Quarterly Updates for (1 Jul 2019 — 30 Sep 2019)

Peace Plan

               The United States (U.S.) unveiled the “economic” aspect of the U.S. “peace plan” in Bahrain last quarter at a workshop in Manama, dubbed the Peace to Prosperity Conference. The U.S. administration said it would reveal the political aspects of its peace plan at a later date. In early July, senior advisor to the president Jared Kushner said the next steps of the U.S. peace plan would be revealed soon. In the same conference call, Senior Advisor Kushner also called the Palestinian leadership “hysterical and erratic” for not wanting to partake in the Manama Workshop while he simultaneously said that he and U.S. president Donald Trump have a lot of respect for PA president Mahmoud Abbas. Kushner did disclose that part of the U.S. plan is to resettle Palestinian refugees in the countries they fled and were expelled to during the Nakba. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was quick to reject Kushner’s remarks and pointed out that such a policy is contrary to international law. U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman hinted at why a political peace plan had not yet been revealed in an interview with CNN, where he admitted that the U.S. administration neither supports a 2-state solution nor a 1-state solution. Ambassador Friedman said that the U.S. can agree to Palestinian autonomy but just not the extent to which the Palestinians would have autonomy. In an interview with PBS, the last of the trio of front men of the U.S. administration’s peace team, U.S. special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt called the 2-state solution a “slogan” that the Trump administration is avoiding. He further stated that he believes that Israel is the victim of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and that he rejects the terms “occupied” and “settlements,” finding the terms “pejorative” and saying that he prefers “disputed land” and “neighborhoods and cities.” Special Representative Greenblatt announced in early September that he would not see the release of the peace plan through as he was leaving the administration. Replacing Greenblatt’s role is Avi Berkowitz, an advisor to Kushner.

               Special Advisor Kushner also went on a Middle East trip this quarter to shore up support for the economic part of his peace plan from Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt told Kushner that their support of a U.S. peace plan was conditioned on the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as the capital.

               The last news regarding the U.S. “peace plan” this quarter came when President Trump told reporters that the U.S. was waiting until after the Israeli elections on 17 September to reveal the political part of the peace plan. The plan was not revealed by the end of this quarter and no final date was set.


Conflating Judaism with Israel

               President Trump continued his obsession with castigating women of color in the U.S. House of Representatives and conflating American Jews with the state of Israel this quarter. On Twitter, the president said that congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) are “[h]orrible anti-Israel, anti-USA, pro-terrorist,” complaining that other Democrats were afraid of them. On the same day, 7/15, Trump wrote on Twitter that “[t]he Dems [Democrats] were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives’ [Tlaib, Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA)], but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!” Trump further demanded that the congresswomen apologize to Israel and to him “for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said,” and told them to “go back” to where they came from. The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt criticized Trump for “echoing the racist talking points of white nationalism and cynically using the Jewish people and the State of Israel as a shield to double down on his remarks.” Greenblatt further said that Trump was throwing around accusations of anti-Semitism. About a week later on 7/21, President Trump again attacked the 4 congresswomen, saying, “I don’t believe the 4 Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country. They should apologize to America (and Israel) for the horrible (hateful) things they have said.” And in response to a headline in the Washington Post, Trump tweeted, “The facts remain the same, that we have 4 Radical Left Congresswomen who have said very bad things about Israel & our Country!”

               About 1 month later, after Israel denied entry to 2 of the congresswomen (see below), President Trump said, “any Jewish people that vote Democrat—I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” implying that Jewish Americans should be loyal to Israel. The ADL and the American Jewish Committee again urged President Trump to stop using American Jews as a tool to castigate his opponents. The Jewish Democratic Council pointed out that the dual loyalty trope is considered a form of anti-Semitism.


Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar Denied Entry to Israel and the West Bank

               As the U.S. congressional trip to Israel sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was approaching, Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar announced that they would visit both Israel and the West Bank. Soon after their announcement, Axios reported that President Trump had told Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to allow the 2 congresswomen to enter Israel, using the Israeli law that prohibits visitors who engage in boycotts of Israel. While President Trump, through his press secretary, denied the reporting he tweeted 5 days later that “[i]t would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” Prime Minister Netanyahu had 1st decided to let the 2 congresswomen into Israel, but shortly after Trump’s tweet his government changed course and said the 2 would not be allowed to enter Israel, citing the boycott law. Netanyahu’s decision drew criticism from virtually all Democrats and some Republicans in the U.S. congress and AIPAC. A day later, in a double reversal, the Israeli government decided to allow Congresswoman Tlaib entry “on humanitarian grounds” to visit her grandmother if she promised not to promote boycotts of Israel while visiting. Tlaib called the conditions a humiliation and said she could not accept going under the stipulations made by Israel. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D-VT) said in an interview with MSNBC, “If Israel doesn’t want members of the United States Congress to visit their country . . . maybe they can respectfully decline the billions of dollars that we give to Israel.” After the 2 congresswomen remained in the U.S. because of Israel’s denial of entry and extra stipulations of entry, the 2 held a press conference to which President Trump said on Twitter, “ Sorry, I don’t buy Rep. Tlaib’s tears. I have watched her violence, craziness and, most importantly, WORDS, for far too long. Now tears? She hates Israel and all Jewish people. She is an anti-Semite. She and her 3 friends are the new face of the Democrat Party. Live with it!” 72 U.S. congressional legislators went on the AIPAC-sponsored trip.



               The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was the focus of congressional legislation regarding Palestine and Israel this quarter. 1st, Congresswoman Omar introduced a resolution, H.R. 496, lauding the U.S. constitutional “right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights.” The resolution was cosponsored by representatives Tlaib and John Lewis (D-GA). While the resolution does not mention Israel or Palestine, it was unveiled at the same time Congresswoman Omar announced plans to visit Israel and the West Bank (see above). Omar presented her resolution 1 week before the House of Representatives were set to vote on H.R.256, which opposes Americans’ right to boycott Israel.

               H.R. 256 passed on 7/23 with overwhelming support, as the vote was 398-17. The resolution opposes “the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.” The resolution further claims that the BDS movement undermines efforts for peace. In a passionate speech on the floor of the House, Congresswoman Tlaib said, “I stand before you the daughter of Palestinian immigrants . . . Parents who experienced being stripped of their human rights, the right to freedom of travel, equal treatment. So, I can’t stand by and watch this attack on our freedom of speech and the right to boycott the racist policies of the government and the state of Israel.” After the resolution passed in the House, 21 members of the Israeli Knesset wrote a letter to their counterparts in the U.S. complaining that H.R. 256 reaffirms the House’s position in favor of a 2-state solution. The members of Knesset (MK) wrote “the affirmation of support for establishing a Palestinian state is so dangerous that we respectfully request that you take that into consideration, and in the future avoid determining that establishing an additional Arab state on territory that is the Land of Israel is part of the solution to the dispute.” The MKs also asserted that the establishment of a Palestinian state is “far more dangerous” than the BDS movement.


State Legislation

               The governor of Kentucky Matt Bevin signed a senate bill into law that allows the state to refuse business from companies that boycott Kentucky trade partners. The new law codifies an executive order signed by Governor Bevin in November 2018, specifically aimed at outlawing boycotts of Israel. At the signing ceremony attended by pro-Israel groups such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI), local CUFI lobbying was cited as a main part of the effort to get the bill passed.



               Tensions between Iran and the U.S. continued to escalate this quarter. The New York Times reported that the U.S. had launched a cyberattack on Iran, allegedly to retaliate against Iran downing a U.S. drone in or near Iranian air space. The cyberattack was said to have happened on 6/20 and was targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence group. The U.S. also imposed sanctions on the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, citing that the foreign minister acts on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Foreign Minister Zarif responded on Twitter that sanctions will not affect him as he has no property outside of Iran, and he thanked the U.S. for considering him “a huge threat” to its agenda. John Bolton, said to be the biggest proponent of Iranian regime change in the U.S. government, was fired as U.S. national security advisor by President Trump in a tweet on 9/10.


U.S. Hezbollah Sanctions

               On 7/9, the U.S. added 2 members of the Lebanese parliament from the Hezbollah party and 1 Hezbollah official responsible for coordinating between Hezbollah the Lebanese security agencies to its list of sanctioned individuals. The 3 top officials in Lebanon, President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saed Hariri, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, all criticized the U.S. administration’s decision. Speaker Berri called the sanctions “an assault to all of Lebanon.”


New Ambassador to the UN

               The U.S. Senate confirmed President Trump’s pick for U.S. envoy to the United Nations Kelly Craft, on 8/1. During Craft’s confirmation hearing, she promised to continue her predecessor Nikki Haley’s work to fight anti-Israel resolutions. A week before Craft was confirmed, the U.S. blocked efforts to denounce Israel’s demolition of 10 buildings in Sur Bahir (see United Nations).


State Department Removes Palestinian Territories from List of Countries

               In yet another attack on Palestinians, the Trump administration’s State Department removed the term “Palestinian territories” from its list of countries. PLO secretary-general Saeb Erakat said that the move was part of the U.S.’s efforts to advance Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh condemned the U.S. administration’s move. In a response to why his administration had made the change, President Trump implied that it was to put pressure on the PA to make a deal with Israel.


Banning Palestinian Harvard Student

               A Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon who was set to start studying at Harvard University on a scholarship from Amideast was turned back at Boston Logan Airport by U.S. immigration officials. According to the student, he was questioned about his religious practices and friends’ social media activities. He said he was turned away by the officials because his friends had made anti-U.S. statements on their social media profiles. 10 days after the student was denied entry, he finally arrived at Harvard University for the beginning of the semester because of efforts made by the university and Amideast.


Israel Spying on the U.S.

               3 former senior U.S. officials told Politico that Israel most likely has been spying on the U.S. administration using cellphone surveillance devices, called StingRays, planted near the White House and other locations in D.C. According to the former officials, a forensic analysis by the FBI led to a confident conclusion that Israel was behind the surveillance. President Trump said he did not think Israel would be spying on him and that “[a]nything is possible but I don’t believe it.” According to the reporting, the U.S. government has not held Israel responsible for planting the devices.