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A new government is born


Israeli newspapers lead their Thursday editions with news that, almost two months after the election, the 34th Israeli government is due to be sworn in on Thursday, even as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu continues with intensive negotiations with his Likud colleagues over who will get the ministerial positions that have not already been promised to his coalition partners. Netanyahu is expected to present his new government to the Knesset on Thursday evening. Following the debate, a vote will be held, and if the government is approved, the ministers will be called up to take the oath of office.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu announced that Likud cabinet minister Yisrael Katz will continue to serve in the new government as transportation minister. Katz will also assume the intelligence affairs portfolio, and be a member of the security diplomatic cabinet. Netanyahu's meeting with Likud minister Gilad Erdan on his cabinet appointment was inconclusive, and the two are expected to meet again on Thursday to continue discussions.

Netanyahu has at least 12 portfolios to distribute among Likud Knesset members, after the Knesset passed second and third readings of a measure removing the limit on the number of ministers allowed to serve on the cabinet. Prior to the vote on the revision, the size of the cabinet was limited to 18 ministers. Ministries to be assigned include Public Security, Communications, Culture and Sports, Immigration and Absorption, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, Tourism, Welfare and Social Services, Strategic Affairs and Home Front Defense.

Yedioth Ahronoth's lead story also reports that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has told Netanyahu that while there is no legal reason preventing the appointment of Shas chairman Aryeh Deri to the cabinet, it would be difficult for him to defend the appointment before the Supreme Court. In an opinion to the prime minister, Weinstein wrote, 'it is a decision that raises legal difficulties, considering Deri's criminal record and the damage to the public's faith in the government's integrity and in its proper conduct, which could be caused by Deri's appointment as a minister, given his background.' The attorney general said that his legal opinion must not be construed as 'public, moral or any other form of approval for Deri's intended appointment.'

Meanwhile, the coalition guidelines that detail what Netanyahu and his government hope to achieve during their four-year term was published yesterday. Haaretz points out that, despite exhortations from the Obama Administration, the guidelines make no explicit commitment to create a 'Palestinian state' or to implement a 'two-state solution.' The paper also points out that neither of Netanyahu’s two previous governments mentioned the two-state solution in their coalition guidelines.

Rather, the guidelines merely state that, 'The government will advance the diplomatic process and will strive for a peace agreement with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors, while guarding security interests, the historic and national (interests) of Israel. If such an agreement is reached, it will be brought for authorization by the government and Knesset and if there will be the need for it as required by law, to a national referendum.'

In related news, two new diplomatic storms appear to be brewing. The first is between Israel and the Vatican, after a treaty was finalized yesterday between the Holy See and the Palestinian Authority. According to the Associated Press, the agreement uses – for the first time – the phrase 'Palestinian state,' much to Israel's chagrin. In response, Israel expressed its grave disappointment with tacit recognition that the treaty – which deals with the activities of the Catholic Church in Palestinian territory – grants to the Palestinians.

While the Vatican had welcomed the decision by the UN General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state, this new treaty is the first legal document negotiated between the Holy See and the Palestinians and constitutes an official recognition, according to a Vatican spokesman. It was finalized days before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visits Pope Francis at the Vatican. Abbas is heading to Rome to attend Francis' canonization Sunday of two new saints from the Holy Land.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the Vatican's move does not promote the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations. The statement noted that Israel will study the agreement and will consider its steps accordingly.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reports that strategic consultations between Israel and France last week deteriorated into an argument over French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’ initiative to advance a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the United Nations Security Council, with Israel arguing that Paris was operating behind Israel’s back.

The report goes on to say that European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is due to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority next Wednesday, for talks expected to focus on the peace process. During the one-day visit, Mogherini is expected to meet in Israel with Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, and in Ramallah with the Palestinian leadership. Upon her return to Brussels she will brief the EU foreign ministers on her discussions.

While Israel is at loggerheads with France, the European Union, the Vatican and the Obama Administration, it did get some support from Florida Senator Marco Rubio – the Republican presidential candidate who appears to have the backing of casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson.

According to Haaretz, during a Q&A session following a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Rubio was asked whether he would continue to support a two-state solution if elected president. 'I don’t think the conditions exist for that today,' he responded. 'The conditions for a two-state solution, at this moment, do not exist.'

Settler-run news service Arutz 7 reports that an unnamed senior Israel official says that, should the United States begin pressuring Israel on the Palestinians issue now, it would only be to topple the new government. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there are signs that the U.S. will first pressure Israel into keeping its soldiers out of Area A. He explained that such a move would be very dangerous for West Bank settlers.

Finally, in breaking news this afternoon, three Israeli teens were injured in what security forces are treating as a terrorist vehicular attack in the West Bank. According to Army Radio, three 16-year-old boys were wounded after being run over by a Palestinian motorist at the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut. The victims are all described in light to moderate condition. The Palestinian driver fled the scene immediately after committing the attack, but was detained by security forces shortly after. A resident of Hebron, he is now being interrogated by the Shin Bet.



THE GERMAN OBSESSION: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Guy Bechor says that Germany does not have the right to interfere in Israel's affairs – and that; in any case, the call for the establishment of a Palestinian state reflects a profound lack of understanding on Berlin's part.

"In an open letter to the people of Israel marking the 50th anniversary of relations between Israel and Germany, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote this week that 'the security of a Jewish and democratic State of Israel cannot be guaranteed without the establishment of a sustainable and democratic Palestinian state.'

Unfortunately, that sentence is not just insultingly condescending – once again, Germany believes that it knows best when it comes to what's good for the Jews – it is also a gross interference in our national affairs. Can you imagine what would happen if an Israeli politician were to tell the German people that their security cannot be safeguarded unless they grant autonomy, including the imposition of Sharia law, to the ever-growing Muslim population in their country? After all, that is a demand that will one day be made. The Germans would not countenance such behavior. So why would Steinmeier feel that he has the right to say something like that to a country that he claims is Germany's ally?

Let's take a look now at the substance of the issue. What about the demand for a democratic Palestinian state? Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas officially ended his term of office six years ago; he was elected in January 2005 for a four-year term (thanks in large part to Israel's support and protection) and he is now supposed to be a private citizen. He dissolved the Palestinian parliament as soon as he was elected, because Hamas won a majority there. In any case, the parliament's term ended five years ago. There has been no fresh election in the Palestinian Authority and there is no agreement among the Palestinians to hold one, since Hamas will take control of every elected body – just as, in 2007, it grabbed control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup, two years after Israel withdrew and handed it over the Abu Mazin. The Gaza Strip is controlled by a terrorist organization, while a corrupt gang that lacks any legal or moral justification runs things from Ramallah. That is Palestinian democracy: they are not ready for statehood. They have no national institutions, no economy, no political system, no sources of income, no parties and no common ground between the various factions.

As for security, surely Steinmeier knows that the establishment of an independent Arab entity in Judea and Samaria would mean the end of the Jewish state that Germany is so keen to protect. Does the German foreign minister know that the border of the Palestinian state he is so keen to see come into existence will run just 2 kilometers from the Knesset – and that, if he were to address the Israeli parliament, he would be within sniper-range of Palestinian gunmen? Does he know that Abu Mazin plans to bring hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, Iraq and Lebanon? These are highly dangerous terrorists, whose missiles can easily reach Israel's main international airport, as well as Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. Will Steinmeier and his colleagues come to save us then? Did he lift a finger to save the hundreds of thousands of fatalities in the Syrian Civil War, in Libya, in Yemen and in Egypt? Did he do anything to help the Ukrainians? The reunification of Jerusalem served as an example for the reunification of Berlin – so why does Berlin now want us to partition Jerusalem again?

Any reasonable person would ask himself why the Germans are so obsessed with the Palestinians, given that the Palestinians are the only Arabs in the Middle East who live comfortable and protected lives – thanks to Israel. This is not occupation; this is a rescue effort. If it were not for Israel, the Palestinians would be at each other’s throats, just like Arabs are across the entire region. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have all been destroyed; millions of new refugees have been created and hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. Perhaps the Germans aren't obsessed with the Palestinians, but with the Jews.

Have the Germans found a solution for the millions of Muslims seeking to relocate to Europe and who threaten to radically alter the demography of the entire continent? Have they dealt with the growing tide of anti-Semitism, which is once again rearing its ugly head on German soil? Did they think that by agreeing to give us a discount on four patrol boats they had bought themselves the right to interfere in our affairs? Do they not realize that we could have bought those vessels from any one of a dozen different countries?

When Germany talks about the Jewish state, they have no right to criticize, to chastise or to give advice. After all, it was the Germans who carried out the most heinous, most evil and most monstrous genocide in the history of humankind – and they did so against the Jews."



THE EXCUSES AFTER THE WAR: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ariela Ringel Hoffman comments on a television program in which Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz – who were prime minister, defense minister and IDF chief respectively during the Second Lebanon War – gave their accounts of what happened nine years ago.

"Nine years after the end of the Second Lebanon War, after dozens of military investigations, hundreds of articles and studies, three books and the highly critical Winograd Report, the three architects of that war – Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz – look and sound worse than we imagined; worse than we knew. Instead of showing us that they have learned from hindsight, that they have taken stock of their mistakes and that they recognize the error of their ways, they used the opportunity given to them by a Channel 2 investigative report to give us nothing more than schoolboy excuses.

Dan Halutz, who was IDF chief of staff at the time, was the worst offender. He spent most of the time smiling – although it's far from clear what he's got to be so happy about. He cited another senior officer – Gadi Eisenkot, who is now IDF chief himself – as saying that the General Staff would do everything in its power to make sure he failed. That is a very serious allegation and it would be interesting to hear the response of Eisenkot to such claims, which can only be described as collective mud-slinging at his fellow members of the top IDF brass.

Halutz kept on reminding us that he was an outsider; that he came from the Air Force, while the other members of the General Staff were all from the army. He failed to mention, of course, that before he was named chief of staff, he had been a full and equal partner in the General Staff's decision-making process for at least a decade: he was Air Force commander for five years, head of the Operation Directorate for two years and for another two years served as deputy IDF chief. In other words, if he was taken by surprise – as he claimed time and time again – by the poor state of the army, then one of two things is true: either he failed to see what was happening around him or he didn't bother to look.

From Halutz's perspective, the Second Lebanon War provided him with a first opportunity to discover exactly what state the IDF was in and to examine the performance of the officers – many of whom were appointed by him directly, including the head of the Northern Command, Udi Adam. 'It wasn't my army,' he said. 'I did not grow up in the ranks of the army.' Even the death of 12 soldiers from a Hizbollah rocket at Kfar Giladi was not his fault; it was 'part of the events of the war.'

According to Halutz, he was even directed to carry out the insane three-day ground operation that came at the end of the war. He was not asked by whom and he gave no direct explanation of what he meant by that, but, judging by Olmert's comments later in the program, one can understand that there were retired officers involved. Olmert quoted Halutz as telling him that, 'they are stomping their feet' and that 'they are in a dangerous position.' To Olmert's credit, he did recognize how dangerous the ground operation could be, and he told Halutz to withdraw them. At the end of the interview, Olmert admitted – and he was the only one of the three who did so – that, in retrospect, the ground operation was superfluous.

Throughout the interview, Halutz kept on saying – with all the elegance of a bull in a china shop – that he refused to argue with bereaved families. He was also the first IDF chief who saw fit not to visit them during their mourning period. His summary of the Second Lebanon War was to say that, since then, the northern border has been 'quiet.' How is it possible that, after so many years, Halutz doesn't understand that the main problem that many people have is not with the decision to go to war – even though that was a rash and negligent decision in and of itself. The main complaint is how the war was conducted after the first few days – during which the IDF achieved everything that it would achieve throughout the conflict: destroying Hizbollah’s stockpiles of long-range rockets and attacking targets in Hizbollah’s Beirut stronghold. The Second Lebanon War should have been over in 60 hours, but it lasted for over a month.

Those 60 hours encapsulated everything that was wrong with the way the whole war was conducted: Halutz was absent from a key discussion because he was in a television studio; Peretz, who was defense minister, ignored the advice of his professional aides, who warned him about the dangers of the operation – and now he complains that he was looked down on, while ignoring his own lack of experience and knowledge; Olmert, who was unable to reply to Shaul Mofaz’s question as to what he would say to the bereaved families, nonetheless gave the green light for the IDF to go to war.

The Channel 2 program did not bring any new facts to the public discourse on the Second Lebanon War. It's importance is in the clear message that it sends to all of Israel's decision makers, to the prime minister, the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff: retrospective excuses, attempts to deflect blame and smart-guy comments cannot change the overall picture. They cannot rewrite history. Not one year after the war, not nine years after the war and not 40 years after the war."



UNITED IN RACISM: Writing in Israel Hayom, Reuven Berko takes issue with Arab Knesset members, who tried to use the protests by Ethiopian Israelis to drive a wedge between Jews and to reassert their claims that the Land of Israel does not belong to the Jews.

"Members of the Joint Arab List took a self-righteous satisfaction from last week's demonstrations by Israelis of Ethiopian descent. The same people who referred to Condoleezza Rice as a 'slave girl' are now playing the 'Israeli apartheid' card and accusing the 'evil police state' of racism and discrimination. They also got some mileage from 'Breaking the Silence,' which issued a report claiming to present the testimonies of soldiers who say that they were ordered to commit war crimes during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last summer.

Hamas openly calls for the murder of Jews and the Palestinian Authority honors the memories of terrorists who killed Jews by naming streets after them. Is there any Palestinian lawyer who has looked into the crimes of the PLO and Hamas against Israeli citizens? Has a Palestinian terrorist ever complained about the crimes his people committed against us, as our soldiers go to Breaking the Silence and to their commanders to report improper behavior during a battle? Arab Knesset members who made use of Breaking the Silence's lies, which are supposed to be based on soldiers' testimonies, were ironically highlighting the very morality that they claim the IDF lacks. Thanks to the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, Ahmad Tibi and his ilk have the opportunity to denigrate the State of Israel whenever and wherever they want. But the shadow that they want to cast on Israel is actually the reflection of the murderous fire which sees Arabs killing Arabs in inconceivable numbers across the Middle East. This is a fire that consumes everything in its path, destroys temples and historic sites, kills nations and races, blacks and whites, innocent and guilty.

When the flames are high, even the shadow cast by dwarves is huge. The Palestinians have always condemned the Zionist ingathering of exiles, saying that it is a falsification and that it comes at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population, who are the true people of this land. In addition to that slanderous claim, they also make the following racist assertion: 'The dark-skinned Ethiopian Jews have nothing in common with the blued-eyed Russian and Polish Jews – apart from the fact that they all live in the same plundered Palestine.' It's time we remind the Palestinians that the State of Israel brought these Jews home from far away – black and white alike – while endangering the lives of its finest.

These Arab MKs put on a show on identifying with the Ethiopian Jews. They did so using the language of hatred, demagoguery and duplicity. They also tried to drive a wedge between Jews, by saying that the black Jews are treated as second-class citizens by the ruling white Jews. This is a repeat of their failed attempts in the past to drive a wedge between Sephardi Jews and their Ashkenazi brethren. They say that, compared to the Arabs, the Ethiopians have got it good; when Palestinians demonstrate, the police don't just beat them, they open fire. While there is never any justification for shooting civilians, Arab rioters show exactly the difference between a demonstrator and a terrorist: the Ethiopians, unlike Arab rioters, did not throw firebombs at the security forces, did not hurl rocks with the intention to kill and did not shoot or stab police officers. Unlike the Arab MKs, who encourage their people not to participate in any kind of national service, Ethiopian Israelis are decorated veterans of the IDF and many have laid down their lives in the service of this country.

Much has already been written about the real origin of the so-called 'Palestinian natives' who moved here in response to the emergence of Zionism as a political movement. They came from Egypt, from Morocco and from Syria. Not even the Islamic holy writings – including the Quran itself, which clearly states that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews – can back up their patently false claims."



PLAYING CHICKEN WITH THE ICC: Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Yonah Jeremy Bob says that the refusal to recognize Palestine as a state is a gamble that has worked for Israel before – but warns that it might not work this time.

"Israel is playing a high- stakes game of chicken with International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda over its preliminary examination into alleged war crimes from the 2014 Gaza operation.

Bensouda has recognized a 'State of Palestine' since January and has adamantly defended her position on the issue. She is not alone, with support from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN General Assembly and, maybe most importantly, the president of the Assembly of State Parties, which governs the ICC.

Jerusalem has rejected this position just as adamantly. Moreover, it appears to be moving in the direction of no official cooperation with Bensouda – even as the IDF continues with its own investigations of alleged war crimes – and Israel may, as it has in the past, use third parties to make its eventual case before the ICC prosecutor.

The ICC’s recognition of Palestinian statehood is a key part of what makes the Palestinians eligible to call for the court’s intervention. The refusal to recognize Palestine as a state is a gamble that has worked for Israel before, in countering the 2009 Goldstone Report and other UN reports. It is also Israel’s strategy regarding the UN Human Rights Council’s McGowan-Davis Report, which is due on June 29. But it may not work this time.

The Goldstone and McGowan-Davis reports emanated from the UNHRC, which has no binding power and can easily be blocked by a U.S. veto at the UN Security Council. However, other than its admittedly substantial indirect diplomatic power, the U.S. has no such veto over ICC decisions and cannot even threaten to withdraw funds, as it is not an ICC member. If U.S. diplomatic power was going to stop Bensouda, she likely never would have recognized Palestine in the first place.

Israel’s only plays, if Bensouda opens a full criminal investigation without its cooperation, are an appeal to the ICC judges that she overreached her powers in recognizing Palestine, or a diplomatic push to discredit or indirectly pressure her office into dropping the issue before indictments.

All of this signals that Israel may be passing up a chance to stake its big fight on complementarity – the idea that its own investigations are reasonable enough that Bensouda cannot initiate a full criminal investigation or get involved at all. This is because the ICC is a court of last resort and cannot get involved in a country’s business unless that country is unwilling or unable to self-investigate.

Israel points out in its argument against a 'State of Palestine' that the U.S. and Canada agree with its position. But if Israel were to center its argument on asserting that its investigations are reasonable – rather than on trying to discredit Palestine as a state and thereby remove it from the ICC’s jurisdiction – it could potentially rally a larger number of Western democracies around the idea that the ICC should not be second-guessing democracies that have systems for self-investigating (as opposed to dictatorships and developing countries that are actually unable to self-investigate). Such an argument might find many more allies than trying to keep fighting the Palestine statehood wave.

As such, the statehood strategy is surprising – unless Israel has concluded that it would be too risky to trust Bensouda and the ICC judges to give Israel’s internal investigation a fair hearing, or that Jerusalem can afford to take a riskier tack because a possible return to a diplomatic process with the Palestinians could deter the court from pursuing the case anyway.

Of course, Israel could try to re-invoke complementarity even once a criminal investigation was, theoretically, initiated. But at that point, legally speaking, Israel’s back would be further against the wall, Bensouda would already be more committed, and the state would already have suffered a significant diplomatic embarrassment.

Knowledgeable sources have said that the ICC prosecutor is still far from D-Day on Israel-Palestine, and maybe Israel will make more of a case if it sees the court is really digging in. But as of now, the game is on, and while fighting against Palestine as a state is a knockout winner if it works, it is also a dangerous game with less room to maneuver."



THE ABANDONED GENERATION: Writing in Haaretz, Ari Shavit warns that Israel is neglecting one of the most important fronts in its battle for survival – the campuses of American universities.

"The Jewish students at UCLA will never forget the night of February 25, 2014. For 13 nightmarish hours, they were confronted with the hateful words and wild eyes of hundreds of fellow students — supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — who alleged that defending Israel was tantamount to defending racism, genocide and infanticide. For one long night they experienced a debate on boycotting Israel that turned into a horror show of persecution.

They had not been prepared for such a near-violent conflict, and many of them were emotionally wounded. Thus when the vote — on whether the university should divest of companies that ostensibly profit from the occupation — went narrowly in their favor, they felt no sense of triumph; on the contrary. More than a hundred students left the meeting at dawn, hugged each other on a campus lawn and cried.

In recent months I have visited 27 American universities. I did not come to preach, but to listen. I tried to conduct an open, candid dialogue with the sons and daughters of a new Jewish generation that faces a challenge their parents and grandparents never did. Day after day I sat for entire days with groups of Jewish students — more than 100 groups in all — and asked them to share with me what was on their minds and in their hearts.

In Hillel houses at Princeton, Brown, Yale, Dartmouth, Michigan, Northwestern, the University of California San Diego and 20 other campuses, I repeatedly heard variations of the same heartbreaking story: Jewish students who (still) love Israel and (still) feel close to it, but who are asking tough ethical questions that Israel has no answers for. These are students facing near-overt anti-Semitism who themselves have harsh questions about the Jewish state that the Jewish establishment forbids them to express.

Thousands find themselves in a very tough jam. In front of them are professors and students who argue that Israel is Goliath, but behind them there’s no Israel proving that it is a David.

We feel like we’ve been abandoned on the battlefield, many of them told me. The anti-Zionists, they said, are accusing us of collaborating with evil, but Zionism doesn’t understand us and doesn’t speak to us; instead, it’s busy building more and more and more settlements. That’s why their internal struggle is so agonizing and their pain so deep. That’s why many of their in-depth conversations with me came to tears, too.

The contemptible, sophisticated and well-oiled offensive by the BDS movement is a strategic threat to Israel. If it isn’t halted, it could position the democratic Jewish state as the South Africa of 2020. But the real existential threat facing the Jewish people is the increasing tension between the liberal identity of most young American Jews and the distorted image of Israel as an unjust oppressor and occupier.

As a result of this tension, some come out against Israel, some are confused and many are simply indifferent. For too long, the right has been telling these young people that everything here is great – startups, Tel Aviv parties and cherry tomatoes.

For too long the left has been telling these young people that everything here is awful — checkpoints, discrimination and the exclusion of women. For too long these intelligent, impressive and warm young Jews have not heard a strong Israeli voice talking with pride about the Israeli miracle while acknowledging that Israel does have some flaws.

Birthright has done wonders and lit a Jewish-Israeli spark in the hearts of hundreds of thousands in the past 15 years. But since Zionism has not provided a reliable, relevant and inspirational narrative to galvanize these millennials, many are simply keeping their distance. And when they arrive on campus and are exposed to anti-Israel venom, the Jewish and pro-Israel identity of many of them collapses.

There is no greater danger to Israel and the Jewish people than this collapse. Our fate will not only be determined on the country’s southern or northern borders, but on the quads of American campuses. To win the hearts and minds of young American Jews, we must define a revitalized, moral and liberal Zionism. If there is still a Jewish national leadership in Jerusalem, New York or Los Angeles, it must wake up and take immediate action. As things stand now, the Jewish future is slipping through our fingers."




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