Israel News for May 17, 2016

Unity Talks
PM Netanyahu met with opposition leader Isaac Herzog at the PM’s residence on Sunday night to try to reach an agreement that would allow Herzog and his Knesset faction to join the government. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who is considered to be a close confidant of the PM on the issue, said, “I met with the prime minister today and he told me that the contacts regarding [a] unity [government] are proceeding. He is serious about expanding the government.”

Sources say that Herzog is pressing the PM for more and better jobs for his colleagues as a prerequisite for joining. Specifically, the cabinet portfolios of Justice, Communications and Culture, which are currently held respectively by Ayelet Shaked, the PM and Miri Regev, are all considered to be targets which the left wing faction want. It seems unlikely that Netanyahu will agree to giving them up, since doing so would be seen as an attack against his right wing principles and supporters. Education Minister Naftali Bennett has made it clear that his Bayit Yehudi party would leave the government if party member Shaked was removed from her position as Justice Minister.

Zionist Union MKs who have met Herzog over the past few days say he is hiding the details of the pending agreement with Netanyahu and has refused to tell them what portfolios or other achievements will be part of it. Many of them say that they would refuse to join a unity government. They’re not alone in their opposition. According to a recent poll by Channel 2 News, a majority of Israelis are not in favor of the formation of a unity government.

All this doesn’t seem to matter to the PM and Herzog, who continue to move forward with their own negotiations. As they say, politics creates strange bedfellows.

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French Initiative
The French initiative to hold a Middle East Peace Summit in Paris at the end of this month has been put on hold because US Secretary of State John Kerry is unable to make it on the proposed May 30th date. The goal of the summit is to relaunch talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, with France taking over the lead broker position, which is a role they claim the US is not fulfilling, particularly ahead of the US presidential elections.

Israel objects to the initiative, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressing that the only way to advance a true peace between us and the Palestinians is by means of direct negotiations between us and them, without preconditions,” adding that “any other attempt only makes peace more remote and gives the Palestinians an escape hatch to avoid confronting the root of the conflict.”

Is the inability of Kerry to attend a deliberate attempt to scuttle or at least indefinitely postpone the summit, as a show of support for Israel before the elections, or is it just an honest scheduling conflict?

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Gaza Fishermen
The Shin Bet has released information about the arrest of a Gazan fisherman back in April, who revealed that he, along with other fisherman, were smuggling weapons into Gaza by sea. The fisherman revealed how over a prolonged period he had personally helped smuggle weapons, ammunition, rocket-making equipment and other military equipment via sea into Gaza, on behalf of Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

This news comes on the heels of Israel’s recent expansion of the zone off the Gaza coast in which fisherman are permitted to operate within.

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Bedouin Funding
A government committee, headed by PM Netanyahu, has voted to spend around 900 million shekels ($240 million) to develop and strengthen Bedouin communities in northern Israel over the next four years. The Bedouin serve in the IDF and pay taxes.

According to a statement released by the government, the program is meant to make the communities more economically and socially resilient, with improvements to local infrastructure, schools, and increased welfare services.

Netanyahu said, “There is no reason that an entire population which contributes to the state should not receive support in education, infrastructure, law enforcement, and personal security. I know that people are suffering, and it doesn’t have to be this way; in the 21st century people need to be able to live.”

The PM added, “I want to see [Bedouin] young men and women integrate into society, into the economy, and in education, and in everything else.”

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Startup Showcase
In honor of Israel’s 68th birthday, the website highlighted 10 Israeli innovations that have “impacted the world for the better or are in the process of changing our lives forever.”

To check them out, click here.