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Coalition chaos: Yamina MK denies he’s defecting; Liberman puts off budget talks

Government’s collapse looms closer than ever as reports say Nir Orbach in talks with opposition’s Likud; finance minister vows budget won’t include ‘populist’ minimum wage hike

MK Nir Orbach (standing) seen with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman during a Knesset plenum session, November 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Nir Orbach (standing) seen with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman during a Knesset plenum session, November 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Drone attack said to hit near US consulate in Kurdish Iraq

A drone attack hit the US Consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, a security source tells the Reuters news agency.

There are no immediate reports of injury or major damage in the attack in the Kurdish-controlled area. Videos shared on social media purporting to be from the aftermath of the attack show damaged vehicles on a road.

AFP said their people were injured in the incident.

An Iranian missile strike on Erbil in March was reportedly in retaliation against Israel.

Bennett applauds IAEA decision to censure Iran for nuclear program

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett applauds the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, for its decision to censure Iran over its nuclear program.

“This is a significant decision that exposes Iran’s true face,” Bennett says.

The decision “states that Iran is not cooperating with the IAEA and does not follow its instructions.”

“Today’s vote in the IAEA is a clear warning to Iran: If Iran continues its operations, leading countries will bring the issue back to the Security Council,” Bennett says.

IAEA adopts resolution censuring Iran for nuclear program, diplomats say

The International Atomic Energy Agency says it has adopted a resolution formally criticizing Iran for a lack of cooperation with the UN nuclear inspectorate, diplomatic sources tell AFP.

The motion brought by the United States, Britain, France and Germany — but voted against by Russia and China — is the first to criticize Iran since June 2020 and comes amid an impasse on efforts to bring the US back into a 2015 deal over Iran’s nuclear program.

It is a sign of growing Western impatience after talks to revive the 2015 landmark nuclear accord with Iran stalled in March.

However, the motion is largely symbolic and does not threaten any specific actions from world powers against Iran.

Coalition’s left-wing accuses Sa’ar of creating ‘alibi’ for government’s collapse

Justice Minister and New Hope party head Gideon Sa'ar leads a Knesset discussion and vote on a bill to extend the application of some Israeli law to Israelis in the West Bank, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister and New Hope party head Gideon Sa'ar leads a Knesset discussion and vote on a bill to extend the application of some Israeli law to Israelis in the West Bank, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Left-wing officials in the coalition accuse Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar of creating an “alibi” for the government’s collapse following a several votes the coalition lost earlier in the day on bills to raise the minimum wage, reports say.

According to the Kan public broadcaster and the Ynet news site, lawmakers from the Meretz and Labor parties were originally allowed by Sa’ar to be absent from the vote, but he walked back on that decision shortly ahead of time.

Sources told Kan that Sa’ar did this in order to then blame them for letting the bills, which were tabled by the opposition, to pass and create an “alibi” for dissolving the government.

“Gideon Sa’ar knew about the coalition’s decision and decided to oppose it just seconds before the vote. He is trying to create chaos in the coalition,” a coalition source tells Ynet.

Sources within Sa’ar’s New Hope however tell Ynet that there was no such agreement, accusing the coalition’s left-wing parties of “systematically acting in a populist and irresponsible way against the government’s decisions.”

US envoy condemns killing of Arab Israeli anti-violence activist

Johara Khnifes (Courtesy)
Johara Khnifes (Courtesy)

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides condemns the killing of an activist against violence in Arab communities.

“Last night, Israel lost a shining gem in the community — Jawhara Khniefes [sic], a young woman from Shafaamer courageous enough to combat violence against women,” Nides tweets, revealing that the victim had participated in a State Department domestic violence training program.

“May her cowardly murder strengthen us all to redouble efforts so that all women can live in peace and safety,” Nides adds.

Johara Khnifes, 28, was killed in a car bombing last night. Her father is the deputy mayor of the northern Arab town of Shfaram.

According to Hebrew-language reports today, police are investigating whether a relative of Khnifes may have been involved in the attack.

Liberman puts off state budget talks, rejecting ‘populist’ minimum wage hike

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After the Knesset advanced bills to significantly raise the minimum wage, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman says he’s stopping all discussions on the 2023 state budget, vowing that the budget will not include such “populist” measures.

Liberman tells Channel 12 news: “Raising the minimum wage is pure populism. Everyone needs to be responsible for their actions. We will act in accordance with economic common sense.

“Right now we are putting off the budget discussions and putting things back in order. The budget I pass will be professional, without populism.”

Ukraine city of Severodonetsk now largely under Russian control — governor

The eastern Ukraine city of Severodonetsk is now “largely” under Russian control after fierce fighting, while its twin city of Lysychansk is suffering enormous destruction, the region’s governor says.

Moscow’s forces “control a large part of Severodonetsk. The industrial zone is still ours, there are no Russians there. The fighting is only going on in the streets inside the city,” Sergei Gaidai, governor of the Lugansk region, says on Telegram.

Former IDF chief Eisenkot said set to enter politics, possibly joining Yesh Atid

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks during a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks during a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot intends to enter politics and run in the next elections, Channel 13 news reports.

The report says Eisenkot has told associates that he will make a public announcement after the current Knesset dissolves and elections are called.

He hasn’t decided what party to join, but the most serious talks are with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s center-left Yesh Atid. The report says many parties are interested in Eisenkot, since he allegedly has the power to bring voters both from the left and from the right.

The report adds that Eisenkot may initially form a new party, but this will only be with the goal of merging with an existing party to bring more candidates into the merged party. It says Eisenkot isn’t aiming to head the merged party.

Tom Stoppard’s ‘Leopoldstadt,’ his 1st play exploring Jewish roots, heads to Broadway

British playwright Tom Stoppard (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)
British playwright Tom Stoppard (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)

Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstadt,” a work for which the acclaimed British playwright mined the Jewish heritage he discovered later in life, is heading to Broadway.

Named after Vienna’s Jewish ghetto during World War II, “Leopoldstadt” tells the story of 50 years in the life of one wealthy intermarried family in the early part of the 20th century. It will premiere at New York’s Longacre Theater in September.

Stoppard, born Tomas Straussler, didn’t discover his Jewish ancestry until the 1990s. His non-observant family fled their native Czechoslovakia during World War II to Singapore, and then left to India after Japan began attacking there. Stoppard’s father was killed by a Japanese bomb.

Stoppard has won multiple Tony and Academy Awards for writing lauded stage plays such as “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and Hollywood films such as “Shakespeare in Love.” A private figure, Stoppard has rarely discussed his Jewish identity in public.

“It’s so far from being the story I lived through,” he told the London Jewish Chronicle. “It’s a lot to do with being Jewish, knowing you are Jewish, acknowledging you are Jewish, acting like you are Jewish…or not. And that’s the area where I felt I was looking inward rather than outward.”

His son Ed starred in a London production of the play, which debuted in 2020.

“I’ve never felt more connected to my heritage,” Ed Stoppard told the Guardian.

Yamina rebel said to threaten to ‘destroy’ party MK Orbach if he helps oust her

MKs Idit Silman (R) and Nir Orbach arrive for a Yamina faction meeting at the Knesset on May 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
MKs Idit Silman (R) and Nir Orbach arrive for a Yamina faction meeting at the Knesset on May 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Yamina MK Idit Silman, who has bolted the coalition and joined the coalition, is reportedly threatening to take revenge on fellow party MK Nir Orbach by releasing internal documents if he helps Yamina declare her a defector, a move that would mean Silman cannot run in the next elections as part of any existing party.

“I won’t shut my mouth, I intend to release this if Nir ousts me,” Silman is quoted as saying.

“It should be clarified to Nir that I have all his correspondences, all the Jewish Home reports,” she adds, referring to a now-defunct party that both of them were a part of. “There are also people who gave me more material. Nir will be destroyed by this.”

The network cites an unnamed source calling Silman’s words “blackmail.”

Silman’s office denies the report.

WHO: COVID cases and deaths falling nearly everywhere, except Middle East

The number of new coronavirus cases and deaths reported globally fell everywhere except the Middle East and Southeast Asia last week, according to a World Health Organization weekly report released today.

In its latest weekly update on the pandemic, the UN health agency says confirmed cases dropped 12% to around 3 million and reported deaths declined 22% to about 7,600.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus describes the continuing decline of COVID-19, which peaked in January, as “a very encouraging trend.” Still, he warns that the pandemic is not yet over and urges caution, even as many countries have dropped their coronavirus protocols and segued into trying to live with the virus.

Tedros notes that 18 months after the first mass coronavirus immunization programs began in rich countries, 68 countries have yet to protect 40% of their populations. While enough vaccines are now available, demand has fallen, he says.

“The perception that the pandemic is over is understandable, but misguided,” the WHO chief says. “A new and even more dangerous variant could emerge at any time, and vast numbers of people remain unprotected.”

WHO’s pandemic report notes that the number of new weekly cases rose by 19% in the Middle East and inched up by 1% in Southeast Asia, while falling everywhere else. The number of deaths increased by 7% in the Western Pacific and dropped elsewhere in the world last week.

UN chief warns impact of Ukraine war on world is worsening

UN chief Antonio Guterres says the consequences for the world of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are worsening, affecting 1.6 billion people.

“The war’s impact on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe and speeding up,” the secretary-general says, presenting the UN’s second report on the repercussions of the conflict.

Yamina MK issues denial after claims he intends to bolt coalition

After opposition sources have been claiming the coalition is about to collapse, possibly due to Yamina MK Nir Orbach’s intention to defect, the latter’s office issues a denial, saying Orbach “does not plan on holding a press conference.”

Orbach leaving the coalition would mean there are 61 lawmakers in favor of dissolving the Knesset and going to new elections.

Rumors have been swirling after the coalition failed to thwart opposition-backed bills hiking the minimum wage from passing, even though senior government officials vowed not to let them pass.

Liberia to open Jerusalem trade office that will one day become an embassy — report

Liberia intends to open a trade office in Jerusalem that will one day become an embassy, according to an Israeli report citing comments by a visiting ministerial delegation from the African country.

According to Ynet, the visiting delegation is headed by Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill, whose post is equivalent to prime minister in Israel.

The delegation — also including the country’s economy, trade and agriculture ministers — is said to have made the announcement in a meeting with President Isaac Herzog and Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll.

Liberia currently doesn’t have an embassy in Israel, but in recent years has taken a stand in favor of Israel in the UN and in the African Union.

After meeting PM, coalition MK says crisis over transportation fares can be resolved

Blue and White MK Michael Biton, leads a Economic Affairs Committee meeting in the Knesset on November 10, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset spokesperson)
Blue and White MK Michael Biton, leads a Economic Affairs Committee meeting in the Knesset on November 10, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset spokesperson)

Following his meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Blue and White MK Michael Biton says that he is hopeful that his transportation reform protest will resolve.

“It was a good meeting and I hope and believe that things will work out,” Biton says after the summit, which also included representatives from the finance and transportation ministries.

Biton, who also chairs the Economic Affairs Committee through which he wants transportation reforms to be discussed, briefly boycotted the coalition three weeks ago after he says the transport ministry bypassed him to propose sweeping changes to the public transportation fare regime. He returned after meeting with Bennett, during which Biton says he gave the premier two weeks to make progress on the issue.

Although Biton continues to press this fight when the coalition is already wounded, he says that his fight is ideological, not political.

“The Prime Minister also knows that this is not a political struggle, but a value-based ​​one,” Biton says. Most of the fare increases involve peripheral areas that have enjoyed significantly lower transport prices. “I can not allow harm to the weak, the Negev and the Galilee,” Biton adds.

US police arrest armed man who made threats against Supreme Court justice

US Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)
US Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

US police arrested an armed man who made threats against Brett Kavanaugh near the conservative Supreme Court justice’s home, the top US court says.

“At approximately 1:50 AM today, a man was arrested near Justice Kavanaugh’s residence. The man was armed and made threats against Justice Kavanaugh,” the court says in a statement.

The arrest comes as the court prepares to release potentially landmark judgments on two politically charged cases on gun rights and abortion.

IDF accuses Hezbollah of gathering intelligence under guise of environmental group

The Israeli military accuses the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group of conducting clandestine activities along the border with Israel under the guise of an environmental group known as “Green Without Borders.”

The Israel Defense Forces made similar claims in recent years, identifying several observation posts owned by the non-governmental organization which the army says are actually being used to carry out intelligence and reconnaissance work for the Iran-backed terror group.

“Unveiled: A new frontier reconnaissance site for Hezbollah terrorists to collect intelligence on the Lebanese border under the guise of the Green Without Borders association,” Avichay Adraee, the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesman says on Twitter.

Adraee attaches several photos of the alleged Hezbollah members taking pictures and observing the Israeli border from a small structure on the border.

Yesterday, the head of the IDF’s Northern Command said Hezbollah recently stepped up construction on military infrastructure near the border.

“We can see the operatives approaching the border area. We know them: their names, where they come from and where they are working. When the time comes, they will pay the price,” Amir Baram said.

Ra’am defies coalition to back wage hike legislation, as coalition parties walk out

In a further loss for the fragile coalition, the Knesset gives an initial okay to several law bills that would raise the minimum wage, despite coalition heads vowing not to let them pass.

In a preliminary reading, lawmakers vote in favor of raising the minimum wage to NIS 40 ($12) an hour, a cause pushed by some opposition members as well as coalition party Labor, but opposed by most coalition parties.

There was tense infighting within the coalition before the vote, with the coalition Ra’am party defying coalition discipline and saying it would vote for the opposition Joint List’s proposal, and with Labor intending to vote for the bills.

In a last-minute compromise, coalition parties walk out of the vote, allowing all three bills to pass.

Rebel Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi stays in the plenum and votes for the bill along with the opposition, as do all members of Ra’am besides its chairman Mansour Abbas.

Wildfire near Jerusalem partially under control

Firefighters have gained control of the wildfire near Mevaseret Zion, the Fire and Rescue Services says.

In the area of Har Adar and Beit Nekofa, the fire has been slowed down but is not yet under control.

In message to Iran, Israeli fighter jets escort US bombers returning from Persian Gulf

Israeli F-16i fighter jets escorted two American B-52 bombers as they made their way through Israeli airspace on their way back from the Persian Gulf, the Israeli military says, in an apparent show of force to Iran amid lingering tensions in the region.

“The flight was held as part of close cooperation with the US military, which represents a significant element in ensuring the security of the State of Israel’s airspace and the Middle East,” the Israel Defense Forces says in a statement.

Israeli jets escorting American bombers have become a regular fixture in the skies of the Middle East in recent months, as tensions between Tehran and the West have risen amid an attempt to negotiate a new deal that would block the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.

UK authorizes indecent assault charges against Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan court as jury deliberations continue in his rape trial, on February 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan court as jury deliberations continue in his rape trial, on February 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

British prosecutors say they have authorized London’s Metropolitan Police to charge Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein with sexual assault charges.

The Crown Prosecution Service says the 70-year-old US film producer is facing two counts of indecent assault against one woman in the British capital in 1996.

Kyiv says ‘Russian aggression,’ not West’s sanctions, fueling grain crisis

Ukraine says that Moscow’s invasion is responsible for a global grain crisis, dismissing Russian claims that Western sanctions on Moscow have sent prices soaring.

“We have been actively communicating, the president and myself, about the true cause of this crisis: it is Russian aggression, not sanctions,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says during a briefing with Ukrainian journalists released on social media.

Coronavirus czar: Unclear if rise in cases heralds a new COVID wave

Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka seen during a press conference near Tel Aviv, on November 9, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka seen during a press conference near Tel Aviv, on November 9, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The official tasked with overseeing the government’s COVID-19 response says it isn’t yet clear whether the current rise in coronavirus cases will evolve into a renewed wave of infections, as officials weigh reimposing some measures.

Saying there have been several new outbreaks, Zarka says in a media briefing that “we are experiencing continuous morbidity, with periodical rises and declines. I advise the public and especially at-risk populations to protect themselves with a mask and getting tested after being exposed to a carrier.”

Zarka says other countries are recording similar rises in cases due to a subvariant of Omicron.

“It isn’t clear whether the rise will continue or stop soon,” he says.

PM meets would-be-rebel MK in attempt to avoid another coalition crisis

Blue and White MK Michael Biton leads an Economic Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Blue and White MK Michael Biton leads an Economic Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a bid to stave off another potential coalition crisis, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is currently meeting with Blue and White MK Michael Biton.

Three weeks ago, Biton briefly shuttered the Knesset Economic Committee, which he chairs, and boycotted voting with the coalition in protest of the government’s reforms in transportation and — to a lesser extent — agriculture.

Bennett and Biton met on May 30, after which Biton resumed his coalition activity, giving the prime minister a two-week timeline to make progress on transportation issues.

That deadline expires next Monday, coinciding with the deadlocked coalition’s next opportunity to bring government legislation.

Biton’s complaints about the transportation reform focus on both substance and procedure. He says the reforms raise prices too quickly in some areas and gripes that they were not processed through his committee, which oversees the Transportation Ministry.

Putin, Raisi hold phone call, discuss need to reach new Iran nuclear deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi talk to each other during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. (Pavel Bednyakov/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi talk to each other during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. (Pavel Bednyakov/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin talked today on the phone with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi and discussed the need to continue efforts to reach a new Iran nuclear deal with Western powers, Reuters reports.

The Kremlin adds that both sides expressed an interest in boosting bilateral relations.

Amid maritime dispute with Lebanon, Israel insists it’s not drilling in disputed area

Illustrative: Energean working in the Karish oil field, offshore Israel, in 2020. (Screenshot via YouTube)
Illustrative: Energean working in the Karish oil field, offshore Israel, in 2020. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar issue a joint statement amid tensions with Lebanon over drilling in the Karish rig.

Lebanon and Israel — which have no diplomatic relations and consider each other enemy states — have been holding indirect talks brokered by the US for close to two years to resolve a maritime border dispute.

Lebanon reacted angrily this week after a new gas rig arrived at the Karish offshore natural gas field, which Israel says is part of its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone and which Beirut insists is in a disputed area.

“The Karish rig is a strategic asset of the State of Israel and is intended to extract the energy resources and natural gas in the State of Israel’s Economic Zone and to advance Israel’s green economy,” the joint statement says. “With its anchoring, the rig is located in Israeli territory, several kilometers south of the area over which negotiations are being conducted between the State of Israel and the Republic of Lebanon, mediated by the United States. The rig will not pump gas from the disputed territory.”

“The State of Israel prioritizes the protection of its strategic assets, and is prepared to defend them and the security of its infrastructure, all in accordance with its rights,” it says.

“At the same time, we call on the Republic of Lebanon to accelerate negotiations on the maritime border. Locating gas-based energy sources can greatly assist Lebanon’s economy and its citizens, and it is in the interest of the Republic of Lebanon to advance the dialogue on this matter. We hope that this will occur.”

Large wildfire near Jerusalem prompts evacuations in Mevaseret Zion

A wildfire is seen near a community outside Jerusalem on June 8, 2022. (Israel Fire and Rescue Services)
A wildfire is seen near a community outside Jerusalem on June 8, 2022. (Israel Fire and Rescue Services)

As a wildfire near Jerusalem rages on, some residents of Mevaseret Zion have begun to evacuate for their safety, according to the Fire and Rescue Services.

The blaze is also moving in the direction of Har Adar and Beit Nekofa.

Health Ministry team recommends indoor masks, holds off on 5th vaccine

Amid fears of a renewed COVID-19 wave, a team advising the Health Ministry recommends that the public resume wearing face masks indoors, especially in gatherings.

It was reported earlier that the ministry recommendation may be made for elderly and at-risk people, but the advisory team didn’t make such a distinction.

The team doesn’t recommend rolling out a fifth vaccine dose yet, saying this will be weighed again in accordance with morbidity rates.

The team recommends allowing anyone over the age of five to receive a booster shot. It adds a recommendation that health care workers be required to be triple-vaccinated.

The recommendations will be presented to the Health Ministry director general for approval.

Firefighters deployed as wildfire breaks out near Jerusalem

Five firefighting teams and six firefighting aircraft have been deployed to the scene of a wildfire near Jerusalem.

The fire has broken out between Kiryat Anavim and Har Adar, near a winery, a factory and a hotel.

European Parliament votes down key part of EU climate plan

The European Parliament votes to reject a reform of the EU carbon trading system, in a surprise setback to the bloc’s Green Deal climate plan.

The EU has vowed to cut greenhouse emissions by 55% by 2030, but Green and socialist MEPs judge the plan to expand carbon trading as insufficiently ambitious.

Moderna says its updated COVID shot offers 8-fold increase in Omicron protection

Moderna’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine that combines its original shot with protection against the Omicron variant appears to work, the company announces.

COVID-19 vaccine makers are studying updated boosters that might be offered in the fall to better protect people against future coronavirus surges.

Moderna’s preliminary study results show people given the combination shot experienced an eight-fold increase in virus-fighting antibodies capable of targeting the Omicron mutant, the company announces.

PA chief Abbas gives public speech, amid rumors about his health

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks as he meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, March 27, 2022, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks as he meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, March 27, 2022, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gives a speech by telephone from his Ramallah office, in an apparent attempt to quash swirling rumors over the aging leader’s health.

Abbas, 86, has a long history of health issues, ranging from heart trouble to a battle with prostate cancer more than a decade ago.

Speculation over Abbas’s medical condition has been rampant for years, and PA officials have sought to keep Abbas’s routine checkups abroad out of the public eye.

The most recent round of rumors was kicked off when BBC Arabic published an unsourced report last week that Abbas confidant Hussein al-Sheikh had been handed some key responsibilities due to Abbas’s deteriorating health. The report was later erased from the website and the BBC’s Twitter account.

Al-Sheikh immediately denied the report, which he called “an attempt at tampering with the internal Palestinian situation.”

Today’s speech is Abbas’s first public appearance since that report.

Coalition poised to torpedo coalition MK’s push to raise minimum wage

Now-MK Naama Lazimi attends a meeting of the Labor party in Tel Aviv, March 24, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Now-MK Naama Lazimi attends a meeting of the Labor party in Tel Aviv, March 24, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In another Knesset battle where politics take precedence over substance, the coalition is expected to vote against a preliminary reading to raise the minimum wage to NIS 40 ($12) an hour — a cause pushed by coalition party Labor.

Labor MK Naama Lazimi has long championed raising the minimum wage, and she is the sponsor of one of three linked bills coming for a vote in the plenum today. The other two are sponsored by opposition MKs. Labor sources say the coalition has decided to vote against today’s preliminary reading for minimum wage increases, and that Lazimi may pull her bill from the bundle.

As interlinked bills, the three would be voted upon together.

The driving force behind all three bills is the organization Standing Together. A spokesman for the organization says that, after a fight with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman held up progress for Lazimi’s effort, it turned to the opposition.

The current minimum wage is NIS 29.12 ($8.7) an hour.

Reports: Rebel coalition MK will again oppose key bill if it’s up for vote next week

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi arrives for an interview at Channel 12's Neve Ilan studios, May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi arrives for an interview at Channel 12's Neve Ilan studios, May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, who voted on Monday against a critical measure to renew the application of Israeli criminal and civil law to Israelis living in the West Bank, tells her associates that she’ll again downvote such a measure if it is brought to the Knesset plenum next week, according to Channel 12 news and Haaretz.

Since the vote, Rinawie Zoabi and fellow renegade coalition MK Mazen Ghanaim (Ra’am) have been facing intense pressure to resign, as the coalition struggles to stay afloat and regain its ability to pass laws.

The bill was defeated in a 52-58 vote after the Islamist Ra’am party’s other MKs and rebel Yamina MK Idit Silman were absent from the plenum.

This morning, Rinawie Zoabi tweeted that when she agreed to stay part of the coalition after threatening to bolt, she said she “would not support laws that go against my conscience and harm Arab society and the Palestinian issue.”

The defeated bill, enacted every five years since 1967, would renew a measure extending Israeli criminal law and certain key civil laws — such as income tax and health insurance — to Israelis living in the West Bank. The measure ensures that settlers living there are treated as though they live in Israel in most matters, without extending those same legal protections to Palestinians.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar has previously said that passage of this law is crucial to the future of the coalition.

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