Sondland: Trump ‘never’ discussed Ukraine aid freeze with me
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Netanyahu urges Gantz to resume coalition talks after conceding defeat

PM tells rival he will return to negotiating table before midnight deadline in last ditch effort to clinch unity government and prevent 3rd elections in under a year

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Liberman not endorsing Gantz or Netanyahu, signaling 3rd elections

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman says he won’t join forces with either Blue and White or Likud, signaling that Israel is headed to an unprecedented third election in a single year.

At a faction meeting, Liberman says Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu’s parties refused to compromise in the coalition negotiations.

“As far as I’m concerned, they are both guilty,” he tells reporters.

“The only thing that came between us and a unity government is personal agendas,” Liberman adds.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks at faction meeting in the Knesset on November 20, 2019.

Liberman’s comments come as a midnight deadline closes in on Gantz’s window to present a coalition government.

If Gantz fails, which is now all but guaranteed, the country enters the final 21-day period for a candidate to present a majority before new elections are called.

Liberman pans Gantz, Netanyahu’s ‘lack of leadership’ in unity talks

Liberman blasts the “lack of leadership” displayed by Netanyahu and Gantz during the unity government negotiations.

“One refused to accept President Reuven Rivlin’s compromise, the other refused to give up his right-wing, messianic bloc,” he tells reporters at the Knesset.

“I left no stone unturned my attempt to reach a unity government like we promised,” he says. “If we are dragged into elections, it will be because of a lack of leadership.”

Liberman says Netanyahu ‘enslaving Likud to the ultra-Orthodox’

Liberman accuses Netanyahu of “enslaving the entire Likud movement to the ultra-Orthodox.”

At a party faction meeting in the Knesset, Liberman slams what he says is an “anti-Zionist coalition” between Arab and ultra-Orthodox parties.

“We should call it like it is — the Joint List is really a ‘fifth column,'” he says. “Unfortunately the Haredi parties are also becoming more and more anti-Zionist.”

Liberman says ‘no chance’ he’ll join narrow majority government

Liberman says there is “no chance” his Yisrael Beytenu party will join a minority or narrow majority government after unity talks with Gantz and Netanyahu break down.

“We won’t join either a narrow majority government or a minority government,” he says. “Whatever sort of government it is, it won’t survive.”

Liberman had called for a national unity government between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White. But he says the two leaders could not agree on a power-sharing agreement.

Border cop who shot at unarmed Palestinian with back turned charged with assault

Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court indicts a Border Police officer who was filmed shooting a sponge-tipped bullet at an unarmed Palestinian man apparently “as a form of dubious entertainment,” according to the judge in the case.

The incident occurred in May last year, and the female officer suspected of firing the shot was arrested in October of this year when the footage was discovered by prosecutors.

After an investigation by the Police Internal Investigations Department, the soldier is charged with assault, reckless behavior and negligence with a weapon.

Additionally, she and two other soldiers are charged with obstruction of justice for attempting to destroy a video of the incident from several cellphones.

Ultra-Orthodox MKs lash Liberman for ‘anti-Zionist’ remark

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers lash out at Avigdor Liberman for saying their parties are becoming increasingly anti-Zionist in his speech announcing that he was not endorsing any candidate for prime minister.

United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni and Yisrael Eichler say Liberman’s remarks about their party amount to anti-Semitism.

“A disgraceful ugly horror show.. full of lies, ignorance and hatred. Unfortunately we can say that anti-Semitism has been rediscovered today,” Litzman tells UTJ lawmakers following the press conference.

File: MK Moshe Gafni, right, and then-health minister Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset, September 6, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We don’t remember this kind of anti-Semitism in the Knesset ever, even from [Arab MK] Ahmad Tibi. He has done damage to this country, and he doesn’t know how to bow out respectfully,” Gafni says. “He needs to leave politics… he’s a nothing.”

“We don’t need to search for anti-Semitism abroad when Liberman announces a coup and third elections,” Eichler says. “What Liberman said today about the ultra-Orthodox community is a war crime.”

During his earlier remarks, Liberman accused Netanyahu of “enslaving the entire Likud movement to the ultra-Orthodox,” and said their parties had created a de facto anti-Zionist coalition with Arab parties.

More MKs join criticizing Liberman for remarks on Arabs, ultra-Orthodox

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum are piling on Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman for calling Arab and Ultra-Orthodox parties anti-Zionist.

“Unfortunately, Liberman’s speech takes us to third elections. His over-the-top lashing of the ultra-Orthodox slams the door on a right-wing government,” Likud faction chairman MK Miki Zohar says. “If there was any chance of a compromise with them, that has moved farther away because of his decision to aggressively attack them.”

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi also attacks Liberman, saying his “incitement against the Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox is pure racism and anti-Semitism. We will continue building bridges with the Haredi parties despite the differences of opinion.”

Labor-Gesher lawmaker Merav Michaeli says Liberman has “upgraded Netanyahu’s concept to ‘minus Arabs and ultra-Orthodox.’ Arabs and ultra-Orthodox are part of Israeli society. The leaders of both communities should understand that this is the moment for them to cooperate with the liberal forces and form a government without Netanyahu.”

Vatican expresses concern after US decision on Israeli settlements

The Vatican is expressing concern that “recent decisions” could undermine regional stability in the Middle East, in an apparent reference to the US reversal of position on Israeli settlements.

The Vatican doesn’t specifically cite the US conclusion that Israel’s West Bank settlements don’t violate international law. But the reference appears clear when it speaks of “the recent decisions that risk undermining further the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the already fragile regional stability” in the Middle East.

Pope John Paul II places a letter between the stones of Jerusalem’s Western Wall on March 26, 2000. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/Israel Government Press Office via Getty Images/JTA)

The Holy See reiterates its support for a “two-state solution for two peoples, as the only way to reach a complete solution to this age-old conflict.”

It says it supports Israel’s right to “live in peace and security within the borders recognized by the international community” and supports “the same right that belongs to the Palestinian people, which must be recognized, respected and implemented.”

— AP

Saudi king urges Iran to quit ‘harmful’ expansionism

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman urges rival Iran to abandon an expansionist ideology that has “harmed” its own people, following violent street protests in the Islamic Republic.

“We hope the Iranian regime chooses the side of wisdom and realizes there is no way to overcome the international position that rejects its practices, without abandoning its expansionist and destructive thinking that has harmed its own people,” he told the consultative Shura Council, according to the foreign ministry.

— AFP

Netanyahu: Ultra-Orthodox ‘must not be excluded’ from next government

Benjamin Netanyahu is still calling for a broad national unity government even after Avigdor Liberman announced he would not endorse any candidate for prime minister, pushing the nation toward a new, third election this year.

Netanyahu calls on Benny Gantz to join forces with his Likud party, saying that cooperation between the rival parties was “essential” for the country.

“We are at moment of fate, a historic crossroads,” Netanyahu says in his appeal to the Blue and White chief.

He also slams Liberman for calling ultra-Orthodox parties anti-Zionist, saying “we must not exclude any group, not the ultra-Orthodox, other Jews or non-Jews.”

“Whoever supports Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is a partner,” he says.

US envoy Sondland says he kept Pompeo updated on Ukraine pressure

Ambassador Gordon Sondland says he kept top members of the Trump administration, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the loop about US President Donald Trump’s pressure on Ukraine for investigations.

In remarks to a House intelligence panel, Sondland tells lawmakers that it was well-established within the Trump administration that there was a quid pro quo involving Ukraine.

He said the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, openly discussed how Trump wanted Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into the 2016 US presidential election and into Burisma — the Ukraine gas company on whose board Biden’s son, Hunter, sat — as a prerequisite for a coveted White House visit for Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

In this July 10, 2018, file photo, US President Donald Trump is joined by Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, second from right, as he arrives at Melsbroek Air Base, in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Sondland says he laid out the issue in detail to members of State Department, Energy, and White House staff. Recipients included Pompeo and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, he said.

Everyone understood “Trump’s desires and requirements,” Sondland says. He added: “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”

Last month, Pompeo acknowledged for the first time he was on Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president, but disclosed no details and did not indicate he was kept up to date on the Ukraine pressure efforts.

— AP

US envoy Sondland ‘followed president’s order’ on Giuliani

Ambassador Gordon Sondland is testifying that he “followed the president’s orders” to work with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine.

Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, is a key witness in the House impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump.

He says that he and his colleagues did not want to involve the president’s personal attorney in diplomacy efforts with Ukraine, but they were told to by the president.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, waits to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Even though they didn’t like it, they also didn’t think it was improper at the time. Had he known that some of Giuliani’s associations with individuals who are now under criminal indictment, he never would have “acquiesced to his participation.”

Because he believed everything to be above board, they made every effort to keep people informed about the efforts.

He says the suggestion that he and others we were engaged in rogue diplomacy was absolutely false.

— AP

Syria war monitor says death toll from Israeli strikes rises to 23

At least 16 foreign fighters, likely Iranians, and seven Syrians were killed in Israel’s airstrikes early this morning, according to a new tally from a Syrian war monitor.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave an updated death toll of 21 fighters, 16 of them non-Syrians, and two civilians. Earlier, the monitor reported that 11 people had been killed in the strikes, seven of them foreigners.

— Judah Ari Gross

US envoy confirms existence of Ukraine ‘quid pro quo’

Was there a “quid pro quo?”

The ambassador entangled in an impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump is telling House lawmakers: “Yes.”

Gordon Sondland is testifying publicly to the House Intelligence Committee.

Sondland says “we all understood” that a meeting at the White House for Ukraine’s president and a phone call with Trump would happen only if President Volodymyr Zelenskiy agreed to an investigation into the 2016 US election and the son of former vice president Joe Biden.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, is sworn in before testifying to the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

He says he sent an email on July 19, just days before the July 25 call at the center of the impeachment inquiry, where he laid out the issue in detail to members of the State and Energy departments and White House staff.

Sondland says: “It was no secret.”

— AP

Gantz to give speech in Tel Aviv tonight after Liberman refuses to endorse him for PM

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz will address the current political impasse at 7:45 p.m. at Expo Tel Aviv.

Gantz is facing a midnight deadline to form a coalition, but without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, he appears unable to secure the required majority in parliament to be prime minister.

Palestinian shot in the back by Israeli officer says indictment insufficient

The unarmed Palestinian man who was shot in the back by sponge-tipped bullet says the indictment handed down against an Israeli border police officer today does not sufficiently address the trauma he

“Several Border Police officers beat me over a three-hour period before one of them shot me,” Karam Qawasmi tells The Times of Israel.

“They hit me in a criminal way. The indictment is not sufficient because it does not deal with how they assaulted me before I was shot,” he adds.

Palestinian Karam Qawasmi, who was shot in the back by Israeli forces in an incident caught on video last year, gestures as he gives an interview in the West Bank city of Hebron, November 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Earlier today, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court indicted a female border police officer who was filmed shooting a sponge-tipped bullet at Qawasmi apparently “as a form of dubious entertainment,” according to the judge in the case.

The officer was charged with assault, reckless behavior negligence with a weapon and and obstruction of justice over the May 2018 incident.

— Adam Rasgon

France expresses ‘deep concern’ over deaths of protesters in Iran

France on Wednesday expressed “deep concern” over reports of the deaths of numerous demonstrators during days of protests in Iran sparked by a sudden petrol price hike.

“France expresses its deep concern over information indicating the deaths of numerous protesters in the last days,” the foreign ministry says in a statement.

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

Iranian officials have confirmed five deaths, including of three security personnel, but Amnesty International said yesterday that more than 100 demonstrators were believed to have been killed.

— AFP

Sondland denies carrying out ‘rogue diplomacy’

Gordon Sondland is denying that in carrying out President Donald Trump’s Ukraine policy he was engaging in “some kind of rogue diplomacy” or that he “muscled” his way into the issue.

Trump’s EU ambassador is testifying in the House’s impeachment inquiry into Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and his son while holding up military aide

Other witnesses have been generally consistent in saying that Sondland operated a parallel diplomatic effort orchestrated by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Sondland says that the suggestion that he was engaged in “rogue diplomacy is absolutely false.” He said others were informed about the Ukraine strategy.

— AP

Arab League calls urgent meeting to discuss US policy shift on Israeli settlements

The Arab League will convene an emergency meeting of foreign ministers next week to discuss the shift in US policy regarding Israeli settlements in the West Bank, according to a report in Egyptian state media.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington was softening its position on Israeli settlements and repudiating a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that they were “inconsistent with international law.”

The US move angered Palestinians and was rebuked by many other countries as well as the United Nations.

Sondland: Trump ‘never’ discussed Ukraine aid freeze with me

US diplomat Gordon Sondland says US President Donald Trump never spoke to him about stalled military aid to Ukraine or any alleged link to Trump’s demands for political investigations.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, makes an opening statement before testifying to the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement of (the investigations),” Sondland told a congressional impeachment inquiry.

“I don’t recall President Trump ever talking to me about any security assistance, ever,” he added.

— AFP

Danon says Europe’s ‘automatic’ support for Palestinians dooming peace talks

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon says that Europe’s “automatic” support for the Palestinians is preventing the resumption of peace talks between the sides.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a Security Council meeting on the Middle East, Danon says European support has resulted in an anti-Israel propaganda campaign.

“The automatic support of some European countries for the Palestinians has resulted in a propaganda campaign that starts in New York and ends in Ramallah,” Danon says according to a readout from his office. “If you want to truly help, you must change your approach because your criticism is preventing direct negotiations.”

He also praises the shift in US policy regarding West Bank settlements as “righting a historical wrong.”

Trump insists he wanted ‘nothing’ from Ukraine

US President Donald Trump is insisting that he wanted “nothing” from Ukraine and declared that impeachment hearings should be brought to an end.

The president read from handwritten notes when speaking to reporters on the White House lawn nearly an hour later than his scheduled departure for Texas.

US President Donald Trump reads from his notes as he talks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One in Washington, DC, November 20, 2019, en route to Austin, Texas. (Joshua Lott / AFP)

Trump addresses the ongoing testimony from Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, who linked the president to a decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into a political rival.

But he only highlighted specific, helpful parts from Sondland’s remarks, saying “it is the final word” that he did not demand a quid pro quo.

Trump, who claimed that means “it’s all over” for the impeachment proceedings, did not take questions from reporters.

Palestinians at Security Council condemn US decision on settlements

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour criticizes the US for softening its position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank at a Security Council meeting on the Middle East.

Mansour says the “illegal” announcement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday will not have any effect on the situation in Israel or the West Bank.

“The illegal announcement by the US violates international law and will not affect the legal or political situation in the occupied Palestinian Territories or East Jerusalem, it will only affect the image and credibility of the US, or what is left of it,” he tells council members.

Gantz tells president he’s ending coalition bid, paving way for fresh elections

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz informs President Reuven Rivlin that he has failed to form a governing coalition, all but assuring Israel will be headed to a third round of elections in under a year, according to a party statement.

The centrist leader concedes defeat in a phone call with the president, ahead of a planned speech, after unity talks with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu broke down.

Survey finds about 1 in 4 Europeans hold anti-Semitic beliefs

A new survey shows about one in four Europeans holding anti-Semitic beliefs, with such attitudes on the rise in eastern countries and mostly steady in the west.

The poll of 14 European countries released Thursday by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, found anti-Semitic attitudes most prevalent in Poland, Ukraine and Hungary, with more than 40% of the respondents in each country expressing such views.

The governments of all three countries have been criticized by Jewish groups recently, though all deny being anti-Semitic.

Jewish tombstones are seen desecrated with swastikas in the Herrlisheim Jewish cemetery, north of Strasbourg, eastern France, December 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

In western Europe, the study found anti-Semitic views were either stable or down, with decreases in Britain, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Austria. Denmark and Belgium saw minor increases, while France was unchanged and Sweden had the lowest rate, at 4%.

Italy and Austria both posted significant decreases.

— AP

Satellite images show alleged Iranian base in Syria destroyed by Israeli strikes

Satellite images show the destruction of two suspected Iranian headquarters around Damascus that were hit in Israeli airstrikes earlier today in response to a rocket attack on northern Israel yesterday.

The photographs, released by the private Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International, show two buildings that are believed to have been home to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. One was located in Damascus’s international airport, the other was nearby at the al-Mazzeh airport just outside the capital.

The top two floors of the building at the Damascus airport — referred to by ImageSat as the Glasshouse — were destroyed in the Israeli strikes.

According to the satellite imagery analysis company, this building was believed to have been used as a headquarters by the Quds Force’s intelligence unit.

Satellite image showing the destruction caused by Israeli airstrikes to an alleged Iranian-controlled facility at the al-Mazzeh airport on November 20, 2019. (ImageSat International)

“Currently the site looks abandoned, without any sign of activity,” the company says.

The second Quds Force headquarters at the al-Mazzeh airport was almost completely demolished in the strike.

A photograph of the site taken yesterday shows two large rectangular buildings across from the one another. The image captured today shows one building completely leveled, while the other is mostly knocked down.

Satellite image showing the destruction caused by Israeli airstrikes to an alleged Iranian-controlled facility at the Damascus International Airport on November 20, 2019. (ImageSat International)

A long line of vehicles could also be seen around the site, apparently being used by search and rescue workers.

According to a Syrian war monitor, at least 23 “fighters” were killed in Israel’s predawn airstrikes in Syria Wednesday, 16 of them likely Iranians.

— Judah Ari Gross

Gantz blames Netanyahu and his allies for failure to form government

Blue and White chief blames Netanyahu for his failure to form a governing coalition that would have ended months of political deadlock in Israel.

In a televised address, Gantz says he left no stone unturned in his efforts to form a government based on “respect, morals, values.”

He says Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc of 55 MKs “is only working for the sake of one person,” referring to the caretaker PM.

“The bloc insisted on looking out for a single person’s interests before the interests of the patients who are laying in hospital beds in the hallways.

“There is no party that should be above the common good — not Arab, not ultra-Orthodox,” he says.

Israel now enters the final 21-day period for any candidate to present a majority before new elections are called.

But after weeks of failed talks, the odds of any candidate succeeding in forming a government appear low.

Gantz: Netanyahu stymied coalition talks with ‘insults, slander and childish videos’

Gantz says Netanyahu and his team were largely uncooperative during the last four weeks of coalition negotiations as he sought to muster the support of a required majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

“I asked the prime minister, who lost the election, to conduct direct negotiations, but I was met with insults, slander and childish videos,” he says in a televised speech.

“The people chose me and my partners in Blue and White to lead Israel, and nobody has the right to thwart the people’s choice,” he adds.

Gantz’s failure to form a new government by tonight’s deadline dashes his hopes of toppling Netanyahu and pushes the country closer toward an unprecedented third election in less than a year.

Mandelblit to announce Netanyahu graft indictments tomorrow — report

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to announce criminal indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow, according to a Channel 10 news report.

The report comes minutes after Netanyahu’s main challenger Benny Gantz announced he failed to form a governing coalition by a Wednesday deadline.

The announcement provides a new lifeline for the embattled Netanyahu, who is desperate to remain in the prime minister’s post, which he could use to fight the charges and push for immunity. With the exception of the prime minister, Israeli law requires all politicians to resign if charged with a crime.

Netanyahu urges Gantz to resume coalition talks after conceding defeat

Netanyahu is calling on Gantz to return to the negotiating table after his main rival announced he failed to form a governing coalition by a tonight’s deadline.

Gantz had been tapped by the president to form a government after Netanyahu failed at the task last month. But like Netanyahu, Gantz was unable to muster the support of a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In his speech, Gantz blamed Netanyahu and his right-wing allies for thwarting the negotiations.

“I am prepared to return to negotiations tonight in a bid to form a unity government,” Netanyahu tells Ganz in response.

“Israel needs a unity government, for the security of the nation and to fulfill the will of the people,” he adds.

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Sondland: Trump ‘never’ discussed Ukraine aid freeze with me

US diplomat Gordon Sondland says US President Donald Trump never spoke to him about stalled military aid to Ukraine or any alleged link to Trump’s demands for political investigations.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, makes an opening statement before testifying to the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement of (the investigations),” Sondland told a congressional impeachment inquiry.

“I don’t recall President Trump ever talking to me about any security assistance, ever,” he added.

— AFP