Likud leadership primaries kick off

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his key rival within Likud party ranks, former Education and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, are set to face off in Likud primaries on Thursday.

Some 116,048 members of Likud will vote at 106 polling stations across the country from 9 am local time to set the stage for a showdown that makes for the most serious challenge to Netanyahu’s Likud leadership in years.
The polling stations will remain open until 11 pm amid fears that wind and rain could keep voter turnout down, with the preliminary results expected sometime past midnight.
A former aide and senior Cabinet minister under Netanyahu, Sa’ar has long been considered a rising star in Likud and a potential future heir, but while others are patiently waiting for Netanyahu to step down on his own, Sa’ar has been the only one who has dared to take the incumbent head-on.
Netanyahu is expected to brush off Sa’ar’s challenge for the Likud leadership, with Israeli media estimating Sa’ar’s chances to unseat Netanyahu are slim.
Sa’ar’s allies will consider a result of over 30% support of Likud members as a win, positioning their candidate to lead the party when Netanyahu steps down.
However, after failing to build up a coalition in two consecutive votes, Netanyahu’s capacity to form a government in the wake of the third vote cannot be taken for granted.
Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases in which he is accused of trading legislative or regulatory favors in exchange for lavish gifts or favorable media coverage.
He denies any wrongdoing and has waged an angry campaign against the media and law enforcement officials that he said are bent on ousting him from office.
Outwardly, Likud members have strongly supported their leader and joined in denouncing the alleged “coup” of the liberal elites against him.
Even amid the political disarray, Sa’ar’s challenge is a risky maneuver in a party that fiercely values loyalty and has had only four leaders in its 70-plus-year history. Netanyahu himself has denounced Sa’ar as “subversive.”
Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he “certainly” plans to annex the Jordan Valley in the near future, despite recent reports suggesting plans have entered a “deep freeze” over concerns that the move could potentially intensify confrontation with the International Criminal Court.
The ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced on Friday she is ready to investigate whether Israel was committing war crimes in the Palestinian Territories.
Netanyahu in a rare interview conducted with Israel’s Army Radio said, “I intend to lead for American recognition of our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and in all the settlements in the West Bank, as I have led the recognition of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem, Israel’s capital.”
The premier added that there’s a legal hurdle for annexation during an interim government, “but G-d willing, I will do it when I get elected” – referring to the next general vote in March.
Israel’s longest-serving premier also talked about his relationship with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. According to Netanyahu, Putin told him that “if it wasn’t for you and our relationship, we could have been already at war, in confrontation.”
Netanyahu disclosed that Israel Air Force jets were close to colliding with Russian aircraft on four separate occasions, most likely over Syrian territory, but thanks to close coordination between the armies, these incidents did not occur.
Regarding reports of Netanyahu’s intention to request immunity from the Israeli parliament, he remained tight-lipped, with the deadline for such a request to be submitted expiring next week.
Netanyahu also appeared Wednesday at an election event in the southern city of Ashkelon as rocket fire was launched from the Gaza Strip.
The sirens warning of the incoming rocket fire blared at around 9 pm in Ashkelon and other communities bordering the Hamas-controlled enclave.
IDF said that the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted a projectile fired at southern Israel. No damage or casualties were reported.
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, were campaigning in Ashkelon ahead of Thursday’s leadership primaries.
The prime minister was immediately rushed to safety by his security team, a scene reminiscent of a September incident in the city of Ashdod.
“Hamas and Jihad do not want me to win,” Netanyahu said after being allowed back on stage. “The one who tried to make an impression the last time, is no longer with us, and the one who tried to make an impression now should start packing the bags,” he said, referring to the Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu Al-Ata, who was assassinated by the Israeli military last month.
Three months ago, Netanyahu was evacuated during a rocket siren that blared mid-speech as the prime minister was rallying support a week before the September 17 national ballot.
At the time, Netanyahu’s quick departure off stage was widely criticized by his political opponents.
During the September incident, attendees of the event remained in the auditorium and did not run for shelter.
The winner of Thursday’s vote will lead Likud into Israel’s third general election in less than a year, slated for March 2, where he will face the chief of the Blue & White alliance Benny Gantz.
The article was published on Ynet

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


Rivlin officially tasks Netanyahu with forming next government

The right-wing bloc is expected to consist of the Likud, Kulanu, Yisrael Beitenu, Shas and United Torah Judaism parties – a 65-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin officially tapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to form a governing coalition.

Netanyahu will have 28 days to form a new government. Rivlin may grant a 14-day extension, if necessary.

The right-wing bloc is expected to consist of the Likud, Kulanu, Yisrael Beitenu, Shas and United Torah Judaism parties – a 65-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

“This was a tough election campaign. Things were said that should not have been said, from all sides. Not in a democratic state and not in the Jewish state,” said Rivlin. “The iron wall should be between us and our enemies, not inside our own home, not between us.”

Additionally, the president lamented that less women will serve in the upcoming government than the previous one.

“Unfortunately, this Knesset will have far fewer women than the previous Knesset. We have lost vital women’s representation in the Knesset and the government,” said Rivlin. “I hope that the new Knesset and government will include women ministers and committee chairs, and ensure that the voice of women is present and clearly heard, on the issues themselves and as a message to the public.”

Netanyahu’s re-election to his fifth term last week will make him Israel’s longest-serving prime minister since the founding father and first leader of the Jewish nation, David Ben-Gurion.

The article was published on JNS