1. Give ’em something to talk about: With a day to go until Israel is supposedly set to start annexing West Bank lands, there is a palpable sense of apathy, though not inevitability. In fact, press reports in Hebrew are filled with stories angled toward half-measures taking place that could at least delay the move and keep a lid on expectations of a full annexation of 30 percent of the West Bank.
- AFP reports that the Palestinians have offered to resume direct negotiations with Israel and to agree to “minor” territorial concessions, in exchange for Jerusalem scotching its annexation plans.
- “No one has as much interest as the Palestinians in reaching a peace agreement and no one has as much to lose as the Palestinians in the absence of peace,” says a four-page letter to the Quartet of the United Nations, United States, Russia, and the European Union seen by the news wire service.
- A number of outlets note that the letter is not new and has been mentioned before in the context of a vague counterproposal the Palestinians said they sent the Quartet earlier this month, although the PA’s readiness to resume direct talks with Israel was not reported at the time.
- “This is Palestinian spin, the letter was sent weeks ago ” Channel 13 reporter Barak Ravid tells Radio103. “Palestinian leaders say that they’ve never been so sought-after. The attempt is to get the Palestinians talking with the Americans, because the moment that happens — there’s no annexation.”
- Ravid also tells the station he does not think any annexation will actually go ahead on Wednesday: “Maybe Netanyahu will say something, but there won’t be any government decision.”
- Notably, a New York Times piece on annexation last week noted that Jared Kushner saw annexation as a stick intended to push the Palestinians to the table, indicating it might have somewhat worked. Tellingly, the US has yet to indicate, publicly at least, whether it will back Israel’s annexation moves.
- Former US ambassador Dan Shapiro tells Army Radio that “Trump has not decided if he wants to advance his interests with annexing Judea and Samaria, or perhaps he will decide that it will cause too much trouble in a sensitive political time.”
2. No joy in annexationville: Even Israel Hayom desists somewhat from its gung-ho cheerleading of annexation, possibly reading the way the winds are blowing. Its front page leads off with coronavirus-related coverage and instead features a smaller headline lazily quoting Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel saying annexation cannot wait until after the coronavirus is dealt with.
- The quote is set up as a counterpoint to Defense Minister Benny Gantz saying a day earlier that annexation should in fact wait and that July 1 is not a sacred date and anything unrelated to the coronavirus can take a backseat.
- In a column for the paper, Nadav Sharagi admits that annexation of the full 30 percent of the West Bank under the Trump plan is not in the cards and urges the government to at least start off by annexing the Jordan Valley, and not the settlement blocs that many believe will in fact be the first.
- “Israel should start by extending sovereignty to the Jordan Valley first and shelve the plan to do the same with respect to the large settlement blocs. The reason for this is simple: The greater Jerusalem area, Maaleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel will all eventually come under Israeli sovereignty – there’s a public consensus about that, one even the international community understands, albeit it will never publicly admit it.”
- (The argument echoes a report in the paper earlier this month that indicated Netanyahu was looking to do just that, or to start with isolated settlements. No other reliable reports on such an idea have emerged.)
- Minister Zeev Elkin tells Army Radio that “anyone who planned for everything happening on one day on July 1, that’s on them. From tomorrow, the clock starts.”
3. Just can’t wait: Kan reports that Netanyahu said pretty much the same thing in his Monday Likud faction meeting, perhaps indicating why Israel Hayom had to resort to Hendel as its pro-annexation pony. (No offense to Hendel, but he’s not exactly setting government policy.)
- “This is a complicated process with lots of diplomatic and security considerations that I can’t get into. We said that [annexation] would be after July 1,” Netanyahu is quoted saying.
- On Tuesday morning though, Netanyahu tells the US Iran sanctions czar Brian Hook that “we have serious issues to discuss. They are so serious that they can’t even wait for COVID-19 and I appreciate your making the visit to Israel today.” While the comments are ostensibly about Iran, many in the Hebrew press recognize them as a veiled pushback against Gantz.
- “Netanyahu answers Gantz,” reads a Kan headline above the quote.
- Army Radio calls it a “stinging message” to Gantz.
4. Killing annexation softly: Gantz, who is trying to position himself as something of an opposition leader within the government, continues to push back Tuesday, telling Ynet that “a million people don’t know what [the government] is talking about now,” which the outlet interprets to mean that “they are not interested in annexation,” as its headline puts it.
- However he also backs annexation as a concept, admits that the issue is pretty much out of his hands, and calls new elections (the likely result of his party not supporting annexation) “a disaster.”
- Analyst Shimrit Meir writes on Twitter that she got dizzy from trying to follow Gantz’s acrobatics, but thinks she’s figured out that “he’s killing [annexation] softly in a consistent way. Now it’s just money time.”
- Egypt’s attempts to stop annexation have also been halfhearted at best, notes ToI’s Aaron Boxerman, with the country’s leadership not wanting to risk its ties with the US over the Palestinian issue.
- “There are far more substantial crises facing Egypt today: the coronavirus crisis and its attendant economic consequences, Turkish military intervention on Egypt’s longest border, the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. All of these crises take priority over annexation,” analyst Ofer Winter tells him.
- NPR’s Daniel Estrin reports that many Israelis and Palestinians are similarly unmoved by the annexation plan. One settler shopping at a Palestinian store tells him that “annexation doesn’t matter to me. I’m not for or against. It’s all political games.”
- The grocer, with much more to lose, echoes him. “He’s like many Palestinians fed up with their leaders who long promised a Palestinian state in the West Bank. He’s watched settlements grow and believes annexation is inevitable. He doesn’t think it would change anything if he protested or threw a stone. He says he’s just trying to make ends meet, and he vows to never leave his home,” says Estrin.
5. Anything but coronavirus: Speaking to Kan, Minister of Nothing Tzachi Hanegbi says Gantz’s claim that the emergency coronavirus government formed to deal with the coronavirus should in fact only deal with the coronavirus is absurd: “99 percent of what we do is unrelated to the coronavirus.”
- Hey Tzachi, we’ve noticed. Quoth the lead editorial in Haaretz: “It would behoove this government to remember that it was formed primarily to battle the coronavirus. Netanyahu, however, has preferred to devote most of his effort to his personal concerns: his legal battles, political threats, annexation fantasies and seeing to his own bank account at taxpayers’ expense. Instead of creating a single agency to deal with the coronavirus, Netanyahu is taking hysterical and confused steps to try to halt the economic and health avalanches. That’s no way to run a country during a crisis.”
- As if to punctuate the editorial, the Health Ministry on Tuesday reports 714 new infections over the last day, the highest total since the start of April, a day after the government reacted to the rising numbers by announcing that attendance at some events will be capped at 100 people, which seems kind of like bringing a toothpick to a gunfight.
- The figure is the sixth highest 24-hour toll since the start of the pandemic, according to my own tally, just over 100 cases shy of the record 819 cases found on April 2-3.
- Channel 12 news reports that the city of Ramle saw more infections in June than it did in March and April.
- “We haven’t lost control” of the situation, Health Ministry Director Chezy Levy tells Army Radio. “The semantics over whether there’s a ‘second wave’ isn’t useful. The virus is with us” for the foreseeable future, he adds.
- There’s always the clink. ToI’s Sam Sokol writes that the only place that seems to have avoided the worst of the virus is the prison system, where unlike other countries, Israel has somehow managed to protect its domestic convict population.
- “Interrogations were conducted inside of prisons rather than at police stations, judicial hearings were held over teleconference and family visits were restricted to five-minute Zoom calls. Guards, who would usually pull 24-hour shifts followed by two days off, were suddenly doing one week on, two weeks off, during which time they monitored themselves for coronavirus symptoms. New inmates would be held in quarantine for two weeks before being allowed to mix with the general prison population,” he writes.
- Col. Regev Daharuge, head of the Prison Service Inmate Department, tells him that the approach, which also included having inmates eat alone in their cells, was the only way possible to keep the virus at bay.
- “If you think that social distancing in a [prison] wing is possible, you don’t know prison,” he says. “There’s no way that we can enforce it.”