Netanyahu and Gantz sign deal for unity government

Agreement leaves Netanyahu in PM’s chair for next 18 months when he will be replaced by Gantz, who will serve as defense minister in interim; Blue & White gets 16 ministries in 32-member government, the largest in Israel’s history

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival Benny Gantz said on Monday that they have forged a deal to form an “emergency” unity government.
The deal between Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party and Gantz’ Blue and White ends months of political paralysis and averts what would have been a fourth consecutive election since April 2019.
Under the agreement, the two party leaders will rotate the prime minister’s post for the three-year term of the government, with Netanyahu remaining in office for the first year and a half.
Former IDF chief Gantz will serve in the interim as defense minister and as locum prime minister should the need arise.
The government is expected to include 32 ministers and more than a dozen deputy ministers, making it the largest in Israel’s history.
Blue and White will receive 16 ministries, including defense, foreign affairs for half of the term; justice, immigration and absorption, culture and sports, economics and welfare (which have been earmarked for Labor’s Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli), communications, agriculture, strategic issues, tourism, social equality, and diaspora affairs.
Gantz’s political partner Gabi Ashkenazi will serve as foreign minister during the first 18 months.
Likud will receive the foreign affairs portfolio for half of the term, public security, transportation, housing, education, environmental protection, energy, Jerusalem affairs, and other less key posts.
The agreement also gives Netanyahu veto power over the appointment of the attorney general and state prosecutor – the two senior officials who oversaw the prime minister’s indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
During the period of an “emergency government,” which is set to last six months, there will be no appointments requiring government approval. This means that acting state prosecutor Dan Eldad, who was appointed by the justice minister and Netanyahu ally Amir Ohana, will remain in post.
The two sides also decided that if the High Court of Justice rules before the new government is sworn in that Netanyahu cannot form a coalition due to the indictments against him, the agreement becomes void and the Knesset will dissolve. Should that happen, Netanyahu would remain prime minister until new elections are held.
The committee for judicial nominations will include two MKs from Likud as well as Derekh Eretz MK Zvi Hauser as “the representative from the opposition.”
Gantz on the campaign trail promised not to sit in a government led by a prime minister facing criminal charges, but he recently backtracked, saying the enormity of the coronavirus crisis necessitated an emergency unity government.
“We have prevented a fourth election. We will protect democracy. We will fight coronavirus and care for all of Israel’s citizens,” Gantz said on Twitter after signing the deal.
Netanyahu tweeted a picture of Israel’s blue and white flag, followed by a statement that read: “I promised the State of Israel a national emergency government that will work to save the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Israel.”
The deal states that Likud will take over the leadership of the Knesset’s coronavirus committee.
After the deal was signed, Netanyahu called Education Minister Rafi Peretz and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett to inform them that an agreement had been reached. Netanyahu is expected to offer Bennett’s Yamina party two ministerial posts although it had been angling for three.
Yamina said in response that, “Netanyahu has shown us the door.”
The unity agreement includes a clause that states that Israel will assume sovereignty over the West Bank on July 1, a move that has drawn massive international criticism when it was announced as part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan for Middle East peace.
Blue & White said: “The Trump plan will be moved forward responsibly, with protection of the strategic assets of the State of Israel and of regional stability.”
‘Slap in the face of Israeli majority’ Joint List leader Ayman Odeh slammed the agreement, calling it a “slap in the face” for the majority of Israelis.
“Gantz and Netanyahu’s government of surrender is a slap in the face of the civilian majority who goes to the polls time and time again to oust Netanyahu,” said Odeh, who backed Gantz to form the government in the wake of the March 2 elections.
“Gantz was not courageous enough to triumph and chose to legitimize annexation, racism, and corruption,” Odeh said.
The announcement also drew fire from Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who has long been a backer of a unity government to end the political stalemate.
He dismissed it as “another government of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his religious-messianic bloc.”
“I welcome the establishment of the government, although it is not a unity government,” Liberman said.
“This is another government of Netanyahu and the Haredi-messianic bloc with a fig leaf from two senior [IDF officers],” he said, referring to Gantz and Ashkenazi, both former army chiefs.
Liberman added that his party would be part of the “substantive opposition.”
The article was published in Ynet

In surreal scenes, Knesset sworn in 3 members at a time amid virus crisis

‘Give this people a government,’ pleads president in speech to near- empty chamber; Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi arrives to take oath despite exposure to suspected COVID-19 patient

In a surreal ceremony, the 23rd Knesset convened on Monday in the shadow of the COVID-19 outbreak, with its 120 lawmakers inducted in batches of three to avoid the spread of the virus and its leaders giving their usually festive opening remarks to an empty hall.

President Reuven Rivlin opened the parliament swearing-in with an address to the only three lawmakers present — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

In his speech, Rivlin implored the political parties to resolve their differences and form a coalition, putting an end to the deadlock that has left the country without a functioning government since December 2018.

Earlier in the day, Rivlin had given Gantz first shot at forming a government, after the Blue and White leader picked up recommendations from 61 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers. But it remained unclear whether Gantz could successfully do so without Netanyahu’s Likud.

After three consecutive elections, Rivlin said Israelis are “exhausted” by politics.

“We are looking forward to the day-to-day, the routine, when we will all return to what we have in common, our shared fate that is expressed so clearly in the current crisis,” he said, referring to the outbreak of the virus.

The president pleaded with the political leaders to compromise.

“Politics is far from perfect. But politics is meant to be the art of the possible. Often, politics needs to be the art of compromise… At the heart of democracy lies the understanding that what often creates the requirement for compromise, to make deep and painful concessions, is the will of the people itself,” he said.

Rivlin continued: “The current political crisis is very real, very deep and is breaking us in two. And we still have no other choice, because we have no other people and no other country. In democracy, we may be able to replace the leadership, but we cannot replace the people. Not some of it, not one half of it and not the other half of it. We were destined to live together.”

Edelstein, who on Sunday blocked an attempt by Blue and White to replace him as Knesset speaker, also told the president, Netanyahu, and Gantz that an emergency unity government must swiftly  be formed.

“The plenum is empty, but with us are the millions of citizens who badly need an emergency government,” said Edelstein.

After Edelstein, Netanyahu and Gantz took their oaths, the other lawmakers were brought in, three at a time and in alphabetical order, to be sworn in.

The Knesset guard administered fever checks for those entering parliament.

According to Channel 12, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi was asked not to attend after being exposed to the husband of a coronavirus patient, who is also suspected of having contracted the virus.

But Hanegbi entered parliament nonetheless. Hanegbi later said he stayed in his office after arriving at the Knesset and kept a distance from other people when he was sworn in. After taking his oath, he left the Knesset.

Along with Blue and White MKs Ram Ben-Barak and Alon Shuster, Hanegbi had been at an agricultural conference where a man whose wife is confirmed to have the virus was present. Neither Ben-Barak or Shuster was at the swearing-in ceremony.

The article was published on The Times of Israel


New Knesset sworn in, Rivlin urges coalition to be ‘ honorable winners’

The president called on MKs to put political strategy behind and ‘clean the dirt’ after elections season; with traditional ceremonies, 120 Knesset members declared their commitment to the State of Israel

Israel’s 21st Knesset was ceremoniously sworn in on Tuesday afternoon, including its 49 new members, while President Reuven Rivlin urged for unity and mutual respect.

Rivlin spoke at the opening ceremony and criticized the heated campaigns that preceded the April 9 elections, and pleaded MKs to put aside all differences, stop slamming their political rivals and have clean and honest debates which he called “the only thing that gives this home (of ours) a right to exist, and its status as a Jewish and democratic country a strong base.”

“We’ve been through a rough campaign season. We’ve slammed others and got slammed ourselves,” said the president. “Enough now. We must rise above, put our swords aside and clean the dirt. Political strategy can no longer be the only the sole compass.”

Rivlin addressed both the coalition and the opposition and shared from his experience on both sides. “It is a great right to serve the people from the opposition, as much as it is a great responsibility,” said the president.

Rivlin cited Menahem Begin, who was the opposition leader for several terms before he became prime minister, and told the crowd that during the swearing in of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in 1963, Begin gave everybody a lesson about the important role of the opposition.

“He (Eshkol) must know that we aspire to move him and his colleagues to the opposition, and it isn’t only our right — it is our duty,” cited the president.

To the opposition Rivlin said they must be “honorable winners.”

“You are not in the opposition, you have been holding the reins of power and leadership for a long time now,” said the president, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 5th term in office.

“It is your duty to stop trying to finish off you rivals, let go of the victimhood, and reign with respect and love over all the different kind of citizens who live here,” Rivlin concluded.

After all 120 MKs stood up and declared their commitment to serve, the national anthem, Hatikva, was sung by all but the Arab parties, who did not participate and left the hall.

 

The article was published on Ynet


Knesset voting on dissolving parliament, paving the way for April 9 elections

Lawmakers expected to pass law in all three readings on Wednesday, setting the stage for a three-month campaign leading up to the national poll

Three and a half years after its first sitting following the 2015 elections, the 20th Knesset is set to come to an end on Wednesday as lawmakers vote on a bill to dissolve parliament and set new elections for April 9.

A day after government ministers approved pushing ahead with the move, the Knesset will be host to a frantic series of committee debates and votes on the bill to dissolve parliament in an attempt to complete work on the move by the end of the day and officially start the election campaign for the 2019 election.

According to the decision of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the bill — which is expected to pass by a large margin — will face all three plenary readings on Wednesday in an accelerated legislative move reserved for emergency measures.

The first business of the day therefore began at 9.30 when members of the Knesset House Committee gathered to pass a motion allowing the dissolution bill to be pushed through the Knesset in one day and not be subject to the six-week waiting period that regular legislation normally faces after being proposed

Following the unanimous vote in favor of the motion, the bill now faces a first plenary debate and vote currently scheduled for 11 a.m. If the vote passes, the bill will return to the House Committee for final deliberations before once again being sent back to the plenum.

In the plenary’s second session, the bill faces two separate votes: the first on each of the two clauses in the bill, and the second on the bill as a whole. If the final vote passes with even a simple majority of 1-0, the Knesset will automatically disperse.

The first clause of the no-frills bill states the 20th Knesset will “dissolve itself ahead of elections,” and the second sets the date, agreed upon by coalition and opposition parties, for April 9th.

While the bill is not expected to face opposition, it could be held up by the head of the Knesset House Committee, MK Miki Zohar, who on Tuesday called for delaying the dissolution of the Knesset, arguing that lawmakers need more time to pass essential legislation before the elections and suggesting that he will use his position to block the bill.

Zohar cited two laws he said needed to be passed before the Knesset dissolves — his own bill to limit access to pornography online and a proposal by Likud MK Amir Ohana to ease access to the Israeli bar exam.

While elections have traditionally been held at least 90 days after the dissolution of the Knesset, by law, there is no minimum waiting period. If the Knesset votes to dissolve Wednesday, it will leave 105 days until elections, while immediately freezing any bills working their way through the Knesset.

Given the 15-day cushion, Zohar said there was no need to rush the bill to dissolve parliament and prevent legislative work from continuing.

“The Knesset must serve the State of Israel and not the politicians,” he said, telling his colleagues to “open up your calendars and set the date accordingly.”

Zohar, an acolyte of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has proposed and overseen a number of controversial pieces of legislation. said that the parliament should remain in full swing until the last possible opportunity, which falls on January 9.

According to Knesset bylaws, as chairman of the committee which would oversee the preparation of the bill, Zohar could in theory hold up the proposal indefinitely with no obligation to hold a vote within any specified time frame.

Speaking at Wednesday morning’s committee meeting, Zohar said that he agrees with the date of the national poll, but thinks the Knesset should wait to officially call elections.

“The date has been agreed upon by all factions and I support it,” he said at the opening of the debate. “But there are tax laws that are very important to those who sent us here and we can finalize the legislation on a number key issues.”

Coalition chairman David Amsalem, however, said that the bill to dissolve parliament would be passed in all three readings Wednesday and other legislation would be passed during special recess sessions that can be called during the election campaign.

Netanyahu on Monday called the early elections for April, setting the stage for a campaign clouded by a series of corruption investigations against the long-serving Israeli leader.

With the Likud leader holding a commanding lead in the polls, all eyes are on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and whether he will decide before the elections on whether to press charges against the longtime leader on a series of corruption allegations.

A first major round of polls on Tuesday found that Netanyahu is the strong favorite to win the upcoming race, though he is not hugely popular among voters.

The polls found that most Israelis do not think Netanyahu should be the next prime minister, though even fewer think any one of his rivals should be. In Israel’s multi-party system, however, even middling support is usually enough to win the premiership.

The article was published on The Times of Israel


A BIG YEAR AHEAD: WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN ISRAELI POLITICS IN 2018

Will Netanyahu come in like a lion and leave like a lamb?

They say that March, the third month of the year, comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.

This is the third New Year’s Day for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since his election to his fourth term as prime minister in March 2015. The year ahead for Netanyahu is expected to come in like a lion, continue like a lion, and go out like a lion.

The developments that will make this year particularly ferocious for the prime minister include the criminal investigations of Netanyahu and his wife Sara, controversial legislation in the Knesset, and diplomatic developments set to be advanced in the year ahead by US President Donald Trump.

Perhaps such challenges would be less problematic for Netanyahu if he still had capable former coalition chairman David Bitan at his side. But Bitan has been neutralized by his own criminal investigations, in which he is set to be questioned by police a dizzying three times this week.

Bitan’s replacement David Amsalem is as despised in the Knesset corridors as Bitan is beloved. His ability to defend Netanyahu from his powerful and sensitive post will be hindered by his lack of grace, charisma, and ability to work well with people of differing views.

After yet another delay, the police are expected to recommend in March to indict Netanyahu for breach of trust and perhaps bribery in Case 1000, the “Gifts Affair,” and Case 2000, the “Newspaper Collusion Scandal.”

As Netanyahu and his associates constantly remind people, the police recommendations have no legal significance. Only Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will decide Netanyahu’s fate, and if the police do not ask for more time, that will happen sometime by the end of 2018.

But when the police recommendations are leaked to the press, there will be tremendous pressure on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to remove his Kulanu party from the coalition, as Ehud Barak threatened to do with his Labor Party when police recommended indicting Ehud Olmert.

Chances are that Kahlon will stay, and Netanyahu will succeed in passing up David Ben-Gurion to become the country’s longest-serving prime minister on September 23, 2018.

But there is always a chance that Netanyahu himself could initiate an election before then if he decides it would serve him tactically.

What could throw everything off is if the police decide at any given point to declare Netanyahu a suspect in the much more serious Submarine Affair, Case 3000. With all due respect to newspapers and cigars, if Netanyahu traded Israel’s national security for money for his confidant, that would blow the other two cases out of the water.

The Jerusalem Post’s legal correspondent Yonah Jeremy Bob reported on Friday that the Police Recommendations Law, which passed last week, is completely unclear about whether the police could issue recommendations about Netanyahu in Case 3000.

There are also investigations of Netanyahu’s wife Sara for alleged misuse of public funds, which could either make the political year even more intense or perhaps calm it down if she becomes the legal scapegoat who gets thrown in the fire while her husband is cleared of charges.

While the focus all year will remain on the probes, there will be controversial legislation in the Knesset almost every week when the parliament is in session. The most problematic politically for Netanyahu will be over matters of religion and state, where his coalition is especially divided.

But there will also be bills that will change how political campaigns are financed, the role of deputy ministers, and whether land in Jerusalem can be relinquished in a diplomatic agreement. And that’s just in the Knesset.

The Likud central committee and other party institutions will also be making decisions that could tie Netanyahu’s hands before talks with the Palestinians could potentially begin.

While the Palestinians are currently saying they will not negotiate with Israel as long as Trump is president and the US is the mediator, they will come under tremendous pressure to back down from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and his American counterpart, Jared Kushner.

“Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime – I see a real hope for change,” Netanyahu said himself when Trump came to his residence in Jerusalem.

If that happens, perhaps Netanyahu’s coalition could be unraveled from the Right or from within the Likud.

But then again, maybe Netanyahu will be able to tame all those potential lions and march into 2019 politically unscathed.

If that happens, he will definitely have what to celebrate a year from now.

The article was written by Gil Hoffman and was published on The JPost


EU-Israeli relations: A new year, a new era?

 

This week, a five-members Knesset delegation, headed by MK Yaakov Perry, will visit the European Parliament in Brussels. It is always a great pleasure to welcome Israeli friends, especially now, around the start of the Christian and Jewish new years. It makes it an opportune moment to reflect on the state of EU-Israel relations and highlight some positive and worrying tendencies.

The recent EU-Israeli cooperation on Creative Europe, to increase jobs and growth by supporting the cinema, cultural and creative sectors in Europe and Israel, is to be welcomed.

While such efforts and other EU-Israeli cooperation on mutually beneficial subjects are to be supported, they may not be overshadowed by two worrying security trends in Europe.

The first worrying trend is to not call a spade a spade, or rather, call both the “military” and “political/social” wings of terrorist organizations terrorist organizations. It is part of the Oriental naiveté through which the EU views the Middle East.

In the case of Hezbollah, the EU included solely the military wing in its terrorism list, on July 22, 2013. The theoretical assumption came after strong evidence was uncovered pointing at Hezbollah’s fingerprints all over the 2012 Burgas bombing.

One does not need to look far to see Hezbollah and trouble.

Hezbollah plays a significant role in Syria (as do Russia and Iran), which is a critical cause of the Syrian refugee crisis. Some of these refugees turn up on the shores of Europe. Therefore, it is not only a regional or Syrian interest, but also a European interest to stand strongly against Hezbollah. Those are, sadly, Hezbollah’s facts (or boots?) on the ground.

To highlight the absurdity of the flawed EU logic, one could view al-Qaida as having an urban planning wing because of its desire to level tall buildings, as once suggested by Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor in Foreign Policy, February 2013. The EU’s position on Hezbollah’s military and political/ social wings is just as startling and futile. As Hezbollah mixes its political and social welfare activities with its terrorist and criminal ones, any clear distinction between its activities can no longer be made. Deputy secretary general of Hezbollah Naim Qassem has said it himself: the Party of Allah (Hezbollah) does not have a political/ social wing on the one hand and a resistance (meaning military) wing on the other. Therefore, without delay, the EU should include Hezbollah as a whole on the EU’s terrorism list.

The second worrying trend is the recent advice given by advocate general Eleanor Sharpston in the opinion of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to not include the Hamas movement on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations. The issue is part of an ongoing legal confrontation between the ECJ and the European Council; the latter favors such an inclusion.

While the ECJ opinion is not binding, various insiders note that in most instances – citing figures as high as 80% – it is followed in the final ruling, which is expected before 2017.

Hopefully the Hezbollah and Hamas cases do not foretell the beginning of a new era in which EU-Israeli/Arab views on regional security further diverge. It is glaringly obvious that, in the EU’s quest to combat terrorism, it would be counterproductive and counterintuitive to not include Hamas, or Hezbollah in its entirety, in the EU terrorist list. Stronger European-Israeli cooperation in all areas of mutual interest should be nurtured, to enable our regions to be safer, more innovative and more prosperous. The upcoming Knesset delegation could not come at a more perfect time.

We look forward to welcoming our Israeli friends at the 42nd inter-parliamentary meeting and may there be many more years of warm fruitful cooperation!

Bas Belder is a Dutch member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group at the European Parliament. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, serves as vice-chair of the Israel Delegation and is a member of Europe Israel Public Affairs Advisory Committee.

Elise Coolegem is a policy adviser on the Middle East for the ECR Group at the European Parliament. She has lived in the Middle East for several years and obtained her MA in conflict resolution and mediation from Tel Aviv University.
The article was published on The Jerusalem Post on the 16th of November 2016

EIPA Advisory Board Delegation to Israel, 30th of June – 3rd of July 2015

Last week, Europe Israel Public Affairs hosted 7 Members of the European Parliament for a three day delegation to the State of Israel.

 

Many were members of the EIPA Advisory Board, made up of Members of the European Parliament from across the political spectrum. We held a series of meetings with Israeli ministers, government officials and Members of the Israeli Parliament. The agenda also included a briefing by IDF Lt. Yitzak Malca on Mount Bental, on the challenges and dangers IDF medical units face while trying to save Syrian refugees that cross over the Syrian border in order to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Minister Gilad Erdan, recently appointed to head Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Minister of Information, emphasised the strategic interests that the EU and Israel share while pointing out the tension arising when the EU puts pressure on only one partner in the peace process. Setting in place and carrying out economic sanctions against Israel not only alienates Israel, but also sends the message to the Palestinians that the EU rewards unilateral action without asking them to address the existing Palestinian terror infrastructure.

The delegation was also briefed by the Head of the National Security Council, Yossi Cohen on the wider Middle East and on the various Islamic terrorist branches competing for territory and ideological supremacy all around Israel’s borders. Mr. Cohen also updated the MEPs on Israel’s position regarding the current E3+ 3 nuclear negotiations with Iran, underlining that regardless of the nuclear deal, Iran remains the main sponsor of global terrorism.

The Chair of the European Parliament delegation for relations with Israel, MEP Fulvio Martusciello, together with the rest of the delegation, met with MK Yaakov Peri, his newly appointed Israeli counterpart. The two chairs agreed to hold a joint Knesset-EP meeting in the next couple of months.

Because Israel is a pluralist democratic state, it was important that the Delegation also had the opportunity to hear the voice of the opposition party, Zionist Union, MK Nachman Shai, who shared his party position on the many social issues that Israel needs to address as a country.