Israel has announced a plan for thousands of new Jewish settlement homes in the occupied West Bank as Washington voiced readiness to back de facto Israeli annexations there.
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to visit Israel next week, a source said, a sign that he is weighing in on a territorial issue that has been a centrepiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition-building efforts.
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Netanyahu wants to ally with political rival Benny Gantz and start cabinet discussions on July 1 about declaring Israeli sovereignty over settlements and the strategically key Jordan Valley in the West Bank.
The unity government deal has been contested in Israel’s top court.
Fresh construction for the settlement of Efrat was approved on land that could accommodate around 7,000 housing units, Defence Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said on Wednesday.
“The building momentum in the country must not be stopped, even for a second,” tweeted Bennett, a religious-nationalist in Netanyahu’s current caretaker government.
The settlements are deemed illegal by most world powers and condemned by the Palestinians, who see all the West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war, as part of their future state.
The US has offered to recognise Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank as part of a proposal US President Donald Trump unveiled in February, which also envisages talks on founding a Palestinian state in up to 70 percent of the territory.
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Pompeo planned to visit Israel for one day next week and meet Netanyahu, a conservative, as well as the centrist Gantz, a person briefed on the trip said, without elaborating on the agenda.
The US Department of State had no immediate comment.
The newspaper Israel Hayom quoted US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman as saying that sovereignty in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley was “an Israeli issue” and adding: “We are ready”.
In separate remarks to the Jerusalem Post newspaper, Friedman reiterated a call for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking:
“The expectation is that the prime minister will agree to negotiate and, if the Palestinians show up, he will negotiate in good faith based on this [Trump] plan.”
The Palestinians say the plan is biased against them, and have boycotted Washington’s mediation efforts since it recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017.
“The Trump Administration’s Annexation plan endorses everything that the illegal Israeli colonial-settlement enterprise is about: A racist narrative, violations of international law and the perpetuation of the denial of Palestinian rights,” Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said.
Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Ramallah, said Palestinians on the ground no longer view the US as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Israel is now using its special relationship with the US President Donald Trump to try to get away with whatever they can in terms of violating international laws. The Palestinians have been saying they want an international conference where different players take part in ending the conflict as they don’t trust US being an honest,” she said.
“Palestinians are saying that they’ve been left alone and not only on the official level but the Palestinians on the ground have been saying that they’ve seen settlements growing and settler attacks have also been on the rise.”
Israel and the US do not use “annexation” for Israel’s planned moves, arguing that the term applies to land taken from a sovereign country, whereas the West Bank was controlled by Jordan but not generally recognised as part of its sovereign territory before the 1967 war.
Honduras to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem by end of year |NationalTribune.com
Honduras hopes to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before the end of the year, putting an end to its policy of neutrality – a move likely to further anger the Palestinians. “I have just talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu to strengthen our strategic alliance, we spoke to arrange the opening of the…
Honduras hopes to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before the end of the year, putting an end to its policy of neutrality – a move likely to further anger the Palestinians.
“I have just talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu to strengthen our strategic alliance, we spoke to arrange the opening of the embassies in Tegucigalpa and Jerusalem, respectively,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez posted on Twitter on Sunday.
“We hope to take this historic step before the end of the year, as long as the pandemic allows it.”
Netanyahu said the intention was to open and inaugurate the embassies before the end of the year. Israel currently has no embassy in Honduras but opened a diplomatic office there last month.
Acabo de conversar con el Primer Ministro @netanyahu para afianzar nuestra alianza estratégica y acordar la apertura de las embajadas en Tegucigalpa y Jerusalén respectivamente. Esperamos dar este paso histórico antes de fin de año, siempre y cuando la pandemia lo permita. 🇭🇳🤝🇮🇱 pic.twitter.com/V0qYceKW1N
— Juan Orlando H. (@JuanOrlandoH) September 20, 2020
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Juan Orlando Hernandez spoke on 20 September 2020, and reaffirmed that Honduras and Israel are close friends and strategic allies who form part of an alliance of reciprocal support and both economic and political cooperation. pic.twitter.com/c9V4Gla3Ch
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) September 21, 2020
Hernandez last year began a process of breaking with his country’s long-held policy of neutrality on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Hernandez opened a commercial office in Jerusalem in September 2019 as an extension of the Honduran embassy in Tel Aviv.
“Honduras recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and we are confident that this recognition will be of great blessing and mutual benefit,” Hernandez said last month.
Honduras has the second-largest population of Palestinians in Latin America, after Chile.
Status of Jerusalem
Only two countries – the United States and Guatemala – have established embassies to Israel in Jerusalem.
The Honduran statement followed announcements by US President Donald Trump and Netanyahu this month who said Kosovo and Serbia would also open embassies in Jerusalem.
The status of Jerusalem has been one of the thorniest issues in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinians want occupied East Jerusalem, which includes the holy sites in the Old City and was captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as the capital of a future state.
Israel regards the entire city as its capital – a claim not recognised by the international community.
Most diplomatic missions to Israel have been in Tel Aviv as countries stayed neutral over the disputed city of Jerusalem until its status could be settled in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
But in December 2017, Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv.
Last Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements in Washington to establish formal ties with Israel.
The US-brokered deals between Israel and the Gulf states, forged partly through shared fears of Iran, has left the Palestinians further isolated in the region.
Israel bombs Gaza after rocket fire follows UAE, Bahrain deals |NationalTribune.com
The Israeli military carried out a series of air raids on the besieged Gaza Strip on Wednesday after rockets were fired into Israel during a “normalisation” of ties signing ceremony with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the United States. According to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, Israeli warplanes fired missiles at a site in…
The Israeli military carried out a series of air raids on the besieged Gaza Strip on Wednesday after rockets were fired into Israel during a “normalisation” of ties signing ceremony with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the United States.
According to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, Israeli warplanes fired missiles at a site in Beit Lahiya in the northern strip. They also targeted areas in Deir al-Balah, a city in central Gaza, as well as parts of Khan Younis in southern Gaza. No casualties were reported.
By Wednesday morning, 15 rockets had been fired into Israel wounding two people, according to the military.
Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza Strip, warned Israel it “will pay the price for any aggression against our people or resistance sites and the response will be direct”.
“We will increase and expand our response to the extent that the occupation persists in its aggression,” it said in a statement.
Without naming specific factions, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group in Gaza said in response to the Israeli air raids, the “resistance” fired rocket salvoes at Israel.
Israel, UAE and Bahrain sign US-brokered normalisation deals
Earlier on Wednesday, the Israeli army in a statement said it carried out 10 air strikes against positions belonging to Hamas in response to rockets being fired into Israel.
Israel, UAE and Bahrain sign US-brokered normalisation deals
The rockets were fired at the same time as Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain signed agreements at the White House in Washington to establish diplomatic relations.
Palestinians, who seek an independent state that includes the illegally occupied West Bank and Gaza, view the US-brokered deals as a betrayal of their cause.
The latest rocket fire from Gaza came after a month of armed groups in the strip stepping up incendiary balloon attacks against Israel, which responded with nighttime air raids against Hamas.
Since 2008, Israel has waged three wars on the Gaza Strip. Israel has long said it holds Hamas responsible for all violence from Gaza, while Hamas says Israel is responsible for the state of anger and pressure inflicted on Gaza’s residents because of the continued siege.
Since 2007 Israel has imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza’s two million residents. The Gaza Strip has a population of two million, more than half of whom live in poverty, according to the World Bank.
While many Israelis welcomed the Gulf state accords, in Sderot’s main square, resident Yehuda Ben Loulou said Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “should first solve the main problem in Gaza”.
Netanyahu “goes to easy countries with whom we have no problems. They sign agreements. But what about Gaza?” said Ben Loulou, 59.
The normalisation moves by the UAE and Bahrain with Israel prompted demonstrations in the Palestinian territories on Tuesday.
Clutching Palestinian flags and wearing blue face masks for protection against the coronavirus, demonstrators rallied in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron, and in Gaza.
Hundreds also took part in a demonstration in Ramallah, home of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from already illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state in exchange for establishing ties with it.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned on Tuesday the Gulf deals will “not achieve peace in the region” until the US and Israel acknowledge his people’s right to a state.
Abbas warned “attempts to bypass the Palestinian people and its leadership, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization, will have dangerous consequences”.
In Gaza, protesters trampled on and set fire to placards bearing images of the leaders of Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.
Hamas and Israel last month reached a Qatari-mediated ceasefire deal and revived a fragile 18-month truce. The group has joined the PA in condemning the UAE and Bahraini accords as a “betrayal” of their cause.
Israel ties that bind: What is the US giving Gulf Arab states? |NationalTribune.com
Representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel, and United States governments will converge in Washington, DC on Tuesday to sign historic normalisation accords between the Gulf nations and Israel. The UAE agreement, announced in August and since dubbed the “Abraham Accords” by White House officials, makes the UAE the third Arab country and first…
Representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel, and United States governments will converge in Washington, DC on Tuesday to sign historic normalisation accords between the Gulf nations and Israel.
The UAE agreement, announced in August and since dubbed the “Abraham Accords” by White House officials, makes the UAE the third Arab country and first in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to agree to establish relations with Israel.
The agreement ends the UAE’s economic boycott of Israel and allows the possibility of advanced US weaponry sales to the Emirates. Blasted by Palestinians as a “betrayal”, a sentiment echoed by regional players Turkey and Iran, the deal will have lasting, unprecedented geopolitical ramifications, experts told Al Jazeera.
But the extent of these ramifications remains to be seen.
William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Program at the DC-based Center for International Policy, told Al Jazeera arms sales were an “important factor” in the agreements.
The UAE has long wanted F-35 fighter jets, Hartung said, and larger drones, which the US was unable to sell because of its commitment to Israel’s military advantage.
But Trump often touts arms sales and was likely to view the UAE as another client as a positive, Hartung said.
The US ramped up its arms sales by 42 percent globally in 2019, an increase of almost $70bn, according to figures from the Forum on the Arms Trade (FAT) from the US Foreign Military Sales programme.
But the Middle East and North Africa region far outpaced the global growth rate, going from $11.8bn in 2018 to more than $25bn in 2019, or a 118 percent increase. Morocco leads the pack in purchasing US arms, with almost $12bn sold to Rabat.
Nations in the GCC accounted for much of the rest. The UAE spent more than $4.7bn on US arms in 2019, FAT recorded, with Bahrain spending $3.37bn, Qatar spending about $3bn and Saudi Arabia at roughly $2.7bn.
Hartung said Bahrain may have agreed to normalisation to access to advanced weaponry and the Saudis could potentially follow.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, centre-left, meeting with Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, centre-right, in the capital Manama [Bahrain News Agency/AFP]
“Bahrain certainly benefitted from US transfers after Trump lifted the hold on F-16s … so they may feel somewhat beholden to him on that front”, Hartung said, citing a 2017 decision to sell the jets to Bahrain without conditions on human rights.
However, the status of an F-35 deal with the UAE remains questionable, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces criticism from his right-wing base as his political fortunes fall.
Regarding domestic political victories, Hartung said the Trump administration can “brag” about normalisation during the presidential campaign and possibly tout jobs from the F-35 programme.
It may also “burnish the F-35 programme”, which has cost trillions to US taxpayers and is criticised for its cost and inefficiencies, Hartung noted.
The move may “also be perceived as a move to further contain Iran”, a target of ire from the Trump administration’s and a regional foe for the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, though Hartung said he did not see it as a benefit.
Jon Alterman, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told Al Jazeera while Gulf countries normalising relations with Israel raises new questions, it is “an uncharacteristic dedication to traditional diplomacy on the part of the Trump administration”.
Alterman said the deal with the UAE showed the Trump administration was capable of diplomatic manoeuvres outside of doing “things quickly with presidential involvement”.
However, concerns remain regarding the Israel-Palestinian peace process, Alterman said. The normalisation agreement could pave the way for other major Arab states to normalise ties with Israel without addressing the underlying issues of the conflict.
“We still have a long way to go to resolving the long-running conflict,” Alterman said. “I would hope this will mark an effort to redouble efforts rather than claim it is solved.”
While much of the focus is on the regional implications for Arab states, Alterman wrote for CSIS it could provide a “more robust and inclusive regional dialogue could be a constructive way to reduce tensions” between Israel, Turkey and Iran, three of the region’s most powerful – and non-Arab – countries.
The view from Tehran
Israel and countries such as the UAE and Bahrain, which is a Shia-majority nation with a Sunni monarchy, have long held the common interest of keeping Iran at bay.
But Assal Rad, a senior research fellow at the National Iranian-American Council, does not think containing Iran was in the “calculus on the UAE’s side”.
The UAE and Iran have long-standing economic ties and a sizable diaspora of roughly 500,000 Iranians live in the Emirates, mostly in Dubai.
UAE exports to Iran totalled $10.23bn in 2018, according to UN figures cited by Trading Economics, making it among Iran’s top trade partners.
But Rad does not “see the normalisation as taking anti-Iran stance and aligning with Israel”, she said.
If the UAE was adopting an anti-Iran strategy, recent meetings between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who will lead the UAE delegation in Washington on Tuesday, would not have occurred.
“It’s attempting a sort of balancing act. I don’t see it as an anti-Iran move. They wanted advanced weapons … which this deal makes possible.”
The larger strategy
Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincey Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told Al Jazeera the deal and possible advanced weapons sales could further threaten regional stability, but not in Iran, and it remains unclear how enthusiastic UAE leadership can be, domestically.
“On the one hand, they want it, but … it doesn’t scream confidence when [Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan] isn’t going to show up to the signing ceremony in the US,” Parsi commented.
But normalisation could lead to an “emboldened” UAE in Yemen in Libya, he continued.
Video reportedly shows UAE’s involvement in Libya (2:34)
Parsi pointed to Saudi Arabia, which he claimed has achieved tacit approval for “reckless” military actions in Yemen by purchasing US weapons.
“They are operating under the impression they have the protection of the US… To this day, even when Congress has voted twice to stop the war in Yemen, the president has vetoed it twice.”
While the UAE has reduced actions in Yemen, it is still active there and concerns remain about military actions in Libya, Parsi warned.
Alterman, for his part, said normalisation was not a “get out of jail free card” for the UAE.
The upcoming election could shift US strategy towards the Gulf as a broader conversation about how much effort the US should spend on the region continues, which weighs on individual Gulf states, Alterman said.
“Ultimately, the US has a larger regional strategy that is [more important] than any of its individual relationships with individual” states, Alterman said, and “every country needs to figure out how it needs to shape its relationship” within said US strategy.
Normalisation “represents a beginning of the UAE’s answer” to that question, Alterman concluded.
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