Thou shalt not anger annex-door neighbor: 6 things to know for May 27
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Thou shalt not anger annex-door neighbor: 6 things to know for May 27

Report claims Arab states will make little fuss over Israel’s steps, but the IDF chief warns of West Bank violence and foreign minister Ashkenazi is said to oppose the move

In this February 18, 2020, photo, a view of the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Efraim on the hills of the Jordan Valley. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
In this February 18, 2020, photo, a view of the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Efraim on the hills of the Jordan Valley. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

1. Annexation, it’s all the rage: As talk of West Bank annexation heats up, a report by the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom claims leaders of neighboring Arab states are not nearly as opposed to the prospect as they seem.

  • “Under the radar, Arab states agree to sovereignty,” its front-page headline reads. This is not entirely backed up by the report, which sees Arab officials condemn the step but admit that pragmatic concerns, namely keeping in US President Donald Trump’s good graces, take precedence.
  • Despite condemnations from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, “sources in these moderate Arab states clarify that despite the pan-Arab opposition against annexation, different opinions are being heard behind closed doors,” the paper writes.
  • It quotes an unnamed Jordanian official who says the king will not sever ties with Israel over fears he could then lose custodianship over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and lose favor in Washington. “He’s interested in continuing to uphold the kingdom’s standing in Jerusalem, the good relations with Washington and the open door he has with Trump,” the official says.
  • A Saudi official described as close to Mohammed bin Salman says: “The pan-Arab position opposes any step that harms the Palestinian right to an independent state or Palestinian national interests. At the same time, the Palestinians must understand that the entire world, and specifically Arab states, have undergone much turmoil since the Khartoum resolutions [in 1967], and recognition of the State of Israel’s existence is a fact. With all due respect to the tens of thousands of Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley, Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Jordan will not sacrifice their relations with the Trump administration for them.”
  • The Saudi official adds: “Our assumption is that Trump will win the elections and have a second term. The Palestinians failed to take advantage of the sympathetic administration under Obama and upheld their intransigence. It’s time Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and the old guard that advise him wake up and understand that the global and regional interests have changed. If they again squander the opportunity to form an independent and sovereign state alongside Israel because of the annexation of the Jordan Valley and some settlements, they’ll remain for another 20 years with nothing.”
  • It also quotes an Egyptian military source who says the aforementioned countries have agreed that the fight against Iran takes precedence over the Palestinians.
  • But Channel 13’s Barak Ravid, in response to the report, tweets: “I will say this gently and carefully: According to all the information in my possession and based on my conversations with officials in Jordan and Gulf states: Arab states do not agree to annexation. Not publicly, not behind closed doors, not with a wink. The Jordanians are not merely threatening, they won’t keep silent over annexation or be satisfied with condemnations. It’s legitimate to claim otherwise but the price of the mistake for Israel will be very heavy.”

2. An Intifada awaits? Haaretz, by contrast, leads its coverage with warnings from the Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi to senior officers of a possible uptick in Palestinian violence in July in response to the annexation.

  • Kohavi’s alert, sources in the IDF tell the paper, “is the IDF chief’s way of saying ‘Be ready, an escalation [of hostilities] is very likely.”
  • The Palestinian security forces have made good on PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ promise to sever coordination with Israel amid talk of annexation, it reports.
  • “Security sources in Israel say that in contrast to previous times of tension, the disconnect between the PA forces and their Israeli counterparts is more significant [now]. They say the Palestinian security forces will immediately deal with information on a terrorist who is set to carry out an attack, but they’ve stopped cooperation in other areas, like transferring information that emerged from the interrogation of suspects.”
  • The Haaretz editorial also takes aim at annexation, writing: The Netanyahu government intends to annex the future of Israel’s citizens and hold them hostage to a messianic, lunatic and dangerous idea that will guarantee more violence to generations to come. Benny Gantz’s partnership in the Netanyahu government is supposed to rein in the unbridled settler-driven agenda that is dictating the annexation move. This is the time for him and his colleagues to draw a red line, to publicly make an unwavering stand and proclaim loudly and clearly that annexation cannot coexist with peace agreements or with the desire to advance toward a peaceful solution.”

3. Will Ashkenazi stand in the way? Yedioth reports that even as Netanyahu seeks to annex portions of the West Bank, ministers in his government are publicly coming out against it, including Labor’s Itzhik Shmuli and Blue and White’s Eitan Ginsburg. The three dailies agree that the opposition of Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi presents the greatest challenge for Netanyahu.

  • “Someone who hasn’t commented publicly about annexation is the foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, but during coalition negotiations he expressed in closed talks opposition to the annexation plan and said it would harm Israel’s interests in the region and could endanger the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.” Yedioth also cites sources close to Ashkenazi who say his position hasn’t changed.
  • Israel Hayom reports that the Foreign Ministry is already preparing to contain the diplomatic fallout from the move. Its report says the ministry has concluded that it will refer to the measure as “applying Israeli law” to these areas, rather than the “loaded” annexation or extending sovereignty terminology. “This term is viewed as having legal ramifications and is less loaded politically.”
  • But Ashkenazi, it reports, has not given the green light to diplomats to begin justifying the step. Sources in his office tell the paper Ashkenazi is still learning the ropes in his new office and studying the issues.
  • And Amos Harel, in Haaretz, writes: “It’s still unclear what weight the reservations of Netanyahu’s partners in Blue and White on annexation will have, particularly if he tries to extend it over a large area. The key figure here is the new foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, who as IDF chief of staff filled a similar position in preventing Netanyahu from attacking Iranian nuclear sites in 2009-2010.”

4. To life: On Wednesday, Israel officially opened its restaurants, bars, hotels, nightclubs and swimming pools, in another scaling back of pandemic restrictions.

  • Museums and tourist attractions, including cable cars and boats, will also be allowed to open as of Wednesday morning, subject to social distancing, facial masks, hygiene regulations, markings for waiting in lines and limits on the number of guests.
  • “We want to make your life easier, to allow you to go out and get life back to normal, to have a cup of coffee and to drink a beer,” Netanyahu says in a celebratory video on Tuesday evening.
  • Yedioth, under the front-page headline, “We’re closed,” spotlights the small businesses who are going under due to the virus.
  • They include recent French immigrants who opened the “La Frenchy” restaurant in Ashkelon, after leaving Paris four years ago due to rising anti-Semitism. “Now the dream is shattered,” says owner Eva Darmon. “This was our sole source of income. We’ve invested a million shekels here. I wanted to breach the contract and close down, but the fine was too high. I can only get out of here in a year. The situation is very difficult and I’m not optimistic.”
  • Alexander Kahanov, who runs a frame store in Bnei Brak, says he’s selling off his stock and shutting down after 34 years. “‘I grew old here,’ he says with a sad smile. “‘First as a young immigrant from Uzbekistan, when I worked for the man who rented out this place. When they wanted to close down, I stepped in and it was good. But the coronavirus days broke us entirely.”

5. The other plague: Yedioth also reports on a growing number of cases of people — many elderly or who lived alone — who died at home and whose bodies were not discovered for weeks.

  • According to figures from the Zaka emergency service, 20 such cases were discovered in the past 12 days, and 59 this year.
  • The figures mark a 33% rise compared to last year.
  • The harrowing stories include an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor who slipped in her bathtub and whose body was not discovered for two weeks; a 70-year-old woman who was found sitting alongside her mentally disabled daughter, who did not realize her mother had passed away a week earlier; and a 43-year-old man who died by suicide and whose remains were only found three weeks later.

6. Justice, shall you pursue, 6 years later: The long-awaited court ruling deeming accused serial pedophile Malka Leifer fit for extradition to stand trial in Australia is welcomed by Canberra and some Israeli officials.

  • Dave Sharma, a former ambassador to Israel and current Australian MP, tells the Sydney Morning Herald the decision is a “welcome but overdue decision.”
  • He adds: “The last couple of years, this would be in every set of government talking points. Every senior visitor to Israel has raised it. The fact we’ve moved this far is good for the healing that’s necessary there.”
  • Former Australian prime minister Ted Baillieu also welcomes the decision, as does former Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked.
  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, according to ABC Australia, urged caution and said the process was not yet over as she could appeal. “But that said, this is news we have been waiting for, for some time. And I want to commend those who have been campaigning strongly on this here in Australia and in Israel.”
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