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Into the Unknown for Israel as Netanyahu’s Election Gamble Fails

Into the Unknown for Israel as Netanyahu’s Election Gamble Fails(Bloomberg) — Israel’s election do-over looked set to produce a dramatic deadlock between legally embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political opponents, with no clear sign who will form the country’s next government.The lack of a decisive victory would be a setback for Israel’s longest-serving leader, who gambled on a revote to strengthen his political hand — and possibly keep himself out of jail — after a disappointing result in April. It would also thrust Israel into further political turmoil and drag out policy paralysis at a time when diplomatic and regional security challenges are mounting.Netanyahu’s nationalist Likud and former military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White are running neck and neck, the exit polls indicated. But each would need to bring in governing partners, and neither has the support of 61 of parliament’s 120 lawmakers, the polls showed. The political horsetrading will be hot and heavy in coming days as Netanyahu, who is battling corruption charges, and Gantz each try to line up the most support. There’s also pressure to yoke their parties in a national unity government, a move that might require Netanyahu to step aside — or be forced out.While the exit surveys suggest Netanyahu, popularly known as Bibi, may lose his grip on power, it’s too early to eulogize him. Netanyahu is known as “the magician” for his deft political maneuvering, and he’s likely to try to peel away some supporters of the center-left camp.“The results here are less good for him than in April; and in April he didn’t make a government,” Simon Davies, a pollster and political consultant for Number 10 Strategies, said of Netanyahu. “Whichever way you look at it — if the exit polls are right — Bibi is not in a great position. Bibi is a consummate politician, though, and you’d never put it past him to get out of any situation.”To follow our Live Blog, click hereBy 5:35 a.m., only 26% of the votes had been counted, showing Likud with a narrow lead over Blue & White. After a near-final tally is released Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin will consult with the various parties to see whom they recommend he tap to form a government.The exit polls position former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, an on-again, off-again Netanyahu ally, to become this election’s kingmaker. Liberman’s objection to military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men led to the collapse of coalition talks after the April 9 election, propelling Netanyahu to engineer a revote rather than let a rival try to put together a government.In other worrisome news for Netanyahu, the Joint List of Arab parties is poised to become parliament’s third-largest faction, increasing its representation and eating into the bloc allied with the prime minister, the exit polls showed. It hasn’t ruled out recommending to Rivlin that Gantz form the government, a Joint List spokesman said. Throughout Israel’s 71-year history, Arab parties — which reject Israel’s identity as the Jewish state — have never sat in government, though some Arab lawmakers have served in Knesset on behalf of Zionist parties.Gamble BackfiredA defiant Netanyahu told cheering supporters at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv that he would enter into negotiations with prospective coalition partners “to form a strong Zionist government” and block a coalition that would rely on the support of the Joint List, which represents Arabs who constitute about 20% of Israel’s population. The crowd chanted, “Bibi, king of Israel,” and, “We don’t want unity!”Political newcomer Gantz ran a clean-hands campaign that, while lackluster, resonated with voters desperate for an alternative to Netanyahu, who has won four successive terms since 2009. Netanyahu was unseated after his first term in 1999 by another former military chief, Ehud Barak.Gantz stopped short of declaring victory but told a cheering crowd that “tonight, no matter how it evolves, begins the journey to repair Israeli society.”“Polarization and divisions are behind us, and unity and reconciliation are before us,” he said, vowing to work to set up a national unity government. He’s repeatedly said he would not team up with Netanyahu while he faces corruption allegations.With his political survival at stake, Netanyahu appealed to his nationalist base with pledges dear to their hearts, such as vowing to annex West Bank territory claimed by Palestinians, and painting the liberal left and Israeli Arab leaders as bogeymen. That continued on voting day, when he convened what was billed as an emergency party meeting amid reports of high turnout in Arab and liberal areas of the country.“Voters of the right, have you lost your minds?” Netanyahu said on Twitter. “Go out now and vote Likud in order to stop a left-wing government with the Arab parties.”Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, said Netanyahu’s anti-Arab message helped to get out the Arab vote, which had been thin in the April election.The prime minister entered the race badly weakened by what he says are baseless graft allegations cooked up by left-wing opponents. Before coalition talks collapsed in May, he was promoting new legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution as long as he’s in office. If Netanyahu loses the election, that option will become a dead letter and he’ll become more legally vulnerable.In early October, the prime minister is scheduled to plead his case before Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit, who will then decide whether to go ahead with bribery and fraud charges. Netanyahu is accused of accepting about $ 200,000 in gifts from wealthy friends and trying to win sympathetic press coverage by shaping rules to benefit media moguls.The political uncertainty dovetails with renewed confrontations with Iran and its proxies in Syria, Lebanon and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and serious questions over the fate of the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan. Israel’s political paralysis has already held up the presentation of the plan, which is facing an uphill struggle five years after Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled.U.S. President Donald Trump has been one of Netanyahu’s most fervent allies, presenting him with political gifts such as the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and withholding funds from the Palestinians. Ahead of the April election, Trump boosted Netanyahu by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over a section of the war-won Golan Heights. That still wasn’t enough to help Netanyahu over the top this time.Exit polls show a surge in support for Liberman, whose tough stand against sweeping military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men resonated among voters on both left and right in a country where conscription is compulsory and many resent the concession. Liberman on Tuesday repeated his call for a national unity government that would include his party, Blue and White and Likud, while freezing out the ultra-Orthodox.Blue and White has said it won’t join a coalition with Netanyahu, so such a secular, broad-based coalition plan might not come to pass unless Likud pushes the prime minister out.“Assuming the numbers are correct, we are witnessing quite a dramatic outcome for the first time after a decade. There is a very high likelihood that Mr. Netanyahu will not serve as prime minister of Israel,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute research center.“It looks like Mr. Netanyahu’s path to 61 is blocked, while Mr. Gantz has greater options,” Plesner said. “We might also see change within the Likud, where a new chairman of the Likud might be able to form a new unity government with Blue and White.”Netanyahu has led Israel for a total of 13 years in which he scored unprecedented diplomatic achievements for his country, including the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, while seeing prospects for peacemaking with the Palestinians retreat.He also dismantled much of the socialist legacy of the country’s founders, with the broad economy and trade links flourishing even as a large income inequality gap makes it difficult for many to make ends meet.(Updates vote count in sixth paragraph.)\–With assistance from Yaacov Benmeleh and Michael S. Arnold.To contact the reporter on this story: Amy Teibel in Jerusalem at ateibel@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net, Amy Teibel, Benjamin HarveyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.



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Iranian tanker sought by US heads to unknown destination

Iranian tanker sought by US heads to unknown destinationAn Iranian supertanker hauling $ 130 million worth of light crude oil that the U.S. suspects to be tied to a sanctioned organization lifted its anchor and begun moving away from Gibraltar late on Sunday. The trail left by GPS data on Marinetraffic.com, a vessel tracking service, showed the Iran-flagged Adrian Darya 1, previously known as Grace 1, moving shortly before midnight. Iran’s ambassador to Britain, Hamid Baeidinejad, confirmed in a post on Twitter that the oil tanker was headed to international waters.



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Ukraine leaps into unknown after comic elected president

Ukraine leaps into unknown after comic elected presidentUkraine leapt into the unknown Monday after comedian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president on promises of change but with just a vague blueprint of what he might do as leader. Zelensky, whose previous political experience was playing the president on a TV show, crushed incumbent Petro Poroshenko in a stinging rebuke to the establishment fuelled by voters’ anger over war with separatists and social injustice. Ukrainians looked to the future with hope and anxiety after the performer took 73 percent of the vote on Sunday, according to nearly complete official results.



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No evidence backs up Trump’s claim of ‘unknown Middle Easterners' in migrant caravan

No evidence backs up Trump’s claim of ‘unknown Middle Easterners' in migrant caravanThe White House can’t provide evidence to back up President Trump's recent claim that Middle Easterners are part of the migrant caravan heading through Mexico to the U.S.



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Police: Motive unknown in Wisconsin office shooting

Police: Motive unknown in Wisconsin office shootingMIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) — Authorities said they still don't know why an employee at a Wisconsin software company went to his office with a pistol and extra ammunition and began firing on his colleagues, seriously injuring several, before he was fatally shot by police.



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Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and ‘Parts Unknown’ host, dies at 61

Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and ‘Parts Unknown’ host, dies at 61The bold and beloved chef and television host who changed the travel television landscape, took viewers on a cultural journey through food. Anthony Bourdain died by suicide Friday, he was 61.



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Former Russian Spy Critically Ill After Exposure To ‘Unknown Substance’ In UK

Former Russian Spy Critically Ill After Exposure To ‘Unknown Substance’ In UK“There is much speculation about the disturbing incident in Salisbury, where a 66-year-old man, Sergei Skripal, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious,” said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Skripal and his daughter were found on a bench at a mall in Salisbury on Sunday, according to a statement from the police in England’s Wiltshire County.



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U.S. Border Patrol agent in Texas died of head trauma, cause unknown

U.S. Border Patrol agent in Texas died of head trauma, cause unknownThe U.S. Border Patrol agent whose on-duty death in Texas in November prompted President Donald Trump to renew calls for a border wall with Mexico died of blunt-force trauma, the cause of which has not been determined, an autopsy report showed. The El Paso County Medical Examiner said in the report released on Tuesday night that agent Rogelio Martinez, 36, had fractures to his skull, upper jaw, clavicle and ribs, and bleeding in his brain.



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Away from the adoring crowds, an elusive George Weah is leading Liberia into the unknown

Away from the adoring crowds, an elusive George Weah is leading Liberia into the unknownAs the morning sun beat down on a small training stadium in Monrovia,the capital of Liberia, a steady trickle of black SUVs with tinted windows appeared in the heavy humid heat, meandering between the stands and the pitch before coming to a halt in precision formation. George Weah, the former World Footballer of the Year and president-elect, had already alighted in his bright red football kit. Then out stepped his team, the Weah All Stars, streaming onto the pitch to play their final game before the former AC Milan star's long-awaited inauguration. The invite-only match against the Armed Forces of Liberia, packed with diplomatic corp and press, was a relatively muted affair in comparison to the campaign trail, which attract the kinds of die-hard supporters who propelled the country's biggest star to power. Standing outside the gates of the ground, clinging to a Liberian flag, a ticketless Benjamin Karr, in his 20s, gave a taste of the kind of adoration and hope that has propped up the former footballer so far. “He’s going to bring healthcare, good education and infrastructure and development and we need it to come for our youth to work. He will do that because he loves the country and he loves the people,” he told The Telegraph. On the streets of the capital, Liberia is still in thrall of its superstar president-elect, voted in three weeks ago and due to finally be inaugurated on Monday in the first democratic transfer of power in the country since 1944. The party has continued since George Weah was elected president at the end of December Credit:  THIERRY GOUEGNON/ REUTERS Flag-sellers still line the streets as optimism runs high and Weah’s party’s headquarters have been a riot of colour and noise, more akin to a festival than a political base, for months. But behind the jubilation that a national icon is taking over, there are reasons to be cautious: Weah, 51, faces a tanking economy, a fraught coalition tarnished by the country’s dark history, and an increasingly sceptical press to whom he has given almost nothing away. For a man who has given his fair share of interviews since becoming the only African ever to have won the coveted Ballon d’Or football award and FIFA World Player of the Year, he has become surprisingly elusive. Journalists from around the world have arrived for the inauguration party and left with nothing – with the BBC, no less, among those to suffer abrupt cancellations from Weah's office. In rare but short comments to the gathering press pack before the game on Saturday, Weah remained tight-lipped: “I believe that with the help of the Liberian people I will be successful,” he declared, before taking his place up front. Some believe his phobia of the media could well be a fear of making statements that he finds himself unable to deliver on, leading to unwanted repercussions at home. George Weah faces trouble with his coalition, the economy and his political inexperince Credit:  THIERRY GOUEGNON/ REUTERS He is inheriting an economy that has suffered from shocks caused by a slump in global iron ore and rubber prices as well as the Ebola outbreak in 2014-15 which saw the death of over 4,000 Liberians. The Liberian dollar is depreciating rapidly in value against its US counterpart, which the country also uses, meaning life is getting increasingly expensive and the poorest are hardest hit.  And this is where Weah’s popularity is most concentrated. Supporters are convinced that he will bring jobs and reduce the cost of rice, the staple food, by half. Quite how he will bring about the desired changes is unclear. In The Telegraph’s many failed attempts to pin down Weah for an interview, one source within his camp said: “We have a strategy and we have tactics, and one of our tactics is to tell no one our strategy.” Another reason for Weah’s elusiveness could be a lack of confidence in his own leadership abilities. Unlike Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a former World Bank economist and the first elected female head of state in Africa, who defeated Weah on two previous occasions before stepping down, he is not considered an intellectual. Nor is he a gifted orator, by his own admission, and close friends were surprised when he stated his intention to run for the presidency in 2005 – feeding the theory that he has been propelled to the top by others keen to profit from his poster-boy popularity is strong in certain camps. But perhaps the most immediate issue as Weah looks to name his cabinet on Monday, is the fragile coalition agreement that is unlikely to be a happy marriage. Weah’s own Congress for Democratic Change is joined by vice president Jewel Howard-Taylor’s National Patriotic Party, founded by her ex-husband Charles Taylor, who served as president from 1997 to 2003 after leading a rebellion against the government of Samuel Doe. Taylor is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence in HMP Frankland in County Durham for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. No one has ever faced trial for the atrocities committed during Liberia’s own civil war which ended in 2003, and reconciliation is a word on the lips of many.  The Liberia People Democratic Party is the third partner in the coalition and headed by the former House of Representatives speaker, Alex Tyler, who is implicated in an ongoing bribery case involving British company Sable Mining. 15 curious things you didn't know about Liberia Whatever the outcome, Weah’s presidency is an anomaly in Liberia’s chequered history, not just because of his celebrity status. Politics in the country has traditionally been dominated by the minority Americo-Liberian elite who are descended from freed American slaves. Weah’s humble beginnings combined with his native ancestry could not be further from the norm. “He represents those who are down the drain. He’s their role model, and we have to let the people’s voice be heard,” one Monrovia resident Renee Murray told The Telegraph. Christian Grant, another one of the thousands of fanatical young Weah supporters, is also optimistic. “I think there will be a brand new Liberia and that’s our dream,” he said. “Things will improve and children will go to school. Job facility will flow. That’s what we expect our president to do and we know that he will do more than that for us.”



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Clinton Campaign, Democrats Funded Trump Dossier After Unknown Republican Stepped Away

Clinton Campaign, Democrats Funded Trump Dossier After Unknown Republican Stepped AwayPrepared by a former British spy, the 35-page document alleges the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, and includes uncorroborated, salacious allegations about Trump himself.



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