The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.
Pfizer says its COVID-19 — used to inoculate more than half of Israel’s population — is 91% effective in preventing the disease up to six months after receiving the second shot, and poses no serious safety concerns, in updated data for over 12,000 people who took part in its original trials.
The US firm and its German partner BioNTech say the vaccine is 100% effective in fighting the South African variant of the virus, based on a sample of 800 participants.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says that in light of the updated results, it plans to submit a request for full regulatory approval in the US, rather than the current emergency FDA approval.
“These data confirm the favorable efficacy and safety profile of our vaccine and position us to submit a Biologics License Application to the U.S. FDA,” says Bourla. “The high vaccine efficacy observed through up to six months following a second dose and against the variant prevalent in South Africa provides further confidence in our vaccine’s overall effectiveness.”
Joint List chair Ayman Odeh, of the Hadash faction, and senior Joint List parliamentarian Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al) have finished their meeting with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.
“Our goal is to prevent a Netanyahu-Smotrich-Ben Gvir government, and we agreed on that,” Tibi says in a video put out by the Joint List on Facebook, later calling preventing such a coalition “the beginning of change.”
But the Joint List leaders repeat that they will not consider recommending Lapid unless he receives 55 recommendations from other MKs.
“First of all, [Lapid] must reach 55 recommendations. If he reaches that number, we are prepared to examine the matter from all angles, through all the issues, from the overhanging national cause to the issues which matter to Arab citizens [of Israel],” Odeh says.
Odeh mentions changing the so-called Jewish nation-state law and the 2017 Kamenitz law targeting illegal Arab construction, fighting violence and organized crime, and budgets for Arab municipalities as key issues. Tibi also cites improving urban planning and reducing unemployment among Arab Israelis as priorities.
Balad party chief Sami Abou Shehadeh abstains from the meeting. His party has already said it plans to recommend no one, and calls on Odeh and Tibi to do likewise.
Ra’am party chairman Mansour Abbas will deliver a prime time address at 8 p.m. today, reiterating his push for greater cooperation between the Arab and Jewish communities.
However, the Islamist party still hasn’t decided whom to back as prime minister or even whether it will back a candidate.
Officials in the southern branch of the Islamic Movement say there are disagreements within the Ra’am-affiliated movement regarding the question of whether to back Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bloc, the anti-Netanyahu bloc or neither.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to receive a phone call from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken a month and a half ago, demanding that the call come from President Joe Biden himself, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reports.
The unsourced report says officials in Washington and Ramallah are currently discussing a possible phone call between Blinken and PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh or senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh.
Biden and Abbas haven’t spoken since the US president’s inauguration.
New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar launches an attack on Prime Minister Netanyahu for preventing the appointment of a full-time justice minister, causing the ministry to be without even an acting minister as Benny Gantz’s maximum three-month term ends tonight.
“A country without a justice minister is a continuation of Netanyahu’s mission to dismantle the state and its bodies,” Sa’ar writes. “Netanyahu isn’t right-wing; he favors his own benefit over the benefit of the state.
“If this is what he dares to do during these sensitive times, we can only imagine what he’ll do if, God forbid, he manages to form a new government.”
A London jury has found a rookie police officer guilty of belonging to a banned neo-Nazi organization, the first time a British police officer has been convicted of membership of an outlawed far-right group.
After 32 hours of deliberation, the jury at the city’s Old Bailey court finds Benjamin Hannam, 22, guilty of being a member of the extremist group National Action.
Hannam also is convicted of lying on his application and vetting forms to join London’s Metropolitan Police, and of having terror-related documents detailing knife combat and the making of explosive devices.
Judge Anthony Leonard has lifted a reporting ban on the case after Hannam admitted possessing an indecent image of a child, which was to have been the subject of a separate trial.
A painting by French master Nicolas Poussin, stolen by Nazi soldiers from its French Jewish owners in 1944, has been found in Italy and returned to its rightful owners, Italian police say.
The oil painting from the Baroque 17th-century painter, titled “Lot with his two daughters serving him drinks,” was seized from the home of an antiques dealer near Padua. Measuring 120 by 150 centimeters (47 by 59 inches), it was stolen during WWII when German soldiers occupied the house of the work’s Jewish owners in Poitiers in western France, Italian police specializing in cultural heritage say in a press release.
The owners began searching for their stolen property after the war in 1946. The work was listed in 1947 in the “Directory of property looted in France during the 1939-1945 war” published by France’s restitutions bureau. An investigation was relaunched last year when the heirs, a 98-year-old Swiss woman and a 65-year-old American man, filed a complaint through their Italian lawyer.
The whereabouts of the painting were unknown till 2017 when the painting was brought to Italy from France by an Italian antiques dealer, who sent it to Belgium for an exhibition, police say.
Two years later, another antiques dealer from Milan, whom police call the real owner, sent the work to an international art exhibition in Maastricht in the Netherlands. There, a Dutch art expert recognized it from the official list of stolen French art during the war.
The painting was found inside the dealer’s home and returned to its rightful owners, police say.
Looted art by Nazi occupiers during the war continues to be discovered around the world, often leading to protracted court battles to restore works to their rightful owners.
The extremist Noam faction of the right-wing Religious Zionist party releases a series of coalition conditions, saying it will recommend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form the next government but will demand he agree to a range of conservative reforms, including rolling back gender-equality protections.
Noam is headed by Avi Maoz, who will become a lawmaker next week and whose support will likely be needed for a potential Netanyahu government. He campaigned on “strengthening the Jewish character of the State of Israel” by having stricter national observance of Shabbat, tightening the Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious life, injecting religious law into broader society and promoting “family values.”
As part of the negotiations for the formation of the coalition, Noam will demand that government bodies act in accordance with the principles of the so-called Jewish nation-state law, which was criticized for allegedly sidelining Arabs and other non-Jews.
The party also says it will demand that the new coalition amend Government Resolution 2331 — based on a UN resolution — aimed at promoting gender equality in public institutions.
According to the 2014 law that Noam wants to “fix,” the government must work to promote gender equality in the civil service and “instill the value of gender equality through information and guidance.” The law also requires the government to work to “strengthen the safety of women in the public sphere and prevent violence against them.”
Hinting at preventing women from serving in the IDF, the party says, “Noam will work to make a government that requires the defense establishment to restore the value of victory as a central value of the IDF, in the education of commanders, in command training and in the considerations of building military and manpower.”
The Yamina party says its leader Naftali Bennett will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow as part of negotiations to form a coalition.
It adds Bennett will also meet opposition chief Yair Lapid on Saturday night for the same reason.
Both Netanyahu’s bloc of supporters and the anti-Netanyahu bloc are competing for Yamina’s backing, which is crucial to muster a 61-strong majority in the Knesset. Even with Bennett’s support, both sides are expected to face significant hurdles.
Bennett has been demanding that he become prime minister in a power-sharing deal with either Lapid or Netanyahu, despite his party only having seven Knesset seats.
The UN atomic watchdog has reportedly concluded that Iran is now enriching uranium with a fourth cascade of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its underground nuclear facility in Natanz, further breaching the embattled nuclear deal.
According to a report by International Atomic Energy Agency cited by Reuters: “On 31 March 2021, the Agency verified at [the Fuel Enrichment Plant] that: Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into a fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges.”
UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, which is fed into centrifuges to enrich it.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office was reportedly surprised to discover the premier hasn’t been invited to this year’s Independence Day ceremony at President Reuven Rivlin’s official residence.
After last year’s ceremony honoring outstanding IDF soldiers was canceled due to the first COVID-19 lockdown, Rivlin’s residence pre-recorded most of this year’s event.
But Channel 12 news says Netanyahu’s office is charging that organizers didn’t inform them ahead of time that Netanyahu won’t attend, as is customary.
The president’s residence says the event was planned in light of COVID-19 restrictions and that Defense Minister Benny Gantz similarly wasn’t invited.
US President Joe Biden has ordered the removal of some elements of the country’s military presence in Saudi Arabia, in the first of several steps to refocus US attention away from the Middle East, the Wall Street Journal reports citing unnamed defense officials.
The report says the US has “removed at least three Patriot antimissile batteries from the Gulf region, including one from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, that had been put in place in recent years to help protect American forces.”
“Some capabilities, including an aircraft carrier and surveillance systems, are being diverted from the Middle East to answer military needs elsewhere around the globe,” it says, adding that “other reductions are under consideration.”
The moves mean that thousands of troops could eventually leave the region.
Jerusalem District Court judges rule that Prime Minister Netanyahu must attend the opening hearing of the evidentiary phase of his corruption trial on Monday.
However, the judges exempt the premier from being at the court in person during the testimony of the former editor of the Walla news site, Ilan Yeshua, a witness in the bribery case known as Case 4000.
The exemption comes since Netanyahu didn’t have personal contact with Yeshua during the alleged intervention by his associates in the outlet’s coverage, according to the incitement.
The new UN special coordinator for Middle East peace, Tor Wennesland, calls for East Jerusalem residents to be included in next month’s Palestinian elections.
In a statement, Wennesland says he’s “encouraged” by the conclusion of the candidate submissions to the Central Elections Commission, calling it “welcome progress.”
“The holding of credible and inclusive elections across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem, is a crucial step towards renewing the legitimacy of national institutions, reestablishing Palestinian national unity and charting a way back to meaningful negotiations to realize a two-State solution,” he says.
The EU has recently issued similar calls, but Israel hasn’t commented. Israel views East Jerusalem as part of its capital and bans any PA activity there.
Im encouraged by the completion of the nomination process 4 the upcoming #Palestine|ian Legislative Council elections. All must respect the electoral process & resolve any disputes in a peaceful manner through official legal mechanisms.
My full statement ????https://t.co/LdHpLe0ZMg pic.twitter.com/pL0udmTHJV
— Tor Wennesland (@TWennesland) April 1, 2021
Jordan sends the Israeli Foreign Ministry an official protest letter over the many Jewish pilgrims visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism and a main flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Over 1,200 religious Jews have visited the site during Passover, double the number seen two years ago.
Muslims refer to the compound, the third-holiest in Islam, as the Al Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority deny the Jewish connection to the site. Jewish access is permitted for only a few hours on weekdays, with heavy restrictions that include a ban on prayer and displaying religious or national symbols.
The peace deal with Jordan gives the Hashemite Kingdom a “special role” in Jerusalem’s holy site, and it Islamic Waqf administers all matters of the compound except security.
Jordanian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Daifallah al-Fayez says the ministry has sent a formal letter of protest through official channels demanding that Israel “end its violations and provocations and respect the historical and legal status quo in Jerusalem and respect the authority of the Jordanian Waqf.
Fayez says in a statement that the “blessed Al Aqsa Mosque in its entirety is a place of worship solely for Muslims and the administration of the Waqf… is the sole authority in directing all matters in the compound, including who enters it.”
Benny Gantz bids farewell to the Justice Ministry employees after his spell as acting minister ended today and Israel was left for the first time without a justice minister.
Gantz has accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of trying to harm the justice system, and has slammed his refusal to appoint a new full-time minister.
“Even without a justice minister, you will have full backing to continue acting fearlessly and impartially,” he adds. “I will put up an iron wall against any attempt to hinder your work.”
While they continue to publicly pledge support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, top ultra-Orthodox party officials are reportedly saying in closed meetings that the premier should “let go” of his attempts to cling on to power.
According to ultra-Orthodox news site Behadrei Haredim, the officials believe the only way to solve the current political deadlock is to appoint a new leader for the Likud party and form a right-wing government with the Yamina and New Hope parties. The latter party has ruled out joining a Netanyahu government, but doesn’t boycott Likud as a party.
Ahead of Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas’s widely anticipated prime time address at 8 p.m., Blue and White party leader warns the Islamic party chief not to support a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Israel’s Arab citizens have been harmed in recent years by a series of actions led by Netanyahu,” Gantz says in a statement. “This hasn’t changed, and won’t change.”
Gantz, a Netanyahu rival who joined forces within him and signed a power-sharing deal only for Netanyahu to use a loophole to go back on it, says: “Now, when he needs you, he will tell you stories and promise the world, but he’s lying.
“All he wants is a single vote, to cancel the egalitarian government, and then when he no longer needs you, all the promises will go to the dustbin of history.”
Active COVID-19 cases have gone down by almost 700 today, reaching a new low of the past few months of only 6,545, according to Health Ministry data.
The figures show there are 374 active serious cases, including 214 defined as critical.
The death toll rises by four since this morning and reaches 6,218.
There are 5,250,447 Israelis who got a first vaccine shot, and 4,800,677 who got both.
Channel 12 news says Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas won’t declare whom he will back as prime minister in his widely anticipated speech tonight.
Rather, the report says, he’ll tell the Jewish public that his party is “conservative like you,” and will condemn politically and religiously motivated violence in an apparent attempt to indirectly condemn Palestinian terror attacks.
Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas expresses a wish for cooperation between the Jewish and Arab communities in a rare prime time address in Hebrew, but doesn’t say whom he’ll back as prime minister.
“This is the time to look for the common denominator,” Abbas says in a speech in Nazareth.
He says he isn’t “blinded” by his status as potential kingmaker after the recent Knesset election. “I don’t belong to any bloc,” he says, adding that he belongs to the “bloc” of Arab citizens seeking a positive change in Jewish-Arab relations.
“I have focused on what I will do, not what I won’t do. I don’t rule out the right, nor the left,” he declares.
“There is more that unites us than separates us,” Abbas says. “I extend my hand to create an opportunity for coexistence in this land, which is holy to the three monotheistic religions and both nations.”
He slams violence against “any person due to their political views or religious or ethnic identity,” adding: “We have committed to sanctifying life and despising violence.”
“If we don’t manage to eradicate racism, we will leave an impossible reality for the next generation,” he concludes. “This is time for change.”
Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction of the Religious Zionism party, lambastes Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas’s speech calling for Jewish-Arab partnership, saying it is a cover for a politician who supports murderers and terrorists.
“Mansour Abbas’s speech tries to present as a ‘cuddly teddy bear’ someone who belongs to the Islamic Movement, supports Hamas and sanctifies murderers of babies,” he says in a statement.
“Any coalition propped up by Abbas would be the end of the right wing, and we have no public mandate to do that,” he adds, calling on right-wing party leaders Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar to help form a right-wing government.
Sources close to Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett are quoted by several Hebrew-language media outlets as saying he won’t recommend Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid as prime minister when he meets President Reuven Rivlin on Monday.
Bennett also isn’t expected to back Prime Minister Netanyahu, and may end up recommending himself, the reports say.
World powers and Iran will meet by videoconference tomorrow to discuss the possible return of the United States to the Iran nuclear deal, the European Union announces.
“Participants will discuss the prospect of a possible return of the United States to the JCPOA and how to ensure the full and effective implementation of the agreement by all sides,” the statement says, referring to the deal by its initials.
Mansour Abbas’s speech was fairly brief, lasting only some seven minutes.
It was carried live on all of Israel’s main television stations — marking an unprecedented centrality for an Israeli Arab politician.
It was strikingly conciliatory, and notably took no partisan stance in terms of Israeli politics.
This is the essence of what he said.
Abbas began by wishing peace to the citizens of Israel.
“I carry a prayer of hope, and the search for coexistence based on mutual respect and genuine equality,” he said.
“What we have in common is greater than what divides us.”
He quoted from the Koran instructing humanity to recall that all were created from one man and one woman, and are obligated to recognize our common humanity.
“I, Mansour Abbas, a man of the Islamic Movement, am a proud Arab and Muslim, a citizen of the state of Israel, who heads the leading, biggest political movement in Arab society, courageously champion a vision of peace, mutual security, partnership and tolerance between the peoples,” he said.
“I reach out a hand in my name and that of my colleagues and on behalf of the public that voted for me — to create an opportunity for coexistence in this holy land, blessed by three religions and of two peoples.”
His Ra’am party, he said, “respects every person whoever they are, sanctifies life and abhors all violence against anybody based on political or national or religious reasons. The time has come for us to listen to each other; to respect each other’s narrative, to respect the other.”
“We don’t have to agree on everything,” he continued. “We will obviously differ on many issues, but we must give ourselves and our children the right and opportunity to come to know our neighbors. Every one of us has a name, a culture, a story, experiences and a narrative.
“If we cannot find the way to defeat ignorance and beat racism, we will bequeath the next generation a complex and dangerous and impossible reality.”
“Unlike all the politicians who dealt with boycotts of left and right, I didn’t rule out anybody,” he noted.
“My approach is what can we say yes to, and less what we can say no to.”
“I represent 20% of the [Israeli] public, dealing with all manner of problems — from the absence of personal security, and the lack of a roof over their heads, all the way to the lack of personal and collective fulfillment.
“We have an opportunity to initiate a change and create a civil society greater than its components.
“What’s needed at this moment is leadership and responsibility: Leadership that can bring the public to a better place, and responsibility that can create trust between the sectors so that we can stride forward to a better future.”
“If the road in Wadi Ara is problematic, it doesn’t care if the person using it is an Arab or a Jew. If beds are short at Soroka Hospital, that can hurt patients in Beersheba or Rahat. If there is crime and extortion, it doesn’t exclude this or that business because of the kind of store sign. If my neighbor goes hungry, me and my family are in danger.
“And if I don’t live in peace within the state, I won’t be able to seek peace with my neighbors.
“This is the time to find the common ground, to create a different reality for all the citizens of the state,” he said.
Abbas noted that he has been described as “holding the balance of power,” and being “the kingmaker” after the elections. He said he doesn’t seek any such description.
“I don’t want to be part of any [political] bloc — right or left. I am here in a different bloc — the bloc that voted for me to serve my people and gave me a mandate to ensure that that the needs of the Arab public, that for years were unmet demands, are turned into a genuine work plan and realized.”
Regarding recommendations for who will be prime minister, Abbas said: “Our recommendations are different. I recommend that we all change the reality. I am here to look ahead, and we expect that others, on left and right, will adopt our approach.
“Renewal is largely about creating change in the climate. We all live in the same climate. This is the time for change,” he concluded.
Top ultra-Orthodox rabbi Haim Kanievsky has okayed a potential government with the Islamist Ra’am party, in a development that would have been unthinkable until several months ago.
Quoted by several TV networks, Kanievsky gives an affirmative answer when asked whether the right wing can join forces with Arab parties in a coalition. He says that in many ways, the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities are alike.
He goes as far as saying that regarding tradition and religion, going with Arab lawmakers is a better option than left-wing MKs.
Israel’s outgoing military liaison to the Palestinians, Kamil Abu Rukun, says Jerusalem will halt all its security coordination with the Palestinians if the Hamas terror group prevails in next month’s national election, as is increasingly likely.
“We will stop everything,” Abu Rukun tells the Kan public broadcaster. “That, at least, will be my recommendation, based on things that happened in the past and on what I see in the field.”
He says he has conveyed that stance to the Palestinians via indirect channels.
Abu Rukun also says Israel should prevent the Palestinian elections from being held in East Jerusalem.
“It is a very big mistake to go to these elections due to the high risk Hamas will win, and therefore anything that serves this, my recommendation is to not go along with it,” he says.
Merav Michaeli, head of the left-wing Labor party, reacts to Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas’s speech by urging him to join forces with the anti-Netanyahu Knesset bloc to form a government.
“We needed a pandemic and a political meltdown so that after 28 years of incitement by Netanyahu and the right, it will become clear that the Arab public is part of Israeli society,” she says in a statement.
Michaeli calls on Abbas to “come with us so that together, we will be able to change reality.”
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