Kafe Knesset for June 19
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Israel woke up to the exciting news of a Jared Kushner visit later this week, to be advanced by another round of Jerusalem-Ramallah shuttling by Greenblatt who will arrive today. Kushner and Greenblatt intend to continue to promote the administration’s peace efforts, but they might also get a taste of the brewing – even boiling – political tensions their plans are already creating. For instance, during their stay, Kushner and Greenblatt might pass by a protest tent facing the Prime Minister’s office these days. The head of the Beit El regional council, Shai Alon, is intensifying his campaign against Netanyahu, demanding the government live up to its 2012 commitment to build 300 new housing units in the settlement. At the time, the Beit El “Ulpana Hill” neighborhood was evicted following a Supreme Court ruling, and the Prime Minister tried to sweeten the pill with promises for new construction. Netanyahu repeated this vow in 2015, after the “Dreinoff Project” was demolished, but settlers claim no progress has been made, and Alon says a recent appeal to approve 114 housing units was rejected by the PMO. As part of the campaign. The Beit El Regional Council released a video today, headlined “Netanyahu – the man who lies again and again,” and this afternoon residents are planning a rally, and are expected to be joined by Likud and Jewish Home ministers and MKs, who have embraced their demands.
BB’s amnesia: Meanwhile, The settler campaign against plans to expand the Palestinian city of Qalqilya dictated the agenda in the Prime Minister’s office yesterday. BB’s week opened with the weekly gathering of Likud ministers, who bombarded him with questions about the plan to build 14,000 housing units in Qalqilya, which was approved by the Security Cabinet last September and is now in its final planning stages. Netanyahu succumbed to the pressure and told his fellow party members that he would convene the Security Cabinet for another discussion on the plan, and later on, in the weekly meeting of the coalition party heads, claimed he himself “did not remember” such a plan being approved. However, Netanyahu’s memory loss statement contradicts some of his earlier reactions on the issue. Only last Wednesday, when the settlers’ protest over Qalqilya was first reported on Channel 2, the PMO said in response that “this is a plan brought by the Defense Minister last year and approved by the cabinet.” A day later, his confidants lashed out at the critics stating that “It is puzzling that ministers who were part of the decision making process deny them after the first signs of criticism and pressure.”
This is not the first time Netanyahu “forgot” some of his own decisions, leading some pundits to point out the peculiar memory loss. Last year he said the public broadcasting reform – which he himself supported and even campaigned about – “slipped away” from his attention during Operation Protective Edge”. Following media reports. The PMO released a clarification this morning, in which they stressed that the Prime Minister “never said he didn’t know the Qalqilya plan, but rather that he does not remember that he was confronted with the figure of 14,000 housing units.” The PMO added that they checked the protocol of the September security cabinet meeting and that it proves that Netanyahu is accurate and that the presentation did not include the 14,000 unit figure.
Yesh Atid’s Ofer Shelach blasted “The strange story” and said it was “testimony to the reckless way in which Netanyahu runs the Security Cabinet. First we hold a superficial discussion, in which we do not clarify things and vote without understanding what exactly the vote is about. Then, when political pressure comes, the Prime Minister gets scared, lies and blames everyone. At first he says he did not remember, just like the IBA that “slipped away.” Then he says that’s not what they explained to him. In the end, as usual, he’s accusing the IDF.”
While settlers are complaining about the lack of building, left wing NGO Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) is claiming there is a worrying increase in settlement construction over the past year. The Central Bureau of Statistics report on construction starts was published today, indicating that over the past 12 months there has been a rise compared to the construction starts in the same period last year. According to Peace Now, between April 2016 and the end of March 2017, 2,758 housing units were built in Judea and Samaria, compared to 1,619 housing units built between April 2015 and the end of March 2016. Avi Buskila, director of Peace Now, said “The Netanyahu government is abandoning the periphery and continues to prioritize the radical minority beyond the Green Line. We will all pay the price of this construction as Israel is turning into a bi-national state.”
Former PM Ehud Olmert appeared in front of the Parole Board yesterday. Olmert requested an early release from his 27 month jail sentence for corruption. This request comes against the backdrop of State Prosecutor allegations that Olmert passed on classified and uncensored information while writing his autobiography. The decision on Olmert’s fate will be issued on June 29, but meanwhile, the political storm over the the controversial police raid on the Yedioth Aharanoth publishing house last week continues. The scandal surrounding the raid has grown in recent days, as it turns out the police also seized a computer drive with manuscripts by former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and veteran journalist Ben Caspit. The prosecution stressed that only material related to Olmert will be examined, but the whole debacle led law enforcement agencies to a public quarrel, with questions about who exactly ordered the police to conduct the unconventional raid. The State Prosecutor’s office, who is opposing Olmert’s early release, released a special statement clarifying the suspicions, stating that Olmert’s lawyer was caught leaving the Maasiyahu prison with a chapter which included “secret operational details that were not approved in the past for publication.”