Spy vs. Spy

Hello Everyone,

When I was a kid I did not read comic books much... but I loved the classic Spy vs. Spy!

Now how does that relate to news in Israel?

It seems every day brings a new crisis for Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu in the wake of his victory in the Israel elections.

Today, Israel's politicians have had to come out and strongly deny a report from The Washington Post that Israel spied on the US-led negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program.

The report indicates Israel did so in order to build it's case against an agreement.

What is worse is that, according to the report, Israel shared confidential information it gathered and shared it with other countries and US lawmakers in trying to derail the possibility of a successful outcome for the talks.

Israel describes the claims as "utterly false".

US House Speaker John Boehner is arriving shortly here in Israel.

It was Speaker Boehner who 'invited' Prime Minister Netanyahu to address both houses of Congress shortly before the Israeli elections and without coordinating things with the White House.

Mr. Boehner's visit is largely viewed over here as a 'victory lap' in his and Mr. Netanyahu's joint desire to see the 'deal' with Iran headed up by President Barak Obama canceled.

Mr. Boehner said he was "shocked" and "baffled" by the report of Israel having spied upon the negotiations and potentially using that information to influence perceptions about the deal.

The White House discovered the Israeli eavesdropping when US intelligence, who was spying on Israel, intercepted messages containing content from various closed door meetings.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Israel Votes

Hello Everyone,

It is a beautiful brisk day here in Jerusalem with lovely clouds overhead.

Many people have been out today enjoying the lovely weather.

Most Israelis have the day off of work in order to get out and vote for who their next government will be.

The numbers have been high so far - which is encouraging.

Many analysts are suggesting that the winner will be determined by how the smaller parties vote.

By 2:00pm there has been 36.5% of the eligible 5.8 million voters recorded.

There are no exit poll statistics to share at the time of this posting, but there is a buzz about that Isaac Herzog, the challenger in this race, may defeat Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

If that were to happen it does not mean that Mr. Herzog will be the next Prime Minister of the 20th Knesset (Israel's Parliament).

Herzog would have to pull together a coalition of small parties to create a 61 plus majority in the 120 seat Knesset in order to secure that.

Mr. Netanyahu on the other hand, being that he has been Prime Minister of Israel three times, has the proven ability to wheel and deal his way with the various political parties to build a coalition government and thus walk his way back into the office of Premiership for his fourth term.

I'll have an update for you tomorrow during the Harvest Show - be sure to tune in for the latest from here in Jerusalem!

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Time Will Tell

Hello Everyone,

Lots of things happening here in the Middle East and we must chose one to focus upon – and lets talk about the upcoming Israeli Elections less than two weeks away.

Prime Minister Bibi Netanuahu's Likud party had been holding it's own over the last few weeks, but now has been overtaken by the Zionist Union party co-chaired by Issac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.

Yair Lapid, who was the election darling last time around has seen his Yesh Atid party also gain ground in the polls.

Prime Minister Netanuahu has been out and about pushing his campaign and trying to secure the vote of the Israeli right.

Mr. Netanyahu has had a love/hate relationship with the settler community over the years.

Currently Netanyahu is in turbulent waters with the enterprise, as documents have emerged allegedly asserting the Prime Minister Netanyahu was willing to do peace with the Palestinians based on the 1967 cease fire lines.

This would leave the majority of settlements outside of the demarcation of Israel proper.

It should be noted that the documents referred to indicate that agreed upon ;and swaps would place major settlements inside Israel's control.

Mr. Netanyahu has gone into damage control mode, visiting the West Bank now for the third time stating that the details in his agreement back in 2009 to a two state solution are now irrelevant.

Netanyahu says that Islamic extremists will be at Israel's doorstep shortly and that control of the West Bank – including military presence is a must for the protection of the State.

The Prime Minister also voiced yesterday that there is an international effort to remove him and the Likud from power.?

But factually Mr. Netanyahu, although in a close race for the elections, is probably not to worried...

Last election, Netanyahu lost the election but won the Premiership, and then was tasked with building his government coalition.

Some analysts are suggesting the same will happen again.

Under the system of governance here in Israel, you can win an election, but fail to bring a government together.

This means the President of the country can ask the runner-up to form a government in a set time frame. If he succeeds, then with the Presidents blessing, he 'wins' the election, and the government he has pulled together will begin.

Time will tell...

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LESEA Broadcasting

One Down and One to Go

Hello Everyone,

Well - it's one down and one to go... Reaction to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's address before the American Israel Public Afairs Committee has drawn mixed reactions here in Israel.

Most commentators it seems are actually saving their thoughts for today's speech before Congress.

There are many voices saying this whole thing is a mistake, but many are saying Prime Minister Netanyahu is benefiting politically in many ways.

The thing some pundits are critical of is that the Prime Minister, who all here in Israel agree is a master at Israeli political spin, has orchestrated for himself a taxpayer paid to Washington DC where he is projected to pick up millions in campaign cash and free media coverage two weeks before elections.

His political adversaries can only sit back here at home and watch.

They have to spend cash to rebut the Prime Minister.

On the relations with the White House, some see that President Barak Obama is changing his tactic a bit.

After harsh warnings on Israel divulging secret details within the framework deal being discussed with Iran, and the lauding of the unprecedented support of Israel by the Obama administration – the onus now falls on Mr. Obama's response to the Prime Minister's speech today.

The media here see Mr. Obama's interview with Reuters news interview as a compile of facts, which the White House released prior to the Prime Minister's speech yesterday.

But oddly, the one who may benefit the most in this wrangling is Iran, who can squeeze more out of the negotiations with America as it knows Israel is providing pressure on her.

After all, President Obama mentioned that there is no good reason not to negotiate with Iran.

But Iran has rejected the idea of suspending it's nuclear activities for 10 years as Mr. Obama wants.

Israel wishes to insure that no aspect of an Iranian nuclear program could possibly be used to create a nuclear bomb.

Israel is not alone in this desire here in the Middle East – but it is certainly the most outspoken.

We will see in a few hours time what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will say to Congress.

Be sure to join me tomorrow on the Harvest Show for reaction from here in Israel and the Middle East.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Resolution Pressure

Hello Everyone!

Today US Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with an Arab League delegation discussing their push at the UN Security Council for a timeline on an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.

A Palestinian draft resolution being circulated by Jordan at the UN calls for the Israelis to leave the occupied territories - the territory of the proposed future Palestinian state - by November 2016.

Much of the world sees a sense of urgency for moving the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians forward.

Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu met with Kerry yesterday, asking him not to allow the resolution to to advance at the UN.

In response to Israeli pressure, France, the UK and Germany have drafted their own version for a UN resolution. It essentially says more of the same from the past, deflecting the issue rather than asserting concrete steps, calling for a return to negotiations with a view to achieving a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians to live side by side in peace.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov altered his schedule and flew into Rome to hold an unscheduled meeting with Kerry on the topic as well saying, "I am convinced that the Middle East settlement issues need to be solved urgently and we must not allow the situation to deteriorate".

Israeli relations with the Palestinians worsened after the conflict with Hamas in Gaza this past summer and amid growing unrest in Jerusalem, due in part to extremist Jewish circles seeking to gain access to Islam's third holiest site, the Haram El-Sharif to pray and worship.

Further settlement expansion, particularly around Jerusalem and in densely populated Arab Muslim neighborhoods, have further exasperated the tension.

Arab League ministers want the US to abstain from vetoing the proposed resolution at the Security Council, as the US usually exercises it's veto power on behalf of it's ally Israel.

There are other Western diplomats who feel the Arab draft, particularly with its deadline for withdrawal, is unbalanced.

But with the West dependent upon Arab countries in the fight against the Islamic State and other instabilities across the Muslim world, it seems the resolution is certainly getting a closer scrutiny this time around and is placing pressure upon America and Israel to alter their course of tactics concerning the Palestinians.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Netanyahu's Response

Hello Everyone,

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the podium at the UN's General Assembly. He's been privileged to speak from there several times now in his political career.

His direct message was that a nuclear Iran is more of a threat to the world than Islamic State (IS).

Mr. Netanyahu also took the opportunity to respond to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's speech given earlier in the Assembly to make his point that world leaders should not be condemning Israel in it's recent conflict against Hamas militants in Gaza, saying Hamas and IS were "branches of the same poisonous tree".

Netanyahu again (third time in four UN speeches) used his now famous props – pointing out Hamas fighters had used children as human shields in areas where it was firing rockets into Israel.

He also compared Hamas to the Nazis, and characterized the UN Human Rights Council as a "terrorist rights council"

The Israeli press said that the Prime Minister was not at his worst, but believes his speech didn't work in many ways, sounding stale – with one commentator labeling it as 'retro'.

The hot topics today have been Mr. Netanyahu using the New York Yankees veteran shortstop Derek Jeter in an analogy of Iran, and for "throwing a dry bone" to Israel's Arab neighbors essentially saying come back to me with a new peace proposal.

The Palestinian response was direct, with PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi calling Mr. Netanyahu's speech was "a blatant manipulation of facts" and a delivering of "hate language, slander and argument of obfuscation".

She went on to say that Netanyahu refuses "to acknowledge the fact of the occupation itself or the actions of the Israeli army of occupation in committing massacres and war crimes".

She made the case that Mr. Netanyahu had turned to the Arab world instead of accepting at two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines to buy "more time to create facts that will destroy the chances of peace for the foreseeable future."

In a press conference US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki disagreed with Mr. Netanyahu's assessment on several points, including the handling of the Iranian Nuclear negotiations, the comparison of Hamas and Islamic State, and Netanyahu's description of the UN Human Rights Council.

Perhaps the Prime Minister was doing what he knows best; speaking confidently, ideally, capturing the headlines... and being as one Israeli media source said:

"Vintage Bibi".

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Prsedident Abbas's speech

Israel didn't like it.

America didn't like it.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out a "war of genocide" in the Gaza Strip.

He was referring to the 50-day conflict over the summer that left approximately 2,100 Palestinians, 72 Israelis and one Thai national dead.

President Abbas has, since 2012 has said that the Palestinians would take the issues of occupation, collective punishments, and (in their view) war crimes to the International Criminal Court, but made no mention of this specifically in his speech – this being seen as a concession itself.

The Israeli delegation was not present in the hall during Mr. Abbas's speech, but Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Mr. Abbas's speech was a "speech of incitement filled with lies". He then accused the Palestinian leader of "diplomatic terrorism".

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said President the speech "included offensive characterizations that were deeply disappointing".

Analysts are saying the speech was particularly strongly worded because the worlds attention, which was focused on the Palestinian plight and gaining steam diplomatically – has lost out in the headlines to the barbarism of Islamic State and their campaign of carving out a Caliphate.

But what I hear in part on the ground is that Mr. Abbas is losing some degree of popularity and respect among his people to the more hard line elements in the PA – ultimately Hamas itself.

Palestinians complain that they have done as Israel has asked them to do, and Israel has not reciprocated.

This then gives credence in some peoples minds to the actions, like what was seen in Gaza, which has brought to Gazans incredible amounts of loss and destruction – but has achieved greater fishing rights at sea and a loosening in the siege on the character and amount of goods allowed into the Strip.

Abbas told the Assembly, "There is no meaning or value in negotiations for which the agreed objective is not ending the Israeli occupation and achieving the independence of the State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital on the entire Palestinian Territory occupied in the 1967 war."

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

The Battle Still Rages

Hello Friends,

Thank you again for your good prayers that peace would take hold here in the Middle East.

While other areas in the region appear to be ratcheting up in turmoils – here the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza seems stable for the moment.

The PR momentum seems firmly in the Palestinians hands with various reports of the Palestinian Authority threatening to go to the International Criminal Court.

Palestinian leadership, as well as Hamas seemingly, wants a date set for Israel to withdraw it's troops from the West Bank to the 1967 cease fire lines.

Adding more intrigue, is a reported meeting that took place in Amman, Jordan just before the truce was announced.

Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmod Abbas supposedly held talks before the Gaza truce was signed.

There has been no comment from Israel, the PA, or Jordan on the reports.

But this all plays well into the hands of Hamas who need to justify the death and destruction that the 50 days of conflict with Israel brought.

In terms of what Mr. Netanyahu has said, he told a press conference last night that Israel had secured a "great military and political" achievement in the Gaza war and that Hamas had been dealt a "heavy blow."

The Israeli public seem not so convinced, as the latest poll reveals that more than half of Israelis said that neither Israel nor Hamas have emerged victorious from the fighting in Gaza.

But the good news for Mr. Netanyahu is that the polling revealed that Israelis feel Netanyahu is still the best choice for the job of Prime Minister.

This gives Mr. Netanyahu a much needed lifeline politically as he fights multiple fronts both from within his party, the Security Cabinet, and his government.

For him – the battle still rages on...

Brian Bush Middle east Corespondent LeSEA Broadcasting

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

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