Israeli, U.S. officials land in UAE, Kushner urges Palestinians to negotiate

By Dan Williams and Lisa Barrington

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Senior U.S. and Israeli officials landed in the United Arab Emirates on Monday on a historic trip to finalize a pact marking open relations between Israel and the Gulf state, and they told Palestinians it was now time for them to negotiate peace.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner also said on arrival that Washington could maintain Israel’s military edge while advancing its ties to the UAE, the Arab world’s second largest economy and a regional power.

In apparently unrelated incidents, two blasts at restaurants in Abu Dhabi and Dubai killed three people earlier in the day in what authorities said were the result of gas malfunctions. The Abu Dhabi government told residents “to avoid spreading rumors” about the blasts, and “use official news sources”.

Announced on Aug. 13, the normalization deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was forged largely through shared fears of Iran.

Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, seeing it as a betrayal that would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position which calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.

Kushner said Palestinians should not be “stuck in the past”.

“They have to come to the table. Peace will be ready for them, an opportunity will be ready for them as soon as they are ready to embrace it,” said Kushner, part of a U.S. delegation that accompanied Israeli officials on the first official Israeli flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE.

Kushner and national security adviser Robert O’Brien head the U.S. delegation. The Israeli team is led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates will discuss economic, scientific, trade and cultural cooperation on the visit. Direct flights between the two countries will also be on the agenda, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told al Arabiya television after landing in Abu Dhabi.

Even before landing, the delegates made aviation history when the Israeli commercial airliner flew over Saudi territory on the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital.

“That’s what peace for peace looks like,” Netanyahu tweeted, describing a deal for formal ties with an Arab state that does not entail handover of land that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

ARABIC GREETING

Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a signing ceremony in Washington, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

That could give U.S. President Donald Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his re-election bid in November.

The Trump administration has tried to coax other Sunni Arab countries concerned about Iran to engage with Israel. The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, while opening its airspace to the El Al flight, has signaled it is not ready.

On board the packed airliner, passengers were welcomed in Arabic as well as English and Hebrew, a gesture marking the historic flight.

“Wishing us all salaam, peace and shalom, have a safe flight,” the pilot, Captain Tal Becker, said on the intercom, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, using all three languages to also announce the flight number and destination.

Like all El Al 737s, the aircraft was equipped with an anti-missile system, an Israeli spokesman said, and carried security agents of the U.S. Secret Service and the Israeli Shin Bet.

Palestinian leaders expressed anger at a deal which they believe further erodes their struggle for an independent state.

“Peace is not an empty word used to normalize crimes and oppression. Peace is the outcome of justice,” politician Saeb Erekat said in a Tweet.

“Peace is not made by denying Palestine’s right to exist and imposing an apartheid regime. Apartheid is what Netanyahu means by “peace for peace.”

The Islamist Hamas group, which controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, also condemned the UAE.

The flight represented a “stab in the back of the Palestinian people, a prolonging of the occupation, and a betrayal of the resistance of the (Palestinian) people,” Hamas said in a statement.

Hours before the plane landed, three people were killed and several others were injured in two separate explosions in Abu Dhabi and UAE tourism hub Dubai, police and local media said.

The Abu Dhabi government media office said two people were killed in the blast in the capital, which the National daily reported hit KFC and Hardee’s restaurants, which are located on a main road leading to the airport.

In a second incident, one person was killed when a gas cylinder exploded in a Dubai restaurant, local media reported.

(Reporting by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by William Maclean)

Israel’s president invites UAE’s de facto leader to Jerusalem

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s president on Monday invited the United Arab Emirates’ de facto leader to visit Jerusalem, praising his role in achieving a “noble and courageous” deal to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE.

Both countries announced on Thursday they would forge formal ties under a U.S.-sponsored deal whose implementation could recast Middle East politics ranging from the Palestinian issue to dealing with Iran, the common foe of Israel and Gulf Arabs.

The deal drew anger and dismay in much of the Arab world and Iran but a quiet welcome in the Gulf.

“In these fateful days, leadership is measured by its courage and ability to be groundbreaking and far-sighted,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin wrote in a letter to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

“I have no doubt that future generations will appreciate the way you, the brave and wise leaders, have restarted the discourse on peace, trust, dialogue between peoples and religions, cooperation and a promising future,” Rivlin wrote.

“On behalf of the people of Israel and (me) personally, I take this opportunity to extend an invitation to Your Highness to visit Israel and Jerusalem and be our honored guest,” Rivlin said in the letter, which his spokesman released publicly.

The Palestinians have called the deal a “betrayal” by an Arab country that they have long looked to for support in establishing a state in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

“I am hopeful,” Rivlin’s letter went on, “that this step will help build and strengthen the trust between us and the peoples of the region, a trust that will promote understanding between us all.

“Such trust, as demonstrated in the noble and courageous act, will set our region forward, bring economic well-being and provide prosperity and stability to the people of the Middle East as a whole.”

Palestine Liberation Organization official Wassel Abu Youssef condemned Rivlin’s invitation, saying “the visit of any Arab official to Jerusalem through the gate of normalization is rejected.”

Any such top-level Arab visit could be politically explosive given Jerusalem’s internationally disputed status.

Israel seized the eastern part of the city in 1967 and annexed it in a move that has not won world recognition. It considers all of Jerusalem its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they seek.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller with additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Palestinians hope Biden would roll back Trump’s embrace of Israel

By Rami Ayyub

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian leaders hope Democrat Joe Biden will tone down Washington’s pro-Israel policies if he becomes U.S. president, and Palestinian-Americans have been pressing his campaign for a change, sources familiar with the efforts said.

So far, their efforts have had little impact, the sources said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. Embassy to the city and made peace proposals envisaging Israeli sovereignty over parts of the occupied West Bank, territory Palestinians seek for a state.

Trump’s moves — including aid cuts to the Palestinian Authority that exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank — have prompted Palestinian officials to sever ties with Washington.

“If Mr. Biden (is) elected in November, we hope that it will be a totally different dynamic,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said last week during a virtual conference with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Biden is the presumptive Democratic challenger in November’s election. He is on record as challenging plans by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank — de facto annexation of territory Israel seized in a 1967 war.

“Biden opposes any unilateral action by either side that makes the prospects of a two-state solution less likely – including annexation, which Biden opposes now, and would continue to oppose as President,” campaign spokesman Michael Gwin said in a statement for Reuters.

Gwin did not address what action Biden might take if he were president and Israel annexed West Bank land.

Netanyahu’s proposed move, under Trump’s peace blueprint, has been criticized by Arab and European nations. The Israeli leader is awaiting the green light from Washington.

PROGRESSIVE SUPPORT

Buoyed by support from progressives in the Democratic party, Palestinian diaspora activists want Biden to take a more critical look at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

More than 120 prominent Palestinian-Americans have signed a “Statement of Principles” that they say determine their community’s support for candidates for federal office.

They include making aid to Israel conditional on it ending “practices that violate Palestinian rights and contravene international law”, and revoking any potential U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in occupied territory.

“We want to see Biden embrace the party’s progressives, who have recognized the shared struggle between Palestinians living under military occupation, and Black and brown Americans who face police brutality, systemic racism and injustice,” said Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in August.

Those positions have failed to gain traction with Biden’s team, three people familiar with the campaign’s thinking said.

“The progressives want a full-throttle platform change — a pro-Palestinian flank, an anti-annexation flank — but there just isn’t appetite in the campaign so far,” one of the sources said.

(Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage)

Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan warn Israel on annexation

BERLIN (Reuters) – Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan warned Israel on Tuesday against annexing parts of the Palestinian territories, saying that doing so could have consequences for bilateral relations.

In a statement distributed by the German Foreign Ministry, the countries, which include two of Israel’s leading partners in the Middle East, said their foreign ministers had discussed how to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

They, along with most other European countries, oppose Israeli plans that envisage annexing parts of the occupied West Bank as part of a deal being promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

The Palestinian Authority, which wants the West Bank for a future Palestinian state, opposes the move. The United States has yet to give its approval to the annexation plans.

“We concur that any annexation of Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would be a violation of international law and imperil the foundations of the peace process,” the European and Middle Eastern foreign ministers said after their video conference.

“We would not recognize any changes to the 1967 borders that are not agreed by both parties in the conflict,” they added. “It could also have consequences for the relationship with Israel.”

Israel declined to comment. But in a separate statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday that he was committed to Trump’s “realistic” plan for the region.

“Israel is prepared to conduct negotiations on the basis of President Trump’s peace plan, which is both creative and realistic, and will not return to the failed formulas of the past,” Netanyahu’s statement said.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; additional reporting by Dan Williams; editing by Thomas Escritt and Gareth Jones)

Palestinians warm to Netanyahu rival, citing signs of compromise

FILE PHOTO: Benny Gantz, a former Israeli armed forces chief and head of Israel Resilience party, delivers his first political speech at the party campaign launch in Tel Aviv, Israel January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

By Stephen Farrell and Dan Williams

RAMALLAH, West Bank/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinians warmed on Wednesday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s toughest election rival, a former top general who said Israel should not maintain its dominion over them.

With both a general election and the unveiling of a U.S. peace initiative on the horizon, the centrist candidate, Benny Gantz, has been signaling an openness to territorial compromise in the occupied West Bank. That marks a contrast with the right-wing Netanyahu, who has ruled out withdrawing settlements.

The secret U.S. proposal for breaking a five-year diplomatic deadlock is widely expected to be unveiled after Israel’s April 9 ballot. Pollsters see Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party winning around 30 of parliament’s 120 seats, setting him up for a fifth term.

In an interview on Wednesday with Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Gantz was asked about prospects for accommodation with the Palestinians, who seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“We need to find a way not to have dominion over other people,” Gantz said.

Gantz, whose new Resilience party is gaining ground against Netanyahu’s Likud with as many as 24 projected seats, has said he wanted to strengthen settlement blocs in the West Bank.

But he has not mentioned what might happen in any future peace deal to isolated settlements that are not incorporated into Israel if Palestinians are given a separate state.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, praised “the signs coming from Gantz about settlements”, calling them a step in the right direction should he win the election and prove “willing and ready” for peace.

“It’s encouraging, if he succeeds and he sticks to this opinion,” Abu Rudeineh told Reuters.

Most world powers consider Israeli settlements on land captured in a 1967 war to be illegal under the Geneva conventions. Israel disputes this, citing historical ties to the land, and has expanded the settlement population steadily, including during the past decade under Netanyahu.

Palestinians say settlements must be removed from their future state in any final agreement, although some could be ceded to Israel as part of an agreed swap for other land. The last peace talks collapsed in 2014, in part over the issue of settlements, and Abbas is boycotting the Trump administration, accusing it of being biased toward Israel.

In a statement, Likud said Gantz was planning to form a “leftist government” sympathetic to the Palestinians.

Gantz’ Resilience party said “no unilateral decision will be made on settlement evacuation” and that he would “maintain … non-negotiable security protections”.

Netanyahu cites the example of Gaza — where Israel unilaterally pulled out its settlements in 2005 and the Islamist group Hamas soon took control — as proof that removing settlements from the West Bank would be dangerous.

Gantz described the Gaza withdrawal as well executed, telling Yedioth: “We need to take the lessons and apply them elsewhere.”

The Trump administration has wavered over whether it would endorse a Palestinian state, saying the final outcome will be up to the sides to determine, but both may need to compromise.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)

Australian government discusses moving Israel embassy to Jerusalem

FILE PHOTO: The new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a news conference in Canberra, Australia August 24, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s government met on Tuesday to discuss whether to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, two sources familiar with the matter said, a decision that would break with decades of policy and risk angering Asian neighbors.

“Cabinet met today and the issue of moving the Israeli embassy was discussed. The decision is still pending,” said one of the sources who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Prime Minster Scott Morrison in October said he was “open” to moving the embassy to Jerusalem, following the lead of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The United States opened a new embassy in Jerusalem in May, a move that delighted Israel, infuriated Palestinians and upset the wider Arab world and Western allies.

The Australian newspaper reported several senior cabinet members were leaning toward recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while stopping short of moving the embassy.

Jerusalem’s status is a major obstacle to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector that it annexed after a 1967 war, as its capital.

The Australian newspaper said a decision could be announced this week.

By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Morrison would be hoping to keep his conservative backbench happy but it would likely anger neighbors, including Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

The Palestinian question is sensitive in Indonesia and it has refused to sign a free trade agreement with Australia until it confirms its plans toward Israel.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country. Palestinians feel equally strongly, saying that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

(Reporting by Colin Packham and Byron Kaye; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Palestinians and Israelis remember life under British rule

Illegal Jewish immigrants from Europe are seen on the ship "Exodus" in Haifa port in this March 22, 1947 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on June 18, 2018. GPO/Frank Shershel/Handout via REUTERS

By Maayan Lubell and Rinat Harash

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prince William’s tour of Israel and the Palestinian Territories is the first official visit by a member of the royal family, but the Holy Land is familiar ground to the British state.

An older generation of Israelis and Palestinians can still remember British soldiers patrolling the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah during the three decades that Britain controlled the territory.

British troops captured Jerusalem from the Ottoman Empire in 1917, and in 1922 the League of Nations awarded Britain an international mandate to administer Palestine during the post-war deal-making that redrew the map of the Middle East.

The award of the mandate also endorsed the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which Britain expressed support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

In 1948, exhausted by World War Two and the strain of holding warring Jewish and Arab forces apart, the British withdrew.

Seventy years later, Israelis and Palestinians who lived through the era remember it very differently.

‘I DO NOT UNDERSTAND IT’

Under the British, the early Zionist movement was able to lay the groundwork for what would become modern Israel. Its parliament, laws and military bear traces of British influence, as do many buildings and street names.

But Israelis also remember how Britain restricted the number of Jews fleeing to Palestine from Nazi-controlled Europe. Tens of thousands who tried to enter illegally by sea were taken to detention camps in Cyprus and Palestine.

Illegal Jewish immigrants from Europe are seen on the ship "Exodus" in Haifa port in this July 18, 1947 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on June 18, 2018. GPO/Hans Pinn/Handout via REUTERS

Illegal Jewish immigrants from Europe are seen on the ship “Exodus” in Haifa port in this July 18, 1947 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on June 18, 2018. GPO/Hans Pinn/Handout via REUTERS

“We loved the British, but their policy, when it was against us, sparked anger and rage that are understandable,” said Shlomo Hillel, 95, a former Israeli diplomat and minister.

Hillel’s late wife, Suzanna, fled Austria when the Nazis annexed it in 1938. After a year at sea she was taken with her family to a British detention camp in Palestine, where they were held for another year.

“Until this day, I do not understand it,” Hillel said.

WARM BEER

Hillel went on to operate a secret underground munitions factory beneath a kibbutz near Tel Aviv that had been set up as a cover for their clandestine bullet-making operations.

British soldiers would occasionally drop by at the kibbutz for routine visits. He hosted them with beer and sandwiches, but to avoid future surprise visits he served them undrinkably warm beer one summer day, telling them that if they gave him advance notice, “I can prepare the beer and keep it in the fridge.” After that, he always knew when the British were coming.

MIXED FEELINGS

Ram Haviv, 93, a retired Israeli senior civil servant, served in the British Army in Iraq, Egypt and Iran in World War Two.

“The relationship wasn’t too favorable on the part of the British government of that time. But we’d rather now remember the positive aspects for which we are just the same thankful,” he said.

“After the Second World War, the state of Israel was founded on the cornerstones of the British rule in Palestine.”

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

KING DAVID HOTEL

The King David Hotel, where Prince William will stay in Jerusalem, was built in the 1930s by Ezra Mosseri, a wealthy Egyptian Jewish banker.

Used by the British in the mandate era as a headquarters, in July 1946 it was bombed by the Irgun, an underground Jewish paramilitary force, killing more than 90 people.

FILE PHOTO: Rescue workers are seen at the site of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which has served as the British headquarters, and was bombed by Jewish Irgun paramilitary group killing more than 90 people, in this July 22, 1946 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on June 18, 2018. GPO/Hugo Mendelson/Handout via REUTERS/File Pho

FILE PHOTO: Rescue workers are seen at the site of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which has served as the British headquarters, and was bombed by Jewish Irgun paramilitary group killing more than 90 people, in this July 22, 1946 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on June 18, 2018. GPO/Hugo Mendelson/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Mohammad Jadallah, 97, still remembers that day, when he had just turned up for his job as a waiter. The explosion “cut the room in half,” he recalls. “There was a state of panic. People were running in the dining room and in other places in the hotel.”

Less than two years later, Jadallah was no longer serving the British at tables – he was fighting on the Arab side in the war that broke out as the British era limped to a close.

‘BRITAIN GAVE OUR LAND TO THE JEWS’

Sitting under an apple tree in Dar Jarir village in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Abdel-Fattah Shijaiyah mostly remembers the British as an unwelcome military presence who imprisoned his father and issued a death warrant on his brother for their involvement in an Arab uprising in the 1930s.

Shijaiyah, 96, had joined the police under the British “because of the state of poverty: there was no money and my father was in jail”.

His brother was never caught and was later pardoned. Shijaiyah himself later took up arms in the 1940s, as Arab feelings hardened against the British and the growing numbers of Jewish immigrants.

“We are convinced Britain gave our land to the Jews,” he said.

FOR THE TIME BEING

In dusty archives in Gaza, old British land records are still in use. The yellowing pages are stamped with the mandate-era name “Palestine Government”. The listed proprietor for some districts is recorded as “the High Commissioner, for the time being, in trust for the Government of Palestine”.

In Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Ahmed Jarghoun, 75, displayed a document for a piece of land that, he says, his father bought and registered with the British authorities in 1944. The land lies on the other side of the Gaza-Israel border, in what is now the Israeli city of Lod.

“I want my land back,” he said. “We, as Palestinians, want our country back. Balfour gave what he did not own to those who were undeserving.”

(Reporting by Rinat Harash, Mustafa Abu-Ganeyeh, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ali Sawafta, Ori Lewis and Maayan Lubell; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Andrew Roche)

Muslims must stop other countries opening Jerusalem embassies: Turkey

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Secretary General of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen are seen during a meeting of the OIC Foreign Ministers Council in Istanbul, Turkey May 18, 2018. Hudaverdi Arif Yaman/Pool via Reuters

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Parisa Hafezi

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey called on Muslim countries on Friday to stop other nations from following the United States and moving their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem, as it opened a meeting in Istanbul on Friday.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called the summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) after Israeli forces this week killed dozens of Palestinian protesters who were demonstrating in Gaza against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Turkey has been one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. move and the violence in Gaza, declaring three days of mourning. Erdogan has described the actions of the Israeli forces as a “genocide” and Israel as a “terrorist state”.

“We will emphasise the status of the Palestine issue for our community, and that we will not allow the status of the historic city to be changed,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an opening address. “We must prevent other countries following the U.S. example.”

The events in Gaza have also sparked a diplomatic row between Turkey and Israel, with both countries expelling each other’s senior diplomats this week.

The plight of Palestinians resonates with many Turks, particularly the nationalist and religious voters who form the base of support for Erdogan, running for re-election next month.

TRADE TIES

Despite the rhetoric, Israel was the 10th-biggest market for Turkish exports in 2017, buying some $3.4 billion of goods, according to IMF statistics.

“We have excellent economic ties with Turkey. And these relations are very important for both sides,” Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Israel Radio on Friday when asked if Israel should break ties with Turkey.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move the embassy reversed decades of U.S. policy, upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

Guatemala this week became the second country to move its embassy to the holy city, and Paraguay said it would follow suit this month.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian television after arriving in Istanbul that “Israel’s recent crimes in Palestine and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem need serious coordination between Islamic countries and the international community”.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Friday said Israel had systematically deprived Palestinians of their human rights, with 1.9 million people in Gaza “caged in a toxic slum from birth to death”.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Netanyahu accuses Palestinian leader of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 15, 2018. Gali Tibbon/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

By Stephen Farrell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Mahmoud Abbas of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial on Wednesday after the Palestinian leader suggested in a speech that historic persecution of European Jews had been caused by their conduct.

Jewish groups also condemned Abbas’ comments, made in a speech on Monday to the Palestinian National Council, that Jews had suffered historically not because of their religion but because they had served as bankers and money lenders.

“It would appear that, once a Holocaust denier, always a Holocaust denier,” Netanyahu said on Twitter.

“I call upon the international community to condemn the grave anti-Semitism of Abu Mazen (Abbas), which should have long since passed from this world.”

Abbas said in his speech that Jews living in Europe had suffered massacres “every 10 to 15 years in some country since the 11th century and until the Holocaust”.

Citing books written by various authors, Abbas argued: “They say hatred against Jews was not because of their religion, it was because of their social profession. So the Jewish issue that had spread against the Jews across Europe was not because of their religion, it was because of usury and banks.”

“CLASSIC ANTI-SEMITE”

Netanyahu’s criticism was echoed by Jewish leaders around the world.

“Abbas’ speech in Ramallah are the words of a classic anti-Semite,” said Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the U.S.-based Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“Instead of blaming the Jews, he should look in his own backyard to the role played by the Grand Mufti in supporting Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution,” they added.

They were referring to Muslim Grand Mufti Haj Amin Husseini, a World War Two ally of Adolf Hitler, whose “Final Solution” led to the killing of six million Jews in Europe.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted that Abbas had “reached a new low in attributing the cause of massacres of Jewish people over the years to their ‘social behavior'”.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the foreign service of the European Union, the biggest donor of aid to the Palestinians, also condemned the comments.

“We reject any relativisation of the Holocaust,” Maas told Die Welt daily.

“Germany bears responsibility for the most atrocious crime of human history,” he said, adding the memory of the Holocaust was a constant reminder to tackle any form of anti-Semitism.

The European External Action Service in Brussels said in a statement: “Such rhetoric (about the Jews) will only play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated.”

Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah declined comment on the criticism.

Abbas, 82, made his remarks in the West Bank city of Ramallah at a rare meeting of the Palestinian National Council, the de facto parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which Abbas heads.

A veteran member of Fatah, the dominant faction of the PLO, Abbas served for decades as a loyal deputy of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. He assumed the leadership of Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority after Arafat died in 2004.

Abbas was born in 1935 in Safat, a town in the north of what was then British-ruled Palestine. His family became refugees in 1948, fleeing across the border to Syria as violence intensified between Jews and Arabs, culminating in war between the newly created State of Israel and its Arab neighbors in May 1948.

In 1982 Abbas obtained a doctorate in history at the Moscow Institute of Orientalism in the then-Soviet Union. His dissertation, entitled “The Secret Relationship between Nazism and the Zionist Movement”, drew widespread criticism from Jewish groups, who accused him of Holocaust denial.

(Additional reporting by Berlin and Brussels bureaus; Reporting by Stephen Farrell, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ali Sawfta, Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Israel accuses French consulate employee of smuggling guns to Palestinians

Romain Franck, an employee of the French consulate-general in Jerusalem, appears with co-defendants in the district court in Beersheba, Israel, March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Monday it had arrested a French citizen, an employee of France’s consulate in Jerusalem, on suspicion of using a diplomatic car to smuggle guns from the Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Held since Feb 15, Romain Franck is accused of moving a total of 70 pistols and two assault rifles between the Palestinian territories on at least five occasions, the Shin Bet security agency said after a gag order on the case was lifted.

Franck “acted for financial profit, on his own initiative and without the knowledge of his superiors,” a Shin Bet statement said. He is not believed to have also had an ideological motives such as support for Palestinian militants, a Shin Bet official told Reuters.

“This is a very serious incident in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign diplomatic missions in Israel were cynically exploited to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” the statement said.

Franck, 23, was due to appear at a 1230 GMT Israeli court hearing at which formal charges would be filed. His lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment on how Franck might plead.

A Facebook page under the name Roman Franck, and carrying photographs that looked similar to the mugshot published by the Shin Bet, shows images of the young man against desert vistas.

“Feeling good in Palestine,” says one caption.

A Jan. 17 posting said the Facebook account-holder was “traveling to Jerusalem starting to (sic) a new adventure”.

A spokesman for the French Embassy in Tel Aviv described Franck as “a member of the consulate-general in Jerusalem” and said France was taking the case seriously and cooperating with Israeli authorities.

Franck was arrested along with a Palestinian from East Jerusalem employed as a security guard at the consulate as well as seven other suspects, the Shin Bet said.

It accused him of using a consulate-owned sports utility vehicle, which enjoyed more cursory Israeli security checks due to its diplomatic status, to bring the factory-produced guns from Gaza to Palestinian arms dealers in the West Bank.

According to the Shin Bet statement, Franck received the guns from a Palestinian employed by the French Cultural Centre in Gaza. It could not immediately be reached for comment.

Most countries keep their embassies to Israel in Tel Aviv, as well as consulates in Jerusalem that handle diplomatic outreach to the Palestinians.

Israel counts all of Jerusalem as its capital, a status not recognized abroad although the United States, breaking with other world powers, plans to move its embassy in Israel to the city in May.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

(Reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Toby Chopra)