News Digest — 12/23/20

Israel To Hold Fourth Election In Under Two Years After Knesset Dissolves Itself

Seven months after it was formed, the Likud-Blue and White unity government missed the deadline to pass a stage budget and dissolved itself as of midnight Tuesday (22nd), meaning that Israel will be holding a fourth general election in a space of under two years.

On Monday evening (21st), a last-ditch attempt to salvage the 23rd Knesset by passing a law to push back the deadline for a budget failed.

On Tuesday evening (22nd), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu excoriated Alternate Prime Minister and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Justice Minister Avi Nissankoren for bringing the government to an end.

“It’s no secret, I never wanted an election because of internal power struggles,” Netanyahu said.

As of Wednesday morning (23rd), the timeline for the 2021 elections was as follows: February 3-4 will be the deadline for parties to submit their lists for the 24th Knesset.  Parties and political officials will have until February 11 to submit petitions to disqualify parties or individual candidates from the election.  On February 16, election material will be sent to Israeli embassies and consulates abroad to allow government representatives to vote.  On February 21, the Central Elections Committee is scheduled to approve the party lists, and the fateful day itself is scheduled for March 23, 2021, shortly before Passover.

On March 31 the final election results are scheduled to be published.

The 24th Knesset is scheduled to hold its opening session on April 6, 2021.



Trump Overturned ‘Mideast Peace Assumptions,’ US Envoy Tells UN Security Council

In an address to the UN Security Council on Monday (21st) during a monthly session on the Middle East, US Ambassador Kelly Craft asserted that President Donald Trump’s policies had “overturned” long-held views about diplomacy in the region.

“For decades, the prevailing assumption was that the world would only see normalized international relations with Israel following a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute,” Craft told the virtual meeting.  “But we have proven this assumption wrong.”

She touted the Trump administration’s pursuit of “economic and cultural ties” between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which has led to normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.  Similar deals with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, among others, could also be in the offing.

“All of us here should think long and hard about what else we may have missed or misinterpreted over the years,” said Craft, who also announced on Monday (21st) that she would be visiting Israel this week.

“These decades-old approaches have not only fallen short; they have stymied regional economic cooperation and growth, and they have largely prevented Israelis and Palestinians from establishing friendly relations,” added Craft, who urged the Palestinians to return to direct talks with Israel based on the peace plan proposed by Trump earlier this year.

The ambassador’s remarks followed a briefing by the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, who called for a “return to the path of meaningful negotiations.” 

In January, Mladenov will be replaced by Tor Wennesland, a Norwegian diplomat who has been involved in Middle East peacemaking efforts since the Oslo era.



Israeli-US Delegation Arrives In Morocco, Launches Normalization Process

The historic flight carrying Israeli and US officials landed in Rabat on Tuesday afternoon (22nd), marking a symbolic start to the new era of peace between Israel and Morocco.

The two countries agreed – following US mediation – to normalize ties several weeks ago.  On Tuesday (22nd), the first-ever official flight from Tel Aviv to the Moroccan capital took place, with Israel National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat on board along with US President Donald Trump’s Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and US Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz.  Upon arrival, the captain of the El Al plane greeted the control tower with “As-Salam Aleikum,” which means “Peace be upon you” in Arabic.

Prior to their departure from Israel, Kushner said that the event turns the normalization deal into a reality, adding that several years ago, when Trump flew from Saudi Arabia to Israel, it was hard to get clearance from traffic controllers so that he could travel directly, but now “this happens on a permanent basis.”

Kushner thanked President Trump for this development, adding that “this is amazing that we have broken barriers.”

Morocco is the fourth country in as many months to normalize ties with Israel.  The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan also announced they would establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, in what has been regarded as one of the most important regional developments in recent years, which could also signal a shift in Saudi Arabia’s approach to the Jewish state.



IDF Reinforcing Troops In Judea And Samaria

The IDF decided Tuesday (22nd) to reinforce the Judea and Samaria Division in order to protect Jewish communities following a situational assessment that an escalation in violence is possible in the coming weeks.

In addition, it was decided to implement a curfew for the division’s combat forces from Tuesday (22nd) until at least Friday (25th).

The Central Command is concerned over increased tensions in the Judea and Samaria sector following the attack in northern Samaria in which Esther Horgan was killed.

Friends and family of Esther Horgan gathered in Tel Menashe Tuesday morning (22nd) for the funeral procession, which set out from the Horgan family home for the Northern Samaria Regional Cemetery.

Rabbis and a number of prominent figures, including Samaria Regional Council Chief Yossi Dagan, joined friends and relatives for the funeral service.

Horgan, a 52-year-old mother of six, was found murdered in the Reihan Forest outside of her hometown Monday morning (21st), after her husband Benjamin Horgan, reported her missing the day before.  Esther Horgan had gone out jogging Sunday afternoon (20th), and was murdered by a terrorist that day.

Her husband, Benjamin, said at the funeral: “Esther, my beloved wife, we walked together for 30 years and yesterday you went out and did not return.  How will a few words manage to express the scope and breadth of your joy of life and love of man? You built a house of glory and we had so many more plans.”

Esther’s daughter, Abigail, said: “You were the best mother in the world.  Where are you now mother?  You were a woman who was full of light – you will not get to see grandchildren from me.  I know you will always be with us.”



$250 Million For Palestinians In 5,500 Page US Coronavirus Relief Bill

On Monday (21st) Congress passed a $2.3 trillion piece of coronavirus relief legislation that spanned over 5,500 pages and included hefty payments for Palestinians.

The bill was introduced to authorize $600 stimulus checks for Americans and a $300 per week unemployment supplement, in addition to hundreds of billions of dollars in small business loans.

The bill also contained reams of provisions to assist foreign entities.

Among these provisions is authorization for $250 million in payments to Palestinians.

These payments are to be doled out over the course of five years, allegedly to stimulate employment in the Palestinian sector and encourage dialogue with Israelis.

The bill, titled the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act of 2020, creates something called the “People-to-People Partnership for Peace Fund,” administered by The US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Under the legislation, the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and any Palestinian terror groups, such as Hamas, cannot receive earmarked funds.

Currently, the Taylor Force Act prevents the US from using taxpayer money to aid the Palestinian government because it pays salaries to violent terrorists and their families for killing Israelis.

For example, under PA regulations, the government must provide a monthly salary to the killer of Esther Horgan, an Israeli mother of 6 who was violently murdered earlier this week.

The Palestinians’ refusal to end this program forced the Trump administration to cut off PA government aid. 



German Court Sentences Halle Synagogue Gunman To Life In Prison

A German court on Monday (21st) sentenced a man to life in prison for killing two people in a shooting attack near a synagogue in eastern Germany on the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur last year.

The Naumburg Higher Regional Court found the man, referred to by authorities only by Stephan B., guilty of murder, attempted murder and incitement, a court spokesman said.

Stephan B., who live-streamed the shooting in the city of Halle on the Internet, had confessed to the crime and to a far-right, anti-Semitic motivation.

Prosecutors said he aimed to kill as many as possible of the more than 50 worshipers inside the synagogue.  Only his poor aim and the unreliability of his homemade firearms spared nine other people from being wounded during his half-hour rampage, according to the intended victims.

Life imprisonment in Germany has an indeterminate length and can be changed to parole after 15 years.

But the court’s sentence includes a provision for preventive detention, which denies release after the completion of the prison sentence to protect the public from dangerous offenders.

“I commend the German justice system for imposing the harshest possible sentence on a heartless, vicious anti-Semite who attempted to murder Jews in a synagogue on the holiest day of the Jewish year, and took the lives of two innocent people who happened to be in his way,” WJC President Ronald Lauder said.

“The speed, follow-through and decisiveness of this trial is a definite example of how the judicial system must respond to such horrific violence, making crystal-clear there is no place for such hateful, harmful rhetoric or behavior in society.”

Anti-Semitic crimes are particularly sensitive in Germany due to the legacy of the Holocaust.

Their number rose by 13% last year, the interior minister said in May, blaming right-wing radicals.

The World Jewish Congress welcomed the ruling.