MIDEAST MIRROR 06.11.18, SECTION A (ISRAEL)
Occupation is bull
Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee today that his agency has thwarted 480 Palestinian attacks in the last year. The Shin Bet's efforts, he said, were a major factor in the maintenance of a fragile calm between Israel and the Palestinians. Argaman also referred to 590 potential lone wolf attacks that the Shin Bet had prevented. Argaman said that Hamas branches in Gaza and Turkey have attempted to orchestrate attacks in the West Bank. He also mentioned similar efforts from Lebanon, presumably referring to Hezbollah. These foiled attempts are in addition to the ongoing Gaza border conflict and periodic rocket fire. There are reports that, but Argaman warned the Knesset that the situation remains precarious.
Meanwhile, claims against Israel that it occupies the Palestinians are "nonsense", Prime Minister Netanyahu told his Likud Party on Sunday, claiming that other superpowers have occupied people and no one said a word. "Occupation is bull. Empires have conquered and replaced entire populations and no one is talking about it," Netanyahu said according to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth. What truly matters is strong diplomacy, Netanyahu added. "Power is key. Power changes everything in our policy with Arab countries." Netanyahu told his party colleagues that concessions are regarded as weakness in the Middle East, which do not bring about lasting change. Instead, "aligning Arab interests with Israel, based on Israel being a technological superpower must lead the way", he claimed.
Russia's top diplomat on Monday accused Israel of breaching its commitment to inform Moscow before it carries out airstrikes in Syria, placing its military personnel in danger "on several occasions" and forcing Russia to respond in a "firm but contained manner." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's criticism came after Israel/Russia ties soured, following the September 17 downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian forces during an Israeli air raid. Moscow's Defense Ministry had blamed Israel for the deaths of 15 servicemen on the plane, arguing that Israeli jets were hiding behind the Russian aircraft. Israel denies that claim. "Unfortunately, the Israeli side did not always strictly comply with its obligations , especially as regards the obligation to notify the Russian military about combat operations in Syrian territory," he told the Spanish-language El Pais on Monday.
Israel has told the Palestinian Authority that it could take tax revenues collected on Ramallah's behalf and send it to Gaza to offset money Mahmoud 'Abbas's government has threatened to withhold from the beleaguered Strip, a top Palestinian official said Monday. In the past several months, PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas has suggested on many occasions that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership will cut all funds allocated to Gaza, if Hamas does not hand over control of the territory to the PA. "Last week, the Israeli side informed us that if we do not pay all funds allocated for the Gaza Strip, they will cut money from the taxes – they collect customs duties and taxes for us – and transfer them to Gaza," top Palestinian negotiator Sa'eb 'Erekat told a seminar in Ramallah.
Elsewhere, the state does not know who is behind the illegal outpost being erected in an abandoned army base in the Jordan Valley, state prosecutors told the court, adding that the Civil Administration will be demolishing illegal construction at the base. The state prosecution advised the High Court of Justice that following discussion at the Civil Administration, the decision was made to raze the illegally possessed buildings, but they still don't know who took improper possession of the base. Also on Monday, military prosecutors charged a soldier from the Home Front Command's rescue unit with assaulting a blindfolded, handcuffed Palestinian detainee. The indictment says the soldier struck the detainee at the Shaked outpost in the Northern West Bank. On Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said that a demolition order was issued for the home of a Palestinian suspected of carrying out a shooting attack at a West Bank industrial park last month in which two Israelis were killed. The head of Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, put out the order for the basement and ground floors of the building where Ashraf Na'alweh lived with his family in the Northern West Bank village of Shuweika, the military said. Those areas of the building will be rendered unusable. The development came after the military rejected an objection against the demolition filed by Na'alweh's family following an initial demolition order issued last month.
Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday called an urgent meeting with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to discuss the soaring budget deficit that is threatening a planned increase in defense spending, Haaretz reported. The Finance Ministry announced Monday that there was a NIS 9 billion ($2.4 billion) deficit in the state budget, approximately 3.6 percent of the GDP, the highest rate in years and almost 1% more than the 2.5% cumulative deficit in September. Netanyahu, who earlier this year unveiled his "2030 Security Concept" calling for spending hundreds of millions of shekels to upgrade the Israeli army, convened a meeting with economic advisers after Sunday's cabinet meeting in an effort to free up money for defense spending. At that meeting, the Finance Ministry Director-General informed the prime minster there was little room in the budget to divert additional money to the military, noting the soaring deficit. Kahlon did not attend the meeting.
The Trump Administration has backed an Israeli plan to link Haifa with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states, hinting that it was in line with the U.S. peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, The Jerusalem Post reports. U.S. Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt Tweeted his support for the rail line as Israeli Minister of Transportation and Intelligence Israel Katz made a historic visit to Oman to present its details to an international transportation event, the IRU World Congress. "Today Transportation & Intelligence Minister Israel_Katz is in Oman at an international transportation event," Greenblatt Tweeted. "He will present a plan for the construction of a railway between Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia & the Gulf. Let's keep the dialogue going. These efforts support our efforts." Katz is expected to address the congress and participate in its panels, a first for an Israeli minister in Oman, which has no ties with Israel. The minister's office Tweeted that this was "the first time the United States has publicly supported the plan," called "Tracks for Regional Peace." The plan was developed by both Katz and the prime minister. A Middle East rail line would be a "dramatic development that may affect many countries in the region," Katz's office said. He has spent two years gaining supporters for the plan, including of some Arab officials in the region.
Finally, Iran's telecommunications minister accused Israel of a new cyberattack on the same day that U.S. sanctions (which were lifted by the 2015 nuclear deal). This comes days after Iran said it had neutralized a new version of the Stuxnet virus. In a series of Tweets, the Telecommunication Minister blamed Israel for the attack, saying it targeted Iran's communications infrastructure and that Iran would sue for the cyberattack via international bodies. Iran greeted the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions on Monday with air defense drills and an acknowledgement from President Hassan Rowhani that the nation faces a "war situation," raising Mideast tensions as America's maximalist approach to the Islamic Republic takes hold.
BENNETT VERSUS LIEBERMAN: Yoaz Hendel in Yedioth Ahronoth explains that with polls showing Netanyahu strong, Bennett needs someone to blame and has picked Lieberman. But after the elections the two will remain bickering dwarfs overshadowed by a big, strong Likud.
"The campaign being waged by Naftali Bennett against Avigdor Lieberman is a farce. Politicians fight amongst themselves all the time. Sometimes the fights are real, sometimes they are beneficial to both sides. Deri and Lieberman are the living example of invented quarrels – Deri defends religious laws, Lieberman opposes, all hell breaks loose – and on the day after each side has gained a few votes.
In this case, the attacks against Lieberman look like a political campaign for the weak. Bennett is trying to differentiate himself, unsuccessfully, from Netanyahu's Likud. He is afraid to criticize Netanyahu, afraid to say out loud that his party is clean as a whistle while Netanyahu and some of his men are embroiled in investigations.
Bennett is afraid to say in meetings of the Habayit Hayehudi Party that Netanyahu is implementing left-wing policies in Gaza, and that he is willing to contain the occasional rocket fire, the incursions and infiltrations. He is also unwilling to talk about the negotiations that the Israeli government is conducting with a state that supports terrorism such as Qatar or with Hamas, and it makes no difference what you call it. Bennett is afraid because the polls show that Netanyahu is strong. Like others, he is waiting for the flood to pass. Making calculations of investigations and results, indictments and who will take over the right-wing. Meanwhile, until the Messiah comes or Mandelblit moves his butt, there is a need for someone on whom to put the blame – in this case, Lieberman.
Bennett sits in the cabinet and is responsible for what goes on there just like Lieberman. If the government's left-wing containment policy (and yes, it is leftist) displeases him, he can vote against it. If this is a 'terrible' situation and Israeli deterrence is eroding, he can at any given moment leave the government; at least threaten, so that something will change. Bennett could also have secured the death sentence for terrorists, or at least compelled the government to accept the Shamgar report, so that additional terrorists would not be released soon. With all due respect to the laws meant to circumvent the High court, what could be more salient for Israel's citizens than the security in the South and the deterrence of Hamas?
Lieberman is not an innocent little lamb. What Bennett is doing now, Lieberman did without any qualms to all past defense ministers. In the cynicism index, Lieberman is way ahead of Bennett. The difference between them is in the potential. Lieberman is far from being a candidate for prime minister, there is no scenario (including unification of parties) in which he becomes head of the right-wing. Bennett, on the other hand, has what it takes to run for prime minister. He is talented, not corrupt, understands politics, and his heart is where most Israelis are on most subjects – a few centimeters to the right of center: Conservative risk taker, a security hawk, moderate in matters of religion and state. Bennett has political potential that is wasted for fear of challenging Netanyahu. The campaign against Lieberman only illustrates this.
In Bennett's first term as head of Habayit Hayehudi, Netanyahu turned him into an equal opponent. Bennett wanted to supply him with a tailwind, Netanyahu saw him as a dangerous rival, and turned him into the great right-wing political hope by attacking him incessantly. Netanyahu has that ability – to attack and promote political players. This is what he is doing these days to Gideon Sa'ar, who is keeping mum. The conspiracy theory and the law named after him are molding him into a possible heir.
Netanyahu is no longer making this mistake with Bennett. He is indifferent to his embrace. Ignores the massive support from every suggestion he puts on the table, from every whim; acts as if he is impervious to the fact that Bennett does not dare say a word concerning the investigations or the problems surrounding the prime minister. Worst of all for Bennett: Netanyahu no longer needs Habayit Hayehudi. In the eyes of the public, Netanyahu is more right-wing than Bennett, and there is no one to say the emperor is naked.
Perhaps all those who fear Netanyahu are right. Perhaps it is better to keep your head down, wait for the wave to pass, pray to Mandelblit quietly and in closed rooms, while publicly singing Netanyahu's praises. If they are wrong, after the next elections you will find a large and strong Likud, and two political dwarfs bickering amongst themselves all the way to a party that will barely pass the electoral threshold."
NETANYAHU'S NIGHTMARE SCENARIO: Amir Oren in Walla! stresses that the PM is scared of a mutiny in Likud. His rational for the Gideon Sa'ar bill is the possibility that President Rivlin will encourage representatives of the different parties to conspire against him, exploiting the legal loophole that will allow his adversary to oust him.
"Binyamin Netanyahu is afraid of mutiny in Likud. In all his nightmares, most of the MKs from his party rally around one of his adversaries, for example – Gideon Sa'ar. There is no precedent of mutiny in Likud against a PM in office, but that does not comfort Netanyahu. He is haunted by fears. Julius of Caesarea sees in every flash the glare of Brutus's cold knife.
Since he does not trust the loyalty of members of his faction, and for some reason suspects that their attitude towards him is as functional as his towards them, he aspires to turn an internal Likud matter into a change in the law. With the help of his close associate David Amsalem, Netanyahu, after nearly three decades in the Knesset, has detected a dangerous loophole in the law. If it is not plugged, Sa'ar could use it to infiltrate into the President's Residence and flank Netanyahu from there, with the enthusiastic support of Reuven Rivlin.
The law requires the president, after elections or death/resignation of a prime minister, to consult with representatives of the Knesset factions. At the end of the consultations, the president appoints an agreed upon MK to form a government. The most important tool a president needs when considering who to task with forming a government is the ability to count to 61. There may be crises during the negotiations, and the conflicting demands of the potential partners may not be settled, but presidents have never propelled the country into a prolonged governmental crisis only for slapping a political opponent and petting a friends' ego.
According to Netanyahu's nightmare scenario, assuming that the makeup of the next Knesset is more or less the same as the current one, representatives of the factions participating in the outgoing government will come to Rivlin and talk to him, harboring no malicious intent towards Netanyahu. Assuming that there is no legal barrier in the form of an indictment and a High Court of Justice ruling, they will recommend to Rivlin that he again task Netanyahu with forming the government. Ostensibly, game over, because at that point Netanyahu has 61 MKs recommending him. But in Netanyahu's nightmare, sly Rivlin does not despair. He tries to convince Likud, Habayit Hayehudi, and the rest of the coalition parties to choose Gideon Sa'ar. And they, out of stupidity or because they are partners in the conspiracy, will go along with him and say – sure, why not, Sa'ar will do just fine, even better.
In order to prevent such a development, which, according to Netanyahu, could distort the will of the voter, this loophole must be plugged. The president will be stripped of his discretionary powers and will not be allowed to task anyone but Netanyahu with forming the government. There will be no government without Likud at its center, and only the head of Likud will be PM.
In Netanyahu's eyes, the President – well, Rivlin, anyway - is superfluous. Why consult with him? A meeting between the heads of the parties, at the end of which an announcement of Netanyahu's recycling is posted, will do nicely. Democracy at its best, without checks and balances. Because of an internal Likud problem, or one man and his wife's persecution craze, a Basic Law will be changed, even though a decision in the party institutions would suffice."
DESPITE IT ALL, SAUDI ARABIA IS A PARTNER: Prof. Eyal Zisser in Israel Hayom claims that following Khashoggi's murder Riyadh has become a global punching bag, but those punches only strengthen Iran, and Israel should mobilize all its influence to solve the crisis between the Saudis and the West.
"All at once, Saudi Arabia has turned from a courted ally into a leper state, which everyone is renouncing. In Israel, too, there are those who advocate keeping a healthy distance from Saudi Arabia, because it does not comply with the values that distinguish dark dictatorships from enlightened Western states, and also because it has been revealed to be unreliable at a time of crisis.
There is a lot of hypocrisy in the attack on Saudi Arabia, particularly in view of the fact that the initiator and leader of the attack on the Saudis is the President of Turkey, Erdogan, who wiped out democracy and the free press in his country. The Turkish President does love his whims and one-upmanship games, which dictate, not very successfully, his country's foreign policy. Herein lies the problem. For in a better world ,Turkey, as a progress-loving country, was supposed to lead the region in its many challenges and serve as a reliable ally of the United States, and no less important – a point of support for a regional alignment against Iran. But Erdogan chose a path that distanced him from Arab Sunni countries, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and caused his ties with Israel to deteriorate into crisis.
The vacuum left by Turkey must therefore be filled by Saudi Arabia, which did not hesitate to stand up to the Iranians and their allies, even at moments when the American administration turned a cold shoulder towards her. Saudi Arabia is not a problem-free country, and there is merit in the argument that it is weaker than it seems to the outside observer. There is an exaggeration in the attempt to portray the Saudis, as well as the rest of the Gulf States, as omnipotent regional powers, with whom if Israel links up all her problems will be solved and she will be able to establish a strong front against the ayatollahs, and perhaps even promote a political settlement with the Palestinians.
Like Jordan in the era of King Hussein, Saudi Arabia has a lot of power. Perhaps in Washington or Europe they regret that Iran is not the Axis state on which Western interests in the region hinge, as was the case during the Shah's time. But today Iran is an ally of Russia, serving and promoting Russia's expansionist ambitions in the region, while Turkey is subject to the whims of a frenzied and jumpy president. In contrast, Saudi Arabia's conduct radiates stability and continuity. With all due respect or disrespect to the heir to the throne, MbS, this is a regime that never allowed a single person to lead it and knew how to balance the whims of its rulers.
The growing relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia must be examined with open eyes. One should not be overly impressed by the apparent power emanating from the Kingdom, but also not underestimate the sources of its strength. As of this moment, Israel and the U.S. have no other partner in the region, trustworthy, and stable as Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis erred when they assassinated the journalist on Turkish soil and as a result, they have now become a global punching bag. But punches will not transform Saudi Arabia, like other places in the world, into a paradise of free press and human rights. On the contrary, they will only strengthen regional forces such as Iran, which have openly killed not only journalists and members of the opposition, but lately also half a million Syrians and whose plans for Israel are well known. Israel would do well to mobile its influence, especially in the United States, to help find a solution to the crisis in Western-Saudi relations."
ISRAEL AND MBS: Yoni Ben-Menachem on News1 believes that Israel has broken its silence on the Khashoggi murder out of fear that international retaliation will thwart efforts to contain Iran's aggression. The U.S. must take into consideration Israel's security interests and the regional implications of sanctions against Saudi Arabia.
"The Khashoggi affair has thus far incurred benefits for two countries hostile to Israel and Saudi Arabia - Iran and Turkey. Turkey, led by President Erdogan, is competing with Saudi Arabia for the leadership of the Sunni world, and supports the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, while Saudi Arabia views these organizations as a threat to the existence of the Arab regimes.
President Erdogan, aided by Qatar's propaganda trumpet in the Arab world al-Jazeera, is trying with all his might to get Saudi King Salman bin 'Abdelaziz to oust his son, the crown-prince, and weaken Saudi Arabia's position in the Muslim world. He is threatening to reveal the details of Khashoggi's assassination and who ordered the assassination. According to Arab sources, there is a balance of terror between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Saudi Arabia has proof of Turkish assistance to ISIS in Syria, assistance to Iran in breaking the sanctions, huge money laundering through Turkish banks, and other sensitive personal information concerning President Erdogan.
The new head of the CIA, Gina Haspel, recently visited Turkey and received Turkey's intelligence evidence against the Saudi royal family in the Khashoggi affair, but it seems that President Trump is continuing to protect Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. Except for revoking the travel visas of those Saudis who were arrested by the Saudi authorities for their involvement in Khashoggi's murder, the U.S. administration has not yet implemented any sanction against the Saudi royal family. The White House is making an effort to reduce the role of the Saudi royal family in the affair. President Trump is doing everything possible to underscore the great economic importance of U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia with regard to oil, arms deals and the U.S. labor market.
Opponents of the Saudi royal family have suddenly become human rights defenders. This is typical Middle Eastern hypocrisy, starting with Erdogan and Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, who support terrorist organizations and ignore the serious human rights violations of Hamas and the PA security services. They ignore the violent measures taken by Hamas and the PA against Palestinian journalists who dare to utter a hint of criticism.
Prime Minister Netanyahu defined the Khashoggi murder as a 'terrible act', as it indeed is. This cruel act must be dealt with, and those responsible should be punished with all the severity of the law. However, Israel's supreme security interest is to combat Iran's hostile intentions and its plans to destroy Israel. This interest is a national interest, more important to Israel than any other. This is an existential threat to the entire nation. The ayatollahs' regime is working to bring another Holocaust to the Jewish people through nuclear weapons, and it declares this intention openly day and night.
Opponents of the Crown Prince accuse him of embroiling Saudi Arabia in a war in Yemen, imposing a political and economic embargo on Qatar and holding the Lebanese prime minister under house arrest in Riyadh. They also accuse him of under-the-table normalization with Israel and of promoting Trump's deal of the century. In the media and social networks in the Arab world, many reports have circulated concerning secret meetings between Mohammed bin Salman and senior Israeli officials, including a meeting between him and Prime Minister Netanyahu and a secret visit to Tel Aviv.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that elements hostile to Israel, who want to sabotage the political process and normalization with the Arab states, are the same elements that are working to politically eliminate the heir to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman. Meanwhile, the Saudi royal family is withstanding the pressure and the status of the crown prince is still stable, despite the fact that his image has been tarnished badly. Israel is concerned that the stability of the Saudi regime will be undermined. The regime's destabilization is liable to lead to the rise of extremist elements who will control the advanced weaponry of the Saudi army.
In the wake of the Khashoggi affair, Turkey's regional status has strengthened, and there has been a rapprochement between Erdogan and Trump. Israel is also concerned about possible damage to the rule of President Sissi in Egypt. The Saudi royal family provides important economic and political support to Egypt, and the undermining of the Saudi king's regime, if heavy sanctions are imposed, could adversely affect the stability of the Egyptian president's rule. It is very important that the U.S. maintain the regional balance of power when deciding on its response to the murder of Khashoggi. This should be a response that takes into account the regional implications and the possible impact on the security of the State of Israel. Turkey should not be bolstered at Saudi Arabia's expense, especially if President Trump wants to promote his so-called Deal of the Century."
THE LIMITS OF ROMANCE: Evan Gottesman in Haaretz contends that despite warm receptions in Oman and Abu Dhabi, Israel should not overstate the strength of its Gulf alliances. A common enemy like Iran can produce photo-ops and covert collaboration – but that is not normalization.
"The last few weeks have seen a flurry of apparent breakthroughs in Israel's foreign relations with the Arab world. A week ago, Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Oman, an Arab monarchy with which Israel lacks formal diplomatic ties. The following weekend, Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev was present at an international judoka tournament in Abu Dhabi where Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, was played for Israeli medal winners, a sharp departure from the Egyptian judoka who snubbed the offer of a handshake by his Israeli competitor in 2016. Days after, Emirati officials accompanied Regev on a tour of their capital's Grand Mosque, although the UAE, like 29 other Arab and Muslim states, does not recognize Israel. Minister of Communications Minister Ayoub Kara was also in the Emirates, although his trip was for a meeting of a United Nations agency.
Some have leveraged these developments to question the axiom that Israel's international standing will suffer as the country drifts further and further away from a negotiated two-state solution. The Mitvim Institute's recently released 2018 Israeli Foreign Policy Index showed that 49 percent of Israelis think a breakthrough with the Arab states is achievable even absent movement on the Palestinian track. On Wednesday, U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt also praised this apparent progress.
Such sentiment – that Israel's relations with the Arab world are flourishing, rather than being diminished, by the lack of progress in resolving the conflict with the Palestinians – seems to gain traction whenever a Gulf Arab state makes even the most basic gesture toward the Jewish state. But it was never quite so simple. Israel's position in the world is stronger today than it was for most of the country's history. Netanyahu deserves some credit for this, but the groundwork for this shift occurred over two decades ago.
The Arab League boycotted Israel from the country's founding, reaffirming its intransigent stance under the 1967 Khartoum Declaration. The Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites (except Romania) severed relations with Israel following the Six Day War, and 25 African states broke ties after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Spain and Portugal did not recognize Israel until 1986 and 1977 respectively, after the collapse of fascist governments in both countries. Major powers like India and the People's Republic of China did not establish official relations with Israel until the 1990s.
The Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict especially, only have an immediate impact on a small number of countries. Israel's relative isolation during its formative years was reflective of Arab states and Soviet influence, as well as communist, anti-colonial, and non-aligned political commitments in developing nations. The end of the Cold War rendered these alliances obsolete, opening Israel to the world. This was not the work of any one Israeli leader, but a side-effect of broader geopolitical events.
But the Arab and Muslim countries remained obstinate. Their quarrel with Israel was direct, not an extension of the East-West superpower struggle. Ultimately, Israel's victory in the 1967 war removed the Jewish state's total erasure as an objective for all but the most radical regimes, namely Syria and Iraq (later joined by Iran after the Islamic Revolution). But it also opened up the question of Palestinian statehood on the newly occupied territories, especially after the 1980s: The catastrophe in Lebanon, the First Intifada, and the Palestinian declaration of independence. Progress on the Palestinian front would yield progress in regional integration. On the flipside, stagnation would keep the Arab world at arm's length, and Israel's ties with Egypt and Jordan would never evolve past a cold peace.
The heady days of the Oslo peace process saw officials in the Labor governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres as guests in many countries that lacked relations with Israel. Like Netanyahu, Peres, and Rabin visited Oman, but not just Oman. Morocco and Indonesia also welcomed Israeli leaders. Bahrain hosted an Israeli minister in 1994. As prime minister, Peres also traveled to Qatar.
It's useful to juxtapose the circumstances informing Israeli foreign policy advancements in the 1990s versus today's developments. Rabin and Peres were riding the wave of optimism surrounding a reinvigorated peace process. That diplomacy yielded real, lasting improvements. For instance, in 1994, Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council stopped enforcing most elements of the Arab League boycott and ceased urging other countries to do the same.
In a way, Netanyahu is instrumentalizing the products of a peace process he vehemently opposed two decades ago and has partly helped upend today. But Netanyahu has also benefited from regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and its allies. While the confrontation with Iran takes clear precedence over the Palestinian question in terms of immediate impact and importance to the Arab states, it will not last forever and so its benefits for Israel will likely prove ephemeral. A relationship that is a function of present circumstances is the basis for a tactical arrangement, not a lasting peace.
Recall that before Israel destroyed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, Iran attempted to do the same thing. Israel coordinated its attack on their shared enemy with Tehran, and even continued arms sales to the Islamic Republic into the 1980s – well after the fall of the Shah. Where are the fruits of that alliance today?
A common enemy can produce some meetings and covert collaboration, but only a final status agreement with the Palestinians can inspire normalization. Jordan's recent termination of leases on two small territories to Israel under the 1994 peace treaty, a concession to the country's massive anti-Israel movement, is evidence of that. Moreover, minor steps taken with hereditary dictatorships will do nothing to address ambivalence toward Israel among Western audiences or popular boycott campaigns. While BDS has little tangible impact on Israel, anti-Israel campaigns understandably perturb Israelis who crave normalcy.
Despite the real gains made by Israel's government over the weekend and in previous years, Israel's position vis-a-vis the Arab world is anything but normal. Playing a country's national anthem at an international sporting event signals the most basic level of decorum, opening a trade office is pretty standard fare, and leaders exchange visits regularly.
Indeed, some of what is being touted as progress with the Arab states has little to do with the Arabs themselves. Ayoub Kara's visit to the Emirates, as well as this week's visit to Oman by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, are for conferences organized by multilateral institutions, not their host governments. And Regev's time in the UAE came after the International Judo Federation threatened to cancel last weekend's competition if it did not treat all participating countries equally, a hazard which would undermine the Emirates' aspiration to be a global cultural hub.
That right-wing Israeli leaders and their supporters now fawn over the Gulf states for undertaking relatively simple steps only underscores the enormous room for growth that still remains. Israeli leaders could exploit the situation with Iran and recent minor openings to build Arab state support on the back of progress toward a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians. But absent momentum with the Palestinians, sustainable growth with the rest of the Arab world will remain elusive."
ROOTS OF EVIL: Naomi Linder Kahn in The Jerusalem Post argues that under the guise of "agricultural assistance", the PA is taking over Area C with European financial support.
"In the 1993 Oslo Accords, the State of Israel empowered the PLO to establish a Palestinian Authority to oversee autonomous Arab governance in parts of Judea and Samaria. Despite the fact that, in practice, many of the Oslo Accords' clauses were never activated and other elements are no longer relevant, the division of jurisdictional authority between Areas A (full Palestinian jurisdiction), B (PA civil control, Israeli security), and C (full Israeli jurisdiction), remains in force.
In 2009, Salam Fayyad, former prime minister of the PA, publicized his program for the unilateral creation of 'an independent, fully autonomous Arab state on all of the territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as per the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital.' The Fayyad Plan is based on de facto annexation of Area C, with the underlying assumption that Areas A and B have already been 'taken care of' by the Oslo Accords.
The implementation of this program of creeping annexation has been, and continues to be, carried out on two parallel tracks. The first involves cooperation with Israel: The PA submits requests to the relevant Israeli authorities for approval of 'special priority' construction projects; generally, international funding for these projects is contingent upon a 'seal of approval' from Israel. Despite the often-repeated claims of anti-Zionist NGOs, many thousands of housing units and other building projects have been approved by the Israeli government for the Palestinian sector.
The second track, which is far more widespread, is the creation of facts on the ground, through extensive illegal construction and development, without coordination with Israel. The projects in this illegal track are planned and executed according to a very clear, systematic, master plan that aims to create territorial contiguity for the future Palestinian state while disrupting the growth and contiguity of Israeli communities.
Over the past number of years, the illegal track has become not only more pronounced but more ingenious, using agricultural work to establish facts on the ground – in violation of the law in force in this region; in violation of the Oslo Accords, which stipulate that the State of Israel has sole jurisdiction over this territory; and in violation of international law.
Although it was a partner to the Oslo Accords, in recent years the EU has actively funded many of the PA's illegal activities in Area C, contributing to the projects that undermine the accords by taking unilateral steps to create a Palestinian state encompassing all of Judea and Samaria. Since the publication of the Fayyad Plan, the EU has built more than 2,000 structures in Area C for the Palestinian population, creating or supporting dozens of illegal settlement clusters, without requesting or receiving construction permits or coordinating these projects with the relevant Israeli authorities. The flagship outpost of these projects is Khan al-Ahmar. Recently, the EU made a commitment to desist from further illegal building in Area C. But rather than abandon the goals of this illegal activity, the EU simply switched tactics.
The law in force in Area C of Judea and Samaria is comprised of many layers, including Ottoman law, Mandatory law, Jordanian law, military rule, international law, as well as legislative acts of Knesset. In general, however, the essential underpinnings of property law in Area C rest upon Ottoman law. According to Ottoman law (and Israeli Supreme Court decisions that continue to enforce it), uncultivated land belongs to the sovereign – a principle known elsewhere as 'eminent domain.' The case of administered territory is no different; the State of Israel has sole jurisdiction. Additionally, some of the land in Area C is classified as 'survey land' – tracts that are not registered as privately owned, which the Israeli government is in the process of regulating and registering as state land.
However – and herein lies the rub – under Section 78 of the Ottoman Legal Code, a private individual may be granted rights akin to ownership of agricultural land if he has held and cultivated the land in question for a period of time (the precise length of time required is dictated by the nature of the land parcel in question).
Thus, a person who poaches land and uses it for agricultural purposes may claim ownership or other rights, simply by claiming to have worked the land for a relatively short period. Activities carried out under the Roots Project exploit this loophole in Ottoman law to great advantage. To make matters worse, much of the so-called 'agricultural projects' presently being carried out by the PA in Area C– erecting fences and walls, excavating with heavy machinery, creating roads and more – requires building permits, which have never been obtained. In contrast, the regulations that require permits for work of this kind are meticulously enforced in the Jewish sector, through military orders issued by the commanding officer in the area.
The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) is the main operational arm of the agricultural front of the Fayyad Plan. Despite UAWC's overt and covert ties to the Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization 'PFLP – Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine;' despite UAWC's active support for the BDS movement; and despite UAWC's judicial, media, and diplomatic campaigns to prevent the IDF and the Civil Administration from acting against the illegal land seizures it carries out, the UAWC is funded, to the tune of millions, by direct and indirect donations from the EU, the UN, and the governments of France, Norway, Holland, and Germany. These same governments and organizations are among Israel's most vocal critics.
In the course of monitoring PA/EU efforts to seize control of Area C, Regavim's staff identified 247 new agricultural sites and 181 new roads, all of which we investigated and mapped out through meticulous analysis of aerial photos taken between 2013-2017. We presented our findings to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee's subcommittee on Judea and Samaria, along with practical and comprehensive recommendations for combating this threat.
The damage being caused by the 'Roots Program' cannot be addressed as a case-by-case, localized problem. The only way to meet this challenge is with clear, decisive action on the part of policy makers, who must implement a comprehensive response that acknowledges the strategic dangers to Israel's future. Sadly, the State of Israel remains virtually absent from the scene of the crime. To date, no military, law enforcement, or diplomatic steps have been taken to prevent this de facto annexation, and the Civil Administration allows the Palestinians and their European co-conspirators to effectively seize more and more strategically vital land. If the government of Israel does not come to its senses soon, the Roots Project, the PA's master plan for overtaking Area C, will take root, and the facts it creates on the ground will be irreversible."