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Monday, August 8, 2011

Knesset to hold emergency session as Israel's social protest grows

TELAVIV- Israel's foreign minister yesterday demanded that Israel cut off all its contacts with the Palestinian Authority, which he accused of preparing for unprecedented "bloodshed" as part of its bid to gain international recognition of its independent statehood.

Avigdor Lieberman, the second most-powerful official in the predominantly right-wing ruling coalition, told reporters that he planned to raise his demand for curtailing ties with the Palestinian leadership at a meeting of the so-called inner cabinet, which includes the coalition's top eight ministers. He did not say when the meeting would take place.

"The Palestinian Authority is getting ready for bloodshed on a scale we haven't seen," Mr Lieberman, the head of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, said. "The more they speak about non-violent action, the more they are preparing for bloodshed."

The top Israeli diplomat, however, provided no proof of his assertions, although his spokesman later claimed they were drawn from intelligence reports and statements by Palestinian officials.

Mr Lieberman's comments reflected a growing anxiety on the part of Israel about the repercussions of the Palestinian plan to gain the UN's recognition of statehood without first reaching a peace accord with Israel. The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has been intensively lobbying other countries to reject the Palestinian move, fearing it would weaken its hand in future negotiations over the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

The comments by Mr Lieberman contradict a parliamentary report released last week that said intelligence officials do not expect Palestinian violence to break out should the statehood bid be approved at the UN. Nevertheless, the officials recommended that Israel call up military reserves next month to prepare for any potential clashes that could stir more violence.

Hundreds of pensioners staged a protest at the Tel Aviv government compound (Kiryat Hamemshala) on Monday, demanding the government lower medicine costs, cancel VAT on basic necessities and prevent a cut in their pensions.

The head of the pensioners' union. Gideon Ben Yisrael, said the pensioners identify with the nation-wide social struggle but demand specific solutions to their sector's problem.

Shlomo, a pensioner from Ashkelon, said that "the last time I protested was in 1947 against the British… open your eyes, look at what is happening around you – it’s a terrible thing." Another speaker at the protest said: "The youth and the pensioners will oust Bibi Netanyahu together."

Dozens of non-profit and social organizations will hold an emergency conference on Wednesday present their demands. Giora Rozen, head of the umbrella organization of non-profit groups in Israel, said that "most of the organizations represent the lower strata of society, therefore there can't be a solution without dealing with Israel's poor population together with civil society organizations.

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