U.S. President Donald Trump (R) acknowledges Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Trump-Netanyahu meeting: Tell me what you heard from Trump, and I will tell you what you want


1.

Donald Trump is a political Rorschach test. His press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu was a Rorschach test.

He killed the two-state solution and buried it, the panelist sitting next to me in a TV studio, a former Israel Knesset Member of the right, concluded.

He asked Netanyahu to restrain settlements, declared the main headline of Haaretz daily.

Trump was speaking, we were all listening, we were all hearing what we wanted to hear.

The president is personally committed to peace. He knows that both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, will have to make compromises. Sounds like Barack Obama in disguise.

The president has no special attachment to the two state solution. He is willing to consider other options. Sounds like Israeli Minister Naftali Bennet.

Tell me what you heard from Trump, and I will tell you what you want.

2.

Still, some things are worthy of attention. The first of which: Trump promised nothing. He did not promise to move an embassy to Jerusalem, nor did he promise to do something about Iran that his predecessor did not do. Yes, he said he will do whatever he can to stop Iran from having nuclear weapons. Go to the archive: there are many such statements by Obama. In fact, Obama even claimed to have achieved this goal by signing an agreement that both Trump and Netanyahu believe is far from satisfactory.

There were many platitudes in the press conference, and the leaders’ body language was relaxed. But what about substance?

The truth is simple: On substance, the dovish camp won with “hold back on settlements.” On nuance, the hawkish camp won with no mention of the two state solution.

3.

Netanyahu can now come back and tell his more hawkish coalition allies: we have to restrain settlement activity.

His coalition allies, dizzy from celebrating the unmentioned two state solution, might listen, or might realize that they were manipulated.

4.

Trump is wiser than Obama when it comes to dealing with Israel.

Obama began his relations with Israel by being critical, and by making demands. Trump is making similar demands – restrain settlements – he professes similar ambitions – bring about peace. But he manages to do all of this without alienating Israel. Count it as an achievement.

5.

I wrote an article last week about Trump, anti-Semitism in America, and Israel’s response to it. I wrote, sometimes Israel is willing to turn “a blind eye to anti-Semitism in exchange for political support. Sometimes this means ignoring the trivialization of Jewish deaths in the Holocaust… Israel sometimes agreed to help other countries and parties whitewash their images. It’s often a trade: We, Israel, will get what we need in the form of money or arms or political support. You will get the right to showcase Israel as proof that you aren’t an anti-Semite”.

I do not disagree with Netanyahu’s strong response to the question about anti-Semitism in America this evening: “There is no greater supporter for the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump. We should put that to rest”, he said.

I agree, and also think it proves my point.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking to the media in Berlin, Germany on June 29, 2015. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Germany says trust in Israel ‘shaken’ by legalization of West Bank settlements on Palestinian land


Germany condemned a controversial new Israeli law that retroactively legalizes settler homes built on private Palestinian land.

Berlin said Wednesday that the “regulations law” undermines trust in Israel’s seriousness about reaching a compromise with the Palestinians.

“Many in Germany who stand by Israel and feel great commitment toward it find themselves deeply disappointed by this move,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement. “Our trust in the Israeli government’s commitment to the two-state solution has been fundamentally shaken.”

The law, which the Knesset passed in a raucous late-night session Monday, allows the state to seize private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built, as long as the settlers were not aware of the status of the land. In cases where the landowners are known, they are entitled to compensation.

Censure of the law has come from governments around the world, including the United Nations, the European Union, France, Britain, Turkey, Jordan and the Palestinians. The United States has refused to comment. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that it “will be obviously a topic of discussion” when President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet later this month.

Most of Israel’s political opposition and even members of the governing coalition oppose the legislation. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said he would not defend it before the Supreme Court. It was the first time that an Israeli attorney general has made such a refusal, legal experts told JTA.

“In view of the many reservations which the Israeli attorney general, among others, has affirmed once more, it would be good if the bill could soon undergo a critical legal review,” the German statement said. “We hope and expect that the Israeli government will renew its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and underpin this with practical steps.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose Jewish Home party was the law’s staunchest supporter, is meeting Wednesday with her German counterpart, Heiko Maas.

The assembly hall of the Knesset on Oct. 31, 2016. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Knesset passes historic bill to legalize settlements on Palestinian land


The Israeli parliament passed a bill that would retroactively legalize some West Bank settlements built on private Palestinian land.

Knesset lawmakers voted 60-52 in favor of the measure late Monday to legalize some 4,000 settler homes.

The law, which prevents the government from demolishing the homes, comes less than a week after police forcibly evacuated the Amona outpost. It represents the first time the government has tried to implement Israeli law in Area C, part of the West Bank that is under Israeli civilian and military rule, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Knesset member Shuli Muallem-Refaeli of the pro-settler Jewish Home party said Monday that the bill was “dedicated to the brave people of Amona who were forced to go through what no Jewish family will have to again,” The Times of Israel reported.

The bill has drawn sharp condemnation. Leaders of the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid, the second and fourth largest parties in the Knesset, respectively, both warned against its passage.

Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has said the bill violates local and international law and would likely be overturned by the Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not present for the vote, as his scheduled return from a trip to the United Kingdom was delayed.

Following a Monday meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Netanyahu denied he had sought to delay the vote after Feb. 15, when he is set to meet with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., Haaretz reported.

“I never said that I want to delay the vote on this law,” Netanyahu said. “I said that I will act according to our national interest. That requires that we do not surprise our friends and keep them updated – and the American administration has been updated. This process was important for me because we are trying to act this way, especially with very close friends.”

On Thursday, Trump in his first statement on Israeli settlements since taking office said construction of new settlements “may not be helpful” in reaching a peace agreement, though he denied that existing settlements are impediments to a deal.

The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, which have traditionally been hesitant to weigh in on Israeli domestic issues, both criticized the measure on Monday.

ADL leaders said it would harm Israel’s image abroad and lead to legal repercussions.

“[I]t is imperative that the Knesset recognizes that passing this law will be harmful to Israel’s image internationally and could undermine future efforts to achieving a two-state solution,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director.

The director of ADL’s Israel office, Carole Nuriel, added that the measure “may also trigger severe international legal repercussions.”

AJC said it was “deeply disappointed” about the bill’s passage and called on the Supreme Court to “reverse this misguided legislation.”

“The controversial Knesset action, ahead of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Trump in Washington, is misguided and likely to prove counter-productive to Israel’s core national interests,” said AJC CEO David Harris.

B’Tselem, a watchdog monitoring human rights abuses in the settlements, slammed the bill.

“The law passed by the Knesset today proves yet again that Israel has no intention of ending its control over the Palestinians or its theft of their land,” the group said in a statement. “Lending a semblance of legality to this ongoing act of plunder is a disgrace for the state and its legislature.”

Peace Now, a left-leaning group promoting the two-state solution, also criticized passage.

“By passing this law, Netanyahu makes theft an official Israeli policy and stains the Israeli law books,” the group said in a statement. “By giving a green light to settlers to build illegally on private Palestinian land, the legalization law is another step towards annexation and away from a two state solution.”

Israeli policemen try to remove pro-settlement activists from a house during an operation by Israeli forces to evict settlers from the illegal outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

A settlement evacuated: A manufactured emotional drama


1.

Amona is no longer. A settlement was built and cultivated on a mountain top, and now it’s gone. Policemen and women evacuated the settlers, bulldozers dealt with the houses. Israel is still a country of law and order, and its government – think what you want about its policies and hawkish tendencies – abides by court decisions. So, as I wrote not long ago: the settlers do not control Israel’s politics. They have a voice, they have a standing, they have achievements, and they have failures. Ultimately, the government is in control, and not them.

2.

Evacuations seem dramatic when you follow the procedures. But the evacuation of Amona is not dramatic. The settlers and their supporters have to fake shock and outrage, the government has to fake sorrow and reluctance, the public is dragged to fake excitement and concern – all of it is manufactured emotional drama. Made for TV, much ado about nothing. Or very little. Of course, it is somewhat sad to see a community having to dismantle itself. But the fate of Amona was sealed long ago, and the residents of Amona had many opportunities to find a way for them to move forward together, as a community of builders, someplace else. They made their choice: evacuation drama. It was not necessarily a foolish choice. When there is drama, the government gets nervous and feels a need to compensate the settlers for their agony. Amona could not be saved, but compensation for it could, and still can, be bolstered.

3.

The story of Amona is a long one. A few weeks ago, my brother, Israel Rosner (with colleague Itai Rom), presented it in an almost hour long TV investigative report for Channel 10 News. I will present it here in one sentence: The State of Israel turned a blind eye when activists decided to build a new settlement in Amona, on land owned by Palestinians, and then realized that the legal problem with such a move could not be overcome.

The settlers of Amona were pawns in a game much larger then themselves. But not completely innocent pawns. Yes, they naively trusted the leaders who told them that everything is going to be OK. Still, they are not naïve.

4.

The Amona case and its outcome are partially a result of Israel’s changing norms. Some things could be done twenty years ago with a nod and a wink, and now the bastards have changed the rules. The settlers rightly argue: we built Amona the way we built many other settlements. Brick by brick, trick by trick. Why is the result destruction this time? Because of the private land on which Amona was built. Because of the more aggressive legal tactics of anti-settler NGOs. Because of the court’s growing impatience with such trickery and illegality.

There are many reasons to regret the fact that Israel is becoming more formalized, less flexible and loose in applying certain norms. There was something charming about Israel’s youthful naughtiness. But Israel is getting older and larger – and can no longer behave like a juvenile punk. Also – it cannot and should not steal land from its legal owner.

What now? Nothing much. Israel is going to test the waters with the Trump administration and attempt to go back to pre-Obama policies in the West Bank. That is, back to building in the settlements. The internal battle within the Israeli right is going to be not about whether to build but rather about where to build. The Prime Minister and Defense Minister want to build in the so-called settlement blocs. Their coalition partners are going to pressure them to also build in more distant settlements.

6.

The Obama administration made life difficult for Prime Minister Netanyahu, but it also made life easier for him. He was the ultimate excuse with which to reject the demands of his more radical partners.

The settlers and their supporters hope that the Trump administration will not provide Netanyahu with such excuses. They hope to strip Netanyahu of his excuses.

But they can’t: He still has the general attorney (who recently announced that he will not defend the legality of a pro-settlement legislation if passed in the Knesset). He still has the court – as the drama in Amona proves.

 

 

Obama, in final press conference, discusses UNSC Resolution 2334


President Barack Obama on Wednesday during his final press conference, delivered a lengthy response when a reporter asked him about the recent U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which describes Israeli settlements as illegal. The United States abstained from the Dec. 23 vote, thereby enabling the resolution to pass. Here are the outgoing president’s remarks in full:

“I continue to be significantly worried about the Palestinian issue. And I am worried about it both because I think the status quo is unsustainable, that it is dangerous for Israel, that it is bad for Palestinians, bad for the region, bad for America’s national security.

“And I came into this office wanting to do everything I could to encourage serious peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and we invested a lot of energy, a lot of time, a lot of effort, the first year, the second year, all the way until last year. Ultimately, what has always been clear, is we cannot force parties to arrive at peace. What we can do is facilitate, provide a platform, encourage, but we can’t force them to do it.

“But in light of shifts in Israeli politics and Palestinian politics, a rightward drift in Israeli politics, a weakening of [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas’ ability to move and take risks on behalf of peace in the Palestinian territories, in light of all the dangers that have emerged in the regions and the understandable fears Israelis may have — chaos and the rise of groups like ISIL and the deterioration of Syria — in light of all those things, what we at least wanted to do, understanding the two parties would not arrive at a final status agreement, is preserve the possibility of a two-state solution because we don’t see an alternative to it.

“I’ve said directly to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu], I’ve said it inside of Israel and I’ve said it to Palestinians as well: I don’t see how this issue gets resolved in a way that maintains Israel as both Jewish and a democracy because if you do not have two states, then in some form or fashion, extending an occupation, functionally you end up having one state in which millions of people are disenfranchised and operate as second-class occupants — residents — you can’t even call them ‘citizens,’ necessarily.

“So the goal of the [Security Council] resolution is to simply say settlements — the growth of settlements — are creating a reality on the ground that increasingly will make a two-state solution impossible. And we’ve believed, consistent with the position taken previously by U.S. administrations for decades now, it was important for us to send a signal — a wake-up call — that this moment may be passing, and Israeli voters and Palestinians need to understand this moment may be passing and hopefully that then creates a debate inside both Israeli and Palestinian communities.

“It won’t result immediately in peace but will at least lead to a more sober assessment of what the alternatives are.”

Obama, in final press conference, discusses UNSC Resolution 2334


President Barack Obama on Wednesday during his final press conference, delivered a lengthy response when a reporter asked him about the recent U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which describes Israeli settlements as illegal. The United States abstained from the Dec. 23 vote, thereby enabling the resolution to pass. Here are the outgoing president’s remarks in full:

“I continue to be significantly worried about the Palestinian issue. And I am worried about it both because I think the status quo is unsustainable, that it is dangerous for Israel, that it is bad for Palestinians, bad for the region, bad for America’s national security.

“And I came into this office wanting to do everything I could to encourage serious peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and we invested a lot of energy, a lot of time, a lot of effort, the first year, the second year, all the way until last year. Ultimately, what has always been clear, is we cannot force parties to arrive at peace. What we can do is facilitate, provide a platform, encourage, but we can’t force them to do it.

“But in light of shifts in Israeli politics and Palestinian politics, a rightward drift in Israeli politics, a weakening of [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas’ ability to move and take risks on behalf of peace in the Palestinian territories, in light of all the dangers that have emerged in the regions and the understandable fears Israelis may have — chaos and the rise of groups like ISIL and the deterioration of Syria — in light of all those things, what we at least wanted to do, understanding the two parties would not arrive at a final status agreement, is preserve the possibility of a two-state solution because we don’t see an alternative to it.

“I’ve said directly to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu], I’ve said it inside of Israel and I’ve said it to Palestinians as well: I don’t see how this issue gets resolved in a way that maintains Israel as both Jewish and a democracy because if you do not have two states, then in some form or fashion, extending an occupation, functionally you end up having one state in which millions of people are disenfranchised and operate as second-class occupants — residents — you can’t even call them ‘citizens,’ necessarily.

“So the goal of the [Security Council] resolution is to simply say settlements — the growth of settlements — are creating a reality on the ground that increasingly will make a two-state solution impossible. And we’ve believed, consistent with the position taken previously by U.S. administrations for decades now, it was important for us to send a signal — a wake-up call — that this moment may be passing, and Israeli voters and Palestinians need to understand this moment may be passing and hopefully that then creates a debate inside both Israeli and Palestinian communities.

“It won’t result immediately in peace but will at least lead to a more sober assessment of what the alternatives are.”

The U.N. resolution, flawed as it is, supports the State of Israel


So here we are, entering 2017, still carrying 1967 on our backs.

Nineteen-sixty-seven was the year of the Six-Day War, when Israel, fearing imminent attack by its Arab neighbors, launched a pre-emptive strike that resulted in the capture of East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It was a world-shaking moment, so much so that from that week until now, the status of these territories, the millions of Palestinians who live there, and the Jewish Israelis who have taken up residence in them has been an ongoing source of contention.

And by “contention” I mean violent revolts, war, civil disobedience, terror, negotiation, threats of apocalyptic holy war (in the case of Jerusalem) and one United Nations resolution after another.

Which brings us to the last couple of weeks.

If you want to understand the United Nations Security Council’s vote on Resolution 2334, the United States’ abstention, the apoplectic response of much of the American Jewish community to the abstention, and the subsequent speech by Secretary of State John Kerry laying out his vision for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you have to go back to 1967.

The country’s leaders never intended to capture the Golan, the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel’s intention was to avoid destruction. Syria’s relentless pounding of Israeli villages from the heights pushed then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to stall the war’s ceasefire in order to quiet Syrian artillery once and for all. And King Hussein of Jordan’s unexpected entry into the war more than justified the capture of East Jerusalem and the takeover of the West Bank. 

When word came that an Israeli unit had just conquered the Arab city of Hebron on the West Bank, David Ben-Gurion, the founding prime minister of Israel, called the unit commander.

“Well done,” Ben-Gurion said. “Now give it back to them.” 

Neither then nor now does anyone think the conflict can be solved simply by “giving it back.” But Ben-Gurion’s warning reminds us that there is no one “Israeli” way of looking at this crisis.  

There have always been alternate and deeply conflicting visions of what Israel should do with the territories. Keeping them would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, or the creation of an apartheid state, or a multinational state of dubious stability. Dividing them into two states is no picnic, but that is American policy, and the official Israeli and Palestinian view. 

Over the past couple of weeks, as I followed the outrage to President Barack Obama’s abstention on Resolution 2334 and over Kerry’s speech, I wondered whether we Jews, who so ably recollect our ancient past, have lost the ability to remember all this recent history.

Fifty years ago, at the war’s end, President Lyndon B. Johnson led the effort to draft and pass United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, “Concerning Principles for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Middle East.” Since then, the policy of every U.S. administration has been based on the principles set forth in that resolution: an end to hostilities based on a negotiated territory-for-peace settlement, East Jerusalem included.

You could create a palimpsest over Kerry’s speech, the recent Security Council resolution, and the language of Resolution 242 and not see through any major differences.  

So, why the outrage?

Partly because over the past five decades, the American-Jewish community has come to see the territories Israel captured in 1967 as birthright. The absence of a sincere Palestinian negotiating partner, the weakness of the Israeli “peace camp,” the fervor and activism of Israel’s right-leaning governments and their American supporters, the reluctance of major American-Jewish organizations to challenge the settlements, the hypocrisy of a U.N. that obsesses over Israel while glancing at Syria, have all played a role in helping to normalize settlements.  

But make no mistake: the goal of the settlement movement has never been to gain leverage for eventual peace negotiations.  As Gershom Gorenberg documents in “The Accidental Empire,” the goal of the settlement movement is to make a two-state solution impossible, to claim and hold all the Land of Israel for the State of Israel. 

The U.N. resolution, flawed as it is, supports the State of Israel, just not activities across the Green Line. 

“A solid majority of the countries that voted for the U.N. Security Council resolution are not anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic,” wrote Barak Ravid in Yedioth Ahronoth. “The message of their vote was simple: It’s the settlements, stupid.”

But all that, as they say, is so 2016.

Now comes President Donald Trump and his promise to toss out the Israel policies of Obama; indeed, of seven previous administrations. This may mean moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, or encouraging more settlements, or sanctioning the plans of those in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex part of the West Bank. 

Should those things come to pass, something tells me the furor of late December will seem like the good old days — and the Six-Day War will continue to rage.


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 ” target=”_blank”>@RobEshman.

Obama’s fatal legacy: Killing the peace process


You can make a strong case that President Barack Obama’s decision to allow United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to pass was very harmful to Israel. By endorsing the anti-Israel narrative that every square inch of territory captured by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967 — including the Jewish Quarter in East Jerusalem and the Western Wall — is “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” and that Jewish presence in those areas is a “flagrant violation of international law,” Obama didn’t just throw renegade West Bank settlers to the wolves — he threw all of Israel.

If a Tel Aviv dairy company, for instance, sells its cottage cheese to Jews in East Jerusalem, does it make that company complicit in a crime? And if a Jew lives in the Old City, can that Jew be arrested and tried in international legal courts?

I know, it sounds preposterous. But when you see the anti-Israel venom spewed by such movements as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), would it really surprise you to see them come after Israeli Jews in international criminal courts with the lethal weapon of Resolution 2334 firmly in their hands?

That resolution is the weapon Obama has provided to Israel’s enemies. It would be silly to expect they won’t use it. So, yes, allowing this resolution to pass is harmful to Israel and is a shameful final act for a president who has always claimed to have Israel’s back.

But it is shameful and tragic for another reason as well — because it has virtually killed the peace process.

By endorsing a resolution that effectively turns Israel into an outlaw state, Obama has eliminated all incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate, let alone compromise. In other words, if Israel’s No. 1 ally already has decided that 550,000 Israeli Jews are illegally occupying “Palestinian territory,” what is there for the Palestinians to negotiate?

What is often overlooked is that previous U.N. resolutions and international and bilateral agreements did not put Israel in such a box and allowed plenty of room for the parties to negotiate.

You can start with the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, which, as Evelyn Gordon has documented in Commentary, explicitly allocated all of what is today Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as a “Jewish national home,” a right that was legally preserved by Article 80 of the founding U.N. Charter.

But even if you reject those 1922 Jewish rights, there is the venerable U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which followed the 1967 war. That resolution, which both parties have been quoting for decades as a basis for negotiations, was explicitly worded to allow Israel to keep parts of the disputed territory it captured during the war, by referring to “defensible borders” and requiring an Israeli withdrawal only from “territories” captured in 1967, not “the territories” or “all the territories.”

Even the 1993 Oslo Accord lists “Jerusalem” and “settlements” as “issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations.” The point is, whether they thought settlements were illegal or not, peace processors were always savvy enough to allow Israel some leverage and wiggle room to negotiate.

Resolution 2334, by bluntly characterizing Israel as a land thief and making no distinction between illegal outposts and the Western Wall, pretty much obliterates that wiggle room.

Obama himself, at the very beginning of his term, also left no wiggle room and was equally blunt when he demanded that Israel freeze every brick of construction in every inch of post-1967 territory, including the settlement blocs and the Jewish Quarter. Since no Israeli government could ever meet such a draconian demand, Obama’s move essentially froze the peace process by undermining Israel’s negotiating position and giving the Palestinians the perfect excuse to stay away from peace talks.

With his failure to veto Resolution 2334, Obama has come full circle. His draconian demand from nearly eight years ago is now enshrined in the inner sanctum of the United Nations. He may have convinced himself he was only showing “tough love,” but the reality is that Obama has empowered Israel’s enemies, stripped Israel of its negotiating leverage and rewarded the Palestinians for their intransigence.

It is the height of chutzpah when Secretary of State John Kerry now lectures Israel on the importance of negotiating a two-state solution. It’s like saying: “We’ve taken away your negotiating chips — now go make a deal!”

This is why some of my pro-Israel friends who voted for Obama are in a state of disillusionment. They may be against Israeli settlements, but they fail to see how this late hit on Israel will be helpful. They see only harm — harm to Israel, harm to the peace process and harm to Obama’s legacy as a friend of the Jews.


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

Kerry questions how much longer U.S. can support Israel under status quo


This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

A

fter years of built-up personal frustration, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a lengthy critique of Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a speech at the State Department on Dec. 28, a mere 23 days before leaving office. 

Assailing the current status quo, America’s top diplomat emphasized, “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it will not ever live in peace.” 

In the speech, Kerry criticized Palestinian actions as well. “The murderers of innocents are still glorified on Fatah websites, including showing attackers next to Palestinian leaders following attacks,” Kerry noted.

Kerry has invested hundreds of hours mediating between the parties and responded somewhat defensively to criticism from Israeli leaders and members of Congress in recent days during the 70-minute address. 

“They fail to recognize that this friend, the United States of America, that has done more to support Israel than any other country, this friend that has blocked countless efforts to delegitimize Israel, cannot be true to our own values — or even the stated democratic values of Israel — and we cannot properly defend and protect Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a response carried live by CNN, blasted Kerry’s speech as a “big disappointment” while calling the focus on settlements as “obsessive.” “Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by world leaders,” Netanyahu declared. 

Netanyahu accused the outgoing secretary of state of paying “lip service to the unremitting campaign of terrorism that has been waged by the Palestinians against the Jewish state for nearly a century.”

From Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated past comments that he would be ready to begin negotiations if Israel were to freeze settlement construction and referenced United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted Dec. 23, condemning Israeli settlements.

“The speech was replete with paternalistic, arrogant lecturing,” Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told Jewish Insider. “The threats to peace and the implementation of a two-state solution are not Israeli settlements, but the non-recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian incitement and violence.”

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also criticized Kerry for focusing on the settlements while ignoring the fact that Hamas continued launching rockets into Israel after Israel forced settlers to withdraw from all settlements in the Gaza Strip. 

Others recommended Israelis take a hard look at the substance of the secretary of state’s remarks.

“It’s an important speech for those who support the two-state solution and do not want to see Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature being undermined,” Dan Arbell, former deputy chief of Israel’s embassy in Washington, D.C., told Jewish Insider. 

Hussein Ibish, a senior scholar at the Arab Gulf Institute in Washington, said, “I think it’s probably the most sympathetic (speech) to the Palestinian cause given by a major American official.” However, Ibish found the timing of the speech problematic. The address “could have been really meaningful if it had been given two or three years ago and backed up with actual policies with real consequences. But at this point, with a couple of weeks left, it’s almost pointless.”

President-elect Donald Trump indicated last week that he will indeed look to make up for the damage done by the outgoing administration over the weekend. “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not anymore,” Trump tweeted hours before Kerry’s speech. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

Netanyahu ‘deeply disappointed’ in Kerry’s speech, rejects UN vote


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a policy speech by Secretary of State John Kerry, saying the emphasis by the United Nations and the Obama administration on settlement construction downplayed the role of Palestinian repudiation of Israel’s legitimacy as an obstacle to peace.

“How can you make peace with someone who rejects your very existence?” Netanyahu said in a speech Wednesday barely an hour after Kerry spoke in Washington, D.C. “This conflict is not about houses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Gaza or anywhere else. This conflict has always been about Israel’s very right to exist.”

Kerry in his lengthy remarks at the State Department defended the U.S. abstention on a U.N. Security Council resolution Friday that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

He also defended the Obama administration’s support for Israel and laid out six principles to guide future Israel-Palestinian peace talks. The principles included two states with secure recognized borders, and a fair and “realistic” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem that did not “affect the fundamental character of Israel.”

“It is not this resolution that is isolating Israel,” Kerry said, referring to the Security Council vote. “It is the pernicious policy of settlement construction that is making peace impossible.”

Netanyahu said Israelis were “deeply disappointed” in Kerry’s speech and said the focus on settlements is misplaced, as Israel is the only stable democracy in a chaotic region.

“The whole Middle East is going up in flames, full states are collapsing, terror is spreading,” he said. “And for an hour, the secretary of state is attacking the only democracy in the Middle East, that guards stability in the Middle East.”

Netanyahu reiterated his stance that the only way to reach Israeli-Palestinian peace is through direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. He also reiterated the accusation that the United States engineered the passage of the Security Council resolution, despite repeated denials from Washington, and called on the Obama administration to block any further attempts to condemn Israel at the U.N.

“We have it on absolute, incontestable evidence that the United States organized, advanced and brought this resolution to the United Nations Security Council,” Netanyahu said. “I think the United States, if it’s true to its word, should now come out and say, ‘We will not allow any more resolutions in the Security Council on Israel, period.'”

President-elect Donald Trump opposed the Security Council resolution, and Netanyahu said Wednesday that “Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump and with the American Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, to mitigate the damage this resolution has done, and ultimately to repeal it.”

John Kerry lays out 6 principles for Mideast peace, rips Israel’s ‘pernicious’ settlement policy


Secretary of State John Kerry laid out six principles that the United States believes must govern the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while rebuking Israel’s “pernicious policy of settlement construction.”

In lengthy remarks from the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Kerry said peace must provide for secure and recognized borders based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps and a contiguous state for the Palestinians.

Other principles included the fulfillment of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for two state for two peoples; a fair and “realistic” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem that did not “affect the fundamental character of Israel”; shared capitals in Jerusalem that ensured free access to holy sites and no redivision of the city; Israeli security guarantees along with an end to the occupation; and a final end to the conflict and all outstanding claims along with the establishment of normalized relations.

“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Kerry said. “It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state living in peace and security with its neighbors. It is the only way to ensure a future of freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people, and it is an important way of advancing United States interests in the region.”

Kerry’s speech came with just weeks left in the Obama administration and in the wake of a controversial U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements that the United States declined to veto, prompting unusually harsh criticism from Israeli officials. The speech included a firm defense of the U.S. abstention, which Kerry described as motivated by mounting American concern that the two-state solution was growing ever more imperiled by Israeli settlement activity.

“Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy,” Kerry said. “The truth is that trends on the ground — violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation — are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.”

Speaking directly to Israeli criticism of the U.S. abstention, Kerry said, “It is not this resolution that is isolating Israel, it is the pernicious policy of settlement construction that is making peace impossible.”

Kerry dwelled at length on Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank, charging leaders of the settlement movement with “purposefully accelerating” trends that will make a two-state solution impossible. Kerry noted that the Israeli settler population has grown by 270,000 since Obama took office in 2009 and he lamented the reversal of trends toward greater Palestinian control initiated with the 1993 Oslo Accords.

“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israel’s history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements,” Kerry said. “Policies of this government, which the prime minister just described as more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history, are leading in the opposite direction. They’re leading to one state.”

Kerry also had harsh words for the Palestinians, condemning their incitement to violence and glorification of terrorists, and he slammed the attempt to isolate and delegitimize Israel in the United Nations and elsewhere.

“The murders of innocents are still glorified on Fatah websites,” Kerry said, referring to the political faction headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “Despite statements by President Abbas, too often they send a different message by failing to condemn specific attacks and by naming public squares, streets and schools after terrorists.”

But Kerry reserved the bulk of criticism for Israeli settlements, portraying them as obstacles to peace and counter to Israeli interests, even as he acknowledged that they are neither the sole nor the prime reason the conflict endures. Kerry also lashed out at recent Israeli legislation aimed at legalizing settler outposts built deep in the West Bank.

In the face of intense criticism from Israeli leaders and some pro-Israel voices in the United States, Kerry also emphasized the abiding American support for Israeli security going back decades and reiterated Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides, noting the unprecedented American military assistance for Israel and the administration’s opposition to attempts to isolate Israel in international forums.

“This administration has been Israel’s greatest friend and supporter,” Kerry said. “No American administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s.”

U.S. ‘deeply concerned’ over plans for settlement expansion


The U.S. State Department criticized an Israeli announcement approving the construction of hundreds of housing units in four West Bank settlements.

We’re deeply concerned by the government’s announcement to advance plans for these settlement units in the West Bank,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday, in answer to a reporter’s question during a briefing, hours after reports of the approval. “Since the Quartet report came out, we have seen a very significant acceleration of Israeli settlement activity that runs directly counter to the conclusions of the report. So far this year, Israel has promoted plans for over 2,500 units, including over 700 units retroactively approved in the West Bank.”

The Mideast Quartet, made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N., called on Israel in June to stop building in the settlements and on the Palestinians to halt incitement.

Kirby said that the State Department is “particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving unauthorized settlement units and outposts that are themselves illegal under Israeli law. These policies have effectively given the Israeli Government a green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way. This significant expansion of the settlement enterprise poses a very serious and growing threat to the viability of the two-state solution.”

“Potentially unlimited” is a recent term used by the State Department, and seems to indicate U.S. concerns that Israel wants to annex the West Bank.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee on Wednesday approved construction of 234 living units in Elkana in the northern West Bank, designated to be a nursing home; 30 homes in Beit Arye in the northern West Bank; and 20 homes in the Jerusalem ring neighborhood of Givat Zeev.

The committee also retroactively legalized 179 housing units built in the 1980s in Ofarim, part of the Beit Arye municipality.

The approval comes less than a week after Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, criticized Israel for continuing to build in West Bank settlements and neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, going against the recommendations issued in June by the Mideast Quartet.

Trump’s Israel gatekeeper: Like his boss, no Room for ‘PC’


Love him or hate him, Republican candidate for president Donald J. Trump is doing it his way, ignoring what the American professional political world believed was the only way to become a party’s nominee and win “the Oval.”

No issue is more imbued with slogans and adherence to conventional wisdom than is the Middle East. Two-state solution, occupied territories, illegal settlements, incitement and even terrorism — the list is long.

Yet, notwithstanding the extreme sensitivities of the regional players and the long history of seasoned diplomats failing to broker anything that even remotely resembles a lasting peace deal, Trump, the first-time-out candidate, has selected gatekeepers for Israeli-Palestinian issues whose loyalties undeniably lie on the side of the Jewish state; who are personally and professionally erudite and successful, but who are also noticeably lacking the political trial-by-fire one would expect of a senior adviser on a lightning rod issue in a presidential campaign. Nevertheless, both of the two lawyers tapped for this delicate representation qualify for the position by virtue of what Trump himself was quoted as saying he looks for in an adviser on Israeli affairs: “people who truly love Israel.”

Jason Greenblatt, 49, who has worked for Trump for almost two decades and who is religiously-observant, told the Jewish news agency JTA that he stays apprised of issues by accessing a number of pro-Israel sources and advocates along with members of the Israeli government. His colleague – in law and in the Trump campaign – is 58-year old David Friedman, a native New Yorker whose father, a prominent rabbi, became the first Jewish clergyman to host a sitting president for a Shabbat meal when President Regan joined the Friedman family for lunch in 1984.

Speaking to Friedman, of whom it has been rumored that if Trump wins he will trade in his Jerusalem apartment for the US Ambassador’s residence in Herzliya, it becomes quickly apparent that he intends to be well-served by his lack of political experience if judged by responses more akin to a deposition than to a politician’s news conference.

David Friedman, thank you for speaking with the The Media Line.

TML:  Who is David Friedman and why has Mr. Trump made you the gate keeper on policies relative to Israel?

Friedman: Well, first and foremost I’m somebody who loves Israel and someone who has Donald Trump’s trust. We’ve known each other for 15 years. I’ve worked with him in some challenging circumstances and have gained his trust and I would hope his respect. When he was called upon to select advisers in various areas, one of those areas was the relationship between the US and Israel and he wanted to select advisers who he knew had a deep love and commitment to the state of Israel.

TML:  Are you going to tell us that one of the first acts is to move the embassy to Jerusalem?

Friedman: I think one of his first acts is going be to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I think the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem is logistically something that can’t be done on the first day [but] I think that will happen in due course.

TML: How did you first meet Donald Trump?

Friedman: My first meeting was in his office. A mutual friend introduced us. He had some issues relating to Atlantic City. From time to time I’ve been his lawyer, but for all the time I’ve been his good friend.

TML: Why do you think Donald Trump should be the next president?

Friedman:  The president is the chief executive of the United States. He’s not a legislator, he’s not a committee member, and he’s not an adviser. Donald Trump has outstanding executive skills. He is a terrific decision maker. His heart is in the right place. Contrary to what people say about him he’s not impulsive. He is someone who listens to his advisers, and when called upon to make decisions, actually exhausts material on the subject.

He’s also the right person at the right time because in America, we are very much hungering for non-teleprompted leadership and authentic leadership actually accessible to the press. If you compare Donald Trump to any other candidate in history, he dwarfs the field in terms of his accessibility to the media and being on TV every night.

I think he’s what the country needs and I think his message is resonating with people who feel that globalism has failed them. And it’s a fairly large constituency in this country.

TML: Many believe that a candidate who doesn’t utter the mantra of a two-state solution won’t be taken seriously. Is the Trump position on a two state solution a one state solution?

Friedman: His position is not a one-state solution. His position is that he’s observed the obvious, which is that a two-state solution over the past generation has been attempted over and over again and has been a failure. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result — and he’s not insane. To blindly embrace a two-state solution because it’s been an American policy for the past 25-years is not something he’s going to do, any more so than one would have expected a president in the 1970s embrace the Vietnam war because it was a 20-year policy of the United States. Policies are only good if they work.

TML: So what’s his answer?

Friedman: I don’t think this is an area which is susceptible to jingoism. It’s a very complex issue. The conventional wisdom is that Israel has to be a Jewish state or a democratic state, but can’t be both. It’s essentially a demographic assessment which I think is wrong. With the removal of the Gazan population from the denominator, I think a one-state solution would reduce Israel from about 75 percent of a Jewish state to maybe about 65 percent. I don’t think it’s existential to do that. Ultimately, the issue is one of reducing tension and improving quality of life. That ought to be the first step, not the geography. The geography will follow if appropriate advances are made in quality of life.

TML: A good chunk of the world uses the word “illegal” before the word “settlement” when speaking about Israel. You don’t. Will President Trump?

Friedman: I think it’s almost silly to talk about settlements in terms of legal or illegal. I’m saying that as a lawyer who has actually studied the issue. My experience has been that the legal conclusions follow the political views. I can make an argument for legality; I can make an argument for illegality. I happen to be the view that the settlements are not illegal. I think they were captured in a defensive war from a country that no longer wants them back. You could obviously make an argument for why they are legal but it’s a waste of time to debate the issue.

TML: The United States is part of the quartet which has again condemned Israel for its expansion of Jewish communities in post-1967 areas. Would a President Trump change minds and policies of the European Union, United Nations, and Russia — its partners in the Quartet — or withdraw from the Quartet?

Friedman: It’s a good question. I haven’t really given it enough thought as to whether he’d withdraw from the Quartet and what the consequences would be. He would certainly use his influence within the Quartet to have a significant change of direction. The recent criticism of Israel in regards to Gilo and Ma'aleh Adumim [Jerusalem neighborhoods which the Palestinians claim for their state-in-waiting and object to Israeli building in those areas – Ed.] I think is just ridiculous. These are significant Israeli population centers. There is no scenario under any peace accord where Gilo or Ma'aleh Adumim would ever be evacuated or become part of a new Palestinian state.  I think it jeopardizes the credibility of the Quartet and it jeopardizes the credibility of the United States when they focus on these types of issues.  It’s really a mistake.

TML: France is planning to throw a bash for Middle East peace before the end of the year: an international conference the Palestinians support and Israel says is a bad idea. How is David Friedman advising candidate Trump?

Friedman:  My advice is that it’s a bad idea. The international community should not be dragging Israel against its will to a conference. I don’t think France has the type of gravitas in the world community to be making that demand in any event. A Trump perspective is to support Israel and its approach to the peace process.

Trump policy first and foremost is to trust Israel that they know what they are doing. Israel has now been independent for 70 years. They’re a grown up country. They are not a client state of the United States. They are a partner with the United States in a global war on terrorism. We trust our partner and we want our partner to be secure and safe. We trust them to do the right thing.

TML: Assume rumors are true and Donald Trump decides to fly Trump Force One to Israel before the election. To maintain his status as honest broker would he meet with Palestinian Authority President Abbas?

Friedman: I think he might. I don’t know. I haven’t had that discussion with him. I think there are good reasons not to and I think there are some reasons not to do it. I’m not sure what the decision will be.

I personally think putting the Israeli leadership on a common level with Abbas is a mistake. In one case you have a sovereign nation that is democratic, and in the other case you have a leader who is hanging on by a thread, who does not have an actual mandate and who funds stipends to pay to families of terrorists while they are in jail. These are difference types of governments — if you even want to call the Palestinian leadership a government. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have a meeting. The answer is, I don’t know. We haven’t had the discussion.

TML: What is Trump’s message to Abbas and the Palestinians who fear another pro-Israel president in the White House?

Friedman: The message to Abbas is that you have a burden that you have to carry to be taken seriously as a potential nation state. You haven’t met that burden yet. That includes renouncing violence, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, creating infrastructure where money and funds are handled in a non-corrupt manner.

TML: What will Trump do to prevent Iran from creating nuclear weapons?

Friedman: This is at the very height of his foreign policy concerns and what he’s going to try to do is re-engage with the other significant players in the region to try and re-assert leverage with Iran. The situation is absolutely untenable right now. I don’t know if the agreement gets rips up at the beginning.

TML: Where do you and Donald Trump come down on the belief that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is the region’s core conflict, even when compared to Syria, ISIS and Sunni vs. Shia?

Friedman: That’s obviously not true. The Israeli conflict with its neighbors predated the Six Day War. Obviously there were two wars before then, from 1948 to 1967. This is not about battle about land. It’s an ideological battle about whether there will be a Jewish state and it’s a battle between a radical jihadism and the rest of the Muslim world.

TML: Hillary Clinton has just about everyone suggesting she is the most qualified person ever to be president. Where did she go wrong with the Middle East — if she did?

Friedman:  I don’t think she has made a right decision. I think she said some helpful things when she was the senator from New York when she had a Jewish constituency. As soon as she became secretary of state, the first thing she did was to embrace a unilateral settlement freeze. I think it completely poisoned the environment. I’m not aware of anything she did that is particularly good. I can name off the top of my head things that were nasty, like ripping up the letter from George Bush to Ariel Sharon, which I think was the only thing Israel got from evacuating Gaza. I don’t think she particularly likes Israel. I think she likes the kind of elite left among the Jewish people of Israel and in America like the Max Blumenthals, the Sidney Blumenthals and the people of that ilk who would like to turn Israel into a sort of Singapore. I think she’s terrible for Israel.

TML: Who advises David Friedman when Donald Trump wants to change the world?

Friedman: Nobody. I have never really spoken of myself in the third person. I spend three to four hours a day reading everything I can up on the subject. I have had really good access to Israeli leadership who I think are doing the right thing by not endorsing anybody. I have a high level of information available to me and I study it.

TML: Are you in touch with Palestinians or Arabs?

Friedman: Both the Palestinians and Israelis that I’ve spoken to have asked me and I’ve agreed not to mention who they are.

TML: American Jews have shown little interest in voting foreign policy in a Presidential election. How will you change that? Can you change that?

Friedman: Look, it’s a great disappointment to me that the Jewish Left doesn’t support Israel as a priority. I’m hoping that as the American Jewish community recognizes the stark differences between a Trump administration and a Clinton administration on Israel that they will reprioritize Israel in their voting calculus. I think for a lot of the Jewish Left that does not prioritize Israel, it’s because they assume that Israel no longer faces existential threats. A strong Israel untethered to American pressure is essential to Israel’s ongoing survival.

TML: Will Donald Trump become “45”?

Friedman: I hope so. At the core, the American people are very much ready for a change. He is obviously the change candidate. Hillary Clinton is the antithesis of change. She’s been around for 25 years. It will come down to that. In many of the battlegrounds states, people feel tremendously neglected.

I don’t know if you saw a very good piece done by [Israel’s] Channel Ten here on the rust belt. It is extraordinarily depressing. These are good people who served in the military, supported the country and never really asked for much. They’ve been abandoned by multiple administrations. They are very much in large number supporting Donald Trump.

TML: David Freidman, if you’re right, will we see you in the US ambassador’s residence?

Friedman:  I sure hope so. It’s not my decision. It’s Donald Trump’s decision but I would love that opportunity.

TML: Thank you.

Netanyahu said to authorize construction of 1,400 new settlement homes


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized the construction of new housing for Jewish citizens in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

An anonymous Israeli official confirmed Netanyahu gave the green light to build nearly the 1,400 new homes,the Associated Press reported Tuesday, primarily in response to the rash of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and visiting Americans since September 2015.

Nearly 600 new units will be built inside the Maale Adumim settlements, a suburb near Jerusalem that Israel claims as indisputable territory, with another 200 homes to be built inside Jerusalem itself. The projected plan also calls for over 600 units to rise in an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon immediately criticized Israel for the impact of the new settlements on peace agreements, and urged Israel to reverse the decision.

“This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank,” a spokesperson for Ban said.

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi decried the initiative as evidence that Israel is bent on “destroying the viability, integrity and territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.”

Peace Now, the Israeli organization that tracks settlement expansion, addressed both the increasing violence of Palestinians against Jews, and the potential problems with placing more housing on land Palestine hopes to claim for their state.

“There is no justification for violence, and the recent deadly attacks on Israelis must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, but settlement construction in the heart of the future of the Palestinian state is endangering both the possibility for peace and two states and the security of Israeli citizens,” the organization said in a statement.

Dems reject Sanders’ platform proposal on Israel


The Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee on Friday voted down an amendment that would have called for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements” and an international effort to rebuild Gaza during a meeting in St. Louis.

The amendment was introduced by Palestinian activist James Zogby, who said Senator Bernie Sanders helped craft.

Instead, the 15-member drafting committee approved a draft that advocates for a “two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” that guarantees Israel’s security with recognized borders “and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.”

The wording reflects Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position on mutual recognition as outlined in the famous Bar Ilan speech in 2009. “In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence,” Netanyahu said.

In May, Sanders “>lobbying for a “new consensus” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The organization launched an online 

6 top Senate Dems rap Obama’s refusal to extend anti-BDS protections to settlements


Six top Democratic senators, including the party’s Senate leader and four Jewish lawmakers, urged the Obama administration to abide by new provisions that would protect Israeli West Bank settlements from boycotts.

The Feb. 25 statement addresses Obama’s stated refusal last week to abide by provisions in a new trade bill that extends protections against boycotts to Israeli-controlled territories.

It was issued in the name of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, and Sens. Charles Schumer of New York; Ron Wyden of Oregon; Ben Cardin of Maryland; Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

“While the Obama Administration has reiterated its opposition to boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel, it has mischaracterized the TPA and Customs bill provisions as making a U.S. policy statement about Israeli settlements,” their statement said.

“These provisions are not about Israeli settlements. Rather, consistent with U.S. policy, they are about discouraging politically motivated commercial actions aimed at delegitimizing Israel and pressuring Israel into unilateral concessions outside the bounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We urge the Administration to implement these provisions as enacted and intended.”

“Politically-motivated commercial actions” alludes to European Union regulations established last year that require goods produced in settlements to be labeled separately from those produced in Israel.

Party leaders signing onto statements is unusual. Schumer, Wyden, Cardin and Blumenthal are Jewish; Bennet does not identify as Jewish, but notes that his mother is Jewish.

Republicans also have objected to the policy. Two senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, a presidential candidate — are circulating a bill that would override the longstanding U.S. policy of distinguishing goods from Israel with those from the West Bank.

Obama signs anti-BDS bill, objects to pro-settlement provisions


President Barack Obama reiterated his strong opposition to the BDS movement as he signed the “Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015″ on Wednesday despite the inclusion of a provision that makes anti-BDS sanctions equally applicable to “Israel” and “Israeli-controlled territories.”

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 256-158 and the Senate by a vote of 75-20, includes a clause that addresses politically motivated acts to limit or prohibit economic relations with Israel — targeting corporate entities or state-affiliated financial institutions from engaging in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

“I have directed my Administration to strongly oppose boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel,” President Obama said in a statement following the signing ceremony in the Oval Office. “As long as I am President, we will continue to do so.”

However, the President objected to the wording that conflates Israel and ‘Israeli-controlled territories,’ since they are “contrary to longstanding bipartisan United States policy, including with regard to the treatment of settlements.”

“Consistent with longstanding constitutional practice, my Administration will interpret and implement the provisions in the Act that purport to direct the Executive to seek to negotiate and enter into particular international agreements (section 414(a)(1)) or to take certain positions in international negotiations with respect to international agreements with foreign countries not qualifying for trade authorities procedures (sections 108(b), 414(a)(2), 415, and 909(c)) in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy,” the White House statement read.

U.S. Customs renews order labeling Israeli settlement products


Is the U.S. joining the EU in labeling Israeli settlement products?

On January 23, the U.S. Customs released a statement reminding American importers that goods produced in the West Bank should not be allowed to be imported if labeled as “Made in Israel.”

“Goods produced in the West Bank or Gaza Strip shall be marked as originating from ‘West Bank,’ ‘Gaza,’ ‘Gaza Strip,’ ‘West Bank/Gaza,’ ‘West Bank/Gaza Strip,’ ‘West Bank and Gaza,’ or ‘West Bank and Gaza Strip’,” the statement reads. “Goods that are erroneously marked as products of Israel will be subject to an enforcement action carried out by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Goods entering the United States must conform to the U.S. marking statute and regulations promulgated thereunder.”

The guidance was a reminder of an existing regulation first imposed in 1997 on merchandise imported from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or Israel.

According to the Forward, while the provision instructs that the failure to mark such products would result in the levy of a duty of 10 percent of the product’s value, the law is barely enforced, if at all, said the Forward.

On Twitter, as the reminder was publicized on Thursday, some drew a parallel with the EU labeling initiative.

The European Commission adopted in November the “Notice on indication of the origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967.” The notice contains guidelines for labeling of products from the West Bank settlements being sold in the 28 countries part of the EU. For products from the West Bank or the Golan Heights, “product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement)” or “product from West Bank (Israeli settlement)” need to be added in brackets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the EU initiative “an immoral decision.” He later ordered the Foreign Ministry to carry out “a reassessment of the involvement of EU bodies in everything that is connected to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.”

An unnamed State Department official told the Washington Free Beacon on Thursday that the new memo does not reflect a shift in longstanding policy. “We are aware that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection re-issued guidance on their marking requirements,” the official was quoted as saying. “There has been no change in policy or in our approach to enforcement of marking requirements.”

2016 presidential candidates have yet to comment on the recent development. “I’ll predict this is a measure that will be repealed in less than a year on Jan 20, 2017, even under @HillaryClinton,” tweeted Jeremy Saltan.

Saltan is the Bayit Yehudi’s Anglo Forum Chairman and Education Minister, Naftali Bennett’s English Campaign manager in 2013 and 2015. “The timing is very unfortunate and disappointing. Right after such an important visit and speech by POTUS,” he told Jewish Insider. “The Administration had seven years to make this move, and they choose the timing to enforce this law at a time when there are no ongoing talks and it is clear the reason behind that is the Palestinian incitement and violence.”

Human Rights Watch report ramps up pressure on Israeli settlement activity


The collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a year ago has led to an accelerating war of words over Israeli settlements, with Israel accusing its growing chorus of foreign critics of prejudging the final terms of a peace deal at best – and anti-Semitism at worst.

The battle heated up this week with the release of a report by Human Rights Watch arguing that doing business with West Bank settlements reinforces Israel’s presence there and contributes to human rights abuses.

The report comes a day after the European Union, which in November announced new guidelines to label Israeli exports produced in the settlements, declared that any agreement with Israel “must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

And the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, while not going nearly as far, decried Israel’s seizure of West Bank lands and what he described as a two-tiered justice system.

“Too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities; too much vigilantism goes unchecked; and at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians,” Shapiro said in a speech Monday that otherwise extolled U.S.-Israel closeness.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was infuriated by the remarks, calling them “unacceptable and incorrect.” But his wider strategy against the settlement criticism has been to lump such efforts together with the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, and liken them to the pre-Holocaust boycotts of Jewish businesses in Europe.

“Because bureaucracies or set patterns entrench themselves, and then we get the absurdity of the EU in Brussels, from European soil, labeling the products of Israeli citizens, of Jews,” Netanyahu told foreign reporters last week. “And the last time that was done on the soil of Europe was over 70 years ago.”

Israel has largely been able to stave off questions about the status of the West Bank as long as it seemed substantially engaged in the peace process. But developments this week seem to confirm warnings last year that the collapse of the peace process, followed by statements from Netanyahu on the eve of his reelection in March that appeared to reject the possibility of Palestinian statehood, would lead the United States and Europe to focus anew on the settlements, if only as a means of keeping open the option for a two-state solution.

The Human Rights Watch report argues plainly that trading with the settlements entrenches Israel in the West Bank and makes businesses a partner in the oppression of the Palestinians. It recommends that businesses “avoid financing, administering or otherwise supporting settlements or settlement-related activities and infrastructure, such as through contracting to purchase settlement-manufactured goods or agricultural produce, to ensure the businesses are not indirectly contributing to and benefiting from such activities.”

The report cites an example of how bringing attention to Israeli practices in the West Bank can impede them. Human Rights Watch contacted a factory in a West Bank settlement that its researchers found provided linens for an American retailer and was underpaying its Palestinian laborers.

“During the conversations that followed, the factory agreed to close its operations in Barkan and locate to new facilities inside Israel,” the group reported, without naming the parties.

“We are not looking for problems,” Human Rights Watch quoted the factory’s co-owner as telling the group. “It seems it really bothers people that we’re there, so we’ll leave.”

Centrist and right-wing pro-Israel groups insist that such efforts to target settlements are aimed at setting the terms of a final peace deal. In December, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee posted a lengthy analysis of the European Union’s decision on settlement labeling.

“The EU’s action — taken outside the context of peace negotiations — is designed to impose Brussels’ vision of Israel’s future borders,” said AIPAC, a prominent pro-Israel lobby. “These commercial attacks against Israel increase the prospect of isolating the Jewish state, while strengthening its most vitriolic critics and slowing the pursuit of peace.”

The fight over settlements is also playing out in Congress and state houses. AIPAC has garnered bipartisan support through congressional statements rejecting attempts to single out settlements. And several state-level legislative moves to target BDS explicitly include attempts to distinguish the settlements.

Pro-Israel groups on the left argue that such efforts are mutually self-defeating. Attempts to isolate settlements are a good thing, they say, as they help neutralize the wider BDS movement.

“A more accurate labeling system, as Israel never annexed the West Bank, will allow European residents to make purchases according to ideological considerations,” Americans for Peace Now said at the time of the European labeling decision. “This system will help curb efforts to boycott Israel entirely, such as those advocated by the BDS movement.”

Defiance among rogue settlers as Israel accuses Jewish youth of murder


The caves around this windy settler outpost, whose name is Hebrew for “Of Sound Mind”, have served as places of meditation and prayer – and, according to Israel – staging ground for the worst Jewish militant attack on Palestinians in years.

It was from Yishuv Hadaat, prosecutors say, that 21-year-old Amiram Ben-Uliel set off on a moonlit July night to firebomb a house in the nearby West Bank valley town of Duma, killing a baby, Ali Dawabsheh, and his parents Saad and Riham.

Ben-Uliel's indictment for the murders on Sunday met with denial and defiance from other members of the so-called “Hilltop Youth”, a new generation of ultra-religious settlers whose resentment of the secular Israeli state rivals their hostility toward Arabs.

“I don't think Jews did it. Even if they did do it, you need to look at why … The (Israeli) police and government really fight them in every way,” said Refael Morris, a 20-year-old friend of Ben-Uliel's from a neighboring settlement enclave.

Steeped in messianic Jewish mysticism and rebelling against what they see as adulterated modern Zionism, the Hilltop Youth number in the hundreds, by most accounts. But they pose a deep-rooted challenge even for the nationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as it struggles to stanch Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed in the absence of peace negotiations.

Security officials say that Ben-Uliel is among a few dozen hard-core militants, many of them school drop-outs or estranged from their families, who long eluded surveillance due to their secrecy and determination to clam up under police interrogation.

Critics say the Duma murders, which marked an escalation from the vandalism and assaults previously attributed to the militants, were inevitable given Israel's at times murky policing of its citizens in the West Bank – all of whom are deemed by some world powers to be squatters on Palestinian land.

The inconsistency is in plain view in Yishuv Hadaat and other outposts erected in recent years by the Hilltop Youth without state permission. What began as rogue clusters of shacks are now often orderly trailer parks or shepherds' hamlets with power lines, paved roads, bus stops and Israeli army sentries.

Still, residents style these communities that dot the strategic highlands as the vanguard of a dreamed-of Jewish theocracy where gentiles would be expelled, putting paid to decades-old Israeli talk of making way for a Palestinian state.

“If we wouldn't be here, the Arabs would be here, and whatever the Arabs get now it will be very hard to take back,” said Morris, who sports the Hilltop Youth trademark shaggy beard and religious sidecurls along with a crocheted skullcap.

TRIAL AND ERROR

A 20-year-old son of British immigrants, Morris is a married father of two. He works as a baker, having been exempted from the Israeli military draft, he says, on ideological grounds. Many settlers with far-right affiliations say they are also denied private gun permits and subject to police monitoring.

But the Duma arson, and what Israel's Shin Bet security service said were manifestos circulated among the suspects and which called for insurrection against the state, prompted the crackdown that officials hope will rout the Jewish militants.

Outside experts see a rocky road ahead.

The Duma case is already beset by defense lawyers' allegations that Ben-Uliel, as well as a 17-year-old charged with planning the arson but not turning up to the cave rendezvous, were tortured to give false confessions.

While most Israelis condemn the hate crimes and Netanyahu has defended the Shin Bet's methods as legitimate and necessary, within the far-right Jewish Home party that sits in his coalition there have been misgivings about the probe. One party lawmaker asserted there is no such thing as Jewish terrorism.

Tomer Persico, who researches the Hilltop Youth for the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, described the militants as an extremist distillation of the views of wider circles of settlers, a community driven by a sense of pioneering patriotism and hardened by almost daily friction with the Palestinians.

“They are taking these elements and, in a fundamentalist way, accentuating them to the point where they live in unlawful settlements anywhere they want and (their relationship) with the Palestinians is violent and sometimes murderous,” he said.

Another scholar, Sara Yael Hirschhorn of Oxford University, said that while the Hilltop Youth's religious doctrines had only fringe appeal, sympathizers reached deeper into Israeli society.

On Tuesday, a soldier who lives in a West Bank settlement was jailed for 45 months after being found guilty of leaking information to Jewish militants about law-enforcement moves planned against them by the army.

“I find it hard to believe no one else (in the settler community) knew what was going on those hilltops,” Hirschhorn said.

“I think they (authorities) will manage to throw the book at these people, but it will be perceived by the right as a show trial, and such trials are also a way to organize these people.”

U.S. nonprofits gave $220M to settlements over 5 years


American nonprofits donated more than $220 million to Israeli West Bank settlements from 2009 to 2013, according to a Haaretz investigation.

The investigation, published Monday, found that some 50 American organizations gave tax-deductible donations by private individuals to the settlements. The payments went to property purchase, home amenities and, in some cases, support to families of convicted Jewish terrorists.

The organizations named by Haaretz include the Central Fund of Israel, which supports settlement institutions; Honenu, which provided support to the terrorists’ families; and the Hebron Fund, which finances projects in the settler enclave in Hebron.

Donations to the NGOs are tax-deductible even though the United States government considers the settlements illegal.

“Concordant with permanent U.S. policies, this administration never defended or supported any activity associated with the settlements,” a White House official told Haaretz. “It doesn’t support or advance any activity that will legitimize them.”

Israeli government, military disagree over unrest


Two months into a wave of stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks by Palestinians targeting Israelis, gaps are emerging between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the military and intelligence chiefs over what is driving the violence.

The rifts raise questions about whether the right tactics are being used to quell the unrest, the most sustained that Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank have experienced since the last Palestinian uprising, or intifada, ended in 2005.

While there is agreement between Netanyahu, the military and the Shin Bet security agency about broad aspects of the violence – that it is being carried out by “lone-wolves” active on social media and that tensions over the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem have contributed – the deeper causes are disputed.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused 80-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of directly inciting the unrest. He also describes it as a manifestation of Palestinians' hatred of Jews and unwillingness to accept Israel's right to exist.

“What is driving this terrorism is opposition to Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, within any borders,” he said as he left for the climate talks in Paris on Sunday.

In contrast, the military and Shin Bet have tended to point to a variety of economic and socio-political factors that they see fuelling Palestinian anger and frustration, particularly among young men and women in the West Bank.

While they have criticized Abbas and his Fatah party for tacitly condoning the violence, including praising “martyrs” who have carried out stabbings, they have avoided accusing the Palestinian leader of inciting it directly.

“The motivation for action is based on feelings of national, economic and personal discrimination,” the Shin Bet wrote in an analysis last month. “For some of the assailants an attack provides an escape from a desperate reality they believe cannot be changed.”

At a cabinet meeting in November, the head of the army's intelligence division gave a similar description, leading to a row with at least one minister who was angry that the general's briefing was not in line with the government's position.

The details were leaked to Israeli media and confirmed to Reuters by a government source who attended the meeting.

Since Oct. 1, when the violence began, 19 Israelis and an American have been killed. Over the same period, Israeli forces have shot dead 97 Palestinians, 58 of whom were identified by Israel as assailants.

“PINPOINT ACTION”

As well as differences in identifying the causes, there are gaps in the approach being advocated to quell the situation.

The military, which has been in the West Bank for 48 years and is minutely involved in maintaining stability, in coordination with Palestinian security forces, is pushing for pinpoint operations that target specific perpetrators.

Senior ministers who sit on Netanyahu's security cabinet want a heavier toll to be exacted on the Palestinian population, arguing that it is the only effective deterrent.

So far, Netanyahu has shown no inclination to launch a large-scale military operation, despite ramping up deployments in the West Bank by 40 percent and calling up reserve units.

He has also rejected suggestions by Israeli and U.S. officials that he offer concessions to the Palestinians to diffuse tension. Violence has to end first, he says.

Instead, there is a strong presence of Israeli troops and checkpoints across the West Bank, without the sort of iron-fisted tactics that marked the last intifada, although the homes of several attackers have been destroyed.

“This is about taking pinpoint action to tackle specific challenges,” a senior army officer told Reuters, saying operations focused on three particularly unruly areas.

Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said the military was trying to ensure that the bulk of the population, which is not involved in violence, is as unaffected as possible.

One example of the balance the military is trying to strike is in Beit Ummar, near Hebron, the most volatile West Bank city. On Friday a 19-year-old from the village, Omar Zaakiek, got into his car and drove into six Israeli soldiers, who shot him dead.

Within hours Netanyahu's security cabinet announced Beit Ummar would be put under “closure”, with cars barred from entering or exiting, except via a winding back road, and pedestrians having to pass through an Israeli checkpoint.

Locals accused Israel of collective punishment. The mayor said Zaakiek's family was told their home faced demolition, a tactic the army and Shin Bet have called counterproductive.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz acknowledged the rift between some ministers and the military and said the latter's policy of trying to isolate the attackers was flawed.

“It is legitimate to have an argument about distinguishing terrorists from the Palestinian population,” he told Channel 10 TV. “It is completely clear that the more you differentiate, the more your ability to deter is limited.”

So far Netanyahu has headed off the pressure. But the situation remains precarious. Given the complex roots of the violence, Michael said there was no military solution.

“This reality cannot last long,” he said. “Ultimately one side will make a mistake and the situation will spin out of control.”

Netanyahu to U.K. chief rabbi: ‘Settlements are not the issue’


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed concerns raised by Britain’s chief rabbi about the growth of West Bank settlements.

In a London meeting with United Kingdom Jewish leaders Wednesday evening, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis told Netanyahu that friends of Israel approach him with the request to “help us help you,” by limiting settlement expansion, the Times of Israel reported, citing an unnamed official who attended the closed session.

Netanyahu said that “settlements are not the issue,” and argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict existed well before the establishment of Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line.

This summer, Mirvis’ predecessor, Lord Jonathan Sacks, said that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, much of which focuses on the settlements, has made it “almost impossible” for European Jews to support Israel, according to the Times of Israel.

Asked about settlements Thursday in a meeting with British politicians, Netanyahu said most settlers live within three urban blocs that are expected to remain under Israeli control in the event of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“There has to be mutual recognition, an end of claims and an end of demands to flood Israel with the descendants of Palestinian refugees any more than we would flood their territory with the descendants of Israeli settlers. There has to be that symmetry,” Netanyahu said, according to the Times of Israel.

At the meeting with Parliament members, Netanyahu emphasized his support for a two-state solution and said the rise of militant Islam in the Middle East has brought about a “sea change” in Israel’s relations with Sunni Arab states, which could be used to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Leaders of countries bordering Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, he said, “have come to view Israel not as an enemy but as an ally in stemming the tide of militant Islamism.”

Netanyahu said the new-found convergence of interests between the Sunni Arab world and Israel could help bring about a “realistic peace” with the Palestinians, placing pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to sign a deal.

Rivlin: Nation’s right to West Bank not debatable


Israel’s right to the West Bank “is not a matter of political debate,” President Reuven Rivlin said.

Meeting Monday with West Bank leaders, Rivlin also said that “settlement of the land of Israel” is an expression of that right.

Rivlin called the settlers “pioneers,” saying that they “pay along with the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, the heaviest price.”

“The settlements are at the forefront of the struggle, and the price paid by the settlers is a painful price indeed,” he said at the meeting at his residence in Jerusalem with nearly 20 heads of regional and municipal councils, including Yesha Council chairman Avi Roeh. “We must, and are able to, deal with the current wave of terrorism, to fight it, and not allow anyone to disrupt our daily lives.”

Rivlin added: “Our sovereignty in this land means responsibility for all those who live here, and obliges all of us to uphold the strictest of moral codes, which is inherent in each and every one of us. I know that the settlement movement as a whole has confirmed this moral and ethical stance, and I want to strengthen and encourage you, on this clear standpoint.”

Roeh told Rivlin that the unofficial freeze on building public infrastructure and development in the West Bank is “causing serious harm to the citizens and the children.”

Netanyahu offers to resume peace talks with settlement focus, official says


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed resuming peace negotiations with the Palestinians but with the initial focus on identifying those Jewish settlements that Israel would keep and be allowed to expand, an Israeli official said on Tuesday.

Peace talks collapsed in April 2014 over Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Palestinians seek for a state, and after Abbas angered Israel by reaching a unity deal with the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.

Asked about Netanyahu's position, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said settlement activity had to stop altogether before peace talks resume and that all core issues of the conflict with Israel needed to be addressed simultaneously.

In a meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Netanyahu told Federica Mogherini, the European Union's foreign policy chief, that some of the land Israel captured in a 1967 war would remain in its hands while other parts would be left under Palestinian control, the Israeli official said.

“Therefore negotiations should be resumed in order to define those areas in which we can build,” the official said, quoting Netanyahu. The remarks were first reported in the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

With the inauguration two weeks ago of his new right-wing government following March elections, Netanyahu faces U.S. and EU calls to re-engage with the Palestinians and also the threat of stronger pressure to curb construction in settlements, which most countries regard as illegal.

Western diplomats have said Netanyahu — who raised international concern by saying on the eve of the election that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch — will now be closely scrutinized over his settlement policy.

An understanding on settlements in peace talks would enable Israel to keep construction going without raising the wrath of its Western allies. It could also appease hardliners in Netanyahu's government who want to see more construction.

One Western diplomat familiar with what occurred at the meeting with Mogherini said Netanyahu's proposal showed some change in his position, but not enough to restart peace talks.

“Up until now, Netanyahu has refused to put any maps on the table, so in that respect it was quite substantial. He was talking about borders in one way or another, even if it was based around the acceptance of existing settlement blocs,” the official said.

Another Western diplomat described Netanyahu's proposal as creating “the illusion of progress”.

“Netanyahu was trying to show that he is committed to peace and ready for negotiations, but he knows the Palestinians would never agree to begin on this basis,” the diplomat said.

Israel approves construction of 77 Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem


Israel invited tenders for construction of 77 new homes in Jewish sections of eastern Jerusalem.

Citing Peace Now, an Israeli group opposed to settlements in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, i24 News reported that the tenders for Pisgat Zeev and Neve Yaakov on Monday were the first issued since the March 17 election.

The government last month also approved construction of 2,200 homes and authorized hundreds of previously illegal dwellings for Palestinians in Arab sections of eastern Jerusalem, according to Yediot Acharonot. Right-wing activists opposed the decision.

“Publication of the tenders for Jewish homes in east Jerusalem is liable to be an indicator from Netanyahu’s transitional government of what can perhaps be expected — God forbid — when the new government is formed,” Peace Now said in a statement. “Instead of changing direction and showing that Israel is ready for peace, Netanyahu is sticking to the line he held during his election campaign and seeking to prevent the chance of peace.”

In Netanyahu’s fourth term, what’s next for Israeli settlements?


A day before his surprise election victory last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood against the backdrop of a construction site in Har Homa, a towering settlement in the West Bank, and pledged to go on building.

The next week, however, his office ordered local authorities to put the brakes on plans to erect hundreds of new homes at Har Homa, a settlement Netanyahu authorized in 1997 during his first term in the face of fierce international opposition.

It was an example of the tightrope Netanyahu walks between his political allegiances and the international community, whose faith in his commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians – including a halt to settlement-building – is wearing thin.

About to begin his fourth term, likely this time at the head of a heavily right-leaning coalition, Netanyahu will be watched closely, at home and abroad, for any moves on settlements, after he ruled out any future Palestinian state before the poll.

He backtracked on the pledge, but international suspicion remains over his commitment to a two-state solution that was at heart of U.S.-sponsored peace talks that collapsed last year.

“There's an increasing distrust of him, that he might say certain things and is either unable to make a decision to take things forward or isn't really committed,” said an EU diplomat.

Palestinians, who want to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, say the settlements – deemed illegal under international law – deny them contiguous territory.

TEN-YEAR RECORD

According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Netanyahu's centrist predecessor Ehud Olmert began construction of 5,120 homes in West Bank settlements between 2006 and 2008. That is 241 units more than Netanyahu's governments started building between 2011 and 2013.

But in a report published in February, Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said 2014 may have been a turning point, with Netanyahu's government setting a 10-year record for the number of tenders issued for settlement construction – a step before actual building. Construction starts for 2014 increased by 40 percent over the previous year.

The problem, according to Peace Now, is not just how much is built, but where. Netanyahu's predecessors had kept construction going mostly in settlement blocs on the edge of the West Bank which Israel says it intends to keep in any peace deal.

Peace Now's Settlement Watch director, Hagit Ofran, said Netanyahu had significantly increased construction deep inside the West Bank, making peace harder to achieve.

“In the past few years, the government has been building a lot, particularly in those areas, and I expect this to continue,” Ofran said.

It has slowly advanced plans for construction, but not built any homes so far, in two particularly sensitive areas of the West Bank – the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, and Givat Hamatos, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Construction there could potentially split the West Bank and also cut Palestinians off from East Jerusalem, which they seek for their capital.

“We have a particular view on certain red lines, Givat Hamatos and E1,” the EU diplomat said.

What, if anything, the West would do about building in such places remains a question, but the Europeans have talked about sanctions or retaliatory measures based around the EU's trade agreement with Israel.

Settlers say Netanyahu's reticence is tantamount to a “quiet freeze” – and they want that to end.

Israeli officials confirmed that overall, the planning process for new building projects in settlements, which goes through various stages of approval, has slowed.

But settler leader Danny Dayan said Netanyahu will have to accommodate the demands of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, a likely coalition partner, to build more if a new government is to survive.

Jewish Home advocates annexation of most the West Bank, a policy Netanyahu has not supported. Another likely ally, the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, wants to trade some Arab towns in Israel for West Bank settlements.

More than 500,000 Israelis live on occupied land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, among 2.8 million Palestinians. In the West Bank alone, the number of settlers has more than doubled since 1995 to over 350,000.

JERUSALEM GATEWAY

In his election eve speech at Har Homa, Netanyahu expanded on the traditional arguments for settlements based on Jewish history and Israeli security needs, and in effect confirmed Palestinian accusations the enclaves are built as a land grab.

“There was a Palestinian attempt to join Bethlehem, to break through into Jerusalem. I thought we must protect the southern gateway to Jerusalem by building here. There was huge objection, because this neighborhood is in a location that prevents Palestinian contiguity,” Netanyahu said.

Though the West has shown a degree of tacit consent to Israel building in blocs it might retain, Palestinians see all settlement construction as cause for alarm.

“These deliberate and premeditated violations present a challenge to the United Nations, European Union and United States if they are to prevent the final demise of the global rule of law and hence the achievement of a just peace,” Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said.

In Mitzpe Kramim, a settlement perched on a hilltop overlooking the Jordan Valley, men were praying at dusk while their wives sat watching children play on the grass.

“The people of Israel and Judaism began here,” said Doron Leshem, 37, who lives there with his wife and five children, along with some 40 other families.

“We are here to fulfill a destiny. This is mine. Like the vines growing here, we cannot grow anywhere else. Judaism cannot thrive elsewhere,” he said as the day's last rays of sun shone through the community's nearby vineyard.

Lieberman tells German Foreign Minister there are no limits on East Jerusalem settlements


Rebuffing international criticism, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his German counterpart point-blank on Sunday that Israel will not stop building homes for Jews in East Jerusalem.

His remarks were likely to compound Western frustration over Israeli settlement policy on occupied land that Palestinians seek for a state.

“We won't accept any limitations on building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem,” Lieberman told a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Since the start of October, Israel has advanced building plans for some 4,300 homes on West Bank land annexed to Jerusalem, heightening tensions in a city which is already on edge following confrontations over access to a renown holy site.

The slew of construction announcements have angered the European Union and the United States, which deem Israeli enclaves on occupied land as illegal and an obstacle to peace.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they aspire to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — areas captured by Israel in a 1967 war. Israel quit the Gaza Strip in 2005, but blockades the Hamas Islamist-ruled enclave.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its united capital, a claim that is not recognized internationally, and an estimated 150,000 Jews live in East Jerusalem.

“Whoever dreams the Israeli government will surrender and limit construction in Jerusalem is mistaken,” said Lieberman, who himself lives in a West Bank settlement.

“We are ready to defend our independence, our sovereignty, and there won't be any compromise. I think any pressure here will be very, very negative and very counterproductive.”

Steinmeier said the establishment of an independent Palestinian state was the only solution to the decades-old conflict. Palestinians fear settlements will deny them a viable and contiguous country.

European officials have said they are looking at new ways to halt settlement building. Discussions are at an early stage, but officials say the European Union, Israel's biggest trading partner, may look at stopping settlers from visiting the EU and could examine the fine print of a free-trade agreement.

Asked about Lieberman's remarks, Nabil Abu Rdeineh, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said settlement building in East Jerusalem was illegal.

“We ask the international community, especially the United States and the EU to stop this Israeli escalation,” he said.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Crispian Balmer

U.S. says it is ‘deeply concerned’ about Israeli settlement decision


The United States said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” about an Israeli decision to approve construction of 200 new homes in East Jerusalem.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the decision impeded attempts to reach a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“We are deeply concerned by this decision particularly given the tense situation in Jerusalem,” she told a regular media briefing.

“Most importantly they are contrary to Israel's own stated goal of achieving a two-state solution because they make it more difficult to do that,” Psaki said.

The new housing is slated for a sprawling hillside complex of apartment buildings and private homes at the northern edge of Jerusalem, on land Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed to the city in a move never recognized internationally. Palestinians want this territory as part of a future state.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Jordan on Wednesday to meet with King Abdullah. The talks will include a discussion of the growing tensions in Jerusalem, the State Department said.

Tension has risen over Israeli-controlled access to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site, where biblical Jewish temples once stood.

Israeli police and Palestinians have clashed repeatedly in recent weeks, culminating in a one-day closure of the mosque last month.

Jordan recalled its ambassador from Israel on Nov. 5, the first time it has taken such action since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1994, denouncing what Amman called “violations” at the mosque.

Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu

West Bank land grab undermines two-state advocacy


The dust has barely settled from this summer’s disastrous outbreak of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and already the Israeli government has announced the expropriation of nearly 4,000 dunams (approximately 1,000 acres) of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

Israel is set to clear five Palestinian villages on the land west of Bethlehem in hopes of creating continuity in the area between the settlements of the Gush Etzion bloc and Jerusalem. By illegally building on occupied land and destroying the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state, Israel severely undermines the opportunity to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict and ensure its own future security and stability. 

As a Palestinian-American who wishes to see a peaceful resolution to this interminable conflict, my confidence in the peace process has been rocked many times — but rarely more than after this announcement. It is clear to me that both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to self-determination in their own states. That is why I ardently support a two-state solution. But this new settlement sends the message — to me, fellow Americans, fellow Palestinians, and fellow students — that Israel’s government does not take that solution seriously. 

This latest action seems deliberately designed to perpetuate a military occupation that has already lasted 47 years. According to the Israeli peace group Peace Now, this seizure represents one of the largest Israeli land grabs in the West Bank in more than 30 years. Less than two months ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel could never relinquish security control of the West Bank. Netanyahu is not mincing words when he promises unending occupation, and he continues to follow through with settlement expansion and land expropriation. Far from seeking a lasting solution to the root causes of this summer’s horrible violence, it appears that the current Israeli government is moving even further away from compromise and peace.  

Defenders of the settlements (who outside of Israel grow fewer every day) often argue that the land they are building on is expected, under most existing peace plans, to be included as part of Israel in a future two-state agreement. But that argument is irrelevant while the current Israeli government shows no interest in actually reaching a two-state solution and ending the occupation anytime soon. Regardless of exact location, every new construction announcement over the Green Line further undermines the credibility and popularity of pro-peace Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas — and empowers the increasingly-popular Hamas. A poll this month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey showed support for Fatah falling relative to Hamas, a damning indictment of Israel’s strategy. 

The time has come for the United States, Israel’s closest friend, to declare clearly that the settlements are “illegal” — something that it previously did in the first few decades of the occupation. This would send a strong message to the Netanyahu government that its current course is unacceptable even to its greatest strategic ally. It would open the door for the Obama administration to reassess how it implements its settlement policy, and to potentially take stronger steps if Israeli actions show no sign of changing.

Encouragingly, the United States has already called for the Israeli government to reverse the decision, arguing that, “the announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve, and construction tender they issue, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.” This is a good step — but the US has made similar statements in the past, to little effect. To be a true friend to Israel, the Obama administration needs to be firm and decisive in making clear that the path of its current government is disastrous for American policy and for Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state — not to mention unacceptable for Palestinians, who have a right to live free from occupation. 

Inaction discredits and lets down Americans like myself who doggedly advocate a negotiated resolution to the conflict. It fuels the understandable frustration of those — like some of my friends and family — who view the current “peace process” as simply a “piece-by-piece” process, in which Israel slowly gobbles up more and more Palestinian land while the world sits by. If the US government won’t stand behind its own policies, how can we take the American role as a peacemaker seriously?

In the wake of a war that seemed to only strengthen advocates of violence on both sides, it has never been more clear that Israel’s leaders cannot achieve peace and security through military means. Israel’s ever-growing foothold in Palestinian territory doesn’t just threaten the viability of an independent Palestinian state — it also sends Israel deeper into diplomatic isolation, thereby threatening Israel’s long-term security, prosperity and international legitimacy. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and all Americans committed to safety and security for both Israelis and Palestinians must do more than offer empty words of condemnation to actions that seriously undermine both. The millions on both sides who want an end to conflict, destruction and oppression deserve better. Will we let them down?

About Yasmeen: Yasmeen Serhan is a Palestinian-American student and J Street U leader studying international relations at the University of Southern California.