A general view of apartment blocks under construction is seen in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beitar Ilit in 2013. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Trump administration reiterates: Israeli settlements do not help the peace process


The Trump administration again said that Israel’s settlement expansion does not help the peace process.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert at a media briefing Tuesday spoke about the development of more Israeli settlements in response to a reporter’s inquiry.

The report asked Nauert, “If the Israeli government would stop building settlements or would issue a freeze at the present time, that would help accelerate the process, correct?”

Nauert responded, “The president has been clear all along – his position on this has not changed – and that is that we see settlements as something that does not help the peace process.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a new policy earlier this year to curb settlement building in the West Bank, acceding to President Donald Trump’s wishes, but Jewish settlement building has continued.

The State Department statement came on the eve of a visit to Israel by Trump’s point man on the peace process, Jared Kushner, who with his team hopes to renew Israeli-Palestinian talks.

In Israel, Kushner met with the family of an Israeli border policewoman killed by a Palestinian terrorist.

Jason Greenblatt, left, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Jerusalem on March 13. Photo by Government Press Office

Netanyahu says Israel will limit settlement expansion as gesture to Trump


Israel will curb construction as a gesture to President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his top ministers.

In a security cabinet meeting Thursday night, Netanyahu said any future construction would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them. Israel will also prevent the construction of any new illegal outposts, he said.

“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu told the security cabinet, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Also Thursday, the security cabinet approved the first new settlement in decades for families evicted from the razed West Bank outpost of Amona. The newly declared limitations will not apply to that settlement, which Netanyahu promised Amona residents ahead of their forced evacuation in February.

Netanyahu’s announcement comes as Trump apparently seeks to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which he has said his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would help broker. David Greenblatt, Trump’s international envoy and also an Orthodox Jew, has traveled in recent weeks to the Middle East for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

On Thursday, Greenblatt held meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the the foreign ministers of Qatar and Egypt on the sidelines of the Arab League summit in Jordan. Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi also reportedly huddled to coordinate their positions ahead of their meetings with Trump at the White House in coming weeks.

Arab leaders concluded the summit by stressing the importance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to anonymously sourced Israeli media reports, Greenblatt told Netanyahu during talks in Israel earlier this month that Trump wanted substantial restriction on settlement construction. Netanyahu reportedly expressed reservations about the proposal, particularly an official moratorium on construction outside the major settlements, mainly because of anticipated opposition from within his right-wing government.

The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently denied the reports, but no understandings were announced.

When Netanyahu visited the White house in February, Trump said he would like to see Israel “hold back on settlements a little bit.” Earlier in the month, Trump said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace.

An anonymous White House official told The Times of Israel on Thursday that Trump just wanted the settlements not to get any bigger.

“President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements,” the official said. “As the administration has made clear: While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace.”

Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a memorial ceremony honoring late Israeli presidents and prime ministers, held at the president’s residence in Jerusalem, March 28. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Israeli Security Cabinet approves first new settlement in two decades


Israel’s Security Cabinet gave the go-ahead for the building of the first new settlement in two decades.

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Security Cabinet approved the building of a settlement for Jewish residents who had been living in Amona, a West Bank outpost of 40 homes that was evacuated in February, according to i24 News. It must now be approved by the full Cabinet.

The announcement comes after U.S. President Donald Trump said in February that he would like to see Israel “hold back on settlements a little bit.” Earlier in February, Trump had said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace.

Israeli negotiators said last week they would take into account the Trump administration’s “concerns” about settlement building.

“The United States delegation reiterated President Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving towards a peace agreement,” the statement said. “The Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes those concerns into consideration.”

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said he would approve the establishment of a new settlement to make good on a promise he had made to the Amona settlers.

“I promised at the outset that we would build a new community,” Netanyahu told reporters. “I believe that I first gave that promise back in December, and we will uphold it today. In a few hours, you will know all the details.”

Israel has not established a completely new settlement since the early 1990s, though existing settlements have expanded since then and once illegal outposts have been retroactively recognized.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Five alternatives to designating separate states


This opinion tackling the two-state solution is the “con” argument published in conjunction with Alan Elsner’s “pro” argument, “The Two-State Solution Won’t Die.

Israel never seems to have a good answer to accusations of occupation and illegitimacy of the settlement enterprise. Whenever the claim that Israel stole Palestinian lands is heard, Israel inevitably answers, “We invented the cellphone” and “We have gay rights.” Obvious obfuscation. And when pushed to explain why the much-promised two-state solution is perennially stuck, always the answer is to blame Arab obstructionism.

This inability to give a straight answer is a result of 30 years of bad policy that has pressed Israel to create a Palestinian state on the historic Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria, which the world calls the West Bank. This policy has managed to legitimize the proposition that the West Bank is Arab land and that Israel is an intractable occupier there.

But for us settlers, the truth is different: The two-state solution was misconceived and will never come to pass, because Judea and Samaria belong to Israel. We have a 3,700-year presence in this land, our foundational history is here, and we have reacquired control here in defensive wars. The world recognized our indigeneity in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the San Remo accords of 1920.

Additionally, as a result of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, when Hamas seized control and turned the strip into a forward base for jihad, starting three wars in seven years, most Israelis, however pragmatic, no longer believe in a policy of forfeiting land in the hopes of getting peace in return. No Israeli wants an Islamic State of Palestine looking down at them from the hilltops.

But as Israel is beginning to walk back the two-state solution, it is not easy to admit we were wrong, and many people’s careers are on the line. This is why Israel still mouths the two-state party line yet takes no steps toward making a Palestinian state a reality.

Now, the time has come for a discussion of new options in which Israel would hold on to the West Bank and eventually assert sovereignty there. Yes, Israel will have to grapple with questions of the Arab population’s rights, and the issues of the country’s security and Jewish character, but we believe those questions can be worked out through the democratic process.

At least five credible plans are on the table.

The first option, proposed by former Knesset members Aryeh Eldad and Benny Alon, is called “Jordan is Palestine,” a fair name given that Jordan’s population is estimated to be about 80 percent Palestinian. Under their plan, Israel would assert Israeli law in Judea and Samaria while Arabs living there would have Israeli residency and Jordanian citizenship.

A second alternative, suggested by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, proposes annexation of only Area C — the territory in the West Bank as defined by the Oslo Accords where a majority of 400,000 settlers live — while offering Israeli citizenship to the relatively few Arabs there. But Arabs living in Areas A and B, the main Palestinian population centers, would have self-rule.

A third option, which dovetails with Bennett’s, is promoted by Israeli scholar Mordechai Kedar. His premise is that the most stable Arab entity in the Middle East is the Gulf emirates, which are based on a consolidated traditional group or tribe. The Palestinian Arabs are not a cohesive nation, he argues, but are composed of separate city-based clans. So, he proposes Palestinian autonomy for seven noncontiguous emirates in major Arab cities, as well as Gaza (which he considers an emirate already). Israel would annex the rest of the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to Arab villagers outside of those cities.

The fourth proposal is by journalist Caroline Glick, author of the 2014 book “The Israeli Solution.” She claims that contrary to prevalent opinion, Jews are not in danger of losing a demographic majority in an Israel with Judea and Samaria. Alternative demographic research shows that due to falling Palestinian birth rates and emigration, combined with the opposite trend among Jews, a stable Jewish majority of above 60 percent exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (excluding Gaza), and is projected to grow to 70 percent by 2059. On this basis, Glick concludes that the Jewish state is secure and that Israel should assert Israeli law in the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to its entire Arab population without fear of being outvoted.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely similarly would annex and give the Palestinians residency rights — with a pathway to citizenship for those who pledge allegiance to the Jewish state. Others prefer an arrangement more like that of Puerto Rico, a United States territory whose 3.5 million residents cannot vote in federal elections. Some Palestinians, like the Jabari clan in Hebron, want Israeli residency and are actively vying to undermine the Palestinian Authority, which they view as illegitimate and corrupt.

None of these options is a panacea and every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But given that the two-state solution is an empirical failure and Israelis are voting away from it … there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives.

Finally, there is a fifth alternative by former Knesset member and head of the new Zehut party, Moshe Feiglin, and Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. They do not see a resolution of conflicting national aspirations in one land and instead propose an exchange of populations with Arab countries, which expelled about 800,000 Jews around the time of Israeli independence. In contrast, Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would be offered generous compensation to emigrate voluntarily.

None of these options is a panacea and every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But given that the two-state solution is an empirical failure and Israelis are voting away from it, and given that the new Donald Trump administration in the U.S. is not locked into the land-for-peace paradigm, there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives, unhampered by the bankrupt notions of the past.

YISHAI FLEISHER is the international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, home of Machpelah, the biblical tombs of Judaism’s founding fathers and mothers.

Photo by Reuters

115 House members sign letter warning about one-state outcome


Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) have circulated a letter calling on President Donald Trump to “reaffirm” America’s support for the two state solution while warning against a one state scenario, which would lead to “endless conflict”.

Connolly told Jewish Insider on Thursday evening that at least 115 Members of Congress have co-signed the letter including two Republican Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and John Duncan (R-TN). Jewish Insider has obtained the text of the letter, which has not yet been publicized.

The Congressional letter expresses concern about a one state reality. “It is our belief that a one-state outcome risks destroying Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, denies the Palestinians fulfillment of their legitimate aspirations, and would leave both Israelis and Palestinians embroiled in an endless and intractable conflict for generations to come.”

In a conversation with Jewish Insider, Price cited the President’s press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15 as motivating the letter. “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said.

“Today, we remain convinced that a two-state solution is the only outcome that would quell ongoing incidents of violence, maintain Israel as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state, and provide a just and stable future for the Palestinians,” the letter states.

Connolly explained that controversial subjects — such as the current situation in Gaza — were not included in the text to ensure that the letter would receive maximum Congressional support.

The letter has obtained over support from over 25 percent of the House including Brad Sherman (D-CA), Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) Deputy DNC Chair Keith Ellison (D-MN), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), John Lewis (D-GA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD). 

“There are those who argued that this is just a party line letter, so when we got two Republicans, I was able to say, ‘not anymore,’” Connolly added.

Screenshot-2017-03-10-at-11.29.05-AM-1

“Leadership from the United States is crucial at this juncture. We must ensure that a comprehensive agreement between the two parties is not imposed and oppose unilateral actions by either of the two parties that would push the prospects for peace further out of reach,” the letter added.

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

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


1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.

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

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

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

3.

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

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

4.

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

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

5.

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

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

I agree, and also think it proves my point.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., January 11, 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 22, 2017 in a combination of file photos. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

The Trump-Netanyahu meeting: The Messiah of the right turns into the Messiah of the left


  1. False Priorities

Don’t expect the two leaders that will be meeting in the White House this week to come out from the meeting with a major announcement. Unless Donald Trump is deliberately trying to fool us all only to surprise us on Wednesday, he will have nothing to announce. The moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem is still under consideration – namely, it might be one election promise that Trump does not intend to deliver. Trump’s position on the settlement project was made clearer in an interview he granted (to Israel’s Israel Hayom daily) last week. His stance on Iran is tough – he has already shown that – but what this means in practice only time will tell.

So – there’s no news President Trump and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can make tomorrow. Unless they get into a fight – something which both of them do not seem to want. They want a friendly meeting. They want a fruitful and calm beginning. They want to study each other and understand each other’s expectations, red lines, motivations, ambitions. Netanyahu clarified this in the cabinet meeting yesterday, as he rejected the calls from ministers to his right to officially abandon his public support for the two-state solution.

Netanyahu comes to this meeting with more experience and more knowledge about the issues at hand than Trump. This means that he will have a certain advantage, but also that he must hold himself back: The President doesn’t seem like a man who is appreciative of scholarly lectures. Netanyahu will also be at a disadvantage: Trump can still claim ignorance and can still say that he is “studying” this or that issue. For Netanyahu, to say such a thing after nine years in office would be problematic. He will be expected to show Trump more cards than Trump will be expected to show to him.

The focus of the press is going to be the Israeli-Palestinian issue. That is, because it is easier to explain and follow, and has implications on Israel’s political sphere. But truly, it is much more important for Israel – and for Trump – to talk about broader strategic matters. The policy toward Iran, developing events in Syria, the Russian role in Middle East affairs, relations with the Sunni Arab world, all these are much more important than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are surely more important than a settlement or an outpost here or there in the West Bank, and more important than whether the embassy will finally move to Jerusalem (as it should). So, as usual, there is going to be a discrepancy between the more important issues and the issues more extensively covered by the media.

  1. False Hopes

If anyone needed proof that Israel’s right wing can be delusional (that the left can be delusional we learned many years ago), he got such proof when Donald Trump was elected President. A new era – leaders of the right declared – has dawned on Israel. An era of no boundaries, no restraint, no American pressures. An era of free reign.

“Obama is history and now we have Trump,” said the Minister of Culture. She was right. Obama is gone. This will mean a change in tone, for better and for worse. Obama had beliefs and tendencies that Israel disliked. Trump will have less of those. On the other hand, Obama had manners and patience and was slow to be brutal. Trump will have less of those.

Israel had many reasons to resist the policies of Barak Obama – and it did it with some skill. It is going to have reasons to resist some of Donald Trump’s policies, and this might require even more skill.

Why resist Trump? Because he seems no less obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than his predecessor. No less “messianic” about it than the former Secretary of State. The leaders of the right in Israel chose to ignore the many signs that Trump is not exactly the settler-supporter they expected. They chose to ignore the many times in which he said – without much basis in reality – that he is going to succeed where his predecessors failed and solve “the conflict.” They chose to ignore the fact that Trump at times echoed the Obama administration in hinting that the lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with Israel’s lack of enthusiasm.

The right had great hopes for Trump, and these hopes are now shattering. Look at what Trump says: “I want Israel to be reasonable with respect to peace. I want to see peace happen. It should happen.” Look at what he says: “The embassy is not an easy decision. It has obviously been out there for many, many years, and nobody has wanted to make that decision. I’m thinking about it very seriously, and we will see what happens.” Look at what he says: “every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left. But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”

For a brief moment, Trump was the coming Messiah of Israel’s right. For a brief moment, he was the face of a new era. That moment has passed. On inauguration day I wrote here that “the hasty talk about a ‘new era’ in which Israel is going to enjoy more leeway and more understanding for its policies from now on is premature and overstated.” Almost a month later, it is time for reality to sink in.

  1. More False Hopes

The mistake that was made by Israel’s right – reading into Trump something that wasn’t there, expecting too much of Trump, misinterpreting the signs – already looks like it will be repeated by Israel’s left. The Israeli Right Voted for Trump but Got Obama, concluded Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent following the Trump interview. Other voices on Israel’s left are beginning to entertain the thought that maybe Trump, with all his bravado, and aggressiveness, and large ego – maybe he will be the American Messiah the left has been waiting for. Maybe he will be the one to finally pressure Israel into making the deal that slipped through the fingers of all previous false Messiahs.

The chances for such an occurrence is small. Not because Trump doesn’t want peace for Israel and the Palestinians – he does. Not because Trump isn’t tempted by the prospect of getting a Noble peace prize – the most unlikely such prize – he is. Not because his ego isn’t large enough to imagine himself succeeding where all others have failed – his ego is in good shape. The chances for such an occurrence is small because not even Trump has control over things bigger than himself. The many people now pleased with the difficulties he is having in implementing a domestic immigration agenda should know better than to assume that he will have no difficulties in implementing a much more complicated foreign peace agenda.

So yes, Trump could pressure Israel into saying yes to his proposals, but he will also have to pressure the Palestinians for the same yes. And I don’t think he will get it. Or he might get it from leaders who do not truly mean it. That is, because it’s not that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has not yet come not because of a lack of commitment on the part of the US. It has not come because the parties do not want it. They do not agree to the terms under which peace might be possible.

So here is the mirror-image prediction that needs to be made: “the hasty talk about a ‘new era’ in which Israel and the Palestinians are going to move towards peace is premature and overstated.” In other words: Trump, for better or worse, is the president of the United States. He is not the Messiah of Israel.

President Donald Trump speaking with executives and union representatives from the Harley Davidson company at the White House, Feb. 2, 2017. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Trump says settlements not good for peace, but won’t condemn Israel


President Donald Trump said the expansion of Israeli settlements does not help peacemaking efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, but added he did not wish to condemn the Jewish state.

Trump spoke about the peace process during an interview with Israel Hayom, an Israeli daily owned by Sheldon Adelson, a Republican donor and close associate of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli daily published an excerpt Friday and promised to publish the interview in full on Sunday. Adelson and his wife dined with Trump at the White House Thursday.

Asked about Israeli settlements, Trump said they “don’t help the process. I can say that. There is so much land left. And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.”

But when asked whether he would condemn Israel for its settlements activities, he said: “No, I don’t want to condemn Israel. Israel has had a long history of condemnation and difficulty. And I don’t want to be condemning Israel. I understand Israel very well, and I respect Israel a lot, and they have been through a lot.”

In addition to the settlement issue, Trump also addressed the Iran nuclear deal.

“The deal with Iran was a disaster for Israel. Inconceivable that it was made. It was poorly negotiated and executed,” Trump said.

The 2015 agreement reached between Iran and the United States under former President Barack Obama and five other world powers offers Iran sanctions relief in exchange for a partial scaling back of some of its nuclear activities. Israel has opposed the deal, claiming it paved the Islamic Republic’s path to obtaining nuclear weapons. Obama defended it as the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining those capabilities.

Instead of Iran “being thankful” to Obama “for making such a deal, which was so much to their advantage, they felt emboldened even before he left office,” Trump said. “It is too bad a deal like that was made.”

Last week the Trump administration imposed sanctions on 25 individuals and entities from Iran two days after the administration had put Iran “on notice,” as a White House spokesman phrased it, following a ballistic missile test.

Speaking about Netanyahu, Trump said they “have good chemistry” and the prime minister “is a good man.”

“He wants to do the right thing for Israel. He would like peace; I believe that he wants peace and wants to have it badly. I have always liked him,” Trump said.

Asked about his plans on whether to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, Trump said Israel should act “reasonably” in the peace process and expressed hopes for a breakthrough. He added that both sides should act reasonably.

Asked again about the embassy specifically, he said he was studying the subject and added it is not an easy decision and has been discussed for many years. Trump also said no one wanted to carry out the decision and that he is thinking about it very seriously.

“I am thinking about the embassy, I am studying the embassy, and we will see what happens,” he said.

During the campaign, Trump said he favored moving the embassy, which Congress said in 1995 should be moved, but which has been kept in place by presidential decrees.

Asked whether he believes the Palestinians need to make concessions, Trump replied in the affirmative.

Cartoon: Trump Hotel West Bank


cartoon-tt-settlement

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knesset passes historic bill to legalize settlements on Palestinian land


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up to members of the news media before boarding Marine One and departing the White House Feb. 3 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Is Trump reversing course on settlements and Iran?


Israeli settlements are no big problem. Wait — maybe they are, after all.

The Iran deal is trash. No, the deal is here to stay, despite being “weak.”

On Thursday, the White House pronounced on Israel’s announced settlement expansion that it “may not help” peace, and it put Iran “on notice” for testing ballistic missiles and announced new sanctions while the president fought with the regime on Twitter.

Was the settlements announcement a back-to-Obama moment, auguring renewed U.S.-Israel tensions? Was it a return to Bush — W, that is — setting the stage for a compromise and anticipating resolution of an issue that has dogged U.S.-Israel relations for decades?

Is the Iran nuclear deal, reviled by the Netanyahu government, on its last legs? Or is it getting a new lease on life?

Let’s have a look at what President Donald Trump said and what was actually done.

Settlements

What’s new:

The Trump administration for the first time since his election pronounced on settlements.

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” the White House said in a statement.

Back to Obama?

No, not even close.

The Obama administration repeatedly and pronouncedly said settlements were an impediment to peace, and into its final days, it allowed a U.N. Security Council resolution to pass that condemned the settlements.

“It is not this resolution that is isolating Israel, it is the pernicious policy of settlement construction that is making peace impossible,” former Secretary of State John Kerry said in December in one of his final speeches in the job.

Back to Bush?

Closer, but not quite.

Focusing on “the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders” sounds a lot like the policy President George W. Bush is said to have endorsed after he sent then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a letter in 2004, saying the United States recognized that some settlements constituted “realities on the ground.”

Israeli and U.S. officials at the time said Bush quietly agreed that this formulation would allow for “natural growth” in existing settlements. (What’s at dispute is whether Bush adhered to this formula throughout the rest of his presidency. Some officials have said he believed that Sharon took too many liberties with what constituted “natural growth” and that by the time Bush left office in 2009, the agreement to abide “natural growth” was not active.)

The departure from the policies of George W. Bush – considered, with Bill Clinton, the friendliest president to Israel – and their predecessors is in the use of “impediment.” Bush used the word in 2008, at least to describe settlements built beyond existing settlement boundaries.

Sean Spicer, Trump’s spokesman, appeared to say Friday during a briefing that what’s built — established settlement, recent outpost, the whole shebang — can stay in place. The key word is “current.”

“We don’t believe that the existence of current settlements is an impediment to peace, but we don’t believe the construction or expansion of settlements beyond current borders is helpful,” he said.

Another major departure from the policies of both Clinton and George W. Bush is the absence of any mention of a two-state solution. Trump has said he wants to broker a deal, and has tapped his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as his point man. But as of Friday, Spicer would not be pinned down on two states.

“At the end of the day the goal is peace, and that’s going to be a subject that they discuss, and that’s all I’m going to say,” he said in response to a reporter’s question, referring to the White House meeting scheduled for Feb. 15 between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This might not be the final word. There was a jarring sentence at the end of Thursday’s White House statement.

“The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity,” it said, rounding out a statement that of itself was an official position on settlement activity. Translation: Wait until Netanyahu and Trump pow-wow and we may know more.

Iran

What’s new:

On Sunday, Iran tested ballistic missiles. On Wednesday, National Security Adviser Mike Flynn said Iran was “on notice.” The next two days, Trump followed up with tough-talking tweets. The Iranians dished back, also on Twitter.

Back to Obama?

More or less, without the rhetoric.

The last time Iran tested a ballistic missile, in January 2016, Obama slapped sanctions on 11 entities and individuals. On Friday, Trump more than doubled that to 25.

The effect is the same: An acknowledgment that the missile tests do not directly violate the Iran nuclear deal, but a reminder nonetheless that because they do violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, they will trigger penalties.

Spicer acknowledged Friday that the sanctions were an Obama redux, noting that their architect in the last administration, Adam Szubin, who ran the sanctions regime for Obama, is acting Treasury secretary.

The sanctions were “in the pipeline,” Spicer said, and Szubin had lined them up well before Trump was inaugurated in anticipation that Iran would launch a provocation of some kind.

“He served in the last administration,” Spicer said of Szubin, “and these kind of sanctions don’t happen quickly.”

That said, there was a ratcheting up of rhetoric. Szubin, as an Obama official a year ago, was specific in describing the penalties.

“We have consistently made clear that the United States will vigorously press sanctions against Iranian activities outside of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — including those related to Iran’s support for terrorism, regional destabilization, human rights abuses and ballistic missile program,” he said at the time.

Flynn, by contrast, was more vague – and, as a result, at least seemed more threatening.

“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” he said Wednesday.

Announcing the sanctions Friday, Flynn again sounded a warning but did not make clear any precise actions.

“The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests,” he said. “The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.”

Trump sounded a similarly belligerent if unspecific tone on Twitter on Thursday and Friday, and like Flynn took swipes at the Obama administration for being too soft on the Iranians.

“Iran is playing with fire,” Trump said in his tweet Friday. “They don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!”

“We will never use our weapons against anyone, except in self-defense,” he said in the same forum. “Let us see if any of those who complain can make the same statement.”

Spicer was asked at his briefing whether the tough talk meant Trump was ready to scrap the Iran nuclear deal.

“The deal that was struck was a bad deal, that we gave Iran too much and we got too little for it,” he said. Spicer did not say, however, whether Trump was ready to take that leap.

That’s consistent with the posture of Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, who has agreed the deal is weak but advised that scrapping it would be unwise.

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

A settlement evacuated: A manufactured emotional drama


1.

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

2.

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

3.

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

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

4.

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

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

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

6.

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

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

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

 

 

Obama, in final press conference, discusses UNSC Resolution 2334


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama, in final press conference, discusses UNSC Resolution 2334


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Which brings us to the last couple of weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, why the outrage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Obama’s fatal legacy: Killing the peace process


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would Obama be acting differently at the UN had Hillary won?


In a quick turn of events, Egypt has decided to delay on Thursday a draft United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction.

While there is still a chance that the UN Security Council could vote on a similar resolution within the coming days or weeks, Egypt has reportedly indicated that it would not reintroduce the resolution before President Barack Obama leaves office on January 20, 2017.

Obama had been planning on abstaining, thereby allowing the resolution to pass, according to NBC News. Congressional leaders have intensified the pressure on Obama to veto the Egyptian-led proposal. These stunts at the UN serve only one purpose—to defame and delegitimize the democratic State of Israel,” Speaker Ryan emphasized. Even within Obama’s own party, the President faced resistance. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer emphasized, “Any workable and long-lasting solution to this conflict must come about through direct, bilateral negotiations, and this resolution undermines that effort.”

The Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations also issued a statement welcoming the vote’s postponement and urging the resolution’s withdrawal. Interestingly, J-Street did not issue a public statement on the resolution and kept its focus on the campaign to oppose David Friedman’s nomination of Ambassador to Israel.

Trump’s firm stance against the UN draft may have played a significant role in influencing Cairo to defer the resolution. “Remember you have all of these allies and adversaries out there trying to figure out what is Trump going to do when he actually becomes President,” explained Aaron David Miller, former veteran State Department advisor on the Middle East, to Jewish Insider. “I am not sure (Egyptian President) Sisi wants to put himself in a position as one of the opening acts of the administration to be on the wrong side of Mr. Trump on this issue.”

Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for Research, at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, credited “the deepening strategic ties between Egypt and Israel” in an interview with Jewish Insider. Citing the countries’ joint interests in the fight against Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, “Sisi was probably reluctant to scuttle those ties,” he added.

Since the Obama Administration’s likely intended for the settlement resolution to pass, Miller cited Obama’s personal ideological commitment to the Palestinian cause motivating him to abstain.  “Frustration and real resentment that the Israelis weren’t listening combined with the fact that the administration was running out of time propelled them either to abstain or to vote in favor,” he explained.

The question looming over the debate is whether the Obama administration would have acted differently if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency?

“A lot of Democrats would like for him to veto. The party is in bad shape, not only did they lose the presidential election but they also lost… both houses of Congress,” Elliot Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations told Jewish Insider. “They don’t need things that weaken the party further yet Obama is willing to see that happen. Had Clinton won, he would have had even less reason to be concerned about the condition of the Democratic Party,” Abrams added noting the numerous reports that the White House was willing to abstain on the UN resolution.

Schanzer believed that Clinton would have been unlikely to issue a public condemnation of the UN draft, in contrast to Trump. Rather, the former Secretary of State would have probably told Obama not to proceed with the abstention telling the White House: “You are going to tie my hands as the next president and make my life more difficult because it will appear as if I gave my blessing to this Security Council resolution,” Schanzer said.

Obama would have likely consulted with Clinton before making a decision, emphasized The Wilson Center’s Miller. Although he cautioned that it is difficult to predict, Clinton generally adopted a less hardline approach to settlements than Obama, which could have impacted her policy on this resolution, Miller said.

Lost in all of the media coverage about the role of Trump and Sisi in delaying the resolution was the Obama Administration’s apparent willingness to allow a resolution to pass that said that settlements have “no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation under international law.” (Generally, White House officials call settlements illegitimate). Miller suggested that reporters clarify the Obama Administration current position whether they believe Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem are in fact “illegal.”

With the resolution’s future hanging in the balance, Abrams emphasized that domestic pressure on the White House may be the only remaining factor that could influence the President given the Israelis longstanding opposition. “The only hope I think would be people whose opinions the President may value more, democrats above all tell him that this will hurt the party and hurt his own reputation,” Abrams noted.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TML: How did you first meet Donald Trump?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TML: So what’s his answer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TML: Are you in touch with Palestinians or Arabs?

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

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

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

TML: Will Donald Trump become “45”?

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

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

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

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

TML: Thank you.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dems reject Sanders’ platform proposal on Israel


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Kasich defends Israel’s settlement policy


Republican presidential candidate John Kasich addressed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the U.S.-Israel relationship in great detail on the campaign trail Wednesday afternoon, a rarity in his over 90 campaign appearances in New Hampshire.

During a business forum in Manchester, Kasich sparred with a questioner over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress last March and the administration’s handling of the peace process and its poor relations with the Israeli government. 

Asked about his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how he would push for the implementation of the two-state solution, Kasich started off by saying, “[Secretary of State] John Kerry and [Vice President] Joe Biden are in the administration where the Prime Minister of Israel went to Washington and the President refused to meet with him. That was really constructive (Kasich, most probably, meant to say counterproductive – JK) on part of the administration. That was ridiculous. That was ridiculous, okay.”

But the questioner, a young man from Minnesota, interrupted him by saying that was after Netanyahu disavowed his commitment to the two-state solution in pre-election comments — which is inaccurate since Netanyahu’s speech was two weeks before the elections and Netanyahu made these comments on the eve of Election Day.

“Let me tell you,” Kasich countered, “If the Prime Minister of Israel came to America, I would meet with him as the President of the United States. Okay? I think that was a horrible foreign policy mistake.”

The Republican presidential hopeful also defended the Israeli government’s policy on the peace process. “Israel has given a lot of stuff back. They gave Gaza back. How is that working out? They have everything launching into Israel,” Kasich asserted. “Netanyahu was for a two-state solution. But I don’t know how you get a two-state solution when people are walking into your country and stabbing people. I will say this: recognize the State of Israel, guarantee their permanent security, stop launching Katyusha rockets into Israel, stop sending in people with knives to kill people in Israel — they went from rocks to knives now — and knock it off. And then, I think you can get to a two-state solution.”

In pursuing peace, Kasich proclaimed, “You will never have permanent peace. And people who search for a permanent peace, are searching for something that doesn’t exist. What you want to search for is stability. Every day that you go by without there being major problems there that is a win. And I can tell you, we are not going to bully Israel; it’s their survival. It’s just very serious stuff. It’s like – man, we want to survive.”

According to Kasich, the way to move forward is, “We stay cool, calm, deliberate and firm.”

As it relates to U.S. policy on building in West Bank settlements, Kasich stated, “If you don’t like what Israel is doing with some apartments, then go and tell them – if that’s what you don’t like. But don’t tell them in front of a bunch of cameras. You see, if I want to correct my children, I don’t do it in front of other people. And if I ever get close to that, they make it clear they don’t like it. [The same should apply] with the Israelis: you got a problem, you can tell them but tell them in private.”

“Are there things that maybe they could do better, somehow? Probably. But I am not going to do this stuff in the open. If I have a problem with Netanyahu, I will talk to him privately,” he added.

But Kasich seemed to defend Israel’s settlement activity. “Why are they building more apartments? Because it’s land; it’s security,” he explained. Vowing, “I would never, ever, ever jeopardize the security of that country. Never.”

U.S. Customs renews order labeling Israeli settlement products


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Watch report ramps up pressure on Israeli settlement activity


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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