News from June 29 to July 5

Annexation update, Iranian nuclear facility explosion, honorable mentions

Hey everyone! As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com. If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter.

Annexation update:

What’s new? As you may recall from previous newsletters, July 1 was the first day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was able to begin the legislative process to annex parts of the West Bank. According to his coalition deal with Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, he did not require permission from any other Israeli leader, but he did need to coordinate his actions with the United States government. Throughout the week, Netanyahu met with several American officials, including American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook. Ultimately, Netanyahu did not announce Israel’s decision on annexation, but Likud sources suggested that the decision could come during the upcoming week. 

So it’s definitely going to happen next week, right? Who knows? The Likud sources could be intentionally trying to mislead or even just misinformed. Regardless, it’s ultimately going to be up to President Trump. American government officials have repeatedly said that Israel’s decision to annex is their decision alone. Still, Netanyahu’s coalition deal with Gantz says that Netanyahu cannot begin the process of annexing territory in the West Bank without coordinating with the Americans. So, if Israel wants to annex, they’ll have to get the White House on board. The White House reportedly wants Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians as part of its move. 

Doesn’t President Trump’s peace plan envision Israel annexing that land? Yes, and that’s reportedly part of the delay. As I mentioned last week, there have been disagreements between White House officials over whether Israel should annex now or wait to do it as part of the Trump peace plan. On the one hand, threatening to annex now could coax the Palestinians to the negotiating table. On the other hand, if the Palestinians don’t come to the negotiating table, America would have lost its greatest bargaining chip to get the Palestinians involved again. For what it’s worth, Palestinian leaders said this week that they were willing to re-enter direct negotiations with Israel where they stopped in 2014. In their “counter-proposal” of sorts, they suggested creating a Palestinian state with limited weapons, a strong police force, and an international entity like NATO or the UN to supervise the peace deal. They also stated that any Israeli move to annex territory would nullify their offer. The threat of annexation may have incentivized Palestinian leaders back to negotiations, but their framework is still far from President Trump’s plan (which is probably very close to Israel’s ideal plan). 

So what will happen (my take)? It’s hard to say, but I think the elephant-in-the-room of President Trump’s re-election campaign should not be dismissed off-hand. If he greenlights Israel’s annexation (which would please some parts of his base), there may be a great deal of regional violence and renewed Middle East tension. It might be difficult for President Trump to tout his pro-Israel credentials (moving the embassy, recognizing the Golan Heights, etc.) if Israel is under attack due to a move he supported and enabled. If annexation sets off a third Intifada, as PA officials have suggested, President Trump would have new foreign policy baggage to handle during the campaign. Instead, I think it’s far more likely that the Trump Administration’s goal is to bring the Palestinians back to the table and secure a big win for the campaign. The United States (and Trump for that matter) gains very little from Israel unilaterally annexing. If the United States can manage to secure a small, symbolic victory for Israel while convincing the Israelis to make somewhat significant concessions to the Palestinians, it might (emphasis on might) be enough to bring the Palestinians back to the table. President Trump is a dealmaker, and I’m sure he wants something from Israel in exchange for his “blessing.” After all, White House Advisor Kellyanne Conway said that President Trump would be making a big statement about annexation at some point. If instead of announcing support for Israel’s globally unpopular annexation, he announces a renewal of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, it could be a big boost for his lagging campaign. Don’t be surprised if there are more delays while Israel and the United States figure out what they want to do. 

Anything else? British Prime Minister criticized annexation plans in an op-ed and 12 U.S. Senators introduced an amendment to the Defense budget that would prevent American aid from being used for annexation operations. 

Further reading: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/02/netanyahu-israel-palestinians-settlements-west-bank-annexation/ (Foreign Policy)

Israel denies involvement in a fire at an Iranian nuclear facility:

What happened? Earlier this week, a fire broke out at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, thoroughly damaging one of its buildings. Though Iranian officials initially said the building was an industrial shed, it later said the building was where Iran assembled advanced centrifuges used to enrich Uranium. Since Uranium enrichment–a necessary step to develop nuclear weapons and a crucial part of the 2015 Iran Deal–is a sensitive activity and Iran claims the source of the fire was a bomb, some have suspected a foreign power may have intentionally targeted the building in an attack. Given Israel’s suspected involvement in the 2010 Stuxnet cyberattack on the same facility, analysts looked to Israel as a possible suspect. Responding to a question about the fire at Natanz, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said, “Not every incident that transpires in Iran necessarily has something to do with us...All those systems are complex, they have very high safety constraints and I'm not sure they always know how to maintain them." Israeli security experts have reportedly assessed that the explosion could have delayed Iran’s nuclear program by a year. Meanwhile, several other Iranian energy and military facilities have been damaged by fires or explosions in recent weeks.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP

Further reading: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/05/world/middleeast/iran-Natanz-nuclear-damage.html (NY Times)

Honorable mentions: 

“Hot Dogs, the Jewish American Fast Food” by David Mikics (Tablet)

“Ice Cube tells Jake Tapper ‘Watch your mouth’ over Farrakhan criticism” by Molly Boigon (Forward) (Ice Cube has been tweeting antisemitic content over the past couple of weeks)

“‘Curb your Enthusiasm’ coming back for 11th season” by Marcy Oster (Forward)

“Four Jewish Facts for July 4th” by Anne Cohen (Forward)

“Jewish Camp Delays Start Date After Counselor Tests Positive for Coronavirus” by Ben Sales (Jewish Journal)

“How and where the Democrats and Republicans are trying to woo Jewish swing voters” by Ron Kampeas (JTA)

“After criticism, Kansas newspaper removes cartoon likening mask requirement to the Holocaust” by Marcy Oster (JTA)

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