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Today’s Top Stories
1. Pessimism is the order of the day as Mahmoud Abbas prepares to meet with U.S. President Obama. Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has predicted there will be no peace agreement in his lifetime while stating that Abbas is not a peace partner:
He’s a partner for receiving, not a partner for giving … He isn’t a partner for a permanent agreement, at the end of which there is recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people, which is the end of the conflict and an end of demands. … I’m sorry to come to this conclusion, but this (peace agreement) will not happen in my time.
As for Abbas’ meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry:
“The secretary thanked President Abbas for his steadfast leadership and partnership over the past few months and encouraged him to make the tough decisions that will be necessary in the weeks ahead,” a senior State Department official said of their three-hour meeting on Sunday.
“He also reiterated that we are at a pivotal time in the negotiations and while these issues have decades of history behind them, neither party should let tough political decisions at this stage stand in the way of a lasting peace,” the official added, describing Sunday’s talks as “frank and productive.”
Meanwhile, Al-Hayat claims that Abbas will reportedly demand that Israel halt all construction in West Bank settlements as well as release high-profile Palestinian leaders who were convicted of terrorist atrocities, among them Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sa’adat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, all as a condition for Ramallah’s agreement to continue peace talks.
Writing in the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl asks:
Why does Abbas dare to publicly campaign against the U.S. and Israeli position even before arriving in Washington? Simple: “Abbas believes he can say no to Obama because the U.S. administration will not take any retaliatory measures against the Palestinian Authority,” writes the veteran Israeli-Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Instead, Abbas expects to sit back if the talks fail, submit petitions to the United Nations and watch the anti-Israel boycotts mushroom, while paying no price of his own.
Perhaps Obama will disabuse him of that notion at their meeting Monday. If not, another “peace process” breakdown is surely coming.
2. Is there a shift underway in relations between Israel and the Diaspora? The New York Times reports:
Over the past two weeks, Jewish leaders outside Israel quietly gathered in seminar groups to grapple with a thorny question: how to ensure that Israel is both a Jewish and a democratic state.
While the debate is not new, the discussions — 40 of them, including some in New York, London, Atlanta, Paris and Sydney, Australia — were significant and unprecedented. First, they come at a crucial time in Middle East peace talks with Israel demanding, quite unsuccessfully, Palestinian recognition of its Jewish identity. Second, they followed the introduction of a right-wing bill in the Israeli Parliament (set aside for now) aimed at making sure that in conflicts between Jewish and democratic identities, Jewish would win. And third, they were the result of a request for help from Israel, signaling a little-noticed shift in the relationship between the Jewish state and the Jewish world. In the past, signed checks were welcome, advice not so much.
3. Could Iran be behind the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? According to a former El Al security chief:
“What happened to this aircraft, nobody knows. My guess is based upon the stolen passports, and I believe Iran was involved,” he said. “They hijacked the aircraft and they landed it in a place that nobody can see or find it.”
More theories from Israeli experts in The Times of Israel.
Israel and the Palestinians
• The internal Palestinian split rears its head as Hamas prevents a Fatah rally from taking place in Gaza.
• Recent weeks have seen a story circulating claiming that Israeli border police fired into the feet of two Palestinian “footballers,” prompting calls for Israel to be booted out of international football’s governing body and its competitions. Elder of Ziyon has published a comprehensive debunking of the story proving beyond doubt that the story is a libel.
• Scarlett Johansson shows that she can think for herself, backing up her support for SodaStream in an interview in The Observer:
“No, I stand behind that decision,” she said. “I was aware of that particular factory before I signed. And it still doesn’t seem like a problem – at least not until someone comes up with a solution to the closing of that factory and leaving all those people destitute.” …
The fact that the UN, the Red Cross and the International Court of Justice also agree that the SodaStream factory is in contravention of international law did not sway her, she added. “Sure, I think that’s the way you can look at it. But I also think for a non-governmental organisation to be supporting something that’s supporting a political cause … something feels not right about that to me. There’s plenty of evidence that Oxfam does support and has funded a BDS [boycott, divest, sanctions] movement in the past. It’s something that can’t really be denied.” Speaking to the Observer, Oxfam denied this allegation.
• Nice to see a positive story for a change as the Christian Science Monitor profiles how an Israeli Druze village school has transformed itself from one of the worst performing schools in Israel to one of the best in the country.
Rest O’ the Roundup
• Iran is still pursuing banned items for its nuclear and missile programs according to a U.S. official:
Asked if he had seen a change in Iranian procurement behavior in the past six to 12 months, a period that has seen a cautious thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations after decades of hostility, Van Diepen replied: “The short answer is no.
“They still continue very actively trying to procure items for their nuclear program and missile program and other programs,” he told Reuters in an interview.
“We continue to see them very actively setting up and operating through front companies, falsifying documentation, engaging in multiple levels of trans-shipment … to put more apparent distance between where the item originally came from and where it is ultimately going.”
Asked for reaction to the allegation, a senior Iranian official replied: “No comment”.
• Not a huge surprise considering her neighbors but Israel is ranked the best Middle Eastern country to live in for a woman.