Media Summary

Qatar’s finance minister arrested over suspected corruption

BBC News, The Independent and The Financial Times report that Qatar’s finance minister, Ali Shareef al-Emadi, was arrested on corruption charges. Al-Emadi was appointed finance minister in 2013 when the current Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani came to power. He sits on the board of the country’s sovereign wealth fund and is the chairman of the Qatar National Bank. British financial magazine The Banker named al-Emadi its “Finance Minister of the Year” for the Middle East. Al-Emadi was questioned over allegations of abuse of power and misuse of public funds. Experts are calling this an unprecedented move by the gas-rich Gulf state.

The Guardian reports that France’s foreign minister called today a “moment of truth” for relations between Iran and the West as nuclear talks are due to resume in Vienna this morning. All parties to the talks agree that the discussions could end without an agreement. Two key dates are looming on the horizon with UN nuclear inspector access ending on 21 May and the Iranian presidential elections on 18 June. The Associated Press reports that the Biden administration is unlikely to present major new concessions, with a senior official saying that the “success or failure [of the Vienna talks] now depends on Iran making the political decision to accept those concessions and to return to compliance with the accord”. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday: “What we don’t know is whether Iran is actually prepared to make the decisions necessary to return to full compliance with the nuclear agreement. They unfortunately have been continuing to take steps that are restarting dangerous parts of their program that the nuclear agreement stopped. And the jury is out on whether they’re prepared to do what’s necessary.”

The Economist reports that the campaign by the Houthi rebels to retake the northern town of Marib is prolonging Yemen’s war. The paper says: “Marib had until recently been one of Yemen’s safer cities. Those displaced by fighting elsewhere took shelter there. The Saudis made it a base for operations. But the battle for it shows just how badly things have gone for the government and its backers. They would gladly accept the UN’s call for a ceasefire. The Houthis, who control much of the country, ignore it. If they take the city, they will control the north’s only oil refinery and the gateway to oilfields in the east and south. ‘It will be a disaster,’ says a Western diplomat who was in Marib last month.”

The Associated Press reports that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has called for national unity in his first speech after being given the mandate to try and form a governing coalition in Israel. Lapid, who now has four weeks to try and form a government, said: “From my first day in politics, that’s been my wish, it’s my mission: To find the shared good. To take Israeli society from disagreement to agreement.”

Reuters reports that several European countries have called on Israel to stop settlement building in the West Bank. A joint statement from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain read: “We urge the government of Israel to reverse its decision to advance the construction of 540 settlement units in the Har Homa E area of the occupied West Bank, and to cease its policy of settlement expansion across the Occupied Palestinian Territories. If implemented, the decision to advance settlements in Har Homa, between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, will cause further damage to the prospects for a viable Palestinian State.”

The Economist examines elections in autocratic Arab countries, explaining how leaders pick their opponents, or the candidate they know will lose. The paper notes: “For much of the past half-century, Arab authoritarians preferred to hold yes-or-no referendums on their rule … since the mid-2000s, though, some autocrats have begun to let other candidates run. Free elections, these are not. There are restrictions before the vote, irregularities on election day and often ruthless crackdowns afterwards. But rulers hope the veneer of democracy will fend off discontent at home and criticism from abroad.” The paper says the key for these autocrats is to “avoid genuine challengers” and to “find an opponent even more unloved that you are”.

All the Israeli media continues to follow ongoing political developments as Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett try to reach an agreement over the formation of a new government. Kan Radio News covers Lapid’s comments last night that the goal of the government would be “to extricate Israel from the coronavirus crisis, from the economic and political crisis, and mainly from the crisis within us… Something clean, decent and functional is starting here.” Lapid made the remarks his first speech since the president assigned him the task of forming a government. In the commentary, Sima Kadmon of Yediot Ahronot writes, “What was most striking in the speech was Lapid’s genuine wish not to resemble Netanyahu. As if, throughout all these years, he had observed the prime minister’s actions, and mainly his words, and had told himself—not that, I don’t want that. That was also his first promise: without defamation, without sewing division, without stooping low. A unity government in the full sense of the word, including in the style of its conversation.”

According to Yediot Ahronot Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to break up the Yamina party by offering their MKs, “reserved slots on the Likud list, ministerial jobs and promises for a safe political future… the Likud decided on a blitz campaign of Yamina’s MKs, with demonstrations outside their houses, in synagogues and mainly on social media… As of last night, it seemed as if Bennett had managed to block all the efforts: three of his MKs, Nir Orbach, Abir Kara and Idit Silman, publicly issued attacks against the offers by Netanyahu’s envoys to “buy” them and expressed their full support for their chairman.” Haaretz notes Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri told a press briefing his party was “very concerned” by the prospect of a centre-left government, which he argued could put “Israel’s Jewish character” at risk. Together with United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni, they warned Bennett against joining an “anti-religious” coalition.

Maariv asks if there are signs of rebellion in Likud? The paper reports that a group of veteran Likud Central Committee members calling themselves “the Likud founders,” which makes up 20 per cent of the 3,700 Likud Central Committee members, sent a letter to Minister Yisrael Katz, who serves as the chairman of the Likud secretariat, demanding to immediately convene the secretariat “to discuss political developments.” They wrote, “it is important to us, as members of the secretariat, where we are headed as a movement, what are the ramifications of recent political events, what are the alternatives and what suggestions are being made. As of today, it has been two years since the secretariat has met, aside from phone votes to approve the party’s Knesset list, and this is contrary to the Likud’s constitution.” Katz has not yet replied to the letter, and the group members said that in the absence of an answer, they would go to the Likud court, to have it instruct that a meeting be held.

Ynet reports that according to the Bahrain state-run news agency the head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen visited Bahrain for talks with officials yesterday. According to a brief statement, Yossi Cohen met with Bahrain’s heads of national intelligence and strategic security to discuss “the most prominent security topics, regional developments and issues of common interest.”

Israel Hayom reports the Shin Bet security agency has revealed that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took advantage of non-profit organisations’ funds in Europe in order to finance terrorist activities. According to the agency, the funds that had been ostensibly appropriated for humanitarian purposes were illegally transferred to organisations and institutions run by the terrorist group in Palestinian cities. “The scheme was carried out by deceiving the NGO groups in Europe by showcasing fake projects and presenting falsified documents and invoices, as well as corrupting the bidding of various projects and using forged banking stamps.  The funds were also used to pay for the families of terrorists and the salaries of activists in the organisation who planned to carry out attacks and promote terrorist ideology.”

Haaretz covers the decision by the Defence and Finance Ministries to allocate 300 million shekels (£66 million) for the immediate treatment and rehabilitation of military veterans, “with an emphasis on post-trauma victims.” According to the paper “a set of reforms intended to overhaul government services for disabled Israeli army veterans is set to be presented to the cabinet for approval, three weeks after the self-immolation of a veteran set off protests calling for urgent action.”