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|Tuesday, Dec 10 '13, Tevet 7, 5774|
1. PA Rejects Prisoner Release Delay, Warns of 'Total Failure'
by Ari Yashar, Arutz Sheva Staff
In response to reports that US Secretary of State John Kerry will delay the third batch of terrorist releases by a month, a spokesperson of Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas declared Monday that the PA will not agree to the delay, reports Kol Yisrael government radio.
Issa Karaka, PA Minister of Prisoner Affairs, said that while an official confirmation of the postponement has yet to be made, there are definite American pressures in that direction. Karaka added that Abbas told Kerry in their meeting last week that he refuses the proposed postponement, saying the matter could negatively impact peace talks with Israel.
Kerry's delay is seen as meant to pressure the PA into accepting Kerry's proposed Jordan Valley security arrangements made last week, which PA officials say Abbas rejected as they would not have prevented Israelis from living in the area.
Meanwhile Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) official, told AFP that Kerry's Jordan Valley proposals "will drive Kerry's efforts to an impasse and to total failure."
To date 52 of the 104 terrorists slated for release in "gestures" to keep peace talks going have gone free. The third batch of terrorist releases was set to occur in three weeks, although the new reports leave the timing unclear.
In late November a senior Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) official revealed that the PA is remaining in peace talks only to free all 104 terrorists.
On the flip side of Kerry's pressure on the PA, there are concerns that the US may pressure Israel to concede to Jordan Valley arrangements lessening or removing Israeli presence in the region.
On Sunday, Coalition head MK Yariv Levin (Likud-Beytenu) warned of these US pressures on Israel. Regarding Kerry's offers to Abbas, Levin noted his concerns came "because the question isn’t only security arrangements, but also our right to the Jordan Valley – a right we need to stand up for."
In response to the concerns, Major General Nitzan Alon, the Head of the IDF's Central Command, on Sunday argued "that the Jordan Valley is a strategic buffer for Israel," and added that the US supports this position.
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2. 'Historic' Agreement to Link Red & Dead Seas
by Ari Yashar
On Monday, Energy Minister Silvan Shalom announced that representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA) will sign an "historic" agreement to cooperate in linking the Red Sea with the shrinking Dead Sea.
Under the agreement, which is to be signed at the World Bank in Washington, AFP reports that water will be drawn from the Gulf of Aqaba off of Eilat in Israel's south, with some desalinated and distributed to all three members of the agreement, and the rest transferred in 4 pipes to the Dead Sea.
While estimates say the Dead Sea is on pace to dry out by 2050, environmental groups have warned that the Dead Sea's delicate ecosystem could be damaged by a large influx of Red Sea water.
In August, Jordan announced a $980 million project to transfer water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, which appears to have been a recent impetus to the deal.
After the deal is signed, Shalom said "an international tender will be issued for the entire project -- building the desalination plant in Aqaba and laying the first of the four pipes."
Shalom praised the announcement as "a breakthrough after many years of efforts. It is nothing less than a historic move." He particularly noted the economic aspects of obtaining cheap water, the environmental aspect of "saving the Dead Sea," and diplomatic aspects of signing a deal as peace talks with the PA are failing by many accounts.
The announcement comes as the Jordan Valley region above the Dead Sea is becoming a topic of contention.
On Sunday, Coalition head MK Yariv Levin (Likud-Beytenu) warned that US pressure on Israel in the peace talks threatens Israel's presence in the Jordan Valley.
US Secretary of State John Kerry made several offers to the PA regarding security in the Jordan Valley during his recent visit. PA officials say PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offers because they would not have prevented Israelis from living in the area.
In response to concerns that Israel will give up on the Jordan Valley, Major General Nitzan Alon, the Head of the IDF's Central Command on Sunday expressed firmness in arguing "that the Jordan Valley is a strategic buffer for Israel," and added that the US supports this position.
Research has illustration the serious dangers Israel would face without a security presence in the Jordan valley.
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3. Hezbollah TV Apologizes to Bahrain
by Gil Ronen
A satellite channel affiliated with Shiite Lebanese militia Hezbollah offered its apology to Bahrain on Saturday for not being “neutral” when reporting about events in the Gulf kingdom, Bahrain's news agency reported.
Al-Manar channel confirmed in a statement announced in a meeting for the Arab States Broadcasting Union in Tunis that it apologized to Bahrain.
It also expressed a future commitment to adopt objectivity when covering news coming from the Arab countries.
Reporting on the apology, Al Arabiya explained that the majority-Shiite Bahrain, ruled by a Sunni monarchy, was the first Arab state to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Bahrain has long accused Hezbollah, which is an Iranian proxy, of meddling in its internal affairs.
The Kuwaiti columnist Mashaal al-Nami, meanwhile, told Al Arabiya News Channel that al-Manar giving an apology to Bahrain is “an indication that the so-called Hezbollah and its media organizations directly belong to the Iranian regime, and that they work according to the Iranian policy in the region.”
Iran is currently following a reconciliatory policy towards the Gulf states, in an attempt to allay their concerns regarding the interim deal it struck with the P5+1 powers, regarding its nuclear weapons program. As part of this effort, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited four Gulf states last week.
“This apology came in the context of the Iranian-Gulf rapprochement,” al-Nami said.
However, the writer warned, “the entire Iranian rapprochement is a temporary issue and nothing more than maneuvers.”
“Iran is unable to abandon the gains that it made over the last thirty years in its course which had depended on intervention in the affairs of neighboring countries.”
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4. World-renowned Pianist Receives Israeli Citizenship
by Ari Yashar
On Saturday evening at a ceremony in Jerusalem world-renowned pianist Evgeny Kissin, an enthusiastic Jewish supporter of Israel, was presented with Israeli citizenship by Minister of Immigration and Absorption Sofa Landver and Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky.
Kissin, a two-time Grammy Award winner and widely regarded as one of this generation's greatest classical pianists, was given an Israeli identification card (teudat zehut) and Israeli passport.
After receiving citizenship Kissin said "I would like to use this occasion to appeal to other Jews who live in the diaspora to join my example. If Israel is so dear to us, no matter where we live, let us be Israelis." He then added in Hebrew "I am with you, State of Israel, I am with you, my people. Now I can tell the whole world not only 'I am a Jew,' but also 'I am an Israeli.'"
At the ceremony Sharansky commented that "Evgeny Kissin's exceptional desire to be a part of Israel is the most powerful answer to those young Jews who ask why be Jewish or why be connected to Israel."
Pianist Evgeny Kissin receives citizenship from Sofa Landver and Natan Sharansky Lior Daskal
As an active supporter of Israel, Kissin has engaged in several efforts for the country, among them a fight against anti-Israeli reporting by the BBC in 2010.
Kissin expressed interest in receiving citizenship to Sharanky around a year ago so as to "fight for Israel not only as a Jew, but also as an Israel.
While Kissin is not permanently based in Israel, Sharansky recommended that the Israeli government grant him citizenship based on his significant contribution to Israel in the international arena.
Moscow-born Kissin's prodigious musical career began when he started playing and improvising on the piano at the age of two; his international debut came at the age of twelve. Kissin has been called "one of the great pianists of our time," and in addition to the Grammy Awards he has received Honorary Membership in the Royal Academy of Music, as well as a variety of other honors.
After being granted an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University in 2010, Kissin remarked "wherever we Jews live, our thoughts, hopes, and prayers are always with Israel and with our ancient and holy capital, Jerusalem. ...I am proud of you, Israel, and I am grateful to providence for having been born a son of the people of Israel."
Around the time when Kissin approach Sharansky about citizenship, the pianist released a public letter stating "I am a Jew, Israel is a Jewish state – and since long ago I have felt that Israel, although I do not live there, is the only state in the world with which I can fully identify myself, whose case, problems, tragedies and very destiny I perceive to be mine."
Kissin further wrote that "when Israel’s enemies try to disrupt concerts of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra or the Jerusalem Quartet, I want them to come and make troubles at my concerts, too: because Israel's case is my case, Israel’s enemies are my enemies, and I do not want to be spared of the troubles which Israeli musicians encounter when they represent the Jewish State beyond its borders."
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5. 'Feminist' MKs Vow to Fight Equality in Divorce
by Gil Ronen
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) announced at week's end that she will propose a bill reforming the Tender Years Doctrine, which currently gives divorcing mothers near-automatic custody over children aged 0-6. The new formulation will only give mothers an advantage over fathers with children aged 0-2, making the law more egalitarian.
Livni's bill adopts many of the recommendations made by the Schnitt Committee, a committee of experts that was appointed by the Justice Ministry in order to propose a reform in the outdated Tender Years Clause.
Israel is one of the last countries in the world where the Tender Years Doctrine is still in force, if not the last. While the clause reflects an old world order in which mothers were expected to be homemakers and fathers were breadwinners, many feminist politicians and women's groups refuse to have it amended, claiming that the time is not yet ripe for such a change and that men will take advantage of it to put pressure on women in divorce.
The Schnitt Committee recommended that Israeli family law cease to use the term "custody" regarding children in divorce, and that instead, courts will establish "parenting arrangements" with both divorcing parents. The committee's report stresses the importance of having both parents involved in raising children of divorce, if this is at all possible. The report was largely adopted by Livni.
MK Zehava Galon (Meretz), who is considered an extreme feminist, vowed to fight Livni's proposal, as did other MKs of the same ilk, and academicians identified with a radical brand of feminism. Galon accused Livni of "replacing the protection of women with an attack on the good and well-being of children."
"As long as the religious law and the Knesset legislation do not ensure equality in responsibility for raising children during the marriage period, forcing formal equality in divorce will endanger children and their well-being," she claimed.
Largely as a result of delaying tactics by "feminist" politicians and academicians, the Schnitt Committee's deliberations took a full seven years. When the committee finally published its recommendations, Galon vowed publicly to "bury" them.
Meanwhile, MK Gila Gamliel (Likud-Beytenu) is proposing a bill that would completely abolish the Tender Years Doctrine and give both parents shared responsibility for raising their children.
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6. Hagel In Pakistan To Ease Drone Strike Tensions
by Ari Yashar
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Monday visited Pakistan to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other officials. His visit, the first by a US Secretary of Defense in 4 years, aims to soothe tensions over US drone strikes and raise cooperation regarding Afghanistan.
During their meeting, Hagel and Sharif vowed to work together to strengthen their countries' relationships which have been strained over US drone strikes on terrorists. Pakistan has criticized the strikes as jeopardizing peace talks with Pakistani Taliban to end its six year insurgency that has left thousands dead.
On November 3, the US Ambassador was summoned by the Pakistani government regarding two drone attacks that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud along with four other suspected terrorists. Mehsud at the time had a $5 million bounty on his head from the US government.
Furthermore, in late November a drone, apparently American, attacked an Islamic seminary where a leader of the Afghan Taliban-linked Haqqani terror network in Pakistan had visited just two days earlier. The strike left 5 dead, and came a day after Pakistan's foreign policy chief said the US had promised to end drone attacks during the peace talks with the Taliban.
A senior US defense official told Al Jazeera prior to Hagel's visit that "there is some friction in the relationship" with Pakistan, which Hagel wants to confront "head on" in bringing the two countries closer together.
The official added that Hagel intends "to deepen our defense partnership" with Pakistan and affirm continued US military assistance. Since July 2012 Pakistan has reportedly received around $1.2 billion in military aid from the US.
Meanwhile officials traveling with Hagel retracted a statement issued late Sunday saying NATO shipments out of Afghanistan through Pakistan would resume. The shipments had been cancelled due to anti-drone Pakistani protesters violently searching the shipments. Hagel's official confirmed the shipments were still on hold.
The Pakistani route is the main one used by the US and NATO to withdraw its military equipment from Afghanistan in the massive pullout set to conclude by late 2014.
Hagel arrived in Pakistan after two days in Afghanistan. There he pressed President Hamid Karzai to sign a security agreement allowing US forces to stay in the country after 2014. In late November Karzai said he wants to delay the security deal, adding "my trust with America is not good. I don't trust them and they don't trust me."
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7. Dutch Premier's Israel Trip Hit by Gaza Row
by Arutz Sheva staff
A visit to Israel by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Sunday was marred by a dispute over a new security scanner on the Gaza border, an Israeli official said.
Rutte was to have inaugurated the scanner on the frontier with the Hamas-ruled enclave, but the ceremony was put off because of the row.
Installation of the Dutch scanner, which would have been used to verify the contents of containers from Gaza destined for export, was postponed after the Netherlands made unexpected demands," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Technically, there is no problem about the scanner at the Kerem Shalom crossing through which goods originating in Gaza pass," the official said.
"But the Dutch suddenly imposed political conditions, notably on the percentage of merchandise destined for the West Bank or abroad.
"These are political issues that need to be resolved at the highest level, which will delay the start-up of the scanner."
Media reports said the row meant the ceremony at the crossing originally due for Sunday, with Rutte present, was cancelled.
The focus of the dispute is exports from Gaza to Judea and Samaria, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) under president Mahmoud Abbas.
Dutch officials had hoped the scanner might boost commerce between Gaza and the PA in Judea and Samaria, the media reports said.
After one of its soldiers, Gilad Shalit, was captured in 2006 by Gaza-based terrorists, Israel imposed a blockade on the Palestinian enclave.
It reinforced this in 2007 after Hamas ousted secular Fatah forces loyal to Abbas.
There was also a diplomatic spat in Judea and Samaria, where Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, travelling with Rutte, cancelled a planned event rather than accept an Israeli military escort, a Dutch foreign ministry official said.
Timmermans had planned to visit PA Arabs in the Judean city of Hevron's old center.
"It was the minister himself who decided to cancel that part of the visit," Ahmed Dadou, a spokesman for Timmermans, told AFP in The Hague.
"It's normal to be accompanied by the Israeli military in the part occupied by settlers but it's not usual in the Palestinian part," he said.
"Other foreign ministers have previously visited the city unaccompanied by Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian sector and Mr. Timmermans did not want to accept this new condition in order not to set a precedent."
Timmermans instead visited a Palestinian dairy in another part of the city, where about 700 Jews live under Israeli army protection surrounded by nearly 200,000 Palestinians.
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8. Report in Iran: Saudi Intelligence Head Met Mossad Chief
by Elad Benari
The Iranian Fars news agency claimed in a report on Sunday that the head of the Saudi intelligence service recently met with several senior Israeli security officials, including the head of the Israeli Mossad.
According to the report, the meeting took place in Geneva on November 27. Fars based its claims on a whistleblower with access to Saudi classified information, who was named by the news agency as Mujtahid. According to Fars, he "is well connected with the inner circles of the Saudi secret service" and revealed the details of the meeting on his Twitter account.
Mujtahid’s Tweet reportedly said that Prince Bandar and Israeli officials agreed on a number of crucial issues, including “containing Iran by any possible means, exercising stronger control over Syria’s Jihadist forces, sidelining Muslim Brotherhood and stopping the waves of the Arab Spring.”
The latest claim by Fars comes just several days after the same news agency reported that Israel and Saudi Arabia had teamed up to launch another virus, similar to the Stuxnet virus, against Iran's nuclear program.
In that report, the news agency cited an "informed source" who said that representatives sent by Prince Bandar and Mossad head Tamir Pardo met to agree on ways to “sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.”
That report also claimed that a meeting had taken place between the sides in Europe, but that time Fars claimed that the meeting had taken place in Vienna on November 24 - three days before the meeting which was described in Sunday’s report.
Both of these reports are unconfirmed, but come on the heels of a report in the British Sunday Times, which recently claimed that Israel and Saudi Arabia may team up to fight Iran if talks between Iran and the West fail to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel would carry out the actual airstrike, with Saudi Arabia providing technical support, the Sunday Times claimed.
Saudi Arabia later denied the report, clarifying it "has no relations or contacts with Israel of any kind or at any level.”
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