November 19, 2010
Talks between Israeli and U.S. officials aimed at reviving Middle East peace negotiations have hit snags over incentives promised by Washington to persuade Israel to resume a freeze of Jewish settlement building.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled the U.S. inducements to his cabinet last weekend and appeared hopeful the ministers would back plans for a temporary halt to building in the occupied West Bank to overcome a hurdle to the peace talks.
However, an Israeli official said on Friday the United States had not yet provided the guarantees that Israel wanted, with Washington reluctant to commit to paper all the promises Netanyahu says he was offered verbally last week.
The latest snag concerned a pledge that Israel says U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made to provide the country free of charge 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion.
Politicians said Washington was backtracking and now wanted some sort of payment for the coveted fighter aircraft.
"It looks like the free stealth fighters have slipped," said Benny Begin, a minister from Netanyahu's Likud party who is opposed to the proposed U.S. deal, warning that Washington was setting a trap to extract major concessions later down the line.The U.S. state department is making no comment about the situation, which if unresolved would be hugely embarrassing for both parties, while Netanyahu has said "intensive" discussions continued to get the necessary "understandings."
"One may wonder if you cannot agree to understandings from one week to the next, what could happen over three months," he told the Army Radio on Friday.
"If I receive such a proposal from the American government, I will bring it before the security cabinet and I have no doubt that my colleagues will accept it," he said late Thursday.FOCUS ON BORDERS
President Barack Obama invested substantial political capital in persuading the Palestinians to resume direct talks with Israel in early September, after months of mediation.
But, true to their warnings, the Palestinians halted negotiations when Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial settlement moratorium when it expired at the end of September.
Washington hoped its diplomatic and defense enticements would persuade Israel to renew the freeze for 90 days, opening the way for three months of intense negotiations that would focus on the future border of a Palestinian state.
However, Netanyahu's coalition allies demanded a written pledge from the United States to make clear the building freeze did not include occupied land in East Jerusalem and to spell out there would be no U.S. pressure for any subsequent moratoria.
The Palestinians themselves have expressed outrage in private over reports of the U.S. offer, saying it was a bribe to get Israel to fulfill basic international obligations.
November 19, 2010
Israel's military on Friday condemned the publication of names and photographs of 200 Israeli soldiers on a website that called them "war criminals."
Alongside the photographs, the site also published the home addresses and ID numbers of many of the Israelis. They included senior commanders and low-ranking soldiers who the site claimed participated in the three-week offensive Israel launched in Gaza in late 2008.
The accuracy of the published details could not be confirmed. A statement from the Israel Defense Forces said the military "deplores the publication of personal details of hundreds of IDF soldiers and officers, without any factual basis whatsoever."
The military said, however, that the information "poses no real threat to those whose name ended up on the list."
It was put up earlier this week by anonymous activists in Britain and hosted by a U.S.-based Web service, which took it down by Friday citing "breach of terms," according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.
The website said the information came from an anonymous source who was "presumably" serving in the Israeli military. The military is investigating the possibility that the information was leaked by a soldier, according to a report in the daily Maariv.
"The people listed here held positions of command at the time of the attack," the website said, "therefore, not only did they perform on behalf of a murderous state mechanism but actively encouraged other people to do the same."It also included what appeared to be an implied threat to harm the soldiers, urging readers, to "do your bit so that this virtual list may come to bear upon the physical."
Israel began its Gaza offensive in December 2008, after years of intense rocket fire from the coastal strip ruled by the Iran-backed militant group Hamas. The fighting devastated the crowded Palestinian territory, killing around 1,400 people, most of them civilians, according to Palestinian and international human rights groups. Thirteen Israelis were killed.
In Britain and elsewhere in Europe, anti-Israeli activists have sought to use the principle of universal jurisdiction to pursue past and current Israeli officials linked to military operations that killed civilians. No cases have gone ahead, but Israeli officials have canceled trips abroad over concerns they could be arrested. The matter was discussed during a visit by Britain's foreign secretary to Israel earlier this month.
The Gaza offensive sharply reduced the rocket fire but did not end it entirely. Early on Friday, Gaza militants fired a military-grade rocket into southern Israel, causing light damage and no casualties.
Militants usually fire mortar shells or small rockets they manufacture themselves and only rarely use military-grade projectiles like the relatively powerful Grad launched early on Friday.
None of the armed groups in Gaza immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.