Jordanian man stabs Israeli policeman in Old City, is killed by him
A Jordanian citizen stabbed an Israeli police officer in the neck and head near Jerusalem’s Old City early on Saturday afternoon and was shot dead by the policeman, police said.
The assailant was identified by Hebrew media as Muhammad Abdullah Salim al-Kassji, a 57-year-old Jordanian citizen who entered Israel several days ago.
The 37-year-old police officer was taken to Jerusalem’s Shaare Tzedek medical center in moderate condition after the incident near the Lions’ Gate. He had wounds in the neck and head, and was conscious and in stable condition when evacuated to the hospital.
A second man was lightly wounded, with cuts to the hand.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the attacker pulled a knife and stabbed the officer, and that the officer responded by opening fire and killing his attacker.
Magen David Adom paramedics said they provided emergency treatment at the scene.
A video uploaded by the Palestinian Quds News Network (graphic) appeared to show the aftermath of the attack, with policemen attending to the injured officer and the alleged attacker lying inert on the ground.
The attack came two days after Israeli prosecutors on Thursday indicted a Palestinian man at the Jerusalem District Court for the murder of a British exchange student in a stabbing attack on Jerusalem’s light rail last month.
In that terror attack, Jamil Tamimi, 57, allegedly stabbed to death 21-year-old Hannah Bladon, who was in Israel as part of a study abroad program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
On Sunday, a teenage Palestinian female assailant who attempted to stab police officers was shot dead by security forces at the Damascus Gate. According to police, the girl approached a group of officers who were standing guard at the gate.
“The terrorist arrived from Sultan Suleiman Street toward the steps of the Damascus Gate. She approached a police and border guard force stationed in the area. She took out a knife and while screaming ‘Allahu Akhbar’ tried to attack them,” the spokesperson said. “The force responded with determination and professionalism, and neutralized her,” the spokesperson added.
The assailant was 16-year-old Fatima Hajiji, a resident of Qarawat Bani Zeid, north of Ramallah, according to the Palestinian health ministry. (the Times of Israel)
PM Netanyahu pans Jordan for siding with terrorist
Israel is to blame for the terror attack carried out by a Jordanian citizen in Jerusalem’s Old City Saturday that left one police officer moderately wounded, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement just hours after the event.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded Saturday evening to Jordan’s claim, saying, “It is time that Jordan ceases its double sided game. Just as Israel condemns terror attacks in Jordan, Jordan must condemn terrorist attacks in Israel. Terror is terror.”
Police spokeswoman Luba Simri said the officer was walking down a street when he was attacked. He managed to shoot and kill the assailant following the incident, but not before suffering wounds to his face and body.
The assailant, 57-year-old Mohammed Abdullah Salim al-Kasaji, was visiting from Jordan and had been in Israel over the past few days.
Another man was lightly injured on the hand after attempting to assist the officer during the attack.
“The terrorist rushed toward him, whipped out a knife that he had in his possession, stormed him and began stabbing him. The police officer responded with determination and in a professional manner, managed to activate his weapon and neutralized the terrorist,” Simri said.
Hours after the event, the Jordanian government said Israel was responsible for the assailant’s slaying.
“The Israeli government, as the occupying power in Jerusalem, bears responsibility for the shooting of a Jordanian civilian who was killed,” Hebrew media, quoting Jordan’s Minister of Communications Muhammad al-Mu’man, reported.
Jordan’s Foreign Ministry in Tel Aviv added it was following closely the details of the event, describing the incident as an “ugly crime.”
A spokesperson for Israel’s Office of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the matter, saying that they are still gathering information concerning the event.
Israel and the Palestinian Territories have seen a series of sporadic attacks since October 2015, although they have not often involved Jordanians.
Thirty-seven Israelis, two American tourists and a British student have been killed in Palestinian street attacks which have slowed in recent months, though not stopped.
Israel and Jordan signed a peace accord in 1994. (Jerusalem Post)
‘Abbas has decided to sign peace deal with Israel’
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has crossed the Rubicon and voiced “unprecedented” readiness to reach a peace deal with Israel, sources close to the efforts to renew talks between Israel and the Palestinians have told The Jerusalem Post.
Abbas, according to the sources, made this clear to President Donald Trump during their meeting at the White House last week. The president plans to use his trip to Israel later this month to receive assurances from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he, too, is committed to a peace agreement.
Since his meeting with Trump last week, Abbas has changed his rhetoric, issuing a number of statements meant to reflect flexibility on previous demands. He has, for example, said that he would renew the talks under Trump’s auspices without preconditions. In the past, he had said he would not negotiate with Netanyahu without a freeze to settlement construction.
He has also sent his advisers to the press to declare that the Palestinians are prepared to negotiate land swaps with Israel, a recognition that some West Bank settlements will remain part of Israel in the framework of a future deal.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, has largely remained quiet. The strategy within the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem seems to be to wait and hope not to be blamed for preventing the success of the peace talks Trump is planning to restart following his visit on May 22.
As reported earlier this week in Maariv and the Post, the person responsible for this change in Abbas is Ronald Lauder, the American billionaire and head of the World Jewish Congress, who is one of the closest people to Trump. Lauder has publicly said that he has known Trump for over 50 years and that he is a “great and true friend” of Israel.
Before Abbas met with Trump last week, he stopped by Lauder’s house for dinner and got briefed on ways to win over the president. To some, it seems that Lauder has bypassed Sheldon Adelson as the most influential Jew in Trump’s circle.
Lauder has been pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal for years and was in Cairo two months ago for a meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ahead of the Egyptian leader’s visit to the White House. Lauder, sources say, seems to have been tapped by the president as something of a semi-official envoy to the region with an emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Politicians who spoke to Lauder at Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Conference in New York later told the Post that he told them about his meeting with Abbas. At the same time, Netanyahu told confidants that he was furious over the American Jewish leader’s involvement.
“You don’t understand how much influence he has over Trump,” the prime minister told a confidant in a private conversation this week.
“Out of the people around Trump, he is my biggest challenge to overcome.” (Jerusalem Post)
Senior Trump aide: President to back Palestinian ‘self-determination’ on Mideast trip
President Donald Trump will express support for Palestinian “self-determination” during a Middle East trip this month, a senior aide said on Friday, suggesting Trump is open to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict despite not having publicly embraced the idea so far.
The comment by US national security adviser H.R. McMaster came just nine days after a White House visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in which Trump vowed to seek a historic peace deal but stopped short of explicitly recommitting to the eventual goal of Palestinian statehood, a longtime bedrock of US policy.
Previewing Trump’s first foreign trip, McMaster also said he would use a visit to Saudi Arabia, his first stop, to encourage Arab and Muslim partners to take “bold new steps” to confront those from Iran, Islamic State, al Qaeda and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government “who perpetuate chaos and violence.”
Trump’s travels, which begin late next week and will also include stops in Israel and Rome, are intended to “broadcast a message of unity” by visiting holy sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, McMaster told reporters.
Trump’s meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, currently due to be held separately, will be closely watched for whether he begins to articulate a cohesive strategy to revive long-stalled negotiations. Most experts are skeptical of Trump’s chances of brokering a peace accord that eluded his predecessors.
Trump plans, in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to “reaffirm America’s unshakeable bond to the Jewish state” and in a meeting with Abbas to “express his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians,” said McMaster, a decorated Army general with extensive Middle East experience.
Trump is expected to meet Abbas, the Western-backed head of the Palestinian Authority, in Bethlehem in the West Bank, Palestinian sources say.
Palestinians were disappointed when Trump failed to mention a two-state solution in a joint appearance with Abbas on May 3.
Trump sparked international criticism in February when, during a news conference with Netanyahu, he appeared to back away from a longstanding US commitment to Palestinian statehood, saying he would leave it up to the parties to decide.
An independent state is not only the aspiration of the vast majority of Palestinians but has been the objective of successive US administrations and the international community.
Asked whether Trump would bring Netanyahu and Abbas together in the same room during the visit scheduled for May 22-23, McMaster said that would be up to the president and the other leaders. “The final plans aren’t set yet,” he said. (Jerusalem Post)
Tillerson: Trump weighing whether embassy move will help or hurt peace
US President Donald Trump is assessing whether moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would help or hurt prospects for clinching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, revealing Trump’s criteria for a decision that could reverberate throughout the volatile Middle East.
Since taking office, Trump has backed away from his campaign pledge to move the embassy in a gesture to Israel, instead saying he’s still studying the issue. But Tillerson linked Trump’s deliberations directly to his aspirations for brokering Mideast peace.
“The president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process,” Tillerson said in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He said Trump’s decision would be informed by feedback from all sides, “most certainly” including “whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”
Trump’s decision is being closely watched as the president prepares to depart Friday on his first foreign trip. After stopping in Saudi Arabia, Trump will visit both Israel and the Palestinian territories, in a nod to his nascent bid to strike the Israeli-Palestinian deal that has eluded his predecessors.
Jerusalem’s status is one of the most emotionally charged issues in the conflict, with both sides laying claims. Israel captured East Jerusalem — claimed by Palestinians for the capital of a future independent state — from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it, a move not internationally recognized.
US presidents of both parties have repeatedly waived a US law requiring the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. The most recent waiver — signed by former president Barack Obama — expires on June 1. Trump is expected to sign a six-month renewal of the waiver before it expires, as he continues deliberating.
In another sign the White House is proceeding cautiously, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, plans to work out of the current embassy in Tel Aviv rather than out of the US Consulate in Jerusalem, as some had urged him to do. Friedman, who owns an apartment in Jerusalem, is expected to live in the US ambassador’s official residence in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herziliya.
Palestinians argue moving the embassy would prejudge one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict, undermining America’s status as an effective mediator. There have been some signs that the Israeli government, while publicly supportive of moving the embassy, has quietly raised concerns that doing so could inflame the political and security situation.
In the interview, Tillerson downplayed suggestions that the US needed to deal decisively with Russia’s interference in the US election before it could pursue better relations with Moscow. Though Tillerson said he’d seen the intelligence implicating Russia and believed there was no question Russia meddled, he said it was just one of a “broad range of important issues that have to be addressed in the US-Russia relationship.”
He said the notion of a “reset” with Russia — which both Obama and President George W. Bush pursued — was misguided.
“You cannot erase the past. You cannot start with a clean state,” Tillerson said “We’re starting with the slate we have, and all the problems we have are in that slate.” (the Times of Israel)
IDF clashes with demonstrators leave one Palestinian man dead
A Palestinian was killed on Friday in clashes between the IDF and a group of some 100 Palestinians in a village near Ramallah.
Saba Obeid, 22, was shot by the IDF in Nabi Salah, Wafa, the official PA news site, reported.
Obeid was transferred to Yasser Arafat Hospital in Salfit, but succumbed to his wounds, the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry said.
The IDF said that the army “was forced to respond to a group of Palestinians throwing rocks to preserve the quiet.”
The representative added that the forces used “riot dispersal means,” including live fire.
A number of protests in support of Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons took place on Friday. At some of the protests such as the one in Nabi Saleh, demonstrators rioted.
The hunger strikers are demanding an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, increased family visitation rights, and improved amenities.
The Prisons Service has said that the conditions of its prisons conform with international law. (Jerusalem Post)
Jonathan Pollard returns to court with new hope
American Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard will be returning to court next week for the first time since President Donald Trump’s election, with new hope his 30-year legal saga could soon come to an end.
Oral arguments in New York’s Second Circuit Court will take place starting Wednesday on Pollard’s appeal of US District Judge Katherine Forrest’s decision to keep in place restrictive parole conditions. Those conditions were imposed when Pollard was released from prison on November 20, 2015, after the former US Navy analyst served 30 years of a life sentence for spying for Israel.
Pollard’s lawyer Eliot Lauer submitted an appeal in November in an effort to remove conditions that prevent Pollard from leaving his New York home after
7 p.m. or before 7 a.m., force him to submit any computer he uses for inspection, and require him to wear a GPS monitoring device that forces him to violate the Sabbath.
Forrest ruled that Pollard’s parole commission had a rational basis for imposing the conditions, including his expressed desire to leave the United States for Israel. But Lauer argued that the parole conditions were arbitrarily imposed and harm Pollard’s ability to work and rehabilitate himself.
“I believe our appeal has substantial merit,” Lauer told The Jerusalem Post. “I am always hopeful of good results.”
National Council of Young Israel executive vice president emeritus Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Pollard’s rabbi and confidant, said how the court deals with the case will speak volumes about whether or not there has been a fundamental change in Washington toward Israel since the Trump administration took office.
“For 30 years, the courts have routinely ignored the facts and circumstances of the Pollard case in order to follow an extra-legal agenda driven by elements in Washington hostile to Israel,” Lerner said. “The Pollard case has been routinely used by these hostile officials as a dagger pointed at the heart of the US-Israel special relationship and as an explicit warning to the American Jewish community. Unfortunately the courts have studiously avoided doing anything that would insulate their proceedings from this political agenda.”
Lerner said the parole restrictions were unduly harsh and served no other purpose other than being politically driven, punitive and vindictive, following 30 years in prison for a life sentence that he called Draconian and a travesty of justice.
“If indeed there has been a sea change toward Israel and the American Jewish community with the advent of the Trump administration, then it will be reflected in the ability of the Second Circuit to respond freely and honestly to the facts and the circumstances of the case, and to cut the Gordian knot that keeps Pollard chained in America unfairly and unjustly,” Lerner said.
Lerner said he was skeptical because the case “has been so egregiously politicized for decades,” but he was cautiously optimistic that “with a new administration in place, a change for the better is possible.”
Asked whether Pollard would return to his previous approach of seeking presidential commutation of his life sentence if the appeal failed, Lerner said he did not know, but in his answer, he indicated that rejecting the appeal could prove that turning to the president directly might be necessary.
He said that if the court failed to rectify the injustice of Pollard’s situation and chose instead to affirm the government’s imposition of the parole restrictions, then Pollard and his confidants will know that change may have come to Washington, but it has not filtered down to the security establishment and the courts in any meaningful way.
“To date, the US Department of Justice, the parole commission and the intelligence community have not demonstrated any willingness to depoliticize the Pollard case,” Lerner said. “Their gross misrepresentations and lies continue unabated in order to serve other purposes, entirely political.
It is time for the courts to depoliticize the case and to rule on the merits of Pollard’s appeal.”
Figures close to Pollard have spoken with advisers to Trump about allowing him to move to Israel and fulfill his dream of living in the Jewish state, sources close to Pollard said in November.
“We have been in touch,” a source close to Pollard said.
“Now we wait and pray “ (Jerusalem Post)
Israel ranks 23rd in Eurovision as Portugal wins
After a more than two hours of sparkly, strange and over-the-top songs at the Eurovision finals in Kiev Saturday night, Israel’s Imri Ziv took a disappointing 23rd place out of the 26 finalists.
The top spot went to Portugal’s Salvador Sobral, singing “Amar Pelos Dois.” Second place went to Bulgaria and third to Moldova. Last year Israel came in 14th and in 2015 it came in 9th place.
As he has been doing since 2009, the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Ofer Nachshon presented Israel’s awarding of points in the contest live – with top marks to Portugal and Sweden. But Nachshon also used the opportunity to publicly mourn the IBA’s closure on Sunday to hundreds of millions of viewers around Europe.
“For the past 44 years Israel has participated in the Eurovision song contest, winning three times,” he told the Ukrainian hosts. “But tonight is our final night, shortly IBA will shut down its broadcasting forever. So on behalf of all of us here in IBA, let me say thank you Europe for all the magical moments and the beautiful music…. and hopefully we shall meet again in the future.”
Many on social media were stunned by the news that Israel will seemingly be leaving the Eurovision contest. And while it is true that IBA, a member of the European Broadcasting Union, is shutting down on Sunday, the fate of Israel’s Eurovision participation is more complicated. It remains to be seen if Kann, the IBA’s replacement, will be accepted into the EBU; the division between its news and other broadcasting departments demanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may leave it ineligible.
The EBU told The Jerusalem Post last week that it “has some reservations” about the new public broadcaster and is “following closely” the developments. It added that the body will only consider Kann’s application for membership once the network “becomes operational.”
On Saturday night, Ziv took the stage first out of the 26 finalists in Kiev, and sang “I Feel Alive,” written by Dolev Ram and Ben Hazut.
It was a night in true Eurovision tradition, with sequins, drama and a host of strange props.
The Italian performer had a dancing man in a monkey suit, while Norway was accompanied by a masked DJ and Spain’s crew was entirely outfitted in Hawaiian shirts.
Romania’s entry was half rap, half yodeling, and the singers brought two cannons on stage. Croatia’s performer was half English falsetto and half Italian opera, while Hungary had a rapper who also drummed on a metal milk jug. Belarus had a boat, Austria a crescent moon and Greece brought two shirtless men dancing in a puddle.
But perhaps nothing was quite as strange as the entry from Azerbaijan, whose singer performed inside a room made of a chalkboard accompanied by a man in a suit and a horse head perched atop a ladder.
With any luck, Israel will be back next year for another weird and wacky adventure. (Jerusalem Post)
What are Netanyahu’s top 5 fears from Trump’s visit?
By Yaakov Katz The Jerusalem Post
Donald Trump will arrive in Israel on May 22 as part of his first trip overseas as president. The trip has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on edge. Here are the top five reasons why:
1) Trump is expected to ask Netanyahu to renew peace negotiations with the Palestinians and to give the talks a timeframe. Since returning to the premiership in 2009, Netanyahu has shied away from making his plan for peace public. If full-fledged peace talks start, he will be compelled to reveal his plan, including the borders he envisions for a future Palestinian state.
2) To get peace talks resumed, Trump might ask Netanyahu to make concessions even before the talks start. This could be a freeze in settlement construction or a release of prisoners as happened in 2013, the last time Netanyahu’s government was under pressure by the Obama administration to renew talks with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has stated in recent years that he will no longer agree to preconditions. Trump, he fears, might force his hand this time.
3) All of the above would spell political trouble for Netanyahu. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett is unlikely to pull out of the coalition just because peace talks are resumed but he would likely bolt if Netanyahu decides to make concessions. Bennett has been seeking a way to distinguish himself from Netanyahu and to outflank the prime minister from the Right and declare himself the leader of Israel’s right-wing camp. The best way to do that would be by pulling out of the government over concessions to the Palestinians.
4) While the general consensus in Israel is that a peace deal with the Palestinians is unlikely, Netanyahu is afraid to be perceived as being the man responsible for its failure. After everything is over, he wants Israel to be viewed by Trump as the side that was willing to make peace and the Palestinians as the intransigent one. He will have to maneuver carefully not to upset the president who has already proven to be highly unpredictable.
5) Finally, Netanyahu fears having to face the ultimate dilemma – signing a peace deal and going down in history as the prime minister who enabled the establishment of a Palestinian state. According to some ministers in his cabinet, he really opposes the idea. But if negotiations succeed and a deal is put on the table, Netanyahu will have to make the most difficult decision of his life. That is his biggest fear.
Lauder promoting Abbas as moderate is fraught with danger
By Isi Leibler The Jerusalem Post
Last week, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder released a series of statements confirming that he had encouraged US President Donald Trump to recognize that peace between Israelis and Palestinians was now attainable. He also stressed that he considers PA President Mahmoud Abbas to be a moderate committed to peace.
Implicit in his narrative is that the Israeli government and especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously been insufficiently flexible but that Trump could succeed in his efforts.
We have just celebrated Independence Day and are approaching commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and reunification of Jerusalem. The country is in great shape; the economy is booming and we have emerged as a formidable military power.
With a US administration that pulls no punches about its support and alliance with us, Israel is wellplaced to achieve many of its long-term strategic goals, including resolution of borders, agreed parameters of settlement activity and ultimately, formal annexation of the major settlement blocs and Golan Heights.
But these require skillful diplomacy and sensitivity to Trump’s belief that he can negotiate a peace settlement with Abbas even though his predecessors have failed.
What has recently taken place among American Jews is somewhat surreal. Leaders of the progressive religious denominations are behaving as though possessed by a dybbuk.
But the situation has now become far more disconcerting.
Lauder, who over the years has conducted private meetings with Abbas, is seeking to persuade Trump, with whom he has enjoyed a close relationship for many years, that Abbas is sincere and genuinely willing to make peace.
I have personally known Lauder for over 20 years and can testify that since his tenure as US ambassador to Austria, he has devoted himself to the Jewish people and the welfare of Israel, to which he has made major contributions, both philanthropically and by direct investment. Lauder’s generous philanthropic contributions were largely responsible for the revival of the devastated remnants of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe.
Last month, he was elected for a third term as president of the WJC, the international Jewish umbrella body. He successfully reinvigorated the organization after its collapse in the wake of the corruption scandal that engulfed it following discovery by the New York attorney-general of severe financial malpractice. Over the last decade, Lauder succeeded in recruiting top professionals, restructuring the organization, and restoring its status as the premier body representing Diaspora Jewry.
Lauder had a close, almost intimate relationship with Netanyahu and loyally supported him during his years of isolation after his 1999 defeat by Ehud Barak.
But the relationship ended some five years ago when, as a major owner, Lauder was unable to prevent Channel 10 from broadcasting a vicious campaign to demonize Netanyahu’s family. Since that time, Netanyahu has distanced himself from Lauder and the WJC.
Lauder has always dreamed that he would one day emerge as the Jewish leader to facilitate a genuine peace settlement. To this end, he has repeatedly insisted that Abbas genuinely seeks peace. He now claims that he has persuaded Abbas to make “major concessions.”
In a lengthy conversation with Lauder, I failed to dissuade him and convince him of the realities of the situation.
He spoke with an almost messianic fervor about the peace which we could now grasp. Setting aside the issues, I reminded him that he was breaching an iron law governing Diaspora Jewish leaders: Those not resident in Israel cross lines when they canvass foreign governments to intervene in the security policies of the elected Israeli government. I also emphasized that on these issues, Netanyahu was implementing policies supported by the clear majority of Israelis.
What makes his behavior even more outrageous is that Lauder confirmed that he had never discussed his plans with the prime minister. So, on whose behalf was he acting? He did claim that three formal efforts to engage in dialogue were initiated but Netanyahu had adamantly refused to meet him.
When I spoke to the prime minister, it was clear that Lauder’s intervention with Trump angered and distressed him. He referred to Lauder as “my biggest challenge to overcome” because he has immense influence on Trump and is promoting a peace program that had been rejected by Israel but was attractive to an American president possibly easily seduced into believing that a quick peace could be achieved.
I warned Lauder repeatedly that he was being conned by the duplicitous Abbas who is an inveterate antisemite but speaks with a forked tongue, portraying himself as a man of peace and moderation to the outside world while continuing to encourage religious hatred and antisemitism among his own people.
I asked him whether he could visualize the “moderate” Abbas: • Coexisting with Israel as a Jewish state.
- Agreeing to Israel implementing whatever security is required to ensure that a Palestinian entity is demilitarized and prevent the Iranians from approaching.
- Accepting that the major settlement blocs will be incorporated into Israel.
- Bringing an end to the foul exhortations of hatred emanating from the mosques, schools and media depicting Jews as subhuman, calling for the destruction of Israel and inciting to murdering Israelis.
- Relinquishing the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel.
- Terminating weekly payments to murderers of Jews and pensions to their survivors.
- Ending the sanctification of mass murderers by naming schools, city squares and even football clubs to commemorate them.
I predict that Abbas would not concede to any of the above. All he seeks is to persuade Trump to carry on the negotiations – while ceding nothing but making false gestures and undermining Israel internationally.
Abbas, who has avoided democratic elections, is now despised by his people for his corruption, and has imbued them with such hatred of Israel that, even if he wanted to make concessions, he wouldn’t be able to do so without being toppled or assassinated.
I also asked Lauder, if Israel and the PA were to reach an agreement involving more territorial concessions, what would prevent Hamas from moving in on areas no longer protected by Israel? However, I failed to move Lauder. He told me he is being flooded with letters of support including many from former critics. I responded that this should not be perceived as positive, and that most responsible Jewish leaders were reluctant to offend him by telling him what they thought.
Although, like most Israelis, I pray for a genuine peace, I am fearful that despite his good intentions, Lauder may be inadvertently undermining one of the best opportunities we have ever had with the US as a genuine ally. Because of his proximity to Trump, the result of his intervention may be even more damaging than J Street’s campaign to undermine Israel. He insists that if his efforts fail, we will have tried, nothing will have been lost and we will simply return to the status quo.
There is no certainty that Trump will continue to be influenced by Lauder. Should that change, relations could be permanently affected by any fallout.
Lauder is a loyal and devoted friend of Israel. He has no second agenda. He is dedicated to the interests of the Jewish people and his good intentions are not in question.
But he should take a step back and recognize the possible dire consequences if, as most of us fear, his well-meaning but seriously misplaced personal intervention could backfire.
He should immediately come to Israel and meet with the prime minister, who must set aside their differences, engage him in dialogue and seek to persuade him to back down before Trump makes his final moves and visits the region.
How Donald Trump, darling of the Israeli right, reinvigorated Mahmoud Abbas
The Israeli coalition dreamed of regional agreements, fast-expanding settlements, and a White House cold-shoulder to the PA. Instead, the US president is on his way to Bethlehem to see his new Palestinian friend again
By Avi Issacharoff The Times of Israel
If there is one conclusion to be drawn from last month’s visit of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House and US President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Israel and the PA later this month, it is that the fantasy beloved by some Israeli leaders that the Palestinian issue can be made to vanish from the global agenda is fading fast.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition has for months been talking up the possibility of a regional agreement, and highlighting Arab leaders’ ostensible hatred of the Palestinians and of Abbas. He and some of his ministers have been intimating that Israel might even be able to cut deals with the Saudis without mentioning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at all.
But Trump, the darling of the Israeli government and the Settlers (Yesha) Council, has out-Obama’ed president Barack Obama by reinstating Abbas at the center of the diplomatic stage. The American administration has made it crystal clear that far from ignoring Abbas and the Palestinians, as some Israeli officials had hoped Trump would do, it will treat them with kid gloves.
Trump invited Abbas to visit, listened to the Palestinian delegation’s (fairly lengthy) diplomatic survey, was amazed at the extent of the IDF-PA security coordination, and apparently concluded that the Palestinians may not have been the only ones to blame for the failure of peace talks. He listened approvingly as Abbas, at their joint press conference, asserted that the PA is “raising our youth… on a culture of peace.” He praised Abbas for speaking out against terrorist groups. He hailed ongoing US partnerships with the Palestinians on regional security.
He deployed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to meet with the Palestinian team. He had already sent Jason Greenblatt, a religiously observant Jew who studied at a yeshiva in Gush Etzion, to visit to a Palestinian refugee camp. And now Trump is planning a visit to Bethlehem — and will meet Abbas again, for the second time in a month.
How ironic that it is Trump, not Barack (Hussein) Obama, who is revitalizing Abbas diplomatically. Now Trump wants to revive the negotiations and perhaps even hold a three-way summit. So Abbas has immediately been catapulted to the position of a significant political figure in Middle East — one who meets every other week with leaders of Arab countries in order to coordinate positions with them. Talk of a regional agreement has been forgotten; so, too, have pipe dreams about annexing parts or all of the territories.
Whatever happened to the program to annex Ma’ale Adumim, which Education Minister Naftali Bennett had promised would become government policy from the moment Trump was inaugurated? It is becoming evident that Netanyahu, too, is being careful to show Trump respect, and does not want to upset the White House too much, reportedly canceling a meeting this week on settler home approvals.
After all, he wouldn’t want to get another of those letters from DC telling him, “You’re fired.”
A few words in defense of Israeli government ministers are in order. Their assessment that the Arab states are not in love with Abbas and the Palestinians is correct. While Cairo is the most obvious example of this, there are also some Gulf states, particularly the United Arab Emirates, that would prefer to see a different Palestinian leadership. But it is a long way from this to the Arabs abandoning the Palestinian cause.
The leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia want to see quiet on the Palestinian front, and as far as they are concerned the quickest way to get there is a peace process. Acts such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem or annexing territory would create unrest in the West Bank that could lead to support rallies and unrest in the Arab world. If the Israeli government wants to forge relationships with them that are not exclusively about security, it must pay the dowry by moving forward on the talks with the Palestinians.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (bottom left), Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (top left), Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi (second from right) and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa (right) speak during a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to discuss a French peace initiative in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on May 28, 2016. (AFP/Stringer)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (bottom left), Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (top left), Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi (second from right) and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa (right) speak during a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to discuss a French peace initiative in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on May 28, 2016. (AFP/Stringer)
It is into this equation that the new Abbas enters. The Mahmoud Abbas of 2017 sounds, acts and looks differently from the Abbas of 2008 to 2016. Obama is no longer there to constrain him by making a relentless public fuss about settlements, and his message to Trump was clear: He is willing to meet with Netanyahu and talk with the Israelis with no preconditions.
The Palestinian leader realizes that he needs to use different tools and behavior in the Trump era — not to act like a parent scolding an unruly (superpower) child, but like a leader who, in his conversations with Trump and his representatives, talks only about how ready and willing he is to do anything to assist the peace process. This talk is also accompanied by action, from the security coordination, to getting tough on Hamas in Gaza, to a certain decrease in incitement. None of this helps his domestic popularity, but it has certainly boosted his standing in Washington.
Yes — there has actually been a decrease in incitement, the topic that Israeli officials bring up again and again. Inflammatory speeches are still heard and statements brimming with hatred of Jews and Israelis are still made, but there are fewer of them in the media and even in Palestinian textbooks.
What about the security coordination? The “unbelievable” cooperation that Trump highlighted in his press conference with Abbas has been the case for some time. The PA is trying to thwart any and every cell that plans terror attacks, be it Hamas, Islamic State, or any other group. Its police force arrests terrorists and prevents attacks; in the past few weeks it has confiscated hundreds of illegal weapons, mostly manufactured in the territories.
The Israeli and American intelligence communities are well aware of this work; so too, now, is Trump. Netanyahu and his ministers are not too fond of talking about these activities by the PA — not because they underestimate them, but mostly because any expression of gratitude toward the Palestinian Authority will harm the support they get from their right-wing base. It could also damage the Palestinian security services themselves, which face allegations of collaboration the more this work is hailed by Israel (even though much of the Palestinian public has held this view of them for some time).
One of the most significant players effecting all this change under Abbas is PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. He initially seemed fairly weak, and with no political pretensions — a person whom Fatah could manage as it pleased. But Hamdallah has slowly been gaining status in the PA’s security and political institutions, as well as support among the Palestinian public. He gives orders to PA security chiefs, with whom he meets regularly, and receives updates about the security services’ every act, from the arrests of Hamas activists to the confiscation of weapons and the dispersal of demonstrations.
Just as important, Hamdallah is not seen as corrupt. Some compare him to former prime minister Salam Fayyad, and this is perhaps the greatest danger he faces — if he is too successful, as Fayyad was, Fatah’s high-ranking officials will try to bring him down. Hamdallah is also considered more cautious regarding the measures that the PA has been taking against Hamas in recent weeks, in what looks like a gradual disengagement of the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority from Gaza.
The Mahmoud Abbas of 2017 is also less hesitant about getting into internal Palestinian conflicts, even as his popularity continues to plummet. Fatah’s loss to Hamas this week in student elections at Bir Zeit University is just an example of that. Yet Abbas persists in his plans to disengage from Gaza. PA officials announced this week that they would stop collecting taxes from the residents of the Gaza Strip. In other words, only Hamas will be collecting taxes from the Gazans, and we can guess that support for Hamas will then decrease.
Abbas also announced the cessation of payments to Israel for Gaza’s electricity, thus causing trouble for both Israel and Hamas. Israel says it has no intention of paying for Gaza’s electricity, and it is not clear at the moment who, if anyone, will do so by the end of the month. The PA may finally agree to foot part of the bill so as to ensure the supply of electricity to critical installations such as hospitals, but one thing is clear: the suffering in Gaza will go on.
Abbas is planning other measures, such as stopping monthly salary payments to the members of Hamas’s parliament (surprisingly enough, they are still receiving salaries) and stopping salary payments to the prisoners in Gaza who were released as part of the 2011 Shalit prisoner exchange.
Hamas is nervous. It has no Plan B at the moment. The Qataris have said that they have no intention of paying for the Gaza Strip’s electricity as long as there is no comprehensive reconciliation process between the PA and Hamas. The Gaza Strip is on the brink of an explosion even though Hamas does not want one.
There is also quite a bit of confusion within Hamas for political reasons. Ismail Haniyeh was elected head of its political wing, but he is moving farther away from making decisions concerning the Gaza Strip, of which Yahya Sinwar is in charge. Although Haniyeh, as head of Hamas’s political bureau, supposedly outranks Sinwar at present, it is not at all certain that he will be the one giving orders to the head of Hamas’s political bureau in Gaza.
Deepening PA-Hamas friction seems inevitable, which could presage trouble on the ground. It would also, however, bolster Abbas’s credibility — as part of the solution, not the problem — in the eyes of the Trump administration.