The Day In Israel: Thurs July 30th, 2009


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According to Israel’s Channel 10, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has frozen a project for the construction of approximately 900 apartments in East Jerusalem, a day after his meeting with George Mitchell, Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East.

This news comes out on Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar on which we mourn the destruction of the two Temples, and other tragedies primarily involving Israel.

Just saying.

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)

11:15PM: Israel has published an official 160-page report on Operation Cast Lead, which holds Hamas responsible for the need for the operation, and that Israel did not violate international law.

You can read the full report here.

One of the key points in the report is our admission that despite taking precautionary measures, many palestinian civilians were wounded and killed during the operation, but this does not in itself constitute a violation of international law.

9:30PM: Photo of the day:

Palestinian children prepare to fly kites during at an event organized by UNRWA on the Mediterranean beach in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 30, 2009. Thousands of children in the Gaza Strip attempted to set a new world record Thursday by flying colorful homemade kites amid the ruins of Israel’s bruising offensive earlier this year a rare display of joy in the isolated seaside territory ruled by Hamas militants. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Besides the obviously biased caption, did you notice the elephant in the room the caption writer chose not to mention?

Clue: Look at the main kite.

Answer: That’s a picture of the entire land of Israel, not just the land earmarked for a future palestinian state.

It’s good to see UNRWA working towards peace.

4:44PM: IDF General (Res.) Yiftach Ron-Tal, the head of the IDF ground troops during the Gaza disengagement, has said that the decision to evacuate Gaza Strip “settlements” in 2005 was “utter nonsense.”

“Today it is clear to everybody, that what at the time was an argument over a difficult event, was utter nonsense from a security perspective,” he told Army Radio.

4:28PM: From the Department of Your Point Is What Exactly?

Alleged U.S. ‘jihadist’ who targeted Israel known as friendly store owner

When someone in the Raleigh area needed a sheep or goat slaughtered according to Islamic law, Daniel Boyd was the man to see.

4:08PM: Does British chutzpah know no bounds?

Israel is up in arms over a declaration by a British government spokesman that the UK is funding political activity in Israel.

British spokesman Martin Day said in an interview in Dubai with Al-Arabiya television last week that the British government was “taking practical steps towards freezing settlement activities.”

“For instance,” Day said, “we finance projects aimed at halting settlement activities. One of these projects seeks to build new Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and save Palestinian houses from demolition.”

In addition, Day said in an Arabic interview, “we also finance organizations that monitor settlement activities.”

He further stated that “products from the settlements do not enjoy preferential custom duties that we offer to products coming from Israel. In light of this, we can say that we are taking effective and practical steps against settlement activities.”

The Foreign Ministry’s senior deputy director general, Rafi Barak, spoke with British Ambassador Tom Phillips two days ago and asked for an explanation. He met with the British envoy again on Wednesday to again discuss the matter and voice Israel’s displeasure.

Phillips, according to Barak, said he was looking into the matter.

Karen Kaufman, the British Embassy’s spokesman in Tel Aviv, said in response that the British government was “not involved in the actual construction of new Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.”

“The UK is spending £450,000 over 4 years to support projects in east Jerusalem and the West Bank that help Palestinians better understand and effectively use the Israeli planning laws to gain permission both retrospectively for existing homes, and prospectively for new homes on their side of the Green Line,” she said.

Yossi Levy, the ministry’s spokesman for the Hebrew press, characterized Day’s comments as the “height of chutzpah,” and said such activity was “unheard of.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, “We can’t recall any other case of a democratic country funding political activities inside another democratic country.”

Additionally, he said, this makes no sense from their point of view because any political activities they are backing will lose credibility in the eyes of the Israeli public when it is revealed that these activities are funded by a foreign government.

“How would the British feel if another country funded political activities of groups within the UK?” he asked.

Barak’s conversation with Phillips came fast on the heels of revelations that the British, Dutch and Spanish governments were funding Breaking the Silence, an Israeli NGO that recently published a report in which unnamed soldiers alleged IDF misconduct during Operation Cast Lead.

3:28PM: Today’s Washington Post editorial criticizes Obama’s stand on what are commonly known as Jewish “settlements.”

Tough on Israel
Why President Obama’s battle against Jewish settlements could prove self-defeating

One of the more striking results of the Obama administration’s first six months is that only one country has worse relations with the United States than it did in January: Israel. The new administration has pushed a reset button with Russia and sent new ambassadors to Syria and Venezuela; it has offered olive branches to Cuba and Burma. But for nearly three months it has been locked in a public confrontation with Israel over Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank. To a less visible extent, the two governments also have differed over policy toward Iran.

This week a parade of senior U.S. officials has been visiting Jerusalem to tackle the issues: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Middle East envoy George J. Mitchell, national security adviser James L. Jones and senior aide Dennis Ross. But the tensions persist, and public opinion is following: The Pew Global Attitudes Project reported last week that Israel was the only country among 25 surveyed where the public’s image of the United States was getting worse rather than better.

In part the trouble was unavoidable: Taking office with a commitment to pursuing Middle East peace, Mr. Obama faced a new, right-wing Israeli government whose prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has refused to accept the goal of Palestinian statehood. In part it was tactical: By making plain his disagreements with Mr. Netanyahu on statehood and Jewish settlements, Mr. Obama hoped to force an Israeli retreat while building credibility with Arab governments — two advances that he arguably needs to set the stage for a serious peace process.

But the administration also is guilty of missteps. Rather than pocketing Mr. Netanyahu’s initial concessions — he gave a speech on Palestinian statehood and suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted by previous U.S. administrations — Mr. Obama chose to insist on an absolutist demand for a settlement “freeze.” Palestinian and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering the “confidence-building” concessions to Israel that the administration seeks. Israeli public opinion, which normally leans against the settler movement, has rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu. And Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which were active during the Bush administration’s final year, have yet to resume.

U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a compromise that would allow Israel to complete some housing now under construction while freezing new starts for a defined period. Arab states would be expected to take steps in return. Such a deal will expose Mr. Obama to criticism in the Arab world — a public relations hit that he could have avoided had he not escalated the settlements dispute in the first place. At worst, the president may find himself diminished among both Israelis and Arabs before discussions even begin on the issues on which U.S. clout is most needed. If he is to be effective in brokering a peace deal, Mr. Obama will need to show both sides that they can trust him — and he must be tough on more than one country.

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