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Media Summary

UK ‘seriously concerned’ over Israeli settlement construction

BBC News, The Telegraph and The Independent report on the arrest of an Egyptian woman after she was accused of baking “indecent” cupcakes. The woman was briefly detained but subsequently released on a £233 bail. The cupcakes were decorated with iced genitals and soon went viral after pictures of the cupcakes began trending online, prompting the bakers arrest. Egypt’s top religious authority warned that such cakes were forbidden by Islam and that products of a sexual nature were “an assault on the value system and a crude abuse of society”.

The Independent reports on the UK Government calling for settlement construction to “cease immediately” after the Israeli Government approved hundreds of new settlement units across the West Bank. A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “The UK is seriously concerned by the Government of Israel’s decision to approve the construction of 780 new settlement units across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including areas deep within the West Bank which could threaten future peace negotiation. Settlements are illegal under international law and risk undermining the physical viability of the two-state solution.”

A video report from BBC News examines the challenges the incoming Biden administration will face in restoring the JCPOA nuclear deal. Reuters reports that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has urged the Biden administration to return to the nuclear deal. During a cabinet meeting Rouhani said: “The ball is in the US court now. If Washington returns to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, we will also fully respect our commitments under the pact. Today, we expect the incoming US administration to return to the rule of law and commit themselves, and if they can, in the next four years, to remove all the black spots of the previous four years.”

BBC News and The Independent report that Saudi Arabia reduced the number of people it executed in 2020. The Saudi Human Right Commission (SHRC) said 27 people were put to death in 2020, which was an 85 per cent drop compared to 2019. THE SHRC attributed the drop to the country’s moratorium on executions for drug related offenses. The report also cites a state decree that called for individuals who committed crimes as minors to serve prison terms rather than face execution. However, international bodies said the drop may be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown restrictions, rather than a deliberate government policy.

Frank Gardner writes for BBC News about whether Iran is safe from attack under a Biden administration. He writes: “Israel remains extremely concerned, not just by Iran’s civilian nuclear activities but by its prolific programme to develop its arsenal of ballistic missiles…  as long as suspicions remain that Iran is secretly working on developing a nuclear warhead capability, then the risk of a pre-emptive attack on its facilities will always be there.”

The Telegraph and The Guardian report that Israel’s coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, warned that the first dose of the Pfizer is less effective than expected. The warning came after Israel recorded 10,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day earlier this week. Ash blamed the surge in cases partly on the British variant of the virus, warning that the variant accounted for 30 to 40 per cent of new cases. The Independent reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kept the syringe that injected him with the coronavirus vaccine as a souvenir. Netanyahu showed off the display in a video posted on his Facebook page.

The Guardian reports on Syria’s White Helmets receiving a £1.17m award from a non-profit organisation funded by the UK, US, Dutch and Canadian governments. While the group is known for their rescue operations, it has taken up PPE production as a way of protecting their communities from coronavirus. The award was given to further support the organisation’s PPE manufacturing. Speaking about PPE production, Munir Mustafa, the White Helmets’ deputy general manager for humanitarian affairs, said: “Our volunteers and fellow humanitarians, healthcare providers, and other essential workers are safer now [thanks to the project] and can together continue caring for Syrian civilians and responding to the pandemic.”

Joseph Krauss writes for The Associated Press about Netanyahu’s efforts courting Israel’s Arab vote ahead of the March election. He writes, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has spent much of his long career casting Israel’s Arab minority as a potential fifth column led by terrorist sympathisers, is now openly courting their support as he seeks re-election in the country’s fourth vote in less than two years. Few Arabs are likely to heed his call, underscoring the desperation of Netanyahu’s political somersault. But the relative absence of incitement against the community in this campaign and the potential breakup of an Arab party alliance could dampen turnout — to Netanyahu’s advantage. He might even pick up just enough votes to swing a tight election.”

All the Israeli media look ahead to today’s US presidential inauguration and yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearing for Anthony Blinken to serve as US Secretary of State. At the hearing Blinken expressed support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians but doubted near-term prospects for such an agreement. Blinken said, “The only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution.” But added, “I think realistically it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that… what would be important is to make sure that neither party takes steps that make the already difficult process even more challenging.” Regarding the US embassy move to Jerusalem and President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Blinken said the incoming Biden administration will keep both decisions in place. On Iran, Blinken said Joe Biden “believes that if Iran comes back into compliance, we would too. But we would use that as a platform with our allies and partners, who would once again be on the same side with us, to seek a longer and stronger agreement.”

Israel Hayom prominently covers comments by Republican Senator Ted Cruz: “I think the greatest national security threat to Israel that will be posed by the Biden-Harris administration, will be their attempt to re-establish the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. Under President Obama, the signature so-called foreign policy achievement of his second term was sending hundreds of billions of dollars to [Iranian Supreme Leader] Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei who regularly chants ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel.’ The Biden-Harris administration will set as their top foreign policy objectives, restoring that failed agreement. The single most important national security victory of the last four years was pulling out that disastrous deal…. I fear we are headed into a dangerous chapter with the Biden-Harris administration, working actively to undermine the national security gains made in the last four years, and to reinvigorate the ayatollahs in Iran, which poses an existential threat to Israel.”

In the commentary in Yediot Ahronot, Nahum Barnea previews the Biden administration as a return to normalcy. Biden “will soon appoint someone to be his and contact person with Iran. Negotiations with Iran, under Omani mediation, have already begun. Biden intends first to return to the original agreement and then to begin negotiations to improve it… he isn’t going to pursue the Palestinian issue, but the Palestinian issue might pursue him. Netanyahu wanted to legalise a slew of illegal settlement outposts in Trump’s final days in office. Mandelblit and Gantz stopped him from doing that. Beginning today, the story is going to be different. Every act of that kind is going to come before the UN Security Council. The Biden administration may not agree to veto. Biden truly is, as he once said, a Zionist at heart. But his Zionism may not correspond to the Zionism of the 61-seat government that Netanyahu is talking about forming.”

Kan Radio News reports that for the second time in two days a rocket was fired towards Israel from the Gaza Strip. The rocket landed in an open field near the border fence. In response, Israeli tanks attacked Hamas military targets.

Channel 12 News has released their latest opinion poll ahead of the election. Likud receives 30 seats, New Hope 15, Yesh Atid 14, Yamina 13, Joint List 10, Shas 8, United Torah Judaism 8, Yisrael Beiteinu 7, Meretz 6, Blue and White 5, The Israelis 4. Amit Segal notes, “ If you split the parties that are likely to make it into the Knesset into ‘pro-Netanyahu’ and ‘anti-Netanyahu’ camps, you get a 46-seat bloc of support for Netanyahu (Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism). If you include Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party, you arrive at 59 seat – close, but not close enough [to the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120 seat Knesset]. The anti-Netanyahu camp (New Hope, Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beiteinu, Meretz, Blue and White, The Israelis) get to 51 seats, not including the Joint List party. Adding in Bennett’s Yamina Party would bring the number to 64 seats, but that would also have to include (the left-wing) Meretz.” This poll shows a gap of 15 seats between Likud and New Hope. A month ago, when New Hope was launched the polls showed only a 6-seat difference, with Likud leading 27-21.

Haaretz reports that Abir Kara, the leader of the ‘I am Shulman’ group representing independent business owners, announced he is joining Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party. The paper notes Kara negotiated with both the Likud and Gideon Saar’s New Hope Party prior to making his decision. Kara said: “We have been working for self-employed workers for a year and a half while the government has abandoned us… only Bennett really cares about the economy, the self-employed and the state.” ‘I am Shulman’ was founded in 2019 and represents over 200,000 self-employed Israelis.