News Roundup for March 12, 2018

March 12, 2018

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J Street in the News

AIPAC won’t win back progressives until it faces hard truths about Israel, JTA

Jeremy Ben-Ami and Rabbi Jill Jacobs write, “AIPAC selected #ChooseToLead as its tagline for this year’s conference. But real leadership requires telling one’s members hard truths that they would prefer not to hear and confronting problems that are not easy to solve. Like AIPAC, we also celebrate and promote Israel’s many incredible accomplishments and achievements. But this moment requires more than this. It requires working to ensure that the existential threats of occupation and conflict do not imperil or undermine these successes. Only that kind of work will ever convince progressives that AIPAC truly shares their values and goals.”

Christians emerge as key patrons for Jews moving to Israel, Washington Post

“Liberal Jews, who make up the majority of the American Jewish community, bristle at the evangelicals’ ties to the political right and their support for Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank, a major sticking point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group in Washington, said the Jewish community should be ‘wary of taking help from those who are playing with our lives to further their own religious and ideological purposes.’”

Top News and Analysis

The Mideast Peace Plan Is Nearly Finished. Is It Dead on Arrival?, The New York Times

Mark Landler reports, “The Trump administration is putting the finishing touches on its long-awaited Middle East peace plan, three senior officials said on Sunday, and President Trump is likely to present it soon, despite risking swift rejection by the Palestinians…..While officials declined to discuss the plan’s content, in keeping with the veil of secrecy they have kept over it since Mr. Trump took office, they said it would not have a set of guiding principles, like the Arab Peace Initiative, first endorsed by the Arab League in 2002, which sketched out the broad contours of an accord and left the details for the two sides to fill in. For example, the plan will not call for a two-state solution as one of its goals, though it will prescribe pathways for the creation of two states….Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner have invested a lot in developing relationships with Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But officials said the White House was not counting on its Arab friends to promote the president’s peace initiative.”

Netanyahu to cabinet: Trump has no concrete peace plan right now, Axios

Barak Ravid reports, “Prime Minister Netanyahu briefed the Israeli cabinet today on his visit to the U.S. and his meeting with President Trump at the White House last Monday. According to two officials who attend the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu told the ministers: ‘There is no concrete U.S. peace plan on the table at the moment. I am not saying there couldn’t be one in the future, but right now there is none.’ At a briefing with Israeli reporters last week after his meeting with Trump, Netanyahu said the President didn’t share a draft of the U.S. plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, or a timetable for releasing his plan.”

The Tide Has Turned, but Netanyahu’s Coalition Partners Are Convinced He’s Still Set on Elections, Haaretz

Yossi Verter observes, “The consensus among the party heads is that the prime minister wants to drag his nation into artificial, unnecessary early elections due to a cold personal interest linked to the investigations against him. He prefers to face what looks like an inevitable indictment as a newly elected prime minister at the beginning of a term, and not at the end of one.”

Israeli Elections Back on Table as Defense Chief Lieberman Rejects Draft Bill Compromise, Haaretz

Lawmakers from Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu said Monday their party would vote against the compromise reached Sunday night between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ultra-orthodox coalition parties regarding the contentious haredi draft bill. The controversial bill lies at the center of a conflict between the ultra-orthodox parties and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, which vehemently opposes the current draft. Both sides have threatened to disband the coalition if their demands regarding the bill are not met, which would prompt a snap election. Israel’s next election is currently scheduled for November 2019.


Netanyahu and ultra-Orthodox Coalition Partner Reach Compromise on Draft Bill, Haaretz

The Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Yisrael approved a compromise on the contentious ultra-Orthodox draft bill on Sunday night. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to work to advance the law, which would exempt Haredi yeshiva students from army service. The proposed Basic Law would declare that studying Torah is more important than equality under the law, and would thus preclude the court from overturning draft deferrals for yeshiva students on the grounds that they violate equality. The amended conscription law would let yeshiva students defer army service until age 26.

State prosecutor implies early elections won’t affect decision on Netanyahu, Times of Israel

With the Israeli political scene galloping toward a snap vote, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan launched a fierce defense of the justice system on Sunday, warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that victory at the ballot box would not clear his name of serious corruption allegations.

Second Palestinian Killed in Weekend Clashes With Israeli Army, Haaretz

A Palestinian teen was killed during clashes with Israeli army forces near the West Bank city of Nablus Saturday, according to a Palestinian Red Crescent spokesperson. Amir Omar Shahada, 19, was shot in the chest in the village of Urif, said Ghassan Douglas, the Palestinian Authority official in charge of monitoring settlement activity in the northern West Bank. A 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in the leg, Douglas added.

Trump administration backs PLO in terror lawsuit, angering conservatives, Times of Israel

The Trump administration sided with the Palestine Liberation Organization in a terrorism lawsuit the Supreme Court may soon consider, drawing an angry rebuke from conservatives, including one of its most steadfast Jewish community defenders, the Zionist Organization of America.

Israeli settlers attack houses, attempt to burn mosque in Hebron-area village, Ma’an

A group of Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian residents of the southern occupied West Bank village of al-Tiwani, and attempted to set fire to the village’s mosque, according to locals.Locals from al-Tiwani, located in the South Hebron Hills, told Ma’an that a group of 30 settlers from the Maon and Havat Maon settlements raided the village under the protection of Israeli soldiers.

Ex-defense chief Ya’alon says he will head new party in elections, Times of Israel

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon announced on Saturday he would run in the next Knesset elections as the leader of a new political party, confirming widespread speculation of a political comeback from the onetime Likud apparatchik.

Opinions and Analysis

Israel and Iran Back on Collision Course in the North, Haaretz

Amos Harel writes, “From Israel’s perspective, even though the stated intention is to foil Iran’s plans in Syria and Lebanon, neither Netanyahu nor Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman nor the top military brass aspire to a broad confrontation whose end cannot be foretold. Most Israeli deterrence moves are under the radar, sometimes barely gaining mention in the press. Israel would probably prefer things to go on without direct clashes.”

Trump told Netanyahu U.S. will pull out of Iran deal if big changes not made, Axios

Barak Ravid reports, “President Trump told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in their meeting at the White House last Monday that he won’t show flexibility in the negotiations with France, Germany and the U.K. on amending the Iran nuclear deal, two senior Israeli officials told me. The officials say Trump told Netanyahu that until now the three European powers only proposed ‘cosmetic changes’ that he doesn’t find satisfactory. Trump said he demands ‘significant changes’ in the Iran deal itself and not simply the addition of a supplemental agreement between the U.S. and the European countries, according to the officials.”

Israel’s Netanyahu accused of stoking ‘fake’ crisis to force poll, Al-Monitor

“Members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition accused the embattled premier on Sunday of perpetuating a “fake crisis” over a political dispute to potentially force early elections. The dispute comes as Netanyahu faces a possible indictment on bribery charges in the coming months. Polls suggest he could remain prime minister and his Likud party could win the most seats in fresh elections despite police investigations into his affairs. Victory could bolster his political standing ahead of the attorney general’s decision on indictments. Netanyahu has said he wants his coalition to last its entire term, which expires in November 2019 — something he repeated on Sunday. But others in his right-wing coalition suggested he had other motives.”

Candidate Haley, Foreign Policy

Colum Lynch profiles the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. “ Haley has….presided over highly controversial Middle East policies that have deepened America’s international isolation even as they have bolstered her political standing at home. Colleagues who once cheered her as the administration’s pragmatist, a vital bridge between the White House and the U.N., see her increasingly as a political opportunist who has placed her pursuit of the presidency above her efforts to maintain America’s alliances and its standing in the world.”

A Focus on Foreign Policy in a Competitive Race, J Street Blog

Barbara Van Voorst writes, “Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending a candidate forum focused on foreign policy featuring four Democratic candidates vying to replace Rep. Barbara Comstock in VA-10. The candidates, Lindsey Davis Stover, Dan Helmer, Alison Friedman and State Senator Jennifer Wexton, are all supported by JStreetPAC….I left the forum feeling incredibly hopeful about our political future. Each of the candidates recognized the importance of a measured, diplomacy-first approach to foreign policy and US leadership in the Middle East. While pushing back against the Trump administration’s daily outrages can be exhausting and depressing, the VA-10 candidates painted a bright and promising picture of what Congress can look like if we win big in 2018.”