Kafe Knesset for June 21

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Herzliya Conference highlights: Dozens of politicians, defense officials, academics, government officials and experts are convening this week for the Annual Herzliya conference, under the headline “Israel’s Strategic Balance – Opportunities and Risks.” Throughout the three days of the conference, various issues are on the agenda, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, the war against ISIS, the Palestinian peace process and regional peace initiatives. Here are some of the highlights from the first two days:

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on his dialogue with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah: “This discourse is important and I am motivated by the interests of the Israeli people – if the Palestinians also benefit from it – I don’t mind. I am careful not to get into political issues. Hamdala told me, ‘We are doing a good job between us, the PA is satisfied with the economic ties, but without a political agreement it is very difficult.’ I think that the Palestinians aren’t ready for a political agreement. I got that impression from conversations with them. Who’s right: us or them? The truth is somewhere in the middle. They themselves say: Let’s get through these years. We have internal problems, problems with Gaza, etc. I don’t see them going now in the direction of an agreement.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called on the US to support Kurdish independence: “The Kurdish people deserve a Kurdish state. 35 million people – liberal and feminist – women enjoy almost full equality in parliament and the army. It is in the interest of the international community to establish a Kurdish state. Unfortunately, the previous US administration preferred Iran and Turkey’s interest over the interests of Israel and the Kurds. A Kurdish state can be a buffer zone that would divide the Shiite continuum which Iran is striving for.”

Former Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon: “The Middle East will suffer from instability for a long time and we must prepare for it all … There is no doubt that there is a need for a world policeman … There are a number of encouraging signs in the Trump government, and there is no doubt that we see a difference – especially on Syria. There is an Iranian regime that is more cautious, it is still stretching its borders to the extreme but it is more cautious. What is clear from these developments is that there is no existential threat to Israel today. There is no doubt that the IDF is the strongest army in the Middle East, enjoying effective and growing deterrence.”

Former Likud Minister Gideon Saar on Trump’s peace efforts: “A new diplomatic process has begun between Israelis and Palestinians, mediated by the Americans. We are in the stage of clarifying positions on a future agreement. It is important to note that a regional process is not a magic formula. From the Israeli perspective, the Israeli goal should not be the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria. Israel can not give up control of the West Bank and not control over the Jordanian border.”

Ambassador Dennis Ross on the regional peace efforts: “There is a strange paradox today. There is a desperation amongst Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states for the US to stay in the region. There is a desire to ensure that the US isn’t going to retreat, and there is fear that after Raqqa and Mosul that the US may say mission accomplished and won’t stay there. That gives the Trump administration leverage with them. If the administration uses the leverage and says: OK – here is what we want from you on the peace issue they may well do that, but they will say if we are going to reach out to Israelis we have to show that we are delivering something for the Palestinians which they cannot deliver themselves.”

Former Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo: “I don’t think that a real move within the Arab countries will happen before they see something on the Palestinian issue. We might have excellent security and intel relationships but to make a real move will be only after we see some kind of movement by the Israeli government towards some kind of solution with the Palestinians”.

Former Obama adviser and CFR fellow Phil Gordon: “I will be surprised if anyone has success on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. It was hard or unreachable for the past 30 years but arguably the conditions are worse now. Abbas is now 82 years old, in the 12th year of his 5 year term. He is just not in a position to make political concessions that he can sell to his public. I don’t think the conditions are ripe for that ultimate deal. Saudis said to me in private discussions that ‘Israel is not killing us – Iran and ISIS are killing us’ but that doesn’t mean that they are willing to play the public role that would be necessary to give the Palestinians the cover.”

Meanwhile, in the Knesset, another Israeli law was extended to the settlements. The proposal by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), which passed a preliminary vote, would let settlers file legal petitions to the Administrative Court – including on land issues – instead of the matters going straight to the High Court of Justice. The bill is one in a series over recent years that could be considered a form of annexation. Smotrich said the bill was meant to promote “normalization of the settlements in Judea and Samaria,” meaning that their residents should fall under the same laws as all Israelis. Whereas Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni called the bill a “campaign to annex the West Bank” and said it would “create an apartheid state.”

Another Zoabi dust-up MK Haneen Zoabi of the Joint List (Arab) and Mavi Marmara infamy did her usual thing in the Knesset today. Her routine is that she calls Israel and the IDF terrorists, murderers, violators of international law, and then, like clockwork, right-wing MKs start shouting at her and the Knesset devolves into utter chaos. This time, Zoabi said that “whoever blockades Gaza is a terrorist,” and, seemingly justifying Palestinian terrorism, said “it is the moral imperative of the oppressed to fight the oppressor.” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin responded to her accusations in the name of the government, saying that, if she had any integrity, Zoabi would give up her Israeli citizenship. “I hope that the day will come that a court in Israel will prohibit Zoabi from running for the Knesset and allow us to take away her citizenship.”

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