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West Bank settlement construction up in 2016 — report

There were 2,630 housing construction starts in West Bank settlements in 2016, the Central Bureau of Statistics said in a report Wednesday, in what marks a nearly 40 percent increase over 2015.

The publication of the statistics came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking to reach an agreement with the US on new settlement construction.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu said there has been “significant progress” in talks on the issue with the US.

“The talks have not been completed, but there is progress and we will hear about it when we reach Israel,” he told reporters in China, where he was on a state visit, shortly before his plane took off for Israel.

After US President Donald Trump told Netanyahu that “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit” during a February meeting of the two leaders at the White House, the prime minister said he was working with the US administration to “establish a mechanism” to coordinate new settlement construction.

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Monday, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

However, despite reportedly discussing the issue at length with Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt during his visit to Israel last week, an agreement has yet to be reached.

Netanyahu said on Tuesday that “there are different viewpoints,” dispatched his chief of staff Yoav Horowitz to the US on Sunday in order to continue discussions on the issue with Greenblatt alongside Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.

Netanyahu also said on Tuesday he would not “negotiate” on halting construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as part of a deal with the Trump administration.

The settlement watchdog group Peace Now said that, based on the Central Bureau of Statistics report, the number of West Bank housing starts in 2016 was the second highest in the last 15 years, which the group said shows Israel is not genuinely interested in reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“The sharp increase in settlement construction sends a clear message to the Palestinians and to the international community that Israel is not interested in a two-state solution,” Peace Now said in a statement Wednesday

“By speeding up settlement construction, Netanyahu is leading Israel towards becoming an apartheid state,” the group added.

אל מול אזהרות ראש המוסד לשעבר, דו”ח הלמ”ס מוכיח שנתניהו ממשיך לרצות מיעוט קיצוני ולהוביל את ישראל לחיסול פתרון 2 המדינות והרס החזון הציוני

According to Peace Now, settlement housing starts have averaged 1,790 a year since 2001 and the only year with a higher number of building starts than 2016 was 2013, when work began on 2,874 homes.

The group also said that since Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009, construction begun on 14,017 new houses in the West Bank.

The CBS statistics do not include housing starts in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Israel has approved the construction of some 6,000 news homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which unlike during the Obama administration were met with little fanfare from the White House, although no new building plans have been announced since Trump’s comments in February.

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FBI has info indicating possible coordination between Trump associates, Russia — report

Information held by the FBI indicates associates of President Donald Trump may have coordinated with Russian officials the release of documents which were damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 elections, CNN reported Wednesday night.

US officials told the network the evidence included human intelligence and travel and phone records. They noted that the investigation was continuing, and stressed that the information was not conclusive.

Meanwhile the House intelligence committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, said he had seen “more than circumstantial evidence” that Trump associates colluded with Russia.

In an interview with MSNBC, Schiff said evidence “that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of an investigation” exists of Trump associates colluding with Russia as it interfered in last year’s election. He did not outline that evidence.

Ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) (R) speak during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian actions during the 2016 election campaign on March 20, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  / AFP PHOTO / Mandel Ngan

The chairman of the House intelligence committee said Wednesday that private communications of Trump and his presidential transition team may have been scooped up by American intelligence officials monitoring other targets and improperly distributed throughout spy agencies.

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes’ comments led Schiff to renew his party’s calls for an independent probe of Trump campaign links to Russia in addition to the GOP-led panel’s investigation.

In back-to-back news conferences at the Capitol and then the White House — where he had privately briefed the president — Nunes said he was concerned by officials’ handling of the communications in the waning days of the Obama administration.

He said the surveillance was conducted legally and did not appear to be related to the current FBI investigation into Trump associates’ contacts with Russia or with any criminal warrants. And the revelations, he said, did nothing to change his assessment that Trump’s explosive allegations about wiretaps at Trump Tower were false.

Still, the White House immediately seized on his statements in what appeared to be a coordinated public display.

Moments after Nunes spoke on Capitol Hill, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer read his statements from the White House briefing room podium. The California congressman quickly headed up Pennsylvania Avenue to personally brief the president and to address reporters outside the West Wing. Nunes’ decision to brief the president was particularly unusual, given Trump almost certainly has access to the information from his intelligence agencies.

“This is a bizarre situation,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in an interview on MSNBC. “I’m calling for a select committee because I think this back-and-forth shows that Congress no longer has the credibility handle this alone.”

US President Donald Trump arrives to speak at the National Republican Congressional Committee March Dinner at the National Building Museum, March 21, 2017, in Washington. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Outside the White House, Nunes said, “What I’ve read bothers me, and I think it should bother the president himself and his team.”

Trump said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by the Republican’s revelations. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found,” he said.

The disclosure came two days after FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed the bureau’s own investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia and rejected Trump’s explosive claims that President Barack Obama wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the election. Comey’s comments came during the intelligence committee’s first public hearing on Russia’s election interference, an investigation being overseen by Nunes.

FBI Director James Comey looks on during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian actions during the 2016 election campaign on March 20, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

Nunes briefed reporters on the new information without consulting with Schiff, and that did not sit well with the top Democrat on the committee.

Schiff declared he now has “profound doubt” about the integrity and independence of the committee’s probe. He said that “a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.”

Nunes said he believed the Trump team’s communications were caught “incidentally.” But he suggested the contents may have been inappropriately disseminated in intelligence reports. He left open the possibility the communications were spread for political reasons. Nunes would not disclose how he received the new information.

It was unclear whether Trump’s own communications were monitored. Nunes initially said “yes” when asked if Trump was among those swept up in the intelligence monitoring, but then said it was only “possible.”

It’s common for Americans to get caught up in U.S. surveillance of foreigners, such as foreign diplomats in the U.S. talking to an American. Typically, the American’s name would not be revealed in a report about the intercepted communications. However, if there is a foreign intelligence value to revealing the American’s name, it is “unmasked” and shared with other intelligence analysts who are working on related foreign intelligence surveillance.

Schiff disputed Nunes’ suggestions that there was improper “unmasking.” He said that after speaking with Nunes, it appeared that the names of Americans were still guarded in the intercepts though their identities could be gleaned from the materials.

Obama administration officials disputed the suggestion that the outgoing administration was improperly monitoring its successors. Ned Price, who served as spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council, said Nunes’ assertions “were nothing more than an attempt to offer a lifeline to a White House caught in its own netting following President Trump’s baseless tweets.”

Matthew Waxman, a national security law professor at Columbia University, said Nunes’ actions “in this case are contributing to, rather than alleviating concerns, about politicization of intelligence.”

Nunes said the information on the Trump team was collected in November, December and January, the period after the election when Trump was holding calls with foreign leaders, interviewing potential Cabinet secretaries and beginning to sketch out administration policy. He said the monitored material was “widely disseminated” in intelligence reports.

Asked whether he believed the transition team had been spied on, Nunes said: “It all depends on one’s definition of spying.”

Nunes did not identify any of the Trump associates he said were “unmasked,” but they are believed to include Michael Flynn, who was fired as White House national security adviser after misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Breitbart and Infowars under investigation for ties to Russia: report

WASHINGTON — Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories — some fictional — that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say.

Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as “bots,” to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said.

The bots’ end products were largely millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on conservative internet sites such as Breitbart News and InfoWars, as well as on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, the sources said. Some of the stories were false or mixed fact and fiction, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the bot attacks are part of an FBI-led investigation into a multifaceted Russian operation to influence last year’s elections.

Investigators examining the bot attacks are exploring whether the far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives. Their participation, however, wasn’t necessary for the bots to amplify their news through Twitter and Facebook.

The investigation of the bot-engineered traffic, which appears to be in its early stages, is being driven by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, whose inquiries rarely result in criminal charges and whose main task has been to reconstruct the nature of the Kremlin’s cyberattack and determine ways to prevent another.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the inquiry into the use of bots.

Russia-generated bots are one piece of a cyber puzzle that counterintelligence agents have sought to solve for nearly a year to determine the extent of the Moscow government’s electronic broadside.

“This may be one of the most highly impactful information operations in the history of intelligence,” said one former U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Bureau Director James Comey confirmed Monday at a House Intelligence Committee hearing what long has been reported: that the FBI is investigating possible links between individuals in the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian campaign to influence the election and whether there was any coordination between the two.

The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, one of multiple congressional panels examining Russia’s intervention, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that there was “circumstantial evidence of collusion.” There also is “direct evidence … of deception, and that’s where we begin the investigation,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California.

U.S. intelligence agencies charged in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the offensive, in which cyber operatives also hacked tens of thousands of emails from Democratic National Committee staff, Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta and other Democrats.

A top priority of investigators is to determine who delivered those hacked emails to WikiLeaks, a London-based transparency site that published them online, the sources said. News stories about the emails embarrassed Clinton at key points in the campaign. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied that the Russian government was the source of the email dump.

As for the bots, they carried links not only to news stories but also to Democratic emails posted on WikiLeaks, especially those hacked from Podesta and made public in October, said Philip Howard, a professor at the Oxford University Internet Institute who has researched the bot attacks.

Howard said that, as an example, bots had spread links to fictional stories that accused Clinton of involvement in running a child-sex ring in the basement of a Washington pizza parlor. The posts inspired a North Carolina man to drive to Washington and fire an assault weapon in the restaurant, according to police reports.

Howard’s study of bot-generated Twitter traffic during last fall’s Trump-Clinton campaign debates showed that bot messages favorable to Trump significantly outnumbered those sympathetic to Clinton.

He said his research showed that Americans who call themselves “patriotic programmers” also activated bots to aid Trump. In interviews, they described coding the computer commands in their spare time, Howard said.

Unlike counterintelligence investigators with more cyber sleuthing capabilities, Howard has not established that Russia was the source of the bot attacks he studied.

Russia also used “trolls,” hundreds of computer operatives who pretended to be Trump supporters and posted stories or comments on the internet complimentary to Trump or disparaging to Clinton. Sources close to the inquiry said those operatives likely worked from a facility in St. Petersburg, Russia, dedicated to that tactic.

“Russian bots and internet trolls sought to propagate stories underground,” said Mike Carpenter, a former senior Pentagon official during the Obama administration whose job focused on Russia. “Those stories got amplified by fringe elements of our media like Breitbart.”

“They very carefully timed release of information to shift the news cycle away from stories that clearly hurt Mr. Trump, such as his inappropriate conduct over the years,” he said, referring to the October release of a video in which Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals. That event corresponded with a surge in bot-related traffic spreading anti-Clinton stories.

An additional Russian tool was the news from its prime propaganda machine, Russia Today, with a global television and digital media operation and a U.S. arm, RT America.

Last Nov. 19, Breitbart announced that its website traffic had set a record the previous 31 days with 300 million page views, driven substantially by social media.

Breitbart, which has drawn criticism for pursuing a white nationalist agenda, was formerly led by Stephen Bannon, who became chief executive officer of Trump’s election campaign last August and now serves as Trump’s strategic adviser in the White House. The news site’s former national security editor, Sebastian Gorka, was a national security adviser to Trump’s campaign and presidential transition team. He now works as a key Trump counterterrorism adviser.

Breitbart’s chief executive officer, Larry Solov, did not respond to phone and email requests seeking comment.

Bannon and Gorka have controversial profiles. Bannon has been accused of taking anti-immigrant and racist positions. Last week, the Jewish newspaper Forward reported that Gorka had taken a lifelong loyalty oath to a Hungarian far-right group that for decades was allied with the Nazi Party.

The White House declined to respond to questions about Gorka.

Breitbart is partially owned by Robert Mercer, the wealthy co-founder of a New York hedge fund and a co-owner of Cambridge Analytica, a small, London-based firm credited with giving Trump a significant advantage in gauging voter priorities last year by providing his campaign with at least 5,000 data points on each of 220 million Americans.

InfoWars is published by Alex Jones, a Texas-based conservative talk show host known for embracing conspiracy theories such as one asserting that the U.S. government was involved in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. During the 2016 campaign, InfoWars.com was a loyal Trump public relations tool. Trump was on Jones’ show and praised his reporting.

“It’s the major source of everything,” Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant and campaign adviser, said last fall. Stone, who has regularly appeared on Jones’ show and was on Monday, has said he invites an FBI investigation into his campaign role. The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked Stone to preserve documents in connection with the Russian election inquiry.

Jones responded to questions from McClatchy on his talk show.

“I’m not gonna sit here and say, ‘I’m not a Russian stooge,’ because it’s a (expletive) lie,” he said, denying any contact with the Kremlin operatives about bots. He said this issue stemmed from “this whole ridiculous narrative of the bitching left.”

“It’s as if we didn’t build InfoWars,” he said. “It’s as if we don’t have a huge audience.”

Noting he had appeared on RT “probably 100 times or more,” he said sarcastically, “There’s my Russian connection.”

Boosted by bots, the surge in readership for such websites amplified Clinton’s negatives. Some stories falsely described her health problems as dire. Jones said Monday that people gravitated to his website “because we were the first to report Hillary Clinton falling down.” He referred to Clinton appearing to collapse last Sept. 11 after visiting the World Trade Center memorial. She was diagnosed with pneumonia.

“The full impact of the bots was subterranean and corrosive,” Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, told McClatchy in an interview. “The distribution channels were being flooded with this information. … We perhaps underestimated the strategy of pushing fake news out through social media and how it impacted the race.”

Donna Brazile, the former interim director of the DNC, said that neither the party committee nor the Clinton campaign had used bots to widen the reach of their anti-Trump messages.

At least one of the congressional committees investigating the Russian meddling is looking into the bots.

The Senate Intelligence Committee “intends to look actively at ‘fake’ news and the ways that Russian bots and trolls were used to influence the election,” said Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the panel’s ranking Democrat.

Russia’s offensive might have been anticipated from a speech a top Kremlin official made in February 2016.

In the speech in Moscow, Andrey Krutskikh told a conference of Russian computer security officials that the Putin government would be unleashing a cyber nuclear attack reminiscent of Russia’s 1949 development of the atom bomb. Krutskikh, whose speech was first reported by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and independently confirmed by McClatchy, also reportedly said the offensive would cause U.S. officials to gain respect for Russia’s cyber capabilities.

“Russia has again figured out from its old Soviet playbook that its greatest weapon in the world is information,” said Lauren Goodrich, senior Eurasia analyst at the Stratfor Corp., a global intelligence firm based in Austin, Texas. “Its information and disinformation campaigns have skyrocketed.”

She said the Kremlin’s budget for “public information” had quadrupled this year as it mounted similar cyberattacks on behalf of right-wing candidates in France, Germany and other European countries.

UN chief orders report accusing Israel of ‘apartheid’ pulled from web

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requested the removal of a report accusing Israel of apartheid from the website of the UN body that published it, Reuters reported Friday, citing an unnamed official in the international body.

Guterres had previously distanced himself from the report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which is comprised of 18 Arab countries.

The report was still available online Friday morning US-time, but was later removed.

The United States on Wednesday had demanded that the report be withdrawn altogether.

“The United States is outraged by the report,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement. “The United Nations secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether.”

Based in Beirut, ESCWA lists the state of Palestine as a full member, and works to strengthen cooperation and promote development.

“That such anti-Israel propaganda would come from a body whose membership nearly universally does not recognize Israel is unsurprising,” said Haley.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres shaking hands with new US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at the United Nations in New York, January 27, 2017. (AFP/Bryan R. Smith)

Haley has accused the United Nations of being biased against Israel and has vowed as President Donald Trump’s envoy to staunchly defend Israel at the world body.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has said “the report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general” and was done without consultations with the UN secretariat.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon slammed the commission on Wednesday for releasing the report which accuses Israel of establishing “an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.”

Danon said the “attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie.”

Rima Khalaf (YouTube Screen Shot)

“It comes as no surprise that an organization headed by an individual who has called for boycotts against Israel, and compared our democracy to the most terrible regimes of the twentieth century, would publish such a report. We call on the Secretary-General to disassociate the UN from this biased and deceitful report,” he said in reference to ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf, a Jordanian national.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, speaks to the UN Security Council after it passed an anti-settlement resolution, December 23, 2016 (UN Screenshot)

The report published Wednesday, titled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” says that “available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”

The Beirut-based commission slammed Israel’s Law of Return, “conferring on Jews worldwide the right to enter Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship regardless of their countries of origin and whether or not they can show links to Israel-Palestine, while withholding any comparable right from Palestinians, including those with documented ancestral homes in the country,” as a policy of “demographic engineering” meant to uphold Israel’s status as the Jewish state.

The report further accuses Israel of “practices” that have fragmented Palestinians, arguing that it is the “principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime.”

“This fragmentation operates to stabilize the Israeli regime of racial domination over the Palestinians and to weaken the will and capacity of the Palestinian people to mount a unified and effective resistance,” the report reads.

Richard Falk (photo credit: AP/Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi/File)

The report was compiled by Richard Falk, a Princeton professor emeritus with a long track record of vehemently anti-Israel rhetoric who previously was the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Palestine, and by Virginia Tilley, an American political scientist who authored the book “The One-State Solution” in 2005.

Haley described Falk as “a man who has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments about Israel and espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories.”

Palestinian leaders pan UN for scrapping Israel ‘apartheid’ report

Palestinian leaders on Saturday condemned the United Nations for scrapping an agency’s report that charged Israel is an “apartheid regime” guilty of “racial domination” over the Palestinians.

Published last week by the Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the report drew swift and vociferous criticism from US and Israeli officials, and led to the resignation of the agency’s director after the UN secretary-general ordered it removed from UN websites.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly called commission chair Rima Khalaf to congratulate her for resigning in protest at the UN’s rejection of her report, and to promise her the PA’s highest honors.

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi accused UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of giving in to politically motivated intimidation in rejecting the report.

“Instead of succumbing to political blackmail or allowing itself to be censured or intimidated by external parties, the UN should condemn the acts described in the report and hold Israel responsible,” Ashrawi said, according to the official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa.

She praised the report as a “step in the right direction” which highlighted “the true reality on the ground which is one of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and military occupation.” She also demanded Guterres “undertake serious and concrete measures to hold Israel accountable for its persistent violations of international law and human rights.”

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki also condemned the UN’s deletion of the report.

“Shelving the report does not shelve the reality on the ground,” he said according to Channel 2.

Rima Khalaf in 2014 (YouTube screenshot)

After ESCWA, which comprises 18 Arab countries, published its report entitled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” last Wednesday, the US demanded the document be removed from UN websites. “The United States is outraged by the report,” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement.

UN chief Guterres initially distanced himself from the report, and later ordered it removed from ESCWA’s website.

ESCWA executive secretary Khalaf on Friday announced her resignation in protest of Guterres’s order.

“The secretary-general asked me yesterday morning to withdraw [the report]. I asked him to rethink his decision, he insisted, so I submitted my resignation from the UN,” Khalaf said at a Friday press conference in Beirut.

“We expected of course that Israel and its allies would put huge pressure on the secretary-general of the UN so that he would disavow the report, and that they would ask him to withdraw it,” Khalaf, who had also served as an under-secretary-general to Guterres, added.

Guterres accepted Khalaf’s resignation. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric explained to media in New York that “the secretary-general cannot accept that an under-secretary-general or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorize the publication under the UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself,” according to Reuters.

Israel ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon addresses the UN Security Council on January 17, 2017 (Courtesy)

Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon and Washington’s ambassador to the world body, Nikki Haley, welcomed Khalaf’s resignation. Khalaf has long been criticized by Israeli officials for her perceived anti-Israel positions.

Danon said Guterres’s move was “an important step in stopping discrimination against Israel.” In a statement, Danon said “Anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN. It is time to put an end to practice in which UN officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda.” He added that “over the years Khalaf has worked to harm Israel and advocate for the BDS movement. Her removal from the UN is long overdue.”

US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley, who had demanded the report’s withdrawal Wednesday, said in a statement: “When someone issues a false and defamatory report in the name of the US, it is appropriate that the person resign. UN agencies must do a better job of eliminating false and biased work, and I applaud the secretary-general’s decision to distance his good office from it.”

ESCWA’s report said that “available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”

Its authors concluded that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that systematically institutionalizes racial oppression and domination of the Palestinian people as a whole.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres shaking hands with new US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at the United Nations in New York, January 27, 2017. (AFP/Bryan R. Smith)

The Beirut-based commission slammed Israel’s Law of Return, “conferring on Jews worldwide the right to enter Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship regardless of their countries of origin and whether or not they can show links to Israel-Palestine, while withholding any comparable right from Palestinians, including those with documented ancestral homes in the country,” as a policy of “demographic engineering” meant to uphold Israel’s status as the Jewish state.

The report further accused Israel of “practices” that have fragmented Palestinians, arguing that it is the “principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime.”

Richard Falk (photo credit: AP/Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi/File)

The report was compiled by Richard Falk, a Princeton professor emeritus with a long track record of vehemently anti-Israel rhetoric who previously was the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Palestine, and by Virginia Tilley, an American political scientist who authored the book “The One-State Solution” in 2005.

Haley described Falk as “a man who has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments about Israel and espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories.”

ADL URGES UN TO RECALL ‘BIASED’ REPORT TERMING ISRAEL ‘APARTHEID REGIME’

 

NEW YORK – The Anti-Defamation League on Thursday urged the UN to immediately recall a UN agency’s “hostile and biased” that accuses Israel of being an “apartheid regime.”

The 74-page document, published by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on Wednesday, points a finger at Israel for racial discrimination toward Palestinians.

“Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole,” the report states.

This was the first time a UN body had clearly made the charge, angering Israeli officials who compared the report to the Third Reich’s wildly antisemitic Der Sturmer newspaper.

“Rather than provide constructive analysis about Israeli policy in the West Bank, this report is rife with outrageous accusations of criminality and apartheid practices, and reflects the biased agenda of the authors,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said on Thursday. “This report does not meet any reasonable standard of judiciousness or constructive analysis about Israeli policy or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The ADL praised the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for distancing itself from the report.

A spokesman for the UN chief said on Wednesday that the report was released without any consultation with the United Nations Secretariat, and that as it stands, it does not reflect the views of the secretary- general.

Both Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon and his US counterpart, Nikki Haley, had called on the secretary-general to make this clear.

ESCWA, headquartered in Beirut, is composed of 18 Arab states in Western Asia and aims to support economic and social development in member states, according to its website. The report was prepared at the request of member states.

Head of UN body resigns as anti-Israel report is withdrawn

The head of a Lebanon-based United Nations agency that promotes development in Arab countries resigned Friday, as the body she led removed a controversial report from its website that concluded Israel has established an “apartheid regime” guilty of “racial domination” over the Palestinians.

Rima Khalaf, a Jordanian who served as executive secretary of the Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), announced her resignation at a hastily arranged press conference in the Lebanese capital Friday.

She said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s insistence that the document be removed from the agency’s website led her to quit.

“Based on that, I submitted to him my resignation from the United Nations,” Khalaf said at news conference in Beirut Friday. “It was expected that Israel and its allies would put enormous pressure on the United Nations secretary-general to renounce the report.”

The report was no longer available on ESCWA’s website as of Friday.

The document, published earlier this week by ESCWA, drew swift and vociferous criticism from UN and Israeli officials. “The United States is outraged by the report,” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement.

She went on to demand the report be withdrawn.

Its authors concluded that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that systematically institutionalizes racial oppression and domination of the Palestinian people as a whole.”

Khalaf has long been criticized by Israeli officials for her perceived anti-Israel positions.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had earlier requested the removal of the report from ESCWA’s website, according to a UN official who spoke to Reuters.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon welcomed the developments, saying Guterres’s move was “an important step in stopping discrimination against Israel.”

In a statement, he said the place of anti-Israel activists was “outside the UN” and added that Khalaf acted against Israel “for years” and “should have left her post a long time ago.”

Guterres had previously distanced himself from the report by ESCWA, which is comprised of 18 Arab countries.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has said “the report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general” and was done without consultations with the UN secretariat.

Damon said earlier on Wednesday that the “attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie.”

“It comes as no surprise that an organization headed by an individual who has called for boycotts against Israel, and compared our democracy to the most terrible regimes of the twentieth century, would publish such a report,” he added in reference to Khalaf. “We call on the Secretary-General to disassociate the UN from this biased and deceitful report.”

The report, which was published Wednesday, was titled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” says that “available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”

The report further accuses Israel of “practices” that have fragmented Palestinians, arguing that it is the “principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime.”

The report was compiled by Richard Falk, a Princeton professor emeritus with a long track record of vehemently anti-Israel rhetoric who previously was the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Palestine, and by Virginia Tilley, an American political scientist who authored the book “The One-State Solution” in 2005.

Report: Donald Trump (White Freemason, Zionist) overrules national security adviser in order to keep NSC aide Ezra Cohen-Watnick (Kike)

(JTA) — President Donald Trump reportedly overruled a decision by his national security adviser in order to keep a National Security Council aide, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, in his current position.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had told Cohen-Watnick, senior director for intelligence programs at the NSC, that he would be moved to a different position at the NSC after CIA officials had pushed for his ouster, according to Politico.

Trump overruled the decision on Sunday after Cohen-Watnick, 30, appealed to White House advisers Stephen Bannon and Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, Politico reported, citing “two people with knowledge of the episode.” Cohen-Watnick had become close with Bannon and Kushner while working on the Trump transition team, according to Politico.

Cohen-Watnick was recruited to the transition team by McMaster’s predecessor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who resigned as national security adviser last month after acknowledging that he had misled administration officials about a phone call he had with the Russian ambassador in December. Cohen-Watnick had worked under Flynn at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

A Washington consultant told Politico that Cohen-Watnick and Flynn “saw eye to eye about the failings of the CIA human intelligence operations,” and that the “CIA saw him as a threat, so they tried to unseat him and replace him with an agency loyalist.”

Cohen-Watnick celebrated his engagement to Rebecca Miller in November at Ohr Kodesh Congregation, a Conservative synagogue outside Washington, D.C., according to a synagogue newsletter.

Report: Israel seeks okay for unfettered building at settlements, but US opposed

After more than five hours of talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump administration envoy Jason Greenblatt on Monday, at which President Trump’s public call to rein in settlement building was discussed, very wide gaps remain between the sides. The complex bid to coordinate positions will now be taken up by Greenblatt and Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer, Israel’s Army Radio reported on Tuesday.

In principle, Israel wants to be able to build anywhere within the “city limits” (t’hum hashiput) of all settlements, potentially tripling the settlement enterprise, the radio report said. For its part, the Trump administration has thus far indicated only that building in East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods such as Pisgat Ze’ev, Neve Yaakov and Gilo can continue. As regards US support for any settlement expansion outside Jerusalem — be it at isolated settlements or inside the major settlement blocs — “there’s a problem,” the radio report said.

Asked by The Times of Israel about the report, the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer speaks to CNN, December 26, 2016. (Screenshot)

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer speaks to CNN, December 26, 2016. (Screenshot)

Many on the Israeli right had anticipated that Trump would be more supportive of the settlement enterprise than his predecessor Barack Obama, but at a press conference last month with Netanyahu, the new president publicly asked the prime minister to “hold back on settlements a little bit.”

And in an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper shortly before Netanyahu’s US visit, Trump said that settlements “don’t help the process.” He added: “Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left. But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Trump administration’s assent to building in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem annexed by Israel would represent a change in position from the Obama years; the previous administration routinely criticized all building beyond the pre-1967 Green Line. The administration of George W. Bush agreed understandings with the government of Ariel Sharon to the effect that Israel would not return to the pre-1967 lines in any permanent peace accord, and recognizing the major settlement blocs, and some analysts believe that the Trump administration might revive such understandings.

Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz Yuval Steinitz seen at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, September 27, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Israel’s Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), who is close to Netanyahu, said Tuesday that he had always remained sober when it came to assessing likely policy changes between the Obama and Trump administration, and that others on the right were now recognizing the good sense of this.

“I think there is a sobering up (on the right). I always said there was no place for celebrations and festivities. Trump is certainly a friend of Israel. But when it comes to the Palestinian issue, I didn’t see a radical difference in policy and rhetoric. Those celebrations were premature and inefficient,” Steinitz told Army Radio.

Steinitz said the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim should be annexed, but that this was a matter of timing, and that the American Embassy should be in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Anything else was “absurd,” he said. On moving the embassy, he said, “I personally believe that Trump will stand by his clear commitment to relocate the embassy.”

According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after Monday’s Netanyahu-Greenblatt talks, the two men discussed Israeli settlements “in the hope of working out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security.”

Greenblatt took to Twitter later to say that he and Netanyahu “discussed [the] regional situation, how progress towards peace with Palestinians can be made & settlements.”

In meeting w/ @IsraeliPM @netanyahu, discussed regional situation, how progress towards peace with Palestinians can be made & settlements.

Greenblatt’s visit marks the first major attempt by the new US administration to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after two months that have seen officials dither on support for the two-state solution, the location of the US Embassy and building in settlements.

In Washington prior to Greenblatt’s trip, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters the issue of settlements would be discussed. “We see them as a challenge that needs to be addressed at some point,” Toner said.

Report: Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt (Kike) to visit Israel to talk settlements

Greenblatt would be thrust into the post of presidential adviser on Israel if Trump wins the White House. (Uriel Heilman)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reportedly will visit Israel next week.

Greenblatt’s visit aims to help determine the Trump administration’s policy on Israeli settlements, Israel’s Channel 2 first reported on Wednesday.

Among the topics of discussion will be the new settlement promised to the former residents of the West Bank Amona outpost, which was evacuated and dismantled last month, according to the report. It would be the first new official settlement in 25 years.

Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that annexing the West Bank will lead to a “crisis” with the Trump administration, citing what he called a “direct message” from the United States.

An Orthodox Jew and Yeshiva University graduate, Greenblatt studied at a West Bank yeshiva in the mid-1980s and did armed guard duty there.

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