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Israel Criticizes UNESCO's Resolution on Jerusalem

By VOA News

Israel's prime minister on Tuesday accused UNESCO of diminishing Jewish ties to Jerusalem after the U.N. cultural agency passed a resolution criticizing Israeli excavations in the city's Israeli-annexed eastern sector as a violation of international law.

Israel considers the entire city to be its capital, including East Jerusalem, which it re-captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Most of the international community considers East Jerusalem to be occupied territory, a view the U.N. Security Council reaffirmed in December.

In Tuesday's resolution, the U.N. agency calls on Israel to cease "persistent excavations, tunneling, works and projects" in East Jerusalem, particularly the walled Old City, which is home to sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Such activities by an occupying power are illegal under international law, said the resolution, which several Arab countries had tabled. The resolution affirmed the importance of the Old City and its walls to the three monotheistic religions.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Jews have a special bond to the city. "There is no other people in the world for whom Jerusalem is as holy and important as for the Jewish people," Netanyahu said in a speech at the International Bible Quiz in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Israel's Independence Day. He said UNESCO was "trying to deny this simple truth."

The Old City is home to the Temple Mount — the location of the biblical Jewish Temples and Judaism's holiest site. Muslims refer to the area, which now hosts two mosques, as the Noble Sanctuary, their third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The Old City also houses major Christian shrines.

Israeli archaeological excavations and other infrastructure projects in the Old City have long stoked tensions. The UNESCO resolution said Israel had taken actions that have "altered, or purport to alter, the character and status of the Holy City."

The resolution, submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, was approved by 22 member states, with 10 voting against and 23 abstaining. The agency has frequently been used as a theater for political disputes between Israel and Arab nations. Israel has long complained of bias at U.N. forums, feeling outnumbered by Arab nations and their supporters. Last year, UNESCO's executive board approved a resolution that Israel said denies the deep historic Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu said Tuesday's resolution marked an "improvement in the march of absurdity" as it mentions the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. "Well, we're making progress, but there is still a way to go," he added.

Elias Wadih Sanbar, the Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, said Tuesday's resolution was part of efforts to "stop giving a kind of blank check to an occupier that is acting with total illegality and impunity."

Pence: Trump Stands Without Apology for Israel

By VOA News

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday hosted an event at the White House in honor of Israel's 69th Independence Day. In his remarks, Pence reiterated the Trump administration's commitment to Israel.

"Just a few minutes ago, I had the distinct honor to wish a Happy Independence Day to Prime Minister Netanyahu over the phone," he said, adding that Israel is "America's most cherished ally – the Jewish State of Israel.

"On this day, the 5th day in the month of Iyyar on the Hebrew calendar in 1948, nothing short of a miracle occurred. On that day, in the ancient and eternal homeland of the Jewish people, the State of Israel was reborn," said Pence.

"Since the moment of their independence, the Israeli people have awed the world with their strength of will and their strength of character. They've turned the desert into a garden, scarcity into plenty, and the people of Israel have turned hope into a future of security and prosperity. Under President Donald Trump, let me assure you of this: If the world knows nothing else, the world will know this – America stands with Israel!" said the Vice President.

"President Trump stands with Israel for the same reason that every freedom loving American stands with Israel. Because her cause is our cause, her values are our values and her fight is our fight. And President Donald Trump is a lifelong friend of the State of Israel and its people. Let me say with confidence to all who are gathered here: President Trump stands without apology for Israel and he always will!" stressed Pence.

The Vice President added that Trump is "still seriously considering moving the embassy to Jerusalem." He also said that Trump "is personally committed to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and intends to make significant progress on the issue in the near future.

Israel Rejects New Hamas Policy Document

By VOA News

The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip has unveiled a new policy document that claims to ease its stance on Israel. However, Israel and the more moderate Palestinian Authority that rules parts of the West Bank are skeptical, saying nothing has changed.

Hamas claims its main concession is that it no longer explicitly calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Instead of demanding a state in all of Palestine, which would include what is now Israel, the group is prepared for a "transitional" state within the pre-1967 borders, meaning the West Bank, Gaza and disputed East Jerusalem.

The term "transitional," though, suggests that this Palestinian state would be a step toward a larger country that eventually would include what is now Israel. The document says Hamas still rejects Israel's right to exist and supports the "armed struggle" against it.

"Hamas advocates the liberation of all of Palestine but is ready to support a state on the 1967 borders without recognizing Israel or ceding any rights," said Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who presented the new document in Doha.

"Hamas is attempting to fool the world, but it will not succeed," said David Keyes, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. "They dig terror tunnels and have launched thousands upon thousands of missiles at Israeli civilians. This is the real Hamas."

Hamas admits it is trying to improve its image, especially in Europe, which is seen as more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than the U.S., Israel's guardian ally politically and militarily. The five-page document reflects a "reasonable Hamas that is serious about dealing with the reality and the regional and international surroundings, while still representing the cause of its people," said Meshaal. "We hope this will mark a change in the stance of European states towards us."

While Israel's reaction was expected, the tough tone of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank raised some eyebrows. The PA's ruling Fatah party said the document is too little, too late. "Hamas' new document is identical to that taken by Fatah in 1988," said Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasme. "Hamas must apologize to Fatah after 30 years of accusing us of treason for that policy."

The rival Palestinian governments have been at loggerheads since a civil war in 2007, when Hamas expelled the Palestinian Authority from Gaza. Hamas also has poor relations with neighboring Egypt because Cairo believes armed terrorists in Gaza are assisting a deadly ISIS insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

In a nod to Cairo, Hamas declared it would end its close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt and the some Gulf states regard as a terrorist organization. And in a further effort to distance Hamas from radical Islam, Meshaal said Hamas' struggle is not against Judaism as a religion, but rather against the "aggression" of Zionism.

Hamas is trying to end its international isolation at a time when the United States is preparing to step up efforts to revive the Middle East peace process. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to hold his first meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. Trump is expected to travel to Jerusalem in three weeks after declaring he sees no reason why there should not be peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Dr. Kobi Michael, a senior Israeli researcher at the INSS Institute for National Security Studies, notes that Hamas still rejects the three main demands of the international community.

"They do not acknowledge or accept the Oslo [peace] Accords [of 1993], they do not accept the idea of stopping violence, and they do not accept the principle of recognizing Israel," Michael said. "It is more of a makeover than a real change, [so] this is a lot of noise about nothing."

As Trump Prepares to Meet Abbas, Peace Deal Seems Far Off May 02, 2017 6:12 PM
William Gallo

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan, March 29, 2017.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan, March 29, 2017.
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Expectations could hardly be lower for a diplomatic breakthrough as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Donald Trump are set for their first meeting Wednesday at the White House.

Trump said last week he sees "no reason" why there can't be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. "None whatsoever," Trump said. And Abbas recently declared that a "historic" peace deal to end the decades-old conflict is possible under Trump's leadership.

Abbas, who heads the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA), has modest goals for the visit. According to Palestinian officials, one of his main objectives will be to simply listen to Trump's plan for reviving peace talks.

But Abbas also hopes to use the meeting to improve his diminished stature both at home and abroad, analysts say.

"What he's trying to do by coming is highlight his relevance and that he has a major role to play and that it'll be hard to get anything done without him," says Dennis Ross, who has worked on Mideast peace talks under three separate U.S. administrations.

President Donald Trump steps off Marine One as he arrives at the White House in Washington, Friday, April 28, 2017.
President Donald Trump steps off Marine One as he arrives at the White House in Washington, Friday, April 28, 2017.
Weakened stature

Abbas is increasingly unpopular at home. The 82-year-old is in the 12th year of what was meant to be a five-year presidential term. A recent poll suggests two-thirds of Palestinians want him to resign, unhappy with the results delivered by what they see as a corrupt PA. His Fatah political party also faces a serious challenge from Hamas, the rival Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip.

"That doesn't make it easier for him to make big decisions," Ross says.

Abbas is also at risk of being sidelined by Trump's efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Rather than pursue direct talks between the two sides, Trump has suggested recruiting Arab countries to help forge a broader peace agreement.

The approach could be based in part on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which called for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territories in exchange for normalized relations between Israel and Arab countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, March 5, 2017.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, March 5, 2017.
Strategy unclear

Just how much influence Abbas would have in such regional talks is unclear. But if Trump is planning to have Arab leaders pressure Abbas to make concessions, that may not work, warns William Quandt, a former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator.

"What's he going to do if people pressure him? He's going to say, `We don't accept.' It's all he can do. That's his legitimacy, is to say no," Quandt says.

The direction of the peace talks has only become more muddied as a result of Trump's contradictory statements on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

In February, Trump appeared to upend a long-standing U.S. policy when he announced during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he was open to alternatives to a two-state solution.

Though U.S. diplomats later reassured Palestinian officials that the U.S. remains committed to the idea of a Palestinian state, many Palestinians continue to question whether Trump will be an impartial broker.

Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, arrives at the Ministry of Defense, in Baghdad, Iraq, April 3, 2017.
Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, arrives at the Ministry of Defense, in Baghdad, Iraq, April 3, 2017.
'No daylight'

During the campaign, Trump promised there would be "no daylight' between his administration and Israel. Since taking office, Trump has also surrounded himself with advisers with deep ties to the Israeli settlement movement.

Diana Buttu, a Ramallah-based political analyst and former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization, says there is deep skepticism about the role of Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and adviser, who has been given a key role in the talks.

"Will Jared Kushner work? Of course not. He is somebody who has very strong ties with the very movement that has ousted Palestinians from their homeland," Buttu says, an apparent reference to donations by the Kushner family foundation to West Bank settlements.

Buttu also takes offense at what she sees as Trump's businessman-like approach to the conflict.

"Just slap it together and do a handshake and call it day, like it's some sort of business deal," she says. "Unless you actually get to those underlying issues, it's never going to be resolved."

Israeli leaders are also waiting for further details from Trump, including whether he will go ahead with his promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would amount to tacit acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over the entire city.

Not everyone is pessimistic about Trump's push for peace. Alan Baker, a former Israeli ambassador who participated in the negotiating and drafting of the 1993 Oslo Accords, says the time may be right to push for regional peace.

"There's certainly a common threat, when you think about it. There's certainly a common defense interest [among Arab nations and Israel] when it comes to the Iranian threat," he says.

More details could come soon. White House officials have said Trump is said to be considering a trip to Israel, reportedly in late May.

MainAll NewsMiddle EastJordanian official: US can move embassy to west Jerusalem

Jordanian official: US can move embassy to west Jerusalem Former Jordanian minister claims there is no need for Arabs to oppose the US moving its embassy to west Jerusalem. Contact Editor Arutz Sheva Staff, 02/05/17 10:11 Share

View of JerusalemView of JerusalemFLASH90

A former Jordanian Minister of Culture wrote in a controversial op-ed article for a leading Amman newspaper that there is no need for Arabs to oppose the potential move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to west Jerusalem, according to a report by Algemeiner.

Writing for the government daily newspaper Al Rai, Tareq Al-Masarwa — in an article translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), claimed that: "The Americans can move their embassy to the new [part of] Jerusalem [i.e. the western part] without sparking any serious rage among the Arabs. This is for the simple reason that the Palestinians and Arabs demand the Old City [of Jerusalem] — which they lost in the 1967 war, known as the Six Day War — as the capital of their state. I have not heard anyone demanding the 1948 part of Jerusalem [i.e., West Jerusalem], neither Hamas, the PLO nor anyone else."

Al-Masarwa also exhibited cautious confidence that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas would have a "meaningful" visit with President Trump Wednesday and added that Trump "can play the game of `Jerusalem the capital [of Israel]' without causing awkwardness for [either] US policy or his allies."

Al-Masarwa's comments are particularly timely as they come on the eve of a vote at UNESCO — the UN's cultural agency — on a resolution that accuses Israel of violating international law in its capital city. Jordan is not among the Arab sponsors of the resolution, which include Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan.

The resolution states that "all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the `basic law' on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith."

US officials have expressed their concern that UNESCO is constantly being used as a tool to delegitimize Israel.

Russia can cause tsunami near US with ocean-buried nuclear bombs Former Russian military officer claims nuclear bombs buried in ocean near America can be detonated causing tsunamis on eastern seaboard. Contact Editor Yoel Domb, 02/05/17 16:30 Share

Tsunami (illustration)Tsunami (illustration)iStock

A retired Russian colonel claims that Moscow has planted nuclear missiles off the east coast of America that could trigger a tsunami if detonated, according to a report in the British Daily Telegraph.

The far-fetched plans were outlined by Viktor Baranetz, who claimed it was a response to the US beefing up its military presence along Russia's borders.

"The Americans are deploying their tanks, airplanes and special forces battalions along the Russian border," Mr Baranetz said in an interview with Russian paper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

"And we are quietly `seeding' the US shoreline with nuclear `mole' missiles. They dig themselves in and "sleep" until they are given the command..."

Any such tsunami would destroy cities such as New York and Miami.

The former official said Russia had to come up with an effective way to defend itself, while operating with a much smaller military budget than America. "The US is the permanent `world champion' in the size of its military budget – almost $600 billion (£500 million), which is 10 times more than Russia's," he explained, adding that "Russia will not compete with the US in defence expenditure. We are in a different weight class. For us, the main question is how to ensure Russia's defence at a lower cost. I am sure that we have already found asymmetrical responses. I don't see a big problem here."

A Russian government spokesman dismissed Mr Baranetz's claims. Calling them "strange", he said the report should "not be taken seriously", the Daily Mail reported.

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