SWI NEWS: 10 Kislev 5770, Friday, November 27, 2009
Ninety Fatah terrorists 'pardoned' In an effort to bolster Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the face of a potential mass prisoner swap with Hamas, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) "pardoned" over 90 wanted Fatah militiamen on Thursday on condition they refrain from engaging in terrorist activity. West Bank. One of the fugitives included in the deal is Ala Sankara, who was the Al-Aksa commander in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. In 2007, the Shin Bet signed an amnesty deal with over 150 wanted Palestinian terror suspects, offering them a chance to avoid arrest by handing in their weapons and refraining from terrorist activity. The Shin Bet has continued to offer the deal to dozens of other Palestinian terror suspects - all affiliated with Fatah - and eventually will consider allowing them to join the official Palestinian security forces. Defense officials said that the amnesty deal was part of Israeli efforts to bolster Abbas ahead of a potential swap with Hamas in which over 1,000 prisoners would be released in exchange for Gilad Schalit. Israel is concerned that a massive prisoner deal with Hamas would undermine Abbas and boost Hamas's popularity on the Palestinian street ahead of general elections. Israel is planning several wide-ranging gestures to Abbas. On Wednesday, the IDF announced that it was removing 50 dirt roadblocks in the West Bank, including one on the Jenin-Tulkarm road, one of the main arteries for Palestinians. Meanwhile, Channel 2 reported Thursday night that there had been a number of adjustments to the pending Schalit deal. According to accounts of Israel's offer as detailed Hamas officials, Israel wants to switch some of the prisoners Hamas has demanded be released for other prisoners. Israel would also release prisoners serving multiple life sentences only 3-10 years after the main exchange takes place, and deport them out of the area altogether. Other terrorists who had lived in the West Bank would be deported to the Gaza Strip, Channel 2 reported. Hamas has reportedly responded to the offer by demanding that prisoners only be deported in extraordinary cases and with their consent. Hamas has also reiterated its demand to include in the releases former Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) secretary-general Ahmed Sa'adat, as well as several prisoners of Jordanian and Syrian descent. It has not responded to Israel's condition that the release of some prisoners be delayed. Earlier Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Schalit should be freed in a "feasible and appropriate way, but not at any price." "Hamas is discussing the proposal and we're holding talks," he told Israel Radio. "We hope a deal will ensue, but I can't say whether it will really happen or not, and if so, when." The defense minister explained how he might back a deal in which Schalit would be exchanged for hundreds of Hamas terrorists, while at the same time objecting to negotiating with kidnappers. Regulated principles for conduct in such instances have only recently begun to be consolidated, he said, based on recommendations by an expert committee. "Israel is on a slippery slope. This descent must be stopped, but not at the expense of a person who is already in Hamas captivity," he told the radio station. "A year ago I appointed a commission… to recommend principles and processes regarding captives and prisoners of war… Incidentally, they are not the same," he said of the two categories. "With prisoners of war, the rule is: all of our prisoners in return for all of the enemy's, even if we have 3,000 and they have three. With captives, since kidnapping is quite easy, it can turn into a method to extort the State of Israel, and we are being led down this slippery slope… Other countries don't negotiate with abductors, and the number of kidnappings is dropping," Barak pointed out. "But as for Schalit, my position is that you don't change a 20-year process while you have a soldier in captivity."
Bomber may have been heading for Eilat An IDF bomb squad detonated a 15-kilogram explosive seized during a search conducted along the Egyptian border on Thursday. Late Wednesday night, IDF troops on a routine patrol of the border area spotted a suspicious figure carrying a bag containing what was later discovered to be a 15-kilogram bomb. The soldiers ordered him to stop and fired several shots in the air. However, the man fled the scene back into Egypt, dropping the bag in his haste. IDF sources said it was possible that the suspected terrorist was from the Gaza Strip and had crossed into the Sinai Peninsula with the intention of then crossing into Israel to carry out an attack. The military has been following attempts to carry out attacks through the 'U-route', where Gazan terrorists travel to Egypt, then turn back upon reaching Sinai and infiltrate Israel via the more penetrable Israel-Egypt border. Channel 10 quoted security officials as assessing the device was either meant to be used in Eilat, Israel's southernmost city, or in another major Israeli city to which the suspect would have been driven, in order to perpetrate a multiple-casualty attack. OC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant praised the soldiers' alertness and quick response.
Israel officially freezes settlements, Palestinians still don't want peace talks Israel's cabinet on Wednesday voted in favor of a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to officially freeze all new construction in Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria for a period of 10 months to give peace talks with the Palestinians another chance. Speaking to the nation following the vote, Netanyahu insisted that "now is time to move forward toward peace. There is no more time to waste. Israel has taken a far-reaching step toward peace, it is time for the Palestinians to do the same." The decision did not include the eastern half of Jerusalem, where the Palestinians and the international community also accuse Israel of settlement activity, and will also not halt construction on 3,000 Jewish housing units already being built in the so-called "West Bank." The cabinet vote was really just an official public announcement of a policy Netanyahu has been implementing since he took office in March. Since then, Israel has not authorized construction of any new housing developments in Judea and Samaria, and has only allowed select projects to go forward in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded the announcement of an official settlement freeze, and said it would certainly "help move forward" the stalled peace process. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell described the decision as "significant" and said it would have a "substantial impact on the ground." But the Palestinians took a much different view. Emboldened by US President Barack Obama's recent strong criticism of Jewish building projects in Jerusalem, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Israel's decision meant nothing, since the new red line for restarting talks was now a halt to Jewish construction in parts of the holy city claimed by the Palestinians. "Jerusalem is the red line for the Palestinians and Arabs," Abbas said in a statement released though his spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh. "Any return to negotiations must be on the basis of a complete settlement freeze, and in Jerusalem foremost." Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman fired back on Thursday, noting that Israel did not actually care what Abbas thought of its decision, which was primarily made to show the US and the international community that Israel is willing to make compromises for peace, while it is the Palestinians who refuse to move forward. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told reporters that the decision would be "sufficient to demonstrate whether the Palestinians are serious about peace or just serial excuse givers."
Israel Reacts to Construction Moratorium
JERUSALEM, Israel – Reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s announcement to suspend construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) ran the gamut from support to rejection.
Palestinian Authority officials said the moratorium would not bring them back to the negotiating table. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said the move was meant solely to appease the Obama administration.
“At the end of the day, Netanyahu needs to make peace with us, the Palestinians. He doesn’t need to make peace with the Americans,” Erekat told Army Radio. “If that’s what he wants, that’s his business,” he said. “The last I knew, Washington is 6,000 miles from Jerusalem, while Jericho is 67,” he said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said “the ball is in the Palestinian court.”
“We’ve been more than fair with the Palestinian Authority, both in our intentions to resume negotiations and in actions on the ground, including the removal of roadblocks, investments and cooperation with Blair,” Lieberman told Army Radio on Thursday morning.
Lieberman’s deputy minister, Danny Ayalon, said the 10-month moratorium would prove that Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria have never been “obstacles to peace.”
“This policy of restraint will prove once and for all that settlements have never been, nor will they ever be, obstacles to peace,” Ayalon said.
“There is only a limited window of opportunity,” he said. “It will be sufficient to demonstrate whether the Palestinians are serious about peace or just serial excuse givers,” the deputy foreign minister said.
Minister Benny Begin said it’s a shame the Palestinians refuse to reopen peace negotiations.
“It is regrettable that our neighbors are not heeding any request, even those made by the U.S. and European countries, to join direct negotiations without preconditions in an effort to reach an agreement,” he said.
Minister and Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon also backed the government’s decision, saying building in the Jerusalem neighborhoods should continue as in any capital city.
“The partial freeze, which allows the construction of public buildings and construction in Jerusalem, is the correct move,” Ya’alon said.
The Palestinians maintain that Israel has no right to build in those parts of Jerusalem that were under Jordanian rule prior to the 1967 Six Day War, when the city was reunited under Israeli sovereignty.
“For the Palestinians and Arabs, Jerusalem is a red line that can’t be crossed,” PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said. “We cannot accept any settlement construction freeze that does not include Jerusalem,” he said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak remains hopeful, believing there is a chance the Palestinians will change their minds.
“I believe the talks will be renewed after the Americans make their proposal,” he said. “The alternative is diplomatic stagnation that could result in violence,” he said.
Meanwhile the Obama administration welcomed Israel’s decision.
“Today’s announcement by the government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement released after Netanyahu’s announcement on Wednesday.
Many in the American Jewish community also supported the temporary construction freeze.
In a press release posted on their Web site, the Anti-Defamation League called the move “courageous and unprecedented,” saying it “unquestionably demonstrates Israel’s deep and ongoing commitment to reaching a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.”
“We join with Israel and the United States in calling on the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world to respond meaningfully to this significant step by Israel and take their own meaningful action to promote reconciliation, peace and security with Israel,” the statement concluded.
Barak Approves 28 Public Buildings (IsraelNN.com) Defense Minister Ehud Barak signed permits Thursday for 28 educational institutions and public buildings. The educational structures are intended for the school year which begins in September (2010/2011, or 5771 by the Hebrew calendar). Barak said: “We are all obligated to carry out an open dialogue with the settler leaders, and to listen to them. This is a very serious and responsible group that exhibited a large degree of self-restraint in various tests in the past.” Barak immediately added, however: "Besides our obligation to be open and to listen to the settler public we must not get confused: the state means what it says. Anyone who asks whether the people at the ministerial level intend to carry out their decision from yesterday [regarding a 10-month construction freeze in Judea and Samaria] I say: the answer is positive. This is a real test of Israel's democracy.” Earlier in the day Barak instructed the IDF to publish the order to temporarily freeze construction starts in Judea and Samaria, in line with the government's decision from yesterday. The order will be signed by Central Command head Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi. In a closed discussion at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Barak said of the cabinet decision to freeze construction: “This is a unilateral step initiated by the government of Israel in coordination and understanding with the United States, with the intention of advancing the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. The decision saddles the security establishment, the IDF, the police, the Shin Bet and the Civilian Administration with a very important mission of enforcement.”
Dutch anti-Semitism in Jerusalem