News Roundup for August 28, 2017

August 28, 2017

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Top News and Analysis

U.S. calls Kushner’s Mideast talks ‘productive,’ doesn’t commit to two-state solution, Washington Post

“A U.S. delegation led by Jared Kushner had a ‘productive’ meeting with the Palestinian Authority on how to begin Middle East peace talks, the State Department said Friday, although some Palestinian officials expressed frustration that the Trump administration still has not committed to a two-state solution….But the U.S. delegation refrained from committing to a two-state solution — the primary focus of peace efforts for decades. That has rankled Palestinian officials, who say that negotiations without any set parameters would benefit only the Israeli side.”

Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s Donald Trump, Washington Post

David Rothkopf writes, “The similarities are uncanny. But they are hardly an accident. The far right in Israel and in the United States have merged in their rhetoric, their tactics, their contempt for the core values of democracy, their inherent racism (both against Muslims, with Trump adding his contempt for black people and Mexicans for good measure), their love of walls, their hatred of Iran, their scandals and, more broadly, the growing sense that both are driven more by a desperation for self-preservation than by any sense of commitment to their national interests. This week’s trip is evidence of what such a mind meld can produce. Rather than peace or progress, something new is arising in the history of cooperation between the United States and Israel — a mutual political defense pact that involves the transfer of short-range tropes, medium-range memes and weapons-grade hate against the populations that will soon be the majority in both countries, regardless of the worst efforts of these damaged leaders or their malignant, most-militant core supporters.”

If Report Says Iran Is Abiding by Nuclear Deal, Will Trump Heed It?, The New York Times

Gardiner Harris reports, “Senate Republicans have signaled unease with the president’s vow to undo the deal and his own security advisers recommend preserving it, but the White House is giving serious consideration to alternatives that stop short of abandoning the accord. Under one option, the Trump administration could declare that Iran is violating the deal but say that the United States intends to keep it in place for now and not immediately reimpose sanctions…..Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee who led the unanimous Senate Republican opposition to the deal in 2015, said at a recent event that he had warned Mr. Trump that “you can only tear the agreement up one time.” Doing so now, Mr. Corker said, would generate a self-created crisis. Calls placed to more than 20 Senate offices of opponents of the deal found few willing to discuss their positions publicly. Mirroring Republican unease, some of the groups that once fiercely opposed the deal are similarly silent. A spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which underwrote a multimillion-dollar national advertising campaign against the deal in 2015, refused to answer questions about whether the organization now wanted it scrapped. Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, another group that sought to defeat the Iran deal, said he did not want the deal summarily scrapped.”


White House Official: Kushner Never Said Settlement Freeze Will Topple Netanyahu, Haaretz

A senior White House official strongly denied on Saturday a report in Arab newspaper al-Hayat which said that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, told Palestinian President Abbas that Israel will not be asked to freeze settlement building because that could lead to a breakdown of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. According to Al-Hayat, a U.S. delegation headed by  Kushner told Abbas this week that “stopping settlement construction is impossible because it will cause the collapse of the Netanyahu government.”

1,500 protest near AG’s house over handling of corruption investigations against Netanyahu, JTA

About 1,500 people protested against the handling of corruption investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The protest on Saturday night near the Petah Tikvah home of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit was also held simultaneously in 17 other Israeli cities. It is the 40th consecutive week that such protests have been held.

Trump team, Netanyahu renew talks on US embassy move to Jerusalem, Times of Israel

Senior members of the Trump administration and Israeli officials renewed talks over the possibility of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a promise repeatedly made by the president in the 2016 election campaign, during high-level meetings in Israel last week, the Times of Israel has learned.

Talks Underway to Arrange Trump-Netanyahu Meeting Next Month, Israeli Official Confirms, Haaretz

Prime Minister Netanyahu may meet with President Trump during a visit to New York in September. A senior official in Jerusalem confirmed that the Prime Minister’s Office is in talks with the White House in an attempt to have the meeting coincide with Netanyahu’s scheduled speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

PA shelves plan to fire 6,000 Gaza civil servants, Times of Israel

The Palestinian Authority has suspended plans to force more than 6,000 of its employees in the Gaza Strip into early retirement, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said on Saturday. “We decided, in consultation with President Mahmoud Abbas, to allow education and health employees who were recently (asked) to retire early to continue their work in the ministry,” a statement from Hamdallah on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa said.

Netanyahu to UN Chief: Iran Building Precision Missile Factories in Syria and Lebanon, Haaretz

Prime Minister Netanyahu told visiting UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday that Iran is building sites to produce precision guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon. Speaking ahead their meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu accused Iran of turning Syria into a “base of military entrenchment as part of its declared goal to eradicate Israel.”

State agrees to evacuate squatters from Hebron building, Times of Israel

The State of Israel informed the High Court of Justice on Sunday that it is preparing to evacuate the Machpela House in Hebron, where 15 settler families have been illegally squatting for the past month. Responding to a petition by a group of Palestinian residents in Hebron, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said that the roughly 100 squatters will be given a week to peaceably vacate the building near the Cave of the Patriarchs before the IDF will be ordered to remove them by force.

Opinions and Analysis

White House ‘pressuring’ intelligence officials to find Iran in violation of nuclear deal, Guardian

“US intelligence officials are under pressure from the White House to produce a justification to declare Iran in violation of a 2015 nuclear agreement, in an echo of the politicisation of intelligence that led up to the Iraq invasion, according to former officials and analysts….Intelligence analysts, chastened by the experience of the 2003 Iraq war, launched by the Bush administration on the basis of phoney evidence of weapons of mass destruction, are said to be resisting the pressure to come up with evidence of Iranian violations.

‘Anecdotally, I have heard this from members of the intelligence community – that they feel like they have come under pressure,’ said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who also served as a national security council spokesman and special assistant to Barack Obama. ‘They told me there was a sense of revulsion. There was a sense of déjà vu. There was a sense of ‘we’ve seen this movie before.”’

Jerusalem Stakeout Reveals ‘New Generation’ of Radical Jewish Settlers, Haaretz

Until recently, the Baladim outpost near the West Bank settlement of Kochav Hashahar was of great concern to the Shin Bet security service. The Shin Bet considered Baladim the epicenter of Jewish terrorism in the West Bank and ascribed attacks on numerous Palestinians, left-wing activists and soldiers to the few dozen young men who intermittently resided there. Since being evacuated two months ago, Baladim has stood almost empty; the so-called hilltop youth haven’t returned. But the Shin Bet says this quiet is deceptive: In recent months, the extremist fringe has actually grown stronger. The Shin Bet terms it “the second generation of the infrastructure of the revolt.”

Will Jordan, Palestinians form confederation?, Al-Monitor

Uri Savir reports, “As confidence in Palestinian leadership hits record-low levels, senior PLO officials are again discussing the idea of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, made of two independent states. One of these PLO officials told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that in the latest meeting between Jordanian King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Aug. 7, the two leaders agreed to tighten relations in several domains. The leaders decided to enhance security cooperation against the radical fundamentalist movement out of Iran and Syria and to strengthen economic ties, to support the Palestinian Authority (PA). They also decided to increase police collaboration with Egypt and Saudi Arabia and to cooperate on the Muslim safeguarding of Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount). The PLO source said that given the domestic situation in the United States, with an administration that is barely viable, it is very unlikely that there will be a viable peace process.”

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