Kafe Knesset for May 24
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Let the political games begin: Moments after Air Force One took off from Ben Gurion Airport, the political bickering began: Right wing politicians, who have been somewhat embarrassed in recent weeks in the wake of the President’s reported peace plans, summed up the visit and the Israel Museum as a grand success. They commended Trump’s message to the PA against funding terror and violence and strong warnings on Iran, and of course, celebrating the absence of the terms “Palestinian State” and “settlements” throughout the whole trip. The President’s pro-Israel messages are now prompting the settlers to renew their demand for a massive wave of settlement construction: “After this visit and this speech, there is no excuse not to renew construction. It is clear that even if the administration opposes it, it will not fight it. We now have a President who loves and respects Israel and that it his agenda,” the head of the Shomron regional council, Yossi Dagan said. At the same time, the left is focusing on Trump’s call to return to the negotiation table and are planning a massive rally this Saturday, in which they will urge Netanyahu to embrace the historic opportunity. “Now is the time to return to the streets and show President Trump that there is a large camp in Israel that supports peace and calls to end the occupation and the conflict between us and the Palestinians,” Peace Now director Avi Boskila said.
Peace process pressure: In any case, there is a growing understanding in the Knesset corridors that if the President is indeed determined to launch a peace process, it will entail some internal political shuffle. Jason Greenblatt is expected to return to the region on Thursday. Plus, before departing, Jared Kushner met for a side meeting with opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, and told him that “This President always surprises” and assured him that the administration does not intend to leave a vacuum after the visit and will continue the momentum. Herzog is now standing up for a tight and difficult primary race, but he was the main political actor in the last regional attempt to launch a peace process, last year, and is emerging to be one of the most vocal supporters of Trump’s peace plans, alongside his party member, Tzipi Livni. “We are facing a historic window of opportunities which we cannot miss for the future of tor children and our country,” he said yesterday. “Trump has made clear that he sees both Abbas and Netanyahu as partners for peace. Now they need to prove it. Good luck,” Livni said, summing up the President’s visit.
Embassy debate: Meanwhile, Netanyahu was focused on a different kind of action from the White House: Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. During speeches in the Knesset in honor of Jerusalem Day today, Herzog said that moving the Embassy is not a pressing issue for Jerusalem, in light of its high poverty rate. Netanyahu used his right to respond to anything said in the plenum and took the stage after Herzog, saying that the embassy move is “not a trivial matter…We believe that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel where all embassies must be located, and the situation that exists today is absurd.” Herzog wasn’t convinced, and responded that the demographics of Jerusalem are more problematic. Trump has eight days to show which side he’s taking on this debate; June 1 is the deadline to sign the waiver to not implement the 1995 law requiring the US Embassy to move from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital.
Herzog’s speech courted controversy not just because of his embassy comment, but because he called to divide Jerusalem, specifically on the day the country is celebrating its reunification. “Issawiya is not part of our eternal capital,” he quipped, referring to the east Jerusalem neighborhood.
What about the weapons? Everyone was so ecstatic about the warm hug that Trump gave Israel, that nobody was really talking about the mega-billion dollar arms deal the US signed with Saudi Arabia during the Riyadh visit. According to the White House readout of the Trump-Netanyahu meeting, the President assured Netanyahu that the US will maintain Israels qualitative military edge, but Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said today that “we have our ways to deal with it.” Speaking on Army Radio this morning, Liberman reacted to the deal for the first time, stating he does “not live in peace with the whole Mideast arms race. Regional deals have reached $215 billion, which is a significant sum, so I do not live well with the arms race and the huge Saudi acquisition”.
In the same interview, Liberman all but confirmed that Trump leaked intelligence that came from Israel, saying that the Defense Ministry “drew conclusions” from the incident.
The soft side of Melania Trump: The media spotlights has been following Melania Trump’s hands for a few days now, noticing her rejecting of her husband’s gestures and snubbing holding his hand. But here in Israel, Melania’s hands might have produced the most touching and human moment of the whole visit. While arriving at the President’s residence on Monday, Nechama Rivlin welcomed Melania out of the limousine, and when the two first ladies walked down the red carpet – they were holding hands. Rivlin, who suffers from a chronic lung disease, has to walk with an oxygen tank, and when she met Ms. Trump, she whispered in her ear that she would try to keep up with the pace “but it could be slower.” According to officials in the President’s office, Melania replied: “We will walk with you at any pace you choose,” and embraced her hand strongly. The photo of the two ladies holding hands went viral in Israel, and Mrs. Rivlin wrote a special Facebook post elaborating on their encounter. “In the hustle and bustle of this important and historic visit, I also got to know the First Lady Melania. A charming woman inside and out, sensitive and special,” she wrote of Melania Trump, adding that she gave her a gift, a children’s book titled “Hug” by David Grossman in 3 languages – Hebrew, Arabic and English. “It was great to sit with her and with the wonderful Ivanka who joined us, and to discuss bringing together strangers who might be less afraid of getting closer if they only were interested in each other.”