Today’s Top Stories
1. A White House official briefing pool reporters ahead of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a two-state solution isn’t a condition for Israeli-Palestinian peace. More on that at Ynet, the Times of Israel and Associated Press. The story is based wholly on an anonymous source, so caution is advised. (Here are some practical tips for judging anonymous sources in the news.)
“A two-state solution that doesn’t bring peace is not our goal that anybody wants to achieve,” the official said in a briefing with reporters Tuesday night. “Peace is the goal. Whether it comes in the form of a two-state solution, if that’s what the parties want, or something else, if that’s what the parties want, we’re going to help them.”
2. A ransom deal to release an Israeli arrested for murder in an Arab country is falling through. Ben Hassin, a Canadian-Israeli Jew, killed a taxi driver who discovered he was Jewish and threatened to turn him over to Islamic State. According to Israel HaYom, the taxi driver’s family is no longer interested in a sulha (blood money), although Hassin’s family raised $120,000 through crowdfunding efforts.
Last week an aid group reportedly considered returning donations to secure his release, as they could not locate an official responsible for taking the money and verifying the existence of such a deal.
According to reports, Hassin entered the unidentified Arab country around two years ago to visit his grandparents, who still live there. During his visit, he volunteered to join a local militia that was fighting the Islamic State group, and was issued a personal firearm. While on family leave, Hassin took a cab and, during the ride, conversed in Hebrew on his cellphone.
3. US officials are seeking the testimony of PFLP terrorists in trial over alleged Shin Bet torture. Prosecutors seeking to deport Rasmea Yousef Odeh are trying to prove she lied to US immigration officials about her role in a 1969 Jerusalem supermarket bombing that killed two people. Odeh says she is innocent and that her confession was the result of Shin Bet torture.
Odeh served 10 years of a life term before being released in a 1980 prisoner swap. Her retrial begins on May 16.
Israel and the Palestinians
• With the US national security team in disarray after Michael Flynn’s resignation, can Trump and Netanyahu get in sync on Iran during today’s summit? The Jerusalem Post reports:
Netanyahu will be the first foreign leader to experience the National Security Council’s dysfunction firsthand. He enters Wednesday’s meetings hoping to secure assurances from Trump that he will act more aggressively than his predecessor to counter Iran’s malign activities. He also plans to discuss the longterm dangers built in to an international deal governing Iran’s nuclear program.
The Israeli premier hopes to establish redlines for what Iranian actions would trigger US counteractions, such as additional sanctions.
Flynn resigned after it was revealed he misled White House officials about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to Washington.
Come to think of it, Israel has no national security chief either.
• The New York Times takes a closer look at the Trump administration’s emerging “outside-in” approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. And what exactly is the outside-in approach?
The Trump administration plans to focus on an “outside-in” approach, meaning that Israel would first pursue agreements with Arab countries to help solve the conflict with the Palestinians.
But that is a long shot, experts say, given some of the crises gripping the region: Saudi Arabia is mired in a war in Yemen; Egypt is reeling from economic and security concerns; and Jordan is focused on securing its borders with Iraq and Syria.
This may help explain why The Media Line reports Jordan is poised to raise its profile in the peace process.
• As Andy Warhol might’ve put it, one day, everybody’s going to be a Mideast peace envoy for 15 minutes. Israeli Ambassador to Stockholm Isaac Bachman confirmed it.
Just what we need right now: #Sweden will appoint a "special envoy" to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to advance a 2-state solution.
— Raphael Ahren (@RaphaelAhren) February 15, 2017
• The Christian Science Monitor takes the pulse of the settler movement.
• Plenty of commentary on today’s summit:
– Yishai Fleisher: A settler’s view of Israel’s future
– Daniel Shapiro: What does Trump want from Netanyahu?
– James Sorene: Netanyahu is a man in search of a legacy – Trump might just give it to him
– Jonah Goldberg: Don’t call the Israeli-Palestinian dispute the ‘Middle East conflict’
– Raphael Ahren: 2 states or not 2 states, that is the question when Netanyahu meets Trump
– Max Singer: A step towards Mideast peace: Tell the truth (click via Twitter)
– Jonathan Tobin: Is Trump heading down the rabbit hole of Mideast peace?
– Tom Friedman: President Trump, will you save the Jews?
– Robert Danin: President Trump: Peace processor
– Joel Fishman: The delusion of the “two-state solution”
– Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher and Orni Petruschka: For Israel’s sake, stop settlements
• Plenty of commentary too about Hamas’s new Gaza strongman, Yahya Sinwar:
– Prof. Eyal Zisser: Hamas’ musical chairs
– Ron Ben-Yishai: Hamas’ new leader in Gaza: A radical and a militant
– Pinhas Inbari: Iran grabs the reins in Gaza
– Yossi Melman: Is war with Israel on the horizon with Hamas’s new leader?
• Here’s what else I’m reading today . . .
– Smadar Perry: Why Israel should accept Fayyad as UN’s Libya envoy
– Denis MacEoin: Are Palestinians agents of their own destruction?
– Micah Halpern: Become guardians of the names
– Gil Troy: ‘Punch a Zionist today’: The campus hate swarm strikes again
– Daniella Greenbaum: A shameful shoutdown at Columbia U.
– Carly Goldberg: What happens when a Tulane student queries Jewish ‘whiteness’
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