chief of staff

Netanyahu chief of staff heads to US to sort out settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz left for Washington on Sunday to discuss settlement building with the Trump administration.

He will join Ron Dermer, Israel’s Washington ambassador, to continue discussions with US special envoy Jason Greenblatt in an attempt to reach an understanding between Israel and US President Donald Trump’s administration about building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu left Israel on Saturday night for a three day trip to China, and the fact that Horowitz did not accompany the prime minister but went instead to Washington highlights the importance of the negotiations with the US.

Greenblatt visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan last week to gain a deeper understanding of the situation. Despite two meetings with Netanyahu during the course of the visit, no agreement was reached on settlement construction.

Netanyahu and Greenblatt made “progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders’ views,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office issued after the second three-hour meeting Thursday night.

“Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office,” it said.

Netanyahu and the Trump White House have been trying to reach an understanding on Israeli settlement activity since last month’s meeting between the Israeli leader and the US president, who in a joint press conference told Netanyahu that he wanted him to “hold back” on the settlements.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Netanyahu has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of a new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated and demolished last month.

Last month, he indicated to members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off the pledge, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

The Israeli prime minister has also been actively trying to avoid friction on other fronts related to settlements, pushing to postpone a Knesset committee vote next week on a bill that calls to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

On Thursday, Greenblatt sat down for an unprecedented session with a delegation from the settler umbrella group the Yesha Council, led by Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi and Shomron Regional Council head Yossi Dagan — a meeting that according to Channel 2 was coordinated with Netanyahu.

Ahead of Greenblatt’s trip to Israel, Dagan told Likud ministers that a Netanyahu agreement to rein in settlement construction, or to a partial freeze of settlements, would lead to political crisis, Channel 2 reported, adding that the settler movement has argued that the freeze imposed by the administration of former president Barack Obama constituted “a breach of their human rights.”

A statement from the Yesha Council following the meeting with Greenblatt described it as “fruitful and positive,” and added that the council “looks forward to continuing this important dialogue.”

Channel 10 reported that officials who have met with Greenblatt over the past several days came away with a sense that the administration is determined to make progress on a regional peace accord, with talk of convening a possible regional conference in the coming months, and that White House efforts to get Israel to rein in settlements would come into play then.

Netanyahu said earlier Thursday that Israel was “in the middle of a process of dialogue with the White House and it is our intention to get to an agreed-upon policy on construction in the settlements.”

He noted that it was preferable to reach such understandings quickly rather than engaging in drawn-out negotiations.

Many on the Israeli right had anticipated that Trump would be more supportive of the settlement enterprise than his predecessor Barack Obama. However, last month, at a joint White House press conference with Netanyahu, Trump asked the prime minister to “hold back on settlements a little bit.” He also said in a newspaper interview that Israeli settlements “don’t help” in negotiating a peace agreement.

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Pentagon chief says he opposed cutting Manning’s prison term

WASHINGTON (AP) — US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday he had opposed commuting the prison sentence of convicted leaker Chelsea Manning, who was convicted in 2013 of espionage and other crimes for leaking classified information while deployed in Iraq.

“That was not my recommendation,” Carter said in an Associated Press interview. “I recommended against that, but the president has made his decision.”

Carter declined to elaborate on his view.

President Barack Obama has drawn intense criticism from members of Congress and others for his decision Tuesday to commute Manning’s 35-year prison sentence to about seven years, including the time she spent locked up before she was convicted. Her sentence is now set to expire May 17.

At the time Manning committed the crimes she was known as Bradley Manning and was serving as an Army private.

Chelsea Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. (US Army)

Chelsea Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. (US Army)

A judge convicted Manning of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. She was sentenced to 35 years out of a possible maximum of 90. She was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a possible life sentence.

The now 29-year-old native of Crescent, Oklahoma, leaked more than 700,000 classified Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and diplomatic cables in 2010 while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad. Manning also leaked a 2007 video clip of a US helicopter crew killing at least nine men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The Pentagon later concluded the helicopter crew acted appropriately, having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.

At a White House news conference Wednesday, Obama firmly defended his Manning decision, arguing she had served a “tough prison sentence” already.

The White House declined to comment on Carter’s remarks but pointed to Obama’s explanation about why he’d granted the commutation.

Obama said his decision took into account the fact that Manning had gone to trial, taken responsibility for her crime and received a sentence that he said was harsher than other leakers had received. He emphasized that he had commuted her sentence, not granted a pardon, which would have symbolically forgiven her for the crime.

US President Barack Obama speaks during his final press conference at the White House January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

US President Barack Obama speaks during his final press conference at the White House January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

“I feel very comfortable that justice has been served,” Obama said, adding, “A message has still been sent that when it comes to our national security, that wherever possible we need folks who may have legitimate concerns about the actions of government or their superiors or the agencies in which they work, that they try to work through the established channels and avail themselves of the whistleblower protections that have been put in place.”

The president said he does not accept the argument of critics that the commutation sends the wrong message to others in the military.

“The notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing vital, classified information would think that it goes unpunished, I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served,” Obama said.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Obama’s decision on Manning was a mistake and called the convicted leaker a “traitor.”

Pence said in an interview airing Wednesday night with Fox News’ Brett Baier that Manning’s actions compromised national security, endangered American personnel and compromised individuals in Afghanistan who were cooperating with US forces.

One name missing from the list of pardons and commutations the White House announced Tuesday is US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The former prisoner of war is accused of endangering comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, and has asked Obama for a pardon. He was captured by the Taliban and held prisoner for five years.

In this image taken from video, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, just before his release into the custody of US special forces, May 31, 2014. (photo credit: Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video)

In this image taken from video, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, just before his release into the custody of US special forces, May 31, 2014. (photo credit: Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video)

A pardon would allow Bergdahl to avert a military trial scheduled for April. He faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The misbehavior charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Asked about the Bergdahl case, Carter told the AP: “That one hasn’t come to me yet in any way. It’s a law enforcement matter, so I really can’t comment on it.”

For Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff, being Jewish was a family secret

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Hamilton Jordan, President Jimmy Carter’s wunderkind adviser and chief of staff, discovered at age 20 that his family’s story wasn’t a straightforward Christian Southern experience. At the cemetery service for his maternal grandmother, Helen, Jordan was puzzled to discover her plot was nestled alongside that of a Jewish family. They weren’t strangers; they were his ancestors.

A bit of digging revealed that his beloved grandmother was herself Jewish. She had married his Baptist grandfather in the years immediately preceding the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank — a Jewish man who was framed for a murder he did not commit — in a South that viewed Jews as unacceptably different. His own mother would never speak of her Jewish roots.

Jordan died in 2008. That we know this story is thanks to his daughter Kathleen, now 27. A Comedy Central and Hollywood scriptwriter, Kathleen took on the task of editing the unfinished 300-page manuscript her father had left behind. It was a labor of love, a way to process her grief and an exercise in embracing her own Southern identity.

Kathleen Jordan sat down recently with Sarah Wildman at a Washington, D.C., coffee shop for a wide-ranging conversation about the family secret at the heart of the recently published memoir “A Boy from Georgia: Coming of Age in the Segregated South.”

JTA: The book seems to be very much about the evolution of American thinking about race and ethnicity.

Kathleen Jordan, who edited her father's posthumous memoir, "A Boy From Georgia." (Courtesy of Kathleen Jordan)

Jordan: It’s largely tracking his moral journey in the context of race. I think a linchpin moment in the book and in his own life [was] realizing that he was the victim of persecution at age 20. Standing at that gravesite and realizing that his family was Jewish and that was a secret — and it was a secret for a reason.

Did he have an inkling? After he sees the gravesite, did he ask family members?

He asks his mother about this three times. First she says, ‘Later. It’s too much.’ [Eventually she says] ‘Hamilton, I’ll never talk of this.’

Before my dad died and when he was working on the book, it blew our minds that he wasn’t going to ask his uncle about it. It was 2006 or 2007, and we said, ‘Are you kidding? You have the chance to hear his stories and feelings of persecution he experienced — or even marginalization.’ It seemed a very quiet kind of thing. A social thing.

Did learning he was Jewish inform the way your father thought about the world?

Absolutely. He spent the rest of his life trying to connect with the Jewish community. He was baptized Baptist. We grew up Episcopalian. But culturally he was drawn to it. And it had an impact on his relationship to the civil rights movement; I think it made it personal for him. It made civil rights even more personal. There are two watershed moments for him: seeing his maid marching with [Martin Luther King Jr.] in downtown Albany [Georgia] and thinking ‘what am I doing?’ and realizing that everyone he loves and respects was a segregationist.

Why did you decide to pick up the book and edit it?

This book is about his childhood and the moral and intellectual journey to the right side of the fence, and because of that it took a long time for him to articulate. He had been writing and telling these stories for a long time. We knew how important it was to him. When he died it was 85 percent finished. We didn’t add. I drew some conclusions. I did polishing. Edited it. Made it into a narrative. He had had words on paper for maybe six or eight years.

Did you see this as a legacy project?

I think that this book started as an oral history, and he wanted his stories to live on and he was always aware that he could die of cancer. The book explains how he got to be a politician and how he came to formulate opinions. But when I took it on, it was partially a choice of grief. We were sad. My brother worked on it for six months and did research interviews. It’s a family affair.

The book is detailed about his childhood — and a bit less about his time serving in the White House. Did you have a consciousness about that era as a kid? Did you speak about, say, Camp David, the historic summit where President Carter managed to wrest a peace treaty out of the Israelis and the Egyptians?

Camp David was one of the most successful Middle East treaties to this day. It was something he was really proud of.

My dad’s story in a lot of ways is President Carter’s story — the slow opening of his eyes to human rights. It drew them together throughout their relationship. They had this common background of growing up where segregation is passed generation to generation, and it falls into your lap and you realize you have a choice … and that is a thread. And that empathy and human rights thread tied them together into a common mission.

Tell me about the cover art. It’s a Confederate flag and your dad as a boy. It’s a jarring image.

People often ask if it was a tough decision, especially after the [deadly shootings at a black church] in South Carolina. We discussed it. It is the perfect symbol for his journey. He is standing there blissfully unaware of the symbol, and he has no sense of its meaning. I think that slowly through the book he begins to understand that it is symbolically his choice to hold the flag.

READ: President Carter’s Al Het

How did working on the book change your own Southern identity?

I had a lot of shame associated with being from the South. But in working on this book, I have realized that not claiming your past is kind of a form of erasure. It is denying the bad and burying the good. And he didn’t run from it.

It was politically important for my dad, and being from the South was one of the main points of his identity. Now I would say it’s the same for me.

And I’ve been able to rediscover a lot in working on this book and being able to interact with some of his peers in Albany, Georgia, and Atlanta. Prejudice and race happen in the South — it is more so on the tips of our tongues. Living in New York and L.A., in my experience, I have not had as many interesting conversations on race because people aren’t as up to talk about it. But the South is anything but color blind, and it’s something I really value.