News Roundup for January 19, 2018

January 19, 2018

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Top News and Analysis

U.S. Presses to Relocate Embassy to Jerusalem by 2019, The New York Times

Mark Landler reports, “The Trump administration is moving faster than expected to transfer the American Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by 2019, senior officials said Thursday, despite insisting last month that the move would not happen until the end of President Trump’s term. The administration’s plans, following Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, suggest it no longer cares about cushioning the blow of the new policy, which has drawn angry protests from Palestinians and other Arabs and cast Mr. Trump’s peacemaking ambitions into doubt.”

Pence’s Visit to the Middle East Serves No Purpose, Foreign Policy

Ilan Goldenberg argues, “Into this environment steps Pence — the worst of all Trump administration officials to send to Israel at such a time. Pence is the official most associated with Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, because the move was largely viewed as a nod to Trump’s evangelical base, which cares deeply about this issue. Pence is very close to this community and is often seen as its chief advocate in the Trump administration. Indeed, Pence was the only other official on screen when Trump announced the Jerusalem move, standing quietly behind the president. It is not surprising that Palestinians are refusing to meet with him.”

US State Department withholds additional $45 million from UNRWA, Times of Israel

TOI reports, “The United States will not provide $45 million that it had pledged last month to the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees, Reuters reported a State Department spokesman as saying Thursday. The announcement came days after Washington withheld a separate $65 million, arguing that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) needed a ‘fundamental re-examination.’”


Israel Confirms Deal Reached With Jordan, Embassy Will Immediately Resume Full Activity, Haaretz

Jordan said Thursday that Israel has formally apologized for the deaths of two of its citizens, who were killed by an Israeli security guard last July in an incident that has soured ties and led to the closure of the Israeli embassy in Amman, state media said.

Trump’s flip-flop-flip on UNWRA no surprise for his tempering security advisers, Times of Israel

Frantic effort by Tillerson to prevent cutting off aid to Palestinian refugee agency rounds off a year of internal administration tensions over president’s foreign policy decision.

Pence heads to Jerusalem, epicenter of rift with the Palestinians, Times of Israel

US Vice President Mike Pence is set to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport Sunday evening, marking the first visit to Israel of a senior American official since the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month.

U.S. troops will stay in Syria to counter ‘strategic’ threat from Iran, Washington Post

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday committed the United States to an indefinite military presence in Syria, citing a range of policy goals that extend far beyond the defeat of the Islamic State as conditions for American troops to go home.

Macron said to tell Abbas not to rule out Trump peace plan, Times of Israel

With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ramping up his rhetoric against the United States, French President Emmanuel Macron has reportedly implored the aging Palestinian leader not to rule out a peace plan being prepared by the Trump administration.

Pence has long pushed for Trump policies on Israel, Times of Israel

US Vice President Mike Pence is making his fifth visit to Israel, returning to a region he’s visited “a million times” in his heart. An evangelical Christian with strong ties to the Holy Land, Pence this time comes packing two key policy decisions in his bags that have long been top priorities for him: designating Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and curtailing aid for Palestinians.

Qatar Doubles Down on PR Campaign Appealing to U.S. Jews and D.C. Insiders, Haaretz

Qatar has recently expanded its public relations effort aimed at improving its image in the United States, including within the Jewish community. The wealthy emirate, often criticized for having ties to Hamas, has invited influential American public figures – some of them with close ties to the Trump administration – to visit and meet with its senior leadership, which denies providing support to the Gaza Islamist group and other terror organizations.

Opinions and Analysis

Trump’s declaration makes Israelis less secure, Palestinians less sovereign, The Miami Herald

Uri Dromi argues, “This is exactly where the role of the American broker becomes so crucially important: To create the right atmosphere that will help Israelis and Palestinians reach out to each other and start rebuilding trust. America can do it by helping both parties gain what they want most: security for the Israelis; sovereignty for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, Trump, by his unilateral Jerusalem declaration, convinced the Palestinians that their path to statehood doesn’t go through Washington. Their alternative, as shown in the polls, is violence. To make things even worse, the threats of the Trump administration to punish the Palestinians by cutting financial aid will only drive more people into the hands of Hamas. Contrary to its primary role, then, America is neither advancing Palestinian sovereignty nor Israeli security.”

Defiant Palestinians boycott US projects, products, Al-Monitor

Ahmad Melhem writes, “US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has prompted various Palestinian boycotts of US-funded projects and programs”

Iran after the protests: What comes next? Washington Post

Dina Esfandiary writes, “But the administration must implement these changes slowly. If Rouhani pushes his agenda too aggressively, it will result in a conservative backlash and another tightening of the reins. This would ultimately make the regime more fragile because of renewed popular discontent. In other words, both too little or too much will have negative consequences. The protests in Iran are unlikely to change who is in power. But they will spark a change of the system, led by the system. The Islamic Republic has proved its skill at staying in power, and it now recognizes that it needs to adapt to remain. But it will have to tread more carefully than ever before.”