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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Six-Day war. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Zeevi (R) And Gen. Narkis in the old city of Jerusalem.

The Seventh Day: The Fighting Continues


As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, I’ve been dismayed, though not surprised, by the divisiveness of the dialogue. I was only two when the Six Day War broke out, but I was raised with feeling tremendous pride over the breathtaking victory. I was not from a religious family and we were only reluctantly Jewish identified. Support of Israel was the thin reed on which our Jewish identity hung. That tiny, beleaguered Israel was able to nearly quadruple its size, regain access to its holy sites and do it all in six days against staggering odds was miraculous. Not only that, but a loss would have been unthinkable, undoubtedly bringing another Holocaust — the stated intent of Israel’s Arab neighbors. I firmly believe that in the narrative arc of Jewish history the Six Day War merits pride and jubilation. It was a turning point in the battle for Jewish safety and self-determination in a world that seemed to care not a whit about either.

Many of us can agree on that much. But the week marking the war’s anniversary proved that we can agree on little else. Indeed, what may otherwise have been a communal celebration of victory became, as all things Israel often do, a source of deep division.

It’s not hard to understand why.

As early as the day after the war ended, the fate of the over 650,000 Palestinians already living in the West Bank was unclear. In the fevered glory over the success of the military campaign, not many people were discussing that. Now the number has grown to over 2.5 million Palestinians, and the military occupation continues with no apparent end in sight. To the contrary, the current Israeli government, with the support of the United States, seems to be operating under this vain hope that the issue will simply go away—that the status quo is somehow perpetually sustainable.

There are those on the far right, who are actually seeking to annex significant portions of the West Bank, sounding the death knell for the two-state solution. And even many of those who recognize the untenability of a permanent military occupation, blame the problem solely or primarily on Palestinian intransigence and the historic Palestinian proclivity towards terrorism.

At the same time, no one can dispute that living in a state of apparent perpetual occupation with limited self-determination and limited guarantees of the basic civil liberties that we take for granted is simply not right. It’s not Jewish. It’s not moral. And it is most certainly, not conducive to peace. Therefore, for those of us who want Israel to remain Jewish and democratic and secure, it’s impossible to disregard the challenges that came with the historic victory.

At the same time, for me, the troubling aspect is not that I may disagree with others about what direction Israel should go—that’s healthy. What disturbs me is that the discussion is often binary. Even among liberal American Jews it seems that either you blindly celebrate the success of the Six Day War or you view it solely through the prism of the occupation. And these extreme positions inevitably devolve into name calling. If you point out the human rights disaster that is the occupation, you are anti-Zionist and probably anti-Semitic. If you celebrate the Six Day War, you are anti-Palestinian and a willing conspirator to a human rights disaster. Both positions are incomplete. However, and more to the point, neither position serves the interest of either side.

Jews have always had the ability to hold, in harmony, two conflicting ideas. We see the good and the bad in things. We debate. We yell. We hate. We love. Yet, when it comes to Israel, a nuanced understanding seems to be more of the exception than the rule.

Mostly for serendipitous reasons, rather than Zionistic reasons, my first time in Israel was during my junior year of college over 30 years ago. I then became a proud Zionist and started to learn what it means to be a Jew. Since that time, I have loved that nation, have taken pride in its ability to take in Jewish refugees from around the world, have marveled at its technological, medical and agricultural innovation, and, yes, have been grateful for the strength of its military. At the same time, as a Jew, I can also see, indeed I must see, the tremendously adverse consequences that the 50-year occupation is having on both the occupied and the occupier. So while we can and should celebrate the miracle that was the Six Day War, it is incumbent upon us to also see the tragedy that unfolded as a result and how that jeopardizes the Israel that we so deeply love. Indeed, having those honest, nuanced conversations and searching for solutions is precisely the best way to manifest one’s love and concern for Israel.


Adam F. Wergeles is a Los Angeles technology lawyer and a co-founder of IKAR.

Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. Photo courtesy of ActiveStills

Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman undermine peace for Palestine


One of the reasons I like superhero movies is because it’s always obvious whom to root for.

Let’s take Wonder Woman, because she’s killing it at the box office, and she has the added cachet of minority status, which makes her even more appealing: It’s a no-brainer to cheer for the beautiful woman with superhuman strength and unassailable moral clarity over the treacherous Ares, God of War, who seeks the destruction of humankind.

Simple plots with uncomplicated characters work just fine in fiction. In nonfiction, not so much.

So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that two famous fiction writers, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, are failing to grasp the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The best-selling novelists, husband and wife, currently are on a press tour for a new book they edited, “Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation,” which, given the world-class pedigree of the contributors, would appear to be a marvelous book.

The problem is not the work itself but the way Waldman and Chabon are promoting it. In interviews, they have turned their brief tour of the West Bank into undeniable evidence that they’ve discovered the absolute truth of the conflict: It’s Israel’s fault. And they describe the situation in such shallow and simple terms, I half-wondered if “Kingdom” was a children’s book. (It’s not.)

The book is, in fact, a compilation of stories from assorted contributors, including Pulitzer Prize winners and a Nobel Laureate, that seeks to illuminate the lives of long-suffering Palestinians who have toiled under Israeli occupation for the last 50 years. It’s a noble endeavor. And the pair deserves credit for their good intentions. But the way these two seasoned storytellers are discussing their “findings” is so one-sided, bereft of nuance and oblivious to history, it made this pro-Palestinian American Jew cringe.

The story of the Waldman-Chabon book begins in 2014, when Waldman returned to Jerusalem, the place of her birth, after a long absence. “We couldn’t deal, like so many American Jews, with what it meant to go back,” she said last week during a live internet broadcast sponsored by the New Israel Fund. “We didn’t want to engage.”

But then Waldman was invited to attend the Jerusalem Writer’s Festival. Afterward, members of Breaking the Silence, an organization of former Israel Defense Forces soldiers seeking to expose and end the occupation, offered to show her around Hebron. There, she saw the impact of Israel’s occupation for the first time — poverty, oppression, injustice. Then she went to Tel Aviv, where she “had an amazing time, [and] got drunk every night.” She decided to do something about this unfair contrast.

She returned home to Berkeley and suggested to her husband that they take up the Palestinian cause through a writing project. “I thought he wouldn’t want to alienate his Jewish audience,” she said, somehow unaware that a majority of American Jews support a two-state solution. “To his credit, without hesitation, he said instantly, ‘Of course, yes, we’ll do this.’ ”

In the spring of 2016, they brought 29 of the world’s most eminent writers to visit — exclusively — the West Bank, East Jerusalem and even Gaza, if they pleased. Afterward, Chabon declared to the Forward that Israeli military occupation is “the most grievous injustice I have seen in my life.”

He should get out more.

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that two famous fiction writers, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, are failing to grasp the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It’s disappointing when you discover that your literary heroes sometimes are myopic and obtuse. That they would spend far more time immersing themselves in the lives of one of their characters than they spent zipping through one of the most complex regions in the world is perplexing. But that hasn’t stopped Waldman and Chabon from casting themselves as daring literati, shining a light in Israel’s dark corners.

“As soon as you start asking questions,” Chabon said, “everything comes back to this massive bureaucracy that …  exists only to remind Palestinian people that they are utterly subject to Israeli power. And the way that power demonstrates itself most effectively, demoralizingly, is not by dropping bombs, bulldozing houses, it’s the everyday tiny indignities to which Palestinians are subjected: What it takes for a Palestinian who needs dialysis to get dialysis, what it takes a Palestinian businessman … to arrange a meeting. The way the rules get changed so whimsically, [it’s] so clear it’s being done on purpose to demoralize, to dehumanize.”

Not everything Chabon says is untrue. I trust he saw “indignities.” But he fails to mention the indignity of total Arab-Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state since the Balfour Declaration, in 1917, and at least half a dozen times since then. For someone who’d be short a few novels without Jewish history, how conveniently he chooses to ignore it.

For “Kingdom” Chabon wrote about Sam Bahour, a Palestinian businessman he admires for persevering despite the odds, for “building this glass palace while missile strikes are occurring all around him.” That Israel experiences much the same thing is an irony apparently lost on him.

The conflict that has mystified and humbled generations of experts and world leaders is, for these two writers, superhero simple: Palestinians, good; Israeli government, evil.

But this is what happens when serious writers engage in conflict tourism. And it is unworthy of their gifts. What a shame to marry such weighty voices to a shortsighted conclusion. It gives their experience, and their book, a gravitas it hasn’t earned.

“This conflict is not a morality play where one side is all right and the other is all wrong,” American diplomat Dennis Ross said when I reached him by phone. Ross has worked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an envoy, expert and direct negotiator serving the Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations.

“When you demonize one side, you don’t make it easier for two sides to reconcile,” he said. “You make it harder.”

Capt. Rafi Sivron dangles his feet in the Suez Canal the day after the end of the Six-Day War. Photo courtesy of Rafi Sivron

The hidden hero of the Six-Day War


It was a war the world had never seen — pre-emptive, daring, lightning fast. In six days — 132 hours — one small army defeated five. By the last day, Israel had captured territories four times its former size. The war changed the map of the Middle East — of the world — in ways so profound, from Washington to Cairo, from the United Nations to The Hague, from college campuses to refugee camps, that the fight over the spoils of that conflict continue.

The war that began June 5, 1967, ushered in decades of deep American diplomatic, economic and military engagement in Israel, and introduced a new vocabulary into the news — terror, Islamic fundamentalism, Messianism, suicide bombers, hijacking, refugees, Palestine.

This year, the 50th anniversary of that war, its consequences linger. Israel’s stunning victory swung America firmly to its side, jump-starting a special relationship that includes billions of dollars in foreign aid and unprecedented security cooperation — a bond that affects every American soldier, diplomat and taxpayer.

Israel’s continued control over some of the territories captured in that war and of their inhabitants is still a flashpoint of international controversy and a source of deep moral and strategic disagreement among Jews themselves. Many Jews and Christians who explain the sudden victory as the hand of God fiercely resist any peace that requires the return of biblical lands. Others fear that in Israel’s victory lay the seeds of its own demise if the result is that Israel ceases to be a Jewish, democratic state.

[TIMELINE: The six days of war]

Meanwhile, writes Said K. Aburish in his 2004 book, “Nasser: The Last Arab” (St. Martin’s Press), the Six-Day War “was so unexpected in its totality, stunning in its proportion, and soul-destroying in its impact that it will be remembered as the greatest defeat of the Arabs in the twentieth century. The Arabs are still undergoing a slow process of political, psychological, and sociological recovery. It is easy to trace all that afflicts the Arab world today to the defeat which the 1967 War produced.”

Millions of Arabs lost faith in their secular leaders and turned to fundamentalist Islam. The Palestinians realized they couldn’t rely on conventional Arab armies to beat Israel and pinned their hopes instead on a man named Yasser Arafat —and so the age of modern terrorism was born.

You have to read only the headlines any given week to understand that while Vietnam is history, the Six-Day War is current events.

The Arabs refer to the war as the naxa, or setback. The victors christened it the Six-Day War. Neither name gets it right.  “Setback” is an epic understatement, like calling a scalping a haircut. And although “Six-Day War” deliberately echoes the biblical Creation story, it obscures one of the most important facets of the war itself: the very reason why Israel won.

The outcome of the war was decided in its opening hours. Israeli warplanes took to the skies in the early morning of June 5 and headed on a stealth mission toward Egypt. They flew just a few meters above the Mediterranean Sea to avoid radar. They banked toward land, fanned out over dozens of airfields, rose and then dived down to unleash a hellfire of cannon fire and bombs on their targets. All of Egypt’s airfields were rendered useless, and most Egyptian aircraft were destroyed. Israeli planes then decimated the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi air forces. Within two hours, in three waves of attacks, Israel had destroyed 452 enemy airplanes. It had complete control of the skies.

The attack began at 7:45 am. By 10:30 a.m., air force commander Gen. Motti Hod turned to Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin and reported, “The Egyptian air force has ceased to exist as an effective fighting force.”

Israeli combat aircraft stream toward Egypt at the launch of Operation Focus, the surprise attack designed by Capt. Rafi Sivron and Lt. Col. Jacob “Yak” Nevo.

The Six-Day War was a victory of intelligence over firepower, of preparation over bluster, brains over brawn. It was a triumph of foresight and planning, the vision of the few that set in motion the bravery of many. In that sense, one of the real heroes of the war — the most crucial and the least known — was a 20-something air force navigator named Capt. Rafi Sivron. Long before the first shot was fired, Sivron and his immediate superior, Lt. Col. Jacob “Yak” Nevo, created the plan that won Israel the war. They were the men behind Operation Focus.

In most books and articles about the war, stuffed with the exploits of generals, soldiers and politicians, Sivron and Nevo make cameo appearances — if at all. In the cataclysmic drama of those six days, there indeed may have been bigger actors, producers and directors — but those two wrote the script.

In January 2014, while I was working on a project about the war, I asked Uri Dromi, a journalist, Journal contributor and former Israel Defense Forces helicopter pilot, if he knew anyone who fought in it.

“Have you heard of Operation Focus?” he said.   

“Of course.”

“Well, that was Rafi.”

I immediately dialed the number Uri gave me.

Rafi’s voice was strong, with a pleasant Israeli accent and precise English diction. As I was to learn over hours of conversation, in all things he did, Sivron was nothing if not precise.

Rafael Sivron was born in Haifa, the son of German immigrants who moved to pre-state Palestine from Berlin in 1934. His father’s parents remained in Germany. They were murdered in Terezin.

Sivron joined the Israeli Air Force (IAF) in 1954. He excelled as a navigator, flying missions in a variety of aircraft and helicopters. In 1962, at a NATO school for anti-submarine warfare in Malta, he met Nevo.

In the cockpit of a combat jet, Nevo was without equal, “the father of Israeli aerial combat,” in the words of IAF historian Iftach Spector. Nevo pioneered IAF dogfighting techniques, pushing himself and his planes to the limits.

Despite very different styles, the two bonded. Nevo was slight, thin — cockpit-sized. He also was serious and reclusive.

Sivron was movie-star handsome and far more outgoing. He prodded Nevo to have fun, which for Sivron meant taking breaks for tennis, attending the opera and playing “almost professional” classical piano.

Back in Israel, the head of the air force, Ezer Weizman, had long held that Israel’s best chance for winning the next war would be to destroy enemy air forces on the ground. The logic was sound, but there was no plan to carry out what other military leaders thought was a strategic fantasy.

Toward the end of 1962, Weizman tapped Nevo to come up with a plan, and Nevo remembered Sivron from Malta. By then, Sivron headed the air force subsection for operational planning, figuring the life-and-death logistics for Israel’s frequent counterattacks, stealth missions and patrols.

“When I say I was the head of this section, you could have in mind that I have something like 20 to 30 people working for me — maybe it is today this way. But then I was all alone,” Sivron said.

Nevo asked Sivron to design an attack plan. Sivron said he was too busy.

“You know what?” Nevo said. “There’s no war on the way, so pick a time. If you want to take three months, take three months. If you want to take three years, take three years.”

Sivron agreed. He was just shy of his 27th birthday.

Rafi Sivron in 1978 as the Israeli defense attaché in London. Photo courtesy of Rafi Sivron

As a present to himself, Sivron asked a friend returning from Italy to bring back an elegant fountain pen like the one he saw advertised in glossy magazines. Though he couldn’t really afford it, Sivron splurged on the pen, a Parker 61.   

In a plain, three-story building in central Tel Aviv, in a tiny room at the end of a long corridor, Sivron sat alone at his desk, with that Parker pen, designing Operation Focus.

In the pre-planning stage, Sivron and Nevo brainstormed ideas for their plan, often bringing in experts from other departments. That’s when they came up with their first good idea: concentrate on the runways.

Gen. Hod had long said that a fighter jet is the most dangerous weapon in the world when it is in the air, but on the ground, it is useless. Nevo and Sivron figured if Israeli jets simply destroyed enemy planes, new ones could always arrive and take off. But without runways, nothing could get airborne.

“So this was decided, and I got an open hand of how to do it,” Sivron told me. “At this time, the Egyptians, Syrians and the Jordanians had about 20 military airports with 55 runways. So it was a problem, of course.”

In Hebrew, German Jews are called yekkes — a word that connotes extreme punctuality and exasperating attention to detail. Nevo, the pilot, left the operational details to Sivron.

“I was the yekke,” Sivron said.

Sivron focused first on the runways.

“You can’t attack airports if you don’t know where they are,” he said, “if you don’t know how they look, if you don’t have a picture, if you don’t know which aircraft.”

Reconnaissance photos provided Sivron with up-to-date knowledge of the enemy airfields. Israeli spies embedded in the highest echelons of Syrian and Egyptian society transmitted more details. Sivron learned the thickness of each runway, the type and parked position of each airplane, the patrol times and break times for each squadron, the distance each radar worked, the number of anti-aircraft guns.

Every detail mattered. Sivron learned that while Israeli jets used high-pressure tires, the MiGs that the enemy air forces flew used low-pressure tires. If you bombed a runway with normal bombs, ground crews could just fill it with sand and planes still could take off. The IAF outfitted their Mirages with two 500 Kgs bombs.  All the bombs were fitted with innovative fuses that changed the timing of the detonators in order to afflict maximum damage on concrete runways.

Knowing where Egyptian observation posts were stationed enabled Sivron to design flight paths to avoid them. He matched the number of runways with the number and type of planes necessary to take them out, the altitude at which they needed to climb on approach, the angle at which they needed to attack, the possible effects of dust and wind, the number, weight and power of bombs each pilot needed to carry, how low and fast each plane could fly to avoid radar.

“When you fly a Mirage at 450 knots,” Sivron said, “if the sea is calm you have no ability to realize at what altitude you are. You can easily drop to the water. If you hit the water, it is your last flight.”

Nevo led endless test missions and bombing runs over mock-ups of Egyptian air bases in the Negev, feeding data back to Sivron, who sat at his desk, crossing out old vectors, calculating the timing anew.

Because the Arabs had so many more planes than the Israelis, Sivron and Nevo were counting on another ability the IAF had been developing for several years: shaving the time it took for a plane to land, refuel, reload, and get back in the air.  

For several years, squadrons used to compete as to who will do the turnaround quicker,” Sivron said. “These turnarounds in competition were made with substantial effort involving one aircraft at a time, almost laboratory-like conditions.”

With limited ground crews and the large number of jets involved in Operation Focus, the Israelis planned on a turnaround time of 20 minutes.  Not as fast as seven, but still six times faster than the best the Egyptians could do. The Israelis would make up in flight time what they lacked in hardware.

Still, Operation Focus demanded that almost every Israeli combat plane and bomber go on the attack. Twelve would be left to defend the homeland. 

“It was not an easy decision,” Sivron said. “People say it was self-explanatory. It was not at all.”

I asked Sivron how much help he had in figuring it out.

“I was alone,” he said. “Alone with myself. Nobody else was involved in this.”

Two years after he began his work, Sivron wrote his last calculation with the same Parker 61 he started with. As he finished the last line, the pen topped working.

The master plan for Operation Focus was printed and bound in an almost 60-page blue-covered booklet. Sivron wrote the main body of the order, which described the method and principles of Moked.  Of the six appendices, Sivron wrote the two main ones, “Forces and Tasks” and “Routing.”

A meeting of senior brass went over the plan, line by line. They didn’t make a single change.  From the first draft it was called Moked, Focus.  The finalized order was passed on to the squadron leaders, base commanders and head of departments at the headquarters of the IAF.  This was in September 1965.

Each top secret copy was numbered; each number was logged to its owner.  Sivron, who by then had been promoted to major, was not given one.

“I could take it only to one place,” he said, “and that’s to prison.”

Sivron began studying economics and Middle East history at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.   

Land captured by Israel in red

That summer, Lt. Col. Yoash Tzidon, the head of the IAF’s armament development section, decided to run Operation Focus through a newly acquired machine called a computer. By then, Hod had replaced Weizman as air force commander. Based on the likelihood of navigation problems, early detection, fog, wind and anti-aircraft fire, the computer determined that the chance of Operation Focus succeeding was 7 percent. 

Sivron was unfazed. He had total confidence in his plan, and the data and calculations behind it. But the final decision rested with Hod.

“He was not an intellectual person,” Sivron said of Hod. “He was a farmer with a very straight way of thinking. Hod turned to Tzidon, ‘You know this is the best plan we have. If you want to make another one, go ahead.’”

The computer lost.

A year later, as tensions mounted between Egypt and Israel, Rafi Harlev, the head of the IAF operations, called a meeting of all squadron leaders.

“We have a plan,” he told them. “It’s over a year old.”   

He passed out copies of Operation Focus for review and debate.

Again, there was not a single change.

In the popular imagination, the Six-Day War is a modern-day David and Goliath story. Just by the math, Israel truly was David. The Arab armies had more than twice the number of troops, and more than three times the number of combat aircraft and tanks. The Egyptians and Syrians were backed by Soviet weaponry and advisers — who could join their side at any moment.

But even though Israel was outnumbered on paper, it had advantages David couldn’t imagine. The Israel Defense Forces was the best trained, most professional and most highly motivated army in the Middle East. It was designed to defend the country. It had (and has) nuclear weapons.

The Arab armed forces, meanwhile, were designed to quell internal dissent and prop up unpopular regimes. In his new book, “The Six-Day War” (Yale University Press), Guy Laron reports a 1961 conversation between the Israeli spy Wolfgang Lutz (who fed intelligence to Sivron) and Egyptian Gen. Abd al-Salam Suleiman, whom Lutz  had first plied with whiskey.   

“We [in Egypt] have enough military equipment to conquer the whole Middle East, but equipment isn’t everything,” Suleiman said. “The army right now — in terms of training, military competence and logistics — will not be able to win a battle against a fart in a paper bag.”

As war appeared imminent, the CIA informed President Lyndon Johnson that should hostilities break out, Israel would win in 12 days. But though the Americans and even the Israeli high command were confident of eventual victory, the Jewish state’s leaders were wracked with concern that the casualties Israel would suffer would be devastating.   

Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol gave voice to that fear. At a cabinet meeting on the eve of war, he said, in Yiddish, “Blut vet sich giessen vie vasser.” Blood will run like water.

Israel’s best hope to ensure victory at an acceptable cost was a pre-emptive strike. It was Operation Focus.

Three weeks before the war started, Sivron donned his uniform and left his dorm room for IAF operations headquarters, where he was assigned to plan combined operations. By then, he was married, and he felt keenly what failure would mean: that his young family would be slaughtered like his paternal grandparents.

Weizmann had been pleading with Eshkol to implement Moked, in which he had complete confidence.  On June 4, Eshkol, after receiving what he felt was a “yellow light” from the Americans, agreed.

On June 5, a fleet of Israeli planes took off after dawn.

In the central control and command room of the IAF, Sivron followed the take off and flight path of the armada he had planned.

Equally both tense and thrilled, he knew that if the Egyptians detected a single Israeli plane, the surprise attack could end in disaster.

Sivron watched as the majority of jets reached the “pull up point,” when they leapt from their low altitude sneak attack to enable their bombing run. It was still two full minutes before the first bomb had been dropped.

“I turned around and said, ‘We have won the war.’”

For Rafi Sivron, the Six Day War ended two minutes before it started.

The Israeli jets  roared up on the Egyptian bases undetected — Yak Nevo’s among them. Many of the Egyptian pilots were eating breakfast when their planes and runways went up in smoke. Each wave brought more success. Soon after the first Israeli planes returned to base, it became clear to the air force that the plan had exceeded even its own expectations. Sivron was relieved, but not surprised. Focus worked.

I asked Sivron what he made of the success.

“Moked wasn’t worth anything without the pilots and crews and all the members of the air force,” he said. “We lost 24 pilots.”

The war would rage on for five more days. There would be tough, costly ground battles for Gaza, the Sinai, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. All of them would have been immensely more difficult if Israel hadn’t gained control of the air.

As historian and Israel’s former Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren pointed out in his essential history, Six Day War, Egypt still could have stalled or even reversed Israeli gains on the ground. Victory still depended on many things: the pilots and soldiers, their commanders, the unity of the entire country, as well as Egyptian miscalculation.

But it is impossible to imagine Israeli victory without the plan. It wouldn’t have been a movie without a script.

Egyptian planes destroyed at a Sinai air base on the first day of the war. Photo: Israel National Photo Archive

For  Sivron, too, the war continued. On Day Two, June 6, Sivron, who was still responsible for combined operations, joined his helicopter squadron as a pilot to carry troops over Saudi Arabian territory to land them in Sharm-El-Sheik, in the Sinai peninsula.

On June 10, he was at the front command post of the IAF in the southern Galilee, part of two squadrons of helicopters gathered in order to prepare a massive troop landing in the 
southern Golan Heights.   Sivron was assigned to remain at the command post. Instead, he decided to join as a co-pilot in leading the landing.

In the second run, his squadron landed 20 troops some 30 kilometers ahead of advancing Israeli ground troops. The crossroad where they landed, called Butmia in Arabic but since renamed Rafid in Hebrew, remains until today the easternmost point of the border between Israel and Syria. It was 1 PM on the sixth day of the war.

A day later, Sivron piloted a helicopter to the Golan to evacuate a wounded officer. He returned in a Jeep ahead of advancing Israeli tanks, meeting with U.N. officials and Syrian prisoners. By 3 p.m. on June 11, the war was officially over.

“All of it was in our hands,” Sivron said.

One day after the cease-fire, Rafi Sivron entered the offices of air force operations HQ. Nobody was there. Everyone had gone out to celebrate. 

Sivron took a car and a friend and drove for 24 hours, all through the Sinai desert to the Suez Canal.

“Everything was still burning,” he said. “Hundreds of tanks beside the road, dead soldiers.  Then we went to Jerusalem, to the Western Wall.”

One week later, he was back at the university, studying.

Yak Nevo retired as a colonel from the Israeli air force in the late 1970s. He tried to set up a business but was unsuccessful. He turned to woodcarving and died in relative obscurity in 1989, of multiple organ failure, at the age of 55.

Sivron went on to serve in the air force until 1981, including a stint as defense attaché in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. He retired as a brigadier general. Later, after a dozen years as El Al Airlines’ director of operations control and planning, he retired in 2000.

He lives in Tel Aviv with his second wife. From both marriages, he has five children, nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

“Now I am playing tennis five times a week,” he said, “which keeps me young.”

Sivron is 81. I remarked how astounding it is that much of his country’s fate rested in his hands when he was only 27.

“This is the reason that I can talk to you now,” he pointed out to me. “If I were 37 then, maybe we wouldn’t be talking.”

Rafi Sivron, today

In hindsight, it’s easy to see how the astounding victory of the Six-Day War, like any solution, created a slew of new problems. At the time the fighting raged, though, none of these were apparent, or mattered. Israel faced imminent attack by five Arab armies. If it lost, the country would be obliterated. That’s what the Arab leaders were saying, and 22 years after the Holocaust, Israelis were inclined to believe them.

“The only thing worse than a great victory,” Eshkol, the Israeli prime minister, said at the war’s end, “is a great defeat.”t

When all sides were locked in an existential confrontation, Israel’s reasons and objectives were clear and unambiguous. Rafi Sivron knew why he was fighting and what winning looked like. When you know those two things, it’s a lot easier to figure out how to win.

We Americans have grown resigned to endless wars and ambiguous outcomes. The wars in Vietnam and Korea ended in evacuation instead of victory. We still are mired in Syria and Iraq, fighting ISIS, the dregs of the Iraq War. American troops are still in Afghanistan, 16 years after 9/11.

If there’s a lesson in Operation Focus, it’s embedded in the very name: If you must go to war, concentrate on what you’re fighting for, and how to win.

And if you really think wars are won in only six days, or by some act of divine intervention, think again.

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

Six-Day War: Voices after victory


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

Six Days, Followed by 50 Years of Palestinian Posturing

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

Dennis Ross

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

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

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

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


From Auschwitz to Jerusalem and From Jerusalem to …

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

Michael Berenbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Following Maestro’s Advice Changed His Life

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

Howard Rosenman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOWARD ROSENMAN is a Hollywood producer.


An Unexpected Narrative

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

Sharon Nazarian

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

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

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

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

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

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


Millennials and the War

Jesse Gabriel

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

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


Six-Day War: A Poem

Rabbi David Wolpe

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

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

Left: Alfred Ozair, standing in the back row, third from left, in Nablus shortly after the West Bank city was captured by Israeli forces in 1967. Right: Ozair at his locksmith business in Tarzana. Photo by Eitan Arom

Alfred Ozair on the Six-Day War: ‘We paid with blood’


You wouldn’t necessarily know it to look at him, seated behind the sliding window of his locksmith business in a strip mall in Tarzana, but Alfred Ozair has seen his fair share of history. During his 84 years, he followed a Jewish migration from Iraq to Israel and finally to Little Israel in the San Fernando Valley.

During a recent interview, Ozair sat in the lobby of the dog grooming business that provides the sole entrance to his workspace, and produced old documents and photographs, including one of him and his battalion in 1967. In the picture, Ozair and his fellow soldiers crowd the doorway of a Jordanian police station in Nablus, and Ozair holds up a fist in the air, flashing a wide grin.

Ozair was part of the auxiliary force that entered the West Bank immediately after it was captured, and he remained there until he was sent home about two weeks later. His service was brief and rather uneventful, he said, but it left an impression. Even 50 years later, he recalls seeing the bodies of fallen soldiers in Nablus, covered in flies, because there hadn’t been any time to remove them.

The experience was sobering for him, even as he basked in the glory of Israel’s swift victory. So why did he look quite so happy in the picture?

He gestured at the photo. “When I am here, nobody killed me — I am happy.”

But to hear him tell it, there was more to the look of pride and victory he wore that day: The story of his Jewish generation goes from oppression and fear to strength and triumph in 1967.

Ozair was born in Baghdad in 1934 at a time when Jews in Arab lands were considered second-class citizens, living in fear of persecution by anti-Semitic government officials or angry mobs. In 1941, a pogrom swept the city, resulting in the death of some 180 Jews. Things didn’t get much better after that.

“The day of the declaration of the independence of Israel, in 1948, we were in the ghetto of Baghdad, hiding,” Ozair said. “We were afraid that they would come in a mob and kill us.”

Through all that, Jews were barred from carrying weapons. So when he and other young Jews arrived in Israel and found themselves armed in defense of their state, it was an entirely foreign feeling to them.

“The Jews in the Arab countries, especially the youth, they came to Israel, they have rifles, they have tanks,” he said, his voice breaking with delight. “This — this is something different. We felt the independence, we felt the liberty.”

In none of the three wars where Ozair was a participant did he see actual combat, but his work was nonetheless crucial: He was responsible for the upkeep and repair of the electrical systems that powered essential equipment, such as radios.

In 1956, his first wartime experience, this role put him on the cutting edge of Israel’s technology. At that time, he recalled, the army still employed pigeons to carry messages back and forth.

“Don’t be surprised,” he said. “This is the army of Israel as it was. We had nothing. From nothing, we do everything. Nu!”

He remembers his deployment to the West Bank in 1967 as a time of great fear. Israel’s cities became ghost towns as they emptied of adult men. People in Tel Aviv boarded up their windows in case the city was bombed. So many people were drafted that high schoolers were called on to deliver the mail because all the letter carriers had been deployed to the front.

Mothers sent their sons to the front knowing they might never come home, but they sent them with pride and stoicism, Ozair said. Each young man was a drop in the bucket of the war effort. “You collect water, drop by drop, and you have a quantity of water,” he said. “With this water, you can do something.”

Ozair is concerned that these days, Jewish youth doesn’t recognize the sacrifice of his generation, and that instead they feel Israel was simply handed to the Jewish people with minimal strife and struggle. “It’s not like that,” he said. “We built Israel, stone by stone. And we have to be proud.

“They have to know how much we paid. We paid not with money. We paid with blood.”

Nowadays, Ozair’s life is tranquil, as he likes it. In 1989, following his brother, he and his two children moved to Santa Monica, and he went into business as a locksmith. A few years later, he moved to the location in Tarzana, where he’s been ever since. He keeps 30 or 40 books, in Hebrew and Arabic, in his cramped storefront, squeezed between the dog groomer and an Israeli-run flower shop.

His business hasn’t made much money since the early 2000s, but he doesn’t really mind that. He pays $600 a month for the small space on a stretch of Ventura Boulevard where Hebrew is almost as common as English, and he spends his free time reading and watching the decades pass.

“I am not looking for money,” he said. “I’m looking to live a good life.”

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Zeevi (R) And Gen. Narkis in the old city of Jerusalem. Photo from Wikipedia

The Six-Day War, in real time for the first time


Israel’s State Archives has unsealed documents from the Six-Day War after 50 years. They include transcripts of full cabinet meetings and of the Security Cabinet meetings. Here are a few observations.

In Cabinet meetings, people say many things. In tense Cabinet meetings, they say even more things. Thus, when transcripts are released, it is easy to isolate quotes and make big headlines out of them to serve a position or an ideology. If it were up to us, a politician muses, we would “deport the Arabs to Brazil.” Is this a statement that proves Israel’s malicious intentions? Some might say yes. They had the same reaction when Yitzhak Rabin mused about his desire to see Gaza drowned in the Mediterranean.

But you also can see it as a statement proving the sobriety and realism of Israel’s ministers at the time — a statement proving that they realized, on Day One, that occupying a territory in which many Arabs reside is going to be a headache. They did not deport anyone to Brazil. They were stuck with the headache. We still are stuck with it.

Not everything the ministers said seems impressive in retrospect. But what is quite impressive is the ministers’ refusal to engage in desperation in the weeks leading to the war and their reluctance to surrender to euphoria after it. The ministers behave in these meetings as all Israelis did: The period leading to the war was highly worrisome and the country was in a dark mood during the three weeks of “waiting.” The period after the war was one of celebration and invincibility.

The ministers are apprehensive, and they are uplifted — but in a more subdued way. They do not panic before; they do not lose proportion after. Yes, many of their assessments seem naive, misconstrued, even foolish in retrospect. But this is not due to a lack of seriousness.

Reading the debate about the future of the West Bank feels prescient. There are annexationists who want to absorb the territory and believe the demographic challenge of absorbing so many Arabs along with the territory will sort out itself. Menachem Begin, a member of the emergency Cabinet that was assembled prior to the war, argues that within seven years there will be a Jewish majority in the West Bank. There are those for whom demography is the key. Pinchas Sapir, the finance minister, worries about Israel’s future as a Jewish state if so many Arabs will become residents or citizens of Israel.

It is almost boringly familiar, and yet so distant.

I’m reading a transcript of a Security Cabinet meeting from May 26, 1967. Rabin, then the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), is asked to assess whether Israel can withstand an attack. Look how careful he is: “I think if we have the tactical surprise, there is a possibility … that we will have achievements.”

Here is a question: Was this a rhetorical failure on part of the IDF and Rabin? Consider an alternative scenario: It is the same meeting, but Rabin promises a great victory, then Israel faces a military defeat. What would we say in such a case? Probably that the chief of staff didn’t assess the situation correctly and thus provided Israel’s political leaders with inaccurate information on which they made the wrong decisions.

But no one has the time or reason to ask the exact same question when the assessment of the military commander is inaccurate in a positive sense — that is, a prediction of great difficulty that later proves to be an overstatement.

And there is more. A minister warning defense minister Moshe Dayan that the IDF ought to be reminded to treat the civilian population humanely. Ministers arguing for and against taking East Jerusalem. Concern that overeagerness could prolong the war and occupy more territory because of the victories.

There also are lies that Israel decides to tell. The protocol shows how Israel attacked Syria in the Golan Heights. Minister Yigal Alon calls for the attack, disregarding the possibility of diplomatic tension with Russia because of it. He says he prefers controlling the Heights over diplomatic problems with the Russians.

The director of the Foreign Ministry warns against action — attacking Syria will complicate things for us with the Russians, he argues. But Rabin wants action. “Ending such a war without hitting the Syrians would be a shame,” he says.

Israel tells the world that the Syrians are fighting. “This is not the truth,” argues minister Haim-Moshe Shapira. True, says Alon. “I admit that this isn’t the truth, but these are the kind of lies that we can tell to have peace” — namely, to have the Syrians’ cannons removed from the Heights that overlook Israel.

Some things still feel different, and the most notable of them is the approach of the representatives of Israel’s religious-Zionist sector. Today, they are the most hawkish. In 1967, they famously were the least hawkish. They were the ones preaching for caution and moderation.

Shapira did not want the attack on the Syrians. His friend Zerach Warhaftig cools down Dayan when the defense minister suggests that Israel send its forces to Beirut.

“I would argue that we should have some limits,” Warhaftig says.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People walking through the mostly haredi Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, Israel, on July 16, 2015. Photo by Flash90

Israel’s demographic future: Crowded and very religious


Israel’s projected future looks a lot like a visit to the Jerusalem central bus station: crowded and very religious.

According to a government report to be released in full next week, the Jewish state’s population will double in about 40 years. Some 29 percent — or 5.25 million of its projected 18 million residents — will be haredi Orthodox Jews. That’s more than triple the current 9 percent.

“Israel will have the highest population density in the Western world,” Sergio DellaPergola, a preeminent Israeli demographer and member of the report’s steering committee, told JTA. “Interestingly, haredim will overtake Arabs as the largest minority.”

The Central Bureau of Statistics revised upward its previous projection, made in 2012, that the population will reach 15.5 million in 2059, with 4.5 million haredim. DellaPergola said the bureau had wrongly assumed Israel’s fertility rate would continue to decline.

If this report proves accurate, Israel — with a land area of some 8,000 square miles — will be more densely populated than the West Bank and the Gaza Strip taken together are today. Some experts have warned of impending disaster, but DellaPergola said Israel still has room to expand outside its geographic center, the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem region, in what Israelis call the “peripheria,” or periphery.

“Israel has a huge area that is very underpopulated,” he said. “If you can distribute the population more equally across the periphery, density is not a problem. But I haven’t seen much strategy from the government.”

The government has implemented a development plan focused on poor rural towns, but a State Comptroller’s report released last week accused former housing minister Uri Ariel of misappropriating tens of millions of shekels earmarked for such places.

Gilad Malach, who analyzed the Central Bureau of Statistics report for the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, noted that other societies have proven able to adapt to high population density.

“It’s not necessarily a disaster,” he told JTA. “Singapore and Hong Kong are even more populated [than Israel is projected to be], and they are successful states. Great cities also function almost like states.”

Israel is growing rapidly mostly because of its birth rate, which DellaPergola said is the highest of the world’s 100 most developed countries, “some of which aren’t that developed.”

Once exceptionally fertile, Arab-Israeli women now have an average of 3.13 children, the same as their Jewish fellow citizens. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics report, Arabs will comprise 20 percent of the Israeli population in 2059, compared to the current 21 percent.

By contrast, after ticking downward when child subsidies were slashed in 2003, the haredi fertility rate has stabilized the past five years at 6.9 children per woman. Malach said the projected haredi population boom should be a “call to action” for Israel. He recommended the government, along with civil society, invest in haredi education and workforce integration, as well as rethink its large-family policies.

The idea is that as the haredi community becomes a bigger part of Israeli society, it must hold its own in the economy — but some current government policies incentivize haredim to remain out of the workforce. Hundreds of thousands of haredi men receive government stipends of $120 to $215 a month to study in yeshiva. Just under half of them do not work, although the percentage has been unevenly decreasing for over a decade.

Haredi families also disproportionately benefit from monthly government allowances of $42 to $52 per child.

“If we focus on policy regarding pro-natality, and specifically integration of the ultra-Orthodox into society, the dramatic growth predictions may not be fulfilled,” Malach said. “It would also be good for the prosperity of the State of Israel.”

Although hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into haredi education and employment in recent years, child allowances were restored in 2016 as a condition of the haredi political parties joining the governing coalition.

DellaPergola agreed that a change in government policies could lower the haredi fertility rate. But he insisted the Central Bureau of Statistics report was accurate to within “hundreds of thousands,” saying it had taken into account the trend toward haredi employment.

Moshe Friedman, the CEO of Kamatech, a nonprofit that helps bring haredim into the high-tech industry, said there is no reason to fear the growth of his community. He said his group has trained or found jobs for 7,000 people since it started five years ago, and that he cannot accommodate everyone who wants to participate. A 40-person cybersecurity course he recently opened with Cisco got 900 applicants, he said.

“I see a really good trend of haredim who want to be part of society, part of the economy,” Friedman told JTA. “I understand from this new report the importance of the work we are doing to help the haredim integrated into society. So I think it will be OK.”

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

What to expect from Trump’s Israel visit


President Donald Trump will be departing on Friday for his first foreign trip overseas with stops in Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, Israel and the West Bank. Daniel Kurtzer, former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, told Jewish Insider, “What Trump is trying to do is contrast his close closeness to Israel with that of Obama. Obama didn’t go for the first four years and Trump is going in the first four months.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

The visit to Israel is part of a long term US strategic investment towards the process, noted Michael Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum. “Someone in the White House has learned the lesson from the last administration where it was clearly a mistake not to go to Israel early on. (They) realize that if you are going to get the Israelis to make concessions, it’s probably a good idea to actually go to Israel and show the Israelis some love.”

The White House’s showering of love towards Israel is concerning many in Jerusalem, explains Daniel Shapiro, former US Ambassador to Israel from 2011-2017. “When it comes to President Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, both sides are nervous about what this trip, and events beyond it, could produce. Trump is unpredictable, and his team is inexperienced in Middle East negotiations,” he told Jewish Insider.

While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may be uncomfortable abiding by Washington’s demands to cut stipends to terrorists’ families, he still likely appreciates the renewed attention. Abbas is “primarily looking at the revival of interest in the Palestinian issue and his own role as chairman of the PLO as an unexpected political bananza. What he is going to try and do is try to get maximal advantage particularly in terms of his own domestic political credibility,” explained Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “As long as the Palestinian issue has been resuscitated — almost brought back from the dead really by Trump —  and he’s standing next to Trump whether in the White House or Ramallah, and there is serious prospects for some benefits on-the-ground, his position which was otherwise very shaky politically becomes really unassailable.”

With Trump’s unpredictable nature and the threats of a Twitter war launched against Jerusalem and Ramallah, Kurtzner emphasized the willingness of both sides to please Trump. “They (Netanyahu and Abbas) are going to try and put on the best face they can: neither one wants the responsibility of failure to be on their doorstep,” he stated. At the same time, Shapiro emphasized the deep underlying challenges preventing any genuine breakthrough between the parties. “Neither Netanyahu or Abbas have any trust in the other, and both face severe domestic political constraints and gaps in their respective positions on the core issues,” he noted.  “So whether they agree to start talks under Trump’s sponsorship, or simply stall for time, they are very likely to fall back into deeply ingrained habits of preparing not for success, but for winning the blame game when failure comes.  That may be the biggest challenge facing Trump’s initiative.”

Yet, for all of the focus on how the trip will impact Israelis and Palestinians on-the-ground, Koplow suggests that the visit may have an additional purpose. “Going abroad and having a high-profile trip where you are seated by leaders in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican it looks good and certainly won’t escape anyone’s notice that it’s coming at a time when things at home are getting dicey and this won’t be the first President to go abroad and try to use good headlines and nice photos from overseas to push away some trouble he is having at home,” he said.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surrounded by his relatives, the body of the 18-month-old baby Ali Saad-Dawabsheh is carried during his funeral in the Palestinian village of Duma, in the West Bank, July 31, 2015. Photo by Oren Ziv/Getty Images

Family of Palestinians killed in arson attack sues Israel for $2.8 million


The family of a 6-year-old Palestinian boy whose parents and brother were killed in an arson on their West Bank home has filed a lawsuit against the State of Israel demanding $2.78 million in compensation, saying its settlement policies led to the attack.

Right-wing Jewish extremists were indicted in the July 2015 firebombing in the Palestinian village of Duma in the northern West Bank. Ahmed Dawabshe, then 4, was the only survivor of the attack that killed his brother, Ali, 18 months old; father, Saad; and mother, Riham.

The lawsuit filed Monday in the Nazareth District Court charges Israel with criminal negligence, saying that the state failed to demolish illegal outposts, including the one from which the alleged attackers came, The Times of Israel reported.

“The writing was on the wall and it was clear to everyone that the leniency toward the hilltop youth, outpost residents and lawbreakers would quickly spill over from property damage and non-fatal attacks to deadly attacks that would end the lives of the innocent Palestinian residents,” the lawsuit said, according to the news website.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said late last month that Ahmed Dawabshe was not eligible for compensation because he does not qualify as a terror victim, the law does not apply to Palestinians and that there was no request on file for such compensation.

Liberman was responding to Arab Joint List lawmaker Yousef Jabareen, who had asked why the boy had not received money from the state.

Ahmed is being cared for by his grandparents.

The occupation that saved Israel


Imagine sitting down at a Passover seder and receiving a visitor who wants to kill you. That visitor is not the prophet Elijah or the Fifth Son — the one absent from the table — who has a change of heart. No, he’s a killer who hates Jews and wants to destroy them.

Fifteen years ago, on March 27, 2002, Abdel-Basset Odeh left his home in the West Bank and walked into a Passover seder in Netanya’s Park Hotel. He then blew himself up, killing 29 mostly elderly Jews and wounding 64 more.

The Jewish world was horrified but not shocked. That’s because the Netanya massacre was part of a murderous Second Intifada that lasted several years and killed more than 1,000 Israeli Jews. It seemed as if every week was marked by a similar calamity — a Palestinian would enter Israel from the West Bank and blow up Jews in restaurants, ice cream parlors, discos, cafés and public buses.

Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of Israel entering the West Bank after the Six-Day War of 1967, critics have come out in full force urging Israel to “end the occupation once and for all.” For the majority of Israelis, however, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

You see, Israelis remember something that happened right before Jews were being blown up every week by Palestinian terrorists. They remember that their prime minister, Ehud Barak, had, in fact, offered to end the occupation once and for all — and the Palestinians walked away.

It happened in July 2000, when President Bill Clinton brokered peace talks at Camp David. A year later, in a Newsweek article titled, “Clinton to Arafat: It’s All Your Fault,” the U.S. president let the world know who he felt was most responsible for the agonizing failure.

When Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat told him, “You are a great man,” the president replied, “The hell I am. I’m a colossal failure, and you made me one.”

What Israelis remember, above all, is that after the failure of peace, Arafat started a war. Israelis remember that after Barak offered to end the occupation, they started getting blown up by Palestinians entering from the West Bank.

And they remember that after the Netanya Passover massacre, Israel said, “Enough.”

Israelis remember that after Barak offered to end the occupation, they started getting blown up by Palestinians entering from the West Bank. 

The Jewish state was left with no choice but to double down on the occupation and go right to the source of the terror — the West Bank.

So Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, calling up reservists and sending troops and heavy weaponry deep into the hearts of six major Palestinian cities, surrounding towns and West Bank refugee camps.

The goal was to stop terrorist attacks by regaining control of the West Bank, in particular the cities in Area A that were under the sole control of the Palestinian Authority.

What did they find when they regained control? Just what they expected. As reported in JPost, Israel uncovered 23 explosives laboratories and seized enormous quantities of weapons.

“The situation we had back then — with suicide bombers coming into the center of the country blowing themselves up — we don’t have that now,” Lt. Col. Yair Pinto, a commander during Operation Defensive Shield, said recently to JPost.

Indeed, in our zeal for peace, it’s easy today to forget the dark days of the past. Those were the days when Israelis would risk their lives any time they took their kids for ice cream, got on a bus, met a friend for coffee or sat down for a Passover meal inside a hotel.

So, yes, bemoan the occupation. Lecture Israel on the need to end it. I have as much sympathy as anyone for the need to shake up the status quo and make a durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

But I also have sympathy for Israelis who remember that when Israel was traumatized by daily terror, it wasn’t less occupation that saved them, it was more.


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

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

6 Palestinians injured in West Bank clashes with Israeli troops


Six Palestinians were wounded in a series of clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

The clashes Friday came amid a so-called day of rage in support of Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, The Times of Israel reported.

In the village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, three people were injured by live fire, the Palestinian humanitarian group said. Another three were injured in Beit Omar, near Hebron. All are in stable condition, a spokesperson for the group said.

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately comment, The Times of Israel reported.

Some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners have been striking for over a week over demands for better medical care and greater access to telephone calls.

Giora Inbar at the Jewish Journal offices in April 2017. Photo by Rob Eshman

Even the experts are turning on the West Bank occupation


For decades, I’ve been writing about the danger Israel’s occupation of the West Bank — and before that, Gaza — poses to the existence of a democratic State of Israel.

It’s not a position that makes you popular with a vocal minority of American Jews, and perhaps a majority of the Jewish establishment. One of the most frequent critiques I get is that I am a naive non-combatant writing from the safety of the United States who knows nothing about Israeli security, the realities of the Middle East or the true nature of the Palestinians.

So, fine, let’s say I plead no contest to all those charges. But suppose I could find someone who served at the highest ranks of Israel’s army or intelligence services and who holds the same positions on the issues that I do? Would that convince the critics?

Now, what if I could find 270 of them?

Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) is a group of former combat commanders, generals and intelligence officials who have undertaken a campaign in Israel to end the occupation.

“We believe in separation as opposed to annexation,” Gen. (Res.) Giora Inbar, a CIS leader, told me. “We understand security comes by agreement, not by fighting.”

Inbar visited the Jewish Journal offices early last month as part of a speaking tour sponsored by Israel Policy Forum. He is, at 64, tall and trim, with close-cropped gray hair and a gravelly close-your-eyes-and-it’s-Yitzhak-Rabin voice. Inbar and other members of the group, including Amnon Reshef, a hero of the Yom Kippur War, will be back in Los Angeles next weekend, as well.

Like Rabin, they harbor few illusions about whether Hamas loves Jews or whether ISIS doesn’t have its sights set on Ramallah, much less Amman. As the former head of the Israel Defense Forces’ liaison unit in southern Lebanon, Inbar worked with intelligence-gathering units that likely knew more about what was going on in Syria than Bashar Assad.

“We are combat commanders,” Inbar explained. “Each of us at a point in his career understood the limits of power. We believe the two-state solution is the only solution that guarantees the security of Israel.”

When Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in the Six-Day War, 50 years ago this June, it assumed control of the millions of Palestinians who live there, without granting them full democratic rights. Unless it withdraws, the country soon will find itself having to choose between being an apartheid state or a binational state of Jews and Arabs — something the generals and most analysts see as a recipe for a Syria-like disaster.

Commanders for Israel’s Security is dealing with an issue that so far the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to face, or, in some cases, has made worse. The CIS idea is very simple, and emblematic of the fighting ethos of the Israel Defense Forces: Seize the initiative.

“We refuse to condition our response on their initiative,” Inbar said. “We are not going to let anyone use the claim of ‘no partner’ as an excuse. No partner? OK, we are strong enough to initiate.”

For CIS, that means a simple three-point plan.

First, Israel can complete the security fence running between the country and the territories, and enforce strict security along the fence. Netanyahu, bowing to a right wing that doesn’t want to acknowledge Israel’s lack of sovereignty over the West Bank, has resisted finishing the fence — a lapse that risks Israeli lives. 

Second, say the commanders, work with Palestinians to improve their infrastructure and economy. In Hamas-controlled Gaza, that could mean allowing plans for a seaport to go forward.

“Help them build their economy and lifestyle, so they have something to lose,” Inbar said.

Finally, engage the Palestinians and Israel’s regional neighbors in talks along the lines of the Arab Peace Plan, which Israel has long rejected or ignored.

The peace talks can come last, Inbar said, and whether they bear fruit or not, Israel’s initial two steps will ensure it a safe and secure democratic state. 

“The idea is to bridge the stagnation and status quo that now exists with a permanent status agreement in the future,” the general explained.

In Israel, military yichus, or pedigree, matters. When CIS launched a controversial public relations campaign earlier this year that warned Israelis of a one-state inevitability, opinion polls showed that 7 percent of Israelis who didn’t think there was a chance of a two-state solution changed their mind — overnight.

But there is much more work to be done.

I interviewed Inbar the same week members of Netanyahu’s coalition sought to pass a bill that would extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

“It’s a disaster,” Inbar told me. “It really violates the territorial contiguity of the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu delayed a vote on the bill to avoid a confrontation with the Trump administration, but proponents have vowed to reintroduce it. 

Meanwhile, sources in Israel have told me Commanders for Israel have held at least two private meetings with Netanyahu himself. 

As Israel celebrates its 69th birthday, these former generals may be just the gift it needs.


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.

An aerial view of Israel’s largest settlement, Maale Adumim, March 12, 2008. Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images.

Israeli man injured, Palestinian assailant shot to death in car-ramming attack


JERUSALEM — An Israeli man, 60, was injured in a car-ramming attack in the West Bank that ended with the Palestinian driver being shot to death by soldiers.

The driver in the Wednesday afternoon attack rammed his car into a bus stop near the Gush Etzion junction in the Etzion Bloc, located south of Jerusalem, according to the Israel Defense Forces. He was stopped when soldiers at the scene opened fire on the vehicle.

The victim suffered a head injury and was taken to a Jerusalem hospital in light-to-moderate condition, according to Israeli reports citing emergency services. Israeli army medics treated the driver at the scene, according to reports, but he later died of his wounds at the hospital.

Several car-ramming attacks have occurred at that junction in the past year and a half.

U.S. President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTSYUJP

Trump wants ‘conflict-ending settlement’ between Israelis and Palestinians


WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is seeking “a conflict-ending settlement” for Israelis and Palestinians, his spokesman said ahead of Trump’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The statement Wednesday by Sean Spicer, who was confirming the May 3 visit, is an indication that Trump is determined to extract a deal from the sides.

“They will use the visit to reaffirm the commitment of both the United States and the Palestinian leadership to pursuing and ultimately concluding a conflict-ending settlement between the Palestinians and Israel,” Spicer said in his opening remarks at the daily news briefing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he wants a peace deal, but Cabinet officials to Netanyahu’s right favor unilateral actions, including annexing portions of the West Bank, that would stop well short of a final status deal.

Trump, who hosted Netanyahu in February at the White House, retreated from an explicit U.S. endorsement of the two-state solution — U.S. policy for 15 years — but also surprised Netanyahu by asking him publicly to slow settlement expansion for a period.

One of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers, Jason Greenblatt, has spent time in the region in an intensive canvassing of the principals ahead of reviving peace talks.

An Israeli settler argues with police officers evacuating the West Bank outpost of Amona on Feb. 1. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90

After new building restrictions, Israeli settlers lower expectations for Trump era


In response to new curbs on West Bank construction, Israeli settlement supporters hoped for the best and expected the worst, tempering their initial euphoria at Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president.

Pro-settlement leaders who advocate Jewish control of the entire West Bank went as far as to welcome the March 30 announcement that the government, in a nod to Trump, would restrict construction to developed areas of existing West Bank Jewish communities. Others hoped the restrictions did not amount to a freeze on settlement building.

No one was talking about bringing down the government, which has been shaky in recent weeks over the obscure issue of public broadcasting.

“You need to understand that people built up an expectation that there would be a new president, the old era would end and we’d be able to do whatever we want,” Yesha Council foreign envoy Oded Revivi said on April 2. “All of a sudden, reality doesn’t look like our expectations.”

Much of the Israeli right anticipated Trump would give Israel a freer hand in the West Bank than had his predecessor, Barack Obama. But since being elected in January, Trump has backed off his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to disputed Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and made moves toward the final-status agreement he has said he wants to broker between Israel and the Palestinians.

Some observers have speculated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants Trump to push back on settlements for fear of his own right-wing coalition.

Having welcomed Trump’s election by announcing “the era of a Palestinian state is over,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett at first expressed cautious optimism on April 2 at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

“The arrangement is a fitting one, but the proof will be in the pudding,” Bennett reportedly said.

Later in the day, he tweeted halfhearted criticism after the Israeli daily Haaretz reported leaks from the meeting that the prime minister not only proposed limiting settlement construction, but also a raft of measures to benefit the Palestinians.

“We are back to the same old two-state solution that will lead nowhere but to frustration,” Bennett said. “I can’t complain because this has always been Netanyahu’s declared policy.”

Netanyahu announced the new settlement policy on March 30 in a meeting of the security cabinet. He told his top ministers that the policy was a goodwill gesture to Trump, who last month said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace and asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements a little bit.”

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu said settlement construction would be limited to previously developed areas of the West Bank. But where security or topography prevented this, new homes would be built as close as possible to the developed areas. Israel would not allow the creation of any new illegal outposts, he said.

Citing five participants in the meeting, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu also would allow the Palestinians to build in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full civil and military control, and said “we have to act wisely” in eastern Jerusalem.

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

Hours earlier, the security cabinet approved the establishment of the first entirely new settlement in two decades for families evicted last month from Amona, an illegal West Bank outpost. That settlement would not be affected by the policy, which the White House welcomed.

Most of the world considers as illegal all Israeli construction in the territories it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. But Israel disputes this view and allows government-authorized settlements on land not demonstrably owned by Palestinians. While Israel stopped building new settlements in the early 1990s, it has retroactively approved outposts and let existing settlements expand.

On March 31, Revivi put a positive spin on Netanyahu’s policy change, saying the Yesha Council, the main umbrella group for the settlements, would keep an eye on the West Bank — which he referred to by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria.

“The Yesha Council welcomes the cabinet decision to support new building projects across Judea and Samaria, in addition to the establishment of a new town for the former residents of Amona,” he said. “We will be monitoring the government very closely to see that these plans come to fruition, enabling a new era of building throughout our ancestral homeland.”

Shlomo Brom, the head researcher on Israeli-Palestinian relations at the Institute for National Security Studies, said that if the policy were strictly enforced, it would dramatically reduce West Bank construction. But Brom said many settlers seem to be betting the policy would be “flexibly” interpreted, which could allow the settlements to gradually expand indefinitely.

Noting that his think tank in January urged Israel to limit settlement construction to the major settlement blocs, Brom said this policy “is not close” to that.

Meanwhile, several right-wing lawmakers worried that the restrictions amounted to a suspension of settlement building. Yehudah Glick, a Knesset member in the ruling Likud party who lives in a settlement, held out hope in a tweet that this was not the case.

“I hope, in contrast to the commentators, that the government did not decide on a freeze on settlement construction,” he said. “We cannot accept this. Construction in Judea and Samaria is important for those who want peace.”

Bezalel Smotrich, an often-inflammatory Jewish Home party lawmaker who also lives in a settlement, suggested that Israel’s political right had lowered its expectations too far.

“This morning, on my [news feed] and according to the commentators — the right wing claims that the cabinet decided yesterday on construction [in the West Bank], the left claims that there is a freeze,” Smotrich tweeted on March 31. “Unfortunately, this time the commentators on the left are correct. The right is willfully blinded.”

Revivi, who is also the mayor of the Efrat settlement, said settlers have been most disappointed by Netanyahu. He said the prime minister blamed Obama for the lack of construction in the West Bank for years, but that is harder to do with Trump, who is seen as more sympathetic to Israel.

Especially after the evacuation of Amona, Revivi said, “people feel that promises are made but not really fulfilled.”

Judy Simon, the former tourism coordinator for the Beit El settlement and a teacher there, said she has lost faith in the government’s commitment to the settlement enterprise since Trump took office.

“Here we have the most pro-Israel government we’ve had [in Washington] in a decade, some say decades, and yet building is still being limited. What that says to me is the king has no clothes,” she said. “But God promised this is our land forever, and God never reneges on his promises, unlike some politicians.” n

From left: Jibril Rajoub, Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, DF Brigadier General (Res.) Michael Herzog, and moderator Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Center for ME policy at Brookings

We need to ‘seize opportunity’ with Trump, Palestinian official says


Conditions are ripe for a regional peace initiative given President Donald Trump’s interest in achieving a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians with the backing of Arab countries, says IDF Brigadier General (Res.) Michael Herzog, who was involved in every round of negotiations since the Oslo Accords, including in the years 2013-2014 on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

During a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Jibril Rajoub, Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, hosted by the Israel Policy Forum in New York on Wednesday, Herzog said that one of the reasons the most recent regional peace initiative (in 2016) fell apart was because the Obama administration didn’t want to be part of it. “I think they did not believe that this would yield results. To my knowledge, both sides – the Israelis and Palestinians – did not trust the [Obama] Administration to be the leading part of that initiative and the administration didn’t want to be part of it,” he explained.

The principles of the initiative were agreed upon during a secret peace summit between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Aqaba, according to a report by Haaretz. The proposal later served as a basis for talks between Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog on joining a national unity government. As reported by Haaretz, the plan was laid to rest after the coalition talks fell through in late 2016.

During Netanyahu’s meeting with President Trump in February, the two leaders agreed on reviving that plan with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf region.

“This administration is willing to involve the region in the peace process,” said Herzog. “I still don’t know how they are going to design the process. I don’t know if they have a strategy yet. We just have to wait and see. But it’s clearly a priority for this administration.”

Following a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan on Wednesday, Trump said, “I’m working very, very hard on trying to finally create peace between the Palestinians and Israel, and I think we’ll be successful,” The President called Abdullah a “tireless advocate” for a peace settlement “and he’s going to help me with that and help me at the highest level. And we will be consulting with him closely in the days ahead.”

Rajoub, after expressing regret at some of his past statements and promising to be more cautious in the future, agreed that the Palestinians need to “seize this opportunity” with the Trump Administration to renew peace talks. Asked if the Palestinians would agree to enter into negotiations without a full settlement freeze, Rajoub told Jewish Insider, “The settlements, believe me, brother, its existence is a threat to the state of Israel. We are talking about two states – with two territories. Why expand it? Listen, I think it’s the time to freeze all settlement activities. Believe me, it’s a benefit to the Israelis like it’s a benefit to the Palestinians.”

According to Herzog, Trump has leverage on the Palestinian Authority to bring them to the negotiation table if Israel follows through with the new policy restraint in settlement activity. “I think the Palestinians will demand a freeze,” Herzog told Jewish Insider after the event. “However,  I believe that if the Trump Administration pushes them to enter negotiations even with Israel just restraining settlement activity, I don’t think they have an alternative. I do think Trump has leverage over them. You don’t want to mess with him. And since he prioritizes the peace process and wants a deal, he has leverage on them. They will have to do with some kind of restraint, and if he pressed them they will follow.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Watch also condemned the hangings.

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

Jewish Voice for Peace members at the Jewish United Fund of Chicago protesting donor-advised funds from JUF going to groups that have been deemed Islamophobic on March 24. Photo by Inbal Palombo

When politics gets in the way of Jewish giving


Lisa Greer didn’t think twice when she used her cellphone to donate to IfNotNow, a Jewish organization that protests Israel’s West Bank occupation.

Greer and her husband, Joshua, had given millions to progressive Jewish and Israel causes, and she sits on the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. So last October, she gave the $5,000 contribution to IfNotNow from her donor-advised fund at the foundation, a mechanism for philanthropists to give to specific causes via local Jewish philanthropic bodies.

But two days later, the Jewish Community Foundation, the planned giving arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, blocked the donation. While Greer can choose where her fund’s money goes, the foundation has to approve every grant. And because IfNotNow protests federations and other Jewish establishment groups, the foundation said no.

It was the first Greer had ever heard of a grant being denied.

“We give to all different kinds of organizations. There’s never been an issue,” said Greer, who gave the IfNotNow donation in September. “I’d never heard of this happening before. I was beyond shocked. I really did start shaking.”

Greer’s gift isn’t the only contribution from a Jewish donor-advised fund to come under scrutiny. Nationwide, donor-advised funds affiliated with Jewish federations give a collective $1 billion per year, according to the Jewish Federations of North America. Of those gifts, relatively few are rejected — but red lines surrounding donor-advised gifts remain unclear. Beyond confirming a recipient nonprofit’s legal standing, federations often mandate only that a recipient’s mission be consistent with the federation’s goals — itself a vague requirement.

“Jewish Federations’ charitable goals include aiding the most vulnerable, building vibrant Jewish communities and supporting Israel,” read a statement from JFNA spokeswoman Rebecca Dinar. “Grants to organizations that fall outside of those parameters require each community to apply their own judgment.”

What falls within and outside those boundaries?

While the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles blocked the IfNotNow grant, it has allowed grants to the New Israel Fund, which supports a range of nonprofits that oppose occupation. Federations have also faced pressure on donor-advised donations to right-wing groups.

Last Thursday, Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports boycotts of Israel, issued a report tallying donor-advised gifts via Chicago’s federation-affiliated foundation to groups that JVP describes as “Islamophobic.” According to the report, gifts to two organizations — Middle East Forum and Investigative Project on Terrorism — totaled nearly $800,000 between 2011 and 2014. (Both groups say they do not oppose Islam but rather “Islamist violence” and “radical Islamic involvement in terrorism.”) Last year, students in J Street U, the student arm of the dovish Israel lobby, wrote an op-ed in the Forward detailing donor-advised gifts totaling more than $60,000 via the Chicago and Milwaukee federations to groups that fund West Bank settlement construction.

“If their only basis for who they give money to is whether it’s legal, they need to stop saying they stand together against all forms of hate,” said Michael Deheeger, one of the JVP report’s co-authors, about the Chicago federation. “They still retain total discretion over whether to let money go to these organizations. They can stop this today.”

For wealthy donors, donor-advised funds are a way to make giving easier. They place their money into a tax-free charitable account, tell the federation where they want it to go and the federation takes care of the rest, including paperwork and tax filing. Federations benefit by receiving an initial donation from each donor as well as a small percentage of each donation. Traditional charities like The United Way and the Salvation Army run donor-advised funds, as do mutual fund groups like Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

The popularity of donor-advised funds has grown beyond the Jewish community. According to The Economist, almost $80 billion sit in over 270,000 donor-advised funds today, compared to $34 billion in 180,000 donor-advised funds in 2010. In 2014, Jewish federations and affiliated foundations held over $17.5 billion in donor-advised funds, according to EJewishPhilanthropy.com.

Federations embraced donor-advised funds in recent years to cultivate wealthy families who wanted more say in where their donations go — unlike donations to the federation’s annual campaign, which are generally apportioned by the federation’s lay board and staff. But there are limits. Donors’ gifts from funds are subject to federation approval.

Andres Spokoiny, CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, which offers resources for Jewish philanthropists, said controversies on the margins of the funds shouldn’t tarnish their value as a way to facilitate giving. But the best way to assuage those concerns, he said, is for each federation to clearly set  its red lines.

“That gets inscribed into the broader question of what are normative positions for the Jewish community,” he said. “What are the limits of public discourse? It’s a debate that’s full of gray areas and the goalposts keep moving. The solution to that is to have an honest and open conversation in each community.”

Some federations do have specific policies on donor-advised gifts. Portland’s federation, for example, notes that it does not make its own allocations beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders, but that it will generally accept donor-advised gifts intended for charities beyond the so-called Green Line. Others, including the Chicago federation’s foundation and the Los Angeles community fund, prefer not to single out any one cause or group in their guidelines for donors.

“It’s the donor’s money sitting at JUF, and very wide latitude is then given to the donor,” said Jay Tcath, executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund, Chicago’s federation. “Which is why there are groups on the right that are going to be funded that antagonize the left, and groups on the left we fund.”

Asked to elaborate on its denial of Greer’s request, the L.A. fund wrote in a statement to JTA that it will approve gifts to any nonprofit “whose programs and goals are not inconsistent with the fundamental mission of the Jewish Community Foundation,” and which is not anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel.

Jewish Voice for Peace would like the Chicago federation to establish a policy disqualifying funding to “Islamophobic” groups. In the period covered by the JVP report, the Chicago federation’s donor-advised funds made a total of $175 million in grants to 3000 organizations.

That included more than $750,000 of donor-advised gifts between 2011 and 2014 to the Middle East Forum, an organization led by researcher Daniel Pipes that the Southern Poverty Law Center included on a list of anti-Muslim extremist groups, and $26,000 to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steven Emerson, which also appears on the SPLC list.

“If they want to cast such a big tent that it puts them in the position of funneling money to hate groups, they need to stop positioning themselves as speaking on behalf of the entire Chicago Jewish community,” Deheeger said.

Tcath rejects JVP’s charge that his organization is Islamophobic, noting money it has raised for relief efforts in Syria and Bosnia as well as its work helping resettle refugees of all religions in Illinois. He said his federation opposes bigotry, and that SPLC’s list of Islamophobic organizations, which came out in December, two years after the period studied by JVP, could prompt a re-examination of those groups. But he added that JUF would not disqualify a group based solely on one or two of its founders’ offensive statements.

“Any bigotry is against our values and interests, but it is not for certain that everybody would really agree with that characterization of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” he said. “Are they serving the noble goals on which their mission statement is based? If that is the case, then we’re not going to stop the donors’ requests to the group because of this or that statement.”

The Chicago federation does set red lines: Tcath said any group that advocates violence toward, or forcible expulsion of, Arabs from Israel would not receive funding. On the left, he ruled out any group that promotes boycotts of Israel — including JVP — but not groups that support boycotts limited to the settlements. In the past, Tcath also recalls the federation denying a request to fund a church that engaged in proselytizing.

Tcath said he had “no idea” whether JUF would honor a request to fund IfNotNow, noting its focus on protesting Jewish federations like his own.

After being denied by the L.A. community fund, Greer gave her donation directly to IfNotNow. In the months since, she has kept her money in the donor-advised fund, noting her support of most of the organization’s work in the Jewish community. But she’s looking for a more progressive home for her philanthropy.

“If I can get a little bit of money back to the Jewish community through that 1.5 percent, it’s a good thing,” she said, referring to the percentage of each gift that goes to the Jewish Community Fund. “But I’m actively looking for an alternative, and if an alternative presents itself, or if I were given money to create an alternative, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Photo by Reuters

Attack against soldier in the West Bank foiled


JERUSALEM (JTA) — An attack against an Israeli soldier near a West Bank checkpoint was prevented.

The alleged assailant was wielding a screwdriver as he approached a soldier at the Shomron Regional Brigade junction, also known as the Huwwara checkpoint, near Nablus in the northern West Bank.

Other solders subdued the alleged assailant and detained him, according to the IDF.

The junction is a popular hitchhiking post.

An Israeli flag is seen near the minaret of a Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. Nov. 30, 2016. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

Hamas closes border between Israel and Gaza


Hamas closed the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel following the assassination of one of its commanders.

The border crossing was closed Sunday in an effort to prevent the assassin or assassins from leaving Gaza. The Rafah border crossing with Egypt also reportedly has been closed by Hamas.

Thousands attended the funeral for Mazan Fukha in Gaza on Saturday, which was attended by Hamas senior official Ismail Haniyeh, Ynet reported.

Fukha was assassinated on Friday night outside of his Gaza home, according to reports. Hamas is blaming Israel’s Mossad for his death. Mourners shouted “revenge” against Israel during the funeral, the AFP news agency reported.

The Israeli side of the Erez crossing, the only place where people cross in and out of Gaza, will remain open. The Kerem Shalom crossing, which is used for goods and humanitarian aid, also will remain open, according to Israeli officials.

Fukha, who Israel says founded Hamas in the West Bank and helped coordinate terror attacks against Israelis, was jailed in Israel after being found responsible for suicide attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis during the second Intifada.

He was released from prison in Israel in 2011, as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange and ordered deported to Gaza.

A Palestinian protester uses a sling to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against Jewish settlements in al-Mughayyir village near the West Bank city of Ramallah March 24. Photo by Mohamad Torokman/REUTERS.

Israeli troops kill Palestinian teen suspected of hurling firebombs


Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian teenager they said was hurling firebombs at Israelis.

Three other teens were critically injured in the incident Thursday night in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian news agency Maan.

An Israeli army spokesman told Maan that “three suspects exited a vehicle adjacent to the community of Beit El, where the suspects threw firebombs at the community. In response to the threat, Israeli forces in the area fired towards the suspects, and several hits were confirmed. The suspects then fled the scene.”

Israeli troops dispersed a riot near Beit El after the incident by dozens of Palestinians who protested the shooting, hurling objects at the troops.

Palestinian sources identified the person killed as Muhammad Mahmoud Ibrahim al-Hattab, 17, who reportedly was shot in the chest and shoulder.

The four teens, all residents of the al-Jalazun camp, were transported to a Ramallah hospital, where al-Hattab was pronounced dead, according to the Maan report.

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.

Let’s stop patronizing the new generation


In the Jewish world today, if you’re young and cool and love to criticize Israel, community leaders will treat you with kid gloves, because they’re afraid of “losing” you. They’re afraid, among other things, that you might join one of those anti-Zionist movements like BDS or Jewish Voices for Peace, or just abandon Israel altogether.

Fear of loss can make people overly timid and deferential.

Take the case of IfNotNow (INN), a young and trendy Jewish activist group that regularly demonstrates against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. These activists are proponents of “Jewish values” who care about Palestinians and are giving Israel a dose of tough love.

Evidently, they believe that the best way to fight the occupation is to demand that it end now, and to demand that other Jewish organizations demand the same. It’s social justice on demand.

Because it’s never too cool to take on young activists who represent the revered “new generation,” there’s a general reluctance in our community and in the Jewish media to criticize INN and its demonstrations. But putting that reluctance aside, I think their PR spectacles can use some criticism. For one thing, they distort the reality of a complicated conflict.

To attract media attention, INN activists like to target high-profile Jewish groups and make an effort to get arrested, as happened last week in front of the AIPAC offices in Los Angeles and last year in the lobby of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) building in New York City. Their message is conveyed in cocky slogans such as, “Moral Jews must resist AIPAC” and “Dayenu—End the Occupation.”

It hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict.

Now, if I’m a typical Israeli voter who’d love to end the occupation but believes that, at this moment, it will lead to war rather than peace, I might look at such scenes and ask myself: What do these American kids know that I don’t?

To its credit, the ADL called them out last year in a statement from national director Jonathan Greenblatt: “It is unfortunate that INN seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace. Nevertheless, our doors are open, and our invitation to speak with INN still stands.”

They never took him up on the offer. Indeed, for young activists looking for action and attention, the notion of dialogue must seem dull and tedious. How do you compare a discussion of complex issues with an Instagram photo that makes you look like an anti-establishment rebel?

If there’s one thing rebels don’t like, it’s complications. When I meet with INN sympathizers, I try to offer at least one annoying wrinkle: After Israel leaves the West Bank, I tell them, it’s highly likely that terror groups like Hamas and ISIS will swoop in and start murdering Palestinians, as happened in Gaza. The ensuing chaos and violence would be a disaster for the Palestinians, significantly worse than anything they’re facing now.

That simple point alone gives them pause. It also challenges the delusion that Israel can just snap its fingers and end the occupation, as INN slogans demand.

It takes little courage to yell on a street corner and make demands on the most criticized country on earth. It takes even less courage to go after other Jewish groups because they don’t do things your way. Let’s see if INN activists will ever take on the biggest enemies of peace, those evil forces that make a living delegitimizing the Jewish state and promoting genocidal Jew-hatred.

Maybe one day, we’ll see some Jewish rebels protest outside INN offices and give them a taste of their own medicine. Here’s one idea for a pro-peace sign they can hold up: “Fight Jew-hatred: Are you INN or out?”

It should be clear by now that it hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict. If INN really wanted to work for peace, it would wrestle with the many difficult issues surrounding the conflict, as Greenblatt invited them to do. Last time I checked, wrestling with difficult issues is also a great Jewish value.

Of course, it’s always easier to just protest and make demands on the Jews, especially if you sense the Jewish establishment is walking on eggshells around you, because it’s so afraid to lose you. But from where I sit, I think we’ll lose the new generation a lot faster if we continue to patronize them and treat them with kid gloves.

Just like INN, I much prefer tough love.

An Israeli flag is seen near the minaret of a Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. Nov. 30, 2016. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

The two-state solution won’t die


This opinion tackling the two-state solution is the “pro” argument published in conjunction with Yishai Fleisher’s “con” argument, “Five Alternatives to Designating Separate States.

Seldom has an idea been pronounced dead more often than that of making peace between Israel and the Palestinians through a two-state solution. Politicians, experts, pundits and columnists have lined up to deliver their eulogies, lay it to earth, fill in its grave and recite Kaddish over its remains.  

Except that it still lives.

Even President Trump, who last month said he had no preference between a two-state solution and a so-called one state solution, has apparently reverted to a fairly classic two-state policy. His envoy, Jason Greenblatt, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week, was discussing reining in the Israeli settlements, presumably to preserve land for a future Palestinian state.

The reason even skeptics eventually come back to the two-state solution is that it remains the only viable, equitable and reasonable way of ending the seemingly endless conflict. Two peoples, who live side by side in the same land, can either fight over control of every square inch, denying the other side any ownership or control or dignity, or they can decide to share. The two-state solution does not pretend to give either side everything that they want – but it does give them everything that they need.

True, ultra-nationalists, who base Israel’s claim to the West Bank on their interpretation of God’s will, will never accept any solution that involves Israel relinquishing control over Judea and Samaria. Among this small group, various other “solutions” are regularly floated. A good example were the five “alternatives” proposed in a New York Times article last month by Hebron settler Yishai Fleisher (with whom I will debate at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills on the evening of March 30).

The five alternatives all have one thing in common: they do not treat Palestinians as equal to Jews and do not afford them anything close to equal rights. They do nothing to acknowledge Palestinian aspirations to control their own destiny in a state of their own. Fleisher himself recognizes this, stating that all his so-called plans have “potentially repugnant elements.”

The first of these alternatives — allowing Palestinians in the West Bank to become Jordanian citizens, while continuing to live in the West Bank under Israeli rule –would probably destabilize Jordan, a key US and Israeli bulwark against ISIS and al-Qaeda. And the plan itself is preposterous. Imagine if all the African-American residents of Michigan were suddenly told they were henceforth citizens of Canada and not the United States. They could send delegates to Parliament in Ottawa and help determine policies north of the border – but not where they live.

Two of Fleisher’s other so-called alternative solutions are based on Israel’s annexing most of the West Bank, leaving the cities as small Palestinian islands in charge of sewage collection and street lamps but not much else. They would be, in effect, Bantustans – a system attempted unsuccessfully by South Africa during the apartheid era.

The fourth solution suggested by Fleisher would give Palestinians full citizenship in Israel. They would have to swear loyalty to the Jewish state to earn this privilege. While this would not violate their human rights, it would effectively mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, if the Palestinians accepted the conditions. It’s hard to imagine any of the Zionist parties in Israel even pretending to consider this or many Palestinians signing on.

The final alternative in Fleisher’s list is the “voluntary” emigration of some 800,000 Palestinians from the West bank who would be financially “incentivized” to leave for their ancestral lands and rights. Where would they go? Jordan, which is already staggering under the weight of some  1.4 million refugees? Western Europe, where anti-immigrant populist movements are vying for power? Or perhaps Israel could persuade President Trump to accept a few hundred thousand Palestinians in the United States.

All of these false formulas, based on self-deception and fundamental injustice, should persuade us once more that the two-state solution is the only way to end the conflict. The moment the two-state solution really does dies, both peoples condemn themselves to a future of conflict without end, generation after generation – and that is a future too awful to accept.

At the core of this idea are the fundamental principles of peace and justice. With beautiful simplicity and economy, Psalm 34 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.” With equal terseness, Deuteronomy 16:20 commands us, “Justice, Justice shall you pursue.”

Though current prospects are bleak, I believe that the moment for the two-state solution will come because eventually both sides will realize they have no other choice and that the status quo will become intolerable. The moment may come in five years, it may take longer. But ideas, unlike mortals, have the power to persist for generations, centuries and even millennia when they stand on the fundamental human principles of peace and justice. This is an idea that is too strong to die.

The author is Special Adviser to the President of J Street.

An aerial view of Israel’s largest settlement, Maale Adumim, March 12, 2008. Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images.

Knesset committee delays vote on bill to annex large West Bank settlement


A Knesset committee vote on a bill that would annex the large West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim was postponed to avoid a conflict with a visiting Trump administration official.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation was scheduled to take up the bill, which would subject the settlement to Israeli law, on Tuesday, but delayed the discussion due to the visit by Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s adviser on international relations, who is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to gauge attitudes on peacemaking.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, agreed on Monday to postpone the discussion of the bill shortly after a five-hour meeting in Jerusalem between Greenblatt and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The Times of Israel reported. Greenblatt was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsors had initially rejected a request to postpone a vote on the legislation by three months, according to the news website.

Discussion of the bill had also been postponed in late January, following Trump’s inauguration, until after last month’s meeting between the president and Netanyahu.

The international community and the Palestinians argue that making Maale Adumim an official part of Israel will prevent the formation of a Palestinian state, since it would prevent territorial contiguity.

Some 40,000 Jewish settlers live in Maale Adumim, which Israel considers a settlement bloc that would become part of the nation under a peace deal with the Palestinians.

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

Trump invites Abbas to the White House


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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Annexing West Bank will lead to ‘crisis’ with Trump administration, Liberman warns


Annexing the West Bank will lead to a “crisis” with the Trump administration, Israel’s Defense Minister warned.

“I am saying it as clearly as possible: We received a direct message from the United States saying that Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank would mean an immediate crisis with the new administration,” Avigdor Liberman said Monday during an appearance  before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Liberman called on the ruling government coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “clarify very clearly, there is no intention to impose Israeli sovereignty.” Liberman is due to meet with top U.S. administration officials this week in Washington.

The warning came in response to an interview over the weekend with Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, who told the Israeli news channel i24 News that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer possible.

“The two-state solution is dead,” Zohar said. “What is left is a one-state solution with the Arabs here as, not as full citizenship, because full citizenship can let them to vote to the Knesset. They will get all of the rights like every citizen except voting for the Knesset.”

Liberman said the interview raised red flags around the world. “I’m getting calls from all of the world wanting to know if this is the position of the coalition,” he told the Knesset committee. “As far as my opinion is concerned, we need to separate from the Palestinians and not to integrate them. The decision to annex Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) would mean the integration of 2.7 million Palestinians in Israel.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has not called specifically for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. When asked about the topic last month during a news conference in Washington with Netanyahu, Trump said: “I like the one the two parties like … I can live with either one.”

Trump’s position diverges with that of previous U.S. presidents, who said two states was the only viable solution for resolving the conflict.