“A key Senate committee approved new sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program after amending clauses that critics said could scuttle the Iran nuclear deal….J Street in a statement praised the committee for amending the language but said the bill could still do more harm than good, noting the victory in Iranian elections this weekend of the relatively moderate incumbent president, Hassan Rouhani. ‘While the elections were highly constrained, their outcome was significant,’ the liberal pro-Israel group said. ‘They provided a new mandate of support for the president who secured the JCPOA, has criticized anti-American rhetoric and has expressed openness to further diplomatic engagement. In this context, Senators should weigh the merits of passing largely symbolic legislation to achieve objectives that might be better met through future negotiations.’”
Senate committee advances bill for new Iran sanctions, Times of Israel
“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed legislation Thursday aimed at strengthening sanctions against Iran for its ballistic missile testing and other non-nuclear provocations, but which would not violate the terms of the nuclear deal….J Street, for its part, lauded legislators for ensuring this legislation did not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the Iran deal brokered by former president Barack Obama and signed in July 2015 — a component that altered its position on the measure. ‘J Street applauds the leadership and members of the committee for making the changes necessary to ensure that the bill does not violate the important and successful JCPOA nuclear agreement,’ said the group’s vice president of government affairs Dylan Williams in a statement. ‘As a result of the changes, we no longer oppose the legislation.’….Williams also noted the implications of last week’s Iranian election, in which President Hassan Rouhani, who signed the nuclear accord, was re-elected with 57 percent support from the Iranian public. ‘While the elections were highly constrained, their outcome was significant,’ he said. ‘They provided a new mandate of support for the president who secured the JCPOA, has criticized anti-American rhetoric and has expressed openness to further diplomatic engagement.’”
“‘The overwhelming, if not unanimous, view of people engaged in J Street is that this man is not suitable for the office he holds,’ acknowledged Jeremy Ben-Ami, president and CEO of the left-leaning pro-Israel lobby J Street. But, at the same time, he added that the group’s policy goal is ‘to find a way to resolve the conflict, and if this administration takes meaningful steps toward resolving the conflict, our organization will support him.’…..J Street and other pro-peace groups’ potential support for the president is conditional and, they stress, will only materialize if Trump makes good on what for now are very general statements about his wish to broker the ‘ultimate deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians….In a statement issued by J Street after Trump concluded the Middle East leg of his overseas trip, the group said it was “encouraged” by the president’s speech in Jerusalem. But they also made it clear that vague aspirations were not enough. J Street wants ‘a clear re-affirmation of longstanding bipartisan U.S. policy that the two-state solution is the only viable way to resolve this conflict.’”
Hussein Ibish writes, “ In diplomacy in general, as in medicine, the starting point must be to first do no harm. Nowhere is this truer than between the Israelis and the Palestinians. By paying close attention to the issue and injecting a novel and potentially fruitful regional approach into the mix, Trump may counterintuitively prove to be just the iconoclastic and innovative force that can shake up this moribund process and get it moving again, finally. Alternatively, this may be just another Trumpian boondoggle, a baseless and reckless gamble at everybody else’s expense. The problem is, under the current circumstances, no one can be sure which it is, because at this stage they’d both look pretty much like what we are currently seeing. Yes, in the Middle East, pessimists are usually proven right. But they never solve anything, and solutions are ultimately required.”
Dan Shapiro writes, “Trump’s next move should be to put the tough decisions before both sides soon. Neither will want to get caught saying no to him, especially early in his term before the inevitable disappointments gradually lower the costs of them saying no. It is encouraging, therefore, that Trump’s envoy, Jason Greenblatt, returned to the region already yesterday to continue to press for progress….Trump needs to be prepared for well-practiced Israeli and Palestinian negotiating tactics of delay, of dragging the mediator in the details, and of preparing not for success but for failure and ensuring they are well-positioned for the blame game to follow. But he needs to make the costs of disappointing him high.”
“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a modified version of an Iran sanctions bill on Thursday that includes changes recommended by former Obama administration officials. The original version of the sanctions bill had broad bipartisan support. But Obama-era national security officials warned that it risked violating the Iran nuclear deal and alienating U.S. allies….The modifications closely mirror changes recommended by former officials who served in the previous administration’s National Security Council, State Department, Treasury Department, CIA, and Pentagon.”
The administration of US President Donald Trump is said to be pressing Israel to transfer parts of the West Bank to Palestinian administrative control as a goodwill gesture to help revive peace talks between the two sides. Despite a series of economic incentives approved on Sunday by the Israeli cabinet, the US wants to see greater concessions to the Palestinian Authority and views the recent measures as insufficient, Channel 10 reported Wednesday. Specifically they have asked for areas in the northern West Bank to be transferred from Area C to Area B, according to the report.
Abbas’s top diplomatic adviser: There is no regional peace plan, Times of Israel
President Abbas’s top diplomatic adviser on Thursday poured cold water on swirling media reports regarding a US-led regional peace process that would see Arab states partially thawing their relations with Israel as a first step toward restarting peace talks. “There is no regional peace process or anything like it,” Majdi al-Khalidi told The Times of Israel. “No one is talking about it with us, or with anyone.”
The Transportation Ministry canceled a tour for foreign diplomats of tunnels for the fast Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway line under construction. Senior Israeli officials and European diplomats said the tour was scrapped after European Union ambassadors decided not to attend, on the grounds that one of the tunnels traverses the West Bank, considered occupied territory by the international community.
Israel’s defense minister said Israel had made changes to how it shares intelligence with the United States in the wake of President Donald Trump’s revelation of highly classified information to Russian officials. Avigdor Liberman told Army Radio on Wednesday that the change would not affect the close U.S,.-Israel intelligence sharing relationship.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas requested Thursday that the White House intervene in the ongoing Palestinian prisoner’s hunger strike during a meeting with U.S. special envoy to the region Jason Greenblatt in Ramallah. Speaking at the presidential headquarters after the meeting, Abbas said that the issue of the prisoners was discussed in depth “to see what the American side can do on the matter.”
Hamas executed three men on Thursday who were found guilty this week of assassinating a senior member of the militant Islamic group in March.
“A young American Jew whose arm was broken by the police on Jerusalem Day Wednesday says this was the ‘most violently’ she has ever been treated at a demonstration…Brammer-Shlay told Haaretz that about 20 of the protesters were linking arms trying to block the Old City from the flag marchers, when the police started pushing them to the ground. Once on the ground, they linked arms again and the police started dragging them off, some being choked while they were dragged. She said the police then threw protesters on top of one another within a small area fenced off by metal barricades. The police then tried removing her from the caged-off area.”
Ben Caspit writes, “In all of Trump’s speeches and statements during the visit, he sounded as if he was reading off a page of messages put together by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. He reiterated the Israeli-Zionist narrative until he was blurry-eyed. He skipped over all the problematic issues, never mentioning construction in the settlements or the two-state solution. It was a very calculated and carefully planned move by Trump, whose policies concerning the Middle East peace process have been an island of sanity, common sense and measured responses, especially when compared to this president’s reactions to all other issues.”
Does It Matter Whether Trump Says Two States, Israel Policy Forum
Michael Koplow argues, “I fully expect to hear Trump at some point begin talking about two states, but saying the words ‘two-state solution’ will not invoke some kind of magic that conjures it into being any more than not saying the phrase will doom its prospects. Given a choice between someone who works toward getting there without explicitly admitting that he is doing so versus someone who endorses it in a speech with a host of qualifiers and then spends the next decade making excuses for why it cannot happen, I choose the former. Words do indeed matter but deeds matter more, and despite his rhetorical evasions, Trump’s actions so far speak volumes about his views on two states.”
Bradley Burston writes, “I need to be with people, Jews, Muslims, Christians, non-aligned, otherwise faithful who, despite everything, see each other for the humanity they radiate and not just the tribe. Because the direction of our lives can change. Because 50 years of the direction we’ve come to know – of crushing, camouflaged, ignored, cosmeticized, walled-off, festering, swiftly metastasizing, clerically-encouraged, democracy-dissolving, Israel-annihilating, Judaism-ruining occupation – need not be 50 years plus one.”
Jerusalem Day and the country without a capital, Al-Monitor
Akiva Eldar observes, “The annual marking of Jerusalem Day, on May 24 this year, has become a raucous, nationalist demonstration of Israeli ownership of the city, in general, and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, in particular. Tens of thousands of youths affiliated with religious Zionism march through the Muslim Quarter on their way to the Western Wall, waving Israeli flags and calling out slogans peppered with curses at the Palestinian residents hiding out in their shuttered homes. Instead of defending the Palestinians against these power-drunk youths, the police oblige merchants to close their shops along the parade route and to stay away….Jerusalem’s only saving grace is the closing on the evening of the parade of dozens of kiosks, bars, restaurants, stores and cafes in the western part of town in solidarity with their fellow Palestinian merchants in East Jerusalem. Some 50 business owners signed a petition against the damage inflicted on the Old City traders and hung signs of support on their doors. Another encouraging gesture is that while thousands demonstrated in support of claims of Jewish ownership of the city, an unusual event took place in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Zehava Gal-On, leader of the left-wing Zionist Meretz, joined fellow lawmaker Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, and Mahmoud al-Habash, religious and Islamic affairs minister for the Palestinian Authority, at Jerusalem’s American Colony Hotel. The three signed a joint declaration calling on the Israeli government to reach an agreement with the Palestinians on ending the occupation based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state and the western part of town accorded international status as the capital of Israel.”
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