Netanyahu election rival pledges to ‘separate’ from Palestinians

FILE PHOTO: Benny Gantz, head of Resilience party is seen after a news conference, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The centrist Blue and White party posing the biggest election challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged a policy of “separation” from Palestinians in occupied land on Wednesday, but stopped short of backing their goal of statehood.

However, the party’s number two, former finance minister Yair Lapid, predicted that parting ways with the Palestinians would eventually lead to them having a state of their own alongside Israel.

Netanyahu and fellow rightists have cast themselves as blockers of any initiative to cede territory to the Palestinians.

Blue and White, led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, has hedged on the issue for weeks as it gained ground in opinion polls ahead of the April 9 election.

In its inaugural platform, published on Wednesday, Blue and White said that once in power it would confer with Arab states “and intensify the process of separation from the Palestinians, while ensuring an uncompromising commitment to Israel’s national security”.

The policy blueprint envisages Israel retaining control of the Jordan Valley and blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank but remains hazy on what might be done with more isolated outposts in territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Pressed on this, Lapid told Israel’s Ynet TV: “I believe that, in separating from the Palestinians, we will ultimately arrive at two states. But no responsible politician would get into details before the Trump plan is presented.”

U.S. President Donald Trump is widely expected to make public a peace plan after the Israeli election.

Asked if Lapid’s remarks reflected Blue and White policy, a party spokeswoman said she could not elaborate on the platform.

Opinion polls give Blue and White around 35 of parliament’s 120 seats against 30 for Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Palestinians were circumspect.

“What does he (Lapid) mean by a state?” asked Wasel Abu Youssef, an official in the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization.  “We want a Palestinian sovereign state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, empty of settlements, with territories that are connected, not isolated.”

In 2009, pressured by the Obama administration, Netanyahu said he would accept a Palestinian state under several provisos. But with U.S.-sponsored peace talks stalled since 2014, he has shifted tone, vowing never to uproot West Bank settlements.

“A Palestinian state would endanger our existence,” the prime minister said in speech last month. “This is what they (Gantz and Lapid) are planning to do. They obscure it. They hide it.”

Most world powers deem the settlements illegal and support independence for the Palestinians, who want statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital.

Israel pulled settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005. It annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, in a move that has not won international recognition, and regards all of the city as its capital. Blue and White echoed this position in its platform.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Frances Kerry)

Benjamin Netanyahu Finalizes Coalition Government

Israel’s Prime Minister has finalized his new coalition government.

The agreement comes seven weeks after Likud scored a victory in the election by a surprisingly large margin.  The PM obtained the support of the Bayit Yehudi party to give him the 61 seats necessary for control of the Knesset.

“I’m sure that no-one is surprised that these negotiations were lengthy,” Mr Netanyahu told a news conference.

“Time is of the essence, not only because I’m leaving now to call the president and the chairman of the Knesset (parliament) to tell them that I’ve managed to form a government, but also because we’ll need to form it by next week in order to give a strong and stable government.”

The leader of Bayit Yehudi demanded the justice ministry in return for support by the 8 MPs in their party.  Naftali Bennett is an opponent of the Palestinian state and also believes that settler communities in the West Bank should be expanded.

Netanyahu says that while he now has a majority, he will continue to expand the coalition if possible.

Clinton Claims Israel Offered Temple Mount To Palestinians

Former President Bill Clinton claims that Israel had offered control of the Temple Mount to the Palestinians in 2000 during negotiations Clinton called a “roaring success.”

In a speech at Georgetown University, Clinton said that Ehud Barak had agreed to give Yasser Arafat control of the holiest site in Judaism in return for Israel having total control of the area around the Western Wall.

The talks broke down when Arafat demanded to keep control 50 feet of land that leads up to the entrance of the Western Wall tunnels.  Israel refused saying that Muslims would go into the tunnels and destroy the ruins of the Jewish temples.

Clinton said that Israel was likely justified in their refusal to protect the temple ruins.

Clinton added that the 2000 summit taught him that you need trust more than agreement.  He said that without trust, there was no way to establish an agreement.

Israel Stops Peace Talks With Palestinians

After the Palestinian leadership announced they have mended their rift with the terrorist group Hamas, Israel announced they will no longer participate in peace talks.

Hamas is considered a terrorist group by both Israel and the United States.  The terrorist group refuses to acknowledge that Israel has a right to exist.

Israeli spokesmen said that no talks would be considered until a new unity government takes shape among the Palestinians and that no talks will ever take place if Hamas is backing the government.

The announcement of the ending of talks came after a six-hour conference of senior Israeli leaders.

Palestinian leadership has been trying to portray the move in a positive light by saying that the government will not be made up of people who are connected to Hamas.

Israeli Leaders Slam John Kerry

Israeli leaders are slamming John Kerry in the Israeli press after Kerry’s comments that appeared to lend credence to anti-Semitic boycotts by some countries and organizations.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett lashed out after Kerry told world leaders at the Munich Security Conference that Israeli could be “delegitimized” around the world and face more boycott campaigns unless they make a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“We expect our friends around the world to stand beside us against anti-Semitic boycott efforts targeting Israel,” Bennett said.  “Not for them to be their amplifier.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded a little more discretely by focusing on the issue of boycotts.

“Firstly, they only serve to make the Palestinians become more entrenched in their stance of refusal,” Netanyahu said.  “Secondly, no pressure will make me abandon the State of Israel’s vital interests, of which security of the civilian population is foremost.”

The State Department has tried to roll back Kerry’s comments by saying that the Obama administration did not support boycotts.

Israel To Deploy New Missile Shield

The Israel Defense Force has a new weapon in the battle against missiles.

The system uses lasers to blow up short range rockets and mortars according to a defense industry official.  The system is designed to deal with targets with a trajectory too small to be engaged by the Iron Dome system.

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems said that Iron Beam’s laser will super-heat warheads of shells in a range of 4.5 miles from the laser’s base.

The laser system is called the “fifth layer” of missile defense for the country.  The Iron Dome is being backed up with the Arrow II and Arrow III rocket interceptors along with another rocket interceptor named David’s Sling.  The Arrow III and David’s Sling are still being tested by the military.

The United States has extensively underwritten the cost of the systems.

Ariel Sharon Remembered As Israel’s “Warrior”

Ariel Sharon was remembered as a great warrior who was also fiercely devoted to his family.

A state memorial service was held Monday attended by multiple foreign dignitaries. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and others attended the ceremony.  The Arab world even had a representative as Egypt sent a diplomat to the ceremony.

Vice President Biden delivered a personal address about his decades-long friendship with Sharon and said his passing felt like a “death in the family.”  Biden shared stories about how he learned Sharon earned his nickname “The Bulldozer” after he would bring out maps and repeatedly make the same points to hammer home his passion for his country.

He defended this land like a lion and he taught its children to swing a scythe,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said his eulogy.  “He was a military legend in his lifetime and then turned his gaze to the day Israel would dwell in safety, when our children would return to our borders and peace would grace the Promised Land.”

Sharon was buried on his farm in southern Israel.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Near Death

A former Israeli Prime Minister who is one of the nation’s most revered generals is reported to be near death.

A spokesman for Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer said Ariel Sharon has shown a significant decline in health during recent days. The family has been called to his bedside with doctors estimating less than a week to live for the Israeli hero.

Sharon has been in a coma since a major stroke in 2006.

Sharon, called “the Bulldozer” by his political opponents, was known as a man who found a way to get things done during his time in Israeli leadership. He was Defense Minister during the nation’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He was elected Prime Minister in 2001 and was on the way to massive landslide re-election when he was felled by a stroke in January 2006.

His deputy, Ehud Olmert, was elected Prime Minister a few months after Sharon’s illness.

Israeli leaders have called for prayers for Sharon and his family.