The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.
Iran’s supreme leader says Iranians will not budge or change their stance following the new US sanctions targeting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his associates.
The top Iranian cleric’s website on Wednesday quotes Khamenei as calling the Trump administration “the most sinister” US government.
Khamenei is also quoted as saying that “the most hated figures of such an administration accuse and insult the Iranian nation. Iranian nation will not budge and will not withdraw because of the insults.”
US President Donald Trump on Monday enacted the new sanctions against Khamenei and others. US officials also said they plan sanctions against Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The sanctions followed Iran’s downing last week of a US surveillance drone, worth over $100 million, over the Strait of Hormuz, sharply escalating the crisis.
The head of FIFA promises to build more soccer fields in the West Bank and Gaza as he joined a US-led economic workshop in Bahrain on drawing investment.
Gianni Infantino, president of world soccer’s governing body, takes part in the Peace to Prosperity conference led by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner despite a boycott by the Palestinian Authority which fears a bid to impose a political solution through money.
“Let’s give, to be very concrete as well, some hope, some dreams,” Infantino says.
Joining a panel led by Thomas Barrack, an Arab-American real estate investor and vocal backer of Trump, Infantino says the Palestinian territories had fewer than 25 proper soccer pitches for a population of five million people.
“We will do our part at FIFA,” he said.
“Let’s do something tangible and concrete that people can see, and when kids play football [soccer], first they smile and, secondly, they don’t do other things.”
The Palestinian Liberation Organization reiterates its rejection of the $50 billion US economic plan for the Palestinians, saying that the proposal’s lack of political vision guarantees its failure.
The PLO Executive Committee releases its statement as the White House-led Mideast peace conference is underway in Bahrain.
The statement says the Trump administration wants to sell a “mirage of economic prosperity” which will only perpetuate the Palestinians’ “captivity.”
It accuses the White House of using the workshop as cover for Israel’s efforts to achieve normal relations with Arab states and expand its settlements in the West Bank.
The statement says that peace could not be achieved without ending “Israeli occupation and economic domination.”
The primary suspect in the 2015 Duma terror attack that killed three members of a Palestinian family waives his right to testify in court, saying in a statement read by his attorney that he would not cooperate with the “injustice” of the proceedings.
“This is an expression of the sense of injustice done to him in the pre-trial hearing during which the court rejected only some of his confessions,” Amiram Ben-Uliel’s lawyer Yitzhak Bam says, referring to the Lod District Court’s ruling last July in which a number of confessions given by his client were quashed as they were extracted by Shin Bet security service investigators using enhanced interrogation methods.
However, the court ruled then that the remaining admissions of guilt, which were not given under duress, could be used in the case against him, even though they came after he was tortured.
— Jacob Magid
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s diplomatic affairs adviser welcomes Oman’s decision to open a diplomatic mission in Ramallah.
The Omani Foreign Ministry announced in a statement on its Twitter account today that Muscat decided to open “a new diplomatic mission in the State of Palestine at the level of of an embassy.”
“We appreciate and welcome the decision of the Sultanate of Oman to open an office here,” Majdi al-Khaldi tells The Times of Israel in a phone call.
Four Arab states currently have diplomatic offices in Ramallah: Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
— Adam Rasgon
Thousands of Palestinians are rallying outside a UN compound in the Gaza Strip to protest the White House-led Mideast peace conference in Bahrain.
The demonstrators gather today, raising a black coffin that read “Bahrain conference to hell,” and signs that said “We are not trading our rights for money.”
Palestinians burn effigies of US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The protesters call out Trump’s son-in-law, chanting “Kushner, Palestine is not for sale.”
The US president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner is spearheading the $50 billion US economic plan for the Palestinians. The proposal, which omits key political aspects, has been met with scorn by Palestinians and their leaders.
The protest, orchestrated by multiple Palestinian factions, including Gaza’s Hamas rulers, passes peacefully.
A smaller demonstration takes place in Khan Younis, southern Gaza.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak announces he’ll be holding a press conference at 6 p.m., amid rumors he is seeking a political comeback ahead of the September elections.
Channel 12 reports that Barak will announce he is founding a new political party.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera apologizes to President Reuven Rivlin for visiting the Temple Mount with Palestinian officials on Tuesday, drawing Israeli ire, Rivlin’s office says.
“Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people since the days of King David,” says Rivlin, as the two meet at his Jerusalem residence.
“As you know, the sovereign State of Israel allows, develops and cares for freedom of worship and religion for all those who enter the gates of Jerusalem. Our historical connection to Jerusalem, and our sovereignty in Jerusalem, make us responsible for preserving Jerusalem as a city of faith and peace.”
Rivlin also rebukes the Palestinians for boycotting the Trump peace confab in Bahrain.
“The gaps between us and the Palestinians are great, but we must begin with small steps of cooperation, and not to boycott or refuse plans that will improve our economic and social situation. We must cooperate in every field where we can work together. That is the only way,” he says.
Bahrain sees the US-led economic workshop taking place in Manama this week as a possible “gamechanger” tantamount in its scope to the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the Gulf state’s foreign minister says.
“We see it as very, very important,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa tells The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the Peace to Prosperity workshop.
“As much as Camp David 1 was a major game changer, after the visit [to Jerusalem] of President Sadat — if this succeeds, and we built on it, and it attracts attention and momentum, this would be the second gamechanger.”
Speaking to The Times of Israel in his suite at Manama’s posh Four Seasons hotel, Al-Khalifa does not commit to normalizing diplomatic ties with Israel in the near future, but unequivocally affirms Israel’s right to exist as a state with secure borders.
“Israel is a country in the region… and it’s there to stay, of course,” he says.
“Who did we offer peace to [with] the [Arab] Peace Initiative? We offered it to a state named the State of Israel, in the region. We did not offer it to some faraway island or some faraway country. We offered it to Israel. So we do believe that Israel is a country to stay, and we want a better relations with it, and we want peace with it.”
While Bahrainis might be the only Arab state, besides Egypt and Jordan, to publicly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, “we know our brothers in the region do believe in it” as well, he says.
Full interview to come.
— Raphael Ahren
Ehud Barak is expected to include former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan on his new party list, according to Hebrew reports.
Golan was previously rumored to be seeking to join the Labor party.
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tells the Bahrain conference he would like the White House’s economic plan to be adopted by the international community.
“This is a regional economic plan. Although Gaza and the West Bank are a major focus of this plan, it also includes Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon… it is very important that we focus on these economies as a whole,” he says.
“Most importantly, we want an international consensus… We want this to become not a United States plan, we want this to become an international plan. Now that the plan is out there, we’re looking for changes, we’re looking for additions, we’re looking for buy-in, and really as a next step that this becomes a collective” plan, says Mnuchin.
Mnuchin says: “This is a plan that can very much be accomplished.”
“I know there is a lot of money in this room,” he says to the smiling audience.
For the past three weeks, planes flying through Israeli airspace have been unable to use their satellite navigation systems, and the government does not know why, according to the Airports Authority.
The issue, which affects the GPS reception, has not yet caused any accidents or safety incidents, but has a “significant impact on all aspects of operating a plane from the cockpit, as well as on managing air traffic,” an airports spokesman says in a statement.
During this time, planes in Israel have had to use an alternative method for landings, known as the instrument landing system.
The GPS reception problem only affects airplanes in the sky, not sensors on the ground, according to the authority.
“At no point has there been a safety incident connected to this GPS interference or related to navigation instructions or flight paths,” the airports spokesman says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is misleading the public with his calls to cancel the September elections, saying such a maneuver is “legally impossible.”
“Netanyahu lost it… Netanyahu pressed the button to dissolve the Knesset and there is no way back,” says Gantz at a press conference. “What we’ve seen is the past few days is Netanyahu’s ‘House of Cards’-esque spin.”
“Netanyahu is once again misleading the citizens of the State of Israel,” says Gantz.
He rejects the possibility of forming a unity government now with Likud, ahead of the September vote, and said Netanyahu did not contact the centrist party during coalition negotiations last month.
US President Donald Trump says he hopes the US does not go to war with Iran but if it did, America’s use of force would be overwhelming.
In an interview on Fox Business News, Trump is asked if America is going to go to war with Iran.
“Well, I hope we don’t but we’re in a very strong position if something should happen. We’re in a very strong position. It wouldn’t last very long, I can tell you that. And I’m not talking boots on the ground,” Trump says amid acute tensions between the two countries.
In the current crisis with Iran, exacerbated by its downing of an unmanned US spy drone last week, Trump has at turns sounded tough or conciliatory — talking up US military might and saying all options are on the table, or offering Tehran talks on renegotiating the multi-party nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from last year.
That step is widely seen as the genesis of steadily declining relations between the two countries over the past year.
A badly stubbed-out cigarette or an electrical fault could have started the devastating fire that ripped through Notre Dame cathedral in April, Paris prosecutors say, ruling out any criminal intent.
French investigators are examining many hypotheses “including a malfunctioning of the electrical system or a fire which started with a badly stubbed-out cigarette,” says a statement, indicating there was no evidence to back up any theory of “a criminal origin” to the fire.
US President Donald Trump could release the full peace plan before the fall if Israel scraps its national elections in September, Jared Kushner suggests at a press briefing on the sidelines of the Bahrain economic conference, in response to a question by The Times of Israel.
“We deal with facts as they arise, and then we evaluate them as a team and we bring suggestions to the president and it will be his decision to make, what he wants to do with it. We’ll just keep adjusting, as facts adjust, if they adjust,” says the US special adviser.
— Raphael Ahren
Kushner says the door remains open to the Palestinians to engage in a peace plan as he accuses the leadership of failing its people.
“If they actually want to make their people’s lives better, we have now laid out a great framework in which they can engage and try to achieve it,” US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law tells reporters as he closes a two-day economic workshop in Bahrain boycotted by the Palestinians.
“We’re going to stay optimistic,” he says. “We have left the door open the whole time.”
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is meeting with his Palestinian counterpart, Hussein al-Sheikh, in Jerusalem.
The meeting coincides with the US-led economic conference in Bahrain, which the Palestinians have boycotted.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak announces he’ll challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the September elections.
He unveils a new political party at a press conference in Tel Aviv.
Barak is launching his party with a tirade against Netanyahu and the corruption cases against him.
“Netanyahu has reached the end [of his career[,” says Barak, claiming even the prime minister’s associates are well aware of this.
“Bibi this is your last chance to go home on your own,” he says, imploring the prime minister not to plunge the country into “chaos” in order to “save yourself from prison.”
“The Netanyahu regime must be felled, not saved,” he says.
Former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan says he’s entering politics out of a sense of duty.
“I stand here because I must. My family doesn’t love this. After 38 years of [military] service they were looking forward to years of quiet. I take upon myself a journey that will be hard… a journey to fix the Israeli society. To restore sanity to the State of Israel. Sanity that it deserves,” he says.
He criticizes a “campaign of delegitimization” against the Israeli left.
Golan warns that amid growing divides in Israeli society, the country could soon reach a moment in which its citizens will refuse to enlist in the army and question “why should I serve a corrupt” government.
— With Jacob Magid
Ehud Barak, 77, was the IDF’s longest-serving chief of staff and the country’s most decorated soldier before becoming prime minister in 1999 after defeating Benjamin Netanyahu in elections.
Following his defeat in 2001 to the late Ariel Sharon, Barak temporarily retired from politics, but returned to the Labor Party in 2005. From 2007 to 2013, he served as defense minister, the last four years of which were under Netanyahu.
In 2011, he split with Labor. The change was short-lived with his Atzmaut party remaining in Netanyahu’s coalition government, despite the objection of most of Labor. The party was effectively disbanded upon Barak’s second retirement from politics in 2013.
Netanyahu’s Likud is dismissive of Ehud Barak’s new, as-yet unnamed party.
“We don’t get involved in how the left divides its seats between Ehud Barak and [Blue and White’s Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz,” the right-wing party says.
The Foreign Ministry says Chilean President Sebastian Pinera sent an official letter clarifying the circumstances surrounding his Temple Mount visit on Tuesday.
Pinera’s representatives say the visit was private, adding that they were not aware that those accompanying them at the holy site were Palestinian officials, after Israel angrily responded to the tour.
Pinera earlier apologized for the furor during his meeting with President Reuven Rivlin.
The Dutch national rail company says it will pay tens of millions of euros in compensation for Jews transported to Nazi death camps during World War II.
The payment by NS for what it calls a “black page in the history of the company” and is for survivors who were taken to camps, plus relatives of those who died.
The company earned millions of euros (dollars) in today’s terms after being commissioned by the occupying Nazi forces to transport Jewish families to extermination camps.
“It is estimated that several thousand people are eligible for the allowance, including an estimated 500 survivors. NS will set aside several tens of millions of euros for this in the coming years,” NS says in a statement.
The rail company apologized for its role in World War II back in 2005, but only finally announced that it would make compensation payments in November 2018.
A special commission has since been deciding on the amounts.
US envoy Jason Greenblatt tells The Times of Israel the Bahrain conference was well-received by participants.
“We have received excellent feedback about the workshop. People are inspired and I believe we have succeeded in convincing people to see the benefits of changing the conversation. They look forward to seeing how the economic vision will develop over the coming period, as we get input from others interested in helping Israel and the Palestinians see if they can achieve a peace agreement,” he says.
“They realize that political statements achieve nothing and they appreciate the depth of the economic vision and the potential that it holds.”
— Raphael Ahren
Firefighters in southern Israel battled 19 fires today sparked by incendiary devices carried by balloons from the Gaza Strip.
The local authorities say the blazes were quickly extinguished.
A Channel 13 poll, released just two hours after Barak announces his political comeback, gives the former PM’s unnamed party six of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the upcoming September elections.
The survey predicts that Likud and Blue and White receive 32 seats apiece; the Joint List gets 12; Yisrael Beytenu gets seven; Shas, UTJ and Meretz receive six seats each; Labor is down to five; the Union of Right-Wing Parties and New Right each get four seats.
The survey for the first time gives the center-left bloc an advantage with 61 seats, as opposed to the right-wing bloc (sans Liberman) which gets a mere 52.
But it was not immediately clear how the right could lose eight seats (down from 60 to 52) as compared to the outcome of the April elections and why the ultra-Orthodox parties would lose four seats among them by Barak’s entry.
Surveys have been proven to be wildly off-mark in previous national campaigns.
Iran’s foreign minister says US President Trump’s new sanctions targeting the Iranian supreme leader show the White House doesn’t understand “international regulations.”
Javad Zarif says that the US sanctions could violate the freedom of worship of some American Muslims because it restricts links with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
That’s according to a quote by Iran’s state news agency IRNA.
Khamenei is the chief of Iran’s theocracy and considered by some Shiite Muslims as their religious guide.
The report also quotes Zarif as saying the new sanctions showed that it was a “lie” the US wanted to negotiate with Iran. He says the US has created “danger and tension in the region.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the remains of Israeli Shimon Re’em, 55, who was killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March, will soon be returned to Israel.
“I would like to thank my friend, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has acceded to my requests as well as those of the family of the late Shimon Re’em. He acceded to these requests and we will now bring back his remains. We will continue to work until we also bring the remains of the late Avraham Matsliah,” says Netanyahu.
Re’em was a father of five from the northern coastal town of Zichron Ya’acov. He was a 23-year retired veteran of Israel’s Shin Bet security service and was working for the Israeli security consulting company Shafran.
The second Israeli casualty in the crash was Avraham Matsliah, a father of two from the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Matsliah, 49, left behind a wife and two twin daughters, who are both currently serving in the Israeli military.
All 157 passengers and crew members of the Boeing 737 MAX airplane operated by Ethiopian Airlines were killed shortly after the Nairobi-bound flight took off from Addis Ababa.
A Syrian national was arrested last night after he crossed the border near Mount Hermon, the army says.
He reportedly made it several kilometers into Israel before he was picked up by Israeli forces.
The army says the man appears to suffer from a mental illness.
He has been handed over to the Shin Bet security service for questioning.
— Judah Ari Gross