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POTUS prep: News of the US President’s possible arrival to Israel spread like wildfire yesterday, even though the visit had not been confirmed or announced officially yet. Israeli officials stress that the plans are far from final. The possible trip was kept under a veil of secrecy and news of it actually came about in an unexpected way: Channel 2’s Udi Segal, who broke the story yesterday afternoon, told Kafe Knesset that the first tip arrived from the channel’s chief producer, Oded Bino, who heard that his American counterparts are starting to prepare special satellite broadcasts ahead of a presidential visit.
Let’s make a deal: Everyone immediately followed up, of course, and throughout the evening more and more details of the trip started to emerge. Israeli officials confirmed that a special US delegation is arriving to discuss the logistical details of what appears to be a snap visit of less than 24 hours. The current date being discussed by the preliminary US team visiting here today is May 22nd, for one night. One of the big details in the spotlight is whether the First Family will accompany the President and whether Israelis will also be honored by the presence of Melania, Ivanka and Jared Kushner. But alongside the desire to bask in President Trump’s stardust and give him a warm Israeli welcome, there are lingering questions in Jerusalem over his ultimate Mideast goals, and what he plans to do to reach the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians. Several sources close to Netanyahu told Kafe Knesset that Bibi is “showing growing concern” in recent days and is following the upcoming Trump-Abbas summit very closely.
Before reaching the ultimate deal, Trump might be aiming to present a mini-deal. “The Trump Initiative,” was the headline of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily today, stating that Trump intends to use his Israel visit to present a new US policy. According to the report, Trump will recognize Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel, as well as call for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Trump will not move the US embassy to Jerusalem for the time being, until the “conditions ripen.”
The headline made waves amongst the pro-settler Land of Israel Caucus, who dubbed it “fake news.” In a statement by the leaders of the lobby, Likud MK Yoav Kisch and Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, welcomed the POTUS visit to Israel “in the midst of the celebrations marking the jubilee of the liberation of our country” but added that the President would call the headlines this morning: fake news. “We are convinced that President Trump, who is fighting terrorism worldwide, will not support the idea of establishing a terrorist state in the Land of Israel. A right-wing national government will not promote the establishment of a Palestinian state or handing over of parts of the homeland.”
Bennett, again? Bayit Yehudi’s leadership primary is today, and Naftali Bennett is expected to be re-elected. Bennett has been endorsed by all of the party’s Knesset members. The other leadership candidates are former IDF Colonel Yonatan Branski, who was in charge of the ultra-Orthodox combat unit, and Rabbi Yitzhak Zagha. Zagha is a lawyer and economist whose campaign platform includes calling for Israel to censor the Koran. The one concern Bennett’s camp has is that supporters may become complacent and not vote because his competitors are two unknowns. The fear is that those who are unhappy with Bennett will turn out in greater numbers.
Labor lists closed: The list of candidates in July’s Labor leadership primary is now closed and there are nine candidates. This is fewer than the expected ten or eleven, but still quite a lot for a party that has been tanking in the polls. Current party leader Isaac Herzog does not seem to have much support in the faction, but MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin did endorse him today. Herzog reportedly promised Nahmias-Verbin the chairmanship of the Knesset State Control Committee, a fairly high-profile position that moves from Yesh Atid to Zionist Union/Labor in July. Former Labor leader and Defense Minister Amir Peretz has the most support from his fellow MKs, with endorsements from Hilik Bar, Itzik Shmuly and Revital Swid. And Erel Margalit has the support of his own massive funds. Margalit is the Trump-like candidate of the bunch – a very wealthy man with a big mouth – and he only officially joined the race at the last minute so that he could devote months spending his own money on his campaign without having to submit reports to the State Comptroller. Other candidates are MK Omer Bar Lev, son of former IDF chief of staff Haim Bar Lev; former environmental protection minister Avi Gabbay, who resigned from the government and the Kulanu party in protest after Avigdor Liberman was made Defense Minister; and ex-deputy Mossad chief Amiram Levin. In the no-name section of the list, we have Hod Karovi, Avner Benzaken and Dina Dayan, a Haredi social activist from the southern city of Mitzpe Ramon.
The latest on IBC: The law delaying the Israel Broadcasting Corporation’s launch to May 15 passed late last night, after over 11 hours of debate in the plenum. The two week deferment is meant to buy time for the structural changes that Netanyahu and Kahlon compromised on and to make the IBC’s news department more to the Prime Minister’s liking. There were some murmurs, however, about a possible need to seek yet another extension – don’t forget, that the April start date was already later than the original plan – if needed to make things run smoothly from the outset. Needless to say, the opposition was not happy about the idea, and accused the coalition of hiding things from them. It is worth noting that the IBC will not have any English programming, so if you enjoyed watching IBA News in English over the years, it will go off the air once the IBC gets started.
Histadrut heat: The IBC debate was also an opportunity for Shelly Yachimovich to make a stump speech in her campaign to be elected chairwoman of the Histadrut Labor Union. In next month’s vote, she and MK Eitan Cabel, who infamously have a deal to support one another, used their speeches to trash the incumbent Histadrut chief Avi Nissenkorn. The duo said Nissenkorn does not care about the workers that will be fired because of the public broadcasting reform, and said it again and again in long speeches on the topic.
And while we are on the topic of labor unions – today the area around the Histadrut headquarters in central Tel Aviv will be closed to traffic for a May 1, a/k/a International Workers Day, parade. Don’t bother looking at your calendar, it really is April 27, but this year, May Day falls out on the same day as Yom Hazikaron, and out of respect for Israel’s fallen, the May Day events were moved to today.