Round two?
Hebrew media review

Round two?

Stalled coalition talks spark speculation that Israelis may head back to the polls

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, February 2013 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, February 2013 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

The issue on the media’s collective mind is whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will succeed in forming a coalition in time, and what will happen if he doesn’t, and the country is forced into a second round of elections.

A Maariv poll asks Israelis who they’d vote for if a new round of elections were held today, and the results were not very positive for Netanyahu. Likud-Beytenu would continue the free fall it witnessed in last month’s elections, taking a mere 28 seats. Maariv explains that Netanyahu is paying a heavy price with the public because of his management of coalition talks and “his insistence on including the ultra-Orthodox in the government, defying the mood of the elections.”

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would jump from its current 19 Knesset seats to 24. Jewish Home would win another seat and have 13. “In this circumstance Lapid himself could receive a mandate to form the next government from the president, along with [Jewish Home leader Naftali] Bennett, and from there the options are open,” the paper writes.

“Netanyahu would need to concede on including Lapid and Bennett in order to prevent new elections,” and should they refuse to join his government, he may turn to Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, who is projected to lose four seats should there be new elections.

“In the outside chance that there will be new elections, [Lapid] is likely to push his dream up one term — to be prime minister in 2013,” according to Maariv.

Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the man blocking Netanyahu’s chances of forming a coalition is former opposition head, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz. Mofaz was expected to follow Tzipi Livni’s suit and join Netanyahu’s coalition this week, but he instead opted to join Lapid and Bennett in a union against Netanyahu, the paper reports.

Mofaz said that after his meeting this week with Netanyahu, he is “closer to the Lapid-Bennett axis than joining the government.”

The three party leaders, Mofaz, Lapid and Bennett, held a closed-door meeting on Thursday, in which they agreed to join their 33 seats against Netanyahu’s coalition-building efforts. The basis for their alliance? A mutual insistence on a solution to the universal military draft issue. Lapid and Bennett believe Netanyahu will fold and ditch forming a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox, eventually conceding to the three parties’ demands.

The paper also runs a poll published on the Knesset Channel showing that if a second round of elections were held today, Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would skyrocket to 30 seats — making it the largest party in the Knesset. Likud-Beytenu would slip to a mere 22 seats, and Jewish Home would win 15.

Israel Hayom sees no such possibility occurring. It reports that Netanyahu instructed his coalition negotiation team “to do everything needed” in order for the Jewish Home party to join forces with Likud-Beytenu. The daily quotes Likud-Beytenu coalition brokers who say it’s their hope that after the tension with Jewish Home dies down, they’ll be able to turn a new page and start “serious coalition negotiations.”

Jewish Home negotiators said they want Likud to change Tzipi Livni’s newly-bestowed title of head negotiator with the Palestinians, calling the appointment “something we can’t live with.” Sources close to Bennett said the likelihood of the party breaking its alliance with Yesh Atid was slim.

Haaretz claims the precise opposite about Netanyahu, and says he wants neither Lapid nor Bennett in his governing coalition, but rather, Yachimovich.

“Netanyahu will try to win over Shelly Yachimovich. In the meantime, the Labor chair is playing hard to get. The premier views her demands in the realm of economic-social affairs as a surefire recipe to destroy the Israeli economy,” and she said after last week’s meeting with Netanyahu that disparities remain between their stances, the paper writes.

If Netanyahu can’t succeed in bringing in the entire Labor Party, Haaretz says he will try to create a fissure in the party, trying to get a third of its 15 MKs to join his coalition — enough to hold a majority if the ultra-Orthodox join him, as well.

Iran for a change and changes

Israel Hayom’s top story, somewhat predictably, deals with Iran’s nuclear program and a new IAEA report saying the Islamic Republic has increased its enrichment efforts ahead of talks with world powers. According to the IAEA report, Iran has started installing advanced centrifuges in the facility at Natanz, and has “expanded activity” at the military installation in Parchin.

The paper quotes Israel’s leader’s expected response: “It’s a very serious report,” Netanyahu said, “which proves Iran continues to advance quickly to the red line that I drew [famously, at the UN General Assembly]. Iran is closer today than ever before to acquiring enriched material for a nuclear bomb.”

Maariv, however, says the most concerning aspect of the report is that the IAEA says Iran has 167 kilograms of enriched uranium at 20% purity — “a borderline amount in terms of the red line that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted in his UN speech.”

“In order to create a bomb it requires more than 220 kilograms of enriched uranium of this level,” Maariv reports. “In practice, Iran has already created 327 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20%, but only 167 kilograms [of that amount] have been designated for this, and the remainder is used in research reactors.”

Haaretz’s editorial calls for education reform and making standardized tests mandatory in ultra-Orthodox schools.

“In recent years, the sums flowing to Haredi education have grown steadily, totaling NIS 2.1 billion in 2011 − growth much greater than the increase in the number of students.” The daily calls on the government’s new education minister to “levy financial sanctions on schools that do not comply with a law making standardized tests mandatory.”

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