Kafe Knesset for September 20

Between Trump and Sisi: Even before stepping up to the marble United Nations General Assembly podium this afternoon, Netanyahu can mark this as a very successful visit. The PM’s accomplishments include a third friendly and productive meeting with President Trump and a historic first public encounter with Egyptian President Sisi. Netanyahu and Sisi have met in the past, but it was always behind a veil of secrecy. Yesterday’s open meeting with Sisi is a significant achievement for Bibi. The meeting lasted 90 minutes (even longer then the meeting with POTUS!), and according to a PMO readout, the two leaders discussed regional issues and President Sisi “expressed his will to assist attempts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Before the meeting with Sisi, Netanyahu held a lengthy press briefing on his third meeting with President Trump, which he described as “very good and positive.” Touching on a range of issues, Netanyahu focused his messages to the Israeli press on Iran, of course, stressing time and again that he and the President are on the same page on the issue, and how happy he is that Trump is not Obama. “There is a change in the attitude of the American system toward Iran, and it also brings about a change in the international community. There is a clear agreement that the deal is bad. The Americans share our desire to amend the deal. The President’s starting point is exactly the same as ours – which was not the case in the previous administration. The Obama administration saw Iran as a solution to problems in the Middle East, and this administration sees Iran as the root cause of the problems in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said. The PM added that he proposed a plan to change the JCPOA, focusing on the sunset clause, without elaborating what exactly he suggested. “The main amendment required is that [in the current version] the agreement will expire within a decade – within eight years they will have the possibility of short-term access to nuclear bombs.”

The PM also addressed President Trump’s aspirations to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. Netanyahu’s opening remarks focused solely on that goal. Netanyahu said that he “shares the desire to reach peace with the Palestinians, but I insist on those vital interests – the goal is peace, security, security and peace. There will be no peace if we cannot anchor the security of the State of Israel.” Despite the fact that the peace process was the only topic mentioned by the President during the photo op, Israeli and US officials told Kafe Knesset that the issue took second place during the meeting, which was mostly dedicated to Bibi’s favorite topic – Iran.

Practice or symbolism: The other burning issue Bibi was asked about during the briefing with Israeli journalists was the Kotel agreement and the crisis with US Jewry. These questions followed the PM’s meeting with Jewish establishment leaders on Sunday. Netanyahu said that he “explained the efforts being made to expand the egalitarian prayer compound and told them that I appointed [former justice minister] Moshe Nissim to give recommendations on conversion, and I explained to them that this is a structural political problem. In the State of Israel there is always a basic conflict, which Ben-Gurion also dealt with. On the one hand, the ultra-Orthodox desire to see the State as being halakhically governed, and on the other hand, the desire of the secular majority not to act in this manner. These compromises gradually and slowly change. My desire is to see Israel as a home for all Jews.”

Netanyahu stressed that he did not cancel the whole Kotel Agreement. He only “suspended one clause” regarding the joint management of the egalitarian prayer area that would include representatives from the Reform and Conservative movements. The PM stated that he “did not understand the significance of this clause – between practice and symbolism. The Reform and Conservative movements wanted to receive backdoor recognition under the pretext of a technical clause. There is a years-long struggle to recognize the Reform Movement in Israel, and to restrict the power of the Rabbinate. The government did not change this.”

Clueless Likudniks: While we are already on the topic of Israel’s relations with US Jewry, here’s a strange story first reported by Channel 10 News’ Akiva Novick. As you may recall, there is a war going on in the Likud, led by coalition chairman David Bitan, against the “New Likudniks.” The New Likudniks are a group that is recruiting new members to the party in order to support more moderate candidates in the party primary. Some old Likudniks decided to hit the New Likudniks in their pockets and called upon American donors to stop supporting MKs who back the New Likudniks, namely Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel and MK Sharren Haskel. The letter from Likud activist Moshe Sabach and his business partner from Colorado, Ray Millers, was bizarrely addressed to AIPAC in addition to American Friends of Likud. The letter was rife with spelling and grammar errors. In addition, Sabach plans to send the letter to donors of the three Likud politicians. The recipients of the letter will be those donors who are listed on the State Comptroller’s website as supporters of the three. The Jerusalem Post reported that American Friends of Likud chairman Dr. Julio Messer never received the letter. Dr. Messer added that if he had received the letter, he would have ignored it.

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