INSIDE LOOK: HOW GAZA PROTESTERS ATTEMPTED TO BREACH THE BORDER FENCE

Over the past eight weeks, protesters in Gaza have altered their strategy as Israel has warned them to refrain from approaching the border fence.

Many questions remain about what led to the deaths of up to 58 Palestinians on Monday. One of the key issues surrounds how the protests are organized. Based on observation and discussions with sources close to the protests, the following presents a clearer picture of what has occurred over the last weeks, and attempts to paint a picture of how the May 14 protests unfolded.

Since the end of March, there have been mass protests along the Gaza border. These protests have been well organized and planned as part of an eight week “Great March of Return,” from the Palestinian Land Day on March 30, to the “Nakba Day” on May 15.

On May 14, the mass protests, which coincided with the US opening its embassy in Jerusalem and came a day before what was supposed to be the last day of the protests, resulted in 58 Palestinians killed and up to 2,700 wounded, according to Gaza-based Palestinian reports.

The protests have been organized around five locations next to Israel’s security fence. Over the eight weeks of demonstrations, protesters used a variety of different tactics and methods. For instance, protesters began lighting massive fires and burning tires during the second Friday, in early April.  Then they began launching burning kites to ignite Israeli farmland. They also tore down a section of barbed wire of one of the fences between Israel and Gaza on April 27. It was during this protest that a reliable source provided some insight into the methods employed by Hamas and the protesters.

The protesters have gathered every Friday with tens of thousands participating. At the very back of the protest, hundreds of meters from the fence, are tents and field hospitals, prayer areas and families. This is where some of the Hamas officials will show up in the morning or early afternoon to rouse the people and encourage them in their protest. Speeches will be made and prayers offered. It is well organized. Buses bring people to the protests. There are people selling food. There is even a macabre element of this, with protesters saying they’ll have a meal before they become “shahid” or a martyr at the front.

The masses of protesters who approach the actual fence are generally made up of young men and teenagers, including youth and children. There are very few women in the area closest to the fence. The protesters know how the Israeli security forces have been operating; they expect to be shot or are cognizant that this is a distinct possibility. There are ambulance teams and medics, as well as numerous spontaneous volunteers, ready to take away the injured, many of them shot in the legs.

As the young men burn tires, and others prepare Molotov cocktails or slingshots, some prepare kites to fly. The goal of the protesters is to get to the fence and, with select groups of young men who have brought wire cutters, to cut through. Most of them don’t make it this far, but some of them do.

Gazans who attempt to reach the main security fence first have to deal with other obstacles. There is a barbed-wire fence in sections to deter protesters from reaching the main fence. Israel has continuously warned since March that anyone approaching this kind of buffer zone would be shot. A section of barbed wire fence was torn down and dragged away in late April. The Palestinians cheered as they brought it back to the protest camp. A sign of victory.

According to reports, it takes about thirty seconds running between the barbed-wire fence and the main security fence.

But what happened in late April was not just the spontaneous chaos of rioters at the fence. Some of those wounded and killed by live fire, as shown on videos, have not been directly threatening the fence, but there are others groups whose sole purpose is to penetrate the fence.

The actual attempt to get closest to the fence and break through it has involved planning and coordination on the Palestinian side. Hamas members, unarmed but clearly directing some of the young men, are in the crowd. They watch for an area of burning tires and people, where the protesters have managed to get close to the fence or breach the first line of barbed wire.

Some of these professional activists are on motorcycles and they may come and go or drive along the line of protests or observe them from a high point. When they sense that a breach can be made, they gather together groups of young men, men who have prepared beforehand for the assault.

Like some kind of First World War charge of death, the young men then rush as a group toward the fence.

During the April 27 events, up to 700 men were reported by IDF spokesman Col. Jonathan Conricus to have assaulted the fence “in a way that we have not seen them assault it before,” according to a New York Times report.

An earlier Times report titled “300 Meters in Gaza: Snipers, Burning Tires and a Contested Fence,” summarized well the planning and details of the protests and confirmed later accounts.

Planning began ahead of the May 14 protests. Joe Dyke, the AFP correspondent in Gaza, wrote on May 10 that, at a “briefing to foreign media, Gaza head of Hamas told journalists today he would support thousands of Palestinians breaking through the border fence next week.”

On Sunday the IDF dropped leaflets on Gaza warning protesters to stay away from the fence. On May 14 Dyke, in Gaza, tweeted: “literally as the US embassy inauguration is beginning, loud speakers east of Gaza City are calling on protesters to prepare to seek to breach the border fence.”

By the end of the day, 58 had been killed.

The article was published in The JPost


NETANYAHU UNVEILS SECRET IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM

“Iran’s leaders repeatedly deny ever pursuing nuclear weapons,” said Netanyahu. “Tonight I’m here to tell you one thing: Iran lied.”

rime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a massive cache of secret documents, obtained in an exceptional Israeli intelligence operation this year, showing that Iran had developed a secret nuclear weapons program and that it lied when it claimed otherwise.

“Iran lied big time,” Netanyahu said at a dramatic press conference on Monday night in Tel Aviv that involved props and a slide show.

Netanyahu held a microphone and walked back and forth on the stage as if conducting a class.

To catch international attention, Netanyahu spoke in English as he described a massive Israeli intelligence coup by which some 100,000 documents – weighing around half a ton – were brought from Tehran to the Jewish state.

“In 2017, Iran moved its nuclear-weapons files to the Shorabad district in southern Tehran. Few Iranians knew where it was, very few, and also a few Israelis,” Netanyahu said. “From the outside the vault looked like a dilapidated warehouse. It contained Iran’s secret atomic archives locked in massive files.”

“A few weeks ago, in a great intelligence achievement, Israel obtained half a ton of the material inside these vaults,” Netanyahu said.

He explained that these included 55,000 pages of documents and another 55,000 files on 183 CDs.

The documents focused on the secret Iranian nuclear program that was developed from 1999 to 2003 called Project Amad. When Iran entered the 2015 nuclear deal, it denied that such a program existed.

Netanyahu made the presentation as part of his continued campaign against the deal. He said the documents proved that the deal itself was based on falsehoods and that Iran continued with its nuclear program after the deal was signed.

He spoke less than two weeks before the May 12 deadline that US President Donald Trump had set to decide whether or not to scrap the deal, which the US signed along with five other world powers: Russia, Germany, China, the UK and France.

Meanwhile, the Knesset gave the power to declare war to the security cabinet, instead of the wider cabinet. Netanyahu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked have been pushing for the passage of the bill.

IN WASHINGTON, Trump lauded Netanyahu’s presentation.

“I don’t know if everybody has seen it, but I got to see a little bit of it, and that is just not an acceptable situation,” he said, referring to the nuclear deal.

“So we’ll see what happens, Trump said. “I’m not telling you what I’m doing. But a lot of people think they know, and on or before the 12th we’ll make a decision. That doesn’t mean we won’t negotiate a real agreement. It’s a horrible agreement for the US.”

Israel had known for years that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program from 1999 to 2003 called Project Amad, Netanyahu said.

“We can now prove that Project Amad was a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.

“Iran is secretly storing Project Amad material to use at a time of its choice to develop nuclear weapons.”

The project’s mission statement was to “design, product and test five warheads, each with 10-kiloton TNT yield for integration on a missile. You do not have to read Farsi to see ‘10 kiloton’ here,” he said.

“That is like five Hiroshima bombs to be put on ballistic missiles,” Netanyahu said.

He showed a spread sheet that spoke of yellowcake production, centrifuge enrichment process, warhead project, simulation project and tests.

“Project Amad had the five key elements of a nuclear weapons program,” said Netanyahu.

This included designs for enriched uranium as well as the development of nuclear cores and photographs of a secret underground facility to produce these cores.

Israel found photographs of a system to build a nuclear implosion system and a map with five key testing sites in eastern Iran, Netanyahu said.

“We have many more such documents,” said Netanyahu.

There were also documents that showed how to integrate nuclear warheads on missiles, including for Shahab-3 missiles.

“Here is the warhead, here is the bomb,” said Netanyahu, pointing to different points on a diagram.

Iran is continually expanding the range of its nuclear-capable missiles and can reach Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Moscow.

“But they are working on far greater ranges,” he said.

“These files conclusively prove that Iran is brazenly lying when it said it never had a nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said.

In 2003, Iran was forced to shelve Project Amad, but not its nuclear ambitions. It split its program into an overt program and a covert one that continued the nuclear work under the title of scientific knowhow development, Netanyahu said.

It continued this work in a series of organizations and in 2018 it is carried out by SPND, an organization inside Iran’s Defense Ministry led by the same person who led Project Amad – Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Netanyahu said.

Many of SPND’s key personnel worked with Fakhrizadeh on Project Amad, Netanyahu said.

The files Israel uncovered also dealt with the Fordow uranium enrichment facility, which Netanyahu said was designed from the start to be part of Project Amad.

“You will not be surprised that Iran insisted on keeping Fordow and the nuclear deal enabled it to do it. But Iran was required by the International Atomic Energy Agency to come clean about its nuclear program.

“This was an explicit condition for implementing the nuclear deal. In December 2015 the IAEA published its final assessment of the military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. This was Iran’s chance to fully come clean to the IAEA. They could tell the truth,” Netanyahu said.
But instead, Iran denied the existence of a coordinated program and specifically denied the existence of the Amad plan, Netanyahu said.

He also showed photographic evidence that Iran conducted metallurgical work specifically designed for a nuclear device.

“This is just a fraction of the total material that we have,” Netanyahu said.

One has to ask, he said, “Why would a terrorist regime hide and meticulously catalogue its secret files if not to use it at a later date?”

“Iran lied about never having a nuclear weapons program, it continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons knowhow for future use,” Netanyahu said.

He played a tape of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad

Javad Zarif stating that Iran had never had a nuclear weapons program.

“Yes you did,” Netanyahu said. “And the atomic archive proves it.”

“In a few days’ time, Trump will make a decision of what to do with the nuclear deal. I am sure he will do the right thing for the US, for Israel and for the peace of the world,” he said.

FOR HIS PART, the US president acknowledged growing expectations that he will pull out of the accord by May 12. If the European powers fail to come up with “substantial” fixes to some of the agreement’s most controversial provisions, Trump says he will allow for nuclear sanctions to snap back into place, effectively withdrawing the US from the 2015 agreement by default.

Trump said scrapping the non-proliferation agreement would send “the right message” to North Korea in upcoming negotiations over its own nuclear work, given “new information” that had

 

come to light on Monday.

But if Trump is indeed preparing for a withdrawal next month, not all of his cabinet members are yet on board. Asked on Monday after Netanyahu’s speech whether he is satisfied the JCPOA can handle incidents of Iranian cheating, James Mattis, the US defense secretary, said “yes.”

Mattis met with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman, last week in Washington, primarily on Iran policy, the two departments said.

The president also claimed the current deal “frees” Iran to develop nuclear weapons in seven years. The letter of the agreement commits Iran never to construct nuclear weapons – a pledge it originally made in joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in the 1970s. But Netanyahu’s point was that Iran’s commitments were based on lies, raising questions over whether their weapons program had ever ceased and over what sort of agreement with Iran would ever be considered of good faith.

The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehen

sive Plan of Action, put caps on Tehran’s enrichment of uranium that phase out between 10 and 15 years. As those “sunset clauses” are reached, Iran will be allowed to grow the size and efficiency of its program, installing advanced models of uranium-enriching centrifuges in place of decades-old technology, in greater numbers and at more facilities.

That will shrink the “breakout time” Iran would need to develop fissile material for nuclear bombs, should it make the political decision to proceed.

Trump wants a deal that will grant UN inspectors snap access to Iran’s military facilities, where much of their past nuclear weapons work took place; an end to their program

 on ballistic missiles, designed to deliver nuclear warheads; a permanent extension of the “sunset clauses”; and commitments from world powers to thwart Iran’s military ambitions across the Middle East.

NETANYAHU RECEIVED praise from coalition and opposition politicians after his presentation of Iran’s nuclear violations.

Deputy Minister Michael Oren (Kulanu) said Netanyahu presented impressive intelligence accomplishments for Israel. He said the international community must demand unlimited oversight over Iran’s nuclear program, including in closed military sites and prevent the development of Iranian ballistic missiles.

Former defense minister Amir Peretz (Zionist Union) said the evidence Netanyahu presented proved that Iran is obsessively seeking nuclear weapons. He said Israel must demand more inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites, the maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge, and immediately work to fix security flaws in the Israeli home front.

But Joint List MK Dov Henin called Netanyahu’s presentation an election speech.

“What were all of those empty binders, disks and English for?” Henin asked. “He merely warmed old noodles that were cooked years before the nuclear deal was signed.

 

A leader facing corruption charges was trying to persuade another leader facing corruption charges to inflame a conflagration whose price would be paid by the people who live here.”

Iran’s foreign minister said Israel’s accusations were “old allegations” that had been dealt with by the United Nations nuclear watchdog in the past.

“Pres. Trump is jumping on a rehash of old allegations already dealt with by the IAEA to “nix” the deal. How convenient. Coordinated timing of alleged intelligence revelations by the boy who cries wolf just days before May 12. But Trump’s impetuousness to celebrate blew the cover,” Zarif tweeted.

Iranian state TV said Netanyahu’s

 accusations were propaganda.

“His remarks were not new… full of baseless accusations… and propaganda against Iran’s nuclear work,” state TV said.
Netanyahu spoke to Trump by telephone on Sunday and met in Tel Aviv with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Prior to the presentation, the security cabinet met.

On Monday, he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the cache of docume

nts and promised to send professional teams to their countries to explain the material. Netanyahu also held a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and he plans to update the British and Chinese leaders as soon as possible.

Over on Capitol Hill, response to the presentation was muted. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican from Tennessee who serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who drafted the 2015 law that provides Congress with review powers over the nuclear deal, said Netanyahu revealed “nothing new” that was not known prior to the conclusion of the agreement.

The article was published on The JPost


NETANYAHU, IRANIAN FM SPAR AT MUNICH CONFERENCE

PM shows piece of downed Iranian UAV, warns Israel will act against Iran if it must • Zarif dismisses Netanyahu’s ‘cartoonish circus’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, brandished a piece of the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle that Israel downed a week ago after it entered Israel’s airspace and warned Iran “not to test Israel’s resolve.”

Israel, Netanyahu said at the conference that was attended by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, “will act not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.”

Zarif, who addressed the conference later in the day, dismissed Netanyahu’s presentation as a “cartoonish circus, which does not even deserve a response.”

Netanyahu, who said Zarif “lies with eloquence,” warned the conference participants that Zarif will “brazenly deny Iran’s nefarious involvement in Syria.”

“Iran also denies that it committed an act of aggression against Israel last week, that it sent a drone into our airspace to threaten our people,” Netanyahu said, pulling out the Iranian prop from behind the podium and holding it high up with one hand.

“Well, here’s a piece of that Iranian drone, or what’s left of it after we shot it down. I brought it here so you can see for yourself. Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should. It’s yours.”

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to have ever addressed this prestigious conference, and the overwhelming majority of his 15-minute speech and 15 minutes of Q and A, dealt with Iran.

With former US secretary of state John Kerry, one of the key architects of the Iranian nuclear deal, sitting in the front row, Netanyahu ripped into the accord as he has done many times in the past, saying that the inspection regimen is completely insufficient, and that when the sun sets on the agreement in some 10 years’ time, the Iranians will have an “open highway” to build not only one nuclear device, but an entire nuclear arsenal.

To have nuclear weapons, Netanyahu said, “you need a gun, bullets, and gunpowder.”

The gun is the ballistic missiles that the Iranians are developing, unchecked by the nuclear deal and undeterred by UN Security Council resolutions, he said.

“They should be stopped and slammed with the most crippling sanctions to prevent them from continuing the development of these [nuclear] delivery systems, these guns,” he said.

Furthermore, the Iranians are hiding the “casings for the bullets” in military sites, which the nuclear deal has placed out of bounds to inspectors, he said.

And the third element – the gunpowder – is the enriched uranium, “which is the toughest thing to make for a nuclear weapon, because it is the most difficult to manufacture, requires big plants and precision engineering.” When the sun sets on the agreement, he said, Iran will be given “free rein to enrich uranium without limitations.”

Lifting Iran’s limitations on uranium enrichment should not be linked to a calendar, Netanyahu said, but rather to Iran’s behavior, which as a result of the deal has gotten worse and more aggressive in the region, not better.

Netanyahu predicted that the Iranians would “do nothing” if the nuclear deal is not either “fixed or nixed.”

FURTHERMORE, he said, the countries of the world would have to decide whether they prefer dealing with the US or with Iran, which – despite the fact that it has some 80 million people as compared to Israel’s 8.5 million – has an economy about the size of Israel’s.

“I think the time to stop them is now,” he said.

Netanyahu said that Iran, through nefarious moves in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, is trying to change the status quo in the region.

If they do change the status quo, he said, the rule he will follow is one established by the early Zionists when dealing with problems: “They said nip things in the bud, stop them before they get big. That’s basically what our policy is.”

Netanyahu also conveyed a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad, stressing that Israel’s decision to stay out of the Syrian civil war for the last six years, except to grant humanitarian aid to thousands of Syrians in Israeli hospitals, could change.

Assad understands that if he invites Iran to entrench itself militarily inside his country, he is challenging Israel, he said. “If Mr. Assad invites Iran in militarily, that changes our position. So that is up to Iran and to Mr. Assad.”

Zarif, in addition to dismissing Netanyahu’s presentation as a “cartoonish circus,” said the recent shooting down of an Israeli F16 after it bombed an Iranian site in Syria had shattered Israel’s “so-called invincibility.”

“Israel uses aggression as a policy against its neighbors,” Zarif said, accusing Israel of “mass reprisals against its neighbors and daily incursions into Syria, Lebanon.”

“Once the Syrians have the guts to down one of its planes, it’s as if a disaster has happened,” Zarif said.

“What has happened in the past several days is the so-called invincibility [of Israel] has crumbled.”

He accused the United States of using the conference to “revive hysteria” against Iran and denied that Tehran was seeking “hegemony” in the Middle East.

Zarif also poked at Netanyahu for his legal problems, saying, “Israel’s major problems are its years-long criminal occupation policies, and I’m not even talking about its corruption.”

Kerry, meanwhile, said at the conference that it was wrong to assume that Iran would obtain a nuclear weapon as soon as the scope of the deal ends.

“If your house is on fire, are you going to refuse to put it out because you are concerned it will light on fire again in 15 years? Or are you going to put it out and use the intervening time to prevent to ever catching fire again?” he asked.

Before addressing the conference, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, visited a memorial to the 11 Israeli Olympic athletes killed in Munich in 1972.

“There is [a] special meaning to the fact that we are standing at the place where 11 of our athletes were murdered just because they were Jews and Israelis. Millions were slaughtered here just because they were Jews,” he said. “The great difference is that we have a state and this state has acted, and is acting today, against terrorism and those who would destroy us.”

Netanyahu then led the members of his delegation in singing “Hatikva.”

The Article was published on The JPost


A BIG YEAR AHEAD: WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN ISRAELI POLITICS IN 2018

Will Netanyahu come in like a lion and leave like a lamb?

They say that March, the third month of the year, comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.

This is the third New Year’s Day for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since his election to his fourth term as prime minister in March 2015. The year ahead for Netanyahu is expected to come in like a lion, continue like a lion, and go out like a lion.

The developments that will make this year particularly ferocious for the prime minister include the criminal investigations of Netanyahu and his wife Sara, controversial legislation in the Knesset, and diplomatic developments set to be advanced in the year ahead by US President Donald Trump.

Perhaps such challenges would be less problematic for Netanyahu if he still had capable former coalition chairman David Bitan at his side. But Bitan has been neutralized by his own criminal investigations, in which he is set to be questioned by police a dizzying three times this week.

Bitan’s replacement David Amsalem is as despised in the Knesset corridors as Bitan is beloved. His ability to defend Netanyahu from his powerful and sensitive post will be hindered by his lack of grace, charisma, and ability to work well with people of differing views.

After yet another delay, the police are expected to recommend in March to indict Netanyahu for breach of trust and perhaps bribery in Case 1000, the “Gifts Affair,” and Case 2000, the “Newspaper Collusion Scandal.”

As Netanyahu and his associates constantly remind people, the police recommendations have no legal significance. Only Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will decide Netanyahu’s fate, and if the police do not ask for more time, that will happen sometime by the end of 2018.

But when the police recommendations are leaked to the press, there will be tremendous pressure on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to remove his Kulanu party from the coalition, as Ehud Barak threatened to do with his Labor Party when police recommended indicting Ehud Olmert.

Chances are that Kahlon will stay, and Netanyahu will succeed in passing up David Ben-Gurion to become the country’s longest-serving prime minister on September 23, 2018.

But there is always a chance that Netanyahu himself could initiate an election before then if he decides it would serve him tactically.

What could throw everything off is if the police decide at any given point to declare Netanyahu a suspect in the much more serious Submarine Affair, Case 3000. With all due respect to newspapers and cigars, if Netanyahu traded Israel’s national security for money for his confidant, that would blow the other two cases out of the water.

The Jerusalem Post’s legal correspondent Yonah Jeremy Bob reported on Friday that the Police Recommendations Law, which passed last week, is completely unclear about whether the police could issue recommendations about Netanyahu in Case 3000.

There are also investigations of Netanyahu’s wife Sara for alleged misuse of public funds, which could either make the political year even more intense or perhaps calm it down if she becomes the legal scapegoat who gets thrown in the fire while her husband is cleared of charges.

While the focus all year will remain on the probes, there will be controversial legislation in the Knesset almost every week when the parliament is in session. The most problematic politically for Netanyahu will be over matters of religion and state, where his coalition is especially divided.

But there will also be bills that will change how political campaigns are financed, the role of deputy ministers, and whether land in Jerusalem can be relinquished in a diplomatic agreement. And that’s just in the Knesset.

The Likud central committee and other party institutions will also be making decisions that could tie Netanyahu’s hands before talks with the Palestinians could potentially begin.

While the Palestinians are currently saying they will not negotiate with Israel as long as Trump is president and the US is the mediator, they will come under tremendous pressure to back down from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and his American counterpart, Jared Kushner.

“Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime – I see a real hope for change,” Netanyahu said himself when Trump came to his residence in Jerusalem.

If that happens, perhaps Netanyahu’s coalition could be unraveled from the Right or from within the Likud.

But then again, maybe Netanyahu will be able to tame all those potential lions and march into 2019 politically unscathed.

If that happens, he will definitely have what to celebrate a year from now.

The article was written by Gil Hoffman and was published on The JPost


NETANYAHU CONDEMNS ‘HORRIFIC’ ATTACK ON EGYPT

“Terrorism will be defeated more quickly if all countries act against it together,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement condemning the “horrific and criminal terrorist attack” in Sinai and sent condolences to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian people and the families of those murdered.

“Terrorism will be defeated more quickly if all countries act against it together,” he said.

Other Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum also condemned Friday’s attack and sent condolences.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein spoke to Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat, and expressed his shock while asking the ambassador to express the sympathy of the Knesset and the people of Israel in the parliament in Cairo.

Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi party leader Naftali Bennett suggested a new world order is being created in which “the distinction is between terrorism supporters like Iran and ISIS and supporters of humanity.”

Bennett called for an international coalition to include Russia, Europe, the US, Israel and the Arab world, saying, “we have all been hurt by terror.”

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter: “We must all stand together in the fight against this indescribable evil.”

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon claimed that “the axis of evil had struck a heavy blow today in Egypt” and stated: “together we can defeat it.” Ya’alon said terrorism is a shared enemy for all people and states who favor peace and tolerance.

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog wrote in Arabic on his Twitter page expressing his condolences: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Egypt.”

Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz tweeted that the El-Arish attack is “a terrible human tragedy” and wished, on behalf of the people of Israel, “a quick recovery to those wounded and consolations to families of the hundreds of those killed.”

“This is the time for solidarity with the Cairo government and the people of Egypt. To increase [our] security cooperation and push back against those seeking to shake [our] regional stability,” Peretz said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan expressed his deepest sympathies with the people of Egypt and called for a united front against radical Islamic terrorism.

MK Oren Hazan [Likud] called on Israel to send immediate humanitarian aid to Egypt and, using social media to address Netanyahu, reminded the prime minister: “After the earthquake, you offered humanitarian aid to Iran despite it being an enemy country and a terrorism exporter – it is, therefore, our moral duty to aid our neighbor [Egypt] with whom we have a peaceful relationship.”

 

The Article was Published on The JPost website


NETANYAHU ATTENDS FUNERAL OF LATE GERMAN CHANCELLOR HELMUT KOHL

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife Sara, attended the funeral of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl at the European Parliament in  Strasbourg, France on Saturday.

Kohl died at the age of 87 on June 16.

The burial ceremony was also attended by world leaders including current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and former US president Bill Clinton.

The prime minister was reportedly asked to speak during the ceremony, but respectively declined due to the Shabbot observance.

Netanyahu thanked Merkel before the funeral for concluding procedures ahead of the signing of a memorandum of understanding for security assistance between both nations after Germany’s National Security Council reportedly approved the sale of three advanced submarines to Israel on Saturday.

According to the report, Israel will receive three more Dolphin submarines in a $1.5 billion deal with German shipmaker ThyssenKrupp.

Macron also told Netanyahu that he expects the premier to attend an event in Paris marking the 75 anniversary of Jewish expulsion from France scheduled in two weeks. Netanyahu along with Macron are both expected to speak at the event.

Following the late German leader’s death, Netanyahu praised Kohl’s “commitment to Israel’s security” during his tenure as chancellor, and expressed appreciation for his “empathy” for the Jewish state.

“His sympathy for Israel and Zionism is reflected in my many meetings with him,” Netanyahu continued, “and his position was always firmly in favor of Israel, which has been steadily present in Europe and in other international forums.”

epa06059220 Soldiers carry the coffin of Helmut Kohl at the European Parliament as world leaders gather for the European Ceremony of Honour for late former German chancellor Helmut Kohl in Strasbourg, France, 01 July 2017. Kohl, widely regarded as the father of German reunification in 1990, died on 16 June 2017 at his home in Ludwighshafen, Germany. He was the sixth chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1982 to 1998. EPA/PATRICK SEEGER

The article was published on The JPost


NETANYAHU TO ATTEND CENTRAL EUROPEAN SUMMIT

Jerusalem continues outreach to subregional groups.

Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Budapest next month for a meeting with the heads of the four central European countries that make up the Visegrad group, as Israel continues to try to build relationships with various regional subgroupings around the world.

Netanyahu is expected to meet with the heads of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia at the summit on July 18-19.

This visit will come less than a month after Netanyahu met with the heads of Cyprus and Greece in Thessaloniki, with Israel having developed a close alliance with those EU countries. And in early May, Netanyahu went to Liberia to take part in a summit there of 15 West African states.

With Jerusalem’s relationship with the European Union often strained because of the Palestinian issue and the desire of some key voices in Brussels to link development of ties to that issue, Israel has adopted a policy of forging close ties with specific countries or groupings of countries inside the EU who are more sympathetic to Israel’s position and are also interested in having close bilateral relations.

For instance, the energy issue has bound Israel much closer to Cyprus and Greece, and the Visegrad countries find themselves interested in forging closer ties because of economic, security and energy issues as well. These countries forums, as well as inside discussions in EU institutions in Brussels.

The same dynamic is at work in Africa. With Israel having been boxed out of any formal status in the African Union, largely because of the opposition of South Africa and the Arab North African countries, it has made inroads instead with African organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States, or even ad hoc groupings, as Netanyahu did last July when he met the leaders of seven East African countries.

Netanyahu’s visit to Budapest will be the first visit there of an Israeli prime minister since the country emerged from Communist rule in 1989. He is expected to hold both bilateral talks with the leaders of each of the Visegrad countries, as well as a joint meeting as well.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto was in Israel in May. The V4, as the Visegrad group is known, is a political and cultural alliance aimed at facilitating the integration of the four countries in European and Euro-Atlantic structures.

Szijjarto told the Hungarian news agency MTI when he was in Israel that the three most important aspects of economic cooperation with Israel were in the areas of automobile navigation, water management and energy.

“The automobile industry provides the backbone of the Hungarian economy, and the future development of this sector of industry fundamentally determines the growth of the Hungarian economy,” Szijjarto highlighted.

Close cooperation with Israel could make Hungary the European center for the testing and development of self-driven vehicles, he said.

“Based on the buying up of certain companies, it has become clear that Israel will be one of the global centers for the development of [autonomous vehicles]. Israeli company NavNGo is one of the Hungarian government’s strategic partners, employs hundreds of GPS software engineers in Hungary and is one of the world leaders within the field of developing such software, and plays an extremely important role in making self-driven cars a reality,” he said.

Audi, Opel and Suzuki exports make up a huge percentage of the country’s overall exports, and Europe’s largest engine manufacturing plant is located in the country.

With regard to energy, the foreign minister – referring to Israel’s offshore operations – said: “Israel’s natural gas deposits could play a significant role in the energy security of Europe and Hungary. If extraction begins according to schedule in 2019-20, Hungary will have an interest in purchasing gas [either via a pipeline or in the form of liquefied natural gas] in view of the fact that we would like to purchase natural gas form as many sources as possible.”

The article was published on The Jerusalem Post


Israel said in talks with Egypt, EU in bid to avert Gaza electricity crisis

Government looking for ways to solve escalating situation, even as PM calls matter an ‘internal Palestinian dispute’ between Hamas, PA

Israel is in talks with Egypt and the European Union to head of an impending humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip amid an escalating dispute over electricity supply to the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave, according to a report on Wednesday.

Sources in Israel told the Israeli daily Haaretz that discussions were underway with Cairo and with European countries on ways to solve the power supply to the Strip, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to distance Israel from the situation by saying the matter was an internal Palestinian dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu’s comments came a day after the Israeli security cabinet decided Sunday night it would cut the amount of power it supplies to Gaza, at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who is seeking to ramp up pressure on Hamas, the ruling party in the Strip and his Fatah party’s bitter rival.

Egypt, meanwhile, which has tense relations with Hamas, has offered the terror group more freedom at its border and much-needed electricity, in exchange for it agreeing to a list of security demands, Arab media reported Tuesday.

The list of includes a demand that Hamas hand over 17 men wanted by Cairo on terrorism charges, more protection by Hamas at the border, the cessation of weapons smuggling into the Sinai, and information on the movement of militants into Gaza via underground tunnels, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat reported.

Gazans currently receive only three or four hours of electricity a day, delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt. In April, the PA told Israel that it would only pay NIS 25 million ($11.1 million) of the NIS 40 million ($5.6- 7 million) monthly bill. Israel currently supplies 125 megawatts to Gaza, around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.

The Israeli cabinet decision would see a reduction of about 45 minutes to the amount of time every day during which Gaza receives electricity, Hebrew media reported.

Hamas responded to the decision by saying it would have “disastrous and dangerous” results that could lead to an outbreak of violence.

Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel was not seeking a confrontation with Hamas.

“The issue of electricity in Gaza is a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony to launch a major housing construction drive in the central Israeli town of Be’er Yaakov. “Hamas is demanding that the PA pay for the electricity, and the Palestinian Authority is refusing to pay. It is an internal Palestinian dispute.”

“In any case, I want to make it clear that Israel has no interest in an escalation [with Hamas] and any other speculation is wrong. But we have an interest in security, and our policy is clear on the subject of security and it won’t change,” he said.

The power cuts, as well as a number of other steps taken by the PA since last month, are aimed at forcing Hamas to cede control of the Strip, or begin footing the bill itself.

Both Israel and the PA charge that Hamas would have the money to supply Gaza’s power needs if it didn’t expend a large part of its resources on armament and preparation for future conflict with the Jewish state.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, took control of Gaza in 2007 after a violent conflict with the Fatah party. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

The enclave’s only power plant stopped running in April, after Hamas ran out of fuel and refused to purchase more from the Palestinian Authority over what it said were high taxes.

Egypt also provided a small amount of power to Gaza, but those power lines have been malfunctioning.

According to Major General Yoav Mordechai, who heads COGAT, the Defense Ministry unit that administers civilian manners in the Palestinian territories, Israel currently supplies Gaza with 125 megawatts monthly — around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.

After the new decision is implemented, Israel will supply Gaza with only 75 megawatts a month.

The article was published on The Times of Israel


Trump lands in Israel: We can only reach peace by working together

US president says meetings in Saudi Arabia with King Salman and other Arab leaders gave him ‘new reasons for hope,’ adding ‘We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security, stability and peace to this region and its people.’

Upon his arrival in Israel on Monday, US President Donald Trump delivered a message of hope for peace, saying his meetings in Saudi Arabia with King Salman and other Arab leaders gave him “new reasons for hope.”

“We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security, stability and peace to this region and its people,” Trump said. “Of defeating terrorism and creating a future of prosperity and peace.”

He stressed that “we can only get there working together, there is no other way.”

Trump concluded his brief speech by affirming US commitment to Israel, saying “We love Israel, we respect Israel… the people of the United States of America are with you.”

President Trump landed in Israel midday to much fanfare at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, and other dignitaries.

Upon deplaning, the American president walked the red carpet and reviewed an honor guard. The IDF’s band played the American national anthem followed by the Israeli one.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed Israel’s commitment to peace, listing as examples its long-lasting peace with Jordan and Egypt.

“Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians,” Netanyahu declared. “The peace we seek is a genuine and durable, one in which the Jewish state is recognize, security remains in Israel’s hands and the conflict ends once and for all.”

The prime minister added that he looked forward to working with Trump in the future “to advance security, prosperity and peace. I’m confident that under your leadership, the remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States will become ever stronger.”

In his own speech, President Rivlin focused on the bond between Israel and the United States.

“Your visit is a symbol of the unbreakable bond between Israel and America. You are the President of Israel’s greatest, most important ally. You are a true friend of Israel, and of the Jewish people,” Rivlin said.

And while he thanked Trump for his “commitment to Israel’s ability to face the threats of today and of tomorrow,” the Israeli president made the point that while the world, the Middle East, and Israel all need a strong United States—”the United States also needs a strong Israel.”

“In the Middle East—an area that suffers from terrorism and madness—the alliance between the United States and Israel shines like a beacon of liberty and progress,” Rivlin explained.

“The bond between us is a bond between states, but also between people. We share common values, as we share the hope for peace,” he added.

Rivlin also thanked Trump for recognizing the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, adding “Jerusalem is the beating heart of the Jewish people: as it has been for 3000 years.”

Also attending the welcoming ceremony were Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman, Israel’s Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau, and government ministers.

Many of the ministers initially did not want to attend the ceremony as they were insulted when they learned they would not get to shake President Trump’s hand. After learning about this, an angery Prime Minister informed them they are required to attend.

Following the ceremony, President Trump and First Lady Melania will head to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where they will be welcomed by President Rivlin and his wife Nechama. After the American president signs the guest book, the two leaders will hold a private meeting following which they will make statements to the press.

Rivlin and his wife will then take Trump and the first lady to the garden at the President’s Residence, where an almond tree was planted to mark the visit. A sign near the tree bears a quote in Hebrew, English and Arabic from the Song of Ascents in the Book of Psalms: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.'”

From the President’s Residence, Trump will head to the Old City for a private visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He will then visit the Western Wall, where he will be accompanied by Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch and joined by wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, without any Israeli government officials.

The entire Western Wall plaza will be closed off for Trump, who will be the first president to visit the holy site while in office.

Meanwhile, First Lady Melania will join Prime Minister Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, on a visit to the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Karem. They will talk with the medical staff and meet with children in the play area for a joint artistic activity.

After the visit to the Western Wall, Trump will head to the fortified King David Hotel, where he will be staying during his visit.

He will meet in private with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the King David Hotel at around 6pm, following which their teams will join the meeting.

At 7:15pm, Trump, Netanyahu and their wives will travel to the Prime Minister’s Residence for dinner, which will be cooked by Israeli chef Moshe Segev. Singer Shiri Maimon will perform two songs, one of them being the Frank Sinatra version of “New York, New York.”

Following the dinner, the two leaders will give statements to the press but will not take questions.

The Article was published on Ynet

 


Intel’s Mobileye Deal Marks Israel as Autonomous Tech Hub

Israel’s emergence as a center for automotive technology got a vote of confidence on Monday when Intel Corp. said it would pay $15 billion for Mobileye NV, a Jerusalem-based maker of chips and software for driverless cars. It will be the largest takeover of an Israeli tech firm and follows a series of deals and partnerships inked in recent years by major tech and auto companies.

“The deal proves in a dramatic manner that our vision is coming true. Israel is becoming a global technology center, not only in cyber, but also in the automotive area,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a text message. Israel had already singled out the automotive technology sector as a possible economic boon, allotting it 250 million shekels ($68 million) for the next five years.

At least five major car manufacturers have made investments in Israel. Ford Motor Co.bought computer vision and machine learning company SAIPS AC in August and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG invested in transit app Moovit in 2015. Daimler AG and General Motors Co. have also opened research and development centers in the country.

The Mobileye deal went far beyond the $4.7 billion sale of fiber-optic company Chromatis Networks Inc. to Lucent Technologies Inc. in 2000, which was the country’s biggest tech deal before Mobileye. Founders Ziv Aviram, who is also the Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman Amnon Shashua, will share just under $1 billion from the sale, according to data compiled by Bloomberg as of Dec. 31. Shmuel Harlap, the largest shareholder, will make $1 billion, according to Bloomberg data as of April 1, 2016.

Netanyahu’s Director General Eli Groner said the autonomous tech sector could potentially boost economic growth by 50 percent.

Fast Track

Israel is not renowned for its car-making industry, once turning out fiberglass-shelled cars that were briefly popular in Israel in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the country is now benefiting from the automobile industry’s increasing focus on software rather than hardware.

In Israel, the automotive technology sector currently counts about 350 startups, according to industry monitor IVC Research Center, with the potential, according to Gruner, to grow bigger than the cybersecurity industry, which drew 15 percent of global capital raised by the sector in 2016, according to Start-Up Nation Central, a group that promotes Israel startups.

Argus Cyber Security, based in Tel Aviv, in January announced a partnership with Qualcomm Technologies to protect cars from hackers. Otonomo Technologies Inc., a data platform that tells users when to stop driving due to a malfunction and can call emergency services when there is an accident, is working with nine car manufacturers, including Daimler. Aquarius Engines, which has designed and developed an engine to generate electric power, is working with Peugeot SA and three other automobile companies.

Gal Fridman, chairman and chief marketing officer of Aquarius Engines, said the deal “definitely makes our lives easier.”

“It validates Israel’s ability in technology in the automotive industry, traditionally American and German and not at all Israeli,” Fridman said. “Mobileye has dramatically helped us open the door wider into this industry.”

The autonomous sector is expanding even as Israel’s tech sector suffers from growing pains. Although the country’s tech industry grew faster than gross domestic product nearly every year between 1998 to 2009, in the five years following it surpassed national growth only once, in 2012. The Finance Ministry acknowledged in a report last year that the industry that fueled Israel’s economy for the past two decades was stagnating.

Mobileye has also had its issues. Last year, Elon Musk’s electric carmaker Tesla Inc.stopped using Mobileye’s systems and the two companies argued publicly about the breakup.

After the Mobileye acquisition was announced, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who have been reducing corporate taxes, announced they would consider further cuts.

“We view this deal as an indication that the more attractive Israel is for foreign investors, the more tax revenue we will generate,” Groner said in a phone interview.

Tax breaks are already part of the government’s program to encourage global technology companies to do more research and development in Israel as other countries vie for companies like Intel to put down roots on their soil.

“The deal will increase the attention and funding for the already burgeoning Israeli cohort of next generation autonomous driving technology startups,” said Jon Medved, founder of OurCrowd, an equity crowdfunding platform based in Jerusalem.

The Article was published on Bloomberg.com on the 14th of March 2017.


Israel and its self inflicted tremors

When no one understands, that’s usually a good sign that you’re wrong.” – Victoria Schwab

And so it was this past week. As a lobbyist I spend a lot of time speaking to people. And the chorus from my friends, acquaintances and the occasional barman leaning over the counter was the same: “Alex, seriously, why does Israel thinks that this is good idea, and how can you possibly defend it?”

The people asking this are not loony leftie Israel haters, or BDS supporters. In fact the overwhelming majority were pro-Israel, even if they don’t shout it from the rooftops. And that was the scariest bit. When those who usually side with you pull you to one side and say, look this is a bridge too far for me, you better sit up, listen and act.

And it got me wondering if the Israeli government is suffering from a collective bout of Hans Christian Andersen’s the Emperor’s New Clothes. Is there nobody around to reign them in and say people, this is nakedly hostile, unnecessary and wrong?

I am of course talking about the recent bill that gives a green light for Israel to appropriate Palestinian land in the West Bank by paying for it, regardless if it is for sale or not.

Everyone here in EU institutions, restaurants, bars and newspaper shops can see it for what it is. And even in Israel the Prime Minister didn’t even vote for it, nor seek to properly explain it.

This week I spoke to a group of students from the Hebrew University. The represented a broad range of Israeli society, some religious, some not, some pro-settler, some not. But I got a very strong impression that the majority just want the Israeli supreme court to rule it out so that we can all get back to normal.

But as I explained to them it’s not that easy. When things like this happen, it undoes so much of our good work on presenting Israel in the best possible light in the EU Institutions. We build beautiful political structures around high tech, Israeli medicinal advances, environmental wonders, agricultural genius, cybersecurity miracles etc, etc. in short we show the EU the Israel that we love, the Israel that we want the world to see, the one that makes us puff out our chests with pride.

But then a big self-inflicted political tremor like this Knesset Bill just comes and shakes the whole edifice to smithereens, meaning we have to spend a long time rebuilding.

But do you know what the most frustrating thing is? Yesterday, we saw the Mahmoud Abbas motorcade roll into Brussels , having come from Paris, with another few stops scheduled after dropping past the EU capital. He got to put his side of the story, unhindered, unchallenged to a receptive audience.

We didn’t see a single Israeli politician in Brussels this week. So we lost. Again. By default . Or sheer bloody mindedness on the part of our ‘emperors’.

Things don’t have to be this way.

“I believe that if Israel were to put an end to the settlements in the West Bank tomorrow, as it did in Gaza, there would still be reluctance on the part of the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish secular democracy.”

Alan Dershowitz is right. The Settlements are an excuse by the Palestinian Authority for inaction and continued incitement. Anybody with half a brain knows that Arik Sharon’s ballsy Gaza pull-out in 2005 was ample proof that the problem of getting the Palestinians engaged in a peace process run much deeper than housing developments past the 1967 borders.

But for the EU the settlement issue has become ‘the’ principal impediment to peace.

Whether we like it or not, these are the rules of the game here. We try and push back on them, we try to get the focus elsewhere, but this is one enormous, stubborn political boulder that can’t be shifted for now. But it could be, relatively easily.

We need high ranking Israeli representation in Brussels to properly articulate the issue. To explain it properly, warts and all. To show the EU Institutions the erroneousness of the PA position. That settlements are an excuse and absolutely not the main obstacle to peace.

That’s why throwing the Knesset Bill into the political debate makes Donald Trump’s visa ban look like a supremely well-oiled bit of political manoeuvring.

How did we get here? There was a time when Israel’s leaders and politicians looked outwards and sought to show the best of Israel, a country that makes us, and our supporters proud. The late great Shimon Peres was a great advocate of this approach, and possible the best lobbyist that Israel could ask for.

Is this Knesset bill – that will almost certainly be quashed by the supreme court anyway – really the best we can do? I’ll leave any Israeli politicians reading this with a quote from Leo Tolstoy to ponder: “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”

Can we get back to being right again? No more tremors please. We got some serious rebuilding to do. And we need your help to do it.

The piece was written by EIPA director Alex Benjamin and was also published on The Times of Israel and on The JPost


Senior Israel and EU officials meet in Jerusalem on counter-terrorism

Israel and the European Union senior officials held this week their 2nd counter-terrorism dialogue at the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem. They discussed challenges in the field of counter-terrorism in Israel and Europe.

The Israeli delegation was led by the Head of Division for Strategic Affairs at the foreign ministry and the Head of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau at the National Security Council.

The EU delegation was headed by Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Pedro Serrano and the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove.

The delegations included representatives of different agencies that deal with counter-terrorism from a wide range of perspectives such as defense, legislation, intelligence and law enforcement.

Israel considers itself as a key player in efforts to stem a rising tide of Islamic terrorism.

During a recent visit to the Netherlands, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said : “Europe as a whole is undergoing changes. It faces very great challenges over the spread of radical Islamic terrorism.’’

He discussed Israel’s “central role” as the “most stable and most stabilizing element in the Middle East,” one that contributes greatly to preventing the spread of terrorism.’’


Netanyahu tells French PM he rejects Paris peace bid, but offers to meet Abbas

Manuel Valls, in Israel to advance his country’s plan for Mideast summit, says he has ‘a genuine desire to help the situation’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Monday the French initiative for an multinational conference to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, telling French Prime Minister Manuel Valls that direct negotiations were the only path forward toward a lasting agreement.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Jerusalem before a closed-door meeting with Valls, Netanyahu said a multilateral effort would replace bilateral talks and not bring about any agreement.

“Peace is not achieved in international UN-style conferences, nor through international diktats that come of meetings of countries around the world sitting to decide our fate,” Netanyahu said. “Peace is achieved through direct negotiations where the Palestinian Authority would face a historic choice: recognize a Jewish state side by side with a demilitarized Palestinian sate, or try to eliminate it.”

The meeting with Valls came as part a two-day trip to the region by the French premier that began Sunday, aimed at advancing his country’s plan for the summit in the face of opposition from Netanyahu.

The Israeli prime minister claimed Monday that the international conference was being used by the Palestinian leadership as a way to prevent direct talks with Israel.

“The Palestinian Authority does not see the French initiative as an inducer for negotiations, but as a way to avoid them,” he said.

Instead, Netanayhu said, he would be willing to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “in Paris or wherever,” and hold face-to-face negotiations without international mediation. “Every difficult issue will be on the table,” he said.

Valls said he would welcomeF160523YS03-635x357 direct negotiations and would speak to French President Francois Hollande about the proposal.

Abbas has welcomed the French initiative to hold a meeting of foreign ministers from a range of countries on June 3, without the Israelis and Palestinians present.

According to the plan, another conference would then be held in the autumn, this time with the Israelis and Palestinians in attendance. The goal would be to eventually restart negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state.

Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.

Earlier Monday Valls met with President Reuven Rivlin, who, in his first public statements on the French initiative, also criticized the plan, saying “there are no shortcuts in the Middle East.”

Preempting Netanyahu’s comments, he said that Israel was weary of such international efforts as they absolved the Palestinians of responsibility to negotiate.

Valls told both Rivlin and Netanyahu that France had Israel’s best interests in mind.

“France has a genuine and real desire to help the situation between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said in his statements to both Rivlin and Netanyahu.

Before his meetings with senior Israeli officials, Valls visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial where he laid a wreath in memory of the six millions Jews killed during the Holocaust. He also went to the Givat Shaul ceremony in Jerusalem cemetery to visit the graves of four French citizens killed in the January 2015 attack on the Hypermarche Kosher supermarket in Paris, and whose bodies were bought for burial in Israel.

After meeting with Netanyhau Valls will travel to Ramallah for a series of talks with Palestinian Authority officals, including meeting with Abbas.

Valls’s visit comes at a time of political turbulence in Israel, with Netanyahu expected to soon finalize coalition negotiations with the Yisrael Beytenu party, led by hardliner Avigdor Liberman, who is detested by the Palestinians.

Liberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement, is expected to take on the key role of defense minister.

On Sunday, Netanyahu told his cabinet that adding Liberman to the coalition would not negatively impact peace efforts.

“A broad government will continue to strive for a diplomatic process with the Palestinians and we will do so with the assistance of elements in the region. I personally deal with this a lot, in many places, and I intend to continue to do so,” he told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

To watch the meeting with PM Netanyahu klick HERE

The Article was published on The Times of Israel on  24 may 2016.