Kafe Knesset for April 5
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Lauder lore: In the past two weeks, since Jewish Insider first revealed that Ronald Lauder is serving as Trump’s whisperer, Israeli officials and politicians have been whispering about him as well. In addition to a public meeting with Egyptian president Sisi, Kafe Knesset has learned that Lauder met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas twice in the past month – a few weeks ago in a European capital and earlier this week in DC, a day before his WH meeting. “Lauder has emerged as a significant unofficial envoy to the President, and is increasing his involvement with the Israeli Palestinian issue, and he is convinced he can help the President secure a deal”, one well informed source told Kafe Knesset. “He thinks peace is possible and is embracing the Palestinians who feel they have found their man and he believes he can bring them to the table”, the source added. Another source with direct knowledge said that during the Trump-Abbas meeting on Wednesday, the President praised Lauder as someone who “is determined to move forward, and is convinced that the Palestinians want a deal.”
Lauder is a longtime friend of Trump, and their relationship goes back more than 5 decades. Once upon a time, he used to also be a close friend of Netanyahu. But since the nineties, when Bibi sent Lauder to secretly negotiate a deal with Syria, a lot has changed. The Netanyahus relationship with Lauder took a sharp downturn in 2011, following the premier’s discontent with some critical reportage on Channel 10, which Lauder used to own. According to Israeli sources, tensions escalated even more in the past year, after Lauder was summoned to give testimony in the police as part of the ongoing probes into the PM’s alleged misdoings. Two senior Israeli sources told Kafe Knesset that Lauder’s involvement in the president’s attempts to renew negotiations “is troubling Netanyahu”, and that Netanyahu has been told that “Lauder is lobbying on behalf of the Palestinians.”
On Sunday, Lauder is set to be one of the keynote speakers at the 6th annual Jerusalem Post conference in New York, alongside quite a large group of senior Israeli politicians who are now shuttling their way over the Atlantic for the conference, including Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, and Likud ministers Israel Katz and Yuval Steinitz. Knowing that any significant progress in the peace process is likely to entail an internal political shift in Israel, Lauder may use the opportunity to test the waters.
Emergency mode: The official green light for the May presidential trip to Israel generated overwhelming excitement, and preparations for the Air Force One arrival at the Ben-Gurion Airport are now shifting into urgent mode. The Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry, who will be managing the whole operation, already started working on the visit last week, but only after the official announcement will things start to move. The countdown for the President’s arrival currently stands on 18 days, a sharp decline in the amount of time Israel had to prepare for the previous presidential visit, by president Obama, which was announced 43 days before the scheduled date.
But another hurdle is threatening to affect the planning: an ongoing labor dispute in the foreign ministry. This week, the head of the MFA labor union, Hanan Goder, sent a letter to the director general Yuval Rotem, in which he warned the union will disrupt Trump’s visit if a new wages agreement isn’t implemented immediately. The agreement was signed two months ago, but so far – the finance ministry hasn’t advanced it. However, based on past experience, one should take these threats with a grain of salt, as usually the MFA union does not follow them up with real actions.
Is a gift only a gift? The senior prosecutor accompanying the police probes against Netanyahu, Liat Ben Ari, took over the headlines last night as she appeared at a professional conference and was asked, in general, about bribery and gifts from friends. “There is no such thing as small gifts, everything depends on the circumstances, but the question of friendship arises in all cases,” she said. “When it comes to gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels, I find it difficult to accept that this is only a gift between friends. I know about myself and my friends – none of us gives or receives gifts of such sums, and you have to check the interests in such a situation.”
Ben Ari joined the probes last month, after State Attorney Shai Nitzan decided to expand the legal team accompanying the Police investigations into files 1000 and 2000. She is considered one of the leading litigators on corruption in recent years, and was responsible for former PM Ehud Olmert’s conviction in the notorious Holyland trial as well as the corruption cases against former Labor leader Binyamin “Fuad” Ben Eliezer and business tycoon Nohi Dankner. Her comments were not referring directly to Netanyahu, but the rare statement in such a sensitive time prompted a swift reaction. Sources close to the prime minister responded by saying that “there is no basis to claim that anything was wrong with the PM’s relations with his friends. First of all, the close friendship between the families is an unequivocal fact that can not be challenged, including in times when the prime minister was a private citizen. Second, we deny the alleged numbers which are being mentioned, and in any case these are cigars that were given many times over 17 years, so the claim that one gift was worth hundreds of thousands of shekels, or many gifts were worth thousands of dollars is just wrong, During all these years, there were no interests and no return, and we repeat: There was nothing, and therefore there will be nothing. ”
A true mensch: Former Tourism Minister Rabbi Benny Elon died at 62 this morning after a long battle with cancer. Elon was an MK from the far-right National Union, who was booted from former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s cabinet because of his opposition to the Gaza disengagement. The son of Supreme Court justice Menachem Elon, he was known as a principled parliamentarian who was open-minded and had a smile for everyone he met. After leaving the Knesset, he began working on faith-based diplomacy, strengthening the connection between Christians and Israel by starting “Christian Allies” caucuses in parliaments around the world. Elon would organize an annual show of force in Jerusalem on Sukkot, or as Christians call it, the Feast of Tabernacles, each year, with thousands of participants.