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Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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On the rocks

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A new primetime drama series called “Ayrılık” (meaning ‘separation’ or ‘farewell’ in Turkish) recently made its début in Turkey on the state-run TRT 1 television channel. Israel’s Channel Two aired a scene from the fictional show, showing a Palestinian father holding a baby above his head and an Israeli soldier in full combat gear taking aim and shooting the infant. Since the broadcast, Israel-Turkey relations have been put under more strain. The heated debate about the show has further influenced previously close ties between the Jewish state and Muslim Turkey that have deteriorated somewhat since Israel’s December-January Gaza offensive. At the same time, Turkey has strengthened its relations with neighbouring Syria. (Read more here.)

Leading Israeli daily newspapers Yedioth Ahronoth, Maariv and Haaretz have reported extensively on the show, wondering whether it pointed to growing anti-Semitism in Turkey. Tourism agencies said Israeli vacation bookings in Turkey have fallen steeply since the show was aired. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his disappointment in “the incitement on Turkish TV”. Netanyahu aides said Turkey, which has mediated indirect Israeli-Syrian talks, could not be an honest broker in any future peace negotiations. Commenters on Israeli web portal sites have called on Turkey to look in the mirror and take responsibility for what they termed its genocide against the Armenians.

Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, believes Turkey is “not clean of anti-Semitism”.

“Anti-Semitism is not only in Arab countries, we can see now growing anti-Semitism even in Europe and unfortunately Turkey is not clean of anti-Semitism,” he told Reuters. “Basically we see a long term development in Turkish foreign policy, which is distancing itself from the West. We’ve seen the Turks deviate from European behaviour, for example accepting (Iranian) President Ahmadinejad in Istanbul, even inviting President Bashir of Sudan, who was indicted for war crimes. Just recently, the Turks announced they would not join sanctions against Iran as their American allies desire. So we see basically Turkey giving in to the Islamic impulses of the AKP Party (Turkish Prime Minister’s Tayyip Erdogan Justice and Development Party).”

The Mysterious Mr. Mitchell’s MacGuffin

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It’s a bit like a Hitchock thriller. Nobody knows where he is — not even the U.S. State Department — and nobody knows when he will show up in Israel. All we know is, suspense is building and it’s time to watch out for surprises.

President Barack Obama’s Middle East peace envoy Senator George Mitchell is somewhere in transit — probably – and expected in Israel and the Palestinian Territories next week –  sometime.

Unlikely visitor

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The setting seemed surreal, watching Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an ardent ultranationalist, being warmly welcomed to an Arab town.

Only weeks ago Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party had introduced bills proposing to restrict the rights of Arab citizens deemed as disloyal to the Jewish state, and many had responded by denouncing him as a racist.

Mr. Nyet?

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Israel’s new foreign minister, ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, sounded a resounding “no” in his inaugural speech to restarting talks with the Palestinians on core issues, such as borders and the future of Jerusalem, leading to peace and the creation of a Palestinian state. Spelling out that position, Lieberman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, said Israel was no longer bound by understandings reached at a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland in 2007.

Instead, Lieberman said only a U.S.-backed peace “road map“, drawn up under the Bush administration in 2003, was binding on Israel.

Trouble with flags

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Trouble always looked inevitable when courts gave the go-ahead to Jewish right-wingers to parade with flags through the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel. 

As the dramatic video captured by Reuters journalists in the town shows below, the doomsayers were not disappointed.

Marriage feud threatens new Israeli government

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Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu. Reuters PhotoAs if Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t have enough to deal with in forming a new government in Israel, a feud over getting married threatens to further complicate his bid to secure a ruling coaltion.

 The Likud party leader was chosen to form a government after a right-wing majority was elected in a Feb. 10 parliamentary election. Netanyahu has been shuttling between factions, trying to cobble together as broad a coalition as possible that will have a better chance of long-term survival.

Foreign Affairs

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lieberman1Israeli newspapers are abuzz this morning as they mull over the possibility that ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman could be appointed foreign minister in the government that Benjamin Netanyahu is working to stitch together.

The strong showing by Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our Home) party in last month’s election – where it won the third most Knesset seats ahead of the Labour Party - has put the Moldovan-born former nightclub bouncer turned bureaucrat in a strong position in the lobbying for top ministerial posts in the new government.

Team of rivals for Israel?

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Coalition-building in the aftermath of Israel’s inconclusive Feb. 10 election kicks into high gear on Wednesday, when the final results become official and President Shimon Peres begins sounding out party leaders on whom he should appoint to try to form the next administration.

To recap: neither the centrist Kadima party led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni nor Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud won enough seats for a majority in the 120-member parliament. Kadima took 28 seats to Likud’s 27, but Netanyahu could stand a better chance of getting the nod from Peres because he is likely to have the support of a majority right-wing bloc of 65 legislators.

Army disappoints Bibi, the battle goes on

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An Israeli election official holds a ballot for the Likud party while tallying votes at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem February 12, 2009.  REUTERS/Baz Ratner

“When the soldiers’ votes come in, we will be way ahead.” So forecast a senior aide to Israeli right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu just after shock exit poll findings on Tuesday showing his Likud party trailing the centrist Kadima of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni by one seat. But that result, which overturned months of opinion polls in Netanyahu’s favour, turned out to be bang on the money. Throughout Thursday, Likud supporters were banking on votes from army barracks. These were being counted a day after those of civilians and Likud had hoped that a traditional right-wing bias in the military would be enough to turn the election around and give Netanyahu the advantage – a crucial one in terms of persuading President Shimon Peres that Netanyahu, not Livni, should be invited to form a government coalition.

It wasn’t to be. As the elections committee in parliament finally faced the media, over an hour late, and then flustered through their notes on live television to declare the result, it turned out the initial result still stood. Kadima on 28 votes, Likud on 27 in the 120-seat Knesset. So, it’s all over? Not by a long way. The result isn’t absolutely final until it’s published in the official gazette next Wednesday. And from that point Peres has a week to designate someone to form a government. Livni tried and failed in November, triggering this election. Netanyahu, popularly known by his nickname ’Bibi’, says there has been a general rightward shift in the election. That has included a surge for the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu (Our Home is Israel) of Avigdor Lieberman, which elbowed past Labour into third place on 15 seats. That, Netanyahu says, gives him a better chance of forming a stable administration. Perhaps. But in 60 years, Israel’s largely ceremonial president has never passed over the leader of the party that has topped the polls. Cue more intensive negotiation. Watch this space.

Israel votes, Palestinians groan

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Posted by Wafa Amr.

PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/With each Israeli election since the 1993 historic Palestinian-Israeli interim peace deals, the Palestinians feel their situation has gone from bad to worse. This time, their sense of desperation deepened as they woke up to an Israeli political map strongly dominated by the right wing. People say the chances for peace and ending occupation seem more remote than ever. The editor-in-chief of the Palestinian official al-Hayat daily newspaper, Hafez al-Barghouthi, called the growing strength of the right-wingers in Israel the “Right-wing Tsunami”. Israel’s shift to the right has added to the Palestinians’ sense of hopelessness. “The victory of the Israeli right means an open invitation for the Palestinian factions to turn fanatic to confront the advocates of settlements and land theft,” Barghouthi wrote on election day.

Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima party led in Tuesday’s election with 28 seats, one seat over Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud in the 120-member parliament. The centre-left Labour party, which made peace with the Palestinians 16 years ago, suffered a heavy blow. The rise of Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party who has vowed to keep settlements and advocates tougher measures with the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, has added to the Palestinians’ despair.

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