Monday, August 19, 2013
Official says army is only actor that can assert authority, if it is dismissed, Egypt to go "way of Syria, Tunisia, Libya."
A rally in protest against the recent violence in Egypt, in Istanbul.Photo: REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Israel’s message to Washington and key European capitals regarding Egypt is that the key issue is simply keeping the country from falling apart.
“The name of the game right now is not democracy,” one official said Sunday, relaying Israel’s position on the Egyptian turmoil. “The name of the game is that there needs to be a functioning state. After you put Egypt back on track, then talk about restarting the democratic process there.”
“If you dismiss that actor, Egypt goes the way of Syria, Tunisia and Libya,” he said. “Like it or not, no one else can run the country right now.”
The official said that Jerusalem was conveying this message to governments interested in hearing the evaluation of Israel – which, unlike the US or the European countries, neighbors Egypt and will be impacted directly by the developments there.
The official said it was one thing to sit in Washington and Brussels and do “dry” evaluations, and quite another to sit on Egypt’s border and face the prospect of a critically important neighboring country descending into anarchy.
The official’s comments came amid growing calls in the US to cut its $1.5 billion annual aid package to Egypt, and as the EU announced Sunday it would hold an urgent meeting in the coming days to reevaluate ties with Cairo following the military’s bloody clampdown last week on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Acknowledging that the situation in Egypt was “really bad,” and one that Israel “does not like,” the official said that “you can scold [Gen.
Abdel Fattah el-] Sisi all you wish, but at the end of the day, you want a functional government to rule the country.”
Otherwise, he said, the country would risk falling into an anarchy that would be exploited by local and global jihad forces.
The official said Israel’s message was that the world had to look squarely at the situation in Egypt as it is, and not think of what might have been done differently.
“This is where we are now,” he said. “We are not somewhere in the world of dreams or illusions. And we are in a bad spot. You can argue that two months ago we could have done this or that, but we have to think about how to get out of this bad spot. And if you don’t, it will only get worse.”
The official said Israel’s position was that the military should be supported to help get the country back on track.
Asked what supporting the military meant exactly, he said “not taking things away from them, not harming or threatening them.”
At the same time, he added, the expectation of a reduction in violence should be made known. He pointed out, however, that “dozens” of Egyptian soldiers and policemen have been killed over the past week.
The official denied a New York Times report on Saturday that – citing Western diplomats – claimed Israel was in “heavy communication” with Sisi and was “reassuring the Egyptians not to worry about American threats to cut off aid.”
“That is nonsense,” the official.
“Do we control Congress? We have no ability to give reassurances about American aid.”
As evidence of that, the official noted that two staunch supporters of Israel in the Senate, John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), were calling for US President Barack Obama to suspend the aid to Egypt.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
By HERB KEINON AND MICHAEL WILNER IN WASHINGTON
The talks will be held under a complete media blackout, with neither the location nor time of the negotiations made public, let alone any mention of what topics are on the initial agenda. The talks will take place following the release late Tuesday night of 26 Palestinian terrorists.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon expressed deep skepticism when asked during a tour of the North whether he thought the talks would lead to a breakthrough.
“We set ourselves the goal of nine months in which we will try to reach something with the Palestinians,” he said. “We’ve been trying for 20 years since Oslo, and for over 120 years of the conflict.
The skepticism in the tone of my remarks is apparent, but we’ve decided to give it a chance.”
Israeli officials dismissed as “overstated” speculation that fears of Israel’s being delegitimized in the world is what motivated Netanyahu to return to the table. At a speech in June to the American Jewish Committee, Kerry warned that the “insidious campaign to delegitimize Israel will only gain steam” if the talks fail.
One government official said that Netanyahu believes that a Palestinian state is in Israel’s interest because of demographic reasons, in order to keep Israel a Jewish democracy, and to fend off attempts to delegitimize it.
But, the official said, “he also believes that a Palestinian state that looks like Gaza does today – hostile, in the Iranian orbit, and one that fosters terrorism against Israel – is something that we cannot afford.”
On the Palestinian side, senior Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo warned that advancing settlement construction plans could lead to the breakdown of the talks.
“Settlement expansion goes against the US administration’s pledges and threatens to cause the negotiations’ collapse,” he told AFP.
His comments came after the Construction and Housing Ministry announced Sunday that it intends to publish tenders for 1,187 new Jewish homes over the pre-1967 lines, and the Interior Ministry advanced plans on Monday for 900 new Jewish home units next to the Gilo neighborhood.
It will be years before any of these plans come to fruition.
“This settlement expansion is unprecedented,” AFP quoted Abed Rabbo as saying. “It threatens to make talks fail even before they’ve started.”
However, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that Israel’s announcement of plans for the new units was “to some degree expected.”
He urged Israelis and Palestinians to move forward with peace talks.
“What this underscores is the importance of getting to the table, getting to the table quickly,” said Kerry during a trip to Colombia, calling on the Palestinians “not to react adversely” on the eve of the second round of negotiations.
“The United States of America views all of the settlements as illegitimate,” he added.
He said he spoke with both Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni about the matter, and characterized the conversation with Netanyahu as “frank and open.”
Officials in Washington said Kerry’s response was carefully crafted to reinforce Washington’s existing position against further settlement construction but also prevent destabilization of the peace talks.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf reiterated the US position on Tuesday, calling the settlements announcement of “serious concern” and stating that the US position on such construction remains “unchanged.”
“[Kerry] made clear what our position is,” Harf said. “There’s a reason we want both sides to the table.”
Harf said that the State Department had “no reaction to the specific announcement” on east Jerusalem housing, but broadly called settlements one of the many “sticky issues” that will create bumps in the road to peace.
“In no way are we throwing up our hands on settlements,” she said, acknowledging that there are “incredibly serious consequences” for such actions.
“We still believe” both sides are at the table “operating in good faith,” she added, confirming that the talks will continue as scheduled.
Asked whether the US considered the Palestinian security prisoners to be released by Israel as political prisoners or terrorists, Harf said she was unaware of the government’s position.
The Israeli team to Wednesday’s talks will be represented by Livni and Netanyahu’s personal envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, with the Palestinians represented by chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat and senior negotiator Muhammad Shtayyeh.
US special envoy Martin Indyk is expected to participate.
Indyk, who met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday, is scheduled to meet Netanyahu on Wednesday.
Indyk is accompanied by Frank Lowenstein, a former top aide to Kerry who worked with him in the Senate and also on his unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign. He worked closely with Kerry since March in his efforts to restart the talks.
Yaakov Lapin and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
As Israel prepares to release Palestinian prisoners as part of its deal with the PA to resume peace talks, housing minister announces tenders for some 1,200 new housing units in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria
As Israel was set to release the first wave of Palestinian prisoners as part of its deal to start peace talks, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel announced on Sunday tenders for hundreds of new housing units in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria.
"The decision is timely from both a Zionist and economic perspective," said Ariel. "The government is working to lower the cost of living in every part of Israel. No other nation on the planet accepts diktats from other countries on where it can build and where it can't. We're going to continue issuing tenders for apartments and we're going to build all over Israel, according to our citizens' needs."
According to the new tenders, 400 housing units were up for sale in Gilo, 210 housing units in Har Homa and 183 units in Pisgat Zeev. And in Judea and Samaria, 117 units were for sale in Ariel, 149 in Efrat, 92 in Ma'aleh Adumim and 36 in Beitar Illit.
Activists on the Left and Knesset members protested the housing minister's announcement. Finance Minister and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid called it an "error."
"Announcing these tenders at the current time is an error twice over. The use of resources for housing meant for the middle class in order to show unnecessary defiance against the Americans, and impede peace talks, is neither right nor helpful to the process," said Lapid.
Yesh Atid faction chairman MK Ofer Shelah said the government was teetering between its commitment to the peace process and its desire to continue developing settlements beyond the pre-1967 borders.
"Instead of courageously admitting what's already clear to every Israeli citizen -- there won't be a permanent accord [with the Palestinians] without a withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borders, with minor border adjustments and land swaps -- the government prefers to zigzag between morally questionable measures and the expansion of settlements, which the major obstacle to any agreement," said Shelah.
Opposition member Shelly Yachimovich said the announcement of new tenders in West Bank settlements was an international affront.
"Netanyahu has to decide in advance what kind of government he wants to lead -- one that is aiming for a diplomatic agreement or one that wants to shoot down any possibility of reaching such an agreement. Ariel's announcement is a finger in the eye of the U.S., Europe, the Arabs and the vast majority of Israelis who long for peace."
Deputy Knesset Speaker Ofer Akunis (Likud) claimed the new tenders were unrelated to the current round of peace negotiations, which were set to continue this week in Jerusalem.
"Building is not an act of defiance, and is unrelated to negotiations being conducted with the Palestinians. It is our natural right to build in every inch of the land of Israel," he said.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett -- whose Habayit Hayehudi party garners much of its base among West Bank Jewish settlers -- said the tenders Ariel announced should be sold and developed "unapologetically."
"[Palestinian chief negotiator Dr. Saeb] Erekat said it was forbidden for us to build in our capital, Jerusalem. The question now isn't why we are building in Jerusalem at the current time. Rather, the question is why we haven't been building until now. We are going to keep fighting to build in our country, unapologetically," Bennett said.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Sunday welcomed the government's decision to extend government tenders for 800 new housing units throughout the capital.
"New construction in Jerusalem is necessary for the development and strengthening of the city, and gives young people the chance to live and buy homes here," he said.
Jerusalem city councilwoman Laura Wharton, who attended a cornerstone laying ceremony in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in the city along with Barkat and Ariel, said she was opposed to "selling new apartments on Palestinian territory."
Still, the housing minister said building new homes for Israelis in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria would continue.
"Let it be clear, this project is just the beginning, and this song can't be stopped. No country would allow someone else to dictate where, when and how to build [housing]," he said.
The Palestinian Authority responded aversely to the news. Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian negotiator, condemned the announcement, saying the timing was not coincidental.
"It's a slap in the face to the U.S. and their efforts. The move proves how little Israel is interested in peace," he said.
Monday, August 12, 2013
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has complained to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about statements by the Palestinians which it said undermined nascent peace talks, an Israeli official said on Saturday.
"Incitement and peace cannot coexist," the official quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as telling Kerry, the negotiations' sponsor, in a letter sent over the weekend.
The complaint underscored the recrimination and distrust on both sides that threaten the talks, even as Israel prepares to free scores of Palestinian prisoners ahead of a second round of discussions next week.
According to the official, Netanyahu's letter referred to an assertion Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made on July 29 that a future Palestinian state "would not see the presence of a single Israeli - civilian or soldier".
Netanyahu also cited an official Palestinian television broadcast of a goodwill visit by the Barcelona football club to the occupied West Bank last week, during which a sportscaster, speaking in voiceover, described Israeli towns and cities as Palestinian - as did a singer who performed on the pitch.
"Rather than educate the next generation of Palestinians to live in peace with Israel, this hate education lays the ground for continued violence, terror and conflict," the letter said.
The U.S. embassy in Israel did not immediately return a call for comment on Netanyahu's letter to Kerry.
The Palestinians have themselves long accused Israel of poor faith in peacemaking, given its expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank which most world powers deem illegal. Netanyahu's rightist coalition government includes pro-settler factions, one of which openly opposes Palestinian statehood.
Asked about Netanyahu's letter, Hanan Ashrawi of Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organisation, dismissed it as "a desperate attempt to distract the world's attention away from their egregious violations of international law".
(Additional reporting by Noah Browning in Ramallah; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
Thursday, August 8, 2013
By HERB KEINON
Since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected two months ago, Iran has installed 7,000 centrifuges, indicating that he is nothing more than a new face to an old regime, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
This was the fourth time since Friday that Netanyahu took aim at Rouhani, reflecting the fact that even as negotiations with the Palestinians are due to start in Jerusalem next Wednesday, Iran remains the top item on the prime minister’s agenda and is considered by him to be the most important national security challenge facing Israel.
The theme of Netanyahu’s comments on Rouhani over the past six days has been that the Iranians need to be judged by their actions, not their words – and that these actions have not changed, even though the words have become softer.
The installation of the new centrifuges, including 1,000 upgraded models with enhanced uranium enrichment capabilities, is proof , Netanyahu said during a tour of a cluster of new IDF bases to be built at the Hanegev Junction south of Beersheba, that Iran has not changed course.
“The Iranian president is trying to present a new face to the West, but progress on the nuclear program continues,” he said.
Netanyahu was blunter later in the afternoon before a meeting with a delegation led by US Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R–Wisconsin).
“I know that some [people] place their hopes on Iran’s new president. He knows how to exploit this and yesterday he called for more talks,” Netanyahu said.
“Of course he wants more talks. He wants to talk and talk and talk. And while everybody is busy talking to him, he'll be busy enriching uranium. The centrifuges will keep on spinning. This isn’t a secret. The new Iranian president boasts that that is his strategy. He says, ‘I talk and I smile and I enrich uranium.’”
In addition to accelerating its enrichment capacities, Iran was also pursuing an alternative route, “the plutonium route,” the prime minister said.
“Unhappily, the situation is not getting any better; it’s actually getting worse,” he stressed to his visitors. “Iran is determined to get the bomb, and we must be even more determined to prevent them from getting it.”
Iran, he added, was also behind rocket and missile fire at Israel from the Gaza Strip.
During his tour of the new IDF base cluster south of Beersheba, Netanyahu said Israel would respond forcefully to any attack from Gaza and would not tolerate a drizzle of rocket fire from there on the South.
His government’s policy has been not only to stop the attacks in advance, but to respond harshly afterward.
“We saw this recently during Defensive Shield,” he said of the IDF operation in November that followed a spate of rocket fire, and which ended with an Egyptian brokered cease-fire.
“Now there is a quiet here that I am told has not been the case for more than a decade,” he said. “But no one can ensure that this quiet will not disintegrate, and if it does, the other side will come up against exactly the same policy that I just described, including during a time of a cease-fire.”
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Moshe Milner/GPO/Getty Images - In this handout image provided by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu (L) meets with Democratic delegates from the U.S. House of Representatives headed by Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) August 6, 2013 in Jerusalem. The delegation is meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian government officials.
JERUSALEM— Saying the United States and the world were being misled by a false face of a more moderate Iranian leader, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday charged that Iran not only continues its nuclear program but has accelerated its quest to build a bomb in the weeks after voters there elected Hasan Rouhani president.
Calling Rouhani “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Netanyahu warned U.S. lawmakers at a meeting here, “I know that some place their hopes on Iran's new president. He knows how to exploit this, and yesterday he called for more talks. Of course he wants more talks. He wants to talk and talk and talk. And while everybody is busy talking to him, he’ll be busy enriching uranium. The centrifuges will keep on spinning.”
In his first news conference since taking office, Rouhani said Tuesday that he was willing to participate in nuclear negotiations with the international community but stopped short of saying he would engage in direct talks with the United States.
Israel’s leadership has declared Iran’s uranium enrichment program an “existential threat,” and Netanyahu has sought assurances from the Obama administration that it would confront Iran, militarily, if necessary.
“Iran's work and quest towards the achievement of atomic weapons not only continues, it continues unabated — it's actually accelerated,” Netanyahu said.
Also troubling, Netanyahu said, were recent reports that Iran may be operating a heavy-water factory to produce plutonium, which also can be used in a nuclear weapon.
“So the situation unhappily is not getting any better, it's actually getting worse,” the Israeli leader said.
Rouhani, who served as former chief nuclear negotiator for Tehran, is known in some circles as “the diplomatic sheik.”
That has Israel’s political and defense leadership worried that the United States and Europe might be tempted to relax rather than ratchet up pressure on Tehran to curb its nuclear ambitions.
“Rouhani is charming, he is cunning, and he will smile all the way to the bomb,” said Yuval Steinitz, Israeli minister for international affairs, strategy and intelligence, in an interview.
Steinitz said that rather than negotiate with Tehran, the United States and the international community should tighten the economic sanctions against Iran’s already stagnating economy.
In his remarks before journalists Tuesday, Rouhani said, “If we feel that the Americans are truly serious about resolving problems, Iran is serious in its will to resolve problems and dismiss worries.”
But Rouhani said Iran would not be bullied, and during his news conference, the new president repeatedly referred to unspecified “warmongering pressure groups” working for an unidentified country, which most listeners presumed to be Israel.
The Israeli intelligence minister said Tehran should hear from the United States and the international community that it has only two choices — voluntarily shutter its program to enrich uranium or “see it destroyed with brute force,” which he envisioned as “a few hours of airstrikes, no more.”
Steinitz shrugged at the possible consequence, and said he could envision Iran firing “several hundred missiles” at Israel in retaliation, producing “very limited damage because we can intercept many of them.”
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
A petition signed by 1,100 jurists, rabbis and diplomats was sent Monday to EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Catherine Ashton and the European Union's 28 foreign ministers, urging them to rescind Brussels' decision to impose financial sanctions on Israeli settlements. The petition deemed the EU's decision "legally flawed," saying it was based on different interpretations of international law that do not coincide with the reality on the ground.
The EU issued a new directive in mid-July calling on its member nations to limit or suspend their cooperation with Israeli institutions operating beyond the pre-1967 borders, which include Judea and Samaria, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The new funding guidelines, which may spell billions of dollars in losses for Israel, will go into effect in 2014.
The petition was organized by Alan Baker, Israel's former ambassador to Canada, who currently heads the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel's International Action Division.
Baker was quoted by The Jewish Tribune as saying that the 1,100 signatories included hundreds of lawyers, as well as senior ambassadors, professors and rabbis from Canada, Israel, the U.S., South Africa, the U.K., the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, France, Italy, Australia, Brazil and Chile.
Among those who joined the protest are former Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, U.K. House of Lords member Baroness Ruth Deech and former Israeli Ambassador to Washington Meir Rosenne.
Baker's letter to Ashton protested the "legally flawed and incorrect assumptions regarding both the legality of Israel's settlements and the status of the pre-1967 armistice lines as Israel's border."
Baker further warned that the EU's decision effectively states that "the border is the 1967 line" and that as a result "the Palestinians will find themselves getting support from the EU and [will be] far less inclined to enter into negotiations on these issues. … That's why I say in the letter that the Europeans are undermining the negotiations as well as their own commitments as a witness to the Oslo Accords and as the draftsman of Resolution 242, which talks about secure and recognized boundaries. They're acting in violation of their own positions that they've maintained throughout the years," he told the Jewish Tribune.
Maja Kocijancic, a spokesperson for Ashton, said she was "unaware of Baker's letter," adding that while the directive was only made official some two weeks ago, it was "already an ad hoc practice" by some of the bloc's members.
According to the report, Kocijancic said the directive would have little bearing on the issue of funding and that "not much would change" from the 2007-2013 funding period when, of the 800 million euros allotted to Israel, "less than .05 percent of the funds ended up in projects that take place in settlements."
Nachi Eyal, director of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, told Israel Hayom that the petition "was the first of its kind and it aims to serve as a tool for Israel's diplomatic efforts worldwide.
"Instead of standing up for our historical and legal rights, the State of Israel and its officials are cowering away and that is not how we can win this fight," he said. "The world needs to understand that there is a deliberate deception is being perpetrated [by the EU] and that Judea and Samaria belong to the Jewish people by their historic right as well as by law."
Monday, August 5, 2013
In a letter obtained by The Daily Telegraph, 76 senators from both parties urge the White House to offer Iran no quarter despite the softer rhetoric of the newly sworn in President Hassan Rouhani.
"Until we see a significant slowdown of Iran’s nuclear activities, we believe our nation must toughen sanctions and reinforce the credibility of our option to use military force at the same time as we fully explore a diplomatic solution to our dispute with Iran," the senators write.
The Obama administration has taken a wait-and-see approach to Mr Rouhani, who won a surprise election victory after promising to end years of economic turmoil caused by Western sanctions.
Congress, however, is moving ahead with an aggressive new round of sanctions.
The House of Representatives voted this week 400-20 for measures designed to put pressure on the few remaining buyers of Iranian oil and to choke off Tehran's access to its dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
The Senate is expected to pass its own bill in September ahead of the next expected round of diplomatic negotiations between Iran and the six-nation bloc of the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
In the letter to President Barack Obama, the senators note that Mr Rouhani has "pledged re-engagement" with the international community but warn "Iran has used negotiations in the past to stall for time".
"We urge you to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the process," the senators write to Mr Obama. "We need to understand quickly whether Tehran is at last ready to negotiate seriously."
A senior Senate aide said that the letter, which was spearheaded by Senators Robert Menendez and Lindsey Graham, was intended to temper the optimism of some US officials that Mr Rouhani's inauguration would lead to a diplomatic breakthrough.
"Soft noises of Tehran changing its tune is one thing; a concrete action of stepping back from the nuclear precipice is a much different thing," he said.
Both Iranian and Western negotiators are focused on two competing timelines.
The first is how long until Iran reaches a "critical nuclear capability", the capacity to produce weapons grade uranium so quickly it would be undetectable to western intelligence.
The second is how long Iran's economy can withstand the severe sanctions regime and especially the stranglehold it places on access to foreign currency reserves needed to prop up the Iranian rial.
"The central question is which comes first: Iran reaching economic collapse or Iran reaching critical nuclear capability?" said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.
"The single most important piece of intelligence for the US may not be about Iranian nuclear physics - it may have more to do with Iranian economics."
Analysts and Western intelligence are constantly working to produce estimates of both timelines.
A major report by the Institute for Science and International Security this month suggested that Iran's nuclear programme is likely to reach a critical stage by June 2014.
Its economic situation is difficult to assess but under the current sanctions regime, Iran is widely believed to have at least a few years of foreign currency reserves left.
US lawmakers hope that by stepping up current sanctions they can increase economic pressure and reduce the amount of time Iran has left to negotiate.
"There is a broad consensus that to get a negotiated deal with the Iranians, massively intensified sanctions are needed to accelerate the date at which their economy goes over the cliff," said Mr Dubowitz.
The small group of representatives who opposed the House sanctions bill this week argued that the US should use Mr Rouhani's inauguration as a chance to reset the relationship with Iran.
"Why aren’t we at least curious to find out whether or not President Rouhani means that he wants to pursue this course of peace?" said Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat.
Some analysts have suggested, however, that the threat of new sanctions could strengthen Mr Rouhani's hand if he intends to try to convince Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, to negotiate.
Friday, August 2, 2013
WASHINGTON | Thu Aug 1, 2013 6:46pm EDT
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama spoke separately by phone on Thursday to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House said, as the United States seeks to keep up the momentum for peace negotiations.
The calls came days after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators broke a three-year lull in talks and met in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
"President Obama called Prime Minister Netanyahu today to commend his leadership and courage in resuming final status negotiations with the Palestinians," the White House said in a statement.
"The president underscored that while the parties have much work to do in the days and months ahead, the United States will support them fully in their efforts to achieve peace."
A similar statement was sent regarding Obama's call with Abbas. "The president reaffirmed that the United States stands ready to support the parties in achieving a just and lasting peace based on the two state solution, and will continue to work closely with the Palestinian Authority to achieve this goal," it said.
The Israeli and Palestinian negotiators gave themselves about nine months to try to reach an agreement on ending their long-running conflict.
The talks are expected to go to a second round by the middle of August. The conflict has resisted all previous attempts to resolve it, which has led to skepticism about whether this round will have a successful end.
WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, said Obama, in his call to Abbas, stressed his support for the efforts that led to launching the peace process and the need to exploit the current opportunity by acting fast to keep up the momentum.
Abbas stressed the Palestinian commitment to a two-state solution and the need to reach a solution in the nearest time possible, the report said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Thursday, July 25, 2013
By Calev Ben-David - Jul 25, 2013 7:26 AM ET
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that the sides had agreed on a basis to restart negotiations that broke down in 2010. No date was set, and Shalom, speaking to reporters today in the West Bank city of Jericho, was the first official on either side to publicly give a specific day.
“There is a good chance that negotiations with the Palestinians will resume next week in Washington on Tuesday, provided there are no last-minute complications,” he said.
Shalom said Israel would not agree to freeze construction on lands the Palestinians seek for a future state, a longstanding Palestinian demand that had stymied the renewal of talks. The Palestinians say they have not given up that condition, and neither they, Israel nor the U.S. have disclosed on what basis the talks are to resume.
Shalom’s visit to Jericho -- the first by a high-ranking Israeli official to Palestinian-administered territory since 2007 -- was another sign of diplomatic thawing. He and Palestinian Planning Minister Mohammed Abu Ramadan pledged to cooperate economically, and to make that tangible, signed a joint declaration backing an industrial park in Jericho whose opening has been held up for years by political disputes.
“I believe it is better to talk than to fight,” Shalom said. “That doesn’t mean that economy is a substitute for the political track; the two should go together.”
Israel contributed water and electricity infrastructure to the park and has agreed to extend hours at the bridge between the West Bank and nearby Jordan to ease the shipment of goods, he said. While the Palestinians are responsible for administering Jericho, Israel maintains security control over all of the West Bank, which it captured in 1967.
The Japanese government, which is financing the project’s construction, said in a statement that the park is expected to create 7,000 jobs for Palestinians after it opens next spring.
“This project will have a high risk of failure if we fail to reach a just and lasting solution to the conflict,” Abu Ramadan said.
Twenty-four companies have agreed to be tenants in the project, which is being built with Japanese grants to total about $200 million, according to a statement handed out at today’s ceremony. So far, all the businesses are Palestinian-owned, and efforts are being made to bring in foreign investors, officials said. Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, attended the event.
To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com