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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


August 24, 2018

Trump says Israel will have a prime minister named Mohammed if there is a one-state solution

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israelis eventually will have a prime minister named Mohammed if there is a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Donald Trump reportedly told King Abdullah of Jordan.

According to Axios, Abdullah informed French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian of Trump’s remarks during a meeting in Amman earlier this month, recalling how he told his American counterpart that “many young Palestinians don’t want the two-state solution anymore, but would rather live together with the Israelis in one state with equal rights for all.”

Such an outcome, the king said, would mean that Israel would “lose its Jewish character.”

Abdullah described Trump as replying, somewhat sarcastically, that his observation made sense and that in such a case, “the prime minister of Israel in a few years will be called Mohammed.”

Support for a two-state solution among Israelis and Palestinians recently dropped to a historic low. According to a new poll conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, only 43 percent of both Israeli Jews and Palestinians back such a negotiated end to the conflict, a decline of 9 and 8 points since 2016, respectively.

In his public statements Trump has remained somewhat agnostic regarding the outlines of a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. During a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February 2017, the president expressed ambivalence about the form that a final settlement would take, saying that he was “looking at two-state, and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

“I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said.

Subsequently asked whether he had backed away from the two-state concept, Trump said, “No, I like the two-state solution.” But, he added, “I ultimately like what the both parties like.”

This position sharply diverged with that of previous U.S. presidents, who said two states is the only viable solution for resolving the conflict.

The Trump administration has yet to reveal its much-touted Middle East peace plan, which is being developed by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser; Jason Greenblatt, a special representative for international negotiations; David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel; and Nikki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations. Except for Haley, all of the administration officials working on the proposal are Orthodox Jews.

The team did release a joint statement last week saying that “no one will be fully pleased with our proposal, but that’s the way it must be if real peace is to be achieved. Peace can only succeed if it is based on realities.”

“We were the first to fight against it and we will continue to fight against it until it falls,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said of the administration’s plan last week during a session of the PLO Central Council. “This is the ‘slap of the century.’”

Responding to Trump’s purported comments, Israeli-Arab Knesset member Ahmad Tibi jokingly tweeted that he would be the next prime minister.

“Mr President, you are also confusing the names,” he tweeted. “Ahmad, not Mohammed. Ahmad.”

Netta’s Eurovision winner ‘Toy’ tops Billboard dance club chart

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Netta Barzilai’s Eurovision-winning single “Toy” hit No. 1 on the Billboard dance club chart—the first time an Israeli artist has topped any of the music industry magazine’s popularity lists, according to the Israeli media.

It’s an impressive achievement for a singer who was practically unknown outside of her home country before this year.

“This is very exciting for me,” Barzilai said in a statement quoted Monday by The Times of Israel. “I just got off the plane and this is the first message I got when I turned on my phone. I am grateful for everything happening around me. This is an amazing year and the experience I’m having is just nuts.”

Barzilai is on tour in the United States. In May, she delivered Israel its fourth victory in the Eurovision song contest with “Toy, a song about female empowerment that features staccato vocals and a driving rhythm. She has said the song was inspired by the #MeToo movement.

Speaking last week to Billboard, Barzilai said it was “also an empowerment song for everybody.”

She went to say: “It’s for everybody who’s been told that they’re not good enough and they’re not smart enough. I decided to listen to my own voice and to be my own self, and when you do that, you inspire people. You make a difference because you feel good with yourself and you spread happiness outside.”

Ynet reported recently that Barzilai is close to a deal with the Universal Music Group, which has alleged that “Toy” stole from the White Stripe song “Seven Nation Army.”

White House fires staffer who hobnobbed with white nationalists

(JTA)—The White House has fired a policy aide and speechwriter with ties to white nationalists after reporters began asking questions about his employment.

According to CNN, Darren Beattie, a former professor and immigration hardliner, was fired after reporter Andrew Kaczynski asked about his attendance at the 2016 H.L. Mencken Club Conference at which he delivered a speech. White nationalist figures such as Richard Spencer, John Derbyshire and Robert Weissberg frequently attend the Mencken Club Conference.

“In 2016 I attended the Mencken conference in question and delivered a stand-alone, academic talk titled ‘The Intelligentsia and the Right.’ I said nothing objectionable and stand by my remarks completely,” Beattie told CNN. “It was the honor of my life to serve in the Trump Administration. I love President Trump, who is a fearless American hero, and continue to support him 100 percent. I have no further comment.”

In a tweet, Kaczynski wrote that he had “asked the White House last week about a speechwriter who was listed as speaking at a conference that included white nationalists Peter Brimelow, Jared Taylor and a host of VDARE writers. Friday evening they told me he was gone.” VDARE is an anti-immigration website.

Trump has struggled to shake off accusations of racism. After last year’s clashes between white supremacists and counterdemonstrators that left one dead in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump issued a statement saying there were “very fine people” on both sides. His former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is affiliated with the far right Breitbart News, which he has called a “platform for the alt-right.”

Israel loosens gun laws for army combat veterans

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel eased restrictions on gun ownership Monday in a move intended to increase the number of weapons in circulation, allowing Israelis to more effectively respond to Palestinian terrorism.

According to the Israeli news site Ynet, the Ministry of Public Security’s new licensing policy will open up gun ownership to hundreds of thousands of veterans, although they will still be required to pass the same rigorous screening procedures in place. Only those living in the West Bank or working in professions that required weapons, such as security guards, had been eligible for ownership.

“Many civilians have saved lives during terror attacks,” Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan was quoted as saying. “In an era of lone-wolf terror attacks, the more armed and trained civilians there are, the larger the chances of disrupting an attack and decreasing casualties.”

This is not the first time that Erdan has worked to loosen Israel’s strict gun laws. In the wake of a series of lone wolf terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians across Israel in 2015, he allowed local authorities in what are deemed “high priority” areas to grant weapons permits rather than require applicants to deal directly with his ministry. He also expanded the number of areas that fell under that designation.

“Citizens with firearms training are a multiplying force for the police in their fight against terrorism and therefore I will take measures to ease the restrictions at this time,” he said at the time.

Responding to Erdan’s announcement on Monday, Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg tweeted sarcastically that “there is no doubt that what is missing in Israel is more weapons in the streets.”

“It is amazing to see how the Ministry of Public Security is solving problems, instead of dealing with the huge quantities of illegal weapons that are circulating in the streets and endangering human life, it is simply expanding the number of weapons licenses,” she wrote. “We are speaking about a tool of death whose use needs to be minimized as much as possible, especially for civilians.”

Iranian ballistic missile program tops agenda as Bolton meets Netanyahu

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Iran’s ballistic missile program and its military presence in Syria topped the agenda as U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem over the weekend.

Bolton, a defense hawk and Iran hardliner, has been a long-time supporter of Israel and has visited the Jewish state many times over the years. This was his first trip in an official capacity since being named to his current position in March. He and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman met with Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer at the Prime Minister’s residence on Sunday.

Touting Bolton as a “tremendous friend of Israel [and the] American-Israel alliance,” Netanyahu praised the Trump administration for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and “get[ting] out of the terrible Iran deal.”

“I look forward to discussing with you a whole array of topics, but the most important one is how to continue to roll back Iran’s aggression in the region and to make sure that they never have nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “Many other things, but I think this is a good starting point.”

According to a statement put out by Netanyahu’s office, Bolton agreed, saying that “[i]t’s been an exciting year and a half in the Trump administration with some of the things you’ve mentioned. Obviously we’ve got great challenges, for Israel, for the United States and the whole world. The Iran nuclear weapons program, the ballistic missile programs are right at the top of the list. So I’m delighted to be here, and look forward to our discussions.”

In an interview with ABC’s This Week prior to his visit, Bolton stated that Israel, the United States and Russia all had a common objective of making sure that Iranian forces get out of Syria.

“Well I think the – certainly the objective of the United States, of Israel, President Putin said it was Russia’s objective is to get Iran – Iranian forces, Iranian militias, Iranian surrogates out of the offensive operations they’re in in both Syria and Iraq and frankly, to end Iran’s support for Hezbollah,” he said.

“I think the president’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has put a real crimp into the Iranian economy. I think they’re feeling it in their capability for the Quds Force or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to conduct offensive operations in – in the region here and in Yemen as well,” he continued. “But I think this is part of the problem with the Iranian regime generally and why it’s such a threat to peace and security not just because of its nuclear program, but because of its military operations and its support for terrorism.”

Israel’s Supreme Court doubles sentence of policeman who killed Palestinian rioter

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s High Court has doubled the prison sentence of a border policeman who shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian teenager during a Nakba Day riot outside of Ramallah in 2014, Haaretz reported.

He had previously been sentenced to nine months incarceration and a 50,000 shekel ($13,600) fine under a plea deal.

On May 15, 2014, Ben Dery and other members of his Border Police unit were sent to the Beitunia checkpoint outside Ramallah to contain Palestinian demonstrations. Despite being under orders to use rubber bullets, Dery switched to live rounds and shot 17-year-old stone-thrower Nadim Nuwara in the chest, killing him.

Both Nuwara’s parents and Dery’s attorney expressed opposition to the plea agreement. Nuwara’s father derided the “ridiculous sentence,” comparing Dery’s sentence to that of Ahmed Mansara, a thirteen-year-old Palestinian who received nine and a half years in jail for stabbing a Jewish boy in 2015.

Dery attorney Zion Amir, meanwhile, said that while he was “happy about the moderate punishment,” he was “not in complete agreement with my client’s desire to reach a plea bargain. We believed that the totality of evidence in this case should have resulted in complete acquittal.”

Israel’s State Prosecutor appeared to agree with the Palestinian boy’s parents, and in July appealed the sentence, stating that “the district court was mistaken in sentencing Dery to a punishment that does not adequately express the value of protecting human life, nor the severity of his actions or the degree of his guilt.”

“The case before us does raise a difficulty in examining the verdict that was given,” wrote High Court Justice Noam Solberg, according to Haaretz. “This is because we are dealing with a case where he value of human life and the value of preserving purity of arms collide with considerations regarding Dery’s personal circumstances and the background leading to his actions. Taking the rule into one’s own hands, consciously deciding to cause injury facing no danger—this must absolutely not be done.”

Dery’s “degree of negligence was significant and warranted prison time,” stated Justice Daniel Tepperberg.

This case stands in stark contrast to that of Israeli infantryman Elor Azaria, who was convicted of shooting and killing an injured Palestinian terrorist as he lay on the ground on March 24, 2016. Following a public outcry, Azaria’s 14-month sentence was eventually reduced by one-third and he was released from prison after nine months. The case divided Israeli society on the issues of the Palestinians and the military.

Israeli police rejected Azaria’s request for a gun license last week, stating that he posed a danger to the public, Ynet reported


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