Islamic Militants Jockey for Power beyond Israel's Border with Syria - Dov Lieber (Times of Israel)
The two most powerful Sunni groups that control territory in Syria on Israel's northern border are the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, with several thousand fighters, and the ISIS-linked Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade (YMB), which has up to 1,000 members.
The overall assessment remains that these jihadi groups are too preoccupied fighting each other to open a battlefront with Israel.
YMB sprung an unexpected offensive against Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces in southern Daraa province in late March-early April, joining forces with a smaller ISIS-linked group, the Islamic Muthanna Movement (IMM). However, FSA has since retaken all the territory it lost.
Lebanese Army Builds New Observation Towers on Israeli Border - Ahiya Ravid and Yoav Zitun (Ynet News)
The Lebanese army has built several observation towers on the Lebanese side of the border with Israel in recent weeks.
The towers enable the observation of Israeli military bases, the border fence, the patrol road next to the border fence, civilian roads in Israel, and various towns and kibbutzim along the border.
Israeli Arabs Who Joined ISIS - Yossi Melman (Jerusalem Post)
So far, nine Israeli Muslims who joined ISIS have been killed in Iraq and Syria, and 35 are on active duty there.
Relative to the size of its Muslim community, Israel has been much less affected than Western countries with fewer Muslims, which have had more ISIS volunteers.
This is because the majority of Israeli Arabs and their leaders reject the ISIS interpretation of Islam.
Israel Allows Cement into Gaza after 2-Month Ban (Ma'an News-PA)
Israel allowed the entry of cement into Gaza on Thursday following a two-month ban, according to the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli authorities implemented a ban on cement deliveries to private entities on April 3, following the discovery of a tunnel passing from Gaza into Israel - the first of two to be found - and accused Hamas of diverting construction materials from their intended legitimate beneficiaries.
Israeli Unemployment Falls Below 5 Percent - Moti Bassok (Ha'aretz)
Israel's unemployment rate dropped from 5.3% in March to 4.9% in April, a low not seen in decades, according to figures published Monday by the Israel Bureau of Statistics.
Amsterdam to Pay Jewish Community $11M for Holocaust Survivor Taxes (JTA)
The city of Amsterdam will give its Jewish community $11 million as compensation for taxes imposed on Holocaust survivors who returned home following World War II.
Survivors were made to pay a tax because their homes were left empty during the Holocaust. They also had to pay back taxes for the years they had been taken away.
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- Netanyahu Offers to Hold Direct Talks with Palestinian President in Paris
Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a multilateral French peace initiative as he met French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Monday, offering instead to hold direct talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris. "It can still be called the French initiative because you would host this genuine effort for peace," Netanyahu said.
"But here's the difference: I will sit alone, directly, with President Abbas in the Elysee palace or anywhere else that you choose." Netanyahu has regularly called for direct talks and offered to meet Abbas, and he reiterated his argument on Monday that peace would not be achieved through "international diktats." (France 24)
See also Prime Minister Netanyahu Meets French Prime Minister Valls (Prime Minister's Office)
See also Palestinians Reject Netanyahu's Call for Direct Paris Talks - Tovah Lazaroff (Jerusalem Post)
- ISIS Bombings in Syria Regime Heartland Kill 148
Seven near-simultaneous bombings claimed by Islamic State in northwestern Syria killed 100 people in Jableh and 48 in Tartus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A car bomb exploded at a bus station in Tartus and as people began to flock to the site, two suicide bombers detonated explosive belts. In Jableh a car bomb and three suicide attackers targeted the bus station, a hospital, and a power station. One attacker detonated explosives inside the emergency room of a hospital treating victims of the first attack in Jableh.
- Most Palestinians View Government as Corrupt - Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh
The secluded "Diplomatic Compound" -
a gated community of villas with well-tended flower gardens built for senior Palestinian Authority officials on subsidized land near the West Bank town of Ramallah - may help explain why Palestinians almost universally believe there is corruption in the government of President Mahmoud Abbas.
It is one of the symbols of what many Palestinians think of their leaders - that they are cut off from the people and award themselves special privileges. A recent poll found that 95.5% of Palestinians believe there is corruption in Abbas' government.
The PA government hasn't submitted annual budget reports for mandatory audits for four years, effectively preventing scrutiny of how millions of dollars are spent, said corruption monitor Aman, the Palestinian branch of Transparency International. Former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was credited by international donors with making public spending more transparent, but Fayyad resigned in 2013 amid tensions with Abbas and Fatah. The public has complained loudly over issues of nepotism and disproportionately high salaries for select senior officials, some of whom make $10,000 a month.
See also Luxury Alongside Poverty in the Palestinian Authority (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
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- Egypt Trying to Arrange Netanyahu-Abbas Meeting
Egyptian President el-Sissi is working to arrange a meeting in Cairo between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas to jumpstart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Yediot Ahronot reported Tuesday. Cairo hopes to arrange a three-way summit "in the near future" in which Sissi would act as an intermediary, a Palestinian official confirmed.
(Times of Israel)
- Palestinian Woman Attempts to Stab Israeli Police Officer at Jerusalem Checkpoint - Ben Hartman
A Palestinian woman brandishing a knife ran toward Israeli security forces at a checkpoint north of Jerusalem on Monday before being shot and killed.
- Is the Status Quo between Israelis and Palestinians Sustainable? - Aaron David Miller
Secretary of State John Kerry has said repeatedly that "the status quo between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not sustainable." Yet Israelis and Palestinians have their own agendas and concerns, and their rationales and fears of dramatically changing the status quo outweigh the risks of managing it.
A conflict that is perceived to be existential in nature isn't just a real estate deal.
At the Camp David summit in July 2000, I heard Yasser Arafat say several times that he wouldn't give the Americans the chance to walk behind his coffin. Translation: Don't think I'll sign a deal that will get me killed. He knew that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had been at Camp David, too, in 1978 with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and that despite getting 100% of Sinai back, the Egyptian leader had been murdered.
Paradoxically, close proximity helps mitigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians have a dependency on Israel for water, electricity, access to the outside world, and a range of goods and services - including employment opportunities. At the same time, the continuation of Palestinian violence, a hostile Hamas government in Gaza, a Middle East in meltdown, an Arab world distracted by Iran and the Islamic State, and Israel's growing closeness with Egypt all create very little chance that there will be an intense focus on negotiations to create a Palestinian state.
The writer is vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.
- India Embraces an Iranian Port - Max Bearak and Brian Murphy
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Tehran on Sunday and Monday to ink a major trade deal with Iran, where he evoked the "past glory" of India and Iran's shared history. India has been eyeing the port of Chabahar on Iran's southern coast for many years. "What this agreement does is to enable us quick movement of goods first to Iran and then onwards to Afghanistan and Russia through a new rail and road link," said Nitin Gadkari, an Indian minister who oversees infrastructure development.
India is mostly just trying to grab a piece of Iran's post-sanctions economic growth. India will extend a $150 million credit line to Iran to build the port, and a special economic zone will be established there, in which India will set up factories that can run on Iranian fuel at discounted rates.
- Sykes-Picot and the Zionists - Martin Kramer
In his memoirs, Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader who midwifed the Balfour Declaration, wrote of Sykes-Picot that it was "fatal to us." The Sykes-Picot map's treatment of Palestine divided it five ways.
Part of the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee was to be under direct French control. The eastern shore of the lake and the Golan are marked off as part of an Arab state under French protection.
The bulk of the country - including Jerusalem, Jaffa, Nazareth, Tiberias, and Gaza - was to be governed by "an international administration, the form of which is to be decided upon after consultation with Russia, and subsequently in consultation with the other Allies [the reference is to Italy], and the representatives of the Shereef of Mecca." The ports of Haifa and Acre, and the plain between them, were to be under direct British administration. Britain wanted this as an end point for a railroad from Baghdad to the Mediterranean. The south of the country, including Hebron and Beersheba, as well as Transjordan, were to be part of an independent Arab state or confederation of states under British protection.
Chaim Weizmann was distressed to find that the agreement displayed not a single trace of consideration for Zionist aims. From April 1917, Weizmann devoted himself and his movement to overturning Sykes-Picot. The Zionists had one aim: to swap the Sykes-Picot partition plan for an exclusively British protectorate over the whole of Palestine.
Sykes-Picot became a dead letter as regards Palestine no later than 1918, if not earlier. The writer is president of Shalem College in Jerusalem. This essay is based on his presentation at the conference on "100 Years Since the Sykes-Picot Agreement," Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, May 18, 2016.
Is Building Terror Tunnels a War Crime? - Jonathan S. Tobin (Commentary)
- Gaza residents told the New York Times they live in fear that Hamas' massive tunnel-building project beneath their homes will bring down another round of death and destruction upon their families. They had no doubt that much of the aid and building materials that have been sent to Gaza to rebuild the homes that were destroyed the last time Hamas started a war with Israel are being diverted to tunnel-building.
- But when asked whether Hamas building tunnels in residential neighborhoods whose only purpose is to facilitate cross-border terror raids into Israel is a war crime, Human Rights Watch official Sari Bashi, described as an "expert on international law regarding warfare," told the Times that building terror tunnels is "not explicitly prohibited."
- Really? It would seem obvious, even to those who aren't "experts" in international law, that structures built solely to facilitate efforts to cross an international border to murder and kidnap are illegal. Indeed, terrorism, whether it is committed via a tunnel or with rockets shot indiscriminately at cities (as Hamas did several thousand times during the 2014 war), is always illegal.
- The Times article is a reminder that as much as Hamas poses a terrible threat to Israel, the people who suffer the most from its despotic rule are the citizens of Gaza, who must cope with the consequences of the armed conflict that the terror group will not give up.
- It should be recalled that the only reason why Hamas is free to create a tunnel system under the border with Israel is because in 2005 the Jewish state withdrew every soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza.
- Surveys of Palestinian public opinion show that most of the people of Gaza and the West Bank probably share Hamas' goal of destroying Israel rather than merely getting their own state alongside it. But the residents of Gaza understand that they are the ones to pay for this ideological obsession.
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