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Netanyahu: Any Peace Agreement will be Brought to Referendum

By The Times of Israel

A day after Finance Minister Yair Lapid said he would support a coalition shift to back a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu assured his fellow Likud-Beytenu lawmakers Monday that any agreement would be subject to a national referendum, and not just Knesset politics.

"Any agreement reached will come to a referendum," Netanyahu declared in a Likud-Beytenu faction meeting. "I committed to it and this is essentially correct and would happen if any agreement is reached." Netanyahu also told the faction he did not anticipate an accord being signed in the near future, in comments that contrasted with recent upbeat assessments by Secretary of State John Kerry.

The referendum bill, proposed by coalition chair Yariv Levin, passed its first reading in the Knesset on August 1 with 66 in favor and 45 opposed. The proposed legislation is an extension of a 2010 law and would require all land-for-peace deals to be submitted to a public vote. The law would cover areas in sovereign Israel, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, but would not apply to the West Bank. The referendum bill is currently undergoing revision and will be brought to a second and third reading at a later date.

"What will determine whether an agreement will be reached is not the composition of this or any other coalition, but rather the essence of the deal," Netanyahu said, addressing Lapid's remarks Sunday that a coalition change may be in order to further a peace deal.

On Sunday, Lapid vowed to not let the peace process be derailed by extremists, hinting at opposition to a deal by the nationalist Jewish Home party, which sits in the coalition. "I'm determined to do everything within my power to ensure that this government stays the course — even if developments in the peace negotiations necessitate a coalition realignment of one kind or another," he said.

Earlier Sunday Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett called peace negotiations that did not include Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, "a joke."

The referendum bill was initially met with fierce opposition by a number of prominent Knesset members, including current Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, former opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich, Lapid, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is managing talks with the Palestinians. "When we declare war, we don't ask the nation (what they think)," Livni said in July. "This is how it should also be regarding any political settlement." In a critique leveled at the proposed law, Liberman referred to the bill as a way for "decision makers to run away from responsibility." Bennett has touted a referendum as "the only way to prevent a rift in the nation."

Israel and the Palestinians are five months into a planned nine-month negotiation aimed at coming to a peace agreement. Despite reports from both sides that the talks are reaching a dead end, the US, which is brokering the talks, has remained optimistic. On Friday, Kerry said the sides were closer to peace than they had been in years.

Iranian Newspaper Fears `Trap' for Rouhani at Mandela Funeral

By The Times of Israel

An Iranian newspaper has warned the country's President Hassan Rouhani not to attend the funeral of South African Nelson Mandela, because it may be a trap to bring him in contact with President Barack Obama.

An editorial titled "Satan lays a trap, this time in Johannesburg" in the Kayhan daily laid down the dangers to Rouhani of a chance meeting with the "head of the Great Satan government," AFP reported on Sunday. "Some domestic and foreign media outlets are using the funeral ceremony as a pretext to push Rouhani toward a meeting with the head of the Great Satan government," according to the editorial board of the hardline paper.

Mandela, a former president of South Africa, died on Thursday at the age of 95. He is due to be buried in a state funeral next Sunday in his home country.

Rouhani and Obama have not met face to face, although the two leaders spoke by telephone for 15 minutes in September when the Iranian leader attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Iran has not yet announced who will represent it at the funeral, which will be attended by heads of state and dignitaries from around the world.

Following the news of Mandela's death last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted a message on his Twitter account: "We in Iran join the people of South Africa in mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, who inspired humanity with his courage and compassion," he wrote.

Rouhani began his presidency in August 2013 and has made it his policy to present a more moderate approach to Western nations than his predecessor did. If he does decide to attend the funeral and risk a meeting with Obama, Rouhani can take solace in the fact that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the "Little Satan," will be thousands of miles away.

Knesset Minister Shalom: Dead Sea 'Water Agreement Fulfills Herzl's Vision'

By & The Times of Israel

Representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed a historic pact between the three administrations in Washington on Monday. The agreement green-lights construction of the Two-Seas Canal, which will connect the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Energy Minister Silvan Shalom – who is also the minister for regional cooperation and infrastructure – represented Israel at the signing ceremony. "This is a historic agreement which fulfills the vision of Herzl for the construction of a water canal," said the minister Monday evening. "We decided to execute the process in stages and the first stage is a water desalination plant in Aqaba (Jordan) and the pipeline to save the Dead Sea," added the minister.

Shalom noted that this is "another layer to peace with the Palestinian. It is a day of celebration with no clichés. We are implementing the trilateral agreement to help residents of the region, to save the Dead Sea, to supply water and electricity, and to bring about strategic, economic, and political cooperation. This is a success story."

The Israeli minister further added that "the damage of not doing anything is bigger than the cost of the project. We are progressing slowly because of ecological issues. Let's hope that this deal would be a hopeful window for regional peace."

Jordanian Water Minister Hazem Nasser stressed that the accord is not political: "This is an agreement with a humanitarian aspect, designed to aid those who need water. There is an ecological aspect as well since we are trying to save the Dead Sea," adding "Without water there will be no employment and poverty will spike. This is why we cooperate with our regional partners."

PA's minister in charge of water issues, Shaddad Attili, noted that "the agreement is unrelated to the Oslo Accords. The beauty is that this is a regional deal and it is important to everyone to save the Dead Sea. Despite political issues and the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict, we proved that we can all work together."

According to the agreement, approximately 100 million cubic meters of water per year will be carried northwards, which will help slow the desiccation of the Dead Sea. The Jordanians will receive 30 million cubes for their own southern region and an additional 50 million cubes of grey-water from the Kinneret for the north.

The desalination plant constructed in Aqaba will allow the Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians to split millions of additional cubic meters of water.

As part of the agreement's negotiations, the Palestinians requested a foothold in the northern part of the Dead Sea, but Israel refused. Instead, the Palestinian Authority will receive approximately 30 million cubic meters from the Kinneret – either desalinated water or grey-water at production cost – which will increase water supplies for West Bank residents.

The entirety of the pipeline will be laid in Jordan, thus circumnavigating issues raised by environmental organizations in Israel. Barring unexpected delays, the construction of the pipeline and purification facility will be completed within four to five years.

Dov Litbinof, the head of Tamar council – which largely borders the Dead Sea – praised the agreement, but said that it would not contribute much to the environmental situation. "Just a drop in the ocean," he said. "There is no disagreement that this accord is excellent for the relations and international cooperation with Jordan and the Palestinians, and it will also help many farmers in the Arava."

He added: "This is a historic move and is really a breakthrough on this issue. But it will not help the Dead Sea. Every year the water level drops 120 centimeters (4 feet), which is approximately 1.6 billion cubic meters a year. Thus, any person who calculates the addition 100 million when 1.6 billion is subtracted understands the reality. It is my responsibility as the man in charge of the Dead Sea to do everything in my power to prevent the lowered water level every year. We need to keep fighting for new solutions," he concluded.

The idea of a conduit between the two bodies of water was first put forward by the British during the 19th century. In the 1990s, after Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement, the idea of laying a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea began to gain momentum.

TripAdvisor: Jerusalem 4th Destination On Rise


Leading travel website has announced the winners of its 2013 Travelers' Choice Awards for Destinations on the Rise, ranking Israel's capital city of Jerusalem in the fourth place. The awards highlight 54 spots globally that have seen the greatest increase in positive traveler feedback and traveler interest, year-over-year.

"For travelers looking for inspiration for their 2014 travel planning, TripAdvisor travelers have helped us put a spotlight on some amazing destinations that caught the eye of travelers this past year," said Barbara Messing, the website's chief marketing officer. The Travelers' Choice Awards include several categories such as hotels, all-inclusive resorts, islands and restaurants.

The Destination on the Rise list reviews 54 places around the globe. Havana, Cuba was the No. 1 ranked destination for the top 10 in the world, followed by La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica in the second place and Kathmandu, Nepal in the third place. Jerusalem ranked fourth. Cusco, Peru came in fifth, followed by Ambergris Caye in Belize, Sapporo in Japan, Hanoi in Vietnam, Corralejo in Spain and Fortaleza in Brazil.

According to TripAdvisor, "Religious pilgrims have been traveling to Jerusalem for centuries, yet you don't have to share their zeal in order to appreciate this city's profound cultural and historical significance. Plan on seeing the major sights, but also leave plenty of time to walk through the streets and simply immerse yourself in the daily life of such an ancient and revered place."

The first don't-miss site is the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which has been ranked by the popular website as one of the world's top 10 museums. Other recommended places on a list of 248 things to do in Jerusalem include the Israel Museum, the Old City, the Western Wall Tunnels, the Western Wall, Hezekiah's Tunnels, the Biblical Zoo, the Mount of Olives, and the Jewish Quarter.

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