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Mortar fired out of Gaza as region heats up following Trump plan roll-out

No reports of damage or injuries in attack, which comes after army says it will bolster troops presence in West Bank amid fears of violence

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires during a demonstration against a US brokered Middle East peace plan, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 29, 2020. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinian demonstrators burn tires during a demonstration against a US brokered Middle East peace plan, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 29, 2020. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

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

Khamenei says US peace plan won’t bear fruit

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is denouncing as “satanic” a US peace plan for solving the Israeli-Palestinian and predicting that Muslim nations will undoubtedly prevent the proposal from being put into practice.

“To the dismay of US politicians, the satanic, evil US policy about Palestine — the so-called DealOfTheCentury— will never bear fruit, by the grace of God,” Khamenei writes on his official Twitter account.


Wife of Rabin assassin disqualified from Knesset run, for now

The central Elections Committee has disqualified Larissa Trimbobler-Amir from running for the Knesset in March 2 elections.

Trimbobler-Amir is married to Yigal Amir, the man who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally 24 years ago.

The 13 member committee decided unanimously to disqualify her. The disqualification will likely be challenged in the Supreme Court, which often overturns the committee’s decisions.

If she does run, her party is not expected to garner a significant number of votes or enter the Knesset.

Rivlin says peace plan could bring hope

Speaking at the Bundestag in Berlin, President Reuven Rivlin says the US peace plan could help bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

“Yesterday in Washington, we saw moments that could bring great hope. After long years of diplomatic stalemate, President Trump — a courageous friend of the State of Israel — presented a plan that could allow the two peoples to renew the channels of dialogue and make progress towards a shared future,” he tells the German parliament in Hebrew, according to a statement from his office.

“It is no simple matter and both sides need to study the plan in depth. It is a plan that demands deep, difficult and complex concessions from both sides, but we must not give up. For those who surrender, surrender the chance. And I refuse to surrender.”

“It is true that the relations between Israel and the Palestinians are not symmetrical, but our capacity to find a political and diplomatic solution is dependent on the ability of both sides to trust one another. We must build confidence between us,” he adds.

German, Israeli leaders warn anti-Semitism spreading again

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier says at the Bundestag that anti-Semitism is again becoming a threat in his country and throughout Europe.

“The evil spirits of the past are reappearing today under a new guise,” he says.

“More still, they are presenting their ethno-nationalist, authoritarian thinking as a vision, as a better answer to the questions of our time.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (R) and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier take their seats before a panel discussion with participants of the Bundestag’s International Youth Encounter on January 29, 2020, at the Jakob-Kaiser-Haus within the parliament compound in Berlin. (John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin echoes those concerns in his own speech, warning that the continent is being “visited by ghosts from the past.”

“Ugly and extreme anti-Semitism is hovering over the whole of Europe,” Rivlin says.


India gives US plan tepid backing

Following a number of other countries, India offers lukewarm support for the US peace plan.

Both sides should “engage with each other, including on recent proposals put forward by the United States and find an acceptable two-state solution,” government spokesman Raveesh Kumar says.

India has long been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, but has grown closer to Israel under leader Narendra Modi.

Coronavirus outbreak surpasses SARS pandemic of 2002-2003, China says

China has reported more infections from a new virus than it had from an outbreak of SARS in 2002-2003, although the death toll is still lower.

China said it has confirmed 5,974 cases of the new virus, compared to 5,327 cases of SARS.

Security personnel direct a man past a thermal imaging camera at a subway station in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP/Mark Schiefelbein)

It also reported another large jump in cases on Wednesday and a rise in the death toll to 132. That compares to 348 people killed in China during SARS. Severe acute respiratory syndrome killed nearly 800 people worldwide.

Scientists say there are still many critical questions to be answered about the new virus, including just how transmissible and severe it is. More than 50 cases have been reported outside China.

— AP

Russia stays mum on ‘so-called deal’ ahead of Netanyahu visit

Russia is staying solidly on the fence regarding the US peace plan ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow on Thursday, saying it will get first-hand information then.

“At this moment we can only state that the plan was fully supported by Israel, it received support from a number of other nations, but was met with strict denial from the directly involved party of this so-called deal — the Palestinians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says.

“We continue to analyze the situation,” he adds.

Ministers to meet on annexation Tuesday instead of Sunday — reports

Israeli media is reporting that Israel’s caretaker cabinet will likely meet on Tuesday to decide on beginning the process of annexing areas of the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had initially said he wanted to bring it for a vote at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, but Minister Yariv Levin said Wednesday morning that there were still several bureaucratic hurdles to leap, including “bringing the proposal before the attorney general and letting him consider the matter.”

The Tuesday meeting was first reported by Israel Hayom and later by other outlets. The reports were unsourced.

“It’s a matter of a few days,” Israel Hayom quotes Netanyahu’s bureau saying.

Netanyahu has vowed to push ahead with annexing territories that Israel would keep under the US peace plan unveiled Tuesday, despite international opposition outside the US.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has yet to publicly decide if Netanyahu’s caretaker government will have the power to carry out the move despite not having a mandate to rule.

Netanyahu: Peace plan a once in a lifetime chance

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Fox & Friends that the US peace plan is a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

He says Trump asked him to make concessions and he is open to them. “I think the Palestinians will understand that they will not get a better deal.”

This is not a plan that will move us back 50 years, he says, claiming that even Arab states say it should be given a chance.

As for the tunnel between the West Bank and Gaza envisioned by the plan, he says it will be controlled by Israel, “but they can move back and forth.”

Kushner: Palestinians showing they aren’t ready for statehood

Also appearing on Fox & Friends is Jared Kushner, credited as the plan’s architect, who says the Palestinian rejection of the plan shows they can’t have a state.

“They are proving through their reaction that they are not ready to have a state,” he says.

He calls the Palestinians “professional at not finishing deals.”

“The ball is in their court if they want to approach it, if not we are busy,” with other things, he says.

White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump waits with her husband and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner for a press conference with US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House on January 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

“Trump got them the best offer they ever had,” he adds.

He says skeptics should give the plan a chance.

“You’re not going to change minds overnight. It puts out a framework.”

He also claims the plan will reduce terror by proving to the world that Israel does not have any designs on the Temple Mount, which he says has fueled jihadism.

“It very strongly gets Israel to affirm they will respect Jordan’s hold on the mosque. If the mosque is safe and Muslims can come pray” this should reduce terror and tensions, he says.

In actuality, the plan makes reference to all religions being able to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, a potentially explosive change to the status quo there that could inflame the region.

Police hold suspects found with knife

Police officers have arrested two suspects armed with a knife on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, police say.

“The circumstances are being examined,” police say in a statement.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu vows to advance annexation

Despite reports that pushing through annexation before elections may prove an obstacle, Netanyahu tweets that it will not deter him.

“I won’t miss the chance. I will extend sovereignty,” he writes.

Clashes as Palestinians protest across West Bank

Dozens of Palestinians in Bethlehem are protesting against a US plan that would allow Israel to annex chunks of the West Bank.

Several young Palestinians throw rocks at Israeli security forces, who respond by firing tear gas and sound grenades.

Palestinians protest Middle East peace plan announced Tuesday by US President Donald Trump, which strongly favors Israel, in Bethlehem, West Bank, Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

A number of people are treated for tear gas inhalation, the official Palestinian Authority news site Wafa reports.

Protests against the US plan also take place in Hebron, Qalqiliya, Tulkarem and al-Bireh, Wafa reports.

— Adam Rasgon

Russia to release backpacker as gesture to US, Israeli official says

An Israeli official says Russia will release Israeli-American backpacker Naama Issachar from prison imminently.

The official says the release was the result of a Russian goodwill gesture toward the United States, stressing that Israel did not give Moscow anything in return.

President Vladimir Putin, who has the final say on a pardon for Issachar, has yet to publicly announce a decision on her fate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to fly from Washington to the Russian capital later Wednesday, where he is expected to secure Issachar’s release on Thursday and fly her back to Israel.

Israeli-American Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court on December 19, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)

“There was no deal with Russia. Naama’s release was done as a gesture by President [Vladimir] Putin to the US,” a senior official in an inter-ministerial committee dealing with the case tells reporters in Netanyahu’s entourage.

The government dealt with Issachar’s case not only because of the state’s responsibility toward all its citizens but also out of a desire to solve a problem “that could hurt the sensitive relations between Russia and Israel,” the official adds, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Issachar was sentenced in October to 7.5 years in Russian prison after being found with drugs in her luggage while passing through a Moscow airport.

— Raphael Ahren

Netanyahu Uganda-bound next week, report claims

The Ynet news site reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Uganda next week, just days after returning from Washington and Moscow.

The report says the trip will take place on Monday. It does not say how long the trip will be or what the purpose is.

His office refuses to confirm or deny the report.

Netanyahu visited Uganda in 2016 to mark 40 years since his brother was killed in an anti-terror raid at an airport in Entebbe.

Israel should get okay from joint panel before annexing, envoy says

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman suggests that it may take a while before Israel can go ahead and apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and all settlements across the West Bank.

In a briefing to reporters, he stresses that an Israeli-American committee to discuss the exact parameters of the ostensible annexation must be established first before Jerusalem can go ahead with its plans.

“That committee will work with all due deliberation to get to the right spot. But it is a process that does require some effort, some understanding, some calibration. We need to see the dimensions and see that it is not inconsistent with the maps,” he says.

The agreement that we have with the prime minister is that in exchange for Israel agreeing to freeze the territory that is allocated to a Palestinian state under the vision, in exchange for accepting our plan and moving forward… form a joint committee with Israel to convert the conceptual map into a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved.”

Israeli officials had been saying they would push ahead with annexation in the next few days, which both Friedman and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier indicated they would be okay with if it stuck to the parameters of the plan.

But senior White House adviser Jared Kushner told CNN that the exact contours of the areas to remain under Israeli control would take two to four months to work out.

During the briefing, Friedman said that the Israeli government is free to annex “immediately,” but refused to speculate on when exactly they are going to do it.

“The Israeli government will do what it’s going to do. But then the committee will form,” Friedman says.

“We will designate shortly the members of the committee from our side. We hope the Israeli government will do the same. We will be presented with the plan and the proposal and we’ll consider it as part of the agreement. And they’ll make a decision.”

He adds: “We’re cognizant that this is something that we’ll get to work on right away and we will try to get to the action real quickly.”

— Raphael Ahren

Ex-general warns against ‘worrying’ implications of Trump plan, annexation

Gen (ret.) Amos Gilad, the former head of the Defense Ministry’s political bureau, tells Channel 12 he’s “very troubled that the US is presenting a plan that has no chance of working.”

Amos Gilad, former director of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau, speaks at the Herzliya Conference on May 9, 2018. (Gilad Kavalerchik/ Herzliya Conference)

“The Palestinians simply won’t talk to us… They won’t sit around the table with us… It is 100 percent certain that there will be no interaction with them, no discussions with them. And this is extremely worrying,” he says. “After all, this is the United States of America. And on other side, it creates an opening for full annexation, which will turn us into a single state, with two peoples, with far-reaching implications for the character of the state of Israel. And I’m also troubled by the growing pressure on Jordan… Without Jordan, our security will be gravely damaged… There are lots of dangers here, and I don’t a chance of an accord on the basis of this plan.”

Asked about the prospect of Netanyahu moving quickly to annex the Jordan Valley, Gilad says: “That would be a very damaging step.” Unilateral annexation “would harm Jordan, and the fabric of relations — not the security ties, which are wonderful, but the wider envelope of vital ties.”

Instead of annexing the Jordan Valley, he suggests, “strengthen it” by boosting the Israeli population there.

Netanyahu trial will take 6-7 years, and he can remain PM during it — official

A senior official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s entourage says the Israeli leader is planning for his criminal trial to drag out for six or seven years, during which time he will seek to continue on as prime minister.

“He’ll run for election, win, and will have no problem with the trial. Netanyahu won’t have to divide his time between the Prime Minister’s Office and the courtroom. He’ll only show up when he needs to testify. This will happen after they grill hundreds of other witnesses.”

While a sitting prime minister who is indicted does not have to step down, Israel’s judicial system has yet to rule on whether a party leader who is under indictment can be tasked with forming a government.

— Shalom Yerushalmi

Israel to evacuate families of diplomats from China amid outbreak

Israel is planning on evacuating families of diplomatic staff from China amid an outbreak of a deadly coronavirus, according to Channel 12 news.

The Health Ministry says it is also considering putting restrictions on Israelis traveling to or from China, and may ask those who come from China to quarantine themselves for several days.

It says a decision is expected after a meeting soon.

Netanyahu, Esper discuss Iran, security ties

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with US defense chief Mark Esper in Washington.

The two discuss Iran and regional threats, according to Netanyahu’s office.

Mark Esper, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on January 29, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

His office says the two also spoke about security ties “which have reached new heights and will continue to deepen.”

There is no comment from the Pentagon.

WHO says world needs to take action over Chinese virus

The World Health Organization is urging governments around the globe, including those as yet unaffected by the novel coronavirus outbreak, to be “on alert” and “take action” to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

Two zookeepers carry the young panda twins ‘Meng Yuan’ and ‘Meng Xiang’ before the animals explore their enclosure at the Berlin Zoo in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP/Michael Sohn)

“The whole world needs to be on alert now. The whole world needs to take action,” Michael Ryan, head of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, tells reporters in Geneva.

While several airlines have suspended flights in an out of China, El Al and other carriers are continue to operate flights between Israel and Beijing as well as Hong Kong.

— with AFP

No evacuation of diplomats’ families from China, ministry says

The Foreign Ministry denies it is evacuating families of diplomats from China, after a Channel 12 news report.

A spokesman says spouses and children who asked to extend their vacations for the Chinese New Year after school was canceled over virus fears were given the okay to do so.

“This is not an evacuation,” the spokesman says.

IDF aircraft crash lands in West Bank

A military aircraft has made a crash landing near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Amos.

The military says it is investigating the matter. There are no immediate reports on casualties.

The West Bank division of the Fire and Rescue Services says three teams of firefighters have been called to the scene.

— Judah Ari Gross

Putin pardons imprisoned Israeli Issachar — Russian media

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pardoned Israeli-American backpacker Naama Issachar, Russia’s Interfax news agency reports.

IDF says helicopter made emergency landing, didn’t crash

The Israel Defense Forces says the helicopter that landed in the southern West Bank did not crash but rather made an emergency landing due to a minor technical malfunction.

The helicopter is a Yasur heavy transport model, part of a fleet of aircraft that returned to service some two weeks ago after they were grounded when one of them crash-landed in southern Israel late last year.

“Technical crews are addressing the malfunction at the scene,” the military says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Yaffa Issachar: I’ve been waiting for this for almost a year

Yaffa Issachar, the mother of Naama Issachar, says she is waiting to hug her daughter.

“This is a moment I have waited for almost a year,” she says. “I went through a journey I would not wish on anyone, now I just want to hug my daughter Naama.”

She thanks Putin for pardoning her daughter and Netanyahu for his efforts to free her.

Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar’s mother Yaffa Issachar, left, and sister Liad Goldberg wait for Issachar’s appeal hearing in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, December 19, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./AP)

According to an Israeli official, the pardon was actually granted as a Russian favor to the US.

Naama Issachar, a dual US-Israeli citizen, was arrested in April by Russian authorities who found 9.5 grams of marijuana in her bag as she passed through Moscow’s airport en route from India to Israel.

She had become a cause célèbre in Israel over the last several months.

Foreign minister credits PM’s close ties with Putin for freeing backpacker

A copy of the pardon order for Naama Issachar declares that she is free effective immediately, though most speculate she’ll hang out in Moscow until getting a ride home with Netanyahu (and his press gaggle) on Thursday.

In a statement, Foreign Minister Israel Katz praises the decision to free her and thanks Netanyahu “for his determined efforts for the return of Naama by using his close ties with Russian President Putin and good bilateral ties.”

He also hails Israel’s diplomatic corps for working to see her released from prison.

Netanyahu thanks Putin for freeing Israeli

In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanks Putin for granting a pardon to Naama Issachar.

He adds that he is looking forward to his meeting on Thursday with Putin.

Gantz says he’ll bring peace plan to Knesset for vote

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz says he will bring the US peace plan to the Knesset for a vote of support next week.

“This is a historic opportunity to draw Israel’s future borders,” he says at a conference of the INSS think tank.

It’s unclear what legal force a Knesset vote on the plan, which is supported by both Gantz and rival Benjamin Netanyahu, would have.

Likud accuses Gantz of trying to jump on peace plan bandwagon

In a response to Benny Gantz’s announcement that he will bring the peace plan for a vote, the Likud party accuses him of jumping on their bandwagon.

“The hitchhiker Gantz is trying to catch a lift on the tremendous accomplishments brought by the prime minister after three years of intensive work with the Trump administration. A joke,” a statement from a party spokesperson says.

Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu had asked the US administration to invite Gantz for the unveiling of the plan so he could give it his imprimatur.

IDF bolstering West Bank troops as Palestinians riot

The Israel Defense Forces says it is sending reinforcements to the West Bank and Gaza border in light of a “situational assessment” following the release of US President Donald Trump’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli troops take their position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators as they protest Middle East peace plan announced Tuesday by US President Donald Trump, which strongly favors Israel, at Beit El checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020 (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

The military does not immediately specify how many additional troops will be deployed to these locations.

The IDF says it is conducting ongoing assessments of the situation.

Palestinians angry over the plan have clashed with troops in the West Bank for the last two days.

— Judah Ari Gross

Polls show Likud closing gap despite Netanyahu indictment

Polls released by Israel’s three main news casts show Likud closing a gap with Blue and White despite party leader Benjamin Netanyahu being officially indicted Tuesday.

Polls from both Channels 12 and 13 give Blue and White 35 seats and Likud with 33-34 seats.

A poll from Kan gives Blue and White 34 seats and Likud 33.

Previous polls had shown Blue and White opening up a 3-4 seat lead over Likud.

The polls give the Joint List 12-14 seats, and all other parties 7-8 seats, though Channel 13 puts Labor-Gesher-Meretz at 10 seats.

The results, however, show the deadlock between Likud’s right-religious bloc and a Blue and White-led center-left-Arab block tied at 56-57 apiece, with Yisrael Beytenu remaining the tie-breaker.

The Channel 12 poll also finds that 52 percent of Israelis do not think Netanyahu can run the country while dealing with a criminal trial.

The Kan poll finds 48% think he cannot, versus 32% who think he can.

The Channel 13 poll finds 51% of Israelis support Israeli annexation of settlements.

In the Kan poll, that number drops to 43%.

Abbas tells Netanyahu Trump deal may be end of Oslo Accords

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating that Israel’s acceptance of the US peace plan means the possible death of the Oslo Accords.

“We are talking about America and Israel renouncing the Oslo Accords. The Authority sees itself as free to renege on [its commitments] to the accords with Israel, including that related to security coordination,” the letter reads, according to Channel 12.

The letter was passed to Netanyahu via Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who met with Civil Affairs Commission head Hussein al-Sheikh Wednesday, Avi Ovadia, a spokesman for Kahlon, tells The Times of Israel.

Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad also confirms in a phone call that Sheikh met Kahlon.

Channel 12 first reported that Sheikh gave the letter to Kahlon.

The PA has threatened to quit the Oslo Accords and dissolve itself in the past.

— Adam Rasgon

UK rings alarm as vessel in Persian Gulf goes up in flames

A vessel in the Persian Gulf has caught fire, prompting a warning from British naval officials to “exercise extreme caution.”

The United Kingdom’s Maritime Trade Operations says the fire struck a vessel northwest of Sharjah, an Emirati sheikhdom. It offered no other information about the vessel.

Emirati officials said they were working to put out the blaze on the vessel, some 21 miles (34 kilometers) off the coast of Sharjah.

Officials with the US military said they knew of the fire, but had no further information.

The blaze comes amid heightened tensions in the region after the US killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad and Iran fired ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops.

— AP

Rocket siren sounds near Gaza

Rocket alarms sound in Kissufim, near the Gaza border.

There are no immediate details.

Report: Rocket fired from Gaza, lands in open area

Channel 12 news reports that one rocket was shot out of Gaza and landed in an open area.

No damage or injuries have been reported from the attack.

There is no immediate confirmation from the military.

Abu Dis rejects ‘Jerusalem’ rebranding

Residents of Abu Dis, an outlying area of Jerusalem, are rejecting parts of the US peace proposal that would put the Palestinian capital there and have it be called Jerusalem, or al-Quds.

“Abu Dis will never be Jerusalem. Abu Dis is Abu Dis and Jerusalem is Jerusalem,” a local store owner tells The Guardian.

Under the peace plan, areas of East Jerusalem beyond the security barrier, will become part of a Palestinian capital together with Abu Dis, which lies outside Jerusalem’s current municipal boundary, but inside the PA’s Jerusalem Governorate.

This Monday, June 25, 2018 file photo shows a view of the plenum hall of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic, File)

The town has been proposed as a Palestinian capital in the past and is home to a half-built Palestinian parliament building.

Ahmed Abu Hilal, the town’s mayor, tells The Guardian that his city has no aspirations to be the capital, or Jerusalem.

“We refuse that. Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine,” he says.

Army confirms mortar fired from Gaza

The sirens in southern Israel were triggered by a mortar shell that was fired from the Gaza Strip, the military says.

The projectile appears to have landed in an empty field in the Eshkol region, east of southern Gaza.

No injuries or damage are reported.

— Judah Ari Gross

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Gantz says he’ll bring peace plan to Knesset for vote

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz says he will bring the US peace plan to the Knesset for a vote of support next week.

“This is a historic opportunity to draw Israel’s future borders,” he says at a conference of the INSS think tank.

It’s unclear what legal force a Knesset vote on the plan, which is supported by both Gantz and rival Benjamin Netanyahu, would have.