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June 14, 2017 10:13 pm

Top American Jewish Leader: Time Has Come to Stop Making Excuses for Abbas on Palestinian Incitement

avatar by Barney Breen-Portnoy


Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

The time has come to stop making excuses for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the issue of incitement, a top American Jewish leader told The Algemeiner this week.

Malcolm Hoenlein — the executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP) — praised US President Donald Trump for raising the subject with Abbas during his recent stop in Bethlehem while on his first overseas trip since taking office.

“Trump’s remonstrations with Abbas over his lies on incitement, I think were very important to this issue finally being recognized,” Hoenlein said.

The 82-year-old Palestinian leader, Hoenlein pointed out, is “directly involved in incitement.”

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“Abbas had not been held to account in the past and it had to be done,” Hoenlein said. “Hopefully it will be sustained pressure with real consequences for continued violations.”

Hoenlein expressed support for the Taylor Force Act, which was introduced in Congress in February, noting, “Our [the CoP’s] stance against the funding of terrorists and their families has been a longstanding position.”

During his two days in the Jewish state, Trump “reaffirmed the US-Israel relationship and personalized it,” Hoenlein stated. “He didn’t make it a generic commitment.”

Hoenlein was present when Trump became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.

“His Kotel (Western Wall) visit was solemn and it was done in a very appropriate way,” Hoenlein recalled. “And I think the historic significance was largely…he put on a yarmulke, went to the Kotel and prayed, and he declared it, certainly by his actions and his words, that it is a Jewish site.”

“Symbolism is extremely important everywhere, but especially in the Middle East,” Hoenlein said.

Overall, according to Hoenlein, the atmosphere while Trump was in Israel was “very positive.”

Regarding Trump’s declared desire to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Hoenlein said, “I think the fact that he didn’t force a meeting between [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and Abbas shows, hopefully, that he is realistic about the prospects for a negotiated settlement at this moment. It’s very complicated, it’s not simple bringing leaders together, especially when one side has negated every opportunity. Hopefully, we may see other approaches — like interim steps and agreements and a regional approach to support the parties.”

“I do think there are prospects now that are being looked at and we’ll see,” Hoenlein continued. “But any talks must be held directly between Netanyahu and Abbas, and should be encouraged, but not forced, otherwise they will not work.”

On June 1, Trump signed a waiver delaying the potential move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by at least another six months. Hoenlein said he hoped Trump would relocate the embassy “soon.”

“I think it can be done a right way without arousing the concerns that have been expressed,” he stated.

Israel’s situation at the UN, Hoenlein said, has improved in the months since Trump was inaugurated and Nikki Haley became the American envoy to the global intergovernmental institution.

“The tone and the messages have been much stronger,” Hoenlein said. “We do still see bias against Israel at the UN, but I think it is being addressed more seriously, led by the US.”

“There are a number of UN reports related to Israel that are due to come out now that are not based on non-biased assessments and we are still seeing the spewing of bile against Israel,” he went on to say. “Unfortunately, the anti-Israel coalition still exists, but there is progress. Hopefully, many of those who profess support will manifest it in their votes at the UN.”

Israel’s international standing, Hoenlein emphasized, is only getting stronger. “While some people are working to isolate Israel, there are many countries — including India and China — which are expanding their relations with Israel dramatically,” he said.

Iran, Hoenlein said, still poses a grave threat to regional and global security. “President Trump made some strong statements that I think put Iran on notice,” Hoenlein stated. “The recent election in Iran should not be misread. It was not a question of a moderate winning. [Hassan] Rouhani is just a degree less radical. Executions, human rights violations, expansion of Iran’s ballistic missile program, and perhaps its nuclear program, all have continued to increase under Rouhani. He may just dress up the policies better than [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and others did. And it’s still the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] who rules ultimately.”

“There are things we could do, that have not been done, to challenge the Iranian government and give support to the elements in that country who want to bring real change,” Hoenlein continued. “Iran is moving to control Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. It wants to build a road straight across to the Mediterranean Sea through these countries, which would give it a supply route to the whole area and bring it close to the border with Israel. They want to sustain the military bases they built in Syria and the ability to control the ‘Shiite Crescent’ that [Jordanian] King Abdullah warned about. There is so much going on and Iran is moving ahead aggressively on various fronts.”

Hoenlein took a glass half-full approach to the surprisingly strong showing of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in last week’s British general election.

“I think there are very legitimate reasons to be concerned about Corbyn, but the new government may turn out to be even better for Israel because the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland is very pro-Israel,” Hoenlein said.

“I don’t think people voted for Corbyn because of his links to antisemitism, but it wasn’t reason enough to vote against him,” Hoenlein theorized.

Hoenlein slammed the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) following the announcement on Friday that a Hamas tunnel had been found under two of the group’s schools in the Gaza Strip.

“Even though they have issued statements condemning it, it’s hard to believe that UNRWA employees had no idea about it,” Hoenlein said. “UNRWA has lost its reason for existence, it should be folded into existing agencies. The perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee issue for three generations is not justifiable.”

Hoenlein also said he was concerned by the recent arrests of two Hezbollah members in the US.

“Attention must be paid to this,” he stated. “Many Americans think Hezbollah is someone else’s problem, but you see they are active here. There are many cases in the US that hardly get noticed. People should remember they are active everywhere.”

While partisan rancor is running high in Washington, DC these days, Hoenlein explained, “The issues we deal with — like Israel, fighting terrorism, the UN — remain bipartisan. We are working very hard to sustain relationships with both Republicans and Democrats and support from across the spectrum.”

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