1. Coordinate this: After days of dismissing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration of the end of security coordination with Israel, among other things, Israel is now taking it seriously, with reports abounding that it is real and already happening.
- “Security sources in Ramallah called up their counterparts in the IDF and the Shin Bet Thursday night and informed them: From tonight, our ties are frozen,” reports Army Radio.
- Hours before the move was confirmed by Israeli sources, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told the heads of Palestinian security forces that Israel “breached international law and violated all the agreements signed with us” and therefore “we will no longer abide by these agreements,” according to the PA’s official Wafa news agency.
- “The threat has become real,” reads a Channel 12 news headline, noting that it’s not just security ties but “cooperation with the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories is also ending,” referring to the Defense Ministry body that deals with civilian affairs in the West Bank.
- Channel 13 news reports that Palestinians in Gaza informed Israel that they were ending coordination there as well “so Israel will not be able to transfer goods and humanitarian aid.”
- The channel also notes that Palestinians had informed Israelis of their decision on Wednesday, “but the message was vague and its practical applications were unclear.”
2. Pull out method: There’s no mistaking it now, though, or is there? The Palestinians don’t waste any time in carrying out the orders, with several reports of forces leaving areas where they might run into Israeli forces.
- Haaretz reports that by Thursday night, Palestinian security forces had withdrawn from the West Bank’s Areas B and C to Area A, which is under full PA control.
- “The pullback of forces is expected to mostly affect Palestinians living in these areas,” Haaretz reports.
- Kan reports that troops mainly pulled back from a number of “villages” around East Jerusalem — Azzariyah, Abu Dis, Biddu and Beit Ichsa — none of which are actually villages and some of which are actually inside Jerusalem. But it’s no biggie.
- “These are not large forces, a few people per village, who were stationed there with special permission from Israel as part of the effort to deal with the coronavirus pandemic,” the station reports.
- Kan’s Gal Berger tweets that “this is seemingly a ‘show of seriousness’ … but it’s not actually burning the bridge, rather more in the direction of the Palestinians understanding that they should lower the chances of getting tangled up in these areas with Israeli forces given the lack of coordination.”
- A video shared by the PA-ruling Fatah movement on social media Thursday claims to show Palestinian security forces preventing Israeli soldiers from entering Hebron, in what’s seen as another sign of forces not coordinating.
الامن الفلسطيني يمنع الاحتلال من دخول مدينة الخليل pic.twitter.com/yFZh7gWcpJ
— حركة فتح (@fatehorg) May 21, 2020
- However, Israel Hayom reports that according to Palestinian sources, the video shows nothing more than a border patrol jeep that made a wrong turn and was told to turn back to keep riots from breaking out. “Another vehicle that came to help was also stopped and the whole force retreated,” the paper reports, adding that these mistakes happen from time to time.
3. Coordination or chaos: Without coordination, though, those mistakes can turn deadly, writes Avi Issacharoff for The Times of Israel.
- “PA security forces have been extensively involved in thwarting terror attacks in recent years, and are generally credited with stopping about one-third to one-quarter of attempted attacks. They have also repeatedly helped Israelis who’ve wound up in PA-controlled areas, and have on numerous occasions ensured that soldiers who mistakenly entered PA areas were extracted harmlessly. What will happen the next time a soldier makes a wrong turn and there is no such coordination? And what will happen if Israeli forces need to enter PA areas to carry out an arrest raid and are met with resistance from the preventative security forces,” he asks.
- “Under the new conditions, an armed showdown between Palestinian forces and Israeli troops could be just around the corner, and could easily turn into a pitched battle with casualties,” he adds.
- Former general Gadi Shamni tells Army Radio that “coordinated action is essential to thwarting terror. Without it, there is a real danger of more attacks and skirmishes.”
- Haaretz reports that “officials in the PA now estimate that Israel will respond to the move and take steps to increase pressure on the authority to withdraw its decision.”
- In al-Monitor, Ahmad Melhem writes that Abbas’s decision was greeted with confusion among Palestinians, with few thinking he would actually take concrete steps, though pressure on Israel is just what the doctor ordered.
- Speaking to Qais Abd al-Karim, the deputy secretary-general of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Melhem writes that “Abd al-Karim pointed out that a national strategy is now required to push Israel to look for a political solution, and this calls for a confrontation at various levels, but it will be a costly one and may harm the interests of social groups that have major economic and social privileges, and which play a role in influencing the PA and discouraging it from carrying out its decisions.”
4. We’re warning you: Meanwhile, Jordan spoke out against Israel’s annexation plans Thursday, with Amman’s prime minister saying it would need to review ties if Israel went ahead, a serious but more measured response.
- “We’re not hurrying to get ahead of ourselves,” Kan reporter Roi Kais sums up his comments.
- Israel Hayom claims, though, that even if Jordan did want to break its peace treaty with Israel, it can’t. “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is not within its legal rights to cancel the peace treaty with Israel, which can only be done if it declares war on Israel, according to Alan Baker, who helped draft the treaty as the legal advisor to the Foreign Ministry at the time,” reports the paper, quoting from a recent policy paper written by Baker.
- The report adds that Jordanian officials don’t actually think anything will happen and the statements were only made to appease the Jordanian street.
- According to the Jordanian source, who is familiar with the countries’ diplomatic relations, “the Jordanian army is happy with its long-time cooperation with the IDF along their shared border and under no circumstances wants to see Palestinian security forces on the border instead.” He added that the Jordanian government knows the Palestinians cannot be trusted and in fact welcomes measures that will strengthen Israel at the Palestinian Authority’s expense.
- It’s not just Arabs and Europeans warning Israel. Haaretz reports that over a dozen US Democratic senators have signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and less-prime minister Benny Gantz saying that the move could damage US-Israel ties.
- “As friends and supporters of Israel, we caution you against taking unilateral steps that would fray our unique bonds, imperil Israel’s future and place out of reach the prospect of a lasting peace,” reads the letter.
5. The warm-up fight before the main event: With Netanyahu’s trial set to begin on Sunday, the press is brimming with coverage, much of it focusing on pre-trial scuffles between the right and left, catching Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in the middle.
- Minister David Amsalem, who last year compared Netanyahu to wrongly accused French officer Alfred Dreyfus, tells Army Radio that “there is no dispute among the Israeli people that Avichai Mandelblit is allegedly a criminal,” kicking up a bit of a storm.
- “Before the trial: attack,” reads a headline on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth (whose publisher just happens to be one of the defendants).
- Columnist Nahum Barnea calls Amsalem’s comments “dangerous and ridiculous,” alleging that while they are aimed at Mandelblit, they are really meant to scare Liat Ben Ari, who will be leading the prosecution.
- “The message is clear: If you want to sleep at night, to feel safe at home, not to have to check under your car each morning, not to be dragged through the mud, you and your children, online, it would be good if you smoothed this whole thing out,” he writes.
- In Walla, whose owner is also on trial with Netanyahu, there’s not much about the trial, though it does run one column, buried fairly deep, about the officials who approved Mandelblit for the job of attorney general defending him.
- Yossi Verter in Haaretz writes that “the battle against [Mandelblit] started from the top and stunk from the head. The venomous campaigns, full of conspiracy theories, laced with verbal violence reaching the point of actual dangerous action, are overflowing from the Bibi-backing camp.”
6. Looking for a ben Zola: The hyperbole is common to both sides. On Twitter, the prime minister’s son Yair seems to take a page out of Amsalem’s book and asks if he should “wait for a J’accuse article on the set-up job against Netanyahu,” challenging a bunch of right-wing journalists, including from Israel Hayom, to be the second coming of Emile Zola.
- Ironically, two of the cases that he tries to get the media to say are made up have to do with his father being accused of attempting to tell the media what to say.
- There’s no J’accuse in Israel Hayom, but columnist Haim Shine does accuse the left of “reaching a peak in its lunacy.”
- “Now the known media sources, who for the past years have broadcasts leaks from the prosecution every night, who demonized the prime minister, seemingly obstructed justice and decided on a drum-head trial — are enlisting forces again ahead of the opening of the trial.”
7. Lawmaking lawmakers and the laws they break: Looking at how the hootenanny will go down, ToI’s Raoul Wootliff writes that Sunday’s hearing, which essentially only consists of reading out the charges and then entering a plea, likely won’t even include that last part.
- “Attorneys [representing Netanyahu and the other defendants] will likely instead argue that they cannot answer the charges until they have received ‘the full investigation.’ Then, a debate will begin on the question of the investigation material and what must be provided to the defendants ahead of time. The defense, the legal sources say, will argue that every internal conversation or memorandum between the prosecutor’s office and the investigative team is part of the investigation material that defense attorneys are entitled to receive.”
- While Netanyahu is the first sitting prime minister to stand trial, he’s far from the first politician, or even first prime minister to do so. Channel 13 goes through the long and sordid history of prosecuting politicians, and notes that it used to not be all that common: “Until the 70s, there was barely anything, not because nobody was corrupt, but because there was no enforcement.”
- Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes that Israelis trying to take pride in the fact that the prime minister is beholden to the law are ignoring the very many other ills or questionable things going on, with even the location of the trial, in East Jerusalem, a point of contention.
- “The Jerusalem District Court is on Salah ad-Din Street, across the road from the Justice Ministry. Both fortress-like buildings signify Israeli sovereignty in the hostile environment of the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem,” he writes. “No other country, not even the United States, recognizes the neighborhood as part of Israel. … Hundreds of journalists will descend on the court on Sunday, without remarking on its incongruous address.”