Thursday, June 25, 2015
THE HAGUE - The Palestinian Authority made its first submission of evidence of alleged Israeli war crimes to the International Criminal Court on Thursday, trying to speed up an ICC inquiry into abuses committed during last year's Gaza conflict. The move may leave Israel in a quandary since it must decide whether to cooperate with the ICC investigation or find itself isolated as one of a very few countries that have declined to work with its prosecutors. Israel denies allegations of war crimes by its forces during the 2014 Gaza war and accuses Islamist terrorists who control the Gaza Strip of atrocities in firing thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers.
Standing outside the ICC after meeting the court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said he had submitted dossiers on the Gaza conflict, Israeli settlements on land where Palestinians seek a state, and treatment of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. "Palestine is a test for the credibility of international mechanisms ... a test the world cannot afford to fail. Palestine has decided to seek justice, not vengeance," Maliki said. A cease-fire in August ended 50 days of fighting between Hamas in Gaza and Israel in which health officials said more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.
UN investigators said on Monday that Israel and Palestinian terrorist groups committed grave abuses of international humanitarian law during the conflict that may amount to war crimes. The Hague-based ICC, with no police force or enforcement powers of its own, is looking into alleged crimes by both sides of the conflict but cannot compel Israel to give it information.
PRELIMINARY ICC INQUIRY UNDER WAY
The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, joined the court in April and Bensouda has opened a preliminary investigation related to Gaza. But Israel has substantial leverage over the course of ICC inquiries since court officials can only access sites of alleged atrocities in Gaza and Israeli settlements in the West Bank via Israel's airports. Maliki said he had agreed with prosecutors on a date for them to visit Palestinian territories, but did not say when. "It depends on their ability to enter Palestinian territory without problems," he said. ICC prosecutors told Reuters earlier they aimed to make field trips to both the Palestinian and Israeli sides but had not yet sought formal Israeli permission.
Israel disputed the UN report on possible war crimes, saying its forces had upheld the "highest international standards". Gaza's dominant Hamas group ignored the accusations against it and called for prosecutions of Israeli leaders. As a non-member of the ICC, Israel is under no obligation to cooperate, regardless of international pressure to do so. But a boycott of prosecutors could put Israel in awkward company. Even Russia, a foe of the ICC, has met court prosecutors related to their inquiry into alleged crimes in Russia's 2008 war with Georgia and over the events leading up to the 2014 overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Russian president.
Israel has been an outspoken critic of the ICC, saying the Palestinian Authority is not a state and should never have been admitted as an ICC member. Israel also argues that the ICC inquiry will make it harder to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Talks on a Palestinian state in territory Israel captured in a 1967 war collapsed last year and there is no prospect of reviving them.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
As U.S. and Iranian negotiators approach the June 30 deadline to reach a nuclear deal, America's largest pro-Israel lobby is campaigning to kill such an accord in Congress.
Since last month, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has mobilized its members to press legislators to endorse five principles for a nuclear deal -- principles that are almost certain not to be reflected in a final agreement.
Parallel to this campaign, major donors to AIPAC and other pro-Israel causes are forming a new and independent 501(c)(4) advocacy organization, according to fundraisers and other lobbyists involved in the effort. The new organization will buy TV, radio and Internet ads targeting lawmakers from both parties who are on the fence about the nuclear deal, these sources say.
Officially, AIPAC is still reserving judgment on the nuclear deal being ironed out now in Vienna by the U.S., Iran and five other world powers. But it's clear that the agreement now being negotiated would be unsatisfactory to AIPAC. For example, AIPAC's principles say a deal should last "decades," while the framework for the nuclear agreement released in April would begin easing restrictions on Iran's program after a decade. Another principle says inspectors must be given "anytime, anywhere" access to suspected sites, "including all military facilities." Iran's leaders have consistently said there will be no inspections on military sites.
AIPAC is now prepared to fight the White House by pushing Democrats to vote against the president's signature second-term foreign policy initiative.
That represents a break from how AIPAC usually does business. While the lobby has pressed Congress to sanction Iran since the early 1990s, it rarely opposes a sitting president on major votes. Despite initial misgivings, the Obama White House ended up supporting major sanctions against Iran in 2010, 2011 and 2012, avoiding a fight with AIPAC. In early 2014, AIPAC backed away from its plan to push for a sanction vote during the nuclear negotiations, in the face of White House pressure on Democrats to give negotiators room to strike a deal. AIPAC supported legislation this year to give Congress a chance to review and disapprove the Iran deal; the White House initially opposed this measure. But the administration dropped its opposition after some changes were made to the bill that made it procedurally more difficult to disapprove the deal.
The campaign against the Iran deal is focused on that vote. Depending on when the White House submits the nuclear agreement to the House and Senate, Congress will have 30 or 60 days to review it, which is sure to have complex twists and turns. Then lawmakers can vote to approve or disapprove the deal. If Congress can sustain a veto-proof two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate, then Obama will not be allowed to waive the sanctions on Iran legislated by Congress. (He will still be allowed to waive sanctions imposed through executive authority.)
Getting two-thirds of the House and the Senate is no small matter. As I reported in April, House Speaker John Boehner acknowledged to a private meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition that Republicans didn't have the votes to overcome an Obama veto on a resolution disapproving the Iran deal.
But this doesn't mean that AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups will not at least make a fight out of it. Last week AIPAC's national council was in Washington for a previously scheduled meeting. But the group's national leaders also took the opportunity to make the case for the five principles to members of Congress, according to Congressional staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
For those activists who couldn't make it to Washington, AIPAC members are also reaching out through the mail. One AIPAC mailing I obtained being circulated among Florida pro-Israel activists was a letter to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Democrat and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. "There is still time to influence the agreement," the letter says, "and as a member of Congress who represents one of the largest pro-Israel constituencies in the country we urge you to play a role in ensuring that Congress does not accept a deal that does not eliminate the Iranian pathway to a nuclear weapon."
Josh Block, the president and chief executive officer of the Israel Project and a former spokesman for AIPAC, told me that the campaign on the Iran deal is helped by the accord itself. "The more people learn about the developing deal, the more alarmed and opposed they are to these terms." To that end, Block said his organization will be traveling to Vienna for the negotiations and will be revamping a digital social media campaign advocating against what it considers to be a bad deal through a website it created about Iran's nuclear program.
The new 501(c)(4) group funded by AIPAC donors, according to one pro-Israel lobbyist familiar with the campaign, will focus on about a dozen media markets with large Jewish populations to make the case against the Iran deal, targeting Republicans and Democrats. Other similar 501(c)(4) groups have already started these kinds of ad buys.
One such group, Secure America Now, has produced video ads featuring Maria, a woman whose father was killed in Iraq by an improvised explosive device supplied by Iran. In the ad, Maria tells the camera, "And now President Obama would do a deal that lets Iran get a nuclear weapon."
The Emergency Committee for Israel, another 501(c)(4), is also considering running ads against the Iran deal in several targeted media markets, according to its executive director, Noah Pollak.
Other advocacy groups are also planning to run ads in sensitive political districts. Chris Maloney, a spokesman for the American Security Initiative, whose board includes four former senators -- Norm Coleman, Saxby Chambliss, Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh -- told me his group is about to launch an ad buy tallying just under $1.4 million, to target eight Republican and Democratic senators. The ad buy will include television and digital media.
Maloney told me that one target of that campaign will be Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who is in line to be the leader of his party in the Senate after Harry Reid retires. Schumer has not yet said whether he will support the Iran nuclear deal. But he has in recent speeches to Jewish groups outlined his own criteria for evaluating it.
Schumer's criteria are not exactly the same as AIPAC's, but he shares some of their concerns. According to a recording provided to me of Schumer's remarks on June 18 before an AIPAC event in New York, Schumer said that an outright ban on inspections of military sites would be unacceptable. "Inspections have to be across the board everywhere and they have to be quick and they have to be unilateral on behalf of the United States," he said.
In the past Schumer has given the president deference to negotiate an Iran deal while other pro-Israel groups have pressed for more sanctions. So far he has not paid a political price among this constituency. But they are watching his vote and those of his colleagues very carefully.
One of those people watching is William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and the chairman of the Emergency Committee for Israel. "Whether a deal is approved or disapproved, the fight to prevent a nuclear Iran will continue, as will the need to hold members of Congress accountable for their votes, and presidential candidates accountable for their positions," he told me. "A vote for a bad Iran deal is a vote that will live in infamy."
Thursday, June 18, 2015
By MICHAEL WILNER | 06/17/2015 22:11| The Jerusalem Post|
The Obama administration is attempting to clarify a key position in its nuclear negotiations with Iran amid suggestions in media reports that the US has made a consequential concession this week.
In remarks to the State Department press corps via teleconference on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the world already knows the nature of Iran's past military nuclear work— and that negotiators were not "fixated" on forcing Tehran to reveal its activities from a particular moment in time.
The comment was widely interpreted as a departure from past statements made by key administration officials over several years. Both he and US President Barack Obama have said that Iran must "come clean" in any final agreement on all of its past experimentation with nuclear weaponry, referred to formally as Possible Military Dimensions (PMD).
At the top of his first briefing as State Department spokesman, John Kirby said the US is not looking for a "confession" from Iran. But the US never has, he continued, and is making no concession on the PMD issue.
"The [International Atomic Energy Agency]'s concerns about possible military dimensions, past and present, have to be resolved before there is a deal," Kirby told the press, charging that it is "absolutely, completely false" that the US had shifted on the matter.
The IAEA has sought access for its investigation into Iranian PMD for several years. That, in part, requires access to sites categorized as military installations by the Islamic Republic.
Iran says it will reject all requests for access to its military sites, citing its need to protect "state secrets" and its sovereignty as a UN-member state.
"Sanctions lifting is only going to occur when those steps have been taken," Kirby asserted.
Phasing of sanctions relief is a major, outstanding challenge left for negotiators to resolve since a framework for a nuclear deal was agreed upon in Lausanne, Switzerland, back on April 2.
Reporters and interests surrounding the Iran talks have been unclear on whether a resolution to the PMD issue would precede a deal itself, or would rather precede sanctions relief.
Further complicating the issue is whether a full resolution to the IAEA's concerns would precede all sanctions relief, or merely some.
"It is very clear what the expectations are of Iran," Kirby asserted, noting that the issue has figured "prominently" in the final round of negotiations.
Diplomats from the US, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and Iran hope to clinch a comprehensive nuclear agreement by June 30.
Patrick Clawson, Director for Research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, called the development a "clear cut case of moving the goal posts."
"It is discouraging for the USG to suggest that a political process, such as the Iran-P5+1 talks, will substitute for the judgment of the IAEA," Clawson said in an e-mail. "The IAEA should be allowed to do its work without diplomats undercutting its authority. Technical issues about verification should not be decided in a political venue."
In recent months, members of the Obama administration have justified their pursuit of a full resolution of IAEA concerns with a simple argument: Only by fully accounting for their past nuclear work can the international community truly hold to account Iran's future nuclear work.
In the same press availability on Wednesday, Kerry said that access to these sites was "very, very critical" in any final deal.
"The [interim Joint Plan of Action] refers to that, and says that it’s got to be addressed in the context of the final product," Kerry said. "And that remains true; it has to be. And we have to resolve our questions about it with specificity."
Talks continued in Vienna on Thursday, and are expected to continue on a daily basis until the deadline.
US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said Wednesday that if Iran insists that there not be inspections at all its nuclear facilities then “there will not be an agreement.”
Likewise, he said that if Iran “does not give information on its past military nuclear plans, then there will not be an agreement. If Iran demands relief from all sanctions from the first day, there there will not be an agreement,” he said in an Army Radio interview.
“We also have demands,” he said, “and will only accept a good agreement, and if there will not be a good agreement, there will not be an agreement.”
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
With progress in discussions slowing down, deadline could be extended to July 8, diplomats say
June 17, 2015, 1:42 pm The Times of Israel|
VIENNA (AP) — Iran and six powers are still apart on all main elements of a nuclear deal with less than two weeks to go to their June 30 target date and will likely have to extend their negotiations, two diplomats tell The Associated Press.
Their comments support concerns that obstacles to a pact remain beyond the public debate on how far Iran must open its nuclear program to outside review under any deal.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has for weeks rebuffed US demands that UN nuclear monitors have access to military sites and nuclear scientists as they monitor Tehran’s commitments under a deal and probe allegations of past work on atomic arms.
Negotiators are concerned about a lack of headway on all issues. Russian chief delegate Sergey Ryabkov said Friday the “the rate of progress … is progressively slowing down.”
Negotiators have been meeting five days a week in Vienna over the past few weeks. The two diplomats are familiar with the progress of the talks and spoke shortly before a planned five-day round reconvened Wednesday. They demanded anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the confidential negotiations.
Ways of implementing specific parts of the deal are supposed to be contained in four or five annexes to the main text of an agreement.
The diplomats described said the draft of a main document as a patchwork of text and dozens of blank spaces because of stubborn disagreement on up to 10 elements crucial to any deal. Those details are to be included in four or five annexes, which remain incomplete.
Both sides remain publicly committed to June 30. Still, the diplomats said all nations at the table recognize that a delay up to July 8 is not a deal-breaker.
If the US Congress receives a deal by July 8, it has 30 days to review it before President Barack Obama could suspend congressional sanctions. Postponement beyond that would double the congressional review period to 60 days, giving both Iranian and US opponents more time to work on undermining an agreement.
Any deal would cap nearly a decade of international efforts to restrict Iranian nuclear programs that could be turned toward making weapons.
Tehran denies any interest in — or work on — atomic arms, but wants negotiations with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to conclude with an end to sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.
The talks focus on ways to implement commitments by both sides reached in a preliminary deal in April. Iran agreed then to slashing the size of its uranium enrichment program for at least 10 years, as well as re-engineering a nearly built reactor to minimize its output or plutonium — like enriched uranium a potential pathway to nuclear weapons.
It also has agreed to give experts of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency unprecedented monitoring authority to ensure that Tehran is hewing to its commitments, as well as more leverage in following up on the allegations of past nuclear weapons work.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Prime Minister’s Office denies receiving offer for a sit-down between two less-than-friendly leaders after nuclear talks deadline
Israeli newspaper said US President Barack Obama has invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a meeting in the White House next month.
Netanyahu would travel to Washington in mid-July, approximately two weeks after the June 30 deadline for the Iran nuclear deal, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday, citing US officials.
The meeting would likely be the latest in a series of tense sessions between the two leaders who have a famously frosty relationship, and the first since Netanyahu’s reelection in March amid signals of disapproval from the White House.
However, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office denied receiving an invitation, according to Reuters. There was also no immediate confirmation from the White House.
Obama told Jewish leaders in April that he would not meet with Netanyahu in person before the negotiations between the P5+1 — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany — and Iran are complete.
Those talks are slated to end on June 30, but officials on both sides have indicated it is likely they will go into overtime.
In April, Obama told Jewish leaders he imagined a face-to-face meeting with the Israeli leader before an Iran deal is finalized would only end with Netanyahu “publicly venting his complaints about the president’s policies,” on Iran, the New York Times reported.
In an April phone call following the conclusion of a framework nuclear accord, Netanyahu told Obama that “a deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel.”
The prime minister added, “This deal would legitimize Iran’s nuclear program, bolster Iran’s economy, and increase Iran’s aggression and terror throughout the Middle East and beyond.”
The Israeli leader has continued to lobby against the deal. His national security adviser Yossi Cohen is expected in Washington this week to air Israel’s concerns with his US counterpart.
If the Obama-Netanyahu meeting does take place in mid-July, it will occur before Congress officially meets to approve the Iran deal.
In early March, Netanyahu gave a controversial speech to Congress in which he criticized the deal. Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu during the trip, saying he did not want to be seen as meddling in Israeli politics two weeks before national elections.
The visit highlighted the tense relationship between Netanyahu and Obama, who have also been at loggerheads over a lack of progress in peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Before and during the Israeli election, the Obama administration denounced Netanyahu’s rhetoric, which was deemed offensive to Arab voters, and his apparent dismissal of a two-state solution, despite the prime minister walking back the statement following his victory.
Despite personal animosity, both leaders have continued to play up the strong bond between Israel and the US.
Monday, June 15, 2015
By YAAKOV LAPPIN, HERB KEINON \06/14/2015 20:19| The Jerusalem Post|
Should the US and Tehran reach a final deal over the latter's nuclear program, Israel should “multiply its intelligence attempts to monitor developments in the Islamic Republic, so that it can sound the alarm if necessary,” a former senior Israeli defense official says.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former chief of the research division in IDF Military Intelligence, and until recently, director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, offers scathing criticism of the US administration’s handling of the Iranian nuclear issue, in a paper published recently by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
Meanwhile, with the June 30 deadline for an agreement between the world powers and Tehran quickly approaching, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that the deal looks worse with each passing day.
“Iran has announced that it will not allow surprise visits at its military installations on the nuclear issue,” he said. “It has also backtracked from other issues that were seemingly agreed upon in the Lausanne agreement.
To our regret, the reports arriving from the major powers attest to an acceleration of their concessions in the face of this Iranian obduracy.”
Netanyahu said that from Israel’s standpoint the agreement being formulated looked bad from the outset, and now “from day to day it seems to be getting worse.” He was not too late, however, to “take stock,” reject the current deal on the table and insist on a better one, the prime minister said.
Kuperwasser, in his paper, wrote, “The main reason for the reluctance of the administration to consider the strategy proposed by Israel, and by like-minded Arab states and members of Congress, is its optimistic and guilt-driven worldview. As long as the negotiations continue, Israel should keep doing everything it can to prevent a bad deal with Iran.
“But if in spite of its efforts a bad deal is signed,” Israel should boost intelligence gathering, accelerate efforts to develop the military capability to defend itself if necessary, and build a regional alliance determined to block Iranian attempts to translate its achievements in the nuclear realm into greater regional influence, even without developing a weapon, he continued.
“Put succinctly,” Kuperwasser said, “Washington seeks to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, while Jerusalem seeks to prevent it from having the capability to produce nuclear weapons,” he wrote, as the June 30 deadline for a final agreement approaches.
Israel continues to believe that with enough pressure, Iran can be convinced that it has no chance of becoming a nuclear weapon state, he argued.
“On the other hand, Israel believes that the deal proposed now will justifiably be presented by Iran as a victory of the Islamic Republic, one that can be translated into further achievements in Iran’s quest for regional hegemony,” Kuperwasser said.
From an Israeli point of view, he continued, the US administration “seems to have convinced itself that the deal it is trying to reach is the best possible deal and is a reasonable one, while it remains blind to the deal’s many shortcomings, and indulges in wishful thinking and distortion of facts in order to justify it.”
Elsewhere in his paper, Kuperwasser wrote, “To be specific about the perceived threat, Israel’s view is that Iran under the current regime seeks, through a variety of ways, to bring about the destruction of the national state of the Jewish people. This is a central component of Iran’s broader efforts to form a new Middle East, controlled by extremist forces aligned with it and under its influence, from which basis it can advance toward changing the entire world order.”
Thursday, June 11, 2015
‘You fight for America, but you also fight for freedom,’ PM tells Martin Dempsey
BY STUART WINER
June 11, 2015, 12:44 pm |The Times of Israel|
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday told visiting Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs Gen. Martin Dempsey of the appreciation Israel has for what America’s servicemen and women are doing in the region and for the sake of freedom.
The two men met in Jerusalem during a visit to the country by the top US military commander.
“You’ve been a wonderful friend and a grand champion of America and of America-Israel relations,” Netanyahu said. “We appreciate it. I want to take this opportunity to also express our respect and deep admiration for America’s fighting men and women.
“We know you’re extended around the world, including in our region. We know we have no better friends than the American people, the American governments, the American fighting men and women. You fight for America, but you also fight for freedom,” he said.
Dempsey recalled the US military’s strong ties with IDF commanders, and how Netanyahu, as prime minister, serves the Israeli people.
“The greatest gift has been the friendship that we’ve managed to forge with the leaders in the IDF, and I know you’re proud of them but we are too. It’s our constitution, and you know that that’s what inspires us as I know service to your nation inspires you,” he said.
On Wednesday Dempsey met with President Reuven Rivlin, who told him that Israel respects a ruling by the US Supreme Court earlier this week that said Jerusalem-born Americans cannot list Israel as their birthplace on passports.
Rivlin told Dempsey that since Israel “salutes” the rule of law, it didn’t object to the Supreme Court justices’ decision to uphold the State Department’s right to not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“Of course we have no criticism of the decision of the Supreme Court in Washington,” Rivlin said during an official meeting at the presidential residence in Jerusalem. “They ruled what they had to rule.”
Dempsey, who arrived in Israel on Monday on his sixth and final official visit to Israel, reassured the president that security ties between the two allies would remain strong.
“I am happy to back in Israel. I am here to gain a better understanding with our counterparts in the IDF, of the threats and security challenges, and of what we can do to address them,” he said.
On Tuesday, Dempsey assured Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon that Washington would ensure that Israel maintained its “qualitative military edge” over its potential adversaries in the region.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
BY REBECCA SHIMONI STOIL June 9, 2015, 2:43 am THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
WASHINGTON — A long list of major American Jewish organizations, many of which had filed amicus briefs supporting the inclusion of the word “Israel” on passports for US citizens born in Jerusalem, expressed dismay at Monday’sSupreme Court ruling that American citizens born in Jerusalem may only list their birthplace as Jerusalem, rather than as Jerusalem, Israel.
The ruling affirmed that the president holds the power to grant formal recognition to a foreign nation and that Congress cannot pass a law directing the State Department how to record the place of birth of a child born to American parents abroad. The original case was brought by the parents of now-13-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky, in an effort to have “Israel” appear on their Jerusalem-born son’s US passport.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group representing 51 organizations, issued a statement saying that the organization’s leaders were “deeply concerned” by the ruling.
“We do not believe that Jerusalem-born American citizens having Israel on their passport would impinge on future negotiations or compromise the role of the United States,” argued Chairman Stephen Greenberg and Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein. “Tens of thousands of Americans are affected by this decision.”
Hoenlein and Greenberg expressed hope that “a constitutionally acceptable path can be found to assure that Americans born in Jerusalem will be accorded their full rights, including the designation of their country of birth.”
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, described the US government’s approach regarding Jerusalem as “hypocritical and myopic.”
The ADL had spearheaded an amicus brief signed by 12 Jewish organizations which argued that Americans born in Jerusalem should be able to identify their country of birth on their passport in the same way other American citizens born abroad may do.
“The question for the Supreme Court in this case involved a simple and ministerial act – whether or not US citizens born in Jerusalem should be allowed to list their birth place as Israel,” Foxman wrote after the ruling. “The answer to that should have been an easy yes. And the court did not have to issue a sweeping decision about executive power to reach that conclusion.”
Foxman called on the administration to “step up,” asking “how long will the US government continue to have this hypocritical and myopic approach?”
“It is sad and unfortunate that Israel – as a sovereign nation – is the only country in the world whose capital comes under such scrutiny and has to defend its right to determine where its capital city exists,” Foxman continued. “It’s time for the Executive Branch to face the reality: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” he concluded, echoing statements made Monday by Israeli leaders.
Similar expressions of disappointment came from across the Jewish religious spectrum.
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that his organization was “disappointed” by the decision, which he described as “circumscribing the right of Americans born in Jerusalem to lawfully and accurately identify their birthplace as Israel.”
“We are saddened that American citizens born in Jerusalem, the holy city to which the Jewish people worldwide have an enduring and unbreakable connection, and the capital of the United States’ longstanding ally, Israel, will be barred from having their place of birth listed as ‘Israel’ on their birth certificates and American passports,” Pesner wrote in a statement Monday.
The Religious Action Center was one of the organizations that signed on to the ADL brief, and Pesner noted that “the Reform Movement has long called for US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that nation should not be subjected to legal disadvantages under US law that are not applied to other nations.”
America’s largest Orthodox umbrella organization, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, also expressed disappointment with the Monday morning ruling by the US Supreme Court in the Jerusalem passport case.
Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union, wrote in a statement that while the organization was “of course, disappointed” by the Monday ruling, “we are more disappointed by the persistent policy of the United States government – carried out by successive presidents – to treat the capital city of Israel with less respect than that accorded to capital cities of virtually every other nation.”
“Jerusalem is unquestionably the capital of Israel,” he added. “Even after this court decision, it is high time for the US administration to acknowledge the reality of Israel’s capital – Jerusalem.”
The Orthodox Union, like the Religious Action Center, was also a signatory on the ADL friend of the court brief that urged the justices to uphold Congressional legislation requiring the State Department to write Jerusalem, Israel, on US-issued passports. Other organizations signing the brief included the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), B’nai B’rith International, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hadassah, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Union for Reform Judaism, Women of Reform Judaism, and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism
The news of the ruling came in the midst of the American Jewish Committee’s annual Global Forum. The AJC wrote that it was also “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.
“The Supreme Court ruling is a personal tragedy for the Zivotofsky family, and a greater one for all US citizens who legitimately claim Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, as their place of birth,” said AJC General Counsel Marc D. Stern.
The AJC had also filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that “Congress has an important role to play in determining America’s decision on recognition of foreign governments and in setting passport policy.”
Monday, June 8, 2015
BY AP June 8, 2015, 11:30 am | The Times of Israel
VIENNA — Iran must cooperate with a stalled UN probe of suspicions that it worked on atomic arms if the country wants a nuclear deal that will see removal of sanctions, the European Union said Monday.
The cautionary EU statement comes ahead of a June 30 target date for such an agreement.
It was obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its delivery at a meeting of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency that opens Monday.
Iran denies any work on — or interest in — nuclear arms and has fended off IAEA demands for cooperation with its investigation.
The EU statement says getting to the bottom of the allegations “will be essential” to a nuclear deal.
Iran also would have to accept limits on its present nuclear activities.
On Sunday, an EU delegation was stopped from speaking to foreign media in Tehran on Sunday, with an Iranian security official threatening action against reporters and photographers if they tried to film the incident.
Having called a press conference at their hotel in the capital, the plans of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament were disrupted, prompting an angry exchange on the street.
Sunday’s incident occurred despite the group of seven EU lawmakers being invited to Tehran by their Iranian counterparts.
The group, which will leave Tehran later Sunday, was the first European parliament delegation to visit Iran since December 2013.
On April 2, Iran and the P5+1 — the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia plus Germany — agreed to the main outlines of the nuclear deal, with Tehran agreeing to mothball parts of its atomic program.
The EU delegation met senior Iranian politicians including parliament speaker Ali Larijani and Masoumeh Ebtekar, one of Iran’s vice presidents.
“With this visit the European Parliament wants to give a strong signal of its commitment to building trust in this key moment in EU-Iran relations,” Elmar Brok, chairman of the EU committee said separately in a statement.
The talks centered on instability in the Middle East, including in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as well as drug smuggling in neighboring Afghanistan, climate change and the environment.
US President Barack Obama is expected to huddle with his European counterparts over the emerging Iranian nuclear deal while at the G7 summit of world leaders in Germany this week.
The president was expected to try to push French President Francois Hollande on dropping some reservations about the pact in a meeting on the sidelines of the summit Monday.
France at times has taken a harder line and expressed more skepticism than Washington on the Iran negotiations.
Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for New American Security who worked on foreign policy in President George W. Bush’s White House, said he would advise Obama to deliver a direct message to Hollande.
“What is it going to take to get you back on the bus? Because let’s keep these disagreements behind closed doors, rather than doing this in the press, which is harmful to our position,” Fontaine said.
Friday, June 5, 2015
We’ve not resolved all our differences, but we hope to, says Dore Gold; two countries have held 5 secret meetings since 2014, Bloomberg claims
BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF June 5, 2015, 1:58 am | The Times of Israel|
An extremely unusual public meeting of high-ranking Israeli and Saudi officials took place in Washington on Thursday, when the incoming director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry shared a stage — and shook hands — with a retired Saudi general who is a former top adviser to the Saudi government.
In their back-to-back addresses to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations think tank, Dore Gold and Anwar Eshki both espoused Israeli-Saudi peace and identified Iran as the chief threat to regional stability.
Eshki spoke at length of Iran’s hostile and aggressive actions in the region and signaled that peace with Israel, based on the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative, was a top priority. He also spoke of the need for a joint Arab military force to increase regional stability.
Gold, the current head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank, is expected to be confirmed as the Foreign Ministry chief in the coming days. He too spoke of the challenge posed to the Middle East by Iran, and warned of a weak nuclear accord with Tehran which would leave the Islamic republic as a nuclear threshold state.
Bloomberg News reported that the two countries, longtime foes with no diplomatic relations, have held five clandestine meetings over the past 17 months on the threat posed by Iran. Long-rumored back-channel talks between Jerusalem and Riyadh have never been officially confirmed.
Shimon Shapira, described by Bloomberg as an expert on Lebanese terror group Hezbollah who took part in the meetings, said: “We discovered we have the same problems and same challenges and some of the same answers.”
While Gold and Eshki stressed that they were not speaking as official representatives of their nations, but rather as foreign policy experts, they expressed hope that their states could find common ground in the face of regional challenges.
“Our standing today on this stage does not mean we have resolved all the differences that our countries have shared over the years,” Gold said, according to Bloomberg News. “But our hope is we will be able to address them fully in the years ahead.”
While stopping short of fully endorsing the Arab Peace Initiative, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that he welcomed the general idea behind it — a regional agreement between Israel and the moderate Arab states.
The Arab Peace Initiative, originally proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, has many problematic aspects to it, the prime minister said, such as its call for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and the return of Palestinians refuges to Israel. “There are positive aspects and negative aspects to it,” he told Israeli diplomatic correspondents at a rare on-record briefing. “This initiative is 13 years old, and the situation in the Middle East has changed since it was first proposed. But the general idea — to try and reach understandings with leading Arab countries — is a good idea.”
In the framework proposed by the initiative, all Arab and Islamic states would establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel after the successful conclusion of the peace process with the Palestinians.
The Israeli government has never fully endorsed the plan. But Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that given Iran’s nuclear and regional aspirations, the moderate Arab states and Israel have a common enemy and grounds for increased cooperation.
Meanwhile, a new telephone poll conducted by an Israeli college among citizens of Saudi Arabia concluded that the Saudi public is far more concerned about the threats of Iran and the Islamic State group than Israel, and that the vast majority of Saudis support the decade-old peace offer to the Jewish state.
The International Disciplinary Center’s poll found that 53 percent of Saudis named Iran as their main adversary, while 22% said it is the Islamic State group and only 18 percent said Israel. The poll, conducted in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, surveyed 506 Saudis over the phone and had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.
The results indicates significant common ground between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Netanyahu has been outspoken in his criticism of an emerging nuclear deal between Iran and global powers, saying the deal will leave much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact. He has also claimed that unnamed Arab countries, presumably Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf countries, share his concerns.
“What we think here in Israel about the Saudis is not exactly what they are,” said Alex Mintz, who heads the IDC’s Institute for Policy and Strategy and oversaw the survey. “There is a great identity of interests and threats and agendas … some would even like to join forces with Israel.”
The questioners told respondents that they worked for the IDC, though they did not say they or the school were Israeli. Mintz said few people questioned the source of the survey, and those who did raise questions did not make the connection to Israel. He said there were no unpleasant exchanges.