Israel news summary

Israel News for 2-22-19

Election Update
In a last minute move to increase their chances of defeating PM Netanyahu, the two largest parties running against Likud agreed to unite and run together in the April elections. According to the agreement, the Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz will serve as PM for the first 2.5 years and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid after that — assuming that they win enough seats and are able to form a government. Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon will take over the defense portfolio. And another former IDF chief, Gabi Ashkenazi has also joined the party, raising the parties number of former IDF leaders to 3. The new party is called Blue and White.

According to 3 new polls released after the agreement, the Blue and White (BW) party is projected to win between 35-36 Knesset seats, against Likud’s 26-32. If that happens then BW will have the opportunity to form a government. But that might not be so easy, given that 61 seats are needed to form a government (there are 120 seats in the Knesset).

If BW looks to the “left” it’ll probably find Labor with around 8 seats, Meretz with 4 and Kulanu with 4. So even if BW is able to win 36 seats, it still will only build a coalition of 52 seats.

If Likud wins 32 seats, it can look to the “right” and find another 26 seats, which would give them 58. Then Netanyahu would probably try to work out a deal with Kulanu leader Moshe Kahalon, who already served in Netanyahu’s government, to bring in his 4 seats, making 62.

In order to make sure that the smaller right wing parties don’t cannibalize each other’s votes and miss crossing the minimum vote threshold to qualify for a Knesset seat, the PM brokered a deal for a merger of Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) with National Union and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power). This caused an outcry from everyone outside of the extreme right, since Otzma is composed of radical right-wing activists considered by many to be racist against Arabs.

Other possibilities could also shake up the mix. For instance, the Haredi parties, Shas and UTJ, with a combined 12 seats, could cut a deal with BW to form a new government. But that’s an unlikely scenario given Lapid and Gantz’s policies regarding the drafting of yeshiva students, allowing civil marriage as well as allowing non Orthodox prayer services at the Kotel (Western Wall).

On the other hand, Netanyahu might convince either Lapid or Gantz to join his coalition and form a more centrist government as opposed to a pure right wing one. But that’s only if Netanyahu does not face a hearing in the criminal investigation he’s under before the election, in which case both Lapid and Gantz have promised not to join him in a coalition.

What about the Joint Arab List, which is expected win around 12-14 seats? No Jewish party has ever agreed to include the Arabs in a coalition. It’s taboo. Political suicide. Won’t happen.

So the bottom line looks like PM Netanyahu will extend his reign and surpass Ben Gurion to become the longest serving PM of Israel — one way or the other. But you never know what will happen when people go to the voting booths, especially in Israel. The only thing we can say for sure is that it’s going to be a very tough and lively month and a half of campaigning.

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Temple Mount
Security forces arrested 60 Palestinians last night suspected of planning violence on the Temple Mount during Muslim prayers there today. Police are bracing for another round of potential violent clashes on the Temple Mount following violent rioting on Tuesday, when crowds tried to break threw a closed off gate on the Mount, prompting police to arrest 19 rioters.

The Gate of Mercy, or Golden Gate, on the eastern side of the Temple Mount, was sealed by Israeli authorities in 2003 because the group managing the area had ties to Hamas, and it has been kept closed to stop illegal construction work there by the Waqf, which Israeli officials believe has led to the destruction of antiquities from periods of Jewish presence in the area.

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PA Rejects Funds
Palestinian Authority President Abbas announced that the PA will no longer accept tax revenues collected on its behalf by Israel, after Israel decided to deduct the money that the PA pays to support the families of terrorists.

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Business Cooperation
Speaking at a Jerusalem forum to encourage business links between Israeli settlements and Palestinians, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said, “There are many, many Palestinians that would like to be freed up to engage in business ventures with Israelis, and they’re entitled to that opportunity.” To which Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, responded, “This constitutes a stab in the back of the Palestinian people. We warn against any involvement or participation of any Palestinian in projects with settlers, or meetings called by the American ambassador.” So much for that.

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Holocaust Reparations
On Tuesday, February 12, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his first official visit to Poland, raised the issue of Holocaust-era property restitution at a joint press conference in Warsaw with the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Jacek Czaputowicz.

Secretary of State Pompeo said: “We also appreciate the importance of resolving outstanding issues of the past and I urge my Polish colleagues to move forward with comprehensive private property restitution legislation for those who lost property during the Holocaust era.”

This past Sunday, February 17, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki insisted that the question of Polish compensation for Jewish assets stolen by the Nazi was “definitively resolved,” in a 1960 bilateral agreement between the US and Poland.

In response, the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) released a statement expressing surprise and disappointment to see Prime Minister Morawiecki’s reply to Secretary Pompeo’s remarks. WJRO went on to urge the Polish PM and his government to seize this opportunity to do justice for those who lost so much.

According to the Polish Prime Minister, Vice President Pence also raised the issue of property restitution in a meeting with him in Warsaw last week.
Poland is the only country in the European Union that has not passed comprehensive legislation for restitution or compensation for property taken during the Holocaust by the Nazis and/or subsequently nationalized by the Communists.

Taken from WJRO newsletter

Moon Launch
At 3:45 a.m. Israel time today, a joint venture between private companies SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries launched a spacecraft that is scheduled to land on the Moon on April 11. That will make Israel the 4th country to land on the moon, after the US, Russia and China.

The $100 million spacecraft is funded almost entirely from private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists including South African billionaire Morris Kahn, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Canadian real estate mogul Sylvan Adams, and others.

PM Netanyahu, who was at the command center for the launch, calling the initiative “a big step for Israel, and a big step for Israeli technology.”

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