News Roundup for August 4, 2017

August 4, 2017

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J Street in the News

Senate panel advances bill that would penalize Palestinian Authority for payments to attackers’ families, JTA

“A key Senate panel has advanced a bill that would reduce U.S. payments to the Palestinian Authority if it continues to pay subsidies to the families of Palestinians jailed for or killed in attacks on Israelis. The Taylor Force Act, named for an American who was stabbed to death in a 2016 terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, was approved Thursday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a 17-4 vote. It had bipartisan support after being softened to attract backing from Democrats as well as centrist pro-Israel groups….J Street praised the changes in the bill moderating its reach, but expressed concerns. ‘The bill’s language is vague in places, making it unclear as to whether this vital assistance would continue depending on how narrowly the language is interpreted by the current U.S. administration or by future administrations,’ the liberal Israel lobby said in a statement. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., reportedly shared similar concerns and voted against the measure after his proposed amendment to grant the president discretion in making cuts was rejected.”

J Street Remains Concerned that Taylor Force Act Could Harm Israelis’ Safety and Security, J Street

“J Street strongly opposes and condemns the Palestinian Authority’s practice of paying stipends – under the umbrella of a larger welfare program – to those imprisoned or killed in connection with acts of terrorism against Israelis, or to their families. We support the enforcement of current US law, which requires a one-to-one reduction in US assistance for every dollar paid by the PA to those or the families of those who committed such acts of terrorism. We also share the view of hundreds of Israel’s top former security officials and pro-Israel former US officials that the Taylor Force Act as originally introduced (S.474) would have undermined the safety and security of Israelis in direct opposition to the bill’s stated objective….We are therefore glad to see that the newly introduced version of the legislation passed by the committee today (S.1697) addresses some of our key concerns by appearing to allow funding for essential USAID projects at the local level and humanitarian assistance provided through US NGOs to continue. However, the bill’s language is vague in places, making it unclear as to whether this vital assistance would continue depending on how narrowly the language is interpreted by the current US administration or by future administrations. We are disappointed that an amendment offered to remedy this uncertainty was rejected by a party-line vote.”

Top News and Analysis

Israel Police Tells Court: Netanyahu Suspected of Bribery and Fraud, Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases, Israel Police confirmed on Thursday when it requested a gag order on the ongoing talks to recruit a state witness. The gag order was granted and is effective until September 17. Also on Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said that progress was being made in talks with a former top aide to Netanyahu, Ari Harow, about becoming a state witness. Speaking during a ceremony at the Supreme Court, Mendelblit said “we’re making progress” and that the prosecution was “working with the police” on getting, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, to become state witness. He asked reporters to “let us work in peace and find the truth.” According to recent reports by Haaretz, the information he provided allegedly indicated criminal connections between Harow, the prime minister and people in the prime minister’s circles.

Trump’s misguided rush to scrap the Iran deal, Washington Post

Ishaan Tharoor writes, “Trump signed off on Iran’s compliance with profound reluctance, and he has since signaled that when Iran’s certification comes up again — as it will every 90 days, per a mandate from Congress — he intends to declare Iran not in compliance, possibly even if there is evidence to the contrary…..In the event that Trump walks away, officials in Europe, Russia and China could pretend that nothing had changed, continuing to expand investments and business ties in Iran. But without American support for the agreement, ‘it’s hard to imagine the Iranians wouldn’t resume their enrichment,’ said Aaron David Miller, a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and a former Middle East negotiator in both Republican and Democratic administrations….The ultimate question that emerges is, simply, why? What does the Trump administration gain by antagonizing the other parties to the agreement? What does it imagine Iran will do once its nuclear program gets unshackled?”

The inevitable next conflagration, Times of Israel

Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher and Orni Petruschka write, “One key lesson we should learn from the tumultuous events of the past two weeks emanating from the Temple Mount, which Muslims call Haram-Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), is that the status quo is unsustainable; there may be relative quiet now, but the next round of violent clashes and bloodshed is just one spark away….Israel must now act swiftly and proactively to remove the underlying conditions that ignited this latest explosion over Jerusalem and will most certainly create the next if our government continues to merely manage the conflict. Otherwise, the last two weeks might well be a prelude to a disastrous conflagration….Israel’s leadership has to convince the international community that it is serious about a two-state solution, and it can only do that through actions. It should declare that Israel has no long-term sovereignty claims over West Bank areas east of the security fence and in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. It should independently separate from the Palestinians by delineating a provisional border based on the June 4, 1967 lines with territorial swaps to keep the main settlement blocs under Israel’s sovereignty. And it should prepare for the eventual relocation of up to 100,000 settlers to areas west of the security fence from areas that will be designated to become a Palestinian state.”


Jordan’s King Coming to Ramallah to Meet With Palestinian President, Haaretz

Jordan’s King Abdullah II is to travel to Ramallah on Monday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the recent events on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and political developments. Abdullah recently announced the allocation of $1 million to support the Waqf, the religious trust that manages the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, and a special grant for its employees. He is expected to arrive in the afternoon for a personal meeting with Abbas and senior Palestinian officials.

Iran hawks, Bannon loyalists booted in White House purge, Al-Monitor

A faction of Iran hawks in the Donald Trump administration appears to have been dealt a blow in recent days. Several officials allied with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon have been removed from the National Security Council (NSC). Among them are NSC senior director for intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was removed Aug. 2; NSC senior director for the Middle East Derek Harvey, who was asked to resign last week; and NSC director for strategic planning Rich Higgins, reportedly for writing and circulating a bizarre memo alleging a conspiracy of globalists, leftists and Islamists trying to undermine Trump, according to The Atlantic.

Israeli Politicians Rally to Rebuild Evacuated West Bank Settlement, Haaretz

Several ministers and Knesset members gathered at the evacuated West Bank settlement of Sa-Nur Thursday evening to mark the 12th anniversary of its dismantlement and voice support for its reestablishment. Sa-Nur was one of four settlements in the northern West Bank that were dismantled at the same time as Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The ministers and MKs, along with the hundreds of others, voiced support for rebuilding all four settlements, including Homesh, Ganim and Kadim.

Hamas to dissolve administrative committee if PA halts all punitive measures in Gaza, Ma’an

In an attempt to achieve national reconciliation between feuding Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah, and alleviate a dire humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas movement announced on Thursday its readiness to do away with its administrative committee in Gaza, should the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) retract all punitive measures imposed on the besieged coastal enclave in recent months.

Jaffa riots erupt after brother of man killed by cops arrested, Times of Israel

Fresh clashes erupted in Jaffa on Thursday night during a demonstration following the arrest of the brother of a man shot dead by police on Saturday. The protest was the latest violent demonstration in the city, that has seen bouts of unrest since the Saturday shooting, which relatives say was a case of mistaken identity. Protesters burned garbage cans, smashed shop windows and threw rocks at policemen during the unauthorized gathering, a police spokesperson said in a statement.

Opinions and Analysis

It Was a Very Bad Week for the Netanyahu Family. It Just Got Catastrophically Worse, Haaretz

Yossi Verter writes, “The picture that has emerged, as of now, is that the police, the supervising attorney and the state prosecutor and his staff are working in complete coordination, as one. The target: Netanyahu. The means: efforts to bore inside by means of state’s witnesses who have come from the prime minister’s inner circle….The time has come for Netanyahu to turn to his community of supporters, to get them to man the barricades. An initial effort will be made this Saturday evening, in Petah Tikva. Coalition Whip MK David Bitan (Likud) is organizing a demonstration in support of the prime minister, opposite the weekly demonstration of those protesting the attorney general’s foot-dragging in his handling of the criminal suspicions against Netanyahu. Likud branches have been asked to urge their people to turn out.”

The Temple Mount crisis ended Trump’s Palestinian honeymoon. The Kushner tape made things worse, Times of Israel

Raphael Ahren writes, “[I]n recent days, the Palestinians’ relationship with the Trump administration, which started off so surprisingly amicably, has soured — largely in the wake of last month’s tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. And Ramallah’s mounting frustration with what it increasingly sees as an American pro-Israel bias — underlined by leaked comments from Trump’s Middle East point man, Jared Kushner, in which he seems sympathetic to Israel’s position — could cripple Trump’s ability to be seen as an honest broker.”

Israeli centrist looks to profit from Netanyahu’s troubles, Al-Monitor

Mazal Mualem writes, “Netanyahu’s exit from the game would be a political earthquake of sorts. It would certainly shake up Likud, which is not prepared for the ‘day after.’ Two names are being tossed around as potential heirs to Netanyahu as chairman of the Likud: Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and former Minister Gideon Sa’ar. Neither of them has the charisma to attract the support of the Israeli public. In fact, Netanyahu’s exit from center stage will highlight a drab but extreme Likud leadership. Given all this, Lapid could again take off. He has been subjected to quite a bit of ridicule for his obsequious appeal to the right and his patriotic messaging, which are part of a carefully constructed strategy based on opinion polls that he commissioned. The surveys indicate that most Israelis are on the right or center-right, so with his poll-based strategy and despite the ridicule, Lapid has managed to distance himself from the image of a left-winger. Gabbay also wants to net the Likud’s soft right, but this is no easy task for the head of a decidedly left-wing party, many of whose Knesset members could easily find a spot in a party like Meretz. Among those voters, Lapid is preferable to Gabbay.”

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