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Media Summary

EU Parliament censures Saudi Arabia over human rights abuses

In a feature for BBC News, Alex De Waal analyses US President Donald Trump’s push for Sudan to ‘befriend Israel’ and the history of relations between Israel, Sudan and the United States. With Sudan facing a collapsing economy, hyper-inflation, food shortages, and its democracy hanging by a thread, Trump’s push for the country to recognise Israel would result in the US taking it off the state sponsors of terror list. The move would open the door “to essential economic stabilisation measures”.

The Telegraph reports that the EU Parliament has condemned Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses across its detention camps. The move came a month after an investigation from The Telegraph revealed “thousands of men, women and children locked up to stop the spread of coronavirus were forced to sleep and eat in their own faeces”. The paper also notes that the vote by the EU Parliament was kept secret until the last minute because officials feared they may be targeted by hackers.

The Associated Press reports that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has drawn in fighters from the Middle East. According to three Syrian-based opposition activists, Turkey has sent hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters to back its ally Azerbaijan. On the other side of the flighting, Lebanese-Armenians “have been sending money and aid as well as campaigning in the media in support of ethnic Armenians”.

Alona Ferber writes in the New Statesman about how the latest protests across Israel are pushing the country’s coalition to the brink. The protestors are calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation over his government’s failure on coronavirus and the ongoing criminal cases he faces. Increased restrictions on protestors have become a point of friction in Israel’s parliament, with politicians in and outside of the coalition defending the demonstrators right to protest despite Netanyahu’s attempts to shut them down.

Anshel Pfeffer writes for The Economist about the Israeli public’s declining trust in Netanyahu. Recent polls suggest Netanyahu would lose more than a quarter of his seats to Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party. But the shift “is not about ideology or policy. Both men hold similar views on many issues”. Netanyahu’s failed response to the coronavirus crisis, which prompted the country into a second nation-wide lockdown, has cost lives and the public’s trust.

The Economist reports on Iran’s desire for a “strategic partnership” with China. In recent months China and Iran have been discussing plans for a 25-year strategic partnership and leaked drafts reveal Chinese investment in telecoms and nuclear energy, a likely stake in Iran’s oil industry, infrastructure projects linking Iran into the Belt and Road initiative, and more. The paper argues that much like other Chinese diplomacy in the Middle East, “rather than a comprehensive road map, the proposal is more a sign of both Iran’s desperation and the limits of China’s ambition”.

The Israeli media cover the Health Ministry’s latest update that there were  3,692 new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours. Out of 46,188 coronavirus tests conducted on Thursday, 8 per cent came back positive. To date, 1,864 patients have died. There are currently 59,347 active coronavirus carriers in Israel, with 825 of them in serious condition and 241 patients on ventilators. Yediot Ahronot covers Coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu’s comments yesterday, that if the coronavirus infection rate continues to decline, he will recommend the government ease the nationwide lockdown sometime next week. Gamzu added, “Unfortunately, the closure has not yet reached its goal in virus hotspots.  There are certain areas with steady and uninhibited morbidity rates, and this is nobody’s fault… At one point, we had 140-150 ‘red’ cities (communities with high infection rates), now, there are less than 80 and I estimate we will see that number going down to between 20 and 40. There are about 15 virus hotspots that are especially rough to handle due to resurging morbidity rates. In these areas, a four-week lockdown will not suffice. Differential lockdowns are an acceptable method all over the world.”

All the Israeli media report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring Israel’s normalisation deal with the United Arab Emirates to a government vote on Monday. The vote on the agreement between the two countries, which involves establishing full diplomatic and economic ties, will go first to the cabinet ministers and then to the Knesset. Haaretz notes that according to officials familiar with the planned vote, the version that will be presented to cabinet and Knesset is identical to the one already made public last month. Israel Hayom notes Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee MK Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz) is opposed approving the agreement in the Knesset before it could be discussed in his committee. Hauser is calling on Netanyahu to present to the committee all the agreements made with the UAE and Bahrain before they were brought to the Knesset, “including classified details that are not stated in the language of the agreements.” According to Hauser, “Netanyahu must present the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee with every detail of the agreements, including the secret ones; the defence significance (of the deals) and the expected ramifications. The Knesset must not be the government’s rubber stamp.” 

Israel Hayom reports that Israel has signed an aviation agreement with Jordan that will allow flights from the UAE and Bahrain to fly through Israeli airspace. According to Transport Ministry, “the deal had been discussed for years, but the neighbours were only able to finalise it after Israel and the two Gulf Arab states signed a historic agreement last month to normalise ties…. With commercial planes now able to fly through the Israel-Jordan corridor, flight times for some routes between Asia and Europe and North America, including flights from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, will be shorter… The agreement will significantly cut flight times to Gulf countries, Asia and the Far East, leading to fuel savings and less pollution.”

Yediot Ahronot and Haaretz report that Defence Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz has demanded that Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately instruct the Finance Ministry to begin preparing the 2021 state budget, and to allow its approval by December. Gantz is quoted saying, “Any action to thwart the approval of the budget means preferring personal considerations to the good of the Israeli people. There is a great distance between the unity agreement we signed and where we are. The government’s conduct does not allow proper, democratic and worthy governance.” Haaretz explains, “the main point of contention preventing the passing of a budget is the demand by Gantz to pass a two-year budget as outlined in the coalition agreement with Likud. In contrast, Netanyahu is determined to pass a one-year budget, which would leave him the option of calling an election next June if the next budget, for 2021, isn’t passed in the spring, before Gantz is supposed to take over as prime minister according to the coalition agreement.  In such a situation, according to the agreement, Netanyahu would remain as prime minister in a caretaker government.”

Maariv published it latest poll that shows the Likud losing support, but remaining the largest party. According to the poll, if the election were held today, the Likud Party would have 27 seats (compared to the 36 seats it has today).  Yamina, led by MK Naftali Bennett, receives 22 seats (compared to 6 in the current Knesset). Yesh Atid-Telem, led by opposition leader Yair Lapid, 16 seats, Joint List, 15 seats, Blue and White, 10 seats, Shas, 9 seats, Yisrael Beitenu, 9 seats, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) 7 seats, Meretz 5 seats. A parallel poll also included the possibility of a new party led by former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot and Tel Aviv-Yafo Mayor Ron Huldai.  In that scenario: Likud 28 seats, Yamina 20, Joint List 14, Yesh Atid-Telem 13, Shas 9, Eizenkot-Huldai list 8, Blue and White 8, Yisrael Beytenu 8, UTJ 7 and Meretz 5.