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Netanyahu: ‘Historic compromise’ between Israelis, Palestinians possible

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release)–In a conference call for national Jewish leaders sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his belief that “an historic compromise” to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people is possible.

He also reiterated his goal of reaching a framework agreement with the Palestinians within one year, stating that the two foundations for a lasting peace are recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the nation state of the Jewish people and lasting security. While achieving success in these negotiations requires him and President Abbas to be “flexible and creative,” Prime Minister Netanyahu noted the “enormous benefits to both our peoples that will come if we can defy the skeptics and forge a historic peace.”  Read more…

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Comments by Obama, Netanyahu, Mubarak, Abdullah and Abbas at start of peace talks

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C (Press Release)– Following is the text of comments made Wednesday evening by U.S.  President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II to inaugurate the new round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good evening, everyone.  Tomorrow, after nearly two years, Israelis and Palestinians will resume direct talks in pursuit of a goal that we all share —- two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Tonight, I’m pleased to welcome to the White House key partners in this effort, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the representative of our Quartet partners, former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Your Majesty King Abdullah, and President Mubarak —- we are but five men.  Our dinner this evening will be a small gathering around a single table.  Yet when we come together, we will not be alone.  We’ll be joined by the generations —- those who have gone before and those who will follow.

Each of you are the heirs of peacemakers who dared greatly -— Begin and Sadat, Rabin and King Hussein -— statesmen who saw the world as it was but also imagined the world as it should be. It is the shoulders of our predecessors upon which we stand.  It is their work that we carry on.  Now, like each of them, we must ask, do we have the wisdom and the courage to walk the path of peace?   

All of us are leaders of our people, who, no matter the language they speak or the faith they practice, all basically seek the same things:  to live in security, free from fear; to live in dignity, free from want; to provide for their families and to realize a better tomorrow.  Tonight, they look to us, and each of us must decide, will we work diligently to fulfill their aspirations?

And though each of us holds a title of honor —- President, Prime Minister, King —- we are bound by the one title we share. We are fathers, blessed with sons and daughters.  So we must ask ourselves what kind of world do we want to bequeath to our children and our grandchildren.

Tonight, and in the days and months ahead, these are the questions that we must answer.  And this is a fitting moment to do so. 

For Muslims, this is Ramadan.  For Jews, this is Elul.  It is rare for those two months to coincide.  But this year, tonight, they do.  Different faiths, different rituals, but a shared period of devotion —- and contemplation.  A time to reflect on right and wrong; a time to ponder one’s place in the world; a time when the people of two great religions remind the world of a truth that is both simple and profound, that each of us, all of us, in our hearts and in our lives, are capable of great and lasting change.

In this spirit, I welcome my partners.  And I invite each to say a few words before we begin our meal, beginning with President Mubarak, on to His Majesty King Abdullah, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.

President Mubarak.

PRESIDENT MUBARAK:  (As prepared for delivery.)  I am pleased to participate with you today in relaunching direct peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.  Like you, and the millions of Palestinians, Israelis, Arabs and the rest of the world, I look forward that these negotiations be final and decisive, and that they lead to a peace agreement within one year.

Our meet today would not have taken place without the considerable effort exerted by the American administration under the leadership of President Obama.  I pay tribute to you, Mr. President, for your personal, serious commit and for your determination to work for a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine since the early days of your presidency.  I appreciate your perseverance throughout the past period to overcome the difficulties facing the relaunching of the negotiations.

(Continued as translated.)  I consider this invitation a manifestation of your commitment and a significant message that the United States will shepherd these negotiations seriously and at the highest level.

No one realizes the value of peace more than those who have known wars and their havoc.  It was my destiny to witness over many events in our region during the years of war and peace.  I have gone through wars and hostilities, and have participated in the quest for peace since the first day of my administration.  I have never spared an effort to push it forward, and I still look forward to its success and completion.

The efforts to achieve peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis encountered many difficulties since the Madrid Conference in October 1999, and progress and regression, breakthroughs and setbacks, but the occupation of the Palestinian Territory remains an independent — an independent Palestinian state is yet — remains a dream in the conscious of the Palestinian people. 

There is no doubt that this situation should raise great frustration and anger among our people, for it is no longer acceptable or conceivable on the verge of the second decade of the third millennium that we fail to achieve just and true peace — peace that would put an end to the century of conflict, fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, lift the occupation, allow for the establishment of normal relations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

It is true that reaching a just and comprehensive peace treaty between both sides has been an elusive hope for almost two decades.  Yet the accumulated experience of both parties, the extended rounds of negotiations, and the previous understandings, particularly during the Clinton parameters of 2000, and subsequent understandings of Taba and with the previous Israeli government, all contributed in setting the outline of the final settlement.

This outline has become well known to the international community and to both peoples — the Palestinian and Israeli people.  Hence, it is expected that the current negotiations will not start from scratch or in void.  No doubt, the position of the international community, as is stated in the consecutive statements of the Quartet, in particular, in its latest August 20th statement, paid due respect to relevant international resolutions and supported the outline of final settlements using different formulation without prejudice to the outcome of negotiations.

It has stressed that the aim of the soon-to-start direct negotiation is to reach a peaceful settlement that would end the Israeli occupation which began in 1967, allowing for the independent and sovereign state of Palestine to emerge and live side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel.

I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu many times since he took office last year.  In our meetings, I listened to assertions on his willingness to achieve peace with the Palestinians, and for history to record his name for such an achievement.  I say to him today that I look forward to achieving those assertions in reality, and his success in achieving the long-awaited peace, which I know the people of Israel yearn for, just like all other people in the region. 

Reaching just peace with the Palestinians will require from Israel taking important and decisive decisions — decisions that are undoubtedly difficult yet they will be necessary to achieve peace and stability, and in a different context than the one that prevailed before. 

Settlement activities on the Palestinian Territory are contrary to international law.  They will not create rights for Israel, nor are they going to achieve peace or security for Israel.  It is, therefore, a priority to completely freeze all these activities until the entire negotiation process comes to a successful end.

I say to the Israelis, seize the current opportunity.  Do not let it slip through your fingers.  Make comprehensive peace your goal.  Extend your hand to meet the hand already extended in the Arab Peace Initiative. 

I say to President Mahmoud Abbas, Egypt will continue its faithful support to the patient Palestinian people and their just cause.  We will continue our concerted efforts to help fulfill the aspirations of your people and retrieve their legitimate rights.  We will stand by you until the independent state of Palestine on the land occupied since 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital.  We will also continue our efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation for the sake of the Palestinian national interest.

Once again, I’d like to express my thanks to President Obama, and I renew Egypt’s commitment to continue exerting all efforts, sharing honest advice and a commitment to the principles on which Arab and regional policy rests upon.

Please accept my appreciation, and peace be upon you. (Applause.) 

HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH:  (As translated.)  In the name of God most merciful, most compassionate, President Obama, peace be upon you. 

(In English.)  For decades, a Palestinian-Israeli settlement has eluded us.  Millions of men, women and children have suffered.  Too many people have lost faith in our ability to bring them the peace they want.  Radicals and terrorists have exploited frustrations to feed hatred and ignite wars.  The whole world has been dragged into regional conflicts that cannot be addressed effectively until Arabs and Israelis find peace.

This past record drives the importance of our efforts today. There are those on both sides who want us to fail, who will do everything in their power to disrupt our efforts today — because when the Palestinians and Israelis find peace, when young men and women can look to a future of promise and opportunity, radicals and extremists lose their most potent appeal.  This is why we must prevail.  For our failure would be their success in sinking the region into more instability and wars that will cause further suffering in our region and beyond.

President Obama, we value your commitment to the cause of peace in our region.  We count on your continued engagement to help the parties move forward.  You have said that Middle East peace is in the national security interest of your country.  And we believe it is.  And it is also a strategic European interest, and it is a necessary requirement for global security and stability.  Peace is also a right for every citizen in our region. 

A Palestinian-Israeli settlement on the basis of two states living side by side is a precondition for security and stability of all countries of the Middle East, with a regional peace that will lead to normal relations between Israel and 57 Arab and Muslim states that have endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative.  That would be — well, that would also be an essential step towards neutralizing forces of evil and war that threaten all peoples.

Mr. President, we need your support as a mediator, honest broker, and a partner, as the parties move along the hard but inevitable path of settlements.

Your Excellencies, all eyes are upon us.  The direct negotiations that will start tomorrow must show results — and sooner rather than later.  Time is not on our side.  That is why we must spare no effort in addressing all final status issues with a view to reaching the two-state solution, the only solution that can create a future worthy of our great region — a future of peace in which fathers and mothers can raise their children without fear, young people can look forward to lives of achievement and hope, and 300 million people can cooperate for mutual benefit.

For too long, too many people of the region have been denied their most basic of human rights:  the right to live in peace and security; respected in their human dignity; enjoying freedom and opportunity.  If hopes are disappointed again, the price of failure will be too high for all.

Our peoples want us to rise to their expectations.  And we can do so if we approach these negotiations with goodwill, sincerity and courage.  (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. President, Excellencies, Shalom Aleichem.  Shalom Alkulanu.  Peace unto us all.

I’m very pleased to be here today to begin our common effort to achieve a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I want to thank you, President Obama, for your tireless efforts to renew this quest for peace.  I want to thank Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Mitchell, the many members of the Obama administration, and Tony Blair, who’ve all worked so hard to bring Israelis and Palestinians together here today.

I also want to thank President Mubarak and King Abdullah for their dedicated and meaningful support to promote peace, security, and stability throughout our region.  I deeply appreciate your presence here today.

I began with a Hebrew word for peace, “shalom.”  Our goal is shalom.  Our goal is to forge a secure and durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  We don’t seek a brief interlude between two wars.  We don’t seek a temporary respite between outbursts of terror.  We seek a peace that will end the conflict between us once and for all.  We seek a peace that will last for generations — our generation, our children’s generation, and the next.

This is the peace my people fervently want.  This is the peace all our peoples fervently aspire to.  This is the peace they deserve.

Now, a lasting peace is a peace between peoples — between Israelis and Palestinians.  We must learn to live together, to live next to one another and with one another.  But every peace begins with leaders.

President Abbas, you are my partner in peace.  And it is up to us, with the help of our friends, to conclude the agonizing conflict between our peoples and to afford them a new beginning. The Jewish people are not strangers in our ancestral homeland, the land of our forefathers.  But we recognize that another people shares this land with us. 

I came here today to find an historic compromise that will enable both our peoples to live in peace and security and in dignity.  I’ve been making the case for Israel all of my life.  But I didn’t come here today to make an argument.  I came here today to make peace.  I didn’t come here today to play a blame game where even the winners lose.  Everybody loses if there’s no peace.  I came here to achieve a peace that will bring a lasting benefit to us all.  

I didn’t come here to find excuses or to make them.  I came here to find solutions.  I know the history of our conflict and the sacrifices that have been made.  I know the grief that has afflicted so many families who have lost their dearest loved ones.  Only yesterday four Israelis, including a pregnant women  — a pregnant woman — and another woman, a mother of six children, were brutally murdered by savage terrorists.  And two hours ago, there was another terror attack.  And thank God no one died.  I will not let the terrorists block our path to peace, but as these events underscore once again, that peace must be anchored in security. 

I’m prepared to walk down the path of peace, because I know what peace would mean for our children and for our grandchildren. I know it would herald a new beginning that could unleash unprecedented opportunities for Israelis, for Palestinians, and for the peoples — all the peoples — of our region, and well beyond our region.  I think it would affect the world. 

I see what a period of calm has created in the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, of Janin, throughout the West Bank, a great economic boom.  And real peace can turn this boom into a permanent era of progress and hope.

If we work together, we can take advantage of the great benefits afforded by our unique place under the sun.  We’re the crossroads of three continents, at the crossroads of history, and the crossroads of the future.  Our geography, our history, our culture, our climate, the talents of our people can be unleashed to create extraordinary opportunities in tourism, in trade, in industry, in energy, in water, in so many areas. 

But peace must also be defended against its enemies.  We want the skyline of the West Bank to be dominated by apartment towers — not missiles.  We want the roads of the West Bank to flow with commerce — not terrorists.

And this is not a theoretic request for our people.  We left Lebanon, and we got terror.  We left Gaza, and we got terror once again.  We want to ensure that territory we’ll concede will not be turned into a third Iranian-sponsored terror enclave armed at the heart of Israel — and may I add, also aimed at every one of us sitting on this stage.

This is why a defensible peace requires security arrangements that can withstand the test of time and the many challenges that are sure to confront us.  And there will be many challenges, both great and small.  Let us not get bogged down by every difference between us.  Let us direct our courage, our thinking, and our decisions at those historic decisions that lie ahead 

Now, there are many skeptics.  One thing there’s no shortage of, Mr. President, are skeptics.  This is something that you’re so familiar with, that all of us in a position of leadership are familiar with.  There are many skeptics.  I suppose there are many reasons for skepticism.  But I have no doubt that peace is possible. 

President Abbas, we cannot erase the past, but it is within our power to change the future.  Thousands of years ago, on these very hills where Israelis and Palestinians live today, the Jewish prophet Isaiah and the other prophets of my people envisaged a future of lasting peace for all mankind.  Let today be an auspicious step in our joint effort to realize that ancient vision for a better future.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT ABBAS:  (As translated.)  His Excellency President Barack Obama, His Excellency President Hosni Mubarak, His Majesty King Abdullah II, His Excellency Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, Mr. Tony Blair, ladies and gentlemen. 

I would like to start by thanking President Obama for his invitation to host us here today to relaunch the permanent status negotiations to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement covering all the permanent status issues within a year in accordance with international law and relevant resolutions. 

As we move towards the relaunch of these negotiations tomorrow, we recognize the difficulties, challenges and obstacles that lie ahead.  Yet we assure you, in the name of the PLO, that we will draw on years of experience in negotiations and benefit from the lessons learned to make these negotiations successful.

We also reiterate our commitment to carry out all our obligations, and we call on the Israelis to carry out their obligations, including a freeze on settlements activities, which is not setting a precondition but a call to implement an agreed obligation and to end all the closure and blockade, preventing freedom of movement, including the (inaudible) siege.

We will spare no effort and will work diligently and tirelessly to ensure that these new negotiations achieve their goals and objectives in dealing with all of the issues:  Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, border security, water, as well as the release of all our prisoners — in order to achieve peace. The people of our area are looking for peace that achieves freedom, independence, and justice to the Palestinian people in their country and in their homeland and in the diaspora — our people who have endured decades of longstanding suffering.

We want a peace that will correct the historical injustice caused by the (inaudible) of 1948, and one that brings security to our people and the Israeli people.  And we want peace that will give us both and the people of the region a new era where we enjoy just peace, stability, and prosperity. 

Our determination stems to a great extent from your willpower, Mr. President, and your firm and sweeping drive with which you engulfed the entire world from the day you took office to set the parties on the path for peace — and also this same spirit, exhibited by Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator George Mitchell and his team.  The presence of His Excellency President Mubarak and His Majesty King Abdullah is another telling indication of their substantial and effective commitment overall, where Egypt and Jordan have been playing a supportive role for advancing the peace process.  Their effective role is further demonstrated by the Arab Peace Initiative, which was fully endorsed by all of the Arab states, and the Islamic countries as well.

This initiative served a genuine and sincere opportunity to achieve a just and comprehensive peace on all tracks in our region, including the Syrian-Israeli track and the Lebanese-Israeli track, and provided a sincere opportunity to make peace.

The presence here today of the envoy of the Quartet, Mr. Tony Blair, is a most telling signal, especially since he has been personally involved in the Palestinian Authority for many years and in the efforts for state building in Palestine.

Excellencies, the time has come for us to make peace and it is time to end the occupation that started in 1967, and for the Palestinian people to get freedom, justice, and independence.  It is time that a independent Palestinian state be established with sovereignty side by side with the state of Israel.  It is time to put an end to the struggle in the Middle East. 

The Palestinian people who insist on the rights and freedom and independence are in most need for justice, security, and peace, because they are the victim, the ones that were harmed the most from this violence.  And it is sending message to our neighbors, the Israelis, and to the world that they are also careful about supporting the opportunities for the success of these negotiations and the just and lasting peace as soon as possible.

With this spirit, we will work to make these negotiations succeed.  And with this spirit, we are — trust that we are capable to achieve our historical, difficult mission — making peace in the land of peace.

Mr. Netanyahu, what happened yesterday and what is happening today is also condemned.  We do not want at all that any blood be shed, one drop of blood, on the part of the — from the Israelis or the Palestinians.  We want people in the two countries to lead a normal life.  We want them to live as neighbors and partners forever.  Let us sign an agreement, a final agreement, for peace, and put an end to a very long period of struggle forever.  

And peace be upon you.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I want to thank all the leaders for their thoughtful statements.  I want to thank the delegations that are represented here because they are the ones who oftentimes are doing a lot of the work.  This is just the beginning.  We have a long road ahead, but I appreciate very much the leaders who are represented here for giving us such an excellent start.  

And I particularly want to commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for their presence here.  This is not easy.  Both of them have constituencies with legitimate claims, legitimate concerns, and a lot of history between them.  For them to be here, to be willing to take this first step — the most difficult step — is a testament to their courage and their integrity and I think their vision for the future. 

And so I am hopeful — cautiously hopeful, but hopeful — that we can achieve the goal that all four of these leaders articulated. 

Thank you very much, everybody.

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Preceding distributed by the White House

Netanyahu: Israel will punish those responsible for killing four Israelis

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following is a transcript of comments made on Tuesday, August 31, by Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State prior to their formal meeting together in advance of the new Mideast Peace Talks:

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We witnessed today a savage murder of four innocent Israelis. There are seven new orphans that were added to the circle of grief in Israel. We will not let the blood of Israeli civilians go unpunished. We will find the murderers. We will punish their dispatchers. We will not let terror decide where Israelis live or the configuration of our final borders. These and other issues will be determined in the negotiations for peace that we’re conducting, and in these negotiations I will set clearly the security needs that are required precisely to address this kind of terror; and I hope to have the opportunity to go into greater detail in my conversations with President Obama tomorrow and with you, Secretary Clinton, today, and the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians as well. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me express our deepest sympathy to the families who have lost their loved ones. This kind of savage brutality has no place in any country, under any circumstances. The forces of terror and destruction cannot be allowed to continue. It is one of the reasons why the prime minister is here today: to engage in direct negotiations with those Palestinians who themselves have rejected a path of violence in favor of a path of peace. We have to not only stand against the kind of horrific murders we saw today on behalf of the four who were lost and, as the prime minister said, the seven orphans who have been brutally deprived of their parents, but on behalf of all people — Israelis, Palestinians, everyone who knows that there is no answer when violence begets violence. And I thank the prime minister for his leadership in seeking a different future for the children of Israel. And we pledge to do all we can, always, to protect and defend the State of Israel and to provide security to the Israeli people. That is one of the paramount objectives that Israel has that the United States supports in these negotiations.

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Preceding provided by the U.S. State Department
 

Commentary: Sara Netanyahu steps up for immigrant children

August 15, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Sara Netanyahu is not one of the most well regarded first ladies of the world. She is known for yelling and throwing things at the household help. She has been the target of civil actions for not paying what is required, and–along with her husband–the subject of police inquiries for fiddling with government funds.

Mrs. Netanyahu has most recently come to attention for writing a letter to Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister with direct responsibility for dealing with illegal immigrants.

“I turn to you as the mother of two sons and as a psychologist . . . I ask from the bottom of my heart that you use your authority to allow a vast majority of the remaining 400 children to remain in Israel. This issue is very close to my heart.”

Yishai is the Knesset leader of the SHAS party of Sephardi ultra-Orthodox, who often speaks out on matters of maintaining the ultra-Orthodox exemption from military service and other issues important to his community. He led the faction against allowing any of the immigrant children to remain in Israel, emphasizing the threat to the society of individuals who are not Jews according to religious law.

For the large number of Israelis who are not fans of either Sara or SHAS, this might be an event to celebrate.

However, many of those Israelis are lining up in behalf of the immigrant children. Joining them are leading media personalities, and Aliza, the politically correct wife of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

No doubt the kids are here illegally. The government has voted to expel about one-third of some 1,200 children who do not meet criteria of being in Israel for a minimum of years, fluent in Hebrew, and attending Israeli schools. But I am not certain that the government will actually go through with this decision.

It is not only that implementation is not a strong element of Israel’s public administration. Those kids are tugging at a lot of heart strings.

The issue of illegal immigration is no less complex here than in other countries of  Europe and North America where there is work that the locals do not want to do. Housewives complain about the problems of finding and keeping decent help who have legal status. There are a couple of hundred thousand workers here legally to work in construction, agriculture, and the care of the infirm. There are thousands of others who have overstayed their permits, come over the border with Egypt, or entered informally from the West Bank. As elsewhere, there are ugly stories of individuals having to pay bribes in order to obtain work permits, being housed in substandard facilities, or denied proper wages.

Also in the headlines is a gun battle involving Africans coming through the Sinai, who rebelled against the Bedouin smugglers who demanded more money as they approached the Israeli border. Several Africans and Bedouins were killed in that fray, and other Africans died in an incident when Egyptian soldiers opened fire when they refused to surrender.

Other news is that illegal Africans are moving out of a Tel Aviv neighborhood and settling in a lower-priced area of Bnei Brak. That is a low-income, largely ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv. What will emerge from that social combine will be interesting to observe. Already the locals are demanding a greater police presence in their community.

There is nothing new in all of this. The Book of Joshua describes the Gibeonites, whose presence among the Israelites was not entirely kosher, but who were allowed to stay and “be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community.” (Joshua 9:21). (Gibeon, or El Jib, is a Palestinian village alongside Route 443, a few miles west of Jerusalem. Its residents may have to find a way through the barriers in order to get work in Israel, but I would not bet against them.)

When a million immigrants came from the former Soviet Union during the late 1980s onward, they had a major impact on the economy. There were some among them who fit the Gibeon profile as “woodcutters and water carriers,” but for the most part they came as physicians, engineers, scientists, and musicians. They and their children are higher than average in income, education and other social indicators.
More than one hundred thousand Ethiopians are mostly at the bottom of the economy, but there are not enough of them to fill the demand. They do not have the skills of Palestinian or Chinese construction workers, and the rights and social programs of Jewish immigrants may allow them to avoid the least desirable opportunities in the labor market.

Sara’s letter may cause her husband to squirm out of the firm posture about illegal immigrants he articulated a week ago, and lead other Israelis to elevate their feelings toward her, at least for a while. The fate of those 400 children is currently at the top of the emotional agenda. That issue will pass in one way or another, but the larger story of which it is a part will not go away.

Unless someone out there can tell us about a large and untapped pool of poor Jews.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of politcal science at Hebrew University

Netanyahu says U.N. flotilla panel may not interrogate IDF soldiers

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (WJC)–Israel has threatened to pull out of a UN inquiry into the IDF raid on the Gaza-bound ‘Freedom Flotilla’ after the UN secretary-general said there was no agreement that the panel would refrain from calling Israeli soldiers to testify.

Last week, Jerusalem agreed to participate in the UN probe. Officials said Israel’s agreement was conditional on the panel relying on reports from Israel’s own military inquiry, not direct testimony from IDF soldiers.

However, at a press conference at UN headquarters on Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was asked whether he agreed not to call Israeli soldiers before the panel. “No, there was no such agreement behind the scenes,” he replied.

In response, the Netanyahu’s office issued a harsh statement. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes it absolutely clear that Israel will not cooperate with, and will not take part in, any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers.”

The government had appointed the retired senior diplomat Joseph Ciechanover to join the UN panel and was preparing for the start of its deliberations on Tuesday when Ban made his remark, throwing plans into turmoil.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday took “full responsibility” for the raid, saying the government had foreseen the potential for violence when it decided to launch the operation. Testifying before the Israeli investigative committee chaired by former Supreme Court Judge Jacob Turkel, Barak said he accepted full responsibility for the instructions given to the military over its interception of six Gaza-bound ships.

“I carry overall responsibility for everything that took place in the systems under my command. I carry responsibility for the orders given on the political level,” Barak told the panel.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Israel commission hears Netanyahu in Gaza Flotilla inquiry

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (WJC) — Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has again defended the raid by Israel’s Navy on the Gaza-bound ‘Freedom Flotilla’ on 31 May 2010, during which nine Turkish activists on board the ‘Marmara’ were killed.

Netanyahu told the Turkel Commission – a panel investigating raid – that Israel’s actions were justified. The flotilla was trying to break an Israeli blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Netanyahu said he was sure the Israeli panel investigating the raid would find that military forces had acted according to international law.

“The appearance of the prime minister of Israel before this commission today is the best proof of the standards according to which Israeli democracy operates,” Netanyahu stated.

He defended the Israeli sea blockade against Gaza: “From the Gaza Strip, Hamas has been raining thousands of rockets, missiles and mortar bombs on the state of Israel, striking at our communities and citizens … Today, Hamas is stockpiling weapons that can reach Tel Aviv and other distant parts of Israel. As part of the effort to prevent weapons entering the Gaza Strip, my government has continued the naval blockade policy that was imposed by the previous government during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, and this pursuant to the limitation and oversight on commercial traffic over the land crossings that were imposed in September 2007.”

Netanyahu criticized Turkey’s role in this matter. “Despite our continuous diplomatic efforts, ultimately the Turkish government did not prevent the attempt by the ‘Marmara’ to break the naval blockade. All our proposals to route the ships’ cargo for a security vetting in Ashdod, and later for transfer through the land crossings to Gaza, were to no avail. Nor did we hear any public message from the Turkish government aimed at calming the excitability of the activists aboard the ship. It appears that the Turkish government did not see in the prospect of a clash between Turkish activists and Israel, something that clashed with its interests, and certainly not something that would warrant applying effective pressure on the IHH activists,” he declared.

The prime minister is the first of several high-level officials set to appear before the panel, which includes five Israeli members as well as two international observers.  Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is also expected to testify.

The United Nations is due to begin its own inquiry into the raid on Tuesday.  That panel will be led by former New Zealand leader Geoffrey Palmer and outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and will include one Israeli and one Turkish member.

Israel says its forces acted in self-defense after they were attacked by the Turkish activists wielding clubs and knives. The IDF held its own investigation and defended the use of force, whilst acknowledging that mistakes were made in the planning stages.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Netanyahu, Lieberman jockey as direct talks with Palestinians loom

July 28, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (WJC)–Israel has no plans to extend the ten-month building freeze in Israeli settlements in the West Bank after September, the country’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday.

He rejected any link between the moratorium and the start of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Lieberman told a joint news conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos that there was no room for linkage between such talks and a settlement construction freeze. “We must start direct talks, but there is no place for a moratorium after September 25,” he said.

Foreign ministers of Arab League member states are to meet on Thursday and will consider whether to back direct talks between the Palestinians and Israel. The Palestinian Authority usually follows the advice of the Arab League.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah II to advance peace, security and prosperity in the region, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. There had been no prior announcement that the meeting would take place.

“The two leaders discussed the need to ensure direct, serious and effective negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that would address all final-status issues and create a solution of two states for two peoples in which Israelis and Palestinians will live in lasting and secure peace,” said a statement issued by Netanyahu’s office. 

“The prime minister said that King Abdullah’s leadership was important for advancing peace and stability in the region, and that he looked forward to strengthening the relations between Israel and Jordan,” the statement added.

Jordan’s Islamist-led labor unions strongly condemned Netanyahu’s visit to Amman, describing him as a “criminal.” The head of the Unions’ Council Ahmad Armuti said in a statement: “At a time when the Zionist enemy is killing our people in Palestine and destroying their homes, as well as planning schemes against Jordan’s security, officials receive Netanyahu the criminal in Amman. The trade unions completely reject this visit and hold the government responsible for its political and public responsibilities, in line with the constitution.”

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Netanyahu temporarily shelves conversion bill

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (WJC, ADL)–The Israeli government has decided to postpone the adoption of a controversial law on conversion to Judaism that drew sharp criticism from Jews in the Diaspora. In a statement, a government spokesman Nir Hefetz said an agreement had been reached with liberal Jewish denominations that were opposed to the bill. The bill will be withdrawn for six months as the sides try to work out an alternative. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had approved the compromise to “preserve the unity of the Jewish people,” according to the statement.

The bill would have strengthened the control of Israel’s Orthodox Chief Rabbinate over the process of Jewish conversions. Liberal Jewish denominations make up the majority of Jews in countries such as the United States and Britain, where it was feared that the bill could undermine their legitimacy and connection to the Jewish state.

In New York, Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director issued the following statement:

“We applaud the Prime Minister’s efforts to prevent this bill from reaching the Knesset at this time to enable the engagement of Diaspora Jewry, and specifically the Reform and Conservative movements, in a process to work out a more acceptable solution to this decades-old issue.  
 
“We fully appreciate that Israel must find a way to accommodate the 400,000 immigrants from the Former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and who seek a path to be recognized as Jews for the purpose of marriage, burial and other rituals.  However, we assert that any decisions regarding the process of Jewish conversion in Israel do not just affect citizens of Israel, but Jews worldwide.   The Prime Minister’s intervention in this matter was clearly to the benefit of am yisrael – the Jewish people, and in the interest of Jewish unity.”

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League    
 
 

 
           

Jewish Agency applauds Netanyahu stand on conversion bill

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (Press Release)–The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America welcome and support Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s clear stance against the passage of the conversion bill of MK David Rotem in its present form.

In his stance, the prime minister has shown leadership and commitment to preserving the unity of the Jewish People.

The essence of the bill – allowing potential converts to choose from among the country’s municipal rabbis – is a welcome and important initiative. However, amendments made to the original bill would for the first time exclude vast segments of world Jewry by establishing a religious standard for conversion in Israeli civil legislation. 

In addition, the bill that was presented to the Knesset Law Committee last week included a clause that denies the right to automatic Israeli citizenship for non-Jews who convert to Judaism in Israel. This would, for the very first time, create a class of Jews – ironically, all of whom are Orthodox – who are ineligible to be Israelis.

According to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, “We believe the proposed legislation to be profoundly damaging to the State of Israel. At a time when world Jewry stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel against a vicious multi-front campaign of delegitimization, this bill is seen in large parts of the Diaspora as delegitimizing their own religiosity and Jewish identification.”

Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO, Jerry Silverman added, “We call for all parties to respect the direction suggested by Prime Minister Netanyahu and enter into a serious dialogue in order to bridge the disagreements over this bill. We believe that through such dialogue, the positive and necessary elements of the bill can be preserved without creating a rupture in the Jewish people.”

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Preceding provided by Jewish Agency for Israel

Seemingly, little of substance in Obama-Netanyahu meeting

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–As expected, the White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was an occasion for mutual admiration and pledges of cooperation. It was much different from the image conveyed by their previous meeting, when the White House had blasted the timing of an Israeli planning committee’s announcement about construction in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, ranking officials were talking about Israel’s insults, and endangering American troops.

Rather than being at the center of concern, Israel’s settlements and Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem were barely discernible in the President’s most recent comments.
A Washington Post commentator began his article about the most recent meeting by reference to Obama’s surrender.

A blue-and-white Israeli flag hung from Blair House. Across Pennsylvania Avenue, the Stars and Stripes was in its usual place atop the White House. But to capture the real significance of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit with President Obama, White House officials might have instead flown the white flag of surrender.

The author emphasizes the influence of the Israel lobby for the turnaround. The fright of Democratic candidates as they approach the November election may have something to do with the President’s accommodation with Israel’s sensitivities.  However, it is too simple to follow the conventional route of crediting American Jews for White House support of Israel. The Washington Post journalist also notes that the President’s efforts to attract Muslim support were not bearing fruit. He reports survey data showing a decline of public confidence in Obama among both Egyptians and Turks. 


It is also the case that Obama was not alone in making efforts at accommodation. Prime Minister Netanyahu played his part in expressing a serious commitment to searching for a way to make peace with the Palestinians.
Both leaders have reiterated their pledge of cooperation since the meeting. The Prime Minister praised the President in an interview with Larry King. President Obama praised the Prime Minister during a lengthy interview by the anchor of a prime time Israeli news program. He emphasized his commitment to Israel and the Jewish people, sought to minimize the tensions deriving from his middle name (Hussein), his outreach to Muslim countries (for the sake of Israel as well as the United States), and what he described as erroneous perceptions of his earlier meeting with the Prime Minister (not a snub but a long working session).
Both the President and the Prime Minister have given impressive performances, but time will tell if the theme is closer to William Shakespeare (sound and fury signifying nothing) or to serious politics. The President himself, in the interview with the Israeli media personality, noted that Israelis were justifiably skeptical in light of Palestinian rejections of previous concessions. The trial balloon mentioned by some Palestinians leaders, but shot down quickly by others (Israeli control over the Western Wall and part of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City) is so far from something Israel can accept as to suggest that the warmth of Washington will produce no fruit worth tasting.
More of the same is what usually prevails in politics, despite the efforts of elected officials to appear innovative. The most recent Obama appearance on Israeli television was more subdued by far than the Obama we saw in his presidential campaign. Rather than proclaiming Change, he now says that he will be trying, and feels that the time is right for a deal between Israel and Palestine. However, he cautions that it will take efforts from Palestinians as well as Israelis, and that there are no assurances of success.
Israeli commentators are more pessimistic than either the President or the Prime Minister. They note that Obama has gotten nothing from Palestinians or other Muslims for his efforts. They speculate that he may have learned about the Middle East, and has decided that there are more pressing concerns domestically and further east in Afghanistan. His current warmth toward the Israeli leadership and population may represent one more effort to breath life into his efforts in behalf of peace, or be little more than a gesture to help Congressional Democrats in November. 

On the evening that we saw the President’s interview we also were seeing the conclusion of a march toward Jerusalem in behalf of the prisoner held in Gaza. His parents and other organizers were demanding that the government pay the price necessary to obtain his release. 10-15,000 were at the conclusion in a Jerusalem park, and many more had participated in events along the way. However, some of the politicians who attached themselves to the final steps of the march indicated that they shared the sentiments of the family, but could not accept the principle of “paying any price,” or the deal demanded by Hamas.

Less than a month ago, 100,000 ultra-Orthodox men marched in Jerusalem in support of the continued segregation of Ashkenazim and Sephardim in an ultra-Orthodox girls school, against the mandate of Israel’s Supreme Court. In 1982, when the national population was only 55 percent of its current size, an estimated 400,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to protest the failure of the IDF to prevent the massacre of Palestinians by Christian militiamen in Beirut. By those standards of comparison, 10-15,000 people in a Jerusalem park will not be enough to change the government’s rejection of Hamas’ list of prisoners as its price for the Israeli captive.

Sound and fury, in Washington and Jerusalem, but not enough to assure that something will happen.
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University