Erekat hospitalised in critical condition
The BBC reports on the serious condition of Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat after contracting the coronavirus earlier this month. Yesterday Erekat, 65, was transferred from his home in the West Bank to Hadassah University Hospital Ein Karem, in Jerusalem. The Palestine Liberation Organisation said he needed urgent care because he had a lung transplant in 2017.
The Telegraph and Financial Times report on the UK’s warning to Israel to abandon its controversial expansion of settlements in the West Bank, expressing “deep concern” over plans to build nearly 5,000 more settler houses in the disputed territory. The UK, along with France, Germany, Italy and Spain, issued a statement calling for “an immediate halt to settlement construction, as well as to evictions and to demolitions of Palestinian structures in East-Jerusalem and the West Bank”. The Telegraph also reports on the easing of lockdown measures in Israel after a significant decline in the rate of coronavirus infections.
The BBC reports on Israel and Bahrain forming diplomatic relations in an agreement that was signed yesterday in Manama. Bahrain is now the fourth Arab country in the Middle East – after the UAE, Egypt and Jordan – to recognise Israel since its founding in 1948. Following the signing, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani said in a speech that he hoped for “fruitful bilateral co-operation in every field” between the two nations.
In a Sunday Times exclusive, a British woman has said that she was the victim of a serious sexual assault by a senior Emirati royal while working on the launch of the Hay literary festival in Abu Dhabi. Caitlin McNamara, 32, claims she was attacked by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the minister of tolerance in the UAE cabinet and a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family. The alleged assault took place on Valentine’s Day this year at a remote private island villa where McNamara thought she had been summoned to discuss preparations for the inaugural Hay Festival Abu Dhabi. The sheikh denies any wrongdoing and said this weekend that he was “surprised and saddened” by the claims. Last night Hay’s directors pledged never to return to the Gulf kingdom again while Sheikh Nahyan remains in post.
The Guardian, Financial Times and Independent report that Iranian officials have hailed the lifting of a 13-year UN arms embargo on their military as a momentous day, claiming they were once again free to buy and sell conventional weapons in an effort to strengthen their country’s security. The paper notes that the European Union and the UK are to maintain a separate arms embargo on Iran despite the lifting of the UN one.
The Financial Times notes that the coronavirus and plunging oil prices may force the new leader of Oman to turn to Gulf neighbours for economic help, which could suck Oman into a toxic dispute that pits Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against Qatar and undermine Muscat’s ability to act as a regional mediator.
All of the Israeli newspapers report this morning on the “Haredi rebellion” in which hundreds of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) elementary and secondary schools reopened yesterday, and again this morning, despite the government ordering them not to do so in its effort to contain and control the coronavirus pandemic. (Some ultra-Orthodox groups, such as the Gerer Hasids and the Sephardic Haredim associated with Shas, refrained from reopening their schools.) The decision to reopen the schools was made in response to instructions by senior Haredi Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. Reports in the Hebrew media indicate that the police refrained from forcibly shutting down any of the schools and from sending the pupils home, though several principals were reportedly fined for their violation of the directives. Unnamed cabinet ministers are quoted by Yediot Ahronot this morning as criticising Netanyahu, saying: “He’s incapable of standing up to the Haredi parties and of fighting resolutely against the spread of the coronavirus in Haredi society. If we don’t stand up to the Haredi civil disobedience, it’ll lead us into a third lockdown. Netanyahu is being run by the [Haredi] parties’ leaders. If there’s anyone here who has someone ‘by the throat,’ it’s the Haredi politicians who have Netanyahu. The price is being paid by all the citizens.”
Maariv quotes in length what the government response should be to the ultra-Orthodox rebellion from senior Likud figures Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. Edelstein says: “There is no permission to open any school [for children] over the age of six. We will issue heavy fines and we will revoke licenses and budgets from anyone who opened in violation of the law.” Steinitz further added: “If there are people who violate the directives systematically we need to consider denying the yeshivas’ funding. We’ll do two things: we’ll issue fines and we’ll shut down places that were opened in violation of protocol, and we will also place a ring around those cities that remain red.”
Yedidia Stern, law professor at Bar Ilan University and is a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, writes in Yediot Ahronot that the defiance of the flaw from some ultra-Orthodox groups is “a call that verges on qualifying as ‘institutional civil disobedience’”. Stern adds: “The Haredim do not want to rebel against the state. Contrary to some of the smear attacks on them, they do care about the general public, care that is proven in the welfare and rescue organizations that they have established and which all of us use. But the step that has just been taken by the Litvak community’s leader is extremely dangerous since it points the way to all other parts of the divided Israeli society to using the option of civil disobedience to force the rule of law to bow. That action removes a mental barrier that stands in the way of a terrifying escalation in the Israeli culture war. It sabotages our very ability to live with differences of opinion but with a fundamental acceptance of certain rules of the game, at the centre of which is the rule of law. Rabbi Kanievsky may win this battle, but he and his sector, as well as all of Israeli society, are liable to lose the war.”
All the Israeli media also report on the deteriorating condition of PLO chief Saeb Erekat, who contracted COVID-19 about 10 days ago in the West Bank but was moved to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem at the request of the Palestinian Authority yesterday after his conditioned worsened. This morning the hospital said that Erekat’s state is critical and he has been put in a medically induced coma.
A Channel 13 News poll that was broadcast last night shows that a majority coalition of 61 members could be formed without the Likud. The poll found that the Likud would receive only 27 seats — three fewer than in the last poll from about a month ago, and nine fewer than in the last elections. Yamina continued to grow stringer and the second largest party with 24 seats, Yesh Atid-Telem with 21 seats, Joint List with 11 seats, Blue and White with 8 seats, Shas with 8 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu with 8 seats, UTJ with 7 seats, and Meretz with 6 seats.
Another poll by Channel 12 News has the Likud also on 27 seats, Yamina with 22 seats, Yesh Atid-Telem with 17 seats, Joint List with 15 seats, Blue and White with 10 seats, Shas with 9 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu with 7 seats, UTJ with 7 seats, and Meretz with 6 seats.