Why Netanyahu Won’t Annex the West Bank

Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a security check point in the West Bank, February 6 (GPO/Haim Zach)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared intention to annex the West Bank has sparked intense debate in Israel. Although many Israelis seem to favor annexation, the consensus among security experts, including military professionals, is that such a move would have severe negative repercussions for the Jewish state’s security, its standing in the world and the prospects of peace with the Palestinians.

They fear Netanyahu will pander to right-wing voters, emboldened by the American president, Donald Trump, whose own peace plan would allow Israel to annex up to 30 percent of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, in exchange for ceding territories on the Egyptian border to a Palestinian state. (A part of the plan Netanyahu has, unsurprisingly, said nothing about.) Read more “Why Netanyahu Won’t Annex the West Bank”

Trump’s Middle East Plan Is Not About Peace

Donald Trump Giuseppe Conte
American president Donald Trump and Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte arrive to a NATO summit in Brussels, July 12, 2018 (NATO)

Donald Trump has finally unveiled his “deal of the century” for peace and prosperity in the Middle East — and set the region ablaze with criticism.

The president’s plan recognizes Israeli control over most, if not all, of the settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), excludes most of Jerusalem from a future Palestinian state and accepts Israel’s position that “refugees” (the descendants of Palestinians who were displaced in the 1948 war) will be resettled outside Israel.

In return for accepting these conditions and renouncing terrorism and incitement, the Palestinians would receive a municipality-sized, demilitarized and completely dependent “state.” Read more “Trump’s Middle East Plan Is Not About Peace”

Netanyahu’s Miscalculation

Viktor Orbán Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Ministers Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel speak in Brasília, Brazil, January 2 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

When Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called early elections in December, he was probably expecting to shore up his mandate and escape allegations of corruption.

But the decision galvanized his opponents. Three former generals set aside their differences and teamed up with the opposition in a bid to oust Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009.

It is starting to look like Netanyahu miscalculated. Read more “Netanyahu’s Miscalculation”

Netanyahu Could Stay in Power Despite Low Poll Figures

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be unpopular going into elections on Tuesday with his Likud party projected to win fewer seats than ever but the parliamentary arithmetic is still in his favor.

Since Netanyahu called snap elections in December, Israel has seen its first televised debate since 1999, the dissolution of a once ruling party (Kadima), the formation of two new parties (Kulanu, by former Likud favorite Moshe Kahlon, and Yachad, by former Shas leader Eli Yishai) and a new alliance between all Arab parties.

No less than eleven major parties could win seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, this week. The main question, though, is whether Netanyahu will succeed in winning a fourth term as prime minister or whether the once dominant Labor Party — now the senior partner in the Zionist Camp coalition — will lead a government again for the first time in fourteen years. Read more “Netanyahu Could Stay in Power Despite Low Poll Figures”

Israel’s Netanyahu Battered by Scandals, High Living Costs

With polls predicting a narrow victory for his left-wing rivals in an election next week, it seems Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s magic may have worn off.

The Likud party leader called snap elections in December, hoping for a fresh mandate after spending nine years in power.

Now it seems Israelis would rather make a change at the top and much of it has to do with Netanyahu’s personality. Read more “Israel’s Netanyahu Battered by Scandals, High Living Costs”

Israel’s Netanyahu Could Emerge Stronger from Early Elections

Recent political tensions and strife in Israel culminated on Tuesday, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he had fired his finance and justice ministers, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, whom he accused of undermining the government and plotting a legal “putsch” against him.

The announcement came after days of rising tension between Netanyahu and his top ministers and means Israelis will go back to the polls less than two years after this government took office. Read more “Israel’s Netanyahu Could Emerge Stronger from Early Elections”

Protective Edge: A Change in Israel’s Security Doctrine?

Although it may be premature to judge whether Israel or its enemies in Gaza have gained the most from the recent fighting there, some preliminary conclusions can be drawn as the conflict appears to be winding down.

These conclusion pertain mainly to the military aspects of the operation and more specifically as to how the principles upon which the Israeli army has operated in the current operation diverge from its established (although rarely formally declared) and hitherto successful security doctrine. This divergence is especially important to note since both Israel and its enemies usually draw their lessons for future fighting from the last round of hostilities. It is therefore safe to assume that the operative principles currently at play will guide the parties’ behavior in the future.

As a country that faced severe security challenges even before its inception, Israel was quick to formulate and adopt a comprehensive security doctrine. The doctrine’s principles have successfully led Israel to victory in all six major wars it fought against enemy Arab states and are based on a sober assessment of Israel’s geostrategic realities.

The basic assumption guiding those military and political thinkers who shaped Israel’s strategic thinking was that because of Israel’s small size and geographical conditions, any war fought for too long and within Israel’s borders would have devastating social and economic consequences which could severely inhibit its ability to withstand a future attack (and to attract Jewish immigrant from around the world).

Therefore, any conflict would have to be fought based on two strategic principles. First, since Israel’s standing army was too small compared to the armies its enemies could field, it became necessary that any conflagration would have to be as short as possible. Any Israeli victory would have to be achieved before Israel’s enemies had a chance to mobilize their full potential in terms of equipment and manpower.

Second, because of the natural devastation caused by war, any fighting could not take place on Israel’s densely populated soil but would have to be fought on Arab land — especially if the impression that Israel was in fact winning was to be created. Read more “Protective Edge: A Change in Israel’s Security Doctrine?”

Israel Changes Strategy Against Gaza Militants

As Operation Protective Edge enters its fourth day, it is unclear when and how it will come to an end. Yet some clear observations can already be made as to how the current military operation measures up to similar efforts in the past, as well as to how it might affect relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The operation (originally termed in Hebrew “solid rock wall”) began Monday night in response to Hamas firing rockets at Israel’s southern cities the previous weekend. While this was hardly unique — rockets have been fired from Gaza on a fairly regular basis for more than two years — it came in an extremely tense situation. It was preceded by the highly publicized search and rescue operation of three Israeli teenagers who had been kidnapped in the vicinity of Hebron by Hamas operatives. After they were found dead, a Palestinian boy was murdered. Believed to be a revenge killing, this sparked mass riots in Israel and the Palestinian territories and encouraged Hamas to adopt a more aggressive stand. Read more “Israel Changes Strategy Against Gaza Militants”

Chinese Shopping Spree Raises Concerns in Israel

Last month, Israel’s commissioner for capital markets, insurances and savings indicated that it would not, “at this time,” allow a group of Chinese investors to buy control of one of the country’s largest insurance corporations, Klal Insurance Ltd. According to a report in the financial newspaper Calcalist, the commissioner could not obtain sufficient information to satisfy her concerns on whether the investors were indeed suitable to control Israel’s second largest insurance empire, despite an approach to Interpol for information about the anonymous investors.

The announcement, which effectively terminated the deal, joined other prospects relating to the sale of major Israeli companies to foreign investors, specifically Chinese ones.

Chinese groups have expressed an increased interest in investing in the Israeli economy. In 2011, Chemchina bought 60 percent of the shares in Machteshim-Agan, Israel’s foremost producer of chemicals and pesticides and a global leader in this field. In 2013, Fuson, a Chinese pharmaceutical giant bought Alma lasers for $240 million. Most recently, two weeks ago, it was announced that the Chinese Brightfood Corporation had bought 56 percent of the shares of Tnuva from the British investment fund Apax. Tnuva, which was founded 85 years ago as an agricultural cooperative and is Israel’s biggest dairy producer, is a leading and beloved household brand.

A review of the responses to the Tnuva (and other) sales reveal a curious trend. Israel is an integral part of the global economy. Many of its companies operate in foreign countries and are often partially or fully owned by foreign investors, something Israelis are very proud of — especially when it comes to foreign companies buying small Israeli startups.

Yet when it comes to Chinese investors, Israelis are more suspicious. While some commentators welcomed the Tnuva deal, others lamented it, both on economic and social grounds. The most interesting response came from Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad. In a parliamentary hearing convened after the sale, he warned of an increased Chinese control of Israel’s economy, mentioning that after the sale of Machteshim-Agan to a Chinese investor, the company changed its name and was struck from the Israeli stock exchange, effectively terminating it as an Israeli company.

What explains this objection — and perhaps hostility — toward Chinese involvement in what is a legitimate economic activity? Is it a case of prejudice or are there legitimate security concerns involved? Read more “Chinese Shopping Spree Raises Concerns in Israel”

Israeli Attitudes Harden as Soldier Jailed

The Israeli army is struggling to deal with discontent within its ranks as many troops have publicly supported a soldier who was imprisoned after being caught on video aiming his weapon at a Palestinian youth and threatening to shoot another. The ensuing political debate has not only revealed an alarming frustration among soldiers on the ground, but a toughening of Israeli public opinion in general.

The controversy started last week when Israeli television showed a video from a Palestinian human rights group in which a soldier from the Nahal Brigade, tasked with safeguarding the Jewish community in the city of Hebron, is seen threateningly aiming his gun at a young Palestinian who was apparently trying to provoke him.

The video shows an altercation between the Palestinian and the soldier which began when the former put his hand on the soldier who responded, “You really shouldn’t do that again.” The two argue until the soldier, obviously feeling threatened, raises his M16 rifle and points it at the Palestinian youth. When the person recording the video steps closer, the soldier tries to kick the cameraman, threatening to shoot him as well unless he stopped videotaping. At that point, more soldiers, as well as Jewish resident of Hebron, arrive, defusing the standoff. Read more “Israeli Attitudes Harden as Soldier Jailed”