1. Put us out of our misery: In three days, Israelis will return, yet again, to the ballot box for the third election in under a year. The vote is widely seen as unlikely to break the year-long political deadlock and most pundits are already predicting a fourth election. Some, however, demand a breakthrough.
- In Yedioth Ahronoth, veteran columnist Nachum Barnea writes: “If the votes don’t break the deadlock, the party leaders will need to break it, even at the expense of betraying the commitments they made this week. [Shas leader Aryeh] Deri or [Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor] Liberman, [Likud leader Benjamin] Netanyahu or [Blue and White leader Benny] Gantz — someone must act. Deri could leave the right-wing bloc. Liberman could join the right. Netanyahu could clinch a plea bargain and Gantz could retract his pledge ruling out [a partnership] with Netanyahu. None of the options are easy, but each one — okay, nearly each one — is better than the continued addiction to the dictates of the minority, the base. One could have also predicted that the parties would have grown more flexible between rounds [of elections]. The opposite has happened: They’ve grown more extreme.”
- He adds: “To sum up the third round of elections is like blessing a bride and groom on their third wedding. There is nothing promising about a third attempt by people who have already failed twice. The joy is marred by concerns that the fourth time is just around the corner. The bride feigns joy; the groom hides his doubts.”
- Yedioth Ahronoth offers five possible post-election scenarios for a coalition, while conceding that most are far-fetched and fourth elections are the most likely outcome. Either Netanyahu will surge and the right-wing will somehow manage to pick up 61 seats, building a narrow right-wing government; MKs from rival blocs will defect and join the other side, for the sake of building a coalition; a Likud-Blue and White unity government will be assembled against all odds (both Netanyahu and Gantz failed to do this after the September vote); Gantz will build a minority government that rests on the outside support of the Joint List (the paper concedes this to be a near impossibility); or fourth elections.
- “As bleak as it sounds, based on the current polls this [fourth elections] is currently the leading option.”
2. Fourth time’s the charm? In Haaretz, by contrast, the paper’s columnists say a fourth election would be preferable to a Netanyahu-led government.
- Columnist Yossi Verter insists parties should dig in their heels and avoid collaborating with Netanyahu at any cost.
- “A black flag of illegitimacy flies over Netanyahu’s head. Not (only) because of the indictments he faces. If, after last September, there was still room to consider establishment of a unity government with him, today that is inconceivable. Any cooperation in a coalition with Likud under his leadership would be the embodiment of befoulment. Even at the high cost of a fourth or even fifth election.”
- Verter further predicts that the predominantly Arab Joint List could see an even better showing than in September: “The Joint List views next week’s election as a golden opportunity to break the bank again and increase its numbers in the parliament from the present 13 MKs. An increase, as compared with the last round of voting, of 2 percent in the turnout of the Arab community is likely to add a seat and a half to the party. Combined with a decline of the same proportion in the number of Jewish voters, the Joint List could end up with a record 15-16 seats.”
- “Pray for a fourth election,” reads Ravit Hecht’s column in the left-wing broadsheet.
- “Thus there are two likely scenarios after the upcoming election – either a fourth election or a unity government that includes Netanyahu and his indictments. These are pretty frustrating scripts, which keep Israel mired in the mud and public-governmental chaos it has been caught in for the past year. But it’s enough to remember the most frightening possibility, one we barely escaped in April, to make those two likelihoods seem appealing: a 61-seat bloc for Netanyahu, with some new trick to spring him from the reach of justice. When you consider that, a fourth election doesn’t seem like the worst option.”
3. Who will win?: The final polls published before Monday’s election show Likud slightly ahead or neck and neck with Blue and White neck, though the political impasse continues, as neither party has a realistic path to forming a coalition.
- According to a Israel Hayom poll, which covers several pages of the pro-Netanyahu daily, 38% believe Israel will have a fourth round of elections, while 31% say the most likely outcome of Monday’s vote is a right-wing government. Just 9% say a left-wing government will be formed, and 11% predict a unity government of Likud and Blue and White.
- Nearly half (49%) say Netanyahu is most suited for premier, while 35% say that of Gantz.
- The survey of 1,040 respondents (margin of error 3%) indicates a full 12% said they have changed their minds about whom they will support in this election campaign, including 9% of Likud voters and 11% of Blue and White supporters. Some 67% say they plan on voting.
4. No, you’re a coward: The Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom leads with a recording broadcast by Channel 12 of a top political adviser to Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, Israel Bachar, assailing his boss’s intelligence and competence, adding that “he [Gantz] doesn’t have the courage to attack Iran.”
- The prime minister has played up the recording as evidence of weakness by his rival, a former IDF chief of staff. But many observers on Twitter note past leaks by Netanyahu associates accusing the prime minister of being afraid to take military action against the Islamic Republic.
- In response to a Netanyahu tweet touting the leak and writing that Gantz doesn’t have the guts to strike Iran, writes Haaretz’s political reporter Chaim Levinson: “Brother, I don’t know how to tell you this, but you don’t either.”
- Channel 13’s chief international correspondent Nadav Eyal underlines that former defense officials “stand one after the other in front of the cameras and accuse the prime minister of being a danger to Israel. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but most people entirely ignore this. They [the defense officials] know Bibi [Netanyahu] far better than Bacher knows Gantz.”
- That’s a reference to a video posted online on Thursday, in which six former security chiefs warn Israelis against keeping Netanyahu in office, describing him as a danger, stating that he is putting the country at risk and using sensitive classified information for personal gain. The video features former Mossad spy agency heads Tamir Pardo, Efraim Halevy and Shabtai Shavit, as well as former Shin Bet security service chiefs Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon and Ami Ayalon, all speaking out against Netanyahu. All six served under Netanyahu, most of them during his first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999.
5. Putting the panic in pandemic: The papers also continue to fret over the coronavirus, after an Israeli man who returned from Italy is diagnosed with the disease.
- “Corona in Israel,” screams Yedioth’s headline.
- “It’s not easy. We feel well but the children are nervous,” the man’s wife tells the paper. She has since been diagnosed with the disease as well, the first known person-to-person instance of the virus spreading in Israel outside of quarantine.
- Dr. Sigal Sadetsky, head of the Public Health Services at the Health Ministry, says that had the man been tested at the airport upon his return, the results would have shown up as negative as it only developed several days later. That’s why Israel is urging home quarantines and self-reporting rather than airport checks, she said.
- Prof. Ze’ev Rotstein, the director-general of Hadassah hospital, criticizes the Israeli decision to impose a general travel warning for citizens to avoid non-essential trips abroad and restrictions on European visitors.
- “I think that until now, we’ve acted appropriately, we’ve been cautious and we put those coming from the East in quarantine, but when we started to expand the warning to Europe, we started to overdo it… There is no question that there will be small outbreaks in Europe but that’s no reason to close our whole country,” he tells Yedioth.
6. Ooh, Bern: Haaretz also appears to feel the “bern,” dedicating its editorial in praise of the Jewish Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ criticism of Netanyahu, whom he branded a “reactionary racist,” and settlements.
- “Sanders’ statements accurately reflect the new winds blowing through his party, which has been the American Jewish community’s political home for decades, and ought to gladden every lover of peace and justice in Israel. After years in which the United States paid only lip service to opposing the settlements while providing practical support to the occupation and almost every Israeli military operation, Sanders’ words are sweet music to the ears of anyone who believes that without vigorous steps by Washington, including conditioning American aid on a change in Israeli policy, no such change will ever happen.
- “Sanders is a friend of Israel. He is proud of his Jewishness and says that he will see to the welfare of the state. His voice is the new voice of his party, and he may well reach the White House. In order to repair Israel’s relationship with the man who might become the most important leader in the world, which has sunk to a nadir, Benjamin Netanyahu must be replaced Monday, Election Day.”
7. Another kind of opposition research: With his corruption trial set to begin on March 17, Haaretz reports that Netanyahu is actively seeking to discredit Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who filed the criminal charges against him in three cases.
- “Haaretz has learned that in the past few months, and increasingly in the past few weeks, Netanyahu — through emissaries — is making efforts to get his hands on the full transcripts of the Harpaz affair, in which the attorney general, who was then chief military advocate general, played a central role. ‘It’s a real obsession,’ a source close to the prime minister and his associates said of attempts to reopen the Mandelblit case.”
- In that case, Mandelblit, then the army’s top legal officer, was questioned under caution in June 2014, when he was already out of uniform and serving as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. Investigators suspected that Mandelblit helped then-IDF general Gabi Ashkenazi and his aides to hinder an investigation by failing to tell investigators that Ashkenazi (now a Blue and White MK) possessed a document smearing his rival — and indeed, was spreading it within the army and to the press. Mandelblit was cleared of any suspicion.