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Media Summary

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dies in Israeli hospital

All the major UK news outlets report on the death of senior Palestinian politician Saeb Erekat. The 65-year-old died in Jerusalem at Hadassah Medical Center, where he had been admitted last month after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The BBC’s Middle East Corresponded Yolande Knell says, “Palestinians will feel his loss deeply at a time when relations with Israel are at a new low – and prospects for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, the goal of his life’s work, look increasingly dim.” The Telegraph describes Erekat as “a passionate supporter of the Palestinian cause for several decades” and the Financial Times writes that he was “a strong advocate of the two-state solution”. The Guardian writes: “Unrelenting in his indignation against Israeli control over Palestinian life, the US-educated former journalist and academic was well-known to three decades of diplomatic and media circles for his condemnation of what he eventually described as apartheid, delivering his criticism in his trademark staccato voice.” The Independent notes that Tony Blair hailed Erekat as a “legendary negotiator, aware of every intricacy and detail of the ‘two-state solution’ and a tireless advocate of it.”

The Guardian focuses on the one-year anniversary of the death of White Helmets founder James Le Mesurier. The paper’s Martin Chulov describes in a new podcast the immense pressure Le Mesurier was under days before his death, as he saw the organisation he built appear to be slipping away from him, how he began investigating one of the most difficult stories of his career, and what led his friend, an internationally celebrated humanitarian, to take his own life?

The BBC reports that Lebanon’s caretaker government will impose a two-week lockdown from Saturday to stem a resurgence of COVID-19. There are major concerns that it will exacerbate the deep economic crisis, but in a televised address to the country yesterday, the Prime Minister said: “The current restrictions were not working and that he had no other choice but to impose a full nationwide lockdown because of the risk of Lebanon’s fragile health system being overwhelmed.”

The Times runs a piece explaining the winners and losers from the US election results. It writes that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “has not only lost an intimate connection with the Oval Office, there is an expectation the Biden team will seek to ‘punish’ him for the one-sided way he supported Mr Trump”.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is facing calls to boycott the G20 summit in Saudi Arabia over the Kingdom’s attempts to drive a Bedouin tribe from their homeland to make way for the futuristic “megacity” Neom, according to The Telegraph. According to some reports, the tribesmen have already been offered compensation by the Saudi authorities for leaving the area. Britain is already under pressure to boycott the Riyadh summit due to Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the detainment of Saudi women’s right activist Loujain al-Hathloul and the Kingdom’s military campaign against Houthi rebels in in Yemen.

The Guardian notes that the Saudi Ambassador to the UK said the Kingdom is considering clemency for jailed female activists. Speaking to the paper, Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said the women had been detained for reasons other than seeking the right to drive, but that a debate was under way in the foreign ministry about whether their continued detention was causing Saudi Arabia so much political damage that it was not worthwhile.

The Financial Times looks at how the incoming Biden administration could tackle the Iranian nuclear challenge. It says: “While Mr Biden is unlikely to agree to pay Iran compensation or immediately remove all Trump-era sanctions, observers say there are some significant moves he could make quickly. These include reinstating sanctions waivers for Iranian oil exports and removing the designation of the country’s central bank as a financer of terrorism.”

In the Israeli media, Kan Radio News reports that a Health Ministry official has criticised what he described as flawed conduct that has surrounded the purchase of vaccines that are currently in development, their delivery to Israel and plans for their distribution. The Health Ministry official added that planning on the issue began ten days ago, and only more recently was a team formed to oversee that task. Two vaccines that are currently in development by Moderna and the other by Pfizer. The Health Ministry official said transporting those vaccines to Israel would involve complex logistics since the vaccines must be stored at -70 degrees centigrade.

Maariv notes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Chairman Yair Lapid exchanged words yesterday in the Knesset over Netanyahu’s record of maintaining bipartisan American support for Israel. Netanyahu said: “For 38 years I’ve been investing endless efforts into maintaining relations across the entire political spectrum. Is he going to explain to me how to maintain relations with the two parties? That’s absurd. I’ve maintained a long and warm relationship with Biden. What I keep my eye on isn’t Democrats or Republicans, but the State of Israel. I will continue to do that with the next American administration as well.” Lapid responded: “Netanyahu’s attempt to claim that he has maintained good relations with the Democrats is embarrassing. His disconnect from what has been happening in the US in the past few years is so great, that he doesn’t know what the Democrats and the new administration are saying about the person who established Trump Heights in the middle of a stormy election in the US. Netanyahu took an uncalculated gamble and risked Israel’s special relationship with the United States. Only a new government will be able to fix that.”

Israel Hayom answer the questions, “what stance will Netanyahu take in dealing with Biden?” It says that Netanyahu “will not confuse between the unimportant (minor damage to relations with some of the Democrats) and things that are truly important (doing everything that needs to be done to save Israel from an existential threat — namely, an Iranian nuclear bomb).” It adds that Israel under Netanyahu “will assert itself wherever necessary. In other words, no one should harbour any illusions that the Israeli lesson from 2015 is that we ought to avoid confrontation only because of the unpleasantness involved. Israel, lest there be any doubt, will insist on the things that it deems to be important.”

Yediot Ahronot details the political battle waged by the ultra-Orthodox parties against Netanyahu that resulted in the halting of a bill that would have allowed Eilat and the Dead Sea hotels to reopen as “special tourism” zones. Eilat, which is heavily dependent on tourism, has suffered from extremely high unemployment because of the national lockdown. Political sources say that Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) thwarted the bill, which was supported by the health and tourism ministries, as part of a broader series of issues meant to put pressure on Netanyahu in a variety of spheres (including cancelling fines for educational institutions that open illegally).

Yediot Ahronot comments that tensions along the Lebanese border have increased once again in the past few days, as Hezbollah has signalled its intention to shoot down IAF aircraft. The IAF has been operating intensively but prudently in the area, and Israel has passed on a message to Hezbollah that if any Israeli aircraft are hit, Israel’s retaliation will be painful. For the time being, Hezbollah has not acted on its threat, but it did send a signal of its own by dispatching a drone into Israeli territory. The drone was brought down by the IDF down using soft measures in its toolbox, but tensions mounted as did the state of alert. The IDF are also preparing for a flare-up on the Gaza border as tonight is the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata, who was one of Islamic Jihad’s more prominent and charismatic commanders in the Gaza Strip. Abu al-Ata was responsible for the rocket fire on Ashdod while Prime Minister Netanyahu was speaking at a campaign rally in the city. Abu al-Ata was also responsible for a long string of terror attacks against IDF troops in the last year of his life.