News Roundup for November 20, 2017

November 20, 2017

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J Street in the News

A Battle for the Soul of Our Community, J Street

Jeremy Ben-Ami writes, “There’s a battle going on right now for the heart and soul of the Jewish community….On the one side, there’s the large majority of American Jews that supports democracy, equality and social justice. This 80 percent of our community believes in the two-state solution as the only way to reach peace and secure Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people. It didn’t vote for Donald Trump, it fears and opposes most of his policy agenda, and it abhors the white nationalist hatred spread by the likes of Steve Bannon and Breitbart. On the other side, there’s the extreme and vocal minority that embraces Islamophobes, racists and even anti-Semites — as long as they call themselves pro-Israel, defend the settlement movement and attack liberals….We know that sanity and progress can and must win out over extremism and bigotry. But only if we fight for it.”

Top News and Analysis

Trump administration threatens to shut down Palestinian delegation in Washington, Los Angeles Times

“The Trump administration is threatening to shutter the Palestinian Authority’s representative office in Washington based on a provision of a US law that has not been previously enforced. The State Department recently informed the Palestinian Authority that if it does not reenter peace negotiations with Israel, its delegation to the United States could be closed within months, though it did not specify a timeline. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson informed the Palestinians that the decision was made following statements by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for war crimes.”

Israel is nervous about the Syria ceasefire deal, Axios

Barak Ravid reports, “Israeli leaders are worried about the ceasefire deal in southern Syria signed last weekend between the U.S., Russia and Jordan. That’s because the deal will allow Iranian-backed forces to position themselves as close as 3.5 miles from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights. But they also think it sends an alarming signal about the Trump administration’s policies….Israeli officials say they had an ambivalent feeling about the talks with the White House and State Department. On the one hand, they think Israel and the US agree on the need to roll back Iranian presence in Syria. But on the other hand, they don’t believe the Trump administration is willing to commit to any real action to enforce its position on the matter — or on any other issue in the region.”

How a Saudi-Israeli Alliance Could Benefit the Palestinians, The Atlantic

Hussein Ibish argues, “Many Palestinians and their supporters are likely to instantly conclude that any meaningful efforts at building a new strategic relationship between Israel and Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia will be at their expense. This is certainly understandable, but it’s by no means necessarily correct. In fact, there is every reason for Palestinians to see far more opportunity than danger in these potential developments….In the longer term, a wider opening between Israel and the Gulf Arab countries that are now largely driving the broader Arab agenda, especially when they collaborate with Egypt and Jordan, is currently the only viable path toward the resurrection of a process that can bring about, eventually, an end to the occupation and the realization of Palestinian independence.”


Netanyahu on Trump Peace Plan: Israel’s Security Interests Will Be Deciding Factor, Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his response to any peace plan will be based on Israel’s security interests. Netanyahu, who spoke during the weekly cabinet meeting, said the Americans are already aware of his position. ‘About President [Donald] Trump’s diplomatic plan, we heard a lot of speculation over the weekend, and I will not address it. I do want to say that my stance will be decided by the security and national interests of the State of Israel. This was clarified to our friends the Americans,’ Netanyahu said.

Palestinians Slam U.S. Plan To Close PLO Office In Peace Negotiation Ploy, Forward

Palestinian officials expressed surprise on Saturday at a U.S. decision to close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington unless the group enters peace negotiations with Israel, and said they would not surrender to blackmail. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said that Palestinian leaders would not give in to blackmail or pressure regarding the operation of the PLO office or negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Palestinian factions head to Cairo for reconciliation talks, Al-Monitor

Leaders of various Palestinian factions headed for the Egyptian capital Cairo on Monday ahead of talks aimed at moving forward with a reconciliation agreement. Senior figures from 13 different political factions — including Gaza’s rulers Hamas and the West Bank-based Fatah — are due to meet on Tuesday for three-day talks, with potential topics of discussion including the formation of a new unity government.

President Rivlin Rejects Pardon Request for Hebron Shooter Elor Azaria, Haaretz

President Reuven Rivlin’s Office announced Sunday that he has declined to pardon Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who is serving a 14-month sentence for killing a subdued Palestinian terrorist last year.

Israeli Ambassador to U.S. Hosted Bannon for Dinner, Thanked Him for Support, Haaretz

Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, hosted President Donald Trump’s former political adviser, Steve Bannon, for dinner and expressed his gratitude to Bannon for his support for Israel. The dinner took place a few months ago, and was first made public on Friday when the head of a right-wing Jewish organization wrote about it on Twitter.

Israeli Minister Reveals Covert Contacts With Saudi Arabia, US News and World Report

An Israeli cabinet minister said on Sunday that Israel has had covert contacts with Saudi Arabia amid common concerns over Iran, a first disclosure by a senior official from either country of long-rumoured secret dealings. The Saudi government had no immediate response to Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s remarks.

Israel’s Attorney General Paves Way for Legalization of at Least 13 West Bank Outposts, Haaretz

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s legal opinion on the expropriation of private Palestinian land may have discussed the outpost of Harsha, but the Civil Administration’s maps in the West Bank show that even the narrowest interpretation of Mendelblit’s opinion could lead to the legalization of at least 13 West Bank outposts. At the core of Mendelblit’s opinion issued Wednesday is the finding that land owned by individual Palestinians can be expropriated to create an access road to an outpost even if the road is to be used only by Jewish settlers.

Arab League delivers harsh criticism of Iran and Hezbollah, but little action, Times of Israel

In a resolution long on criticism but short on concrete steps, Arab foreign ministers who met in Cairo Sunday delivered a tirade of criticism against Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, saying Tehran was destabilizing the region.

Israel Fires at Syrian Forces Near Border for Second Consecutive Day, Haaretz

The Israeli army fired several shells at Syrian army positions across the border from the Israeli Golan Heights on Sunday evening, the second such incident in two days. According to the army, Syrian forces had been carrying out infrastructure work around military positions in the area of the demilitarized zone.

Jerusalem Fast-tracks Planned Cable Car to Western Wall Despite Criticism, Haaretz

Plans for a cable car to the Old City are being fast-tracked by the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality, over objections of its environmental and political implications. The cable car is expected to approach sensitive sites such as the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, provoking strong criticism from the Palestinians and the international community.

Opinions and Analysis

Netanyahu’s Unforgivable Scuffle With Liberal American Jews, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev writes, “In addition to dealing with the denial of recognition of Reform and Conservative Jews since the state’s inception, liberal Jews have also had to rationalize Israel’s right-wing/Orthodox government; its nationalist/populist crackdown on dissent; the Netanyahu corruption allegations and his governing coalition’s assault on the rule of law; and, perhaps first and foremost, 50 years of occupation. If you add to this mix widespread liberal anger at Netanyahu’s defiant March 2015 speech to Congress and the far more intense mortification of his enthusiastic embrace of U.S. President Donald Trump – who most, though far from all, American Jews despise – you get a powder keg ready to explode.”

How Saudi regional moves impact Israel, Al-Monitor

Uri Savir reports, “The senior Gulf diplomat confirmed the Saudi interest in renewing the peace process in the region following the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement. According to the diplomat, the Saudis insist on certain points in their talks with the US administration. They have told the Americans that Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt and the Arab League believe that it is an opportune time to embark on US-led negotiations for a two-state solution. For them, both the Saudi peace plan of 2002 and the Riyadh Declaration of 2017 should constitute the basis for such a peace and security process. One more point they insisted on was that Saudi Arabia is interested in regional cooperation with the United States to fight radical terror and curb Iranian regional expansionist ambitions, including in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.”

‘You are all traitors’: The political persecution of Breaking the Silence, +972

Joshua Leifer writes, “It was only a matter of time before the repression required to maintain military rule on one side of the Green Line spilled over the separation wall and onto the other. Using the legal system to attack human rights organizations that criticize the government’s policies is just the latest expression of that crackdown. That the minister of justice can singlehandedly launch an investigation against a political opponent is a symptom of the decline of the rule of law and creeping authoritarianism within the Green Line — and it’s not only those on the left who have begun to notice.”

Why Was the ‘Jewish Nobel’ Snatched From Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Given to Natalie Portman?, Haaretz

Yossi Verter observes, “This is the first time that two different prizes will be awarded. Portman will receive her Genesis Prize next June in the Knesset from the prime minister and the speaker of the Knesset. A month later, former Israel Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, a close friend of Ginsburg’s, will present her with the Genesis Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Tel Aviv. Someone not familiar with the ins and outs of the prize could be excused for thinking that each of the awards is presented annually. But that’s not the case.”

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