Former President Jimmy Carter claimed that America “must” recognize Palestine in the pages of The New York Times Monday, a proposition to which veteran Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller is firmly opposed.
“Having spent the better part of my adult professional life working to promote, facilitate and consummate negotiations between Arabs and Israelis,” Miller wrote in a counter op-ed on Wednesday, “my advice is precisely the opposite of Mr. Carter’s.” True peace, he argues, can only come from negotiations between the two parties themselves, not from external measures.
Miller warns that unilateral action (such as recognition of statehood) might make matters worse. “It could unlock a host of unpredictable – and mostly negative – consequences,” he writes.
Such a move also undercuts the spirit of negotiation championed so firmly by former President Carter in brokering Egyptian-Israeli peace. It was Carter’s sensitivity to both sides that produced a successful treaty, Miller asserts. One-sided efforts are doomed to polarize the Israelis and Palestinians further, as it would be rewarding Palestinians by recognizing their stated aim – an independent state – before the holding of negotiations and without meeting Israeli security needs, and strip Palestinians of the need to be flexible and willing to make compromises.
Eleven high-ranking diplomats from seven African countries toured Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday, in what is the latest indication that diplomatic ties between Israel and African countries are improving. The diplomats’ tour was sponsored by Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce in an effort to promote Israeli-African business ties.Diplomats typically don’t visit the Old City because most countries don’t recognize Israel’s sovereignty there. But in a break with that protocol, the ambassadors of Ethiopia and Zambia, as well as other diplomats from Cameroon, Ghana, Angola, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, participated in the tour and met with Israeli officials there. “We had a very interesting visit this morning,” Ethiopian ambassador to Israel Helawi Yossef said. “It was very enlightening for us.”
Tomer Heyvi of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce said that the goal of the tour was to unite parties who could enhance business ties between Israel and African nations. He explained that trade between and Africa is poised to expand. “In 2015 trade with African countries made up only only three percent of Israel’s international trade, and we believe that the potential is far greater and still not materialized,” he told the Times of Israel.
The Palestinian Authority objected to the tour. “The Israeli-organized visit of senior diplomats from seven African countries aims at normalizing the illegal Israeli annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, in particular when it comes to legitimizing projects led by settlers that continue to harm the daily lives of thousands of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem,” Palestine Liberation Organization secretary-general Saeb Erekat told the Times.
This has been a year of diplomatic breakthroughs for Israel, especially with African nations. Netanyahu embarked on a historic tour of East Africa in July, restored diplomatic ties with the Muslim-majority nation of Guinea, met with 15 African heads of state and ambassadors at the United Nations General Assembly in September, and announced plans to attend a summit of the Economic Community of West African States in the near future.
Families in rebel-held eastern Aleppo are nearly out of food, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. “We’re only eating two small meals a day now, and it’s just rice and cracked wheat,” said Moataz Khattab, 26, who lives with nine family members. “We eat together, what we can, but we are losing so much weight. We’re running out of supplies, and now we talk about starving to death.” Another feared the fate of a local neighborhood boy: “He has become a skeleton.”
Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad captured about 40% of the territory in eastern Aleppo that had been held by rebels on Monday. Planes dropped ominous leaflets: “If you don’t leave these areas quickly you will be annihilated. Save yourselves. You know that everyone has left you alone to face your doom and have offered you no help.”
For the past four months, Assad’s forces have blockaded more than 200,000 people in eastern Aleppo, nearly half of them children, according to U.N. officials. Thousands are fleeing for their lives.
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed two bipartisan bills on Tuesday that call for increased cybersecurity cooperation with Israel. The measures – the United States-Israel Advanced Research Partnership Act of 2016 and the United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2016 – were sponsored by Reps. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and now await a vote by the Senate. “Israel is a vital strategic partner, and I’m pleased to be working closely with Rep. Langevin to preserve and strengthen this important bond through joint cybersecurity efforts,” Ratcliffe said. Langevin added, “My trip to Israel…reinforced my belief that our countries have much to learn from one another when it comes to cybersecurity…Our legislation will further strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship and drive innovative, collaborative thinking about homeland security priorities.”
The U.S. and Israel, as strategic allies, have a history of cooperating in matters of cybersecurity. This past June, the U.S. and Israel came to an agreement under which the two countries’ cyber defense intelligence will be shared automatically. In April, speaking at an energy conference in Tel Aviv, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz emphasized the importance of U.S.-Israeli cooperation in cyber defense, because “a very large fraction of cyber attacks involves the energy sector and that’s a recent experience.” Moniz also said that the U.S. would be able to learn from Israel’s “forward-leaning approach” in cybersecurity. The director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, reportedly visited Israel in March to discuss cooperation in cyber defense, particularly with regard to Iranian and Hezbollah infiltration attempts. Rogers, who is also the head of the U.S. Army’s Cyber Command, was the guest of the commander of the IDF’s Intelligence Corps Unit 8200, an elite unit responsible for signals intelligence and cyber warfare. The report on Rogers’ secret visit came just days after the Department of Justice revealed that Iran had launched a cyberattack on the controls of a dam 25 miles north of New York City.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was unanimously chosen to lead the Fatah party for another five years at a convention that excluded his political opponents, further strengthening his hold on the party while cementing the rifts in the Palestinian polity.
Excluded from the conference were supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, an Abbas rival and former Gaza security chief now living in exile in the United Arab Emirates. Many of Dahlan’s supporters have been purged from Fatah or arrested.
Dimitri Diliani, who had been elected to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council in 2009, told The Times of Israel that he wasn’t invited to this year’s conference because he and other opponents of Abbas “bring a different voice.”
“To me, the story is who is not at the conference,” Grant Rumley, an analyst of Palestinian affairs told The New York Times “This conference will formalize the split within [Abbas’] own party.”
The conference, which was held for the first time in seven years, demonstrated Abbas’ continued grip on Fatah and the PA, which is suffering from infighting, financial troubles, and plummeting popularity. But it did not lay out a succession plan for Abbas, who is 81 years old and was recently hospitalized with heart problems. The PA cancelled planned municipal elections for this month that could have clarified the succession issue. Currently, if Abbas is incapacitated or leaves power, leadership of the PA would temporarily fall to Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council Aziz Dweik, a member of Hamas.
Polls show that many Palestinians want Abbas to resign. He was elected in 2005 to a four-year term and has ruled by decree since 2009. Abbas established a new court in April to further consolidate his power.
An IDF general gave an exclusive interview to a Saudi newspaper on Monday in which he highlighted the danger Iran poses to the region. Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, the spokesman of the IDF, told the Saudi-owned news outlet Elaph, based in London, “Iran has not changed, not before the agreement on the nuclear program or after it. Its objective remains the same, which is to maintain a foothold in the region and keep the fire of terrorism burning.”
An article in The Jerusalem Post in August highlighted the phenomenon of local and state-run media outlets in Saudi Arabia beginning to shift their long-held position of enmity toward Israel. Recent changes include quoting Israeli officials; asking Saudis to discard their “hatred of Jews”; and calling for direct talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia, free from intermediaries. David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy branded the pivot as “the new normal,” saying that while pragmatic, behind-the-scenes dialogue between Israel and Arab countries is “nothing new,” the presence of two sides in public forums marks an undeniable turning point. “What is noteworthy today is that the issue is being actively and openly debated in major Arab media, with both proponents and opponents each having their say.”
In other signs of this slow but persistent change, Anwar Eshki, a former general who has served in senior positions in the Saudi military and foreign ministry, visited Israel in July as part of a delegation of Saudi academics and businessmen. Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold gave an interview last year with a Saudi website, and Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer was likewise recently interviewed by the Saudi media.
Salman al-Ansari, the founder and president of the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee, wrote in The Hill last month that Saudi Arabia and Israel should form a “collaborative alliance.” He elaborated, “Any form of normalization between the two countries is also an Arabic and Muslim normalization towards Israel, which will undoubtedly promote security and weaken extremism in the region.” Israel and Saudi Arabia should “become the new twin pillars of regional stability.” The Saudi Gazette asserted in September that Abbas should not dismiss Israeli offers of peace out of hand because “Camp David demonstrated that negotiations with Israel were possible and that progress could be made through sustained efforts at communication and cooperation.”
A vessel belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) trained its machine gun at a U.S. Navy helicopter in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, U.S. defense officials said Monday. The helicopter was flying in international waters. A U.S. Navy official said that Iran’s behavior was “unsafe and unprofessional” and constituted an “escalating measure.” A Defense Department official added, “The behavior by our standards is provocative and could be seen as an escalation.” One of the Iranian crewmen was seen loading the weapon before aiming it at the helicopter.
This is the latest example of Iranian aggression toward American vessels in the Persian Gulf. In September, Iran threatened to shoot down two American planes flying over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran hasincreased its aggressiveness in the Persian Gulf since the implementation of the nuclear deal in January: as of this past September, there had been 31 incidents between Iranian and U.S. ships in 2016 that deemed “unsafe”, “unprofessional,” or both, which is the same amount for all of 2015. “We’ve seen an uptick in confrontations by Iranian vessels in the Arabian Gulf,” Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, said in August. “Ultimately if they continue to test us we’re going to respond and we’re going to protect ourselves and our partners.” Votel also said, “It’s about the Iranian regime and their desire to continue to do these types of things that stoke instability or attempt to stoke instability in the region.”
Seven armed boats of the IRGC Navy swarmed a U.S. Navy patrol ship in the Persian Gulf in September, forcing it to change course after the Iranians came within 100 yards and stopped their vehicles in the American ship’s path. Sailors aboard the USS Nitze recorded an encounter in August when Iranian boats came as close as 300 yards, forcing it and the USS Mason to change course to avoid a collision. Two weeks later, two U.S. patrol coastal ships, the USS Tempest and the USS Squall, were operating in international waters in the northern Gulf when IRGC boats approached them at high speed and passed within 600 yards of the Tempest three times. The Iranians ignored radio warnings that their actions were dangerous. These actions came just a few months after ten American sailors and their two boats were seized by IRGC naval forces in January of this year, in violation of international law.
A report by UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, said Saturday that the number of children trapped in besieged areas of Syria had doubled in less than a year to half a million. The report estimated that 100,000 of the trapped children were among the civilians pinned down in eastern Aleppo. They do not have access to adequate food or medical care (there are only an estimated 29 doctors remaining) and are on the brink of starvation.“People are looking through garbage to find something to eat — that’s if they find garbage in Aleppo,” Muhannad Hadi, the Middle East coordinator of the World Food Program, said in an interview with The Canadian Press. A Washington Post opinion piece published 11 days ago predicted these children will run out of food and medical supplies in 20 days or less.
Fighting in Syria has intensified over the past few days, with government forces capturing around 10 civilian areas. Nearly 40% of Aleppo’s formerly rebel-held neighborhoods are now under regime control.
An Israeli general told an audience on Wednesday that Hezbollah keeps weapons in one-third of homes in Shiite villages in southern Lebanon. Brig. Gen. Ram Yavne, head of the IDF’s Strategic Division, gave the example of the village of Chakra, and said that all of the Shiite villages of southern Lebanon are utilized in the same way. “This use of civilians as human shields must be condemned,” Yavne said at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem.
Israeli officials have warned that another war with Hezbollah would be devastating. An Israeli defense official told The New York Times in May 2015 that the buildup of Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages meant that “civilians are living in a military compound” and that their lives were at risk. Geoff Corn, an international military law expert, explained to The Weekly Standard that if Israel were to strike in this instance, “both legally and morally, the cause of these tragic consequences will lie solely at the feet of Hezbollah.” Because of this, Corn said, “Hezbollah should be pressured starting today to avoid locating such vital military assets among civilians.”
Hezbollah’s arsenal of rockets, numbering some 130,000 and much of it warehoused in the aforementioned Shiite villages, is more than that of all non-U.S. NATO countries combined. In July, Hossein Salami, the deputy director of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, stated, “Today, more than ever, there is fertile ground – with the grace of God – for the annihilation, the wiping out, and the collapse of the Zionist regime…In Lebanon alone, over 100,000 missiles are ready to be launched.” He continued, “They are just waiting for the command, so that when the trigger is pulled, the accursed black dot will be wiped off the geopolitical map of the world, once and for all.”
Israel’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent in October, setting a record for the country’s lowest recorded rate, the Central Bureau of Statistics announced Monday.
The drop in the unemployment rate followed a rise to five percent in September.
The number of Israelis working full-time—meaning more than 35 hours a week—rose by nine percent from September to October. Part-time work dropped by 0.3 percent over the same time period.
Israel achieved its previous low in August, when the rate was 4.6 percent. That was then the lowest rate since Israel adopted the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s formula for calculating unemployment in 1992.
Israel’s unemployment rate has been low this year in comparison to other developed economies. When the unemployment rate dropped to 4.8 percent in May, Motti Bassok of Haaretz explained that the rate was “not only low historically but low by international standards, and by conventional economic definitions there’s no unemployment at all in Israel.”
Iran is smuggling weapons to the terrorist group Hezbollah inside commercial flights to Lebanon, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations has charged in a letter to the UN Security Council. Such actions would violate several Security Council resolutions.
Citing reports from Israel’s intelligence agencies, Ambassador Danny Danon wrote that “the Iranian Al-Quds Force packs weapons, ammunition and missile technology to Hezbollah in suitcases and puts them on Mahan Air flights.” The transfer of arms to Hezbollah violates Security Council resolutions 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, and 2231, which implemented last year’s nuclear deal with Iran.
The arms were either shipped directly to Hezbollah on commercial flights to Lebanon, or flown to Damascus, Syria, and then shipped to the terror group over land, Danon wrote.
Danon’s accusations echo those made by Emanuele Ottolenghi, an Iran expert who has tracked Iranian air traffic to Damascus. Ottolenghi noted in February that the United States government had repeatedly pledged to take action against Mahan Air—which is on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list for supporting terrorism—but has failed to do so. The airline notably acquired rights to fly commercial routes to European and Asian cities despite objections from Washington, the Associated Press reported in November.
Hassan Nasrallah, the general secretary of Hezbollah, said in June that “We are open about the fact that Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, are from the Islamic Republic of Iran.” And earlier this month, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, the chief of staff of Iran’s army, bragged that Iran had provided Hezbollah with the rocket technology it needed to target Israeli civilians.