April 23, 2009

Yad Vashem removes ‘rogue guide’: BBC

Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem has fired one of its guides for making political statements about the plight of the Palestinians during his tours. Visitors complained when Itamar Shapira likened the trauma of European Jews to the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) when Israel was founded in 1948. Israeli media said it was the first such sacking at Yad Vashem. Itamar Shapira accused the museum of having a “flawed approach” that ignored certain historical facts. Yad Vashem’s Estee Yaari told the BBC that Mr Shapira had violated clear prohibitions on employees pushing their own political viewpoints. “Yad Vashem is an apolitical organisation and as such is careful to ensure that the professional work of Holocaust remembrance and commemoration will be separated from any political agenda,” she told the BBC. She said Itamar Shapira had been employed as a freelance guide by Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies for about two years. “Recently, a complaint was lodged noting a number of problems with his guiding,” she said. “After a discussion with school staff, he refused to change his guiding method and was let go.”

Clinton: Israel risks losing support on Iran: Ha’artez

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned Israel’s right-wing government on Thursday that it risked losing Arab support for fighting any threats from Iran if it shuns Palestinian peace talks. Signaling U.S. impatience with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reticence over peace talks, Clinton said Arab nations had made clear to her that Israel must be committed to the Palestinian peace process if it wants help countering Iran. “For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-a-vis Iran, it can’t stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand,” she told the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. Israel sees a nuclear-armed threat as a mortal threat. “They [Arab countries] believe that Israel’s willingness to re-enter into discussions with the Palestinian Authority strengthens them in being able to deal with Iran,” she added. Since coming into power last month, Netanyahu and his right-leaning coalition have avoided recognizing the Palestinians’ right to an independent state as his predecessor Ehud Olmert did. The United States is committed to pushing for a two-state solution, with Israelis and Palestinians living side by side, and would like to revive stalled talks.

Lieberman: U.S. to accept any Israeli policy decision: Ha’aretz

The Obama Administration will put forth new peace initiatives only if Israel wants it to, said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in his first comprehensive interview on foreign policy since taking office. “Believe me, America accepts all our decisions,” Lieberman told the Russian daily Moskovskiy Komosolets. Lieberman granted his first major interview to Alexander Rosensaft, the Israel correspondent of one of the oldest Russian dailies, not to an Israeli newspaper. The role of Israel is to “bring the U.S. and Russia closer,” he declared. During the interview, Lieberman said Iran is not Israel’s biggest strategic threat; rather, Afghanistan and Pakistan are. This comes after years of Lieberman warning about the growing Iranian threat. Now, he has dropped Tehran to number two, with Iraq coming third. Lieberman also discussed Moscow’s under-utilized role in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and said he aims to correct this. The newspaper emphasized Lieberman’s intention to develop closer ties with Russia and to resolve international issues jointly. “Russia has a special influence in the Muslim world, and I consider it a strategic partner that should play a key role in the Middle East,” Lieberman said in the interview. “I have argued for some time that Israel has insufficient appreciation for the ‘Kremlin factor'; I intend to mend this gap,” he said.

Lieberman’s illusory view: Haaretz Editorial

The appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister has not led him to moderate his diplomatic positions or to soften his belligerent approach to solving the country’s problems. The political doctrine outlined by Lieberman in an interview with the Russian newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets is evidence that the foreign minister has erroneous notions about Israel’s diplomatic status and that he is still clinging to his opposition to a compromise with the Palestinians, which places him at the extreme end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. In Lieberman’s illusory view, Israel is a superpower that can dictate its policy to the United States – “America accepts all our decisions” – and its international role is “to bring America and Russia closer.” The foreign minister extends the spectrum of threats against Israel to include Pakistan and Afghanistan, which worry him even more than Iran. He would like to increase Moscow’s involvement in the Middle East as Israel’s strategic partner. Turning to the Palestinians, Lieberman describes the two-state solution as “a nice slogan that lacks substance.” He repeats his position about the Annapolis process and says that only the “road map” was a binding document. The Palestinians “are not very familiar” with that document, he adds. Lieberman also opposes the Arab peace initiative because of the paragraph that hints at the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

U.S. lawmaker seeks release of AIPAC spy case transcripts: Ha’aretz

WASHINGTON – The former senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee asked the U.S. Justice Department yesterday to release all transcripts of her recorded conversations involving the treatment of two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of spying. Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat, said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that she never interceded in a government investigation of the two lobbyists awaiting trial on charges of passing classified information to reporters and former diplomats. Congressional Quarterly reported Monday that Harman was overheard agreeing to seek lenient treatment for Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. CQ attributed the information to anonymous current and former national security officials familiar with a transcript of the recorded call. Rosen and Weissman were charged in 2005 with conspiring to communicate national defense information to unauthorized personnel, in violation of the 1917 Espionage Act. The indictment said the classified material included information about the al-Qaida terror network, the bombing of the Khobar Towers dormitory in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel, and U.S. policy in Iran. In her letter to Holder, Harman said she never contacted the Justice Department, White House nor anyone else seeking favorable treatment for Rosen and Weissman. But she maintained that it was entirely appropriate to converse with advocacy organizations and constituent groups. She said she learned from news reports that the FBI or National Security Agency secretly wiretapped her conversations in 2005 or 2006 while she was ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. She urged Holder to investigate possible wiretapping of members of Congress and selective leaks of investigative material for political purposes, calling the recordings an abuse of power.

Senior Hamas official: Rockets damage Palestinian interests: Ha’aretz

A senior Hamas official said yesterday that firing rockets at Israel ultimately does a disservice to Palestinian interests. Ismail al-Ashkar is a member of the security committee in the Palestinian Legislative Council and a leading candidate for the interior minister position. “The firing of rockets at Israel is against the Palestinian interest. It benefits certain individuals and groups, but not the Palestinians themselves,” he said yesterday. Since January 18, the Hamas armed wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has not taken credit for a single Qassam rocket. Sources in the Gaza Strip said just two weeks ago that Hamas detained Islamic Jihad operatives for trying to launch rockets. Yesterday Hamas representatives met delegates from Islamic Jihad and smaller militant groups in order to ensure the cease-fire with Israel remains in force for now. Also yesterday, senior Gaza-based Hamas officials Mahmoud Zahar and Khalil al-Haya left for Damascus to meet with the group’s political bureau leaders. From there they will head to Cairo for further talks on maintaining the lull in fighting with Israel. Hamas officials said the cease-fire remained in effect because the group understands the Palestinian public is not interested in continuing the confrontation with Israel following the devastation visited upon Gaza in the December-January Israel Defense Forces offensive.

Gideon Levy: Word games: Ha’aretz

Lord have mercy: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has relinquished for the moment his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “a Jewish state” as a condition for negotiations. He has deigned to postpone the demand until future stages. Listen up, world: Perhaps, just perhaps, Netanyahu will also see fit to utter the forbidden phrase “two states for two peoples.” The slogan of yesterday’s illegitimate radical left will be heard publicly in Washington from the mouth of Israel’s most right-wing prime minister ever, and everyone will sing the praises of the historic turnaround. The diplomatic process will again take wing and the expectations will soar. Peace is just around the corner. Once again the diplomatic arena has become a playground of words. This will be said and that will be declared and the other will be proclaimed. This is a guarantee of another foregone failure. Whether or not Netanyahu says two states, nothing will change. The Americans will rejoice, the Europeans will be thrilled, the Israeli right will wax wrathful, commentators will again write with pathos about how the dream of the greater land of Israel has been shelved – and the occupation will flourish. The Jewish settlements in the territories will also continue to metastasize. After all, most Israelis, and at least two prime ministers and two leaders of the opposition, already said yes to the formula for peace long ago, and nothing has happened.

Netanyahu’s Mideast policy damaging EU ties: Ha’aretz

The foreign policy of the Netanyahu government, which deems unacceptable the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as an outline for negotiations with the Palestinians, has damaged Israel’s relations with the European Union. The Anapolis conference in late 2007, which set the outline of the two-state solution, made it possible for Israel to strengthen its ties with Europe. The main expression of the closer ties has been the forging of agreements to hold summits with European heads of state and foreign ministers, and for Israel to participate in programs and agencies of the European Union. However, an internal Foreign Ministry document last week stated that following Operation Cast Lead, diplomatic bodies in a number of European countries have called for a freeze on the upgrade, citing the pressure of domestic public opinion. Four European states have already said that if Israel did not agree to a two-state solution, they would oppose upgrading relations. Under such circumstances, the upgrade would have to be shelved since a unanimous vote is required to implement it. The deputy director general of the Swedish Foreign Ministry, Robert Rydberg, who visited Israel ahead of his country’s assuming the rotating EU presidency in July, was told by the new deputy foreign minister Dan Ayalon that Jerusalem is reassessing its peace policy. Rydberg responded that if so, the upgrade of relations would be frozen. Rydberg told Ayalon that a European decision on strengthening ties with Israel would be examined in the context of the implementation of a two-state solution. A senior Foreign Ministry official who is very familiar with Israel’s relations with Europe said that Europe is also an important player vis-a vis-Iran, and that Israel’s national security was guaranteed “first of all [by] us, then the United States, and the third leg is Europe. We have been in the midst of a flourishing security and diplomatic dialogue and in recent years relations of trust have developed as with the Americans,” the official said. The Foreign Ministry denies that Israel’s relations with Europe are in danger. “Jerusalem has not received official messages warning that the upgrade might be prevented, although European officials have privately expressed their support for the peace process.”

Five IDF probes find ‘operational errors,’ but no intentional attacks on civilians in Gaza op: Ha’aretz

There were no intentional attacks on civilians during Operation Cast Lead, the Israel Defense Forces found in five separate investigations into alleged international law violations. The probes, ordered by Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and carried out by five colonels who did not take part in Operation Cast Lead, examined complaints that troops intentionally targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical teams and UNRWA installations. The investigation also examined allegations of illegal phosphorus munitions use. The investigations found in several instances that operational mistakes caused civilian deaths, but Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel, who presented the findings, called these cases “isolated.”

“Out of dozens of instances that we investigated, the IDF was shown to have conducted itself during the fighting in keeping with international law, and it maintained a high level of professional and moral integrity. We did not find a single instance in which an Israeli soldier intentionally harmed innocent civilians,” Harel said. The most noteworthy operational mishap mentioned was the strike on the Al-Daya family home in the Zeitoun neighborhood, in which 21 family members were killed. The air force was meaning to bomb a home that intelligence believed was being used to store Hamas arms, and residents of that building were called beforehand to warn them an attack was imminent.

Now there is a surprise for you…

PA refuses to recognize first Hamas-licensed bank in Gaza: Ha’aretz

The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip announced Tuesday the opening of an Islamic National Bank, even though the bank is not recognized by the Palestinian Monetary Authority, an organ of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Seventeen founders invested a total of $4 million to establish the bank, which began issuing stock to the public in March; their initial goal is to reach reserves totaling $20 million. The bank will operate in accordance with Islamic banking laws, whose fundamental principles are based on sharing profit and loss. The bank will be responsible for transferring the wages of civil servants employed by the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip. A total of 6,000 Hamas civil servants will receive their salaries through the bank for the first time this month.The director of the bank’s board, Dr. Ala’ al-Rifati, told Haaretz that the services the bank offers its clientele will expand with time. Starting on May 1, the bank will initiate its first loans to individuals, with repayment schemes at a maximum of seven years. The opening of a bank three months after Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip is considered an achievement for the Hamas-dominated administration in the Strip, and a challenge to the international blockade. One of the main characteristics of the blockade on the Strip has been the limitations imposed on banking.

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