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Latest Israel News – 19th September

Australia:  Tribunal overrules government on visa for Palestinian criminal

The Administrative Appeals ­Tribunal has overturned a ­federal government decision to ­refuse an Australian visa for a Palestinian man once jailed for conspiracy to “cause intentional death” and who belongs to a ­terrorist organisation, after the deputy president of the tribunal raised doubts about the fairness of the Israeli military court ­system.

Despite accepting that the 30-year-old man from the West Bank in the Palestinian territories had “serious convictions” and had lied about them on his application for a partner visa to come to Australia, the tribunal claimed it was satisfied he had in fact not engaged in the “improper conduct” as that alleged in the Israeli court.

The decision handed down on September 6 set aside the ­Department of Immigration and Border Protection denial of a visa so the man could live in ­Australia with his Australian-born wife and their two-year-old daughter on the basis that the welfare of children involved outweighed any risk to the Aus­tralian community.

The ruling — in which the ­tribunal claimed it had the ­discretion to examine the circumstances behind convictions, in this case one made in a foreign jurisdiction — is one of a string of adverse rulings for the government on visa cancellations and refusals made under delegation of Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton.

Although the Palestinian’s case was determined in the tribunal’s general division, official records reveal the AAT is setting aside a large number of visa refusals or cancellations, most of which are heard in the tribunal’s Migration and Refugee Division.

Almost one-third of all refusals and cancellations made by the Department of Immigration have been set aside or remitted by the tribunal’s MRD in the past three years.

In 2014-15, 6341 visa refusals or cancellations — or 29 per cent — were either set aside, remitted or varied by the tribunal’s MRD after being challenged by the ­applicant. This went to 32 per cent in 2015-16 and 31 per cent in the past year.

Mr Dutton has ministerial discretion to overrule the decisions of the AAT and has exercised this power on a number of occasions in relation to visa cancellations.

In his 116-page ruling on the visa refusal of the Palestinian man, referred to in the ruling as Mr Khalil, tribunal deputy president James Constance rejected the government’s argument that the court had no role in examining the circumstances behind a conviction of an applicant.

This was demonstrated in Mr Constance’s ruling over Mr Khalil’s application for a partner visa. Mr Constance cited concerns about the fairness of procedures of the Israeli military court.

He also referred to the state of Palestine in his ruling — a status not recognised by the Australian government.

Mr Khalil applied for a partner visa in 2013, shortly after ­marrying an Australian woman, Ms Trikilis, in the West Bank.

The tribunal acknowledged that Mr Khalil had never visited Australia and that the couple had a daughter after living together for a total of seven months.

The appeal against the decision to deny Mr Khalil a visa was lodged by Ms Trikilis.

In making his ruling, Mr Constance said the welfare of the children (Ms Trikilis also has a 15-year-old son), access to medical treatment for a significant long-term illness and the poor outcome for the family should they be forced to live in the Palestinian territories outweighed other considerations.

In evidence provided to the ­tribunal, Mr Khalil denied all the charges against him that led to his conviction in 2006 when he was 19 years old.

He said he had been beaten and coerced into pleading guilty.

The Israeli Military Court, a complete justice system set up to try only Palestinians, recognised that Mr Khalil had a prior clean record.

Mr Constance said this evidence by Mr Khalil should be accepted as the minister had not challenged Mr Khalil on any ­aspect of his evidence in relation to the circumstance of his arrest, his imprisonment, his decision to enter a plea of guilty or his ­conviction.

He claimed that the minister was “put on notice” before the hearing that the tribunal would look behind the fact of Mr Khalil’s conviction “to the reality of the events which occurred”.

“For this reason, in fairness to Mr Khalil his evidence in regard to the circumstances should be accepted,” Mr Constance said in his ruling.

Mr Khalil had been charged with making and planning to plant a bomb, charges that were later not pursued by the Israeli Military Court.

Mr Khalil agreed to a plea bargain for conspiracy to cause ­intentional death. He was jailed for 34 months.

“Nevertheless it is a very serious conviction and one which would normally give rise to a definite expectation in the community that Mr Khalil would not be allowed to come to Australia,” Mr Constance said.

“However, for the reasons I have already stated, I am satisfied that the interests of the children and the impact on Ms Trikilis are such as to outweigh other considerations, including those relating to the protection of the Australian community.”

Referring to the original visa application, Mr Constance acknowledged Mr Khalil had “demonstrated a willingness to breach the law to achieve his own ends”.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection did not dispute the argument that the welfare of the children weighed heavily in favour of granting a visa, but refused the visa on character grounds because of his ­conviction.

The tribunal noted that counsel for the minister had argued that evidence in relation to the circumstances of Mr Khalil’s conviction was irrelevant and should be disregarded.

“It is not open to the tribunal to impugn either the sentence or the essential elements of the offence which gave rise to the conviction that ­enlivened the respondent’s power to refuse the visa,” the government argued.

However, Mr Constance said that the government had been put on notice before the hearing that the tribunal was “being asked to look behind the fact of (Mr Khalil’s) conviction to the reality of the events which occurred”.

“I also found support for the conclusion I have reached in the material provided by the minister as to the nature of the legal process in the Israeli Military Courts at the time Mr Khalil was convicted,” Mr Constance concluded.

“While I am unable to verify the accuracy of the material, and accepting that it may be ­influenced by the political views of the various authors, it does ­indicate that there are widely held concerns as to the fairness of the procedures in the Military Courts.

“Unfortunately, there is very little evidence in the Military Court’s records to indicate the circumstances of the offence of conspiring to cause intentional death,” the ruling added.

“In addition, I have taken into account that the offences were committed 11 years ago and Mr Khalil has not committed any offence since.

“He now has a family to care for and he should realise that any further offending will put him at serious risk of having his visa ­cancelled.”

The tribunal argued that the interests of the children weighed “very heavily in favour of the family being together in Australia”.

“Both children will benefit from not being exposed to the risks of war associated with living on the West Bank,” Mr Constance said.

“Having considered the above matters, I have come to the conclusion that there will be minimal, if any, risk to the Australian community if Mr Khalil is permitted to reside in Australia.”

The Department of Immigration refused to comment on the case.   (the Australian)

Liberman: West Bank settlements are necessary for Israel’s defense

West Bank settlements ensure Israel’s security even in the era when Israel is under threat from missile and cyber attacks, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Sunday evening.

“From my perspective its clear, that the settlements in Judea and Samaria and those here in the area of Jericho and the Dead Sea, are the State of Israel’s true defensive wall,” Liberman said.

This is true “even in the cyber age and the missile era,” Liberman said.

He spoke during a Jewish New Year toast with settler leaders in the Vered Yeriho settlement, which overlooks the Palestinian city of Jericho.

“At the end of the day, what is determinative is who is in the field. The settlements have always been the pioneers of the pioneers of [Israel’s] security,” Liberman said.

“In this way, nothing has changed since the time of the ‘tower and the stockade,” Liberman said.

Liberman gave a rousing speech in defense of the settlement movement on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on Sunday. He spoke in the midst of a renewed push by the US to resume Israeli-Palestinian talks, which have been frozen for three years.

The Palestinians have insisted that settlement activity is a stumbling bloc to peace and the US has frowned on such building.

But Liberman, who himself lives in the Nokdim settlement in Gush Etzion, promised to continue supporting Jewish building in the West Bank.

The minister explained that he had done more for settlement building than anyone else in the last 17 years, which includes granting official status to the municipal committee that governs Hebron’s Jewish community.

He said the “construction boom” also includes the marketing of 3,500 settler homes and the advancement of plans for 7,500 to 8,000 homes.

Liberman mentioned the tension between him and a number of settler leaders, who feel that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have not done enough to support settler building or to demolish illegal Palestinian construction in Area C.

Liberman in particularly has spoken strongly against illegal settler building and do so on Sunday evening as well.

“There is no need for illegal construction here,” he told the member of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria who had joined him for the event.

“Even from here, I have heard council heads make all kinds of unreasonable and unacceptable accusations,” Liberman said.

Earlier in the day Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani called for the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria to be abolished.

Liberman spoke in defense of the branch of the IDF that administers civil rule in Area C, and said “you have no right to blame them.” The Civil Administration staff is simply carrying out the orders of the Prime Minister and Defense Minister’s offices, he said.

“If you want to blame someone, blame the defense minister and the prime minister, we are responsible, not them,” Liberman said.

He also promised to complete a plan to protect all the settlements with smart fences and better access roads by November.

There is no budget yet for the plan, Liberman said, but if it can be executed, it will provide security for many years to come.  (Jerusalem Post)

PM to urge UN to prepare for day after ISIS defeat

Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will tell the UN General Assembly Tuesday that the world must prepare for the day after the defeat of ISIS and confront the Iranian threat, according to Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon.

“We are wondering what will be after ISIS is defeated. I believe that the prime minister will speak during his speech about this and to a great extent about the Iranian issue,” Danon predicted.

“Not only about the missile threat or the nuclear threat, but about the regional issue. We are seriously concerned that we will have Iranian forces in the Golan Heights, Iranian forces in Lebanon and in Syria.”

Asked whether Netanyahu intends to call for the full nullification of the Iranian nuclear agreement, Danon said at the very minimum, he would implore the world to ensure that it is altered.

“I am sure he will call for reforms. From our point of view, the deal is a bad one. We have always said that. It is still a bad deal and leaving the status quo is not possible,” Danon continued.

According to Danon, the Trump administration remains determined to kick-start negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, despite rumors that the US president has decided to shelve the matter.

“The Americans really want to advance the process in the coming days. There is a desire to advance them and there is a desire to leave with a concrete decision this week,” Danon claimed, before adding that the talks could be torpedoed by the Palestinians.

“But again, I’m telling you there is a problem on the Palestinian side. I believe that the prime minister will leave the door open to direct negotiations and won’t close it.”

Addressing the wave of terror that has engulfed the European continent in recent months and years, with the latest attack taking place last Friday on the London tube, Danon said countries can no attribute terror attacks to events taking place in Israel.

“Once when terror was spoken about, they spoke only about Israel, Today people understand that what is happening in Israel is no excuse. Today it is difficult to explain terror this way, it’s difficult to make the connection,” he said.

“On the other hand, I had a difficult conversation with a very senior European diplomat who said that the terror in Europe is because of what is happening with us in Israel. It told him this was shocking but he really believes it.” (Ynet News)

Bahrain king denounces Arab boycott of Israel, says countrymen may visit

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa has denounced the Arab boycott of Israel and said his subjects are free to visit the Jewish state. The statement by the head of the Persian Gulf country, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, was revealed at a multi-national event last week in Los Angeles, hosted by the city’s Simon Wiesenthal Center.

At the event, Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, who head the Wiesenthal Center, revealed the king’s pronouncements made to them during their visit to Manama, Bahrain’s capital city, in early 2017.

A walk through the city, at that time was an eye-opener, Cooper said. There was a church, with a huge cross, next to a Hindu temple, and 90 meters on an impressive mosque. Even a small synagogue, the only one in the Persian Gulf region, still stands in an older part of the city.

When Hier and Cooper met with King Hamad, they also discussed the ruler’s plan to establish a Museum of Religious Tolerance in the capital city by the end of this year.

At the Los Angeles event last week, delegations of Buddhists in saffron robes, Sikhs in turbans, and Muslims with keffiyehs and hijabs [Muslim head-covers for men and veils for women], mingled with Jews with kippot [skullcaps] and Christians in business suits.

Some 400 members of these diverse groups witnessed the declaration to support full freedom of religious choice, government protection of minorities and to ensure that religious faith “serves as a blessing to all mankind and as the foundation of peace in the world.”

The evening’s guests included officials from such predominantly Muslim nations as Kuwait, Egypt, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan, Cooper noted.

Like all others present, the Arab officials stood in respect as the colorful Bahrain National Orchestra, conducted by Field Marshal Mubarak Najem, played “Hatikva” preceded by the Bahraini and US national anthems, sung by Sumaya Meer and Cantor Arik Wolheim.

The key speaker was Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa, son of the king and a formidable endurance athlete, who led the Bahraini delegations, toured the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance and met with Jewish students.

As the evening’s climax, a group of distinguished “dais guests” formally signed the Bahrain Declaration. Among them were the speakers, visiting Arab officials, clergymen of various faiths,  television personality Mary Hart,  the evening’s master of ceremonies UCLA Prof. Judea Pearl and Betsy Bennett Mathieson, president of This Is Bahrain.

The latter government-supported booster organization presented each guest with a lapel pin featuring symbols of the country’s seven religions, with a Jewish menorah adjoining a Christian cross and a Muslim crescent.

Bahrain has some 1,423,000 inhabitants and a breakdown of their religious faiths indicate that 70% are Muslims; 14.5% are Christians; 10% Hindus and 2.5% Buddhists. The percentage of Jews is listed in different surveys as a fraction of 1%, but the actual number is even smaller, ranging between 36 to 40 actual residents.

In spite of the small numbers, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, who is Jewish, served as the Bahraini diplomat in the US from 2008 to 2013, becoming the first Jewish woman to represent any Arab country on a diplomatic mission. The Nonoo family is of Iraqi-Jewish heritage and financed repair work for the only synagogue in Bahrain.

Large parts of the Jewish population left the country following riots in 1947 and 1967, but Jewish, Muslim and British sources agree that the riots were triggered by pro-Palestinian outsiders and that resident Arabs went out of their way to protect their Jewish neighbors.

But with the ascendancy of King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa to the throne in 2002, domestic and foreign observers see an almost utopian state of relationships among Bahrain’s religious groups.

The monarch, who has an impressive collection of Frank Sinatra records, has enshrined religious tolerance both in the country’s law and by personal example. For instance, since 2015, he has celebrated Hanukka with both Jews and Muslims in attendance.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, a reporter asked Cooper whether the evening’s upbeat tone and hopeful notes were warranted in the light of the Middle East’s apparently endless conflicts.

Cooper responded that Bahrain, like Israel, “Lives in a tough neighborhood. But if there is to be any hope for the future, it will have to be realized by voices of religious moderation.” (Jerusalem Post)

In shadow of Israel-Diaspora Western Wall crisis, PM meets US Jewish leaders

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday afternoon met with eight senior leaders of the American Jewish community to talk about a broad range of issues including Israel-Diaspora relations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran.

The meeting took place on the backdrop of an ongoing crisis between the Israeli government and Diaspora Jewry over Jerusalem’s recent freeze of plans to create a pluralistic prayer platform at the Western Wall, and the decision to advance a controversial conversion bill.

The Jewish leaders “asked the prime minister to clarify to US Jewry what he was doing to create a united prayer platform,” according to a readout of the meeting provided by the Prime Minister’s Office. “The meeting took place in an excellent atmosphere.”

The groups represented in the meeting were the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Federations of North America and the American Jewish Committee.

“The conversation dealt with the Iranian issue — both the nuclear issue and Syria and what impact it has on Israel,” the PMO’s readout said.

The future of the 2015 nuclear accord signed between the six world powers and Iran and Tehran’s entrenchment on Israel’s northern border in the framework of an agreement to end the Syrian civil war are the two issues set to dominate Netanyahu’s meeting with US President Donald Trump on Monday. The prime minister is also expected to address these topics at great length during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

The Jewish leaders asked Netanyahu for details on the recent developments within the Palestinian terror group Hamas, following its announcement earlier that it dissolved its Administrative Committee, which runs Gaza, and that it was ready to hold new elections, clearing the way the Palestinian Authority to return to the coastal strip.

During the meeting, which was also attended by Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, AIPAC leaders Howard Kohr and Lillian Pinkus invited the prime minister to attend the group’s annual policy conference in early May in Washington, D.C.

The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, reportedly also visited Netanyahu in his Manhattan hotel on Sunday, but the PMO did not confirm the meeting.

Later on Sunday, Netanyahu hosted Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, Senior Advisor to President Trump Jared Kushner and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Their meeting reportedly lasted over two hours. The PMO did not issue a readout of the meeting.  (the Times of Israel)

IDF looks to quit selling cigarettes on army bases

Beginning November 1, cigarettes and other tobacco products will disappear from the shelves of stores in dozens of military bases around the country as the army steps up its fight against smoking, the Israel Defense Force’s manpower chief said Sunday.

The ban on cigarette sales on those 55 bases — 65 stores, in total — is the most visible of a series of steps that the army is rolling out to combat what it has designated as a serious health risk not only to the smoking soldiers but to their comrades, 80 percent of whom report being exposed to secondhand smoke.

In addition to halting the sale of tobacco on some bases, the military will begin scaling back the number of smoking areas on bases, create a rule against smoking outside those designated zones, encourage commanders to refrain from smoking in front of their subordinates, and begin labeling smoking soldiers as such on their medical forms, Brig. Gen. Meirav Kirshner, chief of staff of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, told The Times of Israel.

For now, she said, being identified as a smoker would not have an impact on a soldier’s status or fitness level; it would only be used for tracking purposes. But that could change.

In addition to the new rules, Kirshner said the IDF is looking to help soldiers who want to quit smoking, with army-sponsored support groups and other programs.

She said the military identified smoking as a problem following a number of studies showing the high rates of tobacco use during military service.

A study published earlier this year found that 37% of discharged male soldiers identified as smokers, compared to 26% of new male recruits. (The number is lower among female recruits, at approximately 15%.)

That 37% is approximately twice the overall national rate.

For the army, Kirshner said, it isn’t just a societal health problem, but one with tangible, negative effects on the military’s operational capabilities.

“It harms [soldiers’] fitness and their ability to carry out their positions,” she said.

Kirshner noted that smokers, as a group, take more sick days and report more health problems than nonsmokers.

Asked why the army was focusing on cutting out tobacco from army stores but not other unhealthy products like junk food, Kirshner said she believed there was a difference.

For all its deleterious health effects, unlike cigarettes, “a bag of snacks doesn’t have a warning label.”

However, she noted, the army has started other programs designed to improve soldiers’ overall health.

The army’s new anti-smoking campaign is being carried out in collaboration between the Manpower Directorate and the IDF’s Medical Corps, Kirshner said.

There have been some attempts in the past to limit cigarette sales to soldiers, but the she said the latest moves mark a far more dramatic step.

The 55 bases where cigarettes will no longer be sold starting in November are all so-called “open” bases, where soldiers typically go home at the end of the day. The ban will not affect “closed” bases, which are generally in farther-flung locations.

So, for example, tobacco products will no longer be sold at the army’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv, but soldiers will still be able to purchase a pack of cigarettes on the Nafah army base in the Golan Heights. (A full list, in Hebrew, can be found here.)

The understanding is that changing the rules on those geographically distant bases might unwittingly cause other problems, like the creation of a cigarette black market.

The chief of staff decided that nothing matters besides the health of the soldiers

After three months, the military will review the effects of the trial and determine if the ban will be applied to “closed” bases as well, Kirshner said.

She noted that it would cause a financial loss for the military, as military stores — known by their current name kaveret and by their older name shekem — currently stock some 2.4 billion tobacco and tobacco-related products, including cigarettes, tobacco, rolling papers and lighters.

The money from the sale of those products ordinarily gets funneled back to the military, but Kirshner said the army is prepared to give up on that source of income.

“The chief of staff decided that nothing matters besides the health of the soldiers,” she said.  (the Times of Israel)

Using an extended hand of ‘peace’, Hamas backs Abbas into a corner

In its decision to dismantle Gaza’s administrative committee, Hamas has moved the ball into Abbas’s court. A refusal to lift all the sanctions he imposed on the strip five months ago would portray the Palestinian president in a very negative light, especially vis-à-vis Egypt.

by Elior Levy                     Ynet News


Since he began imposing sanctions on the Gaza Strip five months ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly declared that dismantling the Gaza Strip’s administrative committee would be the only way to end the sanctions and ease the pressure on Hamas. Now that the Gaza administration has been officially dissolved, the nature and goals of Hamas’s “shadow government” can be reexamined.

The Gaza Strip’s administrative committee was established in March after Hamas argued, quite rightly, that the unity government was almost completely ignoring the strip and investing most of its activity, efforts and budgets in the West Bank.

The committee is made up of seven people, each responsible for a number of government ministries with offices in the Gaza Strip. Each of the representatives is essentially the minister in charge of those offices, which is why the committee acted as a sort of shadow government. The head of the administrative committee in Gaza is Abdul Salam Siam, who served in the past senior positions in the Hamas government in Gaza when it was led by Ismail Haniyeh.

Hamas stressed at the time that the committee was not a government and did not come as an alternative to the unity government. It said its members were not ministers and it was only established due to temporary constraints. According to Hamas, the committee’s job was to coordinate between the government ministries in Gaza following their neglect by the unity government in Ramallah.

In practice, however, the committee did act as a government and its members made decisions as ministers. It was, in fact, a weakened and smaller version of the Hamas government that had ruled the strip and was dissolved following the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.

Abbas’ response to the committee’s establishment was particularly aggressive. He began imposing serious sanctions on the strip: He stopped paying for the electricity supply from Israel to Gaza, refused to pay the excise tax on diesel fuel for the power station, which led to severe power outages in the strip, cut government workers’ wages, forced an early retirement plan on Gaza’s government employees, stopped injecting money in the strip’s banks, refused to guarantee medical care for seriously ill patients wishing to be treated in hospitals in Israel or the West Bank, etc.

These sanctions led to a serious electricity crisis, leaving the strip’s residents with only two hours of electricity a day. Abbas also hoped that the sanctions would prompt the civil population in Gaza to rise up against the Hamas government in the strip and maybe even try to topple it.

Aware of the explosive situation, Hamas began importing diesel oil from Egypt to reactivate the power stations. Abbas’ wish didn’t come true, and the strip’s residents didn’t protest against Hamas. Nevertheless, he threatened to step up the sanctions even more.

Efforts to renew reconciliation talks

The dramatic announcement on the dissolvement of the administrative committee followed marathonic discussions held between Hamas leaders, Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar, and Egyptian intelligence officials.

Haniyeh and his people were scheduled to return to the strip several days ago, but accepted Egypt’s request to remain in Cairo and discuss the crisis with Fatah and the efforts to renew the reconciliation talks between the parties. Egypt invited a Fatah delegation to Cairo to discuss the situation as well, and Azzam al-Ahmad and Hussein al-Sheikh arrived at the Egyptian capital.

In its decision to dismantle the committee, Hamas basically moved the ball into Abbas’ court. The announcement conveys to the Palestinians, the Egyptians and whoever else it may concern, that Hamas is extending its hand in peace and doing everything it has been asked to do by Cairo. The organization also demanded an implementation of the reconciliation agreement and called (again) for elections.

This move embarrasses Abbas, who is now facing an important test. He must now cancel the sanctions and restore the situation in Gaza, which will cost him quite a lot of money. A refusal to lift all the sanctions would portray him as a rejectionist and place him in a very negative light, especially vis-à-vis Egypt, whose relations with Abbas are already unstable.

As Hamas emphasizes its sacrifice for the national unity, for the Palestinian people, for Egypt and for brotherhood, Abbas is realizing that any other decision apart from restoring the situation before the crisis could further warm up the relations between Cairo and Hamas at his expense, at Ramallah’s expense and at Fatah’s expense.

Abbas thought he would be spending the coming days in the prestigious and international atmosphere of the United Nations General Assembly, which he is so fond of. But now, Gaza’s neglected buildings will likely overshadow New York’s skyscrapers.

Hamas leaders are already taking pleasure in the serious challenge they have imposed on Fatah, as all eyes are now on them. Hamas’s hand is seemingly extended in peace, but will Fatah accept the challenge and, albeit unwillingly, shake Hamas’s hand?

Who Rules Israel After Netanyahu?

by Daniel Seaman          MIDA

Who Rules Israel After Netanyahu?

Sooner or later Netanyahu’s term will end. A look at possible candidates who could be the next Prime Minister of Israel.

Despite the incessant efforts on the part of the Israeli Opposition, who are aided by interested parties in the Israeli media, it does not seem as if the attempts to unseat incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu will bare fruit anytime soon. His opponents have stooped to the spreading of insinuation over alleged crimes committed by Netanyahu. They are doing so because politically, their Chicken Little-esque doom and gloom warnings that the sky is about to fall on Israel’s economy, society, international standing and security under Netanyahu, fail miserably when evaluated objectively. The public has no interest in early elections and support for Netanyahu himself has not diminished among voters.

There is one thing though, working in their favor – Time. All things do eventually come to an end. No political career lasts for ever. Every leader is eventually replaced, regardless of his or her stature or greatness. In Israel’s political arena, Netanyahu’s term as prime minister has been momentous. His is the longest term in the history of the State of Israel. He is prime minister now for eight and a half years. It is twelve and a half years when counting his first term. So one could say with a degree of certainty, that Netanyahu is closer to the end of his career, although that could very well still be a few years away.

Whether that happens sooner or later, it raises a question who would possibly replace Netanyahu as prime minister, once he steps down? Identifying the person is clear speculation. Considering how volatile the region is, any number of unforeseen events could alter and affect the political landscape in Israel. For our purposes then, I will provide an assumption based on the political situation as it stands at the moment.

That being the case, at present there does not seem to be any serious challenge to the Likud/right wing/Orthodox coalition running the country. The left wing have been unable to offer the Israeli public a new vision to replace the failed concessions-for-peace/two-state-solution dogma of the past 30 years. Combined with the fact that the leaders chosen by the Labor party in the last few years are as charismatic as cottage cheese, you realize the possibility of a political transfer of power to the Labor party is a statistical improbability.

Many Israelis describe themselves as political centrists. Those disappointed with Labor yet incapable of voting for a right wing party, turn to what we in Israel call the “Mood” parties. The circumstances before an election very much determine the third party option. At the moment Yair Lapid offers that option and has shown staying ability, though not much more.

It seems then that the person to most likely succeed Netanyahu will come from within the ranks of his own Likud party. Seniority and stature of course come into play. So here are the people I believe have the best chances of being the next Prime Minister of Israel:

Honorable mention (mostly because they have mentioned themselves at one point or another) – Danny Danon, though successful as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, is still too young and inexperienced; Gideon Sa’ar, former Minister of Justice and senior member of Likud. Has taken a break from politics. Rumors of inappropriate behavior and his marriage to a leading newscaster in Israel have diminished his standing among hardcore Likud voters; Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, though consistently popular in the elections within Likud, has done nothing noteworthy in his government duties. Considered too cautious by Likud faithful and too “parve” as I have heard from some.

Any of the above mentioned may announce candidacy even if they understand their chances are slim and this is in order to elevate their positions inside the party. They have less of a chance among Likud voters than the next four. These are:

Israel Katz, Minister of Transportation. He did attempt a run in the past. He is very powerful in the Likud central committee. He perhaps lacks the charisma of other candidates but if you have been to Israel the last few years, you can see his signature all over the country. The developing of public transportation projects and modern highways, are all his doing.  A kinder, gentler, modern day version of Robert Moses. Israelis love “can-do” politicians and he has a proven record of having done, and still doing, the most. He lacks the security and diplomatic experience that Israelis look for in a potential leader. I assume he will not be elected but will establish himself as a major player the other candidates will seek an endorsement from.

Miri Regev, Minister of Culture. Arguably the most popular Knesset member among the Likud electorate. A classic “rags to riches” story that many Likud voters identify with. She comes from a traditional religious north African immigrant family, grew up in a small town in the south of Israel. Regev had a stellar military career and reached the rank of Brigadier General. I know her personally, as we worked together for quite a few years. She is highly intelligent, goal oriented, tireless and a great leader. She knows how to use media, is very shrewd with excellent political instincts. Her very deliberate public feud with the liberal cultural elite in Israel has solidified her position within the Likud. Her disadvantage is that she has not served in one of the premier cabinet positions yet and has little diplomatic experience. Regev may not be the immediate heir to Netanyahu but since she is younger than other candidates, she could be considered a future option.

Avi Dichter, Chairman of the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He has the security credentials Israelis feel comfortable with and the international experience from his days as the Director of the Israel Security Agency, better known as the Shabak. He ran the organization during the difficult period of Palestinian violence of 2000-2005. He is credited with the successful campaign against Hamas. He served as Minister of Public Security, one of the more senior cabinet positions. The son of Holocaust survivors he too grew up in the south, in Ashkelon which has one of the most ardent Likud bases. He is experienced and a well respected, honest politician. His disadvantage is that he was not originally with Likud but joined Ariel Sharon and the Kadima party. He has slowly built a support base in the Likud party though and while the quality of his character could give him an advantage over others, it could also be a liability in hardball politics.

Yuli Edelstein, the Chairman of the Knesset. One of the few politicians that literally no one has a bad word to say about. A former “Prisoner of Zion” dissident who spent time in the Soviet gulag and realized his dream of coming to Israel. A veteran of over twenty years experience in politics. Highly intelligent, strongly ideological and unusually honorable for a politician. When necessary though, he has shown very shrewd political instincts as witnessed when he outmaneuvered his rivals to capture the coveted seat of Knesset Chairman. This position has elevated him into a position of national leadership. His duties put him in the public eye and he has earned respect and admiration. Edelstein has positioned himself as a responsible and level headed leader. The Chairman of the Knesset is the third most important position in the official hierarchy of the State of Israel. That gives Edelstein an advantage over rivals. More importantly, he has enhanced that advantage through very calculated and well thought out activities intended to solidify his positive image in the eye of the public and media. Most of all, after the tumultuous years of Netanyahu, the public in general may look for a more unifying leader.

Whatever the fate of Netanyahu and whenever it is that his term comes to an end, it is clear from this that when the day comes, Israel does have a number of capable politicians to chose from as his successor.

From tug of war with Obama to Trump’s warm embrace: Netanyahu heads for UN

By  Herb Keinon             The Jerusalem Post


One of the most striking elements in the run-up to Monday’s meeting in New York between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump is the lack of the apocalyptic background noise that preceded almost every meeting between Netanyahu and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

There was certainly a great deal of expectation of a boom about to be lowered when Netanyahu met Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in September 2009.

That meeting – which also included a brief trilateral meeting with Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – came after months of US pressure on Israel to announce a settlement moratorium, an initiative that up until that meeting Netanyahu had rebuffed, at the price of constant and intense tension with Washington.

That meeting took place after Obama had already unmistakably set the tone of his relationship with Israel by bypassing Israel on trips to the region that took him to Ankara, Riyadh and Cairo; by demanding a settlement freeze; and by talking about the need to put public daylight between the two allies.

So, before the two leaders met at the UN in 2009, there was already talk about administration anger toward Netanyahu and a crisis in the works. That set a pattern that repeated itself for the next eight years. Almost every Netanyahu-Obama meeting was preceded by dire descriptions of their relationship, and of trouble ahead for the US-Israel relationship. The forecast was always stormy.

Fast forward eight years to the scheduled meeting with Trump on Monday, which – as was the case with Obama – will take place on the sidelines of the president’s maiden address to the world body.

The overall atmosphere and tone of the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington has changed fundamentally.

It is not as if there are no disagreements – there are. But they are less about settlement policy and more about what needs to be done to keep Iran from setting up a permanent military presence in Syria when the civil war there ends.

But even those disagreements are for the most part kept behind closed doors, not aired publicly, as was the case with the Obama administration.

In the run-up to Monday’s meeting, no one is writing about deep frustration in Washington with Netanyahu over the Palestinian or Iranian issues; nobody is discussing administration anger over Israel’s settlement policy; and no leaks have emerged of senior administration officials castigating Netanyahu or his government for its “recalcitrance.”

That is not an insignificant shift.

When Obama met Netanyahu in New York in September 2009, it was already clear to all the world leaders attending the UN General Assembly, that the Israeli premier was definitely not Obama’s favorite interlocutor – and that perception, which only deepened as the years passed, had negative diplomatic ramifications for Israel.

One of the most important assets Israel has in its dealing with other countries is the perception of very close ties with Washington – of being America’s “favorite son.” If that perception is damaged – as it was in the Obama years – Israel loses out on an important asset.

Granted, during the Obama years Israel still had massive support on Capitol Hill, but Netanyahu could not pull strings at the White House to gain favor for friends. Not only could Netanyahu not open doors in the White House for other countries during the Obama years, he could hardly open the doors there for himself.

That has changed under Trump.

Following the warm welcome Netanyahu received at the White House in February and Trump’s very friendly visit to Israel in May, Monday’s meeting is expected to follow the same pattern. And the world is both watching and taking note.

The eyes of the world’s leaders will all be on Trump at the UN, and for many of them – according to a report in The New York Times that quoted Jon B. Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington – “This is going to be their first chance to see him, to judge him and try to get on his good side.”

And, yes, despite the unconventional nature of this president, the world’s leaders will want to get on Trump’s good side, because – after all – he still is president of the most powerful nation in the world.

While some in the American Jewish community have expressed concern that Netanyahu has “tied himself to the hip” of a divisive US president, Netanyahu’s obviously close relationship with Trump – a relationship that will again be on full display at their meeting on Monday – gives Israel added value in dealing with countries that don’t enjoy such a strong relationship with the president, would like to and may look to Netanyahu to help them make it happen.