Down in the valley: 6 things to know for December 2
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Israel media review

Down in the valley: 6 things to know for December 2

As hopes of a coalition deal slump and Israel slouches toward election bedlam, the Jordan Valley is once again being brought up as the must-do annexation du jour to save Netanyahu

Illustrative: Israelis take part in an annual 8-kilometer march in the Jordan Valley. February 21, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Illustrative: Israelis take part in an annual 8-kilometer march in the Jordan Valley. February 21, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

1. Nothin’ doin: The chances of a unity government look as small as ever after the latest effort at bringing the sides together.

  • “The political paradox has reached its peak,” reports Yedioth Ahronoth, noting that both parties are at least united in seeing no choice but a steady march toward elections, even as they race for 61 signatures from MKs to try and get the mandate back to form a government.
  • Walla news writes that the talks gave way “to a public battle filled with mud-slinging,” noting Likud’s attacks on Blue and White deputy head Yair Lapid as the destroyer of governments and bringer of elections, and Lapid’s retorts that Likud and co. should just abandon party head Benjamin Netanyahu and “stop lying.”
  • Nonetheless, Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn insists that unity talks remain at the top of the agenda, with the gathering of 61 signatures only a secondary matter.
  • Israel Radio reports that the party has actually stopped trying to gather signatures at all, believing that Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman is yanking their chain when he says he’ll sign for both parties.
  • Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer tells Army Radio that “it seems personal issues and other matters are leading us toward another election. We’re not promising to sign for Netanyahu or Gantz, but not ruling out the possibility.”

2. These are the places I will always go: On offer, according to reports, is a plan that would see Netanyahu serve as prime minister for just a few months (how many remains up for dispute) before making way for Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.

  • Israel Hayom, acting as a Likud mouthpiece, runs a top headline claiming that Netanyahu only wants the extra few months to push through annexation of the Jordan Valley, calling it the “annexation card.”
  • According to the paper, Netanyahu will only stay in office as long as it takes him to push through the controversial measure, which he promised to do in the lead-up to the second round of elections, drawing international condemnation.
  • Gantz himself has noted that annexation of the Jordan Valley is in the party’s platform, though he never promised to actually push it through. The item was also reportedly offered to New Right by Blue and White’s more nationalist flank, as a way of trying to lure it away from Netanyahu’s bloc.
  • “Blue and White has all the reason to say yes, it will be very strange if they say no,” the paper quotes a Likud source saying. “They won’t get a better deal. They can go to elections to fight to get at most what they are being promised now — the prime minister’s office within half a year.”
  • Speaking to Israel Radio, minister Zeev Elkin says it is “one of the main things Netanyahu is planning. Any thinking person understands that it will take quiet agreement from the Americans. We have now an opportunity that cannot be missed.”
  • Channel 13 reporter Barak Ravid writes on Twitter that “the significance of Netanyahu promising to annex the Jordan Valley is that Netanyahu is prepared to cancel the peace deal with Jordan to get some kudos from Makor Rishon writers.”
  • In fact, Makor Rishon’s top story is an interview with Yoaz Hendel (one of the Blue and White guys who reportedly offered the annexation as a sweetener to New Right), who blames the right for sinking annexation by insisting on sticking with Netanyahu.
  • “There are two big parties who believe that the Jordan Valley is part of Israel and needs to be developed, and a supportive US president, and all that needs to happen is one person says he will be second in line until his legal case is sorted or someone else from Likud will be in his place. The second they switch their leader, we’ll have a government within 24 hours. We cannot sit [in a government] under a prime minister who is charged with bribery. So we are giving up on this strategic thing of the Jordan Valley, because the heads of the parties think that if they don’t back Netanyahu, the Bibi-loving public won’t vote for them,” Hendel is quoted saying.

3. Task or tsk: Even if Netanyahu gets 61 signatures or Blue and White decides to play ball, there is still a question of whether President Reuven Rivlin can task him with forming the government.

  • Ynet reports that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit does not plan on intervening in the signature-gathering process.
  • However, according to Haaretz, President Reuven Rivlin will still turn to him for advice on what to do.
  • “As of now, the President’s Residence has yet to check if there is a legal barrier to Netanyahu forming a government after being charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the three corruption cases,” the paper reports.

4. Drama kings: What was cleared up, though, is how the race to get to 61 would work, with Rivlin’s office saying that if both candidates submit at around the same time, then those who chose two candidates will have to choose one.

  • That means that Yedioth’s front page cartoon showing Netanyahu and Gantz in a literal race, as part of the show “The Amazing Race,” is not only facile but also inaccurate.
  • And despite there being nine days to go before the Knesset needs to dissolve itself, there is a plain effort to inject excitement into the political fighting taking place.
  • Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and others described Sunday’s talks as a “last-ditch effort,” words he also used last time they held talks. Headlines are filled with phrases like “last chance,” leaving one to wonder what will happen when it is the actual 11th hour.
  • In a long-winded column, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin declares that no less than “the future of our country, created against the greatest odds, and the future of the unity of our people, is at stake.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial is also in alarm mode, chiding Edelstein for his attempts to play peacemaker: “Netanyahu’s pending indictments are trivial compared to what he has done, or planned to do, in his efforts to escape justice. Among other things, he has passed laws meant to serve his own needs, joined forces with Kahanists and supported a bill to allow the Knesset to override the Supreme Court, which would eviscerate the judiciary’s ability to overturn unconstitutional laws passed by the Knesset and thereby disrupt Israeli democracy’s system of checks and balances.”

5. What’s going down in Gaza town: Several Israeli media outlets report on an al-Jazeera documentary that sheds some light on a raid in Gaza last year that went awry, leaving several Hamas members and one Israeli commando dead.

  • The documentary includes interviews with Hamas officials and fighters, as well as audio recordings and security camera footage showing two vans driving around northern Gaza on the evening of November 11, 2018.
  • Though the al-Jazeera documentary includes recordings of conversations between IDF soldiers, Channel 12 news reports that the censor would not let it publish that part of the story.
  • Israel Radio meanwhile reports that Gazan “resistance” groups plan to restart protests along the border on Friday, after three weeks in which they held off to allow tensions to cool.
  • Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, tells ToI’s Adam Rasgon the High Commission decided to cancel the protests over the last three weeks because the Hamas terror group and other Palestinian factions feared they could lead to a fresh escalation.
  • “After the latest escalation last month, Islamic Jihad said Israel agreed to not target demonstrators as a part of a ceasefire. For its part, Israel said that is not true and only agreed to quiet for quiet,” he said. “So Hamas and the other factions concluded if the protesters go to the border and Israel shoots and kills some of them, a major deterioration could follow.”
  • Despite the resumption of protests, Haaretz’s Amos Harel says there are still many signs that both sides are heading toward a long-term calm.
  • “Hamas spokesmen are already referring to it as a tahadiyeh (long-term calm), rather than just a cease-fire. The Israel Defense Forces are even speaking of a ‘broad tahadiyeh,’” he writes.

6. Wye wye wye: Harel also claims that an announcement by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett that he will demolish a Palestinian market in Hebron and build a Jewish neighborhood over it won’t raise tensions in the West Bank, which sounds like famous last words.

  • “Hebron has provided reasons to ignite the territories in the past. But as long as there are no confrontations with numerous casualties, it’s doubtful that the tension surrounding the new construction there will necessarily spread to other parts of the West Bank,” Harel writes.
  • Not everybody agrees. Al Jazeera quotes Hebron Mayor Taysir Abu Sneineh telling the Palestinian Wafa news agency that “the ‘dangerous’ decision by the defense ministry would lead to escalations in the ‘entire region.’”
  • But Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahane celebrates the decision with a tweet reading “Build it and plan it speedily in our days. Amen.”
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