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Israel media review

Kill ’em with kindness, confusion or nukes: 5 things to know for June 14

An op-ed in an Israeli paper about normalization vs. annexation by a ‘senior Arab’ makes waves; Jordan Valley people complain of being in the dark and Iran war drums are back

A bunch of wooden pallets in the Jordan Valley on February 2, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/FLASH90)
A bunch of wooden pallets in the Jordan Valley on February 2, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/FLASH90)

1. Thus spake Yousef: A column by the UAE’s ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba warned in Israeli tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth of the dangers of plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

  • In his piece, printed in Hebrew Friday on the front page of the daily, Al-Otaiba acknowledged that Israel and much of the Arab world have grown closer in recent years and expressed hope that such cooperation in a wide range of areas would deepen in the future. But he added that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all settlements across the West Bank starting next month would bury such dreams.
  • “Israeli plans for annexation and talk of normalization are a contradiction,” he wrote.
  • On Sunday morning, the paper pats itself on the back for the get, calling it the “op-ed that made waves” and running screen captures from around the world of headlines about the op-ed.
  • The op-ed “earned wide international resonance,” reads the lede to its lead story.
  • Columnist Shimrit Meir notes in the paper that al-Otaiba’s approach appears to be an attempt to kill annexation with kindness in contrast to Jordan’s “more traditional approach, which includes rising anger and threats.”
  • “What’s next, a Shlomo Artzi concert in Abu Dhabi,” she quips, noting the UAE’s seemingly recent willingness to work with Israel.
  • Channel 13 reports that al-Otaiba even went as far as consulting with an Israeli — LA-based Power Rangers tycoon Haim Saban — on the column.
  • Channel 12 news reports that the UAE followed up the op-ed by having its delegation in Washington warn the White House “that an Israeli move to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank will severely impair Gulf states’ cooperation with the Trump administration’s peace plan and will end all efforts at public rapprochement with Israel.”

2. He’s kind of a big deal: The op-ed also resonates in Haaretz, which runs its own analysis of it as its lead story, playing up its importance. The paper promotes al-Otaiba as a major player in Washington, which he is according to all accounts, but the headline describing him as a “senior Arab” who is drawing a line in the sand perhaps overstretches his importance and can come across looking just as silly as Israel Hayom pumping supposed Gulf willingness to go along with the plan.

  • “The United Arab Emirates is not speaking for other Gulf states and does not represent other Arab leaders, but it is presenting an informal common denominator which clarifies a red line that if crossed would restrict the position of even the most moderate Arab countries in relation to Israel. Mohammed bin Zayed, the de facto ruler of UAE, is talking not only about his country’s relations with Israel, as expressed by Israeli businesspeope visiting Dubai, or in the dispatch of planes carrying aid [to Palestinians] which have landed at Ben Gurion airport. He is working in concert with the Saudi crown prince in order to promote the Trump plan,” writes Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el.
  • On the other side, Israel Hayom plays down the comments from al-Otaiba, keeping him off the front page and running an open letter by columnist Eldad Beck telling him that normalization should not be bandied like a carrot, and if he wants to pressure someone, he should be focused on the Palestinians.
  • “Where would the Middle East be today if you had pressured the Palestinians to behave differently? What could the Palestinians’ situation be like today if you had made those of them who reached your countries into full citizens rather than refugees with no rights, and if you had invested your money into turning the refugee camps in the Palestinian Authority into ordinary communities, rather than nests of violence and terrorism,” he writes.

3. The big rethink: Yedioth’s front page headline ballyhoos the idea that in the wake of the op-ed, some ministers are now against annexation. Which is kind of true.

  • Two of the ministers quoted, Izhar Shay and Amir Peretz, were already ostensibly against unilateral annexation, and the third, Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi, is actually quoted speaking out in favor of “not letting this historic chance slip by.”
  • In a ToI blog post, Yossi Klein Halevi urges Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to change their minds about letting annexation happen, arguing that it will turn all of the West Bank into the same mess much of Jerusalem is in now, with villages annexed into the city but devoid of any services.
  • “Beginning the process of annexation risks turning whole parts of Judea and Samaria into no-man’s land like Anata, Palestinian enclaves beyond anyone’s jurisdiction or concern,” he writes in an open letter to the pair.
  • In Walla, Gadi Hitman writes that Palestinians may actually come to embrace annexation as another step toward a single democratic state. “Enacting annexation could significantly improve their quality of life and their chances of getting civil rights, and could form the basis of a national effort once they become the demographic majority,” he writes.
  • Israel Hayom reports that “Israel’s application of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley will be more limited and less broad in scope than originally planned, moderate Arab countries have been telling senior Palestinian officials recently.”

4. The valley of the shadow of annexation: And what is this “original plan,” let alone the modified version? Nobody seems to know, least of all the people set to be most affected. Reporting from the Jordan Valley, where it’s unclear what kind of annexed reality awaits local Palestinans, ToI’s Jacob Magid reports that there is a mix of dread and steadfast refusal to become Israeli citizens if the opportunity is offered to them.

  • “They might say in the beginning that they’ll give me more rights, but the gold will quickly turn into coal,” says one resident of a small hamlet in the JV.
  • Haaretz’s Hagar Shezaf writes that more than anything the residents are worried about the lack of information coming out, and trying to game among themselves whether they are going to be annexed into Israel or left as a Palestinian enclave.
  • “Does it seem reasonable that no one is telling us what will happen to us if annexation takes place?” says a resident of one area supposedly on the line to be annexed. “We’re totally in the dark, and that’s the worst situation to be in.”
  • Forget the human toll, Kan tries to game the cost of annexation in shekels and agorot and comes out nearly as nonplussed: “According to a Bar-Ilan University study, annexing the Jordan Valley will put NIS 3 billion into the state coffers. But the former head of the Finance Ministry thinks that extending sovereignty over the Jordan Valley will cost NIS 8 billion, and if they annex all the lands, it will cost NIS 52 billion and cause security issues.”

5. Fattening up the curve: To add to the rhubarb is good ol’ Rona, aka the coronavirus, which is just refusing to go away.

  • Outgoing Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov tells Kan radio that he was surprised by the speed at which Israel seems to have been hit by a second wave of the coronavirus. But he adds that a new lockdown is not inevitable.
  • “We can still be relatively optimistic and flatten the curve without as lockdown. We need to keep the guidelines, especially regarding masks. There was an issue in keeping people aware that the coronavirus was not a one-off that came and went. We need to convince the public of how important it is. I think the public, and everybody, was quite tired,” he says.
  • Channel 12 news reports that officials are concerned about the spread of the virus in areas outside of known “outbreak zones.”
  • According to Health Ministry data over June 12 and 13, there were 230 infections outside of the zones and 87 within them, though it’s unclear what the ministry is doing with the data, which would seem to point to a need for another lockdown.
  • Army Radio reports that “dozens” of soldiers from the army’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit have been forced into quarantine. However, it says, the unit is still operating at full capacity.
  • They may come in handy, with Iran war drums possibly on the horizon, about the only thing missing from this 2020 of fun. Walla news reports that Gantz has been briefed on an Israeli analysis showing that Iran has actually continued its nuclear program during the virus period and may have ramped it up with the world’s attention focused elsewhere, though enrichment is still fairly low at 4 percent.
  • “Defense officials warn that if the ayatollah regime decides to break the current limits on enrichment, Israel will need to rethink its stance regarding noncompliance with the Iran nuclear agreement, by placing all options on the table.”
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