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Tell me what you want, what you really, really want: 6 things to know for June 2

With under a month until Israel’s annexation target date, US officials phone Jerusalem to get a grip on what it’s planning, but the Americans are not the only ones out of the loop

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US President Donald Trump, right, looks over to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020, at which Trump unveiled his "Peace to Prosperity" vision for an Israeli-Palestinian accord. (AP/Susan Walsh)
US President Donald Trump, right, looks over to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020, at which Trump unveiled his "Peace to Prosperity" vision for an Israeli-Palestinian accord. (AP/Susan Walsh)

1. Annexation nation: With the July 1 target date for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annexation plans now less than a month away, US officials are starting to get curious as to how Jerusalem intends to go about carrying out the controversial move. So senior White House adviser Jared Kushner phoned the premier to talk turkey.

  • According to a Channel 13 report, citing unnamed American sources, US officials were exploring precisely if and how Israel intends to proceed with unilateral annexation and came away from the conversations without a definitive answer.
  • The network’s Barak Ravid says the Americans “want to downplay the enthusiasm” for imminent annexation — “to greatly slow the process” — because the White House is preoccupied, with the three-headed health, economic and race crisis.
  • Meanwhile, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has ordered IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi to “step up preparations for the Israel Defense Forces,” ahead of the looming annexation plans, his office says. But despite the declaration, the Kan public broadcaster reports that the IDF has been preparing for the potential fallout of unilateral annexation for a while now, readying for a wide variety of potential scenarios, including an upsurge in Palestinian terrorism and widespread protests that might necessitate a call-up of reservists.
  • But that doesn’t mean Netanyahu has given the army chiefs a peek at his exact annexation plans. Former top general Gadi Shamni tells the Knesset Channel that neither Kohavi or the rest of the top brass has seen the annexation map that the US and Israel say is almost finished. “This is a very problematic phenomenon, which has never been seen before. How are they supposed to prepare for something they haven’t seen?”

2. Keep your critics close: But it’s not only the army, which is slated to combat the fallout of the move, that hasn’t seen the annexation map. The defense minister charged with coordinating the military response and settler leaders who will be living it have also been kept in the dark.

  • The Walla news site reports that while Netanyahu has updated Gantz on the mapping committee’s work, the Blue and White chairman and his No. 2, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, have not been allowed to see the map for themselves. However, Walla says Gantz plans on appointing his own representative to the mapping committee, which may show just how much he trusts the members tapped by Netanyahu.
  • Separately, Netanyahu was meeting with settler leaders this morning amid what Army Radio reports as US dissatisfaction with the campaign a majority of them have launched against the Trump peace plan over its granting to the Palestinians a non-contiguous, semi-autonomous state.
  • “Once upon a time, Prime Minister Netanyahu would invite all settler leaders to meet with him. To today’s meeting, he only invited a handful. The goal: An attempt to silence the screamer. Good luck,” tweets Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, who leads a minority of West Bank mayors who have voiced their support for Netanyahu and the deal and consequently were not invited to the sit-down at the prime minister’s office.
  • Atara German from the Srugim national religious site points out that the settler leaders’ decision to join the Yamina opposition parties faction meeting yesterday managed to rattle Netanyahu, who is used to having the West Bank mayors in his camp.
  • But one of the settler leaders who was at both the Yamina faction meeting and the sit-down with Netanyahu, Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman, tells The Times of Israel that they weren’t motivated by political considerations and had only not met with the Likud leader until this morning because Netanyahu had shut them out. Moreover, Ne’eman claims that he and his colleagues are not looking to pick a fight with the Trump administration and that Washington might not object if the annexation legislation advanced by the government were to leave out any Israeli commitment to negotiating toward a Palestinian state.

3. Terminate by tweet: While Netanyahu has been unquestionably hazy regarding how exactly he plans going about annexing large parts of the West Bank, part of the fog is likely to do with the equally confusing messages coming from Washington, which initially expressed enthusiasm about the idea but has since retreated to vague slogans, insisting that the decision is Israel’s to make.

  • ToI’s David Horovitz explains that this is likely because “the Trump plan means two very different things to two very different White House camps. “For Kushner and his people, the plan is a genuine effort at peacemaking, designed to lead to a deal that will be safe and beneficial for Israel… The president’s sentence providing for rapid annexation constituted something of a threat or a wake-up call, designed to impress upon the Palestinians and potential Arab interlocutors that the administration is serious and prepared to play hardball in order to get the process moving.”
  • “For Friedman and his people, by contrast, the Trump plan is a means rather than an end… Unlike previous US-brokered peacemaking efforts, however, this time there is a price for the Palestinians to pay and a benefit for Israel to attain — the extension of sovereignty into the biblical Judea and Samaria. Thus, the president’s declared readiness to immediately recognize Israeli annexation was not a threat but a promise — a promise that can and should be honored; indeed, should already have been honored,” he writes
  • Horovitz goes on to call on Trump to squelch the Netanyahu plan in the way that only the president knows how. “One simple presidential tweet would do it: A ten-second blur of thumbs, maybe a spellcheck, to reassert that his is a genuine, well-intentioned vision for a negotiated deal to secure and benefit Israel and help the Palestinians. Not a smokescreen for an indefensible act of prime ministerial recklessness.”
  • In a separate op-ed, Evangelical activist and long-time settlements supporter Joel Rosenberg writes that “while I would love to see the day that more of the biblical land of Judea and Samaria is peacefully incorporated into the State of Israel, count me as one who thinks our first priority should be establishing historic peace treaties, economic ties and strategic security alliances with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and even Morocco and Sudan.”
  • In the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, Beit El Mayor Shai Alon takes the counter argument while insisting that he and his fellow settler leaders “are not ungrateful” in their opposition to a plan that grants Israel US backing of settlement annexation. “We are not detached from reality. We are aware of the magnitude of the moment and do not want to let this opportunity go to waste. We are only seeking to build on it in a wiser manner. There is no reason that in the end we cannot place a map on the table that satisfies all parties,” he says, seemingly only referring to the Israelis and Americans while leaving out a crucial third group.

4. International infatuation: While Israel’s annexation plans are not leading nightly broadcasts, they are getting plenty of attention from international outlets, which are updating their readers on the divisions among the Israeli right to the Trump proposal while including some interesting yet-to-be published nuggets of their own.

  • “It’s either or. Either the settlements have a future, or the Palestinian state does — but not both,” far-right Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich tells The New York Times as he explains his opposition to the Trump proposal.
  • “I don’t want shortcuts that harm my ability to put facts on the ground and that weaken the settlements,” he continues. “If the sovereignty map is favorable, I will accept it with open arms. If not, I prefer to go without it. I will persevere, work hard, set up settlements and fight with the Palestinians for another 20 years.”
  • Citing “diplomats,” the Wall Street Journal reports that “a recent effort to get the Palestinians and Israelis speaking again via the so-called Quartet of the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations failed when Washington rejected any talks that didn’t require the Palestinians accepting the Trump administration peace plan as a basis for discussions.”
  • The Journal also reports that European officials say they are considering sanctions on Israel if Jerusalem goes ahead with the plan.

5. Long-distance disconnect: Considerable coverage is also being dedicated in Israeli papers to the protests enveloping streets across the US over George Floyd’s murder and police brutality targeting black Americans.

  • Orly Azulai, who was dispatched to Washington to cover the demonstrations, writes in Yedioth Ahronoth, “Trump did not press his knee into the neck of George Floyd, but the protesters see him as responsible for the fact that America’s racists have began raising their heads,” in a damning allegation directed at the White House.
  • Channel 13 plays up footage of its Washington correspondent, Gil Tamari, being teargassed and charged by police as he tries to cover protests that appeared relatively peaceful in the background.
  • But the Seventh Eye media watchdog points out that this coverage is not always accurate. Providing analysis on Channel 13 regarding the protests, Israel Hayom editor Boaz Bismuth connected them to the 1992 Rodney King riots and claimed they took place during the Clinton administration in an effort to suggest that the party affiliation of the current administration is not relevant to the conversation. But Seventh Eye corrects Bismuth, pointing out that the LA mass protests had taken place at the end of the Bush Sr. administration before Clinton was sworn into office.
  • Reacting to the revelation, Middle East analyst Gabriel Mitchell writes, “there are so many Americans in this country, so why invite Bismuth [to provide analysis]? Because he one time met Trump?
  • “Israelis always complain about the way foreign correspondents reach inaccurate conclusions about the reality in this country. Perhaps today, instead of jumping to similar shallow conclusions, Israelis should learn, listen, and ask questions about what’s going on in the United States — a country 473 times larger than Israel,” he adds.

6. Tip from afar: But some of the confusion over what exactly is happening in the US has to do with the local media’s micro-coverage of the protests, which a number of Middle Eastern analysts argue prevents the rest of the world from understanding their scope.

  • “Days of unrest in America and we still have no sense from media coverage about basic things like scale of demos, geographic extent (local & national), number’s of police & Guard deployed & most importantly whether it’s increasing/decreasing. All we have are viral clips,” Israeli journalist and analyst Neri Zilber points out.
  • Piggybacking on the argument, Alliance for Middle East Peace director John Lyndon writes, “I know some Americans bristle at MENA comparison, so let’s do France: journos covering Gilets Jaunes had accurate, live data on scale of demo & french police deployments by region. Citizen journos can do noise, but professionals should be getting signal too.”
  • The Economist’s Middle East correspondent Gregg Carlstrom asks, ” What is the scale of the rioting and looting in America right now? How widespread is it? How many people are involved? It has totally taken over the media narrative but it’s hard to tell the size of it.”
  • “I ask partly from my own experiences covering this stuff. Scenes of violent unrest are compelling, but sometimes we focus too narrowly on them. (My go-to example of this is watching ~20 photographers crowd around five Palestinians throwing Molotovs at an Israeli checkpoint),” he adds.
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