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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due in Jerusalem on Monday to start a tour focused on Israel’s normalising of ties with the UAE and pushing other Arab states to follow suit.
After meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he is set to visit senior figures in Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the State Department said Sunday.
Israel had previously only signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, two neighbours with which it had technically been at war, unlike the United Arab Emirates.
Following the US-sponsored deal announced on August 13, the new partners say they want to promote trade, especially the sale of Emirati oil to Israel and Israeli technology to the Emirates, as well as boosting tourism by establishing direct air links.
Key to that plan would be persuading Saudi Arabia to open its airspace, between Israel and the Gulf, to Israeli commercial airlines.
During his visit, Pompeo will “discuss regional security issues related to Iran’s malicious influence (and) establishing and deepening Israel’s relationships in the region,” the State Department said in a statement.
President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, announced in January, saw cooperation between Israel and those Arab countries who, like Israel, see Iran as their main foe.
It also gave the Jewish state a green light to annex parts of the West Bank — something Israel committed to “suspending” under the UAE deal, without saying for how long.
The Palestinians have slammed the UAE’s move as a “stab in the back” while their own conflict with the Jewish state remains unresolved.
But the UAE ambassador to Washington, writing on the front page of Israel’s top-selling daily, said closer ties would benefit everybody.
“They will help move the region beyond the ugly legacy of hostility and conflicts, towards a destiny of hope, peace and prosperity,” he wrote in Yediot Aharonot’s weekend edition.
– F-35 in the crosshairs –
Tel Aviv daily Israel Hayom, a staunch backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote Sunday that direct talks between the sides on the wording of the deal were close to starting and “a full agreement could be reached within a month.”
A signing ceremony is set to be held at the White House within that timeframe, the paper wrote.
Reports that the agreement hinges on the sale of US F-35 Stealth jets to the Emirates have been vigorously denied by Netanyahu, who says he opposes the move as it could reduce Israel’s regional strategic edge.
“The Emiratis are saying there was a promise there, the Israelis are saying no,” said Joshua Teitelbaum, professor in the department of Middle Eastern studies at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv.
Historically, Israel (which has F-35s) has opposed the sale of advanced weaponry to other Middle East states, even Jordan and Egypt with which it has peace treaties.
But Teitelbaum said that in the past such objections have been finessed, citing the US sale to Israel and Saudi Arabia of F-15 fighters.
“From what I understand arrangements are made that the version that the Arab country gets is not the absolute latest version,” he told AFP.
“Israel is allowed to put certain modifications in the software that allow it to maintain its edge.”
There can also be cost advantages as a sweetener, he said.
“The Israeli F-15s and the Saudi F-15s were made in the same factory” in the US, he went on.
“The fact that Israel gave its wink to the Saudi F-15s allowed the actual price to be lowered for the Israelis, because it allowed the assembly line to run (longer) at that factory.”
– Bahrain, Oman, Sudan? –
The surprise announcement of the Israel-Emirati pact sparked huge speculation on who might be next, with frequent mentions of Bahrain and Sudan, which is turning its back on the Omar al-Bashir era.
Israel remains technically at war with Sudan, which for years supported hardline Islamist forces.
Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman was fired last week after he made allegedly unauthorised comments indicating contact had been made with Israel regarding normalising ties.
But the State Department said Pompeo would meet Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during his tour, to “express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship”,
He will also meet Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa before meeting UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to discuss the Israel deal, it said.
Saudi Arabia, in keeping with decades of policy by the majority of Arab states, has said it will not follow the UAE’s example until Israel has signed a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Israeli police said on Sunday they had arrested 30 demonstrators after thousands rallied in Jerusalem demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chanting “Prime Minister” and “You’re fired”.
The demonstrators, some playing musical instruments, gathered in front of the premier’s official residence on Saturday night.
Local media estimated the crowd at around 10,000.
A police statement released early Sunday morning said there were outbreaks of violence during the rally and that officers were hurt.
“During the protests three policemen were injured by protesters,” police said.
Three of those arrested would appear in court on Sunday, the statement added.
Protests demanding that Netanyahu resign over several corruption indictments and his handling of the coronavirus crisis have been mounting in recent weeks, and the premier has been scathing in his counter-attack.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu accused Channel 12 and another private TV station, Channel 13, of “delivering propaganda for the anarchist left-wing demonstrations” through extensive coverage of the rallies.
Israel won praise for its initial response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the government has come under criticism amid a resurgence in cases after restrictions were lifted starting in late April.
Netanyahu has acknowledged that the economy was re-opened too quickly.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed “a new era” between Israel and the Arab world on Thursday following a historic US-brokered deal to normalise ties with the United Arab Emirates.
The pact first announced by President Donald Trump includes an agreement from Israel to “suspend” its plans to annex Jewish settlements and territory in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called an “urgent meeting” of his leadership team before announcing the Palestinian Authority’s reaction to the deal.
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, rejected the Israel-UAE pact as “a reward for the Israeli occupation and crimes” and said it “does not serve the Palestinian people”.
Speaking after Trump’s announcement, Netanyahu said he had agreed to delayed annexation plans, but that the project remained “on the table”.
“I will never give up our rights to our land,” the right-wing premier said.
Netanyahu told a televised news conference: “Today a new era began in the relations between Israel and the Arab world.”
Netanyahu, like many in the Jewish state, refers to the occupied West Bank as Judea and Samaria and claims the territory as part of the historic homeland of the Jewish people.
Israeli plans to annex roughly 30 percent of the West Bank, as outlined in a Trump Middle East peace proposal unveiled in January which triggered global outcry and threats of retaliation against the Jewish state, including from the European Union.
Israel’s alternate prime minister and Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, called the agreement “important and significant”.
“I call upon other Arab nations to advance diplomatic relations in additional peace agreements,” he said.
Once the deal is signed, the UAE will become the third Arab nation to have full diplomatic ties with Israel, following Israeli peace deals with Egypt and Jordan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hezbollah was “playing with fire” after border clashes on Monday, in which the Lebanese Shiite group denied all involvement.
Netanyahu insisted that Hezbollah and the Lebanese government “carry responsibility” for the attempt by gunmen to infiltrate Israeli territory, which resulted in an exchange of gunfire but no reported casualties.
“Hezbollah is playing with fire and our response will be very strong,” the Israeli premier said.
Israeli – “We won’t leave until Bibi leaves.” Israel’s struggle to contain the coronavirus has stirred deep-seated resentment towards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and protests demanding his resignation are growing by the week.
As the Shabbat rest-day was ending on Saturday evening, thousands of demonstrators headed towards Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, the main site for protests that have taken place in multiple cities.
Some demonstrators branded Netanyahu — who has been indicted with bribery, fraud and breach of trust — as corrupt, while others condemned a lack of coherence in the government’s response to the pandemic.
For Tamir Gay-Tsabary, who travels each day to the Jerusalem protests with his wife Tami from southern Israel, coronavirus was “a trigger” that brought renewed focus to Netanyahu’s leadership faults.
The pandemic made people “understand that he doesn’t care (about) Israel, he just cares for himself,” the 56-year-old sales manager told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).
Netanyahu won praise for his initial response to the virus.
His government’s quick decisions in March to curb travel and impose a lockdown brought the daily case-count to a trickle by early May.
But an economic re-opening that began in late April has led to an explosion in transmission in the country of about 9 million people, with daily COVID-19 tallies ranging between 1,000 and 2,000 cases in recent weeks.
Anti-government protests that initially included a few hundred people in Tel Aviv, now regularly count several thousand there and in Jerusalem.
Reflecting on the movement, Einav Schiff of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said it began in response to “a premature victory celebration for having defeated the coronavirus”.
That false victory “morphed into a healthcare and economic failure, which has left a severe crisis of confidence between the public and the government in its wake,” he said.
No ‘plan’ In response to rising cases, Netanyahu’s centre-right coalition has re-imposed economically painful restrictions, including targeting shops and markets.
It has also approved additional relief measures, notably cash deposits to all citizens.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu Protester Amit Finkerstin said the government’s recent moves reveal it does not “have any plan,” making it impossible for people to prepare for the future.
The 27-year-old waitress, currently unemployed because of the pandemic, pointed to restaurant closures as evidence of the policy chaos.
On July 17, the government announced restaurants would mainly be limited to delivery and takeaway.
Four days later, parliament overturned that decision. Then the government passed a law allowing it to bypass parliament on coronavirus restrictions, casting further uncertainty over the sector.
“One day yes one day no,” Finkerstin said. “People can’t earn any money.”
The government’s plan to send at least 750 shekels ($220) to every citizen has been criticised by some economists as a knee-jerk response to mounting economic suffering in the place of smart, targeted aid.
Finkerstin accused the government of giving everyone cash “just to shut our mouth up.”
‘Something is happening’ Netanyahu has taken responsibility for re-opening the economy too soon but said he was seeking a tricky balance between protecting livelihoods and limiting viral transmission, a challenge faced by many leaders.
He has also acknowledged the financial pain felt by many in a country where unemployment currently exceeds 20 per cent, compared to 3.4 per cent in February, when Israel recorded its first COVID-19 case.
But, in a series of tweets, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister has also sought to undermine the protests as a product of the “anarchist left” and accused the media of exaggerating their size.
In a July 19 tweet that dismissed the protests as an “embarrassment and a disgrace,” Netanyahu highlighted the presence of a Palestinian flag at one rally, saying “the secret is out,” about the movement.
Despite those dismissals, Schiff insisted that “something is happening” in the protest movement known as “black flag”.
“We can all hear, see and mainly feel it,” he wrote on Sunday.
“It isn’t clear yet whether this is a full-fledged earthquake or whether it is merely a tremor that will ultimately pass, but it’s everywhere.”
The foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan on Tuesday urged Israel to abandon plans to begin annexing settlements in the West Bank, warning such action could have “consequences” for relations.
“We concur that any annexation of Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would be a violation of international law and imperil the foundations of the peace process,” the ministers said in a statement after a joint video conference.
The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had set July 1 as the date when it could begin to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank as well as the strategic Jordan Valley.
The move was endorsed by a Middle East plan unveiled by US President Donald Trump in January.
Netanyahu’s office made no announcement on July 1 as expected, but said talks were continuing with US officials and Israeli security chiefs.
“We would not recognise any changes to the 1967 borders that are not agreed by both parties in the conflict,” the ministers warned in the statement issued by the German foreign ministry.
“We also concur that such a step would have serious consequences for the security and stability of the region, and would constitute a major obstacle to efforts aimed at achieving a comprehensive and just peace,” they said.
“It could also have consequences for the relationship with Israel,” they added, underlining their commitment to a two-state solution based on international law.
The EU has in recent weeks mounted a diplomatic campaign against annexation, highlighted by a visit to Jerusalem by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to raise a concern about the prospective plans.
But the bloc cannot threaten Israel with formal sanctions without unanimous support among members.
After occupying the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel began establishing a network of settlements the following decade. Construction continues to this day.
Despite being viewed as illegal under international law, the settler population has jumped by 50 percent over the past decade.
The long-awaited corruption trial of Benjamin Netanyahu is due to open in Jerusalem, where he will become the first serving Israeli prime minister to face criminal prosecution.
Netanyahu is required to appear for Sunday’s session in Jerusalem District Court, a week after he was sworn in to a record fifth term as head of a unity government, ending more than a year of political deadlock in the wake of three inconclusive elections.
Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of cases. He is accused of accepting expensive gifts, such as cartons of champagne and cigars, from wealthy friends and offering favours to media moguls in exchange for favourable news coverage of him and his family.
In the most serious case, he is accused of promoting legislation that delivered hundreds of millions of dollars of profits to the owner of a major telecom company while wielding behind-the-scenes editorial influence over the firm’s popular news website.
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Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, denies all charges. He has cast his prosecution as a left-wing witch-hunt meant to overthrow a popular right-wing leader.
As prime minister, Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign and he has said his court battle will not affect his ability to do his job.
A three-judge panel, which will hear the prime minister’s case, turned down on Wednesday his request to stay away from the opening session.
In asking to be excused, Netanyahu called the event a formality and argued that bringing his contingent of bodyguards would waste public funds and make it hard to comply with physical distancing rules.
Some critics said Netanyahu was trying to avoid the optics of a prime minister sitting in the defendant’s dock. Turning down his request, the court said it was important for justice to be seen to be done.
Political deadlock resolved After three bruising elections over the past year, Netanyahu was sworn into office this week for a fourth consecutive term.
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All three elections were seen as referendums on his fitness for office, and all ended in deadlock. After the most recent vote in March, his rival, Benny Gantz, appeared to have mustered enough support in Parliament to pass legislation that would have disqualified Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while under indictment.
However, in a stunning turnaround, Gantz, citing fears of a fourth expensive election and the coronavirus pandemic, agreed to shelve the legislation and instead form a power-sharing government with Netanyahu.
The Supreme Court cleared the way for Netanyahu to remain in power. In a key ruling, it said an indicted politician may serve as prime minister – even though Israeli law requires all other office-holders to resign if charged with a crime.
Yuval Shany, professor of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argued that there is “a basic incompatibility” between Netanyahu’s role as head of the government and his status as a criminal defendant.
In the latter role, Shany said, the prime minister would be “fighting very aggressively and maybe effectively to weaken the government authorities that are prosecuting him”.
“There is a very serious conflict of interest situation,” he told AFP news agency.
Under their deal, Netanyahu was forced to yield some powers to Gantz, with each wielding a veto over most key decisions. Gantz will hold the title of “alternate prime minister,” and after 18 months, they will swap jobs.
Six years ago, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was found guilty of bribe-taking and served 16 months in jail. His trial took place after his 2006-2009 term in office.