1. Grab a Snickers bar? Making like a kid who can’t wait and tears through his advent calendar early, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein convened Wednesday what he called a last-ditch effort to bring Likud and Blue and White together for a unity government, skipping over the 13 other fun-filled days remaining before the Knesset has to dissolve itself and call new elections.
- And like a Thanksgiving feast in which your mom storms off after your uncle refuses to apologize for posting a story on Facebook that claims George Soros is a lizard person, the get-together was over almost as soon as it started, with Blue and White rejecting the proposal that it let Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be prime minister for just a couple more months.
- Yedioth Ahronoth declares the talks “stuck.”
- “Behind the scenes, the gaps are only widening, the proposals have no chance and everyone is admitting ‘there’s no progress,’” the paper reports.
- “Last chance,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom, reporting that “the sides took a giant leap toward third elections.”
- “Another round that leads nowhere,” complains columnist Mati Tuchfeld, blaming the impasse on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit intervening and announcing charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thus incentivizing Blue and White to dig in its heels against being in a government with him.
2. Split decision: The Kan broadcaster is a bit less pessimistic, reporting that there is a split in Blue and White between those who don’t want anything to do with Netanyahu, like Yair Lapid, and those who are at least willing to try and hash something out, like Benny Gantz.
- “Gantz is unhappy with Lapid’s stubbornness,” Kan reports, quoting an MK close to the party head.
- Walla reports that splits within Likud are also widening, as “a series of local leaders” defect to Netanyahu rival Gideon Sa’ar.
- Among those is Ofakim Mayor Itzik Danino, whom the news site describes as “a veteran Likud man who has hundreds of party backers and much influence among central committee members in Ofakim.”
- Channel 12 news reports that “the only way” out of the morass appears to be somebody from Likud who is not named Netanyahu gathering the support of 61 MKs.
- “That may seem crazy, but it has a chance because Netanyahu has refused to set a date for primaries, in an attempt to create facts on the ground and not allow another Likud member the chance to form a government within 21 days. It’s possible that exactly because of this, someone else in Likud will try to create facts over Netanyahu’s and rally the needed signatures.”
- The channel admits it’s a tall order, with only one MK publicly backing Sa’ar — his former aide Michal Shir.
3. Fear factor: Focus is also centered back on Gaza following a brief flareup on Tuesday night and Wednesday.
- A video going viral shows three kids scared out of their wits after being rushed to a bomb shelter in Ashkelon in the middle of the night Tuesday, begging to stay in the safe room and not go back to their house. Though that rocket alert was a false alarm, it’s seen as a symbol.
- Channel 12 news calls the video a “central story” of Thursday morning.
- “My kids aren’t depressive, they’re happy, functioning kids. But this follows them everywhere,” mom Reut Shpilman tells Channel 12 news. “My daughter is afraid to get on the [school] bus, because the driver puts on the news and she hears about incendiary balloons or Kassam rockets falling. She’s afraid to go back up to her room, she asks, ‘If the siren sounds, what will we do?’”
- Yedioth puts the story on its front page, calling it “the true face of no injuries.”
- The paper and its Ynet website go on full “protect the southerners mode,” running a flurry of stories about the travails of those rocket-lacerated areas.
- That includes towns that, according to Ynet, sit just outside the seven-kilometer range for getting special state benefits, whose residents are mad that they are left out because of a few hundred meters.
- “If a siren goes off now, we’ll drop everything and hide between these walls,” two elderly residents of Moshav Ohad in the Eshkol region tell the site, pointing to a corridor that has to make do as their makeshift shelter.
- Even the rockets that get intercepted cause damage, points out Sderot resident Moran-Hila Madmoni in a column for the newspaper, explaining that after the last rocket attack she emerged from her shelter and thought she heard rain.
- “It took me a moment to realize that this wasn’t blessed winter rain … but a rain of [debris from] a successful interception that occurred right over my house and landed in my yard. Only thanks to a miracle was I not hurt.”
4. Shoot first, ask later: Despite the brief flareup, things have been relatively quiet on the Gaza front.
- Kan reports that organizers of the weekly Friday marches decided to cancel them for the third week in a row.
- According to the public broadcaster, organizers insisted that the move “has nothing to do with the recent understanding reached with Israel,” and was taken to protect Palestinian protesters from Israeli troops at the border.
- Channel 13’s Alon Ben David writes that the Defense Ministry has been taking active steps to improve the economic conditions in the Strip and praises Defense Minister Naftali Bennett for backing the moves, despite his hawkish pronouncements before he assumed the post.
- “Bennett understands that progress in bringing quiet to the south won’t come from the barrel of a gun, but through economic measures,” he writes.
- That’s not to say Israel has suddenly become Switzerland. Looking back at Israel’s bombing of a house that it thought was empty (or housed an Islamic Jihad commander, depending on when you ask), Haaretz reports that the military often doesn’t check to make sure its target bank is up to date before blasting a place to smithereens.
- “According to sources in the defense establishment, the IDF often bombs terror targets in Gaza that were included in its target bank long before the strike without checking in real time whether there are civilians at the site or whether the site has been converted into residences,” the paper reports.
- “Targets like a warehouse for weapons aren’t always checked [again] by the IDF before an attack; there’s no way for the IDF to check that,” a security source is quoted saying. “You can’t knock on their door.”
5. Razing hell: Israel does take somewhat more caution when knocking down structures in the West Bank, as it did early Thursday with the razing of the homes of suspects in the murder of Dvir Sorek.
- Walla reports that Fatah responded to the razing by calling a general strike in the town of Beit Kahil, near Hebron.
- Speaking to Channel 13 news, Sorek’s father Yoav complains that the razing wasn’t done sooner “when it could have strengthened deterrence and maybe stopped the next attack. The inflated caution and rights to delay via the courts ignore the fact that homes are not lives, you can rebuild them, but deterrence is a question of time.”
6. Deterring yourself: Deterrence is also the name of the game in Bennett’s pronouncement Wednesday that he’ll no longer return the bodies of terrorists no matter what.
- ToI’s Judah Ari Gross writes that that is actually a problem, as the court ruling covering holding onto bodies allows it to be done for negotiations, but not as a means of deterrence.
- “I wonder if there’s a legal opinion that explains the decision. But if there isn’t one, then I don’t understand how it works — actually, strike that — it just doesn’t work,” legal scholar Amichai Cohen says.
- Both Bennett and Netanyahu tried to claim credit for the move. In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that many military moves can be filtered through a domestic political lens, and that is not a good thing.
- “Given the circumstances in which Netanyahu is preoccupied with his own personal fate and the new defense minister needs to take advantage of the relatively short time he has at his disposal to make himself stand out politically, all eyes are on [IDF head Aviv] Kohavi. He pushed to take an aggressive line in the recent operations in Gaza and Syria, and he is now the responsible adult,” he writes. “Given Netanyahu’s apocalyptic mood, reflected in the last few days in the vicious attacks against prosecutors and the police, the doubts about his decision-making have been growing.”
7. Build, baby, build: Bennett’s move may be of dubious legality, but perhaps US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo can step in and fix it. In an interview with Israel Hayom, he crows about his decision to no longer assume settlements are illegal in international law.
- “It was clear to us that settlements were not prima facie illegal from an international law standpoint,” he says, in a translation of his words from Hebrew back into English.
- “We think the decision that was made, which allows for the possibility of the settlements to be legal — since they are not illegal per se — is the correct one, and is good for Israel’s security and the situation between the Israeli people and the Palestinians,” he adds.
- Perhaps emboldened by the move, plans are ramping up for more Jewish neighborhoods in the heart of Arab East Jerusalem.
- According to Haaretz, plans are moving forward to add 176 units to the Nof Zion neighborhood in Jabal Mukaber, which would make it the largest Jewish enclave inside an Arab one in Jerusalem.
- That will be dwarfed, though, by plans being drawn up to turn the old Atarot airport into a large Jewish neighborhood with 11,000 housing units, according to Israel Hayom.
- The airport, which can provide refuge in a zombie apocalypse, is adjacent to the large refugee camp of Qalandiya, and has not been used for some 20 years. Other plans for the area in the past have gone nowhere.
- But the paper reports that it’s thought that the Trump administration won’t bat an eyelash — unlike Givat Hamatos and E-1 — and that it “has wide support from Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Jerusalem Affairs minister Zeev Elkin and city opposition head Ofer Berkovich.”