The White House released a statement on settlement construction: essentially supporting building within existing settlements while gently criticizing the construction of new settlements, or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders, saying that such construction “may not be helpful.” (Despite construction within settlements and “natural growth” of existing settlements, Israel has not actually built a new settlement in 25 years).
The Washington Post calls the announcement “surprising” because it seems to contradict the expectation that President Trump would lend blanket support to all settlement construction. Alon Pinkas, a former senior Israeli diplomat and top government aide called the statement a “slight departure” from prior US policy and Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon called the shift “not…a U-turn.”
Many headlines portrayed the statement as an American “warning” to Israel against settlements (take this AP story for example). However, Northwestern University professor and international law expert Eugene Kontorovich disagreed, calling the statement:
…a huge change of policy, in which the U.S. broadly accepts all building within settlements, including those settlements outside of “blocs.” This is huge.
It goes far beyond Bush letter, in that no limitation to "blocs," rather embraces all existing settlements. https://t.co/qFk2Fk4Ide
— Eugene Kontorovich (@EVKontorovich) February 3, 2017
Especially noteworthy is that the policy statement includes the phrase “we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace,” which does indeed seem to be a significant change from prior US policy which has referred to settlements as “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace,” as well as a departure from the international consensus opinion which is that settlements are outright illegal. It will be interesting to see whether other countries follow the White House lead on this, or remain consistent to their prior opinions.
Here is the full White House statement:
The American desire for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has remained unchanged for 50 years. While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal. As the President has expressed many times, he hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region. The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits with President Trump later this month.
Before a joint subcommittee hearing today of the US Congress concerning the UN, Israel, and the Palestinians, the director of the independent monitoring group UN Watch will testify and present a new report showing 40 alarming new cases of UNRWA school teachers in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria whose Facebook pages incite to Jihadist terrorism and anti-Semitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler. Read the complete report HERE.
MKs prepare to vote on a bill that would decrease funding to academic institutions in Israel that employ professors who support academic boycotts of Israel abroad. The bill was proposed by Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer who says:
Israeli professors have unfortunately become the voices for BDS campaigns…they take advantage of their stature to call for boycotts of the State of Israel, while they are receiving salaries from the state. These professors have been spitting into the well they drink from for too long, and now is the time to stop it.
Success! HonestReporting prompts correction in the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s (sadly) not so unusual for a newspaper to refer to Tel Aviv as if it were the capital of Israel. But when faced with the facts, the Sydney Morning Herald actually refused to back down, seeming to imply that newspaper editors (and not countries) get to decide capitals. An HonestReporting petition and official complaint to the Australian Press Council finally produced the appropriate result. One person alone might not make a difference, but thousands together can!
Hamas refuses to swap Israeli civilian for imprisoned operative: the Palestinian Hamas terror group reportedly rejected an Israeli offer for a prisoner exchange, under which Israel would release a mentally ill Hamas member it is holding in return for an Israeli civilian imprisoned in the Gaza Strip who is also said to have psychological issues. A Hamas official responded to the an Israeli offer to by saying the organization is not interested in small-scale deals and will only negotiate for a single, all-encompassing prisoner exchange.
Some 5,000 Jews and Arabs (some waving Palestinian flags) held a protest in Tel Aviv against racism in general and against home demolitions in the Arab Israeli town of Kalansua and in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev.
5,000 Jews and Arabs marched together in Tel Aviv this evening https://t.co/MH528Ph1B3
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) February 4, 2017
Around the World
• The US plans additional sanctions on Iran following its missile test last week, including targeting a list of 25 Iranian entities that are in some manner involved with the missile program, meanwhile a bi-partisan group of 22 Senators expressed their support for the measure.
• Last week after a ballistic missile test, the White House put Iran “on notice” without explaining what the phrase actually means as a practical matter. (See last Thursday’s IDNS) The AP’s Adam Schreck analyzes why the White House made the statement, and how it may actually translate into practical action in the months and years ahead.
• In a Wall Street Journal analysis piece, Yossi Klein Halevi takes an in-depth look at how Israelis see settlements. It’s more complex than you might think, and worth a read for anyone who finds the topic to be important.
• Five myths about anti-Semitism: In the Washington Post Yair Rosenberg writes a thoughtful analysis on the nature of anti-Semitism today. Of particular note is that criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic but sometimes genuine anti-Semitism is disguised as criticism of Israel in order to give it the appearance of legitimacy. One example Rosenberg provides is the claim that Israel is committing a “Palestinian genocide,” even though (according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics) the Palestinian population has actually grown significantly since 1948.