News Roundup for November 22, 2017

November 22, 2017

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J Street in the News

Their troubled brother wandered into Gaza. Now his Ethiopian-Israeli family wants US help to get him back, JTA

Ron Kampeas reports, “Ilan Mengistu knows his pitch to rescue his brother, Avera, should be a no-brainer to Jews — ‘pidyon shvuyim,’ the redemption of the hostage, is among the greatest of commandments. But Mengistu also knows that the story he has to tell is not the straightforward narrative longed for by those who would do good: Avera was not a soldier, nor was he captured exactly. He crossed into the Gaza Strip of his own volition….They have also spoken with StandWithUs and J Street about advocacy campaigns. The two groups are usually on opposite sides of the pro-Israel spectrum — an indication of the breadth of the cause’s appeal. ‘Advocating for Mengistu’s return is an issue we hope will bring people and organizations from across a broad swath of the Jewish community together,’ J Street spokeswoman Jessica Rosenblum told JTA.”

Top News and Analysis

Why Trump Threatened to Close Palestine’s D.C. Headquarters, The Atlantic

Grant Rumley writes, “The Trump team is still formulating its peace plan—some reports suggest the White House won’t unveil the details until March 2018—so Abbas is seemingly being asked to halt a popular campaign for nothing in return. It may also be that Abbas is feeling the squeeze from all sides—he was recently summoned to Riyadh for a meeting with the Saudis, who have been playing regional kingmaker of late—and that last week’s announcement was part of a concerted effort to corner Abbas. If so, he is unlikely to play ball. He’ll double down on his international crusade, meaning Washington may have just emboldened the Palestine 194 campaign.”

Israel sets the stage for further division of the West Bank, Al-Monitor

David Kattoub writes, “The Israeli government appears to be setting the stage for approving the E1 settlement, one of the most dangerous settlement initiatives yet, aimed at breaking up the West Bank and expanding the Israeli borders of Jerusalem. E1 is a sparsely populated area that stretches between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. By settling this strategic area, the West Bank would physically be cut off from the north and the south… While the Israeli aspirations to initiate this massive controversial settlement were first identified in 1996, steps are being taken today to gradually make it happen, even though the last forward movement in this regard took place in November 2012…”


U.S. Says Still in Talks With Palestinian Authority, Despite Abbas’ Declaration to Suspend Ties. Haaretz

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that the Trump administration is in discussion with the Palestinian Authority over the fate of the Palestinian delegation in Washington, D.C., despite a declaration by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to suspend contacts with the United States.

Bill opening up Israeli BDS activists to lawsuits advances, Times of Israel

The Knesset on Tuesday gave initial approval to a bill that opens up Israeli Boycott, Divestment, and Boycott (BDS) activists to civil lawsuits with damages of up to NIS 100,000 ($28,000), without requiring the plaintiffs to provide proof of damages. The bill, proposed by Likud MK Yoav Kisch and backed by Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, cleared its preliminary reading with 60 lawmakers in favor, among them the opposition Yesh Atid party, and 40 opposed.

Report: Mueller Investigating Kushner’s Efforts to Combat UN Resolution Condemning Israeli Settlements, Haaretz

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, is reportedly examining actions taken by Jared Kushner against a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel Thwarts Attempt to Smuggle Tons of Explosive Material into Gaza, Jerusalem Post

An attempt to smuggle tons of explosive material into the Gaza Strip has been thwarted by the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Crossing Authority, it was announced on Wednesday. The attempt was foiled thanks to a new, advanced chemistry laboratory that was set up in recent weeks at Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza.

Israel Arrests 15 in East Jerusalem for Conducting Polls on Palestinian Authority’s Behalf, Haaretz

Fifteen Palestinians were arrested in an overnight raid  in East Jerusalem on Tuesday for allegedly conducting polls on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Their arrests are part of the Israeli police’s policy of preventing any activities linked to the Palestinian Authority from taking place in the Palestinian side of the city.

40 years after historic visit, PM says he’s yet to meet ‘the Palestinian Sadat’, Times of Israel

Marking 40 years since Anwar Sadat’s landmark visit to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he had yet to meet the Palestinian equivalent of the Egyptian leader who went on to sign a peace deal with the Jewish state in 1979. Rebuking the prime minister, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Israel lacks the equivalent of then-prime minister Menachem Begin, the Likud leader who clinched the accord with Cairo.

Israel demolishes 2 Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem, Ma’an

Israeli forces reportedly demolished two Palestinian homes on Wednesday in occupied East Jerusalem, according to local sources. Locals told Ma’an that staff from Israel’s Jerusalem Municipality, under the protection of police forces, raided the neighborhoods of al-Issawiya and Shufat and demolished two homes, under the pretext that they were built without difficult-to-obtain Israeli building permits.

Opinions and Analysis

The Arabs’ dispute with Iran is tactical with Israel is strategic, Huffington Post

Camelia Entekhabifard writes “It’s hard to say if during Netanyahu’s administration peace talks can start. But seeing as President Trump has appointed a special envoy for the peace talks, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Kushner’s shuttling efforts back and forth between Riyadh and Tel Aviv are all very promising signs especially with the peace granted between Fatah and Hamas. But Prime Minister Netanyahu would be naive if he thinks he can ride on Arab disputes with the Iranians at the current time to normalize his ties with Arab leaders without solving the Palestinian issue.”

To Whitewash Occupation, Netanyahu Crew Casts Breaking the Silence Whistle-blower as Bogeyman, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev argues, “Netanyahu and his ministers have a vested interest in making the occupation disappear, and much of Israeli public opinion is only too happy to play along with the big lie. If there is no occupation, one doesn’t have to contend with the havoc it is wreaking on the impressionable soldiers who serve it, with the lasting damage it has caused in Israeli society as a whole, or with the destruction that it portends for the concept of a Jewish and democratic state.”

Has Kushner given Riyadh carte blanche?, Al-Monitor

Laura Rozen reports, “[G]rowing US bureaucratic dismay at perceived Saudi/Emirati overreach, as well as Kushner’s mounting legal exposure in the Russia investigations, has many veteran US diplomats, policymakers and lobbyists urging regional players to be cautious about basing their foreign policy on any perceived green light, real or not, from the Kushner faction at the White House. They warn the mixed messages could cause Gulf allies to miscalculate and take actions that harm US interests. And they worry US diplomacy has often seemed hesitant, muted and delayed in resolving recent emerging crises in the Middle East, in part because of the perceived divide between the State Department and the Department of Defense on one side and the White House on the other, making US mediation efforts less effective and arguably impeding US national security interest.”

This Is Netanyahu’s Dying Israel. Where the Doctor Is the Disease, Haaretz

Bradley Burston argues, “Israel crossed a line this week. Then again, of late, Israel crosses a line every week. The list of the disloyal grows by the day. Arabs and leftists and Reform Jews and rights activists have been joined by the chief of police, the Shin Bet, the Supreme Court, the attorney general, and the state comptroller – to name a few.”

Are Israel, Saudi Arabia about to upgrade relations?, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit writes, “Historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia is not about to break out anytime soon. On the other hand, Israel is an unofficial member of the Sunni alliance led by young Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. For the past two years, he has been setting the Middle East on fire with a series of audacious moves.”

How Israel Is Trying to Break Breaking the Silence – and How It Could Backfire, Haaretz

Judy Maltz writes, “On a whole other level, however, the case of Issacharoff raises more fundamental questions about Israel’s 50-year-old occupation and its corrosive effects on society, among them: Who is to blame when soldiers serving among a hostile population in occupied territory act badly – the soldiers or the state that sent them there? Should Israeli soldiers speak out about the atrocities they witness during their service at the risk of tarnishing the image of the state? Can an investigation launched by a right-wing politician who harbors hostility toward anti-occupation organizations – in this case, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – really be undertaken with neutrality?”

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