News Roundup for February 15, 2017

February 15, 2017

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J Street in the News

Trump is dividing American Jews over domestic politics, not Israel, Washington Post

“J Street is undeterred; the group has both opposed Friedman’s nomination and condemned Trump’s refugee executive order as ‘evoking the dark period when America fell far short of its promise by turning its back on Jews fleeing Nazi persecution.’ Despite what it sees as wide Jewish support for its positions, though, the group’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami worries that within the GOP, ‘all forms of moderation have essentially been silenced. The people who had been reasonable are petrified of expressing a reasonable thought.’…Trump’s Jewish defenders, said Ben-Ami, ‘seem to be ready to make common cause with people who have clearly got anti-Semitic tendencies because it allows them to pursue their far-right policy and political agenda regarding Israel.’”

Trump nominee’s support for Israeli settlement draws scrutiny, Al-Monitor

“‘It’s troubling that you have the ambassador-designate [be] someone who has raised millions of dollars to further this settlement enterprise that is a huge obstacle to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,’ said Dan Kalik, the chief of staff for J Street, one of the groups leading the unprecedented push to reject a nominee for ambassador to Israel. ‘He’s far outside the mainstream of the American politics on this, and I think he’s far to the right of the current Israeli government, which has a stated policy [of support] for a two-state solution.’….[R]ecords suggest that Friedman’s nonprofit is deeply involved in supporting the Israeli settler movement beyond merely helping students with their religious studies….The Bet El Institutions website goes on to describe the recent establishment of ‘online educational content and campus-based programs’ to push back against what it calls the ‘distressing state of Jewish identity amongst Diaspora young adults, the acceptance of a ‘two-state solution’ within the mainstream American Jewish community and the anti-Israel atmosphere taking hold on many North American university campuses.”

J Street: Will Trump Facilitate Annexation or a Two-State Solution, Jerusalem Post

US President Donald Trump has to choose between creeping annexation or a final status agreement that leads to a Palestinian state, J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami told Israeli journalists in Washington on Tuesday morning. ‘The Trump administration faces this fundamental choice. Is it going to be an administration that is a partner and facilitator of the creeping annexation of the West Bank in the version of a one-state reality?’ Ben-Ami said. ‘Or is it an administration that is in line with the traditional bi-partisan desire to resolve this conflict [through the creation] of a Palestinian state?’…“Trump has to make a choice. Is he going to listen to the voices whispering in his ear, from the David Friedman world or is he going to listen to the voices whispering in his ear from the James Mattis’ world,” Ben-Ami said. J Street is in the midst of a campaign to block the nomination of Friedman, whose views in support of the settlements are diametrically opposite to those of J Street, which favors a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘We would urge the president and the senate to use [Friedman’s confirmation hearing] as a moment to clarify what voice is the president planning to listen to,’ Ben-Ami said. In addition, he said, Friedman’s temperament is suited to a post ‘where diplomacy is required and not flame throwing.’”

Trump’s Israel Envoy Pick to Apologize for Calling J Street Supporters ‘Kapos’, Haaretz

“David Friedman, U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, plans to apologize for saying that supporters of the pro-Israel lobby J Street are ‘worse than kapos,’ referring to Jews who worked for the Nazis in concentration camps. The New York Times reported that representatives on behalf of Friedman told officials including Senator Benjamin Cardin (Md.), the senior democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, that during his confirmation hearing Friedman will ‘express regret’ for his derogatory remarks.”

Flynn’s Resignation Is a Blow to Netanyahu – but Could It Be a Blessing for Israel?, Haaretz

“[L]eft-wing American Jewish organizations expressed concerns about Flynn’s attitudes – not only toward Muslims, but toward Jews as well. After Flynn was named to his post, four liberal Jewish groups joined a drive calling on Donald Trump to rescind the nomination, citing the general’s hostility to Islam and his retweeting an anti-Semitic tweet. J Street, Americans for Peace Now, T’ruah and the National Council of Jewish Women joined 49 other groups to pen an open letter stating that Flynn ‘continuously peddles the nonsensical fear of ‘Shariah law’ spreading in the United States.’”

Top News and Analysis

White House Upheaval Complicates Netanyahu Visit, The New York Times

“When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel meets with President Trump on Wednesday, in their first face-to-face encounter since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, the turmoil in the White House could complicate what many had expected would be a triumphant reception. The resignation of Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, deprives Mr. Netanyahu of his strongest ally inside the White House for raising pressure on Iran. And the emergence of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, as an aspiring Middle East peacemaker has increased the president’s appetite for a peace initiative between the Israelis and Palestinians — something Mr. Netanyahu is not especially eager to discuss….On the eve of the visit, a White House official told reporters that Mr. Trump would push for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, but added that this did not have to take the form of a two-state solution. That would be a major step away from longstanding American policy on the Middle East, which is predicated on sovereign Israeli and Palestinian states, side by side.”

Trump’s Shift to ‘Outside-In’ Strategy for Mideast Peace Is a Long Shot, The New York Times

“The Trump administration plans to focus on an ‘outside-in’ approach, meaning that Israel would first pursue agreements with Arab countries to help solve the conflict with the Palestinians. But that is a long shot, experts say, given some of the crises gripping the region: Saudi Arabia is mired in a war in Yemen; Egypt is reeling from economic and security concerns; and Jordan is focused on securing its borders with Iraq and Syria. Israel’s government has moved steadily to the right, expanding settlements on land that the Palestinians and much of the rest of the world say should be part of a future Palestinian state. And the Palestinians remain sharply divided: The Palestinian Authority, backed by the United States and European powers, governs parts of the West Bank, while Hamas, a militant Islamist movement committed to Israel’s destruction, rules the coastal Gaza Strip. Given those realities, there is little that Arab countries can do to break the deadlock.”

Netanyahu is urged not to use the words ‘Palestinian state’ when he visits Trump, Washington Post

“Netanyahu has been in nonstop consultations with his advisers as they prepare him for one of the most important meetings of his career. Israeli officials say the prime minister will seek to strengthen his already warm rapport with Trump after years of feuding and policy clashes with the Obama administration. But there is stark division on what message his right-wing government wants him to deliver in Washington. His education minister and coalition partner, Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, has pressed him to abandon his tentative commitment to the two-state solution, which Netanyahu first announced in a speech at Bar Ilan University in 2009. Calling the upcoming visit to the White House ‘the test of Netanyahu’s life,’ Bennett warned the 67-year-old prime minister that there were two words he could not utter at the meeting: ‘Palestinian state.’ ‘They must not be said. This is our test,’ Bennett cautioned, voicing an ultimatum from the increasingly powerful settlers’ wing, a group that numbers more than 600,000 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. If either side utters those words after the meeting, Bennett said, ‘the earth will shake.’….In response to the calls to abandon the two-state solution, Netanyahu said his White House visit ‘requires a responsible and ­considered policy — and thus I intend to act. I have navigated Israeli-U.S. relations in a prudent manner,’ he said, ‘and I will continue to do so now.’”

What Does Trump Want From Netanyahu?, The Atlantic

Dan Shapiro writes, “Trump will want to know, at least in broad terms, what Netanyahu wants to achieve with the Palestinians. Is it a two-state solution, as Netanyahu has advocated, in some form, since 2009? Or a version of a one-state solution, with Palestinian autonomy but no citizenship, as many in his party and coalition support? Trump has advisers in both camps. It appeared Netanyahu fell off the fence firmly on the two-state side with a speech at Bar-Ilan University eight years ago. But under pressure from annexation advocates in his coalition like Naftali Bennett to jettison two states, Netanyahu has lately faced a greater temptation to bob and weave, to define Palestinian statehood in such highly compromised terms as to make it unacceptable to Palestinians, or to avoid being pinned down on his ultimate vision at all. But Trump’s own words make clear he wants a deal. His cautions about settlement expansion and his go-slow approach on moving the U.S. embassy are clearly intended to preserve space for one. He wants to coordinate it with Israel—indeed, until recently, the Trump administration had virtually no high-level contact with the Palestinians—and he is willing to test Netanyahu’s theory of working with the Arab states first. In appointing Kushner as his envoy, he is investing his family’s prestige in the cause.”

Netanyahu Fantasized About a GOP President, Cruel God Gave Him Trump Instead, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev writes, “Netanyahu has proven himself adept at overcoming tame and self-restrained politicians such as Shimon Peres, Tzipi Livni or Labor leader Isaac Herzog, but he flinches away from, and often succumbs to, people who are more ferocious or ruthless, such as Avidgor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett, Ehud Barak or Sheldon Adelson. If Netanyahu angers Trump, defies him, insults him or simply seems condescending, the U.S. president will come down on him like a ton of bricks. Incredible as it may seem right now, it is in such moments that Netanyahu will find himself pining, to his own amazement, for the good old days of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.”


CIA Chief Meets Palestinian President Abbas Ahead of Netanyahu-Trump Summit, Haaretz

CIA director Mike Pompeo on Tuesday met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a day before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s White House meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Palestinian security sources told Haaretz that the meeting took place at Abbas’ headquarters in Ramallah. The sources did not elaborate on the contents of the meeting, but said that the two discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as other regional issues, including the war in Syria.

Israel Recalled Egypt Ambassador Over Security Concerns, Haaretz

The staff of Israel’s embassy to Cairo has been recalled over security concerns. The Shin Bet security service said Tuesday that the ambassador, who has reportedly been working from Jerusalem over the past few weeks, will not be returning to Egypt soon. “Due to security considerations, the return of the Foreign Ministry’s embassy team to Cairo has been curbed,” the Shin Bet said.

Most Israelis support marriage freedom, civil marriage, Times of Israel

A poll released Tuesday to mark Valentine’s Day indicates that 72 percent of Jewish Israelis support civil marriage and 76% of Arab Israelis favor marriage freedom in Israel, where citizens cannot legally marry outside their faith. Both Jewish and Arab Israelis overwhelmingly supported the statement that “every resident of Israel has the right to get married in Israel with whomever he chooses, in whatever way he chooses, and according to his beliefs.” according to Hiddush, an Israeli organization that aims to advance religious pluralism.

IfNotNow Protests Outside AIPAC Offices in New York, Forward

Members of the leftist Jewish protest group IfNotNow rallied outside the New York City offices of AIPAC on Monday. The protest targeted a new Israeli law that allows Israelis to build on land in the West Bank privately owned by Palestinians. “We know that fifty years of pro-Israel-at-any-cost politics enforced by the American Jewish establishment made this brazenly unjust law possible,” said Sarah Lerman-Sinkoff, an IfNotNow leader, in a statement issued by the group. “It’s time for a change of leadership in the American Jewish community.”

In First, Israel Mulls Using New Law to Confiscate Palestinian Lands for Illegal Settlement, Haaretz

Israel has told the High Court it is contemplating using recently passed legislation to confiscate privately owned Palestinians lands in the West Bank. The lands in question contain seven structures in the West Bank outpost of Adi Ad and a number of roads built illegally on private lands. This could be the first time that state uses the so-called Regularization Law to expropriate private Palestinian lands in the West Bank.

Israeli authorities demolish 3 buildings in East Jerusalem neighborhood, Ma’an

Israeli authorities demolished at least three houses, two of which were under construction, in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya on Tuesday, local sources said.

Trump’s Pick for Israel Envoy Not an Extremist, Jewish Group Tells Senate, Haaretz

The largest U.S. Jewish Orthodox group on Tuesday urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee not to view President Donald Trump’s designated Israel ambassador as an extremist simply because he opposes the two-state solution. The Orthodox Union submitted a letter to committee members in defense of designated envoy David Friedman’s views. The letter did not include an endorsement of Friedman, since the Orthodox Union doesn’t engage in endorsing or opposing presidents’ candidates. However, it came to defend Friedman’s opposition to the two-state solution, which is to the right of the stated position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This, following what group leaders call “a campaign to portray Mr. Friedman … as extreme and even beyond the pale of mainstream thought.”

Searches, Detentions, Arbitrary Decisions: Israeli Refusal of Visitors’ Entry Surges Ninefold in Five Years, Haaretz

The number of refusals of entry into Israel has jumped almost ninefold over the past five years. In 2016 alone Israel refused entry to 16,534 people, compared with 1,870 in 2011, the Population and Immigration Authority told Haaretz in reply to a query under the Freedom of Information Law, revealed here for the first time. The main reason for the steep jump is continuing rise of citizens of Ukraine, Georgia and Egypt whose entry into Israel was refused. In 2016 citizens of these three countries comprised 68 percent of those refused entry to Israel.

Israel also denied the entry of thousands of citizens of Western countries in recent years, led by the United States, Germany, Britain, France and Italy.

Opinion and Analysis

What will Netanyahu tell Trump?, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit observes, “As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to set off for his historic first meeting on Feb. 15 with US President Donald Trump, a big fight broke out in the Israeli right about the message and agenda that Netanyahu should present to the US president. Standing on one side of the divide is HaBayit HaYehudi Chair Naftali Bennett, accompanied by a sizable group of right-wing Likud ministers, whom he tried to incite against the prime minister’s compromising positions. On the opposing side is Netanyahu, who is much more realistic than Bennett but is afraid to be portrayed as a defeatist, who is reluctant to take advantage of these fortuitous circumstances to win historic achievements for the Israeli right from a supportive US president.”

For Israel’s sake, end settlements, USA Today

Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher and Orni Petruschka write, “Some 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank today. The fulfillment of Zionism by establishing a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people in the land of Israel requires setting its borders around a Jewish majority. These cannot include the West Bank. Settlements east of the security fence Israel built in the West Bank, and the occupation, pose existential threats to our country’s national security. Israel’s recent announcements that it will build 5,500 homes there and establish a new settlement exacerbate this threat.”

Bibi’s baggage: A guide to the criminal investigations casting a shadow on Netanyahu’s Trump meeting, Haaretz

Alison Kaplan Sommer writes that Prime Minister Netanyahu “arrives in Washington as a leader under criminal investigation, suspected not just of a single transgression but a multi-pronged probe looking into a range of alleged misdeeds. Although he has repeatedly declared there is “nothing” to any of them and characterized the investigations as a witch hunt somehow inspired by political adversaries and media elites who are out to get him, the odds that at least one of them will catch up with him has visibly cracked his previously impenetrable political armor.”

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