The old adage “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done” seems to be the principle guiding the coalition talks. All the Friday papers report on the latest developments in forming a coalition — which is that there will be a coalition… next week… probably.
With time winding down for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the papers all predict that there will be an agreement — just not today. The headline in Israel Hayom is the plain “Emerging: Significant progress in negotiations,” while Yedioth Ahronoth goes with “En route to a government.”
Haaretz explains in its coverage that everything hinges on Yair Lapid deciding that he is willing to give up on his dream of being foreign minister, which, according to the paper, he is considering in exchange for an additional ministerial post and funding for issues that Yesh Atid has championed. Yet the paper points out that there is still a long way to go in the talks, despite the Likud’s desire to have a coalition in place by Monday, and that Likud-Beytenu and Yesh Atid are still disagreeing about the size of the cabinet: Likud wants 23-25 ministers; Yesh Atid wants a lean 18.
Israel Hayom reports that the other coalition holdout, the Jewish Home party, is also demanding some changes before agreeing to enter the government. The party is looking to expand the Ministry of Religious Affairs so that it can easily serve a larger segment of society. As it currently stands, religious institutions are tucked away under various government agencies, e.g., the branch that controls yeshivas is under the Education Ministry. Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett wants to bring all the religious institutions under one roof, so that all religious matters are handled in a single place.
“A government in exile,” is how Yedioth describes the travels of past government, as the paper tallies the total amount of time that ministers were abroad. During the last term, government ministers together spent a total of 7.8 years outside of Israel. Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman is at the top of the list with 280 days abroad, followed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak with 248. Rounding out the top 10 is the prime minister, with only 95 days abroad, but the paper points out that the figure doesn’t include secret trips.
One trip that isn’t so secret is Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel. Yedioth reports that in a meeting on Thursday with Jewish leaders in Washington, Obama clarified his position on Iran. “I’m not going to go around beating my chest just to make some people happy. I need to manage negotiations and I do not want to ruin a chance for a diplomatic solution.”
Going from the Golan
Syria dominates the first two pages of Maariv, as the paper reports that Israel fears that the UN may abandon the Syrian border after its peacekeepers were kidnapped there. Israel worries that, even if the Filipino soldiers are released unharmed, the UN may still decide to remove the force that has been there since 1974. The paper reports that the kidnapping has raised the question of what Syria will look like after the civil war and if the peacekeeping force will remain after the fall of President Bashar Assad.
Trying to figure out what is happening in Syria may have just become a bit more difficult for Israel, if you believe the reports by Assad’s regime. Maariv includes in its Syria coverage an article about how Assad’s forces found spying equipment hidden inside fake rocks; they have accused Israel of providing the equipment to the rebels, who then allegedly hid it in fake rocks. No official response from Israel was reported.
If Israel did provide equipment to the Syrian rebels, it may have to think about supplying a little bit less because, as Israel Hayom reports, Israel is being affected by American budgetary slashes. The latest on the cuts is actually good news for Israel, since it was originally projected that there would be a $250-million reduction in aid from the US. However, Israel was told on Thursday that the cut would “only” be $150 million.
Yedioth reports that there is need for more foreign workers in Israel, but not for low-skill jobs. Instead, Israel is facing a doctor shortage and is looking toward Eastern Europe to find doctors in fields such as internal medicine and pediatrics. The head of the Sheba Medical Center, Professor Zeev Rotstein, stated, “We are not taking average or below-average doctors. We are taking the best and testing them.”
Let’s hope that the majority of these doctors are based in cities, because — according to an article in Maariv — that’s where the majority of traffic accidents occur. The police released a list of the 200 most dangerous roads in the country and stated that 74 percent of all traffic accidents occur in urban areas. Some of the more famous roads to be listed are Hebron Road in Jerusalem, with 214 accidents in the past year, and Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, with 195.
In the opinion pages, Haaretz writer Yoel Marcus recounts how Netanyahu bungled the coalition talks by failing to foresee the Yesh Atid-Jewish Home alliance. Marcus states that Bibi’s signing a deal with Tzipi Livni was a sign of panic that his strategy wasn’t working. Referring to Lapid and Bennett, Marcus writes, “Their tactical decision to stick together was a tough blow to Bibi, particularly because he didn’t see it coming.”