JERUZALEM, January 9 -- A large Dutch pensions group has reversed its blacklisting of Israeli banks from 2014.
PGGM had divested from all five leading Israeli banks over “ethical concerns” pertaining to their presence or actions in the West Bank, disputed territory where Palestinians are the majority but where hundreds of thousands of Israelis also live. The decision to blacklist was seen as a major victory for advocates of attempts to boycott Israel.
JERUZALEM, January 8 -- On January 5, Israel officially ceased to belong to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), based in Paris, of which it had been a part since 1949.
The decision of the Israeli State, although it was announced in October of last year, has become effective on 5 January. Both Israel and the US have complained repeatedly, since the entry of the Palestinian National Authority as a government, of what they consider "positions favorable to the Palestinians." Indeed, UNESCO has adopted various decisions in recent years, in its areas of responsibility favorable to Palestinian claims, and last May declared Israel as an "occupation power".
The abandonment of UNESCO by Israel as a so-called measure of force is rather a sign of failure on the part of their diplomacy aimed at imposing their positions (with the support of the US), which was the usual attitude. It should be noted that the Director of Unesco is elected by the member countries and their decisions and practices are fully agreed with them.
ZAGREB, January 3 -- Croatia urged Israel to overcome a rare disagreement with the U.S. and confirm whether it can carry through on a deal to sell 12 used F-16 fighter jets, adding that otherwise the purchase will be annulled.
Croatia's Defense Ministry said it needs an answer from Israel by Jan. 11. The tentative $500 million deal to buy the upgraded F-16 Barak fighter jets from Israel was made in March last year pending U.S. approval allowing Israel to sell the American-made jets to a third party. The deal ran into trouble after the U.S. State Department hinted that Israel needs to strip off the upgrades that were added after Israel bought the planes from the U.S. some 30 years ago. Israel has upgraded the jets with sophisticated electronic and radar systems, which was crucial in Croatia's decision to buy the planes from Israel rather than from the U.S. "If the planes are not in accordance with what we have agreed, the deal will not be carried out and we will have another purchase bid," Croatia's parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic said.
Relations between the Trump administration and Israel have been very close, particularly on defense issues. But the sale of the jets to Croatia appear to be one of the rare disagreements between the two countries. They were not overcome even after a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday in Brazil, according to the Israeli media. "We are expecting final and clear stands from both Israel and the United States on this issue and then we will make a final decision," Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said. The deal is Croatia's largest single military purchase since it split from the Yugoslav federation in the 1991-95 war.
NATO member Croatia faces a mini arms race with Russian ally Serbia, which recently received six used Russian MiG-29 fighter jets.
VATICAN CITY, December 25 -- Pope Francis says people should ignore the hoarding and materialism of Christmas and focus on its message of charity and love.
As he celebrated Christmas Eve mass in St Peter's Basilica on Monday night, Pope Francis said: "An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when paradoxically a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive." The 82-year-old pope, who leads the world's 1.3 billion Catholics, said people should seek "not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity". In comments reported by Vatican News, he said that if people spent their lives being selfish then their heart would "remain barred to God's light". He added: "Today too, the road is uphill: the heights of our selfishness need to be surmounted, and we must not lose our footing or slide into worldliness and consumerism."
The message continues a theme of supporting the world's poor that has been central to Pope Francis's five years in the role. He has previously spoken against the world's financial system, blaming it for making the rich richer at the expense of the poor. Last year his Christmas Eve message focused on migrants, with him urging the world not to forget the plight of millions of people driven from their homes.
JERUZALEM, December 24-- Israel will hold an early election in April, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday after weeks of wrangling and infighting within the cabinet.
"The leaders of the coalition decided unanimously to dissolve parliament and go to a new election in early April," the spokesman said, quoting from a statement issued by Netanyahu's political partners after a meeting on Monday morning. A coalition crisis over a military conscription bill affecting exemptions from compulsory service for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men led to the decision. His government was pushed close to collapse in November by the resignation of hardline defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, who opposed longtime ceasefire talks with Hamas.
Lieberman stepped down after Netanyahu decided to accept a truce to stop an escalation in November that killed 15 Palestinians and one Israeli, instead of continuing strikes on the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu's education minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the right-wing Jewish Home party, then threatened to withdraw from the coalition if he was not handed Lieberman's post but ultimately stayed even after Netanyahu assumed the defence portfolio himself. Netanyahu, now in his fourth term as prime minister has been governing with a razor-thin majority of 61 seats in the 120-member parliament. He heads the right-wing Likud party. Under Israeli law, a national election had to be held by November 2019.
WASHINGTON, December 24 -- The order to withdraw American troops from Syria has been signed, the US military said Sunday, after President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart agreed to prevent a power vacuum in the wake of the controversial move.
The announcement that US troops would leave the civil war-racked country -- where they have been deployed to assist in the multinational fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group -- shocked global partners and American politicians alike. "The execute order for Syria has been signed," a US military spokesperson said when asked about the withdrawal order, without providing further details.
Turkey was a rare ally that lauded Trump's momentous decision on Syria, a country where it will now have a freer rein to target US-allied Kurdish fighters who have played a major role in the war against IS but are deemed terrorists by Ankara. Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone on Sunday and "agreed to ensure coordination between their countries' military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria," the Turkish presidency said in a statement. Late Sunday, Trump tweeted that Erdogan had assured him that any remaining IS fighters in Syria will be eliminated.
"President Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria," Trump said in a Tweet around midnight Sunday, using another acronym for the jihadist group. Repeating a pattern of admiring comments towards global strongmen, Trump added that Erdogan "is a man who can do it."
The US president concluded: "Our troops are coming home!"
JERUZALEM, December 23 -- With funding and direction from Iran, Hamas has raised its flag in the Palestinian Authority capital of Ramallah.
Where it hopes to kill two birds with one stone: Attack Israel and topple PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Ramallah reverts to a terrorist agenda. Ramallah has suddenly reverted to a terrorist agenda. Hamas has raised its flag in the capital of the Palestinian Authority. There, in that city of spacious homes, which in recent years has attracted banks and business centers and international organizations and embassies, and where accelerated development has resulted in hundreds of high-rise buildings springing up, Hamas is sticking it to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Ramallah and the villages around it, which function as the political and economic center of the PA, strongly identified with the Palestinian elite and wanted cooperation with Israel. This week, they became the site of a hunt for the terrorists who carried out the shooting attacks in Ofra and Givat Asaf. The raids, the encirclement, the capture of homes and the shots fired at protesters – all in the beating heart of the PA, which this week resumed full security coordination with Israel – are the last thing the ailing Abbas needs.
In the middle of all this, between the Jewish settlements Halamish, Nachliel and Atarot, lies the village of Kaubar, a hamlet that raises murderers. Kaubar illustrates how shaky Abbas’ stature has become in the region where his own capital lies. In October 2011, the village hosted a great celebration in honor of four local residents being released from prison in Israel as part of the Hamas-engineered prisoner exchange deal for captive soldier Gilad Schalit. The prisoners included cousins Nael and Fahri Barghouti, who had served over 30 years in prison. In 1978, they stabbed bus driver Moti Yakuel to death as he was driving Palestinian workers home to Kaubar and other local villages. The cousins were welcomed by Omar Barghouti, Nael’s brother, who was also convicted for the murder but had been released as part of the 1985 Jibril Agreement, in which Israel freed over 1,150 security prisoners for three Israelis captured in the First Lebanon War. Nael has since been imprisoned again in Israel for supposedly violating his parole. His wife, Aman, also has a rap sheet. She served time in prison for planning a terrorist attack on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, although it was never carried out. Two of Fahri’s sons also served time in Israeli prisons. Eight years ago, the road that leads to Kaubar was stenciled with stars of David, so that cars could drive over them on their way into the village.
RIYADH, December 1 -- Saudi Arabia stressed on Tuesday that Israeli violations in Palestinian territories will obstruct international efforts to achieve peace.
The Kingdom’s permanent representative to the Arab League Bader bin Saud Al-Toraifi Al-Shammari said: “Stemming from its constant stance on the Palestinian cause, Saudi Arabia condemns the Israeli violations in Palestine and its attacks against unarmed civilians.” He made his remarks before an extraordinary Arab League meeting in Cairo that was aimed at addressing the Palestinian cause. He stressed the need for the international community to assume its responsibilities towards the Palestinian people.
Shammari said that Riyadh rejects the decisions by some countries to relocate their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem. Such a step shows great bias against the Palestinian people’s historic rights and international resolutions that recognize their rights, he added. Brazil's president-elect Jair Bolsonaro announced in November his intention to move his country's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. On Saturday Australia announced its recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel's capital, although a contentious embassy shift from Tel Aviv will not occur until a peace settlement is achieved
SYDNEY, December 16 -- Australia has decided to formally recognize west Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but won't move its embassy until there's a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Saturday.
Morrison said in a speech that Australia would recognize east Jerusalem as Palestine's capital only after a settlement has been reached on a two-state solution. The Australian Embassy won't be moved from Tel Aviv until such a time, he said. While the embassy move is delayed, Morrison said his government would establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and would also start looking for an appropriate site for the embassy.
"The Australian government has decided that Australia now recognizes west Jerusalem, as the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel," Morrison said. He said the decision respects both a commitment to a two-state solution and long-standing respect for relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. Australia becomes the third country to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, following the U.S. and Guatemala.
Unlike its predecessors, however, Australia recognized only the western part of the city. The move, therefore, is unlikely to please either side entirely. For the Palestinians, it offers a partial resolution to an issue that they believe should be resolved through negotiations. That decision is softened, though, by recognizing their claim to east Jerusalem. The Israelis welcome recognition of Jerusalem as their capital, but the Australian decision falls far short of their claim to all of the city. Refusing to include east Jerusalem, home to the city's most important religious sites, is likely to upset Israeli nationalists who dominate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition. Israel's foreign ministry commended Australia's move as "a step in the right direction." In a statement, it also praised the Australian government's stance against anti-Semitism and its pro-Israel position at the U.N. Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat slammed Australia's "irresponsible policies" that led to the recognition.
"The policies of this Australian administration have done nothing to advance the two-state solution," Erekat said in a statement, stressing the Palestinian view that the holy city remains a final-status issue in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have run aground. Morrison had earlier floated the idea that Australia may follow the contentious U.S. move of relocating its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, but it was seen by many Australians as a political stunt. Critics called it a cynical attempt to win votes in a by-election in October for a Sydney seat with a high Jewish population. The consideration had sparked backlash from Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia, threatening a free trade deal that has now been delayed.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the decision to recognize west Jerusalem as Israel's capital but not move the embassy there was a "humiliating backdown" from the October by-election campaign. "What I'm worried is that Mr. Morrison put his political interest ahead of our national interest," Shorten told reporters.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move that is not internationally recognized. Israel considers east Jerusalem an indivisible part of its capital, while the Palestinians seek the area, home to the city's most sensitive holy sites, as the capital of a future state.