1. Party foul: The depth of the rift within Israel’s Labor Party, seen as a shadow of its former self, was on full display Thursday night as the political faction held a boisterous convention in Tel Aviv. With the fortunes of the party falling with each poll, attention is focused on neophyte leader Avi Gabbay’s apparent struggles to steer the party toward sunnier shores, leading to a lack of confidence among many party faithful.
- “Gabbay was met with boos and whistles at what was meant to be a festive conference on Wednesday night, as he sought to persuade his bitter and divided party that he can defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April’s elections,” ToI’s Raoul Wootliff reports.
- Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev describes the convention as “a cauldron of whistles, heckles, boos, profanities,” but also takes that despite the raucousness, most of those in the room are well past fighting age.
- “It’s a geriatric ward here,” he quotes a delegate saying. “Younger people don’t commit. They judge everything by expedience. That’s why we’re the only ones left stuck here.”
2. ‘Leader of the Titanic’: Most of the hubbub was between Gabbay and Eitan Cabel, who has been his harshest critic since almost day one after he won the party’s leadership. Despite Cabel’s harsh attack on Gabbay — “This failure is completely Gabbay’s,” he stormed — Gabbay managed to push through rules giving him three choices of whom to place on the Knesset slate.
- “This was Gabbay’s win,” the Walla news site writes.
- Israel Hayom savagely skewers the party, writing that “Gabbay secured his place as the leader of the Titanic,” and calling the rift “a world war.”
- Meanwhile Yedioth Ahronoth garlands former party leader Amir Peretz as the “adult in the room,” praising him for delivering a “unifying” speech.
3. Road to hell: Israel as a whole showed it’s no stranger to division, though, with the opening of a road in the West Bank near Jerusalem with lanes for Israelis and lanes for Palestinians separated by a massive wall.
- Right-wing news sites note, though, that for the last 13 years Israelis were forbidden from using the road. Now it’s open to everyone.
- But the optics of the wall are bad enough to make almost anyone cringe, and it has quickly earned the “apartheid” moniker.
- “The eight-meter-high divider makes it a grotesque symbol of Israel’s policy of segregation in the West Bank,” reads Haaretz’s lead editorial.
- Wall aside, the opening of the road has drawn swift condemnation from rights groups, the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.
- “This is an Israeli example of apartheid and racist separation that once existed in South Africa. Any Israeli who believes in democracy should feel ashamed about this new road,” PLO Executive Committee member Ahmad Majdalani tells The Times of Israel.
- This isn’t Israel’s first “apartheid road-eo.” Haaretz reporter Nir Hasson in a tweet juxtaposes the cover of Haaretz with the paper’s front page some 11 years ago showing Route 443, which runs through the West Bank and used to be closed to Palestinian traffic.
- “What does this say about the apartheid? It won’t fit in a tweet,” he writes.
— nir hasson (@nirhasson) January 10, 2019
4. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem’s embassy: The wall didn’t come up as US President Donald Trump toured the border with Mexico while making a pitch for his barrier, but he somehow managed to get the Jerusalem embassy into the conversation.
- “Somebody was saying that moving the embassy to Jerusalem I got it done. Every president talked about it for many many years…same thing here. Same exact thing. I got that done and we’re going to get this done, too,” Trump said during one appearance near the border Thursday.
5. Out of Syria: CNN reports that the US is beginning to move equipment out of Syria, though with plenty of confusion still about the timeline and everything else, it may just be a show.
- “The Defense Department wants to show progress to Trump, and these withdrawals are a way to do it,” CNN reports.
- The Middle East Eye reports on what it says is a draft proposal the US presented Turkey on the withdrawal which is mostly about protecting the Kurds and fighting IS, but also includes a line that troops won’t be leaving the al-Tanf base in southern Syria.
- That would appear to dovetail with earlier reports that indicated the US was considering keeping some sort of presence there to calm Israelis fears over Iran.
- Meanwhile, it may be that the proposal, presented by John Bolton, doesn’t hold any water. “We don’t take orders from Bolton,” a defense official tells the Wall Street Journal when asked about the pullout beginning while negotiations are still taking place.
6. Pompeo’s flop: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech in Cairo about going after Iran barely makes waves in Israel.
- Even pro-Trump Israel Hayom gives the speech only passing coverage.
Prediction: no one in the Middle East will remember anything about Pompeo’s speech by next week.
— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) January 10, 2019
- Pompeo was particularly called out for claiming that Netanyahu’s trip to Oman was a major breakthrough; two other prime ministers made the trip before him.
- “That they let obvious wrong statements creep in is a reflection of how this administration does business and a reflection of the fact that they don’t have professionals writing this stuff,” former ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein tells al-Monitor. “This will be in the dustbin of history before tonight. Because it’s absolutely empty.”
7. Appeal to Europe: What Israel Hayom does report is a US plan to go after Iran by cracking down on its international money-laundering schemes.
- The paper says the US this time isn’t going it alone, but trying to get Europe to join in too.
- “In messages the administration has sent, the US says it is ready to invest resources to uncover Iranian and even to share information with the Europeans,” the paper reports.
8. NSO opens up: In an extremely rare interview, one of the founders of the NSO Group, Shalev Hulio, tells Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea that the company did extensive checks of its various clients to see if its cell phone tracking system was used against Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.
- “There was no use on Khashoggi, including listening, monitoring, tracking, collecting info with any product or technology of NSO,” he says unequivocally.
- Hulio also claims that when he says the system is only used against terrorists and criminals, it means in actual cases where lives are being saved: “In the last half year the company’s products have been part of thwarting several large terror attacks in Europe, both with car bombs and suicide bombers.”
- One last tidbit unknown before is the revelation that NSO’s Pegasus phone tracker played a key role in capturing Mexican drug kingpin El Chapo.
- “I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present. With what you gave us, we can finally eradicate the cartels,” Hulio says the president of Mexico told him in 2011.
- Mexico is also where NSO first gained infamy after activists accused the government of using the Pegasus to track dissidents and journalists, many of whom wound up dead.