Nothing’s quiet on any front (except Gaza?): 8 things to know for May 18
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Israel media review

Nothing’s quiet on any front (except Gaza?): 8 things to know for May 18

The first Friday of Ramadan brings high tensions, and not just in the usual hotspots, but the UN, Turkey and the police boardroom as well

File: A Palestinian protester carries a burning tire during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers near Ramallah in the West Bank on, May 11, 2018. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
File: A Palestinian protester carries a burning tire during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers near Ramallah in the West Bank on, May 11, 2018. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

1. Friday is shaping up to be a big day for Israel, with fallout from Monday’s Gaza border brawl rendering the Strip as just about the only front the Jewish state won’t be attacked on.

  • Security officials are telling Israeli media that they do not think the Gaza border will heat up on Friday, which marks the first day of Ramadan. This after Egypt leaned on Hamas to tone down the protests.
  • Haaretz reports that Egypt and Qatar are working on a long-term ceasefire that would see Hamas’s military wing taken apart and the Palestinian Authority taking on an expanded role in administering the Strip.
  • While that sounds like good news to Israel, the paper reports that Jerusalem is skeptical: “Israel is concerned that a ‘Hezbollah model’ could emerge in the Gaza Strip, in which Hamas keeps its weapons while the PA takes responsibility for managing civilian issues. It is also skeptical about international monitoring mechanisms to prevent arms smuggling, which failed in an agreement brokered by the Bush administration after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.”
  • Those fears are echoed by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in a column by Nahum Barnea: “In 2006 we gave Hezbollah quiet, and 12 years later we got a totally different Hezbollah, well trained, with tens of thousands of missiles. That’s what Hamas wants to happen in the south.”

But, Barnea muses, “If the government doesn’t want war, doesn’t believe it can get Hamas out without war, and doesn’t trust the PA, only one option is left — an arrangement.”

2. In the meantime, Egyptian president Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi said Thursday night he would open the Rafah border crossing for the remainder of Ramadan, which is weeks longer than it’s been open for years.

  • And just in case, Israel is continuing to issue threats. A military official tells Israel Hayom: “Hamas knows if they challenge us on the border, they’ll get hit hard.”

3. Gaza may be quiet, but security officials are concerned East Jerusalem and the West Bank could heat up after prayers.

  • Channel 10 news reports that 1,500 police are being dispatched to east Jerusalem, where roads will be closed to allow for the tens of thousands of worshippers expected at the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa.
  • In the West Bank, there are also fears there could be marches toward checkpoints and heavy protests, though most report note that Palestinian leaders are marking June 5 — Nakba Day — as the occasion for the next big protest.

4. Israel may face just as tough a battle in Geneva, where the Human Rights Council is convening and is expected to approve an investigation into the Gaza deaths.

  • According to Channel 10 news, diplomats have been hard at work trying to convince governments not to approve such a measure, saying it will only worsen tensions.
  • Negotiations have been ongoing, according to the report, between Palestinians, Arab countries, and Europeans to try to hammer out a softened version.
  • Israel is also raging against an apparent plan by Kuwait to bring a resolution to the Security Council calling for the UN to place peacekeepers on the Gaza border to protect Palestinians.
  • Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon is calling the nascent proposal, which the US will surely veto, “a new low of cynicism and distortion, a proposal which gives backing to Hamas war criminals.”

5. Friday will also see a massive anti-Israel demonstration in Istanbul, with President Recep tayyip Erdogan, whose speeches never fail to make headlines, set to be a keynote speaker.

  • Channel 10’s Akiva Novick, in Istanbul, notes that with elections coming up, Erdogan can be expected to sharpen his rhetoric even more, but it’s just words. “Erdogan’s party rejected a proposal in parliament to cut ties with Israel,” he says.
  • Novick also reports that hundreds of thousands are expected to show up and a police car has been stationed outside the Etz Hayim synagogue in the city, just in case.
  • Israel Hayom writes that Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s decision to join in the anti-Israel party and call for leaders to be brought to The Hague “only threw gasoline on the fire,” taking it as a sign that the Turks are ready to further downgrade ties.
  • Many experts, though, appear to see that as unlikely. “The situation is tense, but as of right now, it doesn’t look like either of the two sides are eager to escalate the situation. No one wants a further downgrading of ties,” Bar-Ilan University’s Efrat Aviv tells Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren.

6. Some might look at Israel’s experience with Turkey, with whom it once had close ties, as a cautionary tale about friends turning to enemies. That’s the concern in Israel about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s and other’s embrace of Republicans and evangelists, which may bite Israel in the tush down the road.

  • Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid tells the Walla news site that “in 2020, we could find ourselves with a Democrat president and Congress, and this is a party that has an open account with us, going back to 2015, mostly with Netanyahu.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial warns against Israel hitching its bandwagon to evangelical support: “This dangerous wager poses a double hazard: On one hand, Israel is distancing itself from supporters it may need as soon as November, in the event the Democrats win control of the US Senate or the House of Representatives. On the other hand, nothing lasts forever: Polls show that younger evangelicals oppose blind support for Israel.”
  • In Yedioth, columnist Sima Kadmon writes that government ministers were concerned with where the Americans sat them at the embassy opening in Jerusalem (could it be a signal for how they view the Israeli political power structure) when they should have been fretting over the partisan nature of the event. “The Trump administration won’t be around forever, and the notable absence of Democrats at the ceremony is worrying.”

7. In actual news, Kadmon writes that, during his visit here, Jared Kushner presented the peace plan the Americans are putting together to Netanyahu, citing a senior diplomatic source.

  • However the Wall Street Journal reports that officials say they won’t present the plan until after Ramadan at soonest.
  • As former Ambassador Dan Shapiro points out on jokingly on Twitter, by then the Jews will have their own fast days to deal with.

8. On the domestic side of things, reports are rampant that Netanyahu held secret talks with Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevy, fueling speculation that he will not ask current chief Roni Alsheich, with whom he has feuded, to stay on the job.

  • In a sign of the dirty fight to come, anonymous sources are already battling it out, with one side claiming Alsheich is demanding Halevy stop having talks behind his back, and the other side claiming Alsheich is trying to scuttle Halevy’s candidacy for the position.
  • Yedioth notes the two will meet on Friday morning to discuss preparations for Ramadan prayers and possible riots, which may make for some awkward times: “They will have a lot of work, and sources close to both of them say they are only dealing with joint tasks, but the meeting comes amid deep and confrontational tensions.”
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