Israel PM appoints new defence minister, boosting Likud party

Israel PM appoints new defence minister, boosting Likud party
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem November 3, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 08 November 2019

Israel PM appoints new defence minister, boosting Likud party

Israel PM appoints new defence minister, boosting Likud party
  • A statement by Likud said that Netanyahu had “offered to appoint Bennett as defense minister", and Naftali Bennett accepted the offer.”

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Premier Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Naftali Bennett would be appointed defense minister and their parties would unite, as the political system remained deadlocked after two inconclusive elections.
Netanyahu, who has so far failed to form a coalition after a September 17 poll, had in the past refused to give the security-oriented Bennett this coveted portfolio.
But wary of his main challenger Benny Gantz attempting to collect the support of 61 lawmakers necessary to form a coalition and become prime minister himself, the incumbent has changed course.
In doing so, he effectively locked in the three lawmakers of Bennett’s New Right to his ruling Likud party.
A statement by Likud said that Netanyahu had “offered to appoint (Bennett) as defense minister, and Naftali Bennett accepted the offer.”
“Bennett agreed that if a new government is formed” without a third election, “a different person will be appointed defense minister,” the statement read.
The two also agreed that the New Right — formed by Bennett and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked — would join Likud to become a combined force, the statement said.
They will “commit to act as a joint faction throughout the current parliamentary term,” it added.
Bennett did not comment on the move, but Shaked said her party had been offered a choice of the defense ministry on its own or two lesser ministries.
The choices available for the latter were agriculture, diaspora and welfare, Shaked said.
“In a joint decision we agreed that Bennett will be appointed defense minister until a new government is formed,” she said on Twitter.
Gantz’s Blue and White called Bennett’s appointment “inappropriate,” accusing Netanyahu of acting out of a “narrow political and personal interest” rather than toward an inclusive unity government.
Both Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White say they want a unity government, but disagree on how to achieve it.
Likud has been seeking to negotiate based on a compromise proposed by President Reuven Rivlin that takes into account the possibility Netanyahu will be indicted for corruption in the coming weeks.
It could see him remain prime minister for now, but step aside at some point later as he combats the charges.
Gantz would take over as acting premier under such a scenario.
Blue and White says Gantz should be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement since his party won the most seats, finishing with 33 compared to Likud’s 32 — before the addition of Bennett’s party.
Whoever wants to govern needs to find partners with which to control a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Israeli parliament.
Negotiators for Likud and Blue and White, as well as the heads of the two factions, have been meeting since the elections.
On Friday, both Netanyahu and Gantz took to Facebook to trade blame for the political deadlock.
Netanyahu said his Likud was prepared to make concessions while Gantz was “using every excuse to not form the government Israeli citizens want: a national unity government.”
And Gantz said Netanyahu has determined to “drag Israel to a third election” which would be “a disaster for the state.”
Blue and White and Likud each won 35 seats in an April election that was also inconclusive.


Israel resumes indoor mask requirement amid coronavirus spike

Israel resumes indoor mask requirement amid coronavirus spike
Updated 51 min 50 sec ago

Israel resumes indoor mask requirement amid coronavirus spike

Israel resumes indoor mask requirement amid coronavirus spike
  • Jump in new infections is a blow for a country which has prided itself on one of the world’s most successful vaccine rollouts

JERUSALEM: The Israeli health ministry reimposed a requirement Friday for masks to be worn in enclosed public places following a surge in COVID-19 cases since it was dropped 10 days ago.
The spike in new infections is a blow for a country which has prided itself on one of the world’s most successful vaccine rollouts.
The head of Israel’s pandemic response taskforce, Nachman Ash, told public radio the requirement came after four days of more than 100 new cases a day, with 227 cases confirmed Thursday.
“We are seeing a doubling every few days,” Ash said. “Another thing that’s worrying is that the infections are spreading. If we had two cities where most of the infections were, we have more cities where the numbers are rising and communities where the cases are going up.”
Ash said the rise in cases was likely due to the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus first seen in India.
Reimposing the mask requirement is a setback for Israel, coming so soon after it was lifted on June 15 on the back of a successful vaccination campaign.
Some 5.2 million people have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, after Israel obtained millions of doses.
Ash said despite the increased number of positive cases, he did not yet see a parallel rise in hospitalizations or deaths.
“It’s clear it’s a factor of time, that not enough time has passed,” Ash said. “But we hope the vaccines will protect us from a rise in hospitalization and difficult cases.”
The health ministry urged Israelis to wear masks in crowded outdoor spaces too, including at pride events scheduled for this weekend.
A pride march scheduled for Friday afternoon in Tel Aviv is expected to draw tens of thousands of people. The event is resuming after it was suspended last year due to the virus.
Israel became a pioneer in Covid inoculations after then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu obtained millions of doses from Pfizer in exchange for sharing health data on the vaccines’ impact.
In February, Netanyahu celebrated the arrival of a batch of vaccines saying: “We have made Israel a global model for success.”
The resulting fall in new cases allowed much of daily life to return to normal but it did not save Netanyahu his job. He was replaced as prime minister earlier this month by his onetime aide turned foe Naftali Bennett.
Bennett warned Tuesday of a “new outbreak” of coronavirus. On a visit to Ben Gurion international airport, he announced a new Covid testing facility for incoming travelers and strengthened enforcement of quarantine orders for those returning from overseas.
To cut down on the spread of the virus, he asked Israelis to cancel their travel plans. “Whoever doesn’t have to fly abroad, please don’t,” Bennett said.
On Wednesday, Israel announced it was delaying delayed plans to reopen its borders to individual tourists.
Bennett urged parents to vaccinate children aged 12 and older “as soon as possible,” noting that Israel’s stock of vaccines would soon expire.
A deal to trade soon-to-expire vaccines with the Palestinian Authority for new shots arriving in the autumn fell apart last week amid mutual accusations of bad faith.
Israel has faced criticism for refusing to vaccinate most Palestinians living in the West Bank, or in the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli blockade. Israeli citizens living in West Bank settlements have been eligible to take part in its vaccination program, however.


United Nations urges Israel to halt building of settlements immediately

Palestinian demonstrators hold a night protest against Israeli settlements in Beita in the West Bank on June 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinian demonstrators hold a night protest against Israeli settlements in Beita in the West Bank on June 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Updated 25 June 2021

United Nations urges Israel to halt building of settlements immediately

Palestinian demonstrators hold a night protest against Israeli settlements in Beita in the West Bank on June 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
  • UN officials report on implementation of a 2016 Security Council resolution that declared settlements have “no legal validity"
  • They also called on Israeli authorities to end the demolition of Palestinian homes and other property and the displacement of Palestinians — another flashpoint

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations on Thursday accused Israel of flagrantly violating international law by expanding settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, saying settlements are illegal and urging the country’s new government to halt their enlargement immediately.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland reported on implementation of a 2016 Security Council resolution that declared settlements have “no legal validity.” It demanded a halt to their expansion in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians want to include in a future state.
Wennesland said in a briefing to the council on Guterres’ 12-page report that he was “deeply troubled” by Israel’s approval of a plan to add 540 housing units to the Har Homa settlement in east Jerusalem as well as the establishment of settlement outposts. He said that is “illegal also under Israeli law.”
“I again underscore, in no uncertain terms, that Israeli settlements constitute a flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions and international law,” the UN envoy said. “They are a major obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
“The advancement of all settlement activity must cease immediately,” Wennesland said.
Israel disputes its settlements are illegal.
Both Guterres and Wennesland also called on Israeli authorities to end the demolition of Palestinian homes and other property and the displacement of Palestinians — another flashpoint — “and to approve plans that would enable these communities to build legally and address their development needs.”

Palestinian demonstrators hold a night protest against Israeli settlements in Beita in the West Bank on June 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)

The December 2016 resolution, which the United States abstained on in the final weeks of the Obama administration, also called for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians and urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.
It also called on all parties to launch negotiations on final status issues and urged intensified international and regional diplomatic efforts to help end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieve a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side-by-side in peace.
Guterres and Wennesland made clear that 4½ years after the resolution’s adoption, none of these appeals have been met.
Wennesland said the period between March and June covered in the report “witnessed an alarming increase in the level of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, including hostilities between Israel and factions in Gaza at a scale and intensity not seen in years.”
He said the cessation of hostilities after last month’s 11-day Gaza war “remains very fragile,” adding that the United Nations is working closely with Israel, the Palestinians and partners including Egypt “to solidify a cease-fire, allow the entry of urgent humanitarian assistance and stabilize the situation in Gaza.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says that more than four years have passed since the Security Council approved its resolution, but none of the appeals have been met. (Reuters photo)

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has demanded significant easing of the Israeli blockade. Israel has said it won’t tolerate even relatively minor attacks from Gaza, including the launch of incendiary balloons, which triggered Israeli airstrikes last week.
“I urge all sides to refrain from unilateral steps and provocations, take steps to reduce tensions, and allow these efforts to succeed,” Wennesland told the council. “Everyone must do their part to facilitate ongoing discussions to stabilize the situation on the ground and avoid another devastating escalation in Gaza.”
He called on all Palestinian factions “to make serious efforts to ensure the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under a single, legitimate, democratic, national government,” saying that Gaza must remain part of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.
During the March to June reporting period, Guterres said 295 Palestinians, including 42 women and 73 children, were killed by Israeli security forces and 10,149 were injured during demonstrations, clashes, search-and-arrest operations, air strikes, shelling and other incidents in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The UN chief said 90 members of the Israeli security forces and 857 Israeli civilians were injured by Palestinians during the same period in clashes, incidents in which stones and firebombs were thrown, the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars and other incidents.
The Gaza war was the worst escalation of hostilities since 2014, with Palestinian armed groups firing over 4,000 rockets and projectiles toward Israel and Israeli forces carrying out over 1,500 strikes from air, land and sea across the Gaza Strip, Guterres said, quoting Israeli sources. During the conflict, 259 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and 41 women, while nine Israelis, including two children, were killed along with three foreigners. Hundreds of Israelis were wounded.


Palestinian envoy to UN says Gaza rebuild requires permanent ceasefire

Palestinian envoy to UN says Gaza rebuild requires permanent ceasefire
Updated 25 June 2021

Palestinian envoy to UN says Gaza rebuild requires permanent ceasefire

Palestinian envoy to UN says Gaza rebuild requires permanent ceasefire
  • Donor countries need guarantee of no further violence, diplomat tells Arab News

AMMAN: The rebuilding of Gaza requires a permanent ceasefire and a serious effort to rekindle Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour told Arab News in a wide-ranging interview.

“Most donor countries are not willing to support a rebuilding process without a guarantee that they will not have to go back again after a possible new round of violence,” said Mansour. “A lot of effort is needed from all parties to ensure that the ceasefire becomes sustainable.”

He added that Egypt, Israel, Palestine and the UN were “trying to find a way to cement the currently fragile ceasefire through political agreements.”

“Without a political horizon that will require the involvement of the quartet (America, Russia, the European Union and the UN) plus (others), it will be difficult to sustain the ceasefire and we will be back to square one,” he said, adding that, once that process is complete, serious negotiations for a lasting peace must begin immediately.

The progress — or lack thereof — made in these areas may become apparent during Thursday’s session discussing the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 that deals with Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories, at which the secretary-general “will need to say whether Israel is abiding by the resolution or not,” Mansour explained.

That meeting will be the first security council session to be held since the formation of Israel’s new government, headed by right-wing Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, which has already approved a number of new settlement expansions.

Mansour, who helped draft Resolution 2334, told Arab News that it contains a number of important articles that support Palestinian rights.

“Unlike UN Security Council Resolution 242, which left the issue of Israeli withdrawals vague, UNSC 2334 is clear that Israel must withdraw from all areas occupied in June 1967,” he said.

In light of Israeli attempts to establish settlements in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the resolution specifically bars any settlement in the holy city, he added.

“In addition to stating that the Occupied Territories include all areas captured in June 1967, the resolution specifically states that East Jerusalem is one of the areas that Israel is not allowed to settle in,” Mansour said.

The Palestinian envoy also noted that Article 5 of the resolution calls on all UN member states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” That means that no member state should deal with any Israeli institutions operating in settlements, Mansour claims.

Palestinians have also called on UN member states not to treat settlers living illegally in the Occupied Territories in the same way as they do Israelis living inside the green line. A number of countries including South Africa and Denmark have amended their policies in this regard, Mansour told Arab News.

Palestinian land expert Khalil Tofakji told Voice of Palestine that the new Israeli government has not changed the country’s policies regarding settlements.

“Israeli governments have a unified position … which includes establishing new settlements and expanding existing ones,” he said.

An open debate is scheduled to take place at the UN Security Council in New York next month to discuss all issues relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Mansour said.


Raisi’s hard-line stance ‘could spell trouble’

Raisi’s hard-line stance ‘could spell trouble’
Updated 25 June 2021

Raisi’s hard-line stance ‘could spell trouble’

Raisi’s hard-line stance ‘could spell trouble’
  • President to complicate West’s dealings with Iran

PARIS: The election of a loyal acolyte of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iranian president could ease the West’s dealings with the Islamic Republic due to a streamlined power structure in Tehran but Ebrahim Raisi’s hard-line stance could also spell trouble, analysts say.

Under pressure to boost an economy crippled by US sanctions, Raisi is not expected to block EU efforts to revive a 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear ambitions by bringing the US back into the accord.

But, according to analysts, his hostility toward the US means Raisi is unlikely to respond to Western demands for a wider deal covering Iran’s ballistic program, meddling in neighboring countries and its detention of Western nationals.

“Raisi, like Khamenei, is suspicious and skeptical of Western intentions vis-a-vis Iran and will be cautious about future Western engagement,” said Sanam Vakil, senior research fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank.

“This foreshadows a continued pattern of anti-American resistance, economic nationalism and internal repression, punctuated by moments of pragmatism,” she added.

“A more monolithic power structure will be less bogged down by infighting, which often impeded Rouhani’s agenda and that of his envoys,” said International Crisis Group analysts Ali Vaez and Naysan Rafati in a note on the election.

They said Raisi is set to be the first president under Khamenei whose views have “mirrored” those of the supreme leader.

Before Raisi, Khamenei has worked with four presidents — all served the maximum two consecutive terms and none saw completely eye-to-eye with the supreme leader.

Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) was a longstanding political rival of Khamenei, Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) a reformist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) a maverick who fell out with Khamenei in his second term and Rouhani, an advocate of better ties with the West.

Raisi also enters office as the first Iranian president to be personally sanctioned by the US under a November 2019 executive order that cited his record on human rights.

“This dynamic is sure to complicate dialogue between Iran and the West in the years ahead, even if his administration is likely to support the restoration of the nuclear deal for now,” said Ali Reza Eshraghi in a report on the elections for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Painstaking talks in Vienna to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal have made progress in recent days, raising the prospect that an accord could be reached before Raisi takes office.

Sanctions would be gradually lifted if the US, which quit the accord under Donald Trump, re-enters the agreement, allowing the energy-rich nation to begin realizing its economic potential.

“It is a feasible vision but it will require the lifting of sanctions. That is why the implementation of the JCPOA will be important, even for Raisi, even for the IRGC,” said Bijan Khajjehpour, managing partner at Vienna-based consulting firm Eurasian Nexus Partners.

But any hope of a entirely new nuclear deal, let alone one that covers wider issues, does not appear realistic for now.

“I see no prospect of serious talks about (a) longer and stronger” deal, said Suzanne Maloney, director of the foreign policy program at the US think tank the Brookings Institution.


Yemen PM wants to maximize oil derivatives grant from Saudi Arabia

Yemen PM wants to maximize oil derivatives grant from Saudi Arabia
Updated 25 June 2021

Yemen PM wants to maximize oil derivatives grant from Saudi Arabia

Yemen PM wants to maximize oil derivatives grant from Saudi Arabia
  • 23,000 metric tons of oil derivatives arrived Wednesday and will meet the demands of power plants in Yemen’s southeastern province
  • Supreme Energy Council conducts a comprehensive assessment of the governorates benefiting from the fuel grant

RIYADH: Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed has called on governorates to submit monthly reports and maximize an oil derivative grant provided by Saudi Arabia.
The Kingdom announced on Wednesday that the second batch of oil derivatives had arrived at the port of Mukalla in Hadramout. The 23,000 metric tons of oil derivatives will meet the demands of power plants in the southeastern province.
In order to receive the third batch, Saeed wants governorates to honor the commitments agreed upon with the Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDRPY).
The prime minister’s comments came during a meeting of the Supreme Energy Council in Yemen headed by Abdulmalik Saeed, in which he conducted a comprehensive assessment of the governorates benefiting from the grant. 
During the meeting, Minister of Electricity and Energy Anwar Kalashat presented a report on the distribution of the first two batches of the oil derivatives grant provided by the Kingdom. The report also included the commitment of the beneficiary governorates to submit monthly reports detailing the reforms that have been carried out.
The first batch of the oil derivatives arrived at the Yemeni port city of Aden on May 8. The shipments are being carried out in cooperation with the Yemeni government and local authorities to operate more than 80 Yemeni power plants at a total cost of $442 million.