A BIG YEAR AHEAD: WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN ISRAELI POLITICS IN 2018

Will Netanyahu come in like a lion and leave like a lamb?

They say that March, the third month of the year, comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.

This is the third New Year’s Day for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since his election to his fourth term as prime minister in March 2015. The year ahead for Netanyahu is expected to come in like a lion, continue like a lion, and go out like a lion.

The developments that will make this year particularly ferocious for the prime minister include the criminal investigations of Netanyahu and his wife Sara, controversial legislation in the Knesset, and diplomatic developments set to be advanced in the year ahead by US President Donald Trump.

Perhaps such challenges would be less problematic for Netanyahu if he still had capable former coalition chairman David Bitan at his side. But Bitan has been neutralized by his own criminal investigations, in which he is set to be questioned by police a dizzying three times this week.

Bitan’s replacement David Amsalem is as despised in the Knesset corridors as Bitan is beloved. His ability to defend Netanyahu from his powerful and sensitive post will be hindered by his lack of grace, charisma, and ability to work well with people of differing views.

After yet another delay, the police are expected to recommend in March to indict Netanyahu for breach of trust and perhaps bribery in Case 1000, the “Gifts Affair,” and Case 2000, the “Newspaper Collusion Scandal.”

As Netanyahu and his associates constantly remind people, the police recommendations have no legal significance. Only Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will decide Netanyahu’s fate, and if the police do not ask for more time, that will happen sometime by the end of 2018.

But when the police recommendations are leaked to the press, there will be tremendous pressure on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to remove his Kulanu party from the coalition, as Ehud Barak threatened to do with his Labor Party when police recommended indicting Ehud Olmert.

Chances are that Kahlon will stay, and Netanyahu will succeed in passing up David Ben-Gurion to become the country’s longest-serving prime minister on September 23, 2018.

But there is always a chance that Netanyahu himself could initiate an election before then if he decides it would serve him tactically.

What could throw everything off is if the police decide at any given point to declare Netanyahu a suspect in the much more serious Submarine Affair, Case 3000. With all due respect to newspapers and cigars, if Netanyahu traded Israel’s national security for money for his confidant, that would blow the other two cases out of the water.

The Jerusalem Post’s legal correspondent Yonah Jeremy Bob reported on Friday that the Police Recommendations Law, which passed last week, is completely unclear about whether the police could issue recommendations about Netanyahu in Case 3000.

There are also investigations of Netanyahu’s wife Sara for alleged misuse of public funds, which could either make the political year even more intense or perhaps calm it down if she becomes the legal scapegoat who gets thrown in the fire while her husband is cleared of charges.

While the focus all year will remain on the probes, there will be controversial legislation in the Knesset almost every week when the parliament is in session. The most problematic politically for Netanyahu will be over matters of religion and state, where his coalition is especially divided.

But there will also be bills that will change how political campaigns are financed, the role of deputy ministers, and whether land in Jerusalem can be relinquished in a diplomatic agreement. And that’s just in the Knesset.

The Likud central committee and other party institutions will also be making decisions that could tie Netanyahu’s hands before talks with the Palestinians could potentially begin.

While the Palestinians are currently saying they will not negotiate with Israel as long as Trump is president and the US is the mediator, they will come under tremendous pressure to back down from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and his American counterpart, Jared Kushner.

“Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime – I see a real hope for change,” Netanyahu said himself when Trump came to his residence in Jerusalem.

If that happens, perhaps Netanyahu’s coalition could be unraveled from the Right or from within the Likud.

But then again, maybe Netanyahu will be able to tame all those potential lions and march into 2019 politically unscathed.

If that happens, he will definitely have what to celebrate a year from now.

The article was written by Gil Hoffman and was published on The JPost


EU-Israeli relations: A new year, a new era?

 

This week, a five-members Knesset delegation, headed by MK Yaakov Perry, will visit the European Parliament in Brussels. It is always a great pleasure to welcome Israeli friends, especially now, around the start of the Christian and Jewish new years. It makes it an opportune moment to reflect on the state of EU-Israel relations and highlight some positive and worrying tendencies.

The recent EU-Israeli cooperation on Creative Europe, to increase jobs and growth by supporting the cinema, cultural and creative sectors in Europe and Israel, is to be welcomed.

While such efforts and other EU-Israeli cooperation on mutually beneficial subjects are to be supported, they may not be overshadowed by two worrying security trends in Europe.

The first worrying trend is to not call a spade a spade, or rather, call both the “military” and “political/social” wings of terrorist organizations terrorist organizations. It is part of the Oriental naiveté through which the EU views the Middle East.

In the case of Hezbollah, the EU included solely the military wing in its terrorism list, on July 22, 2013. The theoretical assumption came after strong evidence was uncovered pointing at Hezbollah’s fingerprints all over the 2012 Burgas bombing.

One does not need to look far to see Hezbollah and trouble.

Hezbollah plays a significant role in Syria (as do Russia and Iran), which is a critical cause of the Syrian refugee crisis. Some of these refugees turn up on the shores of Europe. Therefore, it is not only a regional or Syrian interest, but also a European interest to stand strongly against Hezbollah. Those are, sadly, Hezbollah’s facts (or boots?) on the ground.

To highlight the absurdity of the flawed EU logic, one could view al-Qaida as having an urban planning wing because of its desire to level tall buildings, as once suggested by Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor in Foreign Policy, February 2013. The EU’s position on Hezbollah’s military and political/ social wings is just as startling and futile. As Hezbollah mixes its political and social welfare activities with its terrorist and criminal ones, any clear distinction between its activities can no longer be made. Deputy secretary general of Hezbollah Naim Qassem has said it himself: the Party of Allah (Hezbollah) does not have a political/ social wing on the one hand and a resistance (meaning military) wing on the other. Therefore, without delay, the EU should include Hezbollah as a whole on the EU’s terrorism list.

The second worrying trend is the recent advice given by advocate general Eleanor Sharpston in the opinion of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to not include the Hamas movement on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations. The issue is part of an ongoing legal confrontation between the ECJ and the European Council; the latter favors such an inclusion.

While the ECJ opinion is not binding, various insiders note that in most instances – citing figures as high as 80% – it is followed in the final ruling, which is expected before 2017.

Hopefully the Hezbollah and Hamas cases do not foretell the beginning of a new era in which EU-Israeli/Arab views on regional security further diverge. It is glaringly obvious that, in the EU’s quest to combat terrorism, it would be counterproductive and counterintuitive to not include Hamas, or Hezbollah in its entirety, in the EU terrorist list. Stronger European-Israeli cooperation in all areas of mutual interest should be nurtured, to enable our regions to be safer, more innovative and more prosperous. The upcoming Knesset delegation could not come at a more perfect time.

We look forward to welcoming our Israeli friends at the 42nd inter-parliamentary meeting and may there be many more years of warm fruitful cooperation!

Bas Belder is a Dutch member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group at the European Parliament. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, serves as vice-chair of the Israel Delegation and is a member of Europe Israel Public Affairs Advisory Committee.

Elise Coolegem is a policy adviser on the Middle East for the ECR Group at the European Parliament. She has lived in the Middle East for several years and obtained her MA in conflict resolution and mediation from Tel Aviv University.
The article was published on The Jerusalem Post on the 16th of November 2016

EIPA Advisory Board Delegation to Israel, 30th of June – 3rd of July 2015

Last week, Europe Israel Public Affairs hosted 7 Members of the European Parliament for a three day delegation to the State of Israel.

 

Many were members of the EIPA Advisory Board, made up of Members of the European Parliament from across the political spectrum. We held a series of meetings with Israeli ministers, government officials and Members of the Israeli Parliament. The agenda also included a briefing by IDF Lt. Yitzak Malca on Mount Bental, on the challenges and dangers IDF medical units face while trying to save Syrian refugees that cross over the Syrian border in order to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Minister Gilad Erdan, recently appointed to head Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Minister of Information, emphasised the strategic interests that the EU and Israel share while pointing out the tension arising when the EU puts pressure on only one partner in the peace process. Setting in place and carrying out economic sanctions against Israel not only alienates Israel, but also sends the message to the Palestinians that the EU rewards unilateral action without asking them to address the existing Palestinian terror infrastructure.

The delegation was also briefed by the Head of the National Security Council, Yossi Cohen on the wider Middle East and on the various Islamic terrorist branches competing for territory and ideological supremacy all around Israel’s borders. Mr. Cohen also updated the MEPs on Israel’s position regarding the current E3+ 3 nuclear negotiations with Iran, underlining that regardless of the nuclear deal, Iran remains the main sponsor of global terrorism.

The Chair of the European Parliament delegation for relations with Israel, MEP Fulvio Martusciello, together with the rest of the delegation, met with MK Yaakov Peri, his newly appointed Israeli counterpart. The two chairs agreed to hold a joint Knesset-EP meeting in the next couple of months.

Because Israel is a pluralist democratic state, it was important that the Delegation also had the opportunity to hear the voice of the opposition party, Zionist Union, MK Nachman Shai, who shared his party position on the many social issues that Israel needs to address as a country.