19 - 12
President Donald Trump on Tuesday slapped down warnings of widespread Middle East unrest as he told anxious Arab leaders he still intends to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, on the eve of a much-anticipated policy speech.
Amid a frantic round of telephone diplomacy, Trump told Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah that the deeply controversial move was coming, but crucially did not give a timeframe.
Trump “informed the president (Abbas) on his intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” the Palestinian leader’s office said in a statement that was echoed from Amman.
Trump missed a Monday deadline to decide whether to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv or fulfill a campaign promise and move it to Jerusalem — de facto recognizing Israel’s claim on the disputed city.
Such a move would delight both Trump’s donors and the conservative and evangelical base that is so vital for the embattled president’s survival.
But it could also extinguish Trump’s much-vaunted efforts to broker Middle East peace and ignite the flames of conflict in a region already reeling from crises in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Qatar.
The 71-year-old president will give a speech on his decision Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
Anticipating widespread demonstrations, US government officials have already been ordered to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank.
- ‘Threading the needle’? -
US officials talk of “threading the needle” — fulfilling Trump’s pledge, while keeping the peace process on the rails — but critics say Trump’s approach is more like “splitting the baby.”
Officials say he will hold off on moving the embassy right away, largely for logistical reasons, but may present a timetable for that to go ahead on Wednesday.
Equally controversially, he is also expected to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while leaving open questions about control of the predominantly Palestinian eastern part of the city.
The White House argues that such a move would not prejudge final talks and would represent the reality that west Jerusalem is and will continue to be part of Israel under any settlement.
But it could upend a decades-old western policy — observed by both Republican and Democratic presidents — that stated Jerusalem’s status can only be decided by negotiation.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman warned his close ally that moving the US embassy was a “dangerous step” that could rile Muslims around the world.
“Mr Trump! Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a raucous televised speech, echoing alarm expressed by Palestinian and Arab leaders.
In his address, Erdogan warned that any move to back Israel’s claim to the city would mobilize “the entire Islamic world” and even prompt Ankara to sever its recently renewed diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
Israel’s government has largely been silent. It earlier left the Trump administration with the impression that moving the embassy was a “no go,” leading to Trump signing the waiver the first time around.
The armed Islamist Hamas movement has threatened to launch a new “intifada” or uprising.
Most of the international community, including the United States, does not formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
- ‘A way must be found’ -
Following talks in Brussels with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini warned that any move which risked undermining efforts to jumpstart moribund peace talks “must absolutely be avoided.”
“A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states, so that the aspiration of both parties can be fulfilled,” she said.
In Cairo, Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit warned it would be viewed as an act of “clear aggression” against the Arab and Muslim world.
The Palestinians said it would shatter any illusion about Trump’s ability to fairly mediate in any talks.
“That totally destroys any chance that he will play a role as an honest broker,” said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Abbas.
- The Jerusalem Embassy Act -
In Israel, however, hardline Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman hailed the moment as a “historic opportunity” for Trump, expressing hope he would see the US embassy in Jerusalem “next week or next month.”
The US Congress has already made its aim clear in the so-called Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was passed in 1995 and which stated that the city “should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel” and that the US embassy should be moved there.
But an inbuilt waiver, which allows the president to temporarily postpone the move on grounds of “national security,” has been repeatedly invoked by successive US presidents, meaning the law has never taken effect.
Israel seized the largely-Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, claiming both sides of the city as its “eternal and undivided capital.”
But the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state and fiercely oppose any Israeli attempt to extend sovereignty there.
Several peace plans have unravelled over the issue of how to divide sovereignty or oversee sites in the city that are holy for Christians, Jews and Muslims. afp
Learn more »
05 - 12
Palestine’s football team achieved its highest ranking in history Thursday, rising above Israel in the FIFA world rankings for the first time.
The head of the Palestinian football association labelled it an “historic achievement” as the team rose two spots to 82nd in FIFA’s latest rankings.
Israel fell 16 places to 98th after a disappointing failed World Cup qualification campaign.
Palestine have recently won a series of games as they seek to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup, including a 10-0 victory over Bhutan.
The announcement comes as the Palestinian football association has campaigned to encourage FIFA to take action against six Israeli clubs located in settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Settlements are considered illegal under international law, and the Palestinians had asked FIFA to take action against the Israeli FA.
Last month, FIFA decided it would not intervene in the matter, with the Palestinians accusing the body of bowing to Israeli pressure.
Palestinian FA boss Jibril Rajoub told AFP Thursday the rankings rise was an “historic achievement” that came despite restrictions on football in the Palestinian territories imposed by Israeli forces.
“With this classification, we have defeated the occupation’s measures and its daily harassment, from preventing the freedom of movement of athletes through to all measures that impede Palestinian sport,” he said.
The Israeli Football Association said the country’s sports minister had ordered the formation of a committee to examine the reasons for the lack of success.
“We wish the Palestinians all the best as always,” a spokesman for the IFA said, adding they were willing to play a friendly match against them any time.
“May the best team win,” he said.
Israel qualify for tournaments with European teams, while Palestine are in the Asian qualifying groups.
Palestine was first recognised by FIFA in 1998. AFPLearn more »
24 - 11
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was questioned for a sixth time on Sunday (Nov 19) over two suspected cases of corruption, police said.
Netanyahu is suspected of having received luxury gifts from wealthy supporters, including Israeli businessman and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Milchan, a long-time friend of Netanyahu, reportedly sent him boxes of expensive cigars and other items worth tens of thousands of dollars. The producer was himself questioned in September.
Channel Two television said that detectives arrived at the premier’s official Jerusalem residence shortly after 4pm (10pm Singapore time) Sunday.
At 9pm, a police statement confirmed that he had been questioned “for a number of hours” by officers of the national fraud and serious crimes squad.
It was their second visit in 10 days, after Netanyahu was questioned for about four hours on Nov 9.
He was first quizzed on Jan 2.
In addition to suspicions that the gifts constituted bribery, the police also suspect that he sought a secret pact for favourable coverage with the publisher of the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
The alleged deal, not believed to have been finalised, would have seen Netanyahu receive favourable coverage in return for helping curb Yediot’s competitor, the pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom.
Netanyahu has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and says he has been the target of a campaign by political opponents.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu confidants Yitzhak Molcho and David Shimron, partners in a law firm and both relatives of the premier, were questioned by police as part of a probe into suspected corruption around the purchase of German submarines.
Netanyahu himself has not been named as a suspect in the submarine case.afpLearn more »
20 - 11
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered aid to victims of the deadly earthquake in Iran, insisting enmity between the two governments does not prevent humanitarian sympathy.
The offer was made in a video conference with the Jewish Federations of North America.
It comes as many of the tens of thousands left homeless by the quake have vented anger at the Islamic regime for what they say has been the slow response of the charitable foundations set up after the revolution of 1979.
“I saw these heartbreaking images of men and women and children buried under the rubble,” Netanyahu told the meeting in Los Angeles.
“A few hours ago, I directed that we offer the Red Cross medical assistance for the Iraqi and Iranian victims of this disaster.
“I’ve said many times that we have no quarrel with the people of Iran. Our quarrel is only with the tyrannical regime that holds them hostage and threatens our destruction. But our humanity is greater than their hatred.”
Iran does not recognise the Jewish state.
The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed Netanyahu’s offer, but said neither Iran nor Iraq had as yet requested any external aid.
“The offer was not rejected,” ICRC spokeswoman in Jerusalem Alyona Synenko told AFP, after Israeli media said Iran had turned down the offer through the Red Cross.
“It is important to stress that humanitarian assistance must always be based on needs and stay away from politics,” she added.
More than 400 people were killed and tens of thousands left homeless by the quake that struck on the Iran-Iraq border late on Sunday.
Israel regards Iran and its close ally, Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, as its most dangerous foes.
Iran has been a staunch supporter of Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Tens of thousands of Jews of Iranian ancestry have played a prominent role in the state of Israel, counting among their number a former president, a former army chief and several former government ministers.afpLearn more »
19 - 11
Gaza Strip — Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah left the Gaza Strip on Thursday after a four-day visit aimed at reconciliation with the Hamas group, an AFP journalist said.
Hamas agreed to hand over power to a unity government last month and Hamdallah’s visit, the first since 2015, saw his ministers take control of ministries in Gaza.
The move is part of wider attempts to end a decade-long split between the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank, and Hamas, which runs Gaza.
The two sides are set to meet for further talks in the Egyptian capital Cairo on Tuesday.
Before leaving on Thursday morning, Hamdallah and a number of his ministers visited the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip, as well as a desalination plant.
He then left with his ministers through the Erez crossing in northern Gaza, which is controlled by Israel, an AFP videographer said.
He is due to return to Ramallah in the West Bank where a meeting of senior members of Fatah, the party that dominates the Palestinian Authority, will be held Thursday evening.
Hamas, in a statement, said: “The Gaza Strip and its ministries are under the administration of the national reconciliation government. Hamas will work to support and strengthen its role.”
Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, when it seized it from the Palestinian Authority in a near civil war, and multiple previous reconciliation attempts have failed.
It has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
One of the main stumbling blocks to reconciliation is likely to be Hamas’s armed wing, with senior officials rejecting the idea of disarming.
Two million people live in Gaza, which is blockaded by Israel and Egypt and suffers from poverty and electricity shortages.
Israel maintains the blockade is necessary in order to prevent arms from falling into the hands of the terror group that could be used to launch attacks on the Jewish state. afpLearn more »
07 - 10
Israel on Friday (Oct 6) decided to ease restrictions on Palestinians entering during the Jewish Sukkot holiday, which began on Wednesday, the army said.
On Tuesday, the army said crossings from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel would be closed to Palestinians for 11 days until midnight on Oct 14.
But on Friday they decided those with pre-existing work permits would be allowed in “according to the needs of the market”, an army spokesman told AFP.
The decision applies to Palestinians working in agriculture and hospitals, according to media reports.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians work inside Israel, where they can find higher salaries.
Israel, which controls access to the Palestinian territories, regularly closes them off during Jewish holidays, citing security fears. But the closure announced on Tuesday was unusual in its length.
Israeli media saw it as a reaction to a Sept 26 attack at the entrance of a West Bank settlement in which three people were killed.
The Palestinian attacker, who was shot dead, had a permit to work inside the settlement and the incident raised fear of attacks during the holiday period.
Sukkot, which continues until Oct 12, commemorates the Jewish journey through the Sinai after their exodus from Egypt. This year, it is followed by a weekend.
The holiday sees thousands of worshippers head to the Wailing Wall, one of the holiest sites for Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem, to pray.
The location is close to Islam’s third holiest site, the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to the Jews as the Temple Mount, which was the focus of angry protests in July after Israeli forces limited access over the killing of two police officers.afpLearn more »
06 - 10
Carlo Ancelotti is in Jerusalem coaching children for a coexistence group just days after being fired from Bayern Munich.
Asked about his dismissal by the German champion, Ancelotti said on Monday he “feels good.”
Ancelotti is training Muslim, Christian, and Jewish youth as part of Assist for Peace, a group trying to open a sports center in the Old City for kids of all religions and ethnicities.
Bayern fired Ancelotti as coach on Thursday, a day after losing to Paris Saint-Germain 3-0, its heaviest defeat in the Champions League group stage. But Ancelotti was on borrowed time from April when Real Madrid outclassed Bayern in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Hired after Pep Guardiola, Ancelotti’s less rigid ways began to grate on the team, whose senior players openly rebelled.afpLearn more »
03 - 10
The US ambassador in Tel Aviv has angered Palestinians with a comment downplaying Israel’s 50-year occupation of the West Bank, the second such spat in a month.
In a video interview with Israeli news site Walla, broadcast in full on Friday, ambassador David Friedman said the Jewish state is “only occupying two percent of the West Bank”.
It brought an angry response from Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary general Saeb Erekat after an excerpt from the interview was aired on Thursday evening.
“Israel is internationally recognised as the occupying power over 100 percent of Palestine, including in and around occupied east Jerusalem,” Erekat said.
He said Friedman’s latest comment was “not only false and misleading but contradicts international law, United Nations resolutions and also the historical US position”.
“It is not the first time that Mr David Friedman has exploited his position as US ambassador to advocate and validate the Israeli government’s policies of occupation and annexation,” Erekat added.
- Settler praise -
The Yesha Council, which represents settlers across the occupied West Bank, welcomed the ambassador’s comments.
“Ambassador Friedman should be commended for using facts to describe the reality” in the West Bank, it said in a statement.
It said that the area taken up by settlements and their roads totalled less than two percent of the ground, but it did not refer to the military occupation which covers the entire territory.
Early in September, Friedman caused a stir when in an interview with the Jerusalem Post he referred to the “alleged occupation”.
A US official told AFP then that the ambassador’s comment “does not represent a shift in US policy”.
This time too, the State Department appeared to distance itself from its envoy.
“His comments… should not be read as a way to prejudge the outcome of any negotiation that the US would have with Israel and the Palestinians,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington on Thursday.
“It should not be read as a change in US policy.”
Israel occupied the West Bank in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.
More than 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the territory which are regarded as illegal by most of the international community.
US President Donald Trump is seeking to restart frozen peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Friedman said the president remained committed to a peace agreement but had not set any formal timeframe.
“I would expect (a deal) within months,” he said. “But we’re not going to limit ourselves to any hard deadline. We’re trying to get it done right, not done fast.”
The Palestinians have grown increasingly concerned by Trump and his team — including Friedman — who have yet to publicly commit to the idea of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, the so-called “two-state solution.”
“I think that phrase has lost its meaning,” Friedman told Walla. “It means different things to different people.”
Asked by the interviewer what the phrase meant to him, Friedman replied, “I’m not sure. I’m not focusing on labels I’m focusing on solutions.”afpLearn more »
01 - 10
Israel has suspended granting work visas for new foreign charity workers arriving in the country, humanitarians say, in a move that could impede aid to Palestinians.
Dozens of aid workers from major international NGOs have been unable to get work visas or faced delays in recent months, the humanitarians say.
Israel says the matter is procedural, but has not found a permanent solution to the issue in more than a year.
“This situation could escalate into crippled humanitarian operations,” a senior aid worker told AFP.
Israeli officials strongly denied that the delay was intentional, with the social affairs ministry calling any such suggestion a “false accusation”.
Palestinians are heavily dependent on aid, with more than two-thirds in the beleaguered Gaza Strip reliant upon it, according to the United Nations.
Much of it is delivered by international charities, which usually operate through Israel.
Since June, however, no new aid workers have been able to get a B1 work visa, the most common type for foreign NGO workers in the country.
This followed similar suspensions from August to December 2016 and from March to April this year.
Dozens of aid workers have been affected so far, the humanitarians said, with a number stuck outside the country waiting for their visas to come through.
- ‘They can’t replace me’ -
Others are working illegally on tourist visas, but fear they could be expelled.
“A country director who is waiting outside the country for months means timely delivery of aid will be affected,” the senior aid worker said.
Another aid worker who arrived in Israel in June told AFP she waited two months to hear from the ministry of social affairs to no avail.
In August, the aid worker travelled outside Israel and on her return she said authorities told her she had a month to sort out her situation or leave.
She expects to leave Israel in the coming days.
“They can’t replace me, as any foreigner they bring in will have the same problem,” she told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The head of the charity’s operations in the occupied West Bank is due to arrive in the coming weeks but is expected to face the same predicament.
Around 300 international NGO staff, including country heads, need B1 visas approved on a yearly basis, but to do so they need a letter of recommendation from the ministry of social affairs.
Without such letters the interior ministry will not issue the visa, but the ministry of social affairs has said it is no longer its responsibility.
And the interior ministry has said it could not issue new visas without the letters.
- ‘Important work’ -
The ministry of social affairs said the delays were due to “ongoing inter-ministerial considerations regarding the applications approval procedure”.
“We believe the temporal delay will soon end, hopefully with minimal effect on the important work done by aid organisations and NGOs,” it said in a statement to AFP.
Aid workers said, however, the problem began over a year ago and some expressed concerns the Israeli government is seeking to make their work harder.
The ministry of social affairs said they “absolutely and completely deny this false accusation”.
Previous delays were resolved when the ministry temporarily returned to the practice of delivering the letters.
Early this year, Israel passed a law allowing the interior ministry to ban entry to supporters of a movement boycotting Israel over its occupation of Palestinian territories.
The senior aid worker suggested the ministry of social affairs could be wary of giving recommendation letters as it does not have the ability to properly vet individuals.
Israeli officials have accused a number of aid workers of being biased towards the Palestinians and of being manipulated by the Islamist movement Hamas.
The Gaza head of the international Christian charity World Vision is on trial in Israel for allegedly providing support to Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
Rights groups also fear their work is being curtailed by the Israeli government, considered the most right-wing in the country’s history.
In February, Israel refused a visa for the American country head of Human Rights Watch, accusing the group of being “fundamentally biased” towards the Palestinians.
After international condemnation, however, the Israeli government reversed position and granted the visa. afpLearn more »
05 - 09