The blame game in Gaza and the Knesset: 9 things to know for March 13
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The blame game in Gaza and the Knesset: 9 things to know for March 13

A blast targeting the PA prime minister sets off a round of accusations against Hamas, and as the coalition teeters Israel's PM comes under fire

A bodyguard for Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (C) and a Hamasmember (R) escort the PM's convoy as he leaves Gaza City on March 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
A bodyguard for Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (C) and a Hamasmember (R) escort the PM's convoy as he leaves Gaza City on March 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

1. An explosion in Gaza targeting Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah Tuesday morning rocks the Israeli press out of the early elections handicapping doldrums for the first time in a week.

  • Video from the blast, which left Hamdallah and his security chief unharmed but injured several others, shows a black plume of smoke and several cars on the side of the road shortly after the convoy entered Gaza.
  • A Gazan source tells the Ynet news website that the explosion occurred as the last car in the convoy crossed into Gaza. “Right after it happened the security shot in the air and Hamdallah’s car did not stop but drove quickly from the scene — according to directives.”
  • Hamdallah himself continued his visit, saying the attack will “not deter us from seeking to end the bitter split [between the Fatah-led PA and Hamas, which runs Gaza]. We will still come to Gaza.”
  • Haaretz notes that the assassination attempt targeted a man who is not known for making the news, calling him a “moderate” and “academic-turned-politician.”

2. Some are using the attack to draw wider conclusions about Hamas’s hold on Gaza.

  • In Israel, Deputy Minister Michael Oren used the instance as proof that the Palestinians can’t handle security themselves, whether in Gaza or the West Bank.
  • Fatah official Munir al-Jaghoub tells Al Jazeera that “the developments have proven that Hamas has completely failed in providing security in Gaza, just as it has failed in providing a decent life for our people in the Strip.”

3. Hours after the attack, the blame game has already begun with the PA quickly blaming Hamas, Hamas condemning the attack and blaming Israel, and the UN envoy to the region blaming those “trying to destroy chances for peace,” and calling on Hamas to up its game.

  • “Until the legitimate Palestinian Authority is fully empowered in Gaza, Hamas has the responsibility to ensure that the Government is able to carry out its work in the Strip without fear of intimidation, harassment and violence,” Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, says in a statement.
  • Hamas says it is investigating, but Adnan Damiri, spokesperson for the PA security forces, says that’s not good enough. “We don’t trust Hamas to investigate the explosion. We suspect Hamas was involved. Hamas must remove itself from the investigation,” he says.

4. The blast comes hours before the US is set to convene a summit on solving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, a summit the Palestinians are boycotting. The White House has refrained from even releasing a list of who is coming, saying it will be only be published later Tuesday.

  • Negotiator Jason Greenblatt, seen as heading up the Gaza summit, said Monday night he expects a “robust dialogue” and is pleased with the list of attendees: “Solving the situation in Gaza is vital for humanitarian reasons, important for the security of Egypt and Israel and is a necessary step toward reaching a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, including Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank.”
  • In the Washington Post, where Greenblatt first announced the summit in an op-ed last week, former US consul general in Jerusalem Philip C. Wilcox Jr writes in response that the UN refugee agency that cares for Palestinians in Gaza, UNRWA, was not even invited to the summit: “If the White House is serious about a humane future for those living in Gaza, it should end its efforts to dismantle UNRWA, which provides vital humanitarian and support unavailable from other sources.”

5. In a blast from the past, Robert Philpot in The Times of Israel writes about the leader of the Free Gaza flotilla, who admitted it was an activist who started a melee with Israeli troops aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010 that left 10 Turks dead.

  • “He was responsible for some of the deaths on board the Mavi Marmara. Had he not disarmed an Israeli terrorist soldier, they would not have started to fire. That’s enough. Most of you have no idea what you’re talking about,” Greta Berlin is quoted writing on a secret Facebook group in 2014.

6. Tuesday is also being seen as fateful for the survival of Israel’s ruling coalition, with the Knesset’s dissolution potentially being voted on as early as that afternoon.

  • Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming he wants the coalition to stand, there’s a prevailing sense that he’s the one deciding if it falls or not.
  • “His choice,” reads the top headline in tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth, and Haaretz’s top headline reports on Netanyahu’s efforts to get enough people to agree to early elections in late June.
  • “Once again, Netanyahu is ready to sell the national interest in favor of his personal interests,” columnist Ben-Dror Yemini writes in Yedioth. “The country used to be important to him. Now Netanyahu is important to him.”
  • “This is a crisis initiated and overseen, and one that will ultimately be resolved, by one man and one man only: Benjamin Netanyahu,” David Horovitz writes in The Times of Israel. “And it derives from one concern only: his desperate effort to fortify his political position ahead of his possible indictment for corruption in one or more of the investigations in which he is a suspect.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial also goes after Netanyahu, albeit for his bid to stave off elections by reaching a deal with the ultra-Orthodox for a bill allowing some of members of the community to be exempt from the IDF draft: “Netanyahu managed to exploit the weakness of his coalition partners, who fear early elections, and to send a clear message to Israelis: To survive as prime minister I am willing to pass a law that is founded on discrimination.”

7. Israel Hayom’s headline indicates it’s not too late to stave off early elections, but its actual story reports that they are all but a certainty, the campaign kicking off with Netanyahu taunting opposition parties for failing to present a bill to dissolve the Knesset (though the bill is expected to be presented Tuesday).

  • “I’ve never seen anything like this — an opposition that wants the government to continue to rule, because it’s afraid of elections,” the paper quotes him saying
  • Indeed, polls released Monday night show Likud maintaining a comfortable lead over Yesh Atid, Zionist Union, and everyone else. Israel Hayom’s Haim Shine writes that elections will be a waste since the numbers won’t change much, but blames Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman instead of Netanyahu for the move, as does fellow columnist Yehuda Shlezinger.
  • “Liberman is the biggest scaredycat … he climbed out on the furthest limb, just because he was afraid Netanyahu was trying to prepare for early elections … Now, when he is about to be pushed out of the Knesset, he is trying to dance on the classic Israeli wound of the ultra-Orthodox army draft as a last resort for political survival,” he writes.

8. The June date Netanyahu is gunning for is important, because it may head off criminal charges that may be brought against him, which are seen as the real reason he wants early elections.

  • Channel 10 news quotes one minister who says despite opposition to the June date, they are ready to give in. “I have no more strength for his games. He has exhausted all of us — we’ll go to elections and hope for the best.”

9. The spin over who wants elections has led to a flurry of uses in Hebrew of the English word “fake,” borrowed from the term “fake news” and now used by politicians as a catch-all for anyone trying to accuse anyone else of subverting the truth. On Monday, the terms “fake crisis,” “fake law,” and “fake coalition” were all thrown about.

  • In Yedioth, former air force chief Amir Eshel writes about a society that is ready to accept whatever “alternative facts” are most convenient and how a true Israeli leader needs to cut through that.
  • “Leadership means sticking to your truth. A leader needs to be a compass in even the most severe storms. That’s where he’s tested. Yes, a leader needs to be able to convince and influence people as needed, but he needs to stick to his truth like a compass, not like a candle in the wind,” he writes.
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