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Latest News in Israel – 25th January

Obama Administration Released $221m to Palestinians Hours Before Trump Inauguration

Officials say outgoing administration notified Congress of move just before Trump’s swearing-in, despite Republican opposition.

Officials say the Obama administration in its waning hours defied Republican opposition and quietly released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority.

GOP members of Congress had been holding up the money.

A State Department official and several congressional aides say the outgoing administration formally notified Congress it would spend the money Friday morning, just before Donald Trump became president.

More than $227 million in foreign affairs funding was released at the time, including $4 million for climate change programs and $1.25 million for UN organizations.

At least two GOP lawmakers had placed holds on the Palestinian funds. Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch but are not legally binding.

The official and the aides weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.

Congress had initially approved the Palestinian funding in budget years 2015 and 2016, but at least two GOP lawmakers — Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Kay Granger of Texas, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee — had placed holds on it over moves the Palestinian Authority had taken to seek membership in international organizations. Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch but are not legally binding after funds have been allocated.

The Obama administration had for some time been pressing for the release of the money for the Palestinian Authority, which comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development and is to be used for humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza, to support political and security reforms as well as help prepare for good governance and the rule of law in a future Palestinian state, according to the notification sent to Congress.

The $1.25 million for UN agencies is to be used as voluntary contributions to the UN Peacebuilding Fund; the UN Special Coordinator on improving the UN response to sexual exploitation and abuse; the Montreal Protocol Secretariat, which oversees the protection of the ozone layer; the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; and the UN System Staff College.

The $4 million for climate programs includes assistance for clean energy, sustainable landscapes, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and creating a climate technology center.

The last-minute allocation also contained $1.05 million in funding for the State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan office and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

The Palestinian funding is likely to draw anger from some in Congress as well as the Trump White House. Trump has vowed to be a strong supporter of Israel and has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Washington next month.

He has also pledged to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday a final decision on that had yet to be made. Despite speculation in Israel that an announcement of the move is imminent, Spicer said the decision-making process is only in its very early stages.

“If it was already a decision, then we wouldn’t be going through a process,” Spicer told reporters.   (Haáretz)

Giuliani to carry message from Trump to Netanyahu: ‘I like you very much’

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he will bring a message from President Donald Trump to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visits Israel this week.

Appearing Monday morning on “Fox and Friends,” Giuliani was asked whether he will be relaying a message to Netanyahu from Trump during a business trip starting that evening.

“If I do, it’ll be from him,” Giuliani said. “But I can give the general message, which is ‘I like you very much and we’re very good friends.’

“They were friends even before. This is not a new relationship, but now obviously it’s a much more important one.”

Giuliani is traveling to Israel for his law firm, Greenberg Trauring, and while there he is expected to meet with Netanyahu — something he said he does every time he visits Israel since the two have been friends for 25 years.

Last month, the Trump administration named Giuliani an unofficial adviser on cybersecurity.

Trump and Netanyahu spoke by phone for about a half hour on Sunday, and Trump told reporters that the call was “very nice.” A readout  of the call from the White House said that Trump “emphasized the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between our countries.”

The readout added that Trump and Netanyahu “agreed to continue to closely consult on a range of regional issues, including addressing the threats posed by Iran,” and that Trump “affirmed his unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security and stressed that countering ISIL and other radical Islamic terrorist groups will be a priority for his Administration.”

Trump also “emphasized that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Israel to make progress towards that goal,” according to the readout.

On Monday, Netanyahu reportedly told his Likud faction during a meeting that the call with Trump was “very warm” and that they would meet in Washington in February.

“After eight years in which I withstood enormous pressure on various issues, primarily Iran and the settlements, I certainly welcome the change of approach,” Netanyahu said at the meeting, according to The Times of Israel.                (Jerusalem Post/JTA)

White House Non-Committal on Timeline for Decision on Potential Move of US Embassy to Jerusalem

A day after announcing the new Trump administration was in the beginning stages of talks on the potential relocation of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a key campaign promise of President Donald Trump — White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was non-committal about a timeline for the process.

At his first official White House press briefing Monday, Spicer declined on three occasions to be pinned down on specifics regarding the embassy issue.

“There’s no decision, we’re at the very early stages of that decision-making process,” Spicer said.

Later, he added, “It’s very early in this process…and his [Trump’s] team is going to continue to consult with stakeholders as we get there.”

The third time around, Spicer said, “There is a reason you go through a decision-making process and that’s what we’re in the process of starting right now. So I just don’t want to get ahead of [it]. If there was already a decision, we wouldn’t be going through a process.”

Spicer also noted that Trump could use his executive power to move the embassy.

In their public statements following their phone call on Sunday, Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mention the embassy matter.  (the Algemeiner)

Israel okays 2,500 new settlement homes, 2 days after PM talks to Trump

Israel approved the construction of approximately 2,500 homes in the West Bank, most of them in existing settlement blocs it hopes to keep in any peace deal, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Tuesday.

The decision came two days after a Jerusalem planning committee approved the construction of 566 housing units in East Jerusalem, and on the heels of a phone conversation Sunday between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, in which the two discussed their plans for the region.

Most of the housing units will be built in the large settlement areas, notably in the city of Ariel and in Givat Ze’ev, outside Jerusalem. But some will also go up in settlements outside the larger blocs, due to prior agreements and court decisions.

“We’re building — and will continue to build,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, following the approval.

Palestinians quickly condemned the announcement, calling it “land theft and colonialism.”

“Such a deliberate escalation of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise constitutes a war crime and the flagrant violation of international law and conventions, in particular UN Security Council resolution 2334,” said PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, referring to an anti-settlements UN decision passed last month.

Liberman also said he would request permission from the cabinet for the construction of a Palestinian industrial park in Tarkumiya, northwest of Hebron.

“It will be one of the largest industrial zones in the West Bank, in which we are planning to set up warehouse and fuel storage infrastructure, along with other elements,” Liberman’s office said in a statement.

According to the defense minister, the decision to approve the settlement construction was made in order to “provide a response to the housing needs.”

In total, 2,502 housing units were approved for construction in settlements across the West Bank, with most in the north.

In the northern West Bank, 899 will be built in the city of Ariel, 292 in the Zufim settlement, 166 in Emanuel, 154 in Oranit, 81 in Etz Efraim, 78 in Alfei Menashe, 18 in Elkana and six in Shaare Tikva, the defense minister’s office said.

In the Jerusalem area, some 652 housing units were approved for the Givat Ze’ev settlement, 104 in Ma’ale Adumim and four in Har Gilo.

In the Etzion settlement bloc, 21 homes were approved for Efrat, and the defense minister okayed 87 housing units for the Beitar Illit settlement, outside Bethlehem.

Outside the larger settlement areas, Liberman and Netanyahu allowed the construction of 86 homes for the former residents of the evacuated Migron settlement, who now live in the Yekev neighborhood of the Kochav Ya’akov settlement, south of Ramallah. The approval was granted in accordance with an agreement between the government and Migron residents.

In addition, 20 homes were approved in the Beit El settlement, north of Ramallah, as part of a High Court of Justice decision, the defense minister said.

On Sunday, the Jerusalem Municipality approved the construction of 566 new homes in East Jerusalem, in a vote that had been pushed back from December in order to avoid angering the outgoing administration of former US president Barack Obama. The Palestinians condemned the decision as an explicit violation of a recent anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations.

Also on Sunday, Netanyahu had his first phone call with Trump since he became US president.

On the call, the two leaders discussed ways to “advance and strengthen the US-Israel special relationship” and to boost security and stability in the region, the White House said. Trump stressed “the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between our countries.”

Trump is viewed as being more favorable to Israeli settlement policies than Obama, as he has repeatedly declared that he will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem despite the city’s disputed status and nominated for his ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who is the head of American Friends of Bet El Institutions — a group that raises funds for the West Bank settlement of Beit El’s seminary, a news organization affiliated with the settler movement and other activities in the settlement.

Both Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who Trump appointed as a senior adviser and said will be his point-man on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, have reportedly donated to Friedman’s organization.     (the Times of Israel)

PM to hold summit in October with some 25 African leaders

Between 25 and 30 heads of African states are expected to attend a summit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Togo in October, Togolese Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said on Monday, after extending a formal invitation to Netanyahu to participate.

“There is a China-Africa conference, a France-Africa conference, and Togo thinks we need an Africa-Israel meeting between the heads of state,” Dussey said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post after meeting Netanyahu. The prime minister accepted the invitation.

Dussey said that while some countries, such as South Africa, were not in favor of the summit, others, such as Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, were very supportive.

He said that the hope was that a group of countries would emerge that would then support Israel in international forums.

“We are 54 countries in Africa,” he said, “and we will invite 54 countries. We are expecting between 25-30 heads of states, not only from West Africa, but from all over Africa,” he said.

He added that a colleague from a North African Arab state also expressed interest, though he said it was unlikely that the head of that particular state would attend.

The Togolese foreign minister arrived in Israel on Sunday, and following his meeting with Netanyahu left Monday evening for the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa.

He said that he intends to drum up support for the summit at the meeting.

He said that Togo will also work at the AU summit for Israel to get observer status in the organization, a step that has been blocked by South Africa, which currently holds the chairmanship of the union.

A new chairman, however, is to be elected in the coming days, something that will improve Israel’s chance of regaining this status that it lost some 15 years ago. The Palestinian Authority, by contrast, does enjoy this status, which gives PA President Mahmoud Abbas the ability to address the body each year.

According to Bruno Finel, a French national with close ties to the Togolese government, who was a driving force behind the Africa-Israel summit, its goal is to gather African and Israeli leaders together to bolster political ties and business relations. The summit has been some 18 months in planning.

The summit, to be held in Togo’s capital of Lome from October 16 to 20, will focus on security, counter-terrorism, economic ties and cooperation in the fields of agriculture, health and education as well as new technology.

The parley will take place some 60 years after Israel established formal ties with Ghana, the first African country with which it did so, in 1956, and at a time when Netanyahu has made strengthening ties with Africa one of his top foreign policy objectives.

Togo is among Israel’s closest friends in Africa, with Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe having visited here three times since 2012, including last August and then again in September for the funeral of Shimon Peres.

Israel currently has diplomatic ties with 40 of the 48 sub-Saharan states.  (Jerusalem Post)

Defense minister: No possibility of bilateral agreement with Palestinians

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman met with former Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus in Jerusalem on Sunday morning.

The two men discussed Israel-US relations and their mutual determination to strengthen ties under the Trump administration amid regional and global security challenges for both nations.

Liberman noted that what is most needed now in the region in terms of the US role in the Middle East is the establishment of an anti-terrorism coalition that would include Israel and moderate Arab states joined together in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism.

Liberman said the success of such a coalition would serve as the basis for reaching a comprehensive regional settlement between Israel and the Arab states, including a solution to the Palestinian issue within the framework of population and territory exchanges.

Liberman stressed that there is no possibility of a bilateral agreement reached solely between Israel and the Palestinians, noting that such an arrangement has been attempted many times over the past 24 years and that each attempt has failed. Resolving the conflict, he said, will only come as part of a broader regional arrangement.  (Jerusalem Post)

Liberman: In next war, IDF won’t stop until the enemy raises the white flag

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday that in the IDF’s next conflict, he would instruct the army to use full force, and not take any half measures.

Speaking at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, Liberman said, “The next conflict to break out will be with full force. There are no more conflicts with half power or quarter power…We won’t stop in the middle – these are the IDF’s orders at this time.”

Liberman said that the next conflict would continue “until the other side waves the white flag. It must be a war with the most powerful profile possible.”

The defense minister mocked world powers’ ineffectual meddling in international conflicts, including Syria, saying they would be better advised not to interfere in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I suggest not touching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those who want to help us should forget the excessive meddling of world powers. On this issue, they have no understanding of the meaning of the conflict, and they come to force themselves on us without an invitation,” Liberman charged.

“I told them, ‘show me one case in which you succeeded in the world. After you have some success, come talk to me.'”

Speaking of Israel’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, Liberman said: “We need to take into account that Syria is very complicated, because there are terrorist organizations there of every kind, with the involvement of all of the regional and international powers. We need to maintain our red lines, which we have made clear to everyone.”

Liberman said that Syrian President Bashar Assad must be removed from power. “My stance is that Assad must be removed. From a humanitarian perspective, this a person who used chemical weapons against his own people. A man who brought every kind of terror to his country. He has become an Iranian puppet and he cannot remain in power.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Police probe against Netanyahu widens

Police have widened a probe into Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is already under investigation for gifts allegedly received from a friend and talks with the publisher of one of Israel’s largest newspapers.

Investigators are now looking into two other matters related to Netanyahu, Channel 10 television reported on Monday night.

One of the matters appears to involve a deal for Israel to purchase German submarines, while the second affair remained unclear, according to the reports.

It was unclear whether the new probes were preliminary inquiries or if they had been elevated to full-fledged investigations.

Police declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

Netanyahu’s cousin, family lawyer and confidant David Shimron was reportedly been involved in the deal to purchase Dolphin submarines from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp.

Media reports have alleged a conflict of interest over the role played by Shimron, who has also represented ThyssenKrupp’s Israeli agent. However, the deal is between heads of governments and the manufacture of these craft is limited.

The premier is already under investigation over suspicions of unlawfully receiving gifts from wealthy supporters.

A parallel investigation is examining talks about a possible quid pro quo between Netanyahu and Arnon “Noni” Mozes, publisher of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, in which Mozes offered that the paper’s anti-Netanyahu stance would be toned down in return for helping reduce Yediot’s competition, the free Israel Hayom.

Netanyahu has flatly denied any wrongdoing, accusing Israeli media of “pursuing an unprecedented campaign against me in order to bring down (my) Likud government” by publishing leaks from the investigations.

“The campaign is aimed at putting pressure on the attorney general so that he would convict me,” Netanyahu said.  (AFP/Arutz Sheva)

Antisemitic attacks across London designed to ‘instill fear’

A series of antisemitic attacks carried out across northern London over the weekend has been described as “cowardly” and “disgusting” by multiple Jewish groups in the UK, The Jewish Chronicle reported Sunday.

Shomrim, a volunteer Jewish civilian organization setup to combat antisemitic attacks in the US and Great Britain, told The Chronicle that the attacks were designed to “instill fear” in the Jewish community.

All of the incidents were concentrated in north west London, the organization added.

One attack early Saturday morning saw a brick scrawled with swastikas and antisemitic messages thrown threw the window of a Jewish household in the north London district of Edgware.

Personal property belonging to one Jewish resident of Watford Way in Mill Hill was also defaced with swastikas on Saturday.

Those incidents were preceded by a Friday evening attack in which Jewish pedestrians were pelted with eggs as they returned home from Shabbat evening services.

According to The Chronicle, police have open investigations into each of the antisemitic events.

“These cowardly antisemitic attacks targeted Jews when they were asleep in their homes or walking with their families after dinner,”  Shomrim north-west London chief executive Gary Ost told The Chronicle.

“These attacks are intended to instill fear in London’s Jews. The best response to these disgusting acts is to ensure that the perpetrators are caught,” he added.

The last of the attacks culminated in a movie poster promoting the film “Denial,” about Holocaust denier David Irving’s legal case against Deborah Lipstadt, being vandalized in north London.

“Whilst there is no evidence at this stage to suggest that these offenses are linked, it is of great concern that members of our local community are being targeted in this way,” local police inspector Justin Zitver told the Jewish daily.

“The Met is committed to working with our partners, to tackle all types of hate crime including the use of antisemitic language.”

“We will have a number of ongoing reassurance patrols in the borough and I would encourage anyone who has been a victim of crime, or who has any information that will help our investigations to speak with officers. Together, we can make every effort to hold the offenders to account,” the police inspector added.

The UK’s Board of Jewish Deputies also said in response to the attacks: “The low-lives who think it big or clever to menace Jewish families over the weekend deserve nothing short of our contempt.

“The perpetrators should face the full force of the law,” they added.   (Jerusalem Post)

Trump bolsters Israel support

Editorial from The Australian

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/editorials/trump-bolsters-israel-support/news-story/830e373ff87175c0a39762ea9f005b82

Donald Trump has been wise to move so quickly to repair US relations with Israel after the debilitating frostiness of the Obama years. His “warm” call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggests a welcome return to reality in Washington over one of its most vital bilateral relationships. It places such crucial issues as the promised relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and a hard look at the nuclear deal with Iran high on the agenda for President Trump.

Jerusalem is incontrovertibly Israel’s capital. It is where the Jewish state’s parliament, its executive offices and judiciary are located. Yet not since 2006, when Costa Rica and El Salvador closed their embassies, has there been a country bold enough to maintain its diplomatic representation in the holy city. Instead, the international community, with the detachment from reality that frequently characterises its policy choices on Israel, has maintained its embassies (Australia’s among them) in Tel Aviv, lest Palestinians object. The rationale for this has been founded in the same sort of counterintuitive logic that earlier this month saw 70 countries attend a widely trumpeted Middle East peace conference in Paris on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that included neither Israelis nor Palestinians.

Mr Trump is not the first US president to promise to end this farce. But before and since he won the election he has presented it as an article of faith, appointing as ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who has pledged this move. Palestinians, who also lay claim to Jerusalem as their capital, have warned that any such move will end all hopes of peace talks brokered by Washington. Caution is essential. But there is, equally, no doubt about the need for urgent action to reset the diplomacy. A dose of hard-headed reality in the Middle East crisis is long overdue. Mr Trump’s outspoken support for Israel’s settlements policy and his determination to closely scrutinise, if not “tear up” the nuclear deal with Iran is aimed at achieving this. Talking to Mr Netanyahu, Mr Trump has agreed that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be “negotiated between the two parties”.

Why the US-Israel reset may take longer than some might have hoped

By Raphael Ahren                 The Times of Israel

http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-great-us-israel-reset-is-advancing-slower-than-some-had-hoped/

Three days after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, the US-Israeli reset appears to be starting to take shape. Trump called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, and invited him to visit the White House early next month to further cement what both sides proclaim will be a new golden age of bilateral relations, devoid of the wedge of “daylight” that split the alliance for the last eight years. Trump promised to consult closely with Netanyahu on addressing the threats posed by Iran, and offered to help Israel in what he stressed needed to be strictly bilateral Israeli-Palestinian talks on peace — music, doubtless, to Netanyahu’s ears, and quite the contrast with Barack Obama.

However, those who expect tectonic shifts in these very early days of the new administration are likely to be disappointed. To be sure, Monday is the new president’s first full workday. But the immediate, near-messianic expectations of the Trump era in some Israeli circles have been met thus far with only that warm call and a change in public phraseology on the part of the US president — who plainly has none of Barack Obama’s problem saying the words “radical Islamic terrorism.”

While both sides are making strenuous efforts to highlight the new harmony, in terms of substantive, credible policy statements, much less action, it’s a waiting game.

Netanyahu’s office described their half-hour conversation Sunday as “very warm.” Trump said it was “very nice.” The prime minister “expressed his desire to work closely with President Trump to forge a common vision to advance peace and security in the region,” according to the Israel read-out. And the new president “emphasized the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between our countries,” the White House said.

Trump also affirmed his “unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security” — language to which most of his recent predecessors would also have signed up.

Obviously, these official readouts only provide a very limited insight into what was said during the conversation. But it is telling that neither side mentioned Trump’s promised intention to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Netanyahu also did not bring up the issue in his lengthy remarks to the Likud faction in the Knesset on Monday afternoon, in which he exhorted his party not to push for sudden moves that could test the budding relationship between him and Trump.

Not only coalition politicians, but some local pundits, had expected more by now.

In the hours before Sunday’s phone call, prominent Channel 2 TV reporter Amit Segal gushingly reported that the embassy move would be announced Monday. Then, after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration was “at the very beginning stages of even discussing” the embassy move, Segal tweeted a correction, saying the relocation would be announced “already tonight.”

After it was pointed out to him that Spicer’s statement, if anything, indicated the administration’s hesitance to make any dramatic announcement on this issue in the coming days, Segal maintained that it was unprecedented for the White House to even talk about beginning to move the embassy. Which was not entirely accurate either, and a far cry from his predicted imminent announcement of the controversial move.

Several Israeli officials also rushed to celebrate Spicer’s wary comment as far more dramatic than a reasonable interpretation would suggest, with Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin praising Trump for “making the campaign promise a reality.”

But bringing the US Embassy to Jerusalem has not only been a campaign promise for various US presidential hopefuls, it has also been seriously considered by incumbent administrations.

In 2000, Bill Clinton, after having declined to move the embassy for half a decade, in his final year in office vowed to review moving the embassy, due to failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

George W. Bush also publicly toyed with the idea throughout his eight years in the White House, saying in late 2006 that he “remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Monday that his contacts in the new administration give him hope that this time they’re serious. US officials are reportedly already looking for real estate in Jerusalem. But in the meantime, the official statements from Washington allow for the full range of possibilities — from imminent relocation, to years of foot-dragging.

As for thwarting Iran’s nuclear drive — an issue that “continues to be a supreme goal of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu declared earlier on Sunday — his conversation with Trump was certainly different from how it would have been with Obama, but not categorical.

On Monday afternoon, the prime minister reported that he spoke with Trump “at length” about the Iranian threat, and that the new president agrees with his well-known assessment that the nuclear pact was bad. But there was no word about abrogating or even amending it. No promise of presidential action.

All of which is unsurprising, or should have been, even to those who expect radical shifts from the new presidency. Trump may have promised to dismantle the deal on the campaign trail, and alternately to have spoken about enforcing it with unprecedented rigor. But that did not mean it would be a first order of business.

Domestic Israeli developments also testify to a likely slower pace of change in the Trump era.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, had predicted that the two-state solution would exit the world stage together with Barack Obama. He and other politicians to the right of Netanyahu, including ministers from the prime minister’s own Likud party, specifically vowed to advance legislation to apply Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank — a de facto annexation — as soon as the new president was sworn in. (Bennett actually declared late last month that Israeli government policy would, from January 20, inauguration day, be to annex the settlement-city of Ma’ale Adumim.)

But Netanyahu, who opposes such moves, was able to buy time. He persuaded his ministers on Sunday to postpone any unilateral action until after his meeting with Trump in early February. In return for their patience, he promised unfettered construction in East Jerusalem and other settlement blocs.

At Monday’s weekly Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, Netanyahu went to great lengths to tone down expectations of a new era in which Israel could do whatever it wants with the West Bank. While he welcomed the “change in approach” that Trump has brought with him to the White House, he cautioned against hasty moves.

“Now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions, dictates or surprises,” the prime minister said. “Now is the time for responsible and prudent diplomacy among friends; diplomacy that will strengthen the cooperation and trust between the Israeli government and the new administration in Washington.”

Donald Trump remains utterly unpredictable, and it is not impossible that he will announce his full-throated support for settlement expansion, the US Embassy’s relocation, and the abrogation of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in the weeks ahead. Maybe even the days ahead.

More likely, though, is that while the US-Israel relationship will be decidedly different under Trump than it was under his predecessor, and that the prime minister will have a far easier time of it when enters the Trump White House, change may come slower than many in Jerusalem will have hoped.

The Dangers of a Unilateral Israeli Withdrawal from the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem – Hirsh Goodman (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

The stalemate in the Middle East peace process is leading some in Israel and elsewhere to claim that the status quo is untenable and to push for a new unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. Yet while the current situation in the West Bank may not be desirable, unilateral moves represent a flawed and counterproductive response.

The potential consequences of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal are likely to harm Israel’s security rather than enhance it. The security cooperation Israel now has with the PA will dissipate and the security advantages provided by Israel’s physical military deployment in the territories will be lost.

Israel’s ability to contain, pre-empt, or respond to threats effectively and surgically will be limited, and the intelligence benefits afforded by the current deployment will be adversely affected. Moreover, from an international legal perspective, a partial Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank will not end Palestinian claims against Israel but is likely to intensify them.

Any unilateral moves involving Israeli withdrawal from Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem is likely to cause much worse security problems for Israel, would clearly damage the existing urban fabric of Jewish-Arab cooperation in the city, and is likely to lead to a reduction in the city’s Jewish majority.

What the unilateralists propose is the creation of a festering wound, a pocket of Palestinians surrounded by Israel, pending a Palestinian decision to end the conflict. In all previous Israeli attempts at unilateralism, expectations, results and reality seldom coincided.

“When standing on the edge of a cliff, it is wiser to keep still than step forward,” Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, a former head of the Israel National Security Council, wrote in June 2016. “It is wiser to defer action than to take unilateral steps that threaten to make a bad situation worse.”

The writer established the program on media strategy at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. He was a former military correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report, and a strategic fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.