What Avigdor wants: 7 things to know for November 29
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What Avigdor wants: 7 things to know for November 29

The kingmaker throws a depth charge into already turbid political waters, and nobody is quite sure what to make of him or whether there’s a chance of avoiding a third vote

Israeli Beytenu party leader, Avigdor Liberman, and his party members play soccer in Jerusalem against a team of the Russian Jewish Congress members, marking the victory day on Nazi Germany, 70 years ago. May 7, 2015. (Photo credit : Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli Beytenu party leader, Avigdor Liberman, and his party members play soccer in Jerusalem against a team of the Russian Jewish Congress members, marking the victory day on Nazi Germany, 70 years ago. May 7, 2015. (Photo credit : Hadas Parush/Flash90)

1. Moldovan muddling: A declaration by Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman shakes things up a bit, after the kingmaker without a king told Radio Reka that he would have joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s side, had his right-religious bloc only been willing to compromise on some things.

  • “Netanyahu is completely unwilling to pressure the ultra-Orthodox to compromise on certain issues of religion and state. He’s also unwilling to separate from them. That’s the main obstacle to forming a coalition,” Liberman charged.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth credits him with “muddling the political scene again” and “leaving more questions than answers about his true intentions.”
  • Likud-backing Israel Hayom also questions what Liberman truly wants, running headlines calling his comments a test balloon and quoting a Likud source saying he can’t be trusted.
  • The paper’s unnamed Likud official puts the chances of Liberman actually joining the right at 5 percent, but adds “If there’s one thing we know about Liberman, it’s that he’s a wildcard. We don’t know what’s going to be happen in the next few days.”
  • The Kan public broadcaster reports that Liberman told Russian journalists he will meet with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein next week and is “hoping for a miracle.” An unscientific online poll from the outlet finds that 28% of respondents think he will join the right, while another 59% say “it doesn’t matter what he does, we are headed for a third election.”
  • By press time, Liberman releases a list of his demands to join the right wing, setting the pundits atwitter again.

2. Makes no difference: It’s not like things were simple before Liberman’s statements. Walla’s Tal Shalev writes that the political scene is “banging its head into the wall,” with its inability to make any progress and save the country from more elections.

  • “The deadlock is more complicated than ever, though the expectation that Netanyahu’s indictment would cause a breakthrough has been proven false for now,” she writes.
  • Indeed a poll in Israel Hayom shows that even after the indictment announcement Likud would still get 33 seats to Blue and White’s 35.
  • “There are charges, no matter,” reads the paper’s top headline, splashing the poll results.
  • It also finds that if Gideon Sa’ar were to take over as the head of Likud, it would still manage 28 seats to Blue and White’s 33.
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter says Netanyahu is telling confidants that not only does he think he won’t do any worse in a third round, but will do better.
  • “In his many conversations this week he tried to put on a confident front. This election will bring a better result, he said, we’ll wake up sectors of the public that were apathetic the previous time, we’ll create better connections,” Verter writes. “We’ll bring more votes. This ridiculous indictment will bring people out.”
  • He adds that two people who heard him concluded that he’s living in la-la land.

3. Next! Sa’ar may not be the only challenger to Netanyahu anyway. Channel 12 reports that peacemaker Edelstein may make a run for the leadership of the party when a contest is held.

  • The report, denied by Edelstein’s office, says he has in recent days been laying the groundwork for a potential run for Likud chairman, seeking to solidify his standing in the party and holding numerous conversations with influential party members.
  • In Plus61J, Elhanan Miller writes that Netanyahu opponents should be wary of putting any eggs in the Sa’ar basket.
  • “Sa’ar may have been known to cooperate with MKs across the aisle, most notably former Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich, but he is deeply suspicious of the Palestinians and skeptical of the peace process. Unlike Netanyahu, Sa’ar voted against Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005.”
  • He also notes that Sa’ar’s popularity may be inflated and says some other possible Netanyahu opponents haven’t been silent because they’ve been cowed, but they could be letting Sa’ar ride the front of the Peloton and take the brunt of the blow, while biding their time.
  • “Burnout can be very fast, it turns out, so why not walk over Sa’ar’s dead political body a few months down the road, when Netanyahu’s time will come, all the way to the prime minister’s residence?”
  • Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz makes the observation that Netanyahu has been able to build power by sewing together a coalition of the bitter, and warns that sour structure will remain even after he is gone.
  • “When Netanyahu does leave, there will be little room for triumphalism. The underwhelming rally on Tuesday proves that he does not have the troops to set Israel ablaze with angry protests against the deep shtetl, but that the anger is real – and will remain after Netanyahu. Especially as he, and at least some of his proxies, will still be around to keep the narrative alive.”

4. Bennett’s big plan: As my colleague Judah Ari Gross and others have noted of late, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett appears to be trying to pump up some publicity himself by making dramatic announcements of policies that already exist.

  • That appears to be continuing, with Yedioth reporting breathlessly on Bennett’s plan to, wait for it, keep the Iranians away from Syria’s border with Israel.
  • “Until now, Israeli operations included efforts to thwart a foothold and stop weapons transfers. Now, in closed conversations with the army brass, Bennett is talking about an ongoing and set offensive against Iranian forces until they leave Syria. This will be done by using the window of opportunity created by internal pressures in Iran and similar processes happening in Iraq. Hezbollah is in a similar situation and the assumption is that it will not intervene.”
  • Reporter Yossi Yehoshua doesn’t mention a source, but almost the same exact information, couched in the same way (albeit less jingoistically), is reported by other outlets, indicating that they all got the same background briefing from the Defense Ministry (likely Bennett himself) where they were told what to report “in the name of the writer,” i.e. without a hint of a source.
  • Channel 12 reports that Bennett thinks not taking the supposed opportunity “would be a huge mistake.”
  • “Where Netanyahu talks about a threat, his defense minister perceives an opportunity,” Amos Harel writes in Haaretz. “The Iranians, he believes, made a mistake in deciding to move their campaign close to the border with Israel.
  • Establishing themselves militarily in southern Syria requires a long and vulnerable logistical chain, stretching all the way from Tehran to Damascus. Deployment of militias on the Golan Heights front allows Israel intelligence and air superiority, close to home. Iran will have a very hard time closing that gap, no matter what quantities of material and troops it may try to deploy along the border.”

5. No more black Fridays? If all goes according to plan, Friday will mark the third straight week in which protests along the Gaza border will not take place.

  • Several Israeli outlets reports that instead, talks between Israel and Hamas for a long-term ceasefire and return of captives and remains is restarting.
  • The reports are all based on Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, which says representatives from the terror group are holding discussions with middlemen representing Israel on the issue of a long-term calming of tensions in exchange for benefits including a new Turkish-funded water desalination facility and hospital in the Gaza Strip to be funded by the United States.
  • Channel 13 reports that Hamas is “mulling suspending the Friday protests for the next could months, to give preference to the talks track.”
  • There’s also a modicum of hope in Ramallah, where hundreds of peacenik Israelis met with Palestinian officials to show solidarity with their cause Thursday, Times of Israel’s Adam Rasgon reports.
  • “We see the leaders and members of the Palestinian people as our partners,” Yuval Rahamim, the head of the Israeli Peace NGO forum, is quoted saying. “We want to work together with all of our power to put an end to the troubles that the inhabitants of the land have been suffering for so many years.”

6. Good luck and good night: Officially Israel is not too friendly with the Palestinians, but it’s another story when it comes to Myanmar. Those warm ties, and hot arms sales, are back under the microscope after Israel’s ambassador there wished the regime luck in its genocide trial.

  • The Foreign Ministry later clarified that it is against genocide, but there are claims that arms sales continue.
  • “Myanmar is only one of a number of murderous regimes to which Israel has supplied weapons, under a fog of censorship and draconian restrictions on publication,” reads the lead editorial in Haaretz, which first reported on envoy Ronen Gilor’s tweeted comments, which have since been erased.
  • Bar-Ilan Prof. Ron Shauli tells Army Radio that “Israel breaks the embargo, but tells anyone who listen that it doesn’t. Two Israeli companies sell weapons to Myanmar and brag about it on their website.”

7. Shop till you drop: Black Friday is no longer just for Americans, and Israeli advertisers are getting in on the consumerist “fun,” despite the fact that most here don’t celebrate Christmas and there’s no Israeli tradition of giving presents for Hannukah.

  • For Americans in Israel, Black Friday started weeks ago, when Amazon began offering free shipping. Times of Israel’s Jessica Steinberg writes that expats are filling their carts with “cheap” toilet paper, garbage bags, candles and other random household items that either were unavailable here at American standards, or insanely expensive.
  • “Putting in Amazon orders from Israel isn’t quite the same as doing it from the US. It can take several days, sometimes even a week or two to receive that brown box at one’s door (or at a nearby corner store), but the overall attitude from local customers is a resounding ‘at long last.’”
  • In Israel Black Friday ads cover newspapers cover to cover, though the advertisers clearly didn’t get the memo about having actual good deals, and malls aren’t more crowded than any other day.
  • Liraz Margalit, an expert on consumer choices, tells Army Radio that sellers are just toying with buyers.
  • “70% of purchases today will go straight into the trash. These sites know how to push out most sensitive buttons and make us buy what we don’t need.”
  • Writing for Kan, Shaul Amsterdamursky says that he is happy Israel has not turned into America yet, both for Israel’s social health and the economy.
  • “Consumer buying is good for growth in the short term. To have long-term growth you need investment. This simple truth is a mirror image of what is happening with America’s consumer craze,” he writes. “Instead of investing in the future, the Americans are in an unending buying frenzy.”
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