News Nosh 02.24.15

APN's daily news review from Israel
Tuesday February 24, 2015

Number of the day:
--Monthly average for new homes in settlements during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's third government, according to a new Peace Now report.**

Front Page:
Yedioth Ahronoth
Maariv This Week (Hebrew links only)
Israel Hayom

News Summary:
The formulation of an Iran nuclear deal and the lowering of the interest rate to an all-time low were the top stories in the Hebrew newspapers today. A day before the much-awaited State Comptroller report on the high cost of housing, Yedioth also reported on statistics showing the high rate of Jewish construction in the West Bank, while Maariv focused on at TV report that revealed that the state paid for renovations at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s private home in Caesarea.  Some of the papers reported on the unprecedented move by Israel’s state-owned electric company to cut electricity in two major Palestinian cities and about the ‘victory’ after a US jury made an unprecedented decision that the Palestinian Authority must pay millions to 10 families harmed by attacks by Palestinians.
Somewhat surprisingly, Maariv and Yedioth did not report negatively on the progress towards a deal that would allow Iran to enrich a limited amount of uranium in exchange for removal of sanctions. Maariv called it “a failure of Israeli advocacy attempts,” but in a bigger article on page two it reported on how Al-Jazeera revealed secret Mossad documents showing that the Mossad doesn’t think Iran is striving for a nuclear bomb. Yedioth also ran the Mossad documents article just below the Iran talks article. These documents were written in 2012, a month before Netanyahu warned that  “Iran would have the bomb within a year.” But Maariv’s intelligence affairs commentator, Yossi Melman, wrote that this was no big expose, because former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and his successor Tamir Pardo have both said they don’t see Iran as an existential threat. Melman writes that it’s not that they have different information than the Prime Minister, but that it’s a matter of interpretation. Yedioth also reported on the progress in the talk in very matter of fact terms, stating what would likely be the compromises with Iran, but not presenting it as the end of the world. And only towards the end of the article did it give the response of 'political sources in Jerusalem' and of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who said a nuclear deal with 'messianic, apocalyptic' Iran will endanger Israel and the West. Yedioth also ran the Mossad documents story just below the Iran talks article, seemingly stressing that Iran was not a threat. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman took aim at Netanyahu's point of pride: his hawkishness on Iran. Lieberman said Netanyahu can't advise on Iran because he couldn't even defeat Hamas [not that was ever the goal in the last three Gaza wars. Israel does not want responsibility for the Gaza Strip. – OH] Israel Hayom, of course, presented the progress on the Iran talks in a very negative light. Interestingly, the secret cables also described attempts by the CIA to contact Hamas directly, despite Hamas being listed as a ‘terror organization’ by the US government. 
**With the exception of Israel Hayom, the newspapers have been emphasizing the crisis over the high cost of housing, which is a sore point with Netanyahu. There have been massive price increases across the country, in some cities prices quintupled, and Israelis are finding it extremely hard to own a home. Yedioth’s top political reporter and commentator revealed today that Housing Ministry documents show that one out of every six apartments (48,000+) that are in stages of planning are to be built in the West Bank – a place where much less than one out of six Israelis want to live. (Less than 400,000 Jewish Israelis out of over eight million live in the West Bank.) Another 15,000 apartments are planned in E. Jerusalem. Moreover, (settler) Housing Minister Uri Ariel is demanding for millions of additional shekels just before elections – and in the meantime, he is delaying the transfer of IDF bases to the Negev. Ariel said there was no connection between the issues. A new Peace Now report shows that Israel set a 10-year record for settlement tenders and that 8% of construction starts were in enclaves that aren’t part of blocs Israel has vowed to keep. Peace Now blamed Israel’s settlement plans for the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks last April. "All these figures prove that Benjamin Netanyahu is doing everything to increase faits accomplis on the ground and make a two-state solution impossible," said Peace Now's Hagit Ofran.
The Israeli government said it was not behind the decision by the state-owned electric corporation to temporarily cut power to two West Bank cities, Haaretz+ reported. [However, I heard on an Israeli radio station Monday that the decision was made with the approval of the ‘highest levels of government.’  – OH] Haaretz+ reported that, “as in the past, the PMO, the Defense Minister's bureau and the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories [COGAT] issued their vehement opposition to such an action…fearing the humanitarian and diplomatic implications it would cause.” Factories shut down suddenly and people were stuck in elevators in Jenin and Nablus when the Israel Electric Corporation cut off electricity for nearly an hour. The IEC said it was a warning to pressure Palestinian Authority into paying $492 million bill. Ghassan al-Shakaa, chairman of the Palestinian board of directors of the Northern West Bank Electricity company, told Ma'an there were no accumulated debts. "The only unpaid bill is the latest bill of 40 million shekels (around $10 million) which we received only a few days ago," said Shakaa. 

Quick Hits:
  • Thousands of East Jerusalem Arabs stranded due to Israeli interior ministry strike - Residents are unable to travel outside of Israel, causing cancellation of pilgrimages to Mecca. Interior Ministry strike also labeled completely ineffective. (Haaretz+)
  • Israeli forces open fire at Gaza farmers, fishermen - Israeli forces opened fire at Palestinian farmers east of Khan Younis and Israeli naval forces fired at fishermen off the coast of Gaza after they deviated from the designated fishing zone. (Maan)
  • IDF: Israel fires into air as five people approach border from Lebanon - Army says it fired in the air near Israeli moshav Avivim; group dispersed after troops opened fire, no injuries. (Haaretz)
  • Palestinian activist fined for West Bank protest - Abdullah Abu Rahma has been repeatedly arrested by the Israeli military for organizing weekly demonstrations against Israel's separation barrier in the village of Bilin. (Maan)
  • Shin Bet thwarts terrorist attack, arrests 11 Palestinians - (According to Shin Bet,) Suspects affiliated with Hamas attempted to attack Israeli soldiers and planned to carry out other attacks in Hebron and Jerusalem, says security service. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
  • Israel denies Gaza gov’t floodwater allegations - Israel said it did not operate dams in the south, contrary to Palestinian claims that it had opened them deliberately to alleviate flooding, causing flooding of homes of hundreds of Palestinians. However, according to the Jewish National Fund's website, in 1996 a giant system of reservoirs was constructed along the Besor River, which leads into the Gaza Valley. (Maan
  • Gunshots fired at Israeli vehicle near Hebron - Gunshots were reportedly fired at an Israeli vehicle driven by a Palestinian man with Israeli citizenship on route 60 Monday near the illegal Karmei Tzur settlement north of Hebron in the southern West Bank. (Maan)
  • Report: 2 men cross secretly from Jordan into Israel - Two young men managed to cross the border secretly from Jordan to Israel overnight Saturday and then traveled in a car that was waiting for them “under the nose of Israeli army," according to the Israeli news site Walla. (Maan)
  • Ex-employee who accused Netanyahu over excessive expenses receives death threats - Meni Naftali, who says the prime minister has billed the state for private expenses, allegedly has received threats both online and in person. (Haaretz+)
  • Herzog, Livni to Haaretz readers: We don’t rule out Arab parties - Zionist Union leaders answer readers' questions about next government, freedom of speech. (Haaretz+)
  • Nakba film festival in Haifa canceled after mayor declines funding - Mayor Yona Yahav agreed to have the event held at the city’s Cinematheque, but the sponsoring organization, Zochrot, wanted the city to pay the rent on the hall. (Haaretz+) 
  • Arab Israelis volunteering for Israel’s national service - Despite negative stigma among Israeli Arabs, some youths from the sector decide to join civilian alternative to army. (Ynet)
  • IDF to make it harder for soldiers to be released on psychological grounds - Drive part of move to reduce the army's dropout rates to less than 13.5% for men and 4.5% for women. (Haaretz+)
  • Bank of Israel: Economy is recovering from Gaza war - Composite index rises 0.3 percent in January, reflecting increased revenue from trade and services, higher export levels and greater job availability. Economy grew strongly in fourth quarter of 2014. Interest rate expected to stay at 0.25 percent. (Israel Hayom
  • Likely Republican candidates Santorum and Jindal coming to Israel on Christian tour - The tour to Israel sponsored by the Family Research Council, a conservative policy and lobbying organization based in Washington, is scheduled for Oct. 27-Nov. 6. (JTA, Haaretz)
  • U.S. jury finds PLO, PA liable over terror attacks in Israel more than a decade ago - The victims will receive more than $218 million. (Agencies, Haaretz and Maan)
  • Tel Aviv named one of top 10 oceanfront cities - Israeli metropolis included on National Geographic list alongside San Diego, Brisbane and Marseilles and other 'waterfront urban meccas.' (Ynet)
  • Middle East Updates / French aircraft carrier deploys against ISIS fighters in Iraq - U.S., allies stage 25 air strikes on Islamic State; Moscow offers Iran new air defense missile system; Egyptian court jails leading activist for 5 years. (Haaretz)

Do you believe in God? Haaretz engages Israeli politicians in special questionnaire
What do the heads of Israel’s political parties think of evolution? Are they for or against a biometric database? We sent a list of questions about science to the heads of the parties who will likely enter the next Knesset. (Haaretz+)
Why is Ann Gravoin annoying top anti-Semites in France?
They accuse her of having too much influence on her husband. They argue that she sought to get rid of the Gypsies in her neighborhood. The Jewish violinist is the weapon used by anti-Semites in France against her husband, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who holds sympathetic positions towards the Jewish people and towards Israel. And by the way, she gave up on the official residence. (Gideon Kotz, Maariv magazine supplement)
(Israeli-)Australian chef seeks recipe for coexistence in Galilee
Paul Nirens believes food can serve a larger purpose than only satisfying appetites. His Galileat venture aims to bring together the parts of Israeli society that normally don't mix. (Rotem Maimon, Haaretz+)

Israel needs a new identity to account for waning Zionism (Haaretz Editorial)  This need will only intensify as minorities claim their rightful place in setting the national agenda and distributing public resources. 
Oslo protest is step in right direction (Ben-Dror Yemini, Yedioth/Ynet) One thousand Muslims rallying against anti-Semitism is not a trivial matter; but the real change will come when the silent Muslim majority will be able to act openly and freely.
Keep religion out of the army (Uri Misgav, Haaretz+) The IDF must not draw its authority from God, religious leaders, verses of Scripture, or prayers. The outgoing and incoming IDF chief of staffs have a right to visit the Western Wall, but only on their free time. 
Thank you, Muslim friend (Bradley Burston, Haaretz+) There are days, many days, when I dread turning on the news. Once in a very long while, though, I'm grateful I did.
Go, Netanyahu, go! (Uzi Baram, Haaretz+) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes all his problems will be solved with one moving, televised appearance in Congress, so let him go.
Is this the beginning of the end for ISIS? (Ronen Bergman, Yedioth/Ynet) Within quite a short period of time, the jihadist organization will likely disintegrate into smaller groups, which may still be dangerous but won't constitute a threat to world peace. 
Netanyahu's address to Congress is not a speech. It's a coup (Oudeh Basharat, Haaretz+) If the right-wing forces on both sides of the Atlantic - Netanyahu and Adelson - join together, the forces of reason in both the U.S. and Israel must respond by joining together as well. 
Warmed-up noodles: the truth behind the publication by Al-Jazeera of Mossad documents (Yossi Melman, Maariv) The dispute is over the interpretation: (Former Mossad chief Meir) Dagan and his successor Tamir Pardo often said that Iran's nuclear program is not an immediate threat to Israel, and certainly does not necessitate an attack. 
On the road to a nuclear Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia are on diverging paths (Oded Eran and Yoel Guzansky, Haaretz+) Saudi Arabia and Israel are equally threatened by a nuclear deal with Iran. Which of their approaches to influencing U.S. decision makers is more likely to work?
Gaza war report must be published at once (Yoaz Hendel, Yedioth/Ynet) The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee's summary of Operation Protective Edge cannot be postponed, even if it does affect the elections. 
Stop yelling (Ariel Schmidberg, Israel Hayom) What is happening to Israeli society? We're all ambassadors, both at home and abroad. So stop yelling. Just stop.
Haneen Zoabi: Apologize - or at least get married (Shany Littman, Haaretz+) It doesn't matter how many flotillas the Arab MK sails on or how many offensive remarks she makes, what riles people is that she is not controlled by a man. 
Tiptoeing around religion and state in Israel (Yedidia Z. Stern, Yedioth/Ynet) Try to invite the heads of any political party to a public discussion of religion and state and you will discover that their ability to disappear is greater than that of the Cheshire Cat. 
Giuliani slights Obama but yearns for a love like Netanyahu’s (Chemi Shalev, Haaretz+) The former NY mayor's comments would pass unnoticed in Israel, where the right routinely casts doubt on the left's patriotism.
Why is Zionist Union hiding Livni? (Shlomo Cesana, Israel Hayom) The Labor-Hatnuah joint list changes slogan from "Winning Together" to "Herzog -- A Reasonable and Responsible Leader.” It is trying to emphasize Isaac Herzog as prime ministerial candidate and downplay his rotation agreement with Tzipi Livni.

Prepared for APN by Orly Halpern, independent freelance journalist based in Jerusalem.