The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.
Palestinians say Liberman appointment shows Israel is no peace partner
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry says talk of including hardliner Liberman in Netanyahu’s government “confirms the lack of a peace partner in Israel.”
The development “does not surprise the Foreign Ministry,” it says. “Whoever follows daily the procedures and violations carried out by the extremist Netanyahu government against the Palestinian people, [sees] the racist, radical and violent nature of the politics of the Netanyahu government since day one. The inclusion of Liberman, known for his extreme right-wing stance toward the Palestinians, is new evidence that Netanyahu, as usual, has preferred to promote extremism in his government, which has become, as described by the Hebrew media, the most extreme government in Israel’s history.”
The ministry stresses that this decision by Netanyahu is a response to the French, international and regional efforts to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and sends a strong message to the world that Israel “prefers extremism and to perpetuate the occupation and settlement over peace.” The ministry sees Netanyahu’s move as confirmation of the absence of a true partner for peace in Israel, it says.
A Palestinian official says a Liberman defense minister would be a “disaster” for Palestinians.
“He will be in charge of the occupation and it will be a disaster. He is a populist — either he talks too much or he puts his words into action.”
He says such was the dislike of Liberman that he was a “unifying factor for Palestinians.”
— Dov Lieber, AFP
Hollande confirms EgyptAir plane ‘crashed’
French President Francois Hollande confirms Thursday that the EgyptAir flight that disappeared from radar screens over the Mediterranean had “crashed.”
“We must ensure that we know everything on the causes of what happened. No hypothesis is ruled out or favored,” he says in a televised address.
“Whether it was an accident or another hypothesis that everyone has on their mind — a terrorist hypothesis… at this stage we must focus on our solidarity with the families and the search for the causes of the catastrophe,” Hollande adds.
The Paris prosecutor’s office says its accident department had opened an investigation into the crash.
Kahlon backs Liberman for defense minister, praises Ya’alon
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) is backing the expected appointment of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman as defense minister.
“I am opposed to attempts to discredit Liberman; he will be evaluated and judged solely on his performance as minister,” says Kahlon.
The finance minister also praises Ya’alon.
“The State of Israel owes a great debt to Ya’alon,” he says. “I hope that Ya’alon will be given a senior, key position in the coalition, and continue to be a member of the [security] cabinet. His contribution to the government is critical.”
Livni says history won’t forgive Netanyahu
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, whose brother died last week and has just completed the seven-day mourning period, breaks her silence on the coalition debacle.
“I did not write anything or give interviews during this turbulent week, but have a conclusion that is important for me to say: History won’t forgive Netanyahu for the damage he is doing to Israel, [and] our children won’t forgive us if we preoccupy ourselves now with personal matters and internal fights, if we are silent or throw up our hands. This is precisely the time to go out to battle, together, for the identity and future of Israel. Nothing less,” she writes on Facebook.
Liberman said demanding NIS 2.5b to join coalition
As part of his conditions for entering the coalition, Liberman is demanding from the treasury NIS 2.5 billion ($648 million) to resolve the pension crisis for elderly Israelis from the former Soviet Union who moved to Israel in the 1990s, Army Radio reports.
Liberman’s representatives are meeting with Finance Ministry officials to hammer out a deal, the report says, but the treasury is not sure how it will allocate this large sum.
The meeting is ongoing.
EgyptAir plane fell 22,000 feet, swerved sharply
An EgyptAir flight lost early Thursday over the eastern Mediterranean with 66 people on board fell 22,000 feet and swerved sharply in Egyptian airspace before it disappeared from radar screens, Greece’s defense minister says.
“The plane carried out a 90-degree turn to the left and a 360-degree turn to the right, falling from 37,000 to 15,000 feet and the signal was lost at around 10,000 feet,” Defense Minister Panos Kammenos tells a news conference.
French parliament approves extension of state of emergency
France’s lower house of parliament has definitively approved a two-month extension of the state of emergency that was declared after the deadly November 13 attacks in Paris.
The measure is aimed at covering the June 10-July 10 European Championship soccer tournament and the July 2-July 24 Tour de France. It expands police powers to put people under house arrest and allows authorities to forbid the movement of people and vehicles at specific times and places.
The vote, scheduled for weeks, takes place on Thursday. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve justifies the measure by the “unprecedented context of terrorist risk.”
Trump calls EgyptAir crash ‘another terrorist attack’
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is weighing in on the crash of an EgyptAir flight that had been traveling from Paris to Cairo, calling it “yet another terrorist attack.”
In a Twitter post Thursday, Trump points to the incident, asking “when will we get tough, smart and vigilant? Great hate and sickness!”
The flight, with 66 passengers and crew on board, crashed in the Mediterranean Sea off the Greek island of Crete early Thursday morning.
Egyptian, French and Greek officials have launched investigations into the crash but say it is too early to determine whether it was due to a technical error or an act of terrorism.
Egypt can’t rule out attack in missing plane
Egypt’s aviation minister says he could not rule out that an attack or a technical failure brought down an EgyptAir flight over the Mediterranean on Thursday, and no wreckage had been found.
“I don’t deny the hypothesis of a terrorist attack or something technical. It is too early,” Sherif Fathy tells a news conference.
“I have no information that wreckage has been found for now,” he says, adding that he could not even confirm whether the plane had crashed.
Liberman, PM said to agree on death penalty for terrorists
Channel 10 reports that Netanyahu and Liberman have agreed on a draft bill to allow the death penalty for convicted terrorists.
The two are meeting to finalize the wording of the bill, the report says.
Netanyahu in 2015 ordered Likud party members to oppose a similar initiative, and then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein indicated he would intervene if the bill advanced in the Knesset.
Egypt minister says terror more likely cause of crash
Egypt’s aviation minister says the possibility that a terror attack was the cause of the EgyptAir crash is “stronger” than technical failure, AP reports.
Russian official says terror attack downed Egypt jet
The head of Russia’s top domestic security agency says the crashed Egyptian jet has apparently been brought down by a terror attack. Alexander Bortnikov says on Thursday that “in all likelihood it was a terror attack” causing the crash of the EgyptAir Flight 804 from Paris to Cairo with 66 people on board, according to Russian news agencies.
Bortnikov, the head of the Federal Security Service, calls for a joint action to track down those responsible for that “monstrous attack.”
Last October, a Russian plane flying from Egypt crashed into the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. Moscow said it was brought down by an explosive device.
Debris found off a Greek island in EgyptAir search
Debris has been found off a Greek island during the search for the missing EgyptAir flight, the Greek army says, according to AFP.
Manchester Jewish cemetery vandalized in ‘sickening’ attack
A Jewish cemetery in Manchester has been vandalized, with 14 gravestones destroyed in an apparent anti-Semitic crime, The Guardian reports.
“This is a sickening act of anti-Semitism which we are taking very seriously. I believe this was a deliberate and targeted attack and there is no place for such abhorrent behavior in our communities,” says police representative Ch Supt Wasim Chaudhry.
“All decent members of the public recognize that a cemetery is supposed to be a resting place for people who have passed away; a place of sanctity and dignity where families can come and pay their respects.”
Belgian prosecutors seek up to 18 years in jail for Verviers jihadists
Belgian prosecutors on Thursday demand that four alleged jihadists accused of links to the terror cell behind the Paris and Brussels attacks receive between 10 and 18 years in jail.
The men were arrested after a deadly raid in the Belgian town of Verviers in January 2015 which exposed an alleged plan to kill police officers.
The Verviers plot “was the rough draft of Paris,” prosecutor Bernard Michel tells the court in Brussels, adding that the accused were under the orders of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of the deadly November attacks in the French capital.
IDF Southern Command welcomes new Gaza division chief
Though Israel is not pushing for another war in Gaza, the army is prepared for it, head of the IDF’s Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir says during a ceremony for the incoming head of the Gaza Division at the unit’s headquarters near the southern border
“We are not desirous of war, but we do not fear its coming,” Zamir says, using particularly high-brow Hebrew. “The plans are ready, the cannons of the tanks are greased.”
At the ceremony marking the exit of Brig. Gen. Itay Virov and entrance of Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, Zamir tells the crowd: “Itay, an attack-oriented officer, shows initiative, but also knows restraint and moderation in the use of force.”
Fuchs, who previously served as chief infantry officer and head of the Nahal Infantry Brigade, says he accepted the responsibility of leading the precarious and volatile Gaza Division.
“I commit to defend the country’s border and to allow a good life for all those who value life,” Fuchs says.
“I am receiving a division that is strong, trained, well-exercised and skilled — a prepared division,” he adds.
From leading the Gaza Division, Virov will move to the army’s Ground Forces Command and go up in rank to major general.
— Judah Ari Gross
Gov’t with Liberman will still back two-state solution — Israeli official
An Israeli official tells The Times of Israel that with Liberman poised to join the coalition, the government will continue to support the two-state solution.
“If a coalition is formed, it’s important to note that both PM Netanyahu and Liberman support a solution based on two states for two peoples. In fact, it has historically been right-wing governments, like that of Menachem Begin, which achieved peace with our Arab neighbors like Egypt,” the official says.
— Raoul Wootliff
In first, Pope Francis to receive top Sunni imam at Vatican
Pope Francis will meet the spiritual leader of the world’s Sunni Muslims in an unprecedented encounter at the Vatican on Monday, the pontiff’s spokesman says Thursday.
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, the most prestigious institution in Sunni Islam, will have an audience with the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics at St Peter’s, Father Federico Lombardi told AFP.
“This audience is being prepared and has been scheduled for Monday,” he says. “It will be a first.”
The visit marks the restoration of cordial relations between the two faiths. Ties were soured under Pope Benedict XVI after Francis’s now-retired predecessor made a September 2006 speech in which he was perceived to have described Islam as a violent religion.
Liberman said to drop demands on civil unions, IDF draft
In exchange for coalition support for the death penalty for terrorists, Liberman has agreed to drop his demands regarding civil unions, increased IDF enlistment of the ultra-Orthodox, and conversion reforms, the Ynet news website reports.
The compromise is reached to placate the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition — Shas and United Torah Judaism — that wield an effective veto over religion-state reforms.
Former Palestinian hunger striker freed from detention
A Palestinian held in Israeli prison without charge, who fasted for 94 days in protest of his detention earlier this year, has been released, according to Hebrew reports.
Mohammed al-Qiq launched his hunger strike on November 25, 2015, to win release from detention. In February, Israeli authorities agreed to let him go on May 21 if he would end his hunger strike.
Ya’alon, Kahlon unveil plan to upgrade West Bank crossings
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announce a two-year plan to upgrade West Bank crossings, in a bid to make the checkpoints more efficient and secure.
“The plan is designed to increase the number of Palestinian workers who go through the checkpoints, as well as improving their conditions and standing up to the tests of quality and service,” Ya’alon says in a statement.
This plan would also “upgrade the technological level of the [security] measures found at the crossings,” he says.
Ya’alon, believed to be on his way out of the ministry, says the program will decrease the waiting time at crossings by “30 to 50 percent.”
In addition, it will increase the amount of goods that can be transferred by “approximately 30 percent,” he says.
The program will be implemented by the Defense Ministry, Finance Ministry and Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. It is expected to cost some NIS 300 million ($77 million), drawn from COGAT’s funds.
— Judah Ari Gross
France fraud suspect says he gave PM €1m for elections
A French theft suspect, in a case being called “the sting of the century,” testifies Thursday that he gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu €1 million in 2001 toward election costs, Haaretz reports.
“I financed him to the tune of about one million euros,” says Arnaud Mimran, who is suspected of stealing over 200 million euros from the French Finance Ministry.
“It’s all a lie,” the Israeli prime minister says in response, according to Army Radio.
US Navy sends surveillance plane in EgyptAir search
The US Navy has deployed a long-range P-3 Orion surveillance plane to help search for the wreckage of the EgyptAir flight that crashed into the Mediterranean on Thursday, officials say.
“US Commander Sixth Fleet is working with the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Greece and the US Defense Attache in Athens, Greece to provide US Navy P-3 Orion support in the search of the missing Egyptian aircraft,” the Navy says in a statement.
The surveillance plane had been sent from Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily.
Separately, the White House says President Barack Obama is being updated by counter-terrorism staff on investigations into what happened to the Airbus A320 that crashed between Paris and Cairo.
“The president asked to be updated throughout the day as the situation warrants, and directed administration officials to reach out to their international counterparts to offer support and assistance,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz says.
MK Orly Levy-Abekasis quits Yisrael Beytenu
Yisrael Beytenu MK Orly Levy-Abekasis announces she’s quitting her party, which is expected to join the coalition.
The lawmaker, who will remain in the opposition, says her party has not taken advantage of “the opportunity facing us as a party, which is set to enter the government” to advance social issues.
“It didn’t happen,” she says. “And I can’t remain indifferent.”
“Therefore, I decided not to take part in the current political process, and in light of the situation, I am announcing the end of my time in Yisrael Beytenu. I do this with my head held high, knowingly, fully aware that this may create hurdles in my parliamentary work. I am not afraid of that. I intend to work as a Knesset member, in accordance with my conscience and entirely for the public good.”
The lawmaker makes her announcement as negotiations between Yisrael Beytenu and Likud are ongoing, with both sides indicating a final deal will be signed shortly. According to the latest reports, Liberman dropped demands to advance conversion reforms, civil unions, and increased IDF enlistment for the ultra-Orthodox.
Zionist Union MK urges Levy-Abekesis to join party
Zionist Union MK Itzhik Shmuli urges Levy-Abekesis to join his party, after she dropped her Yisrael Beytenu party membership. “Orly — come to your natural home,” he says in a tweet.
Yisrael Beytenu ‘surprised’ by lawmaker’s resignation
The Yisrael Beytenu faction says it is “surprised” by MK Levy-Abekasis’s abrupt resignation.
“The faction is expected to make gains on social matters as part of the negotiations, and it’s unfortunate that she won’t be a part of it,” the faction says, according to Army Radio.
Levy-Abekasis hasn’t immediately announced whether she will join another party or form a single-MK faction.
Police arrest East Jerusalem teen with knife
Border Police arrest a 16-year-old Palestinian carrying a knife who was en route to Damascus Gate, outside Jerusalem’s Old City.
The teenager, a resident of Shuafat in East Jerusalem, is held for questioning. Police believe he was planning a stabbing attack.
— Judah Ari Gross contributed
France says peace summit to be held June 3
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says Thursday he has called for a planned Middle East peace conference to be held in Paris on June 3.
“So that everyone can attend … I have suggested that the conference initially planned for May 30 be held on June 3,” Ayrault says after talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
Kerry said separately he would attend the peace conference, with Washington playing a key role in peace efforts over the years due to its special relationship with Israel.
Kerry to attend Paris summit on Israeli-Palestinian peace
Kerry says he will attend an upcoming French-hosted meeting of foreign ministers aimed at restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Kerry says he had told French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that he would participate in the event. Kerry has been coy about attending the meeting, which Israel is opposed to, and his comments were the first confirmation that he would go. Kerry said restarting the peace process or at least keeping a path open to doing so remained a priority
The French had initially proposed the meeting for May 30, the Memorial Day holiday in the United States, but agreed to delay it to allow Kerry to attend. The meeting will now be held on June 3.
France sending investigators to help EgyptAir probe
France is sending three investigators to Cairo along with a technical expert from Airbus to join the probe into the EgyptAir flight that crashed Thursday, Transport Minister Alain Vidalies says.
The team, including agents from France’s specialist Bureau of Investigations and Analysis, are set to leave later in the day to help probe what happened to the plane, carrying 66 people from Paris to Cairo.
Veteran ’60 Minutes’ newsman Morley Safer dies at 84
Morley Safer, the veteran “60 Minutes” correspondent who was equally at home reporting on social injustices, the Orient Express and abstract art, and who exposed a military atrocity in Vietnam that played an early role in changing Americans’ view of the war, died Thursday, according to Kevin Tedesco, a CBS News publicist.
No further details on his death are immediately available.
Born to a Jewish family, Safer, who once claimed “there is no such thing as the common man; if there were, there would be no need for journalists,” was 84. “60 Minutes” aired a tribute to Safer on Sunday after he announced his retirement earlier this month.
In 1970, Safer joined “60 Minutes,” then just two years old and not yet the national institution it would become. He claimed the co-host chair alongside Mike Wallace.
During the next four decades, his rich tobacco-and-whiskey voice delivered stories that ranged from art, music and popular culture, to “gotcha” investigations, to one of his favorite pieces, which, in 1983, resulted in the release from prison of Lenell Geter, an engineer wrongly convicted of a $50 holdup at a fast food restaurant who had been sentenced to a life term.
A 1991 story close to Safer’s heart reported a not-yet-popular view among some medical experts that regular consumption of red wine can be good for one’s health. As with many “60 Minutes” stories, this piece had an immediate impact: Dropping by his neighborhood liquor store the day after it aired, Safer learned there had been a rush on red wine.
And in 2011, he scored a coup: a sit-down with Ruth Madoff, offering her first public description of the day she learned from her husband, Bernard, that he was running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.
Safer won a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for his 2001 story on a school in Arizona specifically geared to serve children who are homeless.
Other honors include three George Foster Peabody awards, 12 Emmys and two George Polk Memorial Awards.
Safer was born in Toronto in 1931, yet nonetheless insisted he was “stateless” and, as a reporter chasing stories around the globe, claimed, “I have no vested interests.” He eventually became an American citizen, holding dual citizenship.
He began his career at several news organizations in Canada and England before being hired by Reuters wire service in its London bureau. Then, in 1955, he was offered a correspondent’s job in the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s London bureau, where he worked nine years before CBS News hired him for its London bureau.
In 1965 he opened CBS’ Saigon bureau.
— AP, Times of Israel staff
Herzog invites Ya’alon to join Zionist Union
Israel’s political shake-up continues, with opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) inviting Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon — who is expected to be replaced by Liberman — to join his party, in an interview on Channel 10.
Netanyahu speaks to Ya’alon, says nothing is final
Netayahu speaks to Ya’alon on Thursday, telling him Liberman’s appointment as defense minister is not yet final, Channel 2 reports.
“It’s not yet final, I will update you,” the prime minister says. Netanyahu has not yet offered the Foreign Ministry to Ya’alon, the TV report says.
Liberman also meets with Bennett on Thursday, according to Channel 2.
Netanyahu insists there won’t be significant changes in Israel’s security policies under Liberman, according to the report.
Dueling polls offer different views on Liberman
Two Israeli polls on Thursday offer dramatically different pictures on the Israeli public’s support for the coalition shake-up, specifically Liberman’s prospective role.
According to a Channel 2 survey, 38% support Ya’alon as defense minister, followed closely by Liberman at 35%
But results of a Channel 10 poll have 51% of respondents backing Ya’alon as defense minister and just 27% favoring Liberman. And 52% say they are against Liberman assuming the role of defense minister, and 32% support the move.
According to Channel 2, 37% of Israelis are in favor of including Yisrael Beytenu in the coalition, while 24% back a unity government with the Zionist Union.
Herzog says ‘regional’ and ‘global’ players behind coalition talks
In a heated interview on Channel 2, Herzog says Netanyahu ran away from a “rare opportunity” for peace, confirming that the coalition talks were backed by “regional and global players.”
He says Israel has “received messages from the regional leadership and world leaders” urging a unity government to advance a peace deal, claiming that world leaders told Netanyahu they didn’t trust him on matters of Israeli-Palestinian peace. He appeared to be confirming media reports that Tony Blair, John Kerry, and Egypt’s president were behind the effort to reconcile Likud and Zionist Union.
“What do you think, that Sissi works for me?” says Herzog, referring to the timing of a speech by the Egyptian president urging a peace push this week, as Herzog and Netanyahu held marathon talks.
There could have been a “historic” change, he maintained, but Netanyahu “ran away” under pressure by his Likud party.
“He decided it was hard for him,” Herzog says.
The Zionist Union leader concedes that it was possible that Netanyahu “played me,” and reiterates that “far-left extremists” thwarted the agreement, in a likely reference to his party member Shelly Yachimovich.
Herzog says talks with Netanyahu began in late March and denies he ever ruled out forming a unity government — even as Channel 2 ran a reel on his repeated comments to that effect.
“I never said I wouldn’t sit with Netanyahu, I said during the elections that this was one of the options.”
EgyptAir says wreckage from plane found
EgyptAir says wreckage from its passenger plane that crashed into the Mediterranean on Thursday with 66 people on board has been found.
“The Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation has just received an official letter from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that confirms the finding of wreckage of the missing aircraft No. MS 804,” it says in English on its Twitter account.
“The Egyptian Investigation Team in co-operation with the Greek counterpart are still searching for other remains of the missing plane,” it adds.
Netanyahu sends condolences to Egypt over plane crash
Netanyahu sends condolences to Sissi over the EgyptAir crash.
“In the name of all Israeli citizens, I convey condolences to Egyptian President Sissi and the Egyptian people for the plane disaster on the Mediterranean,” he says.
Press group ‘strongly condemns’ Hamas for harassing journalists
The Foreign Press Association condemns Hamas for “thuggish behavior,” after the Gaza-based terror group detains a photographer for several hours in the Gaza Strip and bans her from returning to the coastal enclave.
“On Thursday, FPA member Heidi Levine, a photographer for SIPA Press, was detained by Hamas security men for more than three hours before she was allowed to leave Gaza. As she exited, Hamas security told her she was banned from the territory, claiming her work “reflects badly on Gaza.” They provided no examples of the work that allegedly upset them,” it says in a statement.
“The FPA strongly condemns the thuggish behavior of the Hamas security and the implication that Hamas should judge what is or isn’t acceptable coverage of Gaza. Unfortunately, this incident is not isolated. A number of FPA members have reported being forced to undergo uncomfortable questioning by Hamas security forces while entering or exiting Gaza in recent months. We call on Hamas to end these practices immediately and urge the group to give journalists unfettered access in and out of Gaza.”
Clinton says ‘there’s no way’ she doesn’t win nomination
Hillary Clinton says Thursday “there’s no way” she will not win the Democratic Party’s nomination, all but declaring victory in her presidential primary battle with Bernie Sanders.
“I will be the nominee for my party. That is already done,” she tells CNN in a live interview. “In fact there’s no way that I won’t be.”