Netanyahu says he is on brink of ‘very big victory’ in Israel election

Netanyahu says he is on brink of ‘very big victory’ in Israel election
With roughly 70% of votes counted, Netanyahu's conservative Likud and its likely religious and far-right allies were on pace to control a majority in parliament after Israel's fifth election in less than four years. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 November 2022

Netanyahu says he is on brink of ‘very big victory’ in Israel election

Netanyahu says he is on brink of ‘very big victory’ in Israel election
  • The former premier forged formal diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2020

JERUSALEM: Israel’s former premier Benjamin Netanyahu was poised for a dramatic return to power on Wednesday, claiming a “huge vote of confidence” from voters and declaring that his right-wing camp was on the cusp of a resounding election win.
With roughly 70 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud and its likely religious and far-right allies were on pace to control a majority in parliament after Israel’s fifth election in less than four years.
“We are on the brink of a very big victory,” a smiling Netanyahu told cheering supporters at his Likud party election headquarters, his voice hoarse from weeks of campaigning.
Netanyahu’s alliance with far-right firebrand Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose Religious Zionism bloc is on course to become the third-largest party, has alarmed Palestinians and drawn concern among some allies, including the United States.
But Netanyahu, whose position appeared to have strengthened after early exit polls showed him with only a razor-thin majority, vowed to form a “stable, national government,” as the crowd interrupted him singing “Bibi, king of Israel.”
The former premier, who in 2020 forged formal diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, said a government under his leadership would act responsibly, avoid “unnecessary adventures” and “expand the circle of peace.”
Though the landscape could shift as the ballot count trickles in, the partial tally showed Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies, leading a bloc of four parties taking 67 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.
After a campaign dominated by worries over security and the cost of living, support for centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s ruling coalition appeared to have collapsed although Lapid stopped short of conceding victory and said he would wait until the final count.
Less than 18 months out of office, Netanyahu also said he would wait for official results.
A Different Way
The record 12-year consecutive reign of Israel’s longest serving prime minister ended in June 2021 when Lapid joined estranged Netanyahu ally Naftali Bennett to stitch together an unlikely coalition of liberals, rightists and Arab parties.
But the fragile alliance unraveled a year into its rule.
Netanyahu’s legal battles have fed the stalemate blocking Israel’s political system since 2019 and deepened the split between his supporters and opponents. But he said Israelis were thirsty for change.
“The people want a different way. They want security,” Netanyahu said. “They want power, not weakness ... they want diplomatic wisdom, but with firmness.”
It remains unclear what position Ben-Gvir and fellow far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich may have in a Netanyahu-led government. But the strength of their ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism group was one of the outstanding features of the campaign as they brought it surging in from the political margins.
Ben-Gvir, who advocates expelling anyone deemed disloyal to Israel, is a former member of Kach, a group on Israeli and US terrorist watchlists, and was once convicted for racist incitement although he has moderated some of his more extreme positions.
His rise alongside Netanyahu has deepened Palestinian skepticism over prospects for a political solution after a campaign which unrolled during increasing violence in the occupied West Bank, with near-daily raids and clashes.


Labor chiefs probe exploitation of Palestinian workers in Israel

Labor chiefs probe exploitation of Palestinian workers in Israel
Updated 29 March 2023

Labor chiefs probe exploitation of Palestinian workers in Israel

Labor chiefs probe exploitation of Palestinian workers in Israel
  • More than 120 killed in past 15 months

RAMALLAH: The powerful International Labor Organization is investigating allegations of ill-treatment and exploitation of Palestinian workers in Israel.

Palestinian leaders have handed a dossier to a fact-finding committee from the organization showing that the Israeli army killed 93 Palestinian workers in Israel in 2022, and a further 31 so far this year.

The report also detailed abuse of Palestinian workers at military checkpoints and barriers, the absence of occupational health and safety standards, and illegal working hours.

The dossier was handed over by Shaher Saad, secretary-general of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions.  Saad also told investigators that brokers and illegal middlemen were deducting about $34 million a month in fees taken from workers’ salaries, which prevented the implementation of a working social security system in Palestine.

About 170,000 Palestinians from the West Bank work in Israel or in illegal Israeli settlements, and 17,000 from the Gaza Strip. Each month they are required to pay about 2,500 shekels ($780) in fees for a work permit, in a system that is riddled with corruption.

A report in 2021 by the Institute for National Security Studies suggests that people illegally selling work permits had annual revenue of 1 billion shekels from about 40,000 Palestinian workers.

Meanwhile Israeli armed forces’ assaults against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have continued with increasing frequency during Ramadan, Palestinian sources told to Arab News.

On Tuesday, the Israeli army arrested 13 citizens from different parts of the West Bank. At the same time, and for the fourth consecutive day, it continued to tighten its grip on the town of Huwara, south of Nablus.

Kamal Odeh, Fatah secretary in Huwara, said that the Israeli army had deployed intensively on the main street, setting up several barriers and trying to divert citizens’ routes through secondary streets inside the town.Soldiers turned several houses along the main street in the center of Huwara into military barracks.

“The security situation around Nablus is frightening,” Amer Hamdan, a rights activist from Nablus, told Arab News.

Israeli bulldozers also demolished three agricultural facilities in the Al-Sawahra wilderness, east of Jerusalem, and a commercial facility in Deir Ballut, west of Salfit.

Maj. Gen. Abdullah Kamil, the governor of Salfit, said demolitions by Israeli authorities in Salfit served the occupation’s plans to uproot Palestinian citizens from their lands in order to build more Israeli settlements.
 


Biden urges Netanyahu abandon judicial overhaul that sparked protests

Biden urges Netanyahu abandon judicial overhaul that sparked protests
Updated 29 March 2023

Biden urges Netanyahu abandon judicial overhaul that sparked protests

Biden urges Netanyahu abandon judicial overhaul that sparked protests
  • “Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” he said

WASHINGTON, JERUSALEM: US President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon a judicial overhaul proposal that led to massive protests in Israel, prompting the Israeli leader to say he does not make decisions based on pressure from abroad.
Netanyahu on Monday delayed the overhaul proposal after large numbers of people spilled into the streets. The White House initially said in response that Netanyahu should seek a compromise on the issue.
But Biden went further in taking questions from reporters on Tuesday. “I hope he walks away from it,” Biden said, referring to the judicial proposal that would give the Israeli government greater control over appointments to the country’s Supreme Court.
Netanyahu quickly issued a statement in response.
“Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” he said.
Netanyahu said his administration was striving to make reforms “via broad consensus.”
“I have known President Biden for over 40 years, and I appreciate his longstanding commitment to Israel,” Netanyahu said.
He said the Israel-US alliance is unbreakable “and always overcomes the occasional disagreements between us.
“My administration is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we are striving to achieve via a broad consensus,” Netanyahu said.

 


Israeli forces tighten security measures against Palestinians

Israeli security forces patrol in the West Bank town of Huwara, on March 26, 2023. (AFP)
Israeli security forces patrol in the West Bank town of Huwara, on March 26, 2023. (AFP)
Updated 29 March 2023

Israeli forces tighten security measures against Palestinians

Israeli security forces patrol in the West Bank town of Huwara, on March 26, 2023. (AFP)
  • Sources said that the settlers attacked houses and burned vehicles under the protection of Israeli army forces, who assaulted citizens

RAMALLAH: Israeli armed forces’ assaults against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have continued with increasing frequency during Ramadan, Palestinian sources confirmed to Arab News.

On Tuesday, the Israeli army arrested 13 citizens from different parts of the West Bank. At the same time, and for the fourth consecutive day, it continued to tighten its grip on the town of Huwara, south of Nablus.

Kamal Odeh, Fatah secretary in Huwara, said that the Israeli army has deployed intensively on the main street, setting up several barriers and trying to divert citizens’ routes through secondary streets inside the town.

According to eyewitnesses, the Israeli army turned several houses along the main street in the center of Huwara into military barracks.

Amer Hamdan, a human rights activist from Nablus, told Arab News that it usually takes him one hour to drive from Nablus to Ramallah. Today, however, the trip took him two and a half hours due to Israeli military checkpoints in Huwara.

“The security situation around Nablus is ad frightening,” Hamdan told Arab News.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Israeli bulldozers demolished three agricultural facilities in the Al-Sawahra wilderness, east of Jerusalem, and a commercial facility in Deir Ballut, west of Salfit.

Maj. Gen. Abdullah Kamil, the governor of Salfit, said that the policy of demolishing homes and facilities by the Israeli authorities in Salfit is one of the most egregious and inhumane practices and that it serves the occupation’s plans to uproot Palestinian citizens from their lands in order to build more Israeli settlements.

During the past hours, settler militias have launched a large-scale attack on Huwara, south of Nablus.

Sources said that the settlers attacked houses and burned vehicles under the protection of Israeli army forces, who assaulted citizens.

On Tuesday, settlers cut down 14 olive trees in the lands of Husan village, west of Bethlehem, after they had also cut down 50 olive trees in that area about 10 days ago.

Separately, Secretary-General of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions Shaher Saad handed over to the Fact-Finding Committee of the International Labor Organization an annual report on violations against Palestinian workers inside Israel.

The paper included the number of Palestinian workers killed by the Israeli army — 93 in the year 2022, and 31 in the first two and a half months of 2023 — and the risks that workers are exposed to while passing through barriers and openings, in addition to violations related to brokers who deduct approximately $34 million from workers’ salaries per month.

Saad explained to the committee that the Israeli government’s procedures for handing over workers’ money to the Israeli Otaim company threaten their rights and prevent the implementation of social security in Palestine.

The report also included the daily violations that workers face, especially in the absence of occupational health and safety standards, including working hours that extend beyond those legally established.

Some 140,000 Palestinians from the West Bank are working in Israel, 30,000 in Israeli settlements, and 17,000 from the Gaza Strip.

Qadura Faris, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Arab News that since 2021, cases of cancer among Palestinian security prisoners have been increasing, with 24 prisoners currently suffering from the disease.

He confirmed that the prison administration has deliberately pursued a policy of medical negligence toward prisoners, which has led to the death of 75 prisoners out of the 236 who have died in prisons since 1967.

“The policy of medical negligence is the most dangerous policy pursued by the Israeli prison administration,” Faris told Arab News, adding that about 700 sick prisoners diagnosed in Israeli prisons have faced difficult health conditions over the past years, including about 200 who suffer from chronic diseases.

Israel has 4,780 Palestinian security prisoners in its jails.

 


Lebanese politicians hurl insults at each other as tensions boil over in parliament

Lebanese politicians hurl insults at each other as tensions boil over in parliament
Updated 29 March 2023

Lebanese politicians hurl insults at each other as tensions boil over in parliament

Lebanese politicians hurl insults at each other as tensions boil over in parliament
  • Meanwhile, the US Treasury has imposed sanctions on two Lebanese citizens accused of being drug kingpins

BEIRUT: Politicians in Lebanon shouted and hurled insults at each other during a meeting of a joint parliamentary committee on Tuesday. It came as tensions continued to rise amid the ongoing failure to choose a new president and growing concerns that it will be impossible to hold municipal elections scheduled for May.

Amal Movement MP Ghazi Zeaiter, who has been accused of involvement in the events leading up to the massive explosion at Beirut’s port in August 2020, clashed with independent MP Melhem Khalaf, who has been staging a sit-in at the parliament for more than two months over the failure of MPs to elect a new president. As tensions rose, Zeaiter was accused of publicly insulting Khalaf.

Another dispute, over the municipal elections, broke out between Sami Gemayel, head of the Kataeb Party, and the Amal Movement’s Ali Hassan Khalil, who is also accused of involvement in the port explosion. The former accused the latter of using “immoral” insults.

As the rows continued, the meeting was ended. It took place a day after caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati reversed his unpopular decision, announced last week, to delay the start of daylight saving time for a month “to allow those fasting during Ramadan to rest for an hour.”

“What happened during the session was shocking,” said MP Hadi Abu Al-Hassan, a member of the Democratic Gathering bloc. “The country’s situation will become too dangerous if we continue this way.”

Politicians need to heed the voice of reason and consider carefully the best interests of the country and its people, he added.

“We need to elect a president, form a government and start implementing reforms instead of carrying on with this tense drama.”

The presidency has been vacant since Michel Aoun’s term concluded at the end of October last year. Politicians have been unable to reach agreement on a successor.

Abu Al-Hassan said that Walid Jumblatt, the head of the Progressive Socialist Party, has been talking with members of a number of parties in an attempt to ensure the volatile political situation remains under control but underlying tensions remain high.

After the ill-tempered parliamentary meeting, Gemayel refused to go into the details of the dispute but said that he considers what happened to be “a dangerous offense against sanctities and we cannot accept this.”

He warned that if some officials persist with their current approach to managing the country’s affairs, even bigger problems lie in store.

“If I disclosed what happened, I would be contributing to creating the strife that some want to drag the country into, and we do not want that,” Gemayel added.

He called on Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri to “address what happened” and added “if he does not want to deal with it, then he can consider the message received and we will discuss with our allies how we will take things from here.”

Warning of the potential dangers of failure to hold the municipal elections, Gemayel stressed “the need for the state to cover the cost” of the polls “as the required amount is $8 million.”

The Lebanese government has said it is unable to cover the cost of the elections, according to a source in the Ministry of Interior, as “there is no money or staff to hold them.”

The ministry has set the cost of the elections at $12 million. International donors, including the EU, the US Agency for International Development, and the UN Development Program, have pledged $3 million, which would cover the cost of necessities such as printing, stationery and logistics. The Lebanese state would need to provide the remaining money for election workers, judges, security, the transportation of ballot boxes, and electrical power, among other things.

Any decision to postpone the elections would require the calling of a legislative session. Christian parliamentary blocs refuse to agree to such sessions on the grounds that “Parliament is currently an electorate body whose sole purpose is to elect a president.” Meanwhile, other political forces do not want to be the ones responsible for passing a law that extends the terms of the current municipal councils.

In other news, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on Lebanese citizens Hassan Daqqou and Nouh Zeaiter, who are accused of being drug lords.

Daqqou is a Lebanese-Syrian dual national from Tufail, a town the straddles the border with Syria. He was arrested in Lebanon in 2021 and remains in detention. The Criminal Court in Beirut last year sentenced him to seven years of hard labor for manufacturing Captagon and trafficking it to other countries. The US Treasury accuses him and his drug-trafficking operations of having direct links to Hezbollah.

Zeaiter is wanted by the Lebanese state on charges of drug trafficking. He is said to surround himself with no fewer than 14 armed guards and travels in four-wheel-drive vehicles with darkened windows. The US Treasury also links him with Hezbollah.

A few days ago, an army force ambushed a convoy on the outskirts of the town of Harbta in which wanted members of the Zeaiter family were traveling. During the armed battle that ensued, Zeaiter’s son, Mahdi, was injured and arrested.


Egypt to allow Iranians visas on arrival in Sinai as regional tensions ease

Egypt to allow Iranians visas on arrival in Sinai as regional tensions ease
Updated 29 March 2023

Egypt to allow Iranians visas on arrival in Sinai as regional tensions ease

Egypt to allow Iranians visas on arrival in Sinai as regional tensions ease

CAIRO: Egypt will soon allow Iranians traveling with tour groups to obtain visas on arrival in the south of its Sinai peninsula with a view to extending access to other parts of the country, Egyptian Tourism Ministry officials said.

The decision is part of a series of measures announced on Monday aimed at improving access to visas to boost tourism revenues at a time when Egypt has been struggling economically with an acute foreign currency shortage.

It also comes as some Middle Eastern countries including Egypt are taking steps to ease regional tensions. Egypt’s Sunni Muslim Arab ally Saudi Arabia and Shiite Muslim Iran announced this month that they would restore diplomatic relations.

Cairo has mended a rift with Qatar and is re-establishing ties with Turkiye, another country to benefit from new visa rules with Turkish nationals given expanded access to visas on arrival, according to a Egyptian Tourism Ministry statement.

Among the other new visa rules announced were a $700, five-year multiple-entry visa, which Tourism Minister Ahmed Issa said was aimed at investors and property owners who are based outside Egypt.

On visas for Iranians arriving in South Sinai, home to the highly secured resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, Issa said: “We will evaluate the experience of their arrival in South Sinai as a first step, and building on that, we’ll determine if they will be admitted in other places.”

Relations between Egypt and Iran have generally been fraught in recent decades although the two countries have maintained diplomatic contacts.

Tourists from China, which Egypt regards as a market with big potential, and Indians residing in Gulf countries will also be granted visas on arrival.

All new visa rules have been approved in principle and will be put into effect soon, a Tourism Ministry official said.