Archive for May, 2019

Israeli spacecraft crashes during moon landing: mission control

By Stephen Weizman

Jerusalem (AFP)

April 11, 2019

Israel’s attempt at a moon landing failed at the last minute on Thursday when the craft suffered an engine failure as it prepared to land and apparently crashed onto the lunar surface.

“We didn’t make it, but we definitely tried,” project originator and major backer Morris Kahn said in a live videocast from mission control near Tel Aviv.

“I think that the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous, I think we can be proud,” he said.

During the broadcast, control staff could be heard saying that engines meant to slow the craft’s descent and allow a soft landing had failed and contact with it had been lost.

“We are on the moon but not in the way we wanted,” one unidentified staffer said.

“We are the seventh country to orbit the moon and the fourth to reach the moon’s surface,” said another.

Only Russia, the United States and China have made the 384,000-kilometre (239,000-mile) journey and landed safely on the Moon.

“If at first you don’t succeed, you try again,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the control room, where he had been watching along with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

“We reached the moon but we’d like to land more comfortably,” he added. “That will be for the next attempt.”

The 585-kilogram (1,290-pound) unmanned spacecraft named Beresheet, which means “Genesis” in Hebrew, resembles a tall, oddly shaped table with round fuel tanks under the top.

Israeli NGO SpaceIL and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the project’s two main partners, have described it as the “world’s first spacecraft built in a non-governmental mission”.

Khan, a philanthropist and chairman of SpaceIL, put up $40 million of the project’s $100 million budget.

Other partners who joined later are from “the private sector, government and academia,” according to the IAI website.

Just before the landing attempt Netanyahu said that he was thinking about initiating a national space project.

“I am seriously considering investing in a space program,” he said in the webcast.

“It has national implications for Israel and implications for humanity.”

The country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, viewed the broadcast with 80 middle school space buffs at his official Jerusalem residence, his office said in a statement.

“We are full of admiration for the wonderful people who brought the spacecraft to the moon,” he said after the crash. “True, not as we had hoped, but we will succeed in the end. This is a great achievement that we have not yet completed.”

Although the journey is 384,000 kilometers, Beresheet will have traveled a total of 6.5 million kilometers due to a series of orbits.

It was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on February 22 with a Falcon 9 rocket from Elon Musk’s private US-based SpaceX company.

Its speed has reached 10 kilometers per second, (36,000 kilometers per hour).

The one-way trip was to have included an attempt to measure the lunar magnetic field, which would have helped understanding of the moon’s formation.

– Google prize –

The project began as part of the Google Lunar XPrize, which in 2010 offered $30 million in awards to encourage scientists and entrepreneurs to come up with relatively low-cost moon missions.

Although the Google prize expired in March without a winner, Israel’s team pledged to push forward.

The Israeli mission came amid renewed global interest in the moon, 50 years after American astronauts first walked on its surface.

China’s Chang’e-4 made the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon on January 3, after a probe sent by Beijing made a lunar landing elsewhere in 2013.

US President Donald Trump’s administration announced in March it was speeding up plans to send American astronauts back to the moon, bringing forward the target date from 2028 to 2024.

India hopes to become the next lunar country in the spring with its Chandrayaan-2 mission. It aims to put a craft with a rover onto the moon’s surface to collect data.

Japan plans to send a small lunar lander, called SLIM, to study a volcanic area around 2020-2021.

The United States remains the only country to have walked on the moon, with 12 astronauts having taken part in six missions between 1969 and 1972.

Source: Moon Daily.

Link: http://www.moondaily.com/reports/Israeli_spacecraft_crashes_during_moon_landing_mission_control_999.html.

Advertisements

US says closing consulate in Jerusalem no policy shift

March 04, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — The United States has officially shuttered its consulate in Jerusalem, downgrading the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by folding it into the U.S. Embassy to Israel.

For decades, the consulate functioned as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Now, that outreach will be handled by a Palestinian affairs unit, under the command of the embassy. The symbolic shift hands authority over U.S. diplomatic channels with the West Bank and Gaza to ambassador David Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settler movement and fierce critic of the Palestinian leadership.

The announcement from the State Department came early Monday in Jerusalem, the merger effective that day. “This decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement. “It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.”

In a farewell video addressed to the consulate’s Palestinian partners, Consul General Karen Sasahara, who is leaving her post as the unofficial U.S. ambassador to the Palestinians and will not be replaced, maintains that new Palestinian unit at the embassy will carry forward the mission of the consulate, “in support of the strengthening of American-Palestinian ties, to boost economic opportunities for the Palestinians and facilitate cultural and educational exchanges.”

When first announced by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October, the move infuriated Palestinians, fueling their suspicions that the U.S. was recognizing Israeli control over east Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories that Palestinians seek for a future state.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called the move “the final nail in the coffin” for the U.S. role in peacemaking. The downgrade is just the latest in a string of divisive decisions by the Trump administration that have backed Israel and alienated the Palestinians, who say they have lost faith in the U.S. administration’s role as a neutral arbiter in peace process.

Last year the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated its embassy there, upending U.S. policy toward one of the most explosive issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians in turn cut off most ties with the administration.

The administration also has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, including assistance to hospitals and peace-building programs. It has cut funding to the U.N. agency that provides aid to Palestinians classified as refugees. Last fall, it shut down the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.

The Trump administration has cited the reluctance of Palestinian leaders to enter peace negotiations with Israel as the reason for such punitive measures, although the U.S. has yet to present its much-anticipated but still mysterious “Deal of the Century” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, announced last month that the U.S. would unveil the deal after Israeli elections in April. The Palestinian Authority has preemptively rejected the plan, accusing the U.S. of bias toward Israel.

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Israeli election may have dimmed hopes for 2-state solution

April 21, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Is the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dead? After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coasted to another victory in this month’s Israeli election, it sure seems that way.

On the campaign trail, Netanyahu ruled out Palestinian statehood and for the first time, pledged to begin annexing Jewish settlements in the West Bank. His expected coalition partners, a collection of religious and nationalist parties, also reject Palestinian independence.

Even his chief rivals, led by a trio of respected former military chiefs and a charismatic former TV anchorman, barely mentioned the Palestinian issue on the campaign trail and presented a vision of “separation” that falls far short of Palestinian territorial demands.

The two Jewish parties that dared to talk openly about peace with the Palestinians captured just 10 seats in the 120-seat parliament, and opinion polls indicate dwindling support for a two-state solution among Jewish Israelis.

“The majority of the people in the state of Israel no longer see a two-state solution as an option,” said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy for the Yesha settler council, himself an opponent of Palestinian independence. “If we are looking for peace in this region, we will have to look for a different plan from the two-state solution.”

For the past 25 years, the international community has supported the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — as the best way to ensure peace in the region.

The logic is clear. With the number of Arabs living on lands controlled by Israel roughly equal to Jews, and the Arab population growing faster, two-state proponents say a partition of the land is the only way to guarantee Israel’s future as a democracy with a strong Jewish majority. The alternative, they say, is either a binational state in which a democratic Israel loses its Jewish character or an apartheid-like entity in which Jews have more rights than Arabs.

After decades of fruitless negotiations, each side blames the other for failure. Israel says the Palestinians have rejected generous peace offers and promoted violence and incitement. The Palestinians say the Israeli offers have not been serious and point to Israel’s ever-expanding settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, now home to nearly 700,000 Israelis.

The ground further shifted after the Hamas militant group took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 and left the Palestinians divided between two governments, with one side — Hamas — opposed to peace with Israel. This ongoing rift is a major obstacle to negotiations with Israel, and has also left many Palestinians disillusioned with their leaders.

Since taking office a decade ago, Netanyahu has largely ignored the Palestinian issue, managing the conflict without offering a solution for how two peoples will live together in the future. After clashing with the international community for most of that time, he has found a welcome friend in President Donald Trump, whose Mideast team has shown no indication of supporting Palestinian independence.

Tamar Hermann, an expert on Israeli public opinion at the Israel Democracy Institute, said the election results do not necessarily mean that Israelis have given up on peace. Instead, she said the issue just isn’t on people’s minds.

“Most Israelis would say the status quo is preferable to all other options, because Israelis do not pay any price for it,” she said. “They don’t feel the outcome of the occupation. … Why change it?”

While the two-state prospects seem dim, its proponents still cling to the belief that the sides will ultimately come around, simply because there is no better choice. “Either Israel decides to be an apartheid state with a minority that is governing a majority of Palestinians, or Israel has to realize that there is no other solution but two states,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told The Associated Press. “Unfortunately the Israeli prime minister is politically blind about these two facts.”

Shtayyeh noted the two-state solution continues to enjoy wide international backing. Peace, he insisted, is just a matter of “will” by Israel’s leaders. Dan Shapiro, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel, said the two-state solution “is certainly getting harder” after the Israeli election but is not dead.

Getting there would require leadership changes on both sides, he said, pointing to the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt 40 years ago, reached by two leaders who were sworn enemies just two years earlier.

“We know what’s possible when the right leadership is in place,” he said. “So that puts us supporters of it in a mode of trying to keep it alive and viable for the future.” That may be a tall task as the Israeli election results appear to reflect a deeper shift in public opinion.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute, which conducts monthly surveys of public opinion, support for the two-state solution among Jewish Israelis has plummeted from 69% in 2008, the year before Netanyahu took office, to 47% last year. Just 32% of Israelis between the ages of 18-34 supported a two-state solution in 2018. The institute typically surveys 600 people, with a margin of error of just over 4 percentage points.

Attitudes are changing on the Palestinian side as well. Khalil Shikaki, a prominent Palestinian pollster, said 31% of Palestinians seek a single binational state with full equality, a slight increase from a decade ago. His poll surveyed 1,200 people and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Although there was no breakdown by age group, Shikaki said the young are “clinging less to the two-state solution because they lost faith in the Palestinian Authority’s ability to provide a democratic state” and because the expanding settlements have created a new reality on the ground.

Amr Marouf, a 27-year-old restaurant manager in the city of Ramallah, said he maintains his official residence in a village located in the 60% of the West Bank that Israel controls, just in case Israel annexes the territory. That way, he believes, he can gain Israeli citizenship.

“I think the one state solution is the only viable solution,” he said. “We can be in Israel and ask for equal rights. Otherwise, we will live under military occupation forever.” Netanyahu is expected to form his new coalition government by the end of May, and he will come under heavy pressure from his partners to keep his promise to annex Israel’s West Bank settlements.

Such a step could extinguish any hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state, particularly if the U.S. supports it. American officials, who have repeatedly sided with Israel, have said nothing against Netanyahu’s plan.

There is also the Trump administration’s long-delayed peace plan, which officials have signaled could finally be released this summer. U.S. officials have said little about the plan, but have indicated it will go heavy on economic assistance to the Palestinians while falling far short of an independent state along the 1967 lines.

Shtayyeh said such a plan would be a nonstarter. “This is a financial blackmail, which we reject,” he said.

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

Advertisements