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Israel media review

Let’s go shopping: What the press is saying on November 27

As Israelis hit the malls, early elections may be on hold with Netanyahu doing some browsing of his own for the best deals among partners and rivals, who may not survive the sales

People shop at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan after it reopened, November 27, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
People shop at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan after it reopened, November 27, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

1. Early-burly: Early elections are all but certain from the talk of the pundit class, but there are signals that it may be a few weeks or more until they are called.

  • A top headline on the front page of Haaretz claims that Defense Minister and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz is ready to give Prime Minister Netanyahu a few more weeks “but it’s doubtful his colleagues will agree.”
  • “Anyone who watched [Gantz’s] TV interviews this week would feel a bit like they were in a psych exam. He made sharp unequivocal statements, and at the end there was a sound of reservations, or laying out conditions, and the watcher needs to reach conclusions on their own,” the paper’s Yossi Verter writes, noting that Netanyahu wants elections in the summer rather than in the spring, before vaccinations can be rolled out en masse.
  • Israel Hayom’s top story reports on the existence of a “secret team,” working to bridge the gaps between Gantz and Netanyahu and to stave off elections for a little while at least.
  • According to the paper’s Mati Tuchfeld, the team was set up after Gantz told Netanyahu that he had only set up a commission of inquiry into the submarine scandal to placate his base and he has no intention of finding any fault with the prime minister.
  • “The ‘dialogue team’ is working on a compromise on the budget issue that would allow the Knesset to push the Dec. 23 deadline to pass the 2020 national budget back by three months. This could comprise a capitulation on Gantz’s part, as it would allow Netanyahu another chance to pack it in and call an election, thus avoiding the rotation. Both sides are reportedly looking into ways of minimizing the damage and blunt expected criticism of Gantz if he decides to take that course of action.”
  • Channel 12 reports on the same apparent deal coming together, calling it “budget for rotation,” though unlike Israel Hayom, it dispenses with any pretense of sourcing the information. (Some parts of the story are uncannily identical, meaning they are likely being regurgitated from the same source’s talking points.)
  • The move will “humiliate Gantz, force him to change the active law and kill off any chance of a rotation once and for all,” it reports.

2. Blue and wiped: Most others, though, still see elections looming on the horizon, with the government barely more than a smoldering heap of ashes.

  • Science Minister Izhar Shai tells Army Radio that there’s a high likelihood his party will vote in favor of a no-confidence motion next week that would bring down the coalition and force early elections.
  • “There is a good chance that we will vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset on Wednesday,” he says.
  • Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon compares the coalition to a horse that has been run to death, and indicates it may not be the only one headed to the glue factory, with Blue and White increasingly cracking at the seams.
  • “From Gantz’s point of view, it’s not just that he may come back weakened, he may meet a mutiny within his party along the way: A demand for primaries, an ambush from [Avi] Nissenkorn or the possibility that [Yair] Lapid will place himself as a leading alternative and erase Blue and White.”
  • Shalom Yerushalmi, of ToI sister site Zman Yisrael, reports that the two most right-leaning members of the Blue and White bloc, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser of Derech Eretz, will split for Yamina, where they will get spots 7 and 8 in the party that polls have shown getting as many as 23 seats in upcoming elections (after failing to even enter the Knesset a year ago).
  • The move, according to a Yamina source, will be a merger between Yamina and Derech Eretz.
  • “In various interviews, Handel and Hauser claim that they will run as an independent party, but nobody takes those comments seriously. There’s no survey which shows the tiny party passing the Knesset threshold,” he writes.
  • In Walla, Tal Shalev notes that blasting rivals-cum-partners-cum-rivals into smithereens is a particular skill of Netanyahu’s, which explains exactly what he is doing now.
  • And regarding scuttlebutt of a merger between old flames burned by Netanyahu — Blue and White, Yamina, Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu — she notes that while it looks possible on paper, the reality is much messier: “This foursome would have a very difficult time agreeing on one candidate from among them for prime minister. Gantz and Lapid have barely exchanged a word since their painful divorce.”

3. Disjointed list: Knesset watchers are seeing that same divide and conquer scheme happening with Netanyahu drawing Joint List MK Mansour Abbas into his sphere, predicting he’ll be dropped like a bad habit as soon as it is politically expedient, with the Arabi-majority Joint List being torn asunder along the way.

  • But many analysts see something deeper afoot behind the affair regarding the Joint List’s constituent parts — Abbas heads Ra’am, a conservative Islamist party somewhat analogous to the Jewish ultra-Orthodox factions — and Arab Israeli society’s approach in general.
  • Abbas and Netanyahu’s burgeoning partnership “has created a mess in the Joint List — and that’s Netanyahu’s overarching goal — but it still represents a certain zeitgeist in Arab society,” writes Haaretz’s Ravit Hecht.
  • “Abbas’s increasingly bold public demands that his party change course — that the national political leaders of the Arab Israeli sector make like the UAE and Bahrain, and put their own people’s pressing issues ahead of grandstanding on behalf of the Palestinians — are forcing a radical rethink on all the Joint List’s component factions,” writes ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur.
  • “Abbas’s call to abandon ideological politicking in favor of a more pragmatic and lucrative approach to parliamentary wheeling and dealing — to making common cause even with Likud if it brings better schools, better roads and more cops to Arab communities — is clarifying the deeper divide coalescing in Arab Israeli politics,” he adds.
  • “Closing yourself off is no longer an option,” writes Nahum Barnea, noting that the Joint List is already leaning into integration. “The battle is about integration and its price. It’s happening on Facebook and on the street and now in the Knesset as well.”
  • Walla news points out the fact that Abbas hasn’t always been so kindly toward Likud, pulling his various anti-Netanyahu comments out of the archive, and questioning whether its his pragmatism that has led to figurative pork being sent toward the community. “Abbas presents these things like they are his achievements, but in actuality, this is ongoing work by all members of the Joint List with government ministries,” writes Shalev.
  • Kan plays up a meeting between Joint List head Ayman Odeh and Islamic Movement leader Hamad Abu Daabes, in which it reports that Odeh attempted to convince Daabes to put a leash on Abbas, who heads the movement’s political branch.
  • It also quotes a Joint List source calling into question a poll ordered by Abbas that he says shows Arab Israelis support working with Netanyahu. According to the source, the questions were presented in a misleading way, such as “What do you think about Mansour Abbas’s approach, which includes the possibility of interaction with Netanyahu and the right, in exchange for rights for Arab Israelis.”
  • Yedioth’s Barnea suggests that with the left already flailing and the Joint List fraying, the time may be ripe for a Jewish-Arab party, and lo and behold, Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam tells Kan he is founding such a movement.
  • Haaretz reports that left-wing Meretz is also considering rebranding itself as a joint Arab-Jewish party, though many arguments remain to be hashed out, including whether the Joint List will be a partner or a rival.
  • “With all due respect, even if we put four or five Arab candidates in the top five spots, this won’t make us a Jewish-Arab party. Creating a Jewish-Arab political movement means uniting movements and organizations, not guaranteeing spots for individuals,” Meretz Secretary-General Tomer Resnick is quoted saying in a leadership meeting on the issue seen by the paper.

4. Sub-par: Yedioth Ahronoth’s lead story reports on four former Defense Ministry heads urging that the submarine scandal — in which Netanyahu is alleged by some (though not law enforcement) to have helped engineer a no bid-contract for German firm Thyssenkrup to supply naval vessels to Israel, and okayed the sale of advanced submarines to Egypt while keeping it secret from defense officials — be probed in depth.

  • “If I was working in the ministry and was exposed to such flawed decision-making, I would tender my resignation and not cooperate with such behavior,” Amos Yaron tells the paper.
  • Army Radio quotes former ministry acquisitions director Shmuel Zucker alleging that a Navy point man at first said Thyssenkrup was not appropriate for the tender, but later changed his mind “costing us much.” (The head of the Navy at the time has been charged in the scandal.)
  • “Red lights should have been going off from the start,” he’s quoted saying.
  • Channel 12 news reports that former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo has submitted an amicus brief to the High Court backing claims against Netanyahu regarding the scandal. “I’ve never encountered this kind of concealment from the most senior security officials in the State of Israel, this thing must be explained,” he’s quoted writing.
  • Fat chance, says Yuval Yaoz, Zman’s legal analyst (and a petitioner in several cases against Netanyahu), writing that the commission launched by Gantz has no teeth and no chance of growing any.
  • The panel has already been made a failure, he writes: “The inquiry won’t be able to examine anything, key witnesses won’t appear, it won’t probe the truth or bring up any new evidence or new understanding that hasn’t already been brought up during the criminal probe or media investigations over the last four years.”
  • Meanwhile, Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that the same thing may be happening again, hinting at the possibility of an advanced arms deal to the Saudis okayed by Netanyahu and kept secret from everyone else, as he has done regarding diplomatic contacts with the Gulf, specifically a reported meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman there this week.
  • “[Defense officials] still don’t know what was talked about and agreed on there, because the prime minister is not briefing them about the results of the meeting. It looks as though the transaction with the Emirates has also whetted Crown Prince Mohammed’s appetite for large-scale deals and for obtaining the F-35 in particular,” he writes. “The problem is, from the Israeli point of view, that Saudi Arabia is not the UAE. Its western border is far closer to Israel, and in the long term there’s no knowing how stable the rule of the royal house is, not least because of the extensive activity of extreme Sunni Islam organizations in the country.”

5. Mallrat nation: The opening of malls on Friday, as part of a pilot program, is juxtaposed with coronavirus case numbers that are on the rise again.

  • Pictures and videos show people streaming en masse to the 15 malls okayed to open around the country.
  • “Expectedly, masses showed up at the stores — created a heavy crush,” reports Channel 13.
  • It adds that store owners are already calling the pilot program a failure, and blaming it for creating the crowds. “They needed to open more malls — this was destined for failure from the start,” it says.
  • “More openings, more infections,” reads a front-page headline in Yedioth. “This is a how a third lockdown is born,” columnist Nadav Eyal writes in the paper.
  • “Right now the government is involved in creating the third lockdown. All that it has to do is nothing. To predict a small rise in morbidity and so to push easements, and then to add on more easements.”
  • Who says the government isn’t doing anything. On Friday, Finance Minister Israel Katz visits the crush of people crowding the Mahane Yehuda outdoor market, which has also been partially closed along with malls. “We’re working to classify the outdoor markets as essential areas, as we have done with other businesses,” he’s quoted by Kan telling the vendors.
  • The operator of a mall at the Dead Sea complains to Army Radio that his consumer paradise was not included, despite the fact that nobody can even go to that area without being tested first. “I went to the Tourism Ministry and Culture Ministry and everyone said yes, yes, but I guess it’s too negligible. Just a few hundred families from the boondocks who are hurt.”
  • Meanwhile, new coronavirus czar Nachman Ash tells the station that soon there will not only be green and red cities, but also green and red people. “We will create a ‘green passport,’ for people who have a lower chance of getting infected or infecting others,” he says.
  • If it sounds like a terrible idea… “What reason is there for someone not to purposely get infected, sit in isolation for 10 days, and yalla, get a green passport and leave this shit behind,” tweets Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson.
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