1. All aboard the immunity express: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity request train has left the station and is chugging along full steam ahead, with Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn convening the Knesset Arrangements Committee on Monday morning, the first step in a somewhat byzantine process that is expected to conclude with the aforementioned request being rejected and charges being filed against the premier.
- That is all thanks to Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon releasing an opinion Sunday ruling that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, of Likud, does not have the right to prevent the Knesset plenum from forming a House Committee, which is usually not convened in a transitional government.
- Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Nissenkorn is hoping to have the House Committee up and running and actually considering Netanyahu’s request next week. By Monday afternoon, he’s already holding a meeting trying to get it set up.
- Haaretz calls the okay to move forward from Yinon “a blow for Netanyahu.”
- Channel 13 reporter Aviad Glickman notes that once the House Committee forms, Eyal Yinon actually will need to recuse himself, since the committee will be dealing with a subject that is a conflict of interest for him. That will make committee legal adviser Arbel Esterhan the one to decide on procedural matters. “I don’t envy the pressure they will put on her,” he remarks.
2. Thus spake Yuli: Edelstein said he would respect Yinon’s decision, but still expressed his strong disapproval, winning plaudits in Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom for a speech decrying the “Knesset circus.”
- The paper’s Mati Tuchfeld notes that, unable to stop the committee from forming, Likud will now try to delay it as much as possible by tying it down in court, in hopes that it will be unable to vote on (and reject) immunity.
- “The Knesset speaker won’t stand to the side, Likud has already prepared its ‘delay arsenal,’ including a long line of parliamentary and judicial moves which will not allow for the rushed timeline planned by Benny Gantz and his buddies.”
- However, Tuchfeld also writes that even with all the delay tactics in the world, Netanyahu will never actually get protection from the Knesset, apparently reversing an earlier position in a column last week in which he expressed confidence that Netanyahu would eventually muster 61 Mks to save his tush.
- Yossi Verter in Haaretz describes Edelstein as walking between the raindrops and notes that he can still throw his own delaying tactics into the mix, like refusing to convene the full Knesset to vote on the committee makeup.
- “Edelstein’s effort to stay dry will likely fail; that’s something that’s not so easy to do during this tough winter. He hasn’t satisfied the right – and certainly not Netanyahu, who’s never satisfied anyway – but he also hasn’t satisfied the left. He has been caught in a perfect storm, like many others whom fate put in the prime minister’s way,” he writes.
- ToI’s Raoul Wootliff notes that Edelstein uses a tightrope metaphor but comes to the same conclusion, noting that the upshot may be the end of Edelstein’s hopes to get enough support if he ever wants to be president or even remain speaker. Until now he’s earned the reputation as a moderate who stays above mudslinging.
- “Further efforts to block, delay or slow the immunity bid, however, could put that reputation, and his chance of becoming head of state, at risk,” he says.
3. Committee fever: According to Channel 13, Blue and White will also try to convene all the other committees that are currently dormant with no active Knesset, in order to get another shot in against Netanyahu.
- “Blue and White plans to try and rouse the Knesset from the recess atmosphere and put together all the other committees — health, education, welfare etc. The move is part of its election campaign, so if Likud opposes the process, they can point and say the party is trying to block the country from being managed as it needs to be,” it reports.
- Could that end up being a problem? Haaretz reports that Yinon made it clear that the only reason Knesset committees are generally not convened once new elections are called is because of fears they will be used as campaign tools instead of policy-making ones, which is why the Knesset speaker is usually given the chance to torpedo the committees in extreme cases.
- In any case, what is coming together sounds a whole lot like a government in everything but name and in Walla News, Amir Oren calls the moves to convene the committee, “the creation of the government-to-be, headed by Benny Gantz, and the fall of Netanyahu.”
4. Shotgun wedding: Before the government is created, though, there will need to be elections, and a mini-bombshell lands on the left with a merger between Labor-Gesher and Meretz.
- The merger is described by many as a marriage of convenience, given that some in Labor, and especially Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis, are far to the right of the left-wing Meretz.
- Speaking to Army Radio, Levy-Abekasis does not hide her unhappiness over joining with Meretz but reveals that the secret to her happy political marriage with Labor’s Amir Peretz is the ability to compromise: “Sometimes you need to consider your partner who is facing immense pressure.”
- Kan notes that even Peretz needed to be dragged to the altar, calling it a shotgun wedding. “He did not want this merger with Meretz. If it were up to him, he would go back to what he had in September, him and Orly Levy alone.”
5. More is less: Labor’s Itzik Shmuli tells the station that by joining up “we neutralized the risk that we could lose 150,000 votes.”
- But with each party having been predicted to get 4-6 seats before, few see it nearing 12 seats now.
- “It’s better to be number 40 in Blue and White than number 10 in Labor-Meretz. Maybe even number 9,” quips Channel 12’s Amit Segal.
- Walla’s Tal Shalev writes that the two parties may have “signed the death certificate for their known brands, but they seemingly saved at least one of them from falling beneath the threshold percentage. … The newest polls show that a united party will bring in nine seats, two less than they would as two separate parties, but at the price of Meretz running the risk of not necessarily making it in.”
6. Toy parties: The merger also serves as a reminder as to how far the left has fallen.
- The merger “Reflects the macro story of Israel—shrinking of political spectrum from 90’s to today. Then it was a right to left spectrum and today it is largely a right to center spectrum. Contributing factor: second intifada of 2000-2004 that crippled camp fervently identifying with,” writes David Makovsky on Twitter.
28 years ago, Labour and Meretz won 44 percent of the vote and shared power. Now they're running in a joint list to save each other from electoral oblivion. The lowest point so far in the history of the Zionist left. https://t.co/l45yVgHx9t
— Anshel Pfeffer (@AnshelPfeffer) January 13, 2020
- Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes, though, that merger or no merger, once party slates are locked, there’s really only two camps, for Netanyahu or against him.
- “It’s a dismal but unavoidable state of affairs. Netanyahu has not only transformed Likud, a once proud and principled party, into his personal platform. He has also forced right-wing and religious parties into serving his own narrow agenda, rather than their constituencies,” he writes.
- “The effect also hollowed out the opposition. Kahol Lavan is an artificial party with nothing keeping it together besides the burning desire to see Netanyahu leave. Yisrael Beiteinu, which represents a rapidly vanishing base of Russian speakers who have not integrated into wider Israeli society, has been gifted a temporary lifeline to end Netanyahu’s alliance with the Haredim. Labor and Meretz both urgently need to rediscover their raison d’être in order to survive, but cannot do so while there is nothing to do but remove the prime minister.”
- In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea pens a eulogy for once proud smaller parties (some of which were not always so small) given the trend toward mergers and each party becoming as vanilla as possible to snugly fit whatever partner it merges with.
- “When the political system congeals into two tough blocs, there is more loyalty toward the bloc than themselves or their heritage, and there is no significance to what the individual parties do,” he writes. “The little parties can fight among themselves, but at the end of the day, they are all soldiers for Bibi (or against him).”