Kafe Knesset for March 15
Greenblatt in Israel: In the age of “Twitt”plomacy, even Mideast peace mediation is now on Twitter. Notably, Jason Greenblatt has been tweeting every step of his Israeli-Palestinian tour. This morning Greenblatt met with President Rivlin in Jerusalem. A joint statement released after the meeting stated that Greenblatt “thanked President Rivlin for their in-depth and wide ranging discussion, and for sharing his views on how Israel and the Palestinians could live in peace and security.” Rivlin, for his part, wished Greenblatt success on his complex mission and “stressed that the President’s Office stood ready to assist on any issue as requested in order to promote movement forward between Israel and the Palestinians.” Then he met IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major-General Poli Mordechai, tweeting a joint photo and stating they “discussed Israeli security challenges and ways to boost Palestinian economy.”
Meanwhile, as the administration is reportedly still deliberating between the outside-in or inside-out approach in order to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Greenblatt can get some advice from former Mossad head Tamir Pardo. “Nothing in the region will move without progress on the Palestinian track,” Pardo said today. Pardo’s remarks were offered at a special conference sponsored by the Knesset Caucus for a Regional Solution and the Institute for National Security Studies focusing on regional security. The event, organized by Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, and Yesh Atid MK (and former Shin Bet chief) Yaakov Peri, brought together various ex-security and diplomacy officials to discuss the prospects of a regional solution. Pardo and other experts agreed that there is a rare and unique opportunity with moderate Arab states based on mutual interests, but he stressed that “whomever thinks we can make any regional progress without moving towards the Palestinians is a fool. Israel needs to determine its own end-game. What do we want? Where are we going? Unfortunately Israel does not decide, and cannot decide, because of the political divide. As long as Israel does not define what it wants, nothing will happen.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) also spoke briefly at the meeting. “Last year I was in the middle of a huge regional move which would have changed the Middle East forever,” Herzog said, referring to the recent Ha’aretz revelations about attempts to jump-start the peace process and forge a unity government in Israel last year. “Now is the time to turn this opportunity into reality,” he added, stating that he will be meeting with Greenblatt tomorrow.
Netanyahu caught in a backbencher ego clash in the Likud: The topic of the day in the Knesset is a spat between two Likud freshmen – coalition whip David Bitan and Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch – that has been blown completely out of proportion. It all started with a bill that is very important to Kisch, that would cancel the law giving mothers automatic custody of children under the age of six in cases of divorce. Several women in the coalition were up in arms and refused to vote in its favor, and Bitan would not allow the bill to be brought to a vote unless there was a compromise, proposing that the law be changed to automatic custody for mothers of children under two years old. Kisch said no – it’s all or nothing. This happened several times over recent months, and now Kisch has started a rebellion and refuses to vote with the coalition. Bitan has sought to punish Kisch, like he did other rebel MKs, by taking away his special privileges – in this case, the House Committee chairmanship. Guess which committee has to authorize the punishment? That’s right, the House Committee. So Kisch refused to bring it up, and wrote a letter to Netanyahu saying he will only step down if the premier tells him to. Now, Netanyahu is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He needs his coalition to be disciplined, so he wants to support his whip. But Kisch has an important card in his hand – the “V15 bill” to ban super-PACs. V15 was inspired by the anti-Netanyahu organization that launched a campaign against the prime minister in the 2015 election. Kisch proposed the bill and the House Committee is working on it, and if someone else is in charge, the bill that’s so important to the Prime Minister could get stuck. Kisch isn’t the only person whose punishment has been left in limbo – he hasn’t brought Bitan’s requests to remove Likud MKs Yehudah Glick and Sharren Haskel from committees because they didn’t vote with the coalition. “I have no choice but to bring law and order,” Bitan said on Army Radio today. “If I would do whatever [Bitan] wants, he’d be the only MK,” Kisch quipped soon after. “His craziness cannot continue.”
Party of one: Also in the Knesset House Committee, MK Orly Levy-Abecassis was kicked out of her party, Yisrael Beytenu. The daughter of former foreign minister David Levy and an ex-model who’s been an MK since 2009 made a name for herself as a passionate lawmaker when it comes to social issues and topped popular MK lists for years, but when Yisrael Beytenu joined the coalition last year, she said she’s staying in the opposition. Now, Yisrael Beytenu has had it with her acting like a party of one, and forced her to be a party of one via a vote in the House Committee today to remove her from their faction. The law states that now she cannot run with any existing party, but Kafe Knesset learned she has been in talks with former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon for months to join his new party ahead of the next election. However, if Ya’alon’s party merges with Yesh Atid – as some rumors say he will – then Levy-Abecassis will be out of luck. The move was met with complaints that the law allowing an MK to be kicked out of a faction was meant to prevent cases in which MKs can be bribed with jobs to move parties, and not a case like Levy-Abecassis, where she is voting according to her conscience.
Bibi vs. the media, round infinity: Bibi might have lost his battle against the new Israel Broadcast Corporation, which will probably go on air within a month and a half despite the his objections, but he is not giving up yet and is still waging a war against the new public broadcaster. Last night he posted a Facebook item lashing out at the new channel, following a report on the right-wing Channel 20 that one of the IBC reporters retweeted a tweet by the “Palestinian Info Center” expressing support for a Palestinian terrorist killed last week. The reporter was suspended, but Netanyahu thought the punishment was not enough. “How will public broadcast look under the IBC? A reporter for the leftist IBC praised a terrorist. You would expect she would be fired, right? Well no, she has only been ‘suspended.’ The leftist IBC chooses to give a spot to terror supporters.” Netanyahu tried to close the IBC for months, but was stopped by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who cited sunk costs, and the new channel is most likely to start broadcasting on April 30. Now, Netanyahu is trying to delegitimize the channel, and after the Knesset’s spring recess will try to promote new legislation to increase government regulation over the government-funded channel, as well as work to fire the current managers.