News Roundup for February 19, 2019

February 19, 2019

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J Street in the News

‘I know what intolerance looks like’: Ilhan Omar takes her turn in the spotlight, Guardian

“Logan Bayroff, communications director at J Street, a progressive pro-Israel group, said the fallout from Omar’s comments amounted to a ‘dangerous oversimplification and political weaponization’ of the issues at hand. ‘The congresswoman apologized for the things that she said that were problematic and insensitive,’ he said. ‘And yet certainly from the rightwing and the Republican side of the aisle, there is a desire to try to exploit these controversies not to actually address questions of antisemitism and not to actually advance a better policy debate or outcomes, but to score political points.’”

How (and How Not) to Talk About the Israel Lobby, Foreign Policy

Stephen Walt writes, “Most Americans—including the vast majority of American Jews—prize freedom of speech, mutual tolerance, and basic human rights. They rightly resent efforts to silence dissenting voices, and they understand that the traditional protections of a liberal society are essential to preserving the security of minority populations everywhere. Most importantly, only an open and honest discourse on these topics is likely to produce a Middle East policy that would be better for the United States and Israel alike. As J Street noted in its own response to the controversy surrounding Omar: ‘It does nothing to advance the true interests and needs of Israelis or Palestinians, nor those of the American Jewish community.’ Exactly.”

Top News and Analysis

Israel’s Netanyahu and his foreign minister enrage Poland with Holocaust finger-pointing; summit collapses, Los Angeles Times

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wager that he could cement his status as a master diplomat by allying himself with a coalition of right-wing Central European countries unraveled on Monday when the Polish and Czech governments pulled out of a Jerusalem summit following a row over Holocaust history. Netanyahu’s gambit was intended to give him leverage against the majority of European Union states that oppose Israel’s policies toward Palestinians and to highlight his close association with President Trump, who has been critical of the EU and friendly to right-leaning European states. But comments by Netanyahu and his acting foreign minister prompted the collapse of a summit meeting planned in Jerusalem with members of the Visegrad Group, a coalition consisting of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia….The cancellation was a stinging defeat for Netanyahu, who faces reelection in April and has staked much of his prestige on his success in, as he puts it, ‘expanding Israel’s diplomatic horizons.’”

Tzipi Livni Quits Politics as Polls Show Plummeting Support, Haaretz

“Lawmaker Tzipi Livni announced Monday she is retiring from politics and that her party, Hatnuah, won’t run in the April 9 election in order to prevent the center-left bloc from losing votes. Livni said that recently, the word peace has become a vulgarity in Israel and that she has had to pay a price for her beliefs. ‘I am leaving politics but I will not allow the hope for peace to leave Israel,’ she said. ‘I have the internal strength to continue fighting but we don’t have enough political power to actualize our vision on our own,’ she added.”


Support for Gantz Dipping as Labor Climbs in Wake of Primary, Polls Show, Haaretz

In public opinion polls released Sunday night by Channel 12 and Kan News in preparation for Israel’s April 9 election, Benny Gantz’s party, Hosen L’Yisrael, has lost some of its strength, while the Labor Party has jumped up to 10 Knesset seats, and Orli Levi-Abekasis’ party, Gesher, doesn’t cross the electoral threshold. The Channel 12 News poll lists the parties as follows: Likud, 30 seats; Hosen L’Yisrael, 18; Yesh Atid, 12; Labor, 10; Hayamin Hehadash, 7; United Torah Judaism, 7; Ta’al (Ahmad Tibi), 7; Shas, 6; Joint List, 5; Kulanu, 5; Meretz, 5; Yisrael Beiteinu, 4; Habayit Hayehudi-National Union, 4.

Qatar warns Hamas it won’t pay for Gaza electricity beyond April — report, Times of Israel

Qatar’s envoy to the Gaza Strip, Mohammad al-Emadi, has warned its Hamas rulers that Doha will not extend payments for the territory’s electricity supply beyond April, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday night. Palestinian sources told Kan the move comes amid Qatari frustration with Hamas’s foot-dragging on several large projects in the Strip, including a long-delayed high-voltage power line from Israel that could double the Strip’s power.

Lapid unveils Yesh Atid list, says unity with Gantz still ‘on the table’, Times of Israel

Signaling a new stage of its election campaign ahead of April’s national ballot, the centrist Yesh Atid party released its official slate for the Knesset on Monday, placing several high-profile new recruits near the top of the list in a hope to garner fresh support. Top among the fresh candidates is the first and only woman to be appointed an IDF major general, Orna Barbivai, who was placed fourth behind party leader Yair Lapid in the top spot and stalwart lawmakers Meir Cohen and Ofer Shelah behind him.

Gantz Not Really Interested in Merger With Lapid, Yesh Atid Officials Say, Haaretz

Yesh Atid officials believe that the chance of joining forces with Benny Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael ahead of the April 9 election are diminishing, a party official said on Sunday. He said the impression is that Gantz’s party doesn’t really want to unify, and thus “The chances are there, but decline from day to day.”

Levy-Abekasis said close to joining her party with Israel Resilience, Times of Israel

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis is reportedly in advanced negotiations to unite her Gesher party with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience for a joint slate in the coming Knesset elections. Gesher sources told Hebrew media Monday that unless something “dramatic” happens, the alliance will go ahead.

Opinion and Analysis

A Democratic Civil War Will Hurt Both Palestinians and Israelis, American Prospect

Gershom Gorenberg writes, “The Democrats need an open discussion about Israel and Palestine. If it’s going to be a debate and not a civil war, it should be empathetic and critical toward both sides. It should be aimed at best defining the pragmatic progressive policy aimed at a just resolution of the conflict—a more active, less hesitant policy than previous Democratic administrations have taken. It should leave rigid ideology, name-calling and bigotry to the GOP, which is so much better at that awful kind of thing.”

Likud’s mainstreaming of West Bank annexation, Al-Monitor

Shlomi Eldar writes, “With the Sovereignty Movement, Katzover and Matar seek to leverage the success of the right in Israel in order to head off any diplomatic arrangement with the Palestinians and to demand ‘annexation now’…The Sovereignty Movement is currently focused on creating a lobby in the Knesset. Its activists are working the ruling party, distributing a journal running a website and promoting paid content on social media. The movement’s influence played a role in Likud’s Central Committee voting in December 2017 in favor of a non-binding decision imposing Israeli sovereignty on Israeli-controlled territories of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley. This, it turns out, was just the beginning….Senior ministers in the Israeli government are not hiding their real intentions — the annexation of Area C territory to start, and later, according to Regev, it will be possible to start to dream about all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan.”

Israel Tampers With Palestinian Authority Funds – and Could Get Hamas Rockets in Response, Haaretz

Amos Harel reports, “The decision by the security cabinet on Sunday to freeze the transfer of 500 million shekels ($138 million) of Palestinian Authority taxes as a sanction for its support of security prisoners was the result of political constraints….The primary danger here is the slippery slope. Abbas’ highest priority is the transfer of aid to Fatah prisoners from the West Bank imprisoned in Israel. To be able to continue this he might decide, as he has already hinted, to further reduce the funds transferred to the Gaza Strip. So by freezing the tax transfers, Israel might indirectly assist in exacerbating the situation in Gaza and hastening further escalation there, contrary to its objective.”

Pompeo and Pence send a poor message with their bumbling tour of Europe, Washington Post

The editorial board writes, “Mr. Pence is no doubt right about the growing rift, but its source is not the Europeans but Mr. Trump. Last year, he brushed off good faith efforts by Britain, France and Germany to answer U.S. concerns about the Iran deal, which they had helped to negotiate, in order to unilaterally withdraw. Since then the administration has failed to articulate a coherent alternative strategy for Iran other than seeking what amounts to regime change — a goal the United States already pursued for decades without success. The U.S. stance has the strong support of Israel and the Arab Gulf states, which for years have tried to push the United States toward war with Iran. But the European resistance to U.S. policy, which included not just the French and Germans but most other states, was understandable. So was their skepticism about a much advertised but never disclosed Trump administration plan for Mideast peace.”