Israel forces evict Israeli settlers in West Bank land dispute case

A protestor prays before Israeli security forces come to evacuate 15 Jewish settler families from the illegal outpost of Netiv Ha'avot in the Israeli occupied West Bank. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

By Dedi Hayun

NETIV HA’AVOT, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli security forces on Tuesday began evicting Jewish settlers from 15 homes which Israel’s highest court ruled were built illegally on privately-owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

Under a Supreme Court order, the 15 dwellings are to be demolished within the next few days. Hundreds of young pro-settlement activists gathered on Tuesday in several of the homes slated for demolition. Some of the protesters climbed onto the roof of one dwelling and hoisted Israeli flags.

A few scuffles ensued with police but for the most part, demonstrators offered passive resistance and were carried away by officers who grabbed hold of their arms and legs. In one home, an Israeli policeman hugged a weeping man as he escorted him out.

Most countries consider all Israeli settlements built in the West Bank and other land captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal. Israel disputes this, and there are now about 500,000 Israeli settlers living among some 2.6 million Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

The entire Netiv Ha’avot settlement was built without official Israeli authorization, but the government has retroactively agreed to allow the rest of the community to stay once the 15 homes built on private Palestinian land come down.

“People are being torn from their houses and families are sad,” said Elazar Herz Van Spiegel, 45, a Netiv Ha’avot settler, whose home was not one of those due to be demolished. “But … we are very optimistic about the future.”

Palestinians dismissed the dismantling of a small number of homes as an empty gesture.

Wassel Abu Youssef, a Palestine Liberation Organization official said: “All settlement is illegal and must be removed. Israel is trying to fool world public opinion by removing some homes here and there while it continues to build settlements.”

The Israeli government has announced a plan to pay compensation to the families whose homes are to be razed and rehouse them on adjacent tracts not owned by individual Palestinians.

The remainder of Netiv Ha’avot, where some 20 houses stand on land not covered by the court ruling, is to be granted legal status and designated a neighborhood of an Israeli government-recognized settlement, Elazar, the cabinet decided in February.

Israeli authorities have carried out similar evictions in the past under court order. In February 2017, some 300 settlers were removed from the unauthorized outpost of Amona in the West Bank.

But settlement expansion, which has drawn Palestinian and international condemnation, has continued, with little objection from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump in contrast to criticism voiced by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and say Israeli settlements are intended to deny them a viable and contiguous country. Israel’s refusal to halt settlement expansion was one of the reasons peace talks collapsed in 2014.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Graff)

Paraguay opens its Israel embassy in Jerusalem, second country to follow U.S. lead

Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, following the dedication ceremony of the embassy of Paraguay in Jerusalem, May 21, 2018. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Paraguay opened its Israel embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, the second country to follow the United States in making the politically sensitive move from Tel Aviv.

Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the inauguration ceremony. The United States relocated its embassy to Jerusalem a week ago, drawing Palestinian anger. It was followed by Guatemala on Wednesday.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to forging a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who with broad international backing want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as their capital.

Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector it annexed after the 1967 conflict, as its capital.

“This is a historic day that strengthens ties between Paraguay and Israel,” Cartes said at the ceremony.

“A great day for Israel. A great day for Paraguay. A great day for our friendship,” Netanyahu responded. “You have not only the support of our government but the profound gratitude of the people Israel.”

Hanan Ashrawi, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, denounced Paraguay’s move.

“By adopting such a provocative and irresponsible measure that is in direct contravention of international law and consensus, Paraguay has conspired with Israel, the United States and Guatemala to entrench the military occupation and to seal the fate of occupied Jerusalem,” Ashrawi said in a statement.

In December, U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing decades of U.S. policy and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

Most world powers do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city and says its final status should be set in peace negotiations.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Dan Williams and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Saudi crown prince says Israelis have right to their own land

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is seen during a meeting with U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Levy/File Photo

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince said Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their own land in an interview published on Monday in U.S. magazine The Atlantic, another public sign of ties between Riyadh and Tel Aviv appearing to grow closer.

Asked if he believes the Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland, Mohammed bin Salman was quoted as saying:

“I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land. But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.”

Saudi Arabia – birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest shrines – does not recognize Israel. It has maintained for years that normalizing relations hinges on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war, territory Palestinians seek for a future state.

“We have religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people. This is what we have. We don’t have any objection against any other people,” Prince Mohammed said.

Increased tension between Tehran and Riyadh has fueled speculation that shared interests may push Saudi Arabia and Israel to work together against what they see as a common Iranian threat.

Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel last month, which an Israeli official hailed as historic following two years of efforts.

In November, an Israeli cabinet member disclosed covert contacts with Saudi Arabia, a rare acknowledgment of long-rumored secret dealings which Riyadh still denies.

(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Israel’s Netanyahu calls U.N. ‘house of lies’ before Jerusalem vote

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem December 17, 2017

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the United Nations as a “house of lies” ahead of a vote on Thursday on a draft resolution calling on the United States to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The State of Israel totally rejects this vote, even before (the resolution’s) approval,” Netanyahu said in a speech at a hospital dedication in the port city of Ashdod.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly will hold a rare emergency special session on Thursday at the request of Arab and Muslim countries to vote on the draft resolution, which the United States vetoed on Monday in the 15-member U.N. Security Council.

Generating outrage from Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim world, and concern among Washington’s Western allies, President Donald Trump abruptly reversed decades of U.S. policy on Dec. 6 when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Palestinians have protested daily in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip since Trump’s announcement, throwing stones at security forces and burning tires. Gaza militants have also launched sporadic rocket fire.

Eight Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire during the demonstrations and dozens wounded, Palestinian health officials said. Two militants were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza after a rocket attack.

Trump threatened on Wednesday to cut off financial aid to countries that vote in favor of the U.N. draft resolution, and his ambassador to the world body, Nikki Haley said the United States “will be taking names”.

Netanyahu, in his speech, thanked Trump and Haley for “their brave and uncompromising stance”. He repeated his prediction that other countries would eventually follow Washington’s lead in pledging to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“The attitude towards Israel of many countries, on all continents, outside the walls of the United Nations, is changing and will ultimately permeate into the U.N. – the house of lies,” he said.

Most countries regard the status of Jerusalem as a matter to be settled in an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, although that process is now stalled.

Israel considers Jerusalem 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 the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

Several senior diplomats said Haley’s warning was unlikely to change many votes in the General Assembly, where such direct,public threats are rare. Some diplomats brushed off the warning as more likely aimed at impressing U.S. voters.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Ori Lewis and Angus MacSwan)

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)