The same, but different: 9 things to know for March 4
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The same, but different: 9 things to know for March 4

Blue and White’s ‘leftist’ right-wing platform is revealed; Likud prepares for a battle royale against its allies; and a shared commitment to democracy divides the US and Israel

Then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Navy ceremony on September 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Navy ceremony on September 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

1. Two-slate solution: Despite the popularity of the party, Blue and White has faced some criticism over its lack of clear positions or policy proposals, especially as it brings together the chimeric Yair Lapid, the enigmatic Benny Gantz and the right-wing Moshe Ya’alon.

  • Some of that may be addressed as the party publishes its platform Monday and ahead of time it has done a soft roll-out of the program with leaks to the press.
  • The biggest bombshell is that the platform does not include support for a two-state solution, which was apparently a point of contention as the Frankenstein’s monster of parties tried to come to agreement.
  • “Sources in the list claim that the subject sparked an argument between the right and left and in the end it was decided that they would include support for working to reach a diplomatic solution with the Palestinians, but the idea of ‘Palestinian statehood’ would not be included in order not to give ammunition to those who accuse Blue and White of being a leftist party,” Yedioth Ahronoth reports.
  • According to Channel 13 news, the party’s diplomatic program will include support for a “united” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, continued Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, and retaining settlement blocs in the West Bank.
  • “We’re for negotiation, but not unilateral retreat or disengagement,” a party source tells Yedioth.
  • According to Channel 13, Blue and White’s platform will also include a call for inserting a clause on equality into the politically contentious nation-state law, which Gantz had promised to “fix.”
  • Yedioth reports that will mean legislating a new Basic Law enshrining equality as a basic value, rather than simply amending the nation-state law.

2. A leftist in right’s clothing: The blue-white stance rejecting a division of Jerusalem and a Palestinian state places it solidly on the right side of the political spectrum.

  • However, in Likud-backing Israel Hayom, columnist Haim Shine indicates the party’s actual stances won’t stop the right from attacking Blue and White as leftists, setting up the election as a battle over the “essence” of the country.
  • “Will the peace fantasies that brought us disaster, as led by Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, replace our hold on our historic homeland?” he asks.

3. Danger ahead: The stance is also unlikely to find many sympathetic ears among the international community, let alone the Palestinians, aside from the Americans.

  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that Israeli defense officials fear that with diplomacy seemingly at a dead end, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may seek to bolster waning domestic support via mass demonstrations against the Palestinians’ financial woes, which can be blamed on Israel, the US and Hamas.
  • “Defense officials said that ever since Israel built the West Bank separation fence, Palestinians have felt hopeless, as if there were no diplomatic horizon. Therefore, the PA has focused on consolidating its power, internal issues and the economic situation. But Abbas has no encouraging economic data to present, and Palestinians see Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ as an Israeli-American plot. Thus Abbas is caught between his inability to confront Israel, which has turned its back on him, and his need to show the Palestinian public some achievements,” he writes.
  • The report comes as Monday morning saw a fresh car-ramming attack, again raising fears of of a return to violence.
  • And in ToI, Avi Isacharoff writes that Israelis should be wary with a large Gaza protest planned for the end of the month that can again inflame tensions.
  • “At the end of the month Palestinians will be marking ‘Land Day,’ a year since the tactic of mass demonstrations on the border was first implemented. And if until recently it seemed like the Hamas terror group and its leader Yahya Sinwar had an achievement or two to show for it — notably the $15 million monthly cash transfer from Qatar that enabled salary payments to Hamas employees — that has now vanished,” he writes.

4. No so different after all: ToI’s Haviv Rettig-Gur takes a closer look at another place where Netanyahu and Gantz bicker bitterly in campaign material despite actually agreeing: Gaza.

  • “What makes all this frenetic image-making so very odd is the fact that it is being deployed at the behest of two men who together helped formulate Israel’s current defense posture toward Gaza and are in near-total agreement about that policy,” he writes.
  • Gantz, he notes, supported the same disengagement he is trying to rap Netanyahu for backing. And Likud blames the “left” for attacks that happened under Netanyahu’s stewardship.
  • “This isn’t just hypocrisy. It is a more active and fervent sort of dishonesty. It is an attempt, in essence, to hide the very fact that the two contenders for the premiership actually share a single policy on Gaza. And the smaller the gap that divides them, the harsher and more dishonest the rhetoric seems to grow.”
  • But, he writes, both realize the toxicity of any moves surrounding Gaza and are trying to make hay wherever they can.
  • “Gantz and Netanyahu are both careful strategists pursuing a careful strategy in Gaza, but it’s a difficult strategy to explain to a rocket-battered public. … And so, ironically, it is on the issue where Gantz and Netanyahu may be most similar that their campaigns have invested the bulk of their smearing efforts.”
  • There’s also the fact that people’s views can change, as seen in an NBC news profile of settler-cum-Peace Now activist Shabtai Bendet.
  • “Bendet’s dramatic transformation saw him cross a chasm dividing Israeli society: From fervent believer that God commands Jews to settle ‘Biblical Israel’ to someone who sees settlements located beyond the borders set when the country was founded in 1948 as a threat to its existence as a democratic state,” the news site reports.
  • “We fought for a country for 70 years — a country for Jews,” he tells NBC. “I don’t understand why we don’t give Palestinians what we struggled for before.”

5. Every party for itself: Likud’s biggest rival may be Blue and White, but there are new indications it will actually seek to snatch votes from the right rather than campaign against the center-left.

  • The top story in Israel Hayom quotes Netanyahu complaining about President Reuven Rivlin, again, and the difficulty he will have in getting Rivlin to choose him to form a coalition after elections.
  • The best way to ensure that, Likud believes, is by making sure Likud is as big as possible, the rest of the right be damned, the paper reports, citing internal Likud discussions on Sunday.
  • “We’re in elections, and every party needs to worry about itself. It’s true the main goal is to bring as many votes into the moderate right from the center, but we can’t not attack Kahlon because he’s on the [electoral] threshold,” a Likud source is quoted saying.

6. Enemies with the friend: One person not at those meetings was former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, who will have a fairly high spot on the party’s Knesset list despite being on Netanyahu’s blacklist.

  • Netanyahu has managed to avoid Sa’ar until now, but analysts will be watching the party’s campaign kickoff event Monday closely as the two will be forced to be in close physical proximity.
  • Yedioth reports that in order to avoid having to be on the same stage as him or taking a group picture, Netanyahu will let somebody else announce the party’s top candidates and bring them on stage.
  • “Though every other person near the top of the list has been invited to meetings [with Netanyahu] on campaigning, Sa’ar has not been invited, wasn’t briefed and has not taken any active role in the campaign,” the paper reports.
  • The Marker reports that a number of Likud higher-ups have asked Netanyahu to use the campaign event as a chance to kiss and make up with Sa’ar.
  • At the same time, these lawmakers aren’t pushing too hard, knowing that if Sa’ar and Netanyahu become friends again, they will have yet another person to compete with for ministry roles.
  • That field is already expected to be crowded, with potential coalition partners able to push Netanyahu against the wall thanks to the indictment hanging over his head.
  • “In that situation, there won’t be too many senior positions to go around to Likud members. If Sa’ar enters the picture, it will be even more crowded,” the financial daily reports.

7. Crime and desperation: The Likud campaign kickoff is mostly being seen as a chance for the party to push itself back to the top after an indictment announcement dinged it in the polls.

  • Haaretz’s lead editorial takes to task those coalition partners who have stuck with Netanyahu despite the legal troubles, especially given talk of a push to pass a law that will make a sitting prime minister immune from prosecution should he be re-elected: “His natural coalition partners are liable, through their conduct, to become his partners in crime.”
  • ToI editor David Horovitz writes a stinging op-ed taking a wider look at all the ways Netanyahu has attempted to stay in power and the threat to democracy he says they represent.
  • “Not always clearly understood … is the gravity of the damage he is willfully inflicting upon Israel’s democracy as he seeks to extricate himself from criminal prosecution and prevent his fall from power,” he writes.
  • “ It is … desperation … that has led him to seek to undermine Israelis’ own faith in their legitimate political opposition, their media, their police force, and their prosecutors.”

8. Divided by democracy: Israeli democracy is of course a complex beast. Boston-area educator Jonah Hassenfeld writes in the Forward’s Shma Now ideas journal of the struggle for American Jews to understand the Israeli conception of democracy, which is quite different from that in the US, which places more of an emphasis on individual liberty.

  • The two countries’ very different histories — America as a refuge of individual freedom, Israel as a Jewish homeland — creates what he describes as friction that has become a challenge for American educators to explain.
  • “Students need to try on different approaches. They may ask themselves, ‘How do I weigh the values of liberalism against the values of collective Jewish rights?’ Wrestling with this question is an essential part of determining one’s stance on the Israeli-American relationship,” he writes.

9. Friends with the enemy: In Politico, William Echikson looks at the myriad reasons behind the rise of European anti-Semitism, including Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump cozying up to Israel-friendly revisionists on the far-right.

  • “Many American Jews don’t consider themselves to be in danger, and even think they can support Trump without supporting European anti-Semites,” he writes.
  • The column echoes another one in the Boston Globe recently that has drawn some fire for the language it uses to describe Jewish members of Trump’s inner court, like Michael Cohen.
  • “Even as white nationalists wish us dead, a shocking number of Jews have become willing collaborators in white supremacy — not only public bigots such as Ben Shapiro and David Horowitz, but kapos in the openly ethnonationalist Trump regime, such as Stephen Miller or Jared Kushner,” S.I. Ronsebaum writes.
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