Israel right-wing parties boycott parliament re-opening

Benjamin Netanyahu is escorted by security guards during a visit to the Hatikva market in Tel Aviv, last year. (AP Photo)
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Updated 24 March 2020

Israel right-wing parties boycott parliament re-opening

  • Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party accused the centrist Blue and White, led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz, of breaching standard practice in parliament
  • Gantz was last week tasked with forming a government, something that had proved impossible following the last two votes given deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahu camp

JERUSALEM: Israeli right-wing parties backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boycotted the re-opening of parliament Monday to protest what they called the “dictatorial” conduct of their centrist rivals.
The dramatic move came after a year of political turmoil that saw three inconclusive elections, and as Netanyahu has imposed strict legal and security measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party accused the centrist Blue and White, led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz, of breaching standard practice in parliament, the Knesset, following March 2 elections.
The row centered on whether Gantz would use his bloc’s slight majority of lawmakers to shape the composition of a powerful parliamentary committee.
Noting the “severe health crisis” — with 1,442 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel — Likud accused Blue and White of “hate-driven, dictatorial and destructive conduct.”
The election early this month saw the anti-Netanyahu parties claim a narrow lead of 62 seats.
Right-wing and ultra-Orthodox factions that back the caretaker premier claimed 58.
Gantz was last week tasked with forming a government, something that had proved impossible following the last two votes given deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahu camp.
There was no guarantee Gantz would fare better this time.
Monday’s spat centered on the key arrangements committee, which is responsible for forming other parliamentary committees.
When the new Knesset was sworn in last Monday, lawmakers failed to agree on the committee’s composition, which is traditionally negotiated among different Knesset factions.
But Blue and White declared it would put the issue to a majority vote.
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, a Likud member and Netanyahu ally, scheduled the vote for Monday.
Hours before the chamber was due to re-open, Likud announced its boycott, saying it would not take part in the “disgraceful process.”
Gantz’s bloc voted despite the boycott, creating an arrangements committee that will see Knesset business move forward, including the formation of a new body to tackle the coronavirus.
Gantz accused Netanyahu of trying to “paralyze the Knesset,” in a speech to a near empty chamber on Monday.
Netanyahu has repeatedly called for Gantz to join him in a unity government, with the premier’s job rotating between them, and President Reuven Rivlin has backed such calls amid the pandemic.
Israel has imposed severe restrictions to contain coronavirus, including banning non-essential movements.
Netanyahu had also enlisted the Shin Bet internal security agency to track possible virus carriers through their mobile phones — without a court order.
That move triggered outrage over alleged national security over-reach, with the supreme court ruling last week such surveillance could not go ahead without Knesset oversight.
The committee tasked with overseeing the Shin Bet, the foreign and defense committee, was scheduled to be formed in the coming days.
A dispute also escalated over the powerful job of Knesset speaker.
Likud has argued that its member and Netanyahu loyalist Yuli Edelstein should remain as speaker until a new government is formed.
Blue and White asked the supreme court to weigh in. On Monday, judges told Edelstein he had two days to schedule a vote for a new speaker.
Edelstein rejected what he described as the court’s “ultimatum,” saying it was not the role of judges to set the Knesset agenda.
Blue and White in a statement warned Edelstein that he would be “shamefully remembered” for defying the court.
Netanyahu is also facing criminal corruptions charges, allegations he denies, but which could soon leave him vulnerable: MPs who oppose him have backed legislation that would bar anyone under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister.


Iran says black boxes of downed Ukraine plane of ‘no help’

In this file photo taken on January 8, 2020 rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, killing everyone on board. (AFP)
Updated 4 min 20 sec ago

Iran says black boxes of downed Ukraine plane of ‘no help’

  • Ottawa has demanded for several months that Iran, which does not have the technical means to decode the black boxes, send the items abroad so that their content can be analyzed

TEHRAN: The black boxes of a Ukrainian plane mistakenly downed near Tehran airport will be of “no help” in any investigation, but Iran is ready to transfer them abroad, state media said Saturday.
Flight 752, an Ukraine International Airlines jetliner, was struck by a missile and crashed shortly after taking off from the Tehran airport on January 8.
“Even though the investigation is nearly complete and the contents of the boxes will be of no help for the investigation, we are ready to give them to a third country or to a (foreign) company,” Mohsen Baharvand, deputy foreign affairs minister, was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Iranian civilian authorities insisted it was likely caused by a technical malfunction, vehemently denying claims the plane was shot down.
But in the early hours of January 11, the Iranian military admitted that the plane was shot down due to “human error,” killing 176 people, mainly Iranians and Canadians, including many dual nationals.
Ottawa has demanded for several months that Iran, which does not have the technical means to decode the black boxes, send the items abroad so that their content can be analyzed.
After Tehran said in March it was ready to transfer the black boxes to France or Ukraine, Canada’s foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne guardedly welcomed a “step in the right direction,” while noting that he would judge Iranian authorities on “their actions and not just their words.”
In his interview with IRNA, Baharvand implied that Iran had certain conditions for transferring the black boxes abroad, but did not elaborate.