Moving White House ceremony starts to relegitimize a precious little word: Peace

26 years after the Israel-Jordan treaty, a whole generation of Israelis and Arabs witnesses something it had simply never seen before

(L-R) Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan hold up the documents they signed at the Abraham Accords ceremony where Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognized Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

“In Israel’s entire history, there have previously been only two such agreements. Now we have achieved two in a single month. And there are more to follow.” Thus spoke US President Donald Trump near the start of his remarks to hundreds of people at the White House, and untold numbers around the world, watching on Tuesday as Israel established relations simultaneously with both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Our first, earth-shattering peace agreement came in 1979, when Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat — having restored his country’s self-respect in the 1973 war, after its six-day humiliation in 1967 — shattered three decades of intransigent Arab hostility to the very fact of Israel’s existence and signed the Camp David Accords with prime minister Menachem Begin.

And then came… nothing.

Israel had wanted to believe that after Egypt, the floodgates of normalization would open. Instead, Egypt was boycotted by the rest of the Arab world for its crime in legitimizing Israel, and Sadat was soon gunned down.

Only 15 years later, in 1994, did Jordan’s King Hussein dare to become our second full peace partner, liberated to publicly acknowledge his hidden alliance with Israel because prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had pledged to try to resolve the Palestinian conflict and had warily shaken hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.

And then came… nothing. Nothing, this time, for a full quarter century

Until Tuesday’s dual wedding.

And so, when Trump noted that he was overseeing the doubling of Israel’s entire history of peace alliances, he was also telling a whole generation of Israelis and of Arabs — a generation that has simply never witnessed such a ceremony before — that, yes, Israeli-Arab peace is actually possible. It can be achieved here and now. It’s not something that happened a couple of times long ago and then froze over, or that dreamers talk endlessly about being almost within reach.

And it’s hopefully not something that, after it is ostensibly attained, disintegrates into conflict and bloodshed, as was the case with the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” and the strategic Palestinian terrorist onslaught of the Second Intifada.

For once, “let us put all cynicism aside,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his remarks. And for a rare few hours, in the midst of a pandemic, and even as Hamas tried to spoil the show with rocket fire from Gaza, everything about the ceremony encouraged us to do precisely that.

What Netanyahu called “the pulse of history” was tangible in the warmth of the separate interactions between Trump, the two Gulf foreign ministers, and Netanyahu that preceded the main event. If Tuesday’s widening of the circle of peace was insufficient, Trump vouchsafed to Netanyahu that “five or six” other states are waiting in line. “Frankly, we could have had them here today,” he said, but that would have been disrespectful to the UAE, which had shown the courage to go first, and to Bahrain, which had been so determined to join the festivities.

It was tangible in the content of all the leaders’ speeches — their individual declared commitments to genuine and lasting peace between our peoples — and the sincerity and warmth with which they delivered their remarks.

It was tangible in the little-noticed moments, such as when UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Al Nahyan, having completed his address, walked over to where Netanyahu was standing, and, with attention focused elsewhere, they smiled at each other and exchanged a few words. Or when everybody — and especially the joyful star of the show Al Nahyan — laughed good-naturedly at the logistical complexities that inevitably arise when two-to-four leaders are signing and/or witnessing three accords.

If Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel was the first vital step toward the acceptance of modern Israel’s revival in the Jews’ ancient homeland, Tuesday’s ceremony may come to signify our belated acceptance by those further afield who, as Trump noted, have for decades been fed lies and falsehoods about Israel, and especially Israel’s ostensible religious intolerance.

The Palestinians are still absent, of course, dismally led in the West Bank by President Mahmoud Abbas into what appears to be a deepening alliance with the Gaza-ruling terrorists of Hamas. Still, the US president who brokered these accords remains insistently optimistic that, as he told the press pack during his Oval Office session with Netanyahu, “at the right time, they’ll be joining too.”

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said at the very start of his speech. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” he went on, and “thanks to the great courage of the leaders of these three countries, we take a major stride toward a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity.”

Trump delivered these hitherto mind-boggling claims in tones that were almost matter-of-fact. These new peace allies are “going to work together; they are friends,” he said, as though this was the most normal thing in the world.

But for a whole generation, 26 years after any of us last saw anything like it, Tuesday’s ceremony was anything but normal. It was, rather, unprecedented, surprising and heartening. For once in the tortured context of Israel and the Arab conflict, it was a pleasure to put all cynicism aside.

For after 26 years, Tuesday’s ceremony tentatively relegitimized that precious little word: Peace.

The article was published on The Times of Israel


‘We Share Your Pain’: Israel Offers Aid to Lebanon After Beirut Port Blast

President Rivlin tweets in Arabic: ‘We sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time’

Israel has offered humanitarian assistance to Lebanon after a massive explosion rocked its capital Beirut on Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said.

“Israel has approached Lebanon through international security and diplomatic channels and has offered the Lebanese government medical and humanitarian assistance,” a written statement from Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said.

The international mediators Israel employed were the United Nations’ peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, and France.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister asked National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to reach out to the UN envoy to the region, Nickolay Mladenov, on this matter.

President Reuven Rivlin also offered his assistance, tweeting: “We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time.”

A damaged vehicle is seen at the site of an explosion in Beirut, August 4, 2020.
A damaged vehicle is seen at the site of an explosion in Beirut, August 4, 2020. Credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/Reuters

The Israeli army’s spokesman in Arabic, Avichay Adraee, tweeted in Arabic about the Israeli offer, adding: “This is the time to transcend conflict.”

Several Israeli lawmakers also posted messages of support on social media after Lebanese authorities reported thousands of casulaties in the blast.

Dr. Salman Zarka, director of the Ziv Medical Center, near Israel’s border with Lebanon, said in a Facebook message in Arabic: “We are ready to provide medical assistance as we did before with the people of south [Lebanon] and the people of Syria.”

An Israeli political source denied that the country had any connection to the incident, which came amid tensions with Hezbollah. Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said they had used international mediators UNIFIL and France to offer humanitarian and medical assistance to Lebanon.

The blast flattened much of the city’s port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Hours later, ambulances were still carrying away the wounded and officials said Beirut’s hospitals were full. Army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.

Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said the blast might have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port. Local television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate.

Beirut governor Marwan Abboud said the city was a “disaster area” and the scale of the damage was “enormous.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared Wednesday would be a national day of mourning for the victims, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Other countries, including the U.S., U.K., Turkey, Jordan and Iran have all also offered their assistance to Lebanon in the aftermath of the blast.

The article was published on Haaretz


2 French consulate staffers suspected of smuggling Hamas arms

French driver and Palestinian guard employed by the consulate in east Jerusalem arrested on suspicion of using a vehicle with diplomatic plates to transfer weapons from Hamas in Gaza to the West Bank.

Two employees of the French Consulate in east Jerusalem—a driver and his security guard—were arrested by Israeli authorities last month on suspicion of using a vehicle with diplomatic plates to smuggle weapons from Hamas in Gaza to the West Bank, the Shin Bet said Monday.

The consulate’s driver, Romain Franck, a French national, is suspected of using his diplomatic vehicle to transport some 70 handguns and two assault rifles.

A Palestinian guard employed by French authorities, a resident of east Jerusalem, was also arrested in the case, as well as several Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were staying in the West Bank illegally.

Franck was part of a Palestinian network in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and east Jerusalem that smuggled weapons from Gaza to the West Bank through the Erez border crossing.

The French driver smuggled arms on several occasions over the past few months, while taking advantage of his diplomatic vehicle, which was subject to less stringent security checks at the crossing.

Franck received the weapons from a Palestinian resident of Gaza who works for the “French culture center” in the strip. Franck then took the arms to a Palestinian man in the West Bank, who in turn sold them to arms dealers.

The investigation found that Franck had a financial motive and was acting of his own volition and unbeknown to his superiors. The investigation also found that several of the Palestinians arrested in the case were also involved in the smuggling of money from Gaza to the West Bank.

The investigation was carried out in coordination with the Israeli Foreign Ministry and while keeping French authorities constantly updated.

A total of nine suspects have been arrested in the case so far. Indictments will be filed against six of them on Monday.

The French embassy in Israel said on Monday it was cooperating with Israel in the investigation. “We take very seriously this case … and we work very closely with the Israeli authorities on this matter,” said an embassy spokesman, who declined to comment further on the allegations against the staffer, a French citizen.

According to his Facebook page, Franck, who is from Lambersart in the north of France, arrived in Jerusalem in January 2017. “It’s the big day, starting to a new adventure.. Thank you for everything that accompanied me and supported in this new experience that begins!” he wrote at the time.

Later he posted many photos from the region, including from Petra and Aqaba in Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and the Jordan Valley.

An Israeli official called the incident “very grave,” but clarified it would not affect Israel’s ties with France. “We thank French authorities for the cooperation,” he said.

A senior Shin Bet official decried the “cynical exploitation of the immunity and privileges granted to foreign representatives in Israel to smuggle weapons… that could be used in terror attacks against Israeli citizens and security forces.”

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, also slammed the “cynical and never-ending exploitation of humanitarian aid and international aid by the terrorist infrastructure.”

“This event only clarifies the need for a strict policy on granting (entry) permits,” he continued. “International bodies are required to carry out internal inspections to ensure aid goes to the residents of Gaza and not to terror.”

French lawmaker Meyer Habib, who represents French nationals living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, said, “Unfortunately, this isn’t the first problematic affair the French Consulate in Jerusalem has been involved in. And even if only junior staff were involved, there is a feeling, unfortunately, that the consulate has actually become the French Embassy to the Palestinian Authority.”

The article was published on Ynet


‘ROCK SOLID’: EUROPE-ISRAEL TIES ARE FLOURISHING, SAYS OUTGOING EU ENVOY

Faaborg-Andersen believes Israeli decision makers pay attention when the EU voices concern.

Lars Faaborg-Andersen left Israel at the end of August after a four-year stint as the European Union’s ambassador, lamenting the fact that, despite excellent bilateral ties, many Israelis still perceive Europe as a bastion of anti-Israel bias and antisemitism.

Europe-Israel relations are “rock solid,” he tells The Jerusalem Report, but the focus invariably is on the areas of disagreement, which account for no more than 15-20 percent of the relationship, in his estimation.

“I think it is kind of frustrating when we consider the track record we have of cooperation. And it’s not like we are at a standstill ‒ we are adding new areas of cooperation all the time, including most notably, I would say, anti-terrorism, which is a common threat to us and we have a lot to learn from each other,” he says.

“We have a lot to learn from Israel on many of the technical aspects of fighting terror and I think Israel might have something to learn from us on some of the social and political aspects of fighting terror, including issues such as deradicalization. So, I think, given the flourishing nature of our cooperation, it is frustrating to see us portrayed as being anti-Israel.”

In a farewell news conference in Tel Aviv, the Danish diplomat said there is not only a great misunderstanding on the part of Israelis over the role of the European Union, but also on EU policy and objectives.

Much of the friction concerns settlements as Brussels has been consistently critical of Israeli West Bank construction and insists that any agreement with Israel include a clause that excludes EU funding from reaching any Jewish community over the 1967 Green Line ‒ the West Bank, the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem. Indeed, Israel briefly suspended diplomatic discussions with the EU after Brussels decided to label goods imported from Jewish settlements.

Recently, there was tension over Israel’s demolition of a number of illegally built Palestinian structures in Area C of the West Bank, under full Israeli control, which had been partially financed by the EU or EU-member states.

Faaborg-Andersen doesn’t attempt to deny the differences of opinion, but stresses that they mustn’t overshadow the mutually beneficial bilateral ties that have an immense impact on Israel.

“Europe remains Israel’s biggest trading partner, the biggest partner in science and technology, the biggest partner in transportation and, maybe in the future, the biggest partner in energy,” he says. “Israel remains the EU’s most significant partner in the region. This is why we have some difficulty understanding the perception that the EU is anti-Israel.

“When you look at the facts it’s very different. There is also criticism that we are engaged in boycotting Israel. How can people get that idea to square with the fact that we have 32 billion euros in mutual trade every year? The EU is the single biggest public funder of science and research in this country. This doesn’t sound like a boycott to me.”

If Israelis were aware of the true nature of the bilateral relationship, he says their perceptions of Europe would change – also when it comes to antisemitism.

“Antisemitism in Europe is a phenomenon we are combating ‒ even more than Israel is ‒ and we are actually taking very determined steps to do something about it, including through cooperation with Internet providers and closing down websites that have antisemitic content, and we actually have good results on this.”

More than five decades of trade, cultural exchanges, political cooperation and a developed system of agreements have cemented bilateral relations. The 28-member bloc (soon to shrink to 27 after Brexit) accounts for about one-third of Israel’s total trade, and it was the EU’s 24th ranked trade partner globally in 2015.

Furthermore, Israel was the first non- European country to be associated with the EU Framework Program back in 1996, and its participation in the various cooperation programs since has been a success story giving added value to both sides. Israel’s participation in the Horizon 2020 program, signed in 2014, for instance, enabled thousands of Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs to cooperate with their European and international counterparts in cutting-edge scientific projects.

More recently, the 2013 Open Skies agreement has opened up scores of European destinations for Israeli tourists with lowcost flights and turned Israel into a regional flight hub.

Faaborg-Andersen’s tenure in Israel included a war, elections and the frustration of ongoing diplomatic deadlock in attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

He warns that the breakdown of peace negotiations combined with ongoing settlement activity makes the prospects for a two-state solution increasingly impractical. The diplomatic deadlock, he warns, could have serious implications for Israel’s longterm security and Palestinian aspirations, creating a potentially dangerous reality that may be exploited by radical elements in the region.

The outgoing EU ambassador met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about 10 times during his four-year stint and the EU assumption is that the Israeli leader remains committed to the two-state solution, as he outlined in his policy speech at Bar-Ilan University in October 2013, although questions remain over what kind of Palestinian state he envisions.

Bilateral political cooperation thrives in a number of areas and includes ongoing efforts to ensure regional stability by bolstering Jordan and Egypt.

On the security front, Faaborg-Andersen acknowledges that Israel has provided real-time intelligence to European countries regarding the Islamic State threat. Two high-level Israel-EU anti-terrorism dialogues have taken place, and workshops have been held on deradicalization, terrorism financing and non-conventional terrorism, such as the cyber threat.

While sensitive to accusations of interfering in internal Israeli affairs, the ambassador has spoken out a number of times against Knesset legislation perceived either as damaging to peace prospects or anti-democratic. Two recent cases are the NGO transparency law that forced human rights groups that receive more than half their funding from abroad – including from European governments – to disclose it prominently in official reports and the law legalizing settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land.

Faaborg-Andersen believes Israeli decision makers pay attention when the EU voices concern.

“I’m sure because I know that Israel is taking into account the expected international reaction to various pieces of legislation that is put on the table in the Knesset. It was very clear during the whole discussion of the NGO transparency bill and, obviously, also when the issue of retroactive legalization of settlements on private Palestinian land was discussed.

“Of course, Israel is very attentive to what the international community thinks about what is going on here. So, I think it’s the duty of the international community, including on me as the representative of the EU, to let them know in advance what the likely reaction will be on such issues so they can take this into consideration. The worst thing would be if they weren’t aware that something would trigger a response. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called to the Knesset to discuss with different MKs exactly these issues. So, yes, indeed, I think people are listening.”

Faaborg-Andersen, who has returned to the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen awaiting his next assignment, has been replaced by Italian diplomat Emanuele Giaufret as the EU’s new envoy.


Israeli government and Palestinian Authority agree to strengthen economic ties

Israel agrees to open Allenby Crossing for 24 hours a day, used by some 2.3 million people per year

The Israeli Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah agreed on Tuesday to strengthen economic ties between Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel.

Kahlon, along with the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories Major General Yoav Mordechai, held a meeting with Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah in order to lay out a plan for economic and civil partnership.

During the meeting, which was the latest of a series of meetings between the two parties, Israel agreed to allow for the opening of Allenby Crossing on the Jordan-West Bank border for 24 hours a day within the coming months and, after 2018, for the crossing to be open permanently.

The opening of Allenby Crossing, which is controlled by the Israeli Airport Authority, will impact the some 2.3 million people who use the crossing each year, mostly Palestinians. The crossing is the only exit point for Palestinians between the West Bank and Jordan and is also used for the transfer of merchandise. Allenby Crossing is currently open on weekdays from 7:30am to 1:30am and on weekends, from 7:30am to 3:00pm.

Israel also agreed to allow the establishment of an industrial zone near the Tarqumiya crossing.

Both sides agreed to strengthen economic cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government moving forward. The meeting was conducted with the knowledge of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

The article was posted on I24news