1. How did we get here, again?: Israel appears poised to face a much-dreaded fourth round of national elections in two years, amid a spiraling budget standoff between Likud’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
- “The prospect of the dissolution of the government and fourth elections continues to hover over the political system, and based on the rhetoric of Likud and Blue and White, it’s becoming more likely from moment to moment,” reports the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom.
- After Netanyahu agreed to back a bill to extend the August 25 deadline to pass a budget, Gantz on Monday urged him to pass it fully into law in the next 24 hours in order to remove the threat of new elections. Netanyahu brushed aside the ultimatum. The prime minister is insisting on advancing a one-year budget, citing the uncertainty wrought by the pandemic, while Gantz is demanding a two-year plan as stipulated in their coalition agreement. If the deadline is not extended and the date comes and goes without a budget, the country automatically goes to elections.
- The bid to trigger fourth elections is widely seen as a ploy by Netanyahu to avoid having to transfer the premiership to Gantz next year under the coalition deal.
- The crisis is expected to come to a head on Wednesday, when an opposition bill will be brought to the floor that seeks to ban a person facing criminal charges from forming a government. The bill would prevent Netanyahu — who is on trial in three corruption cases — from again assuming the role of premier.
- Hebrew media reports on Tuesday say that Blue and White will skip the vote, wary of triggering elections.
- Other reports earlier said Blue and White is divided on the issue. According to the Walla news site, among the Blue and White lawmakers to express support for the proposal during a faction meeting were Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir, Science Minister Izhar Shay, Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen and MK Miki Haimovitch. The Kan public broadcaster says Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn also backs the bill.
- Expressing opposition to the bill were Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, Minister in the Defense Ministry Michael Biton, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and MK Zvi Hauser. The latter two are members of the Derech Eretz faction, part of Gantz’s Blue and White-led coalition bloc.
- “Leaving the Knesset after a workday here, and it saddens me to write that there is an atmosphere of dissolution. Ciao, 23rd Knesset. You were short-lived, but not the shortest lived,” tweets Globes Knesset reporter Tal Schneider on Monday night.
- President Reuven Rivlin warns the government on Tuesday against fourth elections. He tweets: “Further elections are not possible. We cannot continue to deal with this as a logical possibility while we are counting our dead. If you take us there, elected officials of whatever party, to that dreadful nadir, you will inflict on this country a hard, painful, unforgivable blow.”
2. Is the healthcare system heading toward collapse?: It isn’t only the political system that is on the brink of collapse, however, with the Haaretz newspaper reporting a serious strain on Israel’s hospitals as a result of the increasing number of serious COVID-19 cases.
- The strain is primarily being felt in general ICUs, with Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem closing one of its emergency units as medical staff were shifted to the coronavirus wards.
- “The situation in Hadassah is not exceptional,” it reports, adding that “the problem primarily stems from a crisis of manpower, since the treatments in ICUs requires more staff members and greater manpower [than other units].”
- Prof. Dror Mevorach tells the paper the Jerusalem hospital is seeing the “first signs of collapse.”
- “This is not the collapse that was seen in Italy and Spain, where they reached a situation in which they couldn’t intubate patients, but the moment there is no room to treat patients from a regular ward, this is the beginning of the collapse,” he said.
- Army Radio also quotes government officials fretting about the pressure on the healthcare system. “We are closer than ever to situations in which doctors will have to make difficult decisions on attaching [patients] to heart-lung machines,” an official is quoted saying.
- Cabinet ministers on Thursday will discuss the overload on Israel’s hospitals during a Thursday meeting, reports Army Radio.
3. Backpack, notebook, mask: With the September 1 start of the school year just three weeks away, Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom focus on the Education Ministry’s plan and new health regulations for students.
- Children in kindergartens through second grade will continue to learn five days a week in class, with no changes. In third and fourth grades, students will be split into smaller classes of no more than 18 children. Third graders will be forced to wear masks during recess, while all students from the fourth grade and up will be required to wear masks throughout the school day. Fifth-graders and up will learn twice a week in school, and three times a week remotely, and all classes will be capped at 18 students.
- Despite Education Ministry assurances, the director general of the Health Ministry, Chezy Levy, on Monday cast doubt on the plan, saying fourth graders and up may not return to school on September 1. The Education Ministry disputes this.
- Yedioth also reports that the Education Ministry has yet to resolve the issue of remote learning for the 150,000 Israeli children who don’t have a computer at home, or for families that only have one computer but several children. The ministry has ordered 144,000 computers for distribution — but in the best case scenario, half the shipment will only arrive in January 2021.
4. Don’t dust off that passport just yet: Government pledges to “reopen the skies” by August 16 are laughable, Hebrew media reports, with most countries unwilling to take in Israelis.
- Israel has one of the highest morbidity rates in the world per capita and many countries, including the European Union, currently ban visitors from there. Only countries that have more lax entry requirements, such as Brazil, the US, Mexico, Kenya and others allow in Israelis, though in some cases they must still present negative COVID-19 tests or quarantine upon entry.
- Israel still bans entry for all non-nationals and requires everyone who enters the country, including Israelis, to quarantine for two weeks.
- Haaretz says that just four “green” countries with low infection rates are willing to accept Israelis — Croatia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Rwanda — which is conditioned on presenting a negative COVID-19 test.
- “Unless there is a miracle the skies will not open on Sunday, it is not clear why they set that date. It is far from reality,” an unnamed senior Health Ministry official told Channel 12 news Monday.
- “Don’t say that the skies are opening, because they are not, and air travel is not resuming, and we are kidding ourselves,” Coronavirus Committee chair Yifat Shasha-Biton says at a Monday meeting on the issue.
5. Beirut blast jolts Israeli government into action: Following the devastating blast in Beirut, Netanyahu and Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel have decided to form a high-level committee that will oversee the shuttering of refineries and relocation of dangerous chemicals from the port city that is home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis, reports Yedioth.
- Haifa officials and environmental activists have warned a similar disaster could unfold in the northern city, urging the government to take action.
- The Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group has in the past threatened to target the Haifa refineries, with the aim of creating a massive conflagration.
- Meanwhile, Reuters reports on Tuesday that it remains unclear who owns the ammonium nitrate that caused the Lebanon disaster.
- “There are many unanswered questions surrounding last week’s huge, deadly blast in the Lebanese capital, but ownership should be among the easiest to resolve…. But Reuters interviews and trawls for documents across 10 countries in search of the original ownership of this 2,750-tonne consignment instead revealed an intricate tale of missing documentation, secrecy and a web of small, obscure companies that span the globe.”