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As votes tallied, coalition math confounded by aversion to extremists, Islamists

Ra’am says it won’t sit with Itamar Ben Gvir, who says he won’t join a coalition with Ra’am anyway, as rightists squabble and Netanyahu takes fire for reliance on zealots

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir arrives for a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir arrives for a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Speculation grows Ra’am may back Netanyahu government if it enters Knesset

Analysts and pundits are speculating that Ra’am could help prop up a government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu if it ends up entering the Knesset, despite the premier’s vow he won’t rely on the Islamist party for a coalition.

Exit polls on the three television stations predict Ra’am will fail to clear the minimum electoral threshold, but the party’s leader Mansour Abbas claims it has received enough votes to get in.

Mohammad Magadli, a radio host, notes that Abbas has kept open the option of supporting a Netanyahu-led coalition if it includes the extremist candidate Itamar Ben Gvir, but not if Ben Gvir is a minister.

“I definitely don’t rule out the possibility that despite the prime minister’s promises, in hard times they’ll understand there is no choice and Ra’am’s support is needed. Mansour Abbas said himself he doesn’t rule out any possibility,” Aviv Bushinsky, a former Netanyahu aide, tells Army Radio.

According to the most recent Central Elections Committee count, Ra’am would clear the threshold.

Over 1.25 million votes counted; Ra’am currently above threshold

Over 1.25 million have so far been counted by the Central Elections Committee.

Netanyahu’s Likud party is leading with just under a quarter of all counted votes, followed by Yesh Atid with over 11%.

The Islamist Ra’am party is currently above the minimum electoral threshold.

Likud MK says Netanyahu government propped up by Ra’am not feasible

Likud MK Miki Zohar tells Channel 12 news that a Netanyahu-led government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party isn’t a feasible option.

Religious Zionism member suggests far-right alliance may now split

The head of the Religious Zionism youth wing says that the three factions that make up the far-right alliance likely would have failed to enter the Knesset if they ran alone.

“We would not have passed the electoral threshold and woke up in the morning to a left-wing government,” Yael Mantzur tells Army Radio.

The alliance, which Prime Minister Netanyahu helped broker, includes the National Union, Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties.

Mantzur suggests the parties may now split and go their own way.

“Everyone has his one opinion. We’ll see what happens later,” she says.

Ra’am falls back under threshold as more votes counted

The Central Elections Committee updates the vote count, with 1,862,304 ballots now counted.

The Islamist Ra’am party currently has 3.24% of the total vote, just a hair under the 3.25% of votes needed to enter the Knesset.

More than half of ballots now counted

The Central Elections Committee again updates the official results as another batch of ballots is counted.

As of 5:21 a.m., 2,207,372 votes have been counted, more than half of the ballots cast.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud is leading with just under a quarter of the total vote, followed by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s party with 12.9%.

Ra’am has received 3.1% of the counted ballots, further moving it away from the minimum electoral threshold of 3.25%.

Based on the current count, Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc would have 65 seats together with Yamina, versus 55 for parties opposed to the Likud chief. The seat allocation is set to shift as more votes are counted.

Massive cargo ship turns sideways, blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A massive cargo ship has turned sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal, blocking traffic in a crucial East-West waterway for global shipping, according to satellite data.

Traffic on the narrow waterway dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula stops after the MV Ever Given, a Panama-flagged container ship with an owner listed in Japan, got stuck.

It isn’t immediately clear what caused the Ever Given to turn sideways in the canal. GAC, a global shipping and logistics company, describes the Ever Given as suffering “a blackout while transiting in a northerly direction,” without elaborating. Others blame high winds for turning the vessel.

The Ever Given’s bow was touching the canal’s eastern wall, while its stern looked lodged against its western wall, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com. Several tug boats surrounded the ship, likely attempting to push it the right way, the data shows.

An image posted to Instagram by a user on another waiting cargo ship appears to show the Ever Given wedged across the canal.

Canal authorities can’t be immediately reached. The ship appears to be stuck some 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the southernly mouth of the canal near the city of Suez.

Cargo ships and oil tankers appear to be lining up at the southern end of the Suez Canal, waiting to be able to pass through the waterway to the Mediterranean Sea, according to MarineTraffic data.

Ra’am remains below threshold as over 63% of votes now counted

Further election results come in as 2,808,936 ballots have now been counted, over 63 percent of the total votes cast.

Ra’am remains below the 3.25% threshold needed to enter the Knesset.

According to the current tally, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc has a slim majority together with Yamina, but the results are expected to shift as more votes are counted.

With more than 70% of votes counted, pro-Netanyahu bloc on 63 seats with Yamina

According to an update from the Central Election Committee, with 70.2% of votes counted, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc, together with Yamina, would have a majority of 63 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

The results are expected to shift as more votes are counted.

With 730,378 votes counted so far, Likud has received 23.6% of the total vote share while Yesh Atid, in second place, has received 436,907 votes, or 14.1% of the tally.

Elections committee head: Results of regular polling stations due by afternoon

Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas says that final results from all the regular polling stations will be confirmed and published this afternoon.

According to Adas, the polling stations have all finished counting but the elections committee is checking the results according to protocol and gradually updating the total tally.

“All the votes have been counted. By the afternoon, 100% of the regular polling stations will be published,” she tells Channel 12 news.

Adas also says that there were some 450,000 “double envelope” ballots — absentee votes cast anywhere outside of one’s assigned polling station.

In the previous three elections, the number of people voting by double-envelope rose from 240,000, to 280,000, to 330,000 in the last election on March 2, 2020.

 

Ra’am again approaching electoral threshold with 78% of vote tallied

According to the Central Elections Committee, 78% of results, a total of 3,470,165 votes, have been tallied.

The division of seats for each party, which is expected to change, is, therefore:

Likud 31
Yesh Atid 18
Shas 10
Blue and White 8
United Torah Judaism 8
Yamina 7
Yisrael Beytenu 7
Labor 7
New Hope 6
Religious Zionism 6
Meretz 6
Joint List 6

According to the results, the Arab Israeli party Ra’am is now again approaching the 3.25% electoral threshold, rising to 3.15%.

Ra’am chair Abbas predicts final tally will give him ‘4 or even 5’ seats

Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas says he believes the final election results will show his party entering the Knesset and shaking up the political map.

“We have 150,000 votes, that means we are in,” he tells reporters outside his home in Maghar. “We will get four or even five seats.”

The party currently has 95,347 votes, according to the latest tally from the Central Elections Committee, with close to 80% of the total votes counted.

Abbas defends leaving open the possibility of cooperation with Netanyahu.

“We wanted to present a different path. Ra’am took the right step for Arab Israeli society,” he says.

With 87% of votes tallied, pro-Netanyahu bloc slides to 59 seats as Ra’am enters

The Central Elections Committee updates its count tally, with 87% of votes now counted and published.

According to the new figures, the pro-Netanyahu bloc of parties plus Yamina drops to 59 seats, with the Islamist Ra’am party passing the electoral threshold and shaking up the map.

According to the updated seat map as of now, Likud gets 30 seats; Yesh Atid 17; Shas 9; Blue and White 8; Labor 7; Yamina 7; United Torah Judaism 7; Yisrael Beytenu 7; Joint List 6; Religious Zionism 6; New Hope 6; Meretz 5; and Ra’am 5.

Ra’am party chief says he ‘isn’t in the pocket’ of either Knesset bloc

Mansour Abbas reacts to the updated vote tally, which sees him entering the Knesset, stressing once again that he isn’t “in the pocket” of either the pro-Netanyahu nor the anti-Netanyahu parliamentary blocs.

“We are willing to negotiate with both sides, with anyone interested in forming a government and who views themselves as a future prime minister,” Abbas tells Radio 103FM. “If there is an offer, we’ll sit and talk.”

Lapid says he and Ra’am chair Abbas spoke, agreed to meet soon; Abbas denies

As the updated tally predicts the Islamist Ra’am party will enter the Knesset, its head Mansour Abbas has spoken to Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, the leader of the biggest party in the anti-Netanyahu bloc, a Yesh Atid party official confirms to The Times of Israel.

Lapid and Abbas agree to hold a meeting in the coming days, according to the official.

However, Abbas disputes this account in an interview with the Ynet news site, saying he hasn’t spoken to Lapid.

Likud MKs split over whether Ra’am can be part of next government

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party tells the Kan public broadcaster that Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas “will definitely not be part of the government.”

He says that if the pro-Netanyahu bloc ends up not getting the necessary 61-seat majority, “we are heading to fifth elections.”

However, there is no unanimous agreement on the matter within the ruling party. In a separate interview with Channel 12 news, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi says that “in the current situation, we view Mansour Abbas as a potential possibility [for coalition partner].”

In response, Likud MK Shlomo Karhi tweets: “Absolutely not!”

But coalition whip and Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar says in a tweet: “It is our duty to do everything, and I mean everything, to prevent fifth elections. We must exhaust all available political options to form a government that will work for the citizens of Israel, because that is what is currently important to our country.”

Health Ministry: 679 COVID-19 cases confirmed yesterday; serious cases at 500

Updated Health Ministry numbers show 679 new coronavirus cases were confirmed yesterday, with 1.7% of tests positive.

There are 14,403 active cases, including 500 in serious condition, of whom 252 are listed as critical.

The death toll has grown to 6,131.

The basic reproduction number, representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects, has dropped further to 0.59.

New Hope member vows none of party’s MKs will join Netanyahu government

New Hope candidate and former Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin reiterates his party’s pledge not to join a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, “no matter what job we are offered,” and says no member of Gideon Sa’ar’s party will defect to Netanyahu’s bloc.

“If Netanyahu forms a government, we will serve the public from the opposition,” Elkin tweets.

He also says New Hope won’t be in a coalition propped up by the predominantly Arab Joint List party — notably not ruling out Ra’am.

“We will do everything to form a government of change, and no ego will stand in the way,” he adds.

How the election results could end up making Gantz PM, ousting Netanyahu

If the final election results end up similar to the current ones, which consist of 87.5% of the votes, nobody has a clear path to a coalition — and that could end up crowning Benny Gantz as prime minister instead of Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the coalition agreement signed by Netanyahu and Gantz last year — which was anchored in Israel’s Basic Laws and hasn’t been nullified — Gantz is set to become premier on November 17, 2021.

This means that if no new government is sworn in by that date, Gantz will replace Netanyahu as interim prime minister even though their partnership has fallen apart long ago.

This gives an extra incentive to Netanyahu to compromise and form a government — or alternatively, to speed up the process of calling an additional election in the summer, hoping the new vote’s results will be more favorable to him.

Meretz MK says he’d sit with Bennett, Sa’ar if it means ousting Netanyahu

MK Yair Golan of the left-wing Meretz party expresses openness to sitting in an unlikely coalition with the right-wing parties of Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar in an effort to oust Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“I strongly believe that Israel’s healing depends on [Netanyahu] leaving office,” Golan tells Army Radio. “I am willing to sit with Bennett and Sa’ar, if one of them manages to form an alternative. The goal is to replace Netanyahu.

“It may be that in a year we will go to elections within a year — but in the meantime, Netanyahu’s trial will advance and the public will get used to the realization that they can live without him.”

China says it’ll launch Mideast initiative, invite Israeli, Palestinian officials

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says China will advance a five-point plan to realize “regional peace and stability in the Middle East.”

As part of the initiative, Wang backs a recent Saudi initiative to end its long-running war in Yemen. He also invites Israeli and Palestinian “notables” to meet for talks in Beijing.

China has hosted Israeli-Palestinian delegations in the past, with a 2017 trilateral meeting including both senior Palestinian Authority officials and then-Israeli deputy Knesset speaker Hilik Bar.

Beijing proposed a four-point Israeli-Palestinian peace plan in 2013, which included the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Ra’am cannot fall below electoral threshold, meaning no radical changes likely

While the currently available election results aren’t final and based on some 88% of the votes, it is notable that no party can mathematically fall below the electoral threshold anymore, meaning that any further changes would be limited to moving a single seat from one party to another. The chances of any bloc getting a 61-strong Knesset majority are very slim since the biggest feasible bloc — Netanyahu’s supporters plus Yamina — stands currently at 59 seats, needing to swing two seats.

Even the smallest party, Ra’am — which was last night predicted to fail to make it into the Knesset in all exit polls — has received enough votes to guarantee it won’t fall below the electoral threshold of 3.25% of the votes.

Even if all remaining votes are for parties that pass the threshold and none are for Ra’am, the party will have at least 13,000 votes above the threshold.

Amid unclear election results, Likud bars MKs from media interviews

As Likud party members spar over whether a coalition that includes the Islamist Ra’am party is possible, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party has imposed a media interview ban on all its ministers and lawmakers, Hebrew media reports.

Members have been instructed not to give any further interviews and to cancel scheduled appearances.

‘It took a few seconds’: Lawyer Ephraim Arnon murdered in front of his wife

A 71-year-old lawyer who was murdered this morning at the entrance to his home in Nesher, near Haifa, has been named as civil attorney Ephraim Arnon.

Arnon was murdered in front of the eyes of his wife, Ruth, who tells Channel 12 news: “Two masked men came around 6:30 a.m. and murdered him in his home. He set out for work with a bag of food in his hand, I accompanied him to the gate to wish him a good morning, like every day. They stabbed, stabbed and stabbed. They didn’t utter a sound. It took a few seconds.”

“We have been married for 49 years, we have two girls and four grandchildren,” she says in tears. “He was an excellent husband, father and grandfather, a best friend.

Police are still searching for the murderers.

Top election official aims for final tally to be announced Friday

Central Elections Committee head Orly Adas says another vote tally update is expected within 2-3 hours, and will include votes from 200 additional ballots stations.

Adas says that officials will start counting an estimated 450,000 absentee ballots cast in double envelopes by members of security forces, prisoners, diplomats, COVID-19 patients, those in quarantine and more.

Adas says she hopes all those votes will be counted by tomorrow evening and the final tally will be available on Friday.

Israelis advised to avoid outdoor sports activity due to high pollution

The Environmental Protection Ministry warns of high pollution due to the current weather conditions, which include strong winds and sandstorms.

In a statement, the ministry, after consulting with the Health Ministry, advises those with heart and lung conditions, as well as kids, pregnant women and the elderly to refrain from outdoor sports activities. Others are advised to cut such activities to a minimum.

The statement says pollution levels are expected to drop back down tonight.

Shas also imposes interview ban after MK said party open to partnering with Arabs

After Likud, the Shas party also imposes an interview ban on its members after MK Moshe Abutbul told Kol Barama radio that he wouldn’t rule out cooperating with Arab or Arab-majority parties.

“We won’t sit with anyone who supports terrorism, but we have many collaborations with Arab MKs,” he said.

Palestinian man falls into elevator shaft, dies while trying to evade cops

A Palestinian worker in his 20s has died in Jaffa after falling into an empty elevator shaft while trying to escape Israeli cops, Hebrew media reports.

The man, from Ramallah, has been staying illegally in Israel and working in construction.

When Border Police officers arrived at a construction site in search of illegal workers, he tried to escape but fell dozens of meters to his death.

Central Elections Committee prepares to tally absentee ballots

The Central Elections Committee says it has started preparing to tally the absentee ballots cast in double envelopes by members of security forces, prisoners, diplomats, COVID-19 patients, those in quarantine and more.

The process consists of registering the details of those who voted in absentee ballots and comparing them to the details of those who voted in regular ballot stations, to make sure nobody voted twice.

The count itself will start tonight, the CEC says.

Before that, the remaining 3% of regular votes will be counted and their results will be updated publicly.

EU adopts tighter vaccine export rules

The European Union tightens its vaccine export control mechanism to prevent what it sees as an unfair one-way flow of vaccines out of the bloc.

The measure could limit vaccine exports to countries like Britain, which produce some of their own vaccines but do not in turn send doses to the EU.

“Accordingly, we today adopted two adjustments to the existing mechanism,” European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis says.

According to the Ynet news site, the measure also limits potential future vaccine flow to Israel and other countries with high vaccination rates.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Election committee denies results being held up by an official taking a nap

The Central Elections Committee has denied an earlier comment by its chairwoman Orly Adas that appeared to indicate the vote count has been held up by the official in charge going to take a rest.

Adas told Channel 12 news, when asked why the results haven’t been updated since the morning, that the official in charge had “collapsed” due to the strenuous work and gone to nap for a few hours.

In a later statement, the CEC says it “didn’t stop uploading the data to the [results] website because ‘the worker went to rest.'”

The committee is aiming to complete the vote count, including absentee ballots, by Friday.

Ra’am chief says he isn’t ruling out anyone who doesn’t rule it out

The new potential kingmaker, Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas, continues to remain vague on who he might cooperate with to form a coalition amid the elections that hand no bloc a clear majority.

Arab parties have only been part of a coalition once, in the 1990s, to help pass the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. But the current deadlock could force collaborations that were unthinkable until not long ago.

If Prime Minister Netanyahu manages to get Ra’am to join, it would be an almost fantasy coalition, consisting of members of the Islamic Movement alongside the neo-Kahanist and anti-Arab Itamar Ben Gvir.

Asked by Channel 12 news about such a potential scenario, Abbas answers: “Ra’am’s approach is to not rule out anyone who doesn’t rule us out. If a ruling party makes contact, Ra’am will hold the process appropriately and respectfully, our partners would be a ruling party and a candidate for prime minister, not their satellite candidate.”

He says he hasn’t yet been contacted by Netanyahu.

Liberman said planning to rally anti-Netanyahu bloc to pass law disqualifying PM

Yisrael Beytenu party leader has been urging other party leaders in the bloc of opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to use their apparent majority — including Ra’am, which is still on the fence — to “take over the Knesset” and pass a law disqualifying Netanyahu and other criminal defendants from forming a government, according to the Maariv daily.

Despite just 88% of the votes being tallied, Liberman estimates that the remaining votes won’t push the pro-Netanyahu bloc above its current 59 lawmakers, according to the unsourced report.

It says Liberman has spoken to many senior members of the anti-Netanyahu bloc and told them: “We must replace the Knesset speaker, take control of the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee, Finance Committee and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.”

He says that even if the differences between the various parties could make forming a coalition together impossible, they can collaborate to pass laws such as the law to disqualify Netanyahu.

Ra’am official says party does not want to partner with ‘racists’ on right

The head of Ra’am’s negotiating team indicates to Channel 12 news that the party would prefer to join a center-left government than one likely to be cobbled together by Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shua Mansour Masarwa hints that Ra’am would be uncomfortable in a coalition that includes the Religious Zionism party.

“We won’t sit with racists who threaten us, who threaten Al-Aqsa,” he says. “There are other options for a government.”

Masarwa says the party will do what it needs to advance its agenda, noting that the center-left is more likely to line up with the Islamist party’s goals.

“According to all indications, Netanyahu does not have a coalition. As we see it, the center-left is closer to the voters of Ra’am and the Joint List.”

Election officials say results from nearly 200 ballot boxes delayed by error

The Central Elections Committee says results from 180 polling stations that arrived late are being retallied and recalculated, due to a technical issue regarding the way they were originally counted.

“This is taking time,” it says in a statement, explaining the delay in new results being posted.

 

So far half of the ballot stations have been retallied, the CEC says.

Results on the CEC’s official vote tally website have not been updated since 9:30 a.m.

More votes added to tally, no major changes

The central Election Committee has updated its vote tally for the first time in eight hours, adding a few thousand more ballots to the count.

The new votes do not significantly alter the number of Knesset seats any parties get.

Labor MK-to-be says party will push to outlaw prime minister under indictment

Omer Barlev, a former MK set to re-enter the Knesset with the Labor party, says his faction will push to pass a law forbidding a person on trial for criminal charges from serving as prime minister, relaunching an effort to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put on hold last year when Blue and White joined the Likud-led government.

The matter will not depend on the creation of a coalition government, but rather just the support of 61 MKs, who will need to vote in a new Knesset speaker that will allow such legislation to move forward.

MK Omer Barlev of the Labor party speaks at a conference marking the party’s 50th anniversary in Tel Aviv, April 24, 2018. (Gili Yaari/FLASH90)

Earlier in the day, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman indicated that he would advance such a move.

“There’s no chance in the world we will sit in a coalition headed by Netanyahu,” Barlev tells Army Radio.

Barlev also tells the station he believes Labor lost two seats to Blue and White and one to Meretz due to campaigns in which the parties claimed they were in danger of failing below the threshold.

Labor currently has seven seats, to Blue and White’s eight and Meretz’s five.

Yesh Atid calculated by some to drop to 17 seats, Liberman up one

Some news outlets are calculating that Yesh Atid has dropped from 18 seats to 17 seats with the newest vote tally, and Yisrael Beytenu going up to 7 seats from 6.

Yesh Atid has 13.92% of the vote, with some 89% of ballots tallied.

The final seat count can only be calculated once all votes have been tallied as they are divvied on the basis of the percentage of parties that enter the Knesset, and are also affected by vote sharing deals to distribute leftover ballots that do not equal a full seat.

The final vote tally including double-envelope absentee ballots is only expected to be completed on Friday.

Yamina says it is waiting for final results before making any moves

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett says in a statement that the party will “await the final results and act responsibly to lead the State of Israel to stability and functionality.”

The statement comes after a meeting of senior party officials wraps up.

The party has not committed to joining a Benjamin Netanyahu-led government or ruling one out, making it one of two parties with an outsized role in coalition negotiations, together with Ra’am.

It is projected to have 7 seats once votes are finished being tallied.

Group seeks to throw book at top government official for ballot box pic

A good governance group is asking the state civil service commission to file an official complaint against Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman after he posted a picture of himself voting for Likud on Instagram, in what it says could be considered illegal electioneering.

“Braverman’s behavior is a clear-cut violation of the law and undermines the good name of the civil service and its work,” Hatnua L’Tohar Hamidot says in a tweet.

The group is also asking that Braverman be suspended until after an investigation is completed.

There is no immediate response from Braverman, whose position makes him a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of Likud.

Two Palestinians said shot by troops near Jerusalem

Two young men were wounded by live fire from Israeli troops in the Palestinian village of Bir Nabala northwest of Jerusalem, the official Palestinian Authority WAFA news agency reports.

Eyewitnesses told WAFA that Israeli forces fired live bullets at two young men while they were working in a car painting shop in Bir Nabala. An Israeli ambulance took the two shooting victims, WAFA says.

Israeli forces set up two flying checkpoints on the outskirts of Bir Nabala following the incident, with clashes breaking out between soldiers and Palestinians on the scene, WAFA reported.

The Israel Defense Forces does not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Officials reportedly begin tallying double envelope votes

The Central Elections Committee has begun counting the so-called double envelope absentee ballots, representing the largest chunk of remaining votes, Channel 12 news reports.

Over 450,000 votes were cast this way. Counting them takes more time than normal ballots as it requires checking to be sure the voter did not also vote at their designated polling station. Due to the pandemic, there are more ballots like this than ever.

The votes are numerous enough to move over 10 seats, though they are expected to be distributed somewhat evenly and will thus not have a major effect on the outcome unless there are surprises.

In addition, the committee is continuing work to recheck some 100,000 regular votes that were improperly reported.

Final results are not expected until Friday morning.

Knesset members to work together on president pick, replacing speaker

Channel 12 news reports that efforts are already underway for a majority of Knesset members who oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work together on a number of initiatives, even without agreeing to form a government.

Chief among these is appointing a new Knesset speaker to replace Likud’s Yariv Levin, laying the groundwork for legislation that will disqualify those under indictment from serving as prime minister.

The MKs will also attempt to come to an agreement on votes for a new president, slated to replace Reuven Rivlin in July. While the role is largely ceremonial, the president is tasked with nominating a party head to form a government after elections, a key position should Israel indeed embark on a fifth election in the summer.

Likud reportedly trying to find out if Ra’am’s Abbas will back law to oust Netanyahu

Likud officials reached out to Ra’am party head Mansour Abbas to take his temperature on joining an effort to pass legislation disqualifying Benjamin Netanyahu from being prime minister being planned by incoming MKs from the so-called anti-Netanyahu bloc, Walla reports.

According to the report, which cites “political sources,” Abbas told them that he was not in favor of laws aimed against specific individuals, but the party’s position on the matter had not been finalized.

Likud denies the report, calling it “total lies.”

Speaking to Channel 12 news, Abbas remains coy on whether he will back Netanyahu or Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, indicating that he’s keeping his options open.

Within Likud, the possibility of cooperating with the Islamist party has inflamed passions.

Former coalition head David Bitan, a Likud MK, tells Kan that bringing in Ra’am as a coalition partner “is not something that would cause harm.”

With five seats projected for Ra’am, the party is regarded as holding the key to power for both the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs.

Ra’am, Ben Gvir come together in refusal to come together in a coalition

It would be “impossible” for Ra’am to sit in a government with neo-Kahanist Itamar Ben Gvir, likely incoming Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim tells The Times of Israel.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas and party members at the party headquarters in Tamra, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

“It would be very hard to sit with someone like Ben Gvir who feels such enmity for Arab society. In that case, we could demand our people’s rights outside the government because when Benjamin Netanyahu sits with someone like Ben Gvir, it’s very hard to be a member [of that government],” Ghanaim says.

Asked whether “very hard” meant “impossible,” Ghanaim says: “I would say that it’s impossible.”

The sentiment appears to be mutual. Ben-Gvir, a Jewish supremacist who is set to enter the Knesset for the first time with the Religious Zionism party, tells Channel 12 that he is dead set against being in the same coalition as Abbas.

“He’s a man who has written that he supports Hamas,” he says, adding that he would ask Netanyahu if he can really rely on Abbas regarding approving IDF operations in Gaza.

Head of the far-right Religious Zionism party MK Bezalel Smotrich and party member Itamar Ben Gvir seen with supporters and party members at the party headquarters in Modi’in, on elections night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Ra’am party secretary Walid al-Hawashleh told The Times of Israel earlier on Wednesday that no final decisions have been made about where the party’s red lines in coalition negotiations will be.

Most of the 13 political parties set to enter the Knesset fall either in Netanyahu’s camp or in the anti-Netanyahu camp, which is led by Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid.

“I’m telling you, both are bad. But at the end of the day, we have demands. We’ll put our demands on the table and go back to our internal institutions, to the voters who supported us, and ask people for their opinion,” Ghanaim says.

Ghanaim says that Ra’am will demand commitments to revoke the 2018 Nation-State law as well as a 2017 law targeting illegal Arab construction, among other priorities.

More votes tallied, Meretz and Ra’am in tight race over single seat

Several thousand more votes have been tallied and published online, not significantly changing the standing of any party.

As it currently stands, if Meretz gains 182 seats on Ra’am, it will get a sixth seat and Ra’am will drop down to four seats, according to one analysis.

Most other parties need to gain or lose several thousand votes at the expense of others to see their seat total change.

 

Gulf said to warn that letting Kahanists into coalition will sink normalization

Officials in the Persian Gulf are warning Israel against allowing extreme anti-Arab elements such as Itamar Ben Gvir into the government, Kan reports.

“Right-wing stances are one thing, but anti-Arab and anti-Muslim expressions from MKs who are supposed to be part of the governing coalition will harm and sabotage normalization efforts,” one Gulf source is quoted telling Israeli diplomats.

The station does not detail where the source is from.

Likud said seeking succor from Sa’ar, to no avail

Several Hebrew-language media outlets are reporting that Likud has made a number of overtures to New Hope and its leader Gideon Sa’ar to negotiate the possibility of joining a coalition government.

New Hope, made up largely of former Likud backers turned off by party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the offer, according to the reports.

New Hope performed below expectations in Tuesday’s vote, winning only enough for six Knesset seats, with some 90 percent of ballots counted.

Earlier in the day, Likud minister Eli Cohen indicated that Likud would pursue bids to convince New Hope and Blue and White to return to the fold.

Sa’ar has vowed to not join a coalition led by Netanyahu.

Jewish homophobe says he is not opposed to Arab homophobes backing coalition

Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir may have beef with relying on the support of the Islamist Ra’am party, but Eldad Rabinovitch, No. 2 on the Noam faction that is also part of Religious Zionism, says he is fine with the ultra-conservative Muslim Brotherhood-linked party having the back of a government that includes his right-wing colleagues.

Kan quotes Rabinovitch saying that “the coalition we will be in will be a coalition of Zionist Jews, including Haredim. If there is support from the outside, we of course won’t oppose it. We will not depend on them.”

At number 11 on the Religious Zionism slate, Rabinovitch has little chance of actually getting into the Knesset.

Both Noam and Ra’am are openly anti-LGBT.

Odeh blames Joint List rupture for weak results

Joint List head Ayman Odeh, who saw his party lose scads of support amid low turnout, blames the fact that one of the constituent factions peeled off to run solo for the poor showing.

“The takeaway is clear, when we are united, we’re stronger and when we are divided, we are weaker,” he is quoted saying by Ynet.

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh casts his ballot at a voting station in Haifa during the Knesset elections, March 23, 2021. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

The Joint List is projected to get only six seats, while Ra’am, which split off is set to win four or five seats. In the last election, the united Joint List won a record 15 seats amid sky-high turnout.

“We tried to stay united, but we didn’t succeed. Despite that, I congratulate Ra’am and the Joint List, we have to respect the results. We are all victims of racism and discrimination.”

Israel in talks with US on visa waiver deal

Israel and the United States are holding talks on the Jewish state’s entry to the US Visa Waiver Program, the Israeli ambassador to America confirms.

Ambassador Gilad Erdan and US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas agreed to set up a joint team to examine the matter, according to the envoy.

Germany moves to ease citizenship for Nazi victims’ descendants

BERLIN — The German government agrees to a draft law to naturalize some descendants of Nazi victims who had previously been denied citizenship.

Described by Berlin as a symbolic step, the measure helps close legal loopholes which had led to many victims’ descendants having their citizenship application rejected.

“This is not just about putting things right, it is about apologizing in profound shame,” says Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

“It is a huge fortune for our country if people want to become German, despite the fact that we took everything from their ancestors,” he says in a statement.

While Germany has long allowed descendants of persecuted Jews to reclaim citizenship, the lack of a legal framework meant many applicants were rejected before a rule change in 2019.

Some were denied because their ancestors fled Germany and took on another nationality before their citizenship was officially revoked.

Others were rejected because they were born to a German mother and non-German father before April 1, 1953.

Passing the 2019 decree into law was a way of giving them “the value they deserved” while putting beneficiaries on a firmer legal footing, interior ministry spokesman Steve Alter says.

Germany’s Central Council of Jews says that the previous decree had been “inadequate” and that it had long campaigned for a statutory right.

“It is gesture of decency if both the victims and their descendants are able to claim German citizenship on legal grounds,” says the council’s president Josef Schuster.

US Senate confirms transgender Jewish doctor as assistant health secretary

Voting mostly along party lines, the US Senate confirms former Pennsylvania health secretary Rachel Levine to be the nation’s assistant secretary of health. She is the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation.

The final vote is 52-48. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine join all Democrats in supporting Levine.

Levine had been serving as Pennsylvania’s top health official since 2017, and emerged as the public face of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She is expected to oversee Health and Human Services offices and programs across the US.

US President Joe Biden cited Levine’s experience when he nominated her in January.

Transgender-rights activists have hailed Levine’s appointment as a historic breakthrough. Few trans people have ever held high-level offices at the federal or state level.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine meets with the media at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) headquarters in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 29, 2020. (Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News via AP, File)

Brazil becomes second country to pass 300,000 COVID deaths

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil has reached 300,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and becomes the second nation to top that figure. The United States hit the same milestone on December 14, but it has a larger population.

Today’s coronavirus figures from the Brazilian health ministry add another 2,009 deaths to the country’s tally, which local media say is an undercount.

Yesterday, Brazil hit a single-day record of 3,251 COVID-19 deaths and authorities fear that April could be as grim as March in the country’s overwhelmed hospitals.

Brazil added 100,000 deaths to its tally in only 75 days, a spike health experts have blamed on a lack of political coordination, new variants that spread more easily and a disregard for health protocols in many parts of the country.

A demonstrator places a Brazil national flag on a mattress symbolizing COVID-19 victims, during a protest against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, in front of the Ronaldo Gazolla hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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