TIME Middle East

How Israel’s Coalition Government Collapsed

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at his office in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at his office in Jerusalem on December 2, 2014. Gali Tibbon—Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses cabinet members of a "putsch"

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two of his most prominent ministers on Tuesday evening and called for new elections, underscoring his interest in establishing a right-wing government more loyal to his agenda.

The three-term premier announced at a press conference Tuesday that he was ousting Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, accusing them of openly rebelling against him and preventing him from governing the country. Livni joined Netanyahu’s government on the condition that he allow her to renew peace talks with the Palestinians, and Lapid had promised to take on socioeconomic reforms and Israel’s housing crisis.

“You can call it a putsch, and like this you can’t govern and can’t run a country,” Netanyahu said in a prime-time press conference. “I will not agree to a situation in which ministers attack the government from within.” Speaking as if he was simultaneously launching a new campaign, he urged voters to give him a “bigger ruling party” – the right-wing Likud – adding, “if you want a government of the center-right and right, then I ask to give you your vote to us.”

Over the past week, Israeli media had begun to predict that the bad blood inside Netanyahu’s coalition government had reached toxic new levels, and that it has pushed the hawkish leader to opt for new elections. The most recent bone of contention was a plan on the part of Lapid and his Yesh Atid party to cancel a tax on apartment purchases for first-time home buyers as a way to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis that Lapid had pledged to solve.

But Netanyahu decided to block that with little explanation, as well as a health-care reform plan, which in turn led Lapid to threaten to bolt the coalition. In his speech, Netanyahu condemned Livni for daring to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when she had been told not to, highlighting their differences over the failure of the peace talks in April.

The most severe division, however, was over the question of Israel’s status – or not—as a Jewish nation. Together, Lapid and Livni were among the foremost opponents to the passage by Netanyahu’s cabinet of an initial draft of a controversial bill declaring Israel a nation state. Netanyahu says he is dedicated to passing some version of this legislation so as to cement Israel’s status as a Jewish state by law, which he argues is necessary for the country’s survival. Critics say this would create an undemocratic two-tier system which makes Israeli Arabs and other non-Jewish minorities inferior citizens.

“You could say that it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Gadi Wolfsfeld, a political scientist at the IDC Herzliya, a university near Tel Aviv, tells TIME. “I take him at his word. He can’t really govern, he can’t really get legislation passed. He is not a leader right now, in that he can’t run the country as he would like to. Netanyahu didn’t want this government in the first place, and he prefers what he calls, his ‘natural allies.’”

Those allies are the ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas. These are parties which have been willing to join coalitions in left and right-leaning governments, because their main goals are to protect their religious way of life and to secure funding for schools and other ultra-Orthodox institutions. But with secular-religious tensions on the rise, Lapid promised to push back against the control of the ultra-Orthodox over issues like marriage rights, and to pass a new draft law requiring men from religious communities to serve in the army, overturning an exemption in existence since the founding of the state.

Netanyahu appears to be banking on Likud continuing to garner the most votes – polls have found that would be the case if elections were held today – and that he can then team up with these ultra-Orthodox parties, as well as the nationalist parties led by right-wingers Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi, or the Jewish House) and Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beytenu, or Israel is Our Home).

Israel’s political shake-up takes places against a backdrop of complete stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian political process and a wave of violence that has been labeled by some as the stirrings of a new intifada, or Palestinian uprising. But the months ahead of yet-to-be-determined Israeli elections – several Israeli media outlets suggested the date would be in March – mean that Netanyahu now has a period in which he can tell various foreign leaders that peace will have to wait.

“One of the great things about elections is that it gets the world off his back,” Wolfsfeld quips. “No one will be able to say, what about the peace process, because he can say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m busy having elections now.’” If violence and unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank continues, it will likely push more voters into Netanyahu’s camp, because he has positioned himself as the Israeli leader who is tough on terrorism. “The more there’s violence,” says Wolfsfeld, “the more his party’s strength will go up.”

TIME

Netanyahu Fires Key Cabinet Ministers as Elections Appear Imminent

(JERUSALEM) — Israel’s prime minister has fired two senior Cabinet ministers, setting the stage for an expected announcement of early elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Tuesday he had ordered the dismissals of Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

The coalition government has been divided over key issues in recent weeks, and Lapid and Livni have emerged as fierce critics of the prime minister.

Netanyahu planned a nationwide address later Tuesday.

With his coalition in tatters, Netanyahu is expected to order new elections, more than two years ahead of schedule.

TIME France

France Considers Backing Palestinian Statehood

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during a debate on the recognition of the Palestinian at the French Parliament in Paris on Nov. 28, 2014.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during a debate on the recognition of the Palestinian at the French Parliament in Paris on Nov. 28, 2014. Michel Euler—AP

France would join Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain

France may recognize Palestinian statehood if international attempts to broker a negotiated agreement between Israelis and Palestinians fall through.

If France’s parliament passes the non-binding motion on Tuesday, the nation would join Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain in pushing for a two-state solution to the long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian conflict by recognizing a Palestinian state, Reuters reported Friday.

“If this final effort to reach a negotiated solution fails, then France will have to do what it takes by recognizing without delay the Palestinian state,” said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius before parliament. “We are ready.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the move as a “grave mistake.”

[Reuters]

TIME Middle East

Israel Says It Busted Hamas Cell Planning Attacks

More than 30 arrested in West Bank raids

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Shin Bet security service said Thursday it had uncovered a vast Hamas network in the West Bank that was planning large-scale attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem.

The Shin Bet said it arrested more than 30 Hamas militants who planned to kidnap Israelis and carry out attacks against Jerusalem’s light rail and its largest soccer stadium, among other targets. It said the men were trained and recruited in Jordan and Turkey and that various arms and explosives were recovered.

While the Islamic militant group Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, the West Bank is run by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The arrests come amid Israel’s worst sustained bout of violence in nearly a decade. Eleven Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks over the past month, including five people who were killed with guns and meat cleavers in a bloody assault on a Jerusalem synagogue last week. Most of the violence has occurred in Jerusalem, along with deadly attacks in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.

Hamas did not immediately comment on the arrests.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the Shin Bet for thwarting the attacks, saying that if carried out they could have exacted a heavy toll of casualties.

“This is one operation that has been published but there are many more that remain secret,” he said of Israel’s intelligence work. “These foiling activities are against terrorists and against Hamas, which challenges the existence of a Jewish nation-state and the existence of Jews in general.”

 

TIME Israel

Jewish Nation-State Bill Passed by Israeli Cabinet

Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during in his Cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem on Nov. 23, 2014 Jim Hollander—AP

The proposed legislation, sometimes referred to as the "nationality law," has set off a debate about Israel's future

The Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved a bill to call Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people, a measure that critics say could further strain the state’s frayed relationship with its Palestinian population.

The draft legislation, titled “Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” is backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has promised that it will guarantee equality for all Israeli citizens, the New York Times reports.

Yet Palestinian lawmakers deem the bill a threat to the rights of the state’s Arab minority and its democratic principles.

The proposed law’s final wording has not yet been settled. At least one version of the draft law would demote the Arabic language to “special status” in Israel, making Hebrew the state’s sole official language.

The bill passed the Cabinet by 14 votes to six and is now headed to Parliament.

TIME Israel

Israel to Destroy Homes of Synagogue Attackers

(JERUSALEM) — The family of two Palestinian assailants who carried out a deadly assault on a Jerusalem synagogue this week says police have ordered the demolition of their homes.

Said Abu Jamal, a cousin of the men, said their families in east Jerusalem received demolition orders from Israeli police on Thursday.

Police say Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal burst into a crowded synagogue on Tuesday morning, killing four worshippers and a Druze Arab policeman with meat cleavers and gunfire before they were shot dead.

It was the bloodiest attack in a recent wave of violence by Palestinian assailants that has killed 11 people.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered authorities to destroy the homes of the attackers’ families — a punitive measure that has drawn criticism in the past.

TIME Israel

Israel Demolishes East Jerusalem Home of Palestinian Behind Car Attack

Abdelrahman Al-Shaludi killed two in the October attack

Israeli security forces have destroyed the home of a Palestinian man who carried out a car attack in October that left two people dead and several injured, the military said Tuesday.

The demolition came soon after Israeli Primer Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to win a “battle for Jerusalem” after an attack on a synagogue left five dead. Tension over a disputed holy site and repercussions from the 50-day conflict in the Gaza Strip over the summer have contributed to growing unrest in Jerusalem in recent weeks.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed in a statement that the IDF and police forces had demolished the home Abdelrahman Al-Shaludi, a resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, who authorities say killed a baby girl and a young woman when he rammed his car into a light rail station on Oct. 22. Al-Shaludi was shot by officers at the scene and died of his wounds soon after.

MORE: Chaos and mourning in Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Speaking on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu vowed to “settle the score with every terrorist” and said he had also “ordered the destruction of the homes of the Palestinians who carried out [Tuesday’s] massacre and to speed up the demolitions of those who carried out previous attacks,” BBC reports.

Israel halted its controversial policy of demolishing the homes of militants in 2005 after a review committee found it did not act as an effective deterrent, but Netanyahu revived the practice this year.

TIME Middle East

Jerusalem’s Fragile Peace Splintered by Bloody Attacks

Israeli security personnel run next to a synagogue, where a suspected Palestinian attack took place, in Jerusalem, Nov. 18, 2014.
Israeli security personnel run next to a synagogue, where a suspected Palestinian attack took place, in Jerusalem on Nov. 18, 2014. Ronen Zvulun—Reuters

The killings of 5 people by 2 Palestinians in Jerusalem has driven a wedge between Arabs and Jews in the uneasily divided city

David Ehrlich, an Israeli writer, has been running a popular literary café and restaurant in downtown Jerusalem for the last 20 years. Popular, that is, except for times like these, when the city is so on edge that people tend to rush home from work and huddle with their families around the television.

“There are hardly any tourists, people from the Tel Aviv area will not come to Jerusalem, and the Jerusalemites just don’t feel like it,” says Ehrlich, whose latest short story collection is entitled Who Will Die Last: Stories of Life in Israel. He has employed Palestinians in the café almost since he founded it, making his eatery, Tmol Shilshom, one of countless examples in the holy city of Jews and Arabs working side by side.

“We’ve had Jews and Arabs work together for many years, and I’ve always been proud of it. I feel it’s the right thing in Jerusalem, because we are a mixed city. I don’t believe in segregation anywhere, and definitely not in my city,” Erlich tells TIME. “It doesn’t make sense to me that we’ll live so close by and pretend that the other doesn’t exist.”

But this de facto, often friendly coexistence can mask how very differently Israelis and Palestinians perceive reality. On Monday, the day before five people were killed in a bloody attack on a West Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinians from East Jerusalem, two of Ehrlich’s employees showed him some cell phone images of the body of Yousef al-Ramouni, a Palestinian bus driver whose death is a subject of controversy. To Ehrlich, the mark across the man’s neck made it seem believable that he had hung himself, as Israeli forensic officials ruled. But in the eyes of Ehrlich’s workers, it clearly looked like a murder.

“When horrible things happen, they feel empathy for me and I feel it for them,” Ehrlich explains. “On the other hand, they listen to their news and I listen to mine, and their understanding and reading of events is very, very different.”

The synagogue massacre—the latest in a series of attacks linked to the feud over the Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary — has already been dubbed by some in the Israeli and Palestinian media the “Jerusalem Intifada” and by others, the “Jerusalem War.” Some added that it seemed to be taking inspiration from the Islamic State, given the use of knives and an ax in Tuesday’s attack. Many though not all of the Palestinian attacks on Israelis over the last month have been in Jerusalem, and the perpetrators have all come from Jerusalem.

That stands in stark contrast to the Second Intifada, or uprising, from 2000 to 2004, which largely involved suicide bombers from the West Bank. Now, Israelis are finding that they are facing violence that comes from within Jerusalem’s self-declared municipal boundaries – not from beyond the wall or separation barrier built to stop the aforementioned suicide bombers from entering Israel.

This is having a chilling effect on this ordinarily open city. Zakaria al-Qaq, a Palestinian expert in national security at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, says that tens of thousands of Palestinians who work, shop and get various services in West Jerusalem are finding that the city is developing invisible boundaries that are becoming dangerous to cross.

“There is more of a gap now between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem,” he says. “The Arabs who work in West Jerusalem will come under a lot of suspicion, and I can foresee how the response to their presence there will be more negative than ever. There’s no confidence in each other, no trust, and it’s leading us to a more serious conflict.”

The groundswell of terror has been exacerbated by the absence of Palestinian leaders in East Jerusalem, Al Qaq says. Although the 1993 Oslo Accords stipulated that East Jerusalemites could vote in elections for the Palestinian Authority, Israel later deemed PA offices or those connected to its ruling political party, the Fatah faction of the PLO, as an infringement on Israeli sovereignty in the city. Orient House, an East Jerusalem building that served as a PLO headquarters through the 1980s and 90s, was shuttered by Israel’s then-premier Ariel Sharon in 2001 following a suicide bombing which killed 15 people.

“We don’t have leaders we can call on in East Jerusalem to try to calm the situation down, and the leaders in Ramallah have no influence on the Palestinians in East Jerusalem,” Al Qaq says. “What we’re seeing is young people doing it themselves, and not taking orders from anyone.”

Officials in Jerusalem have cautioned Israelis to treat their Palestinian neighbors with suspicion. Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Dan Ronen, the former head of Israeli Police Operations Division during the Second Intifada, suggested Tuesday that the best way to foil potential attacks was to be cautious of “Arab employees and other people who come from East Jerusalem,” adding, “You never know when and how they can do something.” He also suggested that Israel would train those citizens who are armed to be better equipped to use their weapons in an attack. Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, said Tuesday he was encouraging Jerusalemites to join a civilian guard, reviving volunteer patrol units that were important in the state’s early days.

Given this situation, its perhaps not surprising that Taha, a cab driver from East Jerusalem, has been avoiding West Jerusalem in the last few days. “We are afraid to send our kids to school tomorrow, because we hear that settlers want to do marches and revenge attacks. I’m 53 years old, it’s the first time I’m really worried,” said Taha, who asked that his name be withheld due to security concerns. “In the last week, four people got to my taxi and got out as soon as they saw my name is an Arab name. They say things like, oh, I think I made a mistake, this is not the taxi I ordered, and they jump out. When it happens I cannot talk, because I feel very sad.”

Sara Kalker, a mother of two young children, is also unsure of whether to take her kids to school on Wednesday. Their pre-schools are on the edge of the Armon Hanetsiv neighborhood, which is over the Green Line (Israel’s pre-1967 borders) and abuts the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabel Mukabar, where the two young Palestinian cousins responsible for Tuesday’s synagogue attack were from.

“Everyone is concerned that something could happen anywhere, but we really feel it here. There are border police all over our neighborhood now. It’s hard to concentrate at work,” says Kalker. She moved here from New York State, where she grew up, weeks before the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000. “I got through that, but it’s definitely different being a mother and having to worry now about someone’s security other than my own.” She pauses. “I just want to feel safe. But I don’t really have faith in the ability of the country to solve these problems.”

TIME Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Netanyahu Slams Hamas, Palestinian Leadership After Jerusalem Synagogue Attack

Four rabbis were killed early Tuesday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the Palestinian Authority and militant group Hamas for spreading “hatred and incitement” against Jews in a news conference Tuesday, hours after assailants burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four people.

Authorities said two Palestinian men armed with a gun, knives and axes entered a synagogue in West Jerusalem early on Tuesday and committed the most serious attack yet after weeks of clashes around the Temple Mount, also known as the Noble Sanctuary. The four victims were Rabbis; three were dual U.S. citizens and the fourth was British. Eight others were wounded.

Netanyahu singled out Hamas for blame, accusing the group’s leaders of inflaming tensions by libeling Israel “every hour, constantly, through the schools, in the media, in the mosques.”

He also condemned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who had earlier spoken out against Tuesday’s attack, for proceeding to “connect it to all sorts of imaginary events that ostensibly Israel performs at the Temple Mount which does not take place.” The perpetrators’ homes, Netanyahu vowed, would be demolished.

MORE: Fears of Religious Conflict After Synagogue Killings

TIME Israel

Chaos and Mourning in Jerusalem After Synagogue Attack

Two Palestinian assailants kill 4 at a synagogue

Two Palestinians from East Jerusalem burst into a West Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday morning, killing four people and wounding several others. Three American-Israeli dual-citizens were identified among the victims. This latest attack is being viewed by both sides as a potential turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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