Perhaps we truly are on the verge of significant positive changes. But then again, we may be facing only frustration and stagnation. It’s difficult to call on several counts.
I am speaking, first, about the election which is now – yikes! – less than two weeks away. It’s difficult to think in terms of significant positive changes here. The mood in the country is one of malaise, ennui.
And this mood represents a real danger: if the electorate, tired of voting, does not come out in significant numbers, this will negatively impact the outcome.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is keenly aware of this problem, of course, and is working to combat it—to arouse people to come out to vote.
The prime minister is doing grass roots campaigning more intensively than he has in years. Party pundits believe this is the only way to bring out the vote, and he is seriously immersed in this, sometimes making several stops in a day. His focus is on Likud strongholds, because bringing out the supporters of Likud in large numbers is what can turn the trick. Many of these Likud districts showed a poor turnout in the last election.
Several analysts have indicated that this new approach just might work.
Netanyahu is also reaching out to Russian voters, hoping to lure them from Lieberman. (In terms of Lieberman himself, the less said the better. He continues to make various pronouncements, not all of which are consistent.)
Additionally, Likud is reaching out to Ethiopians. Ethiopian-born MK Gadi Yevarkan left Blue & White in January (because they had placed him in an unrealistic slot on their list), moving over to Likud, where he has been warmly welcomed. Yevarkan is now campaigning in the Ethiopian community. Much support was lost there when Solomon Teka was killed by a ricocheting bullet shot by an off-duty cop.
Blue & White’s Benny Gantz is sending out mixed messages. Even some who might be interested in supporting him are not sure what he stands for. My betting is that Gantz is not sure either.
One particular incident illustrates this stunningly. At the prime minister’s request, Gantz was invited t
o come to Washington along with Netanyahu to participate in a meeting on the “Deal.” He brought with him his campaign strategist Joel Benenson, who had compared Trump to Hitler.
Trump’s people were furious.
What a thoughtless, stupid move!! Imagine Gantz as the chief representative of Israel in the international community, replacing Netanyahu, who is masterful in this role.
While it’s not wise to place confidence in the polls, one set of numbers stands out: Gantz is not going to be able to form a coalition with 61 mandates from Zionist parties. Yamina leaders have made it clear they will not join with Gantz, while the two haredi parties would not sit with Blue & White, which is co-chaired by a virulently anti-haredi Yair Lapid.
I say “Zionist parties,” because there was talk of Blue & White joining with the predominantly Arab, anti-Zionist United List. This list includes not just anti-Zionists, but some who overtly support terrorism. It is a thoroughly offensive thought, that this group would be involved in the government.
At any rate, that notion was jettisoned when it was clear that the two blocs had significantly different positions on the “Deal.” Joint List head Ayman Odeh laid out stipulations that included a Blue & White stance against the application of sovereignty in parts of Judea and Samaria.
What is still being discussed, however, is the idea of a minority government of less than 61 mandates with support from outside the government by the Joint List. “Support” means they would pledge not to take down the government from the outside.
This is legal, but not particularly stable and definitely not desirable.
The question, then, is whether Netanyahu, with Yamina and the haredi parties, which are again moving towards forming a right-wing bloc, can achieve the necessary 61 mandates.
What is most important is that the entire bloc secures 61 mandates collectively. It seems to me, however, that matters would move more smoothly if Likud in the end were to secure more mandates than Blue & White. (It would be better if we did NOT have to hear Gantz gloat that his party received more support than Likud.)
Netanyahu is imminently facing his trial for the charges on which he has been indicted. It is scheduled to begin on March 17, just slightly more than two weeks after the election. Its prospect weighs heavily on the prime minister and on the nation.
While the law says he can stay in office unless and until he is found guilty, I had been uneasy that there would be political jockeying from the left in order to push him out. According to recent reports, however, Attorney General Mandelblit is expected to tell the High Court that Netanyahu, if charged with doing so, would be permitted to form a government. The Court is involved because of a petition that had been submitted in an effort to eliminate Netanyahu.
As might be expected, Gantz is already charging that the prime minister won’t be able to do his job. My response: the entire indictment process, which had political motivation, has weighed on Netanyahu for many months now. This is hardly a new burden. And yet he has managed to function competently, and in some respects exceedingly well. At this juncture he should be provided with the opportunity to prove his innocence, and allowed to proceed with his political involvement.
On Tuesday night, Netanyahu challenged Gantz to three televised debates, American style, on politics, security, and economics, to be done without teleprompters.
This was a smart move. Gantz cannot begin to hold his own in a debate with Netanyahu – either in terms of oratory skills or knowledge of the issues. But to refuse does not look good.
So here was his very lame cop-out on twitter:
“What happened, Netanyahu? You got spooked that there’s now a date for your cross-examination of prosecution witnesses in your trial, so you’re pushing this spin?”
It’s possible that we are on the cusp of major changes in our relationship with Hamas in Gaza, but here I am definitely not holding my breath.
In fact, the situation might best be like hitting my head on a brick wall.
It feels as if we are going around in circles, without preventing the intermittent violence that is directed at Israeli citizens from Gaza. There is the occasional rocket, but much more frequent are the balloons carrying explosives and sometimes even a warhead.
The IDF always responds with some sort of less than effective action, with airstrikes against Hamas “targets”: Always targets, never people.
And there had been news of a marvellous new laser weapon we had that would take down these balloons. But if the IDF has been using it, you cannot prove it by me. The balloons keep coming.
Prime Minister Netanyahu warned that Israel was not constrained by the election and might go to war with Hamas before the voting took place.
Following this, a message was sent to Hamas leaders via Egypt, indicating that we were prepared to launch a military action if the balloons and rockets were not stopped.
This appeared to have an effect (emphasis added):
“Factions in Gaza have decided to halt the launching of balloon-borne explosive devices from the Gaza Strip into Israel, the al-Quds daily reported [last] Tuesday…
“The report said that the leaders of the balloon launching units, which are believed to be affiliated with various factions, made the decision.”
Israel then rescinded some punitive measures, such as restricting the permitted range for Gaza fishermen.
This state of affairs, however, lasted precisely four days (emphasis added):
“A Hamas official told a Lebanese newspaper on Saturday that the terror group has decided to reduce the number of incendiary balloons launched toward Israel, but not stop them entirely….
“The Lebanese pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper, citing an unnamed Hamas official, said that the number of launches would be reduced after Israel met the group’s demands.”
Sometime in the course of all of this, Netanyahu declared that there would not be a military action against Gaza before the election, as this would not be a propitious time. Not exactly surprising news.
But it turns out that our leaders had not been simply mouthing empty threats: Reports have surfaced indicating that Israel had been seriously contemplating the assassination of Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Marwan Issa, the leader of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades – two very appropriate candidates for assassination.
But Israel was deterred from acting by Egypt. Egypt attempts to keep matters quiet in this region, and it is certainly likely that these assassinations would have promoted war. But it is not clear to me that the interventions by Egypt are productive for the long term. Hamas must either be eliminated, or must be made to fear us.
Neither case prevails now. Today (Wednesday) an Islamic Jihad sniper fired on IDF troops at the Gaza border. And yesterday, a warhead was launched into Israel by balloon, landing in the community of Alumim.
In the midst of all of this, there are now reports of attempts via third parties – Egypt and the UN – to arrange a ceasefire. But wait! Haven’t we done this, and done this, and done this???
Yesterday (Tuesday), Netanyahu, in an Army Radio interview, said the military was planning a “big surprise” for Hamas if they failed to rein in violence aimed at southern Israel.
“Hamas and the other terrorist organizations such as Islamic Jihad…have to understand that either there is complete quiet and they rein in the rogue factions — shoot them in the knees, that’s the way — or we will have no choice but to launch our operational programs. I can’t share what they are, but I can say it will be a big surprise.
“…we’re preparing for Hamas the surprise of their lives. I won’t say what it is, but it will be different from anything that came before.” (Emphasis added)
A whole lot of us eagerly await that “big surprise.”
Whether we are on the cusp of deeply exciting changes with regard to application of sovereignty in parts of Judaea and Samaria, as well as revolutionary changes in our relationship with Arab Sunni states are subjects I will be eager to explore when I next post.