President Reuven Rivlin on Monday continued consultations with representatives of Knesset factions ahead of an official decision on appointing a candidate to establish a ruling coalition. He will appoint Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to establish the government, after the latter received the endorsement of 67 MKs.

Later on Monday, Netanyahu publicly expressed remorse for comments made on Election Day, when he said left wing NGOs were “busing Arabs in huge quantities” to polling stations. The unfortunate comment, meant to energize Likud voters, brought in its wake a wave of accusations of racism, including from the White House.

The Joint List of Arab parties did not accept Netanyahu’s apology on Monday evening.

The Times of Israel blogged events as they unfolded.

Blog is now closed

Herzog slams Netanyahu ‘unity spins’

Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog says, “The well-known spins and games by Netanyahu [and Likud members Ze’ev] Elkin and [Gilad] Erdan will not help them. The entire Zionist Union faction is united and backs up my position that we are headed to opposing a narrow right-wing government.”

Associates of Herzog add that “it is embarrassing and quite bizarre that the man [Netanyahu] who called Livni and Herzog anti-Zionists throughout the campaign is now trying to use the scenario of a unity government as a lever to squeeze his partners in the deep right.”

The apparent reference is to ostensible statements made by Netanyahu to his potential coalition partners suggesting that he would not need to accede to their demands if he formed a unity government.

7 victims’ funeral to take place in Jerusalem

The seven Sassoon family children from Brooklyn who perished on Friday night at a fire in their home will be laid to rest in Jerusalem at 3:30 p.m.

On Sunday a special prayer in their memory was held at a synagogue in Brooklyn, and their caskets were then flown to Israel on an El Al plane.

The family’s mother, Gail Sassoon, and daughter Tzipora, are still hospitalized.

Liberman recommends Netanyahu for PM

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman recommends Netanyahu for the role of prime minister, in his meeting with President Rivlin.

Ex-CIA chief says year too short to foil Iran

An opinion piece published in the Washington Post late Sunday warns that a full year may not be enough time to “to detect and reverse Iranian violations” and prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

The piece carries a joint byline of Michael Hayden, who headed the CIA from 2006 to 2009, Oli Heinonen, former deputy chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Ray Takeh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Enumerating the stages of determining Iranian violations, the authors cite past negotiations and Tehran foot-dragging with the IAEA. “In the end, a year simply may not be enough time to build an international consensus on measures to redress Iranian violations,” they conclude.

Read the full story here.

67-24 for Netanyahu to establish coalition

With Liberman’s (unsurprising) endorsement, Prime Minister Netanyahu has 67 MKs, representing six parties (Likud, Jewish Home, Kulanu, Shas, UTJ and Yisrael Beytenu), while Isaac Herzog wins only the endorsement of his own party.

The Joint (Arab) List and Yesh Atid did not recommend any of the candidates.

Meretz, yet to meet the president, is likely to recommend Herzog, but by then it would be a purely technical move, since Netanyahu already has a clear majority.

Liberman says he want the defense portfolio, a demand Netanyahu is likely to reject.

Crimes ‘likely’ at PM residence – police chief

Police Chief Yohanan Danino says, on an Israel Radio show, that “on the face of it” it seems like “criminal activities” have taken place at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Danino says this is “not like the Holyland affair” in the scope and severity of felonies, but evidence certainly amounts to criminal charges which should be investigated.

The chief of police further says police investigators have come up with solid evidence against the main suspects in the corruption affair involving senior Yisrael Beytenu officials.

Israel's Chief of Police Yohanan Danino has to deal with another sexual harassment scandal. Here he is at Border Police headquarters in Jerusalem on November 13, 2014. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.)

Chief of Police Yohanan Danino, November 13, 2014. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.)

Danino says the past few days have seen progress in collecting evidence against key suspects, and adds that more suspects will be grilled in coming days.

 

Funeral of Brooklyn children underway

The funeral of the seven Sassoon children who perished in a fire on Saturday in Brooklyn begins in Jerusalem at the Har Hamenuhot cemetery.

Gabriel Sassoon at the funeral of his seven children in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gabriel Sassoon at the funeral of his seven children in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

PM to meet heads of Arab local councils

Netanyahu invites Arab heads of local councils for a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Likud sources hope the meeting will defuse tension created following Netanyahu’s comments on election day regarding what he warned was a high rate of voting in the Arab sector. According to the NRG news site, the prime minister hopes the meeting will also send a message to US President Barack Obama, who has been criticizing him for his comments over the past few days.

UK minister says archaeology used as cover to steal Palestinian land

Israeli settlers are taking over Palestinian territory under the pretext of protecting historic archaeological sites, a senior British government minister says.

According to the Independent, Conservative Foreign Office minister Baroness Joyce Anelay said, “We are aware of the link between the Elad [settler] group and the Israel Antiquities Authority. We are concerned that this link has led to Israel Antiquities Authority’s support of radical settler activities in and around the Old City under the guise of tourism and protection of Jewish history.”

Read the full story here.

Bank of Israel leaves interest rate at 0.1%

The Bank of Israel announces that the interest rate for April will remain unchanged from that of March and will stand at 0.1%.

Rivlin urges change in system of government

President Reuven Rivlin finishes consultations with representatives of parties that won seats in the 20th Knesset.

Rivlin calls for a change in the system of government in Israel: the prime minister should be head of the largest party, he says, and can be only replaced by a special majority. The president says the current system lacks stability.

Member of the Meretz party meet with President Reuven Rivlin at the president's residence in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: David Vaaknin/pool)

Member of the Meretz party meet with President Reuven Rivlin at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: David Vaaknin/pool)

He suggests implementing his proposal in the framework of a constitution which would balance Israel’s democracy with its character as a Jewish state.

Rivlin makes the comments on the sidelines of his meeting with Isawi Frij and Ilan Gilon, who came to represent Meretz in talks on recommending a candidate for the role of prime minister. Meretz recommends Isaac Herzog, but it doesn’t make much difference as Netanyahu already enjoys a majority of 67 MKs.

Rivlin expressed joy that Meretz made it into the government: “Your party is a vital asset of Israeli political life and I am proud to receive you here.”

MK Frij raises what he called the Arab population’s demand that Netanyahu apologize for his comments on Election Day.

MK Gilon says “we were here many times but never to meet a president who is also a friend. We’ve been through some hard days ,and today too, we come worried, but this house is a temple of moderation and calmness at times like these.”

Yemen warns Iran trying to take control

The Yemeni foreign minister, Riad Yassin, calls on Arab Gulf states to become involved in Yemen in order to prevent the advance of Houthi rebels who oppose the rule of Mansour Hadi.

Yassin tells Al Jazeera that the Houthis are taking over more territory, that they already have control of airports and cities which they use against civilians in Aden and that they are arresting civilians “indiscriminately.”

Yassin earlier told al Arabiya network that the Houthi rebels seek to make Yemen surrender to Iran. He said if a solution is not found soon, Yemen will deteriorate into all-out civil war.

El Al to give families of lone soldiers 30% off airfare

El Al is planning to give families of lone soldiers who will fly to Israel on Independence Day a 30% discount on airfare. The discount, Israel Radio reports, is a joint initiative of El Al and the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers.

Some hotels are planning to give similar discounts on the days leading to the holiday, as well as on the holiday itself.

Bennett, Netanyahu meet for 1st time since elections

Prime Minister Netanyahu meets with Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett for the first time since the elections took place.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum, April 22, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum, April 22, 2013 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

According to Haaretz, quoting sources close to both Netanyahu and Bennett, the two did not discuss the allocation of ministries in the next government, but focused on its general direction.

The meeting was not defined as being part of the coalition talks, which will only begin in earnest on Wednesday.

“Before we talk of portfolios, we need to clarify that there will be a right-wing, not a left-wing government here,” a source close to the talks says.

Bennett also raises the issues close to his heart — the NGO bill, which the party sees as a condition for entering the coalition, as well as the nationality bill and the “Northern Plan,” which is intended to promote employment in the north of Israel.

Election is over, but Sobol is at it, again

Playwright Joshua Sobol, who defended Yair Garbuz’s remarks before the election and has been criticized — along with Garbuz — as inadvertently helping the right-wing bloc win the last election, says that “words calling for murder will end in murder.”

Joshua Sobol in a photo from 2009 (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Joshua Sobol, 2009 (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Speaking on Israel Radio, Sobol calls on right-wing leaders to condemn “bullies in their midst.” Answering a question on whether artists have no part in incitement, Sobol says: “If a certain statement annoys someone, they can mock or criticize in return. The left has still not murdered anyone.”

Two weeks ago, when defending Garbuz, Sobol mocked religious Jews, saying that “those who believe they connect with a higher power by kissing a stone or any other object are fools.”

Saudi FM says Iran should not get ‘undeserved’ nuclear deals

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Monday that Iran, which is negotiating with world powers on its nuclear program, should not get “undeserved deals.”

“It is impossible that Iran should get undeserved deals,” Prince Saud said at a joint news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. (screen capture: YouTube/CBS This Morning)

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (screen capture: YouTube/CBS This Morning)

Iran and six world powers are in negotiations to clinch a long-sought deal aimed at putting a nuclear bomb out of reach for the country, in exchange for easing sanctions on its economy. Tehran denies wanting nuclear weapons.

Prince Saud called for guarantees that the program “does not turn into a nuclear weapon that could pose a threat to the region and the world, especially in view of Iran’s aggressive politics in the region.”

The minister also accused Tehran of “continued meddling in the affairs of Arab countries and attempts to stoke sectarian conflicts in the region.”

— AFP

Israel imprisons Arab citizen for joining Syria fight

A court sentences an Arab citizen to 11 months in prison for travelling to fight alongside Syrian rebels.

Several Arab Israelis have been arrested after returning from Syria, where armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad is now dominated by jihadists, including the Islamic State group.

Yusef Nasrallah travelled via Jordan to Syria where his intention was to “die as a martyr alongside rebels” fighting Assad, the court said in its verdict.

But two days after reaching Syria, Nasrallah was arrested by the Assad regime and spent eight months in prison, where he was “tortured and interrogated.”

During that time, he passed on information about an Israeli military base, the court said, without elaborating.

Nasrallah was released and returned to Israel in December, where the Shin Bet domestic security service detained him.

Several Arab Israelis have been convicted for attempts to join the Syrian rebels.

— AFP

At least 34 dead in Peru bus pile-up

At least 34 people were killed when a bus swerved into oncoming traffic in Peru, leading to a multi-vehicle collision involving two other buses and a truck, authorities said.

Health Minister Anibal Velasquez, who was on his way to the crash site near the northern city of Huarmey, says the accident also left 70 people injured.

Authorities initially gave a death toll of 22, but Velasquez told local radio that the number had increased sharply as rescue workers managed to access the wreckage.

— AFP

Katsav to go on 72-hour furlough on Passover

Former President Moshe Katsav walks out from the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on November, 2011 after Israel's Supreme Court unanimously upheld a rape conviction and a seven-year prison sentence. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

Former president Moshe Katsav walks out from the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on November 2011 after the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a rape conviction and a seven-year prison sentence. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Former president Moshe Katsav, who is imprisoned for rape and other sexual felonies, is tol spend 72 hours with his family, on his first leave from prison.

The disgraced former president will be out of jail for three days during the Passover holiday. This is the first time a request by Katsav for a furlough is granted.

Liberman slams racism of Arab parties

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman says the Joint (Arab) List is guilty of racism even more than Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose comments on Election Day regarding the turnout among Arab voters continue to haunt him.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 9, 2014, to file a petition against the Central Election Committee's decision to bar his Yisrael Beytenu party from distributing French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 9, 2014, to file a petition against the Central Elections Committee’s decision to bar his Yisrael Beytenu party from distributing French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“There is a deep issue here, when there is no one to condemn the statement by the head of one of the Arab parties’ communications bureaus, who said the Islamic State was an heir of the Zionist movement,” Liberman says.

“There were also some hair-raising utterances by MK Hanin Zoabi, who defined Hamas as a liberation movement and refused to condemn the murder of the three youths [which occurred just before last summer’s war with Gaza]. No one condemned her statements,” Liberman is quoted by Ynet as saying.

Liberman says ignoring the racist comments by Arab MKs “ignores reality and legitimizes this party in Israel’s political climate.”

Netanyahu sorry for comments about Arabs

Netanyahu issues an apology over comments made on Election Day. The prime minister was speaking during a meeting with heads of Arab local councils from across Israel.

“I know the things I said several days ago offended some of Israel’s citizens, hurt the Arab citizens. I had no intention to hurt anyone and I am sorry if I did,” says Netanyahu.

In a subtle stab at Obama, he adds, “My actions as prime minister, including the tremendous investment in minority sectors, prove the opposite. I think, too, that we must never let anyone outside the state of Israel interfere with our democratic process.

“I see myself as the prime minister of each and every one of you, all the citizens of Israel, regardless of faith, ethnicity or gender. I see all citizens of Israel as partners in building a prosperous and secure state, a state for all its citizens.”

Joint (Arab) List rejects Netanyahu apology

The Joint (Arab) List rejects Netanyahu’s apology.

In tweets published by several journalists quoting the party’s statement, the party says, “Regretfully, the racism of Netanyahu and his governments did not start and will not end with this inciting statement. Racist legislation and policies of segregation [sic].”

Full version of Arab List’s rejection of PM apology

The Joint (Arab) List discarded the apology and said it will continue to campaign on behalf of the Arab community, Channel 2 reported.

According to a statement from the Joint (Arab) List, “The racism of Netanyahu and his government will not end with the inciting statement that he distributed during the elections.

“Racist legislation and exclusionary, discriminatory policies are Netanyahu’s working plan also for the coming Knesset, so we can only reject his apology and continue our struggle for equality for the Arab population. Likewise the Joint [List] called on Netanyahu to return the mandate that he received on the basis of incitement and intimidation,” continues the communique.

— Stuart Winer

Images from funeral of Sassoon family children

Images from the funeral of the seven Sassoon family children who perished in a fire in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Mourners attend the funeral of the seven children from the Sassoon family in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mourners attend the funeral of the seven children from the Sassoon family in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mourners attend the funeral of the seven children from the Sassoon family in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mourners attend the funeral of the seven children from the Sassoon family in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gabriel Sassoon at the funeral of his seven children in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gabriel Sassoon at the funeral of his seven children in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

 Gabriel Sassoon is driven away after the funeral for his seven children that died in a house fire on March 22, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (photo credit: Kena Betancur/Getty Images/AFP)

Gabriel Sassoon is driven away after the funeral on March 23, 2015, for his seven children who died in a house fire in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (photo credit: Kena Betancur/Getty Images/AFP)

Ayman Odeh calls Netanyahu apology a ‘zigzag’

“His apology is not at all acceptable,” says Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh of Netanyahu’s apology for protesting that Arabs were voting in droves on Election Day.

“This is another zigzag from a man known for zigzagging,” he adds.

Odeh, speaking on Channel 2, says he was not invited to the meeting Netanyahu held with Arab heads of local councils. Asked whether he would meet Netanyahu if summoned for a meeting with him, Odeh comments that he “would meet any person who wants to speak to me.”

Yachimovich pleased — somewhat — over apology

Shelly Yachimovich says she is happy that Netanyahu apologized. She is the first left-wing politician to actually commend the prime minister on his apology.

Labor Party chief Shelly Yachimovich (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Zionist Union No. 3 Shelly Yachimovich (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

However, Yachimovich rejects the Channel 2 anchor’s remark that Netanyahu may have been speaking “in the heat of an election campaign.”

“His words were deliberate,” she says. “They were made at a press conference,” she continues, “and then later in a Facebook video clip that was undoubtedly edited several times before being posted.”

Curiously, at the beginning of her remarks, Yachimovich comments that she “feels more comfortable” calling her party “Labor” and not “Zionist Union.” She was pushed from the second to third place on the list to make room for Tzipi Livni, who came to Labor with five other MKs from Hatnua, Livni’s party.

Yachimovich continues that she has no intention of seeking to oust party leader Isaac Herzog, and dismisses the notion of her party joining a unity government with Netanyahu.

White House chief of staff says US will have Israel’s back

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, speaking at the J Street conference in Washington, tells the crowd that the US commitment to Israel is not contingent on who the prime minister is.

“No matter who leads Israel, America’s commitment to Israel’s security will never waver,” he says. “Our security, military and intelligence cooperation is stronger than it’s ever been, and that’s not going to change.”

McDonough also refers to Netanyahu’s “troubling” remarks on Election Day and in the run-up to the vote, rejecting Palestinian statehood: “Such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution. We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made,” he says, to massive applause.

At J Street confab, Washington’s man speaks of ‘true peace’

“An occupation that has lasted for more than 50 years must end,” says White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough at the J Street conference. “Anything short of true peace will worsen the situation.

“Israel cannot maintain security control of another people indefinitely. As difficult as it is, the US will never stop working for a two-state solution,” he adds.

White House wants Congress out of Iran talks

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, speaking at the J Street conference, speaks about the pending deal with Iran.

“Now that we are at the table, Congress should not seek to undermine us before a deal is reached,” he says.

Cruz says he’ll stand ‘unapologetically’ with Israel

“Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu, imagine a president who stands unapologetically with Israel,” says Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who announced his candidacy for the presidency on Sunday.

Cruz speaks just as the Obama administration ratchets up pressure on the government in Israel.

Speaking to Israel National News in June, Cruz said that “the friendship between Israel and America is and should be unbreakable,” while describing “the prospect of Iran gaining nuclear weapons capability” as “the gravest threat to both” countries.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at the 2014 Values Voter Summit September 26, 2014 in Washington, DC (Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC, on September 26, 2014. (photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

 

US still ‘reassessing’ diplomatic attitude to Israel

No letdown from the Obama administration as Netanyahu may have hoped, with his highly publicized apology carefully timed to lead evening TV news editions in Israel.

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest says that the administration will continue to “reassess” US policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite PM Netanyahu’s backtrack on rejecting Palestinian statehood and his apology over his “Arabs voting in droves” comments from Election Day.

Earnest says the US will continue cooperation on military and intelligence matters. In everything relating to diplomacy, the US will “keep communication channels open” with ally Israel. But he does not remove the threat of the US ceasing to protect Israel at the UN.

Tibi says ‘sorry’ and ‘remorseful’ not the same

MK Ahmad Tibi from the Joint (Arab) List reacts to Netanyahu’s apology over comments from Election Day (when he said Arabs were voting in droves and being bused to polling stations) and decides to catch the PM on semantics.

“He is expressing remorse, but not sincerely saying sorry. A prime minister is expected to be responsible both in words and in actions. Netanyahu apologizes, but if it’s Arabs he only expresses remorse,” Tibi says.

MK Ahmad Tibi participates in a panel discussion at the Israel Conference on Democracy, in Tel Aviv on February 17, 2015. (photo credit: Amir Levy/Flash90)

MK Ahmad Tibi participates in a panel discussion at the Israel Conference on Democracy, in Tel Aviv on February 17, 2015. (photo credit: Amir Levy/Flash90)

Tibi says Netanyahu will be tested by “canceling the Jewish State bill, which badly hurts Arab citizens. Discrimination is a government policy and equality is a way of life from which the prime minister is as far as earth is from heaven.”

The Jewish State bill, setting out the definition of Israel as Jewish and democratic, was criticized in the last government’s term by left-wing parties and Arab parties who said a draft that was being considered, and which appeared to relegate Israel’s democratic nature below its Jewish nature, endangered Israeli democracy and would hurt citizens from minority groups.

Kerry back to Iran talks Thursday

US Secretary of State John Kerry will return to Switzerland for talks Thursday on a deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear program, five days before a deadline to reach the outline of an agreement.

Kerry’s office says he will meet his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Lausanne for the next stage in talks between the so-called P5+1 world powers and Iran.

The delegates have, in theory, given themselves until the end of the month to agree on the broad outlines of a political accord to govern a future final settlement of the stand-off.

Washington and its allies believe Iran’s purportedly civilian nuclear power program is a cover for a drive by the Islamic Republic to develop atomic weapons.

— AFP

Indyk lays out plan for two-state solution

Former US envoy and peace negotiator Martin Indyk lays out a pathway to an Israeli-Palestinian deal for the J Street conference audience.

“Mutually agreed swaps could accommodate 75-85 percent of the settlers where they live today. Withdrawal to secure and recognized borders will leave Israelis more secure than they are today,” he says.

In a final agreement, “Palestinians will have the right of return to their state of Palestine, but will not have right of return to the state of Israel.”

Such an agreement “will require mutual recognition of “Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people and Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people,” continues Indyk.

“The only alternative to the two-state solution is continued conflict.”

— Rebecca Shimoni Stoil