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The Day In Israel: Wednesday July 7th, 2010

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama have made nice.

Obama Netanyahu
Reuters

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama met in the White House Tuesday and discussed direct talks, Gaza, Iran and other issues.

“We’re committed to peace, I’m committed to peace,” Netanyahu said. However, the prime minister pointed out that Israel wants security after a peace agreement, saying that the withdrawal from Gaza did not bring that.

“Peace is the best option,” Netanyahu declared.

Netanyahu said that, in order to accomplish this goal, “[Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas and I need to move to direct talks.”

Obama expressed support for Netanyahu, saying “he’s dealing with a complex situation in a tough neighborhood.”

“I believe the prime minister wants peace, two states living side-by-side in peace and security” Obama said. “We expect the proximity talks to lead to direct talks, and there will be a set of confidence-building measures.”

“It’s important that the Palestinians don’t look for excuses for incitement,” Obama pointed out. “Abbas and [PA Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad have done significant things for security in the West Bank – we should extend their powers there. The Palestinian people will appreciate that.”

Obama also asked Iran to “cease its provocative behavior,” and said that “as a consequence of hard work, internationally the toughest sanctions ever have been put on Iran, in addition to [the US’s] robust sanctions.”

“We will continue to pressure Iran,” Obama added.

“We will work together against new threats,” Netanyahu said. “The biggest threat is Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. I appreciate the president’s work. I urge other leaders to follow the U.S. and pass tougher sanctions, especially in the energy sector.”

In connection to the Non-Proliferation Conference, Obama said “we believe that given its size and the threats against it, Israel has unique security requirements.”

“The US will never ask Israel to take steps to undermine its security interests,” the US president declared. “We are committed to Israel’s security.”

“We discussed Gaza,” Obama said.  “I congratulated Prime Minister Netanyahu on the progress that’s been made more quickly and more effectively than many thought.”

Netanyahu brought a detailed list of goods Israel will not allow into the Gaza Strip. The “negative” list, defines what is prohibited rather than what is permitted, thus allowing more goods in.

Obama also sought to dispel rumors of a worsening US-Israel relationship, saying “our relationship continues to improve in great part because of Netanyahu.”

The US president called the meeting “one more step in the extraordinary friendship between the US and Israel, which has grown closer and closer as time goes on.”

“I’ve trusted Netanyahu since the first time I met him, before I was elected president” Obama said. “The press in Israel and the US like to make a story.”

“Thank you for reaffirming to me the longstanding US support of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Full press conference here:

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)

8:30PM: A palestinian reaction to the IDF flashmob:

But both the mother and daughter admit that the soldiers sometimes manage to make the local population happy. “For example, when the small children play football, the soldiers join them and they play together. That’s actually nice. For us they are already part of the neighborhood.”

Another neighbor adds, “It’s not the first time I see them like this. We have already heard them singing and dancing on the street. Once, we stood next to them and applauded.”

6:28PM: You can add Hollyweirdos Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman to the numbskull list.

Hollywood actors Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman backed out of attending this year’s annual Jerusalem Film Festival, which is set to kick off this coming Thursday, following the international outcry over Israel’s attack on a Turkish-led flotilla that attempted to break the Gaza blockade on May 31, The Jerusalem Post learned Monday.

According to Cinematheque associate director Yigal Molad Hayo, while neither gave the political climate as a direct reason for canceling their participation in the festival, “it became quite clear that this was the reason,” he said.

“Meg Ryan was supposed to come here, it had all been closed with her people,” said Molad Hayo, adding “a day after the flotilla incident we got an email saying she was not going to attend, and although they claimed it was because she was too busy, it was clear to me that it probably had something to do with what had happened.”

In addition to Ryan, who has starred in such movies as Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally and, more recently, Kate and Leopold, Molad Hayo said that the Cinematheque had also reached “advanced negotiations” with Jewish actor Dustin Hoffman.

“We were very close to reaching an agreement with him, then the flotilla happened and correspondence was ended,” said Molad Hayo.

Ryan and Hoffman are not the only high-profile names to decline participation in this year’s festival.

Prince Albert of Monaco, son of legendary actress Grace Kelly, was also slated to attend.

“I’d already made arrangements for a tribute to Grace Kelly to appear in the festival program,” said Molad Hayo, adding that he believed Prince Albert’s cancellation could have come from pressure in his own country not to make an official visit to Israel at this time.

“I think they believed it could have been very negative for him and even dangerous,” he said.

“Many people from the Gulf States have their bank accounts in Monte Carlo and they might not have approved of him coming to a festival in west Jerusalem.”

“Sadly, even though we are a well-known event, it is obvious that the State of Israel has more influence than we do,” continued Molad Hayo, adding “many people are swayed by the political situation.”

In other news, Meg Ryan has morphed into the Joker.

6:18PM: Reasons to tell Turkey to get stuffed #38:

stuffed turkey erdoganTurkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered his condolences to Hezbollah  Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah  over the death of Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. The Lebanese movement’s al-Manar network reported Wednesday that Nasrallah thanked Erdogan and the Turkish nation.

According to the report, Nasrallah spoke with the Turkish leader via telephone following the ayatollah’s death which was publicized to Shiites throughout the world. Erdogan expressed his sorrow to the family of Fadlallah and the Lebanese people. Nasrallah thanked him for the call and for his stance in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, saying “your positions have given hope to the Arab and Muslim world.”

1:56PM: I know the Obama-Netanyahu press conference seems to have gone well, but like commenter Walt, I saw troubling signs in the body language.

Take this photo for instance:

Obama Netanyahu

The look on Obama’s face seems to be I loathe you.

11:46AM: UAE ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba is all for bombing Iran.

The United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that it would be worthwhile to bomb Iran’s nuclear program, The Washington Times reported.

Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba reportedly endorsed the military option if sanctions do not stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis,” Otaiba said to an audience in Aspen, Colorado. “I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion … there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country; that is going to happen no matter what.”

“If you are asking me, ‘Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?,’ my answer is still the same: ‘We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.’ I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the U.A.E.,” Otaiba reportedly said, in response to a question after a public interview with the Atlantic magazine. His remarks shocked many in the audience, The Washington Times reported.

John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told The Washington Times that Otaiba’s comments reflect the views of many Arab states that “recognize the threat posed by a nuclear Iran.”

No flying pig graphic for this story, since it is no surprise to me that Sunni places such as the UAE see a nuclear Shiite Iran as a real threat.

11:38AM: The guns of PM Netanyahu’s bodyguards have apparently been stolen.

American Airlines security personnel lost the luggage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bodyguards as they traveled to Washington from John F. Kennedy airport in New York, according to NBC network reports on Wednesday night.

The lost luggage was eventually located in Los Angeles, but four Glock pistols had disappeared. Local police believe they had been stolen. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.

6:20AM: The 6 IDF soldiers who are seen dancing to Kesha in a flash mob YouTube video will reportedly not be punished.

Six Israeli soldiers have escaped being penalised after a video of them doing a dance routine while on duty in the West Bank went viral in Israel.

The video shows the troops breaking into a choreographed dance routine, set to US singer Kesha’s dance hit Tik Tok.

It was originally removed from YouTube, but has since reappeared.

Initial reports said the six were facing disciplinary action, but the army later said the soldiers were just fooling around and no harm was done.

6:05AM: CNN’s Octavia Nasr has explained her offensive tweet upon hearing of the death of Hizbullah terrorist Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.

My tweet was short: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon”

Reaction to my tweet was immediate, overwhelming and a provides a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing with the Middle East.

It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment and I’m sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah’s life’s work. That’s not the case at all.

Here’s what I should have conveyed more fully:

I used the words “respect” and “sad” because to me as a Middle Eastern woman, Fadlallah took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman’s rights. He called for the abolition of the tribal system of “honor killing.” He called the practice primitive and non-productive. He warned Muslim men that abuse of women was against Islam.

I met Fadlallah in 1990. He was willing to take the risk of meeting with a young Christian journalist from the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. Fadlallah was at the height of his power. As I was ushered in, I was told that he would not look at me in the eye and to make it quick as there was a long line of dignitaries waiting.

The interview went 45 minutes, during which I asked him about Hezbollah’s agenda for an Islamic state in Lebanon. He bluntly told me that was his group’s dream but there would be room for other religions. He also joked at the end of the interview that the solution for Lebanon’s civil war was to send “all political leaders without exception on a ship away from Lebanon with no option to return.”

He challenged me to run the entire interview on LBC without editing. We did.

This does not mean I respected him for what else he did or said. Far from it.

It is no secret that Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah hated with a vengeance the United States government and Israel. He regularly praised the terror attacks that killed Israeli citizens. And as recently as 2008, he said the numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust were wildly inflated.

But it was his commitment to Hezbollah’s original mission – resisting Israel’s occupation of Lebanon – that made him popular and respected among many Lebanese, not just people of his own sect.

In 1983, as Fadlallah found his voice as a spiritual leader, Islamic Jihad – soon to morph into Hezbollah – bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 299 American and French peacekeepers. I lost family members in that terror attack.

And it was during his time as spiritual leader that so many Westerners were kidnapped and held hostage in Lebanon.

When the Lebanese Civil War ended in 1990 with Syria taking full control of Lebanon, Hezbollah was and remains the only armed militia in Lebanon. Under Syria’s influence however, Hezbollah – declared a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union started becoming even more militant, with designs beyond Lebanon’s borders to serve agendas for Syria and Iran.

Fadlallah himself was designated a terrorist by the U.S. Treasury Department.

In later years, Hezbollah’s leadership apparently did not like Fadlallah’s vocal criticism of Hezbollah’s allegiance to Iran. Nor did they like his assertions that Hezbollah’s leaders had been distracted from resistance to Israeli occupation of portions of Lebanon and had turned weapons against their own people.

At first, he was simply pushed to the side, but later wasn’t even referred to as a Hezbollah member. Rather, he was referred to as the scholar – the expert on Islam – but nothing more. During the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, his honorary title “Sayyed” – indicating that he’s a descendant of the prophet – was dropped any time he was mentioned on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV and other Hezbollah media outlets.

Through his outspoken Friday sermons and his regularly updated website, Fadlallah had a platform to spread what many considered a more moderate voice of Shia Islam than what was coming out of Iran. Immensely popular in Lebanon among the various religious groups, he also had followers across the region including in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and even as far as Morocco in northern Africa.

Sayyed Fadlallah. Revered across borders yet designated a terrorist. Not the kind of life to be commenting about in a brief tweet. It’s something I deeply regret.

5:58AM: According to the Arab-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the health of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is deteriorating, possibly from cancer.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s health has taken a serious turn for the worse, according to a report that appeared Tuesday in the Arab-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

The London-based daily reported Tuesday that the 83-year-old Mubarak underwent another round of medical tests during his current visit to Paris. The paper said the Egyptian leader may be suffering from cancer, although the exact nature of the illness remains unclear.

Mubarak, who made a surprise visit to the French capital on Monday, held meetings there with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Press photographs from both meetings that were distributed to the media do not show the Egyptian president to have any discernible signs of illness.
Benjamin Netanyahu meeting Mubarak

This past March, Mubarak was hospitalized in Germany after undergoing “a complicated procedure,” according to officials. Both the Egyptian authorities and the heads of the German hospital declined to provide further details on the nature of the surgery.

Arab and international media outlets published numerous reports on the speculation surrounding Mubarak’s condition. One such report claimed the Egyptian leader suffered from serious back trouble, while others said Mubarak was treated for a faulty gall bladder.

Mubarak was instructed to take a lengthy convalescence following his surgery. Immediately after reports surfaced about his declining health, Mubarak was quick to appear in public to assuage fears about his well-being.

According to the Al-Quds Al-Arabi report, Mubarak must undergo further medical tests following the surgery he underwent in Germany.

The newspaper also reported that the president’s son, Gamal Mubarak, who officially heads the policy planning committee of Egypt’s ruling party, the National Democratic Party, has re-emerged as a prominent player on the political scene.

The Al-Quds Al-Arabi report claims Gamal Mubarak told associates in Egypt that the party needs to unveil a diplomatic platform that will garner widespread support prior to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
U.S.Vice President Joe Biden and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

Gamal Mubarak, the president’s youngest son, is considered a near shoo-in to inherit his father’s mantle in the event that the elder Mubarak does not seek another term as president. New elections are slated for next year.

Gamal Mubarak told party members yesterday that the factions ought to work to fight corruption and respect human rights, and champion these causes in the party platform.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

In recent months, Egypt’s domestic political scene has been mulling the question of who will succeed the president, not just due to Mubarak’s failing health but also because the president himself has yet to announce his intention to run in the elections.

A possible candidate for president being discussed is Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, the former secretary-general of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Since returning to Egypt, ElBaradei has actively recruited supporters, particularly political independents. Still, constitutional restrictions render his candidacy doubtful.

Even though the names of other senior figures in the regime have been mentioned as possibly being next in line, among them intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the most likely scenario is that Gamal Mubarak will be designated as the presidential successor, with his father’s top aides assisting in the orderly transfer of power.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

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
Picture of David Lange

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
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