Since the day he returned to the prime minister's bureau, Benjamin Netanyahu hasn't missed an opportunity to reiterate the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This problematic condition has acquired a place of honor in the government's policy and its message to the Israeli and international media. And now, last Sunday, the phrase "the Jewish people" was absent from an important statement Prime Minister Netanyahu made to government ministers and the microphones.
At the start of the weekly government meeting, at which the proposal to extend the aid given to the evacuees from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria in the West Bank was discussed, Netanyahu promised that his government would not repeat the mistake of that unilateral withdrawal.
Instead, he said, the government would strive to arrive at bilateral agreements that will include two basic elements that were missing in the case of the evacuation of Gaza. In second place: "Security arrangements, the honoring and enforcement of which will be ensured." And in first place: "The genuine recognition of the state of Israel." And thereafter: "If there is a turn towards peace by the more moderate Palestinians, we will insist on the following components: Recognition and genuine demilitarization will find expression in, and be integral parts of, the peace arrangements."
"Genuine recognition of the state of Israel?" Check. "Recognition and genuine demilitarization?" Check. "The state of the Jewish people?" Nope. This is also documented in the spokesman's statement on the prime minister's bureau Web site.
Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu's media advisor, says that no special significance should be attributed to the fact that "the Jewish people" is absent from the prime minister's remarks. The boss is continuing to insist that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. His heart filled with sorrow when it it was brought to his attention that the matter was missing from his remarks at the government meeting.
However, "the Jewish people" may not have simply slipped the prime minister's mind for no reason. Foreign diplomats have reported to their capitals that people in the prime minister's bureau had phoned some of their colleagues to draw their attention to the striking absence from the statement.
Leaders in those capitals, among them U.S. President Barack Obama, were able to note that Netanyahu had removed one of the major stumbling blocks in the path to negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian track.
And just when Netanyahu relaxed his position (or did he?) in the matter of the demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, Arab Knesset members rose up against Israel's definition of itself as a Jewish state. In interviews to the Arab press, they condemned Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who told Haaretz Friday that Israel's definition is its own business and that there is no reason to demand this from the Palestinians.
It is not enough for the Knesset members that their brethren in the territories not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. They are also demanding of them that they require Israel to relinquish its right to define itself as a Jewish state. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already said something vague in that direction. This is all that Netanyahu needs in order to get President Obama off his back once and for all.
Natural grape growth
Even a veteran settlement-hunter like Dror Etkes of Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights was surprised by the sight of a large sign proclaiming "The Settlement Department - Ofra Plantations." The sign hangs in the heart of broad agricultural areas between the settlement of New Givon and one of the new neighborhoods of the settlement of Givat Ze'ev.
As the crow flies, the distance from there to the settlement of Ofra is more than 15 kilometers, but in order to cultivate the orchards the farmers of Ofra need to bypass Ramallah, a distance of 35 kilometers.
The olive groves and the fruit orchards stretch over hundreds of dunams and some of them are over 10 years old. What connection is there between Ofra and these lands?
The Settlement Department and the Israel Defense Force's Civil Administration know the answers. In the course of a project to map lands seized for agricultural purposes, Etkes has discovered that in recent months, while the world has been busy counting residential structures and new prefabricated homes, the Jewish settlers have been busy taking over agricultural lands and preparing them for new plantings.
He has documented new plantings at eight locations, most of them adjacent to outposts. Unlike residential construction, which needs relatively large amounts of time and money and attracts attention, establishing facts in fields yields a lot of fruit in a short time and at a low cost and is easy to conceal from the authorities and the media. Even Obama is talking about stopping the building and not about stopping the planting.
Someone should inform the president of the United States that Ofra, too, began with the planting of a single tree. Incidentally, the person who was honored with planting that tree is now serving as the president of Israel.
The Civil Administration responded that Ofra Plantations is located in an area registered to Himanuta (a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund) which transfered it to the government authority for the West Bank. They then leased the land to a Jewish Agency department which transferred it to settlers from Ofra.
Turkish kiss the hospital goodbye
On February 20 I told the sad story of a Turkish entrepreneur who wanted to establish a "peace campus" on the Gilboa, centered around a hospital for Palestinian children. The philanthropist and businessman, Prof. Ali Dogramaci, undertook that in 20 years the NIS 3-4 billion campus would be handed over to Israel.
The previous government gave him the runaround, mainly because of opposition by the Shin Bet security agency. At that time Benjamin Netanyahu promised me that if he was elected prime minister he would remove the obstacles to the establishment of the campus.
"I liked the plan because it fit in with my view regarding economic and humanitarian cooperation with the Palestinians," he said at the time.
And now that half a year has passed the prime minister's bureau is saying that because of objections from security elements the plan will remain in the drawer. This just goes to show that what you see from there - yada yada yada.
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