Two days after a tumultuous general election, party leaders across the spectrum in Israel were weighing in on the results.
The US said it would reconsider its policies on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the end of the campaign he would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Netanyahu was interviewed on Fox News and MSNBC and clarified his position, trying some damage control from comments seen as incendiary at home and abroad, but which may also have helped win the landslide victory.
The Times of Israel blogged events as they unfolded.
Livni rejects notion she was ‘burden’ on Labor
MK Tzipi Livni, a co-leader of Zionist Union, says she was dismayed to hear complaints throughout the election campaign that she was a “burden” on the Labor Party, adding that facts are “totally opposite.” She said the “burden” turned out to be an addition of 12 Knesset seats.
Speaking on Israel Radio, Livni says that in the last two days of the campaign Netanyahu revived his comments from the mid-1990s campaign about left-wingers “not knowing what it means to be Jewish” and leveraged strong sentiments of fear among voters.
In the 19th Knesset, Labor had 15 MKs and Livni’s Hatnua had six, totaling 21. After the two parties merged in the run-up to elections for the 20th Knesset, the newly named Zionist Union won 24 seats. It is not clear how Livni did the math.
US to turn colder shoulder after landslide Netanyahu win
The Obama administration is describing a weaker and colder relationship between the US and Israel in light of Netanyahu’s victory in the election, with some saying Washington could support a United Nations resolution setting down principles for Palestinian statehood.
Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric — his statements in the days leading up to the election against a two-state solution and his election day comments on Arab voters — particularly angered the administration, prompting officials to say they would examine its future steps.
Read the full story here.
Meretz gains, Joint List loses 1 seat
After absentee ballots were counted, Meretz gains a seat in the Knesset, moving up to five, while the Joint (Arab) List loses a seat and drops to 13 seats.
Meretz chairman Zahava Gal-On says she’ll stay in her post. Initially Gal-on said she would resign and give up her seat so that Tamar Zandberg, No. 5 on the party’s list, would make it into the Knesset.
As the final tally is calculated, United Torah Judaism also loses one seat, dropping to six Knesset seats.
Read the full story here.
Is Netanyahu preparing an heir to the throne?
Is Netanyahu preparing an heir to the throne?
Haaretz analyst Yossi Werther speculates that the appearance of Yair Netanyahu, the elder son of Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, in photos during and after the campaign, as well as the prime minister’s lengthy praise of his two sons during his victory speech Tuesday night, hints that he is grooming the young man (21) to succeed him.
It is hard to say where the analysis by Werther, who is not a fan of Netanyahu, stands on the spectrum between conspiratorial truth and utter drivel.
But here’s a picture of the PM and his kid at the Western Wall:
Abbas says new Israeli gov’t won’t seek peace
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose name was absent from Israeli discourse during the campaign just as it was in the 2013 elections, says that “if Netanyahu’s comments are true, it means there is no serious intention in the Israeli government to reach a diplomatic solution that will lead to two states based on the pre-1967 lines.”
Abbas was referring to Netanyahu’s about-face regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state. The prime minister said on Tuesday no such state will be established under his watch, seemingly backtracking on his comments from his Bar-Ilan University speech of 2009.
With negotiations being in a state of deep freeze for several months now, the comments from the Palestinian Authority president did not seem to resonate very loudly among Israeli politicians.
White House takes off gloves
From ugly to uglier, or is it all just talk?
It’s no secret that the Obama administration is less than thrilled with Netanyahu’s reelection, let alone in a decisive, landslide victory.
The Times of Israel’s Washington correspondent, Rebecca Stoil Shimoni, takes a look at what future weeks and months may bring.
Soldiers’ vote is high for Green Leaf party
Some interesting statistics arise from comparing “double envelope” votes – those of IDF soldiers, Israeli diplomatic personnel outside the country, medical personnel on call, patients in hospitals, and prisoners — with results from the general population.
The bulk of votes among the 230,000 come from IDF soldiers, who tend to vote right wing.
Likud wins 25.64% of soldiers’ votes, vs. 23.4% in the general population, while Zionist Union wins 17.71% vs. 18.67%. The Joint (Arab) List wins 3.14%, about a third of the respective number of votes it won in the general population. Also expectedly, Jewish Home did twice as good with soldiers comapred to its achievement in the general public, 12.39% vs. 6.74%, respectively.
But slightly unexpectedly, Meretz gained a seat largely because of the adjustment to the total tally after soldiers’ votes were added in (who would have guessed the most avowedly pro-peace party would gain another seat from the armed forces?). Meretz won 4.56% among soldiers, 3.93% in the general population.
Perhaps less surprisingly, if soldiers alone could decide the fate of the election, I’d be writing this with a joint in my hand: Green Leaf, the pro-legalization of marijuana party which also supports a radically libertarian economic policy, would have passed the electoral threshold with four Knesset seats. The 8,472 votes – 3.64% — the party won among soldiers, however, were not enough to elevate its standing among the general population.
65 Palestinian olive trees uprooted
Sixty-five olive trees were uprooted from land near the Palestinian village of Turmus, near Ramallah, Ynet quotes Palestinian sources as saying.
Representatives of the Civil Administration in the West Bank document the damage and call on residents of the village to file a complaint with police over a hate crime.
No perpetrators were caught.
‘New deal to allow Iran 4x the enrichment the US wanted’
Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium in 6,000 centrifuges for a decade, according to the latest draft of the deal taking shape between Iran and the US, AP reports.
The number is four times higher than what the US initially sought.
Merkel, Australia’s Abbot congratulate PM
US President Barack Obama has yet to call Netanyahu in the wake of his victory, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot already offered their congratulations.
According to Israel Radio, the Dutch prime minister, Romanian prime minister and Czech prime minister have sent Netanyahu telegrams congratulating him on his win.
Yishai says Shas shrunk ‘like Ovadia Yosef said‘
Yachad leader Eli Yishai says “organized activities” were behind the failure of his party,a split-off from Shas to pass the electoral threshold, Haaretz reports.
Yishai alleges that forgery, illegal actions by those opposing the party and other forms of foul play were aimed at making Yachad fail, and files an official complaint with Central Election Committee chairman Justice Salim Joubran on the matter.
Yishai held a press conference in Jerusalem this morning in which he admitted his failure. “One must know to lose honorably,” Yishai said, adding he was not sorry for splitting from Shas.
He also said that former spiritual leader of Shas, the late rabbi Ovadia Yosef, predicted that the party would lose up to 40% of support if Aryeh Deri led it again. “The words of the sage rabbi did not go unfulfilled. Deri lost 30-40% of support for Shas,” Yishai said.
Yishai says he will not dismantle the party following its poor showing in the election. “I am not the type of politician who will tell you I am going to act for my own benefit. The answer is no, I will continue to serve the public.”
Netanyahu says no bad blood with Obama
In his first interview since reelection, Netanyahu rejected the notion that his reelection and the stormy campaign will leave their mark on Israel-American relations.
“I think there’s an unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States; the president said that, I said that….” says Netanyahu in an interview to MSNBC that will be aired this evening.
Asked about his personal ties with Obama, Netanyahu says, “Well I think that is reflected in the relationship between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel, we have… we can have differences but we have so many things that unite us so we have a situation in the Middle East that is very dangerous and presents a common challenge to us.”
Netanyahu adds that “Secretary [John] Kerry called me yesterday and I’m sure I’ll be speaking to President Obama soon. We’ll work together, we have to. We have our differences on Iran. By coming to the US I didn’t mean any disrespect or any attempt at partisanship, I was merely warning of something that I view could endanger the survival of Israel and I felt it my obligation to speak up there,” the prime minister says.
“But there’s so many areas where we must work together, we will work together with the US and with the president, because we have no other alternative… We have to consult each other, not have fiats or unilateral positions but negotiated peace with our neighbors. America has no greater ally than Israel and Israel has no greater ally than the United States.”
White House chief of staff to headline J Street parley
Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, will headline the annual J Street conference at a time of US-Israel tensions over the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group’s signature issue, the two-state solution.
J Street announces McDonough as its speaker three days before the start of the conference, which is expected to attract a record 3,000 activists, including 1,000 students.
McDonough’s appearance for the group, which is strongly critical of the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu, comes at a low point in ties between the Obama and Netanyahu governments.
Obama administration officials have sharply criticized aspects of Netanyahu’s campaign for reelection, including his repudiation of a two-state solution and his appeal to voters on election day Tuesday to head to the polls to counter the “droves of Arab voters.”
Additionally, Obama and Netanyahu have clashed over Obama’s strategy to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu opposes talks underway between Iran and the major powers, which Netanyahu says will leave Iran a nuclear threshold state.
The two-state solution will feature prominently at the conference, which will include lawmakers in the new Knesset who represent parties backing an outcome that features an Israeli and Palestinian state existing alongside one another.
Boko Haram fighters slaughter their wives
Dozens of Nigerian women who were forced to marry Boko Haram fighters were reportedly slaughtered by their “husbands” before a battle with troops in the northeast town of Bama, multiple witnesses say.
Five witnesses who recounted the massacres to AFP say the Islamist terrorists feared they would be killed by advancing soldiers or separated from their wives when they fled the town.
They killed the women to prevent them from subsequently marrying soldiers or other so-called nonbelievers, the witnesses say.
“The terrorists said they will not allow their wives to be married to infidels,” says Sharifatu Bakura, 39, a mother of three.
According to Bakura’s account, which is supported by others, Boko Haram fighters received word of a military assault on Bama, formerly an Islamist stronghold in Borno state.
The insurgents decided to flee to the nearby town of Gwoza before the troops’ arrival but first decided “to kill their wives so that nobody will remarry them,” she says.
Israel allows 1,000 tons of cement into Gaza
Israeli authorities allow 1,000 tons of cement paid for by Qatar to enter the Gaza Strip, officials say, in the first serious step toward rebuilding the territory.
A 50-day war last summer between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory, decimated entire neighborhoods across Gaza and left 100,000 people homeless.
The international community has warned that without serious and immediate reconstruction efforts, another conflict is just around the corner.
“Today 1,000 tons of cement paid for by Qatar entered the Gaza Strip for a project included in the scope of the reconstruction mechanism,” Israel’s coordinating body for government policy in the Palestinian territories (COGAT) says in a statement.
“There are no fixed quantities (going in) on a daily basis. The quantities (delivered) are at the request of the Palestinian Authority in accordance with the needs of suppliers who are purchasing in Gaza,” it says.
Palestinian officials confirm the entry of cement, which they said 175 trucks brought in through the Kerem Shalom goods crossing in southern Gaza.
It is the biggest quantity of building material to come into Gaza in one go since fighting ended in August.
Palestinian officials say the same quantity will need to enter Gaza each day in order to repair damage within three years.
The lions of Gaza
The grandchildren of Saad al-Jamal pet two lion cubs outside their family house in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.
Jamal, who says he bought the two-month-old cubs from the Rafah Zoo, lives with the animals inside his family home.
IS claims deadly Tunis museum attack
The Islamic State jihadist group claims responsibility for an attack on Tunisia’s national museum that killed at least 21 people.
In an audio message posted online, IS also threatened more attacks.
US denies draft Iran deal being circulated
There is no draft deal yet in circulation at nuclear talks with Iran in Switzerland, a senior US State Department official says.
“The fundamental framework issues are still under comprehensive discussion. There is no draft document being circulated,” the official says.
Press reports indicate that a draft document is already being worked on in the talks in Switzerland between Iran and six major powers.
Iran and the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany aim to agree by March 31 on the outlines of a potentially historic deal and finalize it by July.
Gal-on says Meretz’s 5 seats are a success
A reinvigorated Zahava Gal-On tells Channel 2 that winning five Knesset seats in the “current circumstances, against all odds,” is a success.
The Meretz leader was preparing to leave the party over its poor result before a count of soldier votes – of all things – gave Meretz a fifth Knesset seat.
Gal-on notes that as far as the number of votes, the party kept its strength – 170,000 votes in the 2013 election vs. 165,000 votes on Tuesday.
“It is very touching that people who are not likely to talk to me called me and cheered me up and called on me to return,” Gal-on.
On Election Day, Meretz received an unlikely (albeit backhanded) endorsement from none other than Yisrael Beyteinu leader Avigdor Liberman. He called on voters to “go out and vote for any party as long as it’s a Zionist party, even Meretz.”
PM still wants ‘a peaceful two-state solution’
“I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution,” Prime Minister Netanyahu tells MSNBC in an interview after the elections.
Trying to clarify his position after the White House said it would draw its own conclusions from his comments on Election Day, in which he ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state if re-elected, Netanyahu says, “I haven’t changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar-Ilan University calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state.”
Netanyahu explains that circumstances have changed since the Bar-Ilan speech was made in 2009.
Liberman still eyeing Defense Ministry
While coalition negotiations have yet to begin in earnest, Avigdor Liberman, leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, is still insisting on the defense portfolio, even though Likud sources dismissed the notion yesterday.
Likud Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a lackluster former IDF chief of staff with the charisma of a bank clerk, is nevertheless highly popular among the security establishment.
Liberman has no military experience (the only precedent for this being Labor’s Amir Peretz, who served as defense minister in the Olmert government), while Yoav Galant, No. 2 in Kulanu, is not on very good terms with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot.
Netanyahu would be very happy to leave Ya’alon in office; with the finance portfolio already etched with Moshe Kahlon’s name and Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett sure to seek a more juicy portfolio than economy (maybe foreign ministry?), it is unclear what portfolio awaits Liberman.
In the Foreign Ministry, Liberman was persona non grata in many Western countries, instead working to strengthen his ties with countries in eastern Europe and southeast Asia.
‘I am not a racist,’ says Netanyahu
Responding to the furor over comments he made on Election Day regarding Arabs “bused in droves” to ballot boxes, Netanyahu also tells MSNBC in his first post-election interview, “I am not a racist.”
Netanyahu had clarified later on Tuesday that he was not bemoaning the fact that the Arab citizens were voting, but rather that NGOs funded by foreign money were “rounding them up” – so he claimed – and driving them in rented buses to polling stations.
Netanyahu clarifies Palestinian state comments
Netanyahu responds to allegations by the US administration that he has changed his policy to reject the formation of a Palestinian state, during an interview with MSNBC this evening.
He clarifies his comments, made to NRG diplomatic correspondent Ariel Kahana that “a Palestinian state will not be established on my watch,” stressing that what changed is not his view of the matter (Netanyahu said he would be willing to accept the two-state solution in a speech made at Bar Ilan University in 2009) but “the reality.
“Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas], the Palestinian leader refuses to recognize the Jewish state, and has made a pact with Hamas that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, and every territory that is vacated today in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces.”
Read the full story here.
Dieudonne fined for saying journo should’ve died in gas chambers
The French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala was fined $24,000 for saying that a Jewish journalist should have died “in the gas chambers.”
He was sentenced in Paris for violating France’s laws banning hate speech, Reuters reports.
Radio France’s Patrick Cohen asked on air in 2013 whether the media should pay so much attention to Dieudonne. The comedian replied that the journalist should consider emigrating.
“When I hear Patrick Cohen speaking, I say to myself, you see, the gas chambers… too bad,” said Dieudonne.
The fine comes a day after a Paris court gave Dieudonne a suspended two-month jail sentence for social media posts sympathizing with the Islamist gunman who killed four Jews at a Paris-area kosher supermarket on Jan. 9.
Dieudonne has been convicted seven times for inciting racial hatred against Jews. He has been charged almost 40 times under France’s hate-speech laws.
UN – Lebanon-Israel border violence risks new conflict
The UN Security Council is warning that recent violence along Lebanon’s border with Israel and the presence of unauthorized weapons in a UN buffer zone in southern Lebanon risk a new conflict.
In January, two Israeli soldiers and a UN peacekeeper from Spain were killed in the deadliest escalation on the disputed border since the 2006 war between Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists and Israel.
The council urged all parties to exercise “maximum calm and restraint and refrain from any action or rhetoric that could jeopardize the cessation of hostilities or destabilize the region.”
In a presidential statement adopted Thursday, the Security Council also expressed concern at other border violations including the presence of terrorist and violent extremist groups in Lebanese territory.
White House spokesman: Netanyahu comments ‘raise questions’
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Netanyahu’s comments Monday ruling out Palestinian statehood “raise questions about his commitment” to a two-state solution. Earnest says the White House will re-evaluate its approach to the peace process.
He speaks about two hours after MSNBC airs an interview with Netanyahu where he clarifies his comments, saying that he is still committed to the two-state solution, but that PA President Abbas has not shown any flexibility regarding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Obama to call Netanyahu today, says White House spokesman
US President Barack Obama will call Netanyahu to congratulate him “as early as today,” says White House spokesman Josh Earnest in a briefing to reporters.
Kahlon has coalition-talks strategy set out
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon might be wiser to seek any other portfolio aside from the Finance Ministry – the place where many have gone but few have returned, politically speaking. And yet throughout the campaign Kahlon insisted that this is the ministry he wants.
Channel 2 reports that Kahlon, however, learned from the mistakes of former finance minister Yair Lapid, and is going to take a multi-pronged approach to increase his chances of success:
Kahlon, the TV station reports, will hold negotiations with Netanyahu separately from other parties, and ask for the finance portfolio for himself; that the role of head of the Knesset’s powerful Finance Committee be a Kulanu man (or woman); and that the party be given a significant position in the Housing Ministry – if not the minister, then at least control of the Israel Lands Authority or the Planning Authority.
Netanyahu ‘hopes US won’t back Palestinian statehood via UN’
In an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, Netanyahu says he hopes the Obama administration is not looking at backing Palestinian statehood via the UN.
“I hope that’s not true, and I think that President Obama has said time and time again, as I’ve said, that the only path to a peace agreement is an agreement, a negotiated agreement.,” Netanyahu says.
“You can’t impose it,” he tells Fox News. “You can’t force the people of Israel, who’ve just elected me by a wide margin, to bring them peace and security, to secure the State of Israel, to accept terms that would endanger the very survival of the State of Israel. I don’t think that’s the direction of American policy. I hope it’s not.”
The full interview will be aired later tonight.
Boehner mocks White House reaction to election
The leader of the US House of Representatives House on Thursday defended his invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress earlier this month and mocked the Obama administration’s chilly reaction to his election victory.
Asked by a reporter about the administration’s lukewarm response to Netanyahu’s win, Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said, “Lukewarm?” and laughed heartily.
Netanyahu used his appearance before Congress, which was arranged by Republicans, to criticize an effort by the US to strike a deal with Iran aimed at curbing that nation’s nuclear program.
Boehner said he wanted to congratulate “my friend, Benjamin Netanyahu, on his party’s victory this week.”
He said Netanyahu recognizes “the grave threats that we face from radical Islam and from Iran.” He said the prime minister “was in the perfect position to help describe that threat to the American people and, for that matter, to the rest of the world.”
Herzog still hopes he’ll be ‘next PM’
Isaac Herzog says in an interview to Channel 2 that was previewed in the news and will be aired on Friday night that he “brought an achievement that we didn’t have since 1992,” referring to the party’s showing in the election. It won 24 seats, but Likud won 30.
Asked about his prospects of winning the election next time around, Herzog says “I hope I will be the next prime minister.”
Police to question 4 MKs in relation to Yisrael Beytenu
Police will summon four MKs for questioning in the Yisrael Beytenu corruption affair, which predates the election.
The four members of Knesset, Channel 2 reports, are not from the party, but from other parties in the outgoing Knesset.
Rivlin publishes sequence of his coalition meetings next week
Officials in the residence of President Reuven Rivlin announce the order in which leaders of the parties will meet with Rivlin to discuss the establishment of the next government.
The discussions will begin on Sunday and continue until Monday. On Sunday representatives of Likud will meet Rivlin first. They will be followed by representatives of Zionist Union, the Joint (Arab) List, Jewish Home, Shas and finally United Torah Judaism.
On Monday Representatives of Yesh Atid will be first to meet Rivlin, followed by Kulanu, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz.
So we were talking about racism…
Tzipi Livni, utilizing a trope used often by the left to bash right wing parties on their apparent stagnation in the peace process, threateningly predicts on Channel 2 news that Netanyahu will continue to be inactive on the Palestinian issue and that this will soon bring the day when Israel becomes a bi-national state.
Reuters correspondent Allyn Fisher-Ilan tweets and Times of Israel editor Elie Leshem responds:
— Elie Leshem (@leshemle) March 19, 2015
IDF soldier arrested after tweeting threat against PM
A 19-year-old IDF soldier was arrested by military police after tweeting a threat to assassinate Prime Minister Netanyahu.
“So much fun that Bibi won, I feel like shooting three times in the air, but instead of in the air, aiming them at Bibi,” the soldier tweeted.
He deleted the tweet swiftly but was nevertheless detained and will be brought in for questioning.