Tuesday, May 15, 2012

MIDDLE EAST WRAP: ODD MIX OF STORIES


A round-up of the Hebrew newspapers in Israel; covering the major events happening in Israel and the Middle East. Haaretz-Maariv-Yedioth Ahronoth-Israel Hayom-The Jerusalem Post-Ynet-Arutz 7 News-Army Radio-Israel Radio-and Makor Rishon 

The front pages of the Israeli newspapers of last weekend was an unusual mix.  

The lead story in Yedioth Ahronoth was a follow-up to the arrest of the mayor of Kiryat Malakhi on rape charges, and reports are that he is also been suspected of sexually abusing more women. 

Haaretz leads with the reaction in Israel to United States President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriages, quoting local politicians saying that it will take a long time before gay men and women are allowed to marry in IsraelAnd of the other newspapers lead with the week’s big story – Kadima joining the Netanyahu-led coalition. 

The lead headline in Maariv – which was first reported on Channel 10 on Thursday night – reports that Washington is concerned about the ramifications of Mofaz’s entry into the coalition and that the White House has asked Jerusalem for clarifications – especially regarding the impact of the deal on Israel’s handling of the Iranian threat. According to the report, the United States is worried that Mofaz and his Kadima party’s joining the unity government could result in an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities at any moment.

U.S. officials told Channel 10 that they believe a Likud-Kadima joint government could make a decision about an Israeli attack on Iran at any moment and perhaps even before the U.S. presidential elections in November. The report said that when the Americans believed early elections would be held in Israel in September, they thought it meant the attack on Iran would be postponed at least until after the election. Now, with the stabilization of Israeli politics and the current government likely to end its term on schedule, the situation has changed and the Americans are concerned. According to the report, in order to try and prevent or at least postpone the Israeli decision on the issue, the Americans recently held marathon talks with Israeli officials at all levels.

Haaretz also focuses on Washington’s response to the coalition deal. According to Barak Ravid, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Netanyahu on Thursday and told him that Washington hopes the new, expanded coalition will enable Israel to take steps to advance peace talks with the Palestinians. The Prime Minister's Office published a laconic press statement about the conversation, which said merely that Clinton had congratulated Netanyahu on setting up the unity government. But sources in the U.S. State Department said the conversation went beyond polite congratulations.

According to a senior State Department official, Clinton told Netanyahu that she had been briefed on the main points of his coalition agreement with Mofaz, and she welcomed the clause in which they pledged that the government would ‘advance a responsible peace process.’ She said the United States is ready to support both sides in an effort to achieve a two-state solution.

The report goes on to say that Netanyahu and his advisors finished drafting his letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas this week. The process was delayed somewhat by the prime minister's father's death last week and the subsequent seven-day mourning period, as well as by the fact that the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was recently hospitalized following a heart attack. An Israeli source said that Netanyahu's envoy, attorney Isaac Molcho, would meet with Abbas in Ramallah next week to deliver the letter. But the document contains no ground-breaking new Israeli proposals: It merely repeats Netanyahu's standard mantra that Israel is interested in resuming negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions.

Israel Hayom runs a two-pronged headline, relating to two of the issues that have been singled out as the new coalition’s greatest challenges: a universal draft law and the evacuation of illegal outposts. The paper says that the draft law will be at the center of coalition discussions next week, but points out that the prime minister has decided not to wait until then to start discussing the outposts.

The prime minister has convened a special deliberation with ministers at his Jerusalem bureau on Friday morning, to discuss the High Court ruling ordering the demolition of homes in the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El. Among the ministers attending are two who have been at loggerheads over the settlement issue, Ehud Barak and Moshe Ya'alon, in addition to Benny Begin, who was given responsibility together with Barak to reach solutions to such issues, and the newest cabinet minister, Shaul Mofaz. Also at the meeting was Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

Finally, Channel 10 reported Thursday night that the strained relations between Turkey and Israel may soon be improving. According to the report, behind-the-scenes efforts are coordinated by U.S. officials, who are trying to arrange a meeting between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his Turkish counterpart. One reason for these attempts is the warming relations between Obama and Erdogan. Another reason is that Barak, as well as Mofaz, strongly support normalization of the relations with Turkey.

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