Israel's Central Elections Committee fined on Thursday Likud 30 thousand shekels ($8,500) for illegal electioneering over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's live press conference on Tuesday, where he vowed to annex parts of the West Bank if reelected. (For the latest election polls – click here)
The decision by the board's chairman, Justice Hanan Melcer, follows a petition filed by Kahol Lavan and the Democratic Union, claiming that Netanyahu's live broadcast of his "dramatic announcement" on Tuesday amounted to illegal campaigning.
Melcer ruled that the money will be split between the two parties, and that any future infraction by the Likud will result in a fine of 50 thousand shekels.
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The two parties petitioned the committee on Tuesday to bar the live broadcast of Netanyahu's statement. The committee struck down the petition after the prime minister's spokesperson, Jonatan Urich, presented a signed affidavit saying that the press conflierence wouldn't include campaigning.
Despite this, Netanyahu said at the press conference that if he is reelected he will work to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea. Netanyahu called on the public to vote for him and criticized the abilities of the leaders of Kahol Lavan, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, to handle state policy.
After Netanyahu's statement, Urich was summoned before the Central Elections Committee and held in contempt of court, after Kahol Lavan and the Democratic Union claimed he had breached his commitment. Urich apologize to the court and said that prime minister's statements had been mainly policy-based and that the political portion of his speech was not planned.
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"When we presented the affidavit, there wasn't a single political line written in the speech," Urich said. "75 percent of the speech was regarding policy, security and history – 25 percent was the prime minister's addition and was not in line with the response we filed, and for that I apologize," he said, and promised it would not happen again.
Tuesday was not the first time Netanyahu promised to start extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, or parts of it. Just two days before the previous election in April, Netanyahu said that he would move to annex the West Bank if reelected prime minister.
"A Palestinian state will endanger our existence and I withstood huge pressure over the past eight years, no prime minister has withstood such pressure. We must control our destiny," the premier said.
On Monday, Netanyahu held another televised press conference, to announce that Israel has identified additional Iranian sites used to develop Tehran's nuclear program. Benny Gantz and other opposition leaders slammed Netanyahu for using sensitive intelligence for political purposes in his address.
Three months ahead of the April election, Netanyahu held a televised address which was billed ahead of time as a "dramatic announcement." In it he said he was willing to face state’s witnesses for the investigation into the corruption cases he is involved in, ostensibly to resolve conflicting testimonies.