US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to land in Israel imminently to spur along peace talks, and while it may be a new year in the region he’ll find that all the same problems remain.
The peace process occupies the respective front pages of Israel Hayom and Maariv but each reports on different developments. Israel Hayom (which gives 2014 a two-page spread up front – more on that later) focuses on a possible first draft for a framework for permanent status negotiations with the Palestinians. The paper quotes anonymous Knesset members who have seen draft versions that call for a demilitarized Palestinian state, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and borders of a Palestinian state that will be based on the 1967 lines. But as the article points out, there are gaps that exist between the two sides and the framework is not a done deal.
Maariv reports that the Israeli side is trying to come up with some unique solutions for peace, including offering to cede control over an area in Israel where 300,000 Israeli Arabs live, known as the “Triangle.” The idea is that Israel would give up sovereignty of the Triangle (located close to the Green Line) in exchange for land swaps in the West Bank, which would help Netanyahu give the Palestinians more land, while helping to maintain the Jewish character of Israel. However, Maariv waits until the end of the article to point out that this proposal isn’t really central to Israel’s position right now and isn’t even being discussed in the main talks with Kerry.
Maariv also carries an interview with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in which he tells the paper that the Palestinians won’t give up on the Jordan Valley. Speaking at an event in the valley he said, “We are sending a clear message to Israel and the Americans — the Jordan Valley is the Palestinians.” Hamdallah also dismissed rumors that the Palestinians might break off talks, saying, “We made a promise to the Americans to hold talks through April and we will stand by that promise.”
Over at Haaretz, the front page story isn’t about peace talks, but rather how Israeli defense firms skirted the law in 2013. According to the Defense Ministry there were 172 violations of Israel’s Defense Export Control Law by firms that supply arms and other security related services. This is significant uptick in violations from 2011 when there were just 43 reported violations. While the paper is scant on details of the specific violations, they seem to fall under the umbrella of exporting technology or equipment without proper authorization. The paper reports that in 2013 there were 14 hearings against companies who violated the act and imposed fines of over four million shekels ($1.15 million).
If only the government could use some of those fines to offset the price hikes that take effect January 1. Instead of celebrating the New Year, Yedioth Ahronoth acts like a grumpy old man and complains about 2014’s price hikes on its front page. So what will cost more in the new year? Public transportation rose 4.7%, property taxes were upped 3.5%, cigarettes cost more, and so does gas. As if that’s not enough, the paper includes another story about how the price of vegetables is also on the rise. Unfortunately for Israel’s workers, there’s no article about a rise in salaries.
More training please
This year’s tough budget cuts have produced what Maariv terms a “lively discussion” in the IDF about the lack of training. According to the paper, high-level officers have complained to Chief of Staff Benny Gantz about the lack. The paper references senior officers saying that the level of training is similar to the time period before the Second Lebanon War (where the lack of training is widely thought to have harmed the IDF’s effectiveness). One anonymous officer told the paper that there is a huge hole in the army’s strength because of the budget cuts. “In my opinion,” he said, “I don’t think the average Israeli citizen has any idea just how big that gap truly is.”
While the IDF is worrying about training, the Knesset is trying to approve a law that would allow Chabad missionaries around the world to have their service be recognized as National Service (a civil alternative to army service). The bill was approved in committee by a vote of 5-3 despite the reservations of the IDF. The army is opposed to the bill because it fears that people will go abroad as Chabad missionaries to avoid their service.
New Year celebrations
Kissing couples, fireworks, and a column by Boaz Bismuth celebrate 2014 in the first two pages of Israel Hayom. Bismuth uses his column to reflect on 2013 and he starts close to home. “We thought that 2013 would be the last year of President Bashar Assad in power,” he writes. And not only did that not happen, it got even worse for Syria, “[Assad] received a green light to kill his people…Assad got the message: It’s okay to kill but only conventional weapons. The Syrian president – his stain of shame of 2013 is still staining us in the New Year.” Despite the negative aspects of 2013, Bismuth ends on a kind note, “The world can always be better, but it can also be worse. So please smile – it is in style and affordable.”