Archive | March 18th, 2015

EU Is One Step Behind Developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina


Map of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Adelina Marini

After long years of a standstill, at first sight, it seems that the process of European integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina is starting to come off from the deadlock. This became possible after Croatia launched aninitiative last year for a stronger commitment by the EU for the European integration of BiH in response to the social unrest there in the beginning of last year. The Croatian initiative was accepted coldly in the beginning because, at the time, a much more immediate issue was Ukraine, but later it realised the seriousness of the possibility an old conflict to be reinfected in the Balkans. In the end of last year, Britain and Germany came up with an initiative of their own which was quickly approved by the Council of EU minsters and by the European Council. The condition was the political leaders in BiH to sign a written commitment that the European integration of their country will be their major priority. In exchange, the EU promised to unfreeze the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).

The written commitment was signed by the political leaders on 29 January and was approved by the parliament of BiH on 23 February during the visit of EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini in Sarajevo. With this commitment the institutions at all government levels in the, may be, most complicated state in the world commit themselves to implement all the necessary reforms for BiH’s progress toward full fledged EU accession. They also commit to establish an efficient mechanism for coordination between the institutions on EU affairs – something the EU has insisted for many years on. However, in the written commitment there is no specific deadline. It is written: “as soon as possible”.

Among the reforms are economic and social measures in the framework of the Compact for Growth and Jobs adopted for BiH last year; creating a functioning market economy; introducing rule of law, fight against corruption and organised crime; acceleration of the reconciliation process; strengthening the administration.

And the EU was not late with the answer by adopting during the foreign ministers meeting on 16 March in Brussels the unfreezing of the SAA. It was signed on 16 June 2008 and its ratification by all EU member states was finished in February 2011. The agreement, though, never entered into force because BiH was expected to apply the ruling of the European Court for Human Rights on the Sejdic-Finci case. It is this case that has held the EU door closed for BiH. It demanded from the country to amend its Constitution to allow people from ethnic groups other than those listed in the Constitution (Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks) to participate in the governing of the country. In its written commitment BiH puts the application of the ruling on the back seat.

“The institutions of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina will, at a later stage (consequent to
the initial reform measures), make progress regarding implementation of additional reforms in order to improve the functionality and efficiency of all levels of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and direct special attention to the implementation of the ruling of the European Court for Human Rights in the case of Sejdic and Finci vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina”, says the commitment.

More than a year after the EU committed seriously to unfreezing the European integration process of BiH it is clear that its actions are belated. The reason is that while the process of conclusion of the written agreement was taking place, in neighbouring Croatia the presidential elections were wonby Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the candidate of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which has a sister party in BiH led by Dragan Covic. In her election campaign and after taking office Ms Grabar-Kitarovic many times urged for a new international conference on the establishment of a third entity in BiH. Currently, they are only two: Republika Srpska and the Bosnia and Herzegovina federation. HDZ, however, insists on the separation of the Croats from the federation into a third entity.

The leader of the Croatian HDZ Tomislav Karamarko recently provoked severe reactions in BiH by sending a letter to the Bosnian Croatian parliament in the country supporting their demand for a renegotiation of the Dayton peace agreement. On 1 March, the Croatian people’s parliament in Mostar voted a detailed declaration [in Croatian] in which it is pointed out that the construction of BiH after Dayton has not satisfied the demands of the Croatian people. According to the Bosnian Croats, the Dayton construction has “legalised the injustice caused by the military annexations and banishing of people”. They also believe that the territorial organisation and the construction of the state is irrational, nonfunctional and ungovernable.

The declaration insists on a radical constitutional change to include new territorial organisation and equalisation of the rights of the three peoples in the country. The Bosnian Croatian MPs are aware that this would be really hard to achieve which is why they call, if no consensus is reached for such a deep constitutional change inside the country, to seek a solution through an international conference. “Given that we received the current Constitution at an international conference as part of the peace agreement and with the guarantee of the UN Security Council, we believe that if there is no internal consensus the most logical thing is BiH to receive a new constitution at a new international conference on BiH. A Constitution that will establish a symmetric for the three constitutional peoples federal state”, the declaration reads.

And although it was voted only two weeks ago, the issue was not discussed during the EU foreign ministers meeting whose focus was Africa, a new migration strategy, Ukraine. Federica Mogherini hoped that the activation of the SAA will “keep the energy and the momentum that I found in Sarajevo last time on the reform process to get closer to the European Union”. According to the Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic, the path ahead of BiH is clear – fulfilling the SAA conditions which are a preparation for the real accession negotiations. Progress will depend on how the country is implementing them. This could take 3, 6 or even 10 years. And may be more, she said, emphasising that from the very beginning no one insisted on different criteria and preferences for any country aspiring for EU membership.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov told this website that at the moment many ideas are circulating but first all of them need to be reviewed and only then it will be decided which is the best approach in this case. The EU’s actions so far reveal the Union’s striving to try and avoid a renegotiation of Dayton. There is a real danger, however, the process of European integration to again freeze because of the lack of consensus within BiH.

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Eight tourists killed, others taken hostage, in attack on Tunisian parliament


Seven foreigners among dead in Tunis museum attack, interior ministry says

At least eight tourists were killed and others were taken hostage by militants who attacked Tunisia’s parliament compound, which includes a museum, a spokesman for the interior ministry said on Wednesday.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said on Radio Mosaique that only one of the dead in Wednesday’s attack was a Tunisian.

“There are eight victims ‘including “seven foreigners’,” the spokesman told reporters.

The National Bardo Museum is adjacent to the national parliament building, which was being evacuated after the shooting.

The museum is a leading tourist attraction that chronicles Tunisia’s history and houses one of the world’s largest collections of Roman mosaics.

It is unclear who the attackers are. Tunisia has struggled with violence by Islamic extremists in recent years, including some linked to the Islamic State group.

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Eight people reported killed in attack on Tunisia museum


Seven foreigners and one Tunisian dead, according to interior ministry, after three men reportedly dressed in military-style clothing storm Bardo museum in Tunis

Exterior of the Bardo national museum in Tunis.
 Exterior of the Bardo national museum in Tunis. Photograph: Alam

Seven foreigners and one Tunisian have died after the country’s prestigious Bardo museum came under attack, according to Tunisia’s interior ministry.

The shooting broke out about midday local time (11.00 GMT), according to local reports. Radio Mosaique, a private radio station, reported that three men dressed in military-style clothing may have taken hostages inside the museum, adjacent to the national parliament building.

The museum chronicles Tunisia’s history and includes one of the world’s largest collections of Roman mosaics.

Tunisian security forces were surrounding two militants holed up inside the Bardo Museum that shares grounds with the country’s parliament on Wednesday, an interior ministry spokesman said.

He said security forces were still verifying local media reports that the militants had taken tourists hostage during an attack on the parliament building.

One local lawmaker said there were injured inside the parliament after the attack.

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Hostage situation, ‘fatalities’ as militants attack museum nr Tunisian parliament

Reuters / Zoubeir Souissi

At least eight people have died following a shooting at a museum in Tunis, the Tunisian Interior Ministry says. Two militants disguised as soldiers carried out the attacks, while hostages are still believed to be in the building.

Militants dressed as soldiers have attacked the Tunisia Assembly, local journalists say. The parliament, who was in session during the time of the attack, is located in Bardo Palace, which is also home to a national museum.

A spokesman for the Tunisian Interior Ministry, Mohammed al-Aroui has confirmed a hostage situation is taking place at the Bardo Museum.

The Ministry says that seven tourists have been killed and the other victim is a Tunisian citizen. There are has been unconfirmed reports that the foreign tourists were from France, Spain and Italy.

He added that there were at least two armed men in the museum and the parliamentary building had been evacuated as a precaution. The attack focused on the museum.

Lawmakers confirmed to AFP gunfire was heard. However, it is not clear whether shots were fired inside the assembly itself or already in the museum.

Unconfirmed images of hostages circulate the web. According to geotagging, they were taken inside the Bardo National Museum.

View image on Twitter

Reuters say that Tunisian security forces are surrounding the two militants, who are currently holed up inside the museum. Local reports say that 160 tourists have been rescued from the museum via a back door, while around 20 to 30 are still inside the building.

Reuters reports a large police presence outside Bardo as they are evacuating the parliament building after an exchange of gunfire outside the premises.

View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

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Naziyahu’s Dire Warnings Of Arab Turnout Drive Rush To The Polls


Warnings from Likud and other right-wing parties seem to be spurring both Jewish and Arab Israelis to hurry to their voting stations.

Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

RAMLE, Israel — Nour Aslan was on the fence about voting, but then she got an automated text message warning her that if she didn’t vote “the Arabs were coming.” So Aslan, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, not only got herself to her local polling station, she made sure her two daughters and sister came as well.

“This is an outrage. It is embarrassing. Are we not citizens of Israel? Do we not deserve to vote?” said Aslan. She said she had never voted in an election before but was “shaking with anger” over the text message, which Netanyahu’s Likud Party sent to millions of Israelis Tuesday morning, to galvanize more voters.

“We are sick of being seen as the enemy. We are not the enemy. We are citizens of this country, and I want to see my members sit in the Knesset [parliament] and legislate for all of us – Arabs and Jews – to have better lives,” said Aslan, who along with many in this small town were getting ready to vote for the Joint Arab List, a newly formed alliance of the Arab parties headed by political newcomer Ayman Odeh.

As Israel went to the polls Tuesday to vote for a new government, one of the most closely watched populations in the country were the Palestinians citizens of Israel, also known as Israeli Arabs. Early morning polls show that 10% of the population had turned out by 11 A.M. local time, compared to only 3% during the last elections in 2013. The high turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel — who make up 20% of Israel’s population of eight million — is all the more relevant as in past years the group has showed up to the polls in numbers lower than the national average.

Among the left-wing Israeli parties, there was hope that a large bloc of Arab parties would be interested in joining a coalition headed by the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog. Among the right-wing, the rejuvenated Arab sector was a cause for fear, as politicians tried to outdo each other with automated text messages sent to Israeli cell phones and warnings over what could happen in Israel with the surge in Arab voters casting ballots.

“The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are bussing them out,” Netanyahu said in this video, posted in Hebrew to his Facebook page.

His comments were turned into this meme by a supporter of the Joint Arab List.

View image on Twitter

Naziyahu continued in the video saying, “Get out to vote, bring your friends and family, vote Likud.”

In Tel Aviv, BuzzFeed News spoke to three people who came out to vote for the Likud because they were concerned about the large Arab turnout and the srong poll numbers for the center-left parties.

“I don’t really like Netanyahu, but I don’t want a left-wing government so I guess I have to vote for him,” said Chevazelet Abergil, a 42-year-old shopkeeper. “I wasn’t going to vote, but then I felt like I would regret it if we wound up with the Arab parties in the government.”

Not to be outdone, Avigdor Lieberman, whose right-wing Yisrael Beitenu Party is in danger of not crossing the necessary 3% threshold to join the Israeli parliament, released a statement Tuesday declaring “Netanyahu also knows that if the Arabs are voting in droves, only a strong Lieberman can stop them.” Last week, Lieberman asserted that “disloyal” Israeli Arabs should be beheaded.

“This is a joke. That Lieberman tried to get the Arab parties kicked out of the Knesset and now he might not be there himself. His desperation is evident in his racist attacks on us,” said Muhammed Kassbah, a local politicians in Ramle who said he’s “never seen the Arab street so excited to vote.”

“Whatever issues are plaguing Israel they are worse for us here,” said Kassbah. “Ramle is one of the poorest cities in Israel. We have a problem with drugs, with crime, and our problems are ignored much much more than the problems of our Jewish neighbors.”

Those standing in line to vote in Ramle confirmed to BuzzFeed News that they had never seen such a large turnout for elections. And while many were excited to vote, they expressed skepticism over whether Arab politicians would have real say in the Knesset.

“I don’t think they will be able to do anything. I think they will be locked out,” said Muhammed Wajaf, a 24-year-old student. “The Jewish parties will never let them make a real change.”

Muhammed Moussa, a 37-year-old teacher agreed that he had little optimism that Israel would stop it’s slow shift shift to the right. Comments made by Netanyahu on Monday that if he were reelected he would never create a Palestinian State only cemented for Moussa that the current government wanted him to live as a second-class citizen in Israel.

“At least I can vote. My cousins in Hebron, they have no vote. They cannot vote on the army that occupies them,” said Moussa. “The most we can hope for is that we vote in enough of our people to the Knesset so that we can block Netanyahu from becoming prime minister again.”

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Zionist Political System


Image result for jewish CARTOON


  • Over the course of the country’s nearly 67-year history there has been a period of only about one year (1966-67) that Zionist did not rule over large numbers of Palestinians by military decree, granting them no civil or political rights simply because they are not Jewish.
  • Zionist regime has no constitution, only a set of basic laws that refer to equality while setting up a system that explicitly preferences Jews. According to one of those laws, it is prohibited for any political party or candidate to question Zionist status as a Jewish state.
  • During the first 18 years of the state’s existence (1948-1966), Palestinian citizens of ‘Israel’ were ruled by military decree, not unlike Palestinians in the occupied territories have been since 1967. Although they have the right to vote, Palestinian citizens of ‘Israel’, who make up about 20% of the population (approximately 1.7 million people) are discriminated against in almost every aspect of public and private life, ranging from land ownership and family reunification rights, to employment and access to higher education.
  • As a state that systematically privileges Jewish citizens over non-Jewish ones, that is engineered to maintain a Jewish majority, and that rules over millions of people to whom it grants no political rights because they are not the right religion, ‘Israel’ would more accurately be described as an ethnocracy, or an apartheid state.

2015 Election Quick Facts

  • Election date : Tuesday, March 17, 2015
  • Number of parties/electoral lists: There are 12 main political parties or combined electoral lists running in the current election.
  • Total number of seats in the Zionist Knesset (parliament) : 120
  • According to new rules , in order to qualify for a seat in the Knesset, a party or electoral list must win at least 3.25% of the popular vote, rather than the 2% required in previous elections.

Result Forecasts

  • Polls have shown a tight race between the ruling Nazi Likud party and the Zio-Nazi Union for first place, with the latter taking a lead late in the campaign, with each projected to win about 23 seats. Given the predicted makeup of the remainder of the next Knesset, it’s unlikely that the Zio-Nazi Union would be able to form a successful coalition, meaning Naziyahu is likely to lead another Nazi right-wing coalition, perhaps including the Zio-Nazi Union.

Noteworthy Stories of the Election

  • So far, the most noteworthy stories of the campaign have been the rise of the Joint List, a coalition of non-Zionist (mostly Palestinian) parties, and a drop in support for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-Nazi nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, likely related to a major corruption scandal.
  • Ironically, the law raising the Knesset threshold to 3.25% from 2%, which many believe was intended as an attack on the Palestinian/non-Zionist parties, resulted in them unifying on a joint list that has vaulted up the polls. It’s possible that for the first time in Zionist history, the official opposition in the next Knesset may be comprised of non-Zionist parties.
  • Naziyahu’s much publicized and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress on March 3 doesn’t appear to have had a significant impact on his or his party’s standing in the polls.

The Parties/Electoral Lists & Notable Candidates

Broadly speaking, the parties and electoral lists can be divided into two categories: Zionist and non-Zionist, the latter comprised mainly of Palestinian citizen. The following guide offers a brief description of the parties, their policies towards the Palestinians, and some notable candidates.

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Zionist election yields no clear winner


Image result for NETANYAHU CARTOON

After a bruising campaign focused on his failings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel seemed to emerge from Tuesday’s elections in the best position to form a new government, though he offended many voters and alienated allies in the process.

While the results were still incomplete, exit polls and partial returns suggested that Netanyahu’s Likud Party was likely to claim 27 or 28 of the 120 seats in Parliament, and his chief rival, the center-left Zionist Union alliance, to take 26 or 27.

Netanyahu and his allies seized on the early numbers to create an aura of inevitability, celebrating with singing and dancing. While his opponents vowed a fight, Israeli political analysts agreed that he had the advantage, with more votes having gone to the right-leaning parties likely to support him.

It was a turnabout from the last pre-election polls published Friday, which showed the Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog, with a four- or five-seat lead and building momentum. To bridge the gap, Netanyahu embarked on a last-minute scorched-earth campaign, promising that no Palestinian state would be established as long as he remained in office and insulting Arab citizens.

Netanyahu, who served as prime minister for three years in the 1990s and returned to office in 2009, exulted in what he called “a huge victory” and said he had spoken to the heads of all the parties “in the national camp” and urged them to help him form a government “without any further ado.

In Israel’s history, no single party has ever won an outright majority, meaning governments are formed through coalitions of parties.

“I am proud of the Israeli people, that in the moment of truth knew how to separate between what’s important or what’s not and to stand up for what’s important,” he told an exuberant crowd early Wednesday morning at Likud’s election party at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. “For the most important thing for all of us, which is real security, social economy and strong leadership.”

But it remained to be seen how his divisive — some said racist — campaign tactics would affect his ability to govern a fractured Israel.

Herzog also celebrated what he called “an incredible achievement,” noting that his Labor Party had not won as many seats since 1992. He said he had formed a negotiating team in hopes of forming “a real social government in Israel” that “aspires to peace with our neighbors.”

“The public wants a change,” he said at an election-night party in Tel Aviv. “We will do everything in our power — given the reality — to reach this. In any case, I can tell you that there will be no decisions tonight.”

If the exit polls hold up, Netanyahu may be able to form a narrow coalition of nationalist and religious parties free of the ideological divisions that stymied his last government. That was what he intended when he called early elections in December. But such a coalition, with a slim parliamentary majority, might not last long.

In the coming days, President Reuven Rivlin will poll party leaders to see whom they prefer as prime minister and then charge Netanyahu or Herzog with trying to stitch together a coalition, though Rivlin said Tuesday night that he would suggest they join forces instead.

“I am convinced that only a unity government can prevent the rapid disintegration of Israel’s democracy and new elections in the near future,” he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Both camps rejected that option publicly, saying the gaps between their world views was too large. Netanyahu and Herzog started working the phones immediately after the polls closed, calling party heads to begin the horse-trading and deal-making in hopes of lining up a majority of lawmakers behind them.

The biggest prize may be Moshe Kahlon, a popular former Likud minister who broke away — in part out of frustration with Netanyahu — to form Kulanu, which focused on pocketbook issues. Kahlon leans to the right but has issues with the prime minister, and said Tuesday night that he would not reveal his recommendation until the final results were tallied.

Kulanu — Hebrew for “All of Us” — is likely to win nine or 10 seats, according to the exit polls, enough to put either side’s basic ideological alliance over the magic number of 61 if they also win the backing of two ultra-Orthodox parties, which appear to have a total of 14.

“The clearest political outcome is that Kahlon is going to be the kingmaker, and it really depends on how he is going to play his cards,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. “It very much depends on Kahlon.”

Silvan Shalom, a Likud minister, told reporters that the prime minister would reach out first to Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party and to Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, two archconservatives, and “of course Moshe Kahlon,” predicting a coalition “within the next few days” of 63 or 64 seats.

“Israel said today a very clear ‘yes’ to Prime Minister Netanyahu and to the Likud to continue leading the state of Israel,” Shalom said. “We’ll do it with our allies. We’ll have a strong coalition that is able to deal with all the important issues.”

The Zionist Union said, essentially, not so fast.

“Both parties have the same number of mandates, so there is no reason to celebrate on the Likud side,” said Nachman Shai, a senior lawmaker from the Labor Party, which joined with the smaller Hatnua to form the new slate. “They’re trying to cash the check and create a certain atmosphere of victory. We’ll do the same.”

Shai said his team could still form a coalition — though he did not specify how — and advised the public to wait and see. Another Zionist Camp candidate, Shelly Yacimovich, said on Israeli television: “What I see is a tie; the game isn’t over.”

The murky results led to a murky reaction from the White House, where a spokesman said that President Barack Obama “remains committed to working very closely with the winner of the ongoing elections to cement and further deepen the strong relationship between the United States and Israel, and the president is confident that he can do that with whomever the Israeli people choose.”

If the exit polls are correct, the Joint List of Arab parties would be the third-largest parliamentary faction, with 13 seats, up from 11 currently held by its four component parts. The unity seems to have lifted turnout among Arab voters to its highest level since 1969, said the list’s leader, Ayman Odeh. Arab parties have never joined an Israeli coalition, but Odeh has indicated that he would try to help Herzog in other ways in hopes of ending Netanyahu’s tenure.

Yesh Atid, a centrist party that won a surprising 19 seats in the 2013 election, its first, earned 11 or 12 this time, according to the exit polls. The Jewish Home, hurt by Netanyahu’s swing to the right, is likely to end up with eight or nine, down from its current 12. The left-wing Meretz and ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu each polled five.

A new ultra-Orthodox faction apparently failed to pass the raised electoral threshold for entering Parliament, which means its votes will be discarded, costing the right-wing bloc.

Turnout was near 72 percent, 4 percentage points higher than in 2013, which analysts attributed to the surprisingly close contest between Likud and Zionist Union.

“For the first time in many years, we see a serious strengthening in the two major parties,” said Yehuda Ben Meir of the Institute for National Security Studies. “Both parties are higher up at the expense of the smaller parties, which is good for stability, and it’s a move to the center. The larger parties are always more to the center than the satellite parties.”

But Plesner of the Democracy Institute said the uncertain results showed the need for electoral reform because Israel’s “system is so fragmented, so unstable, so difficult to govern.”

Tuesday’s balloting came just 26 months after Israel’s last election, but the dynamic was entirely different. In 2013, there was no serious challenge to Netanyahu. That changed this time, when Herzog teamed up with Tzipi Livni to form the Zionist Union, an effort to reclaim the state’s founding pioneer philosophy from a right-wing that increasingly defined it in opposition to Palestinian aspirations.

They promised to stop construction in isolated Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank; to try to renew negotiations with the Palestinians; and to restore relations Netanyahu had frayed with the White House. Mostly, though, they — along with Yesh Atid and Kulanu — hammered the prime minister on kitchen-table concerns like the high cost of housing and food.

Netanyahu talked mainly about the threats of an Iranian nuclear weapon and Islamic terrorism, addressing economics only in the final days. That was also when he made a sharp turn to the right, backing away from his 2009 endorsement of a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict, and sounding an alarm Tuesday morning that Arabs were voting “in droves.”

Many voters complained about a bitter campaign of ugly attacks and a lack of inspiring choices.

“I am happy today to be able to vote, but I know I’ll be unhappy with the result, no matter who wins,” said Elad Grafi, 29, who lives in Rehovot, a large city south of Tel Aviv. Sneering at the likelihood of any candidate being able to form a coalition stable enough to last a full term, he added: “Anyway, I’ll see you here again in two years, right?”

In the Jerusalem suburb of Tzur Hadassah, Eli Paniri, 54, a longtime Likud supporter, said he “voted for the only person who should be prime minister — Netanyahu.”

“I am not ashamed of this,” Paniri said. “He is a strong man and, most important, he stood up to President Obama.”

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Naziyahu scores crushing victory in Zionist elections


Image result for NETANYAHU CARTOON

With almost all votes tallied, Likud heading for 29-24 seat win over Zionist Union; PM promises new coalition with other ‘nationalist parties’

Times of Israel

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 refused to concede. As counting proceeded through the night, however, the Likud opened a growing margin of victory.

By 5 a.m., with some 90% of votes counted, the Central Elections Committee was indicating a dramatic victory for Netanyahu, with the Likud heading for 29 seats, compared to Zionist Union’s 24 seats.

Next came the Joint (Arab) List on 14 seats, Yesh Atid on 11, Kulanu on 10 and the Jewish Home on 8. They were followed by Shas, 7, United Torah Judaism on 6, Yisrael Beytenu on 6, and Meretz on 5 seats.

Four hours earlier, at 1 a.m., Netanyahu claimed a victory “against all odds” and promised to form a new government without delay. But Herzog also said he would make “every effort” to build a coalition. Either will likely need the support of Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party, whose campaign focused almost entirely on bread-and-butter economic issues, refused to take sides, but he is a former Likud minister.

As the exit poll results were announced on the nation’s three major TV stations, celebrations erupted at Likud’s campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv. “Against all odds we obtained a great victory for the Likud,” Netanyahu told the gathering. “Now we must form a strong and stable government that will ensure Israel’s security and welfare,” he added, in comments aimed at Kahlon.

He said he had already been in touch with all other “nationalist parties” in hopes of quickly forming a coalition — apparently ruling out a partnership with Herzog.

Netanyahu focused his campaign on security issues, while his opponents instead pledged to address the country’s high cost of living and accused the prime minister of being out of touch with everyday people. Herzog also promised to repair tattered ties with the US and to revive peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Herzog said he too had reached out to potential coalition partners. In a nod to Kahlon, he said he was committed to forming a “real social reconciliation government” committed to lowering the cost of living and reducing gaps between rich and poor.

Netanyahu’s return to power would likely spell trouble for Mideast peace efforts and could further escalate tensions with the United States.

Netanyahu, who already has a testy relationship with US President Barack Obama, took a sharp turn to the right in the final days of the campaign, staking out a series of hard-line positions that will put him at odds with the international community.

In a dramatic policy reversal, he said he now opposes the creation of a Palestinian state — a key policy goal of the White House and the international community. He also promised to expand construction in Jewish areas of East Jerusalem, the section of the city claimed by the Palestinians as their capital.

Netanyahu infuriated the White House early this month when he delivered a speech to the US Congress criticizing an emerging nuclear deal with Iran. The speech was arranged with Republican leaders and not coordinated with the White House ahead of time.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama was confident strong US-Israeli ties would endure far beyond the election regardless of the victor.

The process of building a government, nonetheless, will depend on the final results, as well as on whom the various party leaders recommend that President Reuven Rivlin entrust with the opportunity to form a coalition.

Vote counting was continuing through the night, with more conclusive figures expected in the coming hours. The Central Elections Committee published real-time counting results on its website (Hebrew).

The exit polls, conducted by Israel’s three main television stations, showed Likud at 27-28 seats and Zionist Union at 27.

Netanyahu called the result a “great victory for the Likud. A major victory for the people of Israel.”

In the TV polls, potential Likud ally Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Jewish Home was heading for eight-nine seats, and Avigdor Liberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beytenu was set for five seats. Together with the two ultra-Orthodox parties — Shas, which was expected to win seven seats, and the United Torah Judaism, which was heading for six-seven seats — this could give Netanyahu the firm basis for a right-wing/Orthodox coalition. If Netanyahu can bring in Kulanu, that mix would give him a narrow majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

On the other side of the aisle, Herzog’s natural ally, the left-wing Meretz party, was headed for five seats, while the centrist Yesh Atid was set to win 11-12 seats. Even with support inside or outside a coalition from the Arab Joint List, which looked set to score an impressive 12-13 seats, that would leave Herzog far short of a majority. Kahlon’s support, were it forthcoming, could conceivably give Herzog a blocking majority, but this scenario seemed highly implausible.

The election was initiated more than two years ahead of schedule by Netanyahu, who fired his finance minister Yair Lapid and justice minister Tzipi Livni in early December.

The campaign was largely seen as a referendum on the Likud leader, who is Israel’s second-longest-serving prime minister, having held the job since 2009 after a previous term in 1996-9.

On election day itself, Netanyahu repeatedly protested what he said was foreign funding that was helping to get out the Arab vote, and potentially skewing the elections. “There is nothing illegitimate with citizens voting, Jewish or Arab, as they see fit,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “What is not legitimate is the funding — the fact that money comes from abroad from NGOs and foreign governments, brings them en masse to the ballot box in an organized fashion, in favor of the left, gives undue power to the extremist Arab list, and weakens the right bloc in such a way that we will be unable to build a government — despite the fact that most citizens of Israel support the national camp and support me as the prime minister from Likud.”

He also castigated the leader of the Joint List: “Ayman Odeh, who supports Herzog, has already said not only that I must be replaced, but that I should be put in prison for defending the citizens of Israel and the lives of IDF soldiers [during last summer’s Gaza war]…. A left government that depends on such a list will surrender at every step, on Jerusalem, the 1967 lines, on everything,” Netanyahu railed, “and therefore there’s an immense effort of leftist NGOs to mobilize voters from the left bloc, primarily in the Arab sector, and in areas where leftists vote.”

Netanyahu’s increasingly hawkish statements underpinned his successful effort to dissuade right-wing Israelis from voting for parties other than Likud, gathering steam as opinion polls in the run-up to Tuesday’s vote showed Herzog gradually opening a three-to-four seat lead.

The Zionist Union leader, son of the late Israeli president Chaim Herzog and the grandson of Israel’s first chief rabbi, fought a fairly effective campaign, partnering his Labor party with Livni’s Hatnua and focusing on the socioeconomic issues that are high on many Israelis’ lists of prime concerns. He blamed Netanyahu for soaring house prices and for the relatively high overall cost of living and branded Netanyahu as out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of ordinary Israelis.

Herzog, like the prime minister, stressed the imperative of preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, though he argued against Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. And he took a wary stance on the Palestinian issue — firmly backing a two-state solution and declaring a readiness to evacuate isolated West Bank settlements, but also vowing to keep Jerusalem united and to seek sovereignty over major settlement blocs. In this respect, he reflected the stances of some of Labor’s more hawkish past leaders, such as the assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in a bid to avoid alienating potential voters from the center of the spectrum.

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Naziyahu accuses foreign governments of mobilizing left


Image result for NETANYAHU CARTOON

Prime minister walks back controversial statement expressing alarm over high turnout among 1948 Palestinian.

Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed foreign governments and NGOs Tuesday for mobilizing left-wing voters, apparently seeking to deflect criticism over a statement he made earlier in the day expressing alarm over the ostensibly high Arab turnout in the election.

He emphasized that he meant to criticize foreign funding, not Arabs voters themselves, in his controversial comments, which critics had lambasted as racist.

“I want to clarify: there is nothing illegitimate with citizens voting, Jewish or Arab, as they see fit,” said Netanyahu in a video statement uploaded to his Facebook page. “What is not legitimate is the funding, the fact that money comes from abroad from NGOs and foreign governments, brings them en masse to the ballot box in an organized fashion, in favor of the left, gives undue power to the extremist Arab Joint List, and weakens the right bloc in such a way that we will be unable to build a government — despite the fact that most citizens of Israel support the national camp and support me as the prime minister from Likud.”

Netanyahu also claimed that Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, had pledged his support for the Zionist Union.

“Ayman Odeh, who supports [Zionist Union leader Isaac] Herzog, has already said not only that I must be replaced, but that I should be put in prison for defending the citizens of Israel and the lives of IDF soldiers [during last summer’s war in Gaza]…. A left-wing government that relies on such a list will surrender at every step, on Jerusalem, the 1967 lines, on everything,” Netanyahu railed, “and therefore there’s an immense effort among leftist NGOs to mobilize voters from the left, primarily in the Arab sector, and in areas where leftists vote.”

In his statement, during which he repeatedly called on the public to vote for Likud, Netanyahu lambasted electioneering rules that barred him from broadcasting a press conference.

“Tzipi [Livni], Boujie [Herzog], Yair [Lapid], representatives of the left, spoke in every possible studio and conducted flagrant electioneering,” he charged.

Earlier Tuesday, the Likud party faced a scalding backlash after it said in a statement that it was alarmed by the large numbers of Arab citizens who turned out to vote in the general elections.

In its statement, Likud “expressed concern over the high percentage of voting in the Arab sector” and went on to direct attention to a short video clip uploaded to Netanyahu’s personal Facebook account in which the prime minister lamented the same issue.

“The rule of the right is in danger,” Netanyahu said in the earlier video. “Arab voters are coming in droves to the ballot boxes. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”

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Huge victory for Naziyahu and the right


By: Michel Warschawski

Netanyahu campaigning before the elections/Photo: Benjamin Netanyahu Facebook

Yesterday’s elections yielded a huge victory for Benjamin Netanyahu and the right in Israel. What we see from the results of the elections for Israel’s 20th Knesset:

1. Israeli people predominantly right-wing: The process of moving to the right which we have witnessed since the 1980’s continues; the right-wing camp again boosted its parliamentary strength.

Likud + Yisrael Beitenu + Jewish Home + Likud defectors who founded Kulanu jump from 43 to 53 mandates.

2. Netanyahu played it out: After being politically buried, Netanyahu succeeded in the past two weeks to not only halt his descent, but to substantially improve his standing within the right, which was also strengthened. The Likud jumped from 18 to 29 mandates, despite the success of the Likud defectors from Kulanu who received ten mandates. This achievement was a the expense of his natural partners: Yisrael Beitenu declined from 13 to six mandates and the Jewish Home from twelve to eight. The prime minister benefited from the willingness of his right-wing competitors to stand by his side so that the Likud would receive more votes than Labour, and thus be in a good opening position to form the next government.

There is no doubt that Netanyahu will be the next prime minister of a clearly right-wing government that will continue its policies of the past two decades, at the expense of the Palestinian people, but also at the price of a deepening international isolation of the state of Jews.

3. Centre-left stopped its decline: The Labour party also halted its decline and moved from 21 to 24 mandates at the expense of Meretz, which barely passed the electoral threshold (between 4-6 mandates), and Yesh Atid of the entertainer Yair Lapid. Together the centre-left camp held its strength at 27-28 mandates.

4. Yair Lapid returned to his natural dimensions: The Yesh Atid party of Yair Lapid, which was a surprise in the previous elections when it received, seemingly out of nowhere, 19 mandates, now has 11. A majority of their votes come from the upper-middle class in Tel Aviv, motivated by fear of poor people (including the ultra-orthodox) and the threat to the western-liberal-capitalist character of the state of Israel. If some of Yair Lapid’s voters returned to Labour, a majority of those who left went to Likud, thus strengthening the contention that Yesh Atid is a centre-right and not centre-left party.

5. Success of the Joint List: The Joint List, with its 14 mandates, has become the third largest party in Israel and represents a jump from the 11 mandates previously held by its component parties. This substantial increase is thanks to a decrease in the number of Palestinian citizens who chose not to vote and who, for the first time, could express a united national desire and identity vis-a-vis the Zionist parties. One must hope that this unity will be preserved even after the elections and that the Arab-Palestinian voice will receive appropriate expression in the Knesset, and thus an enhanced struggle on the ground for the national and civil rights of more than 20 percent of Israeli citizens, who are under ongoing attack of their fundamental rights.

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