Prognosis negative: 5 things to know for June 29
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Prognosis negative: 5 things to know for June 29

Rising case numbers make it difficult to dispute that country has entered second wave of pandemic, but media highlights lack of consensus among ministers over what to do about it

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Affairs Ministry on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Affairs Ministry on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Waves come crashing down: Warning that Israel is at the “beginning of a second wave” of the pandemic, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announces that he has recommended reimposing restrictions on public gatherings and events, which will be discussed when the so-called “corona cabinet” meets later today.

  • As for who’s to blame as the country slouches toward another closure, Edelstein doesn’t mince his words at a press conference from his office. “Unfortunately, people didn’t listen enough,” he laments.
  • But not everyone in the cabinet is on board with the approach of Edelstein and his office. Hebrew media reports that what very well could be a majority of ministers spoke out against further imposing restrictions during yesterday’s corona cabinet meeting ahead of Edelstein’s presser.
  • Channel 13 says that Science Minister Izhar Shay reportedly interrupted Health Ministry director Chezi Levy in the middle of his presentation, saying: “We are being dragged into irrational decisions. The data processing is lacking.”
  • According to Channel 12, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri slammed what he said were the Health Ministry’s “excessive demands,” adding: “No further steps are needed. You have to learn to live with the coronavirus.”
  • The Kan public broadcaster reports that Edelstein, overwhelmed by the opposition, responded by saying, “I ask that ministers not only say ‘no’ but also offer alternatives.” But none were reported to have been presented.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz announce the extension of eligibility for unemployment benefits until mid-August, after previously saying the stipends would end amid the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the move came after considerable pressure from Labor ministers Itzik Smuli and Amir Peretz after Katz initially balked  at the idea.
  • In Israel Hayom, Ran Reznik writes that the public has lost its faith in the Health Ministry led by Edelstein and Levy, who entered their new posts there vowing not to return lockdown procedures, but have since “zigzagged” in that very direction. Reznik argues that the two officials together lack the convincing demeanor that former ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov displayed when he addressed the Israeli public regularly during the pandemic’s first wave.

2. You never said which July 1: While Netanyahu for months has insisted that he is not giving up on the July 1 target date for when he intends to begin advancing annexation plans in the government, Channel 13’s Barak Ravid reports that key discussions on the matter with White House officials in Israel “are expected to continue with no dramatic decision expected this week.”

  • “On Wednesday, July 1, Netanyahu is likely to comment on annexation and signal his intentions to continue his efforts, but contacts with the Americans are still far from over,” Ravid adds.
  • The network also reports that Jordan has made clear to Israel that it will not accept even a limited annexation of West Bank land and will respond to any such move in the same way it would react to the unilateral annexation of all settlements and the Jordan Valley, as initially planned by Netanyahu.
  • As for the Palestinian response, AFP reports that not much is likely to come from the people themselves. “There is fatigue,” Palestinian analyst Nour Odeh tells the wire agency. “Fatigue from the usual — to stand in Ramallah and wait for the cameras to show how angry we are,” she added.
  • For Ghassan Khatib, an academic and former PA official, signs of apathy about the prospect of annexation reveal a widening “gap” between the Palestinian people and their leaders. He blames this gap in part on “the absence of elections,” last held in 2006, and on a disconnect between an aging Palestinian leadership and a young population distrustful of the old guard.
  • “People have too many problems over their heads in this period” to mobilize properly, according to Khatib.
  • Meanwhile, Blue and White spokespeople methodically leak to all the major media outlets that Defense Minister Benny Gantz told Trump’s peace envoy Avi Berkowitz this morning that July 1 is “not a sacred date” to Israel, which has more pressing things to worry about in the midst of the pandemic. It’s unclear whether Netanyahu feels the same, which is likely why the centrist faction chose to leak that information, as opposed to publicizing it in a statement. Instead, the Blue and White official readout remains vague and accidentally calls David Friedman the Israeli ambassador to the US.
  • “What’s great about Gantz is that he waits until two days before July 1 when everyone knows that nothing practical will happen on that date, and then says this line [about July 1 not being sacred] as if he is putting forward some sort of condition or strong statement. At this point, he is stating the obvious,” tweets Haaretz’s Hagar Shezaf.
  • In ToI’s sister site Zman Yisrael, Nati Yefet reports that while Netanyahu has not yet given up on annexation, some officials in Likud are already preparing the groundwork for its response if the move is not carried out. “We will say that Naftali Bennett did not agree to cooperate and that Yamina did not understand that applying sovereignty was part of a package deal that includes a Palestinian state,” one Likud source says.

3. You say state, I say “state” *wink*: In a recorded video message aired at a Christians United for Israel conference, Netanyahu tells Evangelical supporters, “My friends, the [US] president’s vision finally puts to rest the two-state illusion,” Netanyahu added. “It calls for a realistic two-state solution.”

  • The remarks are noteworthy only because Netanyahu has refrained from referring to what the Palestinians are being offered in the Trump plan as a “state.” At least in Hebrew, that is.
  • “And in this realistic solution, Israel, and Israel alone, has control of all security matters on the ground and on the air, west of the Jordan River. This is good for Israel, it’s good for the Palestinians, it’s good for peace,” Netanyahu tells CUFI, describing an entity that appears to fall short of what most would consider to be a state.
  • But this does not satisfy some of the right-wing opponents to the Trump plan, including those in Netanyahu’s party. Likud minister Gila Gamliel refuses to describe what the Trump plan offers as a two-state solution. “The offer itself does not allow for a change in the status of the Palestinian Authority,” she claims. (The plan’s first pages state: This Vision creates a realistic Two-State solution in which a secure and prosperous State of Palestine is living peacefully alongside a secure and prosperous State of Israel in a secure and prosperous region.)
  • David Elhayani, who chairs the Yesha umbrella council of settler mayors, which opposes the plan, tells Army Radio, “Finally the prime minister has stated openly what I have said from the beginning: The Trump plan leads to a Palestinian state. This needs to be placed at the top of the day’s agenda so that Netanyahu understand that Likud MKs will not cooperate with this and that the balloon will explode.

4. Little love left: A Channel 12 survey indicates that if elections were held today, Gantz’s Blue and White party would win just nine of the 120 parliamentary seats — an astounding nosedive from the 33 seats that the pre-severed centrist alliance won when it campaigned on not sitting with Netanyahu.

  • This is not to say that the Likud premier would be interested in calling elections, despite the survey showing the right wing would win a majority and that Netanyahu’s party would climb to 38 seats. This is because the survey also suggests Israelis have soured over the prime minister’s handling of the pandemic.
  • Concerning Netanyahu’s handling of the economic aspects of the virus, only 35% said they approved, while 58% gave him a thumbs down. In the May poll, 53% had approved and 43% disapproved.
  • Not only is love from the people to the leaders lacking, but the affection among ministers has also seen better days. Netanyahu and  Gantz butted heads at the opening of yesterday’s cabinet meeting over their comments to the press, in a heated exchange caught on a hot mic that subsequently was aired on all the evening broadcasts.
  • In Haaretz, Raviv Drucker writes that Gantz’s problems may be more concerted on the left, where his former allies are bent on attacking the leader who abandoned them even if that leads to another election in which their camp would be even further decimated. “The only way to prevent [Gantz taking over from Netanyahu according to the terms of the coalition deal] is to weaken Gantz so much that a dirty exercise by Netanyahu to violate the agreement would be considered legitimate,” he writes.
  • Separately, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom leads its freebie broadsheet with an acknowledgement from an anonymous senior Likud official that he has “a hard time seeing this coalition survive.” Go figure.

5. Tamed pride: In lieu of annual Pride parades that were canceled this year due to the coronavirus, thousands of Israelis attended LGBT protest-rallies in four major cities across the country last night, which received substantially less coverage than the much larger marches of years past enjoyed.

  • The demonstrations were held under the theme, “The revolution is not yet complete” and came hours after ministers voted down a proposal to reverse the current government policy that bars single men and gay couples from using surrogacy in Israel to have children.
  • In a Facebook post hours ahead of the rally, the Israel Religious Action Center accused authorities of walking back their agreement to hang dozens of Pride flags across Jerusalem as is done annually in cities across the country. IRAC said that only five flags were ultimately hung up, in “another attempt by the municipality to silence and erase the LGBT community.”
  • Before the demonstration, police released a statement saying officers had arrested 27 people ahead over “behavior that could violate the public peace.” “Simply unbelievable. I just walked by King David street in Jerusalem. Officers are standing at the junction there and stopping every Haredi for questioning. Every secular person is waved through without being stopped or questioned,” tweeted Netanyahu’s son Yair.
  • Among those who addressed the Jerusalem rally was Rena Noldman, a 9-year-old transgender girl who was accompanied to the stage by her parents. “I want to tell those who think that to be an LGBT individual is not good or weird: Everything seems weird and strange from the other side. It’s not an embarrassment to be an LGBT individual. It’s not a bad thing to be different because we’re all different from one another in some way,” she said to cheers.
  • The speaker choice appeared to have gotten under the skin of Yamna MK Bezalel Smotrich, who made much of his early fame in 2006 when he organized the “beast parade”  as a response to pride. “One thousand five hundred people yesterday sexually exploited a confused ten-year-old and used it to advance their interests and no one has the courage to go against this insanity. The brave will like this tweet, the cowards will flip past it, the hypocrites will explain why it’s not the same thing, and the violent PC police will curse and try to silence the discourse. Which are you?” he tweets bravely.
  • Responding to the post, Yesh Atid MK Idan Roll tells Smotrich: “Your beast has returned.”
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