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US policy on Israel-Palestine shaped by Israeli far-right think tank: Experts

Activists block the front door of Kohelet Policy Forum in al-Quds with sandbags and barbed wire in March 2023 to protest controversial legal reforms. (File photo via Twitter)  

A new report says experts believe that Israeli far-right think tank Kohelet Policy Forum, which has gained attention in recent weeks because of its role in crafting the controversial judicial overhaul, is a major player in shaping the US policy on Israel-Palestine.

"Now that the world is suddenly paying attention to Kohelet in Israel, I think they maybe are missing the story in the US ... In the US they have played, I would say, a parallel, enormously effective, and quiet role of shaping US policy to where it is today when it comes to anything related to Israel-Palestine," Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, said during an online webinar on Tuesday, hosted by the foundation, according to the Middle East Eye.

Established in 2012, the far-right think tank is funded mainly by American Jewish billionaires Arthur Dantchik and Jeffrey Yass. The latter is known as one of the biggest donors to the Republican Party.

According to Ran Cohen, a rights activist and founder of the Israeli civil society group, Democratic Bloc, the think tank earned initial attention in 2019 when former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo appreciated it for helping create the Trump administration's policy recognizing Israel's settlements as legal.

"We can put that Pompeo statement as the first sign that made us think that okay, this is something that we should look deeper into, and we found a bigger story than that," Cohen said, adding, "You don't see high-ranking politicians thanking an NGO, but he took the step and the attention to actually give them the credit for helping with promoting the statement that is actually stating that the settlements in the West Bank are not contradicting international law - a major change in American politics."

Recently, the think tank has become known as the architect of the controversial “legal reforms” which serve as the centerpiece of the policies of the Netanyahu-led cabinet that he cobbled together late last year by wooing ultra-Orthodox and hard-right parties.

They seek to enfeeble the supreme court by robbing it of the power to strike down either the cabinet or the legislature’s decisions.

Another element of the reforms would give the 120-member parliament the power to overrule the court’s decisions with a simple majority of 61 votes.

The reforms would also empower the Knesset to amend the so-called Basic Laws – the regime’s quasi-constitution – in any way it sees fit.

Observers say the reforms can potentially enable the Knesset to annul a set of corruption charges that Netanyahu is being tried on. The Israeli prime minister is being sued for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

Eran Nissan, CEO of Mehazkim, a digital movement in Israel, blamed Kohelet for the political crisis in Israel. "We're talking about them because they are the ones that wrote the policies, the legislative initiatives that are causing all the turmoil and political crisis right now in Israel," he said.

"They are the locomotive, the spearfront of a bigger ecosystem of ultra-conservative, neoliberal, settlement, Jewish supremacists that are leading a long-term ideological and political project to import the ideas of the fringes of the Republican Party," he said.

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