Netanyahu accused of exploiting virus crisis

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (AP)
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Updated 20 March 2020

Netanyahu accused of exploiting virus crisis

  • The prime minister is accused of undermining democracy
  • Netanyahu has managed to postpone his own pending criminal trial

JERUSALEM: With the Israeli government enacting a series of emergency measures to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing growing accusations that he is exploiting the crisis to entrench himself in power and undermining the country’s democratic foundations.

Amid a wave of sweeping restrictions that have put Israel in near shutdown mode, Netanyahu has managed to postpone his own pending criminal trial, authorize unprecedented electronic surveillance of Israeli citizens and block parliament from pressing ahead with legislation aimed at pushing him from office.

The moves, on the heels of the country’s third inconclusive election in less than a year and under the shadow of Netanyahu’s corruption indictment, sparked leading opposition figure Yair Lapid to tell Israeli citizens that they “no longer live in a democracy.”

“There is no judicial branch in Israel. There is no legislative branch in Israel. There is only an unelected government that is headed by a person who lost the election. You can call that by a lot of names, it isn’t a democracy,” he said in a recorded video.

Amid growing anger toward Netanyahu, police on Thursday blocked two convoys of cars from reaching the Knesset, or parliament, where activists planned to protest against the government moves.

Police stopped dozens of cars on a major highway as they made their way to Jerusalem, calling it an “illegal protest.” They also stopped dozens of cars inside Jerusalem from approaching the Knesset. Many of the cars hoisted black flags alongside Israeli flags and honked in protest. “With dictatorship we die,” read one poster.

Israeli health officials have diagnosed over 400 coronavirus cases, roughly a quarter of them detected in the last 24 hours.

With the numbers quickly rising, authorities have issued a series of tough guidelines that have brought the country to a standstill. People have been instructed to stay home, tens of thousands are in home quarantine and foreigners have been banned from entering the country.

Most controversially, the Israeli government instructed the shadowy Shin Bet internal security service to start deploying the agency’s phone surveillance technology to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus in Israel by tracking the moves of the infected.

Israel uses phone surveillance in the occupied Palestinian territories, saying it’s an important tool to prevent attacks on Israelis, but critics say it’s also aimed at maintaining tight control.

Egypt set to submit final Renaissance Dam report

Updated 14 min 40 sec ago

Egypt set to submit final Renaissance Dam report

  • Intense talks about Nile-based project

CAIRO: Egypt is expected to submit its final report on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations on Monday.

The report comes after 10 days of intense negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and will be submitted to South Africa as the current head of the African Union, which is mediating the talks.

All three countries are set to issue their final reports on the negotiation’s outcomes.

On Friday, Egypt rejected Ethiopia’s suggestion on postponing reaching a settlement on the points of contention in the GERD negotiations, according to a spokesman from Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, Mohamed El-Sebaei. He said that the report would be handed to South Africa even though Egypt and Sudan had yet to review any of the dam’s safety studies.

The deadline to reach a deal in the current round of negotiations was scheduled for Sunday. The talks were resuming Monday with the three countries’ irrigation ministers.

Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said that the ministers of the three countries started the Sunday meeting by reviewing the discussions of the technical and legal committees. Egypt put forward some alternative formulas to try to bring the opposing views closer.

The Sudanese and Ethiopian sides presented a few alternatives to the points of disagreement on technical and legal aspects, but the discussions reflected the ongoing disagreements on the main issues.

The Sudanese News Agency quoted the executive director of the African Union’s Energy Commission, Rashid Abdullah Ali, as saying that an agreement on the points of dispute between the three countries was close to being realized.

Some 85 percent of the Nile waters that reach Egypt flow from Ethiopian highlands, mainly from the Blue Nile.

Egypt, which is almost entirely dependent on the River Nile for its freshwater, fears the dam will diminish its water supply, which is already below scarcity level.

Ethiopia hopes the massive $4.8 billion megaproject on the Blue Nile, which would generate 6,000 megawatts when completed, will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.

The latest round of the years-long talks stalled after Ethiopia rejected to enter into a binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.

Ali called on the three countries to prepare for the changes that the dam would lead to.

“We must manage a scientific-social dialogue to prepare ourselves to operate the Renaissance Dam and know how to plan for the future. There are huge projects that need government leadership,” he said.

Benefits for Sudan included the possibility of regulating the flow of the Nile and adding two million acres to irrigated agricultural lands, he said, and studies should be conducted for new projects to take advantage of this amount. He was expecting a decrease in the cost of pumping water with pumps over the entire course of the Blue Nile, and Nile and farmers benefiting from it.

He said the negative aspects for Sudan were that it would lose 50 percent of its cliffs, which are estimated at 50,000 acres out of a total of 100,000 acres, which are lands that were flooded with Nile water and planted with vegetables in the summer.

Mohammed Nasr Allam, Egypt’s former minister of water resources and irrigation, told Arab News that the framework followed by Ethiopia on the Renaissance Dam had been “stubborn” and had stalled all steps for a solution.

The US and the World Bank became involved in the dispute late last year but failed to get Ethiopia to sign up to a document agreed with Egypt in February.

“Ethiopia does not want to accept any agreements nor does it want any legal authority to monitor the implementation of the agreement if it ends up happening, and to hold those who violate it accountable,” Nader Noureldin, professor of water resources at Cairo University, said.

Noureldin predicted that, if the current negotiations failed, Egypt would turn to international courts “which the Ethiopian negotiator refuses to resort to if any party violates its promises in the treaties.”