Israel actively pushing Palestinian emigration from Gaza, official says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel actively pushing Palestinian emigration from Gaza, official says

Senior official says Jerusalem looking for other countries to take in emigres, willing to let Gazans use Israeli airport to leave

Palestinians wait to travel to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 18, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Palestinians wait to travel to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 18, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

KYIV, Ukraine — Israel is actively promoting the emigration of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, and is working to find other countries who may be willing to absorb them, a senior Israeli official said Monday.

Israel is ready to carry the costs of helping Gazans emigrate, and would even be willing to consider allowing them to use an Israeli air field close to Gaza to allow them to leave for their new host countries, the official said, apparently referring to air force bases deep inside Israel.

The senior official, in Ukraine as part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s delegation to Kiev, spoke on condition of anonymity.

More than 35,000 Gazans left the Strip in 2018, the official said, not including those who left but later returned.

“That’s a pretty high number,” the senior official said.

According to the official, European and Middle Eastern countries had been approached by Israel to accept Gazans who want to leave the Strip, but none had agreed to absorb them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport on August 18, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

The official said the National Security Council had been spearheading the effort, with Netanyahu’s blessing, for about a year.

The program has been discussed in the security cabinet several times, the official said.

The National Security Council has recently spoken to European leaders and even countries in the region, asking if they were ready to accept Palestinians who want to leave the Strip, he said. So far, no country has agreed to absorb them, though. However, an “independent emigration” continues by those Gazans who manage to find host countries on their own, the official said.

There was no immediate reaction from Palestinian officials to the Israeli efforts.

The Hamas terror group — which took over Gaza by force in 2007, leading Israel and Egypt to impose a blockade — has imposed measures to stem the tide of emigration, according to a report by the Haaretz daily in May.

Gaza shares one tightly controlled civilian crossing with Israel, generally only used for humanitarian cases. Most Gazans leave the Strip via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which is only opened sporadically.

While the crossing is intended for brief trips out of the beleaguered enclave, many residents — mainly young and educated — use the Rafah crossing as an opportunity to escape permanently, usually seeking refugee status in Europe.

Palestinians wait to travel to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 26, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Youth unemployment in Gaza is at 70 percent, according to the World Bank, which says the main cause is the blockade of the Strip.

Israel says the blockade is necessary to restrict Hamas’s import of weapons and other materials it could use to attack Israel. Rights groups argue the measures amount to collective punishment of the roughly two million residents.

An Islamist movement that openly seeks Israel’s destruction, Hamas has fought three wars with the Jewish state since 2008 and has launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities, as well as incendiary balloons and kites carrying explosive devices that since last summer have burned large swaths of land.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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Israel: Goodbye withdrawal, hello sovereignty: The triumph of the settlers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Goodbye withdrawal, hello sovereignty: The triumph of the settlers

Even rightist Israeli governments used to subconsciously regard them as potentially temporary, settler leaders say. Now, they claim, that’s all changed. Next stop: Full integration

SHILOH, West Bank — On the road leading to Shiloh stands a large sculpture, Dovecote, erected at the time that the settlement was founded in 1978. The work of Igael Tumarkin, it was implanted by Peace Now activists to symbolize their contention that the settlement enterprise in general, and Shiloh in particular, were obstacles to any hope of Israeli-Palestinian peace. An inhospitable concrete and metal structure, the sculpture looks like anything but a home for the doves that symbolize reconciliation and harmony.

As we drove past Dovecote last week in the company of Yigal Dilmoni, the CEO of the Yesha (Settlements) Council, he pointed it out with an indulgent chuckle. Rather than the towering reprimand it was intended to constitute, it is regarded by the Jews of modern Shiloh, he indicated, as a symbol of their endurance and maybe even their triumph. Dovecote is still here. But so, too, is Shiloh. Established by a handful of families and a few hundred yeshiva students 41 years ago, the settlement today has a population of about 4,000.

In the intervening decades, a succession of archaeological digs have unearthed storage jars, pottery and evidence of sacrifices here, among other findings attributed to pre-Temple-era Israelite’s, and work continues in and around an area that some archaeologists believe may have been the location of the Tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant sat for 369 years when the ancient Israelite’s first entered the Holy Land.

Tourists watch a movie during a visit to the archaeological site of Tel Shiloh in the West Bank, March 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The Shiloh archaeological park now draws some 120,000 visitors a year from around the world, one of our hosts told us proudly when a small group of Times of Israel editorial staffers visited on Wednesday.

She herself grew up here, the daughter of one of those initial pioneering families, she said, as she pointed out the key finds and showed us two multi-media presentations underlining the site’s centrality to Jewish history.

Dr. Scott Stripling, head of the current excavation at biblical Shiloh, exhibits a find. May 22, 2017. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

With the Jewish people belatedly restored to their ancient homeland in today’s Israel, the desire to revive a vibrant Jewish presence at a place like Shiloh, with its pivotal Biblical resonance, is easily appreciated. Except, of course, that Shiloh lies in the West Bank, in the Biblical Judea and Samaria, outside modern Israel, and home to anywhere from two to three million Palestinians, depending on who’s counting.

For the four decades that Shiloh gradually expanded, therefore, it did so — like the rest of the West Bank settlement enterprise — in an ongoing twilight zone of dubious legitimacy, encouraged less and more openly by different Israeli governments, fighting to make its way closer to the mainstream Israeli political consensus.

Construction of new homes in the Israeli settlement of Shiloh. November 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Not annexation. Sovereignty

Over the last few years, though, that quest for Israeli legitimacy seems to have made unprecedented progress. Traumatized by the strategic onslaught of West Bank-hatched suicide bombings known as the Second Intifada, by Hamas’s takeover of Israeli-evacuated Gaza, and Hezbollah’s dominance of the former Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon, mainstream Israel has become increasingly disinclined to relinquish adjacent territory in the unreliable cause of peace.

And in the final weeks before the last elections, in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began speaking about plans to gradually annex all of the West Bank settlements — home to some 450,000 Jewish Israelis — evidently regarding such a declared policy as a vote-winner.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inaugurates a new promenade in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 31, 2019. (Courtesy)

Netanyahu has maintained the stance in the run-up to September’s election redo — declaring on a visit to Efrat last Wednesday that not a single settlement home or settler will be uprooted on his watch, and that the settlers will remain “forever.”

While this position is anathema to much of the international community and to many of those in Israel who see some kind of separation from the Palestinians as essential if Israel is to maintain both its Jewish and its democratic nature, Netanyahu may have an ally in the Trump administration, whose diplomatic team has said it is not predicating its much-anticipated peace deal on a two-state solution.

Rather than continuing to regard themselves in the way they felt successive governments regarded them, as a potentially temporary presence that might be uprooted at any moment, settler leaders decided to take their destiny into their hands. Instead of merely talking about their enterprise as permanent, they began working to ensure permanence

As Dilmoni made clear in his conversation with us, however, Netanyahu’s talk of the gradual annexation of all the West Bank’s Jewish settlements — blocs, isolated settlements, illegal outposts and all — which might until relatively recently have been regarded as a sensational victory — is now deemed insufficient. The vision being advocated by his Yesha Council, he said firmly, “is sovereignty.” He repeated for emphasis: “Not annexation, sovereignty.”

The way Dilmoni told it, as we sat around the table at the Shiloh visitors center and gift shop, settler leaders made a strategic decision about five years ago: Rather than continuing to regard themselves in the way they felt successive governments regarded them, as a potentially temporary presence that might be uprooted at any moment, they decided to take their destiny into their hands. Instead of merely talking about their enterprise as permanent, they began working to ensure permanence.

Yesha Council leaders Shilo Adler, Hananel Dorani and Yigal Dilmoni (right), pictured on May 9, 2018. (Flash90)

Along with the diplomatic challenge to their legitimacy, he said, the settlers had faced “a perception challenge. Even though we were marking 50 years of settlement,” he explained, “in the subconscious, this area was considered by government ministries to be temporary… There was no strategic planning. No ministry had plans for this area.”

The settlers’ potentially transient presence was reflected, for instance, by the “black hole” where Judea and Samaria should have been on the government’s master plan for transportation, said Dilmoni.

Tourists visit the archaeological site of Tel Shiloh in the West Bank, March 12, 2019. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

At one point, he recalled, the Yesha Council was allocated NIS 300 million for road improvements, “but we couldn’t spend it,” because there was no official plan. “We could add an extra lane to an existing road; install a traffic light, but that was about it… Band-Aids.”

Development was continually being planned for the periphery — the Galilee to the north, and the Negev to the south — “but nobody was looking to the east… even though, obviously, if you want to reduce housing prices in the Tel Aviv area, the place to build is to the east, in Judea and Samaria.”

Today, all that is changing, he said. As part of their effort to assert their permanence, they hired their own experts to draw up a master plan for transportation throughout Judea and Samaria, with major roads and highways integrating West Bank transportation into the Israeli transportation system. Now the government has taken over, and is currently preparing a plan that includes the West Bank in the national vision, he said, which will solve the acute traffic problems on West Bank roads, reduce fatalities, and smooth the access from the settlements to the employment heart of central Israel. Two and a quarter billion shekels has already been allocated to West Bank transportation in the past few years, he said. The Etzion bloc, south of Jerusalem, for instance, will have a second tunnel/bridge access road constructed in three to four years, he predicted.

The same integrated strategic planning is now taking shape for electricity, water and environmental issues, said Dilmoni, again essentially incorporating the settlements and their infrastructure into Israel.

‘If I had expressed confidence a few years ago that Israel will indeed extend sovereignty here, I would have sounded delusional. Now, the American ambassador says it. In a second, President Trump will say it. Netanyahu says it. This thing is getting closer’ — Yigal Dilmoni, Yesha Council CEO

What this all adds up to, said Dilmoni, a friendly, fast-talking and dynamic personality, is “strategic planning for a permanent presence.”

“We’re staying here; we’re not moving,” he said. “And the Arabs are here; maybe some will move, or not; but they’re not going anywhere.”

Practical integration is not all, however.  What “completes the vision,” he said, is that sought-after formal status, that goal of Israeli sovereignty, which he insisted is increasingly realizable. “If I had expressed confidence a few years ago that Israel will indeed extend sovereignty here, I would have sounded delusional,” he said, smiling.

“Now, American Ambassador [David Friedman] says it. [Friedman said in June that Israel, under certain circumstances, has the “right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”] [White House special envoy] Jason Greenblatt says it. [Greenblatt has rejected the designation of  the West Bank as illegally occupied.] In a second, President Trump will say it. Netanyahu says it. He doesn’t say it as election propaganda; he says it because that is what is going to happen. This thing is getting closer.”

US President Donald Trump, left, turns to give a pen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, at the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019 after signing the official proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. From left, White House adviser Jared Kushner, US special envoy Jason Greenblatt, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP/Susan Walsh)

Asked “sovereignty over what precisely,” Dilmoni says that’s up for discussion, but is adamant that the Yesha Council is “opposed to sovereignty on the specific settlements only, and opposed to [sovereignty] just on the [major] blocs” — such as the Etzion bloc, Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim. “We won’t agree to that.”

In the course of a series of stops during our settlements tour Wednesday, various officials and ordinary settlers with whom we spoke advocated different variations of this same confident vision. Some argued for Israeli sovereignty over the approximately 10% of the West Bank that takes in the settlements and their potential wider footprints; others called for sovereignty throughout Area C, the 60% of the West Bank that includes all settlements and perhaps 150,000-300,000 Palestinians; still others backed sovereignty throughout the West Bank.

Window of opportunity

But what, then, in a reality where Israel is permanently intertwined with the Palestinian populace — in a formal or de facto single entity between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River — would become of Israel as a majority Jewish country? Or would this enlarged Israel, newly sovereign in parts or all of the West Bank, subvert its democracy by denying those now rather “Israeli” Palestinians equal rights? “The questions of political issues, citizenship, the vote issues, we can discuss separately,” said Dilmoni.

“To my happiness, when Trump speaks of economic development before political, he’s right. That world view — economic development before trying to solve political issues — I think that’s the right approach.”

Right now, several officials told us, there’s a ‘window of opportunity’ — a chance to designate as authorized and legitimate under Trump what was so frowned upon by the Obama administration; to do for at least part of Judea and Samaria what the US president has already done for Jerusalem and the Golan Heights

When we pointed out that this is not exactly what the administration is saying, and that it has in fact made clear that its multi-billion dollar economic ideas package, as unveiled at June’s Bahrain workshop, requires a political framework, Dilmoni recalibrated a little: “I hear [them saying] the economy is a very important element, before we get into the political element.”

Plainly, the advent of a US administration so empathetic to the settlement enterprise has furthered the settler leaders’ confidence in their permanence. But they also recognize that in America’s politics, if not recently in Israel’s, the pendulum swings. Right now, several officials told us, there’s a “window of opportunity” — a chance to designate as authorized and legitimate under Trump what was so frowned upon by the Obama administration; to do for at least part of Judea and Samaria what the US president has already done for Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Avigdor Liberman speaks at a cornerstone laying ceremony for a new synagogue at his home settlement of Nokdim, October 23, 2014. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90

Hence, noted Dilmoni, the “anger” among many at Avigdor Liberman, the Yisrael Beytenu leader who condemned Israel to September’s repeat elections by declining to provide Netanyahu with a coalition majority. “There could have been a right wing government now, with a supportive US administration,” making key strategic decisions on the status of settlements that the current, transitional government is not allowed to take. Half a year of the precious two-to-six more Trump years has been lost, he lamented.

Withdrawal? What withdrawal?

Still, the fact that such fury is reserved for Liberman, himself a fellow settler, underlines the extent to which potent, genuinely ideological opposition to the settlers and their goals has become marginalized. Where the Labor party under the likes of Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak was intermittently supportive, ambivalent and hostile, and sometimes governed the country, today’s Labor barely exists. Meanwhile, the main political opposition to Netanyahu, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance, includes champions of settlement alongside more dovish members whose only common cause is ousting the prime minister and the ills for which he is perceived to stand.

Ayelet Shaked speaks to reporters in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Indeed, the main ideological opposition to the pro-settlement Netanyahu going into September’s elections comes not from the left or center-left, but from the still more pro-settlement, Ayelet Shaked-headed, United Right alliance.

The political shift is nothing short of extraordinary. Barely a quarter-century ago, after all, Rabin was warily shaking hands with Yasser Arafat on an agreement-in-principle to gradually withdraw from much of the West Bank. By 2000, Barak was offering to relinquish some 90% of the territory, involving the uprooting of most of the settlements. Only a decade ago, Ehud Olmert was ready to withdraw from almost the entire West Bank, with one-for-one land swaps.

Bill Clinton looks on as Yitzhak Rabin (left) and Yasser Arafat shake hands during the signing of the Oslo Accords, September 13, 1993. (Courtesy GPO)

Now settler leaders, rather than battling against governments advocating withdrawal, are divided over whether to demand Israeli sovereignty in 10%, 60% or 100% of the territory.

Dilmoni and his colleagues are patently upbeat, believing that their “planning for permanence” strategy is paying off, and with good reason: Polls show the Israeli public is divided and uncertain over the fate of the West Bank, but some are clearly moving in their direction, not just empathetically but literally: “We had 3% growth in the settlements last year, with an average of 4.2% over the past decade — and that’s more than double the national average,” he said, reeling off a list of key statistics. The 450,000-470,000 settlers are diverse — a third ultra-Orthodox, a third modern Orthodox, and a third secular, he said. It’s a very young population — 48% aged 18 and under; 53% with the right to vote, compared to 72% nationwide. “Classrooms are overflowing. Birth rates are high. Demand to move here is huge,” and not only to settlements close to the pre-1967 lines.

“Why not?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s affordable, there’s clean air, good schools, we’re close to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It’s nice if people move for ideology; but it’s also great if they move for economy.”

***

Igael Tumarkin’s Dovecote sculpture outside Shiloh (Ovedc Elef Milim / Wikipedia)

Outside Shiloh, Igael Tumarkin’s “Dovecote” sculpture was recently spruced up and freshly painted — an act of somewhat ironic renewal that reflects the local residents’ sense of confidence, and of permanence. Far from an intrusive, reproving presence, it’s something the residents enjoy looking at as they pass.

Proof of your victory, I suggested to Dilmoni. He smiled and half-demurred. “I don’t want to brag that we’ve won,” he said softly. “Others would say it appears that we’re winning.”

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Israel:10-year-old Palestinian said seriously wounded in West Bank clash with IDF

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

10-year-old Palestinian said seriously wounded in West Bank clash with IDF

Boy reportedly hit in head by rubber bullet during demonstration in Kafr Qaddum; IDF says riot control methods used against protesters who threw stones, burned tires

Illustrative -- Palestinian protesters throw back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest near the West Bank city of Nablus, June 28, 2019 (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Illustrative — Palestinian protesters throw back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest near the West Bank city of Nablus, June 28, 2019 (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

A 10-year-old Palestinian boy was said to be seriously wounded during a clash with the Israel Defense Forces at a violent demonstration against the security barrier in a West Bank village on Friday afternoon.

According to Haaretz, citing Palestinian reports, the boy was hit in the head by a rubber bullet during the clash in the village of Kafr Qaddum, west of Nablus.

The IDF confirmed to Haaretz that control methods were used to disperse violent demonstrators, but that live ammunition was not deployed.

“In response to a violent demonstration by some 60 Palestinians, during which they burned tires and threw stones, soldiers used various means to disperse the protests, but not with live ammunition. The army received a report of a wounded person around ten years old,” the statement read.

The incident came as the IDF prepared for possible violence on the Gaza border Friday afternoon, a day after a member of Hamas was shot dead by troops in what the army characterized as “a misunderstanding.”

On Thursday, in an unusual move, the military acknowledged that the man had been erroneously identified by soldiers as an armed terrorist, but was apparently an operative trying to stop Palestinian youths from breaching the security fence.

A Palestinian protester throws a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli military vehicle during protests along the Gaza border with Israel on July 5, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The army’s statement appeared to be an effort to calm tensions with Hamas and prevent another round of violence on the border.

Hamas’s military wing said in a statement that it would not let the death go “unpunished” and Israel “would bear the consequences of this criminal act.”

The Hamas field commander killed in the incident was Mahmoud Ahmad Sabri al-Adham, 28.

Al-Adham’s death threatened to spark another round of large-scale violence between Israel and terror groups in Gaza.

Throughout the past year and a half, the two sides have fought several bouts — with terror groups firing mortar shells, rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns, and the IDF retaliating with airstrikes — often sparked by smaller incidents along the border.

Thursday’s border incident came amid a relatively calm period along the normally restive frontier, following a reported ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

In recent days, leaders of the terror group have threatened to bring back the high level of violence along the border — riots, arson attacks and clashes — if Israel does not continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement.

On Tuesday, Hamas launched a highly unusual training exercise that simulated the capture of IDF special forces operating in the territory.

Judah Ari Gross and AFP contributed to this report

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Israel: Tension Prevails Ahead of Egypt’s Delegation Arrival to Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Tension Prevails Ahead of Egypt’s Delegation Arrival to Gaza

Friday, 12 July, 2019 – 09:00
Hamas said that Israel will have to handle the consequences of killing Mahmoud Al-Adham. (File/AFP)
Ramallah- Kifah Zboun
Tension has risen in Gaza with Israel killing a civil official in Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, amid escalating threats from both sides prior to the arrival of the Egyptian security delegation to the strip.

Israeli soldiers shot dead a field leader near the border of northern Gaza.

The Israeli army confirmed the forces fired on two “armed suspects approaching the fence in the northern Gaza Strip,” refusing to provide further details.

The health ministry in Gaza said that 28-year-old Palestinian Mahmoud al-Adham was shot and killed in Thursday’s incident near Beit Hanoun in the northern part of the territory.

Al-Qassam said that it would not let the death go “unpunished” and that Israel “would bear the consequences of this criminal act,” according to a statement.

In response to this threat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a meeting at city hall in the coastal city of Ashkelon: “I prefer that there be calm. But we are preparing for a campaign that is not only broad but also surprising.”

Interior Ministry spokesman in Gaza Iyad al-Bazm said that the ministry and the national security have conducted an emergency maneuver simulating an abrupt security threat – this falls under testing the readiness of the security bodies and forces.

Officials from Hamas said that the exercise imitated Israeli special forces units’ incursion.

According to the ministry’s statement, the maneuver was conducted due to the enemy’s attempts to subvert the security and the state’s ruling.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian delegation has convened with Israeli security officials and is planning to meet Hamas officials in Gaza to discuss understandings with Israel and the Palestinian reconciliation. Before Gaza, the delegation arrived in Ramallah to discuss the dispute about the reconciliation issue.

Israel Claims Easing Gaza Fishing Restrictions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Israel Claims Easing Gaza Fishing Restrictions

Tuesday, 21 May, 2019 – 10:00
Gaza fishing boats. (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED ABED)
Gaza – Asharq Al-Awsat

Israel announced Tuesday it had eased fishing restrictions off the blockaded Gaza Strip after a ceasefire with Hamas ended a deadly escalation earlier this month.

Israel extended the fishing limit to up to 15 nautical miles, said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.

The move restores the fishing zone to the limits set in April ahead of Israel’s general election.

Gaza fishing union official, Zakaria Bakr, however told AFP on Tuesday morning it had yet to be informed of any changes.

COGAT did not provide further details, but in April the limit was set at six nautical miles in the north near the Israeli border, 12 off central Gaza and 15 in the south near the Egyptian border, according to the fishing union.

Israel banned fishing completely when the two-day flare-up of violence began earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following the truce, AFP said.

According to the news agency, the 15-nautical-mile limit is the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.

But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.

Israeli authorities did not say the move was linked to the truce reached earlier this month with Hamas.

But Palestinian officials said at the time of the May 6 ceasefire that it included Israel taking steps to ease its blockade.

Israel media reported late Monday that the ceasefire, brokered by Egyptian and UN officials, is a six-month deal that includes the expansion of the fishing zone as well as the transfer of medicines and other aid to Gaza.

Negotiations are to also take place on issues including Gaza’s severe electricity shortage and border crossings, the reports said.

In return, Hamas would calm protests along the border and halt maritime demonstrations aimed at breaking the blockade.

According to AFP, Hamas denied the reports and Israel did not immediately comment.

Islamic Jihad threatens to escalate Gaza violence to all-out war

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Islamic Jihad threatens to escalate Gaza violence to all-out war

The spokesman for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad says the armed terror group in the Gaza Strip is poised to escalate deadly violence against Israel to an all-out war.

“The resistance is on the verge of a new level in facing aggression; a level that could lead to open war,” Mosab Al Braim tells the Hamas-linked al-Risala daily. “It will hurt the enemy like our people are hurting.”

Palestinian Central Council To Meet In Mid May To Tackle ‘Deal Of The Century’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Palestinian Central Council Meeting to Tackle ‘Deal of the Century’

Tuesday, 23 April, 2019 – 09:45
A Palestinian boy is evacuated after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Ramallah- Asharq Al-Awsat
The President of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), Salim Zanoun, said that he has started contacting members of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) to convene mid next month, upon the request of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

This meeting holds significance as it precedes the announcement of the anticipated Deal of the Century.

Jamal Moheisen, a member of the Fatah central committee, said in statements to the official Voice of Palestine radio that the central council will be held in difficult circumstances.

“The Palestinian issue is exposed to strategic risks that require everyone to stand up to their responsibilities and raise the requirements of the stage in order to address this project, which threatens the future of our Palestinian issue,” Moheisen added.

The PCC is supposed to tackle previous decisions that haven’t been implemented including decisions to cancel deals and sever ties with Israel.

A PCC member, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the members will push towards clear decisions and not recommendations that fail to be implemented. He added that the PCC decisions are binding but they are not being applied for known reasons – and this will be discussed in the meeting.

“The agenda of the next session of the central council will discuss a number of important issues related to how to crystallize an Arab Islamic and international position to support the abortion of the so-called Deal of the Century,” said Wasel Abu Yusuf, a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO.

He added that the central council will discuss the relations with Israel, “especially under the US and Israeli plans to legitimize the settlement blocs in the West Bank and prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”

Fatah official spokesman Usama al-Qawasimi stated that facing the deal of “shame”, achieving national unity and ending division require tangible acts, not statements. Qawasimi described the situation as extremely dangerous.

Israel: The People Have Spoken. They Want To Live In Netanyahu’s Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

The people have spoken. They want to live in Netanyahu’s Israel

Israelis were not under-informed or unfairly swayed. They knew what they’d get with a 5th term of Netanyahu. The result was the highest vote ever for right & ultra-Orthodox parties

David Horovitz
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at a victory event after polls for general elections closed in Tel Aviv,, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at a victory event after polls for general elections closed in Tel Aviv,, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The people have spoken. And a week after the elections, with the president now in the midst of consultations with our newly elected politicians ahead of the formation of our next government, it’s worth taking a closer look at what the people actually said.

They knew that Benjamin Netanyahu was facing criminal charges in three cases, unless he could persuade the attorney general of his innocence. They knew that he had castigated the opposition, the media, the cops and the state prosecutors for purportedly seeking to frame him as part of a political vendetta to oust him. They knew that, if re elected, he might try to use existing or new legislation to avoid being prosecuted, and would likely seek to stay on as prime minister even if he were to be prosecuted. And that, if reelected, he would make the case that the public had given him a mandate to offset the state prosecutors’ recommendations that he be put on trial.

They knew. And 26.45% of the voting Israeli public chose Likud — a vast number, by Israeli standards, 1,139,079 out of the 4,306,520 legitimate ballots cast nationwide.

The people have spoken. Not all the people. But more than enough of them.

They knew that they had a clear alternative to four more years of a Netanyahu-led Israel, embodied in a party led by three former IDF chiefs of staff — an unprecedented assemblage of security expertise, in a country where security concerns always figure at the very top of voting considerations. They saw Netanyahu portray that party, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, as a group of weak leftists. Even though it included Netanyahu’s own former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, whose public positions are more hawkish than those of Netanyahu, and even though Netanyahu in 2013 extended Gantz’s term as IDF chief by an additional year in the most overt illustration possible of the confidence he then had in Gantz’s security leadership capabilities.

Members of the Blue White political party Benny Gantz (second left), Moshe Yaalon (right), Gabi Ashkenazi (left) and Yair Lapid hold a press conference at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 10, 2019, a day after the elections. (Flash90)

They watched Netanyahu’s Likud depict Gantz as mentally unstable. They watched Netanyahu attempt to make political capital out of a bizarre saga involving the reported Iranian hacking of Gantz’s phone — a saga in which Gantz and his colleagues did not provide a clear-cut explanation of what had gone on. They watched Gantz veer between an attempted statesmanlike, high-ground approach to beating Netanyahu and a lower-ground trading of insults and accusations.

They watched Netanyahu broker a deal that legitimized the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party as part of a new Union of Right-Wing Parties that would partner Netanyahu in any new Likud-led coalition. They watched URWP’s Bezalel Smotrich declare he’d set his heart on becoming minister of education. They watched the New Right’s Ayelet Shaked vow to curb the power of the Supreme Court if she continued as justice minister.

They watched. And they made their choice. Very few voters from the right of the political spectrum threw their support behind Gantz and the other generals. While Blue and White also topped the million-vote count — 1,124,805 — much of its support came from the center and the now decimated Labor, and that wasn’t enough to thwart Netanyahu’s fifth election victory.

The people have spoken. Not all the people. But more than enough of them.

They recognized other likely and possible implications of another Netanyahu victory. He’d vowed in the final days of the campaign to extend Israeli sovereignty to all West Bank settlements — a move that, if realized, would have major consequences for what was once called the peace process. It was clear his most reliable coalition partners would be the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism — on whose behalf he reluctantly froze the Western Wall compromise deal, and whose key agenda items include making Israel more Shabbat-observant and minimizing the number of young ultra-Orthodox males required to share the rights and responsibilities of military and national service.

Self-evidently, enough Israeli voters either share this agenda or are not deterred by it. Enough to hand Netanyahu another term.

The people have spoken.

Residents of the Gaza envelope communities of southern Israel have for years complained about Netanyahu’s policies in dealing with Hamas. They have protested that the government has turned them into rocket fodder. Sderot, the most rocket-battered city of all, voted 43.52% for Netanyahu’s Likud. (The next most popular party was Yisrael Beytenu at 10.14%.) To the east of Gaza, Netivot voted 32.46% Likud (second only to 33.35% Shas.) Ashkelon, to the north, voted 42.61% Likud (followed by Blue and White at 15.62%). By contrast, kibbutzim and moshavim in the Gaza periphery area generally voted overwhelmingly for Blue and White.

The people have spoken.

Early on election day, reports started circulating about Likud-paid activists bringing hidden cameras into polling stations in Arab areas. Some of those involved have since acknowledged that they were indeed acting on behalf of Likud; a PR agency has claimed responsibility, saying it was hired by Likud; the Likud party’s lawyer, on the day, claimed the operation was open and legal, and necessary to ensure the “integrity” of the vote in districts ostensibly prone to voter fraud; Netanyahu himself championed the use of public cameras for the same purpose. (Needless to say, the Central Elections Committee has its own, nonpartisan procedures for preventing election fraud.) In fact, ruled the judge overseeing the elections, the deployment of the cameras was illicit; the equipment was ordered removed.

Israel’s voters watched and read about all these developments in real time.

Some analysts have suggested that the camera gambit depressed Arab turnout — it’s not comfortable showing up to do your democratic duty, as members of a minority that was traduced by the prime minister on the previous election day, when you hear on the news that you’re going to be filmed in the process by his supporters. Arab turnout does appear to have been down last week (an estimated 52%) as compared to 2015 (an estimated 63.7%). And while the Joint (Arab) List won 13 seats in the last Knesset, its constituent parties, now running in two separate lists, managed only 10 this time.

But if the camera ploy worked to Netanyahu’s advantage, possibly costing his political rivals a seat or three, and maybe boosting support for a Likud seen to be taking on the Arabs, there was a more dramatic arithmetical factor on the right-hand side of the spectrum that worked against him. Between Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right (138,491 votes, or 3.22% of the national total) and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut (117,670 votes; 2.73% of the national total), a staggering 6% of right-wing votes went down the drain — a potential six or seven more Knesset seats for a Netanyahu-led coalition. And yet Netanyahu still has a clear, if complex, path (involving reconciling the ultra-Orthodox parties with the fiercely secular Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu) to a 65-strong coalition.

Over 57% of counted votes went to right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties (Likud; Shas; UTJ; Yisrael Beytenu; United Right-Wing Parties; Kulanu; The New Right; Zehut, and Gesher). This is the highest proportion in Israeli history. Only 34% went to centrist and left of center Zionist parties (Blue and White, Labor and Meretz).

The two ultra-Orthodox parties, it is worth noting, had repeatedly stressed in the run-up to polling day that they would only consider joining a Netanyahu-led coalition. Even when the polls closed and for a brief moment Gantz was claiming victory on the basis of a predictably inaccurate exit poll, UTJ rushed to say that it would go into the opposition with Netanyahu rather than partner with Gantz.

Menachem Begin, center, speaks to supporters at his party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on May 18, 1977, as they celebrate the Likud Bloc’s election to government after 29 years of Israeli Labor Party rule. (AP Photo)

By way of comparison, the 2015 elections saw over 56% voting for right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties (Likud, Kulanu, Jewish Home, Shas, Yisrael Beytenu and Yachad). In 2013, the comparable figure was 48% (Likud, Jewish Home, Shas, UTJ, Otzma LeYisrael). In 2009, it was 54% (Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, UTJ, National Union and Jewish Home).

Going way back to 1977, when Menachem Begin’s Likud first won power, the comparable proportion was about 53% — and that’s including the then-relatively centrist National Religious Party, which had partnered with Labor-led governments for the past three decades.

The people have spoken.

Were some worried by Gantz’s warnings that Netanyahu is turning Israel into Turkey — becoming our un-oustable leader, gradually marginalizing opposition, taking control of ever more of the media, bending the cops and the prosecutors and the courts to his will? Doubtless, many were. But not enough to unseat him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a voting slip for his Likud party in a video filmed at a beach in Netanya on election day, April 9, 2019. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The people saw Gantz caught by a camera in his car, toward the end of election day, looking exhausted. They saw Netanyahu, sweating in his suit on the beach at Netanya, imploring potential supporters to get out of the sea and vote Likud.

The people saw everything, internalized what they chose to internalize, and made their decision. No nefarious forces, as far as we know, skewed these elections. The public was not under-informed; nor was it disaffected. The turnout was a healthy 67.9% (compared to 61.4% in the 2016 US presidential elections, or 66.1% in 2015’s British parliamentary elections).

The people want to live in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel.

The people have spoken. Not all the people. But more than enough of them.

Israelis’ choice. Israelis’ consequences.

Note: Figures cited in this piece for the 2019 elections are from the completed-count totals announced by the Central Elections Committee at midnight on April 11; the totals have fluctuated slightly since then, and are to be made official on April 16.

World Bank Warns Of Severe Shock Facing Palestinian Economy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

World Bank Warns of Severe Shock Facing Palestinian Economy

Thursday, 18 April, 2019 – 09:15
Ramallah – Asharq Al-Awsat
The World Bank said that the Palestinian economy is now facing a severe shock in regard of public finances as a result of Israel’s approach over tax revenues, calling for an urgent resolution of the crisis before it deepens.

This came in a report that the World Bank has prepared on Wednesday and is due to be presented to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) at its next meeting in Brussels on 30 April.

The report quoted Anna Bjerde, World Bank Acting Country Director for West Bank and Gaza and Director of Strategy and Operations for the Middle East and North Africa Region, as saying: “The economy, which in 2018 saw no real growth, is now facing a severe fiscal shock because of the standoff over clearance revenue transfers.”

Bjerde stressed that “Urgent resolution is needed to prevent further deterioration of economic activity and living standards. Clearance revenues are a major source of budgetary income and the ongoing standoff is felt by all segments of the population in what is already a weak economy.”

In February, Israel decided to deduct around $10 million a month from the revenues — the sum the PA paid families of prisoners or prisoners themselves serving time in Israeli jails — prompting the Palestinians to refuse any funds at all.

“Against a background of declining aid flows, the recent standoff stemmed from Israel’s unilateral deduction of US$138 million from the PA’s clearance revenues in 2019 to offset estimated payouts to Palestinian martyrs and prisoners’ families,” the report noted.

According to the World Bank, “the clearance revenues, collected by Israel and transferred to the PA monthly, amount to 65 per cent of the PA’s total revenues. In response, the PA rejected the diminished transfers and was forced to cut the wage bill by 30 per cent, reduce expenditures in social assistance, and borrow more from local banks. If not resolved, the standoff will increase the financing gap from US$400 million in 2018 to over US $1 billion in 2019.”

“The dual-use goods system in its current application limits economic diversification and sustainable growth in the Palestinian territories. A revamp of the application of the restrictions on dual-use goods is critically needed,” added Bjerde.

The report stressed that “The Palestinian economy has witnessed low growth rates that are not able to keep up with the growth in population, resulting in an increase in unemployment and deteriorating living conditions. The absence of growth in the past year is mainly attributed to the steep deterioration in Gaza, where more than half of the population is unemployed and economic activities contracted by 7 per cent in 2018—the deepest economic downturn Gaza has witnessed that is not a result of a conflict. However, growth in the West Bank has also slowed below its recent trends.”

Israel: Have You Looked At The Sky Today?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Recently, someone in my neighborhood in Tel Aviv has been spray-painting the question, “Have you looked at the sky today?” on walls of buildings and at the dog park and local train station. Have you looked at the sky today? It’s a reminder to take our eyes off the phone in our hands, and look up, for a moment, to see what’s going on around us.

Over the past two months, I found myself lifting my eyes to the sky more and more, as I followed the trajectory of Beresheet’s elliptical path to the moon.

Over the same two months, as Israel has been wrapped in a divisive election and an almost-war in Gaza, a group of passionate engineers has tried to shift the entire country’s gaze towards the sky, to see the universe beyond the borders of our country and our planet.

As we and the world watched on Thursday night, holding our collective breath in anticipation for Israel to become the fourth country to land on the moon, Beresheet smashed into the lunar surface, scattering into thousands of pieces.

ToI’s Melanie Lidman

The landing sequence started so perfectly, with a large cheer going up as the spacecraft passed the point of no return, meaning the automatic landing was engaged, and there was no turning back. But then communication with the spacecraft started going in and out.

Things got tense, but it was happening so quickly that the evening’s emcees, Ido Antebby of SpaceIL and Opher Doron of Israel Aerospace Industries, barely had a chance to explain what was going on.

One of the last photos taken by Beresheet before crash landing into the moon on April 11, 2019. (Courtesy SpaceIL)

The main engine stopped working, and then miraculously, started working again. Some people in the audience clapped, but Ehud Hayun, a space systems engineer at IAI sitting next to me, already knew it was over. The spacecraft was too close to the surface to properly slow its descent and drop gently to the ground.

“There is a concern that we haven’t landed in the best possible way,” Alex Friedman, the systems engineer manager overseeing the control room observed dryly at 10:24 p.m.

The engineers, stoic as always, barely registered emotion, as it became clear that their project, which some had worked on for upwards of eight years, had smashed into the surface on which it had been supposed to settle.

SpaceX’s Nusantara Satu Mission, bearing an Israeli moon lander, takes off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on February 22, 2019 (screenshot: YouTube)

Have you looked at the sky today? Have you looked at the moon?

Somewhere, up there, are the remains of a crazy idea that was hatched by three friends at a bar in Holon, that somehow, along the way, garnered $100 million in donations, harnessed a team of dozens of engineers, and captured the attention of Israel and the world.

What does it mean to fail? What does it mean to have the courage, the audacity, to stand up and say, why not? Why not try and get to the moon?

Beresheet engineers released this photo on April 1 of the Arabian peninsula at a height of 16,000 kilometers, photographed from the spacecraft’s external cameras. (courtesy Beresheet)

Over the past two months, as I followed every hiccup and maneuver and selfie of the spacecraft, I found myself not just immersed in the day-to day news of this country, but looking up at the sky and remembering that this country is a small dot on a tiny planet amidst an entire universe.

It’s the smallness I used to feel devouring my father’s battered copies of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction: how beautiful it is to dream about what can exist beyond our horizons. How crucial it is to remember how small and unimportant we are. How beautiful to know that there is more out there than what we can see.

A picture taken by the Beresheet spacecraft of the moon’s surface with the Earth in the background on April 5, 2019. (courtesy Beresheet)

More than a million students in Israel spent class time learning about Beresheet, either through presentations from SpaceIL’s army of educators (the non-profit organization employs more educators than engineers), or the educational kits available for free on SpaceIL’s website. Even writing articles, I learned so much more about space and physics than I ever thought I’d know.

At some point, in between a conversation about the perilune (closest point of the elliptical orbit around the moon) and the apilune (farthest point of the elliptical orbit around the moon), and trying to clarify between geostationary and geosynchronous orbits, I realized that despite my defiant insistence to the contrary, my 10th grade geometry teacher Mrs. Haupt was right. One day, I would need to know basic geometry.

The last shot Beresheet sent of landing before crashing onto the moon’s surface. (Youtube screenshot)

My neighbor, Yisrael, doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. He can’t get over the price tag: $100 million! What about all the hungry people in Israel? he asks. Never mind that Beresheet cost a fraction of the estimated $1.5 billion for each Apollo mission. Why not take that money and build a hospital or something more practical? Yisrael has spent his entire life working with his hands, building things, creating concrete objects you can touch.

A child’s drawing about space included in the time capsule that has been inserted into the Beresheet spacecraft (Courtesy)

I tried to explain to Yisrael just why I have loved writing about this little craft hurtling through space, learning about the intricacies of elliptical orbits and the pull of lunar gravity and the growing problem of space trash.

But I also found myself struggling to find the words. Can you put a monetary value on inspiration? Is it cost-effective to convince a young girl that she can be a space engineer when she grows up? At the end, I could only say to Yisrael, can you imagine a more beautiful thing than a group of friends believing that they can send something to the moon? Can you put a price tag on beauty?

In the moments after Friedman’s announcement, after the screen that was showing the position of the spacecraft reverted to the background of someone’s desktop computer, it didn’t feel real that Beresheet had crashed.

It’s strange to lose something you’ve never touched.

Beresheet photographs the dark side of the moon on April 10, 2019 from a height of 2500 km. (courtesy Beresheet engineers)

What does it mean to fail? Space is hard, Hayun said to me, with a sigh and a shrug of his shoulders, just moments after the spacecraft crashed. Cameras were already in his face, waiting to ask how he felt, what it was like to lose the project he had worked so hard to build. Space is hard.

Perhaps the lesson we should take from Beresheet is not the fact that it failed, but the fact that we tried at all. That for a moment, we widened our horizons beyond our tiny lives, expanding the diameter of our world to a point 400,000 kilometers (250,000 miles) away, joining with millions of people to follow the trajectory of a crazy dream.

Have you looked at the sky today?

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