September 26, 2018

How to save Gaza: A Palestinian American argues it’s time to bring in the UN and stop blaming Israel

A Palestinian girl looks through the gate of the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on July 6. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Ten years ago, terrible events were unfolding in my native Gaza Strip. The Fatah-Hamas conflict was escalating, and all signs were pointing to an outcome that many in the George W. Bush administration did not want to believe was coming.

Despite millions of dollars in cash and arms from Arab countries and the United States, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas misplayed his hand and failed to stop Hamas’ violent military takeover of the coastal enclave, thereby raising tensions within Palestinian communities and with Israel.

By sheer coincidence, the very day the Islamist movement declared Gaza under its full control, June 14, 2007, my interview for political asylum status in the United States was underway.

Now, as an American citizen living in San Francisco, I can write about my experiences and perspectives in ways that many in Gaza cannot, fearing only that my parents, siblings and other family members who remain there are not held responsible for my opinions. My folks are sometimes jealous of my ability to speak my mind and remind me frequently to consider the implications for them of what I say.

While Israel continues to play a significant role in Gaza’s affairs, the grim anniversary of the Hamas takeover warrants focusing less on Israel than the role that Palestinian political organizations have played in worsening the misery for Gaza’s more than 2 million residents. And that has led me to conclude that the United Nations, for all its problems and the hate it incurs by Israelis, is perhaps Gazans’ best hope for progress.

After Hamas won local and parliamentary elections in 2006, Fatah — led by Abbas — was reluctant to relinquish executive authority to what it believed was an incompetent ideological group, unfit to govern and lacking the international recognition necessary for success. Hamas, on the other hand, felt emboldened by its popular victory to take the helm from Fatah, whose corruption had reached epic proportions that caused many — even some seculars — to vote for Hamas, hoping for change.

The years that followed have proved that change remains elusive. Gazans’ hope for a better life was never realized. An Israeli and Egyptian blockade, initiated because of security concerns after Hamas seized power, set the stage for the degradation of the quality of life in the troubled Strip. The three major conflicts with Israel that followed in 2008, 2012 and 2014 worsened conditions and caused tens of thousands of causalities and billions of dollars in damages to the economy and infrastructure. And while hundreds of trucks carrying goods enter Gaza from Israel on a daily basis, restrictions prevent numerous consumer, industrial and even medical items from being sold to Gazans because of Israeli concerns over potential dual-use.

Virtually every aspect of life in Gaza continues to deteriorate. One can start with the crippling electricity outages, which can last as long as 21 hours a day, or the heavily polluted drinking water. Chronic illnesses have become untreatable. Massive unemployment, especially among youth and college graduates, is a major source of misery and uncertainty — it’s been reported as the highest in the world.

Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib on the Egyptian side of Gaza’s Rafah border in 2012 after accompanying his brother, who was visiting with him in Cairo, to the furthest part of Egyptian soil. Alkhatib hasn’t been in Gaza since July 2005. Photo courtesy of Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib

 

While some parts of Gaza have had a chance to rebuild since the last war, others still lay in ruins, and millions of gallons of untreated raw sewage continue to flow in streets and into the Mediterranean Sea, forcing most beaches to close. Then there are the contrasts between those living in sheer poverty and the flashy shopping malls — unaffordable to most people — that have popped up in some parts of town.

Darkness resulting from the electricity crisis makes Gaza feel like a sad, miserable place, particularly at night. It would not be an exaggeration to say that if given a chance, more than half of Gaza’s population would choose to leave the Strip for any other place in the Middle East or Europe, in pursuit of a better, more secure and stable life.

Ongoing bickering between Hamas and Fatah only serves to increase the suffering. In an effort to pressure the Islamist movement, Abbas is retiring more than 6,000 Gaza-based Palestinian Authority employees. Red tape and politics are impacting the permitting process for Gazans who need to travel outside the small enclave to receive medical treatment. With several major heat waves and no electricity, nor, at times, water to cool off, people are experiencing hell on earth.

The humanitarian conditions are spiraling downward and may hit the point of no return. To hit back at the PA, Hamas is entering into an unorthodox alliance with Mohammed Dahlan, the group’s former enemy with whom it clashed in 2007, and the current arch-enemy of Abbas. This resulted in the recent delivery of Egyptian industrial diesel fuel for Gaza’s sole power plant but resulted in no tangible improvement in the electricity disaster.

When Hamas approached the elections in 2006, it had two goals. First, it was convinced that it could bring its agenda of armed resistance against Israeli occupation to the global stage through the PA, which was created by the Oslo peace accords — the very agreement that Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, despises and rejects. The group also believed that its Islamic principles would result in better governance in Gaza, based on integrity, honesty, discipline and compassion. Surely, many believed, the religious folks would be better than the secular nationalists with their scandals and unchecked corruption.

However, even in power, Hamas has failed to convince the world that its armed struggle against Israel is, in fact, legitimate. To many around the world, engagement in a political process often means abandoning violence. Shooting unguided rockets into Israeli communities — and in the process endangering many local lives through inevitable Israeli retaliations — does not effectively foster international compassion for one’s cause. Nor does digging smuggling tunnels near residential areas without the consent of local residents, many of whom are intimidated into silence.

As for Hamas’ second objective, the international and Israeli blockade against Gaza has meant that the group had virtually no financial or political capital for improving lives. Promises of better infrastructure, power-sharing and improved government-to-people relations were never kept because there was no way for them to be realized given Hamas’ ideological stance. This has hindered its ability to rule effectively.

To its credit, Hamas has been able to restrict the public flaunting and use of firearms in Gaza, and it holds a monopoly on force. It has established an agreement whereby armed groups cannot engage Israel militarily at random. And it has cracked down on ISIS-inspired Salafists in recent months.

Overall, however, Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip was a grave miscalculation that resulted in nothing short of a disaster for the people. Ask most people on Gaza streets today about what their concerns are: Most are worried about not having power, water, clean air, housing, jobs, quality health care and other necessities that Hamas’ government has been unable to deliver. It is unlikely that you’ll encounter many people concerned with long-term issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas’ decade-long adventure has reduced people’s interests to the mere basics, destroying their hopes for a resolution to the big and historic challenges.

Still, it is terrifying to know that Gaza is a powder keg, with many young people who are desperate and vulnerable to radicalization and violent tendencies. Gaza also is full of young people who have dreams just like Israeli and other youth do, but they lack the means to pursue their aspirations and realize their true potential as capable, talented contributors to humanity.

The Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, shares responsibility for the misery in Gaza. Fatah derives much of its legitimacy from two things: its historic battles with Israel before the Oslo accords and the ability to create public service jobs that reduced unemployment. But it was the corruption and failures of the PA that paved the way for Hamas’ takeover. Despite dozens of redundant security services, safety in Gaza was a serious issue and rampant gun violence promoted desperation for change.

The Palestinian authority and Hamas have failed the people of Gaza miserably.

Gazans feel that the PA has abandoned them. This is evidenced in the recent cuts to the salaries of public servants on the PA’s payroll: My mother, who teaches high school math, had her salary reduced by 40 percent last month just as she is about to retire. In April, the PA stopped paying for electricity being generated by Israel in an effort to apply further pressure on Gaza’s rulers. After the Hamas takeover, the PA told many of its employees to stay at home and not work for Hamas. Many of these public servants have been decaying at home, their skills diminished and mental health worsened by their inability to work daily and to be contributing members of society.

The PA and Hamas have failed the people of Gaza miserably. People’s lives are reduced to waiting for change that cannot come as long as this stagnant impasse continues. How is it that a jewel on the Mediterranean with one of the most strategic locations and a nearby unused gas field does not have a functional airport, a seaport, a vibrant economy, sound infrastructure or robust exchange with its neighbors?

We cannot place the entirety of the blame at Israel’s feet. After the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leadership missed an opportunity to demonstrate to the entire world that, when given a fair chance, Palestinians are able to govern effectively and create the foundations for a state worth living in. Success in Gaza could have demonstrated that the West Bank would look the same, were Israeli settlements vacated. Instead, we have made the lives of pro-occupation political parties in Israel much easier, affirming the claim that security threats have been too great to give back the land.

So, what can be done? As someone with deep roots in Gaza, I cannot consider the status quo a viable option. Hamas and Fatah are ideologically and politically irreconcilable. It is almost certain that corruption and incompetence will continue to hinder the establishment of robust systems in Gaza to turn things around and improve the lives of its residents.

The best way forward may be back.

After the 1956 Suez crisis, the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) established its headquarters in the Gaza Strip to facilitate military disengagement after the war ended. The multinational force maintained peace for almost a decade. It even operated an airport that facilitated the movement of goods and passengers, local and foreign.

Although Egypt was administratively in charge of the Gaza Strip, U.N. agencies provided the foundation for the stability and well-being of local Palestinians. The ill-advised decision by then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to demand the withdrawal of the UNEF set the stage for problems that Palestinians continue to face.

However, 50 years after the UNEF left Gaza, conditions are very different, with Egypt overtly allied with Israel to combat terrorism in Sinai and restrict movement and access to Hamas-controlled Gaza.

A damaged UN school and remnants of the Ministry of the Interior in Gaza City, as seen in 2012. Many parts of Gaza have not been rebuilt following several conflicts with Israel. Photo from Wikimedia

 

In 2014, because of concerns that the Hamas regime would collapse, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for Gaza to be placed under a U.N. mandate to facilitate the Strip’s resurgence as a vibrant territory. Although many ridiculed the proposal at the time, I was one of the few who vocally supported certain components of the idea because it would have removed Gazans from the control of intransigent Palestinian-Israeli political dynamics.

Furthermore, the U.N. has a track record of carrying out major interventions in places that suffer from instability, violence, collapsing infrastructure and political deadlock. Since the 1980s, the United Nations has been involved in significant humanitarian operations, using ground and aerial assets and networks, in countries such as Afghanistan, Liberia, North and South Sudan, Mali, Libya, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Pakistan, Nepal, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

A great example of such involvement is Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), a consortium of U.N. agencies and international organizations operating in South Sudan to deliver humanitarian aid and assistance throughout the war-torn and drought-afflicted regions.

OLS was established in 1989 after it became apparent that major intervention was needed because of the second Sudanese civil war and a devastating famine. As a result of practical and detailed negotiations, the U.N., the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army agreed to deliver humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need regardless of their location or political affiliation. Civilians in need of travel were transported in and out of certain areas using various U.N. mechanisms, including aircraft. The northern Kenyan town of Lokichogio and its airport became primary staging areas for U.N. humanitarian air operations that serviced South Sudan. The U.N. dealt with a non-state armed group out of necessity, but without conferring recognition upon it.

Because the U.N. has been operating in Gaza for decades, it already enjoys a status in Palestinian society as a humanitarian platform and provider of essential services. A transitional period of five or 10 years could prove vital in stabilizing the Strip by preventing another war, reversing the deterioration of living conditions, initiating infrastructure renovations and managing aid money in a professional, nonpartisan manner. This stability could break the current deadlock and allow political resolutions that would empower the Palestinian people to truly achieve self-determination, with a focus on the needs of future generations.

Many nations and organizations can operate under the U.N.’s umbrella, which is the most accepted international entity to Gazans sensitive to the potential of “another foreign occupation.” Criticism may be hard to hear, but we all have an obligation to speak out against the continuing gradual destruction of hope for our Palestine.

Gaza is at a critical juncture. Internationalizing it offers the only hope for a pragmatic way forward. Conditioning improvements to Gaza’s situation upon Hamas’ departure from power or a fundamental change in its ideology only will further the suffering of Palestinian civilians, who are paying the price for circumstances over which they have no control.

I am optimistic that there’s a way forward to fulfill the needs of Gazans while addressing Israel’s legitimate security needs.

As someone who received political asylum status in the United States in 2008, I am one of very few lucky Gazans who have acquired this status over a 20-year period. I enjoy great privileges, now as an American citizen, but I won’t enjoy those alone: I cannot let go of where I came from. And I refuse to be hopeless.


AHMED FOUAD ALKHATIB is a San Francisco-based Palestinian-American humanitarian activist from the Gaza Strip and founder of Project Unified Assistance, which advocates for the establishment of a humanitarian United Nations-operated, Israel Defense Forces-approved airport in the Gaza Strip.

Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt after Netanyahu meeting: Making peace will ‘take time’

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner on June 19. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Arriving at an Israeli-Palestinian peace will “take time,” President Donald Trump’s top two negotiators said after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The United States officials and Israeli leadership underscored that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking,” the White House said in a readout after the meeting Wednesday between Netanyahu and Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump and his Jewish son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt, his special envoy to the region.

The cautious tone appeared to defer to Netanyahu’s preference to go slow in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace. Netanyahu does not believe that the Palestinians are fully committed to coexistence and accuses their leadership of continuing to incite violence.

For their part, Palestinian Authority officials have enthusiastically embraced Trump’s hopes of reviving the talks and have dropped some previous prior demands, including that Israel freeze settlement building.

Greenblatt and Kushner have been tasked with reviving peace negotiations. Greenblatt has visited the region multiple times since Trump became president in January, while Kushner was making his first visit as an envoy. He accompanied Trump during his one-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian areas last month.

Also present at the meeting was David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

“The three United States officials discussed Israel’s priorities and potential next steps with Prime Minister Netanyahu, acknowledging the critical role Israel plays in the security of the region,” the readout said.

Greenblatt and Kushner also plan to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their visit before returning to Washington, D.C., to brief top Trump administration foreign policy officials.

Abbas reportedly confirms to PLO that Trump shouted at him during meeting

President Donald Trump shaking hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a joint news conference in Bethlehem, in the West Bank on May 23. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has appeared to confirm an Israeli report that U.S. President Donald Trump shouted at him during their meeting last month in Bethlehem.

The London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al Araby, or The New Arab, which has editions in both Arabic and English, reported on Wednesday that Abbas acknowledged the previous day during a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee that his meeting with Trump was “uncomfortable,” citing unnamed sources present at the meeting.

The sources told Al Araby that Trump showed video clips, which the Palestinians claim had been taken out of context, of Abbas admitting to inciting against Israel. “We incite and the Israelis incite,” he reportedly said.

“You have the CIA, ask them to examine the videos and to find out how they were taken or fabricated for the purpose of incriminating Palestinians,” Abbas reportedly told Trump.

Palestinian officials reportedly have denied the Al Araby report.

The original report earlier this week by Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Trump yelled at Abbas and accused him of being involved in promoting incitement against Israel.

“You tricked me in DC! You talked there about your commitment to peace, but the Israelis showed me your involvement in incitement,” Trump reportedly yelled at Abbas during the May 23 meeting, making it difficult to get back to business during Trump’s whirlwind visit to the area.

Trump was referring to his meeting at the White House with Abbas on May 3, during which Trump called on Abbas to tamp down incitement, as well as to stop payments to the families of Palestinian terrorists in an effort to crack down on terrorism. Abbas, for his part, assured Trump that “we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace.”

The Palestinian Authority also has denied the Channel 2 report.

Trump’s trip: experts react

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

“If President Trump wanted to demonstrate his stunningly pro-Israeli credentials to pave the way for pressing [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu for concessions down the road, this trip couldn’t have gone any better.”

Aaron David Miller, Middle East analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


“President Trump risked stepping on his own narrative of strong support for Israel and restarting peace talks with his ‘I didn’t say the word Israel’ moment. … Regardless, the president is likely to leave Israel with the well-deserved sense that the visit was a success.”

Dan Shapiro, former United States ambassador to Israel


“The president’s belief that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace appears to be based on statements made to him by [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas. But actions by the PLO speak louder than words. The previous Israeli offers of peace were rejected, the glorification of terror continues, and payments to terrorists continue to be made.”

Elliott Abrams, former United States assistant secretary of state


“If he is going to try the same flawed policies that have failed for decades, he, too, will fail. The road to peace will begin in the towns and cities of Judea and Samaria, and we pray that he will accept our invitation to come and see real peace and coexistence in action.”

Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council of West Bank Jewish communities


“Donald Trump is the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall. To a Jew, that is remarkable. … His timing to visit the Middle East at this time was impeccable. He couldn’t have picked a better time. It’s true that the Saudis proposed a peace proposal years ago, but now it’s a different Saudi Arabia. Oil is down. Saudi Arabia has a huge problem with Iran. Saudi Arabia realizes that there’s only one strong country in the Middle East that can benefit it, and it’s Israel. … [The Gulf States] are waiting for the time when it will be acceptable to have that great alliance and one of the great players will be the State of Israel, because who else can stand up to Iran other than Israel or the United States? His timing was excellent. This he could not have handled better.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles


“At a time when UNESCO and others continue to deny Jewish history, identity and rights in Jerusalem and Israel in general, the president’s visit to the Western Wall serves as a critical reminder to the world that Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. We are grateful that the administration recognizes the threat Iran’s regime poses to the world and to Israel in particular. We are also excited about the new possibilities of increased cooperation and even peace between Israel and the Arab world. Time will tell if these regional efforts and peace negotiations with the Palestinians will be successful, but we remain hopeful.”

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO StandWithUs, an Israel education organization

Meeting with Abbas, Trump calls Manchester attackers ‘evil losers’

President Donald Trump shaking hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a joint news conference in Bethlehem, in the West Bank on May 23. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, Donald Trump condemned those behind the deadly bombing in Manchester, England, the night before as “evil losers.”

“So many young beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term,” Trump said in a joint news conference with Abbas on the second day of the U.S. president’s two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank. “They would think that’s a great name. I will call them from now on losers because that’s what they are.”

At least 22 people were killed as they exited a concert by the American pop star Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena. Police said the attack was carried out by a lone suspect who died in the explosion. The Islamic State has taken responsibility.

Abbas also expressed his “warm condolences” to the victims of the attack and to the British people.

Discussing his talks with Abbas, Trump spoke of achieving a peace deal, saying “I am committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I intend to do everything I can to help them achieve that goal. President Abbas assures me he is ready to work toward that goal in good faith, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised the same. I look forward to working with these leaders toward a lasting peace.”

On Monday, Trump met with Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israeli prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, where he also spoke of possibilities for recharging the peace process.

“There are many things that can happen now that could never have happened before,” Trump said during the visit. “We must seize them together. We must take advantage of the situation.”

In his appearance with Abbas, Trump made what many took as a reference to Palestinian payments to the families of terrorists. The practice of paying “martyrs” and their families dates back decades and survived the Oslo peace process launched in 1993.

“Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded,” Trump said.

He also called for zero tolerance for terror.

“We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single unified voice,” the U.S. leader said.

In his remarks, Abbas said he has no problem with Judaism. He said the Palestinians’ “fundamental problem is with occupation and settlements and the failure of Israel to recognize the state of Palestine as we recognize it.”

Abbas said the Palestinians “are committed to working with [Trump] to reach a historic peace deal between us and Israel.”

Trump Israel visit team member reportedly says Western Wall is ‘part of the West Bank’

Worshipers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Jan. 17. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

A senior member of the U.S. delegation for President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel next week reportedly angered Israeli officials when he said the Western Wall was “part of the West Bank.”

Israel’s Channel 2 reported Monday that the U.S. delegation rejected Israeli requests that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an Israeli TV crew accompany President Donald Trump on his visit to the Western Wall. The U.S. official then reportedly said, “It is not your territory, it’s part of the West Bank.”

According to the report, the Israeli delegation was so angry that members started shouting.

An Israeli official told Channel 2 that the Jewish state was “convinced that this statement contradicts President Trump’s policy as expressed in his fierce opposition to the latest [United Nations] Security Council resolution” and that it had asked the United States for clarification on the comment.

In December, the U.N. Security Council passed an anti-settlement resolution with the U.S. abstaining. Trump slammed President Barack Obama for not vetoing the resolution, calling it “extremely unfair.”

Trump will arrive in Israel on May 22, when he will visit the Western Wall and meet with President Reuven Rivlin and Netanyahu. That day also includes a “possible visit” to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.

The following day, Trump will speak at Masada, the Roman-era fortress in the Negev Desert, and meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Trump’s first overseas trip as president will also include visits to Saudi Arabia and the Vatican. The agenda was deliberately set “to bring about all the different countries, all the different religions, in the fight against terrorism,” an aide said earlier this month.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised eyebrows when he spoke of “a peace initiative between Israel and Palestine.” It was not the first time a member of the Trump administration referred to “Palestine,” which the U.S. does not recognize. Earlier this month, White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. said on Facebook that the president would meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in “Palestine.”

A senior administration official called Tillerson and Scavino’s references “unintentional and unfortunate,” The Jerusalem Post reported Monday.

Peace process: Here we die again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toward a renewed Middle East peace process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White House: Trump will reinforce strong alliance, talk peace on Israel trip

President Donald Trump, right, reaches to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Donald Trump will visit Israel later this month after visiting Saudi Arabia, his first foreign trip since taking office in January.

“Tolerance is the cornerstone of peace,” Trump said during an event in the White House’s Rose Garden. “That is why I am proud to make a major and historic announcement this morning and share with you that my first foreign trip as president will be to Saudi Arabia, then Israel, then the Vatican in Rome.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

A senior administration official said the planning started shortly after the elections after being approached by Saudi Arabia wanting to reset warm relations with the U.S. Administration.

Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, according to the WH official, will focus on trying to reach an understanding with Arab leaders on joint “long-term” goals to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East.

In Israel, Trump will “reinforce the strong alliance that we have with the Israeli people, and then we are going to talk a little bit about the peace process with the Palestinians and how we plan to go forward.”

The official did not provide any specific details and refused to say whether or not Trump will work to arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while on the trip. “We are hoping to achieve peace between now and then,” the official said. “We will approach it with a lot of humility. The President is very involved in [discussing] a lot of ideas.”

In a statement, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump will discuss with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu “a range of regional issues, including the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies, and by ISIS and other terrorist groups” and “discuss ways to advance a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

Trump will also meet with Abbas “to discuss ways to advance peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as efforts to unlock the potential of the Palestinian economy,” Spicer said.

House members divided about Trump’s optimism on Middle East peace

President Donald Trump welcomes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on May 3. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Similar to almost every appearance by President Donald Trump, his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday afternoon was met with great anticipation and a sense of unpredictability. “I will do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement… And we will get this done,” asserted Trump.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Representative Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) was not convinced that the real estate mogul turned Commander in Chief will bring a resolution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arizona lawmaker told Jewish Insider, “This is not a real estate deal you are putting together. An effort without content and just blowing smoke is a huge mistake given his reversal of positions on foreign affairs, it begs the question whether he can handle it or not.”

On the other hand, Republican House Members expressed appreciation for the President’s commitment and handling of the issue. “Like everyone else, I want to see peace there. I think the President deserves a chance,” noted James Comer (R-KY). “He’s our leader and does things a different way and maybe that’s what we need in foreign policy. As a leader of the strongest nation of the world, he is an appropriate negotiator.”

While Abbas called for an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital during his White House remarks, Trump declined to endorse the two state solution, just as he refrained from doing so when meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MS) explained, “That has been our policy across Democratic and Republican administrations. It has served us well. Saying the opposite could stir up the hornet’s nest. I would hope that as usual — the President just forgot.”

Putting aside the question of a two state solution, Robert Aderholt (R-AL) believes the President offers a unique perspective. The Alabama lawmaker told Jewish Insider, “I know this is an issue that is very near and dear to his heart because Israel is one of those issues he talked quite a bit about during the campaign.” Hosting both Netanyahu and Abbas during the first few months of his presidency “sends a strong message that he is interested in moving forward and try to get a peace agreement,” Aderholt added.

While repeatedly pushing for a “deal,” Trump did not mention any of the thorny final status agreements that have long divided the parties including East Jerusalem, refugees, or borders. The Republican leader did find the time to praise Abbas. “That seems to be consistent with his (Trump) foreign relations strategy to get people to like him. That might work with a few Members of Congress, not many of them. That’s not going to work (here),” emphasized Cleaver.

When asked if he agreed with Trump’s proposal for the “ultimate deal,” Aderholt responded, “It’s important to what the deal says. Did he elaborate on what was in the deal? That really is the $64,000 question.” The US President did not offer any details on Wednesday. Noting the ongoing violence that has resulted from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Cleaver warned, “Moses would have great difficulty getting a deal as would Abraham so this is not a business deal. This is the Middle East and it involves people who have been at war for almost a millennium.”

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

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

1.

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

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

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

2.

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

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

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

3.

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

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

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

4.

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

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

5.

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

Something’s got to give.

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

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

 

Trump, Abbas link renewed peace talks to countering Islamic State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbas said his government was teaching its young people peace.

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

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

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

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

What could go wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Kickoff: Experts downplay expectations for Trump’s Abbas meeting | Ivanka’s West Wing agenda | Wilbur Ross calls Syria strikes ‘entertainment’

People watch the Israeli Air Force planes fly in formation over the Mediterranean Sea on May 2. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

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HAPPENING TODAY — In public debut, F-35 jets streak over Israel for Independence Day: “Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jets soared above cities throughout Israel on Tuesday for the country’s annual Independence Day flyover, marking the first time the public got a look at the Air Force’s state-of-the-art plane. Israel is the first country outside the United States to receive the state-of-the-art F-35, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin. In total, the country is planning to purchase 50 of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft, known in Israel as the “Adir,” or “mighty one,” and has thus far received five of them.” [ToI]

“UNESCO disavows Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem in 22-10 vote” by Tovah Lazaroff, Herb Keinon: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Tuesday’s “absurd” 22-10 UNESCO vote disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem still represents a positive diplomatic change: more states abstained or supported Israel than voted against… According to Israeli officials, Germany was a driving force behind a deal that would see all EU states abstain in exchange for the removal of the most incendiary anti-Israel passages. But on Monday, Italy announced that it would vote against the resolution, apparently ending the effort to forge a European consensus.” [JPost; ToI]

“Why Israel Got Into a Dust-Up With Germany” by Daniel Gordis: “Most Israelis are keenly aware that without the IDF, they would not survive. Of all weeks of the year, this was certainly not the moment for a German to come to Israel to meet with an organization that most Israelis believe wants to make Jews vulnerable once again.” [Bloomberg]

“Every Senator Agrees the U.N. Must Change” by Senators Chris Coons and Marco Rubio: “As both the U.N.’s principal founding member and its largest financial contributor, the U.S. must insist on real reforms. We in Congress have a responsibility to conduct rigorous oversight of U.S. engagement at the U.N. and its use of our citizens’ tax dollars… Still, the U.N. continues to fund and maintain many standing committees that serve no purpose other than to attack Israel and inspire the anti-Israel boycott, sanctions and divestment movement. These committees must be eliminated or reformed.” [WSJ

TAYLOR FORCE ACT — “Senators Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton write to Trump that the PA is no partner for peace with Israel as long as it’s ‘spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year funding and incentivizing terror'” [Haaretz; FreeBeacon]

DRIVING THE WEEK — White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered no clarity at yesterday’s press briefing about Trump’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ahead of the Trump-Abbas meeting on Wednesday. “The President’s ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region,” he asserted. “That’s obviously the goal and the discussion that he’s going to have with the head of the Palestinian Authority. But that’s going to be a relationship that he continues to work on and build with the ultimate goal that there’s peace in that region between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Asked about newly announced Israeli settlement building in E. Jerusalem,Spicer said, “I’m sure that we’ll continue to have conversations with the Prime Minister and — I’m not going to — that will be something that President will continue to discuss.” [CSPANA possible announcement about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “is still being discussed by staff,” added Spicer.

YESTERDAY IN DC — Washington Institute (WINEP) panel calls for lowering expectations from Trump-Abbas meeting — by Aaron Magid: “In spite of the sudden spate of optimism that the Trump administration can do it, I would argue no major breakthrough is available now. No lack of effort or shortage of time prevented the deal so far during the many years since Oslo,” explained Channel 2 Arab Affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari. “[Abbas] is not the man who is going to sign the deal giving up on the return of many, many refugees. Embarking upon a final status effort is going to once again backfire. It is simply not there now. Therefore, the big question is whether the Trump administration will come to the table with a fallback, which can only be some version of a comprehensive interim (deal).”

Trump’s approach to the meeting with Abbas “needs to be in the first instance to demonstrate the difference from Obama,” argued Ambassador Dennis Ross. “The one thing that can’t be the result of this meeting is that Abbas leaves and feels it’s ok to say no to Trump. He needs to understand that when you say no to Trump, you pay a price.”

At the same time, WINEP Fellow Ghaith Omari advocated that the Trump administration adopt a nuanced approach when setting the goals for the meeting. “If President Trump asks for too much and too quickly, Abbas might shut down and he might retreat to preserve his domestic standing and nothing will come out of the meeting,” Omari said. “On the other hand, if the President asks for too little and is willing to engage on a diplomatic process with no preparation, we might end up with a very familiar story with a peace process where neither or one of the sides is willing or able to reach a deal, and we are just being strung along.” [JewishInsider]

“Can Trump Make Mideast Peace Without Gaza?” by Grant Rumley: “Any feasible peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians will require serious concessions from both sides. And no Palestinian leader sitting in the West Bank can compromise on the most sensitive issues in Palestinian politics – the status of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, etc. – while a rival party controls half the territory of a future Palestinian state… Rather than ignoring Hamas, the U.S. can support a political process that not only diminishes the terror group’s standing but also gives the more pragmatic (albeit flawed) Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority a chance at re-establishing a legitimate claim to Gaza in future negotiations.” [Politico] • In Palestinian Power Struggle, Hamas Moderates Talk on Israel [NYTimes]

“What Trump’s meeting with Abbas means for the Middle East” by Aaron David Miller: “The bottom line on the Abbas meeting — like the Netanyahu visit in February — is that for now the emperor (in this case the peace process) has no clothes. It’s not yet ready for prime time. So whatever Trump’s strategy, and it’s not at all clear he has yet developed one, this meeting with Abbas and the Palestinians will be the first of many if the President is serious about involving his administration in a peacemaking effort.” [CNN]

SPOTLIGHT: “Trump’s Israel-Palestine Negotiator Isn’t Qualified — And that might be exactly why he pulls off a peace deal” by Armin Rosen: “[Jason] Greenblatt is only in the world of Middle East diplomacy because his longtime boss was elected president, but in the context of Israeli-Palestinian affairs, the appearance of favoritism might actually help him… It’s harder to stall an envoy, or to go behind the envoy’s back and appeal to other, friendlier administration officials or congressional allies, when the sides believe that the mediator is a direct extension of the president… Greenblatt is about as personally close to the president as someone in his position could be. And Trump has been remarkably and even uncharacteristically consistent on Israeli-Palestinian peace… Closeness with an engaged president is a powerful tool for an envoy — as long as there’s a policy vision and a sustained commitment from the Oval Office underlying his work.” [FP

“Rodrigo Duterte Says He May Be Too Busy for White House Visit” by Felipe Villamor: “President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said on Monday that he might not accept President Trump’s invitation to visit the White House, because he was “tied up” with a busy schedule… “I’m supposed to go to Russia, I’m also supposed to go to Israel.”[NYTimes

“Trump’s warm words for strongmen set off alarms” by Annie Karni: “We’ve always had relationships with governments that are problematic, but we hold them accountable on it and we don’t lavish them with praise this way,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official under John Kerry… “It completely undercuts our soft power our influence and our credibility as the leader of the free world… The fear of complicating relationships with the United States acts as a restraint — when Trump lavishes this praise, he implies there is no restraint.” [Politico]

“Ivanka Trump’s West Wing Agenda” by Jodi Kantor, Rachel Abrams and Maggie Haberman: “Ms. Trump is her father’s all-around West Wing confidante… The two trade thoughts from morning until late at night, according to aides. Even though she has no government or policy experience, she plans to review some executive orders before they are signed, according to White House officials. She calls cabinet officials on issues she is interested in, recently asking the United Nations ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, about getting humanitarian aid into Syria. She set up a weekly meeting with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary… Sometimes she seeks out Mr. Trump, telling other staff members, “I need 10 minutes alone with my father.” “A lot of their real interactions happen when it’s just the two of them,” Jared Kushner, Ms. Trump’s husband and fellow aide, said in a telephone interview.” [NYTimes]

“Trump Adviser Jared Kushner Didn’t Disclose Startup Stake” by Jean Eaglesham, Juliet Chung and Lisa Schwartz: “Mr. Kushner’s stake in Cadre — a tech startup that pairs investors with big real-estate projects – means the senior White House official is currently a business partner of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and billionaires including George Soros and Peter Thiel, according to people close to the company. The Cadre stake is one of many interests — and ties to large financial institutions — that Mr. Kushner didn’t identify on his disclosure form, according to a Wall Street Journal review of securities and other filings.” [WSJ]

ON THE HILL — “Senate panel puts Russia sanctions bill on hold” by Karoun Demirjian: “The committee’s ranking Democrat, Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), had hoped that the Russia sanctions bill would advance to a vote alongside compromise legislation to impose stricter sanctions against Iran over a spate of recent ballistic missile tests and the activities of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps… That Iran sanctions bill — compromise legislation that Corker and Cardin unveiled in March after more than eight months of wrangling — could be voted on by the full Senate later this month, Corker said… The Senate does not go on an extended break again until the week of Memorial Day, and Corker said Monday that the Iran sanctions bill “could move at the end of this work period.”” [WashPost

LongRead — FRENCH ELECTIONS: “The Future of Europe Hinges on a Face-Off in France” by Lauren Collins: “I wandered away and started talking to a woman wearing a quilted leather jacket and lots of mascara. “I adore Marine!” she said, identifying herself as Michèle… She had high hopes for the election, particularly after what had happened in America. “Bravo, bravo for Trump!” she said. She was unimpressed by Macron, whom she called “a little opportunistic asshole.” She asked if I knew that he was “a Rothschild banker” (Macron worked for the firm from 2008 to 2012, earning around a million dollars a year), invoking a slur—I heard it repeated over and over, and not just by F.N. supporters—that seemed laser-targeted toward some primal place in the French imagination, where a fondness for conspiracy theory intersected with a suspicion of high finance. “Rothschild banker” suggested, without having to say it, that Jewish influence was at work, making it all the more irresistible for the Front National.” [NewYorker

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

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Interview with Mitchell Davidson, Managing Partner of Post Capital Partners [LinkedIn] • David Geffen Sells Malibu Home for Record $85 Million[THR] • Media mogul Barry Diller’s IAC to buy Angie’s list [Reuters] • Chinese tycoon who sought stake in Kushner property faces scrutiny [BostonGlobe]

HEARD AT THE MILKEN GLOBAL CONFERENCE — White House advisor Reed Cordish discussed the administration’s plans for workforce development: “We’re going to retrain America to take on the new jobs we need.” Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was also on the panel, appeared to endorse the idea. [Pic]

Via the Jewish Journal’s Ryan Torok who is covering Milken this week: At the conference, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke of the effectiveness of policy implementing sanctions against terrorist organizations or countries sponsoring terrorism, including Iran. “These sanctions really do work [on countries such as Syria],” he said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network. “When you cut off the money to terrorist organizations, you have a big impact and I think you saw this in the case of Iran. The only reason Iran came to the table to negotiate was because of economic sanctions on them,” he said, “and that’s what created the incentive.””

“Wilbur Ross Says Syria Missile Strike Was ‘After-Dinner Entertainment’ at Mar-a-Lago” by Gene Maddaus: “Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.” As the crowd laughed, Ross added: “The thing was, it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment.” [Variety]

“Unusual Honor for U.S. Jews on Israeli Independence Day Fires Up Local Twittersphere” by Allison Kaplan Sommer: “The fact that the speeches of the torch-lighters, billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and Rabbi Marvin Hier, were in English instead of Hebrew particularly grated on some ears. “Truthfully, it would feel much more natural to me to hear Arabic spoken at the torch-lighting than English,” diplomat Shani Cooper, Israel’s deputy head of mission in Ankara, Turkey, tweeted. Channel 2’s political reporter and commentator Amit Segal went a step further, tweeting that: “The torch should only be lit by those who speak Hebrew and live in Israel. Elementary.” … Several on Twitter joked that the gesture to wealthy American Jews was necessary in order for [Minister Miri] Regev and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to raise sufficient funds for the country’s planned 70th anniversary festivities next year.” [Haaretz] • How a US billionaire’s Jewish spark became an Independence Day torch [ToI]

SPORTS BLINK — Aly Raisman teams up with T-shirt company to remind us Life is Good: “The executives at Life is Good are hoping that Aly Raisman’s gold-medal glory can rub off on the Boston apparel company. The gymnast has signed a two-year partnership with Life is Good, and she played a key role in creating a line of T-shirts being launched this spring. The new Ally Tee Collection is geared to girls and women and features three designs that emphasize kindness, authenticity, and courage.” [BostonGlobe]

DESSERT: “Israeli-born chef strikes gold with top U.S. prize” by Richard Leong: “Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov, praised for his modern Israeli cuisine, struck gold by winning the top U.S. chef prize from the James Beard Foundation on Monday… Solomonov… turned his focus on Israeli and Jewish cooking after his younger brother David who served in the Israeli army was killed on Yom Kippur in 2003.” [Reuters]

BIRTHDAYS: Former Lord Chief Justice and President of the Courts of England and Wales, Baron Harry Kenneth Woolf turns 84… Professor of international relations and Middle Eastern studies at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, journalist, international negotiator and private consultant, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir turns 80… Author, publisher, president of four radio stations in the Pacific Northwest, conservative political activist, gun rights advocate, Alan Merril Gottlieb turns 70… Former member of the Texas Senate (1993-2013), she was born in NYC to Holocaust survivor parents, Florence Shapiroturns 69… Former US AID contractor, imprisoned by Cuba from 2009 to 2014, Alan Gross turns 68… Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, previously Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (2014-2016) and Managing Editor of Time Magazine (2006-2013), Richard Allen “Rick” Stengel turns 62… Member of the New York State Assembly, previously a member of the NYC Council and former Deputy Superintendent of the NYS Banking Commission, David Weprin turns 61… Billionaire businesswoman, entrepreneur, civic leader, she served as US Secretary of Commerce (2013-2017), now chairman of the private investment firm she founded PSP Capital Partners, Penny Sue Pritzker turns 58… DC-based CBS News correspondent, once a K-12 student at CESJDS in Rockville, Julianna Goldman turns 36… Campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, previously the executive director of the Young Democrats of America during the 2012 election ctycle, Emily Tisch Sussmanturns 35… Communications Specialist at the NYC office of HIAS, previously a Senior Strategist at West End Strategy Team, Gabe Cahn turns 27… Founder & CEO of the Helena Group, Henry Elkus turns 22… Director of communications at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, previously senior director of media relations at the National Retail Federation, Stephen Schatz… Rosalyn Spiegel… Susanna Fried… Israel’s best tour guide Michael Bauer

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

What to expect from the Trump-Abbas meeting

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

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

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Kickoff: Billionaires regroup at Milken | Previewing Abbas’ visit | Pence to host Jewish leaders | Ray Allen’s other passion | Abe Foxman birthday

Vice President Mike Pence on April 22. Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

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HAPPENING TODAY: The 20th Annual Milken Institute Global Conference kicks off in Los Angeles. With over 3,500 attendees from 50 countries, the theme of this year’s gathering is “Building Meaningful Lives.”

SCENE YESTERDAY — at a welcome reception hosted by WorldQuant at the Beverly Canon Gardens, between the Montage Hotel and Bouchon Restaurant. Spotted: Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), super-lobbyist Norm Brownstein, Michael Milken, David Rubenstein, Barry Sternlicht, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Eddie Trump, Nouriel Roubini, Simone Friedman, Joel Mowbray, and AIC’s Mike Sommers.

Speakers at today’s portion of the conference include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House senior advisor Reed Cordish, Apollo’s Joshua Harris, real estate developer Richard LeFrak, Yahoo’s Katie Couric, Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt, UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, Wilson Center’s Jane Harman, CFR’s Richard Haas, USC’s Willow Bay, Carlyle’s David Rubenstein, Sam Zell, Emanuel Friedman, Related’s Stephen Ross.

“Off target in 2016, global elite regroup at Milken conference” by Lawrence Delevinge: “Most attendees expected Hillary Clinton to beat Trump, as Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein noted during a panel discussion in May 2016. The four-day meeting this year at the Beverly Hilton hotel will once again mix big investment industry names such as Jamie Dimon, Stephen Schwarzman, Leon Black, Jonathan Sokoloff and Kenneth Griffin along with political, business and entertainment celebrities…”

“Most conference goers pay at least $12,500 if they are not from event sponsors. Some repeat attendees told Reuters they come less for the investment advice and more for the chance to network, sell product and learn about far-flung topics. “It’s about connections and to be seen,” said a staffer at a large money management firm who asked not to be named. “Are there a large number of people actually taking notes and implementing them? No.” [Reuters; Bloomberg]

DRIVING THE WEEK — Pence meeting with Jewish leaders a day before Abbas visits the White House: Vice President Mike Pence will be hosting a White House reception to mark Israel’s 69th Independence Day on Tuesday, according to an invitation obtained exclusively by Jewish Insider. The event will take place in the Indian Treaty Room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. President Donald Trump will host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday.[JewishInsider

“If Trump has a strategy on Israeli-Palestinian peace, it’s remaining a secret” by Josh Rogin: “Last week, a high-level Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat traveled to Washington to prepare for the visit. The group met with Trump’s envoy on Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, as well as with White House and State Department officials. Both sides are keeping expectations for the Trump-Abbas meeting low. Palestinian officials tell me the Trump team doesn’t seem to know exactly what Trump wants to discuss or propose. White House staff declined to say anything at all about their goals for the meeting.” [WashPost]

JI PREVIEW — What to expect from the Trump-Abbas Meeting — by Aaron Magid and Jacob Kornbluh [JewishInsider] • Below is a sampling of some of the responses from JI experts…

Aaron David Miller — “Both Trump and Abbas need — and will have — a successful meeting. Abbas needs to maintain his relevance and Trump to at least maintain the illusion that he’ll broker the ‘ultimate deal’ between Israel and Palestinians. Now that he’s planning a trip to Israel later in May, the meeting takes on an added importance if… he’s thinking — as Trump might — about getting Netanyahu and Abbas together in a trilateral meeting.”

Elliott Abrams: “Presumably, the President’s request from Abbas will be to stop the glorification of terrorism and the payments to those who have committed acts of terrorism, in line with the Taylor Force Act. If you are going to ask Bibi to do things that are hard, you need to ask Abbas to do things that are hard. I think Abbas wants a process that will consist of endless meetings. I don’t think he actually wants a peace negotiation that is serious because it will force him to make decisions that he is not prepared to make… I suppose if there are public statements by the President that are very complimentary of Abbas, it will annoy the Israelis. Because, what is the record here? He said no to a generous offer by Olmert. He said no to Kerry and Obama, So, there is no particular reason why he should get lots of compliments without his commitment to a peace agreement.”

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

“If the whole discourse goes back to the question of settlements and public Israeli commitments — even just to the US — I think we are going to be in a very difficult situation because I don’t think Netanyahu feels inclined or is feeling empowered to do that. The thing to do is move the conversation to another register and somehow get the Palestinians to rely on an American-Israeli understanding to ensure that settlement activity is limited at most and that’s doable if it all operates in a diplomatic rather than a political register.”

FDD’s Grant Rumley: “Abbas will probably come out and say: we want negotiations. He will bring up the prisoners, the 1967 lines as the basis of the negotiations, settlement construction. Trump will probably bring up payments to terrorists, the Taylor Force Act, incitement. I think the biggest concrete thing that came out was Trump’s proposal that the aid to the Palestinians would actually go up, despite cuts across the board at State. That is to me tangible right now. I think they will come out of this meeting and Trump will reassure Abbas that he’s his primary address. There is ultimately a disconnect in vision for what the US and Palestinians want from this relationship. Trump wants the deal. Abbas wants peace talks and the process of peace talks: photo ops in the White House, in large part out of domestic consideration. Nobody can challenge Abbas’ relevancy at home if he is in the White House with Trump and Kushner, meeting with Tillerson in Europe.”

“Trump’s Mideast plan starts taking shape” by Uri Savir: “A senior Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs official in the know on Israeli-US relations told Al-Monitor that in recent days Israel has been approached by senior officials in the Trump administration about a possible US policy initiative… The US officials did say expressively that in any case Israeli security interests will be taken care of “as never before.” What concerned the senior Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs official was a request to know Israel’s position on a possible qualified acceptance of parts of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.” [Al-Monitor

KAFE KNESSET — Netanyahu’s Memorial Day message — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Today is a solemn day – Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror. After last night’s national ceremonies at the Western Wall and the Knesset and a well attended ceremony in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, Israel’s politicians spent the day at cemeteries and comforting the bereaved. Many politicians are remembering their own relatives.

One of the many events Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended today was the memorial for victims of terror. On his mind was the Taylor Force Act, a bill to cut US funding to the Palestinian Authority for funds being used to pay terrorists and their families. The bill is currently on the docket of the US Congress and could come up in Trump and Abbas’ meeting this week. Bibi had a message for the two Presidents: “Do you want to take a real step towards peace? Cancel the payments to the murderers. Cancel the law that requires the payments. Fund peace and not murder.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

TOP TALKER: “Ros-Lehtinen to retire from Congress” by Patricia Mazzei: “She said the prospect of another two or four or more years in Congress just didn’t appeal to her anymore. “There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I’ve said, “I’ve got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it’s not about getting elected.” … In Congress, Ros-Lehtinen staked her ground as a foreign-policy hawk, becoming the first woman to chair a standing congressional committee: the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She currently chairs the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, and sits on the intelligence committee… In her remaining 20 months in Congress, Ros-Lehtinen said she will keep pushing for one of her long-running goals: for Germany to offer restitution to Holocaust victims. “And I will continue to stand up to tyrants and dictators all over the world,” she said.” [MiamiHerald

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen sent us a message to share with JI readers… “It has been a high honor indeed to have represented the many Holocaust survivors who call South Florida home and I will continue to fight for their justice. Chairing the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee has been a privilege and I will keep assuring that Israel maintains her military edge.”

CHA-CHING: “Ivanka Trump Ski Trip To Canadian Resort Brings Big Secret Service Bill” by by Rich Gardella: “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner took their kids to a five-star Canadian ski resort during Passover in April. According to newly available data from the federal government, the Secret Service costs for hotel accommodations and ski passes during the family’s trip to the Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Whistler, British Columbia were at least $66,538.42. Of that amount, government purchase order records show, $59,654 covered hotel costs for Secret Service agents at the resort near Vancouver, while $6,884 paid for “multi-day ski passes.”” [NBCNews

DRIVING THE MONTH: President Donald J. Trump Proclaims May 2017 as Jewish American Heritage Month… “From Admiral Hyman G. Rickover to Albert Einstein, Richard Rodgers to Irving Berlin, Jerry Siegel to Bill Finger, Mel Brooks to Don Rickles, and Levi Strauss to Elie Wiesel, American Jews have transformed all aspects of American life and continue to enrich the American spirit. This month, I celebrate with my family ‑‑ including my daughter, Ivanka, my son-in-law, Jared, my grandchildren, and our extended family ‑‑ the deep spiritual connection that binds, and will always bind, the Jewish people to the United States and its founding principles.” [Twitter]

TRUMP TEAM: “Baltimore developer Reed Cordish has big job in the Trump administration: Fix the government” by John Fritz: “His group, mostly unnoticed amid the blaring controversies over Russia and stalled executive orders, is quietly working on everything from how to boost U.S. manufacturing to modernizing decades-old IT systems at the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies. “We’re not approaching this from an ideological slant. We’re approaching this in terms of what’s good for American business and what’s good for the American worker,” Cordish said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun… Cordish said he’s confident the effort will yield results, in part because it has the president’s attention. “He asks about these initiatives all the time. He cares deeply about them,” he said. “Some of these initiatives are not ones that are politically easy. When you fix IT, you don’t necessarily get credit for it. But he wants to improve government.””[BaltimoreSun]

“Trump plans summit with tech titans” by Mike Allen: “President Trump is establishing an American Technology Council to help the government deliver better digital services. The administration is bringing big names from the Silicon Valley to the White House in early June, to try get ideas and cooperation from a group that has been skeptical… The council will be run by two of Kushner’s lieutenants, Chris Liddell and Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intra-governmental and technology initiatives.” [Axios]

“Sebastian Gorka to accept role outside White House” by Sarah Westwood: “Gorka’s new role will deal with the “war of ideas” involved in countering radical Islamic extremism, a senior administration official said, and will entail an appointment to a federal agency… A source told the Washington Examiner that Gorka’s role in SIG (Strategic Initiatives Group) was always meant to be temporary… An official said Gorka has been in a “holding pattern” while he waited for the position, which will not be at the State Department, to be established.” [WashExaminer; DailyBeast]

ON THE HILL — House Members confused about Trump’s position on the Iran deal — by JI’s Aaron Magid: “One of the challenges for this administration is you get four or five different answers on controversial issues, like the Iran deal, depending on who is speaking: whether it is the President, Secretary of State, or White House spokesman,” Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) told Jewish Insider. “Our allies don’t know who really speaks for the President. I would like a clear answer for what he believes is the future of that agreement if he intends for the US to stick by it: whether he still sees that as essential to Iran getting rid of its nuclear program.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler was unable to articulate the President’s stance on the nuclear agreement. “I don’t know. I can’t judge any more than you can,” the New York lawmaker emphasized.

Even Republican Members of Congress who are supportive of the President’s agenda could not offer a clear answer regarding the President’s position. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) noted, “I’m not sure he’s (Trump) coalesced around his thoughts.” When pressed if he understood the President’s viewpoint on Iran deal, Farenthold, replied, “I don’t.” Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) explained, “It is my observance that the Trump administration has opposed that deal from the rhetoric that they have said. As to the exact specifics, I would want you to ask them to articulate their position.” [JewishInsider

HEARD YESTERDAY — National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster discussed new Iran sanctions on Fox News Sunday: “I think all we have to do is pull the curtain back on Iranian behavior… Our allies will be interested in doing that, and I think what you’ve seen is, if what has happened in the last eight years, is U.S. policy has unwittingly maybe empowered Iran across the greater Middle East and beyond… And so, what’s critical now is a shift in that policy to confront Iran and what you’re seeing is because of the president’s leadership, really strong relationships across the Arab world, for example, and I think that there’s going to be a tremendous opportunity to confront Iran’s destructive behavior in the region and beyond the region.”

“Chuck Schumer Sees Himself As Trump’s Chief Opponent — But Hey, At Least They’re Talking Again” by Kate Nocera: “I was totally down in the dumps for three days [after the election], as was my wife and my two daughters, particularly my daughter who had worked in the Hillary campaign. I taught them the old Shirelles song: Mama said there’d be days like this, there’d be days like this, mama said,” Schumer recalled. “But on the fourth day I had an epiphany, like a message from the heavens, and it went like this: ‘Look, if Hillary had been president and you had been majority leader, the job would have been a lot more fun, a lot easier, and you’d get some good things done, which is why we’re here,’” he said. “‘With Trump as president and you as minority leader, your job is much more important. You are really the only backstop to Trump.’ That has fueled me the whole way through.” [BuzzFeed] • Trump Calls Schumer an Incompetent ‘Fool’ Just When Need Him the Most [Yahoo]

2020 WATCH: “Emboldened by Trump but Divided by Generations, Democrats Look to 2020” by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin: “High-profile city executives — like Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, 46… may also consider the race. Allies of Mr. Garcetti acknowledged that national donors had broached the subject of 2020 but said that was the extent of his attention to the race. Mr. Garcetti is weighing a campaign for governor of California next year.”  [NYTimes

Eric Lesser‏: “IDEA FOR DEMOCRATS: Let’s put a moratorium on gossiping about 2020 Presidential, and instead focus on building our grassroots bench.” [Twitter

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

SPOTLIGHT: “Renaissance Feud Spills Over to Hedge Fund Poker Night” by Gregory Zuckerman: “When [Rebecca] Mercer saw [David] Magerman hovering nearby, he said she became agitated. “You’re pond scum,” Ms. Mercer told him, repeatedly… “You’ve been pond scum for 25 years; I’ve always known it.” Shaken, Mr. Magerman walked around the table to be next to Ms. Mercer. She told Mr. Magerman that his criticism of the Mercers’ support for Mr. Trump had put her family in danger, he said. “How could you do this to my father? He was so good to you,” she said… Mr. Magerman told her he felt bad, adding that her family had played a supportive role when he joined Renaissance more than two decades ago… Ms. Mercer told him to leave…”

“A security member approached, telling Mr. Magerman to back away from the table. He refused, dodged the security and approached [James] Simons, asking for help. Mr. Simons said he thought it best if Mr. Magerman left… Security forced him outside to the curb, Mr. Magerman said. “I’m not denying I was a little impacted by the alcohol,” Mr. Magerman told The Wall Street Journal several days after the event. “But that doesn’t change what she said to me, or what I said to her. I didn’t start the fight, and I didn’t resort to the petty name calling like she did.” On Friday, his lawyers discussed final terms of a potential departure with Renaissance representatives though his fate was still uncertain.”[WSJ

“Ohio family surprised when Mark Zuckerberg comes to dinner to talk about Trump” by Associated Press: “The Vindicator of Youngstown reports… Zuckerberg had asked his staff to find Democrats who voted for President Donald Trump in November. The family says not all the dinner chat was political. Daniel Moore says he and his wife, Lisa, talked about their work with an orphanage in Uganda and that Zuckerberg says he’s now planning a fundraiser to benefit the orphans.” [NYDailyNews

“What Ron Lauder, Trump’s boyhood friend, knows about the president may surprise you” by Philip Boas: “Trump says a lot of things that sound off the wall, acknowledged Lauder, but “The Donald I know is very smart. He’s talking for the Americans… The fact is that one thing Trump gave people is hope. And when Hillary ran her campaign, what she said basically was, ‘I will continue what Obama started.’” Those same people saw something in Trump that Lauder’s mother saw in him many years ago, he said. “My parents, my mother particularly, liked him a lot because of his style, because she (created) a business by fighting people and building it, and so did Donald Trump.””[AZCentral]

“Ray Allen talks about his passion for teaching others about the Holocaust” by Kelley Evans: “It all started at the University of Connecticut in 1993, when a young Allen developed a curiosity about the Holocaust. He began to frequent the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and his education there fueled a full-on passion project. Now he has chosen to lead by example. He encourages those close to him, and anyone who will listen, to learn about Holocaust education through his dedication to the cause… Officially sworn in Tuesday four months after being appointed to the position by President Barack Obama, Allen raised his right hand and took the council member’s oath in a ceremony at the museum during Days of Remembrance, the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. “I want to inspire people to break down stereotypes, and treat one another — regardless of race, religion or anything else — like family. It’s more important now than ever,” [Allen said.]” [TheUndefeated

“People are furiously canceling their New York Times subscriptions after an op-ed disputing climate change was published” by Sonam Sheth: “In his column, [Bret] Stephens compared the “certitude” with which Hillary Clinton’s advisers believed she would win the 2016 election to climate scientists’ repeated warnings about climate change risks. As evidence, Stephens said that inaccurate polling data during the 2016 campaign proves that science can miss the mark in other fields as well… Stephens’ column evoked a swift and angry response from many of the paper’s subscribers, who promptly canceled their subscriptions and bashed the Times’ decision to hire Stephens as a writer.” [BI• Who’s Afraid of Bret Stephens? [Politico

SPORTS BLINK: “The Bonds of Baseball, From My Dad to My Son” by Lee Siegel: “In my own Jewish family, where religion was more a matter of sentiment than a spiritual framework, baseball was the true religious bond between my father and me.”[WSJ

BIRTHDAYS: National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (1987-2015), now National Director Emeritus, Abraham Foxman turns 77… Member of the New York City Council (1974-1983) and Commissioner of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (1983-1990 and a second term from 1994-2000), Henry Stern turns 82… Progressive political activist, pacifist, literary and political journalist, teacher of Proust and other topics, national affairs correspondent for Pacifica Radio (1987-1998), Larry Bensky turns 80… Chair of Bible and Jewish Philosophy at Yeshiva University and editor of Tradition, an Orthodox theological journal, Rabbi Shalom Carmy turns 68… Attorney specializing in redistricting, voting rights and census law and director of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, Jeffrey M. Wice turns 65… Member of the House of Representatives for Colorado’s 7th congressional district since 2007, Edwin George “Ed” Perlmutterturns 64… Political reporter and columnist for The Richmond Times-Dispatch, he has covered Virginia elections and the state Capitol for 30 years, Jeff E. Schapiro turns 62…

Israeli entrepreneur and software engineer, founder and CEO of Conduit, an online platform for app publishers with 260 million users, Ronen Shilo turns 59… Real estate entrepreneur, born in Israel, has lived in Southern California since 1986, a co-founder of  the Israeli American Leadership Council (IAC) and supporter of FIDF, Eli Tene turns 54… Professor of computer science and a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, David R. Karger turns 50… Israeli judoka, she was the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal when she won Silver at Barcelona (1992), she now is a manager in Israeli operations for Viacom (and its Nickelodeon subsidiary), Yael Arad turns 50… Member of the Washington State Senate where he currently serves as the Senate Democratic Whip, co-owner of minor league baseball’s Spokane Indians, Andrew Swire “Andy” Billig turns 49… Award-winning broadcast journalist for more than 30 years including GM of CBS Radio News, now SVP of communications at University of Maryland University College, Michael Freedman… DC-based political reporter for The Guardian US, previously a reporter for the Daily Beast, Ben Jacobs (h/ts Playbook)… Deborah Chin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will the 101-Day President Trump ask of the 12-year President Abbas?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, photo by REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK

The first 100 days were a disappointment. President Trump’s scorecard is mediocre at best. This is a good time to remember that presidents have more than fourteen hundred days in a term. Trump did not use the first 100 wisely. He can still recover, though, and still have great achievements.

Next week, as the not-yet-experienced President meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, 12 years in office with no end in sight, it is not yet clear which Trump plans to appear at the meeting – the boasting first-100-days President Trump, aiming for the moon and achieving little, or a more modest and realistic 101st-day President Trump, a president that has already felt the taste of failure and already knows that he cannot necessarily outdo President Obama on every issue.

The Palestinians who came to Washington to prepare the meeting with Trump gave their counterparts the impression that they are hopeful and trusting. In preparatory meetings in Ramallah there seemed to be agreement that the Palestinians have little to lose from letting Trump take them and Israel for a ride. Much like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Abbas does not want to pick an unnecessary fight with an unpredictable president.

Count this as an achievement of the first 100 days: Trump made the kind of impression on other leaders that now makes them more hesitant in dealing with him. He made a good impression by bombing Syria and clarifying that the further erosion of America’s deterrence power is unacceptable to him. He made a bad impression by, well, being himself. One day, when Trump writes his memoir, he will argue that this was a well-planned strategy pursued by him in his first 100 days – a strategy whose aim is to make everybody else nervous about him.

Maybe it’s a strategy. It’s more likely a personal trait. Trump will not be the first person to craft a strategy or formulate an ideology as a way of justifying and explaining the actions that he was taking because of his instinctive tendencies.

So yes, the Palestinians are a little nervous. Trump can easily ask them to take measures that will not be easy for them – such as quitting their habit of assisting the families of terrorists. Israel suggested that he do just that, so as not to make Israel the only party that has to accept American demands prior to the beginning of talks. But the Palestinian negotiators are also expectant. One of the options they raised with their American counterparts could appeal to Trump. They proposed that the President ask both Abbas and Netanyahu to submit their bargaining positions within a certain amount of time.

Not that there is any chance that these positions will be any closer than they were five or ten years ago. But the Palestinians are shrewd enough to understand that Netanyahu – if asked by Trump to present a plan – will be stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he would not want to be seen as the obstacle to peace by presenting a plan that is far less compromising than the plans presented by his predecessors. On the other hand, presenting a plan that meets the President’s expectations could destroy his fragile coalition.

For Trump to turn his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at this time – on top of all other world crises that he has to deal with (with North Korea at the top of the list) – would be unwise. Politically, it would buy him zero support as far as American voters are concerned. Strategically, it is dealing with small change. Yes, some leaders in the Middle East want this. But these leaders will bail and run and hide when their vocal public support is needed to convince the Palestinians to accept a reasonable deal. They are unlikely to do for Trump what they did not do for Bill Clinton. And if they do, it would not be because they want a deal between Israel and Palestine – it is because they want Trump to deter Iran.

His chances of success are slim. The old Trump – the first-100-days Trump did not care about such things. The new Trump – if there is a new Trump on day 101, one who’s moving forward to a more stable and fruitful 100 days – could change his calculation. It will not even be difficult. All he must do is show that the two sides are not truly interested in a realistic deal – they aren’t – and quit the effort citing more urgent priorities.

But for now, Trump isn’t scaling down his rhetoric on the conflict. He wants – breathe deeply! – a “conflict-ending Israeli-Palestinian deal” (will he end global warming and cure cancer for the same price?).

What will Israel do if and when Trump begins to apply pressure on Netanyahu? On some issues, Israel is going to surrender; on other issues it is going to delay, possibly by having a round of elections that puts everything on hold for a while. The over-eagerness of Secretary John Kerry was annoying but quite pathetic. The over-eagerness of the erratic President Trump is more problematic. This is the reason that many senior people in the Netanyahu government wanted Hillary Clinton – a person with which Israel could have an honest, predictable, realistic, even if not always easy, discussion – to win the election. This is the reason that senior people in the Israeli government are also hoping for a 101st-day president who’s somewhat different from the one we saw in the first 100 days.

 

 

 

Daily Kickoff: Kissinger on Kushner | Yael Lempert leaving WH for State Dept | James Packer quits Brett Ratner’s RatPac venture | ‘Shultz hour’

Jared Kushner in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. Photo by Saul Loeb/Reuters

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FIRST LOOK: Henry Kissinger writes Jared Kushner’s profile for TIME 100 List… “Transitioning the presidency between parties is one of the most complex undertakings in American politics… and the greater that gap, the heavier the responsibility of those advisers who are asked to fill it. This space has been traversed for nearly four months by Jared Kushner, whom I first met about 18 months ago, when he introduced himself after a foreign policy lecture I had given. We have sporadically ­exchanged views since. As part of the Trump family, Jared is familiar with the intangibles of the President. As a graduate of Harvard and NYU, he has a broad education; as a businessman, a knowledge of administration. All this should help him make a success of his daunting role flying close to the sun.” [TIME] Full list [TIME]

“The Kissinger-Kushner Connection” by Joseph Bosco: “Through his mentoring relationship with Kushner, Kissinger is once again playing the role he sought and played initially as President Nixon’s National Security Adviser—the back-door, secret channel between heads of state, while bypassing the federal department whose name encompasses government-to-government relations.” [RealClearDefense]

TOP TALKER: “Three Months Into Trump Presidency, Obama’s Israel Adviser Leaves White House” by Amir Tibon and Barak Ravid: “[Yael] Lempert is expected to leave the NSC in a few weeks, possibly right after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrives for his first meeting with Trump on May 3. As a career diplomat, Lempert is expected to return to the State Department.” [Haaretz

Abbas in an interview with the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese publication: “I am ready to meet the Prime Minister of Israel any time in Washington under the patronage of President Trump.” [Asahi]

HEARD YESTERDAY — WH Press Secretary Sean Spicer at the daily briefing said Trump and Abbas will use the May 3 meeting “to reaffirm the commitment of both the United States and Palestinian leadership to pursuing and ultimately concluding a conflict-ending settlement between the Palestinians and Israel.”

INBOX — WH aide Sebastian Gorka to speak at The Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in NYC on May 7. The theme of this year’s conference is: “Israel – U.S. Relations in the Trump Era.”

DRIVING THE DAY: “Haley Wants Iran, Not Israel, at Core of UN’s Middle East Agenda” by Kambiz Foroohar: “[Nikki] Haley, who holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations’ top decision-making body for April, wants to use a monthly meeting on “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” to tackle Tehran’s role in Yemen and Syria and its support for Hezbollah… Thursday’s report will be presented by Nickolay Mladenov of Bulgaria, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. While Mladenov… is expected to focus again on Israel and the Palestinians, Haley can prod the discussion toward other issues. “ [Bloomberg]

White House puts Iran on notice, again… In a rare appearance at the State Department yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson questioned the viability of the Iranian nuclear deal, accusing Iran of “alarming provocations” only a day after he declared they were complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. “The JCPOA fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran; it only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state,” said Tillerson. “This deal represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face from North Korea… It is another example of buying off a power who has nuclear ambitions; we buy them off for a short period of time and then someone has to deal with it later.”

Tillerson did not offer any indication that the U.S. is ready to walk away from the deal, but emphasized that an interagency review ordered by the President would evaluate whether sanctions relief related to the nuclear deal was “vital to the national security interests of the United States.”

KEY LINE: “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.” [YouTube

Press Secretary Sean Spicer at yesterday’s daily briefing regarding Trump’s campaign pledge to renegotiate the nuclear deal: “Part of the review — the interagency process — is to determine where Iran is in compliance with the deal and to make recommendations to the President on the path forward.” [YouTube]

A JI reader ‘in the know’ tells us… “The Trump Administration doesn’t intend to amend the deal anytime soon.”

HEARD YESTERDAY — Martin Indyk at panel with Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan on Trump’s Israel and Mideast policy at the JCC Manhattan: “Israel doesn’t want the U.S. to tear up the Iran deal, and the reason for that is because the Iran deal for all its faults – and it has faults – took away Iran’s nuclear capacity for the time being… And that gives Israel – in particular – the U.S. and all of Iran’s adversaries in the Arab world breathing space. Now, is it good to try for a better deal? Yeah. So let Trump the great dealmaker negotiate with Iran now on a better deal in terms of the sunset clause. But talking about reviewing it is, I think, a little bit dangerous because we have an interest in maintaining the deal and ensuring that the Iranians stick to the deal.”

Dayan: “Now Israel and the U.S. see eye-to-eye in their views of the situation… The U.S. is starting a process of formulating a new policy… [Israel] will be more than happy to collaborate with the United States in the reformulation of its policy… I would like very much the flaws in the agreement to be amended.” [Livestream]

BACKSTORY: “Iran Gets Tillerson’s Approval But It’s Still on Notice” by Eli Lake: “U.S. officials familiar with the interagency process tell me the White House and State Department fought throughout the day on Tuesday over the language of Tillerson’s statement… Tillerson won that battle. His two-paragraph letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged a Trump administration review of Iran policy… When the president came into office, Iran was in the crosshairs. Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, addressed the White House press corps in early February to put Iran “on notice.” … A senior National Security Council official told me Tuesday evening that Iran was still on notice and that the jury was still out on Iran.” [BloombergView]

“Divisions Within the Administration On Iran Deal” by Michael Warren: “On Thursday, the deputies of the National Security Council will hold their first meeting to discuss the Trump administration’s review of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal… Without a deputy secretary of state and under secretary of state for international security (both politically appointed positions) to shape and enforce the administration’s viewpoint within a hostile State Department, the Iran deal is one area where the permanent administrative state is likely to win out.” [TWS Is Trump learning to live with Iran nuclear deal? [Al-Monitor

MATTIS MIDEAST TRIP — “U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis slams Iran, says will overcome influence” by Idrees Ali: “Everywhere you look if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran,” Mattis told reporters in Riyadh after meeting senior Saudi officials. “We will have to overcome Iran’s efforts to destabilise yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah but the bottom line is we are on the right path for it.” [Reuters

IVANKA’S VISIT TO GERMANY — on April 25th: “In commemoration of Yom HaShoah, Ivanka will visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Ivanka will also stop by the United States Embassy in Berlin to meet Embassy staff and their families.” 

HAPPENING TODAY – The State Department to commemorate this year’s Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel) at 12:15 pm EST. The event, co-sponsored by the Embassies of Israel, Lithuania and Japan, will honor the legacy of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who saved the lives of roughly 6,000 Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. [Livestream]

TRUMP TEAM: “Cubs’ Todd Ricketts withdraws name for Trump’s Cabinet” by Lynn Sweet: “Unable to untangle his complex financial holdings to the satisfaction of the Office of Government Ethics, Cubs board member Todd Ricketts, tapped by President Donald Trump to be the Deputy Commerce Secretary, on Wednesday withdrew his nomination.” [ChicagoSunTimes

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

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Paul Singer isn’t satisfied with paint company’s spinoff idea [NYPost• Makeup guru Bobbi Brown’s new chapter: Get customers back in department stores [CNBC] • Quogue Capital’s Rothbaum Said to Bid for MLB’s Miami Marlins [Bloomberg] • Microsoft reportedly to acquire Israeli cloud monitoring startup Cloudyn for around $60 million [VentureBeat] • WeWork Wants To Build Out Your Office And Run It For You [FastCompany] • Aby Rosen’s new Four Seasons restaurant will be ready by Thanksgiving [NYPost]

HOLLYWOOD: “Packer quits Hollywood RatPac venture” by Peter Mitchell: “James Packer has exited Hollywood. The Australian billionaire sold his stake in RatPac Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based film, television and documentary business he created in 2013 with producer-director Brett Ratner… Mr Packer offloaded his stake to another billionaire mogul, American businessman Len Blavatnik, who heads conglomerate Access Industries… RatPac became a major player in Hollywood, co-financing more than 50 films that picked up 51 Oscar nominations and earned more than $US10 billion in worldwide box office receipts… RatPac aligned itself with another mogul, Steve Mnuchin‘s Dune Entertainment, and they signed a four-year, $US450 million deal with Warner Bros to fund as many as 75 of the studio’s films.” [The Australian]

“Robert Kraft lauds President Trump during Tom Brady-less White House visit” by Cindy Boren and Marissa Payne: “Overcoming long odds … is the foundation of everything that is great about this country,” Kraft said at the ceremony from the South Lawn of the White House. “This year’s championship was achieved after falling behind 25 points … that deficit had only been overcome seven times,” he continued. “In that same [manner], a very good friend of mine for over 25 years … launched a campaign for the president … facing odds almost as long as we faced. He persevered to become the 45th president of the United States.” [WashPost]

PROFILE: “Centrist ‘Backlash’ Propels Former TV Anchor Lapid in Israeli Polls” by Yaroslav Trofimov: “The man predicted to win Israeli elections if they were held today picks a seemingly contradictory way of describing himself: “an extreme moderate.” Once dismissed as a passing fad, Yair Lapid, a 53-year-old former TV anchor, has emerged as the most serious political rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And he has done so by trying to dispense with the traditional left-right divide of Israeli politics, adopting instead the vague but resonating language of ”sanity” and “responsibility.” [WSJ]

KAFE KNESSET — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Shabbat is back on the political agenda, following a High Court of Justice ruling yesterday which authorized a Tel Aviv municipality bylaw to open 165 businesses on Shabbat. The issue has been debated for almost three years, with various Interior Ministers stalling their approval of the local law since it relates to the sensitive issue of the religious status quo. The ruling was celebrated and welcomed warmly by Tel Aviv Mayor, Ron Huldai who said: “Tel Aviv was free and will remain free.” However, in Jerusalem, the ruling received the opposite response. The haredi parties reacted with anger and are demanding that the ruling be reversed. UTJ leader, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, said the decision is “a continuation of a gross legal intervention in the values of religion and Jewish law.” “We will not give up or bargain away Shabbat,” a source in Shas told Kafe Knesset… On Sunday, in the weekly meeting of the heads of the coalition parties, tensions are expected to be high. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

TRENDING — “You’re Too Busy. You Need a ‘Shultz Hour.’” by David Leonhardt: “When George Shultz was secretary of state in the 1980s, he liked to carve out one hour each week for quiet reflection. He sat down in his office with a pad of paper and pen, closed the door and told his secretary to interrupt him only if one of two people called: “My wife or the president,” Shultz recalled. Shultz, who’s now 96, told me that his hour of solitude was the only way he could find time to think about the strategic aspects of his job…. Around the house, hide your phone — in a backpack, a drawer or another room — for set periods of time, as Sherry Turkle of M.I.T. recommends. Or carve out a few hours each week when no one in your house can check a phone. The filmmaker Tiffany Shlain and her family do so for an entire day — a “technology shabbat.”” [NYTimes]

On a recent episode of the ReCode Media podcast, Axios co-founder Mike Allen told Peter Kafka he’s considering starting to practice a ‘phone Shabbat’ on the weekends. [ReCode]

Rahm Emanuel on Reince Priebus and being White House Chief of Staff: “When I had the role, I used to joke on Fridays, “Lucky us, just two more workdays until Monday.” It’s an all-consuming, thankless job—but walking through those gates at the beginning and end of each day, no matter how early or late, brings a tingle to your spine. The day that goes away is the day it’s time to go.” [TimeMag]

BIRTHDAYS: Swiss physicist and Nobel Prize laureate, Karl Alexander Müller, turns 90… Motivational speaker and co-founder of Harris and Schutz, previously president and CEO of Porsche (1981-1986), Peter Schutz turns 87… Chairman of the media networks division of Activision Blizzard, he previously held high-ranking roles at NFL Network, ESPN and ABC, Steve Bornstein turns 65… Immigrants’ rights activist and professor at Salem State University, Aviva Chomsky, eldest daughter of Noam Chomsky, turns 60… Television and radio host, syndicated columnist and political commentator, he is the host of The Steve Malzberg Show, a news and opinion show on Newsmax TV, Steve Malzberg turns 58… President and executive director of the DC-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, Marc Rotenberg turns 57… Entrepreneur, philanthropist, semi-professional race car driver and restaurateur, previously president and chairman of the Trust Company of New Jersey, Alan Wilzig turns 52… Television personality and game show host, J.D. Roth (born as James David Weinroth), turns 49… Israeli jazz bassist, composer, singer and arranger, Avishai Cohen turns 47… British film director Sarah Gavron turns 47… R&B, soul, pop singer and teen actress, at 13 years old she was the runner-up on the second season of “The X Factor,” Carly Rose Sonenclar turns 18… Senior Program Officer at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Yaniv Rivlin… Associate at Tishman Realty Corporation, Alex Berman… Atlanta-based Southeast Regional Director of AIPAC, Elliott G. Mendes… Political polling analyst at the DC-based Feldman Group, David Mariutto… News reporter for the Washington Examiner, Kyle Feldscher… Daniela Kate Plattner (h/ts Playbook)… Diane Kahan… Kelly McCormish… Joseph Gettinger

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

White House denies report it postponed Abbas visit

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on March 27. Photo by Yves Herman/Reuters

A White House official denied a Palestinian media report that the Trump administration postponed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ upcoming visit to Washington.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

The claim, reported Thursday by the Ramallah-based publication Raya Al-Alamiya, cited unnamed Arab diplomatic sources and offered no explanation for the alleged delay.

A White House official, who requested anonymity, told Jewish Insider that the report was “not true.”

In March, Trump phoned Abbas where he informed the Palestinian leader his “personal belief that peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal,” according to an official White House statement. During the call, Trump also invited Abbas to an official White House visit “in the near future.” The meeting was reportedly expected to take place in mid-April.

The President left the White House on Thursday to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida for Easter weekend.

Hamas hangs 3 accused of collaborating with Israel in killing of commander

The Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades cadets marching in the town square of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip on June 15, 2015. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Hamas hanged three men in Gaza accused of “collaborating” with Israel.

The death sentence was carried out Thursday by the terror organization that controls the coastal strip.

The men were accused of being involved in giving information to Israeli military intelligence to aid in the assassination of a top Hamas commander, Mazen Fuqaha, late last month in Gaza, which Hamas blames on Israel. Israel has neither affirmed nor denied involvement in the killing.

The men, aged 32, 42 and 55, were charged with providing information on the location of Hamas operatives and military sites over the past three decades. Hamas said they were allowed to defend themselves as provided under Sharia law.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the executions and said they were illegal because Hamas did not get the permission to execute from P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas.

Human Rights Watch also condemned the hangings.

“The abhorrent executions by Hamas authorities of three men in Gaza deemed to be collaborators project weakness, not strength,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the organization’s Middle East division, said in a statement. “Hamas authorities will never achieve true security or stability through firing squads or by the gallows, but rather through respect for international norms and the rule of law.”

Here’s how Trump can smoke out Abbas

Well, it was nice while it lasted. For a while, it looked as if President Donald Trump might try a craftier approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of rewarding the Palestinians for saying no to everything, he would show them there’s a new sheriff in town. No more coddling, no more chasing, no more pleading for their presence. Trump looked like the very antidote to Secretary John Kerry, who logged more miles than an astronaut trying to coax the naysaying Palestinians to just show up and negotiate.

It was exciting to think that, finally, the leader of the free world would follow rule #1 of negotiating—don’t look overeager. A five-minute class on the 25-year failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would have shown Trump that “overeager” was the one constant sentiment among an endless string of peace processors who banged their heads against the Palestinian Wall of No.

But instead of giving us a fresh approach, the artist of the deal has succumbed to the same old Palestinian trap. The latest processor to get sucked in is Trump’s Mideast envoy and longtime attorney, Jason Greenblatt.

Look at the body language– it’s Groundhog Day. You see Greenblatt in Ramallah smiling and schmoozing with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and you can’t help think: “Man, I’ve seen this movie before, like a hundred times.”

Is there any way out of this tedious and interminable trap? Is there anything Trump can do to disrupt this agonizing pattern of repetitive failure?

Yes, there is, and it’s so simple I hope he does it.

Trump can ask Mahmoud Abbas to make an offer. That’s right—make a serious peace offer.

In years past, Israel made some serious offers, but Palestinians rejected each one without making any counteroffers. In recent years, however, they have even refused to negotiate. This gives them lots of power, because everyone chases after them. Meanwhile, Abbas can spout a few words about peace, blame Israel for the lack of progress, make zero commitments or concessions and still collect billions in international aid while continuing to live in luxury.

It’s time to realize that the last thing Abbas wants is to make a deal with the Jewish state. And why should he? Abbas is no fool. He knows that the creation of a Palestinian state would save the Zionist project by ensuring Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. Why would he want to save something he hates?

This contempt for Zionism goes long and deep. Just days before meeting Greenblatt, Abbas’s Fatah party and the PA were celebrating a Palestinian terrorist whose 1978 attack resulted in the deaths of 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children, who were shot and burned to death in a bus hijacking. Glorifying terrorists and promoting Jew-hatred are the two cultural staples of Palestinian society.

Abbas also knows that as soon as the IDF leaves the West Bank, Hamas and ISIS are likely to swoop in and start chopping off Palestinian heads, including his own. His vaunted security cooperation with Israel is as much for his own benefit as for anyone else’s. Why would he want to end that protection?

As things stand for Abbas, the status quo has been like a Club Med with anti-Israel missiles. As long as he can claim victimhood because of the Israeli occupation, he can continue living the high life while feeding the BDS movement and bashing Israel in friendly international circles. Why would he end that?

Have you ever looked at a map of the West Bank? With or without settlements, it looks like a pimple. Can you imagine Abbas unveiling that map as part of the logo of a new Palestinian state? It’s no wonder the map of a future Palestine that permeates Palestinian society always shows the striking diamond-like shape of the whole land of Israel. That’s the only state they want—the Jewish one.

Add it all up, and it’s easier to understand why Palestinian leaders have been saying no for so long. When you look at things from the perspective of leaders whose revulsion for Zionism and chronic corruption are already well known, why should it surprise us that they would be guided by this hatred and their own selfish interests?

Their biggest nightmare would be if someone called their bluff and asked them to make a genuine peace offer. It would smoke them out. It would expose the simple reality that there is NO deal with Israel they could ever say yes to.

I know. This sucks. For those of us who still dream of peace, this is the last thing we want to hear. We need hope, and this kind of hard-nosed realism offers none. It forces us to think of unpleasant and risky alternatives.

Trump may think he’s offering us hope by talking about a “grand deal,” but all he’s offering is a clear view of his ego. For him, what this conflict represents is a chance to show off by doing the “impossible deal.” It never occurred to him to ponder why it’s impossible in the first place. His limitless ego has turned the artist of the deal into just another peace processor.

Trump can remedy all that by doing what any savvy Manhattan dealmaker would do—ask the other party to make an offer, to see how serious they are. Of course, he’ll never get one, because Palestinian leaders are only serious about destroying Zionism and protecting their Swiss bank accounts.

But at least the world will see the truth and his envoys will save a lot of mileage.

Trump invites Abbas to the White House

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the 34th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland. Feb. 27. Photo by Denis Bailbouse/REUTERS.

President Donald Trump invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House.

Abbas and Trump spoke on Friday and a Palestinian Authority spokesman soon after reported the invitation, saying the meeting would be aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been dormant since 2014.

Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, confirmed the invitation later Friday but did not add details.

Trump met at the White House last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a meeting both leaders said would lead to improved ties after eight years of tension between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu, however, appeared taken aback at Trump’s request during a press conference that Israel stop settlement building for now. Israelis are also wary of U.S. leaders assuming an oversized role in peace-making, while Palestinians have traditionally welcomed it.

Trump has said he is open to outcomes to the conflict that don’t necessarily end in two separate states. The Palestinian Authority still embraces a two-state outcome, as does Netanyahu. Trump’s retreat from the two-state solution have led some Israeli Cabinet members on Netanyahu’s right to call for annexing portions of the West Bank.

Reform movement leaders meet with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah

Rick Jacobs speaking at the 2013 URJ Reform Biennial, Dec. 12, 2013. Photo courtesy of URJ.

Leaders of the U.S. Reform movement met with Palestinian Authority President President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

The delegation of around 30 leaders from the Union for Reform Judaism, led by its president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, met with Abbas and other Palestinian officials Thursday afternoon.

Discussions during the meeting, which represented the first time a URJ delegation led by Jacobs met with Palestinian leadership, included the two-state-solution, Israeli settlements and the Trump administration.

“I was impressed with the president’s clear and unequivocal commitment to the two-state solution,” Jacobs said in a statement. “He clearly is frustrated with the lack of progress, or even the existence of ongoing negotiations. I share that frustration.”

Jacobs also said he learned from Palestinian officials that they had spoken with the Trump administration, which had confirmed that U.S. policy continues to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At a joint news conference last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump had said he “can live” with either a one- or two-state solution, a statement Palestinians slammed for breaking with decades of American policy.

One unnamed Palestinian official told Israel Radio that the president’s words were “the biggest disaster it was possible to hear from the American president.” Liberal and centrists Jewish groups also criticized Trump’s statement.

During Thursday’s meeting, the delegation also spoke with Abbas “about the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility to stem anti-Israeli incitement.”

“He acknowledged it was a real challenge, just as it is in Israel, and called for reviving the anti-incitement trilateral committee led by the U.S.,” Jacobs said.

Daryl Messinger, chair of the URJ North American Board, acknowledged that the two sides disagreed about some issues.

“We clearly did not agree on everything, nor did we expect to. We were warmly received, and I found our conversation to be positive,” Messinger said.

The URJ delegation, which arrived in Israel on Monday, also met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Jewish Agency President Natan Sharansky as well as members of the Knesset. The group is scheduled to speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel in a narrow vote. David Friedman’s nomination will now go before the full Senate for approval.

Friedman’s critics cited his past skepticism of the two-state solution and his deep philanthropic investment in the settlement movement as well as his past insults of Jews with whom he doesn’t agree. Friedman had called J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, “worse than kapos,” the Jewish Nazi collaborators.

Why didn’t Obama punish Palestinian incitement?

As I reflected on the horrific news from Jerusalem of the latest Palestinian terror attack against Jews, I thought about President Obama’s recent decision to not veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which branded Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem—including the Western Wall–as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Let’s accept that the president has the right to punish an ally for not honoring his demands. Israel, in fact, did not honor Obama’s draconian demand nearly eight years ago to freeze every inch of construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. So, it’s perfectly OK to look at this resolution as the consequence of not obeying an important ally.

Obama can talk all day long about his admiration for Israel, but he surely must know that a resolution that turns the Jewish state into an outlaw state, and that makes no distinction between an illegal outpost and the Western Wall, is harmful to Israel and is fodder for Israel’s enemies.

What makes Obama’s action especially nasty and unjust, however, is that he could never bring himself to similarly punish Palestinian terrorism and incitement to violence.

Punish Jews for building too many homes in disputed territory? Absolutely. Punish Palestinians for inciting their people to murder Jews? Absolutely not.

Palestinian incitement is not just the glorifying of terrorism and teaching of Jew-hatred throughout Palestinian society—we’ve almost become used to that. A more insidious strain of incitement is the denial of any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, which is dramatized in violent statements such as these: “Every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure. Every martyr will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God.”

Those are not the words of a bloodthirsty terrorist from Hamas or Hezbollah– they are those of the “moderate” Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Evidently, for our peace “partner” Abbas, murdering Jews in Jerusalem is a big mitzvah.

Does Abbas shake in his boots when he encourages such murder against Jews? Is he afraid that Obama will punish him? Of course not. Yes, Obama has uttered the obligatory statements against Palestinian terrorism and Palestinian incitement. But real consequences to put teeth behind the condemnations? That’s reserved for Israel.

Obama easily could have threatened to punish Palestinian leaders if they did not dismantle their infrastructure of Jew-hatred. He could have pushed for sanctions against Palestinian incitement both in the Security Council and the U.S. Congress. He could have introduced a U.N. resolution that reaffirmed the Jewish people’s deep and ancient connection to Jerusalem and exposed Palestinian lies. He did none of that.

Instead, he came after Israel, first with an extreme demand that characterized “settlements” as anything from an illegal outpost to the Western Wall, and, second, by allowing a Security Council resolution that officially enshrined Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem as “Occupied Palestinian territory.”

Now, ask yourself: If you’re a Jew-hating Palestinian who hears that the leader of the free world believes the Jewish Quarter belongs to Palestinians, wouldn’t you be encouraged to attack Jews in those areas, especially if your own leader has promised you a special place in paradise for dropping Jewish blood in the holy city?

Of course Obama never meant to encourage violence against Jews in “occupied” Jerusalem. Still, it’s hard to argue that the resolution he allowed to pass won’t make such violence more likely.

Obama’s great sin is not that he gave Israel a hard time, but that he failed to do the same with the Palestinians. When he had a chance to make his defining statement on the conflict, he didn’t demand that Palestinians accept Israel’s offer to negotiate without preconditions, nor did he punish Palestinian leaders for promoting Jew-hatred and inciting their people by denying any Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

No, when he came to his moment of truth at the end of his term, Obama chose to follow Israel’s enemies at the United Nations and punish the Jewish state.

By doing so, he will only end up punishing himself. Israel will survive Obama’s betrayal at the U.N. just as it has survived for so long in the world’s most hostile neighborhood.

It is Obama’s legacy with the pro-Israel community that may not survive. When you give Israel’s enemies more justification to attack Jews, you shouldn’t be surprised if many of those Jews end up turning against you.

Netanyahu thanks Abbas for sending firefighting crews

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for sending firefighters to assist in putting out massive fires throughout Israel.

Netanyahu called Abbas on Saturday night, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Palestinian Authority sent eight fire trucks and about 40 firefighters.

The Palestinian firefighters worked to tamp down fires in Haifa and along Route 1, the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. They also helped extinguish fires in the West Bank settlement of Halamish, where dozens of homes were damaged or burned to the ground.

Twelve countries sent planes and firefighters to assist in putting out the fires.

Most of the fires were doused by Saturday night.

Abbas to attend Peres funeral, Arab-Israeli party leader Ayman Odeh will not

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will attend the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres, but the chairman of Israel’s Joint Arab List party said he will not attend.

Ayman Odeh said Thursday that he will not be going to the funeral the following morning, The Jerusalem Post reported. His party is the only one that did not issue a statement following Peres’ death early Wednesday morning, and no party representatives were scheduled to pay their respects at Peres’ coffin lying in state Thursday in front of the Knesset, according to the newspaper.

“The memory of Peres in the Arab public is different from the narrative discussed in recent years, and I realize such complex messages are difficult to hear a moment after someone died,” Odeh said in a tweet.

The Joint Arab List is the fourth largest party in the Knesset.

Abbas will be accompanied to the funeral with a delegation from the Palestinian Authority, according to reports citing COGAT, or Coordination of Government Activity in the Territories, a military unit that handles Israel’s civilian affairs in the West Bank.

Abbas’ office contacted the head of COGAT to coordinate the visit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the request for Abbas to enter Israel, Haaretz reported. It will be Abbas’ first official visit in Israel since September 2010.

The delegation reportedly will include PLO Executive Committee Secretary General Saeb Erekat; Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh; and intelligence chief Majd Faraz, as well as former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.

Abbas called Peres, who died two weeks after suffering a stroke, a “brave” partner for peace in a condolence letter sent to his family Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry reportedly will represent Egypt at the funeral. It is not known who will represent Jordan, the other Arab country with which Israel has a peace treaty.

At least 80 world leaders are expected to arrive in Israel to attend Peres’ funeral.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas sends condolence letter to Peres family

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Shimon Peres a “brave” partner for peace in a condolence letter sent to his family.

“Peres was a partner in making the peace of the brave with the martyr Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister (Yitzhak) Rabin, and made unremitting efforts to reach a lasting peace from the Oslo agreement until the final moments of his life,” the letter says, according to the Palestinian Wafa news agency.

Abbas also tweeted in Arabic that “Shimon Peres’ death is a heavy loss for all humanity and for peace in the region,” The Times of Israel reported.

It was not clear on Wednesday afternoon whether a Palestinian delegation would attend Peres’ funeral. Peres died early Wednesday morning, two weeks after suffering a serious stroke, at 93.

Palestinian sources told Israel Radio that Palestinian officials would not decide to attend unless invited by the family.

Hamas, the terrorist group that runs the Gaza Strip, was pleased by Peres’ death.

“The Palestinian people are very happy at the passing of this criminal who caused their blood to shed,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told The Associated Press.

“Shimon Peres was the last remaining Israeli official who founded the occupation,” he said, “and his death is the end of a phase in the history of this occupation and the beginning of a new phase of weakness.”

Moscow says Abbas, Netanyahu agree ‘in principle’ to meet

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed “in principle” to meet to discuss restarting peace talks in Moscow under the auspices of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that no date has been set for the meeting, The Associated Press reported. Abbas and Netanyahu have been trading barbs in recent days over who canceled previously scheduled meetings and why.

Peace talks have been on hold for more than two years. Abbas and Netanyahu last met officially in 2010, but it is believed that since then they have held secret meetings.

Netanyahu in a meeting Monday morning with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Putin’s special envoy for the Middle East, discussed the Putin proposal to host a face-to-face meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas in Moscow, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu is reviewing the proposal and considering the timing of a possible meeting, according to the statement. He told Bogdanov that he is always ready to meet with Abbas directly and without preconditions.

In late August, Abbas’ office said the Palestinians were ready to participate in a peace initiative. Abbas said Tuesday that a meeting scheduled in Moscow this week had been delayed by Israel.

No agenda has been set for a Moscow meeting and experts say it seems unlikely that there will be a breakthrough.