Kafe Knesset for May 18
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Lowering expectations for Trump’s visit: Just four days before the President’s arrival, no final schedule has been released yet. The Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry are significantly lowering the profile of the media coverage of the preparations, providing minimal details about the trip. “There are too many question marks in the air,” a senior official told Kafe Knesset. The official admitted that after the series of political and logistical incidents with the administration and the preparatory teams, Jerusalem is trying to lower the expectations for the visit, “so that there will be no more room for mistakes.” Senior Israeli officials have been expressing their discontent with the coordination attempts with the US team, primarily the frequent changes in the schedule and details of the visit.
“The Americans do not know what they want. They close something with us and the next day they receive a different order from Washington and change it,” a political source said. He added that, in light of the recent tensions with the Administration regarding the status of the Western Wall, the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and the reports of the leak of Israeli intelligence information to the Russians, Netanyahu is deliberately lowering expectations, especially given the great uncertainty in the Prime Minister’s Office about President Trump’s intentions to renew the Middle East peace process. “We have no reason to promote the visit. There are many fears here hovering over it and therefore it is better to lower expectations and see what happens,” a source close to Netanyahu said.
On Sunday, the Security Cabinet will convene for a special meeting ahead of the visit, in which Netanyahu will present a package of economic and civil gestures towards the Palestinians. Various Israeli sources who have met special envoy Jason Greenblatt in recent weeks say that he stressed that immediate steps in this realm are very important for the Administration. “Netanyahu has to demonstrate willingness and creativity. Trump wants swift changes in the situation and wants to see initiatives. Anything less can be conceived as evasion and that can create a problem,” a senior source told Kafe Knesset.
One person the President will apparently not be meeting in Israel is the leader of the opposition, Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog. Herzog is currently not on the busy schedule. Trump’s visit has been defined as a “working visit,” and not a state or official one by protocol. A working visit means that President Trump is not obliged to meet the leader of the opposition, as many foreign dignitaries visiting the Holy Land regularly do. In any case, Herzog is emerging as one of the staunchest supporters of the President’s reported peace plans. “We wish President Trump great success during his visit and hope that his visit will indeed be a tiebreaker and bring great news to us and the Palestinians and we will be able to move forward to a real settlement that will allow two peoples to live side by side in peace,” he said today, on a party “road trip” to the West Bank city of Maale Adumim. “We believe in a political settlement, believe in the concept of settlement blocs with land swaps, we believe in separation from the Palestinians and we believe there is a great opportunity ahead of President Trump’s visit,” Herzog said.
More on the MOU: Israeli officials adamantly brushed off any embarrassment yesterday, after Kafe Knesset pointed out that Senator Lindsey Graham recently passed $3.175 billion in assistance to Israel under the Omnibus Appropriations bill for the remainder of FY2017. This amount exceeds the commitment set forth in the MOU by $75 million. The excess challenges the Israeli commitment not to ask for any extra funding from Congress under the new MOU signed last year with the Obama administration. Two officials involved in the MOU told Kafe Knesset that “since President Trump has already signed the budget law, there is no problem with the addition. According to the officials, the Israeli Appendix Letter commitment that was attached to the landmark military aid agreement last year indeed included a commitment to refund to the Administration any money the Congress would choose to transfer independently over the next two years, but “the letter said explicitly that the demand was only in case the Administration objects. Since the President signed the budget, he apparently does not oppose it, so Israel does not have to return the money,” the official said.
Senator Graham, on the other hand, appears to be happy to have made his point. In an email to Kafe Knesset his office stated that “Sen. Graham is no fan of the MOU. He was quite outspoken against it. He has long made it clear that Congress was not bound by the MOU.”
Bringing Jerusalem to Cannes: Controversial Culture Minister Miri Regev wore her politics on her sleeve – well, actually, her skirt – at the Cannes Film Festival last night. Regev wore a “Jerusalem of Gold” dress, with a gold bodice and the Jerusalem skyline on the skirt. The dress was created by Israeli designer Aviad Arik Herman. Regev said that the dress is meant to honor of “the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification…through art and fashion, and I’m happy the result of this talented Israeli designer is exciting and respects the occasion, for the glory of Jerusalem, our eternal capital.” Regev was at the festival to encourage the distribution of Israeli films internationally and to attract foreign productions film in Israel.
Hatikva or not? The political topic of the day is whether or not Hatikva will be sung at the commencement ceremony in the Humanities Department at Hebrew University. Following a report that the national anthem will not be sung in order not to offend Arab students, even Netanyahu weighed in. The Prime Minister said the decision was “shameful,” and that “it is the height of submissiveness and the opposite of national pride. We are proud of our country, our flag, our anthem, and that only strengthens my opinion that we need to pass the Jewish Nation-State bill that we are leading, in order to anchor in the law the national symbols that are so dear to us.” Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, however, called the scandal “fake news,” saying that Hatikva is never sung at the ceremony, so it was not canceled this year and has nothing to do with Arab students.