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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Netanyahu Lightens The Tone

Israel Moves to Ease

 Tension Ahead of

 Kerry’s Mideast 

Speech


  • Speech follows U.S. absention on UN Security Council Vote
  • Netanyahu blocks discussion of new building in Jerusalem
Secretary of State John Kerry.
 
Photographer: WPA Pool/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will offer a “comprehensive vision” for
 how Middle East peace can be achieved, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 
Netanyahu blocked a discussion of new construction in Jerusalem in an
 effort to reduce tensions with Washington.
With barely three weeks left in U.S. President Barack Obama’s term, Kerry
 will lay out his plan Wednesday as friction over Netanyahu’s policies 
threatens to leave Israel more isolated internationally. Along with the
 Kerry speech, scheduled for 11 a.m. EST, France is gathering dozens of 
foreign ministers in Paris on Jan. 15 to discuss the conflict. Israeli officials
 say that may result in a proposal they view as unfavorable, which could
 then be taken to the UN for a seal of approval.
The U.S. last week broke with tradition and didn’t veto UN Security Council 
Resolution 2334, which demands that Israel halt all building in areas it won
 in the 1967 Middle East war and brands construction there illegal. Describing
 himself as a “lifelong friend of Israel,” Kerry defended the U.S. abstention in
 a Dec. 23 statement, saying it couldn’t “stand in the way of a resolution at
 the United Nations that makes clear that both sides must act now to 
preserve the possibility of peace.”
Netanyahu lashed out at Obama after the vote, saying the U.S. pushed the 
resolution behind the scenes and broke a commitment to shield Israel from
 conditions imposed by the UN. Obama has been highly critical of Israel’s 
settlements from the moment he entered office, and clashed with Israel over 
a nuclear accord with Iran last year, but his administration denies it was
 behind the UN resolution. The U.S. decision to abstain rather than veto
 the resolution allowed it to pass.

Trump Response

President-elect Donald Trump weighed in on the speech beforehand, saying
 in a pair of tweets that “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with 
such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the

 U.S., but.......not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible
 Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast 
approaching!”
Netanyahu moved Wednesday to limit friction with the U.S., intervening
 to get a Jerusalem municipal committee to postpone a review of plans for
 hundreds of new apartments in east Jerusalem, which would have 
contradicted Resolution 2334. The committee “will continue to develop
 Jerusalem for the benefit of all residents, without prejudice and without
 political considerations,” the municipality said in a statement. Committee 
member Hanan Rubin said the plans could be reviewed at a later date. 
Shmuel Sandler, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat
 Center for Strategic Studies, said Netanyahu remains under pressure to
 respond to the UN vote with a wave of new building. Education Minister 
Naftali Bennett, whose Jewish Home party opposes a Palestinian state, has 
called for Israel to annex large swathes of the West Bank, though Netanyahu 
has ordered Cabinet members to cease all talk of annexation for now.
“No matter what, he has to wait for the Trump administration before doing
anything substantial in the settlements,” Sandler said. “He’s aware that 
Kerry’s speech is coming up, the Paris conference is coming up and Obama 
still has ways to hurt him.”
Netanyahu is hoping for better relations with Trump. The incoming president
 has pledged to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his
 choice of ambassador to Israel, attorney David Friedman, is a strong
 supporter of the settlements. On Tuesday Trump appointed Thomas 
Bossert, a campaign adviser on Israeli issues, to be his assistant for 
homeland security and counter terrorism.
Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi said on a conference
 call Wednesday that Kerry’s decision to give a speech on the Middle East
 was legitimate and the government would wait to hear the content before
 commenting.

Egyptian Report

On Tuesday, the Egyptian newspaper Youm7 reported that Kerry and U.S.
 National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with Palestinian officials in
 mid-December and agreed to cooperate on the UN resolution, asking 
that the discussions be kept secret. Kerry also said he would propose a plan
 for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provided the Palestinians
 supported it, the paper said. Israel Radio said PLO Secretary General
 Saeb Erekat denied the report.
In a posting on his Facebook page, Netanyahu said the UN had no legal
 justification for its resolution against Israeli settlements, and was motivated 
instead by “ignorance and malice.” The British Mandate that governed the
 area before the State of Israel was established anchors Jewish legal rights
 in the West Bank and elsewhere, he said.

A senior Israeli official said the government is
 weighing fresh steps against UN agencies it 

considers particularly hostile, including the UN
 Relief and Works Agency serving Palestinian
 refugees; the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; 
and the UN observer force on the Golan Heights. Israel could restrict new 
recruits to the agencies, delay visas for their officials and halt or delay visits
 of experts to those agencies, said the official, who spoke on condition of 
anonymity because the issue is sensitive.
Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for UNRWA, said such steps against
 the agency would be unprecedented.