The U.S. Middle East peace plan may be in a coma. But that hasn’t stopped Washington from handing major diplomatic victories to Israel.
By Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer | Foreign Policy | Nov 18, 2019
‘You now have a complete package of efforts to make a traditional solution . . . to the Israeli-Palestinian problem virtually impossible, at least for the remainder of the Trump administration.’ — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace scholar Aaron David Miller
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Monday that the United States no longer considers civilian Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands a violation of international law. The move represents a historic decision that reverses decades of U.S. policy and represents the latest in a raft of pro-Israeli moves that could effectively quash hopes for the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The conclusion that we will no longer recognize as per se inconsistent with international law is based on the unique facts, history, and circumstances prevented by the establishment of civilian settlements in the West Bank,” Pompeo told reporters on Monday. He said that the decision does not mean the U.S. government is expressing views on the legal status of any individual settlement or “prejudging the ultimate status of the West Bank.”
Pompeo’s statement rolls back a 1978 State Department opinion that formed the bedrock of U.S. legal opinion on Israeli settlements, asserting that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.”
The decision marks the latest way in which the Trump administration has undercut Palestinian claims of statehood in favor of its closest historic ally in the Middle East, handing another political victory to embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he struggles to stay afloat after failing to form a coalition government. Continue reading “Trump crushes Palestinian hopes — again”
The core right-wing parties in Netanyahu’s coalition have waged a long, public and legislative campaign against groups whose original and primary aim is to inform Israelis about what their government is doing in the occupied territories. . . . The goal is to protect policies and politicians by limiting or distorting what voters know.
For 10 years or so, I regularly gave lectures to Israeli army units on the need for a free press in a democracy. It was my army reserve duty, in the army’s Education Corps. The qualifications for such duty, as a graduate school professor said when he told me to apply, were “higher education and a low medical profile.”
So I spoke before officers and mechanics, tank crews and pilots, and often to infantrymen serving in the West Bank. As soldiers they feel uncomfortable with journalists watching them, I explained, but as citizens they needed the media to shine light on the government’s actions — including its military operations. A subtext was that it was a dumb idea to stick your hand over a photographer’s lens. I don’t know if my civics lessons had any effect, but I was impressed that the army wanted them.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, on the other hand, thinks it’s a great idea to put the heavy hand of the law over every lens pointed at Israeli soldiers. On Sunday, a committee of cabinet ministers (half from Netanyahu’s Likud party) voted to support a bill that would outlaw photographing confrontations between soldiers and Palestinians.
The largest and most imminent threat to Israel’s security right now is not a nuclear Iran, but Iranian activity in Syria.
The entire world watched as President Donald Trump announced America’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal, and his re-imposition of the full range of sanctions on Iran.
While the British, French, and German governments made clear their strong preference that the US maintain the JCPOA, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not shy in his efforts to convince the White House of the wisdom of his opposite position.
Netanyahu’s unusual English-language prime time presentation on Israeli television last week of the intelligence collected by Israel about Iran’s previous efforts to build a nuclear weapon was almost certainly aimed at Trump, either in an effort to convince him to exit the deal, or to provide cover for him to do so.
“There’s no culture in the world in which you put shoes on the table. What was the distinguished chef thinking? If it was humor, we don’t think it is funny; we were offended on behalf of our prime minister.”
— Anonymous Japanese diplomat
There aren’t that many cultures where putting a shoe on the dining room table is acceptable behavior, but for the Japanese there is clear etiquette against allowing outdoor shoes inside.
That might explain the furor following a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, to Israel last week.
After a day of high-level meetings on May 2, the Japanese leader was treated to a festive meal at the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu. It was their second time in Israel, and the visiting couple were served a top-notch meal by celebrity Israeli chef Segev Moshe.
But then came dessert. A selection of delectable chocolate pralines — artistically arranged inside a shiny leather shoe.
“Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation. I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance. Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”
— Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman said she wouldn’t attend a prize ceremony in Israel because of her feelings about its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and “atrocities” committed on his watch, but emphasized that she would not shun Israel itself.
The Jerusalem-born director and actor, posting Friday night on Instagram, explained her decision not to accept in person the $2 million Genesis Prize, which calls itself the “Jewish Nobel,” after a day of speculation in the media that she was turning down the prize because she was joining the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. The prize foundation had the day before announced Portman’s decision not to attend the ceremony.
“I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony,” said Portman, who in 2011 won a best actress Oscar.
“By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it,” Portman said.
After promising to “get rid of them all” . . . the big mystery is why he made the decision in the first place to extend legal status to at least half of the 36,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Israel.
In the face of all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s past capitulations, it was the most disgraceful, the most transparent. In comparison to all his reversals, it was the quickest, the most humiliating. The man had already taught us a chapter on zigzags and back-and-forths — in the story of the Western Wall egalitarian prayer space and the metal detectors at the Temple Mount, for example — but this time he outdid himself, in both speed and flexibility. A contortionist could only dream of having such a liquid backbone.
What we saw in the past 24 hours is a parody of a prime minister and a tragedy to the state he heads. There’s never been anything like it: The Israeli government signs an agreement with an international organization over an issue that is at the heart of the public debate and about which the government has a firm position. The prime minister declaims to his nation the details of the deal in a jubilant news briefing in the midst of the intermediate days of Passover, and within hours he backtracks.
The Israelis, through US President Trump, are sticking a Jewish finger consisting of Friedman, Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kusher into the Palestinians’ faces, in front of the whole world.
“Is that anti-Semitism or political discourse?” asked U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman with feigned innocence, in response to what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had said about him, as if he were a helpless pogrom victim at the beginning of the last century in Eastern Europe rather than an ambassador of the world’s strongest superpower, which encourages Israel to ride roughshod over the Palestinians.
“There are places where the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state must be maintained, and this sometimes comes at the expense of equality. Israel is a Jewish state. It isn’t a state of all its nations. There is place to maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights.”
— Ayelet Shaked, Israeli Minister of Justice
If scandal-plagued Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, exits his country’s political scene today, who is likely to replace him? And what does this mean as far as Israel’s Occupation of Palestine is concerned?
Netanyahu, who is currently being charged with multiple cases of corruption, misuse of government funds and public office, has, for years, epitomized the image of Israel internationally.
In Israel, Netanyahu has masterfully kept his rightwing Likud Party at the center of power. Even if as part of larger coalitions — as is often the case in the formation of most of Israeli governments — the Likud, under Netanyahu, has shaped Israeli politics and foreign policy for many years.
As Israel’s Jewish population continues to move to the right, the country’s political ideology has been repeatedly redefined in the last two decades.
“I don’t want the Palestinians as citizens of Israel and I don’t want them as subjects of Israel. So I want a solution where they have all the powers they need to govern themselves but none of the powers that would threaten us. What that means is that whatever the solution is, the area west of the Jordan — that includes the Palestinian areas — would be militarily under Israel.”
— Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
He’s said it countless times before in myriad ways. But he usually only says it in Hebrew. This week, however, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said in English, and on camera, that under his leadership Israel will never end the occupation of Palestine.
Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington earlier this week, Netanyahu dodged a question about whether he supports a one- or two-state solution, and outlined a vision that sounds a lot like an entrenched and enhanced version of the occupation as it exists today.
“It’s the Louis XIV syndrome. More than just saying that the state is him, his feeling and the feeling of those around him, is that the damage to the party and the country by his resigning would be so great that it’s worth doing things that would have been unthinkable were it anyone else.”
— Nahum Barnea, Israeli columnist for Yediot Ahronot
Israel is famously low on pomp and circumstance. Attend an Israeli wedding and guests are likely to appear in jeans, with sunglasses perched on their foreheads. When Donald Trump landed at Ben Gurion Airport last May, the Israeli government tried to keep it stately — red carpet, military orchestra — but it wasn’t long before a member of the ruling Likud Party whipped out his cell phone and snapped a selfie with the American President on the tarmac. So minimal is the ceremoniousness that, whenever it exists, it tends to take on outsized meaning.
One such ceremony took place on Monday, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Trump in the Oval Office. Netanyahu tried to project an air of business as usual — the relationship between the United States and Israel “has never been better,” he gushed — even as Trump may have quickened the Israeli leader’s pulse by saying, nonchalantly, that “we have a shot” at “doing” peace with the Palestinians. But only one thing was on the mind of the travelling Israeli press corps. A reporter asked, “Prime Minister Netanyahu, would you like to comment about the latest news coming from Israel?”