Odd couples: 6 things to know for February 5
Israel media review

Odd couples: 6 things to know for February 5

Agreeing to disagree with Trump’s peace plan, the EU says it will be very, very angry if Israel annexes the West Bank, but it’s ok, Israel has a new Emirati buddy

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell listens during a press conference after a meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, January 31, 2020. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell listens during a press conference after a meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, January 31, 2020. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

1. Borrell me to death: A statement by the European Union condemning the Trump administration’s peace plan and expressing unhappiness came as no surprise, but the sharpness of the note and the appearance of a not so subtle threat is apparently seen as a bridge too far by Jerusalem.

  • After EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell put out a statement saying the plan is problematic and that the EU can’t let Israeli annexation go unpunished, Israel Hayom’s Amnon Lord calls in a column for him to be declared persona non grata.
  • “How dare he talk about Israel’s security when he is threatening us,” he fumes. “Borrell is a Catalan, a man from Spain’s foreign ministry, a member of the socialist party who long ago became anti-Israel.”
  • For now, the Foreign Ministry has made do with a statement from spokesman Lior Haiat calling Borrell’s comments “regrettable &, to say the least, odd.”
  • He also goes out of his way to point out the fact that Borrell (or Borrel in Haiat’s version) was in Iran on Monday, and issues a veiled threat of his own, saying that the “threatening language” could sideline the EU as an actor in the region.
  • But a number of Israeli journalists find Haiat’s statement to be the odd one.
  • “Israel consistently cuts the #EU out of any role in the Middle East peace process in any case. Saying, essentially, ‘be nicer to us or we’ll cut you out of the process’ seems absurd. In any case, EU seems clear on underlining its opposition to Israel’s occupation,” tweets Reuters reporter Luke Baker.
  • Others are even blunter/snarkier.
  • And yet others wonder what exactly the EU may be threatening.

2. Perfidious Europe: It apparently could have been worse, according to Israeli reports, as the EU had apparently tried to advance a similar statement from all 27 foreign ministers, according to Israel’s Kan news.

  • According to to reports in Kan, and later Ynet as well, at least six countries blocked the joint statement — Italy, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, and at least two other unnamed nations.
  • Yedioth reports that once Israel got word of Borrell’s attempt to get the backing of all 27 foreign ministers for the statement, “it activated all its embassies in Europe to stop Borrell… The diplomats were instructed to make it clear to officials in various capitals that Borrell’s text refers to direct talks between the sides, yet forces Israel to accept Europe’s position.”
  • The paper reports diplomats also reasoned that if the EU really believed in peace talks, it shouldn’t put out a statement that will make it easier for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to dig in his heels.
  • Kan reports that the threat is not totally neutralized, with those who backed the statement telling Ramallah that they are putting together a package of responses should Israel go ahead with annexation, such as mass recognition of Palestinian statehood, or freezing a science and research partnership between Israel and the EU.
  • “According to Palestinian sources, the countries behind the moves are France, Spain and Luxembourg,” Kan reports.

3. Shrinking Gulf: While the EU is threatening a quarrel with Israel, the Jewish state may be gaining a friend in the Gulf.

  • Barak Ravid of Channel 13 and Axios reports on a secret meeting between Israel and the United Arab Emirates hosted by the White House in December.
  • According to the report, the meeting “included discussion of a UAE-Israel nonaggression pact — an interim step on the way to diplomatic normalization.”
  • It also explains why Abu Dhabi’s foreign minister tweeted an article about Arab rapprochement with Israel at the time of the alleged meeting, which got the attention of much of Israel’s media.
  • In Hebrew, Ravid tweets that the best example so far of this flowering relationship was the UAE’s ambassador presence in the White House for the unveiling of the US peace plan, though the UAE, like everyone else, still officially condemned the plan in a later Arab League meeting.
  • (Notably, as mentioned here before, its ambassador to that meeting urged Abbas to give the plan a chance.)
  • The UAE was also behind the meeting this week between Netanyahu and Sudanese interim leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
  • “The fact that the UAE was behind the meeting shows not only how much Gulf states have shifted over worries about the Iranian threat, but also about the influence of other countries that need ties with Israel and even more than that, ties with the US,” writes Assaf Gibor in Makor Rishon.

4. Unity in the Middle East: That divisive plan, though, is continuing to raise hackles, and not only among those on the left.

  • Haaretz reports that the proposal is angering both doves and those who want more annexation.
  • “So far, the plan has been met with three different kinds of responses in Israel: The left strongly opposes it and sees it as a way of entrenching Israel’s military occupation over millions of Palestinians; the right is split, with some supporting the plan and others rejecting it because they oppose even the few benefits it offers to the Palestinians; and, last but not least, the centrists support much of its content – but are afraid its real intention is to help Netanyahu and the right win the upcoming March 2 election, not to actually promote peace.”
  • In Foreign Affairs, Martin Indyk goes through the plan and why it is problematic from his point of view.
  • “For years, Israeli governments have argued against an imposed solution, and US administrations have solemnly committed to avoiding one. Now the Trump team — in close consultation with Netanyahu and with no consultation at all with Palestinian officials — has cooked up a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that it seems intent on imposing on the Palestinians. Little wonder that when the Palestinians look at the Trump plan, they are unwilling to sit at a negotiating table that is not only tilted dramatically toward Israel but on which all of the high cards have already been dealt to the other side,” he writes.
  • Times of Israel editor David Horovitz explains the battle behind annexation and why many Israelis think the timing is important.
  • “Is it truly intended to form the basis of ‘a realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security,’ as the president stated in the East Room last Tuesday? Or is it all just a ruse, calibrated to please Trump’s Greater Land of Israel supporters, ensure Palestinian rejection, and enable Israel’s unilateral annexation of all of the settlements, as soon as possible, to politically benefit Netanyahu,” he asks.
  • “Apart from boosting Netanyahu’s short-term political prospects ahead of the March 2 elections, it is hard to see what Israel has to gain by a rush to annexation, as opposed to the negotiated approach that the deal itself advocates,” he adds.

5. Apocalypse when? That obsession with the timing of the move was on display Tuesday with Haaretz reporting that Netanyahu says he’ll only bring annexation to a cabinet vote after Israel’s election.

  • The paper, though, appears to be taking liberties, with Netanyahu not issuing such a clear statement but rather hinting at pushing off the promised vote during a campaign stop in Beit Shemesh.
  • “[We] won’t let such a great opportunity slip. We brought it and we’re here to make it happen, but in order to secure it, to secure Israel’s borders, to secure Israel’s future, I need… all Likud members to go out and vote,” the paper quotes him saying.
  • Walla covers itself by putting a question mark into its headline on the matter and Tal Shalev writes that Netanyahu “hinted” at delay.
  • Meanwhile, Israel Hayom reports, quoting sources close to Netanyahu, that he is still trying to push to get a vote before elections.

6. Back in the (ballot) box for Democrats over Iowa? The methods for the counting of votes is under the microscope, with some trying to take the moral high ground about Israel’s system, just weeks ahead of the third elections within a year.

  • Boaz Bismuth, penning an op-ed in the right-leaning Israel Hayom newspaper, asks if the fiasco in Iowa, in which Democrats blundered about trying to count caucus results using an application that wasn’t working, shows the party doesn’t have what it takes to govern the country.
  • What should have been “a show of force for the Democrats, energizing at least half of the electorate and possibly captivating many more segments of the population” instead “turned their big moment into a big farce,” he writes.
  • Although Democrats say they saved the day, and the results, by going back to a good old paper count, “that may be too late to generate any meaningful outcome,” Bismuth says, as “people will have their doubts as to the veracity of the official results.”
  • This at a time when America’s most religiously observant Jewish voters have been drifting from supporting the Democrats to backing Republicans.
  • Journalist Gershom Gorenberg steps in to remind any Israelis who may be smirking at the Democrats over the Iowa debacle that although Israelis vote by putting paper slips in boxes that are counted by hand, the system isn’t necessarily more efficient when it comes to electing a government.
  • “In Israel we vote with little slips of paper and have the votes counted by morning,” he tweets. “Takes another day to count votes from soldiers and prisoners, who don’t vote at home.”
  • “Then no one wins, and we hold another election,” a reference to the two elections within six months in 2019 that failed to break a political deadlock, sending the country to another round of voting on March 2 that prediction polls so far indicate also won’t produce a stable government.
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