1. Girding for the end: The government is lurching toward being toppled and early elections being called. The only questions it seems, is when Israelis will get a chance to go to the polls and how it will all shake out.

  • Reports on Israel’s main news broadcasts Thursday night indicated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies were pushing him toward early elections, making what was merely high likely a near-certainty.
  • According to reports, Kulanu chief Moshe Kahlon and Shas head Aryeh Deri both are opposed to Netanyahu giving in to Naftali Bennett’s ultimatum and making the Jewish Home party leader defense minister.
  • A front page column by Haaretz’s Yossi Verter headlines with “See you in March,” which pretty much sums up the general feeling of inevitability.
  • “Even if he gives in to Bennett, a 61-seat majority that depends on Oren Hazan isn’t sustainable,” he writes, getting in a shot at the troublemaker MK (though the coalition, Hazan and all, did manage to survive for over a year with just 61 in the ante-Liberman days.)

2. March or May: According to Yedioth Ahronoth, the two dates for elections being considered are March 12 and March 26, with March 5 being too early and March 19 being the week of the boozy Purim holiday.

  • However, Netanyahu wants to push it off until May, according to the report. Why? Because that will allow him to use state ceremonies during Memorial Day and Independence Day for stump speeches (Not mentioned is Holocaust Remembrance Day, which even the most cynical politician would apparently not use for campaigning).
  • If he does manage to push it to May, which will mean keeping the coalition together until late December, the dates under consideration would be May 21 or 27 (after Eurovision), according to the report.

3. Last gasp: According to Haaretz, Netanyahu wanted to push the elections until late May even before the flareup with Gaza led to a coalition crisis.

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  • Pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom reports, meanwhile, that the prime minister is still scrambling to try and keep it together.
  • “Among other things, Netanyahu is considering appointing Bennett defense minister. At the same time, according to a source in Netanyahu’s office ‘there are other options,’” the paper reports without surmising what those options might be.
  • Channel 10 reports that a Friday morning meeting will decide the fate of the coalition. “According to estimates, the chances the meeting will produce a result that will stabilize the coalition are slim,” the channel reports.

4. Liberman speaks: Avigdor Liberman, the man who precipitated the coalition crisis by leaving the government, breaks his very brief silence since quitting with an interview to Yedioth Ahronoth.

  • Apparently already in election mode, Liberman keeps firing at Netanyahu: “He might say one thing, but when it comes time for action, he always finds a reason why not. And I know all his explanations. There’s always secret considerations, intelligence, north, east, west. There’s always something close and something far, up, down. It’s all excuses.”
  • Asked what he wanted to do in Gaza instead of agree to a ceasefire, he says “a very heavy strike on Gaza,” though he adds that it would not include a ground operation, since air power would be enough.

5. Fighting the army: IDF chief Gadi Eizenkot does not share the view that an air campaign without ground forces would have done much good, according to Haaretz’s Amos Harel.

  • According to the report, the army told the cabinet that if it hit Gaza too hard, Gaza would hit back at Israel harder and pressure would grow to call up reserves and send them in.
  • “At that point, one of two things would happen: Israel would occupy Gaza and get embroiled in maintaining the occupation, or it would stop the fighting after a few weeks – at which point the negotiations with Hamas would resume exactly where they left off,” he writes.
  • In Yedioth, columnist Nahum Barnea notes that Liberman’s public slamming of the military over how to deal with Gaza during his resignation speech was likely unprecedented.
  • “The fact that he did this while still defense minister, with his consent or approval, just exacerbates the problem. Those in uniform are not allowed to attack their superiors. They stay quiet, but the anger is great,” he writes.

6. Sharon 2.0: Netanyahu, meanwhile, has not only kept from publicly sparring with the army, but seems to be cottoning to its position on Gaza that a more permanent settlement is needed.

In the New Yorker, Bernard Avishai compares him to Ariel Sharon in this regard: “Netanyahu’s move suggests a path, much like Sharon’s, that seems just plausible enough for another campaign — a security strategy in which he purports to gain the status quo in Palestinian territories on the West Bank by changing that of Gaza. It would not be the first time Netanyahu took a populist message to the public, won just enough votes to form a government, and forced Likud acolytes to trim their sails.”

7. Calling Gaza: Gazans are apparently also still hopeful about a long-term deal, undeterred by the violent flareup, according to Telegraph reporter Raf Sanchez, who tweeted out some observations from Gaza.

  • Sanchez also notes that he spoke to a man who was on the phone with the army for 45 minutes as the military tried to get him and other neighbors to leave an area before an airstrike took place.
  • While some see the anecdote as proof of the morality of the “most moral army in the world,” other see it as a sign of the army’s weakness. “Does that sound normal to you. To me it sounds insane,” one person writes on Facebook, responding to a story about Sanchez’s tweet carried by the right-wing Israel National News.

8. Touchdown Jesus in the Negev: ToI’s Amanda Borschel-Dan reports on an image of Jesus Christ discovered in a church in southern Israel.

  • Unlike images toasted onto sandwiches or appearing on trees though, this one is only miraculous for how old it is, how it stayed hidden for so long, and what is says about early conceptions of Christ.
  • “Thus far, it is the only in situ baptism-of-Christ scene to date confidently to the pre-iconoclastic Holy Land. Therefore, it can illuminate Byzantine Shivta’s Christian community and early Christian art across the region,” wrote the researchers who published a journal article about the picture.

9. Throw another spat on the barbie: Nothing much has yet come of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrisson’s announcement last month that Canberra would consider moving its embassy to Jerusalem, except a diplomatic spat with its southeastern Asian neighbors.

  • After Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told Morrison it would not be a good idea, Australian treasury chief Josh Frydenberg has hit back, accusing the very anti-Semitic Mahathir of anti-Semitism.
  • Frydenberg also says he backs the embassy move, which was seen mainly as a failed election ploy to secure a seat in a heavily Jewish neighborhood of Sydney.
  • “Australia already recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over West Jerusalem,” Frydenberg says, according to The Associated Press. “It’s where the Israeli parliament is. It’s where the Australian ambassador presents his or her credentials. It will be the capital of Israel under any two-state solution.”
  • In the Australian, editor Chris Kenny says the embassy announcement wasn’t wrong, but ill-timed.
  • “Morrison’s mistake was to rush this announcement, clearly in the misguided belief it was going to help in the Wentworth by-election. That was a poor political decision because the timing was so transparently cynical that it probably cost more votes than it conjured,” he writes.
  • “In foreign policy terms, however, the announcement caught other nations by surprise just when an Indonesian trade deal was close to finalization, on the cusp of this week’s summit season when regional leaders gather for the East Asia Summit and the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum,” he adds. “Given Australia wanted to pursue this policy move — eminently justifiable as an effective and pragmatic recognition that Jerusalem is and always will be the capital of Israel — it should have waited. Next year, with the trade deal done and the summits out of the way, diplomats could have alerted key nations before the government announced a staged process conditional on reasonable expectations for progress towards peace negotiations.”


via The Times of Israel