Outmaneuvered and outnumbered: 8 things to know for May 28
Israel media review

Outmaneuvered and outnumbered: 8 things to know for May 28

Most media outlets seem to agree that even Netanyahu’s vaunted political prowess is not enough to save the unraveling coalition and keep the PM in power

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) hold a press conference in the Knesset on May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) hold a press conference in the Knesset on May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Nearly all media outlets in Israel appear to agree Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was emerging the loser from a game of political chicken with his former defense minister that could see Israelis head to the polls for an unprecedented second election in less than six months.

  • In recent days pundits and political analysts downplayed the prospects of snap polls, but after the Knesset advanced a dissolution bill overnight, there seemed to be a growing consensus that King Bibi — the nickname Netanyahu acquired for his political prowess — would not be able to maneuver his way out of this political crisis.

2. Coalition talks broke down over the weekend due to disagreements between former defense minister and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and the ultra-Orthodox party leaders over Israel’s mandatory draft law.

  • The impasse suggests that Netanyahu has little chance to clinch a coalition deal by the Wednesday night deadline, and his refusal to step aside to pave the way for a unity government was seen by some in Israel as a ploy to avoid criminal prosecution.

3. The Yedioth Ahronoth daily says in its Tuesday edition that Netanyahu’s chance of forming a coalition in the next 36 hours is shrinking by the hour.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. center, speaks with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, left, in the Knesset, on March 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • According to the daily, Netanyahu is feverishly working to garner support from wherever possible, including from Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump. Trump on Monday tweeted that he hopes things “work out” for Netanyahu amid his coalition crisis.
  • Yedioth says that Netanyahu is putting pressure on Liberman to accept a last-minute compromise deal on the draft law that he claims meets the demands of both sides.
  • But the paper prominently states that Netanyahu has declined to put similar pressure on the ultra-Orthodox parties. “All day yesterday, nobody from Netanyahu’s camp even tried to get the Haredi parties to compromise or come towards Liberman,” the paper’s Amichai Attali writes.

4. Yedioth columnist Sima Kadmon also lays into Netanyahu, accusing him of making decisions regarding his coalition based on his own interests.

  • “We aren’t having new elections because of ‘cosmetics,’ we’re having them because Netanyahu refuses to let go,” she writes. “He’s holding on by his fingernails, even though he knows the cost.”
  • “The prime minister is only concerned with one thing, getting rid of the criminal indictments he faces, and that he’ll only be able to do by passing laws that will help him evade prosecution.”
  • Yedioth’s senior columnist, Nahum Barnea, says that Liberman is holding all the cards in the standoff with Netanyahu, because unlike the prime minister, he has nothing to lose.
  • “He sees past the heavy makeup and sees Netanyahu’s obsession [with staying in power] and can’t help but despise it,” he says. “Liberman’s advantage over the other political players is that he has no aspirations and no one he has to please.”

5. The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz makes a similar observation. Liberman, he says, has backed Netanyahu into a corner and stands to emerge the winner regardless of the outcome on Wednesday.

  • “If the ultra-Orthodox concede, and allow the law to pass as it stands, Liberman will have won a political victory, and may gain support in the future as the politician who stood up to ultra-Orthodox extortion,” he writes. “And if they don’t concede, and Israel does go to elections again, he’ll expect to win support at the expense of Likud, a party he notably castigated during his press conference.”

6. In the Haaretz daily, columnist Yossi Verter says that Netanyahu’s handling of the coalition crisis on Monday was “another mistake in the chain of critical mistakes” made by the prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • When Netanyahu showed up at the Knesset for a press conference Monday night, a “humiliated and desperate” premier “was pleading for his life,” Verter says. “Netanyahu is a wounded animal, he is fighting for his life, and we shouldn’t make light of his abilities.”
  • The cartoon in Haaretz’s Tuesday’s edition showed Netanyahu repeatedly chasing Liberman around in circles, with United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman standing off to the side.

7. In a further indication that Netanyahu was losing support over the crisis, a Channel 13 poll conducted on Monday showed that Israelis held Netanyahu responsible for the coalition crisis over anyone else.

  • According to the poll carried out by the firm Stagnet, 41% said Netanyahu was mostly to blame, 27% said it was Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, 16% blamed the ultra-Orthodox parties and 16% said they didn’t know.

8. Meanwhile on Tuesday, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily — which Liberman accused of disseminating government propaganda better than the Soviet Union’s Pravda newspaper under Joseph Stalin — hit back at the Yisrael Beytenu chief.

  • The front page of its Tuesday edition featured a cartoon drawing of Liberman joyfully jabbing a pin into a voodoo doll representing Netanyahu. Its columnists also didn’t hold back, with nearly all of them blaming Liberman for the coalition crisis, calling him everything from a “cynic with zero experience” to a “secret leftist.”
  • Columnist Mati Tuchfeld says that Liberman will be “the sole culprit” if new elections are called, a move he called “unforgivable.”
  • “It’s clear to everyone that the insistence on passing the draft law is based on personal vindictiveness,” he writes, echoing Likud’s claims.
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