News Roundup for January 3, 2017

January 3, 2017

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J Street in the News

Is Donald Trump the Friend Israel Needs?, The New York Times

Bernard Avishai writes, “It is hard to find Jews who are not proudly erudite, emancipated, attending synagogue only sporadically, comfortable with intermarriage, identified with the Democratic Party. Liberal American Jews overwhelmingly support the two-state solution. Their largest political organization, J Street, welcomed the United Nations Security Council condemnation of settlements. They cannot imagine rallying to an apartheid Israel….’The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents profess neutrality,’ J Street’s founder and president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, told me, ‘but their unwillingness to criticize Friedman or to defend critics of Israeli policies from attack put them in much the same space.’….Mr. Trump’s professed friendship for Israel, then, brings an unexpected moment of truth. It will advance the cause of extremists in Israel, while making a majority of American Jews more skeptical of American policy and organized Jewish institutions — and no less skeptical of him.”

American Jews Divided Over Strain in U.S.-Israel Relations, The New York Times

“‘I think it’s a question of legacy,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, a liberal Jewish lobbying group. ‘And you have to have the long view on this issue. Donald Trump will be president for X years. And then there will be someone else and the chances are it will go back to where we are today. And Bibi will lose someday,’ he said, referring to Mr. Netanyahu. ‘Someday down the line this is the way it’s got to go.’”

AIPAC Blasts Kerry’s Speech — J Street Praises It, Forward

“J Street said Kerry ‘laid out a clear choice for those who care about Israel’s future… [Israelis] can continue down the present path of unbridled settlement and occupation, and there will be one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean that will have to choose between being Jewish or democratic in nature.’”

J Street ‘applauds’ Kerry speech, urges congressional backing, Times of Israel

“The left-leaning J Street organization hails Kerry’s speech and urges US Congress and American Jewish leaders to throw their backing behind his initiative. ‘J Street applauds Secretary of State Kerry’s speech today, which powerfully made the case that the two-state solution is not only in Israeli and Palestinian interests, but in the American national interest as well,’ it says in a statement. ‘J Street strongly supports as well the secretary’s proposals for concrete steps toward the two-state solution that can be taken now and his outline of the basic principles on which resolution of the conflict can ultimately be based.’ ‘J Street calls on Members of Congress to welcome and respect the vision laid out by Secretary Kerry as an important marker and reaffirmation of US policy, and as a basis for future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to achieve the lasting peace and security that both peoples crave and deserve,’ it says. ‘We call as well on Jewish communal leaders to endorse this vision and to make clear that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans and friends of Israel choose the path of two states and not the path that leads to a ‘Greater Israel’ and increasing international isolation.”

Kerry’s Mideast Peace Speech Gets Mixed Reviews Among U.S. Jewish Groups, Haaretz

“Meanwhile, on the left side of the political map, Jewish community leaders applauded the speech. Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of J Street, told Haaretz that ‘the speech was important in providing in providing context for the UN abstention.’ Yet even he doesn’t believe that the speech can influence the current Israeli Government. ‘I think the goal is to resonate with people of good will who are trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I think in the future, when there will be a leader who really does want to pursue an end to this conflict, this speech will provide a very serious starting point. Anyone who is serious about achieving an end to this conflict can now say yes to these principles. And yes, both sides are challenged by this. I don’t think that this is something that the current prime minister is likely to do, but perhaps it paves the way for a future prime minister to end this conflict.’”

Will John Kerry’s Israel Speech Tear the Democrats Apart?, The Daily Beast

“Jeremy Ben-Ami, who heads the liberal advocacy group J Street, told The Daily Beast he sees two emerging camps: One that believes the U.S. government should be a more vocal and active critic of certain Israeli government policies (including settlements—what Kerry did on Wednesday) and one that doesn’t endorse that route. The latter group would include Schumer and Hoyer, as well as House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot Engel, all of whom opposed the Iran deal and argue that speeches like Kerry’s undermine the peace process.

Ben-Ami said he believes far more Democrats are comfortable with U.S. governmental criticism of Israeli policies than with Schumer’s view on the issue. He pointed to the growing number of settlers as particular concerns for Democrats in Congress. ‘Those things make a very large portion of the Democratic caucus uneasy at this point, and I think that’s where the rift is at,’ he said. ‘It’s not a question of supporting or not supporting Israel—it’s a question of how.’ Hoyer and Schumer, he argued, are out of touch. ‘The loudest voices coming from established institutions reflect a minority view,’ he said.”

Kerry Speech a Strong Experession of America’s Comitment to Two-State Solution and Israel’s Security, J Street Blog

“J Street applauds Secretary of State Kerry’s speech today, which powerfully made the case that the two-state solution is not only in Israeli and Palestinian interests, but in the American national interest as well. J Street strongly supports as well the Secretary’s proposals for concrete steps toward the two-state solution that can be taken now and his outline of the basic principles on which resolution of the conflict can ultimately be based. The Secretary laid out a clear choice for those who care about Israel’s future and security as the democratic home of the Jewish people. They can continue down the present path of unbridled settlement and occupation, and there will be one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean that will have to choose between being Jewish or democratic in nature. Or, they can take the steps necessary to keep the chances for separation into two states alive so that Israel can remain both Jewish and democratic. We thank the Secretary for delivering that message so powerfully and calling urgent attention to the deteriorating reality on the ground that is challenging the viability of the two-state solution.”

Top News and Analysis

Speaking truth to our ally Israel, Washington Post

Brent Scowcroft and Thomas Pickering write, “When U.S. presidents assert their opposition to settlements and reaffirm their support for two states, they are doing what their oath of office requires — serving U.S. national security interests. Our commitment to Israel is right and unshakable, but it cannot extend to committing ourselves to erroneous policies that undermine U.S. interests, well-being and security. We believe that a rejection of peace and the promotion of settlements are also bad for Israel. If we lose the two-state option, then we may well lose the ability to base the U.S.-Israel relationship on shared values. The permanent disenfranchisement of millions of people on an ethnic-national basis — keeping the Palestinians ‘separate and unequal,’ in Kerry’s words — does not conform with American values. This is not something to be taken lightly. The Obama administration, in line with its predecessors, is right to be doing its duty to advance dignity for both peoples’ stability and security. It is also right to speak truth, even when it may be inconvenient, to our closest of allies.”

Netanyahu Questioned by Police for Three Hours Over Alleged Gifts, Haaretz

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged Monday night after three hours of police questioning regarding suspicions of graft. Specifically, Police questioned Netanyahu over suspicions he and his family received gifts and other benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from businesspeople. A statement issued by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit late Monday said police found enough evidence to support the questioning of Netanyahu as a possible criminal suspect in the case. Mendelblit said that the decision to question Netanyahu was made in light of evidence collected in the past month.”

Top Scientists Urge Trump to Abide by Iran Nuclear Deal, The New York Times

Dozens of the nation’s top scientists wrote to President-elect Donald J. Trump on Monday to urge him not to dismantle the Iran deal, calling it a strong bulwark against any Iranian bid to make nuclear arms. “We urge you to preserve this critical U.S. strategic asset,” the letter read. The 37 signatories included Nobel laureates, veteran makers of nuclear arms, former White House science advisers and the chief executive of the world’s largest general society of scientists….The letter was organized by Richard L. Garwin, a physicist who helped design the world’s first hydrogen bomb and has long advised Washington on nuclear weapons and arms control. He is among the last living physicists who helped usher in the nuclear age. The letter to Mr. Trump says its objective is to “provide our assessment” of the Iran deal since it was put in effect nearly a year ago. On Jan. 16, 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the technical body in Vienna that oversees the accord with teams of inspectors it has sent to Iran, gave its approval, saying Tehran had curbed its nuclear program enough to begin receiving relief from longstanding sanctions.”

Israeli settlements grew on Obama’s watch. They may be poised for a boom on Trump’s., Washington Post

“Israeli settlements may be illegal in the eyes of the U.N. Security Council and a major obstacle to Middle East peace in the view of the Obama administration. But every day they become a more entrenched reality on land that Palestinians say should rightfully belong to them. As the parched beige hilltops fill with red-tiled homes, decades of international efforts to achieve a two-state solution are unraveling. And global condemnations notwithstanding, the trend is poised to accelerate. Already, Israel has a right-wing government that boasts it is more supportive of settlement construction than any in the country’s short history. Within weeks, it will also have as an ally a U.S. president, Donald Trump, who has signaled he could make an extraordinary break with decades of U.S. policy and end American objections to the settlements.”


Israeli Army Approves Moving Illegal Settlement Outpost to Contested Palestinian Land, Haaretz

The Israel Defense Forces approved an order which allows Israel to move the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona to adjacent lots, despite the fact that Palestinians claim the land as their own and contest the move’s validity.

Trump ‘Aggressively Courting’ Benjamin Netanyahu To Attend Inauguration, Forward

“President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team leaders have been ‘aggressively courting’ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come to the Jan. 20 inauguration, the New York Post reported. The newspaper cited an unnamed source “close to the transition” in its report Saturday. The transition officials, led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, want Netanyahu to attend the inauguration or meet just before it, according to the newspaper.”

Arab-Israeli lawmaker accused of smuggling cell phones to Palestinian prisoners suspended from Knesset activity, JTA

An Arab-Israeli lawmaker who allegedly smuggled cell phones to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons has been suspended from parliamentary activity in the Knesset for six months. Basel Ghattas of the Balad Party, which is part of the Arab Joint List, was suspended on Monday by the Knesset Ethics Committee, which approved the suspension by a vote of 3 to 1.

Israeli cabinet decides not to return bodies of Hamas-affiliated slain Palestinians, Ma’an

The Diplomatic-Security cabinet of the Israeli government decided Sunday that bodies of slain Palestinians affiliated with the Hamas movement who were killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis will not be returned to their families, according to reports from Israeli media. Israeli news website Arutz Sheva reported that the bodies will instead be buried inside Israel in a “graveyard for enemy dead,” and that the decision came as the cabinet “discussed ways to advance the return of the bodies of Israeli citizens and the bodies of two soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza.”

Israeli settlers start new year with new illegal outpost in Nablus village, Ma’an

Israeli settlers started to establish a new illegal outpost on private Palestinian land in the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus Sunday morning.

IDF Chief on Hebron Shooter’s Trial: Treating a Soldier Like a ‘Confused Little Boy’ Demeans the Army, Haaretz

Israel Defense Forces chief Gadi Eisenkot on Tuesday criticized efforts to present Elor Azaria, a soldier on trial for shooting and killing a wounded Palestinian assailant, as a “confused little kid,” saying that such discourse demeans the army. Eisenkot made the remarks a day before the anticipated verdict in the trial.

Opinion and Analysis

‘Made in Israel’: Rise in U.S. Complaints Over ‘Mislabeled’ Exports From Settlements, Haaretz

Uri Blau reports, “The United States Department of the Treasury is reporting an increase in allegations that merchandise produced in West Bank Jewish settlements is being imported into the U.S. without the proper country of origin markings, in contradiction to U.S customs regulations. Each year the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency receives between 800 and 1,000 complaints regarding the import of items from around the world into the country. Recently, the CBP confirmed, there has been a growing number of complaints about products ostensibly manufactured in the settlements but exported under a different label. The CBP declined to say whether it has contacted the Israeli exporters or begun any proceedings against them.”

Blaming Obama doesn’t advance the cause of Middle East peace, JTA

Rabbi Rick Jacobs writes, “As a new U.S. administration prepares to take office, we hope and pray it will not begin by abandoning a two-state solution. No one naively believes that two states for two peoples living side by side in security and peace is around the corner, but it remains a beacon of possibility, especially when all the other options are so deeply flawed. At the end of the day, the long, deep bipartisan support for the State of Israel must not be undermined. I am deeply afraid that Israel is becoming a completely partisan issue, and for that there is plenty of blame to go around. I’d ask — no, beg — that the U.S., Israeli and Palestinian leadership, present and future, stop blaming everyone else and accept responsibility for moving us forward, not backward.”

In New Police Probe, Netanyahu’s Devil Is in the Details, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev observes, “Netanyahu’s political strength rests on his image as an all-powerful politician who has survived numerous legal battles as well as political challenges. Besides an indictment, which will most likely precipitate his resignation, the greatest danger Netanyahu faces, at this point, is that details of the current investigations will puncture his public persona and portray him as a desperate and thus pathetic seeker of perks.”

The Palestinians’ new peace initiative, Al-Monitor

Uri Savir reports, “Sensing the despair in Palestinian public opinion, pragmatic officials in the PLO are contemplating a new interim policy move for 2017 to prevent an armed intifada and to keep alive the national Palestinian positions on permanent status. The idea is to launch a Palestinian initiative for a three-year interim agreement that would lead to permanent status….The proposal includes six central elements. The first is establishing a one-year time frame, ending in December 2017, for declaring a Palestinian state on transitional borders. A second element relates to the interim territory of the new state, which will include all of Area A (currently under Palestinian control) and Area B (under Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control) and 20% of Area C (under Israeli control) in the Jordan Valley with full Palestinian sovereignty. This means an Israeli withdrawal from parts of Area C and the transfer of security control to Palestinians in Area B. Then there is the issue of Israeli settlements in Area C. The settlers could stay, but under Palestinian sovereignty. A fourth and most important element is a complete Israeli freeze of settlement expansion, based on the 1968 UN General Assembly Resolution 2443. Also, Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation shall be increased. The sixth element concerns permanent status negotiations, which must be launched after December 2017 between Israel and Palestine. The negotiations, on the basis of the 1967 lines and the Arab Peace Initiative, should last no more than a year, with a one-year implementation time frame.”

Netanyahu’s diplomatic world war, Al-Monitor

Akiva Eldar writes, “Israeli foreign service officials are walking around these days with their heads hanging. Netanyahu, who holds the foreign affairs portfolio, is not interested in their opinions, having always maintained that the Foreign Ministry is teeming with leftists. A senior Israeli diplomat who asked not to be identified told Al-Monitor that he luckily does not have to explain the prime minister’s lunatic conduct, given that all the politicians, foreign service officers and journalists in the country where he is posted have left for lengthy Christmas vacations. In any event, how can anyone explain the behavior of a leader who warns one day that the proposed “regularization” bill to legalize unauthorized Israeli settlements could result in an investigation of Israeli leaders by the International Criminal Court in The Hague and several days later votes in favor of the legislation? Then after that, Netanyahu attacks states that took heed of his warning and decided at the Security Council that the settlements are, indeed, illegal.”

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