Archive for January 30, 2020

Keen on ties, most of US’s Arab allies choose not to directly rebuke peace plan 

January 30, 2020

Source: Keen on ties, most of US’s Arab allies choose not to directly rebuke peace plan | The Times of Israel

Israeli expert says several Arab countries didn’t find considerable value in explicitly knocking initiative; Palestinian analyst says it may be too early to fully judge responses

US President Donald Trump (center-left), Saudi Arabia's King Salman (center-right), and other leaders pose for a group photo during the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)

US President Donald Trump (center-left), Saudi Arabia’s King Salman (center-right), and other leaders pose for a group photo during the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex the Jordan Valley last September if given another term in office, Arab governments allied with the US overwhelmingly joined the Palestinians in slamming the statement.

Saudi Arabia’s royal court called Netanyahu’s statement “a very dangerous escalation at the expense of the Palestinian people” and added that it represents “a clear violation of the United Nations Charter and international norms.”

The Bahraini Foreign Ministry called the prime minister’s remark “a barefaced and unacceptable violation of the Palestinian people’s rights.” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said it aimed at “blowing up the foundations of the peace process.”

And the Qatari Foreign Ministry said it constituted “an extension of the occupation’s policy of violating international laws and employing despicable methods to displace the brotherly Palestinian people.”

But on Tuesday and Wednesday, after the US administration unveiled its plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which also envisions placing the Jordan Valley under Israeli sovereignty, most Arab governments issued statements that struck a notably different tone compared to those they put out following Netanyahu’s remark in September.

While their statements did not express full-fledged support for the plan, they also did not reject it out of hand or state direct criticisms of it. In contrast, the Palestinians blasted the US initiative, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calling it “the slap of the century” and vowing the Palestinian people “will send it to the dustbins of history.”

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said Riyadh “reiterates its support for all efforts aimed at reaching a just and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian cause” and “appreciates the efforts of President [Donald] Trump’s administration to develop a comprehensive peace plan.” It also said the Gulf kingdom “encourages the start of direct peace negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, under the auspices of the United States, and to resolve disagreements with aspects to the plan through negotiations.”

A Palestinian shepherd herds his flock near the Israeli settlement of Argaman, in the Jordan Valley, a strip of West Bank land along the border with Jordan, Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The Bahraini Foreign Ministry said Manama “affirms…its support for all efforts aimed at reaching a just and comprehensive solution to the conflict, which leads to the restoration of all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”

The United Arab Emirates seemingly issued the most complimentary statement, calling the plan “a serious initiative” and stating that it “offers an important starting point for a return to negotiations within a US-led international framework.”

Meanwhile, Qatar and Jordan issued more strongly worded statements, but they also refrained from specifically rebuking the plan.

Qatar said it welcomes “all efforts aiming towards a longstanding and just peace” and “appreciates the endeavors of President Trump and the current US administration to find solutions for the Palestinian-Israel conflict.” The Gulf emirate also said “peace cannot be sustainable if Palestinians rights in their sovereign state within the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, and the right of return are not preserved.”

Safadi, the Jordanian foreign minister, expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital and warned against “the dangerous consequences of unilateral Israeli measures, such as annexation of Palestinian lands, building and expansion of illegal Israeli…and encroachments on holy sites in Jerusalem.”

Little to gain from criticism

Eldad Shavit, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank in Tel Aviv, said many of the Arab states chose not to directly criticize the plan because they did not find considerable value in doing so.

“They certainly want to maintain good relations with the US,” Shavit, who was both a high-ranking official in IDF Military Intelligence and the Prime Minister’s Office, said. “They also know that this plan could remain on the shelf and never be implemented. So they do not think there is much for them to gain from explicitly criticizing it now.”

In addition to putting the Jordan Valley under Israeli sovereignty, the plan envisions the creation of a Palestinian state in about 70 percent of the West Bank, a small handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, most of the Gaza Strip and some areas of southern Israel — on condition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip disarm.

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) attend a press conference in the East Room of the White House on January 28, 2020. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

It also calls for allowing Israel to annex settlements, granting the Jewish state overriding security control west of the Jordan River and barring Palestinians from entering Israel as refugees.

Shavit, however, noted that he believes several Arab countries would shift their rhetoric about the plan, if Israel uses it to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank.

“I believe that the US gave promises to these countries that Israel would not be taking unilateral steps and that there would be negotiations,” he said. “If that changes and Israel goes for annexation, for example, I think we will see these countries taking a different line.”

Netanyahu originally said on Tuesday that he wanted to bring a proposal to annex parts of the West Bank to a vote this coming Sunday, but Tourism Minister Yariv Levin suggested on Wednesday that would not happen.

Levin said there were still several bureaucratic hurdles to leap, including “bringing the proposal before the attorney general and letting him consider the matter.”

Asked about the prospect of Israel imminently annexing territory in the West Bank, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump, said on Wednesday: “The hope is that they’ll wait until after the election, and we’ll work with them to try to come up with something.”

Iran trumps Palestine

Uzi Rabi, the head of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that he thought many of the Arab countries have not explicitly knocked the plan because the US had consulted with them about it.

“They know that they cannot vitriolically come out against a plan that the Americans discussed and developed with them,” he said. “If they did that, they would cause tensions with the Americans and they very much do not want that.”

Since Trump assumed office in 2016, Kushner and other senior American officials have often met Arab officials to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bahrain even hosted the launch of the economic portion of the plan in June.

Palestinians protest Middle East peace plan announced Tuesday by US President Donald Trump, which strongly favors Israel, in Bethlehem, West Bank, Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

Rabi also argued that most of the responses of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf indicate that they believe Iran’s regional activities take precedence over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Their reactions clearly show that their first priority in the region is Iran. They do not want to make any move that will antagonize the US and undermine their chances of dealing with Iranian threats,” he said. “They simply do not believe there is great strategic value in investing efforts in the Palestinian issue.”

Arab countries in the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, view Iran as a major regional foe and strongly oppose its support for armed groups throughout the Middle East.

Daoud Kuttab, an Amman-based Palestinian analyst who writes for Al-Monitor and runs a local radio station, said he agreed that a large number of the Arab states want to maintain positive relations with the US, but cautioned that it may be too early to fully judge their response to the plan.

“These are very diplomatic responses. They understand the way Trump works and do not want to anger him,” he said. “But I think it is too early to say we have seen their full response. It will be important to see what they say at the Arab League this weekend.”

The Arab League is set to convene with Abbas in attendance to discuss the plan.


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Netanyahu to announce annexation of Maale Adummim next week – DEBKAfile

January 30, 2020

Source: Netanyahu to announce annexation of Maale Adummim next week – DEBKAfile

DEBKA Exclusive: PM Binyamin Netanyahu will next week declare Israel sovereignty over Maale Adummim, a small town 7km east of Jerusalem, as the first step towards realizing the Trump peace plan. The details of this step are still unclear, since the town is located in an area called E1, which connects it to Jerusalem and has not yet been precisely mapped. Therefore, the prime minister may just make a general statement of Israel sovereignty and leave the details until after the March 2 election.

This decision comes against the background of comments heard on Wednesday, Jan. 29, from the authors of the peace plan, the president’s special adviser Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, that they don’t expect Israel will go forward in the coming days to annex all the Jewish locales across the Green Line, as set forth in the plan. US Secretary State Mike Pompeo later said in a TV interview that he is sure the Israeli government will act according to the law and its tempo.

DEBKAfile’s Washington sources disclose that the Trump administration has asked Netanyahu to submit the “Deal of the Century” to the Knesset for endorsement before going forward to execute its share of the plan, i.e., proclaiming Israeli sovereignty over 34pc of the West Bank area. Opposition leader Benny Gantz picked up on this request and decided to run off with it. He plans to table the Trump peace plan in the Knesset himself next week.

According to our sources, Trump officials urged Israel to hold its horses after being asked by Saudi Arabia and Egypt to give them a chance to prepare their domestic public opinion and allow people to digest the import of the Trump peace plan before it takes off. Both Arab governments informed Washington that they are not opposed to the plan, but they want to make sure that the Arab League’s foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Saturday, Feb. 1, approve a mild resolution. This will be difficult if Netanyahu has meanwhile rushed forward with annexations.

Our sources also reveal that Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, who has rejected the Trump blueprint with “a thousand noes,” secretly approached the Saudis and Egyptians with a request to try and slow down the Trump blueprint’s implementation. Its immediate realization, he said, would leave him without an Arab umbrella and no choice but to join up with the extremist Hamas and Islamic Jihad to fight the plan. In any case, Abu Mazen reported he is planning to revoke Yasser Arafat’s signature on the 1994 Oslo accords, including the attached letter he wrote to the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin affirming Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel.


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Israel facing monumental decisions

January 30, 2020

I hope it does, but fear it won’t.

Fate has sent Israel a rare set of circumstances that is unlikely to come our way again. The “deal of the century” really is a once-in-a-century opportunity, and Israel must seize it.

In October 1937, David Ben-Gurion wrote to his son Amos: “A partial Jewish state is not an end but a beginning … a powerful lever in our efforts to redeem the land in its entirety.”

US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which could potentially rip the Israeli nation’s ancient homeland in two, is also not the end, but rather the beginning.

Israel is facing a Ben-Gurion-style monumental decision: Some 73 years after the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, providence has sent the State of Israel, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a rare set of circumstances that is unlikely to come our way again. The “deal of the century” really is a once-in-a-century opportunity, and Israel must seize it.

The full details of Trump’s peace plan will be revealed soon enough, but if what we know about it so far is true – if Jerusalem, even without the Arab neighborhoods beyond the security fence, remains ours; if the Temple Mount is left under Israeli sovereignty; if all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria fall under Israeli rule, and if the settlement enterprise in historical lands, the cradle of the Israeli nation, will have territorial continuity and become part of greater Israel – than we must say yes to Trump’s plan.

In 1947, too, the partition plan tore the land of Israel in two, leaving the Western and central Galilee, the eastern part of the Negev, including Beersheba, and even Jaffa (as an enclave) within the borders of the proposed Arab state.

In 2020, too, Trump’s plan will tear Judea and Samaria, the heart of our homeland, apart, and leaves about 70% to a future Palestinian entity. But what time and Arab rejectionism did in the past, time and Palestinian rejectionism will do in the future.

Embracing Trump’s plan at this time is just the beginning, even if parts of it are a bitter pill to swallow.

If we look at it through the Ben-Gurion mindset, it is clear that the Palestinians will not give up on “full statehood” and on east Jerusalem; they will not disarm Hamas, and they will continue not to miss every opportunity to miss every opportunity.

The Palestinians will provide Israel with enough cause to “continue our efforts to redeem the land in its entirety,” and to stick by the principles of Zionism that call for maintaining our allegiance to our historic homeland – not only by virtue of the theoretical right but by virtue of the practical building of the country along the 1967 borders, set following the liberation of Judean and Samaria.

Netanyahu’s test will be in the realization of the decision to apply sovereignty to all communities here and now, even before the March 2 elections.

This will also be a test for Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, as he will have to decide which is more important to him: His morbid addiction to the “anything but Bibi” concept, or seizing a historical opportunity.

If, indeed, “Israel comes first” for Lieberman ally the be party, they Yisrael Beytenu’s head will have to support the Trump outline.

Anyone who still hurts for the destruction of the communities in Gush Katif over the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005; and anyone who has nightmares about the possibility that a similar fate might befall dozens of communities and thousands of Israelis across Judea and Samaria – has to support the “deal of the century.”

But after all of that, let’s take a moment to consider one thing: Jerusalem.

Reports about what the plan holds for the Israeli capital have been inconsistent, but if, God forbid, Israel is required to divide the city again or relinquish its status on the Temple Mount, then we will have to devise a way to exclude Jerusalem from the plan. This may even cause Israel to rethink its position about the plan as a whole and address the issue again vis-à-vis Washington.