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Daily case rate climbs to 6,570, but serious cases not rising in parallel

108 Israelis in serious condition due to COVID-19, which is two less than a day earlier, strengthening analysis that Omicron variant not as strong as previous strains

People stand in line to be tested for coronavirus in Tel Aviv, on January 2, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
People stand in line to be tested for coronavirus in Tel Aviv, on January 2, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.

Apple becomes 1st US company to reach $3 trillion valuation

Apple becomes the first US company to hit $3 trillion in market value, briefly reaching the landmark in the latest demonstration of the tech industry’s pandemic surge.

The iPhone maker scaled the record level near 1845 GMT before slipping back slightly. The tech giant also was the first US company to hit $2 trillion in August 2020, during a pandemic that has stoked demand for personal electronics.

US Congress’ doctor urges ‘maximal telework’

Congress’ top doctor urges lawmakers to move to a “maximal telework posture,” citing surging numbers of COVID-19 cases at the Capitol that he said are mostly breakthrough infections of people already vaccinated.

The seven-day average rate of infection at the Capitol’s testing center has risen from less than 1% to more than 13%, Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician, wrote in a letter to congressional leaders obtained by The Associated Press.

Monahan says there has been “an unprecedented number of cases in the Capitol community affecting hundreds of individuals.” In what he said was limited sampling as of December 15, about 61% of the cases were the new, highly contagious Omicron variant while 38% were the Delta variant.

Providing no figure, he says “most” of the cases are breakthroughs.

While such cases have not led to any deaths or hospitalizations among vaccinated lawmakers or congressional staff, Monahan says even mild infections can lead to six to 12 months of “long COVID.” A “reasonable estimate” is that 6% to 10% of cases could end up that way, he added.

Monahan urges congressional offices to “reduce in-person meetings and in-office activities to the maximum extent possible.”

Doctors begin prescribing Pfizer’s Paxlovid pills against COVID

Doctors began prescribing the Paxlovid pill against COVID-19, Channel 12 reports.

Israel also became the first country to begin distributing the fourth vaccine dose to its population over the age of 60, the network says.

Some 95,000 Israelis made appointments for the fourth shot, Channel 12 says.

Homesh settlers said to target nearby village, vandalize homes, cemetery

The Yesh Din rights group says settlers from the illegal Homesh outpost attacked Palestinians in the neighboring village of Burka, damaging several homes and vandalizing graves at the local cemetary.

IDF troops arrived at the scene and fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse the Palestinian locals who gathered in response to the attack, Yesh Din says.

Three Burka residents were injured in the altercation.

Lapid: I may meet with Abbas as premeier, but there won’t be any peace talks

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid says the Israeli government’s policy of not holding diplomatic negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will remain in place when he becomes prime minister as well.

“I don’t think that five million Palestinians will disappear, but within the current political context, even after [I rotate in as prime minister], the coalition will be obligated to already reached agreements, and I will abide by every agreement that I made with my partners,” Lapid says in a briefing with reporters earlier today, indicating that part of his agreement with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett upon forming a government was that neither of them would hold peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

However, Lapid says that contrary to Bennett, he is prepared to meet with Abbas if necessary.

Finance Ministry said to push shelving of Green Pass

The Finance Ministry is pushing the government to get rid of the Green Pass policy, arguing that it is no longer relevant when case numbers are so high and when both those who are vaccinated and those who are not are able to contract the coronavirus relatively easily, Channel 12 reports.

Instead, the ministry is pushing to only use the Purple Pass, which requires businesses to limit crowd sizes, the network says, while clarifying that no decision on the matter is likely to be made in the next week.

Health officials said weighing allowing vaccinated Israelis to test themselves at home

Health officials are considering allowing vaccinated Israelis to test themselves on their own using at-home antigen rapid testing kits, Channel 12 reports.

The idea is being weighed in order to address long lines at overwhelmed testing sites across the country.

Also being considered is only requiring those above the age of 50, those with pre-existing conditions and unvaccinated children to use PCR tests, as opposed to the quicker antigen tests.

Tlaib calls for release of hunger-striking Palestinian being held by Israel without charges

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib calls for the immediate release of Hisham Abu Hawash, who has been engaged in a hunger strike for over 140 days in protest of his administrative detention by Israel.

Security officials have leaked that Abu Hawash is being held due to ties to the Islamic Jihad terror group, but have yet to charge him, instead employing the controversial administrative detention tactic regularly used against Palestinian terror suspects.

“The gov’t of Israel alone is responsible for this situation and his health and safety,” Tlaib tweets.

She says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “must demand an end to Israel’s practice of holding Palestinians living under apartheid in detention without representation, fair trial, or even a shred of due process in violation of int’l law & their human rights/liberties.”

Health Ministry: 6,570 Israelis tested positive yesterday, but serious cases not climbing

The Health Ministry reports that 6,570 more Israelis tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, as the daily figure continues to climb rapidly, thanks to the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

However, this has not translated to a rise in serious cases, which fell from 110 to 108 since the last time the numbers were updated earlier Monday morning.

Of the 108, 44 are in critical condition, 15 are hooked up to ECMO machines and 35 are hooked up to respirators. The death toll stands at 8,245, climbing by one since earlier in the day.

The positive test rate rose to 4.83%, with 145,003 Israelis getting tested yesterday.

Thus far, 6,578,088 Israelis have received the first vaccine dose, 5,931,013 have received the second dose and 4,266,719 have received the booster.

In the past seven days, the total number of cases was 31,664, with 65 of them being seriously ill patients. Three people have died during this period.

NY Attorney General subpoenas Ivanka, Donald Trump Jr. over murky business dealings

New York Attorney General Letitia James has subpoenaed two of Donald Trump’s adult children as part of a years-long civil probe into his business dealings, the New York Times reported Monday.

The newspaper said the subpoenas for Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were disclosed in a court document amid the Trump Organization’s effort to block James from moving forward with the probe.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad hold meeting to discuss Palestinian being detained by Israel without charge

Hamas and Islamic Jihad held a high-level meeting today to discuss the situation of hunger-striking Palestinian detainee Hisham Abu Hawash, who is said to be in critical condition, according to official Hamas media.

Both political leaders and military leaders attended the discussions, a “resistance source” tells official Hamas Al-Aqsa television.

Abu Hawash, whom Israel has accused of involvement in terror activities, has been held in administrative detention since October 2020. He has been hunger-striking in protest for the past 140 days, putting him at risk of severe medical complications or even death, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross.

Islamic Jihad has threatened to respond violently should Abu Hawash perish in Israeli custody, saying they would consider his death “an assassination.”

Schumer: Senate to vote on filibuster change on voting bill

Days before the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announces the Senate will vote on filibuster rules changes to advance stalled voting legislation that Democrats say is needed to protect democracy.

In a letter to colleagues, Schumer, Democrat of New York, says the Senate “must evolve” and will “debate and consider” the rules changes by January 17, on or before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as the Democrats seek to overcome Republican opposition to their elections law package.

“Let me be clear: January 6th was a symptom of a broader illness — an effort to delegitimize our election process,” Schumer writes, “and the Senate must advance systemic democracy reforms to repair our republic or else the events of that day will not be an aberration — they will be the new norm.”

The election and voting rights package has been stalled in the evenly-split 50-50 Senate, blocked by a Republican-led filibuster and leaving Democrats unable to mount the 60-vote threshold needed to advance it toward passage.

Democrats have been unable to agree among themselves over potential changes to the Senate rules to reduce the 60-vote hurdle, despite months of private negotiations.

Two holdout Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have tried to warn their party off changes to the Senate rules, arguing that if and when Republicans take majority control of the chamber, they could use the lower voting threshold to advance bills Democrats oppose.

US President Joe Biden has waded cautiously into the debate — a former senator who largely stands by existing rules but is also under enormous political pressure to break the logjam on the voting legislation.

How the Senate rules would be changed remains under discussion.

Voting rights advocates warn that Republican-led states are passing election legislation and trying to install elections officials loyal to the former president, Donald Trump, in ways that could subvert future elections.

Trump urged his followers last Jan. 6 to “fight like hell” for his presidency, and a mob stormed the Capitol trying to stop Congress from certifying the state election tallies for Biden. It was the worst domestic attack on the seat of government in US history.

Poland purchased NSO spyware after Netanyahu met with country’s PM — report

Poland’s Central Anticorruption Bureau (CAB) purchased the controversial Pegasus spyware from the Israeli NSO Group just several months after then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki in 2017, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reports.

The software was used to hack the phones of several prominent Polish opposition figures, according to the Associated Press.

While the spyware was purchased by the CAB, the funds used were from the Justice Ministry, which is controlled by Morawiecki’s party.

UN envoy goes after Harry Potter star Emma Watson for Palestinian solidarity post

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan goes after Harry Potter star Emma Watson who uploaded a post in solidarity with the Palestinians on Instagram.

Late last night, Watson reposted a picture from a rally of pro-Palestinian activists with the phrase “solidarity is a verb” plastered in the middle of them. In the caption, Watson included a quote from British activist Sara Ahmed who said, “Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.”

In response, Erdan tweets, “Fiction may work in Harry Potter but it does not work in reality. If it did, the magic used in the wizarding world could eliminate the evils of Hamas (which oppresses women & seeks the annihilation of Israel) and the PA (which supports terror). I would be in favor of that!”

The post came less than a week after Defense Minister Benny Gantz hosted PA President Mahmoud Abbas in his home.

FDA expands Pfizer boosters for more teens as Omicron surges

The US is expanding COVID-19 boosters as it confronts the Omicron surge, with the Food and Drug Administration allowing extra Pfizer shots for children as young as 12.

Boosters already are recommended for everyone 16 and older, and federal regulators have decided they’re also warranted for 12- to 15-year-olds once enough time has passed since their last dose.

But the move, coming as classes restart after the holidays, isn’t the final step. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must decide whether to recommend boosters for the younger teens. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, is expected to rule later this week.

The FDA also says everyone 12 and older who’s eligible for a Pfizer booster can get one as early as five months after their last dose rather than six months.

FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks says in a statement the agency made its decision because a booster “may help provide better protection against both the Delta and Omicron variants,” especially as Omicron is “slightly more resistant” to the vaccine-induced antibodies that help fend off infection.

Real-world data from Israel racked more than 6,300 12- to 15-year-olds who got a booster there at least five months after their second Pfizer dose and found no serious safety concerns, the FDA says.

Likewise, the FDA said even more data from Israel showed no problems with giving anyone eligible for a Pfizer booster that extra dose a month sooner than the six months that until now has been US policy.

Trump endorses Hungary’s ‘strong’ right-wing leader

Former US president Donald Trump enthusiastically backs the reelection of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a hero of the far-right who has been accused of creeping authoritarianism.

In a statement issued along the lines of his frequent blessings to Republican candidates in primary elections at home, Trump writes that the Hungarian leader has his “Complete support and Endorsement” in elections expected in April.

“He has done a powerful and wonderful job in protecting Hungary, stopping illegal immigration, creating jobs, trade, and should be allowed to continue to do so in the upcoming Election. He is a strong leader and respected by all,” Trump writes.

Trump welcomed Orban to the White House in 2019, a symbolic acceptance for the prime minister who frequently clashes with the European Union leadership and was snubbed by both President Joe Biden and Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

Orban has also sought to mobilize support on opposition to LGBTQ rights, with a ban on “promotion and display” of homosexuality and a related referendum expected on the same day as the election.

There’s no policy of mass infection, COVID czar insists amid PM’s gloomy forecast

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka pushes back against growing speculation that the government’s new policy amid rapidly rising case numbers is to aim for herd immunity in hopes that the weaker Omicron strain quickly spreading throughout the country won’t be capable of overwhelming the hospital system.

“We have no policy of mass infection. [Claims that we’re trying to reach] herd immunity have no basis. We are currently facing a combined wave, with the Delta variant still active, and quite a few hospitalized patients are suffering from it,” Zarka says in a briefing.

The remarks came a day after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speculated that Israel might reach 50,000 daily cases due to the inability to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.

“Our goal is to balance the rapid detection of verified cases, especially among high-risk groups whom we can offer the new drugs we’ve acquired, while at the same time allow as much normal life as possible,” Zarka says. “But it is a new routine we have to adapt to the fast-spreading wave we’re currently facing.”

Gunfire from Gaza sets off Red Alert sirens on Home Front Command phone apps

Earlier this morning an alert was activated in an open area in southern Israel near the border with Gaza after machine gunfire came from the direction of the Strip.

A spokesperson for the military says the alert was activated on the Home Front Command application only, and sirens did not sound in towns in the region.

Environmental protection minister signs order banning hunting to stem bird flu

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg signs an order banning hunting until the end of the current season, at the end of January, to help stem the spread of bird flu, which has already killed thousands of wild cranes and domestic birds and brought about the culling of hundreds of thousands of egg-laying chickens.

Acting head of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Raya Shourky, thanks Zandberg, saying that the virus has been known to spread to other species, such as cats, weasels and pigs and, on rare occasions, even humans.

Iran’s Raisi: ‘Muslims’ will avenge Soleimani killing if Trump not tried

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi says “Muslims” will extract revenge for the US killing of Quds Force general Qassem Soleimani if former president Donald Trump, who ordered the strike, is not put on trial.

“If Trump and (former US secretary of state Mike) Pompeo are not tried in a fair court for the criminal act of assassinating General Soleimani, Muslims will take our martyr’s revenge,” Raisi says in a televised speech.

Yemen rebels seize UAE ship; hackers hit Israeli newspaper

Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized a ship in the Red Sea, armed drones targeted Baghdad’s international airport, and hackers hit a major Israeli newspaper — a string of assaults that showed the reach of Iran-allied militias on the anniversary of America’s killing of a top Iranian general.

All three coincided with a massive memorial in Tehran for Qassem Soleimani, the general killed by a US drone strike in 2020 in Iraq. Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi demanded the world prosecute former US president Donald Trump and sentence him to death for ordering the strike.

“Don’t doubt, and I tell this to all American leaders, that the hand of revenge will come out of ummah’s sleeve,” Raisi says, referring to the worldwide community of Muslims.

The taking of the Emirati ship Rwabee marks the latest assault in the Red Sea, a crucial route for international trade and energy shipments. The Iranian-backed Houthis acknowledged the seizure off the coast of Hodeida, a long-contested prize of the grinding war in Yemen between the rebels and a Saudi-led coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the hacking of the Jerusalem Post’s website. The hackers replaced the Post’s homepage with an image depicting a missile coming from a fist bearing a ring long associated with Soleimani.

The image also depicted an exploding target used during a recent Iranian military drill that was designed to look like the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center near the Israeli city of Dimona. The facility is home to decades-old underground laboratories that reprocess spent rods from a nuclear reactor to obtain weapons-grade plutonium for Israel’s nuclear bomb program.

Under its policy of nuclear ambiguity, Israel neither confirms nor denies having atomic weapons.

In Iraq, troops shot down two so-called “suicide drones” at that same airport, American and Iraqi officials said. No group immediately claimed the attack, though one of the drones’ wings had the words “Soleimani’s revenge” painted on it in Arabic. Militias backed by Iran have been suspected in similar assaults. No injuries or damage were reported.

Health minister indicates PM scaring public with COVID response

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz attempts to temper concerns of rocketing coronavirus morbidity rates, pushing back against Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s prediction of up to 50,000 new cases a day.

“I want to calm things down,” Horowitz says at a Meretz Knesset faction meeting. “We understand the infection is spreading, but there’s no reason to scare the public, and there’s no room for panic.”

Just yesterday, Bennett praised Horowitz and other health officials for their cooperation in responding to the pandemic.

Iran says it senses ‘retreat’ by West in nuclear talks

Iran says it has detected a new “realism” on the part of Western countries, ahead of further negotiations in Vienna aimed at rescuing an accord on its nuclear program.

“We sense a retreat, or rather realism from the Western parties in the Vienna negotiations, that there can be no demands beyond the nuclear accord,” struck by Tehran and world powers in 2015, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tells reporters.

However, “it is too early to judge if the United States and the three European countries have drawn up a real agenda to commit to lifting sanctions,” he says.

Negotiations to restore the accord began last year but stopped in June as Iran elected ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

They resumed in late November and the latest round is due to restart on Monday after a three-day break for the end of year holidays.

Five world powers vow to prevent spread of nuclear weapons

Five global nuclear powers pledge to prevent atomic weapons spreading and to ensure a nuclear war is never fought, in a rare joint statement ahead of a review of a key nuclear treaty later this year.

“We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented,” say permanent UN Security Council members China, France, Russia, the UK and United States, adding: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

IDF to place reserve soldiers on West Bank buses as rock-throwing incidents abound

The IDF will place reserve soldiers on buses that travel to the West Bank following repeated instances of rock throwing near the Hizme junction, Hebrew media reports.

Scolding ministers who criticized his meeting with Abbas, Gantz says he’ll continue meeting with PA chief

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz responds to right-wing criticism over his meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week.

“I will continue to meet with Abu Mazen,” he says during a faction meeting.

“I was disappointed with the ministers who spoke out in a way that serves their political interest and not the national security interest.”

Iran says it’s not at point of recognizing Taliban’s government

Iran has not reached the point of recognizing the Taliban government in neighboring Afghanistan, the foreign ministry said Monday.

“Today, we are basically not at the point of recognizing” the Taliban, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference.

“We hope that the governing body of Afghanistan will move, through its actions, in a direction that will enable it to achieve international recognition,” he said.

“Iran and the neighboring countries of Afghanistan insist particularly on the formation of an inclusive government which reflects the ethnic and demographic diversity of this country.”

Shiite-majority Iran, which shares a 900-kilometer (550-mile) border with Afghanistan, did not recognize the Sunni movement’s rule during its 1996 to 2001 stint in power.

Already host to millions of Afghans and fearing a new influx, Tehran has sought to sketch a rapprochement with the Taliban since their lightning seizure of Kabul amid the US withdrawal last August.

The Taliban has formed an all-male cabinet made up entirely of members of the group, and almost exclusively of ethnic Pashtuns.

It has further restricted women’s rights to work and study, triggering widespread international condemnation.

Iranian news agency launches Hebrew site to mark anniversary of Soleimani killing

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency announces the launch of a Hebrew-language website to mark the second anniversary of the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a United States drone strike.

The CEO of Tasnim, a semi-official news agency, says in a statement that the Hebrew site was needed to highlight the Palestinian issue, as well as the “massive and systematic censorship of the news about the Zionist regime.”

“Although the number of people speaking Hebrew in the world is not so large, the Tasnim News Agency decided to set up a website in Hebrew language considering the strategic importance that the issue of Palestine has for the Islamic Republic of Iran and for Muslims across the world, and to release reports relating to the issue in that site,” says Majid Qolizadeh in a statement reported by the site.

Qolizadeh says he hoped the site would allow people in Israel to “get informed about the shaky and dark future of usurpation and occupation of the land of a nation and about the crimes against them, and receive more accurate and genuine arguments and capabilities of the Zionist regime’s enemies.”

Israeli fashion site to begin selling Old Navy clothes for first time

The Israeli fashion site TERMINAL X announces that it will begin selling Old Navy clothing products this spring.

It will be the third member of the Gap conglomerate to see its clothes sold in Israel, following Gap and Banana Republic.

Clothes will be available for men, women and children, and will range from prices of NIS 20 ($6.47) to NIS 210 ($67.91). It is unclear, though, whether the prices will be comparable to those in the US. In the past when the clothing lines have launched in Israel, products are sold at much higher prices.

TERMINAL X will offer free shipping on all orders above NIS 99 ($32).

Israel will keep US in the loop regarding major economic deals with China — report

Israel has notified the Biden administration that it will keep it in the loop regarding significant deals it strikes with China and is prepared to re-examine such agreements if the US raises opposition, according to an unsourced Haaretz report.

Through successive administrations, Washington has expressed concern regarding Israel’s warming economic ties with China.

The matter was raised last month during US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, according to the report.

While the Biden administration has yet to make specific demands of Israel regarding its relations with China, Jerusalem has begun to hold discussions on the matter aimed at adjusting its policy to better satisfy the Americans, the report says.

Israel has asked the US to offer alternative companies that it could work with instead of Chinese ones, given Washington’s backlash, according to the Haaretz report.

Israel is open to promoting joint initiatives with India and the United Arab Emirates, the report says.

Jerusalem faces a dilemma as it doesn’t want to burn its relations with China by too publicly flaunting its willingness to accede to US demands on the matter.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro rushed to hospital with probable intestinal blockage: reports

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was rushed to the hospital early Monday morning for treatment of a probable intestinal obstruction, local media reports.

Bolsonaro, 66, who has been in power since 2019, was taken to Vila Nova Star hospital in Sao Paulo.

TV Globo shows images of him disembarking from the presidential plane on foot with his entourage.

Doctor Antonio Luiz Macedo, who has operated on Bolsonaro on other occasions, told news site UOL that the president would undergo several tests to examine his abdomen.

Neither the presidential press service nor the hospital has yet responded to requests for information by AFP.

In July, Bolsonaro spent four days receiving treatment for an intestinal obstruction.

Since a knife attack that targeted him during a 2018 election campaign, in which he was stabbed in the stomach, he has undergone abdominal surgery at least four times. About a month before he was elected president, Bolsonaro was stabbed at a campaign rally by a man who was found to be psychologically unfit for trial.

Construction begins at Gilboa Prison to fix design flaws that led to jailbreak

Renovation work has begun at the Gilboa Prison to fix the design flaws exploited by six Palestinian security prisoners who tunneled under the complex in a daring escape last year.

A joint statement by the Defense Ministry and Israel Prison Service says that after weeks of planning and assessments, work has begun to fill the spaces underneath the jail which had been exploited by the prisoners involved in the jailbreak.

“A convoy of tankers arrived at the prison, pouring about 1,200 cubic meters of filler into the various vulnerabilities which were located in the prison building and infrastructure,” the statement reads. “This is to prevent the possibility of future escape attempts.”

The daring escape in September, which ended with the capture of the last two inmates some two weeks later, has been seen as a major failure by Israel’s prison service, which was blamed for both allowing inmates to tunnel out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison, and failing to notice or alert authorities in time.

They had reportedly begun digging months before the prison break, using plates, panhandles, building debris, and part of a metal hanger.

Lapid: Gov’t will see uptick in accusations that Israel an apartheid state in coming year

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warns that Israel will face intense pressure in 2022 over accusations that it is an “apartheid state.”

“We think that in the coming year, there will be debate that is unprecedented in its venom, or in its radioactivity, around the words, ‘Israel as an apartheid state,'” Lapid warns during a Zoom briefing with Israeli journalists.

“In 2022, it will be a tangible threat,” he predicts.

Lapid points at Palestinian campaigns against Israel in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice in the Hague; the UN Human Rights Council’s permanent “Commission of Inquiry” — the most potent tool at the council’s disposal — into Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, including Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021; and the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

“The commission of inquiry into Guardian of the Walls is unprecedented because it doesn’t have a time limit, it doesn’t have a limit of scope, and it is well-funded with many people working on it,” he explains.

Lapid points out that the COI has a budget of $5.5 million with 18 staffers. The COI looking into the Syrian Civil War has an annual budget of about $2.5 million and 12 staffers.

“It shows where it is heading,” he says.

Lapid calls the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state “a despicable lie.”

Iran, US interested in returning to JCPOA and will likely manage to do so — Lapid

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tells Israeli reporters in a briefing that the Israeli assessment is that Iran and the world powers are interested in reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and that it is very likely to occur.

The briefing takes place as world powers gear to return to Vienna for another round of talks on a joint US-Iran return to the JCPOA.

According to the Walla news site, US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley spoke with a senior official in the Foreign Ministry in order to coordinate positions ahead of the negotiations.

Israel not against every agreement that might come out of Vienna talks, Lapid says

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid says in a Zoom briefing that Israel is “not against every agreement” that might come out of ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1.

“A good agreement is a good thing. Israel will not oppose a good agreement,” he says.

The foreign minister says that Israel and its international allies are conducting “intensive discussions” on what a good agreement on Iran’s nuclear program entails.

“In these discussions, we are at the table. There is global attention, and more than that, attention from the actors involved, to the Israeli position.”

Israel is consistently able to move Western positions in negotiations with the Iranians toward Jerusalem’s stance, he says.

“We feel that we have succeeded somewhat — I don’t want to exaggerate — in causing the world to listen to us and treat it like a critical issue,” he says.

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