Kafe Knesset for May 30
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Blank Check: A week after President Trump’s visit, Right wing pressure is starting to pile up: Even the modest economic gesture package to benefit the Palestinians that was approved last week is already under fire. Yossi Dagan, the head of the Shomron Regional Council and a prominent Likud activist, is demanding a reversal of the Security Cabinet’s decision from last week. This decision included approval for some Palestinian construction in West Bank Area C , which is under full Israeli control. “This is a Cabinet decision that was made in the dark, without even minimal discussion in the Knesset, or at least in the government, about handing over territories,” Dagan said, “If you want to hold a ceremony on the White House lawn in DC, go ahead – but to do things in the dark when the ministers have no prior knowledge of the decision is wrong. Be honest with the public and be honest with us and hold another vote on the matter. For the first time in history, we have a US president who puts Abbas in his right place, who says that the settlements are not an obstacle for peace. So it is unnecessary and a grave mistake to voluntarily give up territory that will remain in Israeli hands in any future agreement.”
Hearing the Right wing’s loud and vocal celebrations of Trump’s pro-Israel stance during the visit, Netanyahu used the Likud weekly faction meeting yesterday to bring his colleagues back to reality and clarify that some tough decisions may be underway. “We do not have a blank check with the Administration”, he told the MKs and ministers. “It is true that there is a warm relationship and a great understanding of our fundamental positions but we are not in a blank check reality.”
After he was confronted with a barrage of questions from the Likud MKs about the visit, Netanyahu told them “you had better listen carefully to what I say,” and then addressed the recent $75 million which was granted to Israel as part of the Omnibus Appropriation bill for the remainder of 2017. “We recently received a check for NIS 300 million. At the time, I thought it was very important to complete the MOU with the US for the coming decade, to complete it in the best way. But the deal had a price – we agreed upon over $38 billion for the next decade but the Obama administration said the price is that you will not ask for more money. We accepted this commitment but we formulated the wording in such a way that if the Administration agrees to give us more money, we can keep it. And this should be credited to our exceptional ambassador (Ron Dermer). So the Administration agreed to give us this supplement, which is important against the backdrop of the planned US foreign aid budget cuts”.
Moving on to the White House peace plans, Netanyahu stressed that “we do not have a blank check on the political level. We are a sovereign country, we can decide many things and declare many things, but in terms of American agreement, I would not go to these areas because it is not true. Therefore, we are required to act with great wisdom and responsibility. You heard President Trump, he came here and did very important things here and touched the core of our soul, but he also said that he believes that Abbas wants peace. He said that I wanted peace and he said that he believed that an agreement could be reached and that we should reach it. We are in this situation and I am dealing with this right now. Over the years I have proven that I take care of our vital interests in a responsible and clever manner and I will continue to do so, but if anyone thinks we have a blank check – he is mistaken”.
Netanyahu’s comments come after Jason Greenblatt’s follow-up tour in the region last week, in which he continued discussions on the Israeli Palestinian issue. While many of Greenblatt’s talks on the Israeli side focused on economic initiatives and confidence building measures, a senior Israeli source told Kafe Knesset that Greenblatt stressed that the President wants to deal with the core issues of a final status agreement such as borders and security. “We are serious and we mean business,” Greenblatt said, according to that source. Another well informed source said that the Administration has already given the Israel its position papers on some of the issues, but the PMO declined to confirm. Greenblatt did not reveal what the next US step is and senior Israeli officials said that in contrast to reports about a Netanyahu-Abbas summit in the coming weeks, Jerusalem is under the impression the Administration needs more time to work out a formula that will bring the sides back to the negotiation table.
Surprise interview: The Israeli PM is commonly criticized for shunning the media and only giving rare interviews to Israeli press, but once in a while Netanyahu makes special exceptions. This morning, during a special Army Radio tribute broadcast in honor of Yehoram Gaon, one of Israel’s iconic singers, Netanyahu made a surprise call to Gaon and the two held a lengthy discussion about the prospects of peace. Gaon, who played Yoni Netanyahu’s role in the 1997 Israeli film Mivtza Yonatan which depicts the Entebbe raid heroism, told BB he “would not want to be in his place and bear the responsibility of signing an agreement.” Netanyahu replied: “We want True peace, not fictitious peace in which we give away land that becomes a breeding site for terror.” Netanyahu repeatedly explained that there can be no peace without Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, but he stressed his optimism emerging from regional changes. “Reconciliation may come more from the outside, from the Arabs, or at least some of them, into the Palestinian society, rather than vice versa. We have always thought that if we make peace with the Palestinians, we will make progress with the Arab world, but I am not sure if the process is not moving in the opposite direction.”
Deri changes his strategy? After more than 11 hours of interrogation yesterday, the Police announced their suspicions against Shas leader, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. Deri was interrogated yesterday, along with his wife Yafa, at the Police Lahav 433 unit’s offices. Money laundering, fraud, bribery and tax offenses are just a few of the alleged suspicions against Deri, who is now meeting law enforcement officials for the second time in his political career. Deri served 22 months in prison in 2000-2002 for bribery, fraud and breach of trust convictions. “I have faith in the law enforcement system and I call upon the public to be patient and respect the investigation,” Deri said in a statement last night, marking an apparent departure from his defense strategy two decades ago, in which he constantly accused the police, the prosecutors and the judges of political persecution. If Deri gets into deep trouble, he might reverse his strategy, but for the time being, he is refraining from his traditional line of defense.