Lose the battle, ready for (electoral) war: 10 things to know for November 14
Israel media review

Lose the battle, ready for (electoral) war: 10 things to know for November 14

Liberman’s resignation over a quickly ended fight with Gaza shakes up an already woozy Israel, and may lead to early elections with Bennett threatening to follow suit

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to residents of the Gaza periphery in Kibbutz Kerem Shalom on October 26, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to residents of the Gaza periphery in Kibbutz Kerem Shalom on October 26, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

1. Liberman quits over Gaza: Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman resigned from the government at a press conference early Wednesday afternoon, the only Israeli casualty of the short-lived Israel-Gaza war of 2018.

  • Liberman very publicly disagreed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others in the cabinet over the decision to agree to a truce with the Hamas terror group in Gaza, which ended a round of heavy fighting but is considered by many to be a stinking Band-Aid that will just have to be painfully ripped off in a few weeks anyway.
  • Sources tell Haaretz that Liberman has been mulling the move for a while, “driven by his sense that he isn’t leading the defense establishment to the place he wants to go.”
  • “He is currently choosing between the end of his career if he stays in his position, and a slight chance of rehabilitating his public image if he resigns,” an unnamed minister tells Channel 10 news.
  • But another unnamed minister tells Israel Hayom that if he leaves, it will be the least responsible thing he can do. “If he does this then he really isn’t fit for the position,” the minister says.
  • Maariv’s Tal Lev-Ram writes that Liberman’s resignation will be “the biggest prize to Hamas.”

2. Elections on the way? Liberman’s resignation won’t immediately trigger new elections as the government had stood before he joined, but with snap poll talk already rampant, most see the move as the likely death knell for the governing coalition.

  • Channel 10’s Barak Ravid notes on Twitter that Liberman’s people haven’t informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but assuming he does resign, elections will be called and will take place in 3-5 months.
  • A senior coalition source tells Walla News that the significance of Liberman’s resignation will be “immediate elections.”
  • However, a Likud source tells the media that there is “no need to go to elections at this time of sensitive security,” despite the coalition losing five seats with Yisrael Beytenu’s exit.

3. Bennett’s big chance? The Likud source also says Netanyahu plans on holding the defense portfolio himself, making him prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister (along with health minister), dashing the hopes of right-wingers who had hoped he would give the job to Education Minister Naftali Bennett,

  • Bennett, who joined Liberman in publicly opposing the truce, says he won’t go quietly.
  • Jewish Home party officials tell The Times of Israel that Netanyahu must give Bennett the defense portfolio. “It’s either Defense Ministry or we are out,” an official says. “This is our ultimatum to stay in the government.”
  • Several right-wing pundits are also pushing Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, as a replacement for Liberman in the Defense Ministry, and Bennett’s people say he will demand the portfolio.
  • Channel 20’s Boaz Golan advises Netanyahu to not even wait until Liberman quits, and instead fire him and appoint Bennett in his place, calling it a “golden opportunity.”
  • “Bennett is seen by the public as someone who can take the reins of the defense establishment and succeed with it,” he writes.
  • Israel National News’s Uzi Baruch writes that not replacing Liberman with Bennett would be “irresponsible.”
  • “Liberman’s failure was a sharp and painful failure, and the health condition of Ismail Haniyeh is of course just an example,” referring to Liberman’s promise to assassinate the Hamas leader within 48 hours of becoming defense minister.
  • While giving Bennett the defense portfolio may win Netanyahu some fans on the right, it’s hard to see how he would consider raising the cachet of a likely electoral rival just as new elections are about to be called.

4. Knives out of the cabinet: According to reports, there was no vote taken in the security cabinet over whether or not to accept a ceasefire.

  • Columnist Moti Tuchfeld, writing in the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, says that during the meeting nobody raised any objections and those publicly disagreeing with the prime minister are just trying to win electoral points: “In the closed-door meeting everyone supported the army’s position, and when Netanyahu finished the discussion nobody opened his mouth, but a minute later, outside, in the media, the knives came out.”
  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer writes that Netanyahu agreed to the ceasefire knowing he would take heat from all sides, but it fits his MO perfectly.
  • “The cease-fire deal fits perfectly with his long-term strategy. So what if buying off Hamas in Gaza with Qatari money, effectively kicking the can down the road for a couple more years, doesn’t solve anything. At most it will give Israel a few years of temporary calm on the southern front and alleviate the humanitarian situation in Gaza enough to avoid a full-blown crisis. But Netanyahu isn’t looking for a long-term solution now. He doesn’t believe one exists with the Palestinians, besides what he call “peace of deterrence” – another word for bullying the Palestinians until they give up. He’s perfectly aware that won’t happen in the foreseeable future and he’s prepared to wait even for another generation if that’s what it takes,” he writes.

5. ‘Bibi go home’: Much like the cabinet, the Israeli public is also split on whether Israel was right to agree to a truce and came out of the battle looking like a loser.

  • “Mr. Prime Minister, until when?” reads a top headline in Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • In Sderot, which has suffered on and off rocket attacks for close to 20 years, people loudly protested the truce, burning tires to block roads Tuesday night and chanting “Bibi go home.”
  • Others have a more nuanced take: “On the one hand I’m happy there’s no war, on the other there’s also no takeaway. I don’t know what to tell my kids. It’s clear that the quiet is temporary, and we can’t continue to live like this,” a resident of a kibbutz near the Gaza border tells Israel Radio.
  • Reflecting frustration with the on-and-off wars and lack of a long-term solution, Gaza border-area resident Eilat Alon-Boker writes that rather than be saluted and get free trips to parks for their kids as compensation, residents of the south would rather just have a little peace and quiet.
  • “Don’t tell us we are strong and Zionists and heroes. It doesn’t interest us to be like that! We didn’t ask for and don’t want it and wars are passe,” she says.

6. Emboldened Hamas: Some of the anger was amplified by Hamas’s crowing after the ceasefire about how it had beaten Israel and would fire rockets even farther next time.

  • “They controlled the timing of it. They controlled the level of escalation. They controlled the flames,” analyst Shimrit Meir tells The New York Times.
  • Amos Harel in Haaretz writes that Hamas may have decided to pound Israel after several rounds of fighting where Israel refused to be drawn in and made due with relative limited strikes. “As a result, the Palestinians are growing increasingly bold,” he writes.
  • One former journalist posts this video as an example of how he thinks Israel is dealing with Hamas.

7. Plenty of blame for everyone: The blame for Israel’s perceived failure in the current round is being blamed on both the politicians and the army/defense complex.

  • Israel’s Hayom’s Amnon Lord writes that army curbed its response to Gazan rocket fire too much.
  • “The army’s lack of will to take on an operation has created an absurd situation in which cabinet members are arguing with the army head about how to deal with terrorists,” he writes.
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, though, columnist Nahum Barnea writes that the way the politicians ended the latest round is “ridiculous.”

8. The honest truth: The most important thing to remember about trying to predict where things will go in the Middle East, though, is that nobody really knows anything.

9. Lion rides ultra-Orthodox wave into mayor’s office: The press is also taken up with the results of the second round of voting in municipal elections, which saw Moshe Lion edge out Ofer Berkovitch to become mayor of Jerusalem.

  • Berkovitch has refused to concede, saying that soldiers’ votes have yet to be counted.
  • Haaretz’s Nir Hasson, who crowed on Twitter that Ofer Berkovitch had won the election (and then was chided for “saying yes before the ball goes in the goal”), writes that “The 2018 Jerusalem election will presumably be remembered as a sea change in ultra-Orthodox politics. The split between Hasidic and non-Hasidic (“Lithuanian”) Haredim, along with the independence that many voters have shown, have created a new situation.”
  • But in the short term, there is some consternation about Jerusalem’s mayorship going to a wheeler-dealer politician apparently in the pocket of the ultra-Orthodox who did vote for him.
  • “These results are terrible,” media analyst Tomer Persico writes. Jerusalem is “going to be poorer, more closed off, grayer and less representative of most Israelis.”

10. More change than a couch cushion: Beyond Jerusalem and the ultra-Orthodox (who played a major role in other races), there was a major shift with many incumbents no longer being able to cruise to victory as in the past.

  • “That changed this year in the first-round voting in 251 municipalities on October 30, and even more dramatically in the 54 second-round races on November 13. In Haifa, Bat Yam, Ashkelon, Ramat Gan, Rishon Lezion, Nahariya, Umm al-Fahm, Tiberias, Petah Tikva, Kiryat Shemona, Ra’anana and Ma’alot-Tarshiha, among others, veteran mayors were ousted by unexpectedly strong challengers, some of whom seemed to come from nowhere,” ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes.
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