Kafe Knesset for November 30

The embassy, again? Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem made it back into the headlines last night. Israel’s Channel 2 reported that officials in Jerusalem expect the announcement as early as Sunday. This comes just a few days before POTUS was expected to sign the traditional waiver required under US law. The Prime Minister’s Office maintained radio silence on the matter and refused to comment, and the White House said reports were “premature.” However, two senior Israeli politicians told Kafe Knesset they believe “this time it is serious,” citing internal pressure from Trump’s evangelical base as the main impetus for the announcement. These officials pointed to the statement by VP Pence earlier this week about the White House “actively considering how and when” to make the Embassy move. On the other hand, this morning King Abdullah II of Jordan already made clear what he thinks about an Embassy move. Other senior Israeli insiders expressed concern that the Channel 2 report itself could have thwarted any intent to make a policy change on the subject at this time.

Running around the globe and against time: After months of chasing him around the globe, the Israeli Police have finally caught up to Australian billionaire James Packer and collected his testimony in File 1000, a/k/a the Gift Affair. Packer was questioned this week by Australian and Israeli investigators in Australia. Packer gave his version of events in response to allegations that he partnered with US billionaire Arnon Milchan, to give gifts and presents to the Netanyahu couple. Now, the police intend to question Netanyahu again, and confront him with Packer’s testimony, but according to various reports, they already have sufficient evidence to conclude the investigation and intend to finalize it and submit a recommendation for indictment by the end of the year. However, there is a race between the Police and Bibi’s Knesset loyalists, coalition chairman David Bitan and MK Dudi Amsalem, who are vigorously promoting the Police Recommendations bill, that is aimed at preventing the publication of Police conclusions and recommendations on criminal affairs involving public and elected officials, and leave that to the Attorney General.

Bitan and Amsalem are speeding up the legislation, and were hoping to bring it to a final vote next Monday. However, the opposition is staging a fierce battle against it, and it is not clear the coalition will have enough votes. While the Zionist Union canceled all overseas trips for its MKs, several coalition MKs and ministers are expected to be abroad (many of them at the Saban Forum in DC). Kulanu chairman, Moshe Kachlon, has given his faction a free pass on this vote, and at least three MKs are considering abstaining or skipping the vote. Moreover, Netanyahu, as well as Likud Labor Minister Haim Katz, will not participate in the final vote on the Police Recommendations bill, as both are in conflict of interest due to ongoing investigations into allegations of corruption by both of them. The Likud is hoping to ensure some of the Joint List MKs are absent from the vote, but it appears it is going to be a very close call.

Bitan might have to count the votes in another burning political arena: the Haredi-secular clash inside the coalition. Netanyahu and the Haredi parties settled their row earlier this week, with a package of bills and moves which are intended to limit activities on Shabbat, Yesterday, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu announced it will vote against one of the bills which was part of the Bibi-Haredi deal, also known as the “mini markets bill”. The legislation, sponsored by Shas Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, gives the minister the authority to repeal municipal bylaws, thereby effectively giving him the final call on opening or closing supermarkets on Shabbat. Appealing to his secular constituency, Liberman announced in advance that his party will vote against the bill, and Bitan plans to meet with Yisrael Beytenu to reach an understanding. If not, the Likud will once again be counting on the Arab MKs to miss the vote to ensure that the bill passes.

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