Kushner: Trump peace plan to be unveiled in June
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Lamenting lack of female MKs, Rivlin calls for them to be appointed as ministers

Tapping Netanyahu to form next government, president notes drop in women in upcoming Knesset; premier vows to work for all Israelis

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and President Reuven Rivlin, April 17, 2019. (Courtesy, GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and President Reuven Rivlin, April 17, 2019. (Courtesy, GPO)

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

Central Elections Committee head submits final election results to Rivlin

Central Elections Committee chairman Hanan Melcer hands the election results to President Reuven Rivlin as the president readies to announce who he will task to form the next government later today.

Addressing criticism of his committee’s handling of the vote count, Melcer tells Rivlin, “There were those who tried to undermine the legitimacy of the results by means of objections. Each objection was checked on our own initiative. We did so in advance by opening the committee’s discussions and by providing our results to the public in real time. Transparency is important, but it has a price.”

Rivlin is expected to task Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming the next government, as the Likud leader has been recommended for the job by 65 of his peers.

Sudan’s Bashir transferred to prison: family source

Ousted Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has been transferred to a Khartoum prison following his toppling by the army last week, a source from his family tells AFP.

“Last night, Bashir was transferred to Kober prison in Khartoum,” the source says without revealing his name for security reasons.

Bashir was ousted by the army last Thursday after four months of protests against his three decades of iron-fisted rule. The country’s new military rulers had said he was being held “in a secure place.”

Witnesses say there was a heavy deployment of soldiers and members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Force outside the prison in north Khartoum.

“There are troops in vehicles mounted with machine-guns near the prison,” a witness tells AFP.

Kober prison was built by the British during colonial rule and is located on the east bank of the Blue Nile in a northern district of the capital where Bashir grew up.

The area was previously known as Kober, taking its name from the prison, but Bashir later changed the name to Omar al-Mukhtar after a hero of Libya’s struggle against Italian colonial rule.

The brick-built prison, which is surrounded by a high concrete wall, holds hundreds of inmates at any one time, many of them crammed in tiny cells.

It has a special wing for political prisoners where several opposition leaders and activists were held during the four months of protests which led up to Bashir’s overthrow.

The wing is run by the feared National Intelligence and Security Service rather than the police.

“In those small cells, they keep six to seven people, mostly smugglers, black marketeers, human traffickers and petty criminals,” says an AFP correspondent who was detained in the prison during previous protests against Bashir’s rule in January 2018.

“There is a bathroom in each cell but no beds — only mattresses and mosquitoes.”


Yair Netanyahu on Naftali Bennett: He burned right-wing bloc of four seats

Responding to a post by Yinon Magal in which the former Jewish Home MK thanked Naftali Bennett for his efforts in politics, Yair Netanyahu dismisses the praise for the New Right co-leader, accusing him of having “burned the right-wing bloc of four seats” by splitting from the Jewish Home and then failing to cross the electoral threshold.

Magal responds to the prime minister’s son, saying that his father’s last minute gevalt campaign is what took away seats from New Right and Zehut, leading to the two parties’ failure to make it into the Knesset.

However, Netanyahu stands by his father, saying the premier was responsible for orchestrating the Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit merger, which is believed to have assisted in bringing the two otherwise struggling parties into the Knesset.

Defense exports in 2018 down by $1.7 billion, ministry says

The Defense Ministry says that defense exports in 2018 were worth around $7.5 billion, a decrease of $1.7 billion compared to 2017.

According to the ministry’s exports department, the largest percentage of sales, around a quarter, were of missile and missile defense systems, Globes reported.

Around 15 percent of defense exports were of unmanned aircraft, 14% were of radar systems and electronic warfare systems, 14% were upgrades and avionics and 12% were weapons stations. In addition there were exports of optronics systems, satellite and space systems as well as cyber products.

According to the figures, 46% of Israeli defense exports in 2018 were to Asia and the Pacific, 26% to Europe, 20% to North America, 6% to Latin America and 2% to Africa.

Turkey’s Erdogan meets Iran minister over Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Iran’s foreign minister, who arrived in Ankara to brief him on his meeting with Syria’s President Bashar Assad.

Turkey supports Syrian opposition rebels and Iran backs Assad in Syria’s long war, but the two sides have been expanding contacts amid international efforts to end the fighting.

Kazakhstan will host a fresh round of Syria talks on April 25-26 in its capital, recently renamed from Astana to Nur-Sultan.

“I had a long interview with Bashar Assad. I will be giving details of these discussions to Mr. Erdogan,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tells reporters in translated comments.

Ankara broke ties with Damascus in 2011 after the start of the Syrian war, and Erdogan has in the past described Assad as an “assassin.”

But Erdogan acknowledged in February that low-level contacts have been taking place and his rhetoric has also softened in tone in recent months.

“In Syria, from the start, on the ground, we do not agree with Iran on many issues,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says. “But we have decided to cooperate with Iran for a political solution.”


Ministry hopeful says judicial old guard should fear me

Yariv Levin, who is rumored to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pick for justice minister, tells the Ynet news site that “anyone who believes that the legal system needs to continue to function as it does today certainly has reason to fear the appointment of a minister who wants to do things differently such as myself.”

Highlighting the court’s striking down of the Knesset’s migrant expulsion law in addition to disqualifying the candidacy of Otzma Yehudit chairman Michael Ben Ari while green-lighting the runs of Hadash-Ta’al candidate Ofer Kasif and the Ra’am-Balad slate, Levin charges that the status of Israeli courts today is worse than it was when Ayelet Shaked took over as justice minister four years ago.

“Anyone who believes, as I do, that the legal system requires profound reform on a long list of issues, I think my appointment would offer great hope for them.”

Report: After election collapse, Labor will hold primaries within 6 months, but Gabbay won’t run

After collapsing to just six seats in last week’s election, the Labor party will hold leadership primaries within six months, Channel 12 reports.

Chairman Avi Gabbay is not expected to compete in the race, though he intends to maintain his spot in the Knesset.


Houthi rebels: Trump veto proves US behind Yemen war

Yemen’s Houthi rebels slam US President Donald Trump’s veto of a Congressional resolution directing him to end support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen as proof Washington was behind the conflict.

The veto “proves that the United States is not only involved in the war on Yemen but also was behind the decision to go to war,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam tweets.


Rivlin sells leavened goods ahead of Passover holiday

President Reuven Rivlin has sold all of the leavened goods at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem with the help of the city’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar ahead of the Passover holiday, which begins Friday night.

The president thanked the rabbi for his arrival and appointed him to be his emissary and to sell all the hametz at his personal home as well.


Facing arrest, Peru ex-president shoots himself

Peru’s former president Alan Garcia shot himself in the head at his home Wednesday as police were about to arrest him in a sprawling corruption case, his lawyer and hospital officials say.

The 69-year-old Garcia was undergoing surgery for “a bullet wound to his head” at the Casimiro Ulloa Emergency Hospital in Lima, the hospital says.

“This morning there was a regrettable accident: the president took the decision to shoot himself,” Erasmo Reyna, Garcia’s lawyer, told reporters outside the hospital.


Official says Israeli delegation attended Bahrain conference

An Israeli delegation attended a business conference in Bahrain this week, an official tells Israeli television, contradicting statements by organizers that the visit was called off over security fears.

A number of Israeli officials, including Economy Minister Eli Cohen, were scheduled to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Congress that opened in Manama on Monday,

Netanyahu listed in Time’s 100 most influential people of 2019

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been listed on Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2019, which describes him as Israel’s “indispensable man.”

“Israel is Bibi’s nation,” begins the write-up on the premier by reporter David French. “Were there any doubt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election to a fifth term in April not only cemented his hold on the critical Mideast country, but also positioned him to surpass its founding leader, David Ben-Gurion, as Israel’s longest-­serving prime minister.”

Settler mayor, evangelical leader pen op-ed calling on Trump to avoid land-for-peace deal

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan and prominent evangelical lobbyist Tony Perkins pen an op-ed warning US President Donald Trump against pursuing a land-for-peace formula as his administration prepares to introduce its “deal of the century.”

“The Trump administration should stay the course, continuing to avoid the ‘land-for-peace’ proposals, and the policies that have prevented Israelis from building in Judea and Samaria, which have repeatedly failed to work,” Dagan and Perkins write in a Washington Times op-ed.

“In the intractable conflict rooted in the land God gave to the people of Israel, the best approach would be to seek God’s solutions in God’s timing,” they add.

Egypt sets referendum on extending Sissi’s rule for April 20-22

Egypt sets a referendum for April 20-22 on sweeping constitutional changes, including amendments that could extend President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi’s rule until 2030.

“The referendum process … will take place inside Egypt… from April 20-22,” Lashin Ibrahim, head of the National Election Authority says at a press conference.

The announcement comes after Egypt’s parliament on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed the changes, despite complaints from critics that they are “unconstitutional” and designed to “consolidate authoritarianism.”

The amendments extend presidential terms from four to six years, but maintain a limit of two terms.

Under the changes, Sissi’s current term will be prolonged to 2024 from 2022 and he would then be allowed to run for another six-year term.

The constitutional changes also include giving the military greater influence in political life, granting Sissi wide control over the judiciary and broadening the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians.


IDF says it completed successful live-fire test of Patriot missile system

The Israeli military conducted successful live-fire tests of its Patriot missile system on Tuesday, the IDF says.

The exercise had been subjected to the military censor until now.

“Air defense soldiers from the Israeli Air Force conducted successful interceptions of targets at various heights and ranges,” the military says in a statement.

The Patriot air defense system is meant to intercept both incoming aircraft and long-range ballistic missiles.

The Air Force says the exercise, which was conducted in central Israel, was meant to test the preparedness of its air defense and technical units, as well as the Patriot batteries themselves.

Two foreign military delegations visited the exercise, the military says, refusing to specify the two countries.

— Judah Ari Gross

Gazan Christians waiting for permits to enter Israel over Easter

A Defense Ministry body responsible for liaising with the Palestinians has still not announced any permits for Palestinian Christians in the Gaza Strip to visit Jerusalem or the West Bank for Easter this year.

Most Christians will celebrate Easter, a holiday marking Jesus’s resurrection, on Sunday, but some Orthodox Christian communities, who follow a different calendar, will mark it on April 28.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced on Tuesday that it would issue 200 permits for Palestinian Christians in the coastal enclave over 55 years old to travel abroad through the Allenby border crossing between the West Bank and Israel for Easter, but made no mention about whether it would allow Christians in the Strip to visit the West Bank and Jerusalem.

COGAT has not respond to a request for comment.

A Palestinian Authority official in charge of requesting permits for Palestinian Christians in Gaza from COGAT, who asked to remain nameless, tells The Times of Israel that no one has received permission to travel to the West Bank or Israel for Easter.

— Adam Rasgon

Kushner: Trump peace plan to be unveiled in June

US President Donald Trump’s special adviser Jared Kushner says that the administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan will be unveiled in mid-June.

Speaking to a group of ambassadors at the Blair House in Washington, Trump’s son-in-law says the White House will wait until after the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on May 4 and ends on June 5, to introduce the initiative.

Kusher said to tell ambassadors to keep an ‘open mind’ about Trump’s peace plan

US President Donald Trump’s special adviser Jared Kushner told a group of ambassadors to keep an “open mind” regarding the administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan, a source familiar the son-in-law’s remarks earlier Wednesday at the Blair House tells Reuters.

Kushner also said that the peace plan will be unveiled after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which ends on June 4, though no exact date was given.

Trump officials had said the plan would be introduced last February and after Israel elections last week, though it appears to face perennial delay.

In first, Nepal ambassador tours settlements, lauds landscape and heritage

Nepal’s Ambassador to Israel Anjan Shakya toured West Bank settlements in the Gush Etzion Regional Council southeast of Jerusalem, in the first ever visit by a Kathmandu envoy to Israeli towns beyond the Green Line, a statement from the municipality says.

Shakya visited a campus for young adults with special needs in the Gvaot settlement. She then met with Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman who briefed her on the history of the region.
“Shakya explained that she decided to visit in order to learn about the Gush and bring back what she finds out to Nepal,” the statement reads.

“In addition to the special landscape of the Gush, we have a heritage here infused with education and human values. The Gvaot community amplifies those traits. It’s an honor to be part of that project. Gush Etzion is also the best place to learn what an Israeli home represents,” the municipality quotes her as saying.

Nepal’s Ambassador to Israel Dr. Anjan Shakya (L) meets with Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman on April 17, 2019. (Gush Etzion Regional Council)

PM arrives at President’s Residence where he’ll be tapped to form government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived at the President’s Residence where President Reuven Rivlin is expected to task the premier with assembling a coalition to govern the 21st Knesset.

Senior members of parties representing 65 of the 120 Knesset members recommended Netanyahu for prime minister in consultations with Rivlin over the past two days. Though Netanyahu’s Likud party tied with Blue and White at 35 seats apiece, the prime minister is the only one with enough potential partners to cobble together a coalition.

Trump says offered Pope Francis help over Notre Dame

US President Donald Trump says he offered US construction expertise for the rebuilding of Notre Dame cathedral in a conversation with Pope Francis.

Trump tweets that he’d had a “wonderful conversation” with the head of the Roman Catholic Church and expressed condolences about the fire in the heart of Paris.

“I offered the help of our great experts on renovation and construction,” he adds.

Although the cathedral is one of the most famous Catholic churches in the world, it was not clear what role the Vatican, if any, would play in reconstruction after Monday’s huge blaze.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said the entire restoration should be completed in just five years — an ambitious timeline given the scale of the damage to the 850-year-old jewel of Gothic architecture.

Trump, who prides himself on his knowledge of construction techniques after a lifetime in the real estate business, tweeted that he’d made the same offer of help to Macron when they talked earlier.

“I also wished both Pope Francis and President Macron a very Happy Easter!” he says.

Shortly after the fire began, quickly consuming the cathedral’s roof, a shocked Trump tweeted that the French should consider sending aerial water tankers. “Must act quickly!” he writes.

Paris firefighters were not impressed with the president’s advice, pointing out that the high-impact dumping of water, which is often used against wild fires, would risk demolishing the cathedral walls.


‘The majority has spoken,’ Rivlin tells Netanyahu in tapping him to form next government

In tapping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government, President Reuven Rivlin says “the majority has spoken.”

Rivlin calls for the healing of divisions created as a result of the divisive election campaign. “Things were said that maybe did not need to be said, not in a Jewish county and not in a democratic country,” Rivlin says.

“The era of us versus them is over. It is now just us,” the president adds.

Rivlin laments lack of female representation in upcoming Knesset

Tapping Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government, President Reuven Rivlin laments the drop in female MKs in the incoming Knesset compared to the last one.

Rivlin encourages Netanyahu to appoint female ministers and Knesset committee heads “as a message to the general public.”

Tasked with forming next government, Netanyahu says he’ll work for all citizens

In his first speech after being tasked with forming the next government, Benjamin Netanyahu says he is as moved, if not more moved, than he was at the first time he was given the honor.

“I will work for all Israelis. Those who voted for me and those who did not,” he says.

Gantz adviser: Campaign leaks caused us at least 2 or 3 seats

A strategic adviser for Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz tells Channel 13 that the long series of leaked recordings published by the network cost the centrist party at least two or three seats, preventing the party from staying on message and possibly defeating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in last week’s election.

Yisrael Bachar says he believed that Gantz had about a 30 percent chance of winning and recognized the difficulty of defeating a right-wing bloc that is much larger in Israel.

In the weeks and months leading up to the campaign, Channel 13 as well as other networks published leaked recordings of Gantz speaking frankly behind closed doors about his willingness to sit with Netanyahu in a coalition despite rejecting the possibility in public, and even hypothesizing the premier’s desire to harm him in order to prevent the former IDF chief of staff from replacing him.

No Israeli move to annex ahead of Trump plan, Israel UN envoy says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not move to follow up on his election pledge to annex West Bank settlements before a US peace plan is released, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon says.

Netanyahu made the promise during the last days of campaigning for the April 9 vote, raising alarm bells over a move that would kill off prospects for Palestinian statehood.

“I don’t think that we will take any action before the plan is published,” Danon tells  reporters about the campaign pledge.

“We will wait. We will see the plan. We will engage and I don’t know where it will lead us,” he says.


Ivanka Trump says she passed on World Bank job

White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump says her father asked her if she was interested in taking the job of World Bank chief but she passed on it.

In an Associated Press interview, US President Donald Trump’s daughter says she was happy with her current role in the administration. She was speaking during a trip to Africa to promote a global women’s initiative.

Female Iranian boxer ‘to stay in France’ after fight win

An Iranian woman, who became the country’s first female boxer to win an international fight, intends to stay in France, her spokesperson says, adding an arrest warrant had been issued against her in Iran.

Sadaf Khadem and her trainer Mahyar Monshipour are currently in the French city of Poitiers, the spokesperson, who asked not to be named, says.

Khadem, 24, had been due to return to Tehran, where she works as a fitness trainer, following her victory Saturday over 25-year-old Anne Chauvin of France in the western town of Royan.

Monshipour, who has double French and Iranian nationality, had been due to make a tour of Iran and give boxing classes.

In the bout Khadem was bare-headed and wearing shorts, defying rules in Iran that female athletes should be covered in line with its Islamic laws governing women’s dress.

Khadem is accused of violating Iranian dress rules for women while her trainer is suspected of complicity, the spokesperson said.

There was no immediate comment from the Iranian judiciary but the Iranian boxing federation distanced itself from the female boxer.


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Kushner: Trump peace plan to be unveiled in June

US President Donald Trump’s special adviser Jared Kushner says that the administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan will be unveiled in mid-June.

Speaking to a group of ambassadors at the Blair House in Washington, Trump’s son-in-law says the White House will wait until after the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on May 4 and ends on June 5, to introduce the initiative.