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Netanyahu, Gantz meeting in last ditch effort to form unity government

President rebukes PM for recent ‘ugly’ barbs against Joint List MKs while railing against possible Blue and White minority government

President Reuven Rivlin (C) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at his official residence in Jerusalem on November 19, 2019. In the background is Likud coalition negotiator Ze'ev Elkin. (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin (C) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at his official residence in Jerusalem on November 19, 2019. In the background is Likud coalition negotiator Ze'ev Elkin. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

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

Netanyahu: US settlement stance shift ‘will stand for generations’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offers further praise for the Trump administration’s announcement yesterday it would no longer necessarily view West Bank settlements as illegal, as he tours the Etzion settlement bloc.

“I confess I’m very moved. We’re here, in Gush Etzion, a place we were expelled from during the War of Independence, and here we are on a historic day with another tremendous achievement for the State of the Israel, that we worked quite a bit on,” Netanyahu was quoted saying in a statement from his office.

“The Trump administration fixed a historic injustice here and stood by truth and justice. I thank President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo. This a very big day for the State of Israel and an achievement that will stand for generations,” the prime minister adds.

While praised by Israel, the American shift on settlements has been widely rejected internationally and by leading Democratic presidential nominees. Most countries consider settlements illegal under international law, a position rejected by Israel.

Gantz, Netanyahu to meet Tuesday night as coalition deadline nears

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will meet at 10 p.m. today, their parties say in a joint statement, as tomorrow night’s deadline for Gantz to form a government nears.

Netanyahu and Gantz have both voiced support for a unity government after elections in September left both short of a majority of Knesset seats together with their respective allies. Coalition talks have stalled, however, amid Likud’s insistence on negotiating as a joint bloc together with its religious partners and Blue and White’s ruling out sitting in a government with Netanyahu over the premier’s pending indictment on graft charges.

Polanski film on Dreyfus Affair tops French box office despite rape claim

PARIS — Roman Polanski’s new film is topping the French box office despite a new rape allegation against the controversial director.

“An Officer and a Spy” surges ahead of the Matt Damon racing car epic “Ford v Ferrari” — which is top of the US box office — despite the publicity campaign for the movie being suspended in the wake of the latest claims against the veteran film-maker.

French photographer Valentine Monnier threw the release of the historical thriller about the Dreyfus Affair into disarray by accusing Polanski of raping her in 1975 when she was 18 after beating her “into submission” at his Swiss chalet.

But despite protests outside cinemas and a call by feminists to boycott the movie starring Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin, nearly 400,000 people had flocked to see it by late Monday.

Polanski, 86, denies attacking Monnier, a former model and actress, and has threatened to sue his accusers.

The unexpectedly strong turnout for the film is the seventh best opening weekend by a French film in 2019, according to figures from CBO Box-Office.

Its success angered critics of the French-Polish maker of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown,” who has been a fugitive from US justice since admitting to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977 in a plea bargain to avoid a trial on more serious charges.

— AFP

FILE – In this Oct. 30, 2017 photo director Roman Polanski poses during a photo call to the screening of “Based on a true story” in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Iran says will unblock internet once ‘abuse’ at demonstrations stops

TEHRAN, Iran — The Iranian government says it will unblock the internet only when authorities are sure it will not be “abused” during violent demonstrations against a gasoline price hike.

The Islamic Republic has been largely offline since the internet restrictions were imposed the day after the nationwide demonstrations broke out on Friday.

“Many professions and banks… have faced problems, and we have been trying to solve this,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei says, quoted by semi-official news agency ISNA.

An Iranian man checks a scorched gas station that was set ablaze by protesters during a demonstration against a rise in gasoline prices in Eslamshahr, near the Iranian capital of Tehran, November 17, 2019. (AFP)

“The internet will come back gradually in some provinces where there are assurances the internet will not be abused,” he says.

“We understand that people have faced difficulties… but the bigger concern under the current circumstances is maintaining the country’s peace and stability.”

Demonstrations broke out in Iran on Friday after it was announced the price of gasoline would be raised by as much as 200 percent in the sanctions-hit country.

At least five deaths have been confirmed in the violence that has seen masked young men set alight gasoline stations, banks and other public property.

The full extent of the protests remains unclear, however, largely as a result of the internet restrictions.

— AFP

 

Blue and White members said ready to accept Rivlin unity proposal

Sources in the Blue and White party say they are now ready to accept President Reuven Rivlin’s proposal for forming a unity government, according to the Ynet news site.

After both Blue and White and Likud came up short in September’s Knesset elections, Rivlin proposed a “paritetic” government in which power would be shared equally between the sides. He also suggested an arrangement that would see Prime Minister Netanyahu take an indefinite leave of absence if indictment for corruption, with Gantz filling in as premier.

Gantz and Netanyahu will meet this evening at 10 p.m. Netanyahu and coalition negotiators from his Likud party are set to meet with Rivlin before then.

Palestinian arrested for suspected death threats against settlement leader

Israeli security forces have arrested a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Hebron on suspicion of threatening to murder settlement leader Yossi Dagan.

The suspect is alleged to have written threatening messages on his Facebook page against Dagan, who heads the Samaria Regional Council in the northern West Bank.

“Death to Jews. Will get to you and kill you,” he wrote in one post, according to Channel 12 news.

The suspect has been taken in for questioning following his arrest.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan speaks during a demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, December 13, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Court rejects Likud officials’ appeal against phone searches

The Tel Aviv District Court rejects an appeal from top officials in the Likud party against a search warrant for their cellphones over suspected witness harassment.

Likud campaign manager Ofer Golan and party spokesman Jonatan Urich argued the warrant should be invalidated because police searched their phones when they were called in for questioning.

They are asking for the search of the phones to be delayed to allow them to appeal to the Supreme Court, according to the Walla news site.

Urich and Golan are suspected of harassing Shlomo Filber, a former confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu who ran Likud’s election campaign in 2015 before turning state’s witness in a graft case involving the premier.

Rivlin begins marathon of meetings with party chiefs before coalition deadline

President Reuven Rivlin is meeting at his official residence in Jerusalem with Jewish Home party leader Rafi Peretz “as part of his ongoing daily efforts to form a government and to prevent a third round of elections,” the president’s office says.

Later this afternoon Rivlin will meet with Democratic Camp leader Nitzan Horowitz and then at 7:15 p.m. with the Likud negotiating team and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will meet tomorrow with Shas leader Aryeh Deri, United Torah Judasim leaders Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett from the New Right party.

“The meetings were scheduled at the request of the politicians and in coordination with them,” the president’s office says.

— Raoul Wootliff

President Reuven Rivlin and Jewish Home party leader Rafi Peretz (L) meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on November 19, 2019. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

FM Katz blames Iran for rocket fire from Syria

Foreign Minister Israel Katz is blaming Iran for this morning’s rocket fire from Syria toward northern Israel.

“This incident is an Iranian operation against the State of Israel,” Katz tells the Ynet news site.

“The State of Israel will continue to act according to its policy. The policy was and remains to prevent Iran from establishing itself in the area,” he adds.

The Israel Defense Forces said four rockets were fired overnight from Syria, all of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria in recent years and top officials have repeatedly vowed to prevent Iran from entrenching itself on the Israel-Syrian border.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz at a Likud election campaign stop in Jerusalem, September 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

UN ‘alarmed’ by reports of ‘significant’ death toll in Iran protests

GENEVA — The UN rights office says that it is “alarmed” by reports that live ammunition was used against protesters in Iran and had caused a significant number of deaths across the country.

“We are especially alarmed that the use of live ammunition has allegedly caused a significant number of deaths across the country,” United Nations human rights office spokesman Rupert Colville tells reporters.

He adds that while casualty details were hard to verify, in part because of an internet shutdown in place since Saturday, Iranian media and “a number other sources” suggest that “dozens of people may have been killed” during the demonstrations.

— AFP

Iranian protesters gather around a fire during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the capital Tehran, on November 16, 2019. (AFP)

German archive uploads details of millions of Nazi victims

BERLIN — Germany’s International Center on Nazi Persecution has uploaded some 850,000 documents with information on ten million people collected after the end of World War II in the American occupied zone of Germany.

The Bad Arolsen-based archive says in a statement today that the documents contain information about victims of Nazi persecution that was collected in the winter of 1945/46 in Germany based on orders by the four occupying powers — the US, Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

They issued orders to German local authorities, companies and others requiring them to draw up lists of foreign nationals, German Jews and stateless people who were registered with them.

A large collection of these documents as well as other lists from the American Zone of Occupation can now be viewed online.

— AP

UN watchdog confirms fresh Iran breach of heavy water limits

BERLIN — The UN’s nuclear watchdog confirms Iran has breached another limit in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers by stockpiling more heavy water than the accord allowed.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says today that Iran informed it on November 16 that it had surpassed the 130 tonnes (143.3 US tons) allowed by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The agency confirmed November 17 that Iran’s stockpile had reached 131.5 tonnes.

Heavy water helps cool reactors, producing plutonium as a byproduct that can be used in nuclear weapons. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Tehran has been slowly stepping up violations of the nuclear deal to pressure world powers to provide more incentives to make up for the US withdrawal from the deal last year and renewed American economic sanctions.

— AP

A view of the heavy-water production plant in the central Iranian town of Arak, August 26, 2006. (AP/ ISNA, Arash Khamoushi)

Sweden drops Assange rape investigation

STOCKHOLM — The alleged rape investigation involving WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently in prison in Britain, has been discontinued, a Swedish prosecutor says.

“I want to inform about my decision to discontinue the preliminary investigation,” Deputy Chief Prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson tells a news conference.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, says in a tweet that the focus should now move onto the “threat” that Assange has been “warning about for years: the belligerent prosecution of the United States and the threat it poses to the First Amendment.”

Today’s decision follows a ruling in June by a Swedish court that Assange should not be detained.

Two months earlier, Assange was evicted from the Ecuador Embassy in London where he had been holed up since 2012. He was immediately arrested and is currently serving a 50-week sentence in Britain for jumping bail in 2012.

He is also fighting extradition to the US, which accuses him of publishing secret documents.

— AP

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London, May 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

UN says no change in settlement stance after US policy shift

GENEVA — A US policy change has no impact on the legality of settlements in the West Bank and in Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the UN says today, insisting that the settlements breach international law.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday that after legal consultations, Washington had concluded that the establishment of settlements was “not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”

UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville says that “a change in the policy position of one state does not modify existing international law, nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice and the Security Council.”

The rights office will “continue to follow the longstanding position of the United Nations that the Israeli settlements are in breach of international law,” Colville tells reporters.

— with AFP

Blue and White, Likud negotiators meet ahead of Gantz, Netanyahu meeting

The negotiations team from the Blue and White and Likud parties are meeting before their respective leaders Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Netanyahu meet this evening for coalition talks.

Gantz, who was tasked with forming a government after Netanyahu failed to do so, has until tomorrow at midnight to string together a coalition.

Ahead of the sit-down with Gantz, Netanyahu instructs government ministers not to publicly discuss the coalition talks or any progress toward forming a government, according to a Channel 12 report.

Vindman speaks to late father during impeachment hearing

WASHINGTON — A White House aide says that he recognizes that what he is doing — testifying before Congress — would not be tolerated in many other countries.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman says in Russia, for example, his “act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel” would have cost him his life.

National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Vindman, dressed in uniform, testifies that he felt Trump’s request on a July 25 call to a new Ukrainian leader to investigate a political rival was “improper.”

The US Army official is a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine. He says that he is grateful his father came to the United States some 40 years ago, a place “where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety.”

He then speaks to his late father, saying “Dad, my sitting here today … is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union.”

— AP

US envoy let Gantz know beforehand of settlement policy change — report

David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, updated Blue and White chief Benny Gantz ahead of yesterday’s announcement by the Trump administration that it doesn’t view West Bank settlements as illegal, Channel 13 news reports.

According to the network, Friedman gave Gantz a heads-up to avoid any appearance of interfering in Israeli politics. Gantz is currently working to cobble together a government.

“If Gantz told us that within 24 hours he was going to form a government and asked us to wait, we wouldn’t have published the announcement,” an American official familiar with the conversion between Friedman and Gantz is quoted saying.

During the phone call, Gantz did not express any opposition to the move or ask that it be delayed, the report says.

Gantz hailed the US policy shift after the announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, center, and then US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, right, meeting at the US Embassy’s branch office in Tel Aviv on September 23, 2019. (Courtesy/Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Blue and White, Likud said having ‘serious’ contacts on forming unity government

There are currently “serious” contacts between the Blue and White and Likud parties on forming a government, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Quoting sources close to the coalition negotiations, Kan says the talks are being brokered by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.

The parties are reportedly discussing a potential government based on President Reuven Rivlin’s unity proposal, subject to some changes.

Gantz to meet with Liberman Tuesday evening

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz will meet with Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman at 8 p.m., Blue and White says.

The sit-down will take place before Gantz meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 10 p.m.

— Raoul Wootliff

Blue and White said looking for promises from PM on immunity, leave of absence

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz is reportedly expected to push Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for commitments in the case he is indicted when the two meet this evening.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Blue and White wants Netanyahu to commit to either forgoing a request for immunity from the Knesset or to agree to take a leave of absence if he indicted, even if he receives immunity.

Netanyahu would have to take the leave of absence six to eight months after an announcement from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that he intends to indict the Likud leader, the report says.

Mandelblit is expected to soon announce whether he’ll charge Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases.

Labor-Gesher leader reiterates party won’t sit in Netanyahu-led government

The head of the center-left Labor-Gesher party reiterates he will not sit in a government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the clock runs out on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a coalition.

“We promised Israeli citizens change and hope and therefore we won’t sit in any government that Netanyahu says,” Amir Peretz tweets.

Labor-Gesher has been holding coalition negotiations with Blue and White, with the parties saying earlier this week that “significant progress” had been made toward agreement on key issues in a potential government.

Labor leader Amir Peretz at the Labor party faction meeting at the Knesset, November 4, 2019. (Hadas Porush/Flash90)

Rights group says over 100 killed in Iran protests

Amnesty International, citing “credible reports,” says it believes at least 106 people have been killed during protests in Iran over government-set gasoline prices rising.

Amnesty makes the allegation in a report released today.

Iran’s government, which has not made nationwide numbers available for the toll of the unrest that began Sunday, doesn’t immediately respond to the report.

Amnesty adds that it “believes that the real death toll may be much higher, with some reports suggesting as many as 200 have been killed.”

Iran since has shut down the internet and deployed police and anti-riot forces to quell the unrest. Demonstrations are believed to still be going on in the country.

— AP

Epstein jail guards charged with falsifying records

NEW YORK — Two correctional officers responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein the night he killed himself are charged with falsifying prison records.

A grand jury indictment made public today accuses guards Toval Noel and Michael Thomas of neglecting their duties by failing to perform checks on Epstein every half hour, as required, and of fabricating log entries to show they had.

The charges against the officers are the first in connection with the wealthy financier’s death in August at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.

The city’s medical examiner ruled Epstein’s death a suicide.

A message left with union officials representing the guards isn’t immediately returned.

Epstein’s death while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused underage girls was a major embarrassment for the US Bureau of Prisons.

The cell where he died was in a high-security unit, famous for having held terrorists and drug cartel kingpins. Epstein’s death, though, revealed the jail was suffering from problems including chronic staffing shortages that lead to mandatory overtime for guards day after day and other staff being pressed into service as correctional officers.

Attorney General William Barr has said investigators found “serious irregularities” at the jail and the FBI’s investigation had been slowed because some witnesses were uncooperative.

— AP

Hezbollah rails against US settlement policy shift

Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group is condemning the US announcement that it no longer necessarily views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal.

“Hezbollah sees the declaration, and previous hostile American steps, as an effort of the United States to bring an end to the Palestinian issue,” Hezbollah is quoted as saying by the Ynet news site.

“This move won’t change anything in reality. The Israel entity is an occupier,” it adds.

Lawyer says Epstein jail guards being made scapegoats

A lawyer for one of the correctional officers charged with falsifying prison records the night Jeffrey Epstein killed himself says both guards are being made scapegoats.

Montell Figgins is a lawyer for Michael Thomas. He says that there’s been a “rush to judgment” and that federal authorities are going after “the low man on the totem pole.”

He says his client will plead not guilty.

Epstein was found dead in his cell in August as he awaited trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls.

New York City’s medical examiner ruled Epstein’s death a suicide.

— AP

Netanyahu arrives for meeting with Rivlin as Gantz huddles with Lapid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem for a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin.

Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin, the coalition negotiators for Netanyahu’s Likud party, are also set to take part in the meeting.

Netanyahu will meet later this evening with Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, who has until tomorrow at midnight to form a government.

As Netanyahu speaks with Rivlin, Gantz is meeting at Blue and White headquarters in Tel Aviv with Yair Lapid, the No. 2 in the party. Lapid and Gantz are reportedly at odds over joining a unity government with Netanyahu.

— with Raoul Wootliff

President Reuven Rivlin (C) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at his official residence in Jerusalem on November 19, 2019. In the background is Likud coalition negotiator Ze’ev Elkin. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

ADL to award Sacha Baron Cohen for using humor to ‘expose people’s inherent biases’

Sacha Baron Cohen will be honored by the Anti-Defamation League for his “vision, imagination and creativity.”

Cohen, who most recently portrayed the late Israeli spy Eli Cohen in a Netflix series, will receive the International Leadership Award during the civil rights organization’s “Never is Now” summit on anti-Semitism and hate. The summit will be held Thursday in New York City.

The actor, comedian and director, whose political satire films include “Borat” and “The Dictator,” will deliver a keynote address.

“Baron Cohen has used humor and satire to expose people’s inherent biases by depicting racists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, Islamophobes and others as deeply flawed, ordinary people whose prejudices are, ultimately, laughable,” the ADL says in a statement. “As a celebrity and public figure, he’s not shied away from taking on tough subjects off-screen, having recently spoken out about the failure of social media companies to adequately address the rampant racism, anti-Semitism and hate on their platforms.”

— JTA

Rivlin said to believe Netanyahu must be PM first in any new government

President Reuven Rivlin believes Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu must be prime minister first in any new government that is formed, according to a Channel 13 news report.

Citing sources who spoke with Rivlin today, the network says the president feels there is no alternative to Netanyahu serving as premier first under a potential unity government with the centrist Blue and White party, or in a “narrow” government made up of right-wing and religious parties.

Iran will seek new fighter jets, tanks as 2020 embargo lifts

WASHINGTON — A senior US intelligence official says Iran will likely buy new advanced fighter jets and tanks next year when a UN Security Council arms embargo is scheduled to be lifted.

The official says a new Defense Intelligence Agency assessment of Iran’s military capabilities concludes Tehran is committed to becoming the dominant power in the Middle East. It also finds the Islamic Republic is making rapid progress developing attack drones and other missile systems.

The report comes amid escalating tensions between Iran in the wake of a series of attacks on commercial shipping vehicles and Saudi oil facilities this year that have been blamed on Tehran.

The intelligence official says Iran would probably buy the tanks and aircraft from Russia and China. The official speaks anonymously to discuss intelligence matters.

— AP

Gantz meets with Liberman as deadline to form government approaches

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz is meeting with Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman as he makes a final push to form a government before tomorrow night’s deadline.

According to a Channel 13 report, Liberman has told Gantz he won’t join a so-called narrow government of right-wing and religious parties, while also informing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud he won’t back a minority government supported by the Joint List of majority Arab parties.

Liberman campaigned on forcing a unity government between Likud and Blue and White if neither could form a coalition without him after September’s Knesset elections, but unity efforts have so far failed to bear fruit.

Gantz will meet Netanyahu later this evening.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (L) shakes hands with Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman on November 29, 2019. (Elad Malka)

IDF wraps up snap drill testing preparedness for war in the north

The Israel Defense Forces completes its two-day surprise military exercise in northern Israel, in which thousands of conscripted soldiers and reservists took part, the military says.

“The troops simulated the rapid turnover from everyday to emergency, from defense to attack; the processes of gathering troops and weapons; taking out equipment; and the movement of forces through the region,” the army says.

The surprise exercise began early Monday; it is meant to test the military’s readiness for the sudden outbreak of war in the north, specifically against the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group and other Iranian proxies in the region.

Soldiers from the IDF Northern Command take part in a surprise exercise in northern Israel in November 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

This was the second such surprise drill to be held in the Northern Command under IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, following criticism that the military was not prepared for war.

Troops from the IDF Northern Command’s Ga’ash and Galil Divisions took part in the exercise, along with soldiers from the Air Force, Ground Forces, Military Intelligence, Teleprocessing Directorate and the Technology and Logistics Directorate.

In addition, thousands of reservists from the Etzioni Brigade and other reserve units were called up suddenly to participate in the exercise as they “expected to take part in the [Northern] Command’s missions during war-time,” the IDF says.

— Judah Ari Gross

AG said still weighing bribery charge for Netanyahu

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly still contemplating whether to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery in the most serious of the three corruption cases against the premier.

In the probe, known as Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of pushing regulatory decisions financially benefiting the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, Shaul Elovitch, in return for ongoing positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site. It is the most serious of the three cases against the prime minister, carrying possible charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

Even if the bribery charge will be included in Mandelblit’s announcement, expected by early next week, it is likely to be watered down, Channel 12 news reports today, without citing sources.

The report says Mandelblit had not yet made the decision, or at least hasn’t let his staff know about it. It estimated that in any case there will be a difference, possibly a significant difference, between the allegations as laid out in the 57-page document Mandelblit published in February and the eventual indictment.

The bribery charge “will be watered down and will undergo a ‘diet,’ perhaps a significant one,” reporter Guy Peleg says.

More specifically, he says, the bribery charge will focus only on the regulatory decision to approve a merger deal between Bezeq and satellite TV provider Yes, and other decisions said thus far to be part of the alleged bribery deal will be excluded.

— Michael Bachner

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a Justice conference in Tel Aviv, on November 4, 2019. (Flash90)

Rivlin rebukes Netanyahu for branding Arab MKs a ‘threat’ to Israel

President Reuven Rivlin wraps up his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud party coalition negotiators, with his office saying they have updated him on coalition talks.

“He [Rivlin] is of the opinion that the State of Israel needs as broad a unity government as possible,” the President’s Residence says in a statement.

According to the statement, Rivlin “expressed his strong objection to recent statements against members of the Knesset and Arab population” during the meeting.

Netanyahu has made increasingly dire warnings about a Blue and White minority government backed by the Joint List of majority Arab parties, whose lawmakers he accused earlier this week of wanting “to destroy” Israel.

While Rivlin feels that some comments by Arab MKs “regarding Israeli society, and particularly about IDF soldiers, are grave, shocking and unacceptable,” he opposes characterizing of all Arab lawmakers as a “fifth column” and “threat” to the country’s existence.

“The president said that we who live as sovereigns in our country, the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, must ensure equality of rights and respectful and meaningful discourse with all Israelis,” the statement says.

Hungary blocking joint EU statement condemning US settlement policy change

An effort to get all 28 European Union member states to issue a joint statement condemning the US decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements as illegal is being blocked by Hungary, a diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the matter tells The Times of Israel.

The bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, issued a statement yesterday that did not directly refer to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement on the matter, but reiterated that the union’s position “remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”

No text has yet been circulated among member states, as Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó makes it plain that his country would veto any statement on the settlement’s legality, even if it did not directly refer to Pompeo’s speech.

Budapest has been at loggerheads with Brussels over the Middle East peace process several times in recent months. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban also blocked a joint EU statement condemning the US administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In March, Hungary became the first EU member state to open a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, much to the chagrin of other member states which cling to the position that international law prohibits opening such missions in the city in the absence of a comprehensive peace deal.

— Raphael Ahren

Police close streets in Rishon Lezion after suspected explosive found in restaurant

Police have closed off a number of streets in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion after a suspected explosive device was found in a restaurant, according to Hebrew media reports.

It is unclear whether the incident is crime or terror related.

Netanyahu says first step for a unity govt will be annexing Jordan Valley

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has called on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beyteinu leader Avigdor Liberman to join him in a unity government an annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.

Netanyahu, who is meeting Gantz later today, tweets that a new government will ‘safeguard the security of Israel and annex the Jordan Valley.”

His comments come a day after the US revised its long-standing position that Israeli settlements were illegal under international law

 

Netanyahu, Gantz meeting as coalition deadline draws near

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz are meeting in a last ditch effort to reach a unity government.

The talks follows a series of meeting amid multiple reports that Likud and Blue and White were having serious negotiations for the first time since the September elections amid intense efforts to form a unity government.

The parties are reportedly discussing a last-minute deal to form a government based on President Reuven Rivlin’s unity proposal — which entails a power-sharing agreement whereby Netanyahu would take a leave of absence if indicted for corruption and be replaced by Gantz as prime minister — subject to some changes.

The centrist leader was tasked with cobbling together a coalition after Netanyahu failed to do so in the wake of the September elections.

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Police close streets in Rishon Lezion after suspected explosive found in restaurant

Police have closed off a number of streets in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion after a suspected explosive device was found in a restaurant, according to Hebrew media reports.

It is unclear whether the incident is crime or terror related.