Going nowhere fast: 7 things to know for September 29
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Going nowhere fast: 7 things to know for September 29

Netanyahu is expected to give up on forming a government after just a few days, once a last-ditch try at unity talks fails; but what that will lead to is anybody’s guess

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressees his supporters at party headquarters after elections in Tel Aviv, September 18, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressees his supporters at party headquarters after elections in Tel Aviv, September 18, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

1. Dip the hot potato in the honey: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely expected to return the mandate given to him to form a government as soon as Sunday, or possibly on Wednesday right after Rosh Hashanah, if talks with Blue and White fail, which they are expected to do.

  • Netanyahu was always rumored to be planning on giving back the mandate quickly, though doing so before the Rosh Hashanah holiday, which begins at sundown, would be even sooner than most predicted.
  • The sides will meet for one last go Sunday, but with everybody intent on not budging from their positions, it’s not expected to be more than a show-meeting.
  • “Failure known ahead of time,” Channel 12 writes on its website.

2. Blame game: Yedioth Ahronoth calls the meeting “contact under threat,” the threat being that Israel will go to a third round of elections and Blue and White will be blamed.

  • “This is a show and they even admit it when the cameras aren’t around,” the paper quotes a senior Blue and White official saying about Likud. “This isn’t really negotiations. Bibi has decided to push for elections since it will allow him to be prime minister during his [pre-indictment] hearing.”
  • Haaretz, meanwhile, quotes Likud saying that the breakdown of talks is the fault of Blue and White.
  • “If Blue and White decides to continue to refuse the president’s proposal, there’s a good chance Netanyahu will return the mandate, out of a hope that maybe at the end of the process over the last three weeks that Blue and White will understand that their hope of a putsch within Likud or breaking up the nationalist camp has no basis in reality,” the party is quoted saying.

3. Pass the mandate to the left-hand side: So assuming Netanyahu does give back the mandate, what happens next?

  • According to Yedioth, Blue and White people have already been in contact with the president to tell him party leader Benny Gantz wants to try his luck, and intends to use all 28 days at his disposal.
  • According to the party, it thinks it can still form a unity government with Likud, with a party source quoted calling it “definitely a realistic scenario.”
  • Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom quotes Likud saying that it’s also game to keep trying. “Even after we return the mandate, should that be decided, Likud will be ready to turn over every stone to create a unity government and avoid elections.”
  • While giving the mandate to Gantz is seen as the most likely next move, Channel 13’s Seffi Ovadiah writes that President Reuven Rivlin may refuse to give it to anyone, “as a warning to Gantz and to Netanyahu to be flexible.” He also notes that Rivlin could give it to some other MK in Likud or the head of one of the other parties on the right.

4. Small but deadly: Leading the news agenda on the non-political side is the capture of Palestinian suspects allegedly behind a deadly terror bombing in the West Bank last month.

  • Jingoistic headlines that do not even afford the suspects the benefit of being called suspects abound, such as “The score is settled,” in Israel Hayom.
  • Walla news looks at how the terror cell managed to carry out what was considered a fairly sophisticated attack without being found out, as so many plots from Hamas and others have been: They were from a group that nobody had their eyes on.
  • “The Popular Front, which was created somewhere in the 60s and seen as small in comparison to groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, manages to prove every few years that it is capable of creating small, modest militant cells that rel on cumulative military knowledge and carry out serious attacks,” the news site writes.

5. Enhanced interrogation: The four were captured alive, but Haaretz reports that the leader of the cell is now hospitalized in critical condition after the Shin Bet apparently played a little too rough with him.

  • “Tensions have arisen in the defense establishment around Arbid’s interrogation and hospitalization. His attorneys said that he was healthy when he entered police custody, but police notified them he had been transferred to the hospital without specifying the reasons,” the paper reports.
  • ToI’s Judah Ari Gross notes that among the forms of coercion allowed the Shin Bet in some cases are “forcing prisoners into uncomfortable positions, sleep deprivation, shackling and subjecting prisoners to extreme temperatures. This is typically allowed in cases of a ‘ticking time bomb,’ where there is concern that the suspect could provide security forces with information that could prevent an imminent attack.”
  • Official Palestinian outlet Wafa writes that the suspect was “mercilessly tortured,” according to his lawyers.
  • One person apparently not disturbed by the case is Ynet Palestinian affairs correspondent Elior Levy, who tweets: “Tell me, did you just find out this morning that Shin Bet interrogations of Palestinian terror figures are not done in the lobby of the Hilton with coffee and cake?”

6. Ghosts of Rosh Hashanahs past: As noted above Sunday night is the start of a New Year, which is apparently making some nostalgic for years past.

  • Haaretz resident curmudgeon Gideon Levy writes a wistful dream sequence of simpler times, when Tel Aviv was half transit camp, he was friends with his ultra-Orthodox neighbors, and he could single out the few non-Ashkenazi people who lived on his street.
  • “Nothing of all that is left,” he concludes.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth treats readers to a special holiday section designed to look like it was made 50 years ago, with a hard-to-read hodgepodge of news from the past, ranging from the British Invasion reaching Israel, a young Yair Lapid using his dad’s connections to have a poem published in the paper, and entertainment reporter Guy Pines saving a suicidal person who called into the Army Radio news hotline when he was a cub reporter there.
  • Israel Hayom devotes five whole paragraphs to the fact that New Zealand is very far to the east and will celebrate Rosh Hashanah first.

7. 11 more holy martyrs: In Pittsburgh, the holiday has people looking back at the Tree of Life massacre, with a year anniversary since the deadly shooting approaching.

  • Making the rounds on social media is a prayer, in the mourning liturgical style common to the High Holidays, commemorating the death of the 11 congregants that morning.
  • Beth Kissileff, whose husband Jonathan Perlman — the rabbi of New Light congregation, one of the three attacked — penned the elegiac piyyut, tells the Associated Press that while the High Holiday services will take place elsewhere, no other major changes are planned.
  • “I feel conducting Rosh Hashana prayers as we have in the past is a form of spiritual resistance,” Kissileff says. “Part of our defiance of what the shooter was trying to do is to conduct our religious lives with as much normality as possible.”
  • Showing its defiance in another way, Dor Hadash, another congregation targeted in the massacre, skips out on an annual call between US President Donald Trump and the Jewish community, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
  • “During this time of self-examination, atonement, and commitment to personal change, we invite him to join us by calling out white supremacy, putting an end to virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric, and placing limits on the sale of military-style weapons,” the congregation is quoted saying in a statement. “At Dor Hadash, we believe that it is our duty to engage in Tikkun Olam — repairing the world. We must ensure that every community impacted by white supremacist violence is once again able to worship in their sacred space, rebuild their communities, and regain their sense of safety.”
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