Abbas to meet Putin in Moscow next month, PA ambassador says
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Abbas to meet Putin in Moscow next month, PA ambassador says

Palestinian leader will be in Russia for World Cup final; Netanyahu also invited

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shows the way to his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on April 13, 2015. (AFP/Sergei Ilnitsky, Pool)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shows the way to his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on April 13, 2015. (AFP/Sergei Ilnitsky, Pool)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s news as it unfolded.

Rivlin asks Prince William to convey ‘message of peace’ to Abbas

President Reuven Rivlin meets with Britain’s visiting Prince William and asks him to convey a “message of peace” to the Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

William is set to meet Abbas in Ramallah tomorrow.

PM nixes splitting public broadcaster amid Eurovision cancellation fears

In a sharp reversal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that the government will amend a law to divide the public broadcaster into separate entities amid growing fears the legislation could stymie plans to hold the Eurovision song competition in Israel next year.

The decision to change the legislation came after a meeting between Netanyahu, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and legal officials.

“The attorney general gave his opinion that the law [to split the broadcaster] will be detrimental to holding the Eurovision in Israel. Therefore, it was agreed to amend the legislation… in order to allow the Eurovision to take place in Israel,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

The decision comes after the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes Eurovision, warned earlier this month that if the public broadcaster’s news and non-news divisions are split into separate bodies, Israel’s membership will be reconsidered, possibly preventing the contest from being held in the Jewish state in 2019 as planned.

Under EBU rules, the public broadcaster in each participating country must have a news division attached.

Fighting displaces 45,000 in southern Syria — UN

Airstrikes and ground fighting in southern Syria have forced at least 45,000 people to flee, the United Nations says, the largest displacement in the area so far.

Backed by Russia, Syrian government forces have ramped up airstrikes and ground attacks on rebel positions in the south, particularly its main province of Daraa.

“Our estimates are 45,000, maybe even higher,” says Linda Tom, spokeswoman for the UN humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) in Syria.

The displacements have been happening increasingly fast in recent days as violence has escalated, Tom says.

“Over the last couple of days we saw a very large number of people who fled because of the ongoing hostilities, because of the shelling and fighting in that area,” she tells AFP.

The majority are fleeing from the eastern parts of Daraa province south toward the sealed border with Jordan, which has said it cannot absorb any more refugees.

“We haven’t seen massive displacement in this scale in Daraa,” Tom says.

The UN had previously warned that fighting was putting 750,000 people in rebel-held areas of the south in harm’s way.

More than five million people have fled abroad since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. Another six million are displaced inside the country.

— AFP

William tells Rivlin he wants to meet ‘as many Israelis as possible’

During his meeting with Rivlin, the visiting UK royal says he is “obviously looking forward to getting to meet as many Israelis as possible, and understand Israeli history and Israeli culture over the next few days.”

He calls his tour of Yad Vashem earlier today “very moving.”

William says he is “very much looking forward to really absorbing and understanding the different issues, the different cultures, the different religions, culminating in a visit, which will be very symbolic and very interesting for me, in the Old City on Thursday, which I am very much looking forward to seeing.”

— Raphael Ahren

Child taken during West Bank carjacking, found safe

Police receive a report of a car stolen with a young boy inside near the Palestinian village of Nil’in, in the central West Bank.

As the carjacker began driving away with the vehicle, he noticed the 5-year-old in the back seat, police say.

The boy was later found on the side of the road near the Hashmonaim Crossing, where police believe the suspect ordered him out of the car.

The child is said to be safe and sound.

Police and IDF troops are on their way to the scene.

— Jacob Magid

Liberman tweets at Iranians amid criticism of regime’s spending on proxies

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweets a message in Persian to the citizens of Iran in an apparent attempt to stoke criticism of their government’s support for regional proxies at the expense of its own citizens.

“Citizens of Iran, where did your money go?” the message begins, according to a translation emailed by Liberman’s office.

Iran, he continues, “despite domestic economic difficulties, continues to invest billions in Syria, Hezbollah, [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad, the Houthis in Yemen and Shiite militias in Iraq.”

Liberman says that Tehran has committed to pouring $2.5 billion into those groups in 2018, and, over the years, has invested $14 million in Syria alone.

His comments come a day after anti-government protests in Tehran that focused on the regime’s investment in military proxies amid an economic downturn in the country.

Some of the protesters chanted “Death to Palestine.”

Knesset vote on Armenian genocide nixed over government opposition

A Knesset vote scheduled for Tuesday on recognizing the World War I killings of Armenians as genocide has been canceled because of government opposition, the lawmaker behind the initiative says.

Last month the Knesset had approved a motion penned by Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing opposition Meretz party to hold a plenary debate and vote on “recognizing the Armenian genocide.”

Turkey had expressed its opposition and in order to to try to ensure the support of the governing coalition for her motion, Zandberg agreed to postpone the vote until after Sunday’s Turkish elections.

On Monday, it became clear that the coalition was still opposed to Zandberg’s initiative, even after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reelection.

“Despite the promises and delays and despite the Turkish elections being behind us, the government and coalition are refusing to recognize the Armenian genocide,” Zandberg says on Twitter. “I am therefore forced to cancel the vote.”

Iranian president says country in ‘economic fight’ with US

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says his country is in a “fight” with the US, a day after protesters angered by Iran’s tanking economy confronted police in front of parliament.

In a televised speech, Rouhani blames the US for Iran’s woes and says the US is trying to damage the country by creating “an economic war.”

“The US cannot defeat our nation, our enemies are not able to get us to their knees,” he says.

Rouhani’s comments come after protesters angered by Iran’s tanking economy confronted police in front of parliament yesterday. It was the first such confrontation since similar demonstrations rocked the country at the start of the year.

The demonstration signaled widespread unease in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and restore sanctions on the country.

— AP

Iran detains opposition journalist over ‘criminal tweets’

Iran has detained a journalist who served as an adviser to a prominent opposition leader under house arrest.

The semi-official ISNA news agency quotes the Tehran prosecutor as saying that Hengameh Shaidi was “on the run” for months before she was arrested on Kish Island. The prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, does not specify the charges, but accuses her of insulting the judiciary with “criminal tweets.”

The state-run IRNA news agency also reports the arrest, saying she had used a mask to hide from police.

Shaidi, who was previously detained in March 2017, had worked as an adviser to Mehdi Karroubi, who has been under house arrest since 2011.

The arrest comes two weeks after Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer who had criticized the judiciary, was arrested from her home.

— AP

Israeli drone said to fire at Palestinians sending incendiary kites

Reports in the Gaza Strip say an Israeli drone has opened fire at a group of Palestinians who were preparing to fly incendiary kites into Israel.

There are no reports of injuries and no immediate confirmation from the military.

Military confirms opening fire on incendiary balloon fliers

The Israeli army confirms that one of its aircraft has fired at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.

The army says it targeted a vehicle being used by the group as well as an observation post near the border from which the balloons were launched.

There are no reports of Palestinian injuries.

— Judah Ari Gross

Cyprus mulling Israeli request of port for Gaza

Cyprus confirms it is examining an Israeli request to build a port facility on the island for the delivery of goods to Palestinians of the blockaded Gaza Strip.

“There is no agreement on this issue” but “there is a relevant request that is under consideration,” deputy government spokeswoman Klelia Vassiliou tells reporters a day after Hadashot news first reported the initiative.

According to Israeli media, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman made the proposal for the Palestinian territory during a visit last week to the eastern Mediterranean island.

Under the plan, a special pier would be constructed for cargo ships carrying goods bound for Gaza, around 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Cyprus.

Liberman’s office also comments on the proposal.

“The defense minister and security establishment, along with elements in the international community, are leading many initiatives aimed at changing the reality in the Gaza Strip,” a spokesman for his office told AFP.

“Any idea presented to improve the humanitarian situation would be conditioned on solving the issue of the captives (Israelis held in Gaza) and MIAs,” or soldiers gone missing there since 2014, the spokesman says. “Beyond that we can’t provide details.”

— AFP

Foreign reporters accuse PMO of ‘blatant ethnic profiling’

The Foreign Press Association accuses the Prime Minister’s Office of “blatant ethnic profiling,” saying an Albanian journalist was prevented from covering Prince William’s meeting earlier today with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“The producer, an Albanian national and accredited international journalist based in Israel for three years, was repeatedly asked by security guards about his ‘extraction,’ while other AP staffers were asked about his religion and whether he was a ‘Muslim,'” the FPA says in a statement.

“The Foreign Press Association condemns this disgraceful and indefensible behavior by the prime minister’s security staff in the strongest terms,” it says.

Prince William scores two penalties in soccer meetup with Jewish, Arab kids

Prince William has just visited the Neve Golan Stadium in Jaffa to meet Jewish and Arab Israeli children and play a little soccer, in an event organized by The Equalizer and the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.

Hadashot TV cruelly reports that the prince took two penalties — missing one and scoring one.

In fact, as the TV report quickly corrects itself to say, the prince took two, and scored two — calmly slotting the first home low and to the left, and just eluding the goalkeeper with the second.

The meet continues a soccer-themed aspect of the visit. A few hours ago, he talked English football with President Rivlin, and gave the president a Liverpool shirt.

William then poses with the kids, before heading off to the next leg of his Tel Aviv tour — a visit to the beach.

In highly unusual scenes, the shirt-sleeved royal visitor strolls around in the afternoon sunshine, and even includes a stop at a lifeguard’s post.

Prince William gives President Rivlin a Liverpool shirt, June 26, 2018 (Mark Neiman, GPO)

Prince William goes to the beach in Tel Aviv

Prince William tours Frishman Beach in Tel Aviv in short sleeves, though he defies expectations that he would wear a bathing suit.

Escorted by Mayor Ron Huldai, he climbs the ladder into a lifeguard tower.

Netanyahu says he talked ‘helicopters, soccer’ with Prince William

Prime Minister Netanyahu says he and his wife, Sara, “were very pleased to host Prince William on the first official royal visit to Israel by a member of the British royal family” earlier today.

“We discussed many things: Our respective military service, helicopters, soccer and the World Cup,” he says.

“There was a very moving moment in Prince William’s visit. He is the great-grandson of Princess Alice,” Netanyahu adds in a statement. “He met descendants of the family that she saved in Greece. She was there and protected a Jewish family from the Gestapo.

“We just met her descendants that met with him. I told him that he must be very proud of his great-grandmother for saving defenseless Jews. And as prime minister of Israel I am very proud that Jews are no longer defenseless. We have, thank G-d, an army to defend ourselves by ourselves.”

US Supreme Court upholds Trump travel ban

The US Supreme Court upholds President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries, rejecting a challenge that it discriminated against Muslims or exceeded his authority.

The 5-4 decision is the court’s first substantive ruling on a Trump administration policy.

Chief Justice John Roberts writes the majority opinion, joined by his four conservative colleagues.

Roberts writes that presidents have substantial power to regulate immigration. He also rejects the challengers’ claim of anti-Muslim bias.

Roberts is careful not to endorse either Trump’s provocative statements about immigration in general and Muslims in particular.

“We express no view on the soundness of the policy,” Roberts writes.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor writes in a dissent that based on the evidence in the case, “a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.”

She says her colleagues arrived at the opposite result by “ignoring the facts, misconstruing our legal precedent, and turning a blind eye to the pain and suffering the Proclamation inflicts upon countless families and individuals, many of whom are United States citizens.”

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan also dissent.

— AP

US army signs $200 million deal to buy Israeli TROPHY tank defense system

The US Army awards a contract worth nearly $200 million for Israel’s TROPHY defense system, to be installed on its Abrams tanks, according to the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems contractor.

The TROPHY, known in Hebrew as me’il ruach, or windbreaker, is an active defense system manufactured by Rafael that is designed to protect tanks and other armored vehicles from missiles and rockets.

The systems will be supplied by the US defense contractor Leonardo DRS, Inc., which is partnering with Rafael to manufacture them. Parts of the TROPHY will be made in the US and some in Israel, according to Rafael.

It has been in use in Israel’s Merkava-model tanks since at least 2012 and more recently in the military’s armored personnel carriers.

In 2016, the US military announced that it was planning to purchase the TROPHY system to protect American tanks until the US defense contractor Raytheon could produce its own active defense system.

Judah Ari Gross

Trump pleased Supreme Court upheld his travel ban

US President Trump tweets an exuberant all-caps message after the Supreme Court upholds his travel restrictions.

In the tweet he refers to the policy as a “travel ban,” despite the fact that his spokespeople have argued that it does not constitute a ban.

Labor leader fined for campaign financing infractions

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira hands fines totaling more than NIS 200,000 ($55,000) to Labor chairman Avi Gabbay and other members of the party for campaign financing violations during last year’s leadership primary.

“After I received responses from the candidates on the results of the inspection of their bank accounts and conducted further checks, and after some of them met me and responded to the findings, I ruled that for five of the candidates there were deficiencies in heeding legal instructions and the comptroller’s instructions,” Shapira writes.

Gabbay was handed a NIS 90,000 fine for spending half a million shekels beyond the 1.4 million permitted by law during his successful bid for the leadership in July 2017.

The report also finds that Gabbay spent more than NIS 1 million of his own money on campaigning during the two rounds of polls.

Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog, who unsuccessfully ran for reelection and was recently named the next head of the Jewish Agency, is given a NIS 60,000 fine after the comptroller ruled that he exceeded the legally permitted amount by NIS 400,000. Herzog is said to have spent NIS 410,000 of his personal money on the campaign.

Another candidate, MK Erel Margalit, is fined NIS 30,000 — the same amount by which he exceeded the expense ceiling. He spent NIS 800,000 of his own money on the campaign.

Abbas to meet Putin in Moscow next month, PA ambassador says

PA President Abbas will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin next month, the Palestinian ambassador to Russia tells the RIA news agency.

Abbas will be in Moscow for the World Cup finals, to which Prime Minister Netanyahu was also invited.

Netanyahu attends reception with Prince William

Prime Minister Netanyahu arrives at the official residence of UK Ambassador to Israel David Quarrey in Ramat Gan for a reception with Prince William

Also on hand are ministers Miri Regev and Ayoub Kara; opposition politicians Avi Gabbay, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni; and actress Bar Refaeli.

— Raphael Ahren

William says ‘young generation’ must remember Holocaust

Addressing the reception at the British ambassador’s residence, Prince William reiterates his vow from earlier today to remember the Holocaust.

“We must never forget what was perpetrated during the Holocaust,” he says. “It falls on young generation to remember, and I commit to doing that.”

He also talks about Israel’s tech prowess, and says he “got a flavor today of tel Aviv’s unique flavor, and its beach.”

William calls for a “just and lasting peace” and ends with “Toda raba” in Hebrew.

— Raphael Ahren

Liberal Jewish groups blast US Supreme Court for upholding travel ban

Jewish groups decry the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Trump’s travel ban.

“Today’s decision will be recalled as a dark and shameful stain on America’s history reminiscent of other times when America turned against our highest ideals of equality, liberty, and justice,” the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt says. “The President’s Muslim Ban is plainly discriminatory, inhumane, and un-American and betrays the President’s oath to uphold the Constitution.

“We are profoundly disappointed and saddened that the Supreme Court allowed our country’s core values to be compromised in favor of religious discrimination and xenophobia,” he continues.

“Today’s decision sanctioning discrimination has harrowing echoes of when the United States discriminated against Chinese immigrants, when the Supreme Court allowed our nation to incarcerate more than 100,000 American citizens and others of Japanese descent in the 1940s under the Korematsu decision, and when the United States turned away Jews fleeing the Nazis aboard the SS St. Louis,” says Greenblatt.

“We stand with the Muslim community today and every day, and will never stop fighting for the values and ideals enshrined by our Constitution.”

HIAS, a group founded in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, also registers its disappointment over the decision.

“The Muslim Ban is not simply an exercise in executive authority, it’s the Trump Administration’s official license to discriminate on the basis of religion and nationality,” the group’s CEO Mark Hetfield says. “HIAS is disappointed in the Supreme Court’s affirmation of these policies of religious discrimination, fear, and tribalism, which have permeated nearly every aspect of America’s tradition of welcome.

“From the crackdown on people legally seeking asylum to the dramatic diminishment of the life-saving refugee resettlement program, the Trump Administration has been an unrelenting 17 month assault against America’s values as a nation welcoming of immigrants and refugees.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, also weighs in:

Today, the Supreme Court shamefully endorsed a discriminatory travel ban, callously rejecting our nation’s founding principle of religious freedom. The ramifications of a ruling of this magnitude include prolonged family separation across oceans and exacerbated suffering of refugees and asylum seekers around the globe. With this decision, the Court is abandoning the United States’ cherished legacy as a nation of immigrants, a place of refuge, and a country that welcomes people of all faiths.

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action’s CEO Stosh Cotler says, “Our hearts are broken by today’s Supreme Court decision on the Muslim Ban, which we believe will be remembered in history alongside Dred Scott, Korematsu, and other cases where the highest court in the land failed to deliver justice.

“Scapegoating people of one religion, restricting their travel, separating families across international borders — the Jewish community has seen this before, and we must raise our voices now.

“We know that this policy of discrimination is part of this Administration’s larger effort to target Muslim people, surveil their communities, turn them away from our country, and deny them professional opportunities and access to their families. History will judge this ruling harshly.”

Senior officer to face disciplinary hearing over theft of documents

The military advocate general will hold a disciplinary hearing for Col. Avi Blot, the head of the IDF’s Commando Brigade, after a number of military documents were stolen from the commander’s vehicle earlier this month, the army says.

However, Blot will not face criminal charges as the theft was not intended by him, the military says.

On June 14, Blot parked his car during a field trip with other senior officers, leaving behind his bag. The officer remembered to take his pistol and a military cellphone from the bag, but forgot that it also held a number of sensitive documents, the army investigation found.

No significant classified information was determined to have been in the papers.

“Since the officer did not deliberately leave the documents in his car, and in light of the contents of the documents that were stolen, the MAG decided that the incident will be dealt with in a disciplinary hearing before the head of the Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan,” the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

US pushing nations to cut Iran oil imports to zero by November 4

The United States is pushing foreign countries to cut their oil imports from Iran to zero by November, a senior State Department official says, as the Trump administration escalates its bid to pressure Iran after pulling out of the nuclear deal.

The official isn’t authorized to be identified by name and briefs reporters on condition of anonymity.

Last month, President Donald Trump announced the US was leaving the 2015 deal, in which sanctions on Iran — including its energy sector — were eased in exchange for Tehran agreeing to roll back its nuclear program. His administration said the oil sanctions would be going back into effect after a six-month grace period that expires November 4.

At the time, the Treasury Department had issued public guidance suggesting that countries needed to make a “significant reduction” in their imports, or else they would be subject to separate US sanctions prohibiting all transactions between their central banks and Iran’s central bank.

But the official says that Trump administration officials have been visiting European and Asian countries to say that the U.S. expects their imports to be zeroed out by the time the grace period ends.

The official also says the US is working with other Middle East countries to increase production so the global oil supply isn’t harmed.

— AP

Military targets second Gaza vehicle it says was used by arsonists

The IDF conducts a second airstrike in the Gaza Strip, targeting a car that the army says was being used by Palestinians to launch incendiary balloons into southern Israel.

No Palestinian injuries are reported.

Throughout the day, a number of fires have been reported throughout the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regions. All of them have been extinguished, local officials say.

— Judah Ari Gross

Ambassador to UNESCO says Israel may reconsider exit

Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO says he is urging his government to reconsider its decision to quit the UN cultural body, saying it has halted its “anti-Israeli resolutions” over the past year.

Israel and the United States both announced on October 12 that they would leave the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization over resolutions critical of the Jewish state.

But ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen says there has been a change of tone under the Paris-based agency’s new chief, Audrey Azoulay, a former French culture minister who was elected last year.

“What I’m going to recommend to my ministry and my government is at least to reconsider our decision,” Shama-Hacohen tells journalists by telephone.

“It could be postponing the date of leaving for one year or something like that,” he suggests, which would delay the scheduled departure until at least December 2019.

He speaks as Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian officials adopt amended versions of last year’s decisions by UNESCO’s world heritage committee to list the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls, as well as Hebron in the West Bank, as endangered sites.

The new resolutions — adopted through a rare consensus — keep the two sites on the list, but remove phrasing that Israel had considered aggressive.

Shama-Hacohen says that under Azoulay’s leadership there had been a “new spirit and new energy,” noting: “We haven’t had any anti-Israeli resolutions at UNESCO for one year.”

Staying put would be “a miracle”, he adds, “but there is an option for it.”

Azoulay welcomes today’s consensus between the usually feuding parties, calling it “a win-win situation.”

She says she hopes it will “allow a period with less tension that should open the way for more UNESCO work on the ground.”

— AFP

Settler says Palestinians attacked him, stole his phone

A resident of the settlement of Dolev in the central West Bank complains to police that a group of three Palestinians attacked him with rocks and sticks at the Givat Asaf intersection and stole his phone.

He says the three then fled to a nearby Palestinian village, according to police.

The man is treated by military and police medics and evacuated to a hospital.

Police say they have opened an investigation and are searching, along with the IDF, for the perpetrators.

Tunnel-detection project awarded top Israeli defense prize

Israel awards its top defense prize to three high-level projects determined to have significantly contributed to the country’s security.

The Israel Defense Prize is awarded each year by the president to individuals, units, or projects that are found to have significantly improved the security of the state.

President Reuven Rivlin presents the three prizes, alongside Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, and director-general of the Defense Ministry Udi Adam.

One prize is granted to the project to locate attack tunnels from the Gaza Strip, which Israel has used to find and destroy at least 10 border-crossing tunnels since October 2017, the Defense Ministry says.

“This is a system that has no equal in the world, which has led to a turning point in the campaign to thwart the tunnel threat,” the ministry says.

The second award is granted to a project whose details are almost entirely classified. The ministry says the project “gave the first solution of its kind to a major threat to the State of Israel.”

It involved both technological advancements and “extraordinary operational courage,” which has given a “significant and unique strategic contribution to the security of the state,” according to the Defense Ministry.

The third prize is granted to a technological project that was designed to identify potential terrorists using large amounts of data.

“The project dramatically influenced the security reality, mainly in thwarting hundreds of terror attacks,” the ministry says.

Apparently to keep aspects of these projects a secret, the Defense Ministry does not specify the recipients for each one. Instead, the ministry says that the two prizes were awarded to: Military Intelligence, the IDF Central Command’s intelligence unit, the IDF J6/C4I & Cyber Defense Directorate, MAFAT, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Israel Aerospace Industries MLM Division, which manufacturers missiles and space vehicles.

— Judah Ari Gross

Poll shows Zionist Union gaining with Livni at helm

A poll published by the Walla news site shows the Zionist Union regaining its political strength and then some should the faction be headed by Tzipi Livni.

The party is an amalgamation of Livni’s Hatnua and Labor, headed by Avi Gabbay, who is not a Knesset member.

The poll shows Livni’s ZU gaining 16 seats and bypassing Yesh Atid’s 15 to become the second largest. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud would stay well ahead, with 31 seats.

Under Gabbay, the faction would only get 12 seats, according to the poll, with Yesh Atid geting 17. ZU currently has 15.

Livni is pushing to be named opposition chief once former Labor head Isaac Herzog leaves his post to take over the Jewish Agency.

Gabbay is reportedly considering Shelly Yachimovich or Amir Peretz for the post instead. Among ZU voters, the poll shows 41% in favor of Livni heading the opposition, to 38% for Yachimovich, and 9% for Yair Lapid.

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