John Kerry lambasts Israel’s settlement policy
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John Kerry lambasts Israel’s settlement policy

Austrian far-right concedes defeat in presidential race; disgraced ex-president Katsav said to close in on early release

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

  • US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Saban Forum in Washington on Sunday, December 4, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
    US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Saban Forum in Washington on Sunday, December 4, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Saban Forum in Washington via video link on Sunday, December 4, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Saban Forum in Washington via video link on Sunday, December 4, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
  • Alexander Van der Bellen, candidate for presidential election, talks to journalists as he leaves the polling station after he casted his ballot at the 6th district in Vienna on December 4, 2016 (AFP/Joe Klamar)
    Alexander Van der Bellen, candidate for presidential election, talks to journalists as he leaves the polling station after he casted his ballot at the 6th district in Vienna on December 4, 2016 (AFP/Joe Klamar)
  • Former president Moshe Katsav, left, is seen with his wife, Gila, leaving Ma'asiyahu Prison for a furlough over the Jewish festival of Passover, April 3, 2015. (Flash90)
    Former president Moshe Katsav, left, is seen with his wife, Gila, leaving Ma'asiyahu Prison for a furlough over the Jewish festival of Passover, April 3, 2015. (Flash90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on December 4, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on December 4, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON)
  • View of the Amona outpost in the West Bank, on November 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    View of the Amona outpost in the West Bank, on November 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s updates as they unfolded.

Police arrest two Jewish youth for ‘inciting insubordination’

Police arrest two Jewish minors, aged 14 and 17, on suspicion that they “incited insubordination” because they urged officers and soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate the illegal West Bank outpost Amona.

According to a lawyer for the two, Nati Rom of the far-right Honenu legal aid group, they are being interrogated by police because of a flier that they distributed among security personnel at the central West Bank’s Tapuah Junction.

Rom claims the officers are threatening the younger boy with physical violence and interrogating without his parents present, “as if he were a terrorist.”

Airstrikes blamed on Russia kill 21 in Syria’s Idlib

Airstrikes on a village in the Syrian province of Idlib kills at least 21 civilians, among them a child, according to activists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group says dozens more have been injured in the strikes on several parts of the village of Kafr Nabal and that the death toll could rise.

It says the strikes appear to have been carried out by a Russian warplane.

— Agencies

State to seek 30 days more to prep for Amona evacuation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells ministers at weekly cabinet meeting that the state will petition the High Court of Justice for a 30-day deferral of the deadline for the evacuation of Amona, an illegal West Bank outpost located on Palestinian land.

He says the request, which comes amid a strong push by members of his coalition to legalize the outpost altogether, is meant to give the state sufficient time to build alternative, temporary housing units on a nearby plot.

The current deadline is December 25.

“We are working overtime to find a responsible solution to the issue of Amona and for similar cases in the future,” he tells the ministers.

“We are working to reach a rational solution and I expect all of you, ministers and MKs, to respect it,” he adds. “We must act responsibly and prudently here for a common goal: To defend settlement, and to defend the court. We are working in both spheres.”

The prime minister also cautions ministers that they’re attempt to legalize the outpost by legislating a new law will not have the effect of counteracting the demolition order.

Bedouin man cleared in sarcastic Facebook post case

Reports say state prosecutors have closed the investigation into a Bedouin-Israeli man, who was arrested last month for writing a Facebook post that mocked anti-Israel arsonists, because police misunderstood his comments.

In his sarcastic Facebook post, Anas Abudaabes, a 24-year-old social activist, intended to condemn those supporting the spate of wildfires on social media.

Anas Abudaabes, released from jail November 27, 2016 after his arrest for incitement in a Facebook post (Facebook)

Anas Abudaabes, released from jail November 27, 2016 after his arrest for incitement in a Facebook post (Facebook)

The Arabic post was written in overly dramatic language, and apparently meant as satirical derision of those who were hailing the blazes ravaging the country.

The Arabic post ended with the hashtag “Sarcasm, not serious.”

Police held him for two days before releasing him last Sunday.

Dov Lieber contributed.

Yesh Atid calls for early elections

Three days after an opinion poll showing a tie with the governing Likud party, the Yesh Atid party calls for the Knesset to be dissolved and for early elections to be set, saying the current government has “ceased to work for the sake of the public.”

The call by the centrist party comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition faces vicious disagreements within its ranks over a bill to prevent settlements built on private land from being demolished if they were built with state assistance.

“The citizens of Israel deserve more,” a press release from the party repeats four times in a possible precursor to an election slogan.

“The government of Israel is entirely self-involved with its own political rifts and anything but what is important to the citizens of Israel,” the statement reads. “There have been no substantive discussions in any government body over where the country is heading: Not in the economic, social, diplomatic or security realms.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Fidel Castro’s ashes interred in private ceremony

Fidel Castro’s ashes are being interred in a private ceremony after Cuban officials made a last-minute cancellation of plans to broadcast the events live on national and international television. International media are also barred from the ceremony.

The remains of the man who ruled Cuba for a half-century leave the Plaza of the Revolution in the eastern city of Santiago at 6:39 a.m., more than 20 minutes ahead of their scheduled departure. Thousands of people line the two-mile route to Santa Ifigenia cemetery, waving Cuban flags and shouting, “Long live Fidel!”

The motorcade carrying the ashes of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro makes its final journey towards the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago, Cuba, on Sunday, December 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

The motorcade carrying the ashes of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro makes its final journey towards the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago, Cuba, on Sunday, December 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

The funeral caravan enters the cemetery at 7:12 a.m. The Cuban military fires a 21-gun salute and crowds at the entrance to the ceremony sing the national anthem, then fill the road to the cemetery where the ashes are being interred inside, out of the public eye.

The decision to hold a private ceremony came the morning after Castro’s brother, President Raul Castro, announced that Cuba will prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after the former leader, and bar the construction of statues of the former leader and revolutionary icon, in keeping with his desire to avoid a cult of personality.

The events ended a week of national mourning for Fidel Castro that reached near-religious peaks of adulation.

AP

Putin calls Trump a ‘smart man’

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is confident that President-elect Donald Trump will soon realize the level of responsibility his job entails.

Despite Trump’s pro-Russian statements during the campaign, Russian politicians are concerned about reports that Trump is considering Mitt Romney, known for his harsh stance on Russia, to be his secretary of state.

Putin says in an interview with the NTV channel to be broadcast later on Sunday that Trump’s business accomplishments show him to be a “smart man.”

He adds that “if he is a smart man, that means that he will fairly soon become aware of a different level of responsibility. We expect that he acts with these considerations in mind.”

— AP

Israel dresses down Ecuadorian envoy for incendiary UN speech

The Foreign Ministry summons an Ecuadorian diplomat to complain over a speech in which the Latin American country’s ambassador to the United Nations appeared to compare Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians to Nazi crimes.

Horacio Sevilla Borja made the incendiary remark at a session honoring the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, instructed Modi Ephraim, the ministry’s deputy director-general for Central and South America, to invite the Ecuadorian embassy’s third secretary, Enrique Ponce, for an “urgent meeting.”

Ephraim tells the diplomat that Jerusalem “strongly objects” to Sevilla’s speech, “which is full of inaccuracies and historical distortions.”

Israel asks for “clarifications” from Quito, Ephraim tells Ponce, who promises to report the matter to his office immediately.

— Raphael Ahren

Azerbaijan to co-host Hanukkah party at Trump’s DC hotel

Azerbaijan’s US embassy is hosting a Hanukkah party at a hotel owned by President-elect Donald Trump and his family.

The party will take place December 14 and will celebrate “freedom and diversity,” says the invitation, obtained by JTA, a signal of closer ties between the west Asian nation and Israel and some of its supporters in the United States. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is co-hosting the event.

Israel and Azerbaijan, a mostly Muslim nation on the Caspian Sea, have strengthened relations in recent years. Azerbaijan sent a firefighting plane to Israel last month as fires swept the country.

The Conference of Presidents, made up of the leadership of over 50 Jewish organizations, is a consensus body representing the organized Jewish community to the executive branch.

— JTA

Outpost legalization bill won’t include Amona — reports

Proposed legislation that would legalize West Bank outposts built on Palestinian land will lose its most controversial clause, one that would have gone head-to-head with the High Court by ruling that Amona, which the court has ordered the state to demolish, is legal.

According to reports, Clause 7 of the bill, which deals with Amona and other outposts that the court has already ruled are illegal, has been stricken due to the opposition of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and Likud’s MK Benny Begin.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also opposed the bill, and sought to dissuade its main proponents in the pro-settlement Jewish Home party from pursuing it.

The removal of its most controversial clause could pave the way for the bill to come to a Knesset vote.

Katsav closing in on early release — report

Former president Moshe Katsav, who is in prison for rape, could go free soon after the Israel Police and the Israel Prison Service have withdrawn their objections, according to Channel 10.

The report cites Prison Service officials to the effect that Katsav, who has doggedly refused to admit to any wrongdoing, is showing a “marked improvement” in therapy.

That professional opinion is supported by police, the report says.

Austria far-right behind in presidential race — projections

Austria’s Norbert Hofer laggs behind in a closely watched election rerun Sunday, projections show, shrinking his hopes of becoming the European Union’s first far-right president.

The polls show Greens-backed Alexander Van der Bellen sweeping 53.6 percent of the votes, while Hofer gets 46.4%. The final official result is not expected until Monday.

— AFP

Austria far-right concedes defeat in presidential race

— AFP

Netanyahu says his attitude to Iran deal won’t change under Trump

Asked by moderator Chaim Saban at the Saban Forum about the Iran deal, specifically in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, Netanyahu doesn’t diverge from the same answers he’s been giving since the deal was signed over a year ago.

“Israel is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” he says. “That has not changed and will not change. As far as President-elect Trump — I look forward to speaking to him about what to do about this bad deal.”

He reiterates why he opposes the deal: “Because it doesn’t prevent Iran from getting nukes”; rather, it “paves the way” to Iran’s acquirement of an “arsenal” of atomic weapons through “industrial-scale enrichment.”

Netanyahu says that’s a topic he’ll discuss with Trump once he takes office.

“I will say this: That since the deal was signed, Iran has become a more aggressive power,” he says, accusing Tehran of developing missiles that can reach the United States.

“We have to stop Iran’s march to the bomb; its development for long-range missiles; its support for terrorism in the Middle East and throughout the world,” he says.

Netanyahu espouses ‘regional’ approach to peace

Asked about the peace process with the Palestinians, and efforts to force Israel to capitulate through UN resolutions, Netanyahu accuses PA leader Abbas of “refusing” to negotiate despite being urged to by Israel “hundreds” of times.

He says that in light of Abbas’s attitude, the best approach at the moment would be a “regional” one.

“Going through UN resolutions is not the way to advance peace,” he says.

Netanyahu: Israel a ‘beacon’ in a ‘dark’ Middle East

Pressed about whether world leaders believe in the genuineness of his resolve to attain peace, Netanyahu asserts that “the majority of the world’s governments” understand that Israel “is a force of moderation” and a “beacon of tolerance” in a “dark” Middle East.

He says leaders ask him about the Palestinians, and that he responds: “I’m prepared to stop everything I’m doing right now, and I want you to invite me to your country… right away, no preconditions.” But then, he says, those governments send envoys to Ramallah and return empty-handed because Abbas is unwilling to engage in direct talks.

He says he has no idea why “the press doesn’t get” that Israel is willing and the Palestinians are the rejectionists.

Netanyahu says boycott movement not a threat

Netanyahu dismisses a question about Israel isolation, saying that “every single day,” he meets senior officials, who are coming to Israel from “endless” countries.

This he attributes to “TTP.”

The first T stands for “technology,” where Israel is a “powerful force.”

The second T stands for “terror,” he continues, which Israel has “proven capabilities” fighting.

“Countries that want to protect themselves turn to Israel,” he says.

Finally, P stands for “peace,” which Israel wants.

He says he’s not worried about the boycott movement, because many countries seek out Israelis technology and proven track record fighting terror. They also know Israel wants peace, he maintains.

Netanyahu: Israel’s press the most critical in the world

Unprompted, Netanyahu is taking on the Israeli media. Sarcastically, he says, all the news channels are bursting with praise for him.

On a more serious note, he goes on to make the dubious assertion that “there is no country [whose press] attacks its leader more than the Israeli press attacks me.”

He says that “that’s fine,” but that he too has “the right to criticize the press.

“Which I just did,” Netanyahu adds, to scattered titters.

Abbas touts successful Fatah conference

In his speech closing the seventh Fatah congress, PA President Abbas touts the conference as a success without outside intervention.

“Our decision was independent and no one dictated a thing to us,” he says.

Before the congress, Abbas had complained of outside pressure, reportedly from Arab countries that wanted him to reconcile with party rival Mohammad Dahlan.

Dahlan and his associates were not invited to the conference and their exclusion is seen as a victory for Abbas.

Abbas, who was reelected the head of Fatah on the first day of the five-day conference, says he will work with the newly appointed members of the Fatah Executive Committee to “adopt the necessary changes in the internal organization of the [Fatah] movement.”

“We dedicate the success of this conference to Yasser Arafat, the lives of his comrades and all the martyrs,” Abbas says.

— Dov Lieber

Abbas says ‘greater’ struggle ahead for Palestinians

Abbas goes on to discuss the “jihad” facing the Palestinians, an Islamic term for struggle that sometimes refers to violent action.

“What you have achieved during this conference is the smaller jihad, and the task before us now is to dive into the greater jihad,” he adds.

Abbas has repeatedly said he is against violence and terrorism, including during the congress this week.

— Dov Lieber

Austrian president-elect hails ‘pro-Europe’ victory

The Austrian presumptive president-elect, the liberal Alexander Van der Bellen, who beat the far-right Norbert Hofer, welcomes the victory for a “pro-European Austria.”

“From the beginning, I fought and pleaded for a pro-European Austria,” says the 72-year-old former head of the Austrian Greens on public television.

He adds that he wants to defend the equality, freedom and solidarity of Austrians as president.

— AFP contributed.

Elderly doctor, 2 others, suspected of illegal organ transplants

The Israel Police says a doctor and two other people have been arrested for “dealing with illegal trade of organs.”

According to police, the suspects “located individuals who were in need of transplants and offered them services in exchange for payment.

“One of the suspects was responsible to obtain the necessary permits and regulation to performing the transplants illegally including faking the documents.”

They were arrested Sunday morning following an undercover investigation, police say.

Two of the suspects, aged 41 and 38, are “suspected of organ trafficking and trade, fraud and the use of false documents,” they say.

The third, the doctor, is in his 80s, police say. He was “released with conditions including 5 days under house arrest as the investigation continues.”

Kerry says no way to avoid need for peace deal with Palestinians

John Kerry says the US now has “an opportunity to redefine the Middle East.”

He says he has talked to Netanyahu “more than 375 times,” totaling “more than 130 hours,” over his term as secretary of state so far, and that’s only the public tally. His wife has even complained that he spends more time talking to Netanyahu than talking to her.

“Bibi and I are friends — we really are,” he says, recalling spending time with the future Israeli leader while at Harvard.

“I speak as an unapologetic friend of Israel,” Kerry say, citing the bump in aid to the Jewish state under the Obama administration, which totals more than half the total foreign aid the US doles out, as well as the support Washington gave to Israel at various international forums.

“We have never shied away from vetoing a resolution at the UN, anything at UNESCO — you name it,” he says.

“I want to be clear about my passion fore this dream,” he says, meaning Israel. But, “I have to tell you the truth. I have to share with you facts and describe to you why I am concerned. I come to you as someone who’s concerned for the safety and security of Israel.”

Kerry says he wants to defend Israel’s “need for security,” and that any “questions” the US administration raises about Israel’s policies in the West Bank are due to “concern.”

He praises the Jewish state’s prowess in agriculture and technology as a potential powerful bridge to the Arab world.

“The issue is how do you get from here to there,” he says. “There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world.”

What he means is that Israel won’t be able to circumvent the need to sign a deal with the Palestinians by going directly to the Arab world. The statement could be an allusion to Netanyahu’s earlier comments on a “regional” solution.

“There’s a basic choice that has to be made by Israelis, by the leadership of Israel… and that is, is there going to be continued implementation of settlement policy, or is there going to be separation, two states.”

Kerry goes on to discuss the settlements as a major obstacle to peace, specifically the settlements that are beyond Israel’s security barrier, where tens of thousands of settlers live, and the illegal outposts, “dozens” of which he predicts Jerusalem will soon legalize.

“Most of these outposts are considered to be built on what is Palestinian private land,” he says.

— Eric Cortellessa contributed.

French PM hails Austria result as blow for European populists

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls hails the victory of a Greens-backed candidate over the far-right contender in Austria’s presidential election as a blow for populism in Europe.

“Great win by Alexander Van der Bellen in Austria. Populism is not Europe’s fate,” Valls, who is expected to run for president in next year’s election, tweets after Van der Bellen’s rival Norbert Hofer concedes defeat.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls makes a statement following a security meeting with French President Francois Hollande on July 15, 2016 at the Elysee Palace in Paris, a day after a gunman smashed a truck into a crowd of revelers celebrating Bastille Day in the city of Nice. (AFP Photo/Thomas Samson)

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls makes a statement following a security meeting with French President Francois Hollande on July 15, 2016 at the Elysee Palace in Paris, a day after a gunman smashed a truck into a crowd of revelers celebrating Bastille Day in the city of Nice. (AFP Photo/Thomas Samson)

The outcome of the Austrian election is being closely watched in France, where far-right leader Marine Le Pen is riding high in polls five months before the French begin voting for Francois Hollande’s successor.

Le Pen was among the first to react.

“Congratulations to the FPOe which fought bravely. The next elections will be theirs,” she writes on Twitter, referring to Hofer’s anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe), an ally of her National Front.

— AFP

Kerry bemoans ‘eroding’ support for 2 states among Israelis

“The majority of the current coalition [in Israel] doesn’t favor two states,” Kerry says after a discussion of larger regional issues. That is why, he says, he’s “pushing uphill, for the moment.”

Asked when Israel will have lost its chance for a two-state solution, and by extension, a Jewish-majority state and a democracy, he says that will be decided by “people on the ground.”

He talks about a “slow erosion” of the commitment to the goal of a two-state solution among Israelis.

“I’m a friend; American is a friend; and we’re the best friend Israel has,” Kerry says, but he cautions that Jerusalem will have to make a “real effort” to achieve peace.

Kerry: ‘Most’ Palestinian violence surrounds settlements

Kerry says he agrees with Netanyahu when he says the settlement are “not the cause of the conflict.”

But regardless, he says, settlers are now preventing a peace deal “and greatly complicate the topic of peace.” Kerry says Netanyahu can’t deny that.

He says he has a map that shows that while “some” Palestinian attacks have been perpetrated in places like Tel Aviv, “most” of the violence in Israel and the West Bank is centered around the settlements.

Kerry says US ‘adamant’ about ending PA incitement

Kerry is asked about the capacity of the Palestinians to be a true partner for peace.

“We have been adamant to Palestinians about incitement… and their need to deal with their education system, and to change things kids are taught,” he says. “All of that needs to happen.”

But, he continues, “I’ll tell you what I do know… There is, I think, a better path to pursue, and I think that over time, this small city state… the West Bank… demilitarized… with proper guidance,” will be able to further Israel’s security.

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