The transfer of one of Jerusalem’s most prime pieces of real estate to Russia will be finalized when the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) vacates its offices, following the completion of talks between Israel and Russia on Sunday.
In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented the Sergei building and its 9-acre courtyard with gardens and fishponds in the Russian Compound as a gift to the Russian government. He made the gesture during a visit to Moscow to persuade President Dimitry Medvedev not to sell arms to Syria and to back sanctions against Iran. The decision to transfer the property was made by the prime minister, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann.
Last year, the Agriculture Ministry and the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites evacuated their offices in the compound. SPNI issued a request to continue working in the offices, but was denied by the Russian government.
Israel gained control of approximately 90 percent of the Russian compound in 1964, paying the Russian government $3.5 million in citrus fruits for the property due to lack of hard currency – hence the dubbing of the agreement the “Orange Deal”.
The Sergei building, not included in the sale, was completed in 1890, and served as a hotel for Russian aristocrats, royalty, and dignitaries on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was named for brother of Tzar Alexander III, Grand Duke Sergei, then President of the Imperial Russian Orthodox Palestine Society. The property had been purchased by Tzar Alexander II in 1860 from the Ottoman Empire.
When the plan to give possession of the property to Russia was announced in 2008, opponents protested the giving over of Jerusalem heritage sites to foreign entities, and warned that Russia was not a strong enough ally to trust with the property. Then-candidate for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also disapproved of the plan, calling it a “dangerous precedent, giving property in the heart of Jerusalem to foreign interests.”
Russia has vowed to keep the area open to the public, and says it will restore the yard and buildings for use by Russian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem today.
The SPNI announcement comes just a day before Russian Premier Vladimir Putin’s Monday arrivalin Israel on an official state visit. The leader is expected to meet with top Israeli officials to discuss Iran’s nuclear progress. He will also dedicate a monument in Netanya to the valor of the Red Army in World War II. The large stone monument consisting of a pair of white wings, an unprecedented joint-state venturebetween Israel and Russia, will also honor the more than half a million Jewish Red Army soldiers who fought in the war.
Some of my readers are unhappy that I keep criticizing President Barak Obama and his government. The problem, however, is that this administration keeps doing terrible things in the Middle East. And the most damning evidence on these actions comes not from Obama’s enemies but from the administration itself and the supportive mass media.
Here’s the latest such item:
“U.S. Hopes Assad Can Be Eased Out with Russia’s Aid,” by Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, in the New York Times.
For almost three years, Obama insisted he would win over the Syrian dictatorship and make it America’s friend rather than Iran’s number-one ally. That was ludicrous. Forced by the uprising to back away from Damascus, the Obama Administration has spent almost a year bumbling about what to do.
The U.S. government’s main activity was to entrust to the Turkish Islamist regime the job of forming an umbrella Syrian opposition leadership. Not surprisingly, Ankara pursued its own interest by assembling a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated group, the Syrian National Congress. Though several members resigned, complaining of the radical Islamist control, the Obama Administration is still trying to force hostile oppositionists to join.
Now a new and equally terrible policy is unveiled. I’ll let the New York Times’ reporters explain it:
“President Obama will push for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad under a plan that calls for a negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Assad’s government in place. The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Assad’s staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal. Obama, administration officials said, will press the proposal with President Putin of Russia at their meeting next month. Obama’s national security adviser raised the plan with Putin in Moscow three weeks ago.”
Good grief! There are four different acts of strategic insanity involved in this paragraph. They are:
–“A negotiated political settlement that…could leave remnants of Assad’s government in place.”
The Syrian dictatorship is led by murderous thugs who know this is a case of kill or be killed. They aren’t going to give up any of their power. And why should they since they think they’re winning and may well be right. They know the outside world won’t do anything, despite the regime having killed around 10,000 civilians.
–“A negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Assad’s government in place.”
The opposition is not so foolish as a Washington pundit, policymaker, or politician. They know that their only hope is to destroy the regime entirely. The democrats want to do so in order to have a modern democracy. The Islamists want Islamism. The Kurds and Druze want autonomy. How could there possibly be a coalition? Both sides know that within days people would be murdering each other. How could anyone expect this kind of deal would work or that the opposition would accept it?
If anyone in Syria might favor such a plan it’s the Muslim Brotherhood, which has toyed with the idea of using such a transition period to strengthen its own hand. So the idea cannot succeed but reveals once again that the Obama Administration seems to get many of its strategies from the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s an observation, not a conspiracy theory.
– “The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Assad’s staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal.”
Just think about that sentence! The Obama Administration wants to depend on a country that’s disdainful of U.S. interests, wants to sabotage them, and is on the opposite side! The president wants to ask a country that is “strongly opposed” Assad’s removal to remove Assad!
And finally, equally amazingly:
- “Obama, administration officials said, will press the proposal with President Putin of Russia at their meeting next month. Obama’s national security adviser raised the plan with Putin in Moscow three weeks ago.”
It’s Obama, not Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who is pushing this plan to put Russia in control! If your enemy tries to fool or cheat you, that’s a problem. If you beg him to cheat you and hand him the means to do so, that’s a betrayal of U.S. interests.
If they occur, as promised, in June – before the US election – the most likely outcome is more stalling and no progress. But that is not because there has been no prior interest on the Western side in making big concessions in order to get an agreement. What Iran is doing actually amounts to avoiding being presented with a favorable agreement. The abruptness of the talks’ end indicates mostly that Iran doesn’t see it as advantageous to stick around and talk anymore, in spite of – or perhaps because of – the P5+1’s anxiety to negotiate a good deal for Iran.
As for Putin, his proximate reason for not attending the summit is obvious. Missile defense was – as always, over the last decade – to be one of the two main topics in Chicago, the other being Afghanistan. The collective NATO missile defense system for Europe was to be declared operational at the summit. It was. Russia’s main bone of contention with NATO is missile defense. Although Russia has been invited to be a missile defense partner with NATO, and has participated in extensive talks on the matter, there remain fundamental disagreements between the parties over how to operate and orient a collective missile defense.
Putin had no intention of being present for photo ops under a “NATO missile defense” banner – in spite of President Obama’s assurance to Dmitry Medvedev that the US would be more “flexible” about the whole thing after our November election. Putin’s reluctance is partly because Obama’s NATO allies have a different view. They aren’t interested at all in more “flexibility”: the Europeans, in their own special way, have actually been quite stringent on the need for missile defense, determined to go ahead with it for political purposes if not for the capabilities of the inaugural system. The initial capability relies entirely on US Aegis warships being stationed in the Black Sea or Eastern Mediterranean, along with an early warning radar in Turkey whose data the Turks – against NATO policy – don’t want shared with Israel. The vulnerabilities of this initial set-up are obvious, but for the Europeans, the point is the show of commitment.
The leaders of Europe have a problem. If they effectively force Greece out – a move that would be understandable from a fiscal and monetary perspective – they will have to outbid Russia if they want to turn around and buy Greece back. The implications for NATO are as uncertain as anything else. A NATO missile defense, opposed by Russia and relying on the nations and waterways around Greece? America has to be acting like the alpha dog to make that one work.
The minute-long video appears at first glance to show a packed courtroom with Vladimir Putin standing in the cage-like enclosure for defendants, with his head bowed, facing trial on charges of theft and terrorism.
A video showing Russian President Vladimir Putin going on trial, which is in fact a cleverly-edited montage, became an Internet hit in Russia on Wednesday, ahead of presidential polls, with two million views.
But the footage is a neat collage of shots from the trial of Putin’s arch foe, toppled oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, with the premier’s face superimposed on Khodorkovsky’s much taller frame.
The video – which has garnered almost two million views on YouTube – has gone viral some two weeks ahead of the March 4 presidential elections in which Putin is seeking a historic third Kremlin term in the face of protests.
“The former prime minister was brought to the Khamovnichesky court about half-an-hour ago” says the voice-over, which is based on state television coverage of the second Khodorkovsky trial.
Khodorkovsky was jailed for tax evasion and then convicted of fraud in a second trial in a Moscow court in late 2010. He is set to stay in jail until 2016.
Nikolai Petroshov, former Head of Russian Intelligence and current chairman of the Russian National Security Council, stated that that “there is a very real possibility of military escalation of the conflict.”