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TThe Results of Israeli Election Are In Bibi Lost - History

TThe Results of Israeli Election Are In Bibi Lost - History

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IFinal results of Israel’s fourth consecutive election are now in … and once again, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his bloc failed to reach 61 seats, the magic number needed to form a governing coalition. The chairs on our “Titanic-like” political system have been slightly rearranged, but, alas, nothing has happened to change our course, or even indicate which way— if any — the ship of state is about to turn.

For the next two months, there will be Herculean attempts to form a government by both Netanyahu, and an agreed leader of the opposition. Netanyahu can only count on 52 confirmed supporters. To form a coalition Netanyahu must simultaneously gain support from the Islamic Ra’am party, while maintaining the backing of the National Religious Party, (elements of which are racist, ultra-Nationalists), who have already declared that such a marriage, in any form, is a non-starter. Netanyahu opponents need the support of at least one of the Arab Israeli parties, support that once had been a non-starter for some opposition parties, as well. However, with Netanyahu's faithful publicly professing their stamp of approval for such a government, if led by the Likud, new horizons have opened.

As the two before it, our need for a fourth election was caused by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been indicted, and whose trial on corruption charges is about to begin. This time around, the election was called for after Netanyahu failed to honor his coalition agreement with Benny Gantz, which included a rotation of the Prime Ministership halfway through the term of the agreement. It seems Netanyahu had no intention of honoring the agreement, and took advantage of a technical loophole in the deal that allowed him to remain interim Prime Minister, should the government fall over a technicality — In this case, Netanyahu resorted to a self-inflicted technicality, i.e., failure to pass a national budget. Not only did the government fail to pass a budget, but under Netanyahu’s directive, Finance Minister and Netanyahu loyalist Yisrael Katz did not even present a budget; thereby ensuring the government would fall and new elections would be called.

Netanyahu ran a multi-dimensional campaign, with four main goals. 1) Divide his primary opponents, and push one or two of them below the minimum electoral threshold needed to enter the Knesset, thus invalidating the ballots of those who voted for them. 2) Weaken the Arab Israel parties. 3) Ensure the parties on the far-right-wing united, so as not to lose any right-wing votes, and finally, 4) Convince Israelis that because he had successfully purchased vaccines for the whole country, he had done an excellent job of ending the Covid crisis, despite the many mistakes that had been made.

The opposition had two messages. First, that Netanyahu, despite doing an exceptional job bringing COVID-19 vaccines, the Prime Minister did a terrible job managing this crisis. As a sub-theme, Netanyahu’s dependency on the ultra-Orthodox led to his failure to enforce COVID regulations in that sector; being responsible in part for his inability to control the virus effectively. Second, most of the opposition highlighted the fact Netanyahu was about to stand trial for corruption, and their steadfastbelief that someone amidst a corruption trial should not be entrusted to run the country.

Netanyahu did a superb job ensuring no votes on the far right-wing were wasted. He engineered the joint run of three of the most outlying right-wing parties, engineering their victory and providing a seal of approval to homophobic parties, to a leader who was a follower of Meir Kahane and who kept a portrait of the Jewish terrorist who murdered Arabs in the Hebron mosque in his living room. For his short-term political gain, Netanyahu placed a permanent stain on the Israeli government, and perhaps ironically, blocked his one path to remain Prime Minister— as the National Religious party (with six seats) have unequivocally ruled out a coalition supported by the Arab Ra’am party, even indirectly.

Netanyahu also succeeded in his campaign to weaken the Arab voter turnout. First, the Prime Minister engaged in a romance with the Islamic Ra’am party leader, which resulted in them breaking from the Arab Joint List. Ra’am ran on a clear agenda of becoming a player in the next Israeli government, by offering their support to whoever would most help the Arab citizens. In addition, Netanyahu campaigned in Arab Israeli towns, pretending he had support there. As a result, turnout in the Arab Israeli sector was down, and the two Arab lists received a combined ten votes, down from the 15 seats earned by the full Joint List in the last election.

Moreover, Netanyahu was successful in dividing his opponents. Instead of two main political parties opposing him (as happened in the first three rounds); this time there were five parties to split the vote, and potentially fall below the electoral threshold for entering the Knesset. However, all of the smaller opposition parties made it in, but, (with the exception of the Arab parties) their total number of mandates were greater than when they had been combined. If one of the parties had failed to reach the minimum, Netanyahu would have been the hands-down winner. It was a sound plan, but it failed.

Finally, Netanyahu ran an extremely energetic campaign. He was the first to hold political rallies as the country emerged from lockdown. His public campaign was centered on the theme that the country was “returning to normal” thanks to the vaccines he supplied. Reality and timing certainly worked in Netanyahu’s favor — as magically, the week before the elections, almost all the Covid restrictions were removed. However, this time, thanks to the fact that over 50% of the population and nearly 80% of the adult population has been vaccinated, the number of Covid cases keeps dropping. There is no doubt that this helped Netanyahu. Although Israelis are renowned for their short political memory, opening of the economy only one week before the election appeared as a move too cynical for even the usually jaded Israelis. As a result, in the cities considered Likud strongholds, voting was down 6.6% from the last year’s election, compared to a nationwide average drop of 4.5%. Many Likud voters just stayed home.

So now, there are three possibilities …

The least likely is that Netanyahu manages to form a government with the support of the Arab Raam Party, despite the statement of his National Religious partners. Politics do indeed make strange bedfellows, yet, this may be a bridge just too far.

The second possibility is that, despite their wide ideological gaps, the opponents manage to unite and form a government with the support of one or both Arab parties. It is not clear who would be the leader in such a government, but it could potentially be, in no particular order: Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennet, Benny Gantz, or Gideon Saar. If that happens, historians will write one positive thing that emerged from Israel's two years of continuous elections, i.e., the final integration of Arab Israeli parties into the mainstream of Israeli politics.

There is, of course, another genuine option — that of a dreaded fifth election. It is undoubtedly a real possibility that no one will be able to form a government. If that were to happen, the next election would in all likelihood take place in November, and by election day Benny Gantz will be Prime Minister, based on the signed agreement that formed the current government.

It should be noted that the evidentiary part of Prime Minister Netanyahu's trial begins in 10 days. Three days a week, the prosecution will present their evidence against Netanyahu, and according to the law, Netanyahu will have to be in the courtroom for those days.

Historians of this chapter in Israel’s history will wonder how a Prime Minister who failed in four election campaigns, and was under indictment for a myriad of corruption charges maintain his party's support. The answer might be found in the response of one senior Likud Minister a few days before the elections to the quest of how Netanyahu could keep on going, despite all the challenges. The minister replied, “When God wants you to lead the Jewish people, you have no choice.” To many, Netanyahu has become a god-like figure. To most, however, based on the election result, he is a politician who may have done notable good, but whose expiration point has passed. The next three months will determine whose view is correct.

Share All sharing options for: Israeli democracy is rotting from the inside

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the campaign. Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israel’s 2019 election results are in, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is all but certain to stay in office for a record fifth term. The consequences of his victory for both Israelis and Palestinians could very well be catastrophic.

The past several years of Netanyahu’s time in office have been characterized by drift in two illiberal, anti-democratic directions.

The prime minister has tried to buy off the independent media, further marginalized Israel’s Arab minority, and gone after civil society groups critical of his policies. Some of this behavior was, according to Israel’s attorney general, actively criminal Netanyahu is likely to be indicted in the coming months but is expected to try to pass a law shielding himself from prosecution while in office.

In essence, this apparent victory could allow Netanyahu to continue his scorched-earth campaign to maintain power at all costs — up to and including doing serious harm to the foundations of Israeli democracy.

It has also become obvious that he has no interest in a negotiated solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, and seems content to indefinitely occupy Palestinian land without concern for the harm the occupation does to the Palestinians. At the end of the 2019 campaign, Netanyahu vowed to take this further and begin annexing West Bank settlements — a move toward permanent occupation and, ultimately, apartheid.

These two axes of authoritarianism — weakening Israel’s democratic institutions while perpetuating rule over the Palestinians without granting them political rights — are connected. The conflict with the Palestinians has destroyed Israel’s left and empowered a seemingly ever-more-radical right. In Netanyahu’s fifth term, this connection could become even more explicit: Experts on Israeli politics are concerned he might support a more concrete annexation plan as part of a Faustian bargain for the extreme right’s support in his quest for immunity from prosecution.

Israel has survived existential threats before, including two invasions that nearly wiped out the young Jewish state. Yet the threat to Israeli democracy today is not external, but rather of Israelis’ own making — a long-running illness that could soon turn acute.

The threat to democracy

If Netanyahu is still in office by the summer, which seems extremely likely, he will become the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history — passing David Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, who has often been referred to as Israel’s George Washington. But if Ben-Gurion is remembered as the midwife of Israeli democracy, Netanyahu could be remembered as its gravedigger.

Under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel passed a law declaring that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” — an exclusive vision of national identity that excludes Arabs and other non-Jewish minorities. It passed a law aimed at silencing NGOs that monitored the Israeli military’s human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories, and passed a law removing a significant check on the prime minister’s power to take the country to war.

Perhaps the single most worrying example of authoritarian drift in Israel is Netanyahu’s efforts to suborn the media.

One of the hallmarks of democratic backsliding is the government exerting control over independent media outlets — as a compliant media allows the government to get away with other kinds of wrongdoing. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has either gotten cronies to buy up independent media outlets or pressured other publications into shutting down through punitive tax policies. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a less subtle route, jailing journalists and seizing control of independent newspapers.

Two of the legal cases against Netanyahu, known as Case 2000 and Case 4000, allege that he has attempted a smaller-scale version of these anti-media actions.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu allegedly attempted to strike a deal with the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest newspaper: He would pass a law limiting circulation of one of its rivals, the already pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage in the Netanyahu-skeptical Yedioth.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu allegedly manipulated regulatory powers in order to benefit Bezeq, a major Israeli company. In exchange, the Bezeq-owned news organization Walla gave the prime minister more favorable coverage. Unlike Case 2000, this apparently went beyond the conspiracy stage, with Netanyahu trading regulations for good press over a five-year period.

These attempts to manipulate the media, Israeli observers warned, were a clear and present danger to their democracy.

“What many of the allegations against Netanyahu point to is a systematic attempt to skew media coverage of the prime minister in his favor. And this is no piffling matter,” writes eminent Israeli journalist David Horovitz. “If a leader can line up most or even many of the ostensibly competing media organizations that cover national events reliably on his side, he can subvert their role as independent watchdog, misdirect the reading and watching public, and advance a long way toward cementing his position as prime minister — his non-term-limited position as prime minister in Israel.”

Israeli protesters opposed to the “nation-state” law last August. Amir Levy/Getty Images

Earlier this year, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced plans to go after Netanyahu on bribery and “breach of trust” charges for these media conspiracies, and will formally indict him pending a hearing. Unlike in Hungary and Turkey, where would-be authoritarian leaders managed to cement control over the media, the Israeli legal system is treating Netanyahu’s ability to do the same as a crime.

But Netanyahu has been framing the election as a referendum on his fitness for office. If he wins, the logic goes, indicting him and forcing him out would be a way of overturning the people’s just-expressed will. Hence the justification for the immunity bill, which he is almost certain to pursue as a top priority.

The brazenness of Netanyahu’s argument — that it would be undemocratic to prosecute him for his efforts to undermine Israeli democracy — is matched only by its danger. While some of the prime minister’s allies in the Knesset have expressed opposition to an immunity law, it’s best not to underestimate Netanyahu’s ability to convince them otherwise. He’s a canny politician who cares first and foremost about survival and will do whatever he can to undermine the legal case against him.

If passed, an immunity law would represent a double blow to Israeli democracy: both legitimizing the prime minister’s efforts to neuter the media and blocking an independent check on wrongdoing by the premier. It would not yet put Israel in the company of faux-democracies like Hungary and Turkey, but it would push the country in that direction — continuing Israel’s slide down what feels like a very slippery undemocratic slope.

Netanyahu’s dangerous annexation pledge

The Saturday before the election, Netanyahu went on Israel’s Channel 12 to make the case for his election. He promised something astonishing: that he would annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“I will impose sovereignty, but I will not distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements,” he said, per an Associated Press translation. “From my perspective, any point of settlement is Israeli, and we have responsibility, as the Israeli government. I will not uproot anyone, and I will not transfer sovereignty to the Palestinians.”

Annexation of any West Bank territory would be a renunciation of the premise behind the two-state solution, that the final status of all West Bank land would be determined by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations rather than Israel unilaterally. Even if he only annexed a handful of settlement blocs near the border that would likely go to Israel in any peace deal, it would still dash the already slim hopes of an agreement in the foreseeable future.

But annexation on the scale Netanyahu seemed to be suggesting here would render a Palestinian state essentially impossible. The “isolated settlements” dot the West Bank in such a way that annexing them to Israel would cut off Palestinian population centers from each other, essentially turning them into the holes in Swiss cheese. A Palestinian state would be impossible under these conditions Israel would in effect be asserting permanent control over Palestinian territory without granting the Palestinians basic rights like the ability to vote in Israeli elections.

You would have an Israel that ruled Palestinians permanently as a separate, legally inferior population, practically the dictionary definition of apartheid. No serious person could consider Israel a liberal democracy — or a democracy of any kind — if this were the way its political system worked.

Netanyahu’s annexation proposal should have destroyed his campaign in a just world. But Israeli public opinion has drifted so far to the right in the past roughly two decades that it in all likelihood helped him.

A protest along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

Labor, the center-left party that dominated Israeli politics for most of its early existence, was decimated in this election — winning a scant six seats in the Knesset out of a total of 120. After the failure of the peace process and the subsequent violence of the Second Intifada, Israelis lost faith in a two-state solution and are increasingly punishing parties associated with it and elevating ones that threaten to torpedo it.

Now the question is this: Just how serious is Netanyahu about turning this threat into a reality?

That’s very difficult to say. It’s possible he was just posturing, trying to win over right-wing voters in the end stages of the election. We have to hope that’s the case. But there are two reasons to believe it might not be.

First, President Donald Trump has pursued what’s best described as a “blank check” policy toward Israel. Trump took a hardline pro-Netanyahu stance during every flare-up with the Palestinians and has done quite a bit to bolster Netanyahu politically. He moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem and, just before the election, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights — both signs that Trump is fine with Israeli territorial maximalism. Netanyahu likely believes that with this president, he can get away with murdering the two-state solution (in fact, some believe he already has).

Second, Netanyahu may have strong political incentives to conduct at least a limited annexation. More than anything, he wants to stay out of jail — and his coalition partners know it. He needs their votes for an immunity bill, and they can demand a steep price in exchange for it. The extremist United Right party might very well condition their support on Netanyahu annexing some settlements to Israel.

If that comes to pass, it would be an utter catastrophe for Israeli democracy. The prime minister would simultaneously be dismantling checks on his power within its recognized borders and moving Israel towards apartheid outside of them. The world’s only Jewish democracy would be in mortal peril.

This, ultimately, is what this election means. It is not merely a narrow victory for a legally embattled incumbent — but rather a signal that Israeli democracy is about to enter a period of acute crisis.

It’s very possible, maybe even likely, that it survives this crisis. Maybe the immunity bill fails and Netanyahu backs away from his annexation promise. Maybe Netanyahu’s indictment breaks his government and another one — one more open to a truly democratic vision of Israeli society — takes its place. Maybe.

But then again, maybe not. The forces that have pushed Israel in this dark direction are deep and fundamental, the result of Israel’s particular historical traumas and political institutions. Even if Netanyahu’s remaining time in office proves to be short-lived, the threats to Israel’s democratic survival likely will not.

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LIVE: Israeli Election Results 2019 (Update: Did Bibi Pull it off Again?)

Exit polls indicate a tight race between PM Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Benny Gantz/Yair Lapid led Blue and White list.

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This is a live post and will be updated periodically. You’ll find most recent updates up top with older news beneath.

Despite earlier exit polls showing a narrow victory for the Gantz/Lapid-led Blue and White list, later exit polls show a narrow victory for Likud, making it more likely that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be asked to form the next Israeli government. It would be his fourth consecutive electoral win and fifth overall. It would also make it likely that Netanyahu would emerge as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister later this year.

The Jerusalem Post reported:

Netanyahu claimed victory, because his Right-Center bloc won handily over Gantz’s Center-Left bloc in polls broadcast on Channel 13 and KAN, 66 to 54 and 64 to 56, respectively. In Channel 12’s poll, the blocs were even at 60 seats.

“The right-wing bloc led by Likud clearly won,” Netanyahu said. “I thank Israeli citizens for their trust. I will begin forming a right-wing government with our natural partners already tonight.”

However, challenger Benny Gantz, basing himself on earlier polls also declared victory:

“We won!” Gantz and his number two Yair Lapid said in a joint statement. “The Israeli public has had their say! Thank you to the thousands of activists and over a million voters. These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser. Netanyahu promised 40 seats and lost. The president can see the picture and should call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option!”

Shas, United Torah Judaism, Kulanu, and the Union of Right-Wing Parties all announced that they would recommend Netanyahu for prime minister when the parties who will be represented in the next Knesset meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to determine who will form the next government. The Labor Party and Meretz will recommend Gantz.

A couple of Israeli channels are projecting seats based on sampling vote counts so far and both have found Likud now with a slight advantage over Blue and White.

Channels 12 and 13 are both projecting Likud to get 35 seats to Blue and White’s 34.

In addition, Moshe Kahlon, who leads the Kulanu party that broke off from Likud, has now said that he will support Netanyahu for Prime Minister. (After the votes are tallied, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin will summon all the parties to discuss the results of the vote and will ask each party which candidate it will support for prime minister. If any party leader gets more than 60 recommendations, Rivlin will choose him to get first crack at forming the new government.)

This is all but game, set and match. Gantz needed Kahlon. As things stand, would be near impossible for him to form coalition, where as path for Netanyahu looking far more comfortable. #IsraelElections2019

&mdash Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) April 9, 2019

Counting of the ballots is taking place here.

i24 news anchor Eylon Levy is tracking the results in English. His most recent tally (4:44 PM EDT) is here.

Initial exit polls indicate a narrow Blue and White victory over Likud 37 – 36. Labour and Shas have 7 each. The New Right Party of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked surprisingly may not have made the threshhold of 4 seats.

Given these results, @netanyahu would most likely continue as PM with a stronger Right bloc. #IsraelElections2019

&mdash Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) April 9, 2019

Here are the three major exit polls.

WILD differences between exit polls
Channel 11: 56 centre left, 64 right
Channel 12: 60 centre left, 60 right
Channel 13: 54 centre-left, 66 right#IsraelElections2019

&mdash Eylon Levy (@EylonALevy) April 9, 2019

The JNS analysts are pointing out that the exit polls may not take into account the last two hours of voting and that the army votes &mdash which trends to the right &mdash are not taken into account in the exit polling.

The consensus is that Netanyahu has the clearer path to the premiership. There also is some talk about a national unity government between Blue and White and Likud. That would result in a national unity government and (I think) possibly a rotating premiership.

Is this a surprise, Gantz said that Blue and White is set to make history and Likud says that the rumors right now are “not good.”

With five minutes to go, here’s a tease.

With one hour to go before we will get the results of the exit polls. Stay tuned, we plan to have them as soon as they’re broadcast at 3 PM.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz went home and intends to go to the Blue and White election watching event later tonight.

It was a big day for Gantz, not just because it was his first political campaign, but because on his way back from voting, he was the first on the scene of a motorcycle accident.

You couldn’t make this up! Netanyahu’s main rival #Gantz tends to the victim of a motorcycle accident on Election Day #IsraelElections2019

&mdash Lee Hannon (@HannonTV) April 9, 2019

Something you might not have expected to see.

I received a question in the comments on the status of the investigation against Netanyahu. The announcement at the end of February of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that he intended to indict the prime minister on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust has raised the question of Netanyahu’s ability to govern, even if he wins today’s election.

In short, the announcement is not an indictment. And the decision to indict Netanyahu could take a year. The next step in the process is a meeting between Netanyahu, his lawyers, and Mandelblit, where the prime minister’s team will make the case not to indict. It should take place in the next couple of months.

Although there was some speculation that the announcement would hurt Netanyahu and Likud, they still remain one of the biggest two parties competing today.

As far as the nature of the charges, this report by Raphael Ahrens outlines the charges in one of the cases. Law professor, Avi Bell, questioned Mandelblit’s decision to go forward.

Who votes in Israeli elections?

Supporting the state of #Israel is not supporting one government over another.
Is supporting the #Zionist dream, supporting the Jewis liberation movement.
Happy voting day!#IsraelElections2019

&mdash Ashager Araro (@AshagerAraro) April 9, 2019

And even a bride on her wedding day.

The only thing that seems certain right now is that Arab turnout is lower than we’ve seen in some time, and now mosques in Arab towns are calling on residents to go out and vote. (Still about two and a half hours to go.)

Low turnout for #IsraelElections2019 with about 52%. Also record low Arab turnout. Results may be greatly affected.

&mdash Emily Schrader – אמילי שריידר (@emilykschrader) April 9, 2019

Bear in mind: In 2013, vote jumped from 63.7% to 66.6% (+2.9%) in the last two hours. In 2015, jumped from 62.4% to 71.8% (9.4%!!) in last two hours. Race is completely open: who can bring more voters in home stretch? #IsraelElections2019

&mdash Eylon Levy (@EylonALevy) April 9, 2019

The Likud is making its post-vote plans for the Kvutzat Shlomo hall in Tel Aviv. The party was postponed from 8 PM to 11 PM due to the supposed low voter turnout. Netanyahu is not expected to attend unless Likud wins.

Yair Lapid, number two on the Blue and White list, is telling people that the polling between his party and Likud is close, and that they should go out and vote.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that “our hands remain extended in peace.” How he intends to make good on that sentiment, since he’s also insisting that he will have nothing to do with the Trump peace plan remains unclear.

In response to a question in the comments, may I recommend yesterday’s post on the election?

If you want a quick sense of the major parties and their platforms, read the overview provided by Lori Lowenthal Marcus. Or check out the more comprehensive analysis by Haviv Rettig Gur at Mosaic Magazine.

The Times of Israel is reporting that a couple of pollsters found that voting in the Arab community is the lowest it’s been in decades. Exit polls cannot be reported until 10 PM in Israel (3 EDT), when the polls close.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to the beach in Netanya to tell swimmers to get out of the water and vote.

Netanyahu went to the beach on Netanya to tell people to get off the beach and vote

&mdash Lahav Harkov (@LahavHarkov) April 9, 2019

Later, he was reported to have returned to Jerusalem to hold an “emergency” meeting with party leaders. The Times of Israel, though, later noted that this may be more of an attempt to galvanize the base, as other parties are doing, than a sign of panic.

A couple of tweets showing how easy Israel makes it to vote.

Strength of Israeli democracy:
* Universal suffrage
* Automatic voter registration
* High voter turnout
* 1 polling station for 600 voters
* Election day is national holiday
* Almost pure proportional representation#IsraelElections2019

&mdash Eylon Levy (@EylonALevy) April 9, 2019

The list of all 39 parties vying in #IsraelElections2019! Note they are written out in Hebrew and Arabic, together with Russian translations. #Israel #DemocracyInAction

&mdash Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) April 9, 2019

And Linda Sarsour uses the Israeli election to spread vile and false anti-Israel propaganda.

Extra important context: those Palestinians have no voting right because their terrorist oppressors in Gaza and corrupt leaders in Ramallah don’t like democracy.

&mdash Julie Lenarz (@MsJulieLenarz) April 9, 2019

9:00 AM EDT
How it went down four years ago.

Brass Tacks #IsraelElections2019
-Polls close @ 22:00 local (3pm EST)
-Exit polls immediately after
-*Note*: Last elex (2015) exit polls were off by 6 combined seats for 2 largest parties (Likud & Zionist Union)
-Exit polls even @ 27 Likud/Zionist Union Actual results 30-24

&mdash Neri Zilber (@NeriZilber) April 9, 2019

How will it go down this year? If Israel’s former state archivist Yaacov Lozowick is reading body language correctly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is headed for defeat.

Body language of Israeli politicians on this evening news: Feiglin: exuberant. Ganz: Confident. Gabai: angry. Bibi: worried. Deri: panic. Shaked&Bennet: dead.

&mdash yaacov lozowick (@yaacovlozowick) April 8, 2019

According to Israeli law, advertising and polling are banned a few days before the election, so the final polls of last week are it.

In Israel, all election ads, polling are banned for few days before voting. In the US, this would be a clear violation of the First Amendment. But this is not what anyone means when they talk about Israel adopting anti-democratic norms. Maybe those norms not so clear after all…

&mdash Eugene Kontorovich (@EVKontorovich) April 8, 2019

The final poll conducted by i24 NEWS shows the Blue and White coalition (headed by former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid) leading Netanyahu’s Likud by 32 to 27. But the smaller parties of the Right would potentially allow Netanyahu to form a coalition of 64. But that assumes that the polling is accurate: and we can’t know if it was correct last week for certain, and the dynamics could have changed in subsequent days.

After the votes are tallied Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, will ask the leader of the party deemed to have the best chance to form a government to attempt to put together a coalition. A number of parties are near the minimum cutoff — a party needs to attain four seats to make it to the Knesset — so if any fail to meet the cutoff, it could affect the makeup of the Knesset as well as which leader will be chosen to form the next government.

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Later, when Gantz and his party leaders responded with the appropriate dismissal of this nonsense, he issued a statement of regret over Gantz&rsquos refusal to meet him. With all due respect, these are death spasms. Netanyahu is putting on an act of controlling the situation, but his bluff is obvious. As long as Netanyahu is a bone stuck in the political system&rsquos throat, no serious negotiation will begin on a national government, which under the current circumstances is the only solution to the state&rsquos paralysis.

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz (L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin shake hands at the memorial for late President Shimon Peres, Jerusalem, September 19, 2019. GPO

Netanyahu&rsquos confidant, Minister Yariv Levin, who heads the joint coalition negotiating team for the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties, told one party leader on Thursday: &ldquoThere&rsquoll be no negotiation, and if there is, nothing will come of it.&rdquo

In the previous election round, Levin, who was in the same position, didn&rsquot believe a coalition would be set up. Now things have changed, but he remains pessimistic.

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President in the crosshairs

The rotation story is so fallacious it&rsquos hard to believe anyone can take it seriously. We had a deal like that in 1984, between Peres and Shamir. Peres honored the rotation deal. In 1990, in the midst of the second, rotation-less unity government, he got over it and carried out the so-called &ldquodirty trick&rdquo that dismantled the government. Gantz knows, as does everyone else, that in every scenario of unity with Netanyahu and his Likud gang, one must expect a trick a thousand times dirtier.

Gantz beat Netanyahu in this election. Unequivocally, his party is bigger, and so is his bloc. He will become a laughingstock if he breaks all his promises and renounces his positions in exchange for the defense portfolio in Bibi&rsquos fifth government. His achievement leaves him no room to compromise.

The deeper one digs in the hole we&rsquove fallen into, the more one understands there&rsquos no solution to this imbroglio. Only a plea bargain for Netanyahu, enabling him a respectable retirement, with no prison time, might pave the way to a solution. Another option is to replace Netanyahu in Likud&rsquos leadership. This is an extremely difficult process. It is doubtful whether the time frame enables it.

There will be no rotation, because for Netanyahu there&rsquos no scenario but being first in office. As bait, he may offer his partners to elect him, in a year and eight months&rsquo time, as president, who has full immunity from facing charges for his entire seven-year tenure. This strange idea was heard this week, behind closed doors.

Granted, Netanyahu may be in the midst of trial by then and perhaps the legal question will arise whether immunity applies retroactively as well. He will deal with it when the time comes. The household at Balfour Street supports the idea. It will enable Sara to turn into the real &ldquofirst lady,&rdquo a title she insists on bearing, even though she isn&rsquot.

Party's over

Netanyahu knew he didn&rsquot have 61 Knesset seats. The hysteria this time was a real red alert. The panic he projected wasn&rsquot pretended. On this subject, at least, he didn&rsquot lie to his voters. None of the external polls showed the right-wing-ultra-Orthodox bloc achieving the magic number-of-salvation &ndash nor did the in-depth surveys conducted for him by John McLaughlin, the highly respected pollster of U.S. President Donald Trump.

According to several sources involved in Netanyahu&rsquos campaign, awareness of this reality began to trickle down into his consciousness about two weeks ago. Balfour Street fell apart. There was a total meltdown at the residence. Things lurched out of control. Son Yair&rsquos tweets became more disturbed and wild. Sara was having her special moments, too, in spades.

The situation shocked him. The die was cast, the party was over. There would be no immunity from prosecution, no overriding Supreme Court decisions, the hearing before the attorney general would not be postponed, the attorney general would not be fired, there would be no deus ex machina. All roads would lead to we-know-where (Ramle and its prison, not Rome).

The public became aware of the situation on August 31. A minute after the end of the Sabbath, in the yard of the family villa in Caesarea, Bibi posted a clip that was appalling by any standard, in which he accused the journalists, editors and managers of the Keshet 12 television station of attempts to perpetrate a &ldquoterror attack on democracy&rdquo and on him, personally. The spectacle was disturbing the words were on the brink of phantasmagoria.

Benjamin Netanyahu. Olivier Fitoussi

From that moment on, he appeared like someone who had lost it. The attacks against all the institutions symbolizing the state crossed every red line. A series of fatal mistakes ensued. Yair and Sara, two proven fomenters of damage, were dispatched to Channel 20, aka &ldquoBibiTV,&rdquo and the messages were switched every few hours: the election cameras the Jordan Valley Justice Hanan Melcer Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit a fictitious defense pact with the United States &ldquothe Arabs&rdquo are undermining the election and/or &ldquothe Arabs&rdquo are stealing the election. Who if not he, the master of election campaigns, always hammers home to his aides the iron rule of the media: &ldquoOne story must not come on top of another story.&rdquo Here, story swallowed story.

Politicians known for scaring off voters &ndash like Miri Regev, David Bitan and Miki (&ldquothe Jewish race is special&rdquo) Zohar, who in the previous campaign were kept out of public view &ndash stormed the screens at the behest of Likud campaign headquarters. Own goals followed hard on the heels of shooting oneself in the foot.

Unlike in previous elections, this time Netanyahu did not have judicious, mature, independent advisers at his side to douse the flames and calm him down. He surrounded himself with young people &ndash first and foremost, his son &ndash who pushed him toward the brink, fired up passions and poured fuel on the fire. When he got to 150 kilometers an hour, they urged him on from behind, like a bunch of drunks who have emerged from a stag party: Faster! Faster!

During the last 17 critical days, when Bibi went into a total frenzy and even tried to sneak in a little war in Gaza behind the back of the defense establishment &ndash Likud lost the steady advantage it had enjoyed over rival Kahol Lavan.

No few veteran Likud voters were turned off by the spectacle and stayed home on Election Day. &ldquoI can&rsquot bring myself to vote for that family,&rdquo one of them told me. You don&rsquot have to be a left-winger to harbor serious reservations about a prime minister who sprays inflammatory hatred at some 1.6 million loyal citizens, and vilifies and attacks the law enforcement agencies personally or through his son, among them the deputy president of the Supreme Court who had the misfortune to head the Central Elections Committee for the second time running. Yes, even that red line, too, was crossed this time.

Emergency exit

Here&rsquos a story that sums it all up: On Saturday night, following a report in a newspaper to the effect that the police had not investigated tens of thousands of polling stations where irregularities were suspected in the April election, Netanyahu instructed his representative on the elections Committee, MK David Bitan, to request an urgent meeting with the committee chairman, Justice Hanan Melcer.

Having learned from experience, the justice understood that the prime minister was trying to play him. The next morning he rejected the request and suggested that Netanyahu relay whatever message he had for him in written form. The instant that reply reached the Prime Minister&rsquos Bureau, Netanyahu got up and made a dash for the exit, security detail in hot pursuit. He got into his car and told the driver to take him to the Knesset, where he went down to the second floor, where the elections committee is headquartered.

The regulars who hung out there wondered if Netanyahu intended to burst into the justice&rsquos office. Instead, he sat himself down in a nearby room, logged onto his Facebook page and launched into a lengthy lament about the injustices being done him, the election that would be plundered and the usual spiel. He then went out, approached the cameras, and in a loud voice, almost shouting, repeated his litany.

The echoes reached Melcer&rsquos office while he was holding a meeting of judicial import. Someone said to him, &ldquoBe careful, he&rsquos liable to ambush you outside and tackle you in the washroom.&rdquo That didn&rsquot happen, but in this era, when the term &ldquoinconceivable&rdquo has been thrown into the wastebasket along with a stack of norms and rules, no one would have fallen off his chair if an encounter had actually transpired next to the urinals. Or, of course, had been broadcast live as an emergency post on Facebook.

Truth and consequences

Netanyahu spent hours on the two days following Tuesday&rsquos election with members of the right-wing-Haredi bloc. He looked dead tired to them, which could be expected, but not despondent.

After he received their support and consent that henceforth he, under the aegis of Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, would conduct the coalition talks, they wanted to know if they could be sure he wouldn&rsquot betray them somewhere down the line. &ldquoI promise you, that won&rsquot happen,&rdquo he told them. United Torah Judaism&rsquos Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni pressed him again &ndash and again &ndash until he reiterated: &ldquoI won&rsquot abandon you. We&rsquore in this together.&rdquo

The conversation continued in a bitter vein. &ldquoI lost because the media deliberately anesthetized the Likudniks,&rdquo asserted Bibi. &ldquoThey kept reporting that I&rsquod definitely get 61 [seats]. It wasn&rsquot even close.&rdquo

He went on, seemingly thinking out loud: &ldquoNext time,&rdquo he said, &ldquowe have to improve the way we work, prevent wasted votes, be united from the start, exhaust the tremendous potential of the right.&rdquo

His interlocutors gave him shocked looks. Was he preparing them for a third election campaign? Maybe, one told me later, he thinks that would help him get his trial postponed?

What he later said to somber Likud legislators who met with him in the Knesset only reinforced that thinking. &ldquoOnly two governments are possible,&rdquo he said, &ldquoone led by me, or one composed of the left and the Arab parties.&rdquo If Bibi sticks to his guns, there&rsquos almost no way to prevent yet another dissolution of the Knesset in another 100 days, at the latest.

Let&rsquos dwell a little on what that means. On October 2 and 3, a hearing will take place for Netanyahu in the three corruption cases he faces. The chances of the charges being dropped are slim. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to announce his final decision on indictment by the end of December. In other words, if there indeed is another election, in March 2020, Netanyahu would most likely be running as a defendant in every respect.

Would Likud, assuming it wants to avoid extinction, let that happen? The ruling party has its own DNA. It doesn&rsquot depose its leader, no matter how much of a failure he is. On the other hand, over the past decade, the party has evidenced another kind of genetic trait: the desire to remain in power. Or in the words of the movement&rsquos founder, Ze&rsquoev Jabotinsky, &ldquoGod has chosen us to rule.&rdquo At the moment of truth, if it comes, which will prevail?

The ground for a changing of the guard in a party that has had only four leaders &ndash Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu &ndash has never been particularly fertile. The only way to achieve that end is by means of a primary for the party leadership. But the time for that isn&rsquot ripe yet. That scenario could transpire only after the current leader maxes out all efforts at forming a government.

In that case, Netanyahu is capable, of course, of running in a primary &ndash something he hasn&rsquot had to do since 2011. Likud will then face a choice: ruling without Bibi, and with another leader, or going to a new election under the worst circumstances possible, with the candidate shuttling between court appearances and election rallies, between state&rsquos witnesses and affairs of state.

A Likud campaign poster saying "Netanyahu. Another League." Tel Aviv, September 2019. Oded Balilty/AP

History and hysteria

Netanyahu after the fall finds himself in the shoes of African dictators and East European despots of yore. He&rsquos avoiding going abroad for fear he&rsquoll have nowhere and nothing to come back to.

The complex post-election situation here has forced him to forgo his beloved hobby of addressing the annual General Assembly of the United Nations, together with a scheduled meeting with President Trump. They were supposed to discuss the defense pact (the &ldquohistoric&rdquo one, you know). Under current political constraints, hysteria has trumped history.

Trump&rsquos chilly response on Wednesday to the results of the Israeli election is nothing short of a drama. Not only did he not mention Netanyahu by name, he also (undoubtedly, at the urging of his advisers) emphasized that the special relations of the United States are with the people of Israel, whereupon he added his usual comment, &ldquoWe&rsquoll see what happens.&rdquo

It&rsquos not very complicated to get into Trump&rsquos uncomplicated head. He went out of his way to help his friend from Balfour Street win two elections. What didn&rsquot he bless him with? With the Golan Heights and the embassy move to Jerusalem the first time around, in April, and with a &ldquodefense pact&rdquo this second time. And what a giant disappointment Netanyahu has proved to be for him. The first time he didn&rsquot form a coalition and the second time he didn&rsquot get a majority.

Trump hates losers indeed, he&rsquos contemptuous of them. After a double failure &ndash political and electoral &ndash and despite all the strategic aid he&rsquos offered, the admiration the president feels for the &ldquowinner&rdquo from Israel is close to giving way, and maybe has already given way, to the loathing he feels for losers as such.

Indeed, we&rsquoll see what happens.

The autumn of their lives

Politicians and commentators alike had two working assumptions at the start of the election campaign that ended this week: that turnout would be very low, and that Israeli voters would continue, as in the past, to reward those who united with others and punish those who remained within the confines of their own parties. We were wrong in both cases. All of us would do well to learn the lessons before the next campaign, in early 2020:

We had four mergers this time:

&bull Labor Party leader Amir Peretz rejected the seemingly logical hookup with Nitzan Horowitz&rsquos Meretz and Ehud Barak&rsquos Democratic Movement. Instead, he chose the social-ethnic option by coopting Orli Levi-Abekasis, leader of the Gesher party, which fell below the threshold in the April election, and granted her disproportionate representation on the slate at the expense of his own party&rsquos members.

Levi-Abekasis, whose pretensions and self-satisfaction are in inverse proportion to her achievements as a politician in her own right, was supposed to &ldquotopple the walls between left and right,&rdquo as Peretz put it so pompously. What was toppled was the concept, not the walls.

Amir Peretz and Orli Levi-Abekasis. Moti Milrod

Rightists did not flock to the polling stations to vote for Labor-Gesher. Peretz reached the finish line with his tongue out and his moustache clipped off. The most that can be said for him is that he repeated the historic achievement of his predecessor, Avi Gabbay: six seats. Gabbay took responsibility and resigned. Peretz isn&rsquot familiar with that idea. Nor is there anything for him to do on the outside. Politics is his life.

&bull The Democratic Union slate was an equally bad joke. It was a concoction of Meretz, of Barak&rsquos Democratic Movement and of the Green Movement of Stav Shaffir, who defected from Labor and hitched a ride with the Union so as to ensure herself second place on a slate.

In her own eyes, Shaffir is nothing less than a vote magnet. If we want to be very generous with her, we&rsquod say that she brought in one Knesset seat &ndash tops. Barak brought his 35,000 votes of Ashkenazim, kibbutzniks and former Labor members. Meretz preserved its core base of three seats. That&rsquos what Horowitz was left with in the new slate: himself, Tamar Zandberg and Ilan Galon. Shaffir will be a one-person faction on behalf of the Greens (as she was in Labor, too), and former Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff Yair Golan will be the lone MK of democratic Israel.

&bull An equally bad acquisition, and in fact far worse, was made by the brilliant economist Benjamin Netanyahu. He bought Moshe Kahlon at an exorbitant and questionable price &ndash but not the voters of his former party, Kulanu, which won four seats in April. He also acquired Moshe Feiglin, a person with an idea but no party and no voters, in return for a truckload of promises.

In Britain they call it &ldquoempty suits.&rdquo In the melee that developed here on the night of the 17th, many people didn&rsquot notice this minor detail: Netanyahu and Likud didn&rsquot lose &ldquoonly&rdquo four seats compared to April, they lost nine or 10. They started with 40-41 seats: 35 Likud, four of Kulanu and two of Feiglin. This is the true measure of the voided magician&rsquos colossal failure against Benny Gantz: His Kahol Lavan party lost less than 5 percent of its strength (33 seats vs. 35 in April), but Likud lost about 25 percent.

&bull And, of course, we can&rsquot ignore the resounding defeat of Yamina. The individual responsible for that failure is Ayelet Shaked, the poster girl of the secular and religious right. Three parties combined (Hayamin Hehadash, Habayit Hayehudi, National Union) garnered a measly seven seats &ndash and one star, who headed the slate. It&rsquos not really a faction, more of a collection of soloist militias who hate each other and each of whom believes that he would have done better topping the list.

This failed confederation won fewer seats than Shaked and Naftali Bennett&rsquos Habayit Hayehudi in 2013 (12 seats) and one less than the eight Bennett managed to cobble together after the huge bleeding job Netanyahu did on him in 2015.

Let&rsquos take Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu, as a counter to them. He&rsquos been in the arena for more than 20 years. He&rsquos been ground down, bruised and battered countless times, but even after toppling a right-wing government, he won more seats on his own than the giant aircraft carrier of the right wing and its four &ndash count &lsquoem, four &ndash leaders.

Let&rsquos put it like this: If it took Bennett six years to wear out his leadership, Shaked did it in three months. Twice her popularity has been put to the test, and twice it&rsquos crashed. This time the responsibility was all hers. All she&rsquoll have left to cherish from this September adventure are flattering posters. And, of course, the memory of the childish and shameful spat with Itamar Ben-Gvir, from Otzma Yehudit, in a television studio.

Ayman Odeh. Rami Shllush

All say Ayman

A necessary condition for Ayman Odeh being crowned head of the opposition in the 22nd Knesset is for there to be an opposition in the first place. And since there&rsquos no such thing on the horizon, one has to be formed &ndash and now.

The difficulties on the way to forging an opposition are so big and the variety of possible ingredients is so vast, and usually self-defeating, that no one has the strength to even imagine how this will happen: an Arab &ldquosymbol of rule&rdquo Shin Bet security service protection monthly meetings with the prime minister updates from the military secretary free admission to all the super-secret subcommittees of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee speeches at official ceremonies and meetings with foreign leaders.

On the other hand, Odeh would be the first opposition leader in many decades for whom the question &ldquoWill he join the coalition?&rdquo wouldn&rsquot even come up. Less work for the political correspondents.

The Joint List has returned to its glory days of after the 2015 election: 13 Knesset seats and a turnout of nearly 60 percent among the Arab community. This surge defied the forecasts of all the experts who predicted a drop in the turnout.

No one could have envisioned the barbaric and unbridled attack Netanyahu launched in recent weeks on &ldquothe Arabs.&rdquo With blood clouding his eyes and mouth frothing, he slandered some 20 percent of the Israeli public. The &ldquoArabs are stealing the vote&rdquo campaign fired up by the reporters and media outlets enlisted in its service pushed the offended community to the ballot boxes more than any Joint List election rally or video clip.

Again we got proof that the right wing is the best aider and abetter of the Arab parties: In 2015, they would not have united or maximized their power if the electoral threshold had not been raised, thanks to Lieberman, whose intention was to hurt them.

In the April election no one messed with them and the result was as could be expected: a low turnout of voters and just 10 Knesset seats.

The second time around this year, it was Bibi who came to the rescue. Full force, with all his craziness and emotions. He kept pushing the divisive election-cameras bill even though its chances of being enacted were virtually nil. In the 1996 election, he defeated Shimon Peres by a single percentage point with the help of the slogan, &ldquoNetanyahu is good for the Jews.&rdquo Now, almost a quarter-century later, a revolution: Netanyahu is good for the Arabs.


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Sunday's vote ended a two-year cycle of political paralysis in which the country held four elections.

Minutes later, Bennett was sworn into office, followed by members of the new Cabinet.

Bennett will be prime minister until August 2023 before handing the power over to Yair Lapid, the leader of centrist Yesh Atid party, for a further two years as part of a power-sharing deal.

In Jerusalem, supporters of the new coalition cheered as the results of the parliamentary vote came in and waved their flags in the air.

Meanwhile thousands of delighted revelers poured into Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Sunday night after hearing of the results as they danced, hugged each other and cheered.

'I am here celebrating the end of an era in Israel,' said Erez Biezuner in Rabin Square. 'We want them to succeed and to unite us again,' he added, as flag-waving supporters of the new government sang and danced around him.

'I have mixed feelings about this government,' said 19-year-old Tal Surkis about the change coalition, but he added that 'it's something Israel needs'.

The supporters brought their own foam cannon to the square in Tel Aviv and celebrated with a foam party.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, remains the head of the largest party in parliament and is expected to vigorously oppose the new government. If just one faction bolts, it could lose its majority and would be at risk of collapse, giving him an opening to return to power.

Bennett (right) will be prime minister until September 2023 before handing the power over to Yair Lapid (left), the leader of centrist Yesh Atid party, for a further two years as part of a power-sharing deal

Yair Lapid is set to become the Prime Minister in 2023 in a power-sharing deal. Pictured: Lapid arrives for the parliamentary meeting on Sunday before the vote.

People were covered with foam as they celebrated the parliamentary vote which saw Bennett become the new prime minister

Israelis celebrate in Tel Aviv with foam as the new government is sworn in on Sunday night

Thousands of people gather for spontaneous celebrations in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv after the confidence vote on Sunday

Hundreds of people gathered for a foam party in Tel Aviv in celebration of the vote, with many dancing and cheering

The supporters gathered in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and had a foam party, with the white foam contrasting with the night sky

'We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government,' said Mansour Abbas, an Arab member of the new Israeli government.

But in a sign of what is to come, Bennett was heckled and repeatedly interrupted by Netanyahu's supporters who shouted 'shame' and 'liar' as he addressed parliament on Sunday. Several of the Netanyahu loyalists were escorted out of the chamber.

And in a scathing speech, Netanyahu vowed he would be 'back soon' and fight against the 'dangerous' coalition.

'I will fight daily against this terrible, dangerous left-wing government in order to topple it,' Netanyahu said at the end of his lengthy 30-minute speech in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament. 'With God's help, it will happen a lot earlier than you think it will.'

He added: 'If it's our destiny to be in the opposition, we'll do so with our heads high until we take down this bad government and return to lead the country our way.'

In a warning to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah that he won't be away for long, Netanyahu declared: 'We'll be back soon.'

As the new prime minister, Bennett will have to maintain an unwieldy coalition of parties from the political right, left and centre.

The eight parties, including a small Arab faction that is making history by sitting in the ruling coalition, are united in their opposition to Netanyahu and new elections but agree on little else.

They are likely to pursue a modest agenda that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the U.S. without launching any major initiatives.

Benjamin Netanyahu's record 12 years in power has now come to an end after the vote

Bennett reaches out to touch Netanyahu's arm following the vote which ended Netanyahu's 12 years in power

People celebrate in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Sunday night after Israel's parliament voted in the new coalition government

People cheer as they celebrate the confidence vote which has meant a new coalition has formed a government. A woman held a sign which seemingly told Netanyahu to 'sashay away'

A man and woman dressed in fancy dress hug each other as they celebrate the results of the confidence vote on Sunday in Jerusalem

Hundreds of people, including small children, gathered in front of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, on Sunday as they awaited the results from the parliamentary vote in Jerusalem

On Sunday evening, Bennett opened his first cabinet meeting as prime minister with a traditional blessing for new beginnings.

He said: 'We are at the start of new days,' adding this his government will work to 'mend the rift in the nation' after two years of political deadlock.

'Citizens of Israel are all looking to us now, and the burden of proof is upon us,' he said. 'We must all, for this amazing process to succeed, we must all know to maintain restraint on ideological matters.'

Alternate prime minister Yair Lapid, who will serve as foreign minister for the first two years of the government's term, said in brief remarks that 'friendship and trust' built their government, and that's what will keep it going.

US President Joe Biden was the first world leader to congratulate Bennett on his win and said the United States remained committed to Israel's security.

'I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations,' Biden said. 'Israel has no better friend than the United States.'

'United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel's security,' Biden, who is currently in Cornwall, UK, for the G7 Summit, continued. 'My administration is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.'

Bennett tweeted: 'Thank you Mr. President! I look forward to working with you to strengthen the ties between our two nations.'

Bennett's office said he later spoke by phone with Biden, thanking him for his warm wishes and longstanding commitment to Israel's security.

The leaders agreed to consult closely on all matters related to regional security, including Iran, the White House said, adding that Biden said his administration intends to work closely with the Israeli government on advancing peace, security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.

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Scotland fans showering Met Police with beer in Leicester Square

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On Sunday evening, Bennett (right) held his first cabinet meeting as prime minister

On Sunday evening, Bennett opened his first cabinet meeting as prime minister with a traditional blessing for new beginnings. He said: 'We are at the start of new days,' adding this his government will work to 'mend the rift in the nation' after two years of political deadlock

One man was having a particularly good time during the foam party celebrations in Tel Aviv and decided to lie in the foam

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday congratulated Bennett.

'Germany and Israel are connected by a unique friendship that we want to strengthen further. With this in mind, I look forward to working closely with you,' Merkel said in a message addressed to Bennett and shared by her spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer on Twitter.

Britain's Prime Minister also tweeted his congratulations to both Bennett and Lapid on their victory and said it is an 'exciting time' for the UK and Israel to work together.

Mr Johnson said: 'On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to @naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.'

Palestinian militant group Hamas said they will confront the new Israeli government that is expected to take office.

Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for the Islamic militant group, said Sunday any Israeli government is 'a settler occupier entity that must be resisted by all forms of resistance, foremost of which is the armed resistance.'

Israel's deep divisions were on vivid display as Bennett addressed parliament ahead of the vote as he was heckled by supporters of Netanyahu.

Bennett said the country, after four inconclusive elections in under two years, had been thrown 'into a maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting'.

'The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the population, to stop, to stop this madness,' he said to angry shouts of 'liar' and 'criminal' from right-wing opponents.

Ahead of the vote, a parliamentary debate became heated as Netanyahu vowed to 'topple' the new coalition, which is led by Bennett

Israel has a change of government but Benjamin Netanyahu will be back, experts say

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader, was succeeded on Sunday by a coalition that includes for the first time a party from Israel's Arab minority.

The 71-year-old right-winger was ousted by an unlikely coalition of right-wing, centrist and other parties who clinched a deal to form a government that would break a period of unprecedented political deadlock that saw four elections in two years.

Naftali Bennett, 49, heads the ultra-nationalist party Yamina - 'Rightwards'. The religious, pro-settler, party won only seven of the Knesset's 120 seats in the March 23 election but he emerged first as kingmaker, then kingslayer and now king as the new prime minister.

Naftali Bennett (above), 49, heads the ultra-nationalist party Yamina - 'Rightwards'

Yair Lapid (pictured), 57, and his centre-left party Yesh Atid - 'There is a Future' - came second, with 17 seats

A high-tech millionaire who dreams of annexing most of the occupied West Bank, Bennett spent some of his childhood in North America. He may face cries of betrayal for forming a government with centre-left partners instead of his natural allies on the right.

Yair Lapid, 57, and his centre-left party Yesh Atid - 'There is a Future' - came second, with 17 seats.

The former finance minister and TV host campaigned to 'bring sanity' back to Israel, a dig at Netanyahu. But the coalition with Bennett will likely be unstable, uniting unlikely allies from across the political spectrum. Lapid will become prime minister in 2023 as part of a power-sharing deal.

Gideon Saar, 54, a former member of Netanyahu's Likud who quit to set up the New Hope party. He rejected Netanyahu's offer of a rotating premiership to keep him in power.


Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured) fought the most recent election by asserting that he turned Israel into the 'vaccination nation'

His supporters love the man they call 'King Bibi' - admiring his hawkish stance on issues such as Iran and the Palestinians, and his high profile on the international stage.

But critics accuse him of being a polarising figure. They also highlight corruption allegations that led to the tag 'Crime Minister' - Netanyahu is on trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies wrongdoing.

A canny political operator, many expected him to glue together a coalition. But his deal-making touch deserted him, with many rivals wanting to emerge from his shadow.


Netanyahu fought the most recent election by asserting that he turned Israel into the 'vaccination nation', leading the world in the recovery from COVID-19.

Even as the ballots were being counted, Israel passed the mark at which 50% of the population received two vaccine shots.

But such is the polarisation in Israeli politics that even this could not break the stalemate. Netanyahu was also accused of mismanaging earlier pandemic lockdowns that hit Israel's economy hard.

Yes. A quarter of the electorate voted for his Likud Party, which remains the largest party with 30 of 120 Knesset seats.

While he is no longer prime minister, Netanyahu is now the leader of the opposition. This is familiar territory - in the mid-1990s he made life very uncomfortable for then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Reporting by Associated Press

Bennett, an observant Jew, noted the Jewish people twice lost their homeland in biblical times due to bitter infighting.

'This time, at the decisive moment, we have taken responsibility,' he said. 'To continue on in this way - more elections, more hatred, more vitriolic posts on Facebook - is just not an option. Therefore we stopped the train, a moment before it barreled into the abyss.'

The coalition, including a small Islamist faction that is making history as the first Arab party to sit in a coalition, agree on little beyond their opposition to Netanyahu.

'We will forge forward on that which we agree - and there is much we agree on, transport, education and so on, and what separates us we will leave to the side,' Bennett said. He also promised a 'new page' in relations with Israel's Arab sector.

Israel's Arab citizens make up about 20 per cent of the population but have suffered from discrimination, poverty and lack of opportunities. Netanyahu has often tried portray Arab politicians as terrorist sympathizers, though he also courted the same Arab party in a failed effort to remain in power after March 23 elections.

Bennett, who like Netanyahu opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, made little mention of the Palestinians beyond threatening a tough response to violence.

Bennett, a former defence minister, also expressed opposition to U.S. efforts to revive Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.

'Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,' Bennett said, vowing to maintain Netanyahu's confrontational policy. 'Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action.'

Bennett nevertheless thanked President Joe Biden and the U.S. for its decades of support for Israel.

Netanyahu, speaking after him, vowed to return to power. He predicted the incoming government would be weak on Iran and give in to U.S. demands to make concessions to the Palestinians.

He also accused Bennett of carrying out the 'greatest fraud in Israel's history' after he formed a coalition with Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, despite saying he had ruled out a government with Lapid before the election.

Netanyahu said: 'I’ve heard what Bennett said [about standing firm against Iran], and I’m concerned, because Bennett does the opposite of what he promises,' Netanyahu said. 'He will fight Iran the same way he won’t sit with [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid, Labor and Ra’am.'

'The prime minister of Israel needs to be able to say no to the president of the United States on issues that threaten our existence,' Netanyahu said during the 30-minute speech, which went past the 15 minutes allocated to him.

'Who will do that now. This government does not want and is not capable of opposing the United States.'

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said the new government will likely be more stable than it appears.

'Even though it has a very narrow majority, it will be very difficult to topple and replace because the opposition is not cohesive,' he said. Each party in the coalition will want to prove that it can deliver, and for that they need 'time and achievements.'

Still, Netanyahu 'will continue to cast a shadow,' Plesner said. He expects the incoming opposition leader to exploit events and propose legislation that right-wing coalition members would like to support but can't - all in order to embarrass and undermine them.

The new government is meanwhile promising a return to normalcy after a tumultuous two years that saw four elections, an 11-day Gaza war last month and a coronavirus outbreak that devastated the economy before it was largely brought under control by a successful vaccination campaign.

The driving force behind the coalition is Yair Lapid, a political centrist who will become prime minister in two years, if the government lasts that long.

'A morning of change,' promised a Sunday tweet by Lapid, who would serve as foreign minister under the coalition deal before taking over the premiership in 2023.

Lapid called off a planned speech to parliament, instead saying he was ashamed that his 86-year-old mother had to witness the raucous behavior of his opponents. In a brief speech, he asked for 'forgiveness from my mother.'

'I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it's time to replace you,' he said.

Netanyahu, who is battling corruption charges in an ongoing trial he dismisses as a conspiracy, has been the dominant Israeli politician of his generation, having also served a previous three-year term in the 1990s.

Thousands of protesters rallied outside his official residence late Saturday, waving 'Bye Bye Bibi' signs.

The anti-Netanyahu bloc spans the political spectrum, including three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.

The improbable alliance emerged weeks after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, and following inter-communal violence in Israeli cities with significant Arab populations.

Netanyahu, who long ago earned a reputation as Israel's ultimate political survivor, has meanwhile tried to peel off defectors that would deprive the nascent coalition of its wafer-thin legislative majority.

Supporters of the new coalition watch the voting session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Sunday

Children were among those who were covered in foam as they all celebrated the formation of the new coalition government on Sunday in Tel Aviv

The driving force behind the coalition is Yair Lapid, (centre with Bennett on Sunday in parliament) a political centrist who will become prime minister in two years, if the government lasts that long

The new prime minister Bennett and Lapid, who is now the Foreign Minister, were in good spirits following the vote on Sunday

Listed: The agreements outlined by Israel's 'unity government'

Among the agreements outlined by parties in what Lapid described as a 'unity government' are:

  • Limiting the prime minister's term of office to two terms, or eight years.
  • An infrastructure push to include new hospitals, a new university and a new airport.
  • Passing a two-year budget to help stabilize the country's finances - the prolonged political stalemate has left Israel still using a pro-rated version of a base 2019 budget that was ratified in mid-2018.
  • Maintaining the 'status-quo' on issues of religion and state, with Bennett's Yamina party to have a veto. Possible reforms include breaking up an ultra-Orthodox monopoly on overseeing which foods are kosher, and decentralizing authority over Jewish conversions.
  • An 'overall plan for transportation' in the Israeli- occupied West Bank.
  • A general goal to 'ensure Israel's interests' in areas of the West Bank under full Israeli control.
  • Allocating more than 53 billion shekels ($16 billion) to improve infrastructure and welfare in Arab towns, and curbing violent crime there.
  • Decriminalizing marijuana and moving to regulate the market.

It's unclear if Netanyahu will move out of the official residence. He has lashed out at the new government in apocalyptic terms and accused Bennett of defrauding voters by running as a right-wing stalwart and then partnering with the left.

Netanyahu's supporters have held angry protests outside the homes of rival lawmakers, who say they have received death threats naming their family members. Israel's Shin Bet internal security service issued a rare public warning about the incitement earlier this month, saying it could lead to violence.

Netanyahu has condemned the incitement while noting that he has also been a target.

His place in Israeli history is secure, having served as prime minister for a total of 15 years - more than any other, including the country's founder, David Ben-Gurion.

As Netanyahu has lost the premiership, he will not be able to push through parliament changes to basic laws that could give him immunity on charges he faces in his corruption trial.

Netanyahu began his long rule by defying the Obama administration, refusing to freeze settlement construction as it tried unsuccessfully to revive the peace process. Relations with Israel's closest ally grew even rockier when Netanyahu vigorously campaigned against President Barack Obama's emerging nuclear deal with Iran, even denouncing it in an address to the U.S. Congress.

But he suffered few if any consequences from those clashes and was richly rewarded by the Trump administration, which recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital, helped broker normalization agreements with four Arab states and withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal.

Netanyahu has portrayed himself as a world-class statesman, boasting of his close ties with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has also cultivated ties with Arab and African countries that long shunned Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.

But he has gotten a far chillier reception from the Biden administration and is widely seen as having undermined the long tradition of bipartisan support for Israel in the United States.

His reputation as a political magician has also faded at home, where he has become a deeply polarizing figure. Critics say he has long pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy that aggravated rifts in Israeli society between Jews and Arabs and between his close ultra-Orthodox allies and secular Jews.

In November 2019, he was indicted for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. He refused calls to step down, instead lashing out at the media, judiciary and law enforcement, going so far as to accuse his political opponents of orchestrating an attempted coup. Last year, protesters began holding weekly rallies across the country calling on him to resign.

Netanyahu, who long ago earned a reputation as Israel's ultimate political survivor, has meanwhile tried to peel off defectors that would deprive the nascent coalition of its wafer-thin legislative majority

Netanyahu has become a divisive figure in Israeli politics, with the last four elections all seen as a referendum on his rule

Netanyahu remains popular among the hard-line nationalists who dominate Israeli politics, but he could soon face a leadership challenge from within his own party. A less polarizing Likud leader would stand a good chance of assembling a coalition that is both farther to the right and more stable than the government that is set to be sworn in.

Sunday's vote comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which has grown more bitter in the Netanyahu years, in part due to the expansion of settlements considered illegal under international law in the occupied West Bank.

Meanwhile, right-wing anger has grown in Israel over last week's postponement of a controversial Jewish nationalist march through flashpoint areas of east Jerusalem.

The 'March of the Flags' is now slated for Tuesday, and the agitation surrounding it could represent a key initial test for a new coalition government.

Gaza's rulers Hamas said that the political developments in Jerusalem wouldn't change its relationship with Israel.

'The form the Israeli government takes doesn't change the nature of our relationship,' said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. 'Its still a colonising and occupying power that we must resist.'

The end of an era: From Trump to corruption probes, how Netanyahu has dominated Israel’s politics like no other leader

By Lauren Lewis for MailOnline

Israel's longest serving prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from power on Sunday after dominating the country's politics for more than 25 years.

Netanyahu was replaced by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid who took the reins after forming a coalition government with six other parties, including Mansour Abbas's Islamic conservative Raam party.

Netanyahu became the country's longest-serving prime minister in 2019, surpassing Israel's founding father David Ben Gurion, after holding the office office continuously for 12 years since 2009.

During his reign, the Israeli prime minister oversaw the unveiling of the Deal of the Century signed four normalisation deals with Arab states and presided over three conflicts with the Gaza Strip.

He also railed against the Iranian nuclear deal, and became the first sitting Israeli president to be indicted.

Benjamin Netanyahu served as the 9th Prime Minister of Israel between 1996 and 1999, he returned to the role in 2009 (pictured attending a Likud Party meeting at the Knesset in March 2009)

Not a Peacemaker

Mr. Netanyahu’s lack of progress with the Palestinians drew accusations that he had no interest in ending the conflict.

In fairness, Israelis had generally soured on peacemaking after the Second Intifada’s devastating suicide attacks and the takeover of Gaza by Hamas. The Israeli left was a shambles. The electorate, enlarged by immigrants from the former Soviet Union, was drifting to the right. When President Barack Obama pressed Mr. Netanyahu for a settlement freeze in 2009 to lure the Palestinians to the table, Mr. Netanyahu could stonewall him without paying a domestic political price.

Under White House pressure, Mr. Netanyahu for the first time endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state, though with so many caveats the Palestinians called it a nonstarter. And when he agreed to a 10-month moratorium on settlements, he carved out huge loopholes and oversaw a surge in housing approvals once the moratorium lapsed.

Understand Developments in Israeli Politics

    • Key Figures. The main players in the latest twist in Israeli politics have very different agendas, but one common goal. Naftali Bennett, who leads a small right-wing party, and Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the Israeli opposition, have joined forces to form a diverse coalition to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
    • Range of Ideals. Spanning Israel’s fractious political spectrum from left to right, and relying on the support of a small Arab, Islamist party, the coalition, dubbed the “change government” by supporters, will likely mark a profound shift for Israel.
    • A Common Goal. After grinding deadlock that led to four inconclusive elections in two years, and an even longer period of polarizing politics and government paralysis, the architects of the coalition have pledged to get Israel back on track.
    • An Unclear Future. Parliament still has to ratify the fragile agreement in a confidence vote in the coming days. But even if it does, it remains unclear how much change the “change government” could bring to Israel because some of the parties involved have little in common besides animosity for Mr. Netanyahu.

    For several years, Mr. Netanyahu went along with a series of back-channel negotiations with Palestinian representatives. In one of the most promising, Mr. Peres, by then an elder statesman, was nearing an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, in 2011, when Mr. Netanyahu pulled the plug.

    “Throughout the entire process, he knew he’d stop me at the last moment,” Mr. Peres once said, according to Mr. Caspit, the biographer. Mr. Peres added, “He moves toward peace, but also he doesn’t.”

    Even those who worked most closely with Mr. Netanyahu struggled to understand his motivation.

    “Was he ever serious?” asked Aaron David Miller, a longtime American negotiator and Middle East analyst. “That’s the real question.”

    Doubters had plenty of evidence: a 2001 videotape in which Mr. Netanyahu boasted that he had effectively “put an end to the Oslo accords” even as he publicly promised to honor them a 2015 election-eve vow to prevent a Palestinian state from being created. He spoke of allowing the Palestinians only a “state-minus,” with “all the power to govern themselves but none of the powers to threaten us.” Later, he promised never to “uproot a single settler.”

    When Secretary of State John Kerry tried to revive peace talks in 2013, he later recalled, Mr. Netanyahu repeatedly told him, “I can’t die on a small cross,” encouraging Mr. Kerry to attempt a comprehensive, final agreement.

    To jump-start talks, Mr. Netanyahu agreed to release Palestinian prisoners, but he also approved the construction of thousands of new homes in the West Bank, “a profound humiliation to Abbas,” who began to abandon hope in the talks, Mr. Kerry wrote. And when Israel dragged its feet on releasing the last of the prisoners, the Palestinians ran out of patience and talks broke down for good.

    Mr. Kerry concluded that Mr. Netanyahu was “a willing victim of his politics at home,” more interested in breaking Ben-Gurion’s record for duration in office than in “risking it all, as Rabin had and as Peres had, trying to be the one who finally made peace.”

    Harsher critics saw a deliberate strategy “to destroy Oslo by treating it not as a partnership with the P.L.O., but as a very hard-bargaining contract, in which he didn’t really want the other side to fulfill the terms,” in the words of Ian Lustick, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist. If he didn’t provoke the Palestinians to quit talks, Mr. Lustick argued, his demands would starve them of the political support they needed to retain legitimacy.

    A more forgiving view is that Mr. Netanyahu saw no chance of success. “For him to make the ‘great leap forward’ and risk his own political position, he would require a level of confidence that his counterpart,” Mr. Abbas, “would be willing and capable of doing the same,” Michael Herzog, an Israeli negotiator, wrote. “That confidence is not there.”

    Netanyahu and Gantz are neck and neck in exit polls.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist challenger, the former army chief Benny Gantz, appeared to be neck and neck as Israel’s second election in five months drew to a close Tuesday night, according to initial surveys of voters leaving the polls.

    It was too early to tell if Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party or Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party would emerge with enough seats in Parliament to form a governing coalition.

    In three exit polls, Mr. Gantz held a slight edge. None of the surveys gave either man a governing majority.

    The last voters were still lining up to cast their ballots at 10 p.m. when the exit polls were reported.

    Adding to the uncertainty, Israeli exit polls have been inaccurate and unreliable in the past.

    Actual results were expected to trickle in overnight. And the winner of the contest for prime minister could end up being decided not by the final vote count but in weeks of coalition talks.

    Mr. Gantz, speaking to supporters in Tel Aviv early Wednesday, sounded cautiously optimistic despite those uncertainties. “According to the current results, Netanyahu did not complete his mission,” he said. “We did.”

    “Israeli society is strong,” he added, “but it is wounded, and the time has come to heal it.”

    At his own event later in the morning, Mr. Netanyahu told a small but vocal crowd in Tel Aviv that he would wait for the actual results, but planned to enter negotiations to establish “a strong Zionist government and prevent a dangerous anti-Zionist government.”

    “There won’t be, there can’t be a government that relies on the anti-Zionist Arab parties, parties that deny Israel’s very existence as a Jewish and democratic state,” he said. “Parties that glorify and praise bloodthirsty terrorists who murder our soldiers, our citizens and our children. That simply cannot be.”

    Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, he narrowly won the vote in April but was unable to form a government with his usual right-wing and religious coalition partners. He dissolved Parliament, triggering Tuesday’s do-over election, rather than let Mr. Gantz or another rival be given the chance to form a coalition.

    The exit polls had other bad news for Mr. Netanyahu.

    All three showed the umbrella Arab party, the Arab Joint List, improving on its 10-seat current representation, with gains of up to three seats. Arab citizens were eager to end the Netanyahu era, and any increase in their representation in Parliament takes seats away from a possible Netanyahu coalition.

    The exit polls also all showed a far-right anti-Arab party, Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power, failing to gain enough votes to be seated in Parliament. If that result holds it could prove costly to Mr. Netanyahu, because the party’s votes — which could have gone to other right-wing parties that would have joined his coalition — will have been wasted.

    The Elephant Bar

    Netanyahu sounded like a classical anti-Semite in terms of saying the Arabs instead of the Jews--the Arabs and foreign moneyed interests are conspiring to overthrow me. He sounded paranoid.

    But in reality I think he is a shrewd politician and he knows that this kind of paranoid rhetoric, this victim rhetoric, really does mobilize his base. And it appears to have worked, along with the incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel, when he said in a video he released this morning, the Arabs are moving on the polling places in droves.

    And it was interesting that in the language he used in Hebrew, he used particularly military analogies.

    He talked about the Arabs moving on the polling places as if they were advancing in a military fashion. And he told Jewish voters, we do not have V15 (that's this organization he claims is working against him) we have order number eight. Now, order number eight, as all Israelis know, is the call-up order for the general reserves.

    When order number eight is implemented, it means that Israeli reserve soldiers should go to their mustering sites. So he was actually appealing to Jewish voters as if they were being called up to a military operation.

    Of course, this military operation is directed against Palestinian citizens of Israel. So what it shows is a mindset where he and his base view Palestinian citizens of Israel as an internal enemy. But that rhetoric is very, very effective

    . and the GOP Likuds Force is stuck with him. Sticky, slimy, on the soles of their shoes tracking his stink wherever they go for the next two years.

    VOA News
    March 18, 2015 5:56 PM

    The U.S. State Department says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reelection will have no impact on nuclear talks with Iran.

    Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday the U.S. has long been familiar with Netanyahu's opposition to a possible deal with Iran. She again said that meetings with Iran have been "difficult but constructive." However, she said the talks on the technical side have been "professional and fruitful" in clarifying and sharpening the issues.

    Two weeks before the Israeli election, Netanyahu angered the Obama administration by addressing the U.S. Congress and calling the still-pending deal with Iran a "bad deal."

    In Lausanne, Switzerland - site of the current round of nuclear talks - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday that Friday's planned meeting with the other foreign ministers involved in the negotiations is unlikely. Zarif told Iranian television that everyone says the political will for a settlement exists, but it is still to be seen if it is really there.

    The foreign ministers would join the negotiations when it looks like a deal is close.

    Iran and the so-called P5 + 1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) face a March 31 deadline for a framework agreement.

    Iran would scale back its uranium enrichment program to prevent it from being able to build a nuclear bomb. The U.S. and its partners would ease sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy.

    Opponents to a deal, including Netanyahu and a number of U.S. lawmakers, say it gives too many concessions to Iran and leaves it room to still develop a bomb.

    Iran consistently denies wanting to build atomic weapons, saying its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful civilian uses.

    The Obama administration assumes that it needs Russia to get an Iranian nuclear deal. But behind-the-scenes happenings suggest that Russia has its own plans. That may explain why the administration is willing to bypass Congress to get a pact with Tehran.

    Russia and Iran have been moving closer in recent months. On Jan. 20, they signed a military cooperation agreement after the first visit of a Russian defense minister to Iran in 15 years. They have agreed to share intelligence and operate joint facilities on the Syrian-Lebanese border, and both nations support Syrian President Bashar Assad. These come on top of existing agreements and ongoing Moscow-Tehran talks over nuclear technology, trade, energy and arms sales.
    There are signs that Russia and Iran’s relations are about to get even closer. One of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top advisers, Ali-Akbar Velayti, visited Moscow in late January, and a visit to Tehran by Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be in the offing. Leaders in both countries seem to be thinking of bigger things.
    What is driving interest in warmer relations is obvious. Russia and Iran share strategic hostility to the U.S., with some in Moscow going so far as to suggest an anti-American strategic alliance with Iran. Putin adviser Sergey Glazyev recently said that “a world war is beginning with the aggression of the USA against Russia in Ukraine and against Iran and Syria in the Middle East.” Mr. Glazyev is a hard-liner known for incendiary statements, but he is also close to Mr. Putin and clearly has his ear on Ukraine. Given how aggressive the Putin strategy there has become, these statements should not be ignored.

    So what are the implications of a Russian-Iranian alliance?
    For one thing, beware of Moscow’s endgame on the Iranian nuclear talks. If Iran gets a one-year breakout potential along with lifted sanctions, it would suit Moscow’s interests perfectly by making its new BFF the region’s biggest power player and giving it increased access to Iran’s expanding quasi-empire that includes Shiite Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
    For another, Moscow becomes the kingmaker in deciding the fate of an Iranian nuclear deal. One of the first things Russia could do is to ask the United Nations Security Council to codify the agreement and lift sanctions on Teheran. Having already signed off on the deal, the Obama administration would have to go along.
    That may very well have been Mr. Obama’s endgame all along. As Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith suggests, if the terms of a P5+1 agreement is folded into a Security Council resolution, it would be binding on the U.S. as a matter of international law. As was done in the Libya war resolution, going directly to the United Nations lets Mr. Obama bypass Congress, effectively going over the heads of the American people to cut a binding deal with the “international community.”
    If this happens, and Iran decides to cheat on the deal, it will be the United Nations tying America’s hands, not Iran‘s. It would be exceedingly difficult to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran, and if the U.S. did so unilaterally, it would stand accused by at least Iran, Russia and China of violating international law. Iran could very well get a nuclear weapons program under the nose of the world, and short of war, the U.S. would be out of options.
    This situation suits Russia just fine. Moscow, not Washington, becomes the key decider of whether Iran does or does not acquire nuclear weapons. Russia may now prefer that Iran not get them, but in the future Moscow’s interest in enhancing its strategic position in the Middle East may trump its current caution.
    If Washington is not careful, a nuclear Iran may be only the beginning. We also could see the rise of an anti-American axis comprising Iran and Russia, both determined to see the U.S. driven out of the Middle East.

    - A former assistant secretary of state, Kim R. Holmes is a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation
    Originally appeared in The Washington Times

    There Are No "Distinguished" Fellows at The Heritage Foundation.

    The party of stupid, OOrahing behind Captain Cotton, think that the Russians are not smart enough or bold enough to take advantage of the damage done by The GOP Likuds Force?

    They really are a ship of fools.

    CNN/ORC has Hillary up by double digits against All of their potential candidates.

    (Not that Hillary should give anyone the "warm and fuzzies" either.)

    Iran is going to make a deal. They'd be nuts not to, and they know it.

    Btw, Obama's gamble not to provide air cover to "The Warriors of God"tm is turning out to have made a powerful point.

    We live in interesting times.

    Getting, maybe, just little too interesting? :)

    Surprise! Netanyahu wins as Israeli Right soars
    posted at 8:31 am on March 18, 2015 by Ed Morrissey

    In the end, the Israeli election wasn’t even close — and certainly not in the way that analysts expected. For the past week, media outlets in the US had written Benjamin Netanyahu’s political obituary, insisting that Likud and the Right had collapsed, and looked forward to a Left coalition that would align better with Barack Obama. Instead, Netanyahu scored a decisive victory, taking 30 seats as the Right ran to an easy majority in the new Knesset:

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party was the clear winner in Tuesday’s election, a near-final tally showed early Wednesday morning, defeating the Zionist Union by a margin of some six seats.

    That margin was far more decisive than TV exit polls had predicted when polling booths closed at 10 p.m. on Tuesday. All three TV polls had put Likud and Zionist Union neck-and-neck at 27 seats, albeit with Netanyahu better-placed to form a coalition.

    On the basis of those TV polls, Netanyahu hailed a Likud victory, though Herzog initially refused to concede. As counting proceeded through the night, however, the Likud opened a growing margin of victory.

    By 6 a.m., with some 99% of votes counted, the Central Elections Committee was indicating a dramatic victory for Netanyahu, with the Likud heading for 30 seats, compared to Zionist Union’s 24 seats.

    The Washington Post’s William Booth acknowledges that a lot of people got this wrong, and wonders why:

    Before the vote, pundits were beginning to write the first drafts of Netan­yahu’s political obituary. Reporters asked him in interviews what he planned to do in retirement.

    But in the past five days, Netan­yahu took to the airwaves, warning repeatedly that Herzog and the left were going to turn over land to the Palestinians and divide Jerusalem, which both Israel and Palestinians claim as their capital.

    It was unclear whether Israeli pollsters just got it wrong or could not keep up with fast-moving events. The last opinion polls on Friday suggested that Netanyahu was losing. Exit polls Tuesday night said it was a tie. The final vote count showed that Netanyahu had won by a wide margin.

    Leading pollster Avi Degani, president of the Geocartography Knowledge Group, said Wednesday that there were several reasons for the disparity.

    “We are not looking for excuses, but in Israel we are always dealing with 20 percent of the voters who have not made a decision before the election and you just do not know who they will vote for,” he said.

    That sounds like a pretty good argument for keeping the powder dry on questions about retirement plans until after the vote count. Sky News offers a slightly more bitter explanation:

    That’s certainly another view, and one likely to be adopted by those disappointed in the results. However, the Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman writes that the real difference may have been Netanyahu’s appeal to the “second Israel,” and his fight against the elites:

    The Ashkenazi immigrants from Eastern Europe were seen as having an unfair advantage over their Sephardic counterparts from North Africa and the Middle East. The people who are called “the second Israel” have complained since then that the “elites” in the Israeli Left, the media and academia have discriminated against them.

    The “second Israel” did not like the the way the media seemed to be deposing of Netanyahu and bringing to power the Left under the leadership of Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who were raised not far from each other in North Tel Aviv and are both the children of former Knesset members. …

    Many who considered staying home, or voting for one of the Likud’s satellite parties, hurried to the polling stations to cast ballots for Likud. People who have not voted in years – or at least not for Likud – felt the need to save Israel from the Left, Iran and from a hostile international community.

    The challenge for Netanyahu will likely be more on the domestic economy rather than international relations. The US will press Netanyahu to back down from his newly announced opposition to a two-state solution, but the Obama administration has torched that relationship over the last year. They were hoping to get another PM to improve their standing at home on Israel, but now it’s clear that Netanyahu will outlast Obama and John Kerry. It’s also clear that Israelis aren’t terribly keen on two-state solutions while Hamas runs Gaza and Mahmoud Abbas keeps pledging unity governments with them, either. Otherwise, Netanyahu’s final pitch wouldn’t have resulted in his surprising win last night.

    Where does this leave the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, then? In a shambles, but it’s been that way for decades, and it wasn’t going anywhere with Obama and Kerry any more than it was with George Bush and Condoleezza Rice. The problem still remains that one side wants peace, and the other side wants all the land and the Jews pushed out into the Mediterranean. When that changes and both sides want peaceful and permanent coexistence, then the problem will find an easy solution.

    In the meantime, the White House will have to find a way to reach out to Netanyahu if it wants to have any influence at all in Israel before the end of Obama’s term. Don’t expect Netanyahu to make it easy, either.

    Time to toot the Toyota horn.

    The odd thing is that the foreign policy of the Zionist Union is basically the same as that of Likud regarding Iran.

    The real disagreement between the two was on domestic affairs, housing, prices, etc.

    The tactics of the Islamo-fascists in the White House and in the Democratic Party of overtly intervening in Israel's election process via 'Democratic political operatives' and suitcases full of cash from American taxpayers seems to have badly backfired.

    Rufus is right. The Iranians would be idiots not to make a deal with Obama.

    He is giving them the store, unless our Constitution prevails and the Senate has a say, as it Constitutionally is charged with doing.

    Not so much. I don't find it interesting to see our Constitution being continually shredded by an asshole like O'bozo and his enablers in the Democratic Party.

    I find it extremely distressing, not interesting.

    Robert "Draft Dodger" Peterson stole his aunt's honor, destroyed her reputation and good name.

    He should feel distressed.

    Rufus IIWed Mar 18, 07:55:00 PM EDT

    The US Solar PV Market had a phenomenal run in 2014. According to data released yesterday by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research — 6 GW of new capacity was added during the last year, taking the cumulative PV installations tally to 18.3 GW!

    That’s a growth of 30% over the previous year, representing nearly $18 billion in new investment. By the end of 2014, 20 states have reached the 100 MW mark for cumulative operating PV installations, with California alone boasting a humongous 8.7 GW.

    Before we dive into the performance of each market segment, consider this: In 2014, for the first time in history, each of the three market segments — utility, commercial and residential — installed more than . . . . . . .

    <a href="'>Lighting it Up</a>

    Iraqi security forces surrounding Tikrit continue to receive reinforcements ahead of the final phase of the operation to clear Islamic State fighters from the heart of the city. The call to battle has attracted fighters from popular volunteer groups including the Badr Organization, the League of the Righteous, the Peace Brigades and their affiliates. Senior Iraqi army sources are keen to emphasize that many of the militias have experience fighting in built-up areas and that the Tikrit operation as a whole has played out to a largely predetermined timeline. In fact, the success of the security forces, heavily supported by Iran, has so far exceeded expectations.

    However, the most difficult phase is yet to come. While combat engineers endeavor to clear the approaches to Tikrit, removing improvised and conventional explosives, a concerted bombing campaign is softening up Islamic State positions in downtown Tikrit. A combination of light and heavy artillery, fixed wing aircraft, attack helicopters and artillery rockets continue to pound targets inside the city.

    A combination of light and heavy artillery, fixed wing aircraft, attack helicopters and artillery rockets continue to pound targets inside the city.

    The Iraqi Security Forces are going to raze Tikrit.
    That was probably always the "Plan".

    They 'stalled' the advance to pound the city with artillery and strategic bombing from the air.

    Eh, sounds like a "dumb" plan, to me but . . . . . . .

    It's the Middleeast, Jake. :)

    Tikrit, the hometown of the man most hated man by the Shia of Iraq.

    A little 'payback' will go a long way to easing the desire for further vengeance on the part of the Shia.
    Then there was the slaughter of the Shia at that military academy.

    An Iraqi mission, from start to finish, and it will finish.
    The building that have 'booby trapped' will be destroyed, razing the city, with the responsibility place squarely on the Islamic State, the Sunni radicals.

    It fulfills all the requirements for the Iraqi government and electoral majority of their "Purple Fingered" constituency.
    Neither the Shia nor the Kurds will feel remorseful that the Islamic State caused the destruction of Tikrit, in a drawn out siege.

    The that have 'booby trapped' will be destroyed . placed .


    Netanyahu’s Historic Win — and Obama’s Humiliating Loss
    Peter Wehner 03.18.2015 - 10:15 AM

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stunning victory yesterday — polls at the end of last week had people writing off his chances — means he will become only the second person to be elected prime minister for a third term (the other being Israel’s founder David Ben-Gurion). “King Bibi” has established himself as one of the dominant figures in the history of the modern state of Israel. Mr. Netanyahu is hardly a person without flaws. But for those of us who admire his toughness and moral clarity on world events — and who appreciate his obvious love for his nation and for ours — it was a splendid turn of events.

    As for the current occupant of the White House, it was a disastrous one.

    Barack Obama has an obsessive animosity when it comes to Prime Minister Netanyahu, which he has demonstrated time and again. So much so that Obama and his aides did everything they could to influence the Israeli election, from smearing Mr. Netanyahu — referring to him as a “coward” and a “chickens***” — to childishly elevating a difference over Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress into a foreign policy crisis to perhaps illegally funneling money to oust the sitting leader of Israel. We know that Jeremy Bird, who served as Obama’s deputy national campaign director in 2008 and his national campaign director in 2012, arrived in Israel in January to help unseat Mr. Netanyahu. This is all quite astonishing, even unprecedented. Benjamin Netanyahu may have won without the outside interference by Obama — but what Obama & Company did certainly helped.

    I’m reminded of the self-inflicted “stunning setback” Mr. Obama suffered in 2009, when he and Mrs. Obama put their prestige on the line — they both flew to Copenhagen to make an appeal to the IOC — to get Chicago the 2016 Olympics. Chicago was eliminated on the first ballot. This time, the stakes were much higher and the damage done to Mr. Obama’s reputation far greater. .

    There’s quite a pattern Mr. Obama has established in foreign policy during his presidency. He has failed in almost every instance, from his efforts at personal diplomacy to his policies. Remember the “new beginning” with the Arab and Muslim world? That claim now seems risible. Indeed, our relations with nation after nation — Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Canada, Israel, India, Australia, Honduras, Brazil, Germany, and Great Britain, to name just a few — are worse now than they were when Mr. Obama was sworn in as president in 2009.

    Everyone to their own opinion.

    I think even Elizabeth Warren might make a better President than Obama.

    Recent high level military dialogue between General Rat "The Liar" Hawkins and General Doofus "July 14th" Rufus.

    Jack HawkinsWed Mar 18, 09:57:00 PM EDT

    The Iraqi Security Forces are going to raze Tikrit.
    That was probably always the "Plan".

    They 'stalled' the advance to pound the city with artillery and strategic bombing from the air.
    Rufus IIWed Mar 18, 10:05:00 PM EDT

    Eh, sounds like a "dumb" plan, to me but . . . . . . .

    General Doofus "July 4th" Rufus

    Both our Generals have now endorsed the razing of cities via carpet bombing.

    No, you lying, racist sonofabitch, YOU are the sorry asshole that is constantly advocating "CARPET BOMBING!"

    I have advocated the precise strikes on individual targets, with very little collateral damage, that the U.S. has consistently accomplished.

    I said that if "razing" Tikrit was in the Iraqi plans, it was a Dumb plan.

    You are a totally worthless piece of anti-democratic, hateful trash.

    General Rat "The Liar" Hawkins

    If you don't find this knee slapping high-larious, as dad used to say, you've no sense of humor whatsoever.

    bob Thu May 27, 12:52:00 AM EDT

    But I did rip off the bank for $7500 hundred dollars, when I was on my knees, and fighting for my economic life, on my aunt's credit card. But that wasn't really stealing, just payback. …

    Just like a meth head, Robert "Draft Dodger" Peterson, tries to justify his crime by saying that the loot was owed him, by the people or institution he ripped off.

    Your understanding of the Shia mentality, Robert "Draft Dodger" Peterson, is nil.

    Your understanding of the world, even less.

    And, I'll just repeat my above comment:

    No, you lying, racist sonofabitch, YOU are the sorry asshole that is constantly advocating "CARPET BOMBING!"

    I have advocated the precise strikes on individual targets, with very little collateral damage, that the U.S. has consistently accomplished.

    I said that if "razing" Tikrit was in the Iraqi plans, it was a Dumb plan.

    You are a totally worthless piece of anti-democratic, hateful trash.

    But Robert "Draft Dodger" did understand that he was stealing his aunt's honor, destroying her good name, her reputation.

    It was tough, in them days. They couldn't do a damn thing about it, I put her in the rest home, age 96. What you going to do, when she is institutionalized?

    But Robert "Draft Dodger" Petersondid understand that he was stealing his aunt's honor, destroying her good name, her reputation.

    It has been widely reported that the Iraqi government has not requested Coalition support in Tikrit.

    I have not read, anywhere, that there was a request for coalition air support and the US decided not to provide it.

    I know I'm making a leap, here, Rat. But, I'm assuming that the reason it wasn't requested it that the U.S. took a look at the plan, and told them that we weren't interested, and to save the embarrassment.

    And, that might not be the case, but it seems likely to me.

    If we assume that the reports are correct, that the Iraqi have not requested Coalition support, the question becomes one of motive.

    Did the US inform the Iraqi that if they did request support, that it would not be granted, because of the makeup of the Iraqi Security Forces? I have not read this, anywhere.

    If there are only a couple of hundred Islamic State combatants in Tikrit, and the Iraqi have decided to not use infantry, but indirect fire and attack aircraft, SU-25s and Mi-24 Hinds to strike targets in the city center .

    Their goal seems pretty clear . destroy Tikrit.

    Yeah, begrudgingly, I have to admit that that does seem quite possible. Oh, well.

    Think of the Battle of Thermopylae.

    Rather than commit his infantry in a battle to the finish . Xerxes used his archers to kill the last of the Spartans from a safe stand-off distance.

    The Iraqi are doing the same, and destroying Tikrit in the process, two birds, one stone.

    There are no arbitrary timelines for the Iraqi government, they have all the time they need, or want .

    The consummate Republican

    Donald Trump, best known for having a lot of money, naming buildings after himself, being the last man standing in the “Obama isn't from America” brigade, hosting a reality show, and his impossible hair, is exploring the idea that he should run for President.

    To me, choosing between the Shia of Iraq and Iran, and ISIS is too hard a choice.

    I'm for supporting the Kurds.

    Let the others do what they will.

    I'm nearly always wrong on elections and sure enough I got the Israeli one wrong too.

    The US is supporting the Kurds, through the Iraqi government.

    The discovery of widespread FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan suggests the assumption to be incorrect that FGM is primarily an African phenomenon with only marginal occurrence in the eastern Islamic world. FGM is practiced at a rate of nearly 60 percent by Iraqi Kurds, then how prevalent is the practice in neighboring Syria where living conditions and cultural and religious practices are comparable?

    Answer US that Robert "Draft Dodger" Peterson

    You are now an official member of the Elephant blog’s Jew haters society.

    Being called racist, anti-Semite, a Jew hater (not quite sure what the distinction is), a homophobe, whatever, doesn’t really bother me in and of itself. I’m frankly too old to give a shit. At this point, I am what I am. However, what I do usually get pissed about is that those that offer up the slur rarely offer any proof of their charges. It pisses me off that those making the charge assume that you will either get defensive or let them off without demanding evidence of the charge.

    In your case, WiO, I make an exception. The charge comes so trippingly off your tongue at the slightest expression of disagreement over Israeli policy, over discussions of discrimination written into Israeli law, or disagreements with the faux history you espouse here that one has to think that it is a learned response, a reflex if you like. If the charges are because I see Bibi as an arrogant, lying, prick, if it is because I feel Zionism does not fit with the principles of the West, if I see the West Bank and Gaza as occupied territory rather than ‘disputed’ territory, or that I think that while Israel is an ally of the US that does not necessarily mean they are our our friend, well then, so be it. However, none of those were mentioned today. What was mentioned were my view on who was responsible for last year’s Gazan war.

    Your latest charge, that I am a Jew hater, is based on my statement that Bibi was responsible for the Gazan war, that he was pissed off because of the Reconciliation Agreement between the PA and Hamas, and that the deaths of the three Israeli youths was the false flag he used to tar Hamas and drive a wedge between the PA and Hamas to end any reconciliation.

    Hamas butchers Israel kids, launches rockets that they had spent 1 billion on preparing, spent 1 billion on tunnels into israel, refused the arab league cease fire and you call it a “false flag”.

    You base your opinion (I assume) on what Bibi tells you was his reasons for attacking Gaza. I on the other hand wouldn’t trust Bibi to tell me the time of day.

    I’ll concentrate on the deaths of the Israeli kids and the rocket attacks from Gaza rather than the other stuff you mentioned since the first two were what you mentioned initially and much of the other stuff came after the fact. However, I can’t help bringing up events that occurred prior to those acts to explain my position. They go beyond Bibi’s means to start the war and explain his motives.

    Item 1: The PA/Hamas Reconciliation Agreement

    When the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks being pushed by Kerry and the US fell apart in April, 2014, the PA and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement combining forces. This worked for the PA because Hamas agreed to submit to PA authority on key issues including Israel’s right to exist and control of terrorist forces. On the other hand, Hamas was forced to agree with it because they were losing public support in Gaza and were nearly bankrupt.

    As for the Israelis, Bibi went batshit crazy at word of the reconciliation and, even though previous agreements between the two groups had eventually fallen apart, Bibi overplayed his hand. The agreement eliminated one of the main talking points he had used during the peace talks, that being how can he be expected to sign an agreement with the PA when that organization only represented part of the Palestinian people. He also stormed on about Hamas being a terrorist group but the US and other allies were positive on the agreement. Bibi was also concerned that the combined group would have increased status in their push for statehood. Also, Israel had benefited from the Palestinians divided leadership and weren’t anxious to see them operating in a combined fashion.

    Bibi used every carrot and stick he could think of to end the proposed agreement from offering to continue negotiations on a two-state solution (basically lying) if it was dropped, to threatening to hold the PA responsible for any rockets shot out of Gaza, to demanding that US aid to the PA be cut off, to explaining American law to Americans.

    Item 2: The Rocket Attacks

    Though some here blame every rocket attack coming out of Gaza on Hamas, Hamas is not the only militant group in the territory. Islamic Jihad and other groups are there too.
    As part of the reconciliation process Hamas was trying to bring about with the PA, they were trying to do their best to slow the rocket attacks on Israel. The same policing function the PA performs in the West Bank. In fact, the number of rockets attacks in 2013 was down 98% from those in 2012 and 2014 was also down until the numbers exploded after the war started in Gaza.

    Item 3: The death of the three Israeli youths

    You say that it was the killing of the three Israeli youths on June 12 that started the Gaza war. However, others point to the killings of two Palestinian youths during the Nabka day memorial in May, 2014 that precipitated the deaths of the 3 Israelis.

    Israel described the protest as a riot in which a crowd refused to disperse,[1] and initially denied responsibility, saying the cause of the deaths was unknown, the deaths were faked, that video clips of the killings either failed to capture the violence of the scene shortly before, or might have been manipulated, that soldiers had been provoked and that only rubber bullets had been fired.[1][2] Third party evidence and investigations, based on multiple sources, refuted the IDF position, while an autopsy showed that one of the teenagers had been shot with live ammunition.[3]

    The autopsy on one of the Palestinian youths showing he had been killed by live ammunition was released the day before the three Israelis were kidnapped and killed. Not long after the Israelis were killed another Palestinian youth was kidnapped, tortured, and killed.

    The killings are likely all too familiar to those living in Israel and the Occupied Territories. They might have been contained had not Bibi interfered for political reasons as explained in the following article from Forward.

    How Politics and Lies Triggered an Unintended War in Gaza

    In the flood of angry words that poured out of Israel and Gaza during a week of spiraling violence, few statements were more blunt, or more telling, than this throwaway line by the chief spokesman of the Israeli military, Brigadier General Moti Almoz, speaking July 8 on Army Radio’s morning show: “We have been instructed by the political echelon to hit Hamas hard.”

    That’s unusual language for a military mouthpiece. Typically they spout lines like “We will take all necessary actions” or “The state of Israel will defend its citizens.” You don’t expect to hear: “This is the politicians’ idea. They’re making us do it.”

    Admittedly, demurrals on government policy by Israel’s top defense brass, once virtually unthinkable, have become almost routine in the Netanyahu era. Usually, though, there’s some measure of subtlety or discretion. This particular interview was different. Where most disagreements involve policies that might eventually lead to some future unnecessary war, this one was about an unnecessary war they were now stumbling into.

    Spokesmen don’t speak for themselves. Almoz was expressing a frustration that was building in the army command for nearly a month, since the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli yeshiva boys. The crime set off a chain of events in which Israel gradually lost control of the situation, finally ending up on the brink of a war that nobody wanted — not the army, not the government, not even the enemy, Hamas.

    The frustration had numerous causes. Once the boys’ disappearance was known, troops began a massive, 18-day search-and-rescue operation, entering thousands of homes, arresting and interrogating hundreds of individuals, racing against the clock. Only on July 1, after the boys’ bodies were found, did the truth come out: The government had known almost from the beginning that the boys were dead. It maintained the fiction that it hoped to find them alive as a pretext to dismantle Hamas’ West Bank operations.

    The initial evidence was the recording of victim Gilad Shaer’s desperate cellphone call to Moked 100, Israel’s 911. When the tape reached the security services the next morning — neglected for hours by Moked 100 staff — the teen was heard whispering “They’ve kidnapped me” (“hatfu oti”) followed by shouts of “Heads down,” then gunfire, two groans, more shots, then singing in Arabic. That evening searchers found the kidnappers’ abandoned, torched Hyundai, with eight bullet holes and the boys’ DNA. There was no doubt.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately placed a gag order on the deaths. Journalists who heard rumors were told the Shin Bet wanted the gag order to aid the search. For public consumption, the official word was that Israel was “acting on the assumption that they’re alive.” It was, simply put, a lie.

    Moti Almoz, as army spokesman, was in charge of repeating the lie. True, others backed him up, including Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. But when the truth came out on July 1, Almoz bore the brunt of public derision. Critics said his credibility was shot. He’d only been spokesman since October, after a long career as a blunt-talking field commander with no media experience. Others felt professional frustration. His was personal.

    Nor was that the only fib. It was clear from the beginning that the kidnappers weren’t acting on orders from Hamas leadership in Gaza or Damascus. Hamas’ Hebron branch — more a crime family than a clandestine organization — had a history of acting without the leaders’ knowledge, sometimes against their interests. Yet Netanyahu repeatedly insisted Hamas was responsible for the crime and would pay for it.

    This put him in a ticklish position. His rhetoric raised expectations that after demolishing Hamas in the West Bank he would proceed to Gaza. Hamas in Gaza began preparing for it. The Israeli right — settler leaders, hardliners in his own party — began demanding it.

    But Netanyahu had no such intention. The last attack on Gaza, the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, targeted Hamas leaders and taught a sobering lesson. Hamas hadn’t fired a single rocket since, and had largely suppressed fire by smaller jihadi groups. Rocket firings, averaging 240 per month in 2007, dropped to five per month in 2013. Neither side had any desire to end the détente. Besides, whatever might replace Hamas in Gaza could only be worse.

    The kidnapping and crackdown upset the balance. In Israel, grief and anger over the boys’ disappearance grew steadily as the fabricated mystery stretched into a second and third week. Rallies and prayer meetings were held across the country and in Jewish communities around the world. The mothers were constantly on television. One addressed the United Nations in Geneva to plead for her son’s return. Jews everywhere were in anguish over the unceasing threat of barbaric Arab terror plaguing Israel.

    This, too, was misleading. The last seven years have been the most tranquil in Israel’s history. Terror attacks are a fraction of the level during the nightmare intifada years — just six deaths in all of 2013. But few notice. The staged agony of the kidnap search created, probably unintentionally, what amounts to a mass, worldwide attack of post-traumatic stress flashback.

    When the bodies were finally found, Israelis’ anger exploded into calls for revenge, street riots and, finally, murder.

    Amid the rising tension, cabinet meetings in Jerusalem turned into shouting matches. Ministers on the right demanded the army reoccupy Gaza and destroy Hamas. Netanyahu replied, backed by the army and liberal ministers, that the response must be measured and careful. It was an unaccustomed and plainly uncomfortable role for him. He was caught between his pragmatic and ideological impulses.

    Gantz and Netanyahu both claim victory in Israeli election

    Rivals Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu have both claimed victory in the Israeli election after exit polls showed the race too close to call.

    "We won! The Israeli public has had their say!" Blue and White leader Gantz said. "Thank you to the thousands of activists and over a million voters. These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser. Netanyahu promised 40 seats and lost. The President can see the picture and should call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option!”

    Netanyahu said: “The right-wing bloc led by the Likud won a clear victory. I thank the citizens of Israel for the trust. I will start forming a right-wing government with our natural partners as soon as tonight.”

    Netanyahu Lost. His Enemies Won. But Who Can Govern Israel?

    “Netanyahu lost,” says former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who foresees another round of elections in early 2020.

    Noga Tarnopolsky

    Jack Guez/AFP/Getty

    The strangest episode of Israel’s raucous election—the second in six months—flickered by almost unnoticed, one clip among the 30 videos Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted to his YouTube channel in the final two days before Tuesday’s vote.

    Lush with images of sleek Israelis surfing off Tel Aviv beaches and sipping coffee and cocktails in a succession of inviting bars and cafés, it almost looked like a product of the tourism ministry—until the part where you see a woman’s toes peek beyond a blanket, reaching out to tease the toes of the man sharing the bed with her, and those manly toes turning away.

    “Right-wing voters have to wake up!” the caption blared. “On Tuesday, you have to go out to vote Likud, and bring family and friends!”

    The Likud is Netanyahu’s party, and the ad was meant as a counter-incentive. Netanyahu’s pitch can be summed up thus: Don’t sleep with your hot girlfriend. Don’t go to the beach. Don’t enjoy Tel Aviv’s great cafés. Go out and vote for me!

    If Netanyahu was concerned about voter fatigue, he needn’t have worried.

    Turnout was a few points higher than it was in the April 9 vote, despite fresh memories of the night six weeks later in which Netanyahu acknowledged he’d failed to form a coalition government and—instead of returning the mandate to Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin—dissolved the parliament and sent Israel into second elections.

    On first glance it looks like Israelis returned a second inconclusive verdict, this time with gusto.

    The apparent draw between Netanyahu’s Likud and the main opposition party, Blue and White, led by former army chief of staff Benny Gantz—each claim about 33 seats out of the parliament’s 120—seems to indicate that Israelis have no idea what they want.

    On second glance, it is clear that Netanyahu, who has dominated Israeli politics for decades and has served as prime minister for the last 10 years, lost—if only because all of his perceived enemies won.

    Netanyahu ran his campaign as if he was besieged in a bunker, regularly taking aim at sham nemeses.

    He deemed Avigdor Lieberman, a hardline secular nationalist best known for advocating the death penalty for terrorists, “a leftist.”

    Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former defense minister, triggered both the elections of 2019, first by resigning in December 2018, and then by refusing in May to join a coalition beholden to the demands of ultra-orthodox Jewish parties.

    Lieberman’s wager paid off, and he has come close to doubling the number of seats his party holds in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to a projected eight or nine.

    Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, in Jerusalem, said “Lieberman is the ultimate kingmaker. Netanyahu does not have a government without Lieberman. Lieberman can really dictate the makeup, to a certain extent, of the next government.”

    Official elections results are expected on Sept. 25, after the certification of the ballot counts, which is conducted by hand.

    Netanyahu attacked the media from the start to the end of his campaign, complaining, in his 3 a.m. Wednesday not-concession speech delivered before a largely empty hall, that the press had forced him to contend with "the most difficult, the most biased campaign ever."

    But the press got it right this time, forecasting that he would be left without room to maneuver ahead of the Oct. 2 hearing at which his attorney general, who announced his intention to indict Netanyahu on a raft of corruption charges last February, will lay out the evidence against him.

    Such is Netanyahu’s predicament that on Wednesday, he canceled his participation in next week’s United Nations General Assembly, one of his favorite events of the year.

    Gantz vows to pursue peace with the Palestinians, to institute term limits, and, has unrelentingly promised his supporters that he will never join a government including Netanyahu while he remains a criminal suspect.

    This stance seems to rule out a possible government of national unity, in which Blue and White would sit together with the Likud.

    This electoral dead end is leading observers to envisage what was once unthinkable: a unity government in which Likud would be led by someone else.

    In the event the party, hungry to hold on to power, ousts Netanyahu as its leader, “a new chairman of the Likud might be able to form a government with Blue and White, and then we will probably witness an outcome of a rotation of the position of the Prime Minister between Mr. Gantz and whoever the Likud will elect,” Plesner says, predicting that Israel is “about to enter a period of political uncertainty.”

    Throughout his campaign, Netanyahu reserved his most vicious, most uncompromising, and finally most unhinged attacks for Israel’s Arab minority, 20 percent of the population and about 16 percent of the voting public, whose participation in the last vote sunk to an historic low. He accused Arab politicians of supporting terrorism. He accused his opponent, Gantz, a decorated general, of conspiring with Arab leaders to name them ministers.

    Netanyahu also accused Gantz of concealing the fact that Iran had hacked his phone, obtaining sleazy photographs proving sexual misbehavior—an accusation that appears to have been invented out of whole cloth.

    In the campaign’s frenzied final week, Netanyahu tried to rush through the Knesset a law allowing his party to hide cameras in Arab polling places—as it did, illegally, in April, causing an uproar. The bill failed. And he became the first head of government to be sanctioned by Facebook for hate speech, when his page sent out messages warning that “Arabs want to annihilate us all – women, children and men.”

    The Joint List, a majority-Arab party, that ran as several disparate factions in April, mobilized a major get-out-the-vote operation, apparently surging to 13 seats and becoming Israel’s third largest party, after the Likud and Blue and White.

    With an Arab, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh, who exulted late Tuesday that “incitement didn’t work!” and a "leftist," Avigdor Lieberman, poised to play kingmakers, the election results constitute a Netanyahu nightmare.

    “Netanyahu was defeated,” Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister and Likud elder, told The Daily Beast in an interview, “he lost, and as far as we can see, there is no feasible way he could form a new coalition.”

    But since it looks “doubtful that any possible coalition would achieve the support of 61 Knesset members,” Olmert said, “it is likely there will be another round of elections in early 2020.”

    For Israel to once again have a stable government, the only solution Olmert sees is another round of elections “very soon.”

    But unlike Netanyahu’s opponents, who have spent the past year admonishing the public about the danger the prime minister poses to Israeli democracy, Olmert is sanguine.

    “The country’s democratic foundations are very stable,” he said, “and there is no real fear they are being undermined.” Not only that, he said, mentioning the political crisis in the United Kingdom, “the difficulty of ruling a state is not just an Israeli phenomenon… These are relatively common phenomena and Israel is no exception.”

    Watch the video: Israeli far-right MP Bezalel Smotrich tells Arab lawmakers Nakba was incomplete (August 2022).