Police likely to recommend Netanyahu indictment
As ongoing investigations in multiple cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continue, police are reportedly preparing to wrap up Case 1000, allegedly involving illegal gifts, in four-to-six weeks. Channel 2 reported on Friday evening that police are likely to conclude this investigation with a recommendation to indict Netanyahu.
Police had already made the decision to separate the case from other ongoing investigations. The case is set to be transferred to prosecution once the investigation comes to a close.
Netanyahu is expected to undergo at least one more questioning in the investigation.
The prime minister has already been questioned under caution three times in Case 1000, as well as in a separate case dealing with an alleged attempt to broker favorable media coverage with Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes.
Last week, it was reported that Australian billionaire James Packer was also summoned by the police to testify over gifts he allegedly gave to the Netanyahu family. Police reportedly suspected Packer of giving the prime minister’s son Yair lavish gifts, including free hotel rooms and flights, in order to influence his father. Yair was questioned by the police on the matter on January 17. (Jerusalem Post)
Report: Trump reassures Palestinians embassy not moving to Jerusalem
US President Donald Trump responded to the King of Jordan’s request that the United States refrain from moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Arab media reported on Saturday.
The Palestinian daily, Al-Quds, reported that the Trump administration transferred a message to the Palestinian Authority that the embassy would not be moving to Jerusalem.
According to the report, top security officials in the Trump administration also spoke with the head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service, Majid Faraj, to send “reassuring messages” on settlements.
On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt discussed Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem during a meeting in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
Jordan’s foreign minister said that Israeli settlements and other issues relating to the conflict were addressed during Jordanian King Abdullah’s recent meetings with the new US administration.
During the visit, King Abdullah raised concerns about Trump’s pledge to relocate the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“In our view, Jerusalem is extremely important, our firm stance is that we reject any unilateral efforts that attempt to change the Arab, Muslim and Christian identity of the Holy city. This stance has been clearly articulated by His Majesty, and we have conveyed our viewpoint on the outcome of any decision that threatens the identity of Jerusalem clearly and honestly to the United States administration,” Safadi said.
Jordan’s King Abdullah was the first Arab leader to hold talks with the new US administration. (Jerusalem Post)
‘I won’t condemn Israel, it’s been through enough’
In exclusive interview with Israel Hayom, U.S. President Donald Trump says he understands and respects Israel greatly • Trump stresses he would like to see peace in the Middle East and beyond, says he looks forward to meeting with PM Netanyahu next week.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel Hayom’s foreign news editor and senior analyst Boaz Bismuth
“I understand Israel very well and I respect Israel. … I would like to see peace [between Israel and the Palestinians] and beyond,” U.S. President Donald Trump told Israel Hayom in an exclusive interview Thursday — the first interview the 45th president of the United States has given Israeli media since taking office on Jan. 20.
Q: On multiple occasions we spoke of your views on Israel and your determination to be Israel’s friend. Can you share your general plan for improving Israeli-American relations after the past eight years?
“Well, I think we are going to have a better relationship. The deal with Iran was a disaster for Israel. Inconceivable that it was made. It was poorly negotiated and executed. Everything about that deal was something. … You know, as a deal person, I understand all sides of deals. I understand good deals and bad deals, but this deal is not even comprehensible. Beyond comprehension. And you see the way Iran has reacted; unlike reacting as they should, which is being thankful for President [Barack] Obama for making such a deal, which was so much to their advantage. They felt emboldened even before he left office. It is too bad a deal like that was made.”
Q: What is your biggest takeaway from your meeting with PM Netanyahu in September? People say you have good chemistry. Is that true?
“We do. We’ve always had good chemistry, and he is a good man. He wants to do the right thing for Israel. He would like peace; I believe that he wants peace and wants to have it badly. I have always liked him.”
Q: How soon will you decide on the issue of relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem?
“Well, I want Israel to be reasonable with respect to peace. I want to see peace happen. It should happen. After all these years. … Maybe there is even a chance for a bigger peace than just Israel and the Palestinians. I would like to see a level of reasonableness of both parties, and I think we have a good chance of doing that.”
Q: And the embassy?
“I am thinking about the embassy, I am studying the embassy [issue], and we will see what happens. The embassy is not an easy decision. It has obviously been out there for many, many years, and nobody has wanted to make that decision. I’m thinking about it very seriously, and we will see what happens.”
Q: We heard from Washington this week that settlements are not an impediment to the peace process. I guess this is an issue you and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are going to discuss?
“They [settlements] don’t help the process. I can say that. There is so much land left. And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left. But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”
Q: Will we see America condemn Israel a lot during your presidency?
“No, I don’t want to condemn Israel. Israel has had a long history of condemnation and difficulty. And I don’t want to be condemning Israel. I understand Israel very well, and I respect Israel a lot, and they have been through a lot. I would like to see peace and beyond that. And I think that peace for Israel would be a good thing for the Israeli people, not just a good thing, a great thing.”
Q: You always speak about making good deals. Don’t the Palestinians have to make concessions as well?
“Yeah. They do. Absolutely. It has to be good for everybody. No deal is good if it is not good for everybody, and we are in that process, and we will see what happens. People have been in that process for many decades, and it has been going a long for a long time. So many people think it cannot be made. I have very smart people that … say a deal can’t be made. I disagree with them. I think a deal should be made, and it can be made,” he concluded. (Israel Hayom)
US blocks appointment of Palestinian to UN envoy, cites bias
The United States blocked on Friday to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ choice of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad as the body’s new representative to Libya.
“The United States was disappointed to see a letter indicating the intention to appoint the former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister to lead the UN Mission in Libya,” Haley said in her statement.
“For too long the UN has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” she said.
Haley added that the United States “does not currently recognize a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nation.”
The PLO released a statement condemning Haley for the move, calling it “blatant discrimination on the basis of national identity.”
“It defies logic that the appointment of the most qualified candidate is blocked because it is perceived as detrimental to Israel. It constitutes a blanket license for the exclusion of Palestinians everywhere.”
The statement also expressed hope that the US would “take back” the decision and instead work to “block petty acts of bigotry and vindictiveness and the further victimization of the Palestinian people for the mere fact of their existence.”
The US ambassador said Washington encouraged Israel and the Palestinians “to come together directly on a solution” to end their conflict.
Fayyad, a Texas-educated former International Monetary Fund official, was prime minister of the Palestinian Authority from 2007 to 2013. He had earned praise in the international community for his efforts to crack down on corruption and to build effective Palestinian public institutions.
Guterres selected Fayyad to take over as Libya envoy from Martin Kobler, a German diplomat who has served as the UN representative since November 2015. (Jerusalem Post)
Will Tzipi Livni be the first Israeli deputy chief of the UN?
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has reportedly offered a post of deputy secretary-general to former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
According to the Haaretz daily, Livni, who now heads the Hatnua Party and is number-two on the Zionist Union faction in the Knesset, was asked to join the world body by Guterres himself in a phone call over the weekend.
Her appointment would have to be approved by the UN Security Council.
The offer comes amid a row at the UN over the proposal to name former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad the organization’s envoy on the Libya conflict.
The US has blocked the appointment at the request of Israel’s ambassador Danny Danon. Israel and the US reportedly fear the appointment of Fayyad, a former World Bank economist, was meant as a further signal of recognition for Palestinian statehood. The UN General Assembly voted to recognize a Palestinian state in 2012.
According to Haaretz, the offer to appoint Livni is meant as a quid pro quo, marking the highest-ever position attained by any Israeli at the UN in exchange for the US allowing Fayyad’s appointment through.
The offer is still in the works, the report suggested. Livni’s office told Haaretz that “no official offer has been received.”
Livni and Guterres have met twice in New York over the past three weeks. (the Times of Israel)
Attempted terror attack near Hevron
A vehicle bearing Palestinian Authority license plates was used in an attempt to ram IDF soldiers in the Hevron area Friday morning.
No injuries were reported in the incident, which took place at a junction south of Hevron, near Beit Hagai.
Initial reports indicate the driver of the vehicle continued driving after failing to hit his intended victims, and fled in the direction of the Palestinian Authority village of Yatta.
The attempted attack comes less than 24 hours after an 18-year old terrorist opened fire on shoppers in the Petah Tikva market Thursday afternoon, wounding six. (Arutz Sheva)
Attempted stabbing in Hebron
There was an attempted stabbing attack in Hebron near the Tomb of the Patriarchs Saturday afternoon, Border Police reported.
A female approached the Bakery checkpoint in Hebron near the tomb. When she arrived at the barrier, she pulled out a knife and ran towards Israeli Border Police officers stationed there.
The knife used in an attempted stabbing attack in Hebron
Officers called for her to halt and disarm, and she stopped and threw the knife to the ground without police having to use force.
The suspect was arrested and taken in for questioning by Border Police. (Jerusalem Post)
Israel permanently downgrades its ties to New Zealand, Senegal
Israel is permanently downgrading its diplomatic ties with New Zealand and Senegal, punishing these countries for co-sponsoring an anti-settlement resolution in the United Nations Security Council last year, The Times of Israel has learned.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided this week not to return Israel’s ambassadors to Wellington and Dakar, who had been recalled after Resolution 2334 passed on December 23, according to a senior source intimately familiar with the issue.
Until the resolution passed, Israel had resident ambassadors in both countries. Netanyahu’s decision not to send the envoys back to Senegal and Wellington is not a formal demoting of ties, but with only a charge d’affaires remaining in these capitals from now on, and no resident ambassador, bilateral relations will effectively have been downgraded.
Israel has already cancelled its foreign aid programs in Senegal.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a query on the matter. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said in a statement there is “no decision to downgrade diplomatic relations with Senegal and New Zealand.”
New Zealand and Senegal were two of four co-sponsors of the contentious resolution, which declared that Israel’s policy to build settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
Jerusalem has no diplomatic ties with the resolution’s other two co-sponsors, Malaysia and Venezuela.
Egypt originally proposed the resolution in late December, but withdrew the draft after Israel asked incoming US president Donald Trump to exert pressure on Cairo. New Zealand, Senegal, Venezuela and Malaysia, however, picked up the gauntlet and proposed the resolution the next day. It was passed with 14 yes votes and an American abstention.
Israel reacted furiously, denouncing the text as “shameful” and vowing to punish the states that backed it.
In the immediate aftermath of the resolution’s passing, Netanyahu summoned a dozen ambassadors for dressing-downs, canceled foreign aid to Senegal and Angola, disinvited the Ukrainian prime minister, and declined meetings with the leaders of China and Great Britain. He also instructed his ministers to curtail travel to the countries that voted in favor of the resolution, announced a “reassessment of all of our contacts with the UN,” ordered funding cuts to various UN agencies, and vowed that “there’s more to come.”
But in the following days, Netanyahu’s wrath seemed to calm, as he took steps to restore ties with those countries that voted in favor but did not volunteer to co-sponsor the resolution.
Last week, for instance, he had a friendly telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and promised to resume efforts “to further strengthen the friendship between Israel and Ukraine,” a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office read.
Among other things, Netanyahu and Poroshenko discussed rescheduling the cancelled visit of Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman to Israel, who had been disinvited unceremoniously in late December because of the Ukrainian support for the UN resolution.
Earlier this week, furthermore, Netanyahu met UK Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street. Britain also voted in favor of Resolution 2334, though May subsequently went out of her way to say the settlements were not the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Britain defied international efforts to further pressure Israel.
In London, Netanyahu said the UK’s change in attitude was the result of a letter he sent to the leaders of all 14 countries that backed the Security Council resolution. (the Times of Israel)
Israel’s Regulation Law: ‘land grab’ or just politics?
by Alex Traiman JNS
Just days after the settlement outpost of Amona was evacuated and demolished by order of Israel’s High Court of Justice, the Knesset passed controversial legislation to retroactively legalize all settlement housing sitting on property that has been identified as private Palestinian land.
The law’s passage is being hailed by supporters of Israel’s 40-year-old settlement enterprise as a step toward extension of full Israeli sovereignty over the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank. Opponents have labeled the law a “land grab” and have petitioned Israel’s High Court to overturn it on the grounds that its passage violates international law.
Yet according to several leading legal scholars, the “Regulation Law” does not contradict Israeli law, and precedents both inside and outside Israel can be invoked to justify its passage within the context of international law.
“I wouldn’t call it a land grab,” Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Israel’s former ambassador to Canada. “These people have been already living where they are living for many years. The opposition to this law is more of a political issue.”
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit—a political appointee of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—has opted to oppose the law, which was pushed through by Israel’s governing coalition, publicly warning that the measure is “indefensible” before Israel’s High Court.
But Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of constitutional and international law at Northwestern University School of Law, and a senior researcher at Israel’s Kohelet Policy Forum, said the Regulation Law “does not violate any Israeli constitutional principles—or international law, for that matter.”
‘Scared of international protest’
Kontorovich asserted that many of the law’s opponents are sensitive to any accusation that the settlement enterprise is a violation of international law.
“They have seen the reactions to settlement building in the United Nations, in Europe and in the previous U.S. administration of Barack Obama, and they are scared of international protest,” Kontorovich told JNS.org.
But within Israel, Kontorovich suggested, “Israeli law can and should supersede international law.”
A ‘misleading’ land distinction
The Regulation Law seeks to protect the current owners of homes that were built on land that was later determined to be “private Palestinian land.” But Kontorovich said that “this term is misleading.”
“In the overwhelming majority of cases, no individual Palestinians have come forward to claim the lands,” said Kontorovich, adding that in most cases, no Palestinian property owners had “asserted their interests for decades after houses were built.”
Further, it is often Israeli NGOs—many of which receive foreign funding—that have identified often-unknowing Palestinian land owners from Jordanian land records. The NGOs approach the land owners, offer to pay for legal expenses and then file petitions on behalf of the Palestinian land owners before Israel’s High Court.
Punishment vs. remuneration
During the past several years, the High Court has ruled that Jewish homes built on private Palestinian land should be evacuated and demolished. While these rulings effectively penalize the Jewish residents, this recourse does little to compensate Palestinian land owners who still are not granted access to the property, which is often situated within the security boundaries of Jewish communities or Israeli military installations.
Baker said the Regulation Law actually does more to benefit the Palestinian land owners than demolitions.
“It can go in both directions,” he said. “It will encourage those Palestinians who have ownership claims to put forward their claims in the first place. It might bring about a situation whereby the government will want to offer Palestinians financial compensation in order to legally change the ownership status, in the way that this law intends.”
Baker added that the law “won’t encourage the building of any new outposts. Now it is just a question for how to deal with the present outposts that already exist.”
Israel’s democratic balance of power
While he noted that there are international precedents for providing such remuneration in the case of disputed or “occupied” territories, including in the nearby country of Cyprus, Baker suggested that such precedents are not likely to sway Israel’s High Court in favor of the law. “It is likely that the court will overturn the law,” he said.
“If the Supreme Court considers that the law runs against Israel’s constitutional principles, including the fact that international law is part of the Israeli law, it can overturn this legislation and repeal it,” said Baker. “Ultimately, the way Israel’s legal system is built, the High Court has the ultimate say.”
The Israeli High Court is often more aggressive in overturning legislation it does not approve of than courts in other nations. “Israel’s High Court has a substantially different view of what democracy means, which is to protect a moral code which it deems worthy,” as opposed to protecting the spirit of the laws passed by a democratically elected government, Kontorovich said.
Changing a territory’s status
Baker further explained that if the court rejects the legislation, the Knesset’s next attempt to change land-ownership laws that govern the disputed territories might be to extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. He said such a step would be “drastic” and “may possibly need to go to a national referendum.”
Israel, said Baker, has not been the first party “trying to unilaterally change the status of the territory.”
“When the Palestinians went to the U.N. and tried to get statehood [in 2011], that was a clear attempt to try and change the status of the territory, which is a fundamental breach of the Oslo Accords,” he said. Following that statehood bid, Baker said Israel “could have come along and said in view of the fact that you have done this, we consider the Oslo Accords void, and therefore we are free to do what we want.”
Dispelling the Myth that Israel Is the Largest Beneficiary of US Military Aid
By Prof. Hillel Frisch Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. (BESA)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Many American detractors of Israel begin by citing that Israel receives the lion’s share of US military aid. The very suggestion conjures the demon of an all-powerful Israel lobby that has turned the US Congress into its pawn. But these figures, while reflecting official direct US military aid, are almost meaningless in comparison to the real costs and benefits of US military aid – above all, American boots on the ground. In reality, Israel receives only a small fraction of American military aid, and most of that was spent in the US to the benefit of the American economy.
Countless articles discrediting Israel (as well as many other better-intentioned articles) ask how it is that a country as small as Israel receives the bulk of US military aid. Israel receives 55%, or $US3.1 billion per year, followed by Egypt, which receives 23%. This largesse comes at the expense, so it is claimed, of other equal or more important allies, such as Germany, Japan, and South Korea. The complaint conjures the specter of an all-powerful Israel lobby that has turned the US Congress into its pawn.
The response to the charge is simple: Israel is not even a major beneficiary of American military aid. The numerical figure reflects official direct US military aid, but is almost meaningless compared to the real costs and benefits of US military aid – which include, above all, American boots on the ground in the host states.
There are 150,500 American troops stationed in seventy countries around the globe. This costs the American taxpayer an annual $US85-100 billion, according to David Vine, a professor at American University and author of a book on the subject. In other words, 800-1,000 American soldiers stationed abroad represent US$565-665 million of aid to the country in which they are located.
Once the real costs are calculated, the largest aid recipient is revealed to be Japan, where 48,828 US military personnel are stationed. This translates into a US military aid package of over US$27 billion (calculated according to Vine’s lower estimation). Germany, with 37,704 US troops on its soil, receives aid equivalent to around US$21 billion; South Korea, with 27,553 US troops, receives over US$15 billion; and Italy receives at least US$6 billion.
If Vine’s estimate is correct, Japan’s US military aid package is nine times larger than that of Israel, Germany’s is seven times larger, and Italy’s is twice as large. The multipliers are even greater for Egypt. Even the Lilliputian Gulf states, Kuwait and Bahrain, whose American bases are home to over 5,000 US military personnel apiece, receive military aid almost equal to what Israel receives.
Yet even these figures grossly underestimate the total costs of US aid to its allies. The cost of maintaining troops abroad does not reflect the considerable expense, deeply buried in classified US military expenditure figures, of numerous US air and sea patrols. Nor does it reflect the high cost of joint ground, air, and maritime exercises with host countries (events only grudgingly acknowledged on NATO’s official site).
US air and naval forces constantly patrol the Northern, Baltic, and China Seas to protect American allies in Europe and in the Pacific – at American expense. Glimpses of the scale of these operations are afforded by incidents like the shadowing of a Russian ship in the Baltics, near run-ins between Chinese Coast Guard ships and US Navy ships dispatched to challenge Chinese claims in the South China Sea, and near collisions between US Air Force planes and their Chinese counterparts in the same area.
In striking contrast, no US plane has ever flown to protect Israel’s airspace. No US Navy ship patrols to protect Israel’s coast. And most importantly, no US military personnel are put at risk to ensure Israel’s safety.
In Japan, South Korea, Germany, Kuwait, Qatar, the Baltic states, Poland, and elsewhere, US troops are a vulnerable trip-wire. It is hoped that their presence will deter attack, but there is never any assurance that an attack will not take place. Should such an attack occur, it will no doubt cost American lives.
This cannot happen in Israel, which defends its own turf with its own troops. There is no danger that in Israel, the US might find itself embroiled in wars like those it waged in Iraq and Afghanistan at a cost of US$4 trillion, according to Linda J. Bilmes, a public policy professor and Harvard University researcher.
Japan’s presence at the top of the list of US military aid recipients is both understandable and debatable. It is understandable because Japan is critical to US national security in terms of maintaining freedom of the seas and containing a rising China. It is debatable because Japan is a rich country that ought to pay for the US troops stationed within it – or in lieu of that, to significantly strengthen its own army. At present, the Japanese army numbers close to 250,000, but it is facing the rapidly expanding military power of its main adversary, China. A similar case can be made with regard to Germany, both in terms of its wealth and its contribution towards meeting the Russian threat.
What is incomprehensible is not why Israel receives so much US military aid, but why Japan has received nine times more aid than Israel does. This is a curious proportion given the relative power Israel possesses in the Middle East and its potential to advance vital US security interests in times of crisis, compared to the force maintained by Japan relative to China.
Ever since the Turkish parliament’s decision in March 2003 not to join the US-led coalition, and the Turkish government’s refusal to allow movement of American troops across its borders, Israel has been America’s sole ally between Cyprus and India with a strategic air force and (albeit small) rapid force deployment capabilities to counter major threats to vital US interests.
It takes little imagination to envision these potential threats. Iran might decide to occupy Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority seriously at odds with the ruling Sunni monarchy. It might take over the United Arab Emirates, which plays a major role in the air offensive against the Houthis, Iran’s proxies in the war in Yemen. There might be a combined Syrian and Iraqi bid to destabilize Sunni Jordan, in the event that both states subdue their Sunni rebels. Any of these moves would threaten vital energy supplies to the US and its allies. Only Israel can be depended upon completely to provide bases and utilities for a US response and to participate in the effort if needed.
The politicians, pundits, and IR scholars who attack Israel and the Israeli lobby for extracting the lion’s share of US military aid from a gullible Congress know full well that this is not true. Israel receives a small fraction of the real outlays of military aid the US indirectly gives its allies and other countries. These experts also know that 74% of military aid to Israel was spent on American arms, equipment, and services. Under the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding, that figure will be changed to 100%. The experts simply cite the wrong figures.
The US is now led by a businessman president who knows his dollars and cents. He has been adamant about the need to curb free-riding by the large recipients of real US aid. He will, one hopes, appreciate the security bargain the US has with Israel – a country that not only shares many common values with the US, but can make a meaningful contribution to American vital interests with no trip-wires attached.
Trump May Turn to Arab Allies for Help With Israeli-Palestinian Relations
by Peter Baker and Mark Landler The New York Times
President Trump and his advisers, venturing for the first time into the fraught world of Middle East peacemaking, are developing a strategy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would enlist Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to break years of deadlock.
The emerging approach mirrors the thinking of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who will visit the United States next week, and would build on his de facto alignment with Sunni Muslim countries in trying to counter the rise of Shiite-led Iran. But Arab officials have warned Mr. Trump and his advisers that if they want cooperation, the United States cannot make life harder for them with provocative pro-Israel moves.
The White House seems to be taking the advice. Mr. Trump delayed his plan to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem after Arab leaders told him that doing so would cause angry protests among Palestinians, who also claim the city as the capital of a future state. And after meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan last week, Mr. Trump authorized a statement that, for the first time, cautioned Israel against building new West Bank settlements beyond existing lines.
“There are some quite interesting ideas circulating on the potential for U.S.-Israeli-Arab discussions on regional security in which Israeli-Palestinian issues would play a significant role,” said Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I don’t know if this is going to ripen by next week, but this stuff is out there.”
The discussions underscore the evolution of the new president’s attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he delves deeper into the issue. During the campaign and the postelection transition, Mr. Trump presented himself as an unstinting supporter of Israel who would quickly move the embassy and support new settlement construction without reservation. But he has tempered that to a degree.
The notion of recruiting Arab countries to help forge an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians — known as the “outside-in” approach — is not a new one. As secretary of state under President George Bush, James A. Baker III organized the first regional conference in 1991 at which Arab leaders sat down with Israel’s prime minister. President George W. Bush invited Arab leaders to a summit meeting with Israel in Annapolis, Md., in 2007. And President Barack Obama’s first special envoy, George Mitchell, spent months in 2009 trying to enlist Arab partners in a joint effort.
The difference is that in the last eight years, Israel has grown closer to Sunni Arab nations because of their shared concern about Iranian hegemony in the region, opening the possibility that this newfound, if not always public, affiliation could change the dynamics.
“The logic of outside-in is that because the Palestinians are so weak and divided — and because there’s a new, tacit relationship between the Sunni Arabs and Israel — there’s the hope the Arabs would be prepared to do more,” said Dennis B. Ross, a Middle East peace negotiator under several presidents, including Mr. Obama.
That is a departure from the countervailing assumption that if Israel first made peace with the Palestinians, it would lead to peace with the larger Arab world — the “inside-out” approach. That was at the core of President Bill Clinton’s attempts to bring the two sides together and was Mr. Obama’s fallback position after his efforts to find Arab partners failed.
Mr. Netanyahu, who is due at the White House on Wednesday, has been talking about an outside-in approach for a while. His theory is that the inside-out approach has failed. And so, he argues, if Israel can transform its relationship with Sunni Arab nations, they can ultimately lead the way toward a resolution with the Palestinians.
Jared Kushner, the senior White House adviser whom Mr. Trump has assigned a major role in negotiations, has been intrigued by this logic, according to people who have spoken with him. Mr. Kushner has grown close to Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador and a close confidant of Mr. Netanyahu’s. Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner also had dinner at the White House on Thursday night with Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, who is a key supporter of Mr. Netanyahu.
A series of telephone conversations and personal meetings with Arab and regional leaders in recent weeks have also shaped Mr. Kushner’s thinking and that of the president. Mr. Trump has talked with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt; King Salman of Saudi Arabia; Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates; and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Mr. Kushner has also met with Arab officials, including Yousef Al Otaiba, the ambassador from the United Arab Emirates.
King Abdullah II of Jordan seems to have played a particularly pivotal role. Concerned that an embassy move would anger the many Palestinians living in his country, the king rushed to Washington without an invitation, in a gamble that he could see Mr. Trump. He visited first with Vice President Mike Pence, who had him over for breakfast at his official residence last week. The king appealed to the administration’s fixation with the Islamic State, arguing that the United States should not alienate Arab allies who could help.
Several days later, the king buttonholed Mr. Trump on the sidelines of the National Prayer Breakfast and made a similar case. He advised against a radical shift in American policy and emphasized the risks that Jordan would face if Israel were to become even more assertive about building settlements, according to people who spoke with Mr. Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, the chief White House strategist.
Mr. Trump had already decided by that point to slow down the embassy move — a decision that did not especially trouble Mr. Netanyahu and his team, who, while publicly supporting a move, privately urged caution to avoid a violent backlash. The administration had also received reports from American diplomats in Jordan that the threat level for a terrorist attack there had been raised to the highest level in years.
But a series of announcements of new settlement construction worried some White House officials, who thought Mr. Netanyahu was taking action without first meeting with Mr. Trump.
Within hours of Mr. Trump’s meeting with King Abdullah, the administration leaked a statement to The Jerusalem Post saying, “We urge all parties from taking unilateral actions that could undermine our ability to make progress, including settlement announcements.”
After that was posted online, the White House issued a public statement with softened language: “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.”
It was worded in a way that let different parties focus on different parts. The “may not be helpful” phrase was the first time Mr. Trump had warned against new housing in the West Bank.
But the “beyond their current borders” phrase suggested a return to George W. Bush’s policy of essentially acquiescing to additional construction within existing settlement blocs as long as Israel did not expand their geographical reach or build entirely new settlements. Elliott Abrams, one of the authors of that policy under Mr. Bush, is poised to become deputy secretary of state under Mr. Trump.
Mr. Netanyahu’s team focused on that part of the statement. “I happen to know they were very pleased with the statement because it was such a contrast from Obama,” said Morton A. Klein, the national president of the Zionist Organization of America, who has been supportive of the Trump administration.
Indeed, undeterred, Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition pushed through Parliament a bill to retroactively authorize thousands of homes in the West Bank that even under Israeli law had been built illegally on Palestinian-owned land.
Mr. Klein, who argues that settlements are not an obstacle to peace, said the White House had made the statement too confusing to provide clear direction. “I did find it ambiguous, and not as clear as I would like it to be,” he said.
The challenge now is whether Mr. Trump can use this ambiguity to his benefit. If the United States can extract gestures from the Arabs, then that could provide a basis for Israelis and Palestinians to make compromises that they could not do by themselves, Mr. Ross said.
“You’d have to have some kind of parallel approach,” he said. “This would be a serious investment of diplomacy to probe what is possible.”
Miraculous improvement in IDF soldier wounded in Gaza
Yehuda Hayisraeli, critically injured by sniper fire from Hamas during Operation Protective Edge, regained consciousness after eight operations. Not only did he begin speaking again, but he even sang together with Education Minister Naftali Bennett. (World Israel News)
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