The Day In Israel: Tuesday Dec 8th, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Syria is now willing to negotiate without preconditions, having retracted its earlier insistence that talks could not begin unless Israel first agreed to withdraw from the entire Golan Heights.

“But when I met with Sarkozy [last month], he told me the Syrians are ready to waive this precondition but do not want to negotiate directly, only via a mediator,” Netanyahu said. “I replied to Sarkozy, ‘I prefer direct negotiations, but if the Syrians want mediation, you mediate.'”

Sarkozy, the premier continued, said the Syrians prefer Turkish mediation. But Netanyahu responded that an “honest broker” is needed, and he is “not certain” the Turks fit the bill given their behavior since Israel’s war in Gaza nearly a year ago.

Well, if we can get to the point where France is considered an “honest broker”, I guess peace with Syria is possible.

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)

10:46PM: The Israeli government is set to vote tomorrow on an amendment to a law obligating a national referendum be held if Israel is faced with withdrawing from the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem, after the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs rejected an appeal  submitted by Minister Dan Meridor against such a bill.

8:05PM: Read the moving story of how ‘Yusuf’ went from Arab child to Barmitzvah boy.

8:00PM: Ha’aretz reports:

Queen Elizabeth the Second will award The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire to two Israelis for their part in helping to strengthen the ties between Israel and Britain, Israel Radio reported on Tuesday.

Bill and Ted were unavailable for comment.

7:35PM: Quote of the day:

“The peace process in the Middle East is not like IKEA furniture. It takes more than a screw and a hammer, it takes a true understanding of the constraints and sensitivities of both sides, and in that Sweden failed miserably.”

– An unnamed Israeli official

Other Swedish things the peace process is not like:

  • Volvos  – it is not safe (although it is proving to be ugly)
  • Swedish Meatballs – it does not leave a good taste in the mouth
  • Porn – although I do get the distinct feeling we are getting screwed

7:32PM: Israel’s response to the EU resolution:

The statement by the Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Union ignores the primary obstacle to achieving a resolution between Israel and the Palestinians – the Palestinian refusal to return to the negotiating table. Given the Israel Government’s efforts to renew the negotiations, Israel regrets that the EU has chosen to adopt a text that even if it contains nothing new, does not contribute to the renewal of negotiations.

In light of the extreme draft originally presented by the Swedish presidency at the start of discussions, Israel does welcome the fact that in the end the voices of the responsible and reasonable EU states prevailed, balancing  and improving  the text. We also welcome the recognition given to the measures and efforts taken by Israel to enable the resumption of negotiations; to the statement regarding the continued development and expansion of relations between Israel and the EU; to the recognition of the severity of the problem posed by Hamas’ armaments; and to the EU’s expression of commitment to the security of Israel and its full integration in the area.

It could be expected that the EU act to promote direct negotiations between the parties, while considering  Israel’s security needs and understanding that Israel’s Jewish character must be preserved in any future agreement.

6:06PM: Shimon Peres has launched his new YouTube channel.

Peres announced his new channel at a press conference at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, along with Chad Hurley, founder of YouTube, who is currently visiting Israel.

Peres announced that his YouTube channel will be used to communicate with people in countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations. The channel will also host virtual press conferences where Web surfers will be invited to ask the president questions.

Peres extends an invitation to dialogue on his new channel. “Please join me in finding solutions to three key issues: how to advance peace in the Middle East and the world, how to further reconciliation between different faiths, and how to harness new technologies for the good of mankind,” Peres writes on the site’s main page.

Meanwhile, here is an example of what you will see on it.

And here’s an example of what you won’t.

5:54PM: Earlier today, the EU passed gas a resolution to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and a future palestinian state.

“The EU will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem,” said a draft EU ministerial resolution seen by The Associated Press.

The document also called for the establishment of a Palestinian state comprising the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. “If there is to be [peace] a way has to be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the capital of two states,” it said.

Israel had been concerned that the draft statement, which Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was working hard to pass, prejudged negotiations on Jerusalem and did not make sufficient mention of Israel’s security needs. Nor did it talk about the need for a future Palestinian state to be demilitarized, or for Israel to be a Jewish state.

The Foreign Ministry had warned the move would damage the EU’s ability to be a Mideast mediator.

Most EU ministers appeared supportive of the latest draft, although some said the declaration should not antagonize either party in the dispute at the risk of undermining efforts to restart peace talks.

“I don’t really understand why Israel does not accept that Palestine consists of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem,” Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told journalists. “The Israelis have a right to live in Israel, the Palestinians have a right to live in Palestine.”

Finish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said the EU must affirm its stand on the status of Jerusalem and insist that Israel must not resume settlement building.

“The EU has very strong principles and we have to stick to those principles,” Stubb said. “I think the negotiations, the peace process must simply start and this is a way forward.”

EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor said that the declaration hardly took into account recent Israeli concessions including the 10-month moratorium on settlement building, removing West Bank roadblocks, boosting the Palestinian economy and accepting the premise of a Palestinian state.

“Although the declaration goes some way to correcting the unprecedented proposals by the Swedes, it is still extremely lopsided towards the Palestinian point of view,” Kantor said. “This will only embolden the Palestinians by sending them the message that they don’t need to negotiate because they will receive everything on a silver platter. It also ignores the fact that Israel has repeatedly called for immediate and direct negotiations without preconditions, something repeatedly ignored by the Palestinians.”

“Israel has taken significant steps towards the renewal of talks by its actions, including freezing the settlements, and it is time to push the Palestinians back to the negotiation table, not in the opposite direction,” Kantor added. “Peace can only be achieved by negotiations between the two parties.”

He said the EJC believes that the nature of the declaration stood in contrast to the role of an honest broker that the European Union sought to play.

“Europe could and should play a role in the Middle East peace process but some of the wording in the declaration is counterproductive. We call on the EU to assist the process and not hamper,” Kantor said. “We urge all EU member states to strive for evenhandedness when dealing with the Middle East.”

However, he said that the EJC acknowledged the role played by France, Italy and other nations to soften the original Swedish text.

1:10PM: CAMERA asks Richard Goldstone several specific questions about the substance of the Goldstone report arising from statements made there and subsequent comments he made at Brandeis University.

Goldstone-arity ensues.

Dear Ms. Hollander,

I confirm receipt of your letter. I have no intention of responding to your open letter.

Richard Goldstone

What does that tell you about the substance of the report and the substance of the man? (hat tip: t34zakat)

6:18AM: I’m guessing someone didn’t read the memo.

Smoking palestinian - AP

A hospital worker smokes as he wears a face mask at the at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009 after the Ministry of Health in Gaza confirmed on Sunday that five residents have been infected with the swine flu. (AP)

6:04AM: Bruno’s being sued by a palestinian.

Palestinian grocer from Bethlehem filed suit against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen on Monday, for the sum total of $115 million in libel damages over his film Bruno, which is equal to half of the movie’s gross box office earnings.

According to the London Daily Mail, the Palestinian, Ayman Abu Aita, who is also a peace activist, said that Baron’s depiction of him as a Lebanese terrorist in his recently released and controversial movie has ruined his life.

He has also filed suit against NBC, Universal Studios and famed American talk show host David Letterman for being part of the film which tricked him into meeting Cohen under the false pretext that Cohen was a German producing a film about the Palestinian cause, the Daily Mail reported.

Abu Aita also told the Daily Mail that since the film was released to cinemas this summer, he has received several death threats despite the fact that he is a firm opponent of terrorists.

Cohen is famous for his outrageous characters such as Borat, a Kazakh who travels to the United States in order to find Pamela Anderson, and Bruno, a gay Austrian who wants to regain world recognition by trying to solve the Middle East crisis.

During the scene, Abu Aita was depicted as a leader of the Al-Aqsa Brigades, according to the caption which refered to him as ‘Terrorist group leader, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.’

The scene itself was actually filmed in a hotel on Israeli teritory near Bethlehem.

In July Letterman set out a goal to discover the identity of the man depicted as the terrorist, and traced Abu Aita down through a CIA contact.

Meanwhile, check out this interview with Ayman Abu Aita, and note the last two sentences.

It seems they can’t live with us, can’t live without us.


David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media