Spinners gonna spin: 5 things to know for June 17
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Spinners gonna spin: 5 things to know for June 17

Pro-PM paper floats trial balloon of latest annexation strategy being ‘considered,’ while competitor reveals map settlers prepared altering Trump plan that’s already been rejected

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a baby named after him during a tree planting event for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, in the West Bank settlement of Mevo'ot Yericho on February 10, 2020. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a baby named after him during a tree planting event for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, in the West Bank settlement of Mevo'ot Yericho on February 10, 2020. (Flash90)

1. How do you like these apples? After reporting last week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering annexing the city-settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim along with the Etzion bloc before moving on to other areas at a later stage, the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom is now floating the premier’s latest trial balloon strategy.

  • Citing conversations [read: briefings] with officials in recent days, the freebie writes that Netanyahu is weighing starting off with annexing the isolated settlements, which those he’s speaking to tell him make up 10% of the territory. The premier, according to the strategy, will then pause and give time for the Palestinian Authority to consider entering talks with Israel over what remains and if (and when) it refuses to do so, Netanyahu will then proceed with annexing the remaining 20% discussed in the Trump plan.
  • The logic, officials tell the mouthpiece, is that doing the move in stages will blunt international backlash and also play into the message the US is trying to send to the Palestinians that time is not on their side. Moreover, Netanyahu is said to prefer starting with the more controversial settlements in what would represent “a historic statement,” while leaving the more consensus locales, which the Trump plan grants Israel anyway, for later. (The paper neglects to mention that the Trump plan envisions all Jewish settlements being annexed by Israel.)
  • “Where to begin,” writes Channel 13’s Barak Ravid after reading the report. He points out that the isolated settlements make up nowhere near 10% of the West Bank — less than 2% to be specific. He argues that these hilltop communities enjoy the smallest amount of support among the Israeli public. While Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi have been mum to ambivalent regarding their views on annexation, they’re widely believed to not be down with Israel declaring sovereignty over settlements deep in the West Bank. This is important, Ravid points out, because the US has made clear that it wants agreement from the Blue and White ministers before it supports such a controversial move.
  • Haaretz reports that differences between the two main parties in Israel’s unity government could end up derailing Netanyahu’s whole unilateral annexation plan, with his associates fearing the internal disagreements will cause the United States to back out of supporting the move. “US opposition is not just coming from the ‘usual suspects’ – the Democratic party’s left – but also from firm supporters of Israel, moderate senators and House members considered close to AIPAC,” the paper writes.
  • “Wait a second,” adds Middle East analyst Shimrit Meir. “Blue and White and the entire public are supposed to get behind annexation of territory outside the blocs, with all the costs, when even on the more consensus Jordan Valley and settlement blocs there is not yet an agreement? What’s with the [government’s] management of this issue, tell me?”
  • “Enough, already,” adds Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer. “Everyone knows that [annexation] was just something Bibi threw out there during the elections in order to slurp up a few extra right-wing votes. Go home. There won’t be annexation.”

2. I call your spin, and raise you some of my own: The often-equally-bombastic Yedioth Ahronoth reveals the map that settler leaders have drawn up, which offers an alternative to the conceptual one unveiled by the Trump administration in January.

  • Whereas the Trump map provides semi-territorial contiguity to the future Palestinian state by placing many of the major highways under PA-civilian control, the settler leaders flip the script and redraw the map to include the main roads within the annexed territory, thereby ridding the plan of the 15-plus enclaves it envisioned for Israel and connecting them too with the larger state.
  • The settlers instead propose giving up on annexing areas surrounding the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley where mainly Palestinians live, and as a result, are able to come up with a map that sees Israel annexing nearly an identical amount of West Bank land as the roughly 30% proposed by the US.
  • But what the article does not point out is that the settlers behind the map have already admitted that they believe their version has been largely dismissed by the US administration. Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz told reporters as much yesterday, when he shared the map himself.
  • Explaining his beef with the US conceptual map, Gantz said that even though the access roads leading to the enclaves will be under Israeli security control, they will run through areas under Palestinian sovereignty. This would mean a PA police officer would be able to pull over a speeding Israeli vehicle, an “uncomfortable” situation that he thinks his residents should not have to endure.
  • “Never have so many written/said so much (me included) about something that we – still – know so little about. #annexation,” Israeli political analyst Neri Zilber summarizes. 

3. Survey says: While Netanyahu has placed the issue at the top of his agenda, risking considerable international backlash in order to move forward with annexation, public opinion polls suggest that support from the public for such a controversial move is just not there.

  • Just 27% of respondents to a poll published by the Jerusalem Post say they support Netanyahu’s plan to annex all settlements and the Jordan Valley on July 1. Support among Likud voters for the move is somewhat higher at 39%, while just 11% of Blue and White voters back the idea.
  • As for the settlers themselves, a survey by Direct Polls finds that only a slight majority are supportive of the Trump plan, which offers a US green light for Israeli annexation while also reserving the rest of the West Bank for a future Palestinian state if the PA meets a long series of conditions.
  • The poll finds 56.8% support or lean toward supporting the Trump plan, while 36.1% say they oppose or lean toward opposing the US proposal.
  • While surveys are nice, The Times of Israel headed to the field and spoke with settlers along with their leadership to report on the issue. What was discovered is that while West Bank mayors may be split in a heated debate over the virtue of the Trump plan, they’re all in agreement that their residents don’t seem to care too much.
  • “A large percentage of the public, even in Judea and Samaria, do not know the details of the [Trump] plan and haven’t given it much thought,” said Efrat mayor Oded Revivi.
  • “There have been so many plans that have come and gone. This one seems to be the most favorable, but is it good? Nobody here knows how to answer that. But am I worried? No, not at all,” says Tirza Mavorach, a resident of the Har Bracha settlement that is slated to become an enclave — a fate that some settler leaders claim would mark a “death sentence” for such communities.

4. Was I not supposed to say those things? Before we even got a chance to know him, Shas candidate Rabbi Baruch Gazahay, who was supposed to enter the Knesset thanks to a new law that lets ministers resign from parliament and be replaced by the next person on their party’s electoral slate, has announced that he’ll be sitting this one out.

  • After he appeared to have been able to weather the blowback from YouTube footage he posted of a Torah lesson he gave several years ago in which he claimed that immodest women get breast cancer and reincarnate as cows, media outlets went digging through his other Torah lessons and discovered that his cow comments were just the edge of the shed.
  • “A woman must be modest in her clothing,” Gazahay says in another video. “Unfortunately, in this generation there has been a small confusion. Women think they are men. How did women end up wearing pants? I’m dying to know. You’re a woman! How do you wear pants? You’re with pants and your husband is with pants, the poor child gets confused, who’s the father and who’s the mother?”
  • In a separate clip, Gazahay says a man shouldn’t respond when a woman he doesn’t know strikes up a conversation with him. Giving the example of a supermarket cashier, he said: “You bought something? Shut up and say, ‘Miss, this is what I bought.’”
  • In another video, Gazahay says a man “has to have authority in the house.” He says that when a woman is distressed over something that happened at work, her husband shouldn’t sympathize with her and “cry together with her… She wants a man!” the Shas candidate says, adding the husband should show willingness to go and assault the person who wronged her with a kitchen knife. “Do you know how happy she would be?” he says.
  • In another clip broadcast on Channel 12, Gazahay claims “there’s no such thing as a good-looking Arab,” and that Muslim women wear head coverings because they get beaten in the face so often.
  • After the cow video was discovered, Shas leader Aryeh Deri issued a statement saying he had spoken to Gazahay who claimed the remarks were “a few sentences taken out of context from a two-hour lesson in front of his students about four years ago.” But neither issued a statement after the subsequent batches of lessons were exposed.
  • But not all reporters feel that Gazahay received a fair shake. Betzalel Kahn from the Haredi Kol Hai Radio tweets, “the thought police have recorded another victory: Rabbi Baruch Gazahay has surrendered and announced his retirement from the Shas list. How unfortunate.”

5. Party’s over: The Health Ministry reports that Israel had confirmed almost 300 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily rise in nearly two months, as worries spike that the country has entered a second major outbreak of the deadly pathogen.

  • According to Channel 12 news, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein is pushing for the government to delay plans to reopen large venues such as theaters, which remain shuttered, along with train service. However, he is expected to run into serious conflict with other ministers, who want to see the country fully reopened.
  • Ynet reports that Finance Minister Israel Katz will demand the government allow train lines to resume after three months without service, and lay out target dates for the resumption of cultural events.“It defies logic that tens of thousands of Israelis travel on packed buses while the train remains closed,” the former transportation minister is quoted as having said.
  • ToI’s Shoshanna Solomon speaks to business owners of various sized companies who say that solutions provided by the government to help them with the crisis are too little and too late. “The trust between the government and businesses has been hurt,” says Roee Cohen, president of the Israel Federation of Small Business Organizations.
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