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Netanyahu: Bennett has cut deal with Lapid to be PM of left-wing gov’t

Yamina chair rips PM for ‘holding country hostage,’ pushing for ‘5th, 6th, 7th election,’ says he won’t let it happen; vows not to sit in unity gov’t that contradicts his values

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett gives a statement to the press on April 21, 2021. (Screen capture/Channel 13)
Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett gives a statement to the press on April 21, 2021. (Screen capture/Channel 13)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.

US Jewish groups welcome guilty verdict in trial of George Floyd’s cop killer

A host of mainly liberal US Jewish groups have welcomed yesterday’s guilty verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter for pinning George Floyd to the pavement with his knee on the Black man’s neck in a case that touched off worldwide protests, violence and a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the US.

Many of the Jewish groups made a point of stating that the Chauvin’s conviction is not enough on its own and that much reform is needed to address systemic racism in the US.

The Jewish Federations of North America tweets that “while no guilty verdict can bring George Floyd back, we hope that today’s decision brings some measure of justice, healing, & peace. We know that there is much work to do. Our resolve to address real & legitimate concerns about racial discrimination has never been stronger.”

Putin warns foreign rivals against ‘crossing red line’ with Russia

President Vladimir Putin warns Russia’s foreign rivals against “crossing a red line” with Moscow, as he gave a state of the nation speech amid deep tensions with the West.

“I hope that no one will think of crossing a red line with Russia. And we will decide ourselves where it will be,” Putin says.

Israeli settler charged with hate crime against Palestinians to stay in jail

The Lod District Court has remanded without bail an Israeli settler from the northern West Bank charged with carrying out a hate crime attack in a neighboring Palestinian village.

He will remain behind bars until the end of proceedings against him.

The suspect was a a minor at the time of the attack and has therefore not been identified, nor has the crime been specified.

Israel said holding out hope that gaps between it and US on Iran still bridgeable

An Israeli official tells the Walla news site that Jerusalem still hopes to reach agreements with the US on the Iran, even as Washington moves closer toward rejoining reentering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, thanks to productive talks in Vienna.

“We don’t think that all is lost, and as long as we still have an opportunity to present our position, we will try and do so in hopes that we’ll succeed,” the senior official says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be holding a meeting at his office along with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi during which the sides will discuss Israel’s strategy on the matter.

Jerusalem had been hoping that the indirect talks between the US and Iran that have been taking place in Vienna would not bear fruit and that the sides would not be able to return to the JCPOA. Considerable progress has been reported at the talks, though no final agreements have been reached.

Israel will be sending a series of high-level officials to Washington next week including IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat and head of the IDF’s Intelligence Division Tamir Hayman in a last-minute blitz aimed at convincing the US to, at the very least, take as hard a line as possible against Iran.

Likud lashes Bennett for refusing to fall in line with Netanyahu

The Likud party has issued a statement laying into Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett for not cooperating with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a government.

“Due to an uncontrollable ambition to be prime minister at any cost, Bennett – with just 7 seats – is ready to crown a left-wing government,” Likud says in a statement.

While Bennett has been in coalition talks with Netanyahu, he has kept up contact with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and the two could have enough to support to form an alternative government of their own with parties across the political spectrum.

Bennett has expressed willingness to back Netanyahu, but that would not be enough to form a government. The right-wing bloc would also need Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party or the Islamist Ra’am party to fall in line. Sa’ar has stated that he will not serve under Netanyahu under any circumstance while Ra’am and Religious Zionism have refused to cooperate in the same coalition. As a result, Netanyahu is left with virtually no shot at forming a government.

In its latest statement, Likud claims that Bennett is cooperating with Lapid and working against Netanyahu “against the will of the voter who gave 65 seats to the right-wing government.”

While it’s true that right-wing parties won 65 seats in last month’s election, two parties in that bloc — Yamina and New Hope — campaigned on replacing Netanyahu.

Likud points out that in his cooperation with Lapid, Bennett is setting himself up to violate a last-minute campaign promise in which he refused to serve in a Yesh Atid-led government. Evidently though, the Yamina chairman sees little alternative to preventing a fifth consecutive election and is enticed by Lapid’s offer to be prime minister in a rotational agreement in which Bennett will go first.

Likud calls Bennett’s actions “undemocratic and immoral.”

“Bennett’s paralyzed left-wing government will collapse within a few months, leading to the dissolving of the Knesset and a fifth general election. It will not be able to withstand even one day of international pressure against the settlements and IDF soldiers along with the race toward dangerous agreements with Iran. It will not even be able to promote a single right-wing reform,” Likud claims.

Netanyahu’s party urges Yamina to back a right-wing proposal to hold snap direct elections for the premiership.

Likud believes Netanyahu will win such a race, which would give him an additional three months to form a government though he would remain with the same breakdown in the Knesset that has prevented him from forming a government until now.

Condition of IDF vet who lit himself on fire deteriorates

The condition of Itzik Saidyan, who set himself on fire earlier this month outside of the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department for disabled veterans, has deteriorated.

Doctors say his condition is critical and is now life threatening.

Saidyan served in the Golani Infantry Brigade during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. He participated in the Battle of Shuja’iyya, a neighborhood in Gaza City that saw some of the fiercest clashes in the conflict.

Police fire tear gas at Berlin protest against virus law

Police have fired tear gas as they try to break up thousands of protesters staging a demonstration in Berlin against a planned national virus law, according to an AFP video journalist at the scene.

Police say seven people were arrested after they sought to attack officers. The law being debated in the Bundestag lower house of parliament foresees tougher national measures including controversial overnight curfews in areas with high infection rates

US envoy to UN meets UNRWA head, lauds critical role of agency and urges reforms

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield has wrapped up a meeting with United Nations Relief and Works Agency Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, her office says.

The two discussed the US decision to restore funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, with Thomas-Greenfield lauding the “critical role” in providing vital services to a vulnerable Palestinian populations.

The US envoy “also committed to working together with UNRWA to achieve important reforms to strengthen​ the agency’s effectiveness and efficiencies, as well as to promote shared UN principles of equality, neutrality, tolerance, and anti-discrimination,” her office says.

Dismissing claims of nationalistic motivations, court releases suspects in assault of Jaffa rabbi

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court has ordered the immediate release of two Arab Israeli suspects in the photographed assault of a yeshiva rabbi in Jaffa earlier this week that sparked national outcry.

Rabbi Eliyahu Mali and his colleague were violently attacked while visiting the site where they’re hoping to move their yeshiva to in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood.

However, the magistrate’s court judge says there is no evidence to support the police’s claim that the assault was nationalistically motivated, and thus no reason to keep the suspects behind bars

Conservative-Masorti movement’s youth branch in UK to boycott webinar with Israeli envoy

The Noam youth movement affiliated with the Conservative-Masorti Jewish movement will boycott an event this evening featuring Israel’s ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely, Haaretz reports.

The event is organized by the UK’s Masorti movement, but its youth branch has announced that it will not attend due to Hotovely’s political and religious views.

Noam had sought to convince Masorti to rescind its invitation for Hotovely to participate in the webinar due to the Netanyahu-appointed envoy’s “racist and anti-pluralistic views.”

When its effort was rejected, Noam decided to hold its own “counter-event” at the same time as the webinar scheduled by its parent movement, which will include Palestinians and representatives from Israeli minority communities, Haaretz reports.

“We believe in the importance of engaging with Israel as it is, with all the joys and challenges which come with that. Despite this, we feel that Hotovely’s comments are beyond the pale,” Noam says in a statement, characterizing itself as a “Zionist youth movement.”

Hotovely has “consistently refused to recognize Palestinian heritage,” Noam says, adding that the envoy invited the racist, anti-miscegenation movement Lehava to speak at the Knesset when she was a Likud MK.

“We do not want to listen to and applaud a woman who has denigrated our Judaism, saying we have ‘decided to take the shell and name of Judaism, all of the customs and tradition and to empty the meaning from them,’” the statement said. “To reward her with a platform after these hurtful comments is a deep humiliation for our community,” Noam adds.

The Masorti movement had advertised its event with Hotovely as an “honest conversation” on “hot topics such as the recent elections, the peace process, religious pluralism, and issues in Israeli society.”

Responding to criticism of Hotovely’s invitation, Masorti chief executive Matt Plen tells Haaretz, “hosting a speaker does not necessarily mean we agree with them. We hope Masorti members will use this opportunity to pose their questions directly to the ambassador.”

Noam’s UK director Lucy Cohen tells Haaretz that the decision to boycott Hotovely had virtually no pushback from members.

Report: Shaked and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen met last month off the books

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked met secretly last month with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, Walla reports.

Sources familiar with the meeting, which took place at the spy agency’s headquarters, tell the news site that the meeting was about national security matters, rather than political ones.

However, Cohen has been accused in the past by rivals of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of politically motivated leaks to the press and of other actions on behalf of the premier who reportedly views the spy chief as a political heir.

Neither Shaked nor Cohen responded to requests for comment on the report.

Netanyahu hails drop in unemployment rate to below 10%, credits vaccine drive

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauds the latest drop in the unemployment rate to below ten percent.

“The rate of unemployment for March is 9.5% as opposed to 14% in February. From 25% unemployment at the peak of the crisis, we have succeeded in reaching the goal of less than 10%, and it will continue to decline,” Netanyahu says in a statement.

“This is happening thanks to the millions of vaccines that we brought to Israel and which have led to the opening of the Israeli economy and its jump forward, and to getting back to life.”

Bennett to address press tonight with Netanyahu’s pressure on him building

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett will give a statement to the press at 7:10 p.m.

He is expected to address the ongoing political paralysis as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ups the pressure against him not to join with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid to form an alternative government to one led by the Likud leader.

Netanyahu has called on Bennett to cease his talks with Lapid, but the premier’s bloc is not large enough to form a coalition even if Yamina plays ball.

Garland to announce Minneapolis police probe

US Attorney General Merrick Garland is expected to announce that the Justice Department is opening a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis a day after a former officer was convicted in the killing of George Floyd.

The announcement comes after former officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death last May, setting off a wave of relief but also sadness across the country. The Black man’s death prompted months of mass protests against policing in the US.

The Justice Department is already investigating whether Chauvin and the other officers involved in Floyd’s death violated his civil rights. The investigation being announced Wednesday is known as a “pattern or practice” and will be a more sweeping probe of the entire department and may result in major changes to policing there, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The person had direct knowledge of the matter but was not authorized to speak publicly about the upcoming announcement, planned for Wednesday morning.

The investigation will examine practices used by police, including the use of force, and whether the department engages in discriminatory practices, according to the person. It will also look into the department’s handling of misconduct allegations among other things, the person said. It’s unclear whether the years under investigation will begin when Floyd died or before.

The Justice Department had no comment.

Airlines face $47.7b loss in 2021, worse than earlier forecast

Airlines are forecast to lose $47.7 billion this year, worse than previously forecast, a global industry group said Wednesday, as the sector struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

On a brighter note, the International Air Transport Association slightly raised its forecast for global air passenger traffic, saying it would reach 43 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

Egypt’s Sissi meets with American Jewish businessman Ron Lauder

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi meets with American Jewish businessman Ron Lauder.

Also attending the meeting was Egypt’s Intelligence Chief Abbas Kamel.

The two reportedly discussed peace efforts in the region.

Lauder is known for his close relationship with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli cyber firm NSO said in talks with Jordan over sale of new spy technology

The Israeli cyber intelligence firm NSO has been in talks with the Jordanian government regarding the sale of new spy technology to Amman, Axios reports.

Jordan’s intelligence services are known for monitoring terror groups on the country’s soil but have also come under fire for cracking down on critics of the government.

The talks began last year and representatives from NSO visited Amman for them, Axios reports.

NSO has been criticized over its technologies being used by authoritarian countries around the world to squelch opposition activists.

AIPAC calls Democrat’s bill aimed at restricting aid to Israel ‘baseless libel’

AIPAC lashes out against Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum’s recently introduced legislation which seeks to prohibit US aid from being used to fund IDF arrests of Palestinian children, home demolitions, settlement expansion and other Israeli operations in the West Bank.

Let’s call the McCollum bill what it is: A baseless libel against Israel and US officials managing our aid program,” AIPAC tweets.

“The State and Defense departments know and ensure that American security assistance to Israel is used only for ‘legitimate self-defense’ and internal security,” the pro-Israel lobby adds.

J Street’s senior vice president Dylan Williams responds: “Where is the line drawn between defending Israel from any criticism or inquiry & enabling the worst abuses of occupation?”

“What’s the case *for* allowing taxpayer dollars to be used to mistreat Palestinian children, demolish their homes & annex their land?” he adds.

McCollum’s bill seeks to prevent US aid from being used to fund various Israeli activities in the West Bank, but does not have an enforcement mechanism. Instead, it would require the White House to report to Congress detailing how the US aid is used and how much of it is going to operations beyond the Green Line.

Abbas discusses Palestinian elections in meeting with Jordan FM

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi during a surprise visit by the Jordanian official to Ramallah.

Al-Safadi tells the Palestinian president that Jordan will continue to support the ongoing Palestinian election push.

Palestinians are set to head to the ballot box on May 22 for the first time in 15 years, although some officials have suggested that the vote could be delayed should Israel refuse to allow Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem.

“Elections are a necessary and important step taken by the Palestinian leadership, and we are working to remove all obstacles they face,” Al-Safadi says.

Al-Safadi also mentions a series of pending expulsions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Some 75 Palestinian families are awaiting a court decision that will determine whether or not they have the right to remain in their homes.

“We have provided all the documents that we possess, which can help Palestinian residents to preserve all that is rightfully theirs,” Al-Safadi says.

According to a statement by Abbas’s office, al-Safadi also presented Abbas with a letter from King Abdullah.

Nearly 200 detained during pro-Navalny rallies

Nearly 200 protesters were detained at anti-Kremlin rallies across Russia on Wednesday, a monitor says, as protesters demanded the release of jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who has been on hunger strike for three weeks.

Protests in Moscow and Saint Petersburg are set to take place from 7 pm (1600 GMT) and crowds earlier in the day took to the streets in the Far East, the Urals and Siberia, chanting slogans critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny’s aides post videos on Twitter that showed protesters crowding central squares in large cities, shouting slogans including “Putin is a killer” and “Down with the Tsar!”

Protesters accused the authorities of abusing human rights and said Navalny had been thrown in prison in revenge for speaking up.

“He was trying to speak about the lawlessness that the government is perpetrating,” Vadim Sobolev, a rail worker, tells AFP in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok.

Members of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, which prosecutors are seeking to designate an “extremist” organization, said the rallies could be Russia’s last protests for years to come.

The demonstrations took place across the country, including in Siberia’s Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Tomsk.

OVD Info, which tracks detentions at opposition rallies, said that at least 198 people had been held across the country including 27 people in Kemerovo and 11 people in Irkutsk, both in Siberia.

France imposes restrictions on India travelers

A government official says France is about to impose new entry restrictions on travelers from India to fight a contagious coronavirus variant spreading in that country.

The restrictions come in addition to those previously announced regarding four other countries, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Brazil, which will be implemented starting from Saturday.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal confirmed that France will lift its ban on domestic travel as planned on May 3. But it will maintain its nighttime curfew, now in place from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. The official says nonessential shops, closed since the partial lockdown of the country in early April, won’t reopen before mid-May.

Navalny in ‘serious danger’, needs urgent medical evacuation — UN experts

A group of UN rights experts express alarm at the deteriorating health of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and called for his urgent medical evacuation from Russia.

“We believe Mr. Navalny’s life is in serious danger,” warn the four independent experts on the issues of freedom of expression, torture, extrajudicial executions and the right to physical and mental health.

They called on Russian authorities to allow Navalny “to be evacuated for urgent medical treatment abroad,” stressing that “the Russian government is accountable for Mr. Navalny’s life and health while he is in detention.”

Navalny, who is on hunger strike in a Russian penal colony, has been incarcerated under harsh conditions without adequate medical care and has been barred from seeing doctors of his own choosing, they say.

“We are deeply troubled that Mr. Navalny is being kept in conditions that could amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” say the experts, who are appointed by the UN but do not speak on behalf of the world body.

Their comments came as protests gathered for a series of nationwide demonstrations in support of Navalny, with police moving quickly to make arrests, including of key aides of the jailed opposition figure.

Looking to one-up Bennett, Netanyahu plans own press statement to follow Yamina chair

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be addressing the press at 8:40 p.m. this evening, his office says.

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett will speak to the media at 8:00 p.m.

Ukraine adopts military reservist law amid Russia tensions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has signed a law allowing to call up reservists for military service without announcing a mobilization, his office says.

The move comes amid a massive Russian troop buildup near Ukrainian borders and a flareup of cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists since 2014.

The new law, passed by Ukraine’s parliament in late March, will allow the country to “quickly equip the military units of all state defense forces with reservists, thereby significantly increasing their combat effectiveness during military aggression,” Zelensky’s office said in a statement.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Tuesday that the Russian buildup across the border is continuing and is “expected to reach a combined force of over 120,000 troops” in about a week and urged the West to beef up sanctions against Moscow by targeting entire sectors of the Russian economy.

Moscow has rejected Ukrainian and Western concerns about the buildup, arguing that it’s free to deploy its forces and stressing that they don’t threaten anyone. At the same time, the Kremlin has warned Ukrainian authorities against trying to use force to retake control of the rebel east, saying that Russia could be forced to intervene to protect civilians in the region.

Zelensky on Tuesday said in a video address that “Ukraine would never start a war, but would always stand until the end” and offered a proposal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in eastern Ukraine to defuse tensions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he wasn’t sure Putin had time to look at Zelensky’s address.

Turkish TV reports Abbas planning to postpone elections; spokesman insists they’ll happen on schedule

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas intends to postpone the first Palestinian legislative elections in 15 years, according to the Turkey-based El-Sharq TV station.

According to El-Sharq, Abbas will call a meeting of the leaders of all Palestinian factions to end the election push. Abbas will lay the blame at Israel’s feet for not allowing Palestinians to conduct elections in East Jerusalem, El-Sharq reports, citing anonymous sources.

Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Ahmad Majdalani tells Voice of Palestine Radio that the Palestinian leadership will host an “expanded meeting” to determine how to move forward on the elections, given that Israel has not responded to a Palestinian request to hold the vote in Jerusalem.

Abbas’s office has sought to dispel reports that the Palestinians will delay the legislative vote.

“The elections will happen on schedule,” longtime Abbas spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh says today.

Europe powers warn against jeopardizing Iran talks progress

There has been progress at Vienna-based talks between world powers aimed at salvaging the 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program but any escalatory moves would jeopardize the opportunity, the European negotiating countries say.

Former US president Donald Trump walked out of the deal in 2018 but the talks in the Austrian capital — which indirectly involve the US — are seen as the best chance yet of reviving the accord with President Joe Biden keen to reengage if Tehran returns to compliance.

“We have made some progress but there is still a way to go,” says a diplomat from the E3 powers of Britain, France and Germany, who asked not to be named.

“We encourage all sides to seize the diplomatic opportunity in front of us. We condemn escalatory measures by any actor which could jeopardize progress,” adds the diplomat.

Bennett: If Netanyahu can’t build a coalition, I’ll work to form a unity government

In a statement to the press, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett tears into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “holding the country hostage” and being prepared to keep Israel in a perpetual cycle of elections.

And he says that if Netanyahu cannot form a coalition in the final two weeks of the mandate to do so, he’ll work to build a “national unity government.” Bennett had pledged not to serve in a government under Yesh Atid opposition leader Yair Lapid, but he is now declaring potential readiness to at least partner with Lapid in a coalition.

“The people of Israel want and need a stable government,” Bennett says.

“There are people who need to earn a living and return from furlough, children who need to return a school; citizens are sick of the infighting… They just want a government that works for them.

“I told Netanyahu right away [when he received the mandate to form a government two weeks ago] that he has Yamina’s votes to create a right-wing government,” Bennett says.

However, Netanyahu has wasted that time and has not been willing to offer a reasonable compromise to allow for the right-wing New Hope party to join the government and allow for a right-wing coalition, Bennett says.

“He’s pushing for only one thing, more elections, this time packaged as direct elections [for prime minister]. He’s saying ‘if I don’t have a government, nobody will have a government; we’ll have elections — 5th and 6th and 7th’.”

“This cannot go on. Israel cannot be held hostage by politicians,” he says. “More elections means more wasted billions… more long months of divisive discourse… While the country wants a government, Netanyahu prefers another election. I won’t allow this to happen.”

He says Netanyahu’s and Likud’s attacks on him are having no effect. And he sets out his preferences as follows:

His first priority is for a right-wing government to be formed, and he insists, “Netanyahu, it is possible.”

But if Likud fails, he says, then his second preference is “a national unity government,” presumably with Yesh Atid’s Lapid.

However, he clarifies that he will only join such a government if it is “good and stable” and allows him “to safeguard my values and worldview.”

He admits to not knowing whether that will be possible, but vows to do everything he can to prevent another election.

Talks between Lapid and Bennett said stuck over which bloc gets defense portfolio

Negotiations between Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Yamina head Naftali Bennett have hit a roadblock over the issue of which of their respective blocs will receive the post of defense minister, Channel 13 reports.

Bennett, who would lead a 13-MK bloc of Yamina and New Hope, is insisting that the portfolio be in his hands in addition to the premiership. According to the report, Bennett wants to give the defense position to New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar, which would then allow him to give the justice portfolio to Ayelet Shaked.

Lapid, who leads a 45-MK bloc of Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor and Meretz, has insisted on keeping the defense portfolio for his substantially larger bloc.

The sides are also split on the number of ministries, with Yamina demanding a whopping 25 (still smaller than the current 36) and Yesh Atid set on the more modest 18 in order to cut unnecessary spending.

World-famous chef Shalom Kadosh regains consciousness after attack at gas station

Acclaimed chef Shalom Kadosh has regained consciousness at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem where he has been for the past month.

He was seriously injured when attacked during an attempted robbery at a gas station in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu: Bennett has cut a deal with Lapid to be PM of a left-wing government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett’s address, with a speech of his own in which he says Bennett has already cut a deal with Lapid to be prime minister of a left-wing government.

He says Bennett would be a right-wing “head of a pin” of such a government that would be mostly comprised of the left (actually, in the most likely scenario, there would be 20 seats for the right from Yamina, New Hope, Yisrael Beytenu; 25 for the center from Yesh Atid, Blue and White; and 13 for the left from Labor and Meretz).

Yamina, he notes, only won seven seats in last month’s election, yet Bennett’s “unbridled personal ambition” to be prime minister is blinding him to the “destruction” he will inflict on the Israeli right.

“The majority of the public wants me to lead the country as head of a right-wing government,” Netanyahu claims, pointing to the fact that right-wing parties won a majority in the Knesset. He neglects to mention that three of those right-wing parties — New Hope, Yamina and Yisrael Beytenu — campaigned on replacing Netanyahu as premier.

Netanyahu says he is constantly hearing messages of support from the public and thanks them for their well-wishes.

״You are doing everything to not create a right-wing government,” Netanyahu says, addressing Bennett. “You’re prepared to do anything to become prime minister with just seven seats. And the only way for you to do that is to head a left-wing government of Lapid, Meretz and Labor with the support of the Joint List.” Interestingly, Netanyahu does not list the Ra’am party, which Likud has been wooing, among those potential partners.

“You call [what you’re negotiating with Lapid] a unity government?”

“What misrepresentation. What a transparent effort to fool the public. It’s a government with 50 left-wing and extreme left-wing MKs, together with you, a pinhead, with seven seats. There’s been nothing like this in the history of the state. It’s a spit in the face of democracy, a spit in the face of the promises that you made not to sit with Lapid,” he continues, noting that Bennett even signed a declaration on live television before the election in which he vowed not to sit in a government under Lapid.

Netanyahu notes that Bennett said before the election that it would be “undemocratic and immoral” to demand the premiership with less than 10 seats, as he is currently doing in negotiations with Lapid.

“How can one take what you say seriously when you are tricking the public?” Netanyahu asks.

“You call yourself Yamina (Right) but you are actually heading Smola (Left),” he snipes.

Netanyahu then goes on to quote verbatim a statement his Likud party released earlier today: “[A Bennett-Lapid unity government] will not be able to withstand even one day of international pressure against the settlements and IDF soldiers, along with the race toward dangerous agreements with Iran. It will not even be able to promote a single right-wing reform.”

“You didn’t hold negotiations,” says Netanyahu, addressing Bennett directly now. “You only sought [an agreement that would allow you to be premier in a rotational agreement].”

“While the mandate was with us, you sealed a deal with Lapid,” he charges. News reports earlier this evening say, by contrast, that Bennett and Lapid are at odds over the terms of a potential coalition alliance.

Netanyahu makes another plea for Bennett to back a Shas-publicized proposal to hold snap, direct elections for the premiership, claiming this is the way to ensure that a right-wing government will be formed.

However, such a scenario would leave the numbers in the Knesset as they are and Netanyahu would still be forced to convince Religious Zionism and Ra’am to cooperate — which they are currently unwilling to do.

“Enough games, enough tricking the public,” Netanyahu says. “You are what’s causing [Likud] to fail. If you really wanted [a right-wing government], you’d back direct elections [for the premiership].”

Later, while answering questions from the press, Netanyahu jokes wryly that maybe he’ll consider allowing Bennett to enjoy the Balfour Street prime minister’s residence for a weekend, to satisfy his “lust for power.”

Seeking support for direct election for PM, Netanyahu phones Mansour Abbas for 1st time since election

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to garner support for the new initiative of direct elections for the premiership from some unlikely and very unlikely sources.

Netanyahu held a phone call today with Mansour Abbas, chairman of the Islamist Ra’am party, which the premier has claimed supports terrorism but which has party has been wooing. This would appear to be the first time the two have talked since the election.

“The two discussed current political issues, including the potential for forming a government, burning questions for Arab society and other political issues,” the Ra’am party declares in a laconic statement.

Netanyahu also spoke with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, Labor chair Merav Michaeli and Meretz chair Nitzan Horowitz.

Netanyahu incorrectly claims directly elected PM would ‘automatically’ set up coalition

Netanyahu devoted several sections of his address tonight to his plea for Bennett to support legislation for the direct election of the prime minister. Strikingly, he also claimed that such legislation would mean that were he to win a direct-election vote, he would then “automatically” set up the next government, as he said is the case in many democracies.

This is not the case in Israel, however, where the relevant Basic Law requires that, in order to take office, a coalition must win a Knesset majority. That law would therefore have to be amended, with the support of 61 members of Knesset.

“There is a solution here, in front of us, that doesn’t require Gideon [Sa’ar] or [Bezalel] Smotrich,” Netanyahu said. “A solution whereby the public simply determines who will be prime minister. And this solution depends only on you [Bennett]. If you vote in favor, it’ll have a majority.

Netanyahu added: “In a direct election for the prime minister, whoever is chosen will automatically set up the government — as is normal in many democracies. He wouldn’t need the approval of the Knesset. He automatically forms a government. That’s the case in many democracies from Japan and New Zealand, to Norway and Portugal…”

Netanyahu went on: “Most of the public, and the vast majority of your supporters, Naftali, want this. This is the only democratic solution, in complete contrast to the anti-democratic, surreal effort you and Lapid are attempting, with the support of the left-wing media, to set up a left-wing government headed by a prime minister with seven seats…

“The government you are planning will quickly collapse and lead to new general elections,” Netanyahu tells Bennett. “But that doesn’t bother you. You’ll do everything to satisfy your unbridled personal ambition… Everything to be a prime minister with seven seats, even if only for a few months, even at the head of a left-wing government, and even at the price of destroying the right.

“I ask you simply,” Netanyahu concluded: “Stop misleading the public. Stop playing games. Cancel your anti-democratic deal with Lapid for a left-wing government in opposition to the will of the people and your voters. Immediately support direct election for the prime minister. Only then can you call your party Yamina (Right) and not Smola (Left).

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