There are signs the newest scrap with Turkey is more serious than past scuffles, but also indications it may just boil over, as Israel looks ahead with what to do about Gaza.
1. At this point, an Israel-Turkey spat following a flareup in Gaza seems almost de rigueur, and Monday’s row between Ankara and Jerusalem, including predictable verbal sparring between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan was no exception.
- Unlike previous tussles, which seemed mainly to win Netanyahu and Erdogan points at home with little actual diplomatic fallout, several signs point to this brouhaha possibly being more damaging to bilateral relations.
- The first sign is the recall and expulsion of diplomats on both sides. While Eitan Naeh being “temporarily” booted from Ankara is itself severe, Israel’s decision to expel the Turkish consul in Jerusalem, who deals exclusively with Palestinians and not Israelis, is extraordinary, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tells TOI’s Raphael Ahren
- “Nahshon said he could not recall a precedent in which Israel kicked out a senior diplomat who deals with the Palestinians,” Ahren reports.
- In a sign the tit for tat isn’t fading into the background, Turkey is also expelling the Israeli consul in Istanbul.
- Channel 10’s Barak Ravid reports that Naeh told the Turks telling him to leave could affect Turkey’s ability to deliver aid to Gaza. It’s not clear if the warning is an empty threat or if Israel actually plans on cutting off humanitarian aid to Gaza as a punitive measure against Ankara, though it seems unlikely given Israel’s desire to lower pressure in the Strip that is helping fuel the border protests.
- “We have reached the brink of the abyss,” Yedioth Ahronoth’s Shimon Shiffer reports a senior Israeli diplomat told him. “I suggest to both sides not to jump.”
- Education Minister Naftali Bennett suggested alternative paybacks for the Turks Tuesday, including recognizing the Armenian genocide and canceling trips to Turkey, a popular vacation destination for Israelis: “Go on vacation in the Galilee or Golan. You too play a role,” Bennett advised Israelis in a statement.
2. With widescale Nakba Day protests largely failing to materialize Tuesday, much of the print press Wednesday is focused on the Turkish tiff and understanding why Hamas didn’t bring the masses back to the Gaza border fence.
- “Erdogan’s hypocrisy,” reads the front page headline in tabloid Israel Hayom, taking its cue from Netanyahu, who had a back and forth with the Turkish president over who was the bigger terrorist.
- Israelis “cannot simply ignore these false claims from the president of Turkey, bizarre as they may be, since they are accepted by the Muslim masses,” columnist Nadav Shragai writes in the paper.
- According to Yedioth, Israeli officials are not too worried about the diplomats being kicked out and the verbal skirmish between Netanyahu and Erdogan, linking the Turkish leader’s harsh rhetoric to upcoming local elections: “The assessment is that the crisis is under control and the Turks have no intention of breaking everything up.”
3. It’s not just the Turks. Anger around the world at the death toll on the Gaza border remained high on Tuesday and European countries led calls for an independent investigation into what happened. After suffering terrible optics thanks to disastrous split screen images around the world of Gaza protests alongside Jerusalem’s festive US embassy opening, the IDF has shifted its focus to attempting to explain itself, mostly by accusing protesters of being involved in terror activity.
- The army, which said 24 of the 60 killed were members of terror groups, released two separate pieces of footage Tuesday, one showing protesters damaging the fence and another of Hamas gunmen disguised as civilian protesters, who had planned on crossing over, but were killed in a gun battle.
- However, Haaretz’s Noa Landau notes that Israel’s efforts to help ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza belie the claim that Hamas is to blame for everything that goes wrong in the Strip.
- “The present focus in public on the messages renouncing any such responsibility out of fear of ‘PR damage’ and ‘headlines around the world’ conceal the fact that the Israeli government has been discussing for a long time the humanitarian time bomb in Gaza,” she writes.
- Judah Ari Gross notes in The Times of Israel that one did not necessarily need the IDF’s footage to see Hamas’s hand controlling the protests: “At around 6 p.m. Monday, Hamas officials called on protesters to go home and within minutes thousands of them did just that. This was markedly different from how previous weeks’ demonstrations ended, with participation slowly tapering off until nightfall.”
4. The unexpected calm Tuesday in Gaza and the West Bank is seen as a result of contacts between Hamas and Israel via Egyptian intelligence to convince Hamas to tone down the demonstrations.
- “What happened exactly between Israel and Hamas between Monday night and Tuesday morning still remains to be fully clarified. It is known that during the night, Hamas sent Israel a series of messages through Egyptian intelligence and apparently also via Qatari intermediaries telling of its desire to rein in the level of violence,” Haaretz’s Amos Harel reports.
- An Egyptian intelligence source tells Israel Hayom that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Cairo during the protests Monday for a dressing down amid widespread anger against him and his group both in Gaza and and Egypt over the many deaths.
- The source says Cairo fears anger at Hamas may boil over into internecine fighting within the Strip, and Egyptians made their displeasure known, yelling at Haniyeh that the deaths are on his head.
- “The continuation of the protests will bring more and more deaths and will be the responsibility of the Hamas leadership. It was made clear to him that history will not forgive him or the Hamas leadership on the senseless number of those killed,” the source is quoted as saying.
- The source also tells the paper that Egypt told Haniyeh Israel could soon start assassinating Hamas leaders and Egypt and other Arab countries would not intervene to stop it, “but suffice with condemnations.”
5. Several reports in Israel are swirling around possible contacts between Israel and Hamas via Egypt or others to reach a more long-term solution after the protests have seemingly fizzled.
- A number of Israeli analysts note that Hamas essentially failed in its mission to bring out masses on Monday and seriously threaten Israel, and is now being forced to negotiate from a position of weakness.
- Nonetheless, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yossi Yehoshua notes that the protests may still spur Israel to adopt certain easements on restrictions meant to lift pressure on the Strip: “It’s now clear that it is an Israeli interest that the crisis in Gaza not blow up on the border fence.”
- A security source tells Hadashot TV news that several mediators have approached Israel (ostensibly on Hamas’s behalf ) with proposals for a hudna — or long-term cessation of hostilities. However, as none of the proposals included answers to Israeli demands, like Hamas disarming, they were rejected as not serious.
- The source adds, though, that Israel remains willing to entertain any real proposal.
6. Two days after the US dedicated its Jerusalem embassy to much fanfare, Wednesday morning will see Guatemala become the second country to do so.
- While Netanyahu and both Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel are slated to attend the event (in contrast to the relatively low-level delegation sent by the US), the fanfare is expected to be more subdued.
- Also unlike the US, the relatively small Guatemalan Embassy will not take up a full compound, but rather just an office in the capital’s Malha business park.
- However, Jerusalem showed some love by projecting the Guatemalan flag onto the Old City walls Tuesday night, along with a message thanking Morales.
This year in Jerusalem! pic.twitter.com/DmPneq4FQd
— Mayor Nir Barkat (@NirBarkat) May 15, 2018
- Paraguay is the next country scheduled to open a Jerusalem embassy next week, and while no more are scheduled, Honduras recently voted to move its embassy there as well.
- Explaining the Latin Americans’ sudden love for Israel, Hebrew University expert Arie Kacowicz tells JTA it’s more about getting in good with US President Donald Trump than Netanyahu.
- “They pretty much need and want support and legitimacy from the US and one way of achieving that is by being on friendly, cordial or even extraordinary terms with Israel. So if the U.S. is showing the way on this particular issue of Jerusalem, the natural candidates to follow would be those two Central American countries,” he says.
7. Australia has made clear it does not plan on moving its embassy, but several former officials are indicating it should at least consider it.
- “Even if we don’t move Embassy, we should at least consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (w/o prejudice to its final boundaries or potential status as capital of future Palestinian state). Where else do we disagree with a country about where its capital is?” former ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma wrote on twitter, after former prime minister Tony Abbott suggested considering following the US’s move.”
Even if we don’t move Embassy, we shld at least consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (w/o prejudice to its final boundaries or potential status as capital of future Palestinian state). Where else do we disagree with a country about where its capital is? https://t.co/F30Dh1GOyN
— Dave Sharma (@DaveSharma) May 15, 2018
8. While some have expressed worries about rent costs in Jerusalem rising as a result of the US embassy move, Israel’s official statistician is reporting on the first annual drop in home prices around the country in over a decade.
- The 0.1 percent drop nationally year-over-year comes after eons in which it seemed housing prices would never level off. While March saw an 0.2% drop nationally, the only actual decreases were seen in Tel Aviv and the south, while the rest of the country, Jerusalem included, saw prices continue to rise.
- However, the overall picture seems to indicate a downward trend, and analyst Moshe Kashi says in Globes consumers should expect it to continue, citing equilibrium in building permits, interest rates restraining investors from buying homes to rent out and a supply glut.
- But, he adds, the period is still full of uncertainty: “Are we at the outset of a change in trend, or will the housing prices resume their upward climb?” he asks. “Time will tell.”