Jonathan Broder reports, “The thwarting of the two initiatives was the latest in a series of political victories claimed by J Street in recent years that have bolstered its standing as a key player when it comes to influencing congressional Democrats on Israel-related issues. Behind those victories is not only J Street’s lobbying prowess but also its political action committee, which provides the sweetener of campaign money for Democratic incumbents and first-time candidates. As a result, J Street has gained recognition as one of the most effective voices among progressive Jewish groups in favor of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iran nuclear agreement and a return to a more balanced US Middle East policy….In a major test of J Street’s influence following the signing of the Iran deal, the lobby’s political fundraising arm contributed $6 million to Democratic incumbents who supported the pact, helping all of them win re-election in 2016. Congressional aides credit J Street with convincing Senate Democrats to block draft legislation from Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker that would have changed presidential certification requirements for the Iran deal and made it easier for Congress to reinstate sanctions….J Street has raised some $4 million so far to re-elect more than half of the Democratic incumbents in the House and Senate in the 2018 midterms and to help elect more progressive first-time candidates. The organization, which has grown tenfold over the past decade, is now a $10 million operation with a 60-member staff, seven regional offices around the country and a nationwide membership of 200,000.”
“‘Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation,’ Portman said. J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, had sustained support for a decade on essentially that principle, and it is one also embraced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. In fact, Sanders anticipated Portman’s case just days before at the J Street annual conference. ‘As someone who believes absolutely and unequivocally in Israel’s right to exist and to exist in peace and security,’ the Jewish lawmaker said, ‘we must say loudly and clearly that to oppose the reactionary policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu does not make us anti-Israel!’…’We are living in a celebrity media environment, we just elected a reality TV star president,’ Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street’s president, said in an interview. ‘It means a lot more for the debate when Natalie Portman says it.’ Ben Ami wasn’t complaining. ‘This is the most prominent figure in American entertainment who has delivered this message,’ he said.”
Trump Signals Openness to a ‘New Deal’ to Constrain Iran, The New York Times
Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis report, “President Trump signaled on Tuesday that he was open to a new arrangement with European allies that would preserve the Iran nuclear agreement by expanding and extending its terms to constrain Tehran’s development of missiles and other destabilizing activities in the Middle East. Hosting President Emmanuel Macron of France at the White House, Mr. Trump again assailed the agreement made by the Obama administration as ‘insane’ and ‘ridiculous,’ but said he could agree to ‘a new deal’ negotiated by American and European officials if it was strong enough. He made no commitment, however, leaving it unclear whether he will pull out of the agreement by a May 12 deadline he has set to either ‘fix’ the Iran agreement or walk away from it.”
Europe’s Last-Ditch Effort to Save the Iran Deal, The Atlantic
Rob Malley and Colin Kahl write, “Trump essentially is taking hostage something the Europeans value, threatening to kill the agreement unless they pay him ransom. So France, Germany, and the U.K. have been valiantly seeking a way out of the crisis Trump manufactured, attempting to accommodate the president’s demands while staying true to their own obligations under the JCPOA. They are doing so not because they agree that the deal is in urgent need of repair. They don’t. Rather, they are rightly worried that Trump will make an ideologically inspired and fact-free decision to tear it down, with profoundly negative consequences for their national security interests. Which explains why America’s European allies are in the awkward position of bending over backwards to appease a man intent on killing the deal by considering more pressure on a party (Iran) that is abiding by it.”
Emmanuel Macron to Press Trump to Keep Iran Nuclear Deal, The New York Times
Peter Baker reports, “President Trump will come under increasing pressure from visiting French and German leaders this week not to scrap the three-year-old nuclear agreement with Iran next month as American and European negotiators make tentative progress toward a new deal to toughen the limits on Tehran….In recent weeks, American and European negotiators have made progress toward side agreements that would lay out new standards for Iran to meet or risk the reimposition of sanctions by the West. Negotiators have generally reached a consensus on measures to constrain Iran’s ballistic missile program, according to people briefed on the talks, but remain divided over how to extend the restrictions of the original agreement due to lapse starting in 2025. Most importantly, the Europeans want assurances that if side agreements are reached, the United States will stay in the deal, a hard commitment for American officials to make given Mr. Trump’s mercurial nature. But European leaders hope they can persuade him to hold off by showing enough progress in negotiations that he can claim he is making the deal better.”
Behind bloody Gaza clashes, economic misery and piles of debt, Washington Post
Loveday Morris and Hazem Balousha report, “Across the 140-square-mile territory, Gazans are struggling to finance their daily lives. Young people — unable to pay for weddings or homes of their own — are delaying marriage, figures show, while health officials say suicide, once virtually unheard of in Gaza, is on the rise….The Gaza Strip’s economy has been crippled by a more than decade-long blockade by Israel, which maintains tight controls on trade and movement in and out of the territory, citing security considerations. But Gazans are also frustrated with the territory’s rulers, the Hamas organization, for its failure to provide basic services, and with the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority for cutting the salaries of its Gaza employees. The United Nations is warning that something has got to give. Even Israeli security officials have sounded an alarm in recent months, warning that a humanitarian crisis could set off an explosion of violence, putting Israel itself at risk.”
Israel has admitted in court on Tuesday that its plan to relocate African asylum seekers has fallen through and that there is currently no possibility to forcibly deport them. In a statement, the state said it would stop holding pre-deportation hearings for the asylum seekers and that any previous decisions on the matter are now nullified.
Israel has vowed to reopen its detention facilities for asylum seekers after admitting in court on Tuesday that its plan to relocate African asylum seekers has fallen through and that there is currently no possibility to forcibly deport them. A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office after the dramatic court announcement said that “after the third countries refused to accept the infiltrators under the conditions Israel demanded, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Arye Dery agreed to immediately reopen the detention facilities for the infiltrators, move to advance new legislation [to circumnavigate top court rulings] and promote additional measures to solve the problem.”
A far right-wing Israeli lawmaker was briefly blocked from Twitter following a post saying teenage Palestinian Ahed Tamimi should have been shot for scuffling with Israeli soldiers on her family’s property in the occupied West Bank. Smotrich, however, made it clear he had learned little from the incident, taking to Facebook to double down on his call for Palestinian protesters to be violently punished without trial.
Former US Vice President Joe Biden will speak next month at a gala dinner for Seeds of Peace, an international educational organization famous for promoting co-existence between Israeli and Palestinian teenagers. The organization will be celebrating 25 years to its foundation in early May, and Biden will give a keynote speech at a New York City event celebrating the occasion. The speech will be his first public appearance at an event related to Israel since leaving the White House last January.
Russia plans to deliver new air defense systems to Syria in the near future, RIA news agency cited Russia’s Defense Ministry as saying on Wednesday. The announcement comes a day after Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel may strike the Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft defense systems in Syria if they are used against Israel.
Cars were set alight in an Arab-Israeli town and in a West Bank town. The incidents early on Wednesday are two of several so-called “price tag” attacks against Arabs citizens of Israel and Palestinians over the last month. The attack that took place between the Arab villages of Iksal and Daburiyya, located in northern Israel, included graffiti spray painted in Hebrew on a stone wall that read “Jews, let’s win.” In the Palestinian town of Dir Amar near Ramallah in the central West Bank, spray painted graffiti in Hebrew read “We will take our fate in our hands.”
The shadow war between Israel and Iran takes center stage, Washington Post
Ishaan Tharoor writes, “The rumblings of an open conflict between Israel and Iran in Syria are growing louder. When President Trump launched yet another one-off missile salvo against the Syrian regime, it came on the heels of a suspected April 9 Israeli strike on an Iranian facility at a Syrian air base, which drew howls of condemnation from the regime’s patrons in Moscow and Tehran….The deepening tensions come at a time of growing discontent within the Islamic Republic. A tanking economy has blown the lid on popular frustration with the regime and even prompted Zarif’s putative boss, President Hassan Rouhani, to complain about the costly war effort in Syria. But the prospect of broader confrontation with Israel — and the likely upcoming drama over Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers — may persuade regime hard-liners that now is the time to circle the wagons.”
The Scramble to Salvage the Iran Nuclear Deal, The New Yorker
Robin Wright reports, “Trump could kill the deal by deciding not to comply with U.S. obligations—namely, the waiving of sanctions, which was promised in exchange for Iran limiting its controversial nuclear program. The President could also walk away from the deal altogether, even though the five other powers are still wedded to it. His Administration apparently calculates that Iran will stick to the terms, whatever Washington does. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told me otherwise. ‘If they want to kill the deal, they have that option, but they have to face the consequences,’ Zarif said. ‘It’s dangerous to be arrogant, very dangerous.’ For fifteen months, he added, Trump has already tried to sabotage the accord by disrupting normal business with Iran.”
Chemi Shalev writes, “In such a loony environment, it’s unclear whether one can safely assume that decisions on more critical issues are being taken on some island of rationality. Is the coalition’s onslaught on the High Court of Justice a reasonable position or a manifestation of destructive psychosis? Is it really logical for Iran-obsessed Netanyahu to press Trump to renege on the nuclear deal, notwithstanding international opposition and despite the risk of regional war? Is it normal for the Israeli defense minister to directly threaten Russia, as Avigdor Lieberman did on Tuesday, as if Vladimir Putin were a military nonentity like Hamas or Mahmoud Abbas?”