News Roundup for May 4, 2021

May 4, 2021

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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.

Top News and Analysis

Flurry of diplomatic contacts fuel Iran deal speculation, AP
A flurry of diplomatic contacts and reports of major progress suggest that indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran may be nearing an agreement. That’s despite efforts by U.S. officials to play down chances of an imminent deal that would bring Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. With the negotiations in Vienna on hiatus, the U.S. and Britain denied Iranian reports that any agreement was at hand with Iran for a swap of American and British prisoners. Such an exchange could be a confidence-building measure to revive the nuclear deal.

Israel’s Netanyahu has hours to form a new government and no clear path to do it, Washington Post
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a Tuesday deadline to form a new government amid signs that he has no path to a parliamentary majority, which would prolong the country’s unprecedented political stalemate and threaten to end the record run of Israel’s longest-serving leader. Netanyahu’s 28-day window to build a government after failing to win an outright majority in March elections will expire at midnight. If the prime minister fails to reach a deal with potential partners, President Reuven Rivlin will turn to one of his rival lawmakers, who are already trying to negotiate the first coalition to exclude Netanyahu in 12 years.

Israel and the challenge of apartheid, Times of Israel
Naomi Chazan writes, “A week after the publication of The Human Rights Watch’s blistering report on Israeli policies towards Palestinians last week (A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution), it is becoming increasingly apparent that the report cannot be summarily dismissed. […] Israelis, however reluctantly, cannot afford to ignore either the substance or the implications of this report. Questioning the aptness of the South African analogy or the fallacies inherent in the decision to look at the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan river as one extended system of Israeli control, as some commentators have hastened to do, bypasses the key questions that need to be addressed.”


Netanyahu Offers Rival a Year in Office, in Last-Minute Bid for Government, New York Times
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Monday that he would be willing to hand over leadership for one year to a longtime right-wing rival, Naftali Bennett, in a last-ditch effort to cobble together a new government. Mr. Netanyahu, who has spent the last 12 years in office and is now standing trial on corruption charges, announced the offer just ahead of a deadline to form a government, in the wake of Israel’s fourth inconclusive election in two years.

Israel’s Netanyahu faces midnight deadline to form coalition, AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced a midnight deadline on Tuesday to put together a new coalition government — or be looking at the possibility of leading his Likud party into the opposition for the first time in 12 years. Netanyahu has struggled to secure a parliamentary majority since March 23 — when elections ended in deadlock for the fourth consecutive time in the past two years. Despite repeated meetings with many of his rivals and unprecedented outreach to the leader of a small Islamist Arab party, Netanyahu has not been able to close a deal during a four-week window. That window was to expire at midnight, at which point the matter returns to President Reuven Rivlin in the absence of an agreement.

After Israel stampede, some ultra-Orthodox are looking at their role in the tragedy, NBC News
First came the tragedy, then a search for who to blame. Days after a deadly stampede resulted in the deaths of 45 people at a religious festival in northern Israel, many are now asking who is at fault. Israel’s government watchdog has said it would open an investigation into the stampede at a Jewish religious festival on Mount Meron, in which the victims were mainly ultra-Orthodox men and children. Yet some, including activists from inside the ultra-Orthodox community, are calling for the ultra-Orthodox to look at their own role in the tragedy as well.

UN committee to examine Palestinian apartheid charges against Israel, Jerusalem Post
A United Nations arbitrations committee is poised to examine a Palestinian Authority complaint that Israel has committed acts of apartheid. The move comes as civil society allegations against the Jewish state on the issue of apartheid by Israeli left-wing NGOs such as Yesh Din and B’Tselem and by the US based Human Rights Watch have made headlines.

Israel’s ‘shadow war’ and plans to scupper Iran’s nuclear deal, Al Jazeera
US President Joe Biden is pushing to reinstate Iran’s nuclear deal and weeks of talks in Austria appear to be bearing fruit. Israel, however, continues to see its security jeopardised by a potentially nuclear Iran and is trying to thwart negotiations any way possible.

This Jewish Obama administration official appears to be the front-runner for US ambassador to Israel, JTA
Thomas Nides, a deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration, is seen as the likeliest choice to become U.S. ambassador to Israel. The Washington Post first reported the likelihood of a Nides nomination last week, and sources close to the Biden administration officials in on the decision have confirmed that he is the front-runner.

Likud to Advance Controversial Bills in Bid to Embarrass Bennett, anti-Netanyahu Bloc, Haaretz
Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, the chairman of the influential Arrangements Committee in the Knesset will try Tuesday to pass a controversial bill allowing for the direct election of the prime minister, as well as additional bills in a bid to embarrass Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals, only hours before the prime minister’s mandate to form a government expires. If passed by the committee, the bill – which has been pushed by Likud and its allies in an attempt to stave off a fifth election and allow Netanyahu to retain power following four inconclusive rounds of balloting since April 2019 – could go before the Knesset for a vote as soon as Wednesday.

Opinion and Analysis

An election fiasco leaves the Palestinian government weaker than ever, Washington Post
The Washington Post editorial board writes, “One reason there has been no progress toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians during the past decade is the refusal of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009, to embrace reasonable terms for Palestinian statehood. Another is the dismal state of Palestinian governance. Since 2007, the Gaza Strip has been controlled by the Islamists of Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence, while in the West Bank the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly turned aside peace initiatives. Mr. Abbas has one big virtue: He opposes violence and has cooperated with Israel to keep the West Bank mostly peaceful since he succeeded Yasser Arafat. Otherwise, his rule has been a disaster.”

Netanyahu is desperate, unhinged and totally uninterested in governing, Washington Post
Noga Tarnopolsky writes, “Israel has been without a functional government for more than two years. During this time, the country was dragged through four general election campaigns in which Netanyahu failed to win enough votes to form a stable governing coalition — but succeeded in preventing anyone else from doing so each time. Stuck in political purgatory, Israel has no budget, and it’s at risk of losing its international credit ratings. The Knesset is not operational, with the prime minister’s allies scrambling to reshape every rule and motion into a parachute that will save his political life. And the cabinet is incapacitated.”

Washington elites embrace rights-based approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Responsible Statecraft
Mitchell Plitnick writes, “…a new policy paper issued jointly by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and the U.S./Middle East Project has broken out of the confines of the traditional debate in the Washington think tank world and offered a new direction for U.S. policy. The paper, titled ‘Breaking the Israel-Palestine Status Quo,’ is focused on U.S. policy and how it can play a positive role. Co-authored by Zaha Hassan, Marwan Muasher, Daniel Levy, and Hallaamal Keir, it calls on the Biden administration to ‘place a rights-based approach at the center of its strategy.’”

In Israel’s stampede tragedy, the buck stops with Netanyahu, Washington Post
Gershom Gorenberg writes, “Netanyahu has come to resemble a medieval king whose rule over outlying provinces is fading. Staying in power and out of jail are his main concerns; keeping the state functioning is not. His most recent government fell because he would not pass a state budget. His ministers are chosen not for competence but lapdog loyalty. Occasionally, he makes forays into governing, as when he reached the deal for Israel’s vaccine supply. The blaring of the king’s trumpets distracts attention from the wider decay of the state.”