When you have to annex, annex — don’t talk: 5 things to know for June 15
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When you have to annex, annex — don’t talk: 5 things to know for June 15

As US envoy, bent on seeing move through, meets with Israeli leaders to bridge their gaps, a pro-PM paper signals to his right-wing critics that their objections aren’t helping

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

A large billboard depicting US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as part of a new campaign by the Yesha Council with the text "no to a Palestinian state" and "sovereignty, do it right" in Jerusalem on June 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A large billboard depicting US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as part of a new campaign by the Yesha Council with the text "no to a Palestinian state" and "sovereignty, do it right" in Jerusalem on June 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Get out of my way: US Ambassador David Friedman reportedly mediated yesterday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin on one end and Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in an apparent effort by the American envoy to get his ducks in a row for some sort of annexation move in the coming weeks.

  • Against this backdrop, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom leads its front page with a not-so-subtle message to settler opponents of the annexation-sanctioning Trump peace plan, quoting “senior Likud officials” who warn that “the right-wing’s opposition [to the proposal] is a historic missed opportunity.”
  • “Behind closed doors, senior party officials call settler leaders who oppose the century plan ‘irresponsible'” and meshugenah the freebie reports. The Likud officials [read: Netanyahu] go on to express shock and dismay that after all of his efforts, the ones operating to thwart the move are the very settlers whose communities would be annexed.
  • Responding to the article/warning, Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes, “Netanyahu-worshiping rag is already blaming the settlers for ‘historical miss’ due to their reservations over the Trump plan. Bibi’s getting his excuses in early for not annexing.”
  • In his own reaction to the story, Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich writes, “I’m proud of my opposition to Netanyahu’s fraudulent attempt to establish a Palestinian state in the honey trap of [West Bank] sovereignty.”
  • Israel Hayom gives an opportunity for the settler opponents to respond, publishing an op-ed from Elnatan Scharia, the spokesman of the Yesha umbrella council of settler mayors, which has led an aggressive campaign against the Trump plan. Scharia calls on Netanyahu to publish the map currently being drawn up by a joint US-Israeli committee that is determining which West Bank land Israel will be allowed to annex.
  • “Since the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, there has not been such a significant political decision. Nonetheless, in Israel and in the settlements in particular, nobody knows anything [about what the exact borders will look like,” Scharia says, arguing that those slated to be most affected by such a move cannot be left in the dark regarding its details.

2. Mo annexation, mo problems: The Kan public broadcaster reports that Friedman is trying to convince Netanyahu and Gantz to agree to a smaller scale annexation of the major settlement blocs including the Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim city-settlements, and that while the alternate prime minister may be ready to accept something smaller, the prime minister is not willing to hear of it.

  • Channel 12 cites “senior Israeli officials” who warn that the White House is only willing to back an annexation plan that Gantz and Ashkenazi are on board with; hence Friedman’s extensive efforts to bring the sides closer.
  • Channel 13 reports that Netanyahu did not succeed during the Sunday meeting in obtaining support from Gantz. Netanyahu presented no maps at the meeting, and while he still seeks “the maximal annexation,” Gantz and Ashkenazi have “no appetite for dramatic moves” and even less so if the Americans are cooling, the TV report says, citing a senior official.
  • “Needless to say that if all this noise ends with annexation of only Ma’aleh Adumim, it will turn a controversial move into a completely illogical one in terms of timing and cost-effectiveness,” writes Middle East analyst Shimrit Meir.
  • In Haaretz, defense analyst Amos Harel writes that while much attention in Israel has been given to settler opponents of the deal, the only side that really has the power to thwart it is the Trump administration. “July 1 is an opening date, not an end date [for annexation]. Netanyahu may have to slow down the pace of annexation, in coordination with the White House. In any case, it will be difficult to focus President Trump’s attention on this, given what is happening in the US now.”
  • In ToI’s sister site Zman Yisrael, Shalom Yerushalmi argues that the recent American apprehension regarding annexation is due to a realization in the White House that it is going to need the support of the soft right — which is not that excited about the move — in order to win reelection in November.
  • Much focus is still given to an op-ed in Yedioth Ahronoth from the UAE ambassador to the US warning Israelis against annexation. Middle East analyst Elizabeth Tsurkov writes that “it is exactly the policies of the Gulf regimes that made this annexation more likely.”
  • “Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which increased Iranian influence & even more so since the Arab uprisings, the Gulf regimes focused on countering the Iranian threat & the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist governments, which they perceive as a source of threat to their personalistic rule, devoid of any ideology except a deep fear of the Arab masses. Under these conditions, it’s only natural for these regimes to cooperate with Israel, which shares all of these concerns,” she adds.
  • The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren argues that while Netanyahu may be opting against speaking publicly about his annexation plans, the Yedioth op-ed proves that the premier’s “constant declarations of intent about annexation have moved the goalposts so dramatically that the Arab world seems happy to continue improving relations as long as Israel doesn’t change the status quo in the West Bank.”

3. Airing their dirty laundry: In an effort to one-up colleague Raviv Drucker, who Netanyahu last week said should be jailed, Channel 13’s Aviad Glickman airs a leaked recording of a conversation between former workers at the Prime Minister’s Residence, during which the women can be heard trashing the premier’s wife Sara and son Yair.

  • “Every day she comes in ballistic. She tells me ‘Don’t answer back to me. That’s what I’ve decided. This is my home.’ She is really mentally ill. She needs urgent hospitalization,” an ex-cleaner, Silvi, can be heard saying in a recording that Channel 13 says will be sent to the police in the coming days for their investigation into allegations of misconduct at the Balfour residence.
  • Her colleague Irda then goes on to warn Silvi that Yair is also “trash” and that one time, he put his dirty socks in the fridge and that when Sara found them, he told her that the maid had put them there.
  • Netanyahu responds to the report, calling it “an ugly lie. The media has found a new and original way to make false statements about Sara and Yair Netanyahu. It is enough to say the magic word ‘Balfour’ to legalize any information, as far out as possible, without having to back it up with facts.”
  • The premier follows the statement up with a video of him boasting how he and his wife are hosting at their residence a bat mitzvah party for a girl who canceled the originally planned reception in order to attend the opening of the premier’s corruption trial, as any 12-year-old girl would have done.

4. Hebron hooligans: Two more people have been arrested on suspicion of attacking a Palestinian man as well as the IDF soldier who came to his aid in the West Bank city of Hebron over the weekend, bringing the total number of detained as a result of the incident to four.

  • In a joint army-police statement, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi praises the soldier for rescuing the Palestinian man, who was identified as Ibrahim Bader.  “The chief of staff praised the conduct of the soldier, who acted as expected of an IDF soldier and prevented the injury of a Palestinian civilian.
  • Separately yesterday evening, the IDF appeared to leak the identity of the soldier involved in the incident to a host of military correspondents, who one after the other tweeted out his photo with the caption, “meet Effi, the Golani soldier who was attacked while defending a Palestinian man from a group of young Israelis in Hebron.”
  • Channel 13’s Yossi Eli added in his own commentary, calling the settler assailants “an angry mob.” This led Yitzhar settlement spokesman and the former director of the Otzma Yehudit Kahanist party Tzvi Succot to call for a boycott of Eli. The reporter subsequently issued an additional tweet clarifying that not all Hebron settlers are part of the “angry mob” and that some of them are very fine people, in what apparently was enough to convince Succot to take down his call to BDS the Channel 13 correspondent.
  • Commenting separately on the incident, Channel 12’s Amit Segal offers damning testimony against the hilltop youth involved, tweeting that “hating Arabs is not [what is meant by] loving the land of Israel.”

5. To wave or not to wave: The head of health services at the Health Ministry tells Knesset lawmakers that Israel is seeing the start of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • “We are experiencing the beginning of a second wave,” Sigal Sadetzky tells the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee when it convened to discuss extending emergency measures regarding court hearings for prisoners and those under arrest, according to Hebrew media.
  • Included among the losses of the second wave is 26-year-old Kfar Saba resident Oshri Asulin who developed a rare and fatal heart condition after contracting the virus and became the youngest person to die in Israel due to COVID-19.
  • At the same time, the Health Ministry last night recorded 83 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the lowest rate in over a week.The figure marks the first time since June 6 that the number of new daily cases has dropped below 100, sparking hopes that infections may be slowing.
  • According to official figures, Tel Aviv is seeing the fastest spread of the virus and is currently home to more active carriers than anywhere but Jerusalem, which has long been the country’s largest pandemic epicenter. Channel 12 reports that nearly a third of the city’s approximately 400 cases have been linked to asylum-seekers in south Tel Aviv.
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