Netanyahu government makes things harder by brining pullout from East Jerusalem, Golan under referendum

Omani says Israel is to blame for current dilemma, Arabs heading towards new stage

Israel is sliding into fascism, says Israeli minister

Israel’s foreign ministry continues to burn bridges with U.S. administration, Europe

Assad-Erdogan talks tackle region’s developments

The Israeli government endorsed a bill requiring a national referendum be held before any withdrawal from occupied east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, the justice ministry said.

"The inter-ministerial committee on legislation ratified a bill proposed by Likud MP Yaariv Levin about withdrawing from territories where Israel has sovereignty," a justice ministry spokesman told AFP referring to territories annexed by Israel after the 1967 Middle East war.

The committee gave the draft decisive approval, with seven votes in favor to three against.

It must still pass three readings in parliament, although Israeli media predicted that with the government's support, its passage into law was assured.

The ministerial decision came one day after the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved an amendment to the citizenship law that would oblige non-Jews seeking Israeli nationality to pledge allegiance to the country as a Jewish state.

Israeli commentators said that taken together, the two moves were an attempt by Netanyahu to strengthen his nationalist credentials, possibly with an eye to securing cabinet support in the event of concessions to the Palestinians such as extending a West Bank settlement freeze.

"In the opinion of Likud ministers, the fact that the two bills will be raised for discussion in the same week attests to the pressure that Netanyahu is facing on the issue of the construction freeze," political correspondent Itamar Eichner wrote in the top-selling Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

The United States and the European Union are also pressing Netanyahu to renew a 10-month settlement freeze that expired last month, just as Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were getting under way.

Eichner cited the unnamed Likud ministers as saying Netanyahu was seeking to avoid confrontation with Washington while holding together his coalition government, which is dominated by right-wing supporters of the settlers.

"On one hand, he is conducting intensive talks with the Americans in an attempt to improve the package of benefits that Israel will receive in exchange for extending the freeze, and on the other hand, he is working to prepare the right wing for difficult decisions," he wrote.

Under the terms of the referendum bill, any move to relinquish annexed territories must first be approved by the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, then put to a national referendum within the following six months.

But if such a move won a majority of more than two thirds in the 120-member Knesset, there would be no need to put it to a referendum, the justice ministry spokesman said.

Given the multitude of parties in the parliament and the government's slim majority there, such an outcome seems unlikely.

East Jerusalem was annexed shortly after the 1967 Six-Day War, while the Golan Heights was formally annexed in 1981.

Israel's right wing cabinet has approved a controversial new loyalty oath for non-Jewish citizens, sparking accusations of racism from the country's Arab minority and criticism from moderate Israeli politicians.

If passed by the Israeli Knesset, non-Jewish applicants for Israeli citizenship will have to swear allegiance to a "Jewish and democratic state." Critics say the oath invites discrimination towards non-Jews.

The new ruling is expected to be passed into law in the next few months and will affect several thousand people a year, mainly Arabs who marry Israeli Arab citizens. Jewish people wishing to become new citizens of Israel will not have to take the oath.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who heads a right wing governing coalition, defended the move.

"The state of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people and is a democratic state in which all of its citizens, Jews and non-Jews, enjoy full equal rights. Whoever wants to join us has to recognize us," he said.

But critics said the new oath was further evidence of the state's discrimination against non-Jews. Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, make up 20 percent of Israel's population. They have long complained of institutional discrimination against them.

Ahmed Tibi, a prominent Arab member of the Israeli Knesset said of the new oath: "Its purpose is to solidify the inferior status of Arabs by law. Netanyahu and his government are limiting the sphere of democracy and deepening the prejudice against its Arab minority."

Critical voices included senior Israeli politicians. Dan Meridor, minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs and a member of Netanyahu's own Likud Party, said the law was unnecessary and could damage relations between the Jewish majority and Arab citizens.

"Lately there has been suggestion after suggestion after suggestion meant to send messages to the Arab public – 'this is not yours, this is not your country' ....Arab citizens are constantly reminded that they do not belong and yet we demand loyalty from them," he told Israel Radio.

A left-leaning Israeli minister warned of a "whiff of fascism" as the country's right wing-led government appeared set to approve a bill requiring a loyalty oath from new citizens.

The cabinet was to vote on the bill to make all new citizens swear an oath of loyalty to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," legislation that has been slammed as inflammatory and racist by the country's Arab minority.

"There is a whiff of fascism on the margins of Israeli society," Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog of the left-leaning Labor party told army radio.

"The overall picture is very disturbing and threatens the democratic character of the state of Israel," he said.

"There have been a tsunami of measures that limit rights... I see it in the halls of the Knesset (parliament), in the commissions and departments responsible for legislation. We will pay a heavy price for this."

The loyalty oath bill has been strongly criticized within Israel's Arab community, which makes up around 20 percent of the population, as targeting Palestinians looking to gain citizenship after marrying Israeli citizens.

Others have said the bill, which is supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would have little real effect and is probably a trade-off for the right wing if it supports an extension to a moratorium on Jewish settlements.

The ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman campaigned in last year's election for a tougher version of the pledge which would apply to Arabs born in Israel and include a promise to serve in the military or perform other national service.

Yisrael Beiteinu is the second largest member of the governing coalition after Netanyahu's Likud party.

Many cabinet members oppose extending the settlements freeze, even though such a move could salvage US-backed direct peace talks with the Palestinians that resumed early last month.

A 10-month moratorium on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank expired on September 26 and Israel has so far refused to renew it, prompting Palestinian threats to abandon the peace talks.

Meanwhile, HE Dr. Yahya Bin Mahfoudh Al Mantheri, Chairman of the State Council returned from the city of Sirte in Libya after leading the Sultanate’s delegation in the deliberations of the Arab Extraordinary Summit and the Afro-Arab Summit in Libya.

Mantheri was accompanied by an official delegation comprising HE Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, HE Dr Khamis Bin Mubarak Al Alawi, Minister of Transport and Communications, Her Excellency Dr. Rawiyah Bint Saud Al Busaidiyah, Minister of Higher Education, HE Ahmed Bin Yousuf Al Harthy, Undersecretary for Diplomatic Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, HE Sheikh Khalifa Bin Ali Al Harthy, the Sultanate’s Ambassador to Egypt and its Permanent Representative to the Arab League, and HE Dr. Qasim Bin Mohammed Al Salhi, the Sultanate’s Ambassador to Libya.

Mantheri and his delegation were received by HE Amer Bin Mohammed Al Hajri, Deputy Chairman of the State Council and HE Khalid Bin Salim Al Sa’eedi, Secretary-General at the State Council.

In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad slammed an Israeli citizenship law that he said was proof the Jewish state does not want to make peace with the Palestinians.

Israel's mainly right wing government voted overwhelmingly in favor of the controversial legislation requiring non-Jewish new citizens to swear allegiance to the country as a Jewish state.

"This is a fascist and racist act which should not surprise us and is part of a long-standing plan that Israelis are gradually applying," Assad said at a joint news conference with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"It is now proven that Israel, which stands as the only democratic country in the middle of the Arab and Muslim world, is a racist country," he added.

"Such decisions do not provide any solid evidence on the part of Israel for the peace process. The Arab side wants peace but the Israeli side is the opposite."

Erdogan also denounced the Israeli law, saying: "Nobody can impose citizenship on anyone, especially in this way."

The Israeli law has been widely condemned as racist by Israel’s Arab minority but appeared designed to placate hard-line ministers ahead of a decision to extend settlement curbs seen as key to US-backed peace efforts.

On the other hand, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is under fire for telling his Spanish and French counterparts to solve their own problems before telling Israel what to do.

Lieberman reportedly made his remarks during a dinner meeting with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

“I don’t expect you to solve the problems of the world, but I certainly expect that before you come here to teach us how to solve conflicts, you will deal with the problems in Europe and solve those conflicts,” Lieberman reportedly said.

“Solve your own problems in Europe before you come to us with complaints. Maybe then I will be open to accepting your suggestions.”

Lieberman also reportedly said that the international community is trying to make up for its own failures in such areas of the world as Afghanistan, North Korea and Iraq though its Middle East involvement.

“In 1938 Europe placated Hitler, sacrificing Czechoslovakia instead of supporting it, and gained nothing from it,” Lieberman reportedly said. “We will not be the Czechoslovakia of 2010; we will stand up for Israel’s vital interests.”

The ministers told Lieberman in a phone call that his statements “violated every rule of diplomatic etiquette,” Haaretz reported.

Moratinos and Kouchner also met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

France and Spain each recently upgraded the status of the Palestinian delegations in their capitals to mission status.