Netanyahu criticises corruption investigation
The Times, Guardian, and the Daily Mail all report on US efforts to block the upcoming UN General Assembly vote criticising US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They also report that Trump stated at a Cabinet meeting in Washington that those who voted for the resolution were likely to have funding from the US government cut off.
The Times reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched a broadside against the Israeli police, who are expected to recommend within weeks that he be formally charged with corruption. In a speech at the Likud party’s Hanukkah rally in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu appeared to acknowledge that he would be charged but maintained that the allegations against him would prove baseless and promised to fight the next election.
The Daily Mail reports that Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Catholic church’s top official in Jerusalem criticised Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of the city as Israel’s capital, saying it damaged Christmas celebrations and led to hundreds cancelling trips. He said that “dozens” of groups had pulled out of planned visits after being scared off by the announcement and subsequent clashes.
The Guardian reports that Saudi Arabia has agreed to re-open the Yemeni port of Hodeidah to food aid and commercial fuel for a minimum of 30 days. Aid agencies, including the UN, have been warning that a month-long blockade on the port was cutting off aid to nearly 70 per cent of those desperately in need of humanitarian relief.
The FT reports that Saudi officials have insisted that the anti-corruption campaign has not driven away international investors as the kingdom seeks to attract foreign capital to diversify its economy. Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih stated on Wednesday that “eliminating the pockets of small corruption here and there is reassuring to investors and they are responding by increasing their appetite for the kingdom”.
Columnist Andy Harwood in the Independent questions if Saudi Arabia is being lined up by the US to broker talks between Israel and Palestine for a two-state solution. He states that recent events are feeding into conspiracy stories which say that the Saudis have been in on the Jerusalem plan from the outset.
BBC News Online report that air strikes on the rebel-held Idlib village have killed 19 people. Thirteen of the dead were members of the same family and activists believe the raid was carried out by Russian or Syrian government aircraft. Russia said its aircraft were not flying in the area at the time.
The Daily Mail reports that David Bitan has stepped down as Israeli Government coalition chairman as he is under police investigation for corruption and links to organised crime. “The current situation is making it difficult for me to operate,” Bitan wrote in a Facebook post, while stressing he would remain a member of parliament.
All the Israeli media focus on David Bitan’s resignation as coalition chairman due to the police investigation into his alleged role in the Rishon Lezion corruption case. Yediot Ahronot ask in their editorial: “If Netanyahu is able to continue to serve despite the fact that he is up to his neck in allegations and investigations, how is it possible that his coalition chairman, the flesh of his political flesh, is unable to continue to serve in his post? It would seem that the rule for Netanyahu isn’t the rule for Bitan. Politics often becomes the art of the impossible. In the political reality that Netanyahu has forced on them, many of the top Likud ministers and officials, who demanded Olmert’s resignation a decade ago, have now enlisted to explain why Netanyahu can continue to serve in that very same capacity.” Haaretz comments on successor David Amsalem calling him “undoubtedly the bluntest and most vehement voice against the police, whom he knows from the less pleasant side of the table in the interrogation rooms.”
Yediot Ahronot and Israel Hayom report comments by Minister Yigal Erdan reflecting on the Netanyahu criticism of the police, “Some of the things he said are justified and he has to explain them in more detail to the public. But I am not alright with all the statements.” Maariv includes coverage of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon who gives the police chief his full backing.
Yediot Ahronot reports that the judicial selection committee is considering appointing a Muslim judge to the Supreme Court for the first time. Representatives of the Israel Bar Association on the committee support the appointment of Judge Khaled Kabub, instead of someone from the private sector.
Haaretz reports, despite the Israeli government’s declarations of widespread Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in reality only 46 of the over 3,000 housing units announced are being put out to tender in 2017, according to the United Nations. Not a single new tender process was completed for new Jewish settlement construction in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem and 80 per cent was concentrated in the “settlement blocs,” those areas of the West Bank most likely to remain under Israeli control in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Yedioth Ahronoth reveals the Israeli Foreign Ministry secretly contacted Bangladesh, a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, and offered significant humanitarian aid for thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled from Myanmar’s army. Bangladesh officials politely thanked Israel for the offer, but said that they would not be able to accept aid from Israel because of political sensitivities.
Israel Hayom reveals that a British merchant navy ship sunk by a German submarine 74 years ago during the Second World War has been discovered 19km off the Israeli coast, close to Netanya. This is the largest ever vessel found in Israeli water.
Kan Radio News reports that the national conference of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, ordered the government in Pretoria to downgrade diplomatic ties with Israel and to immediately and unconditionally replace the embassy in Tel Aviv with a liaison office to show solidarity with what it called the oppressed people of Palestine.