Christians Must Think Differently About Israel, Jews in Light of Past Atrocities

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

Christians Must Think Differently About Israel, Jews in Light of Past Atrocities: Gerald McDermott

 

Jun 22, 2017 | 10:05 AM

 The majority of Christians have been wrong about Israel for most of their history, according to a leading Anglican theologian and Israel scholar.
(Photo: Reuters) An Israeli flag flies high in Tel Aviv, December 28, 2010.

For many reasons, Christians ought to think differently about the land of Israel and the Jews as God’s covenant people, Gerald R. McDermott, Anglican chair at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, explains in a new book.

In an interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday, McDermott explained that his latest work, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently About the People and the Land, articulates why it’s important for believers in Jesus to engage Israel with the utmost humility. This is necessary not only because of the geopolitical complexities present there but especially because “the Jews have been horribly wronged by Christians over the millennia.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Gerald McDermott)Gerald McDermott, author of Israel Matter: Why Christians Must Think Differently About the People and the Land.

“Even before the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Jews were murdered over the last 1,800 years by Christians as “Christ-killers,” McDermott said, noting at the time of the Holocaust Germany was the most Christianized nation in the world.

“Jews know these things and are afraid of us,” he said.

The error in thinking that Jesus departed from Judaism and began a new religion furthers the distance between Christians and Jews and makes Jews into an “other,” he said.

Yet in the past several decades, especially in the United States, a resurgence of what is known as Christian Zionism, the view that the land of Israel and ethnic Jews remain central to God’s eternal purposes, has occurred.

McDermott did not personally subscribe to this perspective because he associated it with dispensationalism, theology that considers biblical history as divided intentionally by God into specific ages to each of which He has allotted distinctive administrative principles. This teaching was popularized in the 1800’s by Anglo-Irish preacher John Nelson Darby.

But all that began to change for him upon doing further study of the Bible and history and he found that throughout the ages a minority has believed that one day, in accordance with Scripture, a massive in gathering of Jewish people to their historic homeland would take place.

(Photo: Courtesy of Gerald McDermott)Cover of the book “Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land,” by Gerald R. McDermott.

He realized he did not have to accept a dispensationalist approach to regard the land and people of Israel as an essential component of God’s ongoing work in the world. Nor did he have to subscribe to the often wild, apocalyptic end times scenarios some Christian Zionists have espoused in the past.

In Chapter 3 of Israel Matters the author showcases “Those Who Got It Right.”

From early Church fathers like Tertullian to more recent figures like American theologian Jonathan Edwards and Swiss theologian Karl Barth, each of these men believed that a day would come when the Jews would return to their ancient homeland.

During his ministry Edwards repeatedly warned against spiritualizing biblical promises to the Jews. When the modern state of Israel was established in 1948 Barth wrote that it was a “secular parable” and that the large numbers of Jews returning to the land was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

As is expressed throughout The New Christian Zionism, a volume of Christian scholarship on Israel released last year for which McDermott was the editor, Israel Matters argues strongly against supercessionism. This is also known as “replacement theology” which holds that the Church replaced Israel as God’s chosen people.

Today, what is known as “fulfillment theology,” which some assert is merely an updated form of replacement theology, also holds that Jews do not have a God-given destiny in their ancient land. But instead of the Church replacing Israel, its proponents contend that Jesus fulfills in his life and redemptive work all the promises that God ever made to the Jews, including the promise that the land of Canaan would be their everlasting possession.

This theology considers the land insignificant and that the only Jews who are now significant to God are Messianic Jews, those who believe Jesus is the Messiah.

But several passages in the New Testament suggest both beliefs are wrong, McDermott explained.

“Paul says in Romans 11:28 that the Jews who did not accept Jesus as Messiah were ‘enemies of the Gospel’ but nevertheless ‘are beloved’ to God, and that their ‘gifts and calling of God’ to be His special people ‘are irrevocable,'” he said.

Moreover, the Apostle Paul was writing to the Romans 30 years after Jesus’ resurrection but even then was still saying that God’s covenant with ethnic Israel remains in place. This did not mean that all Jews were saved, but that they were still special to God in a particular way.

Likewise, in his Beatitude in Matthew 5:5, Jesus was quoting Psalm 37:11 word for word when he said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the [earth.]” The Hebrew word for “earth,” which is used five times in Psalm 37, in every one of these five instances in Psalm 37 refers to the land of Israel, McDermott continued. So the Beatitude is better translated, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Land.”

And in Acts 1:6, “when Jesus’ disciples asked him just before his ascension, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ Jesus did not tell them they were wrong to think there would be a future Israel that God would establish,” he said.

“Instead, He (Jesus) said that the timing of that future was not to be known then.”

(Photo: Reuters)People walk near Damascus Gate leading into Jerusalem’s Old City, 2017.

In addition to the theological objections McDermott unpacks in the book, he explores the modern political history of the region, which is often characterized by intense and bloody conflicts.

Yet unlike some Christian Zionists who appear to think that the nation of Israel can do no wrong, McDermott is not afraid to criticize the Israeli government when it’s warranted.

He acknowledges in the book where Palestinians have been mistreated at times, how the Israeli government has broken promises, and how certain policies have been unwise. He also writes that the state of Israel should do more to protect Messianic believers. Whether an unjust action is perpetrated by a Jew or an Arab, he says, Christians need to feel free to raise their voices to criticize whoever is responsible when it is clear such an injustice has occurred.

Although imperfect, the state of Israel, “an oasis of freedom and democracy in the Middle East,” is inextricably linked with the Jews, McDermott insists.

“Even if the covenanted people of Israel and the state of Israel are not one and the same, they are intertwined in a complex way,” he writes in the book.

“The state could not exist without its people, and the covenanted people could not survive or flourish without the state. The state shelters the people, and the people — though not all are religious Jews — support the state. One without the other is unthinkable and impossible.”

For Christians who care about the Palestinians and their rights, McDermott encourages them to visit Israel since tourism helps everyone there, and to support the largely-unreported incremental steps Israel is taking to improve the lot of Palestinians.

(PHOTO: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN/FILE PHOTO) The facade of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel as seen on Jan. 20, 2017.

Written in a scholarly yet accessible tone, Israel Matters is likely to be a important resource for Christians looking to bring their faith to bear on current events unfolding in the United States and in the Middle East. Earlier this month President Donald Trump signed a waiver delaying the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, skirting a key campaign promise that he might or might not revisit.

CP asked McDermott if moving the embassy would constitute a blessing to Israel, as some scholars have argued.

Such a move would “help the cause for peace, not hurt it,” he replied.

“First of all, it would be the simple recognition of reality: Jerusalem and no other city is Israel’s capital,” McDermott said.

“Second, the Palestinian leaders are thugs who would realize by this move that they can no longer dictate as they did to Obama, whose policies hurt both Jews and Arabs.”

The only hope for improvement is for [Palestinian President] Abbas to understand that he has to talk to the Israelis and moving the U.S. diplomatic outpost to the capital would signal to him that he can no longer circumvent the Israelis and try to get what he wants from the United Nations, he added.

Aside from the fulfillment of prophetic scriptures and political considerations, Christians need to think differently about the people and land of Israel because Jesus was and is Jewish, McDermott stressed. And in order to relate to Jewish friends, getting in touch with His Jewishness is essential.

“The Jews were raised up by God as representatives of humanity,” McDermott said. “So that if the Bible shows their departures from God, it is really illustrating ours.”

“Jesus prized Jewish law, said that salvation is from the Jews, predicted that one day Jerusalem will welcome Him, and foresaw that His Apostles will one day rule over the tribes of Israel,” McDermott said.

If Christians begin to think they are somehow better because they believe in Jesus as Messiah and the Jews do not, they fail to understand God’s grace, he added.

“When we realize how profoundly Jewish Jesus was and is, we will feel greater kinship with those for whom Paul said he had ‘unceasing anguish in his heart.'”

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President Trump Proves National Security Clearances Are Not A High Priority To Him

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner should “absolutely” have his security clearance suspended, Rep. Mike Quigley told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Appearing on “The Situation Room,” the Illinois Democrat said Kushner “shouldn’t have clearance at this point,” echoing a letter from House oversight committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings and citing a “whole series of activities,” including “concerns about Mr. Kushner’s activities prior to the Inauguration.”
Cummings’ letter criticized the White House for allowing fired national security adviser Michael Flynn to keep a security clearance despite concerns raised by then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates that he could be vulnerable to blackmail based on intelligence assessments that she reviewed; the letter raised “parallel concerns” about Kushner’s security clearance over previously undisclosed calls to Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak and undisclosed meetings Kushner had with Kislyak and the CEO of Vnesheconombank, a state-run Russian bank under US sanctions.
In his letter, Cummings cited an executive order requiring employees to have their security clearance preemptively suspended if they are suspected of being a national security risk.
“In general, when there are credible allegations that employees may be unfit to continue accessing classified information, security clearances are supposed to be suspended while the allegations are investigated,” Cummings wrote in the letter, sent June 21.
A spokeswoman for House oversight committee Chairman Trey Gowdy declined comment on the letter Wednesday.
The White House declined to offer comment on Wednesday about Democrats’ requests to look into Kushner’s security clearance.
“I will have to get back to you on that,” spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told reporters aboard Air Force One.
In his interview with CNN, Quigley indicated there were additional concerns about Kushner’s security clearance, referencing “a whole series of activities that I can’t get into at this point in time, but they raise concerns about his judgment and his ability to keep our nation’s secrets.” When pressed by Wolf Blitzer, Quigley said, “I can’t get into details, because some of those things were also discussed in classified settings.”
Kushner arrived in Israel earlier Wednesday, where he’s scheduled to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to negotiate a peace deal, a role Quigley also questioned.
“Look, I like that we are always moving forward on peace deals. This is exactly what our country should do,” Quigley said. “First of all, he is wholly unqualified to make those efforts. Second, to what Mr. Cummings was referencing — that’s what I was referencing — he shouldn’t have clearance at this point.”

Peace for Israel, Palestine Requires Breaking The ‘Zero-Sum’ Game

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Peace for Israel, Palestine Requires Breaking The ‘Zero-Sum’ Game

Negotiations around a settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whether within a framework of one state or two states, have historically tended towards what is commonly referred to as ‘zero sum’ game – where the gains of one party are directly proportional to the losses of the other. A one-state solution would provide stability, civil rights, equality, and recognition for Palestinians, but in light of their rising population it threatens the very existence of a “Jewish State”; similarly, the establishment of a sovereign Palestine along 1967 lines neighboring Israel would require the eviction of over 600,000 Israeli settlers currently in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, in the words of Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Manuel Hassassian, “both Palestinians and Israelis are stuck between the historically inevitable and the politically impossible”.

Yet the struggle for peace seems rooted in the false premise that “a solution” exists and that we need only decide which to choose. In reality, however, the failure to resolve the conflict to date comes about not primarily as a result of the content of the plans, but rather the need for a shift in attitudes. Throughout over 70 years of conflict, three perpetual obstacles have lain on the path to peace: trust, security, and justice. Complicating matters, the longer these remain issues, the more difficult they become to resolve.

Fostering trust is an integral key to any peace negotiations; without this all efforts are wasted energy on fruitless diplomacy; central to the trust-building exercise is the dispelling of myths, prejudices, and misinformation. Over the decades and throughout numerous Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, positions have become entrenched based upon what each group thinks about “the other”: today, many Israelis believe Palestinians do not want peace, or at a stretch the borders of 1948 Palestine; on the other side, many Palestinians believe that Israel wants all the territory from the Nile to the Euphrates. Conversely, the truth is both sides actually have similar desires: stability, peace, prosperity, and a viable deal to facilitate these.

Such misunderstandings are, naturally, politically useful for scapegoating both among an increasingly right-wing Israeli government and within the militant Gazan leadership. Moreover, they are perpetuated by the daily lives of both peoples: unlike Arab Israelis in Haifa or Jaafa, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are not permitted to mingle freely with their Israeli neighbors. Beyond entire generations that have grown up under occupation, the result is that a majority of Palestinians have never had personal contact with an Israeli outside of IDF uniform – one must question what psychological impact of such limited experience has upon a people; likewise, many Israelis have rare personal interactions with Palestinians, who are generally tarred with the same brush as not only personal threats – bombers, terrorists, knife-wielders – but also existential ones – anti-Zionists and revolutionaries. Against this backdrop, it becomes evident that there is simply no environment or opportunity for the necessary trust-building: economic, cultural, and even political.

In this respect, there are lessons that can be learnt from Northern Ireland, where a fundamental part of success was the refusal to concede to binary narratives of Catholics or Protestants. Leadership on both sides in Israel and Palestine must be willing to move closer – a Trimble for every Paisley, a De Klerk to each Mandela, a contemporary Rabin to every Arafat. Leadership on both sides are responsible for building bridges; it is only through this that communication can improve and a sense of solidarity can be built. The intellectual wherewithal to disbelieve propaganda about a group in a vacuum is a difficult task, yet it becomes easier through the lived experience of interaction with them and seeing firsthand that information being spread is erroneous. As US President Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

One of the by-products of this misinformation has been the Israeli focus on security, resulting in much despair: a security wall deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice; checkpoints that exacerbate already prohibitive employment opportunities for Palestinians; and a policy of “defensive borders” that is a thinly veiled cover for further appropriation of Palestinian land, despite its failure to end rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas. Gaza has, since Israeli exit, been used as justification that Palestinians cannot be left to their own devices and to underline the need for a continued, hard military presence. To focus on Gaza, however, belies the reality that intricately-woven security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has been a continuing success for many years. Ultimately, the Israeli government must heed the bottom line recognized by its own military: nothing will provide lasting security for Israel, Iron Dome included, more than peace.

Finally, the issue of justice – a matter that can only begin to take shape once ongoing crimes come to an end and with the recognition of historical wrongs; history, however, teaches us that it is rarely swift. Over a century passed between the beginning of the practice of the Stolen Generations in Australia and an acknowledgement of government wrongdoing by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd; following the lengthy Saville Report in the UK, former Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology for the actions of the British Forces on Bloody Sunday, over 40 years after the massacre; and, only weeks ago, France’s President Emmanuel Macron referred to French colonization of Algeria – which gained independence in 1962 – as a “crime against humanity”. The day will come, also, when a future Israeli government must apologize for wholesale crimes: forced evictions, extra-judicial killings, land grabs, severe curtailment of human rights, and economic suffocation of the Palestinian people – the reconciliation of Palestinians and Israelis depends upon it.

Incidents such as the free BBQ organised by Ichud Leumi outside Ofer military prison to taunt detained Palestinians on hunger strike highlight not only a visceral lack of humanity shown by some Israelis towards their fellow human beings but the chasm that is yet to be overcome between parties. Extremist views are held on both side in the vain hope that hammering can fix what requires a screwdriver. Such behavior ignores a core fact all-too-often neglected for its inconvenience and unpalatability to some: Israel and Palestine, for better or worse, are in a symbiotic relationship; neither state can ever achieve peace or security without the assistance, cooperation, and complicity of the other the assistance and complicity of the other.

Breaking the cycle of a ‘zero-sum’ game requires that Israel and Hamas realize that the promotion of rights for one party does not lessen those of the others – there is no finite quantity of rights or privileges that must be apportioned between the two sides. Searching for deep-rooted trust, lasting security, and meaningful justice are key to peace for all citizens, whether in one state or two. The sooner this is realized by both the general public and politicians in Israel and Palestine, the sooner they can begin the transition towards a much-needed more inclusive, constructive type of national and personal politics.

Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands

President Trump discussed how to fight terrorism and improve international relations during a speech alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on May 23 in Bethlehem. (The Washington Post)
May 23 at 9:40 AM
President Trump told Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday that he knows they are eager to reach a peace agreement with each other and that he is committed to helping them “make a deal.”In a speech at the Israel Museum as he prepared to end his four-day trip to the Middle East and depart for his next stop in Rome, Trump repeated his call for Arab countries and Israel to form a grand coalition with the United States to “drive out the terrorists and the extremists from our midst” and “defend our citizens and the people of the world.”

“This trip is focused on that goal,” he said.

Trump recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace is a key component of cooperation in the region, although he has not outlined how he hopes to achieve an agreement that has eluded many presidents before him.

Trump on Middle East peace deal: ‘We’re going to get there eventually, I hope’
Speaking in Jerusalem, May 22, President Trump lauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “commitment to pursuing the peace process.” (The Washington Post)

In some respects, his effusive praise for Israel during his two days here — which also included a Tuesday morning visit to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank — appeared to endorse Israeli claims to a united capital in Jerusalem.

Noting that Jerusalem is a “sacred city,” and that “the ties of the Jewish people to this holy land are ancient and eternal,” Trump recalled his Monday visits to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, sites sacred to Jews and Christians in East Jerusalem, part of the West Bank, and claimed by Palestinians as the capital of their envisioned state.

To sustained applause, Trump cited the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel, a place he called “a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.” He spoke of “a future where Jewish, Christian and Muslim children can grow up together in peace.”

“America’s security partnership with Israel is stronger than ever,” he said. “Under my administration, you see the difference. Big, big beautiful difference, including the Iron Dome missile defense program . . . [and] David’s Sling,” an aircraft interception system. The former was established here under the Obama administration, the latter under President George W. Bush.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump, who introduced him and praised “the leadership that you bring,” condemned Monday night’s terrorist attack in Britain, claimed by the Islamic State.

But in describing the authors of global terrorism, Trump focused nearly all his attention on Iran and the anti-Israel organizations it supports, Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran’s leaders, he said, “routinely call for Israel’s destruction. Not with Donald J. Trump,” he said. “Believe me.”

Key moments from Trump’s news conference with Netanyahu
Here is President Trump’s May 22 joint news conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in less than two minutes. (The Washington Post)

“The United States is firmly committed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and halting their support of terrorism and militias,” Trump said to sustained applause as Netanyahu stood and pumped his fist.

The audience included U.S. and Israeli officials, as well as prominent citizens from both. Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who donated millions of dollars to support Trump’s campaign and then his inauguration, were seated just behind the stage, near first lady Melania Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Before his speech, Trump and his delegation visited the World Holocaust Remembrance Center at Yad Vashem, where he said the Jewish people had built the state of Israel out of the “depths of suffering” as “a testament to [their] unbreakable spirit.”

Earlier, he had traveled to Bethlehem for a private meeting with Abbas to discuss the peace process and his vision for anti-terrorism cooperation.

In joint remarks afterward, Abbas said he welcomed Trump’s efforts, which had “given all the nations across the region so much hope and optimism of the possibility of making a dream come true.”

“Our commitment is to cooperate with you in order to make peace and forge a historic peace deal with the Israelis,” Abbas added.

But while Trump spoke in generalities about the goal, Abbas laid out the specifics of Palestinian demands — which have been supported by the Arabs and rejected by Israel through decades of unsuccessful peace negotiations shepherded by American presidents.

“We reassert to you our positions of a two-state solution along the borders of 1967, a state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, living alongside of Israel,” he said, referring to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank following a war against three Arab armies.

During the presidential campaign, Trump pledged to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but the plan has been shelved, at least temporarily.

Abbas said he had also drawn Trump’s attention to more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel who have been on a hunger strike for over a month, led by Marwan Barghouti, whom supporters call the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Abbas delivered to Trump a letter from the families of the strikers, who have demanded more family visits, access to telephones, medical care, the freedom to study and cessation of isolation as a punishment.

Israel and some U.S. lawmakers have objected to American aid to the Palestinians, claiming the money is used to make payments to the families of prisoners, who are considered “freedom fighters” among many Palestinians. Trump did not mention the aid or the payments in his public remarks.

Abbas also spoke of Palestinian insistence that all “final status issues” be resolved “based on international law” and United Nations resolutions, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative first offered more than a decade ago. It promised Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state.

Escorted by Israeli police and helicopters, Trump and his delegation sped down Hebron Road and found themselves, just minutes from their Jerusalem hotel, at the gates of Bethlehem in the West Bank.

The closeness of Bethlehem — the physical proximity between Israel and the Palestinian territory — surprised most first-time visitors in the entourage.

Trump and the convoy passed through the 26-foot-tall concrete wall with watch towers that is Israel’s barrier and past “Checkpoint 300,” where thousands of Palestinian workers cross into Israel each morning to reach their jobs on construction sites.

Trump has cited the Israeli barrier as an example of the kind of wall he wants to build between the United States and Mexico, but many Palestinians view it as a symbol of oppression.

Bethlehem is lively and crowded, home to Palestinian Muslims and Christians and the Church of the Nativity, the Byzantine-era sacred site built over the grotto where the faithful believe Jesus was born.

The city is also surrounded by hilltop Jewish settlements on three sides, built in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, communities that most of the world considers illegal, though Israel disputes this.

Later, Trump told his museum audience that after his meeting with Abbas, “I can tell you the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace … I know you’ve heard it before. I’m telling you, they are ready to reach for peace.

“My good friend Benjamin [Netanyahu], he wants peace.” Both sides, he said, “will face tough decisions. But with determination and compromise … Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.”

There was no applause from the audience.

Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

Is President Trump Bluffing Again? Or, Does He Actually Know Something?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

If Trump has a Strategy on Israeli-Palestinian Peace, it’s Remaining a Secret

If President Trump has a real strategy to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it’s such a tightly held secret that even the parties involved don’t seem to know what it is. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House this week, that mystery will be on full display.

“I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said last week. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.”

Setting aside the patent absurdity of that statement, what’s clear is that the White House is willing to devote time and attention to new Middle East negotiations and the president wants to be personally involved.

The problem is there’s a glaring gap between Trump’s high-flying rhetoric and his still-unexplained strategy. As the Abbas visit approaches, there’s no clarity in sight.

Last week, a high-level Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat traveled to Washington to prepare for the visit. The group met with Trump’s envoy on Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, as well as with White House and State Department officials.

Both sides are keeping expectations for the Trump-Abbas meeting low. Palestinian officials tell me the Trump team doesn’t seem to know exactly what Trump wants to discuss or propose. White House staff declined to say anything at all about their goals for the meeting. Some experts think that’s because there’s no depth to Trump’s approach.

“How you deal with Abbas is directly related to a broader strategy, which unless they haven’t announced it, they simply don’t have,” said former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller. “It’s hard to see that this is going to turn out to be much more than a stage visit.”

In truth, there really isn’t much Trump and Abbas can agree to. There’s little hope that Abbas will give Trump what the US side wants, namely a promise to address the issue of incitement in the Palestinian territories or a pledge to curb the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s policy of paying families of terrorists who have attacked Israelis and Americans.

Likewise, there’s no prospect that Trump will deliver what Abbas wants — a commitment to press the Israelis into a freeze of settlement-building that would meet Palestinian standards. The United States has secured an informal agreement with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to place some limits on building new settlements, a version of the “build up, not out” framework from the George W. Bush administration. But that falls short of what Abbas says is needed before negotiations can begin.

The meeting could be significant by itself, if Trump and Abbas can establish a personal rapport to build on in the future. But therein also lies a risk.

“The president has never met Abbas and that makes it an important meeting,” said former White House and State Department official Elliott Abrams. “But if he forms the opinion that Abbas is not strong enough to do a deal and then implement it, that will have a real impact on American policy.”

Sure to be present at the meeting is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is overseeing Greenblatt’s work. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, will reportedly join Donald Trump for a trip to Israel in late May.

Administration officials sometimes talk about an “outside-in” approach whereby a framework for peace negotiations would be arranged with Arab states and then folded into the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. Details of that plan are hazy, and the Trump team has yet to explain how it plans to incentivize Arab states to buy in.

Martin Indyk, who served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy on this issue, said Trump’s approach of trying to find avenues to pursue is positive but cannot overcome the inability of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make the political compromises necessary for real progress.

“Based on experience, there’s one principle that I operate on. By American willpower alone, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved,” he said.

There are things the Trump team can do constructively, including bolstering Abbas by promoting economic development in the West Bank, Indyk said. Making small progress on the margins could improve the chances for peace down the line.

But by going for headlines, not trend lines, Trump is raising expectations and putting his administration’s already-thin credibility at risk. There can be dangerous consequences in the Middle East when high-stakes diplomacy fails. The new administration would be better off recognizing that peace is not in the offing.

The Washington Post

Opinion: The Miracle of Occupation Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘LEFT WING’ ISRAELI NEWS PAPER ‘HAARETZ’)

Opinion The Miracle of Occupation Nation

It’s easier to celebrate Independence Day when you blot out millions of disenfranchised people living right next door

Chemi Shalev May 03, 2017
Israeli children watch fireworks in the sky over Mount Herzl at the end of Israel’s Memorial Day and at the start of Israel’s 69th Independence Day celebrations, in Jerusalem late on May 1 2017. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP
Editorial This is how Israel inflates its Jewish majority
Opinion How an Israeli Arab marks Independence Day
Opinion Why I won’t fly the Israeli flag on Independence Day
In its editorial on Sunday, Haaretz railed against the annual population report issued by the Central Bureau of Statistics in honor of Independence Day. The editorial states that the CBS counts Jews who live in the West Bank as though they “reside in Israel,” even though they don’t, technically. By listing Israeli citizens who live in the West Bank but omitting the 2 to 3 million Palestinian non-citizens who reside there, the chief statistician is “erasing the Palestinians” and misleading the country about the size of the Jewish majority, the editorial says.
I can imagine Israeli readers of the article scratching their heads and trying to make heads or tails of it. What are these people at Haaretz on about? Israelis have been counting Jews and discounting Palestinians in the West Bank since time immemorial. We don’t need the chief statistician to “erase” Palestinians for us, because we erased them from our minds a long time ago, along with the military occupation under which they live. In Israel 2017, on the eve of the 69th Independence Day, a full five decades after the territories were captured, it’s become second nature.
And while older Israelis still have to make an effort to believe the occupation doesn’t exist, the illusion comes altogether naturally for younger Israelis. The Forward reported this week on a poll published in Fathom, the research journal of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, which showed that younger Israelis are increasingly unaware that the West Bank and the Jewish settlements aren’t actually part of Israel proper. Only 40 percent of those aged 18 to 29 knew that Israel had not declared sovereignty in the West Bank. Only 32 percent knew that the city of Ariel was not situated inside sovereign Israeli territory. One has to be over 50, it seems, and preferably over 60, to know even the most basic facts about the geography of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After that, one can start to deny them.
But it’s not enough to be ignorant about the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. That’s one part of the equation. The other is to not hear anything about the Palestinians either.  The only news reports Israelis are likely to be exposed to concerning the millions of Palestinians living under their army’s military control are those linked to terrorist activities, real or suspected. Scour as many Israeli newspapers as you want – besides Haaretz – and monitor television newscasts 24/7, you won’t pick up a word about economic hardships, nightly military raids, the absolute dependence on the Civil Administration, the need for a permit for everything under the sun, the roadblocks, the humiliation, the frustration, the feeling of impotence or any of the other thousand and one indignities that go along with living under occupation. It’s going on right under their noses, but none of these things are ever brought to the attention of most Israelis. And if they are, they go in one ear and come out the other.
Even the word occupation – in Hebrew “kibush,” which also means conquest – is rarely mentioned outside of Haaretz and unabashedly left wing circles. It is politically toxic, because it implies that Israel’s presence in the territories is alien, foreign, even temporary. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once endorsed the establishment of two states, his coalition partners view the territories of Judea and Samaria, otherwise known as the West Bank, as a divine birthright and an integral part of Israel, other than in the most tactically expedient terms. Anyone who utters the word “occupation” is automatically branded as suspect. NGOs such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence that try to point out the injustices that are the inevitable byproduct of any military occupation are marked and targeted as traitors.

Israeli border policemen detain a Palestinian protester during clashes at a rally in support of prisoners on hunger strike, Bethlehem, West Bank, April 27, 2017. AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

This willful blindness is convenient for everyone – and by everyone, I mean most Jewish Israelis. It absolves us of the need to reckon with 50 years of disenfranchisement. It allows those of us who might otherwise be bothered to sleep well at night. And it allows us to celebrate Independence Day as if we were as innocent and just as the righteous few against the malevolent many – just like we were in 1948, 1967 and 1973, and at Entebbe, in Lebanon and in Gaza. Even if we weren’t.
Denial of the occupation is a godsend for the right wing. It allows firebrands and rabble-rousers to whip up hostility toward Israelis who, if there is no occupation, are making a big deal about nothing, blaming Israel for crimes it could not have committed and spreading blood libels about innocent Jews, like the worst anti-Semites. It allows Netanyahu to constantly stir resentment against a hostile if not anti-Semitic world, which singles out Israel unfairly, it is alleged.
All this, despite the fact that the 50-year occupation of the West Bank and control over the Palestinians are, in the real world, quite unique. No other Western democracy holds millions of foreigners under military rule, no other enlightened nation keeps another people permanently disenfranchised, no other country seems to think that this situation can go on forever, because the Palestinians can’t be trusted or must be punished or are incapable of being independent.
Because if there is no occupation, then what in God’s name does the world want from us? If there is no occupation, then the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement is definitely anti-Semitic. If there is no occupation, The New York Times is peddling fake news and Haaretz is an agent of Hamas. If there is no occupation, Europe has learned nothing since the Holocaust. If there is no occupation, any Palestinian resistance – from terror attacks, stabbings and throwing stones to peaceful demonstrations, calls for boycotts and op-eds in Western newspapers – are all unjustified and worthy of punishment. If there is no occupation, there is no reason for German foreign ministers to meet with Breaking the Silence, nor for the United Nations to obsessively deal with Israel. This is exactly the way the Israeli government and most of the public regard these phenomena. They have repressed awareness of the occupation for so long, they cant remember its existence anymore.
There are many other benefits to erasing the occupation. If there is no occupation, one doesn’t have to deal with its lingering effects on Israeli psychology or behavior. If there is no occupation, one can’t claim that it is eroding democracy, promoting brutishness, fueling intolerance or nurturing racism. If there is no occupation, then all of the illnesses that are plaguing Israeli society are not the outcome of 50 years of imposing military rule over another people, but forces of nature, which the government – of course – can do nothing to stop.
There are many people, groups and organizations that contribute to the erasure of the occupation. We have many willing accomplices in maintaining the no-occupation facade. Besides the politicians, the settlers, the religious establishment, the media and the civil service, even the leaders of the opposition – who are afraid to say “kibush” lest they be castigated as wishy-washy leftists – much of the U.S. and most of the American Jewish establishment are in on the act. At AIPAC conferences, 99 percent of the deliberations are about Israel’s enemies, including the Palestinians-as-terrorists, and only 1 percent are about the occupation and Palestinians-as-occupied – and that’s only on good years. The Republican Party never mentions the occupation, nor does our new superhero, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who may not be aware that there are millions of people who have been deprived of their rights for decades. At least, she never seems to mention them.
When you think about it, it’s nothing less than a miracle, even if it is a malignant one. We are the perfect Occupation Nation precisely because we don’t even notice it exists. It’s an occupation without all the nasty side effects, a medical marvel that ranks right up there with making the desert bloom, beating five Arab armies in the Six Day War, ingathering exiles from Russia and Ethiopia and, the most recent of our marvels, Start Up Nation. Even though Jerusalem is less than 10 miles from Ramallah and Tel Aviv is only 30 miles from Nablus, the Palestinian cities might as well be on the North Pole. Israelis have no choice but to notice the wall that separates them from the other side, but they have no idea and show no interest in finding out what’s going on there. The Palestinians are like the residents of the science fictional town of Chester Hill, who are living under the dome. Unlike the TV program, however, no one is trying to break in from the other side to set them free.
This miracle of Occupation Nation is made possible, of course, by virtue of some of the other miracles that Israel is associated with. Its stellar army, which devotes so much time and energy to keeping Israelis safe and Palestinians subdued; its unparalleled security services, which manage the population from inside and out in order to prevent it from getting too restive; and of course, our technological whiz kids, who provide the surveillance and intelligence abilities to locate dangerous elements and neutralize them before they do harm. The Israeli army’s requirements seed Start Up Nation, and Start Up Nation returns the favor by enabling the See-No-Occupation Nation.
The relative quiet in the West Bank, which is occasionally marred by violence that is quickly contained, theoretically gives a rational Israeli government an opportunity to try and achieve peace. It’s easier to make concessions and reach an agreement when you can convince your own people that the other side is also seeking a diplomatic solution, and it is much harder to do so when violence makes nationalist feelings run wild. But it’s a vicious circle, because when there is no violence, there is no impetus for the government to do anything, especially when said government, like the current one, prefers to keep things just as they are.
No one wants to encourage violence, of course, but it is a historical fact that the first intifada paved the way to the Oslo Accords and the second intifada led to the disengagement from Gaza. Years of relative quiet, in which Israelis were happy to erase the occupation from their consciousness, have never led to anything except, eventually and inevitably, heartache and bloodshed.

Chemi Shalev
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.786679

Allowances for families of Palestinians killed by Israel are intact, says official

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PALESTINIAN NEWS AGENCY ‘WAFA’)

Allowances for families of Palestinians killed by Israel are intact, says official
RAMALLAH, May 2, 2017 (WAFA) – Allowances for families of Palestinians killed by Israel will not be touched and they will be dispersed on Thursday, a Palestinian official said on Tuesday.

The official, Mohammad Sbeihat, secretary general of the National Coalition for Families of Martyrs, was dispelling reports that President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered a halt to these allowances.

“I checked with all official parties related to his issue and they all confirmed that these are just rumors and that the allowances will be distributed on time on Thursday morning,” he told WAFA.

The reason for these rumors is to create confusion and to hurt the Palestinian Authority, he said, and “to shift attention away from efforts by President Abbas in Washington to achieve the dream of independence and statehood.”

Abbas is expected to hold talks on Wednesday in Washington with US President Donald Trump on revival of the moribund Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been using the allowance issue to discredit Abbas before his US visit by claiming that he pays from money provided as foreign aid for families of Palestinians involved in attacking and killing Israelis.

Reports said three  US Republican senators wrote Trump on Tuesday asking him to pressure Abbas to stop these allowances, and one of them has proposed legislation to stop all US funding for the Palestinian Authority if it does not halt them.

M.K.

Unprecedented Verbal Attack between Palestinian Authority, Hamas

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND REUTERS)

Middle East

Unprecedented Verbal Attack between Palestinian Authority, Hamas

Palestine

Ramallah, Gaza – An unprecedented verbal attack has broken out between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on the eve of a planned meeting between the two sides in Gaza in order to put an end to the Palestinian division.

Hamas Movement said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is leading a fourth aggression on Gaza on behalf of Israeli occupation authorities with his latest decisions on Gaza salary cuts.

Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement, on Saturday, that Abbas is responsible for Gaza siege and isolation as well as the power and water crises other than the lack of health services.

Barhoum also held Abbas responsible for denying workers of their basic rights and suspending allocations of martyrs, the wounded and other needy categories.

This language is different from that spoken by Hamas in the past few days as they welcomed the delegation from the central committee of Fatah movement that is supposed to arrive to Gaza any time before the end of April to hold talks with Hamas movement and other factions.

Notably, Fatah delegation carries with it a specific initiative from Abbas, which calls for dissolving Hamas’s committee it has established earlier to manage Gaza and then carrying out public elections, otherwise the alternative would be to enact more difficult measures against Gaza.

Hamas escalated its speech against President Abbas following the latter’s threats to take unprecedented measures in case Hamas refused the options that will be suggested by the central delegation.

The Palestinian authority government started last month to cut salaries of Gaza employees by 30 to 50%, which sparked a wave of anger among the Fatah leadership in Gaza and their staff before the president threatened to take unspecified further steps.

Abbas warned that he will take “unprecedented steps” to end the political division between his West Bank-based autonomy government and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Abbas told Palestinian diplomats in Bahrain during conference of the ambassadors of Palestine to Arab and Muslim countries: “These days, we are in a dangerous and tough situation that requires decisive steps, and we are to take these decisive steps.”

“Therefore, we are going to take unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division.”

Gaza’s Energy Authority went on strike on Friday in protest of the unjust measures taken against Palestinians in the besieged strip.

During the protests, several participants carried candles in a message to Abbas and his government that Gaza would never yield to their extortions and threats.

For his part, Mushir al-Masri, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told demonstrators: “We are not blind to the enemy’s use of tricks including tightening the siege using its cheap tools: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Tightening the siege will blow up in the occupation’s face.”

US Releases $221 Million Fund To Palestine

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Middle East

US Releases $221 Million Fund to Palestine

USAID

Ramallah – US has announced the release of the $221 million for Palestinians, which President Donald Trump had previously frozen and put under review after former US President Obama had ordered at the “last minute” of his presidency.

US State Department had confirmed that the money will be used for services in the West Bank and will not go directly to the authorities’ treasury.

A Palestinian official told Asharq Al-Awsat that most of this money had been allocated to foreign organizations working within the Palestinian territories.

Speaking during a press briefing on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that to his understanding the money had been released, but also said that the issue was still under review.

“220.3 million that was released was for West Bank programs such as water, infrastructure, education, renewable energy, civil society, municipal governance, and the rule of law, as well as Gaza recovery. And a smaller amount was to go directly to Israeli creditors of the Palestinian Authority as well as East Jerusalem hospitals. None of the funding was to go directly to the Palestinian Authority,” explained Toner.

The official stated that these funds were never assigned to the authority and were not a donation from former President Obama.

“We don’t know why Trump decided to freeze them, and then released them,” said the official.

He added that the majority of these funds will be given to international organizations in Palestine. “Most of the money will be given to United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for projects within the Palestinian authorities,” according to the official.

The funds included $180 million from USAID, $25 million to support Palestinian hospitals and $45 million to pay for fuel purchased from Israel.

He then explained that the funds were supposed to be given before the end of 2016, but they were delayed until Obama ordered the transfer, few hours before leaving the White House.

On January 20, and just few hours before Trump’s inauguration, Obama informed the congress that he will send the money. The money was frozen after the Congress’ recommendation as a punishment for the authorities’ attempts to join UN organizations and for instigation.

Though it is not legally binding, the White House abode by the Congress’ decision. Hours before Trump’s arrival, former US secretary of state John Kerry informed the Congress of the transfer.

Trump’s administration then announced it had frozen the grant in order to make adjustments to ensure it complies with the new administration’s priorities.

The relations between Trump’s administration and the Palestinian authority are not exactly strong, despite the few meetings made. Major conflict rose when Palestine stated it won’t accept any solution other than the two-state solution, while Trump declared it is not the only solution available.

Palestinians are afraid Trump will transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, warning that this will be an admission that Quds is Israel’s capital, thus ending any US role in the peace process.

Yet, Palestinians are seeking better relations with the US. Chief of Palestinian Intelligence Majid Faraj met with US security officials.

Then, US Director of CIA Mike Pompeo met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. But, till now, no contact has been established at the level of the White House or the State Department.

Fatah Deputy Chief: We Accept A One-State Solution—Where Israel Does Not Exist

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ASHARQ AL-AWSAT SAUDI NEWSPAPER)

Interviews

Fatah Deputy Chief: We Accept a One-State Solution

Ramallah – Since I met him a few months ago, nothing has changed in Mahmoud el-Aloul’s entourage even though he has been elected the deputy party chief of Fatah, which means he could become leader of the movement in case of any surprises, and consequently president of Palestinian Authority.

On our way to his office for an interview, we were not questioned once and we were received by his office manager who delayed our interview several times due to unorganized appointments. Many members of Fatah believe this is a “creative chaos”.

Before the interview, I asked Aloul about his few security guards. His answer was that he didn’t like the fuss they create and wished he could carry out his duties without any assistants.

The first question was about US President Donald Trump and his numerous statements about Palestine and Israel.

Aloul acknowledged that it’s the question asked by everyone. No one can understand Trump’s policy, which he said is “mysterious and confusing.”

“As soon as he got into office, he created problems with the US and international community including Europe, China, and Japan. His policies are completely different from all his predecessors, so we are faced by a mysterious case. We have to wait and we are doing our best,” Aloul said.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that Fatah is trying to contact the Trump administration and has sent direct messages and via Arab leaders.

He said Fatah advised Trump not to rush into any decision concerning the region. But, regardless of anything, Abbas’ deputy stressed that Fatah holds onto the people’s rights and will defend them.

When asked if the movement received any response to its demands, Aloul said a number of Fatah figures had met with senior officials at the US administration and confirmed that discussions touched on both political and security matters.

Concerning what Trump had stated about moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Aloul said there might be some changes in the president’s stance, but, like the rest of the world, nothing can be predicted.

Trump retracted from the two-state solution, which Aloul is not entirely against given that it protects Palestinians’ rights and grants them freedom, independence and sovereignty.

Whereas, he added, a one state democratic solution has been proposed by Palestinians.

Concerning Trump, Aloul said that negotiations are an inevitable part of any war or conflict in the world and the Palestinian conflict with Israel has been ongoing for years.

The VP said that resistance is legitimate, as Fatah has said in its political declaration that resistance is a right. But, Aloul, didn’t deny that each phase has its own requirements and the current stage requires public resistance.

Such resistance is necessary as long as there are crimes and there is occupation, he said, adding that it should be a way of life for all Palestinians.

When asked about his position of Fatah deputy chief, Aloul said the position has certain authorities in line with the movement’s bylaws. He also mentioned that this post is up to review a year after it was created.

He said his main goal is to move forward with the movement and reconcile with the Palestinian people in order to create a state of unity within the movement itself and between the movement and the society.

He added that choosing him for this position put an end to a number of foreign interventions that had been going on for a long time.

Certain observers expected Marwan al-Barghouti to be chosen for the position of Abbas’ deputy. Aloul expressed his pride in everything Barghouti has done and confirmed that Fatah will continue battling for his freedom. He did however explain that not choosing Barghouti for the post was due to the fact that he wouldn’t be able to perform any executive duties from his prison cell.

He criticized the people trying to create strife out of this issue.

When asked about Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) elections, he said a committee is preparing for the polls but negotiations are ongoing on where they should take place.

Concerning the elections, Aloul explained that the election of a PLO deputy chief is under discussion. However, Hamas announced that the head of council can be the head of authority, to which Aloul said that Hamas has to determine first if it wants to be part of the Palestinian Authority or not.

Aloul said Fatah is a national liberation movement that hasn’t achieved its goals and will remain active until it does.

He also expressed his lack of interest in what Israelis think about his statements.

Finally, the Fatah deputy leader ruled out an Arab Spring in Palestine, saying the people are not against the government, they are all against one enemy: the occupation.

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