Game of Thrones, the Bibi-Liberman edition: 7 things to know for May 26
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Game of Thrones, the Bibi-Liberman edition: 7 things to know for May 26

As PM runs out of time to form coalition and his opponents mount united show of force, newspapers wait to see if secularist kingmaker will fall in line or prevent nascent coalition

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit the IDF's West Bank Division, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, on January 10, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit the IDF's West Bank Division, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, on January 10, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

1. With a Wednesday deadline quickly approaching, Israel’s widely read Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Sunday casts doubt on Netanyahu’s ability to cobble together a right-wing coalition in the next few days.

  • “Netanyahu’s fifth government — that only a month ago seemed like a sure thing — is now in doubt,” the paper says in its front-page story on Sunday. Yedioth’s Yuval Karni reports that a late-night meeting between Netanyahu and top Likud party members in a bid to find a compromise to the draft law has “yet to yield any results.”

2. Netanyahu has until midnight Wednesday night to form the next government, possibly heralding new elections should he fail to do so. But some analysts have suggested Netanyahu may exercise a never-before-used legal provision to buy himself another 14 days.

3. Haaretz, a left-leaning daily, goes a step further in its Sunday coverage of the latest coalition-forming drama, saying that Netanyahu is preparing to call new elections due to the impasse in the negotiations between party heads.

  • Haaretz political correspondent Chaim Levinson says that Netanyahu believes that Liberman will refuse to enter a Netanyahu-led government under any circumstance, and says the former defense minister is trying to scuttle coalition talks in order to force a new election.
  • According to Levinson, Netanyahu and the Likud believe that Liberman is intentionally forcing issues of church and state to the forefront of the coalition talks for his own political gain.
Thousands of Israelis take part in a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on May 25, 2019. The rally is under the banner ‘Stopping the Immunity Law — A Defensive Shield for Democracy.’ (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

3. Meanwhile, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom strikes a much more sympathetic tone regarding the prime minister’s struggle to form a government. On its front page, the free daily quotes ultra-Orthodox party sources claiming that Liberman is undermining the right-wing agenda by refusing to negotiate and was seeking fresh elections.

  • The paper quotes anonymous sources from Liberman’s main opponent in the coalition, United Torah Judaism, who say the Yisrael Beytenu leader has “climbed too far up a tree he can’t climb down.” The party sources told the paper that the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism “went as far as we could possibly go for him” but Liberman refused to concede any ground on the draft law, and is “trying as hard as he can to topple a right-wing government.”
  • Israel Hayom reporter Yehuda Schlesinger appears to place the blame for the impasse squarely on Liberman, noting his “harshly worded” posts on social media and the “political ultimatum” he issued the prime minister.

4. The other thorn in Netanyahu’s side this weekend was the unified show of force by the new opposition parties against legislative efforts by the incoming coalition that would grant the prime minister immunity from prosecution and radically limit the powers of the Supreme Court. Pending a hearing, Netanyahu is facing indictment for fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases, and bribery in one of them.

  • Tens of thousands of Israelis packed downtown Tel Aviv on Saturday night, waving Israeli flags and banners calling to “keep Israel free.” Some demonstrators wore Ottoman-style fez hats, a reference to Turkey, and called for protecting Israel’s democratic identity against government overreach.

5. In a front page op-ed, Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn says Netanyahu’s seemingly impressive victory in the April 9 elections is now being overshadowed by his former defense minister.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv Museum on May 25, 2019 focused on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to advance legislation to avoid prosecution in three criminal cases he faces. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • “Signs of Netanyahu’s weakness are multiplying,” Benn writes. “His threats of new elections show weakness and frustration, not the impressive control and maneuvering we have grown used to over the past decade.”
  • Benn says that Netanyahu’s options are extremely limited because the corruption indictments hanging over his head are dictating all of his political moves. With growing opposition to his immunity proposals and the coalition heads refusing to budge on their respective demands, Benn says, Liberman holds the future of Netanyahu’s government in his hands.

6. In Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s sister site in Hebrew, Amir Ben-David says that Saturday’s night’s rally was the first time in Israeli political history that the political opposition was established even before a government was sworn in.

  • Ben-David says that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, the former IDF chief of staff, is growing into his new role as opposition chief.
  • Gantz, he says, made a wise decision when he implored Hadash-Ta’al chairman Ayman Odeh to join the rally, after he was embarrassingly disinvited to the event by his colleagues. Ben-David also notes that Gantz impressively managed to keep the rally on message, and noted that like unlike other opposition-led rallies in the past, he saw no “foolish or ill-conceived slogans or banner” that organizers are usually forced to apologize for a day later.

7. Yedioth’s top columnist Nahum Barnea is also impressed by the Blue and White-led rally, and predicts that the unified opposition will mount a rare and unified front against Netanyahu.

  • “The bad news for Netanyahu is that last night’s rally wasn’t led by a small minority or group, but by the 35 seat-strong Knesset opposition, and they are topping their agenda with fighting Netanyahu’s immunity bid.”
Israelis wear a Turkish fez as they take part in a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Tel Aviv Museum on May 25, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • If new elections are called, Barnea says that Netanyahu “will likely pay a very heavy price.” He says that Netanyahu could find himself in a tricky position, because the existing parliamentary immunity law does not apply to lawmakers who have yet to be sworn in. Barnea says the usually popular Netanyahu could face backlash from his electorate due to his “extreme and humiliating concessions” to nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties.
  • The stakes in the power struggle between Netanyahu and Liberman are incredibly high, he writes.
  • But “just like in Game of Thrones, it seems like the next and last chapter in the saga of forming a coalition will be the most disappointing episode,” he writes. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
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