“In just two tweets yesterday, the president swiftly undercut all those who bent over backwards to give him the benefit of the doubt around his Jerusalem speech – claiming it was carefully crafted so as not to prejudge the outcome of negotiations about the city’s status. Unlike the president, the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations has made clear: Jerusalem isn’t ‘off the table.’ It’s a final status issue to be resolved by the parties and an agreement to end the conflict will have to result in a capital for both countries in Jerusalem.”
Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report, “President Trump’s threat to cut aid to the Palestinians has the potential to backfire, Israeli security officials and analysts warned Wednesday, saying it could weaken a Palestinian leadership that cooperates with Israel on security matters and fuel extremism by worsening already dire humanitarian conditions.Palestinian officials accused the United States of using bullying tactics after both Trump and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley indicated that the administration may cut funding to the Palestinians if they do not enter into peace talks with Israel. Palestinians ‘will not be blackmailed,’ said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.”
Megan Specia writes, “The United States is the top funder of Unrwa, and according to figures released in 2016, it contributed nearly $369 million, including emergency funding for aiding Palestinian refugees caught up in Syria’s brutal civil war. If the American funding was eliminated, the agency would face a significant deficit in its budget. The next biggest donor in 2016, the European Union, contributed less than half of what the United States did. The agency receives contributions from more than 100 donors, and its entire budget for 2016 was nearly $1.25 billion.”
Netanyahu Allies Rethink Remapping of Jerusalem, New York Times
David Halbfinger reports, “Hours after the Israeli Parliament approved new obstacles to a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians, left-wing activists took some solace on Tuesday in a decision by right-wing lawmakers to jettison one part of their plan… The decision was tactical, not philosophical, but left-wing activists hoped it would give them a chance to fight another day. The provision removed from the bill would have allowed the municipal map of Jerusalem to be redrawn without a parliamentary vote on the new boundaries. That, in turn, would have smoothed the way for a proposal to exclude from the city several densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods that are outside the security barrier Israel erected to prevent terrorist attacks.”
Linda Gradstein writes, “President Mike Pence’s trip is scheduled for mid-January, but Israeli officials say they have no final confirmation yet for the date or who will meet him. For local Christians, the question of whether Pence does or doesn’t come is moot — they won’t meet with him. They’re outraged over President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Pence is a Christian, as they are, but he’s an evangelical Christian, and the evangelical movement pushed hard for Trump’s move. This is the first time a U.S. president has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
The Middle East is a region that is used to diplo-speak. When U.S. officials talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they usually parse their words carefully. President Trump, though, is changing that, and it is causing confusion. Last month, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley explained to the world that although the administration decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, its final status is still up for negotiation.
The Shin Bet security service has voiced its objections to the death penalty bill, which it suspects will trigger a wave of kidnappings of Jews around the world to use them in negotiations.
Israel said on Wednesday it had cracked a Palestinian militant cell suspected of having been recruited and handled by Iranian intelligence officers who worked out of South Africa, but the suspects’ lawyer denied the charges.
Netanyahu said looking for ways to forcibly deport illegal migrants, Times of Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked his security adviser on Wednesday to draw up a plan to forcibly expel undocumented asylum seekers, even as ministers approved a plan to imprison illegal migrants who refuse to leave “voluntarily.”
Opposition lawmakers on Wednesday accused the Interior Ministry of outright racism and discrimination against black Jews, citing the recent case of an African convert who was deported hours after landing in Israel, even though he had a valid visa.
In first, Meretz to hold open party primaries, Times of Israel
The chairwoman of the Meretz party on Thursday reached an agreement to hold open primaries in March, ending a months-long internal spat within the left-wing party.
The Israeli military said early Thursday that it had struck “central terrorist infrastructure” in the Gaza Strip after three rockets were fired at Israeli border communities a day earlier.
The statement added that the military will “continue to employ all measures available to it below and above ground to thwart attempted attacks on Israeli citizens.”
10 Palestinians injured, 2 critically, in clash with IDF, Times of Israel
Ten Palestinians were injured, two critically, in confrontations with Israeli soldiers in the Deheishe refugee camp south of Bethlehem on Thursday morning, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
The Iran Nuclear Deal Could Be Dead in 11 Days, The Daily Beast
Spencer Ackerman writes, “Protests throughout Iran are cresting right as a crisis point for the landmark nuclear deal approaches. Starting on January 13, a week from Saturday, Trump will face a deadline over reimposing economic sanctions that the U.S. agreed to lift under the 2015 nuclear deal. Despite the agreement, those sanctions have remained in place, technically; it’s just that president Obama and, thus far, Trump, periodically agree not to enforce them, keeping the deal alive. In other words, as unrest in Iran spreads, Trump has an imminent opportunity to kill the Iran nuclear deal he despises, all by doing nothing. And as of right now, there’s no wave of concerted allied diplomacy aimed at keeping him in, The Daily Beast has learned.”
Mahmoud Abbas Doesn’t Have a Trump Strategy, Foreign Policy
Grant Rumley writes, “To hear Palestinian leaders tell it, their relationship with the Trump administration has now been simplified. ‘We will sever all ties with the Americans,’ Ahmed Majdalani, a confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told me, “this means the end of the peace process and the U.S. role there.” Palestinian leaders once again denounced Trump after he took to Twitter on Jan. 2 to threaten aid to the Palestinian Authority, with one senior official insisting Trump “is not a serious man.” Beyond the rhetoric, however, the truth is that the Palestinians still don’t have a strategy for how to respond to the American president, particularly after his announcement that the United States considers Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Amos Harel writes, “Trump’s latest flurry of tweets also expressed disappointment with both Israelis and Palestinians following the Jerusalem recognition announcement. Trump complains that the Palestinians have suspended the peace process in protest (although in practice it has been at a standstill for years) and that Israelis haven’t responded to his gesture with a readiness to make concessions to the Palestinians. Contrary to the hopes of right-wingers who were quick to name city parks and a future train station after the president, it turns out that there are no free lunches from the author of “The Art of the Deal.” He expects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respond to the historic achievement in Jerusalem with steps that will advance the ultimate deal that he promised to bring to Israelis and Palestinians.
Chemi Shalev argues, “If the North Koreans dismantle and the Iranians overthrow and the Palestinians behave nicely, Trump’s way of doing things will be vindicated, at least temporarily. If the opposite happens, if the U.S. gets dragged into escalating confrontations, the nuclear race speeds out of control and the Palestinians disintegrate, rebel or opt for Hamas or ISIS, then everyone will know that Trump’s gamble has failed and that Israel, first and foremost, will pay the price. You can rest assured, however, that both Trump and Netanyahu will pin the blame for the ensuing mayhem on leftists and the media rather than on their own recklessness.”
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