1. From Druze protesting the nation-state law to Mideast peace and Gaza there are a lot of talks going on, and a lot of uncertainty over whether they will lead anywhere.
- On Thursday night, a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Druze leaders over ways to compensate for the law blew up when Netanyahu walked out to protest the words of one Alam As’ad.
- The original story to come out, reported by everyone and seemingly supplied by Netanyahu’s office, was that As’ad had accused Netanyahu of leading the state toward apartheid.
- Only later did As’ad seek to set the record straight and assert he never used the word in the meeting. Rather Netanyahu was apparently angry over a Facebook post from a week ago in which As’ad had made the claim.
- The Prime Minister’s Office has not made any statements since, so it’s unclear if one side is lying or if there was a misunderstanding in how the information was put out. While most reports accepted As’ad’s telling, pro-government daily Israel Hayom presents them as dueling narratives, citing the PMO accusing As’ad of yelling “apartheid” at Netanyahu repeatedly, before the prime minister got up and walked away.
- Yedioth, meanwhile, quotes As’ad as saying, “Nothing happened. He just didn’t want to hear us.”
2. Unlike the Netanyahu kerfuffle, which took place behind closed doors, one confrontation broke out in plain view, when Druze protesters yelled at MK Avi Dichter, the author of the law, at a ceremony for Druze students earning scholarships.
- Yedioth reports that a protester yelled “Nazi” and “racist” at Dichter, prompting him to leave under heavy guard.
- Israel Hayom writes that Dichter later came back to the stage and lectured the audience: “Nobody can call me a Nazi. Not a Jew, not a Muslim, not a Christian and not a Druze. I lost family in the Holocaust and my full name is Avraham Moshe, Moshe after my grandfather who was killed by the Nazis along with many other relatives.”
- In a wider interview with Dichter, the paper quotes him defending the law as “an escape from exile, and if not an escape from exile, then pushing out the exile that is inside of us.” He also accuses Yedioth Ahronoth of running a campaign against the law.
3. Of Israel’s major papers, though, it’s Haaretz that has the most passionate and outspoken protest against the law, with the full top half of the broadsheet’s front page taken up with a column by acclaimed author David Grossman (a tactic it has used in the past with Grossman.)
- Grossman’s beef isn’t with the way the law treats the Druze, but rather all non-Jews (and he writes that it helps perpetuate the “apartheid occupation”). Regarding the Druze, though, he both praises them as the leading edge of a protest movement, but expresses dismay over their willingness to accept a deal that gives them special status without changing the nation-state law.
- “It seems years of being put down and broken promises have caused them to forget what a taste of real equality is,” he writes.
- “In the corrupted Israel reality, there is good reason to remember that equality is not a type of prize that a citizen gets from his country when he does things for it. Not even if he risks his life for it. The ultra-Orthodox who refuse to serve are also citizens deserving of equality. Equality is the starting point of citizenship, not a product of it. It is the soil in which citizenship grows.”
4. Talks are also ongoing for a long-term ceasefire on the Gaza border, as the army gears up for fresh violence Friday.
- Walla reports that Hamas wants to keep the protests from getting any larger, but the army is worried that smaller local groups inside the Strip could still set the area on fire (literally and figuratively.) There’s special concern that the sniper or snipers who have managed to hit two soldiers in recent weeks could strike again.
- “Sources in the Gaza Division have not ruled out the possibility that a Palestinian sniper could try to carry out another attack, while Hamas turns a blind eye, or with the support of Hamas’s armed units operating in the same area,” the news site reports.
- Haaretz’s Amos Harel reports that Israel thinks a breakthrough could be just around the corner if everything goes well and Egypt keeps up the pressure on Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
- “The ongoing contacts in Cairo could still end with a last-minute blowup, as has happened many times in the past,” he writes. “Yet there are growing signs that the parties to the negotiations see a potential breakthrough.”
- Among the signs that the sides are close as cited by Harel: Netanyahu canceling his trip to Colombia, a cabinet meeting on the situation planned for Sunday, Israel allowing the prominent Hamas leader Saleh Arouri to travel to Gaza, and Israel allowing in material for a water desalination plant.
- The talks are complicated, though, since they involve both a Palestinian unity track and a ceasefire track, with Harel reporting that the return of Israeli captives and remains may be spun off onto a third track instead of including it.
5. It’s not clear if a deal will involve easing or lifting Israel’s blockade on Gaza. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep arms and material that could be used for military infrastructure out of terrorists’ hands.
- According to al Jazeera, a new exhibit seeks to put a Kafkaesque face on the blockade by displaying the thousands of items banned from Gaza, from wedding dresses to baby bottles and school supplies.
- In actuality, though, those items are not banned, but they cannot make it into Gaza since Israel closed the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing in retaliation for cross-border arson attacks.
- No matter the reason, it’s undeniable that the Strip is suffering: “I’m older than the State of Israel and lived through multiple occupations — from the British to the Egyptian — and I can honestly say that nothing compares to Israel’s occupation and its suffocating siege,” an 80-year-old Gazan travel agent tells the Qatari channel.
6. Helping Gaza is expected to be a key part of the nascent US peace plan. The AP writes that the White House is starting to get its ducks in a row for the roll-out, poaching staffers from other agencies to join a Mideast team headed by Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt.
- The agency notes that there’s no timeframe for when the actual roll-out will happen, but the people being volunteered into the team are being assigned to appointments between six months and a year in length.
- While the AP calls the effort the first tangible sign that the plan is moving forward, it also notes that the proposal isn’t even finished, and they won’t necessarily introduce it once it is, if the time is not right.
- “Officials say there will never be a perfect time for the roll-out, but that they are laying the groundwork now for when an opportune time becomes apparent,” the agency reports.
7. If one wanted to find talks that actually had a result, they might point to Syria, where Russia says it has pushed Iran back 85 kilometers from the border with Israel.
- However, the Ynet news site reports that Israel has spotted an Iranian presence on the outskirts of Damascus, a mere 40 kilometers from the border.
- That same area is where Syrian state-run media says regime forces fended off an attack late Thursday and downed a “hostile target.”
- Israel is mum and the attack seems to have used missiles and not planes, according to the Syrian Observatory monitor, which means the initial assumption of Israeli blame may be misguided.
- Several Israeli news sites are repeating Arabic reports that Syria says the attack was not from Israel.
8. Even if Iran is pushed away from the border, other threats potentially lurking there were brought into the open Thursday afternoon, when Israel says it carried out an airstrike on seven members of an Islamic State cell planning to attack the Jewish state.
- In Israel Hayom, Yoav Limor writes that it seems the beleaguered terror group is lashing out in whatever direction it can, including against Israel, but the IDF is on the case.
- “The number of forces in the Golan won’t shrink anytime soon, despite the end of the civil war,” he writes.
9. And what of Iran’s forces shrinking? That’s certainly what US policymakers claim will happen once sanctions go back into effect. But according to Washington Post reporter and former Iranian captive Jason Rezaian, the regime may value defiance over economic well-being, thus exacerbating an already terrible situation for average Iranians.
- Having lived through the pre-nuclear deal sanctions regime, Rezaian pens a powerful first-person column laying out the human toll the world can expect to see exacted from Iran.
- “The market for human organs — already thriving — will certainly explode, especially for kidneys. In tough times, if you have two of something, selling one of them might be your best and only option,” he writes.
- “While Iran’s incompetent leaders will make ridiculous claims that sanctions provide the opportunity for a ‘resistance economy’ — that’s revolutionary-speak for boosting domestic production — the reality is that native industries will suffer. Agriculture, textile making and auto manufacturing will be hit particularly hard.”
- “Maybe the regime in Tehran will quietly crumble tomorrow — wouldn’t that be nice? — but more likely it will press forward, doing little to address the very legitimate concerns of its people just to defy Washington. It has been doing so for 40 years,” Rezaian adds.
- “The next time an “Iran expert” tells you that he supports the most crushing sanctions on the regime because they are the best way to support the Iranian people, be sure to ask him the last time he lived through something like this.”