News Roundup for October 4, 2017

October 4, 2017

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J Street in the News

U.S. Defence Secretary Mattis suggests sticking with Iran nuclear deal, Reuters

J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said Trump did not have legitimate grounds to decertify the deal. ”If he chooses to do so anyway, he will be acting purely based on divisive politics and dangerous ideology, and endangering the security of the U.S. and our allies,” Dylan Williams, vice president of government affairs for the group, said in a statement.

Shadowy Blacklist Of Student Activists Wins Endorsement Of Mainstream Pro-Israel Group, The Forward

A spokesman for the dovish pro-Israel group J Street, Logan Bayroff, said that ICC’s praise for Canary Mission was a “huge mistake. It shows a total misunderstanding of what effective, principled pro-Israel advocacy on college campuses should look like,” said Bayroff, who is J Street’s director of communications.

Sheldon Adelson group changes how it’s selling Israel on campus, JTA

Catie Stewart, the deputy director of J Street U, says her organization is still non grata: Maccabee Task Force won’t have anything to do with the campus adjunct of the national liberal Middle East policy group that emphasizes the two-state solution, supported the Iran nuclear deal and often criticizes the Israeli government. Adelson has made clear he reviles the group. “Our students would attend Maccabee Task Force meetings, and [MTF officials] would tell the students, ‘OK you guys, you can do whatever you want to do!’ And we would say ‘Great!’ and they would say, ‘Not you, you can’t do what you want to do,’” she recalled. Stewart said the task force was immediately alienating some of the most committed pro-Israel students on campus. “It was a classic example of taking a step back,” she said.

Military Officials Sending Trump a Clear Message: Uphold the Iran Deal, J Street

“Dylan Williams, Vice President of Government Affairs at J Street, issued the following statement in response to Defense Secretary James Mattis’ confirmation to Congress that it is in the national security interests of the US to remain in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA): ‘By October 15th, President Trump must tell Congress whether Iran is meeting its obligations under the JCPOA nuclear agreement, and whether remaining in the agreement continues to be in the security interests of the United States. Over the last two weeks, his top security advisors have made clear that the answer to both questions is ‘Yes.’ In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford was unequivocal: ‘Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations.’ In a public discussion a week earlier, the commander of US Strategic Command, General Hyten, stated that ‘The facts are that Iran is operating under the agreements that we signed up for under the JCPOA.’  Today, Secretary of Defense Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it was in the national security interest of the United States to remain in the JCPOA.’”

Top News and Analysis

Trump prepares to wound Iran deal — and then save it, Politico

Donald Trump’s national security team has unanimously recommended that he decertify the Iran nuclear deal — but that he stop short of pushing Congress to reimpose sanctions on Tehran that could unravel the agreement. Trump’s team plans to work with Congress and European allies to apply new pressure on the Iranian regime, according to a strategy developed in an Iran policy review led by national security adviser H.R. McMaster. But the strategy assumes the nuclear deal will remain intact for now.

Mattis: Stick to Iran deal, Politico

President Donald Trump’s top Pentagon advisers told Congress Tuesday they believe Iran is sticking to the 2015 agreement to halt its nuclear weapons program and expressed support for keeping the pact. “At this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying in,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee… [A]ppearing alongside Mattis, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told the panel Iran “is not in material breach” of the agreement, contending that the pact has “delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran.” Asked about Trump’s criticism of the deal, Mattis also offered that “I support the rigorous review that he has got going on right now.” But when pressed by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) on whether he thinks remaining in the pact is in the U.S. national security interest, he replied “Yes, senator, I do.”

Netanyahu backs annexation of 19 West Bank settlements, The Guardian

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has backed legislation that would in effect annex settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories that are home to between 125,000 and 150,000 Jewish people. In comments made at a meeting of his Likud party at the large settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, Netanyahu said he would support the “Greater Jerusalem” bill. The bill, pushed by right-wing MPs, would annex 19 settlements around Jerusalem, placing them within the city’s municipal boundaries.


Trump to UN Chief: Netanyahu Proving More Difficult Than Abbas in Peace Efforts, Haaretz

In a meeting last month with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, U.S. President Donald Trump termed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the harder side to convince in his efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, according to seven Western and Israeli sources who were either present at or briefed on the meeting.

Tillerson’s dramatic plan to save Iran deal, keep up pressure, CNN

As President Donald Trump considers whether to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is working behind the scenes with Congress to head off the possibility of an international crisis ahead of the agreement’s looming October 15 certification deadline, several US officials and Western diplomats told CNN.

Netanyahu: Faux Palestinian reconciliation risks ‘our existence,’ Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday rejected ongoing reconciliation efforts between the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza-based Hamas terror group, saying any future Palestinian government must disband the terror organization’s armed wing and sever all ties with Iran.

PA slams Netanyahu’s ‘unacceptable’ pledge to develop Ma’ale Adumim, Times of Israel

A top Palestinian official on Tuesday said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to “destroy” the two-state solution by pledging to further develop and even effectively annex one of the biggest Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli forces detain 19 Palestinians ahead of closure on West Bank, Gaza, Ma’an

Israeli forces detained at least 19 Palestinians between Monday night and Tuesday morning in raids across the occupied territory and Israel, which came as Israel prepared to enforce an 11-day closure on the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Once a Possible Threat to Netanyahu, Israeli Tech Mogul Erel Margalit Quits Politics, Haaretz

Knesset member Erel Margalit (Zionist Union) announced on Tuesday he will resign from the Knesset. Margalit, who has served as an MK since 2013, lost in the primary for Labor party leadership in July to Avi Gabbay, coming fourth place among the candidates. This was the second time he ran for the party chairmanship and lost.

Opinions and Analysis

US, Israel on standby as Egypt pushes Palestinian reconciliation, Al-Monitor

Shlomi Eldar writes, “Despite the discernible difficulties clear to the leaders on both sides, a sense of heady optimism nonetheless prevails. On the evening prior to the festive meeting, news broadcasters in Gaza and the West Bank announced that this would be the last night of division, as both sides had chosen to restore the unity of the Palestinian people for the sake of the national interest. So why didn’t Netanyahu threaten Abbas with sanctions or condemn him for an alliance with those who aspire to destroy Israel? Why did Liberman order Defense Ministry officials to arrange for the efficient entry of the Palestinian delegation into Gaza? Why didn’t Liberman condemn Abbas in his usual manner? ‘This time is different,’ a top Fatah official explained to Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity. ‘Israeli threats against the Palestinian Authority, sanctions or even just [verbal] attacks on the PA and Mahmoud Abbas would, in fact, constitute direct threats against Egypt and its president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is sponsoring the reconciliation talks.’ According to the Fatah source, Egypt notified the United States and Israel on the progress of the rapprochement, making it clear that a Palestinian unity government is not only in Egypt’s interest, but has positive implications for Israel and the Palestinians as well. Egypt regards such an agreement as vital to a regional peace deal, in which it hopes to play a major role. From Cairo’s perspective, the Palestinian split between the West Bank and Gaza is an obstacle that must be removed for a diplomatic breakthrough on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Iranian Nuclear Deal’s Sunset Clauses, Foreign Affairs

Ali Vaez writes, “Undermining the existing nuclear deal with Iran in the hope of achieving an illusory one that contains permanent restrictions will do nothing to address critics’ alleged concerns over the JCPOA’s sunset provisions because Tehran would never accept such terms. If the United States wants longer and stronger constraints, it would be better off trying to do something that at least has a chance of succeeding—for example, marshaling international support for a plan to apply the agreement’s limitations on uranium enrichment and plutonium separation either regionally or internationally for a long period of time. Washington could also encourage joint ventures for uranium enrichment and other nuclear fuel cycle activities involving other countries that would provide added assurance that Tehran’s nuclear program remains civilian. Finally, the United States must live up to its obligations to the deal today in order to make any potential follow-on agreements possible tomorrow. Undermining the Iran nuclear deal out of fear of its sunset provisions will only achieve one thing: it will bring that sunset far closer, without a realistic and achievable alternative to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.”

How Israeli settlers turn archaeological sites into political tools, Al-Monitor

Akiva Eldar writes, “This occupation is alive and very well, for example, at the site of Biyar Aqueduct that lies within walking distance of the failed jubilee ceremony in the Etzion settlement bloc that was organized by Culture Minister Miri Regev. Every year, some 100,000 women, children and men visit the Biyar Aqueduct that was built some 2,000 years ago to supply water to Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. The aqueduct epitomizes the importance of the entire area as the source of life for Jewish Jerusalem in its golden age. The website of the Kfar Etzion Field School that operates the site reads, ‘Various researchers date the Biyar Aqueduct to different times over a 200-year period that began with King Alexander Yannai [of the Hasmonean period in the first century B.C.], through King Herod and even the Roman era.’ Despite this uncertainty, the aqueduct is presented to visitors as a relic of the early Roman era, also known as the ‘days of the Second Temple.’ According to official reporting by the field school to the nongovernmental organization registrar, the aqueduct tours brought in more than 16 million Israeli shekels ($4.5 million) in 2014. ‘The Biyar Aqueduct is an example of a ‘tourism settlement’ — creating a tourist site on ancient relics and marketing the place as an Israeli heritage site,’ archaeologist Yonathan Mizrachi told Al-Monitor. Mizrachi heads the Emek Shaveh center that seeks to prevent the use of ancient relics as a tool in national conflict or a value justifying harm to weak groups. Such use is made by the operators of the City of David site below the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, on the land of the Palestinian village of Silwan. Almost every Israeli high school student and soldier is brought to visit the site, becoming an advocate of an Israeli presence there. Silwan’s Muslim past and the link of its residents to the place is presented as random and negligible, if at all.”

The Cruelty of Israel’s Defense Minister, Haaretz

The Haaretz Editorial Board argues, “The basic position of the defense establishment is that Palestinians who work within the boundaries of the Green Line and the settlements help calm the security situation since they almost entirely eschew terror attacks. In light of this traditional view, it is surprising that all the establishment groups, including the Israel Defense Forces, which usually presents a relatively moderate policy as compared to the belligerent one led by the political leadership, were party to the recommendation for the long, general closure. Collective punishment is immoral and illegal. Nor has it ever been proven in its effectiveness as a deterrent that prevents additional terror attacks. On the contrary: It usually only fuels the violence. Israel must not allow public feelings of anger and the desire for revenge, for which populist politicians are the mouthpiece, to dictate a cruel and futile policy.”

Trump threats loom over Iran-EU business summit, Al-Monitor

Barbara Slavin writes, “Uncertainty over what US President Donald Trump will do with the Iran nuclear deal hung over a conference here on Europe-Iran business that showcased both progress as well as continuing internal Iranian obstacles to foreign trade and investment. European diplomats have put forward a tough and united front against any US reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions at a time when the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly confirmed Iranian compliance with the 2015 agreement. But European executives appear less confident about their ability to shield Iran deals from a potential resumption of US penalties if Trump decides not to certify that Iran remains in compliance with the deal later this month.”