November 16, 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.


Episode 78 – Why Isn’t the Arab World Interested in Peace?

Photo by Iliya Yefimovich

“You promised a dove.” Those words were written by the Israeli poet, Shmuel Hasfari, in his song “Winter ‘73”. Some interpreted them as a sort of eulogy to peace. A peace which was promised to a generation of Israelis who only found themselves disappointed time after time at the ever eluding prospect of peace with the Arab world.

The song was written around the same time as the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the PLO – a time of great hope for this generation – the kids of ‘73. But soon they were devastated once again. With the outbreak of the second intifada, many gave up hope for the prospect of peace. Some pointed their fingers at the Israeli leadership who failed them. Some blamed the settlement movement and others pinned the failure to attain peace on the Palestinian’s lack of determination.

Dr. Einat Wilf, a former Member of Knesset, grew up as a member of the Labor Party and was an ardent advocate of the two state solution. She believed that if only Israel and its leaders would propose the right deal, at the right time, we would have peace. We would have that allusive and elusive “dove”.

The kids of ‘73 had a childhood full of hope and aspirations. They grew up to peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and the Oslo Accords. However, the failure of those Accords, the atrocities of the second intifada, and stalemates upon stalemates in the peace process caused many in that generation to abandon hope.

Dr. Wilf join us today to talk about how her experiences both in and out of politics shaped her perspective on the peace process.

Einat Wilf on Twitter and her official website 

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Daily Kickoff: Trump admin taking “multi-years” approach to peace process | Zuckerman selling Daily News | Bibi Chief of Staff curse | Amar’e retires

Jared Kushner, left, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Aug. 24. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/Israeli Government Press Office

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JI EXCLUSIVE — Trump administration official on peace process: “These efforts take multi-years” – by Aaron Magid: Last week, a senior Trump administration official suggested that the U.S.-led process is unlikely to achieve immediate results. “This is a very challenging set of circumstances. There is a reason these efforts take multi-years,” the official told Jewish Insider. The official also dismissed Palestinian accusations of bias. “You saw that by the positive statements that were put out which is unusual. It’s been many years since actually both the Israelis and the Palestinians have put out positive statements about the meetings,” the official emphasized.

Shibley Telhami, a professor at University of Maryland and non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, expressed concern for a dragged out U.S.-led peace process. “The Palestinians are always worried that the peace process is an end to itself that is intended to divert attention from the fact that they are still under occupation. That it is intentionally intended to legitimize the status quo, disarm the political arguments and pacify them,” he said.

Dore Gold, former Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, cautioned that the peace process shouldn’t be rushed. “Diplomacy isn’t instant coffee,” Gold explained. “You have Abu Mazen (Abbas) in the later years of his life with questions about succession. The whole break between Hamas ruling Gaza and Fatah-dominated forces in the West Bank. Perhaps the conditions aren’t right for nine months. There are significant diplomatic changes going on, the strategic convergence of Israel and the Arab states that might allow for new opportunities in the future.”

Dan Arbell, former Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy: “A prolonged process is definitely something Netanyahu will feel more comfortable with rather than a compressed with benchmarks and timetables and very tough framework… The fact that both sides are publicly supporting a process is pretty obvious is that nobody wants to be on the Trump administration’s bad side; nobody wants to be considered a spoiler. I don’t give it a lot of weight. It’s niceties. Clearly, [Abbas] is not happy with what’s going on and he’s not pleased with how the administration is handling it at this point. It seems to me that the Palestinians are running out of patience. The speed of things suits the Israelis side.” [JewishInsider

MEDIA WATCH: “The New York Daily News Is Said to Be Nearing Sale” by Sydney Ember and Andrew Ross Sorkin: “The Daily News, the nearly 100-year-old tabloid owned by the real estate magnate Mortimer B. Zuckerman, is close to announcing an agreement for its sale to Tronc, the publisher of The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune… The sale of The News may also mark the end of the political influence of Mr. Zuckerman, who often used the paper’s bold, front-page headline — known as “the wood” — for commentary about candidates and politicians, locally and nationally… Under the terms of the deal, Tronc would assume control of The News’s operations, its printing plant in Jersey City and its pension liability… No cash would change hands.” [NYTimes]

— An internal memo on Monday night from Zuckerman’s co-publisher Eric J. Gertler celebrated the Daily News as an iconic New York City institution. “For the newspaper that once emblazoned the immortal words ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead’ across its front page, I can only imagine today’s cover reading ‘Mort to News: Carry On’!” Gertler wrote. “ [CNNMoney

DRIVING THE CONVO: “On DACA, President Trump Has No Easy Path” by Glenn Thrush, Maggie Haberman and Julie Hirschfeld Davis: “Moderates, including Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the National Economic Council chairman, Gary D. Cohn, had urged the president to reach beyond his hard-right populist base to embrace a program that enjoys significant public support, even among Republicans. Business leaders, among them political allies like the media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Stephen A. Schwarzman… believe any move to limit legal immigration limits the work force and hurts the country’s international reputation. But the moderates in Mr. Trump’s midst, Mr. Cohn in particular, are somewhat less influential these days, after several expressed their disgust at the president’s response to the racial riots in Charlottesville, Va., last month.” [NYTimes

“Dreamers Hold Vigil Outside Jared Kushner And Ivanka Trump’s Home To Save DACA” by Doha Madani: “A group of protesters held a candlelight vigil outside the Washington D.C. home of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump on Monday night to ask for the couple’s help in saving an Obama-era program.” [HuffPost]

“Trump’s Visa Crackdown Could Have ‘Drastic Impact’ on Jewish Summer Camps” by Judy Maltz: “Participation of Jewish counselors and staff from Israel and other countries in the J-1 Camp Counselor and Summer Work Travel programs is critical to the mission of the Jewish camp field – and the American camp experiences as a whole,” Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp told Haaretz. “Elimination of these cultural exchange programs would have a drastic impact – both educationally and operationally – on the many programs we support.” [Haaretz

INSIDE THE ADMIN: “Steve Bannon’s right-hand woman remains in the White House” by Hunter Walker: “Julia Hahn is a 26-year-old former writer from Bannon’s site, Breitbart News. Earlier this week, a source familiar with the situation told Yahoo News that Hahn was staying on in her position as a special assistant to the president and deputy strategist in the wake of Bannon’s departure last month… In addition to the secrecy surrounding Hahn and her duties, her rather unconventional background contributed to the interest in her work. Hahn hails from Beverly Hills, where her grandfather built a bottling company fortune, her father has produced movies, and she attended one of the Los Angeles area’s top private schools before going on to University of Chicago. Her grandmother is a well-known philanthropist and staunch advocate for gun control…” [YahooNews]

DRIVING THE WEEK: “Global crisis over North Korea” by Mike Allen: “CFR President Richard Haass… said Mattis’ language (“threat” rather than “capability”) suggests the U.S. is focused on a preemptive response (against a threat deemed to be imminent), rather than a preventive attack, “something that would be unacceptable to many Americans and to South Korea… Preemption… would place the onus on NK not to do something that would trigger a preemptive strike [put missiles on alert, or launch them] rather than on us to undertake a preventive, bolt out of the blue attack.”” [Axios

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM: “Israel condemns North Korea nuclear test” by Moran Azulay: “North Korea must comply with all Security Council resolutions on this issue and refrain from testing and developing weapons of mass destruction and its means of delivery,” a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “A resolute international response will prevent other countries from behaving similarly.” [Ynet; Haaretz] • Ex-Israeli intelligence chief: Trump should attack North Korea if he can [ToI

Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon tweets: “The international response led by the US to the North Korean regime’s provocations, sheds light on how it will behave toward the Iranian regime on their nuclear efforts in the near future.” [Twitter]

HAPPENING TODAY — U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley will discuss U.S. policy toward Iran and the threat of Hezbollah at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) at 11 am. The speech — followed by a Q&A moderated by Danielle Pletka — is titled “Beyond the echo chamber: Considerations on U.S. policy toward Iran.” [Livestream]

Haley writes in The Jerusalem Post… “For the United States, this is a time for strength, resolve and accountability at the United Nations… Just as Hezbollah is stepping up its efforts, the United States, and now the United Nations, are stepping up our efforts against them.” [JPost]

“How Iraq War Hawks Can Help Stop Trump from Going to War with Iran” by Jon Finer, Rob Malley, and Jeff Prescott: “[David] Frum said that he preferred to convey his views on Trump unravelling the deal in The Atlantic, but rejected a comparison to 2002, arguing it would be hard to imagine “Trump striking out in October, 2017—with no preliminary work to build support, zero Democratic buy-in, unsure even of his own party.” … Bret Stephens… said that he “wrestles with the dilemma” of a policy he may support but a President he’s not sure he trusts to implement it. “Even the best advice, if put through a flawed vessel, is going to come out wrong on the other side,” he said… “Among the many reasons the Trump Presidency depresses me is that I can’t trust him to carry out those few points of his agenda on which I actually happen to agree.”” [NewYorker

“Iran, Turkey, and Russia Aren’t Natural Friends. It’s Up to the U.S. to Keep It That Way” by Dov Zakheim: “The national interests of the three are not congruent. Much will depend on the United States, however. Should Washington remain active in Syria, or increase its efforts there, Turkey will be far less likely to abandon the West for other partners. If, however, the United States washes its hands of Syria, the Turkish-Russian-Iranian connection may be the start of a beautiful friendship.” [FP

SCENE THE OTHER DAY: Kansas Governor Samuel Brownback, Trump’s pick for Ambassador of Religious Freedom, visited the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday. [Pic]  

LATER THIS WEEK: “Mayor Emanuel to go to Israel to dive into water talks” by Michael Sneed: “Watch for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to head to Israel [on] Saturday (Sept. 9)… “A key focus of the trip will be highlighting Chicago’s leading role in advancing water technology innovation and conservation while leveraging Israeli water expertise,” said a mayoral source. Traveling with a delegation of academic and business leaders from the Chicago area, the mayor will keynote the WATEC conference, which brings together thousands of water technology businesses from around the world… Emanuel will take part in the signing of a first-of-its-kind agreement with Technion — the Israel Institute of Technology — and Current, the non-profit organization that is propelling Chicago’s water economy.” [CHSunTimes

2018 WATCH: “Rep. Schneider Withdraws Endorsement of Daniel Biss” by James Neveau: “In a Facebook post Sunday night, [Rep. Brad] Schneider said that he was “surprised” to learn that [David] Biss’ running mate Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a Chicago alderman, was a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement… Republican Congressional candidate Jeremy Wynes, who is running for the 10th District seat in Congress, accused Schneider… of showing an “inclination to shut off funding to America’s allies in Israel” after the Congressman endorsed Biss’ candidacy for governor.” [NBC5

2020 WATCH: “Long List of Top Democrats Have 2020, and Money, on Their Minds” by Ken Vogel and Rachel Shorey: “They used to start coming to talk to you two years before the election. Now, it’s six months after the last presidential election,” said the Wall Street billionaire Marc Lasry, a major political donor who has met recently with several Democrats mentioned as prospective presidential candidates. “It’s gotten ridiculous,” Mr. Lasry said. “Everybody believes they can be the person who will stack up great against Trump. I tell them all that it’s way too early, and that they need a clearer message about what they want to do, not just about opposing Trump.”” [NYTimes

“Bernie Sanders Is Staging a Comeback but Is Still Awkward About Being Jewish” by Allison Kaplan Sommer: “I was very, very surprised,” said Risa Starr, a marketing professional who was also in the Riverside Church audience for Sanders’ speech. “There is an uptick on swastikas and other graffiti being painted on synagogues; there are Jewish cemeteries being defaced. And here is a political figure who is Jewish and even refuses to mention that there is anti-Semitism in America. He just ignores it.” … Just a few days after the Manhattan speech, during an appearance in Iowa, Sanders… noted that “the African-American community and Jewish community were outraged” when the president said “there are nice people on both sides.” [Haaretz]

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Israel set for $28 billion infrastructure spending boost [Reuters] • Trian’s Nelson Peltz Latest Tactic: Playing Nice [Bloomberg] • P&G Proxy Fight Pits Former Finance Chief Against Longtime Protégé [WSJ] • Inside the tech mogul Reid Hoffman’s 2017 political playbook for funding candidates, causes and companies [Recode]

STARTUP NATION: “Israel-based Via gets investment from Daimler for European expansion” by Zac Estrada: “Via announced Monday a $50 million investment and joint-venture agreement with Daimler to launch on-demand shuttle services across Europe… “We are delighted to have the Daimler Group on board as an investor and strategic partner,” said Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via. “Combining Via’s technology with the exceptional design and engineering of Mercedes-Benz Vans is ideal for our vision of offering efficient, affordable, sustainable, and convenient shared rides everywhere.””[TheVerge; TechCrunch

“Israel pledges $1M in aid for Houston Jewish community after Harvey” by Rebecca Savransky: “The money pledged by Israel will go toward restoring places such as synagogues, schools and Jewish community centers damaged by the storm. “The Jewish State is measured by its response when our brothers around the world are in crisis,” Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement released Monday… “For years the Jewish communities stood by Israel when it needed their help; now it is our turn to stand by Houston’s Jewish community,” Bennett added.” [TheHill; JPost

“Top US Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein urges PM: Rethink Western Wall prayer, or risk wider chasm” by David Horovitz: “For American Jews “to stand with Israel, and to feel that they are wanted, and that their concerns are taken into account, will require somewhat of a different approach. And I do think that the prime minister has to look for a resolution [to the Western Wall prayer issue] that restores the confidence, that ends the controversy… I hope in the New Year, with Rosh Hashanah coming, that everybody does the introspection that they’re supposed to do, on all sides, and that we, instead of broadening the divide, can find the way to bridge it.” [ToI]

BUZZ ON BALFOUR: “New Arrests in Israel’s Submarine Scandal, and New Questions on Netanyahu” by Isabel Kershner: “Public interest in the case has been intense. Apart from concern that corruption has taken root on the watch of an entrenched political leadership, many worry about its bearing on national security and the integrity of the military… A senior Israeli official… said that trying to blame the prime minister for not knowing about something he was not involved in was unfair. The official urged patience, saying that nobody yet knows what actually transpired.” [NYTimes

Israeli PM sheds statesmanlike persona as scandals mount” by Aron Heller: “Yoaz Hendel, a former spokesman for Netanyahu, said the prime minister is feeling the pressure and is now turning to his base. “Netanyahu was always above the fray and maintained a statesmanlike appearance,” said Hendel. “This is the fight of his life and that can rattle anyone, especially someone like him with a historical perception of himself.””[AP

KAFE KNESSET — The Chief of Staff Curse — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: David Sharan, who served in the Prime Minister’s Office between 2014-2016, is Netanyahu’s third chief of staff who has gotten into trouble in recent years. Early Sunday morning, Sharan was arrested and charged with accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust in the File 3000 case, a/k/a “the Submarine affair.” In fact, only the serving chief of staff, Yoav Horovitz, is clean and innocent of every misdoing. A source close to Netanyahu told Kafe Knesset with humor that Horovitz “probably should be changing the Mezuza on his office door because it appears there might be some kind of curse on the office itself.”

Sharan’s arrest, however, is considered much more troublesome for a different former boss, more so than than for Bibi. Before joining the Prime Minister’s Office, Sharan was one of Energy Minister Yuval Stenitz’s most loyal advisors. Sharan accompanied Steinitz for 14 years of his political career… Steinitz himself has not yet been summoned for testimony or investigation. Senior sources in the political system told Kafe Knesset they find it “hard to believe that Steinitz knew anything about what was going on.” Sources close to Steinitz said  that he was “shocked by the reports, which he had only heard for the first time from the media,” adding that Steinitz’s integrity was well known and had never been put to the test. If Steinitz is called to testify, they added, he would do so as required. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

“Argentinean Jewry to partly pay for Netanyahu visit” by Tal Schneider and Noga Tarnopolsky: “Sources inform “Globes” that according to internal discussions between the Jewish community leaders, the Jewish community leaders have undertaken to pay $100,000 to defray the large cost of the visit… The Jewish community leaders asked the owner of the Alvear Hotel, Jewish real estate tycoon and businessman David Sutton, for a discount on Netanyahu’s stay in the hotel.” [Globes

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Friends Recall Selflessness That Embodied Queens Assemblyman” by Kate Taylor: “An Orthodox Jew, [Michael] Simanowitz attended Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe in Kew Gardens as a child, according to Chaskel Bennett, a classmate and a board member of Agudath Israel of America… Mr. Bennett, who lost touch with Mr. Simanowitz for a number of years before reconnecting with him in Albany, said that the assemblyman was a strong supporter of measures to help religious and other private schools, including a proposed tax credit meant to expand access to them… “He was a proud Jew, proud of who he was, proud of his heritage,” Mr. Bennett said.” [NYTimes

PODCAST PLAYBACK — Legendary Chicago political consultant Don Rose talks to David Axelrod about his upbringing on the Axe Files:“My grandfather had a strange history. He and his brother built the first synagogue in El Paso, Texas, and then many years later – I have no idea how they migrated down there well after I was 7-8 [years old] – moved to Vincennes, Indiana to start a dry goods business and they built the first synagogue in Vincennes, Indiana.” [CNNPodcast]

SPOTTED — at the annual Labor Day bash hosted by Discovery Communications chief David Zaslav and wife Pam at their East Hampton home on Saturday: Jeff Zucker, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Iris Weinshall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sandra Lee, Andy Lack, Steve Clemons,  Bob Kraft, Harvey Weinstein, Lloyd Blankfein, Dan Loeb, Leslie Moonves, Katie Couric and John Molner, Aryeh Bourkoff, Rita Braver, Mark Hoffman, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Joe Kernan, Lorne Michaels, Jonathan Wald, Mark and Sally Ein, Ken Auletta, Baruch Shemtov, Robert Zimmerman, Ken Lehrer, Carl Bernstein, Scarlett Johansson, and Harry Connick Jr. [NYPost; Playbook

SPOTTED YESTERDAY IN JERUSALEM: NBA’s Atlanta Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer and Assistant Coach Ben Sullivan visited the Dan Family Aish HaTorah World Center [Facebook

SPORTS BLINK: “Schwartzman powers into US Open quarters” by Howard Blas: “[Diego] Schwartzman – the 25-year-old Jewish Argentine – defeated No. 5 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 on Friday and returned to the same court on Sunday to knock out No. 16 Lucas Pouille of France… in his first career Grand Slam fourth round match. Schwartzman advances to the quarterfinals and faces Pablo Carrreno Busta of Spain, who defeated Israeli-born Canadian Denis Shapovalov in straight sets earlier in the day on Sunday… Schwartzman is loving the New York crowd, which has cheered for him throughout his matches so far. “They are helping a lot in the matches… I am really happy for that and thank everyone for doing that.”” [JPost

Amar’e Stoudemire retires after season in Israel” by Kevin Zimmerman: “Stoudemire announced with an Instagram post that he was retiring after he spent the 2016-17 season with Hapoel Jerusalem in Israel and led the team to a Israeli Premier League title. “I would like to thank Hapoel Jerusalem president, Ori Allon, and the entire Hapoel Jerusalem organization for giving me the opportunity to retire as a champion and doing it in the holiest of cities made even more special,” Stoudemire wrote.” [AZSports; NBCSports]

DESSERT: “Coming Soon: Rosenberg’s Kosher” by Daliah Singer: “Just in time for Rosh Hashanah… two of the (Denver) city’s most beloved Jewish bakeries are joining forces: On September 15, Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen will merge with the longstanding the Bagel Store to form Rosenberg’s Kosher, the state’s largest purveyor of Kosher food. In Yiddish, one might refer to the union as “beshert,” or meant to be. “It’s an honor to be able to serve the Jewish community in its entirety,” says Rosenberg’s owner Joshua Pollack of opening a kosher location of his überpopular bagel shop. “Bagels are for everybody.” [5280; 303Mag]

BIRTHDAYS: Long-time member of Knesset (1977-2002), he served in multiple ministerial positions under PMs Rabin and Peres, he is a dean at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Amnon Rubinstein turns 86… Author, educator, and activist, best known for his books promoting public education, Jonathan Kozol turns 81… New York-based real estate developer, Jacob Frydman turns 60… Russian investigative journalist and editor in chief of the Moscow-based independent political weekly the New Times, she is active in the Russian Jewish Congress, Yevgenia Albats turns 59… Retired Major General in the IDF and the former head of its Manpower Directorate, she was the first woman to be made Major General (the IDF’s second highest rank), Orna Barbivai turns 55… CEO of Caesars Acquisition Company, Caesars Interactive Entertainment (which sold to an Israeli startup for $4.4 billion), the World Series of Poker and Chairman of Cirque du Soleil, Mitch Garber turns 53… Nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and a senior editor at Reason magazine, Jacob Z. Sullum turns 52… Entrepreneur and investor, chairman of Mentored, an education technology platform, Eric Aroesty turns 47… Born in the Soviet Union, made aliyah in 1998, she is a member of the Knesset since 2016 for the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Yulia Malinovsky turns 42… Director in the DC office of Baron Public Affairs LLC, Jeremy Furchtgott turns 26… Anthony Klor turns 24… Shoshanna Liebman… Catherine Nelson… Stu Shloss

YESTERDAY: Born in Tel Aviv, award winning computer scientist and philosopher who is a pioneer in artificial intelligence, he is the father of slain WSJ journalist Daniel Pearl, Judea Pearl turns 81… Louisville, Kentucky resident and principal of Bluegrass Progressive Strategists, Mark Ament turns 66… Celebrity doctor who is a board-certified internist, addiction medicine specialist and media personality, best known as “Dr. Drew,” Drew Pinsky, M.D. turns 59… Former member of the US House of Representatives from New York’s 9th district (1999-2011), Anthony Weiner turns 53… Member of Knesset for the Labor / Zionist Union party and the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, he was the Secretary General of the Labor party until early 2017, Yehiel Bar turns 42… Special assistant and personal aide to President George W. Bush (2006-2009), Partner of Thrive Capital, Jared Weinstein turns 38… Actor Max Greenfield turns 37… Real estate strategic advisor, political strategist and commentator, E. O’Brien (“Obi”) Murray… Professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, Edmundo N. Kraiselburd, Ph.D…. Melissa Kaplan

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A peace process? Come back another time

White House Senior advisor Jared Kushner listens as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a rally in Huntington, West Virginia U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Leaders want many things, but can only achieve few of them. They have priorities, more than their overall desired goals dictate their policies. Is the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a priority? Today, Donald Trump emissaries to the Middle East came for another visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and judging by their intensity of visits one could argue that the peace process is a priority of the administration.

Still, following the news from Washington it would seem quite odd to make such assumption. The White House has serious issues with North Korea, China and Iran –- and of course a domestic agenda, including the handling of crises, from the Russia investigation to the Charlottesville aftermath. For Trump, or his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to wake up and think about the peace process would be a strange thing to do.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s priorities were clarified yesterday, when he visited with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. The PM is concerned about Syria and the prospect of Iran taking over the country with the tacit support of Russia. In two articles that I wrote for The New York Times in the last year I argued that for now Putin is the new Middle East sheriff and Israel must recognize this fact, and  that Israel is highly concerned about the cease fire in Syria.

I wrote: “Israeli planners believe that there is only one good solution to this strategic problem, for the United States to go back to being a superpower.” The less the U.S. gets involved in remedying the challenge of Iran in Syria, the less convincing it will be in arguing for a peace process with the Palestinians.

To take risks, to make sacrifices, Israel needs to feel secure; it needs to feel that it has backing. If the U.S. is no longer a reliable guardian of Middle East stability and peace, Israel’s inclination to take any risks for a peace it doesn’t feel is a priority will be greatly diminished.

So the American mediator is left with only one party for which the process is essential, the Palestinians. In the last few days their leadership began making threats and setting deadlines for the Trump administration. One wonders if this specific U.S. leader is receptive of such language and intimidation, but the leadership of the Palestinian Authority calculated that there is nothing to lose. If the Americans are not serious about their efforts, then other venues for progressing the Palestinian cause ought to be considered. Sadly for the Palestinians, their options are not many: the world seems to be getting busier with other problems, more urgent.

It is not a coincidence that the best days of the peace process were back in the Nineties, when the end of history seemed near, and the world was relatively free to toy with the remaining problems of small global consequences –- Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, Palestine. America was at the peak of its world power, and President Clinton’s main problem was an affair with an intern. Israel was booming, and its enemies were still pondering their next moves following the first Gulf War. Yassir Arafat was under pressure to moderate, or be cast aside, having discovered that his main backers were losing power, and the world in which he thrived as a terrorist no longer exists. Relaxation and order enabled busy leaders to free their schedules for dealing with the stubborn reality of the “conflict.”

Such conditions are no longer available for anyone. Relaxation was gone around 9/11; order was gone following the Iraq War. Israel lost its appetite for peace, prioritizing stability and security. America lost its main tool for brokering peace, its hegemony as a trustworthy and highly engaged world power.

As we wonder why the likely outcome of the current round of Middle East talks is not peace, our instinctive tendency is to search for the small detail: what is Israel willing to offer, what compromises are the Palestinians willing to make, is the leadership sincere about wanting peace, is the U.S. capable and learned?

The answers matter, but they are all secondary to global realities that are hardly suitable for making progress for peace. They are hardly suitable for a world that is just too busy dealing with other things.

Donald Trump reportedly considering how moving embassy would affect peace process

President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

JERUSALEM — President Donald Trump is considering how moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would affect the peace process, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“The president, I think rightly, has taken a very deliberative approach to understanding the issue itself, listening to input from all the interested parties in the region and understanding what such a move in the context of a peace initiative, what impact would such a move have,” Tillerson told reporter Chuck Todd at the end of a nearly 15-minute interview Sunday morning on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“As you know the president has recently expressed his view that he wants to put a lot of effort into seeing if we cannot advance a peace initiative between Israel and Palestine.”

Tillerson added that the decision “will be informed by the parties involved in the talks.”

He said one factor would be “whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office later responded to Tillerson’s statement saying: “Not only will the transfer of the embassy not harm the peace process, but quite the opposite. It will advance it by correcting a historic injustice and by smashing the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”

Peace process: Here we die again

From left: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on May 3. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

It’s a good thing I’m not a diplomat working on the non-existent Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” a 25-year pipe dream that left the Emergency Room years ago for the coma unit. I mean, what would I tell my boss? Sorry, I can’t work on a project that is guaranteed to go nowhere and will only lead to more cynicism?

Luckily, I’m no diplomat, nor do I work at a think tank or organization that gets paid to show optimism. I can tell you exactly what I think.

And here’s what I think: I’ve been following the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since the Oslo days in the early 1990s, and I think it’s the biggest fake news in the world.

When I see President Trump get all excited about making “the ultimate deal,” I roll my eyes. All I see is another Western dreamer about to be sucked into the labyrinth of a Mideast bazaar, where a truth is only uttered by accident.

The prince of this peace bazaar is the formidable Mahmoud Abbas, the wily and duplicitous Palestinian leader who says with a straight face that he wants peace and a two-state solution. The fact that he has never actually put an offer on the table is an inconvenient detail. What matters is that he has evaded all responsibility and convinced the world that Israel is the real obstacle to peace.

The losing merchant in the bazaar is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who thinks he’s winning because he hasn’t yet given up anything. What Bibi doesn’t seem to fully appreciate is that as long as the world blames Israel for the conflict, he will remain the losing merchant.

And now, here comes the original artist of the deal, the leader of the free world who thinks he can pull off a miracle. “We will get this done,” President Trump has announced.

Caught up in his miracle deal, Trump barely noticed when Abbas showed up for an official visit at the White House and started seducing him. The shrewd Abbas brazenly lied that Palestinian society is being raised on a “culture of peace.” Instead of pushing back, the president kept pushing his dream, obviously ignoring bazaar rule #1: Never show your zeal to make a deal.

Now that Trump is hooked, Mahmoud Abbas will work his game. He will tantalize Trump with empty promises and pressure Bibi to deliver on concrete ones. He will put all the blame and responsibility on Israel. He will involve other players so he can hide behind them. In sum, he’ll do whatever he can to undermine the Jewish state and make Bibi sweat. That’s his game.

The dark secret of the conflict is that Abbas is perfectly happy not to resolve it. His nightmare is the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel, which would mean that the hated Zionist state would survive as a Jewish democracy. Why would a Palestinian leader ever want to rescue the Zionist project?

Abbas also knows that the “Israeli occupation” is his ATM machine. As long as it continues, he has the best of both worlds: He gets to bash Israel in global circles while the foreign aid keeps flowing into his bank accounts. And let’s remember this other detail: With Israel protecting the West Bank, Abbas never has to worry that Hamas and ISIS will swoop in and turn Ramallah into Aleppo.

Forget all the rational explanations you hear, such as, “The most Israel can offer is less than the Palestinians can accept.” That makes it look like a normal conflict where the parties are too far apart. It’s not about that. It’s about the unspoken reality that Palestinian leaders have enormous incentives NOT to separate from Israel, and no amount of Israeli concessions or peace processing will ever change that.

In other words, if separation from the Palestinians is your ideal endgame, forget about making a deal. The only chance of that happening is if Israel makes unilateral moves.

In the meantime, if Bibi is tired of seeing Israel get blamed for the conflict, there is one move he can make: When he meets with Trump in Israel next week, he could say: “Mr. President, Israel has made several offers in the past to end the conflict. To show us that he is serious about peace, it’s time for Mr. Abbas to do the same. When you see him, please ask him to stop funding terrorism and promoting Jew-hatred, and ask him to present you with a specific proposal to end the conflict once and for all.”

Will Abbas do it? Never. Not because he can’t, but because he doesn’t want to. Bibi knows that. He should make sure Trump and the rest of the world know it, too.

A veteran of the peace process discusses its failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians were invited to the summit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Paralyzing narratives: Why peace keeps failing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is also a paralyzing narrative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reporting by Warren Strobel; editing by Jackie Frank

Peace talks resume under cloud of Israeli construction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give the peace process a chance

The questions come fast and furious: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rather, I do so for three reasons. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's precisely the case in Israel today. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, let me frame the issue another way. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel puts 91 Jewish settlements on priority spending list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry: Coming weeks critical to peace process

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry: Israeli, Palestinian leaders serious on talks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Netanyahu, coalition partner Bennett at odds over peace talks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-state solution is dead, Naftali Bennett says

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

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

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

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

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

EU envoy targets settlements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reinicke suggested that the labeling policy would soon be adopted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peres, Abbas call for peace at World Economic Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry praises Netanyahu’s ‘seriousness’ on peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel to authorize four West Bank settler outposts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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