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The 19th Knesset is set to begin but the status of the current coalition talks makes one wonder: How long will it last?

Staying or leaving? Aryeh Deri (with the blue tie) and other Shas leaders meet with Likud to discuss forming a coalition. Deri is reportedly mulling a run for Jerusalem's top office (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Staying or leaving? Aryeh Deri (with the blue tie) and other Shas leaders meet with Likud to discuss forming a coalition. Deri is reportedly mulling a run for Jerusalem's top office (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

It may be the first day of work for the members of the 19th Knesset, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping the parties from hurling insults as if the election never happened.

Maariv’s front page headline has the Jewish Home party and Shas trading accusations over religion and the draft. Jewish Home’s support for Yesh Atid’s universal draft plan riled Shas and a Shas source accused the party of trying to change the status quo on the draft just for the sake of being in power. Jewish Home dismissed the criticism by saying that the rabbis won’t interfere in the coalition talks and accused Shas of alienating the secular public from religion.

Coalition talks aren’t the only thing on Shas leader Aryeh Deri’s mind; Maariv reports that Deri is weighing a run for mayor of Jerusalem. Sources in Shas are making contacts in the capital city to see if there is any real chance for Deri to win the October 2013 contest. If Deri decides to enter, he might not be the only ultra-Orthodox candidate to run, as the former mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupoliansky, is considering running again for Jerusalem’s top job.

Israel Hayom also focuses on how the emergence of an alliance between Jewish Home and Yesh Atid is riling some feathers in the Jewish Home party. Israel Hayom interviews an anonymous rabbi from the Naftali Bennett-run party who told the paper, “Bennett needs to relax from his embrace of Lapid. We are not against the study of Torah. We are for the opportunity to share the burden [of universal draft]. We cannot go too far.”

Yedioth Ahronoth spells out what exactly why an alliance between Yesh Atid and Jewish Home makes for more difficult coalition building. “There is an understanding between me and Yair,” Bennett said. “Although the Likud has tried to separate us, we didn’t buy it.” The 31 combined seats of the two parties are enough to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government, who would only be able to cobble together 57 seats from the remaining parties (Netanyahu needs 61 seats to form a government). A source in the Likud said of the alliance, “They are just trying to squeeze Netanyahu to affect the creation of the coalition.” However, the source conceded that “in an extreme case they can prevent Netanyahu from forming a government.”

While the coalition talks continue, Yedioth reports that one potential prize may be off the list: the Foreign Ministry. The paper reports that the job of foreign minister has been saved for Avigdor Liberman, who resigned from the job to focus on the criminal proceedings against him. The paper quotes sources involved in the coalition talks that Netanyahu promised Liberman the job when the two parties merged for last round of elections. Speculation is that Yesh Atid leader, Yair Lapid, will be offered the Finance Ministry while former IDF chief and current Likud politician, Moshe Ya’alon, will replace Ehud Barak as defense minster.

State witnessin’ ain’t easy

Haaretz eschews politics for its top story and instead reveals that the country’s top trafficker in women was also a police informant who received immunity for his crimes. The paper spent over a year engaged in a court battle to print the name of Dudu Digmi, who was a police informant and “the biggest trafficker of women in Israeli history.” Digmi was granted immunity in 24 serious cases that were pending against him in return for his testimony and a promise not to engage in any crime until the end of the trial, a promise which he broke. During the period he was a state’s witness, Digmi was arrested for drugs and accused of joining forces with another criminal organization and committing extortion. Haaretz reports that Digmi oversaw an extensive network of trafficking that stretched to Russia, Cyprus and Britain.

Haaretz finally won the right to print Digmi’s name, but Maariv reports that the Interior Ministry is still refusing to register children of refugees by their given name. Asylum seekers from Congo told the paper that Interior Ministry is forcing the last name of their sons to be the same as the mother and not the father. The refugees said that only women receive the last name of the mothers and sons receive the last names of the fathers. The Interior Ministry responded to the article saying that the mother’s last name was only used in cases where there was no proof of paternity.

Monkeying around

All the papers printed a picture of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greeting the monkey that supposedly was launched into space last week, but Israel Hayom wrote about Ahmadinejad’s travel wishes (that is, aside from wanting to visit space). Ahmadinejad stated that he wants to visit Gaza during his historic visit to Egypt and hopes to one day visit Jerusalem. Ahmadinejad, who is scheduled to arrive in Egypt this week, said, “I hope the day comes that Jerusalem is liberated and I can go to the holy city and pray at Al-Aqsa.”

While Ahmadinejad searches for a way to visit Gaza, Yedioth reports that Syria is seeking a way out of its civil war. “Damascus searches for a ladder,” reads the article headline, describing how Syria likely won’t retaliate for a supposed Israeli attack at the end of January. The Syrian defense minster, Fahd Jassem al-Freij, said, “The bombing of the facility was an Israeli response to our attacks against the rebels.” However, the Iranians seem more intent on retaliation than the Syrians, as Iran’s National Security Council head Saeed Jalili said, “Israel will regret this attack on Syria.”

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