The Arabs are coming, the Arabs are coming! 6 things to know for November 17
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The Arabs are coming, the Arabs are coming! 6 things to know for November 17

PM appears in full panic mode after receiving ‘intelligence’ that Gantz is set on forming a Joint List-backed minority government, which would have him out of office by next week

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech in Tel Aviv to members of his Likud party on September 18, 2019, after elections for the 22nd Knesset. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech in Tel Aviv to members of his Likud party on September 18, 2019, after elections for the 22nd Knesset. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

1. Hide your kids, hide your wives: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds an emergency phone call with fellow Likud lawmakers on the Sabbath, telling them he’s received “intelligence” that Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz is set on forming a minority government that will rely on outside backing from the Arab-majority Joint List.

  • Netanyahu has called on his colleagues to help organize mass public opposition to such a move and an “emergency” rally has been scheduled for Sunday night in Tel Aviv.
  • A third election, Netanyahu tells Likud MKs, would be “a disaster,” but “a minority government dependent on the Arab Joint List is even worse,” because such a government would be “dependent on supporters of Islamic Jihad and Hamas,” the premier alleges.
  • As for the “intelligence” that Netanyahu has indicating that Gantz is on the verge of inking a deal with Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh, Kan public broadcaster political correspondent Ze’ev Kam reports that no such insight exists. Instead, Netanyahu has simply drawn the conclusion based on the fact that Blue and White negotiators haven’t met with their Likud counterparts in an effort to form a unity government and therefore must have something else cooked up.
  • For their part, officials in Blue and White insist that their interest still lies in forming a unity government with Likud. MK Yair Lapid tells Army Radio that this is preference and that all Netanyahu has to do to prevent the “dangerous” minority government is break off his party from the right-wing, religious bloc.
  • Israel Hayom, seen as a Netanyahu mouthpiece, appears to have been enlisted in the campaign, leading its front page with a scoop that Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman has been given the green light to “accelerate” negotiations for a minority government.
  • Haaretz political correspondent Chaim Levinson points out that while the headline is dramatic, the fine print at the bottom of the story points out it is unlikely that four MKs from the Joint List would support the appointment of Liberman as minister — a likely necessary component of such a minority government.
  • One lawmaker who’s not buying all the minority government hype is Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich. The Jewish Home-National Union MK tweets that the chances of such a coalition are less than slim, and even if Gantz does manage to pull it off, such a government would only last for a few months before being replaced by a strengthened right wing.

2. That was then. This is now: Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Noa Landau reminisces over how just five months ago, Netanyahu confidant Nathan Eshel crafted an article (widely believed to be with the premier’s go-ahead) headlined “The solution: Arab Israelis,” which called on the Israeli right to work to improve the wellbeing of the neglected minority.

  • But it wasn’t just the column. Joint List MK Mansour Abbas tells Army Radio that during the final hours of Netanyahu’s efforts to form a coalition after the April elections, Eshel and Likud MK Miki Zohar reached out to him in an effort to receive outside Arab support for a 60-MK right-wing coalition.
  • Abbas claims that Netanyahu ultimately foiled the talks after concluding that his right-wing bloc would grow large enough after the second election that it would not require outside support from the Joint List. But instead, the right-wing bloc shrank to 55 MKs.
  • Channel 12’s Yair Cherki wonders whether Netanyahu is making the same mistake twice by carrying out a gevalt campaign centered around the Arab public and its representatives. Ahead of the last election, he warned the public that the left was trying to steal the election by not allowing Likud operatives to film inside polling stations in order to prevent alleged voter fraud. The campaign led to a boost in Arab voter turnout, which allowed the Joint List to climb to 13 seats in the Knesset. “The cries of gevalt regarding a minority government only sharpen for Blue and White the notion of how much [Netanyahu] feels threatened by the possibility while also getting the public used to the idea. In the end, they might end up being convinced that it’s not such a terrible idea,” Cherki writes.
  • “What’s amazing is that Netanyahu isn’t tired of this trick of fear mongering against the Arabs. And this is being done by a prime minister who’s given Hamas more than any other PM in the history of the State of Israel,” tweets Arab analyst and ToI correspondent Avi Issacharoff, referencing the restraint the Netanyahu government has shown toward Hamas in its effort to maintain quiet on the southern border.

3. A very big if: Despite the hysteria from Balfour Street, few analysts are convinced that a minority government is really a possibility as of where things currently stand.

  • Haaretz’s Levinson points out that a series of improbabilities all have to take place in order for Netanyahu’s worst nightmare to come true. While he is reportedly more open to the idea than other members of the male-only “cockpit” leading Blue and White, Gantz has yet to decide that this is the route he wants to take in the three days he has left to form a coalition.
  • Even if he wanted to take that route, though, there is no telling whether Liberman will follow along. If Liberman does, Gantz would still need the support of the Joint List, which contrary to the views of some, is not willing to offer Blue and White a blank check, Levinson writes.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yuval Karni reports that Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon would only support a minority government if Liberman’s party votes along with him, rather than simply disappearing from the Knesset plenum during no-confidence votes, as has some analysts have predicted he might.

4. We’re breaking up: Channel 12 reports that Yisrael Beytenu has proposed a bill to ease the process of splitting up Knesset faction, in an apparent bid to allow members of the ruling Likud party to jump ship and joint a coalition involving Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu.

  • Current law dictates that at least a third of a party’s parliamentary faction must wish to split from the main faction in order for such a move to be allowed. In Likud’s case this would require 11 legislators to break ranks.
  • The bill by Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer would allow a split with only seven MKs, the report said. It was not immediately clear whether the bill would seek to lower the general threshold for splitting or introduce a formula whereby either a third of a faction or seven MKs were required — whichever option was lower.
  • The news led to a frenzy of speculation over the possibility that members of Netanyahu’s party are considering turning on him. This of course led to Yair Netanyahu retweeting a post from right-wing pundit Gadi Taub, which claimed that Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar is secretly working to pull away lawmakers from the premier’s faction in order to defect into a Blue and White unity government.
  • Sa’ar responds with a tweet of his own saying the allegations are nonsense being spread by the Netanyahu household and that it does nothing to help Likud or the State of Israel.

5. What Gaza war? With over 24 hours passing since a rocket was fired from Gaza, the major dailies Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth have relegated coverage of the matter to the back pages.

  • Regardless, analysts are still working to determine who was responsible for the latest breach of the ceasefire struck last week between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Defense correspondents from the various networks all cited the same unsourced “conclusions in the security establishment” that claimed rogue Hamas operatives had fired at Beersheba on Friday night against the will of the terror group’s leadership.
  • Kan’s Roy Sharon says he’s not buying the explanation. He argues that while Hamas is a terror group, it has also become highly organized and is in full control of what goes on in Gaza.
  • He argues that Hamas leaders signed off on the Beersheba rocket fire in an effort to combat public frustration over its lack of participation in last week’s fighting. Recognizing the sensitive position that Hamas is in, the IDF decided to only provide a limited response to the breach, Sharon surmises.

6. Major misfire: Haaretz reveals that the Israeli strike during last week’s fighting that killed eight Palestinian family members had targeted a Gaza building that appeared in an outdated target database, and was carried out without prior inspection of civilian presence at the site.

  • Nonetheless, social media posts by the military’s Arabic-language spokesman Avichai Adraee falsely claiming that the strike had targeted a terrorist remained online Sunday, even after the IDF acknowledged that the information contained in them was incorrect.
  • Adraee has since tweeted, “On Novermber 14, we announced that Rasmi Abu Malhous, who was killed in Deir al-Balah, was an official in Islamic Jihad. But information that subsequently became available raises suspicions about the credibility of that [announcement], which may not be precise. Out of a belief in publicizing the truth, the most important thing, we would like to issue this clarification and leave the matter to be dealt with in the investigation, from which we will learn lessons.” However, his old posts remain.
  • A neighbor, who said he personally knew the family, tells Haaretz that they had lived there for “over 20 years… and were known as simple people, living in shacks and making their living off herding and some agriculture, nothing beyond that. They… didn’t come here recently or were moved here by anyone.”
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