Israel rivals resume unity government talks with two-day deadline

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his rival Benny Gantz (L) are in talks to form an emergency unity government. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 April 2020

Israel rivals resume unity government talks with two-day deadline

  • Israel has gone to the polls three times in the last year, each time failing to form a government
  • Political crisis comes as the country grapples with increasing coronavirus cases

Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz held new talks on forming an emergency unity government Tuesday, with a deadline less than two days away.
A deal would give Israel its first fully functioning government since December 2018, stability that could prove crucial as it confronts the coronavirus pandemic.
The two men had been negotiating prior to a deadline that expired at midnight Monday night, but jointly asked President Reuven Rivlin for a two-day extension to finalize details.
They met in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning, after releasing a joint statement late Monday hailing “significant progress.”
There have been repeated claims of progress in coalition talks since an inconclusive March 2 election, Israel’s third poll in less than a year, but a deal has remained elusive.
Tuesday’s talks ended without a breakthrough but the two men committed to meet again after the Jewish passover holiday ends at sunset on Wednesday, with a view to reaching a deal by a midnight that evening.
As Israel’s unprecedented political deadlock has persisted, there have been widespread calls for an interim national unity government to combat the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 11,500 Israelis and killed 117.
Gantz, a centrist ex-military chief, has squared off against the veteran right-wing prime minister in three elections since April last year.
Neither has earned enough support from voters and potential coalition partners to form a government.

In the March 2 election, Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest party but Gantz’s Blue and White won the backing of most of the country’s 120 MPs.
Gantz was therefore given a 28-day mandate to try and form a government.
But deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahu camp meant his chances of forging a stable coalition were always remote.
In a surprise move last month, Gantz was elected speaker of parliament and effectively stopped seeking to form a coalition with himself as prime minister.
He called for an alliance led by Netanyahu for a defined period, allowing Israeli politics a rare moment of unity as it stares down an unprecedented health crisis.
In the process, Gantz broke his political party in two, with more than half his allies in parliament leaving to join the opposition rather than ally with the deeply divisive Netanyahu.
Since then talks have stalled over a number of key issues.
Forming a government involves distributing ministerial portfolios and agreeing a political roadmap for the country.
A major source of tension has been the choice of a justice minister who will be tasked with overseeing the corruption case against Netanyahu.
Disputes have also emerged over the nomination of a defense minister, including speculation that Gantz, a former army chief, may want the job.
Policy toward the Palestinians, notably Netanyahu’s stated desire to unilaterally annex the strategically important Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, has also reportedly caused friction.
“Netanyahu, this is our moment of truth. It’s either a national emergency government or a senseless fourth round election, costly and unnecessary in this hour of crisis,” Gantz said on Monday night.
“History will not be forgiving toward leadership that shirks its responsibility at this critical point of time.”
In office since 2009, Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving premier and the first to be indicted while in office.
The premier denies charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, filed against him in January.
Netanyahu critics have charged that he will stop at nothing to make the indictments disappear, including pushing for a fourth election in the hope of gaining a parliamentary majority to push through a law granting him immunity from prosecution.

‘Provocative’ Erdogan to drill for oil off Libya

Updated 31 May 2020

‘Provocative’ Erdogan to drill for oil off Libya

  • Turkey claims an agreement gives it the right to explore for oil and gas in an exclusive economic zone

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to create a “fait accompli” over rights to natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean by drilling off the coast of Libya, analysts told Arab News on Saturday.

Ankara’s announcement that it intends to activate last year’s maritime borders agreement with the Libyan government in Tripoli has brought simmering tensions to the boil.   

Turkey claims the agreement gives it the right to explore for oil and gas in an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between its southern coast and Libya’s northeastern coast. However, Greece, Cyprus and the EU say the deal is illegal. Turkey may also face EU sanctions over drilling in Cypriot territorial waters.

Ankara has not said exactly where it will drill, but experts told Arab News they expect exploration activities to begin off Tripoli in the short term, and then near to the coastal city of Sirte.

“From a tactical point of view, Turkey may test the scenario of a crisis with Athens where escalation takes place and then, in the context of de-escalation, the two countries would have to discuss and negotiate their positions,” said Zenonas Tziarras, a researcher at PRIO Cyprus Centre.

Mona Sukkarieh, a political risk consultant and co-founder of Middle East Strategic Perspectives, said: “If we take Turkish operations off the Cypriot coast as an indicator, operations off the Libyan coast might start off on the less provocative part of the spectrum and grow bolder with time toward the more provocative part of the spectrum.

“The objective is to demonstrate a resolute determination in order to extract concessions or, at the very least, to impose itself as a player to reckon with.”