Israel lawmakers endorse Netanyahu-Gantz government

The Israeli parliament backed the coalition deal by 71 votes to 37, a statement said. Above, an electoral billboard featuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 07 May 2020

Israel lawmakers endorse Netanyahu-Gantz government

  • The two men plan to swear in their new administration on May 13, with Netanyahu remaining leader for 18 months, before handing over to Gantz

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received crucial support in his bid to form a unity government Thursday, inching closer to ending more than a year of political deadlock.
Lawmakers first voted in favour of a coalition pact between Israel's longest-serving leader and his erstwhile rival Benny Gantz, then called on President Reuven Rivlin to task Netanyahu with forming that government.
The coalition deal will see the rightwing veteran premier share power with Gantz, a centrist former military chief.
The two men plan to swear in their new administration on May 13, with Netanyahu remaining leader for 18 months, before handing over to Gantz.
The other will serve as alternate PM, a newly created position.
Representatives of Netanyahu's Likud party and Gantz's Blue and White presented Rivlin's office with a request, signed by 72 of the country's 120 MPs, that Netanyahu be mandated to form a government.
It was delivered hours ahead of a midnight (2100 GMT Thursday) deadline.
A statement from the presidency said the law allowed up to two days for possible objections before the process was finalised.
The proposed government had also been challenged in the high court, with opponents arguing Netanyahu was ineligible due to corruption indictments.
But the court ruled on Wednesday evening that there was "no legal reason to prevent the formation of a government" led by Netanyahu.
It added that the allegations against Netanyahu could be addressed in his trial, due to begin on May 24.
Netanyahu has been written off by pundits and rivals many times since taking power in 2009, but the man sometimes dubbed "the magician" has invariably found ways to remain in the hot seat.
As well as rebuilding an economy shaken by the coronavirus, the new government will also decide on the possible annexation of large parts of the West Bank, a move from which successive governments have refrained since Israel occupied the territory in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Israel has been without a stable government since December 2018, holding three successive elections in which Gantz's centrist Blue and White and Netanyahu's Likud were near neck-and-neck.
Netanyahu has remained in power in a caretaker capacity throughout.
In January, he was charged with accepting improper gifts and illegally trading favours in exchange for positive media coverage.
He denies wrongdoing, but if the trial goes ahead as planned he will become the first serving Israeli leader to be tried.
After the third election in March, Gantz broke with large parts of Blue and White and agreed to form a unity government.
He said it was necessary to provide political stability as the country seeks to repair the economic damage wrought by a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 16,000 people.
Gantz's critics, including many former allies, accused him of betraying his voters after campaigning for cleaner politics and pledging not to serve under an indicted prime minister.
"Never have so few cheated so many voters for such miserable reasons," former Gantz ally Yair Lapid, poised to become opposition leader, tweeted Thursday.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said neither Gantz nor Netanyahu had faith in the other's intentions.
"There is zero trust -- this is probably the main characteristic of this political agreement," he told journalists.
"Therefore a new regime was created whereby we have two prime ministers, both with veto power."

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

Updated 29 May 2020

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

  • The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament on Thursday failed to approve a draft law on general amnesty, after tensions rose during a vote and the Future Movement, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, walked out of the legislative session.

“They want to bring us back to square one,” he said. “Every party has its own arguments, as if they want to score points.”

The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty. Minister of Justice Marie Claude Najm, who is affiliated with the FPM, asked for “amendments to the draft law so that it does not include those accused of tax evasion and violating maritime property.”

The draft law was referred to the parliament despite disagreements between parliamentary committees over the basic issue of who should and should not be included in the amnesty. The former government, led by Hariri, proposed a general amnesty law before it resigned last October in the face of mounting pressure resulting from public protests.

There were a number of protests during the legislative session, some opposing the adoption of the law entirely, while others were directed at specific provisions within it.

The draft law includes an amnesty for about 1,200 Sunni convicts, 700 of whom are Lebanese. Some are accused of killing soldiers in the Lebanese Army, possessing, transporting or using explosives, kidnap and participating in bombings.

It was also covers about 6,000 Lebanese Christians, most of whom fled to Israel following the withdrawal of occupying Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon in 2000, as well as nearly 30,000 people from the Bekaa region, the majority of whom are from the Shiite community and wanted for drug trafficking, drug abuse, murder, kidnap, robbery and other crimes.

Hezbollah appeared to agree to a pardon for entering Israel, but object to a pardon for anyone who worked or communicated with the enemy or acquired Israeli citizenship.

Before the session, the Lebanese Order of Physicians highlighted overcrowding in Lebanese prisons, and this health risk this poses during COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are 20 prisons for men, four for women and one juvenile prison holding a total of 8,300 inmates, 57 percent of whom are in the Roumieh Central Prison,” the LOP said. It added that 57 percent of prisoners are Lebanese and 23 percent are Syrian, one third have been convicted while the rest are awaiting trial, and the overcrowding is so bad each prisoner has the equivalent of only one square meter of space. The organization described the situation as “a time bomb that must be avoided.”

In other business during the session, as part of anticorruption reforms required as a condition for receiving international economic aid, the Parliament approved a law to increase transparency in the banking sector, with responsibility for this resting with the Investigation Authority of the Lebanese Central Bank and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

It also endorsed a draft law to create a mechanism for top-level appointments in public administrations, centers and institutions. An amendment was added to prevent ministers from changing or adding candidates for the position of director general. The FPM opposed this, while Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces voted in favor. Hariri accused the FPM of having a “desire to possess the entire country.”

MPs rejected a draft law to allow Lebanon to join the International Organization for Migration because, said MP Gebran Bassil, “it’s unconstitutional and facilitates the accession, integration and settlement process.” Lebanon hosts about 200,000 Palestinian and a million Syrian refugees.

The session sparked a wave of street protests. Some of them, led by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party, opposed the approval of a general amnesty that includes those who fled to Israel.

Protesters burned the Israeli flag in Sidon in protest against a law that “affects Israeli agents who sold their land, fought their people, and plotted against them.” They set up a symbolic gallows on which they wrote: “This is the fate of Zionist agents who fled execution.”

Others, including the families of Muslim detainees, staged demonstrations in support of the amnesty.