MIDEAST MIRROR 01.11.18, SECTION A (ISRAEL)
Between local and national
Iranian infrastructure and strategic networks have come under attack in the last few days by a computer virus similar to Stuxnet but "more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated". Israeli officials are refusing to discuss what role, if any, they may have had in the operation, an Israeli TV report said Wednesday. The report came hours after Israel said Mossad had thwarted an Iranian murder plot in Denmark, and two days after Iran acknowledged that President Hassan Rowhani's mobile phone had been bugged. It also follows a string of Israeli intelligence coups in Iran, including the extraction from Tehran in January of the contents ofdocumenting Iran's nuclear weapons program, and the detailing by Prime Minister in September of other alleged Iranian nuclear and missile assets inside Iran, in Syria and in Lebanon.
"Remember, the virus that penetrated the computers of the Iranian nuclear industry?" the report on Israel's Hadashot news asked. Iran "has admitted in the past few days that it is again facing a similar attack, from a more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated virus than before, that has hit infrastructure and strategic networks." The Iranians, the TV report went on, are "not admitting, of course, how much damage has been caused." On Sunday, Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran's civil defense agency, said Tehran had neutralized a new version of Stuxnet, "Recently we discovered a new generation of Stuxnet which consisted of several parts … and was trying to enter our systems," Jalali said. Wednesday's TV report noted that "in the past, the U.S. and Israel have been alleged to have worked together on operations." The report noted that "behind the scenes lately, Mossad," under its director Yossi Cohen, has been "fighting a real shadow war." Without attributing responsibility to Mossad, the report mentioned the tapping of Rouhani's phone, noting that the Iranians "had to switch it for an encrypted model because they understand that someone has been listening to him for days and weeks."
Meanwhile, Mossad provided Denmark with information that thwarted an Iranian plot to assassinate an Iranian separatist leader in the Scandinavian country, it was revealed on Wednesday. According to a KAN report, information from Mossad is what led to the arrest of the suspect in the alleged plot. Mossad was also responsible for providing information to French authorities in June about a plan to attack a meeting of Iranian opposition figures there.
In Gaza, Israel has agreed to allow Qatar to transfer funds to Hamas to pay the salaries of its civil servants, media outlets in Gaza reported Wednesday. According to the reports, this was made possible after Israel negotiated with Qatar and received guarantees that the money will be transferred only for the stated purpose. It remains unclear whether Israel has agreed in principle only or whether the details have been finalized and an overall agreement signed. A senior diplomatic source told reporters this week that Israel is interested in promoting the Qatari transfer to Hamas in order to prevent a humanitarian collapse "that will end up exploding in our faces." Hamas' Finance Ministry in Gaza will reportedly use the Qatari funding to pay the salaries over the next two weeks. Gaza's Finance Ministry has prepared the list of officials who will receive the payments, as requested by the Qataris. It is still unknown whether security officials in the police and the security forces will also receive their salaries from the Qatari money. Hamas has been demanding for years that the Palestinian Authority pay the salaries of public-sector workers whom Hamas hired since it took power of the Strip in 2007. Ramallah insists that it first be given full control of all government activities in Gaza, including tax collection and payments. PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas has used the salary payment issue as a punitive measure against Hamas.
In other news, more than half of the Israelis (51 percent) oppose holding talks with Hamas for a long-term ceasefire arrangement, according to the Israeli Foreign Policy Index (IFPI) report. Only 32% are in favor of holding talks with the group. Despite the opposition to an agreement with Gaza's rulers, 43% percent of the Israelis wish the government would improve the living conditions in the strip, while 38% think increasing economic pressure on the area is the right policy. In addition, the report shows that 50% of Israel's population want the government to go back to the negotiating table in order to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority, while 49% believe that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not essential when it comes to establishing better relations with the Arab world. Nevertheless, 33% of citizens are convinced that a breakthrough in relations with the Arab states is dependent on normalization of relations with the Palestinian Authority. A large majority of the Israeli public (69%) believes that regional cooperation between Israel and the Middle East countries is possible. However, 41% do not want to visit any Arab country, even when relations between the two countries are normal. 28% of the respondents believe that Israel should not promote cooperation with the Arab countries. Those who believe in the importance of developing relationship with the Arab world, think Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the two most important Muslim countries with which cooperation should be developed. The other foreign policy related issues that arouse concern among the Israeli public—besides the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and relations with the Arab world—are Israel's ties with Russia and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Israelis see Russia as the most important country besides the U.S., followed by Germany, UK, China, France and Egypt. Most of the Israeli public believes that the European Union today is more of a foe to Israel (55%) than a friend (18%). The public is also divided on whether Israel should work to improve its relations with Turkey, with 42% being in favor and 45% opposing it. When it comes to Israel-U.S. relations, the respondents ranked them at 7.75 out of 10, with 63% describing the relations as good, compared to 41% last year.
In news of Israeli-Egyptian relations, Delek Drilling's partner in the EMG gas pipeline to Egypt, the Egyptian company East Gas, is owned by Egypt's intelligence service, Egyptian news site Mada Masr reported. East Gas, the main beneficiary of plans to export Israeli natural gas to Egypt's private consortium Dolphinus Holdings via the EMG pipeline, is a private company, most of whose shares are held by Egypt's intelligence service, says the report. "The gas import deal – scheduled to come into effect early next year – found that the repeated claims by Egyptian government officials that the venture is a purely private sector affair wholly outside the 'government framework' are misleading at best," stated Mada Masr in its report. The intelligence service is slated to receive 80% of East Gas's income. Egyptian intelligence also has an interest in Dolphinus. "Documents and sources reveal that through a complex web of overseas shell corporations and subsidiaries, the intelligence body stands to cash in at all stages of the deal, from the transport of Israeli gas to Egypt to its final sale to the Egyptian government. These profits end up in the coffers of the GIS, and not the public budget," states Mada Masr. Israel is supposed to start exporting gas to Egypt's Dolphinus in March 2019, via the EMG pipeline. The gas, from Israel's Tamar and Leviathan reserves, is valued at $15 billion.
Finally, Prime Minister Netanyahu is likely to attend the inauguration on January 1 of, a symbolic step that would signify a dramatic change in relations between the two countries. Bolsonaro responded by posting on Facebook that "I have just received incredible words from the prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as from Israel's Ambassador Yossi Shelley. Our friendly ties will undoubtedly result in mutual agreements that will surely benefit both of our nations and citizens." Less than 24 hours after the announcement of his victory, Bolsonaro welcomed Shelley and the Israeli honorary consul in Rio for a private meeting in his apartment. Bolsonaro, an Evangelical Christian, , that he will move the country's embassy to Jerusalem, and that he will close the Palestinian embassy in Brazil because Palestine is not a country. "Last year I went to Israel for eight days," he said in an i24 interview last month. "I felt it was another country with which we could develop closer ties. I went to see what agriculture is like in a desert. How could a place with precipitation levels that are lower than in our Northeastern regions have enough food for itself and be able to export some of its food to Europe while the Northeast of Brazil is starving?" He said that Israel and Brazil should "team up."
NETANYAHU'S POWER IS DWINDLING: Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth writes that running under Netanyahu's personal endorsement and the Likud Banner was not worth much in the municipal elections. Meanwhile, the ultra-orthodox voters acted independently, defying their Rabbi's orders. Will these trends carry over to the national elections?
"At the entrance to Yeruham, between the lake and the city, stands a large billboard with a photograph; Netanyahu in a joint picture with Nili Aharon, the Likud candidate for mayor. The Patron and his protégé. Netanyahu in a gray business suit, foreign to the scorching Negev sun, authoritarian and remote. And Aharon, the excited groupie.
Similar twosome pictures were placed on the eve of the elections in other communities. The largest of them was hung on the wall of one of the hotels at the entrance to Jerusalem; Netanyahu and Elkin; a couple whose height, on the wall at least, was six stories high. Netanyahu chose who to be photographed with, on whose behalf he would make calls, in whose assemblies he would make an appearance, and from whose he would abstain. Some of the winners ran with Likud, others ran against it. The accounts were personal; the desires destructive.
Jerusalem and Yeruham are die-hard Likud-supporting communities. Nevertheless, Elkin and Aharon were defeated badly at the ballot box. Elkin received 19.8 percent of the vote, and came in third out of four; Aharon received 32 percent, compared with 59 percent garnered by the winner, Tal Ohana. Aharon's candidacy, in accordance with a review of election results throughout the country, shows that Netanyahu's choice had no decisive influence, or had no effect whatsoever. Those who won did so in their own right, and the losers lost all by themselves. Aharon, Miri Regev's protégé, was forced upon the local Likud branch. 'We love you Bibi, we vote for Tal Ohana', was the battle cry adopted by Likudniks in Yeruham. This does not mean much for the upcoming Knesset elections, but it does mean something about what is happening to Netanyahu and to the party he heads.
The second point that is relevant for national politics is the split in the ultra-orthodox sector. Gafni and Deri against Litzman and Porush, Lithuanians and Sephardim against Hassidim. Many things can happen in this sector until the elections, from the disintegration of United Torah Judaism into two rival parties, to the unification of all three, or the unification of Degel Hatorah and Shas, leaving the Hassidic Agudat Yisrael fluttering on the brink of the electoral threshold. The historic division of power between the Hassidim and the Lithuanians was based on the assumption that the Hassidim bring more votes. They received more seats on joint lists, more positions of power. The election results in Jerusalem require a new index.
And perhaps the index itself has ceased to be relevant. A new generation of ultra-Orthodox has arisen, one that feels it has power and is unwilling to automatically put it into the pockets of Rabbis. The ultra-orthodox were active in almost all the lists in the mixed cities. They operated openly, together with those wearing knitted yarmulkes and sworn seculars, on the same social networks, in the same headquarters. Perhaps the talk of an Israeli society divided into separate, hostile tribes, was premature. The real test will be in the national elections."
KOCHAVI'S MAIN TASK IS TO AVOID NEEDLESS BATTLES: Ran Edelist in Maariv argues that although the new chief of staff must prepare the army for war, it will be his job to halt before the slippery slope, where the philosophy represented by Eleor Azaria and the right-wing Rabbis rules the day.
"The chief of staff's job is to prepare the army for war. This includes the army's fighting spirit, but mainly the avoidance of unnecessary battles that are the product of warped politics and distorted ideologies. I do not pretend to be knowledgeable in the building of the army's force, but the problem is that the IDF has not fought since Lebanon 2006. Hunting down terrorists and violent policing in the territories are not a war, and the reality today is no different than it was in 2006. In addition, there is a real problem regarding the motivation to fight among those who do not agree with the government's policy.
On the other hand, this is a democratic state, etc., and the result is the campaigns between the wars; those small wars in the meantime. The wisdom of the small wars is avoiding getting dragged into a large and unnecessary war in the North and South. This is Eizenkot's great success. The chief of staff is supposed to be the commander of the army, from the General Staff forum to the last of the privates, but also a politician – to be able to deal with a castrated, frightened and aggressive Cabinet; and even a statesman, in order to plan his actions in order to ensure that military activity will not damage Israel's political standing in the world.
It also appropriate that the chief of staff be a moral man, or as Kochavi himself put it in an interview about 10 years ago: 'A moral army, like a person, is a body that constantly makes an effort to be moral. But even moral people can sin. The question is what the general spirit is. From my experience, this is an army for which this issue is constantly on the agenda. Have the moral questions been at the same level of intensity throughout the past five years? I am not so sure'.
Dr. Niv Gordon, a lecturer in philosophy who was Kochavi's teacher, accused him in the past of war crimes because he commanded an operation for the liquidation of terrorists in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus. In response, Kochavi wrote him: 'I have to fulfill my duty toward three moral imperatives: My moral obligation to my soldiers, my moral duty as a human being, and my moral obligation to the citizens of the State of Israel! As long as I am a man and the ranks of an officer in the IDF are placed on my shoulders, I will continue to stand in the center of the triangle. I will not give up any side and will work tirelessly to connect the three sides. At the end of the day we will be left alone, me, my obligations and my conscience'. Kochavi is right in his diagnosis, but his job is not to juggle practical philosophy, as he wrote to Gordon, but to stop before the slippery slope, where the practical philosophy is represented by Eleor Azaria and the right-wing Rabbis."
ISRAEL MUST HALT THE PALESTINIAN TAKEOVER: Dr. Anat Rot in Israel Hayom claims the Palestinians are invaders and Israel must immediately evacuate Khan al-Ahmar, remove all other Palestinian outposts, stop the PA's takeover on the ground – and start ruling like a landlord.
"The Khan al-Ahmar affair infuriates many Israelis for various reasons. It illustrates the discrimination between the Palestinian invaders and the settlers of Migron, Giv'at Haolpana, Amona and Nativ Ha'avot – in whose cases the state strictly adhered to the ruling by the High Court of Justice. The affair hints at the government's helplessness regarding the activities of leftist organizations, the media atmosphere and the diplomatic pressure. It conveys a message of limpness and lack of governance in the face of delinquency and illegal activity in strategic areas, and indicates the unwillingness of the state to implement its decisions.
But most disturbing is the lack of a decisive response to a phenomenon that poses a significant threat at Israel's doorstep. The Bedouin outpost of Khan al-Ahmar is not an exceptional case of illegal Palestinian construction. This is a comprehensive campaign waged by the Palestinian Authority against the State of Israel during the past decade, in order to gain control of strategic areas in Area C – which is under Israeli civil and security control - in violation of the Oslo Accords. This strategic move was initiated and led by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In 2008, Fayyad established an official bureau for coordinating activities on the ground (UAWC), which is funded by tens of millions of euros from EU countries.
This creeping takeover is made possible, first of all, through the systematic and organized settlement of Palestinians in selected strategic areas. Those willing to man abandoned buildings and areas receive economic incentives from the PA. In addition, these areas benefit from investment in infrastructure – from paving roads to developing water reservoirs, stretching pipes and installing irrigation systems. Finally, this settlement activity is accelerated by agriculture. The populated areas receive systematic agricultural development – terraces, grazing areas and crop processing - largely at the initiative of the governments of the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway.
Located in area E1 and adjacent to Route 1, Israel's central latitude highway, Khan al-Ahmar is one example of many of the Palestinian Authority's efforts to control strategic areas through settlement. There are dozens of similar illegal outposts on the ground that house tens of thousands of Palestinians.
The solution proposed by the State of Israel to the residents of Khan al-Ahmar can significantly improve their standard of living. If their wellbeing was foremost on the minds of the PA and its supporters, they would readily accept this proposal. However, as far as Palestinian leaders are concerned, moving the residents to another location harms the efforts to take over Highway 1, and therefore they are working diligently to torpedo the government's proposal.
Although there is no official change in the status quo, there has recently been the impression of a gradual movement toward Israeli annexation of Area C. This is a false impression. In recent years, especially since Ayelet Shaked became Minister of Justice, important steps have been taken in regulating the settlements and normalizing life in Judea and Samaria; legislation in the Knesset is being adapted to Judea and Samaria and there is an effort to repel the offensive of anti-settlements appeals to the High Court of Justice. However, right under our noses, the Palestinian Authority is flooding the ground with tens of thousands of squatters and through them is carrying out a creeping annexation of Area C. To date, the Palestinian invasion covers seven percent of Area C. The area of Palestinian settlement is almost three times larger than that on which the entire Jewish settlement enterprise is situated.
The Palestinians and their partners believe that establishing facts on the ground constitutes an irreversible reality, and that any territory they have managed to take control of will remain in their hands in any future arrangement. The government's capitulation to pressure from those working to harm Israel's interest sends a message of lack of governance, and encourages further criminality. The immediate evacuation of the Khan al-Ahmar outpost is therefore essential in order to clarify that the facts that have been illegally established on the ground can be reversed. Israel must urgently formulate a comprehensive plan for removing other Palestinian outposts, stopping the PA's takeover on the ground - and beginning to rule like landlords."
THE ONLY WEAPON THAT CAN RESTORE QUIET TO GAZA: Amir Buhbot in Walla! states that Lieberman tried to intensify the response to terror organizations but was unable to sway the Cabinet. Netanyahu and Eizenkot share a conciliatory stance, and we are headed towards a dangerous escalation.
"Defense minister Lieberman believes that the time has come to launch a sweeping and broad offensive against Gaza by attacking quality targets belonging to the terrorist organizations in the Strip, but was unable to sway the political-security Cabinet to get behind him. That is how the current tension in the Netanyahu/Lieberman/Eizenkot triangle was created. At the moment, the prime minister is united with the chief of staff. But if the situation continues this way and Hamas does not restrain itself and the forces in Gaza, the moment will come when it will be too late and the IDF will really find itself in a no-choice campaign.
Despite the spins and headlines concerning an arrangement and talk of a fragile period that will end in a long-term lull in return for Palestinian getting returns such as Qatari fuel; Palestinian violence has intensified and the initiative is undoubtedly on the Palestinian side, and has long been out of the hands of the IDF, who has enabled the current reality to develop. Lieberman believes - this is not a time for waiting idly and patiently for the end of the process or the deliberations, because the more achievements are offered to the terrorist organizations, the more they will want. According to his approach, they must be shown Israel's tough side, followed by the soft side later on. But as always, talk is one thing and deeds something different altogether. Netanyahu and Eizenkot remain unconvinced as the Cabinet.
Islamic Jihad is operating according to directives from Damascus, and is not really interested in breaking the rules of the game. If it were, it would launch heavier barrages at Tel Aviv and Be'er Sheva. The organization is examining just how far it can go and is mainly interested in creating new equations - to enter the game in which until now it has been a bystander watching from the sidelines, except for the demonstrations on the fence. The organization is exploiting a position of power as the Iranians channel money to Hamas and funding its military wing. The broad operation of Islamic Jihad fits well with the lack of IDF initiative in Gaza. As soon as an organized and armed terrorist organization understands that on the Israeli side there is no intention of launching a campaign and using the most threatening tool - targeted assassinations, in addition to shooting at demonstrators on the fence – it broadens its actions, and launches rocket barrages against Israel.
More than 30 rockets were fired by Jihad during the weekend, and Iron Dome intercepted those that were destined to explode in built-up areas. In response, the IDF attacked more than 80 targets, including Hamas headquarters in Gaza. These were sensitive attacks, and it was not for nothing that the IDF Spokesperson announced that they had been preceded by messages sent to the Palestinians, calling them to leave the structures. No one was killed, and according to the Palestinian street and the social networks, Gaza is not impressed by the numbers. On the other hand, no one really understands what the IAF attacked, and therefore the effect on the sense of security on the Israeli side is also low.
Of all the targets attacked, only a handful were Islamic Jihad's and most of those were unimportant. The IDF is trying to impose restraint on Hamas, so that it will be the one to exert pressure on Jihad. If that does not work, there will soon be more significant attacks on Islamic Jihad. The question will then be: Real-estate assets or operatives and senior leadership? Only targeted assassinations can restore deterrence to Gaza, but it also bears the risk of plunging the region in a war that carries a heavy price on both sides. That is why the prime minister and the chief of staff think we should wait
WILL TRUMP'S MIDEAST POLICY BE AN EXPLOSIVE FAILURE?: Daniel Shapiro in Haaretz claims Trump's two year Mideast policy scoreboard is a mixed picture of partial successes that face deep challenges. The Midterms will determine if the administration's wilder policy instincts will be constrained.
"Middle East policy is unlikely to determine the outcome of next week's mid-term elections in the United States. Voters will more likely be motivated by their sense of their economic well-being and prospects, the social and political tensions dividing America, and whether they want a more unleashed or a more constrained President Donald Trump. But it bears evaluating how Trump's Middle East record stacks up at the halfway point of his term, and considering the paths it is likely to take depending on the election results.
On a range of issues, Trump has achieved at least a partial success. In Syria, U.S. and allied forces have nearly completed the campaign to destroy ISIS, and U.S. strikes on Assad following chemical attacks seem to have deterred the dictator from resorting to the use of those weapons (although not other atrocities against regime opponents). Trump's Iran gambit, withdrawing from the nuclear deal and imposing harsh unilateral sanctions, is generating far more pressure on the Iranian economy and regime than many observers predicted could be achieved at this point. Even tougher blows are still to come when full oil sanctions are restored in November. In Israel, Trump enjoys widespread popularity, a product of his unstinting support, his warm relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Iran decision, and his historic relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Regionally, the United States maintains partnerships with a coalition of Israel and Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan, and has pushed hard for openings toward normalization between Israel and Arab states. Netanyahu's visit to Oman and the Israeli athletic teams competing in the UAE are recent dividends on that strategy.
Each of these areas of progress, however, are incomplete, and many run parallel to ongoing challenges. Some initiatives drift with low prospects of resolution. Trump's ability to consolidate the gains and advance further toward his goals, will be tested in 2019. In Syria, the Assad regime has been stabilized through brutal crushing of the opposition, and Russia has emerged as the dominant player. Israel is working hard, with U.S. support, to protect its interests by acting kinetically to disrupt Iran's ongoing efforts to entrench threatening military assets in Syria. But Russia's willingness to accommodate Israeli action is being tested following the downing of a Russian military aircraft by Syrian air defense units. Overall, the United States is largely absent from efforts to shape the post-war Syrian reality now emerging, raising questions about its ability to ensure that U.S. and Israeli interests are protected.
The Iran strategy, so far, involves the United States acting alone. While acquiescent to some secondary sanctions, no European country has followed the United States out of the nuclear deal. And the desired endgame is far from clear. After sanctions impose a further bite on Iran, then what? Will the United States entertain negotiations with Iran on a new nuclear agreement, and if so, what kind of agreement would be considered success? What are the chances one could be reached? And if Iran pulls out of the agreement and resumes uranium enrichment to the threshold of nuclear breakout it was at before the JCPOA; would the United States pursue a military option or give Israel a green light to do so? If Trump has answers to these questions, they remain opaque
The Israeli-Palestinian peace effort, meanwhile, seems hopelessly stuck. That is not Trump's fault, given the deep and abiding mistrust between the two sides, but the extreme Palestinian reaction to the Jerusalem announcement, and subsequent blows by the administration against the Palestinians, cutting off nearly all U.S. non-security assistance, has left the United States unable to conduct even a rudimentary dialogue with a Palestinian partner. With no channel to one of the parties, no prospects for a deal or even negotiations between the current leaders, and Israeli elections around the corner, Trump may simply decide never to present his plan for the ultimate deal.
And while the regional partnerships have borne fruit, they are also susceptible to the whims of unreliable players. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, on the heels of Saudi missteps with Qatar, Lebanon, and Canada, and a grinding war with devastating civilian suffering in Yemen, raise questions about the reliability and effectiveness of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is supposed to be the strategic anchor of the U.S.-led anti-Iran regional coalition.
Can Trump rally to advance on this complex agenda? Sustained attention is one challenge. His foreign policy interests run toward consolidating his friendship with Russia's Vladimir Putin and reaching a nuclear agreement with North Korea's Kim Jung Un. He will soon turn his focus toward his own reelection campaign. And in the coming months, Special Counsel Robert Mueller may issue a report that could derail his presidency.
Meanwhile, if Democrats gain control of even one house of Congress, their ability to clip Trump's wings, through hearings, investigations, and subpoenas, will be formidable. Under these circumstances, Trump and his national security team will be tested in a way they have not been yet: Building bipartisan support in Congress for controversial foreign policy initiatives. To succeed on rolling back Iran's nuclear program further, to ensure a robust U.S. military presence in Syria as leverage for the diplomatic endgame of the civil war, to effectively pressure and incentivize the Palestinians to come back to the negotiation table and to keep the newly troubled relationship with Saudi Arabia on track, Trump will need Congressional help. Democrats, if they finally control the gavels, may be slow to provide it. If, on the other hand, Republicans maintain full control on Capitol Hill, Trump will have few, if any constraints. A full-on confrontation with Iran, an unrestrained Saudi Arabia, a collapsed Palestinian Authority, and a fully Russian-dominated Syria could all come to pass.
Americans often choose divided government as a way of keeping the parties' policy agendas in balance. With the Middle East in a delicate phase, and U.S. decisions that can inflame it or keep it calm still pending, there may be wisdom in that approach."
NEW WEST BANK LEADERSHIP CRACKS SETTLER UNITY: Jacob Magid in The Times of Israel proclaims that municipal election results embolden the camp of council chairs who prefer working outside of the Judea and Samaria umbrella body to advance policies on behalf of Israelis over Green Line.
"Twenty-two elections were held in Israeli municipalities over the Green Line Tuesday, and while the majority saw incumbents maintain their positions as council chairs, six municipalities woke up Wednesday to new leadership after upsets that could upend the political makeup of the settlement movement.
Israel's 2005 pullout from 25 communities in the Gaza Strip and Northern West Bank caused a split among settler leaders between those affiliated with the establishment and those who thought more could have been done to prevent the government from carrying out its decision. The former camp sees lobbying as a unified front for policies benefiting their constituents as most effective. But the ability of a number of more outspoken council chairs to achieve results on their own has others wondering whether moderating their views in order to maintain a consensus on issues within the Yesha (Judea and Samaria) settlement umbrella council is worth the compromise. That rupture has been most noticeable at meetings of the Yesha Council, where no small amount of chairs have been vacant over the past decade, despite an open invitation to all settlement leaders.
Current Yesha Council chairman Hananel Dorani, like his predecessors, has worked to reunite the leaders of the Israeli local and regional councils beyond the Green Line. However, Tuesday's results largely gave a boost to those uninterested in working as a unified front. In the Binyamin Regional Council, Yisrael Gantz narrowly defeated Shiloh Adler 50.3 percent to 49.7%, capping a mudslinging campaign that frequently got personal. Both had aimed to replace outgoing chairman and former Yesha Council head Avi Roeh in one of just two races in the West Bank that did not feature an incumbent candidate. But while the 1,000 vote margin (out of 22,000) may have been razor-thin, the candidates differed starkly in their feelings toward the Yesha Council, and by extension, on the importance of settler unity.
Adler, until announcing his candidacy, had served as secretary-general of the umbrella body. Gantz, on the other hand, had campaigned on a platform that attacked the 'old establishment' Yesha Council for neglecting the interests of settlers. He has been known to take a more combative approach to advancing pro-settler policy and has been unafraid of criticizing one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history. This bold attitude earned him the endorsement of anti-establishment heavyweights such as Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich.
Of the five races in the West Bank that saw the incumbent unseated, Eliyahu Libman's victory over Melachi Levinger in the Kiryat Arba-Hebron Local Council may have been the most consequential. Levinger had chaired the Southern West Bank municipality for the past 10 years and had worked closely with the Yesha Council. Libman, for his part, enjoyed the support of far-right activists such as Otzma Yehudit's Baruch Marzel, who have long criticized the Yesha Council for taking what they view as a non-confrontational approach to disagreements with the government.
Since his shock victory in the special elections called after the 2017 resignation of former Gush Etzion Regional Council head Davidi Pearl, Shlomo Ne'eman has been viewed as a rising star in settler politics and a rumored candidate for Yesha Council chair. However, the 45-year-old resident of Karmei Tzur was unable to garner 40% of the vote on Tuesday and will face Moshe Seville in a runoff on November 13. Seville is viewed as a mentee and ally of Samaria Regional Council chair Yossi Dagan, who has long refused to work within the Yesha Council.
Among the 14 incumbents who managed to maintain their seats were a group of chairs who have long deemed the Yesha Council as ineffective and have been absent at the umbrella body's monthly meetings. They include Samaria Regional Council head Dagan, Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani, Har Hebron Regional Council head Yochai Damari and Karnei Shomron Local Council head Yigal Lahav who each handily won their respective races. Rather than working within the confines of the Yesha Council, the four have worked to establish close personal ties to various members of the government, speaking on behalf of their own residents rather than the broader settler movement.
In the Kedumim Local Council, Dorani cruised to a third term in office, garnering nearly 70% of the vote. But with the results of Tuesday's elections, his second job as Yesha Council chair is poised to be a much greater challenge."