Kafe Knesset for Feb. 8

It was a bright, sunny day today in Jerusalem, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to enjoy the great winter weather with a publicized outdoor stroll. He invited Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon to join him for a plate of Hummus on a Jerusalem street and invited the whole country to watch, broadcasting about eight minutes on Facebook Live. Netanyahu has been gradually expanding his use of the Live tool, regularly updating his followers about the day’s news (from his perspective, at least). For this episode, he had great co-stars: Kachlon, one of the most popular ministers in his government, and various Jerusalem residents who came up to him and spoke with him during the meal. He also had great scenery; as he said when he stepped outside for a cup of Turkish coffee: “Jerusalem on a sunny day – is like heaven for me.”

Netanyahu explained to his Facebook viewers that he wanted to celebrate a year of a successful economy, but the event and live broadcast suggest that Netanyahu is clearly grasping to secure his popularity and divert the discourse from focusing on the several criminal investigations currently underway. Last night, Channel 2’s Amit Segal presented Netanyahu’s defense in what is considered the most serious probe so far, commonly referred to as “file 1000”. According to the report, Netanyahu told the police “he didn’t know” of the gifts Arnon Milchan gave to his wife Sara Netanyahu, and was also “unaware” of the price and total of the cigars he allegedly received from Milchan himself. Legally, this may assist Netanyahu in the future decision on indictment by the Attorney General. But publicly, many noted Netanyahu’s shift. After weeks of insisting “There is nothing because there was nothing,” he moved to “I didn’t know.”

Netanyahu’s upcoming meeting with President Trump is another chance to dominate the headlines and distract from the scandalous reports about him and his criminal investigations. As a senior cabinet minister told Kafe Knesset: “Trump is exactly what Netanyahu needs right now because he can truly present himself as the right person at the right time and in the right place to deal with the new president.” But Netanyahu is facing right-wing pressure to return home with a dramatic change of policy from Trump, one hat the new administration might not necessarily be offering right now. Not only Naftali Bennet is demanding such a change: the pro-settler faction in the Likud party has started to gather signatures for a petition calling on Netanyahu to denounce his support for the two-state solution during his upcoming visit to the United States. “As stated by the Likud constitution we pledge our loyalty to our homeland Israel and object the establishment of an enemy state in the heart of Israel,” the petition says, requesting Netanyahu to expand settlement construction and advance legislation that would apply Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank.

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