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This week in Israel: Fatah and Hamas come to an agreement, Palestinian police kill an Israeli worshiper in the West Bank, and the royal wedding raises flags in Modi’in

Shoshana Kordova
April 29, 2011

Fatah and Hamas announced this week they would be creating an interim unity government and holding elections within a year, in what Haaretz called a heskem piyus histori, a “historic reconciliation agreement.” “The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar announced that “it will not be possible for the interim national government to participate or bet on or work on the peace process with Israel,” which, wrote one commentator, justifies Netanyahu’s warnings “that any territory vacated by Israel will fall into Hamas hands and become an Iranian terror base.” Others expect that the reconciliation agreement could well appear in Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress next month as well as become a component of his push against a Palestinian declaration of independence at the United Nations in September, and that he will use the agreement as “proof that [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas doesn’t really want peace.” Depending on whom you ask, the latest development could make war more likely than ever or it could moderate Palestinian extremists and improve the chances for peace. Then again, the reconciliation may turn out to be too short-lived to have any significant effect on the Middle East, a Maariv commentator pointed out.

A 24-year-old Bratslav Hasidic man, the nephew of Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, was shot to death by Palestinian police officers this week during an unauthorized visit to Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus, which Israeli Jews are not allowed to enter without military coordination. “My brother’s son was killed by a terrorist disguised as a Palestinian police officer,” Livnat, of the Likud party, said at the funeral. The irony of being killed while going to pray at a grave was captured by the Yedioth Ahronoth headline “Mavet Baderech Lakever,” or “Death on the Way to the Tomb.” The governor of Nablus said the car in which the man, Ben-Yosef Livnat, was traveling had failed to heed either police calls to stop or warning shots, and an Israeli military official, alluding to the frequency of such Bratslav pilgrimages, told Yedioth the attack “was expected.” For at least one blogger, though, the shooting showed that Jewish access to sacred sites is too restricted: “Jews praying at Jewish holy sites is not a provocation.”

As American Jews celebrated (or endured) their last night of matzoh on Monday, many Israelis were eating their way out of a week of cardboard-textured meals at a Mimouna festival, a chametz-filled Moroccan celebration that marks the end of Passover—which runs only seven days in Israel—and is also a popular night for Israeli politicians to try to make some headway with potential Mizrahi voters. As Maariv put it, it’s a night when politicians count “mandatim,” literally “mandates,” meaning the Knesset seats they hope to rack up in the next election. Isaac Herzog, one of the candidates for leadership of the Labor Party, which will hold its primary in September, attended a Mimouna in Gan Yavneh with Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, considered the party kingmaker. Herzog tried to live down a WikiLeaks cable reporting that he said party rival Amir Peretz was “aggressive and Moroccan,” which some consider a racist remark. Herzog “might look like an English boarding school boy,” one of the celebrants told Maariv. “But he has a good heart, and he doesn’t have a gram of racism in him.”

Israel is gearing up for the next round of holidays: Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day; Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day; and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day. Ahead of Yom Hashoah, which takes place Monday, a Maariv article headlined “Hashoah Shelanu, Hashe’ela Shelahem,” “Our Holocaust, Their Question,” reported that for the first time in Israel’s history, students in the country’s Arab school system will now have to answer a mandatory question on the Holocaust for the history matriculation exam, or bagrut. The Education Ministry’s decision came after a 2009 University of Haifa study found that 40.5 percent of Israeli Arabs said the Holocaust never happened, a 12 percentage-point increase from 2006.

And while many Israelis across the country are hoisting Israeli flags ahead of Yom Ha’atzmaut, some British immigrants to Modi’in, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, have also been sporting Union Jacks, in honor of a Friday night “sheva brachot” celebration hours after the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. “We all wish the royal family, and of course the prince and his future bride, a hearty mazel tov,” organizers said.

Shoshana Kordova is an editor and translator at the English edition of Haaretz. She grew up in New Jersey and has been living in Israel since 2001.

Shoshana Kordova is an editor and translator at the English edition of Haaretz. She grew up in New Jersey and has been living in Israel since 2001.