Kafe Knesset for July 12

The Gabbay Effect: The Labor Party has jumped in the polls a day after Avi Gabbay won the leadership contest. Under Isaac Herzog, the party had taken a nosedive from 24 seats (in the 2015 election) to low double-digits and even single digits in some polls, but with Gabbay at the helm, Labor is now in second place, mainly taking seats from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. A Channel 2 poll gave Likud 25 seats, Labor 20, Yesh Atid 18, Bayit Yehudi 13, Joint List 13, Kulanu 8, UTJ 7, Yisrael Betyenu 6, Meretz 5 and Shas 5. A Channel 10 poll gave Likud 29, Zionist Union 24, Yesh Atid 16, Bayit Yehudi 14, Joint List 8, Yisrael Beytenu 7, Kulanu 6, UTJ 6, Shas 5, Meretz 5.

The Gabbay Effect appears to be a real thing, but a few words of caution: This poll comes after he’s riding high on increased media coverage. Also, Lapid has been underestimated before, and he’s a great campaigner. Since there’s no election on the horizon, it’s too early to say who will really be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main competition. One more interesting thing to note is that Shas seems to be on a downward trajectory. With Rabbi Ovadia Yosef being “of blessed memory” for four years now already, and party leader Arye Deri under investigation for corruption yet again, are voters turning away from Shas?

Bibi’s favorite bill slows down: The nation-state bill is on the agenda again, with a special committee led by Likud MK Amir Ohana set up to work on it. On Monday, Netanyahu said that the committee will help fast-track the bill, which he has vocally supported. But Ohana said today that he spoke to the Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon and that it won’t be possible to pass it in a first reading before the Knesset summer session ends in two weeks. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a Netanyahu ally and major proponent of the bill, said Yinon is just trying to block the bill from passing. Opposition MKs said Netanyahu only wants to accelerate the legislative process because of his other problems – the submarine probe, or concerns about Gabbay’s meteoric rise in the polls.

The battle over Qalqilya is back: The security cabinet is set to convene this evening to discuss the controversial plans for construction in the West Bank city of Qalqilya, against the backdrop of heavy settlers’ pressure to cancel the plans. After a two week hiatus, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman will once again have to defend the plan, which is part of the wider carrots and sticks plan initiated by the IDF last year, laying out civil and economic benefits for Palestinian civilians who are not involved in terror. On the other hand, Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked are leading a majority of cabinet ministers who are demanding to halt the progress of the Qalqilya plan, including Likud ministers Zeev Elkin, Gilad Ardan, Israel Katz, and Kulanu’s Yoav Galant. The Jewish Home is even demanding to cancel all of Liberman’s carrots and sticks plan. Elkin said yesterday, “It’s an outrageous decision that has never been presented or approved by the cabinet, which attempts to double the size of a Hammas town which borders Kfar Saba and is only ten kilometers away from Tel Aviv. This is clearly against Israeli interests and we should stop it before it’s too late.” Liberman, on the other hand, has rejected these arguments: ahead of the cabinet meeting this evening, he visited the Shomron regional council today and clarified that he intends to continue and advance his plans. “All of Qalqilya is surrounded by a security fence. We are not expanding the city, and I don’t even know any Israeli who has ever visited Qalqilya”, he said, standing by Yossi Dagan, the head of the Shomron regional council and the man who has been rallying up support for canceling the plan. Liberman added “Qalqilya is just an excuse. This is an argument between a practical and realist right and a messianic right”. The overheated political tensions ahead of the security cabinet meeting impose a challenge for Netanyahu: will he succumb to right wing pressure and bring the plan for a renewed vote, or will he back Liberman and the “pragmatic right”?

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