Experts warn a huge quake is the greatest threat facing Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

After tremors, experts warn a huge quake is the greatest threat facing Israel

Scientists say thousands could die because Israel, which sits on a major fault line, has ignored warnings to strengthen homes and schools

IDF soldiers search for survivors in a building that collapsed during an earthquake that struck Mexico on September 24, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF soldiers search for survivors in a building that collapsed during an earthquake that struck Mexico on September 24, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

After a series of minor tremors rattled northern Israel over the last two weeks, experts warned that the country is negligently unprepared for a major earthquake that would likely kill thousands of people, including many children.

“The threat of an earthquake, is in my eyes, the greatest threat facing the state of Israel,” geologist Ariel Heimann told Hadashot news on Friday. “It is definitely a greater threat than the Qassam [rockets] fired from Gaza, and it is a far greater danger than the Iranian threat.”

Israel sits on the Syrian-African rift, a tear in the earth’s crust running the length of the border separating Israel and Jordan, and is part of the Great Rift Valley, which extends from northern Syria to Mozambique.

The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured another 700. And experts have warned Israel is due for a major quake in the near future.

“If, God forbid, we have an earthquake like this, it will leave thousands dead and hundreds of thousands of people will have to leave their homes. Houses will be destroyed, there will be massive economic damage that will set the country back dozens of years,” Heimann warned.

Another expert said school children were particularly vulnerable, pointing to a recent report that out of 1,600 schools deemed to be in danger of collapsing in a survey three years ago, just 53 have since been reinforced.

Schoolchildren taking part in a Home Front drill, simulating an earthquake, at a Jerusalem school on February 20, 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

School children taking part in a Home Front drill, simulating an earthquake, at a Jerusalem school on February 20, 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

“In Haiti 38,000 children died, in China more than 10,000 children were among the 120,000 killed, in Pakistan it was 17,000 among 83,000 dead — do people understand this?” asked Ephraim Leor, an expert on mass casualty disasters. “We could lose an entire generation between the ages of 6 and 18.”

Col. Itzik Bar from the IDF’s Home Front Command, put expected casualties from a major quake at 7,000 dead and 200,000 homeless.

“Apparently it will unfortunately take a mid-sized quake with 100-200 casualties to make this country wake up and seriously prepare,” he told Hadashot.

A minor earthquake hit northern Israel on Monday evening, bringing the number of tremors in the area in recent days to more than 40, further fueling fears that a major earthquake could be on its way.

View of damage caused to houses in northern Israel, after earthquakes shook the area, on July 9, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The epicenter of the 3.2 quake was at the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, similar to the previous ones. It hit at 6:15 p.m. without causing damage or casualties.

But despite the looming threat, new details show that the government has been making very little progress in preparing for a strong tremor and strengthening structures.

None of the 108 dangerous material factories, ordered two years ago by the Ministry of Environmental Protection to strengthen their structures, has completed the process, an earlier Hadashot news report said. Only one factory has presented a plan to implement the decision. The ministry said it was behind schedule, due to a “severe shortage of manpower.”

A nationwide early warning system approved in 2012 only began its deployment a year ago. The Geological Survey of Israel has only deployed 55 of the 120 alert stations, none of which are operational.

But sounding dire warnings appears to have little effect. Previous warnings have fallen on deaf ears.

A State Comptroller report in 2001 found that no funding had been allocated for strengthening buildings and infrastructure. It was followed by another report in 2004, which said that not much had been done in the intervening years, due to spats between ministries over responsibility for the work.

An inter-ministerial committee set up in 2004 proposed making preparations for a 7.5 magnitude quake to the country’s north, with catastrophic loss of life and severe damage to infrastructure. It raised the prospect of 16,000 dead and nearly 100,000 wounded in such an event, with 10,000 buildings destroyed.

In 2011, another state comptroller report sounded further warnings about the threat to northern communities and infrastructure from an earthquake, and once again lamented the dearth of precautionary measures taken.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced last week that a new multi-year plan to protect Israel from earthquakes will be presented to the cabinet this month.

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Bipolar Hamas Fires Dozens Of Rockets Into Israel: IDF Then Pounds Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

As dozens of rockets hit Israel, IDF pounds Gaza in heaviest strikes since 2014

Palestinians fire over 100 projectiles at Israel; In Sderot, 3 Israelis wounded, empty synagogue damaged by rocket; 2 Palestinians said killed as IAF hits Hamas complex

A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Israeli aircraft on Saturday attacked more than 40 targets in the Gaza Strip in the most extensive daytime assault since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge as Palestinian terror groups fired repeated salvos of rockets and mortar shells into Israel.

Three Israelis were moderately wounded when a rocket hit a house in Sderot. Palestinians said two teens were killed and 14 injured in the Israeli strikes.

The surge in violence intensified after midnight Friday-Saturday as the Israel Defense Forces hit an attack tunnel and Hamas training bases in Gaza in response to the moderate wounding of an IDF officer by a hand-grenade thrown during a border riot on Friday.

During the night, Palestinians fired more than 30 projectiles into Israel and kept up the attacks on Saturday, firing a further 100 rockets and mortar shells. Residents of Israeli border communities spent the night in bomb shelters and were cautioned to remain close to the shelters during the day.

In the evening, several rockets were fired toward the town of Sderot. Iron Dome intercepted several of them. Two rockets fell in the town, hitting a house and an empty synagogue. Three people were moderately wounded by shrapnel and evacuated to the hospital, the Magen David Adom rescue service said.

The air force said Saturday it had bombed a multi-story Hamas training complex in the Gaza Strip, completely destroying the building and exposing a tunnel complex underneath. Palestinians reported that two teens were killed in the bombing.

The Hamas-run health ministry identified the dead as 15-year-old Amir al-Nimra and 16-year-old Louay Kahil. It said 14 others were wounded in the more than 40 Israeli strikes throughout the day.

The army said civilians were warned to leave the building before the strike.

The IDF said Iron Dome intercepted at least 20 projectiles that were headed for residential areas in total.

A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows Palestinian rockets being fired from Gaza City towards Israel. ( AFP PHOTO / BASHAR TALEB)

Israel’s political leadership is considering a range of possibilities for trying to halt the rocket fire, including targeted assassinations of Hamas terror chiefs, the use of ground forces, and a ceasefire mediated by Egypt and/or others, but no decision had been made as of Saturday late afternoon, Hadashot TV news reported.

The primary target of the IAF strikes Saturday was the Hamas battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia, in the north of the Strip, the army said.

An aerial illustration of the Hamas Battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia. (IDF Spokesperson)

“The focus of the attack is a wide-scale strike of the Hamas Battalion HQ in Beit Lahia, which includes urban warfare training facilities, weapon storage warehouse, training compounds, command centers, offices and more,” the IDF said in a statement.

“In addition, a weapons manufacturing site and storage facilities housing various types of weapons, including Hamas’ naval capabilities, were struck,” it said.

The air force also attacked a Palestinian terrorist cell launching mortars. Palestinian media said the IDF had shelled the home of a senior Islamic Jihad leader, but there was no confirmation from the army.

The IDF spokesman said the aim of the operation was to “restore a sense of security” and that the military would “respond as necessary” to a wide range of scenarios.

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The Hamas-run health ministry said it had not received any reports of injuries in the Israeli strikes.

According to IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the operation had three aims: To end the incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza, end the large-scale border protests, and end the rocket and mortar fire.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis (screen capture of National Assembly footage)

“There are three factors occurring that we view seriously and cannot allow to continue,” he said, adding that this was the largest daytime Israeli strike on Gaza since the 2014 Gaza War.

Media reports said that Egyptian intelligence services had contacted the Hamas leadership in Gaza to try to prevent a further escalation of violence.

In the Saturday afternoon salvo, Palestinians fired more than 60 rockets and mortar shells and sirens wailed frequently in southern Israel. Army Radio reported that at least one projectile was intercepted, with the remainder falling in unpopulated areas.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

A farm building was lightly damaged in one border community, with no harm to any animals reported.

Local residents, who had earlier been told they could return to their usual routines after an earlier barrage overnight Friday, were instructed to remain close to bomb shelters, and large gatherings of people were to be canceled.

The day of tension and violence came after terrorists fired more than 30 rockets and mortars toward Israel overnight Friday in the wake of IDF strikes on a number of Hamas targets in Gaza in response to violence along the border.

No injuries or damage were reported but warning sirens wailed for much of the night in border communities including the Sdot HaNegev Regional Council area and the town of Sderot.

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The army earlier on Saturday said it targeted two Hamas attack tunnels as well as other military compounds in the Strip, including those involved in the spate of incendiary kite and balloon attacks.

Even as the airstrikes were being carried out, the IDF said rockets were fired toward Israel.

According to the IDF, six projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system. One rocket landed inside a kibbutz in the Shar HaNegev Regional Council area.

Hamas on Saturday said the barrage of rockets and mortar shells into Israeli territory overnight was fired by the “resistance” to “stop Israeli escalation.”

The spokesman for the terrorist group, Fawzi Barhoum, also said the projectiles were an “immediate response” that was meant to “deliver the message” to Israel.

The army said it held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from Gaza, which the terror group has ruled since 2007.

“The Hamas terror organization is responsible for the events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it and will bear the consequences for its actions against Israeli civilians and Israeli sovereignty,” the army said, adding that “the IDF views Hamas’ terror activity with great severity and is prepared for a wide variety of scenarios.”

The IDF said aircraft had attacked “an offensive terror tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip, in addition to several terror sites in military compounds throughout the Gaza Strip, among them complexes used to prepare arson terror attacks and a Hamas terror organization training facility.”

The IDF published video of its air strikes.

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The latest round of violence has threatened to spark a further conflagration after weeks of tensions along the volatile border.

Israel in recent weeks has repeatedly warned Hamas that while it has no interest in engaging in the kind of conflict that led to the sides fighting three wars over the past decade, it would not tolerate its continued efforts to breach the border fence and its campaign to devastate Israeli border communities with incendiary attacks.

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the Gaza border for their near-weekly protest. The army said protesters attacked soldiers with grenades, bombs, Molotov cocktails, and rocks.

A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb over the fence into Israel was shot dead, media reports in Gaza said.

Later the IDF said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded by a grenade thrown at him during the clashes at the border.

On Saturday, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza announced that a 19-year-old succumbed to his wounds sustained at the clashes a day earlier.

It was not clear whether the two deaths were tied to the attack that wounded the Israeli officer.

Gaza officials said 220 others were hurt in Friday’s riots. Most were treated at the scene, while several dozen were taken to hospital. The violence was held under the banner of “Identifying with Khan al-Ahmar,” a West Bank Bedouin village whose planned demolition by Israel is being debated at the High Court.

Since March 30, weekly clashes have taken place on the Gaza border, with Israel accusing Hamas of using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the security fence. The “March of Return” protests have also seen Palestinians fly airborne incendiary devices toward Israeli territory, sparking hundreds of fires in southern Israel and causing millions of shekels in estimated damages.

The Israeli army reportedly notified Hamas in recent days that if the incendiary kite and balloon attacks from the Gaza Strip don’t cease, Israel would respond with major military action.

Palestinians prepare a kite with flammable materials that they will fly into southern Israel from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 22, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

On Monday, Israel announced it was shutting down the Kerem Shalom border crossing — the Strip’s main crossing for commercial goods — in response to the endless stream of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons that have been flown into southern Israel, sparking fires that have burned thousands of acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damages. Humanitarian and essential supplies continue to enter Gaza.

The IDF has sought to avoid an escalation of hostilities on the southern front despite the attacks, but according to the Haaretz daily, the political pressure to act has been building as the economic and psychological harm caused by the fires takes its toll.

On Wednesday, incendiary kites and balloons sparked 19 fires of varying sizes in Israel, according to local government officials. Fifteen of them occurred in the Eshkol region, which abuts the southern Gaza Strip. The other four occurred in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, which lies to the northeast of the coastal enclave.

In response, the Israeli military conducted an airstrike against a group of Palestinians it said was launching incendiary balloons toward Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, east of the city of Rafah. There, too, no injuries were reported.

After shuttering Kerem Shalom, the army said humanitarian aid, notably food and medicine, would still be allowed into Gaza, but would require special permission from the military liaison, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, to the Palestinians.

The military said the closure would continue so long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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China pledges $15 million to Palestinians amid major push (To Buy) Mideast influence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

China pledges $15 million to Palestinians amid major push for Mideast influence

President Xi announces plan to give Arab states more than $23 billion for economic development, calls them ‘natural partners’ of China

China's President Xi Jinping gives a speech during the 8th Ministerial Meeting of China-Arab States Cooperation Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 10, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO)

China’s President Xi Jinping gives a speech during the 8th Ministerial Meeting of China-Arab States Cooperation Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 10, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO)

China will provide Palestinians with more than $15 million in aid, President Xi Jinping told top Arab officials Tuesday, as Beijing seeks to build its influence in the Middle East and Africa.

The 100 million yuan pledge to Palestinians was made as part of a plan to give Arab states more than $23 billion in lines of credit, loans and humanitarian assistance for economic development.

The money will be earmarked for “projects that will produce good employment opportunities and positive social impact in Arab States that have reconstruction needs,” said Xi, without providing further details.

It is part of a special Chinese program for “economic reconstruction” and “industrial revitalization,” Xi told participants at a China-Arab States forum in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Beijing is also prepared to provide another one billion yuan ($151 million) to countries in the region to “build capacity for stability maintenance,” Xi said, using a term commonly associated with policing and surveillance.

Xi said that Syria, Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon would receive $91 million in humanitarian assistance.

Since taking office, Xi has overseen a concerted effort to expand Chinese influence in the Middle East and Africa, including the construction of the country’s first military base in Arab League state Djibouti.

China has already provided vast sums to Arab countries, with Djibouti alone owing some $1.3 billion, according to estimates from the US-based China Africa Research Initiative.

The financial largess has raised concerns both at home and abroad over the vulnerability of poor nations to such massive debt.

Last year Sri Lanka was forced to hand over majority control of its Hambantota port to China after being unable to repay its loans.

Syrian President Bashar Assad addresses the newly elected parliament in Damascus, Syria, on June 7, 2016. (SANA, the Syrian official news agency, via AP)

China has also provided diplomatic support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s seven-year civil war.

At the heart of Xi’s vision is the “Belt and Road” initiative, a $1-trillion infrastructure program billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabrics, spices and a wealth of other goods between Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

The Arab states’ position at the center of the ancient trade route makes them “natural partners” in China’s new undertaking, he said, adding he expected the summit would end with an agreement on cooperation on the initiative.

“Chinese and Arab peoples, though far apart in distance, are as close as family,” he said, describing a romanticized history of trade along the Silk Road.

The project, which has already financed ports, roads and railways across the globe, has spurred both interest and anxiety in many countries, with some seeing it as an example of Chinese expansionism.

“China welcomes opportunities to participate in the development of ports and the construction of railway networks in Arab states” as part of a “logistics network connecting Central Asia with East Africa and the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean,” said Xi.

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Israeli-Polish Holocaust law: Does It Defend Or Betray History?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Does the Israeli-Polish Holocaust law agreement defend truth or betray history?

Jerusalem feted Warsaw’s cancellation of law banning claims of Polish complicity in Holocaust, but eminent Israeli scholar says mundane realpolitik trumped historical verity

Raphael Ahren
People from all over the world participating in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland, as Israel marks annual Holocaust Memorial Day, on April 24, 2017. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

People from all over the world participating in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland, as Israel marks annual Holocaust Memorial Day, on April 24, 2017. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

In October 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the World War II-era Palestinian mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini for inspiring the Nazis to exterminate the Jews.

The story made international headlines, with world leaders and Holocaust historians denouncing Netanyahu’s allegation as utterly inaccurate. Eventually, the prime minister walked back his incendiary accusation, clarifying that it was the Nazis and not the Palestinians who were responsible for the Shoah.

Last week, the prime minister — the son of a historian and a self-declared history buff himself — once again waded into Holocaust-related controversy, though with much less international attention.

On Wednesday, he signed an agreement with Warsaw that ended the spat between the two countries over a controversial Polish law that criminalized accusing the Polish nation of being “responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.”

While Jerusalem feted the annulment of the law’s most problematic stipulations, a leading Israeli expert on the Shoah called a joint statement that accompanied the deal not only factually erroneous but also a “betrayal of the memory of the Holocaust,” motivated by mundane present-day political considerations.

The argument over the agreement highlights Netanyahu’s complicated role as the global standard-bearer of the Jewish people and the memory of the Shoah who at the same time needs to engage in realpolitik to promote Israel’s real-world interests.

Minutes after the Polish parliament passed legislation to remove the troubling passages, and President Anderzej Duda signed it into law, the Israeli and Polish governments issued a joint statement on the Holocaust and Poland’s role in it.

It declared that the term “Polish death camps” is “blatantly erroneous” and that the wartime Polish Government-in-Exile “attempted to stop this Nazi activity by trying to raise awareness among the Western allies to the systematic murder of the Polish Jews.”

The joint declaration, issued last Wednesday simultaneously by Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, also rejected anti-Semitism and “anti-Polonism.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2018, to discuss Poland’s amended Holocaust Law. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Most controversially, it condemned “every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during…World War II” but noted “heroic acts of numerous Poles, especially the Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives to save Jewish people.”

The highlighting of “numerous” instances of Poles rescuing Jews, while not quantifying the cases of Poles murdering Jews out of pure anti-Semitism, led critics of the deal to argue that Israel has in effect adopted Warsaw’s skewed narrative of the Holocaust.

“It’s a betrayal. It’s simply a betrayal,” Yehuda Bauer, a professor emeritus of history and Holocaust Studies at Hebrew University and an academic adviser to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, told The Times of Israel on Monday.

“It’s a betrayal of the memory of the Holocaust and the interest of the Jewish people. And the reason for it is entirely pragmatic: the diplomatic, political, and economic ties between the Israeli government and the government of Poland.”

While Israel managed to get Poland to annul the criminal sanctions, the controversial law still stipulates fines for individuals who accuse the “Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland” of having been complicit or co-complicit in the Holocaust, he noted.

Yehuda Bauer (Thonke/Ullstein bild via Getty Images/JTA)

“Therefore, the agreement between the two governments allows for the prosecution of people who say the truth,” Bauer said, also arguing that there is no doubt that the “vast majority of Poles were extremely anti-Semitic.”

Far more problematic, from Bauer’s point of view, is that the joint statement suggests that Polish authorities and the Polish people were not guilty of anything during World War II. “It’s as if the Germans alone perpetrated the Holocaust and did not have allies and assistants,” he said.

Poland was occupied by the Nazis, but the leaders of the Polish underground asked the London-based Polish government-in-exile not to express sympathy for the Jews as this would diminish its popularity, the Prague-born historian added.

“Certainly not all Poles, but a majority of Poles, either took Jewish property, or killed the Jews themselves, or handed them over to the Polish police — which cooperated with the Germans and which is not mentioned with one word in the joint statement — or delivered them straight to the Germans,” Bauer said.

“The joint statement doesn’t say the truth — that a great portion of the Polish people did this and a bold minority tried to rescue Jews — but the exact opposite,” he added.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks to six Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, February 26, 2018. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

Bauer, 92, took particular umbrage with the statement acknowledging and condemning “every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles” during the war.

“We recognize ‘every single case’? That implies that there were single cases,” he fumed. “That’s a lie.”

Yad Vashem recognizes 6,863 Poles as Righteous Among the Nations, the highest number of any nation.

“Considering the harsh punishment that threatened rescuers, this is a most impressive number,” Yad Vashem writes on its website. “On the other hand, when evaluating the role of Poles in the rescue of Jews, one also has to take into consideration that Poland’s Jewish community was by far the largest in Europe and that only about 10% of its Jews survived.”

Between 30,000 and 35,000 Jews were saved with the help of Poles — around one percent of all of Polish Jewry, according to Yad Vashem.

The Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on Bauer’s criticism.

Yaakov Nagel, one of the two Netanyahu confidants who secretly negotiated the agreement with the Polish government, firmly rejected the veteran historian’s criticism.

“He apparently didn’t read the statement, or he was maybe insulted that we didn’t consult him,” Nagel told The Times of Israel in an interview. “If it wasn’t Yehuda Bauer, I would respond differently,” he added, suggesting that Bauer’s advanced age may cloud his judgment.

“Here is a country that prides itself with having passed a law that they say will restore national honor, and half a year later they cancel it with their tails between their legs,” he said.

Yaakov Nagel in March 2017 (Flash90)

“This is an great achievement for the State of Israel,” Nagel went on. “The criticism drives me crazy. We got an amazing accomplishment. We had a law that everyone said was terrible, and we got rid of it without giving them anything in return. There is nothing wrong with the statement.”

Not even one of Bauer’s arguments is correct, Nagel insisted. He argued that the Polish law, which is formally called The Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation Act, has existed for decades, and that the recent additions — paragraphs 55a and 55b — were removed at Israel’s behest.

There were good Poles, and there were bad Poles. Period.

It is true that those who accuse Poland of complicity can still be fined, but even Israel has civil laws against defamation, Nagel argued.

“There were two problematic paragraphs in this law, and we managed to get rid of them entirely.”

A former national security adviser, Nagel said he was not an expert on the Holocaust, but that Yad Vashem’s chief historian Dina Porat confirmed that the joint statement was historically accurate.

According to a well-placed source, Porat was indeed involved in the secret negotiations with the Polish government but did not get to see the final draft of the statement. Yad Vashem, which issued a statement welcoming Warsaw’s annulment of the law’s controversial paragraphs, was disappointed about the wording of the joint statement, the source added.

Porat did not reply to several requests for comment. A spokesperson for Yad Vashem said the institution is currently reviewing the various documents and may publish a statement in the near future.

Holocaust survivors protesting Poland’s new bill on Holocaust rhetoric in front of the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv, February 8, 2018. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images/via JTA)

Holocaust historians may have liked to add a sentence or two about the extent of Polish anti-Semitism and Polish guilt during the Holocaust, Nagel allowed. But Yad Vashem confirmed that “everything we wrote in the joint statement is historically accurate,” he insisted.

And what of Bauer’s complaint that the statement refers to “every single case” of Polish cruelty, making it seem as if these were isolated incidents?

“There is no sentence stronger” than the one in the joint statement, Nagel argued, saying “every single case” could refer to millions of incidents.

“There were good Poles, and there were bad Poles. Period. That’s history,” he said. No one has counted how many Poles saved Jews and how many killed Jews, he added.

The joint statement did not go into numbers since it proved impossible to get Warsaw to agree to a wording that would have portrayed the Polish nation in a more negative light, he indicated.

“You can’t have everything,” Nagel said. “There were some sentences we would have liked to add, but diplomatic negotiations are a give and take, and you don’t get everything you want.”

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Russia: Complete Iranian withdrawal from Syria is ‘absolutely unrealistic’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Russia: Complete Iranian withdrawal from Syria is ‘absolutely unrealistic’

Sergey Lavrov says Putin and Trump will discuss situation in southern Syria on July 16; US said seeking full Iranian pullout

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shows the way to his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi during a meeting in Moscow on July 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shows the way to his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi during a meeting in Moscow on July 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that it would be “absolutely unrealistic” to expect Iran to completely withdraw from Syria.

Speaking after a meeting with his Jordanian counterpart in Moscow, Lavrov said a proposed ceasefire deal in the southern region brokered by Russia, Jordan and the US envisioned the withdrawal of non-Syrian forces and the deployment of Syrian troops along the border with Israel.

But Lavrov said Iran is one of the key powers in the region, and that it would be “absolutely unrealistic” to expect it to abandon its interests in the country. He said regional powers should discuss mutual complaints and negotiate a compromise.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not tolerate an Iranian military presence in Syria, and has recently acknowledged carrying out airstrikes on Iranian targets in the country. Israel has also struck Syrian air defense systems that fired at Israeli fighter jets during the raids.

Jerusalem has accused Tehran of seeking to gain a foothold in the border area as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have made gains in clearing out rebel groups there. The US and Israel view Iran’s extensive military presence in Syria as a threat to Israel and have threatened action.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

Russia and Iran have provided crucial military support to Assad’s forces, helping them turn the tide in the civil war, but Israel has also coordinated its military strikes in the territory with Iran-allied Moscow.

Lavrov on Wednesday said Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump would discuss the situation in southern Syria at their upcoming summit on July 16.

Last week the Arabic-language Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Trump would make a full Iranian pullout from Syria territory a priority at that meeting.

US officials, the diplomat was quoted as saying, are convinced that Russia would be unwilling to “pay a heavy price” for Iran’s continued presence in Syria.

The diplomat, who was not identified in the report, also said Washington had given Israel a “green light” to strike Iranian military assets in Syria.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi arrived in Moscow Wednesday for talks as the Russian-backed regime offensive in the south of Syria was pushing tens of thousands of refugees toward the borders with Jordan and Israel.

Jordanian residents of Jabir village watch aid deliveries to Syrians fleeing government offensive in the south as smoke from unknown fire rises, July 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

Ahead of the trip, Safadi said he hoped there would be “more steps forward to contain this crisis and prevent more destruction.”

He added that Amman has open channels with Damascus and Moscow and the talks will focus on reaching a ceasefire and halting the displacement.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels were facing a deadline Wednesday in negotiations with regime ally Russia to either agree to tough surrender terms in the south or come under a renewed military onslaught.

Moscow has been backing a two-week offensive by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces against rebels in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.

But it is simultaneously brokering talks with rebel towns for negotiated surrenders in a carrot-and-stick strategy that Russia and the regime have successfully used in the past.

More than 30 towns have already agreed to return to regime control and talks were focused on remaining rebel territory in Daraa’s western countryside and the southern half of the city.

Rebels were set to meet with a Russian delegation on Wednesday afternoon to deliver their decision on Moscow’s proposal for a regime takeover of the rest of the south, a spokesman for the opposition’s southern operations said.

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Iranian general blames water woes on Israeli ‘cloud theft’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(WHEN YOUR HEART AND SOUL ARE FILLED WITH HATE IT TENDS TO SHOW THAT YOU ONLY HAVE SH-T FOR BRAINS WHEN YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH) (oped: oldpoet56)

Iranian general blames water woes on Israeli ‘cloud theft’

But country’s chief meteorologist disputes claim, says clouds and snow can’t be stolen

Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali of Iran's Civil Defense Organization (Screen capture: YouTube)

Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization (Screen capture: YouTube)

An Iranian general on Monday accused Israel of manipulating weather to prevent rain over the Islamic Republic, alleging his country was facing cloud “theft,” before being contradicted by the nation’s weather chief.

“The changing climate in Iran is suspect,” Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali, head of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization told a press conference, semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

“Foreign interference is suspected to have played a role in climate change,” Jalali was quoted as saying, insisting results from an Iranian scientific study “confirm” the claim.

“Israel and another country in the region have joint teams which work to ensure clouds entering Iranian skies are unable to release rain,” he said.

“On top of that, we are facing the issue of cloud and snow theft,” Jalali added, citing a survey showing that, above 2,200 meters (7,218 feet), all mountainous areas between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean are covered in snow, except Iran.

An abandoned ship is stuck in the solidified salts of the Oroumieh Lake, Iran, on April 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Iran’s own meteorological service struck a skeptical note, however.

General Jalali “probably has documents of which I am not aware, but on the basis of meteorological knowledge, it is not possible for a country to steal snow or clouds,” said the head of Iran’s meteorological service Ahad Vazife, quoted by ISNA.

“Iran has suffered a prolonged drought, and this is a global trend that does not apply only to Iran,” Vazife said.

“Raising such questions not only does not solve any of our problems, but will deter us from finding the right solutions,” he added, in apparent reference to Jalali’s claims.

The general’s allegations of weather pilfering were not the first time an Iranian official has accused the country’s foes of stealing its rain.

Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2011 accused Western countries of devising plans to “cause drought” in Iran, adding that “European countries used special equipment to force clouds to dump” their water on their continent.

In a video last month addressed to Iranians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to share Israel’s water expertise with Iran, saying “the Iranian people are victims of a cruel and tyrannical regime that denies them vital water.”

Netanyahu told the Iranians that Israel faced similar water issues and found ways of dealing with them, adding that Israeli technology can help the Iranians.

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Prince William visits Western Wall, prays for world peace

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Prince William visits Western Wall, prays for world peace

British royal places note between stones, tours Temple Mount, pays respects at great-grandmother’s grave on Mount of Olives

  • Britain's Prince William touches the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem's Old City on June 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Menahem KAHANA)
    Britain’s Prince William touches the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem’s Old City on June 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Menahem KAHANA)
  • Britain's Prince William (C-L) walks alongside Western Wall chief Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch (R) during a visit to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem's Old City on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Menahem KAHANA)
    Britain’s Prince William (C-L) walks alongside Western Wall chief Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch (R) during a visit to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem’s Old City on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Menahem KAHANA)
  • Britain's Prince William (C), British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (R) and  Western Wall Chief rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch (L) talk during a visit to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem's Old City on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ABIR SULTAN)
    Britain’s Prince William (C), British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (R) and Western Wall Chief rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch (L) talk during a visit to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem’s Old City on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ABIR SULTAN)
  • An Israeli policeman stands guard as Britain's Prince William visits the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem's Old City on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
    An Israeli policeman stands guard as Britain’s Prince William visits the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem’s Old City on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
  • Britain's Prince William (C) and British Consul General in Jerusalem Phillip Hall (L) talk to a guide in Jerusalem's Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City with the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock mosque on June 28, 2018. The Duke of Cambridge is the first member of the royal family to make an official visit to the Jewish state and the Palestinian territories. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Thomas COEX)
    Britain’s Prince William (C) and British Consul General in Jerusalem Phillip Hall (L) talk to a guide in Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City with the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock mosque on June 28, 2018. The Duke of Cambridge is the first member of the royal family to make an official visit to the Jewish state and the Palestinian territories. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Thomas COEX)
  • Britain's Prince William (L) talks to a guide on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City with the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Thomas COEX)
    Britain’s Prince William (L) talks to a guide on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City with the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Thomas COEX)
  • Britain's Prince William visits the grave of his great-grandmother Princess Alice of Battenberg during a visit to the Mary Magdalene Church, in East Jerusalem, on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Sebastian Scheiner)
    Britain’s Prince William visits the grave of his great-grandmother Princess Alice of Battenberg during a visit to the Mary Magdalene Church, in East Jerusalem, on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Sebastian Scheiner)

Prince William visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall and the Temple Mount on Thursday morning, on the final day of his three-day trip to Israel and the West Bank.

William was joined at the West Wall by the site’s rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovitch. After spending several moments alone beside the stones, the prince signed the Wall’s guestbook.

He was accompanied by the site’s rabbi and security guards as he approached the wall. Donning a black skullcap, he placed his right hand on the ancient stones and then, following tradition, slipped a note inside its cracks.

He signed the guestbook with the following passage: “May the God of peace bless this region and all the world with peace.”

“Today we experienced a moment of history which will live long in the memory of Jews around the world,” said the Chief Rabbi of Britain Ephraim Mirvis, who accompanied the prince in his visit. “The Western Wall stands at the epicenter of our faith. To see the future monarch come to pay his respects was a remarkable gesture of friendship and a sign of the duke’s regard for the sanctity of Jerusalem.”

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On the Temple Mount, the prince was allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock, which is generally off limits for non-Muslims.

Crowds of onlookers followed his every move as the prince made his way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre shortly after departing from the Western Wall.

Earlier the prince visited the grave of his great-grandmother Princess Alice of Battenberg on the Mount of Olives. Princess Alice saved a Jewish family during the Holocaust, and was interred in the cemetery in the late 1980s.

The prince stood solemnly by his great-grandmother’s grave, accompanied by a Russian Orthodox clergyman. He was then given several gifts by the clergy, including a bouquet of flowers and a cross. With the homage, William followed in the footsteps of his father Charles, the Prince of Wales, and grandfather Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who had also visited Princess Alice’s grave.

The Duke of Cambridge left Israel in the afternoon. His stay was the first-ever official visit by a member of the royal family since the British Mandate ended and the State of Israel was founded in 1948.

The trip took place under a minor cloud of controversy, as Kensington Palace’s official itinerary states that the prince’s visit to Jerusalem’s Old City would take place in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

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According to a Hadashot TV news report on Wednesday, William also reportedly refused a request for a meeting in the capital with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Barkat requested a meeting in the city with the royal visitor, who has been staying at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. However, British Embassy officials reportedly told Barkat the prince would be pleased to meet the mayor at a reception held Tuesday at the British ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan, but that the prince would not meet with him in Jerusalem.

The prince met at length in Jerusalem on Tuesday with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin. Apparently a meeting by the prince with the mayor in Jerusalem, however, would have implied an unacceptable degree of British recognition of Israeli rights in the city.

Barkat refused the offer and stayed away from Tuesday night’s reception.

On Wednesday, in Ramallah, Prince William told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas he was “glad our two countries work so closely together.”

Israel has opposed any attempts by the Palestinians to gain recognition as a state before a permanent peace deal is signed. Still, the Foreign Ministry chose not to respond to William’s comment.

On Tuesday and Wednesday William toured the Tel Aviv beach, met with Israeli youth and took a stroll down the city’s famed Rothschild Boulevard with Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai.

William told guests at Tuesday’s Ramat Gan reception that Israel is a vibrant country that “thrives on innovation, diversity, talent and excellence,” and said ties were at an all-time high.

Prince William seen with Israeli footvolley players at Frishman beach in Tel Aviv, on June 26, 2018. (Niv Aharonson/POOL)

He also promised Britain’s support in the quest for peace between Israel and its neighbors.

“I know I share a desire with all of you, and with your neighbors, for a just and lasting peace. The United Kingdom stands with you, as we work together for a peaceful and prosperous future,” he said.

William also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Tuesday and met there with Holocaust survivors.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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Cryptocurrency-related crime will surpass all other cyber attacks in 2018

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWSPAPER)

 

Cryptocurrency-related crime will surpass all other cyberattacks in 2018: expert

Leading experts at Tel Aviv cybersecurity conference weigh pros and cons of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and the risks of blockchain technology in financial transactions

Illustrative image of bitcoins (Courtesy BitsofGold)

Illustrative image of bitcoins (Courtesy BitsofGold)

Cryptocurrency-related attacks will surpass all other types of cyberattacks in 2018, a leading expert warned.

Issuing the bleak prediction, Lotem Finkelsteen, a threat intelligence analyst with the Israeli cybersecurity company Check Point Software Technologies, said “not a day goes by without our hearing about a new ICO [initial coin offering] scam or mining attack.”

By “cryptocurrency-related cyberattacks,” he appeared to be referring to any form of cybercrime involving or related to cryptocurrencies, including financial scams and hacking.

Blockchain, the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies, “is suffering from reputational damage,” said Finkelsteen. “And that is one of the main obstacles for blockchain technology to move forward.”

Lotem Finkelsteen (Twitter)

Finkelsteen was speaking on a panel at an event entitled “Blockchain, The New Digital Age” at Tel Aviv University’s annual Cyber Week cybersecurity conference. Other panelists at the event were more optimistic about the positive potential for blockchain and cryptocurrency technology.

“There are real projects rolling out,” said John Velissarios, Principal Director and Global Blockchain Technology Lead at Accenture, a global management consulting company. “We’re seeing blockchain applications for capital markets, exchanges, clearing and settlement systems and payment systems. The technology is evolving and the applications are becoming more significant.”

Blockchain technology is the underlying technology of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. A blockchain is a database that is maintained by numerous collaborators, like a Google document. The computers of the collaborators decide through a consensus mechanism how to update the database. Once they decide, the update is rendered immutable through cryptography. The resulting record can be used as proof of ownership without the need for a central authority deciding who owns what.

Many entrepreneurs and computer scientists see enormous potential in blockchain, and believe that the fact that money and other assets can be transferred from person to person without going through a central authority has many real-world applications.

But Haim Pinto, the CTO of Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, asserted that there are no blockchain applications that are dependably usable at present, least of all for a trusted institution like a major commercial bank.

“Blockchain is still in a hype cycle,” he said in the panel discussion, arguing that the technology is not yet ready for widespread adoption. “We can’t just take it and use it.”

Pinto said cryptocurrencies present problems for banks seeking to comply with anti-money laundering and privacy regulation.

“As long as we are under anti-money laundering and FATCA rules, we have to know the source of customers’ money,” he said. This requirement, he said, does not jibe with the nature of cryptocurrencies, which can be transferred anonymously.

In addition, said Pinto, cryptocurrencies present a challenge for banks seeking to comply with the EU’s “right to be forgotten” laws, which require that businesses erase clients’ sensitive personal data if they are asked to do so.

“Distributed general ledgers cannot erase anything,” he said, referring to the fact that most blockchains are immutable. “That’s just one of the challenges. In addition, there are mathematical challenges. Distributed general ledgers can’t scale up to the volume of transactions we need to serve.”

Pinto said that most banks around the world are running mainframe computers as their core platforms. Before they can adopt blockchains or distributed general ledgers, they will probably first adopt “open banking,” a new trend in the banking world that refers to the practice of allowing third-party developers to build applications around the bank.

In recent years in Israel, some experts have touted cryptocurrency and blockchain as the next major driver of the Israeli economy, but as The Times of Israel has reported, it is unclear how much of the activity in this new high-tech field is legitimate, how much is mere hype, and how much is outright fraud perpetrated by malevolent actors, including transnational criminal organizations.

A second panel at the event dealt with the non-financial applications of the blockchain.

At that session, Gideon Lichfield, the editor-in-chief of the MIT Technology Review, described enthusiasm about using blockchain technology for supply-chain management.

Gideon Lichfield (Courtesy Cyber Week)

“Businesses see it as a way to track bananas or lettuce from the supplier to the supermarket shelf.”

If some lettuce turns out to be bad, he said, blockchain technology can be used to find out which farm the lettuce came from.

Lichfield questioned why blockchain is a good solution for this, as opposed to a centralized database or some other solution. Nevertheless, he said, if blockchain is an adequate solution, it could become the de facto standard, simply because there is so much hype around, and money being poured into, blockchain technology.

“Big companies don’t want to be left behind,” said Lichfield, ”They jump into this.”

Steve Bassi, the CEO of the cybersecurity company Polyswarm, agreed with the other panelists that blockchain is often proposed as a solution to a problem where a centralized database might work just as well.

Attempting to distill the circumstances under which blockchain could be useful, he asked, “Where do we always cheat each other unless someone else is watching? That is where blockchain might be applicable.”

Another speaker at the final session of the conference on Thursday, Tel Aviv University Economics professor Neil Gandal, presented a paper called “Price Manipulation in the Bitcoin Ecosystem” that he and his colleagues first published in January.

Tel Aviv University Economics Professor Neil Gandal speaks at Cyber Week, June 21, 2018 (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

Gandal contended that Bitcoin’s first major price spike, when it rose from $150 to over $1,000 in late 2013, was likely caused by a single person using trading robots.

Gandal argued that if this could happen once it could happen again, and cited a recent paper by University of Texas economists arguing that Bitcoin’s more recent price spike, when it reached close to $20,000 last year, was also caused by price manipulation.

“It’s possible for a small number of actors to manipulate things,” he said. “We need some sort of regulation [of cryptocurrencies],” he said. “There is a loss of confidence in the system.”

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COMMENTS

Railway Linking Israel To Saudi Arabia In The Near Future?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWSPAPER)

 

Israel to begin promoting railway linking Haifa seaport with Saudi Arabia

Transportation minister says he has begun consulting with leaders of relevant countries regarding plan that would give Gulf easier access to Europe

Government officials taking part in a test ride on a new train route near the northern city of Carmiel on March 21, 2017 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Government officials taking part in a test ride on a new train route near the northern city of Carmiel on March 21, 2017 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz agreed this week to begin promoting their “Tracks for Regional Peace” initiative that is intended to create a trade route connecting Europe with the Persian Gulf and Israel, Hadashot news reported Saturday evening.

“Tracks for Regional Peace” is based on the planned extension of railway tracks in northern Israel, which would link Haifa’s seaport to Jordan’s rail network, which in turn will be linked with that of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states.

The network is envisioned as creating a regional transportation system to enhance trade relations and promote peaceful coexistence.

Introduced in a new PR video from Netanyahu and Katz’s offices, the initiative will see the eastward extension of the Haifa-Beit She’an rail line to the Jordanian border and will also include a stop in Jenin, connecting the Palestinians to the broader plan.

Goods would be shipped from Europe to Haifa, allowing them to bypass civil war-torn Syria.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz in front of a map of the proposed rail network on April 5, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“There are two central components at the heart of this initiative,” Katz explained when discussing the plan back in April. “Israel as a land bridge between Europe and the Mediterranean and Jordan; and Jordan as a regional transportation hub, which will be connected to a railroad system to Israel and the Mediterranean in the West; to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Iraq in the East and southeast; and to the Red Sea, through Aqaba and Eilat, in the south.”

“Beyond its contribution to Israel’s economy, the Jordanian and the Palestinian economies, the initiative will connect Israel economically and politically to the region and will consolidate the pragmatic camp in the region,” he claimed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, during the former’s surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace)

The existing transportation infrastructure in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf will allow for the application of the initiative in a relatively short amount of time, the PR video said.

The initiative is said to also offer shorter, cheaper, and safer trade routes in light of regional instability threatening passageways through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf and the Bab al-Mandab Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea.

In a meeting this week, Katz and Netanyahu reached an agreement regarding the details of the initiative, with the latter instructing his office to begin advancing the plan in consultations with the US, European Union, and various countries in the Middle East and Asia.

Israel is expecting the US to play an important role in providing political backing for the plan.

Responding to a Times of Israel query on behalf of Greenblatt in April, a White House official said the proposal was “interesting,” but said the US does not yet have an informed position on it.

While Katz has said that he has spoken with the leaders of the relevant countries regarding the initiative, there is no indication that any of them have agreed to its application.

The transportation minister, who opposes Palestinian statehood, has argued that connecting Israelis and Palestinians with the Sunni Arab world would dramatically increase trade and lay the groundwork for a future regional peace.

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Palestinian Leaders Are Rejecting A Peace Plan They Have Never Seen

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWSPAPER)

 

Kushner to Palestinians: Don’t let your leaders reject a plan they haven’t seen

Senior White House adviser, in region ahead of peace proposal rollout, appeals to Palestinian people in effort to bypass Ramallah’s boycott of administration

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner appealed directly to the Palestinian people, urging them to not let their “scared” leadership reject the Trump administration peace plan, which the Palestinian Authority has yet to see. Directly critiquing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he said he was not sure Abbas truly wanted an accord.

In an interview with a Palestinian paper published Sunday, Kushner said he is ready to work with Abbas, but voiced doubt the 83-year-old leader has the ability or desire to make peace because he has not altered his negotiating position in over two decades.

“There have been countless mistakes and missed opportunities over the years, and you, the Palestinian people, have paid the price,” Kushner said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by the White House. “Don’t let your leadership reject a plan they haven’t even seen.”

“A lot has happened in the world since this conflict began decades ago. The world has moved forward while you have been left behind. Don’t allow your grandfather’s conflict to determine your children’s future,” he added.

The top US peace adviser was in the region ahead of the launch of a fresh peace effort. The trip, which took Kushner and US President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, did not include meetings with the Palestinian leadership.

Kushner, Greenblatt and other White House officials have been effectively blackballed by Ramallah, which was angered by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to move the US embassy there in May.

The interview with the East Jerusalem-based Al Quds newspaper was seen as an attempt by the Trump administration to reach out to the Palestinian people, despite the official boycott.

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)

In the interview, Kushner said the Palestinians should speak to their own leaders and “give them the courage to keep an open mind” toward achieving peace.

Referring to comments by Abbas adviser Nabil Abu Rudeineh, who said Saturday that the US peace mission was a waste of time, Kushner said the Palestinian leaders fear the plan might receive popular support.

“I think the Palestinian leadership is saying those things because they are scared we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it because it will lead to new opportunities for them to have a much better life,” Kushner said.

“President Abbas says that he is committed to peace and I have no reason not to believe him,” he said. “However, I do question how much President Abbas has the ability to, or is willing to, lean into finishing a deal. He has his talking points which have not changed in the last 25 years. To make a deal both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions. I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs the Fatah Central Committee meeting at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 29, 2018.(Majdi Mohammed/AP)

“I greatly respect that there are many things he [Abbas] has done well for establishing the foundations of peace, but I don’t think the Palestinian people feel like their lives are getting better and there is only so long you can blame that on everyone other than Palestinian leadership,” he added.

Kushner said the international community is “getting frustrated with Palestinian leadership and not seeing many actions that are constructive towards achieving peace.”

Kushner admitted he had not tried to contact Abbas directly ahead of his Middle East tour but noted, “President Abbas knows we are in the region and we have many mutual contacts who convey messages – he knows that we are open to meeting him and continuing the discussion when he is ready. He has said publicly he will not meet us and we have opted not to chase him.”

“If President Abbas is willing to come back to the table, we are ready to engage; if he is not, we will likely air the plan publicly,” said Kushner.

Kushner suggested that Israeli and Palestinian leaders could hold a referendum on whether or not to accept the Trump peace plan as “a way for them to take less political risk on endorsing a solution, but that is still a few steps ahead of where we are now.”

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, speaks to journalists during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 21, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Kushner, who together with Greenblatt has reportedly been trying to raise aid funding from Gulf states for the Gaza Strip, also rejected recent criticism by senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat who on Saturday accused the Americans of trying to use the situation in Gaza to divide the Palestinians and topple the PA.

“The last I checked they are divided, they are not connected by government or land and it’s needlessly become a dire humanitarian situation because the Palestinian leadership has made it a political situation,” Kushner said. “It’s time for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to stop using the people of Gaza as pawns. The narrative of victimhood may feel good for the moment and help you grab headlines but it doesn’t do anything to improve lives.”

Ramallah officials, who have sought to squeeze the Strip’s Hamas rulers by withholding salaries and goods as a means of retaking power there, have said plans to fund infrastructure projects to ease the humanitarian crisis in the enclave were tantamount to attempting to split Gaza from the Abbas-ruled West Bank.

“The people of Gaza are hostages to bad leadership,” Kushner said, warning that continued attacks on Israeli territory from Gaza would prevent the humanitarian situation from improving as Israel and Egypt would continue to impose their blockade aimed at prevent Hamas from smuggling in weapons.

“As long as there are rockets being fired and tunnels being dug, there will be a chokehold on resources allowed to enter. It’s a vicious cycle. I think the only path for the people of Gaza is to encourage the leadership to aim for a true ceasefire that gives Israel and Egypt the confidence to start allowing more commerce and goods to flow to Gaza,” said Kushner.

“We have said from the beginning that there is no path to peace without finding a solution for Gaza.”

Palestinian children fill jerrycans with drinking water from public taps in the southern Gaza Strip, June 11, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

The US earlier this year cut some $250 million to the budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA.

Despite the difficulties, Kushner said he remains hopeful the Israelis and Palestinians can overcome their past grievances.

“Yes, there is a lot of hatred and a lot of scar tissue, but I do not underestimate humankind’s ability to love. To be successful, we must be willing to forgive in the present, not forget the past, but work hard towards a brighter future.”

Peace, he predicted, would have a significant impact on the Palestinian economy.

“Israel’s prosperity would spill over very quickly to the Palestinians if there is peace. Many countries from around the world are ready to invest if there is a peace agreement,” he said.

A US official told Israel’s Channel 10 news that “the interview is part of the American administration’s attempt to address the Palestinian people directly before presenting its peace plan.”

On Saturday night, Kushner and Greenblatt met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second time in as many days, together with US envoy to Israel David Friedman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The four continued discussions that had begun on Friday, which included talks on easing the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the peace plan, according to the White House.

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