Butter for the West Bank and guns for Gaza: 8 things to know for August 23
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Israel media review

Butter for the West Bank and guns for Gaza: 8 things to know for August 23

Israel agrees to ease the PA’s tax crisis to keep the West Bank calm, while combining a mixture of tough talk and restraint to hopefully keep Gaza from descending into war

Palestinians demonstrate near the fence along the border with Israel in the eastern Gaza Strip on August 16, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinians demonstrate near the fence along the border with Israel in the eastern Gaza Strip on August 16, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

1. Let my tax transfers go: Israel on Thursday appeared to reach a deal with the Palestinian Authority on releasing tax funds that had been held up as part of a dispute between the sides, a move designed to ease a severe fiscal crisis Ramallah is struggling to deal with.

  • The deal will ultimately free up some NIS 2 billion in gas taxes that the PA had refused to accept, and allow Palestinians to also charge taxes on fuel going forward, Haaretz reports, calling it a “double gain.”
  • Some in Israel see the agreement as the PA crying uncle and allowing some tax transfers, after initially refusing them to protest Israel garnishing some money to offset terror payouts.
  • “The PA folded,” read headlines from both right-wing Israel Hayom and populist Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • However, al-Jazeera notes that what the deal will do is allow the PA to collect the money itself, meaning it will never be in Israel’s hands for it to be refused.
  • “The end of the petroleum tax crisis between the #PA & #Israel,” tweeted Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian official in charge of talks with Israel over the issue.
  • According to Israel’s Kan broadcaster, NIS 300 million of the money will go to paying off a debt to the Israel Electric Company while a large chunk of what’s left will go to paying PA workers’ salaries, which had been slashed recently to deal with the cash crunch.

2. A taxing occupation: According to Haaretz, the decision to reach an agreement with Ramallah “came following a recommendation from the defense establishment, which issued the suggestion in light of the ongoing economic crisis plaguing the PA.” Specifically, Israel is hoping the money will prevent a breakout of violence in the West Bank.

  • Also seemingly designed to ease Palestinians lives and make Israel less susceptible to attacks is new facial recognition technology being installed at West Bank checkpoints, which speeds up passage. But as Daniel Estrin at NPR notes, the technology does not come without privacy concerns.
  • “Israel knows all the information about you,” a Palestinian student tells him as she passes through a checkpoint.
  • But Shabtai Shoval, from the Israeli security tech firm Suspect Detection Systems, is quoted saying Palestinians should not expect otherwise. “Privacy … is not really an issue in the West Bank. Because it’s either us or the Palestinian authorities, everybody is monitoring everybody, because everybody’s afraid [of] everybody,” he says.
  • Things are not necessarily better in East Jerusalem’s Issawiya, where +972’s Yuval Abraham reports on the summer vacation from hell: “The script generally repeats itself: an argument breaks out, one of the teenagers throws a stone at a passing police jeep, a group of officers comes looking for him, they throw stun grenades and sometimes shoot rubber bullets, residents are wounded and arrested. This happens almost every single day.”

3. Slouching toward war with Gaza? But most Israelis are paying little attention to the West Bank, which has remained mostly quiet, and are instead focused on Gaza, where it seems violence is ramping up toward some sort of crescendo.

  • Late Thursday night, the army foiled yet another suspected infiltration attempt, this time by a person armed with grenades, according to the IDF.
  • A video of the incident released by the army shows the attacker throwing and launching grenades before being shot.
  • In Walla News, Amir Bohbot writes that there is “a clear uptick in violence” and Gaza is “on the cusp of a confrontation.”
  • He claims that Hamas in Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar “would prefer to carry out attacks in the West Bank or the Israeli heartland without being made to pay by the IDF, like with attacks on Gaza infrastructure, but the Shin Bet and commander of the Judea and Samaria division are ruining his plans. So he has to make do with limited operations on the Gaza border.
  • Channel 12 news quotes IDF chief Aviv Kohavi telling a ceremony that while soldiers are getting better at dealing with the border incidents, “the price [paid by soldiers] for the actions on the Gaza border could be heavy.”
  • Haaretz reports that the army is gearing up for Friday protests, but soldiers have been instructed to exercise restraint when using live fire.

4. Negotiating under fire: The incident came hours after Israel sent a rare message to Hamas blaming rival group Islamic Jihad for recent rocket fire and telling Gaza’s rulers to get a grip on the border and on smaller groups.

  • The incident is just the latest in which Israel is seen trying to avoid directly going after Hamas, amid worries that doing so could sink negotiations for a long-term truce.
  • “Shooting and talking,” reads a headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, which has been critical of the approach, reflecting frustration by residents near the border.
  • But that does not mean the IDF is not talking tough: “Israel won’t hesitate from a campaign in Gaza,” an Israel Hayom headline reads, quoting an unnamed IDF official. “We won’t have a choice if the shooting does not stop.”

5. Give peace a chance: There are also signs that the other side is trying to keep a lid on things. According to Haaretz, while the IDF is bracing for possible widespread violence to break out on the border Friday, Gazan protesters do not plan on ramping up the demonstrations… yet.

  • “The resumption of what are considered to be severe tactics – like launching incendiary balloons, loud nighttime demonstrations aimed at frightening nearby Israeli residents, and urging crowds to approach the border en masse during the daytime protests – had been discussed, but no decision has been made to turn to these methods this Friday,” the paper reports, citing a member of the organizing committee of the protests.
  • Channel 13’s Alon Ben David writes that a clash is not inevitable: “The sense is that the recent incidents are not happening with Hamas’s support, but against its will … Hamas has not called for revenge, has not returned to terror arson and is not deploying its nighttime units.”

6. Loose lips sink Iranian-backed militias: Israel is also talking tough against Iran, as well as doing something about it, it seems.

  • The New York Times reports that senior US officials say Israel has carried out “several strikes in recent days on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.”
  • Ronen Bergman, the Israeli journalist behind the reports (who may have published in a foreign outlet to get around military censorship rules) tells Army Radio that “the storehouses which were attacked had precision missiles which could have threatened northern Israel. All Israeli intelligence is doing is blocking Iran… in locations around the Middle East.”
  • The report comes hours after the ImageSat Israeli satellite firm released photos and analysis that it says shows warehouses destroyed at a base north of Baghdad belonging to an Iran-backed group on August 20.
  • The Associated Press notes that the attacks have exposed a rift in the Popular Mobilization Forces after a deputy blamed Israel for the attack and his boss walked the statement back, refusing to name who was behind the attack.
  • The agency notes that the original statement “which appears to have been issued without prior consultation with Iraqi security forces, was met with hours of silence from official circles — an embarrassing sign of how the militias operate independently.”
  • On Thursday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was attacking Iran everywhere, it what was seen as his most clear hint yet that Israel is behind the attacks.
  • Asked about this by Channel 9 news (Israel’s Russian-language station) the premier responded, “If necessary, we act in Iraq also,” He then added: “We’re acting not only if necessary, we’re acting in very many theaters against a state that seeks to annihilate us.”

7. Arabs not welcome: A day after igniting a political firestorm with an excerpt from an interview in which Joint List head Ayman Odeh said he was open to joining a center-left government, Yedioth Ahronoth publishes the full interview.

  • There’s not much new in there aside from the actual quotes, but the issue has continued to roil the political scene.
  • Netanyahu and his Likud party have tried to use Odeh’s words to brand Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu as lefties who will let Arabs take part in running the state.
  • Rather than say, “yeah, and…?” Blue and White has decided to fight back with some bigotry of its own, releasing a video accusing Netanyahu of being the Arab-lover.
  • “I didn’t expect Blue and White to be left-wing, but what the hell is the point if they are also racists who incite against Arabs,” tweets comedian Yoav Rabinovitz.
  • “God help us. They are even proud to go out and say ‘We’re racist, boorish idiot losers who are no different from the most abhorrent most nauseating fringes of the right,'” says journalist Haim Har-Zahav.

8. Join list: While some Joint List people have rejected the idea of joining the government, there seems to be a groundswell of support for the idea, at least among some.

  • According to Kan, after his Yedioth interview broke Thursday, Odeh gathered the heads of the parties that make up the Joint List to discuss the possibility of recommending Blue and White head Benny Gantz for prime minister.
  • The station quotes Joint List sources as saying that Odeh’s comments were “historic.”
  • Ahmed Tibi tells Army Radio that “if one of us were a minister, we could stop Gaza from burning or money from going to settlements.”
  • In Israel Hayom, columnist Eli Adi writes that he’s not buying it. “If you are deciding whether to vote for the Joint List or not at all, it’s better you don’t vote,” he writes in the paper seen as a mouthpiece for Likud, which has been accused in the past of trying to suppress the Arab vote. “The Joint List is determined to not take part in the democratic game. They won’t recommend a prime minister and won’t join a coalition.”
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