News Roundup for October 2, 2017

October 2, 2017

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J Street in the News

J Street Concerned by Ambassador Friedman’s Comments; Welcomes State Department’s Disavowal, J Street

J Street is deeply concerned by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s comments to an Israeli news site this week that “settlements are part of Israel” and that Israel is “only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank.” We are glad that the State Department has now clarified that these statements “should not be read as a shift in US policy.” This clarification is extremely important. If Friedman’s comments were made official US policy, they would represent a massive and extremely dangerous break with decades of bipartisan US opposition to settlement development and expansion….While the State Department’s clarification is important, it remains unacceptable that the chief American diplomatic representative in Israel continues to misrepresent and undermine long-standing US policy. His statements are a stark reminder of why Friedman’s nomination to be ambassador to Israel faced an unprecedented level of congressional opposition, with a record 46 senators voting against. It is now clear that concerns about Friedman as an official representative of the United States because of his long history of close ideological and financial ties to the settlement movement were well-founded.”

This Palestinian Village Needs A Yom Kippur Miracle, Forward

J Street U president Zoe Goldblum writes, “What’s happening to many Palestinian communities in the West Bank goes against all of our values and seriously undermines the better and more secure future we want for Israel….Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex and confusing. But the moral and political questions at stake here are crystal clear. Demolishing Susya, and other West Bank villages like it, would cause irrevocable harm to the Palestinians who live there. And it would not make Israelis more secure. Quite the opposite, it would do lasting damage to the prospects for peace and for Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people. Such an unambiguously dangerous policy must be met with fierce, widespread opposition….Any Jewish institution or leader that seriously supports the two-state solution and Israelis’ and Palestinians’ rights to live in dignity should take a stand. So should all of us who, as individuals, will head into services this weekend to reflect on what we will do this year to better ourselves and our world. If we are truly committed to teshuva this Yom Kippur, then we must speak out for Susya.”

Top News and Analysis

The Iran deal is working. Here’s how we know., Washington Post

Former Secretary of State John Kerry writes, “Fundamentally, it seems irrational to leave an agreement that’s working today out of a fixation on potential growth of Iran’s nuclear program more than a decade from now, when such growth could happen tomorrow if we unravel the agreement. We’d be back where we were before, only way worse, with the United States isolated, not Iran. We maintain leverage by sticking with the agreement, and European foreign ministers tell me that they would join us in confronting other Iranian misdeeds. What leverage do we gain by walking away when we know Iran is complying? We lose our close alignment with our allies. We empower Russia and China. We hand Iranian hard-liners a victory and send a message to any country considering a negotiation with us that, when politics intervene, the United States doesn’t keep its word. Moreover, sticking with the deal means we don’t jump back in the barrel headed toward military conflict with Iran, and we can focus on North Korea’s white-hot nuclear threat today.”

Ex-Mossad Chief Tells JPost Why Netanyahu Is Wrong Fighting the Iran Deal, Jerusalem Post

Yaakov Katz speaks with former Mossad director Ephraim Halevy. “Back in 2015 he was one of a handful of former top defense officials – alongside former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Ami Ayalon and Uzi Eilam, the former director of Israel’s Atomic Energy Agency – who urged Netanyahu to stop fighting the Obama administration and to accept the nuclear deal with Iran. Halevy decided to speak up this week since he believes that Netanyahu is again making a historic mistake in his efforts to overturn the deal. First and foremost, he points out, Iran is abiding by the deal. The same day I met with Halevy, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford confirmed at a Senate hearing that Iran is in fact fulfilling its part. ‘The deal that was achieved was beyond the realistic expectation even here in Israel,’ Halevy said. ‘This is not to say that the ultimate deal is the exact manifestation of Israel’s most vital interests.’ Nevertheless, he explains, the nuclear agreement was always meant to deal only with Iran’s nuclear program, not its missile development or its support of terrorist organizations throughout the region. For Israel to now demand changes to the deal because of Iran’s support of Hezbollah or its growing presence in Syria is simply wrong, he stressed.”

Fatah pressures Abbas to change strategy, Al-Monitor

Uri Savir reports, “A senior Israeli diplomat who was part of Netanyahu’s New York delegation told Al-Monitor that Netanyahu was double-satisfied by his visit to New York. Not only did Netanyahu feel vindicated in the case he made to Trump about the Iranian regional threat and the irrelevance of the Palestinian issue, he also senses that he now has a free pass to pursue the diplomatic policies that will keep his right-wing government intact….The reaction of Abbas was the extreme opposite. According to a senior PLO official, Abbas considers Trump’s speech the kiss of death for any eventual US-led two-state solution process. The official, who also took part in the dialogue with the US president’s peace envoys, claimed that the New York visit, including Abbas’ Sept. 20 meeting with Trump, was a watershed away from diplomacy. In addition to the Trump disappointment, Abbas was also taken aback by the positions of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Abbas was clearly frustrated with the openly cordial meeting between Sisi and Netanyahu in New York, as well as Sisi’s speech at the General Assembly meeting, calling on Israelis to give peace a chance. According to the PLO official, most of the Palestinian leadership senses it must change its strategy. Abbas can no longer ignore growing voices that openly support a binational state solution with equal rights for Palestinians. He claimed that Abbas met with a group of Fatah hawks who made this a demand.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Crosses Into Gaza in Major Step Toward Reconciliation With Hamas, Haaretz
The West Bank-based Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah crossed into the Gaza Strip on Monday in a major move toward reconciliation between Hamas and the mainstream Fatah party, a decade after the Islamist group seized the territory in a civil war. Hamas announced last week that it was handing over administrative control of the Gaza Strip to a unity government headed by Rami Hamdallah, but the movement’s armed wing remains the dominant power in the enclave of two million people. A Hamas police honor guard and hundreds of Palestinians, many of them waving Palestinian flags, welcomed Hamdallah outside the Hamas-controlled checkpoint, down the road from Israel’s Erez border crossing through which the prime minister and his delegation passed.


Israel Announces Extended, 11-day Closure of West Bank, Gaza for Jewish Holiday, Haaretz

In a departure from the custom in recent years, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has ordered an 11-day closure of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, from the start of the Sukkot holiday through the following Shabbat. Temporary closures for Jewish holidays are common, but for week-long religious festivals such as Sukkot they are usually imposed only for the holidays that bookend the week. During these closures, Palestinians are prohibited from entering Israel except for medical or other emergencies, and only with permission from the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

Palestinian Reconciliation: Abbas Says No to ‘Hezbollah Model’ in Gaza as Hamas Hopes to Retain Armed Wing, Haaretz

Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip and senior Palestinian Authority officials issued further declarations over the weekend about their commitment to reconcile and said both sides are committed to moving the process ahead. But even if the parties reach agreement over administrative issues, they are still yet to deal with the main obstacles – Hamas’ military wing and donations the organization receives from abroad. The London-based, pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Hayat reported over the weekend that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has stipulated three conditions for reconciliation. First, that Hamas dismantle its military wing; second, that there be no foreign involvement in the administration of the Gaza Strip; and third, that any money for restoration and development only be channeled through the Palestinian government. According to Palestinian officials, these conditions are intended to block any involvement by former Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan or countries like Qatar.

Palestinian reconciliation faces perilous road ahead, Times of Israel

The Palestinian Authority prime minister on Monday is set to lead a large delegation of Fatah officials traveling from the West Bank to Gaza in the most ambitious attempt to reconcile with the rival Hamas  after a 10-year rift. In a significant concession, Hamas has offered to turn over all governing responsibilities to Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. But key sticking points, primarily the terror group’s refusal to disarm its powerful military wing, are likely to complicate or even derail the reconciliation efforts in the coming weeks.

18 Jewish House Members Press Netanyahu On Pluralism, Forward

Eighteen Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives wrote Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing disappointment in his rollback of religious pluralism reforms. “We write to express our profound concerns about recent decisions that seem to call into question the legitimacy and equal status of non-Orthodox Jews,” said the letter sent Thursday.

Opinions and Analysis

Trump Goes Rogue on Iran, Bloomberg

Nick Wadhams reports, “Tillerson’s task is complicated by internal divisions. On Sept. 26 the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford Jr., questioned backing out of the deal because it might weaken U.S. credibility in any talks over North Korea. There’s also Tillerson’s friction with Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN. On Sept. 5, Haley gave a speech to the American Enterprise Institute on the Iran agreement in which she made several errors, including her claim that the deal was meant to end Iran’s nuclear program entirely. In keeping with Haley’s belief that her cabinet-level rank means she doesn’t report to Tillerson, she didn’t consult with him or his staff. The tension boiled over at the Sept. 20 diplomatic meeting at the UN to discuss the Iran accord. Haley wasn’t originally invited, but at the last minute, she took a spot reserved for a senior adviser to Tillerson without asking the State Department. She then tried to sit at the main table in a space reserved for another U.S. official but was told to sit in the back, according to two people familiar with the situation.”

Forget Friedman. The State Dept doesn’t know how much of the West Bank is occupied either, +972

“The truth of the matter is that nobody took Friedman’s remarks all that seriously, although the whole affair made for some great headlines. Despite being the White House’s official envoy to Israel, Friedman is known for speaking for himself instead of in his official capacity. So nobody was too surprised. What was surprising, was that when asked to clarify, the State Department itself could not — or would not — answer how much of the West Bank actually is occupied by Israel.”

Trump’s Iran threats risk a U.S. break with Europe, Reuters

Jarrett Blanc writes, “If the United States follows through on threats to stop fulfilling its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, as the Iran deal is formally known, its allies in Europe will be forced to choose between committing a crime and making a mistake. Whichever they decide, the strength of the transatlantic coalition – America’s most important and most reliable partnership – will be cast into doubt.”

Sick of running Gaza, Hamas may be aiming to switch to a Hezbollah-style role, Times of Israel

Avi Issacharoff writes, “The change in personnel and tone in the Hamas leadership connects to an uncomfortable reality for the Islamist terror group: Hamas has been forced to acknowledge its failure of governance on the civilian level — life in Gaza is unremittingly grim under its rule — and the consequent danger that the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip will rise up against it. The willingness to dismantle the management committee unconditionally, and to hand over the keys to Hamdallah’s government where civilian matters are concerned, is tantamount to an open public admission of failure. Hamas tried in every way possible for a decade to hold on to its control of Gaza, but now is showing clear signs of willingness to step aside, at least in the civic sphere.”

Continued Palestinian Authority-Hamas Rift Is Good News for Netanyahu, Haaretz

Amos Harel observes, “Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman would prefer a rift between the PA and Hamas, if only so that Abbas cannot claim that since he has reunited the Palestinian ranks, diplomatic negotiations can resume. It would seem that both would prefer lengthy intra-Palestinian negotiations rather than an agreement that may obligate Israel to take steps of its own.”

Opponents of the Iran Deal Should Face Facts. And Here They Are, Huffington Post

Daniel DePetris writes, “The arguments that the anti-JCPOA crowd in Washington have made over the last year are at bottom exaggerated, inaccurate, and factually deficient. Many, if not most, of the talking points the deal’s opponents have used in their public relations campaign to abrogate the agreement are refuted by the facts.”

Israeli, Palestinian environmentalists aren’t waiting on Trump peace plan, Al-Monitor

Akiva Eldar writes, “Israelis and Palestinians may not be able to end their conflict, but if they want their children to drink pure water and to breathe clean air, they should not wait passively for an initiative by Trump and his envoys. Unfortunately, peace will probably have to wait for less awful days. Cooperation among neighboring residents for the sake of environmental quality is a pressing need, and that is by no means a cliche.”

For Years, Iran Hacked US Computers. Then In 2014 It Stopped. Why?, Buzzfeed

“For years, government hackers in Iran and the US went after one another with a vengeance. The US destroyed nuclear centrifuges, the Iranians threatened dams, and bled tens of millions of dollars from private institutions caught in the crossfire. Then the cyberwar, never announced, stopped. Now, as President Donald Trump threatens to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal — and unspoken cyber truce — there are fears the war might reignite.”

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