Representing the NJ-Israel Commission at a series of high-level meetings in Jerusalem, West Orange attorney Mark Levenson said Israeli leaders are deeply skeptical about the Western powers’ nuclear negotiations with Iran.
“They think Iranian President [Hassan] Rouhani puts on a nice smile but they are concerned about this agreement and the fact that Iran is almost getting a free pass,” said Levenson. “But they don’t blame America. They think the agreement is flawed.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “spent a lot of time talking about that, but it is not playing out as any criticism of America by Israel.”
Levenson, chair of the NJ-Israel Commission, was an invited guest of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on its 40th Annual Leadership Mission to Israel, held Feb. 17-20.
In a phone interview from Jerusalem, Levenson said the delegation of American-Jewish leaders met with Netanyahu; Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon; Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman; Finance Minister Yair Lapid; Trade, Industry, and Labor Minister Naftali Bennett; and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein
Just hours after it ended, Levenson told NJ Jewish News the peace discussions under way between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators “are very serious.”
“Whether a deal will happen I don’t know,” he said. “Israel would like to reach a deal that certain key issues are met. One is that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and there can be no right of return [for Palestinians].
“The other issue for Israel is security, security, security.”
He said Israeli leaders are also focusing on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, which targets Israeli corporations, products, cultural events, and academic institutions.
“BDS is not hurting Israel economically right now, but it is a nuisance and an irritant which can grow. It requires attention and devotion of human resources and people spending time on it when they should be spending time on more relevant and important stuff,” he said.
Since a military coup wrested power from the Muslim Brotherhood last July, “Israel’s relations with Egypt right now are good,” Levenson said. “General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is running Egypt is no Zionist, but there is security cooperation and the Israelis are very pleased with his crackdown on terrorists. There was increasing lawlessness in the Sinai when the Muslim Brotherhood was running Egypt, but there has been a strong decrease in that.”
While the situation in Gaza continues to be a threat, Levenson said Israeli leaders believe “Hamas has been doing a pretty good job in Gaza. The rockets from Gaza are not from Hamas. They are from its offshoots. Hamas is not looking to engage in a conflict with Israel, they know it will do them no good. They’ve got their hands full, and they no longer have a friend in Egypt.”