1. We don’t need no annexation: Settlement leaders are declaring war on US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, despite its promise of annexation of portions of the West Bank.
- The leader of the umbrella group of settler mayors, David Elhayani, tells the Haaretz daily on Wednesday that Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner have shown through their peace proposal that “they are not friends of the State of Israel.” This draws a rebuke from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who says, “It is unfortunate that, instead of gratitude, there is someone who is trying to deny this friendship, which has never been better.”
- On Thursday, in an apparent attempt to blunt the criticism, Israel Hayom quotes an unnamed senior US official as saying there would be no settlement freeze in the isolated Jewish communities that the Trump plan would cast into 15 enclaves encircled by territory earmarked to be part of a future Palestinian state. Some 15,000 of the 450,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank live in communities slated to be transformed into such enclaves. They are currently surrounded by Palestinian villages under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.
- “The vision for peace speaks for itself and we recommend that those who are not well informed read it carefully. The only [Israeli] construction freeze that the plan calls for is for the area that is designated to be handed over to the Palestinians in the future if they meet the plan’s conditions.” That area has no Jewish settlements, the official says. “There is no freeze in the enclaves. After the mapping committee approves the parameters of the enclaves, they will be allowed construction within those parameters, even over the next four years.”
- The pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom also features an interview with former Netanyahu ally Ayelet Shaked, now in the opposition, who joins the pro-settlement critique of the US plan.
- “The Trump plan was built by Netanyahu. It should be called the Netanyahu plan. For many years already, since the  Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu has spoken of establishing a demilitarized Palestinian state, more limited than the state Olmert and Livni discussed, but still a Palestinian state. We cannot accept a plan that recognizes a Palestinian state.”
2. War on peace (plan): Yedioth Ahronoth spotlights plans by settler youth to combat the US peace plan, which include mass demonstrations and building pop-up illegal outposts in the dark of the night.
- It quotes an activist who says hundreds of students are being organized to first distribute materials against the plan across the country. In the second stage, they are planning to arrange rallies against the plan. And in the third, to build outposts to keep the enclaves contiguous with other settlements.
- “We won’t use violence and our opposition will be ideological,” activist Yedidya Shapira is quoted saying.
- On the other end of the political spectrum, the Haaretz daily reports that a joint Jewish-Arab Tel Aviv march against annexation on Saturday night is being held up by police, ostensibly over coronavirus concerns, though there is no violation of the emergency regulations.
- Police tell organizers they must cap the participation at 1,800 and inform them they have no intention of closing roads around Rabin Square, which would be required if the crowds grew bigger. Police claim the format of the demonstration, billed as a march, is forbidden under the virus rules, though this is not laid out in the regulations. In addition, they order the organizers to stop publicizing the event on Facebook over fears of overcrowding. Organizers, which include the Joint List, reject the demands out of hand and say it’ll go ahead as planned.
3. Schools quietly check out: Though virus numbers continue to rise sharply, the spike in cases doesn’t appear on the front pages of Thursday’s dailies.
- The only exception is a small item in Haaretz, which says that dozens of schools — which have been the epicenter of the renewed outbreak — have independently decided to resume remote learning in addition to the in-person classes, either without explicit approval from the Education Ministry or without written consent. These decisions are made to reduce the spread of the virus among students and staff.
- It says the Education Ministry’s director general spoke to some school principals, telling them they could scale back on in-person classes in favor of online learning at their discretion, amid the outbreak. But the ministry, even as it gave the move its nod, opted not to publicize the policy to avoid a fight with the treasury on teachers’ wages, the report says.
- According to Health Ministry numbers released Thursday morning, some 17,429 people have been diagnosed with the virus, up 52 from Wednesday evening. There are currently 25 people on ventilators and 291 people have died.
- In total, over 40 schools have been closed across the country in recent days, with some 10,000 students and staff forced into home quarantine. More than 200 people have been confirmed to have been infected in schools and kindergartens.
- On Thursday, MK Sami Abou Shahadeh of the Joint List announces that he tested positive for the coronavirus days after being photographed in crowds not wearing a mask, forcing the Knesset to suspend most activities. Some 700 workers at the Knesset are told not to come to work, and committee meetings and other activities planned for Thursday were canceled.
4. An IDF soldier goes rogue, in Syria and West Bank: Haaretz leads its Thursday print coverage with a 2018 incident in the Israel Defense Forces, in which soldiers from the Golani Brigade allegedly punctured tires of Palestinian cars in Nablus and threatened residents in retaliation for the killing of their comrades.
- The so-called price tag attack, which the paper says was led by one serviceman but joined by others during a military operation in the West Bank city, was investigated by the army. But the paper says that while the military claims to have suspended the soldier from combat duty and reprimanded him for his behavior, no such action was ultimately taken and the incident was hushed up.
- The print article is a preview of a longer bombshell investigative report, which is released on its website on Thursday afternoon. The report says the officer who oversaw that Golani unit, Guy Eliyahu, also launched an unauthorized raid over the border in Syria on a date that remains classified, in which soldiers approached a house and ordered those present, said not to be a threat to Israel, to open the door. Those inside apparently believed the Israeli interlopers to be pro-Iranian militiamen and opened fire.
- What ensued was a gunfight in which Israeli soldiers killed two or three of the Syrians in the house before escaping back over the border into Israel, unhurt. The army has proceeded to cover up the incident, it says.
- “This was an incident that could have easily ended up with kidnapped soldiers or the bodies of fighters [held] in Lebanon or Tehran,” a military source says.
- Guy Eliyahu’s unit, according to the report, sees itself above military protocol, but his behavior, which the report says “often bordered on the criminal,” is overlooked by the higher ups. A small number of senior military officers knew the background of the Syria incident, but did not step forward, the report says.
- “This is the Golani Brigade. Everything is permitted and everything stays within the unit,” a source says.
5. More cars, more price tag: Yedioth also plays up Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minster Benny Gantz’s new security delegation, comparable to Netanyahu’s, which has come under fire for being wasteful of taxpayer funds with its NIS 23 million annual price tag.
- Sources in Gantz’s office tell the paper that he would like to reduce the costs and limit his personal security, saying claims he had personally demanded the extensive security arrangements were a “blatant lie.”
- Sources in Netanyahu’s office mock Gantz, saying: “Gantz wants to at least feel like a prime minister even if he doesn’t become a real prime minister.”
- And Shin Bet security sources say they decide, not Gantz, how best to secure Israel’s leaders.
- But the paper confusingly adds that opposition leader Yair Lapid, who is also eligible for a security delegation, has declined the offer, signaling that politicians can indeed opt out.
- In raising the issue, Yedioth resurfaces a 2005 scandal in which Gantz, then an IDF general, took three luxury army vehicles for his personal use while on vacation, “against the regulations.”
- “Incidentally, the IDF spokesperson at the time who defended him was Brig. Gen. Miri Regev, today his sworn rival from Likud,” it adds.
- Regev last week opined that Gantz was not ready to be prime minister, prompting the defense minister to walk out of a meeting with Netanyahu in a huff.