1. Back to the annexing board: Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has told the media that Israel will not start annexing before elections on March 2, seemingly both baring and laying to rest an internal administration dispute that had only been hinted at so far.
- “The hope is that they’ll wait until after the election, and we’ll work with them to try to come up with something,” Kushner told GZERO Media, in an interview published late Wednesday.
- This came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was seemingly forced to walk back his promise to start annexing West Bank properties from next week.
- US envoy David Friedman also backtracked on his previous comment that Israel could start annexing right away, instead telling reports Wednesday that any plans would need to be cleared by a joint panel to get a US okay.
- The issue appears to have proved embarrassing for Netanyahu, who refused to speak to the press for most of Wednesday, including when being mobbed by reporters on the way to his plane to Russia, and on the plane ride.
- “The situation now looks like a farce,” writes Yedioth Ahronoth’s Itamar Eichner.
- Kan’s Moav Vardi notes on Twitter that Trump even mentioned the joint committee and when he asked Netanyahu about it he was told by him and Israeli envoy Ron Dermer that “it had nothing to do with applying sovereignty.”
- Israel Hayom, which is seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, takes the same tack as the prime minister, glossing over and ignoring anything inconvenient.
- “Friedman told reporters that Israel can annex immediately, in conjunction with the US-Israeli panel,” it reports. It also quotes Friedman’s vague (and somewhat nonsensical) comment that “The Israeli government will do what it’s going to do. But then the committee will form,” as proof that two contradictory things can be correct.
- “Did Netanyahu not known what the Americans wanted,” asks Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi. “Did he know but get overtaken by the feeling of making history? Is this perhaps just a technical matter involving groundwork? Maybe they are all correct. What is clear: Fast and easy this will not be — and no way that gets Likud members to the voting booths.”
2. Disunity in the Trump administration? Shocking: On Twitter, Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahana writes that those in the prime minister’s inner circle are “angry and embarrassed,” by the US about-face, and quotes sources saying they may ignore Kushner and annex before March 2 elections anyway.
- Challenged over whether there was an actual backtrack by the Americans, he shoots back that there were two competing camps, essentially indicating that Netanyahu backed the pro-settler camp because they were saying what he wanted to hear and is now annoyed that his side lost, without saying as much.
- Channel 13’s Barak Ravid, who reported earlier that the administration was making clear to Netanyahu it wasn’t happy with him trying to push annexation quickly, notes that there is in fact a split within the administration, seemingly between Friedman’s camp and Kushner.
- “Nothing is over yet. There is an internal fight in the White House between two camps. At this point Kushner is writing the rules, but that could change,” he tweets.
- Channel 12’s Yaron Avraham writes that “This is not an about-face by the Americans, and if it was — it was only by Friedman,” adding that “if anyone owes us an explanation, it’s the prime minister.”
- It’s also not the only point of contention it seems. Kushner, who also bad-mouthed the Palestinians as not ready for a state on Fox News and bragged to Sky News Arabia that he read 25 books on the conflict, also publishes an article on CNN in which he seemingly says that the plan represents just a starting point: “Palestinians may have issues with aspects of this plan. But to address them, they should identify the areas they would like to improve and agree to negotiate with Israel.”
- In Haaretz, Amir Tibon writes that “Kushner’s article implies that the Palestinian Authority will not have to agree to these terms [of the plan] in order to enter negotiations. Israeli officials said otherwise during Tuesday’s press briefings after Netanyahu’s joint appearance with Trump.”
3. Anonymous sources with interests? Shocking again: The whole business has also exposed for all to see a bit of how the sausage is made and why so many contradictory reports about the plan were coming out in the moments before it rolled out.
- At that time, Ravid reported that the administration had told Netanyahu there would be no immediate annexation,while Kahana and Channel 12 reporter Amit Segal — also seen as friendly to Netanyahu — reported that the plan included a go-ahead to annex immediately.
- It seems both were correct, just listening to different people. “Information about the annexation came from Israeli sources who were trying to sell the two-state plan to the right. Those who spoke to other sources in the US understood that there were two sides to the coin,” notes Haaretz’s Noa Landau on Twitter.
- Nonetheless, Ravid gets the kudos for not buying the Israeli narrative and reporting on what Kushner and not Friedman was saying, with Twitter filling up with calls for people, who trashed Ravid as having “gutter sources” since Barack Obama left office, to apologize.
- “Oops, Kahana was not right. They worked him over, Barak Ravid was correct,” writes Ynet’s Attila Somfalvi, who had earlier backed Kahana’s side, riffing off of the “Meir Kahane was right” slogan used by ultra-nationalists.
- All in all, the case is a good reason as to why it’s always important to ask why a source insists on anonymity, something that seems to be given as carte blanche as annexation these days.
4. Trap remix: Now that the plan has rolled out, it’s still being bandied about for political purposes, as in Blue and White Chief Benny Gantz’s announcement Wednesday that he would bring the plan for a vote in the Knesset.
- Yedioth calls the move “an attempted trap.”
- “It’s not clear the vote can take place, but if so, it can entangle right-wing MKs,who will be forced to oppose the plan,” it reports.
- “Netanyahu and the right only want to approve the annexation of the Jordan Valley and settlements, without Israeli concessions, such as the creation of a Palestinian state on 70 percent of the West Bank,” writes Tal Shalev in Walla. “The vote will force the Likud and Yamina to officially back a Palestinian state, if they want to support the ‘deal of the century.’”
- Kan reports that Blue and White have warned the Americans about allowing one-sided annexation. The station also says that despite all its talk, Likud has not asked the attorney general to rule on the matter.
- Nonetheless, Haaretz reports that Avichai Mandelblit appears to be leaning toward allowing the transition government to annex, if it so wishes.
5. Trading Israel for Itamar: Aside from political games, there are worries about how the plan will actually affect people.
- While those who are touting the plan say no Israelis or Palestinians will be uprooted from their homes, according to the crudely drawn map, large chunks of the western Negev will in fact be ceded to Palestine. While those are mostly empty, there are people who live there.
- An area resident tells Channel 12 news that there are plans to develop the area and bring thousands more families there. “Four years they worked on this plan and the prime minister didn’t think to speak to us once? We see that the settlers were updated all the time and met with him in Washington — it seems we’ll have to do with a meeting in Jerusalem.”
- Haaretz reports that “The main concern of the security establishment is the impact on the relations with Jordan. In the Palestinian arena, there is currently no focused warning of a plan to destabilize the territories following the Trump initiative.”
- Of even more concern is Wadi Ara, where towns will seemingly be remarcated into Palestine.
- The owner of a gallery that seeks to foster Jewish Arab coexistence tells Zman Yisrael that “we’re working hard so people can interact, and they are working in a terrible way to separate us and break cooperation.”
- A resident of Umm al-Fahm tells Ynet that she and her neighbors will not agree to be placed under the control of any other entity.
- “We will remain here, even if it does not suit Netanyahu, Gantz or Trump. They are all racists who are campaigning for an election,” she said. “Let them know that we are willing to sacrifice our lives if someone tries to harm us.”
6. Abu Dis is not abu dat: On the Palestinian side, residents of Abu Dis, marked as the future Palestinian capital, diss the idea.
- “In perhaps the starkest case of paradoxical logic, the plan suggests Palestinians could consider renaming Abu Dis with the Arabic phrase they use to describe Jerusalem, Al Quds, which means the Holy One, because of its religious sites. None of those religious sites is in Abu Dis,” reports The Guardian.
- “Abu Dis will never be Jerusalem. Abu Dis is Abu Dis and Jerusalem is Jerusalem,” a resident says.
- “Abu Dis is part of Jerusalem, it’s a district of the city — it’s not an independent city. Abu Dis can’t be the capital,” another resident tells AFP. “What Trump and Netanyahu are selling is an illusion.”
- Al Jazeera writes that the plan, which includes no right of return for Palestinian refugees, has left them hopeless.
- “Neither is Palestine going to be liberated by force – that’s all nonsense – nor will we go there as free people via airplane,” one Palestinian in Lebanon says. “This plan is rejected by everyone, all we can do is wait for something better.”
- In Haaretz, Gideon Levy calls the plan the Third Nakba or catastrophe, throwing a little bit of lite anti-Semitism into his complaint about all the Jews involved in crafting the plan.
- “With all the wheeler-dealer peacemakers – all these Friedmans, Adelsons, Greenblatts, Kushners and Berkowitzes, these supposedly fair and unbiased mediators, it’s impossible to even think about the start of a fair accord,” he writes. “It’s not hard to guess what goes through the mind of every Palestinian and every seeker of justice at the sight of this all-Jewish and all-right-wing class picture.”
7. Free at last, free at last: For the second time in a week, though, Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar has managed to dominate the news cycle despite even bigger goings on.
- This time it’s on the occasion of her release from Russian prison, with Netanyahu making a quick detour to Moscow to give her a lift.
- Journalists from all major Israeli news outlets provided extensive coverage and television channels interrupted their regular broadcasts for the release of a young woman who committed a criminal offense, but whose fate — widely viewed as a disproportionate punishment — has gripped an entire nation.
NAAMA IS FREE, AGAIN
WELCOME HOME ????????
נעמה יששכר ואימה, יפה, במטוס ראש הממשלה, בחזרה הביתה, לישראל ???????? pic.twitter.com/moBfJRoThs
— שמעון ארן شمعون آران (@simonarann) January 30, 2020
- But despite the media’s role in turning her into a cause celebre, which helped lead to public pressure on Netanyahu, who eventually took up her case, she offers journalists no comments as she boards the plane.
- The media is so hard up for any scraps that Channel 12 runs video of Naama’s sister speaking on the phone to her for the first time since her release, as she tries to ignore the cameras being shoved in her face.
- Ambassador Yaakov Livneh, who actually got to hug her, tells Walla that “she’s happy to be returning home. She thanked the prime minister and Foreign Ministry. The most important think is that Naama is coming home.That’s what we do in this case.”
8. Bibi’s carry-on: Everybody knows that her release was the single-handed work of Netanyahu, or at least that’s how it seems some around the prime minister have tried to make it look (it’s doubtful whether the prime minister would fly himself and the whole press corps five hours out of their way to pick up an ex-convict if he wasn’t going to get some brownie points out of it, and the election likely helps.)
Naama Yissachar has a lot of Israeli politicians to thank for her release. Had they managed to get their act together and form a government, she would still be in prison
— Raoul Wootliff (@RaoulWootliff) January 29, 2020
- As opposed to other news sites, in which Netanyahu is a sideshow, Israel Hayom goes balls to the wall for the prime minister, running only pictures that show Netanyahu with Issachar, complemented by a headline of Netanyahu telling her “let’s go home.”
- In Haaretz, Michael Handelsaltz gives an inside look at how Netanyahu ended up in her court, despite her apparently not being totally innocent in the whole matter, thanks to the luck of having a relative who happens to be one of Netanyahu’s drivers, and elections.
- “Likud decided to launch a PR campaign aimed at portraying the arrestee as an innocent Jewish Israeli who was harassed by the world because of her Jewishness,” he writes, “thus proving the need for a Jewish state as a refuge from anti-Semitism and confirming the role of the prime minister as the leader and savior of world Jewry.”
- Writing for The Times of Israel, Issachar lawyer Vadim Kluvgant says the fact that she was given a long sentence and made a bargaining chip in the first place and the fact that Netanyahu had to get involved, means a lot of questions remain.
- “Why should an act of mercy at the country’s highest level, a presidential pardon, be required to counteract and whitewash the damage done by the heartless, ignorant act of law enforcement agents who fabricated a case and effectively took a foreign girl hostage,” he asks. “Why was the court relieved of its sole and exclusive duty to carry out justice, and permitted to ignore the patent absurdity of the charges against Naama. And finally, as a Russian citizen and lawyer, I ask why my country’s reputation was made to suffer so badly, becoming the object of growing fear and contempt, due to this miscarriage of justice?”