Quarterly Updates for (1 Apr 2019 — 30 Jun 2019)

Peace Plan

                The content of the U.S. peace plan remained elusive this quarter as the U.S. and Bahrain held a conference to present ideas for economic development in Israel, the occupied territories, and their neighbors. No Israeli or Palestinian officials were present at the conference and its actual purpose remained unclear to many after it ended on 26 June (see below). The unveiling of the actual political aspect of the U.S. peace plan was delayed yet again to November; the U.S. special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt made that announcement in an interview with the Jerusalem Post ahead of the Bahrain conference. Meanwhile, the 2 other U.S. officials in the tripartite spearheading the U.S. peace plan—U.S. special advisor to the president and U.S. president Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman—gave some clues to what the peace plan may or may not include.

                At the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on 2 May, Special Advisor Kushner said of the 2-state solution: “[i]f you say ‘two-state’, it means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians . . . We said, you know, let’s just not say it. Let’s just say, let’s work on the details of what this means.” Kushner also affirmed that the U.S. plan covered the final status issues. Later in the quarter in an interview with Axios on 2 June, Kushner claimed that Palestinians were not yet capable of governing themselves. When asked directly about the issue, he said, “That’s one that we’ll have to see. The hope is that they, over time, will become capable of governing.” In the interview, Special Advisor Kushner also refrained from answering a question about whether the plan includes a 2-state solution, saying, “I do think they should have self-determination. I’m going to leave the details until we come out with the actual plan.” A week after the Kushner interview, Ambassador David Friedman told the New York Times that “[u]nder certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” echoing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise from April to annex parts of the West Bank. A State Department official said after the interview was published that the Trump Administration’s position on settlement and annexation of the West Bank had not changed. The public also learned of the peace plan that “[i]t will be somewhere between the Arab peace initiative and between the Israeli position,” Kushner revealed in late June before the Bahrain conference. Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh responded that the Arab Peace Initiative “is a red line that neither Kushner nor anyone else could redraft.” U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo told Jewish American leaders at a closed-door meeting in New York that “one might argue” that the U.S. peace plan is “unexecutable.” He also said, “I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love . . . I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit.” Secretary Pompeo’s very honest assessment of the peace plan was secretly recorded and reported on by the Washington Post. At the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on 9 May, PA foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki reiterated the PA’s skepticism of the U.S.’s intentions, saying that all indications are that their peace efforts will be “conditions for surrender.” At that same meeting, Special Representative Greenblatt called the UNSC’s focus on Israeli settlements “obsessive” and a “farce.” Later on 22 May at the UNSC, Greenblatt called for ending UN Relief and Works Agency, claiming it is a “Band-Aid” solution.

“Peace to Prosperity” Conference

                On 19 May, the White House announced that the “economic component” of the U.S. peace plan would be released in June, coinciding with the an international summit in Bahrain on 25 June–26 June hosted by the U.S. and Bahrain. The summit was titled “Peace to Prosperity” and was aimed at bringing international officials and businesspeople together to raise money for infrastructure, industries, and businesses in the Levant. PA prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that no Palestinian officials were consulted before the announcement was made and other PA officials stated that no Palestinian would attend the conference. Ahead of the Bahrain conference, Palestinian officials also urged other Arab countries to boycott the conference as they expected that any proposal or plan from the Trump Administration would be heavily biased toward Israel. A week before the conference was scheduled to start, U.S. officials told Axios that neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials would be invited to the conference to keep the conference from being “political.”

                3 days before the Bahrain Conference on June 22, the White House released the economic aspect of the Peace Plan, which includes raising $50 billion for investments in the Palestinian and regional economies, $25 billion directly to the Palestinian economy, and $25 billion in neighboring countries. The economic part of the peace plan was dubbed Peace to Prosperity – The Economic Plan: A New Vision for the Palestinian People and was 40 pages long divided into 3 chapters. The plan itself does not include any particular funding mechanisms as the Trump Administration explained that it wanted regional donors to see the peace plan’s political chapter before they envision that these donors will commit large sums of money. Besides the irony in asking “regional actors” to pledge money while the U.S. has cut all its aid to Palestinian programs, 1 of the pictures used in the economic part of the peace plan was from a defunded organization for bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families. Lebanon’s speaker of parliament Nabih Berri said of the plan that Lebanon would not be “lured” into resettling its Palestinian refugees in exchange for the billions proposed by the Trump Administration. Foreign Minister al-Maliki called in a press statement the Peace to Prosperity document “the obnoxious Trump Declaration or the Balfour Declaration II” and said the parts of the plan unveiled “tries to whitewash the occupation and settlements.”

                The Palestine Liberation Organization released a statement during the 1st day of the conference explaining its position, pointing out that it believes that economic and political peace cannot be detached from 1 another, stating, “the de-contextualization of the situation reflects this administration’s [U.S. Administration] willful blindness to the occupation and deliberate refusal to deal with reality, as well as its rejection of the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and sovereignty over our national resources.” General strikes were observed by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as the conference took place in Bahrain. In spite of a Palestinian boycott of the conference, some 15 Palestinian businesspeople attended, 1 of them as a speaker. Despite much American-generated fanfare, not many high-ranking international officials participated and it remained unclear by the end of the quarter how much of the $50 billion goal the conference produced.

Ambassador Friedman in East Jerusalem

                A settler archaeological project in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood named “Path of the Pilgrims” was inaugurated on 30 June. The project is widely criticized and is seen as another manifestation of Israel expanding its sovereignty over East Jerusalem. The inauguration was attended by 2 U.S. officials: Ambassador David Friedman and Special Representative Jason Greenblatt. During the event, both U.S. representatives used a sledgehammer to help the settler organization Elad excavate under East Jerusalem’s busy streets. After the PA criticized Special Representative Greenblatt and Ambassador Friedman’s appearance at the Israeli event, Greenblatt wrote on Twitter that the PA “claims our attendance at this historic event supports ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem/is an act of hostility vs. Palestinians. Ludicrous. We can’t ‘Judaize’ what history/archeology show. We can acknowledge it & you can stop pretending it isn’t true! Peace can only be built on truth.” Palestinians in East Jerusalem have since 2011 complained about the excavations as the tunnel diggings have cause cracks in Palestinian-owned homes.


                6 Democrats in the U.S. senate cosponsored resolution S.Res. 171, which sought to restore bilateral aid to the West Bank and Gaza. The resolution was introduced on 11 April and encouraged the Trump Administration to provide the assistance appropriated for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, which the administration did not provide to the West Bank and Gaza. The resolution had not moved beyond introduction by the end of the quarter. A different bipartisan bill, H.R. 3104, was introduced to the senate seeking to revamp U.S. Agency for International Development’s work in supporting the Israeli and Palestinian private sector. By the end of the quarter, the bill was still with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

                House representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) reintroduced her bill H.R. 2407 on 30 April seeking to prevent U.S. funds supporting “military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” Representative McCollum had in the last congressional session introduced a similar bill that did not become law and therefore died when the session ended. By the end of the quarter, the bill was at the House Committee of Foreign Affairs.

                On 6 June, 5 Democratic senators led by Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a resolution denouncing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the West Bank. The resolution stated that “unilateral annexation of portions of the West Bank would jeopardize prospects for a two-state solution, harm Israel’s relationship with its neighbors, threaten Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity, and undermine Israel’s security.” A different, bipartisan resolution introduced by senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) similarly sought to convey the Senate’s support for a 2-state solution. According to Axios reporting, Israeli officials had sought to lobby against the resolution, wanting the words “2-state solution” removed from the text.

State Legislation

                Florida governor Ron DeSantis and his cabinet went on a 4-day tour to Israel to hold a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem and visit Israeli settlements in the West Bank in late May. During the Florida cabinet meeting, Governor DeSantis signed a bill classifying almost all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, aimed at stifling free speech in the Florida education system. While at the Ariel settlement, DeSantis said, “The one constant throughout the modern history of the Middle East and the State of Israel is that Palestinian Arabs always wanted to get rid of the Jewish state more than they wanted their own state.” Last quarter, DeSantis, who calls himself the “most pro-Israel governor,” made a number of efforts to bolster his claim (see United States 1 January-31 March).

                On 25 April, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the enforcement of a state law that prohibits boycotting Israel as a condition for public employment. The Texas legislature passed a bill in 2017 which compels anyone seeking employment for the state of Texas to sign a document promising not to boycott Israel. The Texas judged cited the 1st Amendment in his ruling. Last year, 2 federal judges in Arizona and Kansas made similar rulings against state requirements of pledges not to boycott Israel.

Conflict with Iran

                In May, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would increase its uranium enrichment after 60 days, since the signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had not fulfilled their duties relating to the plan. The announcement came on the 1-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA. President Trump responded by putting additional sanctions on Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director general Yukiya Amano said on 10 June that Iran had begun accelerating its uranium enrichment but would not say by how much.

                In the immediate aftermath of President Rouhani’s announcement, the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on 2 Saudi oil tankers on 12 May and 2 Saudi oil-pumping stations on 14 May. The U.S. also blamed Iran for a rocket that landed in the vicinity of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on 19 May. President Trump tweeted after the rocket landing that “[if] Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” The Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s tweet, calling it a “genocidal taunt,” telling Trump to “Try respect—it works!” The U.S. also blamed Iran for 2 additional attacks on Norwegian and Japanese oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz on 13 June, allegations that Iran denied. By the end of the quarter, it remained unclear who committed the above attacks.

                The conflict between Iran and the U.S. further escalated on 20 June, when Iran shot down a U.S. drone, claiming that it was in Iranian air space; U.S. officials claimed that it was in international air space. President Trump subsequently tweeted that the U.S. was 10 minutes away from bombing Iranian targets in Iran, but that he had ordered the strike off because he was told that 150 people would probably be killed.

                Amid the ongoing conflict between Iran and the U.S., the Pentagon released a statement on 10 May saying that the U.S. would move a Patriot missile battery and an additional naval ship to the Middle East because of the perceived threat from Iran. The Pentagon also presented a plan to the National Security Council to send 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East if the Iran attacks U.S. forces or accelerates work on nuclear weapons. On 17 June, U.S. acting secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan announced that the U.S. would deploy 1,000 more U.S. troops to the Middle East, citing concerns over Iran.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Islamic Brotherhood

                A day before the Israeli elections, President Trump said in a statement that the U.S. would designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization, which was finalized on 15 April. Prime Minister Netanyahu subsequently thanked Trump for putting IRGC on the list of terrorist organizations and said in a tweet in Hebrew that it was done upon his request. President Rouhani called the designation a calculated boost to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election campaign.

                The White House also said on 30 April that it was working toward designating the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization. According to the New York Times, the decision was made after Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had requested it during a private meeting at the White House on 9 April.

Denying entry to Hanan Ashrawi and Omar Barghouti

                Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi was denied a visa to the U.S. on 13 May for a personal trip. In February, Special Representative Greenblatt had tweeted to Ashrawi that she was “always welcome” to meet him at the White House. The U.S. State Department did not provide Ashrawi or the media a reason for the rejection of her visa request. Earlier, on 10 April, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement Omar Barghouti was also denied entry to the U.S. Barghouti was invited to speak at several universities and institutions and was to attend his daughter’s wedding. Barghouti said in a statement that the “U.S. entry ban against me, which is ideologically and politically motivated, is part of Israel’s escalating repression against Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders in the B.D.S. movement.” Barghouti was notified that he was barred entry while at the Tel Aviv airport before boarding his flight to the U.S. via Frankfurt.

Israeli Elections

                Shortly after Prime Minister Netanyahu gave up forming a coalition after the Israeli elections, President Trump criticized Israeli politicians for not forming a coalition. President Trump said, “Israel is all messed up with their election—I mean, that came out of the blue three days ago. So that’s all messed up. They ought to get their act together . . . I mean, Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] got elected, now all of a sudden they’re going to have to go through the process again until September. That’s ridiculous. So we’re not happy about that.” Trump had explicitly supported the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu during the Israeli elections in April and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights 2 weeks before the elections (for more on the Israeli elections, see Israel).