Israeli president Reuven Rivlin begins talks to form new government

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will begin hearing Sunday the recommendations of various parties at his residence. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2019

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin begins talks to form new government

  • Reuven Rivlin will begin hearing Sunday the recommendations of various parties at his residence

JERUSALEM: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin began two days of crucial talks Sunday with representatives of all parliamentary factions before selecting his candidate for prime minister, after a deadlocked repeat election was set to make forming any new government a daunting task.
Israel's largely ceremonial president is tasked with picking the politician with the best chance of forming a stable coalition government. While usually a mere formality, this time Rivlin plays a key role after an election result in which neither of the top candidates has an outright majority.
"The president, in this case, will be very, very involved in the particulars. He will ask for clear answers," Harel Tubi, the president's top aide, told Israel's Army Radio. "I think he'll turn the consultations this time into consultations that have the ability to present other possibilities, of the sort that the public hasn't heard about yet."
In last week's vote, Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White party won 33 seats in the 120-member parliament, while incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative Likud took 31 seats. Neither can muster a parliamentary majority with their traditional smaller allies.
The deciding factor looks to be Avigdor Lieberman and the eight seats his Yisrael Beitenu party captured. Lieberman is demanding a broad unity government with the two major parties that is secular and excludes the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. That appears to be the emerging compromise between Blue and White and Likud, though both are insisting upon leading it.
Complicating matters is Blue and White's refusal to sit with Netanyahu because he faces a likely indictment on corruption charges.
The first step out of the quagmire is the consultations at the president's residence, where each of the parties is asked to make its recommendations. Though Netanyahu's Likud dropped in support, its allies appear to give Netanyahu the support of 55 members of parliament. For Gantz to edge out Netanyahu, he'll need the backing of the Joint List of Arab parties, which emerged as the third largest party with 13 seats, and has traditionally refrained from openly endorsing a candidate for prime minister.
The Arab-led parties have never sat in an Israeli government and its leader, Ayman Odeh, says he is aiming to become opposition leader in case of a unity government. But he hasn't ruled out giving Gantz his recommendation to the president to thwart another Netanyahu-led government. It would make the first time since 1992 the Arab parties played a role in the process. The decision will come down later Sunday, before party representatives meet Rivlin.
In opening his series of meetings, Rivlin gave no indication of where he was leaning, but said he interpreted the will of the people as yearning for a "stable" government.
"I've learned over the years that the people are less concerned about who runs the system," the 80-year-old Rivlin said. "They first of all want the system to create a stable government. And there can't be a stable government without the two big parties."
Rivlin's eventual candidate will have up to six weeks to form a coalition. If that fails, Rivlin could give another candidate for prime minister 28 days to form a coalition. And if that doesn't work, new elections would be triggered yet again. Rivlin has said he will do everything possible to avoid such a scenario and no one appears interested in a third Israeli election within a year.
Last week's vote happened because Netanyahu was unable to form a coalition after April's election without the support of Lieberman, an unpredictable ally-turned-rival who has upended Israeli politics in recent months. The nationalist, yet secular, former defense minister said he was equally uncomfortable with both blocs, and announced that he will not recommend anyone for prime minister.
"We have defined to ourselves one option, the three parties," he said, referring to his own party along with Blue and White and Likud. "If we can form a government like that I'll be happy, if not, like people bigger than us say, it's a big honor to serve the people of Israel in the opposition too."
Looming over the whole process is Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearing scheduled in two weeks, after which he could face charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three separate corruption cases. Netanyahu had hoped to secure a narrow majority of hard-line and religious parties that support granting him immunity from prosecution. With immunity now off the table, Netanyahu is desperate to remain in office despite the long odds.
Israeli law does not require a sitting premier to resign if indicted. But if he is charged, as is widely expected, he would come under heavy pressure to resign.


In war-battered Syria, pay demands turn football into ‘curse’

Updated 40 min 14 sec ago

In war-battered Syria, pay demands turn football into ‘curse’

  • $30,000 Is being demanded by players for a single season

DAMASCUS: Professional football clubs in war-battered Syria are struggling to sign new players, who are demanding raises to counter the decline in the value of their pay packets. 

Nine years into a grinding civil war, Syria’s economy is in tatters, life is increasingly expensive, and the national currency is in freefall on the black market. 

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded economic woes, with footballers forced to play in closed-door stadiums, wiping out turnstile revenues. 

“Professional football has become a curse,” said Eyad Al-Sibaei, president of Homs city’s Wathba club, runners-up in the Syrian league last season. 

“Players who once played with us for reasonable amounts are now demanding astronomical sums. They say it’s because of the devaluation” of the Syrian currency. 

The Syrian league, which has no foreign stars, was suspended for just one month for Covid-19, and it did not stop during the war except at the outset in 2011. 

Players were transferred last year for as little as 35 million Syrian pounds ($17,500 at the current black market rate), but Sibaei said players are now demanding salaries of up to 60 million pounds ($30,000) for a single season. 

“Next season, we’ll need between 400 and 500 million pounds for contracts and other expenses, knowing that the club only has around 160 million in its kitty,” he said. 

He said the club spent around 315 million last year, some of which he had to advance from his own pocket. 

Whereas the average Syrian earns between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds ($25-50) a month, an average professional football player brings home around 1.5 million pounds ($750) on a monthly basis. 

Osama Omri, a player with the Al-Wahda club which finished fifth last season, conceded football players were better off than the average Syrian. 

“The salaries are decent and the purchasing power of some players is good,” said the 28-year-old attacking midfielder with the Damascus club. 

“But it’s not enough to secure their future as a player’s lifespan on the field is short,” he said, as most players retire in their early thirties. 

No foreign player has been recruited since 2012, but today’s record devaluation is making even acquiring Syrian talent tough. 

The pound’s value against the US dollar has plummeted in the past year, from around 430 to 1,250 at the official rate, and from around 600 to 2,000 on the black market. 

The clubs Jaish and Shorta (army and police in English) are funded by the defense and interior ministries, respectively. 

But other clubs say the dual economic-coronavirus crisis has depleted their coffers, and are seeking funds elsewhere to recruit before the new season starts in a month. 

Reigning champions Tishreen, based in the coastal city of Latakia, have signed two new players with funds from sponsors and club board members. 

Ward Al-Salama, 26, who last year scored in Syria’s 1-0 win against the Philippines in World Cup 2022 qualifiers, is moving from Jaish for 50 million pounds ($25,000). 

Kamel Kawaya, 22, signed for Tishreen from Shorta for the same figure. 

Al-Wahda has renewed contracts with all its players, and even made three new signings. 

Its president Maher Al-Sayyed said he had pitched in to help cover some of next year’s ballooning budget. 

“I lent the club 180 million pounds while waiting for conditions to improve,” out of a projected budget of more than 600 million pounds, he said. 

In the northern city of Aleppo, Al-Ittihad are looking at a budget of 500 million pounds — more than twice last year’s. 

Basil Hamwi said they would be counting on fans and expatriates to help make it through the season. 

At Hutteen, another top-flight club from Latakia, coach Hussein Afash said he understood players’ demands. 

“The players are right to be asking for better-paid contracts after the devaluation of the pound as they’re now earning a fourth of what they did,” he said. 

Club president Khaled Tawil said he hoped that wealthy business tycoon Samer Foz would help cover costs. 

“We are counting on Foz, who sponsors our team,” he said.