Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Corona in Israel

The number of new cases of Covid-19 in Israel seems to be holding steady at around about 500 a day. The government lifted more restrictions this week and are allowing 5th and 6th graders to go back to school and also allowing outdoor malls to reopen.

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Additionally, the delayed proposal to allow hotels and other businesses in Eilat and the Dead Sea area to open has now been approved as well. However, the authorities have said that they won’t lift any other restrictions without numbers going further down.

There are reports that Israel will begin receiving vaccines already in January for the most at-risk segments of the population. As has been well-publicized internationally, the pharmaceutical companies are reporting very effective results for their vaccines. Hopefully these results are accurate and we can get economic life started again – specifically foreign tourism in Israel!

 

Elections?

There are still possible indications that elections may be forthcoming in the near future in Israel. This possibility is being regularly alluded to by both the “right” and “left.”

In one of the most recent polls, Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party is just three seats behind Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party. Sounds like both sides might want to start researching exactly how these Dominion voting machines work.

Nobody here is crazy enough to think we’ll have mail-in ballots. That could lead to fraud, although Twitter/Facebook say it won’t.

 

Wars Aplenty

As the world continues to accept media reports that Joe Biden has been elected president of the United States, here are some of the results affecting the Middle East so far:

* War has broken out in Ethiopia and has drawn in at least Eritrea so far. Somalia, that beacon of peace and stability, is also a neighbor, so look for it to get some killing in as well.

* Russia has forced a ceasefire, to be enforced by Russian soldiers, between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the disputed Nagorna-Karabahk region. The agreement provides Azerbaijan with a huge national victory and the return of most of the region to their control.

Armenia will maintain control over a small area where the bulk of the ethnic Armenian population resides. Azerbaijan has won big, and both Turkey and Israel have a share in that victory. Probably won’t celebrate at the same bar.

* Morocco and Algeria are starting to rumble over the “Western Sahara” region that connects Morocco to its southern neighbor, Mauritania.

* The Houthis (Iranian proxies in Yemen) continue to attack Saudi Arabian targets with drones and missiles.

All of these conflicts between mostly Muslim countries further serve to fragment the Islamic world and could potentially push more countries to seek and benefit from the strength and relative stability of Israel. We will likely see dramatic diplomatic outcomes from at least some, if not all, of these hostilities in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has announced that it is re-establishing ties with Israel – which means that it will resume taking funding from Israel. Of course, it certainly thinks it will resume taking funding from the U.S. as well. It has suffered through four difficult years under President Trump and feels like it’s back in business.

This new position towards the “Zionist entity” is causing problems in its relations with the other more overtly pro-terror Arab groups, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Speaking of them, one or both of them fired rockets into Israel this past week, and one of the rockets was intercepted by the Iron Dome over the densely populated Israeli city of Rishon LeTzion.

 

The Last two Months….? 

As speculation continues that these may be the last two months of President Trump’s presidency, the sense of urgency on the part of Israel to gain as much leverage as possible is palpable. Some examples:

* Last week, Israel announced the authorization of the construction of approximately 100 new apartments in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in northern Jerusalem. This is not such a significant development in and of itself, but it seems to have been somewhat of a testing of the waters.

This week, Israel published construction tenders for the construction of over 1,200 residential units in the “Givat HaMatos” neighborhood of Jerusalem. These tenders have been delayed for the past 10 years.

The Israeli “left” and their European allies have gone nuts over this development and incessantly whine about how this will destroy the possibility of a “two-state solution.” As much as I wish they were right, let’s just say it’s a bit melodramatic. The real question is: What comes next? Will there be more authorizations? Atarot? Kidmat Tzion? E1? E2? Those would be much more significant.

* An increase of pressure on the Israeli government from the “right” is being reported on the issue of legalizing “unauthorized outposts” – Jewish communities built in Judea and Samaria without proper permits. Much work has been done over the past few years to move the legalization process forward, but only a few outposts have been legalized so far. It’s very possible we might see a lot more be legalized in the next two months.

* This week, over 100 people traveled to the destroyed Jewish community of Sa-Nur in the northern Samaria (Shomron) and attempted to repopulate it. The community was forcibly evacuated as part of the “Disengagement Plan” in 2005 along with three more communities in Samaria and all the Jews from Gaza (“Gush Katif”).

One of the other Samarian communities, Homesh, has been populated by yeshiva students for some time, despite it being technically illegal for Jews to be there. A law has again recently been proposed (not the first time) to officially cancel the “Disengagement Law” that legally prevents Jews from returning to these areas.

Highly influential MK and Netanyahu ally Mikki Zohar reportedly convinced the families to leave Sa-Nur on condition that he would discuss the issue with the prime minister and try to move the law forward.

If this were to happen, it would be quite significant for thre main reasons:

1) It would reverse, for the first time and in a likely permanent way, the terribly controversial and nationally traumatic Disengagement of 2005, at least in some of the communities or maybe just in Homesh. After 15 years, anything would be quite dramatic.

2) The area where Sa-Nur and Homesh (and possibly Ganin and Kadim) are located is an area that has always been envisioned as an integral part of any potential “Palestinian state”

3) President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” called for Israel to impose Israeli sovereignty on all of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria – up to 30 percent of the total area. This plan did not include any of the previously forcibly evacuated communities. With sovereignty currently not being officially considered, the unofficial sovereignty of the Jewish presence may be extended significantly.

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Rabbi Ben Packer is the director of the Jerusalem Heritage House.
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