Israel media review

(Economic) peace is coming! 7 things to know for May 20

With Eurovision fever yesterday’s news, Israel now gears up for Trump’s ‘deal of the century,’ which may shape up to be the plan Netanyahu has long wanted

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Give workshops a chance: The Trump administration announces the first stage of its peace plan, confirming that it will host a “workshop” in Bahrain in late June to focus on directing more economic investment to the West Bank and Gaza.

  • The summit will “facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region, including enhancements to economic governance, development of human capital, and facilitation of rapid private-sector growth,” Washington and Bahrain say in a joint statement.
  • A senior administration official says that invitations to the workshop are being sent to individuals in the United States, Europe, the Gulf, the wider Arab world and “some” Palestinian business leaders. The businessmen will ostensibly replace Palestinian Authority officials, who are expected to boycott the event. Hebrew media reports that an Israeli delegation led by likely Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is also to receive an invite — a move that would mark a step toward normalized relations between Jerusalem and Bahrain.
  • The Trump administration decided to roll out the economic and political parts of the plan separately, the official says, adding that there will be no discussion about the political aspects of the plan at the upcoming workshop.

2. The US-Israel peace plan: While it is not a shoo-in that the yet-to-be-formed Netanyahu government will accept such a plan, no matter how pro-Israel it is expected to be, the proposal’s emphasis on economic rather than political affairs could well have been drafted by the Likud leader himself.

  • The Times of Israel’s Joshua Davidovich digs up a 2008 article written by colleague Raphael Ahren in which Netanyahu appeared to offer the blueprint for the Trump plan being announced over a decade later.
  • “We must weave an economic peace alongside a political process,” Netanyahu told American Jewish leaders. “That means that we have to strengthen the moderate parts of the Palestinian economy by handing rapid growth in those area, rapid economic growth that gives a stake for peace for the ordinary Palestinians.”
  • Instead of talking about contentious issues such as the status of Jerusalem, the first step to a lasting peace needs to be the bettering of the Palestinians’ economic situation, Netanyahu said then.
  • But it is still likely to be tough for Netanyahu to sell the plan to the pro-settler government he is geared to form. One prominent West Bank mayor who helped Netanyahu get elected tells The Times of Israel that he expects the premier to reject the offer outright. “Even to friends you’re allowed to say ‘no.'”
  • In Haaretz, Israel Policy Forum’s Evan Gottesman forecasts an overly pro-Israel plan coming, given Washington’s affinity for the Netanyahu government, and warns that such a proposal could tip the region into apocalyptic territory.
  • Gottesman argues that the pressure on the PA, combined with its growing unpopularity among Palestinians, could lead to Mahmoud Abbas simply deciding to dissolve the organization, leaving a vacuum in the West Bank that would likely be filled with full Israeli annexation and subsequent violence.

3. Remember him? Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was pardoned by the Sissi regime from the life sentence he was serving for corruption charges, offers gloomy views on the Trump peace plan in a rare interview to the al-Anba Kuwaiti daily.

  • “Any solution imposed on the region because of the imbalance of power… will remain a temporary solution that could explode at any moment,” Mubarak says.
  • The former Egyptian leader, who maintained relations with Israel established by his predecessor Anwar Sadat, says that despite being an optimistic man at the age of 91, he is not very optimistic about the peace plan.
  • The ex-president says he knows Netanyahu well “and he knows me” and Mubarak concludes that Netanyahu is not interested in a two-state solution, but rather in separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.
  • Mubarak was also asked about Egyptian spy Ashraf Marwan, who died under mysterious circumstances in 2007 five years after being fingered by an Israeli journalist for having spied for Jerusalem and passing on valuable intelligence in the run-up to the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
  • Mubarak says that Marwan had in fact been a double agent working for Sadat, passing along false intelligence to Israel.

4. If four workers fall but nobody hears them: Each of the major dailies provides above-the-fold coverage of Sunday’s crane collapse that killed four workers in the central town of Yavne, bringing the list of this year’s victims to 20 names.

  • Four people have been placed under house arrest as police investigate the incident that killed 51-year-old Gil Hazazi, 22-year-old Ben Dekalo, 32-year-old Yonatan Sabag and one other who has yet to be identified.
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Sever Plotzker points out that such tragedies almost never occur in the Western world, where a permit to start construction depends on strict adherence to safety regulations.
  • “[In Western countries,] those responsible for ensuring the safety of their workers tremble in fear of inspectors’ criticism. Here in Israel, it is the workers who tremble with fear of being injured or killed. An accident like the one in Yavne would have brought New York City, for example, to a halt in any such activity for months, and perhaps even for good,” Plotzker argues.
  • Haaretz reports that the Finance and Defense ministries oppose a measure aimed at preventing construction accidents for fear that it would lead to an increase in housing costs. The proposal would prevent contractors from lowering the costs of safety measures in government tenders for construction — a measure whose costs those contractors would likely try and offset by raising prices in other fields.

5. Party’s over: With Eurovision officially behind them, Netanyahu and the heads of right-wing parties can no longer use the excuse of a late night listening to San Marino and North Macedonia’s hit songs as an excuse for not cobbling together the next government.

  • Hours after Netanyahu tells his cabinet that each of his “natural coalition partners” have climbed too far up the tree, one of them appears to have agreed to come down: Shas chairman Aryeh Deri.
  • Israel Hayom reports that the ultra-Orthodox party is close to signing an agreement with Netanyahu in which Shas will keep the ministries it headed in the last government — Interior, Negev and Galilee, and Religious Affairs — and will drop its demand for the Housing Ministry. In return, Netanyahu will agree to move the Planning Administration from the Finance Ministry to the Deri-led Interior Ministry.
  • The national religious Makor Rishon newspaper reports that Netanyahu is refusing Union of Right-Wing Parties demands on settlement issues. URWP leaders tell the paper they’re concerned the premier is preparing to at least consider the Trump peace plan after the Likud leader rejected their demand for a stated government commitment not to evacuate any settlement homes.

6. Making do with what there is: Netanyahu has decided to give up on advancing a new law that would give him automatic immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases he is facing, and instead will make do with the existing law as amended in 2005, sources close to the prime minister tell Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi.

  • According to legal experts who have held consultations with PMO staffers in recent weeks, the existing legislation provides legitimate reasons by which Netanyahu can seek immunity against prosecution while he remains in office.
  • “Under the law, immunity can be granted if, otherwise, the will of the voter would be thwarted and public interest would be harmed,” notes one source close to Netanyahu.
  • One clause in the current law provides for Knesset members to be given immunity if otherwise “real damage would be caused to the functioning of the Knesset or to the representation of the voters’ will.” A simple majority vote is all that is needed to enact that clause.
  • The report comes as the list of Likud MKs publicly expressing hesitation to a new immunity law grows to three, with Sharren Haskel joining colleagues Gideon Sa’ar and Michal Shir in speaking out against legislation that would ostensibly help their party leader.

7. Step away from the ministry: After his investigative report exposing Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman for having provided nine convicted pedophiles and rapists with special treatment as they serve in jail, Raviv Drucker pens an op-ed in Haaretz calling on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to bar the UTJ leader from once again assuming the post in the next government.

  • He points out that the precedent already exists, with Tzahi Hanegbi having been barred by the attorney general from serving as public security minister while he was under investigation.
  • Litzman oversees state psychiatrists, who he has been accused of pressuring in order to produce psychiatric opinions favorable to alleged sexual predator Malka Leifer, who is facing extradition to Australia. “Shouldn’t Litzman be barred from being able to influence all the witnesses who are likely to decide his fate?” Drucker asks.

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