Netanyahu On Path To Becoming Israel’s Longest-Serving Prime Minister

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his Likud Party headquarters in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv early on April 10, 2019. Thomas COEX / AFP

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on the path of victory in Israel’s election on Wednesday after nearly complete results put him in position to form a right-wing coalition and further extend his long tenure in office.

The results from Tuesday’s vote came despite corruption allegations against the 69-year-old premier and put him on track to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister later this year.

His Likud party looked set to finish with a similar number of seats in parliament to his main rival, ex-military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance, Israeli media reported.

But with 97 percent of the votes counted, results showed the Likud and other right-wing parties allied to him with some 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

The results would seem to leave President Reuven Rivlin, whose task it is to ask one of the candidates to form a government, with little choice but to pick Netanyahu.

Intensive coalition negotiations will follow and could drag on for days or even weeks.

Final results were expected by Thursday afternoon, with ballots for soldiers and other special categories of voters yet to be counted.

The close race between the two main parties had led to uncertainty after polls closed on Tuesday night and exit surveys were released.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz claimed victory after the initial exit surveys that gave Blue and White the most seats.

But even then Netanyahu appeared best placed to form a coalition, with both parties, in any case, falling far short of an outright majority.

‘Magnificent victory’

Netanyahu spoke in the early hours of Wednesday at the Likud’s post-election party in Tel Aviv and called it a “magnificent victory.”

As he walked onto the stage to chanting crowds, he planted a kiss on the lips of his wife Sara.

“It will be a right-wing government, but I will be prime minister for all,” he said.

Earlier while addressing cheering supporters who waved Israeli flags at an event hall in Tel Aviv, Gantz called it a “historic day.”

Speaking to journalists outside his home on Wednesday morning, Gantz said, “we’re waiting until the end of the results.”

“This is a historic accomplishment. There has never been a party so large, so significant, with so many good people that was founded in such a short period of time.”

The vote had long been expected to be close, even with Netanyahu facing potential corruption charges.

Fighting for his political life, Netanyahu spent the weeks ahead of the vote campaigning furiously to energise his right-wing base.

Gantz, a newcomer to politics, mounted a strong challenge by brandishing his security credentials while pledging to undo the damage he says Netanyahu has inflicted on the country with divisive politics.

The election was in many ways a referendum on the premier who has built a reputation as the guarantor of the country’s security and economic growth, but whose populism and alleged corruption left many ready for a change.

He engaged in populist rhetoric that critics said amounted to the demonisation of Arab Israelis and others.

Netanyahu faced further criticism on election day when members of his Likud party brought small cameras into polling stations in Arab areas.

Arab politicians called it an attempt at intimidation, while Netanyahu said cameras would prevent fraud.

True to form, Netanyahu issued a deeply controversial pledge only three days before the election, saying he planned to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank should he win.

Extending Israeli sovereignty on a large scale in the West Bank could be the death knell to already fading hopes for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

It is a move long championed by Israel’s far right.

King Bibi

Netanyahu sought to portray himself as Israel’s essential statesman in the run-up to the vote and highlighted his bond with US President Donald Trump.

He spoke of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the annexed Golan Heights.

He also used Trump-like tactics, calling the corruption investigations a “witch hunt” and denouncing journalists covering them.

On Tuesday, he continually warned the Likud was at risk of losing as a result of what he said was low turnout among supporters, claims widely seen as a bid to motivate right-wing voters.

Turnout was 67.9 percent compared to 71.8 percent in the last election in 2015.

Gantz, a 59-year-old former paratrooper, invoked the corruption allegations against the premier to make his case that it is time for him to go.

He called Netanyahu’s annexation pledge an “irresponsible” bid for votes.

Gantz said he favoured a “globally backed peace agreement” with Israel holding on to the large West Bank settlement blocs, adding that he opposed unilateral moves.

He sought to overcome Netanyahu’s experience by allying with two other former military chiefs and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid to form his alliance.

Netanyahu has been premier for a total of more than 13 years.

But “King Bibi,” as some have called him, now faces the prospect of becoming the first sitting prime minister to be indicted.

The attorney general has announced he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending an upcoming hearing.

AFP

Netanyahu Battles To Save Weakened Ruling Coalition

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was battling to keep his government afloat on Friday after Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman quit over a ceasefire deal for Gaza.

Left with a single seat majority in parliament after the walkout by Lieberman and his hawkish Yisrael Beitenu party, most media saw little way for Netanyahu to avoid calling a snap general election.

The veteran prime minister was expected to hold crunch talks later on Friday with his other main right-wing rival, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, whose religious nationalist Jewish Home party has threatened to quit unless he is given Lieberman’s job.

The Gaza ceasefire, which ended the worst flare-up between Israel and the territory’s Islamist rulers Hamas since a 2014 war, faced its first major test later on Friday as Palestinian demonstrators were expected to gather along the border for mass protests that have triggered deadly violence in previous weeks.

The deal has already drawn heavy criticism, however, in Israeli communities near the border that faced barrages of rockets earlier this week.

Hundreds joined a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Thursday despite a promise from Netanyahu of more public money for emergency services.

Pro-Netanyahu freesheet Yisrael Hayom daily predicted that the prime minister would do all he could to avoid a general election while his hard-won security credentials were at issue.

“Holding elections with the fiasco in Gaza in the background cracks the image of the ultimate leader that he has built over the course of years,” it said.

“The chances of stopping this speeding train appear impossible, but Netanyahu is still trying.”

The eight lawmakers of Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home party are not the only threat to Netaynahu’s razor-thin parliamentary majority.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose centre-right Kulanu party hold 10 seats, has reportedly told Netanyahu that a snap election is necessary to provide a stable government to keep the economy on track.

But Yisrael Hayom said Bennett was key to efforts to avoid an early election and could yet prove Netanyahu’s political salvation.

“Naftali Bennett as defence minister and Netanyahu as prime minister could together project stability and embark on a coordinated offensive against anyone who gets in the way,” it said.

In a speech on Thursday, Bennett did not reiterate the resignation threat but made his case for why he should get the defence post.

“The most dangerous thing for the state of Israel is that we begin to think that there is no solution to terrorism, to terrorists, to missiles,” he said.

“There is a solution. When Israel wants to win, we will win.”

There were no official details of when or where Bennett would meet Netanyahu on Friday or what public statements if any would be made.

Hundreds of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening calling for tougher action against Hamas which has portrayed the ceasefire and Lieberman’s resignation as a victory.

Netanyahu — flanked by Kahlon, Interior Minister Arie Deri and army top brass — met with the leaders of Israeli border communities.

He briefed them on military efforts to quell Hamas attacks and also announced a 500 million shekel ($139 million, 119 million euro) two-year package to improve emergency medical and social services, a government statement said.

With a major domestic political battle on his hands, Netanyahu cancelled a planned two-day visit to Austria next week for a conference on anti-semitism and anti-Zionism.

There has long been speculation that Netanyahu would call a general election before its scheduled date of November 2019.

Police have recommended he be charged in two separate corruption cases and the attorney general is expected to announce in the coming months whether to put him on trial.

Analysts say the prime minister would be better positioned to fight any charges with a fresh mandate from the voters.

But he would not have chosen to go the polls with voters’ attention focused on the Gaza ceasefire and his rivals’ efforts to outbid his security credentials.

AFP

Two Gazans Shot Dead In Israel Border Clashes

The aunt of Yasser Abu al-Naja, a Palestinian youth in his early teens who was killed in border clashes near Khan Yunis, reacts at a hospital morgue in the Gaza Strip on June 29, 2018.
SAID KHATIB / AFP

 

Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians, one in his early teens, in border clashes Friday in the southern Gaza Strip, the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP a Palestinian youth aged about 13 was shot in the head near the town of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, without giving his name or exact age.

He added that 24-year-old Mohammed al-Hamayda was fatally wounded in the stomach by Israeli fire in a separate incident east of Rafah.

The Israeli army said that throughout the afternoon, “thousands of Palestinians participated in extremely violent riots and committed various acts of terror in several locations along the Gaza Strip security fence.”

An English-language statement said a hand-grenade and rocks were thrown at soldiers.

Israeli forces responded with “large amounts of riot dispersal means and in specific cases where these means did not succeed in negating the threat, resorted to live fire in accordance with the standard operating procedures,” it said.

The army said the reported death of the boy would be examined.

Since protests broke out along the Gaza border on March 30, at least 137 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.

The majority were involved in protests but others were seeking to breach or damage the border fence.

No Israelis have been killed.

On Thursday, Abdel Fattah Abu Azoum, 17, was hit in the head by fire from an Israeli tank near Rafah in southern Gaza.

The Israeli army said he and a companion were trying to break through the border fence.

Gazan Dies Of Wounds From Israel Border Clash – Ministry

Israeli border guards detain a Palestinian man (L) during clashes with Palestinian protesters north of Ramallah in the Israeli occupied West Bank, on December 22, 2017, as protests continue in the region amid anger over the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.
ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

A Palestinian died on Saturday after being wounded by Israeli fire during a protest on the Gaza border against US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the health ministry said.

Sharaf Shalash, 28, sustained bullet wounds last Sunday during a demonstration east of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

His death brings to 11 the number of Palestinians killed since US President Donald Trump announced on December 6 that he would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Nine protesters have died in clashes with Israeli troops, two of them on Friday. Two others were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza earlier in the month.

Shalash and the two Palestinians killed on Friday were buried on Saturday, in Gaza City, Beit Hanun and Jabalia.

After the Shalash funeral in Jabalia, Palestinians went to the border with Israel where they threw stones at soldiers, who responded with tear gas and live bullets.

One Palestinian was wounded, Qudra said.

AFP

Palestinians Killed In Anti-U.S. Protests After UN Vote On Jerusalem

Palestinian mourners carry the body of Zakaria al-Kafarneh, who was killed during clashes with Israeli troops. Photo: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

 

Two Palestinians were killed as youths clashed with Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border on Friday in a new protest against US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the health ministry said.

The third Friday since US President Donald Trump’s controversial announcement on Jerusalem was again billed by Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas as a “day of rage”.

Hundreds of Palestinian protesters at various points along the Gaza border threw stones at Israeli forces, who responded with smoke grenades and live and rubber bullets, AFP correspondents said.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Zakaria al-Kafarneh, 24, died after being shot in the chest in clashes near Jabalia, in northern Gaza.

A second man, 29-year-old Mohammed Mohaisen, died later in clashes east of Gaza City, it said.

Six other Gazans were shot and wounded by soldiers using live ammunition, and one was in a critical condition, the ministry said.

One man dressed as Santa Claus holding a Palestinian flag was shot in the leg east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, eyewitnesses said.

In the occupied West Bank, clashes broke out in Ramallah, Hebron and other major cities, with smaller protests across the territory, including near the Jewish settlement of Beit El.

Osama Najar, spokesman for the health ministry in the West Bank, said they had seen protests in more locations than on previous Fridays.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had dealt with dozens of injuries during the West Bank clashes, including at least seven hit by live ammunition.

The clashes broke out after the weekly Muslim prayers, with minor scuffles in Jerusalem.

The army said in a statement that around 1,700 “rioters are hurling firebombs and rocks and rolling burning tyres… In order to disperse the riot, troops are responding with riot dispersal means”.

In Gaza, around 2,000 Palestinians were taking part in protests, the army said, with soldiers firing “live rounds selectively towards main instigators”.

The army’s estimates were down from 2,500 and 3,500 in the West Bank and Gaza respectively the previous Friday.

There have been near daily protests across the Palestinian territories since Trump’s controversial December 6 announcement that he would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Ten Palestinians have died, eight in clashes and two in an Israeli air strike on Gaza.

Fridays, traditionally a day of protest for Palestinians, have seen the most violence.

AFP

Trump Decision On Jerusalem Could Hurt Peace Process – Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital might hinder the US drive for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Sunday.

His comments were in stark contrast to those of the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who said it would “move the ball forward.”

The new US stance, criticized by Palestinians, Arab leaders and others as gravely damaging any prospects for peace, has given rise to swelling protests across the region in recent days.

Speaking on CNN, Guterres said he was pleased that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner had been meeting with Israelis and Palestinians on a new peace plan after years of stalemate in the process.

“I am not saying that it will happen, but there was a hope that it would be possible to finally bring this horrible conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to an end,” Guterres said.

“I think that the decision that was taken on Wednesday risks to compromise this effort,” he added.

But Haley suggested that fears of unrest over the Trump decision are overblown.

She told CNN that Trump was the first US president to have the “courage” to make a move that she said many Americans and others around the world supported.

– ‘To move the ball forward’ –
“When it comes to those people (who are) upset, we knew that was going to happen. But courage causes that… I strongly believe this is going to move the ball forward for the peace process.”

When a CNN interviewer asked repeatedly how the change would help the cause of peace, Haley suggested that it would simplify negotiations.

“Now they get to come together to decide what the borders look like, they get to decide the boundaries and they get to talk about how they want to see Jerusalem, going forward.

“All we did was say, ‘this is not something we’re going to allow to happen in the middle of your negotiations.'”

Critics of the US shift say it will have the opposite effect: It has long been US policy that the critically sensitive status of Jerusalem — claimed as capital by both Israelis and Palestinians — must be saved for the end of peace negotiations, not taken off the table at the start.

Protests, sometimes violent, have flared across the region since Trump announced the new policy on Wednesday. Two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were killed in clashes on Friday, and two others died in Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets fired from the Palestinian enclave.

On Sunday, a Palestinian stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli security guard in Jerusalem.

And in Beirut, Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water cannon on Sunday at several hundred pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered near the US embassy.

AFP

Israel President Denies Pardon To Manslaughter Soldier

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Photo: Gali TIBBON / AFP

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday formally rejected a request to pardon a soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant, Rivlin’s office said.

“President Reuven Rivlin today took the decision to deny the request for pardon filed by Elor Azaria,” it said in an English-language statement, exactly one month after the jailed soldier submitted his request.

On July 30, a military court turned down Azaria’s appeal against his conviction for manslaughter and upheld an 18-month prison sentence, which he began serving on August 9.

In September, Israel’s Chief of Staff General Gadi Eisenkot reduced the term by four months.

Rights group Amnesty International has said Azaria’s sentence does “not reflect the gravity of the offence”.

The UN human rights office said it was an “unacceptable” punishment for “an apparent extra-judicial killing”.

However, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman have supported a full pardon.

The written reply to the pardon application, quoted in Sunday’s statement, says that Rivlin noted Eisenkot’s clemency and the court’s “lenient” sentence.

“The President learned that in passing sentence, the military court took into account the circumstances raised by you… as consideration of leniency, and he noted it took them into account in passing a lighter sentence,” it said.

The shooting last year deeply divided Israeli society and led to an extraordinary rift between right-wing politicians who wanted to see Azaria released and top military brass, who harshly condemned his actions.

Rivlin’s decision stressed the potential damage done by the incident to the Israeli military’s moral code.

“An additional lightening of your sentence would damage the Israel Defence Forces and the state of Israel,” it said, adding that Azaria was expected to come before the parole board “in approximately three months” where his release under licence would be considered.

The March 2016 shooting in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron was caught on video by a human rights group and spread widely online.

It showed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, lying wounded on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after stabbing and wounding a soldier, according to the army.

Some 11 minutes after the initial shooting, Azaria, a sergeant and military medic at the time, shot him in the head without any apparent provocation.

He said he had feared Sharif was wearing an explosive belt and could blow himself up — a claim judges rejected.

Azaria completed his mandatory three-year military service on July 20.

AFP

Netanyahu Describes Legal Developments As “Inevitable Scandal-Of-The-Week”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed on Friday as “background noises”, the fact that his former Chief of Staff agreed to provide testimony on behalf of the state in two graft cases in which the Israeli leader has been questioned as a suspect.

In the Facebook video posting, Netanyahu dismissed the developments as “the inevitable scandal-of-the-week”.

The four-term premier has denied any wrongdoing. His family spokesman said Netanyahu would withstand what he described as a “witch-hunt” designed to force him from office.

The decision by Ari Harow to turn state’s witness as part of a plea bargain in his own, separate corruption case adds a new dimension to a long-running investigation involving Netanyahu.

Tensions High In Jerusalem Over Recent Escalation In Violence

The mood was grim in East Jerusalem on Sunday as Palestinians voiced concern over the deadliest outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestinians for years.

On Saturday Israel sent extra troops into the occupied West Bank and its police broke up a crowd of stone-throwing Palestinians in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said one Palestinian was killed during a separate clash outside the city, taking the death toll from the past two days to seven.

Three Israelis were stabbed to death on Friday while eating dinner in a West Bank settlement.

Hours earlier, three Palestinians were killed in violence prompted by Israel’s installation of metal detectors at entry points to the Noble Sanctuary-Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s walled Old City.

Resident Of Jerusalem, Ayat Abu Libdah said “These gates (referring to metal detectors) affect our religion, they should remove these gates because this is a sacred site. We go there to pray for God, we should have the flexibility to go and pray there whenever we want and it should be open for all Muslims.

“What happened (referring to the killing of Israeli policemen near the compound on July 14) is in the past now, but no one should mess with this sacred site and the gates should be removed and I appreciate everyone who is standing against these gates, it is a matter of religion now not more than that.”

Israel decided to install the metal detectors at the entry point to the shrine in Jerusalem about a week ago after the killing of two Israeli policemen stationed there.

Buhari Hosts Chinese, Israeli, Other Envoys In Abuja

BuhariAhead of the handover of government on May 29, Nigeria’s President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari, on Wednesday hosted some foreign envoys whose countries are seeking stronger ties with Nigeria.

The delegation of envoys who met with Gen Buhari at the Defence House in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) include the Ambassadors from China, Israel, Equatorial Guinea, Iran and Morocco.

The Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Gu Xiaojie, said in an interview after the meeting that his country is interested in collaborating with Nigeria, in the areas of agriculture, infrastructure building and other areas of investment.

Israel Fires Back At Syria After Gunshots At Its Troops

Israeli troops shot at a target across the Syrian frontier on Tuesday in response to gunfire that struck its forces in the Golan Heights, the Israeli military said.

A statement said a military vehicle was damaged by shots fired from Syria but that there were no injuries. It said that soldiers “returned precise fire”.

Gunfire incidents across the frontier from Syria have recurred in past months during an escalating a civil war there in which rebels have sought to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Israel’s Army Radio said Tuesday’s was the third consecutive cross-border shooting this week.

The Israeli military added in its statement that it viewed these incidents “with concern”.

Israel captured the Golan territory from Syria in a 1967 war and later annexed the area. Negotiations aimed at resolving that conflict ran aground in 2000.

Israel has not taken sides in Syria’s internal conflict, but has been worried about the involvement of its Iranian-backed foe, Hezbollah, in the fighting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held out the prospect on Sunday of Israeli strikes inside Syria to stop Hezbollah and other opponents of Israel getting advanced weapons.

Netanyahu said Israel was “preparing for every scenario” in Syria. He added “we will act to ensure the security interest of Israel’s citizens in the future as well”.

Israel has neither denied nor confirmed reports it attacked Iranian-supplied missiles stored near Damascus this month that it believed were waiting delivery to Hezbollah, which fought a war with Israel in 2006 and is allied with Assad.

Israel asks U.S. for arms to attack Iran

The Israeli government has asked the United States for advanced “bunker-buster” bombs and refueling planes that can improve its ability to attack Iran’s underground nuclear sites.

Official sources say the request was made during the Israeli Prime Minister’s (Benjamin Netanyahu) visit to Washington on Monday.
A front-page article in a local Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, on Thursday disclosed that Obama has assured Netanyahu that Washington would supply Israel with upgraded military equipment in return for assurances that there would be no attack on Iran in 2012.
Isreal is widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal but its conventional firepower may not be enough to deliver lasting damage to Iran’s distant, dispersed and well-fortified facilities, many experts say.

Israel has limited stocks of older, smaller bunker-busters and a small fleet of refueling planes, all supplied by Washington. Western powers suspect Iran’s uranium enrichment program is aimed at stockpiling fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Iran says it is strictly for civilian energy uses.