Tag Archives: Benjamin Netanyahu

End of Gaza war doesn’t translate into peace

Palestinians sit outside their house that witnesses said was heavily shelled by Israel during the offensive, in the Shejaia neighbourhood, east of Gaza City August 31, 2014. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Palestinians sit outside their house that witnesses said was heavily shelled by Israel during the offensive, in the Shejaia neighbourhood, east of Gaza City August 31, 2014.

(Reuters) – A week after the guns fell silent in the Gaza war, Israel and the Palestinians seem to have little appetite or incentive for a return to U.S.-sponsored peace and statehood talks that collapsed five months ago.

With conflicts raging in Ukraine, Iraq and Syria – and the future of the Gaza Strip largely uncharted by a broadbrush Egyptian-mediated ceasefire deal – world powers also are not rushing headlong into the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

The parties themselves, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bickering governing coalition and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, are on a collision course over threatened Palestinian unilateral moves toward statehood and exploration of war crimes prosecution against Israel in the absence of direct talks.

Israel drew Palestinian and international criticism on Sunday by announcing a major appropriation of occupied land in the West Bank, the most significant such move in 30 years.

As head of a governing coalition divided over trading territory for peace, Netanyahu is now speaking, in amorphous terms, of an alternative route towards ending decades of conflict – a “new horizon” – or possible regional alliance with moderate Arab countries alarmed, like Israel, by radical Islam.

Closer to home and with the Gaza situation still in flux, there is nothing on the immediate horizon as far as peacemaking with Abbas is concerned, Israeli government sources said.

Under the Egyptian-brokered truce agreement, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to address complex issues such as Hamas’s demands for a Gaza seaport and the release of Palestinian prisoners via indirect talks starting within a month.

With the start of those negotiations still up in the air, Netanyahu wants to see whether Abbas takes over responsibility from Hamas for administering Gaza’s borders and that measures are taken to prevent the group from smuggling in weaponry.

Netanyahu, who appears to be weathering an approval rating plunge after the Gaza war ended without a clear victor, took a swipe at Abbas last week, summing up a conflict which the Palestinian leader persistently tried to bring to an end.

“Abu Mazen has to choose which side he is on,” Netanyahu told a news conference, using Abbas’s nickname.

The comment harked back to Israel’s decision in April to cut off peace talks with Abbas after he clinched a unity deal with Hamas, a bitter rival that had seized the Gaza Strip from his Fatah forces in 2007.

Those negotiations, on creating a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, were already going nowhere, with Palestinians pointing to expanding Israeli settlement on land they claim as their own and balking at Israel’s demand to recognize it as the Jewish homeland.

REGIONAL PEACE

In an editorial laden with scepticism, Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper questioned whether “as in the past” Netanyahu’s remarks on casting a regional peace net, “are only empty slogans”.

Some of his cabinet ministers are also pressing Netanyahu to get moving on a wider track.

“We cannot and will not allow a situation whereby this ceasefire is the beginning of the countdown to the next round of fire. If we don’t take the diplomatic initiative, this is exactly what will happen,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in now-dormant talks with the Palestinians, said: “(Netanyahu) has to be put to the test on this.”

Livni, speaking on Israel Radio, said Israel should “create a front with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – those countries threatened by all of those beheaders running around the region”.

But, she said, “they can cooperate with us only if there is a basic minimum of a peace process – dialogue with the moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority”.

In the past, Netanyahu has expressed little interest in embracing a regional peace plan, such as the 2002 Arab initiative that offered normalized ties with Israel if it withdrew fully from territory captured in a 1967 war.

But last year, he signaled in a speech to parliament a readiness to consider the proposal, raised at an Arab League summit 12 years ago, as long as it did not contain “edicts”.

Any land-for-peace moves would elicit even more dissent from right-wingers in his government who have been vocal over Netanyahu’s reluctance to heed their calls during the Gaza war for a full-scale invasion to crush Hamas.

For now, he appears to be in little danger of seeing his political partnerships unravel.

About a month into the war, 77 percent of Israelis surveyed in a Haaretz-Dialog poll described Netanyahu’s performance during the conflict as either good or excellent. That figure dropped to around 50 percent after the ceasefire was announced.

But the snap poll taken a day after the truce went into effect showed that despite his flagging popularity, he continued to top, by a wide margin, the list of politicians whom Israelis believed were most suited to lead them as prime minister.

The second-place pick was “Don’t know”.

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‘UN resolution on Palestinian state is dangerous – even if US plans to veto it’

As an observant Jew with children in Jewish schools in Paris, he is worried about anti-Semitism in his home country and the popularity of radical Islam. He’s also worried about his government’s relations with the other country in which he has citizenship, Israel – especially France’s plan to ask the UN Security Council to call for a Palestinian state on the 1949 armistice lines.

Habib voiced his concerns to French President François Hollande while the two were returning from a visit to Italy on Sunday.

“I tried to tell the president on our flight that, in my opinion, it is counterproductive to go to the UN and try to force Israel’s hand. The great powers should push parties to negotiate, that is the only way to reach a good agreement. I think he listened. He said he would update me,” Habib told The Jerusalem Post from his office in Paris the next day.

Habib said he got the impression from Hollande that France thinks the US will veto its resolution anyway, but the MP maintained that the government would be making a mistake to pressure Israel in this way, even if it is certain it will be vetoed.

According to Habib, the UN resolution would give the Palestinians the state they want, with nothing in return – without them recognizing Israel as the Jewish state or giving up the right of return.

Instead of a UN resolution, France should push both sides to negotiate, which is the only way to bring peace, he posited.

At the same time, Habib is not very optimistic about the possible outcome of such talks.

“Israel wants and always wanted peace, but I don’t think it’s possible now,” he contended. “In the meantime, we should try to encourage coexistence to bring real peace, which would mean living side by side. [The Palestinians] don’t want any Jew to live in Gaza or Judea and Samaria; that’s not peace.”

“Whoever wants peace has to understand Jerusalem can never be divided and we need freedom of religion for all, like we have under Israeli sovereignty,” he stressed.

Habib told Hollande that Israel is ready for real peace, and proved so in the past by evacuating towns in Gaza where Israelis were born and raised. However, he delineated that the conflict is clearly not about land – otherwise the Gaza disengagement and generous offers by prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak would have brought peace.

“Everyone wants an agreement and it’s very complicated.

The fact is that for 70 years, no one has succeeded,” he sighed.

“I explained to the president, as a French MP, that Israel is the only state in the region – where thousands of women and children are being killed – that has the same values as we do,” Habib continued. “Hamas is like Islamic State and Boko Haram, and wants Shari’a; negotiating with them is a bad idea. The world has to understand that Israel is in a hostile environment. It’s a small state, and the only one in the world for the Jewish people.”

Israel will not give up on its security and its land for “fantasies”; as a small country, it “doesn’t have the luxury of making mistakes.”

“Israel is like the life insurance of the Jewish people. I am convinced that if the State of Israel existed at the time, the Holocaust would have been impossible,” he added.

Habib asserted that Europeans can be naïve and ignore the lessons of the past, which is why they don’t understand how important it is that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East – where he emphasized that everyone else is either a dictator or an extremist.

That naïveté applies to the Iran nuclear talks as well.

Habib expressed pride in France’s stance in the negotiations, saying his country is relatively alert, but he is concerned about the American position and Russian dominance in the negotiations.

“We all want an agreement with Iran, but it has to be a good one – and this is not a good one. We have to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and all experts and reports say they are on the way to getting one,” he pointed out.

“I don’t think we’re heading towards [a deal] that looks effective. Iran will get all its money back and will be ready for the minute it is allowed to have weapons.”

Habib compared the brewing Iran deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement: “Everyone wanted to prevent a war, but we still got one.”

The French MP postulated that a bad deal with Iran puts the whole world in danger, not just Israel.

“How can a country like the US allow something like this?” he wondered. “I don’t understand it.”

IF HABIB’S positions seem very similar to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s, there’s a reason for that: Both grew up on the philosophy of Likud forebear Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and the two have been close personal friends for over 20 years.

Habib’s father, Emanuel Habib, was a leader of the Tunisian Jewish community in France and a well-known Revisionist Zionist who was friends with prime minister Menachem Begin.

Habib, 54, joined the Jabotinsky- founded Betar youth movement as a teen; he made aliya in the late-1970s, when he finished high school in France, and studied industrial engineering at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology.

He eventually became an executive at Citizen Watches and the Groupe Vendome luxury jewelry brand, all the while engaging in activism in the French Jewish community through the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF).

It was through that activism that Habib met Netanyahu in the early 1990s, and became friends with him and his wife, Sara.

In 2013 Habib was elected a member of the French National Assembly, as part of the centrist UDI party, representing French expats in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, San Marino, Turkey, the Holy See and Israel – which has more French citizens than all the other areas combined. The MP said he is proud to represent constituents from places that are central to all three monotheistic religions.

When asked if he coordinates his political actions with Netanyahu, Habib’s response made it clear he was sensitive to accusations of dual loyalty.

“I ask the prime minister’s opinion and I give him mine, but he’s the prime minister of Israel and I’m an MP in France,” he began, but then continued to detail the dynamics between them.

“We talk, and of course we share values; France and Israel have the same goal [of peace].

I love France very much. I was born there, and it is my first language, but there is no problem loving both countries.

France and Israel have friendly relations.”

“I am a member of the French Parliament and Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have been among my closest friends for 23 years – well before he became prime minister,” he revealed.

“Personally, I have learned a lot from him and gained a lot of useful experience at his side.

“This is why I am very grateful to him. I strongly believe that Netanyahu, who is still young, will [go down] in history as one of Israel’s greatest prime ministers, and will deeply mark Israel history.

I truly know that under his leadership, the people of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide are in safe hands and can sleep peacefully.

“As a Jew and as a French-Israeli binational, it is an honor for me to count him among my inner circle,” continued Habib.

“And I was touched when he said last week to [former French president Nicolas] Sarkozy, when the three of us met: ‘We are like brothers.’” As for political issues, “I talk to the prime minister often and I try to explain France’s concerns to him. The French government has good intentions and wants peace, but they don’t understand it’s not just about territory. My deep belief is this is, fundamentally, a religious war.”

AS AN observant Jew in the French National Assembly at a time when anti-Semitism in Europe is on the rise, Habib has received death threats and must be accompanied by bodyguards in France.

Habib said the attacks on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris earlier this year are tied to demonization of Israel.

“In [Operation Protective Edge], the media just showed dead bodies of Palestinian children all the time. Any normal person is pained to see a child killed, but the media only showed that, not the Grads and [other] rockets shot at Israel. That is why the French media holds part of responsibility in the rise of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic feelings.

“These pictures of children, trapped in a city under fire and sometimes killed, have been used as a justification for recent anti-Semitic attacks in France – for example, in last January’s attack on Hyper Cacher,” he explained.

As for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, calling for a boycott of a country is considered illegal discrimination in France, and in most cases French courts do not allow boycotts to continue – but the problem is a moral one at its core, Habib detailed.

The MP pointed to atrocities throughout the Middle East and Africa and said the UN hardly ever condemns them, but focuses on Israel.

“French people don’t hear that 300,000 people were killed in Syria and that Islamic State is crucifying Christians like they did 2,000 years ago.

They think Israel is the source of the world’s problems, when the Palestinians are responsible for the conflict,” he lamented. “War in the Middle East is not about territory, it is about religion.”

“This is a moral problem for everyone, not just Jews.

“The world needs to open its eyes. I’m not just worried about French Jews, I’m worried about France, my country, which is facing a Islamist threat,” he stated, clarifying that “of course not all Muslims are jihadis, but It is a lot of people… There are thousands of cases in France.”

We can’t know for sure. It is a lot of people… There are thousands of cases in France.

This is a phenomenon,” he warned.

“You can criticize the government, but so much attention is focused on the tiny, sole Jewish state that has been fighting for its existence for 70 years. People used to say Jews poisoned wells or put Christian blood in matzot. Today they blame a tiny state for all that is happening in the world,” Habib said.

Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With U.S.

Ally’s snooping upset White House because information was used to lobby Congress to try to sink a deal

Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.

The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.

The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.

The U.S. and Israel, longtime allies who routinely swap information on security threats, sometimes operate behind the scenes like spy-versus-spy rivals. The White House has largely tolerated Israeli snooping on U.S. policy makers—a posture Israel takes when the tables are turned.

The White House discovered the operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.

Israeli officials denied spying directly on U.S. negotiators and said they received their information through other means, including close surveillance of Iranian leaders receiving the latest U.S. and European offers. European officials, particularly the French, also have been more transparent with Israel about the closed-door discussions than the Americans, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Barack Obama shown during a meeting at the White House in October. The leaders disagree over the negotiations with Iran. Photo: Getty
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Barack Obama shown during a meeting at the White House in October. The leaders disagree over the negotiations with Iran. Photo: Getty PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer early this year saw a rapidly closing window to increase pressure on Mr. Obama before a key deadline at the end of March, Israeli officials said.

Using levers of political influence unique to Israel, Messrs. Netanyahu and Dermer calculated that a lobbying campaign in Congress before an announcement was made would improve the chances of killing or reshaping any deal. They knew the intervention would damage relations with the White House, Israeli officials said, but decided that was an acceptable cost.

The campaign may not have worked as well as hoped, Israeli officials now say, because it ended up alienating many congressional Democrats whose support Israel was counting on to block a deal.

Obama administration officials, departing from their usual description of the unbreakable bond between the U.S. and Israel, have voiced sharp criticism of Messrs. Netanyahu and Dermer to describe how the relationship has changed.

“People feel personally sold out,” a senior administration official said. “That’s where the Israelis really better be careful because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possibly the next one as well.”

This account of the Israeli campaign is based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former U.S. and Israeli diplomats, intelligence officials, policy makers and lawmakers.

Weakened ties

Distrust between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama had been growing for years but worsened when Mr. Obama launched secret talks with Iran in 2012. The president didn’t tell Mr. Netanyahu because of concerns about leaks, helping set the stage for the current standoff, according to current and former U.S. and Israeli officials.

U.S. officials said Israel has long topped the list of countries that aggressively spy on the U.S., along with China, Russia and France. The U.S. expends more counterintelligence resources fending off Israeli spy operations than any other close ally, U.S. officials said.

A senior official in the prime minister’s office said Monday: “These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”

Current and former Israeli officials said their intelligence agencies scaled back their targeting of U.S. officials after the jailing nearly 30 years ago of American Jonathan Pollard for passing secrets to Israel.

While U.S. officials may not be direct targets, current and former officials said, Israeli intelligence agencies sweep up communications between U.S. officials and parties targeted by the Israelis, including Iran.

Americans shouldn’t be surprised, said a person familiar with the Israeli practice, since U.S. intelligence agencies helped the Israelis build a system to listen in on high-level Iranian communications.

As secret talks with Iran progressed into 2013, U.S. intelligence agencies monitored Israel’s communications to see if the country knew of the negotiations. Mr. Obama didn’t tell Mr. Netanyahu until September 2013.

Israeli officials, who said they had already learned about the talks through their own channels, told their U.S. counterparts they were upset about being excluded. “ ‘Did the administration really believe we wouldn’t find out?’ ” Israeli officials said, according to a former U.S. official.

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer met with U.S. lawmakers and shared details on the Iran negotiations to warn about the terms of the deal.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer met with U.S. lawmakers and shared details on the Iran negotiations to warn about the terms of the deal. PHOTO: CNP/ZUMA PRESS

The episode cemented Mr. Netanyahu’s concern that Mr. Obama was bent on clinching a deal with Iran whether or not it served Israel’s best interests, Israeli officials said. Obama administration officials said the president was committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Dermer started lobbying U.S. lawmakers just before the U.S. and other powers signed an interim agreement with Iran in November 2013. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Dermer went to Congress after seeing they had little influence on the White House.

Before the interim deal was made public, Mr. Dermer gave lawmakers Israel’s analysis: The U.S. offer would dramatically undermine economic sanctions on Iran, according to congressional officials who took part.

After learning about the briefings, the White House dispatched senior officials to counter Mr. Dermer. The officials told lawmakers that Israel’s analysis exaggerated the sanctions relief by as much as 10 times, meeting participants said.

When the next round of negotiations with Iran started in Switzerland last year, U.S. counterintelligence agents told members of the U.S. negotiating team that Israel would likely try to penetrate their communications, a senior Obama administration official said.

The U.S. routinely shares information with its European counterparts and others to coordinate negotiating positions. While U.S. intelligence officials believe secured U.S. communications are relatively safe from the Israelis, they say European communications are vulnerable.

Benjamin Netanjahu amerikai törvényhozók gyűrűjében. Izrael keményen, a jelek szerint titkos hírszerzési értesüléseket megosztva lobbizott az iráni-amerikai atomalku ellen. Fotó: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images News

Mr. Netanyahu and his top advisers received confidential updates on the Geneva talks from Undersecretary of State for Political AffairsWendy Sherman and other U.S. officials, who knew at the time that Israeli intelligence was working to fill in any gaps.

The White House eventually curtailed the briefings, U.S. officials said, withholding sensitive information for fear of leaks.

Current and former Israeli officials said their intelligence agencies can get much of the information they seek by targeting Iranians and others in the region who are communicating with countries in the talks.

In November, the Israelis learned the contents of a proposed deal offered by the U.S. but ultimately rejected by Iran, U.S. and Israeli officials said. Israeli officials told their U.S. counterparts the terms offered insufficient protections.

U.S. officials urged the Israelis to give the negotiations a chance. But Mr. Netanyahu’s top advisers concluded the emerging deal was unacceptable. The White House was making too many concessions, Israeli officials said, while the Iranians were holding firm.

Obama administration officials reject that view, saying Israel was making impossible demands that Iran would never accept. “The president has made clear time and again that no deal is better than a bad deal,” a senior administration official said.

In January, Mr. Netanyahu told the White House his government intended to oppose the Iran deal but didn’t explain how, U.S. and Israeli officials said.

On Jan. 21, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) announced Mr. Netanyahu would address a joint meeting of Congress. That same day, Mr. Dermer and other Israeli officials visited Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers and aides, seeking a bipartisan coalition large enough to block or amend any deal.

Most Republicans were already prepared to challenge the White House on the negotiations, so Mr. Dermer focused on Democrats. “This deal is bad,” he said in one briefing, according to participants.

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, Aaron Sagui,said Mr. Dermer didn’t launch a special campaign on Jan 21. Mr. Dermer, the spokesperson said, has “consistently briefed both Republican and Democrats, senators and congressmen, on Israel’s concerns regarding the Iran negotiations for over a year.”

Mr. Dermer and other Israeli officials over the following weeks gave lawmakers and their aides information the White House was trying to keep secret, including how the emerging deal could allow Iran to operate around 6,500 centrifuges, devices used to process nuclear material, said congressional officials who attended the briefings.

The Israeli officials told lawmakers that Iran would also be permitted to deploy advanced IR-4 centrifuges that could process fuel on a larger scale, meeting participants and administration officials said. Israeli officials said such fuel, which under the emerging deal would be intended for energy plants, could be used to one day build nuclear bombs.

The information in the briefings, Israeli officials said, was widely known among the countries participating in the negotiations.

When asked in February during one briefing where Israel got its inside information, the Israeli officials said their sources included the French and British governments, as well as their own intelligence, according to people there.

“Ambassador Dermer never shared confidential intelligence information with members of Congress,” Mr. Sagui said. “His briefings did not include specific details from the negotiations, including the length of the agreement or the number of centrifuges Iran would be able to keep.”

Current and former U.S. officials confirmed that the number and type of centrifuges cited in the briefings were part of the discussions. But they said the briefings were misleading because Israeli officials didn’t disclose concessions asked of Iran. Those included giving up stockpiles of nuclear material, as well as modifying the advanced centrifuges to slow output, these officials said.

The administration didn’t brief lawmakers on the centrifuge numbers and other details at the time because the information was classified and the details were still in flux, current and former U.S. officials said.

Benjamin Netanjahu felszólalása a kongresszus együttes ülésén szintén sokat rontott a viszonyon. Fotó: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images News

Unexpected reaction

The congressional briefings and Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to address a joint meeting of Congress on the emerging deal sparked a backlash among many Democratic lawmakers, congressional aides said.

On Feb. 3, Mr. Dermer huddled with Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, who said he told Mr. Dermer it was a breach of protocol for Mr. Netanyahu to accept an invitation from Mr. Boehner without going through the White House.

Mr. Manchin said he told Mr. Dermer he would attend the prime minister’s speech to Congress, but he was noncommittal about supporting any move by Congress to block a deal.

Mr. Dermer spent the following day doing damage control with Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, congressional aides said.

Two days later, Mr. Dermer met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the SenateIntelligence Committee, at her Washington, D.C., home. He pressed for her support because he knew that she, too, was angry about Mr. Netanyahu’s planned appearance.

Ms. Feinstein said afterward she would oppose legislation allowing Congress to vote down an agreement.

Congressional aides and Israeli officials now say Israel’s coalition in Congress is short the votes needed to pass legislation that could overcome a presidential veto, although that could change. In response, Israeli officials said, Mr. Netanyahu was pursuing other ways to pressure the White House.

This week, Mr. Netanyahu sent a delegation to France, which has been more closely aligned with Israel on the nuclear talks and which could throw obstacles in Mr. Obama’s way before a deal is signed. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is stepping up its outreach to Paris to blunt the Israeli push.

“If you’re wondering whether something serious has shifted here, the answer is yes,” a senior U.S. official said. “These things leave scars.”

WHITE HOUSE: We Shouldn’t Have Missed France’s Unity March

ny daily news paris

The White House said on Monday that it was a mistake not to send President Barack Obama or another high-profile representative to a massive anti-terror rally in France the day before.

“I think it’s fair to say that we should have sent someone of a higher profile to be there,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at his regular media briefing.

Obama was widely criticized for not attending Sunday’s rally, which condemned last Wednesday’s jihadist attack against the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine. Twelve people were killed in the initial attack including police officers and several of the magazine’s staffers.

Many other prominent world leaders attended the march, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Jordanian King Abdullah II, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

world leaders in parisAnadolu Agency/Contributor/Getty ImagesWorld leaders gathered in Paris in a show of unity. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second from left), Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (third from left), French President Francois Hollande (third from right), and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (second from right).

More than 3.7 people marched throughout France, according to the government’s estimate. Organizers described the demonstration as the largest in French history.

Some have suggested that, if Obama could not be there, he should have at least sent his vice president, secretary of state, or attorney general. The front page of Monday’s New York Daily News declared that Obama and other senior officials “let the world down” by skipping the rally. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris at the time for meetings, but he did not attend the march.

Earnest also argued that logistical and security concerns also presented “challenges” for Obama to attend.

“Had the circumstances been a little bit different, I think the president himself would have liked to have had the opportunity to be there,” he said. “The planning for which only began on Friday night, and 36 hours later it had begun. What’s also clear is that the security requirements around a presidential-level visit — or even a vice presidential-level visit — are onerous and significant.”

Paris rallyAP Photo/Peter DejongThousands of people gather at Republique square in Paris, France, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015.

Charlie Hebdo Paris massacre: Francois Hollande asked Benjamin Netanyahu not to attend anti-terror march

Netanyahu Hollande

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and French President Francois Hollande attend a ceremony at the Grand Synagogue to the victims of attacks this week, which claimed 17 lives.(Reuters)

French President Francois Hollande requested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not attend the memorial march against terror in Paris at the weekend, it has emerged.

An Israeli source involved in correspondence between the offices of Netanyahu and Hollande told Israeli daily Haaretz that the French leader’s national security adviser, Jacques Audibert, relayed this message to Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu’s national security adviser.

The reason for Hollande’s request is that he believed Netanyahu’s attendance at the march could be “divisive”, according to Israel’s Channel 2.

Hollande reportedly wanted the march to solely focus on French solidarity and not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or Jewish-Muslim relations. The same message was given to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Israeli source revealed that a French concern was that Netanyahu would seek to capitalise on the situation for his own political gain with the Israeli snap election just two months away.

Netanyahu initially agreed to the request and announced that he would not be attending the march due to security concerns and would fly later for a visit to the Jewish community.

Yet, Netanyahu changed his mind when he discovered that his Economy Minister, Naftali Bennett, and Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, were planning to attend the march and meet with the Jewish community.

Audibert reported told Cohen that Netanyahu’s refusal to accept Hollande’s request would have a negative impact on relations between the two countries.

Hollande’s adviser also said that the invitation would then be extended to Abbas so as not to be seen favouring one party in the conflict.

Approximately 1.5 million people, including 40 world leaders, marched in the streets of Paris following attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher grocery, killing 17 people.

Paris attacks: France holds security meeting

French soldier patrol near the Eiffel Tower in Paris as part of security measures following the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine - 9 January 2015

The French government has been holding a crisis meeting with cabinet ministers on national security after last week’s deadly attacks.

The meeting comes amid questions over how militants known to the authorities were able to launch the raids in Paris.

The assault on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and separate attacks on police officers and a kosher supermarket killed 17 people.

More than 1.5m people marched in the capital on Sunday in a show of unity.

The French government said the rally turnout was the highest on record. Across France, nearly four million people joined marches, according to an interior ministry estimate.

About 40 world leaders joined the start of the Paris march, linking arms in an act of solidarity.

They included UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

BBC News looks at the memorable moments from the unity march in Paris

President Hollande will meet his cabinet, including Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, as well as the heads of police and security services on Monday.

Mr Valls said ahead of the meeting that thousands of extra soldiers were being deployed to boost security. Mr Cazaneuve announced that nearly 5,000 police would be sent to protect France’s 717 Jewish schools, and that troops would be sent as reinforcements over the next two days.

In London, Prime Minister Cameron is also consulting senior intelligence and security officials over Britain’s response to the attacks in France.

Last week, Mr Valls admitted there had been “clear failings” after it emerged that the three gunman involved in the attacks – Said and Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly – had a history of extremism.

The Kouachi brothers were on UK and US terror watch lists and Coulibaly had previously been convicted for plotting to free a known militant from prison. Coulibaly met Cherif Kouachi while in jail.

Coulibaly and the two brothers were shot dead on Friday after police ended two separate sieges.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Paris on Sunday - 11 January 2015President Hollande said that Paris was “the capital of the world” on Sunday as the capital held a huge rally

French President Francois Hollande hugs Charlie Hebdo journalist Patrick Pelloux during the unity march in the streets of Paris - 11 January 2015Mr Hollande led the march, stopping to hug Charlie Hebdo journalist Patrick Pelloux along the way

Coulibaly killed four people at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris on Friday before police stormed the building. He is also believed to have shot dead a policewoman the day before.

Ahead of Sunday’s rally in Paris, a video emerged appearing to show Coulibaly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State militant group.

In the video, he said he was working with the Kouachi brothers: “We have split our team into two… to increase the impact of our actions.”

One of the Kouachi brothers said they were acting on behalf of Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda (AQAP). But experts say it is highly unlikely that Islamic State and al-Qaeda, rivals in the Middle East, would plan an attack together.

The video appears to show Amedy Coulibaly explaining his motivation

The attacks in Paris started last Wednesday, when the Kouachi brothers raided the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people – including eight journalists and two police officers.

High alert

President Hollande warned France to remain vigilant on Friday, saying the country faced further threats.

French police are still hunting for accomplices of the three gunmen, including Hayat Boumeddiene, Coulibaly’s partner.

However, she is believed to have left France before the attacks. The Turkish foreign minister said she had arrived in Turkey on 2 January from Madrid, before continuing to Syria six days later.

Mr Cazeneuve has said France will remain on high alert in the coming weeks.

He hosted a meeting on Sunday morning of fellow interior ministers from across Europe, including the UK’s Theresa May, to discuss the threat posed by militants.

Following the meeting, the ministers issued a statement saying that greater internet and border surveillance was needed to combat terrorist attacks.

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How the attacks unfolded (all times GMT)

Map
  • Wednesday 7 January 10:30 – Two masked gunmen enter Charlie Hebdo offices, killing 11 people, including the magazine’s editor. Shortly after the attack, the gunmen kill a police officer nearby.
  • 11:00 – Police lose track of the men after they abandon their getaway car and hijack another vehicle. They are later identified as brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi.
  • Thursday 8 January 08:45 -A lone gunman shoots dead a policewoman and injures a man in the south of Paris. Gunman later identified as Amedy Coulibaly.
  • 10:30 – The Kouachi brothers rob a service station near Villers-Cotterets, in the Aisne region, but disappear again.
  • Friday 9 January 08:30 – Police exchange gunfire with the Kouachi brothers during a car chase on the National 2 highway northeast of Paris.
  • 10:00 – Police surround the brothers at an industrial building in at Dammartin-en-Goele, 35km (22 miles) from Paris.
  • 12:15 – Coulibaly reappears and takes several people hostage at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris. Heavily-armed police arrive and surround the store.
  • 16:00 – Kouachi brothers come out of the warehouse, firing at police. They are both shot dead.
  • 16:15 – Police storm the kosher supermarket in Paris, killing Coulibaly and rescuing 15 hostages. The bodies of four hostages are recovered.

Israel’s ruling coalition just collapsed. Here’s why that was inevitable.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

The ruling coalition of political parties in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has collapsed: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed two leaders of major centrist parties from their ministerial positions and announced elections this spring in order to determine a new government.

The timing is a big surprise — but that fact that Israel’s government has fallen apart isn’t. Netanyahu’s coalition was riven by a deep, fundamental contradiction between its hard-right and centrist members. The two blocs have irreconcilably different views of Israeli society: no possible government could have kept them both happy forever. The big question now is whose vision wins in the next election.

NETANYAHU IS A RIGHT-WING PRIME MINISTER LEADING THE RIGHT-WING LIKUD PARTY IN A DOMINANTLY RIGHT-WING COALITION

The coalition fell apart when Netanyahu fired his Finance Minister, Yair Lapid, and Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni. Lapid is the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, which holds the single largest number of seats of any party in the Knesset. Livni heads Hatnua, a smaller centrist party.

Without these parties, Netanyahu’s government no longer has majority support in the Knesset. So he needed either to add new parties to his coalition or call a new election. Netanyahu chose the latter.

According to Brent Sasley, a professor at UT-Arlington who focuses on Israeli politics, Netanyahu will technically serve as Finance and Justice Ministers, in addition to Prime Minister, until the next election. He could also appoint others to those roles. But “it probably won’t matter much,” Sasley says, because “not much will get done policy-wise” until after the vote.

Netanyahu’s public reason for firing Livni and Lapid is that he couldn’t take their criticism of his government anymore. He has a point — Livni and Lapid had recently been blasting the government’s new bill formally declaring Israel “the national state of the Jewish people.” Livni and Lapid saw the bill as unacceptably corrosive of Israeli democracy, while the right saw it is as a necessary step for ensuring Israel’s Jewish status.

livni lapid

Tzipi Livni (L) and Yair Lapid (R). (Jim Hollander/AFP/Getty Images)

But in other ways, the public criticism line is a smokescreen — Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners have also been vocally critical of him. Naftali Bennett, leader of the religious nationalist Jewish Home party, and Avigdor Lieberman, head of the conservative Yisrael Beiteinu, very publicly blasted the prime minister’s handling of this summer’s Gaza war.

The reason that Livni and Lapid, rather than Bennett and Lieberman, are being dismissed is simple enough: Netanyahu is a right-wing prime minister leading the right-wing Likud party in a dominantly right-wing coalition. Together, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Jewish Home control almost twice as many seats as Yesh Atid and Hatnua.

This put Lapid and Livni’s parties in a bizarre situation. On the one hand, Netanyahu needed to please them, because his government couldn’t achieve a governing majority without their support. On the other hand, the right-wing parties had them so outnumbered that they had huge trouble getting their way on issues like West Bank settlements, taxes, or minority rights. Lapid and Livni ended up, in practice, being centrist fig leaves for a hardline right-wing government.

Viewed in that light, it wasn’t a question of whether this inherently unstable government would collapse: it was a question of when. It turns out the answer was 18 months after forming.

So what happens now? Elections need to be scheduled, so we’ve got months of campaigning ahead of us. As of right now, the polling almost universally suggests a big win for the right-wing parties: Likud and Jewish Home (Habeyit Hayehudi) are in particularly strong positions to gain seats. Labor and Meretz, the traditional left, do okay in polls, while both Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Livni’s Hatnua would take hits relative to what they have now:

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The polling helps explain why Netanyahu would be willing to risk new elections now. But there are wildcards. For one, Israeli polls can be unreliable, especially this far out from elections. For another, former Likud Knesset member Moshe Kahlon’s new party is gaining a fair amount of support. Kahlon is a centrist focused on economic issues; Israelis often vote for flash-in-the-pan centrist parties in surprisingly high numbers.

So while the smart money is on Israel’s center-right government being replaced by a more consistently right-wing coalition, there’s a real chance that everyone will end up being surprised. The only thing that’s clear now is that the old government is well and truly dead.

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