As the new government prepares more economic reforms, the labor unions are getting ready for battle. Today’s papers are dominated by the treasury’s proposed budget cuts and a possible massive nationwide strike in the making, pushing the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime to the inner pages.
“Confrontation,” reads Yedioth Ahronoth‘s headline, with Histadrut Labor Union leader Ofer Eini pictured opposite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
“We’ll use every means at our disposal,” Eini declares, calling upon the government to talk with the Histadrut and not make one-sided decisions, while Netanyahu is quoted as saying that “no strike will deter us.” While many of the budget cuts and plans aren’t known yet, the proposed construction of a new port is stirring up a storm.
Israel Hayom‘s feature mentions two plans in the making: Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom’s promise to reduce the cost of water by 15 percent, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s proposed moves aimed at reducing the cost of cars.
Though Maariv places the potential labor strike and economic reforms high on its cover, its leading story is about a US initiative to transfer billions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority, earmarked for financial development and creation of tens of thousands of new jobs.
The idea, US Secretary of State John Kerry says, is to bring large American and European companies “looking to invest in places they can bring change, where the bottom line of possible profit isn’t the determining factor.”
According to the report, one of the problems facing the plan, which is in line with Netanyahu’s vision of an “economic peace,” is the need for land in Area C — which, according to the Oslo Accords, is under Israeli administrative rule. That’s something Netanyahu is reluctant to cede.
Haaretz is the only paper to dedicate much of its front page to former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s trial, the evidence phase of which is opening today.
Liberman stepped down as foreign minister on December 14, after the state attorney announced his intention to file an indictment against him over what then appeared to be relatively minor allegations of breach of trust and fraud. But on December 30, Liberman was indicted on sharpened charges.
Next to its story on the trial, Haaretz reports yet another possible budget slash, a planned cut of NIS 1.5 billion from the education budget. Such a move, the paper warns, “would likely lead to tensions between Lapid and [Education Minister Shai] Piron” — Nos. 1 and 2 of the Yesh Atid party.
One tax change was finalized by the Knesset Finance Committee on Thursday as its members hiked the taxes on beer. Yedioth Ahronoth questions the logic behind the idea, pointing out that highly alcoholic beverages such as vodka aren’t affected.
“The high tax on beer creates a situation in which it’s better to consume drinks with a much higher percentage of alcohol — like whisky or vodka,” the paper says. “Beer is a drink with a relatively low volume of alcohol compared to more distilled drinks that have more of a potential to be damaging,” says Dr. Miki Reiter, a former Health Ministry official who specializes in addiction.
Lapid is like a new turbo engine, getting things done with lots of energy from within, veteran columnist Amnon Lord writes in Maariv, comparing him and his actions this week to those of former prime minister Ariel Sharon in the months before Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza.
“What’s incredible is that Lapid is selling the policy of a free, competitive market under the flags of ‘equality’ and ‘social protests,’ and that is working for him and succeeding,” Lord writes, saying Netanyahu couldn’t have pushed these reforms — part of his ideological viewpoint for decades — without his new finance minister.
In contrast to Lapid’s success, Lord states, Economic and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett has disappeared, especially in regard to his party’s traditional spoken support of the ultra-Orthodox when they and Jewish tradition are being bashed. This, he explains, is because Bennett knows the cuts and reforms will take their toll on his voters too. “It’s a bad week for the Jewish Home and a frightfully successful one for Lapid.”
All the Hebrew dailies mention the possible use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces in the ongoing civil war; which a top IDF analyst claimed has already happened and which was later denied by Israeli and American officials.
Yoav Limor, one of Israel’s leading military reporters and analysts, writes in Yisrael Hayom that the comments by Maj.-Gen. Itai Brun “were a rough mistake,” adding that someone “who knows all the secrets and is involved in every decision should have known that he is crossing a red line and entering a minefield.” However, Limor says, there are points worth mentioning in the aftermath of Brun’s statement.
“It’s likely that in Syria some people are wondering how Israel knows what weapons were used and against whom,” Limor says, adding that questions of trust have also emerged between Washington and Jerusalem. More importantly, he writes, “we’ve learned again that the US simply doesn’t want to use military force in the region.” Despite rhetoric used by American officials, the Obama administration “is looking for any excuse — including doubting seemingly solid intelligence assessments by a close and reliable ally — to avoid taking action.”