Kafe Knesset for April 3

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In case we thought that the IBC crisis is behind us, we should think again. The devil is always in the details: As the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry are diving into the little details of the agreement reached between PM Netanyahu and Finance Minister Kahlon last week, many potential stumbling blocks are emerging – such as budget constraints and timetable limits. The professional officials have a bit more than two weeks to draft the agreement into a law, which is set to be brought to vote in a special Knesset session after Pesach. Meanwhile, the IBC workers – many of them due to lose their jobs – have launched a public campaign against the Netanyahu-Kahlon understandings.

Two petitions were submitted this morning to the Supreme Court demanding a freeze of any implementation of the agreement. The first one to appeal was Labor activist and lawyer Eldad Yaniv, who claims that Netanyahu should not even be dealing with the IBC. The Yaniv claim is based upon the PM’s wide conflicts of interest which made attorney general Avichai Mandelblit force Netanyahu to give up the communications portfolio earlier this year. Another petition was submitted by the Israeli Journalist Association demanding that the Netanyahu-Kahlon understanding be cancelled, primarily the separation between the IBC and the News Department. The journalists are also demanding that Netanyahu and Kahlon stop interfering and halt attempts to influence the identity of the IBC’s managers and journalists. “This decision was reached under threats and bullying,” they wrote in the petition. “Many workers are hanging now in the air and have many doubts about their professional future. This is a direct continuation of the government policy in recent months – which has only one goal, preserving political control of public broadcasting which is totally against the law.”

Aside from the legal procedures and the legislative process, it appears that the coalition will need time to heal from the dramatic events of recent weeks, especially the relations between Netanyahu and Kahlon. Kahlon, whom BB likes to call “Moyshe,” used to be BB’s favorite and most reliable partner, but those days seem to be over. The two met today at a joint event in Bet Shemesh. Netanyahu went out of his way to be nice to Kahlon, sweet-talking him, complimenting him and using the friendly nickname Moyshe again. Kahlon, however, did not reciprocate. He avoided any eye contact, moving his head in the opposite direction, and ran out before the event was even over. Before he departed he gave a strong speech in which, without naming the PM, it was clear he was targeting Netanyahu. “We have been through a crisis in recent weeks. If we were going to elections now, no one would be here today – the young couples would be reading tehilim and the disabled would have to wait another year to get more money.” Kahlon defended his decision to cave into Netanyahu’s demands. “In elections – you know how you enter the game, but you never can know how you will leave. I had to be responsible here, and I am paying a political price for it. I am willing to pay the price for the young couples’ sakes, but unfortunately not everyone thinks that way.” One of Kahlon’s aides told Kafe Knesset that the Finance Minister is “furious at BB for driving him into this whole crisis” and stressed that “Netanyahu went too far. It might be irreversible.”

Shots fired on Twitter: Now that the crisis with Kahlon is almost over, Netanyahu has time for another political fight. Bayit Yehudi leader and eternal thorn in Netanyahu’s side Naftali Bennett lamented a “strategic historic opportunity” in Netanyahu’s negotiations with Trump, in a series of right-wing subtweets on Twitter yesterday. Netanyahu fought dirty in response, launching the latest intra-coalition war.

At the beginning of yesterday’s cabinet meeting, Bennett said he accepted the new settlement policy allowing continued construction in areas that are already built up, without regard to whether they are inside or outside of the blocs. But on Twitter, he took a sharper tone. “The new policy is balanced and reasonable, on the condition it is actually implemented. It has no quantitative limit [on construction]. From my experience, we have to ensure that it is implemented.” However, he added, “this is a strategic missed opportunity. Instead of presenting an alternative (sovereignty in Area C plan, autonomy, etc.), we were passive.”

Then came the real bomb – Bennett went after the missile defense systems that Netanyahu showed off earlier that day and the premier’s performance in Operation Protective Edge: “Wars are not won with defense. A fight with Hamas cannot take 50 days. Israel’s policy must be total victory. That is all.”

Bennett did not mention Netanyahu by name, which is why he says he didn’t intend to start a fight with the prime minister, but Netanyahu’s camp certainly didn’t see it that way. The Likud sent out a message that “Bennett is the last one who should preach about standing up to pressure when, as Education Minister, he gave in every time to the pressures of the New Israel Fund, allowed [Israeli-Arab poet who famously wrote about eating Israeli Jews] Mahmoud Darwish to remain in the curriculum, gave tenure to a left-wing extremist who wrote the civics curriculum, and ignored Palestinian incitement in Arab schools and in East Jerusalem that are funded by the Education Ministry that he heads.”

Bennett pointed out on Twitter that the message didn’t respond to any of his arguments, and retweeted former Kafe Knesset writer Amir Tibon who wrote: “Bennett: We need a diplomatic alternative, the Likud isn’t interested in it. Netanyahu: Lefties, Arabs, Darwish, New Israel Fund, you’re like Abbas.” And then, on Army Radio this morning, he said: “I’m consistent. I say my stance before an election, during an election and after an election, and it’s always the same stance. I don’t say that I’m against a Palestinian state and after that I’m for a Palestinian state.

Now, the ball is in Bibi’s court, and it looks like he’s going to retaliate with actions, not just words. He told the Likud to block all of Bayit Yehudi’s attempts to annex parts of the West Bank. (Never mind that there are quite a few Likudniks partnering with Bayit Yehudi on those efforts). As we say with BB and Bennett, to be continued….

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