Kafe Knesset for June 15

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Trump, Israelis, Palestinians – and the settlers: The US special envoy, Jason Greenblatt, is due back in Israel for meetings with the government and the PA next week to continue President Trump’s peace efforts. Kafe Knesset has learned that Finance Minister, Moshe Kahlon, is expected to meet the PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, for the second time within the month in the upcoming weeks. Kahlon met with Hamdallah for the first time earlier this month in Ramallah, marking a rare – and even historic – visit by a senior Israeli figure in recent years. Kahlon is the highest level Israeli minister to visit Ramallah openly since 2009. Over the past two years, Kahlon has created a very constructive dialogue with his Palestinian counterparts, together with Major General Yoav (Poli) Mordechai who is the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). This dialogue has led to several economic and civil agreements, and according to Israeli sources, more plans and projects are expected to be promoted after Kahlon’s second meeting with Hamdallah.

Meanwhile, an old Israeli plan – to expand the Palestinian city of Qalqilya – is creating vocal discontent among the settlers and right wing politicians. The plan includes approval of 14,000 new housing units and is intended to provide a solution for Palestinian natural growth. This is part of the “carrot and stick plan” which was presented by Defense Minister Liberman last August and approved by the cabinet a month later. The plan is now close to its final planning stage and approval. Yesterday, MKs Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked issued an ultimatum demanding that the Qalqilya plan be halted unless and until 14,000 Jewish housing units are also approved in West Bank Area C. Bennett and Shaked voted against the “carrot and stick” plan at the cabinet meeting last September and yesterday they said said that “it was and remains a reward for terrorism which advances the Palestinian takeover of Area C. Given the very limited scope of construction which was approved for Israeli communities, the Qalqilya plan’s significance increases and must be stopped.” The PMO rejected the critics’ claims as “incorrect and even absurd” stressing the plan was already approved last year and that since then more than 10,000 housing units have been approved in the settlements. Liberman slammed Bennett and Shaked’s “very puzzling announcement,” claiming that the current government “is the best for the settlement enterprise” adding that thousands of housing units were approved in the first half of 2017 “We are conducting a balanced policy, with one hand committed to promote and develop Jewish settlements, and the other one responsibly safeguarding our national interests in the international arena.”

Acting Prime Minister Miri Regev: Netanyahu is spending the day in Saloniki, Greece, with his two Eastern Mediterranean counterparts, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. This is the third trilateral summit in the past two years, following similar meetings in Nicosia and Jerusalem. Israel is keen on promoting this new regional alliance. While Netanyahu is away, he appointed Culture Minister Miri Regev as acting PM. It is a traditional and largely symbolic appointment, but every time BB goes abroad there is a secret contest over the temporary appointment as it is considered a vote of confidence from the PM. Regev was so thrilled to receive the honor that she published a special post in which she expressed her gratitude for the PM’s trust.”Beyond the symbolic aspect, this is an important statement for women and political leaders. These will be 48 hours with a woman bearing the title of Acting Prime Minister and I hope they will be quiet hours. I wish the Prime Minister and his wife a successful visit to Greece.” While serving as Acting PM, Regev also joined the settler choir today, attacking the Qalqilya plan and demanding to advance housing plans in Bet El, which were promised by the PM in 2012 but so far are stalled, before moving forward with the Palestinian city expansion.

BB’s gifts and Olmert’s books: The police probe of Netanyahu, referred to as File 1000, also known as “the gift affair,” is not likely to conclude in the next few months. Yedioth Aharnoth reported today that no result is anticipated until September or October. Netanyahu, who is suspected of receiving gifts from US millionaire Arnon Milchan, is expected to be summoned back for additional interrogations several more times, but so far, according to the report, law enforcement sources are not confident that the probe will lead to an indictment. The core of the matter has to do with the compensation question: Netanyahu’s defense line has been that the gifts were between close friends, and in order to indict him, the police must find evidence that Milchan received some consideration in exchange.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, is also in some trouble. Olmert’s parole board meeting was set for this Sunday but the state prosecutor has requested a delay. The state prosecutor is expected to oppose Olmert’s request to deduct one-third of his sentence. This is the result of suspicions of leakage of classified materials. Last month, Olmert’s attorney was detained, after he allegedly tried to smuggle out classified materials from Olmert’s cell in the Maasiyahu prison. These materials are part of an upcoming autobiography Olmert has been writing during his prison time. This morning, police raided the Yedioth Ahronoth publishing house, searching for a manuscript of Olmert’s future book. Police also raided the home of the book’s editor. The raid prompted strong reactions from Olmert’s confidants as well as journalists. Dov Weisglass, Olmert’s former advisor, said that the former PM “feels persecuted and harassed, and the proximity of the raid to the parole board meeting requires explanations.” The Journalists Association called for an Attorney General intervention, stating that the police search “violates the principle of journalistic confidentiality.”

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