and the State of Israel that President-elect Trump's administration will strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region," the organization said in a statement.

Trump's own position on Israel had not been clear throughout the campaign. He has long said negotiating a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians would be the pinnacle of deal-making, in which Trump takes pride. But a year ago he was booed at the Republican Jewish Coalition when he declined to promise to keep Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel during an onstage Q&A. He also said peace would depend on whether Israel is willing to make sacrifices and said he would remain "neutral" in the negotiations, dodging a question on how he would refer to the West Bank.

Trump shifted gears after criticism for those comments, including from staunchly pro-Israel competitors Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. At a spring appearance at the large pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump made one of his first teleprompter-based speeches designed to show himself as a strong supporter of Israel.

Current US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has urged Trump's administration to stick with current of US policy on the country. "Every government, every US administration has looked at that question, has determined that the embassy is where it should be," Shapiro said. "And I can't speculate beyond that."

Friedman served as counsel for Trump in connection with his investment in Atlantic City casinos. Trump filed for business bankruptcy related to the casinos four times between 1991 and 2009.

Security forces at Karak Castle during the siege in central Jordan. Picture: AP
Gunmen kill 10 in Jordan siege
The Australian
Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Karak: Gunmen killed 10 people, including a Canadian tourist and police officers, in southern Jordan before security forces killed four attackers in a Crusader castle during a siege lasting several hours. At least 34 people, including two foreign nationals, were wounded in the dayís violence, which was one of the bloodiest attacks in Jordan in recent memory.

Security officials announced yesterday, several hours after reports of the first shooting, that the operation had ended and four gunmen were killed. They said troops continued to search the area. The officials said large amounts of weapons had been seized. They made no reference to local media reports that at one point the attackers had held hostages.

The shootings were the latest in a series of attacks that have challenged this pro-Western kingdomís claim to be an oasis of calm in a region threatened by Islamic extremists.

A witness said attackers immediately targeted tourists when they reached the castle. "Four gunmen got out of their car" at the castle, said Wasfi al-Habashneh, a local resident. "They opened fire at the Canadian tourists. The woman was killed, the other Canadian tourist escaped and hid behind a car and one of the children was injured." Mr Habashneh said the attackers also targeted other people. Security forces "engaged with the gunmen and cornered the gunmen at the castle gate", he said.

The killing of the Canadian visitor could further hurt Jordanís embattled tourism sector, which has declined sharply since the Islamic State group seized large parts of neighbouring Syria and Iraq two years ago. Canadaís global affairs spokesman, John Babcock, said the dead woman was Linda Vatcher. Mr Babcock said her son Chris was injured. "Canadian officials in Amman are actively working with local authorities to gather additional information and are providing consular assistance to Canadians at this difficult time," Mr Babcock said.

Barb Rhymes, a cousin of the slain tourist, said the victim was a retired teacher from Burgeo, Newfoundland, and was visiting her son in Jordan where he worked. Ms Rhymes said Ms Vatcher, 62, was a widow and a mother of two adult sons. "She was very friendly, outgoing. She was nice to everyone. A friend to all," Ms Rhymes said from Burgeo, Canada. The Canadian embassy in Amman issued an alert, urging Canadians to avoid travel to Karak, 140km south of the capital. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks in and near Karak.

Jordanís Public Security Directorate statement said "The attack began when a police patrol received reports of a house fire in the town of Qatraneh in the Karak district. Officers responding to the call came under fire from inside the house. Two policemen were wounded and the assailants fled in a car. In another attack, gunmen fired on a security patrol in Karak, causing no injuries. Armed men also opened fire on a police station at the Crusader fort, wounding members of the security forces. In all, seven members of the security forces, two local civilians and Ms Vatcher were killed. Fifteen members of the security forces, 17 local civilians and two foreign nationals were injured."

Jordan faces homegrown extremism, with hundreds of Jordanians fighting alongside Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and several thousand more supporting the extremists in the kingdom. Jordan is a member of a US-led military coalition fighting Islamic State. Over the past year, gunmen have carried out several attacks on members of the Jordanian security forces and foreign trainers. Earlier this year, Jordanian security forces engaged in a deadly shootout with suspected Islamic State sympathisers in a northern Jordanian town. Three US military members were killed in a shooting outside an air base in southern Jordan last month.


Same Day
Mossad blamed for hit on Hamas drone chief
The Times

Tunis Hamas has blamed a hit squad sent by Israelís foreign spy service, Mossad, for the assassination of one of its leading drone experts in Tunisia. Mohammed al-Zawahri was shot at least six times in his car in the southern city of Sfax last week. Pictures showed his car in the driveway of his house with its windows shattered. Zawahri was a Tunisian engineer who specialised in drones and had worked with the military wing of Hamas in Gaza, where the group has been trying to field its own fleet of drones.

Israeli officials refused to comment on claims Mossad was responsible but the killing joined a long list of suspected assassinations by the agency across the Middle East. Eight people were arrested in connection with Zawahriís murder. Police found little forensic evidence at the scene and security cameras near Zawahriís home were hacked about the time of the murder, according to a local radio station. The Interior Ministry in Tunis said the killers used silencers and at least four cars.

One of those arrested was an unnamed Tunisian journalist, based in Hungary, who had recently interviewed Zawahri. Others held included the drivers of cars allegedly involved and the manager of the rental agency that provided the cars. Another suspect, described as a dual citizen of Morocco and Belgium, was still on the run and may have slipped out of the country.

Fourteen members of the UN Security Council raise their hands in affirmation of a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements. The US, which had veto power, abstained from the vote, thereby allowing it to pass. Photo: Albin Lohr-Jones/Zuma Press
A Frantic Path to UN Vote on Israeli Settlements
Jay Solomon, Carol E Lee, Farnaz Fassihi
Wall Street Journal
Friday, December 23, 2016

US: In three frenetic days of diplomacy this week, President Barack Obama openly sided with the United Nations Security Council against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And the fallout for US-Israel relations, and the future of the Middle East peace process, could be profound, said current and former US officials.

Resolutions at the UN concerning the Israeli settlement issue had been circulating for around a year, according to US and Arab diplomats. Obama administration officials said their plans on Mideast peace, however, were complicated by the US presidential elections. The White House didnít want to undermine the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who is viewed as a strong supporter of Israel.

Israelís government became increasingly convinced Mr Obama might take action after Donald Trumpís surprise victory. Israeli officials have described the time before the president-electís Jan 20 inauguration as the "kill zone," when the Obama administration could take steps that would be difficult to reverse.

Israeli officials said they were spooked by a Dec 4 speech Secretary of State John Kerry gave in Washington in which he sharply criticized Mr Netanyahuís settlement policy. Mr Kerry then held meetings with the Palestiniansí lead negotiator, Saeb Erekat, on Dec 12 at the State Department to discuss the peace process. A senior Israeli official said its government got wind that Mr Kerry conveyed to the Palestinian diplomat at that meeting that the US was likely to abstain on the UN resolution. "Kerry was colluding with the Palestinians to put the resolution in motion," said the Israeli official.

Obama administration officials denied "previewing" the US vote to anyone.

As early as October, Palestinian diplomats at the UN began assessing prospects for a Security Council resolution. They drafted two resolutions: one that would condemn Israelís rapid expansion of settlements in disputed territories of West Bank and East Jerusalem, and another that would recognize Palestine as a state at the UN. Arab diplomats said the Palestinians dropped the statehood resolution because it became clear that it would be vetoed by the US.

In early December, diplomats said the overall consensus was that the Council should move on a resolution because of a perception that the new US administration would never endorse a vote critical of Israel. Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansur held meetings with Council diplomats to sound them out. The Arab Ministerial Committee, which met in Cairo at the end of October, advised that Egypt, as the only Arab member of the Security Council, should lead the efforts.

The Egyptians, partnering with the Palestinians, began circulating an early draft of the resolution earlier this week. Wednesday evening Mr Obama convened a late-night phone call with senior members of his national security team, including Vice President Joe Biden, Mr Kerry and Samantha Power, the US ambassador at the UN. The message was clear: The president was open to abstaining on the UN vote. Word of a US abstention created panic in Israel. Mr Netanyahu held emergency meetings among his senior aides. He talked with Mr Kerry on Thursday morning.

Israeli officials said they warned the US that they would seek Mr Trumpís support in blocking the resolution if the Obama administration didnít act. When no guarantee was offered, the Israelis began reaching out to senior leaders in the Trump transition team. Among those involved were Mr Trumpís son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top political strategist, Stephen Bannon, according to people briefed on the exchanges. Trump officials declined to comment on the menís role.

Mr Trump quickly published a tweet saying the resolution should be vetoed, as it could place "Israel in a very poor negotiating position." He then held a phone conversation with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and succeeded in getting him to delay submitting the proposal. However by Friday morning, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela picked up the resolution and formally submitted it to the Security Council, where it was approved 14-0, with Egypt backing the measure and the US abstaining.

Messrs Netanyahu and Trump have said they would ignore the new UN resolution and pursue their own efforts to reach peace. Leading Republicans, meanwhile, said they would cut funding for the UN in retaliation for the vote.

Israel lashes out after US pulls veto
The Australian
Monday, December 26, 2016

Jerusalem: Israel scrambled yesterday to contain the fallout from a UN vote demanding it halt settlements in Palestinian territory, lashing out at US President Barack Obama over the "shameful" resolution. The Security Council passed the measure on Saturday (AEST) after the US abstained, enabling the adoption of the first UN resolution since 1979 (click here) to condemn Israel over its settlement policy.

By deciding not to veto the move, the US took a rare step that deeply angered Israel, which accused Mr Obama of abandoning its closest Middle East ally. The text was passed with support from all remaining members of the 15-member council. The landmark vote came despite lobbying efforts by Israel and calls from US president-elect Donald Trump to block the text.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the resolution as a "shameful blow against Israel at the UN. The decision that was taken was biased and shameful, but we will withstand it," he said. "It will take time, but this decision will be annulled." Mr Netanyahu said Mr Obama had broken a longstanding US commitment not to "dictate the terms of peace to Israel" at the UN.

Mr Netanyahu had instructed his foreign minister to review engagements at the UN, including funding for UN agencies and the presence of UN representatives in Israel.

Mr Trump reacted after the vote by promising change at the UN. "As to the UN, things will be different after January 20," he tweeted, referring to the date of his inauguration. "The big loss yesterday for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad, but we will get it done anyway!"

The US has traditionally served as Israelís diplomatic shield, protecting it from resolutions it opposes. It is Israelís most important ally, providing it with more than $US3 billion ($AU4.2bn) each year in defence aid. That number will soon rise to $US3.8bn a year under a new decade-long pact, the biggest pledge of US military aid in history. Yet the Obama administration has grown increasingly frustrated with settlement building in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied for nearly 50 years.

There have been growing warnings that settlement expansion is fast eroding the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the basis of years of negotiations. "We cannot stand in the way of this resolution as we seek to preserve a chance of attaining our longstanding objective of two states living side by side in peace and security," said Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN. "The settlement problem has gotten so much worse that it is now putting at risk the very viability of that two-state solution."

Mr Trump has signalled he is likely to be far more favourable to Israel. David Friedman, his nominee for ambassador to Israel, favours moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has voiced support for settlement building. Some 430,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and a further 200,000 Israelis live in annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.

The resolution demands "Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem". It says settlements have "no legal validity" and are "dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-state solution."

Saturdayís vote was scheduled at the request of New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela, which stepped in after Egypt put the draft resolution on hold. After the resolution passed, Israel recalled its ambassadors to Senegal and New Zealand for consultations. It has no diplomatic relations with Venezuela or Malaysia.

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the resolution a "big blow for Israeli policies". Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, also welcomed the vote.

JPost editorial: Support down under
The Jerusalem Post
Sunday, January 1, 2017

At a time when Israel is recovering from the shock of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, comments made by Australiaís government are encouraging. In a statement released on Thursday, 29th December, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop voiced her disagreement with the resolution. Australia is not currently a member of the Security Council and therefore is not eligible to vote, noted Bishop. However, "in voting at the UN, the coalition government has consistently not supported one-sided resolutions targeting Israel."

One day later, at a Hanukka menorah-lighting ceremony at Sydneyís Central Synagogue, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that "Australia stands with Israel. We support Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East," the Australian Jewish News reported.

Canberraís support for Israel should not be taken for granted. Pro-Palestinian activists have lamented the fact that consecutive Australian governments have been out of step with public opinion. While a large proportion of Australians tend to be critical of Israel and its policies, Labor and in particular Liberal governments have been very supportive.

Consecutive public opinion polls have shown that Australians are divided over their support for Israel. A Roy Morgan Research poll from November 2011 found that Australians were just as sympathetic with Israelis as they were with Palestinians. Only 17% said they supported Jewish settlements while 63% opposed it. And more than half of Australians supported the Palestinian push for recognition as a full member state of the UN. A 2014 BBC World Service opinion poll found that 67% of Australians had a negative view of Israelís influence and just 24% had a positive view.

Israeli-Aussie relations have known their ups and downs. Under the leadership of prime minister Gough Whitlam, Australia distanced itself from Israel during the (1973) Yom Kippur War.

In 1997, during the opening of the Maccabiah Games (in Tel Aviv), negligence resulted in the collapse of a bridge over the Yarkon River that led to the death of four Australian athletes and the injury of dozens more. The Games organizers and the State of Israel were slow to accept blame and provide compensation, which hurt relations with Australian Jewish communities and with the Australian government.

In 2010, Israel angered Kevin Ruddís Labor government in Australia after reports emerged that Mossad agents forged Australian passports — along with passports from other countries — to orchestrate the targeted killing of Hamas operative Mahmoud Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel.

In 2013, after the suicide in prison (in Ramla in central Israel) of Australian-born Israeli Ben Zygier, relations were once again strained. Then-Australian foreign minister Bob Carr was embarrassed after he first denied and later admitted that Canberra knew about Zygier, reportedly a Mossad agent. According to Wikipedia, this Ben Zygier had given secret information to a Hezbollah operative that had led to the arrest of two top Lebanese informants for Israel who were then sentenced to long prison terms, with their arrest leading to a widely publicized wave of arrests and trials of Lebanese citizens accused of spying for Israel. According to a report in Der Spiegel it resulted from a "rogue" operation, Zygier at the time had hoped to turn the Hezbollah operative into a double agent working for Israel and impress Mossad and get back in his superiors' good graces following an earlier demotion.

Labor governments under Rudd and Julia Gillard tended to join the international community in condemning Israel for its settlements, claiming they were a violation of international law.

In contrast, when Bishop was in Israel in early 2014 to attend the funeral of Ariel Sharon, she questioned whether the settlements are illegal. In one media interview she said that the international community should refrain from calling settlements illegal under international law, without waiting for their status to be determined in a deal with the Palestinians. Her main concern was that prejudging the settlements would stymie efforts to reach a negotiated arrangement with the Palestinians.

Australia has emerged as one of Israelís few true friends, largely thanks to the leadership of Turnbull and Bishop. We should not take this friendship for granted. Australian public opinion, largely influenced by biased news media, tends to be more critical of Israel. It is important that our leaders work to foster ties between the two countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuís visit to Australia, planned for February, is an important step in the right direction that sets right a longstanding oversight. Amazingly, never before has a prime minister made the long trip to Canberra. The time has come for Israel to give greater recognition to Australiaís support.

EDITORIAL: Showing our support for Israel
The Australian
Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The leading Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, is right. Australiaís support for Israel should never be taken for granted. But, as shown by the Turnbull governmentís refusal to go along with most of the rest of the world over the UN resolution on Jewish settlements, Australia has emerged as one of Israelís true friends. It is therefore imperative that bilateral relations are boosted to reflect this.

We are no longer a Security Council member. But had we been, as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made clear, we would not have supported a resolution that declared settlements to be "a flagrant violation of international law" and dealt a blow to peace talks. In a break with decades of bipartisan support at the UN, the Obama administration abandoned its previously set-in-stone defence of the Jewish state and abstained, refusing to use its veto to block the resolution, which passed 14-0. Even countries such as Britain, France and Japan voted for it. So did New Zealand.

Malcolm Turnbull and Ms Bishop deserve credit for making Australiaís voice heard above the clamour surrounding the controversy. Prejudging it and declaring settlements illegal only stymies efforts to negotiate a peace in which the settlements would be a major issue. That is what the council members short-sightedly have done by fostering the Palestiniansí delusion that they can achieve statehood unilaterally through the UN rather than negotiating with Israel.

In light of Australiaís sensible refusal to go along with the herd, The Jerusalem Post has suggested our countries foster closer ties, beginning with a proposed visit next month by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Netanyahu should seize the opportunity. There is much to build on in our relationship, and Donald Trumpís election adds momentum to the prospects.

Mr Trump has expressed outrage over the UN resolution and declared support for Jewish settlements. He has appointed David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, who is determined to fly in the face of Palestinian outrage and controversially relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Tony Abbott has made a similar suggestion, saying Australia should follow suit. Wisely, Ms Bishop has responded cautiously, emphasising there are no plans to do so.

Mr Abbott also has argued Canberra should cut its $40 million-a-year aid program to the Palestinian Authority while it keeps paying pensions to terrorists and their families. Amid charges surrounding the alleged diversion of Australian money for World Vision in the Palestinian territories, the closest possible supervision of all funds is imperative.

It is to the credit of successive Coalition and Labor governments that the bilateral relationship is strong. Despite significant pro-Palestinian sentiment in some quarters, and the best efforts of former foreign minister Bob Carr to unhinge the relationship, Mr Netanyahu can be assured of a warm welcome. That was always going to be the case. It should be even more so following Australiaís principled stand on the egregious UN resolution.

Israel, as Mr Turnbull emphasises, is the Middle Eastís only democracy. It is, importantly, the only place where Christians are free to worship unhindered. At a critical time of increasing global hostility towards it, Israel deserves our steadfast support.

Extract: Israel counts on US blind eye for 2500 settler homes
The Australian
Thursday, January 26, 2017

Jerusalem: Israel announced plans yesterday to build 2500 more settler homes on the West Bank, moving to step up construction just days after the swearing-in of Donald Trump brought to power a US administration seen as friendly to the settlement movement. "We are building — and we will continue to build," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer did not answer directly when asked about Mr Trumpís reaction. "Israel continues to be a huge ally of the United States," Mr Spicer said. "He wants to grow closer with Israel to make sure that it gets the full respect that it deserves in the Middle East."

Mr Trump has already invited Mr Netanyahu to visit the White House next month, and both men, after speaking on the phone on Sunday, promised close co-ordination on a range of sensitive matters, including settlements. Mr Netanyahuís office would not say whether he had consulted with the White House before yesterdayís announcement, but just a day earlier, the Prime Minister told a meeting of his Likud Party that there should be no surprises for the new president. Earlier this week, Mr Trump did not react to an Israeli announcement to build over 560 new homes in east Jerusalem.

The construction plans were announced by Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said he and Mr Netanyahu agreed on the approval "in response to housing needs". He said most of the housing units will be built in settlement "blocs", densely populated areas where most settlers already live and which Israel wants to keep under its control under any future peace deal with the Palestinians. Some 100 homes were slated for two smaller settlements. The approvals were for early stages of home development, meaning construction is not expected to begin any time soon.

"This decision destroys the two-state solution," said Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official in the West Bank. "We call on the international community to hold Israel accountable immediately." He said the Israeli government had been encouraged by what it heard from Mr Trump. The Palestinians want the West Bank and East Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war — for their hoped-for state, a position that has wide international backing.

In Brussels, the EU condemned this weekís Israeli settlement announcements, saying they "seriously undermine" the prospects for a peace deal. "It is regrettable that Israel is proceeding with this policy, despite the continuous serious international concern and objections, which have been constantly raised at all levels," it said.

Oded Revivi, chief envoy of the Yesha settlersí council, said he hopes yesterdayís announcement "is just the beginning of a wave of new building". Mr Revivi led a settler delegation to Mr Trumpís inauguration, the first time the movement has received such an invitation.

Since Mr Trump took over, Mr Netanyahu has been under heavy pressure from the pro-settler Jewish Home Party to move ahead on an explosive bill that would annex Maaleh Adumim, a major settlement near Jerusalem. A vote on the legislation, which threatens to unleash fresh violence and draw international condemnation, was put on hold this week, apparently so Mr Netanyahu could co-ordinate his policy with the new US administration.

How Israelis See the Settlements
Some want to annex the West Bank, others to separate from the Palestinians — and all view Jerusalem as anything but a settlement
By Yossi Klein Halevi, The Wall Street Journal
Saturday, February 4th, 2017

Mr Halevi is a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and the author of "Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation" (Harper).

Some 430,000 Israelis live in 131 officially sanctioned settlements spread throughout the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem). In addition, dozens of small settlement outposts have been established without Israeli government approval.

Depending on how one draws the map, more than three-quarters of the settler population lives in blocs likely to be kept by Israel under an agreement. The blocs plan gives hope to supporters of a two-state solution that settlement-building hasnít yet reached the point of no return. Though Israel is hardly likely to evacuate 430,000 settlers, it could, with enormous strain to its social fabric, evacuate the 80,000 or so settlers living outside the blocs.
New prefabricated homes are seen under construction in the West Bank between the Israeli outpost of Amona and the settlement of Ofra (background), north of Ramallah, on January 31, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

Tellingly, Israelís announcement about renewing massive settlement building — primarily in the blocs — occurred after Mr Netanyahuís first phone call with the new president. The White House issued a mild rebuke to Israel on Thursday, but only after Mr Netanyahu announced a new settlement for the evacuated residents of Amona — the first new government-sponsored settlement in more than two decades.
Israeli forces evacuate Jewish settlers Wednesday from Amona, an illegal West Bank settler outpost. Israeli police said that 41 police officers were injured during the evacuation, and 13 Israelis were arrested for violence.

How traumatic could forcible evacuation be? This past week, it took some 3,000 police and soldiers to remove these 41 settler families from Amona, an illegal hilltop outpost which the High Court of Justice has long held was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
The large Israeli settlement of Maíale Adumim in the West Bank, Jan. 23. Members of Israelís governing coalition have said they will propose legislation to annex the settlement, which is located 5 miles east of Jerusalem and has 37,000 residents.

Mr Netanyahu has also declared his intention to renew major building in East Jerusalem, which Israelis across the political spectrum regard as a category separate from the West Bank. For Israelis, the international communityís discourse over Jerusalem seems delusional. About 300,000 Israelis live in a dozen East Jerusalem neighborhoods built after the Six Day War. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, and for almost all Israelis — including those who support ceding part of the city to a Palestinian state — East Jerusalemís Jewish neighborhoods are just that: neighborhoods, not settlements.

A billboard near the highway entering Jerusalem proclaims in Hebrew: "The Time for Sovereignty Has Come." It is part of a new campaign for the formal incorporation into Israel of Maíale Adumim, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank and barely a 10-minute drive east of Israelís capital. The campaignís sponsors, backed by several ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ís coalition, see annexing Maíale Adumim as the first step to annexing the entire West Bank and preventing the creation of a Palestinian state.

The collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the chaos of the Arab world in recent years have reinforced the settlersí sense of opportunity. So too has the imminent approach of a date fraught with symbolic significance: the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War. According to Jewish tradition, 50 years — a jubilee — is the time for a reset. For those who believe that Israel needs to overcome its hesitancy and claim its rightful borders, it is a moment of high expectation.

However, permanently absorbing the West Bank would mean adding more than two million Palestinians to Israelís population, forcing it to choose eventually between the two essential elements of its national identity as both a Jewish state and a democracy.

Polls consistently show that a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution, while doubting the possibility of peace. According to an October 2016 poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Instituteís Peace Index, nearly 65% of Israelis backed peace talks — but only 26% thought they would succeed.

I live in an East Jerusalem neighborhood called French Hill. My neighborsí politics cover the range of Israeli opinion; some have been peace activists. Yet not once have I heard any neighbor doubt the status of French Hill as part of the state of Israel. In recent years, growing numbers of Arab Israelis have moved into the neighborhood — one more indication of its irreversible absorption into Israeli society. But for the UN, French Hill residents — including, absurdly, its Arab Israeli residents — are "settlers."

Kfar Etzion, the first Israeli settlement in the territories, was founded in September 1967, just months after the Six Day War. At the time, Israelis couldnít imagine that it heralded the birth of a movement that would transform the countryís borders, complicate its relations with the international community and become the focus of Israelís most agonizing moral and political dilemma.

Kfar Etzion, a small kibbutz, or communal farm, just south of Jerusalem, had been established in the 1940s — and was destroyed on the literal eve of Israelís independence in 1948, its defenders massacred after surrendering to Arab militiamen. The restoration of Kfar Etzion — led by a dozen of its sons and daughters who had been evacuated shortly before its fall — was greeted by Israelis as self-evident. There was no cabinet decision to found the settlement and no public debate to thwart it.

Six months later, on Passover 1968, a group of Israelis pretending to be Swiss tourists rented a Palestinian hotel in the West Bank city of Hebron. When the holiday was over, the group declared its intentions to remain. This time, there was vehement debate among Israelis — about the wisdom of Jews settling in the midst of an Arab population. The Labor-led government was divided, and the settlers exploited that ambivalence to create a fait accompli.

Almost 50 years after their founding, the first two settlements — Kfar Etzion and the Jewish community of Hebron — each offers an opposing vision of Israelís future. Kfar Etzion, the first settlement, is now a part of a thriving region called the Etzion bloc, with 20,000 residents living in 19 communities, some of which resemble suburban sprawl more than isolated hilltops. For Israelis, the permanence of the Etzion bloc, even in a peace agreement, is a given.

Just south of the Etzion bloc, about a half-hourís drive away, is another model of the Palestinian-Israeli future. Hebron is divided between an Israeli-controlled area, home to some 800 settlers and 30,000 Palestinians, and a Palestinian-controlled area, home to another 120,000 Palestinians.

Hebron is playing out the nightmare vision of a one-state solution. On the Israeli side, the stalls of the Palestinian produce market are shuttered, closed down by the Israeli army after Palestinian terror attacks. Palestinian families tell of harassment by Jewish neighbors. A proxy war is being fought by Palestinian and Israeli children, who sometimes taunt and throw rocks at each other.

Here the traumas of the past refuse to recede. The Tomb of the Patriarchs, the traditional burial place of Abraham and Sarah, is hermetically divided between Muslim and Jewish prayer areas — a division imposed by the Israeli army after a settler, Baruch Goldstein, gunned down 29 Muslim worshipers in 1994. Nearby, in the basement of one of the Jewish-owned houses, is a museum devoted to the 69 Jews murdered by their Arab neighbors in a 1929 pogrom that ended the cityís millennia-old Jewish community. When Hebronís Palestinians and Jews speak of "the massacre," they usually mean only the massacre that happened to their side.

An Israeli visitor leaves Hebron with agonizing questions. How can Israel remain here as a permanent occupier of another people? But how can Israel abandon Hebron, second only to Jerusalem as a sacred city for Jews? Is there a future for a nation that rejects its past? Yet can a nation grant the past veto power over its future? Should we cling to the territories or release them? Which way leads to greater safety, and which to greater vulnerability, in a disintegrating Middle East?

Israel legalises settler outposts on private Palestinian land
The Australian
Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Jerusalem: The Israeli parliament on Monday finalised a controversial law legalising dozens of Jewish outposts built on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. The law, approved by 60 members of parliament to 52 against, passed its third and final reading after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had updated the US administration on the issue. Mr Netanyahu did not participate in the vote since he was returning from a trip to London.

The new law will allow Israel to legally seize Palestinian private land on which Israelis built without knowing it was private property or because the state allowed them to do so. Palestinian owners will be compensated financially or with other land.

The law met with fierce opposition within the parliament, with warnings that it would harm Israel, and the United Nations saying it would diminish chances for peace.

Speaking after the law was finalised, Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Jewish Home, who was one of the forces behind the legislation, thanked the American people for electing Donald Trump as president, "without whom the law would have probably not passed".

Ahead of the vote, opposition chief and Labour leader Isaac Herzog lashed out against the "despicable law" that he said would undermine the countryís Jewish majority. "The vote tonight isnít for or against the settlers, rather Israelís interests," Herzog said. The law would "annex millions of Palestinians into Israel", he warned, and expose Israeli soldiers and politicians to lawsuits at international criminal courts.

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis of Netanyahuís Likud party said the argument was over the right to the Land of Israel. "All of the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people," he told Herzog, using the biblical term that included the West Bank. "This right is eternal and indisputable." The law is seen by critics as promoting at least partial annexation of the West Bank, a key demand for parts of Netanyahuís right-wing cabinet, including the hard line Jewish Home party.

The bill could still be challenged, with Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying last week: "The chance that it will be struck down by the Supreme Court is 100 per cent." Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has warned the government that the law could be unconstitutional and risks exposing Israel to international prosecution for war crimes.

Its defenders argue the bill will allow settlers to live without fear of being driven from their homes — many of which they have lived in for years.

Last week, the few hundred residents of the Amona outpost in the West Bank were evicted after the Supreme Court ruled their homes were built on private Palestinian land. In parliament on Monday, Shuli Mualem of the Jewish Home dedicated the law to those evicted from Amona.

International law considers all settlements to be illegal, but Israel distinguishes between those it sanctions and those it does not, dubbed outposts. The lengthy Amona saga — including the evictions broadcast live on Israeli television — directly inspired the bill. Demolitions and removal of the buildings there began on Monday.

The bill applies to 53 other outposts and homes within existing settlements recognised by Israel built on Palestinian land, according to the anti-settlement organisation Peace Now. More than 3,800 homes would be "legalised", the NGO said ahead of the vote.

Since Mr Trumpís inauguration, Israel has announced more than 6,000 new homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, seen as key parts of any future Palestinian state. For the first time last week Mr Trumpís administration said settlement expansion "may not be helpful" for peace prospects, but also broke with previous administrations by saying settlements were not an obstacle to peace. The White House statement was interpreted as a message to Mr Netanyahu and his government that the US administration intended to reserve its options.

Sara Netanyahu, left, with husband Benjamin and Donald and Melania Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington yesterday. AFP
Trump drops two-state solution
The Australian
Friday, February 17, 2017

Washington: Donald Trump shelved Washingtonís years-long quest for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict yesterday, saying he will back a single state if it led to peace.

The US President welcomed Israelís Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House and hailed the "unbreakable" bond between their countries. And while he urged Mr Netanyahu to "hold back" from building Jewish settlements for a "little bit", Mr Trump broke with international consensus insisting on a future that included a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"Iím looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. Iím very happy with the one that both parties like," he said. "I can live with either one." Mr Trump said he had thought a two-state solution "looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, Iím happy with the one they like the best." This change in the US stance was calculated to please Mr Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition. "I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some of that hate that theyíre taught from a very young age," he said, echoing Mr Netanyahuís argument that Palestinians were not ready for peace.

Mr Netanyahu had warm words for the Israeli-US alliance, and hammered home his prerequisites for peace. "First, the Palestinians must recognise the Jewish state. They have to stop calling for Israelís destruction," he said. "Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River."

This region contains the entire West Bank area that would represent the heart of any Palestinian state as conceived in all previous international agreements. The previous US administration of Barack Obama had warned Israel that if it did not reach a twostate deal with the Palestinians, it would never reach an accommodation with the Arab world. But Mr Netanyahu insisted he was developing closer security ties with his Sunni neighbours, who share Israelís concerns about Iranian subversion and radical Islam. And he urged Mr Trumpís administration to get on board.

"For the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but increasingly as an ally," he told Mr Trump. "I believe that under your leadership this change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace." In a joint statement, the two leaders proclaimed "a new day" in US-Israel relations and that there was "no daylight" between them.

The shift in the US position triggered Palestinian despair and consternation in international capitals. The second-ranking official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Saeb Erekat, denounced it as an attempt to "bury the two-state solution and eliminate the state of Palestine". He implicitly warned Israelis that any single nation that emerged would not be specifically Jewish. "Thereís only one alternative," he said. "A single democratic state that guarantees the rights of all: Jews, Muslims and Christians."

The new US message deliberately echoed the longstanding Israeli position: no peace deal can be imposed from outside and the agenda for talks must reflect the reality on the ground. Naftali Bennett, the right-wing leader of the hardline Jewish Home party and an opponent of any Palestinian state, cried victory. "A new era. New ideas. No need for third Palestinian state beyond Jordan and Gaza. Big day for Israelis and reasonable Arabs," he tweeted. "Congrats."

But Mr Trumpís decision flew in the face of an international consensus that any final status agreement must be based on a return to Israelís 1967 border — albeit with land swaps. Mr Netanyahu addressed the call to slow settlement expansion when he met US congressional leaders. "Weíll try to find a common understanding that is consistent with the pursuit of peace and security," he said.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said "everything must be done" to preserve the two-state solution. Franceís ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre said: "Our commitment to the two-state solution is stronger than ever."

Ex-envoys denounce Israel pick

Washington: Five former US ambassadors to Israel say the man President Donald Trump has selected for the post, David Friedman, is unqualified and are urging senators to carefully consider his nomination. The letter was signed by Thomas Pickering, William Harrop, Edward Walker, Daniel Kurtzer and James Cunningham.

In a letter to members of the Foreign Relations Committee, the former diplomats said David Friedman had staked out "extreme, radical positions" and had derided the two-state solution as an "illusory" fix for a non-existent problem. "We believe the committee should satisfy itself that Mr Friedman has the balance and the temperament required to represent the United States as ambassador to Israel," they wrote.

The ambassadors, who served Republican and Democratic presidents, say Mr Friedman accused president Barack Obama and the entire State Department of anti-Semitism. They say he characterised supporters of J Street, a liberal Jewish group, as "kapos", the Jews who co-operated with Nazis during the Holocaust.

The son of an Orthodox rabbi, Mr Friedman is a supporter of Israeli settlements, opposes Palestinian statehood and is a staunch defender of Israelís government.

The former ambassadors wrote "The American ambassador must be dedicated to advancing our countryís longstanding bipartisan goals in the region: strengthening the security of the United States and our ally Israel, and advancing the prospects for peace between Israel and its neighbours, in particular the Palestinians," . "If Israel is to carry on as a democratic, Jewish nation, respected internationally, we see no alternative to a two-state solution."

The committee was scheduled to meet overnight for Mr Friedmanís confirmation hearing. Mr Trump, during a White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, was evasive about endorsing a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Two sides to a conflict, with no end in sight
The Australian
Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor
Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Golan Heights lookout, a salient of high land controlled by Israel and jutting out into one of the southern most parts of Syria, is an unnerving place. It offers a deceptive view of green fields and rolling hills, but you can hear how effective the Syrian ceasefire really is.

In half an hour, there is rarely more than a few seconds between explosions, whether from bombs, mortars, artillery, or even small arms. Ceasefire or no, thereís a lot of fighting even here in the south of Syria, where the conflict has not been as intense as in Syrian cities such as Aleppo.

At the border lookout, two or three UN soldiers in blue berets scan the Syrian plains below with binoculars. Their job is to monitor and report incidents.

When he arrives in Australia tomorrow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will want to talk mostly about security. People say he is obsessed with security. Spending some time on Israelís borders helps explain why.

From the Syrian border, with powerful field glasses, it is possible to make out villages controlled by forces broadly loyal to the relatively moderate Free Syrian Army. Not far away is a village loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Yet another village is affiliated with a group loyal to Islamic State, and another to a group affiliated with al-Qaíida. There are also Druze villages not associated with any of these groups.

The conflict in southern Syria is ideological, it is at times sectarian, it is about foreign influence and foreign fighters, and yet it is intensely local as well, with traditional leaders of each individual village being the most important.

The complexity of this maze of political and military forces around Israelís borders extends to many different parts of the country. On the Lebanese border, I enter another lookout, this time inside the Mizgav Am Kibbutz, which has a boundary fence, and a few metres beyond is the border fence between Israel and Lebanon. The kibbutz has its own lookout at its highest point. Directly below, barely a few hundred metres into Lebanese territory, is a yellow Hezbollah flag. Hezbollah is now believed to possess tens of thousands of sophisticated missiles that could hit any part of Israel. If there were another conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, it would be on a huge scale and very fierce.

Even on one of Israelís most stable borders, with Egypt in the south, there is, in the Sinai, a big presence affiliated to Islamic State. And then in Gaza there is Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

So directly on Israelís borders there are Islamic State, al-Qaíida, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Golan Heights is a strange place to drive around. There are extensive minefields with big signs telling people to keep out. About 20,000 Jewish Israelis live here engaged mostly in agricultural pursuits, and 20,000 Druze villagers as well. Incongruously, there is an abundance of gum trees.

In the northern town of Zefat is the Sieff Hospital, a normal government hospital where in a small ward I meet four Syrian patients who suffered explosive injuries in the war. I canít get past the first bed, where I meet a young man who has lost an arm, and perhaps part of both legs as well. He is part of a program that has seen about 2600 Syrian explosives victims treated in Israeli hospitals. It started when the Israelis came upon seven Syrians near the border who had been injured in an explosion. The Israelis had a choice: leave them to die or treat them.

This evolved into a field hospital and then a more straightforward process of the army bringing them to the regular hospitals that service northern Israel. The doctors do everything they can to save limbs and save lives.

Two sides of this conflict. No end in sight. No wonder Netanyahu will talk about security.

Greg Sheridan visited Israel as a guest of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Syria fires missiles at Israeli jets after airstrikes
Ian Deitch, Associated Press
Friday March 17 2017

Jerusalem: Syria fired missiles at Israeli warplanes on a mission to destroy a weapons convoy destined for the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah prompting it to deploy its missile defense system, Israeli officials said Friday, in a rare military exchange between the two hostile neighbors. The Israeli military said its aircraft struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the Israeli jets.

Israeli aerial defense systems intercepted one of the missiles, the army said, without elaborating. It would not say whether any other missiles struck Israeli-held territory, but said the safety of Israeli civilians and Israeli aircraft was "not compromised."

Israel is widely believed to have carried out several airstrikes in recent years on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions. It rarely comments on such operations and the military statement detailing the raid and comments confirming the operation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were highly unusual. "Our policy is very consistent. When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to the Hezbollah, and we have the intelligence and the operational capability, we act to prevent that. That is what was and that is what will be," Netanyahu said.

Israeli Channel 10 TV reported that Israel deployed its Arrow defense system for the first time against a real threat and hit an incoming missile, intercepting it before it exploded in Israel. However, Arrow is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles high in the stratosphere, so it remained unclear why the system would have been used in this particular incident. The Israeli military would not comment on the type of system used.

Israel's powerful transportation and intelligence minister Yisrael Katz told the station "our message is clear, we will not be complacent with a Syrian policy that arms Hezbollah." Katz said "the fact that the incident developed into a situation where Israel claimed responsibility and the Syrians responded is significant."

A Syrian military statement said four Israeli warplanes violated Syrian airspace — flying into Syria through Lebanese territory — and targeted a military position in central Syria. Damascus said Syrian anti-aircraft systems confronted the planes and claimed one of the jets was shot down in Israeli- controlled territory and that another was hit. The Israeli military denied the claim, saying none of the jets had been hit. There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah.

The pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV, which has good sources within the militant group, dismissed reports by other Arab media outlets that a Hezbollah commander, Badee Hamiyeh, was killed in one of the airstrikes. It said Hamiyeh was killed Thursday in the southern Syrian region of Quneitra, near the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

Jordan, which borders both Israel and Syria, said parts of the missiles fell in its rural northern areas, including the Irbid district. The Jordanian military said the debris came from the Israeli interception of missiles fired from Syria. Radwan Otoum, the Irbid governor, told the state news agency Petra that the missile parts caused only minor damage.

A chunk of missile crashed into the courtyard of a home in the community of Inbeh in northern Jordan, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Syrian border. Umm Bilal al-Khatib, a local resident, said she heard a blast at around 3 a.m. and initially thought a gas cylinder had exploded. When she went outside she found a small crater and a 3-meter-long (10-foot) cylinder.

Israeli media said the interception by the Arrow system took place north of Jerusalem.

Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Bassem Mroue in Beirut, and Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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