After weeks of waiting in the wings, behind Yair Lapid, behind Tzipi Livni, behind some guy named Ben Zygier who hasn’t even been alive for the last two years, Naftali Bennett finally gets his moment in the spotlight, taking top billing in nearly every newspaper across this great land.
Yes, Thursday was a slow news day. And what does the man of the Jewish Home have to thank for his spot at the top of the Israeli media heap? The words, made privately but conveniently leaked to every reporter and his brother, that he would rather force new elections than enter the coalition without his dear dear Yair (Lapid). How bromantic.
Israel Hayom sets the scene with a big ol’ “Game of Nerves” headline, pitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against Bennett, Lapid and for some reason Shaul Mofaz (the same Mofaz who barely scraped into the Knesset). The paper, which is seen as having ties to Netanyahu, reports that the Prime Minister’s Office believes that it is rubber and Bennett glue and whatever Bennett says will bounce off of the prime minister and come back to the home of the Jew (you got a better rhyme?).
Quoting a source close to Netanyahu, the paper reports that Likud-Beytenu plans to form a coalition of Hatnua, Kadima, Shas and United Torah Judaism, giving his government 57 seats and placing the blame for new elections squarely on Bennett’s shoulders. Analyst-opinionator extraordinaire Dan Margalit says that with each new entry into Netanyahu’s camp, it becomes less likely that Bennett, who campaigned on hooking up with Netanyahu, will find himself inside the cabinet.
“It’s true that the clock is ticking and for Bennett it will be hard to join after Hatnua, Kadima, and the Haredi bloc is already in, and nobody knows whether he can persist in his struggle to bend Netanyahu’s hand. The opposite is also true,” he writes.
Maariv, which liked its black-and-white negative exposure photo of Prisoner X on its front page Wednesday so much it now gives Tzipi Livni, Eli Yishai, Bennett and Lapid the same effect, reports that Bennett is now demanding that Netanyahu take back his deal to give Livni the Justice Ministry and a top position in talks with Palestinians as a precondition for Jewish Home joining in.
Shalom Yerushalmi opines that if Netanyahu were smart, he’d do whatever it takes to get Lapid and Bennett in now, or risk going to new elections and winding up being the head of third-largest party, begging for a seat at the table with Yair Lapid, and his long lost brother from another mother Bennett.
“The covenant between Lapid and Bennett is a blood covenant, with the strength of steel,” he writes, mixing metaphors. “Bennett feels that he owes his political fortunes to Lapid. The prime minister and especially [his wife] Sara, want a government with Lapid, the Haredim and without Bennett.… If Lapid wanted, he could be deep within the government, but he’s keeping the faith with Bennett, his new partner.”
Haaretz, the only paper not to lead off with Bennett, instead topping its page with the report of an Iranian-backed terror cell in Nigeria that was nabbed after surveilling Israeli targets in Lagos, reports that most parties are against Netanyahu’s plan for Haredi conscription in the army, known as the Kandel plan. Even Hatnua, which already joined the government, doesn’t find the program agreeable, according to Elazar Stern, a former head of the IDF’s education directorate and a top MK in the party, who spoke to the paper. But having it out there is politically expedient, Yair Ettinger writes:
“Under current political conditions, the Kandel plan is perhaps a good middle way between the minimalist plan of Moshe Ya’alon, written with the participation of the Haredi parties after the Plesner committee fell apart, and between Yair Lapid’s drastic plan to cut the number of yeshiva students to 400. The problem is that no coalition partner is prepared to live with it.”
Yedioth leads off with Bennett, but has not given up the ghost on Zygier in its inside pages, reporting that the jailed Mossad spy hanged in his cell for a full hour before guards noticed and called authorities. The paper, citing information that came into its hands, writes that there was in fact a monitor in the bathroom, and that guards were supposed to check the monitors in his cell a few times an hour, but took an hour to notice that he was not under any of the cameras. The paper also reports that because of Zygier’s special situation, he never saw the prison psychologist for an evaluation of his suicide risk.
The papers, in the fine tradition of Israelis sticking their noses in other families’ businesses, all report on the Israeli kid discovered by Israeli tourists living somewhat unhappily in a Buddhist monastery. Maariv reports that authorities are pressuring the family to bring the boy, who suffers from cancer, back and Israel Hayom wants to know what the whole country thinks about one family’s affair, making the case its “man on the street” question and also asking two experts to weigh in.
Two of the men on the street think the parents should be tarred and feathered, with only one saying he couldn’t put himself in their shoes. The two experts also say the boy needs to return, with one, a medical doctor, warning that leukemia could return and the boy needs to be monitored. The second, a child’s advocate, calls for the state to get involved in ensuring the boy’s wellbeing: “A child is not the property of the parents to just be moved from place to place from time to time without any limits,” Vered Vindman writes. I take it that means she doesn’t send her kids to sleepaway camp.
In Haaretz, Gideon Levy writes that any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will be empty words if Israel doesn’t make goodwill gestures first, to show that it’s committed to peace and not just an agreement: “The first step is, of course, to freeze construction in the settlements. A country that intends to return land doesn’t build on it. That’s elementary. Afterward, prisoners should be released. A country that unjustly puts people who were released in a prisoner exchange back in jail conveys every message but one of peace. A country that jails thousands of prisoners, some of whom are political prisoners in every way, deprived of rights and severely discriminated against, is not conveying good intentions either.”
Yedioth’s Yonatan Yavin uses a tongue-in-cheek “stone soup” reference to make a head-scratching point about Netanyahu trying to build a coalition out of nothing, but getting it piece by piece by asking for the world one thing at a time:
“And now, if he can manage to get the Haredim in for the price of the end of the state, and for a discount Mofaz will beckon to his whistle, and another mandate from the winery and another from the granary, and slowly a coalition will rise.”