Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Levant’

Israel’s left-wing party Meretz elects new leader

June 28, 2019

One of Israel’s left-wing parties Meretz has elected a new leader ahead of the country’s upcoming general election on 17 September.

Nitzan Horowitz – a journalist with Israeli daily Haaretz and two-time Knesset Member (MK) – was elected as party chair in Meretz’s primaries yesterday. His victory sees him oust previous chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, who led the party in Israel’s last election on 9 April.

Giving a victory speech in Tel Aviv, Horowitz said that “Meretz has a clear, straight path, of love for humans, and belief in equality and freedom”. “This is the path I have walked my whole life and continue to walk,” he explained, adding that “this way of life is under attack and Meretz will fight for freedom for all, from darkness, racism and coercion”.

Commentators expect Horowitz’s victory over Zandberg to impact Meretz’s potential alliances ahead of the September election; whereas Zandberg was said to be weighing an alliance with the newly-reformed Joint List, Horowitz is thought to prefer an alliance with other left-wing Jewish-Israeli parties, such as the Israeli Labor Party or the as-yet-unnamed party announced this week by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Horowitz, however, stressed that Meretz “is prepared for talks and cooperation based on our values,” which includes “alliances with new groups and the heads of Arab and Druze society”.

“Our way and values ??are the reason for our existence as a party. We have a historic responsibility to create a strong left. If need be, we will be a combative opposition that they [a right-wing government] will not forget,” he added.

Horowitz also took aim at the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance, dismissing the centrist party as little more than a “soap bubble”.

Despite becoming Israel’s second-biggest party following a strong performance in April’s election, Blue and White – particularly its leader Benny Gantz – has been most noticeable by its absence since fresh elections were called last month.

This has led to speculation of discord between Gantz and co-leader Yair Lapid, as well as accusations that the party is “sleeping” when it could – or should – be working to weaken increasingly-embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meretz could, however, find itself needing to collaborate with Blue and White if the center-left camp has any hope of reaching the 61 Knesset seats needed to form a majority government and challenge Netanyahu’s hegemony.

In the most recent polls, Blue and White was predicted to win 32 seats, once again the same number as Netanyahu’s Likud party. The Joint List was predicted to win 12 seats, Meretz six and Labor five, while Ehud Barak’s new party could win as many as six seats.

This would garner the 61 seats needed to form a center-left government, while the right-wing bloc would only win 52 seats. This calculation leaves out former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party – which is predicted to improve on its April performance to win seven seats – after Lieberman claimed he would sit neither in a Netanyahu nor Gantz-led government.

Whether the Joint List will agree to join a Gantz-led government is also unclear, after the former army Chief of Staff claimed to be looking for only “Jewish and Zionist” coalition partners ahead of April’s election. Though Arab-Israeli parties have held working arrangements with governments in the past, none have ever officially joined a ruling coalition.

This apparent deadlock has sparked calls from Likud officials – rumored to be at Netanyahu’s behest – to cancel the election. Though such a move has no constitutional precedent in Israel, Netanyahu’s increasingly-desperate attempts to hold on to power and avoid impending corruption charges could see him rip up the rule book once again.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190628-israels-left-wing-party-meretz-elects-new-leader/.

Advertisements

Israel faces new elections after parliament dissolves

May 30, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel embarked Thursday on an unprecedented snap election campaign — the second this year — after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition and instead dissolved parliament.

In what seemed an improbable scenario just days ago, Israel’s newly elected Knesset dissolved itself in an early morning 74-45 vote and set a new election date for Sept. 17. The developments were a shocking setback for Netanyahu, who had appeared to secure a comfortable win in last month’s election. But he was unable to build a parliamentary majority needed to rule because a traditional ally, Avigdor Lieberman, refused to bring his Yisrael Beiteinu faction into the coalition.

Netanyahu, who has led Israel for the past decade, now faces another challenge to his lengthy rule. It comes as he prepares for a pre-indictment hearing before expected criminal charges against him in a series of corruption cases.

Assuming they would sweep into power again, Netanyahu’s allies in the ruling Likud Party had already begun drafting a contentious bill aimed at granting him immunity from the various corruption charges awaiting him. He was also looking to push legislation limiting the power of Israel’s Supreme Court and paving his path to many more years in office.

But it was a separate issue that sparked the unprecedented crisis, and for the first time in history thrust Israel into a repeat election before a new government was even formed. Lieberman — a veteran nationalist and secular politician — demanded that current legislation mandating that young ultra-Orthodox men be drafted into the military run its course.

Years of exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men have generated widespread resentment among the rest of Jewish Israelis who serve. The ultra-Orthodox, backed by Netanyahu, refused to bend and the showdown quickly devolved into a full-blown crisis that imploded the perspective government.

“The public chose me, and Lieberman, unfortunately, deceived his voters. From the beginning he had no intention to do what he said,” Netanyahu said after the vote, accusing Lieberman of aligning with “the left.”

Lieberman, a former top aide to Netanyahu who has alternated between a close alliance and bitter rivalry with his former boss, retorted that the new election was a result of Netanyahu caving into the ultra-Orthodox.

“This is a complete surrender of Likud to the ultra-Orthodox,” he said. A new election complicates Netanyahu’s efforts to pass the proposed bills to protect himself from prosecution. Even if Netanyahu wins the election, it is unlikely he will be able to form a government and lock down the required political support for an immunity deal before an expected indictment. That would force him to stand trial, and in turn put heavy pressure on him to step aside. No one in Likud has yet challenged him publicly.

The political uncertainty could also spell trouble for the White House’s Mideast peace efforts. The U.S. has scheduled a conference next month in Bahrain to unveil what it says is the first phase of its peace plan, an initiative aimed at drawing investment into the Palestinian territories. The Trump administration had vowed to unveil its plan after the Israeli election and it’s unclear how the current political shakeup will affect that rollout.

Israeli spacecraft crashes during moon landing: mission control

By Stephen Weizman

Jerusalem (AFP)

April 11, 2019

Israel’s attempt at a moon landing failed at the last minute on Thursday when the craft suffered an engine failure as it prepared to land and apparently crashed onto the lunar surface.

“We didn’t make it, but we definitely tried,” project originator and major backer Morris Kahn said in a live videocast from mission control near Tel Aviv.

“I think that the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous, I think we can be proud,” he said.

During the broadcast, control staff could be heard saying that engines meant to slow the craft’s descent and allow a soft landing had failed and contact with it had been lost.

“We are on the moon but not in the way we wanted,” one unidentified staffer said.

“We are the seventh country to orbit the moon and the fourth to reach the moon’s surface,” said another.

Only Russia, the United States and China have made the 384,000-kilometre (239,000-mile) journey and landed safely on the Moon.

“If at first you don’t succeed, you try again,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the control room, where he had been watching along with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

“We reached the moon but we’d like to land more comfortably,” he added. “That will be for the next attempt.”

The 585-kilogram (1,290-pound) unmanned spacecraft named Beresheet, which means “Genesis” in Hebrew, resembles a tall, oddly shaped table with round fuel tanks under the top.

Israeli NGO SpaceIL and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the project’s two main partners, have described it as the “world’s first spacecraft built in a non-governmental mission”.

Khan, a philanthropist and chairman of SpaceIL, put up $40 million of the project’s $100 million budget.

Other partners who joined later are from “the private sector, government and academia,” according to the IAI website.

Just before the landing attempt Netanyahu said that he was thinking about initiating a national space project.

“I am seriously considering investing in a space program,” he said in the webcast.

“It has national implications for Israel and implications for humanity.”

The country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, viewed the broadcast with 80 middle school space buffs at his official Jerusalem residence, his office said in a statement.

“We are full of admiration for the wonderful people who brought the spacecraft to the moon,” he said after the crash. “True, not as we had hoped, but we will succeed in the end. This is a great achievement that we have not yet completed.”

Although the journey is 384,000 kilometers, Beresheet will have traveled a total of 6.5 million kilometers due to a series of orbits.

It was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on February 22 with a Falcon 9 rocket from Elon Musk’s private US-based SpaceX company.

Its speed has reached 10 kilometers per second, (36,000 kilometers per hour).

The one-way trip was to have included an attempt to measure the lunar magnetic field, which would have helped understanding of the moon’s formation.

– Google prize –

The project began as part of the Google Lunar XPrize, which in 2010 offered $30 million in awards to encourage scientists and entrepreneurs to come up with relatively low-cost moon missions.

Although the Google prize expired in March without a winner, Israel’s team pledged to push forward.

The Israeli mission came amid renewed global interest in the moon, 50 years after American astronauts first walked on its surface.

China’s Chang’e-4 made the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon on January 3, after a probe sent by Beijing made a lunar landing elsewhere in 2013.

US President Donald Trump’s administration announced in March it was speeding up plans to send American astronauts back to the moon, bringing forward the target date from 2028 to 2024.

India hopes to become the next lunar country in the spring with its Chandrayaan-2 mission. It aims to put a craft with a rover onto the moon’s surface to collect data.

Japan plans to send a small lunar lander, called SLIM, to study a volcanic area around 2020-2021.

The United States remains the only country to have walked on the moon, with 12 astronauts having taken part in six missions between 1969 and 1972.

Source: Moon Daily.

Link: http://www.moondaily.com/reports/Israeli_spacecraft_crashes_during_moon_landing_mission_control_999.html.

US says closing consulate in Jerusalem no policy shift

March 04, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — The United States has officially shuttered its consulate in Jerusalem, downgrading the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by folding it into the U.S. Embassy to Israel.

For decades, the consulate functioned as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Now, that outreach will be handled by a Palestinian affairs unit, under the command of the embassy. The symbolic shift hands authority over U.S. diplomatic channels with the West Bank and Gaza to ambassador David Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settler movement and fierce critic of the Palestinian leadership.

The announcement from the State Department came early Monday in Jerusalem, the merger effective that day. “This decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement. “It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.”

In a farewell video addressed to the consulate’s Palestinian partners, Consul General Karen Sasahara, who is leaving her post as the unofficial U.S. ambassador to the Palestinians and will not be replaced, maintains that new Palestinian unit at the embassy will carry forward the mission of the consulate, “in support of the strengthening of American-Palestinian ties, to boost economic opportunities for the Palestinians and facilitate cultural and educational exchanges.”

When first announced by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October, the move infuriated Palestinians, fueling their suspicions that the U.S. was recognizing Israeli control over east Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories that Palestinians seek for a future state.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called the move “the final nail in the coffin” for the U.S. role in peacemaking. The downgrade is just the latest in a string of divisive decisions by the Trump administration that have backed Israel and alienated the Palestinians, who say they have lost faith in the U.S. administration’s role as a neutral arbiter in peace process.

Last year the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated its embassy there, upending U.S. policy toward one of the most explosive issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians in turn cut off most ties with the administration.

The administration also has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, including assistance to hospitals and peace-building programs. It has cut funding to the U.N. agency that provides aid to Palestinians classified as refugees. Last fall, it shut down the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.

The Trump administration has cited the reluctance of Palestinian leaders to enter peace negotiations with Israel as the reason for such punitive measures, although the U.S. has yet to present its much-anticipated but still mysterious “Deal of the Century” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, announced last month that the U.S. would unveil the deal after Israeli elections in April. The Palestinian Authority has preemptively rejected the plan, accusing the U.S. of bias toward Israel.

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Israeli election may have dimmed hopes for 2-state solution

April 21, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Is the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dead? After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coasted to another victory in this month’s Israeli election, it sure seems that way.

On the campaign trail, Netanyahu ruled out Palestinian statehood and for the first time, pledged to begin annexing Jewish settlements in the West Bank. His expected coalition partners, a collection of religious and nationalist parties, also reject Palestinian independence.

Even his chief rivals, led by a trio of respected former military chiefs and a charismatic former TV anchorman, barely mentioned the Palestinian issue on the campaign trail and presented a vision of “separation” that falls far short of Palestinian territorial demands.

The two Jewish parties that dared to talk openly about peace with the Palestinians captured just 10 seats in the 120-seat parliament, and opinion polls indicate dwindling support for a two-state solution among Jewish Israelis.

“The majority of the people in the state of Israel no longer see a two-state solution as an option,” said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy for the Yesha settler council, himself an opponent of Palestinian independence. “If we are looking for peace in this region, we will have to look for a different plan from the two-state solution.”

For the past 25 years, the international community has supported the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — as the best way to ensure peace in the region.

The logic is clear. With the number of Arabs living on lands controlled by Israel roughly equal to Jews, and the Arab population growing faster, two-state proponents say a partition of the land is the only way to guarantee Israel’s future as a democracy with a strong Jewish majority. The alternative, they say, is either a binational state in which a democratic Israel loses its Jewish character or an apartheid-like entity in which Jews have more rights than Arabs.

After decades of fruitless negotiations, each side blames the other for failure. Israel says the Palestinians have rejected generous peace offers and promoted violence and incitement. The Palestinians say the Israeli offers have not been serious and point to Israel’s ever-expanding settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, now home to nearly 700,000 Israelis.

The ground further shifted after the Hamas militant group took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 and left the Palestinians divided between two governments, with one side — Hamas — opposed to peace with Israel. This ongoing rift is a major obstacle to negotiations with Israel, and has also left many Palestinians disillusioned with their leaders.

Since taking office a decade ago, Netanyahu has largely ignored the Palestinian issue, managing the conflict without offering a solution for how two peoples will live together in the future. After clashing with the international community for most of that time, he has found a welcome friend in President Donald Trump, whose Mideast team has shown no indication of supporting Palestinian independence.

Tamar Hermann, an expert on Israeli public opinion at the Israel Democracy Institute, said the election results do not necessarily mean that Israelis have given up on peace. Instead, she said the issue just isn’t on people’s minds.

“Most Israelis would say the status quo is preferable to all other options, because Israelis do not pay any price for it,” she said. “They don’t feel the outcome of the occupation. … Why change it?”

While the two-state prospects seem dim, its proponents still cling to the belief that the sides will ultimately come around, simply because there is no better choice. “Either Israel decides to be an apartheid state with a minority that is governing a majority of Palestinians, or Israel has to realize that there is no other solution but two states,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told The Associated Press. “Unfortunately the Israeli prime minister is politically blind about these two facts.”

Shtayyeh noted the two-state solution continues to enjoy wide international backing. Peace, he insisted, is just a matter of “will” by Israel’s leaders. Dan Shapiro, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel, said the two-state solution “is certainly getting harder” after the Israeli election but is not dead.

Getting there would require leadership changes on both sides, he said, pointing to the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt 40 years ago, reached by two leaders who were sworn enemies just two years earlier.

“We know what’s possible when the right leadership is in place,” he said. “So that puts us supporters of it in a mode of trying to keep it alive and viable for the future.” That may be a tall task as the Israeli election results appear to reflect a deeper shift in public opinion.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute, which conducts monthly surveys of public opinion, support for the two-state solution among Jewish Israelis has plummeted from 69% in 2008, the year before Netanyahu took office, to 47% last year. Just 32% of Israelis between the ages of 18-34 supported a two-state solution in 2018. The institute typically surveys 600 people, with a margin of error of just over 4 percentage points.

Attitudes are changing on the Palestinian side as well. Khalil Shikaki, a prominent Palestinian pollster, said 31% of Palestinians seek a single binational state with full equality, a slight increase from a decade ago. His poll surveyed 1,200 people and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Although there was no breakdown by age group, Shikaki said the young are “clinging less to the two-state solution because they lost faith in the Palestinian Authority’s ability to provide a democratic state” and because the expanding settlements have created a new reality on the ground.

Amr Marouf, a 27-year-old restaurant manager in the city of Ramallah, said he maintains his official residence in a village located in the 60% of the West Bank that Israel controls, just in case Israel annexes the territory. That way, he believes, he can gain Israeli citizenship.

“I think the one state solution is the only viable solution,” he said. “We can be in Israel and ask for equal rights. Otherwise, we will live under military occupation forever.” Netanyahu is expected to form his new coalition government by the end of May, and he will come under heavy pressure from his partners to keep his promise to annex Israel’s West Bank settlements.

Such a step could extinguish any hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state, particularly if the U.S. supports it. American officials, who have repeatedly sided with Israel, have said nothing against Netanyahu’s plan.

There is also the Trump administration’s long-delayed peace plan, which officials have signaled could finally be released this summer. U.S. officials have said little about the plan, but have indicated it will go heavy on economic assistance to the Palestinians while falling far short of an independent state along the 1967 lines.

Shtayyeh said such a plan would be a nonstarter. “This is a financial blackmail, which we reject,” he said.

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

IAI unveils improved anti-jamming GPS

Washington (UPI)

Mar 6, 2019

Israel Aerospace Industries has unveiled an upgrade to its satellite operational navigation systems, which it says repels attempts at jamming.

While most navigation, communication and electronic warfare systems rely on continuous availability of multiple satellites for navigation, the majority of worldwide avionics systems are vulnerable to localized, low-power jamming emitters.

“In the Army, we have recognized that PNT [Positioning Navigation Timing] is a critical enabler of our warfighting capability, and that GPS is the predominant materiel solution that we rely upon,” the U.S. Army said in a 2015 statement.

IAI said its ADA-O development features an advanced architecture and can defeat jamming efforts. The system can be installed on armored vehicles, communications carriers and other land-based platforms.

The ADA approach to Assured PNT [Positioning Navigation Timing] involves the use of advanced digital processing techniques that provide a high-level of immunity in severe and dynamic multi-jammer scenarios, the IAI statement said.

The company said it recently sold an ADA package for “tens of millions of dollars” to an unnamed Asian-Pacific nation’s military.

Source: GPS Daily.

Link: http://www.gpsdaily.com/reports/IAI_unveils_improved_anti-jamming_GPS_999.html.

Israel awaits decision on Netanyahu corruption indictment

February 28, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s attorney general was expected to deliver a much-anticipated decision Thursday on whether to indict Benjamin Netanyahu on a series of corruption allegations, a momentous move that looks to shake up Israel’s election campaign and potentially spell the end of the prime minister’s illustrious political career.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s aides said he was prepared to announce his decision after more than two years of intense investigations and deliberations. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.

Police have recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different cases. Mandelblit is expected to inform Netanyahu’s lawyers he intends to indict pending a final hearing, though the exact charges are not yet clear. The hearing is expected to take place after the April 9 elections.

An indictment would mark the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has been charged with a crime. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert served time in prison for corruption, but had already resigned by the time he was charged.

Netanyahu doesn’t look to go that quietly. He denies any wrongdoing and calls the various allegations a media-orchestrated witch hunt aimed at removing him from office. He has vowed to carry on and is deadlocked in the polls, 40 days before Israelis go to vote.

In a last-ditch effort to prevent the public release of an indictment, Netanyahu’s Likud party petitioned the Supreme Court to have it delayed until after the elections. But the court rejected the request Thursday afternoon, potentially clearing the way for an announcement from the attorney general.

Despite opposition calls for Netanyahu to step down, Likud and his other nationalist coalition partners have lined up behind him thus far, all but ruling out sitting in a government led by his primary opponent, retired military chief Benny Gantz.

While Israeli prime ministers are not required by law to resign if charged, the prospect of a prime minister standing trial while simultaneously running the country would be unchartered territory. Mandelblit’s decision could either galvanize Netanyahu’s hard-line supporters who see him as a victim of an overzealous prosecution or turn more moderate backers against him who have tired of his lengthy rule tainted by long-standing accusations of corruption and hedonism.

Either way, the upcoming elections appear to be morphing into a referendum on Netanyahu as he seeks to become the longest serving premier in Israeli history. Netanyahu have been prime minister since 2009 and served a previous term between 1996 and 1999.

President Donald Trump, with whom Netanyahu has forged a close connection, offered the Israeli leader a boost ahead of the expected announcement. “I just think he’s been a great prime minister and I don’t know about his difficulty but you tell me something people have been hearing about, but I don’t know about that,” he said in response to a question in Hanoi, where he was holding a summit with the leader of North Korea.

“I can say this: that he’s done a great job as prime minister. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s strong,” Trump said. Netanyahu rushed back Wednesday from a diplomatic mission to Moscow, and a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, to prepare for his expected rebuttal to the charges on Thursday.

The most serious allegations against Netanyahu involve his relationship with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel’s telecom giant Bezeq. Police recommended an indictment in the case based on evidence collected that confidants of Netanyahu promoted regulatory changes worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Bezeq. In exchange, they believe Netanyahu used his connections with Elovitch to receive positive press coverage on Bezeq’s popular subsidiary news site Walla. Police have said their investigation concluded that Netanyahu and Elovitch engaged in a “bribe-based relationship.”

Police say they believe there is sufficient evidence to charge Netanyahu and his wife Sara with accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. They also recommended charges be brought against Elovitch, members of his family and members of his Bezeq management team.

Police have previously recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases. One involves accepting gifts from billionaire friends, and the second revolves around alleged offers of advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in return for favorable coverage.

Alan Dershowitz, a prominent American lawyer, has come to Netanyahu’s defense, publishing an open letter to Mandelblit in which he warns that an indictment against the prime minister ahead of elections would undermine the democratic process.

“I’m very worried for freedom of the press and freedom of government in Israel if they start indicting people for trying to get good coverage from the media,” he told Israel’s Army Radio. “I don’t know of any other country that has criminalized trying to get good coverage and make that a basis of bribery or any other corruption investigation.”

Tag Cloud