Dear Trump Administration: Don’t Mess With Jerusalem

Supporters of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump attend an election campaign rally, Jerusalem, Oct 26, 2016. (photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

Moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could ignite a spark that would set the entire region aflame. It’s just not worth it.

By James J. Zogby / +972 Magazine
January 17, 2017

[The author is the president of the Arab American Institute.]

Palestine may have dropped off the radar for a time, but it remains “the open wound in the heart, that never heals.” Violating Jerusalem and unrest in occupied Palestinian lands would rip the scab off that wound reminding Arabs of their vulnerability and their inability to control their history in the face of betrayal by the West. Ignore this passion and there will be consequences.

In just a matter of days, President-elect Donald Trump will have to decide on whether or not to make good on his promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As we approach Inauguration Day, liberal and conservative commentators alike have offered a number of ideas as to how he can proceed. Ranging from “too cute by half” to just plain dumb, they should all be rejected. More to the point, all of the proposals I have seen focus exclusively on Israeli concerns, ignoring or giving short shrift to Palestinian and broader Arab or Muslim concerns and sensitivities.

On the one side, there are proposals from hardliners who advise Trump to just go ahead and make the move. They argue that in fulfilling his campaign promise he will appease his base and gain international respect for being a strong and decisive leader. They dismiss Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim opinions, relying on the false assumptions that there is diminished concern across the Arab world for the Palestinian issue or making the racist case that Arabs respect strength and will ultimately become reconciled to a U.S. move.

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An Israel-Palestine peace conference — without Israel or Palestine

Israeli-Palestinian “peace talks” in Paris, Jan 15, 2017. (photo: AFP)

The futile talkfest in Paris aimed its message at America, not the Middle East.

The Economist
January 17, 2017

The Paris meeting felt less like a diplomatic summit than a farewell concert thrown by an aging rock band. . . . Diplomats promised to meet again in Paris later this year. It may be difficult to justify the trip.

It was, even by the dispiriting standards of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, a futile concept: a peace conference without either of the warring parties. On January 15th diplomats from more than 70 countries flew to Paris for a summit against which Israeli officials had inveighing for weeks. Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, called it “rigged” and his defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, compared it to the Dreyfus trial. So the French government, keen to avoid the embarrassment of having Israel refuse to attend, did not invite either side. It was “like a wedding without a bride and groom,” quipped Naftali Bennett, Israel’s right-wing education minister.

After a full day of debate, the diplomats issued a two-page declaration that urged both sides to “commit to the two-state solution . . . [and to] take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground.” If that sounds familiar, it should. Parts of it were copied verbatim from the closing statement of the previous Paris peace conference, held in June.

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Dear Donald Trump: A letter from Palestine

Palestinian human rights defender from the city of Hebron, Issa Amro. (photo: courtesy of Issa Amro)

The U.S. must start treating Palestinians as equals to Israelis.

By Issa Amro / Al Jazeera
January 17, 2017

“It was reading the works of giants such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and your own civil rights pioneer, Martin Luther King, Jr., that convinced me to spend my life using nonviolent methods of resistance to forge a path forward for myself and my people. I owe a great deal of my fortitude and strategy to King and thinkers like him.”

My name is Issa Amro. I am a 36-year-old Palestinian human rights defender from the city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where I work with an organization called Youth Against Settlements.

While we live thousands of kilometers apart and have never met, my fate is more closely linked to the office you will hold, and the choices a U.S. president makes, than many might think. The United States’ military, economic and diplomatic support has allowed Israel to continue its occupation of Palestinian lands, upholding their racist, apartheid regime.

I have not spent my youth thinking about my career or travelling the world, the Israeli chokehold on our society limits my opportunities on both those fronts. Instead, I have been engaged in near-daily confrontations with hostile settlers and an occupying army, both of whom want me, my family and my friends to leave our land and never return.

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Arson Damages Bellevue Mosque

Firefighters work to control blaze at Islamic Center of Eastside, Jan 14, 2017. (photo: Bellevue Fire Department)

[Editor’s note: Please consider helping our brothers and sisters in their hour of need. You may contribute to the repair and restoration of their mosque HERE.]

37-year-old man arrested; building extensively damaged.

By Isolde Raftery / KUOW
January 14, 2017

“I hope our community comes together to help rebuild — not only the structure, but the idea of safety for all of the Muslims in the area. Particularly with this being the third attack on the two mosques that I have been attending since I was born, I am at a loss for words on the sheer senselessness of some human beings. Now is the time for all of us collectively to come together and denounce hatred once and for all.”
— Osman Salahuddin via Facebook

A fire burned down most of a mosque in Bellevue early on Saturday morning, just one day after a man was charged with a hate crime for threatening members of that mosque in October. There were no injuries.

The first was first reported at 2:49 a.m. at the Islamic Center of Eastside (Bellevue Masjid), according to the Bellevue Fire Department. Firefighters arrived to 40-foot flames engulfing the building.

Authorities found a 37-year-old man behind the mosque and arrested him. They said they believe he is the only suspect.

The fire department said “thorough salvage operations were conducted to preserve holy books and electronic equipment.”

Muhamed Bakr told Q13 Fox: “We just heard from a couple of the parents: ‘What would happen if our children were there and this happened in the morning? Is it safe anymore?’”

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A Significant Resolution on Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Obama Administration of carrying out an “underhanded, anti-Israel maneuver” in its failure to veto a U.N. resolution targeting Israeli settlements. (photo: Dan Balilty / AFP / Getty)

By Bernard Avishai / The New Yorker
December 27, 2016

“Secretary Kerry averaged roughly one phone call a week to the Israeli Prime Minister over the last four years — almost four hundred — to plead, to warn, against the path his government was on. Not only did settlement-construction activities continue apace, they were accelerated.”
— Robert Malley, the special assistant to the President on the National Security Council, the senior adviser for the campaign against isis, and the White House coördinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf

Last Friday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2334, with a dramatic abstention by the Obama Administration. The resolution called on Palestinian leaders to take “immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror,” and refrain from “incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.” Its real target, though, was Israel’s settlement project, which, the resolution sharply claimed, has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

Later in the day on Friday, I spoke to Robert Malley, the special assistant to the President on the National Security Council, the senior adviser for the campaign against isis, and the White House coördinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf. In February, 2011, the Obama Administration vetoed a similar U.N. condemnation of settlements—opposing fourteen other members of the Security Council and a hundred and twenty co-sponsors from the General Assembly. Why abstain now, I asked Malley, and not then? “A real difference is that efforts to advance negotiations were ongoing in 2011,” Malley told me. “We were concerned not to interfere with a process that had some prospect of progressing. That’s not the case since Secretary Kerry’s efforts in 2014. We are at an impasse. There is no prospect of resumption of serious meaningful talks between the sides, so the argument that a U.N. resolution would interfere with negotiations doesn’t hold much water.”

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12 Big Takeaways from John Kerry’s Speech

Secretary of State John F. Kerry delivering remarks at the State Department on Dec 28, 2016. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg News)

By Tiffany Harness and Julie Vitkovskaya / The Washington Post
December 28, 2016

“Let’s be clear: Settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel’s security; many settlements actually increase the security burden on the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. And leaders of the settler movement are motivated by ideological imperatives that entirely ignore legitimate Palestinian aspirations.”

Secretary of State John F. Kerry delivered frank remarks on the Middle East peace process at the State Department on Wednesday. Here are excerpts from his speech:

On “trends on the ground”:

“The truth is that trends on the ground — violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation — are destroying hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.”

On accusations that the United States was conspiring against Israel:

“We also strongly reject the notion that somehow the United States was the driving force behind this resolution” — a reference to a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity that the United States declined to veto.

On Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

“In literally hundreds of conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I have made clear that continued settlement activity would only increase pressure for an international response.”

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Jerusalem’s Status Won’t Be as Easy to Settle as Other Real Estate Deals. (Here’s Why.)

An Israeli flag waves in front of the minaret of a mosque in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on Nov. 14, 2016. (photo: Thomas Coex / AFP)

By Brent E. Sasley / The Washington Post
December 25, 2016

The “let’s make a deal” approach assumes that each negotiating party has a series of material things that can be traded off. In this approach, both sides understand they will be better off with more than they currently have. But that doesn’t apply to a place like Jerusalem, or to conflicts like it.

President-elect Donald Trump has set the foreign policymaking world on edge with his and his team’s repeated insistence that as president he will move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The goal: support Israel’s claim to the city as its “undivided, eternal capital.” By nominating David Friedman — who agrees with that position — to be ambassador to Israel, Trump apparently emphasizes this commitment.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has resisted resolution for decades. But Trump has insisted that “a deal is a deal” and that because he is “a negotiator,” he will be successful where others were not. In this case, presumably Trump plans to offer the Palestinians compensation to accept Israel’s claims to Jerusalem.

But it is not that simple.

Continue reading “Jerusalem’s Status Won’t Be as Easy to Settle as Other Real Estate Deals. (Here’s Why.)”

Israel Needs Its Arab Friends More Than U.S. Embassy Move

Haram esh-Sharif, Jerusalem. (photo: Lubomir Mihalik)

By Eli Lake / BloombergView
December 21, 2016

It’s fair to ask how much worse things could get on the Palestinian street. Still, the Israelis have a lot to lose behind the scenes. Part of this is because of the rise of Iran. Israel and Saudi Arabia, who were bitter enemies for the first half-century of the Jewish State’s existence, today are quiet partners in trying to check Iran’s rise. The same is true with the United Arab Emirates. With Egypt and Jordan, Israel has peace treaties, which explicitly state that the status of Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations.

For the last eight years the American president has approached the Jewish state the way a do-gooder deals with an alcoholic friend. You know the pose: Because we care so much about your long-term survival, we want to help you end your addiction to apartment construction in East Jerusalem.

To put it mildly, Donald Trump has a different perspective. It’s not just that he has nominated his bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, an enthusiast of greater Israel, to be his ambassador there. Nor is it the elimination of language about a “two-state solution” in the Republican Party’s platform for 2016. It’s that the incoming president’s administration is promising to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem after the election.

It’s been the other way since the 1980’s. Usually presidents promise to move the embassy in the campaign and break that promise while in office. Trump looks like he is going to keep his word. As Friedman said in a statement last week, he looks forward to conducting his official diplomatic business “from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

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Israeli Settlers Harass Hebron Videographer

A Palestinian holds a poster of Israeli Sergeant Elor Azaria that reads
A Palestinian holds a poster of Israeli Sergeant Elor Azaria, who killed the Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, that reads “wanted,” during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron on Jan 4, 2017. (photo: Wisam Hashlamoun)

Harassment and death threats attempt to “silence documentation and resistance.”

By Sheren Khalel / Mondoweiss
January 9, 2017

“Of course the Israeli settlers target him. The people who are activists, or the people who try to document Israeli violations, are being targeted by the Israelis all the time, because they don’t want to allow people to see the reality of how life is here.”
— Hebron resident Ayman Samir

Emad Abu Shamsiyah first started receiving death threats in March, after a video he filmed for Israeli rights group B’Tselem, which captured Israeli soldier Elor Azaria shooting dead Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif, 21, was released to the public. The video sparked a media frenzy surrounding the incident, and directly led to the initial indictment of Azaria. Shamsiyah has not had a good night’s rest since.

Shamsiyah lives in the city-center of Hebron — arguably the most contentious city in all of the occupied West Bank — and the only city-center where Palestinians and Israeli settlers live side-by-side.

During the case, Shamsiyah was frequently accosted by Israeli settlers near his home, who demanded he change his testimony. After last week’s ruling, which found Azaria guilty of manslaughter, the threats against Shamsiyah have reached a new level, as 67 percent of the general Israeli population supports a full pardon for Azaria.

The lack of support for the manslaughter ruling has translated into anger among Israeli settlers, who have a neighbor directly responsible for the main evidence in the case. As a result, Shamsiyah cannot walk the streets of his neighborhood without fearing for his life.

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Netanyahu Makes Trump His Chump

President Obama, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel in September 2016. (photo: Menahem Kahana)

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, and right now Obama and Kerry rightly believe that Israel is driving drunk.

By Thomas Friedman / The New York Times
December 28, 2016

Israel is driving drunk toward annexing the West Bank and becoming either a bi-national Arab-Jewish state or some Middle Eastern version of 1960’s South Africa, where Israel has to systematically deprive large elements of its population of democratic rights to preserve the state’s Jewish character.

For those of you confused over the latest fight between President Obama and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, let me make it simple: Barack Obama and John Kerry admire and want to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel. I have covered this issue my entire adult life and have never met two U.S. leaders more committed to Israel as a Jewish democracy.

But they are convinced — rightly — that Netanyahu is a leader who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never ready to cross it. He is unwilling to make any big, hard decision to advance or preserve a two-state solution if that decision in any way risks his leadership of Israel’s right-wing coalition or forces him to confront the Jewish settlers, who relentlessly push Israel deeper and deeper into the West Bank.

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