Could a unity government still happen? It’s the last shot to prevent a third election in one year.
Plus, a report reveals 2,600+ rockets and mortars hit Israel in the past two years—but the Gaza border protests have been canceled for three weeks in a row. This, an economic report, and more in this week’s Israel News Recap (Without the Rhetoric).
Unity Government Possible as Deadline Nears
Political rivals Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are reportedly negotiating the creation of a unity government between their two parties that would prevent Israel from being thrown into a third election in one year.
The Jerusalem Post reports that the talks allegedly underway include compromises from both sides, such as Netanyahu agreeing to serve only the first year as prime minister of the new government instead of the two years he previously demanded. After the collapse of the last government, the new Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz squarely challenged Netanyahu’s Likud party. Both took a large percentage of the vote, but neither has been able to gather enough support from smaller parties to gain the upper hand and form a government. This political limbo has overshadowed Israel for the past year and threatens to trigger a third election if a government isn’t formed by December 11.
That deadline is days away, but if we are to believe the rumors, the election may be averted by Netanyahu and Gantz overruling opposition in their respective parties to create a shared government. However, they are just rumors. Members of Likud and Blue and White’s negotiating teams reported making no progress after lengthy meetings at the Knesset on Sunday afternoon.
If an agreement is not reached or a government is not formed by some other measure, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will have no choice but to trigger a third election, which would likely be held in March.
2,600+ Rockets and Mortars Hit Israel in Past Two Years
A new report from the Israeli Shin Bet intelligence service counted the number of projectiles launched at Israel in the past two years, revealing a stunning tally.
Here are the highlights.
- More than 2,600 rockets and mortars hit Israel in the past two years from Gaza.
- One thousand five hundred of those rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip in the past year alone.
- In November 2018, more than 500 rockets and mortars were fired toward southern Israel in forty-eight hours after the failed IDF raid in Khan Younis.
- Last May, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired 690 rockets and mortars at Israel in less than forty-eight hours.
- After the assassination of an Islamic Jihad commander in November, the terror group fired more than 400 rockets and mortars in less than fifty hours.
- The IDF has struck around 1,000 targets in the Gaza Strip over the past year in retaliation for rocket attacks.
These numbers reflect a sharp spike in violence between Israel and Gaza. Last year (2018) saw the worst fighting since the 2014 Operation Protective Edge. To put the past two years in perspective, in 2017 only thirty-five projectiles were fired towards Israel and just fifteen the previous year and twenty-one in 2015. That adds up to only seventy-one.
The spike in violent clashes between Israel and Gaza comes as Iranian militias continually encroach on Israel’s northern border through Syria and occasionally launch smaller-scale rocket attacks. While Israeli airstrikes have held back Iranian militias in the north, the retaliatory approach taken toward Gaza has not prevented further engagements. Israel’s policy regarding southern border security is one of the top issues of the current political debate and was one of the cracks weakening the last government before it collapsed.
New Jewish Settlement Approved in Hebron
Newly appointed Defense Minister Naftali Bennet announced on Sunday that he had approved plans to create a new Jewish neighborhood in the tumultuous city of Hebron.
The announcement was quickly met with praise from supporters of the settlements and harsh criticism from those who oppose them or view them as illegal. The Times of Israel reports that the new neighborhood near the city’s old market and would double the number of Jewish settlers in the city. It would also establish “territorial continuity” between the current Avraham Avinu neighborhood and the Tomb of the Patriarchs holy site.
Supporters praised the plan saying it will develop Hebron and is, as the former justice minister said, “a historic and important decision.” However, expanding Jewish presence in Hebron struck a nerve with the leading Arab lawmaker in Israel who called the decision a “dangerous step that deepens the occupation regime over millions of Palestinians.”
The Jewish community in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city of 215,000, has about 1,000 Jewish settlers living under heavy military protection. Hebron has been a flashpoint for many of the stabbings, car-ramming attacks, and other violent incidents between Palestinians and Israelis in recent years.
Israel to Hit New Export Record
Government data shows that Israel’s exports are on track to grow to a record $114 billion in 2019 from $109 billion last year.
Reuters reports that a significant factor in Israel’s continued economic prosperity is the growth in the high-tech sector including software development, computing, and research and development. The Economy Ministry said that sector led the nearly 12 percent rise in services exports.
More than 300 global tech companies operate in Israel, according to the International Business Times, but that sector is followed closely by gem and mineral export and electric machinery and equipment export.
Looming over this economic boom is the possibility of a third election that would prolong Israel’s political limbo and risk creating a budget crisis that could stem the recent growth.
Gaza Border Protests Canceled for the Third Week
For the third week in a row, Hamas organizers of the long-lasting Great March of Return protests have canceled Friday’s demonstration along the border fence with Israel. The Times of Israel reports that organizers insist that the cancellation “has nothing to do with the recent understanding reached with Israel” after the last clash with Islamic Jihad, but that it was taken to protect Palestinian protesters from Israeli troops at the border.
The last clash between Israel and Gaza left dozens of Palestinians dead and several Israelis wounded, and even though a ceasefire was reached between the IDF and Islamic Jihad, occasional rockets and mortars are still launched and met by Israel’s retaliatory strikes. The simmering violence might explain pulling back on the border protests, but it is worth noting that in the last major combat exchange, Hamas was mostly on the sidelines, an unusual place for them to be.
The Jerusalem Post cites sources close to Hamas who explained that the movement chose to scale back its activities out of fear of dragging the Gaza Strip into an all-out war with Israel—something frequently threatened by Israel in the last year.
Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the protests and often violent riots along the border on most Fridays since March 2018 calling for Israel to lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip as well as for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands now owned by Israel. Several hundred have died at the protests, and thousands were wounded. The repeated cancellations, however, could mark a turning point in Hamas’ strategy and offer a welcome respite to the border communities.