News Roundup for November 23, 2020

November 23, 2020

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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

Biden Chooses Antony Blinken, Defender of Global Alliances, as Secretary of State, New York Times
Mr. Blinken, 58, a former deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama, began his career at the State Department during the Clinton administration. His extensive foreign policy credentials are expected to help calm American diplomats and global leaders alike after four years of the Trump administration’s ricocheting strategies and nationalist swaggering. Mr. Biden is also expected to name another close aide, Jake Sullivan, as national security adviser, according to a person familiar with the process. Mr. Sullivan, 43, succeeded Mr. Blinken as Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, and served as the head of policy planning at the State Department under Hillary Clinton, becoming her closest strategic adviser.

Saudis confirm talks with Netanyahu, say no progress on ties, Iran, Times of Israel
A Saudi government adviser confirmed that Riyadh’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks Sunday on Iran and normalization, but said no substantial breakthroughs were reached, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. Two Saudi government advisers confirmed the trip by the Israeli leader to Saudi Arabia on Sunday night to the US paper. One of the sources said the meeting, which lasted several hours, focused on Iran and the establishment of diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Jerusalem, but did not yield substantial agreements.

For Netanyahu and Israel, Trump’s Gifts Kept on Coming, New York Times
The U.S. decision to allow Jonathan J. Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel in the 1980s, to complete his parole on Friday freed him to move to Israel and ended one of the most rancorous and long-running disputes between the two allies. It also capped what has been an extraordinary four-year stretch in the two countries’ relationship, during which President Trump’s treatment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been nothing short of lavish. Mr. Trump broke sharply with his predecessors’ approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, taking Israel’s side on the status of Jerusalem, West Bank settlements and other occupied territory. His Middle East team applied enormous pressure on the Palestinians in a failed attempt to get them to consider a lopsided peace proposal, then brokered historic normalization accords for Israel with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan — deals that shattered a half-century of Arab solidarity behind the Palestinian cause.


Antony Blinken: Biden’s secretary of state nominee is sharp break with Trump era, The Guardian
He also signed an open letter with other former Obama officials in 2018, acknowledging that the initial support they gave to the Saudi war in Yemen had not succeeded in limiting or ending the war and had mutated into a blank check under the Trump administration, resulting in devastating civilian casualties. A Biden administration is expected to cut off military involvement in the conflict. Those who know Blinken well insist that his commitment to human rights is genuine and rooted in experience. He is the stepson of a Holocaust survivor and worked in the Clinton White House on the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Biden’s ‘alter ego’ Antony Blinken tipped for top foreign policy job, Financial Times
Mr Blinken is a pragmatic realist who believes in US power but understands its limits. He will also have the most valuable currency in Washington — the ear of the president. He is so close to Mr Biden that some see him as his “alter ego”.

Netanyahu Held Secret Meeting with Saudi Crown Prince, Amid Talk of a Deal, New York Times
The visit was the first known meeting between high-level Israeli and Saudi leaders and could signal an acceleration of gradually warming relations between the two powers.

Average daily virus cases at highest level since October, task force warns, Times of Israel
The daily average of coronavirus cases reached the highest level in nearly a month on Monday, ahead of the return of more schoolchildren to class on Tuesday.

Biden picks Antony Blinken as secretary of state, emphasizing experience and the foreign policy establishment, Washington Post
Blinken — who grew up in New York and Paris, and whose stepfather survived the Holocaust, which had an impact on Blinken — got his start in government during Bill Clinton’s administration. He eventually became President Bill Clinton’s chief foreign policy speechwriter.

White House Hanukkah party invitees hesitant to attend due to coronavirus, Times of Israel
While the White House is moving forward with plans to hold its annual Hanukkah party next month, some of those invited are thinking twice about attending what will likely be an indoor event in the midst of an out-of-control second wave of the pandemic.

Netanyahu says Biden must not go back to Iran deal, Axios
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that President-elect Biden’s administration “must not go back to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.”

In blow to gov’t, Gantz sets up probe of submarine scam that’s hounded Netanyahu, Times of Israel
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced Sunday that he would form a government committee to investigate the irregular purchase process of submarines and corvettes, an affair that has already resulted in indictments against several close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as high-ranking military officials, but not the premier himself.

Israeli settlers stone homes in Burin, escorted by soldiers who fire tear gas at residents; child faints from inhalation, B’Tselem
On Friday, 9 October 2020, at around 6:00 P.M., about 20 settlers arrived at the northeastern neighborhood of Burin, a village in Nablus District. They spread out in the area and some of them started throwing stones at the home of the ‘Eid family, where Ibrahim (50) and Ghadah (46) live with their nine children ranging in age from 7 to 19. Five soldiers escorting the settlers hurled stun grenades and fired tear gas canisters at neighbors who came to the family’s defense.

Gantz, Ashkenazi said kept in dark about Saudi Arabia trip, Times of Israel
Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi were reportedly kept in the dark about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s secret visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Opinion and Analysis

Reviving the Iran nuclear deal will be harder than it looks, Washington Post
Henry Rome writes, “Domestic politics in both countries — and regional considerations — will make an immediate return to the deal harder than it looks. President Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement in May 2018, and reviving the JCPOA probably won’t happen the moment he departs the White House. Here’s why.”

Pompeo’s settlement visit caps a four-year effort to destroy the two-state solution, Responsible Statecraft
Khaled Elgindy writes, “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made history this week by visiting two Israeli settlements, the Psagot winery located on the outskirts of Ramallah in the heart of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and the City of David located in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan just outside Jerusalem’s Old City, the first ever such visits by a sitting American secretary of state. The visits were clearly aimed at legitimizing and normalizing Israel’s settlement enterprise, which is considered illegal under international law, in keeping with the administration’s approach of the last three years.”

Pompeo’s Grotesque Farewell Party in Israel Shows That the Trump Team Knows It’s Over, Haaretz
Noa Landau writes, “Pompeo used his visit to Israel and the settlements to push forward his pet ideological project and advance his post-Trump political career.”

Trump aims to box in Biden abroad, but it may not work, AP
Matthew Lee writes, “In recent weeks, the White House, State Department and other agencies have been working overtime to produce new policy pronouncements on Iran, Israel, China and elsewhere that aim to lock in Trump’s vision for the world. Some have attracted significant attention while others have flown largely under the radar.”

Unlike Stolen Land, the Palestinians’ Stolen Time Cannot Be Returned, Haaretz
Amira Hass writes, “The normal routine of a foreign and forced military regime involves psychological abuse of the subjects and their humiliation. The control over the time of the subjects complements control over their land, only that time cannot be regained.”

With submarine probe, a cornered Gantz shows he’s willing to sink the coalition, Times of Israel
Haviv Rettig Gur writes, “Buffeted by criticism, defense minister formally launches an investigation into an affair that has stained his ostensible partner, all but officially triggering the 2021 election.”

Trump’s Lame Duck Moves Will Impact U.S. Jewish Community Long After His Term Ends, Haaretz
Allison Kaplan Sommer writes, “Beyond the overall atmosphere, some of Trump’s post-election moves are problematic as well. Personnel decisions made only two months before he is due to leave office paint a troubling picture of what he is trying to accomplish during his lame duck period. The hire that has garnered the most attention in the Jewish community was his decision to nominate Darren Beattie to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad – a branch of the U.S. government charged with preserving historical sites in Europe, including cemeteries, monuments and Holocaust killing sites, that are associated with the heritage of U.S. citizens. Beattie is Jewish, but has, nonetheless, been tied to white nationalism. A Trump loyalist and defender of the president’s Muslim ban, he lost his job as a White House speechwriter after it was revealed that he had attended a conference of the H.L. Mencken Club in 2016, appearing on a panel with Peter Brimelow – a white nationalist behind the anti-immigrant website VDare.”