Thursday, March 18, 2021

From Ian:

'The National' obtains US official document for Palestinian ‘reset’
The US administration is looking to 'reset' relations with the Palestinians with a plan that includes $15 million in Covid-19 assistance and a rollback of several Trump administration positions that favoured Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and did not prioritise the two-state solution, an internal memo reveals.

The official document, obtained exclusively by The National on Wednesday, was raised to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on March 1, by acting assistant secretary of state for near eastern Affairs Joey Hood.

It was drafted by deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli-Palestinian affairs Hady Amr and his team.

The memo, The US Palestinian Reset and the Path Forward, is the most detailed proposal so far by the Biden team to rebalance relations with the Palestinians after four years of Donald Trump, who cut ties with Ramallah.

The US memo acknowledges new challenges in approaching the Palestinian situation.

“As we reset US relations with the Palestinians, the Palestinian body politic is at an inflection point as it moves towards its first elections in 15 years,” it says.

“At the same time, we [the US] suffer from a lack of connective tissue following the 2018 closure of the PLO office in Washington and refusal of Palestinian Authority leadership to directly engage with our embassy to Israel,” the memo says.

It mentions growing disparities between Israelis and Palestinians and outlines a “reset under way and the path ahead”.

The memo defines the US vision on the issue as one “to advance freedom, security, and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians in the immediate term which is important in its own right, but also as means to advance the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution”.

Internal Biden memo said to back 2-state solution along 1967 lines
The Biden administration will reportedly push for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, with mutually agreed upon land swaps, reinstating US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to more traditionally held positions than those of former president Donald Trump.

A memo titled “The US Palestinian Reset and the Path Forward,” which was revealed Wednesday to the Abu Dhabi-based The National, also showed that the Biden administration is planning on announcing a $15 million aid package in coronavirus-related humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians as early as this month.

Drafted by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, the memo also details plans to roll back various Trump policies that Washington believes made reaching a two-state solution more difficult, such as US legitimization of the settlement enterprise.

Amr recommends in the memo that the White House back a two-state framework “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps and agreements on security and refugees.”

While behind closed doors, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has participated in peace negotiations based on the 1967 lines, publicly the formula is not very popular in Israel, particularly among the right wing, which is expected to further expand in the Knesset after next week’s election.

The memo discusses “rolling back certain steps by the prior administration that bring into question our commitment or pose real barriers to a two-state solution, such as country of origin labeling.”

The memo was referring to a last-minute policy change announced by Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo, which requires all US exports from the settlements to be labeled as having been “made in Israel.”

Since 1995, US policy had required products made in the West Bank and Gaza to be labeled as such. That directive was republished in 2016 by the Obama administration, which warned that labeling goods as “made in Israel” could lead to fines. Prior to the Oslo Accords, however, all products manufactured in these areas were required to mention Israel in their label when exporting to the United States.

The Pompeo order went into effect in December, but manufacturers were given a 90-day grace period, until March 23, to implement the change.

“As we reset US relations with the Palestinians, the Palestinian body politic is at an inflection point as it moves towards its first elections in 15 years,” the new memo reads. “At the same time, we [the US] suffer from a lack of connective tissue following the 2018 closure of the PLO office in Washington and refusal of Palestinian Authority leadership to directly engage with our embassy to Israel.”

Seth Frantzman: New Alliances Link Gulf States to the Eastern Mediterranean
New economic and security alliances are emerging in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, tying Arab states to Greece, Cyprus and Israel, with potentially transformative effects on both regions. The relationships are based on rapidly converging interests — among them, tensions between these countries and regional powers Iran and Turkey — and undergirded by energy and security partnerships.

The new alliances represent geopolitical and economic realities that have changed a great deal since the end of the Cold War, which had for decades formed the basis of regional alignments. More recently, the overthrow of dictators from Iraq to Libya, coupled with diminishing American appetite for involvement in the Middle East, led to a power vacuum that Iran and Turkey have sought to fill.

This in turn has prompted countries in the region to band together in ways previously thought impossible — or unnecessary. The threat of Iran helped the UAE and Bahrain overcome their longstanding hostility toward Israel, leading to the Abraham Accords. Greece is not in the same neighborhood as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but the three countries share a wariness of Turkish ambitions in their respective backyards, and are seeking closer security ties. Emirati and Saudi jets have joined Greek military drills.

Aside from multinational military exercises, there have also been multilateral diplomatic gatherings, such as the Philia Forum in Athens last month, attended by Greece, Israel, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE. And then there are economic arrangements, such as the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, which brings together Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, along with Italy and France.

For the U.S. and Europe, these groupings represent new opportunities as well as new challenges. Cooperation between Israel and Arab states, for instance, may reduce the security burden on American shoulders, but their combined opposition to a nuclear accommodation with Iran will also greatly complicate President Joe Biden’s efforts to resume diplomacy with the Islamic Republic.
JINSA Podcast: Israel, America, and the United Nations
International organizations are becoming popular again under the Biden Administration. Since assuming office in January, President Biden has rejoined the WHO and has signaled interest in rejoining the UN Human Rights Council and UNESCO. When it comes to UN initiatives, what should the United States be wary of? What does the UN’s treatment of Israel signal about the organization’s priorities and approach? Is the UN Human Rights Council the best mechanism for achieving positive outcomes in the realm of human rights? What can the United States do to prevent the politicization of international organizations more broadly? Anne Herzberg, legal advisor for the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, joins host Erielle Davidson to discuss these matters and more.

ICC contacted Israel to notify of war crimes probe
Israel received a letter from International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda last weekend formally notifying the country of the opening of a full war crimes probe and giving it 30 days to respond.

Since then, various related ministers, ministries and the national security council have met and been consulting on the issue, but no decision has been taken either to respond and engage, or to shun the ICC.

Channel 13 first reported the letter late Wednesday, and The Jerusalem Post has confirmed it.

Engaging would allow Jerusalem to impact the process, as the probe is still far from issuing indictments and could still end without arrests. Ignoring the ICC would allow Israel to maintain its stance of not legitimizing the process.

A middle path of partial informal engagement could also be explored.

The Strategic Affairs Ministry on Thursday unveiled a new website dedicated to presenting Israel’s position against ICC jurisdiction over IDF conduct or settlement-related issues.
Rivlin urges France to oppose ICC’s ‘legally, morally bankrupt’ war crimes probe
President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday called on France to reject the International Criminal Court’s “legally and morally bankrupt” decision to investigate Israel for war crimes in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Rivlin made the plea via op-ed in the Le Figaro French daily, hours before his planned meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

“Friends may not always agree, but I believe we are committed to hearing each other in order to better understand each other’s perspectives, motivations and decisions,” the president wrote, explaining why he would be raising his objection over the ICC probe with Macron. The ICC investigation will also examine alleged war crimes by Palestinian terror groups.

“The decision by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for possible war crimes is a dreadful misapplication of international law. A court established to deal with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community is being used a political weapon. It is a morally and legally bankrupt decision,” Rivlin wrote.

France has yet to take a position on the ICC decision, which has been condemned by the United States and some European states.

The president insisted that Israel is “deeply committed to the theory and the practice of ensuring that war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity are never allowed to go unpunished because domestic legal systems are unwilling or unable to prosecute individuals responsible for them.”

Rivlin invited to address joint session of US Congress
President Reuven Rivlin has been in talks with US Congressional leadership about addressing a joint session of the legislature in Washington, his office said Thursday.

However, it was unclear whether the speech could be arranged before the end of Rivlin’s term on July 9 due to coronavirus restrictions limiting gatherings, the president’s office acknowledged.

Rivlin was invited by the leadership of both parties, according to the Ynet news site.

The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined a request for comment, while Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did not immediately respond.
Ahead of Colin Kahl’s confirmation, CUFI calls on Joe Manchin to oppose
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) published a full-page ad in six West Virginia newspapers this week asking state residents to urge Senator Joe Manchin to oppose the nomination of Colin Kahl to serve as undersecretary of defense for policy.

“Kahl’s hostility towards Israel is beyond unconventional,” the ad reads, in an op-ed from CUFI’s West Virginia State Director Pastor Doug Joseph. “It’s outlandish. While serving in the Obama administration, he led an effort to strip recognition of Israel’s true capital of Jerusalem from the Democratic Party’s platform.

Around the same time, Kahl argued in The Washington Post that Israel’s daring 1981 operation to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor was a failure, despite its actual real-world success, and came dangerously close to pinning Saddam’s subsequent behavior on Israel.”

A centrist Democrat, Manchin is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has yet to schedule a vote on Kahl’s confirmation. Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of CUFI, told The Jerusalem Post that the original action alert concerning the Kahl nomination focused on all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“However, in looking at the foreign policy approach of the members of the committee, it is clear to us that Senator Manchin is the most likely swing vote,” he said. “Manchin opposed the Iran nuclear accord and hails from a state where support for Israel is extremely strong. We believe that Senator Manchin’s approach to the Middle East has reflected his constituents’ values, and therefore we wanted to ensure he heard from his constituents on the Kahl nomination.”
D.C. Foreign Policy Elites Rush to Shore Up Faltering Pentagon Nomination
A group of Obama-era foreign policy elites and Washington lobbyists are organizing a letter to shore up Biden Pentagon nominee Colin Kahl, accusing pro-Israel activists in West Virginia of engaging in a "disgusting smear campaign," according to email correspondence obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The diplomat Martin Indyk—best known for working for a Qatari-funded think tank after stepping down as President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy—is organizing the letter, which has not yet been released. In an email to former foreign policy officials on Wednesday, Indyk solicited signatures in support of Kahl's nomination for undersecretary of defense for policy. Two executives at the Biden-administration-linked consulting firm WestExec Advisors—Obama officials Michele Flournoy and Dan Shapiro—were copied on the message.

Indyk argued in the email that pro-Israel activists, including the group Christians United for Israel, are engaging in a "disgusting smear campaign" against Kahl. CUFI and a group of West Virginia legislators recently called on Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) to oppose the nomination, citing Kahl's criticism of Israel and support for the Iranian nuclear deal.

"[My wife] Gahl and I are spending March in Malibu to escape the winter cold. It's been a real tonic," Indyk wrote.

"I'm writing to see if you would be willing to sign on to a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee in support of Colin Kahl's confirmation as undersecretary of defense, which [WestExec managing partner] Michele Flournoy, [WestExec principal] Dan Shapiro, and I are circulating," he continued.

"As you may know, Colin has been subjected to a disgusting smear campaign by Christians United for Israel and others, who are targeting Senator Manchin with an ad campaign in West Virginia. We intend to send the letter to every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee by the end of the week."

PMW: D for Death - D for Dalal
One of the Palestinian Authority’s greatest icons and role models is Dalal Mughrabi.

But she was not a doctor, not a lawyer, and not a sportswoman – nor anything else admirable as one might expect.

She was a terrorist who led the most lethal terror attack in Israel's history.

In what is known as the Coastal Road massacre, Dalal Mughrabi and her team of terrorists sailed from Lebanon to Israel on March 11, 1978, hijacked a bus and murdered 37 of the Israeli civilians on board, among them 12 children.

As it is PA policy to honor anyone who attacked and succeeded in killing Israelis, mass murderer Dalal Mughrabi is their perfect hero. Palestinian Media Watch has exposed that the PA has named squares, summer camps, and institutions after this murderer, and PA Chairman Abbas has even celebrated her “birthday.”

This year too, on both International Women’s Day and on the anniversary of the attack, the PA and Fatah glorified her – as role model for women, and as the model terrorist because she killed many Israelis.

In the PA, it’s simply D for Death, D for Dalal.

So much so that recently the PA established yet another Dalal Mughrabi Square. This time it was done by the Jenin municipality in cooperation with a branch of the Fatah Movement.

Jenin Mayor Fayez Al-Sa’adi emphasized the PA’s view of Dalal Mughrabi as a “daring” hero, repeating the PA ideal of watering Palestinian soil with one’s blood:
“This monument comes to immortalize the memory of the heroic Martyr who carried out a daring self-sacrificing operation (i.e., terror attack) and watered the pure land of Palestine with her blood so that its memory would remain alive in the memory of the generations.”

[, website of the paper Al-Quds, Oct. 2, 2020]

Mass murderer of children is “the symbol of the Palestinian revolution”

Mohammed Dahlan hints he may run in PA presidential election
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has failed his people over the past 15 years, deposed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan said on Wednesday. Dahlan hinted that he was planning to run in the elections for the PA presidency, saying Abbas will not be the only candidate.

“Abbas has only brought poverty, illness and stress to the Palestinian people,” Dahlan said in an interview with the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television news channel. “He is the leader of the Palestinian people and, as such, he bears responsibility for the failure. He has destroyed the dignity of the Palestinians. What are Abbas’s achievements over the past 15 years? One big zero.”

Under Abbas, Dahlan said, the West Bank and Gaza Strip were divided and Israel “reoccupied the West Bank.”

The Palestinians, Dahlan cautioned, will not achieve a Palestinian state unless they change their political system. “If we don’t change our Palestinian reality, we won’t achieve our national rights,” he said.

Dahlan, who was expelled from Fatah in 2011 and has since been living in the United Arab Emirates, said that he represents those “who refused to serve as slaves of Abbas and his regime.”

Report: US plans $15M in coronavirus aid for Palestinians
The administration of US President Joe Biden is aiming for a "reset" in the relations between Washington and the Palestinians, the UAE-based The National newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The newspaper cited a plan drafted by State Department officials that aims to restore the ties that went sour under former President Donald Trump.

According to the report, the plan includes calls for "economic, security and humanitarian" aid to the Palestinians, including through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, to which Trump stopped US contributions.

News of the US's plan came against the backdrop of the delivery of 60,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority. This is the first vaccine shipment provided by the World Health Organization.

Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman Kamal al-Shakhra said authorities would receive 38,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccines will be kept in storage until the WHO reviews recent safety concerns.

An Israeli security official confirmed the shipment, which arrived in Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport on Wednesday, and said about a third of the vaccines would be sent to Gaza later on Wednesday.

Dennis Ross: Lifting Sanctions Now Will Guarantee More Iranian Pressure
The Biden administration understandably does not want to get into an escalating conflict with the Iranians - not in Iraq or elsewhere. But it also does not want to appear to be willing to live with increasing missile and drone attacks on us and others.

Doing so - or moving to lift sanctions now - would validate the position of the Revolutionary Guard and the Qods Forces in Iran and that is a recipe for guaranteeing more Iranian pressure and less Iranian responsiveness.

Wisely, the administration has made clear that it will not make unilateral concessions to the Iranians. But it will need to employ a mix of diplomatic and coercive options that create counter-pressures and keep the onus on Iran.

This is about having Iran's leaders see that we are conditioning the environment to the reality that in the absence of diplomacy, force may ultimately have to be used to prevent Iran's march toward a nuclear bomb.

The administration should forge a common public posture with our European allies and convey the message that so long as Iran breaches the agreement, refuses to come to a 5+1 negotiating forum, and directly or through its proxy militias launches rockets against U.S. forces or personnel, any sanctions relief is impossible.

The Biden administration should consider taking a page from the Israeli playbook. Israel has launched countless air strikes against Iranian and Shia proxy targets in Syria but it rarely acknowledges them. Why not make that part of the American toolkit? The Iranians would get the message but would not be put in the position of feeling obliged to respond lest Tehran appears weak if it doesn't.

We need the Supreme Leader to understand that the IRGC and Qods Forces are playing with fire and Iran is going to get burned if it does not stop.
Senator Warns Biden Admin Against Skirting Congress on New Iran Deal
A Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is demanding the Biden administration inform Congress about its efforts to negotiate a revamped nuclear deal with Iran, including details about any plans to provide Tehran with potentially billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.) wants the Biden administration to provide guarantees that it will consult with Congress before reentering the 2015 nuclear accord, which former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. The State Department has yet to provide lawmakers with an in-depth briefing about its diplomatic overtures to Iran, generating concerns that President Joe Biden will circumvent Congress in the same way the Obama administration did as it negotiated and finalized the original deal.

Hagerty points to a recent string of Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East as evidence the "regime is testing your Administration’s resolve on defending U.S. national security interests and our allies," according to a copy of the letter sent on Wednesday to Biden. Hagerty says these attacks highlight "how important it is for the United States to maintain—and expand—maximum pressure against the terror-sponsoring Iranian regime precisely to deny it the resources that it needs to fund its regional war machine."

The letter is just the latest in a series of overtures to the Biden administration by GOP lawmakers who are hoping to convince the White House to reconsider its diplomacy with Iran. They see the administration as rushing into talks that will ultimately spark a series of U.S. concessions aimed at relaxing sanctions. Already, Iranian leaders have demanded full-scale sanctions relief as a precondition for direct talks about a new nuclear deal.

The Biden administration appears to be giving in to these demands: Recent reports indicate the U.S. waived sanctions so that South Korea could pay Iran $1 billion as part of a ransom payment after Tehran seized an oil tanker belonging to that country. The Biden administration also waived international sanctions on Iran that were applied by the Trump administration via the United Nations. These decisions are aimed at enticing Tehran back to the bargaining table.

Amid these efforts, GOP foreign policy leaders in Congress have been mostly left in the dark. U.S.-Iran Envoy Robert Malley has yet to make himself available for congressional briefings, even as he holds talks with China and other countries about rejoining the nuclear deal.

UN experts: Academic convicted of spying for Israel ‘near death’ in Iran jail
Tehran must immediately release Iranian-Swedish academic Ahmadreza Djalali, who is reportedly in critical condition after months of prolonged solitary confinement while awaiting execution, UN rights experts said Thursday.

The eight independent experts, who were appointed by the United Nations but who do not speak on its behalf, warned that the professor, arrested during a visit to Iran almost five years ago, was “near death.”

“Djalali’s situation is truly horrific,” said the group, made up of experts on the rights situation in Iran, on extrajudicial executions, on arbitrary detention and on torture.

“He has been held in prolonged solitary confinement for over 100 days with the constant risk of his imminent execution laying over his head,” they said in a statement.

“There is only one word to describe the severe physical and psychological ill-treatment of Djalali, and that is torture.”
Iran absolves its armed forces in final report on downing of Ukrainian plane
After a yearlong investigation, Iran’s civil aviation agency on Wednesday released its final report on the crash of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed 176 people last year, revealing no new details about the shootdown that has provoked outrage from affected countries and concerns from UN investigators.

Following three days of denial in January 2020 in the face of mounting evidence, Iran finally acknowledged that its forces mistakenly downed the Ukrainian jetliner with two surface-to-air missiles. In preliminary reports on the disaster last year, Iranian authorities blamed an air defense operator who they said mistook the Boeing 737-800 for an American cruise missile.

At the time, the US and Iran were teetering on the edge of war. An American drone strike had killed a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad and Iran retaliated with ballistic missiles at American bases in Iraq. Several hours after the missile strike, an air defense operator on high alert outside Tehran opened fire on the commercial plane shortly after take-off because of an error in his radar system, Iran said.

The country’s long-awaited final report, which foreign governments and victims’ families hoped would shed more light on the mysterious downing, came to the same cryptic conclusion while absolving the armed forces.

“The accident aircraft was misidentified by the air defense unit in the suburbs of Tehran and, consequently, two missiles were launched toward it,” the report said. “The operation of aircraft had not imposed any error to the air defense unit.”

The 146-page investigation includes details about the timeline of events and analysis of aircraft debris, but does not identify culprits in the shootdown, explain how the chain of command broke down, answer why authorities decided to keep civilian airspace open as regional tensions soared or respond to other key questions.

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