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Ron Kampeas
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How Obama and Netanyahu can make up

WorldPublished: 15 August 2014

WASHINGTON — President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are not the best of friends. That seems pretty clear by now.

But after reports of cut-off phone calls, tough talk of “demands” and eavesdropping during the Gaza conflict, it may be time for them to figure out a way back to steadier ground.

JTA asked an array of experts on the U.S.-Israel relationship what the two leaders must do to restore a relationship that both say is critical for their countries.

Deus ex machina: A crisis will bring us together

Aaron David Miller, a Middle East negotiator under Democratic and Republican presidents, remembers the last such breach between U.S. and Israeli leaders, when George H.W. Bush was president and Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister. That one was worse, he said. That is, until Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.


On the U.S.-Israel front

Amid uncertainty of an open-ended war, tensions rise and fall

WorldPublished: 01 August 2014

The dramatic developments in the war between Hamas and Israel have been accompanied by sharp ups and downs in U.S.-Israel relations.

On Monday, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, made nice with the U.S. national security adviser, Susan Rice, before an audience of anxious U.S. Jewish leaders. But immediately before that, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly vowed to continue Israel’s military campaign against Hamas, notwithstanding President Obama’s unequivocal demand for a cease-fire.

And within a day of Israeli and American pledges not to afflict one another with damaging leaks, Israeli television was running the transcript of what it said was a fraught Obama-Netanyahu telephone conversation.


Round up the usual brokers?

Egypt and United States, usually brokers in cease-fires, may not help this time

WorldPublished: 11 July 2014

WASHINGTON — Escalations between Hamas and Israel are nothing new.

What’s missing this time, analysts say, is the alignment of outside interests that has resolved such fights in the past.

Egypt’s government lacks the influence over Hamas that its predecessors had, and the United States is in hand-washing mode on the Middle East, said Ami Ayalon, a former chief of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.

“In the past, Egyptians could play a major role and America had an interest” in pressing for cease-fires, Ayalon said.

Now, he said, Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is strongly hostile to Hamas — a posture Israel appreciates but one that undercuts his ability to force a cease-fire — and the United States is not pressing actively for a truce.


First unity, then calls for revenge

Now Israelis look inward for answers

WorldPublished: 11 July 2014

WASHINGTON — Many Israelis’ eyes are turning south as they watch yet another conflict unfold with Hamas.

Yet their thoughts also are turned inward, contemplating the sense of national solidarity occasioned by the abduction and murder of three teenagers and then shattered by the murder of a fourth.

The Israeli media — both the social and the conventional varieties — have exploded in recent days with recrimination and self-recrimination over the brutal murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teenager from eastern Jerusalem who was burned alive last week. The killing was apparent retaliation for the murders of three Israeli teens — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach — who were kidnapped while hitchhiking.

“A national struggle does not justify acts of terror,” the outgoing and incoming Israeli presidents, Shimon Peres and Reuven Rivlin, wrote on Monday in a joint op-ed for the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot.


Cantor’s loss leaves Jewish Republicans bereft

WorldPublished: 13 June 2014

WASHINGTON — Eric Cantor’s defeat in one of his constituencies, Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, triggered mourning in another one — Republican Jews.

Since 2009, Mr. Cantor, 51, has been the only Jewish Republican in Congress. After the 2010 GOP takeover of the House, he became the majority leader. He is the highest-ranking Jewish lawmaker in congressional history.

But his meteoric rise came to a screeching halt on Tuesday, when he was trounced in a primary by a poorly financed Tea Party challenger, Dave Brat, an economics professor.

“Obviously we came up short,” Mr. Cantor told his stunned followers in a Richmond hotel ballroom. “Serving as the 7th District congressman and having the privilege of being majority leader has been one of the highest honors of my life.”


Hillary’s choice

Clinton seeks to differentiate herself from Obama on Mideast

WorldPublished: 23 May 2014

WASHINGTON — A month before her foreign policy autobiography, “Hard Choices,” hits the bookstores, Hillary Rodham Clinton made an easy choice: She pitched her diplomatic credentials to a friendly Jewish audience.

Ms. Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee on May 14 was meant to send a signal to the pro-Israel community that a Clinton presidency would smooth over tensions ruffled by the Obama White House, insiders say. So while she broadly defended Obama administration policies, she also suggested areas where she had differences with the president, such as on Iran.

“President Obama has said that the odds of reaching a comprehensive agreement are no more than 50-50,” Ms. Clinton said, referring to the U.S.-led talks between the major powers and Iran on the latter’s nuclear program.

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Whose fault is it?

Anonymous interview shows U.S. frustration with Israel

WorldPublished: 09 May 2014

WASHINGTON — Now that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have screeched to a halt, U.S. officials are apportioning blame, and a big share is going to Israel.

In an interview with Nahum Barnea, a veteran diplomatic affairs writer for the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, anonymous members of the U.S. negotiating team said Israel’s settlement activity was a principal cause of the breakdown in talks last month.

“There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure, but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth — the primary sabotage came from the settlements,” one of the officials said. “The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state.”

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Obama pointing finger at ‘both sides’ for impasse

WorldPublished: 02 May 2014

WASHINGTON — A pox on both your houses — but when you want a cure, we’re still here.

That’s the message the Obama administration is sending Israel and the Palestinians amid the deepening crisis in peace efforts.

“What we haven’t seen is, frankly, the kind of political will to actually make tough decisions. And that’s been true on both sides,” Mr. Obama said Friday from South Korea.

The president’s remarks followed Israel’s suspension of talks last week, in response to a governance deal between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas.

Mr. Obama suggested that the peace process may need a break. But he also vowed that the United States was still ready to help the parties move forward.

“There may come a point at which there just needs to be a pause and both sides need to look at the alternatives,” he said.

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Any future for negotiations?

WorldPublished: 02 May 2014

WASHINGTON — The best move for the Obama administration on the Middle East peace front may be to take a few steps back.

That’s what some observers are advising in the wake of the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The Palestinian unity talks mean that President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have little choice but to take a wait-and-see approach, according to the Israeli and American experts interviewed by JTA.

“The time has to be taken to see if the Fatah and Hamas reunification takes place,” said Michael Oren, who was Israel’s ambassador to Washington until last year. “If it does succeed, we will be in one place. If it does not, we will be in a different place.”

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After hunger strike, Gross’ backers ramp up calls for action

WorldPublished: 25 April 2014

WASHINGTON — Alan Gross did not warn his family that he was launching a hunger strike, but hearing the news, they understood why: The U.S. government subcontractor languishing in a Cuban prison feels forgotten.

Mr. Gross, a 64-year-old Jewish father of two from Potomac, Md., is serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for “crimes against the state.” He was arrested in December 2009 while on a mission to hook up Cuba’s small Jewish community with the Internet. The company he was working for had a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“We’re asking that the U.S. government do whatever it takes,” Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the Gross family, said in an April 11 interview. That was the day when Gross ended his fast after eight days. “This situation is not going to be resolved unless President Obama takes a personal interest in it.”

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