News Roundup for May 19, 2017

May 19, 2017

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J Street in the News

Our Thoughts on President Trump’s Upcoming Mideast Visit, J Street Blog

Jeremy Ben-Ami writes: “As President Trump prepares to take his first official trip to Israel and the Middle East, he and his administration face increasing turmoil, scrutiny and difficult questions about their actions, principles and competence. In the midst of last year’s campaign, J Street questioned Donald Trump’s fitness for the office of the presidency, and every day it becomes clearer that our concerns were justified. Yet, amid this nearly unprecedented situation for the United States, this administration is met with unique opportunities. Evolving regional dynamics open the prospect for a more comprehensive and regional approach to resolving Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors. To our mind, such an approach has a chance of transforming the status quo in the Middle East, though the administration’s ability to take advantage of this opportunity remains deeply in question.”

Top News and Analysis

Why Israel needs a Palestinian state, The Economist

“Israel’s “temporary” occupation has endured for half a century. The peace process that created “interim” Palestinian autonomy, due to last just five years before a final deal, has dragged on for more than 20. A Palestinian state is long overdue. Rather than resist it, Israel should be the foremost champion of the future Palestine that will be its neighbour. This is not because the intractable conflict is the worst in the Middle East or, as many once thought, the central cause of regional instability: the carnage of the civil wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere disproves such notions. The reason Israel must let the Palestinian people go is to preserve its own democracy.”

A Momentous Week for the Iran Deal, Politico

Nine former Obama Administration officials write: “It is important to keep our priorities straight. Under the nuclear deal, Iran has dismantled its centrifuges and heavy-water reactor and has committed never to build or acquire a nuclear weapon—with international inspectors deployed throughout Iran to ensure that remains the case. In the meantime, we face the urgent task of addressing Russia’s ongoing attempts to undermine democratic institutions here and in Europe. We also face a genuine nuclear crisis in North Korea, where sustained diplomacy and increased sanctions pressure could help address a direct threat to U.S. security. And we need to finish the fight against ISIS. With all these uncertainties—in Iranian politics, in the region and here at home—one thing that is certain is that the JCPOA is working to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. We should not jeopardize that source of stability—or risk an unnecessary military confrontation with Iran.”

Saudi Proposal to Israel Could Be the Stuff of Trump’s Dream Deal in Mideast, Haaretz

Zvi Bar’el writes: “In the past, the Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia, would join Arab initiatives that came mainly from Egypt. The 2002 Saudi initiative was unusual in this respect, but after it drowned in a sea of Israeli objections, Saudi Arabia tried its hand at local initiatives, such as reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah or dealing with internal politics in Lebanon. Salman, and especially his son, are turning out to be active formulators of policy although not always with great success. The failed war in Yemen is one example, weakness in dealing with the crisis in Syria is another. Now they will try to steer a political move between Israel and the Palestinians. The advantage of Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf is that it is not required nor does it intend to seek sweeping Arab agreement for its moves.”

Trump visit seen as a long shot to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, Reuters

“Just four months after taking office, Donald Trump will make the earliest foray into Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking by any U.S. president next week. But with mounting obstacles at home and abroad, he faces long odds of succeeding where more experienced predecessors have failed. Even as last-minute changes are being made to Trump’s ambitious Middle East itinerary, the trip has been complicated by Israeli concerns about his sharing of sensitive intelligence with Russia that may have compromised an Israeli agent, and by his decision to hold off on a campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Adding to those issues, disarray in the White House over Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey and swirling controversy over his aides’ contacts with Russia appear to have distracted from efforts to prepare the new president for what could be the most complex leg of his first international tour.”


US, Israeli spies upset that Trump shared intel with Russia, Washington Post

The United States and Israel are publicly brushing aside President Donald Trump’s reported sharing of a highly classified tip from Israel with Russia, but spy professionals on both sides are frustrated and fearful about the repercussions to a critical intelligence partnership.

Trump says he hasn’t ruled out Netanyahu joining him at Western Wall, Times of Israel

“We have not yet made a final decision about my visit to the Western Wall,” Trump told the Israel Hayom newspaper in an interview Thursday. “We have great respect for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the decision to have the rabbi [of the Western Wall] accompany us was primarily because that is the custom at the site. It could still change.”

The pro-Israel right is starting to feel unease with Trump, JTA

Conservative pro-Israel voices — among them Klein — have been outspoken as well in defending top Trump advisers who hail from the “alt-right,” a loose assemblage of anti-establishment conservatives that includes anti-Semites but also strident defenders of Israel.

Still, there are signs that unease with Trump’s Israel-related choices is deepening on the right. The tendency in Trump’s first months in office was to blame any decision that the pro-Israel right found unappealing on officials Trump did not appoint – civil service professionals whose tenure dated back to the Obama or George W. Bush administrations, or even further back.

Israel wants Trump to stop Palestinian payments to prisoners and families of ‘martyrs,’ Washington Post

U.S. diplomats have quietly pressed the Palestinians to stop the payments, but during the Obama administration, U.S. officials kept the issue below the radar. To pacify donors, the Palestinian Authority also transferred responsibility for making the payments to the Palestine Liberation Organization.State Department spokesmen said that the United States reduced the $400 million in aid the Palestinian Authority had received annually because of its salaries to prisoners and others, but told The Washington Post that the exact amount deducted is “classified.”

Post Poll: President Trump’s Popularity Plummeting Among Israeli Jews, JPost

Only 56% of Jewish Israelis said they considered the Trump administration more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian, down from 79% on January 11.

White House video shows Israel without Golan and West Bank, Times of Israel

A map of Israel on a video the White House produced about US President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit shows the country without the West Bank (where Israel does not claim sovereignty) or the Golan Heights (where it has extended Israeli law).

Palestinians taking Trump peace efforts seriously — minister, Times of Israel

The Palestinians are taking seriously Donald Trump’s efforts to help resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a minister said Thursday, ahead of the US president’s visit to the region next week.

More than they bargained for? Israeli leaders gird for Trump visit, Yahoo News

Mr. Netanyahu, on the heels of a famously bad relationship with former President Barack Obama that both sides did little to hide, has gone out of his way to signal that Mr. Trump is a president he can deal with. For his part, Trump took office after campaigning hard on the theme he would be a more sympathetic friend to Israel. But what began with high expectations in the Israeli government of a suddenly freed hand in settlement building and of tightening Israel’s hold on the occupied West Bank has turned into apprehension over what peace proposals the fast-pivoting Trump may bring with him on his visit here.

Polls open in first Iran presidential vote since atomic deal, Times of Israel

Proponent of nuclear pact Rouhani faces stiff challenge from conservative cleric Raisi in tightly controlled race.

Opinions and Analysis

SESAME: A Shining Light of Cooperation in the Middle East, J Street Blog

Edward Witten writes: “Many of us have dreamed of a world in which peace breaks out in the Middle East and Israelis and Arabs work together in harmony.  As of now, the closest we can get to seeing such a place in real life is to visit the SESAME laboratory, near Amman.”

Nikki Haley Should Walk Back Her Misguided Comments on Jerusalem, J Street Blog

Benjy Cannon argues: if the Trump administration is serious about resuming negotiations, they cannot permit high-ranking government officials to extemporaneously contradict longstanding US policy. The Trump administration already suffers from serious credibility issues. It will be very difficult for them to claim they are honest brokers if they let Ambassador Haley’s comments stand. They should exercise special caution in light of President Trump’s plans to visit the Western Wall as part of a visit to Israel that will be closely watched. Ill-conceived departures from US policy towards Jerusalem could have significant consequences.

Behind the Scenes of the Trump Administration’s Tug-of-war Over the Israel Embassy Move, Haaretz

Keep the embassy in Tel Aviv or move it to Jerusalem? The issue has turned into a fierce struggle between Trump’s advisers and his top cabinet members. He has until June 1 to decide.

The Middle East’s Optimistic About Trump’s Visit. He Just Has to Stay On-script, Haaretz

Ilan Goldenberg argues: “Ultimately, the President’s first trip abroad is extremely ambitious. Success on the Middle East leg will require a disciplined approach by the President and an effective policymaking process below him. Thus far the administration has struggled mightily with both. Let’s hope it changes.”

Jewish Community Deserves Better Than a “Heckler’s Veto,” The Jewish News

Mark Phillips and Gideon Aranoff argue: “Ultimately, the decision to bar Noa from Detroit sends a message to progressive Jews throughout our community — including large majorities of younger Jews who are committed to social justice and human rights at home and abroad — that they, too, are not welcome. For Zionists of all ideological stripes, this limitation on debate about Israel should be seen as a threat to the Jewish state and a stance that cannot continue if Israel is to thrive in today’s challenging environment. Ensuring that Noa can bring not only her art, but her ideas, no matter how proactive or controversial they are to some, is a crucial step toward building a truly strong Zionist movement. We challenge the Jewish community to join us in this struggle.”

So Close But Yet So Far: Neighbors Remember The Battle Of Jerusalem, The Forward

Jane Eisner writes: “From 1948 until 1967, Jerusalem was a divided city, sliced through its heart by an armistice line separating West and East, Jew and Arab, Israel and Jordan. Fifty years ago, in June 1967, Israeli troops shattered the barrier and handily defeated the Jordanian army to gain control of the entire city. But united Jerusalem — where Israelis have their government and Palestinians wish they did — remains divided religiously, economically, socially and in the minds of many of its residents. I recently interviewed two men with deep family ties to Jerusalem. They have different perspectives and experiences about their city in 1967 and what it means to them today. Here are excerpts from our conversations.

Why We Americans in Israel Will Protest Trump, a President Who’s Betrayed Both Our Countries, Haaretz

Heather Stone writes: “We have never had a U.S. President with so little respect for the norms of society and the norms on which our delicate democracy rests. Americans living abroad vote overwhelmingly Democratic. In Israel, in the last elections, we saw an upsurge in Democratic voter registration, including first time voters and U.S. citizens born in Israel. We are encouraged by the outpouring of support from our revitalized Democrats Abroad-Israel base. The anti-Trump resistance is here too.”

Diverging Views of Trump’s Top Israel Advisers Could Sow Discord in Administration, Haaretz

Amir Tibon argues: “Before the election, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman penned a joint position paper putting Trump far to the right on Israel and the Palestinians. Now they seem to be dragging the administration in different directions”

Politics in Israel no longer offers much of a choice, The Economist

The drift to illiberalism is also a symptom of the weakness of the Labour party, damaged by decades of post-Oslo violence. The party is in perpetual turmoil: it has gone through 11 leaders since 1994, whereas Likud has had just two. In Israel’s strange parliamentary arithmetic, Labour cannot form a coalition with Arab parties, which hold 13 seats, lest it be accused of treachery. Counter-intuitively, perhaps, there is a fear on the right that the settlement project is failing. Settlers account for a minority of the West Bank’s population, and have not managed to convince most Israelis of their case for permanently annexing the West Bank. By casting their movement largely in religious terms, they have lost much of secular Israel. Mr Netanyahu has confined the building of settlements to the main blocks on the borders of the West Bank. And people remember that Ariel Sharon, a previous Likud prime minister, pulled out the settlers from Gaza, proving that settlement is reversible.”

What Will Happen When Israeli Stonewalling Meets President Trump? Haaretz

Daniel Levy writes: “It apparently befalls every new American president to be greeted as a potential messiah by moderates in both the Israeli and Palestinian political class. The flipside also holds – that hardliners, especially on the Israeli side, go into a defensive crouch any time a U.S. president launches himself (it is invariably a ‘him’) at the Holy Land. It is hardly surprising, then, that even before the intelligence leaks to Russia episode, the Israeli media had whipped itself up into quite a frenzy in advance of President Trump’s visit, which comes in the wake of having already hosted both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the White House. Both the fear and the enthusiasm coursing through the veins of the respective camps will likely prove to be misplaced and much exaggerated. When it comes to how this plays out, a lot more is known than is unknown, even if this particular President adds some intriguing new ingredients to the mix.

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