President Shimon Peres gave Benjamin Netanyahu the official nod to form a new government Saturday night, but the task of assembling a coalition may be even tougher than it seems.
Yedioth Ahronoth alludes to the challenge in it headline “Catch 61” with the 61 referring to the slim majority that the right-wing bloc holds over the center-left bloc. The paper explains that if Netanyahu wants a larger coalition it may have to include Yesh Atid and leave Shas out in the cold.
Aside from outlining four possible coalitions, some with the ultra-Orthodox and some without, the paper also recaps the positions of the possible coalition partners on key subjects of military service, the budget, and the peace process. Some positions that could make for interesting negotiations are the opposing viewpoints held by the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties on the peace process (Jewish Home against, Yesh Atid for), and Likud’s promise to balance the budget but not raise taxes.
Haaretz‘s front page focuses on the about-face Netanyahu made in his speech Sunday night, in which he called for a return to peace talks and to form a national unity government. The paper suspects that the speech was tailored for his possible coalition partners, particularly Yesh Atid.
“Now, a moment after the elections, Netanyahu has suddenly returned to use the word ‘peace’ — a word that was absent during the entire campaign — and called directly on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to renew peace talks,” it writes.
Whatever the tactics that Netanyahu might use to establish a coalition, Dan Margalit writes in Israel Hayom that the negotiations need to be completed quickly. Margalit insists that even though Netanyahu has a month to establish a coalition there is no reason to wait until the last moment. “This is because there are no real debates on the basic principles of the government,” Margalit writes. “Everyone assumes there will be real progress on the universal draft, there won’t be ministers without portfolios… and everyone knows that the economy needs a painful recovery period.” He concludes his column by urging Netanyahu to tell the other parties not to waste time and get a move on.
Safe in Syria
While government officials may be contemplating what to do next in Syria, the newspapers are still stuck on last week’s mysterious attack in Syria, which has been attributed to Israel. Haaretz tries to make sense of the contradictory reports — was the target a weapons convoy? was it a research facility? — by theorizing that a convoy was attacked while sitting at the research facility. In support, the paper notes that the research facility at Jamarya is only eight kilometers from a border crossing into Lebanon.
Haaretz’s theory may be interesting, but it is the only paper not to publish a Time magazine report summed up by Israel Hayom in the headline, “Israel attacked more that two sites in Syria.” The piece, which quotes heavily from the Time article, highlights that it is not just Hezbollah that Israel is worried about, but also the local rebel movements associated with al-Qaeda, and it may be easier to simply destroy their weapons. The article also points out that Israel has received a “green light” from the United States to launch more attacks if necessary.
Maariv is alone in not focusing on the coalition building as its top story, instead printing a translated article from The Sunday Times that says that Israel may be planning to build a security zone inside Syria. According to the article, plans have been drawn up and submitted to Netanyahu that would create a 16-kilometer (10-mile) security zone inside Syria along the Israeli-Syrian border. The plan calls for the security zone to be manned by one tank battalion and two infantry divisions. The article quotes one of the people behind the plan: “The heart of the plan is that a security zone will be established with the cooperation of local villages. If Syria remains unstable, we may need to stay there for many years.”
Talk it out
Yedioth has an update on the Iranian situation, complete with brief pictures of its new fighter jet and possible space fraud. The main thrust of the article is the announcement by US Vice President Joe Biden that the United States is open to direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Danny Ayalon, the deputy foreign minister, told Yedioth that Israel is not against the opening of negotiations between Iran and the United States. “This type of dialogue can be useful,” Ayalon said, “but we don’t see any change coming from Tehran.”
While Danny Ayalon doesn’t see any change out of Tehran, Haaretz’s editorial doesn’t see any change out of Jerusalem on settlement activity. The paper, responding to the latest report out of the UN Human Rights Council, which blasted Israel for its settlement activity, warns against Israel dismissing the report due to the UN “built-in bias” against Israel. “Israel would do well to treat the report as a summary of the international consensus on its policy in the territories, and acknowledge that this policy is not only destructive to Israel but has also isolated it in the world and rendered it vulnerable.”