Assad’s uncle jailed in France
BBC News, The Guardian, The Independent and The Telegraph report on the jailing of Rifaat al-Assad, uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in France. On Wednesday, a Pairs court sentenced Rifaat al-Assad to four years in prison for money laundering, tax fraud and misappropriation of Syrian regime funds. He was found guilty of acquiring millions worth of property in France and London using the funds. The court also ordered the seizure of a £26m London property and a £29m property in France that belonged to Rifaat al-Assad.
BBC News reports on the Israeli Knesset having a record number of openly gay MKs. After new rules allowing cabinet members to give up their Knesset seats, a total of six gay MKs from five parties across the political spectrum will serve in the Knesset.
BBC News, The Guardian and The Independent report on the US imposition of the Caesar Act, which is set to increase pressure on Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The Syrian First Lady, Asma al-Assad was named in the first round of US sanctions along with 38 other individuals. The sanctions are thought to be the toughest yet imposed and are set to be the centerpiece of a pressure campaign against Hezbollah and Iran, the regime’s top backers. This is an attempt to push Assad to enter UN-backed peace talks to end the decade long war, but there are fears that the sanctions will make the life of ordinary Syrians all the more difficult.
Ido Vock writes in The New Statesmen about “the four consequences of Israel’s plan to annex West Bank territories.” Vock says that while this plan will change relatively little for Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank, it would destroy any hope of a two-state solution and hasten the end of Israel’s democratic character.
The Economist reports on the increasing challenges facing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, ones that cannot be resolved with force. “A collapsing currency is pushing ever more Syrians into poverty. A new raft of American sanctions will make matters worse. Opposition has cropped up even within Mr Assad’s own ranks. He offers no solutions to the growing crisis”.
All the Israeli media report that the European Parliament has approved the Open Skies agreement with Israel by a vote of 437-102, with 147 members abstaining. Israel’s Ambassador to the EU, Ronny Lashno, told Haaretz that the agreement “significantly lowered flight prices and increased the number of destinations. It’s a reflection of the deep relationship and friendship between Israel and Europe. It’s a great achievement for Israeli diplomacy.” The Israeli papers note the role of Labor Party leader and Economy Minister Amir Peretz, who wrote to persuade the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats party to support the agreement with Israel, as it will strengthen Labor’s efforts ” within the Israeli government to promote peace and reconciliation between Israel and its Palestinian and Arab neighbours”.
Yediot Ahronot reports that “Prime Minister Netanyahu appears to have won the battle over the budget: the budget … will most likely only be for the year 2020 and will basically be a budget for only three months since it will only be approved on September 24. This means that the state budget for 2021 will be submitted separately and if it is not approved by March 31 next year, this could help the prime minister create a political crisis that would lead to the government’s falling and to new elections.” Netanyahu met with Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and senior Finance Ministry officials who recommended creating a separate 2020 budget because of the coronavirus pandemic and the inability to plan a budget for next year at the present time. A high-ranking official in the Prime Minister’s Office, who is a close associate of Netanyahu, told Yediot Ahronot that the next budget would not contain harsh measures, that taxes would not be raised and that vital services would not be cut. According to Kan Radio News, Gantz told his associates that he would insist on the approval of a two-year budget, as per the coalition agreement signed by the sides. Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid attacked Gantz, writing on Twitter that his position displayed amateurism or irresponsibility. “There is no way to plan a budget two years ahead under such extreme conditions of economic uncertainty. This will block the vital assistance to the self-employed and unemployed just for the sake of petty politics,” Lapid stated.
Israel Hayom reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu announced on Thursday that Israel was not going to lift more restrictions on the economy due to the uptick in coronavirus incidence levels. Speaking at the Health Ministry during a ceremony marking the appointment of a new director general, he noted that the rise in coronavirus patients meant that a planned rollout of a new phase in the easing of restrictions, aimed at restoring the economy to full capacity, would be placed on hold. “We are going to pause the reopening of the economy, at least until we can see the plateauing of the curve.” For the past week, the number of new daily cases has been rising steadily, with more than 250 cases diagnosed on some days. There are currently over 4,215 active cases of coronavirus in Israel, overall 303 Israelis have died.
Haaretz covers revelations from John Bolton, US President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, who has revealed in his upcoming book that Prime Minister Netanyahu questioned the ability of the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to formulate a peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bolton said Netanyahu spoke with him before he joined the Trump administration and expressed bewilderment at Kushner’s appointment as a White House senior advisor. Netanyahu “was dubious about assigning the task of bringing an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict to Kushner, whose family Netanyahu had known for many years. He was enough of a politician not to oppose the idea publicly, but like much of the world, he wondered why Kushner thought he would succeed where the likes of Kissinger had failed,” Bolton wrote. The revelations led to the Prime Minister’s Office issuing a statement rejecting Bolton’s remarks: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has complete faith in Jared Kushner’s abilities and resolve and rejects any description to the contrary. Kushner has greatly contributed to furthering peace in the Middle East. The US administration’s Middle East team led by Kushner successfully formulated President Trump’s principles into the ‘Vision for Peace,’ offering the most realistic blueprint for peace in our region. Kushner also contributed to President Trump’s historic decisions to recognise Jerusalem, move the US embassy to Israel’s capital and recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Kushner helped advance Israel’s relations with the Arab world. With these accomplishments alone and under President Trump’s leadership, Kushner has already achieved what others before him did not accomplish. We are confident that working together we can achieve the lasting and secure peace that we all desire.”