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Latest Israel News – 26th May

Trump leaves Israel with no mention of Palestinian state, settlements or embassy

US President Donald Trump ended his 28-hour trip to Israel Tuesday afternoon extolling the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace but leaving no clear indication of how he plans to help bring it closer.

Trump, who flew from Tel Aviv to Rome on the third leg of his first trip abroad as president, made no mention in seven public appearances in Israel of a Palestinian state, a two-state solution or settlements, something one senior government official said was a refreshing break from Trump’s predecessor.

On the other hand, the president also made no mention of his campaign pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

During the concluding speech of his visit at the Israel Museum, in front of several hundred people invited by the Prime Minister’s Office and the US Embassy, Trump delivered a strongly pro-Israel speech. In it, he framed his stops here and in Saudi Arabia – not in terms of searching for a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict but – as “bringing nations together around the goal of defeating the terrorism that threatens the world and crushing the hateful ideology that drives it so hard and seems to be driving it so fast.”

Trump’s speech came soon after he visited Yad Vashem.

Prior to that, he traveled to Bethlehem for a one-hour meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. There, he said, “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded.”

Trump arrived in Israel on Monday after he visited Saudi Arabia and met with Arab and Muslim leaders there. He called that meeting historic, and said it “represents a new opportunity for people throughout the Middle East to overcome sectarian and religious divisions, to extinguish the fires of extremism and to find common ground and shared responsibility in making the future of this region so much better than it is right now.

“My message to that summit was the same message I have for you: We must build a coalition of partners who share the aim of stamping out extremists and violence and providing our children a peaceful and hopeful future. But a hopeful future for children in the Middle East requires the world to fully recognize the vital role of the State of Israel,” Trump continued.

He did not, however, elaborate on follow-up steps.

Though Trump made no mention of his oft-repeated election pledge to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, he did extol the city, saying its “beauty, splendor and heritage are like no other place on earth.”

He also underscored the Jewish people’s ties to Israel, saying these ties “are ancient and eternal.”

Trump singled out Hamas and Hezbollah for condemnation for launching rockets into Muslim communities; Islamic State for targeting Jewish neighborhoods and synagogues; and Iran for routinely calling for Israel’s destruction.

Then he added, to applause, “Not with Donald J. Trump, believe me.”

“All decent people want to live in peace, and all humanity is threatened by the evils of terrorism,” Trump said, adding that diverse nations can unite around protecting innocent life, upholding human dignity and promoting peace in the region.

“My administration is committed to pursuing such a coalition, and we have already made substantial progress during this trip,” he said. “We know, for instance, that both Israelis and Palestinians seek lives of hope for their children.

And we know that peace is possible if we put aside the pain and disagreements of the past and commit together to finally resolving this crisis, which has dragged on for nearly half a century or more.”

Trump reiterated that he is personally committed to helping Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement, and that – after meeting with Abbas earlier in the day – he could say the “Palestinians are ready to reach peace.”

“I know you’ve heard it before. I am telling you – that’s what I do. They are ready to reach for peace,” he said. “My very good friend, [Prime Minister] Benjamin [Netanyahu], also wants peace.”

But while seeking peace, he said, both Israel and the US will “build strength to defend our nations.” He reiterated that the US is “firmly committed” to preventing Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon. “We are telling you right now that Iran will not have nuclear weapons,” he stated unequivocally.

A White House statement of the meeting Trump held with Netanyahu on Monday indicated that the two men discussed a recently concluded arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth some $110 billion, which has raised some concerns in Jerusalem. According to the statement, Trump reassured Netanyahu that the US remains committed to preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.

Israel, the president said in his speech, “is a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.” He noted that while Jews have endured persecution, oppression and attempts to destroy them, they have endured and thrived.

“I stand in awe of the accomplishments of the Jewish people and I make this promise to you: My administration will always stand with Israel,” he added

Netanyahu, in remarks at the museum, thanked Trump for his “steadfast friendship to the Jewish people and the Jewish state,” saying it is “deeply, deeply appreciated.”

He said that he believes a “durable peace” between Israel, its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians can be reached “because of the common danger that the Arab world and Israel face from Iran, and because of the leadership that you bring to this process.”

Netanyahu added that a crucial step toward genuine peace is for Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to “stop rewarding terrorists, stop glorifying murderers.”

The prime minister noted that Abbas, at his meeting with Trump, condemned the terrorist attack in Manchester.

“Well, I hope this heralds a real change,” he said. “Because if the attacker had been Palestinian and the victims had been Israeli children, the suicide bomber’s family would have received a stipend from the Palestinian Authority. That’s Palestinian law. That law must be changed.”

Before leaving, Trump huddled for 10 minutes with opposition leader Isaac Herzog and reiterated his commitment to working toward a peace agreement.

Just prior to taking off, Trump posted the following on his Twitter account: “Thank you for such a wonderful and unforgettable visit, Prime Minister @Netanyahu and @PresidentRuvi. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East were great. Trying hard for PEACE. Doing well. Heading to Vatican & Pope, then #G7 and #NATO. All civilized nations must join together to protect human life and the sacred right of our citizens to live in safety and in peace.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Trump’s envoy to arrive in Israel two days after US president’s visit

Only two days after US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel and the West Bank, his Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is expected to arrive in Israel on Thursday to continue efforts to restart peace talks.

Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, will also arrive on a three-day visit to Israel in early June and will be accompanied by her Israeli counterpart Danny Danon.

Haley, who will be visiting Israel for the first time, is expected to meet with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She is also scheduled to visit Israel’s southern and northern borders and get a helicopter tour of Israel.

Haley will visit Jerusalem’s Old City, the Western Wall, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Tel Aviv. She is also expected to visit the Palestinian Authority.

Trump spent some 28 hours visiting Israel and meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.

A White House statement about Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu said that the two leaders “discussed how to move forward with Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. President Trump reaffirmed his belief that peace is possible, not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but throughout large parts of the Middle East.”

The statement further noted that “President Trump welcomed the steps that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s security cabinet has taken to improve the Palestinian economy, noting that greater economic opportunity for Palestinians would enhance the prospects for peace.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was also raised in Trump’s meetings with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia. A joint statement with Saudi Arabia issued by the White House said: “The two sides stressed the importance of reaching a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The leaders agreed to do everything they can to promote an environment that is conducive to advancing peace.”

While he was in Israel, Trump also met with Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) on Tuesday at the Israel Museum. Greenblatt and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who also serves as the president’s advisor, were also present in the meeting. Kusher told Herzog that Trump always surprises and that their goal was to create the conditions to renew peace negotiations in the foreseeable future.

One senior administration official told Reuters that Kushner was treading carefully to avoid stepping into “the same traps” that have tripped up previous efforts. “He’s a good listener and he’s trying to learn as much as he can,” the official said.

Kushner, who wields tremendous clout within the White House on a broad range of issues, is not a full-time envoy in the traditional model that previous US administrations have employed when peace negotiations were under way.

Rather than broadcasting his plans and dashing among the parties in a high-profile display of shuttle diplomacy, as more traditional envoys were known to do, his approach has been decidedly low-key, delegating much of the work.

The shoe-leather tasks of day-to-day discussions with leaders in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman and the Gulf to gather input and regional perspective has been handled by Greenblatt, a real-estate lawyer and long-term Trump loyalist.

While Kushner has visited Iraq and now Saudi Arabia, and has long had business ties to Israel, including supporting a settlement in the West Bank, Greenblatt has taken the day-to-day lead and reported back to Kushner on progress.

A handful of senior officials on the Israeli and Palestinian sides confirmed they had met with Kushner, but just as quickly underlined that they had nothing to say about what was discussed. It is as if a veil of secrecy is drawn over anything to do with the real-estate developer husband of Ivanka Trump.

Kushner, a practicing Orthodox Jew, has known Prime Minister Netanyahu for about 20 years, dating to his childhood, when Netanyahu knew Kushner’s father.

He also has personal ties to Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Nevertheless, Israeli officials say they do not think Kushner takes their side uncritically.

“In the beginning it looked like Kushner really admired Dermer, really hung on his every word. That created the sense that it was all going to be good: Jared’s young, he’s Jewish, he likes us, he understands us, it’s going to be easy,” said one person close to the prime minister’s office.

“But as time has gone by, that impression has changed somewhat. Now people are not so convinced they were right. Jared is his own man.”

To demonstrate its fairness, the Trump administration invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House weeks before Trump’s trip to Israel. Kushner and Greenblatt had a two-hour breakfast in Washington with Abbas before Abbas met with Trump, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

Yet many Palestinians say they are skeptical that someone with such close ties to Israel can ever be even-handed. The Palestinians believe that Israel is deliberately stalling any peace process while it builds settlements on Palestinian land, and Israel will negotiate only if Washington applies pressure.

“Kushner is good for Israel because of his … fanatic positions,” said Hani al-Masri, a Palestinian political analyst based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. It was probably better that Kushner was slow to unveil any peace plan, because “if he acted it would be for the sake of Israel,” he said.

But Masri also said he suspected the Americans would take their time in laying out any concrete proposals to restart the peace process, because Israel did not want to make concessions.

“Both of them (Kushner and Trump) are not in a hurry because they know that the current Israeli government will not give anything.”  (Ynet News)

Jonathon Pollard loses his bid to relax parole conditions

A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected a bid by Jonathan Pollard, the former US Navy intelligence officer who served 30 years in prison after being convicted of spying for Israel, to relax his parole conditions.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the US Parole Commission acted within its discretion in requiring Pollard to wear an electronic tracking device, obey a curfew, and allow his computers to be monitored.

Eliot Lauer, Pollard’s attorney, told The Jerusalem Post that he was “disappointed in two respects. First the result. Second in that the court did not step out of the checklist and confront the commission on the manifest injustice of the onerous and unnecessary restrictions.”

Pollard pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage in connection with providing Israeli contacts with hundreds of classified documents. His lawyers have said his parole conditions have prevented him from getting a job.

On Sunday, Pollard appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring up the matter of his release during his meeting with US President Donald Trump on Monday.

Pollard made the comments during conversations he held with close friends over the weekend. His wife, Esther, recounted them to the Post.

“As much as Trump needs to be held to his promise to move the embassy, it is just as important that the prime minister keep his promise to bring an agent home,” Pollard reportedly said to the friends during the weekend.

Last week, Pollard appealed US District Judge Katherine Forrest’s decision to keep in place the parole conditions that were imposed when he was released from prison in November, 2015, after serving 30 years of a life sentence for spying for Israel.

The conditions prevent Pollard from leaving his New York home after 7 p.m. and 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.

Lauer told the judges the conditions were arbitrary because they do not prevent Pollard from meeting anyone or contacting anyone in the world.

For the first time in a public forum, Lauer revealed an example of information Pollard provided Israel: A photograph of an Iraqi nuclear facility taken in 1981 before Israel destroyed it, which he gave his Israeli handlers in 1984. Lauer questioned why such information would still be relevant now and noted that the information he provided was supposed to have been given by the US to Israel based on an agreement between the two countries (Jerusalem Post).

Terror victim’s mother decries PA payments to terrorists at UN

The mother of Ezra Schwartz, an 18-year old American citizen who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist in Israel in November 2015, on Wednesday spoke out against the Palestinian Authority for compensating terrorists.

Ruth Schwartz made her remarks at the United Nations during a special forum on the glorification of terrorism, organized by the Israeli Mission to the UN in partnership with the Israel education organization StandWithUs.

“My son is the victim of the worst crime: He will never go to college, get married, have children or do anything in this world again,” Schwartz said.

“I’m here because as Ezra’s mother, it is my duty to fight for my son.”

Her son was killed in a shooting, as he was spending his gap year between high school and college volunteering in Israel. His murderer, Muhammad Haruv, was sentenced to four life prison terms, and is receiving thousands of dollars a month from the PA, according to the Israeli mission to the UN.

Learning that her son’s murderer is compensated and celebrated for his crime was “another twist of the knife,” Schwartz told The Jerusalem Post after the event. “It just doesn’t feel fair that the terrorist is sitting in jail proud of himself, supporting his family. It doesn’t feel right, and I felt that I needed to say something for my son.”

Schwartz said she felt it was her duty to speak out at the UN and make “a simple request” she summed up on the podium: “Please do not kill, and please do not reward people who kill, because that is as if you did the killing yourself.”

According to a January report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Palestinian terrorists’ monthly salaries range from NIS 1,400 a month for those up to three years in jail, to NIS 7,000 for those in prison for 15-20 years, and NIS 12,000, or over $3,000 for those sitting in jail for more than 30 years.

Wednesday’s event, organized by UN Ambassador Danny Danon, is part of his ongoing efforts to draw attention to the issue. Earlier this month, Danon called on the UN Security Council to take action against the compensations for murder, since much of the money used comes to the PA from foreign aid.

“This is, in other words, blood money,” he said in his opening remarks. “If teaching hate were an Olympic sport, [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas and his government would win a gold medal.

“In a perfect world, the international community would come right to the side of Israel and condemn both the PA and the terrorists themselves immediately following these hateful acts,” Danon added.

“But we do not live in a perfect world: the international community remained silent.”

Earlier this month, the ambassador sent an official letter to the Security Council on the matter, calling on the international community to follow their payments to the PA and make sure the funds don’t go toward remuneration for terrorists.

“It is absurd to condemn terror, while at the same time paying terrorists,” he had said during a short press conference.

“It’s time for the UN, the Security Council, and the entire international community to finally tell Abbas that enough is enough.”

A bill named after another American victim of Palestinian terrorism, Taylor Force, is currently being debated in congress. It would cut off US aid unless the PA stops the payments. (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli minister meets publicly with Arab officials in Ecuador

For the first time in recent years, delegates from Gulf states met openly and publicly with an Israeli government minister as they gathered in Ecuador on Wednesday for the swearing-in of Lenin Moreno as the country’s new leader, in apparent first fruits of US President Donald Trump’s Mideast diplomacy.

Likud Minister Ayoub Kara attended the ceremony in the capital Quito along with leaders of South American nations and representatives from around the world.

Kara tweeted that he was “surprised by the warm attitude of representatives from the Gulf states,” crediting Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel as a game changer.

Trump has been trying to push for an alliance of the Sunni states, together with the US and Israel to counter Iran. He is pushing Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace deal, which he says would also facilitate a wider peace between Israel and the Gulf nations.

Kara, a minister without portfolio posted photos of himself with representatives from the Palestinian Authority along with delegates from Oman, Qatar and Yemen and other Arab nations as well as the prime minister of the Sahrawi Republic of southern Morocco, Abdelkader Taleb Omar.

“President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu are coordinating every step of this political initiative, and there is progress on the issue,” Kara said.

Kara joined by Israel’s Ambassador to Ecuador Edwin Yabo, discussed developments in the Middle East initiated by Trump with the Gulf delegates.

In a statement, Kara, who is Druze, said the meetings were “open and cordial,” and that all sides “expressed their approval to move forward with the political negotiations.”

“For the first time, after years of action in the political arena, [representatives of] countries from the Saudi coalition agreed to meet openly with me as a representative of the State of Israel,” he tweeted in Hebrew.

Kara said that the public recognition by those countries of an Israeli minister showed their desire to move toward peace with Israel.


The minister also spoke with the presidents of Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala and Paraguay, whom he knew from their visits to Israel. He urged them to forge closer relations with Israel join the fight against terrorism.

“Just as Africa has taken giant steps closer to Jerusalem, we will do everything for Ecuador and all of Central and South America to come closer to Israel too,” he said.

Ecuador’s new president took office Wednesday, tasked with steering the oil-rich nation, a flagship of the Latin American left, through troubled economic and political waters.

Congress swore in Moreno, 64, as the quieter successor to his ally, leftist Rafael Correa, one of the feistiest personalities in Latin American politics.

Moreno is the first wheelchair user to become Ecuador’s leader, and one of few in the world ever to serve as president.  (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu thanks Czechs for pro-Israel resolutions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday thanked the Czech parliament for passing two pro-Israel resolutions that recognize the Jewish people’s ancient ties to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu praised the Czech Chamber of Deputies for its call on Tuesday to the nation’s government to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to stop paying membership fees to UNESCO until the organization stops its anti-Israel bias.

Speaking at the official ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Israel’s reunification of the city in the 1967 Six Day War, the prime minister said that the Czech decision was a courageous one. “This is the proper position, it is the courageous stance that others should take,” he said.

He also said that the move to recognize Israel’s capital as Jerusalem was “the recognition of something simple.” Netanyahu said he hoped that the Czech resolution would inspire other countries to do the same.

“This is the correct, worthy and courageous decision that others should copy,” he said.

The prime minister connected Prague’s support for Israel to the early years of the Jewish state when Czechoslovakia sold arms to the fledgling IDF, which proved crucial to the establishment of the country.

“The Czechs once gave us Czech rifles,” he said, “this was the start of the struggle.”

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, the lower chamber of the Czech Republic’s bicameral parliament passed two pro-Israel resolutions, both critical of the United Nations’ cultural and scientific agency.

In an unusual step, the country’s president also sent greetings to an event hosted by the Israeli embassy in honor of Jerusalem Day.

“The Chamber of Deputies calls on the government of the Czech Republic to stop all payments of membership fees to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from the state budget this year,” the nonbinding resolution read.

The Czech lawmakers further resolved to urge the government to freeze payments to UNESCO in future years if it does not cease allowing itself to be politicized for an anti-Israel agenda.

Israel’s ambassador to the Paris-based agency, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, welcomed the resolution. “Another blessed decision and another sane voice against the stream of delusional resolutions on the matter of Jerusalem,” he told The Times of Israel. “This is indeed a nice present from Prague to the people of Israel on Jerusalem Day.”

Israelis on Tuesday evening started celebrating the 50th anniversary of the capture of East Jerusalem in the course of the Six Day War. Israel subsequently annexed that part of the city and declared united Jerusalem its eternal capital, a move not recognized by the international community.

In an additional resolution, the Czech parliamentarians condemned the “continuing politicization of the issue of Jerusalem.” It passed with an overwhelming majority of 112 to 2.

The lawmakers declared their rejection of UNESCO’s May 2 resolution, which denied Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, and urged the government in Prague to recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

Resolution 201 EX/PX/DR.30.1, which was proposed by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, “reaffirms the enduring biased and hostile attitude of UNESCO to one of its Member States; as well as the unacceptable politicization of the organization” by dealing with matter that are “clearly beyond its mandate,” the Czech resolution stated.

The UNESCO vote, which coincided with Israel’s Independence Day, passed with 22 countries in favor, 23 abstentions, 10 opposed, and the representatives of three countries absent.

The Czech Chamber of Deputies further endorsed a two-state solution and called for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations without preconditions. It also opposed decisions and resolutions by international organizations such as the European Union that “distort historical facts” and contain the “spirit of anti-Israel bigotry.”

On Tuesday evening, the Israeli embassy in Prague hosted 500 guests at a Jerusalem Day celebration at the 9th-century Prague Castle — the official residence of the president of the Czech Republic.

“Let me greet you all on the occasion of this gathering that takes place on the eve of the Day of Jerusalem,” Czech President Milos Zeman said in a written message to the event’s participants. “You have gathered in this magnificent cathedral, the spiritual center of our country so steadfastly connected with our statehood.”

For Israel to celebrate in the historic venue is more than symbolic, he continued. “It was the Czechoslovak Republic that gave the helping hand to Israel in the difficult times. And in exchange, Israel with its vitality and pride encourages us in Europe where we face the evil of terrorism.”

Zeman concluded his message by thanking the guests for supporting Israel. “It is all the more valuable in the situation when the poisonous shoots of anti-Semitism once again started to take root on the European continent.”  (the Times of Israel)

Israeli researchers say they have new way to combat heart disease, stroke

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Sheba Medical Center said they have have developed a way to treat atherosclerosis and prevent heart failure with a new biomedical polymer that reduces arterial plaque and inflammation in the cardiovascular system.

Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease causes 56 million deaths annually worldwide, according to the 2015 Lancet Global Burden of Disease Report. Arteries are lined by a thin layer of cells called the endothelium which keep them toned and smooth and maintain blood flow. Atherosclerosis begins with damage to the endothelium and is caused by high blood pressure, smoking or high cholesterol. The resulting damage leads to plaque formation.

When endothelial cells become inflamed, they produce a molecule called E-selectin that brings white blood cells (monocytes) to the area and causes plaque accumulation in the arteries.

“Our E-selectin-targeting polymer reduces existing plaque and prevents further plaque progression and inflammation, preventing arterial thrombosis, ischemia, myocardial infarction, and stroke,” said Prof. Ayelet David of the BGU Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology in a statement.

This new nano-polymer has several advantages, the researchers said. First, it reverses arterial damage and improves the heart muscle. At present, there are several available treatment options for atherosclerosis, but no other therapy reverses arterial damage and improves the heart muscle. Also, the polymer targets only damaged tissue and does not harm healthy tissue so it has no side effect — unlike statins, which are currently the leading medication used for treating atherosclerosis.

Patented and in preclinical stage, the new polymer has been tested on mice with positive results. In a study that has been submitted for publication, the researchers treated atherosclerotic mice with four injections of the new biomedical polymer and tested the change in their arteries after four weeks.

“We were stunned by the results,” said Prof. Jonathan Leor, director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute of the Sheba Medical Center and professor of cardiology at Tel Aviv University, who collaborated with David on the research study. “The myocardial function of the treated mice was greatly improved; there was less inflammation and a significant decrease in the thickness of the arteries.”

“We achieved an adherence level similar to that of an antibody, which may explain the strong beneficial effect we observed,” said David.

David and Leor suggested that this polymer-based therapy can also be helpful to people with diabetes, hypertension and other age-related conditions, impacting the lives of millions of people.

“We are now seeking a pharmaceutical company to bring our polymer therapy through the next stages of drug development and ultimately to market,” said Dr. Ora Horovitz, senior vice president of business development at BGN Technologies, BGU’s technology and commercialization company.  (the Times of Israel)

After Trump visit, the onus is on us

By       Isi Leibler                The Jerusalem Post


Overall, US President Donald Trump has delivered. He will not have satisfied the delusional aspirations of Israel’s radical Right but, despite some missteps before he arrived, highlighted by hostile and misleading press reports, the Trump visit was favorable for Israel and outlined parameters of what can be achieved with the Palestinians.

It was disappointing that he postponed transferring the US Embassy to Jerusalem but there is still hope that this will happen during his presidency.

We appreciate that he is the first sitting American president to visit Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall. We would have preferred him to be more explicit about the extent of terrorism in Israel in his address to the Muslim world. But he more than compensated in his extraordinarily warm address at the Israel Museum.

There is also some concern that the substantial commercial and defense relationship with the Saudis ($380 billion in deals, including $110b. in arms purchases) might impact Israel and will require steps to ensure that we maintain our qualitative military edge.

Trump did not try to force unreasonable or irresponsible concessions. A Palestinian state is not even on the horizon. Neither is there any indication of a return to president Barack Obama’s policy of freezing all settlement construction.

Indeed, the president expressed friendship and support for Israel in a far more open and positive manner than any of his predecessors. In his address to the leaders of 55 Muslim-majority countries, he reversed Obama’s moral equivalence approach and described the conflict as being between the forces of decency on the one hand, and an evil death cult on the other. He urged the Arab and Muslim states to actively eradicate terrorism and extremism from within their ranks and places of worship. He specifically condemned Hamas and Hezbollah together with Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaida. Notably, he explicitly called on Arab and Muslim leaders to combat antisemitism. No American president has ever spoken directly to the Arab world in such a blunt and forthright manner.

For the first time, the Saudis, backed by the Egyptians and Gulf states, appear to be promoting peace or at least easing the tension between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In his lengthy statement outlining the Saudi position prior to Trump’s address, King Salman only devoted one sentence to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but rather than condemning Israel, expressed the hope that peace will be achieved. This was a clear message, as was the fact that Trump flew to Israel on the first-ever direct flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.

Whereas in the past the Arab states were a major element fanning Palestinian anti-Israel hostility, it may well be that the tide has changed.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Saudis no longer demand that Israel freeze all settlement construction. Instead, they propose that Israel restrict construction outside the settlement blocs and provide additional humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza.

In return, the Saudis would inch closer to partial normalization and recognition by allowing Israeli aircraft to fly over their territory, set up direct telephone connection and even provide tourist visas for Israelis. While this was not officially confirmed, there were no denials, which tends to confirm the veracity of the report and suggests that the Saudis are willing to actively act as brokers by pressing the Palestinians to be more flexible.

To what extent this was the outcome of discussions with Trump’s representatives, or simply because the Saudis now recognize the value of Israel’s support against Iran’s efforts to achieve regional hegemony, is irrelevant. There have already been widespread rumors attesting to covert Saudi cooperation with Israel in relation to Iran and similarly with the Egyptians in the struggle against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula.

Whereas Trump demanded that the Palestinians cease the incitement and bring an end to rewarding murderers and their families with lavish pensions and sanctifying them as heroes, he avoided suggesting that Israel cease settlement activity. But he undoubtedly pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move forward with confidence-building measures such as improving the economic conditions and social development among Palestinians.

At this potentially historic turning point, Netanyahu must stand firm against the radicals in his coalition and impose a limited freeze beyond the settlement blocs. The majority of the nation would endorse such a policy and if it brings down the government and forces elections, the nation will support him.

We talk endlessly about the need for unity. At this crucial time, decision-making must reflect the views of the majority who are effectively the political centrists. No minority groups should be able to veto our national interest.

Yair Lapid and his party, Yesh Atid, also embrace this centrist view. They should either join the government or support it on this issue. Even the non-delusional elements in Labor should support this process.

Of course, this is only the beginning. Before we engage in negotiating details, let us see Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas make some concessions. Let him recognize Israel as a Jewish state and abrogate the Palestinian refugee right of return. Then we can discuss borders and a demilitarized state. But in the meantime, we must demonstrate to the world and to Trump that we are reasonable and respond positively to genuine Arab gestures.

Despite all these efforts, the likelihood is that the duplicitous Abbas is unwilling or unable to change. We should have no illusions. He is unlikely to make genuine efforts to stem incitement or cease awarding lavish pensions to murderers and their families. Should that be the case, most of the world, especially the Europeans, will still automatically blame Israel for failure to advance the peace negotiations.

Trump’s determination will then be put to test. If, to appease the Saudis, he was to continue to make believe that Abbas is a moderate peace partner and extend the fake “peace process negotiations” we have endured under Obama, we would justly feel betrayed.

However, if the Trump administration performs as an honest broker and recognizes Israel’s efforts and genuine desire for peace, it will conclude that in the absence of a Palestinian negotiating partner, all we can achieve is an improvement in Palestinian quality of life under their own autonomy while we maintain our security. At the same time, as has been hinted by Trump, he may then look more seriously at alternative solutions in cooperation with Egypt and Jordan and backed by the moderate Arab states, which do not involve a two-state solution. It is no coincidence that Trump failed to explicitly refer to a Palestinian state while visiting the region. It is this veiled threat that Trump is hoping will entice the Palestinian leadership to conduct bona fide negotiations for the first time.

We are today in an exceedingly strong position.

Israel has never been so powerful militarily, economically and socially. Israel has never had such widespread international recognition. Whether you adore or loathe Netanyahu, nobody can deny that he has been an outstanding statesman in the international arena. He has a unique relationship with the Americans and with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has built up relations with India, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe and now Africa.

The extraordinary opportunities of today may never be replicated. We must demonstrate restraint and ensure that our elected representatives neither undermine us nor project the image of extremists by engaging in foolish or intemperate outbursts primarily designed for personal political gain.

Today, we have in our grasp this remarkable opportunity to genuinely move toward improving and stabilizing our relationship with our Arab neighbors.

Strategic Consensus: DOA in 1981; Resurrected in 2017?

By Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman                         BESA Center Perspectives  (Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)

Strategic Consensus: DOA in 1981; Resurrected in 2017?

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: President Trump’s efforts to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table are taking place against the background of a broader effort to recast US policy in the region. The memory of Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s failed effort, back in 1981, to put together a regional “strategic consensus” against the Soviets may have faded, but the idea behind it is making a comeback. Facing the Iranian revolutionary regime and its proxies on the one hand and radical Sunni versions of Islamist totalitarianism on the other, key regional players are now more open than ever to an informal US-led alliance against their common enemies. The semblance, perhaps even the substance, of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front can facilitate this; but even more important would be a firm policy on Iran.

The time may be ripe for a resurrection of the idea of “strategic consensus”. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have patched up their differences after a long period of tension. The United Arab Emirates showed no discomfort at having their air force openly participate alongside their Israeli counterparts in an exercise in Greece. Jordan is more explicit than ever about the need to confront a possible Iranian threat from Southern Syria. A coherent US policy would – and should – also bring in like-minded Eastern Mediterranean countries like Italy, Greece, and Cyprus to help generate a new strategic reality. If such a consensus materializes, it would help both the Israelis and the Palestinians take risks and strike workable compromises in pursuit of peace.

As President Trump prepares for his first foreign trip, much has been made of the possible motives of several individuals regarding US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians. This refers specifically to the efforts of Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and a long-time friend of Trump’s, to bring about a resumption of negotiations (echoing equally unauthorized forays into “peace processing” by one of his predecessors, Nahum Goldmann, who led the WJC from its inception in 1948 until 1977). Such interventions by individuals have their place in the policies of any government, perhaps especially that of a president with a highly personal style and little to no experience in foreign affairs, and an administration whose senior ranks have yet to be filled by seasoned operators.

Such input is supplied, however, against the background of a broader context: in this case, the administration’s strategy of consolidating a base of support in the region. Led primarily by Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis (both closely associated in the past with economic and military relations with Saudi Arabia), as well as National Security Adviser McMaster, this new orientation aims at reversing the sense of abandonment that marred the US’s relationships with key regional players during the Obama years. It defines the purpose of the Trump visit as a whole, including its Israeli-Palestinian segment – and particularly the Saudi leg of the trip, which will include a broadly attended meeting with leaders of Muslim countries.

As such, the visit is eerily reminiscent of the 1981 failed effort by Reagan’s first secretary of state, Alexander Haig, to bring about a “strategic consensus” between the key pro-American players in the region, mainly Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Reagan had inherited from Carter a world in which the Soviets were on the march, having invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Pro-Soviet elements (including, at the time, Arafat and the Palestinian leadership) were gaining ground in the Middle East and beyond, from Nicaragua to Laos. The fear was real; and so, presumably, was to be the response. This was not to be a formal alliance – the days of MEDO (attempted under Truman) and the Baghdad Pact (in the Eisenhower era) were long gone – but a loose framework for coordination, emphasizing a common stand against a common enemy.

This turned out to be much too ambitious. In ideological and identity terms, the regional players were too far apart. The Arab world was still committed to a boycott not only of Israel but of Egypt as well, ever since Sadat broke ranks in 1977 and went to Jerusalem to seek peace. The PLO, led by Arafat, was still a major pro-Soviet presence casting a long political shadow. Even Egypt was reluctant to cooperate openly with Israel, given the fragile relationship between Sadat (who was assassinated a few months later) and Prime Minister Begin.

In practical terms, each nation was willing to do its part to support the US in the renewed Cold War. Egypt helped in Africa, and Saudi Arabia financed much of the Reagan Doctrine’s clandestine anti-Soviet operations. Israel, with a nod from the White House, moved in 1982 to destroy the PLO base in Lebanon and with it, the support infrastructure for KGB-sponsored terror groups from around the world. All this was done, however, directly with Washington and with little or no need for help from the other parties. The term “strategic consensus” vanished, having become synonymous with the illusions fostered by Haig during his short tenure on the seventh floor in Foggy Bottom.

Such a failure to read the region could happen again. The Trump administration is already being accused by critics, from both right and left, of playing with hopes that are bound to collapse sooner rather than later. But conditions have radically changed since 1981, and some form of revived strategic consensus might be an idea whose time has come.

Egypt – while roundly attacked by Erdoğan’s Turkey – is no longer an Arab pariah. The Arab League institutions are back in Cairo, led by an Egyptian Secretary-General, and no Arab regime still upholds the boycott. Strategic relations with Israel are at an all-time high, and it is the Egyptians who now complain that Israeli embassy staff no longer live in Cairo due to security concerns.

The sense of common effort in the war against Islamist terrorism is an important driver in the relationship, even if for the Egyptians, the Muslim Brotherhood comes first on the list of enemies (hence the lame effort by Hamas to distance itself from the mother movement) and Iran comes last. After Trump came to power, President Sisi was finally welcomed at the White House. He has patched up his troubled relationship with Saudi Arabia, making the strategic consensus much more of a practical reality than it has been.

Moreover, since 1994, Jordan – small, but with a robust and well-trained army, and centrally located in both defensive and offensive operations against Islamist challenges, both Sunni and Shia – has joined the circle of peace. Despite ugly tones from time to time (such as the recent angry official reaction to the killing of a knife-wielding Jordanian visitor who had attacked and wounded a policeman in Jerusalem, and the refusal to comply with the extradition request for Ahlam Tamimi, a convicted mass murderer), Jordan maintains a close working relationship with both Israel and the US government. King Abdallah II has struck an effective personal note with President Trump, with whom he has already met twice.

In recent weeks, against the background of a large Centcom military exercise (“Eager Lion”) in northern Jordan, tensions have been rising with Iran. The King is acutely aware that Iranian designs to turn the West Bank into “a new Gaza” will require first the establishment of a Hezbollah presence on his border in the southern Golan, and then the destabilization of his own kingdom. This is a scenario that both Jordan and Israel are determined to prevent.

The fourth pillar, if one counts Israel, of this emerging consensus is composed jointly of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (Of the other Gulf states, Qatar has placed itself in a different camp as an ally of Turkey in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas; Bahrain is weak and internally divided between a Sunni monarch and a Shia majority; Kuwait is too fragile and apprehensive, with an Iran-dominated Iraq on her border; and Oman is historically close to the Iranians.) With the Saudis and the UAE steadily escalating their military involvement in the war against the Iranian-backed Houthi uprising in Yemen, the “game of camps” in the Arabian Peninsula has become a deadly shooting war, matched by bursts of ideological and religious invective from both sides. In Syria, meanwhile, the Gulf powers are present by proxy, essentially assisting anyone willing to fight the Iranian-backed Assad regime.

With Israel increasingly perceived as an effective ally against Iran’s regional ambitions, past barriers to cooperation have been falling. This goes a long way towards explaining the ease with which Greece obtained the consent of the UAE to send an air force contingent to a multinational exercise in which Israeli pilots trained side by side with their Greek (and Egyptian) colleagues. The UAE did not even insist on maintaining secrecy.

This event, in turn, raises an additional idea. The Trump administration would do well to use the Brussels leg of the visit to bolster relations with the key European pillars of an Eastern Mediterranean strategy. It could thus add an important component in building a robust new format for strategic cooperation. Such an array of forces could also help the US handle the fallout from future friction with an increasingly Islamist Turkey, given the Pentagon’s decision to support the Kurds in northeastern Syria (“Rojava”, as the Kurds call it).

The players here are Italy, possibly Croatia and Albania, certainly Greece, and, because of geopolitics (and gas), Cyprus as well (though it is not a member of NATO). A revived consensus will require a redefined strategic concept focused on Eastern Mediterranean stability and security. This would provide Israel and her neighbors with a sense of strategic identity that could in turn make it easier for both sides to take further steps towards an Israeli-Palestinian understanding – a permanent status agreement, or, more likely, a workable half-way station.

Progress towards this goal, or at least the reemergence of a viable framework for negotiations, should not be a precondition for cooperation. The key players’ vital interests should not be subjected to the whims of a Palestinian leadership that has lost its nerve many times at the point of decision. It is nevertheless worth trying, from the administration’s point of view, if only because the effort in itself could make it politically easier for all participants to take strategic consensus to the next level. That would mean beginning to work together in a measured way, not only to fend off but to roll back the gains made by the Islamist totalitarians over the past ten years.

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(The video clips and photos are from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)