Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is back in the spotlight in Monday’s papers after the attorney general announced that he had opened a probe into suspected criminal activity. That bombshell long in the making doesn’t detract, however, from the arrival of the Egyptian foreign minister for the first time in nine years. Only Portugal’s victory over France in the European Cup championship steals a bit of the limelight from the two top stories.
After weeks of half-formed reports about police looking into allegations against Netanyahu, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ended the speculation and announced a police probe. He said in his statement that recent reports weren’t spot-on in their description of the subject of the investigation, pointing out that as of now it was merely an examination and not a criminal investigation.
Israel Hayom, channeling Netanyahu and “Likud officials,” said that the investigation would yield nothing.
Haaretz quotes its insider source in law enforcement saying that the police assembled a small team to investigate the prime minister in order to prevent leaks, and that the police have already gathered testimony, and tried to reach those who could shed light on the suspicions.
In a manner bordering on the orgasmic, Yedioth Ahronoth relishes the news of the Netanyahu probe. “The prime minister sat in the front row of the Jerusalem Theater last night and tried to keep a regal countenance, but it was difficult not to discern the expression of concern on his face,” its reporter leads. The paper notes that Mandelblit’s announcement insinuated that Netanyahu wasn’t the only one under investigation, and that it could be people close to him as well.
As a side note, Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday that the 40th anniversary memorial of Operation Entebbe held in Uganda was moving. Science Minister Ofir Akunis quipped, “so moving that you fell asleep” and the cabinet erupted in laughter.
To hammer its point home that it wishes to see Netanyahu behind bars, the paper subtly runs Page 3 stories on former prime minister Ehud Olmert getting his first weekend furlough from prison and former president Moshe Katsav’s possible release.
The Egyptian foreign minister’s visit makes front page news in Haaretz and Israel Hayom, but gets far less attention in Yedioth Ahronoth. Haaretz reports that Egypt is interested in opening direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in Cairo, with Egyptian and Jordanian officials present, and that was supposed to be the subject of Netanyahu’s meeting with Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri.
Israel Hayom reports in a similar vein, saying the meeting between Shukri and Netanyahu is a prelude to the prime ministe meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, which aims to give the Egyptian peace initiative a push. It includes Saudi Arabia in the list of countries interested in sponsoring the direct talks between Netanyahu and Abbas.
Dan Margalit says the visit is a “bump in Israel’s credit rating” in his Israel Hayom column. Shukri’s visit “answers Israel’s need to give publicity and legitimacy to its 37-year-old peace” with Egypt in light of its realignment with Turkey, he says. He hails the Egyptian initiative to reach a peace deal based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and shuns the French initiative, as Netanyahu did.
When Yedioth Ahronoth eventually gets to covering the Egyptian foreign minister’s visit in brief on Page 9, it includes some insights from Smadar Peri. She writes in her column that the importance of Shukri’s trip to Jerusalem “is essentially the existence of the visit. It’s after nine years in which there was no visit by senior Egyptian officials in Jerusalem.”
Yes. That’s the obvious. What else, Peri? She quotes an anonymous official in Cairo saying that the visit was a sign that “the times have changed, and now relations between Jerusalem and Cairo are close.” Mind blowing.
She says that Shukri didn’t bring an invitation to Cairo, quoting another unnamed “senior expert in Cairo” saying that it would require extensive planning and Netanyahu sweetening the pot for Sissi.
For Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el, what’s important is the fact that the foreign minister, not the intelligence minister, was sent to Jerusalem, as was customary under former president Hosni Mubarak. Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s right-hand man and intel chief, would discuss security and intelligence cooperation with Israel and coordinate Cairo’s stance on the peace process with the Palestinians, he says. Echoing Margalit’s statement, he says that the decision to send Shukri “testifies to a new level of relations, that’s closer to diplomatic normalization and isn’t limited to just intelligence cooperation.”
“But contrary to the cliche ‘the importance of the visit is the visit itself,'” he says, nearly quoting Peri verbatim, “it would seem that Sissi decided to open a public diplomatic channel with Israel, at the end of which he’s likely to invite Netanyahu for a visit to Cairo. Because Egypt and Israel have joint interests, only some of which are in the defense department.”