News Roundup for October 20, 2017

October 20, 2017

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Top News and Analysis

US envoy: Hamas must disarm to join Palestinian government, Washington Post

President Trump’s Mideast envoy said on Thursday that if Hamas wants to play a role in any Palestinian government, it must renounce violence and commit to negotiations with Israel — demands the Islamic militant group has always rejected. Jason Greenblatt’s statement was the first American comment on the advancing reconciliation efforts between the rival Palestinian Fatah and Hamas factions, and echoed Israeli demands. “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties — including to disarm terrorists — and commit to peaceful negotiations. If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

U.S. Works to Keep Palestinians’ Talks on Track to Aid Peace, The New York Times

“With Egypt brokering a reconciliation between the two rival Palestinian factions, President Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East visited Cairo on Thursday to help move those talks along while trying to ensure that the Egyptians do not take them in a direction unacceptable to the United States and Israel….For the Trump administration, which has hopes of achieving a grand Israeli-Palestinian bargain, Egypt’s efforts with Hamas and Fatah provided a potentially crucial opening to solve the problem of Gaza, which many see as a prerequisite to reviving the peace process.”

Balfour Declaration’s Legacy Is Toxic for Both Israelis and Palestinians, Haaretz

Anshel Pfeffer argues, “Balfour’s legacy is toxic, both for Israelis and Palestinians. It nourishes the idea that somehow the conflict between the sides was caused by external powers and can be solved by them. For the Palestinians, it continues to maintain the myth that the Jews are somehow a foreign transplant that must be excised. For the Israelis, it preserves the goal of convincing the world of the justice of our cause, as an alternative to actually making it in to a just one. Lord Balfour did not give Palestine to anyone. Even if he had never written Lord Rothschild a letter, there would still be two nations with claims to this land. Their only hope of ever finding a way to share it is by letting go of these bankrupt historical myths.”

Stepping right over the U.S., world powers reaffirm commitment to Iran deal, ThinkProgress
“Since President Donald Trump declined to receritfy the Iranian nuclear deal, every other party to the agreement has come out in support.”



Israel Strikes Target in Syria in Response to Spillover Fire, Haaretz

The Israeli military struck targets in Syria after errant fire from the war raging there hit the Israeli Golan Heights, a military spokesperson said on Thursday, a day after Iran’s military chief warned against Israeli incursions in Syria. Local reports said that Israel struck a Syrian artillery position near border town of Quneitra. Earlier, a projectile fell in an open area in the northern Israeli Golan Heights as a result of the Syrian civil war. The incident caused neither casualties nor damage. On Wednesday, two rocket-alert sirens were sounded in the Golan Heights in response to internal fighting in Syria.

Hamas Accuses U.S. of Trying to Thwart Palestinian Unity After Statement by Trump’s Envoy, Haaretz

Hamas issued a statement on Thursday rejecting what it called the “blackmail attempts” by the U.S. administration and the one-sided support of Israel, reflected in remarks made earlier by Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. According to Hamas, Greenblatt’s statement constitutes a blunt pursuit to meddle in internal Palestinian affairs and was meant to throw a wrench in the works of Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas added that it was determined to continue with all aspects of the rapprochement efforts and that any bids to thwart or delay the process will not distract the organization.

Labor chief: Settlements represent the ‘beautiful face of Zionism’, Times of Israel

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay on Thursday called the West Bank settlement enterprise “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism” and said Israel must retain control over the Jordan Valley in any peace deal with the Palestinians. “The settlement [project] was and remains the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism,” he said in quotes carried by Army Radio in a pre-recorded video for an event celebrating 50 years of settlement in the Jordan Valley. On Thursday, Gabbay also said Israel must maintain control over the Jordan Valley as “Israel’s eastern security buffer” under a future peace agreement, echoing a sentiment expressed by previous Labor leaders, most notably Yitzhak Rabin.

Anti-draft ultra-Orthodox Protests Shut Down Jerusalem in ‘Day of Rage’; 120 Arrested, Haaretz

Police arrested some 120 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators in Jerusalem and the nearby city of Beit Shemesh on Thursday during a protest against the arrests of two yeshiva students charged with draft evasion.  Thousands of protesters blocked downtown Jerusalem for hours, obstructing traffic to the central bus station and the light rail, and blocked other major roads and highways around the country.

Iran Guards Defy Trump With Vow to Boost Missile Program, Bloomberg

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps pledged to enhance the nation’s missile program in defiance of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose hardened stance against the country last week included new sanctions on the security force.

Netanyahu: Jordan Valley Will Always Remain a Part of Israel, Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel will never abandon the settlements in the Jordan Valley. “The Jordan Valley will always remain a part of Israel. We will continue to settle it, invest in infrastructure and tourism,” he said during a speech at a ceremony marking 50 years of Israeli settlement there.

Israel demolishes 2 Palestinian homes in southern Hebron hills, Ma’an

Israeli forces demolished two Palestinian houses in the Halaweh village, located in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron, according to local sources. Ratib al-Jabour, a coordinator of the National and Popular Committees in the southern West Bank told Ma’an that Israeli forces raided the village Thursday morning and demolished two houses belonging to Muhammad Younis Abu Aram and Khalil Younis Abu Aram.

Opinions and Analysis

Israel’s centrist leaders vie to replace Netanyahu – by taking his side, JTA

Andrew Tobin observes, “While Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu drew huge numbers of settlers in his most recent election as prime minister, uprooting Jewish homes in the West Bank was taken for granted in multiple Labor-led peace efforts since party leader Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords in 1992. But the head of the reliably pro-peace Labor Party defied that dynamic in an interview broadcast Tuesday, saying he would not evacuate settlements as part of a final status agreement with the Palestinians….Tzipi Livni of the center-left Zionist Union said Gabbay’s statement does not reflect the position of her party, which is allied with Labor. While Israel would of course retain the major settlement blocs, she said, unfortunately ‘you can’t promise everyone they can stay in their homes.’ Gabbay’s comments seem to move his center-left party rightward at a time when he is vying with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to be the centrist alternative to Netanyahu. Both men are adopting or withholding criticism of some of the prime minister’s positions in the process. And with some exceptions, Gabbay and Lapid have refrained lately from seriously attacking the prime minister, even as police investigations swirl around Netanyahu, his family and associates.”

The Iran conundrum, Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes, “Congress should give the administration less, not more, leeway to move toward confrontation. Congress could, for example, require Congressional approval if sanctions are to be re-imposed (thereby putting the U.S. in breach of the agreement) and/or setting forth its position that the president must come to Congress for a memorandum for the use of force….In short, Congress has no reason to trust this president and neither do our allies. Considering how entirely dysfunctional is our State Department, perhaps we should think less about regime change in Iran and more in terms of containing the U.S. president until he can be compelled to leave office (by election or otherwise).”

Defunding Achvat Amim Will Drive Young American Jews Away From Israel, J Street Blog

Hailey Levien writes, “When Masa Israel defunded Achvat Amim I was unsurprised. It’s a familiar pattern: A progressive program loses support from a mainstream Jewish organization because of their politics. This is my story, but it’s also the story of progressive diaspora Jews fighting for peace and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike….Defunding programs like Achvat Amim points to a larger, scarier trend. Critical voices are less and less welcome in Israel with each passing year. Take, for example, the travel ban on boycott supporters and the Im Tirzu campaign against human rights advocates….[W]ithout critical voices, who will stand up for democracy and human rights in Israel? Who will share the hard truths – that Israel’s status quo is unsustainable, and that the occupation is putting Israel’s Jewish and democratic future at risk and compromising Jewish values of social justice, human rights, equality, tikkun olam?”

Russian defense minister arrives in Tel Aviv as Israel strikes Syria, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit writes, “Gen. Shoigu’s visit could not have come at a better time. He came exactly when the entire Middle East had its eyes on the airspace between Damascus and Beirut — which is crowded with Israelis, Russians, Syrians, Americans, Lebanese and air forces from many other countries. One would have expected that the hotline between the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli Air Force (IAF) with the Russian army and its expeditionary force would be burning up….According to the Israelis, the Russians are operating in the regional space out of cold considerations, without unnecessary emotion. In the words of an Israeli security source in a conversation with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, ‘They are impressed at our consistency and understand our comprehensive considerations.’”

Palestinian Reconciliation Theater, Matzav Blog

Michael Koplow writes, “Ever since Fatah and Hamas announced their most recent effort in what often seems like never-ending rounds of reconciliation talks, many analysts have been skeptical that anything substantive would come out of it. While each side’s circumstances have changed in major ways, Palestinian announcements that the Fatah-Hamas breach has been healed and Palestinian national unity has been restored are like the recurring Saturday Night Live bit where Chevy Chase would announce that Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, with this being the seventh entry. While both sides have been unusually publicly adamant that this is finally the unity agreement that has eluded the Palestinians for a decade, the chances that the reconciliation agreement will break down are still relatively high. As a result, Israel and the U.S. should be planning accordingly in case the current détente does indeed prove to be fleeting.”