Likud body passes measure aimed at preventing PM’s rivals from taking over party if snap elections called
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Liberman says he’s not interested in compromising, rejects meeting with PM

Threat of snap elections looms with less than 28 hours left to form a coalition, Yisrael Beytenu head tells Haredi parties it’s up to them to accept his offer on IDF draft bill

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman sign a coalition agreement in the Knesset on May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman sign a coalition agreement in the Knesset on May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Hold primaries within 30 days, senior Labor MK urges battered chairman

Senior Labor lawmaker Amir Peretz and director general Eran Hermoni pen a letter to party chairman Avi Gabbay, calling on him to schedule primaries for within 30 days due to the looming possibility that Israel could be headed toward its second election in months, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unable to form a government.

Gabbay led the Labor party to its worst ever electoral result of six seats in last month’s elections and has told associates that he will not run again for the faction’s top spot.

Itzik Shmuli, who is No. 3 on the party’s slate, tells the Ynet news site that he is a “natural candidate for the position,” already throwing his hat in the race.

Australia Jewish groups call on PM not to re-appoint minister suspected of aiding Leifer

A pair of Australia’s most prominent Jewish organizations are calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from granting Yaakov Litzman a posting in his next government due to the allegations that the outgoing deputy health minister pressured officials in his office to falsify their psychiatric evaluations in which they deemed Malka Leifer unfit for extradition back to Melbourne, where she is charged with 74 counts of sexual abuse.

The statements from the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry come hours after the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce publicly apologized for a meeting it organized between visiting health officials from Western Australia and Litzman’s office earlier this week.

“These allegations of executive interference in the judicial process raise grave questions about the integrity of the handling of the Leifer case in Israel while Mr. Litzman remains in any government position. We call upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce an official inquiry into the allegations, and to confirm that Mr. Litzman will not be appointed to any executive office pending the outcome of the inquiry,” says the Executive Council of Australia Jewry, an umbrella group representing 200 organizations across the country.

“These additional allegations if proven true, are an insult to the survivors
of sexual abuse and to Jewish communities around the world,” says the Zionist Federation of Australia, the umbrella group for Zionist organizations in the country. The ZFA also similarly called on Netanyahu to refrain from re-appointing Litzman to a government post while the latter is still being investigated.

Deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman (third from left) meets with an Australian Health Ministry delegation for bilateral talks in his Jerusalem office on May 26, 2019. (Health Ministry)

UK equality watchdog opens probe into Labour party over anti-Semitism allegations

The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission has opened an investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism against the country’s Labour party, the Guardian reports.

The regulator will be probing whether the Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimized individuals because they are Jewish, according to the Guardian.

The probe follows legal complaints made against Labour by the local Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) and the Jewish Labour Movement, which both have argued that the party has violated the equalities law.

This is a rare move by the EHRC, which last took such an action against a party in 2010 when it probed the far-right British National party (BNP) for banning blacks and other minorities from becoming members.

A Labour spokeswoman tells the Guardian that it will cooperate with the investigation even though she rejected its premise.

“[The Labour party] is fully committed to the support, defense and celebration of the Jewish community and is implacably opposed to antisemitism in any form,” she says.

CAA head Gideon Falter tells the Guardian that “over the course of his leadership we have seen enough to convince us that Jeremy Corbyn himself is an anti-Semite and unfit for any public office, and though few have acted, most Labour MPs seem to agree with us.”

Court remands former Palestinian terror leader charged with recent attacks

An Israeli military court has extended the remand of a former Palestinian terrorist leader charged with carrying out attacks against Israelis dating back over a decade, including some that had previously been excused under an amnesty deal.

The Samaria Military Court orders Zakaria Zubeidi to remain behind bars until the legal proceeding against him were completed, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

Zubeidi, a 74-year-old former commander for Fatah’s military wing, has been indicted on 24 counts for his role in number of shooting and bomb attacks starting in 2003.

Zubeidi has been in custody since he was arrested in late February in Ramallah alongside Palestinian attorney Tarek Barghout, who is known to represent suspected terrorists. Both men were charged in the Samaria Military Court last week.

The Shin Bet Security Service said Zubeidi has confessed to the two shooting attacks on buses outside the Beit El settlement in the central West Bank in November 2018 and January 2019 that injured three people in total.

Kushner to visit Jordan in effort to convince Amman to support peace push — report

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner will be visiting Jordan tomorrow where he will meet with King Abdullah in an effort to convince Amman to participate in Washington’s Middle East peace “workshop” in Bahrain next month, local media reports.

Jordan has until now held out on saying whether it will attend the summit. Over half of the country’s population is Palestinian and the Trump initiative is believed to be heavily unpopular among Jordanians.

PM said asking Trump officials to reach out to Liberman in effort to prevent elections

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office have been reaching out to the White House in an effort to get Washington to further intervene on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to form a coalition by the Wednesday night deadline, the Maariv daily reports.

Yesterday, Trump tweeted that he hopes Netanyahu will be able to finish building his coalition so the two leaders could go on to do “great things together,” in a move that was reportedly orchestrated by PMO officials.

Maariv reports that Netanyahu associates are hoping that one of Trump’s Middle East advisers, such as Jason Greenblatt or Jared Kushner, will reach out to Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and pressure him to reach a compromise on the IDF draft law in order to prevent snap elections.

Washington is scheduled to roll out the first part of its peace plan next month at a economic summit in Bahrain.

Ex-US defense secretary Jim Mattis has book coming this summer

Former US secretary of defense Jim Mattis has a book coming out this summer, but he warns that it will not be a “tell-all” about President Donald Trump.

“Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead” will be published July 16, Random House announces.

Co-written with Bing West, the book will be an “expansive account” of the retired general’s military career, according to the publisher.

“My purpose in writing this book is to convey some of the lessons I learned in 43 years of service for those who might benefit, whether in the military or in civilian life,” Mattis, 68, says in a statement.

“I’m old-fashioned: I don’t write about sitting Presidents, so those looking for a tell-all will be disappointed. I want to pass on the lessons and experiences that prepared me for challenges I could not anticipate, not take up the hot political rhetoric of our day.”

Trump initially had high praise for Mattis, a 4-star Marine general who for a time seemed to enjoy a level of respect Trump rarely showed to other cabinet officials. Foreign policy officials viewed him as a stabilizing force within a tumultuous White House and a leading advocate for traditional alliances. But Trump and Mattis would differ on a wide range of issues, from the president’s desire to withdraw troops from Syria to his harsh talk about NATO. Mattis announced late last year he was leaving, writing in his resignation letter that Trump had “the right” to have a defense secretary whose views were aligned with his.

Trump responded by disparaging Mattis’ leadership at the Pentagon and by stating, falsely, that he had “effectively” fired his defense secretary. Mattis has since been virtually silent about his time in the administration.

— AP

HRW accuses Egypt forces, extremists of Sinai ‘war crimes’

Human Rights Watch accuses both Egyptian security forces and insurgents of committing “war crimes” in North Sinai, the scene of a bloody years-long insurgency and military crackdown.

“While Egyptian military and police forces were responsible for the majority of abuses documented in the report, extremist militants have also committed horrific crimes,” the New York-based group says in a 134-page report.

“Some of the abuses carried out by government forces and the militants, which this report documents, are war crimes, and their widespread and systematic nature could amount to crimes against humanity.”

Egypt has for years been fighting a hardened insurgency in North Sinai, which escalated following the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Since then, militants have killed hundreds of police officers and soldiers.

Military spokesman Colonel Tamer al-Rifai rejects the HRW report as “untruthful.”

“It is based on unverified sources. Some politicized organisations are intent on tarnishing Egypt’s image and its armed forces with baseless claims,” he tells AFP.

In February 2018, the army launched an operation against the militants, focusing mainly on North Sinai province.

According to a tally of death tolls given by the armed forces, around 650 militants and about 45 soldiers have since been killed.

HRW estimated at least 3,076 alleged militants and 1,226 security forces were killed in fighting between 2014 and 2018.

The watchdog compiled the report over two years, interviewing more than 50 residents of the Sinai Peninsula, where independent media coverage is effectively banned and a state of emergency has been in force since 2013.


Iran says does not ‘presently’ believe in mediation with US

Iran’s foreign ministry insists it did not currently see the need for mediation with the United States, as it played down the chances of a military clash with Washington.

Spokesman Abbas Mousavi tells a press conference that Tehran “does not feel any tension or (the possibility of) clashes” and said concerns had been “created by others.”

He tells journalists that the Islamic Republic “does not presently believe in” mediation.

Iran is locked in a standoff with the United States which has beefed up its military presence in the Middle East in response to alleged threats from the Islamic Republic.

Washington has deployed an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region in a show of force.

The moves are the latest spike since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program and reimposed sanctions.

Iran earlier this month rolled back parts of its commitments under the nuclear deal and gave an ultimatum to the remaining world powers involved if they did not provide sanctions relief.

Mousavi warns that if sanctions relief is not offered Tehran “will with severity take the next steps,” meaning it could turn its back on more substantial parts of the accord.

The situation between Iran and the US has led a number of countries in the Middle East and others such as Japan and Switzerland to offer to mediate.

Tehran insists that it will not hold direct talks with the US government anytime soon despite Trump saying Washington would “like to talk” if Iran was ready.

Mousavi says Iran was “listening to the views of countries” who have offered to mediate but had not received or given any “special message” during a flurry of diplomatic visits in recent weeks.


Kushner, Greenblatt to visit Amman and Jerusalem this week, White House confirms

“Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook will travel from May 27 – May 31 to Rabat, Amman, and Jerusalem,” a White House official says.

The group is currently in Rabat, according to local media reports.

“Kushner will then continue on from June 1 – June 5 traveling to Montreux and London. In London, he will join the President’s State Visit to the United Kingdom,” the White House official says.

Police converge on bank in southern town of Arad where armed robber has taken hostages

Police are currently surrounding a bank in the southern town of Arad where an armed suspect has taken hostages in an apparent robbery attempt.

Arad bank robber turns himself in to police

The armed suspect who took hostages at a bank in Arad has turned himself in.

No injuries have been reported.

Rivlin dismisses suggestion that he task someone else with forming coalition

President Reuven Rivlin dismisses suggestions from opposition lawmakers that another MK be given an opportunity to form a coalition, as less than 36 hours remain for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to establish a government,

Rivlin says he will give Netanyahu the full allotted time until Wednesday night at 11:59 p.m. before other scenarios are entertained.

UN Middle East envoy appears to take shot at Trump peace plan’s singularly economic emphasis

After meeting with Palestinian Authority Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr and PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat, UN Middle East envoy Nikolay Mladenov tweets an apparent criticism of the Trump peace plan which is set to be unveiled next month at an economic summit in Bahrain.

“Economic support is very important for creating an environment conducive to viable negotiations but sustainable solutions can be reached only on the basis of two-states and UN resolutions,” Mladenov says.

In recent months, the PA and others have criticized the brewing Trump peace plan for being solely based on economic incentives for Ramallah while ignoring the issue of sovereignty for the Palestinians.

2 men get prison for Auschwitz slain sheep protest

A Polish court has sentenced two Belarusian men to prison for a 2017 stunt in which they and other young adults stripped naked at Auschwitz and chained themselves together to the main gate as one of them slaughtered a sheep.

The District Court in Krakow confirms that the man who killed the sheep, Adam Bialiatski, was sentenced to a year in prison for animal cruelty and desecrating a site of memory, while a second man, Mikita Valadzko, was given eight months. Nine other participants were ordered to pay fines. The verdicts are final.

Bialiatski, who plunged a knife into the sheep multiple times, is the son of a prominent human rights activist in Belarus, Ales Bialiatski. He and Valadzko called their actions at the former Nazi death camp an “artistic performance” aimed at protesting the wars in Ukraine and Syria.

“Our Ukrainian brothers and sisters are still dying,” Bialiatski tells The Associated Press in an interview last year. “We thought if we do this performance art in a place like Auschwitz, we will attract attention to the war.”

— AP

Likud MKs petition party plan to swallow up Kulanu

Freshman MKs Michal Shir and Ariel Kallner petition their party’s judicial body against the Likud secretariat’s holding of a vote this afternoon on whether to amalgamate the lawmakers from the Kulanu party.

Their petition charges that only the larger Likud Central Committee has the authority to make such decisions.

Haim Katz and Gideon Sa’ar will be boycotting the vote, the Walla news site reports.

Blue and White to protest outside of Moshe Kahlon’s house tonight

Blue and White party activists will be protesting outside the home of Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon at 7:30 p.m., the Globes daily reports.

Benny Gantz’s faction has been heavily critical of the Kulanu party, whose representatives had voiced opposition to legislation granting the prime minister immunity, but since the elections have indicated that they would support such measures.

Kahlon’s slate is slated to be folded into the Likud party in a vote the latter faction is holding later today.

Likud authorizes PM proposal to fold Kulanu into party as new elections loom

The Likud Secretariat has voted to approve a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fold Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party into a joint list.

The merger will hold whether or not elections are called later this week.

The amalgamation will see Kahlon given the 5th slot on the party’s list, Eli Cohen the 15th spot, Yifat Biton the 29th spot and Roy Folkman the 35th spot.

The proposal passed despite opposition from several Likud ministers and MKs who spoke out against being bumped back on the party list in order for room to be made for the Kulanu MKs.

— Jacob Magid

Likud body passes measure aimed at preventing PM’s rivals from taking over party if snap elections called

The Likud secretariat passes an additional proposal from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which will prevent his rivals within the party from leading the faction if snap elections are called.

The resolution states that Netanyahu, and not anyone else, will be Likud party leader in such a scenario.

The premier has spoken in the past about attempts by Gideon Sa’ar to carry out a coup against him to take over the leadership of the party.

Feeding into the speculation, Sa’ar was photographed yesterday sitting in the Knesset cafeteria with Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who is currently refusing to agree to a compromise with the Haredi parties on an IDF draft law that would prevent snap elections.

— Jacob Magid

Fire breaks out at food joint in Ramat Gan mall

A fire has broken out at a shish-kabob restaurant, requiring the evacuation of the entire Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan, officials say.

PM to Likud MKs: The clearer it is that we are going to elections, the more likely it is that we won’t

Addressing the Likud secretariat meeting, where the party approved a merger with Kulanu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggests that the intensifying talk of possible elections places pressure on coalition partners to compromise in order to avoid them.

“The clearer it is that we are going to elections, the more likely it is that we won’t,” he says.


Likud MK hints at having put together compromise plan to prevent early elections

Hebrew media reports that Likud MK David Bitan has been seen roaming the Knesset telling colleagues that he thinks he has crafted a compromise on legislation regulating exemptions from military service for yeshiva students that both Yisrael Beytenu and the Haredi parties will agree to thereby avoiding snap elections as the Wednesday night deadline approaches.

There were no details on the contents of the compromise.

Knesset legal adviser says dissolving gov’t would prevent Rivlin from picking another MK to form coalition

The Knesset’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, says that if the Knesset passes legislation to dissolve itself, it would prevent President Reuven Rivlin from tapping another MK to form a coalition.

Currently, Rivlin still has that option.

Ex-MK who served 2-year sentence for smuggling phones to terrorist says he doesn’t regret act

Former Joint (Arab) List MK Bassel Ghattas says he doesn’t regret having smuggled cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners even though it landed him in prison for two years.

In an interview with Channel 12 news, the day after his release, Ghattas says that if he knew then the inner workings of Israeli prisons as he does now, he would not have tried to smuggle the phones because “now I know that it would have had no chance [of succeeding].”

Likud spokesman: There’s been no progress made in talks with Liberman

A Likud spokesman issues a statement saying that no progress has been made toward a compromise on the Haredi draft law that would prevent snap elections.

According to the spokesman, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman has rejected every offer presented to him.

Firefighters put out blaze near Gaza border town caused by incendiary balloon

Firefighters say they managed to extinguish a blaze in the Eshkol Regional Council near the Gaza Strip, which was caused by an incendiary balloon.

Second Israeli suspect arrested for attack on cop convoy outside settlement

Police say they have arrested a second Israeli suspected of attacking a police convoy over the weekend in the northern West Bank.

The suspect, a resident of Jerusalem, is accused of hurling stones, assaulting officers and damaging their vehicles during a Saturday afternoon altercation outside the flash point settlement of Yitzhar.

Kahlon confirms his party will run with Likud if new elections called

Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon issues a statement confirming that his party will run on a joint slate with Likud if snap elections are called.

“We have decided that if the elections for the 22nd Knesset are held [this summer], the party will run on a joint slate with Likud in the elections. We will all continue serving as a socioeconomic, nationalist right-wing party,” he says.

Kahlon goes on to express hope that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will succeed in forming a government ahead of the Wednesday night deadline, adding that another round of elections would cost Israelis billions of shekel.

Fire breaks out in forest near Gaza due to incendiary balloon

The Israel Fire and Rescue Services say they are battling a blaze in the Be’eri Forest in southern Israel that was caused by an incendiary balloon. There have been at least two other such fires reported today.

As firefighters battle blaze in central Israel, children seen starting new ones

Eight firefighter squads are currently battling a massive brushfire in the central town of Elad.

Authorities say they have succeeded in containing the fire. However, as they were working to put it out, they noticed children lighting new fires at several other points nearby.

Liberman tells associates: There’s no room for compromise

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman is telling confidantes that there is no room for compromise with the Haredi parties on the military draft bill, Channel 12 news reports.

Liberman has rejected requests by Likud officials for him to sit down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this evening, Channel 12 says.


If elections averted, Likud official says PM will likely be forced to give Justice Ministry to Smotrich

A senior Likud official tells Channel 13 news that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu manages to cobble together a coalition before the deadline tomorrow evening, the premier will have no choice but to heed to the Union of Right-Wing Parties’ demand and make its No. 2 Bezalel Smotrich justice minister.

The official explains that Netanyahu’s first choice for the portfolio is Likud’s Yariv Levin, but with the time crunch to form a coalition, the official speculates that there will not be an opportunity for the premier to hold out on the position for Levin.

Netanyahu confidante in talks with Ayelet Shaked to join Likud if early elections called

Nathan Eshel, who has headed coalition negotiations for Likud on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s behalf, has been in talks with outgoing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked about joining the party if new elections are held, Channel 13 news  reports.

Eshel, who resigned from his position in the Prime Minister’s Office amid allegations of sexual misconduct, is said to represent just one of the three parties seeking to convince Shaked to run on their slate if a new vote is scheduled.

Police calling far-right activists warning them to stay away from Jerusalem pride

Far-right attorney Itamar Ben Gvir says that police have been calling far-right activists and warning them to stay away from the pride parade set to take place in Jerusalem next Thursday.

In a recording of one of those conversations distributed by Ben Gvir, a young activist can be heard saying that it is his democratic right to protest such events.

The officer is heard responding that there is no issue with peacefully protesting, but those who try and disrupt public order will be punished.

Dozens protesting outside Kahlon’s home after Likud merger flip-flop

Dozens of Israelis are protesting outside the home of Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon hours after the Likud secretariat officially approved a merger with the finance minister’s party.

The demonstration was organized by activists from the Blue and White party.

Kahlon roughly a month ago had vowed that his party would remain independent and not join Likud after elections, dismissing reports speculating on the matter as spin.

Netanyahu confidantes said to have warned PM that new elections would complicate legal situation

Officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s circle have told him in recent days that new elections would severely complicate his legal situation, Channel 13 news reports.

The officials have told the premier that if snap elections are to be called in mid-September as speculated, the 22nd Knesset that would be formed as a result would be in a race against time to pass legislation granting Netanyahu immunity before his pre-indictment hearing on October 2 or 3. Netanyahu is facing charges in three criminal cases against him.

The risk of not managing to pass the legislation by the time the attorney general makes a decision on whether to indict the prime minister would therefore increase significantly, the Netanyahu confidantes speculated, according to Channel 13.

France has ‘indication’ of chemical attack in Syria, minister says

France’s top diplomat says that the country had an “indication” that a chemical attack had been carried out in Syria’s Idlib province this month, an attack alleged by Washington last week.

“We have an indication that chemical weapons were used in the Idlib region, but for now it has not been verified,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian tells a parliamentary commission.

“We’re being cautious because we consider that chemical weapons use has to be proven and be lethal, in which case we can react,” he says.

President Emmanuel Macron has made use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government a “red line” that would trigger a military reprisal against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

The United States has also threatened reprisals if the suspected Idlib attack is proven.

Russia and Turkey reached an agreement last September that nominally protects Idlib amid fears for the safety of some three million people in the northwestern area of Syria.

But Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, has seized a large part of the province and adjoining areas, triggering a regime offensive that includes strikes by Syrian and Russian airplanes.

International inspectors say that Assad’s forces have carried out a series of chemical attacks in the course of the brutal civil war, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.

A sarin gas attack in April 2017 in the town of Khan Sheikhun killed 83 people, according to the United Nations, leading US President Donald Trump to order a strike by 59 cruise missiles on a Syrian air base.

And France joined Britain and the US in launching missile strikes on three suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria in April 2018 after a suspected chemical attack in Douma.


Special committee advances bill to dissolve Knesset, readying it for 2nd and final reading tomorrow night

A special Knesset committee has authorized a bill to dissolve the Knesset, readying the legislation for a second and final vote tomorrow night before the 11:59 p.m. deadline to form a coalition.

Elections, if held, have been scheduled for September 17.

Russia blasts US ‘peace workshop’ in Bahrain

In a series of tweets, the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv eviscerates the Israeli-Palestinian peace summit slated to take place in Bahrain next month.

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Likud body passes measure aimed at preventing PM’s rivals from taking over party if snap elections called

The Likud secretariat passes an additional proposal from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which will prevent his rivals within the party from leading the faction if snap elections are called.

The resolution states that Netanyahu, and not anyone else, will be Likud party leader in such a scenario.

The premier has spoken in the past about attempts by Gideon Sa’ar to carry out a coup against him to take over the leadership of the party.

Feeding into the speculation, Sa’ar was photographed yesterday sitting in the Knesset cafeteria with Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who is currently refusing to agree to a compromise with the Haredi parties on an IDF draft law that would prevent snap elections.

— Jacob Magid