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Change bloc clinches majority in 11th-hour talks, aims for swift swearing-in

Parties of potential coalition could try to oust Speaker Yariv Levin if he delays vote; leaders fear intense Netanyahu effort to break up bloc before vote takes place

  • Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid are seen on Wednesday evening, as they inform President Reuven Rivlin they have succeeded in forming a government, June 2, 2021 (Courtesy)
    Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid are seen on Wednesday evening, as they inform President Reuven Rivlin they have succeeded in forming a government, June 2, 2021 (Courtesy)
  • Naftali Bennett, right, and Ayelet Shaked seen in the Knesset plenum during voting for the president in Jerusalem on June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Naftali Bennett, right, and Ayelet Shaked seen in the Knesset plenum during voting for the president in Jerusalem on June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament during the voting in the presidential elections, in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament during the voting in the presidential elections, in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Ra'am party chief Mansour Abbas speaks with reporters following coalition talks in Kfar Maccabiah, Ramat Gan on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 (Tal Schneider/The Times of Israel)
    Ra'am party chief Mansour Abbas speaks with reporters following coalition talks in Kfar Maccabiah, Ramat Gan on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 (Tal Schneider/The Times of Israel)
  • Israeli police officers stand guard as right-wing protesters chant slogans and hold signs showing Naftali Bennett and other members of the Yamina party with Arab politicians Ahmad Tibi, right, and Mansour Abbas, left, during a demonstration in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, June 2, 2021. The Hebrew sign reads, 'Don't form a left-wing government with supporters of terror.' (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
    Israeli police officers stand guard as right-wing protesters chant slogans and hold signs showing Naftali Bennett and other members of the Yamina party with Arab politicians Ahmad Tibi, right, and Mansour Abbas, left, during a demonstration in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, June 2, 2021. The Hebrew sign reads, 'Don't form a left-wing government with supporters of terror.' (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
  • Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (R) and Yamina head Naftali Bennett in the Knesset plenum for the election of Israel's 11th president, June 2, 2021. (Dani Shem Tov/ Knesset)
    Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (R) and Yamina head Naftali Bennett in the Knesset plenum for the election of Israel's 11th president, June 2, 2021. (Dani Shem Tov/ Knesset)
  • Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • The Plenary Hall during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
    The Plenary Hall during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
  • Head of the New Hope party Gideon Sa'ar arrives at the Maccabiah village in Ramat Gan, June 01, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Head of the New Hope party Gideon Sa'ar arrives at the Maccabiah village in Ramat Gan, June 01, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s dramatic coalition negotiations and the apparent clinching of a majority to form a government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, as it happened.

Presidential vote set to begin at 11 a.m.

Israel’s 120 members of Knesset are set to choose between Isaac Herzog and Miriam Peretz for the country’s next president, with voting set to begin at 11 a.m.

MKs will vote one by one from behind a partition, in one of the few Knesset votes that is not public.

To win the presidency outright, a candidate must receive 61 votes, a full Knesset majority. If the leading candidate fails to get 61 votes, a second vote will be held half an hour later in which a simple plurality of votes is needed to secure the presidency.

The entire process is expected to take one to two hours.

Lapid won’t announce formation of government by 11 a.m., likely pushing off swearing-in

Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid will not inform President Rivlin by 11 a.m. that he has succeeded in forming a coalition, meaning that the swearing-in ceremony for the new government, if reached, would likely be pushed off by a number of days.

While he has until midnight to announce that he has formed a government, Lapid was reportedly hoping to solve the issue and announce that he had an agreement by 11 a.m.

Lapid wants to squeeze in his announcement that he can form a government before the end of the day’s Knesset session, which would force Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to set a vote of confidence for the emerging coalition by next Wednesday.

If Lapid’s announcement comes too late in the day, after the session, which starts at 11 a.m., has closed, Levin would be able to set a vote for the following Monday, Channel 12 News reports.

Asked if this is his last week as PM, Netanyahu berates reporter: ‘That’s what you’d like’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Knesset for the vote on Isreal’s new president in a fighting mood.

Asked on his way in by Channel 12 reporter Dana Weiss if this is his last week as prime minister, Netanyahu responds, “Are you asking because that’s your dream or as some sort of journalist? That’s what you’d like, isn’t it?”

Coalition negotiations to form a government to replace Netanyahu are ongoing ahead of the midnight deadline.

Herzog and Peretz exchange warm words, hugs before presidential votes

Isaac Herzog and Miriam Peretz have entered the VIP gallery of the Knesset plenum for the vote on Israel’s next president, in which they are the only two candidates.

Before the voting begins, the two can be seen exchanging words and hugging.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin meanwhile explains the rules of the voting, in which MKs will cast votes one by one, in alphabetical order, behind a partition to ensure secrecy.

2 officers injured, one critically, as they approach man suspected of vandalism

A police officer is left in critical condition and another lightly injured after they were assaulted by a man they suspected had vandalized property in the Givat Ze’ev settlement northwest of Jerusalem.

The man attacked the officers with a sharp instrument after opening the door to an apartment when they arrived to question him, Israel Police say in a statement.

One of the officers opened fire at the man, moderately injuring him.

Shaare Zedek Medical Center says it is treating the two officers and that one was in a critical condition from a stab wound to his neck. The other policeman is lightly injured in the hip, the hospital says.

Netanyahu opens voting for president

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts the first vote in the presidential election between Isaac Herzog and Miriam Peretz.

Netanyahu leaves the plenum immediately after voting behind a specially placed partition for secrecy.

The rest of the MKs are invited to vote one by one, according to alphabetical order.

Bennett, Lapid seen conversing in Knesset plenum amid vote for president

Secret voting in the Knesset plenum for the next president is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid are seen sitting close together in conversation in the plenum, as their proposed government hangs in the balance.

Yamina chief Naftali Bennett (left) and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid seen conversing in the plenum on June 2, 2021, hours before Lapid’s mandate to form a government expires (video screenshot)

Over 80 Knesset members have cast their vote for president

With some 85 MKs having voted for the next president, Channel 12 notes that the pile of uncast ballots for Isaac Herzog is significantly smaller than for Miriam Peretz, potentially signifying he is in the lead.

Vote for president has ended, counting begins

The vote for Israel’s next president has concluded.

Votes will now be counted, with results expected in the next hour.

TV: Ra’am says change bloc is refusing demands Netanyahu agreed to

Unnamed officials in the Ra’am party, whose votes are vital to enable the change bloc to form a government, tell Channel 12 the leaders of the change bloc are refusing demands Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to, and that if things continue in this manner a government will not be formed.

The network says Netanyahu agreed this morning to annul the so-called Kaminitz law, penalizing illegal building, if the party opposes the change government.

However, it is not clear he could follow through since he currently has no potential coalition.

Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett talk in the Knesset plenum during voting in the presidential elections, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The reported complications with Ra’am exacerbate an existing obstacle for the change bloc posed by Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked’s demand for a place on the committee that selects judges, instead of Labor’s Merav Michaeli.

Isaac Herzog elected Israel’s eleventh president, with 87 votes of Knesset’s 120

Isaac Herzog has been elected Israel’s eleventh president, with 87 votes of the Knesset’s 120.

Herzog will succeed Reuven Rivlin as the latter’s term ends on July 9.

He will also be the first Israeli president who is the son of a former president. His father Chaim Herzog was Israel’s sixth president in 1983-1993.

Herzog, currently the head of the Jewish Agency, is also a former leader of the Labor party in 2013-2017.

Herzog defeated Miriam Peretz, a social activist who overcame the loss of two of her sons in battle to become an Israel Prize-winning educator. Peretz won only 26 votes.

Three MKs abstained, three votes were disqualified and one person did not vote.

Netanyahu congratulates Herzog, thanks Peretz

Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulates Isaac Herzog on his election as Israel’s next president. “I wish him luck in the name of all Israeli citizens,” he says.

He adds: “I thank Miriam Peretz for her honorable candidacy and am certain she will continue to contribute to Israeli society, as she has done her entire life.”

Herzog says he’ll ‘build bridges, safekeep foundations of our democracy’

In his first speech after being elected president, Isaac Herzog says he intends “to build bridges” within Israeli society and with the Jewish diaspora, to encourage entrepreneurship, “fight antisemitism and hatred of Israel” and “to safekeep the foundations of our democracy.”

“I accept upon myself the heavy responsibility you have placed upon me. I accept the privilege of serving the entire Israeli public,” he says.

Presidential candidate Isaac Herzog before the vote, June 2, 2021. (Dani Shem Tov/ Knesset)

Herzog: Hope to be able to work with any PM; Netanyahu: Let’s not get into that

Netanyahu joins Herzog for a joint statement to the media.

Herzog, who was Netanyahu’s opponent in the 2015 elections, says he hopes “to be able to work with any government and every prime minister.”

Netanyahu interjects, laughing, “Well, let’s not get into that at the moment,” to laughs from the crowd and Herzog.

Health Ministry plans to begin vaccinating ages 12 and up next week

The Health Ministry plans to begin vaccinating teenagers next week, adding those aged 12-15 to the 16-and-overs already eligible for shots.

The ministry says dangers from COVID-19 are higher than any potential danger from the vaccine and that inflammation of the heart muscle seen in some 16- to 19-year-olds was very rare and usually passed without complications.

An Iraqi nurse prepares a shot of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, May 4, 2021 (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Peretz congratulates ‘honorable’ Herzog, will continue to work for society

Miriam Peretz, who lost the race for president, wishes Isaac Herzog luck as Israel’s next president. She says he is “an honorable” choice.

She says she prays for his success. “His success is my success, and the success of my entire country.”

She says she will continue to work with all segments of Israeli society “to connect and heal.”

Jordan refers 2 to security court over alleged foreign plot

Jordan has referred the cases of two former senior officials accused of taking part in a foreign plot linked to the half-brother of King Abdullah II to a national security court, the official Petra news agency reports.

Bassem Awadallah, a former Cabinet minister and one-time head of the royal court, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, were swept up in a wave of arrests in April. Prince Hamzah, a former crown prince, was placed under a form of house arrest.

The government accused them of being part of a foreign plot to undermine the stability of the country, which is a close Western ally. Hamzah denied being part of any conspiracy and said he was targeted for speaking out against corruption and poor governance. At one point authorities imposed a gag order on all media coverage of the dispute, underscoring its sensitivity.

Abdullah later said he had resolved the matter with his half-brother through mediation within the royal family and that Hamzah was in his own home under the king’s protection. All of those arrested were released except for Awadallah and Hassan.

TV: Growing concern in change bloc over Ra’am’s demands

Channel 12 news reports leaders of the change bloc are becoming more concerned about Ra’am’s demands, 10 hours before Lapid’s mandate to form a coalition expires.

The network says there is growing opposition within Ra’am, an Islamist party, to supporting the bloc’s efforts to form a government unless the bloc agrees to various demands that the right wing of the potential coalition will find difficult to accept.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party, gives a press statement after meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rivlin to Herzog: ‘I am proud to pass baton to you’

President Reuven Rivlin congratulates his just-elected successor Isaac Herzog on his election.

“I have no doubt you will do an excellent job, and I am proud to pass the baton to you in a month,” he says.

He adds that the president’s residence serves as a symbol of Israeli democracy’s soul and is “a house of the people, of all the people.”

President Reuven Rivlin casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem, March 23, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Labor: As far as we’re concerned, coalition is a go

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli gives her formal approval to Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid to inform the president that he has succeeded in forming a government.

It is still not clear whether the center-left will agree to a demand by Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked to replace Michaeli on the judicial appointment panel.

There are unconfirmed reports that Labor could decide to remain outside the coalition if Shaked take’s Michaeli’s place, while backing it from outside.

Yamina head Naftali Bennett (L) and Labor chair Merav Michaeli in the Knesset plenum for the election of Israel’s 11th president, June 2, 2021. (Dani Shem Tov/ Knesset)

With Knesset adjourned, any new coalition likely won’t be sworn in for 12 days

With today’s Knesset session over, even if the change bloc reaches a deal today, a new government likely won’t be sworn in before next Monday.

This leaves the door open for Prime Minister Netanyahu and Likud to continue to attempt to foil the effort.

Likud says reporters spreading fake news about its positions

Likud in an ambiguous statement says that “in the past few hours politicians and reporters are spreading fake news about Likud’s positions, with the aim of justifying a left-wing government.”

Pundits are speculating the statement is in reference to reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu has offered Ra’am far-reaching proposals on issues that are of importance to the Arab Israeli public in exchange for opposing a “change government.”

UN tribunal for Lebanon may fold due to funding crisis

A UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri says it is facing a severe funding crisis and will not be able to operate beyond July without immediate assistance.

The announcement by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon comes as the country is in the grips of an unprecedented economic crisis — a culmination of decades of widespread corruption and mismanagement.

Although the tribunal’s verdict issued last August, 15 years after Hariri’s killing, was disappointing for many Lebanese, ending the tribunal’s work would raise concerns in the tiny country where political killings have gone without punishment for decades.

It comes at a time when some Lebanese are demanding an international investigation into the August 4, blast at Beirut’s port that killed 211, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged nearby neighborhoods.

Then Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Rafik Hariri leaves the Parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon April 17, 2003. (AP Photo)

AJC poll: US Jews give Biden high marks on performance so far

A poll by the American Jewish Committee shows most US Jews approve of President Joe Biden’s performance, including his handling of relations with Israel and antisemitism.

The survey shows 70% approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 26% disapprove. On Israel, 58% approve and 27% disapprove.

Meanwhile, 64% approve of his handling of the threat of antisemitism, while 23% disapprove.

US President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, May 13, 2021. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Biden gets high marks on other issues: the economy (71% approve, 27% disapprove), Iran (55% approve, 32% disapprove) and the pandemic (79% approve, 19% disapprove).

The poll was carried out between March 25 and May 9 among 1,000 respondents aged 18 or older, with a margin of error of 4.5%.

Channel 12: Lapid’s first priority is sealing a deal with Ra’am

Channel 12’s political correspondent Daphna Liel sums up the “serious difficulties” facing the so-called change government as the clock ticks down to the midnight deadline:

“Yesh Atid is speaking with the various [potential] partners in an effort, despite it all, to finalize a government by [the deadline] tonight. The first priority is… to close an agreement with Ra’am that Yamina and New Hope can live with.

“Ra’am has hardened its positions in the past day, with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s encouragement. It’s not clear whether Netanyahu merely encouraged [Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas] to issue greater demands… or made promises to him… regarding the Kaminitz law [as relates to building in the Arab community]. Yesterday, they [the change bloc parties] were just an inch from finalizing with Ra’am.”

She adds that if the midnight deadline passes and Lapid cannot form a government, “the right hopes that two or three defectors” will enable a Netanyahu-led government, though it is not at all clear these will emerge.

TV: Elkin says Ra’am’s demands are ‘impossible, we won’t agree to them’

New Hope’s Ze’ev Elkin has told Likud MKs that Ra’am’s demands on okaying illegal construction in the Arab sector “are impossible for me and for [Ayelet] Shaked. We will not agree to them under any circumstances,” Kan news reports.

Elkin, a top confidant of New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, is one of the leading negotiators in the effort to cobble together a so-called change government.

Then-environment protection minister Zeev Elkin attends the Likud Party’s election campaign opening event in Jerusalem, on January 21, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Two Hamas men said killed by blast of undetonated Israeli munition

Two members of the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas terror group’s military wing, were killed in central Gaza by a blast of undetonated Israeli munition left over from the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel, according to Palestinian media.

The IDF says it is unaware of the incident but is looking into it.

Google head of diversity wrote Jews have ‘insatiable appetite for war, killing’

Google’s head of diversity is under fire after the emergence of a 2007 blog post in which he wrote that “If I were a Jew I would be concerned about my insatiable appetite for war and killing in defense of myself.”

In his post, Kamau Bobb wrote: “Self-defense is undoubtedly an instinct, but I would be afraid of my increasing insensitivity to the suffering of others.”

He added that “my greatest torment would be that I’ve misinterpreted the identity offered by my history and transposed spiritual and human compassion with self-righteous impunity.”

Referencing the Holocaust, he said: “My reflections on Kristallnacht would lead me to feel that these are precisely the human sentiments that I as Jew would understand; that I ought to understand and feel compelled to help alleviate.”

Michael Dickson, head of pro-Israel group Stand With Us, tweets: “All of this begs the question whether (1) Google did due diligence when selecting [Bobb] for the sensitive position of global Google DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) Director and (2) whether he should remain in these positions.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center tweets: “Google must fire this antisemite.”

Israeli forces arrest senior Hamas member in Ramallah

Israeli security forces arrest a senior Hamas member, Sheikh Jamal Tawil, over his alleged work on behalf of the terror group in the West Bank, the Israel Defense Forces says.

According to the military, Tawil was arrested in Ramallah in a predawn raid by the IDF’s elite Duvdevan Unit and the Shin Bet security service.

“Tawil is a senior figure in the Hamas terror group in the West Bank, who recently took an active part in organizing riots, inciting violence and reforming Hamas’s headquarters in Ramallah,” the IDF says.

Hamas denounces the arrest of its senior operative, saying it will not prevent further activity by the terror group in the West Bank.

File: Israeli soldiers deploy during clashes in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 10, 2018 (Abbas Momani/AFP)

“The arrest of Sheikh Jamal Al-Tawil will not silence the voice of the resistance in the West Bank. The sons of Hamas and its commanders are all soldiers of the resistance, and they will continue the path of freedom and liberation whatever the sacrifices,” Hamas says in a statement.

Al-Tawil has been arrested many times, spending much of his life in Israeli prison. Al-Tawil’s daughter Bushra, a Hamas-linked Palestinian journalist, has been held in administrative detention since late December, according to the Palestinian prisoner rights group al-Dameer.

Document shows the 3 missing signatures separating between Lapid and government

Channel 12’s political commentator Amit Segal shares a photo of the document that would announce to the president that a government has been formed.

Three signatures of party leaders currently separate between Yair Lapid and success in doing so: those of Naftali Bennett of Yamina, Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope and Mansour Abbas of Ra’am.

A document that would announce to the president that a government has been formed, with three signatures missing (Courtesy)

Belgium returns stolen art to German Jewish family

Belgium will return a painting to the family of a German Jewish couple from whom it was stolen after they fled Germany during World War II, the government research department says.

“Blumenstilleben” or “Still life with Flowers” was painted by 1913 by Lovis Corinth and has been kept in the collection of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels, alongside around 30 other works thought to have been stolen during World War II.

After decades of analysis and research, experts have concluded that the painting was looted from a warehouse by officials of the German occupation, from goods owned by German Jewish refugees.

Likud MKs urged to protest outside location of coalition talks — TV

According to Channel 12, Likud has called on party MKs to head to the location where coalition-building talks are taking place, at the Kfar HaMaccabiah sports club in Ramat Gan, to protest against the formation of a change government.

Likud minister Miri Regev, who is at the protests, tells Kan state TV: “They’ve stolen the elections from us. What Bennett has done is unthinkable. He has carried out the greatest political fraud in history.”

Yamina said to propose rotation in judicial panel between Shaked, Michaeli

Media reports indicate Yamina is offering a now well-worn solution to the conflict over who will serve in the judicial appointments committee: Labor’s Merav Michaeli or Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked.

The party is proposing a rotation deal between the two, with Shaked serving first.

Progress reported in talks with Ra’am

Ra’am, too, is said to be offering a more conciliatory approach as the deadline to announce a government approaches.

Channel 12 reports that the party is softening its demands from the coalition, though no details are immediately available.

Labor dismisses reports of proposed rotation on judges panel as ‘spin’

Labor sources tell Hebrew media that they were unaware of a reported compromise proposal that will see party leader Merav Michaeli and Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked rotate a spot on the Judicial Appointments Committee, dismissing it as “spin.”

Ra’am MK says ‘not optimistic’ coalition talks will bear fruit

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim expresses pessimism about the prospects a deal will be reached to form a government, despite reports of progress in coalition negotiations with the Islamist party.

“We had the courage to say that we want to be a legitimate player in Israeli politics, but apparently our declarations won’t bear fruit in the end,” Ghanaim tells the Kan public broadcaster.

He adds: “Mansour Abbas is attacked from all sides — from within the Arab community, also from the Israeli right. Despite this, he is sitting at Kfar Maccabiah for two days already to bring an achievement for the Arab community. From what is happening in the negotiations behind closed doors, I’m not optimistic.”

Yamina says Shaked okay with offer to rotate spot on judges panel with Michaeli

Yamina releases a statement confirming an offer to rotate a spot on the Judicial Appointments Committee between the party’s No. 2 Ayelet Shaked and Labor leader Merav Michaeli.

Under the proposal, Shaked will serve as the government’s representative on the panel during the government’s first two years, when Yamina chief Naftali Bennett is slated to be prime minister, and a Labor MK will be the coalition’s representative on the committee.

During the government’s final two years, when Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid takes over for Bennett as premier, Michaeli will replace Shaked on the committee and the Labor MK will be swapped out for an MK from the New Right party.

Shaked has accepted the offer, according to the statement, which says the proposal was coordinated with New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, who is set to be justice minister if the “change government” is formed and will automatically have a spot on the committee.

Labor has yet to officially respond, but party sources earlier dismissed the offer as spin. The agreement for Michaeli to have a spot on the panel was reached with Lapid, whose mandate to form a government expires at midnight.

Protester against Bennett-Lapid gov’t yells ‘we’ll execute you in the town square!’

Protests for and against the prospective “change government” are held outside the Ramat Gan hotel where coalition negotiators are meeting in a bid to reach an agreement before a midnight deadline.

In one exchange reported by Channel 12, a female protester in favor of the proposed government called out to a female anti-government protester across the street, “Nazi.”

The anti-government protester shouted back, with a microphone, “Go to Gaza. Leftist traitors. We’ll execute you in the town square! You sons of Arafat.”

At this point the protester next to her grabbed the microphone away from her.

Gantz’s office says he’ll also meet with Blinken during Washington trip

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will also meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his stay in Washington tomorrow, his office says.

Gantz is set to depart later tonight for the US, where he will also hold meetings with Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser.

According to an itinerary from his office, Gantz will first meet with Sullivan at the White House, where he will then also sit down with Blinken.

After leaving the White House, Gantz will meet with members of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC before his meeting with Lloyd.

Massive blaze breaks out at oil refinery near Tehran

TEHRAN, Iran — A massive fire breaks out tonight at the oil refinery serving Iran’s capital, sending thick plumes of black smoke over Tehran. It wasn’t immediately clear if there were injuries.

The fire struck the state-owned Tondgooyan Petrochemical Co. to the south of Tehran, says Mansour Darajati, the director-general of the capital’s crisis management team.

Firefighters believe it struck a pipeline for liquefied petroleum gas at the facility, Darajati tells Iranian state television. He doesn’t elaborate.

Associated Press journalists in central Tehran, some 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) away, can see the black smoke rise in the distance. Another AP journalist sees flames shooting into the sky from the site.

Mojtaba Khaledi, the spokesman for Iran’s emergency department, tells the semiofficial ISNA news agency that 10 ambulances and other equipment had been deployed at the scene of the fire. Hospitals in the area are on standby as well, he says.

It isn’t immediately clear what started the blaze. Temperatures in Tehran reached nearly 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) today. Hot summer weather in Iran has caused fires in the past.

The blaze came the same day a fire struck the largest warship in the Iranian navy, which later sank in the Gulf of Oman.

Ra’am chief says still no decision on whether to back ‘change government’

Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas tells Channel 12 news that his Islamist party still hasn’t made a decision on whether to back the prospective “change government.”

He also declines to comment when asked if he spoke in the past few days with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Channel 12 reports that Netanyahu has spent considerable time on the phone with Abbas in recent days. It also reiterates a report from earlier in the week that Netanyahu recently hosted Abbas at the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street.

Proposal reportedly made to switch some ministerial posts in 2nd half of ‘change government’

In a bid to solve some of the remaining hurdles to forming a government, Hebrew media is reporting on proposal to rotate some ministerial posts after the prospective coalition’s first two years in office.

The reports say under the proposal, Yamina chief Naftali Bennett — who is slated to hand over the premiership then to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid — will take over at the Interior Ministry from his party’s No. 2 Ayelet Shaked.

Shaked, in turn, will take over as justice minister from New Hope chief Gideon Sa’ar, who will become foreign minister.

Michaeli says she’ll rotate spot on judges panel, but only if she goes first

Labor chief Merav Michaeli says she’ll agree to rotate a seat on the Judicial Appointments Committee with Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked, on the condition she serves first.

Michaeli’s counterproposal is the reverse of Shaked’s, which would see the Yamina lawmaker serve first on the panel.

But Shaked is rejecting the proposal, according to Hebrew media reports.

Yesh Atid, Yamina and Ra’am chiefs meet as midnight deadline nears

The heads of the Yesh Atid, Yamina and Ra’am parties are now meeting in an effort to secure an agreement on forming a government before a midnight deadline.

Ghislaine Maxwell denied bail for 5th time in Epstein case

NEW YORK — For a fifth time, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell loses a bid to be freed on bail prior to a November trial on charges that she recruited teenage girls for Jeffrey Epstein to sexually abuse.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan issues a brief order rejecting Maxwell’s latest request. The three-judge panel that issued it doesn’t elaborate.

The appeals court had rejected a bail request once before and her trial judge had thrice said no.

In the latest bail quest, Maxwell’s lawyers asked the appeals court to at least order the lower-court judge to conduct a hearing where evidence related to bail could be shown. The 2nd Circuit rejected that, too.

Ghislaine Maxwell at the WIE Symposium in New York City, on September 20, 2013. (Laura Cavanaugh/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)

Maxwell, 59, has been incarcerated since last July. She has pleaded not guilty to charges including sex trafficking and conspiracy that allege she recruited at least four females for Epstein to sexually abuse between 1994 and 2004.

Her trial was recently moved from July to November. Opening statements are scheduled for late in the month.

Epstein killed himself in a federal Manhattan lockup in August 2019 while he awaited a sex trafficking trial.

Ra’am said given OK to inform Lapid he can declare formation of gov’t if talks continue

The Southern Islamic Movement’s shura council has authorized Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas to agree to allow Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid to declare before a midnight deadline that he can form a government, Channel 12 news reports.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas speaks to reporters on June 2, 2021, three hours before the midnight deadline for Yair Lapid to announce he has mustered a majority government (Channel 12 screenshot)

The network says the green light is on condition of continued negotiations over the so-called Kaminitz Law and unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev.

As far as is known, the Yamina and New Hope parties have yet to formally sign up for the planned government.

Yamina MK said considering opposing ‘change government’

Yamina MK Nir Orbach is considering opposing the prospective “change government,” Channel 12 news reports, a move that could very likely sink its chances of being formed.

Reports have previously said that Orbach has considered resigning rather than vote to back the government, in which his own party leader Naftali Bennett is slated to serve as prime minister before handing the reins to Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid.

Were Orbach to resign, a pro-change government Yamina member could take his place. But were he to vote against the government, its wafer-thin 61-59 potential majority would evaporate.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach arrives for the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli has already vowed to oppose the proposed government.

Labor chief calls for leaders of change bloc to meet on judicial panel

Labor leader Merav Michaeli is calling for a meeting of all leaders of the change bloc this evening to make a decision on the coalition’s representative for the judicial appointments committee.

Michaeli was promised the job but Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked has demanded it for herself. Yamina has now proposed that Shaked hold it for two years followed by Michaeli for two years.

Yamina head Naftali Bennett (L) and Labor chair Merav Michaeli in the Knesset plenum for the election of Israel’s 11th president, June 2, 2021. (Dani Shem Tov/ Knesset)

2 hours now left until end of Lapid’s mandate

For those keeping track, there are now 120 minutes for Yair Lapid to announce he’s managed to form a government, before his mandate to do so ends and is sent to the Knesset.

Miki Zohar says hopes Yamina MKs will rebel, ‘save the day’

Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar says in a statement he hopes Yamina MKs Nir Orbach and Idit Silman will “save the day” by opposing a change government.

“I still have a slim hope and expectation that they’ll follow their truth,” he says.

“This is their test, and will be written down in the pages of history of the people of Israel forever.”

Likud MK Miki Zohar at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Ra’am gives its okay for Lapid-Bennett gov’t, Yamina and New Hope yet to sign

Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas signs a document which allows Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to inform the president he has succeeded in forming a government.

This leaves Yamina and New Hope to sign.

Ra’am signs coalition deal with Lapid

Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid have signed a coalition agreement to form a unity government, their parties declare.

There are no immediate details.

This marks the first time in Israeli history that an Arab party is potentially instrumental in the establishment of a government.

Yamina’s Shaked, Orbach, Silman to join negotiators

Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked, Nir Orbach and Idit Silman are on their way to where coalition talks are being held in Ramat Gan as negotiations come down to the wire.

This comes amid reports Orbach is weighing opposing the new government, which could bring down the entire effort.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach arrives for the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Hungary arrests Islamist terror suspect targeting Euro 2020: media

Hungarian counterterror police say they’ve arrested an Islamist terror suspect who plotted to attack mass events, including the Euro 2020 football tournament venue in Budapest, local media reports.

The 21-year-old male was “a completely average young Hungarian” who identified as an Islamist, Janos Hajdu, head of the counterterror police tells reporters.

The man, a university student in Budapest, communicated on websites containing “explicit jihadist propaganda” linked to the Islamic State about how to carry out attacks, says Hajdu.

“He committed to making a pipe-bomb and using it at a mass event, in Budapest or elsewhere in Hungary… in the near future,” says Hajdu.

The man had also discussed driving a car into a large group of people, says Hajdu, without elaborating.

Yamina and Labor reportedly reach rotation compromise on judicial panel

Yamina and Labor have both reportedly agreed to a compromise on the judicial appointments panel, that will see Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked as the coalition’s representative on the committee for the government’s first two years, and Labor’s Merav Michaeli replacing her for the latter two.

Yesh Atid source to TV: Deal with Ra’am benefits Arab public

A Yesh Atid source tells Channel 12 the deal with Ra’am “will benefit the Arab public, without the irresponsible dreams Netanyahu promised him. There are not nationalist elements, only the good of the public — education, infrastructure, health, law enforcement and more.”

And here’s a photo of Lapid, Bennett and Abbas signing.

New Hope signs coalition deal with Lapid

Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope has now signed a coalition deal with Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid.

According to a statement, the sides agreed to break up the post of attorney general to a legal adviser to the governemnt and a chief prosecutor; legal reforms; a cannabis reform and more.

That leaves only Naftali Bennett and his Yamina party.

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar leads a Knesset faction meeting on May 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina has signed the coalition deal with Lapid, Channel 12 reports

Yamina has now signed the coalition deal with Yair Lapid, Channel 12 reports. This is not yet confirmed elsewhere.

It is not yet clear whether Yamina’s Nir Orbach will back the deal.

“Lapid will tell the president: I have established a government,” the channel further reports.

Some confusion as to whether Yamina signed onto coalition; nothing official yet

There is some media confusion as to whether Yamina has signed onto the coalition deal with Lapid.

Channel 12’s Daphna Liel reported that it did, before correcting herself that it hadn’t yet. She then corrected the correction, saying the party signed an hour ago.

Meanwhile, Haaretz is also reporting the Yamina has signed on.

There is no official statement on the matter yet.

Yamina appears to have signed, Lapid expected to inform president

Reports are growing that Yamina has indeed signed onto the coalition, and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is expected to inform the president soon that he has succeeded in forming a government.

However, many details of the negotiations have not been sealed and talks will continue in the coming days.

Lapid informs Rivlin he’s managed to form a gov’t, but difficulties remain

After a long nail-biter of a day on all sides of the political spectrum, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has informed President Reuven Rivlin that he has succeeded in forming a government, potentially ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 years leading Israel.

The government would see Naftali Bennett serve as prime minister for two years, succeeded by Lapid for two.

However, difficulties are said to remain, particularly with Yamina MK Nir Orbach who is threatening to vote against the government. The parties currently need every vote to get Knesset approval of the change coalition.

There is talk of some members of the Joint List potentially helping the coalition get through the Knesset vote.

Lapid to Rivlin: I am honored to inform you…

Here’s the text of Yesh Atid’s announcement:

After intense work on behalf of all the citizens of Israel, and a two-year-long political crisis, the Chairperson of Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, informed President Rivlin that he has succeeded in forming a government.

This is the message that was sent a short while ago to the Office of the President:

In accordance with Clause 13(b) of the Basic Law: The Government – I am honored to inform you that I have succeeded in forming a government. The government will be an alternate government in accordance with Clause 13(a) of the Basic Law: The Government, and MK Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister first.

Lapid to try to get government approved next week — TV

According to Channel 12, Lapid will try to get the government approved by next week, while Likud’s current Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin is expected to try to push off the matter to the week after.

Every day is seen as critical as Yamina MKs face intense pressure on the right to oppose the coalition.

Document signed by 8 parties in intended new government

Here’s the document announcing “the establishment of a government,” now signed by all eight participating parties: Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, Yamina, New Hope, Labor, Meretz and — marking the first time an Arab party has been formally involved in the establishment of a potential government — Ra’am.

The document signed by eight participating parties announcing the establishment of a government. (Courtesy)

A reminder of (non-final) list of portfolios in emerging government

A reminder of the (non-final) list of portfolios in the emerging government:

  • Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (Yamina) — will serve first as prime minister for 2 years under a rotation agreement with Lapid.
  • Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid)
  • Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White)
  • Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beiteinu)
  • Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope)
  • Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (Labor)
  • Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz)
  • Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina)
  • Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina)
  • Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope)
  • Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (New Hope)
  • Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Eli Avidar (Yisrael Beytenu)
  • Culture Minister Chili Tropper (Blue and White)
  • Economy Minister Orna Barbivai (Yesh Atid)
  • Construction and Housing Minister Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid)
  • Energy Minister Yoel Razvozov (Yesh Atid)
  • Social Equality Minister Merav Cohen (Yesh Atid)
  • Minister of Immigrant Absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White)
  • Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster (Blue and White)
  • Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev (Labor)
  • Diaspora Affairs Minister would be either Gilad Kariv or Emilie Moatti (both Labor)
  • Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej (Meretz)
  • Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz)

Lapid urges Knesset speaker to quickly call vote on new gov’t

Yair Lapid has informed the Knesset speaker of the fact that he has succeeded in forming a government.

Lapid calls on Speaker Yariv Levin to quickly call a special session of the plenary to vote on the new government.

According to Channel 12, if Levin attempts to delay the vote, the change bloc could move to replace him as speaker within days.

Then-tourism minister Yariv Levin at the Kfar Maccabia Hotel in Ramat Gan, on October 27, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Labor expected to head Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee

Labor’s Merav Michaeli tells the press there will be a constant presence for the party in the judicial appointments committee, even while Ayelet Shaked sits on it as well.

Labor is also expected to head the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli seen during a first meeting of the Labor party with new elected members in Tel Aviv on February 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Video shows Lapid informing president of success in forming government

Here is a video of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett on the call with President Rivlin, as Lapid informs the latter he has managed to form a government.

And here is a photo of Rivlin getting the call.

The president had just finished watching the finals of the Israeli Basketball State Cup, where Maccabi Tel Aviv won the championship.

Ra’am says change bloc agreed to over $16.3 billion in budgets for Arab society

Ra’am says that the so-called change bloc agreed to over NIS 53 billion ($16.3 billion) in budgets and government development plans for Arab society.

According to a statement by the Islamist party, Bennett and Lapid pledged NIS 30 billion over five years as an economic stimulus, as well as another NIS 2.5 million ($770,000) to fight violence and organized crime in Arab society.

Another NIS 20 million ($6 million) will be invested over the next 10 years to fix crumbling infrastructure in Arab cities and towns, Ra’am says.

Three Bedouin unrecognized villages — Abda, Khashm al-Zena, and Rakhma — are set to be legalized in a government decision, according to Ra’am.

As for the controversial 2017 Kaminitz law targeting illegal Arab construction, Ra’am says there will be discussions on amending it over the next six months. In the meantime, a decision already in place to freeze parts of the law will be extended until 2024.

Some in Netanyahu’s camp were skeptical that the change bloc’s promises to Ra’am would come to fruition.

“This is all empty talk. It’s lies. What did they get? Just political games,” seethes Likud MK Fateen Mulla in a phone call with The Times of Israel.

Shaked supporters abandon her WhatsApp groups in droves

Yamina’s Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked are now all in on the change government, with no way back, it seems.

Channel 12’s Amit Segal notes that WhatsApp groups of supporters of Ayelet Shaked are being abandoned in droves by activists who are bitterly disappointed by Yamina allying with the left.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference at the Knesset on May 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Return of Iran nuclear deal needs only ‘will,’ Rouhani says

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says a breakthrough in talks in Vienna to revive a nuclear deal before he leaves office in August requires a “will” that is not up to him.

Rouhani is Iran’s main architect of the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, which was torpedoed by former US president Donald Trump in 2018. But the final decision regarding the ongoing Vienna negotiations rests with the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Our main issues with the United States in these negotiations have been resolved, and there are only a few minor issues left, on which we will negotiate and produce results,” Rouhani says at a televised cabinet meeting.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 9, 2020 (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

“If there is the will that this be done in the current administration, then this administration has finished the work,” he adds.

EU negotiator Enrique Mora, who is chairing the talks in Vienna, told journalists earlier he hopes that it will be the last round of negotiations.

“But we are going to keep working and I am sure that at the next round next week we will finally have an agreement,” he added.

Netanyahu allies decry new government as center-left celebrates

Some reactions on the right to the announcement that a government has been formed that will unseat Netanyahu:

Miki Zohar of Likud tweets that it is “a very sad day for Israel” and that “Bennett, Sa’ar and Shaked should be ashamed.”

Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism says Bennett “simply carried out his plan from before the election to join Lapid and oust Netanyahu to become prime minister at any cost.”

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On the center-left, Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz welcomes and toasts the new government and his new partners in it.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, on his way to Washington in his capacity as defense minister, tweets: “This is a night of great hope. I congratulate my partners in the change bloc and wish great success for Israel.”



Bennett holds ‘good’ meeting with MK mulling mutiny

The Yamina party says a late-night meeting between party head Naftali Bennett and Nir Orbach has ended.

Orbach announced Wednesday night that he could rebel and pull support for the change bloc coalition, potentially dooming the razor-thin majority, sending Yamina scrambling to push him back in line.

A short statement from the party says the meeting was “good” and the two agreed to meet again the next day.

Wealthiest nations’ health chief to mull vaccine sharing

LONDON – The G7 health ministers will meet Thursday to discuss sharing vaccines with poorer countries and improving identification of animal-borne infections ahead of next week’s summit in the United Kingdom.

Ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States will pledge at a meeting in Oxford to “combat future health threats by working together to identify early warning signs from animals and the environment,” the British government says.

They will agree to a “new international approach” to prevent diseases spreading, since three-fifths of all infections jump from animals to humans, Britain’s health ministry says.

The meeting comes as the world’s wealthiest countries face pressure to do more to help vaccines reach poorer countries that do not have enough stocks for comprehensive inoculation programs.

People wait in line to receive a dose of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine, at Tej Bahadur Sapru hospital in Allahabad on May 1, 2021, during the first day of India’s vaccination drive to all adults. (Sanjay Kanoija/AFP)

The British government has just published a new report on G7 progress since 2015 on helping developing countries access vaccines and contain the spread of infections. The G7 countries are already committed to support the COVAX global vaccine sharing program.

British health minister Matt Hancock on Wednesday said over half a billion doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine had been released for supply globally, mostly in “low- and middle-income countries.”

But calls are mounting for wealthier countries to share more. At a meeting of G7 finance ministers in London on Friday, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, will present a relatively low-cost plan to end the pandemic by expanding vaccination access. The plan, developed with the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation, is calling for a financial commitment of $50 billion.

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