News Digest — 5/22/19

Rejecting Taboos, Palestinian Businessman Welcomes US Plan – Isabel Debre

A Palestinian businessman who flouts political taboos by working with Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria could soon have a role in US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

While Palestinian officials have swiftly rejected next month’s planned Mideast conference in Bahrain, Ashraf Jabari says he will be thrilled to attend.

Jabari has forged close ties with US diplomats but is viewed with deep suspicion by his fellow Palestinians.  That has raised questions about US attempts to cultivate him and other businessmen as alternates to the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.

The US has not released an official list of attendees at the June 25-26 conference, which seeks to use economic development to lure the Palestinians to the negotiating table.  US officials have said it would convene individual business leaders, including some Palestinian leaders, including some Palestinians who live outside the Palestinian territories.

“Our economic plan is an ambitious but achievable vision; it represents an alternative path with the potential to unlock a prosperous future for the Palestinian people if they choose to follow it,” said Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Mideast envoy.

The Palestinian Authority has said that any plan focusing on economic development at the expense of people’s political aspirations is unacceptable.  Well-known Palestinian business magnate Bashar Masri, for one, has declined his invitation, vowing not to attend anything that flies in the face of the “Palestinian national consensus.”

The Palestinians seek an independent state on territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, including Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, when it was under threat of annihilation from the surrounding Arab countries.

But Jabari said it is time for some different thinking, noting a quarter-century of failed negotiations.

“No Israeli prime minister will ever meet Palestinian demands or vice versa,” Jabari told The Associated Press. “We can’t keep waiting for a state.  We have to think about this area as one entity, not two entities and two realities.”

Jabari’s vision effectively erases Israel’s pre-1967 boundary with Judea and Samaria, which was under Jordanian control from 1948 until the 1967 Six Day War.  It is a vision that is shared by Israeli residents, who reject a pullout on a combination of religious and security grounds.

For now, Jabari’s partnership with the Israelis, called the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce,” referring to the West Bank by its Biblical name, claims not to have a political agenda.

It says it seeks to bring Palestinians and Israelis together, joined by a desire to make money and a shared resentment of the Palestinian Authority and disillusionment over failed peace talks.  Its members talk of business ventures springing from unexpected personal relationships, and benefits of free trade.

“We’re talking about business-to-business relationships, unfolding on a sub-sovereign level to achieve greater regional stability,” said Avi Zimmerman, the chamber’s co-founder and a spokesman for the city of Ariel in Samaria.



Why Palestinians Oppose Economic Prosperity – Bassam Tawil

Hebron businessman Ashraf Jabari recently announced the establishment of the new Reform and Development Party that calls for focusing on economic prosperity for Palestinians.  In response, Palestinians have waged a massive smear campaign against him, with many denouncing him as a “traitor and collaborator” with Israel and Jews. Some have even called for his arrest or execution.  In the face of widespread protests, Jabari’s clan was forced to publicly denounce and disown him. The Ramallah-based Palestinian news website Wattan called for bringing Jabari to trial for treason.

In the eyes of many Palestinians, the struggle against Israel should be paramount, even if they have to eat and drink that struggle instead of the food they could buy through engaging in economic initiatives such as those proposed by Jabari.  In light of the uproar, it is safe to assume that his new party will never succeed in winning the hearts and minds of Palestinians.

The upcoming peace plan talks about giving the Palestinians billions of dollars and raising money for them from wealthy Arab countries.  Yet, as Jabari’s case makes clear, the Palestinians are less invested in gaining economic stability than they are about hating Israel.



Sanctions On Iran Are Hitting Hezbollah And It Hurts – Liz Sly And Suzan Haidamous

Hezbollah has thrived for decades on generous cash handouts from Iran, spending lavishly on benefits for its fighters, funding social services and accumulating a formidable arsenal.  But since President Trump introduced sweeping new restrictions on trade with Iran last year, Hezbollah has seen a sharp fall in its revenue and is being forced to make draconian cuts to its spending.

Fighters are being furloughed or assigned to the reserves, where they receive lower salaries or no pay at all.  Hezbollah officials and full-time fighters who are still on the payroll are receiving their salaries, but benefits for expenses such as meals, gas and transportation have been canceled.  Spending programs have been slashed, including the supply of free medicine and even groceries to fighters, employees and their families.



Israel Sweeps Sniper Competition

Israeli elite forces held a sniper competition with 25 teams from allied countries last week, taking the three top spots in an event that tested and honed their specialized skills.

The competition was divided into two parts.  In the initial contest, participants included commando units from 14 countries, such as the United States, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Cyprus and others.

Sniper teams had to show off their skills in several battle scenarios that measured their stamina as well as their accuracy.  In one, they had to complete their assigned tasks while running. In another, they operated in an urban setting, a highly complicating factor.

The IDF’s Sniper Division took first place in the event, with second place going to the Duvdevan undercover unit.  The Israel Air Force Shalday Unit took third place.

IDF representatives stressed that other factors were more important than who won.

“The competition created a joint and constructive dialogue between IDF units and their parallel units from other countries,” IDF Brigade Commander Colonel Yaron Sitbon said.

It also gave the visitors a chance to see how the Israeli special anti-terrorist forces worked, as the second part of the competition took place only among elite IDF units.  Besides requiring accuracy using various weapons individually, under pressure, and in teams, the units were tested on their aptitude in urban settings.

Urban warfare is something that the international forces have less experience with than Israeli soldiers, who have fought several times in Gaza cities over the years.

The foreign units also built up friendly relations with their Israeli hosts during competition, and toured with them throughout Israel during their stay.



Israeli Group Distributing Relief To Venezuelan Refugees

The Israeli NGO IsraAID is distributing relief materials in Colombia to thousands of Venezuelans escaping harsh conditions in their country.

An IsraAID emergency response team is on the grounds in Cucuta, on the Colombian border with Venezuela, where thousands of refugees are crossing daily seeking relief from the economic and political crisis in their country, according to the organization.  There are already 1.2 million Venezuelans in Colombia. IsraAID said it has committed to remain in Colombia long-term.

Working with the local community and Venezuelan refugee organizations, the IsraAID team has distributed relief materials and conducted hygiene promotion activities in partnership with Fundacion Venezolanos en Cucuta, an organization of locally based Venezuelans who provide support to new arrivals as they enter Colombia.

The IsraAID response plan also includes child protection and back-to-school activities, community resilience-building and psychological support.

The NGO’s Colombia efforts are supported by the American Jewish Committee and individual donors.  Donations to the Venezuelan refugee crisis response can be made through the IsraAID Emergency Response Fund.