News Roundup for August 2, 2017

August 2, 2017

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J Street in the News

Trump is thinking of breaking the Iran deal. Here’s how he could do it., JTA

“‘Europeans may look to contingency and fallback options if the United States unreasonably undermines the deal,’ said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow for the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations. In a conference call organized by J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that backed the deal, Geranmayeh said European officials were planning to stage an all-out effort to keep the Trump administration from bolting.”

New Charges In Wake Of Israel’s BDS Ban, NY Jewish Week

“A week after Israel stopped five BDS activists from boarding a plane from Washington to Tel Aviv, accusations have surfaced alleging that Israel has been secretly spying on the group….it was the first time Israel has implemented a controversial new law passed in March that gives the government authorization to bar foreign activists who seek to delegitimize Israel and promote a boycott against the Jewish state….Logan Bayroff, a spokesman for J Street, said his organization ‘clearly opposed’ the law when it was discussed in the Knesset. Now that it has been implemented, he said, ‘it is certainly chilling to see Jewish activists — no matter how much you disagree with their views — banned like this.’”

Top News and Analysis

Palestinian Stabs and Critically Wounds Israeli at Supermarket in Central Israel, Haaretz

An Israeli male in his 40s was critically wounded in a stabbing at a supermarket in the central Israeli city of Yavneh.  The 19-year-old Palestinian assailant was an employee of the supermarket and was arrested at the scene after nearby witnesses tackled him. Following an initial investigation, police believe the incident was politically motivated.

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Blasts Trump Administration’s Silence on Israeli Settlement Construction, Haaretz

“Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian’s chief negotiator, said on Tuesday that U.S. administration’s failings in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have become a barrier to renewing talks. Erekat specifically pointed to the Americans’ not having been able to compel the Israeli government to cease construction in West Bank settlements and to accept the principle of two states along pre-1967 borders….Erekat said that President Donald Trump’s administration’s not taking a position on the ultimate goal of peace talks was problematic. He said that they should commit to the establishment of a Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders. Erekat added that the administration’s silence on the increase in Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank was being interpreted by the Israeli government as carte blanche to abandon the two-state solution and work towards a one-state, two-governments reality in which one of those governments imposes an apartheid regime. The secretary-general pointed to Israeli legislation and policies as evidence of this. He called on Trump and the international community to lead the process of an international declaration through the Security Council setting the borders of a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital. Erekat also called for them to present the parameters necessary to implement that declaration.”

Kushner on Middle East Peace: “What Do We Offer That’s Unique? I Don’t Know”, Wired

On Monday, White House senior advisor Jared Kushner spoke to a group of congressional interns as part of an ongoing, off-the-record summer lecture series. During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Kushner may have inadvertently offered some insight into the negotiating tactics he is using in the Middle East….While the recording doesn’t catch the entirety of the question, it appears to center on how Kushner plans to negotiate peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as why he believes he’ll be successful where every other administration has failed….Kushner expresses frustration at others’ attempts to teach him about the delicate situation he’s been inserted into, saying, ‘Everyone finds an issue, that, ‘You have to understand what they did then’ and ‘You have to understand that they did this.’ But how does that help us get peace? Let’s not focus on that. We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books. Let’s focus on how do you come up with a conclusion to the situation.’”

Trump’s plan for Mideast peace fades, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit argues, “By now it is obvious that the ‘ultimate deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians, which President Donald Trump promised in his first days in office, was little more than an optical illusion. A series of conversations with Israeli, Palestinian and diplomatic sources depicts a very different picture. The diplomatic process is bogged down. President Trump is not involved in any way, nor does he have any interest in getting involved. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is severely disappointed with the United States, and the US “peace team” has lost what limited credibility it had on the Palestinian side. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government is rubbing its hands eagerly beneath the table and dismissing all the serious concerns that sullied the mood of the past few months. Nothing will happen, because there is nothing there, ministers from the Likud and HaBayit HaYehudi whisper with smug satisfaction. We can all calm down….As of now, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been left to its own fate. Abbas is at the end of his rule, the Americans are focused on other hotspots around the globe and Israel’s right-wing government has no meaningful checks and balances in place. Taken together, this is a recipe for serious problems down the road.”


Peace prospects faltering, poll finds recognition could change minds, Times of Israel

“A razor-thin majority of Israelis and Palestinians still support the two-state solution, though support for the idea is decreasing among Israelis, according to a major new poll of both societies published Tuesday. However, the survey also shows that a significant part of the opposition to a two-state outcome comes from mistrust, not ideology. For instance, the poll, conducted by veteran Israeli and Palestinian public opinion researchers, found that a third of Israeli Jews who initially rejected a two-state peace deal would change their mind if the agreement included Palestinian recognition of Jewish holy sites in the West Bank. Likewise, a majority of Palestinians who originally opposed a peace agreement would reconsider if Israel released all ‘political prisoners,’ a term used by the pollsters and usually meant to denote Palestinians jailed for what Israel calls ‘security’ reasons.”

China Rallies Support for Four-point Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan, Haaretz

China’s UN ambassador urged the international community on Monday to support President Xi Jinping’s new four-point proposal to end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish an independent Palestinian state. Liu Jieyi said at a news conference that China’s future diplomatic efforts will focus on trying to move toward a negotiated solution based on the four proposals. Xi signaled China’s stepped-up engagement in the Middle East when he met about two weeks ago in Beijing with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and outlined the plan.

Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi criticizes Jewish visitors to Temple Mount, JTA

Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi criticized the record number of Jews who visited the Temple Mount on Tisha b’Av. In a public message on Tuesday afternoon, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said, according to Israel National News, that on ninth day of Av, the day the Temple was destroyed, “it is imperative to recall that the pilgrimage to the Temple Mount is forbidden by Jewish law. Those Jews who ascend to the Temple Mount desecrate its sanctity.”

Arab Leaders Slam Joint List Party Infighting, Warn Rift Could Impact Election, Haaretz

The dispute within the Joint List party over non-implementation of a Knesset seat-rotation agreement has sparked growing of criticism from Israel’s Arab community in the past few days, and calls for a compromise. Mutual recriminations by members of Israel’s only Arab-majority party have created an atmosphere of distrust, say leaders of the community, which could damage its prospects in any future election. Haaretz reported Monday that Balad and Ta’al – two of four parties, including Hadash and the United Arab List, which merged to form the Joint List, ahead of the 2015 Israeli general election – are demanding to implement the rotation agreement now. Joint List members insist that they are all committed to the agreement, but are arguing over how to implement it. They are also apparently aware of the growing public criticism and implications of failing to resolve the crisis.

New York Sen. Gillibrand Won’t Support Anti-BDS Bill Without Changes, Forward

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced Monday that she would push for revisions to a bill that would penalize companies that support boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, after the American Civil Liberties Union raised free speech concerns about the legislation. “I would never support any bill that chills free speech,” the New York Senate Democrat told a town hall crowd in Queens on Monday. “I would never be for something that you stated the bill says. It’s not something I would support. She added: “I will not support it in its current form.”

As record number of Jews visit Temple Mount, Jordan warns of more crises, Times of Israel

Jordan’s foreign minister on Tuesday criticized Israel for the record number of Jews who visited the Temple Mount on the fast day commemorating the destruction of the Jewish Temples that stood there. Some 1,300 Jewish visitors made a pilgrimage to the Temple Mount on Tuesday, days after Muslim worshipers resumed their own visits to the holy site after days of boycotts and protests against security measures that Arabs said broke the delicate status quo there. Speaking at an emergency Executive Committee meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Ayman Safadi noted the large number of Jewish visitors and said while the crisis over the Temple Mount had ended, more unrest could be in the offing.

Court Approves Sale of Three Strategic E. J’lem Buildings to Right-wing Jewish Group, Haaretz

The Jerusalem District Court approved an agreement Sunday for the purchase of three buildings by the Ateret Cohanim Association from the Greek Orthodox church. The court’s approval of the long-disputed sale, which makes Ateret Cohanim the owner of the buildings in strategic East Jerusalem locations, is considered a victory for the right-wing Jewish organization. The large size of two of the buildings, the Petra and the Imperial hotels near Jaffa Gate in the Old City, will allow Ateret Cohanim to expand its activities considerably there. In 2005, when the agreement between the Greek Orthodox patriarchate and Ateret Cohanim came to light, it set off an unprecedented firestorm in the Greek Orthodox Church, which eventually led to the dismissal of Patriarch Irenaios.

Iran Says New U.S. Sanctions Violate Nuclear Deal, The New York Times

Furious over new American sanctions, Iran said on Tuesday that it had lodged a complaint with the commission that polices possible violations of the Iranian nuclear agreement. The complaint, disclosed by the speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, accused the United States of breaching the 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, between Iran and six world powers, including the United States. Some analysts interpreted the move as posturing aimed at ensuring that if President Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement, as he has threatened, then his administration would be blamed and not Iran.

In Talks to Turn State Witness, PM’s Trusted Aide Gives Police Details on Netanyahu Criminal Probes, Haaretz

There is a possibility that the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, will turn state’s witness, this time in cases in which the suspect is Prime Minister  Netanyahu. In late 2015, Harow was arrested by the national fraud squad, on suspicion of continuing to secretly operate a private lobbying and consulting business while he was the premier’s chief of staff. Last year, when the police began to examine matters pertaining to the prime minister, Harow landed in Israel and was immediately taken for questioning under warning, which meant he might be accused of a crime. Various pieces of information were thrown at him that police investigators had amassed. This information allegedly indicated criminal connections between Harow, the prime minister and people in the prime minister’s circles.

Opinions and Analysis

What Kushner’s Leaked Speech Gets Wrong About Mideast Peace, Politico

Aaron David Miller writes, “I know how frustrating the past can be in Mideast peace talks: It’s where the parties retreat, far too often blinded by their own claims and grievances, which seem to hold the future hostage. But for a would-be peacemaker, if you ignore history it will bury you. Israeli and Palestinian officials can overwhelm you with intricate stories about which patch of land belonged to whom when and who double-crossed whom in previous negotiating rounds. You don’t need to be a historian to be a successful negotiator, but knowing which gripes matter and which ones don’t is crucial….Unless we’re prepared to exercise independence when it comes to mediation, we won’t succeed. The only three Americans to ever succeed in Arab-Israeli peacemaking—Kissinger, Carter and Baker—all operated off a pro-Israeli script. But they also were prepared to push the Israelis along with the Arabs. You can’t do Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking without applying ample amounts honey and vinegar. Nobody is going to plant a tree in Israel in honor of Jared Kushner should he succeed—at least not immediately. If he’s not prepared to push both sides hard, he might as well close up for the season.”

‘The Lowest-Profile State Department in 45 Years,’ in 2 Charts, The New York Times

“The foreign policy of the United States is being tested around the world: in Russia, North Korea and across the Middle East. But an important element of advancing it – the State Department press briefing – is at its most infrequent levels in decades under President Trump and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.”

Netanyahu’s legacy: dividing Jews and uniting Arabs, Al-Monitor

Akiva Eldar writes, “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will go down in history as a politician who built a magnificent political career on foundations of enmity, on walls he erected between the people of Israel — between those on the right and the left, Jews and Arabs, the religious and secular, between ordinary Israelis and human rights activists and the media. History books will also credit him with the singular achievement of unifying the Arab and Muslim worlds against Israel and the Jewish people….Now, although Abbas and his entourage are hardly saints, their patience has been rewarded. The Israeli government with Netanyahu at the helm has done the job for them, turning their waning national struggle into an incendiary religious feud. The government obediently played the role in which it was cast by the three Israeli Arabs who murdered two Israeli police officers on the Temple Mount July 14. The three knew what they were doing when they picked the site, holy to both Jews and Muslims.”