Introducing Israel's New President

Hello Everyone!

Today Israel's Members of the Knesset elected a new President of the State; veteran Likud lawmaker, and former Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin.

Israel's current President, Shimon Peres will end his seven-year term in July.

The Israeli Presidency is mostly a ceremonial position, but has definitive influence in Israeli elections and the forming of new governments.

Unlike Mr. Peres, Mr. Rivlin opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, putting him at odds with Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who does.

However, the Israeli media is reporting that as Israel's 10th president, Mr Rivlin, will more than likely focus the presidency from international affairs to more domestic matters.

Mr. Rivlin does see eye to eye more or less with Mr. Netanyahu on support of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

President Shimon Peres said to Mr. Rivlin in congratulating him:

"...it is an incredible privilege to serve to our people. As President your role is to serve, not to rule and in my eyes there is no greater honor than to faithfully serve your nation and your people. You have all the qualities to do just that. I wish you luck and I am confident that you will succeed in your future, which is also the future of the State of Israel."

Mr. Peres is a hard act to follow, this is for sure, but so far Mr. Rivlin has received favorable reaction from most parts of the Israeli spectrum.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Update on Palestinian Unity

Hello Everyone,

Lets check in on where things are at in terms of the Palestinian Unity Deal that has brought together the two rival parties of the Palestinian people – Fatah and Hamas.

Yesterday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas make the concrete step of asking the current Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to form the transitional government.

It has been largely circulated that both sides have overcome the issues separating them since the announcement of reconciliation last month.

Yet, we have not had any presentation of a formal Unity Deal.

Fatah controls the West Bank while Hamas is the dominate power in the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Abbas is in no hurry to do this deal, as Israel and the Western powers spurn him for connecting with what many consider to be a terrorist organization.

It was back in 2007 that Hamas violently took over the Gaza Strip and split with Fatah.

This move by Mr. Abbas could be understood as the first concrete step in the composition of a unity government because neither has published any list of ministers.

There are reports circulating that suggest neither Fatah or Hamas can come to an agreement on the choice of the Palestinian Authority's future Foreign Minister.

Dr. Rami Hamdallah is a British-educated, politically independent academic. He became Palestinian prime minister almost one year ago, replacing Salam Fayyad, whom Hamas said they would not enter into any government with him as a Minister.

Known as an academic, he was in charge of the An-Najah National University in Nablus in the West Bank for 15 years.

There are a few why the unity deal is important to the governance of the Palestinians. It was a response by Mr. Abbas to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's avoidance of US brokered negotiations to return to peace talks, but it is also because the Palestinians are due to hold elections next year.

Mr. Netanyahu has said Mr Abbas must choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. He has also said that Mr. Abbas will be held accountable for the actions of Hamas.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Olmerts Day of Judgement

Hello All,

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was forced to resign as Prime Minister in 2009 when confronted by multiple corruption allegations, was in court today to receive his sentence.

The Tel Aviv District Court sentenced Mr. Olmert, 68, to 6 years in prison, and he will be the first Israeli PM to go to jail.

The conviction on two counts of bribery this past March was over a real estate deal that took place while he served as mayor of Jerusalem.

In addition to the jail time which is to begin September 1st, the judge fined Mr. Olmert 1 million shekels (roughly $300,000) while also ordering authorities to seize 500,000 shekels (roughly $150,000) in funds from him.

Mr. Olmert made clear before the sentence was announced that he will be appealing to the Supreme Court.

His lawyer had asked that the court to give him community service as opposed to jail time.

The attempt to over turn the conviction will be difficult.

The judge in Mr. Olmert's case squarely cited facts in his ruling along with his impressions of testimony.

Additionally, the Supreme Court rarely over turn lower court rulings.

When the former Prime Minister was at his pre-sentencing hearing he stood defiant, proclaiming his innocence of the charges against him.

His lawyer reportedly asked Mr. Olmert to make a statement of regret for his actions in order to receive a lesser sentence than what the prosecution sought (a minimum of 6 years in jail).

Today in the court to receive the judge's sentence Mr. Olmert stood with his head bowed looking to the ground on his day of judgement.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Pending Collapse

Hello Everyone,

What a week for all involved in the negotiations to push forward the peace process for Israel and the Palestinians.

We spoke about it on the Harvest Show - a clandestine meeting between the sides – now details have emerged and we see a bit more in what has happened.

The meeting was nine-hours long between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat held at the request of US envoy Martin Indyk.

Reacting to Israel's settlement expansion announced earlier in the week, and Israel's reluctance to fulfill the agreed to prisoner release, the Palestinians have responded with new conditions to pursue the negotiations past the April deadline until the end of the year.

The new conditions Israel would need to fulfill are:

- Israeli recognition of the pre-1967 lines as the future borders of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital - The release of 1,200 more Palestinian prisoners, the officials said. - The release of three senior Palestinians; Marwan Barghouti, Ahmed Sa'adat and Fuad Shobaki. - A complete cessation of settlement construction - The imposition of PA sovereignty over Area C in the West Bank - No further Israeli military operations in PA-controlled territories - Issuance of Reunion permits for approximately 15,000 Palestinians. - The reopening the Gaza border crossings - The lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip - Agreement to the return of a group of Palestinians who, after having fire fights with Israeli soldiers back in 2002, took over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and were subsequently deported to the Gaza Strip and Europe after a deal was struck to leave the Church.

Israel for it's part, has now canceled the fourth phase of the prisoner release and asked the Palestinians to retract their applications to 15 UN international bodies.

According to U.S. officials, President Barak Obama believes John Kerry's monumental efforts to get the sides to agree on how to talk to each other in this peace process have reached their limit. The US Secretary of State has said that both sides have taken unhelpful steps in the process, and that Washington will be evaluating its role in the Middle East peace process.

Perhaps the most tell tale sign of pending collapse, is the statement that there is a limit to the time the United States can spend on these negotiations and that they are not open-ended.

On a different matter, as I mentioned on the Harvest Show, for the next two weeks I will be focusing our time together with some 'Moments from the Holy Land' as we prepare our hearts during this Lenten period for the celebration of Easter. The blogging will pick up again after then...

So join me on Harvest each day for a little insight and inspiration from here in Jerusalem! Don't forget you can always go to harvest-tv.com to watch the shows whenever you like!

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Night Negotiations

Hello Friends,

Late yesterday it was announced the Us Secretary of State John Kerry was coming to speak separately with Israeli Prime Minster Bibi Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to either seal or save the framework talks for peace.

Mr. Kerry wants the diplomatic negotiations to be extended, but Israel is unwilling to carry out it's commitments and the Palestinians are unwilling to budge.

The night negotiations have reaped little detail but this is what is being spoken of;

Secretary Kerry has apparently discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu a long standing request to release Jonathon Pollard, the American Israeli who spied for Israel from within America's defense department.

This is the first time in years, that American sources have admitted that discussion is being held on the spy's release in the attempt to get Israel to extend negotiations with the Palestinians.

Mr. Pollard's crime, committed years ago, has been described as second only to that of Mr. Edward Snowden in scale and harm to the US.

His release would come in exchange for significant concessions from the Israelis to the Palestinians – mainly, the release of hundreds of prisoners, the reunification of 5000 Gaza and West Bank families, and a partial construction freeze according to Palestinian sources.

Of the prisoners release, would be Marwan Barghouti, currently in jail for his alleged involvement in the murder of at least one Israeli, who is seen as a potential successor to Mr. Abbas.

But what is clear is that Mr. Kerry's unscheduled visit in Israel seems to be a last effort to prevent the collapse of his hard work over the past several months.

Many in Israel don't want these negotiations to continue. At this hour there is talk of a coalition crisis that is threatening the government of Mr. Netanyahu.

This morning, monks at a Monastery woke up to words graffitied on their walls reading "America is Nazi Germany" and "Peace agreement Price-Tag". Tires of three vehicles and a truck parked at the site were punctured.

Israel, for it's part, has – after the talks between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Netanyahu concluded, issued 708 permits for new homes to be built in the West Bank

The meeting between Secretary Kerry and Palestinian President Abbas was cancelled. Mr. Kerry has departed the country.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

The Apology Won't Go Away

Hello Everyone,

The controversy over Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon's recent remarks regarding US foreign policy and Israel-US relations is still making the news here in Israel.

The Defense Minister has 'apologized', in his mind, but not to the American Administration's satisfaction this second time. His Boss, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu made him 'do it'.

This is Mr. Ya'alon's first 'apology' to the American Administration was made mid January.

But here is what is coming out; Israelis think that Moshe Ya'alon spoke the 'truth', expressing how many Israeli's feel.

That 'truth', is that the Obama Administration is week in it's foreign policy and that Mr. Kerry is seeking to 'shove the peace process down the parties' throats'.

Mr. Ya'alon's comments have been viewed in some circles here as "childish". But he was speaking what was on his mind – and apparently the minds of the majority of Israelis according to one poll.

Ya'alon's damage was in fact due, because he was very blunt in speaking about a Statesman of an ally – much less the President of the United States.

His view differs from that of the President. President Barak Obama is not using America's power in the Ukrainian crisis with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula.

Mr. Obama has identified the limits of power and prefers using diplomacy and economic strength to 'contain' Russia.

Mr. Ya'alon, in his comments in January put his feelings on the table – that the peace process is not relative because Israelis and Palestinians are not on the verge of peace. And polls show that the majority of Israelis do not believe in the negotiations.

In his second comments about two weeks ago, he was playing on the common belief that most Israelis have, that America do not understand the Middle East and that it's actions in the region over the Arab Spring demonstrate this.

But what's funny here is that people aren't talking much about America's longstanding and huge support – especially militarily, during Mr. Obama's two terms, for Israel.

The President of the United States is the leader of his country, and not a member of Israel's political system, who is not necessarily under obligation of office to act in a way favorable to a foreign country's populace.

Having said that, Administration officials are quick to point out that Mr. Obama has done more to protect the population of Israel than any previous President has.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Another Apology

Hello Friends,

Well... it's still headlining the news here in Israel – the apology (or lack there of) from Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

The US State Department is still upset with Mr. Ya'alon after he criticized the Obama administration while making a speech at Tel Aviv University where he said the United States "shows weakness" in various arenas around the world, citing the Ukraine crisis, and that its allies in the Middle East are disappointed.

Mr. Ya'alon went on and shockingly said that because America is "sitting at home," it is opening itself up to terror attacks "and the United States will suffer."

A storm aroused and American officials were quoted as being left "dumbfounded" by one of their number one allies.

The controversy over Mr. Yaalon's remarks have fueled the 'who needs who' debate.

There have been calls in recent years within Government circles in Israel for Israel to reduce it's 'dependence' on America.

The Idea for some is that Israel is the greatest power in the world, and it doesn't need anybody militarily or diplomatically.

Most of the world views Israel as needing America... the opposite view advocates that Israel does not rely on the US - but that the real dependence is that America needs Israel.

This can be one potential explanation for the Defense Minister's remarks, as he may try and be creating a power interest politically here in Israel at the expense of diplomacy.

As I mentioned during Wednesday's Harvest Show, Mr. Ya'alon may be separating himself from Mr. Netanyahu for a potential run at the leadership of the political Likud party and ultimately the Premiership.

But with growing pressure from the US, it seems Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may soon also be apologizing for the statements of his Defense Minister.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Israel's View on the Crimean Crisis

Hello Everyone,

With all the events taking place rapidly in Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia – what impact does this have on Israel.

There has been no official response from Israel, and we probably will not see one.

Israel, although not condoning the action, sees like many do in the international community, the self interest of stability for Russia upon the peninsula for the fact of Russia's Black Sea Fleet based there.

Russia is a superpower, and Israel tries to keep a good relationship with the Kremlin.

Russia and Israel do not see eye to eye on issues like Syria and Iran, but there have been moments of cooperation and there is mutual respect between the two countries.

Trade and commerce is good – with one out of five people in Israel actually of Russian decent.

Some analysts and politicians are observing how all this is playing out in light of Israel's situation with Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel accepts it can not act like others in the past who have taken over areas – from Saddam Hussein's takeover of Kuwait to the Chinese invasion of Tibet, both of which were more deplorable than Russia's occupation of Crimea.

Some voices are also saying that the American and European responses against Russia are too little, too late.

The biggest trouble for Russia may be the exclusion from G8 activities, but that will not last forever.

The European Union probably won't take any meaningful steps because many of it's independent member states are dependant upon resources from Russia such as natural gas.

Some in Israel were worried that the situation in the Ukraine, Russia and Crimea might effect the World Power talks with Iran over it's nuclear program in Vienna – but it appears not.

One thing to note is, that amidst all this turmoil where there have been some deaths, and the situation is tense – it is not on an explosive and volatile level.

For this, one may be thankful, and join in prayers for a continued search for a peaceful conclusion to this crisis.

Russia, nor anyone else, does not need more nationalistic terrorism within it's borders originating from the Ukraine – and the peoples of this region who have suffered through many upheavals and injustices over time deserve lives free to live and prosper.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Bibi'd Tech Tour

Hello Friends,

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has certainly been enjoying his trip to America.

After his meeting with US President Barak Obama and speech to Israel's powerful lobby in Washington DC, Mr. Netanyahu held a series of meetings in Silicon Valley in order to promote investments in the Israeli technology industry.

Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and other corporate leaders, and was briefed on Apple's activities in Israel, which have significantly expanded since their inception approximately two-and-a-half years ago.

The Prime Minister invited Mr. Cook to visit Israel and proposed that Apple begin activity at Israel's national cyber park in Be'er Sheva.

Mr. Netanyahu also met with WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton and discussed cyber protection technologies that have been developed in Israel.

Also Netanyahu signed a strategic partnership agreement with California Governor Jerry Brown, Jr. to promote economic relations between Israel and California.

Flextronics CEO Mike McNamara and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki were among the corporate leaders attending the meeting.

And then it was off to tinsel town where Bibi rubbed shoulders with some of Hollywood's most influential Producers, Directors, and stars as he enjoyed the relaxed environment of Los Angeles.

I hope he has enjoyed his time, because back home are immense diplomatic and domestic challenges waiting for him.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Latest from Washington

Hello Everyone!

I have been staying up late following the developments in Washington from here in Jerusalem as President Barak Obama has met with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

The big question is, will America hesitate in presenting it's framework for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians?

It is obvious that there are major gaps between both sides and a lacking of alternatives if no agreement is reached on a framework document.

Mr. Netanyahu has essentially said that Israel has done it's part and blames the Palestinians for the lack of a deal.

He said the usual things associated with the topic of negotiations saying that the Palestinians are not doing enough, and that they are inciting violence towards Israel, and lastly must recognize Israel as a Jewish State.

Mr. Netanyahu went on to say that "Israelis want peace – not a piece of paper".

Mr. Obama has made it clear that this is the time for tough decisions and is pushing Netanyahu not to miss the opportunity for an agreement.

The President balanced his statement with the office's usual tone of 'we have no better friend than Israel'.

The Palestinians for their part, having heard Mr. Netanyahu's tough talk and accusations at a speech just now delivered to the Jewish Lobby group AIPAC, have said that Netanyahu has effectively ended the negotiations.

But the assessment still must be made: will President Obama present a framework agreement?

His next opportunity will be after his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later this month.

Is it still possible to reach the two-state solution in the Middle East?

Yes it is - but it is doubtful unless there is an Israeli leader who is willing to take the risk – say the Israeli pundits tonight.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

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