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

Fearing US ire, Netanyahu said to call off technical splitting of West Bank settlement

The West Bank settlement of Kochav Yaakov. (CC BY-SA Jonathan Caras/Wikimedia Commons)
The West Bank settlement of Kochav Yaakov. (CC BY-SA Jonathan Caras/Wikimedia Commons)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant have called off a technical move to split part of an existing West Bank settlement into a separate local council, fearing it could anger the United States if it is advanced during White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s visit to Israel and the West Bank, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The about-face comes despite the step not representing any change on the ground, such as homes being built.

At the Shas party’s request, the coalition deal with Netanyahu’s Likud stipulates that part of the settlement of Kochav Yaakov will be split off and become a new settlement called Tel Zion.

Gallant’s office has previously stated explicitly that he “has no objection to the draft proposal,” according to the report.

But over the last few hours, Gallant has changed that stance at the orders of Netanyahu, who wants the matter off the government’s agenda, the report says, fearing a response by Washington which could view it as forming a new settlement.

Law bill said aimed at severely curbing protests, boosting police tools against them

Illustrative: Police officers operate in Jerusalem, December 20, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)
Illustrative: Police officers operate in Jerusalem, December 20, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

A law bill that has been in the works since the previous government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some two years ago aims to dramatically curb citizens’ ability to hold protests, requiring police approval for any demonstration of over 100 people and boosting police tools to act against unrest, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Over the years, court rulings have gradually expanded the right to protest and protected demonstrators’ rights.

The legislation would reportedly allow police to disperse an entire protest over violence or vandalism, even if it was committed by a single person, or if there is fear the protest may cause a public disturbance. It would also allow any police officer to expel an individual from the area of the protest for three hours, with immediate effect.

The bill would also introduce administrative fines of NIS 1,500 ($450) and NIS 5,000 ($1,500) for protesters who refuse to adhere to cops’ instructions, for those who organize rallies of over 100 people without receiving a police okay, and for those expelled from a protest who return to the area after less than three hours, the report says.

The law would also for the first time codify in the law — rather than just in court rulings — limits on protests near residences of public figures, saying they can’t be held less than 100 meters from the house.

Kan says work on this law didn’t start in the new government and has been worked on for years by the Public Security Ministry — now rebranded as the National Security Ministry — the Israel Police and the Justice Ministry. The legislation was worked on at the time amid weekly mass anti-government protests near the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

The report adds that details may be changed by the time the bill is finalized.

Commenting on the report, the National Security Ministry and the Justice Ministry are quoted by Kan as confirming such a law is being worked on, refusing to go into details.

After the report is aired, however, the office of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir — a far-right politician who has sought to up police’s crackdown on current anti-government protests as part of unprecedented control he has been given over police policy — goes back on its previous response and instead calls the report “false.”

Ben Gvir’s office says it is an “old bill that was promoted by previous minister Omer Barlev” — who entered office 1.5 years ago — “and whose existence hasn’t been brought to incoming minister Ben Gvir’s attention.

Ben Gvir, the statement says, “completely rejects” this bill.

In 1st, White House adviser Sullivan said to raise judicial makeover with Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has reportedly raised the matter of the planned overhaul of Israel’s judiciary during his meeting today with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a report says, the first such intervention by Washington in the deeply controversial plan.

The administration of US President Joe Biden initially weighed not mentioning the matter with Israeli leaders, but in recent days it has changed its stance, the Walla news site quotes an unnamed American official as saying.

The Prime Minister’s Office declines to comment.

Abbas urges US to intervene in Israeli government’s ‘extremist measures, racist agenda’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures while speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit, in Astana, Kazakhstan, October 13, 2022. (Vyacheslav Prokofyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures while speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit, in Astana, Kazakhstan, October 13, 2022. (Vyacheslav Prokofyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah, urging Washington to take action against the new Israeli government’s “extremist measures and racist agenda before it is too late.”

According to the PA’s official WAFA agency, Abbas briefed Sullivan on “the destructive measures taken by the new Israeli government with the aim of destroying the two-state solution and the chances of peace and stability in the region.”

This, Abbas alleges, includes “settlements, daily killings, the raids into Palestinian cities and towns, and the desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque [on the Temple Mount] and the Christian and Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.”

Abbas urges US President Joe Biden’s administration to intervene “immediately,” saying the policies will have dangerous repercussions. He also urges the US to reopen its consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem and the PA’s office in Washington, both of which were closed by former US president Donald Trump.

Girl, 17, arrested on suspicion of assaulting doctor in Ramle with brass knuckles

A 17-year-old girl has been arrested on suspicion that she assaulted a doctor earlier today at a women’s health clinic in Ramle.

Police suspect the girl, a resident of the city, attacked the doctor with brass knuckles, lightly injuring him, before fleeing.

The incident has prompted the Israel Medical Association to announce a nationwide strike in the health system this coming Monday, in protest of a recent uptick in cases of violence against doctors.

Manslaughter charge ‘a terrible miscarriage of justice’: Baldwin’s attorney

The manslaughter charge that US actor Alec Baldwin faces over the shooting death of a cinematographer on the set of “Rust” is a “terrible miscarriage of justice,” the actor’s attorney says, as he vows to beat the accusation.

“This decision distorts Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice. Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the movie set,” Luke Nikas of Quinn Emanuel says.

“He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win.”

Baldwin was holding the Colt .45 during rehearsals for the low-budget western when it discharged, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza in October 2021.

Health system to strike nationwide on Monday in protest of violence against doctors

The Israel Medical Association announces a nationwide strike in the health system this coming Monday in protest of mounting cases of violence against medical staff.

All hospitals and clinics will operate on Monday on a limited basis, similar to what happens on the Shabbat Jewish day of rest. The Medical Association will operate a committee to decide on individual special cases.

“Striking is never our default, but violence in the health system has long become an epidemic and red lines are being crossed almost every day. On Monday, doctors say no to violence, no to lawlessness,” says association chairman Prof. Zion Hagay.

Yesterday, the Medical Association held a three-hour strike at Soroka over an incident on Tuesday in which parents assaulted and lightly injured a doctor over a delay in treating their toddler son. The parents have been arrested and indicted.

Another case of violence earlier today against a doctor in Ramle caused the association to call the meeting that has now yielded the announcement of the nationwide strike.

17 leading law firms warn judicial overhaul will harm Israeli democracy, image, economy

In the latest public petition lambasting the new government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary, 17 of Israel’s leading law firms warn that the plan won’t fix the situation and instead will “harm the way Israel is perceived around the world as a democracy,” as well as the country’s economy.

“We want to warn against harming the resilience and independence of the justice system and the system of checks and balances at the basis of the democratic regime we are so proud of, alongside the State of Israel being a Jewish state,” it says.

The firms say it is “not an issue of right or left,” adding that collectively, they employ some 3,500 legal staff “from all across the political spectrum.”

Earlier today, the CEO of Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, published a Facebook post against the plan, saying that while he agrees changes are needed, he is in favor of “an evolution, not a revolution.”

Dov Kotler says he takes pride in the diversity of the bank’s staff, appearing to take a stand against the government’s plan to alter the anti-discrimination law to allow businesses to discriminate based on religious belief. Many Israeli companies have spoken out, saying they won’t discriminate or work with a business that does so.

Alec Baldwin to face involuntary manslaughter charge over shooting on ‘Rust’ set

In this file photo taken on June 22, 2021 US actor Alec Baldwin attends DreamWorks Animation's 'The Boss Baby: Family Business' premiere at SVA Theatre in New York City. (Angela Weiss/AFP)
In this file photo taken on June 22, 2021 US actor Alec Baldwin attends DreamWorks Animation's 'The Boss Baby: Family Business' premiere at SVA Theatre in New York City. (Angela Weiss/AFP)

Alec Baldwin is to be charged with involuntary manslaughter over the accidental shooting of a cinematographer on the set of the low-budget western “Rust,” a US prosecutor says.

The film’s armorer, who was responsible for the weapon that fired the shot that killed Halyna Hutchins, will also be charged, New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies announces.

If convicted, they both face up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

“After a thorough review of the evidence and the laws of the state of New Mexico, I have determined that there is sufficient evidence to file criminal charges against Alec Baldwin and other members of the ‘Rust’ film crew,” Carmack-Altwies says.

“On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice.”

EU slams Russia’s ‘despicable’ likening of West’s policy on Russia to Holocaust

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds his annual press conference in Moscow on January 18, 2023. (Yuri Kadobnov/AFP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds his annual press conference in Moscow on January 18, 2023. (Yuri Kadobnov/AFP)

The EU denounces Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s claim that Western policy toward Russia over Ukraine resembles the Nazi’s “Final Solution” plan of genocide against the Jewish people.

“The Russian regime’s manipulation of the truth to justify their illegal war of aggression against Ukraine has reached another unacceptable and despicable low point,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says.

Defense minister, IDF chief talk Iran with visiting White House official Sullivan

Left to right: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, at a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Miri Shimonovich/GPO)
Left to right: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, at a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Miri Shimonovich/GPO)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF chief Herzi Halevi and other senior defense officials sit down at the Prime Minister’s Office with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for a meeting focused on Iran, the Defense Ministry says.

“The focus of the meeting was the regional and global threat posed by Iran’s activities, with an emphasis on the work to achieve nuclear capabilities and the importance of preparing a response to this threat, alongside harnessing the international community,” the Defense Ministry says in a statement.

The ministry says Gallant thanked Sullivan for “the US administration’s commitment to Israel’s security.”

Also participating in the meeting were Maj. Gen. Tal Kelman, the military official in charge of Iran affairs; Eyal Zamir, the ministry’s incoming director general; Dror Shalom, who heads the ministry’s Political-Military Bureau; Mike Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the US; and his counterpart, Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel.

Netanyahu speaks with British PM Sunak on Iran, war in Ukraine

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak departs 10 Downing Street in London, Dec. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak departs 10 Downing Street in London, Dec. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on the phone with his British counterpart Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister’s Office says, with the two discussing ways to boost and expand bilateral cooperation.

Specifically, the call focused on global challenges, chief among them the threats posed by Iran and the war in Ukraine, according to the statement.

Netanyahu expresses his satisfaction with the UK’s intention to declare the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror group.

Sunak reiterates his past remark about his intention to visit Israel this year to mark 75 years of ties.

Israeli, Egyptian FMs speak on direct flights, avoiding ‘unilateral steps’ on Temple Mount

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, right, speaks during remarks at the Negev Summit, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, at left. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, right, speaks during remarks at the Negev Summit, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, at left. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen speaks by phone with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, in what Israel calls “a warm conversation.”

According to the Foreign Ministry, the two agree to expand security and economic cooperation and to meet in person in the near future. Cohen notes his intention to push for expanded cooperation in aquaculture, renewable energy and tourism.

Cohen also stresses the importance of direct flights to Sharm El-Sheikh, an initiative he advanced as intelligence minister.

The Egyptian version of the conversation, unsurprisingly, has a different focus. It notes that Shoukry stresses “the importance of working seriously to revive the peace process as soon as possible.”

Shoukry also says peace requires the suspension of unilateral measures, and underscores the need to preserve the legal and historical status quo on the Temple Mount. This comes after several incidents at the Jerusalem holy site that have angered Palestinians and neighboring Arab states.

National security advisers of Israel, US, UAE, Bahrain hold virtual meeting on cooperation

Israeli and US National Security Advisers Tzahi Hanegbi (right) and Jake Sullivan speak with their UAE and Bahrain counterparts via video from Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Israeli and US National Security Advisers Tzahi Hanegbi (right) and Jake Sullivan speak with their UAE and Bahrain counterparts via video from Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The national security advisers of Israel, the US, the UAE and Bahrain have held a virtual meeting to discuss boosting regional cooperation, the White House says.

National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan logged on from Israel while their counterparts Tahnoun bin Zayed and Nasser bin Hamad Zoomed in from the UAE and Bahrain respectively, the White House says.

They discussed addressing the food security crisis through the I2U2 forum made up of Israel, India, the US and the UAE and progress made by the Negev Forum working groups, which met earlier this month in Abu Dhabi. That gathering brought together some 150 officials from Israel, the US, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt to discuss joint projects in the areas of food security and water technology, clean energy, tourism, regional security, healthcare, education and coexistence.

The White House says an emphasis was also placed during the meeting on the climate crisis as the UAE prepares to host the COP28 conference later this year.

FM Cohen accepts invitation from Ukrainian counterpart to visit war-torn country

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (L) and Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90; Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (L) and Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90; Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen speaks with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba and accepts the latter’s invitation to visit Kyiv, which would make him the most senior Israeli official to visit since the war started 11 months ago, Israeli and Ukrainian officials tell The Times of Israel.

Cohen also pledges to permanently open Israel’s embassy in Kyiv within 60 days.

The embassy has been open for two-week periods, with the staff working from Poland otherwise.

Pointing at Russia’s use of Iranian weapons to kill Ukrainian civilians, Cohen calls on Ukraine to join in the fight against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and to encourage Europe to declare the Iranian force a terror organization, according to the Foreign Ministry.

He also pledges to continue Israel’s humanitarian aid to Ukraine, with a particular focus on energy infrastructure, medical equipment and water.

Cohen offers his condolences for yesterday’s deadly helicopter crash that killed Ukraine’s interior minister, government officials and several children.

The conversation was originally scheduled for last week, but was delayed.

Cohen irked Kyiv by saying Israel would speak out less about the war soon after he entered his position, and by speaking with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov the next day, before speaking to a Ukrainian official.

UK says it will send 600 Brimstone missiles to Ukraine

Britain will send 600 Brimstone missiles to war-torn Ukraine to help its fight against Russian forces, British Defence Minister Ben Wallace says.

“Today I can say we’re also going to send another 600 Brimstone missiles into theater, which will be incredibly important in helping Ukraine dominate the battlefield,” he tells reporters at Estonia’s Tapa military base.

UN peacekeepers halt IDF engineering work after claim it spilled over into Lebanon

United Nation peacekeepers on the Lebanese border halt Israeli military engineering work after an excavator possibly crossed the demarcation line between the two countries.

Footage posted online shows the excavator’s bucket over the border fence — built in Israeli territory — between Israel and Lebanon.

The bucket possibly crossed the so-called Blue Line by several centimeters, causing troops of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon to step in and stop the works after complaints by the Lebanese army.

The incident has been ongoing for more than a day. Lebanese soldiers camped out overnight to prevent Israel from resuming the works and ostensibly breaching their border.

Military engineering work is continuing in other areas along the border. The IDF does not immediately provide a comment on the incident.

Court delays proceedings against Homesh yeshiva over government plan to legalize outpost

Visitors walk by the water tower on the ruins of the evacuated settlement of Homesh on August 27, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)
Visitors walk by the water tower on the ruins of the evacuated settlement of Homesh on August 27, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

The Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court postpones by four months court proceedings against eight rabbis and students at the Homesh yeshiva who were indicted for illegally visiting and residing in the illegal West Bank settlement outpost of Homesh.

Attorneys for the rabbis and students have argued that since the new government plans to abolish the 2005 law prohibiting entry to and residence in four areas of the northern West Bank — including Homesh — it would be advisable to wait to see the government’s formal response to the High Court of Justice on the issue before proceeding with the trial. The government has until early April.

The Petah Tikva court accedes to the request and postpones the proceedings until May.

Among those indicted are the head of the Homesh yeshiva, Rabbi Simcha Shtetner.

The High Court has ordered Homesh, located on private Palestinian land, to be evacuated and destroyed, but the new government asked the court for a delay in enforcement since it wishes to repeal the Disengagement Law and ultimately legalize the settlement.

Several dozen men and teachers regularly visit and reside in Homesh, which was evacuated as part of the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza, including those indicted in the Petah Tikva court who are charged with violating that law.

Medical Association weighs nationwide hospital strike after another assault on doctor

Another incident of violence against medical staff has occurred today in Ramle, two days after an assault on a pediatrician at Soroka hospital in Beersheba, causing the Israel Medical Association to convene a meeting to discuss the option of calling a nationwide strike.

A patient at a women’s health center in Ramle attacked a doctor with a brass knuckle and kicked him in the head, causing him to require medical treatment at Shamir hospital.

Yesterday, the Medical Association held a three-hour strike at Soroka over an incident on Tuesday in which parents assaulted and lightly injured a doctor over a delay in treating their toddler son. The parents have been arrested and indicted.

“We made it clear ahead of time that yesterday’s strike at Soroka is just a warning strike, and today we have no alternative but to seriously consider a strike in the entire health system, so that someone in the government will wake up and put an end to this lawlessness,” says association chairman Prof. Zion Hagay.

In meeting, FM Cohen urges US national security adviser to apply ‘massive’ pressure on Iran

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem / GPO)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem / GPO)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem, where the two discuss efforts to counter the Iranian nuclear program.

According to the Foreign Ministry, Cohen argues that the only way to change Iran’s behavior is to apply “massive, immediate and comprehensive pressure” on Tehran.

The foreign minister also urges Sullivan to get the Europeans on board with enhanced sanctions on Iran.

Cohen thanks Sullivan for US efforts to expand the Abraham Accords.

2 buildings evacuated after cave-in at construction site in Hod Hasharon

Two buildings are temporarily evacuated in the central Israel city of Hod Hasharon following a cave-in at a nearby construction site.

The incident on Hatzanhanim Street comes after several sinkholes recently opened up on roads in central Israel due to rain damage or damaged pipelines.

The municipality says the evacuation was carried out at the recommendation of rescue services out an abundance of caution until an initial assessment of the damage could be carried out.

The municipality says the incident likely occurred due to work on an underground parking lot, posing fear that the shifting land could have moved scaffolding.

Nearby roads have been closed off.

Plea deal reached with activist who sent death threats, bullets to ex-PM Bennett

Ilana Sporta Hania, a 65-year-old resident of Ashkelon, suspected of sending envelopes containing bullets to the Bennett family, seen as she arrives for a court hearing in Rishon Lezion, May 18, 2022. (Flash90)
Ilana Sporta Hania, a 65-year-old resident of Ashkelon, suspected of sending envelopes containing bullets to the Bennett family, seen as she arrives for a court hearing in Rishon Lezion, May 18, 2022. (Flash90)

A plea deal has been reached between prosecutors and right-wing political activist Ilana Sporta Hania, who is on trial after she sent threatening letters containing bullets to then-prime minister Naftali Bennett and his family last year, Hebrew media reports.

Sporta Hania, a 65-year-old retired nurse from Ashkelon, admits in court that she sent two letters containing bullets addressed to Bennett, his wife and their teenage son, threatening their safety if the premier did not resign.

“I didn’t intend to harm the Bennett family,” she says. “I express regret and remorse and apologize to the family.”

In return, prosecutors have removed the charge of illegal possession of a firearm, leaving just the charge of extortion. The plea deal has been reportedly signed with the agreement of the Bennett family.

But the sides don’t agree on the punishment. While prosecutors demand a custodial prison sentence, the judge has accepted a defense request to refer Sporta Hania to be evaluated by the Probation Service.

German parliament recognizes 2014 massacres of Yazidis in Iraq as genocide

Germany’s lower house of parliament recognizes the 2014 massacre of Yazidis by Islamic State group jihadists in Iraq as a genocide, calling for measures to assist the besieged minority.

In a move hailed by Yazidi community representatives, deputies in the Bundestag pass the motion by the three parliamentary groups in Germany’s ruling center-left-led coalition and conservative MPs.

Netanyahu discusses efforts for peace with Saudis with visiting US official Sullivan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, in the first such meeting between a senior member of the Biden administration and the newly reinstated premier.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says Netanyahu and Sullivan discussed “the next steps to deepen the Abraham Accords and widen the circle of peace, with an emphasis on a breakthrough with Saudi Arabia.”

Riyadh has long asserted that it will not normalize ties with Israel without a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and US ties with Saudi Arabia, which are crucial for such an agreement, have been battered due to the kingdom’s human rights record and its role in the energy crisis.

In comments at the outset of their meeting, both figures make fairly boilerplate remarks about the importance and strength of the Israel-US relationship and the issues on the agenda, without appearing to reference the tensions between the White House and the new hardline government.

Netanyahu welcomes Sullivan to Israel, saying: “I know how much [US President Joe Biden] trusts you in matters of national security — and you should know that we see you as a trusted partner in matters of our shared security.”

Following the remarks, the pair sit down for a working meeting in Jerusalem that includes Sullivan’s Israeli counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi, as well as US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog, Strategic Affairs Minister and former US ambassador Ron Dermer and White House Mideast coordinator Brett McGurk.

Ministers said demanding Deri be made alternative PM, a complex and risky move

(left to right) Yoav Gallant, Aryeh Deri, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yariv Levin and others during a Knesset plenum session on forming the government, in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
(left to right) Yoav Gallant, Aryeh Deri, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yariv Levin and others during a Knesset plenum session on forming the government, in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some ministers in the government have started banding together in a demand for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as alternate prime minister, after Deri was disqualified yesterday by the High Court of Justice from serving as a minister over his repeated criminal convictions, the Ynet news site reports.

It is a longshot option and implementing it would be complex and risky, since it could end with Deri being disqualified from serving even as a Knesset member.

The role of alternate prime minister was created in 2020 by Netanyahu and Benny Gantz for their short-lived power-sharing government, and was also utilized by the subsequent government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, which was replaced last month. Netanyahu and his new hardline government have vowed to nix the legal option of having an alternative prime minister, arguing that there should be only one national leader.

Netanyahu is indeed not thrilled about the prospect of appointing Deri to a role he has sought to cancel entirely, but he is short of options as Deri is refusing to be made Knesset speaker, demanding a higher-level role, according to Channel 12 news.

Making Deri alternate premier would have to involve the government passing a no-confidence motion against itself and forming a new, power-sharing government. However, since the High Court has never ruled whether a criminal convict can be appointed to the role, the matter is likely to come before the judges.

The court could condition the appointment on a Central Election Committee ruling on whether Deri’s tax offense conviction from last year carries “moral turpitude,” which would mean he can’t hold any public office for seven years. In such a case, which is not unlikely, Deri would automatically cease being a lawmaker and be downgraded even further.

The Kipa news site quotes an unnamed Likud MK objecting to the idea: “We will do everything to return Deri to the government table. But giving Deri [the role of] alternate prime minister won’t happen. We won’t go back to the days of two prime ministers. The State of Israel has only one prime minister and his name is Benjamin Netanyahu.”

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