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Israeli press review: US gives Israel's claim to Jerusalem fresh boost

Meanwhile, Israel hopes to land on the moon with Elon Musk's help and a journalist is attacked for calling occupying soldiers 'human animals'
The US Consulate General in Jerusalem, seen above, will merge with the US embassy also in Jerusalem (AFP)

International moves in Jerusalem 

Israel’s claim of sovereignty over Jerusalem received a big boost this week after the US announced it will dissolve its Jerusalem consulate which serves Palestinians, and several central European countries said they would open missions to Israel in the ancient, contested city.

In just two weeks’ time, the US Consulate General in Jerusalem will be absorbed by the American Embassy to Israel, which was moved to Jerusalem last May. According to the right-wing daily the Jerusalem Post, the merger will take place on either 4 or 5 March.

The move, which has been in the works for months, has drawn the ire of the Palestinian leadership, who have complained that it would effectively downgrade America’s relations with Palestinians and put them under the aegis of its Israel mission.

“The Trump Administration is making clear that it is working together with the Israeli government to impose a Greater Israel rather than the two-state solution on the 1967 border,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in October, when the intention to merge missions was first made public.

“The US administration has fully endorsed the Israeli narrative, including on Jerusalem, refugees and settlements,” he was quoted as saying in the Times of Israel.

Meanwhile, in a series of meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Tuesday, the prime ministers of Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all vowed to open diplomatic offices in the city, further buttressing Israel’s hold on the city, holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Far-right going mainstream

After a stream of urgent appeals from Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s most extreme right-wing political party - Jewish Strength - has been included in a coalition of other far-right factions running for parliament, Haaretz reports.

The development all but guarantees that the party's leader, Michael Ben-Ari, will be a sitting lawmaker in the next Knesset.

Extended negotiations with Jewish Home party leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz and National Union party leader Bezalel Smotrich paid off for Jewish Strength, ensuring that its representatives would be slotted into the fourth and eighth spots on its list of candidates for the Knesset. Ben-Ari will take the number four position.

Ben-Ari and other members of Jewish Strength are open supporters of the late Meir Kahane, an American-Israeli rabbi who served in the Knesset during the 1980s, but was later barred from running again over accusations that his frequent calls to drive Palestinians from the country constituted incitement to racism.

Although an alliance with Jewish Strength has upset some Jewish Home party members, who feel that the former is too hawkish, Peretz gave his support to the alliance in order to eliminate the possibility that a right-wing party’s votes would not be counted in the final tally, thus reducing the power of the right-wing bloc as a whole.

In elections to be held on 9 April, parties will need to receive at least 3.25 percent of all ballots cast and validated in order to pass Israel’s electoral threshold and enter the Knesset.

Furore over journalist's "human animals" comment

Thousands of complaints have been submitted to an Israeli television station after a veteran presenter said that militarily occupying another people is turning some Israeli soldiers into “human animals,” the ultra-Orthodox Channel 10 news reports.

Channel 13 news anchor Oshrat Kotler made the remarks after a report about a group of ultra-Orthodox Israeli soldiers under investigation for brutally beating a Palestinian man while making his son watch the humiliation.

"They send children to the army, to the territories, and get them back human animals. That’s the result of the occupation," she said.

In the days that followed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders leapt to the defence of Israel’s soldiers and slammed Kotler for her commentary. The New Right party, led by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, called for Kotler to be prosecuted for defamation.

A study conducted by the firm Scooper found that 72 percent of internet chatter about Kotler judged her negatively, while only 6 percent of online discourse expressed solidarity with her over the incident, according to Israel’s far-right TV Channel 20.

Israel shoots for the moon

Israel aims to become the fourth country in the world to land on the moon with the launch of its “Beresheet” spaceship on Thursday, Mako news reports.

The ship will be launched with a rocket built by Elon Musk’s firm Space-X, and its voyage to the moon is expected to last seven weeks, with a projected land date set for 11 April. 

If all goes as planned, the unmanned spacecraft, whose name means “In the beginning” in Hebrew, will also make history as the cheapest and smallest human-made vessel to land on the moon, measuring a mere 1.5 meters tall.

The craft’s reported $100m price tag is said to have been borne by private donors, including from US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a backer of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump.

The Beresheet will contain a copy of the Torah, the Hebrew bible, inscribed on a small metal disc using nanotechnology, as well as an Israeli flag and other national symbols, Times of Israel reported.

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