Israeli-Russian relations stood at the precipice of its most serious crisis in years Thursday night after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would invite Hamas for talks.
"You can't say you are a friend of Israel, that you are in favor of peace in the Middle East, and at the same time give Hamas a clean bill of health," one senior government official said, reflecting clear anger at the Russian position. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was expected to pass on Israel's position to the Russians at a meeting scheduled for Thursday night in New York with the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Russia, the US, Great Britain, France and China.
Putin, in a joint press conference in Madrid with Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said Thursday that Russia did not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, and urged the global community to work with a Hamas-led Palestinian government. "Hamas has arrived at the doors of power through legitimate elections," Putin said. "We must respect the Palestinian people and we have to look for solutions for the Palestinian people, for the international community, and also for Israel. Contacts with Hamas must continue."
Putin said Russia would invite Hamas representatives to participate in talks in the future. Putin's remarks come less than two weeks after Russia signed off on a Quartet statement conditioning international support to the PA on the new government's "commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap."
But then again, what else would you expect from a former head of the KGB?
On the home front, Kadima lost a vote in the Israeli Knesset reports Arutz Sheva:
The commission was established despite the objection of Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Kadima Party, as well as the Labor Party. Labor dropped its initial call for an investigation after advisors said it would harm the party in the polls.Olmert and Kadima practice the art of hear no evil, see no evil despite video footage to the contrary. Watch for Kadima to stall the commission at every avenue and turn so that the investigation cannot be concluded until after the Israeli elections are held.
Defense Minister Sha’ul Mofaz, speaking prior to the vote, said he sees no reason to establish a committee of investigation into the events at Amona, and lends his full support to the demolition forces.
MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP), whose colleague MK Sha’ul Yahalom put forth the proposal for the inquiry, said that the investigation was required in order to ascertain who gave the order to police to use “excessive force, including beating protestors in the head with batons and releasing horses into crowds, wounding those who were employing passive resistance as well as those who were not.”“Whoever is interested in investigating the behavior of the settlers, should feel free to do so as well,” Orlev added.
The precise mandate of the commission will be determined by the Knesset House Committee. Following the 37-32 vote, Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin warned that the decision is valid only for the current, outgoing Knesset. If the commission is not completed before the end of the Knesset's current term, the next Knesset will not be bound to carry it out.
The Zionist Organization of America supported the call for an official inquiry into "how the police and protesters conducted themselves. ZOA President Morton Klein said, “The ZOA is appalled and distressed at the violent scenes in Amona, and at the Israeli government decision to demolish Jewish homes there, especially at this time, just days after Hamas’ election victory, and in this excessively violent and confrontational way."
“The responsibility lies with Ehud Olmert,” Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar said. “They [the Amona supporters] announced that they were ready for a compromise – did anyone speak with them? Did anyone listen to the military officials who asked why the place was not closed off earlier?” Sa’ar then turned to Olmert, demanding, “What are you afraid of? Why are you against allowing the Knesset to do its job and inspect the actions of the government? If everything was done legitimately – you shouldn’t be afraid of an investigation!”
MK Effie Eitam (National Union), who suffered a head injury from a mounted policeman in Amona, said that only by the grace of Heaven were there no deaths as a result of the violence carried out by security forces. “The question of whether the events at Amona were the first chapter in a civil war or the brink of such events can only be answered through the establishment of an investigatory committee.”
Debkafile is reporting:
Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen suddenly throws open Jericho lock-up and frees 56 convicted terrorists. Among the men freed without prior notice are 26 Islamic Jihad members from northern and central Samaria, who plotted and masterminded suicide bombings in Hadera, Netanya, and Kfar Saba in 2005. Also released were 13 members of the PA General Intelligence Service, loyal to Col. Tewfik Tirawri, and 17 members of the PA Military Police – all of whom participated in terrorist attacks. Abu Mazen thus renews Yasser Arafat`s revolving-door policy for terrorists.
Odd, who would have thought there was a militant manpower shortage in the Palestinian Authority? But then again, what will Olmert do – order the IDF to beat up a few more Israeli 15 year olds in protest?
YnetNews Online reports that Kadima is covered in political teflon and continues to lead in the polls:
In a week of Qassam and terror attacks, during which Ehud Olmert gave his first television interview as acting prime minister, a Dahaf Institute poll, published Thursday in Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, shows Kadima is increasing its lead over Labor and Likud ahead of the March 28 elections.
The poll reveals Kadima is set to gain 43 Knesset seats in the elections, a rise of one seat from the previous poll; Labor loses one seat and is set to gain 20 seats in the elections, while the Benjamin Netanyahu-led Likud remains at 15 Knesset seats. The religious party Shas gains 11 Knesset seats in the poll, followed by the ultra-orthodox party United Torah Judaism and the right-wing party Israel Our Home, which are each set to receive six Knesset seats.
According to the poll, the left-wing Meretz-Yahad party is set to gain five seats. The right-wing National Union stands to have four representatives in Knesset, while the National Religious Party is set to gain two seats (parties will apparently run as one consolidated list). The Arab parties are expected to gain a total of eight seats. The central Shinui party is expected to vanish from the Knesset.
The sample size is only 500 maximum sampling errors of 4.4%. I don’t put much stock in the power of polls but I do hope for Israel’s sake that this is the same polling group that predicted the Fatah win over Hamas.
In light of all the diplomatic and home front set backs for Ehud Olmert is it no wonder that he refuses to participate in any national debates with Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu reports YnetNews Online:
Kadima rejected a request by Likud party officials to hold a public election debate ahead of the upcoming general elections, prompting the Likud to charge Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is "scared." Earlier Wednesday, Likud Knesset Member Gideon Sa'ar turned to Kadima Minister Tzipi Livni and demanded that a debate be held pitting Olmert against Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.No guff, Sherlock, Netanyahu would wipe the floor with Olmert no matter how you try rationalizing. Actually, I feel like volunteering to debate Olmert myself - in Hebrew. I only know about 50 words but I think I could probably make him break down and cry before I reached the limits of my vocabulary. Any man who would seriously propose instituting a state importation tax of 28% on charitable donations of used clothes and toys raised by American Jewish groups deserves the full handbag treatment.
"A debate is needed in order to sharpen the differences between Kadima's plans for an additional withdrawal in Judea and Samaria and the Likud's plan for secure borders," Sa'ar said. As it turns out, Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz is also interested in a debate featuring both Olmert and Netanyahu. Peretz associates said Wednesday such debate would allow Peretz to express himself and present his socioeconomic platform, which differs from that of both Likud and Kadima.
However, Kadima officials rejected the proposal out of hand. "Kadima would not be a party to Knesset Member Sa'ar's attempts to boost the worst political campaign in the State of Israel's history," the party said in a statement. "Kadima only deals with serious issues and its heads are busy running the affairs of the State. The party has no intention to be part of Peretz's and Bibi's traveling circus."
In news from Gaza an Egyptian Military Envoy is kidnapped in board daylight by unknown Palestinian gunmen reports the Jerusalem Post.
Masked gunmen kidnapped an Egyptian diplomat in a brazen daylight attack Thursday that underscored the spiraling lawlessness in the Gaza Strip, and showed that no one - not even an official from one of the Palestinians' most important allies - is immune from the violence.
The Egyptian was the first diplomat nabbed amid a recent spate of kidnappings, and the abduction marks the most serious attack on diplomats since three American security guards were killed when a US diplomatic convoy was hit by a bomb in October 2003.
The kidnapping of Hussam Almousaly occurred at about 11 a.m., when two masked militants shot out the tires of his diplomatic vehicle, just 200 meters from the heavily-guarded Egyptian diplomatic mission in Gaza City. The gunmen sped off with Almousaly, witnesses said. The identity of the gunmen was not known even hours after the attack, and Palestinian security officials said they had not been contacted with demands.
Palestinian police set up roadblocks throughout Gaza to try to find the kidnappers, and officers questioned possible witnesses. "We totally condemn such acts," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said, identifying Almousaly as an Egyptian military attache. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was working to "expedite the release of the kidnapped diplomat." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned the abduction, saying it "harmed the Palestinians' strong relations with Egypt."
An attack launched against the most important ally of Fatah and Hamas is an acute humiliation for both groups though it is indicative of the total collapse of the rule of law and order in the Palestinian Authority. But then again, maybe some over zealous Palestinian ‘militants’ just released from the Jericho Jail mistook the Egyptian envoy for a Dane and all will be cleared up shortly - maybe?