The papers are divided regarding the most important story going into the weekend: fateful decisions surrounding the peace talks, or the critical condition of Ariel Sharon.
The front page of Haaretz basically says it’s crunch time for Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Its headline paraphrases US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is again in Israel. “Kerry: Everything is known, tough decisions will have to be made within weeks.” The article focuses mostly on Kerry, who is in the region trying to close the gaps that are preventing the Israelis and Palestinians from signing a framework agreement for negotiations. Kerry stated that the framework agreement would deal with all the key issues: refugees, borders, and Jerusalem.
Haaretz’s Barak Ravid calls this moment the point of no return. “The Israelis’ willingness to enter intensive talks based on the ‘framework agreement’ will mean setting out on a path from which there is no return,” he writes. He praises Kerry for getting the two leaders to this point, saying that Kerry has been coddling both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the past months, praising them and supporting them at every turn. While the two leaders may be on the cusp of something historic, both of them know that “the cost of saying ‘no’ might be greater than the cost of saying ‘yes.’”
Maariv puts peace front-and-center, previewing three op-eds about it on its front page under the heading, “Left or right — will Netanyahu open 2014 with a historic declaration?” While the op-eds are relegated to the weekend supplement, it’s clear from the article that Netanyahu is not so thrilled with Abbas lately.
The paper reports that Netanyahu thanked Kerry for his efforts to achieve peace, but then told him, “In light of the actions and statements Palestinian leaders have made, there is growing doubt in Israel over whether they are committed to it.” The actions to which Netanyahu are referring are that of Abbas praising prisoners who were recently released from Israeli prisons. “How can President Abbas say that he was against terrorism, while embracing the terrorists?” Netanyahu asked.
Along with Netanyahu’s simmering anger at Abbas, in an accompanying article Maariv highlights some of the costs that peace might bring — notably the collapse of the coalition. Jewish Home leader (and minister of economics and trade) Naftali Bennett warned the Prime Minister’s Office that Jewish Home would not stay in the coalition at all costs. However, the party tried to take an upbeat tone in its warning, saying it was willing to continue negotiations, but that the basic principles of the framework agreement must not be accepted.
While Haaretz and Maariv focus on the critical few weeks for the peace talks, Yedioth and Israel Hayom focus on the critical few days ahead for former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Yedioth Ahronoth dedicates the majority of its front page to Sharon, but skips over the news — that he’s in critical condition — and instead goes straight for the heartstrings. “I said ‘Good morning, Arik,’ and I felt that he knew me,” explains Sharon’s doctor on the front page.
Yedioth features a two-page spread under the general heading, “Once a warrior, always a warrior,” and tells how Sharon is once again fighting for his life. Sharon’s sons, Omri and Gilad, told the paper that, while they are praying for a miracle, they are preparing to say goodbye.
Israel Hayom also puts Sharon on its front page and, in addition, gives the former PM a two-page spread, complete with photos of Sharon throughout the years, and an op-ed on the chances of his survival. Professor Yaniv Almog, who heads the intensive care unit at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, doesn’t write about Sharon specifically but writes that, as more vital systems collapse, the chances of survival shrink. However, the doctor does highlight some good news: “Kidney failure happens frequently, but it also has a high recovery potential.” Still, the doctor cautions that recovery depends on a lot of factors, including age and other chronic diseases the patient may have.
Brothers in bombs
Ten days after a bomb was placed on a bus in Bat Yam, the security services announced that the perpetrators have been captured. Yedioth reports that the entire terrorist cell was apprehended, including a pair of brothers who had previously been arrested by Israel (one of whom was a Palestinian police officer). The attempted attack occurred on December 22, 2013, when a passenger on bus route 240 noticed a suspicious bag left on the bus. All the passengers were able to get off the bus safely and only a police sapper was lightly injured when trying to diffuse the bomb.
In Lebanon, after a car bomb in the Hezbollah-controlled area of Beirut killed seven people on Thursday, Israel Hayom’s Boaz Bismuth writes, “Lebanon is heading in a troubling direction.” Bismuth writes that all the attacks — including last week’s assassination of Mohammed Shatah — are related to the Syrian civil war, and that the conflict could plunge Lebanon back into civil war. The involvement of Hezbollah in the Syrian civil war has now led to a sad, new reality: “The Lebanese people understand that terrorism has again become an integral part of their lives.”
While Hezbollah is under attack in Lebanon, Maariv reports that the IDF recently completed classroom training to educate border communities what to expect in a future Hezbollah terror attack. In the training, communities learned how to work with the Golani and Paratrooper brigades in the moments immediately following an attack. While the paper doesn’t outline any specific threats, it does say that the IDF expects any future attack from Hezbollah to be significant — and more destructive — than past attacks.