Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Israel goes back to elections as Netanyahu fails to form a coalition
Exactly one month after the 21st Knesset was sworn in, a majority of the Knesset voted late Wednesday night to disperse and initiate an unprecedented repeat election on September 17.
It was the first time in Israeli history that a candidate for prime minister failed to form a coalition after being given the task by the president after an election.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Likud faction ahead of the vote that he had not succeeded in reaching a compromise with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on the controversial haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription bill, and that he had also tried unsuccessfully to woo MKs from the opposition to join his government.
“The State of Israel is going to elections because of the Likud’s refusal to accept our proposal,” Liberman said as he entered the Knesset plenum. “This is a complete surrender of the Likud to the ultra-Orthodox. We will not be partners in a government of Jewish law.”
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, head of the Likud’s negotiating team, told reporters “it’s over,” as he arrived at the Likud meeting after his last negotiation had failed.
Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin said that there was no choice but to hold new elections, due to Liberman’s intransigence and refusal to accept “1,000 compromises” that had been offered throughout the last week.
The vote – taken just after the midnight deadline by which Netanyahu needed to tell President Reuven Rivlin whether he had been able to form a governing coalition – was 74 to 45 in favor of dispersing.
Opposition MKs shouted “shame, shame, shame” in unison ahead of the vote.
The Likud initiated the bill to dissolve the Knesset rather than give Rivlin a chance to appoint someone other than Netanyahu to form a government.
In presenting the bill to the Knesset, Likud MK Miki Zohar said that he is “disappointed by the situation, but we were forced into it.” He admitted that the decision “would not be remembered positively in our history.”
“The Left asks us why we didn’t give [Blue and White leader] Benny Gantz a chance to form the coalition,” Zohar said. “Two and a half million people voted as if they had two votes, for their party and for [Netanyahu]… despite knowing about the [pre-indictment] hearing [for the prime minister on corruption charges]. They didn’t want Gantz.”
According to Zohar, those calling to let Gantz form the government are “saying to give the opportunity to the minority to form the government at the expense of the majority. The majority rules, while the minority has rights. That is the meaning of democracy.”
The bill called the election for September 17, but there were several other options the coalition was set to vote on in the second reading. Netanyahu asked the other parties to back September 17, because that is what Yisrael Beytenu preferred, and he needed them to have a majority in favor of dissolving the Knesset.
In the unsuccessful coalition talks, the Likud had proposed that as soon as the government would be formed, Liberman’s original conscription law would be presented, as written and in his language, for the approval of the Knesset plenum. After its approval, there would be more negotiations when the law would be prepared for its final readings.
If that agreement is not reached by the end of July, the party said, and in accordance with the decision of the High Court of Justice, the current arrangement that has exempted haredim from being drafted would expire, and the compulsory service law would apply to all. The ultra-Orthodox parties would therefore have to choose between Liberman’s version of the law or a return to the original law, which means full mobilization for haredim, the Likud said.
“The proposal has now been submitted to the parties, and we await their positive response in order to form a right-wing government tonight and prevent unnecessary elections,” the party wrote.
In response, United Torah Judaism said that it would back another party to lead the coalition.
“We won’t retreat beyond what we have agreed to,” UTJ leader Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman said in his initial response to the Likud statement. “I still believe that a government can be formed. I’m on my way to sign on the coalition agreement.”
Liberman also initially rejected the proposal, saying it was not exactly what he had said all along about the conscription bill needing to be passed into law as is.
The proposal was made after the Likud reported that it had secured agreements with 60 MKs from the Likud, Kulanu, UTJ, Shas and the Union of Right-Wing Parties, leaving it only one MK short of a majority coalition.
After Kulanu denied that it had signed any documents and insisted it won’t sign unless the coalition would include 61 MKs, the Likud said the deal with Kulanu was complete and ready to be signed, pending Liberman joining the government.
Hours ahead of the deadline, Liberman stood his ground on the matter of haredi conscription.
“We repeatedly said we want the original [haredi] conscription bill, nothing else,” Liberman said. “People claiming that there’s a compromise, when it was just 10 millimeters of movement, are not familiar with the bill.”
Liberman said that proposed compromises “empty the bill of all content,” and he will not agree to them.
The bill, which the Defense Ministry drafted under Liberman’s leadership, sets rising annual targets for haredi conscription in the IDF.
“The bill is good for the IDF, for the haredim and for Israel,” Liberman stated. “We have to be reasonable. I am appealing to the haredi MKs’ reason…. There is no better bill than this. Let it pass with you abstaining.”
The Likud attacked Liberman fiercely throughout the day.
“Liberman continues to mislead,” the Likud said in an official statement. “He says ‘I will consider’ to every offer and stalls for a few days. His goal is to end Netanyahu’s career and replace him.”
The Likud mocked Liberman for portraying himself as the defender of secular people, after he prevented there being a secular mayor of Jerusalem.
“For a few seats and his hunger for power, he is dragging an entire country to elections,” the Likud concluded.
Yisrael Beytenu responded by condemning the Likud’s tone and reiterating that Liberman’s views on the conscription bill have been consistent.
Earlier, a Likud spokesman confirmed that offers were made to the Labor Party and the Blue and White Party. In talks with Labor head Avi Gabbay, Netanyahu offered him the Defense or Finance ministries and three other ministerial positions, in an effort to convince him to join his government.
A Labor spokesman confirmed that the party received an offer from the Likud that included stopping bills that the party believes would harm democracy, including the Immunity Law. But the spokesman said the offer was considered and rejected.
Labor MKs expressed outrage that Gabbay mulled the offer for a full day before telling them. By contrast, Blue and White said no immediately.
Opposition MKs took advantage of the nearly 12-hour debate to bring up their grievances against the government that was never formed.
Many lamented the estimated NIS 475 million that the election will cost, according to the Finance Ministry, saying that taxpayer money would be better spent elsewhere. In addition, industry experts estimated that the day off for Election Day will cost the economy NIS 2 billion.
“Likud MKs, you also have the option of showing some courage and saying no to Netanyahu,” Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich said.
Another MK from Blue and White, Yoaz Hendel, said: “Have an opinion. If you’re on the Right, then Right; Left, then Left. But say something other than ‘Bibi!’ Is that Right? When it comes to Hamas, you turn into Peace Now. When there are [corruption] allegations, you become defense attorneys. You turned into dishrags.”
Blue and White MK Ram Shefa hosted a trivia game from the Knesset stage, asking who said various quotes from politicians, and offering champagne, cigars and trays of take-out meals – references to Netanyahu’s corruption investigations. (Jerusalem Post) Gil Hoffman, Lahav Harkov
IDF destroying Hezbollah’s last.largest cross-border attack tunnel
Six months after the Israeli military declared an end to Operation Northern Shield, the IDF has begun destroying the final and largest cross-border tunnel dug by Hezbollah into Israeli territory.
The tunnel began in the Lebanese village of Ramiyeh and stretched one kilometer before infiltrating several meters into northern Israel, close to the communities of Zarit and Shtula.
Unlike the tunnels dug by terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, each one found by the military on the Lebanese border had different characteristics, with some strengthened by concrete while others were burrowed straight into the rock.
The Ramiyeh tunnel had been dug at a depth of 80 meters and had 20 flights of stairs. The tunnel, which took Hezbollah several years to dig, also contained railroads to transport equipment and garbage, and was equipped with lighting equipment, air-conditioning and ladders.
It will be filled with liquid concrete to remove the threat and prevent Hezbollah terrorists from using it.
Israel launched Operation Northern Shield in early December to discover and destroy tunnels dug by the terrorist group into northern Israel.
The IDF declared the end of the operation in mid-January, saying that it had “deprived Hezbollah of the unique offensive abilities it had built for years as part of its planned attack on Israeli territory,” and strengthened security along the northern border.
During the operation, the Northern Command had been in high readiness, reinforced by a variety of capabilities including twice the number of tanks and artillery batteries stationed in the area, in the event Hezbollah attacked troops during the operation.
While the military has destroyed all cross-border tunnels, some by explosions and others by flooding with liquid concrete, there are several others known to the IDF in Lebanese territory close to the border with Israel.
In March, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon confirmed the existence of six tunnels, two of which violated the Blue Line and crossed into Israeli territory. While UNIFIL said they could not determine who built the tunnels or when, they were recorded by UNIFIL in the area of Kafr Kila, after its engineers used verification tools such as laser range finders to confirm their existence.
Though the IDF reported the existence of six cross-border tunnels, UNIFIL was able to visit only five of them, as one was destroyed by the army before it notified the interim force.
The IDF has repeatedly warned that the Lebanese government is responsible for the digging of the tunnels, saying they were part of a Hezbollah plan to attack communities in northern Israel.
The military believes that the attack tunnels were built as a classified component in Hezbollah’s “Conquer the Galilee” plan that would have allowed the group’s elite Radwan fighters to infiltrate into Israel above ground, fire short-range rockets and mortars, and allow other Radwan fighters to infiltrate into communities via the tunnels, cut them off from main roads, and kill as many civilians and troops as possible.
Thousands of rockets were expected to be launched toward the Jewish state by Hezbollah within the first couple of hours of the conflict.
The destruction of the Ramiyeh tunnel comes as negotiations on the demarcation of the Lebanese-Israeli land and maritime borders are in their final stages, after weeks of negotiations mediated by Washington, Lebanese media reported on Tuesday.
According to a statement from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, Minister Gebran Bassil met with David Satterfield, acting US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, who has been shuttling between Beirut and Jerusalem holding discussions on the issue.
Last week, Lebanese officials said that Satterfield had informed them that Israel agreed to the negotiations, and on Monday, following a meeting with Satterfield, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz expressed the country’s openness to “a round of Israeli-Lebanese talks mediated by the US, in an effort to set a maritime border for the benefit of both countries’ interests in the development of natural gas and oil reservoirs.”
Thirteen points of the 200-point UN-demarcated Blue Line, which separates Lebanon and Israel, are disputed by the Lebanese government.(Jerusalem Post) Anna Ahronheim
Jerusalem to host ‘unprecedented’ Israel-Russian-US security summit
Jerusalem will host next month an unprecedented trilateral meeting of top security officials from Israel, Russia and the US, the White House announced on Wednesday.
“In June, United States National Security Adviser Ambassador John Bolton, Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolay Patrushev will meet in Jerusalem, Israel, to discuss regional security issues,” the White House press secretary said in a statement issued minutes before the Knesset voted to disband and to set new elections for September 17.
Minutes after the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the planned meeting, stressing its unique nature and importance for Israel’s national security.
“We have a lot of things that we want to do,” a visibly upset Netanyahu told reporters. “This is what we want to do, not unnecessary elections… A meeting like has never taken place before in Israel. Never.”
He did not reveal what would be on the agenda.
The rare tripartite meeting is expected to deal mostly with Syria, specifically Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily near Israel’s borders, and the planned withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn country.
Moscow is a close ally of Tehran and Damascus, while Jerusalem and Washington are the Islamic Republic’s arch-enemies.
Ben-Shabbat met Bolton last month in Washington, mainly to discuss Iran and “other destabilizing actors,” the senior US administration official said at the time.
He and Ben-Shabbat reiterated their “shared commitment to countering Iranian malign activity & other destabilizing actors in the Middle East and around the world,” Bolton tweeted.
Ben-Shabbat last met with Patrushev in September 2018 in Moscow to discuss “regional issues in the Middle East, including the situation in Syria,” according to a readout provided by the Prime Minister’s Office. “National Security Adviser Ben-Shabbat emphasized that Israel insists that Iranian forces must leave all of Syria,” the readout read. (the Times of Israel) Raphael Ahren
Australian billionaire Sir Frank Lowy makes aliyah
Frank Lowy, a Holocaust survivor who fought in Israel’s War of Independence and went on to become a billionaire shopping magnate in Australia, has made aliyah.
“I feel that I’m home. That’s all. Very simple,” Lowy said in an interview aired Tuesday by Israel’s Channel 12.
Born in what is now Slovakia in 1930, Lowy and his family ended up in the Budapest ghetto during the war, where his father Hugo disappeared while trying to find the family a way out. Lowy escaped to France, tried to reach Palestine and was interned by the British in Cyprus before finally arriving and joining the Hagana, fighting in Israel’s War of Independence.
“When I was a lone soldier I didn’t have a penny with me. Everybody was eating hummus with tehina and ate falafel, and I couldn’t buy it. I was a little hungry, but I managed,” Lowy said in Hebrew.
Working as a plumber in Haifa after the war, Lowy decided to join his mother and brother when they got visas to Australia in 1952, anglicizing his name from Pinchas to Frank. In a rags-to-riches success story, Lowy worked his way up and in 1959 co-founded the shopping center company Westfield, which he sold in December 2017 for $33 billion.
Later that year he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth “for his contribution to the UK economy through the company he founded, Westfield, and its major investments in the UK.”
Lowy said his regard for the UK began when he listened to the BBC World Service as a young boy in war-torn Eastern Europe. He recalled that as a child he would sit beside the radio in a bunker, listening to the chimes of Big Ben in London introduce the latest war news.
“It always gave us hope that help was on the way, and that the war would end in our favor,” he said.
Israel has always been close to Lowy’s heart and he is known for his philanthropic activity, as well as a failed attempt to buy Bank Leumi. That episode ended in 2007 with an investigation of alleged interference in the bid by then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Australian billionaire and philanthropist Sir Frank Lowy walking on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv after making aliyah, May 2019
Plagued his entire life by not knowing the fate of his father, Lowy was stunned when 45 years after his disappearance a stranger approached his son, Peter, who was living in California in 1991, and told him, “I was with your grandfather in Budapest” when the two were arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz.
Peter told his father the news, and Frank Lowy took the next flight to California to talk to the man, discovering that his father had been shot and killed upon arriving at Auschwitz after repeatedly refusing to give up his prayer shawl and tefillin.
“He could not live without his tallit and tefillin,” a tearful Lowy said.
With the new knowledge, Lowy restored a train car that was used to deport Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz as a monument and dedicated it at the camp in 2013 as part of the March of the Living, where he was finally able to say the Kaddish mourner’s prayer for his father.
Speaking about his path in life, Lowy attributed his success to never giving up.
“The word ‘no’ is not for me. I don’t hear it. You always have to try again and again,” Lowy said. (the Times of Israel) Staff
Infuriating but not finishing Netanyahu, Liberman drags Israel back to the polls
The prime minister has long asserted that his enemies are pursuing a vendetta against him. Turns out he was looking in the wrong direction
by David Horovitz The Times of Israel
For two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been charging that his enemies are pursuing a “vendetta” to push him out office. As criminal investigations against him gathered pace, he blamed the opposition, the media, the police, the state prosecution hierarchy and the attorney general.
On Wednesday, he was proven right. But it was none of these purported antagonists who forced him, just 50 days after he appeared to win one general election, to call another because he was unable to form a majority coalition. It wasn’t one of the derided “leftists” upon whom Netanyahu has focused so much vitriol. Rather, the enemy pursuing the vendetta was his own former longtime aide, now his nemesis, Avigdor Liberman.
Furious as he spoke to reporters immediately after the Knesset had voted to disperse and call new elections on September 17, Netanyahu blamed “the personal ambition of one man” for dragging Israel back to the polls.
Liberman, his former PMO chief, foreign minister and defense minister, never truly wanted to sign a coalition deal and deliberately rejected every compromise, Netanyahu stormed. Liberman, he declared, reaching for the most hideous insult he could find, “is now part of the left.”
What just happened?
Minutes earlier, before the fateful Knesset vote, Liberman had offered a very different narrative. He had wanted to join the coalition, he claimed. He had recommended to the president last month that Netanyahu be charged with forming the government. He had fully intended for his five-strong Yisrael Beytenu to be part of a Netanyahu-led 65-strong coalition in the 120-member Knesset.
All he had demanded was that legislation designed to raise the proportion of young ultra-Orthodox males serving in the army, a bill endorsed by the IDF itself and passed on a first reading 10 months ago, be fully and finally approved with no further changes.
But Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties had chosen not to meet this entirely reasonable demand, he lamented. Instead, the coalition negotiations had been a saga of “complete surrender by the Likud to the ultra-Orthodox.” And while Yisrael Beytenu was a “natural partner” in a right-wing government, he said, “we won’t be partners in a government run according to halacha” — Jewish religious law.
Netanyahu’s version of events was slightly lacking. Israel did not necessarily have to be gearing up for new elections five months after the last round. Netanyahu could have simply reported to President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday that he’d been unable to form a majority coalition, and Rivlin could then have cast around for somebody else to have a try. But King Bibi had absolutely no intention of taking that risk; much better new elections, with a new bogeyman in the shape of Liberman to help him get out the vote, than giving Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, Likud rival Gideon Sa’ar or any other pretender a clear run at the throne.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks to the press following a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset on May 29, 2019, at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
But if Netanyahu didn’t quite tell the full story, Liberman’s narrative was transparently false. The ultra-Orthodox draft legislation, whose every comma he so stirringly championed, would barely change the dismal reality in which the overwhelming majority of young Haredi males are exempted from the army. This is not a landmark law for which it was worth bringing down parliament one month after a fresh crop of legislators were sworn in.
Rather, Liberman realized that he held the balance of power. He may have calculated that he can win more seats next time as the great crusader of the secular right (and may well be mistaken). But he was primarily motivated by the desire to hurt Netanyahu. A great deal of nastiness may have played out behind-the-scenes between these two veteran political heavyweights, but even Liberman’s public utterances leave no room for doubt about his contempt for a prime minister he has repeatedly informed us he considers to be duplicitous, indecisive and soft.
Over recent years, he has leveled most every printable insult under the sun at Netanyahu, including but not limited to liar, crook and cheat. It was his resignation as defense minister last November, when he accused the government of capitulating to Hamas terrorism, that led to April’s elections. In retrospect, it is a wonder that Netanyahu didn’t prioritize locking Liberman into his coalition as the first goal of these failed negotiations, given the Yisrael Beytenu chief’s animus and proven potential for wreaking political havoc.
Liberman won the battle. But who will win the war?
As the 21st Knesset voted itself into oblivion at midnight — the law to disperse itself was its sole legislative achievement — a Channel 12 TV anchor remarked, with a degree of sorrow, that “what we are watching is parliament committing mass [political] suicide.” Netanyahu’s hold on his Likud MKs is so firm that they all dutifully voted themselves out of a job, at least temporarily, evidently confident that he will lead them safely back here in three and a half months time.
But what of Liberman and Netanyahu? What now becomes of them?
Pursuing his vendetta against Netanyahu to this bitter dead end, Liberman may turn out to have fatally damaged his own political career. Not only will the formidable Netanyahu be singularly focused on eviscerating him at the polls, but so too will the ultra-Orthodox parties he so publicly humiliated. And while many Israelis may not bother to schlep to the polling stations again, especially if September 17 turns out sunny, the ultra-Orthodox community always votes in high numbers, and its representation in the next Knesset is likely to grow. Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu didn’t fare all that well on April 9, winning just those five seats — a far cry from its high of fifteen in 2009. It might have trouble making it back into the Knesset at all next time.
For his part, Netanyahu vowed after the Knesset dissolution vote to run “a sharp and clear campaign” in September, “and to win.” It would be foolish, as ever this past decade, to bet against him — particularly given the loyalty his party’s MKs have shown him in the last few frenzied days.
Liberman chose not to make an issue of Netanyahu’s alleged criminal entanglements. He chose not to assert that he was staying out of a Netanyahu coalition because the prime minister has been planning to advance legislation that would render him immune from prosecution — and in the process oversee a radical constitutional change that would limit the power of the Supreme Court and undermine the checks and balances at the heart of Israeli democracy. Now that would have been a cause to champion.
But Liberman will be hoping, nonetheless, that his fatal preemptive strike on this Netanyahu coalition will immensely complicate the prime minister’s legal situation from here on. He will be anticipating that with Netanyahu’s pre-trial hearing set for early October, just two weeks after what are now to be our next elections, the prime minister — provided, of course, that Netanyahu is more victorious in the next election than he turned out to be in the last one — simply won’t have time to legislate himself a Get Out of Jail card. If that proves to be the case, Liberman might truly turn out to have been Netanyahu’s most effective adversary.
It is certain, however, that Netanyahu will seek to have that hearing delayed — arguing, quite reasonably, that he has to fight an unexpected extra election. And it’s entirely possible that the attorney general will grant his request for a postponement, which might yet give Netanyahu the time he needs to try to extricate himself from his legal woes, at whatever cost to those democratic checks and balances.
The attorney general, after all, is not pursuing a vendetta against Netanyahu. Unlike Avigdor Liberman.
The Palestinian War on the Trump Peace Plan
by Khaled Abu Toameh The Gatestone Institute
- In the past few days, the Gaza-based groups have issued several statements hinting that they would use all means, including terrorism, to foil the US peace plan.
- What is perhaps most worrying for the Arab leaders are the threats coming from Iran’s puppets — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. It now remains to be seen whether the Arab heads of state will be deterred by these threats or ignore them at the risk of becoming the Palestinians’ terror targets.
- Clearly, the very Palestinians who are boycotting a conference — whose aim is to help them move beyond their leadership-imposed economic devastation — will wind up the big losers in this spiteful scenario of hate. This time, however, it also seems that the Palestinians will not only deprive themselves of billions of dollars, but will also damage — perhaps irrevocably — their relations with influential Arab countries. By all accounts, the Palestinians appear to be heading toward another “nakba” (catastrophe).
The Palestinians seem to be moving on two fronts to thwart US President Donald Trump’s plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the “Deal of the Century.”
The Palestinian Authority and its political allies in the West Bank have launched a diplomatic and media campaign to rally worldwide support for their rejection of Trump’s upcoming plan. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian extremist groups, for their part, are already hinting that they will resort to violence in an effort to thwart the “Deal of the Century.”
Last week, Hamas called on Bahrain not to allow the “Zionist enemy to defile its lands” by attending the economic conference.
Recently, the Palestinians intensified their attacks on the upcoming peace plan, particularly after the US administration announced that it will unveil the economic portions of the “Deal of the Century” at an economic workshop in Bahrain in late June. The Palestinians have voiced strong opposition to the workshop and said they will boycott it, despite its goal of improving the living conditions of the residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In a rare show of unity, President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction and its rivals in Hamas and Islamic Jihad are saying that the Palestinians will not only boycott the Bahrain conference, but that all the countries invited should also reject the invitation to attend the workshop.
The Palestinians are particularly focusing their effort on trying to persuade the Arab states to boycott the Bahrain workshop. They are terrified that the Arab countries will surrender to US pressure and attend the conference, thus, as they see it, abandoning their Palestinian brothers and leaving them isolated in the international arena.
In addition to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have announced that they will send delegates to the US-led economic workshop. Jordan, Egypt, and Qatar are also expected to participate in the conference, notwithstanding fierce Palestinian opposition.
Abbas last week visited Qatar and Jordan in a bid to persuade the two countries to join the Palestinian boycott of the Bahrain workshop. The most Abbas managed to get from Qatar and Jordan were the usual laconic statements of support for the Palestinian cause and rights. His hope that Qatar and Jordan would publicly endorse the Palestinian boycott has failed to materialize.
Even Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the country hosting the conference, have made similar statements expressing full political support for the Palestinians, while ignoring their call for boycotting the economic workshop. The Arabs have always excelled in paying lip-service to the Palestinians, at the same time offering them precious little in real support.
Echoing fears of being abandoned by their Arab brethren, Palestinian officials are now publicly appealing to the Arab states to boycott the Bahrain economic workshop. They have even gone as far as warning that participation in the workshop would be considered an act of treason against Palestinians and Arabs. Several Palestinian factions, including Fatah, have made it clear that any Arab who attends the economic conference will be denounced as a traitor.
The Palestinians, in other words, are directly threatening the Arab heads of state that they would be labelled traitors for “colluding” with US President Donald Trump’s administration and Israel to liquidate the Palestinian cause and national rights. This unprecedented threat is an indication of the Palestinians’ growing predicament and sense of isolation as the Arab states appear to be turning their back on them.
Moreover, the threat is a sign of mounting tensions between the Palestinian leadership and Arab heads of state, who are apparently fed up with Palestinian intransigence and refusal to adjust to the new reality in the Middle East, particularly Iran’s continued meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
PLO leaders who met in the West Bank city of Ramallah this week called on the Arabs to heed the Palestinian call for boycotting the Bahrain workshop. “The PLO Executive Committee calls on all the Arab countries that agreed to attend the conference to reconsider their decision,” the PLO leaders said in a statement. They also warned that no Arab country was authorized to speak or negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians at the conference of any other international forum.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat also called on Arab states that have committed to attend the Bahrain conference to revisit their plans. “We call on the countries that have agreed to attend the Bahrain workshop to reevaluate their decision,” he said.
Praising several Palestinian businessmen who announced that they turned down invitations from the US to attend the conference, Abbas’s Fatah said it will not hesitate to “expose” anyone who dares to violate the Palestinian boycott or thinks of “conspiring” against the Palestinian cause. “Our patience won’t last for long as we follow attempts by some suspicious people to open channels with the US administration,” Fatah cautioned.
In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, representatives of the private sector said that mere participation in the Bahrain conference was a “betrayal of the blood of Palestinian martyrs, the suffering of the prisoners and the pain of the wounded. The Palestinian cause is not for sale.”
In light of these threats, it is hard to see how any Palestinian businessman living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip would dare to take the dangerous step of participating in a US-led conference that is being denounced by Palestinian leaders as a “conspiracy” to eliminate the Palestinian cause and rights.
The Palestinian threats, however, are directed not only towards Palestinian businessmen, but also against entire Arab states and their leaders. For now, it seems that the Arabs are unfazed by these Palestinian threats.
Yet while Abbas and his officials have resorted to political pressure to persuade the Arabs to boycott the conference, other Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, seem to be preparing for a violent response to Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” In the past few days, the Gaza-based groups have issued several statements hinting that they would use all means, including terrorism, to foil the US peace plan.
Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ziad al-Nakhalah said last week that the Palestinian “resistance has enough power cards that would enable it to thwart the Deal of the Century.” Although he did not provide details about the “power cards,” al-Nakhalah was apparently referring to the possibility that his Iran-backed Islamic Jihad would resort to violence.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas say they are now cooperating with Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy terrorist group in Lebanon, to foil the Bahrain conference and Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” Last week, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah expressed strong opposition to the “Deal of the Century,” and drew praise from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even the Palestinian Authority.
This is the message that the Palestinians are sending to the Arab world: “Either boycott the US administration, or we will incite the Arabs and Muslims against you.” What is perhaps most worrying for the Arab leaders are the threats coming from Iran’s puppets — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. It now remains to be seen whether the Arab heads of state will be deterred by these threats or ignore them at the risk of becoming the Palestinians’ terror targets.
Clearly, the very Palestinians who are boycotting a conference — whose aim is to help them move beyond their leadership-imposed economic devastation — will wind up the big losers in this spiteful scenario of hate. This time, however, it also seems that the Palestinians will not only deprive themselves of billions of dollars, but will also damage — perhaps irrevocably — their relations with influential Arab countries. By all accounts, the Palestinians appear to be heading toward another “nakba” (catastrophe).
Middle East peace can’t be bought. But can Trump change the conversation?
While the administration’s plans won’t persuade the Palestinians to talk, the economic focus of the effort might alter the way the world thinks about peace.
by Jonathan S. Tobin JNS
If the Trump administration’s forlorn hope for restarting Middle East peace negotiations wasn’t already facing long odds, this week’s political shenanigans in Israel further complicated matters.
Whether or not Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu miraculously persuades his frenemy Avigdor Lieberman to back away from his effort to derail the formation of a new government and plunge the country into a new, completely unnecessary election, it won’t change Washington’s plans. Trump administration officials are likely to go ahead with their planned economic summit in Bahrain in June and hope that Netanyahu can put together a government sometime this year.
But all the Saudi or Western money in the world won’t entice the Palestinian Authority to attend, let alone negotiate what U.S. President Donald Trump may still hope will be the “ultimate deal.” Although the peace proposal going forward is not without some risk for both Israel and the region, the economic focus of the plan that was cooked up by, among others, presidential advisor/son-in-law Jared Kushner is still a positive contribution to the long and dismal history of Middle Eastern diplomacy.
Palestinian Authority leadership has already made it clear that they won’t attend the Bahrain event and won’t negotiate on the basis of Trump’s plan, which is emphasizing economic development rather than focusing solely on a “land for peace” exchange. Long time U.S. State Department peace processor Aaron David Miller wasn’t wrong when told The New York Times that if the United States could have “bought peace in the Middle East through economic development,” it would have done so long ago.
That means it’s almost certain that the president will be denied the satisfaction of brokering a deal that eluded presidents before him. Under the current circumstances, the Palestinian leadership and the political culture that sustains them simply won’t allow it.
But that is not the only way to look at what Kushner is doing.
The first point is that in contrast to all of his predecessors, Trump has not approached negotiations as primarily an exercise in pressuring Israel. That dynamic has doomed every peace effort for the last quarter-century, as the Palestinians have been encouraged to watch and wait for the West to bring them Israeli concessions without having to do much of anything in return. To the contrary, the efforts of the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations did nothing to force the Palestinians to come to make the sea change in their political culture that would enable them to make peace, even if, as is unlikely, their leaders wanted to do so.
For one of the few times in his career, Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat told the truth when he wrote in a New York Times op-ed last week that what Trump was doing was demanding the Palestinians’ “surrender.” But such a surrender—or rather, a realization on the part of the Palestinians that their century-old war on Zionism must be abandoned—is the necessary predicate for any hope for peace.
By flipping the script of all past efforts and downgrading the Palestinians territorial ambitions to a secondary role, and instead emphasizing plans to build the foundation for peace with economic development, Kushner has done something quite sensible.
That said, whether the Israelis can get their own act together in order to provide Trump with a partner at the table, the Palestinians aren’t interested, especially since they won’t get as much as they might have done had they chosen to accept offers of statehood put to them by past Israeli governments and American administrations.
Still, that shouldn’t end the discussion.
It’s true that the effort opens up the possibility that a failed process may, as it has in the past, encourage a new round of Palestinian violence aimed at getting the attention and sympathy of the international community by forcing Israel into a confrontation in which it will be blamed for the inevitable loss of life.
Some Israelis also worry that the plan, which is likely to involve some concessions on the West Bank, will undermine right-wing efforts to annex parts of the territories. But they need to realize that any move that seeks to remove the ambiguity that has enabled Netanyahu to ably manage the conflict for the last decade isn’t in the best interests of the Jewish state.
Kushner’s plan is also a breath of fresh air after decades of American efforts to accommodate the Palestinians’ unwillingness to admit that they’ve lost their long war against Zionism.
By focusing on economic development, the United States is offering incentives not just for peaceful cooperation, but to break down a Palestinian political structure that has up until now been solely focused on “resistance” as opposed to state-building or good governance. In its place, the Trump plan offers a template for fiscal improvement that will give the Palestinians a reason to believe that compromise is worth sacrificing their dreams of eliminating Israel, in addition to a “right of return” for descendants of the 1948 refugees who have been kept stateless so they can be used as props in the conflict.
The economic incentives on the table may—particularly if they are backed by the Arab states that are sick of the Palestinians’ intransigence—have a long-term impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That doesn’t mean all the nations headed to Bahrain will endorse Trump’s plan. However, it does mean that they are on board with changing the manner peace is discussed in a way that will further isolate Fatah and Hamas after they refuse to negotiate.
Trump can’t purchase peace, but neither will it cost him; he won’t set anything back by reminding the Palestinians that their position is getting weaker the longer they refuse to deal. That’s one step in a direction that both the United States and the international community have needed to take for decades.