After being reelected, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he needs more time to form a coalition government after holidays in Israel and conflict with Gaza. Plus, Israel celebrated its 71st anniversary last week and is hosting the acclaimed Eurovision music competition this week.
Netanyahu Requests More Time to Form Government
With just days left to form a coalition government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is asking the president for an extension after failing to organize the Knesset within the mandatory twenty-eight-day period after the election.
The initial deadline is Wednesday, May 15, but if President Reuven Rivlin grants an extension, Netanyahu will have an additional fourteen days. Reuters reports that a spokesman for Netanyahu listed a slew of reasons for the delay including the Jewish holidays, national memorial days, and a surge of deadly fighting with terrorists in the Gaza Strip last week.
Even if Netanyahu is granted the extension, there’s no guarantee he will be able to pull together a coalition. The Jerusalem Post reports that he hasn’t signed coalition agreements with a single one of his potential partners yet. Those partners include mostly right-wing parties that would make up the sixty-five seats needed for a majority in the Knesset and include Likud (35), Shas (8), United Torah Judaism (8), Union of Right-Wing Parties (5), Yisrael Beytenu (5), and Kulanu (4). A Times of Israel report indicates that all those parties have shown a willingness to sign onto a coalition pending negotiations.
Netanyahu was tasked with creating a new coalition after being reelected to the position of Prime Minister when his Likud party won a very slim victory in April’s early elections after the previous ruling coalition collapsed. If Netanyahu is not able to form a coalition by the deadline, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin will likely ask another politician to take over the responsibilities of Prime Minister and try his hand.
Egyptian Security Officials Arrive in Gaza
After the deadliest bout of fighting between Israel and Gaza Palestinian factions since the 2014 war, Egyptian mediators were able to broker again a fragile ceasefire that put an end to the hail of rockets and airstrikes that left dead on both sides.
In an effort to preserve the latest deal, Egyptian intelligence officials arrived in the Gaza Strip on Thursday to pursue discussions with Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders. The Jerusalem Post reports that the Egyptian security delegation is led by Ahmed Abdel Khaleq, an Egyptian Intelligence officer in charge of the “Palestine portfolio” in Egypt’s General Intelligence Service.
The Hamas delegation said in a statement that the continuation of talks is part of the implementation of understandings between Israel and the Palestinian factions in an attempt to bring the blockade on Gaza to an end. Ha’aretz reports that the Islamic Jihad representative said they would "observe closely" the implementation of the agreement with Israel and put pressure on it to fulfill its commitments. Those commitments refer to an earlier deal made with Israel that promised to ease the blockade of the Gaza Strip that has been in place since 2007 when Hamas seized control of the Strip.
The abrupt flare-ups in violence and weekly protests and riots at the Gaza border have put increasing pressure on Israel, which has struggled to respond while balancing security and political concerns.
This last engagement left four Israelis and twenty-five Palestinians dead after Islamic Jihad and Hamas launched 690 rockets from the Gaza Strip and Israel struck 320 targets. Ha’aretz also reported that Palestinian leaders gave Israel a week to take steps to ease the blockade or fighting would resume. Meanwhile, the continual Great March of Return protest on the Gaza-Israel border is gearing up for a major demonstration on Nabka Day, May 15, which commemorates the displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 war. The presence of Egyptian security officials in Gaza along with UN and Qatari representation all pressuring to keep the ceasefire may prevent another major engagement.
Israel Celebrates 71st Anniversary
Days after Israel mourned the death of four civilians killed by rockets from Gaza and memorialized the loss of lives in the Holocaust, Israelis celebrated the 71st anniversary of the modern State of Israel with fireworks, street celebrations, and more.
Celebrations kicked off on the eve of May 8 and continued into Thursday. Fireworks over major cities and barbecues in parks spilled into the streets as official ceremonies marked the anniversary. Four warplanes danced in the skies above more than eighty communities in Israel performing an aerobatic salute for crowds of spectators.
Israel also celebrated a new milestone in population growth. As of May 2019, Israel’s population just barely breached the nine million mark at 9,009,000. About 74.2 percent are Jews, 21 percent are Muslim or Christian Arabs, and the rest are non-Arab Christians and others.
The elation of celebration was combined with a somber memorialization of lives lost recently and long ago. Just days before, Israel stood still as a siren sounded to remember the 23,741 soldiers who have died while serving in the Israel Defense Forces and its forerunners dating back to 1860. Other memorial events held across the state presented an emotional juxtaposition to the celebration later in the week.
Israel to Host Eurovision Music Festival
Israel is hosting the international music contest known as Eurovision.
Widely considered as the “Olympics” of music, Eurovision is a global competition in which most of Europe and some other nations send national representatives to compete for the best song. This year, Israel is hosting the event in Tel Aviv May 14-18. Founded in 1956, the music competition is a culmination of countries’ internal votes to narrow down the best artists and best songs. Then, all the countries get together in a series of televised rounds concluding with final performances featuring the top twenty-six entries. This year’s show will be hosted by Israel television personalities Bar Refaeli, Lucy Ayoub, Erez Tal, and Assi Azar.
So why is Israel hosting this year? Because instead of prize money, the winning country gets to host the competition the following year, and in 2018 Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won the competition.
This year’s competition is titled “Dare to Dream” and is proceeding despite some security concerns considering the recent battles with terrorists in the Gaza Strip and the proximity to Nabka Day, a commemoration that is likely to inspire mass protests and riots at the Gaza border.