September 19, 2018

United States to Shut Down PLO’s D.C. Office

REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that they would be shutting down the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s office in Washington, D.C., the latest in a series of steps taken by the administration to crack down on the Palestinian Authority.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said they were making this move because “ the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

“To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise,” Nauert said. “As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded the move in a statement.

“Israel supports these actions that are meant to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusing to negotiate and attacking Israel in international forums will not bring about peace,” Netanyahu said.

According to the Times of Israel, Abbas is furious with the decision and will say “some very undiplomatic things” against Trump at the United Nations General Assembly.

Palestinian Authority officials told Israel’s Channel 10 that Trump is “an enemy of the Palestinian people and an enemy of peace.”

“The American president is encouraging terror and extremism with his policies that could lead to violence in the region, which will explode in the faces of Israel and the US,” the officials said.

According to Jewish Virtual Library, the PLO was initially formed in 1964 with the stated goal of the destruction of Israel and Zionism through violent means. The group has committed numerous acts of terror, including the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985. The terrorists murdered a Jewish man, Leon Klinghoffer, who was confined to a wheelchair during the hijacking.

Even though the PLO renounced terrorism in 1993, former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat incited intifadas against Israelis, as has Abbas, Arafat’s successor.

State Department Announces More Than $200 Million in Cuts to Palestinians

REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

The State Department announced on August 24 that there are going to be more than $200 million in cuts from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The announcement states that the department reviewed the aid they are giving to Palestinians at the behest of President Trump and concluded that the millions of dollars will instead go to “high-priority projects elsewhere.”

“This decision takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation,” the statement reads.

The Trump administration had initially planned to provide $251 million in funding to the Palestinians in 2018. According to the Washington Free Beacon, the decision to make the cuts came from the administration’s desire to “no longer enable the Palestinian Authority and those in the Hamas terrorist government to use aid dollars in their war against Israel.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s executive committee, called the cuts “cheap political blackmail.”

“There is no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation,” Ashrawi said. “The U.S. administration has already demonstrated meanness of spirit in its collusion with the Israeli occupation and its theft of land and resources; now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “The PLO was responsible for scores of acts of terrorism from its creation, resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians.”

State Department Spokesperson Condemns U.N. for Letting Syria Chair Disarmament Forum

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert condemned the United Nations’ (U.N.) decision to allow Syria to chair the organization’s disarmament forum in May.

In response to U.N. Watch’s question on the matter, Nauert called the U.N. decision an “outrage.”

“That would be an outrage if Syria were to take control of that,” Nauert said. “We have seen these types of things happen at the United Nations before, where suspicious countries, countries that run against everything that an individual committee should stand for, will then head up that committee.”

Nauert added that she didn’t know what United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is going to do in response to this U.N. decision.

Hillel Neuer, the president of U.N. Watch, called out European countries for not speaking out against the U.N. on this matter.

“If UK, France, Germany & others stay silent as Syria assumes presidency of UN’s Conference on Disarmament—the body which produced the treaty against chemical weapons—this will make a mockery of everything they said this week,” Neuer tweeted.

U.N. Watch first reported that Syria would chair the disarmament forum on April 9, a move that Neuer called the equivalent of “putting a serial rapist in charge of a women’s shelter.”

“The Assad regime’s documented use of chemical weapons remains the most serious violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention in the treaty’s twenty-year history,” Neuer said. “We urge the UN to understand that at a time when Syria is gassing its own men, women, and children to death, to see Syria heading the world body that is supposed to protect these victims will simply shock the conscience of humanity.”

The U.N. Watch article noted that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres will likely claim that Syria chairing the forum is due to “an automatic rotation, and that the matter can only be addressed by member states.” But Neuer noted that the U.N. has spoken out against such committee decisions and that’s what they should do here; however he speculated that the U.N. will likely just allow itself to be “exploited” by Syria into allowing them to keep their position as chair of the forum.

“Syria’s use of deadly chemical weapons and its illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons, in breach of its disarmament obligations, run counter to the objectives and fundamental principles of the Conference on Disarmament itself,” Neuer said. “Syria’s chairmanship will only undermine the integrity of both the disarmament framework and of the United Nations, and no country should support that.”

The news about Syria chairing the disarmament just after Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad reportedly used chemical weapons against his own people in the town of Douma, resulting in at least 40 people dead and hundreds of others wounded. Assad’s chemical weapons attack is the latest of a long line of butchery committed by Assad against his own people.

Report: State Department Succeeds In Killing BDS Bill

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gestures during a news conference in Lima, Peru, February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

The State Department was successful in its effort to kill a bill in the Irish parliament that would have criminalized trade with Israelis, according to a report from the Washington Free Beacon.

Under the proposed law, Irish citizens would have faced a $310,000 fine and a maximum sentence of five years in prison if they bought a souvenir from Israelis in settlement areas, including Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall, meaning that even Irish citizens who toured those areas could be penalized if the bill became law.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office slammed the proposal in a statement that read, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly condemns the Irish legislative initiative, the entire goal of which is to support the BDS movement and harm the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu also scheduled a meeting with Ireland’s ambassador to the Jewish state; shortly after his announcement the Irish Parliament agreed to table the bill until July.

However, a “senior official at a major pro-Israel organization” told the Free Beacon the “law was a done deal” until State Department officials persuaded Irish lawmakers to nix the law.

“The State Department found out what was happening, and they scrambled to alert the Irish to the nature and risks of their own law, and Irish lawmakers came to their senses,” the official said. “Crisis averted, at least for now.”

Orden Kittrie, Arizona State University law professor and Foundation for Defense Democracies senior fellow, wrote an op-ed in The Hill explaining that the proposed law would have violated the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, an international law that states that countries can’t boycott companies simply because they’re located in “areas of conflict.” Kittrie also notes that the law would have violated European Union (EU) policy stating that countries who are part of the EU cannot “adopt unilateral restrictions on imports into the EU.”

Additionally, U.S. federal law prevents businesses from engaging in “foreign boycotts” and a myriad of state laws specifically outlaw businesses from boycotting Israel, which would have put 700 U.S. businesses in Ireland in a complicated position.

“The Irish bill would be a reckless stomp that could squash Palestinian incentives to compromise with Israel, run afoul of U.S. federal and state laws, break EU and international law, and trample Ireland’s vital economic links to the United States,” wrote Kittrie.

According to NGO Monitor, the author of the bill, independent Senator Frances Black, had “previously signed a letter calling for a boycott of all Israeli products” and the bill was supported by various pro-BDS Irish NGOs.

For the time being, it appears that Black’s bill won’t be going anywhere.

“Our strong opposition to boycotts and sanctions of the State of Israel is well known,” a State Department official told the Free Beacon. “We look to other countries to join us in bringing an end to anti-Israel bias.”

11 lawmakers warn against demolition of Palestinian villages

A general view shows a Palestinian flag and tents in Susiya village, south of the West Bank city of Hebron July 20, 2015. Sitting under a fig tree to escape the searing sun, Jihad Nuwaja looks out on the only land he knows - the dry expanse of the Hebron hills in the southern West Bank. Within days, his home is set to be demolished and he, his wife and 10 children expelled. Nuwaja's family is one of handful living in tents and prefabricated structures at Susiya, a Palestinian village spread across several rocky hillsides between a Jewish settlement to the south and a Jewish archaeological site to the north - land Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) authored a letter signed by 11 House Democrats urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to pressure the Israeli government and prevent the demolition of Palestinian villages Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar. “We ask you that you work with your counterparts in the Israeli government to prevent the demolition of these villages, the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes, and the expropriation of their lands,” the lawmakers said.

Located in the West Bank, the village of Susiya has attracted significant international attention. The Israeli government says that the homes in Susiya were built illegally, and the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Defense Ministry has the right to demolish the structures.

Last week when asked the State Department’s view on the demolition orders for Susiya, a State Department official explained, “We are not going to comment on an Israeli Supreme Court decision.”

In a letter obtained by Jewish Insider, Charles Faulkner of the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs explained, “We are closely following developments in Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar… Consulate General officials continue to visit Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar to monitor the situation.” Faulkner added President Donald Trump is committed to achieving peace and “urged both sides to refrain from taking action which could undermine that goal.”

The Trump administration’s more muted response stands in contrast to the Obama administration. Past State Department spokesman John Kirby publicly called on Israel to “refrain” from carrying out the demolitions in 2015, which the Obama administration official labeled as “harmful and provocative.”

“It is yet another example of the double standard that anti-Israel politicians apply to the nation state of the Jewish people,” asserted Alan Dershowitz, former law professor at Harvard University. “When is the last time these members of Congress complained about a domestic issue involving another foreign ally? How would Congressmen feel if Israeli members of Knesset started writing letters complaining about how America is dealing with some of its issues?”

The letter was also signed by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Deputy Director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Mark Pocan (D-WI), James McGovern (D-MA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Betty Mccollum (D-MN), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

In September, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sponsored an event on Capitol Hill to highlight the condition of Susiya.

This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

Former top national security officials urge Trump to stick to Iran nuclear deal

US President Donald Trump (L) and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner take part in a bilateral meeting with Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (not seen) in Villa Taverna, the US ambassador's residence, in Rome on May 24, 2017. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

A bipartisan group of former top national security officials urged President Donald Trump to stick to the Iran nuclear deal, saying that war with Iran is “more imaginable” today than it has been in five years.

The statement, published Tuesday on the website of the The National Interest magazine, was responding to reports that Trump may refuse to certify Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. The next assessment period is in October. The statement is signed by nearly 50 former senior U.S. government officials and prominent national security leaders.

“The international agreement with Iran continues to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” the statement says. “No American national security objective would be served by withdrawing from it as long as Iran is meeting the agreement’s requirements.

“To the contrary,” the letter continues, “given continuing assurance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), such a unilateral act would have grave long term political and security consequences for the United States.”

The signers recommend a “comprehensive policy toward Iran that furthers U.S. national security interests.” Such a policy would include American leadership in the JCPOA, a follow-up agreement that would extend terms of the deal farther into the future, and an additional consultative body on major disputes.

The letter also suggests establishing a regular senior-level channel of communication between the U.S. and Iran, and  regular consultations among U.S. allies and partners in the region to share information and coordinate strategies.

The signers warn that a U.S. rejection of the JCPOA could push Iran to return to its pre-agreement nuclear enrichment program under far weaker international monitoring.

Trump last month re-certified Iran’s adherence to the 2015 deal brokered by President Barack Obama. But he did so reluctantly, at the urging of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They argued that decertification would alienate U.S. allies because Iran is indeed complying with the deal’s strictures.

However, within days of giving the go-ahead to re-certify, Trump reportedly tasked a separate team, led by his top strategist, Stephen Bannon, to come up with a reason to decertify Iran at the next 90-day assessment in October.

The signers include: Morton Abramowitz, former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research; Robert Einhorn, former assistant secretary for nonproliferation and secretary of state’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control; Morton Halperin, former director of policy planning at the State Department;  Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to both Israel and Egypt; Carl Levin, former U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services; and Barnett Rubin, former senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

ZOA calls on Tillerson to quit over State Department saying Palestinian terrorism stems from ‘lack of hope’

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking about Iran and North Korea at the State Department in Washington, D.C., April 19, 2017. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The Zionist Organization of America called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to resign over the State Department terrorism report which the ZOA called “bigoted, biased, anti-Semitic, Israel-hating (and) error-ridden.”

“This Tillerson State Department Report blames Israel for Palestinian Arab terrorist attacks on innocent Jews and Americans, ignores and whitewashes the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) ‘pay to slay’ payments to Arabs to murder Jews, among other travesties,” said a ZOA statement Monday about the report, published last week.

In the report, the State Department listed as “continued drivers of violence” a “lack of hope in achieving Palestinian statehood, Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, the perception that the Israeli government was changing the status quo on the Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount, and IDF tactics that the Palestinians considered overly aggressive.”

It also said that Palestinian leaders had addressed incitement.

“The PA has taken significant steps during President [Mahmoud] Abbas’ tenure (2005 to date) to ensure that official institutions in the West Bank under its control do not create or disseminate content that incites violence,” it said. “While some PA leaders have made provocative and inflammatory comments, the PA has made progress in reducing official rhetoric that could be considered incitement to violence.”

The ZOA said that the report directly contradicted multiple criticisms of the Palestinian Authority for incitement by President Donald Trump and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

The ZOA statement praised Rep. Pete Roskam, R-Ill., for his letter to the State Department last week seeking changes in the report.

“I strongly you encourage to modify this report to accurately characterize and hold accountable the root causes of Palestinian violence — PA leadership,” Roskam said.

Trump’s State Dept. budget gives the Palestinians a slight increase amid major cuts elsewhere

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meeting with Jason Greenblatt, U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy, at the Arab League Summit in Amman, Jordan, on March 28.

Assistance to the Palestinians is one of the few areas that will remain untouched in the Trump administrations plans for massive cuts at the State Department.

Foreign Policy magazine on Monday posted 15 pages of proposed cuts it obtained as part of the Trump administration’s plan to roll the U.S. Agency for International Development into the State Department. The vast majority of aid programs are to be cut and some are to be eliminated.

Aid to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, however, will increase slightly, from $205.5 million to $215 million.

It’s not clear why the Palestinians benefit, but Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s envoy to the region, has made economic stimulus in the Palestinian areas a key component of efforts to create the climate for renewed peace talks.

Republicans in Congress want to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority because it continues to pay out compensation to the families of slain or jailed terrorists. The funds proposed by the State Department, however, could conceivably be earmarked for programs that bypass the Palestinian Authority. Overall, Palestinians receive about $500 million annually from the United States.

Egypt and Jordan both stand to lose economic assistance under the proposed cuts – Egypt’s funds would be slashed almost in half, and Jordan would lose a fifth. The economic aid is separate from the defense assistance to these countries, which is administered by the Pentagon. Both nations receive assistance as part of peace deals signed with Israel and brokered by the United States.

Israel has not received economic assistance since the 1990s, when both sides determined that it was no longer a developing nation.

The Trump administration earlier this year said it wanted to slash State Department funding overall by nearly a third, but did not offer details.

Congress is likely to resist the cuts. Key Republicans in both chambers have said that development aid is a key element of a preventative defense in keeping other countries stable.

Trump reportedly nixes Elliott Abrams for State Department job

Elliott Abrams testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Feb. 9, 2011. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump reportedly decided against nominating Elliott Abrams as deputy secretary of state because of Abrams’ opposition last year to Trump’s nomination.

CNN cited three anonymous Republican sources on Friday as saying Abrams, known for his closeness to the Israeli establishment and the pro-Israel community, was out of the running.

Abrams, a veteran of several Republican administrations in senior State Department and National Security Council positions, reportedly was a favorite for the job because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, formerly the CEO of Exxon, wanted someone with extensive diplomatic experience advising him.

Trump interviewed Abrams on Tuesday and was favorably impressed. According to CNN, also lobbying for Abrams was Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law. Trump wants Kushner, who is serving as a top non-paid aide to the president, to spearhead Israeli-Arab peacemaking.

Abrams is close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is meeting with Trump at the White House next week.

However, it came to Trump’s attention after the interview, CNN reported, that Abrams had criticized Trump during the campaign – although he had never joined the “Never Trump” movement among disaffected Republicans and had not forsworn serving in a Trump administration.

In May Abrams wrote a column in The Weekly Standard that likened Trump to the failed Democratic nominee in 1972, George McGovern. It was titled “When You Can’t Stand Your Candidate.”

As a prominent member of the neoconservative movement, whose followers favor an interventionist foreign policy, Abrams would have been a counter to many in Trump’s circle who favor pulling back from American involvement overseas.

Trump would have made the third Republican administration for which Abrams worked. He was assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, as a result of which he agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding evidence related to the Iran-Contra arms sale scandal, and was deputy assistant to George W. Bush and his deputy national security adviser.

U.S. says payment to Iran used as leverage for prisoners’ release

The State Department said on Thursday it released $400 million in cash to Iran under a tribunal settlement only once it was assured that American prisoners had been freed and had boarded a plane.

“The payment of the $400 million was not done until after the prisoners were released,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

“We took advantage of that to make sure we had the maximum leverage possible to get our people out and get them out safely,” Kirby added.

It was the first time the administration has said publicly that it used the payment as leverage to ensure the prisoners were released by Iran.

Three of the five prisoners, including Jason Rezaian, the Washington Posts's Tehran bureau chief; Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Idaho and Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine from Flint, Michigan, as well as some family members, were part of a prisoner exchange that followed the lifting of most international sanctions against Iran following a nuclear deal in 2015.

One more prisoner, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, chose to remain in Iran, while a fifth prisoner, American student Matthew Trevithick, was released separately.

Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have denied that the payment was ransom for the release of the prisoners or tied to the Iran nuclear deal.

The White House announced on Jan. 17 it was releasing $400 million in funds frozen since 1981, plus $1.3 billion in interest owed to Iran, as part of a settlement of a long-standing Iranian claim at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.

The funds were part of a trust fund Iran used before its 1979 Islamic Revolution to buy U.S. military equipment that was tied up for decades in litigation at the tribunal.

The payment was made by the United States in cash due to international sanctions against Iran.

The administration has maintained that negotiations over the funds and the prisoners were conducted on separate tracks and were in no way linked.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has asked Kerry to appear at a future committee hearing to discuss the payment.

Kerry reaffirms U.S. commitment to Israel security in call with Netanyahu

Secretary of State John Kerry discussed Iran with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a weekend telephone call and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel's security, the State Department said on Tuesday.

“The secretary and the prime minister reiterated the need to continue pushing back on Iran's destabilizing activities in the region, and he agreed to continue to have these discussions in the coming weeks,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a news briefing.

“The secretary reaffirmed the United States' commitment to Israel's security and continued military and security relationship,” he said.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama secured 41 votes in the U.S. Senate for the international nuclear deal with Iran, just enough to block a final vote on a measure of disapproval. Netanyahu has been a fierce critic of the agreement.

Kirby said Kerry and Netanyahu discussed a range of issues, including their concerns over media reports of potential Russian military buildup in Syria, Moscow's longtime ally.

Withhold U.S. aid over Palestinian teens’ deaths, U.S. lawmaker suggests

A Minnesota congresswoman called on State Department officials to investigate whether the killing of two Palestinian teenagers by Israeli soldiers requires the withholding of U.S. military aid.

Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat, in a letter made public Monday sought the probe over whether the May 2014 deaths of Nadeem Nawara and Mohammad Daher constituted violations of the Leahy Law, which bars the State and Defense departments from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity.

If so, she wrote, the “38th Company of the Israeli Border Police should be ineligible to receive future U.S. military aid and training and all border police involved in this incident should be denied U.S. visas as stipulated by the law.”

The teens were killed hours apart in the same location during a demonstration in the West Bank town of Beitunia for the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, marking Israel’s successful bid for statehood.

In December, an Israel Border Police officer was indicted on manslaughter charges for the killing of Nawara.

McCollum asked that a State Department official be present at the trial of the officer “to ensure appropriate standards of justice are achieved.”

McCollum said her letter, which was dated Aug. 18, was sparked by a visit to her office by Naddem Nawara’s father, Siam, who asked for her assistance in finding justice for the death of his son.

“The murders of Nadeem Nawara and Mohammad Daher only highlight a brutal system of occupation that devalues and dehumanizes Palestinian children,” McCollum wrote. “It is time for a strong and unequivocal statement of U.S. commitment to the human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation.”

Hillary Clinton used private e-mail for government business at State Dept.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have violated federal records laws by using a personal email account for all of her work messages, the New York Times reported on Monday.

The newspaper said the likely Democratic presidential candidate conducted all her official business during her four-year tenure at the State Department on a private email account.

It added that Clinton, who stepped down as secretary of state in 2013, recently handed over 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department in response to a department effort to comply with record-keeping practices.

Federal law says letters and emails written and received by federal officials are government records that must be retained, according to the paper. Regulations at the time Clinton served as secretary of state called for emails on personal accounts to be preserved as well, the paper said.

The Times said most experts believed private email accounts should only be used for official government business in emergencies, according to the Times.

A spokesman for Clinton told the Times that Clinton was complying with the “letter and spirit of the rules” and had expected her emails would be retained. He declined to detail why she chose to conduct business from her personal account, the Times said.

Responding to the report, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the department last year asked former secretaries of state through their representatives to submit any records in their possession to improve record-keeping and management.

“In response to our request, Secretary Clinton provided the department with emails spanning her time at the department,” Harf said in a statement.

Clinton's spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

Clinton is widely considered the front-runner for next year's Democratic presidential nomination if she decides to enter the race.

Her inner circle is currently discussing accelerating the formation of a campaign organization to April or May instead of waiting until the summer.

With no definite opponents to the democratic presidential nomination, Clinton has felt no rush to jump into the race, but having a campaign team in place would allow her to respond forcefully to various accusations fired her way.

It would also allow her to raise the millions of dollars needed for a campaign.

U.S. says Palestinian-American killed by Israeli forces

Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian-American youth during clashes on Friday, the U.S. State Department said, calling for a quick and transparent investigation.

Orwah Hammad, 14, was shot in the head in the village of Silwad, north of the Palestinian seat of government in Ramallah.

An Israeli army spokesman told Reuters Israeli forces “managed to prevent an attack when they encountered a Palestinian man hurling a molotov cocktail at them on the main road next to Silwad. They opened fire and they confirmed a hit.”

The military said it would investigate the shooting, which occurred amid other clashes in Arab areas in and around Jerusalem in which several people were lightly injured.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called for a “speedy and transparent investigation.”

“The United States expresses its deepest condolences to the family of a U.S. citizen minor who was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces during clashes in Silwad on October 24,” Psaki said.

She added that U.S. officials would remain “closely engaged with the local authorities, who have the lead on this investigation.”

Tensions have flared as the Jewish Sukkot holiday has brought increased visits by Jews accompanied by Israeli police to the Jerusalem holy site known to them as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary, with its al-Aqsa mosque complex.

Palestinians fear the visits, along with the moving-in of dozens of Israeli settlers to homes in a crowded Arab district in the shadow of the holy compound, aim to deepen Israel's claim to the city as its eternal and indivisible capital.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally, for the capital of a future state.

On Wednesday, a Jewish baby girl was killed and eight people were hurt when a Palestinian man slammed his car into pedestrians at a Jerusalem light railway stop on Wednesday, in what police described as a deliberate attack. The driver was shot dead.

Her death followed the running-over and killing of Palestinian girl Enas Shawkat, 5, by an Israeli motorist driving in the West Bank in a village just north of Silwad. Her death enraged Palestinians but Israeli investigators determined it was an accident and the driver was not arrested.

Palestinians want to establish statehood in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but has since expanded settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Mutual acrimony has risen since the July-August war between Israel and Hamas militants that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians – mostly civilians – and over 70 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers.

U.S.-mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in April.

Reporting By Ali Sawafta; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Tom Brown

State Dept. designates Gaza-based council a terrorist group

The U.S. State Department designated a Gaza-based jihadist umbrella group as a terrorist organization.

The designation for the Mujahidin Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, which has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Israel since the group’s founding in 2012, means that American individuals and organizations are barred from any transactions with the council and that any assets it holds in the United States will be frozen.

The council was designated a “foreign terrorist organization” and a “specially designated global terrorist” entity, according to a State Department statement.

The designation was made in conjunction with the departments of Justice and the Treasury.

The council claimed responsibility for an August 2013 rocket attack on Eilat and an April 2013 attack on the city. It also claimed responsibility for a Gaza-Israel cross-border bomb attack in June 2012 that targeted an Israeli construction site, killing one civilian.

In February, the council released a statement declaring support for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, according to the State Department.

Cruz lifts hold on State nominees prompted by FAA ban

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) lifted his hold on State Department nominees after the Federal Aviation Agency explained to him its reasons for a 36-hour ban on flights to Tel Aviv.

“I appreciate the FAA’s efforts to respond to my questions, and so I have lifted my hold on State Department nominees,” Cruz, a likely 2016 candidate for his party’s presidential nomination said Monday in a statement.

“The hold was designed to force answers to important questions about why the Obama Administration had banned flights to Israel,” he said.

The FAA had said the July 22-23 ban was triggered when a rocket landed about a mile away from Ben Gurion International airport.

Israel complained about the ban, saying it was unwarranted and that there were adequate protections against the rockets fired on Israel from the Gaza Strip during its ongoing war with Hamas.

Cruz had asked the FAA if there was undue political pressure on the regulatory agency to ban the flights as a means of forcing Israel to agree to an imposed cease-fire.

He did not say how the FAA answered his questions, but suggested he still believed the ban was the result of political pressure.

“I remain concerned that the Administration was so willing to impose grave economic harm on our friend and ally Israel in order to try to pressure them into acceding to Secretary Kerry’s foreign policy demands,” Cruz said, referring to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

President Obama and Kerry’s spokeswoman have dismissed the allegations out of hand, saying the ban was driven purely by security considerations.

State Dept. Israel report focuses on Bedouin

A focus of this year’s U.S. State Department human rights report on Israel was Bedouin rights.

The report issued Thursday noted the Bedouin in its introduction, which it did not previously, and examined at length the demolition of Bedouin dwellings in 2013, a result of Israel’s relocation policies.

“While Arab communities in the country generally faced economic difficulties, the Bedouin segment of the Arab population continued to be the most disadvantaged,” the report said.

The report noted that the government demolished 413 buildings in Bedouin villages in the Negev and that another 449 homes were demolished by Bedouin seeking to avoid demolition costs levied by the government.

“Many Bedouins complained that moving to government-planned towns would require them to give up claims to land they had occupied for several generations and would separate them from their livelihood, while the government claimed it was difficult and inefficient to provide services to clusters of buildings throughout the Negev that ignored planning procedures,” the report said.

The report, as in previous years, ranked the “most significant” human rights issues facing Israel as: terrorist attacks against civilians; institutional and societal discrimination against Arabs; discrimination against women; and the treatment of asylum seekers.

The report noted an overall decline in terrorist attacks against Israelis said that Israel met international standards in areas such as prisons, arrest and detention and also that it maintained an independent judiciary and a free press.

It noted that “price tag” attacks by Jewish extremists against Arabs expanded beyond the West Bank into within Israel proper.

In its report on Palestinian-controlled areas, the State Department included reports of unlawful security service killings and torture and said detention conditions were “extremely bad.”

It also noted the discrepancy within Israel between prisons for Israelis and for West Bank Palestinians.

“IDF detention centers for security detainees were less likely than Israeli civilian prisons to meet international standards,” it said, and included reports of crowding and in some cases “extreme violence” against detainees.

The report included a section on anti-Semitism in Palestinian-controlled areas, citing expressions of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial by officials and outlets of both the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip.

Elsewhere in the annual human rights report, the State Department reported a decline in anti-Semitism in Ukraine in 2013, a period before the eruption of unrest in recent weeks.

In the introduction to its report on France, the State Department said, “The most significant human rights problems during the year included an increasing number of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents.”

U.S.: Agreement in areas in Iran talks

Areas of agreement have emerged between Iran and the major powers in nuclear talks, a top administration official said, and the United States will keep Israel in the loop.

The official, speaking Thursday to reporters in Vienna after the latest round of talks, said the negotiations were “workmanlike.”

“We have begun to see some areas of agreement as well as areas in which we will have to work through very difficult issues,” said the official, who would not specify where the sides had achieved agreement and who was not named in the transcript distributed by the U.S. State Department.

The official said Israel and other allies would be updated on the talks’ progress ahead of the next round of talks to take place again in Vienna on March 17.

“Parts of a group of our delegation will be leaving here and traveling to Israel and then on to Saudi Arabia for both bilateral and GCC consultations,” said the official, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council, a grouping of Arab Gulf states.

“This is part of the consultations that we do with partners and allies around the world,” the official said. “We will also be making phone calls to a variety of other partners around the world, which we do on a regular basis before and after each of these negotiations.”

Israel and Saudi Arabia have been skeptical of the interim agreement that is facilitating the talks, saying that it relieves too much sanctions pressure on Iran in exchange for too little in the way of nuclear rollback.

The talks are aimed at keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Separately, the State Department said in a statement Thursday that Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary who led the American side in the talks, is headed to Jerusalem and other capitals from Jan. 21-25 to brief leaders on the talks.

State Department declined to sponsor canceled Israel UNESCO exhibit

Does the State Department believe that accounts of ancient Jewish ties to the land of Israel are too sensitive to endorse — or not?

We wrote today that UNESCO cancelled a Simon Wiesenthal Center-organized exhibit at the last minute because of pressure from Arab states. The exhibit, planned for the U.N. cultural organization’s Paris headquarters, was titled “The People, the Book, the Land — 3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.”

The Arab states said the exhibit would undermine the peace process, and UNESCO agreed with them. “We have a responsibility in ensuring that current efforts in this regard are not endangered,” UNESCO’s director general, Irina Bokova, wrote in a letter to the Wiesenthal Center.

A source told me that the U.S. State Department was outraged at the cancellation, and so I put in a call. This is what I was told:

The United States is deeply disappointed and has engaged with senior levels at UNESCO to confirm that the action to postpone does not represent a cancellation and to underscore our interest in seeing the exhibit proceed as soon as possible. UNESCO was designed to foster just this kind of discussion and interaction between civil society and member states and the United States firmly supports the right of civil society in member states such as the Wiesenthal Center to be heard and to contribute to UNESCO’s mission. We trust that UNESCO will approach this issue fairly and in a manner consistent with the organization’s guidelines and past precedent.

Then another source told me that the State Department last week itself declined to co-sponsor the exhibit — at least in part for the same reason that Bokova cited, the peace process. This is from a Jan. 9 letter from Kelly Siekman, the State Department’s director of UNESCO affairs, to the Wiesenthal Center:

At this sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process, and after thoughtful consideration with review at the highest levels, we have made the decision that the United States will not be able to co-sponsor the current exhibit during its display at UNESCO headquarters. As a rule, the United States does not co-sponsor exhibits at UNESCO without oversight of content development from conception to final production.

I spoke to Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s dean and founder, and he’s pleased at the more recent State Department statement but still a little baffled. The decision by the U.S. not to co-sponsor with Canada and Montenegro was a “major mistake,” he said, and gave cover to the pretext that the exhibition would unsettle the peace process.

“What the State Department needs to say is something along the lines of ‘We have vetted the exhibit, and the State Department finds that that the exhibit in no way interferes Kerry’s mission to carry out talks with leaders of Israel and the Palestinians,’” he said.

One more oddity: In her Jan. 9 letter declining the offer to sponsor the exhibit, Siekman adds: “We would like to offer to co-sponsor any exhibit opening ceremony or event that you may have planned.”

What is the substantive difference between sponsoring an exhibit and an opening?

I’ve asked State. We’ll keep you posted.

U.S.: Six-month clock on Iran hasn’t started

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the six-month interim agreement with Iran has not yet started.

The next step is “a continuation of technical discussions at a working level so that we can essentially tee up the implementation of the agreement,” she said.

It’s not clear when the agreement will come into force, but in the meantime Psaki said the United States is “respecting the spirit of the agreement in pressing for sanctions not to be put in place” and expects that the same is coming from Iran’s end.

However, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told Iran’s Parliament on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic would continue to build the Arak heavy water plant in contravention of the announced agreement. The previous day, Iran said that the United States had not distributed an accurate account of the agreement.

U.S. State Department denies Israeli-Palestinian peace talks canceled

The U.S. State Department on Monday denied reports that U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians had been canceled following clashes in the West Bank.

“I can assure you that no meetings have been canceled,” State Department spokeswoman Mari Harf told Reuters. “The parties are engaged in serious and sustained negotiations,” she said.

Earlier on Monday, Israel's Haaretz newspaper quoted a senior Palestinian official as saying that the Palestinians had canceled talks with the Israelis after Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinians during an early morning raid to arrest a suspected militant in the West Bank.

Peace talks resumed last month after a three-year stalemate over Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by David Brunnstrom

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to resume Aug. 14, U.S. says

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will resume peace talk in Jerusalem on Aug. 14, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

“Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians will be resuming Aug. 14 in Jerusalem and will be followed by a meeting in Jericho (in the West Bank),” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a briefing.

The sides held their first peace negotiations in nearly three years in Washington on July 30 in U.S.-mediated efforts to end the conflict of more than six decades.

Psaki said U.S. envoys Martin Indyk and Frank Lowenstein will travel to the region to help facilitate the negotiations.

She signaled that no major breakthroughs were likely at the meeting, saying: “Secretary Kerry does not expect to make any announcements in the aftermath of this round of talks.”

The announcement came as Israel said it had given preliminary approval for the construction of more than 800 new homes in Jewish settlements on West Bank land, a move that would complicate peace negotiations.

Psaki said Washington had taken up the issue with the Israelis.

“The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity and opposes any efforts to legitimize settlement outpost,” Psaki said.

“The Secretary has made clear that he believes both the negotiating teams are at the table in good faith and are committed to making progress,” she added.

Kerry has said the sides have given themselves about nine months to try to reach an agreement.

The United States is seeking to broker an agreement on a two-state solution, in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The latest direct talks collapsed in late 2010 over Israel's building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Eric Walsh

U.S. diplomatic posts in Israel reopen, 19 others in Mideast to remain closed

The U.S. diplomatic missions in Israel reopened after a daylong closure due to what was deemed a credible al-Qaida threat.

While the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, and the consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa reopened on Monday, the State Department issued a statement Sunday extending the closure of several diplomatic missions in the Middle East through Aug. 10 “out of an abundance of caution.”

“This is not an indication of a new threat stream, merely an indication of our commitment to exercise caution and take appropriate steps to protect our employees including local employees and visitors to our facilities,” said the statement issued by State Department spokesman Jen Psaki.

Diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa, Tripoli, Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali and Port Louis will remain closed this week, according to the statement.

The State Department on Aug. 3 issued a global travel alert for American citizens. The alert warned of possible terror attacks by al-Qaida operatives and affiliated terror groups from Sunday through the end of August.

Senior Obama administration officials met Saturday to discuss the terror threat. The meeting reportedly was led by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and included Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; Secretary of State John Kerry; Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; and CIA director John  Brennan.

“There is a significant threat stream, and we’re reacting to it,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also reportedly attended the meeting, told ABC on Sunday.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” said the electronic chatter among terror suspects about a possible attack was “very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.”

“This is the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years,” he said.

Peace talks to resume Monday in Washington

Talks between Palestinians and Israelis will resume on Monday evening, the first such formal deliberations in almost three years.

Meetings between top negotiators will take place Monday night and Tuesday in Washington, the U.S. State Department said in a statement. Secretary of State John Kerry has been pressing the sides for a resumption and has visited the region six times since assuming his post in February.

The Israeli side will be represented by Tzipi Livni, the justice minister, and Yitzhak Molcho, the national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, and Mohammed Shtayyeh, who directs the Palestinian Economic Council and who has ministerial status, will represent the Palestinian Authority.

The State Department release said that the talks would at first focus on the procedure for the talks, but added that the basis for negotiations is in place.

“As Secretary Kerry announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, the Israelis and Palestinians had reached agreement on the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations,” it said. It did not elaborate what the basis is.

“The meetings in Washington will mark the beginning of these talks,” it said. “They will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural workplan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months.”

There were conflicting reports in recent days over whether the sides had achieved a basis for the talks, or whether neogitators would convene only to prepare the basis for talks.

Israeli and Palestinian talks have been suspended since October 2010, when the Palestinians walked out over Israel’s refusal to extend a 10-month partial settlement freeze.

A number of reports have said that the talks will be on the basis of the 1967 lines. Such a basis could shake up Netanyahu’s government and lead to the departure of the Jewish Home Party.

A number of leaders in that party and in Netanyahu’s own Likud Party have suggested in recent weeks that a two-state solution, particularly one based on the 1967 lines, is not viable.

U.S. court: Americans born in Jerusalem not from ‘Israel’

A federal court upheld the State Department’s refusal to list “Israel” as the country of birth for Americans born in Jerusalem.

The 42-page decision released Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia delved into constitutional law in finding that Congress, in passing a 2002 law mandating the listing of “Israel” should Americans born in Jerusalem request it, impinged on the executive branch’s foreign policy prerogative.

President Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, have refused to implement the law, saying it violates longstanding policy that does not recognize any nation’s sovereignty in the city and leaves its status to be decided in peace talks.

The request to list Israel “runs headlong into a carefully calibrated and longstanding Executive branch policy of neutrality toward Jerusalem,” the court ruled.

The case was brought on behalf of Menachem Zivotofsky, 11, who was born in Jerusalem in 2002 shortly after the law was passed.

In 2009, an appeals court ruled that the judiciary had no standing in the case, but the Supreme Court forced the court to reconsider last year. Arguments were heard in March.

Lawyers for Zivotofsky said they would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, as they did following the 2009 ruling.

“We hope that before Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky’s bar mitzvah, he will be able to bear a passport that recognizes his birthplace as ‘Israel,’ ” attorneys Nathan and Alyza Lewin said in a statement.

State Department: No announcement of restarted peace talks

A U.S. State Department official said there are no plans to announce a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after the Israeli government denied that it agreed to base new talks on the 1967 lines.

“There are currently no plans for an announcement for the resumption of negotiations,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday in Amman, on the last day of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to the Middle East, his sixth in recent weeks in an effort to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

On Thursday, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied a Reuters report citing an unnamed Israeli official saying that the Israeli government would agree to return to peace talks based on the 1967 lines.

The denial came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in Ramallah on Thursday with senior leaders of his Fatah party and the Palestine Liberation Organization to discuss proposals made during his two meetings this week in Amman with Kerry.

The Arab League on Wednesday endorsed Kerry’s proposals for restarting peace talks.

It had been believed that Kerry would announce during this trip a breakthrough in his efforts to restart the long-stalled peace talks.

State Dept.: Ritual slaughter ‘important’ to Jewish, Muslim observance

The U.S. State Department regards ritual slaughter as an “important aspect” of Jewish and Muslim religious observance, a spokesman said when asked about Poland’s ban of the practice.

The spokesman, responding to a question from JTA, emphasized that the Polish government should be the primary address for queries about the ban upheld in a parliamentary vote on July 12.

However, the spokesman, who spoke Wednesday on background, noted, “In the United States, the law protects ritual slaughter as a form of religious freedom. Ritual slaughter is an important aspect of practice for Jews and Muslims who adhere to kosher and halal dietary laws.”

The vote last week has concerned Polish Jewish leaders, who say the debate was fraught with stereotyping of Jews.

It also has reverberated outside the country because Poland’s kosher slaughter industry was a major supplier to Jewish communities throughout Europe.

Michael Oren synthesized training as historian, role as diplomat

Michael Oren was deep inside the State Department, relaxed and taking on all comers: He had the facts on his side.

It was 2004 and the department was reviewing newly declassified National Security Agency evidence reinforcing Israel’s longstanding claim that its 1967 air attack on the USS Liberty spy ship was a mistake. The attack killed 34 American personnel.

Oren, a preeminent historian of the Six-Day War, was not suffering gladly those at the State Department conference who continued to insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Israel intended to murder the Americans. Both sides, Oren said, were guilty of negligence.

Israel’s accusers sputtered and then erupted into shouts. Oren sat back in his chair, surveyed the room and smiled.

It may have been the last time Oren was completely at ease in the halls of the State Department.

Oren became Israel’s ambassador to Washington in 2009 and has since been in the hot seat at the State Department multiple times, summoned to provide “clarifications” following some controversial Israeli action. It’s a function he has been called upon regularly to perform during his tenure, which he announced last week would wrap up by the fall.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the State of Israel and its government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the United States, President Barack Obama, the Congress, and the American people,” Oren said in a July 5 statement. “Israel and the United States have always enjoyed a special relationship and, throughout these years of challenge, I was privileged to take part in forging even firmer bonds.”

His successor will be Ron Dermer, a top aide to Netanyahu who like Oren is U.S.-born.

Oren’s Washington stint has come during a period fraught with tension between two men he says he admires — Obama and Netanyahu — as well as between the Israeli government and the American Jewish community.

The envoy was at the forefront of efforts to push back against rumors — some of them reportedly planted by Netanyahu’s Jerusalem office — that Obama had snubbed Netanyahu on a number of occasions.

Notably in March 2010, rumors swirled that Obama had snubbed Netanyahu during a visit to the White House. That was just weeks after a near-disastrous trip to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden, on the eve of which Israel infuriated the administration by announcing new building in eastern Jerusalem.

In refuting the snubbing charge, Oren got into the gritty detail of whether Netanyahu had entered through the front or the back (it was the front) and whether Obama’s wife and daughters had snubbed Netanyahu during dinner (they were in New York at a show.)

The rockiest point may have come last year during a presidential campaign in which Netanyahu was widely seen as backing Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney. Top Democrats were furious with Netanyahu for criticizing Obama’s Iran policy in September, just two months before the election.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, cited Oren in hitting back at Republicans for making Israel a partisan issue.

“I’ve heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel,” Schulz said at her party’s convention in Charlotte, N.C., in September.

Oren quickly released a statement clarifying that he had never singled out any party as guilty of making Israel a partisan issue.

“I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel,” Oren said.

When Oren was able to control the agenda, he had three preferred topics: the proto-Zionism that threaded throughout American history, manifest in the writings and sayings of figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson; the deep intensification of security cooperation between Israel and the United States during the Obama-Netanyahu era, a fact often lost in the verbal volleying on the peace process and Iran; and the touting of Israel’s cultural and scientific achievements.

“For a foreign ambassador, to be able to lecture Americans about Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman was incredibly unique and instructive in helping to represent the position of the State of Israel,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Oren, working behind the scenes, also was able to advance one of his own top priorities: addressing the alienation with some Israeli practices among Jewish Americans. He was a leading voice in making clear to Israeli government leaders that the perception of an erosion of women’s rights in Israel was infuriating the Jewish leadership in the United States. This year he helped broker a tentative deal that would expand access for women at the Western Wall.

He also advocated for ties with J Street, the liberal group pushing for more robust American involvement in advancing the peace process. The ties are limited, but nonetheless notable, considering the fierce resistance to any engagement with the group in Netanyahu’s camp.

Oren gamely took the case for liberal Israel into whatever precinct would have him. He delivered a speech a year ago in Philadelphia’s Equality Forum, noting advances in gay rights in Israel in recent decades.

Oren’s office declined an interview, saying he preferred to review his career here closer to his departure date, which has yet to be specified. But the New Jersey-born Oren, 58, in a 2009 interview at the outset of his ambassadorship, told JTA that transitioning from the truth telling of scholarship to the spin of diplomacy was like going from “free verse to writing rhymed haiku.”

In March, however, Oren was able to synthesize the two when he joined his U.S. counterpart in Tel Aviv, Dan Shapiro, in designing Obama’s first visit to Israel as president.

The standard stops — Yad Vashem, the Prime Minister’s Office — would not suffice, Oren and Shapiro decided. This is where Oren the historian fused with Oren the diplomat. The Israeli ambassador proposed a visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls that would emphasize what many had felt was lacking from Obama’s 2009 speech to the Arab world: recognition of Israel’s ancient ties to the land.

The trip was a success. Obama’s culminating address to a Jerusalem hall packed with university students, laced with references to the land’s Jewish heritage as well as appeals for a more accelerated peace process, earned long and thunderous applause.

Off in a corner, Oren and Shapiro fell into a long hug.

Tehran says U.S., not Iran, sponsors terrorism

Iran on Friday rejected a U.S. State Department report that accused Tehran of increasing its support for terrorism overseas to levels not seen for two decades, saying it is the United States that backs terrorists in the Middle East.

“Iran itself has been the victim of state-sponsored terrorism, which has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Iranian people,” said Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission.

“Iran has been actively engaged in counterterrorism activities by all possible means and is a party to many counterterrorism international legal instruments,” he said.

The State Department report on Thursday cited a series of actual and planned attacks in Europe and Asia linked to Hezbollah, Iran's Lebanon-based ally, including a July 2012 bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli citizens and a Bulgarian, and wounded 32 others.

Last July, Iran's U.N. ambassador denied his country's involvement in the Bulgaria bombing, which he accused Israel of carrying out. “We have never, and will not, engage in such a despicable attempt on … innocent people,” Ambassador Mohammed Khazaee said.

“It should be mentioned that the U.S. government has no merit to label other nations of sponsoring terrorism as it has a long … record (of) supporting terrorist groups in our region as well as Israeli state terrorism,” Miryousefi said.

He cited the recent removal from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations of the Mujahadin-e-Khalq, a dissident group that calls for the overthrow of Iran's Shi'ite Muslim clerical leadership and fought alongside the forces of Iraq's late Sunni Muslim dictator Saddam Hussein in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

“The recent delisting of the MEK terrorist group … and also allowing it to publicly lobby in Washington is a clear indication that the U.S. government has double standards in dealing with terrorism and uses designation of others as terrorist only to serve its illegitimate political interests,” he said.

The State Department report's release comes as U.S. and European officials and intelligence agencies say Iran and Hezbollah have stepped up their military backing for the besieged government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Editing by Peter Cooney

U.S. calls on Hezbollah to pull fighters out of Syria

The U.S. State Department called on Lebanon's Hezbollah militia on Wednesday to withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately, saying their involvement on the side of President Bashar al-Assad signaled a dangerous broadening of the war.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the declaration last weekend by the leader of the Lebanese guerrilla movement, Hasran Nasrallah. He confirmed his combatants were in Syria and vowed they would stay in the war “to the end of the road.”

“This is an unacceptable and extremely dangerous escalation. We demand that Hezbollah withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately,” Psaki said at a daily news briefing.

Violence from the Syrian conflict, which began as a peaceful protest movement but descended into civil war, has increasingly spilled over into Lebanon, particularly in the northern city of Tripoli.

[Related: France says 3,000-4,000 Hezbollah are fighting in Syria]

Hezbollah's participation in a battle at the town of Qusair on the Syrian-Lebanese border risks dragging Lebanon into a conflict that has increasingly become overshadowed by Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian violence.

Nasrallah said Saturday that Syria and Lebanon were facing a threat from radical Sunni Islamists, which he argued was a plot devised by the United States and its allies to serve Israel's interests in the region. Hezbollah is a Shi'ite Muslim group.

Psaki also condemned the killing of three Lebanese soldiers at an army checkpoint in the eastern Bekaa Valley on Tuesday. The gunmen fled toward the Syrian border, but it was not clear who carried out the attack.

“We remain deeply concerned about reports of multiple cross-border security incidents in recent days,” she said.

Asked what the United States would do if Hezbollah did not withdraw, Psaki said Washington was pursuing diplomatic solutions but was also “continuing to increase and escalate our aid and support for the (Syrian) opposition.”

She said Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, Beth Jones, would travel to Geneva in the coming week to meet Russian and U.N. diplomats and work on bringing together an international conference on Syria.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly shied from U.S. involvement in the conflict, which has claimed 80,000 lives, although he has kept all options on the table.

Reporting By Susan Cornwell; Editing by Sandra Maler