Rethinking positions: 8 things to know for October 21
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Rethinking positions: 8 things to know for October 21

The US may redo its approach to peace talks, as Israel goes from talking war in Gaza to talking long-term calm and seems to change its mind on Khan al-Ahmar

Illustrative. A protester falls down on barbed fence as he runs for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops while others burn tires near the Gaza Strip's border with Israel during a protest east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Illustrative. A protester falls down on barbed fence as he runs for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops while others burn tires near the Gaza Strip's border with Israel during a protest east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

1. Deal of the Century, the game show: Israeli officials fear that the Trump administration is mulling recognizing Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital as well as the Israeli capital, in a bid to bring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table, Yedioth Ahronoth reports.

  • The paper said that the fear is born of an Israeli assessment that the administration sees getting a deal as a fairly simple task if only it can get both sides to the table. If the Republican Party weakens in the midterm elections next month, the White House will ramp up pressure for a deal, in the hopes of having some achievement to show voters when 2020 rolls around, the report says.
  • According to the sources cited by the paper, the American talks will have some pretty strict rules (but seem more like a game show than one of the toughest international negotiations in the world): Anyone who comes to the table has to ante up a concession, one the other side agrees to. Anyone who doesn’t come to the table has to pay a penalty, and anyone who rejects the draft deal risks being put in a weaker position for the next round.
  • Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is asking the Americans to at least hold off until after the elections here out of fears that complications could mess up his reelection chances.

2. Keeping it copacetic in Gaza: Israel and Gaza seem to be wasting no time in restarting even more delicate ceasefire talks after a relatively calm weekend.

  • Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has ordered the Erez and Kerem Shalom passenger and cargo terminals opened Sunday morning as a direct result of the calm, though his office says a decision on allowing in Qatar-bought fuel won’t be made for a few more days.
  • Haaretz, which reported that the restraint during the protest was likely to lead to the fuel supplies being restarted, says security officials described Friday’s protests as the “most subdued in months.”
  • Hamas is keeping protests as small as possible because it “does not want to lose the trust it has built in Egypt and the cooperation it shares with the country,” the paper writes, citing a senior Palestinian source in a Gazan faction.
  • However, “Hamas leaders made it clear that they cannot prevent the gatherings and protests for long if concrete steps are not taken to ease the blockade on Gaza,” the paper reports, citing more Palestinian sources.
  • Israel Hayom’s Amnon Lord accuses cabinet ministers of changing opinions on Gaza like they change their underwear and lionizes Netanyahu as the only one to have a consistent policy: “His ability to withstand the media waves and the pressures of the street are a phenomenon that has never been seen among defense leaders,” he writes.

3. Demolition delay: Consistent is surely not a word being used to describe Netanyahu after he delayed the razing of the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, amid intense international pressure.

  • Haaretz hints that the move may be related to “unusual diplomatic statements by both the European Union and the chief prosecutor of the International Court of Justice in The Hague,” who had said evacuating the village and razing it could trigger a war crimes investigation.
  • The official reason given was so talks with the villagers could be restarted, and Army Radio reports that it’s because villagers have agreed to leave the site of their own free will and move 500 meters north off of state land and onto land belonging to the village of Anata.
  • Tawfiq Jabarin, the attorney representing Khan al-Ahmar, tells The Times of Israel that the residents of the Bedouin hamlet had during legal proceedings offered to move to those lands. However, the government had never responded to the proposal, including now.

4. Torquemada would blush: The right unsurprisingly fumed Saturday night over the indefinite delay in razing the village. The Regavim NGO, which had petitioned to have the village removed, accuses Netanyahu of being two-faced regarding evacuations of Jewish and Palestinian homes (willfully ignoring how the cases are nothing alike) and says the history books will remember him as a loser who caved to Palestinian pressure.

  • On Twitter, media watcher Tomer Persico writes, “The heartfelt pain of the right in my feed that poor people are not being banished from their shacks and tin huts after having already been made refugees once would make Torquemada blush.”
  • Also on Twitter, my colleague Jacob Magid notes that Netanyahu could flip back on this like he did on African migrants under pressure from the right.

4. Khashoggi consequences: No matter how bad Israel looks anyway, it probably won’t reach Riyadh levels of pariah-ness.

  • The Israeli press has followed the case closely, including its possible impact on efforts by US President Donald Trump and Netanyahu to form a Saudi-Israel alliance against Iran and in Palestinian peace talks, and the unsurprising revelation (and implausible explanation) of Jamal Khashoggi’s death is no exception.
  • Yedioth’s Smadar Peri writes that everyone in the affair has been lying and only saying what helps its interests, including Israel: “We’re also half-involved: IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot met in secret in Washington with Saudi defense chief Faud bin Hamid at the height of the storm, and it’s no accident that Netanyahu has kept his mouth shut about the affair. One can guess that he knew what was up via the pipeline from Washington.”
  • In Haaretz, columnist Zvi Bar’el notes that even though Trump is the only one seemingly willing to buy the Saudis’ story, he still has some power over how it will all shake out, together with Ankara: “Theoretically, Turkey could demand political ‘hush money’ such as the lifting of the Saudi embargo on Qatar in exchange for freezing the investigation or accepting the Saudi version. This is a high price, which the crown prince is unlikely to pay, but if the demand comes with American pressure and mediation, it could serve the interests of all sides.”

6. Grimacing over Jared: The affair hasn’t only put pressure on Mohammed bin Salman but also on his American counterpart, Jared Kushner, who is seen as a main architect of getting the Saudis on board for whatever Israeli-Palestinian plan he has.

  • Last week The New York Times reported that Kushner thought the affair would just go away like kidnapping a Lebanese prime minister or killing a busload of Yemeni kids, and then changed the paragraph to just say that Kushner had told Mohammed bin Salman he could weather the storm, after the administration apparently realized how ridiculous that sounded.
  • Now The Washington Post reports that Trump “ has privately grimaced that his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s close relationship with the crown prince has become a liability and left the White House with no good options,” according to US officials.
  • There’s one piece of good news for Kushner, though: His little brother has followed in his footsteps by marrying a model who converted to Judaism.

7. ‘Not sensitive’: Kushner isn’t the only one to sound tone-deaf over Khashoggi. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has backed off a press release it sent that accused the slain journalist of being an anti-Semite over tweets he wrote that dismiss any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount.

  • “‘It could be that Shimon [Samuels] in Europe is not as sensitive’ to the repercussions of Khashoggi’s reported murder,” JTA’s Ron Kampeas quotes LA-based Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who heads the center, as saying. “‘There’s a lot of appropriate anger’ at the Saudis. At a later date, the center might publish a fuller and nuanced account of Khashoggi’s life and influence, Cooper said.”
  • The quote comes from a larger piece looking at the odd whisper campaign around Washington meant to paint Khashoggi as less innocent, seemingly as part of a bid to deflect pressure on the White House to punish Saudi Arabia.

8. Leaks instead of strikes? Some see pressure on Saudi Arabia derailing efforts to go after Iran, which according to a report over the weekend is spiriting devices to upgrade Hezbollah missiles into precision-guided rockets.

  • In the past, Israel would have likely just blasted the shipment, in this case GPS devices, from the sky, but with S-300 missile systems being set up in Syria, it could be that leaking it to the press is the best option Jerusalem has.
  • A Russian report on Friday noted that not only does Syria have S-300 air defense batteries, but they are S-300PM-2, which are even more advanced.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth writes that with Eisenkot set to hand the reins to his successor in the coming months, “This is the main headache he is leaving him, and he doesn’t only not know who it will be, but doesn’t have enough time to get him up to speed.”
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