News Roundup for August 23, 2017

August 23, 2017

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J Street in the News

The Iran Deal is Working – But Trump May Rip It Up, J Street

“So far, while the president has repeatedly denounced the agreement, the White House has taken the steps necessary to maintain it. The secretary of state, the secretary of defense, joint chiefs of staff and national security adviser have all cautioned against walking away from it. They’ve made clear that the deal is working. If the US recklessly abandons it, our allies will blame us. The coalition that pushed Iran to the negotiation could collapse — and Iran could be back on the path to pursuing nuclear weapons. But contrary to the experts’ advice, Trump has seemed determined to find a way to claim Iran is not in compliance. In a heated meeting in July, the president reportedly raged against the recommendations of his senior national security team. In its aftermath, he tasked a special group of ultra-hawkish White House officials with finding justification for the US to walk away from the agreement at the next deadline….We’ve seen what the consequences can be when leaders make vital foreign policy decisions based on politicized intelligence. We’ve seen how abandoning diplomacy and taking rash action on the international stage can alienate allies, sow chaos and undermine the security of our country and entire regions. We can’t let that happen — not this time. Over the next two months, we need to do everything we can to make clear to Congress and to everyone around the president that the Iran nuclear agreement is making our country and our allies, including Israel, safer — and that abandoning it would be a disastrous mistake that could put us on the path to crisis and even war.”

Top News and Analysis

Kushner in Middle East for peace talks, Politico

“While everyone was busy gazing into the solar eclipse on Monday, White House adviser Jared Kushner quietly snuck away to the Middle East for a trip that will take him to the Persian Gulf and Israel. Accompanying Kushner on Monday in the Gulf states were deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, a White House official said…It was not clear why the White House would announce the trip but then keep the details of Kushner’s departure under wraps. A White House spokesman confirmed the schedule but declined to comment on why the details of the schedule were not made public….The purpose of Kushner’s trip, according to a White House official, was to ‘focus on the path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, combatting extremism, the situation in Gaza, including how to ease the humanitarian crisis there,’ as well as to explore economic steps that could be taken leading up to any potential peace deal….Expectations for any deliverables that the trip might yield, however, were very low in the days leading up to Kushner’s arrival in Israel. The Palestinians have been on a warpath against the United States since Kushner’s last visit in June, expressing particular frustrations with Greenblatt, who has been doing the diplomatic heavy lifting in the region.”

These Are the Top Contenders Fighting to Succeed Israel’s Prime Minister, Haaretz

Anshel Pfeffer writes, “Six men are currently vying to be Israel’s next prime minister, waiting patiently for the departure of the incumbent. It is a frustrating position to be in. Israeli politics have no term-limits, fixed election dates or a clear succession process. None of them have the slightest idea when they may be given the chance. It takes a particular form of resilience to remain an Israeli prime-minister-in-waiting for long. It is a small wonder then that the list of potential candidates is continuously being refreshed.”

Palestinians have spent decades battling Israel. Now they’re battling each other, Vox

Shira Rubin writes, “Palestinians are facing an existential crisis over the future of their struggle for independence, but this time the enemy isn’t just Israel. Instead, they’re fighting each other — and the clash has major stakes for one of the world’s longest-running, and most violent, political disputes. That’s because the Palestinian leadership has for a full decade been divided by two competing factions: the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank with the political and financial support of the US and other major foreign powers, and the Islamist extremist group Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip. Their bitter power struggle was recently brought to a head, as strange as it sounds, by electricity bills.”


Israel’s Attorney General Demands Government Rein in Illegal Construction in Settlements, Haaretz

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit recently turned to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and demanded that they establish a special enforcement unit for illegal construction in the settlements. Mendelblit did so after demanding last month – in a very rare step – that the High Court of Justice issue an injunction against the Defense Ministry requiring it to establish the above-mentioned unit. During discussions in recent weeks, in the Prime Minister’s Office among other places, Mendelblit criticized the government’s conduct regarding enforcement of the planning and construction laws in the territories. He said, in the presence of officials in the PMO, the treasury and the Defense Ministry, that the present situation, in which there is no group enforcing the planning laws in the settlements except for the committees acting on behalf the settlements’ regional councils themselves, is “clearly illogical,” and creates a situation in which there are illegal structures over which nobody has authority. He requested the establishment of a special unit to enforce the planning laws in the territories, parallel to that which exists at present in the treasury, which is responsible for enforcing the planning laws in Israel.

After US cuts, delays aid to Egypt, Kushner snubbed in Cairo, US News and World Report

White House adviser Jared Kushner and visiting U.S. officials were snubbed by the Foreign Ministry in Cairo on Wednesday in apparent protest over the Trump administration’s move to cut and delay aid to Egypt. Egypt’s top diplomat, Sameh Shoukry, was to meet with the U.S. delegation headed by Kushner, but a modified version of the minister’s schedule showed the meeting had been called off, shortly after the Americans landed in Cairo. The protest came after the Trump administration on Tuesday cut nearly $100 million in military and economic aid to Egypt and delayed almost $200 million more in military financing, pending human rights improvements and action to ease harsh restrictions on civic and other non-governmental groups. The Egyptian ministry said in a separate statement that Egypt regrets the U.S. decision to reduce the aid funds and considered it “a misjudgment of the nature of the strategic relations that binds the two countries over decades, and reflects the lack of understanding of the importance of supporting the stability and success of Egypt.”

Nadler Says Time For Jared Kushner To ‘Get Real’ About Trump, Forward

Rep. Jerry Nadler is leading the drive in Congress to pass a resolution censuring Trump because of his response to Charlottesville — and he also has also some advice for Jared Kushner. “I don’t care what Jared Kushner said about the fact that Donald Trump loves, loves him and Ivanka and other people,” Nadler (D-Manhattan) told Politico. “He was willing to traffic in anti-Semitism. He was willing to use anti-Semitic imagery. And then, when caught up in it, refused to repudiate it, and denied that it was what it clearly was.” Nadler also said he thinks President Trump should resign but is not yet ready to push for his impeachment.

PA says 24 years of peace talks have achieved nothing, Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki on Tuesday said that over two decades of peace negotiations with Israelis have produced “nothing,” and called on the international community to unilaterally establish a state of Palestine. “We convinced the international community that the best way to reach a state is through negotiations. But after 24 years of negotiations, we have not gotten anything,” said Maliki, in a meeting with British Secretary of State for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt in Ramallah. In the face of stalled peace talks, Maliki called for “active intervention” by the international community and the “imposition of peace” through the establishment of a Palestinian state, according to the official PA news site Wafa.

Paul Ryan Rejects Rabbi’s Plea To Censure Trump, Forward

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, dismissed a bid by Democrats to censure President Donald Trump as a “partisan hack-fest” after a rabbi in his Wisconsin district asked him to join because of what she said was Trump’s condoning of racism.

Saudi crown prince discusses Mideast peace with U.S. officials, Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince met senior U.S. officials including presidential adviser Jared Kushner in Jeddah on Tuesday and discussed efforts to bring about peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, Saudi state news agency SPA said. Mohammed bin Salman also discussed ways to combat terrorist financing with Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, as well as US negotiator Jason Greenblatt and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, SPA said.

Chief Rabbinate challenges court jurisdiction to rule on Western Wall deal, Times of Israel

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate said the country’s Supreme Court lacks the jurisdiction to rule on the “intrareligious” struggle involving egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. In a 166-page brief filed Tuesday with the Supreme Court, the Chief Rabbinate said in part, “The courts are not the appropriate tribunal to decide if Jewish law can be changed and the holy sites can be desecrated.”

Reform Jewish Women From U.S. Ordered to Lift Shirts, Skirts Before Entering Western Wall, Haaretz

Two Jewish American women, both members of the Reform movement, were stopped at the entrance to the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning, taken to a side room and asked to lift their shirts and skirts. The women were part of a delegation of students studying at Jerusalem’s Hebrew Union College, who had come to join the feminist prayer group Women of the Wall at its monthly service.

Leading Israeli lawmaker derides a modern Orthodox movement as ‘borderline Reform’, JTA

The head of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party called members of the Religious Zionist movement “borderline Reform,” an insult among his haredi Orthodox constituents.

Opinions and Analysis

Binyamin Netanyahu is soft on anti-Semitism when it suits him, Economist

“Mr Netanyahu has said that Israel has no greater friend than Mr Trump, and is pleased that America is not pressing Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But his reluctance to speak out against anti-Semitism in America is about more than that. Mr Netanyahu and his supporters seem to believe that the people opposing the white supremacists are at least as dangerous to Israel as the neo-Nazis….Mr Netanyahu and his Likud party have won three elections, in part by accusing the left and the media of undermining Israel’s security. This, along with the prime minister’s co-operation with Orthodox Jewish parties, has alienated those American Jews who identify with the opposition in Israel. To some it looks as if Mr Netanyahu only sees anti-Semitism in those who oppose his policies.”

Is Netanyahu’s son pulling him to the far-right?, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit writes, “Many view Yair as the alter ego of his father. “Yair says what Netanyahu thinks,” a high-level Likud source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “What he hears in the prime minister’s residence living room, he expresses on Facebook. He can allow himself to do so because he holds no official state position, and he has no inhibitions or mental blocks.” There are many signs that the reality may be even more extreme than this description. According to many sources who are knowledgeable about what goes on in the prime minister’s home, Yair does not merely listen to the dialogue between his parents and translate it in the external world. Instead, they say, Yair is the one to dictate the dialogue. Yair is the engine behind his father’s right-wing radicalization, and he doesn’t hesitate to “tell off” his father when the two disagree. Yair is attentive to the goings-on on social networks, and he is viewed as the figure behind several of the prime minister’s more combative responses to newspaper articles over the last two years.”

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