Getting ready for a change: 10 things to know for April 18
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Getting ready for a change: 10 things to know for April 18

From the government’s attempts to defang the courts and make the Knesset unstoppable to an ambitious army reform plan, things are unlikely to stay static

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets soldiers during a visit to the Shizafon army base, on January 23, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets soldiers during a visit to the Shizafon army base, on January 23, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

1. Time to stop fighting (no, really): President Reuven Rivlin handed Benjamin Netanyahu the task of forming a government Wednesday night.

  • The move was all but a formality, with Netanyahu already having the making of a coalition in his pocket. Nonetheless, Rivlin used the opportunity to plead for national healing.
  • “We’ve been through a difficult election campaign. A lot of things were said that shouldn’t have been said — from all sides — in a Jewish state or in a democratic state,” Rivlin said. “Us versus them is over, and now it’s just us. Now is the time to stop fighting ‘them’ and to regain faith in ‘us.’”
  • The comments, while somewhat saccharine, are also notable as Rivlin has often used his pulpit to urge a celebration of differences among Israel’s various groups.
  • Despite Rivlin’s tasking the prime minister with forming a government being mostly ceremonial, it still garners major front page real estate in nearly every major daily (aside from Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom, strangely enough).

2. Looking for justice: It’s unlikely that his plea for unity will resonate though, with Netanyahu expected to form a coalition even further to the right than his last one.

  • While the actors are known, what roles they will play and the script the new government will follow is still to be hashed out, providing the main drama.
  • “He hadn’t even been handed the task and parties were already setting conditions,” Yedioth Ahronoth reports.
  • Haaretz reports that the Education Ministry is likely to be given to the Union of Right-Wing Parties.
  • Who will get the Justice Ministry post is somewhat less clear. Channel 12 reports that it will be given to either URWP’s Bezalel Smotrich or Likud’s Yariv Levin, both of whom want to use the position to make over the court and clamp down on its activism.
  • They could also try to flex their muscles to protect Netanyahu from pending prosecution.
  • On Wednesday, Levin said those who want the justice system to stay how it is should fear him.

3. The invincible Knesset: URWP is also demanding a guarantee that a law overriding the High Court, put forward by Smotrich, be passed within 60 days, Yedioth reports.

  • In Globes, law expert Yuval Al-Bashan is quoted warning of the dangers of such a law, saying he’s surprised Smotrich would support such a measure when he saw how a left-wing Knesset could run roughshod over others, in his view, during the Gaza disengagement.
  • “The bill will allow the Knesset to pass a law that harms human rights, a law that is immunized ahead of time from any appeal. And that’s without any special majority. This is dangerous, it turns the Knesset into a force that has no limits and cannot be challenged,” he says.

4. Fantasy draft: That law is also a major ultra-Orthodox demand as it will allow them to override the court’s order that the government pass a new law to regulate the military draft in the Haredi community.

  • Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party are likely to demand the passage of a draft law, however, and the dispute is seen as the hardest coalition nut to crack.
  • Haaretz notes that a version of the law, which was drafted by Liberman as defense minister and already passed on first reading, actually has some backing among ultra-Orthodox parties and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid before it joined Blue and White. But in the new government, things may be different.
  • “It’s still not clear whether Blue and White, which has 35 seats in the next Knesset, will support the bill or oppose it. Though Lapid supported the bill in its first vote, he announced in December that his party – which is now part of the Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) joint ticket – would oppose it in the second and third votes,” the paper writes.
  • “On the other hand, it’s hard to see Kahol Lavan, which is led by three former IDF chiefs of staff in addition to Lapid, opposing a bill drafted by the defense establishment.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Isi Liebler surmises that if Netanyahu finds it too hard to bring the sides together on the draft law and other measures, that cooperation with Blue and White could expand.
  • “If Netanyahu finds that the demands from his satellite parties are too extreme or they block what he considers a reasonable American peace plan, he may well reach an accommodation with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz over his legal problems and form a unity government in the months ahead – which would be applauded by the vast majority of Israelis.”

5. Junebug: That peace plan will come out in June, or not before June, depending on your reading of widely reported comments by Jared Kushner on Wednesday.

  • The plan has been delayed countless times and not many put much faith in it actually rolling out in June.

 

  • Even if it does come out, will be “born dead,” new Palestinian Authority Minister Mohammed Shtaayeh tells the Associated Press.
  • And Smotrich also threatens to bring down the government if it includes concessions and Netanyahu agrees to it.
  • “There’s no bridging this gap,” former ambassador Martin Indyk tweets, referring to the demands of those who might consider a plan.

 

6. Fake funding: The far-right and some Palestinians are also apparently on the same page pushing an apparently false narrative that the Palestinian Authority funded the campaigns of some Israeli parties and politicians to the tune of NIS 15 million.

  • The story, plainly meant to smear the left and Arab Israelis as in cahoots, is picked up by Makor Rishon and other right-wing publications.
  • But Ziad Darwish, an official on the committee that supposedly paid out the amounts, tells ToI it’s a falsified document.
  • According to former minister Amnon Rubinstein, what the Palestinians did contribute to was the collapse of the left: “The practical basis of land for peace, which I believe in, has collapsed,” he tells Israel Hayom.

6. Government shmovernment, I made Time: Netanyahu said at the ceremony with Rivlin that he was as excited as the first time he had been given the task of forming a government, all the way back in 1996.

  • On his Twitter feed, though, where there is no mention of the meeting with Rivlin, he seem more amped up about Time magazine putting him back on the 100 Most Influential list.
  • “Thank you to the international magazine Time … I will continue to work with all my might for the State of Israel,” he writes.
  • “Israel is Bibi’s nation,” writes David French in the piece, noting his electoral victory.

7. Quick change: The army is not waiting to find out what the government has in store for its drafting of the ultra-Orthodox, with IDF chief Aviv Kohavi coming out Thursday with an ambitious, and costly, plan to reshape the fighting force.

  • The plan, dubbed “Readiness and Change,” appears to be concerned with shorter-term changes to the military that are designed to quickly boost efficacy — what the military typically refers to as “lethality” — whereas the previous chief of staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eisenkot’s multi-year Gideon plan was aimed at longer-term, structural changes within the IDF, ToI’s Judah Ari Gross reports.
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes that securing funding for the reform will be a battle in and of itself.
  • “It seems as if Kohavi is expecting abundant resources to be allocated toward his procurement plans. But it’s the politicians who will decide how much of a priority military procurement will be compared to other pressing issues, from hospital overcrowding to the failing public transportation system,” he writes.

8. Northern exposure: There are no wars looming, but outgoing GOC Northern Command Yoel Strick tells Walla news that should a conflict with Hezbollah break out, residents of towns near the Lebanese border should head for the hills rather than hunker down.

  • “Where needed we will evacuate towns. … It will protect residents. On top of that, it will improve the freedom of movement of the IDF and allow them to truly focus on military operations and not deal with providing service to Misgav or Menara. There’s no romanticism here, this is very practical and professional.”
  • Israel isn’t the only one preparing. Yossi Mansharof writes for the Jerusalem Institute for Security Studies think tank about an Arabic report that Iran is pushing ahead with an overland route to Syria and Lebanon, now focusing on building a highway through Iraq.
  • “According to the report, Iran’s main concern is to keep the route as far away as possible from American bases and US military presence, as well as away from all other participants in the anti-ISIS coalition. … According to the Iraqi sources, the Iranians, now more eager than the Iraqis to push forward with the plan than the Iraqi side, are presenting the Iraqi government with economic incentives that would accrue from the project. These would include work opportunities for Iraqis, the use of private sector Iraqi trucks, and an option for the Iraqi authorities to collect fees from cars goings to Syria.”

9. Hostile headline: Israel Hayom’s main front page story isn’t Netanyahu but rather a tale of a — shock — Muslim woman fighting in the IDF as a combat soldier.

  • “N. from a hostile Muslim village: ‘I enlisted for the state,’” reads a front page headline in the paper.
  • On Twitter, the ActArab group, which is trying to promote integration of Arabs into Israeli civil discourse, is more than a little offended at the description of the unnamed town in Israel’s north.
  • “Is ‘hostile Arab village’ actually a village filled with dangerous terrorists, or is that a Zionist way of describing any Arab town in Israel?” the tweeter asks. “I’d like to know if I need to call the police or be worried about my neighbors.”

10. Seems fishy: If that’s not tasteless enough, NPR has a piece about an abomination known as tuna gefilte fish — as in the classic Jewish food/goy repellent that is popular on Passover, except made from cans of tuna instead of ground-up bathtub pike.

  • “There is a slight tuna-quality to the balls,” brave soul Marc Silver writes after making the fish and serving them to similarly heroic colleagues. “Kind of a hint of tuna noodle casserole vibe. Which I liked! Two great comfort foods collide!”
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