News Digest — 5/13/20

As Pompeo Arrives In Israel, Netanyahu Says Unity Government, Is Chance To Advance Trump Plan

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Israel, Wednesday (13th), for a lightning visit of a few hours, wearing a stars and stripes mask against the coronavirus.

Greeting him in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the unity government will present an opportunity to advance Trump’s Mideast peace plan.

In response, Pompeo said that Israel has a right to defend itself and the US supports that right.

Pompeo and Netanyahu will discuss a number of issues, including the global pandemic, China, The Trump administration’s peace plan and Iran.  It’s the last item that is at the top of the agenda.

The US has taken a tough stance against Iran, tightening the screws on the Islamic Republic since President Donald Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

Currently the United States is determined to prevent the UN arms embargo from expiring in October that prevents Iran from obtaining conventional weapons.

Iran has been weakened by US sanctions and the coronavirus has also taken a toll on the country.  The US and Israel want to take advantage of the situation to fight Iran the best way possible, a senior US official told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster.

Regarding the Trump peace plan, Pompeo had on the eve of his trip reiterated his comments that applying sovereignty over Judea and Samaria is Israel’s decision, sending a clear message that the US would support such a move.

At the short press conference before their meeting, Pompeo only said, “There remains work yet to do, and we need to make progress on that, I am looking forward to it.”

With tensions rising between the US and China, Pompeo commented about America’s concern about China’s projects in Israel.

“You’re a great partner, you share information, unlike some other countries that try to confuse and hide information,” Pompeo said.  “We’ll talk about that country too.”

Pompeo wasn’t scheduled to meet with US Ambassador David Friedman, who was complaining of respiratory problems.  He has so far tested negative for the coronavirus.



Hundreds Attend Funeral Of Slain IDF Soldier

Sgt. Major Amit Ben Yigal, 21, who was slain by Palestinian assailants in the West Bank town of Ya’bad was brought to his final rest Tuesday evening (12th) at the Be’er Yaakov Cemetery.

Hundreds of mourners, including Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and IDF officials, escorted Ben Yigal on his final way.

Both Nava and Baruch, the dead soldier’s parents spoke of their love for their only son, and how proud he was to serve in the Golani Brigade.  

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett spoke at the funeral as the representative of the government and told the mourning crowd that he saw pictures and videos of Ben Yigal that taught him of the fallen soldier’s good character.

Amit Ben Yigal and his comrades from a reconnaissance unit of the Golani Brigade were conducting arrests of four terror suspects in the village of Ya’bad early Tuesday morning.  As the troops were leaving the village a large boulder was hurled off the roof of one of the buildings, hitting Ben Yigal and injuring him critically.  He was transferred to the Rambam Healthcare Campus in Haifa where he was pronounced dead.

Ben Yigal was killed one month before the end of his service.

IDF troops have detained over 10 residents from the building where the block was thrown.

The 21-year-old soldier from the central city of Ramat Gan was the first IDF soldier to be killed in action in 2020.



Palestinian Social Media Praises Killing Of IDF Soldier

Palestinian social media responded to the murder of an IDF soldier Tuesday (12th) by praising the killing as an “heroic act.”

Staff Sgt. Amit Ben Yigal, 21, from Ramat Gan was killed early Tuesday by a Palestinian who dropped a large block on him from a roof as his unit was wrapping up operational activity in the village of Ya’bad, near Jenin in Samaria.

Palestinians, however, rushed to praise the attack.

“The killing of the Zionist soldier is a clear popular message…and a clear indication of the outcome of the escalation of the resistance in response to the crimes and terrorism of the Zionist occupation,” the spokesman for the Islamic Jihad Movement, Musab Al-Braim said in a tweet by the Palestinian Information Center.

“A stone in the hands of a brave man is better than a thousand guns in the hands of cowards,” tweeted a Palestinian woman named Hiba Al-Benni.

Another Palestinian posted a video claiming to show the trail of blood from the dead soldier, saying “A Palestinian youth threw his holy rock over the head of a malicious Zionist soldier, so he lost his soul and unclean blood.”

“Death to all the occupation Zionists, God willing,” tweeted Mohamed Alhasoun.

Social media has been used for years as a propaganda tool to stir up anti-Israel sentiment among Palestinians.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority, controlled by head Mahmoud Abbas, monitors Palestinian social media and arrests those who criticize his regime.



Muslim Leaders Tell Samaria Council Head: “Many Of Us Pray For Israeli Sovereignty”

Arab and Muslim leaders on Monday (11th) arrived at the offices of the Samaria Regional Council to celebrate Iftar and Lag B’Omer together with council head Yossi Dagan.

Among those in attendance were Sheikh Abu Khalil Tamimi of Ramallah, Muhammad Masad of Jenin, and Sara Zoabi, as well as other leaders who preferred to hide their identities for fear of their lives.

Dagan and the Muslims discussed the Deal of the Century’s impact on the region, eradicating terror and incitement to violence, and discussed ways to maintain peace, and economic and social cooperation.

“Terror is the result of Palestinian Authority incitement,” Dagan said.  “We work with local leaders and sheikhs who oppose the PA and oppose the path of terror.  We have disagreements, but there are many things where we see eye to eye.  First and foremost, it’s important to have shared dialogue with those who are ready and willing to consider partnering.”

“There’s an alternative to the murderous Palestinian Authority – leaders who are interested in quiet and in coexistence, and they are sitting here with us.  The Trump program largely relies on the economic models developed in our industrial areas, and these are our natural partners for co-living here.”

Sheikh Abu Khalil Tamimi addressed the expected sovereignty and the Arab attitude to the issue.  “I believe that sovereignty exists in the 1967 region and I think the situation must be dealt with through dialogue and promotion of coexistence to stop the spread of hatred.  For the average Palestinian, sovereignty is meaningless because Israel has been in control of Area C since 1967, so there is nothing new here.”

“Most Palestinians also want to live in peace, and to reach good political agreements and solutions as quickly as possible.  This is what the average Palestinian thinks about the Deal of the Century and sovereignty.  We want to get ready for the regional changes, to concentrate on economic cooperation also with the settlers, led by Yossi Dagan.  We need to think together what our common future will look like.”

Muhammad Masad, who heads the Palestinian Workers’ Union of 40,000, said: “I came to think together with the head of the Samarian Council on how to maintain the rights of Palestinian workers even after applying sovereignty.  The Palestinian workers are against terror, and against the corruption of the Palestinian Authority.  If the Israeli worker and the Palestinian worker strive together caring for each other, together in joy and together in difficult moments, then our children will be ashamed of fighting. Peace negotiations will not be necessary, because we will have peace.”

Sara Zoabi said at the event: “Thanks to Mr. Yossi Dagan for this initiative, which is important for cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli Arabs  I think the Deal of the Century is the right thing for Arabs and Israelis and I know that a large percentage of Palestinians are interested in the program and applying sovereignty, and even pray for it.”



Moves To Extend Israeli Sovereignty to Parts Of West Bank Shouldn’t Have Come As A Surprise, It Is After All The Cradle Of Judaism – Steven A. Cook

→ Over the last five decades, successive Israeli governments have invested in the development of cities and towns in the West Bank as well as the infrastructure necessary to link them to cities and towns in Israel.

→ It defies logic to believe that Israel would ever give up on this long-term project.  Yet that is exactly what folks inside the Beltway, including long-term Israel watchers, former officials, and opinion writers, have been doing for years.

→ The Second Intifada should have laid bare the bankruptcy of the peace process.  The dirty war that ensued was a searing experience for Israelis and Palestinians alike.  Israel’s national zeitgeist went from Prime Minister Shimon Peres’ “New Middle East” to Netanyahu’s “there is no partner for peace” and has never shifted back.

→ The view that the US can pressure Israel into giving up annexation also does not make sense against the backdrop of the West Bank’s historical weight.  It is, after all, the cradle of Judaism.

→ It has also become the holy of holies in terms of Israeli security, all the more so since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza resulted in years of rocket fire on adjacent Israeli towns.  The lesson Israelis learned from that experience is clear: hold on to territory, no matter what the international community thinks.

→ Under these circumstances, regardless of whatever incentives or threats the US can bring to bear, they are unlikely to work, given the way Israelis have defined the stakes – life or death.

The writer is a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.