“As Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner arrives in Israel today for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, J Street urges the Trump administration to challenge both sides to make the serious choices and compromises necessary to achieve a two-state solution and a comprehensive regional peace agreement….If Israeli leaders choose to put the agenda of a powerful fringe movement over the will of the majority and Israel’s long-term interests, then the opportunity to resolve the conflict and help transform the future of the Middle East will be squandered. The Trump administration must do everything that it can to make that absolutely clear – and to encourage our friend and ally to choose the right path.”
William Booth writes, “President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, arrived here Wednesday afternoon with an audacious mission: to see if it is possible to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Few voices in Jerusalem or Ramallah sound very hopeful as the untested Kushner came for preliminary talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. This is the right place for skeptics. But they are hedging their bets. Mostly because Trump is so out-of-the-ordinary, so grandiose and mercurial, that the players here wonder whether he just might make progress — or, alternatively, make things worse by raising expectations, then abandoning the project in a tweet storm of frustration and finger-pointing.”
“Arriving at an Israeli-Palestinian peace will ‘take time,’ President Donald Trump’s top two negotiators said after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. ‘The United States officials and Israeli leadership underscored that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking,’ the White House said in a readout after the meeting Wednesday between Netanyahu and Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump and his Jewish son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt, his special envoy to the region. The cautious tone appeared to defer to Netanyahu’s preference to go slow in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace. Netanyahu does not believe that the Palestinians are fully committed to coexistence and accuses their leadership of continuing to incite violence.”
President Trump called Saudi Arabia’s new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and congratulated him on his new position. According to a statement by the White House, the two leaders discussed a number of regional issues, including “efforts to achieve a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians” – an issue that was also discussed when bin Salman met with Trump in Washington earlier this year.
The State Department’s new spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, was asked during a press briefing about the Israeli government’s latest announcements of settlement construction, which come while Trump is making a push to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Nauert responded that Trump has not changed his mind on this issue. “The president has been clear all along – his position on this has not changed – and that is that we see settlements as something that does not help the peace process,” Nauert said. When asked another question on the matter, she stated again that “the president has said that unrestrained settlement activity is not helpful to the peace process.” Nauert also said that the State Department is in close coordination with the White House on the peace effort, and is helping Kushner and Trump’s peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, organize their visit.
A survey by the Brand Israel Group found that “the current campaign of depicting the Israel beyond the conflict — specifically, highlighting high-tech achievements — is not effective. In fact, the more the study participants knew about Israel, the less favorably they felt about the country. According to the report’s executive summary, since 2010, claimed knowledge of Israel has increased 14 percentage points nationally (from 23% to 37%) and is up among every demographic group (except for college students, where it is down 16 percentage points, from 50% to 34%). These increases, however, have not translated into increased favorability, which is down 14 percentage points (from 76% to 62%) nationally and by large margins across the board….According to the survey, 31% of Jewish students reported experiencing anti-Semitism; of that bunch, 59% say it was related to anti-Israel attitudes. But these experiences generally do not sway their opinions of Israel. ‘The Jewish college student is the only group more favorable to Palestinians’ now, rising 18 percentage points between 2010 and 2016.”
Israel would use all its strength from the start in any new war with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the chief of the Israeli air force said on Wednesday, sending a firm warning a decade after their last conflict. At the annual Herzliya security conference near Tel Aviv, Major-General Amir Eshel said qualitative and quantitative improvements in the air force since the 2006 Lebanon war meant it could carry out in just two or three days the same number of bombings it mounted in those 34 days of fighting.
Despite Israeli protests, the German government has not retreated from its unprecedented criticism of Israel’s treatment of nonprofit associations and civil society organizations that receive foreign funding. German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said Wednesday at the German government’s weekly press conference in Berlin that Germany is concerned over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to pass a new and harsher law that would prohibit such organizations from receiving donations from foreign governments.
Israeli bulldozers continued on Wednesday, for the second day in a row, leveling Palestinian lands south of Nablus in the northern occupied West Bank in preparations for new settlement construction. Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, told Ma’an that Israeli military bulldozers continued leveling privately-owned Palestinian private lands in the village of Jalud south of Nablus, as part of plans for the construction of Shvut Rachel East.
IDF chief says Iranian missiles overhyped, but sent a message, Times of Israel
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot downplayed the significance of an Iranian missile strike against the Islamic State in Syria, saying “the operational achievement was less than what was reported in the media,” during a wide-ranging speech on Israel’s security threats on Tuesday night.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that even if talks between Russia, the U.S. and Jordan lead to the establishment of a safe zone in southern Syria, Israel will not give up its operational freedom. Israel will continue to act to thwart threats from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights or to stop the transfer of advance arms to Hezbollah, the defense minister said.
Dozens of refugees, faith leaders and others marked World Refugee Day at a rally outside the White House sponsored in part by the Jewish nonprofit HIAS. ‘World Refugee Day is about who we are as a country and what we stand for,’ Melanie Nezer, a senior vice president at HIAS, said at the rally Tuesday. ‘We must choose to welcome refugees seeking safety for themselves and their children, and not turn our backs on people who need our help.’ Advocates commemorated the contributions of refugees nationwide and also condemned discriminatory policies. HIAS, a resettlement agency, and Amnesty International sponsored the rally along with more than 60 organizations.
Peter Beinart writes, “The deep, dark secret of the American Jewish establishment is that its leaders are not equipped to respond to smart Palestinian critics of Israel. They’re not familiar enough with the realities of Palestinian life under Israeli control. So having built itself a cocoon that shuts out Palestinian voices, the American Jewish establishment insists that Congress live inside that cocoon too. Because if the cocoon cracks, American politicians, and the American public, will realize how intellectually weak the American Jewish establishment actually is. When it comes to Israel, the organized American Jewish community would rather bully than think. That’s what happens when power corrupts. It doesn’t only make you immoral. It makes you dumb.”
Zvi Bar’el writes, “New Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s appointment as Saudi Arabia’s heir apparent was only a matter of time. The ‘boy,’ who will mark his 32nd birthday in August, has been leading the country de facto anyway. He already calls the shots on foreign policy. Many expect that in the not-too-distant future, King Salman, who is ill, will step down and hand the scepter to his son….Until now, Mohammed bin Salman has been good news for Israel and the United States, as his firm anti-Iranian positions make him an important partner – and not only in the struggle against Iran. Bin Salman agrees with America on the need to thwart Russian influence in the region; to topple President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria; and to act firmly against ISIS and other radical organizations, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Hezbollah. During the last two years, several Arab websites have reported that bin Salman also met with top Israelis.”
Shlomi Eldar writes, “Abbas, who is working through diplomatic channels to promote talks with Israel through US mediation, did not condemn the attack and did not silence the militant voices within his movement. Although Abbas proved at the Fatah convention that he still holds the reins, it seems he only exercises this control in moves designed to deter his opponents. He avoids confrontation with those leading the militant line, especially because he needs their support in the Fatah institutions to stay in power. His silence now in the face of the independent militant line is actually opposed to the diplomatic moves he aspires to advance and, perhaps, even to his philosophy. Yet Abbas is hostage to the political forces surrounding him. More so, he must cope with prevailing sentiments within the Palestinian street, by which he is conducting a policy that is too submissive and too lenient vis-a-vis Israel. And so, Abbas’ silence constitutes in fact surrender to the new Fatah forces.”
Amos Harel observes, “Israel and Jordan have recently stepped up coordination of their diplomatic activities against the backdrop of developments in Syria. The two countries are concerned about the renewed strength of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the south of the country, and particularly over the growing Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq.
They are also concerned over the possibility that Iran will exploit Assad’s territorial gains to deploy forces from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Shi’ite militias, particularly Hezbollah, in the vicinity of Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel.”
Dan Shapiro writes, “While standing solidly in support of Saudi security, the United States will have to be extremely firm with MBS in asserting its expectation that he will not take actions that could harm U.S. interests, or incur U.S. obligations, without full consultation in advance. Even Israelis, who may harbor hopes for an American-led campaign to confront Iran or damage its nuclear facilities, can understand that any such decision must be taken and led from Washington, not Riyadh. Finally, there is hope in both the United States and Israel that MBS would be open to improved relations, and even a process of normalization, with Israel. While such steps are to be encouraged, we should avoid irrational exuberance….As Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt continue their regional diplomacy, they should be clear with the Arabs that the United States desires and supports a normalization process, but equally clear with Israel about what will likely be necessary to achieve it.”
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