Hebrew media review

Sorry, the French won’t save us from Iran

Israel media tempers excitement over the French president’s visit, and reports on political maneuvering within the Knesset

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

French President Francois Hollande, left, hugs Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel's President Shimon Peres looks on, upon Hollande's arrival in Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Sunday, November 17, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)
French President Francois Hollande, left, hugs Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel's President Shimon Peres looks on, upon Hollande's arrival in Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Sunday, November 17, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)

Despite the excitement around the visit of French President Francois Hollande to discuss, among other subjects, the Iranian nuclear program, and the gratitude in Israel for France’s tough stance on a potential deal with Tehran, some Israeli commentators argue that any optimism should be tempered.

“Hollande split into three” during his visit, writes Israel Hayom’s Boaz Bismuth. “First there was the Israeli Hollande, the one who spoke about Iran as if he were the Israeli prime minister. Yesterday was the Palestinian Hollande, who spoke as if he were Abbas. Today we will have the third Hollande, the salesman who is trying to increase the French economic presence in Israel…The change in American policy in the Middle East and the Iranian threat are causing the French to suddenly dream that for the first time in history… they will be able to be a friend of the Israelis and a friend of the Palestinians.”

His colleague Dan Margalit argues that the situation is not looking good at all for Israel right now. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to Moscow Wednesday to try to gain some support from Vladimir Putin seems somewhat desperate, he writes in Israel Hayom.

“He is going to Moscow on the principle that no stone can be left unturned in this struggle. He is compromising his honor in light of unseemly comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov toward him, and knows that Putin will be not be active in stopping the Iranians. But Russia is trying to recapture the position it lost 41 years ago in Egypt, and in Cairo they are expecting him to stand up to Iran.”

“Even in the US the situation is murky,” Margalit continues. “Obama is trying to enlist Senate heads in favor of a deal with Iran… Even Obama knows that he can’t sign an agreement with the ayatollahs’ regime given the increased demands from Iran.

“What can save the agreement is the appearance of a concession by Iran. What can save the world from a bad agreement is the hardening of the ayatollahs’ hearts.”

“There is no doubt,” concludes Margalit, “that Israel is in a compromised position. Even Hollande’s visit didn’t change this fact… But in the situation that has been created by the resumption of talks tomorrow, Netanyahu has no reason to stop the process that he has been leading almost alone. There is a chance it will work. There is nothing to lose if he sticks with it. At least he will have a clear conscience.”

Political maneuvering heats up

Despite being both prime minister and party chairman, Benjamin Netanyahu is angling to gain even more control over the Likud party by changing its constitution, Yedioth Ahronoth reports. The changes, if adopted, would give the chairman virtually sole control over the party at the expense of its institutions and senior party officials.

“Among the proposed changes: The chairman can nominate one candidate to the Knesset list out of every 10 on the list without seeking the approval of Likud organs; can approve the party’s director-general and other senior party positions; and can decide on 10 members of Likud committees as personal appointees — without elections.”

The paper reports the efforts stem from a defeat Netanyahu suffered last year, when he failed to appoint his relative Yossi Shelly as director-general. The party secretariat refused to go along with the plan.

“’Netanyahu wants to return the power to his hands,’” a senior party official tells Yedioth. “’His goal is to weaken the central committee and its chairman Yisroel Katz, who have acted as if the party is their own private property.’”

Sources indicate that the move is extremely unlikely to succeed, given Bibi’s weak position in the party.

Maariv reports on the political infighting within Netanyahu’s coalition between the Yesh Atid and the Jewish Home parties. Yesh Atid Minister Yaakov Peri threatened to leave the coalition if ultra-Orthodox young men were not treated as criminals for refusing to report for duty after receiving draft notices.

Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked doesn’t seem too worried about Peri’s threat, saying his party is more than welcome to go. “The Haredim will be happy to join in place of Yesh Atid,” she tells Maariv, “so his statements aren’t much of a threat… As opposed to Peri, I believe in real democracy, not Yesh Atid’s democracy, that doesn’t allow the committee I head to decide on the penalty.”

Shaked also said she intends to find common ground, but if that fails, “we will put the decision on the sanctions to the vote of the committee, and the majority will decide.”

“We all want the ultra-Orthodox to get drafted and join the labor force. The dispute between us is over what will bring about the greater enlistment. And since the ultra-Orthodox see the criminal issue as an offense against them, it will simply cause the opposite effect. “

In the race for the Labor Party chairmanship, MK Isaac Herzog received a boost when 27 past Knesset members from the party came out in his support, Maariv reports. The group includes ministers from Yitzhak Rabin’s government, and other past prominent party members, including Ami Ayalon and Avram Burg. “Herzog is the only one who will bring the Labor Party back to its glory days and will present an alternative to the leadership of the government,” read the statement signed by the MKs.

Maariv also reports that a disconnect has developed between Herzog and party chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich. “Even on the subject of the French support for Israel, the two candidates managed to fight yesterday. At the beginning of the last faction meeting, Herzog attacked Prime Minister Netanyahu on the hug he recently gave to France, on its stance on the Iranian issue and on the relationship between Israel and the US.

“‘Only a couple of months ago Netanyahu said that France and other countries are irrelevant, and suddenly he finds a new ally,” said Herzog. ‘Israel only has one ally, an intimate partner, and that is the United States. Netanyahu is making a mistake in his actions toward Kerry.’”

Only moments later, Yachimovich contradicted Herzog, saying, “We cannot be picky about our allies, and in this case it’s France.”

Returning a favor

Yedioth relates an uplifting story of an old age home in Jerusalem, whose residents decided to help out their Filipino caretakers after the devastating typhoon in the Philippines.

“’We live together,’” 89-year-old Pearl Weissburger tells Yedioth. “My caretaker Marna Miranda knows my family and I know hers through the computer. We are almost like mother and daughter.”

The residents have been raising money for their caretakers, many of whose homes were damaged in the storm, passing around boxes with the words, “Everyone can help. There is no help that is too small. God bless you all. For the victims of the typhoons in the Philippines.”

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