Airbnb reverses decision to delist Jewish homes in West Bank
The BBC and Independent report that Airbnb has reversed its decision to remove rental listings of homes located inside Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The BBC reports that the move will settle legal action brought by hosts, potential hosts and guests against the US firm. Airbnb said it would now donate all proceeds from rentals in the West Bank to humanitarian organisations. Airbnb released a statement that said: “We understand the complexity of the issue that was addressed in our previous policy announcement. Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform. We have always sought to bring people together and will continue to work with our community to achieve this goal.”
The Telegraph, Times, Independent and the BBC report that Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday began negotiations to form a new right-wing coalition after seeing off a centrist challenger in a close election and securing a fifth term as Israel’s Prime Minister. The Telegraph reports that Netanyahu’s Likud party won the same number of seats as Blue and White, a centrist coalition led by former general Benny Gantz, but the victory of other Right-wing parties gave the prime minister a clear path to a majority government. “I already began talks with the leaders of the right-wing parties, our natural partners,” Netanyahu told his cheering supporters in Tel Aviv. “I intend to finish the work quickly, with the aim of forming a stable national government.” The Independent reports that Gantz and his centrist alliance have conceded defeat to Netanyahu. Speaking from his Blue and White party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Gantz and his coalition partner Yair Lapid admitted they had not won “in this round,” but said they were preparing for elections next year – a likely reference to Netanyahu’s possible indictment.
The Guardian reports that President Donald Trump welcomed Netanyahu’s election victory by underlining the personal alliance between the two men, tweeting a picture of people waving Trump banners at the Israeli leader’s celebrations. As it became clear that Netanyahu would win a fifth term as prime minister, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was answering questions in the Senate about the US’s Middle East policy. Raising the prospect of a radical change of policy in line with Netanyahu’s goals, Pompeo refused to commit the continuing longstanding US policy in support of two states for Israelis and Palestinians, and in opposition to Israeli annexation of the West Bank. He said: “The old set of ideas are not worth retreading. They have not succeeded. I would argue that millions of man hours have been spent trying to build a two-state solution,” Pompeo told the Senate foreign relations committee. “It hasn’t worked to date.”
In the Telegraph, BICOM CEO James Sorene writes: “It’s a sweet triumph for Bibi, but he could yet be heading to prison”. At a time when Netanyahu should be working to heal Israel’s divisions and serve the people, writes Sorene, he is instead focused on fighting criminal charges. Today, he can celebrate his success, but next year he could be in prison.
The Times leads this morning with a view on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s re-election. The editorial argues that Netanyahu’s continuation as Prime Minister reflects real security concerns in Israel. It concludes by saying: “Netanyahu has gained popularity in Israel over security issues and he is right that his country faces challenges from terrorist insurgents, as well as the ambitions of Iran and its clients in Damascus and Hezbollah in Lebanon. A territorial agreement with the Palestinians is highly desirable for itself but will not quell the nuclear adventurism of Tehran or missile strikes on Israel launched by Hamas in Gaza. The test for Trump is whether he can use his close relations with Netanyahu to promote a wider peace.”
The Guardian features an editorial on the Israeli elections, arguing that the country is moving further down the wrong road with Netanyahu set to become his country’s longest-serving prime minister, for the worst reasons. The degree of harm which Netanyahu will wreak in his fifth term is yet to be determined, the newspaper writes. However, the direction of travel is grimly predictable.
The Financial Times editorial on the Israeli elections reads, “Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election spells trouble for Israel” and argues that annexing Jewish West Bank settlements would kill hopes for peace. Annexing the West Bank and imposing a solution on the Palestinians, writes the newspaper, would endanger Israel’s future and accelerate the slide towards a single state in which Arabs become the majority but without the same rights as Jews. This would be a devastating loss of legitimacy that Israelis seem only dimly to discern. The vigorous emergence of Gantz and a sort of hard and pragmatic centre party comes not a moment too soon. It will be their job to convince Israelis to take this threat seriously, before they sleepwalk into disaster.
The editorial in the Independent argues that Netanyahu’s re-election reflects the ever-shrivelling force of Israel’s Left. The five-term leader was not swept away on a wave of revulsion over allegations of corruption, it says, nor on his programme to incorporate more Israeli settlements into Israel, nor his erosion of Arab-Israeli civil rights. The editorial continues: “[Netanyahu’s] flaws, his policy failures and his appallingly narrow vision for the future of Israel: all of these are depressingly obvious. Yet Benjamin Netanyahu, arguably the worst leader Israel has ever had the misfortune to be lumbered with, is about to form another government, albeit, in typically Israeli fashion, with an untidy mix of rightist smaller groups in the Knesset.”
In the Times, David Aaronovitch writes: “Netanyahu can’t take Israel’s friends for granted,” arguing the price of the Prime Minister’s determination to hold on to power is the support once taken for granted in the US and Europe.
In the Independent, Patrick Cockburn writes on what Netanyahu’s victory tells us about the balance of power in the Middle East. He argues that Israeli voters like leaders who talk tough, but not those who get them engaged in long, inconclusive wars – and that’s why ‘Bibi’ remains so popular.
In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland argues that Netanyahu’s victory means that life is about to get worse for Palestinians. Netanyahu’s re-election, he writes, heralds the further undermining of the rule of law, including threats to the occupied West Bank. Freedland stipulates that the Palestinians will have to brace themselves for a Trump “peace plan” that is likely to deny them the territory they need to build a state of their own. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s victory promises a further assault on democratic norms and the rule of law inside Israel. It surely spells gloom for the long-term prospects of both peoples, but they are used to that by now. It’s been this way on and off for most of the last quarter century. For truly this is the age of Netanyahu.
On the BBC, Chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet writes: “Bibi the magician pulls off another trick”. Weeks remain before the final shape of Israel’s 21st Knesset will be clear. And summer will bring more political heat. Netanyahu, writes Doucet, could make history by becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, surpassing the country’s founding father David Ben-Gurion. He could also become the first prime minister to be indicted in office. But this election has underlined again how Netanyahu knows, one way or another, how to keep fighting back.
The Times reports that human rights groups have attacked proposals to put foreign ISIS captives including British-born jihadists on trial in Iraq in return for multimillion-dollar payments to Baghdad. The proposal was made during meetings between western officials keen to stop jihadists coming home and Iraq and other states which are holding them after their capture. It is not clear how seriously the offer is being taken. Western governments are critical of judicial standards in Iraq. Britain has previously refused to extradite suspects without guarantees that they will not face the death penalty, which is liberally applied in Iraq. However, Sajid Javid, the home secretary, has already made an exception in the case of Alexanda Kotey, 35, and El Shafee Elsheikh, 30, two alleged members of the “Beatles” jihadist gang who may be sent to the US.
Reuters reports that according to four sources familiar with the decision, Egypt has pulled out of the US effort to forge an “Arab NATO” with key Arab allies; a blow to the Trump administration’s strategy to contain Iranian power. Egypt conveyed its decision to the US and other participants in the proposed Middle East Security Alliance, or MESA, ahead of a meeting held Sunday in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, one source said. Cairo did not send a delegation to the meeting, the latest gathering held to advance the US-led effort to bind Sunni Muslim Arab allies into a security, political and economic pact to counter Shi’ite Iran, the source said. Egypt withdrew because it doubted the seriousness of the initiative, had yet to see a formal blueprint laying it out, and because of the danger that the plan would increase tensions with Iran, said an Arab source who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity.
The BBC reports that according to interim leader Abdelkader Bensalah, Algeria will hold presidential elections on 4 July. It comes after a wave of protests led long-term President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, to resign last week. Demonstrations continued on Wednesday, with more expected. The temporary appointment of Bensalah, speaker of the Algerian parliament’s upper house, has frustrated some protesters who hoped for more radical change. Following the announcement, crowds took to the streets of the capital, Algiers, demanding he step down.
Reuters reports that Hezbollah raised the prospect of retaliation by Iran and its allies over US sanctions, saying on Wednesday that all options were on the table if Washington takes steps that “threaten our nation”. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the heavily armed Iranian-backed Shi’ite group, said the US’s move this week to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation reflected a failure of US policy in the Middle East.
In the Israeli media Kan Radio quotes a Likud source saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in advanced negotiations with potential coalition partners. He said that the election results were a huge achievement for the party and its leader. He said that the Israeli public had spoken and that they had absolute confidence in Netanyahu and had given him an unequivocal mandate to continue to lead the Government to tremendous achievements in the next four years. Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Netanyahu will demand that coalition partners agree to grant him some kind of immunity from prosecution. Moran Azulai argues that: “The wave of support that Netanyahu received from the electorate will allow him to form what has been dubbed the ‘indictment coalition’; most of the members of that coalition — the Union of Right-Wing Parties, UTJ, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu — have already publicly announced that they would serve in a government under Netanyahu even if he were to be indicted. Sources in the prime minister’s inner circle said that the clear results of the elections and the reverberating victory were a clear message to everyone, and especially to his future partners: Netanyahu sought reelection when the allegations against him were clear and were well-known to the public, but nevertheless received its confidence.” Azulai adds that Bezalel Smotrich of the United Right has already announced that he intends to amend the immunity law rolling it back to its iteration from before 2005. This framework would make parliamentary immunity an automatic right that can only be lifted by means of a Knesset majority vote rather than immunity being granted only in the event that a majority in the Knesset votes in favour of granting it to the MK in question.
Maariv and Haaretz report that the New Right party is very close to entering the Knesset with soldiers votes still being counted.
Yuval Karni in Yediot Ahronoth writes that: “Netanyahu’s fifth government will be his most right wing and most Haredi government. The likely landmines, therefore will be on issues of religion and state between the Haredim versus Yisrael Beiteinu and Kulanu. Lieberman declared himself to be ‘right wing secular,’ and one of his conditions for joining the government is to pass the military draft bill (without changing a comma, as he put it). That bill, for anyone who may have forgotten, was the official pretext for dismantling the last government.”
Aluf Benn in Haaretz argues that: “The new Netanyahu government will have two main goals: to get rid of the indictments looming in his future and to annex the settlements to Israel, in coordination with the Trump administration. These two goals could be summed up as ‘immunity in exchange for sovereignty.’”
Also on the Netanyahu investigations, Haaretz claims Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing is likely to be delayed, as his lawyers are refusing to pick up the evidence from the prosecution until they get paid. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had said he would hold the hearing after the election but no later than July. At Netanyahu’s request, he also agreed that the prosecution wouldn’t hand the evidence over to the defence attorneys before the election, since Netanyahu was afraid the material would leak and be used against him during the campaign. With the election now over, his lawyers are supposed to get the material and start preparing for the pre-trial hearing but are refusing to pick up the massive evidence files until they get paid.
Maariv reports statements from Blue and White leader Benny Gantz who last night that he and his fellow party members respected the people’s decision and would respect any decision made by President Rivlin on who he thinks is best suited to form the next government. Yair Lapid, who is second on Blue and White’s list, said at the beginning of the press conference that his party was preparing for victory in the next round and that it had no intention of crawling into the coalition, but would serve as an opposition that would embitter the Netanyahu government’s life.
Haaretz reports that an Israeli public relations company headed by a settler leader boasted Wednesday that it was behind the Likud initiative to place 1,200 hidden cameras in Arab polling stations on Election Day. The firm added that it was to thank for the historically low turnout among Arab voters.