Alienation drives young Palestinians beyond politics

A protester holds a Palestinian flag as he poses for a photograph at the scene of clashes with Israeli troops near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, January 19, 2018.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Miriam Berger

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Confrontations between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have taken on a life of their own since Palestinian leaders called for protests against Donald Trump’s decision to treat Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

While Hamas, Fatah and other groups call for a weekly show of strength on Fridays, dozens of stone-throwers turn out along the border between Gaza and Israel every day, even when, as last Friday, a protest is called off due to bad weather.

Some wear the colors of the various factions vying to lead the drive for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, but others have no affiliation, a sign of alienation that makes the political situation more volatile.

“I am not against any of the factions, but we are grown-ups and are intelligent and we see that the ongoing division is weakening us all,” said a 28-year-old protester, referring to a renewed standoff between the Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah.

The two groups have long been rivals and have failed to achieve any lasting unity agreement in years of off-and-on negotiations. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces in 2007.

Conscious of the growing influence of the youth due to their ballooning numbers, both Hamas and Fatah have recently tried to court them, holding large, separate meetings in Gaza to convince them to back reconciliation.

But, as the daily scene on the border shows, young Palestinians are increasingly beyond reach, put off by a four-year stalemate in peace talks with Israel and little progress toward healing internal rifts.

Their growing frustration surfaces in social media criticism of their leaders that is met by with an increasingly authoritarian response.

The stone-throwers say the more alienated they feel, the greater the likelihood they will take to the streets to protest.

“We are hungry and at home we have no electricity and our fathers have no jobs. This can’t bring about anything except an explosion,” said a 23-year-old unemployed history graduate who gave his name as Ahmed.

Asked about the target of such an explosion, he said: “Against the Israeli occupation, because it bears prime responsibility for everything, even for the division between Hamas and Fatah.”

 

ELECTIONS?

Palestinian politicians have agreed to hold long-delayed elections in both territories this year as part of moves to end the schism that led to Hamas seizing control of Gaza in 2007 from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority based in the larger West Bank.

Whether they will materialize is unclear.

Palestinian security officials have over the past few years questioned many people, sometimes for weeks, about social media posts criticizing Fatah and Hamas, according to Palestinian human rights groups and New York-based Human Rights Watch.

In Gaza, most complaints center on electricity shortages that date back 11 years, with both groups seen at fault.

Slow unity efforts are another hot-button issue: some blame Hamas for balking at handing full control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority while others criticize Fatah for retaining salary cuts in Gaza.

Fatah is also faulted for the fact that its engagement in peace talks with Israel has brought little progress toward a Palestinian state and for keeping aging leaders in place.

People aged 15 to 29 make up a third of the population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and partially blockaded Gaza strip and a disproportionate number of the many unemployed.

“There is no party that represents me or that I can say ‘this party speaks for me,'” said Oula Jabara, a university student in the occupied West Bank aged 20, who was a child when Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005.

Almost three quarters of university students and 69 percent of all 18 to 22-year-olds want Abbas to resign, compared with 59 percent of Palestinians aged 50 and above, a December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed.

Hasan Faraj, the Secretary General of Fatah’s Youth Movement, declined to provide membership numbers, calling it an internal matter. He said the movement remained relevant with “tens of thousands” of official members, and more affiliated.

The lack of transparency underscores a common complaint by young people that party leaders do not think they count.

Of six people interviewed at protests against Trump’s Jerusalem move, none was prepared to say who they wanted to replace Abbas.

“Whoever it is will just be like the last,” said Taha, a 33-year-old cook who declined to give his last name and wore a mask to avoid identification by Israeli authorities.

“I don’t have faith in any of the parties.”

In the absence of political dialogue either within Palestinian factions or between them and Israel, many young Palestinians suffer in silence and some take to the streets.

Palestinian uprisings erupted in 1987 and in 2000, the latter after the failure of U.S.-sponsored peace talks. A build-up of grievances could spark a new one, but it would likely take broad public support among Palestinians and involvement by factions to keep it going.

“Non-affiliated youth may fuel an uprising, a short but aggressive one, but they can’t sustain it,” said Palestinian political analyst Akram Attallah.

Sixteen Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in protests since Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement and hundreds of Palestinians have been injured, eight on the Gaza border on Friday alone, according to the territory’s health ministry.

A 13-year-old boy on the border said he had been hit twice by rubber bullets. His mother had warned him a third hit could be fatal and his father had beaten him to try to keep him away.

“I always find an excuse to slip out,” he said. “So what, I will be a martyr.”

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Philippa Fletcher)

Timing of Trump peace plan depends on Palestinians: Pence

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City January 23, 2018.

By Jeff Mason

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the timing of a long-awaited U.S. Middle East peace initiative depended on the return of Palestinians to negotiations.

President Donald Trump’s advisers have been working on the outlines of a plan for some time. But Palestinians ruled out Washington as a peace broker after the U.S. president’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The White House has been working with our partners in the region to see if we can develop a framework for peace,” Pence told Reuters in an interview in Jerusalem on the last leg of a three-day Middle East trip. “It all just depends now on when the Palestinians are going to come back to the table.”

Trump’s Jerusalem move angered the Palestinians, sparked protests in the Middle East and raised concern among Western countries that it could further destabilize the region. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as capital of a future state.

A White House official told reporters he hoped the plan would be announced in 2018.

“It’ll come out both when it’s ready and when both sides are actually willing to engage on it,” said the White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official acknowledged that the United States and the Palestinian leadership had not had any direct diplomatic contact since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

Pence said in the interview that he and the president believed the decision, under which the United States also plans to move its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, would improve peacemaking prospects.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official at the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the Trump administration had dealt a death blow to any prospect for peace.

“The extremist positions of this U.S. administration and the biblical messianic message of Pence not only disqualified the U.S. as a peace broker but created conditions of volatility and instability in the region and beyond,” Ashrawi said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Pence discussed the Jerusalem issue during talks with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday and Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday. He said the two leaders had agreed to convey to the Palestinians that the United States was eager to resume peace talks.

“We want them (the Palestinians) to know the door is open. We understand they’re unhappy with that decision but the president wanted me to convey our willingness and desire to be a part of the peace process going forward,” Pence said.

Asked if the Egyptians and Jordanians had agreed to pressure the Palestinians to return to talks, Pence said: “I wouldn’t characterize it as that.”

SUPPORTER OF NETANYAHU

The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. It says the entire city is its eternal and indivisible capital.

Pence said the U.S. State Department would spell out details in the coming weeks about a plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.

Israeli media have speculated that a 2019 embassy move could help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win reelection in a vote scheduled for November of that year.

Pence said he admired Netanyahu’s leadership and appreciated his friendship. Asked if he hoped for the prime minister’s reelection, Pence said: “I’m a strong supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, but I don’t get a vote here.”

Pence toured Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial with Netanyahu on Tuesday before visiting the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites. He stood solemnly with his hand on the wall and left a note, as people who pray there traditionally do.

The vice president also pressed European leaders to heed Trump’s call to forge a follow-up agreement to the Iran nuclear deal established under President Barack Obama’s administration.

“At the end of the day, this is going to be a moment where the European community has to decide whether they want to go forward with the United States or whether they want to stay in this deeply flawed deal with Iran,” he said.

Asked if he thought the United States would succeed in getting that kind of agreement with its European allies, Pence said: “We’ll see.”

Trump said earlier this month the United States would withdraw from the agreement unless its flaws were fixed.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Ralph Boulton)

Abbas wins EU backing for Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem

European High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Brussels, Belgium, January 22,

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union assured President Mahmoud Abbas it supported his ambition to have East Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian state, in the bloc’s latest rejection of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

At a meeting in Brussels with EU foreign ministers, Abbas repeated his call for East Jerusalem as capital as he urged EU governments to recognize a state of Palestine immediately, arguing that this would not disrupt negotiations with Israel on a peace settlement for the region.

While Abbas made no reference to Trump’s move on Jerusalem or U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the city on Monday, his presence at the EU headquarters in Brussels was seized on by European officials as a chance to restate opposition to Trump’s Dec. 6 decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Mogherini, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, called on those involved in the process to speak and act “wisely”, with a sense of responsibility.

“I want to reassure President Abbas of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states,” Mogherini said.

Before Abbas’ arrival, she was more outspoken, saying: “Clearly there is a problem with Jerusalem. That is a very diplomatic euphemism,” in reference to Trump’s position.

Deputy German Foreign Minister Michael Roth told reporters that Trump’s decision had made peace talks harder but said all sides needed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Abbas also struck a more diplomatic tone than in his recent public remarks, including earlier this month when he said he would only accept a broad, internationally-backed panel to broker any peace talks with Israel.

“We are keen on continuing the way of negotiations,” Abbas said. “We are determined to reunite our people and our land.”

But his call for the European Union to immediately and officially recognize the state of Palestine was unlikely to be answered, two senior EU diplomats said.

SLOVENIAN DECISION?

While nine EU governments including Sweden and Poland already recognize Palestine, the 28-nation bloc says such recognition must come as part of a peace settlement.

Only Slovenia has recently raised the possibility of recognizing the state of Palestine. A parliamentary committee there is due to consider the issue on Jan. 31, but it remains unclear when the parliament could recognize Palestine.

That reflects the European Union’s dual role as the Palestinians’ biggest aid donor and Israel’s biggest trade partner, even if EU governments reject Israeli settlements on land Israel has occupied since a 1967 war – including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The European Union also wants the Palestinians to remain open to a U.S.-led peace plan, expected to be presented soon by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

Abbas said there was “no contradiction between recognition (of Palestine) and the resumption of (peace) negotiations.”

Instead, France wants to push the European Union to offer closer trade ties through a so-called EU association agreement, an EU treaty covering unfettered access to the bloc’s 500 million consumers, aid and closer political and cultural ties.

“We want to say to Mahmoud Abbas that we want to move … towards an association agreement and to start the process already,” said France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

But offering an EU association agreement to the Palestinians was also fraught with difficulties, diplomats said.

Under EU rules, the agreements need to be agreed with sovereign states. France argues that the EU has an association agreement with Kosovo, whose independence is not recognized by all countries, including EU member Spain.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels and Marja Novak in Ljubljana, Editing by William Maclean)

President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a statement on Jerusalem, during which he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as he appears with Vice President Mike Pence in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., December 6, 2017.

By Steve Holland and Miriam Berger

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Donald Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Wednesday and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in defiance of warnings from around the world that the gesture risks creating further unrest in the Middle East.

In a speech at the White House, Trump said his administration would begin a process of moving the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is expected to take years.

The status of Jerusalem — home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions — is one of the thorniest obstacles to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”

Israel considers the city its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump’s announcement as a “historic landmark” and urged other countries also to move their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem.

He said any peace deal with Palestinians must include Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This would be a non-starter for Palestinians if it means the entire city would be under Israeli control.

The Palestinians have said Trump’s move would mean the “kiss of death” to the two-state solution, envisaging a Palestinian state in territory – the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – that Israel took in 1967.

Ahead of Trump’s announcement, Washington’s allies in the region warned of dangerous repercussions.

Pope Francis called for Jerusalem’s status quo to be respected, saying new tension would further inflame world conflicts. China and Russia expressed concern the plans could aggravate Middle East hostilities. A Palestinian envoy said the decision was a declaration of war in the Middle East.

Trump said his move is not intended to tip the scale in favor of Israel and that any deal involving the future of Jerusalem would have to be negotiated by the parties.

He said he remained committed to the two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians if they parties want one.

Amid warnings of potential unrest in the Middle East, the president called on the region to take his message calmly and with moderation.

“There will of course be disagreement and dissent regarding this announcement—but we are confident that ultimately, as we work through these disagreements, we will arrive at a place of greater understanding and cooperation,” Trump said.

His announcement fulfills a core pledge of his election campaign last year

Trump said his move reflected the reality of Jerusalem as the center of Jewish faith and the fact that the city is the seat of the Israeli government.

Trump’s decision is likely to please his core supporters – Republican conservatives and evangelical Christians who comprise an important share of his political base.

He acted under a 1995 law that requires the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem. His predecessors, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, had consistently put off that decision to avoid inflaming tensions in the Middle East.

Trump signed a waiver delaying the embassy move from Tel Aviv since the United States does not have an embassy structure in Jerusalem to move into. A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build one.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Matt Spetalnick and John Walcott in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Costas Pitas in London, Philip Pullella in Vatican City, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut, Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell)

U.S. pressure delays Israel’s ‘Greater Jerusalem’ bill

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks on a road in the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the occupied West Bank

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. pressure delayed an Israeli ministerial vote on Sunday on a proposed bill that Washington fears entails annexation of Jewish settlements near Jerusalem, an Israeli lawmaker said.

The “Greater Jerusalem” legislation would put some settlements in the occupied West Bank, built on land Palestinians seek for a future state and viewed as illegal by most countries, under the jurisdiction of Jerusalem’s municipality.

The bill, proposed by a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, was to have been submitted for approval on Sunday to a ministerial committee on legislation, a first step before a series of ratification votes in parliament.

But Likud lawmaker David Bitan, chairman of Netanyahu’s coalition in parliament, said a vote by the cabinet committee would be delayed because Washington told Israel the bill’s passage could impede U.S. efforts to revive peace talks that collapsed in 2014.

“There is American pressure that claims this is about annexation and that this could interfere with the peace process,” Bitan told Army Radio.

“The prime minister doesn’t think this is about annexation. I don’t think so either. We have to take the time to clarify matters to the Americans. Therefore, if the bill passes in a week, or in a month, it’s less problematic,” he said.

Proponents of the legislation say it falls short of formal land annexation to Israel but will enable some 150,000 settlers to vote in Jerusalem city elections. Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, a supporter of the bill, has said this would “ensure a Jewish majority in a united Jerusalem”.

Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern sector it captured along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a 1967 Middle East war, has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli media reports said the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, had conveyed misgivings about the legislation, under which the large Maale Adumim and Beitar Illit settlements would become part of a Greater Jerusalem municipality.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted Netanyahu as telling cabinet ministers on Sunday: “The Americans turned to us and inquired what the bill was all about. As we have been coordinating with them until now, it is worth continuing to talk and coordinate with them.”

A U.S. embassy spokeswoman declined immediate comment.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians. Israel disputes that its settlements are illegal, citing historical, Biblical and political links to the territory, as well as security considerations.

 

 

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

 

What’s the issue with metal detectors in Jerusalem?

Palestinians stand in front of Israeli policemen and newly installed metal detectors at an entrance to the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City July 16, 2017.

By Miriam Berger

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – For 10 days, Jerusalem has been in the grip of the worst bloodshed for years over Israel’s decision to install metal detectors at the entrance to the Old City’s holy compound.

Some readers and observers have wondered how a simple matter of metal detectors – so common in so much of the world – could provoke such violence: a Palestinian man stabbed to death three members of an Israeli family in their home and three Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli forces in clashes.

But as with anything connected to politics and religion in the Holy Land, the dispute is about much more than the security devices themselves, touching on issues of sovereignty, religious freedom, occupation and Palestinian nationalism.

Here are some answers to questions on the issue.

WHY, WHERE AND WHEN WERE THE METAL DETECTORS INSTALLED?

Israel put the devices in place on July 16, two days after two Israeli policemen were shot and killed by Israeli-Arab attackers who had concealed weapons in the compound in the heart of the Old City. It is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, where the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located, and to Jews as Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, where ancient temples once stood.

The detectors were put up at the entrances Muslims use to enter the compound each day for prayers. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the area as tourists and they enter through a separate gate where metal detectors have long been used.

WHY ARE PALESTINIANS SO ANGRY ABOUT THE MOVE?

The first issue is consultation. The Palestinians say they were not informed by the Israelis about the detectors. Israel says it informed Jordan, the custodian of the holy site. Either way, the measures were imposed rapidly and had an immediate impact on Palestinians, even though Israeli-Arabs carried out the attack that prompted the installation.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed them, a move not recognized internationally. As a result, it is to this day seen by much of the world as an occupier, and the status of the area is regarded as disputed until resolved via negotiations. Hence the Palestinians reject Israel’s authority, its heavy security presence and the unilateral move on metal detectors.

But the dispute goes deeper. For centuries, a delicate status quo has existed at the Noble Santuary-Temple Mount whereby Jews and Christians can visit, but only Muslims are allowed to pray. When Israel captured the area, it committed itself to that agreement. Yet many Palestinians are upset that more and more religious-nationalist Jews visit the compound each day, with some attempting to pray. They are usually ejected by Israeli police, but Palestinians feel the status quo is changing. The installation of metal detectors has contributed to the impression that Israel is changing the rules, a view rejected by the Israeli government.

WHAT ARE THE POLITICIANS DOING?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure internationally to back down and remove the metal detectors, but he has resisted those calls, saying security is paramount. He is meeting senior cabinet members to examine a way forward, with signs that alternatives, such as face-recognition cameras or selective searches, might be proposed. The problem is any Israeli-led initiative is likely to be rejected by the Palestinians and possibly Jordan. So the United Nations, the United States, Europe and Russia may get involved. U.S. President Donald Trump’s regional go-between, Jason Greenblatt, is scheduled to return to the region on Monday.

On the Palestinian side, tempers are frayed. “Sovereignty over the blessed mosque is for us,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech last week. “We are the ones who should be monitoring and standing at its gates.”

Abbas has broken off security coordination with Israel, a significant move since Palestinian and Israeli forces work together daily on security in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self-rule.

WHAT ARE THE PEOPLE SAYING?

Israelis are wondering what all the fuss is about, commenting on Facebook and Twitter about how metal detectors are normal everywhere in the world and pointing out that Jews have to pass through them to get to the Western Wall, the holiest place where they are permitted to pray.

Palestinians see it very differently. The Noble Sanctuary has become a symbol of national aspiration, with the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque painted on murals all over Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The area, a large stone and marble plaza lined with Cypress trees is one of a few open spaces for Muslims in the Old City, used for celebrations and gatherings.

“Our problem is not just the gates, our problem is the Israeli occupation,” said Walid Alhawany, 48, a shopkeeper in the Old City. “Al Aqsa Mosque is not a place where you put security gates and you feel like it’s an Israeli institution.”

 

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Luke Baker and Louise Ireland)

 

Israel faces mounting Palestinian anger over holy site metal detectors

Palestinians shout slogans during a protest over Israel's new security measures at the compound housing al-Aqsa mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weighing whether to remove metal detectors at a Jerusalem holy site whose installation after a deadly attack last week has stoked Palestinian protests, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Thursday.

There have been nightly confrontations between Palestinians hurling rocks and Israeli police using stun grenades in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem since the devices were placed on Sunday at entrances to the Temple Mount-Noble Sanctuary compound.

Tensions remain high ahead of Friday prayers when thousands of Muslims usually flock to al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine, in the compound above Judaism’s sacred Western Wall.

Muslim religious authorities, who say the metal detectors violate a delicate agreement on worship and security arrangements at the site, have been urging Palestinians not to pass through, and prayers have been held near an entrance to the complex.

Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Hamas Islamist movement that rules Gaza, called on Palestinian demonstrators to confront Israeli troops along the enclave’s border on Friday in protest at the Israeli measure.

Netanyahu was due to hold security consultations over the issue, and likely decide on a course of action, on his return to Israel later in the day from visits to France and Hungary, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said.

Far-right members of Netanyahu’s government have publicly urged him to keep the devices in place at the flashpoint site, but Israeli media reports said security chiefs were divided over the issue amid concerns of wider protests in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“The prime minister is considering whether to change this decision, and that’s his prerogative,” Erdan said on Army Radio. He described the equipment as a legitimate security measure.

Last Friday, three Arab-Israeli gunmen shot dead two Israeli policemen outside the Temple Mount-Noble Sanctuary complex in one of the most serious attacks in the area in years. The assailants were killed by security forces.

Israel briefly closed the compound, holy to Jews as the site of biblical temples, and install the metal detectors which it said were commonplace at religious sites worldwide.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank, in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital, a claim that is not recognized internationally.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Israel shuts Palestinian map office citing sovereignty breach

Israeli border police officers stand guard outside the building where Israeli security officers closed a Palestinian map office complying with an Israeli police order to close the office, in the Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel ordered the closure of an office in Arab East Jerusalem on Tuesday as it was suspected of being funded by the Palestinian Authority and involved with monitoring the sale of Palestinian property to Jews, police said.

Israel forbids any official activity by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem, saying it breaches Israel’s sovereignty over the city, which it has declared its indivisible capital, a move not recognized internationally.

Israel’s internal security minister said the office, which drafts maps, was “monitoring and documenting” Palestinian-owned land in East Jerusalem, scrutinizing changes Israel has made to the terrain and passing on the names of landowners planning to sell.

“Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan ordered the closure of the Palestinian map office which has resumed operations in Beit Hanina in Jerusalem,” a police statement said.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called the closure a “provocative act” and part of an effort by Israel “to erase any Palestinian presence in the city”.

However, in a statement Erdan said: “The Palestinian map office is part of the PA’s plan to harm our sovereignty in Jerusalem and to threaten Arabs selling real estate to Jews in the city. I will continue to act firmly to prevent any Palestinian government foothold in Jerusalem.”

The office, in Beit Hanina, a Palestinian neighborhood in the northern part of Jerusalem, is run by geographer Khalil Tafakji. Police said that a 65-year-old Jerusalem resident was arrested and many documents and computers were seized.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, together with the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israel occupied East Jerusalem after capturing it in a 1967 war, a move not recognized internationally.

Since annexing East Jerusalem in 1980, Israel has greatly expanded its presence in that part of the city, building settlements and major pieces of infrastructure. Private Jewish groups have also sought to buy up Palestinian homes in eastern neighborhoods to expand the Jewish presence in the east.

(Reporting by Ammar Awad, Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Netanyahu blasts U.N. ‘hypocrisy’, Australian PM opposes ‘one-sided resolutions’

Israel and Australia leaders are allies

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull offered a staunch defense of Israel on Wednesday, criticizing the United Nations and vowing never to support “one-sided resolutions” calling for an end to Israeli settlement building on occupied land.

Turnbull welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday as the first Israeli prime minister to visit Australia and reiterated Australia’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

However, he also made it clear Australia would not support any resolutions such as the one approved by the United Nations Security Council in December calling for an end to Israeli settlement building on land occupied by Palestinians.

“My government will not support one-sided resolutions criticizing Israel of the kind recently adopted by the U.N Security Council and we deplore the boycott campaigns designed to delegitimise the Jewish state,” Turnbull wrote in an editorial in The Australian newspaper.

The U.N. resolution was approved in the final weeks of Barack Obama’s administration, which broke with a long tradition of shielding Israel diplomatically and chose not to wield its veto power.

“Australia has been courageously willing to puncture U.N. hypocrisy more than once,” Netanyahu said.

“The U.N. is capable of many absurdities and I think it’s important that you have straightforward and clear-eyed countries like Australia that often bring it back to earth,” he said after meeting Turnbull.

Israel has long pursued a policy of constructing Jewish settlements on territory it captured in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Most countries view such activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal and an obstacle to peace but Israel disagrees, citing a biblical connection to the land.

Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations has said the United States still supports a two-state solution to the conflict, although new U.S. President Donald Trump has also said he is open to new ways to achieve peace.

The two-state solution has long been the bedrock of the international community’s policy for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians but Trump’s apparent loosening of that main tenet, at a joint news conference with Netanyahu last week, stunned the international community.

“We support an outcome which has two states where Israelis, the Israeli people, the Palestinian people live side-by-side as a result of direct negotiations between them,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

Netanyahu said any solution would need Palestine to recognize Israel, which would also have security control of the territories.

While in Australia, Netanyahu is scheduled to sign agreements fostering closer economic and defense cooperation.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Paul Tait)

Netanyahu opposes Palestinian state, Israeli minister says ahead of U.S. visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) stands next to Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump during their meeting in New York, U.S.

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Benjamin Netanyahu opposes a Palestinian state, a senior Israeli cabinet member said on Monday, but left it unclear whether the prime minister would say that publicly in talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington this week.

Netanyahu has never explicitly abandoned his conditional support for a future Palestine, and his spokesman did not respond immediately to a request to comment on Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s remarks.

Erdan belongs to Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, whose leading members have often espoused a harder line than the prime minister himself.

“I think all members of the security cabinet, and foremost the prime minister, oppose a Palestinian state,” Erdan told Army Radio after the forum met on Sunday on the eve of Netanyahu’s departure for Washington for talks with Trump on Wednesday.

“No one thinks in the next few years that a Palestinian state is something that, God forbid, might or should happen,” he said in the interview.

But asked if Netanyahu would voice opposition to statehood on camera when he meets Trump, Erdan said: “The prime minister has to weigh things according to what he feels in the meeting and the positions he encounters there. No one knows what the positions of the president and his staff are.”

Palestinians seek to establish a state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those areas in a 1967 war and pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005.

NUANCED

Citing Israeli settlement activity, Palestinian leaders and the former U.S. administration of Barack Obama have questioned Netanyahu’s commitment, which he first made in a 2009 policy speech, to the so-called two-state solution to decades of conflict.

“It is not only their statements – what the government of the extreme right in Israel does on the ground prevents any chance of the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Wasel Abu Youssef, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said of Erdan’s comments.

Since Trump took office last month, Netanyahu has approved construction of 6,000 settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, drawing international condemnation which the White House did not join.

In recent days, however, the Trump administration has taken a more nuanced position, saying building new settlements or expanding existing ones may not be helpful in achieving peace.

Netanyahu has spelled out terms for a future Palestine: its demilitarization, the stationing of Israeli troops in its territory and Palestinian recognition of Israel as the “nation-state” of the Jewish people.

Last month, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said Netanyahu, in a closed-door meeting with Likud ministers, coined a new term “Palestinian state-minus” to describe his vision of limited Palestinian sovereignty.

Under interim peace deals, Palestinians, who number about 2.5 million in the West Bank, currently exercise limited self-rule in the territory, where some 350,000 Israeli settlers live.

Some members of Netanyahu’s government have called for the annexation of parts of the West Bank, a demand he has resisted.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Janet Lawrence)