Overnight, the police dismantled all the new security measures at the Temple Mount compound and the Palestinians announced their resumption of prayer there. But tensions in the Old City will continue to be high ahead of this Friday’s prayers. Tensions also remain high inside the government amid right-wing criticism of the decision to remove the metal detectors. A group of extreme right-wing activists demonstrated in front of the PM’s residence today with a coffin wrapped in an Israeli flag, mourning “the lost Jewish national honor.” Former MK Michael Ben-Ari accused Netanyahu of providing “a tailwind to terror and burying Israeli deterrence.”
The same message came this morning from one of Bibi’s own cabinet ministers. “Israel is sadly weakened by this crisis, instead of strengthening our sovereignty in Jerusalem, we conveyed a message that our sovereignty can be challenged,” Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, said this morning on Army Radio. Bennett voted against the removal of the metal detectors, but yesterday, in the Knesset plenum, he declared his support for the PM in the Temple Mount crisis. This morning he sang a slightly different tune, stating that “security has been damaged as it was when Israel ran away from Lebanon. You may be gaining some quiet and earning something in the short term, but in the long run you are hurting deterrence.”
Bennett did not directly criticize the PM, but one of his former colleagues did. Former defense minister Moshe Yaalon said today that the whole metal detector crisis is a leadership failure by the PM. At the same time Yaalon slammed Bennett and other right wing politicians for abandoning the notion of collective responsibility, even though Bennett specifically said he has collective responsibility in the Army Radio interview. “We must stop the irresponsible statements of cabinet members who have forgotten that they have collective responsibility. Some of them pass the Prime Minister from the right even before the discussion is held. Yes, you are responsible for failure. You have collective responsibility. What are you celebrating now and playing politics here?” Yaalon said in an interview to Ynet. “This is also a question of leadership, why doesn’t the Prime Minister take a minister like that and keep him away from the cabinet for a month or two. Is the the PM afraid that Bennett will dismantle the coalition?”
Pivoting to the base: Now that Netanyahu is suffering blows from the Right, it seems that he’s trying to do what he can to save his support from his base. Last night, his office released a statement that he supports Likud MK Yoav Kisch’s “Greater Jerusalem bill.” The idea of the bill is to take settlements surrounding the capital – like Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Betar Illit, Efrat and the Gush Etzion region, home to about 150,000 Israelis – and turn them into the “Greater Jerusalem Metropolitan Area.” Of course, Jerusalem is part of sovereign Israel under Israeli law, and the aforementioned settlements are not, which turns this into a de facto annexation bill – thus appealing to the base.
The bill has another element that seems to be part of a trend – it makes it easier to split Palestinian-populated areas outside of the separation barrier from Jerusalem. According to the bill, those areas will have a separate municipality within Jerusalem – a different borough, in New York City parlance. This comes after the coalition voted last night on a different Jerusalem bill requiring a two-thirds vote in the Knesset to give up any part of the city, but allowing parts of the city to be separated from it while remaining a part of Israel. In either case, if those villages aren not part of Jerusalem anymore, it will be easier to eventually concede them to the Palestinians in a peace deal.
Lapid Vs Dermer: Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid also joined the chorus of critics of Netanyahu’s decision-making process and stated that “this was a clear case of politics defeating policy.” Meeting with Israeli diplomatic correspondents this morning, Lapid gave an extensive briefing on all of the burning matters of the hour, focusing on Bibi’s handling of foreign policy, including the relationship with the US. “We are losing the Democratic Party and losing bipartisanship, and more and more Democrats are treating us like a branch of the GOP,” Lapid said, directing specific criticism to Israel’s Ambassador on the US, Ron Dermer. “It begins with the PM, but Dermer does everything he says and is also involved in designing the policy. It’s inappropriate that the Israeli Ambassador to the US takes part in Republican gatherings, without even trying to pretend he cares about bipartisanship,” Lapid said. Lapid is possibly referring to Dermer’s recent participation at the Christians United for Israel conference. “Dermer has caused us a lot of damage. He was a persona non grata in Obama’s White House, and is unacceptable to the liberal parts of the Democratic Party. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to bet that we could find ourselves after the 2018 US midterm elections with one of the Capitol’s chambers controlled by the Democrats and with an Israeli ambassador who would not be permitted to enter the door.”
Al-Jazeera out? Lapid may be using Dermer as a scapegoat, but Netanyahu needed someone else to blame for his woes, so he went for the usual suspect, the media. Netanyahu criticized Al-Jazeera, specifically, for their videos twisting the facts of the situation on the Temple Mount. Al-Jazeera blamed Israel, forgetting that this wave of violence began when Muslim worshippers smuggled weapons onto the site and killed two Israeli policemen. Netanyahu wrote that “Al-Jazeera doesn’t stop provoking violence around the Temple Mount. I asked law enforcement several times to close Al-Jazeera’s office in Jerusalem. If this does not happen because of legal interpretations, I will act to pass the necessary laws to remove Al-Jazeera from Israel.” Looks like the Saudis and UAE aren’t the only ones who want to shut the Qatari outlet down.
Another Bibi-Sheldon battlefront: A day after Yisrael Hayom came out with a shockingly anti-Netanyahu headline, Bibi is fighting fire with fire. A quick recap – Yisrael Hayom is Sheldon Adelson’s pro-Netanyahu free daily newspaper. Netanyahu was caught on tape negotiating with the paper’s top competitor to make its freebie business model illegal, in exchange for positive coverage. Now, there’s talk of an investigation of the connection between the prime minister and Yisrael Hayom to see if Adelson’s patronage is an illegal campaign contribution. Yisrael Hayom wrote on its front page that Netanyahu’s agreeing to get rid of metal detectors outside the Temple Mount was weak. Today, right-wing news site NRG, which is also owned by Adelson, reported that sources close to Netanyahu were badmouthing the Shin Bet security agency. The Prime Minister’s Office took the unusual step of sending a strongly-worded denial to its whole mailing list, calling the report in the Adelson-owned outlet “fictitious.”