News Roundup for May 23, 2017

May 23, 2017

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J Street in the News

Trump in Israel: Day One, J Street Blog

“There can be no doubt: There is major opportunity for the US to help bring together Israelis, Palestinians and Arab nations to transform a destructive status quo and build a better future. Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and the UAE appear poised to offer partial normalization to Israel in exchange for significant steps, like a settlement freeze, that would move in the direction of a two-state solution. But taking advantage of this historic opportunity will require determined leadership and commitment to speaking hard truths and making tough decisions. If President Trump wants to bring that kind of leadership to the issue, he needs to take steps to demonstrate it.”

Trump, experts see opportunity for progress toward Israel-Palestine peace, WJLA

“Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney who specializes in Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem, sees “enormous” potential for mistakes, but he said Trump has put “highly professional” people in place who have not made any glaring errors yet. “That gives me room for cautious optimism,” he said during a briefing organized by J Street, a liberal advocacy group supporting a two-state solution to the conflict.”

Jessica Smith Joins J Street As First Chief Operating Officer, J Street

“J Street is pleased to announce that Jessica Smith joined its leadership team as Chief Operating Officer today. Smith comes to J Street from Burson-Marsteller, where she served as a Managing Director within the Public Affairs and Crisis practice. Smith is J Street’s first Chief Operating Officer. She holds primary responsibility for managing day-to-day operations and driving cross-organizational strategies that will advance J Street’s mission and vision. Smith joins in the ninth year of J Street, the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans. Today, J Street is a $9 million organization with a national staff of 70 and growing.”

Playbook, Politico

“Jessica Smith started on Monday as chief operating officer at J Street. She previously was managing director within the public affairs and crisis practice at Burson-Marsteller.”

Top News and Analysis

Trump Comes to Israel Citing a Palestinian Deal as Crucial, The New York Times

“President Trump began a two-day visit to Israel on Monday with what amounted to a blunt assessment for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: If Israel really wants peace with its Arab neighbors, the cost will be resolving the generations-old standoff with the Palestinians. For years, Mr. Netanyahu has sought to make common cause with Sunni Arab nations to counter the Shiite-led Iran, while managing the Palestinian dispute as a subordinate issue. But as Mr. Trump arrived in Jerusalem after meetings in Saudi Arabia, the president indicated that he and those Arab states see an agreement with the Palestinians as integral to that new regional alignment. ‘On those issues, there is a strong consensus among the nations of the world — including many in the Muslim world,’ Mr. Trump said after a meeting with Reuven Rivlin, who holds the largely ceremonial position of president of Israel. ‘I was deeply encouraged by my conversations with Muslim world leaders in Saudi Arabia, including King Salman, who I spoke to at great length. King Salman feels very strongly and, I can tell you, would love to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians.’….’There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran, and it is indeed a threat, there’s no question about that,’ Mr. Trump said.”

In Israel, Trump urges new Middle East harmony but faces old suspicions, Washington Post

“Netanyahu made no mention of the Palestinians in his remarks Monday evening with Trump. He began by welcoming the president to “the eternal capital of the Jewish people, the united capital of the Jewish state.” Both descriptions are rejected by the Arab world, including the Saudis, who back Palestinian demands for a Palestinian capital in this city and a two-state solution that would remove Israeli settlers from most of the West Bank territory they occupy. While a Palestinian peace deal is an obvious precursor for closer Arab-Israeli cooperation, Trump has not stated firm positions on the bedrock Arab demands of a Palestinian state and a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, although he has gently urged Israel to slow down settlement construction in the West Bank. Working in Trump’s favor are the strained relations Netanyahu and Arab leaders had with President Barack Obama at the end of his administration. Obama discomfited many in the region by signing a nuclear agreement with Iran, while holding the Israelis to account for failing to recognize Palestinian rights and the Arabs for civil and human rights abuses in their own countries.”

As Trump Hints at Making Mideast Great Again, Netanyahu Sets Red Lines, Haaretz

“As President Trump arrived in Israel on Monday and spoke of creating an alliance of regional powers – essentially, making the Middle East great again – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded a cautionary tone, setting out apparent red lines for possible future talks with the Palestinians….Both Israeli and Palestinian officials have spoken of the possibility of resuming talks without preconditions. Netanyahu, however, said that the peace Israel seeks with the Palestinians is ‘a genuine, durable one, in which the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel’s hands, and the conflict ends once and for all.’”

Preparations for Trump’s Visit Expose Political Rifts in Israel, The New York Times

“Unlike the royal pomp and ceremony with which President Trump was greeted over the weekend in Saudi Arabia, the plans for his arrival on Monday in Israel had devolved into an unseemly political ruckus before Air Force One touched down. An infuriated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to order his ministers to attend the airport welcome ceremony, the Hebrew daily newspaper Haaretz reported, after he learned that most of them were planning to skip it because there was no time scheduled for Mr. Trump to shake their hands on the tarmac. Mr. Netanyahu also had to wrestle much of Sunday in a closed cabinet meeting with right-wing ministers of his coalition to win approval of even modest gestures meant to encourage the Palestinian economy and ease conditions in the West Bank and elsewhere.”


Lone attacker blew self up at Manchester concert, killing 22, including children, police say, Washington Post

A lone attacker blew himself up at a pop concert filled with teenagers killing 22 in an apparent effort to harm as many young people as possible, Manchester police said Tuesday.

Trump, at Yad Vashem, calls Israel a ‘soaring monument’ to ‘Never Again’, JTA

President Donald Trump called the State of Israel “a soaring monument to the solemn pledge we repeat and affirm.’Never again,’” during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust center.

Trump to Abbas: Peace won’t come where violence ‘rewarded,’ Times of Israel

In Bethlehem, US president seems to criticize PA’s salaries for terrorists; says Palestinian leader and Netanyahu assure him they are ‘ready to work toward peace in good faith’

Trump on Israeli-Palestinian Peace: ‘You Would Love to See That, Wouldn’t You?’, Haaretz

An hour after landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump arrived for a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem. Trump opened the conversation by saying that Israel has a “great opportunity” to reach peace at this moment because of the common interests it shared with the Arab world.

Trump tells Netanyahu he ‘never mentioned Israel’ in meeting with Russians, JTA

President Donald Trump told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he “never mentioned Israel” in a meeting with Russian government officials in which he was alleged to have revealed highly classified information. “Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” Trump said Monday at a photo op with Netanyahu at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel on the second leg of his first overseas trip as president. “Never mentioned it during the conversation, they’re all saying I did, so you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.”

Rex Tillerson Refuses To Say Western Wall Is Part Of Israel — Again, Forward

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would not say that the Western Wall is part of Israel when asked about by a reporter during the presidential flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel. Tillerson met with reporters in the back of Air Force One on Monday morning during the flight to the second stop on President Donald Trump’s first international trip since taking office. Asked if he agrees with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who last week asserted during an interview that “We’ve always thought the Western Wall was part of Israel,” Tillerson responded: “The wall is part of Jerusalem.” He did not expand on the statement.

Bannon, Priebus Skip Out on Trump’s Israel Visit, Fly Home to Handle Political Crisis, Haaretz

President Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Bannon, who was with the President this weekend in Saudi Arabia, did not continue with him to Israel on Sunday. Instead, Bannon went back to Washington, together with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, in order to handle the political crises facing Trump in the American capital.

Police: Palestinian attacks border cops near Jerusalem, is shot dead, Times of Israel

Border Police officers shot dead a Palestinian man as he attempted to stab them at a guard post in the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem, police said Monday. No officers were reported injured, a police spokesperson said.

Dozens of Palestinians Hurt in West Bank Clashes With Israeli Forces Amid Trump Visit, Haaretz

Dozens of Palestinians were injured while rallying across the West Bank on Monday as President Trump arrived to Israel. Palestinians on Monday gathered near Israeli military checkpoints in support of 850 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli detention on hunger strike for more than a month. The protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers, who, according to witnesses, showered them with tear gas.

Opinions and Analysis

Will Trump’s Middle East Deal Work? Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit writes: “Those in Netanyahu’s environs want to eat their cake and have it, too: They want to fudge the political process on the one hand, but strengthen the unofficial alliance with the Sunni bloc on the other. With regard to Trump, the euphoria has long since dissipated. The most interesting and promising option from Netanyahu’s point of view at this point in time is the possible impeachment of Trump and appointment of Vice President Mike Pence to the presidential role. Pence, as opposed to Trump, is a “real” Republican: a conservative and real friend of Israel, with an unwavering, well-formed worldview — which is exactly what Netanyahu wanted but did not receive.

Trump and His Mideast Hosts’ Gunning for Iran Is Hypocritical and Dangerously Short-sighted

Ariane M. Tabatabai argues: “The message coming out of D.C., Riyadh and Jerusalem is to isolate Iran. Meanwhile across the Persian Gulf, Iranians are busy celebrating the resounding rejection of populist ideas and the empowerment of a candidate whose vision is to overcome isolation and engage the world. Rouhani’s team has continuously expressed an interest in dialogue with its Gulf Arab counterparts. But today, emboldened by an administration more concerned with tactical gains than a strategic vision, Riyadh may not be as inclined to reciprocate. And without Iran-Saudi dialogue, the regional landscape is unlikely to stabilize.”

Why Trump’s Western Wall Visit Is Actually Bad News for the Israeli Right, Haaretz

Anshel Pfeffer argues, “The bottom line is that not only does Trump have no intention of jeopardizing his relations with Sunni Arab leaders by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, he won’t even make the tiniest gesture in that direction by allowing Netanyahu to join him for a few minutes in the Old City…. Trump’s visit to the Wall is not good news for the Israeli left, either. It means he isn’t serious about making peace in the region. As president, every action and word has major implications, and a Western Wall visit simply has too much potential for causing offense to either side in the conflict – Israelis or Palestinians. A president who is serious about trying to solve the conflict – and every president who has visited Israel in the past has been – doesn’t get himself into a corner like that. It’s Diplomacy 101.”

Trump Wants to Make Mideast Peace? Good Luck With That, Politico

Gregg Carlstrom agures: “In the short term, at least, Trump and his aides do not expect to make major strides toward ending this century-old conflict. The Palestinians have presented a list of modest economic demands, from new industrial zones to 24/7 access at the Allenby Bridge, the sole crossing between the West Bank and Jordan. In return the Gulf states have offered Israel its own incentives, like overflight rights for Israel’s El Al airlines, a step that would shave hours off flights to the Far East. But any talk of the real issues—borders, refugees, Jerusalem—is still months away, if it ever happens. Few Israelis expect that Trump will succeed. The Palestinians are more optimistic, but their optimism, officials admit in private, is mostly a reflection of their despair.”

Suffering Obama fatigue, Palestinians want more than words from Trump, Times of Israel

Dov Lieber reports: “Adib, a medical student from the city, expressed a sense of despair and fatigue from US mediation in the peace process. “I don’t think there will be good results from Trump’s visit. He isn’t the first American president to visit Palestine, and nothing has happened,” he said. That was a recurring sentiment in Bethlehem on Tuesday. Ramadan Abdalkareem, a 19-year-old medical lab student from Ramallah, who listened to Trump and Abbas speak over the radio, said, “You could say Obama was almost half-Muslim, and he still couldn’t succeed. The politicians just always say the same thing.”

Will Abbas’ foes thwart his chances for success at Trump meeting? Al-Monitor

Shlomi Eldar reports: “A senior Palestinian source who spoke with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity confirmed that the Palestinian leadership is preparing for an escalation of tensions in the territories as soon as the relaunch of diplomatic negotiations gains impetus, and he blames what he calls “opposition” forces for this. He said that Abbas’ office and other “positive” forces in Fatah could have brokered an agreement between Israel and the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners that would have improved the conditions of their imprisonment while reducing violence in the territories. The problem, it is said, is that Barghouti himself is blocking any chance of that so he can reap political benefit from the situation.”

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