1. Taking control: For the first time, the Trump administration is referring to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-controlled” and has stopped referring to the West Bank as “occupied,” in what some see as a signal of a coming official recognition of Israeli sovereignty.
- While last year, the State Department’s annual report on human rights around the world marked a departure from years of American foreign policy by no longer calling the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights “occupied” in the section title, this year’s report went two small steps further.
- Yedioth Ahronoth calls the designation on the Golan a “gift” from US President Donald Trump.
- Some Israelis viewed the news as a huge shift and a number of Hebrew-language reports crow that the US recognized the Golan as “Israeli territory,” though it did not.
- Explaining the move, US diplomat Michael Kozak says the State Department wanted to stick with just geography.
- “Occupied territory has a legal meaning to it,” he says, according to Politico. He says the word is “not a human rights term and it was distracting.”
2. Just a preview: Somewhat surprisingly, Israel Hayom plays down the shift, though it makes sense when read in the context of a column by the paper’s Ariel Kahane, who indicates that this is just a preview of what may be to come.
- There has been an uptick in talk lately of Trump possibly fully recognizing Israeli control of the Golan to help boost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the polls.
- “Trump is examining positively Netanyahu and others’ requests to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. Indeed, all the signs point to recognition in the offing. And yes, Trump won’t be sad to see Netanyahu win in the election. So there are all the reasons and indications to assume that before any ballots are dropped in the boxes, there will be another historic move from the house of the greatest president Israel has ever known,” he writes.
- Reports have indicated that such recognition will be likely to come while Netanyahu is in Washington later this month for the AIPAC conference and a likely White House visit.
- It’s not a done deal yet, though. Israel’s Channel 13 news reports Netanyahu is still working “very hard” on getting the recognition.
3. Off the rails: A State Comptroller report released Wednesday confirms what frustrated commuters and other travelers already know. Transportation in Israel is bad, and getting worse.
- “Public transportation has failed, the jams will become more severe,” reads the top headline in the print edition of Haaretz.
- The crux of the issue appears to be Israel investing more in roads and highways and not enough in public transportation, putting more cars on the road and leading to worse service.
- In Israel, there are 2,730 vehicles per kilometer of road, compared to the OECD average of 774, with traffic volume increasing by 25 percent in the past decade, according to the report.
- “Israel invests less in public transportation than most other developed nations, while instead investing the lion’s share of resources in infrastructure for cars,” Haaretz reports.
- The comptroller’s report details what commuters have already been experiencing for some time, writes Yedioth’s Udi Etzion. “Chronic delays, unfortunate cancellations, intolerable crowding and a situation of total despair on buses and trains.”
- “I don’t get to meetings on time anymore because the trains always leave late,” one commuter tells Ynet. A bus commuter tells the news site that many times it’s faster to just walk than sit on the bus.
- Just to bring it home, Army Radio decides to follow the journey of one commuter, Eyal Tal, an attorney, from his Haifa area home to work in Tel Aviv, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. Tal hops on a 6:30 a.m. train hoping to make it by 8.
- At about 8:30 a.m. when he was supposed to have arrived he tells the radio station he is still only a little more than halfway. “The train came on time, but had a lot of stoppages along the way.”
4. They are good at delays: The report is bad news for Israel Katz, who has been transportation minister for a decade and who takes the brunt of the blame for the failures.
- After complaints that the report is timed to hurt Likud politically, the author of the report Yaron Fishman tells Israel Radio that it was ready months ago. “The Transportation Ministry delayed its response to the report by three or four months,” he says.
- Likud is also protesting Labor trying to make political hay out of the report. Channel 13 reports that the party has petitioned the Central Election Committee over an ad that uses soldiers, which is against the rules. Soldiers can be seen in the background as Avi Gabbay rides crowded buses and waits at bus stations to slam Netanyahu over the transportation issue.
— Avi Gabbay אבי גבאי (@GabbayAvi) March 13, 2019
5. Voting in droves: An ad put out by Hadash-Ta’al also is a masterclass in trolling Likud, and also involves public transportation.
- Netanyahu famously told voters that Arab were flocking to the polls in droves, in buses, to try and get his base out in 2015 — previewing the race-baiting seen regularly today.
- Now the leaders of Hadash and Ta’al, Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, have an ad showing themselves in front of buses with tag line “going to the polls in droves.”
6. Court confrontation: The other main Arab slate, Balad-Ra’am, will find out later whether it can run as the Supreme Court takes up the central Elections Committee decisions to allow Otzma Yehudit’s Michael Ben Ari’s candidacy and outlaw Balad.
- A late morning hearing garners headlines across most of the Hebrew-language press, mostly focusing on a heated exchange between chief justice Esther Hayut and URWP No. 2 Betzalel Smotrich.
- Channel 12 news calls an exchange between the two “stormy and extraordinary,” and many news sites lead with Hayut’s admonition of Smotrich to “not yell.”
- Speaking to the nationalist Israel National News after the hearing, Ben-Ari accuses the court of “trying to have Ben-Ari lynched.” (apparently he speaks about himself in the third person.)
7. Love is in the air: Yair Netanyahu, dauphin of the prime minister, has come under fire again and again for his salty Twitter outbursts against anyone he deems a leftist, including the attorney general, the president, and lots of others.
- But Haaretz notes that with actual leftist Amos Schocken, who publishes the paper, the two were able to prove that civil conversation is possible.
- “Both stood firm in their positions, and did not hold back criticizing each other. And still, over three days they (and others who joined in the conversation) managed an argument that was almost ‘civilized’ — something that is strange to write about the news, but in our day seems to have become rare online and in public conversation.”
- On Twitter, Schocken points that that his paper is not anti-Netanyahu, but anti his policies. To prove it, he includes a picture of a study on government reforms that Netanyahu pushed as finance minister in the early 2000s (which Haaretz backed), signed by the prime minister to Schocken as a gift.
אנחנו לא ״אנטי נתניהו״ אלא אנטי המדיניות של נתניהו בכמה תחומים עיקריים של חיינו. בגלל שהוא דבק בעמדותיו אנחנו חושבים שישראל צריכה ראש ממשלה אחר. ורק לידיעתך, כשהיה שר אוצר היינו כלי התקשורת היחיד שתמך בו בכל הכח כי הסכמנו עם הרפורמות שעשה. וכן, יש גם הבעיה המשפטית. היא רצינית. pic.twitter.com/wibJTCMs9r
— Amos Schocken???????? (@AmosSchocken1) March 14, 2019
8. Esther out, Kondo in: Purim is coming, and in The Forward Shoshana Kordova notes that while the holiday tradition of exchanging gift baskets has become a game of one-upmanship among many, it doesn’t have to be.
- Rather, she advises, one can Marie Kondo their way through Purim (yes that’s a verb now), by going minimalist (or somewhere in between) and not trying to do the whole megillah of elaborate costumes and themes and poems every years.
- “Does dreaming up a new concept every Purim make you anxious about whether you’ll be able to surpass your previous creations? Do you get edgy thinking about whether your mishloach manot theme will be enough to outdo everyone else’s (or at least keep up)? Or do your efforts truly spark joy?”