The following story is being published here thanks to the economy minister, Naftali Bennett. On Monday morning, Bennett, who was on a visit to China, was interviewed on Army Radio, based in Jaffa. The minister heaped scorn on “senior” ministers (using both the male and female forms of the adjective) who are constantly scaring us with tales presaging global isolation, boycotts and economic sanctions unless the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.
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“I have been traveling the world for years with my companies,” the former high-tech man said, “and I am not familiar with anything like that. Who in the world, from Beijing to Washington, in South Carolina or in Wales, takes an interest in this conflict? What interests people is prices, the economy, industry, growth.”
Bennett’s remarks severely rankled a very important person in a very important bureau in Jerusalem, someone who is highly knowledgeable about developments in the international community and the business world, and about the intricacies of the effort to kick-start peace talks with the Palestinians. Here’s what he has to tell us − and through us, the minister who is in charge of industry, trade and employment.
A few weeks ago, the relevant departments at the highest levels of the Israeli government received a disturbing report. The report began by noting that large banks in Europe that operate globally draw on the aid of consultaning firms known as “investment committees.” Every so often, these committees submit a report to their clients with recommendations about where to invest − and where not to invest. The process of examining the Israeli companies that operate in West Bank settlements involved the exercise of due diligence.
According to the report that landed on the relevant desks here, a large number of those investment committees considered recommending to the banks to prohibit loans or aid of any kind to Israeli companies that operate in the West Bank − manufacturing there, selling their products, building homes and so forth − and also to Israeli banks that grant mortgages to home builders or buyers across the Green Line. For Mr. Bennett’s information, the rationale for this far-reaching step is the protracted deadlock in the non-process, the continued occupation and the construction that never stops for a moment, though it might sometimes slow down a little, in both the settlement blocs and isolated settlements.
This is the nightmare scenario, this is the economic tsunami that has been talked about in the past, the mother of all fears. And this even before the Palestinians make good on their threat, which continues to hover above the empty negotiating table: to request admission to some 15 international judiciary bodies, such as the International Criminal Court − a move that would have serious implications for Israel’s judicial status in the world, to put it mildly.
Returning to the story of the banks from about a month ago: After the relevant individuals in Israel fully grasped the implications, feverish but quiet activity was launched, through the Israeli officials’ European counterparts, to prevent the appearance of these recommendations in the reports of the investment committees that apparently were considering formulating them. One of the arguments put forward by the Israelis was that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was just then shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah in an effort to get the talks restarted. Dropping an economic bomb of that size onto the diplomatic arena, it was argued, would doom Kerry’s efforts to certain failure.
The European economists were apparently persuaded. For the time being, at least, they have abandoned this approach. Nevertheless, the very worried senior personage said this week, the danger has not yet passed. Far from it: It’s only a matter of time, and time, contrary to what Bennett thinks, is not on our side.
Forgive and forget
On March 19, Moshe Ya’alon entered the Defense Ministry on the right foot. He’s high up in polls that measure the public’s satisfaction with ministers’ performance.
He is perceived as a professional defense minister without a personal agenda − in contrast to his predecessor, who always operated under a cloud of doubts, criticism and scandals.
In this job, when Ya’alon at last has a reason to get up in the morning, he is giving few interviews and is clinging to the media approach that previous defense ministers adopted: declaim short, measured, precise messages, always while you are “in the field” − optimally, with an army exercise visible in the background. The current posture is salvaging him from the wishy-washy image attached to him in the previous government as a minister with a long title for zilch affairs. It also places him in a quite convenient position ahead of the battle for leadership of Likud in the post-Netanyahu era.
Ya’alon’s decision this week to restore Har Bracha Yeshiva’s status as a hesder yeshiva (combining religious studies with military service) might indicate that he has an eye not only on the Syrian and Egyptian borders but also on the Likud Party Central Committee. Reminder: The problematic yeshiva near Nablus was stripped of its hesder status − which allows participants to do less than a year and a half of actual army service over the course of five years − by former defense minister Ehud Barak. Barak acted at the recommendation of the chief of staff at the time, Gabi Ashkenazi, following several incidents in support of refusal to obey military orders in which Har Bracha students were involved, along with the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed. The latter is known to encourage soldiers who have gone through the yeshiva to refuse to take part in any activity connected with the evacuation of settlements.
According to sources in the Defense Ministry quoted this week in Haaretz, Ya’alon made his decision after the heads of the yeshiva made it clear to him, in a private conversation, that they do not support the disobeying of orders. If this was actually said, would it not be fitting that it also be voiced publicly, thereby committing those who gave the assurance, and allowing the tax-paying public, which funds the hesder yeshivas, to know that this is their position?
Former chief of staff Ya’alon, who was code-named “Bogart” in the operation to assassinate PLO official Abu Jihad in Tunis in April 1988 − whence his popular nickname, “Bogie” − is the last person one would suspect of being lenient with soldiers who refuse to carry out orders. In the election campaign, after Naftali Bennett declared in a television interview that he would refuse an order to evacuate settlements, Ya’alon was the first to publish a blistering condemnation. Whereas Bennett was talking only in terms of himself, Rabbi Melamed − the son of Rabbi Zalman Melamed, one of the most extreme of settlement rabbis − did something more serious: He said he supported the idea of his students refusing an objectionable order.
Why, then, was Ya’alon quick to forgive and forget, some people wondered this week. Maybe because the Har Bracha settlement is powerfully rooted in the Likud central committee, on which it is represented by no fewer than nine members (some say 16), out of a total of 3,600, among them Rabbi Yitzhak Melamed, the son of the yeshiva’s rabbi, and Yaakov Weinberger, the director general of Har Bracha institutions? In recent years, Weinberger not only recruited a large number of people to Likud, he also ensured that they voted for the party in Knesset elections, something other recruiters for Likud in the settlements forgot to do.
“Bogie will not change anything basic in Judea and Samaria. He made a decision that serves him politically,” a settlement source said. “It’s very transparent and everyone knows it.” The defense minister’s bureau declined to comment.
1. If MK Shelly Yacimovich is reelected leader of the Labor Party in the primary, which will probably take place late this year, she will join the very short list of party leaders who have been elected to the post more than once since Labor was founded in 1968: Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak. The prevailing view is that she has a pretty good chance of joining the exclusive club. Her opponents are likely to be MKs Isaac Herzog, Eitan Cabel and Erel Margalit. For Herzog and Margalit, it will be their second run for the position. It will be the eighth time since 2001 that the party’s members will be electing their chief. During that period, elections for chairperson have taken place every year and a half, on average − like a seasonal TV reality show.
Labor has about 60,000 registered members. The great majority were also members last time and voted for Yacimovich. The next round will be in essence a referendum on her style, her rigid behavior, her personal decision not to become finance minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the purely social-democratic platform she ran on − alone − and also the U-turn she’s taken during the past few months about the peace process and her emphasis on the need for negotiations. This week, for example, she took part (along with Herzog, Cabel and Margalit) in a meeting of the Geneva Initiative organization, where she delivered a speech that was all peace process, without sliding into social issues even once.
The political buzz is that if she gets a renewed vote of confidence from the party’s members, she will look for a way to join the government in place of Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi. Yacimovich herself vehemently denies this. By the way, her relations with Netanyahu are more than proper. As leader of the opposition, she meets with the prime minister religiously once a month for a session, which is half-security update and half-political gossip. About a week ago, she collared him in the Knesset and told him that the reports suggesting that she is examining the legal feasibility of passing legislation that will prevent him from running again are groundless. A sigh of relief emanated from the house at the corner of Balfour and Smolenskin streets.
2. Dr. Adi Kol, a social activist and lawyer, is one of the new and relatively unknown faces that entered the 19th Knesset − in her case, as part of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Like most of her colleagues who are neither ministers nor well-known figures, she is trying to elbow her way in the tough corridors of the House. She delivered her festive maiden speech, for the first time in the history of the Israeli parliament, from the floor of the chamber, rather than from the podium. Her stated reason: She doesn’t yet know the answers, so she prefers to speak from the position of those who ask the parliamentary questions.
From time to time, she lets fly on her Facebook page with statements that show her to be an opinionated woman with left-wing views, certainly as compared to Mr. “nodding-to-the-right” Yair (“We must not divide Jerusalem because Jerusalem is an idea and you don’t divide an idea”) Lapid.
Lately, Kol has also been sharing thoughts of resigning with some of her Knesset colleagues. She is telling them that it’s hard for her to find her place in a pressure cooker like the Knesset, in general, and the Yesh Atid Knesset faction, in particular, which is managed like a monarchist dictatorship: On a good day it’s enlightened, but usually it recalls a party out of North Korea.
The word among the party’s high and mighty is that “We have to safeguard Adi.” Sure they do. She’s dear to the hearts of those who say that, but above all they want to spare themselves the embarrassment and unpleasantness that would be entailed in the need to provide explanations in the wake of her resignation.
I asked Kol what she’s going through. She admitted that thoughts of various kinds are going through her mind, but not, she says, because of the situation in the faction. It’s because of who she is, she said. “In my previous job, in academia, I also wrestled with myself all the time,” she said.
3. Next Sunday, TV stations will cut away from their regular programs and switch to an open-ended format. The newspapers will publish festive issues. The occasion: the summit meeting that will take place (barring last-minute cancellation) in the Ministry of Transportation between the minister, Yisrael Katz, and his deputy, Tzipi Hotovely, both from Likud.
It turns out that there is a deep and long-standing rift between the two (and we didn’t know!). It was revealed for all to see a week ago, when Hotovely presented a plan she had devised to fight road accidents, which included a ban on young people using cell phones, even with a hands-free hookup, while driving. An hour after the media reported this, Katz issued a communique stating that Hotovely had acted without permission and authority, and that there is not and will not be any such plan.
After recovering, Hotovely related that Katz has been refusing to meet with her for more than two months, despite all her efforts. She doesn’t understand what he has against her. All she wants is to contribute something to road safety. She is not intervening in the big things − the reforms of the airports and sea ports, or the infrastructure projects. At his request, she even helped him in the recent election for chairman of the Likud secretariat. “If things don’t work out,” she said this week, “I don’t rule out resigning, but I won’t go without a fight.”