Taking heat and taking land: 9 things to know for October 22
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Israel media review

Taking heat and taking land: 9 things to know for October 22

Jordan grabs back a couple of plots it had been leasing to Israel and Netanyahu says not razing Khan al-Ahmar is only temporary; both are nods to domestic complaints

A view of the Jordan River, Naharayim, Isle of Peace (Shmuel Bar-Am)
A view of the Jordan River, Naharayim, Isle of Peace (Shmuel Bar-Am)

1. Right of returning land: Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday announced that the country would be ending a lease on lands with Israel that was part of the 1995 peace agreement, including an area known as the Isle of Peace, or Naharayyim.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports the move was a “complete surprise” to Jerusalem and says it a sign of a Jordanian-Israeli rift (a play on the actual Afro-Syrian rift that runs between the two border sites)
  • “There’s not a lot Israel can do, since the move is in compliance with the agreement. It means Israel will be forced to give the Jordanians the two plots, unless it convinces them to reach another agreement. However, sources in Jerusalem said yesterday that the Jordanians are not interested,” the paper reports.
  • The paper also reports strangely that the actual Isle of Peace will remain in Israeli hands as it’s not part of the agreement.
  • A worker at the park tells ToI’s Adam Rasgon that the park and a memorial to Israeli schoolgirls killed there by a Jordanian soldier are on the Israeli side, but the Isle of Peace is in Jordan. Tourists can go into the Isle of Peace with special tours which include permits. Otherwise, he says, tourists are expected to remain on the Israeli side.

2. The street speaks, the king listens: The move is widely seen as a direct result of pressure from Jordanian hardliners.

  • Haaretz notes that 87 lawmakers in Amman recently signed a petition demanding the land be returned.
  • Oraib Rintawi, the director of the Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, tells ToI that the public wants as little to do with Israel as possible.
    “Jordanian public opinion is very much against any relationship with Israel. It is not only a result of the embassy shooting and Netanyahu’s provocative welcoming of the shooter, but it also has to do with what is happening in Jerusalem and the Israeli position on the Palestinian issue. So then you have the issue of Baqoura and Ghamar [the Arabic names of the territories] — which is the enshrinement and expression of Jordanian public opinion,” he says.
  • Israel Hayom’s Eyal Zisser meanwhile writes that the move is a sign of the monarchy’s weakness: “The Jordanian population is more hostile toward Israel than any other Arab country. One has to admit that the Jordanian regime has not even tried to deal with this hostility and because of domestic weakness even allows the public to let off steam against Israel in the hopes it will soften criticism against [the monarchy].”

3. Rabin would have stopped it: Yedioth’s Smadar Peri writes that the Jordanian decision is also a reflection of King Abdullah’s less than stellar relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, guessing that if Yitzhak Rabin were still alive and in power, this would not have happened.

  • “Abdullah commonly complains about Netanyahu in private conversations and in media appearances, including to Yedioth Ahronoth. The king accuses Netanyahu of ‘not counting us’ praises the excellent ties between Jordan’s and Israel’s armies, and then goes back to complaining about Netanyahu.”
  • ToI’s Avi Issacharoff, meanwhile, praises Israel’s leadership for not getting too worked up about the decision, understanding that it has more to do with domestic pressure than anything.
  • “Israel understands the delicate situation, and only after a year of negotiations will we know the final outcome,” he writes. “Still, the king’s statement is an instance of Jordanian ingratitude. Israel greatly helps the royal family diplomatically, and financial ties aren’t bad either. When it comes to security, the cooperation between the countries can be described as between ‘excellent’ and ‘exceptional’ — a relationship that is carefully kept below the radar.”

4. Razing hell: Abdullah isn’t the only one pulling 180s to answer domestic pressures. With Israel’s right wing fuming over a decision to delay the razing of the Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin village, Netanyahu has been attempting to calm the situation by highlighting that the move is only temporary.

  • “Netanyahu only gave in temporarily,” reads the front page headline of Israel Hayom, often used as a mouthpiece for his government.
  • Still, even that paper gives him a spanking: “Netanyahu’s caving is no less than a blow to sovereignty. It’s hard to assess the damage,” columnist Moti Tuchfeld writes.
  • Yedioth’s resident right-winger Shlomo Pyoterofsky calls the delay “absurd.”
  • “You’d have to be naive or an idiot to think that this has anything to do with humanitarianism,” he writes, accusing the Palestinian Authority and international community of taking up the case for cynical political means.

5. Grounded: Haaretz reports that despite Israel claiming its activities over Syria would not be affected by the downing of a Russian plane during an air raid last month, things have indeed changed and Israel seems reined in.

  • “Russia has been taking a more forceful stance toward Israel concerning Israel Air Force activity in the north,” Amos Harel writes. “The Russians are demanding further clarifications from the Israel Defense Forces via the hotline that is meant to prevent any aerial clashes between the two parties, and there have been several instances in which Russian air defense radars in Syria were activated in connection with Israel’s air force activity in the north.”

6. Dysfunctional family picture: Reuters’ Dan Williams tweets a picture of a slide from a rare public speech by Mossad director Yossi Cohen showing his view of what influences the region.

  • In the center of the picture is the Shia-Sunni rift, with the Shia crescent stretching from Iran to Lebanon above it, and US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin looking over it all.

7. Bitter pill: The Mako news website, connected with the Hadashot news channel, is coming under pressure from the Health Ministry to remove a story comparing different drugs used by students with ADHD.

  • The story, headlined “Ritalin, Concerta or Aderall, which will get you to the deadline best,” involved one of the site’s writers taking all three and writing about which helped him best as a study/work aid.
  • According to media watchdog The Seventh Eye, a Health Ministry body charged with overseeing publications regarding health products has asked the site to remove the story, which it says “encourages the use of prescription drugs without a doctor’s approval.”
  • Mako is refusing to take the story down, with a spokesperson saying that the story actually “clarifies the matter,” and pointing to a passage in the story in which the writer tells kids not to do drugs.

8. What we we talk about when we talk about needing to talk: The Jewish Federations General Assembly, a large yearly confab of North American Jewish leaders, is kicking off in Jerusalem.

  • Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev writes that the meeting’s “we need to talk” slogan is a clear sign of the rift between the Diaspora and Israel’s leadership: “ Given that in recent years the JFNA has gone out of its way to eradicate any hint of discord and has dedicated the agendas of successive GA’s to non-controversial – not to say boring – issues, such as fundraising and community organizing, this year’s GA is already a watershed event in the joint history of Israel and American Jews,” he writes.

9. Chinese investment trap: Monday is also seeing a visit by Chinese vice president Wang Qishan Monday.

  • In the South China Morning Post, Kristin Huang notes that Israel is being placed in a spot because of its desire for Chinese investment, including the Belt and Road plan, and its desire to protect its security interests and warm ties with the US.
  • “In the world today, the boundaries between sovereign government activity and economic activity are blurred when governments are an economic player,” Haifa University expert Ehud Gonen tells the paper (owned by Alibaba’s Jack Ma, who will also be in Israel). “Such government activities are not always purely economics, and there are additional elements of a national interests alongside the monetary gain.”
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes that former Atomic Energy chief Shaul Horev said US officials told him if China is seen as controlling Haifa’s port, which it already has a stake in, the US Sixth Fleet will no longer consider it a home port.
  • “ Israel’s strategic allies are in the West, the United States and the European NATO members. China is a strategic ally of the Iranians and has sold them nuclear technology,” former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy tells Pfeffer. “We are much too eager to do business with them.”
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