Moderate Democrats stay mum on Malley pick as Iran envoy
Robert Malley has reportedly been chosen as the Biden administration’s envoy to Iran, confirming a report from Jewish Insider last week that the former Obama administration official was under consideration for the role. Malley, a veteran foreign policy analyst who is currently the president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, was one of the key negotiators of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
“Secretary Blinken is building a dedicated team, drawing from clear-eyed experts with a diversity of views. Leading that team as our special envoy for Iran will be Rob Malley, who brings to the position a track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran’s nuclear program,” a senior State Department official told Reuters. “The secretary is confident he and his team will be able to do that once again.”
TheNew York Times cited a senior State Department official who said that Malley and other diplomats’ first step, before approaching Iran, will be to consult with leaders in the Middle East, Europe and Congress to hear their concerns.
Over the past week, a number of prominent progressive Democrats coalesced behind Malley, while Republicans and some moderate Democrats criticized him for his close relationships with Iranian leaders and for meeting with members of Hamas — which cost him his role as an advisor to President Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.
“You can’t do better than Rob Malley,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told Jewish Insider on Wednesday. “He knows the region. He’s willing to think outside of the foreign policy consensus. He has a lot of friends on the Hill. Whatever Rob Malley is being considered for, I’d be supportive. I’ve relied on him a lot during my time in the Senate.”
Other Senate Democrats are more skeptical about the pick, two Democratic congressional staffers told JI.
“Malley would be an odd choice. I say so since our ability to navigate the Iran issue from Congress will be largely dependent on the administration’s willingness to consult about their approach/decisions,” one aide said. “While some Republicans are already struggling to outflank each other from the right on anything Biden does, having an envoy that is viewed as moderate and restrained would be to everyone’s advantage.”
One Democratic senate staffer said that moderates are hesitant to speak out the pick publicly, despite some reservations.
“The consensus is that the criticism isn’t totally off-base but is a little overblown, so folks aren’t going to pile on,” the staffer said. “At the same time, he’s disliked enough in pro-Israel circles that it isn’t worth it to make a nuanced case about the criticism. It’s not like anyone truly loves this guy, either. And at the end of the day, [President Joe] Biden and [Secretary of State Tony] Blinken are in charge and we trust them.”
Moderate Senate Democrats were, at least publicly, remaining quiet about Malley ahead of Thursday’s news. A spokesperson for incoming Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) — who expressed skepticism about the Biden administration’s plans to rejoin the Iran deal — declined to comment to JI on Wednesday.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) — who opposed the Iran deal in 2015 — declined to comment Thursday and told JI that he needed to refresh his recollection of Malley’s background. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told JI on Wednesday that he felt it was premature to comment on reports that Malley had been offered the position, adding that he planned to review reporting about Malley that afternoon. A spokesperson for Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) also declined to comment.
Outside Congress, progressive leaders and groups rallied around Malley following backlash over reports that he was likely to become the administration’s point person on Iran. Nearly 200 academics, foreign policy professionals, organizations and others released a letter supporting Malley, describing him as “among the most respected foreign policy experts in the United States” and “an astute analyst and accomplished diplomat.”
“Those who accuse Malley of sympathy for the Islamic Republic have no grasp of — or no interest in — true diplomacy, which requires a level-headed understanding of the other side’s motivations and knowledge that can only be acquired through dialogue,” the letter continues. “As veterans of diplomacy and human rights work, and organizations that support the same, we hope that someone as capable and knowledgeable as Rob Malley is put in charge of fixing our broken policy towards Iran.”
This post was updated at 4:55 p.m. on 1/31/2021.
Biden’s U.N. ambassador nominee pledges to support Israel at the U.N
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Joe Biden’s pick for ambassador to the United Nations, pledged to stand behind Israel in her role at the U.N. during her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing Wednesday.
In response to a question from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Greenfield addressed attacks on the Jewish state at the U.N.
“I look forward to standing with Israel, standing against the unfair targeting of Israel, the relentless resolutions that are proposed against Israel unfairly and… look forward to working closely with the Israeli embassy, with the Israeli ambassador to work to bolster Israel’s security and to expand economic opportunities for Israelis and Americans alike and widen the circle of peace,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “It goes without saying that Israel has no closer friend than the United States and I will reflect that in my actions at the United Nations.”
The former assistant secretary of state for African affairs also praised the recent normalization agreements between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, describing them as opportunities for further progress both within the U.N. and around the globe.
“I see the Abraham Accords as offering us an opportunity to work in a different way with the countries who have recognized Israel… We need to push those countries to change their approach at the United Nations. If they’re going to recognize Israel in the Abraham Accords, they need to recognize Israel’s rights at the United Nations,” she said. “I intend to work closely with the Israeli ambassador, with my colleagues across the globe, because this is not just an issue in New York — but also pushing our colleagues to address these issues with their countries bilaterally so that we can get a better recognition of Israel in New York.”
She also condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
“I find the actions and the approach that BDS has taken toward Israel unacceptable. It verges on antisemitism,” she said. “It is important that they not be allowed to have a voice at the United Nations.”
Thomas-Greenfield also said she plans to implement a robust approach to thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, with the goal of engaging both U.S. allies and adversaries in countering the Iranian regime.
“We will be working with our allies, our friends, but we also have to work with other members of the Security Council to ensure that we hold Iran accountable,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “As the ambassador to the United Nations, if I’m confirmed, I will work across all of those areas to ensure that we get the support but [also] see where we can find common ground with the Russians and the Chinese to put more pressure on the Iranians to push them back into strict compliance.”
Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee did not raise the issue of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, a 2016 measure that declared that Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories have “no legal validity” and constitute “a flagrant violation under international law.” In a rare step, the U.S. broke with Israel at the time and abstained in the Security Council vote on the resolution. In 2017, 78 senators cosponsored a resolution condemning the resolution.
Israelis expect a different approach from the Biden administration
Former Israeli defense officials offered differing views of the incoming Biden administration’s top Middle East priorities this week. Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon celebrated the former vice president’s victory, while former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett praised President Donald Trump for his work in the region and expressed hope that President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will chart a different course from previous Democratic administrations.
Bennett said the outgoing Trump administration “was simply outstanding in so many dimensions of support of Israel,” highlighting the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem; the killing earlier this year of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force; and the maximum pressure campaign on Iran.
For Ayalon, Biden’s election and the selection of his national security team are a welcome moment for the security and future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
In a recent interview with Jewish Insider, Ayalon emphasized that the Biden administration’s emphasis on diplomacy will prioritize both resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as part of a broad initiative to move forward with advancing peace and countering Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region.
“Israel will not be safe, it will not be a Jewish democracy, unless we come to an agreement with the Palestinians,” posited Ayalon, who co-founded the Israeli NGO Blue White Future in 2009 to push for a negotiated peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. “I believe that in order to create this Sunni coalition as a future basis to confront Iran and create more stability in the region, we have to come to an agreement with the Palestinians.”
Ayalon suggested that while Israelis appreciated Trump’s support of Israel, the foreign policy team Biden has assembled will gauge Israeli concerns about a return to the Obama administration’s approach to the conflict, which was perceived by Israeli leadership at the time as aggressive and somewhat hostile. “Even if they are the same people [who served in the Obama administration], they are older and they are much more experienced,” he stressed.
Israeli leaders may also be more willing to consider peace process concessions depending on the next administration’s approach to Iran, Ayalon said. “If Israelis will feel that [a two-state solution] is the price that Israel will have to pay in order to remove the Iranian threat, a majority will support it,” he suggested.
Bennett expressed different expectations from the Biden administration. In a Zoom call hosted by the Zionist Organization of America on Wednesday, Bennett — whose party, Yamina, is polling in second place behind its right-wing rival Likud — projected that the Biden administration will learn from the mistakes of the past and take a different approach that will be more acceptable to the nationalist camp.
“The other path has been taken so many times and failed so many times, and brought immense damage and suffering on the region,” Bennett asserted. “There is a price to pay for failed so-called peace attempts — usually it ends up with another round of violence and people die. And I think the incoming administration is very experienced. They’ve been there, seen that, done that. I’m not ignoring the well-known opinions, but I do think that we need to sit down and think thoroughly about how to manage the disagreements that we might have.”
It is unlikely that U.S.-Israel ties will be as strained as they were during the Obama administration, Bennett said, explaining that the peace process is likely to be “far down the list” of Biden’s priorities. Bennett also expressed hope that “stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon does not become a partisan issue” in the U.S.
The former defense minister predicted that as more Arab countries express willingness to normalize relations with Israel, the paradigm of first resolving the Palestinian issue will become irrelevant. “I’ve always said that I’m okay with ‘land for peace’ — we are willing to accept land for peace from anyone who wants to provide us [with land],” Bennett quipped, adding, that “more seriously, the notion of ‘land for peace’ is crazy, and certainly, this will be one of the issues that we’re going to have to address.”
Rep. Tom Malinowski dishes on former JCC teammate Tony Blinken
It took just over two weeks for Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) to be formally declared the winner in New Jersey’s 7th district election. The Associated Press called the race for Malinowski hours after polls closed, but his sizable lead over State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr., shrank from 28,000 votes to just 5,314 — a 1% margin — by November 24. The first-term incumbent, who beat longtime incumbent Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) by more than 16,000 votes in 2018 is, nonetheless, satisfied with the win.
In an interview with Jewish Insider on the eve of Thanksgiving, Malinowski sounded relieved. “I had a tougher challenge than many people,” said Malinowski, one of roughly a dozen Democrats reelected in districts that went for President Donald Trump. “[The Republicans] really put up a strong opponent, spent a lot of money. So I feel like we overcame a lot.”
Malinowski is also grateful that during his second term, he will serve both in the House majority and alongside a White House he feels he can work with, opening the door to collaborate on issues important to the New Jersey congressman.
President-elect Joe Biden’s recently announced pick for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, added to the New Jersey congressman’s excitement. Malinowski and Blinken are longtime colleagues, having both served together under former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The pair were also teammates on the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, D.C.’s indoor soccer team.
Last week, when reports emerged that Blinken had been nominated to be the country’s top diplomat, Malinowski tweeted a picture of the team after their only championship win, from the the winter of 2005, with the caption, “[Blinken] will be joining the best foreign policy team since this one… which was undefeated!”
“You don’t realize. This is a great honor for you,” Malinowski gleefully bragged in his JI interview. “You are talking to the goalie of the D.C. Jewish community center championship indoor soccer team.”
“We were just awesome. We were just so good,” Malinowski said of his team, which also included former Obama administration officials Robert Malley and Philip Gordon.
Malinowski first met Blinken at the State Department in the Clinton administration during the tenure of former Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Malinowski was Christopher’s speechwriter, while Blinken worked in the European Bureau. In 1994, Blinken left Foggy Bottom to become Clinton’s chief foreign policy speechwriter and director for speechwriting at the National Security Council, a role Malinowski took over four years later.
Malinowski shared with JI that while serving in the Clinton White House, he and Blinken “teamed up” to write “parody versions of famous songs, where we changed the lyrics to make fun of our foreign policy” and “directed a couple of self-parody movies together.” When pressed, Malinowski declined to leak the revised lyrics or share footage of the films — at least not before Blinken’s Senate confirmation.
The two friends later “revived the band” when they served together in the State Department under Obama.
“Tony and I share a sense of humor about the world, a belief that the more serious your job, the more important it is to find some humor in it,” Malinowski explained.
Blinken is “a great diplomat,” Malinowski said of his close friend. “He has the right personality for the job. He will be a good leader for the people at the State Department who have been disparaged and dismissed by the current [Trump] administration.”
“I think this is the first president in my lifetime who is appointing, from my point of view, the perfect person for every job,” Malinowski added, speaking more broadly about Biden’s key administration appointments.
Malinowki said that both Blinken and Jake Sullivan, who was tapped as Biden’s national security advisor, “are strong believers in the idea that American power comes from American principles, and that there has to be a moral component to our foreign policy if we are to advance our interests effectively. They both have a tendency to challenge conventional wisdom. They are comfortable with being challenged by others, and I think they’ll always tell the president what he needs to hear, not just what he wants to hear.”
Even if Republicans maintain control of the Senate following two Georgia runoffs in early January, Malinowski predicted a smooth confirmation process for Biden’s foreign policy team. “I’m sure the Republicans will suddenly rediscover their obligation to conduct oversight now that there’s a Democratic president,” he quipped. “But so far the people Biden has nominated are people who enjoy broad bipartisan respect in Washington.”
The Democratic congressman — who was endorsed for his reelection bid by J Street, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, and Democratic Majority for Israel — sought to reassure supporters of Israel that as the chief diplomat representing the Biden administration, Blinken “is always going to listen” on issues affecting Israel. Malinowski also noted that there are “few leaders in the Democratic Party, or any party, who will be more grounded in a traditional American approach in support for Israel security, who understand more clearly the moral and historical basis for America’s relationship with Israel.”
“And if you come to him with a thoughtful and principled argument, he’s going to hear you out,” Malinowski emphasized, “Tony’s not an ideologue. He’s not insecure in the way I think [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo was.”
Still, Malinowski cautioned that the Israeli government “has to understand that there are going to be significant changes” in the Biden administration’s approach in the Middle East, particularly toward Saudi Arabia. “I think it would be a very serious mistake for the Israeli government to think that they can somehow shield a guy like [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] from that change, solely because he has — for pragmatic and self-interest reasons — moved closer to the Israeli perspective on some issues,” Malinowski warned. “This is an administration that is going to care about human rights, for example. It is going to care about the plight of civilians in Yemen. It’s not going to tolerate governments in the Middle East that kidnapped and chopped to pieces journalists,” referencing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
According to Malinowski, the recent secret meeting between bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is not an alignment that is in Israel’s medium- to long-term interests.”
“This is the administration that will be very pro-Israel,” he continued, “but that alignment has to be disentangled from our relationship with Gulf states that have been behaving in many ways that are directly contrary to U.S. interests.”
Danon warns Iran deal could test U.S.-Israel ties under Biden
As the Biden-Harris transition team begins to build out its incoming administration and speak with foreign leaders, Israeli political observers caution that an immediate return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran — while renegotiating the agreement’s terms — could put the Biden administration and the Israeli government on a collision course.
“I believe that on most issues, we will be able to work with the new administration. But I think the key question is the Iranian issue,” former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said in an interview with Jewish Insider. “This is a crucial issue for Israel. We heard Joe Biden speak about re-entering the JCPOA with some amendments. And the question is how it will look at the end. If the U.S. returns to an agreement that will be similar to the [previous] agreement, it means that Israel will have to recalculate its approach regarding Iran.”
Danon suggested that if a new Iran deal were to have the same outcome, just “with different titles,” Israel would be obligated to oppose the deal and “take the necessary steps to ensure Iran will never obtain nuclear capabilities.”
The former Israeli diplomat, who is a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said that Israel will have to “carefully” examine the Biden administration’s approach to the Middle East and engagement with international organizations as it shifts away from President Donald Trump’s policies. Danon, who represented Israel at the U.N. during the last year of former President Barack Obama’s second term and for most of Trump’s time in office, said that while he expects some changes to Israel’s standing at the U.N. — especially if the new administration rejoins the Human Rights Council and reinstates currently frozen U.S. funds to the U.N. body that supports Palestinian refugees — “I think we will still have the support of the U.S., but it will require more effort from our side.”
Danon added that if Biden is “supportive of Israel, he will gain the trust and support of Israelis very fast.”
Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi suggested that the two sides will “inevitably come into conflict” over the Iranian issue, predicting a “tough fight” for Israel to keep the U.S. from returning to the terms of the 2015 deal.
“The Palestinian issue is not going to cause a major rupture between Israel and America,” explained Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. “Biden isn’t Obama. He’s not going to go to war for a two-state solution. He is a seasoned enough politician to understand what Obama did not understand, which is that you don’t go for broke on an issue that you don’t have sufficient leverage on for both sides.”
But on the Iranian threat, he argued, Israel has more leverage than it had in 2015. In the wake of the recently signed normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Klein Halevi suggested, Israel now has “a shared strategic structure to confront the international community.”
On Tuesday, Netanyahu pushed back against the notion that strained ties between Israel and the Democratic Party in recent years would undercut a good working relationship with the Biden administration. “What I see before my eyes is not Democrats and not Republicans. It is just the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said during a speech at the Knesset. “I am committed to stand behind the interests that are crucial to our future and our existence and this is how I will continue even with the next American administration.”
In his remarks, Netanyahu pointed to his decades-long relationship with Biden and the personal moments they shared “that are beyond politics and beyond diplomacy.”
The Israeli premier said that over the last four years, he has met with 134 Democratic members of Congress — of the 292 who have visited Israel since 2017 — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), as well as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Netanyahu said the meetings occurred “because I believe that strengthening the bipartisan support for Israel is a basic foundation of our foreign policy.”
Netanyahu noted that even amid tension with the Obama administration, Israel and the U.S. signed a record $38 billion memorandum of understanding of security assistance. “That’s how a prime minister in Israel must act,” he said. “Not by submitting or groveling and also not arrogantly but with the wisdom, courage, dignity of a person who fights for his people, for his land and for his country.”
Shimrit Meir, an Israeli analyst and commentator, told JI that Netanyahu’s defense “was mainly about domestic politics at the moment.” According to Meir, Netanyahu needs to position himself as “a strong experienced prime minister” who is able to handle relations with the U.S. regardless of which party controls the White House.
Meir noted that while Netanyahu speaks perfect English, “I don’t think he speaks their language.”
Klein Halevi concurred: “Bibi has burned most bridges with the Democrats.”
Brad Schneider: Resolution will ‘remind’ lawmakers of QME guarantee to Israel
Amid discussion on Capitol Hill over the potential sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) is working to remind lawmakers of Washington’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.
In a webinar with the Jewish Institute for National Security of America on Wednesday, Schneider elaborated on the reasoning behind the resolution he introduced earlier this month that reinforces the legal guarantees for Israel’s qualitative military edge. He said the bill is designed to remind both the Trump administration and Congress of the U.S.’s responsibility to guarantee the QME.
“A lot of my colleagues in Congress are relatively new… 100 new members came in in the last Congress, and 80 in the one before that. There’s been quite a bit of turnover,” he said. “I thought it was important to remind not just the administration, but my colleagues as well that Congress has an important role to play here.”
Schneider said that, in considering an F-35 sale, the U.S. should carefully examine the UAE’s needs, as well as the U.S.’s own principles and obligations. The Democratic lawmaker seemed skeptical of the Trump administration’s negotiations over the sale.
“I fear that that conversation was had in a very different way and that promises were made,” he said. “The news about it seems to be reinforcing that there was a promise to the UAE, concurrent if not dependent on the Abraham [Accords] that they would get F-35 jets.”
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), an original cosponsor of Schneider’s bill, also recently emphasized to JI that Congress will need to thoroughly vet the sale.
“I’ve been clear throughout that we will not allow Israel’s qualitative military edge to be threatened,” Deutch told JIin late September. “We don’t know the background story here. We don’t know what was promised, what the deal was, what is exactly that we ought to be focused on… There’s a lot of information that Congress needs to receive from the administration and we will carefully review [it] when we receive it.”
On Wednesday, Schneider pushed back on arguments from UAE officials that the F-35 is the “logical” upgrade to its existing fleet of F-16s, which the Gulf nation acquired in 2004. He expressed concern over the potential for an arms race in the Middle East, with other countries also seeking access to the jets.
“I always have concerns about inserting advanced military weapons into a complex and sometimes chaotic environment,” he said. “The last thing we should be promoting is an arms race.”
But he also emphasized that, should Congress find that Israel’s interests would remain protected, “I can’t imagine Congress would get in the way” of the sale.
Schneider acknowledged that his bill may struggle to gain traction during the lame duck session after Election Day — Congress is in recess until the election — but he said he is engaging in behind-the-scenes conversations, and hopes his bill will receive a committee hearing.
Schneider also suggested that, under the right circumstances, lawmakers could generate support in Congress for increasing military aid to Israel beyond what was laid out in the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding.
“It depends on how it’s framed. Language dictates so much of what happens in Congress,” he said. “The 435 members of the House and Senate, all of them come with the biases they start with. And our job is to try to shift them to a place where we can find common ground.”
UAE chief rabbi: 10,000 Jews could soon live in gulf nation
United Arab Emirates Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna predicted during a Jewish Insider webcast yesterday that the small Jewish community in Dubai and Abu Dhabi could soon number in the thousands.
“It would not surprise me if in a number of years, if we’re not looking at 1,000 Jews in the UAE, but we’re looking at something closer to 10,000 — and we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of Israeli and Jewish tourists a year,” Sarna said.
When Sarna was named the inaugural chief rabbi of the UAE in March 2019, the announcement made waves around the world. But, said UAE Ambassador to the United Nations Lana Nusseibeh during the JI virtual event, the appointment marked an important moment in relations between Israel and the UAE, and more broadly, between Jews and Muslims across the globe.
“I think what it demonstrated to colleagues at the U.N. is that this is what is at stake in our work every day in multilateral diplomacy and these agreements that we sign, that ultimately they are about the people-to-people connection,” Nusseibeh said.
Sarna first visited the UAE after New York University — where he has served as a university chaplain since 2002 — opened a campus in Abu Dhabi in 2008.
“When I received the invitation from [then NYU] President John Sexton to come to Abu Dhabi, truth is I’d never heard of it before, I could not have pointed to it on a map and knew nothing of its history or heritage,” Sarna admitted.
“From that first moment when I landed in the airport in Abu Dhabi and was just treated like everyone else, was treated with such a sense of welcoming and hospitality. But [what] it almost immediately did is it began pulling apart my own stereotypes. Even though I had been the one working to combat Islamophobia, nevertheless, there were still remnants, which I had to come to terms with on my own.”
And the recent UAE-Israel peace accord, Sarna said, will have a major global impact.
“I think what we’re looking at is really a tipping point in Muslim-Jewish relations worldwide,” Sarna added. “There is a tremendous, tremendous enthusiasm, curiosity, energy, excitement, about building out not just the political dimensions of the accord, but building out everything else that it’s giving a platform to.”
Nusseibeh agreed, telling the webcast: “I don’t find it surprising that I spent Yom Kippur yesterday speaking to a synagogue in Rye, [New York].”
Both panelists agreed that the normalization process could serve as a model for future relationships in the region.
“Our foreign minister announced today that we would be seeking election to the U.N. Security Council, the highest body for peace and security,” Nusseibeh shared. “The vote will happen in June next year. And I think it’s an opportunity for us to demonstrate everything that we have been discussing here today about our model, our perspective for the region, a perspective of openness, tolerance, integration, working to find regional solutions.”
Beyond the political and cultural impacts of the normalization agreement, both Nusseibeh and Sarna expressed optimism for the economic opportunities afforded by the normalization of two growing economies.
“Jews who are living in the UAE came, for the most part, because they feel safe there. And for economic opportunity, whether they’re coming from Europe or South Africa, or the United States, or Canada, or Syria, or Lebanon or Tunisia,” Sarna explained. “With rising antisemitism in several countries, and with economies in certain countries not being as strong, they felt like there was opportunity.”
Nusseibeh echoed that sentiment. “I think, on the people-to-people level, everyone is looking for the opportunities for growth,” she said. “We understand we have a massive youth demographic, we need to provide opportunities for that youth demographic around our region. And we’re looking at ways to innovate startups, AI, and all these other industries.”
“What struck me is that while we’re witnessing a moment and an opportunity,” she continued, “we’re also taking on a responsibility, all of us who witnessed that, who supported that, who thought it was the right step for the region. And I think that responsibility is to make this work, to realize this vision for peace in our region.”
Sarna shared with the webcast that he spent Rosh Hashanah in Abu Dhabi this year. He said he met Israelis who had already moved to the UAE in the weeks since the Abraham Accords were announced. And he believes the free movement between the countries will have a long-lasting effect.
“I think one unforeseen consequence of this is that a deeper engagement between Israelis and Emiratis will actually challenge, for many Israelis, their notion of what does it mean to be Arab,” Sarna concluded. “And I think that will very much have a bit of a moderating effect on the Israeli political spectrum.”
UAE’s Al Otaiba goes behind the scenes of the Abraham Accords
United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba on Tuesday hailed the Trump administration for working to finalize a normalization agreement between the UAE and Israel, which he said came as a result of Emirati efforts to halt Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank.
During a Jewish Insider webcast alongside Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban — moderated by former White House deputy national security advisor Dina Powell McCormick — Al Otaiba described the behind-the-scenes efforts that culminated in the groundbreaking Abraham Accords.
One of the first steps in the process, Al Otaiba said, came when he asked Saban to help him publish an op-ed aimed at the Israeli public during the time that annexation was being considered. “Haim told me where it should be placed, when it should be placed and, the most important piece of advice on this was, you have to do it in Hebrew,” the ambassador said. “If you really want to speak to the Israelis, it has to be translated in Hebrew.”
“I remember a subsequent conversation with [Saban], asking, ‘Hey, do you think this article made an impact?’” Al Otaiba recalled. “He started laughing at me, like laughing loudly. He’s like, ‘You have no idea how much impact this article had.’ And it was shortly after the article we then started thinking of actual concrete ideas to avoid annexation.”
Al Otaiba said he remembered “having a really serious conversation with [White House Mideast peace envoy] Avi Berkowitz on July 2, right after he returned from Israel, and figuring out what we can do to prevent [annexation], how do we trade this? How do we give something better?”
The deal, which was formally signed earlier this month during a ceremony on the White House South Lawn, jump-started the normalization of relations between the two countries in exchange for Israel’s commitment to shelve a planned annexation of West Bank territory.
The panelists noted that while the threat of annexation may have brought the sides to the negotiating table, there was little doubt that the larger threat posed by Iran was also a driving force. “There is no question that when you have a common enemy that is, basically, a cancer in the region, you unite forces against that enemy,” remarked Saban, who explained that “people have realized that there is much more upside, aligning with Israel, and forming a front against Iran.”
Both Saban and Al Otaiba credited U.S. leadership for helping to manage the negotiation process and deliver on the agreements. “I think the United States government came through every single time,” Al Otaiba said. “And that’s the reason we had the signing ceremony two weeks ago at the White House.”
The Emirati ambassador lauded Berkowitz, Jared Kushner and Brig. Gen. Miguel Correa for their efforts. “I spoke and talked to them and met with them, probably more in that four weeks than I did with anybody else, including my own family. If it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure this deal would be done,” Al Otaiba said, adding: “for anything like this to happen, it takes an incredible amount of trust.”
Saban, a longtime donor to Democratic candidates and causes, including the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden, also praised Kushner, Al Otaiba, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed, Emirati Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed and Mossad director Yossi Cohen for paving the way for the deal. The Israeli-American businessman called the agreement “game-changing,” explaining: “There was no precedent for public commitment to normalization… Israelis would give their right arm to have peace with all its Arab neighbors.”
Al Otaiba echoed a similar interest in bilateral peace on the Emirati side, telling the webcast: “People always think we do not pay attention to public opinion inside the Emirates because we’re not a democracy. And it’s actually quite the opposite. Because we’re not a democracy, we have to be very in tune with what our people want, and what the streets feel. And people really wanted this. This is not something that we are forcing against the popular will of the parties that live in the country. There is a genuine energy, that people are excited about this.”
The three participants also sought to emphasize the economic benefits of the recent agreement.
Powell McCormick, who serves on Goldman Sachs’s management committee, noted that “we’re already having clients call us and ask about investment opportunities.”
Al Otaiba said he thinks “people forget about the immediate benefits that we’re going to have once you have direct commercial flights and tourism, about trade, investment, research, development, COVID research.” The ambassador added: “It is not a coincidence that when Jared Kushner came from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi on that historic flight, the first set of MOUs that we submitted to the United States to get done were on consular affairs, civil aviation, trade, prevention of double taxation, protection of investments — what we feel is the foundation, the infrastructure for any healthy relationship, so we can have mutual wins, so you can have trade investment R&D.”
Saban said at least five Israeli entrepreneurs have reached out to him with ideas to invest in the UAE. “Even my chief investment officer and the head of my VC division, they came to me and they said, ‘We have an idea that we can do with the Emiratis.’”
Al Otaiba noted how much has already occurred in just the few weeks since the accord was announced.
“We’ve already seen MOUs on AI, on COVID research, on health care and just today, a very prominent soccer club in Dubai bought an Israeli soccer player,” he noted. “Once an Emirati investor feels that he can invest in Israel safely, and an Israeli investor feels that he can invest in the UAE safely and not get taxed twice… I think the stars are the limit.”
In new book, H.R. McMaster describes White House debate over Iran deal
In a new book looking back at his time in the military and in several presidential administrations, former national security advisor H.R. McMaster expounds on what he thought were “fundamental flaws” in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and why he tried to persuade President Donald Trump not to withdraw from the deal.
In Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World, released on Tuesday, McMaster called the original JCPOA negotiated by former President Barack Obama “an extreme case of strategic narcissism based on wishful thinking” that led to “self-delusion and, ultimately the deception of the American people.”
Yet, when Trump wanted to make good on his campaign promise to leave the deal, McMaster made clear his opposition to withdrawing from the accord. In the book, McMaster explains that he wanted the U.S. to maintain leverage to punish Iran for its behavior on matters unrelated to the Iranian nuclear program and to get the parties in the agreement to fix the deal’s flaws. McMaster said he also wanted to avoid giving Tehran the opportunity to portray itself as a victim. But as he attempted to work on a comprehensive Iran strategy, McMaster wrote, Trump grew “impatient.”
McMaster details how he intervened in former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s efforts to certify the deal in April 2017, and how he successfully lobbied the president to recertify the agreement over the next two 90-day deadlines as required under the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. “We had created a window of opportunity for our allies to demonstrate the viability of staying in the deal while imposing costs on Iran,” McMaster writes. “That window closed soon after I departed the White House.” A month after McMaster left the administration, Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the deal.
The former national security official accuses the Obama administration of ignoring Iran’s behavior in the region and avoiding confrontation in an effort to preserve the accord. According to McMaster, Obama officials “focused on selling the deal rather than subjecting it to scrutiny” by using a “red herring” talking point — the Iraq War — to pose “the false dilemma” of either supporting the deal or going to war with Iran.
McMaster also offers his view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Trump peace plan announced in early 2020. Trump’s moves on Israel, he writes, “communicated support for Israel, but also removed incentives that might have been crucial in a future agreement.” While he described the rollout of the peace plan as “dead on arrival” due to lack of participation from Palestinian leaders, McMaster posits that the plan itself may at some point “help resurrect the possibility of a two-state solution.”
The book itself is not a tell-all on the Trump administration. McMaster does not write about being excluded from Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the president’s trip to Israel, or his disputes with Trump and Jared Kushner. “This is not the book that most people wanted me to write… a tell-all about my experience in the White House to confirm their opinions of Donald Trump,” McMaster writes in his preface. “Although writing such a book might be lucrative, I did not believe that it would be useful or satisfactory for most readers.”
McMaster accuses the Russians and the alt-right movement of leading a campaign against him, under the hashtag #FireMcMaster, because they viewed him as a threat to their agenda of undermining America’s national security. McMaster writes that the attacks against him were “often inconsistent” in nature. “For example, one caricature on social media portrayed me as a puppet of billionaire George Soros and the Rothschild family (both of whom were frequent targets of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories), while articles in the pseudo-media charged me and others on the NSC staff as being ‘anti-Israel’ and soft on Iran,” McMaster recalls.
Gottheimer introduces bill condemning Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists
A resolution introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) criticizes the Palestinian Authority for payments to terrorists and honors a woman from his district killed in a suicide bombing.
“I think you need to keep a spotlight on this until the Palestinian Authority comes out and renounces martyr payments to terrorists,” Gottheimer told Jewish Insider. “And I just don’t understand why that hasn’t happened. And we need to keep the pressure on to get them to do that.”
Sara Duker, 22, of Teaneck, N.J., was killed in a bus bombing in Jerusalem on February 25, 1996, which also took the lives of 25 other people. Two other Americans were also killed in the attack, and are referenced in the bill, which is cosponsored by Reps. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Max Rose (D-NY).
Gottheimer linked the bill to this week’s divestment referendum at Columbia University. Duker graduated from Barnard College the year before her death.
“The BDS movement, which many, like me, believe is antisemitic, are trying to praise and trying to make it as if the Palestinian Authority is being attacked,” he said. “But actually the Palestinian Authority is the one that continues, as we see in this case, to reward terrorists with payments.”
Gottheimer said he sees a “double standard” at play in this incident and other scenarios involving the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which he said turns “a complete blind eye on rewarding terrorists.”
“The reality is there’s still so much that we must stand up to when it comes to the [Palestinian Authority],” he continued, “and this is just an example of that.”
The resolution calls on the international community to condemn Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and reaffirms the penalties for such activity as laid out in the Taylor Force Act.
“I think you’ve got to continue to shine a spotlight on the behavior,” Gottheimer said. “And the fact that this individual, this terrorist who killed Sarah Duker — the family’s still getting money every single month while in jail because of the pay schedule. I don’t think people realize that.”