“The statement issued by the White House on Thursday night, which formally acknowledges that ‘the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful,’ is an important step for a president who has publicly encouraged settlement growth in the past. The statement sends mixed messages. On the one hand, its failure to mention the two-state solution and its condoning of existing settlements is a gift to the settler movement and opponents of a two-state solution. On the other, the statement does call into question the assumption by the settlement movement and its friends and allies in the US that Israel has carte blanche from the new administration to expand and entrench the settlement enterprise, in contradiction to longstanding bipartisan US policy. The statement therefore raises far more questions than it answers about what the Trump administration’s policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be. Journalists, political leaders and supporters of Israel in the US and around the world must follow up on this statement and press the White House to answer these questions.”
What You Need to Know About Trump’s Statement on Israeli Settlements, The New York Times
Isabel Kershner observes, “Mr. Netanyahu’s aggressive promotion of major new settlement construction has come amid intense pressure from within his right-wing coalition. Political rivals to Mr. Netanyahu’s right have used the Republican sweep in the American elections to push harder away from the two-state solution and in favor of the settlements. At the same time, Mr. Netanyahu has been working feverishly to overcome negative fallout with his right-wing constituency from this week’s fraught, court-ordered evacuation of Amona, an illegal settler outpost that was built on privately owned Palestinian land on a West Bank hilltop. His response was to generously compensate the settlers and their political allies. Political opponents to the left of Mr. Netanyahu assert that the recent settlement announcements were also intended to distract attention from the mounting graft investigations plaguing the prime minister and to shore up his traditional right-wing support base. But some curbs from the White House could also suit Mr. Netanyahu, who is under pressure from the far right to take more drastic steps that he has resisted in the past, such as annexing West Bank settlements to Israel.”
Sarah Wildman reports, “Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg told me that if the Trump administration thinks settlements are “not an impediment to peace,” then that “couldn’t be a more explicit change to US policy.” That’s because every US administration since the Johnson administration has called settlements an obstacle to peace — or even illegal. ‘It is clearly stated that this is altering previous policy,’ said Gorenberg. ‘This is not a return to the Obama policy; it is not a return to bipartisan American policy on settlements. This is something new.’ One unnamed senior Israeli diplomat texted Reuters correspondent Luke Baker that ‘Netanyahu will be happy’ because he now has ‘[p]retty much carte blanche to build as much as we want in existing settlements as long as we don’t enlarge their physical acreage. No problem there.’”
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn writes, “More than 1,900 rabbis, 260 synagogues and tens of thousands of American Jews have already declared that America must keep our doors open to refugees, and now we must be a powerful and relentless voice in opposition to the cruel executive orders which keep people from reaching safety on our shores. Join us in the streets, in protest. Send President Trump a message, call your Members of Congress, meet with them in your district, engage locally. Your voice and your actions are needed now more than ever. The United States I returned to, just a few short days after I had left, is not the same country. We must raise up our voices as Jews and Americans to demand that we return immediately to being a country that welcomes people fleeing for their lives, regardless of their national, ethnic, or religious background. Nothing less than the future of human life and the future of our nation is at stake.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of a meeting between the two leaders that the U.K. government is committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu told May that he shares her desire for peace in the region, but avoided voicing an explicit support of the two-state solution. Minutes before the meeting, May’s spokesman told the British press that the prime minister plans to tell Netanyahu she opposes settlement activity in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
En route to London, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would use his meeting with British counterpart Theresa May to tighten the trilateral alliance with Britain and Washington. Netanyahu made the statement Sunday, one day ahead of his first meeting with May, a right-wing leader who replaced David Cameron last year following the referendum vote to leave the European Union, and one week before his first meeting with Donald Trump since his election as president of the United States.
“Over 5,000 Arab and Jewish demonstrators from across the country marched together on Saturday night in Tel Aviv against home demolitions and in support of equality for all. The demonstrators called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to step down, after months of incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel. The demonstration was organized by a large coalition of organizations and political parties, including “Standing Together,” Hadash, Meretz, “Yad B’Yad,” “Sikuy,” and others, was the largest Arab-Jewish protest Tel Aviv had seen in years. The protesters marched along King George St. while chanting slogans such “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” until they reached Dizengoff St., where they held a large rally. Among the speakers were Joint List head Ayman Odeh and Meretz MK Michal Rozin. Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon and representatives of the Zionist Union, who were supposed to attend, were absent.”
Jewish Home doubles down on vow to pass outpost bill Monday, Times of Israel
The pro-settlement Jewish Home party on Sunday doubled down on its insistence that the controversial outpost legalization bill would be brought Monday for its final votes in the Knesset plenum. The so-called Regulation Bill seeks to legalize several thousand West Bank settlement homes built illegally on private Palestinian property.
The Israeli army launched airstrikes in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday afternoon, hours after an Israeli army tank fired two shells into eastern Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, after a rocket landed in an open area in the Ashkelon region of southern Israel.
Israeli security officials reportedly met in secret with senior security advisers to President Donald Trump to coordinate policy between Israel and the Trump administration. The meeting took place two weeks ago, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Sunday, citing an unnamed senior Israeli official in Jerusalem.
“Nadler called the executive order ‘disgusting,’ adding that it was especially symbolic for the Trump administration to sign it on International Holocaust Remembrance Day – while at the same time putting out a statement that omitted any Jewish connection to the Holocaust. “This is Steve Bannon’s White House,” Nadler said. ‘It’s white nationalist operations. It was part of their campaign, which used anti-Semitic memes. Trump was spreading and retweeting things he got from anti-Semitic websites, and then said – ‘I didn’t know that it was anti-Semitic.’ Why were you reading it in the first place? That’s the question.’”
Iran Treads Cautiously With Trump. So Far., The New York Times
Thomas Erdbrink writes, “Ayatollah Khamenei was uncharacteristically quiet during a visit on Thursday to the martyr’s graves, usually a moment for brief remarks about current affairs. Mr. Rouhani’s position is more delicate. He has been promoting ties with the United States. And though he executed the nuclear agreement with the blessing of Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader has also been critical of the deal. Having tied his political future to the nuclear agreement and having promised to normalize relations with the West, Mr. Rouhani is rapidly losing influence, analysts say. He now finds himself faced with an American travel ban for his citizens and an American president who thinks the nuclear pact “is a really, really bad deal.” Hard-liners are deeply critical of Mr. Rouhani and are increasingly dismissing him as a figure of the past, a man who may have been the right answer in the Obama era but is the wrong one now. Many expect the next president to be a far more combative figure, in the mold of the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
A tale of two evacuated villages, Times of Israel
Avi Issacharoff writes, “On paper, Amona and Umm al-Hiran have a lot in common. Both of them were evacuated — partially for now, in the case of Umm al-Hiran — in large police operations after legal efforts were exhausted. But what separates them was more striking for many than what they share. While the evacuation of Umm al-Hiran last month was marked by a confrontation that turned deadly, as well as violent clashes, claims of excessive police violence and homes razed with everything still inside, in Amona, emotions ran high but violence remained at a relative low, with police, most of them unarmed, escorting out residents and protesters.”
Uri Savir reports, “A senior PLO official close to President Mahmoud Abbas told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Abbas was more furious and dismayed by the lack of reaction to the settlement announcement than by the expected announcement itself. “Israel’s continued settlement and occupation policies go unpunished by the international community. Netanyahu now has a ‘license to kill’ the two-state solution.” He told Al-Monitor that following the official announcement on the 2,500 housing units, the Palestinian leadership held special deliberations. Following these deliberations, it was decided that only the Palestinian leadership could make Israel pay a price for the occupation.”
Noa Shpigel reports, “Over the past three months, the New Likudniks group has signed up an impressive number of members. Its website describes the group as composed of “middle-class people who work, study, serve [in the army] and pay taxes, who love the country, [people] from the left and from the right, from the top to the bottom.” They believe that the way to exert influence is not only by voting in national elections but by playing a role in choosing which candidates appear on the Likud’s future slate of Knesset candidates. According to Tel Aviv resident Lior Meiri, one of the group’s founders, last November about 500 people signed up through New Likudniks, an organization that got its start in 2011 after the social justice protests of that period. The figure for December was 700 and in January the number exceeded 1,000.”
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