Kafe Knesset for March 27

The Netanyahu-Kahlon faceoff is still ongoing, as well as the looming coalition crisis over the future of Israeli public broadcasting. Yesterday, the PM and Finance Minister met twice, ending a 10-day silent treatment. Alas, both sides are more entrenched than ever in their opening positions: BB insists that the IBC won’t go on the air and Kahlon insists exactly the opposite. So far, any attempt to bridge the differences by creating a merger between the IBC and the existing IBA has been met with strong legal objections, as well as Netanyahu’s media bill, which is designed to increase political control over the channel. Netanyahu is still threatening to take the country to early elections if he doesn’t get what he wants, although most of his coalition partners strongly oppose his ultimatum. Yesterday, at the weekly gathering of the coalition party leaders, the Haredi factions – led by Shas’ Aryeh Deri, and UTJ’s Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni – made clear that they will be very very angry if Netanyahu moves forward with his threat. The Haredim are dreading the possibility that Yair Lapid will rise to power, and are not willing to give up their seats so fast, though this morning they changed their tone, with Gafni stating that “we have no problem going to elections. We are not afraid of elections.”

At the same time, other tensions are brewing with the Jewish Home and Naftali Bennett, exacerbated by winds from DC and shadows from the past. Netanyahu is adamantly dodging Israeli media reports about the results of his settlement talks with the White House, dismissing any demands or attempted formulas for a freeze as inaccurate. Channel 2 reported over the weekend that the emerging deal with the administration will include approving a new settlement for the Amona evacuees in return for a freeze of construction outside of the settlement blocs. But BB knows that any distinction between the settlements inside or outside the blocs will be tough for his coalition to swallow, so yesterday, at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, he said discussions “are still ongoing” only expressing hope they conclude soon.

The Knesset Land of Israel Caucus, made up mostly of Likud and Bayit Yehudi MKs, has already made clear they are not going to let the reported compromise go smoothly. The caucus is led by MKs from each of the parties who are known for giving the coalition headaches: Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) and Yoav Kisch (Likud). The two released a statement that “if these are the White House’s ideas, it is no wonder that there is no agreement. This kind of deal will never pass in this coalition. Limiting construction to the ‘blocs’ and ‘quotas’…goes against our commitments to our voters.”

But Netanyahu’s vagueness is raising many suspicions and speculations to his right, primarily with Bennett, who probably used his meeting with Jason Greenblatt yesterday as an opportunity to snoop around and understand exactly happened in his meeting with Netanyahu. Bennett, like Tzipi Livni, who also met Greenblatt over the weekend, adhered to what appears to be Greenblatt’s rules of engagement, providing little details about the content of the meeting, leaving it to JG to tweet. A senior source in the coalition told Kafe Knesset that a real crisis with Bennett over the settlements is “only a matter of time.” Any agreement with the administration, he added “will be rejected by Bennett, no matter what it says.”

Meanwhile, revelations from the BB-Noni tapes, a/k/a Police File 2000 investigating negotiations between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronothpublisher Noni Mozes over Adelson’s Israel Hayom newspaper, are adding to the poisonous mix. Last week, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu and Mozes allegedly colluded against Bennett in the 2015 election and that Mozes offered negative coverage of Bennett in return for Netanyahu pushing for limitations on Israel Hayom. The revelations shocked the Jewish Home, and a source in the party told Kafe Knesset “there are calls to reconsider the alliance with BB.” Bennett himself said “it’s very uncomfortable to realize that the prime minister asked a publisher to run a series of negative articles against the Jewish Home in return for closing Israel Hayom or something like that.” At the time, Bennett told Army Radio this morning, “I couldn’t understand where these far-fetched articles were coming from. Now everything connects, but it’s wrong.”

Be like Trump: Netanyahu’s eye is on America these days, not only because of the settlement issue – he’s been admiring POTUS’s ability to make his own appointments to government positions. Relative to the US, many of the top positions in Israeli government are not personal appointments by the premier or relevant minister. The ruling coalition controls many appointments and Bibi is out to change that. While ministerial search committees that recommend people for jobs will continue to exist, ministers will be able to forgo that process for one senior position. In addition, deputy directors-general will be appointed by ministers. The change is expected to go to a cabinet vote next week. Likud Minister Yariv Levin said that the new system will strengthen good governance, such that ministers will be able to act on the policies for which they were elected. Yesh Atid, whose leader Yair Lapid has campaigned on clean government and emphasized that issue in an interview with Politico last week, called the government “shameless,” and said it’s going against the public interest. “Their whole goal is to give party activists and cronies jobs. This government forgot that its first job is to serve the citizens and not itself.”

Keen political observers in Israel may have noticed Netanyahu looking a little different these days. It seems his hair stylist has been experimenting with color a bit – or maybe it’s a trick of the light? Either way, in photos from his trip to China last week, he looked oddly blonde – an almost Trump-esque hue – and in a video on Bibi’s Facebook page from yesterday’s cabinet meeting he was back to grey, but a much darker charcoal shade than usual. Kafe Knesset thinks it’s more dignified for a prime minister to stick to a natural, distinguished grey, but no one asked us for style tips.

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