Israel Supreme Court Upholds Expulsion Of Human Rights Watch Official

 

Israel’s supreme court on Tuesday upheld a government decision to expel a senior Human Rights Watch official over his alleged support of a boycott of the country, the ruling said.

Israel has sought to expel Omar Shakir, the New York-based rights group’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, for more than a year.

It will now be up to the government whether to follow through and deport Shakir, a US citizen, who brands the move a bid by Israel to silence and delegitimise critics of its treatment of the Palestinians.

“If it proceeds, I have 20 days to leave & (Israel will) join ranks of Iran, N Korea & Egypt in blocking access for @hrw official,” Shakir tweeted after the decision was announced.

It would be the first expulsion of its kind under a 2017 law allowing the deportation of foreigners who support boycotting Israel, although there have been cases of people being denied entry under the measure.

Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said he was “delighted that the supreme court this morning has validated my decision to not extend the visa of Omar Shakir, one of the leaders of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, for his support for boycotting Israel.”

“All those who work against Israel must know that we will not let them live or work here,” he added.

HRW said it urges businesses to stop operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank in order to avoid complicity in human rights abuses, but insisted it does not advocate a boycott of Israel itself.

It said it had “vigorously contested” claims Shakir had done so since joining the organisation.

Kenneth Roth, its executive director, condemned the court’s decision and warned that more such rulings would follow.

“The supreme court has effectively declared that free expression in Israel does not include completely mainstream advocacy for Palestinian rights,” he said.

“If the government now deports Human Rights Watch’s researcher for asking businesses to respect rights as we do across the world, there’s no telling whom it will throw out next.”

The case against Shakir was initially based on alleged statements in support of a boycott he made “in the distant past”, prior to taking up his post, HRW says.

The government later added new statements it alleges are in support of a boycott.

Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, which probes potential violations of the 2017 law, alleges Shakir’s activism, particularly related to the country’s occupation of the West Bank, has amounted to calls for a boycott.

The BDS movement calls for a broad-ranging boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Israel sees the movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism — a claim activists strongly deny.

Israel Soldier Gets One-Month Jail Over Killing Of Gaza Teen

Israeli soldiers take cover as Palestinian protesters hurl stones during clashes following a weekly protest against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum near the Jewish settlement of Qadumim (Kedumim), in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on August 9, 2019. Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP

 

An Israeli military court has sentenced a soldier to one month in jail over the killing of a Palestinian teenager after he opened fire without authorisation, the army said Wednesday.

The unnamed soldier was convicted Monday for “acting without authorisation in a manner endangering to life and well-being”, it said in a statement.

Othman Rami Halles, 15, was shot dead during protests on the Israel-Gaza border on July 13, 2018, the Palestinian health ministry said at the time.

The army said a probe had found that “the soldier fired at a Palestinian rioter who was climbing on the security fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip”.

The soldier, identified in Israeli media as a sniper, had opened fire “not in accordance with the rules of engagement and not in accordance with the instructions he had received”, it said.

After a plea bargain, the court sentenced the soldier to 30 days in prison with military labour and a suspended term of another 60 days, and he was demoted.

The investigation had found no evidence of a “causal link between the soldier’s fire” and the teenager’s death, the army said.

At least 311 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since protests were launched along the border of the Israeli-blockaded enclave in March 2018, the majority during the demonstrations and clashes.

Eight Israelis have been killed in Gaza-related violence over the same period.

AFP

Iran Planning To Attack Israel From Yemen, Says Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press at the Palmachim Air Force Base near the city of Rishon LeZion on October 27, 2019. Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of wanting to strike Israel with precision-guided missiles from Yemen as he urged US President Donald Trump’s administration to further pressure Tehran.

Netanyahu made the comments as he met US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Jerusalem, and while he again congratulated Trump on the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he called for “a lot more” sanctions against Israel’s archfoe Iran.

“Iran is seeking to develop now precision-guided munitions, missiles that can hit any target in the Middle East with a circumference of five to 10 metres,” Netanyahu said.

“They want to place them in Iraq and in Syria, and to convert Lebanon’s arsenal of 130,000… rockets to precision-guided munitions.”

He added that “they seek also to develop that, and have already begun to put that in Yemen, with the goal of reaching Israel from there too.”

READ ALSO: We Have Obtained The Capacity To Destroy Israel, Says Iran General

Netanyahu made reference to September 14 attacks on two Saudi oil facilities and echoing Riyadh, blamed Iran. Tehran has denied involvement.

The attacks were claimed by Iran-backed Yemeni rebels.

Mnuchin, on a tour of the Middle East and India, said “we have a shared view as to the threat that Iran poses to the region and to the world” and spoke of the US “maximum pressure campaign” involving sanctions.

“We will continue to ramp up more, more, more, as you’ve said.”

Washington has hit Iran with unilateral sanctions since withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear accord between world powers and Tehran.

Israelis have been concerned over Trump’s withdrawal of US troops from neighbouring Syria that many have viewed as a blatant abandonment of Washington’s Kurdish allies.

There are worries that Israel too could be abandoned by its most important ally, as well as longstanding concerns that Iran could move to fill any vacuum in Syria.

Iran, along with Russia, has been backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in his country’s eight-year civil war.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was among the US officials accompanying Mnuchin on his trip.

Kushner and US special representative for Iran Brian Hook also met Netanyahu on Monday.

Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s main opponent in Israel’s deadlocked September 17 elections, met Kushner and Hook as well.

Netanyahu failed to form a new government following the elections, and Gantz is now seeking to do so though he also faces long odds.

The stalemate has raised the possibility that Israel will soon be heading toward a third election in a year’s time.

AFP

Israeli President Tasks Benny Gantz With Forming Government

Retired Israeli general Benny Gantz speaks during a press conference with President Reuven Rivlin (unseen) after being tasked with forming a new government, at the presidential compound in Jerusalem on October 23, 2019.  GALI TIBBON / AFP

 

Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin tasked ex-military chief Benny Gantz on Wednesday with forming a new governing coalition and bringing Israel out of the longest political impasse in its history.

Gantz is the first politician other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to receive such a mandate since 2009.

Following deadlocked elections on September 17, Netanyahu had tried to form a coalition, but finally gave up on Monday — his second such failure this year.

At a press conference in Jerusalem, Rivlin called on political parties to make “concessions”, while Gantz promised to “try to form a liberal union government”.

He is expected to face difficulties in forming a majority coalition, despite expressing confidence he can reach a deal for a unity government.

He will have 28 days to try and if he too fails, Rivlin can ask parliament to agree on another candidate for prime minister.

If that also fails to produce a new government, Israel could face yet another election — its third in the space of a year.

“We must behave responsibly towards Israeli citizens and avoid new elections,” Gantz said Wednesday, adding that there would be room for “all elements of Israeli society” in his coalition.

– Further negotiations –

Gantz presents himself as a leader who can heal Israel’s divisions, which he says Netanyahu has exacerbated.

A 60-year-old former paratrooper, Gantz had no previous political experience when he declared himself Netanyahu’s electoral rival in December.

He was born on June 9, 1959, in Kfar Ahim, a southern Israeli village that his immigrant parents, both Holocaust survivors, helped to establish.

He joined the army in 1977, completing the tough selection course for paratroopers.

According to his official army biography, he was Israel’s military attache to the United States from 2005 until 2009.

He was chief of staff from 2011 to 2015, when he retired, and has boasted in video clips of the number of Palestinian militants killed and targets destroyed under his command in the 2014 war with Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers.

A security hawk, he is determined — like Netanyahu — to keep the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank under Israeli control and to maintain Israeli sovereignty over annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

The two are also in step on external threats, such as from archfoe Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Gantz has pledged to improve public services and show “zero tolerance” for corruption — a reference to graft allegations facing Netanyahu.

Negotiators from Gantz’s Blue and White party and Netanyahu’s Likud party will meet Thursday, according to Likud.

Both the Likud and Blue and White say they want a big-tent coalition, but they are divided on how to achieve it.

The Likud has been seeking to negotiate based on a compromise set out by Rivlin that takes into account the possibility the premier will be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks.

It could see Netanyahu remain prime minister for now, but step aside at some point later as he fights the charges.

Gantz would take over as acting premier under such a scenario.

Blue and White says Gantz should be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement, since his party won the most seats, finishing with 33 compared to the Likud’s 32 in the 120-seat parliament.

Rivlin promised Wednesday night that he would do everything possible to avoid a third election.

Netanyahu Says Cannot Form Israel Govt, Asks Opponent To Try

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and retired Israeli general Benny Gantz, one of the leaders of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) political alliance. JACK GUEZ, Oded Balilty / AFP

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed Israel’s president Monday he could not form a new government following deadlocked September elections, making way for his opponent Benny Gantz to try.

The decision was an important defeat for Netanyahu as he seeks to continue his tenure as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, but it does not mean the end of those efforts since he still has various cards to play.

Gantz will also face long odds in forming a government, with many analysts predicting he too will fail to negotiate a unity coalition.

In that case, President Reuven Rivlin could ask a majority of parliament members to agree on a candidate.

Rivlin has vowed to do all he can to prevent yet another election — a third since April — but the possibility remains that the stalemate could eventually trigger it.

Netanyahu has been battling the threat to his political survival on two fronts, also facing the possibility of corruption charges in the weeks ahead.

“A short time ago I informed the president that I was handing back my mandate to try to form a government,” Netanyahu said in a video posted on his official Facebook page.

The prime minister blamed Gantz for refusing to negotiate on Netanyahu’s preferred terms.

 ‘Simply refused’ 

Rivlin said shortly afterwards that he intended to ask ex-military chief Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White alliance, to try to form a government.

Like Netanyahu, he will have 28 days to attempt to do so.

Rivlin can take up to three days to hear out the parties elected to parliament before officially tasking Gantz, who had no political experience before mounting his challenge to the premier he once worked with as military chief of staff.

Blue and White said in a statement: “The time of spin is over, and it is now time for action.”

“Blue and White is determined to form the liberal unity government, led by Benny Gantz, that the people of Israel voted for a month ago,” it said.

By “liberal”, it signalled it would seek to limit the influence of religious parties in forming a coalition.

Netanyahu argued that he had “made every effort to bring Benny Gantz to the negotiating table, every effort to form a broad national government, every effort to prevent further elections”.

“Unfortunately, time and time again he simply refused.”

But Gantz has repeatedly said he cannot negotiate based on the terms Netanyahu wants.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud has been seeking to negotiate based on a compromise set out by Rivlin that takes into account the possibility the premier will be indicted for corruption in the upcoming weeks.

It could see him remain prime minister for now, but step aside at some point later as he combats the charges.

Gantz would take over as acting premier under such a scenario.

 Who goes first? 

The Blue and White leader, however, says he should be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement since his party won the most seats in September 17 elections, finishing with 33 compared to Likud’s 32.

Gantz also says Blue and White cannot serve in a government with a prime minister facing serious indictment.

Netanyahu has added a further complication to the coalition talks.

He has pledged not to abandon the smaller right-wing and religious parties that support him in parliament, saying he represents the entire bloc in coalition negotiations.

That condition is also unacceptable to Gantz, who says it would mean Blue and White joining a Netanyahu government as a junior member.

Netanyahu received the endorsement of 55 members of parliament for the post of prime minister after the election, while Gantz received 54.

Ten of the parliament members endorsing Gantz, however, are from Arab parties and have said they will not serve in a government with the ex-military leader.

While the 70-year-old Netanyahu was yielding to his opponent at least temporarily on Monday, he has shown no sign of willingly giving up the post he has held for a total of more than 13 years.

A prime minister does not have to step down if indicted — only if convicted with all appeals exhausted — while other ministers can be forced to do so when charged.

Netanyahu’s Lawyers Arrive For Pre-Indictment Hearing

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on July 8, 2018. ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers arrived for his pre-indictment hearing on corruption allegations Wednesday and pledged to convince prosecutors to drop the cases against him.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had in February announced his intention to indict the premier for bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending a hearing in three separate cases.

He is accused of acting on behalf of wealthy supporters and businessmen in exchange for gifts or favourable news coverage.

Speaking to journalists outside the justice ministry ahead of the closed-door hearing, Netanyahu attorney Ram Caspi said that based on the materials and arguments they would present, there was “a solid foundation for a change of course”.

Caspi also said he was confident that Mandelblit would reach his decision “in a professional manner, ignoring the background noises”.

“The prime minister is not above the law, but neither is he below it,” he said.

Mandelblit had rejected Netanyahu’s request to broadcast the hearings live.

Another attorney, Amit Hadad, noted they had new evidence to present to Mandelblit.

“At the end of the day, the three cases will have to be closed,” he told journalists.

The hearings will last four days and Netanyahu is not expected to attend in person.

Mandelblit is expected to take several weeks to decide whether to issue the indictments after the hearing is complete.

Netanyahu denies all the accusations and has labelled them bids by his enemies to force him from office, which he has held for a total of over 13 years, the longest in Israeli history.

The hearing comes with Netanyahu’s attempts to form a unity government following September 17 elections at an impasse after his main opponent cancelled a meeting planned for Wednesday.

Netanyahu was instead planning to meet with the heads of right-wing and religious parties supporting his bid to form and head a government after the deadlocked election.

In calling off Wednesday’s negotiations, Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White said that preconditions for continued talks “have not been met.”

“We will not be the background for Netanyahu’s election games,” Blue and White said.

Netanyahu had also sought to meet Gantz later Wednesday, but Blue and White said there was no point in doing so for now.

Netanyahu had been tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a coalition, and should the incumbent premier say he cannot do so, the president must then decide whether to ask Gantz to try.

Alternatively, Rivlin could call on parliament to agree on a candidate for prime minister with a vote of at least 61 of 120 members.

AFP

We Have Obtained The Capacity To Destroy Israel, Says Iran General

Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami at Tehran’s Islamic Revolution and Holy Defence museum during the unveiling of an exhibition of what Iran says are US and other drones captured in its territory, in the capital Tehran on September 21, 2019. ATTA KENARE / AFP

 

The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Monday that destroying arch-rival Israel has become an “achievable goal” thanks to his country’s technological advances.

“This sinister regime must be wiped off the map and this is no longer… a dream (but) it is an achievable goal,” Major General Hossein Salami said, quoted by the Guards’ Sepah news site.

Four decades on from Iran’s Islamic revolution, “we have managed to obtain the capacity to destroy the imposter Zionist regime”, he said.

Salami’s comments, while not unusual for Iranian officials, come amid particularly heightened international tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme and a series of incidents that have raised fears of a confrontation between Tehran and its other main regional rival, Riyadh.

The United States, which withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018, has imposed a campaign of “maximum pressure” — with vocal support from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The comments by the commander of Iran’s ideological army were given prominent coverage by the Tasnim and Fars news agencies, close to ultra-conservative political factions.

The official IRNA agency also carried his remarks, but placed more emphasis on his assertion that Iran was growing stronger and would finally beat its foes despite “hostility” towards it.

In contrast, foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi in a tweet wished “Happy (Jewish) New Year to our Jewish compatriots and to all true followers of great prophet Moses (PBUH)”, an acronym for ‘peace be upon him.’

Mousavi’s greeting was written in Persian, English and Hebrew.

Iran only has a few thousand Jews left compared to between 80,000 and 100,000 before its 1979 revolution.

The country has been consistently hostile towards Israel since its revolution, and Tehran openly supports anti-Israeli armed groups including Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

‘Cancerous tumour’ 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an outspoken opponent of any rapprochement between Tehran and the West, has charged that “Iran calls for Israel’s destruction and they work for its destruction each day, every day, relentlessly”.

He welcomed his ally US President Donald Trump’s decision in May 2018 to pull out of the landmark nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers, arguing the deal would “enable Iran to threaten Israel’s survival”.

Israel considers Iran its archfoe and has carried out hundreds of strikes in neighbouring Syria against what it says are military targets of Iran and its Lebanese military ally Hezbollah.

It has vowed to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in the war-torn neighbouring Arab state.

In June 2018, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed Tehran’s long-held position that Israel is “a malignant cancerous tumour that must be removed and eradicated”.

But he has also said that Tehran has never called for the Jews to be “thrown into the sea”, unlike Arab leaders such as the late president Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt.

Iranian generals routinely express the desire to destroy Israel or claim to be able to wipe out Tel Aviv.

However, official discourse in recent years has generally taken care to clarify that the Jewish state will cease to exist because of its own “arrogance”, not because of an attack by Iran.

AFP

Israeli President To Choose Candidate For New Government

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a consulting meeting with the Likud party, to decide who to task with trying to form a new government, in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019. MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

 

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will announce later Wednesday his choice for who should try to form a new government after last week’s deadlocked election, his office said.

The selection will be announced at around 8 pm (1700 GMT), after Rivlin meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his challenger Benny Gantz, his office said in a statement.

AFP

Netanyahu’s Rule Threatened By Deadlocked Israeli Polls

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his Likud Party headquarters in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long grip on power appeared in jeopardy on Wednesday after elections left him tied with his main challenger Benny Gantz raising the prospect of tough negotiations to build a unity government or even the end of the premier’s record long rule.

In a sign of the demanding negotiations to come, sources in Netanyahu’s office told AFP he was cancelling a planned trip next week to the UN General Assembly in New York due to the “political context” in Israel.

He had been due to meet his “friend” US President Donald Trump on the fringes of the international gathering to discuss a defence treaty between the two allies.

But Israel’s longest-serving premier is staying home as he battles to retain his grip on power.

According to Israeli media, with more than 90 percent of ballots counted, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud had 31 seats, while Gantz’s Blue and White took 32 places in Israel’s 120-member parliament.

The reports cited elections committee sources, as the data results had not yet been officially posted.

Gantz’s slim lead, however, gave no obvious path for either party to form a majority coalition, raising the possibility of negotiations towards a unity government.

“There are only two options, a government led by me or a dangerous government dependent on the Arab parties,” Netanyahu told a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday night.

“In these times, more than ever, when we face enormous security and political challenges, it cannot be that there will be a government that depends on anti-Zionist Arab parties,” he said.

Throughout his campaign, Netanyahu warned, as he has in previous elections, that left-wing and Arab voters were showing up in large numbers to try to oust him.

Media said the mainly Arab Joint List alliance was set to become the third-largest bloc in parliament with 13 seats.

End of “Netanyahu era” ?

“The Netanyahu era is over,” said Ahmed Tibi, one of the list’s leaders. “If Gantz calls, we shall tell him our conditions for supporting him.”

If the initial results hold, it will be a major setback for Netanyahu, who hoped to form a right-wing coalition similar to his current administration as he faces the possibility of an corruption indictment in weeks ahead.

Gantz, addressing supporters in Tel Aviv, called for a “broad unity government” but cautioned that he was waiting for final results.

“We will act to form a broad unity government that will express the will of the people,” the former armed forces chief said.

“We will begin negotiations and I will speak with everyone.”

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman could prove to be kingmaker, with the reported results giving his secular-nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu nine seats.

He has not declared in favour of either of the two leading contenders.

“There is only one option for us,” he has stated.

“That is to form a broad, liberal, national unity government” with Yisrael Beitenu, Blue and White and Likud.

Such a government would not include the ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The staunchly secularist Lieberman has long campaigned against what he sees as their undue clout which he accuses of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population.

He would also not partner with Arab parties.

‘Disease of hatred”

“Israel has a problem,” the top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot newspaper wrote Wednesday.”We have been afflicted with the disease of hatred.”

“Some people want to sharpen the divisions and to see a clear division between ‘left’ and ‘right’ but that is precisely the way to worsen the disease.”

Whatever the shape of the next Israeli government, the Palestinians are prepared to talk peace, said their foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki.

“Whoever will be able to form a government, we are ready to sit with him or her in order to restart the negotiations,” Maliki told reporters in Oslo, accompanying president Mahmud Abbas on a two-day visit.

Arab turnout

Israel’s Arab parties have traditionally not endorsed anyone for prime minister.

“The main difference in this vote is the turnout among Arab citizens,” Joint List leader Ayman Odeh told journalists outside his home in the northern city of Haifa.

“There’s no doubt that this is what made the difference. Without that, Netanyahu would already be prime minister.”

The election was the second in five months for Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin, who must appoint someone to attempt to form the next government, said there was a “need to avoid a third”.

Netanyahu suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career after the previous elections in April.

His Likud along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, but he failed to form a coalition and opted for a second election rather than risk having Rivlin choose someone else to try.

The stakes could not be much higher for 69-year-old Netanyahu, who many believe will seek immunity from prosecution should he survive as prime minister.

Israel Election: Exit Polls Show Possibility Of Another Deadlock

Children accompany an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man to a voting station in the city of Bnei Brak during the Israeli parliamentary election on September 17, 2019. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger Benny Gantz were locked in a tight race in the country’s general election after polls closed Tuesday, exit surveys showed, raising the possibility of another deadlock.

Three separate exit polls carried by Israeli television stations showed Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance with between 31 and 34 parliament seats each out of 120.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which could play a kingmaker role, could win between eight and 10 seats, according to the polls.

If the exit polls are reasonably accurate — and they have in the past been off base — either Netanyahu or Gantz will face tough negotiations to form a government.

After the exit polls were released, Lieberman called for a unity government with his party, Likud and Blue and White as he addressed supporters, saying the country was facing an “emergency”.

“There is only one option for us,” he said, adding the unity government should exclude the country’s ultra-Orthodox religious parties, which he accuses of having undue influence on politics.

The exit survey results prompted initial cheers at Blue and White’s post-election party in Tel Aviv, where they were shown on large screens, before doubts began to set in.

“We have an advantage, but I see that we are dependent on Lieberman,” said supporter Dina Margoli, 40.

At Likud’s post-election rally, music played and chants of “Bibi king of Israel” broke out, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

“Hopefully when the real results come some of these results will change and we’ll be able to form a coalition like we wanted to before,” Likud parliament member Sharren Haskel told AFP.

“And if not we’ll have to try and find another way to do it.”

Immunity?

The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister but who is facing possible corruption charges in the weeks ahead.

He spent the day warning he was on the verge of losing if his supporters did not turn out to vote, including in appearances at Jerusalem’s main market and its central bus station, wielding a megaphone to exhort the crowds.

He repeatedly warned, as he has in previous elections, that left-wing and Arab voters were showing up in large numbers to vote him out, appearing on Facebook live to do so.

Gantz voted in his hometown of Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv and called on the country to reject corruption and “extremism”.

Later he visited a shopping mall in the northern city of Haifa and addressed the public through a megaphone on the beach in Tel Aviv.

Fears of election fatigue did not materialise, with turnout at 69.4 percent, higher than in April polls.

Netanyahu, prime minister for a total of more than 13 years, suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career following an election in April.

His Likud along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, leading President Reuven Rivlin to task him with forming a government.

But following weeks of discussions, Netanyahu failed, opting for an unprecedented second election rather than risk Rivlin choosing someone else.

Many believe that if he wins, Netanyahu could seek to have parliament grant him immunity from prosecution ahead of a possible corruption indictment in the weeks ahead.

He spent the final days of the campaign seeking to appeal to right-wing nationalists — key to his re-election bid — and to boost turnout among his base.

Those efforts included a controversial pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, a third of the occupied West Bank.

He issued unfounded warnings that the vote could be stolen by fraud in Arab communities, leading critics to accuse him of racism.

But Netanyahu has also highlighted the country’s growing economy and his relationships with world leaders such as US President Donald Trump.

‘Normal again’

Gantz has presented himself as an honourable alternative.

He repeatedly spoke of Netanyahu’s willingness to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him secure immunity.

Gantz says his alliance, which includes three former armed forces chiefs of staff, wants a unity government that the vast majority of Israelis would support.

A campaign by Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu to “make Israel normal again” appeared to have resonated with voters.

The staunch secularist has long campaigned against what he sees as the undue clout of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, which he accuses of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population.

Lieberman has demanded legislation to make military service mandatory for the ultra-Orthodox as for other Jewish Israelis — a demand he refused to drop after April polls, eventually blocking Netanyahu’s efforts to form a coalition.

Separately, if exit polls showing Israel’s newly reunified Arab parties with between 11 and 13 seats are accurate, they could potentially block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister by recommending Gantz.

AFP

Israel Votes On Netanyahu’s Political Survival

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their votes at a voting station in Jerusalem on September 17, 2019. Heidi Levine / POOL / AFP

 

Israel voted in its second election in five months Tuesday that will decide whether to extend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s term as the country’s longest-serving prime minister despite corruption allegations against him.

The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old right-wing leader who, as in April polls, faces a strong challenge from ex-military chief Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue and White alliance.

Netanyahu voted in Jerusalem alongside his wife Sara and said he expected a close election, urging Israelis to turn out in large numbers.

“President (Donald) Trump said yesterday that the elections will be tight,” Netanyahu said in reference to Monday’s comments calling the polls “50/50” by the US leader, who has been a strong supporter of the premier.

“I can guarantee you this morning that they are very tight.”

Gantz voted in his hometown of Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv and called on the country to reject corruption and “extremism”.

“We want new hope. We are voting today for change,” Gantz said after voting with his wife Revital.

“We will succeed in bringing hope. We will succeed in bringing change, without corruption and without extremism, all together.”

Polls opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and were due to close in most areas at 10:00 pm.

Some 6.4 million people are eligible to vote.

The first exit surveys will be released just after polls close, while official results are not expected until Wednesday.

There were early signs that concerns over election fatigue may not materialise.

Turnout by 10:00 am was 15 percent, the highest by that time since 1984, according to the election committee.

Opinion polls have indicated another tight race, showing Netanyahu’s Likud and the Blue and White winning around 32 seats each in the 120-seat parliament.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former right-hand man turned rival, could play a kingmaker role with his campaign to “make Israel normal again.”

 Immunity? 

Netanyahu suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career following the April vote.

His Likud along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, leading President Reuven Rivlin to task the premier with forming a new government.

But following weeks of discussions, Netanyahu failed, leading him to opt for an unprecedented second election rather than risk having Rivlin choose someone else.

The danger for Netanyahu extends beyond remaining prime minister, a post he has held for a total of more than 13 years.

If he wins, many believe he will seek to have parliament grant him immunity from prosecution, as he faces the possibility of a corruption indictment in the weeks ahead.

Recognising the stakes, Netanyahu spent the final days of the campaign seeking to appeal to right-wing nationalists — key to his re-election bid — and to boost turnout among his base.

Those efforts have included a controversial pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up a third of the occupied West Bank.

He has issued unfounded warnings that the vote could be stolen by fraud in Arab communities, leading critics to accuse him of racism.

But Netanyahu has also highlighted the country’s growing economy and his relationships with world leaders such as Trump.

He has tried to label his main opponents “weak” and “leftist” despite their security credentials.

 ‘Normal again’ 

Gantz has campaigned by presenting himself as an honourable alternative.

He has repeatedly spoken of Netanyahu’s willingness to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him secure immunity.

Gantz says his alliance, which includes three former armed forces chiefs of staff, wants a unity government that the vast majority of Israelis would support.

Opinion polls show the campaign by Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party has resonated with voters.

His “make Israel normal again” slogan refers to what the staunch secularist says is the undue influence of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties on the country’s politics.

He accuses them of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population and wants legislation ending the exemption of the ultra-Orthodox from mandatory military service.

Lieberman prevented Netanyahu from forming a coalition after April polls by refusing to relent on his demand that the ultra-Orthodox be required to serve in the military like other Jewish Israelis.

It is not clear he will endorse Netanyahu as prime minister again, which could be enough for Rivlin to allow Gantz to try to form a government.

Israel’s newly reunified Arab parties could also prove decisive with a performance similar to 2015 elections, when they became the third-largest force in parliament.

If so, they could block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister by recommending Gantz.

AFP

UN Fumes Over Israel’s Plan To Annex West Bank

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel speaks at the United Nations during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.  Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP

 

The United Nations on Tuesday warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his plan to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if re-elected would have no “international legal effect.”

Netanyahu issued the deeply controversial pledge as he gears up for September 17 elections. He also said Israel would move to annex Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank.

Such moves could effectively kill any remaining hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, long the focus of international diplomacy.

“The secretary-general’s position has always been clear: unilateral actions are not helpful in the peace process,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“Any Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdictions and administration in the occupied West Bank is without any international legal effect,” the spokesman added.

“Such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace, and the very essence of a two-state solution.”

The Jordan Valley accounts for around one-third of the West Bank, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War — a move never recognized by the international community.

AFP