Less than a week after he was inaugurated into office, President Donald Trump announced that he had repaired the US’s fractured ties with Israel. “It got repaired as soon as I took the oath of office,” he said.
Not only does Israel now enjoy warm relations with the White House. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in the US capital next week, he will be greeted by the most supportive political climate Israel has ever seen in Washington.
But the forces now hijacking the party on a whole host of issues have yet to transform their hatred of Israel into the position of most Democratic lawmakers in Congress.
Democrats in both houses of Congress joined with their Republican counterparts in condemning UN Security Council Resolution 2334 that criminalized Israel. A significant number of Democratic lawmakers support Trump’s decision to slap new sanctions on Iran.
Similarly, radical Jewish groups have been unsuccessful in rallying the more moderate leftist Jewish leadership to their cause. Case in point is the widespread support Trump’s appointment of David Friedman to serve as his ambassador to Israel is receiving from the community.
Whereas J Street and T’ruah are circulating a petition calling for people to oppose his Senate confirmation, sources close to the issue in Washington say that AIPAC supports it.
Given this political climate, Netanyahu must use his meeting with Trump to develop a working alliance to secure Israel’s long-term strategic interests both on issues of joint concern and on issues that concern Israel alone.
The first issue on the agenda must be Iran.
Since taking office, Trump has signaled that unlike his predecessors, he is willing to lead a campaign against Iran. Trump has placed Iran on notice that its continued aggression will not go unanswered and he has harshly criticized Obama’s nuclear deal with the mullahs.
In the lead-up to his meeting with Trump, Netanyahu has said that he will present the new president with five options for scaling back Tehran’s nuclear program. No time can be wasted in addressing this problem.
Iran continues spinning its advanced centrifuges.
The mullahs are still on schedule to field the means to deploy nuclear warheads at will within a decade. Netanyahu’s task is to work with Trump to significantly set back Iran’s nuclear program as quickly as possible.
Then there is Syria. And Russia.
On Sunday, Trump restated his desire to develop ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu must present Trump with a viable plan to reconstitute US-Russian ties in exchange for Russian abandonment of its alliance with Tehran and its cooperation with Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.
Here, too, time is of the essence.
According to news reports this week, President Bashar Assad is redeploying his forces to the Syrian border with Israel. Almost since the outset of the war in Syria six years ago, Assad’s forces have been under Iranian and Hezbollah control. If Syrian forces deploy to the border, then Iran and Hezbollah will control the border.
Israel cannot permit such a development. It’s not just that such a deployment greatly expands the risk of war. As long as Russia is acting in strategic alliance with Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, the deployment of Iranian-controlled forces to the border raises the real possibility that Israel will find itself at war with Russia in Syria.
Then there are the Sunnis. For the past six years, Netanyahu successfully withstood Obama’s pressure by developing an informal alliance with Sunni regimes that share its opposition to Iran and to the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to sources aware of the Trump administration’s strategic plans, the administration wishes to integrate Israel more strongly into Washington’s alliance structure with Sunni regimes. Israel, of course, has good reason to support this plan, particularly if it involves extending the US military’s Central Command to include Israel.
There are, however, significant limitations on the potential of Israel’s ties to Sunni regimes. First, there is the fact that all of these regimes are threatened by Islamist forces operating in their territory and on their borders.
As Israel Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel warned this week, Israel is concerned that in the event any of these regimes is overthrown, the advanced US weapons it fields will fall under the control of Islamist forces.
Then there is the fact that in exchange for taking their relations with Israel out of the proverbial closet, the Arabs will demand that Israel make concessions to the PLO.
This then brings us to the only subject the media is discussing in relation to Netanyahu’s upcoming meeting with Trump: Will Trump push Israel to make concessions to the PLO or won’t he? The short answer is that it doesn’t appear that Trump has the slightest intention of doing so.
Over the past week, the administration has made three statements about the Palestinians.
First, of course, was the White House’s statement about the so-called Israeli settlements that came out last Thursday.
Although nearly all media reports on the statement claimed it aligned Trump with his predecessors in opposition to Israel’s civilian presence in Judea and Samaria, the fact is that the statement was the most supportive statement any US administration has ever made about those communities.
Obama, of course rejected Israel’s right to any civilian presence beyond the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem. In his final weeks in office, Obama joined the international mob in falsely castigating Israeli communities in these areas as illegal.
George W. Bush for his part, made a distinction between the so-called settlement blocs and the more isolated Israeli villages in Judea and Samaria. He gave grudging and limited support for Israel’s right to respect the property rights of Jews in the former. He rejected Jewish property rights in the latter.
Trump repudiated both of these positions.
In its statement on Thursday, the administration made no distinction between Jewish property rights in any of the areas. Moreover, the statement did not even reject the construction of new Israeli communities.
According to the text of the statement, “the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving” the goal of peace.
But, then again, they may be helpful. And then again, they may have no impact whatsoever on the chance of achieving peace.
Not only did the administration’s statement not reject Israel’s right to build new communities, it rejected completely the position of Trump’s predecessors that Israeli communities are an obstacle to peace.
In the administration’s words, “We don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace.”
After renouncing the positions of its predecessors on Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, the administration then refused to say whether its vision for peace includes a Palestinian state.
In line with the Republican Party’s platform that makes no mention of support for Palestinian statehood, the Trump administration continues to question the rationale for supporting a policy that has failed for the past 95 years.
Finally, the administration said it had no comment on the regulations law this week regarding Jewish construction rights in Judea and Samaria.
All White House spokesman Sean Spicer would say was that it would be discussed in Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu.
This brings us back to that meeting, and how Netanyahu should broach the Palestinian issue.
Both from statements by administration sources since the election and from the administration’s refusal to speak with Palestinian Authority officials since Trump’s electoral victory, Trump and his top advisers have made clear that they see no upside to US support for the PLO.
They do not want to support the PLO and they do not want to be dragged into fruitless discussions between Israel and the PLO. For the past 24 years, US mediation of those discussions has weakened America’s position in the region, has weakened Israel and has empowered the PLO and anti-American forces worldwide.
According to sources with knowledge of the administration’s position, Trump views the Israeli- Palestinian conflict as an internal Israeli issue.
He expects Israel to deal with it and do so in a way that stabilizes the region and keeps the Palestinians out of the headlines, to the extent possible.
In this vein, sources with knowledge of administration considerations claim that last Thursday’s White House statement on Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria was in part the result of exasperation with Israel’s inability to keep quiet on the issue. Had Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman not announced that they were issuing permits for thousands of building starts in Judea and Samaria, the White House wouldn’t have felt compelled to issue a statement on the matter.
The administration’s desire to disengage from the PLO is well aligned with Israel’s strategic interests. No good has ever come to Israel from US support for the PLO. Moreover, Israel has achieved its greatest strategic successes in relation to determining its borders when it has kept its moves as low key as possible.
For instance, in 1981, when then-prime minister Menachem Begin applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights, he did so with no fanfare. Rather than loudly announcing Israel’s right to sovereignty over the area, Begin insisted that the move was done to satisfy administrative imperatives and that Israel would be willing to consider border corrections in the event that Syria became serious about peace at some later date.
Begin’s example should inform Netanyahu’s preparations for his meeting with Trump.
Unfortunately, Netanyahu does not seem to realize the implications of Trump’s lack of interest in following in his predecessors’ footsteps in relation to the PLO.
Over the past few weeks, Netanyahu has insisted that he wishes to coordinate his positions on the Palestinians with the administration. While he should take any concerns Trump voices to him on the issue into consideration, he should also make clear that the administration’s belief that no good has come to the US from its support for the PLO is well-founded. He should also explain Israel’s need to control Area C in perpetuity, and the problem with maintaining military administration of the area. Finally, he should assure Trump that Israel intends to secure its interests in Judea and Samaria in a way than does not impinge on US priorities.
Next week can be the beginning of a new era in Israel’s relations with the US. But to make the most of this unprecedented opportunity, Israel needs to recognize its role as America’s ally. It must take the necessary steps to perform that role, and it must free the administration from the shackles of the PLO while securing its long-term interests in Judea and Samaria unilaterally, and quietly.
“[Gueterres] ignored UNESCO’s decision that considered the Al-Aksa Mosque of pure Islamic heritage,” Adnan al-Husseini, Palestinian Authority Jerusalem Affairs minister, told Xinhua, a Chinese news outlet, clarifying that the UN secretary-general “violated all legal, diplomatic and humanitarian customs, overstepped his role as secretary general, and…must issue an apology to the Palestinian people.”
Speaking to Israel Radio on Friday, Guterres reportedly said that it is “completely clear that the Temple that the Romans destroyed in Jerusalem was a Jewish temple.”
Ahmad Majdalani, a Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member, said that the statements “undermine the trustworthiness of the UN as a body that should support occupied peoples.”
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee approved a resolution in October that made no mention of Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, exclusively referring to the holy site as its is known in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque/ Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
Fayez Abu Eitah, the secretary-general of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said that Gueterres’s statements are unacceptable politically and morally.
“[The statements] are a direct attack on the Palestinian people’s right in the holy city, biased in favor of the site of occupation, and akin to granting legitimacy to Israel’s illegal presence in Jerusalem,” Abu Eitah told official PA television.
Moreover, the Palestinian representative to UNESCO Mounir Anastas rejected Guterres’s statements, which he argued hold no legal significance, while saying that that the Temple Mount is holy for all three Semitic religions, according to official PA radio.
Tovah Lazaroff and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.
The IDF Home Front Command is preparing for the thousands of rockets expected to strike Israel during the next war, investing hundreds of millions of shekels over the past two years on defensive measures and strengthening strategic capabilities.
The IDF considers Hezbollah the most substantial threat, with at least 120,000 rockets aimed at Israel, many of them able to strike anywhere in the country. While most have a range of just 45 kilometers, the army has said that it expects a bombardment of over 1,000 rockets in the course of just one day.
The Home Front Command currently divides the country into 264 polygon alert zones in which a siren is activated once the flight path and expected landing area of a missile or rocket is calculated.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that Israel’s already state-of-the-art alert system is being upgraded, as the number of polygon alert zones is set to increase to a few thousand by April 2018.
The increase in zones means that, as opposed to a siren sounding for an entire city, individual neighborhoods or streets will be alerted to take shelter.
The downside of the increased accuracy is a reduction in alert times. For example, with the present system, a Tel Aviv resident is given approximately a minute-and-a half to take shelter from the moment a siren sounds. With the new system, Tel Aviv residents will have only 45 seconds to one minute to get to a safe zone.
While most rockets are expected to hit open fields due to a lack of precision guidance systems, the IDF expects that an estimated 150,000 civilians would leave their homes in the North in the event of a war with Hezbollah.
Along with the increased rocket threat, the Home Front Command has also identified a threat to Israel’s electronic systems. As a result, the command has recently instructed civilians to buy transistor radios with spare batteries, water bottles and portable electrical chargers.
Coordination and division of responsibilities between the Home Front Command and the National Emergency Authority (known by its Hebrew acronym RACHEL) is said to have significantly improved in the past two years. Local governments, who, along with the command and RACHEL, would be responsible for providing evacuees with any necessary services, have also markedly improved their level of preparedness.
In addition to preparing for a mass evacuation, the IDF has spent millions of shekels on upgrading and constructing new public bomb shelters. In this respect, Tel Aviv is considered one of the best protected cities whereas many areas in the Negev are said to be most at risk.
One third of Israel’s 200,000 Beduin live in unrecognized villages, many of them in the Negev. For this reason, these villages have neither air raid sirens nor bomb shelters, and incoming rockets to these areas are not intercepted by the Iron Dome.
In addition to the 3,000- plus warning sirens throughout Israel, the Home Front Command has also developed apps to alert a user to an incoming rocket or missile as well as automated warnings delivered to all cell phone users. The command has also developed a supplementary alert system for private homes to help ensure that no warning is missed.
The command, which conducts annual drills to prepare for emergency scenarios, has also begun conducting annual nationwide emergency drills for schoolchildren.
In addition, it has begun a project to teach high school students how to administer first aid to themselves, in the event that the arrival of emergency services is delayed.
WASHINGTON – The Palestine Liberation Organization has settled on a plan to forcefully counter the Trump administration should it choose to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a senior Palestinian official said on Thursday.
Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, said the PLO would first revoke its 1993 decision to recognize the State of Israel, “because under no circumstances shall we recognize Israel and the United States saying east Jerusalem is annexed,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“No. 2, the agreements signed with Israel will be dead, because Netanyahu decided to kill it,” he said. “So he will be responsible for paying the salaries of teachers, doctors, garbage collection in the West Bank, the entirety of the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The authority cannot be sustained – it will be destroyed, because he is destroying it.” Thirdly, the PLO would ask the UN General Assembly to suspend Israeli membership in the chamber “until it abides by international law.” The Palestinians are a non-member observer state at the UN.
“The Palestinians at that moment, with no two-state solution – no possibility for a Palestinian state – they will demand equal rights, equal citizenship with Israel,” he said, characterizing a unitary Israeli state with control over the West Bank as an “apartheid” enterprise. “We will be trying to accommodate ourselves in the one-state reality that was created by… settlements.”
The PA has been working with Jordanian officials to dissuade US President Donald Trump from proceeding with the dramatic embassy move.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II is to arrive in Washington on Monday for meetings with Trump administration officials and members of Congress. The status of America’s embassy in Israel is expected to be a significant part of his conversations.
The executive director of the Arab American Association of New York served as a national co-chair for the historic Women’s March – a protest against freshly sworn-in President Donald Trump that spread worldwide, with massive sister
marches from Los Angeles to Berlin.
The march was intended to energize American women to protect a policy agenda centered on reproductive rights.
But women of all stripes – those who identify as gay or transgender, undocumented, black, Muslim – incorporated their own fears and policy priorities into the march, and the event quickly became a pan-progressive movement against Trump’s looming presidency.
That was the goal of its leadership, including Sarsour, who has campaigned around the country to link civil rights battles with her cardinal cause: Palestinian freedom.
“I grew up in an activist family – my parents are Palestinian, and obviously the blood that runs through my veins is the blood of a very oppressed people,” Sarsour explained to the web show Brooklyn Savvy in a 2015 interview.
“I’m outraged by our government,” she said. “We fund military aid that’s being used to basically kill my people right now. That’s like, straight up what’s happening right now.”
Born in Brooklyn, Sarsour began her work with the Arab American Association of New York after September 11th, 2001, when she was 21 years old. The organization’s founding purpose was to help Arab Americans find housing and schooling for their children as they settled in the city. But advocacy became a top organization priority as New York City’s police department began monitoring the community more invasively in light of the attacks.
Sarsour’s seminal policy battle in New York was her fight with the city to recognize Muslim holidays in public schools, as Christian and Jewish high holidays are observed. The Arab American Association worked with the help of New York Jewish groups to make it happen, she told the Vox website in an interview this month. Sarsour was honored by the Obama administration as a “champion of change” in 2011 for improving the lives of others through her charitable work.
Growing in her activist role, Sarsour has increasingly linked her Palestinian cause with struggles facing the wider Arab American community since September 11th, with the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement, and with the responsibility to protect undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ citizens, women and girls.
“The same people who justify the massacres of Palestinian people and call it collateral damage are the same people who justify the murder of black young men and women,” she told the 20th anniversary Million Man March on Washington, an event held on the National Mall for African American civil rights, organized by Louis Farrakhan in 2015.
“The same people who want to deport millions of undocumented immigrants are the same people who hate Muslims and who want to take our right to worship freely in this country. That common enemy, sisters and brothers, is white supremacy,” Sarsour said. “Let’s call it what it is.”
Her political philosophy places all of these groups, with all of their unique challenges, within the same category of oppressed peoples – and the oppressors, the opposition, are large corporations, white Islamophobes and Zionists.
Nothing in Sarsour’s record offers evidence that she respects Zionism as a cause, and on the contrary, she has repeatedly used the term Zionist as an epithet.
She wrote in 2015 on Twitter that “Zionist trolls” were out to get her, and in 2012 that “nothing is creepier than Zionism.”
In 2013, Sarsour wrote that she believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the primary issue dividing the American Jewish and Muslim communities. She repeated this claim in 2016, noting that she does not believe all American Jews are anti-Palestinian.
Several commonalities – “kosher/halal, issues around circumcision, family values” – join the two communities together, she wrote.
The US, UK and nearly three dozen other nations have adopted a definition of antisemitism that would likely condemn Sarsour’s rhetoric, as her advocacy suggests she believes the Jewish state is intrinsically racist and unjust.
She does not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.
Yet she appears to view anti-Zionism as separate from antisemitism. At an event in Los Angeles held on November 30 by the Council on American- Islamic Relations, Sarsour characterized the leadership of the incoming Trump administration as antisemitic, and linked that problem for American Jews to her own battle against Islamophobia.
It is unclear whether she supports a two-state solution as an end to all claims in the conflict, or whether she believes such a peace deal would be one step in a long series of steps toward the restoration of ‘historic Palestine.’ In response to former US secretary of state John Kerry’s final speech on Middle East peace – an address that harshly criticized the Israeli government for its settlement enterprise – Sarsour told MSNBC that Israel must first end its military occupation of Palestinian territories as a precondition for the resumption of peace talks.
Regardless of her vision for Palestinian statehood, Sarsour is not optimistic that negotiations will succeed in achieving peace in any form in the Trump era: “David Friedman makes Benjamin Netanyahu look like a walk in the park,” she said of the president’s choice for Israel ambassador.
Sarsour enthusiastically endorsed Bernie Sanders for president in 2016, thanking him on the campaign trail in Wisconsin for allowing her to embrace her identity as a Muslim while stumping for him.
“When I started supporting Bernie Sanders no one told me, ‘Look, you can’t be too Muslim up there. Don’t bring up those Palestinians,’” she said. “They welcomed all of me. They have welcomed my community in a way that no other campaign has.”
In light of her public role in the Women’s March, Sarsour has come under fire from groups on the right that have called her position on women’s rights hypocritical and her brand of Islam radical. One online news outlet, the rightwing Daily Caller, published a photo of her at a conference standing next to someone they claim had ties to Hamas.
Sarsour responded to this backlash with a statement on Facebook: “The opposition cannot fathom to see a Palestinian Muslim American woman that resonates with the masses – someone whose track record is clear and has always stood up for the most marginalized,” she wrote. “They have a coordinated attack campaign against me and it’s vicious and ugly. It’s not the first time, but it’s definitely more intense.”
But “they will not succeed,” she continued. “I have helped build a movement, I am ready for what’s to come so they can spew alternative facts and piece a twisted narrative together if they want – I and we will still rise.”