Qatar leaves OPEC
The Financial Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Reuters and the BBC report that Israeli police have said PM Benjamin Netanyahu should be charged with bribery and fraud over his and his wife’s dealings with the owners of an influential news website. The Financial Times reports that police investigators who deal with economic crimes said on Sunday that Netanyahu and his wife received favourable news coverage from the Walla! News portal after the PM and senior staff changed regulations to favour its parent company Bezeq, the country’s largest telecom group. Investigators have now concluded their probes into four separate cases that have rattled Mr Netanyahu’s premiership and recommended charges against him in three of them, all involving his relationships with wealthy businessmen. The Attorney-General, Avichai Mandelblit, must now decide whether to approve the recommendations to charge the PM, who has assailed the investigations as witch hunts. A decision by Mandelblit to indict the prime minister would effectively end his premiership, as coalition allies have indicated they would not accept Netanyahu defending himself in court while also leading the country. “Netanyahu, your time is up,” said Yoel Hasson, leader of the Zionist Union, a major opposition group. “Israel must hold elections, not in November [as scheduled] nor in May, but immediately. Benjamin Netanyahu, who is neck-deep in investigations and suspicions, must resign today and not even run in the upcoming elections.” The Guardian reports that the PM has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the accusations as a witch-hunt orchestrated by the media. “The police recommendations regarding me and my wife don’t surprise anyone,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “These recommendations were decided upon and leaked even before the investigation began.”
The BBC, Reuters and the Guardian report on Qatar’s announced withdrawal from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) ahead of an OPEC meeting with its allies in December. Reuters reports that Qatar is withdrawing from OPEC as of January 2019. This is according to an announcement by Saad al-Kaabi, the country’s Energy Minister on Monday. The decision came after Qatar, one of OPEC’s smallest producers but the world’s largest liquefied natural gas exporter, reviewed ways to enhance its role internationally and plan long-term strategy, including focusing on its gas industry, he said. The announcement comes ahead of the meeting by OPEC and its allies including Russia on Dec. 6-7 to discuss cutting supply. The Guardian reports that, according to experts, OPEC could cut supply by 500,000 barrels a day to reflect forecasts for a slowing global economy.
The Guardian , BBC and Telegraph report on the planned evacuation of fifty Houthi militants in Yemen’s rebel-held capital, Sana’a. The Guardian reports they will be evacuated to Muscat for treatment on Monday. A spokesperson for the Saudi-led military coalition announced the move, calling it a “confidence-building” measure before planned peace talks in Sweden. “A UN-chartered plane will arrive at Sanaa international airport Monday to evacuate 50 wounded combatants accompanied by … three Yemeni doctors and a UN doctor, from Sana’a to Muscat,” coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. The coalition agreed to facilitate the medical evacuations at the request of UN envoy Martin Griffiths for “humanitarian reasons” and as a “confidence-building” measure, Maliki said in the statement early on Monday.
Reuters reports that on Sunday, Iran said it would continue missile tests to build up its defences. Iran denied this was in breach of U.N. resolutions following U.S. allegations that Tehran had tested a new missile capable of carrying multiple warheads. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday condemned what he called Iran’s testing of a medium-range ballistic missile in violation of the 2015 international agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme, from which Washington has withdrawn. “Missile tests … are carried out for defence and the country’s deterrence, and we will continue,” Brigadier- General Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesman for Iran’s armed forces, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency. “We will continue to both develop and test missiles. This is outside the framework of (nuclear) negotiations and part of our national security, for which we will not ask any country’s permission,” Shekarchi said. Earlier, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted: “Iran just test-fired a … ballistic missile capable of reaching Israel and Europe. This provocative behaviour cannot be tolerated.”
The BBC reports that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that Saudi Arabia extradite the suspects in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Speaking after the G20 in Argentina, he said Khashoggi had not featured in the talks and only Canada’s Justin Trudeau had brought the subject up. Saudi Arabia has charged 11 people with the murder, but there is no suggestion it is ready to send them to Turkey. It denies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the killing.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has penned an op-ed in the Telegraph. The Archbishop writes that Christians in the Middle East are under ‘grave threat’ and urges that they are not forgotten by the world.
The Israeli media is dominated by the news that the police have recommended that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife should be charged with bribery in Case 4,000, for specifically giving Shaul Elovitch, Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, benefits in exchange for favourable coverage in the Walla news website. Yediot Ahronot, Maariv, Haaretz and Israel Hayom all lead with this story.
Kan Radio News reports that Netanyahu reacted sharply to the police’s recommendation that he be indicted in the Bezeq-Walla affair, saying that the fix was in and calling the timing tainted and petty. Netanyahu said that it had been leaked back before the first investigation began that this would be the recommendation and that another outcome could not have been expected.
Kan Radio reports that the the team from the State Attorney’s Office that investigated the Bezeq-Walla affair is inclined to accept the police’s recommendation to indict the prime minister for bribery. Those involved in the investigation said that they expected Attorney General Mandelblit to make a decision in all of Netanyahu’s cases by Passover. The State Attorney’s Office is disinclined to indict Sara Netanyahu despite the police’s recommendation due to legal and evidentiary difficulties.
Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz writes that, “In short, Netanyahu used his Hanukkah greetings to present his defence strategy. Slam the police, say that all the politicians do it, and wear the public down with arcane financial details. And if necessary, stretch democracy to its limits.”
Lahav Harkov in the Jerusalem Post argues that, the recommendations are “not likely to have much of an immediate impact, but it is a step toward what could be the most dramatic development in Israeli politics in a decade” adding that “Mandelblit has been known to take his time, but the police recommendations bring us one step closer toward the decision that can make or break Netanyahu, and possibly change Israeli politics as we’ve known it for the past decade.”
Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Nahum Barnea, draws attention to Netanyahu’s focus on gaining the Communications Ministry for himself during coalition negotiations. “Netanyahu made inordinate concessions to Kahlon, Bennett and the Haredi parties. There was one thing he insisted on: in addition to being prime minister, he would also be communications minister. Not only that: the coalition parties would have to commit, from the outset, to support any decision that the Communications Ministry made. He did not demand such a commitment about anything else, not for the greater Land of Israel, not for state security, not for upholding democratic values or the sanctity of the Jewish people” adding that “Netanyahu took on the Communications Ministry not in order to run in, but it order to take revenge. The enemy was the media. The solution was to take it over by force.”
In Maariv, Ben Caspit writes that “Whoever knows Netanyahu and saw his speech yesterday recognized the signs of panic. It was an emotional, volatile, agitated Netanyahu. For the first time in a long time, he seemed to be in real distress. Since his supply of excuses based on substance had run out, he was compelled to focus, in an unbridled diatribe, on outgoing police commissioner Roni Alsheich.”
Matty Tuchfield in Israel Hayom argues that “The recommendations are crammed with details about the benefits that Netanyahu allegedly gave Elovitch, and they don’t skim the details about the favourable coverage that Netanyahu ostensibly received on the website Walla in return, either. Only one thing is missing: the bribery deal, the meeting, talk, or message through envoys—in person or in writing—in which Netanyahu and Elovitch agree that in exchange for favourable coverage on Walla from Elovitch, he will pocket a billion shekels from the prime minister in the form of various benefits.”
In other news, Yediot Ahronot reports that the second round of Qatari money in suitcases 15 million dollars —will most likely come this week. Informed sources in the Gaza Strip said that the Postal Bank branches in Gaza are prepared to handle the money as early as tomorrow to pay the salaries of about 30,000 Hamas officials. The sources said that the suitcases will enter the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Fatah spokesperson Osama Qawassmeh said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction is opposed to an American proposal to condemn Hamas at the United Nations General Assembly. “We will fight to defeat this resolution despite Hamas’s effort to undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority.” The UN General Assembly is scheduled to vote on Tuesday on a US-drafted resolution that would condemn Hamas for firing rockets at Israel and demand an end to the violence. If adopted, the resolution would be the first of its kind taken by the General Assembly against Hamas. All 28 European Union countries have agreed to support the resolution.