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Latest News in Israel – 5th December

Arab states will likely cave if US declares Jerusalem Israel’s capital

If the Palestinians are counting on a strong response from Arab states if the Trump administration recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, they are likely to be disappointed.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh Malki called Sunday for an emergency meeting of the Arab League amid US media reports that US President Donald Trump is going to deliver a speech on Wednesday in which he will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Malki said the meeting would discuss “necessary steps regarding this irresponsible American measure.”

But the bitter reality for the Palestinians is that key Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even Jordan with its Palestinian majority and role as custodian of Jerusalem holy sites – are simply too dependent on US goodwill to get into a real row with the Trump administration. This is a case where each of their national interests trumps Arab solidarity.

Unless domestic reaction becomes unexpectedly explosive, Riyadh, Cairo and Amman can be expected to confine their responses to verbal missives that will soon subside.

“They will at least pretend to be objecting vociferously. But as long as he doesn’t move the embassy, they will put up with it after a few days of protesting,” said Gabriel Ben-Dor, a Middle East specialist at the University of Haifa. “The moderate Arab states will understand this is a compromise for Trump between his commitments and the practical realities. They’ll protest vocally, but that’s all.”

Given close Saudi-US ties, Riyadh may even be expected by Washington to temper the anger of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over the step, according to Brandon Friedman, a Saudi specialist at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center.

“If the rumors are true about tight US-Saudi coordination and a back channel between Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and [Trump adviser] Jared Kushner, the Saudis may be expected to reach out to the Palestinian Authority and to manage Abbas,” he said. “One imagines that at the beginning there will be a lot of aggressive rhetoric among the Palestinians if the US goes ahead with this. But if the US coordinates with the Saudis, it could be their job to reassure the Palestinians to get them to back away from the most provocative things they could do and to manage them. But that will be a tall order.”

The Saudis can be expected to put their own strategic interests before the Palestinian issue, Friedman said.

And their main strategic interest is pushing back against what they perceive as Iranian expansion in the region – be it in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen or Syria. For this, they need Washington, and they are hoping the Trump administration will take a more combative posture toward Iran than its predecessor. This need is more important to them than tangibly backing the Palestinians in a dispute with Washington.

Still, Friedman said, “It is way too early to say the Saudis will throw the Palestinians under the bus. To say that, we need to know more about the American step – what it means and how it affects any final status agreement.”

Jordan’s response will likely also be a function of its dependence on the US.

Jordan Times columnist Daoud Kuttab said in a phone interview from Amman that the US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would likely trigger demonstrations called by professional unions, parties and the Muslim Brotherhood. Parliament can be expected to make a very strong statement, he added.

But beyond issuing its own statement, there is not much the palace can do, Kuttab said.

“I don’t think they can do much about the US because they need the US for financial support,” he said. “They can make clear it’s not conducive to peace and that as custodian of the holy places, Jordan will oppose it.”

Jordan received $1.4 billion in aid in 2017.

Kuttab said the fact that the US Embassy in Israel is not being moved and the fact that the Israel Embassy in Amman, a magnet for demonstrations, is closed may temper the protests.

“People look for what is actionable rather than statements,” he said. “The fact that it looks like the embassy move is being postponed means the US is giving lip service, though it is a violation of international law, its own laws and its own commitment.” (Jerusalem Post)

Kushner: Israeli-Palestinian peace needed for wider Middle East stability

In rare public remarks, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner said on Sunday that solving the Israeli-Palestinian was crucial to achieving wider Middle East stability.

“I think that if we’re going to try to create more stability in the region as a whole, then you have to solve this issue,” he told a conference here in a public interview with the Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban, a longtime Democratic donor and supporter of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 rival.

The 36-year-old Kushner, who has been tasked with leading the administration’s efforts to broker a Middle East peace accord, also said that his boss has not yet made his mind on moving the US embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.

“The president is going to make his decision,” Kushner told the audience at the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum. “He’s still looking at a lot of different facts.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Trump has until Monday to decide whether to sign a waiver delaying the embassy move — technically required by a 1995 American law — for another six months. According to a series of recent reports, he is expected to sign the waiver, but give a speech on Wednesday recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.

Such a move would be highly controversial, upsetting not only the Palestinians, but also other Sunni Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

A Palestinian delegation met with Kushner on Friday, warning him that relocating the American embassy to Jerusalem, or formally recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital, would “kill the negotiations” and mark the end of the peace process.

Kushner declined to unveil any specifics about the administration’s peace plan — The New York Times recently reported that the proposal would be made public in early 2018 — but said he was “optimistic that there is a lot of hope for being able to come to a conclusion.”

He was also silent on the content of the highly sensitive talks he has been leading with both sides.

And he skirted another issue of intense controversy: recent revelations that he urged Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to contact Russian officials in December 2016 in an effort to stymie a UN Security Council Resolution critical of West Bank settlements.

His interviewer, Saban, did not press him on that issue; instead, Saban was rather chummy with Kushner, and expressed gratitude for the attempt to block the UN motion, which ultimately passed because the Obama administration declined to exercise its veto.

“You’ve been in the news the last few days,” Saban said to Kushner. “You and your team were taking steps to try and get the United Nations Security Council to not go along with what ended up being an abstention by the US,” Saban continued. “As far as I know there’s nothing illegal there, but I think that that this crowd and myself want to thank you for making that effort, so thank you very much.”

Kushner muttered, “Thank you,” as the crowd delivered muted applause.

Speaking to a room of US, Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as members of Congress, veteran diplomats and one Supreme Court justice, Kushner expressed abundant confidence in his team’s ability to make progress on the intractable, generations-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kushner also acknowledged that that team, made up of himself, a real estate lawyer (top negotiator Jason Greenblatt), a bankruptcy lawyer (US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman) and only one longtime foreign policy specialist (the NSC’s Dina Powell), was “not a conventional team.”

He credited Powell with working out a long-term plan. “Her family is Egyptian, she speaks Arabic, she’s been very instrumental in helping us develop a regional aspirational economic plan for what could happen post-peace,” Kushner said.

“We don’t view a peace agreement just as signing a piece of paper and then hoping everything works out, we’re focused on what happens after,” Kushner added. “How do you create an environment where ten years down the road the people who are the beneficiaries of peace, have jobs and opportunity that they didn’t have before.”

Playing along with a theme introduced by Saban, Kushner joked about the team’s religious and ethnic makeup. “As this process has gone through, my team in particular, being three Orthodox Jews and a Coptic Egyptian, has tried very hard to do a lot of listening,” he said.

Saban, for his part, characterized it lightly as “a bunch of Orthodox Jews who have no ideas about anything.”

Nevertheless, Kushner argued they were “perfectly qualified.” He said, for example, that “there is no greater real estate lawyer than Jason Greenblatt, and there is a real estate aspect related to this.

One of the delegation’s main objectives, he stressed, was to build trust between the sides, which he emphasized was increasing due the absence of White House leaks on the issue.

“What we found originally was that there was a lot of hesitancy from both sides to share ideas” he said. “What they found was that nothing would leak out and we could have honest and open dialogues.”

Through those talks, he said, his team has “learned the red lines of both sides” and that they “see a lot of things that could go south quickly.”

One other development Kushner cited as helping to build an environment conducive to peacemaking was a change in the region that related to how Iran was strengthened by the 2015 nuclear deal.

Saying that the White House has made “significant progress” in unifying the region and world against Iran, Kushner said “the regional dynamics play a big role in what we think the opportunities are. [Sunni Arab nations] look at the regional threats and see that Israel, who was originally their foe, is now their natural ally.”

On that basis, he emphasized the administration was seeking to find a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate that would come directly out of the region. “We have tried to find a solution that comes from the region instead of imposing something,” he said.

Repeatedly, Kushner tried to sell his father-in-law’s ability to succeed on the difficult quest to clinch what Trump refers to as “the ultimate deal,” even as the president is mired in controversies at home.

“The president has a very long career of accomplishing things that people said weren’t possible,” he said, citing, as his case in point, Trump winning the election.

Kushner at the end of the exchange tamped down speculation that he was overwhelmed by legal troubles or the vast portfolio of responsibilities he has. In addition to Middle East peace, he also runs the Office for Innovation and is tackling the opioid crisis, and there have been reports that Trump wants him and his daughter, Ivanka, back in New York as early as next month.

“The kids are loving it here,” Kushner said. “The schools are great.”   (the Times of Israel)

Saudis move toward Netanyahu’s vision on the Palestinians — NY Times

An American peace plan rumored to be backed by Saudi Arabia has reportedly fueled concerns among Palestinian and Arab officials that Washington has adopted Israel’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Under a proposal presented by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the latter’s visit to Riyadh last month, the Palestinians would receive a non-contiguous state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip without full sovereignty over the territory they control; the vast majority of Jewish settlements in the West Bank would not be evacuated; the Palestinians would not receive East Jerusalem as their capital; and Palestinian refugees and their descendants would not be allowed to return to Israel, The New York Times reported late Sunday.

The report came as speculation was mounting over whether US President Donald Trump would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the effect such a move would have on American efforts to revive peace talks

The report said the plan, many of whose tenets mirrored those favored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, raised consternation among Abbas and other Arab officials as to the US’s intentions for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and whether the powerful crown prince was acting on behalf of the Trump administration.

Washington denied to The Times that the reported proposal was in fact its peace plan, while Riyadh insisted it remained committed to its own peace initiative, which would include an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

Hassan Yousef, a top Hamas figure in the West Bank, said, “If the Palestinian leadership were to accept any of the above, the Palestinian people would not let them remain.”

Among the elements of the Saudi proposal outlined in the report were establishing the capital of a future Palestinian state in Abu Dis, a suburb of Jerusalem in the West Bank, east of Israel’s security barrier.

Another reported Saudi idea was to add portions of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to Gaza in exchange for territories in the West Bank that the Palestinians would give up. Egypt has rejected such proposals, with former president Hosni Mubarak saying last week he shot down the idea when it was raised by Netanyahu in 2010.

Citing a Lebanese official and politician, the Times said Abbas was told by the Saudis he had two months to either accept the plan or face pressure to step down in favor of someone more amenable to the proposal.

The Saudi crown prince’s reported proposal to Abbas came only weeks after he met with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and point man on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The two are said to have developed a close rapport.

The Times report came as Kushner made rare public remarks on the White House’s push to revive peace talks and Monday’s deadline for Trump to sign a waiver delaying the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem inched ever closer.

Speaking on Sunday at the Saban Forum, Kushner said Trump remains undecided on moving the embassy or recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Kushner also said his team’s goal is to build trust between the sides, which he emphasized was increasing due the absence of leaks on the US peace plan.

A flurry of reports in recent days said that while Trump is expected to sign the waiver delaying the embassy move, he will give a speech on Wednesday recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.

Such a statement would be highly controversial, upsetting not only the Palestinians but also other Sunni Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

A Palestinian delegation reportedly met with Kushner on Friday, warning him that relocating the embassy to Jerusalem, or formally recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital, would “kill the negotiations” and mark the end of the peace process.

Both the head of the Arab League and Jordan’s foreign minister warned on Sunday that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could lead to regional violence and derail attempts at renewing peace talks.  (the Times of Israel)

47 Out of 54 Countries Say they Benefit from Ties with Israel

Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently carried out a comprehensive survey of the citizens of 54 countries about their country’s relations with Israel. The main finding is that in a vast majority of those countries, 47 of 54 of them, most of the people surveyed believe that their country would benefit from links with Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to these finding on Sunday as a “gigantic change.”

“What is also interesting is that half of the public in the countries in the Middle East that were reviewed, the assets and strength of Israel are appreciated and they believe that their country could benefit by links with Israel,” Netanyahu said during the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“When I say again and again that Israel is a rising global power – I know what I am talking about. Today Israel is a sought-after country,” Netanyahu underscored.

He pointed to his 12 hour visit in Kenya last week, during which he met presidents of Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda, Togo, Botswana and Namibia, as well as the Ethiopian prime minister and other leaders.

Over the past year, Netanyahu has visited Kazakhstan, Singapore, Australia, Azerbaijan and several countries in Latin America. For the first three countries, it was the first visit by an Israeli premier. He also hosted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an historic visit.

In August, Senegal and Guinea, two Muslim-majority West African nations, sent their first-ever full-time ambassadors to Israel.

“Israel is a sought-after, developed and strong country that even the citizens of countries with which we do not have official relations understand the benefit of relations with Israel. We are going from strength to strength and developing even more links,” the Israeli premier stated,

“The major diplomatic blossoming of the State of Israel is based – among other things – on a dynamic economy, initiatives, and the development of businesses and technology. This is at the root of our strength,” he declared.  (United with Israel)

70 years after partition, a two-state solution is still possible

By David Makovsky                  The Washington Post

It isn’t too late for a two-state solution. Bringing the land into focus proves it.


Vice President Pence went to the Queens Museum in New York yesterday to commemorate the site of the old United Nations, which 70 years ago voted for partition to divide the land and establish Arab and Jewish states.

The question 70 years later is, is West Bank partition still feasible? Analysts wonder if the various players such as President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have the will to successfully launch such an effort — or if the best-laid plans will run aground for lack of political resolve.

Aside from the issue of political will, there are those on both the right and left who say there is no way to reconcile the territorial issue and point to the growing West Bank settlements. Critics on the right want Israel to annex much of the West Bank but fail to take into account the international reaction to such a unilateral move. On the left, critics even want Israel to be replaced in its entirety and become a bi-national Israeli-Palestine state.

Both approaches are delusional. Israel is not about to commit national suicide.

Given the paucity of options, partition is still feasible. Indeed, newest data suggests that territorial dimension is solvable. A new website launched by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy called Settlements and Solutions seeks to use civilian satellite imagery to provide a better understanding of settler trends.

The interplay of geography and demography in the West Bank matters — for it helps to address whether it is too late for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a compromise on the territorial issues, as well as on matters of security, refugees and the fate of Jerusalem.

If we want to parse out territorial solutions, we need to delineate between two groups of settlers, for they have vastly different implications for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both groups live beyond the Green Line, the boundaries before the 1967 war; one group lives west of (within) the Israeli security barrier (constructed by the Israeli government during the Second Intifada of 2000-2005 to stymie the flow of Palestinian suicide bombers from the West Bank). The second group lives beyond or east of the security barrier. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, approximately 85 percent of Israelis living east of the Green Line but within the security barrier’s delineated area live in approximately 8 percent of the West Bank, in areas largely adjacent to Israeli urban areas. This translates to just under 556,000 Israelis living inside, or west, of the security barrier and more than 97,000 living outside of the barrier.

The above does not suggest that there are not demographic threats that could end a two-state option. While the ratio of 85 percent in 8 percent of the land has remained largely steady, the number of settlers has grown. In 2009 there were 70,000 settlers living beyond the barrier — as of June 2017, that number has increased by 27,000. If, in a two-state solution, there were an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians regarding the relocation of these settlers, the prospect of relocation would become increasingly difficult. Case in point: In contrast, approximately 8,000 settlers were relocated during the 2005 Gaza withdrawal. Of course, parties could agree in negotiations for the settlers to stay for a period of time.

The numbers also highlight the changing nature of the settlement movement. Two settlements out of 139 now account for almost 30 percent of all West Bank settlers and 46 percent of the growth over the last year. The two locations are ultra-Orthodox settlements, denoting a shift since the settlement movement was launched in the late 1960s, largely by religious Zionists who saw the West Bank as biblical patrimony and viewed themselves as political warriors in the struggle to retain the West Bank as part of the State of Israel. In contrast, the ultra-Orthodox are largely motivated by socioeconomic concerns, especially affordable housing. This is a major demand for an ultra-Orthodox community in which birth-rate averages are an astounding 6.9 per family.

Israel needs to align its settlement policy with a two-state approach that enables Israeli-Palestinian compromise. This would be a strong signal to counter the belief, reflected in Palestinian polls, that Israel wants the entire West Bank. None of this suggests that the barrier would necessarily be the border in a final-status agreement. That border would remain to be negotiated by the parties.

It is not too late. Those on both the right and the left that rush to proclaim the death of the two-state solution due to settlement population growth are too fatalistic. One cannot be certain about the political will to make it happen, but 70 years later, there is — at least for now — a way.

Calling out Palestinian peace process failures

By Shoshana Bryen                    The Washington Times


The Palestinian Authority (PA), it appears, has decided to cut off communication with the American government as a result of a series of American actions the Palestinians believe disqualify Washington from acting as an honest broker in what passes for a “peace process” with Israel. This includes the Taylor Force Act, but most specifically it appears linked to a warning that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington might be closed because the PA violated the terms of its presence.

The PA appears to have mistaken “neutral party” for “honest broker.” Between Palestinians and Israelis, the United States is not — and should not be — the former, but it might, under some circumstances, be the latter. And if the U.S. is not neutral, honest brokerage is even more important. The U.S. has an obligation to Israel — and to the Palestinians — to state clearly the requirements of peace and ensure that both players understand the consequences of breaking the rules.

Israel’s relationship with the United States runs deeper than any practical point. Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom said recently:

“The founders of [the United States] had the Hebrew Bible engraved on their hearts. … It is presupposed in the most famous line of the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’ Those truths are anything but self-evident. They would have been unintelligible to Plato, to Aristotle, or to every hierarchical society the world has ever known. They are self-evident only to people who have internalized the Hebrew Bible.”

On a different level, Israel has a multi-party parliament subject to regular elections; an independent judiciary; a free press; protections for religious and ethnic minorities; rule of law; tolerance for diverse social norms; and world-class universities. Israel is a partner to the U.S. and to NATO in building a capable military; a partner around the world in agricultural, solar and water technology; and a partner in international relief and rescue operations.

The PLO — precursor to and still the parent of the Palestinian Authority — was born dedicated to terror. It hijacked airplanes and threw an elderly man in a wheelchair overboard from a cruise ship. Black September, an arm of the PLO, murdered 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich. The PLO has committed acts of horrific terror in Israel — including killing bus drivers and their families on holiday. Twenty-five adults and 13 children were killed and 71 others wounded — including the niece of a U.S. senator — in what was called the Coastal Road Massacre. The PLO committed acts of war against the United States, killing American diplomats in Sudan.

Just opening face-to-face conversations with the PLO was a delicate dance, slipped in during the transition period between Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Opening a PLO “office-cum-diplomatic-mission” in Washington was prohibited by the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987.

The PA — successor to the PLO — emerged on a bet and with conditions. And in the post-Oslo Accord euphoria, Senate legislation permitted the PLO an official mission “to implement the accords.” Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat, said at the time, “This legislation provides a limited, temporary and conditional waiver of restrictions in United States law.” It was “conditional” on the PLO meeting its Oslo obligations, including refraining from terrorism and renouncing international moves that would impede bilateral agreement on final status issues. This last provision is the proximate cause of the U.S. warning about closing the mission.

President George W. Bush set out American parameters — conditions — for U.S. support of Palestinian statehood:

“Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty.”

It was followed by two “ifs” and a “when.”

“If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence.

“And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state.”

“If” and “when” never happened, but the PA could be forgiven for thinking it didn’t matter. The Obama administration dropped the precursors, and adopted most Palestinian positions as its own.

Pursuit of arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians is not for the faint-hearted. The parties deserve honest brokerage — neutrality would be a betrayal of an ally.

PM Netanyahu discusses what Iran is really doing in the Middle East right now

(Israel Video Network)