Israeli PM’s ‘make or break’ Washington visit

Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu will address the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobby group representing 18,000 pro-Israel Americans, lawmakers and policy advisers, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 03 March 2018
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Israeli PM’s ‘make or break’ Washington visit

NEW YORK: Benjamin Netanyahu heads to Washington this weekend for what analysts describe as a “make or break” visit in which the embattled Israeli prime minister will leverage his popularity in the US against the corruption allegations dogging him back home.
On Monday, Netanyahu will meet US President Donald Trump in the White House and address the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a lobby group representing 18,000 pro-Israel Americans, lawmakers and policy advisers.
Michael Koplow, an analyst at the Israel Policy Forum, a think tank, said Netanyahu will seek to counter a political firestorm in Israel, where police say they have enough evidence for the Likud leader to be charged with bribery in two corruption cases.
“Netanyahu has been backed into a corner, and he will use his trip to Washington to see if he can buy himself some leverage,” Koplow told Arab News.
His AIPAC speech is likely to heap praise on Trump’s Republican administration, which has recently cut cash-flows to Palestinian refugees, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and started relocating the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the Holy City, said Koplow.
“He needs to have Trump effusively praise him and bask in the adoration of thousands of cheering AIPAC delegates, and then remind the Israeli public and his coalition partners that it is through his unique political talents and insights into the US that the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” said Koplow.
Netanyahu has been hounded by sleaze allegations for months, but police only recommended charging him in February and the attorney general is yet to decide whether to indict the 68-year-old in either of the corruption cases.
In one, he is suspected of bribery over gifts from rich businessmen, which police valued at $300,000. The other involves an alleged plot to win favorable coverage in Israel’s biggest newspaper by offering to try to curtail the circulation of a rival daily.
Netanyahu, a titan of Israeli politics who has been in power since 2009, denies the allegations. Insiders are speculating whether he will call a snap election in an attempt to stall the legal proceedings during the campaign and to rally his right-wing power base behind him.
At AIPAC, which lobbies US legislators to arm Israel and counter Iran, he will speak alongside Trump administration heavyweights such as Vice President Mike Pence, UN envoy Nikki Haley and ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
The lobby prides itself on having broad support among Democrats and Republicans and the March 4-6 gathering features Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and other liberal lawmakers. But recent data from Pew Research Center suggest that bipartisan support for Israel is ebbing.
A survey in January found that 79 percent of Republicans say they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians, compared with just 27 percent of Democrats — a divide that has widened in the past two decades, researchers said.
The timing of the visit is key. Trump administration officials speak of unveiling a long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan “soon,” while Israeli right-wingers push for Washington’s acquiescence over the annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Jonathan Cristol, a fellow at the World Policy Institute, a think tank, said Netanyahu will “grandstand for the domestic audience” at AIPAC, but questioned whether delegates from Israel would back the prime minister when at the podium themselves.


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 7 min 32 sec ago
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”