Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett’s announcement close to midnight Thursday, that he would leave the coalition should Israel go ahead with the release of Israeli-Arab prisoners, offers the Friday Hebrew papers a handy springboard to discuss the unsubstantiated rumors about the supposed progress in restoring the talks — speculation denied by Israel, the US, and the Palestinians.
Yedioth Ahronoth suggests that should Bennett withdraw the Jewish Home party from the government, it “would cause a chain reaction, as Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon have already said they too will quit if Israel agrees to a mass release of terrorists and a construction freeze in the settlements.”
The paper outlines the various options for reconfiguring the coalition without Jewish Home, which would leave it with 56 seats: “The estimation is that the ultra-Orthodox will be unable to join due to the draft law (and it’s hard to say that Lapid will give up on it). Therefore, if there’s an agreement, one of the only options for the government’s survival is if Labor agrees, ‘for the sake of peace,’ to join it.”
Poking fun at both Bennett and Secretary of State John Kerry, Sima Kadmon writes an op-ed entitled “The Jewish ‘Poof,” on the economics and trade minister’s statement:
“We can assume that this dramatic announcement did not land in the Prime Minister’s Office with a ‘poof,’ but rather more like a ‘boom,’ ” she writes. How foolish Bennett must feel with the meetings taking place days after he suggested his Plan B of annexing the settlement blocs, she writes. “Bennett realized that it’s not the peace talks that are collapsing, but rather his alternative plan,” she continues.
“In order not to appear as if he’s following Danon, Elkin, and Hotovely, he decided to beat them to it. But he ought to know that the most important part of making an exit is the timing. The coming days will tell if he was correct.”
Israel Hayom downplays the ultimatum, stressing that Likud politicians remain unperturbed by Bennett’s statements. An unnamed Likud official told the paper that “we are not holding anyone here [in the government] by force. This is Bennett’s known strategy — to present hollow threats that will never come to fruition.”
Haaretz takes the threat more seriously, calling it “the most explicit threat Bennett has made with regard to breaking up the coalition in [the history of] this government.”
From there, the papers wrap up the various statements from anonymous sources about the meeting between chief negotiators Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat and US Special Envoy Martin Indyk.
Haaretz quotes a Palestinian official decrying Israel’s insistence that the prisoner release be contingent on an extension of talks.
“The Palestinian stance is to continue with negotiations, but for a specific, defined purpose — that the negotiations end at a set time, and bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said. “The Israelis are conducting the negotiations to extend the talks, as if the goal is the process itself,” continued the official.
Israel’s notice Thursday evening that it will cut tax funding to the Palestinian Authority receives minimal coverage. Haaretz briefly mentions that the sum amounts to some $100 million, and will be granted to the Israel Electric Corporation to cover the debt owed by the PA. Israel Hayom says NIS 200 million will be allocated to the Israel Electric Corporation and hospitals, and names MK Yuval Steinitz as the “unnamed official” who made the announcement Thursday.
The newspapers also continue to cover the ongoing arrests in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, following clashes with Israeli troops and the destruction of an army post at the settlement on Tuesday. Yedioth reports that a minor and six adults — including a teacher, a gardener, and a right-wing activist — appeared in court Thursday, but due to the minor’s involvement in the case, it was a closed session. Israel Hayom writes that there are eight suspects, five of whom will be held in custody until Monday.
Haaretz names six of the suspects, and writes that included amongst the accused are a former journalist and Yitzhar spokesman, and a youth program coordinator.
Yedioth reports that the settlement is set to hold internal elections after Passover for a vote of confidence regarding the position held by Rabbi David Dudkovitz, who is associated with the moderate camp in the settlement.
The formulation on the ballot will read as follows: “The settlement of Yitzhar opposes harming the security forces in the settlement and in the surrounding areas. Any question regarding the boundaries of the public struggle will be decided upon by the rabbi.”