Entries in Israel (38)


Tree Planted by Obama in Jerusalem May Be Uprooted for Inspection

Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- It’s an old gospel song: "Just like a tree planted by the water, I shall not be moved." But if you’re the magnolia tree the president of the United States planted today in Jerusalem, there’s a chance you just might be.

Obama planted a tree on Wednesday in Israeli President Shimon Peres’ Jerusalem garden. It’s a gift for a man Obama said has planted, “the seeds of progress, the seeds of security, the seeds of peace — all the seeds that have helped not only Israel grow but also the relationship between our two nations grow.”

The tree was meant to signify the strong roots of the relationship between the United States and Israel. But before these American roots can take hold, the Israeli government will inspect them.

An Israeli official tells ABC News that the magnolia tree will be tested and possibly removed in a week by the Israeli Agriculture Department. The roots of the tree were apparently kept in a plastic covering during the planting. As in the U.S., Israeli law forbids plants and trees from other countries from entering Israel. The White House and the Israeli government were aware of the limitations ahead of the visit.

A White House official confirms that the tree given to Peres was grown from a set of seeds from the original Jackson Magnolia alongside the Rose Garden on the South Lawn of the White House. It was planted in the 1830s by President Andrew Jackson. An official says it is the oldest known presidential tree on the grounds of the White House.

During remarks at Peres’s official residence, Obama mentioned the story in the Talmud of Honi and the Carob Tree: A man sees an older man planting a carob tree and tells him that it will take 70 years before the tree grows fruit. Obama told the crowd the older man’s reply: “When I came into the world, I found carob trees. As my forefathers planted for me, so will I plant for my children.”

If removed for testing it's and deemed to be suitable, the tree is expected to be replanted in the same spot. It’s currently near a tree given by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during his May 2009 trip to the Holy Land. An Israeli official says Benedict’s tree didn’t undergo any testing because it was purchased in Israel.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Israel Advocates Fight Over Chuck Hagel

Junko Kimura/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Chuck Hagel will probably be nominated as the next secretary of defense, and some conservative Israel backers aren’t happy about it.

A former Republican senator from Nebraska, Hagel could have expected some turbulence from Israel-backing groups after he opposed unilateral sanctions on Iran and supported talks with Hamas, as The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake has reported.

Now, some of those voices are speaking up.

Read more about Hagel here.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has aired a list of grievances against Hagel, with executive director Matt Brooks issuing this statement: “Chuck Hagel’s statements and actions regarding Israel have raised serious concerns for many Americans who care about Israel. The Jewish community and every American who supports a strong U.S.-Israel relationship have cause for alarm if the president taps Hagel for such an important post.  The appointment of Chuck Hagel would be a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel.”

Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, who also leads the Emergency Committee for Israel, lambasted Hagel in an editorial in his magazine, citing Hagel’s “anti-Israel, pro-appeasement-of-Iran bona fides,” and, “record of consistent hostility to Israel over the last decade.”

Often the odd man out among Israel groups in the U.S., the liberal J Street is backing Hagel as a potential nominee. On its blog this week, J Street called Hagel a “staunch friend of the State of Israel and a trusted ally in the Senate,” who “advocated for an attempt to engage Iran in dialogue – advice that President Obama heeded when he came to office in 2009.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


White House Officials Say Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire Is ‘Tenuous’

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- The Israel-Hamas cease-fire brokered by the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, and announced Wednesday is fragile, White House officials acknowledged.

“The way we view this is that it’s an important step,” a senior White House official said, “but our concerns are Egypt can’t control all of Hamas,” the ruling party in Gaza designated a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department, “and Hamas doesn’t control every extremist with a rocket in Gaza. So there is a tenuous nature to this.”

But for now, senior White House officials say that from their perspective, three phone calls with Egyptian President Morsi seemed significant.

The president spoke to Netanyahu every day since the crisis began, but his first significant call with Morsi was on Monday, Nov. 19 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

President Obama left a dinner for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations a tad early to phone Morsi, aides said. They discussed ways to “de-escalate” the violence in Gaza and Israel, with President Obama underscoring “the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire into Israel,” aides said. The president offered his condolences for the loss of life in Gaza, as well as for the Saturday incident when a train collided with a school bus, killing more than 50 people most of them children.

He then spoke with Netanyahu, receiving an update on the situation, and expressing regret for the loss of Israeli lives.

The president then told his team that if Morsi called back to talk, they should wake him up. Morsi did so, at 2:30 a.m. Cambodia time. The president and Morsi spoke again.

Another senior White House official declined to get into the substance of the calls, but said the president was reviewing ideas with Morsi and Netanyahu, so it would be natural for him to follow up with Morsi after speaking to Netanyahu. The president told Morsi he intended to send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the region.

The next day, Tuesday, President Obama announced that Clinton would head to Egypt and Israel to try to broker a cease-fire. The president and Clinton, the second senior White House official said, talked about the Gaza-Israel fighting throughout the Asia trip.

The president Wednesday phoned both Morsi and Netanyahu “to seal the deal,” the first senior White House official said.

The president, this official said, was struck by the fact that Morsi “was being pragmatic. He wanted to get to yes.”

ABC News’ Reena Ninan asked Ben Rhodes, deputy National Security adviser for strategic communication, if Morsi was a better broker for peace than his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

“Egypt has been a critical part of our effort to manage that conflict and pursue peace,” Rhodes said. “That was the case under President Mubarak and it continues to be the case under President Morsi, who has upheld the peace treaty with Israel. What we’ve seen is, again, our engagement has been focused on practical and constructive cooperation that can reduce tensions but ultimately, again, it’s going to have to be Hamas within Gaza that takes the step of, again, not pursing rocket fire into Israeli territory. But we agree that Egypt can and should be a partner in seeking to bring about that outcome.”

Another interesting development, the White House official said, is that Hamas in this instance was looking to Egypt for leadership and not Iran, even though the latter country has been extremely supportive of Hamas.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Officials Emphasize ‘De-escalating’ Gaza Violence

State Department photo/ Public Domain(WASHINGTON) -- As news reports emerged Tuesday of a ceasefire or truce to end the crisis in Gaza, American officials made it a point not to use either of those terms.

Instead, U.S. officials were talking about “de-escalating” the violence in Gaza as a step toward a long-term resolution.

Briefing White House reporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes repeatedly said “de-escalation” was the goal for ending the violence in Gaza and Israel.

When asked if he was avoiding using the term “ceasefire,” Rhodes said, "No, I mean, there are many ways that you can achieve the goal of a de-escalation.” He added, "Our bottom line is, is an end to rocket fire. We’re open to any number of ideas for achieving that goal. We’ve discussed any number of ideas for accomplishing that goal. But it’s going to have to begin with a reduction of tensions and space created for the situation to calm. ”

At the State Department briefing earlier in the day, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was also using “de-escalation.”

Nuland was asked several times why she was using that term instead of “ceasefire” or “truce.”  She indicated it was because the State Department did not want to get into characterizing acceptable terminology.  “I’m not going to characterize X is acceptable, Y is not acceptable. That’s a subject for negotiation,” she said.

Furthermore, she said, “because the parties are talking, we’re going to be part of that, and we’re not going to negotiate it here from the podium. We’re not going to characterize it here from the podium.”

The message she did want to get across was that “any de-escalation is a step forward.”

Of the long-term aims of Secretary of State Clinton’s last-minute mission to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo, Nuland said you “obviously start with a de-escalation of this conflict.”  From there, “we have to see an end to the rocket fire on Israel. We have to see a restoration of calm in Gaza. And the hope is that if we can get through those stages, that will create space for the addressing of broader issues, but I don’t want to prejudge. This is obviously ongoing and live diplomacy.”

Before her meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton too avoided using the term “ceasefire.”

After describing America’s commitment to Israel’s security as “rock-solid and unwavering,” Clinton said, “That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza.”

Clinton said that the rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza “must end and a broader calm restored.”  She added that the focus was on "a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


State Department Spokesperson Grilled on 'Quiet Diplomacy' Policy on Gaza

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At a State Department briefing Monday, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked about the diplomatic progress to end the violence in Gaza. Over the weekend, Nuland released a statement detailing the telephone calls Secretary Clinton made to five different allies, underscoring the intense diplomacy taking place behind the scenes to try and de-escalate the situation.

But Monday, when reporters questioned Nuland on the specifics of what the U.S. is doing, Nuland refused at least 11 times to discuss any details of the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts, frustrating the press corps.

Reporters took the spokesperson to task for her non-answers, wondering why if leaders of allies such as Turkey and Egypt are forcefully speaking out against Israel while also helping to negotiate a ceasefire, the United States has not just as forcefully spoken out in defense of the Jewish state.

When questioned about whether "quiet diplomacy" is helping in negotiations, Nuland simply responded, "We are working hard with the parties."

One reporter continued to push, accusing the U.S. of "staying silent while people are dying left and right," and criticized the State Department for not responding to Turkey's president calling Israel's actions "acts of terror" against the Palestinians.

“I'm not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We're just not going to do that, OK?" said Nuland.

After several minutes of the contentious exchange an exasperated Nuland finally responded, “We of course agree that rhetorical attacks against Israel are not helpful at this moment. Is that what you were looking for?”

Nuland did respond to questions about calls from members of Congress to have aid in Egypt re-evaluated if the country does not reign in Hamas. She said, “There's no stipulation with regard to this issue in legislation,” but that Congress still has to approve the release of appropriated funds, and that the State Department is still working with the hill on getting economic support funds released.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Romney Says Military Action Against Iran May Not Be Necessary

Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Mitt Romney said Friday that he does not believe military action will be necessary to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capability.

Romney added that he still leaves the option of military action “on the table” should it be needed.

Romney’s remarks came as he told reporters Friday afternoon about the phone conversation he had just finished with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

During the conversation, Romney said it was made clear that he and Netanyahu “very much have the same interest to make sure that Iran does not develop nuclear capability, which would threaten the existence of Israel, threaten devastation potentially in other nations of the world, and we must make every effort to prevent them from developing that nuclear capability.”

“I also believe that there is a strategy that would lead us to preventing Iran from developing nuclear capability. I do not believe in the final analysis we will have to use military action,” said Romney.

“I certainly hope we don’t have to.  I can’t take that option off the table; it must be something which is known by the Iranians as a possible tool to be employed to prevent them from becoming nuclear,” he said. “But I certainly hope that we can prevent any military action from having to be taken.”

Romney, who repeated Friday that he would have encouraged crippling sanctions against Iran earlier than the President did, appeared to soften his tone, no longer declaring with certainty that if Obama is reelected, Iran will get a nuclear weapon.

In his speech to the United Nations on Thursday, Netanyahu, who has for months hinted that Israel would take military action against Iran, also appeared to take a more softened tone.

Netanyahu pushed back to next summer the date by which he believes Iran could get a nuclear weapon, and even offered President Obama, with whom relations have not always been good with, praise for the sanctions he’s placed on Iran.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Romney: ‘No Way’ There Will Be Israeli-Palestinian Peace

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages(BEIRUT) -- Video footage published Monday of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a private fundraiser revealed the GOP nominee had little faith that a peaceful solution could  be found between Israelis and Palestinians, blaming the impasse on Palestinian unwillingness.

At the $50,000-a-plate May dinner in Florida, Romney can be heard saying in the video, “We kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen.”

Romney began his comments by saying he had “two perspectives” on the Middle East peace process, but in the video footage, published on the website of left-leaning Mother Jones magazine,  he seemed highly skeptical, if not downright dismissive, of the two-state solution he endorsed during a trip to Jerusalem in July.

“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, ‘There’s just no way.’”  

Among the “thorny issues” Romney referred to were the security problems that would arise from an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, about how Iran could sneak weapons into the West Bank to target Israel if Israel did not militarily control the Jordan Valley border between Jordan and the West Bank, or the air traffic coming into the West Bank. He made no mention of the Gaza Strip as being part of a future “Palestinian nation.”   

“And so what you do is you say, ‘You move things along the best way you can,”" Romney said. “You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.”

Moving on to his second perspective, Romney offered  the opinion of an unnamed former secretary of state who told him peace was possible.

“I said, ‘Really?’ And, you know, his answer was, ‘Yes, I think there’s some prospect.’ And I didn’t delve into it.”

Neither the Obama campaign nor the Democratic National Committee attacked Romney directly on the Middle East portion of the remarks, which came in answer to a supporter’s question about the “Palestinian problem.”

But the DNC sent the Mother Jones report around to reporters, highlighting the “kick the ball down the field” line.

“There is this one obvious truth: Peace will not be possible if the extreme elements of the Palestinian side refuse to come to the table for talks or to recognize Israel’s right to exist,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement Tuesday morning. “Gov. Romney believes that the path to a two-state solution is to ensure the security of Israel, and not to throw up any more barriers to the two sides engaging in direct negotiations.”

When Romney visited Jerusalem at the end of July, he told the Haaretz newspaper that he believed in a two-state solution.

“The question is not whether the people of the region believe that there should be a Palestinian state,” he said. “The question is if they believe there should be an Israeli state, a Jewish state.”

A top Palestinian official accused Romney of being racist after the GOP candidate appeared to argue at a fundraiser that the difference in GDP per capita between Israelis and Palestinians stemmed from culture.

“As I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation [Israel], I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” he said.

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the statement racist. “This man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.”

The Romney campaign called the comments “grossly mischaracterized.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dems Quickly Switch to Include 'God,' 'Jerusalem' Language in Platform

ABC News(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) -- Moments after convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa gaveled in Day Two of the Democratic Convention, the hall burst into chaos as Democrats voted to amend their party's platform to include the word "God" and name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Villaraigosa called the vote three times. The first two voice votes, which require a two-thirds majority to pass, were tied between "ays" and "nos." On the third vote it was still hard to tell whether the "ays" were audibly louder than the "nays" in the half-full arena.

When Villaraigosa announced "the ays have it," loud boos erupted across the arena.

The changes came after a sharp day of criticism by both Republicans and Democrats alike for the platform's exclusion of "God" and Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Democrats moved Wednesday to make revisions to "maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the president and the Democratic Party platform in 2008," according to a statement from the Democratic National Committee. 

Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan criticized the Democrats' 2012 platform Wednesday, calling the omission "rather peculiar."

"It's not in keeping with our founding documents, our founding vision, but I guess you would have to ask the Obama administration why they purged all this language from their platform," Ryan said on Fox News.

The word "God" is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The word "Nature's God" appears once in the Declaration of Independence, alongside mention of the word "Creator."

Prior to Wednesday's vote to include "God," the Democratic 2012 platform referred to faith, saying it "has always been a central part of the American story." It also says the U.S. was founded on the principle of religious freedom and the ability of people to worship as they please. It also praised the work of faith-based organizations.

Republicans have sought to highlight the absence of the word "God" from Democrats' platform. "God" was mentioned once in Democrats' 2008 platform. The 2012 GOP platform mentions "God" 12 times.

As for the vote to include language previously left out about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel, the DNC said in Wednesday's statement, "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel."

"It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths."

Watch the vote:

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dems Shift Language on Israel, Remove ‘God-Given’ from Platform

Alex Wong/Getty Images(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) — For Democrats, there is no God in 2012 — at least as far as the party’s platform is concerned. Nor is there a Jerusalem. Democrats removed those two words, and the passages surrounding them, from the 2012 party platform as it was released this week.

In Charlotte on Monday, the Democratic National Committee released its 2012 party platform after the DNC Platform Committee approved it under the leadership of Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker. The Platform Drafting Committee, led by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, gathered feedback for an initial draft in Minneapolis over the summer.

Gone are three sentences identifying Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. There is no mention of Jerusalem in the 2012 document, after the 2008 version included this mention:

  • Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.

Also gone is this reference to Hamas:

  • The United States and its Quartet partners should continue to isolate Hamas until it renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and abides by past agreements.

President Obama has publicly endorsed a two-state solution for Israel. Disagreements between his administration and Israel have at times become public, as the president has opposed new settlement construction, and the Jewish state’s more hawkish supporters have relentlessly criticized him for his handling of U.S./Israeli relations.

“The Obama Administration has followed the same policy towards Jerusalem that previous U.S. Administrations of both parties have done since 1967,” a DNC spokeswoman said of the change in platform language. “As the White House said several months ago, the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians – which we also said in the 2008 platform. We will continue to work with the parties to resolve this issue as part of a two state solution that secures the future of Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Also gone is a previous reference to “God.”

The Democratic Party’s 2008 platform mentioned “God” once, in this passage (emphasis added):

  • We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.

Explaining the removal, a Democratic official explained: “The 2008 platform reference is ‘God-given’ and is about growing the middle class and making America fair, not actually about faith. The platform includes an entire plank on the importance of faith based organizations and the tremendous work that they do. Further, the language we use to talk about faith and religion is exactly the same vocabulary as 2008. I would also note that the platform mentions: ‘faith’ 11 times; ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ 9 times; ‘church’ 2 times (one is a quote); and, ‘clergy’ 1 time.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Republican Congressman Scolded After Drinking and Nudity in Israel -- A group of House Republicans visiting Israel as part of an official Congressional delegation last summer enjoyed a late night of drinking at the Sea of Galilee that included swimming and, in the case of one member, a little skinny dipping in the place where the Bible says Jesus walked on water.

The story was first reported by Politico and has been confirmed by ABC News.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was on the trip but was not present for the late night antics.  When Cantor was told about what happened, according to Republican sources, he was “livid” and called members of the delegation to say the behavior was unacceptable and must never be repeated.

The skinny dipper, according to the sources, was Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas.

In a statement to Politico, Yoder said: ”A year ago, my wife, Brooke, and I joined colleagues for dinner at the Sea of Galilee in Israel.  After dinner I followed some Members of Congress in a spontaneous and very brief dive into the sea and regrettably I jumped into the water without a swimsuit.  It is my greatest honor to represent the people of Kansas in Congress and [for] any embarrassment I have caused for my colleagues and constituents, I apologize.”

Cantor’s deputy chief of staff, Doug Heye, tells ABC News what he told Politico: ”Twelve months ago, [Cantor] dealt with this immediately and effectively to ensure such activities would not take place in the future.”

Heye confirms that the FBI asked about the incident, although the investigation does not appear to have gone anywhere.

“Last year, a staffer was contacted by the Bureau [FBI], which had several questions, the staffer answered those questions and that appears to have been the end of it,” Heye said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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