Rightist government may be Netanyahu's only option
The incoming Israeli government is shaping up to be decidedly right wing as Binyamin Netanyahu, the presumptive incoming prime minister, is having no luck bringing the incumbent, centrist Kadima party into his coalition. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni says the party, which leads the outgoing ruling coalition, is headed to the opposition because Netanyahu does not share her commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, Netanyahu is getting impatient, the Jerusalem Post reports:
"I want to give Livni a real chance to join us, but we cannot wait forever," Netanyahu told his Likud faction, after a consensus of Likud Knesset members pressured him to give up on Livni ...and start formal negotiations with [right-wing factions] Israel Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union.
Kadima, however, is made up mainly of former Likudniks (including Livni herself), and several are pressuring her to join Netanyahu's coalition—especially those who stand to lose their cabinet minister positions if the party goes into opposition.
Israel-Hamas truce talks on ice
The arduous, Egyptian-mediated negotiations toward an Israeli-Hamas truce and prisoner exchange are at a standstill following the Israeli cabinet's decision to insist on having its key demand met—the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit—before acceding to Hamas's main plank, an end to the blockade on Gaza's borders. The decision marked a sharp shift in Israeli policy and was blasted publicly by the Israeli truce negotiator, Amos Gilad, who called it a slap in the face to Egypt. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded by taking Gilad off the talks. The Jerusalem Post reports:
On Sunday, the Prime Minister's Office announced that it had removed Gilad from his position following an interview he granted Ma'ariv last Wednesday in which he blasted Olmert's decision to link cease-fire negotiations with the release of Gilad Schalit.
"I don't understand what they are trying to do. Insult the Egyptians? We've already done that. This is insanity, simply insanity. Egypt remains almost our last ally here. For what? We are harming national security," he [Gilad] told the paper.
The prime minister came under a barrage of criticism following the removal, with many people claiming that the move would hurt the efforts to free the kidnapped soldier. However, on Monday Olmert dismissed the accusations, saying that Gilad had never been involved in negotiations for Schalit, but rather had focused solely on securing a cease-fire deal.
Amnesty urges arms embargo on Israel, Gaza
Following the release of a report on the three-week war in Gaza that ended in mid-January, Amnesty International is advocating a global arms embargo against both Israel and Gaza, while focusing its criticism on Israel and drawing sharp rebuttals from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reports:
"Direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects, disproportionate attacks and indiscriminate attacks are war crimes," the Amnesty report states, describing such attacks during the war in Gaza. The organization recommends that all arms sales to Israel be frozen until "there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment will be used for serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses."
The Foreign Ministry said that Amnesty International "ignores the basic fact that Hamas is a terror organization" and is recognized as such by Western powers. The ministry also reiterated Israel's position that it worked throughout the operation to avoid civilian casualties.
"The witnesses providing the descriptions appearing in the report are interested parties and under Hamas pressure, as has been documented by many independent investigations in the international media," the ministry maintained.
Noting that the United States was Israel's prime supplier of weaponry, the Amnesty report continued:
"Put simply, Israel's military intervention in the Gaza Strip has been equipped to a large extent by U.S.-supplied weapons, munitions and military equipment paid for with U.S. taxpayers' money."