By LAHAV HARKOV
Extending agreements between the US and Israel to the West Bank, Golan and east Jerusalem bolsters the ties between the countries, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in a ceremony removing the only territorial limitations in agreements between Washington and Jerusalem on Wednesday.
“We are righting an old wrong and strengthening yet again the unbreakable bond between our two countries,” Friedman said at a signing ceremony with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ariel University in Samaria.
Netanyahu and Friedman signed new versions of three agreements on research cooperation, which erase a line that says “cooperative projects sponsored by the Foundation may not be conducted in geographic areas which came under the administration of the Government of Israel after June 5, 1967, and may not relate to subjects primarily pertinent to such areas.”
The first agreement, signed in 1972, was the Binational Science Foundation, followed in 1976 the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), and then the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) in 1977. All three had large endowments that provided grants to American and Israeli academics and companies for research and technology.
They also signed a new Science and Technology agreement, meant to increase government-to-government cooperation at the highest levels, which also does not have geographic restrictions.
Friedman said that BIRD, BARD and BSF, as originally written, “were subject to political limitations that did not serve the goals sought to be achieved.”
The ambassador pointed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement last month that the Trump administration no longer views Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria as being illegal per se.
In light of that decision, “these geographic restrictions [in the agreements] no longer comport with our foreign policy,” Friedman said. “Plainly, this geographic restriction within the three agreements was an anachronism. It had no place within our evolving region – a region which, under the Trump administration, is continuously advancing the cause of peace in new and exciting ways.”
Friedman also said that removing the territorial restrictions in the agreements fits with the spirit of the Abraham Accords, which “place great value on academic, cultural, commercial and diplomatic engagement as the best path to peace, whether between Israel and its neighboring states, or between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The ambassador said that, while the process of getting approval to change the agreements took time, there was no pushback against the policy.
OVER THE decades since the three agreements were signed, they “provided both countries with a tremendous return on investment… providing for unprecedented advancement and cooperation,” Friedman said.
“I couldn’t be happier or more proud to sign on behalf of the United States the amended and corrected BSF, BIRD and BARD agreements as well as the new Science and Technology Agreement,” the ambassador stated.
Distinctions between different territories under Israeli control still remain in US policy. For example, Israelis born in Jerusalem have the city and not “Israel” listed as their place of birth on their passports. However, BSF, BIRD and BARD were the only agreements signed between the two countries with such restrictions.
Netanyahu thanked Friedman for his efforts to “right past wrongs and put things on the right course,” calling the changes in the agreements a “demonstration of the commitment” by the Trump administration to a “new approach” in the Middle East.
The prime minister said that with every move US President Donald Trump has made to change policy towards Israel – such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, among others – the “naysayers said it would destroy the chances of peace… The naysayers were wrong, dead wrong – every single time.
“By rejecting the failed mantras of the past, the Trump plan not only provides a realistic solution for the Palestinians… but it also put forward something else we see today. It opens Judea and Samaria to academic, commercial and scientific engagement with the US,” Netanyahu added. “To those malevolent boycotters, I have a simple message today: You are wrong and you will fail.”
Netanyahu said that funding from BIRD, BARD and BSF has gone to important medical research over the years, adding that “perhaps, who knows – it will help humanity wipe out coronavirus.”
Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin tweeted praise for amending the agreements, calling it “a great achievement in promoting sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and strengthening Ariel University.”
Elkin called the move “another stage on the way to international recognition of our rights in Judea and Samaria.”
Prof. Eugene Kontorovich of George Mason Law School, who is also international director of the Israeli think tank the Kohelet Policy Forum and a major proponent of the policy change in recent years, called the change an “explicit rejection of UN Security Council Resolution 2334,” which the US under former president Barack Obama allowed to pass, and states that settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity.”
US Israel Education Association (USIEA) Director Heather Johnson who is a long time supporter of Ariel University and worked on behalf of the initiative said, “We are elated with the overdue depoliticization of academic research, development and excellence. For a decade US Israel Education Association (USIEA) has brought congressional delegations to Ariel University where the late chancellor, Yigal Cohen Orgad, educated us of the ineligibility of life-saving and integrated Israeli-Palestinian R&D initiatives to the binational foundations, BIRD, BARD and BSF. We thank Senator James Lankford, Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressman Doug Lamborn for their personal involvement in the efforts toward amending these agreements, and we thank US Ambassador David Friedman for acting upon these recommendations to make them US official policy.”
“I believed in 2010 that we had an opportunity to [have] good relations with the Gulf states,” Kara said.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Israel’s treatment of Bahraini princess Fatima bint Khalifa in 2010 helped pave the way for the normalization deal between the two countries a decade later, former communications minister Ayoub Kara said on Tuesday.
“I believed in 2010 that we had an opportunity to [have] good relations with the Gulf states,” Kara said.
He spoke at the second annual Israeli-Palestinian Economic Forum, which was held last year in Jerusalem and was transformed this year into a virtual event.
Kara recalled how ten years ago he had helped facilitate the Bahraini princess’ treatment at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, with an eye to creating an opening for formalized Israeli-Bahraini ties.
“This was the beginning of the process,” he said.
The entire incident was “very discreet” known only to the princess, her husband, himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kara said.
“She was very sick” and believed that she could be treated in Israel, Kara said.
Then upon her release from the hospital Kara helped the couple settle in an Israeli hotel for a month.
Prior to their return to Bahrain, they asked how they could help Israel.
Kara suggested they improve the treatment of the Jewish community in Bahrain. He also asked them to support a new vision of expanded Israeli relations with the Gulf, given that it was impossible to come to a resolution with the Palestinian Authority, Kara recalled. “No way that we will find a solution with them. We need a new policy,” Kara told them.
The forum, was initially created as part of a grassroots initiative to focus on ways to improve Israeli-Palestinian economic ties.
The event was hosted by the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and the US Israel Education Association. It’s lead sponsor was the Integrated Business Roundtable community.
In light of the signing of US sponsored Israeli normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, known as the Abraham Accords, the forum focused on regional cooperation among all parties.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said, “There is no greater cause than peace and it hopefully will be contagious. Peace comes from mutual understanding, common purpose, shared values and cooperative engagement in business and enterprise.”
It was this understanding that “helped bring us the Abraham Accords, that approach will bring us all to a more just and humane world,” Friedman said.
“The Israeli Palestinian Economic Forum is exactly on the right track to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he added.
USAID deputy administrator Bonnie Glick said that the Abraham Accords would “unleash the full potential of millions of people who have previously not been able to share ideas, visit each other or build a more hopeful world. The participating nations will be able to prosper together through trade and innovation.
“Nations once sworn to Israel’s destruction now accept her as a neighbor and a friend,” Glick said.
“We at USAID are eager to help Israel and its new diplomatic partners bring the fruits of peace to new emerging markets,” she said.
Hebron businessman Ashraf Jabari, who is a co-founder of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, has been one of the few Palestinians to support US President Donald Trump’s peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was also one of the few Palestinians to attend the US sponsored economic workshop in Bahrain in June 2019.
“We must look for every opportunity to strengthen the Palestinian economy,” Jabari said. Palestinians should have the same options as Arabs in the UAE and Bahrain who seek Israeli technology, he added.
By LAURA KELLY
Jabari and Zimmerman are also working to build ties with U.S. lawmakers. They said Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) office reached out to them when the congresswoman, who is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, was planning to travel to the Palestinian territories, before she was blocked from entering Israel. Her office did not respond to a request for comment.
The two men did host a delegation of Republican lawmakers at Jabari’s home in Hebron in August. They included Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.).
Rodgers, who is also the Republican Representative to the United Nations, called the two men’s initiative “an untold story in the West Bank.”
“Sheikh Ashraf Jabari told us the economic relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is basic, strong, and can’t be separate,” she said in a statement to The Hill, using a formal title to address Jabari.
“In a strong bipartisan way, we should be supporting the grassroots movement for economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s foundational to achieve peace in the region.”
Israel oversees the majority of the flow of goods and services into areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, putting Palestinian businesses on more unequal footing. Unemployment in the West Bank among Palestinians is around 15 percent, according to the World Bank.
More than 1 million Palestinians worked in Israel in October, according to the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli administration that handles civilian matters in the West Bank.
“We have a certain set of givens within which we work and those givens can change any day,” Zimmerman told The Hill.
Meanwhile, approximately 400,000 Israelis live in communities described as settlements in the West Bank, recognized as illegal under international law by the global community and criticized as expanding on territory designated for any future, sovereign Palestinian state.
In addition to communities, Israeli settlements boast a university and numerous businesses including farms, wineries and manufacturing plants that employ Palestinians. Roads that connect Israeli and Palestinian communities lead to shared commerce centers in the West Bank.
While the international community views settlements as a barrier to a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Zimmerman and Jabari argue that economic ties between Israelis and Palestinians must be supported to ensure the success of any peace plan.
“Whatever those circumstances will be from a political solution perspective, we already know that the stronger our integrated business community is, the more people will benefit in the future under any political circumstance.”
Zimmerman and Jabari argued that the ruling emboldens boycott movements towards Israel that hurt Israeli businesses and Palestinian workers equally.
The Trump administration also disputes singling out Israeli settlements and hardened their policy in mid-November, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing the U.S. would reject a 1978 legal opinion that viewed Israeli settlements as inconsistent with international law.
Jabari, one of the last links between the administration and the Palestinians, encouraged outside individuals to see the situation on the ground for themselves.
“Anyone who wants to come is welcome to see this reality for themselves,” he said through translation. “Come for a tour of an Israeli factory where they’re hiring Palestinian employees and you’ll understand. After that let them draw their own conclusions.”
“I know that there is a majority of Palestinians that live there,” Wagner said. “I believe that it is, just as I believe that the Golan Heights is.”
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Judea and Samaria are as much a part of Israel as the Golan Heights, leading Republican Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri told The Jerusalem Post.
Wagner spoke after visiting the West Bank settlements with three other Republican members of Congress on a trip sponsored by the US Israel Education Association (USIEA), founded and directed by Heather Johnston.
When asked by the Post if she thought Judea and Samaria was part of Israel, she responded, “Yes I do. I very much do. I know that there is a majority of Palestinians that live there. I believe that it is, just as I believe that the Golan Heights is.”
Wagner is the vice ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and was the first co-sponsor and a key architect of July’s House resolution against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan and 21 members of Knesset sent her and a number of other US representatives a letter criticizing them for including language in the bill that spoke globally of supporting a two-state solution, even though the statement did not include any territorial designation for such an idea.
When asked about the letter, Wagner said that a two-state resolution to the conflict was US policy.
“But you are seeing some evolution in this regard,” she said. “Time will tell if it’s feasible or not.”
Republican Representative Bradley Byrne of Alabama said that he “started out as being a two-state supporter and I am evolving. I am beginning to have doubts that it can work.”
The other two Republican representatives on the trip, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State and Phil Roe of Tennessee, also said they were “evolving” when it came to the notion of two states.
McMorris Rodgers also echoed Wagner in stating clearly that she saw Judea and Samaria as part of Israel.
Neither women clarified the territorial designation of Judea and Samaria, whether it included only Area C of the West Bank or all of the West Bank.
US President Donald Trump has rarely spoken of Palestinian statehood since coming into office, and the Palestinians fear he intends to withdraw his support for a Palestinian state.
Right-wing Israelis have taken his silence for tacit support. In the last two years, Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, relocated the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and recognized Israelis sovereignty on the Golan.
Trumps actions on the Golan and Jerusalem “are all things that will allow us to go forward,” Wagner said.
The trip, which took place toward the end August, included a meeting with Netanyahu, visits to the Temple Mount, the settlement of Ariel, and a trip to Hebron to see Palestinian businessman Ashraf Jabari.
News of the trip was not allowed to be published until after the group had left last week.
The congressional delegation was particularly impressed by the Judea and Samaria chamber of commerce, which brings together both settlers and Palestinian businesspeople. Jabari is co-chair of the group, and was one of the few Palestinians to attend the US led economic workshop in Bahrain in June.
A number of the representatives said they were impressed by the chamber’s work, and how it represented a blueprint for how Israelis and Palestinians could move forward. Johnston, whose organization brought the Congressional delegation to Israel, is one of the key sponsors of the chamber.
The trip to the industrial park in the Ariel area was an “eye-opener,” Wagner said. “To see Palestinians and Jews working together, so many of the myths I had heard fell apart.”
Said Byrne, “I saw Ariel, I didn’t see a settlement, I saw a city.”
Wagner recalled how during the delegation’s meeting with Netanyahu he had urged them to go back to Washington and tell “their truth.”
The BDS movement doesn’t just hurt Israelis, it also hurts the Palestinians, Wagner said.
McMorris Rodgers said the Israeli and Palestinian business leaders she saw working together to provide economic opportunities for their people was “compelling,” particularly hearing them talk about the positive difference it was making.
On a separate note, Wagner also spoke against renewing US financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
“Given the terrorism that is coming out of the PA, given the corruption that is inherent in the PA, I do not believe that we should be giving money to the PA,” she said. “If there is a way to work with NGOs and other organizations to provide for the Palestinian people, that would be fine. We cannot have them taking and using the money for corrupt and terrorist enterprises in any way shape or form.”
USIEA sponsors advanced educational tours to Israel with members of Congress to educate them in the areas of defense, security and joint economic development between Israelis and Palestinians.
Cleveland Jewish News— U.S. representatives meet with Israeli, Palestinian business leaders in Judea and Samaria
By ELIANA RUDEE
The U.S. Israel Education Association (USIEA) brought Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) to Israel last week. Focusing their visit on Judea and Samaria, they met with Israeli and Palestinian business leaders to discuss financial threats against the Jewish state and the potential for solutions and cooperation.
USIEA Executive Director Heather Johnston reported that she had witnessed a “paradigm shift” in the senior members of Congress over the course of the mission. “Speaking to Israeli and Palestinian members of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, they got a totally different narrative from the one in the news or the one told by political leaders who have taken sides,” Johnston told JNS, referring to Reps. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) pro-BDS, anti-Israel narrative.
Spending two days in Judea and Samaria, the group investigated economic development and partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians, witnessing the “[positive] direction that the grassroots business development is going” in and learning about “the unstoppable people’s business movement that is well underway and is not going away,” according to Johnston.
During visits to Hebron, Ariel’s Industrial Park and the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, the group met with Palestinian business leaders and employees who voiced their concerns about BDS.
Johnston said that the visiting representatives learned that 90 percent of the Palestinian population wants to work with Israel, but are unable to speak about this desire freely due to the Palestinian Authority’s anti-normalization policy.
BDS “hurts Palestinians and their opportunities perhaps even more than the Israelis because through this cooperation Palestinians are having opportunities they’ve never had before—jobs that are paying three to four times what they could get anywhere else,” delegation leader McMorris Rogers told JNS.
Hearing that “an overwhelming number of Palestinians are excited to create joint economic opportunities” was especially compelling, she said, adding, “we need to be encouraging this economic opportunity as part of the peace solution.”
To ensure this support, McMorris Rogers, who is the acting Republican representative to the United Nations General Assembly, said, “I will be talking to my colleagues and urging them to see first-hand what is happening in Judea and Samaria [in terms of] economic cooperation.”
Since her first trip to Israel five years ago, Wagner, who currently serves as Vice Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said there had been an “explosion” of changes in Judea and Samaria, including job creation, “a couple hundred [Israeli and Palestinian] businesses working together in the same manufacturing facilities” and “the growth of the high tech arena.”
Rep. Roe, who leads the Republican party in the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and has consistently stood up for Israel and against a nuclear-armed Iran, similarly noted that “at the end of the day, the Palestinian people want a good job and better life for their children.”
The cooperation promoted by the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce “is just getting its legs,” he told JNS, and “will become a very useful force in this country.”
Each member of Congress expressed hope in the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship, as well as Israeli-Palestinian economic partnerships in Judea and Samaria.
Johnston posed that despite the small number of “strong yet antagonist voices in Congress,” the U.S.-Israel relationship has never been stronger. The Palestinian businessmen, she said, “want to have the backing and support of the United States,” declaring that the U.S. administration will continue its efforts “to support these endeavors that are integral to American interests.”
McMorris Rogers said that “Israel has been our long-time greatest ally within the Middle East, cooperating on defense, technology, innovation and agriculture, and Israel must remain our greatest ally—our support must be bipartisan, staunch and unequivocal.”
Wagner noted that the visit bettered her understanding Israel’s expertise in defense, especially regarding “aero” capabilities that are being tested in Alaska. The experience, she told JNS, “reaffirmed our joint goals towards peace and prosperity, safety and security.”
Program is spearheaded by the Judea-Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry led by Avi Zimmerman, an entrepreneur from Ariel, and Palestinian Ashraf Jabari, a Hebron businessman
By MARCY OSTER
JTA — Palestinian and Israeli business and political leaders met Wednesday to launch a joint economic initiative aimed at advancing economic opportunities in the West Bank.
The business leaders met at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, while Israeli mayors and Palestinian mukhtars from the West Bank got together the following day. There were about 100 participants each day talking about ways to advance business partnerships between Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs.
The Judea Samaria Regional Development Financing Initiative is being spearheaded by the Judea-Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry led by Israeli Avi Zimmerman, an entrepreneur from Ariel, and Palestinian Ashraf Jabari, a Hebron businessman, with assistance from the US Israel Education Association (USIEA).
Zimmerman said the process begins with developing an inventory of projects in the fields of tech, industry, tourism, environment, energy and infrastructure.
Jabari said: “We need to break the fence between Israelis and Palestinians and to know that there’s no other way but to work together. We can’t keep going like we have over 25 years and waiting for a political settlement. We don’t have time to wait for politicians.”
The USIEA has worked to build relationships between US and Israeli officials, as well as bringing US congressional delegations to experience Israel and the West Bank firsthand. Recently it arranged for the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, to visit the West Bank and Palestinian and Israeli businesses in the region.
Friedman praised the initiative, saying that while the United States is hoping to make “real progress” on the political process, “it is never a substitute or a means to delay the opportunity to provide a better future for the Jews and the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, who are entitled to the very same things that we all want for our families.”