News Roundup for January 29, 2021

January 29, 2021

Receive the roundup in your inbox every morning!

J Street works to promote an open, honest and rigorous conversation about Israel. The opinions reflected in articles posted in the News Roundup do not necessarily reflect J Street’s positions, and their posting does not constitute an endorsement from J Street.

J Street in the News

Progressives defend Robert Malley as Biden’s possible Iran envoy, Al-Monitor
“More than 200 progressive groups and foreign policy experts have come to the defense of President Joe Biden’s reported front-runner for special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, whose detractors accuse him of being an apologist for the regime […] The signatories to the open letter published Thursday, which include the Project on Middle East Democracy, the Quincy Institute, the National Iranian American Council and J Street, describe Malley as having the diplomatic chops needed for ‘fixing our broken policy towards Iran.’ – ‘Those who accuse Malley of sympathy for the Islamic Republic have no grasp of — or no interest in — true diplomacy, which requires a level-headed understanding of the other side’s motivations and knowledge that can only be acquired through dialogue,’ they wrote. “

Rumored Iran envoy gets big boost after smear campaign tries to take him down, Responsible Statecraft
Matthew Petti writes, “Two hundred foreign policy professionals and 29 organizations issued an open statement on Thursday in support of Robert Malley’s rumored appointment as special envoy to Iran, marking the latest salvo in a proxy war over the Biden administration’s policy towards the Middle East […] Organizations including the Center for International Policy, J Street, and the Project on Middle East Democracy have signed on. Responsible Statecraft’s parent organization, the Quincy Institute, has also signed the letter.”

Top News and Analysis

U.S. Names Iran Envoy in Battle of Wills With Tehran Over Nuclear Negotiations, New York Times
President Biden has named Robert Malley, a veteran Middle East expert and former Obama administration official, to be his special envoy for Iran, two senior State Department officials said Thursday night. Mr. Malley will be responsible for trying to persuade Tehran to rein in its nuclear program — and stop enriching uranium beyond limits imposed by a 2015 deal with world powers — and agree to new negotiations before the United States lifts its bruising economic sanctions against Iran. It is far from clear if the strategy, as directed by Mr. Biden, will succeed. Iran has repeatedly said it will not come back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord until the United States eases its sanctions, setting up a high-stakes contest over which side will blink first.

‘There’s Never Been Anything Like This’: Israeli Military Chief’s Iran Remarks Rattle Senior Officials, Haaretz
Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi’s statement Tuesday that a return to the nuclear pact with Iran “or even a similar agreement with a number of improvements, is bad and wrong,” was a cause for embarrassment in the Israeli security establishment. Senior officials said Kochavi had been wrong to make the statement at such a sensitive time, with an election scheduled for March 23 and as the Biden administration was just entering the White House and had not yet held official meetings with Israel […] The official added that when Kochavi was Military Intelligence chief, he opposed an assault in Iran and believed the nuclear agreement was the least of all evils, and in every cabinet briefing or other security briefing, his position was that Iran had not broken the agreement until the United States left it. A security official who had taken part in discussions involving the United States’ desire to leave the agreement said that the position of Israel’s security establishment had been that it would be wrong to urge the Americans to leave the deal. 

The absurdity of demanding Gaza get its own COVID-19 vaccines, +972 Mag
Gisha Executive Director Tania Hary writes, “The reality of Israel’s decades-long relationship with Gaza is a microcosm and the most extreme expression of Israel’s relationship with the occupied Palestinian territory as a whole. Even in the West Bank, where settlements sit alongside Palestinian communities, where rockets aren’t fired, and where there is no excuse of a Rafah Crossing with Egypt (which is anyway closed and doesn’t lead to Gaza’s main commercial markets), Israel denies its obligations to Palestinians, including now, the obligation to distribute the vaccine for COVID-19 equitably.”


Marjorie Greene pushed an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in 2018 that a space laser ignited California’s worst wildfire of all time, Business Insider
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is in a renewed spotlight due to recently uncovered social media posts where she supports a galactic and anti-Semitic conspiracy that a Jewish-financed laser beam ignited wildfires in California.

Former Obama aide to be tapped as Iran envoy, angering hawks, AP
Malley currently runs the International Crisis Group. Iran hawks are aghast, believing Malley to be a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump withdrew from. They fear President Joe Biden wants to rejoin the Iran deal at any cost and may be willing to sacrifice the security of Israel and the Gulf Arab states to do so. The hawks regard Malley as less than fully supportive of Israel.

Picking a fight with US over Iran deal, IDF chief baffles even accord’s critics, Haaretz
If nothing else, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi’s speech at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank this week, in which he denounced an incoming American president’s foreign policy plans and threatened Iran, was out of the ordinary. Such remarks are normally left to politicians, not the head of the military, a position that is meant to remain as far from politics as possible […] “If you want to have a negotiation, with all due respect, the prime minister can have a quiet negotiation with the president of the United States. Why insult and excoriate? That’s not how you lead a policy,” said Gilad.

Palestinians welcome end of US pressure but doubt Biden will press Israel, Al-Monitor
Palestinian officials breathed a sigh of relief with the swearing-in of Joe Biden. Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh welcomed the announcements made by top officials of the Biden administration declaring the reversal of some of Donald Trump’s anti-Palestinian decisions. He said the new administration’s moves emphasized the US support for a two-state solution and the need to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Knesset Set to Approve Increased Fines, Paving Way for Lockdown Extension, Haaretz
Despite an extensive vaccination campaign, coronavirus cases in Israel remain high and show little signs of decreasing. Israel is in the midst of a third nationwide lockdown, while the government eyes extending it further. Israel has halted inbound and outbound flights and closed down its overland border crossings.

Iran’s nuclear activities do not mean it’s seeking atomic bomb, FM Zarif says, Times of Israel
Iran’s nuclear activities do not mean that it is seeking to build an atomic bomb, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Friday, according to Iranian media reports.

Israel to give Palestinians vaccines for 1,000 medical workers — report, AFP
Israel is reportedly planning to provide vaccines for around 1,000 Palestinian healthcare workers in the West Bank, as international pressure mounts for the Jewish state to extend its ambitious vaccine drive beyond its own citizens.

Biden Appoints Rob Malley as Iran Envoy, Despite Right-wing Allegations of ‘anti-Israel Bias’, Haaretz
Malley’s potential appointment, initially reported last week by Jewish Insider and expected to be officially announced as early as Friday, drew criticism from opponents of the Iran deal, slammed Malley’s alleged anti-Israel bias while accusing him of having ties with the Iranian regime, Hamas and Syria’s Bashar Assad.

UN chief sees `hope’ for Israel-Palestinian peace progress, AP
Clearly referring to the former U.S. administration without naming then president Donald Trump, the U.N. chief said “we were completely locked down in a situation in which there was no progress visible.”

Abbas Tightens His Control Over the Palestinian Court System, Haaretz
Two out of three new presidential decrees issued by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas regarding the Palestinian Authority’s court system expand the executive branch’s involvement in the judiciary. They also make the judges dependent, as a matter of law, upon Palestinian politicians and indirectly – upon security agencies.

Biden turns the page on Trump’s Israel-Palestine policies, Axios
The Biden administration will oppose annexation, settlement building and the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israel, and incitement and payments to terrorists by the Palestinians.

Opinion and Analysis

Iran Nuke Deal Is Not Perfect, but Israeli Army Chief’s Take Is Far From Reality, Haaretz
Ziv Bar’el writes, “The IAEA’s conclusion concords with the assessments of both the American and Israeli intelligence communities. Iran began to violate the agreement in a measurable manner only about one year after the Trump administration withdrew from it, and with each violation it specified that if the United States returned to the agreement, Iran would return to complying with all its provisions. Iran’s violations were part of a strategy to get European states to pressure Donald Trump into rejoining the agreement; it is a tad ironic that it came after years of the West attempting to woo Iran into the deal.”

As Israel’s Right Splinters, Netanyahu Is Challenged by Former Protégé, Wall Street Journal
Felicia Schwartz writes, “Having failed to challenge Mr. Netanyahu for leadership of Likud in late 2019, Mr. Saar broke away to form his own party, called New Hope. That group offers a right-wing alternative to Mr. Netanyahu for the coming election on March 23, the fourth parliamentary ballot in less than two years.”

Three Reasons Yair Lapid Will Lead Israel’s Center-left, Haaretz
Aluf Benn writes, “Lapid deserves to lead the bloc because of three correct decisions he made. The first was his vote against the nation-state law. It’s true that he never reached out to Arab voters, and he’ll never live down his derogatory ‘Zoabis’ comment about Arab lawmakers. But at the moment of truth, when Israel had to decide if it was an egalitarian state with equality between all its citizens or a state of Jewish supremacy, Lapid’s finger pressed the right button. His second right decision was to agree to be number two on the Kahol Lavan slate, under Benny Gantz – not because he thought Gantz was more suitable to lead the party, but to set aside ego and honorifics for the goal of winning more Knesset seats. Then came the moment of truth, when Gantz betrayed his voters and stole their votes to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. Lapid remained outside the government.”

All Foreseen and Not Prevented: Spike in settler violence backed and encouraged by state, B’Tselem
“In the last six months, from 1 July to 20 December 2020, B’Tselem documented 108 incidents of settler violence […] For years, settlers have been committing acts of violence against Palestinians with full backing by the state, which does nothing to prevent the recurrence of these attacks. Israel sends security forces to protect the assailants and turn a blind eye to the crimes committed before their very eyes. It also takes care not to take retrospective action against the perpetrators.”