News Roundup for May 24, 2017

May 24, 2017

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J Street in the News

J Street Reacts to President Trump’s Speech Today in Jerusalem, J Street

“J Street was encouraged that in his speech in Jerusalem today and throughout his trip to the Middle East, President Trump put resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts back at the top of the regional agenda. The president rightly emphasized to Israelis the long-term benefits of regional cooperation and peace and to the Palestinians the need to confront violence and incitement. What was missing throughout the trip and in the speech, however, was a clear re-affirmation of longstanding bipartisan US policy that the two-state solution is the only viable way to resolve this conflict, that both sides need to make tough choices and that they must stop taking steps that move the conflict further from resolution. Broad normalization with Arab states will not take place before or in the absence of the emergence of a Palestinian state. Confusion as to whether the United States still seeks two states for two peoples only feeds the far right’s dream that lasting security and economic partnership with Israel’s Arab neighbors can be accomplished while permanently continuing the occupation.”

Trump’s Budget Proposal Would Be a Disaster for US Foreign Policy, Global Progressive Hub

“While preserving some essential bilateral assistance, this budget deeply and dangerously cuts funding for the programs and professionals comprising American soft power,” said Dylan Williams, J Street Vice President of Government Affairs. “Impoverishing U.S. diplomacy profoundly harms the security of our country and our closest allies, and cedes hard-fought ground to the forces of anti-democracy and extremism.”

Some Jewish groups welcome the scandal slowing Trump’s agenda, Times of Israel

“The liberal pro-Israel community has noticeably eased its public opposition to the Trump agenda as he becomes more deeply invested in forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace. J Street, which in February presented itself as the home for the Trump resistance, has tamped down its criticisms.”

Trump’s Visit: U.S. Jewish Groups Laud His Support for Israel, but Some Irked by Lack of Substance, Haaretz

“On the left, J Street’s communications director, Jessica Rosenblum, wrote that “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.”

Top News and Analysis

Trump Leaves Israel With Hope for Peace, but No Plan for It, New York Times

“In case there was any doubt, President Trump made it exceedingly clear: He wants a deal. “I intend to do everything I can,” he said on Tuesday. Moreover, he left after a 28-hour visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank convinced that he has partners in peace after meeting with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. “President Abbas assures me he is ready to work toward that goal in good faith,” Mr. Trump said in Bethlehem with Mr. Abbas by his side. “And Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised the same.” What Mr. Trump did not do was reveal the least hint of what, if anything, was behind it: He put little public pressure on either leader. There was none of the usual talk of borders, of settlements, of incitement of terrorism or of the long and gnarled history of two peoples on the same land. He did not say anything about moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem or recognize the city as Israel’s capital. Nor was there a process for what comes next.”

Trump treads carefully between Israelis and Palestinians, CNN

“If the Israelis or Palestinians were looking for a political victory from President Donald Trump’s first visit to the region, both were left wanting. In public statements made with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Trump didn’t explicitly mention a two-state solution, the accepted framework for a peace deal between the two sides — an omission which Israeli hardliners, opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, celebrated. But neither did Trump mention moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or accepting a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump, wading into the sensitive waters of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stepped lightly, careful not to offend or endorse either side. In becoming the first sitting President to visit the Western Wall — Judaism’s holiest site for prayer — Trump could have implicitly endorsed Israeli sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem. But Trump visited alone — without Netanyahu — careful not to prejudge one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict.

Foreign aid under the ax in State Department budget proposal, Washington Post

“The White House is proposing a State Department budget that would make deep cuts in funding for long-term development aid, humanitarian food assistance and peacekeeping missions around the world. The detailed budget unveiled Tuesday also proposes eliminating all funding for climate change programs at the United Nations and for two prominent institutions in Washington, the U.S. Institute for Peace and the Wilson International Center for Scholars. The only money that would be set aside would be for closeout costs, like severance pay. The Trump administration is proposing reductions in a wide array of programs, including health programs that fight AIDS, malaria and polio. It eliminates an emergency food aid program that purchases food from U.S. farmers. It allows continued funding for NATO, but would cut contributions to U.N. peacekeeping by more than half, a $1.6 billion reduction.:

Trump’s Messy, Mostly Successful Israel Visit, New York Magazine

“What’s more, peace advocates across ethnic and ideological lines have struggled to come up with ways any American president, of any political persuasion, can shift growing skepticism among both Israelis and Palestinians as to whether a two-state solution is achievable. Trump’s visit did nothing to help with that fundamental problem. And while the Israeli government breathed a sigh of relief, the very public rage of the Israeli intelligence establishment may be undercutting one of the strongest U.S. relationships in the region. Though it won’t show in the photos, Trump’s carelessness bodes ill — in the short-term, for the intense engagement and rebuilt relationships a peace process would require, and in the long-term, for his grandchildren’s ability to visit those Christian, Jewish, and Muslim landmarks at peace.”


Trump envoy expected back in Israel as US seeks to ‘move fast’ on peace, Times of Israel

According to Channel 10’s Moav Vardi, Kushner also said Greenblatt would be returning to Israel next week for followup discussions with the sides, reportedly telling Herzog that the US did not want to leave a “diplomatic vacuum.”

Netanyahu: Trump’s Jerusalem Visit Proved Historic Connection Between Jews and Western Wall, Haaretz

On Jerusalem Day, Netanyahu says ‘Temple Mount to remain forever under Israeli sovereignty forever,’ says ‘all embassies, including American embassy’ should be in Jerusalem

Abbas tells Trump he’s ‘ready to begin negotiating immediately’ with Israel, Times of Israel

US president and Palestinian leader agree to ‘continue discussions’ on PA’s payments to families of terrorists, White House says.

No signs of negotiations with Israel as prisoners plan to refuse salt and water, Ma’an News

As some 1,300 Palestinian prisoners entered their 37th day of mass hunger strike, with dozens of prisoners transferred to civilian hospitals due to their critical health conditions, the Israeli government has continued to refuse to negotiate with leaders of the hunger strike.

Israeli Defense Chief ‘Not at Peace’ With Trump’s Massive U.S.-Saudi Arms Deal, Haaretz

Worried at ‘Middle East arms race’, Lieberman says Israel has ‘ways of dealing with this,’ says intel leak to Russians has been handled

Rockets fired on southern Israel from Sinai during Trump’s visit, JTA

A rocket was fired from the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt at southern Israel. No one was injured and no damage was caused by the rocket fired Tuesday morning.

Manchester bombing suspect identified; Islamic State claims responsibility, Washington Post

The Islamic State claimed Tuesday that one of its “soldiers” carried out an apparent suicide bombing in Manchester that killed at least 22 people, including teenagers and others streaming out of a pop concert. Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins named the suspected attacker as 22-year-old Salman Abedi but declined to provide other details.

Opinions and Analysis

Here’s What Americans Want Trump to Do in the Middle East, Politico

Shibley Telhami writes: “As President Donald Trump Tries to revive diplomacy seeking a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the American public is divided on its vision for a solution. In a large public opinion poll conducted as President Donald Trump visited the Middle East , we found that Americans are almost evenly divided on whether they want to see a one- or a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and whether or not they want Trump to be even-handed in his Middle East diplomacy. If a two-state solution were no longer possible, two thirds of Americans would prefer a democratic Israel, where Arabs and Jews are fully equal — even if this meant Israel would cease to be a Jewish state.”

Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands, Washington Post

“Trump has cited the Israeli barrier as an example of the kind of wall he wants to build between the United States and Mexico, but many Palestinians view it as a symbol of oppression. Bethlehem is lively and crowded, home to Palestinian Muslims and Christians and the Church of the Nativity, the Byzantine-era sacred site built over the grotto where the faithful believe Jesus was born. The city is also surrounded by hilltop Jewish settlements on three sides, built in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, communities that most of the world considers illegal, though Israel disputes this. Later, Trump told his museum audience that after his meeting with Abbas, “I can tell you the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace … I know you’ve heard it before. I’m telling you, they are ready to reach for peace. “My good friend Benjamin [Netanyahu], he wants peace.” Both sides, he said, “will face tough decisions. But with determination and compromise … Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.” There was no applause from the audience.”

Riyadh, not Trump, holds key to Israel-Palestinian peace, Al-Monitor

Akiva Eldar writes: “Greeting Trump as he landed at Ben Gurion Airport, Netanyahu said, “You just flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv. I hope that one day an Israeli prime minister will be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh.” Why just the prime minister? Every Israeli would gladly watch a Saudi sword dance performance rather than keep hearing from their prime minister and others that the people of Israel shall forever live by their sword. By the same token, Israelis understand that they will not get any closer to that goal if their government keeps deepening the occupation of Palestinian territory by increasing construction starts in Israeli settlements by 34% over the past year (as reported by Peace Now), mostly in isolated settlements (rather than in settlement blocs). Indeed, as Trump stated at his religious-style farewell speech at the Israel Museum, “Change must come from within.” But this change must include also the Israeli ministers who hailed the speech. Apparently, Trump failed to understand that the only feasible deal in the region is territories in exchange for peace. As Abbas made it clear to him, religion has no role in these negotiations. Sermonizing the Arab-Muslim world and ignoring Israeli-Jewish occupation are turning a conflict over respecting human beings, their lands, their safety and their freedom into a religious war. God help us.”

Donald Trump in Israel: He Came! He Spoke! He Conquered! Haaretz

Chemi Shalev writes: “Whether the visit will do the same kind of wonders for Trump himself is debatable. As he was dining with the Netanyahus in Jerusalem, the Washington Post reported on Trump’s pleas to the heads of the National Security Agency and the Director of National Intelligence to publicly announce that there was no basis for investigating his election campaign’s ties to Russia, but only provided more damning evidence of what seems like Trump’s barely-disguised efforts to shut down the investigation. Trump’s achievements in the Middle East, even if we assume they are emulated in his other foreign venues as well, may lend him some gravitas that could help Republicans defend him against the media onslaught, but they won’t stop what seems to be his inexorable descent into the quicksand of his Russian affairs.”

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

Ehud Barak writes: “But the 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.”

On his trip abroad, Trump is being graded on a massive curve. He’s done nothing to deserve it. Washington Post

Sarah Posner argues: “For his part, Netanyahu is maintaining a pretense that all is well, and that Trump is the groundbreaking emissary for peace that he pretends to be. “I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all,” Trump said today of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, drawing chuckles — because why should anyone have to think that Trump would address an issue of such importance seriously? Trump’s traveling team is faring no better. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, speaking to reporters on Air Force One as it was en route from Riyadh to Tel Aviv, seemingly dismissed any need for Trump to apologize to Netanyahu for the disclosure to the Russians. Trump was either devious or clueless, and neither his chief diplomat nor the leader of the country whose intelligence he compromised seem to care. Has the bar ever been set lower than this for the acceptable conduct of a U.S. president on a major international trip?”

With boundless optimism but few specifics, Trump lays out Mideast peace vision, Times of Israel

“The president notably avoided all of the thorny issues that have stymied peace efforts for decades. He did not mention Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem or even whether the US would continue to insist on a two-state solution giving the Palestinians sovereign territory. Aides said the approach was purposeful, and the normally free-wheeling Trump was well aware of the risks of veering off script on issue where every word is intensely scrutinized. Trump did say he was “personally committed to helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peace agreement.” This, he said, would necessitate “tough decisions” by both sides. “I know you’ve heard it before,” he noted, but went on to say he truly believed that with “determination, compromise, and the belief that peace is possible, Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.”

The One Thing Missing From Trump’s Visit to Israel, Haaretz

“In his speech at the Israel Museum, Trump refrained from stating that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but spoke at length about the city’s Jewish heritage, stretching back to the days of King David. Those who believe that historical narratives are the most important feature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will view his speech as an important milestone. One thing, however, was missing from all of Trump’s speeches and appearances during the visit: details. Trump spoke in vague words like “peace” and “love,” but refrained from presenting any specifics. He said again and again that he wants to clinch the “hardest deal,” and that both Israelis and Palestinians are “ready for it,” but stopped short of outlining what that deal would look like.”

Mosaic’s ‘Ulysses on Bottles’ uncorks Israel’s occupied mind, Washington Post

Nelson Pressley reviews Mosaic Theater Company’s new production of ‘Ulysses on Bottles,’ a play about ‘the corrosiveness of the ongoing occupation on Palestinians and on the Israeli mind.’

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