Coalitions are the issue of the day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked for extra time to form his government, but it’s not only Israeli ones making the front page. The growing involvement of Islamist rebel groups in the Syrian civil war is troubling Israel more and more.
Maariv leads off with reports from Syria of rebel groups capturing long-range Scud missile depots in the country’s north. According to the report, Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra — an al-Qaeda affiliate — captured missile bases in Deir el-Zour and Aleppo, and are currently in control of Scud C and D missiles and launchers. It shows in a graphic (albeit a sloppy one) that northern and central Israel would be in range of the missiles from their current vantage point.
The article also quotes Syrian President Bashar Assad telling the Sunday Times that “we retaliated in our own way” to Israel’s reported strike north of Damascus in January “and only the Israelis know what we mean.”
“Retaliation does not mean missile for missile or bullet for bullet. Our own way does not have to be announced,” he said.
The paper also quotes a Lebanese report which claims that Iran is considering relocating Hezbollah’s headquarters to Iraq because of the gradual decline of the Assad regime.
Haaretz’s top story deals with Netanyahu and the stalled coalition talks. Senior Netanyahu advisers reportedly told him that a new government coalition “would have no choice but to imminently freeze construction in the Jewish communities outside the large settlement blocs in the West Bank” in the next two months.
“Sources close to Netanyahu note that national security adviser Yaakov Amidror and special envoy Yitzhak Molcho support a partial settlement construction freeze, and said as much to Netanyahu,” it reports.
According to Haaretz, Netanyahu and his advisers believe international pressure “will force Israel to undertake steps toward renewing talks with the Palestinians that will help rehabilitate Israel’s reputation with its friends in the West, even if they do not lead to renewed negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Yedioth Ahronoth also reports on coalition talks and Netanyahu’s request from President Shimon Peres for two additional weeks to form a government. Despite the fact that Netanyahu has failed in wooing either Jewish Home or Yesh Atid into his coalition, he expressed hope that the ultra-Orthodox are willing to meet them half way.
“I think the ultra-Orthodox public is prepared to make understandings,” he said, and added that the reason why he hadn’t yet formed a government was because “there are [those who] ostracize among the Israeli public, and it doesn’t fit my perspective,” pointing the finger at the Jewish Home supporters among the settlers.
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett snapped back saying that Likud was the party being exclusive and not allowing the religious Zionists to enter the government. He is quoted by Yedioth Ahronoth saying he would stand by his ally, Yair Lapid, because the Yesh Atid leader kept his word not to join a Netanyahu government without Bennett.
“A promise is a promise,” he said.
Netanyahu and Bennett are scheduled to meet Sunday.
Nahum Barnea writes in Yedioth that Netanyahu was forced to ask Peres for two more weeks to form a government and the president “gave Netanyahu nothing, except the automatic two weeks that the law orders him to give.”
Barnea says that the political “rookies [Bennett and Lapid] gave [Netanyahu] a lesson in politics” and that he will try to form a government with whomever he can — which implies concessions.
He closes noting that while the issue on the table is sharing the burden of national service, half of women don’t serve in the military, virtually no Arabs serve, and many Israeli men don’t either. The only difference, he says, is that the ultra-Orthodox who don’t serve get hefty government handouts.
“We need to stop talking about equal burden and start talking about equal evasion: perhaps the solution is hidden,” he says.
Haaretz also runs an op-ed by Gideon Levy, who complains that today’s politicians “are even worse than their antecedents. The majority are even more arrogant, empty, cynical and morally corrupt,” he charges. His target? Yesh Atid and Jewish Home.
“The kinds of alliances that were once shielded from public view out of shame are now boast-worthy. The near-tyranny of a few party leaders, once something to be denied and effaced, has become a source of pride,” Levy says. He bemoans the tragedy he sees in the “center being pushed even further toward the extreme right” and votes for the Yesh Atid party strengthening hard-line settlers in Jewish Home.
“The people who took what is almost the most populist, most marginal issue, the ultra-Orthodox draft, and rallied around it while denying every other issue and further inflaming hatred toward the ultra-Orthodox” are the bane of Levy’s existence for shoving what matters to him under the rug: deported Sudanese, dead detainees, and forced contraceptives for Ethiopian women.
Israel Hayom places the Holyland Trial and what it calls “the dramatic development” of the state witness’s death Friday as its top billing. It says that despite the man’s passing, “it will not influence the continuation of the [legal] proceedings” and cites senior members of the prosecution saying that they intend to continue the corruption trial as planned against former prime minister Ehud Olmert and others.
The state witness died Friday morning in Tel Aviv at the age of 76 after months of intensive testimonies in the case against senior Jerusalem politicians. The paper reports that the latest cross-examination of the witness, held a day before his death, was described as “violent.”
Some legal experts believe the witness’s death “may weaken the strength of the evidence — especially in cases where the defendants’ attorneys couldn’t complete the cross-examination,” the paper writes. Haaretz seems convinced of that fact, and says so in its headline, which reads “the case against Olmert weakened because of the state witness’s death.”
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