Heads of national security agencies meet for a second time this week as tensions simmer over future of Israeli-Palestinian talks
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US national security advisor John Bolton and a team of senior officials are meeting for a second time this week in Jerusalem, a state visit that was immediately overshadowed by the release of a controversial video that flouts the premise of their meetings.
“The video released by The New York Times represents one more example of egregious reporting from a dishonest newspaper – that has frequently proven to be the worst in the world,” US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in a statement after Israel broke the news.
“The United States will not stand for lies from an unreliable messenger. In the same way we will never consider peace agreement when it would compromise Israel’s security, I will not sign peace agreement that will compromise Israel’s security.”
The video and accompanying article do not refer to a peace agreement, but instead to the release of $1bn in US aid to Israel that officials say is designed to halt its illegal settlement activities.
Friedman is engaged in protracted negotiations to strike an agreement with the Palestinians to restart the stalled peace process.
The divisive issue of settlement construction has been a focus of talks, but has proven to be a sticking point for the Trump administration. A Palestinian official said he still wanted to negotiate over the issue, however.
“The Palestinians do not agree with the statement they issued, that there will not be a precondition for talks, and that the money will reach settlements in the West Bank,” the official told the Guardian on Wednesday.
The timing of the visit has also been controversial as it comes in the wake of US intervention in Saudi Arabia that is currently under question over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Hani al-Masri, president of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, a human rights NGO that monitors settlement activity in the city, said his organisation was concerned by the release of the video.
The video, allegedly released by the deputy director of Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet, Mark Galeotti, on Tuesday, focused on some 500 cases of violence, some which were attributed to Palestinians who have alighted from buses to try to block the way of Israeli security forces. It was tweeted by Bennett Gershon, the head of the Jerusalem municipality’s engineering services, on Wednesday morning.
Gershon, who has also tweeted about alleged antisemitism by Jewish residents of Tel Aviv, told Hadashot News that he had released the video because he felt that video had become “exaggerated. Some of the images I saw in the video are taken from the actual incidents. Others are exaggerated images.”
He later added on Twitter: “The clip was released with the intent of drawing attention to the issue of inciting and expanding Israeli settlements. I did not intend for its release to be construed as an attempt to undermine the Palestinian Authority – or to show division among Israeli citizens.”
However, Gershon’s Twitter post was not immediately deleted, prompting questions about whether he intended to cause offence or sought publicity.
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The issue of settlements is also contentious in US politics as a number of states are considering laws to effectively ban state funding of any entity that supports a boycott of Israel. For their part, Israel has been strongly critical of calls for a boycott of its settlements.
The visit is being attended by Bolton, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Gen Joseph Dunford, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, the Trump national security adviser, John Bolton, the chief of staff of the US homeland security department, Tom Bossert, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, the defence secretary, James Mattis, and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.
The US embassy in Tel Aviv is not being represented, although a number of senior American officials have visited Israel this year on official business.