APN's Lara Friedman in the Forward: Did Hamas Get Bibi to Freeze Settlements?

Settlements haven’t been in the news of late — and not simply because war pushed them off the media’s radar. They haven’t been in the news because since the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli yeshiva students back in June, there hasn’t been much settlement news to report.

True, already-approved settlement construction continued unabated (and there’s plenty of it). And settlers established several new illegal outposts. And tenders were awarded for new construction in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. So clearly we’re not in the midst of a full-fledged settlement freeze. However, with respect to both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there is undoubtedly a semi-freeze: no major new settlement plans promoted through planning committees, very few new approvals granted and then for only a tiny number of units, and no new tenders issued.

This is nothing like the 10-month “moratorium” Netanyahu grudgingly negotiated with then-U.S. envoy George Mitchell, during which all sorts of new settlement planning and approvals continued apace, and previously-approved construction went ahead without restraint. And it’s nothing like the settlement “restraint” that Netanyahu disingenuously promised Secretary of State John Kerry in the context of the last U.S.-backed peace effort, which translated to a huge spike in settlement approvals and announcements.

To be clear, a lull in new settlement approvals and announcements under Netanyahu isn’t unprecedented. However, coming on the heels of the collapse of even the pretense of peace talks and Israel’s condemnation of Abbas for forming a reconciliation government approved by Hamas, one would have expected Netanyahu to open the floodgates. Instead, he adopted a policy that, if adopted months earlier, could have given peace talks a chance to survive and even succeed. Why? The most likely explanation is that Netanyahu calculated that at a time when he wanted the world to see the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the most black-and-white terms possible — a peace-seeking democratic nation fighting an irredeemably evil terrorist enemy — he was better off keeping settlements out of the news. And so he did.

It has long been known that Netanyahu has the ability to clamp down on settlement promotions and approvals; what he has consistently lacked is the political will to do so. This summer’s semi-freeze underscores the truth in this observation, as well as the fact that most Israelis remain steadfastly indifferent to the settlement enterprise.

That is the good news. The bad news, as Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann suggested in his recent analysis (regarding the awarding of tenders for new units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo), is that there is a strong possibility that Netanyahu has promised settler advocates in his Cabinet that once the war is over he will re-open the settlement floodgates. The equally bad news is that, with a battle now raging over who “won” the war, Netanyahu is on the defensive domestically, attacked by his political opponents for failing to crush Hamas (something that was impossible), for failing to re-occupy Gaza (a nightmare scenario for Israel), and for failing to rid Israel of the annoying Gaza problem (something that can’t happen without a peace agreement).

In this context, Netanyahu will undoubtedly be looking for ways to placate his critics and pander to his right-wing base. And when placating and pandering come up on Netanyahu’s agenda, settlement announcements are never far behind.

This is cause for serious concern, and not just because settlements and their expansion are anathema to any negotiated two-state solution. Something even bigger is at stake today. As Seidemann — whose prescience is as legendary as it is often depressing — aptly noted (in analysis that applies equally to the West Bank):

The impact of renewed settlement activities will be even more devastating than in the past. We now know that Hamas has succeeded in getting Netanyahu to freeze Jerusalem settlement expansion — something Netanyahu refused to do for Abbas or for the sake of negotiation. If East Jerusalem settlement construction starts up again, Hamas will be able to say, with reason, ‘we were able to get a settlement freeze in Jerusalem through armed resistance, something Abbas was unable to get through negotiations.’

Make no mistake: If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, it will be a slap in the face to Abbas, a Palestinian leader who still rejects violence and endorses a negotiated agreement, and a middle finger to the United States, Israel’s best friend and chief benefactor. And if he does so, he will take Israel further down the path toward international pariah status, fueling BDS and anti-Israel activism and further guaranteeing Palestinian recourse to international legal forums.

Perhaps worst of all, at least from the viewpoint of Israelis who have just endured almost two months of rocket attacks, if Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas — and groups even more extreme than Hamas — that the only language Israel understands is violence.

This article first appeared in The Forward on August 28, 2014.

APN's Lara Friedman in The Forward: A Blood Libel Against All Palestinians

The family of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir / Haaretz

On July 1, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu eulogized the three Israeli yeshiva students murdered in the West Bank. “A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” he said. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life…”

When 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and murdered in East Jerusalem a few days later, Netanyahu’s words — and words like them — framed the story. Indeed, an unbiased consumer of media reports about Abu Khdeir’s killing would likely conclude that while the perpetrators turned out to be Jewish Israelis, they might just as likely, or more likely, have been Palestinians.

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"The Bloody Shrapnel" -- new article by Peace Now's Yariv Oppenheimer

The following article by Peace Now's Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer, headlined The Bloody Shrapnel, was published in today's edition of the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth:

We had good reason to keep our fingers crossed during the negotiations in hope of a breakthrough; we had good reason to pull our hair out when the minister of housing kept issuing tenders for settlement construction; we had good reason to be angry when we saw the footage of the unjustified shooting in Bituniya; we had good reason to become angrier when the government ignored the Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike. It was obvious that the despair, the hate, the hostility and the anger on the Palestinian side would find their way out.

We knew that time is not on our side, and that this was a matter of crucial decisions and human lives.  Seven years of quiet, in which we could have improved our relations with the Palestinians and achieved a peace agreement, had been wasted.

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Setting the Record Straight: U.S. Law & the new PA government

There’s a lot of talk these days – from pundits, lobbyists, members of Congress, and others – to the effect that according to U.S. law, the Obama Administration must cut off all aid to the Palestinian Authority now that a new government is in power, a government that was produced out of a PLO-Hamas reconciliation agreement.

Regrettably, most of this talk appears to be informed more by anger, opinion, or wishful thinking than a careful analysis of the actual laws in question.   And as always, while every person is entitled to his or her own opinion, there is only one set of facts.  So now it's time to set the record straight.

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APN's Ori Nir in Haaretz: American Jews are running out of patience with Israel

Netanyahu and Kerry in JerusalemWhile Israeli politicians flip the finger at the world to score points with right-wing voters at home, they are alienating Israel’s most important, loyal allies: Progressive U.S. Jews.

Lately, American friends are asking me whether Israeli leaders are thinking straight, whether they realize how unreasonable their statements sound here in Washington, and how odd some of their policies seem.

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ADL's Foxman pens strong condemnation of "Price Tag"

Price_Tag_withCaption350Following the recent increase in “Price Tag” hate-crimes in Israel, including the desecration of Christian and Muslim houses of worship, we called on American friends of Israel to join APN in urging the Israeli authorities to seriously confront this ugly phenomenon.

On Sunday, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman published a powerful article in Israel’s Haaretz, headlined “Israel cannot wait any longer to crush price tag attacks.”

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Peace Now's Hagit Ofran is One of Haaretz's 66 Israeli Influential Women

As Israel marks 66 years of independence Ha'aretz daily compiled a list of "66 Israeli women you should know". Those women are "breaking barriers, defying stereotypes and wielding influence to great effect in the corridors of power and behind the scenes. Each and every one of these outstanding achievers, we believe, is a woman worth watching."

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Peace Process Hanging in the Balance

Secretary of State John Kerry cut short a tour to Europe Monday to rush to Israel and the West Bank to salvage the US-brokered peace process from collapse.

The reason for the current crisis, the most severe since the beginning the so-called Kerry initiative eight months ago, is the Israeli government’s balking at the release of Palestinian security prisoners, convicted terrorists who Israel has committed to releasing as a gesture to the Palestinians.

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APN's Lara Friedman in Haaretz: What Israeli Palestinian mutual recognition really means.

Unlike Israel's unilateral insistence on the 'Jewish state', Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to find a recognition formula that reconciles two opposing national narratives.

By now everyone has realized that there’s a new issue on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations agenda that’s not going away: The demand that the Palestinians not only recognize Israel - something they have done repeatedly, starting in 1993 - but that they recognize Israel as "a Jewish state," or some similar wording. No such “recognition-plus” demand was made of Egypt or Jordan, nor was it mentioned in the Oslo agreement or subsequent Israeli-Palestinian documents. It made a brief appearance in the Annapolis talks of 2007, but only as a marginal issue. Only In 2009 did it truly come into play, courtesy of Benjamin Netanyahu.

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APN's Ori Nir in Haaretz: Two-staters, unite behind Kerry

kerry_briefing_2014-320x265You don’t have to love everything that the U.S. Secretary of State will present in his 'framework’ paper - but there is too much at stake not to support a chance for peace.

There’s a kind of hush in the peace camp as Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to issue the “framework” for continued Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. And unlike Karen Carpenter's saccharine song, this hush is not intended to make room for the sound of lovers in love. It’s a hush of inhibition, the silence of the skeptics who have known too many past disappointments.

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