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Saudis, US agree on path to normalise ties with Israel

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The US and Saudi Arabia have agreed on the broad contours of a deal for Saudi Arabia to recognise Israel in exchange for concessions to the Palestinians, US security guarantees and civilian nuclear help, according to US officials.
US officials expressed cautious optimism that, in the next nine to 12 months, they can hammer out the finer details of what would be the most momentous Middle East peace deal in a generation. But they warned that they face long odds.
The stepped-up efforts come after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met in Jeddah two weeks ago with Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, in a bid to accelerate talks. Negotiators now have moved to discussing specifics, including addressing Saudi requests that the US help them develop a civilian nuclear program and offer iron clad security guarantees.
The Saudis are also seeking significant concessions from Israel that would help promote the creation of a Palestinian state. In return, the US is pressing Saudi Arabia to impose limits on its growing relationship with China.
“There’s a work plan to explore the elements of what this would be and test the boundaries of what’s possible,” said one senior US official.
The efforts are the outgrowth of a recognition in Washington, Riyadh and Jerusalem that now is the time to try to broker a deal, according to US officials. Mr Biden has tried to winnow the US military presence in the Middle East and build a regional security alliance capable of countering threats from Iran with limited American backing.
And while US officials say that Mr Biden has yet to decide what price he is willing to pay, the President’s focus on the deal is a reflection of his view that America has to remain a central player in the Middle East to contain Iran, isolate Russia for its war in Ukraine and thwart efforts by China to supplant Washington’s interests in the region.
After The Wall Street Journal story appeared online Wednesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that negotiators still had a long way to go. “There is no agreed-to set of negotiations, there’s no agreed-to framework to codify the normalisation or any of the other security considerations that we and our friends have in the region,” he said.
In exchange for US concessions to Saudi Arabia, the Biden administration is seeking assurances from Saudi Arabia that it will distance itself — economically and militarily — from China, say US officials.
The officials said the US could seek assurances from Saudi Arabia that it won’t allow China to build military bases in the kingdom — an issue that has become a sore point between the Biden administration and United Arab Emirates. Negotiators could also seek limitations on Saudi Arabia using technology developed by China’s Huawei and assurances that Riyadh will use US dollars, not Chinese currency, to price oil sales, they said. The US also is expected to look for ways to end the feud over oil prices driven by Saudi Arabia’s repeated production cuts.
Mohammed has given conflicting messages about his commitment to different audiences. US officials working on the issue say that Mohammed is serious about trying to broker a deal. But the crown prince has told aides that he isn’t ready to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel similar to those with the United Arab Emirates, which signed a deal in 2020, according to Saudi officials.

The crown prince told his advisers that he was in no rush, especially with the current hard-line coalition government in Israel that opposes creation of an independent Palestinian state, they said.
Brian Katulis, vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute in Washington, compared the effort to mountain climbers trying to scale several Mount Everests in succession.
“It’s such a dangerous landscape,” he said. “There are four or five things they need to do to make sure they don’t go into thin air and go off the mountain. To me, it seems highly improbable in the short run, but who knows?”
One hurdle facing negotiators is what concessions Israel will have to make to Palestinians in exchange for open diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia. US and Saudi officials say that Israel will have to make a significant offer that advances efforts to create an independent Palestinian state.
Israeli leaders play down the importance of the Palestinian issue in the talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week that the issue comes up in negotiations “a lot less than you think.” “It’s sort of a check box,” he told Bloomberg News. “You have to check it to say that you’re doing it.” The issue remains one of the least developed points in talks, according to people briefed on the discussions.
Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said negotiators have yet to float specific ideas with Israeli leaders. “At the moment, we don’t even know where to begin,” he said. “They are still dealing with basic issues between them. So apparently it’s premature even for them to discuss it.”
Saudi officials have dwindling patience for uncompromising and divided Palestinian leaders with limited popular support. But as the home to the two of the most important holy sites in Islam, Saudi Arabia is looking to secure a meaningful concession from Israel to fend off criticism from rivals in Iran and Turkey looking to accuse the kingdom of quashing Palestinian dreams of an independent state. The Palestinian issue also remains important for activists in Saudi Arabia and around the world.
Mr Netanyahu has made it clear that he is willing to make only modest concessions to the Palestinians, and even those could face opposition from his hard-line coalition partners who want to annex Israeli-occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.
Israeli officials have also expressed concerns about Saudi Arabia’s quest to develop its nuclear-energy program, something they see as a dangerous acceleration of the regional nuclear arms race. Although Israel won’t publicly admit it, it is the only country in the region with nuclear weapons, and it doesn’t want to see others join the small club.
Israeli officials worry that US support for a civilian nuclear program in Saudi Arabia could pave the way for Riyadh to develop nuclear weapons, which Mohammed has said he would do if Iran does so first.
Israel’s Hanegbi said that he had “full confidence” that “whatever the United States will decide” on the issue would address Israeli concerns.

Details of a deal are also expected to face scrutiny in congress, where many legislators are loath to make concessions to Mohammed, who US intelligence officials say gave a green light in 2018 to send a Saudi hit team to Istanbul to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
US legislators are already raising concerns about the prospect of America offering Saudi Arabia treaty-bound assurances that the US would come to the kingdom’s defence if it is attacked — a guarantee that would require Senate approval. Even lesser security guarantees that don’t require explicit support from congress are likely to face resistance in Washington.
Some legislators are opposed to talk of expanding arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which Biden put limits on when he took office in 2021 to protest the kingdom’s use of American weapons in Yemen.
If the US can negotiate a package that is acceptable to Saudi, Israeli, Palestinian, and congressional leaders, the Biden administration is then hoping that global pressure to support a history shifting deal would prompt opposition parties in Israel to join forces with Netanyahu and endorse the agreement, something they so far have refused to consider.

Article link: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/the-wall-street-journal/saudis-us-agree-on-path-to-normalise-ties-with-israel/news-story/74a1b00b3816733a02f2a91cf17b3d2a
Article source: The Australian

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000
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US ‘deeply troubled’ as Israel plans to approve thousands of homes in West Bank

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The United States says it is “deeply troubled” by the Israeli government’s tabling of plans to approve thousands of building permits in the occupied West Bank and has called on Israel to return to dialogue aimed at de-escalation.

The plans for approval of 4,560 housing units in various areas of the West Bank were included on the agenda of Israel’s Supreme Planning Council that meets next week, although only 1,332 are up for final approval, with the remainder still going through the preliminary clearance process.

“We will continue to develop the settlement of and strengthen the Israeli hold on the territory,” said finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who also holds a defence portfolio that gives him a leading role in West Bank administration.

Most countries deem the settlements, built on land captured by Israel in 1967 as illegal. Their presence is one of the fundamental issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital. Peace talks that have been brokered by the US have been frozen since 2014.

The US state department said it was “deeply troubled” by the latest move, which comes despite US pressure to halt the settlement expansion that Washington sees as an obstacle to peace. It called on Israel to return to dialogue aimed at de-escalation.

“As has been longstanding policy, the United States opposes such unilateral actions that make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve and are an obstacle to peace,” a department spokesperson, Matthew Miller, said in a statement.

Since entering office in January, the nationalist-religious coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, has approved the promotion of more than 7,000 new housing units, most deep in the West Bank.

It also amended a law to clear the way for settlers to return to four settlements that had previously been evacuated.

In response to the Israeli decision on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority – which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank – said it would boycott a meeting of the joint economic committee with Israel scheduled for Monday.

The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, after Israel’s withdrawal of soldiers and settlers, condemned the move, saying it “will not give [Israel] legitimacy over our land. Our people will resist it by all means.”

Jewish settler groups welcomed the announcement.

“The people have chosen to continue building in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley, and that is the way it should be,” said Shlomo Ne’eman, mayor of the Gush Etzion regional council and chairman of the Yesha Council, using Israel’s biblical names for the West Bank.

Article link: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jun/19/us-deeply-troubled-as-israel-plans-to-approve-thousands-of-homes-in-west-bank
Article source: The Guardian / Reuters | 19 Jun 2023

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US warns Israel against Jewish settlements expansion

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged continued US commitment to both Israel’s security and a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but warned the expansion of Jewish settlements would be an obstacle to peace.

In a speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, Blinken also cautioned that moves toward annexation of the Israeli-occupied West Bank or that disrupt the status quo at holy sites would hurt the prospects for a two-state solution.

He didn’t name the specific holy sites he was referring to.

“Settlement expansion clearly presents an obstacle to the horizon of hope that we seek,” Blinken said to muted response from the audience.

“Likewise, any move toward annexation of the West Bank, de facto or de jure, disruption of the historic status quo at holy sites, the continuing demolitions of homes and the evictions of families that have lived in those homes for generations damage prospects for two-states.

“They also undermine the basic daily dignity to which all people are entitled.”

The top US diplomat drew widespread applause when he outlined the longstanding American commitment to Israel and said all options were on the table when it came to preventing Israel’s No. 1 enemy, Iran, from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Washington would continue to work toward helping Israel integrate into the region as a means of enhancing security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East, Blinken said.

He stressed the importance of normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“The United States has a real national security interest in promoting normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Blinken made an oblique reference to the contentious judicial reform proposal that led to massive protests in Irsael in recent months. US President Joe Biden publicly opposed the proposal, which would give the Israeli government greater control over appointments to the country’s Supreme Court.

“We’ll continue to express our support for core democratic principles, including a separation of powers, checks and balances, and the equal administration of justice for all citizens of Israel,” he said.

Article link: https://www.areanews.com.au/story/8223051/us-warns-israel-against-jewish-settlements-expansion/
Article source: AAP / The Area News (Griffith) | 6.6.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000
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Opposing U.S. Jewish Orgs Claim Victory on Definition Inside Biden’s Landmark Antisemitism Strategy

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Jewish organizations across the political spectrum lauded the White House’s landmark antisemitism strategy final rendering, claiming their positions were fully accounted for and recognized, after being explicitly divided about how the Biden administration would define antisemitism in recent weeks.

Legacy organizations strongly advocated for the codification of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, while progressives cautioned it too easily conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. They, in turn, advocated for the inclusion of alternative definitions such as the Nexus Document and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism.

The plan eventually noted the Biden administration’s continued embrace of IHRA while nodding toward the others – something both camps are pointing to as a sign of victory.

“There are several definitions of antisemitism, which serve as valuable tools to raise awareness and increase understanding of antisemitism,” the plan officially reads. “The most prominent is the non-legally binding ‘working definition’ of antisemitism adopted in 2016 by the 31-member states of the IHRA, which the United States has embraced. In addition, the Administration welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document and notes other such efforts.”

Progressive organizations took this as the administration opting not to codify IHRA – a sign of victory, from their perspective.

“I’m grateful to President Biden and his administration for being focused on that, and not succumbing to those who demanded the codification of the IHRA definition so that they could use false accusations of antisemitism to attack those who criticize indefensible Israeli policies,” said Americans for Peace Now CEO Hadar Susskind.

J Street also echoed this point, remarking that “the strategy avoids exclusively codifying anyone specific, sweeping definition of antisemitism as the sole standard for use in enforcing domestic law and policy, recognizing that such an approach could do more harm than good.”

“While some voices have pushed the White House to give the full force of U.S. law to the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism and its accompanying examples, the Biden Administration rightly cites this definition as just one of a range of illustrative and useful tools in understanding and combating antisemitism.”

Bend the Arc CEO Jamie Beran decried how “the singular focus of some in the Jewish community to codify the IHRA definition into law or policy is an unnecessary and potentially harmful distraction from the real work of dismantling antisemitism.”

“While we would have liked definitions to be left out of this strategy entirely, we’re pleased that the Biden Administration has rejected the idea that government agencies should adopt the IHRA definition as authoritative policy or that it is the sole guide to antisemitism,” Beran added.

The Progressive Israel Network, consisting of 12 progressive organizations, said they were “gratified that the administration did not focus its strategy solely on the problematic International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, and did not seek to formally codify this definition into U.S. law.”

“We have sadly seen this definition and its accompanying examples used by some as a political weapon to quash legitimate criticism and activism directed at Israeli government policies by tarnishing individuals and organizations as antisemitic.”

Legacy organizations, on the other hand, said the plan confirms that IHRA is the most valued tool, batting off progressive claims of victory on the matter. Many of these organizations had previously stated that inclusion of any other definition besides IHRA would do more harm than good.

A joint statement of 32 of the 53 organizations within the Conference of Presidents (including the COP itself) released a joint statement stating: “We welcome the embrace of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, which is a continuation of longstanding U.S. policy and a critical tool in the fight against anti-Jewish hate and bias.”

An Anti-Defamation League press release welcomed IHRA’s “adoption” as part of the plan. The Orthodox Union noted the plan recognized IHRA “as the most prominent, valuable definition of Antisemitism as the Orthodox Union and other leading Jewish representatives urged.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder noted that “the IHRA definition, considered the ‘gold standard,’ allows policymakers worldwide to identify and respond to all forms of Jew-hatred, including those that may be more subtle, but no less insidious.”

“The Jewish world has agreed on the centrality of the IHRA definition and understands that it is the best weapon in the battle against antisemitism,” Lauder added.

Hadassah National President Rhoda Smolow and Hadassah CEO Naomi Adler said that “This strategy highlights that the U.S. embraces the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, as an essential tool in identifying and fighting antisemitism in all its forms.”

Similarly, Jewish Federations of North America Chair Julie Platt said “we are pleased that the White House reaffirms the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, and maintain our commitment to its uncontested use.”

“As the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism Amb. Deborah Lipstadt has said many times, the IHRA definition is broadly accepted and effective in combating the oldest hatred,” Platt added.

Six local grassroots progressive organizations collectively lauded the administration for noting “the diversity of opinion” when opting not to codify IHRA, calling the strategy “a powerful rebuke to forces within and outside our community that seek to keep Jews isolated, divided and afraid.”

Meanwhile, an American Jewish Committee release noted the first key component of the White House plan was “a reaffirmation of the administration’s embrace” of IHRA.

Dianne Lob, Chair, and William Daroff, CEO, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, added they “wholeheartedly applaud the Biden Administration’s continuing embrace of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which is the most universally accepted definition of antisemitism.”

Democratic Majority for Israel lauded Biden for again “enthusiastically embracing” IHRA, saying “it sent a clear message that it will not give cover to antisemites who attempt to disguise their Jew hatred as mere criticism of Israeli government policies.”

Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog thanked Biden “for prioritizing the need to confront antisemitism in all its forms,” saying “we welcome the re-embracing of the IHRA definition which is the gold standard definition of antisemitism.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition slammed Biden over the definition, calling it “yet another instance of Biden caving to the anti-Israel radicals who constitute a growing Democratic constituency at both the elected and grassroots levels.” It added that “it’s clear that only a Republican president will fully embrace the IHRA definition and put the full force of the federal government behind the fight against antisemitism in all its forms.”

StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein noted that “while we maintain our concerns that the reference to alternative definitions could create unnecessary confusion, we are hopeful that the administration’s embrace of the IHRA definition will be evident in the implementation of the overall plan.”

Article link: https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/2023-05-25/ty-article/.premium/opposing-u-s-jewish-orgs-all-claim-victory-on-how-bidens-strategy-defines-antisemitism/00000188-53b3-dde3-abf9-fbbbb0030000
Article source: Haaretz | Ben Samuels | 25.5.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000
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Opinion | Netanyahu Is Breaking Apart America’s ‘Special Relationship’ With Israel

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The special relationship between the United States and Israel is between the peoples of our two countries – not our governments. This is being demonstrated with potentially very destructive consequences in the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to pursue personal power at any price.

Netanyahu is creating circumstances in which not only will the often strong working relationship between Israel’s government and America’s be severely tested, it may become impossible for the Biden administration to view the current Israeli government as sharing interests – or even as an ally.

The U.S. government will resist issuing public statements to the effect that Israel is now understood as a pariah state and an active enemy of many vital U.S. national interests. They will, and should, work to try to maintain ties where possible, and to guide the Netanyahu government away from decisions that may irreparably harm the relationship.

But many in Washington fear it is only a matter of time before Bibi makes America choose between Israel and the values the U.S. holds dearest, effectively demoting Israel from ally status to that of fair-weather friend and sometimes opponent, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Hungary and other nations the U.S. must work with but whom Washington does not trust.

Ironically, Bibi has caused this once unthinkable chasm by signing on to a global movement that actually has prominent adherents in the U.S. The origins of the movement are, of course, in Moscow.

Central to the efforts of Vladimir Putin to try to weaken and destabilize his opponents in the West has been identifying the moral and ethical weak links among his adversaries and supporting them as they place their narrow self-interests above foundational ideals like democracy, the rule of law, human rights and tolerance for social diversity.

Netanyahu, like Trump and the American right, like Orban and Bolsonaro, like Modi, Le Pen and Italy’s neo-fascists, has for years now promoted an ethno-nationalist authoritarian agenda that is now calling into doubt all the values that once bound Israel and the U.S.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s Wednesday visit to Israel revealed that the Biden administration strategy for now is to put the best possible face on the relationship and identify areas—like containing the Iran threat—where cooperation between the two countries is possible.

But behind the scenes in Washington the question is: How far will Bibi go, and what would be the tipping point that would cause a rift? What would the Israeli administration have to do so that the U.S. would have to actively oppose it? What could they do that might lead Democrats in the U.S. Senate to start thinking about cutting off U.S. aid to Israel or at least temporarily curtailing flows of much needed financial and military support?

Because given the clown car full of ne’er-do-wells — racists, homophobes, criminals, thugs and extremists — that comprise that latest Netanyahu cabinet, the question is not if such a breakdown in the relationship is going to happen, it is when.

What is important now is that behind the scenes the U.S. administration makes the red lines clear.

They must communicate in no uncertain terms that should the Netanyahu administration further weaken democracy, eliminate judicial independence, effectively annex the parts of the West Bank Israel has not already illegally seized, attack LGBTQ+ rights, draw closer to Russia and further oppose U.S. goals in Ukraine, or further strip away more rights of Palestinians, that the U.S. will actively condemn the behavior (as Tom Friedman enjoined, in the New York Times) and that it will have direct, immediate, negative consequences for the U.S.-Israel relationship including the provision of aid.

Further, it is important that President Biden himself makes it clear to Bibi, that these are not red lines like Obama’s in Syria, not for show or political impact. He must make crystal clear that crossing them will alter the relationship between our two countries until Netanyahu and his coalition are gone and a successor administration repudiates their policies.

This is key, both because it may keep Bibi & Co. from doing their worst and because it will make absolutely clear what the stakes are behind each and every decision that runs contrary to the values and national interests of the United States.

Personally, my view is that even if the Biden administration handles sending that message perfectly, the moment of crisis, perhaps multiple such moments, are inevitable. That is because Netanyahu continues to mistakenly believe that he has American politics on his side. His formula is GOP support plus that of American Jews.

But here’s what’s wrong with that: the GOP only control one house of Congress and that barely. Bibi’s buddy Trump is in big legal trouble and is a fading force, and 80 percent of American Jews don’t support the GOP.

Furthermore, if the hard-right religious zealots in the current Israeli cabinet continue their reductive reasoning about “who is a Jew” (as if they or the government of Israel were in any position to make that judgment) they will further alienate the largely non-Orthodox, if not secular, American Jewish population.

“We don’t want you here in Israel but keep those checks and that lobbying coming” is just not a formula that is going to work. In fact, take it from me, it is going to piss a lot of people off.

Once upon a time the U.S. and Israel were bound by common values and by common strategic interests. But the Cold War is over and while we still see Russia as a threat, Israel has cozied up to Putin in a very disturbing way. Israel actively worked to undermine America’s efforts to strike a nuclear deal with Iran—actions that even many senior Israeli national security officials now realize was a mistake.

Americans once boasted that our ally Israel was the Middle East’s only democracy. Now it is an apartheid state with a government actively working to roll back basic democratic rights and protections. American values like tolerance and the celebration of diversity are ones the current Israeli government rejects.

The reality is that much will have to change just to try to salvage what was special in the relationship even prior to any further shocks, outrages or policy blunders by the Netanyahu team.

Through all this, will the people-to-people ties between the U.S. and Israel remain strong? Initially. Will the predisposition to fix what is broken and return to close ties remain? Yes. But this is not your father’s U.S.-Israel relationship.

A new generation does not assume much about the relationship and is definitely in a “show me why it matters” mode. American Jews have been whipsawed by having to defend Israeli abuses of Palestinians while being devalued by the likes of Netanyahu, who rejects the support of a majority of them in order to cater to Evangelical Christians, and holds close a U.S. political leader who says he knows better than American Jews what is in their interest (while regularly floating dual loyalty and antisemitic tropes.)

Peddling arguments that being critical of Israel’s government policies is equivalent to antisemitism does not help the case, especially given that so many of the critics of the Israeli government are actually the Jews upon whom support for the U.S.-Israel relationship depended in years past.

In fact, even without Israel’s embrace of a radical right wing government full of racists and authoritarians, the U.S.-Israel relationship would be in a fragile state. Stresses on the relationship have grown even as the strategic necessity for America of maintaining the relationship has weakened.

The focus right now should be on finding ways to rebuild it. But the opposite is happening. And that is why there is every reason to expect that things will get worse from here on out, and an ailing alliance may soon end up on life-support in the geopolitical intensive care ward.

Joe Biden clearly wants to save the relationship. The big question is: Who is able and willing to do so on the Israeli side?

David Rothkopf’s latest book is “Traitor: A History of Betraying America from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump.” He is also a podcast host and CEO of The Rothkopf Group. Twitter: @djrothkopf

Article link: https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/2023-01-19/ty-article-opinion/.premium/netanyahu-is-breaking-apart-americas-special-relationship-with-israel/00000185-c95a-d3a8-a3cf-cf7a3c7b0000
Article source: Haaretz | David Rothkopf |Jan 19, 2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000
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