Power Up, Washington Post
“On Wednesday, the Senate passed a Middle East bill rebuking President Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan, along with a controversial measure to allow states and local governments to punish corporations that boycott, divest, or sanction Israel….’I think that vote shows that the old-school playbook of American politics is really being rewritten,’ Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a progressive group that supports a two-state solution, told Power Up. ‘In prior campaign cycles, if the government of Israel and AIPAC [ the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee] had gotten behind a bill like that, it would have earned wall-to-wall support from presidential candidates from the Democratic Party. But here, all of the presidential candidates but one, actually, voted against it. And that’s a major change.’ 2020 prep: Ben-Ami added that J Street has been meeting with 2020 Democratic candidates to help them find ways to support both Israeli security measures and Palestinian rights…..’I do think the Israel issue is being weaponized,’ Ben-Ami told us. ‘It’s being turned into a political wedge instead of a serious policy issue. Criticism of Israel is not the same as anti-Semitism, and the effort to make any criticism out to be anti-Semitism does a disservice to the reality of anti-Semitism.’”
Yanir Cozin interviews J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami. (Hebrew)
Anshel Pfeffer observes, “The bottom line of Likud’s primary results on Tuesday is that members voted for the party leader on the day Benjamin Netanyahu is forced to leave. As this is being written, over 90 percent of the votes have been counted and, barring any major upsets, the top four candidates will all be Likudniks who have recently clashed with the prime minister….No one in Likud is openly challenging Netanyahu’s leadership, yet, but there was a clear message from the near-70,000 party members who voted in the primary: They are making their own choices over who they want to see leading Likud in the future, and Netanyahu will not dictate to them. They’re not showing him the door quite yet, but they are preparing for his departure.”
“A West Bank settler group on Tuesday said the number of people living in Israeli settlements surged at a much faster rate than the overall Israeli population last year and predicted even more rapid growth thanks to the policies of the Trump administration. Baruch Gordon, director of West Bank Jewish Population Stats, said the White House has created a much friendlier environment for the settlers, clearing the way for a surge in construction in the coming years….The latest data shows the population in Jewish settlements of the West Bank grew to 449,508 as of Jan. 1, up 3.3 percent from 435,159 people a year earlier. In comparison, Israel’s overall population grew 1.9 percent last year to 8.907 million people, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.”
If the general election was held today, the Labor Party would win only six seats, while Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu would barely clear the electoral threshold with four seats, according to the latest poll by Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan….The pollsters also pitched hypothetical alliances to potential voters. If former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi would join Hosen L’Yisrael, Likud’s lead would shrink from 32 to 28, while Yesh Atid would slip to seven seats. However, if Gantz and Lapid would run together, their unified party would fetch 35 seats.”
Abbas says US-Palestinian security ties endure despite aid halt, Times of Israel
In an interview published Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed that the PA continues to maintain its security ties with the US. Abbas made the comment less than a week after the State Department stopped providing aid to PA security forces at Ramallah’s request.
The attorney general is set to forbid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party from publishing photos of the premier with Israeli soldiers up until the election, in response to a petition by the Labor Party on the issue. Under the Elections Law, it is forbidden to publicize anything that could create the impression that the military supports a particular candidate.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman gave a cautious welcome on Wednesday to remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest rival in the upcoming election suggesting openness to a future removal of settlements from the occupied West Bank. Hosen L’Yisrael Chairman Gantz told Yedioth Ahronoth in an interview the Gaza disengagement “was a legal process, a decision made by Israel’s government and carried out by the army and the settlers in a painful way, but a good one. We need to take the lessons we learned there and enact them elsewhere.”
Settlers in the southern West Bank posted flyers warning Palestinian laborers not to cooperate with Israeli human rights activists or organizations if they want to keep their jobs.
David Klion profiles Matt Duss, foreign policy advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders. “Duss worked at CAP until 2014 and blogged prolifically for ThinkProgress, where he was an outspoken voice against military interventionism, a critic of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, and an advocate of diplomacy with Iran…..Duss’s deep interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict is rooted in both his Christian upbringing and his humanitarian instincts. The first of his many visits to Israel and the occupied territories was in 2003, in the middle of the second intifada, while his brother was doing relief work there.”
Netanyahu rival wins big in Likud primary, Al-Monitor
Ben Caspit observes, “Saar, who was confronted with Netanyahu’s mythological power in the Likud, scored quite an achievement, arriving reaching fourth place on the list, a dramatic blow for Netanyahu. Even the Likud voters are signaling the prime minister that his powers are limited. They are willing to follow the prime minister through hell and high water, but not everywhere….Saar, a clear-cut right-wing figure, is viewed as the only one in the Likud capable of standing up to Netanyahu when the time comes to do so. That time is coming soon, if and when an indictment is filed against the prime minister. Netanyahu is investing all of his energy into erasing any source of opposition within his home party.”
Gantz, Don’t Be Another Gabbay, Haaretz
The editorial board writes, “Gantz should be wary of imitating the Gabbay precedent. The Labor chairman also benefited from a tailwind immediately after his victory in his party’s leadership primary and reaped flattering results in the polls. But immediately afterward, he embarked on a series of statements and clarifications that ate into his initial popularity and left him lying wounded by the roadside….For Gantz to pose an alternative to Netanyahu, he must demonstrate a moral spine. Ruling over other people is indeed illegitimate, and learning lessons from the disengagement as part of a plan to evacuate settlements in the West Bank is necessary. He also shouldn’t fear to speak out against the nation-state law, which strips Israel’s non-Jewish citizens of equality. And above all, he must instill hope in the peace camp, which wants to elect him in order to put an end to the most nationalist government in the country’s history and the inciter-in-chief who heads it.”