EU consults with Israel and the Palestinian Authority on its engagement in support of the two-state solution

European Commission Director General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Christian Danielsson, and the Managing Director for Middle East and North Africa at the European External Action Service, Fernando Gentilini, will hold consultations this week with the representatives of the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the on-going review of modalities of EU engagement on the ground in support of a two-state solution.

The objective of the review is to ensure that all the modalities of the European Union’s engagement are as efficient and as effective as possible to advance the goal of a two-state solution, including in Gaza which, together with the West Bank, is an integral part of a future Palestinian state.

The EU remains firmly committed to the two-state solution as the only realistic and viable way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The EU has a close partnership with Palestine as its largest and most reliable donor, and with Israel as its biggest trading partner. The EU wishes to hear the views and perspectives on the review from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, both of which benefit from the EU’s active engagement, and to raise and discuss with them any obstacles to peace and to the viability of the two-state solution.

Click here for the Press release


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


Israeli killed in West Bank drive-by shooting near outpost

The victim had several wounds to his neck and upper body, and was taken to Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, where doctors pronounced his death.

A resident of the Havat Gilad outpost in central Samaria was killed on Tuesday night close to his home, in a drive-by shooting attack on Route 60.

Rabbi Raziel Shevach, 35, a mohel, was married with six children, four daughters and two sons, ages 11 to eight months.

Shortly after 8 p.m., Magen David Adom received a report of the shooting and dispatched paramedics and an MDA team to the site of the attack. The victim had several wounds to his neck and upper body from a reported spray of 22 bullets, and was taken to Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba.

The hospital said Shevach arrived without a pulse, was not breathing and showed no signs of life. Despite the efforts of the medical team, he was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival at the hospital.

MDA paramedic Elyashiv Reichenberg, one of the first at the scene, said he was dispatched from nearby Kedumim.

“I saw a private vehicle at the side of the road close to the safety barrier which had been shot; the driver… was in the driver’s seat and semi-conscious with gunfire wounds to the upper body,” said Reichenberg.

“Civilians who live in the [Havat Gilad] settlement and heard the gunfire came to help, while the IDF medical assistance team, which also arrived at the site, gave him life-saving medical treatment and he was taken to hospital in serious condition.”

Channel 1 played a tape of a man, apparently in shock, calling police immediately after the attack saying, “They shot me, they shot me.”

Route 60 was closed following the incident and IDF units began searching the area for the attackers.

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), who lives in Kedumim, was on Route 60 at the time of the shooting, and stopped and got out of his car to help at the site of the attack.

“Jewish blood is not cheap,” Smotrich declared following the incident. “This is an intolerable situation, when a subhuman comes to sow destruction,” he said, and called on Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to instruct the security services “to act with an iron fist” and to “clarify to the Palestinians that for every action like this they will pay a high price.”

Hananel Dorani, chairman of the Yesha Council, which represents Israeli settlements in the West Bank, said following the attack that “full and direct responsibility lies with the Palestinian Authority, which gives life to this terrorism and pays terrorists.”

Zionist Camp chairman Avi Gabbay had strong words for the terrorist.

“Rest assured that the security forces will catch the abominable terrorists and their agents. Wherever it is, terrorism will not achieve its goals and we will not surrender to it.”

Hamas issued a statement late Tuesday night praising the attack. “We bless the heroic Nablus operation which comes as a result of the Zionist occupation’s violations and crimes at the expense of our people in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

The article was published on The JPost


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


Gaza cancer patient caught with explosives freed from Israeli custody

Sister of Basema Atallah, 55, remains under arrest on charges of aiding Hamas in smuggling attempt

One of the two Palestinian women from Gaza caught trying to smuggle explosives in medicine containers into Israel as they headed for cancer treatment at a Jerusalem hospital has been freed from Israeli custody.

In a statement on Wednesday announcing the detention of two Gaza women, who are sisters, the Shin Bet security agency said the women had entry permits to Israel for medical treatment and accused the two of aiding terror activity at the behest of the Hamas terror group.

The explosives were “sent by Hamas and it is believed that they were meant to be used to carry out attacks in Israel in the near future,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

Ragheb Atallah, the patient’s husband, said his wife, Basema, 55, has gone for treatment of colorectal cancer in Jerusalem more than 10 times since July and has never had a problem before. He said his wife was unaware that she may have been smuggling anything illegal into Israel.

“Someone asked them to take a bottle of medicine on their way for a patient there,” he said. “The bottle was closed and they did not know what is inside. It seems there was something and this caused disruption,” the husband said Thursday.

Ragheb Atallah said his wife was released and has been given permission again to go to the hospital, but her sister, 57-year-old Ibtessam Eid, remained in Israeli custody.

While Israel tightly controls its crossings in and out of Gaza as part of a security blockade, it allows tens of thousands of Palestinians to leave the Strip to seek medical treatment in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan each year.

The Article was published on The Times of Israel 


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