News Roundup for January 25, 2017

January 25, 2017

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J Street in the News

Israel plans West Bank settlement expansion amid policy shifts in Washington, Washington Post

“Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the liberal Washington-based group J Street, noted that about 100 of the possible new units are in Beit El, a West Bank settlement supported by David Friedman, Trump’s selection to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel….Ben-Ami, of the J Street group, called the lack of swift American condemnation ‘unprecedented’ in 50 years of U.S. foreign policy on the issue. ‘It may really feel good for Israel’s government not to feel the sting of an American rebuke in the wake of this latest announcement,’ said Ben-Ami, whose group supports a two-state deal between Israel and Palestinians. ‘But it doesn’t change the fact that the world has made it very clear that these actions have no legal validity.’”

White House: Trump Will Discuss Settlement Construction in Meeting With Netanyahu, Haaretz

“Two left-wing Jewish organizations in the U.S., Americans for Peace Now and J Street, strongly condemned the settlement announcement on Tuesday….J Street stated that “this announcement should put to rest any illusion that this Israeli government seeks a two-state solution with the Palestinians. It will deepen Israel’s diplomatic isolation, boost international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) efforts and deepen the despair among Palestinians that sadly fuels ongoing violence.”

Israel’s Massive Settlement Announcement Dangerously Irresponsible, J Street Blog

“The Israeli government’s approval today of 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank is highly dangerous, reflecting its sense that it now has carte blanche from the new American President for unlimited settlement expansion. Though the announcement by the government claims that most of the units will be built in so-called “settlement blocs” – this is an attempt to normalize actions that the world has made clear have no legal validity and crush hopes of reaching a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict….This announcement should put to rest any illusion that this Israeli government seeks a two-state solution with the Palestinians. It will deepen Israel’s diplomatic isolation, boost international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) efforts and deepen the despair among Palestinians that sadly fuels ongoing violence. Israel’s government may be relieved to know that it will not feel the sting of a US rebuke today, but this announcement, combined with proposals for annexation of land beyond the Green Line and the possible relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, throw fuel on simmering fires and risk sparking further violence and terror in the near term. In the long term, they are placing Israel on a path to a one-state reality, in which Israel will have to choose between being democratic in character or Jewish in nature.”

Smearing Fellow Jews as ‘Kapos’ Disqualifies David Friedman from Representing America, Forward

J Street’s Alan Elsner writes, “For me, the use of the word ‘kapo’ to describe me and the many good-hearted American Jews who want to see Israel make peace with the Palestinians and end the ongoing conflict — as well as ending Israel’s military control over another people – reveals a man who is totally uncompromising, intolerant, inflexible and verbally cruel–all dreadful traits for a diplomat. It shows that Friedman is willing to casually besmirch our people’s greatest, most sacred memory as well as our deepest trauma to advance his own narrow interests. This is not a person worthy of or qualified for the honor of representing all Americans — and not just Donald Trump — in Israel.”

A House Divided, Baltimore Jewish Times

“Josh Greenfeld is a local representative of J Street, which supports working toward the two-state solution, and said there’s a reason the organization is growing and becoming more visible. Since Trump’s surprise election, J Street has seen some of the biggest gains ever, both in membership and finances, according to Greenfeld. And he says he is having more and more people from the Baltimore community reach out to him about being involved. ‘When J Street started, it was like a breath of fresh air,’ he said. AIPAC has done great work, he added, but more recently it has ‘failed to represent views of many in the community.’ Many of those in the community who are more critical of Israel tend to fall in younger demographics — look at J Street’s fairly large presence on college campuses (this includes a chapter at Johns Hopkins University)….Among Trump’s personnel is his pick for Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman — a controversial choice due to his support for far-right groups in Israel and previous statements likening J Street members to kapos, Jews who supervised their fellow Jews in concentration camps. Friedman also supports moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move at odds with longtime U.S. policy. Those more critical of Israel have numerous concerns, not only for the future of Israel, but also for those minority groups here at home, including the Jewish community.”

Top News and Analysis

Israel Approves Construction and Planning of 2,500 Settler Homes in West Bank, Haaretz

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman approved the construction and planning of some 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank on Tuesday. Overall, the marketing of lands for the immediate construction of 909 new homes have been approved, as well as the expediting of planning at the relevant committees for an additional 1,642 homes. According to a Defense Ministry press release, most of the units are located within settlement blocs, while some 100 of them are located in the settlement of Beit El, and others in Migron. However, a look at the planned locations shows the construction is slated for outside the settlement blocs, as well….On Monday, Netanyahu informed the members of the inner security cabinet that he has decided to lift all restrictions on Israeli construction in East Jerusalem resulting from international diplomatic pressures, two senior officials who have been briefed on what transpired at the meeting said. Netanyahu added that at the same time when construction plans would be promoted in East Jerusalem, he intends to also advance construction in West Bank settlement blocs.”

Israeli security establishment to Netanyahu: Don’t touch Iran deal, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit reports, “According to Israeli intelligence (and all the other intelligence organizations in the West), Iran is, at this point in time, adhering closely to the agreement. A reopening of the agreement would cause an immediate loss of the deal’s main achievements, which are deferring Iranian nuclear danger by 10-15 years and lengthening the estimated Iranian “breakout time” (toward nuclear bomb capabilities) from only three months in the past to an estimated year and a half in the present (at least). The Israeli security system views the agreement as a positive development, despite the fact that it is full of holes and incomplete. The IDF’s multiyear strategic plan is based on this deal. “We have a 10-year strategic opportunity to build up our strength, change our approach and carry out strategic processes,” said a highly placed Israeli military source speaking on the condition of anonymity to Al-Monitor. ‘That is the gift that the nuclear agreement gave Israel, and that is an irrevocable opportunity we must not squander.’”

Trump and Israel, Baltimore Sun

The editorial board writes, “As president-elect, Mr. Trump has named as U.S. ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman, a businessman with no diplomatic experience who has helped finance the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and is openly hostile to any two-state solution. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has declared his strong support for the settler movement, and during his first days in office he’s even flirted with the idea of transferring the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move Palestinian officials say would surely kill any chance of productive bilateral peace talks….Mr. Netanyahu clearly sees the handwriting on the wall, but he has neither the political support nor the moral courage to tell his countrymen that their present course is unsustainable. As for Mr. Trump, whether due to inattention or incompetence, his acquiescence in the machinations of Israel’s right-wing extremists bent on destroying the possibility of a two-state solution would condemn Israel to a future with neither peace nor security. Simply repeating the mistakes of the past is unlikely to produce a favorable change in outcomes, but that is nevertheless what Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump appear bent on doing, with potentially tragic consequences for both their countries.”

Has Trump come to his senses on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem?, Los Angeles Times

The editorial board writes, “It’s beginning to look as if President Trump is having second thoughts about his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. If so, he will be following in the footsteps of his predecessors — and putting the national interest above politics….Although West Jerusalem is where the government of the Jewish state is based, East Jerusalem — which Israel effectively annexed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War — is where Palestinians hope to establish a capital of a state of their own. Putting the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem could send a message that the U.S. accepts Israel’s claim to both halves of the city, rejecting the Palestinians’ ambitions for an area that’s overwhelmingly Palestinian in population. And it’s not at all clear that Israel’s claim is valid. Trump, who has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House next month, once described a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as ‘the ultimate deal.’ He would be making such a deal less possible by following through with this campaign promise. What Spicer called the ‘decision-making process’ should end with a reaffirmation of current policy.”


Abbas Adviser: Palestinians Reassured Jerusalem Embassy Move Not High on Trump’s Agenda, Haaretz

The Palestinian Authority in recent days received reassuring messages concerning US President Trump’s declarations about moving the American Embassy In Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Ramallah feared that the Trump administration would take instant action to relocate the embassy, and so took steps within the international and Arab arenas to try to stop it, including a personal appeal from President Abbas to Trump.

Netanyahu Secretly Met With Murdoch Media Empire Execs in Fall of 2016, Haaretz

Prime Minister Netanyahu secretly met with the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch three months ago, in a revelation that suggests his alleged actions in the Case 2000 scandal continued until quite recently. The meeting ties into investigations against Netanyahu regarding his conversations with Arnon Mozes, publisher of Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. Included in the investigation are reports that the prime minister tried to negotiate between Mozes and potential buyers for the newspaper.

Livni: Trump presidency an ‘opportunity’ for Israel, Times of Israel

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni on Tuesday said she views Donald Trump’s presidency as an “opportunity” for Israel, as it will force the Israeli government to formulate its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians rather than painting Washington as the “bad cop” forcing its hand. The government will no longer be able to portray the White House as the “bad cop” coercing decisions opposed by its right-wing base, said Livni. “There is no one left in the government or in Washington to blame.”

Abbas meets US Consul-General in Ramallah, Ma’an

President Abbas met the US Consul-General in Jerusalem Donald Blome at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, state-run news agency Wafa reported.

Germany busts alleged far-right plot to attack Jews, refugees, Times of Israel

German authorities on Wednesday carried out dawn raids against far-right suspects accused of plotting attacks on Jews, refugees and police, federal prosecutors said.

Druze join protests against Israeli home demolition campaign, Ma’an

Druze villages in Israel launched a one-day general strike on Tuesday in protest of Israel’s policy of home demolitions, joining protest efforts by other Palestinian citizens of Israel in recent days. State-run Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that that marches were planned for Tuesday afternoon in the northern Israel region of Galilee, under the slogans “No to the policy of demolitions,” “No to the policy of humiliation,” and “No to the policy of discrimination.”

Opinion and Analysis

Umm al-Hiran: A Cautionary Tale of an Israeli Government Emboldened by Trump, Haaretz

Rebecca Arian and Arel Jarus-Hakak write, “The devastation in Umm al-Hiran – a village populated by Israeli citizens – was a sign of an Israel increasingly unwilling to accept ethnic and religious pluralism in its society, and it ran counter to the liberal values commonly embraced by North American Jews…..The Israeli government has undergone an extreme shift to the right during the period of the Obama administration and we cannot predict how it will act now under Trump.  Our visit to Umm al-Hiran showed us the potential for what’s to come. The Bedouin residents of Umm al-Hiran, in theory, share the same rights under the Israeli government as Jewish citizens. Yet the destruction of their homes – including a demolition order for the town mosque – runs counter to the progressive values of North American Jewry.  Given how many Israeli media sources adopted the state’s security narrative in characterizing the villager’s protest, Umm al-Hiran teaches us that as North American Jews, it is our responsibility to serve as watchdogs. Now more than ever, we must advocate for diversity, equality and pluralism in Israel in a political environment that, as it turns ever more rightwards, becomes more and more hostile to these values and to the civil rights of its minority populations.”

Is Trump really Netanyahu’s ‘dream president’?, Al-Monitor

Mazal Mualem observes, “Paradoxically, it is the Trump administration that presents Netanyahu with an unusually complex political and diplomatic challenge. Ostensibly, Netanyahu was just given the “president of his dreams” on a platter. He could now fulfill all the deepest desires of the Israeli right. But since the Trump inauguration Jan. 20, Netanyahu has instead found himself trying to ward off a barrage of pressure from the right. Spearheading that campaign is Netanyahu rival Naftali Bennett, the education minister who claims that the new US administration offers Israel a historic opportunity to annex the settlements.”

On Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Trump Switches From Bravado to Cautious Diplomacy, Haaretz

Barak Ravid argues, “Trump’s White House does not think the settlements are not legal and prefers to discuss the matter through private channels. Netanyahu’s room to maneuver in Washington on the Palestinian issue has no doubt grown, but it is far from being the bonanza the settler lobby in Jerusalem was dreaming of. With that as the starting point, it’s not certain that dreams of annexation are practical. At least not at this point.”

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