News from January 11 to January 17

Palestinian elections, Iran's JCPOA violations, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone! Happy MLK Day! If you want the Jewish angle on Martin Luther King, you should read last year’s newsletter where I discussed him in detail. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, concerns, or ideas for how to make News of the Jews better at newsofthejews@gmail.com. If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @skaps1.

Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza headed to an election:

What happened? This week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would hold legislative and presidential elections later this year. Both sets of elections are set to occur in the PA-governed West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas. The announcement represents progress in Palestinian reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas, who have been bitter rivals since their civil war in 2007. The Palestinians have not held parliamentary and presidential elections in 15 years, despite Abbas’ initial four-year term ending in 2009.

Why now? (My take) The Palestinians are likely hoping to get on President-elect Biden’s good side, as one of the main criticisms against the Palestinian Authority is that it is not democratic. Holding elections and demonstrating a commitment to democracy would be a smart way to curry favor with an incoming administration who has plans to hold an international democracy summit in his first year of office. 

PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A deeper explanation for the elections is that President Trump’s middle east policies reshaped the regional political landscape. Before the Abraham Accords, the Palestinians could afford to wait for a more agreeable Israeli leader to negotiate a final status agreement because other Arab countries would continue to boycott Israel, increasing their leverage. However, when Israel normalized relations with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, it was clear that regional actors would no longer wait for the Palestinians to find a long-term settlement with Israel. Already a fractured society, the Palestinians saw their negotiating hand grow weaker and weaker during Trump’s presidency. A national unification effort stands to strengthen the Palestinians and prepare them for a complicated, new era in the Middle East where old hostilities are fading away. 

Wait, isn’t Hamas a terrorist group? Here’s where it gets complicated. President-elect Biden wants to restore funding to the Palestinians, but it would be difficult to provide funds to the PA if its government officials are members of an internationally recognized terrorist organization. There is a real possibility that Hamas members would find leadership roles in the PA, as recent polling indicated Fatah would win control of the parliament while Hamas would win the presidency. For what it’s worth, the situation is somewhat similar to Lebanon, where the United States has developed measures to avoid aid falling into Hezbollah’s hands (Hezbollah members serve in government). 

Anything else? Something to keep an eye on is whether or not Israel will allow the election to include East Jerusalem. Though Israel did allow the election to occur in East Jerusalem in 2006, it is not clear whether Israel, which has strengthened its power relative to the Palestinians in recent years, will allow it this time around. Israel blocking an East Jerusalem vote could doom the election from its outset. 

Another thing to consider is that it is not clear who will run for president yet. Abbas is 85 and said to be in poor health, so he will likely not run. Many of the prospective candidates face difficult challenges for a presidential campaign: Ismail Haniyah, a senior member of Hamas, has been out of Gaza for two years, and Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the Second Intifada, is currently in Israeli prison. Fatah also ruled that another prospective candidate, Mohammed Dahlan, a bitter rival of Abbas, cannot run in the election. 

Further reading: https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/palestinian-elections-this-time-for-real-655688

French Foreign Minister says Iran is acquiring nuclear weapons capacity:

What happened? Earlier this week, French officials said Iran is taking measures to develop nuclear weapons capabilities. Their comments come after France, Germany, and the United Kingdom criticized Iran for announcing it would seek to produce Uranium metal, which can be used in nuclear weapons. Germany, France, and the United Kingdom issued a statement indicating that Iran has “no credible civilian use” for the uranium metal, which Iran dismissed as a “misunderstanding.” The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) prohibits Uranium metal production.

What else? The news of Iran’s Uranium metal production follows Iran’s move to enrich Uranium at 20% fissile purity earlier in January. The percentage is significant because it shortens the time necessary to enrich at the 90% purity needed to create a nuclear bomb. Additionally, the Iranian Parliament passed a law in November that would halt International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of Iranian nuclear sites, leading IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi to conclude the JCPOA has only a matter of weeks to be revived. All of these developments present a difficult challenge for President-elect Biden in the early days of his presidency. Yet, it appears he has a bit of a head start; an Israeli television report claimed that Biden’s team is already holding talks with Iran on returning to the JCPOA. The same report suggested Israel was being updated on the conversations. 

Anything else? The Israeli government is paying very close attention to the developments and is said to be drafting plans for a variety of scenarios. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Further reading: https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-iran-nuclear-france/france-says-iran-is-building-nuclear-weapons-capacity-urgent-to-revive-2015-deal-idUSKBN29L0S3

Honorable Mentions:

The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and why people are fighting over it, explained” by Ben Sales (JTA)

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, key backer of Trump and Netanyahu, dies at 87” (TOI)

Biden nominee for Justice Department invited anti-Semite to Harvard University” (JNS) (Clarke has since said it was a mistake)

Glenn Beck compares right-wing social media bans to the Holocaust” by Ben Sales (JTA)

Vandals attack largest Montreal synagogue, favored by Leonard Cohen” bt Itamar Eichner (Ynet)

Staten Island politician apologizes for shouting ‘Heil Hitler’ at heated lockdown protest” by Chris Sommerfeldt and Cathy Burke (NY Daily News)

Ritchie Torres vows to prevent the ‘Corbynization’ of progressive politics” by Melissa Weiss, Sam Zieve Cohen (Jewish Insider)

Rapper Flo Milli Samples Fiddler’s ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ in New Single” by Emily Burack (Hey Alma)

Report: Riyadh says no Israel peace agreement without progress on Palestinian issue” by Shahar Klaiman (JNS)

Israel announces new settler homes, risking Biden's anger” by Joseph Krauss (AP)

Cyber Attack on MLK Shabbat Service” by Dave Schechter (Atlanta Jewish Times)

Mayim Bialik Will Be a ‘Jeopardy!’ Guest Host!” by Lior Zaltzman (Kveller)

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