News Roundup for April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017

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J Street in the News

Egypt’s President Tells Jewish Leaders He Supports Regional Summit on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Haaretz

“Egyptian President Abdel al-Fattah al-Sissi told a group of American Jewish leaders and activists in Washington on Wednesday that he supports the idea of a regional peace summit on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but only if it leads to real progress….More than 50 people attended the discussion, including researchers from leading think tanks such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Brookings Institution as well as leaders of Jewish organizations such as the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, J Street and the American Jewish Committee. The meeting was in fact one of the first large-scale leadership gatherings of the organized Jewish community since the November election.”

Top News and Analysis

Dozens of U.S. Missiles Hit Air Base in Syria, The New York Times

“President Trump said Thursday night that the United States had carried out a missile strike in Syria in response to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack this week, which killed more than 80 civilians….The Pentagon announced that 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired at Al Shayrat airfield in Syria. The missiles were aimed at Syrian fighter jets, hardened aircraft shelters, radar equipment, ammunition bunkers, sites for storing fuel and air defense systems….Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Russian forces had been notified in advance of the strike. ‘Military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield,’ he said. No Russian aircraft were at the base, military officials said.”

Trump’s Push for Mideast Deal Perplexes Israeli Right, Wall Street Journal

“President Donald Trump’s interest in solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem is running into a stubborn fact: Much of Israel’s governing coalition is pretty happy with the status quo….To many Israeli voters who have repeatedly elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and particularly to the influential lobby representing more than 400,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank….there is little reason to fix what they see as working just fine….Oded Revivi, head of foreign affairs at the settlement movement’s umbrella group, the Yesha Council, said it was disappointing that Washington still wanted to halt settlement growth instead of looking for new ‘out of the box’ solutions.”

Assessing Israel’s Pledge To Scale Back Settlements, NPR

“According to widespread reports in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has laid down a new policy on settlements. In consideration of President Trump’s desire to limit Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and advance the peace process, Israel will significantly scale back settlement expansion. But Hagit Ofran of the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now doesn’t buy it….According to its new policy, Israel will, as much as possible, only build inside built-up areas within a settlement’s existing footprint. But what are built-up areas? And what is a settlement’s footprint? Ofran says it’s never been defined. Many settlement neighborhoods are spread across hilltops, connected by roads…..Plus, Israel’s new policy allows exceptions when it’s deemed not possible to build inside built-up areas. Ofran says that gives Israel a lot of wiggle room and could kill a potential two-state solution that would see Israel give up the West Bank and Palestinians build a country of their own.”

Israel sunk in ‘incremental tyranny’, say former Shin Bet chiefs, Guardian

“Two former heads of Israel’s powerful domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, have made an impassioned and powerful intervention ahead of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in June….Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery which is threatened with closure for hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu….’Incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy any more,’ Ayalon told a small group of journalists, including the Guardian, ahead of the event. ‘This is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late.’ Ayalon cited recent moves by ministers in the Netanyahu government to change the laws to hit groups such as Breaking the Silence by banning them from events in schools and targeting their funding, while also taking aim at the country’s supreme court and independence of the media.”

News

Netanyahu Seeks Buffer Zones Against Iran and Hezbollah on Syria’s Borders With Israel and Jordan, Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging that any agreement to end the Syrian civil war include the establishment of buffer zones on both the border between Syria and Israel and the border between Syria and Jordan, to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from establishing a presence in those areas.

Putin to Netanyahu: Unacceptable to Make ‘Groundless Accusations’ on Syria Chemical Attack, Haaretz

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it was unacceptable to make “groundless” accusations over this week’s suspected chemical weapons attack in a Syrian province. The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin “highlighted that it was unacceptable to make groundless accusations against anyone without conducting a detailed and unbiased investigation.”

Lawmakers press Trump administration anew on bias crimes, anti-Semitism, JTA

Lawmakers in Congress continued to press the Trump administration to address perceived spikes in bias crimes in the United States and in anti-Semitism abroad, reflecting bipartisan concern that President Donald Trump remains insufficiently engaged on the issues. The Senate resolution, approved unanimously late Wednesday, urged the Trump administration “to continue Federal assistance that may be available for victims of hate crimes” and “to continue safety and preparedness programs for religious institutions, places of worship, and other institutions that have been targeted because of the affiliation of the institutions with any particular religious, racial, or ethnic minority.”

Israeli College Cancels Screening by Peace Group After Right-wing Activists Protest, Haaretz

Oranim Academic College has cancelled the screening by an Israeli leftist organization of two films that was scheduled for Friday, under pressure from right-wing activists. The screening by Zochrot, part of the Sheikh Abreik Festival, was to be held at a community center near the northern Israeli town of Tivon, but it was moved to the college after pressure from right-wing activists led the community center to withdraw permission.

In curious first, Russia recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Times of Israel

In an unexpected, unprecedented and curious move, Moscow on Thursday said it considers West Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, making Russia the first country in the world to extend such a recognition to any part of the city. “We reaffirm our commitment to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement. Officials in Jerusalem, evidently taken aback by the statement, declined immediate comment on the announcement. “We are studying the matter,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said.

Palestinian Delegation to Travel to Washington Ahead of Trump-Abbas Meeting, Haaretz

A senior Palestinian delegation is to leave in the next few days for Washington as part of the preparations for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ White House meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz. A date for the meeting has yet to be confirmed, but Trump invited Abbas to Washington during a phone call the two held last month. The delegation will consist of Saeb Erekat, who is in charge of the peace negotiations, Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj and Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestinian investment fund.

Israelis respond to chemical attack in Syria with wave of donations, JTA

In response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria on Tuesday, Israelis have donated hundreds of thousands of shekels to help children and others caught in the conflict raging on their northern border.

Opinions and Analysis

Netanyahu’s New Trump-Appeasing Bluff, Haaretz

Hagit Ofran writes, “Looking at the possibility of a two state solution, the greatest damage that settlement construction causes is to the level of complication and difficulty involved in undoing it. Most significantly, the number of settlers Israel will need to evacuate within the framework of an agreement. Any construction in the settlements – even if built only on top of existing construction and without taking an additional inch of land – will add new settlers that Israel will eventually have to evacuate. The deciding factor in the question of the two state solution will be how many settlers Israel will need to evacuate, not how many acres will be evacuated. Let us not be misled by Netanyahu: He and his government continue to oppose the two state solution and are acting in order to make it impossible. Settlement construction has never stopped. The talk about ‘settlement restraint’ is aimed at taming criticism – and leading us astray.”

If Palestinians are serious about peace, ‘martyr’ violence should not pay, Washington Post

David Makovsky, Ghaith al-Omari and Lia Weiner write, “Every year, the Palestinian Authority spends more than $300 million, or 7.6 percent of its total budget, in support of two foundations dedicated to assisting families of “martyrs” and Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons….Palestinians argue that the bulk of these prisoners and “martyrs” are political prisoners and innocent bystanders. Israel vehemently denies that it arrests or detains people for their political views, but rather only does so for clear-cut involvement in the planning or execution of violent acts. But even by the Palestinian logic, there are clear-cut cases: A Palestinian who deliberately shoots, stabs or rams an Israeli with murderous intent cannot be considered a political prisoner by any stretch of that term. As a first and immediate step, the Palestinian Authority must end payment in such clear-cut cases.”

Following gas attack, Israel reassesses Syrian threat, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit writes, “The shock in Israel on April 4 was resounding. As a people, Jews are especially sensitive to the use of gas, even if it happens beyond their borders in a hostile nation. Images of children suffocating from nerve gas sent shockwaves through the media and led to responses by everyone from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to opposition leader Isaac Herzog. Former head of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Yadlin even called for Israeli military intervention. Yadlin, who heads the Institute for National Security Studies and maintains close ties with the military establishment, later explained that he meant an aerial response, not necessarily overt, which would target Syria’s chemical weapons division and even attack the aircraft allegedly responsible for the gas assault….At this stage, there can be almost no doubt that Israel will need to reassess its intelligence and working assumptions and reconsider what steps to take in response to the WMD held by Assad, and especially by Israel’s most imposing enemy today: Hezbollah.”

How Israel’s culture minister threatens national film industry, democracy, Al-Monitor

Akiva Eldar observes, “Regev and her boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, want Israeli playwrights along with producers of movie and TV documentaries to be….submissive. The same goes for news editors and reporters. After all, public funding is effectively being used in the service of Israel’s creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank. Why should it not serve the annexation of the cultural sphere, too?”

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