Kafe Knesset for August 25

Trump-Netanyahu Instagram diplomacy: The Kushner-Greenblatt-Powell short visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah hardly made headlines this morning. The niceties of the Kushner-Netanyahu meeting, and the smiles in the Ramallah photo-op, despite clear tensions between the Palestinians and the White House, did not draw much public attention. Only the Adelson freebie, Israel Hayom, featured the event on its front page. Its main rival, Yediot Aharonot, settled for a small mention on page 2 and liberal-leaning Ha’aretz placed its report on page 5. The paucity of coverage reflects a general sense of indifference in Jerusalem to the lingering attempts to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for the umpteenth time.

The President himself seemed much more excited, as he reached out to his son-in-law and the Israeli premier with a special Instagram message. “Let’s advance peace prosperity and security in the area. There is no doubt that our relationship is stronger than ever! See you soon,” Trump wrote. The Prime Minister’s Office, however, forgot to mention the President at first. A short readout initially described “effective and substantive discussions on the ways to promote peace and security in the region,” adding that the PM is expecting to continue talks in the coming weeks. A few minutes after the first readout was released, the PMO sent out another, corrected statement, adding a sentence of special gratitude to the President. “The Prime Minister expressed his appreciation to President Trump and his administration for their solid support for Israel.” Greenblatt, in any case, is expected back in the region as soon as next week. Channel 2 reports that he will be arriving to examine a regional railroad plan promoted by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.

Missing a MIA and POW Envoy: It’s been over three years since Operation Protective Edge, and there has been no significant progress in Israeli attempts to return the remains of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin. Shaul and Goldin are the two IDF soldiers captured during the 2014 Gaza military conflict. Two other Israeli citizens – Avraham “Abera” Mengistu and Juma Ibrahim Abu Anima – are also held captive by Hamas. Prospects of a breakthrough grew dimmer yesterday. The PM’s special envoy who was leading the efforts, Lior Lotan, announced his resignation. This resignation follows various attempts, including secret negotiation channels with Hamas and government proposals to increase pressure on Hamas. Lotan, a counter-terrorism expert and former IDF Colonel, officially explained his resignation stating that the portfolio’s high demands require a change of personnel every few years. But off the record, Israeli officials say that he resigned after realizing talks with Hamas have reached a dead end and were limited by the political echelon’s small maneuvering range. In an official statement from the PMO, Lotan was quoted as saying that in his position he was exposed to “the cruelty and cynicism with which Hamas operates on the issue of POWs and MIAs” and that he is satisfied that Israel has raised international awareness of the issue. For the meantime, the PM has charged his military attaché, Eliezer Toledano, to continue overseeing the efforts, but the families of the missing soldiers and citizens are demanding a new appointment and that Lotan will be replaced. The Goldin family accused the government of “abandoning” them, stating that “Lotan’s resignation is a harsh indictment against the incompetence of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Behind the words ‘the government is doing everything to bring Hadar and Oron home,’ there is the bleak reality in which nothing is being done.”

Steinitz for the Jewish Agency? The Jewish Agency chair, Nathan Sharansky, is now in his ninth year on the job, but it will be his last one. The race for the prestigious job is starting to warm up. The hottest name in the political echelon is Likud Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. According to Yedioth Aharonoth, other potential candidates whose names are floating around, include Ron Prosor (the former UN ambassador), Beni Kashriel (Mayor of Ma’ale Adumim) and Eliezer (Modi) Zandberg (World Chairman of Keren Hayesod). Zandberg was already offered the job in the past but rejected it. Steinitz, who is considered one of the more sensible and moderate Likud ministers, was the only cabinet minister who voted against the controversial Kotel Agreement freeze, is likely to receive support from many members of the Jewish Agency board. However, so far, he has been reluctant and has been brushing off these reports as “irrelevant.” Behind the scenes, there is at least one man who would be very happy to have Steinitz appointed, and he is speculated to be the main source of the rumor: Coalition head and Bibi loyalist David Bitan, who is waiting for the PM to cash in on his promise to appoint him as a minister. If Steinitz gets the Jewish Agency, Bitan is likely to be promoted.

Petach Tikva is on the map, again

Hundreds of anti corruption protesters are expected to storm the streets of Petach Tikva tomorrow. This is the result of a ruling yesterday by the High Court of Justice. The Court ruled that the demonstrations near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Petach Tikvah, can continue, but must be limited to 500 participants. The court accepted the petition filed by the demonstrators against the Police, who have been trying to stop the weekly demonstartions, but accepted the Police restrictions on the number of the protesters. Coalition chair David Bitan, who has been organizing the Likud counter-protests in recent weeks, slammed the court for “supporting the left-wing pressure against the AG which risks influencing procedures against the PM.” Bitan announced that he will not be demonstrating this week, since he is planning another mega support rally for Netanyahu on Wednesday, “and that will be our answer to the Left’s tyrannical de-legitimization campaign.”

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