1. The Beytenu ultimatum: Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s ultimatum to Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz is the talk of the town Sunday morning.
- During an appearance on Channel 12’s “Meet the Press,” Liberman demanded that Netanyahu abandon his right-religious negotiating partners and Gantz accept Netanyahu as prime minister first in a rotation, threatening to back the other person if they don’t.
- While it isn’t technically a logical ultimatum (what if they both refuse?), it is still seen as an important opening shot in what is expected to be a “very political week” (whatever that means) in the words of Kan radio host Aryeh Golan, with the clock running down on efforts to form a governing coalition.
- “Assuming that [Liberman] keeps his word, this week could prove to be decisive. One of three things could happen: A unity government according to the president’s plan; a right-wing-Haredi government headed by Netanyahu; or a center-left government headed by Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz. Yisrael Beiteinu is safely ensconced in the center of each of these three options,” Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes.
- In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea writes that both of Liberman’s conditions are nonstarters, but allows that “the question now is which of them is less of a nonstarter.”
2. Blufferman: Gantz’s people have stayed mum on the issue, but Likud has been vocal in dismissing the ultimatum. Israel Hayom, seen as the voice of the party, is not shy about how it feels about Liberman’s ideas, splashing the words “politics of threats” in massive letters on its front page, and headlining its main story “Liberman is threatening with an empty gun.”
- “He’s playing poker without cards,” the same unnamed senior Likud official who supplied the above quote tells the tabloid.
- Those analogies must be super apt because both also appear in a column by Channel 12’s Amit Segal, in which he writes that Liberman is bluffing and doesn’t have a bullet in his gun.
- “When somebody threatens another with an unloaded gun, both of them are afraid. The one who knows his rifle is empty and the one who does not know. And in politics we’ve learned that unloaded guns can still fire,” he writes, in a possible oblique reference to a conspiracy theory surrounding the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
- Another headline in the paper, on a column by Mati Tuchfeld, reads “Panic on live TV,” but he’s not referring to Likud people taking to the airwaves to push back against Liberman.
- Rather he is referring to the ultimatumator himself, who he says is guilty of giving a hand to creating a government supported by the Joint List of mostly-Arab parties — “something even David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres would not dare to do,” he writes, despite the fact that they did join governments backed by Arab parties.
3. Arabian kiss: Accusing Liberman of wanting to join with the Arabs has been a constant racist talking point among Likud supporters.
- On Sunday, Netanyahu took several minutes out of his weekly cabinet meeting to attack Liberman for trying to create a government supported by the Arab parties. While the comments are not included in a statement sent out by his office, his Twitter account carries a video of them.
- Showing that Likud may be hitting at a soft point, Army Radio reports that Blue and White is asking the Joint List to part ways with Balad, the most hardline faction in the alliance, “to help Liberman and the general public swallow it easier.”
- In a tweet, Joint List No. 2 Ahmad Tibi calls the report “delusional nonsense.”
- But Balad head Metanes Shehada tells the radio station that “we will not vote for a minority government with Liberman,” and says Blue and White is not negotiating his party seriously.
4. Third elections, here we come: Liberman’s ultimatum came on the heels of New Right head Naftali Bennett being appointed defense minister and his rump faction merging with Likud.
- In widely reported comments, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi says, “The move was meant to prevent the disintegration of the bloc,” and admits it is a political move, like other appointments.
- Channel 12 news runs through a laundry list of options after the ultimatum and Bennett’s appointment, from a minority government to third elections, “the worst option.” The only things impossible, according to the channel, are a government headed by Gantz, which includes Bennett and is backed by the Arabs, since he is now off the table, and a Netanyahu-led minority government, since he would need the mandate back after Gantz fails, and his bloc does not have the 61 votes to force that scenario.
- Channel 13’s Sefi Ovadia writes that the appointment of Bennett “is the latest sign that third elections are approaching,” but says the final word will be be said by Liberman.
- Israel Hayom’s Amnon Lord also writes that Bennett’s appointment means third elections are on the way, which he claims sent Liberman into a tizzy of ultimatums to avoid it, knowing he will be the loser.
- “Bennett’s appointment may not be ideal, but he’s better than any of three former IDF chiefs in Blue and White,” he writes.
5. Boo birds bash Bennett: Not everyone agrees that Bennett is the best man for the job, and some are criticizing the appointment as sacrificing security to the altar of politics.
- Haaretz’s Amos Harel slams the appointment as a “cynical bargain” coming “at a time when Netanyahu is declaring from every possible stage that security threats have grown immeasurably, particularly from Iran. If indeed we are headed for trouble, why would Netanyahu appoint as defense minister a man with whom he has clashed regularly for a year, whose skills he publicly disparaged and to whom he adamantly refused the position in the past?”
- In Yedioth, Yossi Yehoshua also dismisses the possibility that Bennett can do much of anything in the post.
- “Bennett knows he needs to leave his mark somehow and his time is short… but given the security challenges on one side and political pressures on the other, the chances of success are not high,” he writes.
6. Lease loss: If the political scene were not confusing enough, the end of 25-year leases of agricultural lands to Jordan, which seems straightforward enough, is rife with confusing and contradictory reports.
- On Saturday, Israel shuttered Naharayim’s isle of peace for what’s likely the last time, but hasn’t said anything officially about it.
- Meanwhile, in the south, a farming enclave near Tzofar is the source of even more confusion.
- The Ynet news website’s report about the area being a declared a closed military zone is misleading, as that is what it has always been, with the IDF controlling access for farmers.
- The site also reports that a tacit deal between Jordan and Israel will let farmers continue using the land for several months.
- Haaretz even reports IDF confirmation of the deal, and indeed farmers on Sunday entered the land as normal on Sunday, a local official tells ToI.
7. Isle of revanchism: But Jordan’s King Abdullah still got up and gave a speech in Amman in which he boasted of returning the northern piece land to Jordanian sovereignty, receiving a standing ovation.
- “From Abdullah’s point of view, as well as his close aides and the general public, this is an issue of national respect — and they are acting like they have gotten back a huge chunk of land that was under occupation,” Channel 13’s Hezi Simantov writes.
- He adds that tour companies in Jordan are already selling packages to the area as “new and beautiful northern Jordan.”
- At the site, Jordanian television captured the army putting a Jordanian flag up, which Israel’s Walla news describes as a “symbolic act.”
- The site reports that intensive preparations are underway for a large ceremony, likely Monday, at the site. “Under a Jordanian watch tower they have already put up two large tents.”
- The spot, notes the site, is exactly where a Jordanian serviceman gunned down seven Israeli school girls 22 years ago.
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