Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won his party’s primary election and is seeking immunity from corruption indictments. The Gaza protests are likely to wind down in March, and the annual report from the IDF paints the most violent year since 2014.

Netanyahu Holds onto Power, Seeks Immunity

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking immunity from the corruption charges levied against him turning the upcoming March election into a referendum on his accountability.

Netanyahu’s request came after he won a landslide victory in the primary elections allowing him to continue to hold onto the reins of his Likud party. He soundly defeated his rival, Gideon Sa'ar, with 72.5 percent of the vote to the latter’s 27.5 percent, according to Ha’aretz.

Should Likud win the next election, Netanyahu will be tasked with forming a government for the third time after several failures resulting in back-to-back elections and no current government. The absence of a government also throws a kink in his request for immunity from his November indictments for corruption.

Case 4000

Charges: bribery, fraud, breach of trust

Allegation: Netanyahu is accused in a media bribery scheme in which the owner of media company Walla, Shaul Elovitch, gave Netanyahu positive news coverage, and in exchange Netanyahu made government policies favoring Elovitch’s Bezeq company.

Case 2000

Charges: fraud, breach of trust

Allegation: Netanyahu allegedly worked with national newspapers Yediot and Israel Hayom to reduce Israel Hayom’s competition with Yediot in exchange for positive coverage for Netanyahu in Yediot. This deal never went through, but crimes of attempted bribery and breach of trust can apply even if a deal does not go through, according to Israeli law.

Case 1000

Charges: fraud, breach of trust

Allegation: Netanyahu is accused of receiving gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from wealthy tycoons in exchange for favors to help with business and personal legal battles. The charge itself is for acting in situations that could have created a conflict of interest for Netanyahu since no actual quid pro quo could be proven.

Ordinarily, a request for immunity from the prime minister would first need to be approved by the Knesset House Committee and then submitted to a full vote, but since the House Committee doesn’t exist because a government was never formed, the court proceedings cannot begin until the question of immunity is settled. The Associated Press reports that the rival Blue and White party will try to form a House Committee before elections, but it’s unclear if that will be possible.

Emboldened after his decisive primary victory, Netanyahu rallied his supporters in a nationally televised address and once again claimed that he is the victim of an unfair conspiracy orchestrated by his enemies.

“In order to continue to lead Israel to great achievements, I intend to approach the speaker of the Knesset in accordance with chapter 4C of the law, in order to fulfill my right, my duty, and my mission to continue to serve you for the future of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Blue and White leader, Benny Gantz, said it was a “sad day” and said that Netanyahu cannot evade justice.

“I never imagined that we would see the day that the prime minister of Israel would avoid standing before the law and the justice system,” Gantz said. “Today it’s clear what we’re fighting for. Netanyahu knows he’s guilty.”

Gaza Protests to Cool in March

Hamas organizers of the weekly Gaza Great March of Return border protests announced that they would significantly scale back the demonstrations this year.

Several months shy of two years now, the ongoing protests and riots have left hundreds dead and thousands wounded in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. Incendiary kites and balloons have scorched southern Israel, and the ritual of violence frequently flared into escalations that brought the two sides to the brink of full-scale war. Until last week, there has been no sign of the violence abating.

The Associated Press reports that beginning in March and coinciding with the second anniversary of the protests, organizers will reduce the weekly protest to just once a month—a significant de-escalation. The protests began as a public decrying of the crippling twelve-year blockade of the Gaza Strip imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Hamas terror group seized control in 2007.

The demonstrations have maintained momentum for nearly two years but have exacted a heavy toll on the people of Gaza. By one count, 215 Palestinians have been killed and the routine instability and violence has shaken support for Hamas. It’s possible the de-escalation of border protests is not only the result of months of negotiations with Israel mediated by Egypt and the UN to ease the blockade but is also a bid by Hamas to restore calm in the strip and hold onto power. Israel has maintained that any easing of the blockade is contingent upon cessation of riots and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Couple Drowns in Elevator

A man and woman drowned in a Tel Aviv elevator on Saturday afternoon after it malfunctioned during heavy rainfall and flooded.

The deaths are being mourned as a national tragedy, and police are investigating whether the accident was preventable. The Jerusalem Post reports that experts place responsibility with the building’s house committee and the resulting poor infrastructure.

Other residents in the building said they reported the flood to the police and heard banging against the elevator doors, but that it took multiple attempts to file the report because the police call-center employees had hung up on them.

Experts have also pointed to outdated drainage infrastructure that is frequently becoming overwhelmed across the city during heavy rains. The issue has captured national attention all the way up to the prime minister.

“I am appalled at the tragic deaths of two Tel Aviv residents who were killed in an elevator disaster,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I spoke with the minister of public security, the minister of transport, the deputy police commissioner, and the Fire and Rescue Department Commissioner to find out how this happened, and how to prevent such disasters in the future.”

IDF 2019 Report

The IDF released its annual report for 2019, painting the most violent year since the 2014 Gaza war but a decline in knife attacks and other popular Palestinian terrorism.

Here are the highlights provided by Ynet News.

  • In 2019, there were 1,295 documented rocket launches from the Gaza Strip. Of those, 729 landed in open areas and 478 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system—about 85 percent of all rockets launched at populated areas.
  • Two IDF soldiers were killed in 2019 by terrorist activity and eleven soldiers were moderately to seriously wounded.
  • Only nineteen shooting incidents were documented during 2019 compared to thirty-three and thirty-four in the years 2018 and 2017 respectively.
  • Molotov cocktail attacks decreased threefold in 2019 to 290 incidents in comparison with the previous year.
  • The number of stone-throwing incidents dropped from 1,881 incidents in 2018 to 1,469 during the past year.
  • In 2019, fifty-one attacks were recorded throughout the year across the West Bank and Jerusalem as opposed to seventy-six attacks in 2018, seventy-five attacks in 2017, and 141 attacks in 2016.
  • The number of Palestinians arrested in the West Bank also declined, from 3,173 arrests in 2018 to 2,238 arrests made in the past year. By comparison, even more Palestinians were arrested in 2017 —a total of 3,527.

Click here for a full look back at the year from the IDF.