Heavy is the head that wears the crown. And for Benjamin Netanyahu, the man Time magazine called King Bibi just 10 months ago, the weight is growing heavier by the day. While rumors of progress in coalition talks have swirled all week with no results, Netanyahu must now request — from President Shimon Peres on Saturday night– a two-week extension to form a government. Netanyahu will then have till March 16 to try to hammer out an agreement from the three-ring circus that is the coalition talks.
The front-page headline of Yedioth Ahronoth showcases the demands of Yair Lapid, the chairman of Yesh Atid, “Lapid: I won’t sit with the ultra-Orthodox.” Yesh Atid has told Likud-Beytenu that the coalition will either be with the ultra-Orthodox, or with Yesh Atid and Jewish Home. Aryeh Deri, one of the three leaders of Shas, responded to Lapid’s statements, charging that “behind the issue of a universal draft is hatred of the ultra-Orthodox.”
Aside from Yesh Atid and (less adamantly) Jewish Home not wanting to join a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox, the parties are not happy that Likud-Beytenu granted Tzipi Livni the power to oversee negotiations with the Palestinians. Maariv reports that Likud-Beytenu has agreed to try to amend the agreement with Livni’s Hatnua (The Movement) faction, limiting her authority to negotiate. According to the daily newspaper, Yesh Atid feels that Hatnua shouldn’t have two ministries. No response from Livni or her party about the possible changes.
That’s not the only trouble that the government has to worry about: Maariv’s lead story focuses on the European Union wanting to mark all products that are made in the West Bank. In a letter sent to all the EU foreign ministers, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy head, urged all members to adopt a system by which Israeli products from the West Bank could be marked. Maariv includes a short list of the brands that could be hurt if the system is adopted, including the cosmetics firm, Ahava; the soft-drink maker, Sodastream; and the salad-maker, Shamir.
Yedioth reports that EU pressure isn’t the only international pressure on Netanyahu right now. The paper also cites American sources who warn that if the coalition talks drag on for much longer, it could affect US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit. The Americans have warned that if there is not a coalition by March 16 — four days before Obama is expected to arrive — the president will have to cancel his trip.
Israel Hayom calls the upcoming days critical for coalition-building efforts, but limits its coverage to a short summary article about the coalition talks and an opinion piece by Dan Margalit, who blandly urges that the process end as soon as possible. Margalit argues that the pieces are all there to make a very strong coalition and that it should only take another two or three days, but he says politics will probably drag out the process. He closes his piece by referring to JFK’s speech in 1962 to Nobel Prize winners (though Margalit erroneously attributes it to a cabinet speech) that the assembled talent in the room was the greatest the White House had ever seen, save for when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Margalit then writes, “We don’t have a Jefferson, but we have a good pool of possible ministers.”
It’s understandable if Netanyahu is getting fed up with the process — parties fighting with each other, the EU wanting to boycott products, and Obama possibly canceling. Perhaps it would be better to start afresh and have new elections? The front page of Haaretz suggests that may not be the best idea for Netanyahu. The paper reveals the results of a new poll, which shows that Yair Lapid would be the big winner if another vote were held. The Internet poll gives Yesh Atid 31 seats to Likud-Beytenu’s 26, followed by Jewish Home with 13, Shas with 10 and Labor dropping to nine.
Also making the front pages across Friday’s newspapers was the story that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has finally given the green light to investigate a judge accused of beating his children. Yedioth reports that the allegations first came to light three years ago, and the delay has been blamed on a clerical error. Yedioth also reports that the judge — whose name is being withheld — started attending a workshop on violence, but did not complete the entire course.
Israel’s underworld may also need a workshop against violence, as Israel Hayom reports another car bombing in Rishon Lezion on Thursday. Two people were killed — in what police suspect was a “work accident” — while handling an explosive device they planned on using to assassinate rival criminal figures. The two men killed, who had ties to the Abergil crime family, brings to a dozen the number of underworld figures killed in two years in the cities south of Tel Aviv. Residents of Rishon Lezion told the paper that they are afraid to walk around the neighborhood because of the violence.
Maariv gets an exclusive interview with Hannah Emter, an Arab woman who was attacked in Jerusalem by a group of young Jewish girls. Emter, who is two months’ pregnant, was waiting at a Light Rail stop in Jerusalem when she says three Jewish girls approached her and asked her if she was Arab. When she replied in the affirmative, they spit on her, she says.
Emter tells the paper that, after the assault, she pushed one girl away out of self-defense, and was then attacked by all three girls, who forcibly removed her head covering. Emter says that, since the attack, she has been afraid to leave the house and has yet to go to the police. Bystanders who took pictures of the attack were the ones who prompted the police to open an investigation into the incident.