Erdogan says Turkey’s mediation up to Syrian, Israeli decisions

Israeli Knesset votes in favor of no-confidence motion against Israeli government

PNA rejects presence of single Israeli soldier on Palestinian state’s borders

25,000 Palestinians face retaliatory acts by settlers

Saudi Arabia and Turkey have expressed their unflinching support for the Palestinians and called on Israel to halt all settlement expansion activities to revive peace talks.

The declaration followed wide-ranging talks between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah on Tuesday in Riyadh, where a number of high-profile political meetings have been held since last month with the aim of presenting a unified Arab stand on Palestinian reconciliation and resumption of peace talks with Israel.

The talks between King Abdullah and Erdogan also focused on the Palestinian-Israel situation, a freeze on settlements in all occupied territories including East Jerusalem, the Iranian nuclear program, Yemen and violence involving rebels, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and a number of other key regional and bilateral issues.

The Turkish prime minister also met with Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation.

Erdogan said that he was hopeful that the Middle East would soon be turned into “a land of peace, prosperity and stability.”

“There is nothing more natural than for Turkey to show concern for the Palestinians, not because we are Muslims; but because we are sane and human beings,” he said.

“Should we not send aid and relief materials to quake-hit Haiti, because they are Christians,” he said while expressing his sympathies for the survivors of the earthquake in the Caribbean nation.

Saudi and Turkish officials said that the talks also focused on the roles the Kingdom and Turkey have been playing in trying to relaunch the Mideast peace process. The two leaders called on the international community to take a stern and serious stance against Israel’s policy.

The officials said that they also discussed the issue of Iran, saying that the Middle East should be free from nuclear weapons. But Erdogan was also quoted as saying it would only be fair to exert more pressure on Iran if the same was done with Israel. In an indirect reference to Israel’s nuclear arsenal, the Turkish prime minister criticized the dual stance of major countries on various regional issues.

Erdogan earlier delivered a speech at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) in which he called on Saudi businessmen to forge closer ties with Turkey.

He told members of the business community to boost trade relations and achieve a target of $10 billion to $20 billion in bilateral trade within a few years.

“Our trade volume was over $5 billion in 2008 and that has come down to $3 billion during the first 10 months of 2009,” Erdogan added. “Your investments in finance, tourism, communications, agriculture and heath will not only contribute to our best interests but also have a direct effect on the economies of regional countries,” he said.

“It is high time to strengthen commercial ties between two brotherly nations,” chairman of the RCCI Abdulrahman Al-Jeraisy said.

Erdogan, who is accompanied by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Trade Minister Zafer Caglayan, Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek and Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, flew into Jeddah on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday the Turkish premier will visit the Organization of the Islamic Conference headquarters and meet with OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu before leaving for Ankara.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the opposition on Wednesday of submitting a no-confidence motion against the government on the same day in which Israel and Germany held a historic joint cabinet session in Berlin.

Netanyahu said the timing of the opposition’s parliamentary motion was “inappropriate,” a statement which elicited furious catcalls from lawmakers of Kadima, the largest faction that is not participating in the premier’s center-right coalition.

At the opening of his remarks, Netanyahu spoke of the cabinet ministers’ trip to Berlin on Monday. The premier held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and took a tour of a memorial situated near the Brandenburg Gate in honor of European Jewry murdered during the Holocaust.

The prime minister also visited the Jewish Museum in Berlin and met with the speaker of the Bundestag.

On that same day, the Knesset approved a motion of no-confidence over the government’s handling of foreign policy.

Thirty-four members of Knesset voted for the measure, while none opposed due to the coalition parties’ decision to boycott the session.

The opposition had refused a request to postpone the hearing until after the ministers return to Israel from their Germany trip. The vote was merely symbolic, since a majority of 61 members of Knesset is needed to topple the government in a no-confidence measure.

“I think that the decision to break a years-long tradition and to submit no-confidence on this, of all days, was inappropriate, and I am sorry for it,” Netanyahu said.

The premier was summoned to the Knesset on Wednesday after 41 opposition MKs co-sponsored a motion calling on the government to answer for what it termed “the Netanyahu government’s failure on diplomatic, economic, and social issues.”

“After the Jewish people were annihilated, after six million of our people were exterminated, the government of the Jewish state comes to Berlin, touching distance from Hitler’s bunker, and this was a moment of grandeur that certainly unites all members of parliament and all the rows of the plenum,” the prime minister said.

Kadima MKs were enraged at Netanyahu’s invoking of the Holocaust in the parliamentary debate. “Have you no shame?” MK Yohanan Plesner asked rhetorically.

Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu’s opponents in parliament expressed outrage at a proposed law which would grant a municipal tax exemption to synagogues which provide Torah instruction.

The bill was submitted by Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev. Kadima lawmakers say the new exemption would cover synagogues with Haredi wedding halls.

“The ink is barely dry on the disgraceful ‘jobs law’ [which would add more deputy mayors in Jerusalem] and Netanyahu has decided once again to kowtow to Shas and impose new levies on the local authorities and the taxpayers,” Plesner said.

“Rather than show weakness and grant exemptions to Haredi wedding halls, the time has come for Netanyahu to start demonstrating leadership and grant exemptions to hospitals and to real socio-economic needs,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) rejected hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's idea of policing eastern borders of a future Palestinian state.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that once the Israeli occupation ends, the Palestinians will not accept anything less than a completely sovereign Palestinian state.

"The Palestinian leadership will not accept the presence of a single Israeli soldier in the Palestinian territories after the end of the occupation," said the spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeina, adding that they will not accept that "our land be under Israeli protection."

"We will not accept anything less than a completely sovereign Palestinian state on all the territories with its own borders, resources and airspace," Abu Rudeina said.

He emphasized that Netanyahu's insistence on an Israeli border guard would place more obstacles in the way of restarting peace talks.

The PA announcement comes a day after Netanyahu said Tel Aviv aims to patrol the eastern borders of any future Palestinian state.

This is while the Palestinian side has repeatedly stated that without a complete freeze on illegal settlement constructions, they will not return to the negotiating table.

The PNA on Tuesday rejected a fresh call by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume peace talks.

Netanyahu's call from Berlin on Monday "was kind of public relations," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

"Netanyahu wants to negotiate only for the sake of negotiations while the Palestinian side sees that the negotiations must be a way to make peace," Erekat added.

The Palestinians want Israel first to stop Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a key precondition before going back to the talks that stopped in December 2008.

Erekat also said that the talks must restart from the last point they stopped at when Israel launched a military offensive against the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians demand East Jerusalem to be their future capital, but the continuation of the settlement activities in the eastern part of the holy city hindered the efforts to revive the peace process.

"Netanyahu must realize the meaning of Jerusalem for the Arabs, the Palestinians and the Muslims and that negotiations without Jerusalem are useless and that peace can not be made without East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine," Erekat said.

Speaking at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday, Netanyahu said Israel was ready for peace talks, and hoped the Palestinians can show "equal readiness."

A report released by the United Nations last year says settlers angered over the destruction of outposts could exact revenge on 250,000 Palestinians in the West Bank.

The report, by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territory, claims settlers may employ the so-called price tag policy, by which they exact a "price" from Palestinians in response to terror attacks or Israel Defense Force actions to evacuate unauthorized outposts, placing Palestinians from 83 villages in harm's way.

The UN report was drafted in November and distributed to the organization's mailing list in response to a rise in such incidents in reaction to the Israeli government's decision to freeze construction in the settlements.

according to the report, if Israel takes significant action against the outposts, around 250,000 Palestinians in 83 West Bank communities will be "highly or moderately vulnerable" to settler violence.

Of these, 75,900 people concentrated in 22 communities - six in the northern West Bank, three in the center and 13 in the south - are considered highly vulnerable.

The report also specifies risky junctions and road segments. These include the roads surrounding Nablus that are used by both Israelis and Palestinians; the Wadi Kana road; the Qalqilyah-Nablus road, which passes through the Karnei Shomron settlement; the eastern Gush Etzion road; the road near Bat Ayin, and the main road to the south Hebron hills.

In addition, the report identifies a number of settlements it says pose a particular risk to nearby Palestinian communities: Havat Gilad, Kedumim, Itamar, Yitzhar, Ma'aleh Levona, Shilo, Adei Ad, Nokdim, Bat Ayin, Neguhot, Kiryat Arba, Beit Haggai, Karmel and Sussia. The report also details a few serious "price tag" incidents carried out in the past 18 months.

"The concern about the possible outbreak of waves of settler violence and their impact on the Palestinian population stems ... from the inadequate level of law enforcement by the Israeli authorities," the report's authors write. "[T]he main concern is the frequent failure of the Israeli security forces to intervene and stop settler attacks in real time, including the failure to arrest suspected settlers on the spot."

"Among the main reasons behind this failure is the ambiguous message delivered by the Government of Israel and the IDF top officials to the security forces in the field regarding their authority and responsibility to enforce the law on Israeli settlers," the report continues.

The IDF rejected the claims and officials noted that the report also recognized the army's extensive efforts in recent years to allow Palestinians to harvest their olive crops.

GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi last month issued an order that made it clear that civilian security coordinators' authority also extends under some circumstances to nearby illegal outposts, an order that provoked anger from some West Bank settlers.