Negotiations for a framework deal between world powers and Iran on the Islamic Republic’s contested nuclear program were expected to miss the midnight deadline on Tuesday and continue into Wednesday. Even late on Tuesday, Western diplomats sounded skeptical as to whether a deal would actually be reached.
In Israel on Tuesday afternoon, new and veteran MKs were sworn in as the 20th Knesset held its opening session. In his first speech addressing the new Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Iran was going to benefit from an agreement that would leave it less than a year away from breaking out to a nuclear weapon.
Meanwhile, outgoing Home Front commander Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg predicted that on Tuesday afternoon that in any future confrontation with Hezbollah, some 1,500 rockets would fall on the Israeli home front on an almost daily basis.
The Times of Israel blogged events as they unfolded.
For Iran, nixing Israel is nonnegotiable
The commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards says that “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable,” according to an Israel Radio report.
The military official also threatens Saudi Arabia, saying that the offensive it’s leading in Yemen “will have a fate like the fate of Saddam Hussein.”
Rivlin, Flug unanimous on need for new budget
The governor of the Bank of Israel, Karnit Flug, presents President Reuven Rivlin with the 2014 Bank of Israel Report.
Flug says the next government will not be able to count on the unofficial rule that every annual budget is 2.5% higher than the last at the government’s current rate of spending, in a comment that may hint that the next government will need to raise taxes.
“Israel’s society and economy has already shown in the past the ability to face long-term challenges and I am convinced that the new government will accept our recommendations, and will know how to implement them according to the government’s priorities. The Bank of Israel will, as always, stand alongside the government in order to assist with professional tools and experience,” Flug says.
Rivlin stresses the importance of the role played by the Bank of Israel and speaks of the difficulties the bank faces in the absence of a national budget.
“The Bank of Israel’s hands are tied as long as the state is running in 2015 according to a budget that was prepared in 2013.”
He makes further recommendations:
The Bank of Israel cannot act as a mechanism for stability in the market with the absence of a clear socioeconomic vision. In order to extricate the market from a slowdown in growth, it is not sufficient to lower interest rates; resources must be assigned for the integration of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities into the workforce; opportunities for foreign investment must be created; and other measures as well, none of which can be achieved with the lack of clarity created in the absence of a budget.
Gov’t to fund daycare for kids of migrants
The government will invest NIS 17 million per year in daycare centers for children of foreign workers and illegals, Israel Radio reports. The money will be used to open 19 centers for toddlers aged up to three years old.
The government also decides to increase regulation and supervision of daycare centers and to shut down centers operating without a permit.
The decision follows reports yesterday of a death of a child in a substandard daycare center, the fifth such case in the last couple of months.
Armed group takes Turkish prosecutor hostage
A Turkish prosecutor probing the politically sensitive death of an anti-government protester was taken hostage Tuesday by an armed group at an Istanbul courthouse, the Dogan news agency reported.
Mehmet Selim Kiraz was investigating the killing of Berkin Elvan, who died in March last year after spending 269 days in a coma due to injuries inflicted by police in the mass protests of early summer 2013.
Gunfire was heard at the courthouse, Dogan said. Some reports linked the hostage-taking to a radical leftist group.
Likud’s Gamliel slams Bennett coalition tactics
Likud MK Gila Gamliel harshly criticizes Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett during an interview with the Galei Yisrael radio station.
Gamliel is interviewed after Bennett said he will withdraw his recommendation to President Rivlin that Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu build the next coalition.
“This is pathetic, really pathetic,” Gamliel says. “Who’s he going to recommend? Boujie [Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog] or himself? I mean, I think these things are getting out of proportion and such moves may lead us to a unity government at the end of the process.”
“There is a chance and an opportunity to lead a national [i.e., right-leaning] government and we should do everything so this will be the outcome but with this kind of behavior, everyone can climb ladders so high it may be hard to climb down afterwards,” she adds.
Bennett made his comments as part of his coalition negotiations with Likud. It is not clear whether he is intending to make good on his threat.
Michael Oren and parents await swearing-in
Michael Oren is excited ahead of his first day as a member of Knesset. His parents came with him for the swearing-in ceremony.
מתרגש יחד עם ההורים בדרך להשבעה Excited to be with my parents on the way to the inauguration in the Knesset pic.twitter.com/2ccznulhWj
— Michael Oren (@DrMichaelOren) March 31, 2015
Iran says it sent Houthi rebels supplies, water
Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, reports that Tehran has sent supplies to Houthi rebels in Yemen, using cargo airplanes.
This marks the first time Iran has announced sending equipment to the rebels who are fighting a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
According to the IRNA report, the shipments include 19 tons of medical equipment and 2 tons of water, sent by the Iranian Red Crescent.
Coalition forces bombarded several rebel-held airports and announced they have full control of Yemen’s airspace. It is not clear how Iran passed the supplies to the rebels.
Dutch royals to return Nazi-confiscated art
The Dutch royal family will return a painting in its collection after discovering that the Nazis confiscated it from Jewish owners, the palace said on Tuesday.
The discovery was made by independent research commissioned by the palace in 2012 into art objects acquired since the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933.
“A Jewish collector was forced in 1942 to hand over the painting ‘Haagse Bos with view over Huis Ten Bosch Palace’ by Joris van der Haagen to the (Nazi) bank Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co in Amsterdam,” the report says.
After the war and the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands “the painting ended up with a Dutch art dealer where queen Juliana bought it in 1960 without knowing about its history,” it says.
A royal art association made contact with the descendants of the original owner with an eye to restitution, it said, adding that no further details would be provided because of privacy concerns.
Rivlin opens swearing-in of MKs at Knesset
President Rivlin begins the swearing-in ceremony for MKs of the 20th Knesset.
“The walls of these halls are transparent not only because the people are examining your work, but also so that you will look out toward them…. Do not for even a second forget who sent you here; the public’s trust should always be your paramount concern,” he says.
Rivlin likens Israeli society to family at seder
“At the table of the Israeli seder,” says Rivlin, “there are four sons: secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox and Arab. And they are all smart, they all know to ask questions.”
The president is riffing on the Passover haggadah, which speaks of the four sons as symbols of four attitudes to life. The Passover seder is celebrated across the Jewish world this weekend.
Amir Peretz, most-veteran MK, is sworn in
After the swearing-in of the longest-serving MK, Amir Peretz, Erez Biton, a blind poet who was recently announced as the winner of the 2015 Israel Prize, reads out Psalm 122:
A song of ascents. Of David.
I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up—
the tribes of the Lord—
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
Rivlin, Biton speaking at Knesset ceremony
Peretz’s fleeting term as Knesset speaker
Veteran MK Amir Peretz is serving as Knesset speaker for exactly one hour and 50 minutes – after parties agreed to advance a vote on Likud MK Yuli Edelstein to continue serving in this role.
The Knesset speaker customarily comes from the ruling party, but in Israel’s political tradition, after elections the interim chairperson is the most veteran MK serving in the new Knesset.
Since the vote for Edelstein will be held at the end of the session, Peretz serves in the role for less than two hours.
At the end of his lengthy speech, political analyst Amit Segal joked that Peretz made a speech lasting “most of his term” as chairman.
Arab MKs leave plenum after being sworn in
The Arab MKs leave the plenum after having intoned, as does each incoming MK, the words “I pledge.”
The national anthem Hatikva will be sung as soon as all 120 parliamentarians have sworn in, and Arab MKs customarily avoid singing it.
Joint List head Odeh stays put for anthem
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh, Aida Tuma and Youssef Jabarin stay in the plenum during the singing of Hatikvah, the national anthem.
Odeh does not, however, sing.
Other Arab MKs left the plenum immediately after being sworn in.
UK university cancels debate on Israel’s legitimacy
The University of Southampton canceled a discussion on the right of Israel to exist that was planned for next month after critics denounced the discussion as one-sided.
Organizers of the event criticized the decision, accusing the institution of bowing to pressure at the expense of free speech.
Read the full story here.
The three leaders of the state
Arkady Duchin sings for new MKs
Singer Arkady Duchin sings his song “Who can love you more than I do?” — a love song that takes on a specifically poignant meaning when sung in the legislature of the State of Israel.
Many MKs silently mouth the words of the well-known hit, but when Duchin calls out “Let’s hear you,” most are too shy to sing.
Russia’s Lavrov returns to Iran nuclear talks
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov returns to crunch talks in Switzerland aimed at agreeing by midnight the outlines of a landmark nuclear deal with Iran, an AFP reporter says.
Before leaving Moscow, Lavrov said that the chances of a deal curtailing Iran’s nuclear program were “high” and that the “prospects of this round of talks are not bad, even good I would say.”
Iraq forces retake gov’t HQ in Tikrit from IS
Iraqi forces have retaken the Salaheddin provincial government headquarters in Tikrit from the Islamic State jihadist group, a significant advance in the battle to recapture the city, officials say.
The spokesman for the Badr militia says members of the Popular Mobilization units — pro-government paramilitary forces dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias — took part in the fighting, after some froze offensive operations last week in response to US-led airstrikes.
“Iraqi forces cleared the government complex in Tikrit,” an army major general says, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The government buildings have been under our control since last night (Monday).”
It is the most significant advance in Tikrit since pro-government forces launched an operation to retake the city on March 2, their largest since IS led an offensive that overran much of the country’s Sunni Arab heartland last June.
Saudi-Yemen fighting ‘worst since war began’
The Saudi military and Houthi rebels are fighting along the northwestern border of Yemen, in what Reuters quotes residents of the area as calling “the worst fighting since Decisive Storm Operation began.”
PM says his door ‘open to all factions’
“My door is open to representatives of all factions. This is an invitation,” says Prime Minister Netanyahu in his first address to the 20th Knesset, immediately sparking speculation that he is opening the door to a unity government.
Speaking about an hour after the 120 MKs were sworn in, Netanyahu hails Israel’s democracy — “the most challenged democracy on earth.”
He promises to build a government that will represent all Israelis, and stresses the obligation to heal the rifts between different sectors of society.
“Our first mission is to mend the rifts” in society, he says.
“I am committed to dealing with the issue of the cost of housing,” he says, adding with a hint of jest, “I say this even though the election is behind us.”
PM: Under Lausanne deal, ‘Iran could be much less than year from bomb’
Netanyahu says the “primary mission” of the government “is to ensure Israel’s security.”
While he greatly appreciates the “covenant” between Israel and the US, the two disagree over how to thwart Iran. “When it comes to an existential threat, Israel must stand up for itself,” he says.
The biggest threat facing Israel is Iran, he stresses, and the agreement taking shape with Iran does not thwart its path to the bomb.
Under the agreement, it seems, Iran will retain its underground facilities, its heavy water facility and thousands of centrifuges — elements entirely unnecessary for a peaceful program.
The time Iran will need to break out to a nuclear weapon, if it signs a deal with world powers in Lausanne, “will be reduced to less than a year, and some even say – much less than a year,” the PM warns.
The deal also fails to cover missile development, research on more sophisticated centrifuges, and Iran’s “campaign of conquest and terror,” carried out “in full view… from the Golan to Yemen, from Iraq to Gaza and in so many other places.”
He says Israel “is not hiding its head in the sand” and will “do everything to protect our security and our future.”
He says “most states” in the region share Israel’s concerns over Iran and over the rise of Islamic extremism. “This offers certain opportunities,” he says, including the possibility of their help “to advance peace with the Palestinians.”
He reiterates that “Israel’s hand is stretched out in peace to all of our neighbors who want peace.”
He quotes from the Haggadah, to be read at the Passover Seder this coming Friday night, in saying that, “In every generation they rise up to destroy us, and the Almighty delivers us from their hands.”
And he concludes, in the Passover spirit, that “there is no real freedom without the capacity to protect it and to protect our people.”
First bill filed in new Knesset
Yisrael Beytenu MK Sharon Gal is the first MK to file a bill in the new Knesset.
Gal files a bill calling for a death sentence to terrorists. According to the bill, any person convicted of terror-related murder will be sentenced to death. According to the proposal, the death penalty will also include people involved in terror activities that claim victims in the West Bank, even though the West Bank is not within the jurisdiction of Israel’s legal system but rather subject to military law.
Odeh: ‘Anthem doesn’t represent me’
Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh speaks of his decision to remain in the Knesset plenum during the singing of the national anthem, despite the fact that most of his colleagues in the party walked out.
“I chose to stay in the plenum but simply stand silently. This was my protest against the anthem, which does not represent me and which for me is only a symbol of discrimination,” Odeh says.
IDF warns of 1,500 Hezbollah rockets a day
OC Home Front Command chief Eyal Eisenberg says any future war between Israel and Hezbollah will include hundreds or thousands of rockets on a daily basis. Eisenberg speaks during an event marking his stepping down from the post and handing it over to Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick.
The citizens of Israel, he says, should be prepared for significant future challenges. According to estimates by the Home Front Command conducted during Eisenberg’s tenure, he says, Israel must be prepared for a “blitz of attacks” bringing 1,000-1,500 rockets falling on Israel’s home front every day.
But Eisenberg is not all grim: “Will it be hard [a conflict with Hezbollah]? Can we stand up to them? Definitely; we have no choice.”
US says Iran talks may continue till tomorrow
The US says talks with Iran may go into Wednesday, AFP reports.
Edelstein voted in as Knesset speaker
MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud), the Knesset speaker for the 19th Knesset, was voted to serve as speaker in the 20th Knesset, in the Israeli parliament’s first session after MKs took their pledges.
MK Amir Peretz served as interim speaker for a couple of hours today in between Edelstein’s terms as speaker for the 19th and 20th Knesset.
Iran talks may go into Wednesday ‘if useful’
Tough talks to reach a framework deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear program may go past a midnight deadline into Wednesday, a top US official acknowledges.
Diplomats and experts are “working around the clock”, the senior State Department official says Tuesday.
“Our team is evaluating where we are throughout the day and making decisions about the best path forward,” the official adds, asking not to be named.
“We will of course keep working if we are continuing to make progress, including into tomorrow, if it’s useful to do so. At this time, no decisions have been made about our travel schedule.”
The announcement that the US team may be seeking to buy more time ahead of a Tuesday’s midnight deadline comes as diplomats reported that despite initial high hopes, progress had been slower than desired in the past nail-biting hours.
Support for 2-state solution drops in US
Support for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is lower among Americans than at any time in the past 20 years, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.
Thirty-nine percent of Americans support a two-state solution, while 36% are opposed. Supporters may still be a majority, they are far fewer than 12 years ago, when a Gallup poll found 58% in support of a deal.
Read the full story here.
UKIP member resigns over Obama Facebook post
A Jewish UKIP candidate resigns after writing an angry Facebook post where he said Israel should “do an Eichmann” on US President Obama after he leaves office, in revenge for the US revealing Israel’s nuclear secrets.
Jeremy Zeid refers to the declassification earlier this month of a CIA report on the nuclear capabilities of Israel and NATO states. The report was declassified after a journalist sued to have it made public, citing the Freedom of Information Act.
While the timing was deemed suspect by some, with a nuclear deal with Iran in the offing, the decision to declassify the document was made by a court.
UKIP is a far-right British party.
Read the full story here.
Arab coalition warns Iranians in Yemen
A spokesman for the Arab coalition, Ahmad Hassan al-Assiri, says the forces operating in Yemen will not allow any assistance to reach Houthi rebels through air or land, Ynet reports.
Al-Assiri speaks after Iran said it sent the rebels medical equipment and water. He says the military siege is already showing results. Coalition forces, he adds, will allow medical equipment and food to reach the Yemenite people, so long as shipments are coordinated in advance.
Asked about the presence of Hezbollah fighters or Revolutionary Guards members in Yemen, al-Assiri says: “Those people trained the Houthis and if they are with them in the area now then their fate will be the same as the Houthis’.”
Farmer told to steer clear of Gaza border fence
Farmer in the Eshkol Regional Council is instructed to steer clear of the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Earlier Tuesday there was a short fire exchange between soldiers and shooters from within the Strip. No one was hurt in the fire exchange.
Nigeria elects new president
Thousands of people spilled into the streets in northern Nigeria in celebration on Tuesday after opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari claimed victory in the presidential election.
Many brandished the wicker broom, symbol of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) which claims it will sweep Africa’s most populous country clean years of government mismanagement and corruption.
In a neighborhood of Kaduna, another northern city, the crowds chanted “change, change” as hundreds of people climbed onto rooftops to watch the celebrations.
Buhari won a landslide victory in Kano, Nigeria’s second most-populous state, securing more than 1.9 million votes and 89 percent of the total ballots against incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
All bodies evacuated from Germanwings crash
Authorities say the evacuation of bodies from the Germanwings crash site has ended.
Netanyahu to meet Boehner in J’lem tomorrow
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
The two will make statements to the press.
Fabius says Iran talks ‘complicated,’ may go all night
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says that Iran nuclear talks are making progress, but could drag through the night, saying it is a long and difficult negotiation.
“We are making progress. But it’s complicated, it’s long and difficult. And I’m afraid that we may be going through the night,” Fabius told reporters.
German diplomats say it is still unclear if reaching a deal with Iran will be possible.