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How Gantz Could Build A Government, Without A Majority

October 22, 2019 Special Feature

If unity fails, could Gantz still succeed? President Rivlin (center) with Netanyahu and Gantz. Illustrative. Photo courtesy of Haim Zach, Israeli GPO.

Israel’s second round of elections have been a complex but ultimately straightforward math problem: the ruling Likud party plus their allies equals less than a majority. The opposition Blue and White party plus their allies equals less than a majority. Neither side is willing to make the compromises needed to join together and the swing vote secular Yisrael Beiteinu party is so far non-committal, wanting instead to join the two major parties in a unity government. Altogether that equals deadlock and a third round of elections.

But what if math wasn’t such a problem? Could Blue and White leader Benny Gantz cobble together enough numbers to be Israel’s next prime minister without a governing majority? It’s possible, and here’s why.

… Continue Reading

Who Really ‘Won’ and ‘Lost’ the Israeli Election

September 23, 2019 Special Feature

President Rivlin (center) with Netanyahu and Gantz. Photo courtesy of Haim Zach, Israeli GPO.

The ballots have been cast and there is no clear winner in the Israeli elections. Neither major party—Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud or the Blue and White party led by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz—has a clear majority in the 120-member Knesset (Israeli Parliament). The final makeup of the next government is unclear even as the sides start the coalition negotiations to try and create a majority government. Despite that, there are losers and winners in the latest elections, including some surprises.


  1. “Unity”

Ironically, a deeply divided electorate in which the center-right led by Netanyahu parties won just 55 seats and the center-left and Arab parliamentarians who nominated Gantz account for just 54 seats, a powerful unity government formed by Likud and Blue and White is the most likely next government. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose job is to grant the mantle to try and build a government to a prime minister candidate—likely either Gantz or Netanyahu—believes it’s the only option. “A stable government cannot be formed without the two big parties and this, I believe, is the will of the people,” said Rivlin in an Israeli press release on Monday. “We are a stable country, flourishing economically and able to defend our borders, and we must ensure that a government is formed that brings stability, dialog and healing of the divisions in our country.”

  1. Opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu

The Prime Minister for the last 10 years, Netanyahu looked to have an ironclad path to re-election thanks to the center-right bent of the electorate. And again, Netanyahu’s Likud party and right-leaning political parties won the most seats. However, thanks to the refusal of Avigdor Lieberman and his right-wing secular Yisrael Beiteinu party to name Netanyahu the premier again, there is no clear path to Netanyahu taking the leadership mantel. Instead, the best he can hope for is probably a rotation of leadership with Gantz as part of that unity government. Someone else will likely be prime minister again—either now or in two years.

  1. Iran

Surprise! Netanyahu has long been a thorn in the side of Iran, exposing their nuclear program’s secrets and campaigning repeatedly against the Iran nuclear deal. Not that another Israeli leader can’t express those concerns with the same conviction, but Netanyahu’s command of English as a second language and years of speaking to world leaders and governments make him a powerful voice. Furthermore, while no Israeli leader will likely be friends with Iran, it has felt as though Netanyahu has made Iran his number one concern. If he’s no longer Prime Minister, that may dull Israel’s PR war with Iran.

  1. The Arab Parties

Another surprise, since the Arab parties have never been part of an Israeli ruling coalition and don’t plan to do so this time either, according to The Times of Israel. However, the Arab bloc won the third-most seats in the Knesset, meaning they could be the largest party outside a unity government—giving them the potential to be the leader of the opposition. That’s more than just a title. The Jerusalem Post notes that as leader of the opposition, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh would not only be the first ever Arab opposition leader, but he would also be granted regular security briefings from the Israeli leadership. It’s not a given, as the Post report notes that opposition leader is voted upon by the other parties outside the government. Odeh is therefore unlikely to be named if most of the smaller parties stay out of a unity government. Still, they hold a place of power and prestige.


  1. The Religious Right in Israel

Aside from Netanyahu being the most obvious loser, the hardest hit participants are the religious rightwing. The reason? If Netanyahu forms a unity government with the centrist Blue and White party, that is more than enough votes to control the Knesset—making all the smaller parties unnecessary. In coalition negotiations, smaller parties can demand key government positions or policy plans in exchange for their support of a narrow government that needs their seats to hold power. In a unity government scenario, the rightwing parties may not even be part of the government—sidelining them politically.

  1. US President Donald Trump

Another surprise player in the Israeli elections, Trump apparently delayed publishing his “Deal of the Century” peace plan until after these Israeli elections. But now, with the result so uncertain, there is a possibility that another round of elections will be called—potentially creating another delay. What’s more, Trump and Netanyahu appeared to have a good relationship. Netanyahu was effusive in his praise of Trump, who for his part repeatedly made pro-Israel foreign policy decisions that boosted the political power of the Israeli leader. Furthermore, Netanyahu was an effective voice against the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump also opposes. The two leaders may not see eye-to-eye on opening negotiations with Iran now—Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying now was not the time for talks, while Trump has repeatedly expressed openness to it. And perhaps Trump and Gantz will be fine together. But that’s an unknown.

  1. Hamas

The Palestinian terror group leading the Gaza Strip has toyed with fire—literally—with arson attacks, riots at the Gaza-Israel border and rocket attacks. So far, Israel has refrained from a harsh response. Despite protestations to the contrary by Netanyahu, one can only imagine that the uncertain political climate reduced the government’s willingness to go to war. But in a unity government situation, the ruling parties would represent the will of most of Israel, creating a stability that can allow for conflict without burning too much political capital too quickly. Furthermore, Gantz is the former leader of the IDF—and not surprisingly Al-Monitor notes that Gantz backs an even stronger military approach to Gaza terrorism. Hamas benefits from instability and the subsequent “lack of will” to fight in Israel’s government. If a unity government is formed, that will go away quickly.

As for who will actually “win” the elections and be the new prime minister, we may not know for weeks or months. In the meantime, many players—both inside and outside Israel—will be watching closely.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, September 23, 2019)

Historic Training Exercise Sees Israeli Jets Deployed in UK for the First Time

September 22, 2019 Special Feature

Israeli jets trained in the UK for the first time. UK, Israeli flags. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has long conducted joint training with other nations, but somehow had never deployed jets in the United Kingdom. That changed in the last few weeks, as the IAF participated alongside other nations in the UK’s “Cobra Warrior” exercise with the Royal Air Force (RAF). An article posted to the IAF website highlighted the historic nature of the training, noted it involved dozens of training scenarios and quoted one participant saying it’s “like the Olympics.”

Maj. A’, an Israeli technical officer, was quoted in the article as saying, “People who participate in the Olympics represent their country; here, we represent the Israeli Air Force.”

The Israelis were joined in the training by the US, Germany, Italy and Canada, in addition to the RAF. The RAF Twitter feed called it the “largest Royal Air Force exercise of the year,” with three weeks of “intensive training.” The RAF website said the exercise ended last week, with a report stating that the training “rehearsed a range of complex scenarios” from an enemy that is nearly on par with the participating advanced air forces. … Continue Reading

DNA Evidence Argues Ancient Biblical Villain Philistines Have European Ancestors

July 7, 2019 Special Feature

Excavation of the Philistine Cemetery at Ashkelon. Photographer Melissa Aja.
Photo Courtesy of Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.

The Roman name for the region including Israel—which evolved into “Palestine”—may have been derived from the name of the Philistine people who once lived on the coast, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Yet ironically, it turns out at least some of the Philistine’s ancestors are not only not from Israeli territory—they aren’t even from the Middle East. A new study examining the genetic material in bone samples dating to more than 3,000-years-ago found that a “substantial proportion of their ancestry was derived from a European population,” according to a press release on the Leon Levy Expedition Ashkelon project.

“For the first time, thanks to state-of-the-art DNA testing on ancient bones, we are able to demonstrate that the Philistines were immigrants to the region of Philistia in the 12th century BC,” said Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon director Daniel M. Master in the press release, which was published by Lydia Weitzman Communications. “For thirty years, we excavated at Ashkelon, uncovering Canaanites, early Philistines and later Philistines, and now we can begin to understand the story that these bones tell.”

The research, jointly done with Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and published in “Science Advances”, aligns with ancient texts that labeled the Philistines as immigrants, including the Bible. The press release referenced Amos 9:7 as saying the Philistines emigrated from a land known as Caphtor. In Deuteronomy, a people from Caphtor are described as conquering territory later used by the Philistines along the Israeli coastline, including Gaza. … Continue Reading

US Says Iran ‘Afraid of Success’ of Palestinian Prosperity Peace Plan

June 26, 2019 Special Feature

The US is promoting a new economic plan for the Palestinians. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

The United States on Wednesday wrapped up a two-day workshop in Bahrain aimed at drumming up economic support for the Palestinian people as part of the American “Peace to Prosperity” plan, but not every nation in the Middle East is eager to see that goal achieved. In particular, the US was pointing the finger at Iran, a major sponsor of Palestinian terror organizations that oppose peace with Israel.

“If there is one nation in the Middle East that does not want this effort to succeed, that is afraid of our success, it’s the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said in a video posted to the State Department Twitter page.

“They would much rather see the Palestinian people trapped in an endless cycle of poverty, because they prioritize ideology over the welfare of not only the Palestinian people, but the Iranian people. We are going to continue to support and stand with the Palestinian people while the Iranian regime conducts its campaign of lies and disinformation.” … Continue Reading

US Ambassador Slams Iran for Religious Rights Abuses against Christians, Other Minorities

The US is pushing back against religious injustice in Iran. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

The Islamic Republic of Iran is not known for being open to religious minorities, and United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback highlighted some of the egregious Iranian offenses in a recent speech. Christians, Baha’is and even Sunni Muslims have faced religious persecution from Iranian authorities. “In Iran, blasphemy, apostasy from Islam, and proselytizing of Muslims are crimes punishable by death,” said Brownback in a speech last week published on the US State Department website.

“Minorities not recognized under the Iranian constitution—such as Baha’is and Christian converts—may not engage in public religious expression and are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and arbitrary arrest.”

Brownback cited multiple examples of the plight facing Christians in Iran—noting that a dangerous label is to be called a Christian supporter of Israel. … Continue Reading

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