November 18, 2018

What Trump Wants from the Palestinians

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/File Photo

There is no agreement within the Trump government on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian arena. There is a dispute, and it is not yet clear how the president will decide whether and when a decision is made. Understanding the disagreement is necessary for understanding some of the president’s latest moves against the Palestinian leadership, including cutting aid funds and announcing the closure of the mission in Washington. Understanding the dispute is necessary to assess the likelihood that one day, if and when, similar American pressure will be exerted on Israel as well.

The dispute can be briefly explained as follows:

There are those in the Trump government who believe that the latest steps are a lever for exerting pressure on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. This is the official position of the administration, and also the position of some government officials. They want the Palestinians at the table, want to present a plan that will benefit, in their understanding, the people of Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East. They want to crack the unceasing walnut and amaze the world with the deal of the century. In the eyes of these officials, the announcement of the closure of the Palestinian delegation is a tactical step. A reversible step. Come to the table, negotiate, accept the American proposal, and open the mission.

There are also those in the Trump administration who believe that the latest steps are a way to signal to the world the President’s real intention: a fundamental change in the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian arena. In their opinion, closing the mission is not a tactical step of pressure, but a strategic step in keeping with the recognition of Jerusalem and the transfer of the American embassy to the capital of Israel. In fact, they say, the administration’s steps, including these last steps, should be seen as punitive measures, reflective of its overall position on the issue of Palestine.

There is a degree of consistency in the claim of those who expand: The transfer of the embassy, ​​as the president said, has brought the issue of Jerusalem off the table. UNRWA’s budget cut promises to reduce the problem of Palestinian refugees on the table. The closing of the mission in Washington foreshadows the removal of the Palestinian state from the table. Each step is well tuned to one of the core issues that prevent progress. Every step signals to the Palestinians that whatever happened, Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, and the Palestinians cannot prevent this with endless refusal. The refugees, who are mainly descended from refugees, will not return anywhere. They will have to recognize reality and be absorbed somewhere. As for the Palestinian state, this, as a senior official has said in the past, depends on the question of “how to define a state.” It would certainly be nothing more than a state minus. And perhaps only autonomy plus. Or a component in the Kingdom of Jordan. Either way, this is an entity that does not have to have representation in Washington.

The gap between the tactical approach and the substantive approach is a deep one. According to his public statements, the president is in the tactical camp – he is applying pressure in order to renew negotiations. According to his actions, he may be a member of the substantive camp – he is taking measures that will only make the likelihood of negotiations more distant, and raise the conflict on a new path of consciousness. Of course, there is also a possibility that the president does not care. Either way, he’s doing something, and it’s the reverse of what was done by the previous president, which irritates those he likes to upset. And there is a possibility that the president is tempted to take substantial steps under the guise of tactical measures. If this is the case, the maneuver is only possible thanks to the dedicated cooperation of the Palestinian leadership, which refuses to examine the seriousness of Trump’s intentions and has declared them irrelevant.

The president has a little more than two years. It’s a long time, a lot can happen. For a short time, it is hard to see how it will suffice to change an ancient conflict. If the Palestinians are right in their assessment, the president will go, and in his place will come another president, perhaps a Democrat. An important article by Clare Malone on FiveThirtyEight published this week shows that Americans, Republicans and Democrats, are tired of candidates willing to compromise or soften. They are looking for political purity. This is convenient for Israel when a Republican president strikes at the Palestinian leadership. It will be much less convenient when a Democratic president recognizes that his voters’ desire is to strike Israel.


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

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

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

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

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


Dear Grant and Amir,

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

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

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

Thank you once again for participating in this exchange.



Dear Shmuel,

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

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

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


U.S. anti-boycott bill not as bad as some critics say

Demonstrators protesting outside the Spanish Government Delegation in Barcelona, Oct. 20, 2015. Photo by Albert Llop/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

A bill being weighed in Congress that would target boycotts of Israel and its settlements is sparking widespread outrage, especially after investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald claimed it “criminalizes free speech.” The post relied on a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) expressing First Amendment concerns over the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. By contrast, the co-sponsors of the bill insist that it in no way hampers free speech.

So, who is right?

Statutory analysis is complex under the best of circumstances, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not tend to bring out people’s sense of care and nuance. What has been largely missing from the discussion over the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is a close, careful reading of the bill’s text and relevant statutory law — a non-hyperbolic read, but also a non-apologetic one. In short: This law has issues. It poses genuine speech concerns, and it seems to respond to a nonexistent problem. But the more extreme claims that it bans boycotts of Israel are untrue.

A bit of background can help set the stage. While Arab countries have boycotted Israel since before there was an Israel, in the 1970s they became far more aggressive in demanding that their trading partners join them in refusing to do business with Israel. They imposed a secondary boycott whereby companies had to prove they weren’t doing business with Israel in order to do business with the Arab countries.

In response, the United States passed a law prohibiting several actions if they were taken “with intent to comply with, further, or support any boycott fostered or imposed by a foreign country against a country which is friendly to the United States.” These included:

• Discriminating against a person “on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin.”

• Providing information “with respect to the race, religion, sex, or national origin” of any American person or their employees.

• Providing information regarding whether one had any business dealings with the boycotted country.

And, of course:

• Boycotting the country.

This law has been upheld against First Amendment challenges. And the most anodyne way of describing the new bill is to say it merely extends the pre-existing ban on boycotting an ally of the United States at the behest of a foreign country (e.g., Qatar) to include doing so at the behest of an International Governmental Organization (IGO), e.g., the European Union (EU) or United Nations (U.N.)

Importantly, neither the current law nor the proposed one bans boycotts of Israel generally. The existing anti-boycott law only prohibits actions taken “with intent to comply with, further, or support any boycott fostered or imposed by a foreign country.” Obviously, it is not generally unlawful to say whether one has business dealings with Israel. And likewise, even under this law, it is not illegal to boycott Israel — unless the reason you’re doing it is to comply with a foreign country’s demand that you do so.

If one says, “I boycott Israel because I think Israel is terrible,” that remains perfectly lawful (the ACLU is simply wrong when it suggests that the law targets those who boycott Israel “because of a political viewpoint opposed to Israeli policies”). In fact, if one says, “I boycott Israel because the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) tells me to,” that’s entirely lawful, too (PACBI is neither a foreign government nor an IGO). Only boycotts done at the behest of the EU or the U.N. would be newly prohibited by the law.

The ACLU’s letter suggests that this represents unlawful viewpoint discrimination. But many laws are like this: They prohibit certain actions only when they are taken with a particular intent. For example, it is illegal to fire a Latino employee if one is motivated by racial prejudice against Latinos. Both the action and the intent are perfectly lawful on their own — it is not illegal to harbor racial prejudice, and it is not illegal to fire employees — but conjoined together they become illicit. One could characterize this as (to quote the ACLU’s letter) punishing persons “based solely on their point of view” — the same action, taken with a different (non-prejudiced) viewpoint, is lawful — but doing so would throw the entirety of American anti-discrimination law into question.

Understanding the proposed anti-boycott measure requires grasping this distinction. Critics see provisions that target “support [for] any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel,” and assume that this motive alone is being criminalized. But a close parsing of the text — and in fairness, the paragraph in question is a convoluted nightmare — shows that this phrase does not prohibit supporting a boycott of Israel, it only prohibits those aforementioned actions (e.g., discrimination against an employee, certifying one does no business with Israelis) if one is doing so to support a boycott call from a foreign government or, now, IGO.

But just because the hyperbolic reactions are off base does not mean the law is worth backing. There is a legitimate free speech objection in how the law treats “support” for an IGO’s announced boycott. Whereas in current law the term “support” for a boycott is modulated by terms like “comply with” or “further” — suggesting more than pure expressive sympathy — in the new bill the term “support” stands unadorned. This poses a significant risk of chilling speech because whether or not Israel boycotters are doing so because they personally find the nation terrible versus because they wish to “support” a U.N. declaration that Israel is terrible often will be quite blurry. In any event, it’s not clear why that should be legally dispositive.

Other new language regarding statutory penalties — I do not believe the bill carries the risk of imprisonment, but it would be simple for its writers to make this clear — and how “requests” for a boycott are treated also are troublesome and at the very least need reworking.

Even if these flaws were all fixed, however, there would still be a substantial difference of context: Namely, there is no serious threat that either the U.N. or the EU will call for a secondary boycott. Whereas the current law reasonably is categorized as a shield for American corporations — protecting them from being forced by foreign diktat into a boycott they do not actually endorse — this law is not responsive to any such threat.

That may or may not affect the First Amendment analysis, but it significantly undermines the law’s policy rationale. Most of the litigation over the current law came because companies were providing documentation to Arab countries showing that they were boycotting Israel in order to avoid the former nations’ secondary boycott. But if the U.N. or EU are not imposing a secondary boycott, there would be no occasion to furnish this information and thus virtually no situation where anyone could violate the law unless they admitted “we are boycotting Israel because the U.N. said to.”

Laws can be bad without being apocalyptic and inadvisable without being unconstitutional. Discussions of Israel-Palestine, in particular, suffer from a marked propensity from people on all sides to abandon care and perspective as they race to extremes. This bill does not do the more outrageous things it stands accused of. That does not mean it is well drafted, necessary or worth the tempest it is stirring up. 

David Schraub is a lecturer at the law school and senior research fellow at the California Constitution Center at the UC Berkeley School of Law and a doctoral candidate in political science at Berkeley. He writes the blog The Debate Link, where a version of this article first appeared.

Will American Jews resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with White House senior advisor Jared Kushner in the West Bank City of Ramallah June 21, 2017. Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/Handout via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY


It’s been a busy week in Middle East peace making, but don’t lose sleep over it. As the White House acknowledged yesterday, making peace takes time. It takes a long time. More than a 24 hour visit by Jared Kushner to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Kushner had meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with President Abbas, and, judging by the leaks from these two meetings, this time it is the Israeli side that is more satisfied.

Why? Probably because of the American focus on Palestinian funding of terrorism – not direct funding of terrorism, but there is no other way to interpret the payments provided by the Palestinian Authority to the families of suicide bombers. The Trump administration understands this, and is pushing Abbas to forgo with this unreasonable habit. Abbas is afraid to do such a thing – it is political suicide, and it could trigger violence directed at the PA.

And why is Israel more relaxed? Because most of what it might be required to do, though unpleasant and politically challenging, is doable. If the US asks for a freeze of certain settlement activities, Israel can accept the challenge – it has already done such things in the past. And since the main goal in the Israeli-Palestinian game, at least for now, is not to be the one saying no to Trump – Israel is currently better positioned than the Palestinians.

That’s not a lot, but it’s something.


Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he argued that American Jews – and he isn’t talking about American Jews such as Kushner, Greenblatt, and Friedman – can have a big role in helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace:

A new, more committed alliance has emerged that is hoping to have an impact. It is made up of Palestinians who are genuinely committed to absolute nonviolence, along with Israelis and diaspora Jews who are willing to translate their support into direct action. Some existing American Jewish groups have made serious changes in the way they present their peace agenda, while new Jewish diaspora groups are emerging based on the idea of direct action.

He is wrong for three reasons:

1. American Jews don’t have much influence on Israel when it comes to its foreign affairs and security policy.

2. American Jews of the camp Kuttab refers to do not have much sway over the Trump administration – in fact, these groups are seen as hostile by the administration (for good reason).

3. American Jews cannot change the fundamental realities that have made the conflict unsolvable thus far.


Nathan Thrall’s new book is making headlines because of the unapologetic approach it takes – beginning with the name of the book – towards pressuring Israel and the Palestinians and forcing them into a compromise. The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine is well written. But it states the obvious: humans might cave under pressure, when they realize that the price they are paying for their actions is higher than their gains.

What it fails to do – in my opinion – is explain two points:

1. Why is it so essential for the world to force a compromise? The world hasn’t forced a compromise in Syria, in the Ukraine, in Yemen, and in so many other places around the world. Yet Thrall focuses on this specific conflict zone as if it must be a first priority for the world community. I find that odd.

2. Thrall makes the mistake that economists used to make when they used game theory to understand human behavior. He treats the Middle East – us – as rational players in a rational game. Make us lose, and we will compromise. Make us suffer, and we will accept an uneasy solution. To his credit, Thrall makes the case with conviction, and based on many examples. But he fails to see that the real compromise, the painful concessions, are much more profound than anything that was asked of Israel and the Palestinians in the past. He fails to see that at some point, the response to pressure could be counter pressure – force, violence. He fails to see that if this happens, the price paid by all sides will be very high – there will be a lot of suffering, and a lot of bloodshed, and possible chaos.

For some reason – see point A – Thrall is ready to take such a risk. For a much better reason – see point B – it would be wise not to take such a risk.


Thrall answers some of these questions in an interview with Lee Smith. Here is, for example, part of his answer on why America cares so much about this issue:

Americans care deeply about the Holy Land; presidents and secretaries of state find in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a fairly low-stakes – from the perspective of core U.S. interests – but high profile arena in which they might cement their legacy and possibly make history; and there is also a strong element of inertia.

Again, to Thrall’s credit, he gives an honest answer. To his discredit, he doesn’t see that these are poor reasons for someone to argue for using force (and by this Thrall means economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure) to resolve the conflict.

So what peace do you want, Mr. President?

President Donald Trump, May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

As journalists, we trade in political gossip. As journalists, we trade in controversy. Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel next week will provide us with many opportunities to trade in both gossip and controversy. In fact, the visit hasn’t even started yet and we are already doing that – to the point of announcing the reemergence of daylight between Israel and the US. A 24-hour incident concerning the Western Wall is a text book case in how much we like gossip and controversy: an anonymous American official says something not quite wise, Israelis become agitated, responses pile up, the White House is under pressure to clarify (which it did – eventually).

But was this an important event? If it signals a change in American policy, it is hugely important. If it’s the result of chaos in the American government, it is also important, but in a subtler way. Managing a peace process is a difficult and sensitive task. Managing a peace process with a team of incompetent diplomats with a tendency to complicate matters rather than simplify them would be impossible.

Then again, it is important to separate the gossip from the essence, the accidental controversy from the actual policy. It is important to look at Trump’s visit coolly, and try to understand what challenges the president faces and what choices he must make. These choices, much more than this or that statement, or misunderstanding, will determine what US-Israel relations will look like, and what the peace process will look like, in the coming months.

What is Trump’s current goal? Sure, the president wants to broker a peace deal, but what does he mean by that? Will he go for a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians? Will he go for an interim agreement? Professionals in Israel (and many in the US) believe that the interim agreement is the better, wiser choice. It has a downside, though: an interim agreement does not have the flash and does not provide the broker with the glory that Donald Trump seems to seek. Still, this is a deliberate choice he will have to make. Getting to the ultimate deal is one type of effort, getting to an interim agreement is a different type of effort. As far as I know – and information is limited – the Trump team haven’t yet made such decisions. They can still afford not to decide, but they can’t afford it for very long, lest expectations rise and it becomes complicated to scale them back.

What is Trump’s detailed solution? The President has vowed time and again not to force an agreement on the parties. I believe this is a hollow promise for two reasons: One – he cannot force an agreement on the parties. Two – it is a promise that he will surely break in the sense that the US as mediator always ends up applying pressure on the parties.

But even assuming that Trump is ready to let Israel and the Palestinians come up with their desired solution – what he believes is the right solution for the conflict matters greatly. At some point, and it can come sooner or later, the parties are going to disagree. When they disagree, the US will be called for assistance. If the US has a clear view of a desired outcome, it is going to help the side closer to this view. If the US truly has no view of a desired outcome, it will not be able to decide which side to support.

So Trump, or the people he will trust to deal with the peace process, must have a vision beyond ‘let’s have peace.’ They must decide if, in their view, Israel’s demand to keep controlling the Jordan Valley for a prolonged period of time is reasonable. They must decide if putting parts of the Old City of Jerusalem under Palestinian control is reasonable. They must decide if the Palestinians can speak for a Gaza controlled by Hamas. In other words – they must develop a detailed concept of what an agreement looks like, and what outcome they attempt to push forward.

Of course, there are many other questions to be considered – some gossipy (what team is he going to assemble for running a complicated peace process), some unrelated to the peace process (what other issues he has to deal with and how he handles them), some concerning the parties themselves (how they respond to the initiative), some related to other parties in the region (the Saudis, the Egyptians, Hamas, Iran).

We must ask: will there be terror as negotiations advance? In the mid-90s and the early 2000’s, terror attacks lowered the chance of success. This can happen again, initiated by Hamas, or by Iran, or emerging spontaneously because of disappointment or fury. And yes, it can also be the result of actions by radical Israelis.

We must ask: will there be a political crisis in Israel? Netanyahu could lose his coalition if negotiations advance, and he doesn’t really trust the safety net that other political parties offer to provide him with.

We must ask: is Abbas strong enough to make bold decisions? Only an illusionary vision of the peace process assumes that Israel alone will have to make bold decisions. Sacrifices and compromises will be demanded of both sides, and it is not at all clear that the Palestinians are readier to make these compromises than Israel.

We must ask: will the moderate Arab countries really be there? Both President Clinton and President Bush had a vision of peace that involved the active participation of these countries in both providing Israel with a more tempting incentive to compromise and the Palestinians with the political cover they need to compromise. Trump seems to have the same vision – and he might be disappointed for the same reasons (the Arabs have their own interests and fears concerning involvement in this sensitive process).

To sum it up: there are many questions, some quite technical and boring, to ask about a peace process. While we focus on the president’s colorful statements and mishaps and blunders – while we focus on gossip and short-term controversies – while we focus on today’s headlines – we ought not forget these questions. They will be the ones that make or break yet another round of peace processing.

When Trump meets Abbas: Will he deliver Israel?

FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the 34th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

President Donald Trump invited Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to the White House. A date has not been set yet. In the meantime, Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt is visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority for talks. The Palestinians seem pleased with these developments. Israeli right-wingers, who for some reason believed a Trump presidency means they get free reign, seem a little worried. Trump has a packed agenda, and has had a chaotic start to his term, and yet he still found time to spend on the Israel-Palestine negotiations. That is not a good sign for those betting on presidential neglect.

Why is Trump doing this? During the campaign he gave an honest answer: it is a challenge that all his predecessors failed at, and it would be nice to show the world his competency by succeeding where others have failed. What is Trump’s plan for success? That is still a mystery. If the president indeed told Abbas what the White House statement says it did – “a peace agreement must be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Palestinian and Israeli leadership to make progress toward that goal. The President noted that the United States cannot impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, nor can one side impose an agreement on the other” – a rocky path awaits him. If direct negotiations resume, they are likely to produce nothing. What then?

Then he will have to make a decision: He could drop the ball and move to solve other world problems (Turkey-Netherland relations seem to have potential). He could set limited goals – instead of a comprehensive peace – and try to achieve these goals by helping Israel and the Palestinians slightly better the current situation. Or he could repeat the mistake of all his predecessors and go for the jugular. Cold calculation would advise against such a move. But Trump doesn’t always follow what other people consider to be cold calculation. Trump follows his gut, his ego, his big dreams.

In the long and nuanced review of the round of talks conducted under the leadership of former Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli negotiator Michael Herzog wrote, among other things, that Kerry appeared at times “more eager” than the two parties to reach a deal. He “pushed them beyond their limits, set unrealistic goals and timeframes, and shouldered some burdens better left alone or to the parties – in the belief that his own powers of personal persuasion could overcome any obstacle.”

What was true for Kerry is also true for Trump. His eagerness is worrisome. His possibly unrealistic goals could prove problematic. His tendency to believe in his own “powers of personal persuasion” might take him down the Kerry path. What happened in the Kerry path is well documented by Herzog. His account of Palestinian expectations is telling:

So why did Abu Mazen shut down? … the main reason lies in his unmet expectations that the U.S. side would deliver him an acceptable deal by pressuring Israel. Abbas entered the process with low expectations of Netanyahu, yet he expected or was led to believe that the U.S. side would produce a well-designed process, including significant Israeli flexibility… He was increasingly disappointed…”

There it is: If Trump wants to get to a yes from the Palestinian side, he’ll have to “deliver” Israel. And what delivering Israel means is no secret. Trump will have to demand Israeli concessions on settlements, security, Jerusalem, and other thorny items. If he does, Israel is going to cave on some issues, but at some point, it will have to resist.

For example: Israel is not going to agree to an arrangement that leaves the Jordan Valley open to infiltration from other countries after only a short period of transition. But that is currently what the Palestinians demand (according to Herzog, Abbas “offered five years as the period after which foreign forces might be deployed indefinitely in the area… Netanyahu thought in terms of decades”). The US can adopt one of four positions on this issue:

It can tell the Palestinians that Israel’s demand is reasonable – and see them “shut down” as they did with Kerry.

It can tell Israel that its demand is unreasonable – and see Netanyahu maneuver against the US position as he did with Kerry.

It can search for a middle ground – as Americans in general, and American businessmen in particular, tend to do – and discover that some things don’t work quite the same in the Middle East.

It can say that the parties have to solve this issue by direct negotiations – and watch them get stuck, one issue after the other, because the differences are just too big to bridge at this point in time.

What will Trump’s choice be? The fact that he spoke to Abbas and invited him to Washington tells us something about his stance – the Israel-Palestine issue is more a priority for him than some of us believed. The reports about Abbas being pleased with the conversation tell us some more – Trump did not let him feel that there is no reason for him to engage with this administration. Greenblatt’s visiting Israel and the PA tells us some more – the administration is not all talk, it is moving to action. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decision to join Prime Minister Netanyahu in warning against settlement construction tells us some more – what they hear from Washington calls for caution.

All signs show that the games are about to begin. The teams know that they will ultimately have to score. The referee has entered the field, whistle in hand.

But he still needs to tell us the name of the game.



Trump killed the two-state theology. That’s good.

President Donald Trump (R) laughs 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


People supportive of the two-state solution tend to forget that there is nothing sacred about it. It is – as its title hints – a “solution.” That is: a means to an end.

What is the end? Having Israelis and Palestinians live peacefully where they both feel at home. Or more accurately: for Israel it is having Israelis live peacefully where they feel at home. For Palestinians it is having Palestinians live peacefully where they feel at home. What is the end game for America? Having the Israeli-Palestinian conflict solved in a way that puts this distraction to rest.

It is important to remember that Israel has no interest in having a Palestinian State. Israel’s interest is to have a secure, thriving, culturally cohesive Jewish state. A Palestinian state is only a way for some Israelis to achieve this goal. But if a Palestinian state is not the best way for Israel to achieve this goal, Israel would abandon the two-state solution without much fanfare.

It is also important to remember that the US has no interest in having a Palestinian state. America’s interest is to get the “conflict” off the table as much as that is possible. If a Palestinian state is not the best way for the US to achieve this goal, then it would abandon the two-state solution without much fanfare.

This is essentially what President Donald Trump said yesterday. One state, two states, why would he care? If the two sides are happy with another solution, there’s no reason for the US to stick to the two-state solution as if this were some kind of sacred theology. There is no reason for anyone to complain about Trump’s refusal to stick to a certain solution. In fact, all supporters of peace ought to be delighted with Trump’s recognition of the fact that the two-state solution mantra turned this idea from a solution to a goal – it made it an obstacle.


Killing the two-state solution as the only idea on the table is easy. Finding the alternative is tough. It is especially tough if one has in mind the goal that Trump has in mind:

I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.

The one that both parties like. That is the tough part. You can have a two-state solution that some people could like. You can have a one-state solution that some people could like. But having a solution that both parties like seems unachievable at the moment. Thus, what Trump was proposing yesterday is meaningless. If he is interested at brokering peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors as he says, the road ahead is clear up to a point: he will see what the parties say they want. He then will realize that there is no such thing as “the one that both parties like.” He will then have to reconsider his position.

He could decide: This is not for me – I am not ready to push these two peoples into something both of them do not want.

He could decide: I have to come up with a certain solution that I think is best for the two sides – because they will never be able to agree on anything on their own.

What will Trump choose to do? There was nothing in his performance yesterday that clarifies that. It depends on many variables, most of which concern matters that have nothing to do with Israel or Palestine. They have to do with Trump’s overall agenda, and the energy he will want to spare for dealing with the elusive Middle East peace.


This morning I heard the leaders of the Israeli right getting used to the idea that Israel is going to restrain the construction of settlements in the West Bank. They are getting used to it without much protest. They are getting used to it without realizing that they got very little in return for a partial freeze. Trump should thank his predecessor, President Obama, for making things so easy for him with the Israeli right. The bar, following Obama, was set so low, that even a president who unceremoniously asks for a partial freeze of settlements is accepted with glee.


Jewish critics of Israel’s policy – who are also Jewish critics of the new US president – please do not get confused: It is good for Israel to get along with the American president. It is good for Israel to have warm relations with the White House and to be able to coordinate its policies with a sympathetic administration. As you saw during the eight years of contentious relations between Israel and the Obama administration – such relations do not make Israel safer and do not make peace more possible. So maybe cutting Trump and Netanyahu some slack and letting them try a different approach would be wise.

And by the way:

Maybe it is time to stop the unhelpful (and politicized) hysteria concerning the US and Israel: Gallup just released its numbers, and they show that support for Israel in the US is as strong as ever.

Maybe it is time to stop the unhelpful (and politicized) hysteria concerning the US and anti-Semitism: PEW just released its numbers, and they show that Jews in America are still very well liked.


A few words about the appointment of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel:

1. An ambassador should reflect and communicate the policy of a certain administration. Expecting Trump to appoint an ambassador in line with Obama’s approach is unrealistic and unwise. That would make the ambassador ineffective.

2. An ambassador does not make or break US policy. Friedman is not going to make peace more or less likely.

3. In fact, Friedman could be effective in a way similar to Trump in his performance yesterday: Israelis will trust his good intentions and hence will be more receptive if and when he voices certain criticism or makes certain demands on behalf of the administration.

4. I hear that a few former ambassadors argue that Friedman is “unqualified” to be ambassador because he has “extreme, radical positions.” But one ought to ask: radical compared to whom? Many Israelis would consider the views of some of these former ambassadors – Dan Kurtzer is a prime example – as much more radical than Friedman’s. In fact, a fair number of Americans – many of which are “tepid” (Gallup’s definition) on Palestinian statehood might find these ambassadors’ views more radical than Friedman’s.

5. The fight over Friedman sounds much like the fight over Trump: Those who do not accept the reality of Trump also do not want to accept the reality of Friedman. In other words: this is not about Friedman’s qualifications, it is about the boss’ qualifications. And it is misguided: Because no ambassador – not even the one most acceptable to J Street, or to the five former ambassadors, or to Haaretz Daily – is going to save America and Israel from Trump.


A settlement evacuated: A manufactured emotional drama

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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



GOP platform committee approves new Israel language

The Republican Party’s Platform Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved proposed language that drops any reference to the party’s longstanding support for the two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the 2016 platform.

“We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier,” the platform’s language on Israel, introduced by GOP delegate Alan Clemmons, reads. “Support for Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”

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The National Jewish Democratic Council derided the Republican platform as an effort to make Israel a wedge issue in the 2016 presidential election. ”When it comes to Republican rhetoric on Israel, they can’t even find themselves to be inline with the rhetoric of the prime minister of Israel when it comes to a two state solution,” the NJDC said in a statement. “But as the GOP platform over compensates to the right on Israel, the Republican nominee still has a less than impressive pro-Israel record. As they antagonize the Jewish left and the Jewish right at the same time, Trump and the GOP have quite an unproductive marriage — at least for our community.”

J Street called the language “dangerous and irresponsible,” which would “embolden the Israeli settler movement and those who wish to annex the West Bank” and “weaken Palestinian moderates and strengthen extremists advocating violence.”

The pro-peace and leftist group also objected to the language designating the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. “Though J Street opposes the BDS Movement and recognizes that some of its members and supporters have expressed anti-Semitic attitudes and policies, we also believe that this language is far too broad and would unfairly brand many people as anti-Semites, simply because they endorse economic pressure to end the occupation,” J Street said in a statement on Tuesday.

Read the full text of the approved Israel language below:

Our Unequivocal Support for Israel and Jerusalem

“Like the United States of America, the modern state of Israel is a country born from the aspiration for freedom, and standing out among the nations as a beacon of democracy and humanity. Beyond our mutual strategic interests, Israel is likewise an exceptional country that shares our most essential values. It is the only country in the Middle East where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are found. Therefore, support for Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.

“We recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state, and call for the American embassy to be moved there in fulfillment of U.S. law. We reaffirm America’s commitment to Israel’s security and will ensure that Israel maintains a qualitative military edge over any and all adversaries. We support Israel’s right and obligation to defend itself against terror attacks upon its people, and against alternative forms of warfare being waged upon it legally, economically, culturally and otherwise.We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier, and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (“BDS”) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel.

“Therefore, we call for effective legislation to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner. The U.S. seeks to assist in the establishment of comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, to be negotiated among those living in the region. We oppose any measures intended to impose an agreement or to dictate borders or otherterms, and call for the immediate termination of all U.S. funding of any entity that attempts to do so. Our party is proud to stand with Israel now and always.”

UN’s Ban: ‘Frustration’ is to blame for Palestinian violence against Israelis

Palestinian violence against Israel is a result of Palestinian “frustration” over “a half century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Ban called on Israel to freeze building in the settlements and to apply justice equally for Israelis and Palestinians in an address Tuesday to the U.N. Security Council.

He condemned the four-month spate of stabbings, vehicle attacks and shootings by Palestinians targeting Jewish-Israelis and added that clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces have continued to claim lives.

“But security measures alone will not stop the violence,” Ban said. “They cannot address the profound sense of alienation and despair driving some Palestinians – especially young people. It is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.”

Ban said West Bank Jewish settlements, or “so-called facts on the ground in the occupied West Bank,” are “steadily chipping away the viability of a Palestinian state and the ability of Palestinian people to live in dignity.”

He said he was “deeply troubled” by reports of Israel approving more than 150 new homes in West Bank settlements, as well as an announcement declaring 370 acres in the West Bank as state land.

“These provocative acts are bound to increase the growth of settler populations, further heighten tensions and undermine any prospects for a political road ahead,” Ban said. “The parties must act – and act now – to prevent the two-state solution from slipping away forever.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Ban’s remarks, saying they “provide a tail-wind for terror.”

“There is no justification for terror. Those Palestinians who murder do not want to build a state, they want to destroy a state and they say this openly,” Netanyahu said.  “They want to murder Jews for being Jews, and say this publicly. They don’t murder for peace and they don’t murder for human rights.”

The Israeli leader also criticized the U.N.’s positions on his country.

“The United Nations long ago lost its neutrality and its moral force,” Netanyahu said, “and the secretary-general’s remarks do not improve its standing.”

In Interview, Jeb touts brother’s legacy as guidance on Israel, peace talks

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush would not pursue the two-state solution or ask Israel to take additional steps to renew peace negotiations with the Palestinians, if elected as president in the fall.

In a wide-ranging interview on the campaign trail Thursday, Jeb told Jewish Insider that he would set several pre-conditions for the Palestinians to return to the negotiation table and moving forward in the pursuit of a peace settlement.

“Not until the Palestinians recognize the right of Israel to exist within safe and secure borders; not until they stop the hatred of the Jewish State, and of Jews in general; not until they stop teaching their children to hate Israelis, and not until they have the capability of delivering on any negotiated settlement,” Jeb stressed.

The Republican presidential hopeful told Jewish Insider that his brother George W. Bush’s legacy as president and relationship with Israel “is a model of how to go about the U.S. relationship with Israel – that you don’t force Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians until they have established some degree of credibility, because they have none; until they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State inside safe and secure borders, or say it not; until they have the political legitimacy to not only commit to a deal but enforce a deal, which they don’t.”

Former President George W. Bush was indeed viewed as being pro-Israel and had managed to maintain a warm relationship with Israel’s Prime Ministers throughout his presidency. Nonetheless, he was also the first U.S. President to publicly endorse the creation of an independent Palestinian State – one that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed at the time – and continuously called on Israel to stop its settlement activity, at least outside of the large settlement blocs.

Jeb, who’s competing for the Republican nomination with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz from one side, and Donald Trump and Chris Christie from the other side, refused to say whether he is supports or opposes the two state solution. “As I said, I believe my brother was the strongest friend to Israel in modern history, and that would be a guide as it relates to my presidency – plain and simple,” he said.

Asked if he would do something differently, since nothing has seemed to work until now, Jeb responded, “No, I wouldn’t. That’s the lesson learned by my brother’s administration.”

Jeb also sought to reassure the pro-Israel and Jewish Republican hawkish donors that former Secretary of State is just one of many advisors on foreign policy and national security issues. “Baker is a statesman, he’s a friend, but he’s not providing advice as it relates to Israel,” Jeb told JI. “I speak to my brother regularly. I do seek my brother’s advice and I think he was a great president as it relates to having undying, committing loyalty to the U.S.-Israel alliance.”

We also discussed with the Republican presidential hopeful his views on the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s dispute with Saudi Arabia, his relationship with the Jewish community in Florida and why he would win a consistency test with any of his Republican rivals.

In the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bush said, “If you had to pick between Iran and Saudi Arabia, we should be on the side of Saudi Arabia.”

The full interview with Jeb Bush will be published over the weekend.

Vatican signs first treaty with ‘State of Palestine’, Israel angered

The Vatican signed its first treaty with the “State of Palestine” on Friday, calling for “courageous decisions” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and backing a two-state solution.

The treaty, which made official the Vatican's de facto recognition of Palestine since 2012, angered Israel, which called it “a hasty step (that) damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement”.

Israel also said it could have implications on its future diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

The accord, which concerns the Catholic Church's activities in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, also confirmed the Vatican's increasingly proactive role in foreign policy under Pope Francis. Last year, it brokered the historic resumption of ties between the United States and Cuba.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican's foreign minister, said at the signing that he hoped it could be a “stimulus to bringing a definitive end to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continues to cause suffering for both parties”.

He called for peace negotiations held directly between Israelis and Palestinians to resume and lead to a two-state solution. “This certainly requires courageous decisions, but it will also offer a major contribution to peace and stability in the region,” he said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki said he hoped it would help “recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, freedom and dignity in an independent state of their own, free from the shackles of occupation”.

The Vatican is particularly keen to have a greater diplomatic role in the Middle East, from where many Christians have fled because of conflicts in Syria, Iraq and other countries.

There are about 100,000 Catholics of the Roman and Greek Melkite rites in Israel and the Palestinian territories, most of them Palestinians.

Gallagher said the agreement “may serve as a model for other Arab and Muslim majority countries” with regard to freedom of religion and conscience.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2012 recognizing Palestine as an observer non-member state. This was welcomed at the time by the Vatican, which has the same observer non-member status at the United Nations.

Since then the Vatican has de facto recognized a “State of Palestine” and the pope referred to it by that name when he visited the Holy Land last year.

Some 135 members of the United Nations recognize Palestine, nearly 70 percent of the total. By comparison, 160 of the UN's 193 members recognize Israel.

Last October, Sweden became the first major European country to acknowledge Palestine, a decision that drew condemnation from Israel and has since led to tense relations between the two.

The European Union as a whole does not recognize Palestine, taking the same view as the United States that an independent country can emerge only via negotiations with Israel, not through a process of unilateral recognition.

Israeli defense minister sees no peace with Palestinians in his lifetime

Israel's defense minister said on Tuesday he did not believe a stable peace agreement could be reached with the Palestinians in his lifetime – one of the bleakest assessments from a top-level cabinet member since talks collapsed last year.

Moshe Yaalon, one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's closest allies, accused the Palestinians of having “slammed the door” on efforts to keep discussions going, and said they had rejected peace-for-land deals for at least 15 years.

His comments, in a speech to a strategic conference, were dismissed by a Palestine Liberation Organization official who told Reuters that Netanyahu's administration bore the blame for the impasse.

Peace negotiations broke off in April 2014, with disputes raging over Israeli settlement building in land Palestinians seek for a state and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's unity deal with Hamas Islamists who rule Gaza and do not recognize Israel's right to exist.

“As for the possibility of reaching an agreement … there is someone who says he doesn't see one during his term,” Yaalon said, referring to remarks U.S. President Barack Obama made in an Israeli television interview last week.

“I don't see a stable agreement during my lifetime, and I intend to live a bit longer,” Yaalon told the Herzliya Conference, held annually near Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu was due to address the forum later in the day.

Palestine Liberation Organization official Wasel Abu Youssef told Reuters past and present Israeli governments had “closed the political horizon” by demanding to retain major settlement blocs and rejecting a right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Youssef said Netanyahu's administration bore responsibility for the current impasse through its settlement activities, refusal to release jailed Palestinians and demand Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

On the eve of his March 17 election to a fourth term, Netanyahu drew international criticism by saying there would be no Palestinian state if he remained Israel's leader.

He said withdrawal from territory by Israel would embolden hardline Islamist guerrillas arrayed on its borders.

Netanyahu has since sought to row back, insisting he remained committed to a “two-state solution” in which Palestinians would establish a demilitarized country and recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland.

In his television interview, Obama said Netanyahu's position “has so many caveats, so many conditions that it is not realistic to think that those conditions would be met at any time in the near future”.

As Presbyterians again weigh divestment, Jewish groups lobby, warn and worry

Which way will Presbyterians go this time?

That’s a question Jewish groups and their Presbyterian allies are nervously asking as they work to head off divestment efforts within the church targeting Israel. The fear is the efforts could pass this time after a narrow defeat two years ago.

A successful divestment vote at the biennial Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly this month could precipitate a rupture between the mainline Protestant denomination and the Jewish community, they warn.

Jewish-Presbyterian relations already were strained severely following the publication by a church-affiliated group of a document, “Zionism Unsettled,” that depicted Zionism as a false theology.

“The publication of ‘Zionism Unsettled’ by the very voices backing divestment in the PC (U.S.A.) revealed an agenda that is not about church investments,” said Ethan Felson, the vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “These backers of divestment want to return their church to a place of retrograde anti-Jewish theology, hostility to mainstream Jews and, of course, a blind eye to the responsibility of Hamas and Hezbollah on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the steps Israelis are forced to take to defend themselves.”

Delegates to the General Assembly, taking place June 14-21 in Detroit, will consider at least five resolutions, or “overtures,” that would advance divestment from companies that deal with Israel’s military and one that would reconsider whether the church supports a two-state solution.

Church officials organizing the assembly declined to comment directly on the resolutions.

At the 2012 church assembly, delegates rejected a divestment initiative by the slimmest of margins, 333-331.

Such resolutions have become commonplace at mainline Protestant churches in recent years. But other mainline Protestant churches have been less receptive, defeating them by solid margins.

Jewish communal officials and their allies worry that divestment proponents could find success at this year’s Presbyterian assembly.

Since the last assembly, a contingent of conservative Presbyterians have broken away from the denomination over its recent embrace of the ordination of gay clergy. Conservatives are seen as likelier to reject anti-Israel measures.

Meanwhile, divestment proponents are pointing to the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in their efforts to encourage church members to back divestment.

“Part of what this is about is highlighting how we’re now at the tail end of the peace process due to settlement construction,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, director of campaigns for Jewish Voice for Peace, which is lobbying for divestment at the church’s General Assembly.

Christopher Leighton, a Presbyterian minister who is the executive director of the Institute for Jewish and Christian Studies in Baltimore, said one reason he feared divestment would pass was that typical delegates to assemblies are not necessarily steeped in each issue under consideration.

“The vast majority of Presbyterians don’t know these issues or the historical religious complexity of the region,” Leighton said. “What they’re bombarded with is ‘Palestinians are suffering terribly. If we don’t do something about it we become complicit in an injustice.’ The arguments put forth traffic in all kinds of stereotypes that require work to undo.”

Leighton was outspoken in his criticism of “Zionism Unsettled,” the study guide published in January by the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network. The guide targeted what it called “the theological and ethical exceptionalism of Jewish and Christian Zionism, which have been sheltered from open debate despite the intolerable human rights abuses rooted in their core beliefs.”

Rabbi Noam Marans, the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious relations, said the combined damage of the study guide and the passage of divestment overtures would likely have consequences for Jewish-Presbyterian ties, although he did not want to outline them until the assembly had finished.

“Depending on which resolutions pass, and they may yet evolve, we will have to make challenging decisions,” said Marans, who will attend the assembly. “It certainly is an ongoing crisis in Presbyterian-Jewish relations.”

But Wise said that linking the divestment bid to the study guide is “opportunistic.”

Each was generated by a different church body, she noted — “Zionism Unsettled” by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and the divestment overtures by the church’s investment committee, the Mission Responsibility Through Investment. The investment committee had been considering divestment since 2004, a decade before the study guide was published.

“To bring ‘Z.U.’ into this process is disrespectful to how intentional the Presbyterian community has been,” Wise said.

“Zionism Unsettled” was praised as “smart and gutsy” by the co-chair of Jewish Voice for Peace’s rabbinical council, Rabbi Brant Rosen, in a blog post republished on the group’s website.

The Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, president of the Auburn Theological Seminary, said there was considerable overlap between the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and those promoting divestment. She said they shared an agenda informed by the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, movement.

“The stakes are very high,” said Henderson, who criticized “Zionism Unsettled” and will advocate against divestment at the assembly. “In my mind, all of these things go together, you can’t pull apart motives. Divestment today may mean full-out BDS tomorrow, and that’s the decision that Presbyterians face.”

One veteran of pro-Israel outreach among Presbyterians said he was close to giving up.

“At this point, we’ve done a lot to educate the Presbyterians about what’s going on in their church,” said Dexter Van Zile, the Christian media analyst for CAMERA, a pro-Israel watchdog.

Van Zile, a veteran of such assemblies, said he will not be heading to Detroit.

“Let the General Assembly decide and the church live with the consequences,” he said. “For the G.A. to affirm the agenda of its so-called ‘peace activists’ would basically be a punch in the nose to the Jewish community.”

But pro-Israel groups are not giving up.

They plan to send several dozen young Jewish activists to the assembly to counter what they say is the mistaken impression of sentiment among young Jews created at past Presbyterian assemblies by pro-divestment groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace. A letter opposing divestment signed by more than 1,500 rabbis, cantors and seminary students of all streams of Judaism also will be circulated the assembly.

As in years past, a pillar of organized Jewish pushback will be showing that left-leaning and dovish Jews also oppose divestment.

Rachel Lerner, J Street’s senior vice president for community relations, who has made the pro-Israel case to church groups in the past, said she had decided not to attend this year’s assembly because of the time commitment. She changed her mind, however, when she read “Zionism Unsettled.”

“It portrays Zionists as pathological and racist and scarred and unable to act in any normal way,” she said. “It ran contrary to everything I think Zionism stands for. I was personally offended by it. I think it says something about the movement, where divestment is coming from and who it is coming from in the church.”

Lerner said that should divestment succeed, it would challenge friendships she had made with church officials.

“I don’t anticipate cutting them off, but it puts a strain on them,” she said.

John Wimberly, a co-convenor of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, a group that works with mainstream Jewish groups, said “Zionism Unsettled” may prove helpful in his efforts to defeat the divestment overtures at the assembly.

“There are Presbyterians who are very upset with Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and would like to find a way to make a statement about that treatment,” he said. “But they will not make the statement by voting for people whose intention is to destroy Israel.”

The challenge, he added, would be to “keep that clear so the other side is unable to create enough smoke to hide that agenda.”


Calendar Dec 14-20

SAT | DEC 14


Shmuel Tikvah, a young Nigerian, heard time and time again about the Igbo people, who claim descent from ancient Israelites. Research at an Internet cafe leads him on a quest to find this Nigerian Jewish community, which keeps kosher, lights Shabbat candles and prays in Hebrew. Director Jeff L. Lieberman documents the journey of ancestry, identity and the reshaping of life with a new kind of faith. Sat. Various times. Through Dec. 19. $11 (general), $8 (seniors, ages 11 and under, bargain matinee). Laemmle Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (310) 478-3836. ” target=”_blank”>

SUN | DEC 15


Embrace the spirit of giving with the The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Join Food Forward to pick fresh oranges off of trees to donate to Jewish Family Service, assemble care packages with Project M.O.T. for Jewish servicewomen and servicemen in the U.S. Armed Forces, throw an awesome “Senior Prom” for some of the older citizens in our community or prepare dinner for the homeless with Union Rescue Mission. Sun. Free. Times, locations vary. (323) 761-8000. ” target=”_blank”>


This one’s for all you secret shower singers. American Jewish University invites you to belt your biggest notes during a celebration of Broadway’s best. Producer Ellie Mednick explores facets of American life while Karen Thomson Hall leads us in some of our favorites from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Kander and Ebb, and the Gershwins. It’s a curtain-call opportunity for the whole family. Sun. 4 p.m. $25. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777. ” target=”_blank”>

TUE | DEC 17


Your favorite theater chain is having a birthday! Laemmle Theatre’s Charitable Foundation hosts a special evening to commemorate its role in both civic and cultural life as well as the nonprofit work it supports. There will be drinks, hors d’oeuvres, a community presentation and a screening of a Laemmle classic. Your ticket also gets you a copy of the book “Not Afraid … 75 years of Film Exhibition in Los Angeles.” Tue. 6 p.m. $100. Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 478-0401. ” target=”_blank”>



The comedian, actor and writer has a new book of poetry out! “To Laughter With Questions” is a collection of serious and not-so-serious verse, limericks, rhymes and an attempt at iambic pentameter. While you might know him best from his many film and TV appearances, here is an opportunity to get to know the man more intimately. His collection is full of personal experiences, and because he has taught in USC’s Master of Professional Writing program, you know it’s well written. Thu. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.


Obama: Israeli settlement building not constructive to peace

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday he had told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that continued Jewish settlement activity was not constructive and did not “advance the cause of peace”.

Obama, speaking at a joint news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said he remained committed to the creation of an “independent, viable and contiguous” Palestinian state and had not lost hope in achieving a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

But he offered no new proposals to getting there.

He said his new Secretary of State John Kerry would spend a significant amount of time and energy trying to narrow the differences between the two sides as Washington tries to move them back to long-stalled direct talks.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Crispian Balmer

Briefs: The fence is the line, gas cuts for Gaza

Ramon: West Bank Barrier to Be Border

Haim Ramon indicated that Israel’s West Bank security barrier will be the future Israel-Palestine border. Israel’s deputy prime minister, speaking Monday night at the Israel Policy Forum’s annual gala in New York, said Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are in dispute over just 5.5 percent of the West Bank.

“It’s clear that Israel will annex the blocs of settlement, and it’s clear that Israel only wants the blocs of settlement,” Ramon said, referring to the major Israeli settlement blocs on Israel’s side of the West Bank fence, which he said constitute some 8 percent of the West Bank.

Palestinian negotiators have indicated they are willing to forego claims on 2.5 percent of the West Bank, according to Ramon, leaving the 5.5 percent in dispute.

Speaking to Israel Policy Forum supporters seated at tables festooned with the Israeli, Palestinian and American flags, Ramon said Israel immediately should initiate a campaign to encourage Jewish settlers who live on the Palestinian side of the West Bank security barrier to move to the other side of the boundary that eventually will become the international border.

“It’s clear to both sides what will be the endgame,” Ramon said.

During the time of the barrier’s construction, Israeli officials denied arguments by Palestinians and others that the fence was an attempt to predetermine the future border.

High Court Backs Gaza Fuel Cuts

Israel’s High Court of Justice upheld the government’s reduction in fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip.

The High Court on Friday rejected petitions by human-rights groups which had argued that the Israeli Defense Ministry’s decision last month to reduce fuel supplies to Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket fire constituted illegal “collective punishment”.

In its ruling, the three-justice panel said it had been persuaded that Israel has not deprived Hamas-ruled Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians of fuel required for “humanitarian” activities like running the territory’s power plant. But the High Court postponed a Defense Ministry plan to begin cutting back Israeli-supplied electricity to Gaza on Sunday, saying it wanted more details on how that measure would affect the Palestinian populace.

The government was given 12 days to respond, after which the petitioners will have a week for rebuttals.

Bush Promotes Investment in Palestinian Areas

U.S. President George W. Bush met with a consortium promoting investment in the Palestinians.

Bush met Monday at the White House with Tahani Abu Daqqa, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of youth, as well as members of the U.S.-Palestinian Public-Private Partnership. Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, established the partnership earlier this year to promote investment in Palestinian areas spurred by U.S. funds through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Overseas Private Investment Corp. Walter Isaacson, chairman of the Aspen Institute, a think tank with ties to leaders in both major U.S. political parties as well as to major funders, heads the partnership.

“One of the things that interests me a lot is the fact that we are going to help the Palestinians develop youth centers, places where young Palestinians can come and learn new technical skills, or language skills, or have mentoring programs — all aimed at saying there is a hopeful future, a future where you don’t have to adhere to violence,” Bush said in the public part of the meeting. “A future where radicalism is not in your sights; a future where peace is possible.”

Britain’s Muslims End Holocaust Day Boycott

The Muslim Council of Britain ended its six-year boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day.

The group, representing more than 500 organizations, said after a vote last weekend that it would attend events held each January in Liverpool for “the sake of the common good.”

The boycott stemmed from an objection that the Jan. 27 events commemorated only Jewish victims of the Holocaust and not victims of other genocides such as the Bosnian war. Chris Shaw, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, has said the Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations were intended to be for non-Jewish victims, too.

Inayat Bunglawala, assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, told the BBC that council members decided the boycott “was causing hurt to some in the Jewish community and there was a growing realization the decision was doing more harm than good.”

Attacks Against Jews Hit High in Australia

Attacks against Australian Jews have reached a record high in 2007.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s annual report on anti-Semitism published this week logged 638 anti-Semitic incidents this year, including assault, intimidation, vandalism and harassment. The previous record — more than 550 anti-Semitic incidents — was in 2002, when the second intifada was at its height.

Jeremy Jones, who has been logging anti-Semitic incidents in Australia since 1989, said new media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook were becoming popular domains for anti-Semites. But he said the wider Australian community was not inherently negative to Jews.

The most reported instance of anti-Semitism in Australia in the past year was the assault in Melbourne on Menachem Vorchheimer, an Orthodox Jew, by an Australian Rules player. Vorchheimer took three of the perpetrators to court; they were fined and one also received a conviction. A fourth man, who punched Vorchheimer, has not been apprehended.

Hebrew Is Sign of Times in Buenos Aires

Hebrew adorns a new police station sign in a Jewish neighborhood of Buenos Aires. The sign identifying Station 37 in the Villa Crespo neighborhood also features Spanish and English. It reads “Policia — Mishtara — Police.”

The three-language street sign is uncommon on police stations. When a second language is required, English typically is the alternative.

“We are in a highly Jewish-populated neighborhood, and we are close to commercial streets where tourists come by to buy leather clothing,” said Roberto Perez, who commands Police Station 37. “We want all the Argentine community to feel closer to police.”

Perez said his superiors and the station’s neighbors welcomed the initiative.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.