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Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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Big Government

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Usually the only hammering heard on the floor of Israel’s parliament is the banging of the Speaker’s gavel during noisy debates. But hours before right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu was to take over from outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the head of a coalition government, carpenters were busy at work installing an additional bench to accommodate some of the 30 ministers who will serve in his cabinet.

That’s one out of four members of parliament.

Israel is no stranger to “big government”. The number of cabinet ministers in past governments over the last 20 years averaged 26.

But with Israel feeling the pinch of the global economic crisis and an incoming prime minister who has led the charge in the past against high government spending and bloated ministries, at least one Israeli newspaper chided Netanyahu with a headline reading “Size does matter”.

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The additional, horeshoe-shaped government bench will be inserted into the open space in front of the current bench pictured above.

Captured Israeli soldier’s parents take protest to Olmert’s doorstep

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Dubbed Israel’s most polite protesters by one Israeli newspaper columnist, the parents of captured soldier Gilad Shalit have set up a protest tent outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Jerusalem residence to press for his release.

 

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Shalit, 22, has been held since 2006 by militants from Hamas and two other groups who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Hamas has demanded Israel release hundreds of its members held in Israeli prisons in exchange for the soldier.

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.

from Global News Journal:

Gaza shows Kosovo “doctrine” doesn’t apply

Protesters staged large demonstrations in Western capitals 10 years ago to urge governments to intervene to stop Serb forces killing civilians in Kosovo.Despite having no United Nations mandate, NATO went to war for the first time and bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to stop what it called the Yugoslav army's disproportionate use of force in its offensive against separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas."We have a moral duty," said then NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana as bombers took off on March 24, 1999 to "bring an end to the humanitarian catastrophe".The intervention helped launch a doctrine of international "Responsibility to Protect" civilians in conflicts. Advocates of "R2P" proposed humanitarian intervention in Myanmar in 2007 and military force in Zimbabwe in 2008.But it never happened and the likelihood of this doctrine being adopted universally now in a UN declaration is slim, as was shown by the Gaza war that began two months ago.On Dec. 27, Israeli bombers went into action over Gaza. As reports of civilian deaths grew, protesters staged rallies in Western capitals to demand leaders act to end the offensive against Islamist Hamas militants in the Palestinian enclave.Critics accused Israel of using "disproportionate" force, just as many said Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic had done.But intervention in Gaza was impossible politically and militarily unimaginable. Unlike Serbia, Israel is not seen in the West as a rogue state and widescale ethnic cleansing was not under way in Gaza.Solana visited the enclave on Friday as foreign policy chief of the European Union, which seeks to foster peace in the Middle East through "soft power" -- diplomacy and aid, not intervention of the kind he advocated as head of the NATO alliance.NATO never embraced the "responsibility to protect" concept, arguing that Kosovo, which most allies have subsequently recognised as an independent state, was a unique case that should not set a precedent.Soft power may eventually mean encouraging talks with Hamas -- which is now shunned by the West. In an open letter published this week, a group of former foreign ministers urged a change in that policy, saying peace depends on talking to the militants.But with rockets from Gaza again being fired daily into Israel, the prospect of a breakthrough soon seems bleak as right-wing prime minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu tries to form a government.Viewing war damage in Gaza on Friday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store spoke of "senseless destruction." He blamed Hamas for starting the conflict, but said Israel's response "goes beyond what international law allows."Serb forces in the 1998-99 Kosovo war ignored the idea of  "proportionality" on the battlefield. They were sure no army would willingly tie its own hands in the face of insurgency. They mortared, burned and raided "guerrilla" villages to driveoff civilians and deprive the rebels of cover.On Thursday, the U.N. tribunal in The Hague sentenced two Serbian generals to 22 years in jail for war crimes in Kosovo. Serbia handed them over under Western pressure.Israel openly assured its soldiers during the Gaza offensive that they would not face such prosecution. Discussing tactics for a future conflict, one senior Israeli general also dismissed "proportionality" as a deterrent."We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction," said Northern Command chief Gadi Eisenkot."This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has been authorised," he told daily Yedioth Ahronoth ast October.Defending Israel's action in Gaza, President Shimon Peres reminded NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that NATO's own bombing of Serbia killed "hundreds of civilians".Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mocked the idea that he should ask soldiers to fight an evenly-matched battle in which a few hundred might be killed simply to win international approval for a war in which Hamas was fighting in heavily populated areas.But scholars of international law say proportionality does not mean a "fair fight" or balanced death toll, let alone making sure no civilian dies. It requires belligerents to use weapons that distinguish civilians from military targets and combatants.According to Gaza figures -- which Israel says are suspect-- some 600 of 1,300 Palestinians killed in Gaza were civilians. Of 13 Israelis killed during the 22-day war, 10 were soldiers.Human Rights Watch, the U.N. Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Israeli rights group B'Tselem have called for investigations.

The music stops for ‘Waltz’

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In one of the biggest surprises on Oscar night, the animated Israeli documentary Waltz with Bashir did not walk away as many expected with the famed statuette in the Foreign Film category, which instead went to Japanese film Departures.

Even the star of Departures acknowledged he was expecting Waltz with Bashir to win the Academy Award.

The comeback kid?

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Questioned by police on a nearly weekly basis now about a string of corruption allegations that include suspected double-billing of official travel expenses and pocketing of cash-filled envelopes from a U.S. businessman, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces an uncertain legal future as he prepares to leave office.

But in an off-the-cuff address in English to the the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental group that helps to arrange Jewish immigration to Israel, was Olmert hinting at a political comeback down the line, even as Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party was seeking partners for a new administration following the Feb. 10 election?

Israeli rhetoric on Iran can lack consistency

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Veiled threats require calibration. Too explicit, and they risk spilling over into uncontrolled confrontation. Too elliptical, and their impact might be lost entirely.

When it comes to Israel’s regular hints that it could attack Iranian nuclear facilities to prevent them producing a bomb, there’s another liability: boredom and incredulity at all the repetition.

It ain’t over

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tzipi

A lesser blog than this one might resort to some trite cliche about how ‘it ain’t over until the fat lady sings’.

We will refrain – but it is tempting.

Despite taking the most Knesset seats according to exit polls after Israelis went to the polls – Tzipi Livni is still a long way from being anointed as Israel’s new Prime Minister.

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