News Roundup for June 12, 2017

June 12, 2017

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J Street in the News

J Street Condemns Hamas Tunnel Running Under School, J Street

“J Street is sickened, but not surprised, by news that a Hamas tunnel in the Gaza Strip runs underneath two schools operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Hamas’s long history of terrorist violence against Israeli citizens is appalling, as is its practice of storing weapons and other material in secret tunnels built throughout heavily-populated civilian areas. It is particularly outrageous that they would build such tunnels in part underneath schools run by international agencies like UNRWA — schools that are intended to be places of learning, safety and relief from Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and Hamas’s frequent military confrontations with Israel. We note that UNRWA did the right thing in strongly denouncing the existence of this tunnel as a violation of international law. UNRWA officials also determined that the tunnel has neither entry nor exit points at the school.”

Who is Jon Ossoff?, Forward

“[T]he 30-year-old is a Democratic nominee for Congress in a special election in Georgia. He faces Republican opponent Karen Handel in a runoff election on June 20….The candidate supports the left-leaning lobby J Street, and received their endorsement earlier this year. He has been attacked by Republicans for supporting ‘the dangerous Iran nuclear deal.’”

Top News and Analysis

Netanyahu Asked Trump to Accept Isolated Settlements as Israeli Enclaves in Palestinian Territory in Future Peace Deal, Haaretz

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told senior Trump administration officials that in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians, Israel will seek to allow isolated settlements that won’t be annexed to its territory to remain in place as enclaves that would be under Israeli sovereignty. This marks a change and a hardening in Netanyahu’s position compared to the position that was presented during his negotiations with the Obama administration over its 2014 ‘framework document’ for Israeli-Palestinian peace. As Haaretz reported on Saturday, at the time Netanyahu offered that settlers who wished to stay in their homes would do so “under Palestinian jurisdiction.” In recent weeks, while preparing for the Trump administration to present a new peace initiative, Netanyahu has been hardening his positions on a number of core issues. Last Tuesday, while giving a speech before the Knesset at an event marking 50 years to the Six-Day War, Netanyahu said that settlements will not be evacuated in any future agreement with the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu, Herzog Secretly Met With Egypt’s Sissi in Cairo Last Year Amid Regional Peace Effort, Haaretz

The Aqaba summit in February 2016 between Benjamin Netanyahu, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan’s King Abdullah II was not the only meeting between the prime minister and the Egyptian president. In April of that year, at the height of global efforts to create a regional peace plan, Netanyahu and Knesset opposition chairman Isaac Herzog flew secretly to Cairo for a meeting with Sissi at the presidential palace. That meeting, disclosed here for the first time, took place in the context of then-secret contacts over the possibility of Herzog’s party, Zionist Union, joining the coalition. As Netanyahu was assumed to be politically unable to lead a real peace process, namely due to his right wing coalition partners, international and regional powers reached out to Herzog through various channels. They told him that due to the new circumstances, a change in the right-wing coalition was critical for the regional initiative’s success.

Israeli Education Minister’s Ethics Code Would Bar Professors From Expressing Political Opinions, Haaretz

An ethics code devised at Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s behest would bar professors from expressing political opinions, it emerged Friday. The code, put together by Asa Kasher, an ethics and philosophy professor at Tel Aviv University, would also forbid staff from calling for an academic boycott of Israel. Bennett had asked Kasher a few months ago to write a set of rules for appropriate political conduct at academic institutions. Kasher had written the Israel Defense Forces’ ethics code. The contents of the document, which were first reported by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Friday, will soon be submitted for the approval of the Council for Higher Education.

Netanyahu Demands Abolition Of UN Agency For Palestinian Refugees, Forward

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Sunday for the dismantling of the U.N. agency that aids millions of Palestinian refugees, accusing it of anti-Israeli incitement.

Israeli Cabinet Decides to Reduce Gaza Electricity Supply in Agreement With Abbas’ Request, Haaretz

“The security cabinet decided Sunday to respond to the request of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and reduce the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip.  An Israeli official familiar with the details of the meeting said that the ministers accepted the Israeli army’s recommendation against leniency toward Hamas and to continue its policy of supplying electricity to the Gaza Strip in accordance with Abbas’ decision to reduce the amount of money he is transferring to Israel for the supply of electricity….In the cabinet meeting, the trap we are in in Gaza really stood out,” said the official. ‘On one hand, we want to work with Abbas and not let up on Hamas. But on the other hand, it will all fall on us in the end.’”


Lieberman Snaps at Settler Leaders: Israel Green-lit 3,600 New Settlement Homes Last Week, Haaretz

“Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that plans to build 3,651 settler homes in the West Bank were approved last week, adding that the number of units slated for construction is at its highest since 1992. Of the 3,651 units approved on June 6 and 7, 671 are meant for immediate construction, Lieberman said at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting.

‘What we’ve approved on June 6 and 7 is the maximum that can be approved,’ Lieberman said, snapping at settler leaders who have claimed there is a ‘de facto freeze’ of settlement construction. Further building would ‘stretch the rope beyond its limit, and thus put the entire settlement enterprise at risk,’ Lieberman said.”

Palestinian Delegation Expected to Meet Trump Administration Officials in DC, Jerusalem Post

A delegation of five Palestinian officials is expected to meet with US President Donald Trump’s administration in Washington later this or next month to discuss reviving the peace process, a senior Fatah official said on Sunday.

Liberman: Israel has no interest in conquering Gaza in ‘next war’, Times of Israel

The Israeli army is not planning to conquer the Gaza Strip if another war were to break out with Hamas, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said this week, in an apparent turnaround from his repeated insistence in previous years that reoccupying the territory was the only way to stop rocket fire.

President Rivlin Speaks Out Against Israel’s Proposed University Ethics Code, Haaretz

President Reuven Rivlin expressed veiled criticism on Sunday of Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s proposed code of ethics for faculty members at Israeli institutions of higher learning. The code would limit the ability of faculty members to express themselves on political issues.

Rivlin’s comments also hinted at opposition to the policies of Culture Minister Miri Regev, who has sought to limit her ministry’s funding of some cultural content.

Regev calls performance of Darwish poem at Israeli award ceremony a ‘provocation’, Ma’an

Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev expressed opposition on Sunday to the recitation of a poem by renowned Palestinian author Mahmoud Darwish at an Israeli cultural event, calling it a “provocation” and requesting that the performance be canceled, according to Hebrew-language media. According to news site Maariv, Mira Awwad, a famous Palestinian singer and actress with Israeli citizenship, is set to perform a Darwish poem during an award ceremony of the Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers in Israel (ACUM) on Monday, where she is to receive a prize.

Netanyahu Seeks to Clamp Down on Human-rights Groups and Bar Funding From Foreign States, Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the current law requiring some non-profit groups to disclose funding they receive from foreign governments is too weak, adding that he intends to push for legislation that would completely bar Israeli non-profit organizations from receiving foreign government funds.

Herzog says secret meetings with Arab leaders could have changed Mideast, Times of Israel

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Monday that the meetings he took part in with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Arab leaders would have “changed the face of the Middle East,” but the deal was ultimately torpedoed by hardliners in Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Opinions and Analysis

Jewish and Palestinian peace activists are building their own Standing Rock on the West Bank, Los Angeles Times

Daoud Kuttab writes, “If Palestinians alone had built Sumud, it would no doubt have been dismantled by now. But the presence of Israelis and diaspora Jews confers a measure of security. The camp survives due to solidarity, and local Palestinians are grateful. They’ve begun making daily visits to bring food, and many broke the Ramadan fast with their new comrades. Sumud, which means “steadfastness” in Arabic, is actually one of several examples of a nonviolent alliance between Palestinians and Jews, who are bonding together to support the inalienable right of Palestinians to live in their homes and on their land independent of military occupiers….While these efforts at alliance might be limited in nature and scope, they may represent the most effective way yet for Palestinians to regain their national rights.”

A Best-Selling Israeli Philosopher Examines His Country’s Inner Conflict, The New York Times

Isabel Kershner reports, “Micah Goodman, a popular Israeli philosopher of Jewish thought, hates to be labeled. When he lectures about Zionism, he says, people assume he is a conservative. When he speaks of liberalism and humanism, he is accused of being a leftist. So he was hoping his new book, ‘Catch 67,’ which deals with the Israelis’ inner struggle over their conflict with the Palestinians, would break down the monopolies of ideas commanded by the Israeli right and left, open up a healthier national dialogue and give expression to the largely unheard Israeli mainstream. Then, he thought, he could get back to his academic life of reading, writing and teaching. But wading into the political quagmire, Mr. Goodman, 42, a boyish-looking, first-generation Israeli with a cheerful disposition, has become an unlikely prophet of the nation’s angst. He has also become a lightning rod for criticism, including from Ehud Barak, the former prime minister and army chief.”

Trump’s 7 guidelines for relaunching Israeli-Palestinian talks, Al-Monitor

Uri Savir writes, “The Palestinian negotiating team believes that, unlike President Barack Obama, Trump will stay away from detailed terms of reference that will predetermine permanent status issues. The official believes that Trump’s guideline principles will be relatively vague, creating a symmetry between Israeli and Palestinian interests. Possible guidelines as the Palestinians have heard from their sources at the US Consulate in Jerusalem may include seven or more elements. A first principle would be that of peace between the two parties that puts an end to the conflict. Another element would be the right of each side to determine its future and character, in the context of peaceful coexistence. A third principle would be stringent security and anti-terror arrangements, especially regarding Israel’s security and Palestinian demilitarization. The guidelines will also include a role for Jordan and the Arab League in security monitoring after a permanent agreement, backed by the United States; settlement building restraint by Israel during the negotiations; and normalization of relations by the Arab states with Israel in parallel to the negotiations. Finally, the guideline will determine that the negotiations need to deal with all permanent status issues, including Jerusalem and refugees. A senior Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who participated in some of the Jerusalem meetings with Greenblatt downplayed this Palestinian version. According to him, Abbas is in dire need of a diplomatic achievement. The US administration is still far from making a decision on whether to publicly announce any American position.”

Explained: Israeli Education Minister’s Plan to Bar Professors From Voicing Their Views, Haaretz

Judy Maltz writes, “The proposed ethics code should be seen….within the context of recent government initiatives aimed at stifling opposition to its policies. These include a funding crackdown on left-wing human rights organizations and a travel ban that would bar entry into Israeli of foreign visitors who publicly support a boycott of the country or even a restricted boycott of West Bank settlements.”

Even from the United States, we can help protect Palestinian villages from demolition, J Street Blog

Kalyani Grad-Kamal writes, “We can take action to help provide some of this protection even from the United States. International scrutiny — like the attention our campaign to save Susya mustered — has the power to protect Palestinian lives and homes. My fellow trip participants and I have returned home to tell our communities about this village and ensure that they keep their eyes on what is happening in Susya and other villages across the West Bank. This critical attention, generosity, and time can help defend communities in danger. We cannot let up.”

New Studies Illustrate the Military and Economic Costs of the Settlements, J Street Blog

Josh Nacht writes, “On the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, two newly released studies have provided us with a close look at the military and economic costs of maintaining the settlements and Israel’s occupation in the West Bank….In addition to the direct cost of the added military expenditures, the prolonged occupation has also caused Israel to lose out on economic growth as a whole. According to the Adva study, Israel’s tourism industry suffers when fighting flares up, and the nation’s banks also get charged higher interest rates by creditors who prize stability above all else. These higher interest rates and the loss of tourism dollars limit both the success of private businesses and lower government revenue totals.”