Kafe Knesset for July 25
Jordan crisis solved: After several nights with very little time to sleep, Netanyahu opened his morning with a positive photo-op, welcoming to his office the Israeli Ambassador to Jordan, Einat Shlein, and the security guard who was involved in the Amman embassy incident. Since last night, the PM has been aggressively working on the safe return to Israel of the Embassy staff, including releasing a recording of his first phone call with Ambassador Shlein and the guard minutes after they crossed the Jordanian border. Within 28 hours, Netanyahu successfully managed to defuse the deep crisis with Jordan. He is keen on stressing the heroic aspect of Israel defending its people abroad. He is equally keen to divert the focus away from the price that he had to pay – backing down and removing the metal detectors from the entrances to the Temple Mount compound.
Netanyahu’s office has denied that there was a deal with King Abdullah binding the two topics together. The PM himself told the Security Cabinet ministers the same thing last night. At another late-night meeting, the Security Cabinet decided to remove the metal detectors from the Temple Mount entrances and adopt an alternative Police plan to ensure security and calm on Temple Mount and in the Old City. Not all of the ministers agreed with the decision. Right-wing Jewish Home ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked were joined by Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud and opposed the removal of the metal detectors. The ministers claim that the new hi- tech security plan will take at least six months to implement and there is no temporary alternative in the interim for the compound’s security.
Netanyahu is smart enough to share responsibility with his cabinet ministers in recent days. But the decision to put the metal detectors in place to begin with was his decision alone. So now, his main political challenge is to overcome the accusations of zig-zagging emerging in the media and from both sides of the political spectrum. Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich slammed the cabinet’s decision as a victory for terror and violence: “Now the Arabs understand that slaughtering a Jewish family was worthwhile and could make us fold. The message to the Arab street and to the terrorists is clear: Terrorism pays.” Smotrich praised Bennett, Shaked and Elkin for voting against removal of the metal detectors and “preferring the security interest over popularity.” On the other hand, Labor’s Omer Bar-Lev attacked the initial decision to install the metal detectors. Bar-Lev accused Bibi and the cabinet of “making the wrong decisions because of narrow political considerations, instead of making courageous decisions from a strategic perspective and taking care of Israel’s security.” His fellow party member, Shelly Yachimovich, came out in a surprising defense of the PM’s decision making. Yachimovich stated that the “the metal detectors were a reasonable idea at the time, and later it turned out they were a mistake. It could have been fixed earlier, but better late than never.”
Friedman’s Knesset debut: In his debut official appearance in the Knesset today, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman credited the US with playing a key role in solving the crisis with Jordan. According to Friedman, the “situation in Jordan could have gone bad,” but “with the work of officials in the US, together with the Prime Minister of Israel and King of Jordan, without a lot of noise and with careful deliberation, we were able to defuse a very difficult situation very quickly that under different circumstances would not have been resolved.” Friedman spoke at a meeting of the US-Israel Relations Caucus headed by Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai and Likud MK Avraham Neguise. Friedman’s turn came after many MKs had the floor, and said that if they want to strengthen US-Israel relations, they should talk less and listen more. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog thanked the US for its help, but said they should have gotten involved earlier.
One highlight of Friedman’s visit is when he seemed unable to pinpoint the POTUS position on regional issues. Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz asked Friedman if he could explain the Trump administration’s policy on Israel, calling it unclear, and Friedman said “I can’t be specific, but the Trump administration is committed to peace in the Middle East and will try to help.”
Knesset enacts the “Trump Rule” of decorum: The Knesset voted last night on the “Trump rule,” which is meant to make it easier to enforce good behavior when foreign visitors come to the legislature. According to the new rule, the Knesset Speaker can kick out an MK after only one interruption, whether the interruption is verbal or physical, during a foreign visitor’s speech. Normally, the Knesset has a three-strikes policy. The rule was inspired by Trump’s visit earlier this year. Edelstein said that Trump wanted to give a speech in the Knesset, but did not, because he was told he would almost definitely be heckled by some of the Arab members of the Knesset.
Go Rudy: As President Trump is reportedly considering Rudy Giuliani as his new attorney general, it is worth noting that the former NYC Mayor’s legal approach has a big fan in Jerusalem. Last month, Giuliani visited Israel and gave an interview to Walla’s Jacob Eilon. Eilon asked about politicians accepting gifts from friends, amidst the File 1000 investigation proceeding against BB. In this matter the allegation is that the PM was regularly supplied with alcohol and cigars by his billionaire friend, Arnon Milchan. “They should leave out the cigars, it is getting really petty and silly,” Giuliani replied. “It looks like it is a politically inspired prosecution. I am very worried, not just here in Israel, but also in the US and all over the world, that we are now criminalizing politics. When there are political differences and the newspapers do not like you and some of your opponents don’t like you – they try to put you under criminal investigations. And personally, as a cigar aficionado, I am one of the most better known cigar smokers in America, they should leave out the cigars.” Sharing the love of cigars, Netanyahu shared the Walla interview on his Facebook page. The PM has been quoting Giuliani as a legal authority to prove his innocence since then. Two days after the interview, when reports about Netanyahu’s criminal affairs made it to the headlines again, his personal media advisor Nir Hefetz qouted Giuliani’s interview as a proof that the probes are a “witch hunt aimed at toppling the Prime Minister and changing the government.” Netanyahu himself also enthusiastically pointed out Giuliani’s stance in the rare and weird late night interview he gave to Channel 20 earlier this month. It seems that Bibi would probably gladly recommend to President Trump that Giuliani is the right guy to become the next US Attorney General.