News Roundup for May 22, 2017

May 22, 2017

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J Street in the News

Why Trump’s promise to move US embassy to Jerusalem is so controversial, Fox News

Should the U.S. move the embassy, it could cause ‘significant harm to the U.S. credibility as a mediator’ for peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, said Dylan Williams, vice president of government affairs for J Street, a left-leaning pro-Israel advocacy organization. Williams added that the move could ‘undermine confidence’ from Palestinians and Arab countries that the U.S. would remain an impartial negotiator in efforts to create peace in the Middle East.  ‘It shouldn’t be moved prior to agreement by the parties to the conflict as part of a comprehensive agreement ending their conflict,’ Williams, J Street’s chief lobbyist, told Fox News….Williams added that such a move could also turn deadly. ‘Even seemingly minor changes of Jerusalem’s status quo — either in fact or in law — have historically had the impact of sparking violence,’ Williams said.”

American Jewish Groups, Toeing Israeli Line, Stay Mum On Reported Trump Leak, Forward

“When Israel is put in danger, American Jewish and pro-Israel groups usually churn out press statements and op-eds in great gushes. But when The New York Times reported this week that President Trump had revealed highly classified Israeli intelligence to top Russian officials, the Jewish communal outrage machine failed to engage….Yet even days later, the Jewish communal and pro-Israel apparatus has been silent. The only group in the orbit to comment on Trump’s leak is the center-left J Street, which said it was ‘deeply concerned.’….’I do wonder if this administration is being held to the standard of previous administrations,’ said Logan Bayroff, J Street’s associate director of communications. ‘For us it really was a clear question of the U.S.-Israel relationship and a question of security cooperation being at the center of that relationship.’”

Top News and Analysis

Trump Visits Israel: We Have a Rare Opportunity for Regional Peace, Haaretz

President Trump landed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday. His highly anticipated visit has both Israeli and U.S. officials wondering what he will bring to the table on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Trump departed Saudi Arabia after delivering a landmark speech, on the first-ever direct flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.

Trump to Muslim World: If Three Faiths Join, Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is Possible, Haaretz

“President Trump addressed the leaders of 50 Muslim-majority countries on Sunday afternoon in his first speech on foreign soil since taking office….Trump said his trip will show that peace is possible, including between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Rouhani Wins Re-election in Iran by a Wide Margin, The New York Times

“Riding a large turnout from Iran’s urban middle classes, President Hassan Rouhani won re-election in a landslide on Saturday, giving him a mandate to continue his quest to expand personal freedoms and open Iran’s ailing economy to global investors. Perhaps as important, analysts say, the resounding victory should enable him to strengthen the position of the moderate and reformist faction as the country prepares for the end of the rule of the 78-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Of the 41 million votes cast, the Interior Ministry said, Mr. Rouhani won 23 million (or 57 percent), soundly defeating his chief opponent, Ebrahim Raisi, who received 15.7 million (38.5 percent). Iranian state television congratulated Mr. Rouhani on his victory. Turnout was heavy, with more than 70 percent of Iran’s 56 million voters casting ballots.”

Day Before Trump’s Visit: Israel Approves Economic Measures to Benefit Palestinians, Haaretz

“The day before President Trump arrived for his first visit to Israel, the security cabinet approved a package of economic measures to the Palestinians in the West Bank, including permits for thousands of homes in Area C, where Israel has total civil and security control. A senior Israeli official noted that the move was intended as a gesture ahead of Trump’s visit to Israel. During the security cabinet meeting there was a confrontation between Habayit Hayehudi ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who both objected to some of the measures, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who supported them. In an unusual move, the inner cabinet meeting took place in a security facility in Jerusalem and lasted some five hours. Along with approving the package for the Palestinians, the ministers discussed Trump’s visit and his efforts to restart the peace process.”


10,000 Israeli Police Will Secure Trump Visit, Forward

More than 10,000 Israeli police units, counterterrorism units and border police will secure President Donald Trump and his 1,000- person entourage during his visit to Israel.

Western Wall will always be Israeli, PM says ahead of Trump visit, Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Israeli sovereignty over the Jerusalem’s holy sites is not up for negotiation and said the city will always be Israel’s capital Sunday, hours before US President Donald Trump was set to touch down in the country. Speaking to a crowd that included new US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Netanyahu told a ceremony marking 50 years since the 1967 Six Day War that Jerusalem was not conquered, but rather liberated, echoing language typically used by the Israeli right.

Israel Denounces Trump’s ‘Troubling’ $110B Saudi Arms Deal, Forward

An Israeli minister denounced a major arms deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia — but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held off on criticizing the $110B pact. “This is a matter that really should trouble us,” said Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz prior to a weekly cabinet meeting, although Netanyahu made no mention of the deal in his customary public remarks. “We have also to make sure that those hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia will not, by any means, erode Israel’s qualitative edge, because Saudi Arabia is still a hostile country without any diplomatic relations and nobody knows what the future will be,” he said.

Saudi King Confident Trump Can Solve Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Foreign Minister Says, Huffington Post

he king of Saudi Arabia told President Donald Trump on Saturday that he’s optimistic about the U.S. leader’s ability to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, according to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir. The king “expressed the kingdom’s optimism that President Trump, with a new approach and determination, can bring a conclusion to this long conflict,” Jubeir said, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “He certainly has the vision and we believe the strength and the decisiveness,” Jubeir continued. “And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands prepared to work with the United States in order to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and Israelis and Arabs.”

70% of new settlement construction is outside blocs, group claims, Times of Israel

Some 70 percent of settlement construction in the West Bank last year took place outside the so-called settlement blocs, a settlement watchdog group claimed in a report released Sunday. According to Peace Now, more than 25 percent of new construction in 2016 also took place to the east of the security barrier, which runs primarily along the pre-1967 armistice lines but also juts into the West Bank to include a number of settlements.

Netanyahu orders Cabinet to attend Trump arrival ceremony, JTA

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that all Cabinet ministers must attend the arrival ceremony at Ben-Gurion International airport for President Donald Trump after learning most were not planning to attend. Israeli media reported, citing an unnamed senior government official, that the prime minister got very angry at the meeting when he learned that so few government ministers had decided to come. Shortly after the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office issued instructions to all government ministers requiring them to be in attendance at the airport at the time of Trump’s arrival.

Israel announces ‘special procedures’ for Palestinian Muslims over Ramadan, Ma’an

Israel has announced “special procedures” for the entry of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip into Israel and occupied East Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Palestinians who have already been denied permits for so-called security reasons would not be allowed to enter, according to statement released Friday by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for enforcing Israeli government policies in the occupied Palestinian territory. Regarding Palestinians in the West Bank, COGAT said that 200,000 Palestinians who have families in Israel would be granted special permits to visit their relatives during Ramadan, which will begin either on May 27 or on May 28, depending on moon sighting on Friday the 26th.

Palestinians, Israelis and diaspora Jews build West Bank protest camp, +972

Around 300 Palestinians, Israelis and diaspora Jewish activists staged a direct action in the village of Sarura in the south Hebron hills of the West Bank on Friday, building a protest camp on land from which Palestinians were evicted in the 1990s. The event was also intended to mark 50 years of occupation. The event was organized by a coalition of groups, including the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, local Palestinian committees, Youth Against Settlements, the All That’s Left Collective, the Holy Land Trust and Combatants for Peace. Members of IfNotNow also participated in the action. Activists arrived in the morning and continued working through to the afternoon, when several people — including Youth Against Settlements’ Issa Amro — spoke about the purpose and impact of the event.

Opinions and Analysis

Ex-Arab League chief: Only settlement freeze can thaw ties with Israel, Times of Israel

“Without genuine and serious peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and a freeze on settlement construction, Arab states will not consider thawing their relations with Israel, a former head of the Arab League said. Amr Moussa, who stepped down as secretary general of the powerful Sunni Arab alliance in 2011, rejected Israeli predictions that the Arab world could open up to Jerusalem without concrete movement toward a final peace deal. He spoke to The Times of Israel on Saturday, on the eve of a visit to Israel by US President Donald Trump, who has vowed to bring the unenthusiastic sides back to the negotiating table after a three-year hiatus….’A peace deal, or rapprochement, that jumps over the Palestinian question will be directly and violently opposed by Arab public opinion,’ Moussa said on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum conference on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. ‘I don’t think any Arab government would be safe just ignoring the Palestinian question and forging peace with Israel.’”

Trump Plans to Shower Israel With Love, but It Might Be Netanyahu’s Honey Trap, Haaretz

Barak Ravid observes, “he love with which Trump will envelope Netanyahu during the visit could turn out to be a honey trap for the premier. Netanyahu could find hints of this during Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia, which he delivered just as the security cabinet was being convened to approve a package of economic concessions for the Palestinians. If Netanyahu had left the security cabinet meeting to watch Trump’s speech he would have been delighted.

A large part of it sounded as if it could have been written by Netanyahu himself – the sharp messages against Iran, stressing the fact that there is no difference between the Islamic State, al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas and the call for an all-out war on terrorism. But among all these messages what stood out was the fact that while discussing the war on terror, Trump mentioned his goal of achieving a historic peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. If the three monotheistic religions will cooperate, he said, then peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible.”

After Riyadh Speech, Trump Comes to Israel as a Messianic Opportunist, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev asks, “Should Israel be happy? That’s a complex question and depends who you’re asking. The fact that Tehran, Damascus, Hezbollah and Hamas were marked by Trump will certainly satisfy Israel. The unification of the Sunni camp around Saudi Arabia and against Tehran will also be viewed as a positive development for anyone who regards the Iran nuclear deal as a catastrophe. Nonetheless, one can’t overlook the fact that the thrust of Trump’s speech was the war on terror, while his attacks on Iran and Syria seemed at times perfunctory. The same is true of Trump’s surprisingly brief mention of the Palestinians, which stood in stark contrast to their centrality in Obama’s Cairo address. The Palestinians, whose initial skepticism was replaced by unexpected hope, may have their expectations dashed again, for the umpteenth time.”

Who expects more of Trump visit, Israelis or Palestinians?, Al-Monitor

Uri Savir observes, “While Israel prepares its strategy for Trump’s visit, the Palestinians on their side are not remaining passive. Abbas returned from his May 3 White House meeting with uncharacteristic optimism, and he is preparing a good welcome for Trump in Bethlehem. A senior Palestinian Authority Cabinet minister spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity about the main visit outcome that the Palestinian leadership is wishing for. Ramallah is hoping for a presidential commitment to engage in US shuttle diplomacy, aimed at exploring the possible positions on all permanent status issues. Such shuttle diplomacy should bring about in the months to come a proposal for a framework agreement. The Palestinian side will demand during this period of shuttle diplomacy that Israel freeze settlement construction and the United States withdraw its demand to halt payments to families of Palestinians who have committed terror. According to the Palestinian source, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative will be the basis of the Palestinian position presented to Trump during his visit, demanding US recognition of Palestinian statehood and self-determination. The Palestinian leadership will also emphasize the importance of closely coordinating all of these moves with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.”

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