News Roundup for April 20, 2017

April 20, 2017

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J Street in the News

Trump Administration Certifies Iran Complying with JCPOA, J Street

“J Street welcomes the Trump administration’s certification to Congress that Iran continues to be in compliance with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran nuclear agreement. While the President spent much of his campaign denouncing what he called “the worst deal ever,” actions speak far louder than words or tweets. This is a clear sign that the administration recognizes what the vast consensus of security experts have long understood to be true: The Iran nuclear agreement has successfully blocked Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and is making the US, Israel and the world safer….As the administration and Congress respond to Iran’s nefarious behaviors, they must not undo the accomplishments of the JCPOA and risk reopening Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon….In light of this certification of the agreement’s continued success, hawkish voices in Congress and in the administration should rein in irresponsible and misleading rhetoric about it – and recognize that tough diplomacy has been and remains an essential tool to advance the interests and security of our country and our allies.”

Jon Ossoff Leans To J Street On Israel, Forward

“Jon Ossoff, the Georgia congressional candidate who Democrats are hoping will give President Trump a black eye, may also deliver a victory to the dovish side of the pro-Israel camp. Ossoff is a supporter of the left-leaning lobby J Street and has received $56,000 through the group’s PAC in the run-up to Tuesday’s elections….Issues relating to Israel and the Middle East did not come up during the congressional race, and Ossoff, who is Jewish, did not deal much with foreign policy questions throughout his highly-watched campaign. But Ossoff has clearly sided with the left wing of the pro-Israel community: He received an endorsement from J Street, which called on its supporters to donate to the campaign of the young Democrat, described by the lobby’s PAC as ‘a strong supporter of the US-Israel relationship’ and as a candidate who ‘believes the US should play a leading role in efforts to secure a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians through a negotiated two-state solution.’….Last month, according to a spokeswoman for the lobby, Ossoff attended a meeting of J Street’s Atlanta chapter and spoke briefly at the event, telling participants he was excited to work as a candidate with the group that he had first encountered as a congressional staffer.”

Top News and Analysis

Trump to Host Palestinian President Abbas on May 3: White House, Reuters

President Trump will host Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on May 3, the White House said on Wednesday. “They will use the visit to reaffirm the commitment of both the United States and Palestinian leadership to pursuing and ultimately concluding a conflict-ending settlement between the Palestinians and Israel,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters.

Abbas ready for visit to Washington, Al-Monitor

Daoud Kuttab reports, “While the Palestinian leader’s visit to Washington is to focus primarily on the peace process and the efforts of Trump’s peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, to kick-start the talks again, it is expected that Abbas will also deal with several bilateral issues. These include security cooperation and intelligence exchange between the United States and Palestinian security on local, regional and international areas of mutual concern, and continued political and financial support by the Trump administration to the Palestinian people and government, sources in the Palestinian leadership told Al-Monitor….The upcoming meeting between Abbas and Trump will put into place the key parameters that will decide whether peace talks will in fact be renewed and whether they will have any chance of reaching the desired results.”

Tillerson Toughens Tone on Iran After U.S. Confirms Nuclear Deal Compliance, The New York Times

“Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson described a landmark Iran nuclear deal as a failure on Wednesday, only hours after the State Department said Tehran was complying with its terms. But the top United States diplomat stopped short of threatening to jettison the 2015 agreement that was brokered by world powers, or saying whether the Trump administration would punish Iran with new sanctions. The whiplash left Republicans on Capitol Hill, who had universally excoriated the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program and voted against its implementation, uncertain of how to respond. Its architects, however, said they were cautiously optimistic that the deal would stay in place. The nuclear deal “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran,” Mr. Tillerson said. “It only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.” He said that Iran continued to threaten the United States and the rest of the world, and he announced that the Trump administration was reviewing ways to counter challenges posed by Tehran.”

The Trump administration just quietly admitted that the Iran deal is working, Vox

Zack Beachamp observes, “As the months rolled on and no meaningful action was taken on the nuclear issue, it became clear that the Trump administration wasn’t going to pull out of the agreement or attempt to change it in a way that would cause it to collapse….Tuesday’s letter from Tillerson essentially confirmed that the deal would remain in place as is. While initiating a policy review of the Iran deal might sound threatening, people with experience in government didn’t see it as abnormal….The best way to think about this announcement, in a big-picture sort of way, is it means the fundamental shift in US-Iran relations that began during the Obama years will continue during the Trump ones. For the past several years, US policy debates over Iran have centered on the nuclear standoff. The success of the Iran deal, and the practical difficulty in undoing it, has effectively taken that issue off the table — as the Tillerson announcement has proven.”


One Wounded in West Bank Car-ramming Attack, Haaretz

One man was wounded on Wednesday in a car-ramming attack in the West Bank. The attack took place on Route 60 next to Gush Etzion junction. The driver of the vehicle was shot and killed by soldiers after carrying out the attack, the military said. The victim, a 60-year-old man, is suffering from a head wound and is in light-to-moderate condition, emergency services said. After being initially treated at the scene by paramedics he was evacuated to Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem.

Bereaved parents lash Netanyahu over Gaza war at charged Knesset meeting, Times of Israel

Prime Minister Netanyahu faced harsh criticism from bereaved parents Wednesday over his management of the 2014 Gaza war during an emotional three-and-a-half-hour-long hearing, including a series of heated back and forths between politicians and families of those killed in battle. Earlier, grilled by opposition lawmakers at the Knesset State Control Committee hearing — which was punctuated by heckling from Likud MKs backing the prime minister — Netanyahu painted the conflict as a victory for Israel, contending that the Hamas terror group had “begged” for the war to end.

Palestinian women join hunger strike, lawyers declare boycott of Israeli courts, Ma’an

Hundreds of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners entered the third day of the “Freedom and Dignity” hunger strike on Wednesday, with imprisoned Palestinian women launching protest measures, as lawyers representing the hunger strikers announced they were boycotting Israeli courts.

Obama’s Israel Adviser Leaves White House Three Months Into Trump Presidency, Haaretz

Yael Lempert, an American career diplomat who was in charge of Israeli-Palestinian policy at the National Security Council under the Obama administration, is set to leave the White House within weeks after prolonging her tenure by three months to help the Trump administration craft its policy on the issue. Lempert made it clear to the White House that she wants to leave her post in the NSC and go back to the State Department, where she had made most of her career in government, Haaretz has learned. Lempert wanted to do that right after the end of the presidential transition period, but senior officials in President Donald Trump’s administration – including the president’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jason Greenblatt – asked her to stay on for a few more weeks, which turned into three-and-a-half months.

UN envoy: Palestinian leadership must resolve Gaza Strip energy crisis, Times of Israel

Days after the only functioning power station in the Gaza Strip ran out of fuel and stopped working, the United Nations envoy to the region called on Palestinian leaders to put aside their internal squabbles and solve the energy crisis in the coastal enclave. In a statement Wednesday, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov also urged Israel to allow into Gaza material and equipment needed to repair and maintain the Strip’s electricity infrastructure, and pleaded for the international community to help rehabilitate power supplies.

Top Israeli Officer Slams Rabbis Over Women in the Military: It’s Not ‘The 17th Century’, Haaretz

Religious women recognize the opportunities that service in army provides, a senior officer said on Wednesday in response to recent criticism of the army by religious Zionist rabbis over the issue of women serving in the military. “They know how to decide what’s good for them and what isn’t. They aren’t in the 17th century,” the officer told a briefing of military reporters.

Opinions and Analysis

Congressmen Team with “Anti-Muslim extremist” to Launch “Defeat Palestinians” Caucus, J Street Blog

J Street’s Alan Elsner writes, “A new congressional group called ‘The Israel Victory Caucus’ will debut next week, devoted to pushing the truly terrifying myth that Israel can end the conflict by using brute force and repression to make the Palestinians accept their eternal statelessness….It is unclear how many members of Congress will join the new caucus but the very fact that it is forming is the latest sign that the kind of extremism advocated by the Israeli settler movement has burrowed deep roots into the right-wing of the Republican Party. Another group backing the new caucus is the Christians United for Israel Action Fund, the legislative arm of Christians United for Israel – a fundamentalist group well known for funding Israeli settlements….Among the authors of the violent ideology behind the group is Daniel Pipes, who the Southern Poverty Law Center has called an ‘anti-Muslim extremist’ and has spread the lie that former President Barack Obama was born a Muslim.”

Is Trump learning to live with Iran nuclear deal?, Al-Monitor

Laura Rozen reports, “While the White House said the NSC review would determine if the United States should waive the relevant nuclear-related sanctions next month, experts said the certification made it likely the United States was planning to do so. One set of sanctions waivers expire around May 18, the day before Iran’s presidential elections, in which Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made reaching the nuclear deal with six world powers a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.”

In the West Bank, a $1.4 Billion Bet on Better Times, Bloomberg

A report on Bashar Masri’s attempts to build a model Palestinian city in Rawabi. “The project offers stark evidence of the perils of doing business in the occupied territories. Rawabi was conceived in 2010 as a magnet for upwardly mobile Palestinians eager to leave their dusty villages and crumbling cities. It was expected to take five years and cost $750 million to build, but the opening date has been repeatedly pushed back, and the final price tag is likely to hit $1.4 billion, as Masri says he’s battled Israel over water hookups, links to the electric grid, and access for construction vehicles.”

How Palestinian hunger strike leader rattled Israeli politicians, Al-Monitor

Mazal Mualem writes, “[F]or Israel, the debate must now focus on the conditions faced by Palestinian detainees. Israel has numerous ways to repudiate the claims of this senior Fatah leader: It could release figures to counter these claims and present its own evidence through official channels. Politicians, especially leaders like Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid who see themselves as future candidates for prime minister, should expand the debate and relate to the actual issues at stake. Perhaps they might even present their own positions on resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict….Rather than forcing some easy, populist response or other, the editorial, the controversy over it and the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike would better serve Israel’s leaders if they were used to instigate a broader, forward-looking discussion. Such a discussion should inevitably include Barghouti’s potential role as a future Palestinian leader.”

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