News Digest — 8/20/2021

On This Day: Israel, Palestinians Finalize, Sign Oslo Accords

August 20, 2021 marks 28 years since the Oslo I Accord was finalized and signed after multiple rounds of intense secret negotiations, in a bid to advance a lasting peace process for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The agreement was signed by then-Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s Mahmoud Abbas and then-US secretary of state Warren Christopher, and was later followed up with a public signing ceremony in September.

The accord was the result of secret negotiations facilitated by then-US president Bill Clinton, and later followed up in 1995 by the Oslo II Accord.

For their part in the signing agreement, then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and foreign minister Shimon Peres would collectively be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Oslo Accords have been heralded by many as the closest to ever solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it had several ramifications.  Most notably, it saw the transformation of the PLO into the Palestinian Authority, which was now seen as the legitimate governing body of the Palestinians.  The agreement also mandated that Israel recognize the PLO’s new role as the representative of the Palestinian people, as well as mandating the Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.

Notably, the accord did not promise Palestinian statehood.  However, it did mandate Israel’s eventual intention to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  These intentions were unprecedented at the time and caused considerable controversy on both sides of the political spectrum.

But ultimately, the legacy of the Oslo Accords is not one of peace, as despite years of efforts to build off of this historic moment, nothing concrete ever actually materialized.  In fact, many would argue that it only served to make the situation worse.

Most notably, the negotiations eventually culminated in the Camp David Summit in 2000, where Clinton hosted Arafat and then-prime minister Ehud Barak.

This summit was a failure, with Arafat refusing to agree to anything and later resulting in the violent Second Intifada.

As such, the Oslo Accords is remembered by many for being a failure, despite also being arguably the defining legacy of both Rabin and Peres.

As noted by historian Moshe Dann in a 2018 column for The Jerusalem Post, despite Oslo having been meant to “demonstrate Israel’s strengths in its willingness to make concessions for peace,” Rabin’s and Peres’ legacy “is not only a ‘peace process’ that failed…but a policy which enabled and encouraged enemies dedicated to Israel’s destruction.”



IDF Ups Alert Near Gaza As Armed Groups Declare ‘Day Of Rage’

Amid the backdrop of the interception of a rocket fired from Gaza at Sderot earlier this week, armed factions in the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave announced on Thursday (19th) that on Saturday (21st) they would hold a “day of rage in commemoration of the al-Aqsa mosque fire of 1969.”

The assessment among Israeli defense officials is that beyond their “day of rage,” the armed factions will not attempt to escalate hostilities with Israel.  That being said, the IDF raised its alert levels around Gaza and deployed reinforcements to the area. 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, meanwhile, delivered a warning message to Hamas, via Egyptian Intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel, that Israel will not tolerate a security escalation and demands long-term quiet in the sector.

On Friday morning (20th) Israel allowed certain goods and equipment to enter Gaza.  Two days ago, Israel also agreed to allow Qatari aid money into the Strip.

In response to Israel’s action, on Friday (20th), Palestinian sources in Gaza said that the armed groups may be leaning toward relocating their “day of rage” to Gaza City instead of protests on the frontier border with Israel, in order to reduce friction with IDF soldiers.  The groups will make a final decision on the matter later Friday (20th).

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned earlier this week while visiting forces stationed near Gaza, that Israel would not sit idly by as Hamas continues targeting it.

“Our goal is to provide long-term security to the Israeli residents of the south and the Gaza area and we are going to act at the time of our choosing and on our own terms to any attack – we won’t let any other element dictate its terms to us.”

He further noted that “as far as we are concerned there are no fringe groups in Gaza; Hamas is responsible for everything.”

Gantz, who accompanied him for the visit, said: “We discarded the old rules after Operation Guardian of the Walls and we are going to uphold this policy.”



Explosions Rock Syria In Alleged Israeli Airstrikes On Hezbollah Arms Depots

Syrian air defenses were activated against Israeli missile attacks on sites near Damascus and Homs, Syrian state media reported late Thursday (19th), citing a military source.

Loud explosions shook the Syrian capital during the reported strikes, two days after the Israeli military reportedly conducted twin missile strikes on a Syrian army base and an outpost controlled by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

A military source told Syria’s official SANA news agency that some missiles fired by Israel had been intercepted by its air defense.  The source said the missiles had come from the direction of Beirut just after 11 p.m.

There was no report of casualties, and no immediate comment from Israel, which generally refrains from confirming individual strikes in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor linked to the Syrian opposition, claimed the strikes had targeted weapons depots and military sites belonging to Hezbollah.

  Damascus residents reported hearing at least five loud explosions that shook buildings over a 15 minute period.  The missiles appeared to have been fired over Lebanon, jolting residents who heard them streak across the sky before striking targets in Syria.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria over the years and against Syrian military installations in cases where they were being used to attack Israel or Israeli forces.

Israel fears Iranian entrenchment on its northern border, and it has repeatedly struck Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah.



Japanese Foreign Minister Views Children’s Memorial, Honorary Tree At Yad Vashem

Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Wednesday (18th).

Motegi toured the current exhibit, “Flashes of Memory: Photography During the Holocaust.”  He also participated in a memorial ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance and observed the tree planted at the “Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations” in honor of Chiune Sugihara, who died in 1986 at the age of 86.

Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat, the first to have served in Lithuania, during World War II.  On his own initiative, he issued handwritten transit visas in 1940 to more than 6,000 Lithuanian Jews, enabling them to escape Nazi-occupied Europe.  He continued to do so for more than a month until the Japanese consulate was closed.  More than 40,000 descendants of those Jews are believed to be alive today because of his courageous actions.

Montegi also viewed the Children’s Memorial, which is a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust.  The visit concluded with his signing the visitor’s book at the Holocaust memorial and museum.

“I wish to express my deepest condolences to the victims and pay tribute to those who, guided by their moral compass, did not remain indifferent in the face of the tragedy of the Holocaust.  I pray from the bottom of my heart that such a tragedy will never be repeated,” he wrote.



Cancel The Durban IV Review Conference – Amb. Alan Baker

One of the most regrettable, disappointing, and damaging phenomena of contemporary international practice has been the utter failure of the international community and the UN to deal genuinely with the evils of racism.  A serious attemp[t by the international community to deal with racism – the 2001 Durban Conference in post-apartheid South Africa – was usurped, politicized, and manipulated into a bitter, racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel hate-fest.  The forum was undermined because of an irrepressible and irresistible urge by Arab and Muslim states, Iran, the PLO, and NGOs to abuse the conference with a clear anti-Israel agenda.  Both Israel and the US walked out of the conference.

The UN General Assembly convened second and third Durban review conferences in 2009 and 2011, which were boycotted by the US, Canada, Italy, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Poland.  On September 22, 2021, the UN intends to convene a fourth Durban review conference.  The US, Canada, the UK, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Australia, the Netherlands, and France have so far announced their intention to boycott this conference.  Durban must be expunged and forgotten.

(The writer is head of the international law program at the Jerusalem Center)



Toronto Synagogue Vandalized With Swastika And Other Graffiti

A synagogue in Toronto, Canada was defaced with a swastika and other graffiti that was discovered Thursday morning (19th). 

The anti-Semitic vandalism was found on the entrance to Beth Sholom Synagogue in midtown Toronto.

The hate-graffiti has been reported to the police, according to B’nai Brith Canada.

The incident followed an earlier anti-Semitic hate crime this week when campaign signs for two Jewish politicians running for re-election in Montreal were defaced with swastikas.

MPs Rachel Bendayan, who represents Outremont, and Anthony Housefather, who represents Mount Royal, both shared photos on Tuesday (17th) of their vandalized election signs.

“Whatever your political views, spreading hateful and violent messages is not the way to go.  We’ve seen the road that the politics of the far right leads us to in other parts of the world.  That is not us.  That is not our Canada,” tweeted Bendayan.

Canadian Jewish groups quickly denounced the vandalism.

“It is absolutely sickening to see this vile anti-Semitism targeting Jewish election candidates in Montreal,” said Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, on Tuesday (17th).

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said that the defacement of the signs was “totally unacceptable.”

“Every candidate, regardless of party affiliation, has a right to run for office without having to face hateful symbols and messages,” it said.

A B’nai Brith report found record levels of anti-Semitism in Canada during 2021, especially during May, in which more anti-Semitic assaults were reported to B’nai Brith than in all of 2020, 2019 and 2018 combined.