Posts Tagged ‘ Levant News ’

Israeli leader hopes summit brings Arab ties out in the open

February 13, 2019

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Mideast conference in Poland starting Wednesday offers Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an opportunity to flaunt in public what he has long boasted about happening behind the scenes — his country’s improved relations with some Gulf Arab nations.

Several Gulf dignitaries are expected to attend in a potential show of force against uninvited Iran. But the Palestinians are urging a boycott of the conference, and it remains to be seen whether Arab officials will make any public overtures to Netanyahu without a major concession to the Palestinian cause, which still animates the Arab public.

The United States and Poland are sponsoring the conference in Warsaw, which they say is aimed at promoting peace and security in the region but appears to be mainly focused on isolating Iran. Iran has denounced the conference as an American anti-Iran “circus.” Russia has said it will not attend, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, is also skipping the event.

For the Trump administration, it is a high-profile occasion to gather all its Middle East allies. For Poland, it offers a chance to strengthen ties with Washington as it seeks greater protection from Russia.

But the real winner could be Netanyahu, who has repeatedly stated that Israel has clandestinely developed good relations with several Arab states, despite a lack of official ties. Bringing such contacts out into the open would mark a major diplomatic coup, put a seal of approval on his goal of improving Israel’s standing in the world and provide a powerful photo-op for his re-election campaign ahead of the April vote in Israel.

Before departing for Poland on Tuesday, Netanyahu told reporters that the focus of the conference will be Iran, an issue he said “unites Israel, the United States, many countries in the world.” He said Israel enjoys “very good relations” with every country in the region “except Syria,” where Israel has carried out several airstrikes on Iranian targets in recent months.

Danny Danon, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, said his private contacts with Arab officials are far warmer than what is said in public. He predicted that once one Arab country goes public, others will quickly follow.

“As of now, they are already cooperating with us,” he told reporters in Jerusalem recently. “We ask them to recognize us and not to be ashamed for using our technology or our defense systems.” Israel has signed peace accords with Egypt and Jordan, but other Arab nations have refused to publicly improve relations without significant progress being made toward ending Israel’s half-century occupation of lands sought for a Palestinian state.

But as shared concerns about Iran have overshadowed the Palestinian issue in recent years, ties that have long lingered in the shadows have begun to emerge. Netanyahu visited Oman in October and met with longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Days later, two of his ministers headed to the United Arab Emirates for a security conference and to cheer on an Israeli delegation at a judo tournament — where the Israeli anthem was played after an Israeli competitor won gold.

Saudi Arabia, long rumored to have backdoor ties to Israel, lifted a decades-long ban on the use of its airspace for flights to Israel last spring, allowing India’s national carrier to cross its skies. The leaders of the small Gulf nation of Bahrain have also expressed willingness to normalize relations.

Gulf Arab states have given less voice to their traditional antipathy toward Israel as they have grown increasingly fearful of Iran over its involvement in Syria and other regional conflicts, and its support for various armed groups. Getting closer to Israel also helps them to curry favor in Washington.

But with Arab public opinion still strongly against normalization with Israel, this week’s conference is unlikely to produce warm engagement right away, said Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.

“Covert meetings already exist, and the ‘under-the-table’ relations are the world’s worst kept secret, so I don’t see what the Arabs would gain from shaking hands,” he said. “The point is to see everyone in the same room as a united front against Iran. But the Arab street is still nowhere near where the elites are regarding Israel, and too strong an embrace could draw fire.”

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE are scheduled to attend and meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It is unclear what their level of engagement will be with the Israeli delegation.

Netanyahu recently visited the Muslim-majority African nation of Chad to officially restore relations after 50 years and promised there would be more such visits and announcements soon. Trump’s senior Mideast adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, has been working on an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan for close to two years, but has not yet released details. U.S. officials say Kushner is expected to make some comments about the conflict in Warsaw, but Netanyahu said he doesn’t expect any discussion of the peace plan.

The Palestinians have pre-emptively rejected the plan, accusing the Trump White House of being unfairly biased toward Israel. They’ve also asked Arab countries to boycott or downgrade their representation at the conference in Poland.

“We view the Warsaw conference as a plot against the Palestinian cause,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said this week. President Mahmoud Abbas met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Tuesday, who expressed his “permanent stand” in favor of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, according to the official Saudi news agency.

Further tempering expectations, an Israeli TV channel obtained what it said was a secret Foreign Ministry report concluding it was very unlikely Saudi Arabia would normalize relations with Israel without a major concession to the Palestinians. The report, aired on Israel’s Channel 13 news, quoted a senior official as saying the narrow window for a breakthrough with the Saudis had closed.

The Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the report.

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Israelis to turn historic mosque into museum

February 5, 2019

The Israeli authorities in Tiberias have broken into the historic Al-Bahr Mosque in order to start turning it into a museum, Al-Resalah reported on Monday. The move violates a 2000 agreement between the authorities and the Palestinian community in Israel to maintain the status quo at the mosque, which has been closed ever since. One fifth of all Israeli citizens are Palestinians, the so-called “Arab-Israelis”, and face institutionalized discrimination at the hands of the state.

Israel has demolished hundreds of Palestinian mosques, cemeteries and other religious sites since the state’s creation in 1948. Dozens have been turned into bars and night clubs in Jaffa, Lod, Al-Ramla, Ashkelon and other cities with no regard for their religious significance.

According to Arab48.com, the agreement reached in 2000 has been violated several times, with attacks on the building, including arson. Largely left unguarded, it has been used by drug addicts.

“We have to go to Tiberias and stop the desecration of the holy site which aims to erase any Palestinian symbols in the city,” insisted Mohammad Baraka, the Chairman of the High Committee for Arab Citizens. He said that the Arab citizens in Israel would never accept such a move and pledged to protect the mosque and other holy places.

“Those who forget the agreement to maintain the status quo should know that it was not easy to reach,” said Kamal Al-Khatib, the head of the freedoms sub-committee in the Arab Follow up Committee. “It seems that the right-wing trend is within the mindset of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the head of Tiberias municipality, which is known for its right-wing stances.”

Al-Bahr (“The Sea”) Mosque was built in 1743 by the Muslim ruler of Tiberias, Al-Zaher Omar. It is located on the shore of Lake Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee. Since the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948, the mosque has been abandoned and no Muslims have been allowed to enter it. Having been turned into a bar, an agreement was reached in 2000 between the Tiberias municipality and the Palestinian citizens of Israel, including Arab parliamentarians. However, it was abandoned again and Palestinians are not allowed to enter even to clean it.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190205-israelis-to-turn-historic-mosque-into-museum/.

The Arabs are paying the price for peace with Israel

January 22, 2019

Mohammad Ayesh

In the past few years, Israel, the alien state in the region, has been sleeping in peace in a way that it has never dreamt of since it was founded more than seven decades ago. Meanwhile, the Arabs are drowning in war and blood day after day. If we expand our awareness and attention to what is happening, we find that the deeper the Arab states sink into war, the more unprecedented peace and happiness that Israel and its military occupation enjoy.

Over the past five years, Israel has launched a series of raids on Syria and carried out carefully planned military operations across the border, including the assassinations of Samir Qantar, Imad Mughniyeh, and others. It has also carried out military operations elsewhere, including the assassination of Engineer Mohamed Zouari in Tunisia and the assassination of Palestinian academic and researcher Fadi Al-Batsh in Malaysia. It may have even carried out more killings in other countries without anyone realizing, especially since Israel does not immediately admit to such operations. It only confessed a few years ago, for example, that it had killed the martyr Wadie Haddad in Iraq in 1978, 30 years after the assassination which people thought was a natural death.

Israeli raids and operations in recent years are an important indicator of the peace and relative relaxation enjoyed by the state, at a time when the Arabs are preoccupied with their internal conflicts, which have cost them enormously in human and material terms. The richest Arab countries suffer from deficits in their budgets and suffocating economic crises, while the poorest Arab countries, such as Syria, Yemen and Libya, are standing in line waiting to die. Their citizens who have escaped death by gunfire and bombs are facing starvation and extreme cold temperatures in refugee camps, or maybe even being drowned in their attempts to escape to the shores of Europe.

According to Elias Khoury, the editor of Palestine Studies magazine, there is a link between peace with Israel and the Arab internal war, pointing out that the Arab world is paying the price of that peace, which is far greater than the price of conflict and war with the Zionist state. At least 72,000 Arab martyrs have been killed in the wars with Israel, which is far fewer than those lost in inter-Arab conflicts. In Lebanon, for example, more than 120,000 people died in the civil war alone. Khoury asks whether this deceptive peace is merely a door to hell for the Arab world. Have the past few years proven that the price of peace is higher than the price of war?

The answer may well be yes, especially if we take into consideration the Machiavellian theory that when people face an external danger, they come together and forget their internal disputes. They rally behind each other in order to face the external threat and defeat it.

To say that the Arabs are paying the price of peace with Israel or that Israel is enjoying peace at great cost to the Arabs amounts to one and the same thing. Israel is reaping the benefits of the Arabs being in perpetual conflict. Ultimately, it is the sole beneficiary. The fact that it is being allowed to get away with attacking targets in Syria and assassinating its enemies with apparent impunity is not the only benefit that the Israeli government has obtained from Arab conflicts. It is also sitting back and watching Arab leaders fall over themselves in the race to normalize relations with the Zionist state in our midst.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190122-the-arabs-are-paying-the-price-for-peace-with-israel/.

Ireland passes BDS bill banning Israel settlement goods

January 25, 2019

Ireland has advanced a bill which will prevent the sale of goods from Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The lower house of the Irish parliament – the Dail – yesterday voted in favor of a bill which will ban the purchase of all goods and services from Israel’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. The bill was previously passed through the parliament’s upper house – the Seanad – before proceeding to the lower house and receiving a 78-45 majority in favor, Al Jazeera explained.

The bill – officially known as the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill – still needs to pass several more stages before being signed into Irish law, but it is expected to progress given its broad base of support from Irish opposition parties.

Once approved, the law would see fines of up to €250,000 ($284,000) or five years in jail be handed down for those found guilty of importing or selling any goods or services originating in the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem or West Bank settlements, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Though estimates put the value of settlement-made exports to Ireland at between only $580,000 and $1.1 million annually, the symbolic value of the bill and its potential to influence other European countries to follow suit has been hailed as a victory by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative party, said the bill is a “great victory for the BDS movement” and vowed that “we will seek to pass similar laws in a number of European countries in the near future”.

Irish politicians also welcomed the move, with Irish Senator Frances Black tweeting: “Ireland will always stand for international law + human rights, & we’re one step closer to making history. Onwards!” She added: “We have now united every opposition party behind this bill, because it is *not* a radical ask: we want to give effect to basic provisions of int [international] law & human rights.”

However Israel has reacted with anger at the bill, summoning the Irish Ambassador to Israel, Alison Kelly, to be reprimanded.

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s office said that “Israel is outraged over the legislation against it in the Dail which is indicative of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism”. It added: “Instead of Ireland condemning Syria for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of civilians, Turkey for the occupation of northern Cyprus and the terrorist organizations for murdering thousands of Israelis, it attacks Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. What a disgrace.”

Meanwhile Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the vote “an expression of pure hostility on the part of its initiators,” adding: “This is a clear expression of obsessive discrimination that should be rejected with disgust.”

Ireland has been a long-time supporter of the BDS movement. In October, Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ announced that it will not sanction any staff members who refuse to travel to Israel for the Eurovision Song Contest, due to be held in Tel Aviv in May. RTÉ’s decision came after the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) called for a boycott of the competition “due to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people”.

Other Irish organisations have also expressed support for BDS, with the Dublin City Council voting in April to back the movement. In March, students at one of the country’s most prestigious universities – Trinity College Dublin – voted to support BDS, meaning the Students Union will support the movement and “comply with the principles of BDS in all union shops, trade, business and other union operations”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190125-ireland-passes-bds-bill-banning-israel-settlement-goods/.

Israel’s Netanyahu to meet Putin in Moscow this month

February 05, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this month. Netanyahu announced the trip Tuesday during a press conference with visiting Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen. It will be his third meeting with Putin since July.

Netanyahu says the Feb. 21 visit will deal with Israel’s efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment in neighboring Syria. The prime minister met with a delegation of senior Russian officials in Jerusalem last week to discuss “strengthening the security coordination mechanism between the militaries” to prevent possible friction in Syria.

Israel and Russia maintain a hotline to prevent their air forces from clashing over Syria. Israel has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, primarily against Iranian targets and suspected arms shipments to Hezbollah militants.

Israel’s Gantz slams Netanyahu, unveils hawkish foreign policy

January 30, 2019

The head of the Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) Party, Benny Gantz, has ruled out joining a coalition with incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if the latter is indicted for corruption.

Delivering his first campaign speech yesterday, Gantz argued that “a prime minister cannot preside over Israel when an indictment has been filed against him,” adding: “Netanyahu is no king, his government sows division and incitement.”

Gantz did not hold back on attacking Netanyahu, though stopped short of mentioning the prime minister by name. “The government we [the Israel Resilience Party] will form will be a national government and not a monarchy. This will be a government without masters and servants, no obscene gifts and no court clowns,” he said, in a thinly-veiled reference to the ongoing corruption cases against Netanyahu in which he stands accused of bribery and receiving lavish gifts from businessmen.

Gantz continued: “Our government will not see ferocious attacks against the chief of staff, the commissioner and the attorney general. There will be no incitement against the judicial, cultural and media institutions.”

Netanyahu has made attacking Israel’s media, judiciary and police a central part of his election campaign in recent weeks, using the blanket term “the left” to lambast anyone who calls for a verdict on his indictment to be released before the general election on 9 April. Netanyahu has been engaged in fervent talks with Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, to try postpone the verdict, though Mandelblit has not wavered in his commitment to publish his recommendation.

In contrast, Gantz yesterday sought to portray himself as the candidate of “hope”, a breath of fresh air not involved in the political infighting that has thus far characterized election season. Gantz explained:

[quote] “The struggle between left and right rips us apart. Quarrels between religious and secular split us. The tension between Jews and non-Jews threatens us. The mutual guarantee of a shared society is crumbling. Politics is ugly, and the public arena has become poisoned.”

However, onlookers should not make the mistake of thinking that Gantz is a dovish candidate; on foreign policy, Gantz’ message to regional foes was clear. Addressing Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas in turn, Gantz warned each country or movement’s leader that he would take a hawkish position against them were he to be elected prime minister.

“[Iranian] President Rouhani – I will thwart your plots […] to harm Israel”; “[Secretary General of Hezbollah] Hassan Nasrallah – we will not tolerate a threat to Israeli sovereignty”; “[head of Hamas in Gaza] Yahya Sinwar – I suggest you not test me again,” he said in yesterday’s speech.

Since Gantz announced the formation of his party and joined the election race in December, he has maintained a calculated silence about many of his opinions and campaign pledges. Though many thought he could run on a center-left platform – buoyed by his promise to “fix” the Nation-State Law – his campaign video released earlier this month raised eyebrows for boasting that, during his time as the Israeli Army’s Chief of Staff, he had bombed the already-besieged Gaza Strip “back to the stone age”.

Earlier this week Gantz revealed that he has agreed to run on a joint ticket with another former Chief of Staff and Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon. Speaking for the first time since the alliance was revealed, Ya’alon yesterday said that he wouldn’t support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Ya’alon has a long history of positions such as this, opposing Israel’s “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and opposed US-led peace talks.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190130-israels-gantz-slams-netanyahu-unveils-hawkish-foreign-policy/.

Israel leader scorned for wooing Holocaust-distorting allies

January 30, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warm welcome to Lithuania’s prime minister marks his latest embrace of an eastern European leader who has offered strong political support while promoting a distorted image of the Holocaust.

Lithuania is among a slew of former communist nations swept up in a wave of World War II-era revisionism that seeks to diminish their culpability in the Holocaust while making heroes out of anti-Soviet nationalists involved in the mass killing of Jews. In Israel, established in the wake of the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews, many say Netanyahu is cynically betraying the victims’ memory.

Lithuania, for instance, has been a leading force behind creating a joint memorial day for all victims of totalitarianism, blurring the distinction between the crimes of the Nazis and the communists who fought them.

It also has pushed for legislation to prohibit the sale of books that “distort Lithuanian history” by citing the rampant, documented collaboration of the local population with Nazis. Most recently it has resisted calls to remove the various plaques commemorating anti-Soviet fighter Jonas Noreika, despite recent revelations by his own granddaughter, Silvia Foti, that he was a fierce anti-Semite who had a role in the murder of thousands of Jews.

Nearly all of Lithuania’s 200,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust. When Netanyahu, who has Lithuanian roots, visited Vilnius last year, he praised Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis for taking “great steps to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust” and for fighting modern-day anti-Semitism.

“It’s unforgivable. Netanyahu is giving them a green light,” said Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “It’s like praising the Ku Klux Klan for improving racial relations in the South.”

“We have to say the truth. We owe it to the victims,” he added. In a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday, Skvernelis said “Lithuania has been learning the lessons of the past” and was “improving the life of the Jewish community and restoring historical sites.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Netanyahu treaded cautiously. He referred to the “tragedies of the past” but steered clear of any criticism of modern Lithuania, praising the “spirit of friendship” and “a bridge from the past to a future.”

Skvernelis’ visit comes a week after Netanyahu similarly rolled out the red carpet for President Petro Porochenko of Ukraine, whose parliament just designated the birthday of Ukrainian wartime collaborator Stepan Bandera a national holiday. A regional legislature declared 2019 “the year of Stepan Bandera.”

Bandera’s forces fought alongside the Nazis and were implicated in the murder of thousands of Jews. As Porochenko was visiting Israel, another memorial was being erected in Kiev for Symon Petliura, whose troops are linked to pogroms that killed as many as 50,000 Jews after World War I.

Netanyahu’s outreach in eastern Europe is part of his larger strategy of forging alliances to counter the criticism Israel faces in the United Nations and other international forums over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Critics consider it a deal with the devil. They say Netanyahu — who often invokes the Holocaust when inveighing against archrival Iran — turns a blind eye when it comes to like-minded allies. “It’s a specific maneuver that legitimizes anti-Semitism and borders on Holocaust denial,” said Tamar Zandberg, leader of the dovish Meretz party.

The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Under communist rule, the Holocaust was not seriously dealt with and, upon independence, the newfound eastern and central European nations sought to canonize nationalist icons who resisted the Soviets, while largely ignoring their crimes alongside the Nazis. Domestic academics who have challenged the false narrative have been shamed, and external criticism has often been met with new anti-Semitic outbursts.

For countries like Lithuania and Ukraine, the warm embrace of the Israeli leader provides a strong defense against accusation of anti-Semitism while also strengthening ties with a close U.S. ally. Netanyahu has also formed a close alliance with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has lavished praise on Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s World War II-era ruler, who introduced anti-Semitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis. Orban has also employed anti-Semitic tropes against the Jewish Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros and backed a state-funded museum that experts say plays down the role of Hungarian collaborators.

Netanyahu also struck a deal with Polish leaders over their country’s controversial Holocaust speech law, which would have criminalized blaming the Polish nation for crimes committed against Jews during World War II.

Israeli Holocaust historians slammed the agreement, which seemed to accept a Polish narrative that they were only victims of the Nazis. Scholars say anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in pre-war Poland and Poles might have either killed or helped Germans kill up to 200,000 Jews.

Still, Netanyahu has invited Orban and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki — who last year equated Polish perpetrators in the Holocaust to supposed “Jewish perpetrators” — to Israel in February for a summit with the leaders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party and the son of a Holocaust survivor, called on Netanyahu to cancel the meeting, saying one prime minister has “published anti-Semitic content” and another “passed a law desecrating the memory of Holocaust victims.”

In an annual report Sunday, Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs said 2018 saw a record number of worldwide anti-Semitic attacks, with most carried out by neo-Nazis in Europe and white supremacists. But at his Cabinet meeting later in the day, Netanyahu singled out “Islamic anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitism of the extreme left, which includes anti-Zionism.”

Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, which hosts all visiting foreign dignitaries, has been thrust into the controversy. While it says it will never disqualify anyone wishing to visit, Yad Vashem insists it will “forcefully” address any denial or distortion. Yad Vashem said the Lithuanian leader received a comprehensive explanation of the Holocaust, including details about “the murder of Jews of Lithuania by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators.”

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