Après Jerusalem, le déluge of question marks
Hebrew media review

Après Jerusalem, le déluge of question marks

While many think Trump's move was a capital idea, uncertainty abounds over whether clashes will worsen, the diplomatic backlash will sharpen or Israel can parlay it into more gains

Israeli Border Police stand guard during a protest by Palestinians at Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, following US President Donald Trump's announcement that he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on December 7, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli Border Police stand guard during a protest by Palestinians at Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, following US President Donald Trump's announcement that he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on December 7, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A day after Israeli papers red, white and blew their wad (it’s kosher, look it up) celebrating the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital, the news agenda shifts to accounts and predictions of the region red, white and blowing up in the wake of the move.

Pictures of border police facing off against Palestinian protesters grace all three front pages, but given the relatively low simmer of the clashes on Thursday, most reports look at Friday as the day of explosive possibility, and at efforts by Israel to lower the flames. But the only thing that seems clear is that the future is not clear at all.

“While Israel was celebrating the dramatic announcement by Trump, the Palestinians began to prepare for battle,” Yedioth Ahronoth reports. “After a day of relatively light protests and clashes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the big test of security forces will come this morning: dealing with the day of rage” declared by the leaders, and stopping it from spreading.”

Israel Hayom also notes the clashes but its real focus is on the diplomatic gains in the wake of the decision, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to spin the story.

“A day after Trump’s historic announcement, under the direction of Netanyahu, Israeli diplomats were working hard to persuade countries around the world to follow in the footsteps of the US president and announce recognition of Jerusalem as capital,” the paper reports, under the headline “Diplomatic blitz.”

To call that an uphill battle would be an understatement, as Haaretz makes clear in writing about the diplomatic backlash to the move. With the UN set to meet, even the White House is trying to downplay the damage by inviting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to visit.

Then there will be the expected “Nathan For You”-level awkward meeting between Netanyahu and the European Union when he visits Brussels next week.

“Tensions have sharpened between Netanyahu and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini,” Haaretz reports. “In the last two days Mogherini has criticized Trump’s decision and yesterday the Foreign Ministry called her response ‘baffling.’ In light of the tensions, Jerusalem termed the trip as a visit to ‘the lion’s den.’”

With everything from serious clashes to diplomatic backlash still in crystal ball territory, and more space afforded by the weekend edition, the papers give plenty of room to their pundits to analyze, advise and predict — with a general consensus emerging that the Jerusalem recognition move was the right one and may actually create new opportunities by changing the calculus.

“In the short term, will it lead to a significant increase in the level of violence in Jerusalem and the occupied territories? Also, will it trigger a crisis between the United States and Israel on the one hand and Sunni Arab states on the other – the ones with which Israel has close relations,” Amos Harel writes in Haaretz, asking the questions on everyone’s’ minds and predicting Israel can probably handle the fighting.” In the longer term, is Trump right in stating that the breaking of the pattern – in which the Americans tread carefully and insist on maintaining the semblance of being an honest broker – will force the Palestinians to leave their comfort zone and agree to more serious negotiations than they have conducted in recent years?”

In Yedioth, columnist Amiram Levin thinks the answer is a definite yes.

“The Palestinian anger is understandable, but not the point. This is the time to urge the Palestinians to see Trump’s announcement as an opportunity to return to the table and move toward a two-state solution. This is the time Israel needs to be the bigger person and commit to allowing the Palestinians to determine their own capital once final borders are agreed on, and not meddle,” Levin writes. “Netanyahu needs to see the recognition as an opportunity and to take advantage of it. He needs to push ahead with a diplomatic initiative to advance a deal with the Palestinians. If he makes do with seeing Trump’s move as just a quick victory, he may discover it is indeed quite short-lived.”

In Israel Hayom, columnist Haim Shine seems to think there’s little room for being a big man when Israel is already riding so high, dismissing the threats of a backlash and going on the attack against the media for what he says are their attempts to dampen the celebrations.

“It was only on the evening news that a gloomy atmosphere presided; the commentators’ tortured faces showed their inner turmoil. For a moment, it seemed that although Hanukkah is almost upon us, they were about to open the Book of Lamentations for Tisha B’Av and break out in tears, as they did when Trump, against all odds, won the US presidential elections,” he writes.

“One scholarly commentator took pains to point out that Trump’s declaration only pertains to the government institutions in West Jerusalem. Hearing this learned man speak, one might believe the Justice Ministry, the Construction and Housing Ministry and the national headquarters are all situated overseas. Another commentator attempted to dampen the enthusiasm by claiming the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem would take years. We mustn’t get ahead of ourselves, he cautioned, as if the physical embassy building is the essence of the matter.”

In fact, if Shine looked around he might discover that many in the media are supportive of the move and even willing to offer praise for Netanyahu through gritted teeth.

Even Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the country’s flagship lefty broadsheet Haaretz, admits that Netanyahu managed to get a pretty good deal out of Trump in exchange for America ceding Syria to Iran and the Russians.

“Israel received double compensation: presidential recognition of Jerusalem as its capital and the promise that the West Bank will remain under Israeli control for the foreseeable future, as long as Israel shuns blatant steps like annexing territory or harming Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount. Turkey didn’t get anything, which explains its furious reaction to Trump’s speech,” he writes. “Netanyahu knows that Israel’s existence and security depend on US support, so he fears an American withdrawal. But he also knows that Israel can’t stop this process or even delay it, so instead he’s trying to mine it for opportunities to improve Israel’s position in its uncompromising conflict with the dying Palestinian national movement. Trump’s speech on Wednesday was just such an opportunity.”

Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon and Haaretz’s Yossi Verter — as harsh Netanyahu critics as there ever — also give the prime minister credit, in strikingly similar commentaries. Even more that any diplomatic achievement, they note, it managed to distract attention from his wider domestic troubles with the police and coalition partners.

“Trump’s speech came at a critical time from Netanyahu’s view. With perfect timing, he turned the domestic zeitgeist away from corruption, investigations, protests — and toward security and diplomacy. This is what Netanyahu wants to hold onto. To leave the news from the beginning of the week in the dust and give himself back his security halo,” Kadmon writes.

“If the Palestinians set the area on fire, if the Turkish president carries out his threat to cut off relations with Israel, if all hell breaks loose in the neighborhood and the ‘gates of hell open,’ as Hamas has warned, Netanyahu will hold this all up as crushing proof that the Arabs don’t want peace,” Verter adds. “But if the doomsday predictions prove false and the dust soon settles, Netanyahu can say look, Jerusalem was recognized as the capital and the sky didn’t fall or the earth open up. That’s all thanks to whom? To whose policy? To whose actions? The answer of course is clear.”

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