Israel — Latest News since June 30th 2023

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Click here to look at earlier maps (and events) over 4000 years of history for "Israel - Deep inside the plucky country".

Click image for a larger map
Distances: Tel Aviv to Jerusalem 63 kms
Tel Aviv to Haifa 95 kms
Source: Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 7th edition — Sir Martin Gilbert;
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor & Francis), 2002;
ISBN: 0415281172 (paperback),
0415281164 (hardback); Map: NPR Online

The US had opened a consulate in Old Jerusalem back in 1844. But like diplomatic missions of nearly every other country, from 1966 (unofficially from May 1948 when the consul-general in Jerusalem was shot dead) until 2018 the actual US Embassy had been in Tel Aviv, a result of the ambiguous legal status surrounding Jerusalem for more than a century. Under the UN Partition Plan of November 1947, Jerusalem was to have been placed under international governance, which thus precluded it from being considered under the sovereignty of any State. But while this UN plan had been accepted by the Jews and the majority of UN countries, it had been rejected by the Arabs (and all of the surrounding Arab countries) who declared war.

The US Embassy opened at its Jerusalem location on May 14, 2018, the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern State of Israel. On March 4, 2019, the US Consulate-General was formally integrated into the US Embassy in Jerusalem.

Australia Israel relations
In Australia in October 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia was reviewing whether to move Australia's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On Friday 14 December 2018, Morrison announced Australia's recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, though there were no immediate plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv.
This recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was reversed by the ALP Federal Government on Tuesday 18 October 2022. Foreign Minister Penny Wong stressed that Australia remained a "steadfast friend" to Israel, however its embassy would remain in Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem's history over the past century
British forces captured the city from the Ottoman Turks during World War I and maintained control under a League of Nations mandate for 30 years. In November 1947, a United Nations plan terminated the British mandate for implementation at midnight May 14 1948, and partitioned Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state with Jerusalem to become an international zone. While accepted by the Jews, the proposed plan never was implemented as civil war erupted. The British organized their withdrawal and intervened only on an occasional basis. When a cease-fire ended the fighting in 1949, Israeli forces held Jerusalem's western precincts while Jordan occupied the city's eastern districts, including the old city with its holy sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the al Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall.

Click here for more details and to see a map of the UN's original proposal. The State of Israel increased their area by almost 60% of the area that had been allocated to the proposed Arab state. This included the Jaffa, Lydda and Ramle area, Galilee, some parts of the Negev, a wide strip along the Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem road, and some territories in the West Bank, placing them under military rule. With Jordan occupying the West Bank and the Egyptian military occupying Gaza, no state was created for the Palestinian Arabs.

Israel and Jordan soon annexed the portions of Jerusalem they held, with Israel in 1950 declaring the city as its capital, but this accordingly went unrecognized by other nations. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank. Israel later annexed East Jerusalem and reunified the city, again an act that has gone unrecognized by the international community while Palestinian claims remain unresolved.



Six Day War

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Background Extract: Six days and 40 years since Israel asserted itself
Abraham Rabinovich
June 05, 2007

FORTY years after the Six Day War, the consequences of Israel's extraordinary victory are yet to be sorted out. Israel was a tiny Middle Eastern backwater in 1967, with a population of 2.6 million surrounded by a hostile Arab world of 80 million. This disparity seemed to defy the natural order of things and it was a virtual consensus in the Arab world that the Jewish state would fall, sooner rather than later. In Israel itself, the enthusiasm and energy that marked the founding of the state out of the ashes of the Holocaust had been dimmed by the petty problems of getting by in a country with a massive defence burden and a lame economy.

It was the Soviet Union, for reasons never adequately clarified, that lit the fuse that would transform the region. In mid-May 1967, it declared that Israel was massing troops in the north in preparation for an attack on Syria. Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol offered to personally tour the north with the Soviet ambassador to show it wasn't true. The ambassador declined.

There had been small-scale skirmishing between Israel and Syria over the headwaters of the Jordan and Israeli leaders had issued warnings, but there was no massing of troops. Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leading figure in the Arab world, felt impelled to come to Syria's aid by moving his divisions through the Sinai desert towards Israel. With a hostile army deploying on its border, Israel mobilised its reserves.

Nothing happened for more than two weeks. But mobilisation had paralysed the Israeli economy and Jerusalem had to either stand down or strike. On the morning of June 5, Israeli planes, flying low to avoid radar, suddenly rose into the Egyptian skies. Within three hours, the Egyptian air force was destroyed. Soon after, the Jordanian, Syrian and part of the Iraqi air forces were gone, too.

On the third day of the war, the West Bank and Jordanian Jerusalem fell. Syria's Golan Heights followed. The Arab world was stunned, Israel euphoric. The war catapulted Israel into a new era. Brimful of self-confidence and renewed energy, it attracted Jewish immigrants from the West and more than a million from the Soviet Union. Since 1967, Israel's population has tripled to 7.1 million (of whom 1.4 million are Israeli Arabs), its gross national product has grown by 630 per cent and per capita income has almost tripled to $21,000.

A major result of the Six Day War was to persuade the Arab world that Israel was too strong to be defeated. Internalising that view, Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, became in 1970 the first Arab leader to declare readiness to make peace with Israel if it withdrew from all territory it had captured in the Six Day War. Israel insisted, however, on territorial changes.

It took the 1973 Yom Kippur War to persuade Israel to withdraw from all Egyptian territory and for Egypt to agree to peace without insisting on Israel's withdrawal on other fronts as well.

The Oslo accords in 1993, marking the beginning of a dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, also enabled Jordan to make peace with Israel without being accused of betraying the Palestinian cause.

In 2000, Syria announced its readiness for peace. Though negotiations with Damascus broke down, virtually the entire Arab world now accepted the legitimacy, or at least the existence, of the Jewish state in its midst.

But increasing radicalisation has brought to the Palestinian leadership a movement dedicated to Israel's destruction. If there is an answer for Israel, it lies, as in 1967, in bold and imaginative leadership — but this time on the political playing field.


West Bank Fence

The barrier route as of July 2006.


Extract: Article by Amos Harel,
July 14, 2009

Seven years after construction work began on the West Bank separation fence, the project seems to have run aground. Work has slowed significantly since September 2007. With fierce opposition coming from the United States, Israel has halted work on the "fingers" — enclaves east of the Green Line that were to have included large settlement blocs such as Ariel, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron and Ma'aleh Adumim, within the fence. The military has, in practice, closed up the holes that were to have led to these "fingers". But giant gaps remain in the southern part of the fence, particularly in the southern outskirts of Jerusalem, in the Etzion bloc and in the Judean Desert.

Since the cabinet under former prime minister Ariel Sharon first approved construction of the fence, in June 2002, the route has undergone some dramatic changes. The original route, which was inspired by Sharon, was to have effectively annexed about 20 percent of the territory of the West Bank to Israel.

In February 2005, the cabinet amended the route to include just nine percent of the West Bank. In April 2006 an additional one percent was shaved off by the government of Ehud Olmert.

In practice, however, the route encompasses only 4½ percent of West Bank land. The four "fingers" in the last map (and which Israel presented at Annapolis in November 2007) were never built, not at Ariel and Kedumim (where a "fingernail" was built, a short stretch of fence east of the homes of Ariel) — not at Karnei Shomron and Immanuel — not at Beit Arieh, nor south of that, at Ma'aleh Adumim. Instead, with little publicity, fences were put up to close the gaps closer to the Green Line, at Alfei Menashe instead of at Kedumim, at Elkana instead of Ariel and in the Rantis area instead of at Beit Arieh.

About 50,000 people in these settlements remain beyond the fence. West of Ma'aleh Adumim the wall built along Highway 1 blocks the gap in the barrier and leaves the city's 35,000 residents outside of the barrier, forcing them to pass through a Border Police checkpoint in order to reach Jerusalem.

Large gaps remain in the southern West Bank. Between Gilo in south Jerusalem and Gush Etzion are tens of kilometres of barrier, work on which was suspended due to High Court petitions. As a result access to Jerusalem from the direction of Bethlehem (now a part of the Palestinian Territories) is relatively easy — for commuters and terrorists both.

Click here for some news in Sep 2014.

A second, 30-kilometre gap in the fence, stretches from Metzudat Yehuda (Yatir) in the west to the Dead Sea in the east. The state announced during a recent High Court deliberation of a petition submitted by area Bedouin that work on the barrier there was suspended.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak is "determined to complete the security fence, despite the delays", his office said in a statement. "The minister and the military establishment are working to solve the problems delaying its completion".

Defence Ministry officials pointed out that Barak was "among the first supporters of the fence and did much to advance its construction".

Security officials claim the rate of construction depends on finding a solution to the legal issues and point out proudly that there is an unbroken barrier from Tirat Zvi in the Beit She'an Valley (in Northern Israel, just west of the Jordan River) to the southern entrance to Jerusalem, and from southern Gush Etzion (south west of Jerusalem) to Metzudat Yehuda (south east of Hebron).



East of East Jerusalem — E1 and Ma'ale Adumim

Click here for a larger picture

Photo December 1, 2012

The police station built in area E1, now many years ago. Notice there
are no residential areas around it. That will hopefully soon change.
Picture source A Goldstein

Click here for a recent article in 2023 on E1 and Ma'ale Adumim delayed but not abandoned

Unilateral Thinking (an article in April 2006)

Click here for the full article

Finally, after years in the planning prior to 2006, construction of an Israeli police station is under way in the now infamous E1 area, 12 square kilometers, a patch of empty West Bank land that stretches from the eastern municipal boundary of Jerusalem to the settlement-city of Ma'ale Adumim, which sits across the Jerusalem-Dead Sea highway some five kilometers (three miles) to the east.

Infamous, because every prime minister of Israel for the past decade has wanted to develop E1 in order to fill in the space between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem, with the intention of securing Israel's hold over the settlement and its smaller satellite communities, which together constitute the Ma'ale Adumim settlement bloc. And every US administration up until now has nixed Israeli development here, on the grounds that it would seriously hamper Palestinian territorial contiguity between the north and south of the West Bank, as well as access from the West Bank to Jerusalem, thereby undermining the viability of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, the only realistic formula on the table for Israeli- Palestinian peace.



Gaza Strip

Map of Gaza Strip

Israeli Gaza Strip Barrier

The Israel and Egypt — Gaza Strip barrier is a separation barrier first constructed by Israel in 1994 between the Gaza Strip and Israel. An addition to the barrier was finished in 2005 to separate the Gaza Strip and Egypt. The fence runs along the entire land border of the Gaza Strip. It is made up of wire fencing with posts, sensors and buffer zones on lands bordering Israel, and concrete and steel walls on lands bordering Egypt.

Background: The Gaza Strip borders Egypt on the south-west and Israel on the south, east and north. It is about 41 kilometres long, and between 6 and 12 kilometres wide, with a population of about 1½ million people. The shape of the territory was defined by the 1949 Armistice Agreement following the creation of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent war between the Israeli and Arab armies. Under the armistice agreement, Egypt administered the Strip for 19 years, to 1967, when it was occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1993, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation signed the Oslo Accords establishing the Palestinian Authority with limited administrative control of the Palestinian territories. Pursuant to the Accords, Israel has continued to maintain control of the Gaza Strip's airspace, land borders and territorial waters. Israel started construction of the first 60 kilometres long barrier between the Gaza Strip and Israel in 1994, after the signing of the Oslo Accords. In the 1994 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it was agreed that "the security fence erected by Israel around the Gaza Strip shall remain in place and that the line demarcated by the fence, as shown on the map, shall be authoritative only for the purpose of the Agreement" (ie. the barrier does not constitute the border). The barrier was completed in 1996.

The barrier was largely torn down by Palestinians at the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000. The barrier was rebuilt between December 2000 and June 2001. A one-kilometre buffer zone was added, in addition to new high technology observation posts. Soldiers were also given new rules of engagement, which, according to Ha'aretz, allow soldiers to fire at anyone seen crawling there at night. Palestinians attempting to cross the barrier into Israel by stealth have been shot and killed.

News since June 30 2023

Protest against the Israeli government's judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Israel (24 June 2023).
Thousands of people protested against the judicial overhaul on Saturday, as they have done every week since January
Netanyahu drops key part of Israel judicial overhaul plans
Yolande Knell
BBC News
Friday June 30 2023

Jerusalem: After months of protests, Israel's prime minister has made a surprise announcement Thursday morning (Israel time) that he is dropping one of the most contentious parts of his judicial overhaul plans. However, Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks to The Wall Street Journal have failed to appease leaders of the demonstrations and have angered his coalition partners.

In an interview, Mr Netanyahu told the US newspaper he was no longer seeking to give parliament the authority to overturn Supreme Court rulings. "The idea of an override clause, where the parliament, the Knesset, can override the decisions of the Supreme Court with a simple majority... I threw that out," he said.

Leaders of the demonstrations which have caused upheaval in the country since early this year said the proposed changes did not go far enough and pledged to continue their rallies. One protester, Tamar Krongrad, told the BBC that Mr Netanyahu was "throwing sand in the eyes of the audience" after being shunned by Western leaders over the judicial plans. "We are fighting for the soul of our country and one interview with one person doesn't make everything else go away," she added.

Meanwhile, far-right ultranationalist minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the Jewish Power party, accused Mr Netanyahu of "surrendering" to civil unrest, saying it was "a victory for violence and a loss for Israel". "We were elected to bring governance and change. Reform is a cornerstone of that promise," he tweeted. An ultra-Orthodox minister, Meir Porush, told a newspaper that the original changes to bolster parliament were a condition for his United Torah Judaism party joining the governing coalition. "Any other agreement is not acceptable to us," he said.

Mr Netanyahu said in the filmed interview that he was "attentive to the public pulse and to what I think will pass muster". He added that he would still push ahead with another controversial idea to give the government more control over judicial appointments, saying that an existing proposal would be modified. "It's not going to be the current structure, but it's not going to be the original structure," he said, without giving more information.

The government — the most right-wing in Israeli history — unveiled its vision to make dramatic changes to the Israeli court system not long after it was sworn in in December. It has long been an argument of the Israeli right that the Supreme Court has been increasingly intruding into politics, making decisions in areas where it should have no authority.

Meanwhile, the ultra-Orthodox minority has been angered over the court's decisions in the past. Ultra-Orthodox leaders wanted to pass the so-called "override clause" to prevent the court from striking down legislation it seeks giving Jewish seminary students a blanket exemption from compulsory military service.

The coalition says it is making reforms to restore the correct checks and balances between branches of government, where parliament as the elected body has greater sway. However, demonstrators vehemently reject the overhaul, saying it will destroy the independence of the judiciary and threaten democracy. They have organised huge protests, opening up damaging splits between the government's supporters and detractors.

In March, after weeks of mass rallies and civil disruption which rattled the financial markets, Mr Netanyahu paused the planned changes to try to reach a consensus in negotiations with the opposition, overseen by the Israeli president. So far, these have not produced a result.

Prof Suzie Navot, an expert in constitutional law who has been representing the largest opposition party, Yesh Atid, in the talks at the president's office, found no reason for encouragement in the prime minister's latest remarks. "This is a coup d'etat in the Polish way, which is done a little at a time," she wrote on Twitter, referring to a series of judicial reforms in Poland in recent years that the European Union said undermined judicial independence.
At the moment, the Israeli government is pushing ahead with an element of the changes relating to what has been termed "the reasonable clause", advancing a bill that would prevent the court system from using a test of "reasonableness" when ruling against decisions and appointments made by all elected officials. There have been reports in the Israeli media that ministers are working on a new version of this. "It's not the reasonableness clause, it's dictatorship," tweeted protest spokesperson Roee Neumann in response. "It's a duty to resist."

While speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Mr Netanyahu also repeated that while Israel was helping Ukraine with civilian defences and an alert system, it could not supply military systems like the Iron Dome.

The air defence system has been successfully used in recent years to intercept thousands of Palestinian rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. Mr Netanyahu said there was a danger that if the technology was shared, it could fall into the hands of the country's enemies. "We're concerned... that systems that we would give to Ukraine would fall into Iranian hands and could be reverse engineered — and we would find ourselves facing Israeli systems used against Israel."

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers were still operating inside Jenin on Monday night, more than 20 hours after the operation began.
Israel launches air strikes on Gaza as troops withdraw from Jenin
AFP, The Australian
Wednesday July 5 2023

Israel carried out air strikes on the Gaza Strip Wednesday in response to rocket fire from the coastal enclave, as the military began withdrawing forces from Jenin in the occupied West Bank after a major two-day operation in the area. Twelve Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have been killed during the assault on Jenin refugee camp, launched early Monday under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right government.

The Jenin raid, Israel's biggest military operation in years in the West Bank, employed hundreds of troops as well as drone strikes and army bulldozers that ripped up streets. During the raid, the army said it had uncovered militant hideouts, arms depots and an underground shaft used to store explosives.

The army said its forces had dismantled six explosives manufacturing facilities and three operational situation rooms in Jenin, and confiscated large quantities of weapons. "The weapons were located in hideouts, a mosque, pits concealed in civilian areas, operational situation rooms, and in vehicles," it said.

"In the last five years, this is the worst raid," said Qasem Benighader, a nurse at a hospital morgue. The Palestinian foreign ministry labelled the escalation "open war against the people of Jenin". Medical charity Doctors Without Borders also condemned Israeli forces for firing tear gas inside Khalil Suleiman hospital in Jenin, calling it "unacceptable".

Palestinian health minister Mai al-Kaila even accused the army of shooting at Palestinians in a courtyard of the Jenin public hospital. "Israel's aggression reached its climax this afternoon when citizens were shot at directly in the courtyard of Jenin hospital wounding three, two of them seriously," the minister told reporters, adding that forces had also stormed the Ibn Sina hospital.

The Israeli army said there were reports on social media regarding fire by soldiers towards a hospital. "The reports are not currently known to security forces," it said, adding that "terrorist organisations have exploited civilian areas as a hideout". Shops in Jenin were shuttered amid a general strike and the near-empty streets littered with debris and burned roadblocks.

"The most dangerous is what happened inside the camp, where there is no electricity, no water, and no roads for those who need to go to hospital," Jenin mayor Nidal Abu Saleh told AFP. Around 3,000 people had fled their homes in the refugee camp since the assault commenced, said deputy governor of Jenin, Kamal Abu al-Roub. Imad Jabarin, one of those leaving the rubble-strewn camp, said: "All aspects of life have been destroyed, there is no electricity and no communications... we are cut off from the world to some extent."

Tel Aviv
Elsewhere, a car ramming and stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on Tuesday wounded seven people before the suspect was shot dead. The driver in Tel Aviv was thought to have intentionally hit several pedestrians on a shopping street before getting out of the vehicle to "stab civilians with a sharp object", police said. The "terrorist", a West Bank resident, was shot dead by an armed civilian passerby, said police chief Yaakov Shabtai. Hamas, meanwhile, praised the "heroic" attack in Tel Aviv as "an initial response to crimes against our people in the Jenin camp".

Gaza Strip
Early Wednesday, the army said it carried out air strikes on the Gaza Strip after it intercepted five rockets fired at Israeli territory. A Palestinian security source said the attack hit a military site of the militant group Hamas in northern Gaza but caused no injuries.

The United Nations decried the violence in Tel Aviv and Jenin. "The killing, maiming and the destruction of property must stop," UN rights chief Volker Turk said. In the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, protesters burned tyres near the border fence with Israel.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six-Day War of 1967. Excluding annexed east Jerusalem, the territory is now home to around 490,000 Israelis in settlements considered illegal under international law. The Palestinians, who seek their own independent state, want Israel to withdraw from all land it seized in 1967 and to dismantle all Jewish settlements. Netanyahu, however, has pledged to "strengthen settlements" and expressed no interest in reviving peace talks, which have been moribund since 2014.

At least 190 Palestinians, 26 Israelis, one Ukrainian and one Italian have been killed this year, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources from both sides. They include, on the Palestinian side, combatants and civilians, and on the Israeli side, mostly civilians and three members of the Arab minority.

Israeli security forces try to hold back anti-government demonstrators during a rally at Ben Gurion Airport near Lod on Tuesday. Picture: AFP
Israel protests flare up in new push to stop judicial overhaul
Dov Lieber, The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday July 12 2023

Protesters blocked roads across Israel on Tuesday to oppose the government’s new effort to curb the power of the country’s courts, in what organisers called a “day of disruption”. The demonstrations, including a protest at the country’s main airport, cut off important transportation routes, harking back to extensive protests in March that paralysed the nation and forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pause the effort to overhaul the justice system.

Thousands gathered outside the US embassy branch in Tel Aviv, blowing whistles, playing drums and waving Israeli and American flags, as protesters look increasingly at the Biden administration as an ally in opposing the overhaul in the wake of comments by Joe Biden calling for Mr Netanyahu to slow the legislation down and seek compromise. “They need to know how important it is for us to have their support, and to keep democracy alive in Israel,” said Susan Burger, 64, an American-Israeli retiree in Tel Aviv. “The larger protests get, I think Bibi will have to back down.”

Companies across the country gave employees the option to take the day off to join the protests, and avoid the chaotic commutes that the disruptions were causing. Police said they arrested at least 71 people for disturbing public order, 45 of whom were released, and authorities deployed water cannons against demonstrators blocking streets.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have participated in the 27 straight weeks of protests, some of the largest in the country’s history, since the government revealed its plans in January to change the judiciary. The legislation has exposed fissures between Israel’s secular and religious communities, with supporters saying the courts’ power must be reined in and critics saying the judiciary is the only real check on the government.

The intensification of the protests comes after Mr Netanyahu’s coalition began voting on judicial legislation again on Monday night without any support from the opposition. Mr Netanyahu had held months of discussions with the opposition, but the talks stalled late in June, and the Prime Minister said he would move ahead with a revised version of the changes.

The overhaul consists of several bills that would generally weaken the power of Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn legislation and government decisions.

Mr Netanyahu told The Wall Street Journal he scrapped legislation that would have allowed parliament to override Supreme Court decisions, but soon after, his Likud party and other senior coalition officials said the override legislation hadn’t been scrapped but would be revised, leaving the fate of that bill unclear. Another key question is the fate of a bill that would give the ruling coalition majority control over the committee that appoints judges. Mr Netanyahu told the WSJ the bill would be revised, but didn’t specify how. Opponents say it will politicise the court.

On Monday, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted on a bill that would curtail the Supreme Court’s power to strike down government officials’ decisions on the grounds of “reasonableness”. The bill needs two more votes before being passed into law.

Yoram Cohen, 60, a financial adviser from Tel Aviv who carried an American flag at the demonstration outside the Tel Aviv embassy, voted for Mr Netanyahu in the election last year but said he never heard the Prime Minister talk about an overhaul of the judiciary in the campaign. “The government has been taken hostage by extremists, and Netanyahu in a certain way needs the US,” he said. “What you’re seeing here is pressure being put on the US to pressure Netanyahu.”

Mr Biden and others in his administration have called on the Netanyahu government to seek a consensus on changes to the justice system. Protesters said they want to keep pressure on the Biden administration to oppose changes. The legislative push has reignited calls by reservists to buck military service, which could have national-security consequences.


A yeshiva in Bnei Brak, where men receive stipends to study religious texts.
Identity crisis that threatens to tear Israel apart
The Australian
Dov Lieber, Shayndi Raice
The Wall Street Journal
Monday July 24 2023

BNEI BRAK (5 km east of Tel Aviv) Since Israel’s founding, mandatory military service for Jewish Israelis has been widely embraced as a unifying force in a divided society. Now the issue threatens to tear the country apart. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews, a fast-growing and potent political bloc, have long shunned military duty along with other aspects of secular society. Their effort to obtain a permanent exemption from service has repeatedly been foiled by Israel’s Supreme Court. Allied with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, they are pushing for a judicial overhaul to weaken the court.

The first part of the overhaul, which sparked mass protests that have shaken Israel for 28 straight weeks, is expected to be ratified by the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, on Monday (Israel time).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Wall Street Journal reporter Dov Lieber about the country’s Ultra-Orthodox in response to their increasing political power in Israel. The clash goes to the heart of Israel’s inherent identity issue: Is it a modern liberal democracy or a society defined by religion? Many secular Israelis see the judicial reforms as a step toward increasing the power of people who would use religion to roll back fundamental civil rights.

“Secular society wants a full modern state,” said Gilad Malach, a scholar with the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank. “The ultra-Orthodox aim is to have a strong religious society.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews such as Yehoshua Menuchin, who at 40 has a wife, six sons and no steady job, refer to themselves as Haredim, meaning those who tremble before God. Many Haredi men don’t work regularly, instead choosing to study holy texts in religious seminaries called yeshivas. They argue that they contribute to the state in their own way by preserving Jewish tradition and providing divine protection for Israel. “I don’t think we are making any less of a sacrifice,” Menuchin said. “I’ve passed on the pleasures of this world. I’ve given up on restaurants, on the cinema, on going to clubs. I’ve given up many things in my life.”

One element of Israeli society Menuchin and many other Haredim avoid is mandatory military service, a rite of passage in mainstream Israeli society. Most Jewish men and women spend two to three years in the army beginning at the age of 18. Friendships made in the army can also serve as the basis for professional connections after military life.

The Israeli Supreme Court has twice struck down legislation aimed at formally exempting Haredim from the draft, most recently in 2017 on the grounds that it created unequal treatment of citizens. The court has permitted temporary exemptions so that the government can find a solution. Those decisions exacerbated friction between religious conservatives and the Supreme Court, which has long served as a strong defender of individual liberties, upholding the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens, women and LGBTQ people.

The Haredim now have the political heft to fight back. Their two political parties—one representing Jews of European descent and the other Jews from the greater Middle East—make up the second-largest bloc in the current government after Likud, with 18 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. They are key to Netanyahu’s grip on power, since his alliance controls just 64 seats in total. They have often threatened to leave the coalition if their various demands aren’t met.

The Haredi bloc in the Knesset hopes to enact legislation that would permit separating men and women in some public places. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Netanyahu called the Supreme Court “the most activist judicial court on the planet,” and said that “there is a growing understanding in the Israeli public that there’s a need for judicial reform.” Still, he says he has aimed to moderate several of the original proposals and instead “proceed in a measured way.”

The government wants to overhaul the system and hand more power to elected officials. Proposals include striking the court’s ability to overturn government decisions and giving lawmakers a majority say on the committee that picks new judges. The backlash from secular Israelis and some moderate religious Jews has been intense.

In March, Ron Scherf, a 51-year-old reserve lieutenant colonel, helped organize a march through Bnei Brak, Israel’s largest Haredi city. Protesters carried signs urging Haredim to join the military. Some Haredim dropped fliers on protesters saying they would never serve in an “apostate” army.” “We really believe there needs to be a new contract in Israel between the secular and Haredim,” Scherf said. “I don’t see a way that Israel can exist as a liberal, prosperous and strong country if the current situation doesn’t change.”

“We are getting close to a major clash,” counters Yisrael Cohen, a popular Haredi media figure. “If no side takes responsibility, it won’t end up in a good place.”

Military service aside, many in Israel believe the Haredi way of life represents a direct threat to the future prosperity of the country. About half of Haredi men don’t work. Instead, they pursue religious studies and live off a combination of their wives’s salaries, charity, government grants and subsidies. With a steadily increasing birthrate that today stands at around 6.5 children per female, compared with around 3.0 for the general population, according to the Israeli central bureau of statistics, the roughly 1.3 million Haredim represent 13.3% of the population. As its fastest-growing segment, they are on pace to be nearly one-third of all Israelis by 2065.

Haredim have used their political power to expand discounts on municipal taxes, subsidies for early child care and rental assistance for large low-income families—benefits that are technically available to all Israelis but that tend to favor Haredim because of their demographic characteristics. They or their yeshivas also enjoy stipends or grants for around 140,000 Haredim men who study full-time, according to the Israel Democracy Institute. The Institute, led by a former centrist politician, found Haredim pay one-third less in taxes than non-Haredi families.

In a letter to Netanyahu in May, over 200 leading Israeli economists warned that a plan to increase funding to Haredi educational institutions that refuse to teach secular subjects, along with the increase in stipends for full-time Torah learners, would transform Israel into a “Third World” economy by leaving Haredi children unprepared for today’s workforce.

The Haredim aim to expand religion in even more areas of public life. Since Netanyahu returned to power last year, they have passed a law allowing hospitals to ban bread products from entering public hospitals over the Jewish holiday of Passover. They have also said they hope to enact legislation that would permit separating men and women in some public places or events frequented by Haredim, something widely recognized by Israeli lawyers as unconstitutional.

Haredim already wield tremendous power over many aspects of public life. They control the Rabbinate, a governmental body that oversees marriage and divorce and determines who is a Jew. The Rabbinate’s long-standing refusal to recognize any non-Orthodox branches of Judaism has been a point of tension, particularly among diaspora Jews. They also have managerial control over prominent Jewish holy sites.

The recent protests in Bnei Brak left Yehoshua Menuchin’s wife, Dvora, unimpressed. “The people who are protesting, they don’t know anything about Judaism,” she said. “They are like babies. If they knew about Judaism, they wouldn’t do this.”

Her neighborhood is crowded, loud and vivacious, with pedestrians—including many children—filling the sidewalks on narrow streets lined with sacred book stores and small eateries selling traditional Eastern European Jewish food such as kugel, gefilte fish and cholent. On each corner and by each bus station stand rows of charity boxes, much of which will end up going to yeshiva students and their families.

The Menuchins survive on a combination of money from an American donor that sponsors Yehoshua’s full-time learning, government subsidies, interest-free loans from friends or family and odd jobs. Dvora stays home most days cooking and cleaning, and makes a little money on the side with a machine that can personalize Jewish items like yarmulkes. Menuchin gives lectures on religious topics in the evenings. Sometimes his audience will give him small donations. For a small fee he also repairs Judaica, like phylacteries, the small leather boxes containing scrolls with words from the Torah that Jewish men tie to their head and arm during morning prayer.

The Menuchins live in a three-bedroom apartment, with their six boys divided between two rooms. All their furniture was bought second-hand. Menuchin wakes up early enough to attend morning prayers at 7 a.m., donning the black pants and white shirts worn by Haredi men. After breakfast, he drives to his yeshiva, where he spends the day largely studying the Talmud, an ancient Jewish text that serves as the basis for Jewish law.

Menuchin’s yeshiva—named Kisay Rahamim, or seat of mercy, which largely caters to Jews of North African descent—requires that he swipe in with an electric card so the state can confirm that he’s in fact spending his days studying. Menuchin and his boys stopped all secular education after 8th grade. They can’t read or speak English and Menuchin can only do basic addition and subtraction. He says that’s all he needs to get through life.

Rabbi Eli Paley, head of the Jerusalem-based Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, said that the Torah-learning lifestyle produces men who are a “good husband, a good father, a good community member, and a good volunteer.” “Is that worth nothing?” he said.

While economists say funding the yeshiva system dooms the majority of Haredim to poverty, they argue they aren’t interested in the capitalistic rat race, and that their way of life keeps them happy and fulfilled. “If you go to an amusement park, or drink a cup of wine, you’re happy for that moment. But when you learn Torah, the joy stays with you,” said Menuchin.

Mr Netanyahu attends a session at parliament as lawmakers passed part of his controversial judicial overhaul
Israel approves part of Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul
Dov Lieber and Shayndi Raice, The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday July 25 2023

Israel’s Parliament passed a divisive judicial overhaul, defying months of protests and plunging the country further into a political crisis that has exposed rifts over its identity and raised fears about its national security. The law’s passage on Monday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition — without any opposition support — marks a pivotal juncture for Israeli society, setting up a potential showdown with the country’s Supreme Court, the institution whose power the law was designed to curb. It presents a decisive moment for thousands of military reservists who have said they would quit and the business, union leaders and medical professionals who have threatened mass work stoppages.

And it could complicate Israel’s relationship with the US and other allies, who have long considered it the only full-fledged democracy in the Middle East. President Biden took the unusual step of calling on Netanyahu to compromise before passing the legislation. The White House released a statement calling the bill’s passage “unfortunate.” Voting in favor of the bill were Netanyahu’s entire coalition of 64 lawmakers, widely viewed as the most right wing, nationalist and religious in the country’s 75-year history. They cheered the law, which takes away the Supreme Court’s ability to nullify government decisions it finds “unreasonable in the extreme” — a concept they said was nebulous and allowed liberal judges to overturn the will of an increasingly right-wing electorate.

It is the first in a series of laws the coalition wants to pass to limit the power of the court system. Next up is a bill that would give lawmakers more power to select judges — a move that is more contentious than the bill passed on Monday. It could be voted on in the fall. “We made the first move in the historic process of fixing the justice system,” said Justice Minister Yariv Levin, widely considered the architect of the overhaul.

In a speech Monday night, Netanyahu said that his coalition would continue to reach out to the opposition in order to reach agreements on any judicial legislation going forward. “No side will control the court. This cannot happen. It will not happen on our watch,” Netanyahu said. The legislation passed after talks to forge a compromise collapsed. Opposition lawmakers walked out of the room, boycotting the vote.

Mass demonstrations broke out across the country Monday, and more were planned late into the night. Police worked to prevent protesters from storming the Knesset. Tens of thousands shouted “Democracy!” and blew loud horns as they filled the streets of Jerusalem near the Knesset and other government buildings.

“We refuse to accept this,” said Roee Basha, 34. “It is clear to us all that there is no alternative. We either escalate or we leave the country.” Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition, called passage of the legislation “the destruction of Israeli democracy.” “We will not give up,” he said. “We will not surrender. We will not let them turn Israel into a broken, undemocratic country, which is run by hatred and extremism.” Monday’s legislative action could set off an extraordinary series of events that will test Israel’s unity, including a challenge to the law in front of the Supreme Court. A nongovernmental organization said it petitioned the court Monday, claiming that the law fundamentally changes the nature of Israeli democracy and that the process to pass the law was flawed.

“We are moving one step closer to a constitutional showdown,” said Yuval Shany, a law professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The courts, Shany said, have never struck down one of Israel’s so-called basic laws, which are piecemeal legislation that is the closest thing the country has to a constitution. But, he said, justices have suggested in various rulings that the court has the right to strike down such a law if it fundamentally changes the nature of democracy in Israel or if it abuses the constitutional process.

The bill’s passage represents a challenge for Israel’s military, often called a “people’s army” for its reliance on volunteer reserves. The judicial overhaul has alienated many military reservists, some of whom see the move as a power grab by ultra-Orthodox Jews, the vast majority of whom don’t serve in the army. Thousands of military reservists said this week they would stop reporting for volunteer duty if the legislation passed, although it remains to be seen if they will carry through on that promise. Military officials have warned that the legislation was undermining unity within the military.

“I have no words. I want to cry,” Ben Levy, a reserve combat soldier and psychology student from Netanya, said after Monday’s vote. He said it was likely that many more reservists will announce they won’t serve any more and many will do it quietly by finding an excuse not to show up.

Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving prime minister now in his sixth term, brought the judicial legislation back from defeat after his government first tried to pass a different package of bills in March. He postponed the effort after mass protests and a general strike paralyzed the nation, but he said last month that he would pass the overhaul in modified form. Netanyahu, who was released from the hospital Monday after being fitted for a pacemaker, hasn’t historically been an advocate for changing the judiciary, but he was under intense pressure to pass it from his right flank, which gives him his narrow parliamentary majority.

On the other side were Biden, business leaders and hundreds of thousands of protesters who have demonstrated every weekend for more than six months. On Monday, the country’s main labor union, the Histadrut, said it was preparing for the possibility of calling a general strike, potentially crippling the country again.

The debate over the judicial legislation has cast a light on Israel’s societal divide over what it means to be both a Jewish and a democratic state. The state was founded and controlled in its early decades by secular socialists of largely Eastern European descent. They envisioned a culturally Jewish but socially liberal democratic state. Over recent decades, an alliance between various segments that have come to represent the Israeli right — religious Zionists, settlers, the ultraorthodox and Jews of Middle Eastern descent — has grown in both numbers and power. Netanyahu’s Likud party, which is itself secular, has united those segments on the right into a political powerhouse.

“This is a clash between the Israelis and the Jews,” said Gideon Rahat, chair of the political science department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Israelis, he said, represent the founders who envisioned a secular Zionist state while the Jews are those who want to rebuild the Jewish kingdom that reigned over the land 2,000 years ago. “It’s a clash between a more civil identity and a more religious identity,” he said.

In a country without a powerful presidency, the Supreme Court has long been the only check on the government’s ruling coalition, often thwarting decisions by right-wing governments in recent years. One recent example was when the court nullified Netanyahu’s appointment of a key ultraorthodox ally who was convicted of corruption and tax evasion to be interior, health and finance minister. Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said the coalition was trying to “restore the balance between the branches of government.” “Together we will continue to make repairs responsibly,” he said. Hodaya Ganon, 27, a social worker from the northern Israeli city of Haifa, said passing the legislation Monday counted as long-awaited recognition of right-wing voters. “Until now, all previous right-wing governments have bent to the will of the other side at the expense of their voters, despite having won fairly and democratically,” she said.

It is, in part, Netanyahu’s legal troubles that have brought the country to this point. Throughout most of his two decades in power, Netanyahu built coalitions from the right, center and the left. After his 2019 indictment on bribery and fraud — which he denies — his former centrist partners and even some on the right refused to sit in a government with him, leading him to briefly lose power. When he returned as premier late last year, he built a coalition that included two ultraorthodox political parties and an alliance of ultranationalists.

Shlomit Ravitsky Tur-Paz, a legal and Jewish studies scholar with the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute, said that even though the right wing has been in power for decades, many voters feel as if the country is ruled by secular, liberal elites and that is most evident in the power wielded by the court. “They still feel they are the ones who don’t have the power,” she said. “So that’s what they are trying to change now.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met in Jeddah last month with the Biden administration in an effort to accelerate talks. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Saudis, US agree on path to Israel ties
The Australian
Dion Nissenbaum, The Wall Street Journal
Friday August 11 2023

Summer Said in Dubai and Dov Lieber in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON—The US and Saudi Arabia have agreed on the broad contours of a deal for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel in exchange for concessions to the Palestinians, US security guarantees and civilian nuclear help, according to US officials. US officials expressed cautious optimism that, in the next nine to 12 months, they can hammer out the finer details of what would be the most momentous Middle East peace deal in a generation. But they warned that they face long odds.

The stepped-up efforts come after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met in Jeddah two weeks ago with Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, in a bid to accelerate talks. Negotiators now have moved to discussing specifics, including addressing Saudi requests that the US help them develop a civilian nuclear program and offer iron clad security guarantees.

The Saudis are also seeking significant concessions from Israel that would help promote the creation of a Palestinian state. In return, the US is pressing Saudi Arabia to impose limits on its growing relationship with China. “There’s a work plan to explore the elements of what this would be and test the boundaries of what’s possible,” said one senior US official.

The efforts are the outgrowth of a recognition in Washington, Riyadh and Jerusalem that now is the time to try to broker a deal, according to US officials. Biden has tried to winnow the US military presence in the Middle East and build a regional security alliance capable of countering threats from Iran with limited American backing. And while US officials say that Biden has yet to decide what price he is willing to pay, the president’s focus on the deal is a reflection of his view that America has to remain a central player in the Middle East to contain Iran, isolate Russia for its war in Ukraine and thwart efforts by China to supplant Washington’s interests in the region.

After The Wall Street Journal’s story appeared online Wednesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that negotiators still had a long way to go. “There is no agreed-to set of negotiations, there’s no agreed-to framework to codify the normalization or any of the other security considerations that we and our friends have in the region,” he said.

In exchange for US concessions to Saudi Arabia, the Biden administration is seeking assurances from Saudi Arabia that it will distance itself—economically and militarily—from China, say US officials. The officials said the US could seek assurances from Saudi Arabia that it won’t allow China to build military bases in the kingdom—an issue that has become a sore point between the Biden administration and United Arab Emirates. Negotiators could also seek limitations on Saudi Arabia using technology developed by China’s Huawei and assurances that Riyadh will use US dollars, not Chinese currency, to price oil sales, they said. The US also is expected to look for ways to end the feud over oil prices driven by Saudi Arabia’s repeated production cuts.

Mohammed has given conflicting messages about his commitment to different audiences. US officials working on the issue say that Mohammed is serious about trying to broker a deal. But the crown prince has told aides that he isn’t ready to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel similar to those with the United Arab Emirates, which signed a deal in 2020, according to Saudi officials. The crown prince told his advisers that he was in no rush, especially with the current hard-line coalition government in Israel that opposes creation of an independent Palestinian state, they said.

Israeli soldiers recently stood guard near Ramallah in the Israel-occupied West Bank, which Palestinians want to be part of an independent state. Photo: Gil Cohen Magen/Zuma Press

Brian Katulis, vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute in Washington, compared the effort to mountain climbers trying to scale several Mount Everests in succession. “It’s such a dangerous landscape,” he said. “There are four or five things they need to do to make sure they don’t go into thin air and go off the mountain. To me, it seems highly improbable in the short run, but who knows?”

One hurdle facing negotiators is what concessions Israel will have to make to Palestinians in exchange for open diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia. US and Saudi officials say that Israel will have to make a significant offer that advances efforts to create an independent Palestinian state. Israeli leaders play down the importance of the Palestinian issue in the talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week that the issue comes up in negotiations “a lot less than you think.” “It’s sort of a check box,” he told Bloomberg News. “You have to check it to say that you’re doing it.”

The issue remains one of the least developed points in talks, according to people briefed on the discussions. Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said negotiators have yet to float specific ideas with Israeli leaders. “At the moment, we don’t even know where to begin,” he said. “They are still dealing with basic issues between them. So apparently it’s premature even for them to discuss it.”

Saudi officials have dwindling patience for uncompromising and divided Palestinian leaders with limited popular support. But as home to two of the most important holy sites in Islam, Saudi Arabia is looking to secure a meaningful concession from Israel to fend off criticism from rivals in Iran and Turkey looking to accuse the kingdom of quashing Palestinian dreams of an independent state. The Palestinian issue also remains important for activists in Saudi Arabia and around the world. Netanyahu has made it clear that he is willing to make only modest concessions to the Palestinians, and even those could face opposition from his hard-line coalition partners who want to annex Israeli-occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Israeli officials have also expressed concerns about Saudi Arabia’s quest to develop its nuclear-energy program, something they see as a dangerous acceleration of the regional nuclear arms race. Although Israel won’t publicly admit it, it is the only country in the region with nuclear weapons, and it doesn’t want to see others join the small club. Israeli officials worry that US support for a civilian nuclear program in Saudi Arabia could pave the way for Riyadh to develop nuclear weapons, which Mohammed has said he would do if Iran does so first.

Israel’s Hanegbi said that he had “full confidence” that “whatever the United States will decide” on the issue would address Israeli concerns.

Details of a deal are also expected to face scrutiny in Congress, where many lawmakers are loath to make concessions to Mohammed, who US intelligence officials say gave a green light in 2018 to send a Saudi hit team to Istanbul to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

US lawmakers are already raising concerns about the prospect of America offering Saudi Arabia treaty-bound assurances that the US would come to the kingdom’s defense if it is attacked—a guarantee that would require Senate approval. Even lesser security guarantees that don’t require explicit support from Congress are likely to face resistance in Washington. Some lawmakers are opposed to talk of expanding arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which Biden put limits on when he took office in 2021 to protest the kingdom’s use of American weapons in Yemen.

If the US can negotiate a package that is acceptable to Saudi, Israeli, Palestinian, and Congressional leaders, the Biden administration is then hoping that global pressure to support a history-shifting deal would prompt opposition parties in Israel to join forces with Netanyahu and endorse the agreement, something they so far have refused to consider.


Remarks by President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel Before Bilateral Meeting in New York
10:51 A.M. EDT Wednesday September 20

PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Well, my friend, welcome.
PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Welcome, welcome, welcome.  And I hope we’ll see each other in Washington by the end of the year here.
One of the things that always stuck in my mind — and we’ve had a lot of discussions over the years, you and I.  How long has it been?
PRESIDENT BIDEN:  I — I tell you what, I — I gave up counting, because he worked for the embassy and I was a freshman senator.  And we were both very important then.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: At any rate, 75 years ago, the first Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, after declaring independence, used a phrase that I’ve quoted all — very often. He said that the world stands — if the world stands with Israel, the dream of generations will be fulfilled — the dream of generations. And together, Israel and the United States have been working together to make that dream a reality for a — for a long time. You’ve heard me say many times: Were there no Israel, we’d have to invent one. And — and I mean it. It includes building a more stable and prosperous Middle East — that, over time, is beginning to occur — and — and through historic initiatives that have begun in the previous administrations. Including, most recently, the India and Middle East, European Economic Corridor — which, I think, has enormous promise after the G20 meeting in India — which is going to connect India and Europe through Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel. I think it’s a big deal. And we’re working on a lot more together. Today, we’re going to discuss some of the hard issues, and that is: upholding democratic values that lie at the heart of our partnership, including the checks and balances in our systems; and preserving the path to a negotiated two-state solution; and ensuring that Iran never — never acquires a nuclear weapon. ...

Because even where we have some differences, my commitment to Israel, as you know, is ironclad.  I — I think without Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world that’s secure.  I think Israel is essential. 
And I look forward to discussing all of this with you and working together with your team to fulfill those — as Ben-Gurion said, the dream of generations. 
I think we have a chance to — you know, I — I suffer from an oxymoron: Irish optimism.  And I think that — you look at the pi- — if you and I, 10 years ago, were talking about normalization with Saudi Arabia, and — and I think we’d look at each other like, “Who’s been drinking what?”  But we — we’re —
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Good Irish whiskey.  (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Good Irish whiskey.  That’s the reason why I’ve never had a drink.  (Laughs.)
Any rate, so, welcome, Bibi.  And I hope we can get some things settled today.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Thank you, Mr. President. 
Joe, we’ve been friends for — I’ve checked it — over 40 years, and our friendship goes a long way and can take us a long way.  I — I’m delighted to see you. 
I think we live at a time of great promise but also grave danger.  You just spoke about that great promise. 
In the G20 meeting that you participated and led, you spoke about an economic corridor that would link Asia, the Middle East, and Europe together.  And such a corridor will — will make Israel a very important hub on a — on a highway of unprecedented prosperity, but I think and you think that it can do something much bigger than that. 
I think that under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia.  And I think such a peace would go a long way, first, to advance the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, achieve reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish state, and advance a genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  This is something within our reach. 
I — I believe that, working together, we can make history and create a better future for the region and beyond.  And also, by working together, we can confront those forces that threaten that future, none more so than Iran. 
I appreciate, Mr. President, your continuous commitment to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability.  I think that’s critical.  And that shared goal of ours can be best achieved by a credible military threat, crippling sanctions, and supporting the brave men and women of Iran who despise that regime and who are our real partners for a better future. 
So, I look forward to working with you and your team to — to realize the promise and confront — confront the threat.  As I said, we live in a — and you said — we live in uncertain times, rapidly changing times. 
So, I want to reassert here before you, Mr. President, that one thing is certain and one thing will never change, and that is Israel’s commitment to democracy.  We will continue to uphold the values that both our proud democracies cherish.  And I think that, working together, we’ll realize the promise, roll back the dangers, and bring a better future for our region and the world. 
We can make history.  Mr. President, with your leadership, we can make history.
PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Together.  Okay.
PRESIDENT BIDEN:  I’m surprised they haven’t asked me about the auto strike.  They — they usually ask about things that have nothing to do with what we’re talking about, so I was surprised they’re not asking about the auto —
(The press departs the meeting.)
10:58 A.M. EDT
Extract below from Australian Jewish News

Biden and Netanyahu agreed to work toward convening a third summit between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the US, Egypt and Jordan in the near future, the White House said.

The US readout said the two leaders also welcomed “the likely convening soon of a ministerial meeting” of the Negev Forum — which brought together Israel, the US and Jerusalem’s Arab allies — which Israeli officials have said will be held in Morocco next month. However, the earthquake that recently hit the country may again cause a delay of the gathering.

Netanyahu praised Biden’s efforts to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon, though his government is at odds with the White House over how to tackle the issue.

The prime minister urged the US to adopt a more aggressive posture: “That shared goal of ours can be achieved by a credible military threat, crippling sanctions and supporting the brave men and women of Iran who despise that regime and who are our real partners for a better future.”

The meeting started more than 30 minutes late, with Biden wearing a red tie in solidarity with automobile workers on strike.

The two started their meeting with a one-on-one sit-down, then brought in their aides. In all, the meeting lasted about an hour.

Among those present on the US side were Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Jake Sullivan and Amos Hochstein, Biden’s senior adviser for energy and investment who negotiated the maritime border deal between Israel and Lebanon and who is also involved in the talks with Riyadh.

On the Israeli side were Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog. Dermer was key to negotiating the Abraham Accords during his time as ambassador to Washington.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption in Israel, is in New York for several more days, with his scheduled speech at the United Nations only taking place on Friday. While there, he is expected to be followed by protesters who have rallied against him daily during his nearly week-long trip, including during a meeting with Tesla CEO Elon Musk in San Francisco earlier this week.

Many of those demonstrating outside the hotel had come from Israel, though local ex-pats and non-Israeli US Jews also took part in the rally.

During the meeting, crowds outside chanted “We’re not afraid,” “Shame,” and “We’ll never give up.”

As an organiser announced to the audience that Biden had stressed the importance of democracy to Netanyahu, applause erupted from the crowd.

Click here for news on Iran in February this year.

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