Liberman “believes” Trump: Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman gave a lengthy pre-Sukkot interview to Walla. After declaring Syrian President Assad’s victory, he also had some interesting answers to share on the relationship with the White House. “I believe President Trump” on Iran, Liberman said, denying any sense of Israeli disappointment on the Syrian front. “There is no disappointment with the Trump administration. On the contrary, the cooperation on the security and intelligence-sharing level has never been so intimate, as well as coordinating expectations. As far as the overall strategic approach is concerned, there are no gaps between the US and us. So not only is there no disappointment, the results are much more than what we expected.”
However, Liberman urged more US involvement in the region. “We are hoping that the US will be more active in the Syrian arena and in the Middle East in general. We are facing a complex northern arena with Russians, Iranians, Turks and Hezbollah, and this is not a simple issue. It is a daily struggle. The United States has quite a few challenges of its own, and there is no shortage of challenges in the world these days. Therefore we understand that even the greatest world power has limits to its power. We try to handle things alone, but for the State of Israel it is better to have an active US.”
Liberman also praised the Trump administration in the face of the recent settler criticism of construction restrictions. “You cannot sacrifice relations with the US on the altar of one action. My fellow settlers also have to understand that there will be no better government for the settlements and no better administration, as well. But both the government and the administration have their limitations.” But on Trump’s peace plans, Liberman is less optimistic. Liberman declared that he will “strongly oppose” any bilateral track between Israel and the Palestinians. “I do not know of a US plan being discussed, but I don’t think that there is currently any possibility of reaching a final status agreement. We must be realistic: the only thing we can reach is a long-term interim arrangement. As far as I am concerned, the only possible deal with the Palestinians is within a framework of a comprehensive regional arrangement. I will strongly oppose a bilateral arrangement between us and the Palestinians. It won’t work. It is a lost cause. The only arrangement that can work has to include three elements – the Palestinians, the Arab states and the Israeli Arabs. The fact that we continue on the bilateral track is one of the problems. A two sided option is an optical illusion. It can only create a long-term interim arrangement. Any package deal will have to include Israeli Arabs as well”.
The Netanyahu family’s new media chief: After three years of close and intimate service, the Netanyahu family’s spokesperson, Nir Hefetz, has decided to leave his post. Hefetz was the Likud campaign manager in the 2015 elections. Hefetz has been Netanyahu’s chief advisor on media responses to the numerous scandals, affairs, reports and exposes the family has been facing in recent years. He will be replaced by Ofer Golan, another senior 2015 campaign figure. Golan will have to step right into the deep end of the pool. After the holidays, the Police investigations into Bibi’s criminal affairs are expected to speed up. Channel 1 reported last night that the Police seek to summon Netanyahu immediately after the holidays for another round of interrogation of File 1000 and File 2000. The Police are looking at at least four investigations – since there is much evidence that Netanyahu needs to reply to.
Gabbay pulls rank: Change has been in the air for the Labor party ever since newcomer Avi Gabbay was elected leader. While Gabbay first he asserted himself in the party institutions, he is now pulling rank in a place politicians especially care about – their titles and responsibilities. Gabbay announced appointments to several positions in the Knesset: First, Shelly Yachimovich will take over as chairwoman of the Knesset State Control Committee (the Committee deals with the Knesset’s contacts with the State Comptroller and ombudsman). Second, as part of a rotation with Yesh Atid, Tzipi Livni’s right-hand man Yoel Hasson will now be the Zionist Union faction chairman. This appointment solidifies the cooperation between Yesh Atid and Labor. Third, poor Hilik Bar, who was supposed to become faction chairman, is left in his previous Deputy Knesset Speaker position. Bar will be in charge of the party’s international relations, a job he de facto held already. But on the bright side, Bar will fill Yachimovich’s spot on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Gabbay is apparently wary of Bar because he backed Peretz in the party’s leadership race.
As with any reshuffle, some people are bound to feel bitter. But it still came as a surprise when hours later, MK Erel Margalit announced that he is leaving politics. After five years as an MK and two failed Labor leadership runs – Margalit is returning to the chairmanship of Jerusalem Venture Partners. Margalit was ranked the second-richest politician in Israel by Forbes Israeland is reportedly worth 220 million NIS (62 million US$). He specifically denied that his departure was connected to Gabbay’s leadership, saying that he felt that he can have a greater positive impact on Israel outside of the Knesset.
Margalit will be replaced by Lea Fadida, the record-breaking 34th female member of this current Knesset. Margalit is also the 13thlawmaker to resign from this Knesset – the most ever. Another record was broken after Zionist Union MK Manuel Trajtenberg resigned earlier this week and was replaced by Saleh Saad, bringing the Knesset to the highest number of non-Jewish members ever, 18.