PM Netanyahu meets with Senior US Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner and US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien

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Netanyahu secures new governing coalition at the eleventh hour

WJC, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu's fourth government is expected to be sworn in next week after he managed to cobble together a coalition of five parties which has a narrow 61-seat majority in the 120-member Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

Jewish Home leader Bennett shaking hands with PM NetanyahuJewish Home leader Bennett shaking hands with PM NetanyahuNearly two months after his election victory, and barely two hours ahead of the deadline to form a government, Netanyahu informed Israel's President Reuven Rivlin that he had reached the necessary agreements with his coalition partners, among them the nationalist Jewish Home party, two ultra-Orthodox religious parties and the center-right Kulanu party.

A Netanyahu spokesman said Thursday that the prime minister would also assume the post of foreign minister, which he would like to offer to opposition leader Isaac Herzog "if things work out". Unnamed Likud officials told the newspaper 'Israel Hayom' that Netanyahu was seeking to expand the government beyond its current fragile majority, and that he would pursue negotiations with Herzog's Zionist Union on the matter over the coming weeks.

However, Herzog - who is the chairman of the center-left Labor Party and was the main challenger of Netanyahu in the March election, made it clear on Thursday that he would not to be swayed from going to the opposition. "I will not be a fifth wheel in the Netanyahu government," he said.

Herzog slammed the new Netanyahu Cabinet as a “national failure of a government" which "lacks responsibility, stability and governance."

In a statement Wednesday, after the deal between Likud and Jewish Home was announced, he said: “Tonight we are filled with hope that we will march Israel’s security, economy and all other fields forward.” As part of the deal, Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party will be appointed justice minister and become a member of the Security Cabinet.

Netanyahu sent Rivlin a letter confirming that he had clinched a coalition agreement, and he now has until next Wednesday to swear in his new Cabinet, which needs to pass a confidence vote in the Knesset.

Netanyahu Update: Freezing and release of prisoners in exchange for Pollard

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State John Kerry meet to "polish" the deal that would release Pollard before Passover for the release of hundreds of Plalestinians prisoners.

According to sources who spoke with the Prime Minister , the deal will include the release of the Jewish spy - American Jonathan Pollard before Passover Seder and the continuation of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in 2015 . In return , Israel agreed to release the terrorists ' fourth pulse "and 400 other prisoners without blood on their hands , most of them young and some women , which will determine their identity. Also part of the deal Israel agrees to freeze construction in the settlements .
Netanyahu told Likud ministers this morning that construction auctions in Samaria will be frozen, but despite the Palestinian demand Israel will continue construction in progress, as well as private construction and building public institutions and in Jerusalem. Progress has been made in meeting the night before, but the final details have not yet been closed.

Kerry was supposed to to continue last night, after his meeting with Netanyahu meeting, to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting was postponed and was informed that it will be this morning, after the two finally met Kerry flew back to Europe after the meeting with Netanyahu.

PM's Bureau Holds Farewell Ceremony for Head of the PM's Staff Gil Sheffer

A farewell ceremony was held today, for Gil Sheffer, who is concluding his duties as the head of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's staff after five years in office. The Prime Minister and his wife Sara, past and present ministers, ambassadors, MKs, the Prime Minister's advisers, Prime Minister's bureau employees and representatives of various ministries attended the ceremony.
Sheffer, 45, and the father of two, has served Prime Minister Netanyahu since the latter took up office in 2009. Before being appointed to head the Prime Minister's staff, Sheffer served as head of the bureau and head of the Prime Minister's Office branch for events, tours and ceremonies. In the course of his duties, Sheffer worked with the Prime Minister on diplomatic, security, economic and social issues and coordinated his advisers' staff work in various fields both in Israel and abroad. Sheffer also managed special projects on the Prime Minister's behalf such as the visits of heads of state and government and coordinating with the various relevant officials regarding the Prime Minister's work, including liaison with ministers and the Knesset. Sheffer joined the Prime Minister's Office after many years in public service including as head of the spokesman's, information and ceremonies department at the Municipality of Jerusalem. In the latter post, he was responsible for foreign and domestic liaison for Jerusalem, including strategic planning and the city's image and branding.
Gil Sheffer said: "The Prime Minister's bureau is not just a place of work for me – it is home. A warm and vibrant home that is full of activity. A home in which an endless number of things is happening at any moment. This home became an inseparable part of my life and will continue to be such tomorrow as well – when I will no longer be here. Today, I sign off on an important chapter of my life – after 15 years in public service, the last five of which at the Prime Minister's side. The time has come to say thank-you – and good-bye."
Sheffer added: "Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for the full and endless confidence you have given me, and the almost complete freedom to do what I saw fit, for the patience and attention to detail, for the backing and support, for the long, long moments we spent together in Israel, abroad, everywhere. Mr. Prime Minister, I received and learned much from you. This was a great experience that will affect and accompany me my whole life. I saw from up close the responsibility on your shoulders, the moments in which you need to make hard decisions alone, the burden of the diplomatic, security, economic and social challenges. I have always been impressed by your devotion to the goal; by your focusing on the big picture and the small details; and by the experience, professionalism and equanimity. I saw your devotion to the security of the country. I was constantly moved and impressed by the humanity and inner sensitivity. Thank you for the big things and the small things, including imaginative and discreet things that will always be with me." Sheffer wished his successor, Ari Harow success and told him, "Your success is important to all of us."
Prime Minister Netanyahu said: "I learned to know Gil and he has a great soul. This is very important. Many other qualities are also important but in my view, this is the most important. You have a soul Gil and you are from the heart and this is how we felt with you. We felt that here is someone who can be relied on. I felt that you were an entire team and you ran an entire team in order to allow me to move the country forward. Your sensitivity to people and concern for small details, this you did with responsibility and proficiency, by understanding the soul of others. You were also successful in that the staff worked like a staff with a soul, with unity of purpose and great loyalty. This is a splendid feeling for a prime minister. On behalf of the country, thank you because we did important things regarding security, the economy, borders, markets. All these and many other things were possible because there was space to move the ball forward. You gave this space and I am grateful to you. Therefore, when you take your leave of us, we are not taking our leave from you, and I want to wish you that you will continue to contribute. I am certain that you will do so. Thank you Gil from the bottom of my heart. Thank you."
Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that Sheffer had assisted him over the years with great professionalism and had allowed him to carry out his complex and challenging tasks in the best way possible thanks to his great sensitivity, capabilities, creativity and experience.
At the end of the ceremony, those present viewed a film prepared by Gil's friends in the bureau, with the participation of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Sheffer will be replaced by Ari Harow, 40, father of four. Harow has a BA in psychology from City University of New York and an MA in political science from Tel Aviv University. He served as Benjamin Netanyahu's adviser for foreign liaison in 2007 and served as the head of his bureau as Leader of the Opposition, and as Prime Minister in 2008-2010. In 2010-2013, he set up and ran an international consulting firm. Harow is deeply familiar with government networks, Jewish communities and organizations and the media in both the US and other countries. As head of the Prime Minister's bureau, he will assist the Prime Minister in the diplomatic sphere.


Israel Demands End to US Spying

Robert Berger, Jerusalem, Israel has reacted angrily to reports the country was a target of espionage by the United States.

Senior officials in Jerusalem are demanding an end to U.S. spying on Israel after revelations the National Security Agency intercepted e-mails from Israeli leaders.

The allegations were disclosed by former NSA contractor and whistle blower Edward Snowden and published in several Western newspapers. The reports said from 2008 to 2011, the NSA targeted e-mail addresses belonging to then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The issue topped the agenda at Israel’s weekly Cabinet meeting.

“This is not legitimate,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz.

He said Israel was “not tracking the U.S. president, White House or secretary of defense.”

Steinitz said Israel and the United States hadan “intelligence alliance” and sharedthe most sensitive information; and therefore he said, allies must reach an agreement not to spy on one another.

Israel joins the list of other top American allies who have been targeted by the NSA, including France and Germany.

The issue touches a raw nerve in Israel because of the case of Jonathan Pollard, a former American intelligence analyst who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel. The case strained ties at the time and has been a sore spot ever since. The United States has repeatedly rejected Israeli requests for Pollard’s release.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Cabinet that Israel was continuing to press President Barack Obama to free the ailing Pollard and allow him to come “home” to Israel.

Israel’s response was uncharacteristically angry. Officials saidt was necessary to issue a strong protest, but they have also made it clear that Israel would allow the affair to harm relations with its best friend and ally, the United States.


President of Guatemala on first visit to Israel

Netanyahu: The greatest threat to the peace of the world is Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. I believe that this is a common need of any country in any region that wants to see a peaceful world, because Iran is seeking influence even in Latin America.
President Shimon Peres welcomed the President of Guatemala Otto Fernando Perez Molina in a state ceremony on his first visit to Israel: "Welcome to the State of Israel and to Jerusalem. We welcome you as the President of Guatemala, Israel's partner in peace."

President Molina arrived to Israel with a 21-member delegation that included Minister of Foreign Affairs Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, Minister of Defense Manuel Lopez Ambrocio, Minister of Agriculture Elmer Lopez Rodriguez, and George Tanenbaum, President of the Guatemala Jewish Community.

At the ceremony, both Peres and Molina spoke of Jorge Garcia Granados who, in May 1947, as Guatemala’s ambassador to the United Nations, was appointed as a member of the UN Special Committee of Palestine. Of the eleven members of the UNSCOP team, the representative of Guatemala was the most persuasive, and on November 29, 1947 the Partition Plan was approved by the UN General Assembly by a majority vote, paving the way for the creation of the State of Israel.

Statements by PM Netanyahu and the President Otto Fernando Perez Molina of Guatemala

Prime Minister Netanyahu: President Molina, it's a great pleasure to welcome you and you delegation here in Israel, in Jerusalem. Guatemala is one of Israel's oldest friends and we always remember that you stood with us on the formative days of Israel's independence and the votes on the international recognition in the UN for the establishment of the Jewish state, and we will never forget that.

Now, this is the first time of a visit of the President of Guatemala to Israel and it's an opportunity to further strengthen our relationship and I believe this is possible in many many areas – agriculture, water, infrastructure, health services, defense, all of this and many others – and I welcome the opportunity of this visit and our discussions to do exactly that, strengthen the cooperation between Guatemala and Israel, and I believe your visit expresses exactly that same desire.

We also share a desire to see a peaceful and stable Middle East, and the greatest threat to that and to the peace of the world is Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. It's therefore critical that the final deal with Iran prevent that from happening. Here's what this means: no enrichment, no centrifuges, no heavy water reactor, no weapons program, no ballistic missiles and a change in Iran's policies – no genocide against Israel, no terrorist support, no undermining of regimes in the Middle East. This is what the next negotiation must establish. None of the components of Iran's nuclear program and missile program that I described are necessary for civilian nuclear energy. They are only necessary for the creation of atomic weapons and the means to deliver them, and that is exactly why Iran must be denied these capabilities.

I believe, Mr. President, that this is a common need of any country in any region that wants to see a peaceful world, because Iran is seeking influence even in Latin America, and we all have a vested interest that they don’t have the power to expand their aggression and their radicalism anywhere.

I hope that you'll have a chance to visit the holy places and many other places to see our old-new country when you're here. This is the seat of our common heritage and the prophets that are in the Bible walked here, they were walking in Jerusalem. Well, now you are walking here and you can see both people anchored in old heritage but also seizing the future with technology, with science, with innovation, which we would gladly share with you.

So welcome to Jerusalem.

President Molina (via interpreter): Thank you very much, Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is a great pleasure for me to be here in this official visit, which as you said, is the first official visit of Guatemala in Israel. There are excellent relations between both our countries and between the people of Israel and the people of Guatemala and as you said as well, Guatemala did participate in the foundation of Israel, so that has led the foundations for a tradition and the unity between our two peoples.

There's also a tradition for cooperation. There are more than 5,000 Guatemalans who have come to Israel to learn new techniques and acquire new skills, and that has helped us very much. And regarding also what you said about cooperation, the areas that you mentioned, that is health, education, agriculture and defense, I'm sure that there are even more areas that we can explore and exploit, so that Guatemala can continue to enjoy the cooperation with Israel.

We are friends of Israel. Both our people and our government wish for you to have peace, for Israel and for the whole region, as well as stability, and we are also concerned by the threats that may undermine the security of the area. We are also convinced that the steps that you have taken as Prime Minister for peace are going in the right direction and we hope that it will continue to do so. It is a tradition for Guatemala, we have always been in favor of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, both in Latin America as well as in the rest of the world, and we hope that this concern that we can see today, which is a great threat to the State of Israel, will find a resolution as soon as possible.

And finally, I would like to say that we wish to express our thanks for the invitation to come to Israel. These two days in Israel I am sure that will strengthen the union and friendship between our two peoples.

Thank you very much.


Israeli leaders on the death of Nelson Mandela: We mourn alongside the nations of the world and the people of South Africa, who lost an exceptional leader

President Shimon Peres, statement following the death of Nelson Mandela:

"The world lost a great leader who changed the course of history. On behalf of the citizens of Israel we mourn alongside the nations of the world and the people of South Africa, who lost an exceptional leader. Nelson Mandela was a fighter for human rights who left an indelible mark on the struggle against racism and discrimination. He was a passionate advocate for democracy, a respected mediator, a Nobel peace prize laureate and above all a builder of bridges of peace and dialogue who paid a heavy personal price for his struggle in the years he spent in prison and fighting for his people. Nelson Mandela's legacy for his people and for the world will forever remain engraved in the pages of history and the hearts of all those who were touched by him. He will be remembered forever."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu statement on the passing of Nelson Mandela:
"Nelson Mandela was among the greatest figures of our time. He was the father of his country, a man of vision and a freedom fighter who disavowed violence. He set a personal example for his country during the long years in which he was imprisoned. He was never haughty. He worked to heal rifts within South African society and succeeded in preventing outbreaks of racial hatred. He will be remembered as the father of the new South Africa and a moral leader of the highest order."


Netanyahu Warns Obama on Iran

VOA, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Iran must dismantle its nuclear program and should face tougher sanctions as it negotiates with the West.

Netanyahu made the comments after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in White House talks Monday. Obama said world powers will negotiate with Iran in a "clear-eyed" manner and will consult Israel closely.

Netanyahu's visit comes three days after Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani conducted the highest-level contact between the countries in more than three decades.

That telephone call fueled hopes for a resolution of Iran's decade-old nuclear standoff with the West.

Iran has long insisted its nuclear program is peaceful. The U.S. and many of its allies disagree and have helped impose several rounds of sanctions that have battered Iran's economy.

Netanyahu is deeply concerned about eased tensions between Iran and the international community, saying Tehran is using talks to try to lessen the crippling sanctions and to buy more time to build a nuclear weapon.

Many Israelis agree.


US Looking to Bolster Israeli-Palestinian Talks at UN

Scott Stearns

VOA, At this week's meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be pushing efforts to back ongoing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. The talks are based on a two-state solution to the conflict.

Nothing has taken more of John Kerry's time as Secretary of State than Middle East peace. So these talks have been front and center in the run-up to his first U.N. General Assembly. "I am talking to both leaders directly and everybody, I think, understands the goal that we are working for. It is two states living side by side in peace and in security," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it is time. "We both know that this road is not an easy one, but we have embarked this effort with you in order to succeed to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all," he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says Palestinians are ready. "We have a period of nine months during which we hope to be able to reach to a peace agreement between us and the Israelis," he said.

Obstacles include the status of Jerusalem as an Israeli and Palestinian capital and the borders of a two-state solution.

The same issues that have largely blocked progress on a negotiated settlement since the Oslo Accords 20 years ago. So what has changed? Broader Israeli concerns about the future, says former U.S. ambassador Adam Ereli. "Whether or not you have the territory, whether or not you have provided for your security, the fact of the matter is it does not serve Israel's long-term interest to be an occupying power," he said.

Israel has issued new work permits for Palestinians from the West Bank as part of economic measures aimed at supporting the peace talks. But that is offset by new Israeli settlements, says Oxfam's Alun McDonald. "There are a lot of reasons to feel positive, but itis very hard to be optimistic when over the past few weeks there have been more announcements of settlements, there have been more demolitions of homes, and the occupation still continues," he said.

Settlements are a particularly difficult issue for Israel's coalition government, says Cato Institute analyst Doug Bandow. "The internal political dynamic is a very complicated one. It is hard to give those up. There is very little trust on both sides, so there is a lot of skepticism out there," he said.

Bandow says putting a peace deal to Israeli voters is especially perilous for a coalition government confronting divisive social issues of welfare benefits and military service for Orthodox Jews. "This really has to look good, it really has to look salable before Netanyahu is going to take ownership. He's got a lot else on his plate," he said.

Former Israeli negotiator Uri Savir says the momentum of the Oslo Accords is not entirely lost. "Peace processes take time. It is a difficult transition. But the foundations are still alive. And a two-state solution will still be achieved, I have no doubt," he said.

Kerry says time is the enemy of a peace process because it allows a vacuum to be filled by people who do not want things to happen.


PM Netanyahu: "The State of Israel is ready for any scenario. We are not part of the civil war in Syria but if we identify any attempt whatsoever to harm us, we will respond and we will respond in strength.

Israel Headlines - PM Netanyahu: "The State of Israel is ready for any scenario. We are not part of the civil war in Syria but if we identify any attempt whatsoever to harm us, we will respond and we will respond in strength.

There is no reason to change daily routines. The IDF is ready to defend against any threat and to respond strongly against any attempt to harm Israeli citizens".

Israel Cabinet Approved: a thousand reserve soldiers will be recruited to the Air Force and the Home Front Command.
As part of the Cabinet decision thousands of soldiers will be recruited and Iron Dome batteries will be deployed in the north.

Preparations for a possible attacks on Israrl from Syria, Senior military official said that the Cabinet has approved the to recruit thousands of reservists for the Home Front Command, Air Force, intelligence and headquarters. The source added that if the United States attacks Syria, Israel may change the level of preparedness in the army and accordingly will be recruited more reservists. Currently, no change in the alert level, but Northern Command units and units in charge of protecting Israeli home front will remain on alert. The Senior official stressed that the likelihood that the Syrian army would launch missiles at Israel "is not high, even low." However, he added that during the meeting, also attended by Chief of Staff - Gen. Benny Gantz and senior defense, it was also decided to reinforce the Iron Dome batteries in the northern arena. Now, according to the senior official, there are no plans to open extra distribution points for Chemical Protection Kits.

Meanwhile, United States formed a coalition attack against Syria including some Arab countries. Estimated that Americans apparently waiting for the UN inspectors in Syria. However, it is important to remember that the United States is limited to the opening date of the operation due to the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama in Russia next week. Senior official admitted that Israel has not yet received a formal assurance from the United States for the a period of time which Israel will receive a warning before the beginning of the operation, Israel may receive warnings just few hours before the attack.

At the end of the Cabinet meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "The IDF prepared to defend against any threat, and prepared to respond with force to any attempt to harm Israeli citizens." The Cabinet Meeting, held in the Kirya in Tel Aviv, the ministers presented scenarios that Syrian President will take if attacked, when some of the scenarios were also the possibility that the Syrian president chooses to attack Israel.

"Further security evaluations took place today, there is no reason to change the routine of life. Meanwhile, we are preparing for any scenario," added the Prime Minister.

A political source in Jerusalem said that Israel believes Assad will not try to drag Israel into war. However, he added, "We are preparing for this possibility, although it is unlikely, We must be prepared for any scenario." He added that it is assumed that the West will not try to topple the Assad Regime, and that so far have not clarified the scope of the anticipated attack.

Earlier today the Israel Air Force increased the intelligence-gathering effort over Lebanon.


Netanyahu: Iranian quest toward atomic weapons accelerated

Iran is determined to get the bomb and we must be even more determined to prevent them from getting it.
Iran's quest towards the achievement of atomic weapons not only continues, it's actually accelerated. Iran is determined to get the bomb and we must be even more determined to prevent them from getting it. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with a delegation of pro-Israel activists headed by US Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

At the start of the meeting the Prime Minister said: "I know that some place their hopes on Iran's new president. He knows how to exploit this and yesterday he called for more talks. Of course he wants more talks. He wants to talk and talk and talk. And while everybody is busy talking to him, he'll be busy enriching uranium. The centrifuges will keep on spinning.

This isn't a secret. The new Iranian president boasts that that is his strategy. He says, 'I talk and I smile and I enrich uranium'. This is unfortunately going on as we speak.

Iran's work and quest towards the achievement of atomic weapons not only continues, it continues unabated - it's actually accelerated. And they're also pursuing, as was recently reported, an alternative route to the enrichment of uranium, which is the plutogenic, the plutonium route, simultaneously. So the situation unhappily is not getting any better; it's actually getting worse. Iran is determined to get the bomb and we must be even more determined to prevent them from getting it."
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