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Out of the fire and into the frying pan

On Hanukkah, sufganiyot are served in Israel. / Photo by Marc Israel Sellem

NOVEMBER, 29, 2018 – JERUSALEM – Sometimes it seems like Israel has a collective ADHD issue. Or, an accelerated sense of time and events.

Take the last couple of weeks. The deep-fried sufganiyot (jelly donuts) that mark the beginning of Hanukkah season were abundant at every bakery and minimarket. But instead of prematurely indulging in those sugar bombs, the attention of the country was focused on rockets – hundreds of them – aimed at southern communities by Hamas launchers in Gaza.

The sudden flare-up was just the latest in an ongoing series of clashes between Israel and Hamas that regularly bring us to the brink of war. Even when there’s a facade of quiet, it’s anything but. There have been violent demonstrations every Friday by hundreds – and often thousands – of Palestinians, who attempt to breach Israel’s border and are repelled by the IDF. It’s become routine; still, the rapidity that things can shift from ‘calm’ to ‘Code Red’ can cause a whiplash.

This time the excuse was an IDF undercover excursion into Gaza that went bad. The details are still being kept quiet by the military (those who need to know, know). Things heated up so intensely that a full-scale Israeli operation against Hamas seemed all but inevitable. Then, amid talk of calling up reservists and images of destruction in Israel’s Southern communities … a sudden ceasefire.

Neither side really wants a full frontal battle, but this time there were plenty of disgruntled people, frustrated with Israel’s inability – or unwillingness – to curb Hamas and provide security for its border-area residents. Many of those southerners took to the streets to demonstrate for decisive action by the government.

But Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman went one step further – he quit. He wasn’t only upset over the ceasefire, but because of a previous deal approved by Israel that delivered $15 million of Qatari money to Gaza with the intention of paying salaries for Gaza’s civil servants and easing the humanitarian situation there.

Rockets – talk of war – ceasefire – resignation; all in two days. But wait, we haven’t even arrived at the coalition crisis with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on the brink of collapse.

Spurred by Liberman’s exit, coalition partners Bayit Yehudi, led by Naftali Bennett, and Kulanu, led by Moshe Kahlon, both also threatened to leave and force early elections. But master political strategist Netanyahu managed to outmaneuver both of them, and keep his now narrow 61-59 coalition intact amid breathless news bulletins, special reports, televised addresses to the nation and an impromptu press conference. It was like a chess match with the entire country in the stands anxiously eating their sufganiyot.

The upshot of a week of turmoil? As of this writing, Israel still has a government, but odds are that the coalition won’t last until its scheduled November of 2019. But will anything change as a result? If anything, despite the anger over no solution to the security issue for residents of Israel’s south, Netanyahu’s standing may have been bolstered by the tumultuous events.

His position – that there’s nobody else who can lead the country as responsibly as he can – will likely resonate with enough voters to get his Likud party the mandate to form the next government. His rivals on the Center and the Left like Zionist Union’s Avi Gabbay and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid just don’t have the pull to defeat Bibi by themselves, and on the Right, Liberman may have earned some points for appearing to stand on his principles, but his party is somewhat marginal, and Bennett came out of the debacle weakened and smarting.

So, with the dust clearing after the rapid series of events, the winners appear to be Hamas, which demonstrated it could hit Israel forcefully whenever it wants and which almost brought down the Israeli government, and Netanyahu, who savaged his rivals and kept his coalition temporarily intact.

And Israelis? We’re neither winners nor losers, just participants and spectators in the frenetic events that have us careening like pinballs from corner to feverish corner.

Most of us just hope for a little normalcy with the goal of making it to Hanukkah next week without another major crisis. The way things are going, it will indeed take a miracle.

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