‘Very warm’ first phone call between Trump and Israeli PM

 

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a phone conversation on Sunday, in what Netanyahu’s office characterized as “very warm”. Agenda items included “threats from Iran” and ways to strengthen relations between the two countries. Trump invited the prime minister to come to Washington to meet sometime in February.

“The President and the Prime Minister agreed to continue to closely consult on a range of regional issues, including addressing the threats posed by Iran,” the White House said after Sunday’s call. “The President affirmed his unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security and stressed that countering ISIL and other radical Islamic terrorist groups will be a priority for his Administration,” it said, referring to Islamic State.

Trump also emphasized that peace could only be negotiated directly between the Israelis and Palestinians—not through unilateral moves.

 

Participants of the Hamas terrorist organization’s military training graduated on Sunday in Gaza “displaying weapons, marching in military formation and burning an Israeli flag in front of crowds of cheering supporters.” The flag was burned by a young child, and the graduates ranged from children to middle-aged adults.

Hamas has a history of training young children to be “martyrs” while fighting against Israel. The group announced in July that it was opening three-week-long training camps in Gaza for over 50,000 elementary, middle, and high school students. Hamas official Ismail Radwan explained that the theme of the camps is the “Jerusalem Intifada,” and that the goal is “to raise a generation of Palestinians who love the resistance and the liberation of Palestine and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” The camps also include scouting and religious educational programming.

Hamas often dresses children in military uniforms and teaches them how to shoot firearms. In May, Palestinian kindergarten students in the Gaza Strip wore military fatigues and brandished toy machine guns to simulate the capture of an Israeli soldier as part of a school play.

 

The mayor of Jerusalem announced on Monday that he is holding direct talks with members of the new U.S. administration about potentially moving the American embassy to the Israeli capital, describing his interlocutors as “serious about their intention.” Mayor Nir Barkat noted in a statement that the Trump administration’s interest in relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv sends “a clear message to the world that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.”

The Trump administration indicated on Sunday that discussions over the embassy move are currently in their preliminary stages. Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital in 1949, shortly after its independence. Its legislature, Supreme Court, and executive government offices are all located there, as are the president’s and prime minister’s official residences.

U.S. law has required the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem since the Clinton era. Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses, requiring that the American embassy be moved to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999. The legislation, which notes that “each sovereign nation, under international law and custom, may designate its own capital,” acknowledges that Jerusalem has served as Israel’s capital since 1950 and asserts that it should remain an undivided city. However, all presidents have opted to waive that order for six-month periods since it was passed. The current waiver expires in May 2017. Although Palestinian minister Jibril Rajoub claimed on Sunday that such a move would be tantamount to “a declaration of war against Muslims,” none of the potential embassy locations are on territory claimed by the Palestinians, but are rather on Israel’s side of the 1949 armistice agreement lines.

Following UNESCO’s passage of a resolution this past October denying the centuries-old Jewish connection to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives wrote a letter reaffirming congressional recognition of Jerusalem as “Israel’s eternal capital.” This sentiment has wide support among American lawmakers, with Sen. Ben Cardin (D – Md.), currently the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying in 2010 that “Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the State of Israel.”

The passage last month of United Nations Security Council resolution 2334, which described eastern Jerusalem — where the Jewish Quarter of the Old City is located — as Palestinian territory, has provided further impetus for the embassy move. The Security Council measure was opposed by many top Democratic and Republican politicians, and praised by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

 

Silicon Valley may have competition from Tel Aviv and New York today in terms of where a blue-and-white startup should base itself, but that hasn’t stopped the Israeli entrepreneurial community in California from growing. “Now it’s easier to make it elsewhere but if you want to be where it’s at, that’s still Silicon Valley,” Moshik Raccah, cofounder of IEFF (Israeli Executives and Founders Forum), tells ISRAEL21c. “This is where the future is happening. This is where all the big technology companies are, this is where your partners are and this is where the best talent in the world is. Like New York for the money people and Hollywood for the movie industry, this is Ground Zero for tech.” Israel’s Consul General to the Pacific Northwest Andy David recently estimated that there are 10,000 to 15,000 Israelis working in Silicon Valley today. (via Israel21c)

U.S., UK, and Australia form pro-Israel trio

 

The leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia are poised to usher in a new era of pro-Israel relations, according to a Times of Israel piece published Thursday. Their strong support veers on “unconditional,” the author wrote.

“We do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally,” a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May said in response to former Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent speech, which was largely panned as anti-Israel and a step backwards for the peace process. The settlements “are far from the only problem in this conflict. In particular, the people of Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”

Likewise, last month’s United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334—which castigated Israel—was blasted by the Australian Prime Minister as “one-sided” and “deeply unsettling.” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country would have likely opposed such a measure.

Newly elected President Donald Trump has previously voiced strong support for the Jewish State, and The Israel Project wishes him great success in continuing the unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States. It seems that he may have a number of allied countries behind him.

 

An operative of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas was killed in the collapse of an attack tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, The Times of Israel reported.

Hamas spends an estimated $40 million of its $100 million military budget on building tunnels into Israel that can be used in future terrorist attacks. An Israeli official estimated last July that Hamas digs some six miles of tunnels every month. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, formerly the head of the research division of Israeli military intelligence and later the director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, told reporters last May that the tunnels were a sign that Hamas is preparing for another war against Israel. “They definitely invest a lot in making the necessary preparations so that in the next round, when they decide to start it, they will be able to inflict the heaviest damage on Israel, including through those tunnels,” he said.

 

The police chief of Whitefish, Montana has nailed a mezuzah to the doorway of his police station in solidarity with the Jews of the town, where a planned neo-Nazi march was set to take place, The Forward reported Thursday.

During a visit to Whitefish by Orthodox rabbis from the U.S. and Canada, Rabbi Adam Scheier from Montreal asked Police Chief William Dial whether he would be interested in placing a mezuzah — a small case that holds four sections of the Bible — on his office door.

According to a social media post by Scheier, Dial said, “No, I won’t put it on my office door. I want to put in a more central location, where everyone will see it.”

Dial then proceeded to attach the mezuzah, which is made of Jerusalem stone, to a door that “every police officer passes upon entering the station,” Scheier wrote.

 

Israeli and Jewish American humanitarian aid organizations have launched an emergency mission to deliver warm clothing to Syrian refugees suffering from sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall in Greece. The extreme wintry weather has made life in the refugee camps even more difficult than usual. The non-governmental international humanitarian aid organizations, Amaliah (based in New York) and iAID (based in Tel Aviv) are currently in Greece with a team of five Israeli and Jewish American relief workers. The relief workers are bringing winter clothing and blankets to refugees on the island of Lesbos. The 1.5 tons of supplies were gathered via donations from ordinary Israelis and sorted, packed, and readied for shipment. (via Israel21c)

Israel opens first ever office at NATO headquarters, highlighting closer international ties

 

Israel opened its first ever office at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Ynet reported. IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan was in town for meetings with senior NATO officials, and Roni Leshno Yaar became the first Israeli representative to NATO. NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Goettemoeller said, “here in NATO, we understand that Israel shares our values, and is an active and beneficial partner for Mediterranean dialogue.” Golan met with the head of the Turkish Armed Forces, Gen. Hulusi Akar. Several high-ranking Arab officials were also at the meeting, including from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, and Tunisia, and spoke with Golan on the sidelines of the meeting. More than 100 officials participated in the meeting, including high-ranking NATO figures.

While Israel is not formally a member of NATO, the United States considers Israel to be a “major non-NATO ally.” When Israel confirmed that it would be upgrading its ties with NATO last May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “I think that this is also an important expression of Israel’s standing in the world. The countries of the world are looking to cooperate with us due to – inter alia – our determined fight against terrorism, our technological know-how and our intelligence services.”

 

At her confirmation hearing to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) condemned the organization’s “outrageous bias against our close ally Israel.” While Haley acknowledged that “international diplomacy is a new area for me,” she also said that her service as governor gave her the ability “to unite those with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and objectives behind a common purpose.” Saying that the UN “could benefit from a fresh set of eyes,” she promised to “bring a firm message to the UN that U.S. leadership is essential in the world.”

Haley also conceded that while some UN programs have been successful, she stated that “any honest assessment also finds an institution that is often at odds with American national interests and American taxpayers.” This was especially true given the UN’s animosity towards the Jewish state, Haley stated. She backed up her charge with numbers: In the recently concluded General Assembly session, “the UN adopted twenty resolutions against Israel and only six targeting the rest of the world’s countries combined.”

Over the past ten years, she added, the UN Human Rights Council “has passed 62 resolutions condemning the reasonable actions Israel takes to defend its security. Meanwhile, the world’s worst human rights abusers in Syria, Iran, and North Korea received far fewer condemnations. This cannot continue.” Given this context, Haley said, “the events of December 23,” when UN Security Council voted for an anti-Israel resolution (which the United States chose not to veto), “were so damaging.”

Noting that in 2015 she became the first governor to sign anti-BDS legislation, Haley asserted that she “will not go to New York and abstain when the UN seeks to create an international environment that encourages boycotts of Israel. In fact, I pledge to you this: I will never abstain when the United Nations takes any action that comes in direct conflict with the interests and values of the United States.”

Haley also observed that the United States contributes 22 percent of the UN’s budget before asking “are we getting what we pay for?” Haley praised Congress for exploring “ways the United States can use its leverage to make the United Nations a better investment for the American people. I applaud your efforts, and I look forward to working with you to bring seriously needed change to the UN.”

In subsequent questioning by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Haley elaborated her views on the U.S.’s abstention last month. “I think that was the moment we should have told the world how we stand with Israel, and it’s a kick in the gut that we didn’t,” she said. She also told Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that she “absolutely” supports moving the U.S.’s embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

 

Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) introduced a bill on Tuesday that would improve legal protections for states that enact legislation to fight boycotts of Israel.

The bill, called the Combating BDS Act, has 19 cosponsors from both parties. Its provisions would apply to state legislation addressing businesses or other entities that participate in boycotts against Israel or “Israeli-controlled territory.” Fifteen states have passed laws that prevent state-funded programs, such as pension funds, from being invested in companies that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

“This legislation is an important step forward in reassuring Israel that we are protecting our shared national security interests, while also protecting our joint economic interests,” Manchin explained in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation gives state and local governments a legal way to combat the shameful boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Israel has been our strongest ally in the Middle East and we need to send them a strong signal that we will do everything in our power to fight the BDS movement.”

Manchin introduced similar legislation last year along with then-Sen. Mark Kirk (R – Ill.).

“This legislation supports efforts by state governments and local communities to use the power of the purse to counter the BDS movement’s economic warfare targeting Israel,” Rubio added. “This bipartisan bill is all the more timely after the United Nations Security Council’s passage of Resolution 2334, a deplorable one-sided measure that harms Israel and effectively encourages the BDS movement’s campaigns to commercially and financially target and discriminate against the Jewish state.”

 

When Aboud Dandachi,  a Syrian Sunni Muslim now living in Istanbul, created a website  in late 2015 dedicated to the Israeli and Jewish organizations and individuals helping Syrian refugees, the world raised an eyebrow. Why was a Syrian thanking Israel? Actually, Dandachi’s gesture of gratitude is hardly the only one that Israeli humanitarian volunteers and aid workers have received over the years for helping refugees. According to a UN report, 130 million people are affected by conflict and disaster across the globe. Israel, though a small country, has a big presence when it comes to humanitarian aid  and has rallied round refugees from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Rwanda, Chechnya, Indonesia, Haiti, Burma, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Kenya, Palestinian Authority territories and many other places. (via Israel21c)

TIP CEO: Peace only possible through direct talks

 

‘All or nothing’ leaves us nothing. The Israel Project’s President and CEO Josh Block wrote an op-ed in The Hill on Tuesday picking apart last month’s United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 and Secretary of State John Kerry’s subsequent speech condemning Israel—making clear that such actions are obstacles to peace.

“In an ‘all or nothing’ approach, the UNSC resolution and Kerry’s speech push the sides closer to ‘nothing’ – a result that leaves neither Israelis nor Palestinians better off,” he wrote.

Block also stressed that peace needs to be achieved through bilateral negotiations between the parties—not through unilateral moves. “Israelis and Palestinians must sit down and work out an agreement; solutions imposed from abroad will never be accepted and won’t last,” he stated.

 

So-called unified. The major Palestinian political parties agreed on Tuesday to form a unity government and hold elections after three days of reconciliation meetings in Russia.

“We have reached agreement under which, within 48 hours, we will call on [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas to launch consultations on the creation of a [national unity] government,” Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior official of the ruling Fatah party, said at a press conference.

The talks were held in Moscow to restore “the unity of the Palestinian people,” which has been lacking ever since the terrorist group Hamas launched a coup against Fatah and seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Both Hamas and the Iran-backed terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which also attended the talks, have pledged to destroy Israel.

A Fatah-Hamas unity government would violate one of the principles for Middle East peace set out by the Mideast Quartet, (the United States, Russia, European Union, and United Nations). In 2006, the Quartet stated that “all members of a future Palestinian Government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations.”

The two parties have made numerous attempts to reconcile over the past decade without lasting success. However, former Israeli peace negotiator Tzipi Livni cited a short-lived 2014 Fatah-Hamas unity agreement as one of the main contributors to the failure of American-led peace talks that year, because of Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel or renounce terror. The schism between the two groups has continually delayed the reconstruction of Gaza after the 2014 war, despite Israeli efforts to move the rebuilding process along.

Ahmad, the Fatah spokesman, also claimed that “today the conditions for [a unity initiative] are better than ever.” But just in the past week, infighting led to extended power outages in Gaza, prompting unprecedented demonstrations against the terror group’s rule; Hamas arrested a Gaza-based Fatah spokesman; members of each party burned pictures of each other; and Abbas himself accused Hamas of stealing Gaza’s electricity.

Despite these differences, both parties praised a recent terror attack that left four Israeli soldiers dead.

 

Terror-free skies. House Republicans and Democrats introduced a bill on Friday that calls on incoming President Donald Trump to report to Congress on any illicit military or terrorist use of commercial aircraft by Iran; if the Iranian airlines were found to be using aircraft for these activities, they would be sanctioned under the legislation. The Terror-Free Skies Act was introduced by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), and focuses on the Iranian airlines Iran Air and Mahan Air.

Both of these airlines have been used to ferry personnel and weapons to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and the terrorist organization Hezbollah. The Jerusalem Post reported that a chart it received from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies “shows at least 494 flights from Iran to Syria since the nuclear deal was announced in 2015. And just since the [nuclear] agreement was implemented last year, Iran Air conducted 93 flights from Iran to Syria, while Mahan Air operated 185.”

Sherman has forcefully opposed the loosening of restrictions on Iranian commercial aircraft, which have historically and demonstrably been used by the Iranian regime for illicit, murderous, and terroristic purposes. He wrote a letter this past June to Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to express his concern about Boeing’s sale of aircraft to Iran Air, which was designated in 2011 for being used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s Ministry of Defense to transport military-related equipment, including rockets and missiles (while a technicality was used to drop sanctions on the airline as part of the nuclear deal, U.S. officials have not indicated that such activity has stopped). The letter read in part, “Iran Air’s aircraft will undoubtedly be used in the future to continue to funnel lethal assistance to Assad, to Hezbollah, and to other terrorist entities.” Speaking at a hearing at the House Financial Services Committee in July, he added, “We’re being asked to transfer planes to a company, Iran Air, that has served as an air force for terrorism.”

 

Would-be pilots, ER doctors and combat soldiers possessing a personality trait called “dissociative absorption” are likely to suffer from sleep deprivation and will have a harder time returning to full alertness as opposed to those without it. A new study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev also shows that even after an eight hour night of sleep, people who tend to daydream, get absorbed in reading a book or watching a movie to the exclusion of their surroundings are those who will feel more tired as a result of sleep deprivation. “Dissociative absorption is the tendency to involuntarily narrow one’s attention to the point where one is oblivious to the surroundings. It involves a temporary lack of reflective consciousness, which means that the individual may act automatically while imagining vividly, bringing about confusion between reality and fantasy,” the researchers write in their article, recently published in Consciousness and Cognition. There are many studies about the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation (partial or full), including its effect on mood, cognitive function, and motor function. At the same time, there have been very few studies that identified who would be especially affected by sleep deprivation. The researchers say this study is the first to identify the role of dissociative absorption. (via Israel21c

Israel, Palestinian Authority sign water cooperation agreement

 

Water, water everywhere. Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed a water cooperation agreement on Sunday, the fourth major infrastructure deal agreed to in the past year and a half.

The agreement, which will restart the Israeli–Palestinian Joint Water Committee, was signed by Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) office, and Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Minister.

The committee is charged with modernizing the water infrastructure in the West Bank, giving Palestinian villages and towns better access to water.

The committee originally had been created as a temporary measure by the Oslo II interim agreement in 1995, and was supposed to be operate for five years. It last met six years ago. The agreement was signed in the winter so that the committee can be fully operational by summer, the dry season. The two sides have also agreed on a joint strategic planning mechanism that will govern water resources until 2040 and meet the needs of the growing population.

The water agreement showed that it is possible to arrive at “understandings and agreements when dealing with practical, bilateral issues, free of external influences, dealing with natural resources and other infrastructure issues that affect the entire population,” Mordechai said.

The other infrastructure agreements signed by Israel and the PA in the past year and a half govern electricity, mail, and 3G phone service.

 

Goodbye Ebola. On a state visit to Israel last week for the first time in his nation’s history, the president of the Muslim-majority West African nation of Sierra Leone expressed his gratitude to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin for the Jewish state’s assistance in fighting the Ebola virus.

“I must use this opportunity to thank you, the Government and the people of Israel, for the support that was provided to us during one of the most difficult moments in our history – the fight against Ebola,” President Ernest Bai Koroma said last Thursday at a joint appearance with Rivlin. “It was a moment others chose to turn their backs and isolate us, but Israel provided us with support, with financial, technical support, and we had people that volunteered to go out and assist us….That we have put the Ebola behind us is because of the support of this nation. Support that will always be remembered by Sierra Leoneans.”

“It is only a friend will support a friend that is in need,” Koroma added during his public meeting with Netanyahu. “And the Sierra Leonean people are most grateful for that.”

During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Israel sent doctors and a field hospital to Sierra Leone to help the African nation fight the deadly disease and contributed $10 million to an aid fund—the sixth-largest contribution in the world.

 

Israeli security forces arrested 17 Palestinians, including 13 suspected Hamas operatives suspected of laying the ground for a terrorist infrastructure, in overnight raids in the West Bank Sunday. The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet discovered and confiscated thousands of shekels meant to be delivered into the hands of terrorist groups. The security forces also found a gun workshop north of Hebron; more than 40 such workshops have been discovered in recent months, and more than 420 weapons confiscated. These workshops, The Times of Israel noted, “manufactured guns such as those used in the Sarona Market shooting attack in Tel Aviv” last June, which killed four people and wounded several others.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “an extensive Hamas infrastructure operating in the Ramallah sector and the West Bank’s Binyamin region was discovered, including the headquarters of the terrorist group in the region.” The Shin Bet announced, “The uncovering of the infrastructure indicates the continued strategic intentions of Hamas to operate and establish its presence on the ground [in the West Bank], in an attempt to topple the Palestinian Authority.”

Within the past few months, the Shin Bet busted a Hamas cell, consisting of more than 20 members, that was planning to carry out suicide bombings and shooting attacks in Jerusalem, Haifa, and elsewhere in Israel. In December, the Shin Bet announced the arrest of a seven-man Hamas cell in the West Bank, which was planning to kidnap an Israeli soldier in order to negotiate the release of a convicted terrorist. The terrorist in question, Ibrahim Abdallah Ranimat, 58, orchestrated the kidnapping and murder of IDF soldier Sharon Edri in 1996, as well as a suicide bombing attack on a Tel Aviv cafe in 1997, which claimed the lives of three women and wounded 48 others.

 

Israeli zookeepers at the Zoological Center Tel Aviv – Ramat Gan Safari nursed a baby mandrill back to life and his mother was only too pleased to snuggle him in her arms. The latest member of the mandrill group at the Israeli zoo was born on January 9 and found by zookeepers in an overnight enclosure that Tinkerbell, the mother, shared with her other son, Tuvia. The small, weak newborn was trying to cling to his 13-year-old mother’s belly but was instead being dragged behind. The zookeepers say they watched the mandrill and Tinkerbell attempt numerous times to connect without success. Mandrill babies must cling to the hair of the mother’s chest and be supported by her hand for the first two to three weeks of their lives, reports the Safari. The species is considered vulnerable in the wild. (via Israel21c)