The IDF is preparing for the possibility of a large-scale terror attack from Sinai, especially through Eilat, Israel Radio reported Thursday, quoting the deputy-commander of the Southern Border Brigade, Col. Arik Hen. During a tour for military correspondents, Hen said the threat from Ansar Beit al Maqdis, a Sinai terror group which pledged allegiance to Islamic State, has significantly grown. Hen said there are estimates that several hundred terrorist from the group are active in the peninsula, but there is lack of intelligence about their activities.

With only five days to the election, campaigns by all parties in Israel have finally entered high gear. Polls over the past week have put winds in the sails of Zionist Union, while at the same time putting Likud in panic mode with the realization that the party is closer than ever to losing.

The Times of Israel blogged events as they unfolded.

PLO official calls united Arab list ‘historic’

PLO Central Committee member Mustafa Barghouti says the aspiration of “all of us” at the Palestinian Authority is that Prime Minister “Benjamin Netanyahu will fall and his rule come to an end.”

However, Barghouti adds in an interview with news website NRG, “We unfortunately cannot see much difference between Netanyahu’s Likud and [Isaac] Herzog and [Tzipi] Livni when it comes to the Palestinian issue.”

Barghouti explains that Netanyahu’s era “was the blackest of all for Palestinians” and therefore he would like to see him fail.

Barghouti finds one positive point in the elections: the establishment of the Joint (Arab) List. “This is a great thing and it strengthens the ties between Palestinians in the West Bank and inside Israel. It’s a great thing that they succeeded in uniting despite the different ideologies each party holds. We see this union as a historical step for the Palestinians inside Israel and perhaps it will help them get their rights.”

Likud No. 19 says Likud may need to divide J’lem

Likud candidate Yoav Kish says the party may be left with no choice but to divide Jerusalem. Speaking to the Ynet news site, Kish, who is also leader of the “New Likudniks” movement, said he was not troubled by polls predicting his party will shrink in the election, since “on the personal level, I have work and if I make it or don’t make it to the Knesset I’ll be OK.”

Kish is 19th on the list. According to polls from today and the past week his place is assured, but the polls also indicate a downward trend which has sent Likud into panic mode. “We are worried, we have this feeling of ‘fighting for our home,’ feeling that if the national-right doesn’t pull it together we will wake up to a far-left government supported by the Arabs. We are trying to project this – and the public will decide.”

Likud campaign managers bad at math?

A new mobile campaign by Likud calls on right-wing voters who are considering voting for Yesh Atid or Kulanu to refrain from doing so because this will make “a far-left government closer than ever.”

The Likud graphic sent to mobile phone users on Thursday, March 12, warns against a 64-MK "radical left" government - but the numbers next to each party's name add up to only 63. (Photo credit: screen capture)

The Likud graphic sent to mobile phone users on Thursday, March 12, warns against a 64-MK “radical left” government – but the numbers next to each party’s name add up to only 63. (Photo credit: screen capture)

The text is accompanied by a (bogus) graphic of the plenum, designed to look like the graphics shown on television news in the past few weeks. It shows a 64-MK coalition with Zionist Union (24), the Joint (Arab) List (15), Yesh Atid (12), Meretz (5) and Kulanu (7).

Two problems: the graphic shows an imaginary coalition made up of parties whose leaders already confirmed they would not sit together. Yesh Atid and Kulanu would not be in a coalition with the Arab list, while the Arabs have said they would not join any government defined by “Zionist” values; they even refused to sign a vote-sharing agreement with Meretz.

And then there’s the math. The numbers don’t add up to 64 but to 63.

The graphic was sent via WhatsApp from a phone number that seems to be located in the Philippines

Yesh Atid MK says talk of land concessions ‘misleading’

Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie says that small isolated settlements will be “folded into” settlement blocs in any future agreement.

Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)

Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

Speaking on Galei Yisrael radio, Lavie says that at present, questions about “pinpoint issues” in Yesh Atid’s diplomatic platform, so long as Israel “does not have a partner for negotiations,” only serve to “mislead the public.”

Lavie enumerates her party’s main positions regarding the Palestinians: “Two states for two peoples, we will certainly keep settlement blocs, and we oppose the division of Jerusalem.” She adds that the discussion over the past few days “has become who gives away land. We are not there yet. Let’s talk openly – there is no negotiation taking place at the moment.”

Israel Lands Authority head may be tried

Police recommend indicting the head of the Israel Lands Authority Bentzi Lieberman and his associate, former MK Nahum Langental, on allegations of breach of trust.

The head of police’s investigative unit accepts the professional view of the head of the Lahav 433 fraud unit that there was sufficient evidence tying Lieberman to real estate deals where a conflict of interests existed.

Langental was allegedly involved in the deals.

PM to give interviews to Channels 1, 2, not 10

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will give interviews to Channel 1 and Channel 2 – but not to Channel 10, Haaretz reports.

The prime minister’s advisers refused to give Channel 10 an interview after the channel would not agree to the condition that its journalist Raviv Drucker not take part.

Drucker is the man who revealed the Bibi-tours affair several years ago and has in general been highly critical of the prime minister. Several weeks ago he published a draft of the state comptroller’s report, an action which Maariv columnist Kalman Liebskind called “deeply unprofessional.”

Liebskind heaped praise on Drucker’s journalism but said his zeal in wanting to replace Netanyahu in the coming election outshadowed his judgment and that publishing a report that was still a draft was both unprofessional and unethical.

With Likud slipping in the polls, the decision to nix a Channel 10 interview will certainly reverberate — whether in the favor of Likud or to its detriment, it remains to be seen.

“Bibi-tours” was an affair in which Prime Minister Netanyahu was alleged to have used state money to fund his travels, not all of which were official trips.

Haredi neighbors console family of man slain by IS

Among the many who came to console the Musallam family after the Islamic State terror group published a video showing their son Muhammad Musallam executed for allegedly being a Mossad agent are many ultra-Orthodox Jews who are neighbors of the East Jerusalem family.

The parents of Muhammed Musallam  hold a portrait of their son,  March 10, 2015, (photo credit: AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

The parents of Muhammed Musallam hold a portrait of their son, March 10, 2015, (photo credit: AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

One of the neighbors tells the Kikar Hashabat website: “I got here with another neighbor to console the family after what has happened. We are neighbors and we have good neighborly ties and this is why I came to console them.”

“I am sure other religious and Haredi neighbors will arrive at the family home to console them. We are good neighbors, for good or bad.”

Musallam’s parents denied that their son had any connections to the Israeli spy agency and say their son was captured when he was trying to return home after becoming disillusioned with IS. “They jailed him, beat him and forced him to confess he worked for Israel. Any honest person would be willing to be executed and not say something like that, but they forced him.”

Eli Yishai’s slamming Zoabi goes all wrong

Eli Yishai, the leader of the far-right Yachad party, took an Arab MK to task on Thursday for her ostensible visit to the Palestinian city of Ramallah, but ended up with his foot in his mouth after it turned out that she had in fact visited the Israeli town of Ramle.

The confusion began when a group of Arab politicians, including fiery MK Hanin Zoabi of the Joint Arab List, headed to Ramle, a mixed Arab-Jewish town in central Israel apparently for some pre-election campaigning.

Leader of the Yachad political party Eli Yishai on his campaign tour, March 08, 2015. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Leader of the Yachad political party Eli Yishai on his campaign tour, March 08, 2015. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Yishai’s campaign HQ, under the impression that the group was heading to Ramallah, was quick to blast Zoabi, who has in the past raised Israelis’ hackles for her provocative statements supporting the Palestinians and condemning IDF soldiers, and for her participation in the Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza.

Arab Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi in the Supreme Court on February 17, 2015. (photo credit: David Vaaknin/POOL/FLASH90)

Arab Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi in the Supreme Court on February 17, 2015. (photo credit: David Vaaknin/POOL/FLASH90)

“Zoabi’s actions prove again and again that her place is in the Gaza parliament,” the statement said according a report from the Hebrew media Haaretz website. “A person who hurts IDF soldiers in the Mavi Marama flotilla, doesn’t recognize the existence of the state of Israel and is meeting with Abu Mazzan [Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas] in Ramallah, must not serve as an official representative of the State of Israel.”

Ramallah, a city in the northern West Bank, is the seat of the Palestinian Authority government.

“Zobai’s action testifies to the true intention of some of the Joint Arab list whose goal is a violation of sovereignty, the state and its institutions,” Yishai continued, referring to the union of Arab political parties who joined together for a combined running list ahead of next week’s election.

Spokesperson for the Joint Arab List Emilie Moatti responded with a message posted to her Twitter account.

“Eli Yishai was quick to put out a notification about a visit by representatives of the Joint List to Ramallah, with all the cliches and racism. But, they visited Ramle, Eli. The city near Lod. Do you know it?”

Read the full story here.

France opens probe into IS execution

French officials launch a formal investigation into a video released by the Islamic State group purporting to show the execution of an Arab Israeli, which featured a French-speaking man.

According to sources close to the investigation, the man is probably Sabri Essid, who has close links to French jihadist gunman Mohamed Merah, the killer of three soldiers, three students and a teacher in southern France in 2012.

In the video, a youth identifying himself as 19-year-old Mohammed Said Ismail Musallam is shown kneeling in front of a boy who appears to be no more than 12. A man stands at his side.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit that is standard in videos of IS executions, the man seen kneeling recounts how he was recruited by Israeli intelligence, a claim denied by his father.

The man standing nearby, speaking in French, issues threats against Jews in France, before the boy walks around in front of the hostage and shoots him in the forehead using a pistol.

The boy, who shouts “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), then shoots the man four more times as he lies on the ground.


Truck on fire on Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road

Road 1, the main artery connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is blocked near the Motza junction due to a truck that caught on fire. Three firefighting crews are at the scene trying to douse the flames.

Hezbollah lauds Egypt’s appeal of Hamas terror ruling

Hezbollah commended Egyptian authorities for appealing a ruling in an Egyptian court that defined Hamas as a terror organization.

The Shiite organization, Ynet reports, gives its blessing to any effort to improve ties between Cairo and the radical Sunni movement, and says that such behavior befits the history of the Egyptian people and the standing of Egypt within the Arab world.

Herzog on tour of Tel Aviv market

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog is doing the rounds at Shuk Hacarmel in Tel Aviv. Unlike Netanyahu’s tour of the Jerusalem market on Sunday, which was closed to the media, Zionist Union heads invited the media to cover their jaunt

Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni seen during a campaign tour at Shuk Hacarmel market in Tel Aviv, March 12, 2015. (photo credit: Amir Levy/Flash90)

Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni seen during a campaign tour at Shuk Hacarmel market in Tel Aviv, March 12, 2015. (photo credit: Amir Levy/Flash90)

One of the merchants tells Herzog that “for 30 years I voted Likud, but this time, I and everyone I sell to say we will vote for you.” According to Ynet, Herzog replies: “We must work hard… we must convince as many people as necessary to bring change.”

Herzog calls the market in Tel Aviv an “amazing symbol of the Israeli [social] mosaic. We have people from all walks of life, and they all want change.”

37 years on, Fatah lauds lethal terror attack

Celebrating the anniversary of the most lethal terror attack against Israel, the Palestinian Fatah party, headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, addressed Israelis on its Facebook page, telling them to collect the body parts of murdered Israelis and leave Israel.

The group even posted a photo of the destroyed bus in which terrorist Dalal Mughrabi and other terrorists killed 37 civilians and wounded over 70 in 1978. In an effort to make the attack seem more lethal, Palestinian Media Watch reports, Fatah exaggerated the number of Israelis they murdered as “exceeding 80 casualties.”

“Collect your body parts and leave!” urged a post on Fatah’s Facebook page published today, calling the terrorists “heroes.”

“On this day, March 11, in 1978, Dalal Mughrabi and her companions declared the birth of the Palestinian Republic in the heart of the occupied territories. The enemy admitted the death of 30 Zionists in the operation, yet according to the reports the number exceeded 80 casualties. Through this, Fatah heroes retaliated against the Verdun Operation [an Israeli operation against PLO leaders conducted in 1973], following the retaliation by the Savoy [Hotel operation] members. Retaliation after retaliation and the windstorms will not subside,” the Facebook post reads.

The Palestinian Authority and Fatah have turned Dalal Mughrabi into a role model for Palestinians.

“The Savoy Operation” refers to a terror attack in March 1975, when eight terrorists traveled by boat from Lebanon to a Tel Aviv beach. They took over the Savoy Hotel and took guests as hostages. The next morning, Israeli forces attacked and killed seven of the terrorists. Eight hostages and three soldiers were killed by the terrorists during the attack.

Ted Cruz says White House can’t defend ‘foolhardy’ Iran deal

US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) warns against the dangerous repercussions of a nuclear deal with Iran on a radio show, on Wednesday.

Cruz attacks the draft deal, saying that “the Obama Administration and its defenders cannot defend the substance of this foolhardy deal with Iran. And so they’re doing everything they can to distract from it.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz (photo credit: US government/public domain)

Texas Senator Ted Cruz (photo credit: US government/public domain)

He continues by detailing what the administration, in his mind, is doing to avoid addressing what he calls a deal that will “lead Iran to acquiring nuclear weapons.”

“Last week, all they could discuss was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech, and their perceived myths of protocol…” says Cruz, “because they cannot defend on substance a deal that will lead inexorably to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, which poses an enormous threat, the single greatest threat to America’s national security, of anything on the globe…”

Rivlin ‘can’t see Abbas reaching peace deal’

President Reuven Rivlin says in a meeting with Israeli envoys to Asian and Pacific countries that he “doesn’t believe Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] will agree to reach a diplomatic solution.”

“When you talk of two states for two peoples, where one country is so lacking compared with the other, it is hard to assess that Abu Mazen will manage to convince his people to accept such a deal.”

IDF readying for terror attacks from Sinai

The IDF is preparing for the possibility of a large-scale terror attack from Sinai, especially through Eilat, Israel Radio reports, quoting the deputy commander of the Southern Border Brigade, Col. Arik Hen.

The military is preparing for scenarios including terror infiltration through the sea (near the southern Gaza Strip border), using booby-trapped vehicles to enter through land, suicide bombers, a combined rocket attack or even a concerted effort to carry out several of the above scenarios at once.

During a tour for military correspondents, Hen says the threat from Ansar Beit al Maqdis, a Sinai terror group that pledged allegiance to Islamic State, has significantly grown. Hen says there are estimates that several hundred terrorist from the group are active in the peninsula, but there is lack of intelligence about their activities.

He adds that there has been a marked increase in incidents of cross-border drug smuggling, often involving Israelis. Hen says smuggling attempts can easily devolve to security incidents and that during 2014 there were 28 incidents of shooting at IDF troops.

PM shouldn’t nix interview – ex-Channel 2 head

Former director general of Channel 2 news Shalom Kittal criticized Netanyahu’s decision not to do an interview with Channel 10 journalist Raviv Drucker.

“What Netanyahu is doing is wrong in my opinion,” Kittal is quoted by Ynet as saying. “He is not the first to boycott specific journalists but it’s a shame he took this position. I think an interview with a sharp and quick-witted interviewer would do him better than avoiding such an interview.”

Kittal defended the decision of Channels 1 and 2 to air their interviews with Netanyahu despite his refusal to speak on Channel 10. “There is no option but to run the interview for other channels. The main factor we should address, with all due respect to solidarity with Channel 10, is the public interest [in the interview].”

Kerry heads to Egypt before new Iran talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry leaves for a key economic conference in Egypt, followed by further talks in Switzerland on Iran’s suspect nuclear program.

Kerry is due to arrive Friday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh to attend an international economic conference, set to burnish President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s global credentials.

Secretary of State John Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, before the Senate Foreign Relation Committee. (Photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, before the Senate Foreign Relation Committee. (Photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Egypt hopes the foreign investor conference will jump-start its battered economy while showcasing international support for Sissi as he battles radical Islamist opponents.

Kerry is due to meet with Sissi — a former general who led the army’s ouster of elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and then resigned from the military to stand in the 2014 elections. Kerry could also meet with other Arab and European leaders.


Wary Iraq forces tighten noose on IS in Tikrit

Thousands of Iraqi troops and militiamen lay siege to jihadist fighters holed up in Tikrit, wary of rushing into streets littered with bombs and infested with snipers.

After making major gains in and around the city yesterday commanders were confident that Baghdad’s biggest victory yet against the Islamic State (IS) group was only a matter of time.

“Now we are moving to the second phase of our plan,” Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi tells reporters in Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital.

“We are very keen for our losses to be as low as possible. Time is on our side, we have the initiative,” he says on the 11th day of the offensive.

None of the fighting forces involved has provided casualty figures since the start of the operation to wrest back Tikrit, the largest since IS captured the city nine months ago.


There’s alternative to despair, Yadlin pledges

The Zionist Union’s candidate for the role of defense minister, Amos Yadlin, calls on the Israeli public to go out and vote and warns that “the biggest danger is complacency.”

In an event commemorating 35 years to the death of Yigal Alon, a former MK and minister, Yadlin says that “the public understands now – there is an alternative to the government of despair and fear. It does not have to be our fate.”

Netanyahu says no power sharing with Labor

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says there will not be a “rotation” government with him and Isaac Herzog at the helm.

In a segment from a TV to Channel 2 that will be aired during the 8 p.m. news, Netanyahu says the Likud and Zionist Union ideologies are too far apart.

Repeatedly asked by host Yonit Levi whether there’s any chance of joining a unity government with Labor, Netanyahu says he will not agree to share power with his political rivals.

UTJ ‘may sit with Meretz but never Lapid’

United Torah Judaism head Yaacov Litzman says he would be willing to be in a coalition with Meretz, but never with Yesh Atid.

United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset, September 15, 2014 (Photo credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset, September 15, 2014 (Photo credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Speaking to Haaretz, Litzman also lamented the stigmatization of ultra-Orthodox parties by the media. “No media outlet, not radio nor television, ever asked me what I think about Bottle-gate, about the State Comptroller’s report, about housing – because they peg me as being part of a sector.”

“This,” Litzman continues, “is why I didn’t participate in the debate. My party is bigger than Meretz. Why do they ask Meretz every day but not us? I’m not against Meretz, we cooperated in the past, there’s no problem. Being in the media is getting an advertisement for your campaign… why does my party not deserve it?

Palestinian terrorist gets jail in US for lying on immigration application

A Chicago activist has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for failing to disclose her convictions for bombings in Israel when she applied to be a US citizen.

Rasmieh Odeh appears in Detroit’s federal court, backed by dozens of supporters. She will remain free while she appeals.

Judge Gershwin Drain says Odeh was a “terrorist” decades ago but has changed her ways. Nonetheless, he says, she lied.

The 67-year-old Odeh helps run Chicago’s Arab American Action Network. In 2004, she answered “no” on her citizenship application when asked about past convictions. She says she believed the questions were about US crimes.

Odeh was convicted of two bombings in Jerusalem in 1969, including one that killed two people at a market. She says she was tortured into confessing.

— AP

Another girl says Menny Naftali harassed her

The Prime Minister’s Residence’s former caretaker, Menny Naftali, harassed several girls who worked at tthere, reports News1.

According to journalist Yoav Yitzhak, founding editor of News1, a woman who worked at the Prime Minister’s Residence told him personally that Naftali harassed her over a long period of time, through sexual comments, unusual expressions, and attempts to grope her.

Yitzhak says the girl, despite the repeated assaults, refrained from filing a complaint against Naftali and has even prevented others from acting on her behalf due to fear for her privacy and concern that if she complained Naftali would take revenge.

In the past weeks several incidents of sexually improper behavior by Naftali surfaced. It is not clear which reports are based in reality and which stem from efforts by associates of Netanyahu to get rid of Naftali.

Naftali caused Likud and Netanyahu grief when he sued the prime minister and his wife for allegations of mistreatment. The case is still in court.

PM admits — we didn’t do enough on housing crisis

Prime Minister Netanyahu says in a Channel 2 interview that his government “did not do enough” to solve the housing crisis and will “act to fix this” if he will be the next prime minister.

The interview comes five days before the ballots as surveys have shown Likud slipping dangerously in the polls.

However, with right bloc still leading the center-left, Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni warns voters that unless her party gains a few more points, leader Isaac Herzog will have a hard time building a coalition.

Both Netanyahu and Livni are urging their voters not to be complacent and to go out to vote. For both parties, a higher voter turnout can make or break the opportunity to lead the government.

PM refuses to tell Channel 1 why he won’t speak to Raviv Drucker

Netanyahu tells Channel 1 he will answer “any question” except why he would not speak to Channel 10 journalist Raviv Drucker.

Asked whether it has any connection with Drucker’s investigative journalism — Drucker was the journalist who revealed the “Bibi-Tours” affair — Netanyahu answers “of course.”

On his interview to Channel 1 Netanyahu also says that his wife Sara “has been attacked more than any prime minister’s wife — or maybe any woman” in Israeli public life.

When asked about his future should he lose the election, Netanyahu says “I do not deal with retirement, I deal with victory.”

Netanyahu pleads for Likud votes to keep him in office

Netanyahu is “not sorry for advancing the elections because the government was at a point where it didn’t function.”

Speaking to Channel 2 anchor Yonit Levi in an unusually contentious interview, Netanyahu is sure that “most of the public wants me as prime minister, but they don’t know that I am not elected no matter what – only if Likud wins more mandates.”

He warns right-wing and center voters that voting for parties like Kulanu and Yesh Atid out of the belief that Netanyahu will in any case be the prime minister is false, since he will need a wide gap over Zionist Union in order to easily establish a coalition.

Levi covers a wide range of issues with the prime minister. Here a few key points of his answers to some of her questions, which closely mimic answers he gave Ya’akov Eilon on a Channel 1 interview aired at the same time:

• On Meir Dagan’s criticism – “It was not bothering him when he twice asked for an extension of his duty when I was prime minister.”

• On diplomacy with the Palestinians – “We know that diplomatic process is a code word for ceding land. Those who say we can evacuate territory and the lines on the map don’t matter, do not know what they are talking about.”

• On former caretaker Menny Naftali – “The matter is still in court and I prefer not to comment.”

Levi finally asks Netanyahu about the film with designer Moshik Galamin and his wife Sara, where the prime minister’s wife takes the interior designer on a surreal tour of the dripping faucets and moldy walls of the Prime Minister’s Residence: “Wasn’t it a bit ridiculous?”

Netanyahu, in response, shirks responsibility: “Sara is flesh and blood… it was Galamin who proposed it.”

Yair Lapid: Tuesday must be Netanyahu’s last day as PM

In Yesh Atid’s biggest election event since the party’s establishment, according to a party spokesman, leader Yair Lapid predicts that the party will once again surprise people on election day.

Yair Lapid during Yesh Atid's biggest party conference to date, on Thursday, March 12 2015. (photo credit: Elad Guttman)

Yair Lapid during Yesh Atid’s biggest party conference to date, on Thursday, March 12 2015. (photo credit: Elad Guttman)

“I don’t deal with political forecasts or political analysis but I know the Yesh Atid street. We’ve been through this once before and so we can identify it this time as well. It’s even stronger than last time. It happened under the radar again, and again exactly at the right time it’s exploding with a force that no-one could have predicted.”

The party took 19 seats in the 2013 vote, beating pre-election predictions by a wide margin and becoming the second largest party.

Lapid also launches a strong vollay against Prime Minister Netanyahu – whom he still refuses to rule out as a future boss in a right-wing coalition.

“For a better future here one important thing needs to happen on Tuesday. This Tuesday needs to be Netanyahu’s last day as Prime Minister of Israel. Not because he’s right wing, not because he’s from the Likud, but because he doesn’t care. Because he stopped caring about the citizens of Israel and all he cares about is his job, and his motorcade and to keep a bullet proof glass wall between him and the real problems of the people of Israel,” he says

Herzog would welcome journalists ‘ripping him apart’

A live appearance by Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog right after a pre-recorded interview with Netanyahu at the official residence in Jerusalem, both aired on the Thursday evening news, seems to do more good to Netanyahu than any of the prime minister’s responses to anchor Yonit Levi’s questions. The Labor leader’s appearance almost rivaled his miserable “response speech” at a kibbutz in the Western Negev aired immediately after Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress last week and taken off the air for fear that it included electioneering.

Leader of the Labor Party and Zionist Union list Isaac Herzog on February 8, 2015 (Photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Leader of the Labor Party and Zionist Union list Isaac Herzog on February 8, 2015 (Photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Like Netanyahu, Herzog was adamant that he “is not intending to have him join but to take over his place.” And perhaps taking a cue from Netanyahu’s closing statement, Herzog says “I am not running negotiations, I intend to win.”

But he dodges a question about Netanyahu’s accusations that a Herzog government would divide Jerusalem (“You have still not answered my question,” says Levi, after Herzog says “Netanyahu is the one that got Jerusalem into this election campaign”) and there is at least one moment of embarrassing silence between the seasoned news anchor and the party leader who, for all his good intentions, still comes across as a freshman.

In a triumphal moment Herzog says he will not pick and choose the journalists that get to interview him (“Bring it on, let them rip me apart”) – a clear reference to Netanyahu’s refusal to be interviewed on Channel 10 by Raviv Drucker.

Netanyahu and Herzog both ‘need your votes’

Netanyahu and Herzog both call on voters to cast a ballot for the party led by the man they want to see as prime minister.

In interviews to both Channel 1 and Channel 2, the prime minister warns center and right wing voters that his leading the next government is not a foregone conclusion and that voters should “vote Likud” because only a strong Likud will be able to negotiate a stable coalition. He is speaking mainly to those who plan to vote Jewish Home, Yesh Atid, Kulanu, and to a certain extent Yachad.

Earlier, wary of “poll-euphoria,” Tzipi Livni tells Zionist Union activists that even though the polls look promising, the joint Labor/Hatnua list needs an even stronger lead against Likud to make Herzog prime minister.

Livni should know: In the election before-last, in 2009, Kadima under her leadership won more seats than Likud but the cards were such that she could not establish a coalition. Netanyahu then stepped in and became prime minister despite not heading the largest party.

What the leaderships of both parties seem to agree on is that the shocks Israel’s political system has undergone since the early 2000s (split ticket voting, briefly) up to this election (raising the election threshold to four Knesset seats) have made life harder for any would-be prime minister.

One wonders, after Netanyahu tells Channel 2 he does not regret advancing the election “since the last government reached a point where it didn’t function anymore,” whether he thinks this time around, when Likud is slated to win only 3-4 seats more than Yesh Atid, Jewish Home or Kulanu, the task of establishing a lasting coalition will be easier.

However the election turns out, one can predict that no matter which parties will be its constituent parts, the next coalition may well be a rag-doll where the ideological seams are stretched nearly to breaking point.

Nuclear talks resume

Iran and the US are racing against the clock to close in on a nuclear deal, with US Secretary of State John Kerry saying it was “time to get it done” after 18 months of intense negotiations.

“If (Iran’s nuclear program is) peaceful, let’s get it done. And my hope is that in the next days, that will be possible,” Kerry, in Egypt but due to join the talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne later Sunday, says.

Added time pressure comes from the fact that Iran marks its new year on March 21, after which the country effectively closes down for 10 days. US Republicans are also teeing up legislation that could kill the whole process.

Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is due to make a closely watched speech next Saturday.

“We believe very much that there’s not anything that’s going to change in April or May or June that suggests that at that time a decision you can’t make now will be made then,” Kerry tells CBS television.


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