The Day In Israel: Wed Nov 10th, 2010

186

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems to have grown a pair.

Binyamin Netanyahu
AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday addressed the controversy over Israel’s plans  to advance 1,345 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, saying that the issue was “overblown,” in an interview with the Fox Business Network on Tuesday.

“You are talking about a handful of apartments that really don’t affect the map at all contrary to impressions that might be perceived from certain news reports. So it’s a minor issue that might be turned to a major issue,” Netanyahu said in New York.

The prime minister’s comments continued a back-and-forth battle of statements between Israel and the Obama administration on the issue of building plans in east Jerusalem that took place throughout Tuesday.

The US State Department on Tuesday responded immediately to claims made in a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office that east Jerusalem construction had no bearing on the peace process.

“There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent upon both parties … they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

“To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect.”

Netanyahu had flown to the US Saturday night hoping to break the impasse in the stalled peace talks. Instead, US President Barack Obama publicly reprimanded him as the Palestinians reissued their threats to seek unilateral statehood.

“The international community must respond to Israel’s unilateral measures by instantly recognizing a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders,” said chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Speaking about the Jerusalem homes at a press conference in Indonesia, Obama said, “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations.”

He added that such “incremental steps can end up breaking down trust between the parties.”

Netanyahu, in turn, sharply defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, which it claims as its eternal united capital, even as the Palestinians claim the eastern party of the city as the capital of their future state.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement.

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the government had never agreed to place any restrictions on construction in Jerusalem, which has 800,000 residents.

Although much of the international community equates construction in east Jerusalem with that of West Bank settlements, Israel makes a sharp distinction between the two.

From November of last year to September, it halted new settlement construction in the West Bank, but during that time it continued to issue new tenders for building in east Jerusalem.

“Israel does not see any connection between the peace process and the policy of planning and construction in Jerusalem, which has not changed in 40 years,” the statement continued. “For the last 40 years every Israeli government built in every part of the city. During that period, peace agreements were signed with Egypt and Jordan, and for 17 years direct negotiations were held with the Palestinians.

These are historical facts. Construction in Jerusalem has never interfered with the peace process.”

The statement went on to say that for the past 40 years, Israel and the US had disagreed over the status of east Jerusalem, but that Israel hoped to overcome these differences and stay focused on the peace process. It added that Netanyahu was hopeful that his meeting Thursday with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would advance the peace process.

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In New York, Netanyahu told Bloomberg TV he hoped that negotiations with the Palestinians would resume and be finished within a year, and attacked the Palestinians for making an issue of Israel’s resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank.

“I think the settlements are a minor issue,” he said. “And it’s been way overblown – not that it’s not going to be discussed in these negotiations….

It’s just that it hasn’t really blocked the flow of peace.”

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)

5:12PM: Here’s better quality video (than that which I posted yesterday) of Binyamin Netanyahu being heckled by the shmekels (hat tip: Israel Muse).



5:10PM: Suffer the hens!

4:20PM: The SMH reports on a maximum security prison in Gaza, which is described as being like “a five-star hotel.” (hat tip: David R)

Inmates have surprising amount of leeway in a maximum security jail they built themselves, writes Jason Koutsoukis in Gaza City.

Naser Suleiman has what many Gazans can only dream of: a well-paid job that he loves.

The director of Gaza’s new maximum security prison, Suleiman is proud of the facility that he says is the territory’s first prison to be built by inmates.

”It’s like a five-star hotel here,” he says, pointing to the freshly painted architrave in his office.

The most striking aspect of the prison is the atmosphere of leeway. Friends and relatives of the inmates walk in and out of the main entrance unhindered, more like visitors to a hospital.

Also absent are the steel bars, razor wire and electric fences that are standard features in most modern prisons.

”Where would anyone escape to?” Suleiman asks, explaining the laissez-faire approach. ”The Gaza Strip is … a prison from which there is no escape.”

Casually brandishing the pistol he normally keeps stuffed in his trouser belt, Suleiman, 47, emphasises an atmosphere that is focused on rehabilitation.

”The prisoners here are treated with great respect,” he explains earnestly. ”We allow the inmates to watch television and listen to the radio in their rooms and they can prepare their own food, in addition to what we provide them. We even allow prisoners who behave well weekend leave, so they can spend time with their families.”

Built for 150 inmates, the Central Rehabilitation and Reform Centre is home to the usual types of villains, including murderers, rapists and thieves. About 13 are on death row.

With the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and the US-based Human Rights Watch in the past noting serial human rights abuses inside detention facilities in Gaza, Suleiman is quick to absolve his own institution of such practices.

”We do not practice any torture here,” he says. ”That takes place at the interrogation centre, before people are convicted.”

One inmate with experience of Hamas’s interrogation techniques is Atta Najar, a 40-year-old father of four.

”When they questioned me I had my toenails pulled out with pliers and [they] … hung me up overnight by my hands,” Najar tells the Herald, with prison director’s approval.

Charged with the almost unpardonable crime of spying for Israel, Najar spent six months in an interrogation centre before he was transferred to Suleiman’s prison when it opened nearly four months ago.

Najar, who adamantly declares his innocence, is now facing trial and, if convicted, a possible death penalty.

”Two weeks ago we have hanged two murderers,” Suleiman says. ”The gallows are located in the prison basement.”

Since April, when Gaza’s Hamas-run government began a savage crackdown on Israeli spies by executing two Israeli collaborators, there has been a surge in the number of men convicted of espionage.

”Over the past four months, our collaborators … doubled to 40,” Suleiman says.

Unlike most inmates convicted of spying for Israel, Shadi Husseini, 21, readily admits his guilt. Penitent and racked with shame, Husseini says early in 2008 he was walking near the security fence that separates Gaza from Israel and was knocked unconscious. When he woke up, he says, found himself in a room with men who said they were from the Red Cross. He says the men asked him a series of detailed questions and eventually let him go.

”One of the men gave me some money.” At that point, he says, he realised the men not from the Red Cross but were most likely from an Israeli security service.

The Herald had received no response to this claim from the Israeli government or the Red Cross when it went to press.

Husseini says some time later the men phoned him and told him he had been filmed accepting the money and said to prevent the film getting into the wrong hands he should agree to provide information. Over the next 18 months, he says, he was in regular contact with his Israeli handlers, for which he received one more payment.

In mid-2009 he walked into a meeting of Hamas militants and was questioned for apparently suspicious behaviour.

”I admitted my guilt,” he says. In return he received a relatively light jail sentence of seven years. With good behaviour, he could be released within three.

Even then, such is the stain in Gaza of collaborating with Israel, he believes his prospects for a happy love life are next to none. ”I wanted to ask the daughter of our neighbours to marry me. Now I know not to even ask because the family will say no.”

But Husseini reflects that things could be worse. ”I am lucky that my life is not over.” For seven of his cellmates, another fate awaits: ”They know that it eventually goes into the basement.”

You have to laugh at the response of the prison director to accusation of human rights abuses inside the prison.

”We do not practice any torture here,” he says. ”That takes place at the interrogation centre, before people are convicted.”

4:18PM: Anti-Israel tool Lauren Booth again opens up her pie hole about converting to Islam.

10:12AM: More on Arafat’s artifacts.

7:32AM: Photo of the day:

Arafats kaffiyeh
The last keffiyeh that curators say was worn by late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is displayed in the Yasser Arafat Foundation office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010. Six years after his Nov. 11, 2004 death, the keepers of Arafat's memory are still gathering and sifting through his belongings, including pistols and trademark sunglasses from his guerrilla years and the military-style suits he favored until the end. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Here’s a few other things they should display.

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