Archive for February 24th, 2018

Oman FM visits Al-Aqsa in ‘historic’ move

February 16, 2018

Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi bin Abdullah visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque yesterday.

Azzam Al-Khatib, the director of the Islamic Waqf in occupied Jerusalem, who received the Omani minister, described the visit as “historic” and said it was aimed at supporting the people of Jerusalem.

The visit comes after a meeting between the Omani minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

During a press conference with the PA president, the Omani foreign minister called on the Arab countries to “accept the invitation of Mahmoud Abbas to visit Palestine and occupied Jerusalem, stressing that the Palestinian people are not alone and that all the Arab peoples are behind them”.

“What is required is the hard work of the Palestinians to build their country, which has historically been a beacon of science, containing universities, schools, professors and experts,” he added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180216-oman-fm-visits-al-aqsa-in-historic-move/.

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Israeli settler leader says settlements grew rapidly in 2017

February 20, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew at nearly twice the rate of Israel’s overall population last year, a settler leader said Monday, predicting that settlement growth would surge even more in the coming years thanks in part to the Trump presidency.

Yaakov Katz said that President Donald Trump, backed by a Mideast team dominated by settler supporters, has created a friendly new atmosphere conducive to settlement growth after eight contentious years with the Obama White House.

“This is the first time, after years, that we are surrounded by people who really like us, love us, and they are not trying to be objective,” Katz said. “We have to thank God he sent Trump to be president of the United States.”

Katz is founder of “West Bank Jewish Population Stats,” a report sponsored by “Bet El Institutions,” a prominent settler organization that has ties to Trump’s closest Mideast advisers. He said the figures are based on official data from the Israeli Interior Ministry not yet available to the public.

According to his figures, the West Bank settler population reached 435,159 as of Jan. 1, up 3.4 percent from 420,899 a year earlier. The settler population has grown 21.4 percent in the last five years.

In comparison, Israel’s total population grew 1.8 percent to 8.743 million last year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Katz said the rapid growth of the settlements should put to rest the idea of a two-state solution favored by the Palestinians and most of the international community.

Based on recent growth patterns, he said the West Bank settler population could approach 500,000 by the time Trump leaves office. His study did not include the more than 200,000 Israelis now living in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.

“We are changing the map,” he said. “The idea of the two-state solution is over. It is irreversible.” The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for a future independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

A string of U.S. presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have endorsed the idea of a two-state solution and have joined the international community in opposing settlements as obstacles to peace. But after years of failed U.S.-led peace efforts, Trump has taken a different line. He says he would support a two-state solution only if both sides agree to it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist coalition is dominated by settler allies who oppose Palestinian independence.

Trump also has taken a softer stance toward the settlements, urging restraint at times but avoiding the strong condemnations of his predecessors. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a former president of Bet El Institutions. His chief Mideast adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, has donated to the group, and even Trump once sent a donation.

These deep ties to the settlements have helped fuel Palestinian suspicions of the White House. Those suspicions deepened after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, prompting the Palestinians to say the U.S. can no longer be an honest Mideast broker. Trump’s team has been working on a peace proposal, though it is not clear when it will be released.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the figures reflect an Israeli policy of building settlements to destroy the two-state solution. He said Trump’s muted response encourages more settlement building.

“What is required of the world, including the American administration, is to condemn the settlements as illegitimate and illegal and to recognize the principle of two states on the 1967 borders,” he said. “if they want to keep hope in any future peace process, they must stop these plans.”

Brian Reeves, spokesman for Peace Now, an anti-settlement monitoring group, said it could not corroborate Katz’s figures but that they are in the “ballpark” of its own estimates. Katz said the settlement growth has been fueled both by natural growth of the population, which is heavily religious and tends to have larger families, as well as the attraction of cheaper housing in the West Bank.

He predicted even faster growth in the coming years, claiming that the Trump White House has given Netanyahu a “green light” to advance construction. “Bibi is less afraid of what the president will say about him,” he said. “We are very, very, very happy with the Trump administration.”

Israeli PM Netanyahu to Iran: Don’t test Israel’s resolve

February 18, 2018

MUNICH (AP) — The international nuclear deal with Iran has emboldened Tehran to become increasingly aggressive in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, warning that Iran should “not test Israel’s resolve.”

Netanyahu said if the U.S. decides to scrap the 2015 nuclear deal, which he has long opposed, “I think they’ll do nothing.” But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, appearing two hours later at the same Munich Security Conference, fired back that Netanyahu’s comment was “delusional thinking.”

“I can assure that if Iran’s interests are not secured, Iran will respond, will respond seriously. And I believe it would be a response that means people would be sorry for taking the erroneous action they did,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed deep skepticism about the Iran nuclear deal that lifted sanctions against the country. He extended sanctions waivers in January but said he would not do so again when they come up for renewal in May unless his concerns are addressed.

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a main architect of the nuclear deal, said it was “absolutely critical” to ensure it survives. “We know what the world looks like without the Iran nuclear agreement,” he said Sunday, speaking at the same conference. “It’s not a better place.”

If the U.S. abandons the current nuclear deal it’s unlikely Iran would consider a new one, Kerry said. “The problem is the waters have been muddied because of this credibility issue about America’s willingness to live up to any deal,” he said.

Kerry dismissed Netanyahu’s contention that Iran would be on its way to having a nuclear arsenal in 10 years, saying “that’s fundamentally not accurate.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir weighed in, saying the Iran nuclear deal “has flaws that need to be fixed.” He said that, among other things, the inspection system needs to be more intrusive.

“The world has to extract a price from Iran for its aggressive behavior,” he added. Netanyahu told world leaders, diplomats and defense officials at the conference that the deal was similar to the infamous 1938 “Munich Agreement” that Western powers signed with Adolf Hitler in an attempt to stave off war in Europe, which became synonymous with appeasement.

“The concessions to Hitler only emboldened the Nazi regime,” he said. “Rather than choosing a path that might have prevented war… those well-intentioned leaders made a wider war inevitable and far more costly.”

Similarly, he said, the Iranian nuclear agreement has “unleashed a dangerous Iranian tiger in our region and beyond.” Declaring that Iran’s “brazenness hit new highs,” he theatrically held up a fragment of what he said was an Iranian drone shot down last week by Israel in Israeli airspace and challenged Zarif.

“Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should, it’s yours,” Netanyahu said. “You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran — do not test Israel’s resolve!” Tehran has denied that the drone belonged to Iran. Zarif on Sunday dismissed Netanyahu’s stunt as “a cartoonish circus… which does not even deserve the dignity of a response.”

Netanyahu has been projecting a business-as-usual approach on his visit to Germany amid uproar at home after police on Tuesday said was sufficient evidence to indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases. The Israeli leader has angrily rejected the accusations and denounced what he describes as an overzealous police investigation. He has also dismissed the accusations as a witch hunt orchestrated by a hostile media.

Zarif suggested the Israeli leader might be escalating tensions with Iran simply to distract from his domestic problems. Denouncing what he said were Israel’s “almost daily illegal incursions into Syrian airspace,” Zarif said Israel was trying “to create these cartoonish images to blame others for its own strategic blunders, or maybe to evade the domestic crisis they’re facing.”

Netanyahu told the audience that destroying the drone was a demonstration of Israel’s resolve. “Israel will not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck,” he said. “We will act if necessary, not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us but against Iran itself.”

Lebanese Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf accused Israel of being hypocritical, saying that he’d had “an Israeli drone above my head for the past 15 years” and warning about any aggression from its neighbor.

“Lebanon has no belligerent intent on anybody, but watch out, we will defend ourselves,” he said. “We also have partners, we also have friends, we also have people willing to die for their country. We are for peace, yet we will not stand for any threat and we will not accept any aggression. ”

Moulson reported from Berlin.

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