For the past few days the question on the Israeli press’s mind was whether outgoing Communication Minister Moshe Kahlon would break from the Likud party to form his own social action party. The answer became an official “No” on Saturday.

“I’m not running,” reads Israel Hayom’s front-page headline, paraphrasing a statement that Kahlon issued Saturday evening.

“I announced that I was taking a time-out in my political life and I intend to stick with that decision,” Kahlon is quoted saying. He then praised the Likud party — as if he had never noticed the various polls that gave him at least 10 seats in the next Knesset. “The Likud is home, my political home and the home for social action. In the upcoming elections I will work for a Likud victory.”

Yedioth Ahronoth seems to regret Kahlon’s decision not to run and uses its front page to show that Kahlon may not be completely happy in his home party, despite his statements. “Don’t believe in Netanyahu,” reads a headline, which attributes the words to private conversations held by Kahlon. The article’s headline attributes an even spicier quote to Kahlon, “I’m disappointed in Netanyahu but I won’t hurt Likud.”

Haaretz features an opinion piece by Yossi Verter on its front page that details the real reason that Kahlon may have decided against forming a party: not enough time. “An election is brutal. Kahlon, to fulfill his dream, would have had no time to form a party, assemble its mechanisms, create a party list, plan a campaign, recruit activists, volunteers and money, and face the prying media.”

Verter points out that aside from the daunting task of establishing a party, the results might not have been what the polls predicted. “The 12-15 seats, Kahlon understood (or someone explained it to him) that this was an opening. This was the ceiling, not the floor.”

Diplomatic confusion?

Maariv publishes an internal Foreign Ministry report blasting the political leadership of Netanyahu and claiming that “Israel has become a sitting duck” in the diplomatic arena. The report was written by D.J. Schneeweiss, head of the Foreign Ministry’s de-legitimization desk, and adds that “there is no successful daily agenda, but instead we are reacting to the agendas of others.”

The report also criticizes the government’s opposition to the Palestinians’ request to be recognized by the UN. “The recognition of the majority of the countries of the world of a Palestinian state does not mean the rejection or denial of the State of Israel.”

On the Palestinian front, all the papers react favorably to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s statements to Channel 2 (except for Israel Hayom, which buries the story in a tiny article on Page 17). Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the Palestinian president discussed the possibility of another intifada and his returning to Safed, his birthplace. “As long as I sit here, in this role, there will not be another intifada. We are working only along diplomatic and peaceful routes.” The article headline quotes another part of the interview, “I was born in Safed, but I do not want to return to live there.”

That comment sparked protests against Abbas for what is perceived as his abandonment of the Palestinian right of return. Hamas Prime Minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh said, “No one has the right to give up on the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and villages.”

In the opinion pages, Maariv commentator Ben-Dror Yemini writes that “the ball is in Netanyahu’s court,” in relation to the peace process. “[Abbas’s] new statements… in which he gives up on the right of return, demand a serious and leveraged Israeli response,” writes Yemini. He urges Netanyahu to test Abbas, to respond and see if the statement is true. “If Abbas folds and shirks, he will show his true colors. If he answers in the affirmative, it will display leadership that Palestinians and Israelis need.” He concludes his piece urging Netanyahu to actio:, “Abbas made a small step, and perhaps it will be proved meaningless. But it is still a step that should not be ignored. The ball is now in Netanyahu’s court. Do something with it.”

Haaretz interviews Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who sees negotiations with the Palestinians as being key to the upcoming Israeli elections. Barak praised the PA leader:

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] is a Palestinian leader that worries about his people’s interests, but it shows that there is someone to talk to. It is impossible to say seriously now that there isn’t a partner [for peace],” he said.

Aside from his Haaretz interview, Ehud Barak had to do some backtracking this weekend. Israel Hayom reports that defense Ministry official Amos Gilad said on Friday that Egypt has become a “horrifying dictatorship,” and that Barak issued a statement that tried to calm the situation. He said that “the point of Gilad’s statements were to emphasize the strategic importance of the peace agreement with Egypt and the importance of normalized relations with Egypt.” An Egyptian official told the paper that while there was a downgrade in political relations that is not the case with security forces.

Election fever

All the papers are gearing up for the upcoming American elections on Tuesday with pages dedicated to the last-minute jockeying of Obama and Romney. Yedioth includes maps for both candidates showing the 10  states that each is flying to over the two days. Israel Hayom sends commentator Boaz Bismuth to Boston to cover the elections from there. Maariv focuses on the aftermath of Sandy and how that could affect the election. Haaretz watches the races in the battleground state of Ohio. All in all, the Israeli press is just as geared up as its American counterparts for the election.