Netanyahu is hoping that the successful vaccine procurement and rollout will boost his support ahead of March 23 elections, Israel’s fourth vote in less than two years.
Nearly three million people, almost a third of Israel’s population, have received the two recommended doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, the world’s quickest inoculation pace per capita.
With a steady flow of data proving the Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy in stopping serious illness from Covid-19, Israel’s government has begin gradually easing restrictions.
Shopping malls and stores with street access re-opened Sunday, with certain limitations on crowd size.
But gyms, swimming pools, hotels and some cultural facilities are re-opening only to those who have been fully vaccinated and obtained the so-called green pass.
Israel’s green pass scheme is being closely-watched as a possible model for how other economies might re-open once a substantial part of the population is vaccinated, while stirring controversy over unequal access for those who opt out of the jab.
Lifting weights at gym in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv late Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Israel was moving ahead “with caution,” while imploring “everyone to get vaccinated.”
Standing at the entrance of a posh Tel Aviv gym, 90-year-old Ora Davidovicz said she “couldn’t wait” to go swimming.
“It’s been almost a year since I went to the pool,” she told AFP. “I’ve been counting the days.”
“All I have to do is put on my swim suit,” she said, before heading in.
As of Sunday, nearly 3.2 million Israelis are eligible for the green pass, according to the health ministry.
That includes 2.5 million people who had their second shot more than a week ago as well as nearly 700,000 people who have recovered from Covid-19.
At the family-owned Katalina shoe store in central Tel Aviv, Mordechai Nazarian said his business had been closed for eight of the last 12 months, with “little openings here and there” as Israel lifted restrictions between lockdowns.
“We hope this one is the right one,” he told AFP.
Israel, which has one of the world’s most sophisticated medical data systems, secured a substantial stock of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by paying above market price and by striking a data-sharing deal with the drug giant.
Netanyahu is hoping that the successful vaccine procurement and rollout will boost his support ahead of March 23 elections, Israel’s fourth vote in less than two years.
Israel’s parliament speaker and Netanyahu loyalist Yariv Levin insisted the court must “postpone” the trial’s upcoming phase.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in court briefly Monday, reaffirming his innocence, as his corruption trial enters an intensified phase weeks before a fourth national election inside two years.
Netanyahu, the first Israeli premier to be indicted in office, was formally charged last year over allegations that he accepted improper gifts and sought to trade regulatory favour with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.
The combative 71-year-old prime minister, who has blasted the charges as “fabricated and ludicrous”, spent just 20 minutes inside the courtroom at Monday’s hearing.
He had been compelled to appear to deliver a formal response to the allegations.
Shortly after lead judge Rivka Feldman Friedman opened the hearing by reading the cases against him, Netanyahu said that he stood by his innocence as previously expressed in writing.
“I confirm the written answer submitted in my name,” Israel’s longest-serving premier said, shortly before exiting the courtroom and rejoining his motorcade.
Monday marks the last pre-trial hearing with upcoming sessions focused on testimony and evidence.
The hearing was continuing, with the premier’s lawyers Boaz Ben Zur accusing Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit — a Netanyahu appointee — of mishandling the case.
Netanyahu has repeatedly charged that he is the victim of a witch-hunt, with the allegations against him trumped-up.
The trial schedule may force the prime minister to appear in court multiple times a week, as he campaigns ahead of Israel’s fourth election in less than two years to be held on March 23.
‘Election meddling’? When Netanyahu last appeared in court nine months ago, he was fresh off a political victory, forming a coalition government with election rival Benny Gantz, following three inconclusive national polls.
But that fraught coalition proved short-lived and collapsed in December, with Gantz branding Netanyahu as serially dishonest.
It is unclear whether the cloud of the trial will hurt the premier’s re-election chances in March.
Israel’s parliament speaker and Netanyahu loyalist Yariv Levin insisted the court must “postpone” the trial’s upcoming phase.
Proceeding now “will be lending a hand to blatant meddling in the elections”, he told the right-wing Israel Hayom newspaper on Sunday.
Several recent polls show that Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud remains the strongest party by a comfortable margin, but it is far from certain that it will be able to form a 61-seat majority with its conservative and religious allies.
For the first time in his political career, Netanyahu is also facing a challenge from a prominent Likud defector: Gideon Saar, who broke with the prime minister to form his own New Hope party.
4,000, 2,000, 1,000 The charges against Netanyahu are divided into three separate cases.
The most serious — known as Case 4,000, in which the premier is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust — centres on the allegation that he negotiated with Shaul Elovitch of telecommunications giant Bezeq to secure positive coverage on his Walla! news site in exchange for policies benefiting Bezeq.
Elovitch and his wife were also indicted.
Case 2,000 concerns allegations Netanyahu sought a deal with the owner of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that would have seen it give him more favourable coverage.
Case 1,000 involves allegations Netanyahu and his family received gifts, including luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery estimated to be worth more than 700,000 shekels ($213,000), from wealthy individuals, in exchange for financial or personal favours.
The prime minister denies wrongdoing.
He would be forced to resign if convicted with all appeals exhausted, but that process is likely to take several years.
Weekly protests against him have rumbled on for months, with some demonstrators focusing on the graft allegations.
Dozens of protesters met Netanyahu’s motorcade at the court Monday, some carrying placards branded with the words “Crime Minister” and others taunting him as he entered and exited the court.
“We are here to swipe (away) all the dirt and all the corruption that he has created,” protester Claudia Manoquian told AFP.
Insecurity, banditry and kidnapping are threats to human race… We will continue to pray for government because there is lack of security everywhere, from Adamawa to Lagos, Sokoto to Enugu. The highways are not safe.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to seek help from Israel, United States and other countries to sustain the fight against insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and other crimes in the country.
Speaking at the inauguration of Belusochukwu Enwere as the new national chairman of its Youth Wing (YOWICAN), yesterday in Abuja, CAN President, Rev Dr. Samson Ayokunle noted that the association is seriously worried about the deteriorating security situation in the country, adding that the present administration seems to be overwhelmed by the problem.
Ayokunle, represented by the Assistant General Secretary of CAN, Apostle Biodun Sanyaolu, observed that government’s primary responsibility is to protect lives and property.
He said: “It is very obvious that Nigeria needs assistance. I’m not President Muhammadu Buhari, but I’m sure that he will also be worried. He should be willing to seek help from anywhere, as insecurity has reached a worrying point, where nobody is safe. We need help. Let me use the opportunity to tell the President to reach out to Israel, United States and other countries that could be of help to Nigeria…
“We are seriously worried in CAN because we are affected by the security challenges in Nigeria. Insecurity, banditry and kidnapping are threats to human race… We will continue to pray for government because there is lack of security everywhere, from Adamawa to Lagos, Sokoto to Enugu. The highways are not safe. Even when you’re in your house, you’re not safe…”
Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh praised the ICC ruling as “a victory for justice and humanity,
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday angrily rejected an International Criminal Court’s ruling that paves the way for war crimes probe into the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, condemning it as “pure anti-Semitism”.
“As prime minister of Israel, I can assure you this: we will fight this perversion of justice with all our might,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“This is pure anti-Semitism.”
On Friday, the ICC ruled that it has jurisdiction over the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, paving the way for the tribunal to open a war crimes investigation.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had asked the court for its legal opinion on whether its reach extended to areas occupied by Israel, after announcing in December 2019 that she wanted to start a full probe.
The ICC said its judges had “decided, by the majority, that the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine… extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem”.
Palestine is a state party to the court, having joined in 2015, but Israel is not a member.
Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed mostly Arab east Jerusalem.
Today they are home to at least five million Palestinians defined by the United Nations as living under Israeli occupation. The Gaza Strip is blockade by Israel and ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.
Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh praised the ICC ruling as “a victory for justice and humanity, for the values of truth, fairness and freedom, and for the blood of the victims and their families”.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza and has fought three wars against Israel, said: “the most important step… is to bring the Zionist criminals of war before international courts and hold them responsible”.
But Netanyahu cried foul against any bid by the ICC to investigate “fake war crimes”.
“The court, established to prevent atrocities like the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people, is now targeting the one state of the Jewish people,” he said.
“First, it outrageously claims that when Jews live in our homeland, this is a war crime.
“Second, it claims that when democratic Israel defends itself against terrorists who murder our children and rocket our cities, we are committing another war crime,” he added.
He said the ICC should be investigating “brutal dictatorships like Iran and Syria who commit horrific atrocities almost daily”.
The US State Department said it has “serious concerns” about the ICC ruling, adding that Israel should not be bound by the court as it was not a member.
The embassy move in May the following year was celebrated in Israel but roundly criticised elsewhere.
Serbia’s foreign minister has expressed dismay over Israel’s decision to recognise Kosovo, a former Serbian province whose statehood Belgrade denies, saying officials were “not happy” with the development.
The reaction came a day after Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties under a deal brokered by the United States, marking a victory for Pristina’s efforts to gain full global recognition of the independence it declared in 2008 following a war with Serbia in the 1990s.
“We have invested serious efforts in our relations with Israel in recent years and we are not happy with this decision,” Serbian foreign minister Nikola Selakovic told public broadcaster RTS on Tuesday.
Israel’s move will “undoubtedly influence relations between Serbia and Israel,” he said.
Most Western countries have recognised Kosovo, but its rejection by Serbia’s key allies Russia and China has seen it locked out of the United Nations.
Until Monday, Israel was another key holdout on Belgrade’s side.
Since establishing ties in 1991, the countries have maintained good relations with growing Israeli investment in the small Balkan state.
Turkey weighs in on embassy plan In exchange for Israel’s recognition, Kosovo recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, becoming the first Muslim-majority territory to do so.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Monday confirmed he had approved Kosovo’s “formal request to open an embassy” in the city.
To date, only the US and Guatemala have opened embassies in Jerusalem, while Serbia, Malawi and Honduras have previously pledged to do the same.
Kosovo’s embassy plans drew criticism from Turkey, with Ankara saying the proposed move violated UN resolutions and international law.
“It is clear that any step towards this direction will not serve the Palestinian cause and undermine the vision of a two-state solution,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said in a written statement on Monday.
US-brokered diplomatic deals
Jerusalem remains at the heart of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) insisting that East Jerusalem – illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 – should serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.
There is a global consensus against recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital until the Palestinian conflict is resolved.
In 2017, Trump shocked observers by saying the US would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognise the latter as the capital of Israel.
The incoming administration of President Joe Biden has said it will keep the US embassy in Israel in Jerusalem, and continue to recognise the city as Israel’s capital.
Under Trump, the US also brokered a number of deals to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan..
Those agreements, known collectively as the Abraham Accords, were condemned by many majority-Muslim countries.
But unlike Kosovo, the Arab parties to the Abraham Accords have all maintained that their diplomatic missions in Israel will be in Tel Aviv.
Israel routinely carries out raids in Syria, mostly against targets affiliated with Iran in what it says is a bid to prevent its arch-foe from securing a further foothold along its borders.
Israeli night raids targeting arms depots and military positions in eastern Syria have killed at least seven Syrian soldiers and 16 allied fighters, in the deadliest raids since 2018, a war monitor said Wednesday.
The Israeli air force carried out more than 18 attacks against multiple targets in an area stretching from the eastern town of Deir Az Zor to the al-Bukamal desert at the Syrian-Iraqi border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The raids killed seven Syrian soldiers and 16 non-Syrian militia fighters whose nationalities were not immediately known, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Paramilitaries belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and the Fatimid Brigade, which is made up of pro-Iranian Afghan fighters, operate in the region, the Observatory said.
The raids also wounded 28 troops and militiamen, some of them critically.
A senior US intelligence official with knowledge of the attack told The Associated Press that the raids were carried out with intelligence provided by the United States and targeted a series of warehouses in Syria that were being used as a part of the pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons.
The official said the warehouses also served as a pipeline for components that supports Iran’s nuclear program.
The Israeli military did not immediately comment.
The Syrian state news agency SANA reported the attacks but without giving further details.
“At 1:10am [23:10 GMT], the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial assault on the town of Deir Ezzor and the Al Bukamal region,” SANA said, citing a military source.
“The results of the aggression are currently being verified,” it added.
Local news source DeirEzzor24 said a number of warehouses and sites belonging to pro-Iranian militias were hit in the area.
“They burnt Iranian positions in Deir Ezzor,” said Omar Abu Laila, a Europe-based activist from Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province who runs an activist collective that reports on news in the border area.
Routine raids The attacks were the second wave of Israeli raids in Syria in less than a week.
The last air raids on January 7 were aimed at positions in southern Syria and south of the capital Damascus, killing three pro-Iran fighters.
According to Israeli media, the area that came under fire has reportedly been struck by Israel on more than one occasion in recent years as it houses a number of bases used by Iranian-backed groups.
The area is also key to a land corridor for Tehran that links Iran across Iraq and Syria through Lebanon, which Iran uses to smuggle in weapons and rockets, mainly to the Hezbollah armed group.
Iran has members of its own military as well as fighters from a variety of nationalities fighting with militias it supports deployed across Syria.
Israel hit about 50 targets in Syria in 2020, according to an annual report released in late December by the Israeli military.
The Israeli army has carried out hundreds of air and missile raids on Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011, singling out Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as government troops.
Netanyahu was the first Israeli to receive a Covid-19 jab on December 19, ahead of the launch last week of a nationwide innoculation programme.
Israel was set Sunday to begin its third coronavirus lockdown, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced optimism that a “world record” vaccination drive will restore a degree of normality within weeks.
After a sharp rebound in detected infections, Netanyahu’s government announced three days ago that it would re-impose the strict measures that had previously helped limit transmission.
From 5:00pm (1500 GMT) on Sunday, most people will be forced to stay within 1,000 metres of their home.
There are a range of exceptions, including seeking medical care, attending legal proceedings or exercising.
A key difference in Israel’s third lockdown compared to previous versions relates to schools, with more students able to attend classes.
Instead of near total closures, Israel is keeping schools open for children under six, as well as grades one to four and teenagers finishing secondary school in grades 11 and 12.
Israel’s National Council for the Child criticised the decision to close grades five through 10.
“The decision to ignore this age bracket means the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of children, only because in theory they can be left at home alone while (their parents) go to work,” NCC head Vered Windman was quoted as saying by the Ma’ariv newspaper.
“But this is precisely the age group that is at a higher risk of developing emotional difficulties, fears and isolation.”
– ‘World record’ –Speaking late Saturday following Shabbat, Netanyahu said Israel was hoping to vaccinate a quarter of its population, or roughly 2.25 million people, against coronavirus within a month.
He said he had spoken with the heads of the companies making vaccines who had voiced confidence that the requisite number of doses could be provided.
Israel’s vaccination targets are of “such a magnitude (they amount to) a world record” pace, the prime minister said.
The premier has political incentives to push an accelerated vaccination campaign.
The fraught coalition government that he formed in May with his former election rival and current defence minister, Benny Gantz, collapsed last week, triggering elections in March — Israel’s fourth vote in two years.
Netanyahu’s election campaign could be hindered by the start of a more intensified phase of his long-awaited corruption trial and the departure of his staunch ally US President Donald Trump from the White House.
Political analysts have said that Netanyahu is hoping a rapid vaccination drive will put Israel’s pandemic-wracked economy on a path to recovery before election day.
The North African country is the third Arab nation this year to normalise ties with the Jewish state under US-brokered deals, while Sudan has pledged to follow suit.
Prime gMinister Benjamin Netanyahu and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI held a telephone conversation during which the Israeli premier invited the king for a visit, Netanyahu’s office said Friday.
The phone call comes three days after an Israeli delegation signed a US-sponsored normalisation agreement with Morocco in Rabat.
“The leaders congratulated each other over the renewal of ties between the countries, the signing of the joint statement with the US, and the agreements between the two countries,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
“In addition, the processes and mechanisms to implement the agreements were determined,” it added.
During the “warm and friendly” conversation, Netanyahu invited Mohammed VI to visit Israel, the statement from the prime minister’s office added.
A statement from Morocco’s royal cabinet confirmed Friday’s phone conversation but did not mention Netanyahu’s invitation.
King Mohammed VI, the statement said, “recalled the strong and special links between the Jewish community of Moroccan origin and the Moroccan monarchy”.
He also “restated the coherent, steadfast and unchanged position of the kingdom of Morocco on the Palestinian issue,” it said.
The Moroccan king also welcome the “reactivation of mechanisms of cooperation” with Israel, it added.
Four bilateral deals were signed Tuesday between Israel and Morocco, centring on direct air links, water management, connecting financial systems and a visa waiver arrangement for diplomats.
Israel and Morocco are also due to reopen diplomatic offices.
Morocco closed its liaison office in Tel Aviv in 2000, at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Morocco has North Africa’s largest Jewish community of about 3,000 people, and Israel is home to 700,000 Jews of Moroccan origin.
Morocco follows the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in what the Trump administration calls the Abraham Accords.
An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has condemned Morocco’s normalisation of ties with the Islamic republic’s arch foe Israel, calling it a “betrayal of Islam”.
The kingdom on Thursday became the fourth Arab state this year to normalise relations with Israel, in a deal announced by outgoing US President Donald Trump.
In return, Washington fulfilled a decades-old goal of Rabat by recognising its sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara.
“The deal between the triangle of America, Morocco and the Zionist regime was done in exchange for Morocco’s betrayal of Islam (and) the Palestinian cause, selling Muslims’ honour to international Zionism,” foreign policy adviser Ali Akbar Velayati said on his official website Friday.
He added that the normalisation of ties with Israel was “not a new thing” as the kingdom had maintained a liaison office in Israel in the past.
Blasting all four, Velayati said they will “witness popular uprisings in a not so distant future” as their “dependent, submissive and authoritarian” leaders are unmasked.
US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara has infuriated the pro-independence Polisario Front, which controls about a fifth of the vast region.
Rabat, which has close ties with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2018 accusing it of backing the Polisario, a charge Iran denied.
The move was condemned by the international community, which does not recognise the land grab, while Syria called it a “blatant attack” on its sovereignty.
The United States will label the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which seeks to isolate Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, as “anti-Semitic”, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, calling the movement “a cancer”.
Washington “will regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic … We want to stand with all other nations that recognise the BDS movement for the cancer that it is,” Pompeo said in a joint appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday.
The BDS campaign is a non-violent people-led movement that aims to economically pressure Israel into providing equal rights and a right of return to Palestinians.
Modelled on the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, it has inspired people from around the world to boycott businesses and academic and cultural institutions that have either a direct or indirect affiliation with Israel.
This includes companies associated with illegal Jewish settlements, those that provide services to the occupation, companies exploiting natural resources from Palestinian land and those that use Palestinians as cheap labour.
The UN human rights office has identified more than 200 companies linked directly or indirectly to illegal settlements, mostly from Israel and the US but also Germany and the Netherlands.
They include banking and tourism companies, as well as construction and technology firms.
Pompeo says will visit Golan Heights Pompeo, who is in Israel as part of his last Middle East tour as US secretary of state, also said he would visit the Golan Heights, a territory Israel captured from Syria and occupied in the 1967 war.
“Today I’ll have the chance to visit the Golan Heights,” he said in Jerusalem on Thursday – a statement that marked a break from previous US administrations’ policy.
“The simple recognition of this as part of Israel, too, was a decision President Trump made [in 2019] that is historically important and simply a recognition of reality,” he said.
In March last year, Trump recognised the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights when he signed a decree alongside Netanyahu at the White House.
Pompeo is also expected to become the first US secretary of state ever to visit the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank on Thursday.
The expected visit to the Psagot winery would be another dramatic break by the Trump administration with the international community – which sees such settlement enterprises as illegal – and the traditional US line on the Middle East conflict.
Israel to send delegates to Bahrain on Sunday to formalise nascent ties following US-brokered normalisation deal.
Israel and Bahrain will officially establish diplomatic relations on Sunday at a ceremony in Manama, an Israeli official said, after the two states reached a US-brokered normalisation deal last month.
A visiting delegation from Israel and officials in Bahrain will sign a “joint communique (that) is the establishment of full diplomatic relations,” an Israel official in Manama told reporters.
Once the text is signed at a ceremony scheduled for Sunday evening, Israel and Bahrain will be free to open embassies in each other’s countries, the official said.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain became the third and fourth Arab states to agree to normalise ties with Israel, following Egypt’s peace deal with Israel in 1979 and a 1994 pact with Jordan.
Sunday’s meeting follows a September 15 ceremony at the White House when Israel, the UAE and Bahrain inked the so-called “Abraham Accords” brokered by President Donald Trump’s administration.
The delegation, led by Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, will be accompanied by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, whose office said the mission seeks “expanded economic cooperation” among Israel, Bahrain and UAE.
In addition to the joint communique establishing diplomatic ties, Israel and Bahrain are expected to sign “six to eight” MoUs, including on economic cooperation, the Israeli official said.
The official said he could not outline the substance of all the agreements scheduled for signature on Sunday, but security cooperation is likely to feature prominently in bilateral talks.
Earlier this month, Israel’s Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen held talks in Bahrain with top security and intelligence officials on “topics of mutual interest,” according to the Bahrain News Agency.
Mnuchin and another senior Trump aide, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, will continue on Monday to the UAE, whose accord with Israel has opened up the possibilities of bilateral commerce. On Tuesday, the US dignitaries will accompany the UAE’s first delegation to Israel.
Israel and the UAE have reached a bilateral agreement that will give incentives and protection to investors who make investments in each other’s countries, both finance ministries said on Sunday.
The UAE finance ministry said the agreement – which still needs to be signed by both finance ministers – would protect investments from non-commercial risks such as “nationalisation, confiscation, judicial seizures, freezing assets, establishing licensed investments, and transferring profits and revenues in convertible currencies”.
Last week, the UAE and Israel reached a preliminary agreement on a separate deal that would avoid double taxation.
The Palestinian leadership has condemned the Gulf normalisation agreements with Israel as “a stab in the back” for Palestinian aspirations to establish an independent state of their own.
The deals mark a distinct shift in a decades-old status quo where Arab countries have tried to maintain unity against Israel over its treatment of the stateless Palestinians.
Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that more states in the Middle East want ties with Israel as priorities have shifted, arguing that countries now value lucrative trade opportunities above the Palestinian conflict.
But key player Saudi Arabia has said it will not follow its allies Bahrain and the UAE in establishing diplomatic relations without a resolution to the Palestinian issue.
Israel’s parliament on Thursday ratified the normalisation agreement with the UAE.
A separate vote on the Bahrain pact is expected once the details are finalised
Mahmoud Abbas calls for international conference early next year to ‘launch a genuine peace process’.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has criticised the recent decision of two Arab countries to normalise diplomatic relations with Israel as a “violation” of a “just and lasting solution under international law”.
In an address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Friday, Abbas also called for an international conference early next year to “launch a genuine peace process” in the wake of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain’s recognition of Israel.
“The conference should have full authority to launch a genuine peace process based on international law,” Abbas told the virtual UNGA in a recorded video address from his headquarters in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
“It should aim to end the occupation and grant the Palestinian people their freedom and independence in their own state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and settle final-status issues, notably the refugee question,” he said.
The Palestinians have rejected US President Donald Trump’s proposal to end the conflict, which they say overwhelmingly favours Israel, and have officially cut off contact with the United States and Israel. Arguing that Washington is no longer an honest broker, they have called for a multilateral peace process based on UN resolutions and past agreements.
They have also rejected the agreements signed by the UAE and Bahrain on September 15 to normalise ties with Israel, viewing it as a betrayal of the long-standing Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should only come in exchange for territorial concessions.
Since the mid-90s, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has sought an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war.
There have been no substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected more than 10 years, and the two sides are fiercely divided over the core issues of the conflict.
Instead, Netanyahu has focused on building ties with Arab, African and Asian countries that have long supported the Palestinian cause. In Israel, the agreement with the UAE, an oil-rich country with considerable regional influence, is seen as an historic breakthrough that could transform the Middle East.
Israel put on hold its plans to annex up to a third of the West Bank following the deal with the UAE, while saying it still plans to eventually go through with them. The UAE said the agreement removed an immediate threat to the two-state solution and gave the region a window of opportunity.
The Palestinians insist the conflict will not be resolved until they realise their aspirations for independence.
“There can be no peace, no security, no stability, no coexistence in our region without an end to the occupation,” Abbas said.
Qatar’s leader says Israel continues to carry out ‘flagrant violation of international resolutions’.
Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has questioned the credibility of the international community as it “stands by, unable to take any effective action to confront Israeli intransigence and its continued occupation of Palestinian and Arab land”.
In his video speech at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the emir questioned the role of countries and organisations for failing to uphold the resolutions against the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and its expansion of settlement building.
He accused Israel of carrying out “flagrant violation of international resolutions and the two-state solution as agreed upon by the international community”.
“The international community stands by, unable to take any effective action to confront Israeli intransigence, its continued occupation of Palestinian and Arab land, the imposition of a stifling siege on the Gaza Strip, [and] the expanding settlement policy, among others,” he said.
“Peace can only be achieved when Israel fully commits to the international terms of reference and resolutions that are accepted by the Arab countries and upon which the Arab Peace Initiative is based.”
The Arab Peace Initiative was a plan put forth by Saudi Arabia in 2002 that called for normalising relations with Israel in exchange for an end to its occupation of Palestinian territories, the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as a just solution for Palestinian refugees.
Qatar’s ruler said Israel is trying to “circumvent these parameters” and any arrangements that do not take these factors into account “will not achieve peace”.
“Failure to find a just solution to the Palestinian cause, Israel’s continued settlements, and forcing a reality on the ground without being deterred, this is what raises the biggest question about the credibility of the international community and its institutions,” the emir added.
He called upon the international community, particularly the UN Security Council, to assume its legal responsibilities and “compel Israel to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip, and to put the peace process back on track through credible negotiations based on international resolutions and not on force”.
Speaking from outside the UN headquarters in New York, Noble Reporters Media knows that it was interesting to see many Arab states within the Arab League remain consistent in their views on Israel and Palestine – which revolves around the international consensus that there should be a two-state solution.
On September 15, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements to normalise relations with Israel in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran.
The ceremony was hosted by US President Donald Trump at the White House, capping a dramatic month when the countries agreed to normalise ties without a resolution of Israel’s decades-old conflict with the Palestinians, who have condemned the agreements
Israeli planes pound Gaza after rockets fired from besieged strip as Israel, UAE, Bahrain signed normalisation deals.
The Israeli military has carried out a series of air raids on the besieged Gaza Strip overnight on Wednesday, causing damage to property, Palestinian media reported.
According to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, Israeli warplanes fired missiles at a site in Beit Lahiya in the northern strip. They also targeted areas in Deir al-Balah, a city in central Gaza, as well as parts of Khan Younis in southern Gaza. No casualties were reported.
Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza Strip, on Wednesday warned Israel it “will pay the price for any aggression against our people or resistance sites and the response will be direct”.
“We will increase and expand our response to the extent that the occupation persists in its aggression,” it said in a statement.
Without naming specific factions, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group in Gaza said in response to the Israeli air raids, the “resistance” fired rocket salvoes at Israel.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Israeli army in a statement said it carried out 10 air strikes against positions belonging to Hamas in response to rockets being fired into Israel.
Israel, UAE and Bahrain sign US-brokered normalisation deals • On Tuesday evening, at least two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, one of which was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, while the other struck the coastal Israeli city of Ashdod, wounding two people.
The rockets were fired at the same time as Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements at the White House in Washington to establish diplomatic relations.
Palestinians, who seek an independent state that includes the illegally occupied West Bank and Gaza, view the US-brokered deals as a betrayal of their cause.
The latest rocket fire from Gaza came after a month of armed groups in the strip stepping up incendiary balloon attacks against Israel, which responded with nighttime air raids against Hamas.
Since 2008, Israel has waged three wars on the Gaza Strip. Israel has long said it holds Hamas responsible for all violence from Gaza, while Hamas says Israel is responsible for the state of anger and pressure inflicted on Gaza’s residents due to the continued siege.
Anti-normalisation rallies The normalisation moves by the UAE and Bahrain with Israel prompted demonstrations in the Palestinian territories on Tuesday.
Clutching Palestinian flags and wearing blue face masks for protection against the coronavirus, demonstrators rallied in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron, and in Gaza.
Hundreds also took part in a demonstration in Ramallah, home of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas warned that the deals would “not achieve peace in the region” until the US and Israel acknowledged his people’s right to a state.
“Peace, security and stability will not be achieved in the region until the Israeli occupation ends,” he said.
The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from already illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state in exchange for establishing ties with it.
Abbas warned that “attempts to bypass the Palestinian people and its leadership, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization, will have dangerous consequences”.
In Gaza, protesters trampled on and set fire to placards bearing images of the leaders of Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.
Since 2007, Gaza has been crippled by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has deprived its roughly two million people of vital commodities including food, fuel and medicine.
The Gaza Strip has a population of two million, more than half of whom live in poverty, according to the World Bank.
Hamas and Israel last month reached a Qatari-mediated ceasefire deal and revived a fragile 18-month truce. The group has joined the PA in condemning the UAE and Bahraini accords as a “betrayal” of their cause.
‘Arab consensus’ long held Arab states will normalise ties only if Israel meets a number of conditions for Palestinians.
Palestinians in Gaza burned pictures of Israeli, American, Bahraini, and United Arab Emirates leaders on Saturday in protest against the two Gulf countries’ moves to normalise ties with Israel.
Bahrain on Friday joined the UAE in agreeing to normalise relations with Israel, a move forged partly through shared fears of Iran but one that could leave the Palestinians further isolated.
The Gaza protest, attended by a few dozen people, was organised by the ruling group Hamas.
“We have to fight the virus of normalisation and block all its paths before it succeeds to prevent it from spreading,” said Hamas official Maher al-Holy.
Demonstrators set fire to images of US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
While the United States, Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain hail the diplomatic moves as a significant step towards peace and stability in the Middle East, the Palestinians see it as a betrayal.
They fear a weakening of a long-standing pan-Arab position that calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.
Despite a deep political rift going back to 2007, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority (PA) has a limited rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and his Hamas rivals have been united against the Gulf states’ move.
‘Military alliance’ In the West Bank, Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Saeb Erekat said the diplomatic push will not achieve peace if the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not resolved first.
“The Bahraini, Israeli, American agreement to normalise relations is now part of a bigger package in the region. It isn’t about peace, it is not about relations between countries. We are witnessing an alliance, a military alliance being created in the region,” Erekat said.
Iran, meanwhile, said on Saturday that Bahrain’s move meant it would be complicit in Israeli policies that threatened regional security, Iranian state television reported. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Bahrain would face “harsh revenge” from its own people and the Palestinians over the Gulf state’s move.
Turkey also condemned the deal saying it undermined the Palestinian cause and would “further embolden Israel to continue its illegal practices … and attempts to make the occupation of Palestinian territories permanent”.
Bahrainis opposed to their government’s agreement to establish diplomatic relations with Israel vented their frustration on social media on Saturday, underlining the complexities of the Gulf’s rapprochement with Israel.
The hashtags #Bahrainis_against_normalisation and #NormalizationIsBetrayal were trending on Twitter after Trump announced the deal late on Friday.
Bahrain, a Sunni-ruled kingdom with a large Shia population, shares with Israel a deep enmity towards Iran, and relies on the United States, which stations its Fifth Fleet on the tiny but strategic archipelago.
‘Black day’ Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani said the deal represented a historic step towards achieving peace in the Middle East, but the PA and the Hamas condemned it as “another stab in the back” by an Arab government.
Unlike the UAE, opposition to normalisation runs deep in Bahrain, which has a history of open politics even if it has been suppressed over the past 10 years.
Former MP Ali Alaswad wrote it was “a black day in the history of Bahrain”.
The kingdom – a small archipelago located between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran – has been hit by waves of unrest since 2011, when security forces crushed Shia-led protests demanding reforms.
Opposition group Al-Wefaq criticised the normalisation deal.
“The agreement between the despotic regime in Bahrain and the Zionist occupation government is a total betrayal of Islam and Arabism and a departure from the Islamic, Arab and national consensus,” it said on Twitter.
Other anti-normalisation groups, based in Bahrain and abroad, expressed their anger in statements sent to media calling the deal “shameful”.
‘Deteriorating unity’ Sari Nusseibeh, a former top PLO official, said the Palestinian leadership was “very upset”.
“But I don’t think they are more upset than in the past about the Arab world in general. Palestinians have always complained that the Arab world has not stood behind them as they should have,” said Nusseibeh.
The Palestinian cause had already become less central as the region has been rocked by the Arab Spring upheavals, the Syria war, and the bloody onslaught by the armed group ISIL (ISIS).
At the same time, hostility has deepened between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“There have been all kinds of problems in the Arab world – disputes, revolutions, civil wars, tensions between different Arab countries,” said Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib. “Palestinians are now paying the price for the deterioration in Arab unity.”
The PA maintains the validity of the so-called “Arab consensus” and rejects the notion that it is isolated. That consensus has long held that Arab states will only normalise ties if Israel meets a number of conditions.
One demand is for Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Another is to agree to a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a third to find a just solution for the millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
“We hope that the Arab countries will remain committed to this consensus,” said Jibril Rajoub, a senior Palestinian official, adding straying from it “will lead to nothing”.
“Those who are violating the Arab consensus … will be isolated” in the long term, he warned.
Choosing sides One Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, shared the view that at the moment “the Palestinians don’t really have a way out”.
“They are also stuck because of those who want to support their cause, whether it is Turkey or Iran.”
Iran already has relations with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and slightly cooler ties with the PA.
The Palestinian cause has also received backing from Turkey, a regional power increasingly at odds with Israel and that militarily backs a rival faction in the Libya war to the UAE and Egypt.
“Turkey does have an ambition to lead this cause and is pointing to the hypocrisy of both Arab states and the West for not emphasising this issue enough,” said Gallia Lindenstrauss of Israel’s National Institute for Security Research.
Rajoub insisted: “We are not ignoring any country. Turkey is a regional superpower, it’s an Islamic country and we are on good terms. We’ll keep cooperating with everybody.”
But Khatib argued the Palestinians should keep their distance. “It’s not wise for the Palestinians to be caught within the regional tensions and competition between regional superpowers,” he said.
“If you side with Iran, you’ll lose Saudi Arabia. If you side with Turkey, you’ll lose someone else. It’s better for the Palestinians to keep a safe distance from these different regional superpowers.”
Arab foreign ministers will attend a virtual session against the backdrop of UAE normalising relations with Israel.
An Arab League meeting on Wednesday will focus on the Palestinian cause after the Israel-UAE “normalisation” deal, with analysts suggesting division rather than usual unity on the issue will dominate the discussion.
The run-up to the virtual session has already left a sour taste for the Palestinian leadership.
On Sunday, the Palestinian Authority (PA) accused the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain of blocking a draft resolution that called on Arab states to adhere to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative plan before normalising ties with Israel.
The Arab Initiative put forth by Saudi Arabia calls for establishing ties with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal to the 1967 borders, a just solution for Palestinian refugees, and occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
A senior member of the PA’s governing Fatah faction, Hussein Hamayel, said Bahrain’s opposition to the draft resolution “places it on the side of the enemies of the Arabs and Muslims”.
However on Tuesday, in a bid to soften its tone, the official spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas said the leader “will not accept insulting the national symbols of Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates”.
In a statement carried by the official news agency Wafa, Nabil Abu Rudeinah said the state of Palestine is keen on “maintaining brotherly relations with all Arab countries on the basis of mutual respect, with the necessity of the latter adhering to the Arab Peace Initiative”.
‘Betraying the cause’ Announced by US President Donald Trump on August 13, the UAE-Israeli normalisation agreement caught the PA by surprise, which then accused the UAE of betraying the Palestinian cause – long seen as a pan-Arab issue.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said more Arab countries will soon follow in the UAE’s steps, and Bahrain and Oman have both voiced support.
“The Palestinian cause has traditionally been a unifying theme for the Arab League, which this year appears to be more a cause for division, rendering the Arab League ever more irrelevant in managing the affairs of the Arab world,” said Andreas King, assistant professor of security studies at King’s College London.
The motion to be put forth by the Palestinian leadership will likely not be endorsed by a number of Gulf states, he added.
“While there might not be an immediate move by any other Arab state to normalise ties with Israel formally, there will be more exchanges and engagement with Israel, which is no longer tied to the Palestinian cause,” King told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media.
“For the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been relegated to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, which should not be an obstacle to a warming of bilateral ties with Israel.”
Marwa Fatafta, a policy member with the Palestinian policy network Al-Shabaka, agreed, saying geopolitical interests “trump the rights of Palestinians”.
“Many Gulf states have keen interest in formalising ties with Israel and the UAE-Israel was the ice-breaker,” she said. “Normalisation between Israel and Gulf states has already been in the making, and now it is just a matter of timing.
“What would probably come out from the Arab League is the usual recycled lip-service to the Palestinians,” she added.
The Arab League, in contrast to Abbas’s granted request to hold an emergency session in the aftermath of the US announcing Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan, refused to do the same once news of the UAE-Israel agreement was announced.
This led to Saeb Erekat, the secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s Executive Committee, to call on Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul-Gheit to condemn the UAE’s normalisation deal with Israel – or step down.
“If he is not able to issue a statement condemning the UAE-Israeli normalisation, he should resign,” Erekat told PalestineTV.
And while regional power Saudi Arabia has declared it will not normalise relations with Israel without securing Palestinian interests, Riyadh fell short of condemning the UAE’s decision.
“Saudi Arabia will verbally endorse the Palestinian cause, the issue of Jerusalem, and the Arab Peace Initiative,” King said. “However, it remains to be seen what Riyadh does in terms of action on the matter.”
The oil-rich kingdom could choose the opportunity to shore up support for the Arab Peace Initiative, King continued, while simultaneously not taking a solid stance against normalisation, thereby leaving the door open for individual Arab states to deal with Israel as they see fit.
“With the UAE as a leading Arab state already sacrificing the Palestinian cause to satisfy Emirati national interests with Israel, it will be hard to build firm support for the Arab Peace Initiative in this multilateral setting,” he said.
Fatafta said Saudi Arabia will stick to the Arab Peace Initiative plan, more for the sake of convenience, while at the same time cultivating warmer ties with Israel.
“Saudi Arabia indicated on number of occasions over the years that it has interest in cooperating with Israel especially with the growing threat from Iran,” she said.
“In fact, Saudi Arabia facilitated the normalisation deal between Israel and the UAE by opening its airspace for direct flights between the two countries.”
Meeting comes after August’s agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalise diplomatic relations.
Leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and the Palestinian Hamas group met to discuss diplomatic normalisation between Israel and Arab countries, the movement said.
On Sunday, Hamas chief Ismail Haniya was given a hero’s welcome at Ain al-Helweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp.
Hezbollah-run Al-Manar television reported earlier that Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed Shia Hezbollah movement, and Haniya stressed the “stability” of the “axis of resistance” against Israel.
They discussed “political and military developments in Palestine, Lebanon and the region” and “the dangers to the Palestinian cause”, including “Arab plans for normalisation” with Israel, Al-Manar said.
The meeting comes after an August 13 announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have agreed to normalise ties.
While the United States-backed diplomatic drive aims to boost a regional alliance against Iran, Palestinians have condemned it as a “stab in the back” as they remain under occupation and do not have their own state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country is in talks with other Arab and Muslim leaders now about normalising relations, following the deals with the UAE and, decades ago, Egypt and Jordan.
First visit in 30 years Haniya arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday, on his first visit to the country in nearly 30 years, for direct and video-conference talks with other Palestinian groups that oppose Israel’s diplomatic initiative.
Haniya, who heads the political bureau of Hamas, the movement that controls the Gaza Strip, arrived in Ain al-Helweh under the protection of Hamas members and camp guards.
Before a cheering crowd of hundreds in Ain al-Helweh, near the southern coastal city of Sidon, including refugees who travelled to see him from other camps, Haniya praised his movement’s military capacity and shrugged off the UAE-Israel normalisation deal.
“Not long ago, our rockets only reached [targets] metres from Gaza’s borders. Today, the resistance in Gaza possesses rockets that can reach Tel Aviv and beyond Tel Aviv,” he said.
As for normalisation between Israel and Arab countries, that “does not represent the people, neither their conscience, nor their history nor their heritage”, Haniya said, quoted in a Hamas statement.
Israel’s military has in recent weeks targeted Hamas in the Gaza Strip and what it says have been Hezbollah gunmen along its northern border with Lebanon.
It also regularly launches air attacks in war-torn Syria against what it says are Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian fighters fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Nasrallah has been living in secret locations since Hezbollah’s devastating 2006 war with Israel and only makes rare public appearances. He said in 2014 that he often changes his place of residence.
Israeli PM announces move after Serbia and Kosovo agreed on historic pact at White House to normalise economic ties.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Serbia will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, becoming the first European country to follow the United States in making the move.
Most diplomatic missions in Israel have been in Tel Aviv as countries stayed neutral over the disputed city of Jerusalem until its status could be settled in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
But in December 2017, US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced the shifting the US embassy from Tel Aviv.
On Friday, Netanyahu revealed Serbia’s move, adding that the transfer will happen by July 2021.
“I thank my friend the president of Serbia … for the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to transfer his embassy there,” Netanyahu said.
“I would like also to thank my friend President Trump for contributing to this achievement.”
News of the move by Serbia, not a member of the 27-nation EU, coincided with the announcement by Trump that former foes Serbia and Kosovo had agreed on an historic pact to normalise economic relations.
Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official slammed Serbia’s decision, saying it makes “Palestine a victim” of Trump’s re-election hopes.
“Palestine has become a victim of the electoral ambitions of President Trump, whose team would take any action, no matter how destructive for peace … to achieve his re-election,” said Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in a tweet.
“This, just like the UAE-Israel agreement [to normalise diplomatic ties], isn’t about Middle East Peace,” he added.
Israel seized control of East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in moves never recognised by the international community.
It considers the city its undivided capital, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) sees the occupied eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old City with its holy sites, as the capital of their future state.
The United Nations and the European Union, Israel’s top economic partner, say the city’s final status must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians, before which countries should not locate their embassies there.
Netanyahu also announced that Israel had set up diplomatic relations from Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
“Kosovo will become the first majority-Muslim country to open an embassy in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “As I’ve said in recent days – the circle of peace and recognition of Israel is expanding and more countries are expected to join.”
Disputed city Trump’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem three years ago triggered Palestinian outrage and a diplomatic shockwave.
So far, only Guatemala followed in his footsteps, also opening up its diplomatic mission in the holy city in May 2018.
Friday’s announcement also comes less than a month after Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalise ties under a US-brokered deal.
The agreement, expected to be signed at a White House ceremony in the coming weeks, would be Israel’s first with a Gulf nation, and the third with an Arab country after Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994).
The issue of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, includes Islam’s third holiest site – the golden Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
It is also home to the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.
More than 200,000 Israeli settlers live in occupied East Jerusalem, which is home to about 300,000 Palestinians.
Decision comes after Saudi allowed first direct Israeli commercial flight to use its airspace following UAE-Israel deal.
Bahrain has said all flights to and from the United Arab Emirates can cross its airspace, a move that will allow air services between Israel and the UAE to fly over the kingdom.
Thursday’s decision, which the kingdom’s aviation authority said came at the request of the UAE, follows an agreement last month that saw the UAE becoming the third Arab country to reach a deal with Israel about normalising ties.
The US-brokered agreement, which capped years of discreet contact between the two countries in commerce and technology, was denounced by the Palestinians as a betrayal of their cause by a major Arab player, while they still lack a state of their own.
“Bahrain will allow all flights coming to and departing from the United Arab Emirates to all countries to cross its airspace,” reported the official Bahrain News Agency, citing an official source at the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications.
The decision cuts flying time between the Middle East states by several hours.
Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a British naval base, has an historic Jewish community. The kingdom has slowly encouraged ties to Israel, with two US-based rabbis in 2017 saying King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa himself promoted the idea of ending the boycott of Israel by Arab nations.
Last month, an Israeli official said Bahrain and Oman could be the next Gulf countries to follow the UAE in formalising ties with Israel.
But Bahraini state media reported last week that King Hamad had told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who was in Manama as part of a Middle East tour aimed at forging more links between Israel and Arab countries following the UAE-Israel deal – that the Gulf state was committed to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Earlier this week, Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, flew with a high-level Israeli delegation to the UAE on the first direct commercial passenger flight between the two countries.
While no other Arab country has yet indicated a willingness to follow the UAE, Saudi Arabia allowed the El Al charter flight carrying Kushner and the Israelis to use its airspace.
On Wednesday, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani told Kushner that Doha remained committed to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. In the initiative, Arab nations offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
The UAE has promoted the deal as hinging on Israel halting its contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank sought by the Palestinians for their future state. The deal also may allow Abu Dhabi to buy advanced weaponry from the US, including the F-35 stealth fighter jet.
White House adviser Jared Kushner travels to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia seeking more support for normalising ties.
After accompanying an Israeli delegation to the United Arab Emirates for historic normalisation talks, White House adviser Jared Kushner set off on a tour of other Gulf capitals on Tuesday, looking for more Arab support.
Israel and the UAE set up a joint committee to cooperate on financial services at the talks in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. Kushner, United States President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, accompanied the Israeli delegation Monday on what was billed as the first Israeli commercial flight to the influential Gulf monarchy, which agreed in August to normalise relations with Israel.
Israel exchanged embassies with neighbours Egypt and Jordan under peace deals decades ago. But until now, all other Arab states had demanded it first cede more land to the Palestinians, prompting criticism from stakeholders across the region.
Palestinians have condemned the deal as a stab in the back by a major Arab player while they still lack a state of their own. Turkey threatened to suspend relations with the UAE after normalisation was announced.
Israel’s archrival Iran has been scathing in its criticism. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted Tuesday that “the UAE betrayed the world of Islam, the Arab nations, the region’s countries, and Palestine”.
Kushner later flew to Bahrain and then Saudi Arabia and is expected also to visit Qatar.
In Bahrain, which houses the US naval headquarters for the region, the state news agency reported that during his meeting with Kushner, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa had praised the role the UAE has played in defending Arab and Islamic interests.
In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Kushner discussed the need for the Palestinians and the Israelis to resume negotiations and reach a lasting peace, state news agency SPA reported.
While no further officials made statements that suggested they would soon recognise Israel, in remarks reported by the UAE state news agency WAM, Kushner suggested other Arab states could follow quickly.
Asked when the next would normalise ties with Israel, he was quoted as saying: “Let’s hope it’s months.”
Saudi Arabia allowed the El Al charter flight carrying Kushner and the Israelis to use its airspace, in spite of its public resistance to normalisation.
‘Treachery’ There are overlapping regional interests between Israel and Gulf Arab states, which are mainly ruled by Sunni Muslim monarchs who consider their biggest foe to be Shia Iran.
Israel has long held out the promise that their common enemy could bring them together, in spite of regional opposition to Israeli expansion on the occupied Palestinian territories.
Iran’s derisive comments were not limited to Twitter. In a fiery speech on Tuesday, Khamenei said: “The Emiratis will be disgraced forever for this treachery against the Islamic world, Arab nations and Palestine.
“The UAE, along with Israelis and evil Americans like the Jewish member of Trump’s family, are working together against the interests of the Islamic world,” Khamenei said, referring to Kushner, who is Jewish.
Asked about Khamenei’s remarks, UAE Foreign Ministry official Jamal al-Musharakh told reporters in Abu Dhabi: “The path to peace and prosperity is not paved with incitement and hate speech.”
Israeli officials have played up the economic benefits of the UAE deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said representatives of the two countries had signed an agreement on cooperation in financial services.
The state-run Abu Dhabi Investment Office and Invest in Israel, part of Israel’s economy ministry, issued a joint statement saying they had agreed to set out a plan to establish formal cooperation.
The Gulf state’s biggest lender, First Abu Dhabi Bank, later said it would open discussions with Israel lenders Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi.
Amid the historic normalisation talks, Kushner spent a morning meeting UAE military officials at an Abu Dhabi airbase that houses US military F-35 jets, advanced stealth aircraft that the Gulf state has long sought to buy despite Israeli objections.
The UAE has said normalisation should remove any hurdle blocking the sale. Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel still opposes selling the jets to the UAE.
Head of Hamas political bureau said it will not back down from wanting to end the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army says its tanks have hit Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Sunday after Palestinian balloon attacks across the border continued.
An early-morning military statement said there had been airborne explosive and incendiary attacks into southern Israel on Saturday.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from any of the incidents.
Palestinian sources said an Israeli artillery shell was fired towards a field control point east of Khan Younis, and another shell east of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
According to the Israeli fire brigade, the fire bombs – crude devices fitted to balloons, inflated condoms or plastic bags inflated with helium – have triggered more than 400 blazes in southern Israel.
The Israeli army has carried out attacks on Gaza almost daily since August 6, along with further tightening a devastating blockade it has imposed on the Palestinian territory since 2007.
Under the new measures, it banned the entry of fuel for Gaza’s sole power plant, plunging it into darkness.
The Gaza Strip has a population of two million people, more than half of whom live in poverty, according to the World Bank.
The head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniya, said his movement – which controls the Gaza Strip – would not back down from wanting to end the Israeli blockade.
“Our decision and the decision of our people is to go ahead with ending this unjust siege in all its forms,” Haniya said in a statement issued by his office early on Sunday.
“The leadership of the movement is closely following the current situation in the Gaza Strip in terms of communications and mediation carried out by many parties to work to break and end the siege on the strip.”
An Egyptian delegation has been shuttling between the two sides to try to broker a renewal of an informal truce under which Israel committed to easing its 13-year blockade of Gaza in return for calm on the frontier between the two.
It was joined this week by Qatar’s Gaza envoy Mohammed al-Emadi who delivered the latest tranche of $30m in aid to the territory on Tuesday before holding talks with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.
Sources close to the Qatari delegation said Israeli officials had told al-Emadi they were willing to end a punitive ban on fuel deliveries for Gaza’s power plant and ease their blockade if there was an end to the incendiary balloons.
Financial aid for the impoverished territory from gas-rich Qatar had been a significant component of the truce, first agreed in November 2018 and renewed several times since.
Under those terms, Israel had said it would take other measures to alleviate unemployment of more than 50 percent in the territory of some two million people. Those have yet to materialise.
Office of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar in Gaza says agreement has been reached to ‘end aggression against our people’.
Hamas, the Palestinian group running the besieged Gaza Strip, has announced it has reached a Qatari-mediated deal to end the latest escalation of violence with Israel.
After talks with Qatari envoy Mohammed el-Emadi, “an understanding was reached to rein in the latest escalation and end [Israeli] aggression against our people”, the office of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said on Monday.
There was no immediate comment by Israel.
The Israeli army has carried out attacks on Gaza almost daily since August 6 in what it says is a response to the airborne incendiary devices and, less frequently, rockets launched into southern Israel.
The fire balloons are widely seen as an attempt by Hamas to improve the terms of an informal truce under which Israel committed to easing its 13-year-old crippling blockade in return for calm.
But so far, Israel’s response has been to tighten the blockade.
It has banned Gaza fishermen from going to sea and closed its goods crossing with the territory, prompting the closure of the Palestinian territory’s sole power plant for want of fuel.
What Hamas says about the agreement is that it will stop incendiary balloon launches as well as what it calls its night-time confusion operations where groups go along the fence and throw explosives and cause disruption,” said Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Jerusalem.
“In return, it says that Israel is undertaking to go back to the pre-escalation situation which means allowing fishermen out into the Mediterranean, easing the restriction on goods coming in and also presumably the restoration of fuel supplies to Gaza’s only power station.”
Monday’s announcement came amid a flurry diplomatic activity from Qatar whose envoy delivered the latest tranche of $30m in aid Gaza before holding talks with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.
Sources close to the Qatari delegation said the Israelis told al-Emadi they were willing to resume fuel deliveries for the power plant and ease their blockade – if there was an end to the fire balloons.
Financial aid for the impoverished territory from gas-rich Qatar has been a major component of the latest truce first agreed in November 2018 and renewed several times since.
Mediation efforts have grown more urgent in recent days as authorities in Gaza have detected the first cases of local transmission of the coronavirus. Hamas has imposed a lockdown in the coastal enclave, which is home to two million Palestinians.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas from expanding its arsenal, but critics view it as a form of collective punishment.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and several smaller battles since the closure was imposed.
The restrictions have pushed Gaza’s economy to the brink of collapse, leaving more than half the population unemployed, and years of war and isolation have left the healthcare system ill-equipped to cope with a major outbreak.
High-level delegations flew from Israel to the UAE to cement the ‘normalisation’ deal.
High-level delegations from Israel and the US have arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), via the first-ever commercial flight between the Middle Eastern nations, to put final touches on a controversial pact establishing open relations.
Top aides to US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were on board the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on Israel’s flag carrier El Al on Monday.
Flight LY971 flew over Saudi Arabia after Riyadh agreed to the Israeli request on Sunday – also a first.
The plane carrying the US and Israeli delegations to Abu Dhabi has the word “peace” written on it in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.
It is also named after Kiryat Gat, a Jewish settlement built on the remains of two ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages, Iraq al-Manshiyya and al-Faluja.
Announced on August 13, the “normalisation” deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was catalysed largely by shared fears of Iran.
Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, worried it would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.
Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien head the US delegation. The Israeli team is led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.
Kushner voiced hope for a more peaceful era in the region.
“While this is a historic flight, we hope that it will start an even more historic journey in the Middle East and beyond,” Kushner said before boarding the El Al aircraft.
Officials will explore bilateral cooperation in areas such as commerce and tourism, and Israeli defence envoys are due to visit the UAE separately.
Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a Washington signing ceremony, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
That could give Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his re-election bid in November.
In Jerusalem on Sunday, Kushner called the UAE-Israel deal a “giant step forward”.
“To have played a role in its creation, and I say this as the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, it means more to me and to my family that I can ever express,” Kushner said.
The Trump administration has tried to coax other Arab countries concerned about Iran to engage with Israel. The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, has signalled that it is not ready.
But in what could presage a more relaxed posture by Riyadh, the El Al plane will be allowed to overfly Saudi territory to cut flight time.
On Sunday, Israeli TV channel Kan reported there was Israeli concern that Riyadh may revoke permission to use Saudi airspace at the last moment. If the flight is allowed, it would mark the first time an Israeli commercial plane uses Saudi territory for an overflight. There was no comment from Saudi officials.
‘Soon follow’ O’Brien said on Sunday more Arab and Muslim countries were likely to follow Abu Dhabi’s move.
“We believe that other Arab and Muslim countries will soon follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead and normalise relations with Israel,” O’Brien told reporters after talks at Netanyahu’s residence.
He did not name the states, but Israeli officials have publicly mentioned Oman, Bahrain and Sudan.
Recent news reports suggested Morocco may also be considering a similar agreement with Israel in exchange for military and economic aid.
However, Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine el-Othmani said last week “we refuse any normalisation with the Zionist entity because this emboldens it to go further in breaching the rights of the Palestinian people”.
Palestinians have condemned the UAE’s move as an abandonment of a policy of linking official relations with Israel to the achievement of Palestinian statehood in territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Kushner and his team were “scrambling to convince as many Arab and Muslim leaders as possible” to give Trump an election boost.
“They will be a prop at the backdrop of a meaningless spectacle for a ridiculous agreement that will not bring peace to the region,” she said.
The UAE-Israel agreement hit an immediate speed bump after it was announced, as contradictory comments on the planned Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley were made.
In spite of earlier comments by the UAE and a joint statement by the three countries that indicated the annexation plan would be “suspended”, senior UAE official Omar Ghobash, has admitted his government did not “have any guarantees as such” that Israel would not annex occupied Palestinian territory in the future.
Kushner has said as part of the Israeli-UAE deal that the United States will not consent to Israeli annexation for “some time”.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, cast the annexation plan – already dogged by disagreements within his governing coalition on the proposed timing – as temporarily on hold. But Israeli officials have signalled they want approval from Israel’s main ally – the US – first.
Weapons sales The Israel-UAE accord also faces another problem: a possible sale of stealth F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi that could challenge the Israeli technological edge in the Middle East.
Netanyahu has denied reports the UAE deal hinges on the sale of F-35s to the Emirates, saying he opposes a move that could reduce Israel’s military advantage.
“This deal did not include Israel’s acceptance of any arms deal,” the Israeli leader said last week.
Ever since the 1960s, the US has guaranteed to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the region.
The policy was enhanced two years ago with a law that Washington must ensure, when selling weapons to another country in the Middle East, that Israel retains the ability to defend itself if the arms were to fall into the wrong hands.
Israel has already received a first consignment of American F-35s, a fighter also coveted by other Gulf powers.
Yoel Guzansky, a senior analyst at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, told AFP there is no doubt of the importance of the F-35s.
“I absolutely think that without the F-35, the possibility of buying it, they [the Emiratis] wouldn’t sign the agreement,” said Guzansky. “This is a big hurdle to the fulfilment of the agreement.”
Guzansky noted before Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, the US sold Turkey and Iran sophisticated weaponry, “and now these countries are hostile towards Israel”.
But some analysts say a deal can be struck to the satisfaction of both Israel and the UAE, and ultimately Saudi Arabia, a longtime customer of US armaments.
“Although this is not really public, from what I understand arrangements are being made that the version that the Arab country gets is not the absolute latest version,” Joshua Teitelbaum, a Gulf specialist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University told AFP.
Economic ties On Saturday, the UAE announced it was scrapping its economic boycott against Israel. Officials from the two countries have said they are looking at cooperation in defence, medicine, agriculture, tourism and technology.
Netanyahu told reporters abolishing “the anachronistic boycott” opened the door for “unbridled” trade, tourism and investment.
Statements issued by the UAE and Israel on Sunday said the UAE minister of state and Israel’s agriculture minister had spoken by phone and “pledged to collaborate on projects that address food and water security”.
The UAE, a desert state, relies on imports for about 80 percent of its food, and has heavily encouraged investment in agricultural technology and farmland abroad in recent years.
Israel and the UAE say they want to promote trade – especially the sale of Emirati oil to Israel and Israeli technology to the UAE – establish direct air links, and boost tourism.