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The real danger of outlawing Palestinian political movements

Banning and persecuting political groups like the Islamic Movement and Balad has the effect of disengaging Palestinian citizens of Israel from the state and its political system. That is very, very dangerous.

The Israeli government has done very few things that worry me more than its ongoing assault on the country’s Palestinian citizens’ political representation. In the latest such move, the government outlawed the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and seized assets and properties belonging to 17 affiliated organizations on Tuesday.

One of the things that enables Jews and Arabs to live together in this country, which despite everything is still happening, is that both sides participate in civil society and politics (Arab society’s political and economic grievances are debated in the Knesset and the court system, and religious and civil institutions operate under the laws of the state and with its acceptance of them).

There is no love lost: the Jews don’t share power with the Arabs, and the Palestinians clearly don’t identify with the idea of a Jewish state, and even boycott some of its institutions. Yet system works, more or less. That is no small accomplishment, especially considering both the internal and external pressures at play here, like the fact that Israel keeps millions of Palestinians under military rule.

The Jewish side decided in the past few years that it has had enough. If its red line used to be aiding the enemy (a line only a very small number of people actually crossed), today, rejecting the idea of the State of Israel has become cause for delegitimizing Palestinian political parties and movements. That is a very dangerous development.

The decision to outlaw the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and efforts to disqualify the Balad political party from running in elections do not stem from incitement or support for terrorism — those are crimes that already exist in the law books and are regularly enforced — but rather because both movements represent radical schools of thought. The accusations suggesting Sheikh Raed Salah and Haneen Zoabi are somehow responsible for the wave of stabbing attacks are ludicrous. Most of the attackers have come from areas like Hebron and East Jerusalem, where the influence of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and Balad are marginal compared to, say, Hamas (which won the last Palestinian elections in East Jerusalem). It takes a special kind of crazy to think that...

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Plenty of talk about 'peace,' little commitment

When leaders from center-left aren’t willing to deepen the struggle against the occupation, it’s hard not to feel that they, too, prefer the status quo. Notes from the Haaretz Conference for Peace.

The most genuine moments at Thursday’s Haaretz Conference on Peace came from two right-wing speakers — Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin, both ministers in Netanyahu’s government — who unequivocally called the two state-solution a “hallucination,” which they have no plans of ever implementing. Since neither of them have any intention of granting citizenship to Palestinians under occupation, they view the current situation as the solution.

Around the same time Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted that despite what he may have said during his recent trip to the United States, he has no intention of unilaterally evacuating West Bank settlements:

(Translation: I have no intention of evacuating or uprooting settlements, this mistake will not be repeated) 

And just as Netanyahu is not willing on signing an agreement that any sane Palestinian leadership could live with, he also believes that the status quo is the solution — at least in the near future.

I spent a good part of the day at Haaretz’s conference (I did not stay until the end), and the incredible thing is that these declarations — which did not come from the fringes of the right, but from the Israeli government and its spokespeople — did not seem to make an impression on anyone there. Very few of the speakers or panelists referred to them, and those who did — such as Joint List head Ayman Odeh or Amir Peretz of the Zionist Union — argued with Elkin and Levin, rather than dealing with the significance of their statements. As if Levin and Elkin were two internet trolls who happened upon the conference and decided to disrupt us while we were busy drawing up maps and tried to restart negotiations.

Martin Indyk, who was interviewed onstage by Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn, implored the crowd not to give up hope, saying that the problem between the two sides has been a “lack of trust.” Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair believes that Netanyahu is not interested in maintaining the current situation, and that if we only create...

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Another Netanyahu lie at CAP

Netanyahu claims that more Arabs voted for him than Labor in the last election. That’s simply false.

Think Progress, the internet news arm of the Center for American Progress, fact-checked Netanyahu’s talk at the influential Democratic think-tank yesterday. They found no less than 10 problematic statements on “the big issues.” As many observers were quick to point out, the problem was that nobody at the event knew enough to directly challenge Netanyahu on his statements — many of them inaccurate, out of context, or completely false.

Here is a little something Think Progress missed: Netanyahu was asked about his infamous “Arabs on buses” remarks on election day, in which he tried — and succeeded — in scaring right-wing voters to go the polls. Netanyahu admitted the comments should never had been made in the first place, but only before he went on to celebrate his government record on advancing Palestinian citizens, noting that more Arabs voted for his Likud party than Labor, his primary contender in the elections.

“First of all you should know that Arabs voted for me, and I welcome that. In fact, you may check this but I think they voted for me in considerably larger numbers than they voted for the Labor Party,” Netanyahu told CAP President and event moderator Neera Tanden.

(Watch from 7:30 for Netanyahu’s comments on Arab voters)

This statement, however, is simply not true. While it’s impossible to know the exact numbers (some polls in the mixed cities have both Jewish and Palestinian voters), a survey of the Arab cities and villages in Israel shows Labor getting more than three times as many votes as Likud. In the two biggest Palestinian cities, Umm al-Fahm and Nazareth, for example, Labor got 869 and 69 votes,respectively, while Likud only got 343 and 21. According to this count by Neer Ilin, Labor got more votes than Likud in 117 out of 132 Arab towns and villages in Israel. While this doesn’t include mixed cities, we can assume that the votes follow a very similar pattern.

The following is a table of the 24 largest Arab towns or villages. Labor outperformed Likud in them all except one, which ended in a tie (if the Facebook embedding doesn’t work, use this link).

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The side of Rabin's legacy Israelis love to forget

Over 20 years later, the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO teaches us one thing: despite the hatred, we have no choice but to live together.

From year to year, the memory of Yitzhak Rabin goes from a political issue to a nostalgic one. Twenty years after his assassination, the Israeli public is inundated with memories of Rabin the IDF chief of staff, Rabin the smoker, Rabin the straight-talker, etc. The films and articles memorializing him usually obscure (and often do not even include) one specific image: Rabin shaking hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993. This photo, of course, shows Rabin’s greatest achievement. If anything is worth remembering over the next dozen or hundreds of years, it is this.

This image, as well as the Oslo Accords, was made possible through the mutual letters of recognition between Israel and the PLO (Rabin was once again elected prime minister in 1992, when contact with the PLO were still illegal according to Israeli law) that Arafat and Rabin exchanged just days prior. In the letter to the prime minister, Arafat recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, while Rabin recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Beyond Oslo, these letters were momentous in and of themselves. Many agreements followed, but the moment of mutual recognition was singular in the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it reverberates until this very day — despite all the blood that has been shed.

Oslo was problematic — it perpetuated unequal relations between the two sides, left fundamental problems for the future, gave its opponents the time and opportunity to try and undermine it, and became a platform to continue the occupation, rather than end it. The mutual recognition, however, towers above the agreement and its many failures. It was a pragmatic recognition: Israel did not recognize the Palestinian people’s rights to the land, and the Palestinians did not recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” But throughout Israeli/Palestinian history, it has proven to be the most profound and significant expression for the understanding that both peoples live in this land, and that the only chance for a better future is if they live side by side as equals.

Most Israelis hate this image. I assume that many Palestinians also deplore it. Rabin, after all, was responsible for one of...

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The real problem with Netanyahu's mufti speech

By calling the Palestinians Nazis, the Israeli prime minister was saying they can never be negotiated with — that Israel must fight them to the bloody end.

Despite the festival of mockery taking place on social media, Benjamin Netanyahu clearly does not believe that Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini is more responsible than Hitler for the Holocaust. (Although that is exactly what the prime minister said in his speech at the World Zionist Conference on Tuesday.) Netanyahu is a smart guy who knows World War II history better than most of his critics. The idea that the mufti is responsible for the extermination of European Jewry is completely absurd, and Netanyahu knows that. Just like he explained the next day, he wasn’t even talking about the Nazis, and he certainly never meant to absolve them for the Holocaust. The prime minister was trying to make a statement about the Palestinians and that’s the real problem.

Saying that the Palestinians are Nazis — very much like the comparison between Israel and the Nazis — has no place in a fact-based or historically accurate discourse. That should go without saying. The only reason to do so would be to illustrate that it is impossible to negotiate, or even speak with, the other side — that they must be fought to the bloody end. That is the historical historical context and significance of comparing somebody to the Nazis. They are one of the few regimes in all of history whose illegitimacy is absolute — to everyone in the world. Even those who had the most remote ties with the Nazis, even those who tried to make deals with them to save Jews, were later classified as traitors. Because one wages only war against Nazis. Look at every WWII film ever made — there is no such thing as a good Nazi.

The Palestinians, of course, are not Nazis. Their resistance to the establishment of Jewish settlements in Palestine in the first half of the 20th century is similar to the resistance of nearly every indigenous group to European settlers who arrived in their lands. The fact that the Jews felt they had no other choice and were being persecuted, the fact that they believed this was their homeland, that changed nothing for the Palestinians. It may unpleasant, but it’s also not incomprehensible.

None of that applies to the present reality, however. Excluding...

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Jerusalem, in context

The current events in Jerusalem have a political history and context. Attempts to attribute the violence to some kind of Palestinian pathology while ignoring other factors is a recipe for making things worse. A response to Jeffrey Goldberg.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a powerful piece in The Atlantic last week claiming to scrutinize Palestinian violence through the history of Jewish and Arab ties to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif over the past 100 years. (“The paranoid, supremacist roots of the stabbing Intifada,” the headline reads.) Goldberg starts by discussing Palestinian “paranoia” over Israel’s actions in Jerusalem and ends with a broader, more common claim: that the Palestinian refusal to recognize Jewish ties to the land of Israel is the primary source of the conflict’s intractability, replete with its frequent rounds of violence.

There are many holes in this theory, and I’d like to point some of them out. But first a word of caution. I recently got the impression that some of my past writing has downplayed the importance of religious sentiments in leading to violence and I’d like to avoid repeating that mistake. I do not deny that some Palestinians reject the very idea of any Jewish ties to the land, although that is way less common among the PLO and the Palestinian-Israeli political leadership, to which Goldberg refers. However, it’s only fair to point out that there has never been any formal Israeli recognition of historical Palestinian ties to the land. The belief that Palestinians are invaders or mere guests in this land and that their own ties to the Temple Mount are a political hoax is widely held in Israel’s right wing.

Furthermore, history has proven that Palestinian fears about Jewish intentions regarding the Temple Mount and Old City of Jerusalem were not entirely irrational. There is a large, powerful camp in Israel that would like to change the status quo on the mount; it includes more than half of the Likud party, which has always been obsessed with the Temple Mount. Polls find that an overwhelming majority of the national-religious public supports Jewish visits to the site, and one-fifth have already visited it.

There are also those who would support way more radical actions: between 1982 and 1984 Israel’s Shin Bet uncovered no fewer than three Jewish terrorist groups that sought to blow up the holy mosques. The most famous of them was the Jewish...

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Israel still holds all the cards

The relative quiet on the ground in recent years, enforced by the Palestinian Authority on Israel’s behalf, led Israelis to believe they can enjoy peace and prosperity without ending the occupation.

Thirteen years passed between the First Intifada, which broke out in December 1987, and the start of the second in October 2000. Both intifadas lasted for roughly five years. It has been 15 years since the start of the Second Intifada, and 10 years since it ended.

If history and experience teach us anything, the timeframe is exactly right for the arrival of a new generation of young Palestinians who are willing to confront Israel — like their big brothers did, and before them, their parents. That theory also holds if you look at the profile of those carrying out the stabbing attacks and those taking part in demonstrations in recent days — mostly people under the age of 20.

The events of the past few weeks are not an intifada. Attacks and demonstrations against Israeli symbols and targets, civilian and military alike, have taken place since the 1970s with varying frequency. The intifadas, on the other hand, were characterized by an uprising that saw an almost across-the-board mobilization of the whole of Palestinian society and its institutions (although the Second Intifada quickly became an armed struggle carried out by a relatively small number of militants).

The current situation is different. Even Netanyahu has been forced to admit that the Palestinian Authority is not taking part in the current unrest. Things are centered in East Jerusalem, which is under direct Israeli control, and not in the West Bank. That also demonstrates why Israel will do everything it can to prevent the collapse of the PA, thereby preventing a return to the pre-Oslo situation, something for which a number of demagogues on the Israeli Right are calling. The PA, as Israel’s security contractor, is far more efficient at maintaining the peace than the Shin Bet or IDF ever were. Israel will dispose of it only when it completely stops performing its role.

The PLO’s international strategy has collapsed

The PA is an unusual institution. A massive part of its budget — 25 percent, it is said — is dedicated to security. Not securing Palestinians but rather securing Israelis. Palestinian police officers are forbidden from protecting Palestinian villagers against settler attacks. They need to call the Israeli police for that.

Over the past...

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'The problem isn't Arab protesters, it's the society that sees them as an enemy'

Fifteen years since the events of October 2000, in which Israeli police killed 13 Arab protesters, Hassan Jabareen, head of Israel’s leading Arab civil rights organization, talks to +972 about the lessons Israel’s Palestinian population learned from the killings, the escalation of systematic discrimination since, and the vision of a democratic state of all its citizens. ‘If Arabs in Israel determined their political leanings in accordance with what Jews said, they would always be inferior.’

The Arab public in Israel this week marked 15 years since protests that resulted in the police killings of 13 people and left hundreds wounded. “October 2000 led our public to understand that the existing parliamentary and legal tools are not enough to defend our rights,” says Attorney Hassan Jabareen, founder and executive director of Adalah, in an interview to +972 Magazine. October 2000, Jabareen explains, was a pivotal moment for Palestinian citizens of Israel, one that changed the way they viewed the State of Israel and forever altered their political relationship to it.

Only five years after establishing Adalah when the events broke, Jabareen led the legal team that represented the families of the victims in commission of inquiry appointed by then Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak (also known as the Or Commission). Since then, Adalah has become the leading legal advocacy organization for the Arab minority in Israel — more than 1.6 million Palestinians (21 percent of the population) who are Israeli citizens.

Over the years, Adalah has filed a long series of petitions demanding equal rights and equal distribution of resources for the Arab minority. Many of its cases resulted in landmark rulings. Adalah has also challenged, unsuccessfully, a new wave of legislation targeting Palestinian rights and political activities in Israel: the Nakba Law, citizenship law, the acceptance committees law that legalized housing segregation, and the anti-boycott law. Jabareen himself led the representation of Palestinian members of Knesset who were disqualified from running in elections (he won in every case), and the defense of Arab public figures facing criminal and political persecution.

Jabareen is the attorney for the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and an attorney for many Palestinian members of Knesset. Former High Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak once called him “one of the most important constitutional attorneys in Israel.” He was part of the team that published the Haifa Declaration in 2007, which presented the...

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A farewell of sorts

Earlier this month, at the conclusion of a long-planned transition, I ended my role as executive director (and prior to that – editor-in-chief) of +972 Magazine and Local Call. I am succeeded by Sawsan Khalife’, a journalist and activist from Haifa.

I began working in journalism in 1998, right before the Internet came and changed everything. My first decade in media was marked by cuts, layoffs and journalists’ growing fear of their readers.

+972 Magazine was born in 2010 as an aggregate of seven blogs that approached Israeli politics and news from a progressive perspective. A year later we formed a non-profit to provide the organizational backing to the project. Our Hebrew site, Local Call, was launched in 2014 under a similar model of blogger-based writing and non-profit journalism.

Both sites, and the non-profit that operates them, have been the heart of my professional life for the past five years. During this time, we have grown from a modest group blog into a project that brings together dozens of volunteers, six employees and has hundreds of thousands of people reading it every month, worldwide.

For me, +972 Magazine and Local Call were an opportunity to return to a time of growth, innovation, and absolute independence in writing and editing. I have enjoyed writing and working on this project more than anywhere else in the past 17 years.

Things didn’t come without a price, of course. In its first years, +972 was a volunteer project, and even when we started raising money for editing, ensuring the necessary resources was a constant struggle: none of us made the kind of salaries we could have at more established news organizations. But I got to take part in a different kind of journalism, one that is run from the bottom up — from the writers to the editors — and not the other way around.

It is through the work of my fellow bloggers that I participated in the most important and gratifying stories: the battle of narratives regarding the killing of Jawahr Abu-Rahme in Bil’in; Lisa Goldman’s reportage from post-revolution Egypt (our first crowd-sourcing project!); the first interview Haggai Amir gave after his release from prison; the socially driven activism of Local Call writers; working with Samer Badawi, who reported for +972 from bombarded Gaza City last summer; Local Call’s exposé on the companies monitoring...

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Iran deal: Why did Bibi pick a futile fight in Washington?

If the prime minister knew all along that he wasn’t going to win the battle in Congress, why would he throw AIPAC and American Jewry into such a divisive fight?

The Israeli prime minister’s proxies and unofficial spokespeople tried their hardest to convince reporters on Wednesday that Benjamin Netanyahu knew all along his chances of blocking the Iran deal in Congress were slim at best. Yet much of the media in Israel is treating the administration’s success in assembling 34 senators to defend a presidential veto as a political defeat for Netanyahu.

“We knew that the agreement would pass but we tried to contain some of its damage,” one of the prime minister’s proxies was quoted as saying in Yedioth Ahronoth. “A majority in the U.S. opposes the deal,” read the front-page headline in Israel Hayom, the free pro-Netanyahu tabloid owned by Sheldon Adelson. Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold delivered a similar message on Army Radio, stating, “we weren’t planning on preventing the deal in the first place.”

Did Netanyahu really know he was fighting a losing battle all along? It’s not clear. Some Israeli diplomatic reporters aired their disagreement on the matter Thursday morning on Twitter. Netanyahu personally briefed all of those reporters before their departure to the U.S. some weeks ago, on their way to meetings with American officials. According to Haaretz’s Barak Ravid, Netanyahu told the Israeli journalists at the time that there was “a drift” in the direction of opposing the agreement – making it sound as if it could actually be killed in Congress. Moav Vardi (Channel 10) and Ilil Shahar, however, left with the impression that Bibi knew the odds for victory were tiny.

But if Netanyahu and his advisors actually knew all along that Congress would not be able to block a presidential veto, their game seems far more cynical — throwing AIPAC into a battle it could not win, and putting the Jewish American community in the worst possible corner, forcing them to choose between a president most of them supported and the Israeli government. Not everybody handled the moment very well: Tablet published an editorial comparing the White House to white supremacists, for example. And all this – for what?

Playing the long game or short-sightedness?

One possible explanation is Netanyahu’s hope that a promised “compensation package” the administration offered Israel might grow as a result of the...

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No way to defeat Jewish terrorism without ending the occupation

For the extreme right, violence against Palestinian civilians is not solely a result of racism — it is, first and foremost, a form of control.

The vast majority of settlers are not violent, although different levels of violence toward the Palestinian population in the occupied territories have accompanied the settlement enterprise since its inception. These acts of violence are never an outlier, but as a direct consequence of the situation in the West Bank.

The public turns a blind eye to this fact whenever these events happen. The responses to the murder of the 18-month-old baby Ali Dawabshe, are a sign that we will continue to ignore the bigger picture.

The defining characteristic of the occupation is that it includes two civilian populations living alongside one another, which are subject to two different legal systems. The Palestinians live under a military regime, while every Israeli who lives or even visits the settlements “brings” the Israeli law with them, including all the legal protections she or he is granted.

The second defining characteristic of the occupation is the Israeli desire to slowly expand the territory and resources for the Jewish public, while slowly lessening Palestinians’ territory. This combination — a military regime with civilian settlement — is what causes the Israeli occupation to look and feel a lot like colonialism or apartheid, even if there is not an exact overlap. This is the essence of the regime, regardless of the question of whether or not this is our forefathers’ land, or who was here first.

Colonialism always goes hand-in-hand with racism, and extreme racism is always accompanied by violence. Even if the original motivation that brings about a colonial situation is not racist, at a certain point the ruling group must somehow justify its own privileges, which inevitably leads to racist worldviews. For example, that the occupied population is not “ready” to have all their rights, or that it is inherently weak and violent; that it doesn’t appreciate life as we do; that it prefers to live in close, dirty quarters, etc. The struggle against racism in Israel — to the degree that it even exists — will fail as long as the occupation exists, since we will always need racism in order to justify the occupation.

But racism cannot fully explain the violence toward Palestinian civilians. Some of the more infamous attempts to...

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Go ahead, tear down the High Court — watch the occupation crumble

In response to the demolition of two high-profile settlement buildings, an MK in the ruling coalition calls for the destruction of the High Court itself. He may not have thought that one through.

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Monday ordered the state to demolish two apartment buildings in the settlement of Beit El. Israeli police and military forces carried out the order within hours, leading to physical clashes with settlers and exceptionally harsh attacks on the court by right-wing members of the government. Human rights groups hailed the ruling as a victory.

But today of all days, it is important to remember that the High Court itself is one of the most important cornerstones propping up the occupation. The Israeli High Court of Justice has never written a single ruling (not even one!) that has come close to putting a wrench in the gears of the occupation. Quite the opposite. The court’s justices have given their stamp of approval to each and every instrument the State of Israel uses to impose its apartheid regime on the Palestinian population.

The argument that settlements are not a violation of international law has been endorsed by the High Court. Demolishing Palestinian homes as collective punishment meted out on innocent family members — approved by the court. Imprisonment without charge or trial, even of minors — approved. Deportations — approved. Extrajudicial assassinations — approved. Torture — approved. The separation fence and its route that annexes occupied territory — approved. Exploiting Palestinian natural resources in the West Bank for the benefit of Israel and Israelis — approved.

The High Court’s primary role is building a legal framework in which all of those things can be carried out: how and where to establish settlements. How to expropriate land. How to deport Palestinians. How to assassinate them. How to annex land. How and when to torture. Somebody needs to do it. That is why High Court is important. So in cases like the two apartment buildings in Beit El, the court stages a high drama. It sets the boundaries with exceptional cases like this. And that, too, is important.

The High Court has made some important rulings and set a number of positive precedents for the citizens of Israel. But the Palestinians living in the territories are not citizens, and they have almost exclusively been harmed by the court and its...

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Pro-Netanyahu daily invents Obama 'quote' against Iran deal

Owned by Adelson and aligned with Netanyahu, Israel’s most-read newspaper has now devolved to actually making things up about Obama.

The pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom has devoted itself to attacking the Iran nuclear deal in recent days. “A shameful surrender,” “Under Obama, Iran is becoming the regional superpower,” “Every new detail just proves how stupid and dangerous the deal is” — these are just some of the ways the paper’s columnists have described the deal in recent days.

But now, Israel Hayom, which is printed and distributed for free at a considerable loss by American casino mogul and Republican party bankroller Sheldon Adelson, is taking the battle beyond the editorial pages. On Sunday the paper ran a double-spread headline that stretched journalistic ethics to their limit, or rather, ignored them altogether. The headline read: “The deal will strengthen terrorism,” with the quote, attributed to President Obama, printed in huge white-on-black letters. The sub-headline read: “The nuclear deal will likely channel money to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and The Quds Force.”.

The only problem: the U.S. president never said any of that. The headline was completely made up, and the sub-headline took the quote out of context. Here is what Obama actually said in the BBC interview that was “quoted” by Israel Hayom. I bolded the relevant sentence, but the rest is important for context:

SOPEL: But the net effect of lifting sanctions is that billions more will go to groups like Hezbollah, the Assad regime, and that is going to destabilize the region even more.

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, first of all, we’ve shut off the pathways for Iran getting a nuclear weapon, which was priority number one. Because if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, then they could cause all those same problems that you just listed with the protection of a nuclear bomb. And create much greater strategic challenges for the United States, for Israel, for our Gulf allies, for our European allies.

Second, it is true that by definition, in a negotiation and a deal like this, Iran gets something out of it. The sanctions regime that we put in place with the hope of the Brits, but also the Chinese and the Russians and others meant that they had funds that were frozen. They get those funds back. A large portion of those funds are going to have to be used for them...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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