Second time’s the charm?: 9 things to know for May 31

Second time’s the charm?: 9 things to know for May 31

Collective frustration and disappointment at the prospect of another election in under 6 months is palpable in Friday’s newspapers

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

Likud party campaign material and posters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strewn on the floor following election night at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters, April 10, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Likud party campaign material and posters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strewn on the floor following election night at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters, April 10, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)

1. The prospect of going back to the polls for the second time this year has elicited collective frustration, disappointment and even anger among the Israeli public. The annoyance is palpable in Friday’s newspapers, where the weekend editions are packed with op-eds and analyses attempting to make sense of the unprecedented second national election to be held in under six months.

  • Headlines in the major Hebrew-language papers on Friday contain words like “tragedy,” “liars,” and “shameful cowards,” to describe the handling of the political crisis in Israel over the last week, paralleling the growing resentment against the political establishment in the country.

2. The Yedioth Ahrohonth daily reports that education minister and leader of the New Right party Naftali Bennett is planning a political comeback and is working to persuade several small right-wing parties, including the far-right Otzma Yehudit, to run on a joint ticket in the September 17 elections.

  • The report says that Bennett will meet with the Union of Right-Wing Parties’ Rafi Peretz and Betzalel Smotrich to discuss a possible merger, to be called the United Right Front.

3. Yedioth also weighs in on the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan, and reports that the White House intends to delay the rollout of its long-awaited proposal until after the September elections.

  • Yedioth calls the map showing the Golan Heights as part of Israel that was signed by Trump a “consolation hug from his good friend in the White House.” The paper says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “continuing to get a leg up from the White House,” and Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner are actively trying to help Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displays a map of Israel indicating the Golan Heights are inside the state’s borders, signed by US president Donald Trump on May 30, 2019. (Thomas Coex/AFP)
  • Yedioth’s Orly Azulay says that vis-à-vis Israel, Trump has “put all his eggs in Netanyahu’s basket,” which could ultimately imperil his peace plan.
  • “Trump hopes to see Netanyahu continue to lead Israel. He has given the prime minister everything possible: recognition of Jerusalem as the capital, recognition of Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights, and support for annexation of parts of the West Bank,” Azoulay writes. “Now was supposed to be the time for Netanyahu to reciprocate.”
  • She says the US president needs Netanyahu to be reelected to “ensure he receives international recognition” for his efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

4. Yedioth columnist Sima Kadmon doesn’t hold back in her criticism of Netanyahu, whom she blames for dragging the country to the polls to protect himself against criminal prosecution.

  • “That crazy and unprecedented night in the Knesset revealed the depths of the divisions in Israeli politics,” she writes. “What we saw on Wednesday was one man’s disgusting and spectacular attempt to escape his own fate.”
  • “The Likud can blame [Avigdor] Liberman all they want, but in the end they only have themselves to blame,” Kadmon says. “But one thing is clear, that this time around, Netanyahu will have a much harder time hiding behind his immunity law.”

5. The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz argues that even though Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman was “absolutely right” to protest against ultra-Orthodox political leaders’ coercion, his “opportunism and intolerance” will not change the political status quo in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Liberman, he says “is not the man to remake the relationship between Israel and its ultra-Orthodox sector, a task that requires sensitivity, strategic thinking and clarity of purpose.”

6. The Haaretz daily reports that Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing scheduled for October will likely go ahead as scheduled despite the new elections.

  • According to Haaretz, Netanyahu’s legal team is preparing to request the hearing be delayed until May 2020, but Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit is likely to reject the request.
  • Meanwhile, Haaretz’s Yossi Verter says the September elections are a sign that “the countdown to the end of the long Netanyahu era has begun.”

7.  In a front-page analysis, Verter says “this is insanity. Italy at its worst. A politician up to his neck in crimes, with a severe indictment hanging over his head, is dragging an entire country to the polls and no one in his party and no one in his would-be coalition put their foot down and told him: Stop, it’s over.”

  • Verter asserts that Netanyahu will not emerge from the September elections in a stronger position, and says his inability to form a coalition despite there being a comfortable right-wing majority in the Knesset has eroded public confidence in the prime minister.
  • “Even before an indictment and hearing, Netanyahu is already a burden on his own party and on the state.”

8. Zman Israel’s Shalom Yerushalmi agrees. Writing in The Times of Israel’s sister site in Hebrew, Zman Yisrael, Yerushalmi reports that senior Likud officials are voicing harsh criticism of Netanyahu and his handling of the political crisis in recent weeks.

  • Party officials told Zman the prevailing feeling among the Likud leadership after this week’s upheaval is that Netanyahu is at the end of his political career.
  • “What happened in the last few months brought Netanyahu to a low point where he doesn’t have the ability to maneuver politically,” unnamed Likud sources said. “Each coalition partner is his own sovereign ruler who takes advantage of Netanyahu’s virtual prison to squeeze him and get what he wants. Each partner holds the key, and doesn’t let Netanyahu out of his cell.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference of his Likud party in Ramat Gan, March 4, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

9. Unsurprisingly, the sole paper that seems to exonerate Netanyahu from responsibility for the political crisis is Israel Hayom, which dutifully tows the Likud party line that Liberman is primarily responsible for the unpopular decision to hold new elections.

  • The free pro-Netanyahu daily prominently features accusations from the Likud and the would-be coalition partners who repeatedly criticize Liberman.
  • Columnist Haim Shine says the so-called Knights of Democracy — activists, judges and “fake news analysts” — were the driving force behind the new elections because they “did not for a moment accept April’s election results.”
  • Yeduda Schlesinger says Liberman “painfully and cruelly” betrayed the ultra-Orthodox community who he says “bent over backwards” to meet his demands.
  • “In the coming days we will hear much from Liberman’s people and the media who will turn him into a hero for fighting with the ultra-Orthodox. This is not true; yes he defeated them for now, but his victory is also his greatest loss.”
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