Israeli lawmakers, in letter, throw support to Kerry peace efforts

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The head of a coalition of some three dozen Israeli lawmakers has written U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praising his Middle East peacemaking efforts and urging him to persevere, despite push-back from some members of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

“We are writing to you to inform you of the formation of the Knesset Caucus for Ending the Israeli-Arab Conflict, and to convey our gratitude and support to you for your continuing diplomatic effort to revitalize the Arab-Israeli peace process,” Israeli deputy speaker of the Knesset Hilik Bar wrote in the letter to Sec. Kerry, dated June 5th. The Caucus, formed last month, “stands ready as your willing and able partner in our shared mission to get to Two States for Two Peoples.”

Kerry, in remarks to the American Jewish Committee (AJC) this week, “asked the audience there to 'seize the moment'…; we here in the Knesset aim to do just that,” Bar's letter continued. “As you articulated so eloquently…Israel’s survival as a secure, democratic and Jewish homeland depends on the realization of a final-status agreement that creates two-states for people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

Bar's letter, published in full below the jump, comes as a counter-point to remarks by Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon Wednesday, warning that the Israeli government would vote to reject any two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

“If you will bring it [the two state solution] to a vote in the government…you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it,” Danon said in an interview with the Times of Israel Wednesday.

“What happens in the coming days will dictate what happens in the coming decades,” Kerry told the AJC in a speech Monday (June 3rd). “If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”

The Knesset pro two-state coalition currently counts about 40 members, from the Labor, Hatenu'a, Shas, Yesh Atid, Hadash, Hatnua and Meretz parties, according to a list provided to Al-Monitor. It has the support of Israeli cabinet ministers Tzipi Livni, Yaakov Perry and opposition chair and Labor party leader Shelly Yechimovich.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a query about whether Kerry had received the letter, or his reaction to it.

Kerry is expected to travel to Israel, Ramallah and Jordan yet again next week – his fifth trip to the region since becoming Secretary of State. Kerry, in his remarks to the AJC, highlighted the Arab League's reissuing of the Arab Peace Initiative last month, and its new position endorsing possible land-swaps in an agreement on the borders for a Palestinian state.

Newly joining Frank Lowenstein in aiding Kerry’s efforts in the State Department office of the Middle East peace envoy is former Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Pentagon Middle East advisor Ilan Goldenberg, sources tell the Back Channel.

Full letter from MK Hilik Bar to Sec. Kerry, not previously published, below the jump: Continue reading

Israel FM Lieberman resigns

Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has announced his intent to resign a day after he was indicted for fraud and breach of trust, though he’s still expected to stand in Israeli Knesset elections next month, the BBC reports:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has resigned after being charged with fraud and breach of trust following a long-running investigation.

Mr Lieberman has also resigned as deputy prime minister, and said he would fight to clear his name of the charges. … His resignation comes five weeks before Israel’s general election.

Lieberman,  the leader of Israel’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, had said Thursday that he did not intend to resign, but would make a decision after consulting with his attorneys. Continue reading

Israel AG drops graft charges against Lieberman, indicts for breach of trust

Israel’s Attorney General on Thursday announced that after a twelve year investigation, he is dropping major money laundering and graft charges against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but intends to indict him for breach of trust, Haaretz reports:

On Thursday Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced Thursday the decision to close the major case against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, thereby concluding a 12-year investigation.

Weinstein closed the main case against Lieberman, which involves allegations of money-laundering, fraud, and breach of trust, on suspicion he received millions of dollars from international tycoons like Martin Schlaff and Mikhail Chernoy through foreign companies while he was serving in public positions.

However, Weinstein announced his decision to indict Lieberman for breach of trust for allegedly working to promote former ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Aryeh without reporting that Ben Aryeh had given Lieberman information about the investigation against him being conducted in Belarus. There are those in the legal community who believe that while Lieberman's alleged actions in this instance may have been ethically improper, it isn't clear that any illegalities were involved.

So can Lieberman still serve? Maybe. Haaretz: Continue reading

Netanyahu calls Israel elections


As widely anticipated, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced early elections. Citing the Knesset’s stalemate over passing a budget, Netanyahu said elections should be held as soon as possible.

Israeli media reports said that could be as early as late January or February.

Netanyahu also said that stopping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb would be his key priority in a second term.

The Likud prime minister is in a strong position to bolster his position in the elections, although his ruling coalition could be shaken up.

Israeli television reports speculated on two possible challengers: former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, or former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, both of the Likud  break-away Kadima party. Olmert was recently exonerated of corruption charges.

(Photo: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem October 9, 2012. Netanyahu announced on Tuesday he would seek an early Israeli election, expected to be held in January or February. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.)

Clinton in Israel: Iran nuclear proposals “non-starters”

Iran’s proposals to date in three rounds of nuclear talks with the P5+1 are “non-starters,” and suggest Iran’s leadership has not yet made the decision to compromise on its nuclear program, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday in Israel.

“I made very clear that the proposals that we have seen from Iran thus far within the P5+1 negotiations are non-starters,” Clinton told reporters after a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday, CNN reported.

“Despite three rounds of talks, Iran has yet to make a strategic decision to address the international community’s concerns and fulfill their obligations under the IAEA and the UN Security Council,” Clinton said. “The choice is ultimately Iran’s to make.”

Iran is willing to discuss halting its 20% enrichment, but has balked to date at doing so without getting upfront recognition of its right to enrich for energy purposes.

“The issue of the 20% enrichment …is an issue that could be discussed and decided,” Iran’s UN envoy Mohammad Khazaee told Al Monitor in an interview July 12. “It is not off the table. … It is possible to close the gap.”

Clinton conducted the most high-profile visit of a recent “cavalcade” of high-ranking American officials traveling to Israel to huddle on Iran. Among the parade of senior US visitors: National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in the coming weeks.

The intense US-Israel consultations are aimed, from Washington’s perspective, at trying to reassure Israel’s leadership not to conduct strikes on Iran, likely in the fall. Despite Clinton’s assertion Monday that the United States and Israel are currently “on the same page” on Iran, Israeli leaders have apparently not eased American concerns about their intentions.

“For the first time on the agenda are serious crippling sanctions,” former Israeli Knesset Defense and Security Committee member Ephraim Sneh said at a July 12th round-table hosted by the Israel Policy Forum in New York, referring to tough new European Union sanctions on the import of Iranian oil, which went into effect July 1. “We have hardly two months to implement them. I advise those who can implement them, ‘Don’t put Israel in a corner.'”

Asked what specifically is in two months–i.e., September, Sneh said that Israel’s more limited military capabilities constrain its timetable and calendar for action. Continue reading

Israel unity government unravels over draft law

Israel’s two-month old unity government appeared to be dissolving Tuesday, as Shaul Mofaz, the leader of centrist Kadima party, said talks had failed on a law on drafting Israel’s ultra-Orthodox into the military.

“Netanyahu has chosen to side with the draft-dodgers,” Mofaz said after a Kadima meeting Tuesday, Haaretz reported. “I have reached an understanding that the prime minister has not left us a choice and so we have responded.”

Mofaz rejected a compromise proposal submitted Tuesday morning by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which would have called for ultra Orthodox Israeli males to be subject to conscription from 18-23 years old. After 23 years old, they would be directed to the civil service. Continue reading

Israel’s Netanyahu, Mofaz said to form coalition, cancel early elections

In a surprise move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz have reportedly agreed to form a coalition government, cancelling plans for early elections that had been expected to take place on September 4.

A spokeswoman for Netanyahu’s Likud party said that Netanyahu and Mofaz would formally announce the unity government deal at a press conference Tuesday at 10:30 am in the Knesset, the Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman wrote on Twitter.

The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz reports on the political calculations that may have made such a unity government deal attractive for Netanyahu:

…At the eleventh hour, just before his colleagues were set to vote the 18th Knesset into history, Netanyahu achieved a whole slew of tactical victories. He widened his coalition to include the largest party in parliament, signing the deal with Mofaz that he and the former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni could not bring themselves to ratify, no matter how beneficial each might have believed it to be for their parties and the nation. He now heads a vast coalition, in which the minor parties immediately muster less influence, and have consequently less capacity to try to manipulate the national agenda for their narrower needs. […]

 

In Mofaz, he has a partner who demonstrably wants to sit in government, and with whom he quite plainly can find a common and expedient language. … The last thing Mofaz wanted was to face the voters with Kadima heading for only 12 or so seats. […]

The deal also shows that Netanyahu “hates taking chances,” writes Haaretz editor in chief Aluf Benn: Continue reading