Posts Tagged ‘ The Zionism Plague ’

Israel’s high court to hear petitions against Netanyahu rule

May 03, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s high court was set Sunday to begin hearing petitions against Benjamin Netanyahu forming a government while facing criminal indictments. The proceedings, held by an exceptionally large panel of 11 justices and in a rare instance to also be broadcast live, will focus on the issue of whether an politician can form a government while under indictment — something the Israeli legal code does not explicitly prohibit.

If the court voids Netanyahu’s ability to serve as prime minister, Israel could be plunged into political chaos, and it would likely trigger the country’s fourth consecutive election in just over 12 months.

The high court has become a lightning rod for criticism by Netanyahu and his political allies, who accuse it of overreach and political interference, while the long-time leader’s opponents consider it a bastion of democracy under dangerous assault.

Pro-democracy demonstrators have been taking to the streets weekly to protest Netanyahu’s continued rule. Last week, counter-protesters against the court demonstrated against its hearing the petitions against Netanyahu’s rule.

In an unprecedented move, Sunday’s hearing would be broadcast live on the high court’s website while most of the country remains under coronavirus movement restrictions. Netanyahu was indicted earlier this year on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. He has denied any wrongdoing. His trial was postponed due to restrictions his hand-picked interim justice minister placed on the courts after the coronavirus crisis erupted and is scheduled to commence later this month.

Last week, Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, said in an opinion to the court that while Netanyahu’s indictments “raise significant problems,” there was no legal basis for barring him from serving while facing criminal charges.

Israeli law mandates that Cabinet ministers and mayors resign if indicted, but prime ministers are not specifically required to step down. In January, the Supreme Court declined to rule on whether Netanyahu could form a government under indictment, saying the matter remained “theoretical” ahead of March’s elections.

On Monday, the court will address petitions concerning Netanyahu’s power-sharing coalition deal with his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz. Netanyahu and Gantz signed the agreement to form a national government last month after Israel’s third consecutive, deadlocked election in just over a year. The deal would have Netanyahu serve the first 18 months as prime minister, after which Gantz would assume power for the next 18 months.

The coalition deal and Netanyahu’s upcoming corruption trials have triggered large protests in Tel Aviv’s main square. Participants in the demonstrations observed social distance in accordance with public health regulations.

The petitions against Netanyahu were filed by advocacy groups that have asked the high court to ban any indicted politician, including Netanyahu, from being allowed to form a new government. They also say that parts of the coalition deal are illegal.

Eliad Shraga, head of one of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, one of the groups petitioning the court, said in a statement ahead of Sunday’s proceedings that it was “unconscionable that a man like this will go in the morning to court to sit in the dock and in the evening will manage the security cabinet and send us and our children to battle.”

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, has held onto power as a caretaker leader for more than a year as political stalemate prevented the creation of a government and triggered successive elections.

Israel’s Netanyahu notches key wins in a deal with his rival

April 21, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s embattled prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has notched two critical victories in this week’s power-sharing agreement with his chief rival: He can stay in office throughout his upcoming corruption trial, and he can press forward with a potentially explosive plan to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu and former military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party, announced their “national emergency government” late Monday, ending 16 months of political paralysis and narrowly averting an unprecedented fourth national election in just over a year.

The emergency government’s stated mission is to steer the country through the coronavirus crisis, which has killed over 180 Israelis and put a quarter of the country out of work. But after a bruising period of prolonged political stalemate, both men also appear to have been driven toward each other by their deepest survival instincts.

Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to rotate 18-month terms as prime minister, and they have evenly divided key government ministries and parliamentary committees. In effect, each side will be able to veto the other’s actions.

Commentator Sima Kadmon said the coronavirus crisis served as the pretext for the unlikely alliance. “The real goal was Netanyahu’s effort to buy time,” she wrote in the Yediot Ahronot daily. An early test for the alliance will be an issue close to Netanyahu’s heart: the annexation of large parts of the West Bank. Such a move would destroy any lingering hopes of establishing an independent Palestinian state and draw widespread international condemnation.

Netanyahu and his pro-settler base see an opportunity under the friendly administration of President Donald Trump who seeks re-election in November. Although their government is to focus on coronavirus issues for its first six months, Netanyahu persuaded Gantz to allow him to raise annexation plans in the Cabinet from July 1.

Netanyahu could still face some obstacles. The deal says any move would require U.S. support and need to take into account the opinions of key allies. Gantz has given annexation only lukewarm support. But the vague language of their deal allows Netanyahu to present the proposal to parliament — where he appears to have majority support for the idea — even without Gantz’s backing.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called the coalition agreement a threat to regional peace and security. “It is an international responsibility to hold the new Israeli government accountable,” he said.

The coalition deal has also come under heavy criticism in Israel. Through three bitter election campaigns in the past year, Gantz portrayed himself as the antithesis to Netanyahu and repeatedly vowed never to sit in a government with a prime minister suspected of serious crimes. After the most recent election last month, Gantz even began pushing legislation in parliament to ban the indicted Netanyahu from remaining as prime minister.

Yet with the clock ticking, and his fragile alliance unraveling, Gantz accepted Netanyahu’s invitation last month to form a government together. The sudden announcement angered many of his supporters and broke up the Blue and White alliance, leaving him with only a shrunken version of the party. A fourth election would likely have sent Gantz into political irrelevance.

Speaking in parliament Tuesday, Gantz vowed to uphold the rule of law. “I took upon myself the mission to safeguard the democracy because I believe it is the most significant source of strength as a society,” he said.

Netanyahu also defended the deal as best for the nation. Yet for all of his talk in recent weeks about the coronavirus and national unity, leaks from the coalition negotiations indicated he was also motivated by his own personal survival as he prepares to go on trial.

Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals. He denies the charges and says he is the victim of a hostile media and aggressive prosecution. Yair Lapid, who withdrew his Yesh Atid party from Blue and White last month and will likely be the next opposition leader, said Tuesday that he apologized to those he persuaded to vote for Gantz.

“There hasn’t been a fraud like this since the state was established,” said Lapid. “You don’t fight corruption from within. If you’re in, you’re part of it.” While Israeli law requires public officials to resign if charged with a crime, that does not apply to sitting prime ministers.

Although Netanyahu is supposed to step aside next year under the deal, it creates a new position of “designated prime minister” that would permit him to remain in office while on trial. Netanyahu has been desperate to stay as prime minister. As the case against him has gained steam, the office has provided him a high-profile stage to lash out against his opponents and rally his base. And last month, his hand-picked justice minister managed to delay Netanyahu’s trial until late May.

Although Netanyahu will not be able to prevent the trial, he nonetheless will be able to continue to use his office as a bully pulpit throughout the proceedings. Several nonprofit advocacy groups filed challenges to the coalition deal, asking the Supreme Court to ban an indicted politician, such as Netanyahu, from being allowed to form a new government. If the court rules in favor of the challenge, the deal could unravel and the country could still be plunged into new elections.

Yohanan Plesner, a former lawmaker who is now president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said the coalition agreement ends a difficult stalemate but offers little hope. He said the government would likely make progress on consensus issues, like rescuing the economy and passing a budget.

But in other areas, including annexation, “I very much expect it to be very difficult,” he said. “It will be mainly a government of mutual vetoes and paralysis.”

Netanyahu, rival report ‘meaningful progress’ in unity talks

April 14, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival said early Tuesday they had made “meaningful progress” in their efforts to form a joint government to confront the coronavirus crisis, agreeing to continue talks this week after a midnight deadline expired.

The late-night announcement provided a glimmer of hope that the sides could end the country’s prolonged political paralysis and avoid a fourth election in just over a year. In a joint statement, Netanyahu’s Likud party and challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White said they had asked the country’s figurehead president for more time “with the aim of completing negotiations to form a national emergency government.”

President Reuven Rivlin, whose duties include overseeing coalition negotiations, agreed to the request to extend negotiations until midnight Wednesday. It said there was an “understanding that they are very close to reaching an agreement.”

The sides said they would resume negotiations early Tuesday. Ahead of the deadline, Gantz had urged Netanyahu to seal a deal or risk dragging the country into an unwanted election at a time of national crisis.

“Netanyahu, this is our moment of truth. It’s either an emergency national government or, heaven forbid, expensive and unnecessary fourth elections during a crisis. History will not forgive either of us if we run away,” he said in a nationally televised address.

Netanyahu invited Gantz to his official residence for last-ditch negotiations that stretched past midnight. Israel last month held its third straight election in less than a year, after the previous two ended inconclusively. While the March 2 vote also ended with no clear winner, Gantz was endorsed by a slight majority of lawmakers, prompting Rivlin to give him the chance to form a government.

With his parliamentary majority, Gantz began moving ahead with legislation that would have disqualified Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges, from serving as prime minister in the future.

But as the coronavirus crisis worsened, Gantz made an about-face and accepted an offer from Netanyahu to pursue a joint government to deal with the pandemic. Gantz’s decision drew heavy criticism from his supporters and caused his Blue and White alliance to crumble.

The sides appeared to be close to a rotation deal in which Netanyahu and Gantz would each serve terms as prime minister. But last week, negotiations stalled, reportedly over a demand by Netanyahu, who faces an impending corruption trial, to have more influence over judicial appointments.

If their extended negotiations fail, Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, will have three weeks to select a candidate from prime minister from its ranks. If that too fails, Israel will head to extraordinary fourth polls in just over a year.

With the country led by a caretaker government and hobbled by legislative paralysis since the first election was called in late 2018, a fourth vote would extend the political crisis at a time when the country is dealing with its coronavirus outbreak.

Israel has reported over 11,500 cases and at least 116 deaths from the outbreak, which has paralyzed the economy and driven unemployment to record highs. Throughout three bitter campaigns, Gantz said he would never sit in a government led by Netanyahu as long as he faces corruption charges. But Gantz said the gravity of the coronavirus crisis had convinced him to change his position.

Each of the three elections has been a referendum on Netanyahu, who has portrayed himself as the consummate statesman while trying to play down the charges against him. Charged with accepting bribes, breach of trust and fraud, he has claimed to be a victim of a liberal media and judicial system out to get him.

The coronavirus crisis has provided the long-serving leader with a lifeline. He has helmed the country’s response, positioning himself as a capable, tested leader who has worked his international connections to steer Israel through the crisis. While Netanyahu came up short in previous rounds, that polished image could boost his fortunes in a fourth election.

Despite the heavy cost, Israel appears to be weathering the crisis better than many countries. If Gantz cannot clinch a deal this week, he does not have the backing of a majority of legislators. His public support is expected to dwindle in a fourth election, leaving the once formidable challenger to Netanyahu desperate to finalize a deal.

Netanyahu is backed by 59 lawmakers, leaving him two seats short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. If he cannot reach a deal with Gantz, he might try to lure defectors from other parties to secure a majority and avert elections.

Netanyahu gains strength as coalition deadline nears

April 12, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s president on Sunday rejected a request to extend coalition talks between the country’s two most powerful political parties — appearing to give a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pushing the nation toward an unprecedented fourth consecutive election in just over a year.

The decision by President Reuven Rivlin capped a stunning turnaround in fortunes of Netanyahu, who just a month ago was fighting for his political survival as he prepared to go on trial for corruption charges. His challenger, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, now faces an uphill struggle as he races to salvage a power-sharing deal with Netanyahu.

Rivlin last month gave Gantz the task of forming a new government, after a narrow majority of lawmakers endorsed him as prime minister in the wake of March 2 elections. With his parliamentary majority, Gantz began work on legislation that would have prevented Netanyahu from serving as prime minister in the future.

But in an abrupt about-face, Gantz accepted an invitation from Netanyahu to form an “national emergency” government to confront what was then a burgeoning coronavirus outbreak. Gantz froze the anti-Netanyahu legislation and accepted the post of parliament speaker as he began talks on a rotation agreement in which both men would serve as prime minister. The turnabout prompted Gantz’s main partner — the secular and middle-class Yesh Atid party — to bolt, causing his Blue and White alliance to disintegrate and leaving it at less than half its original strength.

In the meantime, unity talks with Netanyahu stalled, reportedly over issues that have little to do with the pandemic. Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu insisted on pushing ahead with his plans to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and demanded more influence over judicial appointments.

Claiming he was close to a deal, Gantz on Saturday asked Rivlin, who is responsible for choosing a prime minister-designate after elections, for a two-week extension. But on Sunday, Rivlin rejected the request, citing the “current circumstances.” He said he was giving both Gantz and Netanyahu until the original deadline, at midnight Monday, to reach a deal, and would consider giving them extra time only if both said they were close to agreement.

The looming deadline, along with the coronavirus crisis, has placed Netanyahu in a much stronger position. Citing restrictions on large gatherings due to health concerns, Netanyahu’s hand-picked justice minister last month all but shuttered the national court system, delaying the prime minister’s corruption trial until May and perhaps longer.

While Gantz now appears desperate for a deal, Netanyahu is riding a wave of popularity thanks to his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Israel has reported nearly 11,000 cases and over 100 dead, but appears to be weathering the crisis better than most countries.

This popularity could give Netanyahu the upper hand in last-minute negotiations with Gantz, or position him well for a future election. Late Sunday, the two rivals issued a joint statement saying they would not be giving any more media interviews “in an effort to advance negotiations toward forming a national unity government.”

If they fail, a new election isn’t guaranteed. Rivlin said he would first give the Knesset, or parliament, three weeks to endorse another candidate as prime minister. Netanyahu is likely to use that time to try to lure members from the other side or to reach a deal with a weakened Blue and White. After recruiting a defector from the opposing camp on Sunday, he has the backing of 59 lawmakers, two short of a majority. Gantz might also try to revive the anti-Netanyahu legislation, although it was unclear if he could do so.

Without a coalition deal, the country could be headed to elections — albeit with a much stronger Netanyahu and a much weaker opposition in place. Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said elections are still not a sure thing, but the odds are “dramatically increased.”

He said it was possible Netanyahu had tricked Gantz, a former military chief but a political novice, into dismantling the opposition, or perhaps Netanyahu sensed the new circumstances gave him a chance to seek re-election from a position of strength.

“It looks like Netanyahu backed off, or he never intended to go for that deal and it was just a trick in order to erode Gantz’s mandate,” Plesner said.

Virus fears bring tough new restrictions in Israel, Italy

March 09, 2020

SOAVE, Italy (AP) — The battle to halt the coronavirus brought new restrictions Monday, with Israel ordering all visitors quarantined just weeks before Passover and Easter, Italy shutting down its ski lifts and Ireland even canceling St. Patrick’s Day parades.

While many of Beijing’s white-collar workers returned to their jobs as new infections subsided in China, about 16 million people under a widespread lockdown in northern Italy struggled to navigate the new rules of their mass isolation.

Global oil prices suffered their worst percentage losses since the start of the 1991 Gulf War, and U.S. stocks dropped so quickly in the first few minutes after markets opened that it triggered a 15-minute halt in trading. At the Milan Stock Exchange, investors’ fears drove stocks down by 11 percent.

“Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The great advantage we have is the decisions we all make as governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals can influence the trajectory of this epidemic.”

More than 113,000 people have tested positive for the disease and over 3,900 people with the virus have died, most of them in China. More than 62,000 people have already recovered. But Italy’s struggles to halt the virus’ spread are emerging as a cautionary tale.

Inmates at more than two dozen Italian prisons rioted against restrictions on family visits and other containment measures, and six died after they broke into the infirmary and overdosed on anti-psychotic medicine.

Travelers at Milan’s main train station had to sign police forms self-certifying that they are traveling for “proven work needs,’’ situations of necessity, health reasons or to return home. They also needed to provide identity documents, contact numbers and an exact reason for travel from the financial hub.

Both Milan and the popular tourist city of Venice were among the places under the lockdown. Across Italy, museums and archaeological sites were closed, weddings were canceled and restaurants were told to keep patrons a meter (more than 3 feet) apart. Officials ordered ski lifts across the country to close, even those outside the quarantine zone, after students whose classes were canceled began organizing trips to winter resorts.

Italy reported a big jump in the number of people who have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to 9,172 cases and 463 deaths, more than any country except China. Pope Francis celebrated Mass alone at the Vatican hotel where he lives, live-streaming the event, but he did resume some meetings.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government has decided to quarantine anyone arriving from overseas for 14 days. The decision comes barely a month before Easter and Passover, typically a busy travel period.

In Ireland, officials canceled all St. Patrick’s Day parades in a bid to slow the virus’ spread, including the one on March 17 in Dublin that typically draws half a million to its streets. Trying to send a message of confidence in the economy, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife walked on Paris’ Champs-Elysees avenue but kept a one-meter security distance from passersby. “I’m shaking hands using my heart,” he said as he waved to people from a distance.

He called for a proportionate government response. “We cannot shut down the country but we need to protect the most fragile people,” he said. China’s slow re-emergence from weeks of extreme travel restrictions offered a grim sense of the longer-term effects the virus can have on a country’s economy.

“Our business is one-fifth of what it was before,” said Cheng Sheng, who helps run a stand in Beijing that sells sausages and noodles. “There’s much less foot traffic. There are no people.” Infections were reported in more than half the world’s countries, and flashpoints were erupting around the globe.

“We are working for valuable time, time in which scientists can research medicines and a vaccine” and in which governments can help stock up on protective equipment, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has reported over 1,100 cases and, as of Monday, its first two deaths.

In Iran, state television said the virus had killed another 43 people, pushing the official toll to 237, with 7,161 confirmed cases. But many fear the scope of illness is far wider there. In the United States, where more than 600 infections have been reported, the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland, California, after days idling at sea while dozens of those aboard were tested.

Fleets of buses and planes were ready to whisk the more than 2,000 passengers to military bases or their home countries for a 14-day quarantine. At least 21 people aboard have been confirmed to have the infection.

In Florida, passengers disembarked from the Regal Princess after it received clearance to dock. Two crew members eyed as possible carriers tested negative for the virus. The Caribbean Princess cruise ship, meanwhile, cut short a Fort Lauderdale-Mexico cruise because crew members had been on another ship where people were infected.

In Washington, the Capitol’s attending physician’s office said “several” members of Congress had contact with a person who attended a recent political conference and subsequently developed COVID-19. They “remain in good health,” the office said. Two members of Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Paul Gosar, said they are isolating themselves after determining they had contact with the person.

Countries showed a willingness to take tough steps to try to stop the virus’ spread. After earlier closing its land borders, Saudi Arabia cut off air and sea travel to and from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, South Korea, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. All Saudi schools and universities closed beginning Monday.

Qatar cut off travel to 15 countries and said it would shut down schools and universities beginning Tuesday. The Czech Republic banned visits to hospitals and retirement homes and began random checks on vehicles arriving at border crossings, including taking the temperatures of occupants.

Organizers of the annual Holocaust remembrance march in southern Poland postponed it this year due to coronavirus fears, and soccer authorities said at least four major matches — in France, Germany and Spain — would take place with no fans.

China reported 40 new cases of the virus, its lowest number since Jan. 20. More than three-quarters of the country’s surviving virus patients have been released from treatment. South Korea reported 165 more cases, bringing its total to 7,478.

Albania and Brunei announced their first cases of COVID-19, and the president of the Philippines declared a public health emergency.

Hinnant reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Matt Sedensky in Bangkok; Ken Moritsugu in Beijing; Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Maria Cheng and Carlo Piovano in London; Adam Geller in New York; Nicole Winfield in Rome; and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.

Trump peace plan delights Israelis, enrages Palestinians

January 29, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Mideast peace plan Tuesday alongside a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu, presenting a vision that matched the Israeli leader’s hard-line, nationalist views while falling far short of Palestinian ambitions.

Trump’s plan envisions a disjointed Palestinian state that turns over key parts of the West Bank to Israel. It sides with Israel on key contentious issues that have bedeviled past peace efforts, including borders and the status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements, and attaches nearly impossible conditions for granting the Palestinians their hoped-for state.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the plan as “nonsense” and vowed to resist it. Netanyahu called it a “historic breakthrough” equal in significance to the country’s declaration of independence in 1948.

“It’s a great plan for Israel. It’s a great plan for peace,” he said. He vowed to immediately press forward with his plans to annex the strategic Jordan Valley and all the Israeli settlements in occupied lands. Netanyahu said he’d ask his Cabinet to approve the annexation plans in their next meeting on Sunday, an explosive move that could trigger harsh international reaction and renewed violence with the Palestinians.

“This dictates once and for all the eastern border of Israel,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters later. “Israel is getting an immediate American recognition of Israeli sovereignty on all the settlements, without exceptions.”

Given the Palestinian opposition, the plan seems unlikely to lead to any significant breakthrough. But it could give a powerful boost to both Trump and Netanyahu who are both facing legal problems ahead of tough elections.

Trump called his plan a “win-win” for both Israel and the Palestinians, and urged the Palestinians not to miss their opportunity for independence. But Abbas, who accuses the U.S. of unfair bias toward Israel, rejected it out of hand.

“We say 1,000 no’s to the Deal of the Century,” Abbas said, using a nickname for Trump’s proposal. “We will not kneel and we will not surrender,” he said, adding that the Palestinians would resist the plan through “peaceful, popular means.”

The plan comes amid Trump’s impeachment trial and on a U.S. election year, and after Netanyahu was indicted on counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases. The longtime Israeli leader, who denies any wrongdoing, also faces a March 2 parliamentary election, Israel’s third in less than a year. He hopes to use the plan, and his close ties with Trump, to divert attention from his legal troubles.

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for an independent state and the removal of many of the more than 700,000 Israeli settlers from these areas.

But as details emerged, it became clear that the plan sides heavily with Netanyahu’s hard-line nationalist vision for the region and shunts aside many of the Palestinians’ core demands. Under the terms of the “peace vision” that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working on for nearly three years, all settlers would remain in place, and Israel would retain sovereignty over all of its settlements as well as the strategic Jordan Valley.

“The Israeli military will continue to control the entire territory,” Netanyahu said. “No one will be uprooted from their home.” The proposed Palestinian state would also include more than a dozen Israeli “enclaves” with the entity’s borders monitored by Israel. It would be demilitarized and give Israel overall security control. In addition, the areas of east Jerusalem offered to the Palestinians consist of poor, crowded neighborhoods located behind a hulking concrete separation barrier.

Trump acknowledged that he has done a lot for Israel, but he said he wanted the deal to be a “great deal for the Palestinians.” The plan would give the Palestinians limited control over an estimated 70% of the West Bank, nearly double the amount where they currently have limited self-rule. Trump said it would give them time needed to meet the challenges of statehood.

The only concession the plan appears to demand of Israel is a four-year freeze on the establishment of new Israeli settlements in certain areas of the West Bank. But Netanyahu clarified later that this only applied to areas where there are no settlements and Israel has no immediate plans to annex, and that he considered the plan to impose no limitations on construction.

Thousands of Palestinians protested in Gaza City ahead of the announcement, burning pictures of Trump and Netanyahu and raising a banner reading “Palestine is not for sale.” Trump said he sent a letter to Abbas to tell him that the territory that the plan has set aside for a new Palestinian state will remain open and undeveloped for four years.

“It’s going to work,” Trump said, as he presented the plan at a White House ceremony filled with Israeli officials and allies, including evangelical Christian leaders and wealthy Republican donors. Representatives from the Arab countries of Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates were present, but there were no Palestinian representatives.

“President Abbas, I want you to know, that if you chose the path to peace, America and many other countries … we will be there to help you in so many different ways,” he said. “And we will be there every step of the way.”

The 50-page plan builds on a 30-page economic plan for the West Bank and Gaza that was unveiled last June and which the Palestinians have also rejected. It envisions a future Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, connected by a combination of roads and tunnels. It also would give small areas of southern Israel to the Palestinians as compensation for lost West Bank land.

But the many caveats, and ultimate overall Israeli control, made the deal a nonstarter for the Palestinians. Netanyahu and his main political challenger in March elections, Benny Gantz, had signed off on the plan.

“Mr. President, because of this historic recognition and because I believe your peace plan strikes the right balance where other plans have failed,” Netanyahu said. “I’ve agreed to negotiate peace with the Palestinians on the basis of your peace plan.

The Jordan Valley annexation is a big part of Netanyahu’s strategy and a key promise meant to appeal to his hard-line nationalist base, which mostly applauded the Trump plan. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the plan’s release, said they expected negative responses from the Palestinians, but were hopeful that Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab nations to have peace treaties with Israel, would not reject it outright.

Jordan gave the plan a cool reaction, saying it remained committed to a two-state solution based on Israel’s pre-1967 lines. It also said it rejected any unilateral move by Israel, referring to the annexation plan.

The reaction of Jordan, which would retain its responsibilities over Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque under the plan, is particularly significant. Located next to the West Bank, Jordan also is home to a large Palestinian population.

Egypt, the first Arab country to reach a peace deal with Israel, urged Israelis and Palestinians to carefully study the plan. The European Union also said it needed to study it more closely. Saudi Arabia, another key Arab country, said it appreciated the Trump administration’s efforts and encouraged the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians “under the auspices of the United States.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the United Nations supports two states living in peace and security within recognized borders, on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, according to his spokesman.

The Palestinians see the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state and east Jerusalem as their capital. Most of the international community supports their position, but Trump has reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by siding more blatantly with Israel. The centerpiece of his strategy was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American Embassy there. He’s also closed Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington and cut funding to Palestinian aid programs.

Those policies have proven popular among Trump’s evangelical and pro-Israel supporters. But the Palestinians refuse to even speak to Trump and they called on support from Arab leaders.

Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed.

World leaders rally in Jerusalem against anti-Semitism

January 23, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) — Dozens of world leaders descended upon Jerusalem on Thursday for the largest-ever gathering focused on commemorating the Holocaust and combating modern-day anti-Semitism. Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Prince Charles, Vice President Mike Pence and the presidents of Germany, Italy and Austria were among the more than 40 dignitaries attending the World Holocaust Forum, which coincides with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

Pence and Putin arrived Thursday morning within less than an hour of each other and both were scheduled to meet Israeli leaders before and after the main event. The three-hour-long event at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial — called “Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism” — looks to project a united front in commemorating the genocide of European Jewry amid a global spike in anti-Jewish violence in the continent and around the world.

But the unresolved remnants of World War II’s politics have permeated the solemn assembly over the differing historical narratives of various players. Poland’s president, who’s been criticized for his own wartime revisionism, has boycotted the gathering since he wasn’t invited to speak while Putin was granted a central role even as he leads a campaign to play down the Soviet Union’s pre-war pact with the Nazis and shift responsibility for the war’s outbreak on Poland, which was invaded in 1939 to start the fighting.

On the eve of the gathering, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin implored world leaders assembled for a dinner at his official residence to “leave history for the historians.” “The role of political leaders, of all of us, is to shape the future,” he said.

The event marks one of the largest political gatherings in Israeli history, as a cascade of delegations including European presidents, prime ministers and royals, as well as American, Canadian and Australian representatives, arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport. More than 10,000 police officers were deployed in Jerusalem and major highways and large parts of the city were shut down ahead of the event.

For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu it offered another opportunity to solidify Israel’s diplomatic standing and boost his profile as he seeks re-election on March 2. He was hoping to use his meetings with world leaders to bolster his tough line toward Iran and rally opposition to a looming war crimes case against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

“Iran openly declares every day that it wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth,” he told Christian broadcaster TBN. “I think the lesson of Auschwitz is, one, stop bad things when they’re small … and, second, understand that the Jews will never ever again be defenseless in the face of those who want to destroy them.”

For historians, though, the main message is one of education amid growing signs of ignorance and indifference to the Holocaust. A comprehensive survey released this week by the Claims Conference, a Jewish organization responsible for negotiating compensation for victims of Nazi persecution, found that most people in France did not know that 6 million Jews were killed during World War II. Among millennials, 45% said they were unaware of French collaboration with the Nazi regime and 25% said they weren’t even sure they had heard of the Holocaust.

The World Holocaust Forum is the brainchild of Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, an umbrella group representing Jewish communities across Europe. The group recently reported that 80% of European Jews feel unsafe in the continent.

Kantor established the World Holocaust Forum Foundation in 2005 and it has held forums before in Auschwitz, the Ukrainian killing fields of Babi Yar and at the former concentration camp Terezin. Thursday’s event is the first time it is convening in Israel. The official commemoration marking the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation will be held next week at the site itself in southern Poland.

Organizers of the Jerusalem event have come under criticism for not sufficiently including Holocaust survivors and instead focusing on the panoply of visiting dignitaries. In response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted on Thursday that his delegation was giving up its seats to allow more survivors to attend.

Simmy Allen, a spokesman for Yad Vashem, said “some 100” survivors were expected among the 780 attendees. “Of course we would like as may Holocaust survivors as possible to attend, but we’re also dealing with 48 delegations from all around the world,” he said.

The gathering comes amid an uptick in anti-Semitic violence. Tel Aviv University researchers reported last year that violent attacks against Jews grew significantly in 2018, with the largest reported number of Jews killed in anti-Semitic acts in decades. They recorded 400 cases, with the spike most dramatic in western Europe. In Germany, for instance, there was a 70% increase in anti-Semitic violence. In addition to the shooting attacks, assaults and vandalism, the research also noted increased anti-Semitic vitriol online and in newspapers, as extremist political parties grew in power in several countries.

In advance of the forum, an anthology of statements from world leaders sending delegations to Jerusalem was published to project a newfound commitment to quelling a climate some said was reminiscent of that before World War II.

“I express my fervent hope that by continued vigilance and positive education, the iniquities perpetrated during one of the darkest periods in our history will be eliminated from the face of the earth,” Pope Francis wrote.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau specifically mentioned “the scourge of antisemitism and hatred that is becoming all too common once again.” “The murder of six million Jews by the brutal and antisemitic Nazi regime started with a slow erosion of rights, and the normalization of discrimination,” he wrote. “We cannot permit the passage of time to diminish our resolve never to allow such horrors to happen again.”

Greece, Israel, Cyprus sign deal for EastMed gas pipeline

January 02, 2020

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece, Israel and Cyprus signed a deal Thursday to build an undersea pipeline to carry gas from new offshore deposits in the southeastern Mediterranean to continental Europe. The 1,900-kilometer (1,300-mile) EastMed pipeline is intended to provide an alternative gas source for energy-hungry Europe, which is largely dependent on supplies from Russia and the Caucasus region.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who attended the signing ceremony with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, said the pipeline will offer Europe “better flexibility and independence in its energy sources.”

The pipeline would run from Israel’s Levantine Basin offshore gas reserves to Cyprus, the Greek island of Crete and the Greek mainland. An overland pipeline to northwestern Greece and another planned undersea pipeline would carry the gas to Italy.

The project could also accommodate future gas finds in waters off Cyprus and Greece, where exploration is under way. The project, with a rough budget of $6 billion, is expected to satisfy about 10% of the European Union’s natural gas needs. But it is fraught with political and logistical complexities.

The race to claim offshore energy deposits in the southern Mediterranean has created new tensions between Greece and Cyprus, on one side, and historic rival Turkey. Ankara has raised the stakes with recent moves to explore waters controlled by the two EU member countries. Cyprus and Greece are particularly disturbed because Turkey sent warship-escorted drill ships into waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.

Cyprus’ Anastasiades said the pipeline affirms that Greece and Cyprus have sovereign rights in waters assigned to them under international law. “This cooperation that we have developed … isn’t directed against any third country,” he said. “On the contrary, whichever country wishes is welcome to join, on the understanding of course that it adopts the basic principles of international law and fully respects the sovereign rights and the territorial integrity of independent states.”

Alluding to Turkey’s stance, Anastasiades said cooperation is the only approach in an unstable region instead of embarking on a course of “self-isolation.” Netanyahu said Israel is set to become a “powerhouse in terms of energy” with its offshore gas reserves. He added that the three countries have established ”an alliance of great importance” that will bolster regional stability.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has said the EastMed pipeline would take up to seven years to build and that its advantages include being less vulnerable to sabotage and not crossing many national borders to reach markets.

Cyprus is divided into a Greek Cypriot south, where the island nation’s internationally recognized government is located, and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north backed by Turkey. The split followed a 1974 Turkish invasion after an aborted coup aiming to bring Cyprus under Greek rule.

Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state and claims much of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone as falling within its own continental shelf. Turkey is also laying claim to large tracts under Greek control in the Aegean Sea and off Crete. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said no project can proceed without his country’s consent following a maritime border agreement that Ankara signed with the Libya’s Tripoli-based government.

The Cypriot government has licensed Italian energy company Eni, France’s Total, ExxonMobil and Texas-based Noble Energy to carry out exploratory hydrocarbons drilling in the country’s offshore economic zone.

Hadjicostis contributed from Nicosia, Cyprus.

Israel’s Netanyahu shores up base but obstacles remain

December 27, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shored up his base with a landslide primary victory announced early Friday, but he will need a big win in national elections in March if he hopes to stay in office and gain immunity from prosecution on corruption charges.

Netanyahu handily defeated Gideon Saar, a former aide and Cabinet minister, in a Likud party primary held Thursday, winning 72% of the vote. “This is the time to unite, to bring a sweeping victory to the Likud and the right in the Knesset elections,” Netanyahu told reporters Friday. “The final and sweeping primary decision was a huge expression of trust in my way, in our way.”

Only around half the party’s 116,000 registered members turned out to vote, in part because of stormy weather. They represent the most faithful members of a party defined by fierce loyalty, which has only had four leaders since it was founded in the 1970s.

Netanyahu faces a much greater challenge in March — the third vote in less than a year — after failing to form a government in the last two elections, held in April and September. This time around the stakes are much higher. Netanyahu was indicted last month on serious charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His best hope of escaping prosecution is to gain a 61-seat majority in parliament that is willing to grant him immunity.

“A candidate for prime minister who is under indictment and requests immunity for himself is something we’ve never had,” Yossi Verter wrote in the Haaretz newspaper. “It’s hard to see how he, with all his sophisticated campaigning abilities, can make this situation work in his favor.”

The September vote left Netanyahu’s Likud in a virtual tie with the centrist Blue and White party led by former army chief of staff Benny Gantz. Neither was able to form a majority with their natural allies, and they were unable to form a national unity government in part because Blue and White refused to accept an indicted prime minister.

Polls indicate the March vote would produce a similar outcome, rounding out more than a year of uncertainty in which Netanyahu has led a caretaker government. “It appears that the defendant Netanyahu, who is leading the State of Israel down a path of corruption, will continue to lead Likud,” Gantz said in a statement. “Blue and White must achieve a decisive outcome that will extricate us from both political deadlock and a path of corruption.”

The Supreme Court is meanwhile set to meet next week to consider whether an indicted member of parliament is eligible to become prime minister. It’s unclear when a ruling would be handed down, but if the court finds Netanyahu ineligible it could precipitate a constitutional crisis.

Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the court is likely to defer any ruling, potentially even until after the elections. “They understand that if he wins big tonight and they turn around and say he cannot be prime minister, then although they’ve done their job, which is to make the right legal decision, that they will be in political turmoil that could rip the elections apart,” Hazan said Thursday, before the primary results were announced.

Netanyahu is already Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and has cultivated the image of a veteran statesman with close personal ties to President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders.

His refusal over the last decade to make any concessions to the Palestinians was rewarded after Trump took office, as the U.S. began openly siding with Israel on several key issues. Netanyahu’s hard-line stance on Iran has also proved popular. He was a staunch opponent of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which has unraveled since Trump withdrew from the agreement. A wave of Israeli strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq in recent years has burnished Netanyahu’s claims to having protected Israel from its enemies.

His fortunes have nevertheless waned over the past year. His party came in second place in September’s elections, and two months later he was indicted on allegations of trading legislative and regulatory favors for lavish gifts and favorable media coverage.

Netanyahu has dismissed the indictment as an “attempted coup” by hostile media and law enforcement and has vowed to battle the charges from the prime minister’s office. The political uncertainty has led the Trump administration to delay the release of its long-anticipated Mideast peace plan.

The Palestinians have already rejected the plan, saying the administration is marching in lockstep with Israel’s right-wing government. They point to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to cut off virtually all aid to the Palestinians and to reverse longstanding opposition to Jewish settlements in annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Netanyahu has meanwhile said that Israel is on the cusp of securing U.S. support for the annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank — but only if he remains in power. That would all but extinguish the Palestinians’ hope of one day establishing an independent state while cementing Netanyahu’s legacy as a transformative leader.

In recent weeks, Netanyahu shifted away from the divisiveness of his previous campaigns and appeared rejuvenated as he met face-to-face with Likud supporters during a packed schedule of public events. He has long been seen as a political magician, and the new approach could allow him to pull off yet another comeback.

“One might say that Netanyahu seems reinvigorated and rejuvenated both for the election fight in March and the struggle against those corruption charges. Except that, in essence, they are two sides of the same coin,” David Horovitz, the founding editor of the Times of Israel, wrote. “If he wins in March, he may have the political power to fend off those court cases as well with an immunity bid. If he loses, of course, even Likud may not again be so forgiving.”

Israeli PM evacuated from rally after rocket fired from Gaza

December 26, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip into its southern territory Wednesday, forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be hustled from a stage during an election rally in the city of Ashkelon.

The Israeli military said its air defense system, known as Iron Dome, intercepted the rocket. There were no reports of casualties. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz posted a video on its website showing Netanyahu being taken to a shelter as he was campaigning hours before the primaries of his Likud party. The video showed Netanyahu and his wife slowly walking off the stage with security guards after sirens went off.

Early Thursday, Israeli fighter jets and helicopters carried out multiple strikes at three military bases for Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, according to witnesses in Gaza. No casualties were reported as the sites have been empty.

There was no immediate comment from Israel’s military. Netanyahu says he knows how to protect Israel, but opponents accuse him of being soft on handling threats from Gaza. Gideon Saar, Netanyahu’s challenger in Thursday elections, called in a Twitter statement for a “broad national consensus for dismantling the military infrastructure” of Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

A similar incident happened in September when Netanyahu was in the nearby city of Ashdod. He was campaigning then for the second general Israeli election of the year. That was believed to have triggered Israel’s targeted killing of a senior commander in the Islamic Jihad in November. Israel and Gaza militants had their worst round of fighting in months as a result.

No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. Such sporadic launches of rockets and ensuing Israeli airstrikes have happened frequently despite an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that ended two days of fighting in November.

Hamas seeks “understandings” with Israel to alleviate Gaza’s economic and humanitarian crises. The militant group stayed on the sidelines during the November flare-up.