Recent developments until November 3:

Palestinians obtain victory as UNESCO accepts PNA membership

Netanyahu government responds by speeding up settlements program

Arab, Islamic and international condemnation of Israel’s settlements decision

U.S., Canada stop financial contributions to UNESCO programs

King of Bahrain discusses with Egypt’s Tantawi recent developments

Information about new biting sanctions against Iran as Israel talks about war

PALESTINE:

Minister of Affairs of Palestinian Prisoners and Freed Issa Qaraqe thanked the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud for his directives to host 477 pilgrims from the Palestinian prisoners recently released to perform Hajj.

In a press statement, the Palestinian minister hailed the move by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

The Palestinian minister explained that this is another noble gesture as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques had earlier ordered the allocation of 2000 seats for the families of the martyrs and needy families.

Meanwhile, Israel on Monday lashed out after UNESCO voted to grant 'Palestine' full membership, in a move which was hailed by Palestinian leader Abbas as a "victory" for his people's rights.

The membership resolution, which was put to UNESCO's 193-member general assembly in Paris, passed by 107 votes in favor, with 14 against and 52 abstentions, in what constitutes a major symbolic triumph for the Palestinians.

But Israel's foreign ministry said it was a pointless move which "further removes the possibility for a peace agreement.

"This decision will not turn the Palestinian entity into a de-facto state, and will place unnecessary difficulties on the road to renewing talks," a ministry statement said, describing the move as "tantamount to a rejection of the international community's efforts to advance the peace process."

Both Israel and Washington were adamantly opposed to UNESCO's granting membership to the Palestinians in a move which comes just a month after they formally applied for full state membership at the United Nations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinian bid to win membership at the United Nations as well as in other UN bodies was an attempt to secure a state without a peace deal, in what he described as a "crude violation" of the commitment to resolve the conflict through negotiations.

"Unfortunately, while we support the foundation of a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement, the Palestinians are striving for a state without a deal," he said at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset (parliament).

"Instead of sitting around the negotiating table, they chose to make a covenant with Hamas and take unilateral steps at the UN…," he said.

"We won't sit around idly in the wake of these moves that harm Israel and are a crude violation of the most elementary commitment the sides took upon themselves in the peace process -- to solve the conflict between us through negotiations only."

But Abbas was jubilant, hailing UNESCO's acceptance of Palestine as a full member.

"Accepting Palestine into UNESCO is a victory for (our) rights, for justice and for freedom," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina quoted him as saying in a phone call from Amman.

Joining UNESCO was a significant step toward statehood, Abu Rudeina said.

"We believe that the whole world stood with the Palestinian people today, and that it was a vote in favor of establishing the State of Palestine as soon as possible," he said.

Even Gaza's Hamas rulers welcomed the decision by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, with spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri describing it as "a positive step."

"Hamas welcomes UNESCO's decision and considers it a positive step that confirms the genuine right of the Palestinian people to their land, holy places and heritage," he said.

Abu Zuhri said the success of the vote also reflected "the significant decline of America's role in the region and increasing international sympathy with Palestinian rights."

It was not immediately clear how Israel would respond to the move, although the foreign ministry said it would "consider its ongoing cooperation" with UNESCO.

And shortly before the vote, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had warned that if the move succeeded, Israel would consider "cutting all ties with the Palestinian Authority."

The vote is likely to mean UNESCO will lose nearly a quarter of its annual funding -- around $70 million -- by dint of US legislation passed in the 1990s which bars Washington from funding any UN body which accepts Palestine as a full member.

Winning membership in UNESCO will allow the Palestinians to apply to classify its natural and cultural sites as World Heritage Sites.

The vote came five weeks after Abbas formally applied for full state membership at the United Nations in a move to be debated by the Security Council on November 11.

Washington has vowed to veto the membership bid when it comes up for a vote, in a move could spark a major anti-US backlash in the Arab and Muslim world.

Netanyahu on Tuesday ordered accelerated construction of 2,000 homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and nearby West Bank settlements, his office said, a day after the Palestinians gained membership in a major U.N. agency.

Netanyahu’s move, along with a hold on the transfer of taxes collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority, were described by Israeli officials as initial responses to Palestinian moves to gain recognition of statehood at the United Nations.

The decision drew a sharp response from the United States on Wednesday, with White House spokesman Jay Carney saying the Obama administration was “deeply disappointed” by it.

UNESCO voted Monday to admit Palestine, after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full U.N. membership in September.

The United States announced that it would cut its funding to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in response to the vote Monday, saying it undermined the goal of a negotiated peace agreement that would bring about a Palestinian state. Israel said it would review further cooperation with the agency.

The announcement of accelerated construction on contested land and suspension of fund transfers came after a meeting of Netanyahu’s inner cabinet to consider responses to the UNESCO vote.

An Israeli official said Netanyahu had ordered that bids be expedited for construction of 1,650 homes in Jewish neighborhoods built on West Bank land annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war, including in Har Homa, a development near Bethlehem.

The rest of the homes would be built in the West Bank settlement towns of Ma’aleh Adumim and Efrat near Jerusalem, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office said that the new construction would be in areas that “will under any future agreement remain part of Israel.” Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and they say that Israeli building activity there is destroying prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said that Netanyahu’s decision to speed up construction on land Palestinians want for a state “means that he’s speeding up the destruction of the peace process.”

Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian government in the West Bank, called the Israeli step “another stick in the wheels of international efforts to resume the peace process,” adding that “it will further poison the atmosphere.”

“The Palestinians are seeking recognition,” Khatib said, “and it is completely unacceptable for Israel to respond to a peaceful and legal move with a completely illegal response, which is the expansion of settlements.”

The Israeli official said the transfer of taxes and import duties collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority would be put on hold, pending a decision on whether to halt the transfers.

The funds make up more than half of the domestic revenue of the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which has been squeezed in recent months by a reduction in contributions from donor nations, particularly Arab states. An infusion of Arab funds has helped pay salaries of government workers in the past two months.

Carney, the White House spokesman, said Wednesday that unilateral actions undermine efforts to resume talks.

“Any action that either side takes that makes it harder, rather than easier, for the two parties to come together in direct negotiations is something that we oppose, and that would be the case here,” he said.

The United States is opposed to the Palestinians’ bid for membership in U.N. bodies but also opposes Israel’s ongoing settlement building.

Palestinian officials are considering seeking admission to other U.N. agencies after their success at UNESCO, moves that Israel and the United States have described as unilateral steps that undermine the resumption of direct negotiations.

Attempts by the Quartet of Middle East mediators to revive the talks have faltered, with the Palestinians asserting that they will not resume negotiations unless Israel halts settlement construction and accepts the 1967 lines as the basis for a future peace agreement. Israel has called for talks without preconditions.

Also Tuesday, the main phone network in the West Bank and Gaza Strip came under “multiple attacks” by computer hackers that slowed or disrupted Internet services in the Palestinian territories, Khatib said. He added that the attacks had originated in “many countries” and that he could not say whether they were linked to the UNESCO vote.

Mashhour Abu Daqqa, the Palestinian telecommunications minister, told the Reuters news service that “all Palestinian IP addresses have been exposed to a focused, organized attack from abroad.”

Canada is joining the U.S. in cutting off funding for the UN cultural agency UNESCO because it approved a Palestinian bid for full membership, AP reports.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the decision is not in the best interests of peace in the Middle East, so Canada is freezing all future voluntary contributions to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Canada contributes about $10 million a year to the agency.

The United States has also announced it will pull its $60 million in funding from UNESCO, which depends heavily on American funding.

The UNESCO vote represented a fallback plan for the Palestinian leadership after its bid for UN recognition as a state and full membership in the global body foundered in September.

EGYPT:

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the Chief of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Monday 31/10/2011 had talks with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa the Monarch of Bahrain dealing with current developments in the region, and bilateral relations in the various domains.

During the talks, the Bahrain's monarch stressed the strength of relations with Egypt, describing them as deeply rooted and historic. He stressed the significance of Egypt's role in bolstering Arab solidarity, supporting Gulf Cooperation Council, and maintaining security and stability of the region in the face of the joint challenges confronting the Arab region.

He said Egypt has been playing a pioneering and historic role adding its revolution is a source of inspiration to the peoples of the region. He said we are looking forward to developing bilateral cooperation to the benefit of both countries.

King Hamad said he exchanged views with Marshal Tantawi on cooperation bilateral, Arab issues of mutual concern, the progress of the peace march and the need for both countries to continue consultations and coordination.

"We have stressed the importance of maintaining security and stability in the region and our keenness to establish good neighborly relations based on mutual respect and non interference in the domestic affairs of other countries", King Hamad said.

"We were pleased to meet Tantawi within the framework of contacts and meetings and exchange of views on the historic relations between the two countries, King Hamad said.

Talks were a good opportunity to express to Marshal Tantawi our satisfaction with the course of bilateral relations and stressed the need for exchanging views on issues of mutual interest, King Hamad said. He said we expressed our thanks to Egypt's people support of Bahrain.

He said we confirmed our keenness to deepen relations in the commercial, economic, cultural, information and military fields through enhancing the activities of the joint Egyptian-Bahrain committee.

Meanwhile, Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr met on November 2 with Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal who was on a visit to Egypt.

The talks between the two ministers touched on the developments in Egypt, topped by the preparations for the legislative elections, said Amr Roshdy, spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry.

Means of bolstering cooperation between the two countries in various fields also featured in the talks, Roshdy added.

Asked on resuming negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, Mohamed Amr said that the Palestinian side stressed that there is no possibility to resume negotiations under the settlement policy adopted by Israel.

Resuming negotiations should be on clear basis of the most important recognition of Palestinian rights and the recognition of the Palestine State, Amr asserted.

YEMEN:

At least 18 people have been killed and more than 40 others wounded in renewed clashes in Yemen's capital and its second city, medics and activists said on Wednesday, after a brief period of calm.

Armed clashes broke out early Wednesday in the flashpoint city of Taiz between government forces and tribesmen who support a mass protest movement calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh's resignation, said activists.

Eight civilians, including a 13-year-old boy, and two gunmen were killed and 43 people wounded, mostly civilians, in the ensuing violence, according to the latest toll provided by medical officials.

The ministry of interior said five Yemeni soldiers were also killed in the clashes, accusing the opposition of targeting its troops.

But residents and gunmen said pro-Saleh troops were targeting Taiz neighborhoods with heavy weapons, including mortar and tank shells, damaging some high-rise buildings.

Witnesses said fires and smoke were seen rising from the city, where clashes continued into the afternoon with heavy shelling rocking central and northern Taiz.

In Sana’a, intermittent clashes erupted late Tuesday in Hasaba district between government troops and gunmen loyal to influential tribal chief Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, killing two tribesmen and a policeman, said medical officials and the interior ministry.

At least seven others were wounded in the restive district, the scene of fierce clashes and shelling in past weeks, said the medics.

The violence comes after a brief lull in bloodshed as government troops battle a nine-month uprising by pro-democracy activists, dissident soldiers, and tribal gunmen against Saleh's 33-year-rule.

International and regional mediators have failed to secure a Gulf-sponsored deal between Saleh and his opponents that would ensure a peaceful transition of power to the vice president until early elections for a new president.

The deadlock has left Yemen's economy and government in turmoil, and triggered a wave of unrest costing hundreds of lives and injuring thousands more since the start of the anti-Saleh protest movement in January.

LIBYA:

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen traveled to Libya Monday to mark the end of the alliance's Operation Unified Protector in the country.

The air operation ends at midnight Monday, seven months after it began, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said in a release.

Rasmussen met National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abduljalil and other members of the new Libyan leadership, as well as representatives of Libya's civilian population.

"Libya is finally free -- from Benghazi to Brega, from Misrata to the Nafusa mountains and Tripoli," Rasmussen said during a news conference. "Your courage, determination and sacrifice have transformed this country and helped change the region."

NATO provided air support for forces that ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as part of a U.N. resolution calling on NATO to protect Libyan civilians from elements loyal to Gaddafi.

"At midnight tonight, a successful chapter in NATO's history is coming to an end," Rasmussen said. "But you have already started writing a new chapter in the history of Libya. A new Libya, based on freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and reconciliation."

The secretary-general said NATO could assist Libyan officials with defense and security matters, if asked. He also expressed the hope that a democratic Libya would join NATO "one day soon," if that is what the Libyan people want.

Libya's interim leadership has chosen an electronics engineer from Tripoli as the country's new prime minister.

Abdulrahim al-Keeb was chosen Monday by 51 members of the National Transitional Council and will appoint a new Cabinet in coming days. The new government is to run Libya in the coming months and to pave the way for general elections.

Jalal el-Gallal, an NTC spokesman, says al-Keeb received 26 votes. He says the NTC wanted to form a new interim government after the fall of Gaddafi because its initial members started out as an impromptu group.

TURKEY:

The trilateral summit of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey concluded here on Tuesday on a positive note with the three countries signing agreements and memoranda of understanding for cooperation in different areas and expressing willingness to join hands to build a combined partnership to ensure peace and security in the region.

The conference, hosted by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, was attended by President Asif Ali Zardari and President Hamid Karzai along with the military chiefs and foreign and interior ministers.

Pakistan and Turkey signed an agreement for currency swap allowing businessmen and trading community to do trade in local currencies.

It was signed by governors of State Bank of Pakistan and Central Bank of Turkey.

Interior Ministers of the three countries signed an MoU on training cooperation while army chiefs signed protocol for conduct of mutual exercises and training courses.

The presidents told a news conference that Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to evolve a cooperation mechanism for investigations into assassination of former Afghan president Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The leaders discussed possibility of forming a commission at foreign ministers’ level to identify problems confronting the region, preparing a program for their resolution and ensuring follow-up.

President Zardari said Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey had agreed to re-energize their efforts in support of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

He said: “Eventually the world community has realized that there has to be a regional solution of the issue and the region has to take the responsibility.”

He said: “Distant friends, however, well-intentioned they might be, will not know our culture and traditions”, adding “Turkey is better placed to guide us.”

He said Pakistan attached great importance to the process of Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey trilateral summit.

He praised President Gul’s valuable contribution and constructive role in the promotion of peace and stability in Afghanistan.

He said the three presidents had had very open and productive discussions.

The President said: “Along with Afghanistan, Pakistan has also suffered immensely on account of terrorism. We, therefore, remain firm in our resolve to eliminate this menace.” We have also agreed to strengthen regional economic cooperation through this important trilateral process.”

The President expressed sympathy and solidarity with the government and people of Turkey on the recent earthquake and said that Pakistan offered assistance to Turkey but President Gul said they were fully prepared to handle this crisis.

Replying to a question, the president said since democratic government came into power it had covered miles in improving relations with Afghanistan.

“One of the most important conclusions of this summit is the decision made by Pakistan and Afghanistan to establish a cooperation mechanism to illuminate the assassination of ex-Afghan President Rabbani,” President Gul said.

“This cooperation will help improve mutual trust between the two countries,” said Gul, adding intelligence services of both countries had “open and honest” discussions on this cooperation, without elaborating further on the modalities of the mechanism.

“We were hurt badly by the assassination of Rabbani,” said President Karzai. “I hope this cooperation will produce results.”

President Karzai again ruled out peace talks with the Taliban until he knew how to contact the insurgent group, and until then Afghanistan would talk only to Pakistan.

“We cannot keep talking to suicide bombers, therefore, we have stopped talking about talking to the Taliban until we have an address for the Taliban … until that day we have said we will be talking to our brothers in Pakistan to find a solution to the problem that we have,” he said.

“We have been hurt badly, our desire for peace has been either misunderstood or misused and we have learnt a lesson from the manner in which we pursued the peace process,” Karzai said.

IRAN:

Amid growing tensions in the Middle East, including speculation about a possible Israeli attack on Iran, a key US Congressional committee passed on Wednesday two bills that would impose sweeping new economic and diplomatic sanctions against Tehran.

The legislation, which includes sanctions against Iran's Central Bank and strict curbs on official diplomatic contacts between Washington and Tehran, was approved unanimously by voice vote of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives.

The Committee chairperson and major sponsor of the legislation, Florida Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said she hoped the whole House and the Senate would act quickly on the two bills so that their enactment would "hand the Iranian regime a nice holiday present", presumably a reference to the Christmas holidays.

But lobbyists on Capitol Hill predicted that the Democratic-led Senate would be unlikely to act until after the New Year and that, barring any major new crisis between Tehran and Washington, the legislation's more radical provisions would eventually be watered down.

Still, the fact that such draconian legislation is making headway in Congress is likely to further stoke rising tensions in the region, particularly in the wake of US accusations last month that "elements" of Iran’s government plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador here and simmering press speculation that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is actively considering an attack on Tehran's nuclear facilities.

Indeed, Israel’s test-firing Wednesday of a long-range ballistic missile - the first such test in more than three years - appeared designed to heighten the speculation. The fact that the test was overseen by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who, along with Netanyahu, is reported to favor an attack, did nothing to dispel that notion, despite denials by the government.

According to some observers here, the war talk in Jerusalem may be intended primarily to encourage lawmakers in the US to support the strongest possible sanctions legislation, which Netanyahu has repeatedly called for over the last several years.

"My guess is that this sudden campaign on the part of the Israelis is intended to scare the US and the Europeans into a very strong diplomatic and economic response when the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report providing additional information on Iran's weaponization activities comes out next week," said Barry Blechman, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Stimson Centre.

"The bluster on military strikes tends to coincide with periods in which new sanctions are considered," noted Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, which opposed the legislation approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

"The Israelis push this on the US and the EU (European Union) by arguing that, absent new strong sanctions, Israel will be 'forced' to do strikes, and the US then uses that argument to push sanctions on other states in and outside of the (UN Security Council). We've seen this pattern several times before," said Parsi, author of an award-winning 2007 book, Treacherous Alliance, on the history of secret dealings between the US, Israel and Iran since 1979.

If that indeed was Israel's intent, it seems to have succeeded in the House Committee where Democrats joined Republicans in expressing the need to punish Tehran.