A veteran of the peace process discusses its failure

Decades of watching from a front-row seat as efforts toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement repeatedly fizzled have left Yossi Alpher less than optimistic about the prospect of a resolution.

The title of his new book is telling enough: “No End to Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine.”

Alpher’s resume spans decades of unsuccessful peace talks, as well as 12 years in the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. 

In the lead-up to the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Alpher ran a think tank at Tel Aviv University, where he engineered a roadmap for peace that came to be known as “the Alpher Plan.” During the Camp David Accords in 2000, he acted as a special adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Now, Alpher, currently an independent security analyst, has soured on the idea of a lasting, Oslo-style peace.

“As we enter the 50th year after the occupation of the West Bank, with fully 10 percent of Israel’s population living across the Green Line [1967 armistice line], with Oslo having failed, it’s time to draw some lessons from that failure,” he told the Journal, speaking by phone from Israel.

On June 23, Alpher will be speaking at the InterContinental hotel in Century City at a 7:30 p.m. event hosted by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council (lawac.org). In advance of the event, he talked about his book and the prospects — or lack thereof — for lasting peace.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Jewish Journal: Tell us about your new book and what you argue in it.

Yossi Alpher: My contention is that we are in the post-Oslo era. There is no near-term sense for a successful peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. … We find ourselves today on a slippery slope toward some sort of ugly reality, which might look in some ways either like apartheid or like a binational state. My contention is that the agenda of people who are interested in the peace process — in the diplomatic community, among journalists, think tanks — should be, “How are we going to deal with this slippery slope?” A realistic agenda would realize that it’s pointless at this point to talk about how to make the peace process work. … The most that can be done, and the most realistic approach for the coming years, is how to slow that dissent down that slippery slope.

JJ: What do you mean when you say a slippery slope? That sounds pretty alarming. 

YA: If you take the totality of the Palestinian population, it is more or less at parity with the Israeli population between Jordan River and the sea, and with no prospect of an end of conflict, no prospect of a full-fledged two-state solution, with the messianic settler right wing increasingly the dominant and most dynamic element of the Israeli government. … The further away we move from any sort of progress, the more Palestinians and Israelis will say, “The two-state solution is a failure; we have to look at something else.” 

JJ: How should the rhetoric of Diaspora Jews change to accommodate the new reality you’re describing?

YA: Diaspora leaders have to begin asking themselves: Is their agenda for discussing Israel with their children and grandchildren still a realistic one? … They have to begin to recognize that what is emerging on this slippery slope is not very pretty, and in terms of Jewish values is problematic. I would suggest that this has to be on the Diaspora’s educational agenda. … It’s not going to do any good to keep planning how to renew the Oslo process. This is what [Secretary of State] John Kerry did just three years ago: He tried to renew the Oslo process. It’s not only useless, but it can be counterproductive. We saw three months after Kerry’s peace initiative ended, in the spring of 2014, we were at war with Hamas and Gaza. There was a connection between the two. The Palestinian reaction to the failure of that process brought on an attack from Gaza.

JJ: Do you hear anything from the candidates for president of the United States that suggests they may be able to move peace talks forward?

YA: I don’t want to comment on the candidates. … I’m saying the way the diplomatic leadership talks, the rhetoric has to change, the rhetoric of statements like, “The outlines of a two-state solution are perfectly clear, and the parties just have to get back to the table.” People in this part of the world simply laugh at that. It’s pathetic because it indicates how detached the people that say these things are from the reality. … It indicates serious lack of knowledge and lack of understanding of just where we are and to what extent the Oslo process has failed, to what extent we need to draw some lessons and change the paradigm.

JJ: The French government has recently made overtures toward leading peace talks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently rejected them. Is there a place for France in this process?

YA: First of all, anyone who knows the Israeli and Palestinian leadership should conclude that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are not candidates for a serious peace process. This is what Kerry should have understood in 2013. It can’t possibly succeed, because Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] is weak on the Palestinian side [and] doesn’t control the Gaza Strip … and Netanyahu repeatedly sets up coalitions that seek more and more territory on the West Bank, which is contradictory to any genuine attempt to move ahead. … [A peace process] should focus on post-1967 issues and set aside the pre-1967 issue of Palestinian refugees, a right of return and holy places in the West Bank. Oslo is built on a slogan of, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” The pre-1967 issues have made it impossible to reach any kind of agreement. … The current leadership is incapable of agreeing even on the post-1967 issues. It’s a very sad situation. People are very depressed on both sides of the Green Line because they do not see a way forward. 

French put off peace summit, citing John Kerry’s schedule

A summit of foreign ministers in Paris to discuss the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has been postponed.

French President Francois Hollande announced Tuesday that the meeting of representatives of 20 countries that had been scheduled for May 30 would be postponed since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cannot attend. May 30 is Memorial Day in the United States.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians were invited to the summit.

The summit is set to be the run-up to an international peace conference to be held in the French capital this summer that would include Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault met Sunday in Jerusalem with Netanyahu to push the plan, and told reporters after the meeting that the summit would go on despite Israeli objections.

“I know that there is strong opposition. This is not new and it won’t discourage us. The conference will take place,” he said.

Ayrault angered Israel in January for threatening to recognize a Palestinian state if a Paris-hosted conference failed to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Ayrault backtracked on his statements last month, saying the conference would not “automatically” spur any action.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the department is working with France to set a new date.

“We’ve made it clear that the May 30 date originally proposed by the French would not work for the secretary and for his schedule,” Kirby told reporters at his daily briefing. “We’re in discussions right now with the French about any possible alternative date that might better work for the secretary.”

Jimmy Carter: Hamas leader favors peace, Netanyahu not committed to 2 states

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Hamas leader Khaled Meshal is in favor of the peace process with Israel and that Hamas is not a terrorist organization.

Carter also told Israel Channel 2 on Saturday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not in favor of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

“I don’t see that deep commitment on the part of Netanyahu to make concessions which [former prime minister] Menachem Begin did to find peace with his potential enemies,” Carter said.

Of Meshal, the ex-U.S. leader said, “I don’t believe that he’s a terrorist. He’s strongly in favor of the peace process.” Carter added that he “deplored” terrorist acts by Hamas and would support moderate members of the group.

Carter completed a three-day visit to Israel and the West Bank on Saturday. He did not meet with Netanyahu or President Reuven Rivlin.

Israeli media had reported that Netanyahu and Rivlin turned down requests for meetings due to what they called Carter’s “anti-Israel stances.” Carter reportedly said he did not request a meeting with Netanyahu because he knew he would be turned down.

During a meeting Saturday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Carter called for Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections in the West Bank and Gaza to reunify the Palestinians. Abbas has remained in office despite his term ending in 2009 due to the lack of an election. Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas signed a unity agreement last year.

“We hope that sometime we’ll see elections all over the Palestinian area and east Jerusalem and Gaza and also in the West Bank,” he said in Ramallah.

Carter called the lack of reconstruction in Gaza following Israel’s operation there last summer “intolerable.”

“Eight months after a devastating war, not one destroyed house has been rebuilt, and people cannot live with the respect and dignity they deserve,” he said.

Carter, who wrote a book titled “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid,” has called for the labeling of goods that originate in the West Bank, and said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was among the factors that led to the deadly attacks in January in Paris.

Pelosi sees ‘lively discussion’ of Middle East peace after Israel vote

U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, said on Wednesday she respected the results of Israel's election and anticipated they would produce a “lively” discussion of the Middle East peace process.

“The people of Israel have spoken,” she said at a news conference. “I respect the results that they have produced. I think that what they have produced will be a continued lively discussion about the peace process.”

Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu won a bitterly contested election on Tuesday, after shifting position to abandon a commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state, the basis of more than two decades of Middle East peacemaking.

Pelosi attended a controversial speech to Congress by Netanyahu early this month that was boycotted by about one-quarter of the Democrats in Congress. However, she said after the Israeli leader's remarks that she was “near tears” of anger during his speech, describing it as arrogant and disrespectful.

One Wednesday, she said the U.S. relationship with Israel is strong, and would remain so.

“It doesn’t depend on personalities. It’s about values that we share. And we look forward to continuing our work together,” she said.

She also noted that Netanyahu had not discussed the peace process during his visit to Washington two weeks ago.

“Perhaps it will emerge now in the discussion,” she said.

Lapid: Israel must attend Arab League meeting, push for regional accord

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid promised on Facebook to advance civil unions and push for a regional peace accord should he serve in Israel’s next government.

Answering questions from English speakers, Lapid on Tuesday called for an Israeli delegation to attend the Arab League summit in March. He wrote that his centrist party supports a regional peace agreement that guarantees Israel’s security and includes major West Bank settlement blocs in Israel’s borders.

He noted that the Arab League meeting will be the first chaired by Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is chairing.

“Israel should be there to make the case for a regional agreement which guarantees our security,” Lapid wrote.

Yesh Atid served in the governing coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that was dissoved last month in acrimony. While Lapid did not rule out joining a left- or right-wing coalition, he said he hopes Netanyahu does not win another term.

“We will do all we can to make sure Netanyahu isn’t prime minister after these elections,” he wrote. “The process of building a coalition should take place after the elections and depends on the choices the Israeli voters make. Governing isn’t about personality, it’s about serving the best interests of the Israeli public.”

Lapid stressed the importance of maintaining strong relations with the United States, saying “Israel has no more important strategic ally.” He added that any disagreements between the countries should not be made public.

He said Yesh Atid would continue to try to advance a bill instituting civil unions in Israel, which currently allows only Orthodox marriage for Jews. Lapid wrote that his previous attempts at the civil unions bill were blocked by the modern Orthodox Jewish Home party, which also served in the governing coalition.

“We were in the process of putting forward legislation for civil unions for all couples,” he wrote. “We plan to work hard on this issue in the next Knesset because it’s something we as a party care deeply about.”

Netanyahu: No chance for peace deal if Israel sued for war crimes

A Palestinian push to try Israeli officials for war crimes at a United Nations tribunal would end any chance of reaching a peace deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu spoke to Army Radio on Friday, a day after the Palestinian Authority’s envoy to the United Nations said his government would join the International Criminal Court if the U.N. Security Council refuses to set a deadline for Israel to withdraw from all Palestinian territories.

“We may end up there,” Netanyahu said of the prospect of war crimes charges being brought against Israel at the Hague-based U.N. tribunal. “If Abu Mazen attempts it, this will have dire consequences,” he added, using another name for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “He could bring the Hague to do it, bringing us to the destruction of any chance of a sane peace deal.”

On Thursday, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authority’s U.N. envoy, told the Associated Press that his government has turned to the Security Council “to force Israel to negotiate in good faith the end of the occupation within a time frame.”

The Palestinian Authority hopes the council will adopt a draft resolution setting November 2016 as the deadline for an Israeli pullout from the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

“But if this additional door of peace is closed before us, then we will not only join the ICC to seek accountability,” Mansour said. “We will join other treaties and agencies” to build evidence “that we exist as a nation, we exist as a state, although the land of our state is under occupation.”


Israel’s land seizure: political favor or West Bank game-changer?

In the days after the war in Gaza concluded, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to bear left.

He spoke of a “possible diplomatic horizon” for Israel on Aug. 27 and suggested a return to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Reports emerged that Netanyahu had met secretly in Amman with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

But on Sunday he took a sharp right turn, seizing nearly 1,000 acres in the West Bank as state land near the Etzion settlement bloc. The move is a prerequisite for settlement expansion and prohibits Palestinians from using the land for building or agriculture.

According to Israeli reports, the government seized the land in response to the nearby kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in June.

The land seizure — Israel’s largest in decades — drew condemnation from the Israeli left and from the international community. The U.S. State Department said it was “counterproductive” for the peace process. In a statement, the left-wing NGO Peace Now called the move “proof that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not aspire for a new ‘Diplomatic Horizon.’ “

“Israel is trying to be territorially maximalist in the area and to deny territorial contiguity to the Palestinians,” Hagit Ofran, the head of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, told JTA. “The message of this act is clear: The inclination of Israel is not to peace and compromise but to continuation of settlement.”

But some experts said that though the move hurts Israel diplomatically, critics overstate its importance on the ground. The area is a strip of land adjacent to the West Bank that Israel intends to keep under any peace deal. Declaring it state land was, they said, a way for Netanyahu to placate his allies on the right after opposing their suggestion to depose Hamas during the Gaza war.

“I think it falls in a certain pattern,” Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, told JTA. “The government does something that is unpalatable to the right wing, whether it be making concessions in the peace process or, in this case, agreeing to a cease-fire in Gaza, and then it attempts to palliate the right by building in Judea and Samaria or, in this case, reclassifying land.”

According to Maj. Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces’ Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the seizure is only the first step toward a potential settlement expansion.

Palestinians who claim the land have 45 days to challenge the decision in Israel’s courts. If the appeals fail, the government still has to make an additional decision to legalize building there before any construction can begin. An illegal Israeli settlement outpost, Gvaot, already sits on a portion of the land. Several surrounding Palestinian villages, according to Ofran, have laid claim to the land. But Inbar said an Israeli investigation found the land has not been used for decades.

Netanyahu has backtracked before on settlement expansion plans following international criticism. In 2012, Netanyahu announced Israel’s intention to build in an area known as E1, which sits between the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, as well as between Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim. The United States opposed the plan, and nearly two years later the land sits empty.

But Sunday’s seizure does prohibit Palestinian use of the land. And Israeli politicians and commentators have criticized Netanyahu for alienating Abbas and Israel’s allies just as the sides could have restarted peace talks following the Gaza cease-fire agreement.

“[The] announcement, which wasn’t brought to the Cabinet, regarding 900 acres of land for building in the Etzion bloc harms the State of Israel,” Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party said Tuesday in a speech. “Maintaining the support of the world was already challenging, so why was it so urgent to create another crisis with the United States and the world?”

Meanwhile, the future of peace talks remains unclear. Negotiations ended in April after nine months as Israel reneged on a scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners. Abbas responded by applying for Palestinian accession to a range of international treaties, and talks collapsed as Abbas formed a unity government with Hamas.

According to reports, Abbas said he won’t return to talks unless Israel proposes a border in their initial stage. Should Israel refuse, Abbas reportedly plans to turn to the United Nations Security Council to call for an Israeli West Bank pullout.

Palestinian officials also threatened recently to apply for membership to the International Criminal Court, which could allow the Palestinian Authority to sue Israel for settlement building and allegedly violating Palestinian rights. But Abbas has yet to submit the application.

“Given that there’s no negotiations, trust with the P.A. and Abbas is not at a premium,” said Jonathan Rynhold, a senior research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. “If [Netanyahu] offers a fairly generous territorial offer, this will be irrelevant.”


In lame-duck period, Obama administration retreats from peace endeavors

Does the prospect of President Obama’s lame-duck period, coupled with the multiple foreign crises he is facing, diminish his quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

Little on the immediate diplomatic horizon signals an intensive U.S. interest in advancing the peace process.

There have been no announcements of high-level meetings between Obama and the Palestinian and Israeli leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, which begins this year on Sept. 16. There have been no leaks, as there have been in the past, that Obama would be making any major statements on the peace process at the G.A.

John Kerry, the peripatetic U.S. secretary of state who lost count of his visits to the region until the collapse in April of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, has no plans to return anytime soon.

Rather, Kerry and Obama are focused on an expanding range of issues, including escalations in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, pushing back against Islamist extremists throughout the Middle East and a looming deadline in nuclear talks with Iran.

Additionally, Obama administration relations with both the Israelis and Palestinians have soured since the collapse of the peace talks, which the Americans blamed on both sides — the Palestinians for resisting a deadline extension, Israel for expanding settlement activity. Tensions were exacerbated over civilian casualties among Palestinians during Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip over the summer.

The disagreements don’t seem to have gone away, despite a cease-fire that appears to be firmly in place. On Tuesday, the Obama administration formally called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to reverse its seizure of West Bank land for settlement building, saying it was counterproductive to peace efforts. While U.S. administrations have expressed concern about settlement activity in the past, direct calls for Israel’s government to reverse a decision are rare.

Alan Solow, a past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a major fundraiser for Obama’s election campaigns, said it doesn’t make sense to pursue a peace that the sides are not ready to embrace.

“They recognize they want to spend their time productively,” Solow, a confidant of the administration, told JTA in an interview on Tuesday. “Where they sense a further investment of time will not yield progress, there are plenty of other problems they can turn to that may yield progress.”

Statements from officials suggest that the Obama administration is more interested in managing rather than resolving the conflict.

Jen Psaki’s, Kerry’s spokeswoman, said Tuesday that a meeting Kerry planned to have in Washington the next day with Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian peace negotiator, would focus on the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. She did not mention the peace process.

“They’ll talk about a range of issues, there’s an ongoing cease-fire discussion and a range of longer-term issues,” she said.

Asked by a reporter about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ latest reported proposal for a three-year withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank based on U.N. resolutions, Psaki would say only that the United States did not see the proposal as “productive.”

Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East peace negotiator under Republican and Democratic presidents, said it never made sense for the Obama administration to focus as intently as it did in its second term on an Israeli-Palestinian deal because the sides were not ready for one.

“Transformative change requires two things — a crisis or an opportunity so profound that it empowers two leaders to go beyond where they’ve been before,” said Miller, a vice president of the Wilson Center who is about to release a book on the diminished power of the modern American presidency, “The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President.”

“That is what would be required in the less than thousand days [left] of Obama’s presidency,” he said. “It would have to be a set of circumstances that are regionally based and raised the costs and incentives for both Abbas and Netanyahu. This is the critical piece, the ownership on the part of Bibi and Abbas.”

Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a foreign policy think tank that favors intervention, counseled continued U.S. engagement should the parties decide they seriously want to discuss peace. But Schanzer said it was about time for the Obama administration to let go of its ambitions for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Imagine if we had spent the same time and energy fighting ISIS over the last 10 months as we had investing in the peace process,” he said, referring to the jihadist group in Iraq and Syria that the Obama administration has only in recent weeks directly engaged.

Paralyzing narratives: Why peace keeps failing

We're so used to seeing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process fail that we often overlook this simple question: How is it possible that so many can try so hard for so long and still fail to make any progress? How can it be that the United States, the most powerful country on Earth, has failed so royally, despite decades of making this conflict a top priority?

What I'm especially interested in is this: Why have the Palestinians, in particular, seemed so reluctant to make a deal?

As Ari Shavit wrote recently in Haaretz, “Twenty years of fruitless talks have led to nothing. There is no document that contains any real Palestinian concession with Abbas' signature. None. There never was, and there never will be.”

Instead of criticizing this stubbornness, it's more useful to try to understand it. As I see it, the Palestinians have internalized four “paralyzing narratives” that have prevented them from moving forward.

The first is that they see themselves as being unfairly punished for the great sin of the Europeans, the Holocaust. According to this narrative, the only reason for the creation of the State of Israel was to cure the European guilt for murdering Jews. There is no historical Jewish connection to the land, no centuries of Jewish yearning to return home to Zion.

In this narrative, Israel is simply a foreign transplant — a forced sovereign intrusion into Arab and Muslim lands.

The second paralyzing narrative is to see  Israel as a thief. The West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are seen as Palestinian lands stolen by Israel in the war of 1967. Now, all that must happen is for Israel to return this stolen property.

In this narrative, just showing up at negotiations is seen as a major concession. After all, why should the victim of a theft have to negotiate the return of his stolen property?

The third paralyzing narrative is a painful reversal of roles. For centuries, Jews living in Arab lands accepted their roles as dhimmis, or second-class citizens. That was the image of the Jew. Now, suddenly, with the creation of the State of Israel, Jews are in charge. This change is unacceptable. It creates cognitive dissonance and is a source of deep humiliation.

The fourth paralyzing narrative is also rooted in humiliation: envy and resentment over Israel's enormous success. This resentment reinforces the pain of the previous narratives: “Here are people who were forced on us, who stole our land, who presume to be our superiors after centuries of being our subjects, and now, to add insult to injury, look how they have become so powerful and successful at our expense.”

While these narratives may paralyze any movement toward peace, they simultaneously speed up another process — that of demonization.

Demonization of the Jews helps reconcile the cognitive dissonance caused by the incredible success of the Jewish state. Only Jewish demons and Jewish conspiracies can explain this extraordinary transformation of the modern Jews of the Middle East.

Of course, the very process of demonization makes everything worse. The more Jews are demonized, the more the peace process is paralyzed.

Add it all up and you have a lot more than “obstacles” to peace. You have profound, fundamental reasons why Palestinians are so reluctant to accept what they call the “catastrophe” of Israel.

The tragedy is that even if Israel dismantled every settlement tonight, these narratives would not go away. The Palestinian conflict with the Jews is resistant to practical solutions because it's not a practical problem.

It's not an appendix that can be removed, but a chronic condition that cannot be cured. For all of Israel's mistakes, no amount of positive gestures can cure the emotional trauma that lies deep within the Palestinian psyche.

It doesn't matter if these Palestinian narratives are accurate or not. What matters is that they have been nurtured as truth in mainstream Palestinian society.

Three generations of refugees who refuse to leave their refugee camps are the living symbol of this paralyzing, victim mindset.

Yet, however depressing this analysis is, it doesn't mean we should give up hope. The status quo is getting more and more untenable, and I have sympathy for those who keep searching for solutions.

That said, it doesn't do us any good to ignore the underlying narratives that are eroding all hope. We ought to stop fooling ourselves into thinking that all it takes to resolve this conflict is hard work, determination and good faith. 

That is also a paralyzing narrative.

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

With peace talks stalled, Israelis and Palestinians resort to old moves

Nine months of negotiations were supposed to propel Israelis and Palestinians into a future of peace. Instead, the collapse of talks is threatening to make the future look much like the past.

Israel’s decision last week to suspend negotiations — a day after the signing of a reconciliation between the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas — has prompted both sides to resort to their old ways.

For the Palestinians, that means focusing on internal unity and a redoubled effort to win international recognition for statehood, particularly at the United Nations. For Israel, it’s a return to shunning the Palestinian political leadership.

“If the Palestinian Authority persists with efforts to reunite with Hamas, that is not only a game changer,” Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, told JTA. “It is a game stopper.”

After weeks in which they teetered on the brink of failure, peace negotiations finally stalled April 23 when Fatah agreed to form a unified Palestinian government with Hamas, the ruling power in Gaza considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and the European Union.

The two groups split after violent clashes in 2007. Three previous reconciliation deals — in 2007, 2011 and 2012 — have gone unimplemented.

Israel responded to the reconciliation agreement as it had to earlier ones, declaring that it would not negotiate with Hamas and announcing economic sanctions against the Palestinian Authority. On April 24, Israel suspended the peace negotiations, five days before their initial nine-month term was set to expire.

“Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to Abbas by his nom de guerre. “Whoever chooses the terrorism of Hamas does not want peace.”

Israel and the United States have called on Hamas to recognize Israel, commit to nonviolence and abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements — three conditions that have guided negotiations for a decade. But on Sunday, Hamas officials vowed never to recognize Israel.

Palestinian officials nevertheless moved to downplay the significance of the unity accord on the peace process, noting that an interim government set to be formed in the coming weeks would be made up of technocrats, not political figures aligned with Fatah or Hamas. Munib al-Masri, a Palestinian industrialist who served as a Fatah delegate to the reconciliation talks, told JTA that Abbas would continue to manage negotiations should they go on.

“All parties will abide by President Abbas regarding the political agenda,” al-Masri said. “The most important thing is to have one voice for the Palestinians.”

Despite such hopes, Israel remains deeply wary of Hamas’ intentions. Naftali Bennett, chairman of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, said in a Facebook post that the P.A. has now become “the biggest terror group in the world” and vowed not to negotiate with murderers. Prior to the unity deal, Bennett had compared peace talks with Abbas to buying a car from someone who owns only half of it.

With prospects for a peace accord receding, several Israeli politicians urged the government to respond by unilaterally settings its own borders. Bennett has encouraged Netanyahu to annex all areas of the West Bank that contain Jewish settlements. Oren argued that Israel should withdraw to a frontier it sets, creating a de facto Palestinian state.

“What are the borders that give us the maximum amount of security and embrace the maximum number of Israelis?” Oren told JTA. “There are people on all sides of the Israeli political spectrum that have considered the necessity of taking our destiny into our own hands.”

Al-Masri said that absent direct negotiations, Abbas will turn again to various U.N. bodies for recognition, as he did in 2012 when the General Assembly accepted Palestine as a non-member observer state. Israeli analysts said such diplomatic pressure will have little impact on the ground.

“Their position in the U.N. doesn’t mean anything,” said Avraham Diskin, an emeritus professor of political science at Hebrew University. “Life is one thing and declarations are another.”

Given the failure of previous attempts at Palestinian unity, experts are doubtful that the latest pact will succeed, not least because Hamas likely will not agree to hand over its weaponry and soldiers to Fatah control. 

“They’re talking about a technocracy so they won’t have to split the pie between them,” Mordechai Kedar, an expert on Islamist groups at Bar-Ilan University. “They can’t agree on anything.”

Netanyahu thus far has not responded to calls for unilateral action, but the collapse of negotiations means his governing coalition will hold for the moment. Jewish Home had threatened to leave had Netanyahu agreed to withdraw from much of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, analysts were not expecting another wave of violence. Palestinian security cooperation with Israel has helped curb Hamas’ influence in the West Bank, but it’s unclear whether such coordination will continue if Palestinian reconciliation becomes a reality.

Oren told JTA it was difficult to see how the Israel Defense Forces could continue to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority once the P.A. unites with Hamas.

“The cooperation is about fighting Hamas,” he said. “How can the IDF fight Hamas with Palestinian security forces who serve under a government that includes Hamas?”

Peres and Netanyahu, Israeli diplomacy’s good cop and bad cop

Israeli President Shimon Peres doubled up on positive statements about Arab leaders this afternoon, praising Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at noon and lauding Jordanian King Abdullah II at 3:30 p.m.

Today’s fare is nothing new  for Peres, who entered the largely ceremonial presidency in 2007. As president, Peres has found his niche channeling a friendly image of Israel.

That role has stood out especially under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ascended to power in 2009. Netanyahu has cultivated a tough-guy image in Israel when it comes to speaking on the world stage. Netanyahu is not afraid to lambast a world leader at the U.N. or to defy the Obama administration. When Netanyahu appeared on an Israeli sketch-comedy show last year, he said he wanted to be remembered as the “guardian of Israel’s security.”

So Peres the Peacemaker has at times been a stark counterpoint to Bibi-the-Cartoon-Bomb-Brandisher these past five years. While Netanyahu has talked Iran and Hamas, Peres has talked innovation and regional cooperation. Politically, he has also gone where Netanyahu wouldn’t, in particular when he posed in a “Middle East money shot” with Abbas and John Kerry two months before the latest round of peace talks even started.

Today’s statements were no exception. Peres called Abdullah to apologize for the death of a Jordanian judge, Raed Zeiter, who was shot by an Israeli soldier in an incident at the Allenby crossing last week. Netanyahu’s office expressed regret but stopped short of apologizing outright.

After the call, Peres issued a statement in which he said that the Jordanian king was ”a leader of vision, and under his leadership Jordan plays a key role in the search for peace and stability in the Middle East.”

Peres’ statement calling Abbas “a man of principle” and “a good partner” comes a day after Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, said that Abbas was “not a partner for a final agreement.”

Peres will leave a complex legacy when he finishes his long political career this June. For his final chapter, though, Peres will likely be remembered as the diplomatic complement/foil to Netanyahu, the man who in 1996 unseated him as prime minister.

Kerry says he had ‘frank and open’ talks with Netanyahu on settlements

Secretary of State John Kerry, trying to keep his Middle East peace initiative on track in the face of fresh controversy over Israeli settlements, said he had “frank and open” talks on the matter on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kerry, who planned to speak later in the day with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said he believed the Palestinian leader “is committed to continue” peace talks with Israel. Some Palestinians have called for boycotting the negotiations, due to resume on Wednesday.

Israel in recent days has announced tenders for or advanced the planning process on about 3,100 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

At a press conference with Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, Kerry reiterated that the United States views the settlements as “illegitimate.”

Reporting by Warren Strobel; editing by Jackie Frank

Peace talks resume under cloud of Israeli construction

A 10-minute drive from where negotiators will sit down on Wednesday to resume long-stalled Middle East peace talks, Israeli bulldozers are busy reshaping land that Palestinians want for their future state.

Settler homes are popping up across East Jerusalem and major roads are being built to burgeoning Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Israel has just approved plans for 3,100 new homes on the territory it seized in the 1967 Middle East war.

The non-stop building on the land that is at the heart of the conflict raises serious doubts about whether the latest round of U.S.-brokered talks can result in a deal to create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“The two-state solution by now is unobtainable,” said Dani Dayan, a former chairman of the settler movement, arguing that any accord palatable to the Palestinians would involve removing so many settlers that it would be impossible to enact.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the driving force behind the resumption of talks following a three-year hiatus, agrees it is a major problem, but says there is time for a final push.

“What this underscores is the importance of getting to the table, getting to the table quickly,” he told reporters in Colombia on Monday when asked about the series of Israeli building announcements in the run-up to the new negotiations.

Israel has rejected criticism of its construction plans, saying the new homes would be erected in settlements within blocs it intends to keep in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

The settler numbers are imposing. In 2010, when the Palestinians quit negotiations over settlement building, some 311,110 Israelis were living in the West Bank. Today, according to Israel's Army Radio, this has surged to 367,000.

Adding in East Jerusalem, then the number of Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines rises to nearly 600,000. Few, if any, would willingly quit their homes as part of a peace deal.


After an initial round of meetings in Washington at the end of last month, the real discussions start on Wednesday, with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni facing Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Jerusalem's King David Hotel.

The negotiations will be moderated by U.S. envoy Martin Indyk, with the next encounter already penciled in for later this month in the West Bank city of Jericho.

Bowing to a Palestinian condition to get the talks going, and eager not to antagonize an anxious Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to the staggered release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, many convicted of murder.

The first 26 are due to go free early on Wednesday, and political analysts say the recent splurge of settlement moves was a bid by Netanyahu to placate his legion of supporters who reject the so-called two-state solution.

But the sheer quantity of planned new homes has stunned outsiders and led the Palestinians to issue a clear warning.

“If the Israeli government believes that every week they're going to cross a red line by settlement activity … what they're advertising is the unsustainability of the negotiations,” Erekat said on Sunday.

Kerry told reporters that while some movement on the settlement front had been expected, the wave of announcements may have been “outside of that level of expectation”.

Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer and an expert on settlement expansion, said that in the last 24 hours, Israel had approved a 3.26 percent increase in the number of housing units in East Jerusalem alone, saying this could prove fatal to peace chances.

“I think Mr. Netanyahu may have miscalculated this. He won't shed any tears if the talks fall apart, but he will shed tears if he is blamed for this,” he said.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have set a goal of reaching a peace deal within nine months that would resolve many problems confronting them, including agreeing to borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the sharing of scarce water resources.

While pessimists abound, a few optimists still stand up, including Israeli President Shimon Peres.

He argues that not only do Israelis want peace, but that the recent instability caused by the Arab uprisings has left a number of Arab states eager to settle the decades-old conflict.

“People who are skeptical are wrong. There is a difference between this and previous attempts,” he said on Sunday.

Give the peace process a chance

The questions come fast and furious: 

Why, of all times, now, when the Middle East is in upheaval and its future course is anyone's guess? 

What's the American obsession with this issue, when Iran, Russia, Syria, Egypt, North Korea, and China all cry out for greater U.S. attention? 

Who's ready to believe the Palestinian Authority is any more willing today than yesterday to engage in serious, purposeful talks? 

How can anyone discuss a two-state deal when Gaza is in the hands of Hamas? 

Is Prime Minister Netanyahu, rhetoric apart, really serious about an agreement? 

And are the Israeli people likely to overcome doubts about Palestinian intentions to support a deal that would entail major sacrifices and risks – indeed, already has in the form of the upcoming, and highly contentious, release of convicted Palestinian murderers (and which, by the way, should be sufficient to answer the previous question)? 

These concerns mustn't be dismissed out-of-hand, but there's more to the story – and it leads to the conclusion that the talks are worth pursuing. 

No, I don't say this, as some have suggested, to curry favor with the Obama Administration, nor to receive more invitations to the White House Chanukah party, nor to get a pat on the shoulder from Secretary of State John Kerry. And no, I haven't succumbed to the fantasy of those on the left who believe a Middle East Woodstock is just around the corner. Not at all! 

Rather, I do so for three reasons. 

First, for friends of Israel, the status quo may seem sustainable. In reality, it's not. 

True, the Israeli economy continues to perform wonders. The IDF is at peak strength. Acts of terrorism against Israelis have been far fewer in recent months. And Israeli life is humming in a way that few on the outside, reliant on the media for their images, could ever fully appreciate. 

But where does this lead? Will the Palestinians disappear? Will their demands evaporate or end up on a back burner? Will the world, led in this case by the European Union and the automatic majority in the UN, one day stop their relentless preoccupation with the Palestinians? Will the U.S. always be there to stand up for Israeli policy, even if Washington considers it short-sighted and self-defeating? 

In other words, would Israel, assuming it wanted to, be able to retain control of the West Bank well into the distant future without taking account of some serious consequences? 

For Israel to remain a democratic and Jewish state, it is in Israel's national interest to seek a way to disentangle itself from rule over as many Palestinians as possible. 

Yes, Israel came into possession of the West Bank in a defensive war in 1967 and, had it not been the victor, the country could well have faced annihilation. And yes, the West Bank is the cradle of Jewish civilization. 

But that doesn't end the argument. Rather, it underscores the need for extraordinarily careful attention to security arrangements in any two-state deal and solid guarantees for Israeli access to Jewish holy sites. 

Second, I've long believed – and, as a result, locked horns with some on the left – that if a two-state deal is to be achieved, it's best done by a hard-nosed, right-of-center Israeli leader with impeccable security credentials. 

That's precisely the case in Israel today. 

The shrill critics of a revitalized peace process seem to have forgotten that the talks are led on the Israeli side by Benjamin Netanyahu, and supported by such top officials as Moshe Ya'alon, the defense minister and former IDF chief of staff, and Tzipi Livni, the justice minister with the Likud Party and Mossad in her résumé. 

The critics may not now trust them, but then again they wouldn't trust anyone who dared to negotiate. There will always be the rash accusations that the leaders “sold out,” or “yielded to inordinate U.S. pressure,” or “are seeking the Nobel Peace Prize.” 

Netanyahu, Ya'alon, Livni and others have had one overarching, life-long goal – ensuring the security and viability of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. 

They know no less well than their critics on the right the immense difficulties confronting them in pursuing this aim – from ongoing Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorists, to profound questions about the regional environment, to concerns about the viability of a future “democratic” and “demilitarized” Palestinian state. 

Have they suddenly turned fuzzy-headed, weak-kneed, or naïve about the challenge before them? No. Rather, they have reached the stark conclusion that the status quo is not in Israel's long-term interest – and that choices in life are not always between “good” and “bad,” but, as often as not, between “bad” and “worse.” 

And third, the chorus of right-wing critics ascribes to the United States malign motives, suggesting this process is sparked by an “unfriendly” President Obama who wants to “damage” Israel in his effort to “reorient” U.S. foreign policy. 

I don't buy the argument. And I don't say so as a partisan, since I'm most assuredly not. 

What does it take to convince the doubters that there's good will on the American side? 

Probably nothing will work, but, despite some early missteps by the Obama administration, there's some pretty compelling evidence here – the bilateral military, strategic, and intelligence relationship has never been stronger, as knowledgeable Israelis will attest; the U.S. has stood up for Israel time and again, often alone, at the UN; and Secretary Kerry's voting record over his long Senate career is a matter of public record. 

Finally, let me frame the issue another way. 

Israel must never hesitate to show up at any serious negotiating table. It does so today from a position of remarkable strength. It cannot be bullied into making a deal potentially injurious to the country's security. It has a powerful friend in the United States. And, yes, it is driven by the age-old Jewish yearning for enduring peace. 

If the Palestinians once again prove they are unwilling partners, as they did in 2000-1 and again in 2008, let the world see who torpedoed a potential deal. 

Sure, there's that enabling pro-Palestinian community – diplomats, journalists, “human rights” activists, entertainers – who are willfully blind, for whom the problem always has been and will be Israel, but others will figure it out. 

And if, miracle of miracles, the Palestinian leadership actually turns out to be a credible partner this time, then, of course, all the more reason to try. 

So, let's give the peace process a chance.

U.S. ‘concerned’ about Israeli plans to build in settlements

The United States raised concerns with Israel over its approval of 147 new West Bank settler homes and its decision to advance plans for 949 other units.

“We are speaking to the government of Israel and making our concerns known,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday at a press briefing in Washington. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity and opposes any efforts to legitimize settlement outposts.”

The approval of construction was made Wednesday by the Higher Planning Committee of Israel’s Civil Administration, according to the Peace Now monitor on settlements. The plans relate to 21 plans inside 11 settlements, including Shilo, Almog and Alon Shevut.

The approval came one week after the first round of talks in resumed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which views settlement expansion as an impediment to peace.

The second round of talks is to be held in Jerusalem on August 14.

On Tuesday, in advance of Wednesday’s peace talks, Israel is expected to approve the release of 26 of the 104 Palestinian prisoners that are to be freed during the coming nine months.

The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the matter, the Jerusalem Post reported Friday.

Israel puts 91 Jewish settlements on priority spending list

The Israeli government put 91 Jewish settlements on a national priority funding list on Sunday, adding six to a roster of dozens of enclaves already eligible for supplemental state cash.

A senior Palestinian official condemned the decision as an obstacle to U.S.-brokered peace talks that resumed just a week ago after a three-year rupture over settlement building on land Palestinians seek for a state.

At its weekly meeting, the Israeli cabinet increased by six the number of settlements built on land Israel captured in a 1967 war on a “national priority” spending list, by adding nine while removing three others.

The “list of settlements with national priority” is a longstanding roster of nearly 700 border towns and settlements eligible for extra development funding above and beyond their normal budgets.

Most communities on the list are either on Israel's northern border with Lebanon or to the south, across from neighboring Egypt.

Ninety-one are settlements built in the West Bank, where Palestinians seek to establish an independent state. Those settlements are deemed illegal by the World Court and are opposed by most countries.

Three settlements were removed from a previous list from several years ago, while nine others were added, among them enclaves deep inside the West Bank, beyond the traditional blocs Israel insists it will keep under any peace deal.

“We condemn this step,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Reuters, accusing Israel of seeking to “put obstacles in the way of U.S.-backed (peace) efforts.”

The Israeli settlement watch group Peace Now said that, by taking steps to expand West Bank settlements, Israel “calls into question whether this government is truly ready to negotiate in good faith.”

Abbas had long demanded a freeze in settlement construction as a condition to resuming peace talks, but Kerry won Palestinian agreement to resume negotiations after Israeldecided to release 104 prisoners, many convicted of lethal attacks and behind bars for more than 20 years.

Israeli media pundits interpreted the unpopular decision to free prisoners as a compromise with ultra-nationalists in Israel's cabinet opposed to curbing settlement construction.

Settler-champion cabinet minister Silvan Shalom said Abbas had rejected an Israeli offer to freeze construction in some settlements rather than free the prisoners, Israel Radio said.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Ori Lewis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Kerry: Coming weeks critical to peace process

The coming weeks could decide the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, John Kerry said during a tour of Arab states on his way to attempt to broker new peace talks.

“We share a belief with Saudi Arabia and many countries that these next weeks are perhaps – or at least this next period of time is an important period of time where decisions could be made that could affect this region for years to come,” the U.S.  secretary of state said June 25 in Jeddah, where he met with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal.

The Saudi foreign minister backed the efforts of Kerry, who is due this week in Jordan and Israel, where he will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Saud reiterated his country’s commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which envisions a return to 1967 borders in exchange for comprehensive peace, although he did not explicitly endorse a recent suggestion by Qatar that this incorporate “minor land swaps.”

In Kuwait on Wednesday, meeting with Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Kerry said he wanted to see progress before September.

“Time is the enemy of a peace process,” he said. “Time allows situations on the ground to change and/or to harden, or to be misinterpreted. The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don’t want things to happen.”

Kerry: Israeli, Palestinian leaders serious on talks

Israeli and Palestinian leaders are both committed to reviving peace talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday, but he acknowledged that progress on the long-stalled negotiations would be difficult.

Israeli-Palestinian talks broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over construction of Jewish settlements in on West Bank land that Palestinians want as part of their future state.

Kerry, who held separate talks with both sides in May, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wanted the peace process to move forward. This would be Kerry's fifth attempt to restart talks.

“I believe they believe the peace process is bigger than any one day or one moment, or certainly more important to their countries than some of their current political challenges,” he told a news conference in Kuwait with Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah.

“That is why both of them have indicated a seriousness of purpose. I would not be here now if I didn't have the belief this is possible,” he said.

Kerry said he did not want to set any deadlines for the peace process but added that there needed to be progress before the U.N. General Assembly in September.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Sylvia Westall; Editing by Gareth Jones

Letters to the Editor: Jews should get offended, Web Tsuris

More Than One Way to Deal With Obstacle to Peace Process
Feelings carry greater impact in communication than thought or logic (“Jews Should Get Offended,” June 21). As a mediator, I witness that routinely. When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denies any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, David Suissa suggests Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu respond by simply calling it insulting and offensive. That makes sense and, even more so, it feels right.
Daniel Ben-Zvi
Los Angeles
David Suissa’s article in a nutshell: Jews — good, reasonable, only want peace; Arabs — bad, unreasonable, obstacle to peace.
Ah, the same old, same old.
On the other hand, settlement building is a genius idea that will naturally lead to peace. A wonderful display of us Jews saying “no” to peace also.
David Avram Wright
via jewishjournal.com
I believe that Palestinians at heart are bullies. In my neighborhoods, the slums of St. Louis and East Los Angeles, you did not let bullies push you around. You kicked their ass and then they picked on someone else. Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt have all lost wars to Israel, but not the Palestinians. Arafat rejects a two-state solution and we give them the Oslo Accords, with guns, taxes, control over their territory. What does Israel get from these bullies? Nothing but heartache.
Ilbert Phillips
via jewishjournal.com
Tsuris for Sale on the World Wide Web
Dennis Pager should auction the gold tallit to pay for the silver one  (“The Israeli.com and Me,” June 21).
David M. Davis
via jewishjournal.com
So I’m waiting with bated breath to hear the continuation of this saga. Please keep us posted (pun intended).
Jules Stein 
Ambler, Penn.
via jewishjournal.com
Buy locally, my friend. You won’t have these problems.
Sofer Ronnie Sieger
via jewishjournal.com
I had a similar issue when I ordered a T-shirt from Israel. When I received the shirt it was the wrong color and two sizes smaller than I ordered. After a couple of e-mail exchanges, in which they asked what color and size I had ordered (don’t they keep records?), they graciously offered to credit me the price of the shirt on my next purchase. In my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine why they think I would ever buy from them again. Now that I read Mr. Prager’s experience, I don’t see myself ever buying from an Israeli company again. 
Ted Salmons
via jewishjournal.com
I so appreciate your situation. While in Israel, we shipped purchases home ahead. We were met with similar preposterous problems, which we never solved, and we never got our items. We gave up, totally flabbergasted. I commend you for your not giving up.
Mary Ann Griffin
via jewishjournal.com
They have had several opportunities to make amends. Please publish the name of this company so justice and fairness can triumph. 
Jeff Marder
via jewishjournal.com
Appreciation for a Remarkable Physician
I was delighted to see the article on Dr. Wayne Grody’s efforts in overturning the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office policy on DNA patents (“Patient Ruling Could Aid Women,” June 21). Dr. Grody is a remarkable person, always standing up for what’s right for the health-care consumer and doing something about it. I know that personally because he was able to diagnose my son with familial Mediterranean fever at the FMF Clinic at UCLA using DNA testing after multiple specialists were unable to do so. When the FDA proposed increasing the cost of my son’s medication tenfold, Dr. Grody went to Washington to lobby for all those who need to take the medication on a daily basis for the rest of their lives. Thank you for featuring Dr. Grody and all that he does. The world could use a few more committed people like him.
Leila Cohen
Los Angeles
Due to an editing error, an article on local reaction to the Iranian presidential election (“L.A. Iranian Jews Pessimistic About New Iranian President,” June 21) omitted the full title of local Iranian-Jewish leader Sam Yebri. He is president of 30 Years After, an Iranian-Jewish organization based in Los Angeles. 
A.J. Kreimer’s title was listed incorrectly in an article about Boy Scout troops in synagogues (“Opposition Continues Despite New Scout Policy,” June 21). He is the Area 5 president of the Northeast Region.

Netanyahu, coalition partner Bennett at odds over peace talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready to enter serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, while his coalition partner Naftali Bennett said a pact would lead to more violence.

“Our fervent hope is for peace, a genuine peace that can be achieved only through direct negotiations without preconditions,” Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting Tuesday morning with Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. “We’re ready to enter such negotiations. I hope the Palestinians are, too.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to arrive in Israel later this week in a bid to bring the two sides back to the peace table.

Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, told Israel Radio Tuesday morning that a peace agreement with the Palestinians would lead to more rocket attacks and rock throwing.

“If you look at when there’s violence, it follows peace agreements,” Bennett said. “The public sometimes forgets, but an overwhelming majority of the Palestinian public voted for Hamas.”

He added that he “won’t oppose negotiations” as long as there are no preconditions.

The Palestinians have called for a freeze on construction in the settlements and the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails before they will return to the negotiating table.

On Tuesday morning, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians were ready to start talking and had never demanded preconditions in order to return to negotiations.

Erekat told Army Radio that he was asking the Israelis for an agenda for the negotiations, not preconditions.

“If you say no to the ’67 border, no to Jerusalem, no to refugees, no to the military, what is there to negotiate with you about?” he said.

The Palestinian Authority denied a report Monday on Israel’s Channel 2 that P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas was prepared to resume talks.

Bennett also told Israel Radio that the Israeli public wants the government to concern itself with economic issues, not peace negotiations.

“The public elected us to invest in economic and social issues, to lower the cost of living, and not in cocktails in Oslo,” he said.

Bennett said he opposed more withdrawals and instead called for joint economic development with the Palestinians.

Two-state solution is dead, Naftali Bennett says

The two-state solution is dead, Israeli government minister Naftali Bennett, head of the coalition partner Jewish Home Party, told a settlers’ group.

“Never has so much time been invested in something so pointless,” Bennett told a meeting Monday of the Yesha Council in Jerusalem. “We need to build, build, build.”

“(T)he challenge now is how do we move forward from here, knowing that a Palestinian state within Israel is not possible, Bennett reportedly also said, adding: “We have to move from solving the problem to living with the problem.”

Following Bennett’s remarks, Peace Now called on government minister Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, to leave the government over past statements that his party would not be part of a government that is not willing to negotiation peace with the Palestinians.

Bennett’s remarks come a week after Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said that Israel’s government will oppose a two-state solution and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, remarks that were roundly condemned.

EU envoy targets settlements

Israel’s settlement building is increasingly isolating the country in Europe, leading to European Union policies that could reinforce Israel’s delegitimization, according to the top EU representative to the peace process.

Andreas Reinicke, the EU’s special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said increasing frustration with the settlement movement is leading Europe to adopt policies that single out Israel for punitive measures.

In a June 5 interview at the EU’s Washington mission, Reinicke, in town for meetings with counterparts in the Obama administration, cited two policies in particular: increased levies on goods manufactured in West Bank settlements, which already are in place, and labeling to distinguish products manufactured in Israel from those in the West Bank, which is under consideration.

“What the Europeans feel compelled to do is to make clear that our political position, our understanding of the territory of the State of Israel, which is the borders of 1967 including West Jerusalem, has to be reflected in our legal relationship between Israel and the European Union,” he said.

Reinicke said the European establishment overwhelmingly opposes actions that isolate Israel as a whole, noting for instance the decision by British physicist Stephen Hawking to boycott a conference in Israel this summer.

“The vast majority,” he began, then corrected himself. “Everybody is against this,” he said, referring to the boycott and divestment movement.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the policies distinguishing settlement products from Israeli products reinforce the movement to isolate and delegitimize Israel.

“The danger is there,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good development.”

Reinicke suggested that the labeling policy would soon be adopted.

“The number of foreign ministers who are supporting this are increasing,” he said. “This is a development we should look at, which is not a good development.

“It is almost impossible to explain to any European why settlement is continuing all the time. It is difficult to explain to Europeans why increased settlement activities mean an increase of security for the State of Israel.”

The pessimistic scenario outlined by Reinicke echoed similar warnings this week from John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, and from the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, one of Israel’s staunchest friends on the continent.

“Yes, the United States of America will always have Israel’s back,” Kerry said in remarks to the American Jewish Committee on June 3. “We will always stand up for Israel’s security. But wouldn’t we both be stronger if we had some more company? “

Also addressing the AJC, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg described an erosion of support for Israel in Europe.

“Alarm among Israel’s foreign partners about the continued expansion of Jewish residential areas beyond the Green Line, steadily eroding the size and contiguity of the residual non-Jewish territories, often seems to be felt in Israel as a political nuisance to be overcome rather than a serious questioning of Israel’s political credibility,” he said.

The Czech Republic was the only European nation to join the United States and Israel last year in opposing the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid to enhance its United Nations status to non-member state observer.

Most of the other 27 members of the European Union abstained on the vote. Asked why Europe does not treat the Palestinian Authority’s quest for statehood recognition absent negotiations with Israel with the same seriousness that it opposes settlement expansion, Reinicke said it was hard for European nations to adamantly oppose a diplomatic maneuver.

“We think that the Palestinians should come to the negotiating table without preconditions,” he said. “We had a strong discussion and very, very intensive discussions among the Europeans about how to move. But the bottom line, it is a sort of diplomatic activity. It is peaceful, not a violent one.”

He expressed coolness about a plan advanced by Kerry to seek $4 billion in private investment for the Palestinian areas, noting that economic conditions — in particular the ability to move people and goods about freely — are more important than money.

Kerry’s investment plan, which a number of Republicans in Congress have rejected, won a hearty endorsement from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Reinicke suggested that Europe would soon join the United States in designating Hezbollah — or at least its military wing — as a terrorist entity, which would curtail the Lebanon-based terrorist group’s fundraising on the continent.

“If you see the public statements of the major foreign ministers,” he said, “I think there is a move in this direction.” 

Peres, Abbas call for peace at World Economic Forum

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for peace at the World Economic Forum in Jordan.

Peres in his address Sunday evening said, “I am here to express the hope and desire of the Israeli people to bring an end to the conflict and a beginning to a peaceful new age. I hope that this forum will voice a timely call against skepticism. I pray that it will allow for tomorrow’s horizon to shine bright — a horizon that will illuminate the fruits of freedom, science and progress.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking earlier in the day, said his people want peace, and that it only be achieved with the creation of an independent Palestinian state. He said young Palestinians had lost hope for a two-state solution.

“We want to achieve the two-state solution. Two states that will live side by side in peace,” he said, adding, “The opportunity is still there for making this peace. Come, let this make this peace a reality achieved on the ground, so that our current and future generations would reap its benefits.”

Abbas said the P.A. would not agree to a resolution that calls for temporary borders, saying it would prolong the conflict. He thanked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for his efforts to restart the peace process.

In his speech to the forum, Kerry called on Israel and the Palestinians to continue the peace process through to the end, asking: “Do we want to live with a permanent intifada?”

Kerry also announced the possible formation of a $4 billion private economic plan to help expand the Palestinian economy.

Peres and King Abdullah II of Jordan in a meeting earlier in the day on the forum sidelines discussed ways to revive peace negotiations in the region and how to overcome obstacles facing the peace process. They agreed that a two-state solution is the only viable solution to end the conflict.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on Peres to convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make peace with the Palestinians based on the pre-1967 borders.

Ahead of Sunday’s regular Cabinet meeting, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz chided Peres for acting like the “government spokesman.”

“I think the government has its own spokespeople,” Steinitz said, according to The Jerusalem Post. “The position of president of Israel is respected, but the government makes policy decisions, and I think that every declaration of this sort, certainly on the eve of negotiations, does not help Israel’s stance.”

Kerry praises Netanyahu’s ‘seriousness’ on peace

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his “seriousness” in finding ways to restart the peace process.

Kerry made the statement before a two-hour meeting Thursday in Jerusalem with Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians.

Kerry was scheduled to meet later Thursday in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“There have been some very serious meetings, a lot of very serious discussions,” about restarting the Israel-Palestinian peace process, Kerry said. “I know this region well enough to know that there is skepticism. In some corridors, there’s cynicism. And there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment. It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient – but detailed and tenacious – that we can lay out a path ahead that could conceivably surprise people, but certainly exhaust the possibilities of peace.”

Kerry and Netanyahu also were scheduled to discuss the situation in Syria as well as Iran.

On Syria, Kerry said the Obama administration “also understands that the killing that is taking place, the massacres that are taking place, the incredible destabilization of Syria, is spilling over into Lebanon, into Jordan, and has an impact, obviously, on Israel.”

He added that long-range missiles coming from other countries, such as Iran, “are destabilizing to the region. The United States is committed not only in its defense of Israel, but in its concerns for the region, to try to address this issue.”

Since taking office in February, Kerry is making his fourth visit to the region in an effort to restart peace talks .

Israel to authorize four West Bank settler outposts

Israel plans to declare legal four unauthorized West Bank settler outposts, a court document showed on Thursday, days before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returns to the region to try to restart peace talks.

Israel has been sending mixed signals on its internationally condemned settlement policy as Kerry pursues efforts to revive negotiations Palestinians quit in 2010 in anger over Israeli settlement building on land they seek for a state.

In a reply to a Supreme Court petition by the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now, the government said it had taken steps in recent weeks to authorize retroactively four West Bank outposts built without official permission.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the move.

“Israel continues to put obstacles and to sabotage U.S. efforts to resume negotiation,” he said. “Our position is clear and that is all settlement is illegal and must be stopped.”

A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on the government's response to the Supreme Court.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki suggested that a decision to legalize the four outposts would be counterproductive.

“We don't accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” she said. “Continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace.”

Most the world deems all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as illegal. Israel disputes this and distinguishes between about 120 government-authorized settlements and dozens of outposts built by settlers without permission.

Peace Now said in a statement that “The intention to legalize outposts as new settlements is no less than a slap in the face of Secretary Kerry's new process and is blatant reassurance to settler interests.”

Last week, Peace Now and Israeli media reports said Netanyahu has been quietly curbing some settlement activity by freezing tenders for new housing projects, in an apparent effort to help the U.S. drive to renew peace talks.

But Peace Now said at the time construction already under way was continuing, and Israel announced last week that it had given preliminary approval for 300 new homes in Beit El settlement as part of a plan Netanyahu announced a year ago.

Kerry, due to meet Netanyahu and Abbas separately next week, has said he believes “the parties are serious” about finding a way back into talks.

The main issues that would have to be resolved in a peace agreement include the borders between Israel and a Palestinian sate, the future of Jewish settlements, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

Some 500,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which was also captured from Jordan in 1967. About 2.7 million Palestinians live in those areas.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Alistair Lyon, Doina Chiacu

Oil-rich Qatar pushing to make its name as a Mideast peace broker

When it comes to the latest Arab peace initiative, two questions are circulating in Washington: Why Qatar? And why now?

The three answers: Because Qatar is rich; it is scared; and why not?

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister and foreign minister, in recent weeks has driven the revivification of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, moderating it slightly to hew closer to the outlines touted by the Obama administration since 2011.

The updated version, outlined by Hamad in remarks to reporters following his meeting April 29 with Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden in Washington, pulls back from the 2002 demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders in exchange for comprehensive peace.

Instead, Hamid proposed “comparable and mutual agreed minor swaps of the land” — a formulation that opens the door to Israel's retention of several major settlement blocs. Hamad also did not mention the Palestinian “right of return” and the division of Jerusalem, elements of the original Arab initiative that had led to its rejection by the Israeli government.

Qatar, the fabulously wealthy Persian Gulf state that is host to the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, hasn't been known until recently for grabbing onto thorny diplomatic challenges. So what does Hamad hope to gain?

The Qatari Embassy did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but experts and officials say that Qatar is wealthy enough to do what it likes and, as an autocracy concerned for its survival in a region roiling with revolution, is driven to make friends and demonstrate its usefulness.

“For a small country, they’re throwing money around, organizing diplomatic events, trying to shape a range of issues, much of it related to the Middle East uprising,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a think tank considered close to the Obama administration. “It's rich, it's small, it lacks the inner turmoil of other countries. It’s one of the [Middle Eastern] countries … that are more internally stable and have more resources.”

Just prior to unveiling the revised peace plan, Hamad, a distant cousin of the Qatari emir, was honored by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, an organization that received $2.5 million to $5 million from the government of Qatar in 2012, according to Politico.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, the Saban Center’s director, said Qatar for years had accrued influence through such uses of “soft power” — the generous dispensation of money and assistance — coupled with its ownership of Al Jazeera, the region’s most influential news outlet. When uprisings swept the Middle East at the beginning of 2011, Qatar was able to step into a vacuum left by the toppled dictators, she said.

“It vaulted Qatar into a much more prominent role in regional politics because of the loss of [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak,” Wittes told JTA. “Its regional assistance and Al Jazeera have allowed it to play a larger role in how the awakening is viewed.”

Backing winners, whether the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the forces that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, also lends credibility — and insurance — to a regime that is itself autocratic, Katulis said.

“If they win as many as friends as possible, get in early on the ground floor, they'll be all the more influential,” he said.

A State Department official played down Qatar's role in reviving the Arab peace bid, noting that the new plan formally emerged from the Arab League. And yet he emphasized that the Obama administration is focused mainly on returning the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table and hopes the peace initiative can help them get there.

“It's a sign that the Arab League is a constructive member in the process,” the official said. “The regional partners have a role, but our major focus is getting the Palestinians and Israelis back to the table for direct talks.”

So far, that doesn't seem to be happening. Israel is less than thrilled about the new initiative. An Israeli official confirmed that Netanyahu remains as unenthusiastic about the 1967 lines as a basis for negotiations as he was in 2011, when President Obama’s proposal based on those lines precipitated a small crisis in U.S.-Israel relations.

Israelis are also skeptical of Qatar because of its support for Hamas, the terrorist group controlling the Gaza Strip. The country’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, became the first foreign leader to visit the strip last October.

“On the diplomatic front, Qatar publicly claims to support Israeli-Palestinian peace while making certain to undermine it in every possible way,” Seth Mandel wrote last week in Commentary, the neoconservative journal.

But Wittes said Qatar’s relationship with Hamas could be seen as a benefit. Hamas is a mainstay of Palestinian politics, and Qatar could help influence the group to moderate.

“If obstruction of peace was Hamas’s role as spoiler,” she said, “you have to look at the potential for Qatar as a positive influence.”

Netanyahu says he would put peace deal to referendum

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he would put any peace deal with the Palestinians to a referendum, raising expectations that direct negotiations might soon resume following a two-year stalemate.

It was the second time in just three days that Netanyahu has publicly mentioned the possibility of holding a nationwide vote on an eventual accord and came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Israeli politicians in Washington to discuss talks.

“If we get to a peace agreement with the Palestinians, I'd like to bring it to a referendum, and I'd like to talk to you about your experiences with that,” Netanyahu said as he met Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter.

Switzerland regularly holds referendum on a broad range of issues. Israel, by contrast, has never held a referendum in its 65-year history, and previous peace treaties with Arab neighbors Egypt and Jordan were approved by parliament.

Netanyahu leads a center-right coalition that includes supporters of the settlement movement, many of whom are fiercely opposed to the idea of allowing the Palestinians an independent state on land seized by Israel in the 1967 war.

By pledging to put any deal to a referendum, Netanyahu could be hoping to avert any immediate far-right backlash to a decision to talk land-for-peace with the Palestinians, promising that the Israeli people would have the final word.

“There is a very serious effort under way to get talks to resume,” said a senior Israeli official who declined to be named. “People are devoting a lot of time and effort to this. It is possible and it is doable.”


U.S. President Barack Obama came to Jerusalem in March and his secretary of state has visited the region three times in little over six weeks. Kerry was due to see Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni later on Thursday in Washington.

Livni has been designated by Netanyahu to be his chief peace negotiator. She was traveling with one of the prime minister's top officials and confidants, Yitzhak Molcho.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2010 over the issue of continued Jewish settlement building on 1967 land. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not return to the table until there is a construction freeze. Israel says there should be no pre-conditions.

Unexpectedly highlighting the issue of referendum has fueled hopes that the impasse might soon be overcome. However, there was little sign that the core questions dividing the two sides, including the status of Jerusalem, were any nearer resolution.

“No one thinks we are near a historic agreement. But any historic agreement will need national legitimacy,” the Israeli official said.

The Palestinians have also said that they would hold a referendum on an eventual accord, with no guarantees that their diverse electorate, including the far-flung refugee population, would accept the likely compromises needed to seal a deal.

Israel passed a law in 2010 for a referendum to approve any handover of East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, territory captured in the 1967 war and which it has annexed.

Moves are under way in parliament to expand that law to include the West Bank, which has not been annexed.

Editing by Crispian Balmer

Russian Jews urge Netanyahu to ignore U.S. Jews’ call for ceding land

One hundred Russian Jewish notables urged Benjamin Netanyahu to ignore recent pleas by American Jews calling on the Israeli prime minister to cede land for peace.

In an open letter from Russia published Tuesday, the Russian Jews wrote that their message was a reaction to the April 3 letter initiated by the dovish Israel Policy Forum by 100 American Jews, including philanthropists Charles Bronfman, Danny Abraham, Lester Crown and Stanley Gold, and former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim.

Among the signers of the Russian letter were the president of the Russian Jewish Congress, Yuri Kanner, and businessman Mikhail Fridman, one of the organization’s founders. Others included Pinchas Goldschmidt, a chief rabbi of Moscow and president of the Conference of European Rabbis.

“We, the Russian Jews, are committed to the secure and stable future of Israel no less than our American coreligionists,” the response letter from Moscow read.

“It is therefore that we believe that the decisions of the Head of the Government of Israel on critical issues should be taken for the sake of people of Israel only, based exclusively on Israel’s assessment of the situation. Decisions on national security issues must not be made under external pressure, regardless of its origins: world public opinion, U.S. leaders or even influential American Jews.”

In the wake of President Obama’s visit to Israel last month, the American Jews in their letter asked Netanyahu to take steps to represent Israel’s “readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace.” They said they wrote the letter “as Americans deeply committed to Israel’s security.”

Jewish leaders urge Netanyahu to work with Obama on peace

More than one hundred U.S. Jewish leaders urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make clear “Israel’s readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace.”

“We believe that this is a compelling moment for you and your new government to respond to President Obama’s call for peace by taking concrete confidence-building steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” said the letter sent Wednesday and organized by the Israel Policy Forum. “We urge you, in particular, to work closely with Secretary of State John Kerry to devise pragmatic initiatives, consistent with Israel’s security needs, which would represent Israel’s readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace.”

The letter said such leadership “would challenge Palestinian leaders to take similarly constructive steps, including, most importantly, a prompt return to the negotiating table.”

The letter comes ahead of Kerry's planned visit to Israel and the Palestinian areas on April 8 and April 9, just two weeks after Kerry accompanied Obama to Israel.

The leaders left out affiliations, speaking only for themselves, but some of those represented were significant for their leadership — including Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism — and for not usually being associated with pressure on an Israeli prime minister to advance peace talks.

These leaders include Richard Pearlstone, a former chairman of the board of governors of the Jewish Agency; Susie Gelman, the immediate past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, who is chairing this year's Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Jerusalem; and Dov Zakheim, a former Pentagon official who was a top adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

After Mideast trip, Obama gains political capital. Will he spend it?

For a trip that U.S. officials had cautioned was not about getting “deliverables,” President Obama’s apparent success during his Middle East trip at getting Israel and Turkey to reconcile has raised some hopes for a breakthrough on another front: Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The question now is whether Obama has the means or the will to push the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who stayed behind to follow up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s team on what happens next, made clear in his statement on Israel's apology to Turkey to place it in the broader context of the region’s tensions.

“As I discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening, this will help Israel meet the many challenges it faces in the region,” Kerry said in a statement issued Saturday evening.

Netanyahu’s apology to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, delivered Friday on the Ben Gurion Airport tarmac while crew members readied Air Force One for departure, took the political world by surprise.

After years of resisting, Netanyahu delivered the apology sought by Turkey since 2010 for the Israel commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine people aboard a Turkish vessel.

There may have been a hint of what was to come in a remark delivered to reporters by Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, in a March 14 conference call before the trip.

“Israel as it makes peace is going to have recognize the broader role of public opinion in peacemaking,” Rhodes said, referring to the need to reach out to populations, not just leaders, in the region.

It was a theme Obama seized upon in his March 21 speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.

“Given the frustration in the international community about this conflict, Israel needs to reverse an undertow of isolation,” Obama said. Later in the speech, he added, “As more governments respond to popular will, the days when Israel could seek peace simply with a handful of autocratic leaders, those days are over.  Peace will have to be made among peoples, not just governments.”

The next afternoon, asked during a news conference with Jordanian King Abdullah how he brokered the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement, Obama made it clear it was about advancing shared interests in the region.

“I have long said that it is in both the interest of Israel and Turkey to restore normal relations between two countries that have historically had good ties,” Obama said. “It broke down several years ago as a consequence of the flotilla incident.

“For the last two years, I’ve spoken to both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan about why this rupture has to be mended, that they don’t have to agree on everything in order for them to come together around a whole range of common interests and common concerns.”

If there was much resistance in Israel to such an apology, it seemed to have dissipated in the wake of Obama’s charm offensive, which won over not only Israelis but even some American Jewish conservatives who have been among Obama’s fiercest critics.

“In terms of his attitude toward Israel, in the past three days Obama has altered his status in that regard from being the second coming of Jimmy Carter to that of another Bill Clinton,” wrote Jonathan Tobin, the senior online editor at Commentary magazine.

Emphasizing the Jewish connection to the land with visits to the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and a viewing of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Obama’s good will appears to have superseded any Israeli resentment for being pressured into the apology to Turkey. A snap poll by Channel 2 in the aftermath of Obama’s visit found that 39 percent of Israelis had changed their opinion of Obama for the better, the Times of Israel reported.

Whether Obama, like Clinton, will be able to leverage such good will into pressure on Netanyahu’s government — and whether he wants to — remains to be seen. Obama has made clear that he wants Netanyahu to give him time on Iran, telling Channel 2 in a pre-trip interview that he sees the dangers of a nuclear Iran arising in about a year’s time, not in several months, as Israeli officials reportedly believe.

Obama also made clear that he wants to see progress in the Palestinian-Israeli talks, but he did so in a passive way, not by offering solutions but by urging Israelis to pressure their government.

“I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks,” Obama said in his March 21 speech. “You must create the change that you want to see.”

That’s not a clear plan, Robert Satloff, the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a post-trip analysis.

“Whether the shift on how peace talks should begin translates into a shift on how those talks should then proceed remains unclear,” he wrote.

Nonetheless, should Obama proceed, Satloff suggested, he now has the political capital to do so.

“If the basic idea behind visiting Israel was to open the administration's second term on surer footing in terms of U.S.-Israeli relations than what characterized the opening months of the president's first term,” Satloff wrote, “he appears to have succeeded.”

Israel, Turkey to normalize ties after Israeli apology for 2010 flotilla raid

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to normalize relations after Netanyahu apologized and agreed to compensation for the 2010 Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged ship that left nine Turks dead.

The two men talked on Friday by phone, according to statements by Netanyahu's office and the White House.

“The two men agreed to restore normalization between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against IDF soldiers,” said the Israeli statement.

The White House was first to report the conversation, with a statement by President Obama on the subject just after the completion of his three-day tour of Israel.

“I welcome the call today between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan,” Obama said in the statement. “The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security. I am hopeful that today's exchange between the two leaders will enable them to engage in deeper cooperation on this and a range of other challenges and opportunities.”

Netanyahu apologized for “operational errors” during the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

“The Prime Minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life,” said the statement from Netanyahu's office. “In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation.”

Among the dead was a dual Turkish-American citizen. A senior Obama administration official described the call as a first step toward Israeli-Turkish reconciliation.

Israel Radio reported that Obama initiated the phone call in Netanyahu's presence, spoke with Erdogan, and then handed the receiver to Netanyahu.

Reuters, reporting from Ankara, said Erdogan expressed the “strong importance” of Jewish-Turkish ties.

The Obama administration has been endeavoring to repair ties between the one-time allies since May 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded the ship, which was attempting to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Passengers on the boat attacked the commandos during the raid, and nine people were killed in the ensuing melee. The raid sent already damaged Turkish-Israeli ties into a tailspin.

Netanyahu until now had resisted calls, including from some of his closest advisers, to apologize for the incident. Other factions in his last government strongly opposed an apology. Recent reports, however, had said that Netanyahu would reconsider once he had a new government in place — something he accomplished last weekend.

This week, Erdogan attempted to backtrack from his most recent anti-Israel outburst, telling a Danish newspaper that his equation last month of Zionism with anti-Semitism and crimes against humanity referred only to certain Israeli acts and not the Zionist movement per se. Netanyahu, in his statement, said he “expressed appreciation” to Erdogan for the clarification.

Relations between Israel and Turkey had turned sout after the 2009 Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. In the statement Friday, Netanyahu said he told Erdogan “that Israel has already lifted several restrictions on the movement of civilians and goods to all of the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and added that this will continue as long as the quiet is maintained.”

The statement concluded by saying that “The two leaders agreed to continue to work on improving the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.”