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Israel media review

Elections weren’t avoided in a day: What the press is saying on December 18

Reports of last-minute efforts to keep the coalition alive and avoid elections are everywhere, but there’s a lot to work out and not much time

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Can we rebuild it? With only a few days to go before a deadline that will set early elections in motion, press reports are revolving around possible efforts to avoid the snap poll.

  • A Channel 13 report claims “dramatic” progress in talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White.
  • A source, evidently from Blue and White, tells the network that the centrist party had managed to secure a commitment from Likud to ensure the rotation agreement that will allow Gantz to replace Netanyahu as premier, in addition to keeping Avi Nissenkorn on as justice minister.
  • Reports in recent days have Likud sources singling out Nissenkorn as the main stumbling block keeping the sides apart, with Netanyahu seemingly keen to make sure a friendlier justice minister appoints the next attorney general and lead state prosecutor, who may hold the premier’s legal fate in his hands.
  • Likud denies the report, but Israel Hayom, seen as a mouthpiece for the party (or at least Netanyahu) also reports on last-minute efforts to keep the gang together.
  • “Israel Hayom has learned that emissaries of both [Netanyahu and Gantz] are talking and raising various compromise deals, but until now no formula has been found that will sate both parties,” the paper reports.
  • The paper claims that both leaders want to avoid elections, but within Blue and White “there is a core of people who are opposed to any compromise with Netanyahu.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that talks are centered on the possibility of pushing the date that Gantz becomes prime minister in an all-but-dead rotational deal from November 2021 to May or August of 2022.
  • The same offer was reported in Israel Hayom earlier this week, but widely dismissed as malarkey, since it would just give Netanyahu another way to get out of the rotation a year down the line, with no tangible benefit for Gantz. Thus, it’s little surprise that the channel says “there are difficulties in the talks.”
  • There are several other reports that also include the offer, though they appear to assume that it would somehow include both the rotation being pushed off and Gantz dropping his demand for the state to pass a 2020 and 2021 budget.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth quotes a “senior political source” saying that a move would be a form of both sides caving: “If there is a deal, Gantz and Netanyahu will both fold from everything they have promised until now. Gantz has insisted on a budget and Netanyahu has not agreed to give him the rotation.”
  • Army Radio’s Yanir Cozin says that Blue and White is mainly focused on ensuring Netanyahu loses his escape hatch.
  • “Blue and White’s goal in talks with Likud is an attempt to try and fix their past mistakes regarding an ‘exit point.’ As in a new coalition deal would cancel Netanyahu’s ability to leave the deal at some point and remain prime minister. Only in that case, sources in the party say, will they be willing to talk, even about pushing off the rotation,” he reports.

2. Break-ups loom: Yedioth reports that Gantz fears an “internal rebellion” within the party should he decide to compromise with Netanyahu.

  • “MKs and senior Blue and White officials have already sent a message “if Gantz folds — we’ll vote against him.”
  • The paper’s Sima Kadmon reports that it includes senior figures Nissenkorn and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, even if Ashkenazi has made efforts to “make sure it doesn’t look like he is stabbing Gantz in the back.”
  • As for Nissenkorn: “They say that after he was sent by Gantz to negotiate an election date with [Yesh Atid head Yair] Lapid — it was so nice he wanted to stay there. In other words, he may join Yesh Atid,” she writes.
  • Channel 12 news reports that Likud is also trying to break apart Blue and White in the other direction, offering them positions to break off and join an alternative government.
  • Several reports note that Likud is already making efforts to bring Yamina aboard, offering the five-seat party the defense portfolio and two more senior ministerial jobs, including transportation minister. Yamina has publicly refused the offer.
  • In Haaretz, Yossi Verter writes that Yamina is nonetheless keeping its options open, after seeing a chunk of its support move to Gideon Sa’ar’s new party: “The tough rhetoric, the sniping and mercilessness against Netanyahu he had employed because of the prime minister’s failures in dealing with the coronavirus – rhetoric that could only be interpreted as an absolute bill of divorce from the man – was replaced overnight by clichés along the lines of ‘We are all brothers.’”
  • “If it ends up with 18 seats, it will be in excellent shape. If it ends up with 12, it will still be in pretty good condition. He [Yamina head Naftali Bennett] will be the “kingmaker:” Either he will anoint himself, in rotation with someone or other, or he will anoint someone else, or, at the very least, he will go back to the Defense Ministry backed by significant political strength, in a coalition that will be dependent on him. What can sabotage this? If Sa’ar breaks his word and rushes to join up with Netanyahu before he does.”

3. Poll positions: In the meantime, Channel 12 news reports that talks between Likud and Blue and White are intensive enough that both sides are looking into the possibility of pushing off elections — currently scheduled for mid-March — to as far back as May, in order to give them more time to negotiate. The story assumes “any small delay” would mean delaying elections several months due to the spring holidays — as if Israel has not held elections in March and April before (in fact, of the last four elections, only one has not taken place in either March or April).

  • It also does not address how they would delay the December 23 budget deadline, which will automatically trigger new elections, negotiations be damned.
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur goes into more depth on the election timing and explains why there is a battle over the timing, which has become even more wrought due to the pandemic. If the Knesset dissolves automatically on December 23, elections will be held on March 23 no matter what, just four days before Passover, rather than March 16, the date Blue and White had chosen, but which has now become impossible, since it’s within 90 days.
  • “An election that takes place under pandemic distancing rules — the most optimistic forecasts have just enough vaccines in Israel by election day for perhaps half the population — gives officials just four days to administer the nationwide vote and count all ballots, including those from the army and overseas, before the system must go into an extended shutdown for the Sabbath and the seven-day holiday,” he writes.
  • Hence, the effort to pass a bill setting a different date. Except, he says, that bill would place limits on election advertising online, which Likud would rather avoid.
  • “Likud is trying to run out the clock. It prefers a chaotic eve-of-Passover election with its online campaign intact to an orderly vote in which it cannot run the campaign it wants to run, which leans heavily on its online and social media strategy.”
  • Walla’s Tal Shalev notes that the people heading the talks, Yaakov Artachki for the Likud and Hod Betzer for Blue and White, are the same two people who put together the original deal.
  • “It’s a little like having the people who built the Tower of Pisa suddenly come in to try and straighten it,” she writes.
  • She claims such a complex deal will take more than five days to hash out but predicts it won’t take that long for the public to know if they are headed for elections or compromise.
  • “If this complex construct takes shape, it will do so this week, which holds an attraction of another kind for Netanyahu — the first coronavirus vaccination in Israel, live on TV at 8 p.m. in front of the whole nation. The message he delivers will telegraph if he is turning toward partnership with Gantz, or kicking off his electoral campaign.

4. Shot in the arm: Soon after Netanyahu and other important people and frontline medical workers will get their shots, and then it will be the turn of the rest of us.

  • But first history must be made, in the words of Israel Hayom, which features three front-page columns on the importance of vaccination, including from Health Minister Yuli Edelstein who will also get the vaccine on Saturday night.
  • “The vaccine is the only way we as a society will overcome the coronavirus pandemic, with all its effect — health, economic and social,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel praises the prime minister for stepping forward to be the first in line to get a shot, but also envisions there developing a problem of not enough vaccines rather than not enough willing people.
  • “A large demand for the vaccine might develop, which the state will have a hard time meeting initially, especially when people grasp that their chance to return quickly to a comparatively normal life depends on their readiness to be vaccinated. The Health Ministry estimates that about 4 million doses of Pfizer vaccine will arrive in Israel by the end of the month, and another 3 to 4 million doses during January. … On the assumption that the health maintenance organizations meet the planned rate of 60,000 to 80,000 a day, a bottleneck could develop in April, with demand for the vaccine exceeding the supply of available doses,” he writes.
  • Those fears are somewhat backed up by a survey in Yedioth which finds that 63% of Israelis plan on getting the shot, but we have some questions about the methodology.
  • The survey of 875 people, which it calls massive but is actually just around the threshold of statistical significance given Israel’s size, is also weighted heavily toward those 65 and up, who make up over a third of those surveyed, despite making up only about a 10th of the population.
  • Those boomers are hankering for the shot, though, the survey finds, with 82% planning on getting vaccinated, at least if you combine those who will definitely get the shot and the much larger group of “probablies.”
  • The study also appears to show that Arab citizens are more likely than Jews to either be dead-set against being vaccinated or probably against it.
  • A much larger survey of over 1,100 doctors from Kan finds that 82% of them plan on getting shots. It quotes a doctor at the head of a “state doctors association,” calling the vaccination of health workers “critical” to the success of the country in moving beyond the pandemic.

5. Shopping day: Despite sky-high daily infection rates and the fact that it will be months until the vaccine hits enough of the population to have a large effect, people appear to be continuing with their daily lives and pushing against being locked down.

  • Channel 12 broadcasts videos at outdoor markets and shopping centers of large crowds, describing them as a mad rush of people trying to get shopping done before some stores are expected to close next week, though it might just be Friday.
  • “At the Mahane Yehuda Shuk in Jerusalem the roads were packed with people buying goods before Shabbat — and it seems also before the coming restrictions. Also at the Carmel market there were many gathered: In both places not all people wore masks,” it reports.
  • A video making the rounds shows what appear to be thousands of ultra-Orthodox crowding together for a Hanukkah candle-lighting party Thursday.
  • Channel 13 news reports that “Local councils are demanding that schools be kept open, even in red cities,” referring to high infection zones. Closing schools, they say, will only make the pandemic worse.
  • “The infection numbers are high and restraint is needed. But closing schools will leave hundreds of thousands of kids at home, with no supervision over health guidelines,” the channel quotes from a statement from an association of local authority heads.
  • There’s the economic damage too. Kan reports that since the start of the pandemic, 10,000 street-facing stores have been forced to close, with losses of NIS 2.6 billion. “You can sit here all day and make 700-800 shekel. It used to be 3,000-4,000,” the owner of a Netanya shoe store tells the channel.
  • Dr. Sharon Alroy-Pries, a senior Health Ministry official, refuses to say that Israel has lost control during an interview with Army Radio, or at least refuses to use those words. Instead, she says, “we need to calm down and take steps in order to stop this.”
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