1. Early election talk is continuing to heat up Wednesday, but everybody is claiming they don’t actually want to go to the polls yet.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an ultimatum to coalition leaders Tuesday night, challenging them to either find a long-term solution to the crisis or start gearing up for early elections in June.
- “It seems everyone is out on a limb. I want a solution, but not a Band-aid that will fall off in a month and we’ll find ourselves in another coalition crisis,” Israel Hayom reports Netanyahu told Minister Yariv Lavin and aide Yoav Horovitz.
- Yedioth Ahronoth notes that the crisis is overshadowing Netanyahu’s visit to the US, taking time away from “his busy schedule in Washington.”
- By Wednesday morning, there were signs that the sides may be coming together to back a compromise, after Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett said everyone wants to avoid elections.
- But the Walla news site notes that UTJ lawmaker Moshe Gafni, while saying a solution has been found, also charged that “it seems somebody isn’t interested” in reaching a solution, without saying who.
- Notably missing from the conversation on calming the waters are those actually responsible for the crisis: UTJ head Yaakov Litzman, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman and Kulanu honcho Moshe Kahlon.
- Answering a question from MK Yehudah Glick in the Knesset Wednesday morning, Litzman half-joked, “My job is to create crises and yours is to solve them.”
- Haaretz quotes sources close to Gafni saying that UTJ will vote for the state budget and back a compromise solution to the ultra-Orthodox draft law even without Litzman’s okay, underlining an internal rift within the party.
2. Litzman’s spin doctors accused Netanyahu on Tuesday of being the one wanting early elections, but in Israel Hayom, columnist Moti Tuchfeld says that despite positive polling numbers, the prime minister has no interest in sending people back to the ballot box.
- “The campaign awaiting him will make the last election, in 2015, look like a walk in the park,” he writes, seemingly referring to the fact that the election will become a referendum on Netanyahu’s legal woes.
- But that may be just what he wants. The Times of Israel’s Raoul Wootliff draws an analogy to “Game of Thrones” and the show’s “trial by combat” judicial system, by which the winner of a fight is forgiven his trespasses, noting that Netanyahu might seek some absolution from the corruption scandals hounding him via a snap poll: “Winning an election would not exonerate the prime minister. … But, like a trial by combat, it would prove to the public, and to himself perhaps, that Netanyahu can win, at least one last fight.”
3. Haaretz reports that former Netanyahu aide Nir Hefetz will be able to provide “what’s considered the missing link” in the Bezeq-Walla corruption scandal, with evidence that the prime minister was involved in a quid pro quo with Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch.
- The news comes as police are under fire for making deals with suspects to turn them into state’s witnesses, especially the deal with Hefetz, which lets him escape all prosecution.
- “I have to say that I’m uncomfortable with the fact that the state’s witness is escaping punishment. He’s a criminal as well, and not one acting out of ethical motivations,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who oversees the police, tells the Kan broadcaster Wednesday morning. “I understand the use of them in order to get at the truth. It does not leave a nice feeling when there are so many state’s witnesses against Netanyahu.”
- Pushing back against criticism of the practice, a senior justice source tells Yedioth that “when you are talking about an investigation against the sitting prime minister there is a heightened public interest in getting to the truth, especially in a corruption probe.”
4. Netanyahu was able to push the investigations to the side for a bit on Tuesday as he gave a rousing speech to an adoring crowd at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington. “As far away as possible from the investigations,” reads the front page headline in Yedioth.
- But pundits also saw Netanyahu’s speech as a play to show audiences why they should think twice before trading him in.
- “A national leader at the very top of his game, the prime minister did everything to show himself not merely inspiring and commanding, but irreplaceable. But it’s not AIPAC that will determine his fate. As things stand, it’s not Israeli voters either. It’s Israel’s law enforcement authorities,” David Horovitz writes in The Times of Israel.
- “He offered little red meat for the audience or the press with which to concoct an exciting headline. It seemed what he wanted to be remembered for most was his upbeat mood and that his skill at speaking to foreign audiences far exceeds that of any other figure on the Israeli political scene, presumably to spur Israelis to think twice before getting rid of him,” Allison Kaplan Sommer writes in Haaretz.
- “His address to the crowd of 18,000 played more like a pep rally than a policy address. Netanyahu largely stuck to his standard talking points — celebrating Israeli innovation, confronting Iran, criticizing the Palestinian Authority,” Ben Sales writes for JTA.
5. Netanyahu’s last full day in the US is Wednesday, with a speech to the Economic Club in Washington and a trip to New York to attend an event marking 25 years since Natan Sharanksy was released from Soviet prison.
- Haaretz reports that Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet Nikki Haley, the only person whose reception at AIPAC rivaled Netanyahu’s.
- If the past is any indicator, Iran, and not Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, will be the main subject on the agenda, as it was when he met Trump on Monday. The paper takes him to task for spending so little time on the Palestinians, writing in its lead editorial that he “bragged of it, as though he were announcing a brilliant diplomatic achievement, rather than an additional link in the chain of his diplomatic failures.”
6. The Palestinian Authority is rebuffing claims that it is avoiding negotiations. On Tuesday, top Palestinian Authority official Mohammed Shtayeh told journalists that Palestinians were not “running from” talks and compared the Trump administration’s handling of Palestinians to those who lead cows to slaughter.
- “They bring the cattle in a yard with one single exit, with a man on a horse and a whip. And they keep pushing the cows into the trap. By the time every single cow gets through, it is shot in the head with an electric gun, then it goes in a belt to the slaughtering house, then we eat it as hamburger,” he said, according to AFP. “With the Palestinians, what is happening is exactly the same.”
- In al-Monitor, Akiva Eldar writes that the US administration is trying to push the sides into considering alternatives to a two-state solution. “A US administration source who spoke with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said with undisguised regret that holding on to the illusion of a two-state solution could actually result in an apartheid state or an everlasting conflict. And so, Israel must start preparing for a one-state solution,” he writes.
7. The more pressing issue, though, may be the health of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, with rumors swirling in Ramallah.
- Haaretz reports that his health has deteriorated and Israeli officials are preparing for a possibly violent power struggle in the West Bank should be die or step down. The PA president has cut down his work hours over the past year. People around him say he seems to be getting more short-tempered and argumentative with his aides and other senior PA officials,” the paper’s Amos Harel writes. “Israel is concerned that the internal tension will impact the degree to which the PA security services will work to prevent attacks on the IDF and Israeli civilians in the West Bank.”
- The Times of Israel’s Khaled Abu Toameh looks at Fatah apparatchik Mahmoud al-Aloul, chosen by Abbas to be his successor. “If elected, Aloul, who belongs to the old guard of the Palestinian leadership, is expected to pursue the same policies as his predecessor,” he writes. “Like Abbas, Aloul also believes that the US is no longer qualified to act as an honest broker in any peace process between the Palestinians and Israel.”
8. The resignation of Gary Cohn from Trump’s economic team over the administration’s move to impose tariffs is dominating the overnight US news cycle.
- Some are noting the fact that Cohn, who is Jewish, drafted but ultimately shelved a resignation letter over the administration’s response to the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville last summer.
- “Economic policy disagreements, it seems, pushed Cohn’s conscience to a breaking point in a way that an inexplicable failure to condemn neo-Nazis simply couldn’t,” Jay Willis writes in GQ.
9. The name George Nader is also in the news with a report saying he is cooperating with Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. Nader is seen as tied to an Emirati attempt to influence Trump, but he’s also known as a mover and shaker with ties to Netanyahu.
- His connection goes back to 1998, when Nader was a key mediator between Netanyahu and Syrian ruler Hafez Assad in an unsuccessful attempt to broker a peace deal during Netanyahu’s first term in office.
- “Nader has been questioned numerous times about meetings in New York during the transition, the Seychelles meeting and meetings in the White House with two of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers, Jared Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, who has since left the administration,” The New York Times reports.
10. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is visiting London Wednesday, and many locals are nonplussed over a massive ad campaign to greet him, including billboards and roving trucks and cars with his face on them.
Feels like arriving in #Riyadh – when entering London from the M4 & M40 one is greeted by the “beloved leader” #MbS – @AEISaudi & the #Saudi lobby try to turn around the kingdom’s image in a not so subtle way @alekhbariyatv pic.twitter.com/Gb8rwuYiUK
— Dr Andreas Krieg (@andreas_krieg) March 6, 2018
— سعيد آل خيار (@QSmsk) March 6, 2018
I don't know about you but these ads have totally convinced me that maybe the Saudi Prince isn't such a bad egg after all. pic.twitter.com/TRaXF7W9bD
— Connal Hughes (@connal99) March 7, 2018