June 9, 2023


Government Affairs News Digest

I’m writing to share J Street’s statements and news updates.

Going beyond the top headlines, I want to highlight that this week marks 56 years since Israel occupied the Palestinian territories (the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip). It’s an occupation that intensifies with each passing year, propelled by settlement expansion, and marked by increasing evictions of Palestinians from their homes and communities, demolitions of Palestinian houses and livelihoods, and state-enabled settler violence. As we’ve detailed, the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu is moving from decades of creeping de facto annexation to de jure annexation. The final piece in this week’s digest, an excellent piece by Israeli scholars Dahlia Scheindlin and Yael Berda, provides further analysis.

In addition, the J Street Policy Center has a new go-to resource for you. It’s a two-page FAQ on the occupation with all the documented facts you need at your fingertips.

I hope you’ll check out, or continue making use of, our continously updated dossier on the Netanyahu government. As always, you can find our Congressional briefing book, background information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, recordings of previous briefings and more at J Street’s Congressional Resource Page.

Feel free to reach out with any questions.

All the best,

Debra Shushan, PhD
Director of Policy, J Street
mobile: (757) 746-0366 | [email protected] | @DrShushan

This week on j street




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What we’re reading

US urges IDF to re-evaluate use of deadly force after Palestinian toddler killed

The US on Tuesday urged Israel to probe its use of deadly force during military operations among civilians, a day after a two-year-old Palestinian boy died as a result of being mistakenly shot by Israeli troops during a West Bank gunfire exchange last week. “We express our condolences to the family of Mohammed Tamimi… Last Thursday, two-and-a-half-year-old Tamimi and his father were hit by gunshots as Israeli soldiers returned fire at Palestinian gunmen who had shot toward them at the settlement of Neve Tzuf. The father, Haitham Tamimi, was taken by Palestinian medics to a hospital in Ramallah, and the toddler was rushed to Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan by a military helicopter in critical condition. He died of his wounds on Monday… In a press briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said: “It’s our understanding that the IDF is investigating the incident, and broadly speaking, we urge investigations into any operations that result in civilian casualties.” A similar call was issued by the US last year following the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an IDF raid of the West Bank in May 2022. Then, the State Department called on Israel to consider reforming its rules of engagement as a way of providing accountability for her death. But the comments sparked a furious Israeli backlash, including from then-prime minister Yair Lapid, who fumed over the attempt to “dictate” Israel’s policies. Following the pushback, the State Department appeared to backtrack from its initial demand and resorted to more vague demands about the need for accountability. Following the shooting last week, the IDF said in a statement that the father and son were likely hit by mistake, adding that it “regrets harm to [noncombatants] and works to prevent such incidents.”
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Blinken slams settlements, says ties with Arab world can’t replace peace with Palestinians

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that the expansion of Israeli settlements and ongoing demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank are taking Israel further away from peace with the Palestinians. Yet, he stressed that the US-Israel relationship remains “ironclad,” lauded American security commitments to the Jewish state and said the Biden administration will continue to promote normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbors, particularly with Saudi Arabia. At the same time, he made clear the administration’s displeasure with actions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government has taken in expanding Jewish settlements and increasing Palestinian home demolitions. “Settlement expansion clearly presents an obstacle to the horizon of hope we seek,” Blinken says in a speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington.“Likewise, any move toward annexation of the West Bank, de facto or de jure, disruption of the historic status quo at the holy sites, the continuing demolitions of homes and the evictions of families that have lived in their homes for generations damage prospects for two states,” he says. Improving Israeli-Arab relations cannot replace a two-state solution with the Palestinians, he says. “Integration and normalization efforts are not a substitute for progress between Israelis and Palestinians, and they should not come at its expense,” Blinken says. “Israel’s deepened relationships with its partners can and should advance the well-being of the Palestinian people and the prospects of a two-state solution,” he adds.
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Israeli Cabinet minister chides US Vice President Harris for judicial overhaul criticism

Israel’s foreign minister chided U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday for speaking out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned overhaul of the country’s judiciary. The exchange underscored tensions between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s new government — the most right-wing and religious in Israel’s history — over the planned judicial overhaul. Speaking at an Israeli embassy event in Washington on Tuesday, Harris had said that shared values are “the bedrock of the U.S.-Israel relationship” and that democracies are “built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and, I’ll add, an independent judiciary.” Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, told Kan public radio “I can tell you that if you ask her what bothers her about the reform, she won’t be able to tell you”. He said he believes Harris has not read the bills in question… U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides responded to Cohen saying that Harris only restated the government’s long-held position, according to Kan. Cohen later wrote on Twitter that he has “great respect for our ally the United States and for Vice President Harris, a great friend of Israel,” adding that the judicial overhaul was “an internal Israeli matter” and that the country would remain “democratic and liberal as it has always been.”
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Israel to test eased entry for Palestinian-Americans before landing US visa waiver

Israel is slated to launch a pilot program next month that will test its preparedness for allowing Palestinian-Americans to more freely travel into Israel, which is a stipulation for Jerusalem to be accepted into the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in the fall, an Israeli official and a US official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. Meanwhile, pressure was intensifying on the Biden administration from lawmakers and non-governmental organizations concerned that Israel will not uphold the VWP stipulation that it ensure “reciprocal” travel rights for Palestinian-Americans, Muslim-Americans, Arab-Americans and all US citizens, who have long alleged discrimination and mistreatment by authorities at Israeli crossings. US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, who has spearheaded the administration’s effort to allow Israelis to travel to the US for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa, told The Times of Israel in April that Washington would only admit Jerusalem into the VWP if it signs a Memorandum of Understanding codifying the reciprocity commitment with “snapback” provisions if the agreement is violated. Nides held a call Tuesday with a group of representatives of Arab organizations in Washington who have been lobbying the administration on the VWP. Two of the representatives on the call characterized it as cordial and expressed appreciation for the ambassador’s willingness to hear their concerns. However, they also expressed unease over what they felt was a gap between their desire to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly at Israeli crossings and Nides’ apparent prioritization of ensuring Palestinian-Americans be allowed to enter Israel and use Ben Gurion Airport.
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ANALYSIS: Israel’s Annexation of the West Bank Has Already Begun

Israel’s coalition government, the most right-wing in the country’s history, has come under fire for proposing reforms that would weaken the judiciary and dismantle checks and balances. They provoked some of the biggest protests ever seen in Israel and were eventually put on hold after a tremendous international and domestic backlash. But another move by the government—a bureaucratic change that has hardly drawn any attention—is just as significant. In November 2022, Israel’s far-right factions won a parliamentary majority. Soon after, they amended the Basic Law of the government, which acts in some ways like a constitution, to allow the government to appoint a special new minister within the Ministry of Defense. In February 2023, Israel’s ultranationalist coalition government agreed on what the new minister would do: assume certain civil authorities over life in the West Bank, which had previously been the exclusive purview of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This administrative change equates to declaring Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, a violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition against territorial conquest. Three leading Israeli civil and human rights organizations have insisted that the bureaucratic shift amounts to the de jure annexation of the West Bank. The transfer shatters the illusion that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is temporary; it further entrenches an unequal, two-tiered legal system for Israelis and Palestinians; and it solidifies permanent Israeli control over the West Bank. The transfer of authority is in fact the culmination of decades of policies that have guaranteed Israel’s hold on the Palestinian territories. But the government has now crossed a threshold that represents a momentous—and likely cataclysmic—transformation in Israel’s position with respect to international law. Israel now has no need to formally declare the annexation of the West Bank. The deed is done.
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