Jordan’s Prince Hamzah pledges allegiance to the King
The BBC, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian and the Financial Times report that Jordanian Prince Hamzah has pledged allegiance to King Abdullah, two days after he said he was placed under house arrest and accused of trying to destabilise the country. The former crown prince issued a statement hours after mediation saying he was committed to the constitution. Jordanian officials said the king had asked his uncle, Prince Hassan, to help resolve the unprecedented tensions. Earlier, Prince Hamza, who was reportedly put under house arrest at the weekend for allegedly plotting to destabilise the country, told military chiefs that he would “will not obey” orders that silence him and restrict his movement.
On the Prince Hamzah affair, David Gardner writes in the Financial Times that: “Jordan is, relative to the turmoil of its region, a haven of stability, though the royal court of its Hashemite dynasty has at times been a jostle of intrigue. This is one of those times.”
The Times and The Telegraph provide an analysis on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s corruption trial and the post-election recommendation process. The articles note how the first day’s trial centred on testimony from former a Walla CEO over attempts by Netanyahu to publish negative reports on his right-wing rival Naftali Bennett, on the same day that Netanyahu was relying on Bennett to recommend him to the President to form the next government.
The Guardian reports that Iran and the US will hold indirect talks in Vienna today aimed at bringing both countries back into full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal that Washington abandoned three years ago. A Western diplomat said Friday that a shuttle-diplomacy approach would be adopted in Vienna.
Reuters follows reports in Iran that authorities have arrested an “Israeli spy” and a number of other people who were in contact with foreign intelligence services. “An Israeli spy has been arrested in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province… also other spies who were in contact with several countries’ intelligence services have been arrested as well,” according to an Intelligence Ministry official.
In the Israeli media, the news is dominated by yesterday’s two big events: the recommendation process and the beginning of the evidentiary stage of the Netanyahu corruption trial. On the latter, the testimony of the former Walla CEO, Ilan Yeshua, will resume this morning in the Jerusalem District Court. According to Kan Radio, the lawyers representing Prime Minister Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch will bring forward two motions to disqualify evidence from Yeshua. The defence will claim that in the course of the investigation, extensive and illegal searches were made of computer material and it was these searches that established the evidentiary foundation used for questioning the witnesses.
In yesterday’s proceedings, Yeshua told the court how he was instructed by Walla owner Elovtich to change coverage on the website to be more favourable of the prime minister and critical of his political rivals. Yeshua said he believed those instructions were part of a quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and the site’s owners. After the first day’s proceedings, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech to the media in which he accused the state prosecution of “hypocrisy” and conducting a “witch hunt” against him. He targeted lead prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari, who in her opening remarks to the court yesterday said that the prime minister abused his powers. “The entire conduct against me is heavy-handed improper use of the powers of… the prosecution,” Netanyahu said. “The prosecution opened the investigations against the prime minister against the law. It’s a witch hunt. They didn’t investigate a crime, they didn’t look for a crime; they hunted for a man, they hunted me.” He added that investigators had ignored testimony that didn’t match their thesis, leaked material, and extorted witnesses. “This is how they try to overthrow a powerful prime minister from the right. This is what an attempt at a coup looks like. What is happening is an effort to trample democracy, over and over again. They are attempting to annul the will of the electorate.”
In Yediot Ahronot, Nahum Barnea writes: “Both sides know that there are good chances that this trial won’t be decided in the courthouse, but somewhere else — by means of a different government and the Knesset, or by means of an act of… violence in the street.” Barnea goes on to speculate that a right-wing government under Netanyahu will try to appoint a new state attorney who will shred the case. “There’s no need to legislate a French law [postponing the prosecution of a sitting prime minister until after their term in office is over]. Nor is there any need for a commission of inquiry to investigate the State Attorney’s Office’s crimes. Everything will be perfectly legal and everything will be perfectly kosher.”
In Maariv, Ben Caspit argues that Netanyahu’s speech after the first day of his trial backfired. “If it has any impact on the judges, that impact will only be detrimental to his own interests. Public opinion — to put it delicately — isn’t going to be shocked either by the litany of lies that the defendant spread yesterday with uncharacteristic munificence.” Caspit goes on to say that instead of functioning as a defendant, Netanyahu is trying to seize the role of accuser. “He truly believes that he is Alfred Dreyfus. But that French-Jewish officer truly was persecuted. In this case, he is the one doing the persecuting. Israel is still a state of law. The walls that separate the branches must not be touched. Every citizen is equal before the law. Binyamin Netanyahu appears to have forgotten that.”
In Israel Hayom, Yaakov Bardugo writes: “Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit woke up early yesterday morning to encourage and to egg on the person who would give the opening speech, Liat Ben Ari. So many fireworks were fired into the air, the tension was meticulously built, but the show itself was a flop. The opening statement that is aimed at the members of the jury, as in any American legal television show, was given in the courthouse. But in Israel there are three judges [in Netanyahu’s trial, and no jury]. The speech was designed for the media, the public and for President Rivlin who decided to begin his round of consultations yesterday of all days ahead of his decision about whom to assign the task of forming the next government.”
In other news, Yediot Ahronot reports that a Palestinian man was killed overnight during an IDF operation after he attempted to run over IDF soldiers in his vehicle. According to the IDF, the incident occurred in the pre-dawn hours after soldiers from the Kfir Brigade entered the town of Bir Nabala, near Ramallah, to carry out a series of arrests and confiscate illegal weapons. Palestinian officials have identified the man as 42-year-old Osama Sidqi Mansour. His wife was also shot and wounded in the incident. The Palestinian Health Ministry said Mansour died “after being hit in the head by live ammunition in Bir Nabala… while his wife was hit and wounded by bullets in the back.”
Israel Hayom looks at the JCPOA talks between the US and Iran in Vienna today. In response to a query from the paper, a spokesperson for the US State Department said the goal of the talks in Austria was to “identify the requisite issues for the US and Iran to mutually return to compliance with the deal”. US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, a former official in the Obama administration, will lead the US delegation. The article notes that Israeli officials have reached contrasting conclusions about the Biden administration’s goal regarding the nuclear issue. Some senior Israeli officials believe the chances of the US returning to the nuclear deal are slim, mainly due to Iran’s obstinate refusal to compromise. Others believe it is only a matter of time before Washington returns to the deal and finds the right formula that helps the Biden administration save face as it retreats from its initial declarations.
Israel Hayom also suggests that increasingly strained American-Saudi ties will likely see the Sunni power draw even closer to Jerusalem. According to several Israeli analysts, the growing Iranian threat on Saudi borders, coupled with the weakening trust between the Biden administration and the Saudi monarchy over the strategy to counter Iran in the region, will bring Saudi Arabia closer to Israel. However, the lack of US backing and ongoing US pressure on human rights will cause Saudi Arabia to be cautious about doing this publicly.
A commentary in Yediot Ahronot explains the rise of the United Arab List, also known as Raam, headed by Mansour Abbas. The article says: “The ‘discovery’ of the United Arab List illustrates a positive trend of the Jewish public’s improved acquaintance with Arab society. But the rapid transition from ignorance to record-setting interest is replete with commentary that is filled with one-sided positions and stereotypes. Before the election, some viewed Abbas as a ‘Bibi-ist,’ while others viewed the UAL as being coordinated with or as serving foreign forces that raise the banner of the Muslim Brotherhood, first and foremost Turkey, Qatar and Hamas. A good deal of the commentary about the UAL reflects the difficulty of the Jewish public in comprehending phenomena that exist beyond the realm of the ‘yes Bibi, no Bibi’ debate and understanding, in any depth, cultures that are part of us.”