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Media Summary

Iran excludes reformist and pragmatist candidates for June Presidential election

The BBC, Independent, Associated Press and The Times report on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Israel and the West Bank yesterday, in which he promised to improve ties with the Palestinians by reopening a consulate in Jerusalem and help rebuild the conflict-torn Gaza Strip. He also pledged “America’s ironclad commitment to Israeli security” following a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The BBC interviews Samira Dajani and Adel Budeiri, whose single-storey stone house in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah is one of 14 where Palestinian residents – 300 people in all – face eviction to “make way for Jewish settlers,” in a case that has made it all the way to Israel’s Supreme Court.

The Spectator examines the depth of Hamas’s underground network system, dubbed the “Metro”. The article says, “During this latest conflict, the Israel Defence Forces destroyed more than 60 miles of these tunnels, known as the ‘Metro’. ‘They were originally used by Hamas operatives to hide after firing rockets at Israel,’ the IDF explained in a video last week. ‘Hamas connected its smaller tunnels until they became a complex underground system allowing terrorists to hide, train, and transport weapons.’ The IDF noted that the network has been years in the making, after much of it was destroyed in 2014 during ‘Operation Protective Edge’.”

The Guardian reports that Ireland has condemned the ‘de facto annexation’ of Palestinian land by Israel. Foreign Minister Simon Coveney supported a parliamentary motion and says treatment of Palestinians is ‘manifestly unequal’ and “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land by Israeli authorities, in what it said was the first use of the phrase by a European Union government in relation to Israel.

The Telegraph, Independent and BBC report that Iran has named the conservative head of its judiciary and six others as candidates for the June 18 presidential election, ruling out hopefuls aligned to moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric who ran against Rouhani in 2017, is now seen as the frontrunner for the upcoming election, in which turnout will be seen as a test of legitimacy for the Islamic republic.

The Financial Times reports that the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog has warned Iran is enriching uranium at purity levels that “only countries making bombs are reaching”. Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the paprt the situation was “very concerning” as Iran’s nuclear programme had become more sophisticated over the past two years. Meanwhile, the BBC notes that Iran has agreed to extend by one month an agreement allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to keep surveillance cameras at nuclear sites. Iran had reduced its co-operation with the IAEA in February in retaliation for sanctions reinstated by the US when it abandoned a nuclear deal in 2018. It said the extension was a gesture of “good faith” while talks on lifting the sanctions continued in Vienna.

The Guardian notes that “as the Syrian leader faces a presidential poll on Wednesday – the result a foregone conclusion – a truer test of the authority he wields across a broken country has taken shape away from the political banners and faux campaigning”. The New Statesman believes that despite the decade of civil war in the country and economic crisis, the Assad regime is unlikely to be punished at the ballot box.

In the Israeli media, attention returns to the mandate deadline for Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to form a government. Maariv reports that with a week to go before Lapid’s mandate expires, members of Yesh Atid are ramping up the public pressure on Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennett to return to the negotiating table in order to put together an alternative government. Party sources say it is clear to them that without support from Yamina, or at least from a majority of Yamina MKs, it will be impossible to put together an alternative government. It appears that New Hope Party leader Gideon Saar will also have difficulty joining an alternative government without Yamina. Yesh Atid’s Meir Cohen said yesterday: “I hope Bennett understands he’s made a big mistake and returns to the negotiating table. Yesterday, Saar said he wouldn’t sit in a government headed by Netanyahu. He should be praised for that. Bennett knows Lapid’s phone number. If he thinks this is what [the country needs], let him pick up the phone at come back [to the negotiating table]. The minute he calls negotiations will begin.”

Channel 13 News reports that Yesh Atid plans on inking deals with Blue and White, Labor and Meretz on an alternative government, after signing a coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu party on Monday. The alternative government currently being discussed would have Bennett serve as prime minister first in a rotation agreement, Ayelet Shaked as interior minister and Matan Kahana as religious services minister. New Hope is also expected to receive three ministerial portfolios in the arrangement: Gideon Saar is to receive the justice portfolio, Yifat Shasha-Biton is to receive the education portfolio and Yoaz Hendel is to receive a yet undetermined portfolio. Lapid is to serve as alternate prime minister and foreign minister; Karin Elharar will be communications minister and Meir Cohen will be Knesset speaker. Blue and White will be given the defence portfolio, either the absorption or welfare portfolio, the culture and agriculture portfolios. Labor Party Chairwoman Merav Michaeli is expected to be transportation minister whilst Omer Bar-Lev is to be the public security minister. Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz will be health minister, Tamar Zandberg will be environment protection minister and Issawi Frej will be minister for regional cooperation. Yisrael Beiteinu will control the flow of money in the next government. Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Liberman will be finance minister and another MK from the party will chair the Finance Committee.

In Yediot Ahornot, Sima Kidmon writes, “Lapid has been working to tie up all the remaining loose ends with the other partner parties, such as the coalition agreement that was signed yesterday with Yisrael Beiteinu, and similar agreements that will be signed in the coming days with the Labour Party and Meretz. Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Liberman supports that strategy, and told Lapid that if he were to reach agreements with everyone first and then inform Bennett that Yamina was the last remaining party needed to form a government, Bennett would have a hard time explaining why Israel nevertheless was going to hold a fifth election. Likud officials nevertheless have continued to insist that if Bennett agrees to join a Netanyahu-led government, defectors from the other camp will be found [to provide the majority needed]. Bennett has insisted on things happening in the opposite order — first the necessary defectors, the Smotriches, the Abbases and everyone else needed — and then Yamina will complete the majority needed. With the passage of time, however, it seems to be increasingly evident that no majority of that kind exists either on the right or in the pro-change coalition.”

Israel Hayom publishes a commentary about Saar’s “moral double standard”. It says, “In a time in which such fateful issues for the right-wing camp are hanging in the balance, Saar and the other members of New Hope have chosen to do absolutely everything, [ranging from forming a] government with the most radical left-wing lawmakers in parliament, who support an investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Israel, to dragging the country to a fifth election — the very same thing that they accused Netanyahu of doing — as long as they get to see the prime minister removed from office quickly. If there had still been a form of political moral corruption that had never been seen before, along came the members of New Hope and showed it to us, proving just how far down the bottom of the barrel is.”

In Yediot Ahronot, Alex Fishman takes stock of the Biden administration’s approach to Israel and the region so far. He writes: “The current American administration isn’t leaving Iraq or Syria, it has allowed Israel to attack Iranian targets in Syria and has continued to encourage increasingly improved relations between Israel and Arab countries. Contrary to some hysterical reports, the United States will help Israel replenish the munitions that it spent in the fighting in Gaza. Israel will have to adjust to accommodate the Americans’ global interests and will have to learn to trust President Biden. In his first test he proved, without any bells and whistles, that we have a friend in the White House. Regardless of who is prime minister here.”

Haaretz reports that the director of UNRWA in Gaza has apologised for remarks he made to Channel 12 News stating that a high majority of targets Israel struck during the recent Gaza escalation were not civilians. Matthias Schmale originally said: “I am not a military expert. I would not dispute that. I also have the impression that there is a huge sophistication in the way that the Israeli army struck over the past 11 days. This is not my issue. So yes they did not hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets. But the viciousness and ferocity of the strikes was heavily felt.” In an email to UNRWA employees in Gaza, Schmale apologised and wrote that his statements on Israeli television had “offended and hurt those who had family members and friends killed and injured during the war that has just ended”. Schmale was heavily criticised by Hamas and Palestinian human rights groups prior to his apology.