Daily Kickoff: Why was McMaster not invited to Trump’s meeting with the Israelis | Tillerson embraces linkage | Ashkenazy to take over the Plaza?
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KAFE KNESSET — McMaster left out of Bibi-Trump meeting — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The White House National Security advisor General H.R. McMaster did not participate in the Trump-Netanyahu meeting on Monday, Kafe Knesset has learned. McMaster had a long, three-hour meeting with Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman on Monday evening, but according to multiple Israeli sources, he did not participate in the leaders’ summit that took place beforehand at the King David Hotel.
Trump and Netanyahu met on Monday evening, and started their encounter as a four-eyes meeting. Two Israeli officials said that later on the forum was joined by several advisors, to a Plus-3 forum. The President was then joined by Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador David Friedman. The Israeli team was augmented with Ambassador Ron Dermer, Special Envoy Isaac Molcho and foreign policy advisor Jonathan Schachter. According to an Israeli official who was present at the venue, at some point, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was invited to join the expanded meeting. However, McMaster sat outside the King David room during the course of the entire meeting.
Two sources in the PM’s office said that Israel did not determine who would sit in from the US side. And it is worth pointing out that McMaster’s counterpart in Netanyahu’s office also did not participate in the meeting. However, the Israeli National Security Advisor seat is currently filled by a temporary appointment, Eitan Ben-David, and as such, is not considered nearly as substantial an advisor as McMaster. Two former US administration officials told Kafe Knesset that McMaster’s absence from the meeting is “highly unusual” and “for the President to prioritize his son-in-law and his lawyer over the National Security Advisor for these kind of strategic discussions is unconventional, to say the least.”
In the week ahead of Trump’s Israel visit, some of McMaster’s statements raised some eyebrows in Jerusalem. First, he announced that the President intends to use the meeting to express “his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians,” which, by the way did not end up happening. Then, during a press briefing, he twice refused to say whether the Western Wall is part of Israel, dodging questions on the topic with the answer: “That is a policy decision.” At the same time, a NYT article last week claimed that President Trump “has complained that General McMaster talks too much in meetings, and has referred to him as “a pain.” A spokesman for the NSC declined to comment about McMaster’s absence from the meeting. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]
DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: “Tillerson Embraces Middle East Linkage Theory — by Aaron Magid: Aboard Air Force One yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to embrace the linkage theory of Middle East peace. “He was putting a lot of pressure on them that it was time to get to the table,” Tillerson told reporters referencing the meetings the President had with both Netanyahu and Abbas. “We solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace dilemma, we start solving a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East region,” he explained.
Grant Rumley, an expert on Palestinian politics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Jewish Insider, “This type of language harkens back to the Bush administration era concept of ‘linkage,’ whereby solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would somehow unlock regional peace. I think time, and the Arab Spring, has largely debunked the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is somehow central to regional stability.” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Senior Fellow in the Center for Middle East policy at Brookings Institute, noted: “I don’t see how resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict helps unwind the Syrian or Libyan civil wars, helps the Gulf states and Iran step back from a war in Yemen that is savaging the civilian population there, or helps defeat ISIS in Iraq or Syria or replace its rule with inclusive governance that will shut out extremists.” [JewishInsider]
Elliott Abrams tells us: “The Obama administration also began with the view that “solving” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the key to peace in the entire Middle East. It’s not a new thought–but it is discredited, so I am surprised to see it emerge again in these early months of the Trump administration. It is completely wrong. Does anyone really believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has much to do with the conflicts in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, or Syria? Does Israeli-Palestinian peace end the subversion by Iran, or stop its nuclear program? The United States faces enormous challenges in the Middle East–from Russia and Iran, from jihadis and terrorists–and seeing them through the prism of Israeli-Palestinian relations leads nowhere–or leads to failure.”
“Dating conflict at 50 years old, Trump appears to quietly adopt Arab stance” by Raphael Ahren: “The White House’s use of Six Day War as starting point of strife may indicate it sees pullback toward 1967 lines as key to reaching peace.” [ToI]
PRESSURE IS ON — “US said pushing Israel to transfer parts of West Bank to PA administrative rule” by Alexander Fulbright: “Despite a series of economic incentives approved on Sunday by the Israeli cabinet, the US wants to see greater concessions to the Palestinian Authority and views the recent measures as insufficient, Channel 10 reported Wednesday. Specifically they have asked for areas in the northern West Bank to be transferred from Area C to Area B, according to the report… The Prime Minister’s Office later denied the Channel 10 report.” [ToI] • Naftali Bannett: “The era in which we treat the Land of Israel as a mere piece of real estate – that era is over.” [INN]
“After Trump’s Israel love offensive, will Bibi reach a deal with him?” by Ben Caspit: “There is no way Trump will be able to ignore the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative if he really wants to resuscitate the now moribund diplomatic process. But will Netanyahu be willing to enter into negotiations on the basis of that initiative? Given the current state of his coalition, the answer is no… The question now is whether President Trump will be able to create the iron bridge that Netanyahu can use to cross that Rubicon for the first time in his career.” [Al-Monitor]
“We Can’t Predict Whether Trump Will Succeed in the Middle East” by Hussein Ibish: “The big danger is that Trump is raising expectations only to see them dashed because he lacks a real plan… Even with the best of intentions, miscalculations can cause enormous harm… Alternatively, this may be just another Trumpian boondoggle, a baseless and reckless gamble at everybody else’s expense.” [TheAtlantic]
“Israel’s ‘Biggest Friend’? Not Quite” by Bari Weiss: “Mr. Trump may be a boor, goes the logic, but didn’t he promise to tear up the Iran deal? Wouldn’t the man who called himself Israel’s “biggest friend” finally move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? And wouldn’t the straight-talker buck the stalemated peace process and acknowledge the truth about the conflict — namely, that Palestinian recalcitrance, not settlements, is the real obstacle to peace? To paraphrase the country singer Toby Keith: How do you like him now? That’s a question that Mr. Trump’s pro-Israel supporters ought to begin asking themselves in the wake of the president’s visit this week to Jerusalem… There are plenty of people who might make an argument in favor of Mr. Trump’s decision to maintain all the essential features of the policy status quo that he inherited from Mr. Obama. But based on this visit, Mr. Trump’s right-wing pro-Israel supporters aren’t — or shouldn’t be — among them.” [NYTimes]
ON THE HILL TODAY — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee will be voting on a new Iran sanctions bill. All Republicans, with the possible exception of Senator Rand Paul (KY), are expected to support the Senate legislation in addition to prominent Democratic co-sponsors such as Ranking Member Ben Cardin (MD) and Cory Booker (NJ). Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) told Jewish Insider last week that they were still undecided about the legislation. The bill was delayed until after Iran’s presidential elections, which occurred on Friday, to avoid any appearance of US intervention in Iranian internal affairs.
John Kerry’s tweetstorm: “After Rouhani’s reelection, there is much up in the air/room for misinterpretation. This is not the moment for a new Iran bill. There are many tools to up the pressure already in place and at our disposal. We need to weigh/consider risk to JCPOA. We need to consider the implications of confrontation without conversation.” [Twitter]
–Update: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted just now as we’re going to print. The committee passed the new Iran sanctions bill by a vote of 18-3 with only one Republican (Rand Paul) voting against it. Senators Udall and Merkley also opposed the measure.
“Treasury chief says reviewing Iran’s aircraft licenses” by David Lawder: “The U.S. Treasury is reviewing licenses for Boeing Co and Airbus to sell aircraft to Iran, department head Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday… “We will use everything within our power to put additional sanctions on Iran, Syria and North Korea to protect American lives,” Mnuchin said in testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee. “I can assure you that’s a big focus of mine and I discuss it with the president.”” [Reuters]
VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — “Trump’s $110 Billion Arms Deal With Saudis Shouldn’t Worry Israel, Ex-intel Chief Says” by Gili Cohen: “U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in the recent massive arms deal does not endanger Israel and is therefore no cause for concern, according to Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, the head of the Institute for National Security Studies. “It consists of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system to intercept ballistic missiles, whose chance of reaching us is very low, tanks Israel knows how to deal with and Black Hawk helicopters – these are weapons that shouldn’t raise concern,” Yadlin told Haaretz.” [Haaretz]
On Capitol Hill, Members of Congress raised questions about the Trump administration’s weapons deal with Riyadh — by Aaron Magid: Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) told Jewish Insider on Wednesday afternoon that the agreement “complicates the QME issue. We want Israel to always have a qualitative military edge in that region. It’s great that right now there seems to be a rapprochement between the Sunni states and Israel, but if we’re starting a new arms race to maintain the QM, that’s not a positive thing.”
Across the aisle, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) urged further time to examine the deal. “As we speak, I’m working to learn more. I’m sympathetic to Israel’s concerns so I’ve asked my staff a few hours ago to pull more information so we can see what new agreement was made. I share the concerns of Israel, which is our most cherished and reliable ally in the Middle East,” he said.
PALACE INTRIGUE: “Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump leave foreign trip early” by Jordan Fabian: “Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump will leave the president’s nine-day foreign trip early to return to Washington… “The plan was always for them to go back to D.C. after Rome,” a White House official told reporters… The official explained his decision to leave early, saying Kushner “helped plan and oversee the first part of the trip” that included the stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and at the Vatican.” [TheHill]
“Ivanka and Jared’s Roman date night in Rome” by Jennifer Smith: “The married couple dined at da Sabatino le Cave di Saint Ignazio restaurant… Their date night menu consisted of pizza margherita and caprese salad for Ivanka and a heartier combination of pasta, dumpling and bruschetta for Jared.” [DailyMail] • Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Failed to Disclose Their Multimillion-Dollar Art Collection [Artnet]
“Spicer’s absence in papal visit reveals Trump’s family-first rule” by Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny: “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — who are both Jewish but nonetheless attended the Vatican session with the President — have rarely been away from the President’s side as he navigates the tricky international politics of the Middle East and Europe.” [CNN]
BUZZ ON BALFOUR: “Israeli police question U.S. casino mogul Adelson in Netanyahu probe” by Maayan Lubell: “Israeli police questioned U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson on Thursday as part of an ongoing criminal investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a law enforcement source said… The source said Adelson gave his testimony in regard to what police have dubbed “Case 2000″, involving suspicions Netanyahu negotiated a deal in 2015 for favorable press coverage with the owner of Israel’s best-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth… Adelson, who visits Israel periodically and was questioned in a police station near Tel Aviv, is not a suspect, said the law enforcement source.” [Reuters]
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Dan Loeb says Dow-DuPont merger plan may leave $20 billion on table [CNBC] • Peter Lowy Maps Westfield Growth [LABJ] • David Bistricer’s Clipper Realty to buy Touro College building on UWS for $79M [TRD] • Guess How Much Penn President Amy Gutmann Makes Now [PhillyMag] • The 25 coolest tech companies in Israel [BI] • Mark Cuban leads $1.5 million round in SaaS management tool Meta SaaS [VentureBeat]
TALK OF THE TOWN: “Plaza Hotel has a promising deal with a Saudi prince” by Lois Weiss and Steve Cuozzo: “Hoping to lift the storied Plaza Hotel out of a years-long rut, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal has partnered with Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. to force a buyout. The deal could pry the Plaza out of the hands of accused fraudster Subrata Roy, who had been locked up in India amid allegations that he bilked investors out of billions of dollars, leaving the Fifth Avenue landmark’s operations to languish over the past five years… City boosters are hoping the Plaza can finally open a new chapter, with a purchase by Ashkenazky, headed by Ben Ashkenazy and Michael Alpert, of a controlling portion of Al-Waleed’s pivotal stake in the hotel.” [NYPost]
“NYC Council Speaker Defends Zoning Chairman’s Right to Raise Political Cash From Real Estate” by Will Bredderman: “Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito today argued Councilman David Greenfield, her chairman of the powerful Committee on Land Use, has a legal right to use a state campaign account to circumvent local regulations barring politicians from raising money from real estate companies. The Observer revealed on Monday that the councilman has maintained GreenfieldNY, a political committee for an undeclared state office… As of January, GreenfieldNY had a balance of $308,641.71. Of that, $86,600 came from corporate donors, all but a few of them directly tied to development interests—donations that city Campaign Finance Board rules explicitly forbid, but which state Board of Election regulations allow.” [Observer]
“Simcha Felder Tells Fellow Rogue Democrats to Rejoin the Party Fold” by Jesse McKinley: “Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who also sides with the Republicans… sent a letter urging Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, the leader of the faction, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, to “unconditionally and publicly rejoin the Democrats.” Mr. Felder’s letter concluded by suggesting he might unify with fellow Democrats, too, if the conference did. Mr. Felder has previously said he would side with whatever party would best serve his district, which includes a large population of Orthodox Jews.” [NYTimes]
ACROSS THE POND: “Ariana Grande’s manager Scooter Braun’s heartbroken wife pays tribute to Manchester bombing victims” by Lara Martin: “The wife of Ariana Grande ’s manager Scooter Braun has paid heartfelt tribute to the victims of the Manchester concert bombing that left 22 innocent people dead. Yael Cohen Braun reflected on the devastating terror attack while spending precious time with her and Scooter’s eldest son, Jagger, during a family day out at a snow park. Alongside a photo of her with Jagger and her father, she wrote: “My dad and I took my big boy to see snow for the first time today… Held space in the moment for the 23 families who have lost moments like this forever. Snuggling those I love a little closer today.”” [Mirror]
“How US intelligence leaks upset two allies in one week” by Zachary Cohen: “Just days after President Donald Trump was reported to have revealed highly sensitive, likely Israeli-shared intelligence to Russian officials in the Oval Office, the United Kingdom is voicing its frustration over leaked information coming from US sources. UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd slammed US leaks on the investigation into the attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, as “irritating” on Wednesday after a string of details emerged from US law enforcement sources before they were released by British police or officials.” [CNN]
PROFILE: “Wanna Know What Donald Trump Is Really Thinking? Read Maggie Haberman” by Rachael Combe: “Maggie’s magic is that she’s the dominant reporter on the [White House] beat, and she doesn’t even live in Washington… She’s so well-sourced and so well-connected that she doesn’t need to,” [Annie] Karni says… Trump has also sent her his famous press clippings with Sharpie notes on them, mostly with criticisms, but at least once with praise. Lately he’s gone digital (sort of): He’ll write the note on the clip, and then have White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks take a picture of the note and e-mail it to her.” [Elle]
“Eli Pariser Predicted the Future. Now He Can’t Escape It” by Jessi Hempel: “Six years after the Upworthy cofounder coined the term “filter bubble,” things are much worse. The problem with online distribution, Pariser believes, is that specific, true information can’t compete with that guy surfing off his roof. “Is the truth loud enough?” he asks. “If the problem is that the truth isn’t loud enough, it points in very different directions than if the problem is that fake news is misleading people.” [BackChannel]
MEDIA WATCH: “Ken Kurson resigns at Kushner-owned ‘New York Observer’” by Dylan Byers: “Ken Kurson, the editor-in-chief of Jared Kushner’s family-owned New York Observer, has resigned. In a move rich with political intrigue, Mr. Kurson said he would begin a new job next week as a senior managing director at Teneo Strategy, a division of the corporate advisory firm run by allies of Bill and Hillary Clinton. In a memo to staff, Kurson said Kushner had “never received the credit he deserves for supporting independent journalism and contributing to the cultural fabric of our city.” Defending Kushner against the “snark” and “unfair criticism” of his detractors, Kurson said the Observer “wouldn’t exist were it not for the willingness… of the Kushner family to cut those checks. They didn’t have to do that.”” [CNNMoney; NYTimes]
SPORTS BLINK — Heard Last Night: “On Wednesday, John Elway received the Mizel Institute 2017 Community Enrichment Award in recognition of his more than three decades of community service in Colorado. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock served as masters of ceremonies at the dinner and presented Elway with special honors from the state and city. About the honor, Elway said, “As far as what Larry Mizel’s done for the community with the Mizel Institute and everything, I’m proud to be a part of it. I’m obviously humbled. There’s been a lot of great people that have won this award before tonight. The list of awardees before me is tremendous. I thank Larry so much, and I’m humbled by the award.” [MileHighSports; ABC7]
DESSERT: “Silver Lake’s Mh Zh Is The Israeli Sidewalk Cafe That L.A. Didn’t Know It Was Missing” by Oren Peleg: “Mh Zh, a new Israeli restaurant opened in Silver Lake this Spring, fits into the second of these two metrics. Co-owner Conor Shemtov may be a native Angeleno, but he has spent years in kitchens near and far, including time in the central Israeli city of Ramla. The Israeli influence remains. The restaurant’s name itself is a Hebrew play on words. Mh Zh, pronounced “mAH zeh” means “what is this” in Hebrew, but could just as easily be read as mezze, a Middle Eastern version of tapas.” [LAist]
BIRTHDAYS: Physicist and winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics, Jack Steinberger turns 96… Academy Award winning film producer and director, responsible for 50 major motion pictures, Irwin Winkler turns 86… Co-founder and CEO of the clothing manufacturer, Calvin Klein Inc., which he formed with his childhood friend Calvin Klein, he is also a former horse racing industry executive, Barry K. Schwartz turns 75… Judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1986 (including 7 years as Chief Judge), now on senior status, Douglas H. Ginsburg turns 71… British journalist, editor, author and Jewish community leader, he has been the City Editor of the Daily Mail (London) since May 2000 and a past VP of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Alex Brummer turns 68… Actor, voice actor, and stand-up comedian sometimes referred to as “Yid Vicious,” Bobby Slayton turns 62… Member of the Australian Parliament since 2016, Julian Leeser turns 41… NYC-based senior producer for i24 News, Alison Kurtzman turns 27… Pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization who had two effective appearances for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, Ryan Sherriff turns 27… Olympic Gold medalist at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics, gymnast Aly Raisman turns 23… South Florida resident Marjorie Moidel… Laura Goldman… John Davis… Robin Kramer…
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