David Friedman in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 16. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Friedman joins Greenblatt in meeting with Palestinian negotiators


U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman joined President Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, in his meeting with senior Palestinian officials in Jerusalem on Tuesday, a White House official told Jewish Insider.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Friedman was introduced to the Palestinian negotiating team by Greenblatt and U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem Donald Blome, who has the responsibility for dealing with the Palestinian Authority, according to the official. “They had an open, cordial, and frank discussion on many topics related to peace negotiations,” the official said.

Last month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly rejected the U.S. request to include Friedman in meeting with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Greenblatt in Ramallah.

Friedman’s participation in Greenblatt’s meeting with the Palestinians was first reported by Haaretz.

The fact that Friedman was part of the meeting is highly unusual, but not unprecedented, former Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told Jewish Insider. Indyk met several times with then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat but only in Gaza — in his first term (1995-1997) the U.S. Embassy had responsibility for Gaza — or to broker a ceasefire deal during the second intifada.

Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, however, never attended official meetings with Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah despite being a member of Indyk’s team when he served as Mideast envoy under Secretary of State John Kerry.

According to the WH official, the President insisted that Friedman should be part of the team to broker peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. “The Administration believes that in order to give everyone the best chance to reach an ultimate deal, it is critical to have negotiators that are close with the President and that is why the team includes Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman,” the official said.

“I believe Trump is serious about getting the ‘ultimate deal,’ but this incident probably says more about his lack of familiarity with the existing diplomatic protocols,” Indyk said. “Nevertheless, If Greenblatt wants Friedman on his team, he should have him. It’s good for the Palestinians to hear Friedman’s perspective which is informed by his knowledge of the Israeli side. But then by the same token Greenblatt should have the Consul General Doug Blome on his team and in meetings with Israeli negotiators. That way the Israelis could gain the benefit of his knowledge of the Palestinian side.”

Trump’s unusual move indicates he is serious about reaching a peace deal because he wants what he considers his best people working on it in all the meetings, a former U.S official, who was involved in previous peace talks and requested to remain anonymous, told Jewish Insider. “The Administration probably thinks it helps by giving the Palestinians another channel to and from Trump.”

Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Feb. 7, 2017. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images.

Jared Kushner meets with Netanyahu during one-day visit to Jerusalem


Jared Kushner met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem.

Kushner is in Israel for a one-day visit to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials in a bid to push Israel and the Palestinians toward renewed peace talks.

“This is an opportunity to pursue our common goals of security, prosperity and peace, and Jared, I welcome you here in that spirit,” Netanyahu said before the start of the Wednesday afternoon meeting,” The Times of Israel reported. “I know of your efforts and the president’s efforts, and I look forward to working with you to reach these common goals.”

Kushner was accompanied to the meeting by the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East; and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer.

Earlier Wednesday, Kushner and Friedman visited the family of Hadas Malka, the Israeli border policewoman killed Friday night in coordinated terror attacks near the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Kushner is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah on Wednesday evening following the Iftar meal breaking the day’s Ramadan fast.

He is reported to be flying out of Israel shortly after midnight Thursday.

Greenblatt arrived in Israel ahead of Kushner on Sunday and met with Netanyahu, Abbas and other officials. He also visited the Malka family as well as the Western Wall.

Reuters reported earlier this week that the White House has been holding behind-the-scene talks since Trump’s visit to the region at the end of May, which reportedly was planned by Kushner.

Unnamed White House officials cited by several news sources reiterated that an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a priority for the Trump administration.

Kushner is currently under scrutiny as part of the investigation into whether Trump officials colluded with Russia to sway the outcome of the presidential election.

President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner. Photo from Reuters

Jared Kushner visits home of Israeli police officer killed in terror attack


Jared Kushner upon arriving in Israel on Wednesday visited the family of an Israeli border police officer stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist.

Kushner, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump as well as the president’s Jewish son-in-law, is in Israel to lead the Trump administration’s push for restarted peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

He and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, visited the family of Hadas Malka for about a half hour, Ynet reported, citing a close friend of the Malka family. Kushner told the family that “the president himself asked him to express condolences on behalf of the United States.”

The family spoke to their American guests about Malka, 23, and her bravery, and updated them about the investigation into the attack, Ynet reported.

When Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East, arrived in Israel on Sunday, he visited the Malka home and the Western Wall before the start of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Ynet also reported Wednesday that two kindergarten buildings under construction in the coastal city of Netanya will be named for Malka and Hadar Cohen, 19, a border police officer who was killed in a terrorist stabbing attack in February 2016 — like Malka, at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The parents of both women will be invited to inaugurate the buildings when they are completed.

Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Bipartisan backing builds for Taylor Force Act


With the issue of Palestinian payments to families of terrorists receiving increased attention on Capitol Hill, a growing number of influential Senators — including top Democrats — have signaled their intention to support the Taylor Force Act. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told an audience at the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Leadership Mission on Thursday that he “feels so strongly” about the bill, which would completely defund US assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if the stipends do not end. “If the President is unable to get Palestinians to cease these payments, Congress is going to act,” Schumer said.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

The Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Ben Cardin (D-MD) told Jewish Insider, “I very much support what Senator (Lindsey) Graham (R-SC) is attempting to do.” (Graham is the lead sponsor of the Taylor Force Act). Cardin clarified that he does not oppose in principle the cutting of all US assistance to the PA, while acknowledging that the bill “may need some adjustments.”

“We must end the practice of Palestinians rewarding those who kill Jews,” announced Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who also serves on the SFRC, to a cheering OU crowd. “We are working very hard with our colleague Senator Graham, who sponsored the Taylor Force Act, to define it in a way that meets that goal but doesn’t undermine in some respects the potential challenges that the state of Israel has.”

Chairman of the SFRC Bob Corker (R-TN) noted on Tuesday during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s testimony that he intends to advance a form of the legislation past the SFRC by the August recess. The Tennessee lawmaker also stressed on Thursday to Jewish Insider that the bill would be a “Taylor Force-like Act.”

However, some Democrats expressed skepticism. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) emphasized, “I am not sure that it’s in anyone’s interest to cut off assistance to the Palestinian Authority.” Supporting the spirit of the bill, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) was concerned about the potential fallout of a complete cut-off. “To the extent that it is a targeted way to remove financial support for the despicable practice of providing bonuses for the families of suicide bombers or terrorists, I will support that. To the extent that it is overly broad and cuts off all assistance to all Palestinian entities, I don’t think that’s in the security interest of Israel or the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), an original co-sponsor of the Taylor Force Act, reiterated his enthusiasm for the legislation. “We need to bring it up. We need to vote on it. We need to pass it.” The Texas lawmaker also cited his resolution that he introduced in January to completely defund the United Nations due to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement constructions.

In addition to the Taylor Force Act, Senators at the Orthodox Union event also discussed the importance of fighting the BDS movement, Thursday’s 98-2 Iran sanctions vote, and the Jerusalem reunification resolution recently passed. “It’s been a pretty good two weeks for Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel),” asserted Schumer.

Cardin was introduced as the only sitting Senator who is a member of an OU Synagogue.

While not mentioning President Donald Trump’s decision to sign a waiver and keep the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Cruz charged, “I believe it is long pass time to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem where it belongs.” The top Senate Democrat agreed with the Cruz on the issue of the US Embassy with Schumer explaining the importance of transferring the Embassy to Jerusalem, “We ought to get it done once and for all.”

The missing drama in ‘Oslo’


The first thought that popped into my mind after seeing “Oslo,” which just won a Tony award for Best Play, was: “That’s it?”

The play left me empty. The brilliant acting and stage directing couldn’t overcome my disappointment that “Oslo” added little to the conversation and only reinforced Western stereotypes about conflict resolution.

The play deftly dramatizes the behind-the-scenes efforts of a Norwegian diplomat-couple who bring Israelis and Palestinians together to sign the 1993 Oslo Accords. As you can imagine, to get these parties to agree to anything, there is endless coddling, nudging, arguing and agonizing. It’s in those twists and turns that the play finds most of its drama.

But there’s an elephant in the room, and it looms over everything. No matter how much drama you see on stage, you can’t help but feel the distracting drama of that elephant, which is this: The agreement which the play worships has turned out to be a dud, a failure of the highest order. The light at the end of the Oslo tunnel was really an oncoming train.

So, as much as I enjoyed the acting and the story, I felt its emptiness. Because the play makes such a powerful claim to historical truth, that truth comes back to haunt it. The play wants to have it both ways: It wants us to enjoy the history it shows, but ignore the history that annoys. In my case at least, it was too much to ask for.

The tragedy of Oslo makes the drama in “Oslo” almost trivial. The real drama of the Oslo story is not in its excruciating negotiations, but in its stunning failure. For all the difficulty that the play dramatizes, the agreement itself is very modest. It doesn’t tackle the most serious issues of contention. It kicks the can down the road in the hope that mutual trust will build between the parties. Of course, the opposite happened. The violence and mistrust have gotten significantly worse since Oslo.

In real life, that kind of tragic outcome can be demoralizing. It’s almost too much to bear. But that’s why we need great art—to make us confront ugly truths. Great art is not there to manufacture hope. That’s what preachers are for. Great art should have the courage to take us where we don’t want to go.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential conflict where core narratives are rejected, mistrust rules, resentments accumulate and hatred flourishes. Brilliant negotiators are useless in the face of such hardened conditions. A play that would have tried to capture that tragedy would have captivated me.

Would it have won a Tony? Probably not. Tragedy doesn’t sell. Hope sells. Hope is the elixir of the civilized mind. No matter what reality tells us, we must show some hope. The price we pay for this obsession is that we don’t learn our lessons. In the case of Oslo, the great lesson is that when a foundation is corroded, you can’t build anything.

From the standpoint of the Palestinians, that foundation means your society marinates you in Jew-hatred from birth, you are taught that the Zionist narrative is a fraud and Israel is a land thief, and you are promised that millions of refugees will eventually return to that hated Israel and take over. How does a piece of paper negotiated in a Norwegian ivory tower by people you don’t trust counter any of that? It doesn’t and it can’t, even if it’s signed on the front lawn of the White House.

I hope a playwright will tackle the Oslo story one day without fear of going to the depressing depths of the conflict. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, sometimes you have to hit your own bottom before you can see the way up. Maybe the playwright can write an alternate, imaginative story where the heroes are not clever dealmakers but hard-nosed changemakers who try to build something real from that ugly bottom.

“Oslo” never takes us to that bottom. It prefers the comfortable Western cliché that savvy and determined negotiators can accomplish anything. That may be true on Broadway, but it’s not in Ramallah or Jerusalem.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Screenshot from Sears.com

Sears website offers clothing with slogan calling to ‘Free Palestine’


Clothing with slogans calling to “Free Palestine End Israeli Occupation” are for sale on the Sears website.

[UPDATE: Sears to pull ‘Free Palestine’ clothing from site amid complaints]

The clothing is being offered for sale by another company, Spreadshirt Collection, and includes tank tops, and t-shirts and hoodies featuring a variety of pro-Palestinian messages. The garments are being sold through Sears Marketplace, which offers a platform for third-party sellers to offer their wares through websites managed by Sears.

The availability of the designs was first reported by Reuters.

The designs include a clenched fist in the colors of the Palestinian flag and statements opposing the Israeli occupation.

In a statement on its website, the Germany-based Spreadshirt Collection calls itself a “global platform for personalized clothing and accessories, we are the go-to-place for anyone looking to realize their creative ideas on quality fabrics. We value freedom of expression, whether it’s with your own designs or those made available by our community.”

The company’s code of responsibility says that it does not print things that are “bound to offend people.”

“Just like with other things in democracy, there are natural limits to our freedom of expression. We do not print things that are bound to offend people, e.g. pornographic material and content designed to insult and discriminate against genders or religious and ethnic groups. We won’t print anything that’s not right and fair. Above all, a code of ethics applies. This implies that we do not condone any designs displaying hate and contempt for others,” the statement says.

Elsewhere on its site, the company says that it values free expression. “Therefore, we print almost all designs sent to us whether we, as a company or personally, like them or not.”

Israeli troops preparing for battle during the Six-Day War in 1967. Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images

6 things you didn’t know about the Six-Day War


The three paratroopers casting eyes upward at the Western Wall. The troops reveling in the waters of the Suez Canal. The sweeping views of a Galilee no longer vulnerable to shelling from atop the Golan Heights.

Not to mention Naomi Shemer’s anthem “Jerusalem of Gold,” reissued after the Six-Day War with a new verse celebrating access to the Old City. Or the settlements, the Palestinians, the tensions, the violence.

These – and many others – are the images, memories and challenges that persist after 50 years of triumph, soul searching and grief.

But there are anomalies – small, telling wrinkles in what the war wrought – that, if not quite forgotten, have faded into the recesses of memory. They are worth reviving to deepen our understanding of an event that changed Jewish history.

For 20 years, Jews paid fees to a symbol of Palestinian pride.

In the wake of Jerusalem’s reunification, its mayor, Teddy Kollek, was faced with a dilemma: Jewish neighborhoods were sprouting up in the eastern part of the city. Any attempt to extend electricity to them from the electricity provider in Israel would likely elicit local and international protest because the world did not recognize Israel’s claims to the city.

Kollek’s solution: Allow the Palestinian-run Jerusalem District Electric Company, or JDEC, predating Israel’s establishment, to continue providing power in and around the Old City, including the new Jewish neighborhoods.

So until 1987, Jews living in the Old City and the new neighborhoods received electric bills that seemed a mirror image of their other utility bills: First the text was in Arabic, then in Hebrew.

The JDEC held exclusive rights to a radius of 50 kilometers, or 31 miles, around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Old City site believed to be the site of Jesus’ burial.

After 1948, Israel assumed responsibility for providing electricity to western Jerusalem.

The JDEC, which had become a symbol of Palestinian aspirations for independence, was helmed by Anwar Nusseibeh, the scion of an ancient Palestinian family.

According to the 1999 book “Separate and Unequal,” about relations between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, even after the JDEC’s limited capacities were exhausted by the rapidly expanding demand, Israeli authorities balked at extending the Israel Electric Corp.’s reach into eastern Jerusalem. Instead, the Israeli company sold capacity to the JDEC.

In December 1987, the government finally – quietly – shifted total responsibility for the Jewish neighborhoods to the Israeli company.

“Separate and Unequal,” penned by three Israelis – Amir Cheshin and Avi Melamed, two former municipality liaisons to the city’s Palestinian population, and journalist Bill Hutman – cited the conundrum as an example of the balancing act that Israeli officials had to perform: Maintaining a Jewish claim to the entire city, while at times deferring to Palestinian nationalism, in order to keep the peace.

“Israel could not expect to wipe out an important Palestinian national symbol without a reaction, possibly a severe reaction, from the Palestinian public,” they wrote.

The JDEC still exists, albeit providing electricity only to Palestinian residents.

King Hussein longed for peace — and liked his Israeli hardware.

King Hussein

King Hussein of Jordan at London Airport, May 4, 1964. (George Stroud/Express/Getty Images)

 

During most of his reign, King Hussein of Jordan sought a peaceful arrangement with Israel, taking a cue from his beloved grandfather, King Abdullah I, whom he saw assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951 because he was seeking peace with Israel.

Like his grandfather, he sought peace in secret but did not escape opprobrium – and was wary of meeting Abdullah’s fate. Hussein felt he had little choice but to join President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt in saber rattling against Israel in 1967 – Nasser, wildly popular in the Arab world, had already taunted the king as being subservient to Israel.

Moreover, Israel had humiliated Hussein a year earlier with a massive daylight raid into his territory to exact revenge for an attack carried out by Palestinian Fatah troops, who then operated with relative impunity from Jordanian soil.

According to historian Martin Gilbert’s “Jerusalem Illustrated History Atlas,” on June 4, 1967, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol relayed a message to Hussein: “We shall not initiate any action whatsoever against Jordan. However, should Jordan open hostilities, we shall react with all our might and (Hussein) will have to bear the full responsibility for all the consequences.”

At 8:30 a.m. the following day, Jordan started shelling western Jerusalem, and at 9:30 a.m., Hussein broadcast, “The hour of revenge has come.”

That kind of talk and the ensuing bloody battles — plus prior years that witnessed the destruction of Jewish properties in eastern Jerusalem and Hussein’s refusal for 19 years to allow Jewish access to the Western Wall — left some Israelis wondering whether Hussein truly sought peace.

The answers came over time – King Hussein drove Fatah out of Jordan in 1970 and in 1973 waited out the Yom Kippur War. In 1986, he came close to signing a peace deal with Israel.

In 1994, symbols bold and subtle made evident that Hussein had earned the trust of leading Israelis. The king was present at Israel’s Arava terminal when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed a peace treaty with his Jordanian counterpart, Abdelsalam al-Majali.

The next day Maariv, a newspaper then owned by the Nimrodi family, published a full-page photo captioned “1965, collection of Yaakov Nimrodi,” with no other comment. Nimrodi, the clan patriarch, was Israel’s leading private arms dealer.

In the photo, a smiling King Hussein is cradling an Israeli-manufactured Uzi submachine gun.

When did Israel unite Jerusalem? Did it unite Jerusalem?

Smoke rising from the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, June 1967. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

“The future belongs to the complete Jerusalem that shall never again be divided,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said two years ago on Jerusalem Day, which marks the Hebrew calendar anniversary of Israel’s capture of eastern Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

The adjectives vary – “complete,” “united,” “indivisible” — but the meaning is clear enough: Israel will never cede an inch of the Jerusalem it reunited.

Except when it formally reunited Jerusalem is not so clear: 1967? 1980? 2000? Ever?

On June 27, 1967, less than three weeks after the war’s end, Israel’s Knesset passed ordinances that allowed Israeli officials to extend Israeli law into areas of their designations. The next day, the Interior Ministry acted on those new ordinances, extending  Israeli law into the areas that now constitute the Jerusalem municipality. They included 28 Palestinian villages, the Old City and what had been defined by Jordan as municipal Jerusalem.

So, June 28, 1967, apparently is when Israel “united” Jerusalem. Except Ian Lustick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, published a widely cited paper in 1997 that showed unification was not necessarily the intention of the 1967 ordinances.

An Interior Ministry news release on June 28, 1967, said the “basic purpose” of its order was “to provide full municipal and social services to all inhabitants of the city.” Absent was any expression of political purpose.

Not long after, Abba Eban, then Israel’s foreign minister, told the United Nations that the ordinances had a practical, not a national consequence.

“The term ‘annexation’ is out of place,” he said. “The measures adopted related to the integration of Jerusalem in the administrative and municipal spheres and furnish a legal basis for the protection of the Holy Places.”

As Lustick noted, even within these parameters, anomalies persisted: For decades, Jordanian curricula prevailed in Palestinian schools in eastern Jerusalem.

In 1980, the Knesset passed a Basic Law – what passes in Israel for a constitution – declaring united Jerusalem to be Israeli. “The complete and united Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” it said.

But left out of the law was a definition of what constituted the “complete and united” Jerusalem. It took until 2000 for the Knesset to pass an amendment to the 1980 Basic Law specifying that Jerusalem was defined by the Interior Ministry order of June 28, 1967.

So was 2000 when Israel formally set down in law what constituted the united, indivisible, complete Jerusalem?

Not exactly, according to a Haaretz analysis in 2015, which said the 1980 law is essentially declarative: Nowhere does it include the words “annexation” or “sovereignty.”

Marshall Breger and Thomas Idinopulos, in a 1998 Washington Institute for Near East Policy tract, “Jerusalem’s Holy Places and the Peace Process,” suggest that these are distinctions without a difference and say that Israeli court decisions that treat eastern Jerusalem as essentially annexed should be determinative.

The first Jewish settlement in the captured territories

There are plenty of dramatic markers in the history of the return of Jews to the areas Israel captured in the Six-Day War:

The first homes reoccupied by Jews in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, in 1969; the Jews, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who moved into a Hebron hotel to mark Passover 1968 and would not leave until the government allowed them to establish the settlement that would become Kiryat Arba; the settlers who would not leave the area of Sebastia in the northern West Bank until the government in 1975 allowed them to establish Elon Moreh.

But the first settlement? That would be Merom Golan, a kibbutz originally named Kibbutz Golan, when Israelis quietly moved in on July 14, 1967, just over a month after the war.

Why the urgency? A clue is in who founded the kibbutz: Israelis from the eastern Galilee, who had suffered potshots and shelling from Syrian troops for years.

The Israeli attachment to the West Bank and to Jerusalem has been from the outset one defined by emotion, history and identity. Occupying and settling the Golan Heights — an area traditionally not defined as within the boundaries of the biblical Land of Israel — was seen as a matter of security and practical necessity: Israel, atop the Golan, was less vulnerable.

These days, Merom Golan is a resort.

That ancient church in Gaza? It was a synagogue.

The Western Wall, Qumran, Shiloh, King Herod’s tomb – the Six-Day War was a boon for historians seeking evidence of ancient Jewish settlement in the Holy Land.

Most of these sites are in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. But a team of archaeologists rushed to the Gaza Strip within weeks of its capture.

Why? In 1966, Egypt’s Department of Antiquities announced the discovery of what it said was an ancient church on Gaza’s coast. Examining the pictures in the Italian antiquities journal Orientala, Israeli archaeologists immediately understood it was no church – it was a synagogue.

Visible in one photograph was a Hebrew inscription, “David,” alongside a harpist – King David.

According to an article published in 1994 in Biblical Archaeology Review, by the time the Israelis reached it a year later, the David mosaic had been damaged – evidence perhaps that the Egyptians understood that the biblical king’s depiction validated claims of ancient Jewish settlement and sought to erase it.

They set about excavating the site, which turned out to be one of the largest Byzantine-era synagogues in the region.

At the foot of one mosaic they found the following inscription: “(We) Menahem and Yeshua, sons of the late Isai (Jesse), wood traders, as a sign of respect for a most holy place, donated this mosaic in the month of Louos (the year of) 569.”

The quiet reunifications

Israeli soldiers approaching the Dome on the Rock in Jerusalem, June 7, 1967. (Newsmakers/Getty Images)

 

This was the myth: Between 1949 and 1967, the heart of a city identified since the beginnings of history with the Jews had been made Judenrein.

The myth was largely based in fact, but there were exceptions: Every two weeks, a convoy of Israeli troops would travel through Jordanian Jerusalem to Mount Scopus, the Hebrew University campus that remained Israel’s as part of the 1949 armistice. Intrepid non-Israeli Jews occasionally passed through the Mandelbaum Gate, the gateway between Jordanian and Israeli Jerusalem. Muriel Spark, the Scottish novelist, captured the danger in such a crossing in her 1961 novel “The Mandelbaum Gate.”

And then there were stories like this one: In 1991, the building where I owned an apartment obtained permission from the municipality to add rooms and balconies. The contractor subcontracted some of the work. One day, a gregarious Palestinian subcontractor came by to measure my balcony for the railing he would build.

But the contractor disappeared just before completing the job. I paid others to complete the work and asked around for the number of the subcontractor.

He lived in Silwan, the ancient neighborhood abutting the Old City. I called.

A woman speaking fluent Hebrew answered; this in itself was striking. It was not unusual for Palestinian men, who worked throughout Israel, to speak Hebrew, but it was a rarity at the time to encounter a Hebrew-speaking Palestinian woman. Moreover, her Hebrew was unaccented and flawless.

She was the subcontractor’s mother. Of course he would come and install the railing, it was gathering dust in their yard, and he had forgotten my exact address, she said Not only that, but I wasn’t to pay him a shekel extra, he had been paid for his work and wouldn’t hear of it.

I couldn’t resist asking her to explain her Hebrew.

She was Jewish, born and raised in Jerusalem. She had married a Palestinian Muslim before independence. And she remained in Silwan after the war. Did she reunite with family? Yes, she said, immediately after the Six-Day War, but would not elaborate.

The subcontractor came by.

“I spoke to your mother,” I said.

“Yes,” he said and smiled.

I asked the neighbors who had used the same contractor, I asked other Jerusalemites, and no one expressed surprise.

They had heard similar stories of excommunication and then tentative reunification. How many were there? No one knew. No one compiled these stories. There was no shame to the phenomenon, but neither was there a celebration of it.

It seemed unresolved, like so much else about the Six-Day War.

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A group of Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall after it was recaptured in the Six-Day War. Photo by David Rubinger

Six-Day War: Voices after victory


Few wars fought on any soil have had as profound an impact as the Six-Day War, which began June 5, 1967. The Jewish Journal asked Jewish leaders and thinkers to assess the war’s aftermath 50 years later.

Six Days, Followed by 50 Years of Palestinian Posturing

The Six-Day War was a turning point. Until then, Arab leaders were all about avenging Palestine; the defeat in 1948 swept the old elites out of power and brought in younger ones from the military. They made Palestine the central issue — not to resolve it but to use it internally and in their rivalries with other Arab leaders to see who could dominate the Arab world. Pan-Arabism — one Arab nation — was the idiom, and Palestine was the vehicle around which it was built. That, for all practical purposes, ended after those six days in June 1967.

Dennis Ross

Palestinians, who had left their fate to the Arabs after 1948, now knew they could not count on them. Unfortunately, the Palestinian leaders — while claiming they now would assume responsibility for fulfilling national aspirations — found it easier to focus on symbols and not substance, rejection rather than reconciliation, and grievance rather than achievement. Even today, their tendency remains more a flag at the United Nations than state and institution-building. There are those like former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who recognize that the State of Palestine is far more likely to emerge when the rule of law becomes more important than seeking resolutions in international forums that deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

Israelis expected peace after the war. The Cabinet adopted a secret resolution on June 19, 1967, accepting withdrawal to the international border in return for peace with Egypt and Syria. More discussion was needed on the West Bank/Gaza. Israelis had not expected to be occupiers of what at that time were a million Arabs. The Oslo process was supposed to resolve the problem of occupation, but has not.

The challenge now — 50 years after 1967 — is for Israeli leaders to figure out how to avoid becoming a binational state when it is not clear that two states for two peoples can be negotiated, much less implemented, anytime soon.    

DENNIS ROSS is a former Middle East envoy and negotiator under four U.S. presidents.


From Auschwitz to Jerusalem and From Jerusalem to …

As the three-week buildup to the Six-Day War began, Jews sensed that Jewish life was again at risk, this time in the State of Israel. Once again, the world was turning its back. The United States would not come to Israel’s aid. The United Nations troops left.

Michael Berenbaum

A friend suggested that we bring the Israeli children to the U.S., where they would be safe. I decided that my place was to be in Israel. If the Jewish people were threatened, it was my fight, my responsibility. So instead of attending my college graduation ceremony, I left for Jerusalem. I was in the air when the June war began, and landed in Israel just in time to be in Jerusalem when the city was reunified.

I can still hear the words of the bus radio announcement as it was driving on old Highway 1: 

“An IDF (Israel Defense Forces) spokesman has said: The Old City is ours; I repeat the Old City is ours.”

I can still see the tears in the eyes of my fellow passengers as they embraced one another.

On the fifth day of the war, I went to Shabbat eve services and heard then-Israeli  President Zalman Shazar speak the words of “Lecha Dodi”: “ ‘Put on the clothes of your majesty, my people. … Wake up, arise.’ All my days I have prayed these words and now I have lived to see them.”

Never were those words more true. Never did they touch my soul more completely. I was a participant in Jewish history; I was at home in Jewish memory; I was embraced by Jewish triumph. However much skepticism — political and religious — has entered my understanding of that war and its consequences in the past 50 years, that moment is indelible in my soul and touched it, oh, so deeply.

My role in the war was anything but heroic. I organized a group of American volunteers to drive and work on garbage trucks. In that capacity, I helped clear the rubble of the war that divided Jerusalem at Jaffa Road and some of the stones from the homes demolished near the Wall. I was there on Shavuot when 100,000 Jews went to the Wall — under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 1,878 years — and women in miniskirts danced alongside Charedi men, each fully absorbed in the moment, oblivious to the incongruity of what they were doing.

And yet, looking back, I think we are still fighting the Six-Day War, now a 50-years war. The “victory” has lost its majesty and mystery, though not its necessity. Even without walls in the center of Jaffa Street, Jerusalem is a divided city, nationally, ethnically and religiously. Repeated triumphs have not yielded security. The Jewish narrative is anything but simple: From Auschwitz to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem of Gold to an earthly place divided and dividing. Time has made it more difficult to return to that heroic, miraculous moment -— more difficult but perhaps not less urgent.

MICHAEL BERENBAUM is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.


Following Maestro’s Advice Changed His Life

Both of my parents are seventh-generation Israelis. On June 3, 1967, I was in medical school in Philadelphia studying for my med boards when the Arabs were surrounding Israel, screaming for its destruction.

Howard Rosenman

I flew to Israel,  volunteered as an intern in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and was stationed in Gaza. On the morning of June 8, my commanding officer, who knew of my family — called “Vatikay Yerushalayim” (“The Ancients of Jerusalem”) — said, “Tzahal [the Hebrew acronym for the IDF] is about to recapture the Old City. Go up to Jerusalem.”

I was there when Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the shofar on Har ha’Bayit (the Temple Mount). It was the most important moment in my life.

I was then transferred to the Hadassah Medical Center, and Leonard Bernstein came to conduct Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” on the newly reconquered Har ha’Tzofim (Mount Scopus).

Bernstein came to visit the volunteers. “You look exactly like a waiter of mine at a discotheque in New York City,” he said to me.

“I am your waiter,” I answered. He immediately invited me to the concert.

Afterward, at the party at the King David Hotel, he offered me a “gofer” job on the documentary film of “the maestro” conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Judea and Samaria for the Tzahal, with Isaac Stern playing the violin. It was a war zone and you couldn’t go unless you got special clearance. 

Lenny encouraged me to leave medical school: “You are too good of a storyteller. Go into the arts. You will never bow to the Mistress of Science.”

Back in Philly, while assisting on an amputation, I decided to take a leave of absence. I called up Mr. Bernstein and told him, “I took your advice.”

Mr. Bernstein then introduced me to Katharine Hepburn, whose assistant I became on [the Broadway musical] “Coco,” and Stephen Sondheim … and my life was never the same again.

HOWARD ROSENMAN is a Hollywood producer.


An Unexpected Narrative

Eight years ago, I happened to be in Memphis, Tenn., where I visited the National Civil Rights Museum. The guided tour was led by an elderly gentleman, probably in his early 80s, who introduced himself as a civil rights activist and a personal friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sharon Nazarian

As he walked us through the museum, we arrived in the hall showcasing an actual Freedom Rider bus. He proceeded to share with us the story of young students bravely coming to Memphis, in racially mixed groups, to show solidarity with the civil rights movement.

Knowing that many of the courageous riders were Jewish students, I raised my hand to ask his perspective on the role of the American-Jewish community in the civil rights struggle.

His answer has plagued me to this day. He said that at the height of the civil rights battles, the Jewish community had stood side by side with the African-American community, that is, until the 1967 Six-Day War.

During and after the war, he said, the attention and passion of the Jewish community turned completely toward Israel and away from the equal rights struggle in the United States. He went on to say that he, along with the leadership of the civil rights movement, felt completely abandoned and forgotten and continue to feel that way to this day.

Although this was a narrative I had never heard before, it helped explain what may have been the beginning of the deep rift that has taken hold between the Jewish and Black communities in the U.S., as felt and viewed from the perspective of the African-American community. We are still realizing the ripple effects of those momentous six days; this is another ripple that continues to impact our community here in the U.S.

SHARON NAZARIAN is president of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation.


Millennials and the War

Jesse Gabriel

For my parents and many of their friends, the Six-Day War brings to mind David Rubinger’s iconic photograph of Israeli paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall, their hopeful young faces an indelible reminder of Israel’s miraculous military victory less than 25 years after the Holocaust. But for many millennials, the Six-Day War is not what comes to mind when they think about Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. On the contrary, my peers have tended to view Israel largely through the lens of more recent conflicts. As we tell Israel’s story on college campuses and to a new generation of U.S. policymakers, we should keep in mind that Israel’s incredible contributions to science and technology, its vibrant democracy and free press, and its commitment to treating victims of the Syrian civil war are likely to resonate more strongly than its struggle for survival in 1967.

JESSE GABRIEL is an attorney and board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.


Six-Day War: A Poem

Rabbi David Wolpe

The war
Became the wall.
But it was also
Families fleeing, fighters dying
Ghosts returning, rejoicing.
The city no longer a widow
The people no longer an orphan.
The tangle of promise and power
Tight as a schoolgirl’s braids.
And the Jews,
Bearing rifles and regulations
Dove deeper into history,
Brutal, fickle history,
Afraid
And unafraid.

RABBI DAVID WOLPE is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, D.C., on May 3. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Tillerson embraces Middle East linkage theory


Aboard Air Force One on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to embrace the linkage theory of Middle East peace, as he explained President Trump’s investment in relaunching direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. “He was putting a lot of pressure on them that it was time to get to the table,” Tillerson told reporters referencing the meetings the President had with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “We solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace dilemma, we start solving a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East region,” he explained.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

While Tillerson did not fully explain his comments, the mere suggestion that solving the Israeli-Palestinian is key to solving the broader problems of the Middle East in challenging violent extremism is “nonsensical,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Senior Fellow in the Center for Middle East policy at Brookings Institute. “I don’t see how resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict helps unwind the Syrian or Libyan civil wars, helps the Gulf states and Iran step back from a war in Yemen that is savaging the civilian population there, or helps defeat ISIS in Iraq or Syria or replace its rule with inclusive governance that will shut out extremists.”

Grant Rumley, an expert on Palestinian politics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Jewish Insider, “This type of language harkens back to the Bush administration era concept of ‘linkage,’ whereby solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would somehow unlock regional peace. I think time, and the Arab Spring, has largely debunked the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is somehow central to regional stability.”

At the same time, Rumley emphasized that there were some kernels of truth in Tillerson’s comments. “Certainly, one of the reasons the concept of an ‘outside-in’ approach has fallen out of favor with this White House is that Arab leaders have communicated their reticence to bring their covert relationships with Israel to light without advancement on the Palestinian front. So I do think there is a layer of truth here in that solving the ‘peace dilemma’ may give regional actors the ability to advance their relationships with Israel.”

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a statement after landing at Ben Gurion International Airport on May 22. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Netanyahu, a man in the middle, scrambles to give Trump a warm welcome


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did his best to give Donald Trump a warm welcome when he landed Monday at Ben Gurion Airport on his first trip abroad as U.S. president.

Netanyahu offered support for Trump’s stated aspiration to broker the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. But he also made clear his right-wing government has no plans to leave the West Bank anytime soon.

“Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians,” the Israeli leader said. “The peace we seek is a genuine one, in which the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel’s hands, and the conflict ends once and for all.”

Netanyahu has pushed his government to accommodate Trump both on his trip and in his effort to make an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But many Israeli ministers have signaled they are not willing to yield much more political ground.

Just getting all the ministers to show up at the airport for the welcoming ceremony reportedly took cajoling by Netanyahu. The prime minister had to angrily mandate attendance during the Cabinet meeting Sunday because several ministers had opted out upon learning they would not be included in the receiving line, according to Israeli media reports.

“It’s a four-hour wait, work hours, phone calls, mail, meetings. I have things to do in those four hours,” Culture Minister Miri Regev told Army Radio Monday ahead of Trump’s arrival. “To drag us there to stand as the scenery — that’s ugly. It’s beneath the dignity of the government of Israel and does not give any more respect to President Trump.”

In the end, Trump shook hands with all the ministers, as well as dozens of deputy ministers, religious leaders and the heads of the army, police and Mossad foreign intelligence service.

Several officials, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, urged Trump to break with decades of U.S. policy and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Under pressure from his political right, Netanyahu has insisted he is applying similar pressure. Last week he went as far as to release minutes from his February meeting at the White House that he claimed proved as much. But Netanyahu has made an effort to defer to Trump in a way he did not always with his predecessor, Barack Obama.

After the reported airport ultimatum Sunday, Netanyahu got the Cabinet to OK a raft of measures designed to signal goodwill to the Palestinians. They included the development of some West Bank industrial zones, opening the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan 24 hours a day and increasing building permits for Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full control. The Prime Minister’s Office later said the measures came at Trump’s request.

Also, in April, Netanyahu won Cabinet approval for new restrictions on settlement construction in a gesture to Trump. The vaguely formulated policy is to build new West Bank housing, whenever possible, in already built-up areas of settlements.

“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu explained to his ministers, according to Haaretz.

Right-wing members of the governing coalition, led by Bennett, have gone along with Netanyahu. But they have made clear that their loyalty has limits.

On Sunday, Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, both of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, voted against the measure to boost Palestinian building in Area C. Bennett, the party’s leader, told fellow ministers over the weekend that the move amounted to a de facto change in borders for which Israel would receive nothing in return, Army Radio reported.

Although Bennett was part of the unanimous Cabinet vote in April to restrict settlement building, he immediately criticized the policy. Several other right-wing members of the coalition, including Likud lawmaker Yehudah Glick, expressed concerns that it amounted to a settlement freeze.

Most of the fire has been directed at Netanyahu for allegedly failing to push a right-wing agenda hard enough. Attacking the United States is not considered good politics in Israel, and politicians who heaped praised on Trump in the wake of his election in November may be hesitant to turn against him. But the Trump administration has recently tried their patience, including by backing off the president’s campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Israel’s contested capital, Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv and by asking Israel to stop expanding settlements — if not to stop building them entirely.

When the White House released a pre-trip promotion video last week that featured a map of Israel without any of the territory Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War — the West Bank and the Golan Heights — Shaked told journalists, “I hope this is a matter of ignorance and not policy.”

Netanyahu will have a chance to explain his political situation to Trump in person when they meet in Jerusalem, first for work at the King David Hotel and later for dinner with their wives at the prime minister’s residence. How that will affect the speech Trump is slated to deliver at the Israel Museum on Tuesday remains to be seen.

But Bennett has promised to push ahead with a bill to annex Maale Adumim, a large settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem, after Trump leaves. Even Issac Herzog, the head of Israel’s political opposition and the chairman of the center-left Labor Party, visited the city last week in what he said was a symbol to Trump that it must ““remain under the sovereignty of Israel, as part of an agreement on Jerusalem that will remain a united city.”

President Donald Trump is flanked by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office of the White House on May 10. Photo by Russia Foreign Minister Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Trump blew it, big-league


The New York Times has a new feature called “Say Something Nice About Trump.”

Last week, I was all set to do so. As President Donald Trump was preparing to embark on his first official trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, I found myself thinking nice things. It occurred to me that on the Israel-Palestinian issue, Trump had come out of the gate in a far more effective way than his predecessors.

On May 8, for instance, I was on a phone call with Dennis Ross, the former United States ambassador who served four American presidents as a Middle East envoy and negotiator. And this is what Ross said: Donald Trump has a better chance than President Barack Obama did at making peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite Trump’s support from the anti-two-state-solution crowd, despite the fact Trump’s own ambassador to Israel called pro-two-state groups “worse than kapos,” Ross said Trump has handled the Middle East diplomatic dance better than Obama so far. He said Trump has impressed the Palestinian leadership, gained their trust. And he had the Israelis in his pocket.

For someone who has seen Trump as dangerous to Israel’s future and ill-informed on Middle East affairs, it was surreal —but heartening.

“What is going on,” Ross said of the president, “is he continues to emphasize that this is a deal he really wants to do. Only last week, he said he couldn’t think of a single reason why he can’t reach agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. I think what he meant by that, not that there weren’t differences, but that ultimately those differences shouldn’t prevent a deal. In any case, this is one of those challenges that is deeply rooted [for Trump]. What the president has done is make [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] more relevant, which is important at a time when he does not have a lot of popularity.”

Ross’ call, arranged by The Israel Project, came on the eve of Trump’s visit in Washington with Abbas. The remarkable part was that Ross outlined a clear way forward toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, out of the long and dangerous impasse between the sides. And the Moses who could lead them? Donald J. Trump.

Trump has leverage, Ross said. He is seen as someone who can deliver and, beyond that, someone who, unlike Obama, will exact a cost if he’s rejected. So Trump can make tough demands of Abbas, including ending payments to the families of terrorists, and — in private — can ask for difficult sacrifices from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I was listening, shaking my head, wondering if I had completely misjudged Trump when it comes to Middle East policy. Perhaps I had overestimated the hard-line attitude of his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Perhaps I hadn’t taken into account the moderating forces of Trump’s childhood friend, Ron Lauder.

But more likely, I had forgotten my cardinal rule for understanding Donald J. Trump: The man will say anything in a room to make a sale. Alec Baldwin is not Trump. Trump is Alec Baldwin — in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

“Because only one thing counts in this life!” Baldwin’s real estate huckster character says. “Get them to sign on the line which is dotted!”

To get elected, Trump had to appeal to evangelicals and pro-Israel hard-liners like Sheldon Adelson. But to sell a bigger deal as president, he has new constituencies. The Saudi vote isn’t big in Florida or Wisconsin, but it sure matters in the Middle East.

“The more the administration, the president and his representatives are dealing with the Arab leaders, the more what they’re hearing from them is they’re prepared to work with them,” Ross said. “But on [the Palestinian-Israeli] issue, they’re asking for a two-state outcome.”

So in the spirit of saying something nice about Trump, I was all set to assert that he would continue to confound the very people who trusted him to do exactly what hard-liners in Israel, and their American armchair Golanis, want him to do.

But then, Trump happened. That is, shortly before his trip abroad, the president gave sensitive intelligence information to the Russians, intelligence that was revealed to have come via Israel.

Here’s how bad this is: Israeli intelligence had somehow penetrated ISIS command well enough to get detailed knowledge of its upcoming terror attacks. Now those methods and sources are burned, thanks to the president of the United States. The fact that Russia can now discern the methods and sources for that intelligence and pass it on to their allies the Iranians, who can funnel it to Hezbollah, is a criminal act against Israel.

This disaster will shadow Trump’s trip, shuffle the equation in ways that are now impossible to imagine — even if no other shoes drop between now and when he touches down in Israel.

The evidence was building that Trump was not going to be the hand puppet Sheldon Adelson thought he bought Bibi for Chanukah. Now, flying across the Atlantic with a self-inflicted puncture to his competence and credibility, Trump needs Bibi more than ever to keep his credibility afloat.

A week ago, Trump was positioned perfectly to land in Israel and shake things up. Now he will arrive, shaken, weakened, vulnerable, neutered.

I tried so hard to say something nice. It’s still not the time. And there’s no one to blame but Donald Trump.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Daylight re-emerges in US-Israel relationship | Gulf States offer Israel stronger ties | Zomlot blames WINEP | Meet Chef Joshua Massin


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WSJ A1: “Gulf States Offer Better Relations If Israel Makes New Bid for Peace” by Jay Solomon, Gordon Lubold and Rory Jones: “Arab Gulf states have offered to take concrete steps to establish better relations with Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make a significant overture aimed at restarting the Middle East peace process… The potential steps include establishing direct telecommunications links with Israel, allowing overflight rights to Israeli aircraft, and lifting restrictions on some trade… The Gulf countries, in turn, would require Mr. Netanyahu to make what they would consider to be a peace overture to the Palestinians. Such steps could include stopping construction of settlements in certain areas of the West Bank and allowing freer trade into the Gaza Strip.” [WSJ]

–One pro-Israel reader emails us: “Wow! That’s a huge, huge win. Those are actually big concessions from the Arabs for relatively little. Seems like something has changed. Can you imagine the Arab states offering those concessions in exchange for mere goodwill gestures on peace in the past?”

HEARD YESTERDAY — Palestinian envoy blames Washington Institute for failed peace process — by Aaron Magid: Speaking at the National Press Club yesterday, Husam Zomlot, the PLO’s Chief Representative to the U.S., called out the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and blamed them for the stalled peace process. “They were a major reason why we failed. Major reason,” he said. “Because they have framed the agenda in a way that was exactly in the opposite direction of peace. An agenda that wanted to build and sustain a process that was designed to prevent the outcome.” [JewishInsider]

Rob Satloff, WINEP’s Executive Director, responds: “Given #PalestineAuthority’s record of rejecting peace deals, this critique is quite a compliment” [Twitter]

Signaling flexibility on the longstanding divide on refugees, Zomlot emphasized that “half of the issue” is Israeli “acknowledgment” of their role in the 1948 war. “The issue of refugees is made to be the mother of all issues and that it would actually be storming the state of Israel with demography. It’s not true. It’s my opinion as a refugee myself,” he explained. “Only one of these options include negotiating with Israel, which is to return to their actual homes. But, the other options do not involve Israel. Why should we wait?”

Zomlot cautioned regarding the White House’s Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy,“There is no approach: there is no mechanism. There is nothing by the way. We did not discuss or agree on exactly what would be the way forward.” Zumlot praised the American “deep state” as playing an important role in preserving core Palestinian positions in the period of initial uncertainty. [JewishInsider]

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION — Under Trump, Daylight Re-emerges in US-Israel Relationship — by Jacob Kornbluh: Just days before President Donald Trump’s first visit to Israel, the U.S.-Israel relationship is undergoing its first major crisis in the Trump era. Yesterday, in response to a Fox News report that Netanyahu told Trump not to move the embassy right away, the Prime Minister’s Office released partial transcripts of Netanyahu’s White House meeting. “The embassy – the PM supports moving it,” a summary of the Oval Office meeting read. During a working lunch at the White House, “the PM was asked about the embassy and explained [that moving it would not lead to bloodshed in the region, as some were trying to intimidate President Trump into believing.”

Visiting the Wall: According to a report by Israel’s Channel 2, the U.S. advance team rebuffed a request from Netanyahu’s team to accompany Trump while he visits the Western Wall. According to the report, the US team explained that the site is part of disputed territory in the West Bank and not under Israeli sovereignty. An official in Netanyahu’s office expressed “astonishment” over the comment. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel has contacted the administration to discuss the matter.

A White House spokesperson told us: “The comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the President.”

“I am very disappointed he hasn’t moved the embassy,” ZOA’s Mort Klein told Jewish Insider. “It’s a mistake. This harms President Trump’s credibility and if the Arabs don’t respect his credibility, it is more likely that they would be making impossible demands. The President is getting bad advice from some of his aides.” Klein said he’s worried about Tillerson, citing the current Secretary of State’s relationship with former Secretary of State James Baker. “I am concerned that Tillerson will begin to pressure Israel to take stands that they can’t take,” he said. “I am worried.” [JewishInsider] Israel wants White House to explain U.S. official’s Western Wall comment [Reuters]

What Trump is hearing regarding the embassy — by Jeremy Diamond and Elise Labott: “Some of Trump’s top advisers are urging him to make good on his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announce plans to move the embassy there during his visit next week, and Trump has yet to reach a decision, two White House officials confirmed… Officials are also considering a lesser announcement outlining a US vision for the future of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without taking any immediate action, designed to help Trump save face on his campaign pledge.” [CNN

Dore Gold, former MFA Director General and current President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, emails us… “The Prime Minister is right to push on Jerusalem. We are commemorating now the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. In the collective memory of this country, when the Arab armies invaded in 1948, they destroyed or desecrated 50 synagogues and yeshivot. The synagogue of the Ramban dated back to 1267 was obliterated The Jewish population was cleared out. In 1967 that historical injustice was corrected. Now that the administration is expressing strong determination to reach a final status deal, naturally Israelis are concerned about what happens to Jerusalem. This is a core value of national identity for Israelis which may not be fully appreciated by the outside world.”

DRIVING THE DAY: “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador” by Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe: “One day after dismissing Comey, Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak… into the Oval Office… Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft… Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner… Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.” [WashPost; BuzzFeed]

“Trump Revealed Highly Classified Intelligence to Russia, in Break With Ally, Officials Say” by Matthew Rosenberg and Eric Schmitt: “A Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information… Mr. Trump’s disclosure does not appear to have been illegal — the president has the power to declassify almost anything. But sharing the information without the express permission of the ally who provided it was a major breach of espionage etiquette, and could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship.” In fact, the ally has repeatedly warned American officials that it would cut off access to such sensitive information if it were shared too widely, the former official said.”

“Jared Kushner… signaled to people outside the White House that he was not closely involved. But internally, Mr. Kushner lashed out at Mr. Spicer, who has been the target of his ire over bad publicity for the president since Mr. Trump fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, last week.” [NYTimes]

HEARD LAST NIGHT — Prof. Alan Dershowitz on MSNBC’s For the Record with Greta: “Let’s take the following hypothetical: What if it was Israel who provided this intelligence because they have spies on the ground in Syria and within the terrorist organization. You have the information that gets to Russia, Russia sends it to Iran – they are allies when it comes to Syria – and Iran sends it to Hezbollah. This could be a real disaster especially on the eve of President Trump’s visit to Israel. I hope it’s not Israel and the information doesn’t get to Hezbollah.” [MSNBC]

Dershowitz on CNN’s Outfront: “This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States. Let’s not underestimate it… We may have to take emergency action.” [CNN]

Eliot A Cohen‏: “This is appalling. If accidental, it would be a firing offense for anyone else. If deliberate, it would be treason.” [Twitter] • Cohen in more than 140 characters: The Terrible Cost of Trump’s Disclosures [TheAtlantic]

“When the World Is Led by a Child” by David Brooks: “Mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom… From all we know so far, Trump didn’t do it because he is a Russian agent, or for any malevolent intent. He did it because he is sloppy, because he lacks all impulse control, and above all because he is a 7-year-old boy desperate for the approval of those he admires.” [NYTimes] • Eli Lake: Trump’s Best Defense on Russia Is Incompetence [Bloomberg]

DRIVING THE WEEK: “Trump will have to navigate diplomatic land mines abroad. Here’s how he’s preparing” by Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker: “As the White House was engulfed by a crisis of its own making — the abrupt firing of the FBI director — President Trump received an unlikely visitor: Henry Kissinger, the Republican Party’s leading elder statesman, who came to deliver a tutorial on foreign affairs last Wednesday… Kissinger was not alone. In the days leading up to Trump’s high-risk debut on the world stage… the Oval Office has morphed into a graduate seminar room, with a rotating roster of policy experts briefing the president… “He’s going to be in the spotlight, under the microscope, and for a lot of people in the world this will be a chance to see him ‘in action,’ ” said Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations… The process largely is being overseen by Jared Kushner… as well as [H.R.] McMaster and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell.” [WashPost]

THE MASADA SPEECH — “Netanyahu seeking to speak at Masada alongside Trump” by Raphael Ahren and Alexander Fulbright: “Netanyahu is looking to deliver a speech at Masada together with US President Donald Trump… However, the American delegation organizing Trump’s visit has expressed reservations about the idea, according to Hebrew media reports… The prime minister is currently set give a few short remarks introducing Trump at the Judean Desert fortress, according to Walla.”  [ToI

“Why Trump won’t be able to land helicopter on Masada” by Sharon Udasin:“The Americans will land in the Bar Yehuda landing strip,” Eitan Campbell, director of Masada National Park, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “They will go up to the mountain by cable car.” … In 2008, when president George W. Bush visited Masada, he took the cable car up to the mountain, which he then toured with prime minister Ehud Olmert… “When Clinton visited in 1998, he came up with the old cable car and walked up 100 steps,” Campbell told the Post. “George W. Bush came by the new cable car. We were saved the 100 steps.” [JPost]

FRIEDMAN ERA: “Controversial new US ambassador arrives in Israel” by AFP’s Mike Smith and Joe Dyke: “After his arrival in Tel Aviv, Friedman visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem, praying there and kissing the sacred site… Friedman, a frequent visitor to Jerusalem, did not comment to reporters, but did speak near the wall with Steven Tyler of American rock band Aerosmith, in town for a concert.” [DailyMail]

— Friedman in a recorded statement: “We’re a bit tired, but we wanted to come straight to the holiest place in the entire Jewish world, the ‘Kotel Hama’aravi,’ the Western Wall, so we straight came here. I had the opportunity to say some prayers… I prayed for the president, and I wished him success, especially on his upcoming trip. I hope we all wish him success. We hope it’s going to be an amazing trip.” [Video]

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed Ambassador Friedman today in Jerusalem. “It’s a pleasure to see you and to welcome you to Jerusalem, our eternal capital. I know you went to the Kotel [Western Wall]. It’s deeply appreciated by all our people,” Netanyahu told Friedman. “There was no other place to go,” the Ambassador responded. Netanyahu added, “It was a strong gesture of solidarity. We look forward to receiving President Trump and we want to work with you and with the President these coming years to strengthen our great alliance.” [Pic]

2020 WATCH: Happening today — The Center for American Progress is hosting a daylong “Ideas Conference” at the St. Regis hotel in Washington, DC. Speakers include Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA),  Governors Terry MacAuliffe (D-VA) and Steve Bullock (D-MT ); and former UN Ambassador Susan Rice. About half of the speakers are considered potential 2020 presidential candidates. [WashPost]

–Democrats divided on Bernie’s 2020 plans: “Many top Democrats are furious that Bernie Sanders appears to be running for president again, or at least planning to drag out his decision long enough to freeze the race around him.” [Politico]

ELECTION DAY TODAY: “Can the anti-Trump resistance take Philadelphia’s DA office?” by Alice Speri: “[Larry] Krasner’s run has electrified Philadelphia’s progressives and brought to the city the expertise and resources of national racial justice advocates as well as Bernie Sanders alumni… A lot of people have stacked their hopes in such an insurgency at the polls. Others, like billionaire George Soros, are investing more than hope. Soros has been injecting money into DA and sheriff races across the country and gave $1.45 million to a PAC supporting Krasner’s run in Philadelphia, raising some eyebrows among the candidate’s progressive base. “We can’t play by a different set of rules than our opponents because that’s how we have allowed the system to get rigged against us,” said Becky Bond, a former advisor to the Sanders campaign whose group is now working on Krasner’s campaign.” [TheIntercept

–Background: “Krasner says he inherited idealism and sense of justice from his parents. His father, a crime-fiction author, was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, and his mother was an evangelical Christian minister.” [PhillyJewishExponent]

TEHRAN WATCH: “Why I’m Rooting for the Hardliner in Iran’s Elections” by Elliott Abrams: “[Ibrahim] Raisi is the true face of the Islamic Republic, while Rouhani is a façade. Rouhani has shown himself powerless to effect any change in the regime’s conduct and his only role is to mislead the West into thinking “moderates” are in charge. We are far better off, as we were when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president, when there are no illusions about Iran’s regime and the men who lead it.” [Politico

** Good Tuesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Israel’s Economic Growth Slows as Business Investment Falls [Bloomberg] • Palestinian officials hope to launch e-currency in 5 years [Reuters; IBTimes] • Disney Chief Bob Iger Says Hackers Claim to Have Stolen Upcoming Movie [HollywoodReporter] • Real estate mogul Barry Sternlicht sees an ‘inverse Trump effect’ on the US economy [CNBC] • The 2017 Rich List of the World’s Top-Earning Hedge Fund Managers [IIAlpha] • Entrepreneurial Israeli couple starts two new businesses [Bizjournals] • CEO of Josh Kushner’s Oscar Health believes the U.S. has a moral obligation to provide healthcare to its citizens [TechCrunch]

LongRead: “The People’s Princess: Ivanka Trump is hard at work in Washington — but for whom?” by Caitlin Flanagan: “At her father’s side, Ivanka is a sort of human luxury brand, with her pale makeup and sleek golden hair, her expensive clothes and stiletto heels, her understated jewelry and her stilted, careful way of speaking. Her father stammers away, trying to find the right word and then giving up: “Jared is terrific, he’s … he’s … Jared is terrific!” Daughter pauses, scrolls through her private lexicon, and comes up with a slightly pumped-up version of the right word. She is never “aware” of something; she is “cognizant” of it. Nothing is “unusual”; it is always “unique.” Imagine how impressive this broad command of big-league words would seem to you if you could never manage to locate and deploy the right one yourself. To him, she is a kind of miracle.” [NYMag]

“Inside Corey Lewandowski’s Failed Romp in Trump’s Swamp” by Jason Zengerle: “His fate was apparently sealed when Lewandowski ran afoul of Jared Kushner. According to multiple sources, Lewandowski was discovered not only shopping damaging stories about Trump’s son-in-law to reporters, but also trying to keep Kushner from talking to higher-ups at the RNC. On a Sunday in mid-June—Father’s Day, in fact—Ivanka Trump reportedly insisted to her dad that he get rid of Lewandowski.” [GQ]

KAFE KNESSET — IBC opens with a scoop from Bennett — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The Israel Broadcasting Corporation, known as Kan, began airing TV and radio programming Monday. Kan opened with higher ratings that its predecessor, as people were eager to see if they would succeed and what things would look and sound like. On the first night of Kan’s main news broadcast, Bennett was asked if he would leave the coalition over corruption charges against Netanyahu. Bennett replied that it would depend on their severity – the first time any coalition partner said anything of that nature. The anchor of the 8 o’clock news, by the way, is Geula Even-Sa’ar, wife of former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, a possible successor to Netanyahu, who the prime minister is not particularly fond of. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

“Fading Netanyahu Will Be Dumped by Year’s End, Rival Lapid Says” by Michael Arnold and Jonathan Ferziger: “[Yair] Lapid says he expects the current government to last only through the end of the year. “I don’t see a lot of juice in this government,” Lapid, 53, said in an interview Monday… “Our assumption is the government will hold until the end of the year, and not longer.” Lapid also said he’s encouraged by U.S. President Donald Trump’s early efforts to resurrect peace negotiations with the Palestinians… The fact that Trump “wants to be proactive, that after a long time when nothing happens somebody’s trying to push some sort of an envelope, is a good sign,” Lapid said.” [Bloomberg]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Seth Rich, slain DNC staffer, had contact with WikiLeaks, say multiple sources” by Malia Zimmerman: “A federal investigator who reviewed an FBI forensic report detailing the contents of DNC staffer Seth Rich’s computer generated within 96 hours after his murder, said Rich made contact with Wikileaks through Gavin MacFadyen, a now-deceased American investigative reporter… The federal investigator, who requested anonymity, said 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments between Democratic National Committee leaders, spanning from January 2015 through late May 2016, were transferred from Rich to MacFadyen before May 21.” [FoxNews]

–BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith this morning: “Rich family knocks down last night’s story and PI who, they say, doesn’t speak for them and they don’t pay” [Twitter]

TRANSITION — Betsaida Alcantara has been named Vice President of Communications and Digital at the Anti-Defamation League. Betsaida served six years in the Obama Administration as a senior executive leading the communications teams for three large government agencies and on the Clinton/Kaine campaign. Todd Gutnick will now assume his role as Senior Director of Communications and Digital.

TALK OF OUR NATION: “Wow Air to Launch $149 Flights from New York to Tel Aviv” by Ryan Craggs: “Starting September 12, WOW air will begin service to Tel Aviv, flying to Israel four times weekly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays on the new Airbus A321 aircraft… WOW air CEO Skuli Mogensen made the announcement while on a visit to Israel, speaking alongside the country’s Minister of Transport, Yisrael Katz. Of course, the key part of the announcement for Americans looking to get to Israel on the cheap is Mogensen’s announced price points. As Jeruselem Online reports, flights will cost just $149 one-way from New York, Boston, Chicago, Toronto and Montreal; $199 from San Francisco and Los Angeles; and $99 from Iceland. “Our mission is to enable everyone to fly by offering the cheapest prices in Tel Aviv,” Mogensen said.” [CNTraveler]

“Can A New Airline Succeed Flying From The NYC Suburbs To Paris And Tel Aviv?” by Ted Reed: “In March 2018, US Global intends to begin Paris and Tel Aviv flights from Stewart International Airport, about 60 miles north of Manhattan. It would lease Boeing 767s from longtime aviation entrepreneur Connie Kalitta. [CEO Anthony] Koulouris said he is on the path to raising $50 million. The Federal Aviation Administration must certify airlines before they start to fly, evaluating both safety and financial fitness.” [Forbes]

“Brad Grey, who led Paramount Pictures for 12 years, dies at 59” by Ryan Faughnder and Daniel Miller: “Grey was hired by Tom Freston, then the CEO of parent company Viacom, to run Paramount in 2005, replacing Sherry Lansing… Grey developed a reputation as a survivor, leveraging close and often fruitful relationships with Hollywood heavyweights including Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese. He also tapped J.J. Abrams to reboot the valuable “Star Trek” franchise. “His genius at picking and identifying talent was unprecedented,” [Harevey] Weinstein said. Grey led Paramount’s acquisition of DreamWorks SKG, the studio created by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. He is also credited with securing a deal to release movies from Marvel Studios.” [LATimes]

DESSERT: “Is this man the most innovative kosher chef in the metropolitan area?” by Esther Davidowitz: “Joshua Massin, the chef and co-owner of kosher restaurant Nobo Wine and Grill in Teaneck, can vaguely remember what bacon tastes like. The once-secular, today-Orthodox Jewish cook also can recall somewhat the briny tang and slinky texture of oysters, the salty flavor and moist composition of ham and the sweet taste and creamy quality of sheep cheese — even though he hasn’t eaten those, or any other non-kosher foods, for nearly two decades, and won’t ever again. But Massin, who is 37 and lives in Teaneck, has on his menu: bacon, ham, oysters and even a ham-and-cheese dish, which he unhesitatingly and proudly offers to his overwhelmingly kosher diners…”

“To me the challenge isn’t kosher or not kosher,” he said recently, sitting in one of Nobo’s two dining rooms, wearing dark cargo pants, a black chef’s coat and a yarmulke. The room sports exposed brick walls, polished wood floors, and Chilewich-covered tables. “To me, the challenge is to run a really good non-kosher-style kosher restaurant.” In other words, Massin is determined to create dishes that would taste delicious whether the restaurant is kosher or not. “I look at kosher food as another flavor system,” he said,  “In Japanese cuisine, there’s no cream, no butter. In Caribbean cuisine you wouldn’t use blue cheese.” [NorthJersey]

BIRTHDAYS: Real estate developer and ‘mechuten’ of Donald Trump, Charles Kushner turns 63… Former CEO of Warner Music Group, Edgar Bronfman Jr. turns 62… President of Tribe Media, columnist for the Jewish Journal, David Suissa… Special Assistant to VPOTUS Walter Mondale (1977-1981), later Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (1989-1993), Bernard W. Aronson turns 71… Longest serving member of the New York State Assembly (46 years), his district includes portions of Midtown Manhattan and the Upper West Side, Richard N. Gottfried turns 70… Member of the House of Representatives since 2013, representing Florida’s 21st congressional district, previously Mayor of West Palm Beach (2003-2011), Lois Frankel turns 69… Harvard history professor, Emma Georgina Rothschild, a member of the Rothschild banking family of England, turns 69… Proto-punk singer, songwriter and guitarist, Jonathan Richman turns 63… Film and stage actress, noted for “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982) and “Terms of Endearment” (1983), Debra Winger turns 62… Real estate mogul and collector of modern and contemporary art, Aby J. Rosenturns 57… Social entrepreneur, independent scholar and local civic leader, earned a Ph.D in Religious Studies from UCSB, co-founder of non-profit Jumpstart, Jonathan Shawn Landres turns 45… Actress, television personality and author, Tori Spelling turns 44… Actor and Travel Channel personality, Adam Richman turns 43… Lake Worth, Florida resident, Harriet L. Caplan… Esther Bushey

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Under Trump, daylight re-emerges in US-Israel relationship


Just days before President Donald Trump’s first visit to Israel, the U.S.-Israel relationship is undergoing its first major crisis in the Trump era. ZOA’s Klein: “The President is getting bad advice.”

HOW IT STARTED: During a Sunday morning interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press, Tillerson said that any decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would not be made for some time, adding that it would take consultations with Israel and the Palestinians to see if the move would advance the peace process. “I think it’ll be informed, again, by the parties that are involved in those talks,” Tillerson said. “And most certainly Israel’s view on whether Israel views it as being helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Hours after the interview was broadcast, Netanyahu issued a rare statementresponding to Tillerson’s remarks. “Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem would not harm the peace process,” Netanyahu said. “On the contrary, it would advance it by correcting an historical injustice and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.” He repeated this statement at the weekly Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday.

DID BIBI ADVISE TRUMP AGAINST MOVING? On Monday, in response to a Fox News report that Netanyahu told Trump not to move the embassy right away, the Prime Minister’s Office released partial transcripts of Netanyahu’s White House meeting as proof that he had urged the President to move the embassy. “The embassy – the PM supports moving it,” a summary of the Oval Office meeting read. During a working lunch at the White House, “the PM was asked about the embassy and explained [that moving it would not lead to bloodshed in the region, as some were trying to intimidate President Trump into believing.”

The Prime Minister’s office also released a transcript of a meeting between Ambassador Ron Dermer and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn on January 16: “Dermer explained why moving the embassy would help advance peace and not the opposite. This would send the message that we are in Jerusalem to stay. Moving the embassy would force the other side to contend with the lie they’ve constructed – that Israel has no connection to Jerusalem – and will cause them to understand that Israel will be here forever with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Visiting the Wall: According to a report by Israel’s Channel 2, the U.S. advance team rebuffed a request from Netanyahu’s team to accompany Trump while he visits the Western Wall. According to the report, the US team explained that the site is part of disputed territory in the West Bank and not under Israeli sovereignty. An official in Netanyahu’s office expressed“astonishment” over the comment. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel has contacted the administration to discuss the matter.

REACTIONS: Abe Foxman, former National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), lambasted the White House for its “very serious misunderstandings” on sensitive and important issues to Israel and the Jewish people. “It makes many of us — who are hoping for a change in U.S.-Israel relations — nervous,” Foxman, the current Director of Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, told Jewish Insider. “I cannot believe that the traditionally pro-Palestinian functionaries in the American Consulate in Jerusalem are making the decisions on the Kotel and Jerusalem.”

The current CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, urged the White House to clarify its stance following the report. “The Kotel is 100% part of Israel and holy to Jews around [the] world,” Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.

“When a President or Prime Minister needs to put out record of a private conversation to defend themselves against the other or their domestic opposition, it’s not a good sign,” Aaron David Miller, Vice President for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told Jewish Insider. “Remember the agreement between these two [leaders] to manage differences by not going public?”

“Playing with the Jerusalem issue complicates not just the putative peace process, but everyone’s politics,” Miller explained. “If Trump wants to hang a ‘closed for the season’ sign on the peace process before it ever gets started, he should fool around with the Jerusalem issue.”

“The administration has boxed itself in by focusing on Jerusalem and not doing what every other administration (R or D) has done which is to punt the issue,” he added.

Dore Gold, former MFA Director General and current President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, defended Netanyahu’s action, saying the Prime Minister is right to push on Jerusalem as Israel commemorates the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. “Now that the administration is expressing strong determination to reach a final status deal, naturally Israelis are concerned about what happens to Jerusalem,” Gold said in an email. “This is a core value of national identity for Israelis which may not be fully appreciated by the outside world.”

Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who will be in Israel during Trump’s visit, was reportedly “furious” about Tillerson’s comments on the embassy. Mort Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), said on Monday that he is very disappointed with Trump’s handling of the issue. “I am very disappointed he hasn’t moved the embassy,” Klein told Jewish Insider in a phone interview. “It’s a mistake. This harms President Trump’s credibility and if the Arabs don’t respect his credibility, it is more likely that they would be making impossible demands.”

“The President is getting bad advice from some of his aides,” Klein continued. “All I say to his people is: the embassy hasn’t been moved for the 23 years since Oslo and you haven’t gotten peace. So the problem is obviously not moving the embassy to Jerusalem.” Klein elaborated that in recent meetings at the White House he told Trump aides, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, that “moving the embassy would make the Palestinians and the Arab world understand that Trump is serious and doing what’s right and that the jig is up.”

Klein said he’s worried about Tillerson citing the current Secretary of State’s relationship with former Secretary of State James Baker. “I am concerned that Tillerson will begin to pressure Israel to take stands that they can’t take,” he said. “I am worried.”

A White House spokesperson told Jewish Insider, “The comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the President.”

Lights of Israel #1 – Yemin Orde Youth Village and Abraham’s Orchard


So much of media attention about Israel focuses on the negative. But there is overwhelming creativity, productivity, and goodness occurring daily that the world just does not see.

I have led five congregational missions over the past eighteen years and introduced two hundred individuals to Israel so as to understand Israeli lives, dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

I returned this week from the latest such trip and in this and the following entries, I will tell stories of people and projects that moved us deeply. I express gratitude to everyone we met and ARZAWorld Travel (i.e. Daat Travel in Israel) whose staff worked with me in putting this special itinerary together.

Our concerns transcended politics, though we met members of the Knesset, journalists, scholars, and activists who spoke to us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Beyond them, we met leaders who are helping to create a shared society between Jews of all kinds and Israeli Jews and Israeli-Arabs. We visited schools for Jewish and Arab Israeli children studying together. We spent time with Orthodox women, Muslim Arabs, and Bedouin leaders striving to educate their community’s women so they can assume their rightful place in the workforce and lift them and their families out of poverty. We toured the seam-line on the Gaza border with kibbutzniks who have suffered thousands of mortar attacks. We met four extraordinary leaders of Israel’s Reform movement who are building communities all over the state and advocating a liberal, pluralistic, inclusive, and democratic society. We met with one significant Palestinian leader in Ramallah and with the head of the Yesha Council of Settlers over the Green Line in the occupied West Bank. We took a tour with the top expert in what is occurring in East Jerusalem.

To begin, in this blog I want to shine a light on two organizations that deeply inspired my group of synagogue leaders:

Yemin Orde Youth Village is located in the Carmel mountains and is named in memory of British Major General Orde Wingate who trained Palmach troops (the advanced striking force of the Haganah before the establishment of the State of Israel) including Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yigal Alon.

Established in 1953, Yemin Orde has welcomed thousands of children from North Africa, Iran, India, Yemen, Ethiopia, the nations of the former Soviet Union, Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine, and France.

Most of the children came to Israel on their own without family. Some are Israeli-born who grew up in tough drug-infected and violent neighborhoods in Tel Aviv and development towns. At Yemin Orde they learned that they could live differently. There they found a home and a family that cared about them and consequently have been able to chart their own positive and productive futures.

Yemin Orde graduates have succeeded in the elite units of the Israeli Defense Forces, as university graduates and leaders in hi-tech, as mayors of towns and villages and as  Members of the Knesset, in business, the arts, and education.

There are 465 students (ages between 14-18) living at Yemin Orde and the youth village has a waiting list of 100 children. The staff gives each child emotional and psychological support so they can build their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, achieve academically and be productive Israeli citizens and leaders.

Yemin Orde receives two-thirds of its budget from the Israeli government and the rest comes from foundations and individual fundraising.

The second is The Orchard of Abraham’s Children – I visited this Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian Nursery School (ages 2-6) in Jaffa in February 2016 and blogged about it then. See https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/the-orchard-of-abrahams-children-towards-the-creation-of-a-shared-society/.

The story of the beginnings of The Orchard of Abraham’s Children is among the most inspirational stories we heard. A fine fiction writer could not have made this up.

Ihab Balha (a 47-year-old Muslim Sufi Palestinian-Israeli) and his wife Ora (a mid-30s Israeli Jew) met in the Sinai, fell madly in love, married each other the next day, transformed their families, an entire community, and the future of thousands of Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Now in its 7th year, The Orchard has 80 Jewish and Palestinian children and families. (photo is of Ihab and Ora)

There are many more positive and uplifting stories to come. Stay tuned.

From left: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on May 3. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Peace process: Here we die again


It’s a good thing I’m not a diplomat working on the non-existent Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” a 25-year pipe dream that left the Emergency Room years ago for the coma unit. I mean, what would I tell my boss? Sorry, I can’t work on a project that is guaranteed to go nowhere and will only lead to more cynicism?

Luckily, I’m no diplomat, nor do I work at a think tank or organization that gets paid to show optimism. I can tell you exactly what I think.

And here’s what I think: I’ve been following the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since the Oslo days in the early 1990s, and I think it’s the biggest fake news in the world.

When I see President Trump get all excited about making “the ultimate deal,” I roll my eyes. All I see is another Western dreamer about to be sucked into the labyrinth of a Mideast bazaar, where a truth is only uttered by accident.

The prince of this peace bazaar is the formidable Mahmoud Abbas, the wily and duplicitous Palestinian leader who says with a straight face that he wants peace and a two-state solution. The fact that he has never actually put an offer on the table is an inconvenient detail. What matters is that he has evaded all responsibility and convinced the world that Israel is the real obstacle to peace.

The losing merchant in the bazaar is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who thinks he’s winning because he hasn’t yet given up anything. What Bibi doesn’t seem to fully appreciate is that as long as the world blames Israel for the conflict, he will remain the losing merchant.

And now, here comes the original artist of the deal, the leader of the free world who thinks he can pull off a miracle. “We will get this done,” President Trump has announced.

Caught up in his miracle deal, Trump barely noticed when Abbas showed up for an official visit at the White House and started seducing him. The shrewd Abbas brazenly lied that Palestinian society is being raised on a “culture of peace.” Instead of pushing back, the president kept pushing his dream, obviously ignoring bazaar rule #1: Never show your zeal to make a deal.

Now that Trump is hooked, Mahmoud Abbas will work his game. He will tantalize Trump with empty promises and pressure Bibi to deliver on concrete ones. He will put all the blame and responsibility on Israel. He will involve other players so he can hide behind them. In sum, he’ll do whatever he can to undermine the Jewish state and make Bibi sweat. That’s his game.

The dark secret of the conflict is that Abbas is perfectly happy not to resolve it. His nightmare is the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel, which would mean that the hated Zionist state would survive as a Jewish democracy. Why would a Palestinian leader ever want to rescue the Zionist project?

Abbas also knows that the “Israeli occupation” is his ATM machine. As long as it continues, he has the best of both worlds: He gets to bash Israel in global circles while the foreign aid keeps flowing into his bank accounts. And let’s remember this other detail: With Israel protecting the West Bank, Abbas never has to worry that Hamas and ISIS will swoop in and turn Ramallah into Aleppo.

Forget all the rational explanations you hear, such as, “The most Israel can offer is less than the Palestinians can accept.” That makes it look like a normal conflict where the parties are too far apart. It’s not about that. It’s about the unspoken reality that Palestinian leaders have enormous incentives NOT to separate from Israel, and no amount of Israeli concessions or peace processing will ever change that.

In other words, if separation from the Palestinians is your ideal endgame, forget about making a deal. The only chance of that happening is if Israel makes unilateral moves.

In the meantime, if Bibi is tired of seeing Israel get blamed for the conflict, there is one move he can make: When he meets with Trump in Israel next week, he could say: “Mr. President, Israel has made several offers in the past to end the conflict. To show us that he is serious about peace, it’s time for Mr. Abbas to do the same. When you see him, please ask him to stop funding terrorism and promoting Jew-hatred, and ask him to present you with a specific proposal to end the conflict once and for all.”

Will Abbas do it? Never. Not because he can’t, but because he doesn’t want to. Bibi knows that. He should make sure Trump and the rest of the world know it, too.

R.B. Kitaj, Arabs and Jews (Jerusalem), 1985. Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art. Copyright R.B. Kitaj Estate.

The importance of learning the other’s past


The recent commemoration of Israeli independence brings us back to 1948, when Jewish and then Israeli forces battled with local and then regional Arab forces over the future of Palestine after Britain’s surrender of its mandate. It is not difficult to understand the high level of motivation of Jewish soldiers to secure a safe haven for their people a mere three years after the second world war. Nor is it difficult to understand the sense of jubilation, often verging on the messianic, that Jews in that country and beyond felt at the attainment of statehood. To gain sovereignty in the ancestral homeland after 2,000 years of dispersion — and especially after the murder of nearly one-third of the Jewish people — was a historic achievement by any measure.

By the same token, it is understandable why Palestinian Arabs regarded 1948 not as a year of liberation but as the “catastrophe,” as the Syrian scholar Constantine Zurayk dubbed it (using the Arabic word “Nakba”). They were repeatedly bewildered and agitated — first, by the arrival of the initial waves of Zionist settlers in the 1880s, then by the seeming favoritism shown to the Zionists by the British in the Balfour Declaration, and finally by the United Nations Partition Plan that granted 55 percent of the land to the Jews, who represented one-third of the population of Palestine. The flight and expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs in the midst of the armed hostilities of 1948 seared a sense of injury onto the Palestinian psyche that has not healed to this day.

The difficulty in assessing these two perspectives on history is that they both contain a great deal of truth. It would be easy if we could assert that one of these narratives meets the standards of historical veracity and the other does not. Many partisans on both sides of the conflict make this facile claim, resting content in the self-assurance of their own story. It is far more difficult to hold on to complexity.  What do we do when there are not only competing narratives at work, but competing truths in which are embedded competing rights? How do we reconcile them? 

This is a serious educational, as well as ethical, challenge. A pair of courageous researchers have grappled with this problem for decades. Sami Adwan, a Palestinian scholar of education who teaches at Hebron University, joined forces with Dan Bar-On, an Israeli psychologist at Tel Aviv University who died in 2008, to think past the zero-sum game of historical narratives according to which my story of the past is true and yours is false. For too long, they maintained, Palestinians taught a self-satisfying and heroic account of their past to their children, ignoring or denigrating the Israeli story; but Israelis did a similar thing with their children, neglecting or distorting the depiction of Palestinians.

In a 2013 study sponsored by the U.S. State Department, the joint research team surveyed hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks. While finding little evidence of dire demonization by either side, they concluded that both groups offered “negative descriptions and lack of information about the other’s history, religions, culture and sufferings.” 

As an antidote to this tendency, Adwan and his Israeli colleagues (Bar-On and later Dan Bar-Tal and Eyal Naveh from Tel Aviv University) developed an alternative: a dual-narrative approach that places Israeli and Palestinian versions not in isolation from one another but in juxtaposition. They did so in a volume titled “Side by Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine,” as well as in an experimental school curriculum available in Hebrew, Arabic and English called “Leaning Each Other’s Historical Narrative.” Adwan and his colleagues worked over the years with Israeli and Palestinian teachers who were willing to test this new approach, refining and improving the curriculum, though rarely with the support of either the Israeli or Palestinian ministries of education.

What do we do when there are not only competing narratives at work, but competing truths in which are embedded competing rights? How do we reconcile them? 

It may well be that such a dual-narrative approach will not be the prime catalyst to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians. But it also may be that a meaningful peace will not be achieved in the absence of some serious degree of historical recognition of the other.  Scholars and activists have come to understand that in post-conflict situations (such as Northern Ireland and the Balkans), it is highly desirable to undo opposing groups’ negative views of the other by revising the way in which they present history.   

There is much work to be done in this regard: more innovation in pedagogy, curriculum development and scholarship. With that need in mind, UCLA is sponsoring a conference, which I organized, featuring Adwan on May 18-19 titled “Learning the Other’s Past” to consider questions relating to history, education and a dual-narrative approach in Israel and Palestine. With scholars and teachers from Israel, the Palestinian territories and the United States participating, the focus is designed to help generate a pedagogical roadmap for the next generation of educators and historians engaged in this important work. 

Children are not born with hatred in their hearts. It is parents and teachers who have the greatest power to guide them one way or another. Efforts like the Adwan/Bar-On initiative provide both with an important educational tool to overcome historical ignorance and distortion on the path to a better understanding of the other.   

For more information about the “Learning the Other’s Past” at UCLA, visit this story at international.ucla.edu.


David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA and the author of “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction” (Oxford, 2017).

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Donald Trump at he White House on May 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Toward a renewed Middle East peace process


Momentum is building toward resumption of the dormant Middle East peace process. The efforts by presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt, the successful visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House last week, and President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank all signal that, for now, the Trump administration is serious about promoting peace. Can it succeed where others have failed?

Optimists believe things could be different this time around. An alignment of interests between Israel and key Arab Sunni states seeking to contain Iran’s regional ambitions and to confront Islamic extremism has made these countries ready to embrace ways to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict behind them. Pessimists warn, however, that except for the new U.S. administration, not much has changed.

The truth is probably in the middle. A changing regional setting coupled with a renewed interest in the conflict on the part of an unconventional U.S. president could open a window of opportunity. But rather than overpromising to achieve the ultimate deal, a promise that would likely backfire, the administration could take concrete steps that might pave the way toward resumption of an earnest peace process. Here are four steps that could help get there:

• The president could state a clear vision, while setting realistic benchmarks, and remain committed for the long haul. Speaking generally about “peace” and implying indifference between the two-state and one-state options may suffice for first meetings, but the Trump administration could articulate that in the absence of another feasible option, it is committed to a two-state solution that allows the peaceful existence of a Jewish democratic Israel alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state.

But promising to end the conflict in an unrealistic time frame could dim the chances for success. In this part of the world, when it’s all or nothing, it usually is nothing. It would make more sense to move forward with concrete measures and achievable goals to gradually help set the stage for a two-state solution.

In addition, Greenblatt is perceived in the region as directly executing the president’s wishes. This credibility could be crucial for regional leaders.

• Second, the administration could promote a three-pronged approach combining bilateral, multilateral and unilateral processes. Traditionally, the U.S. role in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts focused on bringing the two sides to the negotiation table hoping that with a little help, they would reach a peace deal. Focusing solely on a bilateral approach has not worked before and it is unlikely to work now.

In parallel to resuming peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the U.S. could promote a multilateral approach by bringing in the Arab Sunni states to help back the Palestinians and incentivize Israel. Unilateral independent steps could include pushing Israeli and Palestinian leaders on issues that are hard for them politically at home.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move to curb settlement construction in the West Bank is a welcome start, but Israel could be encouraged to do more to rein in settlement expansion.

While too sensitive to push for during a highly publicized hunger strike of Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons, the Palestinian Authority (PA) could be prodded to stop generously paying prisoners convicted of terrorism. This could send an important signal to Israel and to the world that the Palestinians are serious about peace.

  • Third, the U.S. could continue efforts to stabilize the Gaza Strip, while at the same time seeking to help strengthen the PA. The Gaza Strip is on the verge of collapse and the winds of war are blowing again between Israel and Hamas. This administration has been following the footsteps of its predecessor in an attempt to stabilize Gaza. Building on these efforts, Trump could use his leverage to coordinate with Israel and push the Gulf States — maybe during his visit to Saudi Arabia before he heads to Israel — to follow through on their pledges to help stabilize Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move to curb settlement construction in the West Bank is a welcome start, but Israel could be encouraged to do more to rein in settlement expansion.

Efforts also could focus on providing Gaza’s residents with clean drinking water, proper sanitation, a regular supply of electricity and improved freedom of movement for people and goods. It is crucial, though, that efforts in Gaza do not bolster Hamas at the expense of the PA.

Trump gave a much needed boost to the weak PA by meeting with Abbas, calling it an “honor,” tweeting about the meeting and not asking Abbas publicly to make any compromises.

• Finally, the administration could sign the waiver forestalling the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem so close to the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War could shatter any chance of peace and risk plunging Jerusalem and the whole region into turmoil.

Such steps may not bring about the ultimate deal. Despite regional dynamics and a new energy from the White House there are still plenty of obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Without a clear, consistent plan that delivers quick, tangible results to both Israelis and Palestinians and helps restore trust between the two sides, the newly created window opportunity to addressing this conflict will close again.


Shira Efron is a policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp., a special adviser on Israel with Rand’s Center for Middle East Public Policy and a professor at the Pardee Rand Graduate School.

An Israeli prison guard escorts jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, middle, to a deliberation at Jerusalem Magistrate's court on Jan. 25, 2012. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Cookies for Barghouti; Crumbs for Palestinian people


Hunger strikes usually conjure up images of a united front of beleaguered campaigners for a just cause led by a heroic, larger-than-life leader.

Rarely however, does the mastermind behind a 1,000-strong hunger strikers get caught stuffing his face.

Now some Palestinians are left hungering for some truth.

Marwan Barghouti — the self-promoted reincarnation of Nelson Mandela — and a convicted murderer, recently called on Palestinians in Israeli prisons to join him in a hunger strike for better conditions. Only problem is a video showing Barghouti “eating two cookies and a candy bar in the toilet stall of his cell. The video shows Barghouti appearing to try to hide the evidence by flushing the wrapper down the toilet.”

Once a self-declared “peace advocate,” Barghouti turned mastermind of Intifada suicide bombing attacks against Israel. Barghouti was sentenced to fifteen years in jail on five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Just as he sent suicide bombers out to die during 2002-2005 while remaining safely behind the scenes, he now munches on cookies and, in the words of Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, while he “urged his fellow prisoners to strike [against prison conditions] and suffer while he ate behind their back.”

It is this Cookie Monster of Palestinian Murder Incorporated who, from behind bars, plots the destruction of democratic Israel while the Palestinian man and woman in the street, beggared by the pervasive corruption of the Palestinian Authority, struggle to survive on the crumbs.

Barghouti’s shameful, murderous hypocrisy is also reflected in another member of the Barghouti clan, Omar, who founded the so-called BDS (Anti-Israel) boycott of Israel. Never designed to help a single Palestinian, its goal is to use “soft power” to demonize and cripple the Jewish state. Among their main “victories”, forcing Sodastream to close its factory built past the 1967 Green Line. As a result, Palestinian workers who were paid equal salaries as their Jewish co-workers, lost their ability to sustain their families. Recently arrested for tax evasion, he was allowed to travel to Yale to pick up the Gandhi Peace Prize!

Hate, hypocrisy, terrorism, and corruption of their leaders only delay and derail the hope of Palestinians for a bright future.

Instead of leading boycotts of Israelis, Palestinians should have attended the recent. 2017 Milken Global Conference. There a panel which included renowned venture capitalist and former UC Regent Chair Richard C. Blum, a Rwandan businesswomen-activist Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, Angela Homsi, Director of Angaza-Africa Impact Innovation Fund, joined with Jeremy Bentley, Head of Financial Institutions and Public Sector, Citi Israel, and other Israeli hi-tech innovators to discuss visionary but practical projects. Among the ideas discussed were using drones to overcome the infrastructure deficit across the developing world, foster new technologies to enable nations to meet sustainable development and climate goals, and jump-starting business startups across Africa.

Don’t look for purported “next generation” Palestinian leaders like the Barghoutis to embrace the true path towards peace and statehood. So long as there are millions pouring from the UN, governments, and NGOs that help sustain the bigotry, corruption and terrorism, Palestinians thirsting for opportunity in the here-and-now are having to forge their own path to a brighter and more prosperous future.

Let us hope that the new leaders of the United Nations, Secretary General Antonio Guterrez and US President Donald Trump will lead the way by halting the funding of fraudsters, bigots, and murderers, and instead begin to invest in all those interested in real peace.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman is a historian and consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference following the talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on May 3. Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters

Turkey’s Erdogan accuses Israel of massacring Palestinians


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “massacres” against the Palestinians and chided the international community for its silence.

Erdogan made his comments on Monday at the Al-Quds Forum in Istanbul, a two-day international event that brings together representatives of foundations, experts, academics, ministers and high-ranking officials from around the world to discuss the state of Muslim heritage in Jerusalem.

Speaking of Israel, the Turkish leader was quoted as saying in the Istanbul-based Daily Sabah newspaper, “They feel they are immune to any punishment for their crimes, but the international community needs to stand up against them. It is impossible to establish peace in the region if the international law remains indifferent to massacres and cruelty.”

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to Erdogan’s comments in a statement issued on Monday night.

“Those who systematically violate human rights in their own country should not preach to the only true democracy in the region,” the statement said. “Israel consistently protects total freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians – and will continue to do so despite the baseless slander launched against it.”

Also at the forum, Erdogan called on Turks to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque often to protect its Muslim identity.

“Turkey attaches great importance to the justified resistance of the Palestinians and will not yield to Israeli attempts to change the status quo in the Al-Aqsa mosque,” Erdogan said. “We as Muslims should visit the Al-Aqsa mosque more often; every day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us.”

The mosque, under the control of the Muslim Waqf, is located in Jerusalem on what Jews call the Temple Mount.

Erdogan also criticized a bill being considered in Israel that would limit the volume of the Muslim call to prayer.

“It is disgraceful for those who lecture us about the freedom of religion to turn a blind eye to this attempt. Turkey will not let these attempts against freedom of belief [prevail],” Erdogan said. “Why are they afraid of the call to prayer? Are they unsure of their own fate? We do not and will not treat our Jewish citizens like that.”

President Donald Trump giving a joint statement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on May 3, 2017. Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Trump removes tweet saying it was an ‘honor’ to host Abbas


President Donald Trump deleted a tweet in which he said it was an “an honor” to host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House a day after the two leaders met.

The tweet, which also included video from the two leaders’ meeting, was gone on Thursday, 13 hours after it was originally posted, according to ProPublica, which tracks the president’s deleted tweets.

After meeting with Abbas, Trump wrote on Twitter: “An honor to host President Mahmoud Abbas at the WH today. Hopefully something terrific could come out of it between the Palestinians & Israel.”

At the meeting, Trump said he was optimistic that he could pull off the deal for Israeli-Palestinian peace that has frustrated at least four of his predecessors, with the most recent collapse of talks in 2014 followed by a war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“We will get it done, we will be working so hard to get it done,” the U.S. leader said.

He did not address — at least in the public portion of the meeting — a demand by Netanyahu that Abbas stop Palestinian Authority payments to families of terrorists killed or jailed by Israel. Trump did, however, call on Abbas to address incitement.

“There can be no lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violence and hate, there’s such hatred, but hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long,” the president said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas deliver a statement at the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The new messiah and the old cynic: Notes on the Trump-Abbas meeting


1.

President Donald Trump believes that bringing about peace between Israel and the Palestinians “is frankly maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.” At least that’s what he said yesterday, when he was meeting with Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. And he is right, of course: It is not difficult. If only the Palestinians accept what Israel offers – or if Israel agrees to what the Palestinians demand – a peace agreement could be signed.

It is interesting to contrast the upbeat optimism of Trump with the somber pessimism of the people involved in this process. When Israelis were asked in April by the IDI “Do you believe or not believe that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will lead in the coming years to peace between Israel and the Palestinians?” less than a quarter of them said they “moderately” or “strongly” believe that peace is coming.

So maybe Trump knows something they don’t know (that’s possible, something might be happening that is still a secret). Or he might understand something that they don’t understand (because they are stuck in the past and he is the future). Or maybe it is all a game of make believe. Or maybe he is just being clueless – a clueless president with an ego to match.

2.

Trump presented no plan for peace yesterday – at least not to the public. Maybe a not-so-difficult peace doesn’t even necessitate a plan, maybe the details are left for others, or maybe he was presenting a plan to Abbas behind closed doors. But more likely: Trump is the plan. Trump believes that him being there, instead of his incapable predecessors, will be enough to make a difference. Trump assumes that his deal-maker persona will be enough to broker a deal that has eluded Israelis and many of their neighbors for more than a century.

Does he remind you of someone?  Perhaps one of his predecessors? Perhaps his immediate predecessor?

For one to become the president of the United States, one must have a large ego – one must hold to the belief that one’s personality and leadership skills can bring about change. So the fact that Trump has an ego – and that President Obama had an ego – is not a condemnable offense. An ego becomes problematic when it prevents a president from also being realistic. When it is so large that it blocks the view. When Obama believed that the force of his personality could change realities that had eluded his predecessors for so many years, his critics called him messianic. This is not a bad description for a president who not only believes in bringing about a peace agreement but also believes that thanks to his not-yet-clear policies “hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long.”

3.

The president said: “any agreement cannot be imposed by the United States, or by any other nation.” This is what Israel wants to hear. Because the Palestinians surely cannot force Israel to agree to their demands.

The President said: “We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done. It’s been a long time, but we will be working diligently. And I think there’s a very, very good chance, and I think you feel the same way.” The Palestinian leadership hopes that if Trump truly wants it Israel will be hesitant to stand in his way. On the other hand, if it’s not so difficult – why the need to work so hard?

The president called the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin “a courageous peacemaker.” That’s interesting. Most Israelis believe that the deal Rabin signed was a mistake. He was indeed a courageous leader, but the deal was a mistake. Making him the model to look up to was an interesting choice for Trump and his team. And I assume it was not an accidental choice.

4.

President Abbas did not show any sign of readiness to moderate his positions. “Our strategic choice is to bring about peace based on the vision of the two-state – a Palestinian state with its capital of East Jerusalem that lives in peace and stability with the state of Israel based on the borders of 1967.” Or maybe he did. By saying “based on” the 1967 line – namely, by agreeing to show some flexibility about the line. Or by saying “I also believe that we will be able to resolve the issue of the refugees and the issue of the prisoners” and hinting that he is ready to accept a creative formula for the refugees other than the nonstarter “right of return.”

Abbas – like Netanyahu – does not really know what President Trump wants and how high on his agenda the Israeli-Palestinian issue is going to be. He is playing for time. Trying not to contradict or annoy the president, trying to take advantage of this ego of his. Abbas is no less of a cynic about the American effort than most Israelis. But he is no less cautious about revealing his cynicism than their leaders.

5.

The President does not have a plan that we can talk about – he did not even say the words “Palestinian State” – so his ultimate goal is an agreed-upon solution. Agreed upon by whom? By Israel and the Palestinians. And what if they disagree, as they are likely to? The President says a solution cannot be imposed on them.

Something’s got to give.

Either the president is serious about his no-imposition policy. In such case, the most likely outcome of the current process is neglect.

Or he is serious about having an agreement. In such case he will have to apply pressure – namely, to impose his prescribed ideas on one or both parties.

 

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on May 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump, Abbas link renewed peace talks to countering Islamic State


President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would help bring about the defeat of the Islamic State terrorist group.

“I know President Abbas has spoken out against ISIS” and other terrorist groups, Trump said Wednesday at a White House ceremony welcoming Abbas, using one of several acronyms for the Islamic State. “We must continue to build our partnerships with the Palestinians’ security forces to counter and defeat terrorism.”

Abbas said a final status agreement that included a two-state solution would help defeat the terrorist threat scourging Israel’s Arab neighbors.

“For us to bring about a comprehensive and just peace based on the two-state solution, such matter would give a great impetus to the Arab Peace Initiative and the other international initiatives, as well as be able to fight and deter terrorism and to fight the criminal ISIS group … which has nothing to do with our noble religion,” he said.

The Arab Peace Initiative refers to the 2002 proposal by Saudi Arabia to trade an Israeli-Palestinian settlement based on the 1967 borders for a comprehensive Israeli peace with most of its Arab neighbors.

Trump, with the encouragement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has embraced the concept of a broader peace that encompasses both the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors, partly as a means to better confront the threats posed by the Islamic State as well as Iran.

The U.S. leader said he was optimistic that he could pull off the deal that has frustrated at least four of his predecessors, with the most recent collapse of talks in 2014 followed by the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“We will get it done, we will be working so hard to get it done,” Trump said.

Abbas’ remarks Wednesday underscored key differences, however. Netanyahu has not embraced the Arab Peace Initiative, in part because of the breadth of its compromise, based on the 1967 lines. Abbas said the 1967 lines remained the predicate for a peace deal. Abbas’ explicit citation of the two-state solution also suggests a nuanced difference with Trump, who has retreated from 15 years of U.S. policy favoring the two-state outcome.

Trump praised Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, which the United States helps fund.

“They get along unbelievably well,” he said. “I was very impressed and somewhat surprised at how well they get along.”

Trump did not address — at least in the public portion of the meeting — a demand by Netanyahu that Abbas stop Palestinian Authority payments to families of terrorists killed or jailed by Israel. He did call on Abbas to address incitement.

“There can be no lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violence and hate, there’s such hatred, but hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long,” he said.

Abbas said his government was teaching its young people peace.

“We are raising our youth, our children and our grandchildren, on a culture of peace,” he said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on April 19, 2016. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Abbas’ meeting with Trump may be his chance to shine. Does he have what it takes?


President Donald Trump wants a deal with Israel and the Palestinians. The Israeli and Palestinian leaders say they want Trump to make the deal.

What could go wrong?

For all the good cheer guaranteed when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets Wednesday with Trump at the White House, it’s a question that’s going to be hanging over the proceedings, not least because of Abbas and whether he is able to make good on any deal.

“There is a huge question of who the Palestinian leadership is, can Abbas deliver? “ said Tareq Baconi, a fellow with Al-Shabaka, a Palestinian think tank and advocacy network. “The Palestinian Authority is suffering a crisis of legitimacy that is only becoming more acute with time.”

Abbas, 82, was elected in 2005 to a four-year term but has yet to step down. Now he is facing increasing restiveness. His Palestinian Authority controls only the West Bank, while his rival, Hamas, controls the Gaza Strip.

Abbas’ rivals appear to be positioning themselves to challenge his leadership. Hamas issued a new charter this week that tones down its rejectionism of the peace process and divorces itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, an apparent bid to cultivate the moderate Arab states that have backed Abbas.

Within Abbas’ Fatah party, Marwan Barghouti, serving life sentences for ordering terrorist murders during the second intifada, is leading a hunger strike in the prisons, coming across as more proactive behind Israeli bars than Abbas is as president.

Abbas is “coming and he wants to show he remains a player,” said Dennis Ross, a veteran Middle East peace negotiator under Republican and Democratic presidents.

“He has been weakened,” said Ross, a Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow speaking on a press call organized by The Israel Project. “What the president has done is make him seem more important again.”

The dynamic that plagued the last round of talks – the profound distrust between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that helped scuttle the Obama administration’s pass at peacemaking in 2014 – has not gone anywhere.

“Netanyahu and Abbas won’t happen by themselves,” said Eyal Ben-Reuven, a Knesset member for the opposition Zionist Union and a member of the parliament’s Foreign Relations and Security Committee. “You can sit Abbas and Netanyahu across from each other for a month, nothing will happen.”

Ben-Reuven, who was in Washington hosted by J Street and meeting with Congress members, said he was encouraged by indications that Trump wants a comprehensive peace deal involving other Arab nations.

“There is an international dimension, but it must be led by the United States,” he said.

Yet Abbas seems determined to seize the Trump moment with a vigor he has not displayed in years. Abbas, who since the collapse of the 2014 talks has attached preconditions to any renewal – principally, a demand for a settlement freeze – reversed course last month and said he is ready to meet with Netanyahu under Trump’s auspices.

“There is a real opportunity to make peace, and the international community should reinforce this opportunity and not miss it, because the region is in a state of boiling, and the occupation cannot continue in any way,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said Monday in a release posted on Wafa, the official Palestinian news wire.

For his part Trump, mired in domestic policy frustrations, appears ready to plow ahead full steam.

“The president’s ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday at the daily briefing for reporters. “That’s obviously the goal in the discussions he has with the head of the Palestinian Authority, that’s going to be a relationship that he continues to work on and build, with the ultimate goal that there is peace in that region between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Ori Nir, the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now and formerly a reporter who covered Israel and the Palestinians for decades, said expectations for now should not be too high.

“This is an introductory meeting, a getting-to-know-you for both leaders, so I would advise against expectations for dramatic developments,” he said. “Trump could use the meeting to help empower Abbas, and the Palestinian leader, who will undoubtedly come to Washington with a list of requests, should be ready for some gestures that demonstrate his commitment to diplomacy and peace.”

Left open is whether Trump will reassert a commitment to the two-state solution, which Abbas emphatically favors. In his February meeting with Netanyahu, Trump was agnostic. Right-wing Republicans and some Israeli Cabinet ministers to Netanyahu’s right favor Israel’s annexation of portions of the West Bank.

Trump is scheduled to visit Israel later in May for what the Israeli media have said will be “advanced talks.” It’s not known yet whether he will also meet with Abbas at that time.

Abbas has named a new envoy to Washington, Husam Zomlot, who has gone on a charm offensive, inviting Jewish leaders – including some from right-of-center groups who have been sharp critics of the Palestinian Authority – to a gala reception on Wednesday evening, after the Trump-Abbas summit.

Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has written extensively about the Palestinians, said Abbas had little to lose by cultivating Trump – for now. Playing along increases pressure on Netanyahu to make concessions.

“If Abbas agrees to move forward and engage in bilateral diplomacy under U.S. leadership, it all comes down to Bibi,” Schanzer said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

It’s not clear, though, what concessions Trump wants or will be able to extract from either side. Spicer said the White House “continues to have discussions” with Netanyahu about settlements. Trump has asked Netanyahu to slow – but not stop – settlement building as a means of reviving the peace talks.

Netanyahu, meantime, has challenged Abbas to stop payment of subsidies to families of terrorists killed or jailed by Israel. Republicans in Congress want to condition funding to the Palestinian Authority on Abbas cutting off the “martyr” funds.

It’s not clear whether Trump would back such a move. Notably, the State Department is contemplating substantial cuts in assistance to the vast majority of countries funded until now – except for the Palestinian Authority, which is in for a slight increase.

Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s point man in the region trying to revive talks, is emphasizing economic recovery for the Palestinians as a building block to restarting talks; a threat of a cut in assistance could be counterproductive.

Still, an offer from Abbas to cut the assistance to the terrorists’ families could be a productive way to launch the talks, said Ross, who also advised coupling it with a recognition of the Jewish national movement – short of the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state Netanyahu demands, but enough to show good will.

“Trump has leverage” to extract those concessions, said Ross, who knows Abbas personally and uses his nickname, Abu Mazen. “The leverage he has is he can give Abu Mazen relevance at a time he desperately needs it.”

Schanzer said ending the payments to the terrorists’ families could be too steep a political price for Abbas to pay, but he was sending other signals that he was ready to stop funding terrorists – for instance, in cutting funds to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Baconi said any concessions extracted from Abbas would have to be coupled with concrete concessions from Israel in order not to backfire and further decrease Abbas’ credibility among Palestinians, who see the United States as historically favoring Israel and sanctioning its settlement expansion.

He noted that Netanyahu already seemed emboldened by the friendlier relationship he had with Trump. In his February White House news conference with the president, Netanyahu laid down a precondition of Israel maintaining security control of the entire West Bank as part of a final status agreement. That isn’t new a position for him; what was new was advancing it in the presence of a U.S. president who did not object.

“Netanyahu was able to put forward a framework far beyond anything other presidents have accepted,” Baconi said.

Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo by Reuters

What to expect from the Trump-Abbas meeting


After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s high-profile visit to the White House in February, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will have his turn to forge a relationship with the new US President this week. However, with few detailed statements by Washington or Ramallah regarding the upcoming meeting, Middle East analysts emphasize the importance of holding the meeting itself so early in Trump’s presidency.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“I think a reaffirmation of the Trump administration’s intention of re-engaging seriously with an issue that the Obama administration gave up on and that few people expected the Trump administration to engage seriously with. This is all surprising and good,” Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington told Jewish Insider. “During the campaign, many people thought it would be difficult for this administration to form a mutually respectful relationship with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. I think they have done that in short order in a very pragmatic and impressive way. On the other hand, going beyond that to the stage to find some sort of workable formula to move the parties forward, that is a whole other story.”

Aaron David Miller, former Middle East peace negotiator during the Clinton and Bush administrations, noted the mutual interests of the U.S. and Palestinian leaders this week. “Both Trump and Abbas need — and will have — a successful meeting — Abbas to maintain his relevance and Trump to at least maintain the illusion that he’ll broker the “‘ultimate deal” between Israel and Palestinians,” he said. Given the President’s upcoming visit to Israel next month, the Abbas visit takes on extra importance to prepare for a possible trilateral meeting with Netanyahu, Miller added.

At the same time, some experts caution about a possible clash between the US and Palestinian leaders. “If you go back to the Presidential primary campaign where he talked about some of his opponents as weak. That’s the question he’s going to need to decide after he meets Abbas,” explained Elliott Abrams, Deputy National Security Advisor during the George W. Bush administration. “Is he a person strong enough to actually deliver a comprehensive peace agreement? I think the personal aspect of this is going to be significant.“

In an interview with Reuters last week, Trump expressed his strong desire to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. “I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump stated. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever.”

Grant Rumley, an expert in Palestinian politics at the Foundation of Defense for Democracies, argued that there is a disconnect for what the Palestinian Authority and the Trump administration envision out of this new relationship. “Trump wants the deal. Abbas wants peace talks and the process of peace talks: photo opps in the White House, in large part out of domestic consideration. Nobody can challenge Abbas’ relevancy at home if he is in the White House with Trump and Kushner, meeting with Tillerson in Europe,” Rumley noted. “Both sides are destined for a collision at some point unless something changes because they want different things.”

Ibish emphasized that without addressing the core political disputes between Palestinians and Israelis, the Trump administration will have a difficult time making genuine progress. “(Jason) Greenblatt by all accounts has been pursuing economic initiatives that would bring short term relief to the Palestinians on the West Bank. That is a very good place to start, but eventually it only goes so far,” he asserted.

Eyes in Jerusalem will certainly be focused on Trump’s meeting with Abbas. “If there are public statements by the President that are very complimentary of Abbas, it will annoy the Israelis,” said Abrams. “Because, what is the record here? He said no to a generous offer by Olmert. He said no to Kerry and Obama, So, there is no particular reason why he should get lots of compliments without his commitment to a peace agreement. And if there is a lot of flowery language, the Israelis are going to ask, what is going on?”

The issue of Palestinian payment of stipends to families of terrorists will be on the top of the wish list of many in the pro-Israel community, Rumley noted, “They will want the administration to really hammer Abbas with that (payment of terrorist families). The question will be how will Abbas respond. When I bring that up in conversation with folks, they usually defer to: ‘if we don’t pay the prisoners, Hamas will or maybe even Iran.’ That is their defense but that dog ain’t going to hunt with this administration and Congress.”

Palestinian members of Hamas's armed wing senior militant in Gaza City on March 25. Photo by Mohammed Salem

Hamas reportedly will remove goal of destroying Israel from new policy document


Hamas will remove its goal of destroying Israel from a new policy document.

The Palestinian terrorist organization’s document is expected to be released Monday, Reuters reported, citing Gulf Arab sources. It will also drop Hamas’ association with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The new statement of policy is believed to be designed to improve relations with Gulf Arab States and Egypt. Most Arab Gulf states consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization; most Western countries have similarly labeled Hamas.

Hamas reportedly also will agree to a “transitional” Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. The document will still deny Israel’s right to exist and call for “armed struggle” against Israel, Reuters reported.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. Its 1988 charter calls for Israel’s destruction.

The document is being released two days before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet President Donald Trump at the White House.

A Palestinian boy surveying the damage at a home in the West Bank village of Duma burned by Jewish extremists on Aug. 6, 2015. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90

Palestinian boy, 6, won’t get compensation for attack attributed to Jewish arsonists


A 6-year-old Palestinian boy whose parents and brother were killed in an arson attack on their West Bank home is not eligible for compensation given to terror victims, Israel’s defense minister said.

Avigdor Lieberman offered the official response in a letter Sunday to Arab Joint List lawmaker Yousef Jabareen, who had asked why the child, Ahmed Dawabshe, had not received money from the state.

Liberman said the boy, who is in the care of his grandparents, does not qualify as a terror victim, that the law does not apply to Palestinians and that there was no request on file for such compensation.

Right-wing Jewish extremists were indicted in the July 2015 firebombing in the Palestinian village of Duma in the northern West Bank.

Jabareen said the family will take the issue of compensation to court.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meeting with Jason Greenblatt, U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy, at the Arab League Summit in Amman, Jordan, on March 28.

Trump’s State Dept. budget gives the Palestinians a slight increase amid major cuts elsewhere


Assistance to the Palestinians is one of the few areas that will remain untouched in the Trump administrations plans for massive cuts at the State Department.

Foreign Policy magazine on Monday posted 15 pages of proposed cuts it obtained as part of the Trump administration’s plan to roll the U.S. Agency for International Development into the State Department. The vast majority of aid programs are to be cut and some are to be eliminated.

Aid to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, however, will increase slightly, from $205.5 million to $215 million.

It’s not clear why the Palestinians benefit, but Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s envoy to the region, has made economic stimulus in the Palestinian areas a key component of efforts to create the climate for renewed peace talks.

Republicans in Congress want to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority because it continues to pay out compensation to the families of slain or jailed terrorists. The funds proposed by the State Department, however, could conceivably be earmarked for programs that bypass the Palestinian Authority. Overall, Palestinians receive about $500 million annually from the United States.

Egypt and Jordan both stand to lose economic assistance under the proposed cuts – Egypt’s funds would be slashed almost in half, and Jordan would lose a fifth. The economic aid is separate from the defense assistance to these countries, which is administered by the Pentagon. Both nations receive assistance as part of peace deals signed with Israel and brokered by the United States.

Israel has not received economic assistance since the 1990s, when both sides determined that it was no longer a developing nation.

The Trump administration earlier this year said it wanted to slash State Department funding overall by nearly a third, but did not offer details.

Congress is likely to resist the cuts. Key Republicans in both chambers have said that development aid is a key element of a preventative defense in keeping other countries stable.

From left: Jibril Rajoub, Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, DF Brigadier General (Res.) Michael Herzog, and moderator Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Center for ME policy at Brookings

We need to ‘seize opportunity’ with Trump, Palestinian official says


Conditions are ripe for a regional peace initiative given President Donald Trump’s interest in achieving a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians with the backing of Arab countries, says IDF Brigadier General (Res.) Michael Herzog, who was involved in every round of negotiations since the Oslo Accords, including in the years 2013-2014 on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

During a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Jibril Rajoub, Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, hosted by the Israel Policy Forum in New York on Wednesday, Herzog said that one of the reasons the most recent regional peace initiative (in 2016) fell apart was because the Obama administration didn’t want to be part of it. “I think they did not believe that this would yield results. To my knowledge, both sides – the Israelis and Palestinians – did not trust the [Obama] Administration to be the leading part of that initiative and the administration didn’t want to be part of it,” he explained.

The principles of the initiative were agreed upon during a secret peace summit between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Aqaba, according to a report by Haaretz. The proposal later served as a basis for talks between Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog on joining a national unity government. As reported by Haaretz, the plan was laid to rest after the coalition talks fell through in late 2016.

During Netanyahu’s meeting with President Trump in February, the two leaders agreed on reviving that plan with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf region.

“This administration is willing to involve the region in the peace process,” said Herzog. “I still don’t know how they are going to design the process. I don’t know if they have a strategy yet. We just have to wait and see. But it’s clearly a priority for this administration.”

Following a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan on Wednesday, Trump said, “I’m working very, very hard on trying to finally create peace between the Palestinians and Israel, and I think we’ll be successful,” The President called Abdullah a “tireless advocate” for a peace settlement “and he’s going to help me with that and help me at the highest level. And we will be consulting with him closely in the days ahead.”

Rajoub, after expressing regret at some of his past statements and promising to be more cautious in the future, agreed that the Palestinians need to “seize this opportunity” with the Trump Administration to renew peace talks. Asked if the Palestinians would agree to enter into negotiations without a full settlement freeze, Rajoub told Jewish Insider, “The settlements, believe me, brother, its existence is a threat to the state of Israel. We are talking about two states – with two territories. Why expand it? Listen, I think it’s the time to freeze all settlement activities. Believe me, it’s a benefit to the Israelis like it’s a benefit to the Palestinians.”

According to Herzog, Trump has leverage on the Palestinian Authority to bring them to the negotiation table if Israel follows through with the new policy restraint in settlement activity. “I think the Palestinians will demand a freeze,” Herzog told Jewish Insider after the event. “However,  I believe that if the Trump Administration pushes them to enter negotiations even with Israel just restraining settlement activity, I don’t think they have an alternative. I do think Trump has leverage over them. You don’t want to mess with him. And since he prioritizes the peace process and wants a deal, he has leverage on them. They will have to do with some kind of restraint, and if he pressed them they will follow.”

Israeli security forces and emergency personnel inspect the scene of a Palestinian car ramming attack near the Jewish settlement of Ofra near the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 6. Photo by Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Israeli soldier, 20, killed in suspected West Bank car-ramming attack


An Israeli soldier was killed and a second injured in a suspected car-ramming attack in the central West Bank.

Sgt. Elhai Teharlev, 20, from the West Bank settlement of Talmon, was killed in the attack Wednesday morning at a bus stop near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, located northeast of Ramallah. He served in the elite Golani Brigade.

The Palestinian driver of the vehicle, a silver Audi, was apprehended by other soldiers on the scene and detained. He was identified by the Palestinian Maan news agency as Malek Ahmad Moussa Hamed, 23, from the village of Silwad near Ramallah.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin mourned the soldier’s death.

“We have lost today a dear son, Elhai Teharlev, in the State of Israel’s ongoing struggle to ensure its security, and safeguard its citizens,” Rivlin said in a statement. “We will never allow terror to weaken us. Israeli society is strong, and we must stand firm in defense of our state and our land.”

Hamas praised the attack, calling it “a response to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people and a direct continuation of its heroism in the al-Quds Intifada,” the wave of violence, mostly stabbing and car-ramming attacks, that started in October 2015.

Tough love for David Suissa


This past week, David Suissa penned an article that misrepresented our movement, as well as the American Jewish community.

We, IfNotNow, compose a community that is motivated by Jewish traditions of fearless questioning and an uncompromising pursuit of tikkun olam. It is not, as Mr. Suissa articulated, the desire to “look like an anti-establishment rebel,” that motivates us; rather, it is the values of love and justice that inform our movement.

Our upbringings, grounded deeply in Jewish ethics, have prepared us for this moment in history, as the first year of a Trump presidency converges with the fiftieth year of an Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

In what one might term “tough love” for Suissa’s piece, Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman correctly declares that, “the occupation has twisted our communal soul.” Now, especially, is the time for bold opposition to hate-filled politics. Yet so many of our communal institutions, including AIPAC, have demonstrated the ease with which the pro-Israel establishment can be swayed by fearmongering tactics and Islamophobic sentiments. At last year’s AIPAC policy conference, Donald Trump’s speech – characterizing Palestinian society as bloodthirsty and anti-Semitic – was given a standing ovation by the majority of those in the room. Since then, AIPAC has continually failed to condemn the policies and rhetoric of Trump and his administration – policies that encourage racism, sexism, and even anti-Semitism – in the name of unconditionally rewarding those who promote the right-wing, pro-Israel party line.

Just as importantly, an unquestioning antipathy towards communities who criticize Israel is placing our communal institutions on the wrong side of history. Their pro-Israel criterion has not only prompted hostility towards disapproving members in the Jewish community, but also of other marginalized communities. One need not look farther than Mr. Suissa’s own track record to see this trend. Long before he appealed to the Jewish community to give IfNotNow a dose of “tough love,” Suissa called for, among others, “Tough Love for Islam,” “Tough Love for Black Lives Matter,” and “Tough Love for Obama.”

Not only do Suissa’s calls for “tough love” mischaracterize and dismiss communities, movements, and figures, but they also indulge in blatant bigotry. They minimize the struggle of communities who experience daily mistreatment by illustrating a world in which the oppressed are coddled. Suissa’s article advocating that the Jewish community “offer [Black Lives Matter] some tough love and constructive criticism,” for example, completely diminishes the often-violent sacrifices protesters make in order to bring attention to a dire reality. He also suggests that the difficulties faced by the Jewish community are equivalent to those faced by the black community — they are not.

Suissa asserts that Jewish organizations, out of fear of “losing” young Jews critical of Israel, are handling them with “kid gloves.” But one must ask: who is, in fact, doing this? Hillel at Ohio State has disbanded its Jewish LGBT support group because it participated in an event alongside Jewish Voice for Peace. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations refused to admit J Street, an explicitly pro-Israel organization that supports a two-state solution.

In Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, AIPAC ensured the arrest of seven IfNotNow members for occupying its lobby. Many IfNotNow members have family who will not speak to them because of their work in our movement. Each of our members – many of whom love the country deeply and have family there –  risks a refusal of entry into Israel. We are regularly shouted at, told that we aren’t Jewish, or that we’re kapos. With such rhetoric, it is no surprise that the Jewish Defense League, a right-wing terrorist organization, attacked IfNotNow demonstrators and a Palestinian man during a peaceful action at AIPAC last week. So, we must ask again: who is handling us with “kid gloves?”

Suissa argued that our last action in Los Angeles simplified the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He will get no argument from us when he says that it is complicated. Even now, Israel just approved the first settlement construction in the West Bank in over twenty years.

Every day that Israel denies Palestinians basic rights and freedoms is another day it cannot hope for any sort of security or an improvement in international standing. And, even more importantly, the chance of reaching a just and peaceful resolution grows increasingly slim.

We are under no illusions that ending the occupation will be easy. It is not “social justice on demand”; it will involve considerable risk. But the current methods by which alleged security is held in place are unacceptable, and we, as American Jews who are implicated in this violence, must work to end it.

In the face of this issue’s complexity, we ask a simple question – a question that our communal institutions have failed to answer for too long: Do we, as a community, believe that all peoples deserve freedom and dignity?

If the answer is yes, then we can no longer afford to advocate solely for ourselves. We cannot accept the vindication of a bigoted, xenophobic, and delusional leader based solely on his proclaimed support for Israeli policies. It is engrained in our Jewish heritage to stand with people in need. Will our communal institutions use their power to stand with those most targeted by a Trump administration? By a Netanyahu administration?

We reimagine an American Jewish community that fights for dignity and freedom for all, even if it goes against the policies of a particular Israeli government. We are building a community that is no longer complicit in upholding a system of violence against Palestinians. Mr. Suissa, join us!

The authors are members of IfNotNow.

David Suissa responds:

I stand by every word I wrote. By blaming only Israel for the absence of peace, the movement IfNotNow (INN) hurts peace. By ignoring Palestinian refusals to end the occupation, Palestinian teaching of Jew-hatred and Palestinian glorifying of terrorism, INN hurts Palestinians. And by ignoring the reality that Hamas and ISIS are likely to swoop in and massacre Palestinians after Israel leaves the West Bank, INN is dumbing down a complicated conflict. The community conversation is much healthier when everyone is challenged. Just as INN is free to challenge AIPAC and other groups, they should have no problem getting the same treatment. As they write, it’s the “Jewish tradition of fearless questioning.”