Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu party announced Friday afternoon Israel-time that the coalition negotiations are complete, and the government will be presented to President Shimon Peres on Saturday night. Expect a swearing in on Monday (just don’t ask what Sara Netanyahu will be wearing for this swearing in).
There was a last-minute hitch last-night which saw Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett going of in a huff over Netanyahu’s refusal to make him and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid vice prime ministers. But today, Bennett backed down, and the path is clear for the new government.
The debacle over the vice prime ministers title is indicative of just how much the final phase of the negotiations turned out to be about one thing — honor — and not about policies or ideals. The vice prime ministers is basically honorific, and means very little in day-to-day political life. But it’s become a staple of the Israeli scene.
Netanyahu doesn’t seeme to have had any desire to dispense with the vice PM roles before the election. After all, why would it matter to the invincible Bibi at a time when nobody could even conceive of anyone else as PM? But after his battering at the ballot box, and loss of face in coalition negotiations faced with Yesh Atid and Jewish Home’s stubborn refusal to do as he said and sit with Haredim, he was on the look out for ways to claw back some respect and impression of control. And so, after a chaotic coalition negotiation, he got in one final snub for Bennett, and in true Bibi style ensured that he got the last word.
“There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes — love and peace. If you try to make them with open eyes, you won’t get anywhere,” Shimon Peres tells Ronen Bergman in an illuminating interview in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine.
While the 89-year-old President of Israel tells the journalist he “asks foolish questions,” Bergman gets frank answers from Peres on Obama, Iran and the path to peace in the Middle East. Throughout the piece, a theme of challenging relationships — between Peres and Netanyahu, Israel and the U.S. and Israel and Iran — emerges:
It’s no secret Peres and Netanyahu don’t see eye to eye on diplomacy. In the interview, Peres speaks out on the harsh consequences he believes will come from the Prime Minister’s approach:
If there is no diplomatic decision, the Palestinians will go back to terror…the silence that Israel has been enjoying over the last few years will not continue, because even if the local inhabitants do not want to resume the violence, they will be under the pressure of the Arab world…Most of the world will support the Palestinians, justify their actions, level the sharpest criticism at us, falsely label us a racist state. Our economy will suffer gravely if a boycott is declared against us. The world’s Jews want an Israel they can be proud of and not an Israel that has no borders and that is considered an occupying state.
Israeli President Shimon Peres has locked horns again with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two men have a troubled relationship, and in the summer had a very tense month after Peres went against Netanyahu’s position on Iran.
Speaking to a large gathering of Israeli diplomats, Peres heaped praise on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — a man that Netanyahu and recently-resigned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have put great energy in to discrediting and portraying as an antagonizer in recent weeks.
“I’ve known him for 30 years,” said Peres. “No one will change my opinion about Abu Mazen, even if they say I cannot express it because I’m the president.”
Ynet reports that Atef Salem, the newly appointed ambassador of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government, has formally presented his credentials to Israel’s President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. In the words of V.P. Joe Biden, this is a big f*!@&! deal.
Worth recalling the little-noticed passage in Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September, in which he reaffirmed Egypt’s commitment to the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative promising full recognition and end of conflict with Israel in return for a mutually agreed peace pact with the Palestinians.
Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood-linked president, Mohamed Morsy, has written to Israeli President Shimon Peres, the Israeli news site Mako-News 2 reports. In the letter Morsy thanks Peres for his Ramadan greetings and pledges “our best efforts to get the Middle east [sic] Peace Process back to the right track in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples of the region, including the Israeli people.” It appears to be the first direct outreach
The letter comes 12 days after Morsy met in Cairo with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, and follows weeks of speculation and contradictory Egyptian messages regarding the future of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
The Muslim Brotherhood has a long history of virulently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and Hamas, its Palestinian wing, has repeatedly restated its opposition to any recognition of Israel. At the same time, Egypt’s military, the element in Egyptian society with the closest ties to Israel, has noticeably declined to give up the reins of power following the Brotherhood’s political rise, and Morsy formally resigned his membership in the Brotherhood after winning the presidency.
The Norway massacre has touched off a nasty war of words on the Israeli Internet over the meaning of the event and its implications for Israel. And I do mean nasty: Judging by the comments sections on the main Hebrew websites, the main questions under debate seem to be whether Norwegians deserve any sympathy from Israelis given the country’s pro-Palestinian policies, whether the killer deserves any sympathy given his self-declared intention of fighting Islamic extremism and, perhaps ironically, whether calling attention to this debate is in itself an anti-Israel or anti-Semitic act.
The debate seems to be taking place almost entirely on Hebrew websites. There’s a bit of bile popping up on the English-language Jerusalem Post site as well (for example, there are a handful of choice comments of a now-they’ll-know-what-it-feels-like variety following this Post news article reporting on Israel’s official offer of sympathy and aid). In Hebrew, though, no holds are barred. I’ve translated some of the back-and-forth from the Ynet and Maariv websites below, to give you taste.
The debate exploded aboveground on Saturday in an opinion essay at Ynet (in Hebrew only) by Ziv Lenchner, a left-leaning Tel Aviv artist and one of Ynet’s large, bipartisan stable of columnists. It’s called “Dancing the Hora on Norwegian Blood.” He argues that the comment sections on news websites are a fair barometer of public sentiment (a questionable premise) and that the overwhelming response is schadenfreude, pleasure at Norway’s pain. As I’ll show below, that judgment seems pretty accurate.
The Israeli Presidential Conference, Shimon Peres’s vanity international blabfest, continues today with a series of panel discussions on the woes of the global economy and the future of the Jewish people. I don’t think we’ve solved the world’s economic problems, but there have been a few bombshells dropped into the field of Jewish identity.
The most interesting was a panel on conversion, which included Rabbi Peter Knobel (Reform), Rabbi Gilah Dror (Conservative), Professor Dov Maimon (modern Orthodox think-tanker) , Israeli justice minister Yaakov Ne’eman and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.
It was supposed to include a Haredi rabbi, Yehezkel Weinfeld, but he phoned moderator Shmuel Rosner an hour before and said he couldn’t attend. No suggestion that he was sick or called to an emergency, Rosner tells me. He just couldn’t come. At the end, during Q and A, a Haredi gent rose from the audience, one Shmuel Jakobovits (son of the late, revered British Chief Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits) and said that Rabbi Weinfeld had asked him to attend in his place. Not to sit on the dais with the Reformim and lady rabbis, mind you - just to be there.
So what happened? Maimon proposed the introduction of a new form of conversion that he called “civilizational conversion,” in which one would seek membership in the religious community of the Jewish people, but without necessarily committing oneself to observe the Orthodox commandments, as Orthodox conversion now requires. This sort of reframed the discussion. He had few details — it’s apparently still an idea in infancy — but we’re going to hear more about it in months to come, you betcha.
Shimon Peres likes to bill his Israeli Presidential Conference, the star-studded international talkfest that he’s convening in Jerusalem this week for the third time (the previous ones were in 2008 and 2009) as a Davos-style gathering of great minds to consider the great issues of the day. And it is that, in part. But like most everything else Peres touches, it combines big ideas and soaring rhetoric with healthy dollops of raw politics and moments of unintended, embarrassingly low humor
The big ideas were big indeed. At one session, Peres shared the stage with the presidents of Macedonia, Mongolia and the Dominican Republic to discuss climate change, poverty and the demands of leadership. At another, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and British media mogul Sir Martin Sorrell discussed the ways in which technology is changing decision making.
At a third, Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer moderated an intense discussion over the future of the global economy—meaning, mostly, the rise of China and the threat of a Greek debt contagion—with former U.S. Treasury secretary Larry Summers, former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, former president Alejandro Toledo of Peru and former Bank of Israel governor Jacob Frenkl (Frenkl was sitting in for French finance minister Christine Lagarde, who dropped out at the last minute; she was scheduled to be interviewed this week to take over the International Monetary Fund).
Thousands of delegates attended each of those sessions. When they were done, I couldn’t find anybody out in the lobby standing and discussing what had transpired inside. Most people I talked to couldn’t remember exactly what was said.
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