| Unity Government: After three elections over the course of the past year+, Israel’s High Court has given the green light for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Speaker of the Knesset Benny Gantz to move ahead with the formation of the unity government. The Court ruled that there is no legal cause to intervene in the coalition agreement. While the petitions against the unity government were unanimously dismissed, the 11-person Supreme Court indicated they could re-examine the coalition agreement once the legislation is passed.|
Another question in front of the Court was whether an indicted person can form a coalition and become Prime Minister under indictment, specifically aimed at Netanyahu. The court ruled that Netanyahu can form the next government, despite his indictments. The Chief Justice, Esther Hayut, wrote that Netanyahu still enjoys the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. Netanyahu’s trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust is set to begin May 24.
The Court’s decisions followed an official mandate by Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, granting Netanyahu the right to form his fifth straight government, which would keep him in power until November 13, 2021. Prior to the ruling, over 1,000 Israelis (properly social distancing) protested the coalition agreement and called for the Court to undo it.
A joint statement between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Gantz’s Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) Party acknowledged agreement on the formation of a government and its swearing in on May 13, 2020, after parliament passes necessary legislation.
Settlement Expansions: Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett approved a West Bank construction project in Efrat of 7,000 homes. Peace Now, a left wing group, plans to petition the High Court against the construction. Efrat already has a population of approximately 9,200 residents. The new unity government’s coalition agreement allows for the government to announce annexation plans on or after July 1st, in accordance with the Trump peace plan and in full cooperation with the U.S. The Gush Etzion bloc of the West Bank, which includes the city of Efrat, is part of the consensus areas that would probably remain in Israel under a peace deal with the Palestinians, though mapping of the annexation area is still not completed.
Annexation has been heavily contested by many countries and according to a survey this week in Israel, a majority of Israeli Jews oppose annexation as well. The respondents of the survey prefer solutions based on separation from the Palestinians.
Joe Biden weighs in: In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Joe Biden maintained that it is vital Israel not take any unilateral steps towards annexation. Biden also said he would resume financial aid and security assistance to Palestinians, he would seek to reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington and reaffirmed his intention to open a U.S. Consulate office in East Jerusalem if he is elected. These steps are an effort to roll back measures Donald Trump’s administration has taken. Biden did, however, state that as president he would keep the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
Christian proselytizing on TV in Israel: Many people in the Jewish community were shocked to learn that a Christian missionary television station, GOD TV, was given the go-ahead to broadcast in Israel, in Hebrew and aimed at Jews. Religious programming is allowed but missionary activities are banned from broadcasting in Israel. The Chairman of the regulatory body that awarded the license to GOD TV claimed he was not aware of the planned broadcast of missionary activities and that he has ordered an investigation of the matter.