News Roundup for February 16, 2017

February 16, 2017

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J Street in the News

Hardball, MSNBC

Jeremy Ben-Ami joins Chris Matthews to discuss the meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Trump’s pick for Israel ambassador faces rocky confirmation, ABC News

“J Street, which worked closely with the Obama administration and advocates a two-state solution, called Trump’s remarks “both meaningless and dangerous.” “How can there be a negotiation, let alone an agreement, when there is no longer a consensus on what the end goal should be?” said Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street’s president. The group has opposed Friedman’s nomination because of what it said is “his consistent record of extreme and offensive attacks on senior U.S. officials, on American diplomats and on liberal American Jews.”

J Street opposes Friedman for Israel envoy despite anticipated apology, Times of Israel

“The liberal Jewish Middle East policy group J Street on Wednesday repeated its “strong objection” to the appointment of David Friedman, Donald Trump’s pro-settlement Jewish lawyer, as the next US ambassador to Israel. In a statement sent to the media on the eve of his Senate confirmation hearing, the organization dismissed any connection between its objection and “the insults and attacks” previously hurled at it by Friedman. The longtime Trump ally once called J Street members and backers “worse than kapos” — a reference to Jewish collaborators with Nazis — for their support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

J Street to President Trump: One State is the Problem, Not a Solution, J Street

“J Street is deeply concerned that President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu studiously avoided endorsing a two-state solution at their joint appearance today.  Worse, the president indicated that he considers a one-state configuration to be a plausible outcome of the conflict. This statement flies in the face of established American policy and will undoubtedly create damaging confusion among our allies and adversaries. We’ve known for some time that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not seriously interested in pursuing a two-state solution. But it was tremendously disturbing to hear the President of the United States fail to recognize that only with Palestinian independence can Israel remain both Jewish and democratic.  This has been a core understanding of bipartisan US policy and one shared by the majority of the Jewish community and most of the international community for many years. President Trump’s statement that he was looking at both two states and one state and preferred “the one that the parties like” was both meaningless and dangerous.”

With or without apology, David Friedman’s Record Makes Him Wrong Choice for Ambassador, J Street

“J Street’s strong objection to the nomination of Mr. Friedman to serve as US Ambassador to Israel does not rest on the insults and attacks that he has leveled against our organization and our supporters. We object to his confirmation because his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the two-state solution, and his deep and long-running personal and financial ties to the settlement movement, run directly counter to decades of bipartisan US policy and to US and Israeli interests. We object because his consistent record of extreme and offensive attacks on senior US officials, on American diplomats and on liberal American Jews make clear that he lacks the temperament and responsibility required for such a sensitive diplomatic assignment. Mr. Friedman’s modus operandi is to publicly and aggressively lash out against those with whom he disagrees on politics or policy. This quality calls into serious question his ability to serve as an ambassador.”

J Street to Trump: One State is the Problem, Not a Solution, Jerusalem Post

“Jewish organization J street expressed its “deep concern” after US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu avoided endorsing a two-state solution at their joint appearance in Washington on Wednesday. During the leaders’ opening statements, they vaguely answered questions on the subject and President Trump even indicated that he considers a one-state configuration to be a plausible outcome of the conflict.”

The case against David Friedman, Jewish Journal

“[A] plurality of American Jews support a two-state approach. This doesn’t necessarily translate into support for J Street. You can support two states and still disagree with J Street’s strategy or its positions on other issues. But in any case, Friedman is drawing a battle line and damning, in the most vicious and undiplomatic way, a significant portion of American Jewry.”

Nothing diplomatic about an an Ambassador Friedman, Washington Jewish Week

“Friedman believes that “less than half of American Jewry” is pro-Israel because apparently you can’t be pro-Israel in his book if you favor a real two-state solution, which 78 percent of American Jews do. Friedman caused a storm of protest when he likened supporters of J Street — which calls itself the “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” — to “kapos” in Nazi concentration camps who helped send fellow Jews to their deaths.”

Ambassador nominee Friedman apologizes in rabbinic forum, Jewish Journal

“Unlike other Trump appointees who were merely the subject of negative newspaper editorials and critical talking heads on cable television, Friedman quickly became the target of a well-organized and highly-focused Internet campaign by J Street that included a petition asking Senators to reject the nomination.”

For some left-wing groups, Trump-Bibi meet-up is not top protest priority, Times of Israel

This time, however, J Street Director Jeremy Ben-Ami restricted his opposition to Netanyahu’s policies to a blog entry written on Monday, in which he suggested that a Trump administration might prove less supportive of Netanyahu’s agenda than some backers, including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, had previously believed. “We’ll be watching the White House closely on Wednesday for signs of where we are headed,” Ben-Ami wrote. The force of the organization’s actions were directed instead at the Friedman confirmation hearing. The last half of Ben-Ami’s blog post on the upcoming meeting was devoted to J Street’s staunch opposition to Friedman’s nomination, and a call to supporters to lobby their senators against confirming the lawyer and Trump confidant.

Top News and Analysis

Israeli Settlement Sees Friendly Face in Trump Administration, The New York Times

“Under previous administrations, American diplomats have been barred from setting foot in such settlements, viewed by most of the world as a violation of international law and branded by the Obama administration as “illegitimate.”But Mr. Friedman, President Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, upends the conventional protocols and has espoused views to the right of Israel’s conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Friedman, an Orthodox Jewish bankruptcy lawyer from Long Island, has rejected the internationally accepted two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.And as president of the American fund-raising arm of Beit El’s yeshiva complex, he has raised millions of dollars for its related institutions, including housing projects for teachers and students. He has made almost yearly visits there during the Jewish holiday Sukkot.”

Trump, Meeting With Netanyahu, Backs Away From Palestinian State, The New York Times

“President Trump said on Wednesday that the United States would no longer insist on a Palestinian state as part of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, backing away from a policy that has underpinned America’s role in Middle East peacemaking since the Clinton administration. ‘I’m looking at two states and one state,’ Mr. Trump said, appearing in a joint news conference at the White House with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. ‘I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.’  Mr. Trump’s comments were a striking departure from decades of diplomatic orthodoxy, and they raised a host of thorny questions about the viability of his position. The Palestinians are highly unlikely to accept anything short of a sovereign state, and a single Israeli state encompassing the Palestinians would either become undemocratic or no longer Jewish, given the faster growth rate of the Arab population….Mr. Netanyahu quickly embraced Mr. Trump’s words, saying he preferred to deal with ‘substance’ rather than ‘labels’ in negotiating with the Palestinians. He noted that the concept of the two-state solution meant different things to different people in the region. And he said the Palestinians had refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Mr. Trump did tell Mr. Netanyahu to ‘hold back’ on settlement construction in the West Bank. ‘As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises,’ he said, turning to Mr. Netanyahu. ‘You know that, right?’”

Building Dedicated by Trump’s Israel Envoy Was Constructed Illegally on Palestinian Land, Haaretz

“A building in the West Bank settlement of Beit El dedicated by the U.S. ambassador-designate to Israel, David Friedman, was constructed illegally on privately owned Palestinian land, documents obtained by Haaretz show. The Friedman Faculty House at the Raaya Girls High School is situated in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El.  Part of this neighborhood was demolished by High Court of Justice order five years ago because the land had been seized illegally. The Friedman Faculty House is one of nine buildings left in the neighborhood that were spared demolition at the time. Construction on the Friedman Faculty House began in 1999. In 2002, a demolition order was issued against it by the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, which supervises construction in the settlements. Although it has been ignored, demolition order No. 224/02, according to Civil Administration records, is still on the books. The Palestinian landowners and their heirs have tried several times to reclaim the land and have the buildings removed, but to no avail.”

‘An Absolutely Crazy Time to Hold a Meeting with the President of the United States’, Politico

Susan Glasser interviewed former US Ambassador Dan Shapiro ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit. “For Netanyahu, the timing couldn’t be worse. The relationship with the United States is far and away the country’s most important, and ever since Trump’s upset victory in November, the entire political class of Israel has been expecting in Trump the kind of hawkish partner Obama never was. In recent weeks those expectations had given way to some confusion and uncertainty, as Trump pulled back from campaign-trail vows that he was going to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and issued cryptic public statements essentially reaffirming that the U.S. does not view further Israeli settlements on the West Bank as conducive to a peace deal with the Palestinians. ‘The idea that there is going to be this massive sea change of U.S. policy,’ Shapiro said, ‘is very much called into question.’ But those substantive issues are now immeasurably complicated by the fact that the meeting itself is being held amid all the White House upheaval over Flynn and his pre-inauguration phone calls with the Russian ambassador.”


Palestinians Dismayed as U.S Appears to Back Off Two-State Solution, New York Times

Palestinians reacted with anger and bafflement on Wednesday after the Trump administration apparently backed away from insisting that having two states — one for Israelis, one for Palestinians — was the only viable solution to the decades-long Middle East conflict.

Poll reveals majority of Israelis, Palestinians in favor of a two-state solution, i24 News

A joint Palestinian-Israeli poll revealed on Thursday, a  majority of Israelis and just under half of Palestinians were in favor of a two-state solution, but less than half agreed with the framework outlined to implement the solution.The poll funded by the European Union (EU) and published by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research (TSC), Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research,  determined that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis would be in favor of a peace agreement to end the longstanding conflict if “offered additional symbolic or concrete incentives.”

In West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian Archaeologists Both Lay Claim to Heritage, NPR

If history is a matter of dispute in the Middle East, so too is some of the archaeology underway to document and preserve remnants of that history. The Israeli military has an archaeology unit that is responsible for excavations in most of the West Bank, land captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by Palestinians for an independent state.

Former ambassadors say Trump’s pick for Israel is unqualified, AP

Five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel said Wednesday that the man President Donald Trump has selected for the post is unqualified and are urging senators to carefully consider his nomination. In a letter sent to members of the Foreign Relations Committee, the former diplomats said David Friedman has staked out “extreme, radical positions” and has derided the two-state solution as an “illusory” fix for a non-existent problem.

Top Palestinian Negotiator: Only Alternative to Two-state Solution Is Single, Democratic One, Haaretz

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, said Wednesday that the only alternative to a two-state solution is one state with equal democratic rights for all. Speaking at a press conference in Jericho, Erekat added that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is aiming for an apartheid future.

NJ Residents join National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees, NJ Jewish News

Sunday’s ice and cold weather did not deter New Jerseyans from trekking into Battery Park to protest President Donald Trump’s now-stayed ban against U.S. entry of Muslim immigrants from seven nations. “Considering all that the Syrian refugees have gone through, standing outside in bad weather for a few hours was not so much of a hardship,” said Genesia Kamen of South Orange, president of the American Jewish Committee’s Metro New Jersey Region.

Palestinians warn Trump not to abandon their dream of independent state, Washington Post

Palestinian leaders pleaded with the White House on Wednesday not to abandon a two-state formula for a possible peace deal with Israel after President Trump signaled he could be open to other frameworks. The Palestinian leadership appeared stunned that a Trump official told reporters in Washington late Tuesday that the White House was open to a new approach that does not emphasize two states, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians, living side by side….Many Palestinians would view the shift as a virtual abandonment of a principle adopted by preceding administrations, both Republican and Democratic, by the European Union and the United Nations. Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official and former peace negotiator, said: ‘We believe undermining the two state solution is not a joke. It’s a disaster and a tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians.’ Erekat, a veteran of seven U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel, said the Palestinian Authority remains committed to the two-state idea.”

Right-wing lawmakers rejoice after Netanyahu-Trump summit, Times of Israel

The Israeli right wing on Wednesday hailed the US breaking with 25 years of support for the two-state policy solution to the Middle East peace process, saying there was now a “new reality.” “The Palestinian flag was today lowered from the mast and replaced with the Israeli flag,” said Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, who has been pushing for Israel to annex a large part of the West Bank.

UN Chief Says ‘No Alternative’ To Two-State Solution, Forward

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Wednesday against abandoning the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying there was “no alternative.”

In unusual criticism, Israeli envoy blames Russia for blocking international anti-Semitism definition, JTA

Israel’s ambassador in Moscow criticized Russia for blocking the international adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism, which he linked to a recent string of allegedly racist statements about Jews by Russian politicians. Gary Koren made his unusual statement on anti-Semitism in Russia in an interview with Interfax, the news agency reported Wednesday. Koren singled out Russia for blocking the definition’s adoption by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an intergovernmental group of 57 member states.

Opinion and Analysis

David Friedman is a dangerous choice for US Ambassador to Israel, Democrat & Chronicle

Rabbi Droah Setel writes: The US-Israel relationship is far too important to entrust to someone who shows so much contempt for traditional American policies and values. His aggressive behavior and over-the-top statements, combined with an extreme agenda, has the potential to trigger crises and violence that could do real damage to Americans and Israelis.The president is entitled to choose ambassadors that he feels will represent his positions. But American Jews care far too much about Israel to be represented there by someone who makes hateful attacks on the majority of our community and on our beliefs. His confirmation would be disastrous for diplomacy, for security, and the prospects for a more peaceful and stable Middle East.

President Trump, Will You Save the Jews? New York Times

Thomas Friedman muses: I don’t expect Israel to just up and leave the West Bank without a Palestinian partner for a secure peace, which Israel doesn’t now have. But legalizing this land grab by settlers deep in Palestinian areas is not an act of security — it will actually create security problems. It is an act of moral turpitude that will make it even harder to ever find that Palestinian partner and will undermine the moral foundations of the state. This is about right versus wrong. And if that is where the debate goes, what happened at Woodmont golf club will happen everywhere. That debate will tear apart virtually every synagogue, Jewish organization and Jewish group on every campus in America, and around the world. Israel will divide world Jewry.

Does it matter if we end up with a one-state or two-states? Huffington Post

Maya Haber writes: Advocates of a one-binational-state never discuss the mechanism of such a solution. What would shared sovereignty look like? How would a binational military function? Why would Israel allow unlimited return of refugees? Why would Hamas and Islamic Jihad dispense with violent opposition to Israel’s existence?

Trump just casually demolished the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, LA Times

The LA Times Editorial Board writes: I think we’re going to make a deal,” Trump said on Wednesday. “It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.”  But it’s hard to imagine such a deal that didn’t involve a democratic Jewish state and an independent Palestine — the very two-state solution Trump has now dismissed as dispensable.

Real diplomat needed, Houston Chronicle

The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board writes: “Friedman, who faces the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, lacks the diplomatic experience and policy chops necessary to fill this important role. His credentials start and stop with his time spent as Donald Trump’s personal bankruptcy attorney. He simply does not have the credentials necessary for this key position in our nation’s foreign service.The special relationship between the U.S. and Israel is too important to give away as some campaign-season reward. Israel deserves a U.S. ambassador who understands the historic geopolitics of the region and knows how to do the job on day one. That’s why Democrats and Republicans alike have routinely filled this seat with career diplomats. Trump should follow their example.

Trump Had the Chance to Denounce anti-Semitism. Netanyahu Bailed Him Out With a Kosher Stamp, Haaretz

Alison Kaplan Sommer observes, “As good as Trump surely felt when he was given the Jewish people’s seal of approval by Netanyahu, it was surely a moment of discomfort and even outrage for many American Jews. The Israeli Prime Minister made his declaration only moments after Trump sidestepped an opportunity to issue a clear throated denunciation of anti-Semitism, that could repair the damage done by the White House statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day and its subsequent doubling down on its refusal to refer to Jews or anti-Semitism.  When asked about troubling anti-Semitic attacks in the United States by an Israeli reporter, Trump first took the opportunity to revisit his election victory and the widespread support and ‘enthusiasm’ that it reflected – and continued with a decidedly awkward ramble around the issue of anti-Semitism, without saying the word.”

How Bibi Played Us On The Iran Deal — And We Let Him, Forward

Peter Beinart writes, “Netanyahu, for all his thunderous emotion, wasn’t being honest when he railed against the nuclear agreement. He wasn’t actually worried that the deal “paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” His real concern was that it would improve relations between Washington and Tehran, thus empowering Israel’s greatest regional foe, and reducing America’s dependence on Israel. Now that the chances of a U.S.-Iranian détente have diminished, so have Netanyahu’s fears about the nuclear deal….In speaking to Americans, Netanyahu emphasized the nuclear issue because it allowed him to invoke the specter of the Holocaust, which is what he’s been doing his entire career…[N]ow it’s clear that the power balance isn’t tilting. The Trump administration isn’t renouncing the nuclear agreement, but it is definitely renouncing any prospect for warmer relations with Tehran….So when Netanyahu visits the White House today, he won’t talk about a second Holocaust or an Israeli strike. Such rhetoric is no longer necessary.

The organized American Jewish community has been played. And it doesn’t care.”

David Friedman Is Unfit to Serve as U.S. Envoy to Israel, Haaretz

The editorial board concludes, “The role of an ambassador is to represent his government vis-a-vis the country where he serves, on all its political and social levels; to gather reliable information without being suspected of having a personal interest in internal disputes; and to influence policy in Washington. In all of these aspects, Friedman – a declared devotee of the settlements – is wrong for the job. He has spoken with deplorable severity about opponents of the Netanyahu government’s policies; it is not his way to be open and attentive to views across the Israeli political spectrum….It is to be hoped that just like the idea of moving the embassy, Friedman’s appointment will be frozen. Better to find him another respectable position, and send a worthy diplomat to Tel Aviv.”

Why some in Israel are wary of Hamas’ new Gaza boss, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit writes, “Until now, the political arm had been considered the moderating side in Hamas in its interactions with Israel. Its leaders have not been eager when it comes to conflicts and wars. Now that Sinwar is taking the reins, these differences could blur significantly, Shin Bet sources told Al-Monitor. The question of whether it is bad or good for Israel remains to be seen.”

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