Israeli Government Crisis Raises Fresh Doubts for U.S. Peace Plan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fended off a challenge to his fragile coalition Monday as a key partner backed away from a threat to quit the government, staving off snap elections but leaving the embattled leader’s position so precarious that U.S. hopes to begin a peace process in the coming months could be thrown off course.

Naftali Bennett’s decision to stay on as education minister and keep his Jewish Home party in the ruling coalition lessens the possibility of early elections, at least for now, though the government’s majority remains razor thin, with 61 out of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.

.. “Any schmuck in the coalition can blackmail him with whatever reason, it’s really hard to handle,” Mr. Navon added.
.. His announcement follows a week of crisis in Mr. Netanyahu’s government, triggered Wednesday after the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in protest at the government’s policy toward Gaza. Mr. Lieberman, who said Israel’s response to a flare up in violence with Gaza hadn’t been tough enough, subsequently withdrew his Yisrael Beiteinu party from government, costing the coalition five seats.
.. In the wake of that resignation, Mr. Bennett said he would withdraw his party unless he was appointed defense minister.
.. Mr. Netanyahu announced Sunday that he would keep the defense brief for himself. He is now the
  1. foreign minister,
  2. defense minister and
  3. health minister, as well as the
  4. prime minister.

.. Mr. Netanyahu has served as prime minister since 2009 and won three successive elections. He is favored to win again in a 2019 contest.

.. looming over him are a string of corruption probes, with indictments possible in the coming months, which analysts said are also figuring into his calculations about when to hold elections. Police have so far recommended Mr. Netanyahu be charged with criminal bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two corruption probes, but it is up to the attorney general to decide whether to bring charges.

 

The Gaza Violence: How Extremism Corrupts

As you know, everybody sees the Middle East through his or her own narrative. Conservatives see it through the “front line in the war on terror” narrative and defend Israel’s actions on the Gaza border fence this week. Progressives see it through the “continued colonialist oppression” narrative and condemn those actions.

.. sometime in the 1990s, a mental shift occurred. Extremism grew on the Israeli side, exemplified by the ultranationalist who murdered Rabin, but it exploded on the Palestinian side. Palestinian extremism took on many of the shapes recognizable in extremism everywhere.

.. First, the question shifted from “What to do?” to “Whom to blame?” The debates were less about how to take steps toward a livable future and more about who is responsible for the sins of the past.

.. Second, the dream of total victory became the only acceptable dream.

.. extremists stop trying to win partial victories, insisting that someday they will get everything they want — that someday the other side will magically disappear.

.. Third, extremists over time replace strategic thinking with theatrical thinking. Strategic thinking is about the relation of means to ends: How do we use what we have to get to where we want to go? Theatrical thinking is both more cynical and more messianic: How do we create a martyrdom performance that will show the world how oppressed we are?

.. If you read the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s April 30 speech or much of the commentary published over the past week, it’s clear that some powerful Palestinians now believe that the creation of the state of Israel is the wrong that needs to be addressed, not the expansion and occupation.

.. They rejected incrementalism. After Israel withdrew from its settlements in Gaza, the Palestinians could have declared a new opening, taking advantage of the influx of humanitarian aid. Instead, they elected Hamas, an organization that lists the extermination of the state of Israel as an existential goal. They expended resources that could have improved infrastructure to fund missiles and terrorist tunnels.

.. Yasir Arafat was once a terrorist, but at least he used terror to win practical concessions. The actions today — the knife attacks, the manipulation of protesters to rush the border fence — are of little military or strategic value. They are ventures in suicidal theater.

.. The shift from the politics of Rabin and Shimon Peres to that of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman is a move from pluralism to ethnocentrism, from relentless engagement to segregation. It’s a shift from tough realism to the magical thinking that Palestinians are somehow going to go away.

.. sometimes Israeli policies seem callously designed to guarantee an extremist response.

.. That’s the problem with extremism: It is a flight from reality. It makes you stupider. Instead of cleverly working to advance your own interest in a changing context, you end up shouting your own moral justifications into a whirlwind.

.. Extremism is naturally contagious. To fight it, whether at home or abroad, you have to answer the angry shout with the respectful offer. It feels unnatural. But it’s the only way.

Israel Courts Catastrophe in Gaza Protests

Responding to the demonstrations, Israeli forces killed 17 Palestinians at the border fence that separates Israel from Gaza. More than 1,000 Palestinians were injured. It was the worst violence since the Gaza war of 2014.

Israel has a right to defend itself and maintain civil order, but it also has an obligation to respect peaceful protests and not use live ammunition on unarmed demonstrators. Israel’s response appears to have been excessive, as human rights groups have asserted.

.. Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, told The Times that while the military probably decided to use lethal force as a deterrent, “In my opinion they should have planned from the beginning to use minimal force and to prevent casualties.”

.. Competing videos told competing stories. The Israeli version appeared to show a Hamas fighter shooting at Israeli forces while other Palestinians were seen hurling stones, tossing Molotov cocktails and rolling burning tires at the fence. Palestinian videos on social media appeared to show unarmed protesters being shot by Israelis.

.. the United States on Saturday blocked a move in the United Nations Security Council calling for such an inquiry. The European Union has also urged an independent investigation.

.. More than two-thirds of Gazans are refugees from villages that have since been destroyed and their descendants.

Thomas Friedman: Everyone Is Going All the Way

It is hard to spend a week in Israel and not come away feeling that Israelis have the wind at their backs.

  • They’ve built an awesome high-tech industry
  • Regionally, the Arabs and Palestinians have never been weaker
  • Israel has never had a more unquestioningly friendly United States.
  • Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, asking Israel for nothing in return. The Arab states barely made a peep.

this wind has whetted the appetite of Israel’s settlers and ruling Likud Party to go to extremes

.. the “Likud Party unanimously urged legislators in a nonbinding resolution … to effectively annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, land that Palestinians want for a future state.”

.. Sure, the world would scream “apartheid,” but Israeli rightists shrug that the world will get used to it.

  • Nikki Haley will cover for Israel at the U.N.
  • Sheldon Adelson will keep Trump and the G.O.P. in line.
  • And the Arab regimes, which need Israel to counter Iran, will look the other away.

They think they can annex the West Bank without giving Palestinians citizenship; they’ll just let the Palestinians vote in their own elections.

.. May 17, 1983  .. Israel (backed by the U.S.) imposed virtually all its security demands on a weak Lebanese government, including a framework for normalizing trade and diplomacy.

.. “Going All The Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers and the War in Lebanon.”

I always loved that title — going all the way. It’s a recurring theme out here, and it almost always ends with a “Thelma and Louise” moment — partners driving over a cliff — and so it did with Israel in 1983.

.. everywhere I look today I see people going all the way.

  • I see Republicans trashing two of our most sacred institutions — the F.B.I. and the Justice Department — because these agencies won’t bend to Trump’s will.
  • I see Iran controlling four Arab capitals: Damascus, Sana, Baghdad and Beirut.
  • I see Hamas still more interested in building tunnels in Gaza to kill Israelis than schools to strengthen Palestinian society.
  • I see the crown prince of Saudi Arabia with one hand undertaking hugely important steps —
    • moderating Saudi Islam,
    • letting women drive and
    • opening Saudi society culturally to the world
  • and, with the other hand,
    • abducting the prime minister of Lebanon,
    • buying ridiculously expensive paintings and
    • seizing businesses in the name of combating corruption
  • I see the Taliban killing 103 people in Kabul by packing an ambulancewith explosives and driving it into a crowd.
  • I see Houthis, Yemeni warlords, Iranians, Saudis and the U.A.E. all tearing Yemen apart in the name of God knows what.

  • I see Turkey’s president silencing every critical journalist in his country.

  • I see the Egyptian and Russian presidents eliminating all serious rivals in their upcoming elections.

  • I see Bibi Netanyahu trying to derail a corruption investigation by weakening Israel’s justice system, free media and civil society — just like Trump and for the same purposes: to weaken constraints on his arbitrary use of political power.

  • I see an American president threatening to tear up, or actually tearing up, global agreements he doesn’t like —

    • the Iran nuclear deal,

    • Nafta,

    • the Trans-Pacific Partnership,

    • the Paris climate accord and

    • aid to Palestinians and Pakistanis —

  • but without any clear plan or alternative for the morning after that will improve on the status quo.

  • Worst of all, I see an America — the world’s strongest guardian of truth, science and democratic norms — now led by a serial liar and norms destroyer, giving license to everyone else to ask, why can’t I?

Can anything stop this epidemic of going all the way? Yes: Mother Nature, human nature and markets. They’ll all push back when no one else will.

.. How so?

Gaza has limited hours of electricity each day.

Result: Gaza’s already inadequate sewage plants are often offline, and waste goes untreated straight into the Mediterranean.

Then the prevailing current washes Gaza’s poop north, where it clogs Israel’s big desalination plant in Ashkelon — which provides 15 percent of Israel’s drinking water

.. In both 2016 and 2017, the Ashkelon plant had to close to clean Gaza’s crud out of its filters. It’s Mother Nature’s way of reminding both that if they try to go all the way, if they shun a healthy interdependence, she’ll poison them both.

.. then out of nowhere Iranians back home start protesting against Suleimani’s overreach; they’re tired of seeing their money spent on Gaza and Syria — not on Iranians. And, just as suddenly, the biggest internet meme in Iran becomes an Iranian woman ripping off her veil and holding it upon the end of a stick.

.. And if you don’t think markets have a way of curing excesses, you didn’t read the top story in The Times.

.. Watch out for

  1. the market,
  2. Mother Nature and
  3. human nature.

.. One is the relentless product of chemistry, biology and physics; one is the balance between greed and fear; and the third is the eternal human quest for freedom and dignity. In the end, they’ll shape the future more than any leader or party who tries going all the way.

Trump’s Shift to ‘Outside-In’ Strategy for Mideast Peace Is a Long Shot

“As a Palestinian, I would not support Qatar if they said they wanted a two-state solution,” said Mr. Gatshan, 44. “I want my human rights. My rights are to live without any limits or restrictions and without occupiers.”

.. The Trump administration plans to focus on an “outside-in” approach, meaning that Israel would first pursue agreements with Arab countries to help solve the conflict with the Palestinians.

.. Supporters of the outside-in approach say that the merging of interests between Israel and Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt could provide an opening.

.. The divisions among Palestinians also undermine support for their cause. “Even if they wanted to do something, they don’t know who they should support now,” Mr. Hellyer said.

.. On Monday, it announced that Yehya Sinwar, a hard-line member of its military wing, had been chosen as its new Gaza leader.

.. Though Hamas has declared a truce, and largely controls other groups who try to continue fighting, some Israelis say a new war in Gaza is the only way to ultimately achieve peace.

.. Israel “cannot be the only country in the world where children cannot walk down the street without worrying that a missile will fall,” Naftali Bennett, a far-right lawmaker and education minister, said on a visit to the fence dividing Gaza and Israel last week. “Our enemies are investing all their resources in developing ways to kill us.”

Only with a complete victory,” he said, “can we put an end to this cycle.”

Gaza Dating Site Matches Widows to Men Seeking 2nd (or 3rd) Wife

He was looking for a woman with particular attributes, hopefully a widow of a man killed in the struggle against Israel, without children, between 25 and 30, from southern Gaza. Her requirement was no less important: She was looking for a married man.

.. She is beautiful and a widow of a martyr at the same time,” Mr. Abu Mustafa said, using the word preferred by Palestinians for a killed fighter, often a terrorist to Israelis. She is the second of his two wives.

“When I get wealthy, I will marry the third wife.”

.. Some 1,400 men have been killed in the three wars with Israel since 2008, leaving many widows who would like to remarry. Tradition, however, can make it difficult for them to wed single men.

.. said he did wish to give “dignity” to a widow.

.. more than half the marriage requests involved men seeking a second or third wife (though not yet a fourth).

.. “In most cases the husband’s family pressures the woman to marry the brother in law to control her life and seize any financial aid she receives.”

.. if the widow’s husband is affiliated with a political party, it might intervene and pressure the woman to marry a man from the same group, and she will often agree because she is struggling financially and the group will pay her a salary.

.. “This matchmaking service is positive because it encourages these women to choose the potential husband without fear and pressure in this religious and patriarchal society,” Ms. Owda said.

.. Lina Zein, 25, a single woman from Gaza City, explaining that Wesal felt too transactional in its approach to arranging weddings. “It limits my ambitions in marriage to someone’s income.” .

.. “Polygamy has hit high rates in Gaza over the few past years, seemingly due to an increase in people’s religious inclination, especially after Hamas took power in 2007,”

.. Hamas itself has been trying to encourage marriage by paying the equivalent of $1,500 to any male who memorizes the Quran

.. “We also fight old traditions that say divorced women should not get married.”

.. while Mr. Sheikha is in favor of more options for women in the selection of a spouse, he is not a strong supporter of the choice to remain single. In addition to helping widows and the divorced find husbands, he said he hoped the site would also address “an increase in the number of spinsters in their 20s and 30s. The Arabic proverb says living in the shadow of a man is better than living in the shadow of a wall, which means that having a husband is better than staying unmarried.”

Rebranding Hamas

The Palestinian militant group Hamas dropped its explicit call for Israel’s destruction on Monday, in a bid to overhaul its image as the Trump White House explores reviving Middle East peace efforts. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, also formally accepted in its revised charter the notion of a Palestinian state in territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. The group didn’t recognize Israel and still expressed an ambition to take over all Israeli territory in the long run. U.S. and Israeli officials said they didn’t see the move as a real shift in the approach of Hamas.