“J Street is disturbed by reports that Israeli authorities have approved the construction of a new West Bank settlement to house hundreds of settlers evacuated earlier this year from the illegal outpost of Amona. This would be the first entirely new, officially-sanctioned West Bank settlement in over two decades. The creation of this new settlement sends the message that the Israeli government has no interest in seriously pursuing the two-state solution and making the choices necessary for peace. It is a sharp rebuke to President Trump and Arab leaders who have stated their interest in pursuing a comprehensive regional approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If the Trump administration is serious about advancing a genuine diplomatic process toward a two-state solution, it must make absolutely clear that actions like this are unacceptable and seriously jeopardize Israel’s long-term future.”
“A founder of J Street and a scion of a famed Wisconsin family is running for Congress as a Democrat in a district seen as solidly Republican. Dan Kohl in announcing his candidacy on Wednesday emphasized his role in helping to start J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East lobby….Kohl is a lawyer who has worked as an executive on the Milwaukee Bucks, the team his uncle Herb Kohl bought in 1985 to keep it from moving out of the city. The elder Kohl, who was a U.S. Senator from 1989 to 2013 and an heir to the Kohl’s department store chain, sold the team in 2014. Dan Kohl has also been on National Board of Governors of the American Jewish Committee, on the board of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and a chairman of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School.”
Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional district has been sending Republicans to Congress for decades. But Dan Kohl, a Jewish Democrat who was among the founding members of J Street, believes he can flip the district from red to blue.
Kohl, whose uncle Herb Kohl represented Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate for four terms, is among the first Democrats to enter the race in advance of the 2018 midterm elections. He is hoping to unseat two-term conservative Glenn Grothman with a message of bipartisanship and with some tailwind from what Democrats expect will be an anti-Trump wave that will help them take over the House of Representatives.
Amir Tibon reports, “Haaretz has obtained two previously unseen documents from the height of the Obama administration’s efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which reveal how the talks fell apart in 2014. They could offer U.S. President Donald Trump, who is currently trying to get the two sides to renew direct negotiations, some valuable lessons on what happened the last time the conflict’s core issues – such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees and mutual recognition – were put on the table. They also show the exact language that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was willing to accept on the issue of the 1967 borders during the negotiations, and how far the Obama administration was willing to go on the delicate and sensitive issue of Jerusalem in order to try and get a ‘yes’ to its peace plan from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”
JJ Goldberg writes, “You can’t discuss Qatari policy without noting Qatar’s own position on Israel. After Israel and the Palestinians signed the 1993 Oslo Accords, Qatar was one of the six Arab states (out of 22) that opened formal diplomatic relations with Israel. Jordan and Mauritania concluded full relations with Israel and exchanged ambassadors. Morocco and Tunisia exchanged interest sections, a lower form of diplomatic relations. Qatar and Oman exchanged trade offices with Israel. All except Jordan downgraded relations and shut their offices after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, in 2000, and then cut off ties altogether in January 2009, after the first Gaza incursion. But Qatar didn’t cut all ties. It alone, among Arab states without diplomatic ties, continues to admit Israeli visitors and trade with Israel….During the 2014 conflict between Israel and Gaza, Qatari diplomats shuttled between Israel and Gaza to negotiate a cease-fire (it was a rival Egyptian cease-fire that was eventually adopted). A year earlier, Qatar chaired the Arab League subcommittee that agreed to amend the league’s 2002 peace initiative and to endorse territorial swaps to preserve Israeli settlement blocs.”
Iran Assails Saudi Arabia After Pair of Deadly Terrorist Attacks, The New York Times
“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps lashed out at Saudi Arabia and the United States, blaming them for the assault even as responsibility for it was asserted by the Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group that has taken credit for a nonstop staccato of terrorist attacks around the world in the last few weeks…. ‘The United States condemns the terrorist attacks in Tehran today,’ the State Department said. ‘We express our condolences to the victims and their families, and send our thoughts and prayers to the people of Iran. The depravity of terrorism has no place in a peaceful, civilized world.’”
Abbas Will Put Aside Settlement Halt for Peace Talks, Aide Says, Bloomberg News
“Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will temporarily shelve his long-standing demand for Israel to freeze West Bank settlement construction in order to revive peace talks under the Trump administration, a top adviser said. The 82-year-old Palestinian Authority president also would tone down his campaign to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes and to rally condemnation of the Jewish state at the United Nations, said Mohammad Mustafa, Abbas’s senior economic adviser and former deputy prime minister. ‘We have not made the settlements an up-front issue this time,’ Mustafa said in an interview Monday at his office in Ramallah.’We think it’s better for all of us right now to focus on giving this new administration a chance to deliver.’”
Israel and US to work to annul UN anti-settlement resolution, Times of Israel
Israel and the US agreed on Wednesday to work together to overturn an anti-settlement resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council in December. During discussions in Jerusalem, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed to building a long-term plan to undo the resolution passed in the last few days of Barack Obama’s presidency, Channel 2 reported.
A Republican and a Democrat in the U.S. Senate introduced legislation that would enhance the role of the State Department’s anti-Semitism envoy. The Senate bill would elevate the existing position to ambassador-level and ban “double-hatting,” or giving the position to someone who already has another assignment.
An Israeli minister presented a plan to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on Tuesday, advocating for 67,000 additional illegal settlement housing units to be built in the occupied West Bank to deal with soaring real estate prices in Tel Aviv. The plan was proposed by Israeli Minister of Housing and Construction Yoav Galant, according to Israeli media outlet Ynet, as a strategy to tackle the real estate crisis in Tel Aviv, as many Israelis can no longer afford the city’s steep real estate prices.
Immigrants to Israel account for as much as half the population at some West Bank settlements, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told settler activists attending a parliamentary committee meeting on Tuesday.
The Water Authority is planning to approve additional groundwater drilling in the northern Golan Heights over the objections of environmentalists, who argue that the drilling will damage springs and streams in the Golan and the Hula Valley.
Mikhael Manekin argues, “Recently, leftwing American Jewish activists were involved in two events in Israel and the West Bank: The rebuilding of a Palestinian village in the South Hebron hills and the disruption of a religious right protest in East Jerusalem. Both these events, and the media prominence of American Jewish groups within them, have made me and some of my progressive colleagues in Israel uncomfortable. Here’s the source of our discomfort: the methodologies, the discourse, and perhaps even the intent of these groups seems to be insensitive to local political concerns, both Israeli and Palestinian. Their own concerns seem to take a priority.”
Nathan Hersh and Abe Silberstein writes, “As American Jews who’ve been involved personally and professionally in seeking an end to the occupation and the realization of the two-state solution, we’ve grappled with this dilemma. Is such advocacy possible or legitimate thousands of miles away from the conflict, where the consequences of any policy we advocate would have little direct impact on us? We can acknowledge these criticisms, but not agree with their logical conclusion: that American Jews should stay out of Israel’s affairs….There is strong historical justification for how American Jews have organized and demonstrated in Israel. It is morally incumbent upon liberal and progressive Jews to either join them or form their own plans to influence what happens in Israel. Either way, the period of liberal silence in the face of centrist impotence and right-wing activism must come to an end.”
Akiva Eldar writes, “Trump’s conduct on a variety of issues — from his moves against Muslim immigrants through the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement — have not contributed much to making America great. But when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump has displayed responsibility and sound judgment. Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog phrased it well when he said, in response to the signature of the embassy move waiver, that the president had realized that in order to obtain international recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a courageous diplomatic arrangement must be achieved. It is highly doubtful that Herzog will get his wish and after 50 years of occupation Netanyahu, too, will arrive at this understanding.”
Shlomi Eldar writes, “Israel is alarmed by Iran’s return to the Gaza Strip, as was the case during the second Palestinian intifada that started in 2000 when the Hamas military wing was the executive arm of Tehran. Israel’s security agencies, as well as its diplomatic echelons, have been operating on the assumption that Hamas is under threat, experiencing severe economic and military hardship, and thus had no desire or ability to change the “rules of the game” established after Israel’s destructive 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. In other words, Israel’s assessment until now had been that Hamas was not interested in opening a new front against it in the near future. Now, it seems, Israel will be forced to change its policies toward the Gaza Strip in general and Hamas in particular. Any Iranian imprint will be regarded as a security threat to Israel.”
Martin Raffel writes, “Discrete, below-the-radar probes with the parties are preferable — not just with the Israelis and Palestinians, but with Arab states as well. If the conventional wisdom proves to be wrong and the parties appear to be moving closer to compromise, then direct and more sustained presidential engagement may be in order. I would prefer that the administration place greater emphasis on helping the parties make incremental progress, especially to preserve conditions that would allow for separation into two independent states whenever that outcome becomes politically feasible. There is no dearth of good ideas in this regard.”