Israel intelligence chief who plans to succeed Netanyahu

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Israel’s intelligence minister said Thursday he plans to succeed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is embroiled in corruption scandals and a police investigation.

But Israel Katz said in an interview with The Associated Press he hopes Netanyahu will be able to continue as prime minister, and “that the clouds that are hanging over his head now will pass.”

Israeli police have questioned Netanyahu six times over a pair of corruption scandals and one of his closest former aides has become a witness against him. Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and called the accusations a witch hunt orchestrated by a hostile media.

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Police say they suspect Netanyahu of being involved in bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The scandals have yet to threaten his rule but have chipped away at his public approval ratings.

“I trust the law enforcement,” said Katz, an ally of Netanyahu. “Israel has a system and I hope that it will finish soon and that Netanyahu will have the possibility to continue to do the very important things that he is doing.”

“I’m planning to be after him, leader of the Likud (party) and prime minister of Israel,” he said. In the wide-ranging interview, Katz talked about President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Yisrael Katz arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on September 4, 2016. (Reuters)
Yisrael Katz arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on September 4, 2016. (Reuters)

Jerusalem as capital

“It’s an American decision,” he said, but quickly added, “it’s time that United States will recognize Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people since 3,000 years as the capital of the state of Israel ... and after that to move the embassy.”

Katz said Trump has to keep his promise. “I’m optimistic. I’m optimistic this will happen,” he said. US officials, however, said Thursday the president is poised to again delay a move. But they said he will likely temper the blow by declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Israel has controlled the western part of Jerusalem, home to most of Israel’s government institutions, since gaining independence in 1948. Its capture of east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 and annexation of the holy city is not internationally recognized, and the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state.

Moving the embassy risks infuriating the Palestinians and could inflame regional tensions though Katz dismissed the prospect of violence if a move takes place. “What will they do? It’s not against peace negotiations,” he said. “It’s for the historic right.”

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Katz came to New York from Washington where he said he met with Trump’s special Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, who is a key player in the administration’s effort to get an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and end decades of conflict.

Katz said Israel’s security is paramount in any peace agreement and he raised the issue of “terminology” - “if you call it an independent state or you call it autonomy.” The Palestinians already have limited autonomy and have repeatedly said any peace deal must culminate with an independent state.

At the United Nations, Katz said, Israel is campaigning to enforce the UN resolution that ended the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. It calls for Hezbollah and all other militias operating in Lebanon to be disarmed and demobilized - something that has not happened.

Katz said Israel wants the US to enforce the resolution and “take very paralyzing sanctions on Hezbollah” to keep Iran from supplying weapons and money to the military group and to warn Iran “to stop what they are doing.”

He said there should be UN sanctions “but the power will have to come from the United States and other countries.”