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Knesset Officially Dissolves in Unanimous Vote


The Knesset on Monday evening officially voted unanimously 93:0 to dissolve itself, disbanding the 19th Knesset and preparing the way for elections on the 20th Knesset to be held on March 17. The vote was approved by the Knesset's House Committee earlier in the day, and comes after the bill to disband was unanimously approved in a preliminary vote last week. Now that the end of the Knesset is official, election campaigning is set to be kicked off in full swing.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) remarked during the vote "in a reality in which legitimate differences of opinion turn into abysmal arguments; when differences in viewpoints turn into personal loathing and lead to score-settling which locks up all initiatives and all possibility of cooperation within the coalition - the government turns into an empty body, lacking effectiveness in which all sides are busy with the weakness of the other."

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu dismissed key coalition members and ministers Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) last Tuesday, accusing the two of a "putsch" attempt in trying to replace him with an alternate government from within the coalition.

Ahead of the vote, Lapid said in the Knesset that Netanyahu made two mistakes: "he took Israel to elections which will not serve the public, and the second mistake: that he will lose." Far-left Meretz party chairperson MK Zehava Galon said "how much bad this government did, and how good it is to see it going home." Last minute shuffling to reach an alternate coalition with the hareidi parties so as to avoid elections fell through, leading to the Monday vote and the official collapse of the government.

In the same Monday session before dissolving itself the Knesset also ruled to pass a watered down Infiltrator Law, which makes the third iteration of the law after the High Court struck down two previous constructions of it. The law passed second and third readings, sealing it into Israeli law with 47 MKs for and 23 MKs against. Far-left activists present at the vote vowed to petition the new law in the High Court.

The bill passed an initial vote last Sunday. According to it, illegal infiltrators can be held for three months in the Saharonim closed facility, then transferred to the open Holot facility to be held for up to 20 further months.

Connecting the two votes on Monday, Yonatan Yakubovich, head of the NGO Israeli Immigration Policy Center's publicity department, explained previously to Arutz Sheva that upcoming elections may harm the law and mean the release of illegal infiltrators, in that the government may not be able to oppose High Court complications to it.

While leftist organizations have claimed the infiltrators are refugees, figures presented by the state have shown the overwhelming majority of them are not refugees, but rather work migrants breaking the law in a search of greater job opportunities. That assessment was confirmed last month in a report by the Danish Immigration Service (UDL), which found Eritrean migrants are not refugees. Tel Aviv police last Friday held a major sting operation closing 30 illegal bars that served as crime dens to infiltrators in southern Tel Aviv, near the Old Central Bus Station.

The issue of the tens of thousands of illegal infiltrators is a serious one, particularly in southern Tel Aviv where residents are exposed to endless crime, with many Jewish residents saying they are terrified of leaving their homes and begging the government to take action. Crime rates dropped dramatically in the area after the Holot detention facility was implemented.

Kerry: Israeli, Palestinian Status Quo Unsustainable

By VOA News

As Israeli politicians campaign to lead a new government, Secretary of State John Kerry says current hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians cannot hold.

The violence that has followed the breakdown of U.S.-led peace talks shows there is no way forward without changing course, Kerry told foreign policy leaders in Washington. "The status quo between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not sustainable, and the alternatives to peace are neither acceptable nor viable," he said.

With Israel's parliament dissolved ahead of fresh elections, Kerry says the Obama administration stands ready to be engaged "once the parties themselves make the tough decisions required to get back to the talks. There is an election in the next few months now in Israel, and the Israeli people will have important choices to make for their future," he said. "And we look forward to working closely with the new government, whatever its composition, whenever it is formed. And we will absolutely not involve ourselves in any way in the middle of the choice of the people of Israel."

Campaigning for re-election, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says the talks failed because Palestinians in the West Bank chose Hamas over peace with Israel. "The coming election is about one question - who will lead the country through the tremendous challenges facing Israel - security, economic, regional," he said. "We need a large, experienced ruling party."

Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog believes there can be a two-state solution. "I think it's a mistake that we already assumed that it's over. It is part of that tragedy that unfolds in front of our eyes," he said. "It is not true. I am telling you absolutely. It is possible, absolutely possible still to make peace with the Palestinians."

With security high among Israeli electoral concerns, Kerry says regional unity in the fight against Islamic State terrorists - who are also known as Daesh - could help ease the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "We continue to explore how the new regional dynamic regarding Daesh and the Arab world will enhance the security of Israel and its neighbors," he said. "Yes, we know that Israel has to be strong to make peace, but we also know that real peace will make Israel stronger."

But Iran's involvement in that fight in Syria and Iraq continues to concern Israeli leaders, especially as Tehran backs Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon, says regional security analyst Nora Bensahel. "For Iran, Lebanon and Syria are not that separate a thing. And of course that has effects on Israel," she said. "So I don't think that the Iranians necessarily see what has been going on in terms of Hizbullah action in Syria as a diversion. I think they see that as one big interconnected set of issues."

For now, Kerry says it is important to keep alive hopes for a lasting peace, to work to build the Palestinian economy and create the conditions for successful negotiations.

Syria, Iran Condemn Airstrikes Near Damascus

By VOA News &

The foreign ministers of Syria and Iran are condemning Israel for airstrikes Sunday near Damascus. At a news conference in Tehran, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif drew parallels between the Israeli government and what they call "terrorists" in Syria - the rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad.

Syrian state television said the "Israeli enemy committed aggression" by targeting the two areas, but said there were no casualties. Israel has carried out several airstrikes in Syria since the revolt against Syrian President Bashar el-Assad began nearly four years ago. Israel has not confirmed any of the strikes. Iran and Syria are allies of the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hizbullah, a long-time foe of Israel.

In a radio interview Monday, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz did not comment directly on the strikes, but said the country maintains a policy of "preventing the upgrading of weaponry" for what he called "terrorist organizations." The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), with activists monitoring multiple battlegrounds inside Syria, said 10 explosions were heard outside a military area near Dimas.

SOHR Director Rami Abdurrahman said the strike near the Damascus International Airport targeted a depot for newly arrived weapons at a military facility that is part of the airport. He said the strikes near Dimas were aimed at weapons depots in hangars in and around a small air base. It was not clear whether those weapons were for the Syrian government or for Hizbullah. He had no word on casualties. According to other accounts, however, the targets included the Syrian army's 14th Special Forces Division and a military airport.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also sent a letter of protest to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and to the head of the U.N. Security Council. Other reports from the Arab press said Syrian and Iranian officials would deliberate over possible retaliation for the airstrikes. A senior Syrian official told the Lebanese-based Al-Mayadeen network that his country would respond at a time and in a manner it saw fit.

800 Leftist Israelis Call on European Lawmakers to Recognize 'Palestine'

By Israel Hayom

Authors Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua signed a petition along with more than 800 other Israelis, many of them prominent public figures, calling on European parliaments to recognize a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The petition was sent on Sunday to members of the Belgian parliament, who are set to discuss recognition of a Palestinian state in the coming days.

Habayit Hayehudi MK Yoni Chetboun criticized the petition, saying, "This is an embarrassment. It is a shame that after the war on terror in Operation Protective Edge subsided; we see the real threat is coming from within. This is an elitist minority that is disconnected from Israeli society and has no influence on it, but it still damages our image in the world."

Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) also had strong words against the petition. "If the Left has reached a point that its leading thinkers have lost faith in Israeli democracy and in the Knesset then [the Left] is really in a bad place," she said. "The thinkers of the Left, such as Oz and A.B. Yehoshua are causing damage to Israel's image in the world and proving that the sane Left is a disappearing species."

Michael Oren: The Israeli Left 'Has Crashed'


Israel's former ambassador to the United States Michael Oren addressed the Saban Forum Saturday on the topic of the political process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority - and had some damning words for the Israeli Left.

"The Left in Israel has crashed, because it has not yet internalized that the Palestinians are not part of the negotiations, and aren't interested in being so," said Oren. "The Palestinians have chosen a different path, the destructive path of delegitimization of Israel.

"On the other hand, the Right doesn't yet have the courage to admit that Israel isn't able to protect its identity and its alliance with the US, while ruling 2.5 million Palestinians," Oren continued. "Inaction isn't an option. Israel needs to take its fate into its own hands, and to come out with a political initiative that will serve its interests," he insisted.

Also speaking at the forum on Saturday was former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who commented on the tensions between Jerusalem and the current White House administration."The relationship between the US and Israel is stable and will continue to be so," she said. "It is silly to think that there won't be disagreements between leaders, but what is important is the institutional support of the US for Israel, without any connection to the leadership." Regarding Iran's nuclear program, Clinton said she agreed with Israel's position that no deal was better than a bad one.

What Happens When a PLO Flag is Flown in Meah Shearim?


The radical anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect is well-known for its provocations, including public Israeli flag burning ceremonies on Israeli Independence Day and high-profile meetings with Iranian officials and other Islamist committed to the Jewish state's destruction.

But when one prominent Neturei Karta family chose to hang a PLO flag outside its home in the middle of the Meah Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, one local hareidi man had clearly seen enough.

Exhibiting some impressive acrobatic skills the man scaled two stories to reach the flag, which he tears down and flings to the ground before climbing back down to the amusement of passersby - one of whom calls for a round of applause.

The undated video, posted Monday on Facebook, is said to have occurred outside the home of the Hirsch family, whose members figure prominently in the extremist movement that exists at the fringe of the hareidi community and believes Jewish independence in Israel is forbidden until the coming of the Messiah.

Moshe Hirsch was the leader of one of the most radical factions within Neturei Karta before he died in 2010, and even served as a symbolic "Jewish affairs adviser" for PLO chief Yasser Arafat.

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