As Americans brace for the so-hyped hurricane of the century, Israel is preparing for a political storm. With the fate of the “Biberman” deal hinging on what happens this evening, all eyes are on the Likud Central Committee meeting, where the prime minister and the country will learn if Netanyahu’s high-risk gambit will be approved by the party’s rank and file. The outcome could either spell a stark change to Israeli politics, leading to the foundation of other “mega-parties,” or deliver Netanyahu a humiliating blow that may end up costing him the election.
A poll published in Maariv this morning should do much to settle Netanyahu’s nerves. According to a survey conducted by Teleseker, the combined list of Likud and Yisrael Beytenu garners 43 Knesset seats, not the groundswell he may have hoped for (the two parties are currently in possession of 42 seats,) but not the plummet to 35 seats that last night’s Channel 10 poll predicted and many serving MKs feared.
A second poll, published by Channel 2 Sunday night, found that the Likud-Beytenu list would remain at 42 seats.
Netanyahu can only hope that his party members see the results as a confirmation of the union’s potential and not as a dilution of their strength, with little to be gained in return.
Never one to wait idly, Netanyahu reportedly spent yesterday evening meeting with Likud members, particularly the influential regional council heads, to convince them that the alliance would guarantee an election win.
In addition, Netanyahu sent out one of his top spin doctors to reveal that before deciding to join forces with the hawks at Yisrael Beytenu, Netanyahu was considering teaming up with Kadima.
The exclusive interview scored by Maariv with the head of Netanyahu’s political communications team Orit Galili-Zucker explains that the possibility of merger with Kadima first came up months ago, before the failure of their short-lived coalition, and was very popular but it was ultimately rejected because “[Kadima chairman Shaul] Mofaz didn’t deliver the goods.”
The news that Netanyahu was hoping to corral Kadima MKs back home to the Likud, the party that many of them (including Mofaz) started off in, should come as no surprise, but the timely release of the information serves to indicate to potential voters that Netanyahu’s perceived shift to the right with the Biberman merger is not essentially ideological but rather pragmatic.
“The polls showed us that the public prefers big parties, likes the ingathering into blocs and has a distaste for small parties and the political extortion that comes with them,” said Galili-Zucker.
With no polls or insider interviews of their own, the other papers are left to build up the drama. “Battle in the Likud,” reads the headline of Yedioth Ahronoth. “Netanyahu putting on the pressure: Approve the blowout,” reads Israel Hayom. “A test for Netanyahu: Likud’s Central Committee to determine the future of the Liberman alliance,” reads Haaretz.
The Likud Central Committee tends to produce surprises and though most assessments agree that Netanyahu will be able to bulldoze the deal through, pundits predict it won’t be without resistance, and that we can expect to see fireworks.
The second item featured on all the front pages is Hurricane Sandy. Israel’s newspapers focus on preparations under way in New York City, with Yedioth featuring a dramatic photo of Lady Liberty with storm clouds brewing behind her and Maariv depicting sandbags piled in the streets of Queens.
Though it’s been 17 years, former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s death and the memorial services marking it continue to produce headlines. As Yedioth reports on page 6, a special commemoration session at the Knesset rejuvenated political animosities after Knesset speaker and presidential hopeful Reuven Rivlin took the opportunity to slam Rabin’s legacy of a two-state solution with the Palestinians. In his address, Rivlin said the Oslo concept had failed, much to the chagrin of Rabin’s family members and the left-wing MKs who attended.
Gaza blockade is for the birds
On its back page Yedioth Ahronoth reveals curious information on something that was found aboard the blockade-busting ship Estelle. According to the report, while searching the ship’s hull for weapons and other illegal items, soldiers discovered a lone pigeon. It later emerged that the activists aboard the ship had used carrier pigeons to send out photographs of Israeli troops taking over the ship. As arrested Israeli activist Yonatan Shapira revealed, the passengers attached digital memory cards containing photos of the IDF takeover to the pigeons’ legs and dispatched them to shore, to be received and the images sent out to the global media. Shapira said that the photos showed soldiers using Taser guns on activists. The story didn’t say whether any of the birds succeeded in their mission.
Haaretz reports on a secret rehabilitation center for abused horses. The farm, one of three operated by the SPCA, provides a temporary home for neglected and malnourished horses, donkeys and dogs, animals that the authorities confiscated from their abusive owners. The reason the location of the farm must remain secret, explains the article, is so that the owners don’t show up to claim the animals.