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Israeli press review: US to offer help with Iran and normalisation if far-right reigned in

Meanwhile, Netanyahu risks conflict of interest over the judiciary and warnings about escalation after a month of violence
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a meeting with the Israeli president in Jerusalem, 30 January 2023 (AFP)

US package deal to Israel

Senior US officials in President Joe Biden's administration have offered the Israeli government a package deal to cooperate with the US if they wanted to move ahead with issues such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In the past two weeks, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and CIA Chief Bill Burns all visited Israel and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the Yediot Ahronot daily, the US officials made Israel a deal: If Tel Aviv wanted US help in pursuing efforts to normalise ties with Saudi Arabia and to tame Iran's nuclear programme, Israel had to reign its far-right groups in the government and put a break to changes in the legal system. 

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The Americans also asked Israel to calm tensions, maintain the status quo in Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, strengthen the Palestinian Authority, and curb settlement expansion.

Yediot Ahronot reported that Netanyahu replied positively to the request, but he that he also had to consider the demands of his partners in the coalition. 

US officials warned Netanyahu the threat to annex the West Bank, rising tension around the Al-Aqsa compound, and promised changes to the legal system would all cast doubt on Israel's reputation as a liberal, democratic country.

However, Netanyahu's office denied the report as not true.

"The publication is not true. The US made it clear that they do not link the Iranian issue, which is a US national interest, with other issues," it said in a statement.

"Netanyahu did not agree to any conditions and told them that he would uphold the policy for the sake of which he was elected."

'Military confrontation'

Israeli political analyst Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz that the far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's policies amid the increased tension in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem could place "Israel and the Palestinians on the brink of a military confrontation the likes of which they haven't had for years".

Ben-Gvir, a settler living in the occupied West Bank, became the minister of national security in Netanyahu's government last year. He has vowed to expand settlements, expel Palestinians, put an end to the Palestinian Authority, and oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.

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Harel wrote that violence between Palestinians and Israelis had increased since March 2022, prompting the Israeli army to draft more soldiers in recent weeks. 

"If additional violent events occur, the tension is liable to be prolonged and also assume a fraught religious character as Ramadan draws closer," Harel wrote.

Israeli forces are wary of Palestinian copycat attacks after last week's fatal shooting of seven settlers in East Jerusalem, less than two days after an Israeli invasion of the West Bank town of Jenin that killed nine Palestinians.

"Every success in killing an Israeli engenders very clearly two phenomena as an immediate continuation: copycat attempts by Palestinians and attempts at revenge from the Israeli side," Harel wrote.

Harel wrote that Ben-Gvir appears not to comprehend the complex security situation in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or how to deal with a wave of hunger strikes and protests launched by Palestinian political prisoners.

Netanyahu's conflict of interests

Israel's attorney general Gali Baharav-Miara has told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he must refrain from overhauling the judicial system while he faces corruption charges, the Times of Israel reported

Netanyahu, the attorney general said, risked a conflict of interest as he still faces an ongoing trial on charges of bribery, breach of trust, and corruption.

"In your role as prime minister, you must refrain from initiatives involving the legal system within the framework known as the legal reform," Bahara-Miara said in a statement on Thursday.

"This is due to the reasonable suspicion of a conflict of interests between issues pertaining to the legal proceedings against you, and the array of legislative initiatives," which the Israeli government is planning to advance.

She added that "this includes any direct or indirect action or instruction through others, including the involvement of officials serving in your office as political appointees."

Netanyahu described Bahara-Miara's letter as "unacceptable" and asked the High Court of Justice for two weeks to respond to her claims. The government coalition also objected to her statement.

Israel's security agencies said it would increase protection detail around the attorney-general after "real concern", she will be harmed.

The Israeli government is planning to introduce changes that would strip the judicial system of a great deal of its power while giving the Knesset a slim majority of 61 votes to turn down decisions by the high court, select judges and appoint legal advisors to government offices.

Suppose Netanyahu was convicted of corruption charges. In that case, he could escape the sentence if he appealed to the Supreme Court, to which his government managed to appoint judges during his tenure.

However, Netanyahu had denied that he was involved in the "judicial reforms", which opposition parties called a coup and a threat to the democratic values in Israel.

Israeli press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.