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Hebrew media review

Election fever on the rise

Lapid and Netanyahu have a tumultuous breakup and the Hebrew press gears up for a trip to the polls

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Yair Lapid and Benjamin Netanyahu (composite of two campaign photos)
Yair Lapid and Benjamin Netanyahu (composite of two campaign photos)

Do you smell it? The crisp autumn air, the fragrance of fallen leaves, the scent of politicians beginning their backroom scheming. Yes, elections are in the air and they’ve come early.

All signs are pointing to the dissolution of the government and the holding of new elections to form a new Knesset and a new coalition to run things. The papers report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Monday evening with Finance Minister Yair Lapid and issued a series of demands for keeping the coalition together — an offer Lapid couldn’t not refuse.

Netanyahu, Yedioth Ahronoth quotes sources close to Lapid saying, “came in advance to blow up the talks” which were ostensibly aimed at breaking the impasse between the two leaders. The paper adds that when Netanyahu presented his five demands to Lapid, which included scuppering the Yesh Atid party leader’s zero-VAT on new homes plan, the finance minister stopped the prime minister, saying, “Bibi [Netanyahu], it’s all show.”

The paper lists the five points Netanyahu demanded, calling them “conditions of hostility” and giving them their own graphic worthy of Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Netanyahu demanded Lapid cease his criticism of the government, transfer NIS 6 billion to the defense budget, release funds needed by the IDF to relocate to the south, back the prime minister’s controversial “Jewish state” legislation, and spike his affordable housing plan.

Israel Hayom reports that both Yesh Atid and Likud officials blamed the other party for causing the breakup of the government and for dragging the country into “unnecessary elections,” but nonetheless calls Netanyahu’s demands of Lapid an “ultimatum.” Unnamed Yesh Atid officials tell the daily that “the prime minister prefers his personal interests and his survival to the public’s best interest.”

The head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, called on all party leaders to convene and “reach an agreement on the earliest possible date for holding new elections,” Haaretz reports. It notes that Netanyahu cannot form a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox parties, presuming, of course, that he will not attempt to form another government with Yesh Atid.

Demonstrating its clear sympathies for Lapid, Haaretz doesn’t just run part of the Yesh Atid party’s response to Netanyahu’s demands and imminent breakup of the government — it runs multiple paragraphs of quotes from its disgruntled officials. The paper then quotes Netanyahu’s remarks to the Likud party ahead of his meeting with Lapid, reporting that he “attacked Lapid’s management, without explicitly saying his name.” Netanyahu had told a Likud party gathering earlier Monday that that he didn’t receive the “most basic commitments, trust and responsibility from the ministers sitting in the government.”

Prime the pundit engine and let ‘er rip, because with elections in full swing the Israeli press will be publishing more commentary than Maimonides. Writing in Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit calls the imminent breakup of the government an “unpreventable divorce.” He attacks Lapid, saying that “whoever doesn’t make a financial effort to move the IDF to the southern desert harms the Jewish identity of the state more than any law or any draft. It’s no longer Lapid against [defense minister] Moshe Ya’alon, but Yesh Atid against the heritage of David Ben-Gurion.”

He says that going into last night’s kerfuffle between Netanyahu and Lapid, unspecified polls found that Netanyahu’s Likud party would gain six seats and rise to 24 while Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would lose eight and drop to 11.

Margalit concedes that holding elections now would be “bad for the governing stability of Israel” as well as its economy, national security and diplomacy, but ends up shrugging it off with a biblical phrase saying this government is “a stone the builders rejected.”

Sima Kadmon tells her readers in Yedioth Ahronoth that when Lapid left Netanyahu’s office, the five demands he had just been issued were already published to the press. “The dramatic meeting was one big show” for the public, politicians and the press, she says. Lapid told his people it was a farce, she writes.

Kadmon paints a picture of a “paranoid” Netanyahu and a “polite” Lapid in trying to get inside the heads of the two leaders, and speculates freely as to why Netanyahu chose to set the country up to go to new elections. Her assessment is that it was “his paranoia: he was convinced that Lapid is plotting behind his back to form an alternative government, and the ultra-Orthodox apparently encouraged all those fears in him.”

Yossi Verter writes in Haaretz that barring a miracle, the die is cast and Israel is heading to the polls. He says Yesh Atid officials said “Lapid arrived with an open mind and an eager spirit” to meet Netanyahu on Monday night, “but was met with a prime minister enraged and apparently also determined to end the 18-month nightmare named the third Netanyahu coalition.”

The upcoming elections “are among the most unnecessary and weird that have been here” and stem exclusively from interpersonal relationships, Verter says. He cites a rumor circulating around the PMO, that Lapid and Livni planned to join the no-confidence vote filed by the Labor Party and support opposition chief Isaac Herzog’s nomination as prime minister.

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