Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Palestinians are doing their best to derail peace talks with Israel

The following article represents the frustrations of the Israelis who cannot see a peace partner in sight. This report confirms that in spite of Jordan's attempt to start peace talks, there is not a spirit of willingness on the side of the Palestinians

Con Coughlin January 24th, 2012

While the world's attention is fixed on the deepening drama of Iran's nuclear programme and the continuing fall-out from the wave of anti-government protests in the Arab world (I still refuse to countenance the concept of an Arab Spring), it is hardly surprising that attempts to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace dialogue are generating many headlines.

And yet this crucial issue is quietly reaching its own crisis point as the two sides approach the January 26 deadline set by the Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – for the resumption of direct negotiations, with the aim of reaching a final settlement by the end of the year.

For anyone acquainted with the poisonous politics of the Middle East, resolving the long-standing dispute between Israel and the Palestinians would go a long way in undermining the cause of the Islamist militants who are trying to hijack the current wave of anti-government protests in the region for their own ends. The whole raison d'etre of regimes like Iran is that they claim they are fighting on behalf of the Palestinians to liberate their land from Israel's occupation. But if Israel suddenly did a deal, and made peace Palestinians, the Islamists would suddenly find themselves left high and dry.

Most people in the West believe the main reason the talks are not going anywhere is because of Israel's refusal to compromise on its settlement building programme. But while the Netanyahu government's insistence on building settlements is certainly an obstacle, I am told by Western diplomats close to the exploratory talks that are currently taking place in Jordan between the two sides that the real reason they are running into difficulty is because the Palestinian delegation, led by the veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, is refusing to take the talks seriously.

For example, I am told by a Western diplomat working for the Quartet that when the Israeli delegation arrived for a meeting last weekend in Amman, the Jordanian capital, to present their latest security proposals, Mr Erekat simply refused to enter the room.

My man in the Jordan conference room says that he was surprised at Mr Erekat's behaviour, especially as the topic under discussion was supposed to be one of the two main topics the Palestinian delegation wanted on the agenda for the Jordan talks, which are a precursor for the more formal talks that are supposed to take place once both sides have agreed a negotiating framework.

Mr Erekat's refusal to enter the negotiating room and hear what the Israelis had to say does not bode well for the Quartet's attempts to get the two sides to resume full negotiations, and raises questions about just how serious the Palestinians are about getting a peace deal. With Israel feeling increasingly isolated as world attention focuses on the fall-out from the recent revolts in Libya, Egypt and Syria, there is a growing suspicion among Western diplomats that the Palestinians are working on the basis that, if they draw out the process, they will be able to strike a better deal with Israel.

If that is the case, then they are badly mistaken. The real enemy in the Middle East today is Iran, not Israel, and by playing into the hands of Islamist militants who seek Israel's destruction, the Palestinians could see their cause being overtaken by a far greater regional conflict.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Gem of a Tourist Center on our Doorstep

About an hour north of Tel Aviv, nestled in the Carmel Mountains between picturesque Zichron Yaakov and bustling Haifa, a Druze village called Daliat el-Carmel has become a popular weekend destination for bargain-hunting, ethnic cuisine, family activities and exploring history. "This is the southernmost Druze town in the world and the largest in Israel," says Ragaa Mansour, a member of the Druze sect that is based mainly in Lebanon and Syria. "We have a wonderful market, known throughout the world, and also lots of restaurants, caf├ęs and inns."
Activities in Daliat el-Carmel and environs run from olive pressing and weaving demonstrations to biking, horseback riding, nature walks and guided 4x4 excursions.

Visitors also flock to the villages to sample stuffed grape leaves, squash dishes, mansaf (lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or groats), mujadara (a lentil and onion pilaf), bulgur, homemade labaneh cheese and fresh pita bread sprinkled with za'atar and hummus. Villagers even bake and sell pita at roadside stands for those who can't wait to find an eatery.

"The Druze are very polite and really welcome tourists no matter if they are English-speaking, German-speaking or Hebrew-speaking," says licensed tour guide Akiva Oren. "The food and the market are the main attractions, but on weekends the main street is so crowded with Israeli visitors that you may have to wait in line."

Exploring Druze heritage
Two years ago, Mansour opened the
Carmel Center for Druze Heritage, a hands-on living museum dedicated to showcasing the traditional dress, foods, crafts and industries of the Druze people, religion and culture.

Home of Israel's national anthem
Mansour points out the little-known fact that the words to Israel's national anthem, Hatikvah, were written in Usfiya, her hometown.

The Saturday market
No matter from which direction you're driving into Daliat el-Carmel, says Oren, the bonus is the beautiful scenery from all approaches. Even from the direction of Usfiya, which is where last year's devastating fire began and burned down much of the Carmel forest, the vistas are breathtaking, he says.

On weekends, hundreds of Israelis from the center and north of the country drive these roads to find bargains in Daliat el-Carmel's old marketplace, located at the heart of the village. Open on Saturdays, when many Israeli retail centers are closed for the Jewish Sabbath, the bazaar boasts dozens of stores offering varied wares, alongside stalls featuring Druze staples such as olive oil, olives and pita bread.

For more details see

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Israel continues to help Palestinians despite politics

Despite political tensions that at times threaten to boil over, cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians in the field of medicine continues to advance. Nearly 115,000 Palestinian patients were treated at Israeli hospitals in 2011, and over 100 Palestinian doctors interned at Israeli hospitals. "Every year more patients are sent to Israeli hospitals," said Civil Administration Health Coordinator, Mrs. Dalia Bassa.

"We hope to train Palestinian doctors and improve Palestinian medicine, strengthening cooperation. Health is a separate issue, Israeli and Palestinian doctors are friends, making medicine a bridge for peace."

In related news, the IDF reported on Frieday that during the month of December, 4,373 trucks carrying 139,678 tons of goods including food, medicine, construction material, clothing and other goods entered the Gaza Strip from Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One year later, the Carmel is recovering

In early December 2010, the worst fire in Israel's history claimed the lives of 44 people, burned more than one third of the Carmel Forest - about five million pine, oak, cypress and pistachio trees and countless plants and creatures - and damaged thousands of homes. Firefighters from Israel and 18 countries finally put out the blaze, which displaced 17,000 people.

One year later, there are signs of life. Winter flowers are blooming in the charred areas, and new undergrowth is coloring the landscape green again as the trees slowly regenerate. The University of Haifa has given scholarships to 44 students in memory of each victim of the disaster, in return for a commitment to actively perpetuate his or her memory.

These small steps are significant. But the human and natural damage from the massive fire started by a couple of careless teens will be a long process.

For full report see

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Israeli Economy 2011

The Israeli economy continued to withstand the global economic crisis in 2011, while maintaining growth:(source Israeli Finance Ministry) Israel's GDP per-capita is forecasted to grow by 3% in 2011. Also, Israel managed to decrease its unemployment to an historic low level, standing at only 5.5% in the 2nd quarter of 2011, and 5.6% in the 3rd quarter of 2011.

Inflation in the last 12 months (Nov. 2011 compared to Nov. 2010) stands at 2.6%, within the target bandwidth of the Bank of Israel (1%-3%). Average monthly Consumer Price Index (where 2010=100) grew from 101.4 in Nov. 2010 to 104.1 in Oct. 2011. The Bank of Israel Interest rate grew gradually from 2% in Jan. 2011 to 3.25% in June. In between June to September, Bank of Israel interest rate was stagnant, and then was gradually decreased to 2.75% in Dec. 2011.

Both imports and exports knew a recovery in the 1st half of 2011, with a decline in the 3rd quarter. Exports of goods and services are forecasted to grow by 3.8% in 2011, and imports of goods and services are forecasted to grow by 9.2% in 2011.

China was Israel’s third-largest export destination in the first three quarters of 2011, and is expected to bypass the UK and become Israel's second export destination by the end of 2011. That, even without adding Israel's trade figures with Hong Kong to the total trade figures with China.

Argentina became the last of the South American Mercosur trade block of four to sign a free trade agreement with Israel. Trade in 2010 between Israel and other Mercosur countries (Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) reached $1.8 billion. Trade with Argentina, on the other hand, only reached $130 million due to high tariffs on Israeli goods there.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Another Aspect of Gaza's Flourishing Economy

The Coordination and Liaison office in "Erez" crossing, had a training and advanced study sessions for florists from the Gaza strip,

"The Palestinians are planning to export and market the carnation flowers from the Gaza strip for quite a while and now that the export season is beginning, they arrived to study how to better their product and understand how to input the knowledge they acquired from the harvesting,
the packing and the importance of maintaining the proper temperature and the actual export." Said the officer of agriculture in the Coordination and Liaison office in Gaza, Mr. Uri Madar.

The beginning of the marketing process is set to last approximately 6 months and end in May, when the peak of the export shall be around Christmas during December, and around the European Valentine's day in February, which brings the consumption of flowers to a peak and the Palestinian production is proud to be a part of this flourishing economy.

The growing of the flowers themselves is only a part of the process. Eventually, the quality is the main component affecting the profit, and the farmers' work is based on the knowledge they acquired in Israel.

The 180 acres of the carnation flower that are spread in the Rafah area, have a growing potential of 25 million flowers which will bring the Gaza strip approximately a profit of 18 million NIS.

To well exploit the short season that had just begun, the Palestinians must maximize the production, maintain the flower's quality and in parallel compete with other hard working competitors in countries such as Columbia and Kenya which market their flowers in the Netherlands, which are of a higher quality which the clients clearly prefer.

The number of workers on the project clearly grows during the export time period and will take up about 540 workers, and is expected to provide about 100,000 work days for the Palestinian workers.

The study sessions that were given by professionals and Israeli flower guides were supported by the "Park Organization", and the government of Holland. These sessions were not to qualify the Rafah farmers just for this export season,
but to acquire them with the helpful knowledge they could use to better their crop and the area's agriculture in general, enter a variety of crops in to the world's market while standing in the international standards.
During the sessions, the topic of changing the growing crops in Gaza, since the Carnation flower is "suffering" from low consumption for the past few years and that is why another day of meeting and studying was agreed upon in January 2012,
with the topic of changing the flowers growing in the area, where new brands will be suggested and proposed in regard to the suitable macro climate in the area.

The Palestinian farmers that are proud of their home crops, will soon use all of the display stages possible to show their product. Who ever would like to visit and get a first impression of the product,
will be able to do so in two main exhibitions in which the Palestinian farmers will take part: The international flower exhibition in Berlin in the beginning of September 2012, during which the farmers will present their home grown carnation flowers in the Palestinian booth, which Holland's government will help set up.

Another exhibition is the Israeli flower exhibition in the Botanical gardens in Jerusalem in April 2012. As a part of the exhibition a booth for these farmers is planned to present their local carnation flowers.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Jerusalem Continues to Reduce Gaps in Arab Neighborhoods

The inauguration of the first post office in Issawiya, Jerusalem is a landmark event, which follows an intensive year of infrastructure upgrades in Arab neighborhoods. Improvements in Issawiya include:

*Upgrading entrances to the neighborhood *Paving roads *Installing speed bumps throughout the neighborhood *Installing supporting walls and safety fences

*Upgrading roads and fixing damage *Improving drainage systems *Adding garbage cans *Installing new streetlights

Mayor Nir Barkat participated in a tour and ribbon cutting ceremony in the Issawiya neighborhood of Jerusalem on Wednesday, 04.01.12. Wednesday's dedication followed a year of unprecedented upgrading of the infrastructure of the neighborhood, with the maximum adjustments to the needs of the residents. In the framework of the tour, the first post office in the neighborhood—with 1,050 mail boxes—was inaugurated, followed by the unveiling of the sign of the newly named "Al-Madras Street".

Throughout the current administration, the municipality of Jerusalem has worked to improve the quality of life for Arab residents of Jerusalem. Under the leadership of Mayor Nir Barkat, the municipality explored practical solutions for postal services in Arab neighborhoods. A suitable and accessible post-office building was located and renovated with financing of the municipality (NIS 17,000). The "Israel Postal Company" supplied 1,050 mail boxes. The post-office will be operated in coordination with local Community Administration.

Mayor Barkat: "I'd like to thank local officials for understanding the importance of opening a post office in Issawiya for the benefit of all residents. Today we are naming and dedicating the first of 86 roads that were, up to this point, unnamed. There is much work left to be done, but what we have accomplished together thus far is nothing short of exceptional."

Mukhtar Darweesh thanked Mayor Barkat for his visit to Issawiya: "I am happy that you came to dedicate the new street, new school, and improved roads of Issawiya. We thank you for the cooperation, for serving our residents, and for helping to improve their lives."

The post office in Issawiya represents one example of the revolution in postal services begun by Barkat. Besides the renovation of the building and establishing a post office in the neighborhood with municipality financing, a post office has also been opened in the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood and in the future, a post office will be opened in the Ras-al-Amud neighborhood. The reopening of the post office in Abu-Tor is underway.

In 2011, significant infrastructure improvements took place, including upgrading the eastern and southern entrances to the neighborhood, the installation of supporting walls on Munir Hassan road, safety fence installation, repairs to the asphalt of the sidewalks and the installation of road bumps. The Department of Sanitation improved drainage, added 2 large retention pools, replaced 10 garbage cans and added 6 new ones. The Illumination Department at the Municipality Improvements Section installed 17 new streetlights and the Maintenance Department repaired holes and paved several roads.

Mayor Barkat said of the upgrades to the Issawiya neighborhood: "It is our duty to invest in the Arab neighborhoods of the city and to reduce the gaps that are a result of decades of neglect by the government and the municipality. We will not accept a situation in which residents of Jerusalem do not have decent roads, mail, and other basic services. These investments improve the quality of life of Jerusalem residents and the results can already be seen, felt and heard."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

News You Won't See in your Media 1.1.12

With thanks to a partner, the British Israel Group (BIG)

Hospital acquired infections, one of the leading causes of preventable death in the developed world, may have finally met their match thanks to an inexpensive, genetically engineered cleansing solution developed in Israeli laboratories. The researchers, Aviv Sourasky of Ichilov Medical Centre and Udi Qimron from Tel Aviv University, say that the spray can be applied to any surface where there is a high concentration of germs such as door handles, bed and hand-rails. (Israel 21C)

• Israeli archeologist working on the City of David dig, below Jerusalem’s Old City, have recently unearthed a very rare discovery, a coin-sized clay seal that appears to have a link to rituals performed in the Jewish Temple, about 2,000 years ago. The seal reads, in Aramaic, “Pure for G-d.” According to a Biblical scholar, the seal is very special because it was found right next to the site of the Temple and is similar to what we see described in the Mishna. It may have been used for certifying the ritual purity of oil for use in the Temple or perhaps animals intended for sacrifice.

• Hamas’ Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh recently used the group’s 24th anniversary to remind everyone of its real goals. In his speech made at the ceremony he said that Hamas may work for the “interim objective of liberation of Gaza, the West Bank or Jerusalem,” but added that Hamas’ long term “strategic” goal is to eliminate all of Israel. Also in his speech, Haniyeh stated, “The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers (Israel)….We won’t relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine.” He also promised that Hamas will “lead Intifada after Intifada until we liberate Palestine – all of Palestine, Allah willing. Allah Akbar and praise Allah.”

• There is huge excitement in the scholarly world about the recent discovery of ancient Jewish scrolls in a cave on the Silk Road in Afghanistan. If the scrolls are authenticated this may be the most significant find in the Jewish world since that of the Cairo Geniza (a geniza is a burial site for ancient Jewish texts) in the 19th century. The scrolls date from around 1,000 years ago and are in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and ancient Persian. Among them is a scroll containing a dirge written for an important person whose identity is not known, an unknown history of the Kingdom of Judea, passages from the Book of Isaiah and some of the works of the 10th century sage, Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon. Rings inscribed with names such as Shmuel Bar-Joseph were also found at the site.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

MASHAV's 50th Anniversary Celebration

As we move into 2012, we can look back in Haifa to the prestigious celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center (MCTC) – the first training extension operated by MASHAV – Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. MCTC was designed for women specializing in topics of socio-economic advancement, and was one of the first training centers in the world in that area of expertise.

The 2011 Conference topic was Science, Technology and Innovation: Education and Training for Women and Girls. It was intended for approximately 50 women leaders, active at senior policy-making level – ministers, MPs, professionals from the scientific and academic world, as well as senior officials working in NGOs and international and United Nations specialized agencies in developing and industrialized countries.

There were distinguished speakers – from Argentina, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Honduras, Israel, Kosovo, Lithuania, the Maldives, Mexico, New Zealand, Romania, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, and representatives of the National Innovation Fund (Kazakhstan), Save the Children Norway and UNECE – presented her case, offering persuasive figures, examples or arguments emphasizing the lack of equity in opportunities for the development of a scientific career for women, or inequality in access to decision-making sites in research institutions. Equally distinguished participants from Bhutan, El Salvador, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal, the Palestinian Authority, Thailand and UNESCO participated in the debate. The exchange of experiences after three intense days of discussion was unified in a new proposal which the participants named the Declaration of Haifa.

May the New Year bring continuing success of the efforts of MASHAV in aiding underdeveloped countries