Kafe Knesset for May 4
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Jerusalem followed the Trump-Abbas summit yesterday closely. On Twitter, journalists were impressed by the warm welcome the White House gave the Palestinian delegation but sources close to the PM were eager to point out the vast difference from the grand reception Netanyahu was granted in February. Despite the President’s eagerness to reach a deal, the sources told Kafe Knesset, Netanyahu was encouraged by the fact that Trump stressed that no agreement can be imposed on the sides. “That’s the most important thing for Netanyahu and that is the main difference between the Trump and Obama administrations,” one of them said.
Much of the Israeli focus has been on the issue of PA salaries and payments to terrorists and their families. In the past two weeks, Netanyahu has been vocally demanding a halt to the policy, not defining it as a precondition to negotiations, but dubbing it as the main “test” for Abbas’s will to make peace. Today, in his first reaction to the meeting, Netanyahu said. “I look forward to discussing with President Trump the best ways to advance peace. This is something we fervently share with the President. I heard President Abbas yesterday say that they teach, Palestinians teach their children peace. That is unfortunately not true. They name their schools after mass murderers of Israelis and they pay terrorists. But I hope that it is possible to achieve a change and to pursue a genuine peace. This is something Israel is always ready for. I am always ready for genuine peace.”
Although Netanyahu has been emphasizing the need to stop payments to terrorists, he still hasn’t decided whether or not to support an Israeli version of Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) Taylor Force Act, which would dock tax payments to the PA in proportion to the percentage of the PA’s budget that goes to terrorists and their families. MK Elazar Stern of Yesh Atid, the Israeli bill’s lead sponsor, said Graham asked him to draft it.
Following Netanyahu’s talking points, this was the main issue stressed by right wing politicians reacting to the meeting. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely attacked Abbas for “coming to Washington while he continues to transfer funds to the families of the terrorists. It is clear to all reasonable people that Abu Mazen is not interested in peace.” The Jewish Home’s Uri Ariel, said “While Abu Mazen describes his recognition of the State of Israel and seeks to renew negotiations, the Palestinian Authority under his leadership finances murderers and terrorists and refuses to recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state.” ” The two-state solution died a long time ago, but the obsession with it has not yet been resolved,” his party colleague MK Shiloh Mualem said. “Trump will not be able to achieve anything other than joint cocktail talks with senior officials in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. As has been proven over the years, the Palestinian leadership wants neither peace nor order,” she added.
On the opposition side, the Trump-Abbas meeting also sparked a wave of reactions, falling, as it did, into the middle of the Labor leadership primary campaign. MK Amir Peretz, currently projected as the leading candidate in the race, sent a letter to President Trump in which he expressed hope that the meeting will advance chances for a political settlement based on the two-state solution. Peretz also went one step further promising to politically support any negotiations. “Netanyahu does not have to worry about his coalition partners. We in the Zionist camp will grant him a safety net without conditions and without portfolios if he only goes in the path of a political settlement.” MK Omer Bar Lev echoed that proposal and called on Netanyahu to declare that he is willing to meet Abbas immediately. Erel Margalit, another contender for Labor leadership, said that “Trump will not be the Messiah of the Left, nor will he push for a two-state solution if we do not do so. The left wing camp must take the initiative and act on its own to advance the Saudi initiative and joint ventures to promote peace and the economy with the Palestinians.”
Next week, the Knesset comes back from its Passover recess with a bang. Former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, now a Likud MK, has brought back his “Jewish State bill,” a Basic Law stating that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. There have been many iterations of this bill over the years, but Dichter drafted the original back in 2011. The general idea behind it is that Basic Laws are supposed to be parts of an eventual constitution, which Israel has yet to draft. Thus far, there are plenty of Basic Laws dealing with the necessities of a democracy, human rights, etc., but there is nothing saying that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People. Opponents say that the bill is unnecessarily provocative and leaves out minorities. The bill also guarantees the rights of all Israelis to preserve their traditions and heritage, but says Hebrew is the official language of Israel and Arabic has a special status, instead of making both official languages. It is a common myth that Arabic is an official language of Israel; There’s no law that says that, but all government materials have to be made available in Arabic, which this bill reinforces. The bill also allows people of the same religion or nationality to build exclusive community towns, which goes against a famous High Court of Justice ruling from 2000 that says that such exclusions cannot be allowed on State-owned land.
With the French election coming up, Israeli politicians have plenty to say. Just about anyone who’s spoken up has done so in support of Emmanuel Macron – MKs Erel Margalit and Yair Lapid claim to be close with him and Interior Minister Arye Deri said he met the presidential candidate and was impressed with him. The one contrarian is, who else, renegade Likud MK Oren Hazan. Hazan told Kafe Knesset: “We had Trump in the US, and we need more partners. Le Pen’s clear battle against radical Islam is a joint interest. When you look at France, at the rate it’s going, it will be like Sweden, on the way to becoming a Muslim state. Jews are afraid to wear kippahs in the street. There are places police are afraid to enter. France needs a leader who’s not afraid to fight this and can provide security to French Jews. I respect Le Pen’s statement that France is for Frenchmen, because I also think Israel is for the People of Israel, not Ishmael. My support isn’t because I love Le Pen so much. It’s because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. There’s no argument that her father is an anti-Semite, and I condemn that. If they turn on the Jews, we will know how to deal with it.”