US president Donald Trump with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a welcoming ceremony in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23. Photo by Flash90

With America’s blessing, Abbas signals a reconciliation with Hamas


The Trump administration is encouraging the Palestinian Authority to assume control of the Gaza Strip and leaving the door open for a role by Hamas in the subsequent Palestinian government.

But if such a move was once seen as a traditional predicate to a two-state solution, top Palestinian leaders are hedging their bets, saying they would not rule out a “one-state” solution in which Palestinians have the same one-person, one-vote rights as Israelis. Israeli leaders have long said that would mean the end of the Jewish state.

Palestinian Authority government officials returned this week to the Gaza Strip, the first en masse visit — by Cabinet and security officials along with top bureaucrats — since Hamas’ bloody ouster of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement a decade ago.

It was a visit twice blessed by the Trump administration, first through a statement last week by the Quartet, the grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and Russia that guides the peace process, and again Monday with a statement from Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator.

“The United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza, as noted in the September 28 Quartet statement,” Greenblatt said in a statement he posted on Twitter.

The Quartet statement, while itself also abjuring mention of “two states,” made it clear that it foresaw a single Palestinian entity under P.A. rule. It urged “the parties” — the Palestinian Authority and Hamas — “to take concrete steps to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority.”

This week’s P.A. visit to Gaza, brokered by Egypt, a key ally to the United States and Israel, is only for several days, but Husam Zomlot, the PLO envoy to Washington and a top Abbas adviser, anticipated a consolidation of the Palestinian Authority presence there.

Zomlot, speaking Monday to reporters here, noted that Hamas dissolved its governing body last week and said the Palestinian Authority expected this week that Hamas would formally hand over governance of the strip. The final stage, he said, would be elections.

“The return of the Palestinian Authority” to Gaza “is a milestone for the Palestinian Authority and of President Trump’s deal of the century,” Zomlot said, using a phrase Abbas used in a meeting with Trump on Sept. 20.

A signal of the White House’s seriousness is the likelihood that Hamas will continue to play a role in governing the strip. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, heeding Israeli concerns, rejected any role for Hamas in Palestinian governance, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly it would be a deal breaker.

Now, however, careful phrasing by U.S. and Palestinian officials strongly suggests that Hamas will not fade into the night. Zomlot called the changes in Gaza “the return of the consensus government,” the joint Hamas-P.A. venture that existed uneasily in 2006-07 and infuriated the administration of George W. Bush.

Greenblatt in his statement nodded to concerns about Hamas, a State Department-designated terrorist group, but in language vague enough to accommodate a Hamas role.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said.

That elides over earlier Israeli demands that not just a Palestinian government, but all of its components, must renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Netanyahu, speaking Wednesday to a Likud party meeting in the West Bank, maintained — at least in part — a tough line on the terms of a reconciliation acceptable to Israel. He said Hamas must be disarmed, but did not count out explicitly keeping Hamas figures within the Palestinian Authority bureaucracy.

“We expect everyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel and, of course, to recognize a Jewish state, and we are not prepared to accept bogus reconciliations in which the Palestinian side apparently reconciles at the expense of our existence,” Netanyahu said in Maale Adumim, a settlement of 40,000 located just east of Jerusalem.

“Whoever wants to make such a reconciliation, our understanding is very clear: Recognize the State of Israel, disband the Hamas military arm, sever the connection with Iran, which calls for our destruction, and so on and so forth. Even these very clear things must be clearly stated,” he said.

Without mentioning the two-state goal, Greenblatt’s statement nevertheless called on the Palestinian government to abide by “previous agreements.” These would presumably include the 2003 “road map” that was to have culminated in Palestinian statehood.

Still, Zomlot said the Palestinians wanted more clarity from the Trump administration.

“We cannot travel a journey without knowing a final destination,” he said. Zomlot referred to Trump’s news conference with Netanyahu in February, when the president said, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

From the launch of the Oslo process in 1993 until now, Palestinian Authority officials have spoken of a one-state outcome only in pessimistic terms, casting it as a dystopia engendered by a failed process. Last month, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Abbas in a first for a Palestinian leader said that if the two-state option collapses, Palestinians could embrace one state. It would not be a predominantly Jewish state covering Israel and most of the West Bank, an outcome popular among the Israeli right, but a binational state in which West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have full rights as citizens.

Abbas warned in his U.N. address that in the failure of a two-state solution, “neither you nor we will have any other choice but to continue the struggle and demand full, equal rights for all inhabitants of historic Palestine. This is not a threat, but a warning of the realities before us as a result of ongoing Israeli policies that are gravely undermining the two-state solution.”

Zomlot expanded on that possibility at his news briefing Monday.

“As long as we mean one man and one woman, one vote, we are fine with this,” he said, adding however that the two-state solution “remains absolutely the best option.”

Zomlot also addressed the Taylor Force Act, legislation named for an American stabbed to death last year by a Palestinian terrorist that would slash funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continued to subsidize the families of Palestinians jailed for or killed attacking Israelis.

Palestinians say the payments mostly go to the families of the wrongfully imprisoned. Zomlot said the Palestinians proposed a tripartite commission, to include the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that would consider whether to remove some families from the payrolls.

“We have engaged with the administration, we have a trilateral commission,” he said. “We would offer to the United States to be the sole arbitrator and we will accept [the decision]. Guess who rejected it? Israel.”

A senior Trump administration official suggested that Zomlot was overstating the offer.

“We only received a brief general outline about this proposal which did not answer key questions or present a viable solution to the real problem, which is the official policy of paying terrorists and their families,” the official told JTA.

A senior Israeli official told JTA that the offer missed the point — the Palestinians can stop the payments on their own.

“The Palestinians don’t need Israel, the U.S. or anyone else, they just need to do it,” the official said. “Unfortunately they won’t.”

Children posing for a photo in hats that read “Exodus 1947” in a displaced persons camp in Germany, September 1947. Photo by Robert Gary

These photos of Holocaust survivors from the SS Exodus are incredible


In the summer of 1947, when the British turned away the SS Exodus from the shores of Palestine, the world was watching.

Before the eyes of the international media, British troops violently forced the ship’s passengers — most of them Holocaust survivors — onto ships back to Europe. The resulting reports helped turn public opinion in favor of the Zionist movement and against the pro-Arab British policy of limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine.

But much else was happening in the aftermath of World War II, and attention soon shifted elsewhere. One of the few journalists to stick with the story was Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent Robert Gary, who filed a series of reports from displaced persons camps in Germany.

Seventy years later and decades after his death, Gary is again drawing attention to the “Exodus Jews,” albeit mostly in Israel.

An album of 230 of his photos will be sold at the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem on Oct. 31, and a number of the images reveal the reality inside the camps, where the Jews continued to prepare for life in Palestine under trying conditions.

Some of the photos, which have little to no captioning, capture the haunting similarities of the DP camps to those in which the Nazis interned and killed millions of Jews during the Holocaust, including images of Exodus Jews repairing barbed-wire fences under the watch of guards.

But others show the Jews participating in communal activities and preparing for their hoped-for future in Palestine. In one photo, Zionist emissaries from the territory — young women dressed in white T-shirts and shorts — appear to lead the Exodus Jews in a circular folk dance.

Shay Mendelovich, a researcher at Kedem, said he expects there to be a lot of interest in the album, which is being sold by an anoymous collector who bought it from the Gary family. Mendelovich predicted it could be sold for as much as $10,000.

“The photos are pretty unique,” he said. “There were other people in these camps. But Robert Gary was one of the few who had a camera and knew how to take pictures.”

Jews dancing in a DP camp in Germany, September 1947. (Robert Gary)

Between 1945 and 1952, more than 250,000 Jews lived in displaced persons camps and urban centers in Germany, Austria and Italy that were overseen by Allied authorities and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Despite having been liberated from the Nazi camps, they continued to languish in Europe under guard and behind barbed wire.

Gary was an American Jewish reporter who JTA sent to Europe to cover the aftermath of World War II. He detailed the living conditions in the camps more than a year before the Exodus journey: inadequate food; cold, crowded rooms; violence by guards and mind-numbing boredom. But he reported in September 1946 that the greatest concern among Jews was escaping Europe, preferably for Palestine.

“Certainly the DP’s are sensitive to the material things and sound off when things go bad (which is as it should be), but above all this is their natural desire to start a new life elsewhere for the bulk in Palestine, for others, in the U.S. and other lands,” he wrote. “Get any group of DP’s together and they’ll keep you busy with the number one question: When are we leaving?”

In July 1947, more than 4,500 Jews from the camps boarded the Exodus in France and set sail for Palestine without legal immigration certificates. They hoped to join the hundreds of thousands of Jews building a pro-Jewish state.

Organized by the Haganah, a Zionist paramilitary force in Palestine, the mission was the largest of dozens of mostly failed attempts at illegal Jewish immigration during the decades of British administration of the territory following World War I. The British largely sought to limit the arrival of Jews to Palestine out of deference to the often violent opposition of its Arab majority.

The Haganah had outfitted and manned the Exodus in hopes of outmaneuvering the British Navy and unloading the passengers on the beach. But near the end of its weeklong voyage, the British intercepted the ship off the shore of Palestine and brought it into the Haifa port. Troops removed resisting passengers there, injuring dozens and killing three, and loaded them on three ships back to Europe.

Even after two months on the Exodus, the passengers resisted setting foot back on the continent. When the British finally forced them ashore in September 1947 and into two displaced persons camps in occupied northern Germany — Poppendorf and Am Stau — many sang the Zionist anthem “Hatikvah” in protest. An unexploded time bomb, apparently designed to go off after the passengers were ashore, was later found on one of the ships.

Jews repairing fencing at a DP camp in Germany, September 1947. (Robert Gary)

The widely reported events won worldwide sympathy for European Jews and their national aspirations. An American newspaper headlined a story about the Exodus “Back to the Reich.” The Yugoslav delegate from from the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine called the affair “the best possible evidence we have for allowing Jews into Palestine.”

Later, the Exodus achieved legendary status, most famously as the inspiration and namesake of the 1958 best-seller by Leon Uris and the 1960 film starring Paul Newman. Some, including former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, credited the Exodus with a major role in the foundation of the State of Israel in May 1948.

Gary, who was stationed in Munich, had close ties to Zionist activists; he reported early and often on the continuing plight of the Exodus Jews in the camps. His dispatches highlighted their continued challenges, including malnutrition, and unabated longing to immigrate to Palestine.

In a report from Poppendorf days after the Exodus Jews arrived, Gary said the dark running joke in the camp was that the alternative to Palestine was simple: “Everyone would choose a tree from which to hang himself.”

“The Jews of Germany demand and expect a chance to start life anew under reasonably secure circumstances,” he wrote. “They feel these places exist mainly in Palestine and the U.S. And they are determined to get there, either by legal or illegal means, or just by plain old fashioned patience.”

Pnina Drori, who later became Gary’s wife, was among the emissaries that the Jewish Agency for Israel sent to the camps from Palestine to prepare the Jews for aliyah. As a kindergarten teacher, she taught the children Hebrew and Zionist songs. Other emissaries, she said, offered military training in preparation for the escalating battles with the Arab majority in Palestine.

“In the photos, you see a lot of young people in shorts and kind of Israeli clothes,” she said. “We were getting them ready for Israeli life, both good and bad. You have to remember Israel was at war at the time.”

A 1947 photo of the fake certificate identifying Robert Gary as a passenger of the SS Exodus. (Courtesy of Kedem Auction House)

Gary was one of the few journalists who continued visiting the DP camps in the weeks after the Exodus Jews returned to Europe. Somehow he even obtained a fake certificate identifying him as one of the former passengers of the ship. But by late September 1947, JTA reported that British authorities had tired of Gary’s critical coverage and barred him from entry.

“The fact that Gary and [New York newspaper PM reporter Maurice] Pearlman were the only correspondents still assigned to the story, and had remained at the camps, aroused the authorities, who charged that they ‘were snooping about too much,’” according to the report.

Israel declared independence in May 1948, and after Great Britain recognized the Jewish state in January 1949, it finally sent most of the remaining Exodus passengers to the new Jewish state. Nearly all the DP camps in Europe were closed by 1952 and the Jews dispersed around the world, most to Israel and the United States.

Gary soon immigrated to Israel, too. He married Drori in 1949, months after meeting her at a Hanukkah party at the Jewish Agency’s headquarters in Munich, and the couple moved to Jerusalem, where they had two daughters. Robert Gary took at job at The Jerusalem Post and later worked for the British news agency Reuters. Pnina Gary, 90, continued her acting career.

She said her husband always carried a camera with him when he was reporting, and their home was filled with photo albums.

Decades after Robert Gary died in Tel Aviv in 1987, at the age of 67, Pnina Gary wrote and starred in a hit play, “An Israeli Love Story.” It is based on her real-life romance with the first man she was supposed to marry, who was killed by local Arabs in an ambush on their kibbutz.

“We knew life wouldn’t be easy in Israel,” she said. “That’s not why anyone comes here.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations on Sept. 20. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Iran’s president says security for Israel is ‘not possible,’ pleads for nuclear deal


President Hassan Rouhani of Iran delivered to the United Nations an extended plea to preserve the Iran nuclear deal while saying it was “not possible” to guarantee Israel security as long as it “usurped” Palestinian lands.

Rouhani, speaking Wednesday, derided the tough talk about his country delivered a day earlier by President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the launch of this year’s General Assembly in New York. His Twitter feed posted the lines as he spoke.

“Ugly, ignorant words were spoken by the U.S. president against the Iranian nation,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Zionist regime not committed to any international instrument or safeguard has the audacity to preach to peaceful nations.”

Trump and Netanyahu in their speeches both cast Iran as a rogue nation and said the 2015 nuclear deal trading sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program was an “embarrassment.” Trump hinted there would a change in U.S. posture toward the deal, and Netanyahu said it should either be amended or canceled outright.

Rouhani, whose government still fends off criticism from Iranian hardliners opposed to the plan, cast it as a template for international peace deals.

“It belongs to the international community in its entirety and not only one or two countries,” he said of the deal otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “The JCPOA can be a new model for global interactions.” Iran, he said, would “not be the first” to violate the deal.

Rouhani insisted that missile testing was “only for deterrence.” Trump and Netanyahu have said that Iran’s missile advances and its military adventurism are also reasons to re-examine the Iran deal.

The Iranian leader called for peaceful coexistence, but appeared to extend his invitation to everyone but Israel.

“It is not possible for a rogue and racist regime to trample upon the most basic rights of the Palestinians, and be usurpers of this land and enjoy security,” he said.

Rouhani’s predecessors and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have said they regard the entirety of Israel as illegitimate. Rouhani has not made his views clear.

He twice mentioned ancient Iranian gestures of friendship toward the Jews as exemplars of the current regime’s alleged commitment to diversity.

“We are the same people who rescued the Jews from Babylonian servility,” he said, referring to the Jewish communities established in Persia after they wer expelled by the Babylonians from Judea in the sixth century BCE. “Historically backing the oppressed, Iran upholds the right of the Palestinian people as it did those of the Jewish people centuries ago.”

President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations in New York on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Trump ignores Israeli-Palestinian peace in UN speech, says US cannot ‘abide’ Iran nuclear deal


President Donald Trump told the U.N. General Assembly that the United States cannot “abide” the Iran nuclear deal as it stands but notably omitted mention of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for an eventual nuclear program,” Trump said Tuesday on the first day of this year’s General Assembly in New York. Again calling the deal “one of the worst” he had ever encountered, the president said it was “an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

Trump has said there will be a “dramatic” adjustment to how the United States treats the deal by next month, when according to U.S. law, the United States just recertify Iranian adherence to the deal.

The 2015 deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Critics of the deal, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who, unusually for a leader, was in attendance during Trump’s speech — say the lifting of some restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program starting within a decade pave its path to a nuclear weapon. Defenders of the agreement say that other provisions written into the deal are sufficient to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.

Trump coupled Iran and North Korea as rogue regimes threatening stability worldwide. Several times he singled out Iran for its backing of the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon and the threat posed by the group to Israel.

Netanyahu responded effusively to the 40-minute address.

“In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” the Israeli leader said. “President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”

In not mentioning his administration’s efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, Trump departed from his predecessors. Saying an Israeli-Palestinian deal is critical to world peace is almost de rigeuer during the General Assembly, even for tiny far-flung nations that have no influence on the outcome.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Bernie Sanders sponsors event supporting Palestinian village of Susiya


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is sponsoring a September 19th briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight the cause of the Palestinian village, Susiya, which is designated for demolition by the Israeli Army, a Senate staffer confirmed to Jewish Insider.

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

While the briefing marks International Peace Day which is September 21, due to the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, it has been moved to the 19th to allow those celebrating to attend, according to a copy of the invitation. The organizer Rebuilding Alliance declined to publicize Sanders’ sponsorship in its invitation.

The California-based Rebuilding Alliance is slated to fly-in children from the West Bank villages of Susiya and Al-Aqaba along with Gaza. “It is our hope that upon hearing their presentation, members of Congress will personally make calls to the Israeli Embassy to express concern, stop the demolitions, recognize Palestinian planning rights, turn on the lights, and assure due process,” the event explains.

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Susiya is an illegally constructed outpost near Hebron and “are continuing to build in defiance of a court order.” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has written multiple letters to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on Jerusalem not to demolish the contested village.

Earlier this year, Sanders was one of four Senators to send a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighting the case of Palestinian activist Issa Amro, who is charged by the Israeli military for obstructing soldiers. The Vermont lawmaker also delivered a harsh critique of Israel’s conduct in the 1948 war at the J Street conference last February. “Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees,” he said.

The September 19 briefing will be the second pro-Palestinian event on Capitol Hill this year. In June, Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) sponsored an event titled: “50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation & Life for Palestinian Children.”

Love story meets thriller over Englander’s ‘Dinner’


Nathan Englander — who was raised and educated in an Orthodox community on Long Island, spent five years in Israel and now lives in Brooklyn — is one of America’s leading Jewish writers. His remarkable collection of short stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and both of his other previous books (“The Ministry of Special Cases,” a novel, and “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges,” a short story collection) also were deeply informed by Englander’s yiddisher kop — his Jewish head.

With his latest novel, “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” (Knopf), Englander is still contemplating a Jewish cast of characters on a Jewish landscape. But the new book is an espionage thriller, which means that we must now compare Englander to Graham Greene as well as Philip Roth. And he comes off well in the comparison. His new book is a page-turner with all of the moral insight and depth of emotion that characterizes what Englander has called his “thinky” books.

[Nathan Englander Q&A: A novel’s view of Israel-Palestine conflict]

The mystery focuses on a man who is known as Prisoner Z, an American Jew who is being held in solitary confinement by Israeli authorities at a “black site” in the Negev. (The character’s name and circumstances allude to the real-life case of a Mossad agent in Israeli confinement who was called Prisoner X.) As Englander invites us ever deeper into the mystery, we learn that Prisoner Z was serving as an Israeli intelligence agent in Paris when he came under suspicion of treason by his own comrades-in-arms after a delicate mission goes horribly wrong and he tries to fix it.

Prisoner Z is no James Bond. Rather, he is anxious and fretful, tortured with regret and self-doubt, and especially now that he has been “viciously awoken to the consequences of what he’d done, for Israel, for Palestine, and, most urgently, for himself.”  He is afraid to touch a newspaper left behind on a café table for fear that it has been swabbed with a deadly poison by his comrades in the Mossad. “[H]e knew how his pursuers worked because he worked for them,” Englander explains. “It was chaos theory and game theory and psy-ops and all the best intelligence and counterintelligence whisked up together.”

“Dinner at the Center of the Earth” consists of two parallel narratives in counterpoint to each other. One is the backstory of Prisoner Z, who starts out as a spy and ends up as a prisoner because, as he tells the Italian waitress who becomes his lover, “I got myself into a bind trying to fix the world.” His scruples do not impress her: “This is why I never dated Jewish men,” she complains. “You all seem very cute for a day or two, and then end up being crazy.” When he extracts a passport and “three fat stacks of bills” from a hiding place in his apartment, the waitress is impressed: “Now you seem less crazy,” she says, “and more like a dangerous spy.” In the finest tradition of the spy novel, nothing turns out to be quite what it seems.

The other story takes place in the hospital room where “the General” — who is plainly Ariel Sharon — lingers on life support. “[T]he great general lies there on his bed, waxed and rouged like a Red Delicious, looking like a fat Lenin on display,” Englander writes. “Their dear departed murderous leader, whose family will not let him die.” While the comatose patient dreams of the victories and defeats, the joys and heartbreaks of his storied life, the conversations between the young man who guards Prisoner Z and his mother, who nurses the General, are the occasion for a running debate about whether the General had been good or bad for the Jews.

“He was going to make peace,” says the nurse, whose name is Ruthi. “Peace was the bomb the General was going to drop.”

“You really believe that?” asks her son.

“If he ever finds his way back, he’ll end up looking more lefty than you,” Ruthi says.

The two stories are delicately and ironically interwoven. “Over the years, on the nights he cannot sleep, which are legion, Prisoner Z has not only greatly improved his penmanship in both Hebrew and English, but has become adept at composing without any light,” Englander writes. “He is busy writing a letter to the General, his pen pal. In the morning he will give it to the guard, to give to his mother, to give to the General, who never writes back.” As the reader will discover, the fate of these two characters is linked in even more dire and fateful ways.

Since Englander set out to write a thriller, he delivers all of the twists and turns, the shocks and surprises, that we are entitled to expect in that genre. But he does not disappoint the readers of his earlier work who know him for his exquisite sensibilities and the sheer power of his literary prose. For that reason, “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” will only expand his reach and enrich his already considerable reputation.

Other New Books

Here are some authors with new books who will be visiting Los Angeles this season:

• Stephen Greenblatt is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard scholar whose work has famously focused on Shakespeare (“Will in the World”). In his latest book, “The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve” (Norton), Greenblatt assumes that the first two human beings whom we meet in the Bible are fictional characters, like Romeo and Juliet, although he readily concedes that the mythic figures we find in the Bible have shaped not only the culture and politics but also the history and destiny of our world.

As part of the ALOUD program of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, Greenblatt will discuss his new book with his fellow scholar and Pulitzer recipient Jack Miles (“God: A Biography”), an encounter that promises to be a theological battle of titans. The event takes place at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Los Angeles Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St. lfla.org.

• If you think back to Lou Grant, the memorable character that Ed Asner played on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the irascible news director with a heart of gold is entirely consistent with Asner’s public persona as a self-proclaimed “Dauntless Democrat” and a progressive goad. 

The point is made in “The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nut Jobs” (Simon & Schuster), which is co-written by writer and producer Ed. Weinberger. As the title announces, the book is not a Hollywood memoir; rather, it is a spirited argument that the Constitution is the repository of liberal values and the birthright of American progressives. 

Not unlike Bernie Sanders, Asner brims with energy and vision that reaches across several generations. Asner and Weinberger will engage in a public conversation about their book under the auspices of LiveTalkLA at 8 p.m. Oct. 17 at All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena. eventbrite.com.

• People who attend services at the spiritual community called Nashuva already know that its founder, Rabbi Naomi Levy, is a gifted counselor, teacher and storyteller. So do the readers of her previous books, including “Hope Will Find You,” “Talking to God” and “To Begin Again.” 

The same wisdom, vision and charisma are on display in her latest book, “Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul” (Flatiron Books), a courageous account of the power that prayer and meditation have when facing even the most heartbreaking challenges of life. 

As the title suggests, Levy argues that science and faith not only coexist but explain and support each other. “When we feel alone, we are wrong,” Levy writes. “Einstein’s words reaffirmed everything I had come to see in my own experience. Einstein was saying that we are all part of a greater whole.”

The most touching example is a dire medical ordeal that Levy endured, and I promise that the happy ending will bring tears to your eyes. Levy will present her book at several venues in Southern California, including on Nov. 7 at Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles; and Nov. 15 at Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. us.macmillan.com/author/naomilevy/.


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Nathan Englander. Photo from nathanenglander.com

Nathan Englander interview: A novel’s view of Israel-Palestine conflict


More words may have been written about the Israel-Palestine conflict than there are grains of sand at the beach, but to Nathan Englander there is still room on bookshelves for a novel that stirs the emotions and invites the empathy so often lost in the conflict’s polemics. 

[MORE: Love story meets thriller over Englander’s ‘Dinner’]

“Dinner at the Center of the Earth,” the author’s fourth and latest book, is a political thriller that examines the conflict from the perspectives of a renegade Mossad agent, a young Palestinian activist and a multitude of characters swept up in the conflict’s moral vortex. Englander spoke with the Journal about the challenge of writing through controversy and his commitment to peace, now stronger than ever, in today’s fractured political landscape. 

Jewish Journal: The Israel-Palestine conflict is among the most fraught and nuanced subjects for a novel. What compelled you to write about it? 

Nathan Englander: I moved to Israel [from New York] in 1996 for the peace process, because I was just so excited for this brand-new day and peace in the Middle East. It sounds almost like a utopian vision now, but [peace] really was happening and really right there.

Over the years, the whole thing came apart. Peace between Israel and Palestine and the idea of a two-state solution fell apart, and now the opposite of progress continues to be made. I moved home [to the United States] sort of heartbroken about that in 2001.

For 20 years, I’ve always wanted to explore this conflict and my own internal belief in peace, because I don’t know what other position there is to hold. What I’ve watched over these last two decades is that the two sides separate more and more. Every day going by, every week, the people understand each other less. A physical wall has gone up — Gaza’s closed off, there’s a wall between the West Bank and Israel, there are roadblocks. Even though there was occupation and many of the same issues [in the past], people still mixed more. There was just so much more sharing of the daily life. To me, this book was a way to explore these notions of empathy on both sides.

JJ: What does this book add to the noise of opinions regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict? What’s the fresh angle?

NE: I don’t think it’s the writer’s job to give answers or to give opinions. In fact, when a writer has answers, I think the work ends up being corrupted. It becomes didactic. What a book does is share a consciousness and invite people to explore the questions as best as you can. This book is not my answer; it is my optimistic lament for lost peace.

Every book is vulnerable and every book is nerve-wracking, but I’ve never been both so excited and terrified to have a book coming into the world. It’s an expressly loaded subject, one on which you can’t win. Even with people on the same side — my editor was telling me about her sweet Israeli in-laws who both read the book and got into an argument over it. If all goes well, there will be arguments. 

JJ: Did you have to change your writing style at all in handling such a nuanced topic? 

NE: I was looking for a way to tell this story for a long time because I didn’t want it to be didactic or turn into a history lesson. Nobody needed a 500-page lecture from me on peace in the Middle East. Finally, when it came to me, it was such a departure from my other books in so many ways. It’s sort of like a literary thriller that’s also a metafictional historical novel that ends up being a love story that turns into an allegory. 

I think in circles and speak in circles. When I wrote my first book [“For the Relief of Unbearable Urges”], I studied how to be linear and tell a story straight. This is my fourth book, and I was like, “I finally get to keep my circles,” because the conflict is so circular. Whichever way I start a sentence is going to upset someone — if I say, “Israel attacks Palestine” or “Palestine attacks Israel,” someone will be like, “They started first” or “No, they started first.” Who cares at this point who started first? It’s this endless, heartbreaking cycle that just happens again and again as if it’s new. 

That’s why I wanted the book to swing from side to side. It’s not even two sides — I don’t think there are many sides when it comes to Nazis or neo-Nazis, where there’s only one side that’s functional — but there are two peoples here, and there are many sides among those peoples.

JJ: While you were writing, was your target audience Jews or non-Jews, or both? 

NE: When somebody asks a variation of “Who do you write for?” I always feel like the writer got trapped into putting a form on something that has no form. Certain things are amorphous.

If a story is functioning, it better be universal. I can’t control how an Israeli will feel about the book, or a Palestinian or a left-wing person or a right-wing person. But if a story is working, it should travel across time, across space, across language, across gender, across belief.

JJ: You said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Tribune that you feel strongly that Judaism is not your subject, your characters just happen to be Jewish. Is that still your position after writing a book about Israel? 

NE: I still stand by that statement. I think it shows more about why it’s being asked than whatever my answer is. Nobody would take a John Updike book and say, “I want to give this to my Jewish friend, but can they read this?” Or they don’t say, “Oh, I love Voltaire, but my friend’s not French and he’s not dead and he’s not 300 years old, so can I give him ‘Candide’?” You just read a book. Some people tell me, “I love your book. Can I give it to my friend who’s not Jewish?” You wouldn’t ask that in the reverse.

Still, this is the book where I feel most like a Jewish writer because of what’s happening in this country right now. Now that some things [in American society] are being let out of the darkness where they belong, I claim [the Jewish label] that much more.

JJ: What is it exactly about current events that makes you embrace that niche label?

NE: A sign of democracy in danger is how our president keeps threatening journalists and tweeting disturbing photos about hurting journalists. The reason people get afraid of writing real, honest journalism and fiction, and the reason corrupted people and demagogues are afraid of journalism and fiction and poetry across the world, is because it is a subversive form.

Writing travels. You can enter into a world far different from your own and understand that there is a reality other than the one you have been spoon-fed. I grew up in a closed, religious, suburban world — I call it a terrarium or a bubble — and opening books just blew my mind open. It just opened universes to me. 

JJ: How were you able to write Palestinian characters and understand a Palestinian’s perspective?

NE: It is hugely important to me what it means to identify, what it means to enter other cultures, what it means to co-opt. I’m not writing this book and pretending to be Palestinian. I do believe writing is a moral act, both your obligation to it and where it comes from.

But all I can tell you is that I write from the heart and put my whole heart and soul into each character equally. There’s no way to work if I am so limited.

JJ: The book’s dust jacket describes a “nice American Jewish boy from Long Island.” Is that an autobiographical character? 

NE: One of the main characters is Prisoner Z, a boy from Long Island who joins the Mossad and ends up betraying it. There was a public story [in 2010] about a real Australian agent in the Mossad called Prisoner X, who was accused of being a traitor. I got to thinking what it would be like if someone like me had joined the Mossad.

I wanted to close in on what it would take for someone like me — someone who moves to a different country, who’s so ideological and so believes in what that country is about that they join its secret service — to flip on the ethical front. What could they hear or see or empathize with the other side that would cause them to turn on their own?

JJ: How have your attitudes toward the Israel-Palestine conflict changed over the course of writing this book? 

NE: Oh, God. I can’t tell you how much, over time, my views have changed. It’s been a long evolution of ideas based on experience, and this book was a way for me to re-ponder and re-explore my positions on a million fronts.

It’s impossible for [young people] to have a memory when peace was really happening and on the horizon. It was over when [their] life began. Two-state seems impossible now, and peace between Israel and Palestine seems a ridiculous notion. That’s something I refuse to let go of, and if you think that’s a romantic notion or a naive notion, I don’t know what better idea anyone has.

But I can tell you, if it keeps building toward extreme conflict, someone’s going to win. Maybe that’s the point of the book — to say, “We should really make peace, because without it, someone is gonna win.” And I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want both peoples to have bright and open and hopeful futures.

President Donald Trump has issued few apologies and asked for many in the past year. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Apologies and non-apologies in the year of our Trump 5777


There are apologies, there are non-apologies and there are apologies that never were.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are approaching: We are in the season of repentance and its most apt expression, apologizing to our fellow women and men.

The Trump presidency presents special challenges to apology trackers: Donald just doesn’t do them, but he loves them when he gets them. And sometimes he insists he got them when he didn’t.

To be fair to Trump, his ambivalence, if not hostility, toward self-reproach is not unique, and certainly not among presidents. It took Bill Clinton months — until just days before Rosh Hashanah of 1998 — to fully apologize for embarking on, and lying about, his affair with Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush still blames the Iraq War on bad intelligence. Barack Obama took his time before eventually apologizing to Americans who lost their health insurance despite his repeated promises that they wouldn’t.

Clinton’s apology, at least, included a direct apology to Lewinsky for having called her a liar, and thus met the conditions for “teshuvah,” or genuine repentance, laid out by the Jewish sage Maimonides 900 years ago in his Mishnah Torah: One must seek forgiveness for sins against one’s fellows not from God, and directly from the wounded party. Beg forgiveness directly, Maimonides prescribed, resolve to not repeat your transgression and do what you can to make it up to the victim. Anything less is not a real apology.

In that regard, 5777 wasn’t a great year for Maimonidean apologies. Take a look:

The failing, if not sorry, New York Times

The New York Times

The Midtown Manhattan building that houses what Trump calls “the failing @nytimes,” July 2017. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Trump very much wants to believe The New York Times apologized for its coverage of the election last year. But the Times insists it never apologized.

Trump’s hopes for an apology lie buried in a letter the newspaper posted five days after the election.

“After such an erratic and unpredictable election,” the editors wrote to readers, “there are inevitable questions: Did Donald Trump’s sheer unconventionality lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters?”

Trump read that sentence as a mea culpa.

“The failing @nytimes, which has made every wrong prediction about me including my big election win (apologized), is totally inept!” Trump tweeted as recently as Aug. 7.

The Times has responded by tweeting, “We stand by our coverage,” and pointing to the language of the original letter, “We believe we reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign. You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same level of fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.”

In a fiery speech in Phoenix last month, Trump still hoped to shake out the nugget of an apology in the Times letter.

“How about this?” Trump said. “The New York Times essentially apologized after I won the election because their coverage was so bad, and it was so wrong, and they were losing so many subscribers that they practically apologized. I would say they did.”

A sorry state of affairs

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski speaking in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 7, 2012. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Becoming the most powerful man on earth has barely slaked Trump’s thirst for deference.

“Fake News is at an all time high,” he said on Twitter in June. “Where is their apology to me for all of the incorrect stories???

Michelle Cottle, writing in the Atlantic in February, compiled a partial list of the people from whom Trump and his surrogates had demanded apologies during and since the campaign. They included Sen. John McCain, the cast of “Hamilton,” CNN’s Jim Acosta, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Megyn Kelly and Hillary Clinton.

“If anything, a grudging, coerced apology seems to delight him even more than a wholly voluntary one,” Cottle wrote.

Failing to extract an apology, by contrast, seems to enrage Trump. In June, New York magazine reported that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner failed in his bid to get MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough to apologize to Trump for his show’s critical coverage of the president. The exchange culminated with the president’s attack on Scarborough’s fiancé and co-host, Mika Brzezinski, as “bleeding from the face” from a facelift.

Sorry, not sorry

Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, giving an apology message about remarks made in a released “Access Hollywood” tape, Oct. 7, 2016. (Screenshot from Facebook)

Trump’s best-known apology, delivered Oct. 8 between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, was a classic of the sorry, not sorry genre.

It came after the “Access Hollywood” tape showed Trump boasting about sexual assault in 2005.

“I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more-than-a-decade-old video are one of them,” Trump, then a candidate, said in his videotaped apology.

Translation: It was over a decade old, when I was a mere child of 59. Why bother with it now?

“Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong and I apologize,” he said.

Better; even Maimonides might approve. But Trump wasn’t done.

“Let’s be honest: We are living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we are facing today,” he said.

Uh-oh. Sounds like he is diminishing the significance of the thing he just apologized for. But at least Trump didn’t say that others have done things that are far worse.

Wait, there’s this:

“Hillary Clinton and her kind have run our country into the ground. I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” he said. “Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”

Trump, moreover, did not apologize to his direct targets: the actress he was lusting over in the audio or the married friend he claimed he had hoped to seduce. Melania Trump, who was already married to Trump at the time the tape was made, said her husband apologized to her. Trump has said he did not.

His daughter Ivanka Trump, the evening the tape emerged, reportedly pleaded for him to make a real apology. He refused. She left the room in tears, according to The New York Times.

Trump recorded his apology on Oct. 8. He won election on Nov. 8.

Atonement for the Day of Atonement

Marchers in Los Angeles protesting President Trump’s order to end the DACA immigrant program, Sept. 5, 2017. (David McNew/Getty Images)

There have been plenty of other apologies in the Trump era.

Jewish social justice activists were miffed when they learned that the March for Racial Justice in Washington, D.C., was scheduled for Sept. 30, which happens to be Yom Kippur. The organizers dithered for a bit, but on Aug. 16 issued a statement saying the scheduling “was a grave and hurtful oversight on our part. It was unintentional and we are sorry for this pain as well as for the time it has taken for us to respond. Our mistake highlights the need for our communities to form stronger relationships.”

The date of the march will not be changed, but related events may be held on that Saturday night or the next day.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, welcomed the apology, saying the organizers “have modeled teshuvah in the past few days.”

Swiss miss

A photo of the pool at the Paradies Arosa hotel in Switzerland. (Screenshot from Paradies Arosa)

A Swiss hotel owner made all the wrong kinds of headlines when she posted signs at her place urging Jews to shower before entering the pool and telling them they could only access a hotel refrigerator at set times. Even Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, chimed in, saying the incident reflected the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

But the story was somewhat more complicated. Ruth Thomann, who runs the hotel, tearfully told JTA that she meant no offense to Jews and that she merely sought to convey information relevant only to the Jewish guests (who, she said, store their kosher food in the hotel fridge and tend to swim wearing T-shirts and other outerwear, presumably out of modesty).

“I may have selected the wrong words; the signs should have been addressed to all the guests instead of Jewish ones,” she said, adding, “My God, if I had something against Jews, I wouldn’t take them as guests!”

On Target

A Target store in Novato, Calif. (Getty Images)

Target apologized to Israelis when it couldn’t make good on orders after a shipping company offered a brief free-shipping promotion. The U.S. retail giant said it was overwhelmed by the orders from Aug. 18 to 20.

“Due to the much higher than anticipated response to the Borderfree Free Shipping promotion, we are unable to deliver order [number] and had to cancel it. We apologize for this inconvenience,” read the letter sent to  Israeli customers.

‘It’s over for me’

Kevin Myers (Screenshot from YouTube)

An Irish journalist, fired for writing what critics called an anti-Semitic newspaper column, apologized to those he offended — although he insisted his intentions were good.

“I am very very sorry to them, I really mean it, I’m not rescuing anything as far as I can see, it’s over for me,” Kevin Myers said, referring to the two Jewish female BBC broadcasters who were described in his column as hard-bargainers. “I am issuing an apology for no other reason than contrition of the hurt I have caused them.”

Jews, he had written in July, “are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price.”

Said Myers: “I said those words out of respect for their religion.”

Um, thank you?

Flag politics

A Palestinian flag flying in Gaza City in 2015. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Also in July, a Jewish camp in Washington state apologized after flying a Palestinian flag “as a sign of friendship and acceptance” to visiting Palestinian Muslim and Christian students. Critics of the flag said it was offensive and represented a regime that still incites violence against Jews. Supporters said welcoming Palestinian students on a peace mission was the menschy thing to do.

The critics won the debate.

“We sincerely apologize that we upset some in our CSS and larger Jewish community by introducing the Palestinian flag into our educational program,” Camp Solomon Schechter wrote in a letter to parents and supports. “Camp Solomon Schechter reiterates our unwavering support for the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland.”

The camp’s executive director and co-board president also issued a statement.

“Camp Solomon Schechter regrets raising the Palestinian flag alongside US, Canadian and Israeli flags on Thursday and Friday mornings …,” the statement said. “We neglected to foresee in such actions the serious political implications and for that lapse in judgment, we are deeply sorry.”

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Trump says Israelis and Palestinians both want peace


President Donald Trump said he believes there is a chance for Israeli-Palestinian peace because both sides are committed to it.

“I think we have a chance of doing it, I think the Palestinians would like to see it happen, I think the Israelis would like to see it happen and usually when you have two groups that would like to see something happen, good things can happen,” Trump said Thursday at a news conference at the White House with the emir of Kuwait. “I think there is a chance that there could be peace.”

Trump since assuming office has attempted to restart peace talks, hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House and visiting the region. His son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has been in the region three times, and his top international negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, has been a constant presence there.

Despite these efforts, and initial enthusiasm from the Israelis and the Palestinians, officials on each side now say the effort is sputtering because the other is not serious about peacemaking.

Trump will meet the Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly later this month.

Jared Kushner, left, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Aug. 24. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/Israeli Government Press Office

Jared Kushner was in the Middle East. Did Trump’s A team bring a peace plan?


Seven months into the Trump presidency, Israel and the Palestinians, along with other countries in the Middle East and experts on policy in the region, are still waiting for the U.S. administration to describe its preferred framework for peace there.

Kushner, who Trump has charged with brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, arrived Wednesday in Israel for his third visit to the region. He and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator, and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser, held meetings the following day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before wrapping up a Middle East tour that the U.S. described as “productive,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Something has to come out of this trip that demonstrates that the peace process is not dead and buried,” Aaron David Miller, a veteran Middle East peace negotiator under Republican and Democratic presidents who is now president at the Wilson Center, told JTA. “The whole world is watching. Some sort of event or framework is necessary.”

Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organization envoy in Washington, D.C., was more blunt at a meeting earlier this month with reporters.

“We need them to tell us where the hell they are going,” he said.

For its part, the Trump administration does not appear to be poised on the brink of a breakthrough. The Palestinians had hoped for a commitment to two states — Trump in February had retreated from 15 years of explicit U.S. commitment to the outcome. But on Wednesday, as Kushner’s party was landing in Israel, Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, made it clear that nothing on the two-state front had changed.

“We are not going to state what the outcome has to be,” she said. “It has to be workable to both sides. And I think, really, that’s the best view as to not really bias one side over the other, to make sure that they can work through it.”

The inclination toward caution — leaving the pace of advancement to the parties — is a reaction to the burns suffered by the United States when previous administrations took a more proactive role in brokering peace.

It’s an experience Kushner is keen not to revisit — something he made clear earlier this month in a leaked chat with congressional interns. Kushner rarely speaks in public, and the exchange last month was a rare insight into how he has been approaching the renewal of the peace talks. It underscored how embryonic the administration’s approach was to peacemaking.

“So what do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know,” Kushner said in a recording obtained by Wired magazine. “And we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on.”

Kushner’s remarks — hesitant, if not feckless — were  in contrast with the intensity of the Trump administration’s activity at the start of his presidency, said Daniel Shapiro, the Obama administration’s ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017. In addition to Greenblatt’s near constant presence in the region and the two visits by Kushner, Trump visited Israel and the Palestinian areas in his first overseas trip as president, and has hosted Netanyahu and Abbas at the White House.

“Trump obtained a significant degree of leverage through his first meetings” with Netanyahu and Abbas, Shapiro said. “That kind of leverage is wasting an asset if it’s not used.”

A perception that has arisen: One of the obstacles to a coherent White House Middle East policy was infighting between relative traditionalists like Kushner and Powell — a Middle East hand who served in senior positions in the George W. Bush administration — and hard-liners like Stephen Bannon, the former White House strategist. Vanity Fair reported this week that Bannon lobbied hard to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and “pushed a tougher line against the Palestinians than Kushner did.”

Pro-Israel groups that favor a hard line in dealing with the Palestinians lamented the appointment of David Satterfield, a veteran U.S. diplomat with experience in the Middle East, as acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs. The Zionist Organization of America worries that Satterfield will bring “unwarranted pressure on Israel.”

ZOA has also labeled Powell, who directed charitable activities at Goldman Sachs after serving as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs in the George W. Bush administration, as “hostile to Israel.”

If Bannon’s exit from the White House means the administration will adopt a more traditional “honest broker” approach to the Middle East, some suggest that Kushner is likelier to push for talks — and compromise — on both sides.

The ex-negotiator Miller said that didn’t seem likely. Bannon’s preoccupations were elsewhere, he said, and in any case, it’s not as if Kushner and Greenblatt — Orthodox Jews with longstanding ties to Israel, including to its settlement movement — were slouches when it came to defending the country’s interests.

“You didn’t need Steve Bannon to create a huge sort of tsunami tilt in favor of Israeli sensibilities,” Miller said, as opposed to the coolness of U.S.-Israel relations under the Obama administration.

Another factor inhibiting a breakthrough is the domestic tribulations of each leader. Both Netanyahu and Trump are facing the possibility of criminal inquiries into their administrations, and Abbas faces the old internal challenge from Hamas, the terrorist group running the Gaza Strip, and newer ones from younger leaders in his own Fatah movement.

Still, the itinerary of the Kushner trip suggests the nascent stages of a grander strategy, according to Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The U.S. delegation, which included stops in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

“There is still interest across the region to explore a regional architecture for peace,” Schanzer said, referring to plans that Trump and Netanyahu have touted in the past that would create the conditions for a broader and simultaneous peace deal among Israel, the Palestinians and other Arab states.

“This idea is that the Israelis and the Arabs could find ways to ensure a better quality of life and some progress toward autonomy for the Palestinians while simultaneously exploring shared regional priorities with the Arabs,” he said, including shared strategies to confront Islamist terrorist groups and contain Iran’s influence. “If done in parallel, it could be productive.”

The time to strike on such a regional approach was now, Schanzer warned, noting that both Russia and China were making inroads into the region.

“You’ve got the Russians effectively commanding the Israelis to pay visits,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s visit this week to Moscow, which seemed to preoccupy the Israeli leader more than the Kushner visit.

Russia maintains a presence in Syria, and Israel is pressing Russian President Vladimir Putin to make sure that any outcome in that country’s civil war is not to the benefit of Russia’s de facto allies in the conflict, Iran and Hezbollah.

According to Schanzer, “The Trump administration needs to guard this portfolio jealously if they want to maintain control” in the Middle East.

White House Senior advisor Jared Kushner listens as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a rally in Huntington, West Virginia U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A peace process? Come back another time


Leaders want many things, but can only achieve few of them. They have priorities, more than their overall desired goals dictate their policies. Is the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a priority? Today, Donald Trump emissaries to the Middle East came for another visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and judging by their intensity of visits one could argue that the peace process is a priority of the administration.

Still, following the news from Washington it would seem quite odd to make such assumption. The White House has serious issues with North Korea, China and Iran –- and of course a domestic agenda, including the handling of crises, from the Russia investigation to the Charlottesville aftermath. For Trump, or his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to wake up and think about the peace process would be a strange thing to do.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s priorities were clarified yesterday, when he visited with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. The PM is concerned about Syria and the prospect of Iran taking over the country with the tacit support of Russia. In two articles that I wrote for The New York Times in the last year I argued that for now Putin is the new Middle East sheriff and Israel must recognize this fact, and  that Israel is highly concerned about the cease fire in Syria.

I wrote: “Israeli planners believe that there is only one good solution to this strategic problem, for the United States to go back to being a superpower.” The less the U.S. gets involved in remedying the challenge of Iran in Syria, the less convincing it will be in arguing for a peace process with the Palestinians.

To take risks, to make sacrifices, Israel needs to feel secure; it needs to feel that it has backing. If the U.S. is no longer a reliable guardian of Middle East stability and peace, Israel’s inclination to take any risks for a peace it doesn’t feel is a priority will be greatly diminished.

So the American mediator is left with only one party for which the process is essential, the Palestinians. In the last few days their leadership began making threats and setting deadlines for the Trump administration. One wonders if this specific U.S. leader is receptive of such language and intimidation, but the leadership of the Palestinian Authority calculated that there is nothing to lose. If the Americans are not serious about their efforts, then other venues for progressing the Palestinian cause ought to be considered. Sadly for the Palestinians, their options are not many: the world seems to be getting busier with other problems, more urgent.

It is not a coincidence that the best days of the peace process were back in the Nineties, when the end of history seemed near, and the world was relatively free to toy with the remaining problems of small global consequences –- Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, Palestine. America was at the peak of its world power, and President Clinton’s main problem was an affair with an intern. Israel was booming, and its enemies were still pondering their next moves following the first Gulf War. Yassir Arafat was under pressure to moderate, or be cast aside, having discovered that his main backers were losing power, and the world in which he thrived as a terrorist no longer exists. Relaxation and order enabled busy leaders to free their schedules for dealing with the stubborn reality of the “conflict.”

Such conditions are no longer available for anyone. Relaxation was gone around 9/11; order was gone following the Iraq War. Israel lost its appetite for peace, prioritizing stability and security. America lost its main tool for brokering peace, its hegemony as a trustworthy and highly engaged world power.

As we wonder why the likely outcome of the current round of Middle East talks is not peace, our instinctive tendency is to search for the small detail: what is Israel willing to offer, what compromises are the Palestinians willing to make, is the leadership sincere about wanting peace, is the U.S. capable and learned?

The answers matter, but they are all secondary to global realities that are hardly suitable for making progress for peace. They are hardly suitable for a world that is just too busy dealing with other things.

Australian broadcaster explains why it left Israel off the map


Australia’s national news service defended its decision to broadcast a graphic showing a map of the Middle East that included Palestine but not Israel.

Shown during an Aug. 17 segment on ABC News Australia, the map illustrated a story about how laws in 11 Muslim-majority countries and the Palestinian territories treat rape victims.

“The story was about the repealing of a law in Lebanon that allowed rapists to escape punishment if they married their victims,” a senior executive for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. told JTA. “The map showed other countries where this law had already been repealed (in the blue) and countries where campaigners are actively trying to have it repealed (in the yellow).”

Israel, the executive explained, never had the law to begin with, so it was not included. Had it been included, the spokesman suggested, the criticism might have been even more intense.

“In context, I wonder if including Israel in the map might have attracted more warranted criticism … The story had nothing at all to do with it,” the spokesman said. “We have commented on the story to the Daily Mail and they’ve amended the story.”

The graphic made news after a pro-Israel, anti-Islamist activist, Avi Yemini, posted it on his Facebook page.

“Last night ABC News wiped Israel off their map,” Yemini wrote. “They’re literally doing the Islamists’ dirty work for them. We must DEFUND these traitors immediately.”

Yemini was not satisfied with the public broadcaster’s explanation.

“They’ve hit back with an excuse that could almost work,” he wrote on Facebook. “Except for one ‘minor’ detail: PALESTINE IS NOT A COUNTRY!”

The Lebanese parliament voted last week to abolish a law allowing rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victims.

The clause remains on the books in the Palestinian territories, according to ABC News Australia.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stands during a reception ceremony for Jordan's King Abdullah II in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 7, 2017. Picture taken August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

The Mahmoud Abbas exchange, Part 3: On Israel and the Palestinian leadership struggle


Amir Tibon is an Israeli journalist who covers Washington, D.C. for Haaretz newspaper. Prior to Haaretz, Tibon was the diplomatic correspondent for Walla News, a leading Israeli news website. His writing on Israel, the peace process and the Middle East has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Politico Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Tablet Magazine, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, The American Interest, and The Jerusalem Report.

Grant Rumley is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he focuses on Palestinian politics. Rumley has published in leading media outlets, including Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, and contributed commentary to The New York Times, Reuters, and Newsweek. Prior to joining FDD, Rumley was a visiting fellow at Mitvim, The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. While in Jerusalem, Grant also founded and edited The Jerusalem Review of Near East Affairs. Previously, Grant served as a consultant in Washington on issues related to counter-terrorism, the Middle East, and war-gaming strategies.

The following exchange will focus on Tibon and Rumley’s new book The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas (Prometheus Books, 2017). You can find parts one and two here and here.

***

Dear Grant and Amir,

I’d like to dedicate our third round to the complicated hate triangle between Abbas, Hamas and Netanyahu. In your book, there is a description of Abbas’ reaction to the Shalit deal, which the previous Netanyahu-led government made with Hamas:

In one conversation with a senior American official, Abbas complained that “Hamas kidnapped one Israeli soldier and Netanyahu gave them a thousand prisoners for his release. My security forces have returned to Israel more than a hundred Israelis who wandered into our territories, and we got zero appreciation for it.” Indeed, Abbas’s security forces had a policy of escorting Israelis who entered Palestinian cities and towns by mistake into the safe arms of the Israeli military. “If I behaved like Hamas, I could have a hundred Shalit deals by now—there would be no more Palestinians in Israeli prisons. But I choose to do the humane thing and get nothing in return,” Abbas lamented.

My third-round question: looking ahead to the day after Abbas, what would you like, say, an Israeli decision maker reading your book to learn about Israel’s role in the fragile Hamas-Fatah relationship? What mistakes has Israel made, does Israel have a say on the matter and should Israel pursue any specific strategy when it comes to the inevitable succession struggle? 

Thank you once again for participating in this exchange.

Shmuel   

***

Dear Shmuel,

This anecdote represents a recurring frustration that Abbas has expressed over the years in the ears of Israeli and American officials who have worked with him – that Israel, in his eyes, responds “better” (from a Palestinian point of view) to violence than to negotiations. The Shalit affair is one example he has repeatedly used in this context. The 2005 Gaza disengagement is another, and we discuss it at length in the book. Abbas and people close to him felt that instead of giving the PA a larger role in the withdrawal from Gaza, and thus empowering Abbas in the eye of the Palestinian street, Ariel Sharon insisted to go at it alone and by doing that strengthened Hamas, which told the Palestinian public that Israel withdrew under fire, and that guns and suicide bombers were more efficient in extracting concessions from Israel than negotiations.

Abbas, of course, is also painfully aware of the price the Palestinians have paid for turning to violence. That’s why despite his talk about Israel’s “encouragement” of violence, he has never actually adopted Hamas’ strategy – only lamented about it. But one important conclusion that we hope policy-makers will take from our book, is the importance of creating incentives and benefits for a leader who opposes violence and is committed to negotiations. Abbas deserves a lot of criticism – which can easily be found in our book – but even his harshest critics should give him credit when it is due for opposing violence and supporting negotiations over the years. Unfortunately, that has not happened often enough during his long career as a diplomat and a political leader.

The succession struggle that will come after Abbas is an internal Palestinian affair, in our view. Israel could perhaps affect it by, as we have suggested above, empowering moderate leaders and showing more flexibility towards those who support negotiations and compromise than towards those who support violence and strive for conflict. But they should also beware not to look too eager to support any specific candidate or faction, since that could ultimately empower the ‘other side.’ Can the damages of the past be repaired, in a way that would convince a majority of Palestinians that Abbas’ approach is more beneficial than Hamas’? We hope so, but cannot say for sure.

 

Amir Tibon

The Mahmoud Abbas exchange, part 2: On peace agreements with Arab autocrats


Amir Tibon is an Israeli journalist who covers Washington, D.C. for Haaretz newspaper. Prior to Haaretz, Tibon was the diplomatic correspondent for Walla News, a leading Israeli news website. His writing on Israel, the peace process and the Middle East has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Politico Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Tablet Magazine, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, The American Interest, and The Jerusalem Report.

Grant Rumley is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he focuses on Palestinian politics. Rumley has published in leading media outlets, including Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, and contributed commentary to The New York Times, Reuters, and Newsweek. Prior to joining FDD, Rumley was a visiting fellow at Mitvim, The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. While in Jerusalem, Grant also founded and edited The Jerusalem Review of Near East Affairs. Previously, Grant served as a consultant in Washington on issues related to counter-terrorism, the Middle East, and war-gaming strategies.

The following exchange will focus on Tibon and Rumley’s new book The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas (Prometheus Books, 2017). You can find part one here.

***

Dear Amir and Grant,

I’d like to start this round from the last paragraph of your first answer:

The two Arab leaders who have actually signed peace agreements with Israel – King Hussein of Jordan and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt – weren’t great believers in democratic institutions, to say the least. But fairly or not, history will most likely remember them by their diplomatic achievements rather than their heavy-handed governing styles at home. Sadly, as of today, the same cannot be said about Mahmoud Abbas.

The fact that Israel’s two long-lasting peace agreements were signed with non-democratic autocrats is a curious point. Considering that the opposition Abbas has faced in Palestine has never consisted of peace-loving democrats, but of Islamic extremists, and that regional autocrats seem to be the lesser of two evils in today’s Middle East – has Abbas’ autocratic consolidation of power necessarily been a negative development from Israel’s perspective? Moreover, had Abbas been a powerful autocrat before 2007, would he not have been more capable of implementing the vision he started out advocating?

Can Israel ever hope for something better than a regional autocrat with a genuine interest in peace?

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

The question of democratic versus autocratic legitimacy when it comes to the peace process doesn’t have a clear-cut answer, in our opinion. On the one hand, peace agreements between democratic societies are likelier to withstand the test of time. On the other hand, autocrats with strong grips on their respective societies have historically been the only ones able to sign a treaty with Israel.

It’s important to note that the question of how democratic, or undemocratic, Palestinian politics are, isn’t a question for Israel to answer, but for the Palestinians themselves. Israel didn’t comment on the state of democracy in Egypt and Jordan when it signed peace agreements with these countries, and it would be delighted to sign a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia tomorrow morning – assuming the Saudis gave up some of their demands – despite that country’s awful civil rights record. What Israel, or at least the Israelis who want an agreement, seeks in a Palestinian partner is someone who can be trusted and has the ability to deliver.

Our reading of the last two decades of peace talks is that a Palestinian leader needs both the willingness to sign an agreement and the ability to implement it in order to reach a deal. Arafat had the latter, but couldn’t bring himself to accept the former. Abbas may have been the opposite: willing to sign in a vacuum, but unable to implement an agreement once he comes to power and loses Gaza. Arafat’s legitimacy derived not merely from being the father of the modern Palestinian national movement but also from his control over nearly every major decision. Abbas’ legitimacy came from his democratic mandate in winning the 2005 presidential election, yet those same voters dealt his legitimacy a fatal blow in 2006 when they chose Hamas over Abbas’ Fatah party. The setback reverberated in Washington, where both the Bush and Obama administrations largely abandoned any push for future Palestinian elections.

Yet Palestinians have a rich societal history of placing a premium on democratic institutions. Trade unions, labor groups, civil society, political parties – all have a long track record of valuing democratic elections. When Abbas told Palestinians at his first inaugural address in 2005 that this would be a year of Palestinian elections, he had a receptive audience. And it’s this same audience that’s seen him rule by executive decree since 2009, when his four-year presidential term expired. It’s this lack of democracy, when even local city council elections are delayed repeatedly, which plays a role in widening the gap between Abbas and his people.

This is not an argument for holding elections right now – Fatah is in disarray and could well lose again to Hamas – but it is an argument to not fear elections. Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza have lived the past decade with autocratic leaders without a meaningful say in who their representatives are. Polls indicate a majority in each area are tired of their current leaders. A new Palestinian leadership, with a democratic majority and a mandate to negotiate peace with Israel, would arguably have more legitimacy than the current autocratic rulers in the West Bank and Gaza.

However unlikely such a scenario is right now, it’s not an impossibility. Palestinian Basic Law calls for presidential elections sixty days after the president vacates the seat. When Abbas does vacate the presidency, there will be voices calling for national elections in both the West Bank and Gaza for a new president. Whether these calls are answered will be the truest test of Palestinian commitment to democracy, and whether or not a leader can campaign on making peace with Israel, and win.

 

Activist Linda Sarsour speaks during a Women For Syria gathering at Union Square in New York City on April 13. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Linda Sarsour, defending cemetery allocations, lashes out at ‘right wing zionists’


Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour said she is the target of  the “right wing, alt-right” and “right wing zionists” after being accused of withholding $100,000 that a fund she helped launch had promised to a neglected Jewish cemetery in Colorado.

The money would be disbursed, she said, after the organization handling the fund received a detailed plan from the cemetery.

Sarsour was responding Tuesday to an article by the Jewish news website The Algemeiner alleging that a campaign she set up in February to raise funds for vandalized Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia failed to deliver funds promised to the Colorado cemetery.

The Muslim-led crowdfunding campaign raised $162,000 from nearly 5,000 donors, exceeding in the first few hours its $20,000 goal to help repair the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis. Jewish leaders who otherwise object to Sarsour’s support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel appreciated her gesture.

According to the campaign, some $40,000 was sent to the cemetery in St. Louis. Another $5,000 each went to help a vandalized Jewish cemetery in Rochester, New York, and repair the Chicago Loop Synagogue following an anti-Semitic attack. The Philadelphia cemetery turned down the money, saying it was not in need of further assistance.

The Algemeiner reported Tuesday that the Golden Hill Cemetery in Lakewood, Colorado, had yet to receive a check for approximately $100,000 as promised by Celebrate Mercy, a Muslim nonprofit that partnered with Sarsour on the project.

Golden Hill was not among the vandalized cemeteries, but rather requested funding from Celebrate Mercy at the suggestion of Jennifer Goodland, a local history buff and photographer who had taken pictures of the cemetery’s overgrown plots and toppled headstones. In a Facebook post Wednesday, Celebrate Mercy said it was awaiting a revision of Golden Hill’s “detailed funding request” and that “we are doing our due diligence to all the campaign donors to carefully evaluate all proposed costs and set up a disbursement schedule for the funds based on achieved milestones.”

“Over the next few months, we intend to fully disburse all remaining funds to help other vandalized Jewish cemeteries and centers nationwide,” the Facebook post read.

Goodland, commenting on the Celebrate Mercy Facebook page, supported the nonprofit’s assertion that the funding would follow a careful review process.

“This is not the kind of project someone does overnight,” she wrote. “The cemetery has been holding meetings with other grant organizations so that we best know how to proceed and truly maximize your humbling and generous offer.”

Neal Price, a caretaker of the cemetery, told The Algemeiner that he and other officials had met in June to discuss costs and create the plan Celebrate Mercy had requested, but that he had not heard from Goodland or Tarek El-Messidi, Celebrate Mercy’s founder, in weeks.

New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat from Brooklyn, accused Sarsour of “fraud” because Golden Hill had not received a disbursement.

“Sarsour is a fraud,” Hikind said in a statement following publication of the Algemeiner article. “She talks out of both sides of her mouth. One minute she’s claiming to be a disciple of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the next she’s standing with a terrorist on stage at an event, and singing praises of that terrorist to an audience. I won’t be the least bit surprised to hear that her little Jewish cemetery publicity stunt wasn’t quite what she made it out to be.”

In April, Sarsour appeared at an event in Chicago with Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian woman who is being forced to leave the United States for not telling immigration authorities that she was imprisoned in Israel for her role in two terror attacks. In May, Hikind objected when the City University of New York School of Public Health chose Sarsour to deliver the keynote speech at its graduation, saying Sarsour supports terrorism and radical Islam.

Sarsour hit back on Facebook, writing: “I have the unfortunate receipts of what it costs to be a target of the right wing, alt-right, right wing zionists. This has caused my family great emotional stress & trauma. It’s not free to keep my family safe. I just want people to know I am taking names of media outlets and prominent individuals who have used the last few months to defame my character. I may be quiet but they will pay with their pockets.”

Sarsour noted that El-Messidi had visited the Colorado cemetery in February and was awaiting plans from the cemetery officials.

“Once they had a plan to take on this huge project Tarek would be ready with the funds,” she wrote.

“You can call me what you want BUT DO NOT EVER QUESTION my integrity,” she also wrote, adding: “I am exhausted. I am tired of the lies, lies, and more lies. It’s too much and it reignites the most vitriolic human beings on this earth. I am not safe and someone will pay for this with their pockets. Big time.”

I have the unfortunate receipts of what it costs to be a target of the right wing, alt-right, right wing zionists. This…

Posted by Linda Sarsour on Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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

Friedman joins Greenblatt in meeting with Palestinian negotiators


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

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bipartisan backing builds for Taylor Force Act


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

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The missing drama in ‘Oslo’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Danae Elon’s son Andrei looks out over Jerusalem’s cityscape. Photos courtesy of Danae Elon

‘P.S. Jerusalem’ a tale of love and hate for Israel


Amos Elon, the renowned Israeli journalist and author, was an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians, and he left the country and moved into a farmhouse in Italy in 2005. Before he died four years later, he made his filmmaker daughter, Danae, who was born in Jerusalem but was living in Brooklyn, promise never to return to her homeland.

It was a promise she couldn’t keep.

Elon’s decision to move back to Israel, her experiences there and her conflicting emotions about it are the subject of her 2015 documentary, “P.S. Jerusalem.” Shot between November 2009 and August 2013, and narrated by Elon, it is a deeply personal love-hate letter to the land of her birth.

“I knew why my father thought I shouldn’t go back, and I knew he was right, yet something very visceral in me wanted to go back. Knowing something intellectually but having feelings that are stronger, that’s where the clash occurs,” Elon said from Montreal, where she moved in 2013 and now lives with her partner, Philip Touitou, a Jewish photographer from Algeria, and their three sons.

“The situation in Israel pains me to such a degree. I feel so invested and care about what’s happening there,” Elon said. “It’s really sad. On one hand, I love the people I’m connected to there and everything this place can be, but I’m disgusted with what’s going on there on the political level. It’s gotten much worse. But there are things that always draw me back.”

At first, she second-guessed her choice to make the film from such a personal perspective. But Elon decided that the best way to depict Jerusalem was to show it through her and her family’s eyes. Her camera captures her sons’ experiences at the Jewish-Palestinian school they attended and Touitou’s difficulty finding a job.

“A lot of North American Jews come to Jerusalem and say it’s such an amazing place, but it’s a different scenario when you don’t have money or privilege and you’re thrown into life there,” Elon said.

She also filmed protests and conflicts between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem and elsewhere. “I wanted to make a statement about what it’s like to be an Israeli and live with a sense of conscience in a place that’s completely losing its morality, and has been for many years,” she said.

“American Jews have a very idealistic view of Israel that suits their perspectives and needs, but that is not the real Israel,” she added. “I feel that as long as Israel serves like a sort of savings account for North American Jews, it will be hard for the country to ever become a normal place to live in because you can’t sustain a country as a ‘savings account’ for Jews around the world. It has to come into its own as a multicultural, multiethnic country that would first and foremost serve the rights of all its citizens, the citizens living in Israel, regardless of whether they are Jewish or Arab.”

Elon had filmed conversations with her father over the years and weaves him into the narrative, as she did in her previous documentaries, one about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “Another Road Home,” and the other about circumcision, “Partly Private.” She admits that growing up in Amos Elon’s shadow was difficult, but making him part of her work “was a good way to pave my own separate way.”

Filmmaker Danae Elon

In the end, she left Israel, just as her father had. “I was heartbroken. I was surprised how difficult it would be to leave,” she said. It also was hard for her children. A tearful scene depicting her oldest of three sons, Tristan, then 7, separating from his Palestinian best friend is particularly heart-wrenching to watch.

“I still have mixed feelings about not being in Jerusalem and not being part of a struggle, but when I think about my boys and a future there, I’m more into being a responsible parent right now,” Elon said.

Touitou, her partner of 13 years, has a much better working situation in Montreal, she said, adding that her sons, now 11, 10 and 7, are doing well and “want to be hockey players.”

Although she has settled in Canada, Elon goes back to Israel often. She also has been traveling elsewhere to promote “P.S. Jerusalem” and her latest completed project, “The Patriarch’s Room,” a documentary about the Greek Orthodox Church’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and she plans to be in Los Angeles for the June 9 premieres of both films. Currently, she’s working on a new film about two Jewish sisters, one of whom becomes a nun.

Elon is aware the political stance of “P.S. Jerusalem” may anger some American Jews, but she hopes they see it with an open mind.

“I think regardless of how they feel politically about Israel,” she said, “they will be moved because it’s sincere.”

“P.S. Jerusalem” opens June 9 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills.

Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Jewish nurse breastfeeds baby of injured Palestinian mother during hospital shift


A Palestinian baby seriously injured in a car accident was breastfed by a Jewish nurse when he refused to take a bottle.

Nurse Ula Ostrowski-Zak nursed the nine-month-old boy throughout her shift at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital on Friday night, the Ynet news website reported.

The baby’s family had been in a head-on collision with a bus on Route 60 in the West Bank, killing the baby’s father and leaving his mother with a serious head injury. The baby was slightly injured and cried for seven hours in the emergency room while continuing to refuse a bottle, according to the report.

The baby’s aunts asked Ostrowski-Zak to help them find someone to nurse the boy and the nurse reportedly volunteered to do it herself. She nursed the baby five times during the next day. She then posted a request for help with nursing the baby on an Israeli Facebook page for nursing mothers and received many responses from women willing to come to the hospital, from as far away as Haifa, to help feed the baby until he is discharged.

The baby’s mother remains in serious condition.

Screenshot from Sears.com

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


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

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

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

The availability of the designs was first reported by Reuters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Hussein

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did Israel unite Jerusalem? Did it unite Jerusalem?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first Jewish settlement in the captured territories

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

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

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

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

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

These days, Merom Golan is a resort.

That ancient church in Gaza? It was a synagogue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The quiet reunifications

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The subcontractor came by.

“I spoke to your mother,” I said.

“Yes,” he said and smiled.

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

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

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

RELATED:

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

Six-Day War: Voices after victory


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

Six Days, Followed by 50 Years of Palestinian Posturing

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

Dennis Ross

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

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

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

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


From Auschwitz to Jerusalem and From Jerusalem to …

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

Michael Berenbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Following Maestro’s Advice Changed His Life

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

Howard Rosenman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOWARD ROSENMAN is a Hollywood producer.


An Unexpected Narrative

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

Sharon Nazarian

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

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

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

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

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

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


Millennials and the War

Jesse Gabriel

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

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


Six-Day War: A Poem

Rabbi David Wolpe

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

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

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

Tillerson embraces Middle East linkage theory


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

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

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

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

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

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 Abbas, Trump calls Manchester attackers ‘evil losers’


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.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump blew it, big-league


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

+