APN's daily news review from Israel
Wednesday March 20, 2013
Quote of the day:
"I was excited when they told me I had been selected. I am crazy for Obama, he is a good president."
-- Amit Koren, an engineering student at the Technion, who wrote a poem for Obama and won a seat to his speech.**
Front Page News:
- US President Obama comes to Israel today
- Syria: "Civilians killed from chemical weapons" - mutual accusations by Assad and rebels
- Crisis in Cyprus worsening: Parliament refused the rescue
- The ministers entered their offices - the MKs went on recess for another month of vacation
- Israeli ambassadors debating: "How to respond to the success of 'The Gatekeepers' film"
- 1/4 page ad: JStreet - Welcome to Israel Mr. President - We see your visit as a visit of friendship and we bless your commitment to the good relations between the US and Israel...Israel must arrive at real and lasting peace with its Palestinian neighbors on the basis of a two-state solution...
- Welcome - Historic visit: President Obama comes to Israel
- Israel believes: Assad attacked the rebels with nerve gas
- Obama to land in Israel, Pollard remains behind - The excitement and the disappointment (Hebrew)
- Expose: The secret understandings for coalition cooperation between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi (Hebrew)
- Syria: 25 killed and more than 100 injured in chemical attack on Aleppo. The rebels and Assad's army blame each other (Hebrew)
- Holocaust survivor from Petach Tikva beaten by youth because he chastised them; Doctors: Apparently he will never walk again (Hebrew)
- Welcome Mr. President - In expectation of the speech
- IDF considering: Cancelling defense guard of settlements
- And in the meantime in the Middle East: For first time - Use of chemical weapons in Syria
- Ahead of the visit - Map of the traffic jams: What roads will be closed to traffic?
- Basket of presents Obama and his family will receive as souvenirs
- The convoy: Everything a President brings with him
The arrival of the President of the US States Barack Obama to Israel and the chemical weapon attack on civilians in Syria were the top stories in today's main Israeli newspapers. The papers looked at what Israel wants from Obama, how Israelis feel about him and how he feels about the Israeli government. They also discussed what US Secretary of State John Kerry has planned in order to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace track and what gestures Israel made towards the Palestinians ahead of Obama's visit. Israel Hayom also reported that the IDF may stop putting soldiers on guard at Israeli settlements.
Obama is here, the papers say, to prove to the Israeli people his commitment to their country. But he is frustrated, writes Alon Pinkas in a half-page article in Yedioth, because in his last term in office, "he tried to do everything to prove his support for Israel...The gap between his friendship to Israel and his image is intolerable, in his and his supporters' view, particularly among the Jewish supporters. The gap between how he perceives his attitude towards Israel and how Israel treats him is the source of bitterness and anger. Obama does not understand how he says all the right things about Israel, expresses unconditional support in a strong Israel, an ally of the US, the Jewish state, democratic and strong, and still is accused by the Republicans - with the support of those who represent Israel in the US on behalf of themselves and of Israeli right-wingers - of 'throwing Israel under the wheels of the bus.'" An Israeli poll found that Israelis are warming up, slightly, to Obama.
But what Netanyahu wants to know is what Obama's red-line is regarding Iran. A senior Israeli political source told Maariv that "Obama's red line regarding an attack on Iran is a fiction." (NRG Hebrew) According to the source, "The President is trying to delegitimize the Israeli decision to attack." Maariv's Amir Rappaport writes that Obama will have to decide within a short time on whether to attack Iran, basically after the next round of talks between the world powers and Iran in Kazakhstan. According to Rappaport, Obama's visit is one of the most fateful in the history of Israel because of its timing. "Within a week or two the US President will have to decide whether he goes on a collision course with Iran or whether he allows the Iranians to continue to laugh all the way to a nuclear bomb..." Rappaport writes that the question of whether Israel will live under a nuclear threat in a year or two depends only on the US. "Israel will take advantage of the visit to demand that Obama raise the threat against Iran to more than just talk and sanctions that don't work. Before an attack it's still possible to put a naval siege on the Persian Gulf, for example. The immediate cost will be the rise of world oil prices." But, he adds, Israel believes that there will be no choice but for the US to make an attack on Iran in order to prevent the bomb - especially if the Ayatollah regime remains stable after the presidential elections in June. In an interview with CNN President Shimon Peres said he was 'free of doubts' that Obama would use military force if necessary to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb and played down disagreements between US and Israeli assessments of Iran's progress towards that bomb. Haaretz reports that an Israeli security official said the Americans have plans for a pinpoint military action in Iran. And a Pew Research poll found that 64% of Americans would support a US attack on Iran. And a plurality among Americans believe Obama is pursuing a 'balanced' course in the Middle East.
There are two other security issues that will be discussed during Obama's visit: Syria and the Palestinians. According to Maariv's Amir Rappaport, the most burning issue right now is Syrian chemical weapons, particularly after nerve gas was reportedly used harming Syrian civilians yesterday. (It remains unclear who used the nerve gas on the civilians, the rebels or Assad's forces. Both accuse each other.) But on this subject, Israel and the US are 'completely coordinated,' he writes.
Obama is not raising expectations about bringing about peace between Israel and Palestine during his visit, but the newspapers say that US Secretary of State John Kerry will be left to do the peace work later. Kerry arrived yesterday in Israel and will travel with Obama on Friday to Jordan, but return to Israel Saturday night to discuss over dinner with Netanyahu the renewal of the peace track. Maariv writes that the Palestinian issue is rather secondary for Israel, because it does not fear a third Intifada anytime soon. "The visit will at most create a mechanism that will allow to draw things out longer without a third intifada, but won't lead to accelerated and substantial negotiations," writes Rappaport.
But there is a plan to renew the peace process and the 2002 Saudi Initiative is the basis for it. Yedioth and Haaretz report that before arriving here, Kerry was traveling in the Middle East in an effort to build a coalition of Arab states supportive of renewing the peace process based on the Saudi Initiative, also known as the Arab Peace Agreement, according to which the Arab states would promise to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of 1967 borders. He turned to Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf states. However, he received a chilly response, writes Haaretz. In a one-page article Yedioth's Alex Fishman explained that the Palestinian Authority needs the support of the Arab states and Turkey in order to make the compromises necessary for a peace agreement. Kerry had one more request of the Saudis: that they market the Initiative to Israel. In an article that almost sounds as if it is trying to convince its Israeli reader, Fishman writes that if Israel agreed to accept the initiative and begin negotiations, the Arab states could, for example, open up their skies to commercial El-Al flights. Kerry also asked the Saudis to finance the infrastructure for the new Palestinian state, since the EU and Europe are not in a good financial situation. According to Haaretz, the Arab foreign ministers told Kerry that the very fact that the Initiative was not taken off the table was a compromise for them. Kerry also got the cold shoulder from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. For the Turks, the most important player on the Palestinian field was not President Mahmoud Abbas, but Hamas, writes Haaretz. (Indeed, Palestinians in Ramallah told Maariv that , while they are not excited about he US President's visit - "What did he do for us?" - "If the Prime Minister of Turkey comes - we will receive him like royalty.") (NRG Hebrew)
Haaretz writes: that according to an Israeli official who met recently with Kerry's advisers, Kerry does not believe that peace talks should resume over the next six months but that they should be used to build trust and prepare the ground for the possibility of resuming talks. During his visit, Kerry will ask Netanyahu for his opinion on freezing construction in the settlements, releasing Palestinian prisoners and other gestures that could strengthen Abbas. At the same time, Kerry will ask Abbas whether he is willing to promise to stop the unilateral moves in the United Nations and not to go to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
But an Israeli poll found that most Israelis (62%) don't believe Obama can bring about any real breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Interestingly, the survey revealed that Labor party members were the most optimistic concerning the Obama's peace-building capacity (74%), followed by Hatnuah (67%), Kadima (67%) and Meretz (50%), all left-leaning or centrist parties. Only 22% of the settler-supported Habayit Hayehudi backed Obama's peace-making potential, and only 12% of Shas members shared the sentiment. Moreover, the more left-wing the person was, the more she believed Israel should be flexible to political changes that would facilitate getting negotiations back on track.
Israel has just initiated some gestures towards the Palestinians ahead of Obama's visit. It will retroactively legalize Palestinian construction in parts of Area C of the West Bank, which are under full Israeli control. The Civil Administration, the Israeli body responsible for governance over civilian matters in the West Bank, has budgeted NIS 3 million for preparation of the plan. Haaretz's settler affairs reporter Chaim Levinson writes that "the move is part of a broader plan to invest approximately NIS 20 million in various projects meant to improve the quality of life in the West Bank, as part of a series of gestures toward the Palestinians designed to lessen the diplomatic pressure on Israel." However, the issue of releasing Palestinian prisoners and transferring weapons to the Palestinian Authority will only be discussed after Obama's visit. Also, the day before his arrival, Israel razed six structures in two different settlement outposts - but not the outposts themselves, Ynet reported. What it did not report was that afterward settlers rioted in a Palestinian village, setting cars on fire.
Interestingly, Israel Hayom reports that the IDF is considering to stop putting soldiers on guard at communities located near points of confrontation: in Israel on the Lebanon border and around the Gaza Strip as well as in the West Bank. The reason: soldiers are not properly prepared for the job and in order to save budget money. The soldiers sent to guard for a few months at a time are often office workers. The Yesha settler council responded: "It's impossible that someone in the Defense Ministry would think of decreasing the security of settlements and abandoning the residents to terror threats."
Obama Visit Quickees:
- Jordanian king: Ties with Netanyahu very strong, may be too late for two-state solution - Jordan's King Abdullah II tells American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that increased coordination with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has contributed to stability in his kingdom, also says Israel may have to choose between 'apartheid and democracy' if Palestinian state not created.(Haaretz and Ynet)
- **Jerusalem scrambles to prepare for Obama visit - Whole swaths of the newly clean city will be closed during the U.S. president's two-day visit to accommodate his entourage, foreign journalists and hundreds of other guests."In honor of the visit we scrubbed the highways and the city streets, and hung about 1,000 Israeli, U.S. and Jerusalem Municipality flags," said Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. (Haaretz and Ynet)
- WATCH: U.S. and Israeli diplomats give Obama's visit a whimsical twist - In an attempt to cast contention aside, the Israeli embassy in Washington and the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv release amusing videos ahead of U.S. president's trip to the Holy Land. (Haaretz)
- Palestinian Anti-Obama protesters scuffle with police - Palestinian Authority police scuffled on Tuesday with scores of demonstrators protesting against the visit of US President Barack Obama to the occupied West Bank later this week. (Maan)
- Protesting for Pollard in Jerusalem: 'Obama, save him' - More than 2,000 people, mostly youths, call for release of spy for Israel currently serving 28th year in US jail; Ramallah residents demonstrate against US president's schedule visit to city. (Ynet)
- Official: Settlers smash 18 cars in West Bank rampage - Israeli settlers on Tuesday smashed the windscreens of 18 Palestinian cars and a bus in Nablus after Israeli forces evacuated two illegal outposts. (Maan)
- Arab, Islamic blocs urge UN to take action on settlement report - Arab and Islamic blocs in the UN drafting resolution to ask the UN Human Rights Council to adopt the conclusions of a fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements. (Maan)
- Livni vows to block bill making state Jewish first, democratic second - The legislation, which was included in the coalition agreement between Likud-Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi, would change the balance between Israel's Jewish and democratic character. (Haaretz)
- (Dismissed Likud Knesset Speaker) Rubi Rivlin surprised: Arrived at a meeting of the opposition - Rivlin participated in a protest meeting of opposition parties opposing government's intention to increase the threshold to enter the Knesset and to advance bill to make state Jewish first and democratic second. (Maariv, p. 12 and Yedioth, p. 22)
- Unsigned secret agreement between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi - Two parties had agreed on cooperation between Treasury and Finance Committee, between Housing Ministry and Ministers Housing Committee and on registering couples who presently cannot legally marry. (Maariv, p. 14/NRG Hebrew)
- Male Habayit Hayehudi MKs balk at move to put women on panel choosing chief rabbi - Only one of the 150 members of the selection committee is currently a woman; a petition circulation in the Knesset asks that 17 places be allocated to women. (Haaretz)
- Tel Aviv Stock Exchange hits 18-month high after new government sworn in - Insurance stocks climb after Harel posts its best annual profits since 2009. (Haaretz)
- Sheikh Jarrah family fears eviction - An 82-year-old grandfather and his family are awaiting an Israeli Supreme Court decision that could evict them from an East Jerusalem home they have lived in since 1964. Ayyoub Shamasnah's 2-room home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood has been targeted by settlers. (Maan)
- Palestinians clash with Israeli soldiers near Bethlehem - Israeli forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Palestinian residents of Tuqu during clashes yesterday. (Maan)
- Israel to Hungary: Pull journalist's award - Israeli ambassador accuses TV presenter who won state journalism prize of 'spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories' against Jewish state. European rights commissioner voices concern too. (Agencies, Ynet)
- Palestinian Authority and European Union sign financial agreement before donor meeting - The agreement is worth 7 million euros ($9 million) and will contribute to Palestinian development. (Maan)
- Chemical attack in north Syria: 'People fell dead to the floor' - Israeli security officials believe chemical agents were in fact used near Aleppo by rebels or Assad forces. Young girl: My chest closed up. I couldn't talk. I couldn't breathe. (Ynet)
- Egypt military investigating Hamas in new case - Fabric that may be used to make fake uniforms seized; army fears unnamed parties may impersonate Egyptian soldiers. (Agencies, Ynet)
Winning back Israeli hearts (Ari Shavit, Haaretz) Israel needs the hope Barack Obama is about to offer.
Palestinians still waiting for Obama to prove commitment to two state-solution (Palestinian negotiatior Nabil Sha'ath, Haaretz) Many Palestinian lives and much political capital could have been saved over the last four years if President Obama had shown the determination to facilitate two-state solution negotiations. Now, rather than calling for the resumption of a meaningless "peace process," we Palestinians expect real action on the ground.
The wheel is in Obama's hands (Jeffrey Goldberg, Maariv/Bloomberg) When President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet this week for what will almost certainly be an intense and lengthy conversation about Iran's nuclear program, it will be the president, not the prime minister, who drives the discussion.
SATIRE: Just a few routine security questions, sir (Nicolas Pelham, Haaretz) Israel wouldn't mess up and let its airport security people welcome President Obama to the country, would it?
In Hope in faith (Eitan Haber, Yedioth) Mr. President, The State of Israel welcomes you today to our home...For many in the US of A, we are just one of about 200 countries that make up our stormy world. And while we certainly have a special relationship, we are just one of these many countries. But, for Israelis it is different. You are the one and the only superpower....We have received warmth and friendship from the American people and the American government in all aspects of life, from day one. Like a good friend, when we needed help, you have stood by us. For us, Israelis, this is an occassion to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything that your country has done for us...The Jewish people have a long collective memory. And we do not forget. We have no doubt that this relationship, built on common interests, will continue to grow in the future, even if - like good friends - we agree to disagree from time to time...God Bless you. God Bless the United States of America.
Resurrecting Obama's reputation in the Middle East (Martin Indyk, Haaretz) If Obama's speech on Thursday can build the trust quotient missing in his relationship with the Israeli people, the positive change in public opinion towards the president will earn him critical leverage over Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, your move (Haaretz Editorial) Obama can and must make clear to Israel how the continuation of the occupation could affect bilateral relations, harm the U.S. position in the region and erode the American public's support for Israel.
A tough challenge for Netanyahu (Yossi Ben-Aharon, Israel Hayom) Obama believes a Palestinian state would improve the atmosphere in the Middle East and help him promote his policies.
President's visit marks the end to Israeli isolationism (Aluf Benn, Haaretz) But the visit will not bring about the end of the occupation, the dismantling of settlements, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank, or even the destruction of the Iranian nuclear program.
The charm of the wretched and outcast (Ravit Hecht, Haaretz) If there is a chance for 'new politics' and what it is meant to represent, it is, in fact, in the untamed wasteland of the new opposition − in one of its most interesting constellations in the history of the Israeli parliament.
Attack of the smiles (Amnon Lord, Maariv/NRGHebrew) At the end of the #1 melodramatic film of all times, 'Casablanca,' Humphrey Bogart tells Claude Raines, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship." It may be exaggerated, but something new is beginning today on that red carpet at the airport..."
America's defender of the status quo(s) (Amira Hass, Haaretz) If a black president doesn't change the internal American reality, why should anyone expect him to do anything against the Jewish separation regime that has been created here between the river and the sea?
Will Netanyahu navigate? (Mati Tuchfeld, Israel Hayom) In the former coalition, there was virtually no one restricting Netanyahu's movements; the new government is a whole new ball game.
He came to say goodbye (Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz) President Obama's visit attests to Washington's strategic choice: to neglect the Middle East peace process.
Prepared for APN by Orly Halpern, independent freelance journalist based in Jerusalem.