Israeli president meets Netanyahu, Gantz in bid to break deadlock

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks with members of the Joint List during a consulting meeting on September 22, 2019 to decide who to task with trying to form a new government. (AFP)
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Ayman Odeh, Israeli Arab politician and head of the Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) party which is part of the Joint List electoral alliance, waves before supporters at the alliance's campaign headquarters in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth on September 17, 2019, as the first exit polls are announced on television. (AFP)
Updated 24 September 2019

Israeli president meets Netanyahu, Gantz in bid to break deadlock

  • The key meeting comes as the deadlocked vote results threaten Benjamin Netanyahu’s long tenure in office
  • Israeli Arab parties broke with longstanding precedent to endorse Benny Gantz for prime minister

JERUSALEM: Israel's president met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main opponent Benny Gantz together on Monday as he pressures their two parties to form a unity government after last week's election.
The key meeting was the first between the rival leaders since the deadlocked vote, the results of which threatened Netanyahu's long domination of Israeli politics.
But the veteran premier has shown no sign of willingly giving up his post.
President Reuven Rivlin ushered both men into his office in Jerusalem around 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) after shaking each of their hands.
It was not clear how long the meeting would last, but no major breakthroughs were expected Monday evening since Rivlin is yet to announce who he will choose to try to form a government.
Rivlin called for the meeting after wrapping up consultations with political parties elected to parliament to hear their recommendations for who should form the next government.
Gantz's centrist Blue and White alliance finished with 33 seats out of 120 in the September 17 elections, while Netanyahu's right-wing Likud won 31.
Despite Gantz's slim lead, neither has a clear path to a majority coalition.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz, who had no previous political experience when he mounted his challenge to the premier, have backed calls for a unity government.
Gantz however says he should lead it since his party is the largest. A compromise seems a long way off.
The standoff has even raised the possibility of yet another election -- which would be the third in a year after April polls also ended inconclusively with Netanyahu unable to form a governing coalition.
Rivlin has said he will do all he can to avoid another election, and Monday's meeting may see him seek to play a mediator role.
Netanyahu on Monday reiterated his call for Gantz to join him in a unity government, again acknowledging he was unable to form the right-wing coalition he hoped for.
"The only government that can be formed in these conditions is a united and large one between us," Netanyahu said at a meeting of Likud lawmakers.
"The only way to reach it is to sit down and talk."
Rivlin has said clearly that he wants both Likud and Blue and White in a unity government to form a "stable" coalition -- but how to reach such an accord remains unclear.
The end of the Netanyahu era would be an extraordinary moment in Israeli politics.
He has been prime minister for a total of more than 13 years, the most in Israeli history. But he also faces potential corruption charges in the weeks ahead, pending a hearing set for early October.
The meeting at the president's office followed a dramatic day on Sunday, when Israeli Arab parties broke with longstanding precedent and said they were endorsing Gantz for prime minister.
In announcing the move, the mainly Arab Joint List alliance said its decision was not meant as an endorsement of the policies of the ex-military chief, but as a way of helping oust Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has repeatedly been accused of political rhetoric and actions amounting to racism toward Israel's Arab population.
The Joint List won 13 seats in the election, making it the third-largest force in parliament.
Rivlin is expected to designate a candidate to try to form a government on Wednesday, when final official election results are delivered to him.
That person would then have 28 days to do so, with a possible two-week extension.
If all attempts fail, Rivlin can then assign the task to someone else.
In Rivlin's consultations, Gantz received the endorsements of 54 parliament seats, while Netanyahu received 55.
Those totals do not include eight seats for ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman's nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which has endorsed neither candidate for now and could emerge as a kingmaker.
Gantz and Lieberman met on Monday, their first talks since the election.
"We exchanged opinions and viewpoints and if needed, will speak again in the future," Gantz said in a statement.
The tally also does not include three seats for one of the Arab parties that unlike the rest of the Joint List alliance, did not agree to endorse Gantz.


Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

Updated 19 October 2019

Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

  • A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut
  • In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands

BEIRUT: Lebanese celebrities joined thousands of protesters on the streets of Beirut on Saturday to voice their anger at the country’s ruling elite.
Singers, actors and playwrights were among a host of high-profile artists who backed demands for action over government corruption and to counter Lebanon’s spiralling economic crisis.
Beirut has been shrouded in smoke for three days following widespread protests and rioting over government tax plans.
A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut and crying inconsolably about her financial state.
The actress, wearing jeans and her face blackened, told protesters: “I am Nadine Al-Rassi. I was hungry for seven days. I have debts. Banque du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) seized my house and I am unable to rent a home. Corrupt people should be held responsible.”


In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands, saying: “This is the first time I wish I were in Lebanon. My heart is with you.”
In another tweet, the high-profile singer, one of the Middle East’s best-selling performers, said: “I proudly follow the news of Beirut and its citizens ... who are demanding a decent life. It is time for people to get back their dignity.”
Meanwhile, singer and composer Ragheb Alama expressed his dismay at a Council of Ministers plan to impose a daily fee on WhatsApp calls.
“The people’s misfortunes are not funny. Why don’t you tax the polluted air people breathe? It is a great idea that brings money to your fathers’ treasury, too,” he wrote.
Alama accused the Parliament of responsibility for the country’s dire economy: “Why do deputies receive money, privileges and overheads, and what have they done? They covered up for looting and stealing for decades. They are responsible for destroying the economy and the country.”
Nancy Ajram, one of the Arab world’s most popular singers, wrote on Twitter: “My heart goes out to my country every moment and with every heartbeat. We are a people who deserves to live and it is our right to live with dignity. May God protect Lebanon.”
Singer and actress Haifa Wehbe tweeted: “There is nothing better than the Lebanese people when they stand in unity and under one slogan, without any political affiliation. We are all for our country.”
Comedian and prime-time TV host Hisham Haddad was among celebrities who joined protesters at Riad El-Solh Square, near the Prime Minister’s office, site of the biggest centralized demonstrations.
Actress Maguy Bou Ghosn, singer Moeen Shreif, actors Abdo Chahine, Badih Abou Chakra and Junaid Zeineldine, playwright Ziad Itani and musician Ziyad Sahhab also joined the protests.
Actor Wissam Hanna called on Twitter for protesters to close the Beirut Airport road to stop corrupt officials fleeing the country.
“I am all for closing down the airport road to stop thieves from fleeing. I am all for recovering stolen funds. Lebanon rises, revolts and it is time to hold them accountable,” he wrote.
Actress Gretta Aoun said: “We have to take to the streets. They must know the extent of our pain.”