Unify or die trying: 7 things to know for September 19
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Israel media review

Unify or die trying: 7 things to know for September 19

Likud and Blue and White have some serious differences to overcome, but unity is seen as the only path forward, or we can always turn this country around and go back to the polls

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) greets Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, at a memorial ceremony for late Israeli president Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on September 19, 2019. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) greets Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, at a memorial ceremony for late Israeli president Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on September 19, 2019. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP)

1. Unification station: It’s anybody’s guess what will happen to Israel’s government ( and by the time you read this the yardsticks may have moved considerably) but the guesses are still piling up faster than at a Vegas bookie on fight night.

  • Right now the zeitgeist seems to be leaning toward unity, or something like it, mostly thanks to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu sending out a note that he wants to meet with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, and appending pictures of the two of them together with President Reuven Rivlin, smiling gleefully at a memorial for Shimon Peres (who was coincidentally the last person who entered a rotation agreement with Likud. How did that work out?).
  • The press dutifully reprints the pictures, the first that showed the two together since Gantz left the military, alongside headlines touting Netanyahu’s call for unity.
  • “The order of the hour, a wide unity government,” reads the top headline in Ynet, quoting from Netanyahu’s public call to Gantz.
  • The smiling pictures, however, belie tough negotiations ahead.
  • “Wake up, we will lead the government,” reads a headline at the top of Channel 13’s website, quoting from a Blue and White response to Netanyahu.
  • “Netanyahu is just making a media hubbub,” a party source is quoted saying in Walla news. The source says the party will wait until after all the votes are counted to start any negotiations.

2. Bloc party: Netanyahu wasted no such precious time, convening all his right-wing friends and getting them to agree to form a bloc that will stick together and negotiate as one.

  • Israel Hayom puts a picture of the meeting on its front page, dubbing the posse “Netanyahu’s bloc.” (Actually the paper uses the English word “block” instead of “gush” which normally translates as “bloc,” for some reason, perhaps to signify a blocking maneuver).
  • With the bloc falling short of 61 seats, though (according to all indications) Netanyahu’s endgame remains unclear.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the point of the coalescence is to make sure that nobody jumps ship and gives Blue and White a chance to form a government with Likud without the right and the religious.
  • There is also speculation he may take the 55-strong bloc to President Reuven Rivlin to use it to convince him to give him first shot at forming a coalition.
  • Citing a source inside the closed-door meeting, Israel Hayom reports that Netanyahu said he actually has no problem with Gantz being given first try at forming a coalition.
  • “Let him sweat a little. Nothing will come of it. We’ll be one bloc and there is nothing he can do,” he is quoted saying.

3. Nowhere to turn: Blue and White is insisting any unity government include only a Likud that has booted Netanyahu, but for now it’s not clear if the party is ready to take that step.

  • The result is an apparent deadlock, a word that appears over and over in news headlines, along with quagmire, morass, dead-end and other synonyms for a political impasse.
  • A cartoon by Haaretz’s Amos Biderman shows both Netanyahu and Gantz being served frogs as they sweat profusely, not because they are French, but because the saying “bite the bullet,” in Hebrew translates to “swallow the frog.”
  • ToI’s Michael Bachner brings readers all the possible permutations and then some.

4. So will Likud dump Netanyahu? For now, the answer seems to be no, but it’s at least on the table.

  • Yedioth reports that sources in the party say they will stick with Netanyahu, at least until he has had a chance at forming a government.
  • And if not “then Likud officials will understand that they need to build a right wing government headed by Likud — without Netanyahu,” a source is quoted telling the paper.
  • In Haaretz, analyst Yossi Verter writes that “senior party members, and those with less seniority, understand perfectly well where Netanyahu has dragged them. Anyone who didn’t understand will realize it in the next day or two. Nor will Netanyahu be able to scorn and humiliate them. Now he needs them more than they need him.”
  • “It’s time for Netanyahu to pass the baton,” writes Gideon Katab on Channel 12’s website.

5. Dirty doesn’t do it: So what went wrong for the erstwhile prime minister? Many see the results of the vote as a rejection of Netanyahu’s blistering and inciting campaign, especially against Arabs.

  • “Apparently, when all the permutations are taken into account, enough Israelis sought a greater internal harmony and fewer Netanyahu-led attacks on the left, the Arabs, the media, the cops, the state prosecution, the judges,” writes ToI’s David Horovitz.
  • Haaretz correspondent Noa Landau notes that a Netanyahu “deep in legal distress, chose to wage an exceptionally dirty, aggressive, Donald Trump-style campaign. He thereby turned this election into a referendum on his character and that of the people around him.”
  • Netanyahu also takes fire from the right. In Israel National News, Emmanuel Shiloh writes that the results mean Likud has some soul-searching to do.

6. Race-baiting bites back: Mazen Ghnaim, a former mayor of Sakhnin, tells the New York Times that “there’s no doubt that the one who helped us get out the vote was Netanyahu.”

  • “First he called us a demographic threat, then it was the cameras… Each time it was something else so we decided to try to replace the Netanyahu government.”
  • Channel 13’s Barak Ravid writes that “Gantz’s offer to meet with [Joint List head Ayman] Odeh is a historic event in the country’s history, especially … given Netanyahu’s incitement against the Arabs over the past decade, incitement that went up a notch during the campaign.”
  • In Yedioth, Meirav Batito writes that it was not only the Arabs who made Netanyahu pay, but other minorities, such as the Druze and Ethiopians.
  • “The high turnout among minority communities is a good sign of people awakening and revolution.”

7. Third time’s a charm? While many are talking unity, there is also the specter of the option nobody wants, another election.

  • Almost like a threat, Israel Hayom reports that the option is very much on the table, even though nobody will be happy.
  • “MKs won’t volunteer to call a third election,” columnist Yossi Beilin surmises in the paper.
  • Haaretz’s Verter reports that during his meeting with right-wing allies, Netanyahu shocked others by seeming to bring it up. “Next time we have to improve the way we work, prevent the waste of votes, unite from the start, exploit the amazing potential of the right,” he’s quoted telling them.
  • Verter also surmises that new elections seem an almost certainty if Netanyahu sticks to his guns.
  • Former prime minister Ehud Olmert also tells writer Ben Caspit on Radio 103 that a third round is a certainty.
  • In Zman Yisrael, Avner Hopstein writes that Israelis aren’t happy, but nobody is willing to actually come up with real change to address very real problems of how Israel elects its leaders, comparing the country to a person who runs again and again at the same wall, failing again and again.
  • “And despite the hangover of the day after, nobody has the courage to stand next to the wall and take it down with an ax,” he writes.
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