Israel rejects French peace initiative ahead of global summit to be held in Paris

Meeting to be held with foreign ministers in Paris in May, both Israel and PA not invited; Israel rejects peace initiative as it distances from bilateral negotiations

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Israel rejected France’s peace initiative on Thursday, on the grounds that it would further distance direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

France announced that it would hold a meeting with 20 foreign ministers on May 30 to prepare for a global summit in 2016. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault confirmed on Thursday that Israel nor the Palestinian Authority would be invited.

Ayrault stated that “There is no other solution to the conflict than establishing two states, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, living side by side in peace and safety with Jerusalem as a shared capital,” calling on the international community to unite in creating a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The French initiative would be based off of the 2002 Saudi peace initiative that Israel also rejected. Referred to as the “Saudi Initiative”, it called for normalized relations between Israel and Arab States in return for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank to 1967 borders, the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem, as well as agreements made on the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Secretary of State John Kerry has reportedly endorsed the French initiative along with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas stated on the initiative “France plays an important role in efforts to establish a fair, comprehensive and durable peace in accordance with international resolutions.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office released an official rejection of the French initiative on the grounds that it distances direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The statement reads “Israel adheres to its position that the best way to a solution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is direct bilateral negotiations. Any other diplomatic initiative distances the Palestinians from the table of direct negotiations.”

Just a few weeks ago, Abbas called on direct talks and cooperation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Abbas referred to Netanyahu as “the partner for peace” stating that he wants to see peace in his lifetime and that “I still extend a hand to Netanyahu because I believe in peace. I believe that the people of Israel want peace and that the Palestinian people want peace.” He added that “If he [Netanyahu] gives me responsibility and tells me that he believes in two-state solution and we sit around the table to talk about the two-state solution, this will give my people hope, and nobody dares to go and stab or shoot or do anything here or there.”

 

UN Security Council: Status of the Golan Heights remains unchanged

UNSC rejects Netanyahu’s declaration of Golan Heights as sovereign, Israeli territory; Israel’s Foreign Ministry responds to Council

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On Tuesday, the United Nation’s Security Council rejected Prime Minister Netanyahu’s declaration that the Golan Heights is Israeli sovereign territory.

Current president of the Council, Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi stated that the Council’s stance on the Golan Heights has not changed, stating the “Council members expressed their deep concern over recent Israeli statements about the Golan, and stressed that the status of the Golan remains unchanged.” He referenced UN Security Council Resolution 497 from 1981 which calls on Israel to rescind annexation of the Golan Heights.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded to the Security Council stating “The statement of the Security Council ignores the reality in Syria. Who is Israel supposed to hold negotiations with on the future of the Golan, Daesh [Islamic State]? Al Qaeda? Hezbollah? The Iranian and Syrian forces who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people? In light of the war raging in Syria and the stability and the security that Israel has established in the Golan for the last 50 or so years, the suggestion that Israel go down from the Golan is not reasonable.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon also released a statement following the Security Council meeting and declaration of its stance on the Golan Heights. He stated “Holding a meeting on this topic completely ignores the reality in the Middle East. While thousands of people are being massacred in Syria, and millions of citizens have become refugees, the Security Council has chosen to focus on Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East… It’s unfortunate that interested parties are attempting to use the council for unfair criticism of Israel.”

Netanyahu previously called on the international community to accept the Golan Heights as part of the State of Israel, stating “In the 19 years the Golan was under Syrian occupation, it was used for bunkers, barbed wire fences, landmines, and aggression. It was used for war. In the 49 years it has been under Israeli rule, it has been used for agriculture, tourism, economic initiatives, construction. It is being used for peace.” Addressing Syria’s ongoing civil war he stated, “Whatever happens on the other side of the border, the line is not going to change. The time has come after 50 years for the international community to acknowledge that the Golan Heights will permanently remain under Israeli sovereignty… I chose to hold this special government meeting in the Golan Heights to send a clear message. The Golan Heights will forever remain in Israel’s hands.”

The US State Department also rejected Netanyahu’s stance and declaration, stating last week that “The U.S. position on the issue is unchanged. This position was maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Those territories are not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations. The current situation in Syria does not allow this.”

 

83 of 100 US senators issue letter to Obama pressing for defense package increase to Israel

Current aid package to expire in 2018, lobbyist groups and Israeli and American officials requesting aid increase; Letter comes following United States military testing of Iron Dome and reports of possible purchase of Israel’s defense system

The Iron Dome System (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

The overwhelming majority of the United States Senate on Monday issued a letter to President Obama to increase the United States’ defense aid package to Israel.

Efforts by Israel requesting that the current $3 billion annual defense aid to Israel rise to $4-4.5 billion have been ongoing since 2015. The aid package, under a “memorandum of understanding”, is set to expire in 2018, Israel and American lobbyist groups and Israeli officials pushing for an increase in aid to be used for Israel’s continued advances in defense projects, mainly military and technology.

83 senators signed the letter, which was initiated by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. The letter states that “In light of Israel’s dramatically rising defense challenges, we stand ready to support a substantially enhanced new long-term agreement to help provide Israel the resources it requires to defend itself and preserve its qualitative military edge,” Coons stating that “Israel could quickly find itself on the wrong end of the regional military balance.”

The current agreement expires in 2018, the Obama Administration to decide the amount of the next defense package agreement to be set for one decade. The White House stated on the defense package “We are prepared to sign an MOU with Israel that would constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.”

In February, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro explained Israel’s need for increase in the defense aid stating “We are now trying to consolidate a deal for the coming 10 years- what military aid we will give- a very complicated effort, which takes into account both Israel’s security needs and the budgetary limitations of the United States… I think we have an excellent opportunity to set out the costs and amounts of the aid for the next 10 years, and this will give the Israel Defense Forces time to do the planning and decide what systems they will buy with the aid.”

In the same month, reports surfaced that Prime Minister Netanyahu was to travel to Washington in March to meet with President Obama to address the aid package, Iran and other topics. Netanyahu cancelled his annual trip to the United States, reports claiming that President Obama had refused to meet with Netanyahu.

The United States’ defense aid to Israel funds development of Israel’s three defense systems, among many other programs including David’s Sling, one of three defense systems designed to defend Israel against rocket attacks. The Iron Dome system protects against short to medium-range rockets and the Arrow 3 missile defense system can intercept rockets beyond earth’s atmosphere with high altitude capabilities. It can intercept more than five ballistic missiles within 30 seconds after its launch and can reach altitudes as far as over 62 miles.

Military cooperation between the United States and Israel is strong, with numerous joint-programs and arms sales, the latest a possible sale of the Iron Dome to the United States military. Last week, the Unites States military tested Israel’s Iron Dome system. The request by the United States’ Senate additionally includes increased funding for US-Israeli cooperative missile defense programs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

United States to purchase 32 tons of heavy water from Iran

Purchase to be delivered in coming weeks; Kerry addresses media reports over Iran’s permitted business with international banks; Purchase criticized by Republican leaders

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The United States confirmed that it will purchase heavy water from Iran’s nuclear program with delivery in the upcoming weeks. The Wall Street Journal reported that the delivery of heavy water formed by a hydrogen isotope would be delivered by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran for “critically important” research to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The heavy water is expected to be resold to commercial and research buyers later on.

According the United States Department of Energy, 32 metric tons of non-radioactive, heavy water will be purchased at $8.6 million. The purchase aids in Iran’s responsibilities to keep no more than 130 tons of heavy water which will is to lower to 90 after it rebuilds its Arak nuclear site. One of the conditions of the nuclear deal made with world powers, the sale will allow Iran to “pave the way” for international purchases of materials from Iran.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby clarified the purchase, stating “Our purchase of the heavy water means that it will instead be used for critically important research and non-nuclear industrial requirements,” a spokesman for the DOE stating “The United States will not be Iran’s customer forever.”

Secretary of State John Kerry addressed media reports on Iran’s renewed business with foreign banks. He stated following a meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Friday that “The United States is not standing in the way, and will not stand in the way, of business that is permitted in Iran since the [nuclear deal] took effect. There are now opportunities for foreign banks to do business with Iran. Unfortunately there seems to be some confusion among some foreign banks and we want to try and clarify that… Among the nuclear-related sanctions that were lifted were those that prevented Iran from engaging with non-U.S. banks, including getting access to Iran’s restricted funds.”

Zarif responded that though there are still “difference with the United States”, but that Iran will “see serious implementation of all benefits that Iran should [enjoy] from this agreement.” He stated that “It’s essential that the other side, especially the United States, fulfill its commitments not on paper but in practice and removes the obstacles, especially in banking sector.”

Several predominant Republican leaders have expressed disapproval of the United States’ purchase, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy statin “Once again, the Obama administration is handing Iran’s radical regime more cash” which he stated “encourages Iran to produce more heavy water to sell, with a stamp of US approval, on the international market.”