Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman slammed the Palestinians willingness to reach a final peace deal, and their bid to join international organizations, saying “We are ready to talk and negotiate, but will not accept any unilateral steps.”Speaking to a group of foreign diplomats, the foreign minister further seemed to claim that the Palestinians' decision to join some 15 international organizations and treaties killed a prisoner release deal which was said to include US-spy Jonathan Pollard and set peace talks back on track, well beyond their end-of-April deadline. “What happened last week, is that we were very close to reach a package deal with the Palestinians… it was very complicated and after real efforts by us to move forward, the Palestinians suddenly signed request to join 15 different UN agencies.” Negotiations broke down early this month after Israel failed to carry out a promised release of Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinians responded by reviving a campaign for recognition in international bodies, triggering a series of Israeli sanctions. Lieberman went on to lament what he felt was unfair treatment of Israel, claiming that the Palestinians, and the world, were repeating past mistakes: “It is interesting from our point of view is that certain countries and leader went out of their way no to blame the Palestinians for sabotaging the agreement. After some time, they start to blame Israel.” Lieberman further attempted to dispel what he called misunderstandings regarding Israel: Israel has been contended for many years with miss representation and miss understands: "First of all, Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the heart of the Mideast conflict. I think it is clear today that there is no linkage between our dispute with the Palestinians and the Arab Spring... or the civil war in Syria... there is no link. "Second point, settlements. I think it is clear we signed two peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan without settlements. Same thing with the disengagement, we evacuated 21 flourishing settlements, and removed all of the Jewish population, withdrawing to the 1967 lines. And the response from the Palestinians is 16,000 missiles." The comments came amid a Jerusalem meeting currently underway between Israeli and Palestinian negotiation teams. Justice Minister and Chief negotiator Tzipi Livni spoke to Ynet before the meeting Sunday and said "I think both sides, along with the Americans, want this to happen." "We're facing the decision making stage. The prime minister is the one who will have to make the most essential decision - whether to cave in to extremists" or not, she said. The teams last met on Thursday in a session presided over by Indyk, who has since returned to Washington for consultations while Israel observes the seven-day Passover holiday starting at sunset on Monday. But following that meeting the peace process suffered a new blow when Israel said it would freeze the transfer of duties it collects on the Palestinians' behalf, in retaliation for their diplomatic offensive against Israel at the United Nations. The monthly $111 million in taxes collected by Israel represents about two-thirds of the income received by the Palestinian Authority. Israel was also suspending its participation with the Palestinians in developing a gas field off the Gaza Strip and putting a cap on Palestinian deposits in its banks, the Israeli official said. The decision sparked concern in Washington. "We’ve seen these press reports, but we have not seen an official public announcement by the Government of Israel," state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki briefed reporters on Friday. "That said, we would regard such a development as unfortunate. We believe that the regular transfer of the Palestinian Authority’s tax revenues and economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been beneficial and is important to the well-being of the Palestinian economy." The talks hit an impasse two weeks ago when Israel refused to release as agreed a group of Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinians retaliated by seeking accession to several international treaties.
The recent round of Israeli sanctions on the Palestinian Authority was dismissed by PLO official Nabil Shaath on Sunday when he said that the attempt to punish the Palestinians "will not stop us from joining international treaties and conventions," Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.Shaath is a member of the Central Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and his comments came in a meeting with a German delegation in Ramallah. Shaath told the German delegation that the PA blames Israeli negotiators for the break-down of the peace talks, and called for greater international pressure on Israel to force it to abide by its past agreements with the Palestinians. Talks began to decline when Israel failed to release a group of prisoners which they had originally agreed to set loose as part of an agreement to kick-start peace talks. In response, the Palestinians applied to join several international treaties as an independent nation. This sparked the latest sanctions against the PA, which were decried by Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as "piracy." Shaath insisted that the move by the Palestinians are within the legal bounds give to them as a recognized non-member observer state in the UN and said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will continue to actively pursue joining international treaties and conventions.WAFA reported that Shaath assured the Germans that the Palestinians are committed to peaceful and political movements that will serve their interests and isolate Israel, while the German delegation reiterated their support for the Palestinian's right to independence. Israel's recent sanctions mark a low point in the crumbling peace talks due to expire on April 29. The sanctions include Israel's with-holding of tax revenues which the Israeli government collects and passes to the government in Ramallah. Amounting to anywhere from $100-111 million dollars monthly, the revenues add up to some two-thirds of the Palestinian's income and is vital for paying government employees. It was unclear how much of the funds would be withheld and for how long the sanctions would continue.Israel justifies the freeze on money transfers saying that any money withheld is money owed to the Israeli government for providing electricity, energy, and administration to the Palestinians whose debts to the Israelis reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
A senior diplomatic source says Israel will take further economic steps against the Palestinians if they continue unilateral efforts to upgrade their standing at the United Nations. According to the source, the Palestinians violated their commitment to refrain from unilateral steps during the period of the US-brokered peace talks. The source said Israel will respond to every violation, and it has many possible courses of action. Israel on Thursday announced it was deducting funds from the monthly tax revenue transferred to the Palestinian Authority to offset costs the Palestinians owe Israel. Israel also said it was capping Palestinian Authority deposits in Israeli banks and suspending its participation with the Palestinian Authority to develop an offshore gas field opposite the Gaza Strip. The Israeli measures came after the Palestinian Authority submitted applications to join 15 international treaties and organizations -- this in response to Israel's failure to free the fourth group of security prisoners as agreed upon in the US-brokered peace talks. Despite the economic sanctions, the Israeli source said contacts on extending the negotiations with the Palestinians beyond the nine-month framework will resume after the Passover holiday. The source said that at this point, no agreement has been reached on a deal, but there is a proposal for such a deal, and the sides will try to resolve the crisis. The United States over the weekend criticized both Israel and the Palestinians for their unilateral moves. White House spokesman Jay Carney chided the Palestinian Authority for turning to international organizations, but also expressed displeasure with Israel's sanctions on the Palestinians. Carney was quoted as saying that "unilateral moves by both sides will not accelerate the peace process, but will rather do the opposite." The US State Department termed "unfortunate" Israel's announcement to reeze the monthly transfer of Palestinian tax revenues. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a briefing on Friday that the US believes the regular transfer of the Palestinian Authority's tax revenues and economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been beneficial and is important to the well-being of the Palestinian economy. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called Israel's decision to stop tax money transfers to the Palestinian Authority "piracy." Erekat said that contact with Israeli negotiators continue, though the "gaps remain big." Israel collects about 100 million dollars a month in taxes for the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas said on Wednesday West Bank Palestinians should "give full rein" to armed resistance against the Israel, and called on the Palestinian Authority to end its security cooperation with Israel, Ma'an reported.The moves came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered government officials and offices to stop cooperation with Palestinian officials as part of a round of sanctions on the PA as peace talks between the two sides stalled in recent days. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoun told Maan that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should take advantage of Netanyahu's move and return the favor by ending all aspects of security coordination with Israel. Abbas should let resistance "deter the Israeli occupation and defend our people, our land, and our holy places," Barhoun said in a statement. One Israeli official called Netanyahu's order a response to "the Palestinians' grave violation of their commitments in the framework of the peace talks" - an apparent reference to their signing of 15 international conventions last week. Another official said Israeli cabinet members, directors-general of government ministries and other senior bureaucrats would no longer be allowed to meet their counterparts in the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads Israel's negotiating team in the troubled US-brokered peace process, and defense and security officials could continue to engage with the Palestinians, the officials said. Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmad Majdalani, however, downplayed the significance of this decision, noting that "90% of our daily business is dealing with the Israeli military." "In fact, there are no meetings between Israeli and Palestinian ministers, apart from finance ministers," Majdalani told AFP.
Israel is considering subtracting from the monthly tax revenue it transfers to the Palestinian Authority the amount the PA pays terrorists and their families, a government official said Wednesday. According to the official, holding back the monthly tax revenues – or a part of them – is one option Israel is considering in response to the Palestinian Authority's unilateral application last week to 15 international conventions and treaties, a move that sent the diplomatic talks into a tailspin. The document said the PA received $786m in foreign aid in 2012, a substantial component of its $3.1b budget that year. According to these figures, money paid out to the terrorists and their families represents fully 5% of the PA's annual total budget. The document was written in January but released Wednesday by the PMO. One government official said that it would be "morally justified" for Israel to subtract from the money it transfers to the PA each month the amount that is spent on grants and monthly payments to terrorists and their families. The PA cannot complain about its financial difficulties, and then pay out huge sums to support terrorists, he said. According to the document, "the Palestinian Authority is highly dependent on foreign aid. This money, which supports the PA budget, is fungible to meet payments for imprisoned and released terrorists." The document stated that 78 of the 104 convicted terrorists that Israel released as part of the deal that led to the re-starting of negotiations in July receive monthly stipends of up to $3,500, and grants of up to $25,000. "In this way the PA is giving a strong financial incentive to terrorism, including through the misuse of fungible foreign financial assistance," the document read. "Publically rewarding convicted murderers gives an official stamp of approval to terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. It is a highly persuasive form of incitement to violence and terrorism." The document further stated that providing financial support for terrorists "not only violates basic morality, it encourages further terrorist outrages," and "may tempt young Palestinians to seek an answer to familial financial difficulties through the use of violence."
Israel was "deeply disappointed" in US Secretary of State John Kerry's placing the bulk of the blame for the breakdown on talks at Israel's doorstep, an official in the Prime Minister's Office said Wednesday. The anonymous official, speaking to the New York Times, said that it was the Palestinians who "violated their fundamental commitments" to the diplomatic process by applying last week to join 15 international conventions and treaties. The official was responding to Kerry's "poof speech" a day earlier in the Senate Foreign relations Committee in which he said that the diplomatic process blew up following Israel's failure to meet the March 29 deadline for releasing the final batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners, and then the announcement of new tenders for 700 units in Gilo. "Secretary Kerry knows that it was the Palestinians who said ‘no’ to continued direct talks with Israel in November; who said ‘no’ to his proposed framework for final status talks; who said ‘no’ to even discussing recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; who said ‘no’ to a meeting with Kerry himself; and who said ‘no’ to an extension of the talks,” the official said. "At the same time," he said, "in the understandings reached prior to the talks, Israel did not commit to any limitation on construction. Therefore, the Palestinian claim that building in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, was a violation of the understandings is contrary to the facts. Both the American negotiating team and the Palestinians know full well that Israel made no such commitment.” Kerry's comments, the official said, "will both hurt the negotiations and harden Palestinian positions." Beyond the remarks made to the New York Times, officials in the Prime Minister's Office were not commenting on Kerry's comments, in an apparent effort to get their displeasure out there, without belaboring the point. Kerry's comments did seem, however, to take Jerusalem by surprise, as government officials claimed repeatedly over the last few weeks that the US knew very well the steps Israel has taken to move the talks forward, and that it also knew that the Palestinians were not showing any flexibility.
US Secretary of State John Kerry commented on the crisis in peace talks, citing the delay in the release of Palestinian prisoners and the announcement of East Jerusalem settlement construction tenders as carrying the onus for its outbreak.Speaking in a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Kerry said: "The prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed and another day – and then 700 units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof…"Economy Minister Naftali Bennett slammed the comments, saying: "For years there was an attempt to block construction in Jerusalem by blasts and explosions, but it didn't happen. Construction in Jerusalem is not a 'poof', it is Zionism and we will never apologize for it." State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki attempted to play down the comments, saying via Twitter that Kerry "was crystal clear today that both sides have taken unhelpful steps and at no point has he engaged in a blame game." Under the terms of renewed talks, Israel had promised to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners in four groups, while the Palestinians said they would suspend a campaign to sign up the "state of Palestine" for various UN agencies. But as the talks stalled last month, Israel failed to release the fourth group of prisoners on time, and the Palestinians then signed letters of accession for 15 international conventions. Kerry further said that the United States backs Israel's demand for recognition as a Jewish State: "The government of the United States and the president supports the notion of Israel being defined as a Jewish state. We believe that that should happen. But when it happens, and how it happens, has to be part of the negotiations. It's not going to happen in the beginning." Kerry added that as of now, the dispute is over the process of the negotiations, and "not over the substance of the final status agreement. It's over how do you get to the discussion of the final status agreement. So our hope is that we can work a way through this but in the end the parties are going to have to make that decision. It's not our decision. Hinting that American efforts are limited, the Secretary of State said: "you know, we can cajole, we can leverage, we can offer one thing or another to try to be helpful, they have to make the fundamental decision. Kerry added that "both leaders have made courageous and important decisions up until now," and that for Netanyahu, releasing prisoners is a "painful, difficult political step to take – enormously hard." He continued in saying that "the people of Israel have been incredibly supportive and patient in giving him the space to be able to do that, in exchange for the deal being kept of the release of prisoners and not going to the UN" Kerry further said that he intends to continue to fulfill his role as a broker as long as both sides desire to continue the negotiations. "I read about some who question why the secretary of state is engaged if the parties don't want to do it. The parties do want to do it and are talking to each other to go over this hurdle." Kerry noted that the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations comes up frequently in his meetings, saying that whether at NATO meetings, G7, or the Vatican, worldwide leaders are raising questions as to whether there is a chance for peace in the Middle East. "Everywhere, it has an impact," he said. Earlier Tuesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that a planned Palestinian prisoner release will not happen as long as Palestinians pursue their bid to join UN agencies. Lieberman accused the Palestinians of breaking the terms of the US-brokered peace talks, and the Palestinians should "pay a price" for this. Lieberman described the Palestinian move as highly "provocative." Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for a second time in two days Monday night, as US mediation efforts to stop prevent the collapse of ongoing peace talks showed little signs of progress. Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat held a "serious and constructive" meeting with US special envoy Martin Indyk on Sunday night "to discuss ways to overcome the crisis in the talks" and met again on Monday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters."Gaps remain but both sides are committed to narrow the gaps," she said of Monday's meeting.
An explosive device detonated along Israel's border fence with Syria on Tuesday afternoon, the IDF said, in the area south of the Druze village of Majdal Shams. Four IDF soldiers were wounded in the blast, one is in serious condition, the others are in light to moderate condition. The IDF has reportedly responded with artillery fire into Syrian-controlled territory, targeting Syrian military positions. According to the IDF, it fired Tamuz missiles and direct hits were confirmed. The condition remains serious of the IDF soldier wounded in the roadside explosion along the northern border in the Golan Heights on Tuesday. The director of Haifa's Rambam hospital said the soldier has undergone two head surgeries and is under anesthesia. Three other soldiers were lightly wounded when an explosive device detonated near their patrol. The Israel Air Force hit targets in southern Syria after the attack. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Wednesday visited the soldiers and their families in hospital. Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon says Israel is closely following developments in Syria and Lebanon, and will not allow a deterioration in the security situation in the north. Speaking on Reshet Bet, Danon said that Israel demands that the Syrian regime and Lebanese government ensure quiet along the border. He stressed that Israel will respond to any fire on its soldiers, to the detonation of explosives devices, or a kidnap attempt. Syria has lodged complaints with the United Nations secretary general and the chairman of the Security Council over artillery fire by the IDF and IAF aistrikes in Quneitra -- which were in retaliation for the security incident in the Golan Heights. The two letters called the Israeli action a flagrant breach of ceasefire accords.
The Palestinians will be willing to consider "resolving" the issue of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state when peace talks come an end and a meaningful solution to the conflict is achieved, Palestinian official Nabil Shaath told Israel Radio Tuesday.Netanyahu has made the demand of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state central to the current round of US-brokered peace talks. The Palestinians have bulked at the demand, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently saying there's "no way" he'll recognize Israel as such.For his part, US Secretary of State John Kerry recently sounded veiled criticism at Netanyahu's demand, saying it was a "mistake" to threat recognition as a deal breaker.Shaath spoke exclusively with Israel Radio and claimed that the issue of recognition could remain on the table, but would be addressed only after a comprehensive agreement is reached. Shaath added the demand's timing was suspicious, and could be a result of Israel's desire to stall peace talks and destroy any chances of reaching an agreement. He slammed the fact the issue has now become a central in talks, even though major issues like Jerusalem and refugees have yet to be resolved. "If this issue would have appeared after the central issues would have been solved, and if we would recive the correct answers to practical questions, the issue could be resolved."Monday US President Barack Obama met Abbas and urged him to make tough decisions and take risks for peace with Israel, as peace talks enter their final weeks.
Blast in area of Druze village of Majdal Shams on Golan Heights; initial investigation shows bomb detonated near IDF patrol. Netanyahu promises to 'act firmly' as IDF return fire, targeting Syrian military targets.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the incident during a Likud meeting Tuesday and promised to respond. "Recently, the border with Syria has become filled with jihadists and Hezbollah men which pose a new challenge for us to deal with. We managed to keep the peace along the Syrian border despite its on going civil war, but we will act firmly, if needed, to maintain Israel's security," Netanyahu said. An initial military investigation showed that a bomb had detonated near an IDF patrol jeep traveling along the border. Last Friday an improvised explosive device was detonated in the same area, targeting an IDF force near the border with Lebanon as it was patrolling in the Shebaa Farms area. The patrol, which included several reconnaissance vehicles, was hit by the IED, but no casualties were reported. At the time, Ynet's senior national security correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai claimed that it was almost certain that Hezbollah was attempting to fulfill its obligation to avenge and retaliate the bombing of a strategic weapons convoy, which was on its way to reach it some four weeks ago. According to foreign reports, several Hezbollah militants were killed in an alleged Israeli attack in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley at the end of February. A Lebanese security source confirmed that at the time that Israeli warplanes struck targets in the coastal country with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claiming the attack targeted a Hezbollah "missile base." Earlier, the official Lebanese news agency reported that Israeli fighter jets have carried two attacks on Monday in the vicinity of the Syrian-Lebanese border. The objective of the attack was the destruction of Hezbollah facilities near the border in Lebanon, according to Al Arabiya, whose journalist reported that loud explosions were heard across the Beqaa Valley.