Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman is back on front pages, but this time not for alleged past sins, but for plans and designs.

Both Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth prominently display the Yisrael Beytenu head’s latest salvo in the war against ultra-Orthodox party Shas. Yedioth thinks his quote is so Bartlett’s-worthy that it splashes it across the top of its A1: “Give Shas tourism and infrastructure. Atias is a good fit for tourism; he’ll travel the world.” For those scratching their heads (read: everyone) Haaretz fills us in: “Liberman to the Russian press, Interior and Housing are ours”

If you’re still confused, both stories explain that Liberman, no longer content with the two relatively minor ministries his party was given last time around (Tourism and Infrastructure), is making a power play for the two ministries that control much of Israel’s domestic policy: Interior and Housing and Construction, both of which are zealously guarded by Shas in order to keep things nice and Orthodox.

If anybody ever said sarcasm and cynicism can’t be conveyed in the written word, they’ve never read Liberman “praise” one of his enemies. Some samples, on top of the one above:

- “Shas will get the Infrastructure portfolio, which is very nice, and Tourism. We will push the economy forward, and I hope that through the merit of their prayers, we’ll be more successful in the economy.”

- “Aryeh [Deri] doesn’t need to be a minister, that’s too little for him. He needs to be above all that.”

- “I think Atias wasn’t a completely bad minister overall, in Communications and Housing, but we’ll be better.”

Livni? Livno!

Liberman of course isn’t the only one trying to make pre-election power plays. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will likely be the one calling the shots come January 23, takes to the pages of Haaretz to strike back at reports that he and Tzipi Livni, she of the center-left Hatnua, are in talks to work together after the election. To paraphrase the prime minister: HELL NO!

Quoting Netanyahu secondhand, the paper reports that Netanyahu made it clear that Livni, a former foreign minister, won’t be allowed anywhere near anything diplomatic in his government, not even his Diplomacy board game.

“Livni managed diplomatic negotiations badly and wrongly, in a way that is not at all acceptable to me,” he told a few of his Likud circle, according to the report. “Thus, there is no chance that I’ll give her a hand in this department, on the assumption that she would be a member of the next government under my leadership.”

Netanyahu wasn’t only slagging Livni on Wednesday, though. He also saved some opprobrium for Syrian dictator-butcher Bashar Assad, traveling all the way to Jordan for the pleasure and garnering some heavy press coverage for the move. Israel Hayom puts the news up high that Netanyahu powwowed with Jordanian King Abdullah over how to deal with Syria’s chemical weapons. Writing in the paper, Boaz Bismuth says not to worry, because by this time next year Assad will be history (didn’t they say that last year?) though it won’t be via the rebels, and we should think of Syria as more like Vietnam than Libya.

“The war in Syria isn’t being managed between Assad and rebels, but rather between Washington and Moscow,” he writes. “Russia knows that the violent Syrian conflict isn’t good for the Americans: On one hand, Washington doesn’t want to act militarily; on the other hand, it’s hard for the most powerful and important country in the world to allow killing like this without responding.”

You don’t have to go to Syria to die, though. Maariv leads off with a special report that cancer rates are going up up up. The numbers show that since 1980, the cancer-suffering population has more than doubled, and in the case of women nearly tripled. The paper homes in on Rambam hospital in smog-ridden Haifa, where there are so many new patients a “cancer industry” has popped up, and there is overcrowding in the cancer ward.

“You came on a day when it’s not crowded, but there are days it’s impossible to breathe here,” Ronen Shamir, a brain cancer patient, tells Maariv. “Everything here goes according to open spots. Sometimes you get treatment in the hallway. The staff here is excellent, but what’s happening here is simply crazy. However nice the nurses are, they also can’t deal with the overcrowding.”

Binational problems

In Yedioth, celebrated writer A.B. Yehoshua tries to get to the heart of what plagues Israeli society, and he finds it in the encroaching danger of a binational state, which he calls on the country’s leftists to do everything in their power to stop.

“This is the heart of the disagreement between the two camps. Against the hard work of expanding the settlement enterprise via the piling on of settlement blocs, non-evacuation from areas and unchecked building in places that were never part of the geographic history of Jerusalem… there needs to be in the elections a stable inarguable stance that says — stop. Yes, it’s very possible that the Palestinians, who are seemingly refusing, incomprehensibly, to talks with Israelis, are indeed interested in dragging Israel into the trap of a binational state, and are patiently nurturing the illusion that a binational state will turn over time into a Palestinian state between the river and the sea.”

In Maariv, Haim Assa adds some ammo to the argument, writing that a binational state will have a binational army, and that may not work so well.

“We all agree that without a diplomatic solution with the Palestinians in the next few years, Israel will become a state with two nations of similar size, or even an Arab majority. If so, we can ask if an Israel without a Jewish majority will still be able to depend on the army’s strength. And if we change the words ‘Jewish and democratic’ to just ‘democratic’ the question just becomes stronger.”