US envoy urges tighter business ties between Israeli settlers, Palestinians

David Friedman, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, speaks at the Israeli-Palestinian International Economic Forum in Jerusalem February 21, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 21 February 2019
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US envoy urges tighter business ties between Israeli settlers, Palestinians

  • David Friedman was speaking in Jerusalem at a forum to encourage business links between Israeli settlements and Palestinians

JERUSALEM: The US ambassador to Israel on Thursday urged deeper business ties between Israeli settlers and Palestinian businessmen in the occupied West Bank, angering Palestinian leaders.
David Friedman, who was appointed by US President Donald Trump, was speaking in Jerusalem at a forum to encourage business links between Israeli settlements and Palestinians.
“There are many, many Palestinians that would like to be freed up to engage in business ventures with Israelis, and they’re entitled to that opportunity,” Friedman told Reuters at the two-day forum attended by Israeli government officials, international businessmen and a handful of Palestinians.
Friedman’s remarks were immediately attacked by Palestinian officials as encouraging settlement activity in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, territory captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians seek as part of a future state.
“This constitutes a stab in the back of the Palestinian people,” said Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.
“We warn against any involvement or participation of any Palestinian in projects with settlers, or meetings called by the American ambassador.”
Most of the world considers the settlements illegal under international law, a position Israel rejects. US criticism of Israeli settlement building has died down since Trump took office.
Many Palestinians view engagement with the settlements as “normalization,” arguing that doing business with Israelis in the West Bank legitimizes their presence and hinders future Palestinian sovereignty.
However, thousands of Palestinians work in settlements, often in manufacturing or construction jobs which they say offer higher wages than similar jobs in Palestinian cities.
Haldun Al-Husseini, a Palestinian garment manufacturer from Jerusalem who attended the forum, says business with Israelis is key to improving the Palestinian economy, where unemployment stands at 32 percent.
“Most of my business comes from Israelis,” Husseini said. “If we don’t work together, we will not improve Palestinian lives.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas severed all political contacts with the White House after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and opened a US embassy in the city last May.
Those decisions delighted Israel, which claims all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector captured in 1967, as its capital. But the moves dismayed Palestinians who see east Jerusalem as their capital.
Earlier this week, it was revealed the United States Consulate General in Jerusalem, which serves Palestinians, will be absorbed into the new US Embassy to Israel in March, creating a single diplomatic mission for both parties.


Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

Updated 27 May 2019
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Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

  • Israeli leader faces Wednesday deadline to seal deal
  • Coalition talks deadlocked over military conscription bill

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on Sunday on what he termed a “final effort” to break a deadlock on forming a governing coalition ahead of a Wednesday deadline for a deal.
In power for the past decade, Netanyahu has unexpectedly struggled to seal an agreement with a clutch of right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would align with his Likud party and ensure him a fifth term following Israel’s April 9 election.
Divisions between former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and United Torah Judaism over a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students have plunged the coalition talks into stalemate.
Lieberman has long said ultra-Orthodox men must share other Israeli Jews’ burden of mandatory service. Ultra-Orthodox parties say seminary students should be largely exempt from conscription as they have been since Israel was founded in 1948.
A 42-day deadline mandated by law to announce a new government expires on Wednesday, and President Reuven Rivlin can then assign the task to another legislator after consultations with the leaders of political parties.
That could open the way for former military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, to try. But he would need the backing of some of Likud’s allies to persuade Rivlin he could put together a ruling majority in parliament.
Likud and Blue and White each won 35 of the Knesset’s 120 seats seats in the April ballot, but Netanyahu was seen as having clinched victory because of the right-wing majority that emerged.
In a video published on Twitter on Sunday, Netanyahu said he had invited all of his negotiating partners to meet him in “a final attempt to form a right-wing government” and avoid “an unnecessary election.”
A Likud source said the sessions would be held later in the day and on Monday.
Parallel to the negotiations, Likud announced preparations for a possible national ballot, with November already touted by political analysts as a likely date.
Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar released a draft of a dissolution bill that he said he was submitting to parliament, but no date for a vote in the legislature was announced. Likud said its secretariat would meet on Tuesday “to prepare for an election.”
Some political commentators saw those moves as an attempt to pressure Likud’s negotiating partners into a deal, given the possibility of a voter backlash against another national ballot so soon after the previous one and the uncertainty of the election’s outcome in a country riven by divisions.
The scheduling of an election — and Likud could face an uphill battle for the necessary 61 votes in parliament to pass a dissolution resolution — would pre-empt a coalition-building assignment from Rivlin and ensure Netanyahu remains as interim prime minister until a new government is formed.
Already locked in a legal battle over his potential indictment in three corruption cases, Netanyahu has vowed to remain in office even if he is charged. He denies any wrongdoing and is scheduled to argue against indictment at a pre-trial hearing in October.