Weekly Israel News Summary: December 6 to 13, 2019

News Summary

Israel returning to elections, right-wing maneuvers to build a coalition:
Israel will return to elections for the third time in less than a year. The date for the election is set for March 2.

Currently, the polls are showing very little change. A left-wing coalition led by Benny Gantz and the Blue and White party is polling at around 45 seats (out of a required 61 to form a government). With the Arab List parties, it could make it to 58 seats. A right-wing coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud is polling at around 58 seats. Avigdor Liberman and Yisrael Beiteinu is polling at around 8 seats, so he could once again be the swing-vote. In the previous two rounds of voting, he was also the swing-vote but neither side was able to win his support in negotiations.

The bottom line is that if the elections were held today and the polls are accurate, the exact same negotiations that were fruitless after the last elections will be held again. Either Likud and Blue and White will reach an agreement on a unity-government, one of them will form a government without the other by enticing one of the parties across the aisle, or Liberman will agree to join a right-wing coalition under Netanyahu or a left-wing coalition along with the Arab Joint List and led by Benny Gantz. Or, there will still be no coalition formed and no government.

The right-wing bloc appears to be changing its tactics this time around. Likud is reportedly dropping their quest to take Russian votes from Liberman and Yisrael Beiteinu, which did not work in the last round. Yamina Hadash (the New Right party) has dropped its allegiance with the Jewish Home party, which may join forces with the far-right Otzma Yehudi party. Netanyahu is also reportedly changing his tactic from trying to bolster Likud at the expense of smaller right-wing parties, and instead will push to take votes from the Left, and he also aims to bring in Ethiopians as a constituency.

Likud sets primary elections for December 26th:
Within Likud, Netanyahu faces a real challenge to retain leadership. Gideon Sa’ar (former Interior Minister) is campaigning to oust Netanyahu as leader of the Likud party. Polls show Netanyahu holding a 53% with Sa’ar at 40%.

Sa’ar has so far chosen not to campaign against Netanyahu on the issue of his indictments, choosing instead to focus on Netanyahu’s failure to form a government after two straight elections provided him with a chance to do so.

Israel’s largest natural gas facility, Leviathon, to start domestic production in 2 weeks:
Leviathon, an offshore natural gas field, will start production in 2 weeks. Initially, it will produce natural gas for the local market, and starting next month it will export to Egypt and Jordan. The field is a joint-operation between US-based company Nobel and Israel’s Delek Group. It is located 125km west of Haifa, in the Mediterranean-sea.

The price of electricity in Israel is expected to fall by as much as 9% in 2020 due in large part to the Leviathon project. The Delek Group points to other positives of the project on Israel’s economy, including the substantial increase in tax revenue, new jobs, a decrease in reliance on foreign fuel, and an increase in GDP.

On the other hand, environmental groups have protested the project, citing pollution concerns as well as concerns over greenhouse gas emissions.

Jewish prayer on the temple mount:
A reporter for the Jerusalem Post accompanied a group of Jewish worshipers when they ascended the Temple Mount on Thursday. Despite the fact that they were accompanied by police, the group was able to sing Jewish worship songs and recite the Amidah (a set of 19 prayers to God that religious Jews recite daily). This is in stark contrast to the official policy of the IDF, which enforces the Jordanian-ordered restriction on non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount. 

Christians from Gaza denied the right to travel to Bethlehem and Nazareth to celebrate Christmas:
Around 1,000 Christians live in the Gaza strip, and in previous years many of them have been granted visas from Israel to visit Christian holy sites during Christmas. This year, Israel has stated that they will not be issuing any visas to the Gazan Christians. Israel sites security concerns and the fact that many people from Gaza overstay their short-term visas.

Elite Chess Tournament is held in Jerusalem:
An elite chess tournament is being held in Jerusalem from December 11th to the 23rd.  The tournament is between 16 of the top players in the world, and the two finalists in the tournament will go on to compete for a chance to proceed to the World Championship against the defending champion, Magnus Carlsen.

Israeli cycling team to participate in a Tour de France:
For the first time, Israel will send a team of cyclists to the Tour de France. The team will be called the Israeli Startup-Nation. Canadian-Israeli philanthropist Sylvan Adams, co-owner of the team along with Israeli businessman Ron Baron, proudly declared at the launch event this week that the team will be “seen by 2.6 billion people – with our blue-and-white colors.”