The Israeli press is still dissecting the news of US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit, its significance, its implications, and the White House’s announcement that Obama isn’t bringing a new peace plan with him.
Haaretz quotes White House Press Secretary Jay Carney saying that Obama “expects to discuss with Israeli leaders the issues of a nuclear Iran and the situation in Syria,” but not peace with the Palestinians. Israel Hayom quotes US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro saying Obama has no demands for Netanyahu during his upcoming visit, which is intended to convey the significance Obama sees in the “strong and deep connection between both countries.” Yedioth Ahronoth calls the White House announcement “lowering expectations.” Makor Rishon reports that Netanyahu has placed his national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, in charge of the president’s visit.
Haaretz’s editorial argues that Obama’s visit “presumably attests to the new order of priorities of Obama’s second term,” namely, “negotiations with the Palestinians, and the close relationship he sees between the peace process and stability in a Middle East undergoing convulsions.” It also charges that Obama “seeks to influence the coalition negotiations, and to make it clear to whatever Israeli government is formed that he won’t allow it to shove the diplomatic issue onto the back burner or into the deep freeze.”
In Maariv, Eli Avidar contends that Obama’s decision to visit Ramallah and Amman as well as Jerusalem is all about political pressure on Israel. “President Obama is coming to fulfill his promise to the Palestinian leadership to exert greater pressure on Israel with the beginning of his second term,” he writes. The problem is that Obama seeks political leadership that the Palestinians cannot provide, he argues. “The Abbas government and its political perspective are bankrupt. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a acceptable person, but he has no public support. Abbas’s situation is even worse, and it’s vrey doubtful if he can provide the goods that President Obama is interested in.”
Haaretz leads with the behind-closed-doors statements attributed to Amidror that West Bank settlement construction is harming Israel’s standing abroad.
“Construction in the settlements has become a diplomatic problem and is causing Israel to lose support even among its friends in the West,” the paper quotes him saying.
The report adds that Amidror opposed responding with new settlement construction to the November 29 United Nations General Assembly vote on upgrading the Palestinians’ status to a nonmember state. “He especially opposed the announcement that Israel would move forward with planning for the E1 corridor, which links Jerusalem with the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, warning that this would provoke an international outcry,” the paper writes.
Amidror’s opinion, it adds, is shared by Netanyahu’s special negotiator with the Palestinians, Yitzhak Molcho.
Maariv leads with the Channel 2 story reporting on satellite images of the Syrian scientific research facility allegedly struck by Israel last week. According to the report, the images taken in the last week show a blackened parking lot, which it claims is proof of the Israeli hit. The only thing missing is damage to the buildings that Syria claimed Israel inflicted when IAF planes bombed the site. It cites the report’s claims that the strike hit the convoy in the parking lot but dealt no damage to the nearby buildings.
It also reports on the near-completion of the fully-reinforced hospital in Haifa that can withstand nonconventional weapons — including an atomic bomb — and can treat up to 2,000 patients in case of war. Maariv also mentions that the owners of planes at a Haifa airport were ordered to remove their aircraft from the field and given no explanation why.
Israel Hayom reports on the ongoing coalition talks between Netanyahu and the various party leaders, and the scheduled round two of meetings between the once and future prime minister and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.
“Netanyahu is expected to tell Lapid that he sees the ultra-Orthodox parties as partners in his future government, and that if Lapid wants to join the government, he must ease his positions — especially his demands concerning universal draft,” it reports. Israel Hayom adds that according to a source familiar with the coalition talks, “Netanyahu is interested in assembling the broadest possible government that includes Lapid, [Hatnua leader Tzipi] Livni and [Kadima leader] Shaul Mofaz from the center-left side of the political map, and the ultra-Orthodox factions and Jewish Home from the right side of the map.”
Yedioth Ahronoth also reports that Netanyahu and Lapid will meet on Wednesday to discuss forming a coalition with Jewish Home and Shas, and the article appears to quote the same source saying the prime minister “intends to try to convince Lapid to ease up on the issue of the draft,” and form a broad coalition.
It quotes sources in Yesh Atid, however, saying that it would be impossible to form a broad coalition because of the vast disparity in opinions between the parties Netanyahu aims to unite, and because a broad coalition would be bloated with ministers.
Makor Rishon, the religious-nationalist paper that acquired Maariv in November, reports on Hezbollah’s accusing Israel of launching “an international campaign” against it. According to the report, the Lebanese Shiite militia’s No. 2 told students that “Israel is trying to besmirch Hezbollah worldwide” and is conducting an “international fear campaign against Hezbollah because it failed in military confrontation against us.”
“We see Israel’s political expressions and the public accusations it disseminates in the international press, and we understand that it is trying to bring down the resistance in a political and international fashion, for in a military manner it cannot contend with us,” Sheikh Naim Kassem is quoted saying.
The same author, Assaf Gibor, writes a similar report in Maariv, except he leaves out the final accusatory statement and leads the article with European reactions to the Bulgarian statement accusing Hezbollah of carrying out last year’s bombing in Burgas.