News Roundup for June 26, 2017

June 26, 2017

Receive the roundup in your inbox every morning!

J Street in the News

Jared Kushner Just Left, and I’m on My Way, J Street Blog

J Street’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami writes, “As you receive this, I’m flying to Israel where, later this week, J Street will begin our largest-ever congressional and leadership mission to Israel and the West Bank to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials, experts and activists. By the trip’s end, I hope to be able to share with you a better sense of what’s happening on the ground and what the prospects are for meaningful progress toward a regional peace agreement and a two-state solution….From what we can tell, Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and his team are taking their charge seriously, meeting with past US peace negotiators and studying detailed security plans for a two-state solution created by a team led by General John Allen during the Obama administration….So far the Trump administration has said and done far too little — and far less than previous Democratic and Republican administrations — to object to ongoing settlement expansion and entrenchment of the occupation. If this administration is truly serious about seizing the opportunity to transform the Middle East, they will have to insist on serious compromises and choices from both sides. That includes making clear to Israeli leaders that settlement expansion cannot continue unabated.”

Top News and Analysis

Giving in to ultra-Orthodox, Cabinet Drops Compromise on Mixed Prayer Space at Western Wall, Haaretz

“The government decided on Sunday to suspend a plan to establish an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, following pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties. The government decision goes against commitments made to representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel and the US. As per the decision, construction work on a mixed gender prayer space in the southern part of the Western Wall complex will continue, but Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman will begin talks over a new plan that would be acceptable to the ultra-Orthodox parties. The nixed plan, approved in 2016, has never been executed because of opposition from the ultra-Orthodox members of the ruling coalition. In September, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel, along with Women of the Wall – a multidenominational prayer group – petitioned the Supreme Court  to force the government to fulfill its commitment, or alternatively, re-divide the existing gender-segregated prayer plazas to make room for them.”

Netanyahu ready to meet Abbas, but not to negotiate, Al-Monitor

Uri Savir reports, “A senior Israeli ambassador currently engaged with policy planning at the Foreign Ministry told Al-Monitor that the Netanyahu government has a very clear strategy. According to this official, Israel is not interested in a launch of the peace process by Washington. Netanyahu is ready to participate in a meeting with Trump, Abbas and other Arab leaders. On the other hand, a type of Madrid 2 Conference in Washington is rejected at the highest Israeli levels, as is any other American move that could endanger the stability of the current right-wing coalition. The official added that Israel’s strategy will be a mixture of positive rhetoric and moves toward Trump’s policies with policy conditions that will make it difficult if not impossible for the Palestinians to accept such a negotiation process. Israel has conveyed to Greenblatt that the prime minister is ready to participate in a regional strategy meeting in Washington chaired by Trump and also to meet with Abbas. The participation in such a meeting is conditioned on the Palestinian Authority’s taking action to stop incitement to violence and to halt all payments to the families of terrorists and prisoners in Israel. According to the senior Israeli official, the government is convinced that Abbas will not stop the payments to the Palestinian families, as it affects almost a quarter of the Palestinian population. Furthermore, according to this official, while Netanyahu has agreed to restrain settlement expansion, construction will continue both in the Jerusalem area and outside of the settlement blocs, thus giving partial satisfaction to Naftali Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi party.”

Outraged at Netanyahu Over Western Wall, Jewish Agency to Rethink Ties With Israeli Government, Haaretz

The Jewish Agency will reevaluate its relationship with the Israeli government, the newly installed Chairman of the Board of Governors Michael Siegal told Haaretz on Monday, in wake of two decisions that have sparked outrage in the Jewish world….’We represent the Jewish people, not the government of Israel,’ said Siegal, who assumed his new position just one day earlier. ‘The government of Israel has taken certain actions that threaten the Jewish people, and we want our communities back home to understand that support for Israel does not necessarily mean support for the government of Israel.’”


Israel attacks Syrian targets in response to mortar fire on Golan, JTA

Israel attacked several Syrian military targets in response to at least 10 mortar rounds that landed in the Golan Heights. At least two Syrian deaths in Quneitra were announced in connection with the Israel Defense Forces attacks on Saturday night, which reportedly hit two tanks that fired the mortars and the position from where the mortars were fired. Several more mortars landed in the Golan on Sunday afternoon, and the IDF said it responded to those as well.

Israeli Army Readies for Flare-ups Ahead of Work on Lebanon Border Wall, Haaretz

Next month the Israel Defense Forces will begin upgrading the fence along two sections of the Lebanese border, including by the construction of walls near Israeli communities. This work, which Haaretz first reported in May, could increase tensions along the border. The IDF’s Northern Command is preparing for the possibility that Hezbollah or organizations under its influence will try to disrupt the work, on the pretext that the route deviates from the international border approved by the United Nations after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. Though Israel says the route adheres to the border, it is preparing for the possibility of demonstrations, clashes or even sniper fire at the workers.

Israeli Woman Who Sued El Al for Sexism Wins Landmark Ruling, The New York Times

“Israeli airline employees cannot ask women to change seats to spare a man from having to sit next to them, a Jerusalem court ruled on Wednesday, handing down a groundbreaking decision in a case brought by a woman in her 80s….The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Renee Rabinowitz, now 83, boarded El Al Flight 028, bound for Tel Aviv from Newark in December 2015. She had settled into her aisle seat in the business-class section when the passenger with the window seat showed up: an Orthodox man who complained about sitting next to a woman. A flight attendant asked her to change seats to accommodate him, and she gave in reluctantly. Ms. Rabinowitz, who escaped the Nazis in Europe as a child, said on Wednesday that she was ‘exhilarated’ by the verdict.”

Energy minister: Israel should restore full power supply to Gaza, Times of Israel

Israel should restore full power supply to the Gaza Strip and not allow policy to be dictated by the Palestinian leadership, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Saturday. Steinitz, speaking to Channel 2 news, said he opposed the recent decision to cut electricity to the Strip at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Bill Rejecting Israeli Conversions Performed Outside Orthodox State-sanctioned System Heads to Vote, Haaretz

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is scheduled to vote on Sunday on a draft bill that would reject all conversions performed in Israel outside the Orthodox-sanctioned state system. If passed into law, this bill would deny citizenship under the Law of Return to Jews converted in Israel by Conservative, Reform or privately run Orthodox rabbinical courts.

Liberman: Shelving Western Wall plan a ‘severe blow’ to Jewish unity, Times of Israel

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Deputy Minister Michael Oren on Sunday lambasted the government’s decision to freeze a plan to establish a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall, and warned it will harm relations between Israel and Diaspora Jews.

Palestinian Authority Prevents Gazans From Leaving Strip for Urgent Medical Treatment in Israel, Haaretz

While much attention has been focused on the cutbacks to Gaza’s electricity, testimonies from the Strip indicate that for the past two months the Palestinian Authority has also been blocking Gaza patients from leaving the Strip for medical treatment. Gazan Palestinians are reporting unexplained delays in receiving permits from the PA in Ramallah to leave the Strip for treatment in Israel, Jordan or the West Bank. These testimonies have been reinforced by data received by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, indicating that the PA Health Ministry has stopped facilitating this treatment for Gazans.

20 Israelis arrested for trying to enter Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, Ma’an

Israeli forces arrested at least 20 right-wing Israelis for trying to illegally enter Joseph’s Tomb in the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus before dawn Sunday morning.

Nine Attacks by Settlers Have Been Caught on Camera in Two Months. Zero Have Been Indicted, Haaretz

“The video footage is clear: At least 10 settlers who set out from the direction of the Givat Ronen outpost to the adjacent West Bank village of Burin are seen throwing stones at Palestinians. The footage leaves no room for doubt. Five or more of the settlers’ faces are visible, and there were soldiers in the area who witnessed the stone-throwing. But indictments have yet to be filed in regard to the incidents, and there is no evidence that any suspects have even been detained for questioning.”

Opinions and Analysis

Kushner’s first foray into Mideast peace reveals challenges ahead, Al-Monitor

Daoud Kuttab reports, “The refusal of the American team to utter the simple words two-state solution or to publicly condemn the settlement activities is seen as a green light to the Netanyahu administration to continue its pro-settlement enterprise. Leading Palestinian daily Al-Quds focused June 23 on the increase in settlement activities as the real proof of who doesn’t want peace. ‘Talking about peace efforts and having meetings while Israel does what it pleases means that we are translating this effort for peace into the realm of absurdity. This will deepen the mistrust in the seriousness of trying to find a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region,’ read the editorial titled ‘What peace efforts amid all these settlements?’ Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and special adviser of President Donald Trump, certainly got his feet wet on this visit and began to realize how difficult and complicated many of the issues are. Palestinian sources in Ramallah were quoted in the Israeli press as saying that they felt the American delegation acted like the lawyers for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than the neutral facilitators who are trying to make the so-called ultimate deal.”

Netanyahu to American Jews: Drop Dead, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev argues, “When push came to shove and Netanyahu was forced to choose between endangering Israel’s strategically important ties to US Jewry and risking his own seat ever so slightly, the great Israeli patriot made his obvious choice….Instead of supporting the Israel that kicks you in the face, perhaps Reform and Conservative Jews should back the dwindling minority of Israelis who actually agree with their views and who would welcome them to Israel with open arms, if they only could. Instead of kowtowing to Netanyahu and pledging their support for his policies, no questions asked, perhaps U.S. Jews will finally realize that they are betraying their own beliefs when they support a government they would find abhorrent under any other circumstances. Rather than tacitly acquiescing to Israel’s continuing slide towards darkness and intolerance, perhaps Reform Jews could assume a historic role of trying to bring light unto the nation they once hoped Israel would be, before it’s too late.”

Netanyahu Just Turned His Back On Liberal Jews Everywhere, Forward

Jane Eisner writes, “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just flipped the finger at a huge chunk of American Jews, and by doing so, dangerously upset the already precarious relationship between the Israeli government and the Diaspora. There is no other way to interpret the Israeli cabinet’s spineless decision yesterday to accede to the ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition government and renege on a landmark agreement to provide a proper egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall known as the Kotel.”

Settlements: The Real Story, American Prospect

Gershom Gorenberg writes, “The narrative that focuses exclusively on religious settlement is more than an academic error. It stands in the way of Israel coming to terms with what happened in 1967 and after: Settling Israelis in occupied territory wasn’t imposed by a radical fringe. It was a national policy, for which the country’s major political camps—Labor as much as the Likud—share responsibility. Even worse, the distorted telling of the past continues to distract attention from the hard political reality of today: Any home, built in any settlement, makes it harder to negotiate peace. It’s one more knot in the Great Entanglement.”

Tillerson urges Qatar and the Gulf states to negotiate an end to their rift, Washington Post

“Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday criticized some of the demands by Saudi Arabia and its allies on Qatar as “very difficult” to meet and urged the countries to tamp down the rhetoric and start negotiating. The statement by Tillerson was his first response to a sweeping list of 13 demands leaked to the Associated Press on Friday. The ultimatum gave Qatar 10 days to shut down the Arabic news network Al Jazeera, halt all contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, reduce cooperation with Iran and oust Turkish troops from Qatar. In addition, it would be required to undergo monthly checks to ensure it is complying. The demands were presented by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which had earlier imposed a diplomatic and trade embargo on Qatar, through the emir of Kuwait, who is mediating the crisis. They do not specify what further action those countries might take if Qatar doesn’t obey.”

Questioning of Breaking the Silence Spokesman Meant to Silence Israeli Army Whistleblowers, Haaretz

Amos Harel writes, “Anyone who wishes to continue to dot the West Bank with settlements and outposts in the name of a divine promise to Abraham needs to be aware of the moral price involved. That also goes for anyone (like me) who currently has doubts about the possibility of reaching a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians that would sufficiently address Israel’s security interests. Calling Dean Issacharoff in for questioning doesn’t look like an attempt to get at the truth. It appears to be an effort to deter those who speak about the harm caused by the occupation, and to ensure that those who succeed him won’t even dare speak out.”

As Islamic State wanes, Iran and Hezbollah could turn on Israel, Times of Israel

Avi Issacharoff reports, “Recent developments in the war between the Syrian regime and rebel forces show that the relative comfort zone that Israel has long enjoyed along its northern border is narrowing. The recent pummeling of the notorious Islamic State group makes an escalation in hostilities between Israel and the forces of President Bashar Assad along with his staunch ally, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group, increasingly likely….The most significant danger is that Shiite militias backing Assad will approach and gain control at the borders with Jordan and Israel. While Jerusalem and Amman are cooperating on the matter, it is doubtful such cooperation can stem the advance of pro-Iranian forces, be they Hezbollah or other militias emanating from Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Want to end the occupation? Start talking to settlers and Mizrahim, +972

Avi Dabush writes, “It’s precisely the boogeymen of the Left who represent the sole chance for peace, and there will be no success without the full participation of the very people the Left categorically rejects. And that begins with Mizrahim and Arabs, without whom the Oslo process would not have taken place. Whenever I’m asked who has inspired my political outlook, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is one of the first people I mention. His ruling backing peace with Egypt, and nudging the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to allow the Oslo peace process to proceed, was critical to building a political alliance that could bring about change. As for Arab citizens of Israel — talk to them, in depth, about the frustration of being caught between their national commitments as Palestinians and their Israeli civic commitments. They are neither an annex nor a bridge. They have their own voice, which is renewed with each generation. Ayman Odeh’s presence on the stage at the Rabin Square rally was the most meaningful aspect of the demonstration, along with the speech given by Eli Bitan, who was educated in Shas institutions.”

Questions, comments, or suggestions? Please email [email protected]