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Netanyahu Pledges to be Prime Minister of All Citizens

By DEBKAfile, & Israel Hayom

President Rivlin Wednesday night entrusted Likud leader Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with forming Israel's 34th government in line with the results of last week's general election. "I see myself as the prime minister of all citizens of Israel," he said, "those who voted for me and those who did not" and promised to focus on that which "unites us."

He pointed to the two challenges facing the next government: "Cementing our security" and preventing a nuclear deal being negotiated between six world powers and Iran. Netanyahu has 28 days to form a government with a two-week optional extension.

Netanyahu indicated he was planning to form a unity government with the Labor party and leave the Jewish Home in the opposition, a source familiar with the coalition talks told Israel National News.

According to the source, Netanyahu is planning a political trick on the Jewish Home. "Something smells wrong," the source said, adding that Netanyahu invited Bennett to a meeting this week but beat around the bush and only spoke about marginal issues, choosing to avoid subjects as ministerial portfolios and how to include the Jewish Home in the coalition.

The same source said that he updated the members of the Jewish Home on the goings on and asked them, in secret, to be prepared for the possibility that they will be in the opposition and not in the coalition as Netanyahu had promised.

He further said that in the coming hours, Netanyahu will try to be clever with the Jewish Home in order to look like "he was the one who proposed that they be partners in the coalition but was refused. Over the next few hours or few days Netanyahu will make a decision in the case of the Jewish Home."

A source in the Jewish Home responded by saying, "Netanyahu's tricks are known and recognized both in Israel and abroad, and we will not be surprised if this time he will again try to keep the Jewish Home out of the coalition, but we will work for our voters also from [the opposition]."

The revelation comes amid tensions between the Likud and the Jewish Home, which began earlier Wednesday when Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked charged that Likud is not keeping its promises to approach Jewish Home first as a coalition partner.

"Right now, the Likud is not keeping its word, its word to the electorate and all of Israel was that Jewish Home 'will be the first partner' to which it would turn for coalition negotiations," Shaked told Army Radio. "I am explaining that this is not happening. I think that, ultimately, it is Likud's responsibility to make that happen," she added.

While Bennett and Netanyahu met for the first time since elections just two days ago, on Tuesday evening it was reported that Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon was the first to be brought into the government and had been guaranteed the Finance Ministry.

Likud MK Yariv Levin responded to Shaked's criticism later on Wednesday, saying that Bennett would be a "senior minister" in the new government, but that was because Netanyahu wanted him in the government – and not because Likud "owed" Jewish Home anything.

And in an exceptionally sharp critique published on Monday, Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Bret Stephens ripped apart President Barack Obama's foreign policy.

The op-ed, titled "The Orwellian Obama Presidency," detailed the flaws of Obama's approach to foreign affairs. "To adapt George Orwell's motto for Oceania: Under Mr. Obama, friends are enemies, denial is wisdom, capitulation is victory," Stephens wrote.

"There is an upside-down quality to this president's world view. His administration is now on better terms with Iran -- whose Houthi proxies, with the slogan 'God is great, death to America, death to Israel, damn the Jews, power to Islam,' just deposed Yemen's legitimate president -- than it is with Israel. He claims we are winning the war against Islamic State even as the group continues to extend its reach into Libya, Yemen and Nigeria.

"He treats Republicans in the Senate as an enemy when it comes to the Iranian nuclear negotiations, while treating the Russian foreign ministry as a diplomatic partner. He favors the moral legitimacy of the United Nations Security Council to that of the U.S. Congress. He is facilitating Bashar Assad's war on his own people by targeting ISIS so the Syrian dictator can train his fire on our ostensible allies in the Free Syrian Army.

"He was prepared to embrace a Muslim Brother as president of Egypt but maintains an arm's-length relationship with his popular pro-American successor. He has no problem keeping company with Al Sharpton and tagging an American police department as comprehensively racist but is nothing if not adamant that the words 'Islamic' and 'terrorism' must on no account ever be conjoined. The deeper that Russian forces advance into Ukraine, the more they violate cease-fires, the weaker the Kiev government becomes, the more insistent he is that his response to Russia is working."

Stephens then delved into Obama's ire for Netanyahu. "The current victim of Mr. Obama's moral inversions is the recently re-elected Israeli prime minister. Normally a sweeping democratic mandate reflects legitimacy, but not for Mr. Obama. Now we are treated to the astonishing spectacle in which Benjamin Netanyahu has become persona non grata for his comments doubting the current feasibility of a two-state solution. This, while his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas is in the 11th year of his four-year term, without a murmur of protest from the White House.

"It is true that Mr. Netanyahu made an ugly election-day remark about Israeli-Arab voters 'coming out in droves to the polls,' thereby putting 'the right-wing government in danger.' For this he has apologized, in person, to leaders of the Israeli-Arab community.

"That's more than can be said for Mr. Abbas, who last year threatened Israel with a global religious war if Jews were allowed to pray in the Temple Mount's Al Aqsa mosque. 'We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated,' the Palestinian Authority president said. The Obama administration insists that Mr. Abbas is 'the best interlocutor Israel is ever going to have.'

"Maybe that's true, but if so it only underscores the point Mr. Netanyahu was making in the first place -- and for which Mr. Obama now threatens a fundamental reassessment of U.S. relations with Israel. In 2014 Mr. Abbas agreed to a power-sharing agreement with Hamas, a deal breaker for any Israeli interested in peace. In 2010 he used the expiration of a 10-month Israeli settlement freeze as an excuse to abandon bilateral peace efforts. In 2008 he walked away from a statehood offer from then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In 2000 he was with Yasir Arafat at Camp David when the Palestinians turned down a deal from Israel's Ehud Barak.

"And so on. For continuously rejecting good-faith Israeli offers, Mr. Abbas may be about to get his wish: a U.S. vote for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. For tiring of constant Palestinian bad faith -- and noting the fact -- Israel will now be treated to pariah-nation status by Mr. Obama."

Stephens advised the Israeli government to "repay contempt with contempt. Mr. Obama plays to classic bully type," Stephens wrote. "He is abusive and surly only toward those he feels are either too weak, or too polite, to hit back."

Regarding Obama's remaining time in office, Stephens wrote, "The Israelis will need to chart their own path of resistance. On the Iranian nuclear deal, they may have to go rogue: Let's hope their warnings have not been mere bluffs. Israel survived its first 19 years without meaningful U.S. patronage. For now, all it has to do is get through the next 22, admittedly long, months."

Obama: Hard to Envision Two-State Solution in Middle East


The unprecedented success of Arab-Israeli political parties in this month's Israeli election is seen as possibly ushering in a new era of expanded civic engagement for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

A coalition of four Arab-dominated political parties, known as The Joint List, captured 14 seats in the March 17 election that was won by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party. Though the Joint List is not expected to be included in the coalition government to be formed by Netanyahu, the electoral results were good enough to make it the third-largest party in Israel's Knesset.

That success was due to the higher Palestinian voter turnout. In Arab towns and villages, voter participation jumped 10% compared to the previous Israeli election, and was the highest rate recorded since 1999.

The Joint List's leader, Ayman Odeh, has stressed working alongside Jewish forces in Israel to help protect the rights of minority Palestinians, many of whom feel ostracized by the Israeli government. That model — working within the system to help secure Palestinian rights — could represent a new strategy, according to some analysts, not only for the nearly 1.7 million Arab citizens of Israel, but also for those under Israeli military rule in the Palestinian territories.

In the West Bank, where 2.5 million Palestinians live under an Israeli administration (ed: VOA refers to "occupation") that has lasted for nearly 50 years, many are disheartened by the failure of diplomatic efforts to secure an independent Palestinian state. Hope is also running low among the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, where a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade has left the economy in shambles.

"Palestinians within the occupied territories generally were more hopeful about the creation of an independent, viable state, but that hope is declining," says Stephen Zunes, a professor of international relations at the University of San Francisco. "They are still dealing with hundreds of checkpoints and the daily delays and humiliation of moving from one Palestinian town to another."

The two-state solution, which aims to form a Palestinian nation alongside Israel, is encapsulated in the November 1947 (VOA reports that date as 1948) U.N. partition plan. It has also been the stated goal of the on-again, off-again Israeli-Palestinian peace talks brokered by the West. The most recent U.S.-led peace effort broke down last year after Palestinian negotiators refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Netanyahu refused to stop the growth of West Bank settlements.

The peace process appeared to take a further hit this month when Netanyahu campaigned on a promise that he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state. Though he has since walked back those comments, White House officials have stressed their belief that chances for a two-state solution under his leadership are slim.

The developments have led some analysts to question the viability of a two-state solution, prompting calls to seek resolution in the context of a single democratic state comprising Palestinians and Israelis.

"We are starting to see a swing back towards a call for a one-state solution," says Zunes. "Not in the sense of wanting to physically destroy Israel or kill or expel Jews or anything like that, but to recognize that it's not going to be possible to have a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. That it needs to be one country: one person, one vote, with, presumably, guarantees for minority rights."

One of the most prominent supporters of the single state solution is exiled Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Last week, Abunimah said in a blog post he was "relieved" by Netanyahu's reelection.

"I think it makes it much harder for people to harbor illusions that by going back to the kind of negotiations that the U.S. has brokered for the past 20 years that there will be any progress," he told VOA. "I think it's a clear message that those formulas are dead."

The success of the Arab Joint List in this month's elections makes it easier "to imagine a day that the franchise is extended not just to the 1.6 million or 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, but to all Palestinians," he said. "It's not so difficult to see a day when Palestinians and Israelis vote in the same election, when they make alliances across different political lines, social lines, religious lines, and that they negotiate governments and policies that benefit everyone in the country."

Veteran Middle East scholar William B. Quandt, a former member of the National Security Council, agrees that more Palestinians, especially younger ones, are open to seeking democratic rights within Israel. But he calls the idea more of a "thought experiment" than a clearly thought-out policy, noting there has been a relatively small amount of effort put into figuring out how Israelis and Palestinians would co-exist in a binational state.

"Nobody's even started," he said. "I mean, I can point you to 10 studies that have tried to work the details on a two-state solution, including some by Israelis and Palestinians, and you can read how they'd do the border, and Jerusalem, and border crossings, and security, and refugee claims and so forth.

"It's not that it's all been agreed, but at least you kind of know what the topic headings are," he said. "There's nothing I know of comparable on what a one-state agreed solution would be. At this point, it's more of a concept." Quandt, professor emeritus at University of Virginia, says the likelihood of Israelis immediately rejecting a one-state solution poses another stumbling block.

Most Israeli leaders view the binational solution as an existential threat to the world's only Jewish state — one that has served as a safe haven for persecuted Jewish populations around the world. Furthermore, they say the security of Israeli citizens would be threatened if outnumbered by Palestinians within the confines of a single state.

Dore Gold, a Netanyahu confidant and former Israeli ambassador to the U.N., acknowledges that if more Israeli Arabs "become a full part of Israeli life, and don't seek to separate themselves," Israel would become a "stronger country and a better society."

But he stresses that the West Bank is a distinct territory from Israel, and that it would be pointless for Palestinians there to seek political rights in a Jewish state. "This is not a case of an area that is already part of Israel and therefore the Palestinians should seek Israeli citizenship," he tells VOA.

"Undoubtedly, as part of a permanent status agreement, there will be Palestinians who will be in territory that will be incorporated into Israel, and those Palestinians should become full Israeli citizens," he said. "But the solution to the problem is a meaningful negotiation that creates secure borders, and not the creation of a single state with the Palestinian population part of the state of Israel."

Gold says it's "pretty clear" that the onus of failed peace processes is on the Palestinians. He specifically cites the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority's formation of a unity government with Gaza-based Hamas militants, whom are committed to armed opposition against Israel.

Israeli leaders are also fearful that if they end the West Bank occupation, the security vacuum will be filled by Islamic militants, much the same way that Hamas took over the Gaza Strip following an Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

With the peace talks stalled and Israel unwilling to withdraw from Palestinian territory, this essentially means the situation likely will trudge along in some variation of its present form, a position that finds widespread support in Israel. One of those supporters is Dani Dayan, a prominent leader of the Israeli settler movement.

"I am one of those who believe the two-state formula is not a solution to the conflict at all," Dayan told VOA. "On the contrary, it will aggravate the conflict. The state of Palestine, if created, will be used as a launching pad for any aggression against Israel, exactly like the de facto Palestinian state in Gaza."

Although Dayan does not support the creation of a Palestinian state, he rejects the notion that he therefore supports a single-state solution. Instead of engaging in a "futile diplomatic process," Dayan says efforts should be made to improve or normalize the situation on the ground in practical ways, a process he refers to as "peaceful non-reconciliation."

"There is a myriad of things we can do to normalize the situation: to improve human rights, to dismantle road blocks, checkpoints, to maybe in the future completely dismantle the security barrier that Israel was forced to establish ten years ago, to reintegrate Palestinians in a joint labor market, to rehabilitate the refugee camps," he said.

"Those are real steps, not just futile diplomatic steps. [They] will make a tremendous psychological difference and a tremendous improvement in the day-to-day life of both Palestinians and Israelis, even in the absence of peace."

Dayan publicly supported Netanyahu in the elections, and says the Israeli leader even called him on the night of the vote. Following those conversations, he believes Netanyahu soon will implement unspecified "confidence-building measures" to help convince the U.S. he is committed to peace.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has announced it is "reevaluating" its options in regard to the peace process. Some officials have suggested the U.S. could remove its historic diplomatic support for Israel at the U.N., where Washington has repeatedly vetoed resolutions critical of Israel. Others have said the U.S. could support a U.N. Security Council Resolution that outlines the framework of a comprehensive, two-state solution.

If that were to happen, the two-state process could be put back on track. But whatever White House officials decide, they have attempted to make clear in recent days that the status quo is unacceptable.

In a speech this week in Washington, White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough said the U.S. "will never stop working for a two-state solution and a lasting peace that Israelis and Palestinians so richly deserve." He also warned that "Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely," suggesting that on its current path, Israel could not survive as a Jewish and democratic state. "An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end," he said.

US Declassifies Document Revealing Israel's Nuclear Program


In a development that has largely been missed by mainstream media, the Pentagon early last month quietly declassified a Department of Defense top-secret document detailing Israel's nuclear program, a highly covert topic that Israel has never formally announced to avoid a regional nuclear arms race, and which the US until now has respected by remaining silent.

But by publishing the declassified document from 1987, the US reportedly breached the silent agreement to keep quiet on Israel's nuclear powers for the first time ever, detailing the nuclear program in great depth.

The timing of the revelation is highly suspect, given that it came as tensions spiraled out of control between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama ahead of Netanyahu's March 3 address in Congress, in which he warned against the dangers of Iran's nuclear program and how the deal being formed on that program leaves the Islamic regime with nuclear breakout capabilities.

Another highly suspicious aspect of the document is that while the Pentagon saw fit to declassify sections on Israel's sensitive nuclear program, it kept sections on Italy, France, West Germany and other NATO countries classified, with those sections blocked out in the document.

The 386-page report entitled "Critical Technological Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations" gives a detailed description of how Israel advanced its military technology and developed its nuclear infrastructure and research in the 1970s and 1980s.

Israel is "developing the kind of codes which will enable them to make hydrogen bombs. That is, codes which detail fission and fusion processes on a microscopic and macroscopic level," reveals the report, stating that in the 1980s Israelis were reaching the ability to create bombs considered a thousand times more powerful than atom bombs.

The revelation marks a first in which the US published in a document a description of how Israel attained hydrogen bombs. The report also notes research laboratories in Israel "are equivalent to our Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories," the key labs in developing America's nuclear arsenal.

Israel's nuclear infrastructure is "an almost exact parallel of the capability currently existing at our National Laboratories," it adds. "As far as nuclear technology is concerned the Israelis are roughly where the U.S. was in the fission weapon field in about 1955 to 1960," the report reveals, noting a time frame just after America tested its first hydrogen bomb.

Institute for Defense Analysis, a federally funded agency operating under the Pentagon, penned the report back in 1987. Aside from nuclear capabilities, the report revealed Israel at the time had "a totally integrated effort in systems development throughout the nation," with electronic combat all in one "integrated system, not separated systems for the Army, Navy and Air Force." It even acknowledged that in some cases, Israeli military technology "is more advanced than in the U.S."

Declassifying the report comes at a sensitive timing as noted above, and given that the process to have it published was started three years ago, that timing is seen as having been the choice of the American government.

US journalist Grant Smith petitioned to have the report published based on the Freedom of Information Act. Initially the Pentagon took its time answering, leading Smith to sue, and a District Court judge to order the Pentagon to respond to the request.

Smith, who heads the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy, reportedly said he thinks this is the first time the US government has officially confirmed that Israel is a nuclear power, a status that Israel has long been widely known to have despite being undeclared.

Saudi Arabia Could Buy the Bomb


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's most explicit warning of the dangers of a "bad deal" with Iran are not that Iran would immediately get the bomb, but that other countries in the region might accelerate efforts to catch up with Tehran. According to Emily B. Landau of the Institute of National Security Studies, whose expertise lies in nuclear proliferation and armament, all eyes are on Saudi Arabia.

Following Iran, "Saudi Arabia is the #1 contender to get nuclear weapons because there is a perceived relationship there with Pakistan. Saudi Arabia has financed Pakistan's ballistic missile program and there might be some arrangement already in place on nuclear capability," she said

Landau emphasizes that she is not saying anything new here. The speculation that Saudi Arabia (as well as Egypt and Turkey) would go nuclear in response to Iran's program is an old one. Still, Saudi Arabia's motivation might be more pronounced because regional proximity to Iran and because Riyadh has the financial means to compete.

"Saudi Arabia is the most motivated to get a nuclear weapon because of the Persian Gulf `subregional' rivalry. Egypt and Turkey also have the motivation to be contenders and are not comfortable with Iran having a strategic edge over them."

She went on to say that Iran is not unique in its motivation to at the least reach the so-called "nuclear threshold" where it would take very little effort to flip a civilian program to a military one. "The tendency of countries who are members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is to build civilian programs first or to build the infrastructure that can be turned to military purposes. Remember, the technology used for enriching uranium for civilian energy is the same used in the process to create higher grades for weapons."

When asked how any of these countries might actually gain from having the bomb if there was a very slim chance they would use it, she explained that even the miniscule chance a nuclear weapon could be used in combat forces armies and governments to recalculate their strategy.

"Israel is an assumed nuclear state but is defensive in the nuclear realm. I don't think this will be the case with Iran. Iran has hegemonic ambition and would like nuclear weapons to serve its interests in expanding those ambitions throughout the region."

She tried to illustrate an example to explain how Saudi Arabia might be hesitant to stop more explicit Iranian aggression. She considered the possibility Iran might try to conquer the tiny island of Bahrain, a strategic Saudi partner where the Sunni-controlled government dominates the lives of its Shiite majority.

"Let's take a theoretical scenario where Iran wants to take over Bahrain. If Iran had nuclear weapons, no state might see the country as important enough to confront Iran coercively. When nuclear weapons are in play, mind-games are the reality. With the small, small chance that a state might use those weapons, there is deterrence."

She noted Saudi Arabia is as nervous as, if not more so than, Israel. However, the Kingdom has not utilized its public profile as much as Netanyahu to make known its objections to the current direction of the Iran nuclear negotiations.

She emphasized that Iran getting the bomb will have real implications on every other Middle Eastern country's ability to counter Iran in Yemen or Iraq or Syria. "Particular to nuclear studies – as opposed to Middle Eastern studies – getting the strategic value of the nuclear weapon isn't a function of using that weapon. Nuclear weapons have strategic value across the board for whatever state has them.

"Weapons of non-use come into play in deterrent relationships – like the United States and Soviet Union or between India and Pakistan, today. They have an influence on the way states relate to each other."

That last point is the primary motivator for a country like Saudi Arabia: equivalency. If Saudi Arabia has a nuclear capability, particularly one already past a nuclear threshold, it can protect against further Iranian moves like in Yemen or Iraq. Notably, it could also facilitate any Saudi military operations in those areas. Still, Landau refused to promise Saudi Arabia would launch any military operations against Houthi rebels in Yemen or get more intimately involved in the wars in Syria and Iraq.

"The motivation to get some sort of nuclear capability will definitely be strong. I don't think they're necessarily going to take action on multiple fronts though, especially at such a sensitive time when they feel Iran is at an advanced stage."

Fallen Soldier's Sperm at Center of Battle Between Parents and Widow


This is a story involving some tough dilemmas: Who owns sperm left behind by a reserve soldier killed during an army training exercise – his widow or his parents? What was the will of the deceased, and does the state have the right to allow a child to be born already an orphan? In the end, the court handed down a precedential and groundbreaking ruling: The parents are entitled to a grandchild from their son's sperm.

The affair began some 10 years ago when a combat reservist, in his late 20s, was killed during the course of an army training exercise, just four months after getting married. His widow consented to a suggestion by the army to freeze 19 vials of his sperm. At the same time, she maintained a warm relationship with his parents (in their 60s today), who after their son's death adopted two orphans, in addition to their two other biological children.

Over time, the relationship between the parents and the widow soured: The parents wanted to use their son's sperm to father a child; but the widow refused to bear the child herself, or to allow another woman to do so. Meanwhile, the widow married again and has two children. The dispute eventually ended up in Family Court.

During the deliberations, the widow claimed that the sperm could not be inherited and that she was the only one who had the legal right to decide what to do with it. The widow added that a decision in favor of the parents "could undermine social norms and the fabric of society," and create a precedent that would allow any relative to make use of sperm left behind by a loved one after his death.

The parents of the deceased argued, however, that they knew for certain that their son would have wanted a descendant. The father stressed that even if the mother decided to live abroad with their grandchild, they would respect her wishes and visit him there.

"We knew for sure that our son loved children, and would certainly have wanted children after his death," his bereaved mother said. "We would have liked the widow to give birth to a child from his sperm, but she chose otherwise." During the course of the court debates, the state opposed the request of the parents.

But in a groundbreaking decision a few days ago, Judge Miriam Kraus ruled that the parents are entitled to bring a grandchild into this world from their son's sperm. The judge noted that while the sperm could not be inherited, it must be used in keeping with the wishes of the deceased before his death. The court, she added, believed that the deceased did indeed want children, and not necessarily from the widow, and that the parents were representing his wishes.

"The personal wishes of the deceased to leave behind a name and memorial cry out from the circumstances of the case... One cannot ignore the emotional need of the parents to make their child's dream come true," the judge wrote in her ruling.

"I didn't shout for joy and we didn't have a celebration because our son is dead and we had a court case against a widow," the mother said on Tuesday. "However, it's time we get the chance to achieve our son's continuity."

Meanwhile, the parents still have a way to go before realizing their dreams. The widow plans to appeal the decision. In addition, the sperm may be unusable as it was removed from the soldier's body several hours after his death.`

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