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Maariv: Eli Yishai apologizes to Dan Shapiro for Biden fiasco [UPDATED]

April 26, 2010 1 comment

UPDATE: It only took Eli Yishai afew hours to make a public course correction. At 3:32pm Ynet reported that the Minister was working to speed up construction in East Jerusalem.

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Note that this development follows a recent report that Shas spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, had stated that US-Israeli relations were more important than continued construction in East Jerusalem.

Yishai to Washington: I apologize for construction permits

Eli Bardenstein, Maariv, April 26 2010 [Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]

Interior Minister Eli Yishai met last night in Jerusalem with Director of the Middle East department at the National Security Council Dan Shapiro.  In the meeting, Yishai made it clear to Shapiro, a high-ranking administration official, that he regretted the insensitivity displayed during the visit of Vice President Joe Biden to Israel.

The permits in question were issued at the beginning of March, during the US vice president’s visit to Israel.  The Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee, which is under the responsibility of the Interior Ministry, approved a plan for the construction of 1,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, sparking a crisis with the Americans.

In the course of the meeting, which was held at Shapiro’s initiative, Yishai made it clear to Shapiro that he attributed supreme importance to the Israeli alliance with the US administration, and promised that in future the Interior Ministry would know how to act with greater sensitivity during important visits.  However, Yishai emphasized that the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem were the only neighborhoods in which construction could be carried out in East Jerusalem, and said that construction there would continue.

Shapiro—a key figure with regard to Israel-US relations and a personal appointment of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel—conducted the entire meeting in fluent Hebrew, to Yishai’s surprise and joy.  Shapiro always accompanies special US envoy George Mitchell in all his visits to Israel and Ramallah. Read more…

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Categories: Diplomacy, Jerusalem

Maariv: Secret US-Israeli agreement on construction in East J’lem

April 26, 2010 3 comments

Secret agreement on construction in capital

Ben Caspit, Maariv, April 26 2010 [Hebrew original here]

Israel and the US have reached secret agreements about construction in Jerusalem. Both sides agreed to leave the agreements between themselves and not make them public, and if they should be leaked nevertheless, deny them vigorously. The purpose is in order not to create difficulties for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the coalition, and particularly in the Likud party.

The agreements indicate that contrary to Israeli boasting, Netanyahu’s answer to Obama regarding Jerusalem was not “No.” It was something in the middle, a little closer to the far end (a freeze) than the close one (continued construction at full tilt). The most accurate translation for this agreement is “Yes, but.” It is possible that Netanyahu has learned something from the bad old days of Shimon Peres, during which he got the nickname “Yes and no.” Now it is Netanyahu’s turn.

The agreements were made in a very long series of meetings and discussions between the parties. Attorney Yitzhak Molcho worked for Netanyahu. Working on the American side was mostly Dan Shapiro, the director of the Middle East department at the National Security Council.

As far as anyone knows, the parties agreed that no construction freeze would be announced. On the contrary, Netanyahu may continue to announce that he did not agree to a freeze. But in reality, Netanyahu agreed to delay the Ramat Shlomo project by at least several years and not to issue any new construction tenders in Jerusalem.

He also promised “to do as much as the law allows and use his full authority as prime minister to prevent unnecessary Israeli activity in the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. These agreements do not include the procedures that are already being carried out, such as, for example, the Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem.

Another agreement between the parties is that if Netanyahu should encounter a particularly severe crisis or heavy pressure, or if these agreements should be leaked, there will be a tendency to let him approve a small number of symbolic construction projects in secret coordination with the Americans so that it will continue to look as though he did not give in.

Read more…

Categories: Diplomacy, Jerusalem

Maariv: Shas Rabbi Yosef OKs East J’lem settlement freeze, says US-Israel relationship more important

April 22, 2010 7 comments

If Elie Wiesel now wants to run a full page ad in Maariv, I think I can get him a good price: $10,000-$20,000. It’s a tabloid, however, so he’ll have to reformat his Washington Post ad on Jerusalem.

On a more serious note, this is a potentially significant report that should be handled with care. Ben Caspit has a history of sacrificing precision for the sake of sensation and the source, Peres, is an incurable optimist, to put it mildly. Not that one should attach too much value to Eli Yishai’s denial either.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef supports halting construction in Jerusalem

Ben Caspit, Maariv, April 22 2010 [page 6 with front page headline | Hebrew online original here]

Yosef

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef believes that Israel must rebuild its relationship with the US administration at any price, even if this means stopping to build in Jerusalem.

This emerges from the details of a talk that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef held with President Shimon Peres about three weeks ago. Sources who learned the details of the talk told Ma’ariv yesterday that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef used very clear and sharp language, and this included an explicit statement supporting a temporary halt to construction in Jerusalem.

The meeting between Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and President Peres took place on Friday morning almost three weeks ago, in the framework of Peres’s traditional visits to important leaders on the intermediate days of Passover. In the course of the meeting, Peres reviewed for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef the state of relations between Israel and the US, the depth of the crisis and its harsh ramifications for Israel’s situation and standing.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, say people who were at the meeting, took it hard. Yosef said, “everything must be done to work things out with the Americans, we must pay any price to rebuild the relationship, we must not provoke the nations and kingdoms of the world,” and more in the same vein. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef further said that it is possible to stop construction in Jerusalem for a time and to focus construction efforts in other areas such as central Israel, and that nothing would happen if we started building in Jerusalem again in a few years, after the crisis had passed.

When Peres described for him the compromise proposal (which Peres raised to Netanyahu), whereby Israel would declare a complete construction halt in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef also expressed support for this proposal. Peres, the sources say, pointed out that Netanyahu also agreed to this proposal but refused to declare so publicly.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s statements reveal a situation in Shas in which the student, i.e., Eli Yishai, is more extreme than his mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. In response to Ma’ariv’s question, Eli Yishai said yesterday, “this never happened.” The President’s Residence had no comment. The transcript of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s statement was checked and cross referenced, among others, with people who spoke with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef after Peres’s visit. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef confirmed them.

Read more…

Categories: Diplomacy, Jerusalem

Maariv: Jerusalem municipality moving forward on construction in Gilo

April 14, 2010 4 comments

This report follows the news Tuesday (April 13 2010) that Mayor Nir Barkat was attempting to renew house demolitions in East Jerusalem. Note also the repetitive framing of the story as an act of defiance of the US administration (three out of five paragraphs.)

Construction in Jerusalem: Business as usual

Roni Malul, Maariv, April 14 2010 [page 14]

Barkat

Despite the crisis with the United States about constructing in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, it appears that the municipality is supporting continued construction in the Gilo neighborhood, which was annexed to Israel in 1967.

The Jerusalem municipality’s local planning committee, which will meet tomorrow, will discuss the permits for constructing community buildings in Gilo despite the White House’s vigorous opposition to construction over the Green Line. Municipality officials commented that the plan was approved in principle in 1995 and that now, a decision was made to carry it out on the ground.

The committee’s agenda will include the final approval of a construction plan that involves the expropriation of several lots in Gilo’s Area 5 by the Israel Lands Administration for the municipality. This plan expands the neighborhood by two hundred housing units. According to the plan, a school and synagogue will also be built there.

“These are not new construction plans, and there are no actual construction plans for the public buildings yet,” the municipality spokesman said. “This is only a decision to transfer the land from the Israel Lands Administration to the municipality, as was agreed upon in the past.”

This is not the first time that construction in the Gilo neighborhood has aroused criticism in the United States. Approximately five months ago, Obama spoke against Israel’s decision to approve the construction of 900 housing units there. He said that Israel’s decision constituted an obstacle to the resumption of negotiations and did not contribute to Israel’s security.

Categories: Diplomacy, Jerusalem

Waving the flag of humanism at Sheikh Jarrah

April 11, 2010 2 comments

The sustained protests, against the settlement of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the attendant eviction of Palestinian families, have been widely applauded.  However, they have also elicited some fierce push-back. Notably, these have not come only from government and right-wing elements, but also from members of the old “peace camp.” When hearing criticism from this quarter, one is hard pressed to escape the impression that it is motivated by embarrassment. These youngsters, with virtually no resources, have pulled-off what seemed like mission impossible over the past decade: Effective mobilization of an anti-Occupation movement.

Case in point: After the success of the March 6 2010 rally at the neighborhood — which, with over 3,000 participants, could not be ignored — a number of these stalwarts of the demonstrations of 1980’s took turns slamming the absence of the Israeli flag. Recently, Nili Osherov, and Israeli editor and satirist, explained in Ynet [full translation at bottom] that this demand was a recipe for continued paralysis and that the protest leaders had a better sense of today’s reality than their critics.

I have a clear answer why the Israeli flag has not been waved there, and it has one word: tact. Sheikh Jarrah, just like the nonviolent protests at Bil’in and Ni’lin, just like organizations such as Breaking the Silence and Combatants for Peace, are part of a process being led by young Israelis today (and other young people like them on the Palestinian side), that could be the start of the end of the violent conflict in our area.

I have a clear answer why the Israeli flag has not been waved there, and it has one word: tact. Sheikh Jarrah, just like the nonviolent protests at Bil’in and Ni’lin, just like organizations such as Breaking the Silence and Combatants for Peace, are part of a process being led by young Israelis today (and other young people like them on the Palestinian side), that could be the start of the end of the violent conflict in our area. […]

These young people understand that the endless cycle of violence created by the “kill or be killed” mentality has to simply be severed. Sheikh Jarrah is a symbol to them, a sort of a local “committee of truth and reconciliation,” from which more committees may grow in more and more places. They are neither fanatics nor blind. They know this is not a one-sided story of perpetrators and victims. They are not blaming the forefathers of Zionism, the founders of Israel nor — thank God — us, their parents, for everything.

But in the present situation, in the current balance of power between us and the Palestinians, they understand who is the weak side and who is obligated to show generosity, concessions and the willingness to swallow their pride and national honor. The Israeli flags seen today in Sheikh Jarrah are the ones waved defiantly on the homes of the settlers who heartlessly took over the Palestinian homes. […]

Their choice to stay here and to fight an almost hopeless battle for the values of peace and humanism is commendable. Sometimes I want to ask their forgiveness for the impossible country we gave them. They do not have to wave the Israeli flag anywhere. Each one of them is to me a waving flag of humanism, compassion and true loyalty to their country and people. “To the glory of the state of Israel” — nobody deserves that phrase more than they do, even if it gives them the creeps.

Reporting on the suppression of the protest on Friday (April 9 2010), Bernard Avishai makes a mockery of any attempt to label the protesters as radicals.

The organizers of the weekly Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations are a loose, but hardly amorphous, group; no formal hierarchy, but rather a network of perhaps a dozen thirty-somethings, as closely knit as a basketball team. The ones who more or less act as the point guards are graduate students who’ve gone to school in America and have come back — Assaf Sharon from Stanford, Avner Inbar from the University of Chicago — to write theses in political philosophy. Instead, they are now practicing political philosophy. The oldest in the group, Dr. Amos Goldberg, is a Hebrew University teaching fellow in Holocaust Studies (and a former graduate student of my wife, Sidra).

Almost none in the group, I hasten to add, are leftists in the ordinary sense. Assaf and Amos are the products of the National Religious Party youth movement, Bnei Akiva, and came by their skepticism honestly. Another, Sara Benninga, is the daughter of a distinguished Tel Aviv University business professor. Most came to this issue because it could simply not be ignored. Little by little, they are becoming radicals of democratic globalism.

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Tact in Sheikh Jarrah

The Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators are criticized from the right and the left over the absence of Israeli flags at their demonstrations. But when you look at their considerations they are commendable.

Nili Osherov, Ynet, April 3 2010 [Hebrew original here]

“Why don’t you wave the Israeli flag?” the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators are challenged again and again. The right wing in all of its stripes sees it as further proof of the separatism, alienation and self-hate with which the radical left is inflicted. The new Israeli left (or in a word, the right) begs: “Please wave it. Sheikh Jarrah is a good ‘case’ that could win the sympathy of the Israeli public. If only you waved the Israeli flag the whole nation would be with you.”Is that wise advice? I am afraid that the left of Sheikh Jarrah will not sweep up the Israeli nation even if it wraps itself in national flags from head to toe and decorates itself with pictures of Israel’s chiefs of staff and presidents through the ages. If the left wants the sympathy of the people of Israel I would recommend it wave slogans such as “Jerusalem is our united capital for ever and ever” or “death to the Arabs.” That would do the job better.

But since I was there, and since I know the people well enough to draw a typical profile of a Sheikh Jarrah demonstrator defined as a radical left wing activist (or simply: the true left), I have a clear answer why the Israeli flag has not been waved there, and it has one word: tact. Sheikh Jarrah, just like the nonviolent protests at Bil’in and Ni’lin, just like organizations such as Breaking the Silence and Combatants for Peace, are part of a process being led by young Israelis today (and other young people like them on the Palestinian side), that could be the start of the end of the violent conflict in our area. Read more…

David Grossman at Sheikh Jarrah: “We cultivated a kind of carnivorous plant that is slowly devouring us”

April 11, 2010 11 comments

On Friday (April 9 2010) Israeli author David Grossman made an impromptu speech [video here] at the protest against the continued evictions of Palestinians families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and their replacement with fundamentalist settlers.

I think that we are all beginning to grasp — even those who maybe don’t really want to — how 43 years ago, by turning a blind eye, by actively or passively cooperating, we actually cultivated a kind of carnivorous plant that is slowly devouring us, consuming every good part within us, making the country we live in a place that is not good to live in. Not good not only if you are an Arab citizen of Israel, and certainly if you are a Palestinian resident of the Territories — not good also for every Jewish Israeli person who wants to live here, who cherishes some hope to be in a place where humans are respected as humans, where your rights are treated as a given, where humanity, morality, and civil rights are not dirty words, not something from the bleeding-heart Left. No. These are the bread and water, the butter and milk of our lives, the stuff from which we will make our lives, and really make them lives worth living here.

Grossman spoke after police suppressed an attempt, ahead of the protest, by a group of veteran peace activists, accompanied by the young leadership of the Sheikh Jarrah protest movement, to see first-hand the homes of families already evicted and of those under immediate threat. Bernard Avishai, who was with the group, reports:

Ever since the Friday demonstrations began back in January, the police had cordoned off the homes of the displaced families after about 2 PM, so that demonstrators were unable to show solidarity directly to the people evicted, or express their disgust with the Jewish settlers. In response — a kind of outflanking operation — the group invited about 30 of us, including the author David Grossman, former speaker Avrum Burg, NIF President Naomi Chazan, Israel Prize winner Zeev Sternhell, to gather at the homes of the families at 1:30 PM, where we conducted a kind of impromptu seminar for a couple of hours (not a hard thing for writers and professors, as things turned out).

At around 3:30 PM, we all suddenly emerged onto the street with our signs, and stood across from the homes that were confiscated, kitty-corner to the others that are under threat. When the police commanders realized that we were actually behind their lines, they quickly organized and sent a phalanx of heavily armed officers to form a line behind us, and began pushing us out toward the main demonstration in a park across the street.

WE HAD ALL agreed in advance that we would not resist, or do anything to challenge police authority. As we were being pushed, we walked very slowly but steadily toward the demonstrating crowd that was gathered in the usual place. Now and then we would scold the police for pushing too aggressively. Most of the young officers seemed a little abashed to be pushing well-known sixty-somethings around, but that was the point.

Then something unexpected and chilling happened. The commander of the police spotted Assaf and recognized him as the group’s organizer. He instructed several officers to seize him and put him under arrest. Immediately, Avner, Amos, and another leader sat down, challenging the police to arrest them, too, which is exactly what the police did. The instinctive way the three sat down in solidarity, unwilling to allow Assaf to be arrested alone, touched those of us who were walking beside them in ways that are hard to explain. It reminded me of a sentence in Albert Camus’ The Plague, that there is no heroism in fighting something like the plague, just common decency.

Fmr. Israeli NSC Chief: Time to say “no, we can’t” to Obama’s “appeasing and one-sided” policy [CORRECTED]

March 31, 2010 2 comments

CORRECTION: A reader was quick to point out that Uzi Dayan is a the former head of the National Security Council. The current one being Uzi Arad. See this link for more. Although active in the Likud, Dayan apparently carries no current official position, which of course greatly reduces the importance of his statements. My apologies — my only excuse, though it isn’t a good one, is that the interviewer, one of Israel’s most important journalists, also made the mistake and Dayan did not correct him.

On Monday (March 29 2010) Netanyahu was quick to publicly admonish his inner circle for telling Yediot that

“President Obama and Hillary Clinton have toed the line and have adopted a patently Palestinian line. We’re talking about something that is diseased and insane. The situation is catastrophic. We have a problem with a very, very hostile administration. There’s never been anything like this before. Even veteran officials who tended to the relations with the United States say that there’s never been an administration like this one before. This president wants to establish the Palestinian state and he wants to give them Jerusalem.”

and

“We’ve got a real problem. You could say that Obama is the greatest disaster for Israel, a strategic disaster. It isn’t only Israel that is worried about Obama, but leaders throughout the entire world are worried about him: Merkel, Berlusconi, even the Russians. Obama is damaging to the State of Israel, no matter which leader is facing him.”

Judging by the interview his National Security Council chief, Major General (Res.) Uzi Dayan, gave to IDF Radio this morning (March 31 2010), Netanyahu was criticizing the tone, not substance. Here’s some of what Dayan had to say (full transcript below):

In our case, we should tell the US President, “no, we can’t” because you start addressing issues that do not only stand for Israeli interests and values, and we are not only right about them, but we are also wise because they do not benefit the issue at hand. […]

Furthermore, we have a real crisis with the US policy because it is appeasing and one-sided.[…]

Look, I believe he [Netanyahu] is saying that [also], but he is justifiably more cautious than I am.  I believe that the stand I am expressing here is not only the Likud view, but it is actually upheld by the majority in the Septet [Netanyahu’s kitchen cabinet] and I believe that the prime minister would agree with the things I said here too.

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Interview with Israeli NSC Chief Uzi Dayan

IDF Radio, March 31 2010 09:13 [Click here to listen to recording]

Narrator Razi Barkai:  We wish to discuss these issues with Uzi Dayan, a major general in the reserves, former [IDF] deputy chief of staff, and current head of the National Security Council (NSC) and, I must say, No. 42 on the Likud Knesset list.  Good morning, Mr. Dayan.  We should not have been surprised.  At the conclusion of the Taba talks of 2002, we had the Clinton paper in which he said something that all the American presidents since adopted — whatever is Arab, is Palestinian; and whatever is Jewish, is Israeli — and he was referring to Jerusalem.  Why are we stunned when it suddenly happens again?

Dayan:  We are not stunned, but it is simply time for us to say, “no.”  Every nation has moments when it has to say “no” even to its friends, including strategic friends.  I think it is time for us to tell the USA and mainly its President, “no more.”

Dayan

Barkai:  Listen, [Haaretz correspondent] Ari Shavit said — and this has not yet been stated publically, except if it were raised in meetings one-on-one — that if you say “no” to the Americans (and you will soon tell us what we say “no” to), the Americans can start taking very small, secret, and painful steps such as, for example, delaying all kinds of weapon shipment, start questioning the $3 billion in aid we receive every year, or start poking us with all kids of small knives on international arenas such as the United Nations.  Does this not bother you?

Dayan:  Of course it does.  The USA is not only our primary strategic ally, but it also has the power [to do these things].  That is correct.  Still, even among friends there are lines you do not cross, which we should say politely but clearly.  In our case, we should tell the US President, “no, we can’t” because you start addressing issues that do not only stand for Israeli interests and values, and we are not only right about them, but we are also wise because they do not benefit the issue at hand.

Look, there were two prominent leaders in our history who said “no” to the United States: Ben-Gurion, when he decided to declare Israel’s independence even though Washington was against it; and Menachem Begin, when facing that trilogy of the bombing of the Iraqi reactor, the attack in Lebanon, and the annexation of the Golan Heights.  Now, we reached this state of affairs, which is not joyous of course, but a nation should know when to say “no.”  Furthermore, we have a real crisis with the US policy because it is appeasing and one-sided. Look, what happened recently?  We agreed to the solution of two states for two nations even though the Palestinians refused to acknowledge the right of the Jewish nation and despite the situation in Gaza, which lends itself at best to three states for two nations; and I am being cynical here.  In addition, we froze construction works in Judea and Samaria, which was never done before; and we agreed to hold indirect negotiations with US involvement.  Let me remind you that when I was personally involved in the process, the Americans were not even in the room with us.

Barkai:  So what are we saying no to — the Jerusalem issue?

Dayan:  Yes, to the Jerusalem issue.  You know what?  Let me add something here.  What did we gain from making these concessions?  We only received more and more demands.  It is time for us to say “no” and insist on negotiations without preconditions.  As for Jerusalem…it is so self evident.

Barkai:  The Americans say to that: Great!  Let’s go for direct negotiations without preconditions, but as we discuss the negotiations and while we conduct them, not facts shall be established on the ground.  One of those facts established, which the Palestinians find incredibly intolerable, is construction in Jerusalem.  You want to come to the table and say Jerusalem is entirely ours, and the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem are ours, and Jerusalem will remain ours in the permanent agreement?  Fine.  But do not establish facts while you are negotiating.

Read more…

Categories: Diplomacy, Jerusalem