Israel declares itself ‘nation-state of the Jewish people’

In any country the imposition of a two tier citizenship would be troubling enough, but in Israel it is more troubling because of Jewish history, where they have been severely subjugated as second class citizens or worse in different parts of the world.

The Middle East is complicated. Especially Israel. Giving Jews a special status above other citizens is unlikely to defuse tensions.

SMH:  Israeli law declares country the ‘nation-state of the Jewish people’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has long demanded that the Palestinians acknowledge his country’s existence as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” On Thursday, his governing coalition stopped waiting around and pushed through a law that made it a fact.

In an incendiary move hailed as historic by Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition but denounced by centrists and leftists as racist and anti-democratic, Israel’s parliament enacted a law that enshrines the right of national self-determination as “unique to the Jewish people”— not all citizens.

The legislation, a “basic law”— giving it the weight of a constitutional amendment — omits any mention of democracy or the principle of equality, in what critics called a betrayal of Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, which ensured “complete equality of social and political rights” for “all its inhabitants” no matter their religion, race or sex.

So the law isn a fundamental switch from Israel’s (modern) founding declaration.

With the political opposition too weak to mount a credible threat, and with the Trump administration providing a never-before-seen degree of US support, Netanyahu’s government, the most right-wing and religious coalition in Israel’s 70-year history, has been pressing its advantages on multiple fronts.

It has sought to exercise more control over the news media, erode the authority of the Supreme Court, curb the activities of left-wing advocacy groups, press ahead with moves that amount to de facto annexation of parts of the West Bank, and undermine police by trying to thwart or minimize the effect of multiple corruption investigations against the prime minister.

That is quite disturbing,

And as is common after further erosion of Palestinian rights, both sides turn to violence.

Haaretz: Gaza Escalation: Israel Launches Massive Attack After Hamas Snipers Fire at Troops

  • Four Hamas members killed in Israeli attack after snipers target Israeli soldiers
  • Netanyahu holding emergency discussion at army headquarters
  • Three rockets launched from Gaza, two intercepted by Iron Dome

More:

Golda Meir quote: One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it...

There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist. – Golda Meir

Regardless of that argument, they exist now, in Israel.

UN Human Rights Council votes for investigation into Israel’s killing of Palestinians

The UN Human Rights Council has voted strongly in favour of an investigation into Israel’s killing of Palestinians during protests on the Gaza border this week.

  • For – 29 votes
  • Against – 2 votes (USA and Australia)
  • Abstained – 14

A television screen at the UN Human Rights Council shows how countries voted on a resolution approving an investigation into Israel's handling of deadly clashes on the Gaza border, on May 18, 2018. (Foreign Ministry)

New Zealand must not be on the Human Rights Council.

The Times of Israel: UN Human Rights Council votes to investigate Israel for Gaza protest deaths

The UN Human Rights Council on Friday voted to establish an investigation into Israel’s killing of Palestinians during protests along the Gaza border, in a move Israel rejected as being an attempt to undermine Israel’s right to self-defense.

The council voted 29 in favor and two against with 14 countries abstaining. Australia and the US were the two countries to oppose the decision. The council also condemned “the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians.”

The “independent, international commission of inquiry” mandated by the council will be asked to produce a final report next March.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the vote and the council as “irrelevant.”

It’s not irrelevant if there is good cause to investigate indiscriminate violence and killing – this applies to both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The investigation should look at whether either or both sides acted illegally. If Human Rights may have been breached then it is appropriate to investigate.

Next March is a long to wait for a result. A lot is likely to have happened in Gaza and Israel by then.

 

Violence in Gaza continues

The violence that flared with protests over the moving of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem continues in Gaza.

Reuters: Israeli forces kill Palestinian near Gaza border as Gaza buries dead

Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian near the Gaza-Israel border on Tuesday after thousands of Palestinians turned out for the funerals of dozens of protesters killed by Israeli troops a day earlier, local health officials said.

Sixty Palestinians were killed on Monday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, including an eight-month-old baby that died from tear gas that her family said she inhaled at a protest camp near the border. More than 2,200 Palestinians were also injured by gunfire or tear gas, local medics said.

Monday’s bloodshed took place as the United States opened its new embassy in contested Jerusalem. For the past six weeks, Palestinians have been holding Gaza border demonstrations for the return of Palestinian refugees to areas that are now part of Israel.

Israel rejects any right of return, fearing that it would deprive the state of its Jewish majority.

Too bad about democracy.

Palestinian medical officials say 106 Gazans have now been killed since the start of the protests and nearly 11,000 people wounded, about 3,500 of them hit by live fire. Israeli officials dispute those numbers. No Israeli casualties have been reported.

Palestinian leaders have called Monday’s events a massacre, and the Israeli tactic of using live fire against the protesters has drawn worldwide concern and condemnation.

BBC – Gaza violence: Israelis and Palestinians in fierce exchanges at UN

There have been angry exchanges between Israeli and Palestinian envoys at the UN, as the diplomatic fallout over deadly violence in Gaza gathered pace.

Some 58 Palestinians were killed when Israeli troops fired on protesters on Monday, with funerals held on Tuesday.

The Palestinian envoy spoke of a “crime against humanity”, while Israel accused the rulers of Gaza, Hamas, of taking their own people hostage.

BBC: May urges ‘greater restraint’ by Israel after Gaza violence

Theresa May has urged an independent inquiry into violence on the border between Israel and Gaza which left a reported 58 Palestinians dead.

The prime minister said the use of live rounds by Israeli forces was “deeply troubling” and urged greater restraint.

While Palestinians had a legitimate right to protest, she said, she was concerned about extremist infiltration and the role Hamas had played.

Both Hamas and Israel have been responsible for the flare up in violence – as has Donald Trump in his provocative moving of the US embassy.

Earlier, Labour’s Emily Thornberry condemned a “horrific massacre”.

Here in New Zealand: NZ condemns Israel’s actions along Gaza border

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, on behalf of the government, raised concerns directly to the ambassador in New Zealand.

The violence showed that the decision by the US to open the new embassy was counter to efforts to find a peaceful resolution in the region, she said.

“At the time when the United States announced they’d be moving their representation to Jerusalem we stated strongly that we did not think that would take us closer to peace, and it hasn’t,” Ms Ardern said.

New Zealand also voted on a United Nations resolution emphasising the view that there should be a two-state solution, she said.

“This is a hotly contested issue within that peace process and as we’ve seen the results of the protest along the border of Gaza have been devastating.”

Ms Ardern was asked for her view on comments made by Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyadh Mansour, who said the Israeli action violated international law.

“It is the right of any nation to defend their border but this is a devastating, one-sided loss of life; we would condemn the violence that has occurred,” Ms Ardern said.

“And I think it’s plain to see the effects of this decision and the ramifications are wide reaching.”

That’s a fairly diplomatic response that acknowledges the complexities and the spread of blame for violence.

However the Greens have a more one-sided view:

And:

It’s a bloody mess with both Israel and Hamas in part responsible for the escalation.

Jerusalem Post – NO HOLDS BARRED: JERUSALEM ON FIRE WITH GRATITUDE TO PRESIDENT TRUMP

President Donald Trump has electrified the State of Israel with the embassy move. You have to see the excitement on the streets, especially Jerusalem, to understand the depth of gratitude. Flags are flying from every street light. Massive signs around the capital show the American and Israeli flags intertwined with giant thank yous to President Trump.

In a single week President Trump has not only established America’s embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, but also rid America of the shame of the Iran nuclear deal, which completely overlooked all of Iran’s sins. In doing so, he has created the potential for reining in the rogue regime in Tehran, curbing the ascendance of radical Islamists and advancing a foreign policy that recognizes evil and holds belligerent government accountable. Simultaneously, Trump has emerged as a great champion of the Jewish people and a protector of Israel.

A cynic could wonder whether the escalations against Iran and the Palestinians has been a deliberate plan by Israel, with Trump a willing partner.

It’s hard to see this turning out well. The violence in Gaza suggests it is more likely to get worse.

It’s worth looking back at a speech by Trump at Fort Dodge, Iowa: ““I would bomb the shit out of ’em. I would just bomb those suckers.”

It looks like Trump has been sucked into the Middle East mire.

 

 

 

Trump slaps Middle East peace

In a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Donald Trump has given hopes of advances in Middle East peace talks a slap, ruling out dealing with the Palestinians unless they do what he wants.

Does this mean his son-in-law Jarod Kushner will be reassigned from his Middle East peace mission?

Last month:  Donald Trump has a plan to bring peace to the Middle East – he just can’t reveal it, says Jared Kushner

President Donald Trump’s push for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians stems from a belief that his broader goals of stopping Iranian aggression and Islamic extremism will not be possible without it, presidential adviser Jared Kushner said in a rare public appearance on Sunday.

“If we’re going to try to create more stability in the region as a whole, you have to solve this issue,” Kushner told Middle East experts gathered at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum. Trump, he said, “sees this as something that has to be solved.”

But nearly a year after Trump named Kushner, his son-in-law and senior White House aide, as point person for what he called “the ultimate deal,” there has been no public indication of where the initiative is heading.

“We’ve solicited a lot of ideas from a lot of places,” Kushner said. “There is obviously a lot of speculation… ‘There is a plan, what is it? Are these four points in or out?’

“We all kind of laugh and say, OK, we’re just not going to play the guessing game… We know what’s in the plan. The Palestinians know what discussions we’ve had with them, the Israelis know.”

Jerusalam Post: TRUMP: IF PALESTINIANS DON’T WANT PEACE, U.S. HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM

Unless the Palestinian Authority shows that it wants to make peace, the US will “not have anything to do with them any longer,” US President Donald Trump said Thursday in Davos before meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I can tell you, Israel does want to make peace, and they [the Palestinians] are going to have to want to make peace too, or we aren’t going to have anything to do with them any longer,” Trump said, sitting next to Netanyahu. “This was not brought up by other negotiators, but it is brought up by me.“

Is this another case of Trump making things difficult for his Middle East peace team led by Kushner?

Trump did not hide his anger toward the Palestinians for snubbing Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Israel this week, saying that the US will withhold aid funds to them until they return to negotiations.

The Palestinians, he said, “disrespected us” by not “allowing our great vice president to see them, and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid support.”

That money, Trump said, will not go to the Palestinians “unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Time will tell what happens to the peace process, Trump said, “but respect has to be shown to the US, or we just are not going any further.”

Respect generally needs to be earned, not demanded with ultimatums.

Trump said that the US has a peace proposal, which he characterized as “a great proposal for the Palestinians” and a “very good proposal for Israel.”

He said the proposal “covers a lot of the things that were over the years discussed and agreed on.”

The fact is, he said, “ there were never any deals that came close because you could never get past Jerusalem.”

Trump dismissed critics saying that his Jerusalem decision set back peace, saying that he enhanced the chances of peace by taking the toughest issue off the table.

The issue of Jerusalem hasn’t been taken off the table by Trump, he has inflamed it.

Not surprisingly responses have not been complimentary.

In response to Trump’s words, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said: “If the issue of Jerusalem remains off the table, America will remain away from the table.”

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also responded to Trump’s comments, saying: “Today’s message is clear: President Trump is blackmailing and punishing the Palestinian people for fighting and believing in their freedom and human rights per international law and UN resolutions. President Trump could buy many things with his money, but he won’t be able to buy the dignity of our nation.”

“This is not a game for the people of Palestine. It is about our very existence that continues to be denied by Israel with full US support,” Erekat continued.

“As the US Administration insists to continue promoting international anarchy and rewarding violations of international law, we will continue to use all available political, diplomatic and legal venues in order to achieve the long overdue rights of the Palestinian people, most importantly our right to self-determination.”

Middle East peace was always going to be difficult to achieve. Kushner’s job looks to be a bit harder still now, unless this was his plan all along.

The Trump card peace in the Middle East?

President Donald Trump is starting his visit to the Middle East in Saudi Arabia this weekend (he has arrived in Saudi Arabia). One of his aims is to encourage and help Israel and Arab countries work towards more peaceful relationships. If Trump achieves this he will have done very well, because peace in the Middle East has been long sought after but unattainable.

Obviously this is peace involving Israel, but I presume civil wars in Syria and Yemen and the ongoing problems, especially with ISIS and Al Qaeda, in Iraq and Afghanistan, will also be on the agenda.

A different approach to Israel-Arab peace is certainly worthwhile, a lot has been tried and failed already.

Wall Street Journal: Trip to Test Trump’s Ambition for Middle East Peace

President is exploring a solution that is based on cooperation between Israel and Arab countries

President Donald Trump faces a set of early challenges to his aspirations for a regional solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he begins his first international trip.

Typically Trump is confident.

The Atlantic: Trump: Middle East Peace Is ‘Not as Difficult as People Have Thought’

One of Donald Trump’s great strengths is his ability to project confidence and bravado nearly constantly. The president is sometimes peevish, and he sometimes lashes out, but he seldom seems glumly resigned.

Who else, in the middle of a rough stretch of his presidency (one that, arguably, has persisted since Inauguration Day) could blithely assert that he would solve the most famously unsolvable problem in international diplomacy? Yet there was Trump Wednesday afternoon, appearing with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and promising to bring peace in the Middle East.

“We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done,” Trump said. “We will be working so hard to get it done. I think there is a very good chance and I think we will.”

At a lunch later on, he was even bolder: “It is something that I think is frankly, maybe, not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”

Haaretz: Trump’s Plan for Middle East Peace Is to Do the Opposite of Everything Obama Did

Crazy as it may sound, Trump’s haphazard approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may succeed where Obama’s by-the-book route failed.

Here’s one thing Barack Obama and Donald Trump have in common. Both of them believed early in their presidency that they would be the U.S. president to bring peace to Middle East. In his United Nations General Assembly address in September 2010, Obama felt confident enough to say that “when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”

We all know how that ended. But Trump of course is not deterred. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on the day after his election victory, he called Israel-Palestinian peace “the ultimate deal,” and said that “as a deal maker, I’d like to do … the deal that can’t be made. And do it for humanity’s sake.”

But here’s where all similarities end. The two presidents may have shared the same goal, but so far, Trump is going about achieving it in exactly the opposite way that Obama did. And as crazy as it may sound, on this issue at least, Trump’s haphazard approach may actually have more chance of success than Obama’s.

After decades of fruitless engagement, all the American by-the-book diplomacy in the region has failed to yield results. Trump’s unique style of diplomacy will at least make a change.

That’s not to say, of course, that there’s anywhere near a good chance of an Israel-Palestine peace treaty being reached. The issues on the ground remain as intractable as ever and ultimately it will be the two sides who have to bridge their wide differences – no outsider, not even the president of the United States can do it for them. And besides, Trump is very likely to be totally sucked in soon by the political turmoil at home and have no time for any foreign policy whatsoever.

But in the meantime, before yet another president calls time on the peace process, it’s worthwhile to consider how this new and unorthodox approach may actually be better.

Trump sees it as a glittering prize

Obama wanted an Israeli-Palestinian agreement for the best reasons in the world, he wanted an end to hatred and bloodshed and to bring peace, prosperity and justice to all sides in the region. He dealt with the process rationally, reaching the conclusion toward the end of his administration that the U.S. couldn’t want a deal more than the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Trump’s approach to the conflict, like to many other thorny issues that he is only now beginning to grasp, is visceral. He hasn’t weighed the pros and cons and won’t think through his chances of success. He wants the glittering prize, to prove that the master deal maker can deliver the “ultimate deal” that has eluded everyone else. It will probably blow up in his face – but he could also be the one to go the extra mile.

Trump won’t play by the rules

Despite all his frustration with Netanyahu, Obama never broke the unwritten rules of the U.S.-Israel relationship. He didn’t threaten Israel that it would lose America’s financial, diplomatic or military support, and signed the largest aid deal ever with Jerusalem just before he left office. Just like every president in the last three-and-a-half decades. He also vetoed every UN Security Council resolution criticizing Israel, except the last one of his administration. Previous presidents did so much earlier in their term.

Trump has no rule book. He may still move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, he may abandon the two-state solution, and – in a fit of anger over Israeli intransigence – he may just threaten to withhold aid. The last president who seriously pressured Israel to make concessions was Jimmy Carter, who, for all his many faults, delivered the peace deal with Egypt. Maybe Trump will break the rules again?

A different approach may work, and may be worth trying, but there are risks in a volatile region.

Trump will be here for only 24 hours but he’s going all out to create a lasting impression. There will be the first visit of a serving U.S. president to the Western Wall, which is certain to create a thousand headlines and tweets on “Trump’s Wall.” And then, of course, there’s the backdrop he chose for his signature speech: From the cliffs of Masada it really doesn’t matter what he’ll say. We won’t forget it.

At the end of the day, once Air Force One takes off into the sunset, it will probably change nothing for us remaining behind, but this is a region where grand gestures sometimes work better than quiet and patient behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

But some Israeli hope and optimism that something different is at least worth a try it won’t be easy.

AlJazeera: Palestinians expect nothing good from Trump

As President Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met on May 3, Palestinians held their breath, but not because we expectеd any progress towards just and comprehensive peace to emerge from the meeting. Quite the opposite.

First, Trump’s bias towards Israel’s far-right regime of occupation and apartheid does not bode well for bringing about respect for international law and human rights principles.

The US has been arming Israel’s wars on Palestinians and Arabs, and generously funding and protecting Israel’s system of oppression, well before Trump. Obama, after all, has committed a record $38bn in military aid to Israel over ten years, even as domestic health, education and employment programmes face severe cuts across the US.

But Trump takes this decades-old US complicity to the next level.

Take Israel’s settlements built on occupied Palestinian and Syrian land as an example. Despite recent rhetoric to the contrary, Trump stands out in politically and financially supporting them, when almost the whole world considers them as flagrantly illegal under international law and as a fatal obstacle to “peace”.

Trump also frequently refers to Israel’s policies to justify his own, whether on ethnic profiling, the refugee and Muslim ban, or the racist wall with Mexico, which Benjamin Netanyahu openly champions.

Trump’s Middle East team must be the most dishonest broker in the history of US “peacemaking”. Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman explicitly support Israel’s fanatical, settler-influenced government, with Kushner and Friedman deeply invested in financing extremist settlement groups.

One has to be clinically delusional or irreparably opportunistic to expect any good to come out of this administration in the pursuit of freedom, justice and equal rights for Palestinians.

Bringing Israel and the Palestinians together in a peaceful solution has huge challenges for the very inexperienced Trump and his inexperienced administration, but perhaps it will prove to be easier than achieving peace and progress at home in US politics.

One of Trump’s first big Middle East publicity events is a curious way to kick off a peace mission.

Fox News: Trump in Saudi Arabia signs $110B arms deal with Persian Gulf ally

President Trump in Saudi Arabia on Saturday signed a nearly $110 billion arms deal to help the Persian Gulf ally with its military-defense system.

“That was a tremendous day,” Trump said after signing the deal with Saudi leader King Salman. “Tremendous investments in the United States. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The White House says the package includes defense equipment and other support to help the Arab nation and the rest of the Gulf region fight again terrorism and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, according to the White House.

Multitasking on a foreign trip is fine, but major military backing of an US ally (a country complicit in 911 and influencing conflicts through the Middle East) might not go down well with everyone.

Shouldn’t Iran be a part of any peace process?