News Roundup for November 20, 2019

November 20, 2019

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J Street in the News

Conservative, progressive leaders praise, criticize U.S. settlements move, The Jerusalem Post
“But the president of the progressive J Street organization, Jeremy Ben-Ami, was not soft-spoken in his criticism of Pompeo’s announcement, accusing the Trump administration of providing ‘political gifts to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu.’ — ‘Coming at a moment when Prime Minister Netanyahu is struggling desperately for political survival and faces imminent indictment for corruption, the timing of this announcement can only be read as a last-ditch attempt to boost the prime minister’s personal prospects,’ Ben-Ami said.”

Trump Has His Back, But Centrist Jews Still Want His Head, The New York Jewish Week
“Liberal and centrist Jewish groups are calling for White House adviser Stephen Miller to resign following the disclosure of emails showing that he promoted white nationalist literature and racist immigration stories during the 2016 presidential campaign […] This is not the first time Jewish groups have called for Miller’s ouster. In February 2018, 17 Jewish groups – including the left-leaning J Street – sent an open letter to then White House Chief of Staff John Kelly calling on him to dismiss Miller.”

Top News and Analysis

Behind the scenes of Trump’s shift on Israeli settlements, Axios
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman pushed for a change to the U.S. position on the legality of Israeli settlements early in the Trump administration, but former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opposed the move. Friedman, the key driver behind the major policy shift announced yesterday, raised the issue again when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came in. This time he got a “green light,” U.S. officials tell me. The discussions inside the State Department on the legal status of the Israeli settlements lasted a year. A special team was formed that consisted of Friedman and department lawyers led by the State Department’s then-chief legal adviser, Jennifer Newstead, who is now the general counsel of Facebook. During that year, the U.S. team held consultations with several Israeli officials including Tal Becker, legal adviser for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Signaling 3rd elections, Liberman accuses Gantz and Netanyahu of thwarting unity, Times of Israel
In a dramatic announcement Wednesday just hours before Blue and White chief Benny Gantz’s mandate to form a government ends, Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman announced that he would not support either a minority government headed by Gantz or a right-wing government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Democrats plan legislative response to Trump’s new Israeli settlement policy, Al-Monitor
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told Al-Monitor today that he expects to put the resolution on the floor ‘before the end of the year.’ Hoyer’s announcement comes the day after the State Department scratched a 1978 legal opinion deeming Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law.


After US settlement shift, PM said backing push to quickly annex Jordan Valley, Times of Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly threw his support Monday evening behind a bill proposing to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley — about a quarter of the West Bank — shortly after the United States, in a major policy shift, announced that it no longer views settlements as “inconsistent with international law.”

Israeli settlers celebrate Trump’s policy shift in their direction, Washington Post
Settlers here may not have expected the gift that came Monday night when the American secretary of state announced that the United States no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal under international law. But they wasted no time celebrating.

PM visits West Bank, says new US settlement policy will ‘stand for generations’, Times of Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the Trump administration’s decision to no longer view Israeli settlements as illegal was “an achievement that will stand for generations.”

Israel strikes Iranian military targets in Syria following missile launch, Washington Post
The Israeli army said it attacked military targets in Syria overnight Wednesday following a missile launch into Israel the previous day. An independent war monitoring group said 11 were killed, mostly non-Syrians, raising the specter of retaliatory strikes between the regional rivals.

Budapest blocks joint EU statement condemning US shift on settlements, Times of Israel
An effort to get all 28 European Union member states to issue a joint statement condemning the US decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements as illegal is being blocked by Hungary, according to a diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the matter.

Iran: More than 100 protesters believed to be killed as top officials give green light to crush protests, Amnesty International
Verified video footage, eyewitness testimony from people on the ground and information gathered from human rights activists outside Iran reveal a harrowing pattern of unlawful killings by Iranian security forces, which have used excessive and lethal force to crush largely peaceful protests in more than 100 cities across Iran sparked by a hike in fuel prices on 15 November, said Amnesty International today.

Last-ditch unity meeting appears to fail, with PM and Gantz trading accusations, Times of Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz’s final efforts to forge a unity government before the end of the latter’s mandate to do so appeared to have failed late Tuesday, with both leaders trading accusations in statements issued shortly after the conclusion of a one-hour meeting.

Opinion and Analysis

Pompeo’s Settlements Edict Is Another Trump Trinket That Netanyahu Sells as Pure Gold, Haaretz
Chemi Shalev writes, “It gave Benjamin Netanyahu a much-needed shot in the arm at a crucial political juncture. It could help Donald Trump solidify evangelical support in advance of his critical year of an impeachment process and an election campaign. It could very well serve Pompeo himself, who is eyeing a Senate run in Kansas, where evangelicals comprise a third of the population. The potential damage from the declaration is slightly more widespread and substantial: It erases whatever is left of the Trump administration’s ability to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians. It exacerbates frustration and desperation in Ramallah. It deepens the international isolation of Israel and the United States on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and energizes European hostility to the settlement project.”

The Guardian view on Israeli settlements: still illegal, The Guardian
The Editorial Board writes, “Washington has done all it can to aid Israel’s rightwing government, punish Palestinians and bury the two-state solution: moving its embassy to Jerusalem, ending funding to the UN Palestinian refugee agency, and recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

America is now implicitly endorsing a one-state solution, Washington Post
David Ignatius writes, “Pompeo doesn’t seem to realize it, but the United States is now implicitly endorsing a one-state solution — forcing Israel to make an agonizing decision about whether to deny full rights to the Arab residents of that state.”

Better late than never — Trump’s latest gift to Netanyahu, CNN
Oren Liebermann writes, “The Trump administration’s reversal of decades of US foreign policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank has been in the works for a year, says a US official, but the timing couldn’t have been better for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

What to Watch For in Israel, Where Gantz Is on Deadline to Form Government, New York Times
Isabel Kershner writes, “Benny Gantz, the chief political rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had only hours left on Wednesday before a midnight deadline to form a government and to extricate Israel from a monthslong political logjam.”

To serve short-term political interests, Trump overturns five decades of policy on Israeli settlements, St Louis Post-Dispatch
The Editorial Board writes, “Russia and other thuggish countries with territorial designs beyond their borders are no doubt rejoicing over the Trump administration decision to stop regarding Israel’s occupation and settlement of the West Bank as a violation of international law. Republican and Democratic administrations for the past five decades have justifiably condemned Israel’s occupation practices as unacceptable and against United Nations principles rejecting territorial acquisition by military force.”