Tel Aviv- The Israeli Knesset gave a preliminary approval on Wednesday to a bill that would ban the use of loudspeakers to amplify the Muslim call to prayer (adhan).
The Knesset’s majority voted in favor of two measures because those who have introduced the bill failed to agree on one version.
The bills passed 55-48. The draft legislation aims to stop mosques from using loudspeakers to amplify the Muslim call to prayer from 11pm to 7am.
Two versions of the law will go to committee for further discussion before any final vote in parliament, in what could be a lengthy process.
During the assembly, some lawmakers protested the bill, others tore copies of it while some interrupted the speeches of the lawmakers who have pushed for its adoption.
Some shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ before a number of Arab-dominated Joint List alliance members were expelled of the session.
Joint List lawmakers called for demonstrations to reject the bill, saying the sound of adhan should be raised.
Former Foreign Minister of Israel Tzipi Livni, a leader of the centre-left Zionist Union party, said “proud Israelis” should join together in opposing legislation that would only “spread hate and ignite tensions” between Muslims and Jews.
The new proposed law sets a fine of 10,000 shekel ($2,750) for violations.
In its statement, the Join List denounced the bill, saying Arab citizens would not respect a racist law. For its part, the Higher Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs rejected the racist bill, which it said reflects the terrorist mindset of the government.
The adhan will still be heard in the five prayers of the day, it said.
Minister for Waqf Yusuf Ideis also condemned the bill which he considered “a racism that exceeds political dimensions, (touching) on religious aspects and threatening the region with a religious war.”
London, Brussels- Former Israeli Minister Tzipi Livni has cancelled a visit she was expected to make to Brussels after Belgian prosecutors confirmed they wanted to question hear over war crimes allegations.
Local newspaper Le Soir said prosecutors had been hoping to question Livni over allegations of war crimes in the 2008-9 Israeli war in Gaza, when she was foreign minister.
“We wanted to take advantage of her visit to try to advance the investigation,” a spokesman for Belgium’s federal prosecutor Thierry Werts told Agence France Presse.
Livni’s spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment from AFP, but the foreign ministry reacted strongly.
“We reject this cynical abuse of the Belgian legal system to advance a political agenda,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.
He labelled the attempt to question Livni “another cheap publicity stunt with no legal basis that was organized and executed by an anti-Israeli organization.”
Livni, one of Israel’s most influential women, is named along with other political and military leaders in a complaint filed in June 2010 over alleged crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead.
More than 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, died during the Israeli offensive between December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009.
Thirteen Israelis, including ten soldiers, also died.
The Belgian-Palestinian Association supporting the complaint said in a statement it wanted to hold Livni responsible for her role in the war, as well as Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, then prime minister and minister of defense.
In December 2009 Livni cancelled a visit to London after being informed that she was the subject of an arrest warrant issued by a UK court over her role in the same war.
London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed on Tuesday to use the next nine months to seek a “final status” peace deal.
The news was announced by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, following preliminary talks between the two sides in Washington DC on Monday and Tuesday.
Kerry, speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, said: “sustained, continuous, substantive negotiations on the core issues” would begin at a site in Israel or the Palestinian territories within the next two weeks.
He was joined by Tzipi Livni, Israel’s minister of justice, and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, who represented the two sides in this week’s talks.
Erekat said: “Palestinians have suffered enough… It is time for the Palestinians to live in peace, freedom and dignity within their own independent sovereign state.”
Livni told reporters that she was under no illusions that the negotiations would be easy, but that she hoped they “transform that spark of hope into something real and lasting.”
Kerry said: “I know the path is difficult. There is no shortage of passionate sceptics. But with capable, respected negotiators . . . I am convinced that we can get there.”
Despite the public optimism displayed by Kerry and the negotiators in Washington this week, serious obstacles remain to any final political settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In particular, previous talks in 2010 broke down over the issue of the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and is expected to form the nucleus of any future Palestinian state.
Both sides have said that any deal which involves territorial borders will be subject to referendums in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The two sides must also reach a settlement on the city of Jerusalem, which both states claim as their capital, and the “right of return” of Palestinians who were expelled or fled from territory now claimed by Israel in 1948.
Washington and Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat—US Secretary of State John Kerry has appointed Martin Indyk as US special envoy to the preliminary peace talks set to begin this week between Israeli and Palestinian representatives.
Indyk, who is 62, served as a National Security Council official and as Washington’s ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration, and is the Director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
During a news conference to introduce Indyk, Kerry said he was optimistic that the new talks between the Palestinians and Israel would lead to a “comprehensive resolution.” He also said the talks would face difficult decisions and that “reasonable compromises” would need to be made.
Kerry added that Indyk’s task would be to oversee the resumption of the negotiation process between the Palestinians and the Israelis, following a break of three years.
Indyk thanked President Barack Obama and the secretary of state for his appointment. He said he was “optimistic that comprehensive peace in the Middle East was now possible.”
Meanwhile, President Obama welcomed the resumption of the peace talks, which he described as a “promising step forward,” and warning that “difficult choices” were awaiting the two sides.
The Palestinians and Israelis agreed to a round of preliminary discussions on resuming peace talks following intensive shuttle diplomacy by Kerry over the past few months. The agreement to restart negotiations was reached after Israel approved the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, a decision which split the Israeli cabinet.
The Palestinian side will be represented at the preliminary talks by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, while the Israeli side will be represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudaynah said “the first meeting aims at laying down a procedural work plan to enable both sides to go forward in the talks.”
Meanwhile, Tzipi Livini said: “I hope that the talks start in an atmosphere of good will and mutual trust, despite the great difficulties facing the negotiation process.” She added: “Israeli security and other interests related to protecting the Jewish nature of the state, make it imperative that all avenues are explored to reach a settlement.”
London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Direct talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority are set to resume on Monday, after months of intense diplomacy by the US aimed at restarting negotiations.
A spokeswoman for the US State Department confirmed on Sunday that initial talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives would begin in Washington, D.C., on Monday night and continue on Tuesday.
The two delegations are to be led by Tzipi Livni, Israel’s minister of justice, and Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians.
The spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that the talks, the first between the two sides in three years, were “an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months,” rather than a move to address the most substantial and controversial issues.
US secretary of state John Kerry said: “Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point. We are grateful for their leadership.”
The talks are proceeding after the Israeli cabinet approved on Sunday the release of 104 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, in the face of sustained political and public opposition overcome by last-minute lobbying of ministers by Netanyahu. In the final tally, 13 ministers voted to approve the release, with 7 opposed and 2 abstentions.
The Palestinian side refused to proceed without an agreement on the release of the prisoners, most of whom are long-term detainees who have become national heroes among many Palestinians. The first batch is expected to be released shortly before the end of Ramadan, with others released in four batches over the coming months, provided negotiations remain on track.
Despite crediting US secretary of state John Kerry with successfully reviving the chances for negotiations with intense “shuttle diplomacy” in recent months, many analysts say that progress towards a final settlement between the two sides faces formidable obstacles.
Previous talks broke down after Israel refused to freeze the construction of settlements on territory occupied after the 1967 Arab–Israeli war. The issue of Israeli settlements remains one of the most fiercely contested topics between the two sides.
The Israeli cabinet also approved plans to hold a referendum on any peace deal that involves offering territorial concessions, while Palestinian leaders have also pledged that any agreement involving trades of territory will be subject to a referendum.
Moscow, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Israeli ambassador to Moscow said on Tuesday that Israel was prepared to discuss the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the occupied Golan Heights.
The comments were made while Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni was holding talks with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow about its decision to sell S-300 air defense missiles to Syria.
Ambassador Dorit Golender said: “I think this issue [peacekeeping in the Golan Heights] will be the main point in the negotiations, and if both parties reach agreement, then sending a peacekeepers to the Golan becomes possible. What is needed first is permission from the United Nations, and Israel is always open to resolutions in such issues.”
President Vladimir Putin said in June that Russia was prepared to send 380 peacekeepers to replace Austrian troops that were withdrawn by their government as the fighting in the country intensified. The United Nations rejected the offer, however, because the agreement reached after the 1973 war stipulates that forces from the Security Council’s permanent members—the US, Russia, China, France and the UK—are not allowed in the Golan Heights.
The issue has become more urgent due to information reportedly received by Israel that Russia was planning to deliver the S-300 missiles to Syria within weeks. Russia assured Israel two months ago that it would not deliver the missiles until the middle of next year.
Livni’s office, however, has played down the importance of the visit, saying it was aimed at discussing security issues related to terrorism with her Russian counterpart. However, reports said Livni met Lavrov yesterday and discussed “sensitive security issues” and tried to persuade his government to cancel the missile transfer.
Israel newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth quoted unnamed senior Israeli military sources as saying that there were alternatives available within the missile agreement that can be implemented, which can satisfy Syria and not harm Israel.
These alternatives include the SA-22 and SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which are capable of bringing down aircraft at low and medium altitudes. The modern S-300 missiles, which Syria bought a few years ago, are long-range missiles capable of bringing down aircraft at high altitudes and could theoretically hit targets in Israeli airspace from within Syrian territory.
Tel Aviv, Asharq Al-Awsat—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a cool reception to an apparent softening in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, although the amendment had been welcomed in other Arab and Israeli quarters. Israeli media outlets reported that Netanyahu fears that US Secretary of State John Kerry will accept the principal of territorial exchanges in any future deal.
The original Arab League proposal offered full recognition of Israel but only if Tel Aviv gave up all land seized in the 1967 Middle East war and accepted a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees. However the Arab League has accepted the amendment of this peace plan after Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani raised the possibility of land swaps in setting borders between the Jewish state and an independent Palestine.
Following a meeting with Kerry, Al-Thani told reporters: “The Arab League’s delegation affirmed that agreement should be based on a two-state solution on the basis of the 4th of June 1967 line, with the (possibility) of comparable and mutual agreed minor land swaps.”
This traction on the 2002 peace plan, which had been swiftly rejected by the Israelis at the time, was welcomed by a number of Israeli leaders. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni expressed hopes that this move would restart the frozen peace process.
“This is in the interest of Israel, the interest of the Palestinians, and the interest of the international community,” she added.
Former Israeli Interior Minister, Meir Sheetrit, told Israeli Radio: “There has been mist covering the eyes of the Israeli leadership over the past ten years regarding the Arab Peace Initiative and the positive responses to the peace process this created in the Arab world.”
He said: “At one time, the Arabs were famed for saying ‘No’ and I still recall the decisions taken by the Arab Summit in Khartoum and those three Nos. However something changed for the Arabs and in 2002 they came out with an excellent peace initiative based on establishing a comprehensive peace between Israel and all Arab states in return for Israel withdrawing from the territories occupied in the 1967 war. Following this, 56 Islamic states joined the initiative.”
“Today, we receive an important amendment regarding land swaps, which means that the position of the Arabs towards the peace process is developing. But what are we doing? We are stalling and stuttering and running away,” he added.
Sheetrit revealed that he had privately urged Israel’s last three prime ministers, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Benjamin Netanyahu, to accept the Arab Peace Initiative as a starting point for further negotiations.
He said, “I told them that this initiative dealt with all the conditions with wisdom and intelligence, even putting forward a realistic solution towards the issue of Palestinian refugees’ right of return.”
“I fear that Netanyahu will waste the opportunity to reach a settlement today,” he added.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday that Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani’s statements were positive, but noted that “the issue of land swaps is not new, and former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat agreed to this in his negotiations with the Ehud Barak government in 2000. The current Palestinian President [Mahmoud Abbas] also agreed to this in his negotiations with Ehud Olmert.”
“What is new is that the Arab League adopted this. This is important, but it represents a small step in the right direction. We must take additional steps until we reach direct negotiations. Only through direct negotiations can we progress towards reaching a settlement,” he added.
Yet Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his aides fear that US Secretary of State John Kerry will accept the Arab League definition of the borders for a Palestinian state and the principal of territorial exchanges.”
The report quoted an unnamed source who claimed that “the prime minister’s advisers are not keen about the Arab League’s announcement.”
“Netanyahu and his advisers believe it would have been better had this announcement not been made,” the source added.
The source revealed that while Netanyahu and his aides acknowledge that the Arab League’s proposal contains some positive aspects, such as the desire to renew the peace process, they believe that the disadvantages outweigh any potential opportunities.
Responding to the revamped peace deal, Netanyahu stressed that “the root of the conflict isn’t territorial. It began way before 1967.”
Speaking to Israeli diplomats on Wednesday, the Israeli Prime Minister said: “The Palestinians’ failure to accept the state of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is the root of the conflict. If we reach a peace agreement, I want to know that the conflict won’t continue—that the Palestinians won’t come later with more demands.”
Being something of an exception in the Middle East, the Israeli elections are often great fun and full of surprises. This time we saw the emergence of politician Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party that has won the admiration even of its political rivals after gaining 19 seats in the Israeli Knesset. Lapid is a TV presenter and a news anchor who decided only a few months ago to enter politics, competing with and even embarrassing senior politicians such as Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Lieberman, and forcing Benjamin Netanyahu to ride on the back of coalitions in order to remain as prime minister. Lapid, a moderate political leader who we will hear more of in the future, is primarily concerned with developing education and achieving social equality. His liberal concepts are completely alien to the Jewish clergy and a source of ridicule among the far right.
Another interesting observation from these elections is that the majority of rival parties’ platforms emphasized improving the internal situation, including living standards, health and education, as well as achieving greater social justice. Political parties were largely indifferent towards foreign policies such as the Iranian nuclear issue and the two-state solution with Palestine; they were more inclined towards internal affairs. We saw this previously with the recent US elections when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tried to portray the US as a small family home where the owner only wished to support its inhabitants and ensure that they were warm and well fed. It seems Hamas was right when it said that the results of the Israeli elections were a reflection of the recent battle in Gaza. This is true because the existing truce there has achieved a degree of safety that has enabled Israeli political parties to focus on their country’s internal situation.
It is sad to say that Israel—the invasive, oppressive, occupying state—lives amongst us but we still do not know it.
It seems that the Arab street’s awareness of Israel came to a virtual standstill in October 1973. The Arabs may only remember the Camp David agreement because it surfaced recently in Egypt after the ruling regime changed there. What I mean by the Arab street is the youth category-which makes up the backbone of any country-rather than the intellectual or political elite that is engrossed in reading books, issuing condemning statements, and making notes of Israeli aggression over the past sixty years. Young Arab generations lack awareness about Israel; a country that is now totally different to how it was in 1948, 1956, 1967 or 1973. This is not because it has transformed into a friendly state, for it is still considered our bitter enemy that continues to occupy Palestinian soil. What has changed in Israel, like any other state, is that now there is an emerging generation that harbors dreams and expectations different to those cherished by a leader like Netanyahu. Young Israelis have their own vision that is detached from military life and is inclined towards civil interests, a love for life, and decent living standards.
What Arab youths do not know is that in Israel there is a strong sector that opposes the state’s supremacist policies towards the Palestinian people in particular, and the Arabs in general. These youths are not only leftists; there are also centrist civil servants and university graduates who strongly believe that Israel’s stability is conditional upon its coexistence with the Arabs.
However, it is ridiculous to read political analysis comparing these Israeli youths with the Arab youths that revolted in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya, in the sense that those Israelis took to streets against Netanyahu last year to demand social justice in the same manner that the Arab Spring revolutionaries also took to streets to demonstrate. This is untrue because the youths in the Arab Spring states were rising up against ruling regimes that were light years away from their citizens. The rulers of these states stayed in their palaces and were unable to hear their people or sense their needs. Here, people became outraged because of their needs and their leader’s negligence or arrogance, and whenever they sought to make their voice heard in the elections, these same leaders would return the next day and declare their victory with an overwhelming majority. In Israel, this situation does not exist; the regime in Tel Aviv is truly democratic and the rungs on the power ladder are fixed. What the demonstrators in Israel are demanding is an improvement in living standards; they are not starting from scratch as in the Arab Spring states. In these states there was no democratic political climate prior to the revolutions, and in fact we are still waiting for such a climate to emerge amidst the security, economic, and political failures that we see every day.
In Israel, politicians are distinguished by their sincerity and devotion to the higher interests of the state, rather than their affiliation to a certain group, and this is something we have yet to see in the Arab Spring.
The Arab youths turned to poets with their cheap words, and to politicians who heap insults upon Israel from their luxurious hotel rooms. However, they are still unaware as to where, why and how these feelings of hatred towards Israel came about.
A simple means of demonstrating our ignorance of Israel can be found in the fact that its neighboring states are ignorant of the Hebrew language. In Lebanon and Syria, people prefer to study French rather than the language of a country that continues to jeopardize their own security every day. In Egypt and Jordan, people do not prioritize of publicize the study of the Hebrew language, while in Israeli educational institutions there is ample opportunity to study the Arabic language. It is for this reason that we find a considerable number of Israeli politicians and media representatives who speak Arabic fluently. I do not know many Arab foreign ministers in Israel’s neighboring states that can speak Hebrew. As for those who say that the Israelis speak Arabic because the language is more common than Hebrew, or because the Israelis have intruded on our region, this justification is irrelevant. The reason why Israel enjoys superiority over the Arabs is because it has sought to understand them through their language; it can gauge the thinking of the young and old. Israel is well aware of the Arabs’ strengths as well as their weaknesses, and it can understand them simply because it has immersed itself in their culture.
Therefore, it is no wonder that we hear youths in Tel Aviv listening to Umm Kulthum songs, eating hummus and considering the television series Rafat El-Haggan’ to be a comedy. The Israelis are not only occupying our soil, but they also highly active in our culture, which is the real cause for their power.