It’s the unofficial 11th commandment of Israeli press. When no local story dominates the news cycle, it’s safe to start kibitzing about Israel’s neighbors and their problems.
Yedioth Ahronoth devotes its front page to worrying that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will receive a hero’s welcome at the Davos Economic Forum. As the interim nuclear agreement is now being implemented the world breathes a sigh of relief and, as the paper writes, that gives Israel cause for concern. “With all due respect to Bono and Bill Gates, Israel worries that the real star of the forum will be the Iranian president,” explains the paper.
Rouhani won’t be the only Middle Eastern leader there; Netanyahu, Peres, and Livni are also going to be at the mountain resort. Yedioth wonders what would happen if Netanyahu and Rouhani passed each other in the hall: will they greet each other? Say hello?
Another area of Switzerland gets front page coverage as Haaretz reports that Syrian peace talks are set to begin on Wednesday in Montreux. It wasn’t clear if the talks would even occur, with the opposition deciding to join just a few days ago. The paper reports that expectations are as about low as can be, with the goals being to create maybe a few local ceasefires. An anonymous Western official told the paper that the real goal of the talks is to build trust between the two sides.
Maariv also puts Syria on its front page, focusing not on the West’s plan for peace but Russia’s. According to the paper, the Russians have created a proposal that calls for a transitional government but also allows for Bashar Assad to run in upcoming presidential elections, which are three months away. However, the rebels say they won’t support any plan that allows Assad to stay in power. Sounds like this conflict is as easy to solve as the Israel-Palestinian one.
Speaking of which, Israel Hayom features President Shimon Peres front and center, and paraphrases a quote of his for its headline, “Peres – the requirement to recognize Israel as a Jewish state – ‘unnecessary.’” Inside the paper doesn’t mince any words on its view of Peres’s statement – “Peres wavers,” reads the article headline and an accompanying op-ed by Dan Margalit clarifies the paper’s position further.
“Peres’s position will damage Israel,” Margalit writes. He reminds readers that despite Yasser Arafat’s refusal to recognize the Jewish historical connection to the land, to refrain from urging the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state will harm us further down the line. He even praises John Kerry for understanding this point and making it part of the current round of negotiations. “It’s not possible that people like President Peres could claim to be innocent on this issue,” he concludes.
A little closer to home
Leaving the international community on the front pages, Maariv returns to the Gaza Strip and the growing fear of escalation there. The paper quotes an Islamic Jihad source who says, “We and Hamas aren’t interested in an escalation.” After more rockets fell in open areas on Tuesday, the paper reports that Egypt got into the fray and warned Hamas in Gaza to stop the rocket fire. The paper notes this move is somewhat extraordinary as Egypt had cut off ties with Hamas after Islamist president Morsi was overthrown, but sees keeping the ceasefire as its responsibility since it helped broker it in 2011.
Israel Hayom reports that Netanyahu made some strong statements regarding the rocket fire from Gaza: “We thwart terrorist attacks as we identify them forming, and we react firmly against those who hurt us. If Hamas or other terrorist organizations have forgotten this lesson, they will learn it again in the very near future.”
Searching for answers
Yedioth snags an interview with the gas technician accused of negligence in connection to a gas explosion in Jerusalem that killed a family on Monday. The technician tells the paper, “The moment I heard that there was an explosion, I ran there and told the police that I was the technician that worked on the apartment. I didn’t run away.” The technician said that he had 25 years’ experience working in the industry and that “his conscience is clean.” He is facing charges of negligence and is under house arrest.
Haaretz reports that Aryeh Deri, head of the political party Shas, has hired an external consulting group to find out what voters want. It seems that Deri is trying to navigate his way in a post-Ovadia Yosef world. The consulting group held focus groups among the religious and nonreligious, and, the paper reports, Shas is now waiting for the results. This isn’t the first time Shas has used focus groups but, Haaretz notes, this time there are no elections on the horizon.
Finally, Israel Hayom follows up on former Jerusalem Police Chief Niso Shaham, who was removed from his post due to allegations of sexual misconduct and breach of trust. Shaham gave an interview to Channel 2 News in which he states he is the victim. The paper uses a quote from the disgraced officer as its headline, “Yes I had contact with female cops – but why does that interest the investigators?”
That quote alone seemed to spur Itzik Saban’s op-ed, “How does he still not understand?” Saban reviews the accusations against Shaham — unwanted sexual advances toward his subordinates — and is shocked that Shaham doesn’t get it. After recounting one instance where he tried to kiss a subordinate and she got out of the car crying, Saban asks, “Hello, sir, you do not understand what is wrong in your behavior?” He rejects Shaham’s claim that his dismissal hurt the image of the police. “If anyone harms public confidence in the police — it’s you,” Saban concludes.