Sign of the times: 7 things to know for December 1
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Sign of the times: 7 things to know for December 1

Liberman’s decision to announce he’ll put down his John Hancock for anyone sets off a mad dash in Likud to gather signatures, but hurdles remain before the finish line

Former foreign minister and head of the Yisrael-Beytenu party Avigdor Liberman, February 2013 (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/ Flash90)
Former foreign minister and head of the Yisrael-Beytenu party Avigdor Liberman, February 2013 (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/ Flash90)

1. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad political world: Reports in the Hebrew media indicate that the Likud party is racing to gather 61 signatures in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being given the mandate to try and form a government again.

  • The impetus for the sudden Likud move appears to be Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman saying that he will give his signature to whoever asks for it. With the support of Liberman’s and his 7 merry MKs, the Netanyahu-backing bloc will have more than the 61 signatures necessary.
  • Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Melinovsky tells the Kan broadcaster that that’s not really the party’s intention: “We’ve always said our first option is a unity government. By signing for both Gantz and Netanyahu we are saying that we won’t be in a government with Arab parties and also not in one with Haredi parties.”
  • There’s apparently not a ton of love lost on the other side either, with Israel Hayom splashing “Liberman is doing everything to bring down Netanyahu,” across its front.
  • Despite some reports late Saturday that Blue and White was not seeking signatures, MK Avi Nissenkorn tells Army Radio that they sure are going for 61. In the past, both Yair Lapid and Democratic Camp head Nitzan Horowitz have tweeted pictures of them signing for Gantz.
  • Channel 12’s Amit Segal calls Liberman’s decision to sign for both candidates a joke “unless it’s his way of okaying a non-unity government.” He also says the literal interpretation of the law could lead to the parties actually racing against each other to the president’s residence to hand in their slips.
  • Even if he wins the race, Netanyahu may not get the mandate. Walla news notes that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has yet to rule on whether President Reuven Rivlin can hand it over to him, given the charges hanging over his head.

2. Where’s the fire? A picture making the rounds shows a text message, ostensibly sent to Likud MKs, telling them to sign the statement recommending a candidate for prime minister and turn it in to the party by 9 a.m. Sunday, like it’s a school field trip permission slip.

  • Nonetheless, Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahane advises MKs to cool their jets instead of rushing to sign.
  • “You’re actual voting for third elections. Smart people will wait with their signatures until the picture becomes clearer.”
  • Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar tells Army Radio he will do just that: “We’re in no rush. We need to wait for the 11 days to pass.”
  • Walla’s Tal Shalev writes that waiting until the 11th hour on December 11th is the whole party’s plan.
  • “Maybe Liberman just wants to sign so Mandelblit will say he can’t be given the task and yalla we can get to elections sooner,” Haaretz reporter Chaim Levinson jokes on Twitter.

3. Should I stay or should he go: In the meantime, talks are continuing over a possible unity government. Currently on the table, according to reports, is an offer for Netanyahu to remain prime minister for a few months and then let Gantz take over.

  • How many months seems up for debate. Channel 13 news reports that Likud offered four months and then Netanyahu will skedaddle.
  • Channel 12, meanwhile, claims that Netanyahu isn’t willing to step down until at least 8 months.
  • What nobody seems to be arguing about, though, is the fact that the offer has created somewhat of a split in Blue and White.
  • “Blue and White politicians and those involved in the talks see the deal as good for Gantz. The Blue and White head is mulling it over, while [Yair] Lapid has rejected it outright,” Channel 13 reports.
  • Meanwhile, a source in Blue and White tells Ynet that “There’s really no proposal where Netanyahu is in the job for a few months. Bibi won’t keep to his agreement; it’s just a rumor being spread around by those who want to blame others for elections.”

4. John Hancock block: There is internal intrigue in Likud too, much more out in the open. Channel 12 reports that “Likud sources” are accusing Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein of “plotting a coup” and collecting 61 signatures for himself instead of Netanyahu. (MKs can sign for more than candidate).

  • The story is picked up by a few right-wing outlets but mostly ignored.
  • Asked about it, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz tells Kan that he “doesn’t want to tie Edelstein to a useless idea like that, but if someone in Likud was trying to collect signatures and hurt the authority of party leader Netanyahu, I would see it in a very negative light.”
  • Katz also comes out strongly against Gideon Sa’ar for challenging Netanyahu directly, saying again that Sa’ar crossed a red line.
  • But Sa’ar does gain a new follower, with Yoav Kisch seemingly becoming the first Likud MK who was not once Sa’ar’s aide to back him, or at least attack Netanyahu, saying that “sometimes the team is more important than the star.”
  • “To attack Sa’ar is to shoot yourself in the foot. The prime minister has a problem bringing the right-wing victory if he fails to form a government again and again,” says Kisch.
  • In Globes, Tal Schnieder notes that Sa’ar may not have ministers or many MKs backing him, but he’s got a whole bunch of mayors, and that’s worth something. “Mayors are more dependent than anyone on government support, and their gamble is a big one.”

5. Just get it done already: Haaretz’s lead editorial looks at some of the disastrous effects Israel’s lack of a government is having, specifically workers dying with no meaningful reform in safety codes able to be passed. And it notes that the Histadrut labor union is now also not working to protect them.

  • “Last week it turned out that workers who were counting on the Histadrut to come to their defense again, since government ministries continue to neglect them, were in for disappointment. In an internal meeting at the Histadrut, when the possibility of waging a general strike in response to this neglect came up for discussion, Chairman Arnon Bar-David dissociated himself from the workers, saying that he did not consider protecting their safety a part of his job,” the editorial reads.
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, a front page column by Ben-Dror Yemini pleads with the leaders to get over themselves and form a coalition, with the country surrounded by security threats.
  • “We need a government, not a transition government, to deal with these threats, which are a bit more important than your obstreperousness. So please get going. Your principles are important. The nation is a little more,” he writes.

6. Bennett and Gaza, a love story: Despite being caretaker defense minister, Naftali Bennett is wasting no time in enacting his long-sought vision of peace with Hamas by funneling money and infrastructure projects into Gaza, as he always pushed others to do when he was minister of criticizing the defense minister.

  • At least that’s how it seems. His latest project, according to Channel 12 news, is to back Katz’s idea for an island for Gaza that can be used as a seaport and industrial center, as well as an international airport for the Strip (presumably on the island as well.)
  • According to the report, Bennett has asked the army to look into security implications and let him know if it has a green light. Despite his hard line stance, and the fact that his predecessors were against it, the channels claims that Bennett has backed it for years and “‘sees it as a creative solution that can ease the lives of Gazans.”
  • ToI’s Avi Issacharoff notes that Bennett is also taking steps to not anger Hamas too much, and Hamas as well seems keen on keeping things hunky dory along the border, though that may change with public opinion.
  • The result is a strategy as muddled as Israel’s. “The unmistakable impression is that the group is attempting to have its cake and eat it too. It is willing to take action against Islamic Jihad, but not to the point of endangering its support among its political base. It will cancel protests along the border, but if the Gazan street starts clamoring for the demonstrations, Hamas will be the one to lead them.”

7. Hack job: Bennett’s idea for a “worldwide hackathon” led by the best Israeli minds to open up Iran’s already re-opened internet is met with even more skepticism.

  • “Are you serious,” Maariv columnist Ben Caspit asks him on Twitter.
  • “You can forget the Israeli minds for now,” Tel Aviv University expert Raz Zimmt writes in the same micro-blogging platform. “The internet is already back (including most cell phone internet) and the Iranians have been easily managing to get around blocks on social media. Telegram, for instance, was blocked in April 2018, and the number of users in Iran is over 30 million, as it was before the block.”
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