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Media Summary

Saudi Arabia hosts virtual G20 summit

The Guardian and Reuters report that when Saudi Arabia took over the G20 presidency last year the kingdom was hopeful the summit would help rehabilitate its image, but the coronavirus pandemic has now forced the country to hold a virtual summit. Reuters writes that “A global summit would help rehabilitate the country on the international stage and turn the world’s attentions to key reforms launched by de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to open up the kingdom and diversify the economy.” The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour writes that Saudi Arabia’s hopes for the summit ‘risk being unfulfilled’ because of the pandemic.

The Financial Times reflects on Saudi Arabia’s progress on human rights ahead of the G20 summit. The paper notes that the “Kingdom pushed through reforms in run-up to international forum as part of efforts to subdue criticism of its record.” While these reforms have been welcomed, NGOs and activists say deeper reforms are needed.

The Telegraph reports that Foreign Office expressed its deep concerns about the arrests of three members of EIPR – a prominent Egyptian human rights group. The group was reportedly targeted by Egyptian authorities because they held a meeting with 13 Western ambassadors and diplomats in early November. The Foreign Office said that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab raised the cause with his Egyptian counterpart.

BBC News, The Guardian, The Telegraph and the Financial Times report on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. This was the first ever such trip by a US Secretary of State.

Barbara Plett Usher of BBC News examines the implications of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s ‘Israel swansong trip’. Plett Usher argues that by visiting an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Pompeo “physically put his stamp on a Trump administration policy that has embraced the expansionist vision of the Israeli right.” She also says that the trip was viewed “as a source of photo opportunities tailored to the Republicans’ evangelical base, should Mr Pompeo decide to run for president in 2024.”

The Independent reports that Amnesty International has urged Qatar to “get tougher with abusive employers to ensure the country’s huge number of migrant workers get paid and protected from further potential exploitation.” Qatar has come under increased scrutiny over its human rights abuses as the country is set to host the World Cup in 2022. Amnesty said that while the country introduced major reforms, these measures have “too often been undermined by weak implementation.”

The Economists reports on Iran’s covert networks in Africa. Since the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, there has been concern about where and how Iran may retaliate. The country has spent years building covert networks across the African continent and has a history of plotting there, leading Western intelligence officials to believe that the most likely arena for an attack. One official said “They have chosen Africa because it’s easy to operate there.”

Kan Radio News reports the Likud and Blue and White have reached a consensus on nominations for high ranking civil servants. At its meeting on Sunday, the cabinet will be asked to confirm several nominations, including for the Finance Ministry’s accountant general and the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office’s director general. A director general for the Justice Ministry has not yet been agreed on, even though Blue and White made that a condition for moving other nominations forward.

All the Israeli media note that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will undergo a colonoscopy this morning and will be temporarily replaced by Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz during the procedure.

Yediot Ahronot and Maariv continue to follow up the controversial statements made recently on both sides of the political divide, by supporters and detractors of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Regarding the incident in which Likud supporters verbally abused a family living near the Prime Minister’s residence in Caesarea, wishing for a bereaved mother that she suffer another loss, Sima Kadmon writes in Yediot Ahronot, “Once, when we were still a normal country, when the polarisation, the division, the thuggery and the madness had not yet become the dominant discourse… such an incident could not have taken place.” There were also harsh condemnations from across  the political spectrum against a member of the Crime Minister movement who during a demonstration outside Defence Minister Gantz’s home, compared Prime Minister Netanyahu to Hitler. In response, President Rivlin warned, “This type of discourse rocks the foundations of the shared edifice that we have established, and it is incumbent upon all of us denounce it.”  Opposition Chairman Yair Lapid commented, “The radical left is calling Bibi “Hitler,” the extreme right has been harassing bereaved families, and the sane centre stands in the middle and asks itself: have we gone crazy?” he said. “No, we haven’t gone crazy. These people are not representative of us.”

All the Israeli media cover the latest Health Ministry announcement that there were 482 new Israelis cases of coronavirus discovered in the last day after more than 36,000 tests were conducted, showing a positivity rate of 1.3 per cent. There are currently 541 people in hospitals with 315 in serious condition, of them 127 are on ventilators. Three people died on Thursday, taking the total deaths since the start of the pandemic to 2,742. Israel has now been added to UK’s safe travel list and visitors will no longer have to self-isolate on arrival in the UK from tomorrow. According to Yediot Ahronot, nearly half of the new coronavirus cases detected in the past week have come from the Arab sector, with a 6.5 per cent positivity rate. Only 9.5 per cent of cases were found in the ultra-Orthodox communities and 44.5 per cent were found in the general population.Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel was classified as a red zone because of increased morbidity. On Friday, the coronavirus cabinet is set to discuss imposing a lockdown on the city in order to curb the spread of the virus.

Israel Hayom reports that last night ISIS took responsibility for the pipeline explosion that occurred earlier that day between Israel and Egypt. According to Israel’s Energy Ministry the blown pipeline did not carry natural gas from Israel to Egypt. Governor of North Sinai, Mohamed Abdel-Fadil Shousha, said that the blast is not going to affect the gas supply and that officials were investigating the cause of the incident.

Israel Hayom also reports the IDF releasing new information regarding the Hamas tunnel that was discovered last month. According to the IDF it was the deepest cross-border attack tunnel discovered to date.It reached several dozen metres underground the Israel-Gaza border and extended dozens of yards into Israeli territory. The IDF constructed an elevator to allow troops to descend into the tunnel.  Starting in the city of Khan Younis, the tunnel was discovered after the underground detection system was activated in conjunction with soldiers in the Gaza Division tasked with identifying the sounds of digging. The tunnel was constructed with concrete slabs and because of its depth was fitted with a sophisticated ventilation system.

Yediot Ahronot cover officials in the Southern Command who continue to insist that the two rockets fired at Israel late Saturday night were fired mistakenly as a result of lightning, even when it is clear that this was not the case, and even when it is known that on no other front have rockets been fired at Israel by mistake until today. “This insistence by the Southern Command is part of the approach being led by Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevy to contain the events vis-à-vis Hamas and also as part of the solution he envisions for the Gaza Strip, which determines that only improving the humanitarian situation will lead to calm. IDF officials have ascertained that the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, also continues to prefer to follow the path of a truce arrangement and avoid a confrontation with Israel.”

Haaretz reports that the restrictions imposed on Jonathan Pollard upon his release from prison five years ago will expire today. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years after the Jewish American was found guilty of spying for Israel. He was released under restrictive conditions in November 2015, including being confined to certain areas of New York City, wearing an electronic ankle bracelet at all times, constant surveillance of his computers and being totally barred from speaking with journalists.

Maariv  includes its latest polling data, asking, if elections for the 24th Knesset were held today, which party would you vote for? Likud receives 27 seats, Yamina: 24 seats, Yesh Atid-Telem: 18 seats, Joint List: 11 seats, Blue and White: 10 seats, Shas: 9 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu: 8 seats United Torah Judaism: 7 seats, Meretz: 6 seats.  The poll also asked, who do you think is principally to blame for the deadlock in Israel’s political establishment and for the fact that we are potentially facing early elections? Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud: 52 per cent, Benny Gantz and Blue and White: 25 per cent, Don’t know: 23 per cent.