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Latest News in Israel – 27th June

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Netanyahu willing to cancel elections? Rumors, contradictions swirl

The political storm broke Tuesday night after Speaker of the Knesset and Likud MK Yuli Edelstein made public that he was looking into the possibility of cancelling the September elections. This was followed by a Likud statement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would “seriously” consider the proposal.

Although Israel just held elections in April, Netanyahu’s inability to form a governing coalition forced Israel right back to the ballot box. The 21st Knesset became the shortest-serving of any Knesset in the country’s history, voting to disperse itself after little over a month. The Knesset’s top legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, said at the time that the process would be irreversible.

That creates a legal sticking point. The Knesset would have to cancel that dispersal in order to cancel the elections.

Edelstein says his legal advisers tell him it is possible.

He tweeted on Tuesday, “I found a parliamentary outline and it is possible to cancel unnecessary elections… It is our duty to allow the 21st Knesset to continue to function.”

Reportedly, a decisive majority of Knesset votes would be required. The number of 80 Knesset members has been floated. That number was reached only once before, in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. Elections to the 8th Knesset were delayed by two months.

Unity government?

Edelstein told Israel Hayom he wouldn’t go forward with a process to reverse new elections if it meant the establishment of a government resting on a slim 61-Knesset seat majority. It would be with a large and more stable government in mind. This suggests the end goal would be a unity government in which the Likud party would rule jointly with the Blue and White opposition party. Leadership would be shared on a rotational basis between Netanyahu and Blue and White Leader Benny Gantz.

Given the angry back-and-forth and finger-pointing  following news of elections possibly being cancelled, this seems an unlikely outcome at present.

After rumors emerged that the Likud had reached out to Blue and White to create a rotational government, Blue and White’s Gantz responded on Tuesday, “The reports tonight make it clear – Netanyahu is afraid of the public’s verdict…

“Netanyahu is lying – there are no negotiations with Blue and White. We’re talking about more spin to make the public forget that Netanyahu failed to form a government… Netanyahu understands he’s going to lose the election and is now looking for a magic solution.”

Yair Lapid, co-leader of Blue and White, tweeted on Tuesday, referring to Netanyahu, “There’s no problem in going to a unity government. One person, just one, has to step aside. To go and handle his indictments. The Likud can replace him with whoever it wants.”

However, the Likud denies that it ever reached out to Blue and White. The Likud issued a statement on Wednesday saying it had never  offered a power-sharing arrangement with Gantz. “The prime minister didn’t suggest to Benny Gantz a rotation and didn’t initiate contact with him.”

Nevertheless, Likud MK Mickey Zohar said on Wednesday that while the Likud didn’t propose a unity government to Blue and White, “everything is open” to prevent elections.

Right-Left split

The debate over whether to cancel elections appears to have split along political lines. The right-wing parties are in favor of cancellation.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, leader of the center-right Kulanu party, which recently merged with Likud, said “The coming elections are excessive, expensive, and harmful to the markets. Any initiative that will lead to their cancellation is welcome.”

Rafi Peretz, who was recently sworn in as education minister and heads the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party, said,  “Cancelling the elections means cancelling cuts to the education budget. I welcome and support an initiative that would save billions of shekels and help stabilize the government in the State of Israel.”

On the other side of the divide stand the opposition parties. They quickly expressed their disapproval of the idea.

Labor party chairman Itzik Shmueli said, “Cancelling elections is legally impossible and not moral and therefore won’t pass. As chairman of the Labor faction I announce my intention to oppose any process of this kind, whose purpose is the personal survival of Netanyahu.”

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is considering re-entering politics, also attacked the proposal, tweeting that anyone who supported reversing the election would become a partner in Netanyahu’s corruption.

Avigdor Liberman of the Israel Beiteinu party, whose refusal to join the government is what led to new elections being called, said, “The only thing that guides Netanyahu is polls, and it is clear that the findings presented to him… reflect the desire of the citizens of Israel to form a broad national government…  the only conclusion is that this is an attempt to hold power at all costs.”

Naftali Bennett, whose New Right party narrowly missed entering the Knesset, came out in favor of canceling elections even though it wasn’t in his personal interest. He posted to Facebook on Tuesday, “On a personal level, these repeat elections fell on me from the sky like winning the lottery, but they are bad for the State of Israel.”

He called for the Gantz and Netanyahu “to agree to a normal government and cancel these stupid elections.”  (WIN) David Isaac

Ehud Barak announces return to politics, establishment of new party

Former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak announced Wednesday evening the establishment of a new party – years after he retired from politics.

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Barak slammed Prime Minister Netanyahu and unveiled his new political movement, calling it a response to the prime minister’s recent move to consider the canceling of the September 17 elections he himself had led the nation to.

“All Israeli citizens need to remember who was behind these elections,” said Barak, adding that it was only “the grave circumstances” that led him to the decision.

“The future of the Zionist movement is on the line here,” Barak said, and called upon Netanyahu to resign of his own accord before it is too late.

“As your former commander, I tell you, Netanyahu, you cannot continue … your time as a political leader is over,” said Barak.

Barak served as the IDF’s 14th chief of staff from 1991 to 1995. He initially entered the private sector after leaving the army, but soon after embarked on a political career in Labor, taking over the leadership after Shimon Peres’ 1996 electoral defeat and beating incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1999 Knesset elections to become prime minister.

Barak served in office until 2001, when he was defeated by Likud leader Ariel Sharon in a special election for the prime ministership of the country following the outbreak of the Second Intifada.

In 2007 he was appointed defense minister by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, and in 2012 announced his retirement from politics.

Earlier this week, it was reported that former deputy chief of staff Yair Golan is working with Barak to establish the party. Golan spoke in the press conference and slammed the repeating attacks on the Israeli left.

Former Air Force pilot and chair of the Darkenu political movement Kobi Richter and Yifat Bitton, number two in Gesher Party are also expected to join the new party.

Earlier this month, reports claimed that former foreign minister Tzipi Livni was under pressure to join the new party. Livni announced February that she was retiring from politics. (Ynet News)

Palestinians ‘not completely honest’ when they say they want a state, historian observes

With the Palestinian Authority boycotting the U.S.-led conference currently taking place in Bahrain, are the Palestinians again showing that they “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” in the now-famous phrase of legendary Israeli diplomat Abba Eban?

“In our world of moral kitsch, where victimhood is moral justification for everything, I think the one asset the Palestinians are not willing to give up is their misery,” said Gaudi Taub, historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in an interview with FRANCE 24 TV.

“They have a leadership that is keeping them at a state of perpetual victimhood,” he argued.

Stating that the Palestinians are “not completely honest” when they say that they want a state, Taub adds: “If it was Zionism we would have taken the money, built stuff with it, and then tried to move on to other goals, not give it up in advance,” Taub told the French television channel.

Pre-state Zionist leader and Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion “would have taken the money and then demanded a state,” said the historian.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) announced that it was cutting off diplomatic contacts with the Trump administration when the U.S. president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

“We need the economic [support], the money and the assistance, but before everything there is a political solution,” said PA leader Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday, criticizing the American approach of presenting its economic plan for the region before announcing its political vision for Israelis and Palestinians.

Therefore, Abbas predicted, the Bahrain conference, which is promoting only socio-economic aid, “will not be successful.”

However, there have been top-level meetings in the past at which political solutions have been discussed.

In the summer of 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and PA leader Yasser Arafat held a summit at the Camp David retreat, during which, according to U.S. and Israeli accounts, Barak was prepared to hand over nearly all of Judea and Samaria to a Palestinian state.

In addition, Israel was prepared to “compensate” the Palestinians by giving them land within the internationally-accepted boundaries of the State of Israel to make up for the territory in Judea and Samaria which would be recognized as part of the Jewish State.

Under the plan, which Arafat rejected, control over the Old City of Jerusalem would have been divided. A couple of months after the summit, Palestinians launched a second “intifada” violent uprising, in which some 1,000 Israelis were killed between 2000 and 2005.

In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went even further in discussions with Abbas, saying that in addition to offering the same kind of deal regarding Judea and Samaria, he was willing to give up Israeli sovereignty over the Old City altogether and place even Judaism’s holiest shrine under international control.

Abbas rejected that offer, although Olmert warned him, “Remember my words, it will be 50 years before there will be another Israeli prime minister that will offer you what I am offering you now. Don’t miss this opportunity.”  (WIN) Staff

Historic Jewish prayer in Bahrain Synagogue at US-led Mideast Economic Conference

At the beginning of a new day of proceedings at the U.S-led Bahrain conference on the economic future of the Middle East, Jewish attendees participated in a morning service. Wearing Jewish prayer shawls and tefillin (phylacteries) in an Arab state that does not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, the men danced in a circle to the song, “Am Yisrael Chai” (the people of Israel live).

Among those in attendance at the prayer service was Jason Greenblatt, a senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump.

David Makovksy, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote on Facebook that there was no challenge gathering up a quorum of at least 10 men, known as a minyan, to conduct an official service.

“We had a minyan of over 15 people in Bahrain this morning in Old City of Manama,” said Makovsky.

During his stay in Bahrain, Makovksy met with the Gulf state’s former ambassador to the U.S Houda Nonoo, “who is also a member of the 34-member Jewish community of Bahrain,” he added.

Makovsky says that Ambassador Nonoo told him that this morning’s Jewish prayer service was “the first daily minyan she can recall since the synagogue was reopened by Bahraini authorities in 1995,” at a time when Israel was gaining access to the Arab world after granting the Palestinians self-rule in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip and signing a peace treaty with Jordan.

According to the ambassador, there were some 1,500 Jews in Bahrain before the modern Jewish State was established in 1948. Since then, she told Makovsky, there have been prayer services in private homes and there is occasional prayer at the synagogue when American Jewish sailors of the U.S. Fifth Fleet are in the area.

Times of Israel correspondent Raphael Ahren says that he organized Wednesday morning’s prayer service with the help of Ambassador Nonoo “and the approval of authorities in Manama.”

Ahren writes that “Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center led prayers. After the service, one of the worshipers gave a sermon about the weekly Torah reading.” (United with Israel)

IAF F-35’s train with US and UK F-35’s for first time

Earlier this week, IAF F-35’s took part in an international exercise with the United States and the United Kingdom for the first time, an IDF spokesperson announced on Wednesday.

During the exercise, known as Tri-Lightning, Israeli F-35’s trained alongside F-35’s from the US and UK over the Mediterranean Sea. IAF forces practiced defense scenarios against changing threats in various advanced fighter aircraft, including the F-35.

The F-35s from the three nations acted as primarily friendly players in the Tri-Lightning exercise while a variety of other aircraft played the “aggressor roles,” according to a US Air Force press release. This simulated “realistic combat situations” between the advanced F-35s and previous generation fighters.

The exercise was part of planned training and “presented a unique opportunity for joint training of the 5th generation combat aircraft, enabling the cooperation between the corps and the development of joint capabilities,” according to the IDF spokesperson.

US Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs lead a formation of IAF F-35I and RAF F-35B during Tri-Lightning

“The exercise which was held for the first time yesterday, is an international F-35 exercise, reflecting the close cooperation between the forces,” said the Head of the IDF’s Air Division, Brig. Gen Amnon Ein Dar. “International cooperation between Israel, the US and Britain strengthens common interests and new and exclusive capabilities in the Middle East.”

“We build capacity with our strategic partners to harness our air component’s capabilities and skills,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, US Air Forces Central Command commander, according to the US Air Force press release. “The transatlantic strategic relationship between the US and our allies and partners has been forged over the past seven decades and is built on a foundation of shared values, experience and vision.”

“Tri-Lightning was an exercise which had been planned for months and it provided an outstanding opportunity for the squadron to operate and learn from our fellow F-35 community,” said UK Wing Commander John Butcher, Squadron 617 commanding officer, according to the US Air Force press release. “In addition it allowed us to share and gain valuable experience that we will be able to exploit during future training and potentially operational deployments, whether embedded on the Queen Elizabeth or from overseas air bases.”   (Jerusalem Post) Staff

Beresheet 2’ Won’t Attempt Moon Landing, SpaceIL Searches for New Challenge

Proceeding a lengthy debate, Israel’s SpaceIL announced on Tuesday that it will not make a second attempt to successfully land on the moon.

“The journey of ‘Beresheet’ to the moon, despite the hard landing, will last in the memory of Israel and the world as a successful one, a breakthrough, and very significant for future human journeys to the moon,” SpaceIL said in a statement. “Feedback that we received from across the world in the weeks following the landing points towards the mission being considered an extraordinary success and breaking many world records.”

The company said it would seek a new challenge.

Israel nearly became the fourth country, following the United States, China and Russia, to successfully land a craft on the moon as “Beresheet,” save for a last-minute issue with its main engine just before touchdown in mid-April that caused it to crash into the lunar surface.

“Beresheet,” named after the first word and the first book in the Torah (meaning “in the beginning”), lifted off from Cape Canaveral on Feb. 22 and almost completed its 6.5 million-kilometer journey to the moon. It succeeded in entering the moon’s orbit, which is an accomplishment achieved by only seven countries.

Immediately after the result, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will make another attempt, likely in the next two to three years. SpaceIL Chairman Morris Kahn said shortly thereafter that there will be a second attempt. That will now not be the case.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told JNS last month that the agency will “100 percent” be part of “Beresheet 2.”

NASA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday’s SpaceIL announcement. (JNS) Staff

How Does Turning Down a $50 Billion Economic Plan Help the Palestinians?

By Alan Dershowitz                   The Hill

https://thehill.com/opinion/international/449874-dershowitz-mideast-marshall-plan-abbas-help-or-hurt-palestinians

The White House has unveiled the economic aspects of its Middle East peace plan. As expected, Palestinian leaders rejected it before the ink was dry. But that may not be the final word because there is likely to be pressure on them to reconsider — pressure from their Sunni Arab neighbors and, perhaps, even from their own people.

If ultimately accepted, the plan would provide $50 billion — more than half for Palestinians, the remainder divided between Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon — in educational opportunities, health care, business incentives, infrastructure improvements and many other tangible benefits. Nearly 180 specific projects already are identified.

It would create, for the first time, a physical connection between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, thus enabling residents of each to transit to the other. It promises realistic protections against the massive corruption that has plagued what, heretofore, has been a Palestinian kleptocracy depriving its citizens of the benefits of funding that has come through the government.

The bottom line is that if Palestinian leaders were to accept — or at least sit down and negotiate about —the proposed peace plan, they could quickly improve the quality of life of their people. This could lead to a two-state solution that would be a win-win for all sides.

But as Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once quipped, the Palestinian leadership “never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” They rejected a two-state solution in 1948, 2001 and 2008. They rejected other opportunities to improve the lives of their people, as in 2005 when Israel unilaterally left the Gaza Strip, ending its military presence and abandoning all settlements. The Palestinians could have created a “Singapore on the Mediterranean” with the financial help they received from numerous sources. Instead, they used these resources not to help their people but to hurt their neighbors, by building rockets, terror tunnels and other offensive weapons.

This negativity has gotten them nowhere. It hasn’t improved the quality of life of Palestinians. To the contrary, it has made it much worse. This has been the history of Palestinian leaders from the beginning: They seem to care less about helping their people and more about hurting Israel. They seem to want their own state less than they want there not to be a neighboring nation-state of the Jewish people.

Well, they are not going to accomplish that goal despite their rockets and terrorism, BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) or U.N. condemnation. Israel will continue to thrive. It is strong militarily, economically, diplomatically and in other ways. Palestinians must come to recognize the reality that Israel is here to stay, whether they like it or not. The remaining question is whether there will ever be a viable Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. That is largely up to Palestinians.

Such a state can emerge only from negotiations with Israel in which both sides make painful compromises. The new U.S. economic proposals can serve as a building block for such negotiations. Palestinians should go to a conference on the plan in Bahrain this week with open minds. They need not commit themselves to any specific agreements except to listen and to offer suggestions and counter-proposals.

Even if they erroneously decide to continue to boycott that conference, they should publicize the contents of these economic proposals to their people in order to get their views. It is the people, not their kleptocratic leaders, who stand to benefit the most from this “Mideast Marshall plan.” If the Palestinian people understand how this will improve the quality of life for them and their children, they may demand that their leaders put the welfare of the average Palestinian above ideological, religious and political objections to the Jewish nation-state.

Neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Hamas tyranny over the Gaza Strip are functioning democracies with structures that assure that the opinions of their citizens will be taken into account. But neither could those leaders totally ignore “the street” — Palestinian public opinion. The problem is that the street will not even know what their leaders are denying them unless they become aware of the contents of the U.S. economic plan.

There is no free, independent media on the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Residents can tune into Israeli or international media but they have been taught not to trust either. So it is uncertain whether the Palestinian street will know what their leaders are depriving them of by not engaging with the U.S. and its beneficial economic proposals. It is certainly possible that Palestinian leaders will once again miss an opportunity to help their people and that their people will be misinformed about that missed opportunity.

This may be the Palestinians’ last chance for a peaceful resolution of the long conflict with Israel that has caused so much misery and so many deaths on both sides. When then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat turned down the offer of a two-state solution from President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. called Arafat’s decision a “crime” against the Palestinian people. Will Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas commit yet another crime against his people by refusing even to listen or negotiate?

If he were to agree to negotiate in earnest about the proposed peace plan — the geopolitical elements of which will be rolled out toward the end of this year — there is a significant likelihood that the end result of mutual, painful compromises may be a Palestinian state. If he persists in his refusal to negotiate, he and his people will have no one but themselves to blame for the persistence of an untenable status quo.

The U.S. has presented the first phase of its plan. It’s an excellent, fair start. The ball is now in the Palestinian court. They should reconsider their knee-jerk rejection and begin negotiations that may be the only road to statehood.