Easing up on Gaza, but not on Netanyahu
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Easing up on Gaza, but not on Netanyahu

Supreme Court calls for the prime minister to give up his extra portfolios, and senior IDF officers want the blockade loosened

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Israeli soldiers seen at a deployment area near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 25, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers seen at a deployment area near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 25, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Senior IDF officers recommend Israel ease the blockade on Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be forced to give up his ministerial portfolios, and a first-person look at the war in Gaza from a soldier’s helmet cam lead off in Wednesday’s papers.

Netanyahu may be forced to give up his secondary roles as foreign minister, communications minister, health minister and regional cooperation minister after the Supreme Court said he wasn’t allowed to hold more than the job of prime minister, Yedioth Ahronoth reports. The paper points out that Netanyahu has been holding onto those portfolios with the hope of luring new coalition partners into his narrow, 61-seat government.

The whole thing came up in the court over Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s appointment as deputy minister, rather than a minister, due to the ultra-Orthodox parties’ refusal to serve as ministers on ideological grounds.

“In the prior Basic Law: Government there was a clause saying that the prime minister could also be appointed head of a ministry and also be a minister,” Justice Hanan Melcer said. “In the new Basic Law: Government they dropped that clause, therefore he cannot, alongside his role as prime minister, act as [another] minister.”

Netanyahu’s Likud party, unsurprisingly, was outraged by the Supreme Court’s comment, noting that prime ministers from Ben-Gurion on down were accustomed to wearing multiple hats while in office. “There is no reason that a new and different law should be set concerning Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said. An anonymous party official tells Yedioth Ahronoth that if the Supreme Court forces Netanyahu to give up his other positions it will cause “chaos in the coalition.”

Meanwhile at Haaretz, senior IDF officers recently advised Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon that he should consider opening Israel’s border crossings with the Gaza Strip after eight years of blockade. According to the recommendation cited in Haaretz, Israel ought to let thousands of Gazans exit through the Erez Crossing to Jordan, reopen the commercial crossing at Karni and expand the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing, and grant work permits to Palestinians to labor in the Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip.

The paper says that the army contends that a year after the war in the Gaza Strip, Hamas made no strategic gains and is internationally isolated; therefore, Israel should ease the blockade to obtain long term calm on the Gaza border. Lifting much of the economic blockade could also ease international criticism of Israel, the paper notes.

“There is a close connection between the economic situation and demographic issues in Gaza to the state of security,” an officer in the IDF’s General Staff tells the paper. “So long as the basic economic problems in Gaza remain, we will also have the potential for renewed military conflict, regardless of the deterrence achieved in the last war.”

While Haaretz marks the anniversary of last summer’s war in Gaza with calls for easing the blockade, Israel Hayom takes a far more jingoistic stance. It reports on the IDF releasing footage “which allows [viewers] to experience the dramatic moments through the eyes and ears of the fighters themselves” during the fiercest day of fighting, which it calls “Black Friday,” August 1, 2014. The paper publishes a transcript of one of the recordings which includes the fateful order for the Hannibal Protocol.

It also runs a story quoting a senior Southern Command officer saying that the war in Gaza last year has left Hamas “deterred, curbed and restrained,” and created “the potential for calm for years to come.” Contrary to the article in Haaretz, the paper quotes the officer saying that Israel must continue to impair Hamas’s military capabilities and enforce the ceasefire. It also mentions that Hamas is trying to forge closer ties with Islamic State in the Sinai, and that between 10 and 15 percent of Gaza residents support the Islamic State.

Yedioth Ahronoth also runs a piece quoting Israel’s Religious Services Minister David Azoulai saying that he “couldn’t say that a Reform [Jew] is Jewish.” The Shas party official told Army Radio on Tuesday that “any Jew who observes the Torah and commandments, for us it’s a Jew”and that “Reform Jews in the United States are Jews that erred in their way, and we need to make sure that every Jew returns to the bosom of Judaism.” Needless to say, Azoulai’s comments sparked outrage among American Reform Jews, with one leader saying in response that were Azoulai’s comments his personal opinion, that would be one thing. But as a minister in government, it risks becoming policy.

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