UPDATED | Mike Pence Just Confirmed America’s Exit From the Mideast Peace Process

Such a rush of newsworthy developments coming out of the Israel-Palestine sphere these days — one hardly knows where to grab hold! I’ve almost given up trying to deal with them in order, so the following will suffice for today.

Commentator Sam Bahour (yes, he’s a Palestinian-American) gives his take on the US vice president’s Zionist sermon before the Israeli Knesset on Monday. In my opinion, Bahour hits the right notes: America should stop pretending to be an “honest broker” spearheading some non-existent “peace process”. In light of the United State’s official, unabashed love-fest with the State of Israel, the Palestinians have good reason to feel desperation. As for the world community, in their search for creative solutions and leadership in this arena, they absolutely must look elsewhere, not to the USA.

The text of Bahour’s opinion piece, as published in the Israeli daily Haaretz appears in full below. The full text of Pence’s speech can be found HERE.

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Mike Pence Just Confirmed America’s Exit From the Mideast Peace Process

When Pence says: ‘We stand with Israel. Your cause is our cause, your fight is our fight’, it’s clear America is only interested in offering Israel blind political support and abandoning the Palestinians. Real peace must now mean circumventing the U.S. administration

by SAM BAHOUR / 24 JAN 2018

U.S. Vice President Pence couldn’t have said it more clearly.

“I am here to convey one simple message. America stands with Israel. We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight,” he said Monday in Israel’s Knesset.

He doubled down on the Trump administration’s plan to move its embassy to Jerusalem, and repeated, mantra-like, the claim that the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was justified as “fact”. The word “Palestinian” was barely mentioned, and “Palestine” – not at all.

Pence also said the U.S. would support a two-state solution, but only if both sides support it – echoing Trump’s comments at his Jerusalem announcement. The meaning? The U.S. is Continue reading

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“May Your Home Be Destroyed”

Those were the words hurled at the US president by Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) in a rambling, defiant speech before the PLO Central Council on January 14th. It is said to be one of the milder curses in the repertoire of Arabic invective, as Israeli commentator Uri Avnery explains in his illuminating article, highlighted below.

Abbas 14 JAN 2018

Mahmoud Abbas addressing the PLO Central Council, 14 JAN 2018. (Source: MEMRI-TV)

As usual, Uri Avnery shoots from the hip and connects all the right dots in providing interpretation and context for this event: First, Trump’s appointment early on of two ardent, settler-connected Zionists to key diplomatic positions as US ambassador and overseer of some imagined “peace” negotiations — Trump’s own bankruptcy attorney and his son-in-law, respectively. Then there was Trump’s ill-advised proclamation of Jerusalem — an undifferentiated and undefined “Jerusalem” — as the capital of the State of Israel last month, and his administration’s plans to move the US Embassy there.

Key points in Abbas’ speech: There is no “peace process” and hasn’t been for a long time. Oslo — a terrible deal for the Palestinians that succeeded only in institutionalizing the Occupation — is likewise dead. Further, the United States is not capable, and has never been, of serving as honest broker in dealings between Israel and her Palestinian neighbors — it is simply too aligned with Israeli interests in a host of ways. Thus, Mr. Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” (whatever he had in mind, if he actually had any inkling at all) — deserves to be treated as a cynical farce, a non-starter.

Anyway, I’ll let Uri Avnery tell the story in his own inimitable way. A fixture on the Israeli scene for most of his 90-plus years, Avney displays his usual amazing grasp of the region’s history, of the personalities and issues involved, and of the minds of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

You can find video excerpts of Abbas’ Jan. 14 speech (with English captions), plus an English text version, on this web-page from MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Here is the story of Abbas’ speech from the Times of Israel

Uri Avnery’s article, reproduced in full below, is found on-line HERE.

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May Your Home Be Destroyed

by URI AVNERY / 20 JAN 2018

WHEN I first met Yasser Arafat in besieged Beirut, in the summer of 1982, Abu Mazen was not present. But when I met him again in Tunis, a few months later, he asked me to meet Abu Mazen, too.

Abu Mazen, it transpired, was the Fatah leader in charge of Israeli matters.

MY FIRST impression of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) was that he was the exact opposite of Arafat. He looked like a schoolmaster.

Arafat was an outgoing type, who liked to embrace and kiss people and to establish close relations from the outset. Abu Mazen was much more reserved and withdrawn. Yet I liked his personality.

Even then, more than 35 years ago, he belonged to the first rank of the Fatah and PLO leadership, side by side with people like Abu Jihad (who was killed by Israel), Abu Iyad (who was killed by Palestinian extremists), Farouk Kaddoumi (who objected to Oslo and was excluded).

I met with Abu Mazen every time I visited Arafat in Tunis. When I heard that Continue reading

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5,000 Years of Jerusalem History–in Under 3 Minutes | VIDEO

OK, so there are a few gaps, and it’s a little short on details in places… BUT how would you do if presented with the same challenge? What would you include? More importantly, perhaps: What would you leave out?

This little animated story is offered by the Emek Shaveh organization, whose goal has always been to counter the abuse of historical narrative, and especially of archaeology, in the service of exclusionary, nationalistic ends. (Their website is a trove of useful resources, and the educational bus/walking tours they conduct in/around Jerusalem (for a donation) are well worth connecting with.)

So, the message of the little film is simple: that Jerusalem today is — and should be — the product and reflection of all the cultures and peoples that, throughout history, have contributed to its rich and colorful mosaic.

When I used to guide people in Jerusalem, one of my favorite nuggets of wisdom about the place consisted of just three words: Continue reading

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Get Ready to Ride the ‘Trump Train’ to the Western Wall Plaza! | VIDEO

Despite my somewhat snarky headline, this is NOT fake news but absolutely real.

First, a few days ago Israel’s Minister of Transport, Yisrael Katz, announced a planned extension of the country’s new fast rail line. The projected final link carries a $700 million-plus price-tag and will traverse the 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the western edge of the city to the Western Wall Plaza completely by tunnel, deep beneath the city of Jerusalem. No time-frame was stated for the project, which still faces permitting and other hurdles, so its realization obviously lies some years away.

The news reports state that the segment will begin at Jerusalem’s brand new main rail station, a cavernous 80-meter-deep installation — it can double as a bomb shelter — near the International Convention Center (Binyanei HaUma). Along its route toward the Old City, the link will serve one intermediate station in the “city center”, near the junction of Jaffa Road and King George Street. And reports place the terminus at the Cardo, “several dozen meters from the Western Wall” (which can only mean the “Lower” or “Eastern” Cardo uncovered by excavations over the past dozen years or so and indeed situated at the rear of the expansive Western Wall Plaza).

trump at western wallAnd, the kicker: The final station is to be named for the current U.S. president, Continue reading

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Destabilizing the Middle East: Within the Sunni world, an unlikely player pulls the strings

Is Israel seeking role as leader of the Sunni bloc?

 

Leaked cable shows Israel told diplomats to support Saudi Arabia’s war of words with Iran and Lebanese group Hezbollah

Israel has instructed its overseas embassies to lobby their respective host countries in support of Saudi Arabia and its apparent efforts to destabilise Lebanon, a recently leaked diplomatic cable shows.

The cable appears to be the first formal confirmation of rumours that Israel and Saudi Arabia are colluding to stoke tensions in the region.

Sent by the Israeli foreign ministry and disclosed by Israel’s Channel 10 news this week, the cable demanded that diplomats stress Iran and Hezbollah’s engagement in “regional subversion”.

That closely echoes accusations Riyadh levelled against Tehran and the Lebanese faction in recent days.

Analysts have noted that diplomatic moves by Israel to intervene directly in a seemingly internal Arab matter are “very rare”.

Yossi Alpher, a former adviser to Ehud Barak when he was Israeli prime minister, called the cable “extremely presumptuous”.

“Do the Saudis really need Israel to put in a good word for them in capitals around the world?” he told Al Jazeera.

But others believe Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who also heads the foreign ministry that issued the cable, may be looking to gain from an uptick in uncertainty in the region.

War of words

The cable comes as Saudi Arabia has dramatically escalated its rhetoric against Iran and Hezbollah.

On Thursday, the Saudi foreign ministry told its nationals to leave Lebanon immediately after it accused Hezbollah earlier in the week of “declaring war” on the kingdom.

That followed the resignation of Saad Hariri as Lebanon’s prime minister. A politician with close personal and business ties to Saudi Arabia, Hariri announced his departure while in Riyadh.

He accused Iran of building “a state within a state” in Lebanon through Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia group which is represented in the parliament and has a strong military wing.

There are widespread suspicions that Riyadh ordered Hariri to step down as a way to destablise Lebanon, whose complex and fragile political set-up has struggled to contain sharp sectarian divisions.

Saudi Arabia has also implicated Hezbollah in the launching of what it sayswas an Iranian-made rocket from Yemen that was intercepted over Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has been waging a war in Yemen against the Houthis, a Shia minority, and has accused Iran of fomenting and supporting the Houthis.

The diplomatic cable

The leaked cable instructed Israeli diplomats “to stress that the Hariri resignation shows how dangerous Iran and Hezbollah are for Lebanon’s security”.

The diplomats were told to appeal to the “highest officials” in their host countries to press for Hezbollah’s expulsion from the Lebanese government. “Hariri’s resignation proves wrong the argument that Hezbollah participation in the government stabilises Lebanon,” the cable said.

It further called on Israeli diplomats to back Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen, emphasising that the missile directed at Riyadh required “more pressure on Iran and Hezbollah”.

Menachem Klein, a politics professor at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, said that it was likely Netanyahu expected and wanted the cable to go public.

“If you send a diplomatic cable and start lobbying every foreign capital, you have to expect that it won’t remain private for long,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Netanyahu’s aim was to make clear to the Saudis that he can help. The message is, ‘We have special relations with Western countries and we can help you advance your political goals against Iran and Hezbollah, which we share’.”

Risking confrontation

But some say Israel risks being jostled by Saudi Arabia into an unnecessary and dangerous confrontation with Hezbollah as the result of what Israeli commentator Amos Harel this week described as Riyadh’s “ambitious attempt to reach a new regional order”.

In a column in Israeli daily Haaretz this week, Daniel Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, argued that the Saudis were trying to move the battlefield from Syria to Lebanon after their failure to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

A six-year civil war there has dragged in a range of proxies.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have meddled in different ways in Syria during the war, with the barely concealed intention of weakening the Assad government and assisting rebel forces dominated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL) and al-Qaeda affiliates.

However with Russian help, Assad has shored up his rule across much of the country in recent months, and the last major strongholds of the rebel groups have collapsed.

Neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia can afford to get more directly involved in Syria, given Russia’s involvement.

Shapiro warned Israel to be wary of Riyadh’s efforts to push it prematurely into a confrontation with Hezbollah, which could rapidly escalate into a regional war.

Threat to nuclear accord

A diplomatic source with long experience in the Middle East said the cable might ultimately prove to be just such a misstep.

“The Israelis will certainly be listened to because they have the best military intelligence in the region,” said the source, speaking to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

“Europe, in particular, is very concerned about the growing numbers of refugees coming their way from the region, many of them through Lebanon. Any information Israel provides about changes to the delicate balance of power in Lebanon, or the likelihood of a war, will ring alarm bells.”

The source said Israel would be hoping to capitalise on these concerns by persuading European countries to toughen their stance towards Iran, especially in relation to the Iranian nuclear accord.

Signed between Iran and the P5 1 countries, the deal led to the loosening of Western diplomatic sanctions on the Iranian regime two years ago.

“Both Israel and the Saudis want to see the nuclear deal collapse, but Israel is better placed than Riyadh to demonise Iran,” said the source.

Lebanon vulnerable?

Analysts have suggested that renewed sectarian conflict in Lebanon – a possible outcome of Hariri’s resignation – could also leave it more vulnerable to Israeli aggression.

In September, in a sign that Israel may be preparing for a confrontation on its northern border, the Israeli army held its biggest military drill in 20 years, simulating an invasion of Lebanon.

Hezbollah, however, is widely assumed to be armed with tens of thousands of rockets and missiles. So far, that has acted as a deterrent to a repeat of Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Lebanon in 2006.

Still, Israel and Saudi Arabia appear interested in cementing their alliance and shifting attention towards Lebanon – and away from Syria.

Israel has launched more than 100 air strikes on Syrian government and military targets in recent years, according to Reuters news agency estimates, largely on the grounds that it was preventing the transfer of weapons technology from Iran to Hezbollah.

A field hospital established by the Israeli army in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights has treated wounded Islamist fighters and returned them to Syria, the UN has documented.

The UN has also observed the Israeli army passing “boxes” to Islamist fighters that were widely assumed to contain weapons.

Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist, noted that Israel has become increasingly open about its attacks in Syria, taking responsibility for them to a degree not seen before.

“The risk of escalation lies in the fact that everyone wants someone else to fight Iran for them. Israel wants the US to do it, while the Saudis want Israel to attack Iran or proxies like Hezbollah,” he said.

‘Coalition-building’

Sheizaf told Al Jazeera the cable appears to be “part of Israeli efforts at coalition-building with Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf states”.

He said: “Israel understands that the Saudis lost to Iran in Syria and Yemen, and now they need an ally with the military and diplomatic power that Israel can provide.”

Netanyahu indicated as much in recent comments when he said Israel was working “very hard” to establish an alliance with “modern Sunni states” to counter Iran.

Jeff Halper, an Israeli analyst, suggested that Israel had even grander ambitions.

“As strange this sounds, the cable shows how Israel is becoming the unlikely leader of the Sunni world,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Saudi Arabia has found it can’t even defeat the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It needs the things Israel can offer – Israel’s military might, its legitimacy in Europe and the US, its influence in the US Congress. Israel has the kind of clout internationally the Saudis want but simply don’t have.”  [END]

 

Related, by Jonathan Cook:

“Israel maintains robust arms trade with rogue regimes”

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UPDATED | This Always Makes America’s Political Leadership Lose Their Senses | VIDEO

Debt Supercommittee What NextI know — LOTS of things do! Like the accrual of power and influence, the smell of money — big money, and of course the fear of not being re-elected. But this thing is unimaginably powerful. It’s strong enough to cause scores of U.S. senators and representatives — probably one or more of yours — to propose legislation that is clearly unconstitutional, seeking to impose severe criminal penalties for the free exercise of commerce and, by implication, for exercising the First Amendment right of free speech. What is this thing that makes our leaders go crazy?

Continue reading

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UPDATED | What’s an Arts and Crafts Retail Chain Doing Dabbling in Antiquities???

Capture

Hobby Lobby To Forfeit Smuggled Iraqi Antiquities

by RICHARD GONZALES, NPR / July 5, 2017

Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based chain of arts and crafts retail stores, has agreed to pay a $3 million fine and forfeit thousands of ancient clay tablets and clay bullae that were smuggled into the United States with improper labels.

The announcement by the Justice Department says Hobby Lobby bought over 5,500 artifacts, such as clay tablets and blocks with cuneiform writing, and cylinder seals for $1.6 million. The artifacts were shipped to the company from Iraq through the United Arab Emirates and Israel with labels that described them as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample).”

In a statement, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said the company “was new to the world of acquiring these items, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process. This resulted in some regrettable mistakes.”

“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” he said.

But the Justice Department prosecutors say the company should have realized that its acquisition of the artifacts “was Continue reading

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