Netanyahu’s aides tell visiting envoy they expect Paris not to push processes in conflict with Israel’s ‘official position’
Israel will not participate in an international conference on the peace process hosted by France, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top aides declared Monday.
The French government’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process, Pierre Vimont, is visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority this week to push Paris’s plan to hold a conference in December.
He met Monday with acting National Security Adviser Yakov Nagel and Netanyahu confidant Isaac Molcho, who told him in “a unambiguous and unequivocal fashion” that real progress and a lasting peace agreement could only emerge through direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the PA, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
“Any other initiatives only distance the region from such a process,” the statement continued. “It was explained to the French envoy that Israel will not participate in any international conference convened in opposition to its position.”
The French initiative “greatly harms the possibilities for advancing the peace process,” the statement said, arguing that it would allow PA President Mahmoud Abbas to avoid returning to direct bilateral negotiations without preconditions.
“Israel is certain and expects that France will not advance a conference or process contradicting the State of Israel’s official position,” it said.
Netanyahu on Monday morning was hosting his Fijian counterpart, Voreqe Bainimara, and did not meet with Vimont.
The French envoy, a soft-spoken veteran diplomat, was slated to meet with Abbas in Ramallah on Monday evening. He is to travel to the United States next week to take the outgoing administration’s temperature on the planned Paris conference.
On Sunday, Vimont said that while he understands that Israel is opposed to the French initiative, it would send a positive signal if Netanyahu were to attend nonetheless.
“If at the end of the day, the Israeli government would decide to participate in the Paris conference, it will show genuine, sincere commitment to the two-state solution,” he said at a conference in Tel Aviv, according to Haaretz.
The French are aware that it is currently impossible to get Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate in earnest, let alone reach a peace agreement, officials in Paris said. The proposed international conference is not intended to force either side into concessions or even to formulate a framework for a future agreement. Rather, one of its core goals is to get both parties, as well as regional and international actors, to restate clearly their commitment to the two-state solution.
“We are in no way trying to impose a solution on the two sides. It is about getting the international community involved again in the peace process,” he said in Tel Aviv.
Times Of Israel
PM tells Italian president Israel was ‘gravely disappointed’ by Rome’s abstention in UNESCO vote on Jerusalem, pleased by pledge it won’t happen again
November 2, 2016, 9:08 pm
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday told visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella that Israel was “gravely disappointed” by Italy’s abstention in a UNESCO vote last month that ignored Jewish and Christian links to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but was heartened to hear a subsequent pledge from Italy’s prime minister that it would oppose such resolutions in the future.
He also told his guest that the conflict with the Palestinians was never about their desire for their own state, but rather about their wish to destroy the Jewish state, and he insisted that it was wrong to see West Bank settlements as the root of the problem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he asserted, won’t recognize a Jewish state “in any borders.”
“This conflict is not and never was about a Palestinian state, which successive Israeli governments, including this prime minister, have been willing to arrange — a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said, speaking at the start of a meeting with Mattarella at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “It was and is about the Jewish state, and unless and until our Palestinian neighbors face this, confront these demons, give up the ghost of trying to destroy the Jewish state by this or that means, peace will be harder to achieve.”
Noting that his guest had just met with the Abbas, Netanyahu charged that the PA leader “continues to refuse to accept a Jewish state in any boundaries, and this remains the core of the conflict — this persistent Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state in any configuration.”
The prime minister declared that criticism of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, land that the Palestinians want for a future state, is misguided. “I think the focus that people (place) on settlements is wrong. (The conflict) preceded the settlements by half a century. And when we left Gaza and all the settlements (in 2005), they continued to fire rockets at us,” he said.
Netanyahu said he had approached both “Hamas and President Abbas,” and asked if they would recognize the Jewish state if the settlement issue is resolved. “And they won’t, because the real settlement issue is the settlements of Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, Akko; the persistent refusal is to recognize a Jewish state in any borders,” he said.
Netanyahu recalled having seen the Arch of Titus in Rome which depicts the spoils of war looted by the Roman army from Jerusalem after it destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD.
“I raise this because we’ve just had an absurd decision of UNESCO that said that the Jewish people have no connection to the Temple Mount. Well, the Arch of Titus was built by Titus’s brother, the Emperor Domitian. He wasn’t a Zionist propagandist. And he obviously was depicting that long, thousands-year connection to the Temple Mount, to Jerusalem and to this country of the Jewish people.”
Although Israel was disappointed by Italy’s abstention from voting on the resolution, Netanyahu said he was encouraged by Italian Prime Minister Renzi’s statement since then, vowing that Italy would change its voting position on future resolutions.
“UNESCO’s attempt to erase Jewish history is an attempt to say that Jews really don’t have any connection to our land. It’s not only false, blatantly false, it also makes the achievement of peace harder,” he said. “Denying our history is one of the means of denying the Jewish state. This is the bad news.”
“Now, the good news. The good news, the incredible news, one that fills me with great hope, is that there is a dramatic change taking place in the Arab world, and that change is that many of the Arab countries see Israel no longer as their enemy, but as their ally, even their vital ally, in fighting against Islamist terrorism, militant Islam, either led by Iran or led by Da’esh,” Netanyahu said, using the Hebrew acronym for the Islamic State group.
Times Of Israel
Things are starting to fall apart in both the PA and Hamas-controlled territories.
In Gaza, Hamas quietly arrested and reportedly tortured one of its own senior leaders, Mushr al-Masri, on alleged charges of embezzlement and treason.
Reports say that al-Masri was briefly transferred to a hospital because of the beatings he endured, only to return to prison.
News reports also say that Hamas has arrested a number of its own members in recent months on charges of collaborating with Israel, and some of these people have been executed. The official cover story is that they were killed “while performing tasks of jihad.”
In the West Bank, however, things look even worse for the PA.
The pro-Fatah Palestine Press Agency reports that the increasing number of clashes between various armed groups, and between these groups and PA security forces, are all part of attempts to position each group ahead of any power struggle if Abbas dies or otherwise leaves without a strong successor.
There have also been armed clashes between Fatah armed groups and other armed gangs, who are making money on illegal drugs and arms, in the Balata camp and elsewhere. The PA security forces are reportedly providing weapons to some armed groups to buy their loyalty in case things go south quickly. Unemployed youths in the camps are also susceptible to being recruited to these armed groups. The residents are very worried that a civil war will break out as soon as Abbas is gone if he doesn’t designate a clear successor who is accepted by the people — a prospect that seems dim.
The planned Fatah conference in November may make things worse if it doesn’t address these issues. And the increased pressure from Egypt and Gulf states on Abbas to get his act together is putting everyone on edge.
There are big problems in the territories, and things could explode sooner rather than later.
A few days ago, Israel recalled its ambassador to UNESCO for consultations after the U.N. culture body adopted a second resolution in two weeks that Israeli leaders said ignored Judaism’s connection with one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, Reuters reported.
The resolution adopted by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Paris refers to the compound as a “Muslim holy site of worship”, just as its resolution Oct. 13.
The latest vote, like the first, deals with the safeguarding of the city’s religious heritage.
At the Paris meeting, Israeli ambassador Carmel Shama Hacohen dropped a copy of the resolution into a trash bin.
According to Haaretz, contacts were made by Israel and the US via “secret channels,” which culminated in a panel session Wednesday morning when Palestinians and representatives of the Arab countries “were surprised” that Croatian and Tanzanian ambassadors demanded a secret vote, rather than passing the decision by consensus, as is permitted by UNESCO regulations.
Meanwhile, the PLO voiced its support for the resolution in a statement Wednesday saying that, “Contrary to what the Israeli government claims, the resolution that was voted by UNESCO aims at reaffirming the importance of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions,” adding that Al-Aqsa “continues to be threatened by the systematic incitement and provocative actions of the Israeli government and extremist Jewish groups.”
“Through an orchestrated campaign, Israel has been using archaeological claims and distortion of facts as a way to legitimize the annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem,” the statement added.
The resolution’s approval also came after reports emerged Tuesday suggesting that Israeli police would now recommend permitting members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, after they were banned last October in an attempt to ease tensions at the site.
Tensions around occupied East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound were a main contributor to a wave of unrest that began last October, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during the Jewish holiday season this time last year.
Two weeks ago, Israel lashed out at UNESCO for renewing a similar resolution that condemned it for restricting Muslim access to the site, in a part of Jerusalem captured by Israeli forces in a 1967 war.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its capital, a position that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Middle East Observer
Palestinian Authority television reported Saturday that Dimitry Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister, will arrive on November 9 in order to assist with peace efforts between the Palestinian leaders and Israel, according to Channel 10.
The report also stated that Medvedev will meet with both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On October 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Netanyahu exchanged greetings on the 25th anniversary of restored diplomatic relations between the two nations. Both leaders emphasized a joint interest in developing bilateral cooperation, including discussions on urgent international and regional issues.
The two leaders have met four times in the past 16 months.
Medvedev’s trip, according to the Russian embassy’s website said that the visit is intended to strengthen cooperation in various fields.
“Over the years, our two countries and peoples managed to escape from the unfortunate period of mutual alienation and become genuine partners who understand and who know how to respect each other’s interests,” the statement on the website read. “Russian-Israeli relations have a special character, largely because Israel is home to over a million of our compatriots. The Russian-speaking community is a powerful catalyst for the development of bilateral political, economic, cultural, business and cultural ties.”
Herb Keinon contributed to this article.
For a man who just lost a significant vote, Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen was having what he described as a “dream” day.
Israel had always known that it would lose the vote at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Paris on a resolution that ignores Jewish ties to the Temple Mount. So it worked instead to ensure that the text was as benign as possible and that it passed with minimal support.
It involved an Israeli bluff to counter a Palestinian threat intended to pressure the WHC to pass the resolution by consensus.
The Palestinian Authority and Jordan had warned that they would strengthen the Muslim claims to the site in the resolution, unless there were a consensus vote on the existing text, which was a softer version than the one the WHC approved last year.
Israel allowed them to believe they had the consensus support. Part of that strategy was the release of statements to the media about how Israel expected a major loss at the WHC meeting in Paris.
Assuming a consensus support, the Palestinians and the Jordanians submitted the softer version of the resolution for a vote.
It was only until the meeting opened, and Tanzania and Croatia called for a secret ballot, that the Palestinians and the Jordanians suddenly understood that events would not go as planed.
For over half an hour the Arab countries on the committee, led by Lebanon and with the help of Cuba, attempted and ultimately failed to push forward a consensus motion.
The vote that then took place was on the less contentious text, particularly compared to the one that the committee approved in 2015.
The World Heritage Committee votes annually on Jerusalem, so that it can reaffirm its placement on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites. Wednesday’s resolution was also less problematic than the one approved earlier this month by UNESCO’s 58-member executive board.
Among the critical differences was the restoration of the Jewish terms of reference for the Western Wall, which in past resolutions had been in quotation marks or parentheses, with the text referring to the holy Jewish site only by its Muslim name, the Buraq Wall.
There were fewer references to the Temple Mount’s Muslim name of al-Haram al-Sharif, and only one statement that it is a Muslim holy site of worship.
The 2016 WHC text spoke once of the Israeli “occupation” authorities, but dropped the 10 references in the 2015 text to Israel as an “occupying power.”
Shama-Hacohen said that it had been unclear until Wednesday morning how much support Israel had. In the end, he said, only the Arab states on the committee, along with Cuba and Vietnam, supported the resolution.
“We succeeded in surprising them [the Palestinians and the Arab states] at the last minute,” Shama-Hacohen said. “Credit for this is due to the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I want to issue a special thanks to two brave nations, Croatia and Tanzania, that lay on the fence for Israel and publicly asked for a vote, [and] stood against the wishes of the Arab world,” Shama-Hacohen said. He also thanked the United States for the significant role that it played.
“With respect to the content, the Arab nations had no choice but to beat an almost complete retreat on the issue of the Western Wall,” Shama- Hacohen said.
The problem that remained was referring to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name, al-Haram al-Sharif, he said. “But that issue will also be solved one day, and the truth will win out.”
President Sisi announced he would be inviting Netanyahu and Abbas to meet with him together in Cairo.
On Monday, during an open Q&A in the Knesset Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated: “Egypt is the most important and serious ally we have in the Middle East and among Arab states. I invested a lot of effort in building trust and cooperative relations.” This is a very interesting statement from the man who in 1998 suggested bombing the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for Yasser Arafat.
Arafat is no longer around and neither is Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and Liberman too might not be the same old Liberman we know from yesteryear. A senior Egyptian intelligence officer very recently told me that in the eyes of the Egyptian government, Liberman is the most pragmatic man in the Israeli government and “we can work with him.”
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Israel and Egypt are at peace since 1979. When Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made his historic visit to Jerusalem in November 1977, Arafat led the Arab world to break ties with Israel. The Arab League headquarters moved out of Cairo and Egypt became a pariah state among the Arabs and Muslims. In 1982 when Arafat was forced to leave Beirut, on his way to Tunis he made a point of stopping in Cairo, publicly embracing president Mubarak, who had been Sadat’s deputy, and renewing his ties with Egypt – the same Egypt that made peace with Israel.
That peace treaty has survived the assassination of the Egyptian president, repeated wars between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and Lebanon, the rise to power of Hamas in Gaza and the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. With Egyptian sovereignty challenged by terrorists in Sinai, Israel has agreed to every Egyptian request to deploy more forces and weapons in Sinai, including assault helicopters, way above and beyond the limitations of the Israeli- Egyptian security annex of the peace treaty. Egyptian- Israeli security and intelligence cooperation is a key pillar of the relationship and crucial to the security of both sides. Hamas is a common enemy, as are other expressions of Islamic radicalism in the region. Those common threats have expanded beyond Israel’s other borders to include Jordan and even Saudi Arabia.
Egypt is in a key place in the Middle East today. Even with its faltering economy and its very difficult war against ISIS and other terrorists in Sinai, Egypt understands that it can play an irreplaceable role in advancing broader regional stability, security and economic opportunity. Egypt is the lifeline for Gaza and Hamas knows it. The closure of almost all of the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza by Egypt has crippled the Gazan economy and Hamas has lost its main source of income. Egypt keeps the Rafah crossing into Sinai closed almost all year. The people of Gaza are paying the price for the failings and lies of their own government.
Egypt has accused Hamas of collaborating with anti-Egyptian terrorists in Sinai. Hamas leaders went to Cairo and swore to the Egyptian officials that they were not assisting any war against Egypt, but they were lying and Egyptian intelligence produced the evidence.
Egypt has made it clear that the Rafah crossing will remained closed most of the time until Hamas agrees to the redeployment of Palestinian Authority forces along the border. This is not acceptable to Hamas and yet it remains the demand of both Egypt and the PA for the reuniting of Gaza and the West Bank under one authority. Egypt, like Israel, wants to see the end of Hamas rule in Gaza.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas is in constant contact with President Sisi and sees Egypt as a steadfast ally of the Palestinian people, and yet Abbas also knows that he gets no discounts from Sisi on compromises that the Palestinians will have to make in any deal with Israel.
This includes the continued security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank.
The Egyptians seem to have a plan and they are working on its implementation. First, President Sisi announced that Egypt was willing to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians. Then Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry visited Abbas in Ramallah. He listened very carefully to Abbas, asked some tough questions and went back to Cairo. Then he came to Jerusalem.
He listened carefully to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asked some tough questions and then went back to Cairo.
President Sisi then announced he would be inviting Netanyahu and Abbas to meet with him together in Cairo. From my understanding, Egypt, after listening to both sides and taking note of what they want and what they can do, is now preparing to tell both sides what they have to do – which includes renewing direct Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, with the assistance of Egypt, and as I understand, with the additional presence of Jordan at the table. This is essentially the creation of the regional quartet that I have been speaking about for more than two years now.
Interestingly, in talking about this to several Israeli and Palestinian officials, I heard the very same words.
They said: “we can say no to US Secretary of State John Kerry and to President Barack Obama, but we cannot say no to President Sisi.” We will see if that turns out to be true.
Netanyahu offers to negotiate revisions to 2002 bid; new Defense Minister Liberman also sees ‘very positive elements’ to it
In a dramatic declaration, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday partially endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative, offering to negotiate with the Arab world the parameters of the plan, which promises Israel full diplomatic ties with 57 Arab and Muslim states after cementing a peace accord with the Palestinians.
“I take this opportunity to make clear that I remain committed to making peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors. The Arab Peace Initiative contains positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu declared in the Knesset.
“We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in our region since 2002″ — when the proposal was first floated — “but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples,” Netanyahu said, making his statement first in Hebrew and then repeating it in English.
The prime minister concluded his remarks by welcoming a recent speech by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who offered Cairo’s assistance in helping Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace agreement. Netanyahu did not mention his frequently reiterated conditions for any peace deal with Ramallah, namely that any Palestinian state must be demilitarized and has to recognize Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.
Netanyahu also did not mention the new French peace initiative, which will kick off Friday with a conference in Paris where the foreign ministers of some of the world’s most important states are expected, including the top diplomats from the United States, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Standing next to Netanyahu, incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he fully endorsed the prime minister’s statement, including his call for an agreement leading to two states for two peoples. His party, Yisrael Beytenu, has long supported Netanyahu’s 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, in which he for the first time accepted, in principle, the idea of Palestinian statehood, Liberman said.
“President Sissi’s speech was very important; it creates a genuine opportunity that obligates us to pick up the gauntlet,” the new defense minister said. “I certainly agree that in the Arab Peace Initiative there are some very positive elements that will enable us to conduct serious dialogue with our neighbors in the region.”
Proposed by Saudi Arabia and later adopted by the Arab League 14 years ago, the Arab Peace Initiative says that 57 Arab and Muslim states will establish “full diplomatic and normal relations” with Israel, in exchange for a “comprehensive peace agreement” with the Palestinians.
In 2002, the Israeli government was curious but perceived the initiative as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition it couldn’t possibly embrace. “On the surface, the proposal looked appealing, with its provision that the Arab states welcome peace with Israel — something they had been unwilling to do since the state’s inception,” the son of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, Gilad Sharon, wrote in a 2011 memoir of his father. “But the details made the offer unacceptable.”
Originally, the initiative demanded a “full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967,” the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the Palestinian refugee question. Over the years, the initiative has been partially embraced by some in the Israeli left, but the required withdrawal from the Golan Heights and the open-ended nature of the refugee issue made the initiative a nonstarter for many Israelis.
In 2013, the Arab League showed some flexibility in allowing that, to reach a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “comparable,” mutually agreed and “minor” land swaps could be possible.
Exactly one year ago, Netanyahu for the first time had some good words about the initiative, though he stopped short of fully endorsing it. “This initiative is 13 years old, and the situation in the Middle East has changed since it was first proposed,” he told reporters on May 28, 2015. “But the general idea — to try to reach understandings with leading Arab countries — is a good idea.”
In recent months Netanyahu has frequently touted what he has described as warming ties with Sunni Arab nations, with which Israel has grown to share many regional security interests. His and Liberman’s statements embracing peace talks with the Palestinians come amid domestic and international criticism over the appointment of Liberman, widely perceived as a hardliner, to the sensitive post of defense minister, and over his party joining the coalition to form what has been referred to by pundits as “the most right-wing” government in Israel’s history.
The Times of Israel
Palestinian, Jordanian sources say the countries are pushing for Fatah’s former Gaza strongman to make gradual return to political life
Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are preparing for the ascent of the Fatah movement’s former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan as next head of the Palestinian Authority, according to the Middle East Eye website.
Dahlan, the 54-year-old former head of the PA security forces in Gaza, has been living in the Gulf since he left the Palestinian territories several years ago. Dahlan has for many years been a bitter rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, 81, who in 2011 accused of him murdering late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The Middle East Eye said that it received information on the Egyptian-Jordanian-Emirati plan from separate Palestinian and Jordanian sources.
According to the report, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed is one of the prime movers of the plan. Zayed reportedly informed Jordan that differences in the Jordanian and UAE attitudes toward Abbas were affecting bilateral relations. The Emiratis at one point sought Abbas’s arrest as well as a ban on him entering Jordan or using Jordan to as a departure point for foreign travel.
“The Emiratis, particularly Mohammed Bin Zayed, absolutely reject Abbas on the personal level, to the extent that they told the Jordanians explicitly that the reason the UAE is negative about Jordan is due to the fact that Jordan did not take a stand against Abbas,” an unnamed senior Palestinian source was quoted by report as saying.
“The parties [the UAE, Jordan and Egypt] believe that Mahmoud Abbas has expired politically and that they should endeavor to stop any surprises by Abbas during the period when Fatah will remain under his leadership until the elections are held,” the source was quoted as saying.
The plan includes reintroducing Dahlan to the Palestinian territories, initially in a role that would not directly challenge Abbas, such as parliamentary speaker.
Dahlan, however, is considered to be unpopular among Palestinians and has been accused of links to Israeli security services. His broken relationship with Abbas is also considered problematic.
Abbas is currently serving as PA president for the 11th straight year, even though elections are expected to take place every four years.
There was no confirmation of the report on from media outlets.
Times Of Israel