With the coalition galloping toward a precipice, Israeli politicians fumbled for the reins on Sunday and yelled out a plea to slow down, with their collective “Whoa Nellie!” echoing across the media landscape Monday morning.
While both Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz lead off with the brewing coalition crisis and efforts to end it, Israel Hayom — seen as a paper closely tied to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — plays it down slightly, possibly reflecting the fact that he is already trying to casually turn his horse around as if nothing ever happened at all.
Yedioth focuses on efforts to reach a compromise between Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon — who is backing the creation of a new public broadcaster and is seen on the paper’s front page looking pensively out over Tel Aviv from his high rise office — and Netanyahu who wants to scrap it, reporting that a compromise being hammered out will allow the new broadcaster, named Kan, to go forward, but with senior staff pushed out the door.
“Sources in the negotiating team said that the prime minister demanded personnel changes and the switching out of two managers — CEO Eldad Koblintz and chairman Gil Omer — for appointments that he will choose. The assessment: Kahlon is not expected to oppose the internal changes and the two being booted — and so the corporation will start operating at the end of April as agreed.”
Under the punny headline “Wall of cynicism” (which in Hebrew rhymes with “Wall of China,” which is where Netanyahu is while all this goes down) columnist Sima Kadmon notes that while Netanyahu is off in the Far East, his ministers who stayed back have cracked open some fortune cookies which are telling them elections now are a bad idea.
“For not a small number of Likud members, new elections means the end of their political lives, and none of them want to follow the prime minister like he’s the pied piper, straight into deep water,” she writes, adding that it’s been practically a slogan for Netanyahu and transportation and intelligence minister Yisrael Katz, who is also a member of the cabinet, that they don’t go to elections over media issues.
“According to Katz … if they go to elections, they will get a less sturdy coalition and fewer seats than Likud has now. Given the security situation, he says, it would be unacceptable to go to elections over the broadcaster. To ask the public to vote for or against the broadcaster? They won’t forgive us,” she adds
Haaretz meanwhile reports that Kahlon, on the other hand, is willing to take this all the way.
“According to sources close the finance minister, if he gives in to Netanyahu’s demands to close the public broadcasting corporation, he will not be able to remain in his position,” the paper notes.
Columnist Yossi Verter writes that Netanyahu is pushing himself into a corner even among allies, giving ink to rumors that the whole crisis is being engineered by Lady Netanyahu.
“Every member of this internal opposition to Netanyahu sent the same message, each in his own way: Dragging the country into elections two and a half years before the government’s term ends because of an ego battle over a media outlet is ridiculous, it’s insane and it stinks,” he writes. “Many Likud members attributed Netanyahu’s obsession with the new broadcasting corporation mainly to his wife Sara. On Saturday night, when he boarded the plane to China, he was holding hands with her. Ditto when he left the plane in Beijing. They even walked past the honor guard on the runway hand in hand. How symbolic, strange and troubling.”
But the paper’s editor Aluf Benn surmises that the whole crisis is just whitewash anyway, a way for Netanyahu to extricate himself from coalition pressure from the right wing being wrought by US President Donald Trump’s insistence that there be a slowdown of settlement building.
“Netanyahu sought a pretext for dismantling the coalition that would not paint him as a leftist in comparison to his rival Bennett but would spare him a confrontation with Trump, supposedly his good friend. The battle against the ‘left-wing’ public broadcasting corporation fit the bill perfectly. The Americans couldn’t care less about such nonsense, and Netanyahu, at least to his fans, can portray himself as taking a ‘right-wing’ stance. If the government falls over this corporation, it will give him a few months of quiet on the settlement front,” Benn writes.
Israel Hayom doesn’t give the prime minister’s threat to go to election much credence, with columnist Mati Tuchfeld writing that the move seems inexplicable. But with everything looking toward getting back on track, he surmises the whole exercise may help Netanyahu get a firmer grip over his ministers.
“Sunday’s efforts to arrive at a compromise may drastically change the way the coalition works — if it survives, of course. Although party leaders warned Netanyahu not to call elections, what their warnings conveyed was a distress call,” he writes. “Elections are the last thing they want. If party heads indeed meet on Thursday, as [Interior Minister Aryeh] Deri has demanded, the meeting will likely be an opportunity for Netanyahu to put things in order, not only on the broadcasting corporation face-off with Kahlon but also on the issues of Amona and [Education Minister] Naftali Bennett’s repeated threats, and even against the fire [Defense Minister Avigdor] Liberman started when he threatened to withdraw support for the Bnei David pre-army preparatory yeshiva. As far as this is concerned, Netanyahu revealed everyone’s weak spot, possibly bringing about a new order into the coalition. Maybe this was the plan from the start.”
Aside from being the only one to give Netanyahu that much credit, the paper is also only one to lead off not with the coalition kerfuffle but rather a seemingly more serious exchange of fire, with a reported Israeli strike on someone in Syria.
Despite some initial confusion about the identity of Yasser Assayed, killed in the strike near Quneitra, Israel Hayom reports that he was connected to a pro-Assad fighting force, but not part of the regime proper.
“According to reports, Assayed commanded a militia made up of Palestinian and Druze nd living in the Syrian Golan, and recently made contacts with senior members of the Iranian Guards, who are aiding Assad near Quneitra in fight against opposition forces. Assayed was assassinated after he apparently planned and tried to carry out attacks against Israel, with the help of Iranian comrades and soldiers in his militia,” the paper reports.
Yedioth zooms out to look at the strike along with the Friday morning exchange, and notes that they aren’t being kept under wraps like past sorties.
“In the past the attacks passed quietly, but the fact that Israel was forced to take responsibility last week for the firing of the Arrow missile, together with the fact that the assassination blamed on Israel happened not only near the border but in the middle of the day, raises the level of tensions between the sides,” Yossi Yehoshua writes.
Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes that the recent actions attributed to the Israeli military show that it’s under increasing pressure, with Assad, Hezbollah and Iran seeing success along the border, and a certain northern bear keeping Jerusalem in check.
“Israel now has to weigh its steps carefully because Russia is in the neighborhood. Over the weekend the Israeli ambassador to Russia was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry for the first time to explain Friday’s attack,” he writes. “Russia is trying to come to a permanent cease-fire in Syria, an effort that’s meeting with apathy and hesitancy from the U.S. administration. Netanyahu, who until now has led a responsible policy with regard to the north, has on several occasions this past month warned against the Iranians establishing a foothold in Syria, whether through the port that Tehran is trying to lease near Latakia, or through the entry of Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah to forward positions on the Syrian border of the Golan Heights.”