With 99% of votes counted, right-wing bloc at 58 seats, 3 shy of majority

As double envelopes are tallied and updated, Likud climbs to 36 and Blue and White to 33, at expense of Joint List and Shas: results could fluctuate further

Officials count ballots from the elections at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Officials count ballots from the elections at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As votes cast in so-called double envelopes in the Knesset elections were being tallied, the Central Election Committee updated the count Wednesday morning, giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and the centrist rival Blue and White led by Benny Gantz an extra seat apiece, leaving the premier’s bloc of right-wing supporters at 58 seats.

After 99% of the votes were tallied, Likud gained a seat for a total of 36, with the rival Blue and White party also increasing its power from 32 to 33.

The Joint List of predominantly Arab parties dropped from 16 seats to 15, while the ultra-Orthodox Shas party dropped from 10 seats to 9.

The rest of the parties’ seat totals remained the same: seven for United Torah Judaism (UTJ), seven for Yisrael Beytenu, seven for Labor-Gesher-Meretz and six for Yamina.

Based on those seat totals, Likud and its allies would have 58 seats combined. The right-wing religious bloc supporting Netanyahu — consisting of Likud, Shas, UTJ and Yamina — though, falls short of the 61 seats needed to form a government.

NON-FINAL ELECTION RESULTS BASED ON COUNT OF 99% OF VOTES3636333315159977777766LikudBlue and WhiteJoint ListShasUnited Torah JudaismYisrael BeytenuLabor-Gesher-MeretzYamina010203040
Knesset blocs based on count of 99% of votes58584040151577Right-wing blocCenter-leftJoint ListYisrael Beytenu

The counting of the “double envelope” ballots of soldiers, police staff, diplomats, handicapped citizens, hospital patients and staff, and prisoners began overnight and was expected to conclude later in the day.

Final but unofficial results were likely to be published Wednesday night. The official results will only be published on March 10.

The Central Elections Committee announced late Tuesday that almost all of the votes cast in the elections had been tallied, with votes from 10,552 polling places across the country counted — 99% of the voting stations that were open during Monday’s elections, accounting for about 93% of the total vote.

Elections officials record ballots cast by Israelis under coronavirus quarantine, March 3, 2020. (Courtesy/Central Elections Committee)

Late Tuesday, hazmat-clad officials also unsealed and counted ballots cast by Israelis who could be carrying the coronavirus.

Some 4,076 Israelis under quarantine cast votes Monday in specially constructed isolation voting booths manned by medics in protective gear doubling as election officials.

Before the tally began, the Blue and White party claimed Netanyahu had ordered observers from his Likud party at the committee to interfere in the count. Gantz ordered his own party’s representatives to the committee to intensify their observation efforts as a result, according to the party.

“MK Avi Nissenkorn, the faction chairman, has now been called to oversee from up close the work of the Central Elections Committee to ensure the counting is carried out properly and without intentional disruptions,” Blue and White said in a statement.

Blue and White did not provide any evidence to back up its claim against Netanyahu.

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz at polling stations in Jerusalem and Rosh Haayin, respectively, during the Knesset elections on March 2, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL, AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Monday’s election was largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who will go on trial later this month for bribery, fraud and breach of trust but is thought to be seeking support for a legislative mechanism to grant him immunity.

Despite a jubilant victory party and proclamations of victory from supporters, exit polling and the non-final result numbers showed he would likely come up shy of a needed 61-seat majority.

Gantz admitted to supporters early Tuesday that the party’s showing was disappointing, but refused to concede. He later appeared to rule out joining a unity government led by Netanyahu, narrowing the premier’s options to form a coalition.

Netanyahu could attempt to bring in the secularist Yisrael Beytenu, which looks set to once again play kingmaker. He’ll be helped by the prospect of continued deadlock and a fourth election, seen as a doomsday scenario, but one that is increasingly realistic.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at the party headquarters in Modi’in, on elections night, March 2, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/ Flash90)

Party head Avigdor Liberman vowed Monday he would not join a Likud-led government that includes ultra-Orthodox parties, but he has also refused to join a coalition with the Arab-led Joint List.

“We won’t move a millimeter from what we promised our voters,” he said.

Likud lawmakers and Netanyahu’s spokesman said Tuesday they would be looking to bring in “deserters” from other parties to make up the shortfall.

Likud spokesman Yonatan Urich told Channel 13 of contacts with “four to six” MKs from “the other side” and predicted that Netanyahu would be able to form a majority coalition with the support of some of them “within a few days.”

MK Miki Zohar admitted that if Likud was left needing to bring more than two lawmakers from other parties, it would be far more difficult for Netanyahu to form a coalition; however, he said he remained confident of forming a government even in that scenario and preventing a fourth round of elections.

Blue and White MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, both former aides to Netanyahu and members of the Telem faction within the party, have denied reports they were mulling joining Likud.

However Hendel told Channel 12 news that he thought the country needed a unity government to move forward. When asked if that included joining a prime minister on trial, he said no.

Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich also denied she could jump ship after a report said Likud threatened to publish embarrassing recordings of her if she doesn’t defect.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, who heads the Gesher faction in the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, has also been tipped as a possibility to switch sides in return for a cabinet portfolio.

The article was published on Times of Israel


Netanyahu, Benny Gantz to meet for coalition talks as third election looms

Leaders to meet at 5:30 P.M. as Liberman openly talks about joining narrow right-wing government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz will meet Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Kirya in Tel Aviv.

Earlier Tuesday, Blue and White officials said their negotiating team would not meet again with Likud until they were ready for Gantz to go first in a rotation in the Prime Minister’s office.

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Likud responded that while Netanyahu has conceded in agreeing to serve for only five months, Blue and White had not conceded on anything.

Gantz has said that instead of Netanyahu going first as prime minister, he could be vice prime minister and laws could be passed enabling him to deal with his legal situation.

Next Wednesday is the last day for an MK to draft the support of 61 MKs and avoid a third election in under a year.

Yisrael Beytenu leader and possible coalition kingmaker Avigdor Liberman appeared to reconsider the formation of a right-wing government on Tuesday.

“I don’t know what is worse- a narrow government or election,” Liberman said.

Yisrael Beytenu MKs Oded Forer and Hamed Amar approached Liberman earlier Tuesday and told him they favored a right-wing government. Forer was apparently angry at Blue and White for conceding to United Torah Judaism MKs at a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee

The article was published on The JPost


Party leaders across spectrum have common message as they cast ballots: Go vote!

Party leaders turned out early Tuesday to cast their votes in Israel’s second national election of the year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arrived at their Jerusalem polling station to cast their vote in the Israeli elections Tuesday.

בנימין נתניהו מצביע בקלפי בירושלים

Vying for a fifth term the prime minister said this is a very close election and called on citizens to come out and vote.

This is the second election held in Israel in less than six months after Netanyahu, who is hoping for an unprecedented fifth term in office, failed to form a coalition government after the April ballot.

His Likud party then pushed through a law to dissolve the Knesset, thereby avoiding a situation in which President Reuven Rivlin could task another party leader with coalition building.

The head of the Blue and White Party Benny Gantz voted close to his home in Rosh Haayin, near Tel Aviv.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz casts his vote (Photo: Tal Shahar)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz casts his vote (Photo: Tal Shahar)
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The former army chief wished Israelis good luck in the elections as he arrived at the polling station flanked by supporters.

Avigdor Liberman, the leader of the right-wing, secular Yisrael Beytenu party – who could emerge as the kingmaker of the elections – voted with his wife at his home in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

Liberman urges all Israelis to vote, calling it “a civic duty.”

Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman and wife Ella (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman and wife Ella (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Shaked also called on citizens to vote and claimed there are up to 30% voters still undecided.

Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked (Photo: Shuel Davidpur)

Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked (Photo: Shuel Davidpur)

In the city of Sderot, near the Gaza border, Labor-Gesher chief Amir Peretz told supporters as he arrived to cast his ballot, that every vote counts and everyone should vote.

Labor leader Amir Peretz ( Photo: Avi Roccah)

Labor leader Amir Peretz ( Photo: Avi Roccah)

Voter turnout may be the deciding factor in these elections though it is expected to be low.

The article was published on Ynet


EU Ambassador ‘appalled’ by news of attack

EU Ambassador to Israel sends condolences to family of terror victim as MKs from across the spectrum express outrage.

Knesset members from across the political spectrum responded Friday to a terror attack which left a young woman dead and her father and brother wounded.

In the attack, terrorists threw a homemade explosive device thrown at Israelis hiking near the Ein Bubin spring near the Binyamin-region town of Dolev.

MK Nir Barkat (Likud), said: “The attack near Dolev is further proof of the Palestinian Authority’s policy of hate-filled incitement that causes this continued downward spiral. I pray for a speedy recovery for the wounded and trust that our security forces will quickly capture those responsible.”

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) said that he is praying for the recovery of those injured, adding: “This criminal terror attack demands a harsh response. I am convinced that our security forces will reach those who committed this attack. They will try to hurt us and we will build, develop, and strengthen the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.”

Har Hevron Regional Council Head Yochai Demeri said: “The escalation in the security situation demands an appropriate response. This chain of events shows a trend, and dragging our feet is not a solution. Deporting the murderers’ families together with applying sovereignty in Area C are the first steps and we are obligated to take them.”

“Terror draws encouragement from its successes and anyone who does not stop the terror attacks in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria should not be surprised by incidents occurring in city centers. Terror will not deter us, and we will continue to hike everywhere – in Jerusalem, Dolev, Nahal Oz, the Golan, and Tel Aviv, because their motivation to murder Jews needs no reason. Our hearts and prayers are with the victims.”

Yisrael Beytenu Chairman MK Avigdor Liberman said: “The terror attack in Binyamin is a stinging slap on the face for the Netanyahu government of submission, which continues to abandon the security of the State of Israel’s citizens in favor of paying bribes to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority so that there will be quiet until the elections.”

“A government which stops repairs on the dangerous road near the Gaza border because it’s out of money, but on the other hand begs Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to accept 2 billion shekels ($569,180,000), is not worthy of the public’s trust. At this difficult time, my heart is with the victims and their families, and I support the IDF and security forces, who are currently hunting the terrorists.”

Tzachi Dickstein, chairman of the Samaria Settlers’ Committee, said: “This is the second terror attack in the past twenty-four hours which has harmed innocent civilians. The facts speak for themselves: Removing the checkpoints is an ongoing mistake. We must immediately replace the road checkpoints and the security around the villages in order to give residents back their security and in order to prevent the next attack.”

“The lives of Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria are a thousand times more important than the convenience of terrorists on the road and later in the Israeli vacation houses they are jailed in.”

Binyamin Regional Council Head Yisrael Gantz, aho arrived at the scene of the attack together with the Council’s professional staffs, said: “We will not allow terror organizations to deter us from hiking in nature and enjoying the views and springs of our land. It’s time the government of Israel woke up and initiated, instead of just being dragged, and send a message of strength, courage, and security, so that those attackers know that they can no longer easily attack hikers who are coming to relax at springs.”

“I expect the Prime Minister to ensure the safety and security of Judea and Samaria’s residents and stop promising to apply sovereignty, and do it instead.”

In addition, European Union Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret tweeted: “Appalled by the news of the heinous attack on a father and his children in the West Bank this morning. My thoughts and condolences are with victims of this despicable act.”

The article was published on Arutz 7


NETANYAHU UNVEILS SECRET IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM

“Iran’s leaders repeatedly deny ever pursuing nuclear weapons,” said Netanyahu. “Tonight I’m here to tell you one thing: Iran lied.”

rime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a massive cache of secret documents, obtained in an exceptional Israeli intelligence operation this year, showing that Iran had developed a secret nuclear weapons program and that it lied when it claimed otherwise.

“Iran lied big time,” Netanyahu said at a dramatic press conference on Monday night in Tel Aviv that involved props and a slide show.

Netanyahu held a microphone and walked back and forth on the stage as if conducting a class.

To catch international attention, Netanyahu spoke in English as he described a massive Israeli intelligence coup by which some 100,000 documents – weighing around half a ton – were brought from Tehran to the Jewish state.

“In 2017, Iran moved its nuclear-weapons files to the Shorabad district in southern Tehran. Few Iranians knew where it was, very few, and also a few Israelis,” Netanyahu said. “From the outside the vault looked like a dilapidated warehouse. It contained Iran’s secret atomic archives locked in massive files.”

“A few weeks ago, in a great intelligence achievement, Israel obtained half a ton of the material inside these vaults,” Netanyahu said.

He explained that these included 55,000 pages of documents and another 55,000 files on 183 CDs.

The documents focused on the secret Iranian nuclear program that was developed from 1999 to 2003 called Project Amad. When Iran entered the 2015 nuclear deal, it denied that such a program existed.

Netanyahu made the presentation as part of his continued campaign against the deal. He said the documents proved that the deal itself was based on falsehoods and that Iran continued with its nuclear program after the deal was signed.

He spoke less than two weeks before the May 12 deadline that US President Donald Trump had set to decide whether or not to scrap the deal, which the US signed along with five other world powers: Russia, Germany, China, the UK and France.

Meanwhile, the Knesset gave the power to declare war to the security cabinet, instead of the wider cabinet. Netanyahu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked have been pushing for the passage of the bill.

IN WASHINGTON, Trump lauded Netanyahu’s presentation.

“I don’t know if everybody has seen it, but I got to see a little bit of it, and that is just not an acceptable situation,” he said, referring to the nuclear deal.

“So we’ll see what happens, Trump said. “I’m not telling you what I’m doing. But a lot of people think they know, and on or before the 12th we’ll make a decision. That doesn’t mean we won’t negotiate a real agreement. It’s a horrible agreement for the US.”

Israel had known for years that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program from 1999 to 2003 called Project Amad, Netanyahu said.

“We can now prove that Project Amad was a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.

“Iran is secretly storing Project Amad material to use at a time of its choice to develop nuclear weapons.”

The project’s mission statement was to “design, product and test five warheads, each with 10-kiloton TNT yield for integration on a missile. You do not have to read Farsi to see ‘10 kiloton’ here,” he said.

“That is like five Hiroshima bombs to be put on ballistic missiles,” Netanyahu said.

He showed a spread sheet that spoke of yellowcake production, centrifuge enrichment process, warhead project, simulation project and tests.

“Project Amad had the five key elements of a nuclear weapons program,” said Netanyahu.

This included designs for enriched uranium as well as the development of nuclear cores and photographs of a secret underground facility to produce these cores.

Israel found photographs of a system to build a nuclear implosion system and a map with five key testing sites in eastern Iran, Netanyahu said.

“We have many more such documents,” said Netanyahu.

There were also documents that showed how to integrate nuclear warheads on missiles, including for Shahab-3 missiles.

“Here is the warhead, here is the bomb,” said Netanyahu, pointing to different points on a diagram.

Iran is continually expanding the range of its nuclear-capable missiles and can reach Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Moscow.

“But they are working on far greater ranges,” he said.

“These files conclusively prove that Iran is brazenly lying when it said it never had a nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said.

In 2003, Iran was forced to shelve Project Amad, but not its nuclear ambitions. It split its program into an overt program and a covert one that continued the nuclear work under the title of scientific knowhow development, Netanyahu said.

It continued this work in a series of organizations and in 2018 it is carried out by SPND, an organization inside Iran’s Defense Ministry led by the same person who led Project Amad – Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Netanyahu said.

Many of SPND’s key personnel worked with Fakhrizadeh on Project Amad, Netanyahu said.

The files Israel uncovered also dealt with the Fordow uranium enrichment facility, which Netanyahu said was designed from the start to be part of Project Amad.

“You will not be surprised that Iran insisted on keeping Fordow and the nuclear deal enabled it to do it. But Iran was required by the International Atomic Energy Agency to come clean about its nuclear program.

“This was an explicit condition for implementing the nuclear deal. In December 2015 the IAEA published its final assessment of the military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. This was Iran’s chance to fully come clean to the IAEA. They could tell the truth,” Netanyahu said.
But instead, Iran denied the existence of a coordinated program and specifically denied the existence of the Amad plan, Netanyahu said.

He also showed photographic evidence that Iran conducted metallurgical work specifically designed for a nuclear device.

“This is just a fraction of the total material that we have,” Netanyahu said.

One has to ask, he said, “Why would a terrorist regime hide and meticulously catalogue its secret files if not to use it at a later date?”

“Iran lied about never having a nuclear weapons program, it continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons knowhow for future use,” Netanyahu said.

He played a tape of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad

Javad Zarif stating that Iran had never had a nuclear weapons program.

“Yes you did,” Netanyahu said. “And the atomic archive proves it.”

“In a few days’ time, Trump will make a decision of what to do with the nuclear deal. I am sure he will do the right thing for the US, for Israel and for the peace of the world,” he said.

FOR HIS PART, the US president acknowledged growing expectations that he will pull out of the accord by May 12. If the European powers fail to come up with “substantial” fixes to some of the agreement’s most controversial provisions, Trump says he will allow for nuclear sanctions to snap back into place, effectively withdrawing the US from the 2015 agreement by default.

Trump said scrapping the non-proliferation agreement would send “the right message” to North Korea in upcoming negotiations over its own nuclear work, given “new information” that had

 

come to light on Monday.

But if Trump is indeed preparing for a withdrawal next month, not all of his cabinet members are yet on board. Asked on Monday after Netanyahu’s speech whether he is satisfied the JCPOA can handle incidents of Iranian cheating, James Mattis, the US defense secretary, said “yes.”

Mattis met with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman, last week in Washington, primarily on Iran policy, the two departments said.

The president also claimed the current deal “frees” Iran to develop nuclear weapons in seven years. The letter of the agreement commits Iran never to construct nuclear weapons – a pledge it originally made in joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in the 1970s. But Netanyahu’s point was that Iran’s commitments were based on lies, raising questions over whether their weapons program had ever ceased and over what sort of agreement with Iran would ever be considered of good faith.

The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehen

sive Plan of Action, put caps on Tehran’s enrichment of uranium that phase out between 10 and 15 years. As those “sunset clauses” are reached, Iran will be allowed to grow the size and efficiency of its program, installing advanced models of uranium-enriching centrifuges in place of decades-old technology, in greater numbers and at more facilities.

That will shrink the “breakout time” Iran would need to develop fissile material for nuclear bombs, should it make the political decision to proceed.

Trump wants a deal that will grant UN inspectors snap access to Iran’s military facilities, where much of their past nuclear weapons work took place; an end to their program

 on ballistic missiles, designed to deliver nuclear warheads; a permanent extension of the “sunset clauses”; and commitments from world powers to thwart Iran’s military ambitions across the Middle East.

NETANYAHU RECEIVED praise from coalition and opposition politicians after his presentation of Iran’s nuclear violations.

Deputy Minister Michael Oren (Kulanu) said Netanyahu presented impressive intelligence accomplishments for Israel. He said the international community must demand unlimited oversight over Iran’s nuclear program, including in closed military sites and prevent the development of Iranian ballistic missiles.

Former defense minister Amir Peretz (Zionist Union) said the evidence Netanyahu presented proved that Iran is obsessively seeking nuclear weapons. He said Israel must demand more inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites, the maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge, and immediately work to fix security flaws in the Israeli home front.

But Joint List MK Dov Henin called Netanyahu’s presentation an election speech.

“What were all of those empty binders, disks and English for?” Henin asked. “He merely warmed old noodles that were cooked years before the nuclear deal was signed.

 

A leader facing corruption charges was trying to persuade another leader facing corruption charges to inflame a conflagration whose price would be paid by the people who live here.”

Iran’s foreign minister said Israel’s accusations were “old allegations” that had been dealt with by the United Nations nuclear watchdog in the past.

“Pres. Trump is jumping on a rehash of old allegations already dealt with by the IAEA to “nix” the deal. How convenient. Coordinated timing of alleged intelligence revelations by the boy who cries wolf just days before May 12. But Trump’s impetuousness to celebrate blew the cover,” Zarif tweeted.

Iranian state TV said Netanyahu’s

 accusations were propaganda.

“His remarks were not new… full of baseless accusations… and propaganda against Iran’s nuclear work,” state TV said.
Netanyahu spoke to Trump by telephone on Sunday and met in Tel Aviv with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Prior to the presentation, the security cabinet met.

On Monday, he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the cache of docume

nts and promised to send professional teams to their countries to explain the material. Netanyahu also held a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and he plans to update the British and Chinese leaders as soon as possible.

Over on Capitol Hill, response to the presentation was muted. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican from Tennessee who serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who drafted the 2015 law that provides Congress with review powers over the nuclear deal, said Netanyahu revealed “nothing new” that was not known prior to the conclusion of the agreement.

The article was published on The JPost


Netanyahu tells French PM he rejects Paris peace bid, but offers to meet Abbas

Manuel Valls, in Israel to advance his country’s plan for Mideast summit, says he has ‘a genuine desire to help the situation’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Monday the French initiative for an multinational conference to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, telling French Prime Minister Manuel Valls that direct negotiations were the only path forward toward a lasting agreement.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Jerusalem before a closed-door meeting with Valls, Netanyahu said a multilateral effort would replace bilateral talks and not bring about any agreement.

“Peace is not achieved in international UN-style conferences, nor through international diktats that come of meetings of countries around the world sitting to decide our fate,” Netanyahu said. “Peace is achieved through direct negotiations where the Palestinian Authority would face a historic choice: recognize a Jewish state side by side with a demilitarized Palestinian sate, or try to eliminate it.”

The meeting with Valls came as part a two-day trip to the region by the French premier that began Sunday, aimed at advancing his country’s plan for the summit in the face of opposition from Netanyahu.

The Israeli prime minister claimed Monday that the international conference was being used by the Palestinian leadership as a way to prevent direct talks with Israel.

“The Palestinian Authority does not see the French initiative as an inducer for negotiations, but as a way to avoid them,” he said.

Instead, Netanayhu said, he would be willing to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “in Paris or wherever,” and hold face-to-face negotiations without international mediation. “Every difficult issue will be on the table,” he said.

Valls said he would welcomeF160523YS03-635x357 direct negotiations and would speak to French President Francois Hollande about the proposal.

Abbas has welcomed the French initiative to hold a meeting of foreign ministers from a range of countries on June 3, without the Israelis and Palestinians present.

According to the plan, another conference would then be held in the autumn, this time with the Israelis and Palestinians in attendance. The goal would be to eventually restart negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state.

Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.

Earlier Monday Valls met with President Reuven Rivlin, who, in his first public statements on the French initiative, also criticized the plan, saying “there are no shortcuts in the Middle East.”

Preempting Netanyahu’s comments, he said that Israel was weary of such international efforts as they absolved the Palestinians of responsibility to negotiate.

Valls told both Rivlin and Netanyahu that France had Israel’s best interests in mind.

“France has a genuine and real desire to help the situation between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said in his statements to both Rivlin and Netanyahu.

Before his meetings with senior Israeli officials, Valls visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial where he laid a wreath in memory of the six millions Jews killed during the Holocaust. He also went to the Givat Shaul ceremony in Jerusalem cemetery to visit the graves of four French citizens killed in the January 2015 attack on the Hypermarche Kosher supermarket in Paris, and whose bodies were bought for burial in Israel.

After meeting with Netanyhau Valls will travel to Ramallah for a series of talks with Palestinian Authority officals, including meeting with Abbas.

Valls’s visit comes at a time of political turbulence in Israel, with Netanyahu expected to soon finalize coalition negotiations with the Yisrael Beytenu party, led by hardliner Avigdor Liberman, who is detested by the Palestinians.

Liberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement, is expected to take on the key role of defense minister.

On Sunday, Netanyahu told his cabinet that adding Liberman to the coalition would not negatively impact peace efforts.

“A broad government will continue to strive for a diplomatic process with the Palestinians and we will do so with the assistance of elements in the region. I personally deal with this a lot, in many places, and I intend to continue to do so,” he told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

To watch the meeting with PM Netanyahu klick HERE

The Article was published on The Times of Israel on  24 may 2016.