1. Bye bye Knesset: On Tuesday, Israel was “on its way to elections,” as per the top headline in Yedioth Ahronoth and elsewhere. On Wednesday, Israel is “on the cusp of elections,” according to the top headline of the same paper, following an announcement by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz that his party will back the dissolution of the Knesset.
- “The train is expected to leave the station today on its way to the fourth election in under two years,” reads the lede of the paper’s top story, calling Gantz’s speech “stinging.”
- Shalom Yerushalmi writes in ToI sister site Zman Yisrael that Gantz’s speech Tuesday night was “relatively sharp,” which he says is an achievement for the not-so-great orator, noting that some of his lines were actually stolen from pop songs.
- Yerushalmi claims that in his heart of hearts, Gantz is still hoping the rotation agreement somehow will stay intact. “The only man to ever have the title of alternate prime minister is having a tough time letting go. … Now he has given a speech that blows up those hopes, but he is still not okay with it.”
- Yerushalmi predicts that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and friends will focus their campaign on going after Yair Lapid, whom they will target as their main rival.
- However, alleged Netanyahu mouthpiece Israel Hayom, which calls the speech “aggressive,” actually seems to aim its fire not at Lapid but at the third part of the broalition of rivals, Yamina chief Naftali Bennett, claiming in a pair of articles that he wants elections so he can chase after votes sloughed off from Blue and White (working off the assumption that you can hurt someone politically by blaming them for calling elections).
- “While Gantz is being forced to choose between two bad options, which will likely lead to his largest political defeat thus far, Netanyahu is gaining strength in the polls,” writes Mati Tuchfeld.
- About Bennett he writes, “It’s not for nothing that Yamina is the party that most longs for elections,” noting that Yamina submitted its own bill to disperse the Knesset, despite the fact that it’s the Yesh Atid bill (which goes unmentioned) that will be voted on.
- Despite the fact that everyone appears to know how the vote will go down, Kan plays up what it calls “drama,” reporting on whether Ra’am will back the vote (which does not matter mathematically) and Likud efforts for a voice vote to be called on the measure.
- Blue and White’s Izhar Shay mentions to Army Radio that “there is no reason to go to elections if we can switch out the government within the current Knesset. There are always talks on this, but they haven’t borne fruit.”
- Channel 12 reports on his remarks under the headline: “The Knesset won’t disperse.”
2. No way out: Haaretz’s top headline notes the fact that Gantz left Netanyahu with an opening to keep the government together, though few think it will have any effect.
- The paper’s Yossi Verter is among those who does not put much stock in a last-minute compromise: “[Blue and White] was the victim of the most sophisticated political sting operation ever, managed by a first-class, master swindler. The Knesset will be dispersed next week, or in three weeks at the latest. The [Blue and White] ministers will remain in the government solely to aggravate he who cannot fire them. Gantz’s call to Netanyahu to regain his composure, to stop with the divisiveness, to pass the 2021 budget quickly and in short, to be a mensch, was probably greeted by rolling laughter on Balfour Street. This time one can assume that Gantz doesn’t even believe himself anymore.”
- Channel 12’s Amit Segal, who sees echoes of Avichai Mandelblit’s announcement of charges against Netanyahu in Gantz’s declaration of having a “heavy heart,” writes that “of course Gantz’s offer won’t be answered. The lot has been drawn. Elections are coming.”
- Channel 13 news notes that the vote on dissolving the Knesset (which will likely have taken place by the time you read this) will be “a step that may be the opening shot ahead of going to the polls — but it’s only a first step, and there are more windows of opportunity to stop the gallop toward elections.”
- But Israel Hayom seems to shrug off the vote as insignificant anyway, noting that it’s only a preliminary vote, with the way to early elections still long: “The fact that you don’t need a 61-person majority shows that this is not an important measure. You can see it as a warning light to Likud, and an expensive win for the opposition and Blue and White.”
3. Low orating: While defending Netanyahu’s decision to not want to pass a budget for 2020 or 2021 until he knows what is happening with the coronavirus, which he says will come conveniently several months into next year, Israel Hayom columnist Amnon Lord also takes some shots at Gantz.
- “[Gantz] spoke like he was standing on a milk crate in front of a black flag protest. He used the kind of rhetoric that is adhered to in the angry streets of the leftists. No faith in Netanyahu,” he writes. “What he forgot to mention, for obvious reasons, is that his untrustworthy partner, Netanyahu, is a human phenomenon. Even under a political volcano erupting and hurling stones, he has managed to navigate the three channels via which the country is managed.”
- (Kan points out that Netanyahu’s mastery of not managing a budget has put the country in a NIS 30 billion hole.)
- ToI editor David Horovitz, in a column initially sent exclusively to ToI community members (and later published on ToI), is also harshly critical of Gantz, especially his assertion that Netanyahu duped the country.
- “But that’s not what happened at all. Many Israeli citizens were and are prepared to vote for Netanyahu, knowing, indeed in some cases appreciating, that he is a cunning political fox who can’t be fully trusted. Many of those Netanyahu voters believe the corruption allegations against him are unfounded, and many others think they may be solid but don’t outweigh the advantages offered by an experienced, wily prime minister who has kept this country relatively safe, who is facing down Iran, and has lately overseen a succession of normalization agreements in partnership with the Trump administration,” he writes. “Most of those who weren’t prepared to vote for Netanyahu in the last three elections, however, instead placed their faith in Gantz. And the truth of the matter, then, is not that Netanyahu “duped all the citizens of Israel.” That formulation is doubly off-target. What actually happened is that Gantz allowed himself to be duped, and then he duped those citizens of Israel who had voted for him.”
- Haaretz’s Ravit Hecht is also unimpressed, calling Gantz’s speech “disheartening”: “The clearest sign of Gantz’s incomprehension is his ostensibly statesmanlike rhetoric, which reflects a level of political sophistication on par with a student organization or town council. His lack of understanding is especially glaring given the person he’s dealing with: one of the most devious politicians in Israeli history.”
- In Yedioth, Sima Kadmon notes that Netanyahu put out his own statement in which he kept repeating the word “unity.” “As if anyone believes it will happen, that the wolf and the lamb will ever manage to live together. Or in this case, that the wolf will allow the lamb to live at Balfour. There is not a person who did not expect that this would happen one way or another. That an alliance born without love, without trust, without desire from either side to make the unity deal work — would result in something stable, lasting, with good intentions,” she writes.
4. Any alternates? Asked whether Blue and White might consider switching out Gantz for someone the polls show to be doing better, party MK Alon Schuster does not discount the possibility while avoiding the question.
- “We’ll do everything to return Israel to being a proper place to live in,” he says.
- Of the three names put out by Army Radio’s Razi Barkai as possible replacements, only one, Ron Huldai, was never IDF chief of staff.
- ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes about the man thought to be being groomed to succeed Netanyahu at the top of Likud — not a general, but a man who knows his way around security challenges: Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.
- “Cohen’s influence is hard to exaggerate. Since he took over the reins of Israel’s spy agency in 2016, the Mossad has grown rapidly in budgets and manpower, expanded its operational infrastructure and engaged in some of the most daring espionage actions the region has ever seen (according to foreign reports, of course). It has all but replaced Israel’s professional diplomatic corps and Foreign Ministry in the most strategically critical theaters, such as Israel’s burgeoning alliances with the Sunni Arab world,” he writes.
- “The Mossad under Cohen has become an instrument of grand strategy for a prime minister worried about very large strategic threats. … And that has made Cohen himself the indispensable architect of Netanyahu’s far-reaching and many-layered campaign to disrupt Iran’s nuclear and precision-missile programs and construct new strategic alliances against the looming chaos. Netanyahu sees in Cohen not merely a protégé, but the daring strategist Israel will need to safely weather the coming crisis. His patronage is as much a statement about where Netanyahu believes the Middle East is headed as it is about whom he deems a worthy successor to himself,” he adds.
- With Bennett gunning for the premiership, Walla reports on his moves to woo Likud’s Yifat Shasha-Biton, leader of the Knesset’s coronavirus restriction rebellion, including offering her the number 2 slot on his slate, according to the report.
- “Bennett offered Shasha-Biton the world and all it contains, whatever she wants, for her to join them,” a source familiar with the matter tells the news outlet.
5. Political pandemic: With coronavirus numbers on the rise, comments by Health Ministry official Sharon Alroy Preis warning of a third wave of the virus get wide play, especially on the heels of coronavirus czar Nachman Ash declaring a state of emergency.
- Health Ministry deputy head Itamar Grotto tells Army Radio that he thinks they went a bit too far. “State of emergency is a bit extreme. I don’t think we’re at the start of the third wave, we still haven’t finished the second.”
- But an attempt to square the warnings and pandemic fears with the political crisis appears to leave some nonplussed.
- “What’s going on with you all?” asks Kan’s Shaul Amsterdamski. “Have you already done everything you need to make sure we don’t head back into a lockdown? … What you are saying is you failed.”
- Tel Aviv University Bruria Adani tells Army Radio that the public would prefer a vaccine for the nation’s politics over a coronavirus vaccine. “[Everyone] was sure that the fear would come from the pandemic, but our research shows that what worries citizens is the lack of political stability. There’s no control over the political threat, but you can control how exposed you are.”
- Yedioth’s Sarit Rosenblum writes that the leaders “are throwing the keys on the table and walking away.”
- “It’s hard to describe the shambles, impulsiveness, slackness and unthinkable stupidity that has led us to this point. We will part from this Knesset without regret.”