1. Same poll, different day: With barely two weeks to go, Israelis are looking toward a third polling round on March 2 with little hopes for much to change since the last two rounds.
- An Israel Hayom/i24 poll shows Blue and White maintaining a slight lead over Likud, the Joint List with 14 seats and everyone else hovering around 7-9 seats — essentially the same as every poll taken in the last year.
- The poll is sure to check for how likely voters for a particular party are to vote, an important and often overlooked rubric, finding a high 84 percent for the left-wingers of Labor-Gesher-Meretz and a lowly 60% for Likud voters. Those numbers serve Likud’s current campaign, which according to columnist Moti Tuchfeld, to get as many Likud members who did not vote to the polls this time. “The question is whether it will work, and which party will manage to get the most of its voters out,” he writes.
- The raw numbers show though that neither side has enough support to form a government without Yisrael Beytenu and “A fourth election is on the horizon,” as the headline reads. The poll finds 74% of voters think there is a moderate or likely chance there will be a fourth round.
- A poll by Channel 12 news also finds the same deadlock continuing. The channel also looks toward a fourth vote, but adds in a wrinkle with a hypothetical situation in which Netanyahu and Gantz were forced into a unity government where they took turns in the prime minister’s chair. It told voters to assume that the candidate they disliked was first in the rotation and asked: Would you rather have a fourth election?
- One-quarter of Israelis would favor a fourth election rather than letting Netanyahu go first. Another 50% would prefer to avoid another vote, while 25% said they didn’t know, the channel finds.
- Haaretz’s Yossi Verter notes that despite most Israelis thinking the 3 fast 3 furious vote will go straight to DVD, “no change has yet been registered in voter tendencies.”
- But hope springs eternal: “Our best bet is to treat all the declarations, conditions and self-snafus as election spin,” Verter adds. “At 10 p.m. on March 2, the game will begin again.”
2. The Liberman way: Kingmaker and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman isn’t waiting until then and manages to snag a round of headlines Friday morning.
- Walla News reports that he “clarified” his position by saying that he has no problem being in government with Labor-Gesher-Meretz. But he also says he won’t join a government supported in any way by the Joint List.
- Channel 12 news reports that Liberman “locking the door” to cooperation with the Joint List could be a blow for Gantz.
- Army Radio, which speaks to Liberman, says that his comments “void chances for Blue and White to form a government without the Likud.”
- Kan plays up the fact that he is open to being in a government with Meretz, which on Facebook he described as “just a small part of Labor-Gesher-Meretz. “Meretz is a Zionist party. We said we would only sit with Zionists,” he tells the station.
3. Lawyering down: Netanyahu’s legal woes get just as much media real estate as fourth election talks.
- Yedioth leads off its front page with a column by Nahum Barnea and Tova Zimuki looking at the Likud’s battle against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, accusing the party of ignoring his warning about creating a panel to investigate police internal investigations as a form of revenge for allowing the immunity panel to move forward.
- “The attorney general will continue to counsel the government, but his counsel won’t be accepted. For all practical purposes, he’s been ousted from half of his responsibilities. We have a coup,” they write.
- In Haaretz, Gidi Weitz writes about the pressure coming down on Liat Ben Ari, the prosecutor assigned to take down Netanyahu in court, leading to her threatening to resign this week. He reports that Justice Minister Amir Ohana set it up so her replacement would be Dan Eldad, who neither Ben Ari nor Mandelblit think much of.
- “In closed conversations, [Mandelblit] describes him as someone being used as a pawn in the war launched by Netanyahu against the attorney general and law enforcement,” he writes.
4. Annexation eventually: None of that stuff appears in Israel Hayom, which instead runs a front page column by none other than Netanyahu, (wonder why it’s seen as his mouthpiece), who claims to offer the real facts about the Trump plan and annexation.
- Netanyahu writes that he rejects those naysayers who claim that the Trump administration will renege and won’t okay annexation. In fact, he says the US president will join in the annexing frenzy, whatever that means.
- “Together with President Trump, I will apply Israeli law in all our communities in Judea and Samaria, the Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea, and additional large swathes.,” he writes.
- But what’s an annexation if you can’t get any votes from it? So Netanyahu is also sure to mention that this thing the US will definitely do, will not be done if he’s not the one to do it: “ I will implement the deal of the century. Our political adversaries will implement the ‘miss of the century.’”
- In al-Monitor, Shlomi Eldar writes that Blue and White actually shot itself in the foot by alienating the Joint List in an attempt to show that he does support the plan, even maybe the part where Arab Israeli towns are made to be Palestinian instead.
- “A novice in politics, Gantz lacks real experience in sophisticated political machinations. As a result, he has just lost his chance to form a government as well as to improve his position in negotiations to form a unity government,” he writes.
- In Haaretz, Ravit Hecht writes that Blue and White isn’t winning any contests with its condescension and muddled messaging: “During Kahol veh Lavan’s [Blue and White’s] short life we’ve already learned it isn’t at all a left-wing party, as it offers no alternative either to the disgrace of the occupation, as its enthusiasm for Trump’s plan shows, nor does it offer any alternative to the shame of racism toward Arabs, as shown by Gantz’s statement this week ruling out the inclusion of the Joint list in his government.”
5. IDF 2.0: Netanyahu may have lots to say about the deal, but is less forthcoming about alleged Israeli strikes in Syria overnight, telling a Haifa radio station that “maybe it was Belgium,” now openly mocking the IDF’s policy of keeping ambiguity supposedly in order to keep Syria and Iran from feeling like they have to respond.
- It’s not the only place where the prime minister and the army may not see exactly eye to eye, with the army announcing Thursday that it has begun rolling out the multi-year Momentum Plan in earnest.
- “The guiding principle of the Momentum Plan, known in Hebrew as Tenufa, is to take full advantage of the areas in which the IDF has superiority over its enemies — air power, intelligence and technology — in order to ensure the Israeli military maintains a constant and significant edge over its foes, notably Iran and Hezbollah,” ToI’s Judah Ari Gross writes.
- But Amos Harel in Haaretz notes that the threats don’t necessarily jibe with the ones Netanyahu has been warning about: “With the Iranians on the border with Syria, long-range missiles deployed in Yemen and the fear of a renewal of Iran’s armed nuclear program brewing, Netanyahu created the impression that a quick deterioration leading to a regional war was within the realm of possibility.
- “The message the chief of staff is now sending is more complex and perhaps more accurate. Iran is feeling intense economic pressure and is still not racing toward nukes. The danger of a conventional war with neighboring countries has receded because the Syrian army is only beginning to recover; and Jordan and Egypt have peace agreements with Israel – even revolutions in those countries wouldn’t lead immediately to a military confrontation,” he writes.
- The chief is not out of the political woods yet. In Yedioth, Yossi Yehoshua writes that the military was nonetheless “surprised” by Netanyahu’s statement that he only supported the plan in general.
- “The chief of staff has been walking in a political minefield and has been forced to make it through three election cycles in the last year,” he writes. “As of yesterday, at least until Netanyahu’s next message, he has managed to work around it well, from his point of view, and he does not feel any political pressure.”
6. Tough love: Valentine’s Day has yet to catch on fully in Israel, which may explain why there’s so little love in the air, but there are still some tales to warm the cockles of your hearts.
- Like this story from ToI’s Jacob Magid about a program giving hilltop youth hugs and a chance at reform instead of being thrown out by the system as thugs.
- “This program allows them to feel that they’re worth something after so many figures in their lives told them the opposite and gave up on them. When they see they can pass the bagrut [matriculation exams] and that there are people who believe in them, then they realize that the world is not their enemy and that they can succeed,” program head Yaniv Goodman says.
- Army Radio brings listeners the story of a flowering love affair between an army teacher and a paratroop soldier, who get to see each other for only 48 hours every three weeks. Nonetheless, their connection has bloomed and now they are planning a wedding “with him with a gun and her with a khakhi skirt.”
- And should love blossom into something would-be parents aren’t sure if they want, Zman Yisrael reports that Israel’s supposedly liberal openness toward abortion rights is mainly a myth: “Israelis are still forced to lie to panels to stop pregnancies, since the law does not recognize financial difficulties as a reason for abortion. Some women go on Facebook to raise money for a private abortion. And through the whole thing, they are stuck being abused and criticized by a public system based on pro-life ideals. A comparison shows that the laws are much more liberal in the US, despite its conservatism.”