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TV: PM, Pompeo hoped for normalization breakthrough, but Saudis said no

During meeting with MBS, Saudis made clear they are not ready to take step, Channel 12 says; security officials said angry after PM flies to enemy state without telling anyone

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on August 13, 2020 about the new Israel-UAE peace deal. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on August 13, 2020 about the new Israel-UAE peace deal. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Germany says Iran violating nuclear deal systematically

The foreign ministers of Germany, the UK and France are meeting in Berlin today to discuss the state of the countries’ nuclear deal with Iran, which is all but defunct following the US pullout in 2018 and Tehran’s subsequent return to enrichment activity.

Ahead of the meeting a spokeswoman for German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tells Reuters Iran is systematically violating the 2015 accord.

“Together with our partners, we strongly call on Iran to stop violating the deal and return to fulfilling all its nuclear obligations completely,” she says.

Greenhouse gas levels at new high, despite COVID-19 restrictions

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the main driver of climate change, hit record highs last year and have continued climbing this year, despite measures to halt the coronavirus pandemic, the UN says.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says lockdowns, border closures, flight groundings and other measures to rein in the coronavirus crisis indeed cut emissions of many pollutants and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

Pollution in Haifa, April 15, 2015. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

But it warns the industrial slowdown due to the pandemic has not curbed record concentrations of the greenhouse gases that are trapping heat in the atmosphere, raising temperatures, causing sea levels to rise and driving more extreme weather.

“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas says in a statement. “We need a sustained flattening of the curve.”

— AFP

French ex-president Sarkozy stands trial for corruption

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy goes on trial today on charges of corruption and influence peddling in a phone-tapping scandal, a first for the 65-year-old politician who has faced several other judicial investigations since leaving office in 2012.

Sarkozy is being accused of having tried to illegally obtain information from a magistrate about an investigation involving him in 2014.

He stands trial in a Paris court along with his lawyer Thierry Herzog, 65, and the magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, 73. They face a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of 1 million euros ($1.2 million). They deny any wrongdoing.

In this Oct.29, 2020 file photo, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy attends a ceremony in Nice, southern France (Valery Hache; Pool via AP, File)

Hearings are scheduled until December 10.

— AP

Some malls reopen again in defiance of COVID restrictions

Malls belonging to the Ofer group once again opened their gates to customers today, in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Police came and gave some warnings, but I don’t see any reason not to let us open,” Roni Gentman, an owner of a mall shop in the Haifa area, tells Ynet.

A few Azrieli malls opened on Friday too, but have not reopened since, possibly due to low customer turnout during that day.

Germany warns dual nationals off Iran travel after arrest

Germany warns citizens who also hold Iranian nationality against traveling to Iran after a dual national was arrested in October.

The foreign ministry has not named the detained citizen, but she has been identified as Nahid Taghavi by her daughter Mariam Claren.

“There have been several arrests of German-Iranian dual nationals in the past — including most recently in October 2020, often without comprehensible reasons,” says the German foreign ministry in an online update of its travel warning.

Passengers wearing protective face masks at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, Iran, July 17, 2020.(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“Further detentions of people who also possess Iranian citizenship cannot be ruled out,” it adds, stressing therefore that “unnecessary travel by people who are also Iranian nationals is strongly discouraged.”

— AFP

Blue and White minister laments that Gantz, Ashkenazi not privy to Saudi meeting

Blue and White’s Science Minister Izhar Shay laments the fact that his party’s top leaders were not updated on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprise trip to Saudi Arabia yesterday.

“I would certainly like to see him share dramatic developments with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is also alternate prime minister,” Shay tells Ynet.

Israel’s Minister of Science and Technology Yizhar Shay, addressing a virtual coronavirus conference on September 15, 2020 (YouTube)

“If Netanyahu prefers to keep things to himself, that’s his conduct in running the government and I suppose he’ll keep doing that. I think it would be proper for Gantz not only to ‘be aware’ of the meeting but to help and cooperate as the country’s defense minister.”

Lapid to propose disbanding Knesset: ‘Nothing good will come of this government’

Opposition leader Yair Lapid says he’ll lead a proposal next week to disperse the Knesset

“The bill will come to a vote. It is time for elections,” he says in a statement. “Netanyahu wants elections in June so he’s playing for time. There is no reason to let him go to elections at the time that’s convenient for him.

“It is time for elections. Nothing good will come of this government. It is a group of politicians focused only on themselves, on their own jobs, on their petty arguments. They’re not working for the people of Israel, they’re only working for themselves.”

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid addresses the Knesset plenum on October 19, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset Spokesperson)

Saudi Arabia denies crown prince met with Netanyahu, or any Israeli

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan denies widespread reporting citing Israeli and Saudi officials that said Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the kingdom yesterday.

“I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo,” he tweets.

“No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.”

Meanwhile, Channel 12’s Arab affairs reporter Ehud Ya’ari insists the meeting did occur and adds “this wasn’t the first meeting between the two, but others weren’t leaked..”

The meeting has been confirmed by Israeli and Saudi officials anonymously to both Hebrew media and the Wall Street Journal. Education Minister Yoav Gallant also confirmed the meeting took place.

Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the State Department, October 14, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Manuel Balce CENETA / POOL / AFP)

Gantz: ‘Leak’ of prime minister’s trip to Saudi Arabia ‘an irresponsible move’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says the “leak” of the prime minister’s trip to Saudi Arabia is “an irresponsible move.”

He says Israelis “should be worried” about who leaked the information and why. “I do not behave in this manner, I never have and I never will.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz says Netanyahu should be happier than anyone for submarine probe

Benny Gantz says the prime minister “should be more interested than anyone” in his announcement of an inquiry committee into the submarine affair.

“If, as he and his people claim, the issue has been thoroughly probed and his conduct was spotless — then any man convinced of his innocence should be happy for the chance to prove [it] to all,” Gantz says at the weekly Blue and White faction meeting.

He also says he’s “not afraid of elections” but believes they are not “what is needed for Israel.”

Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen during a vote at the Knesset on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Deri urges Gantz to cancel submarine probe, says he ‘crossed red line’

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri urged Benny Gantz to cancel the inquiry committee into the so-called submarine affair.

“The defense minister crossed a red line due to political considerations,” Deri says.

The committee, Deri argues, will transform the sacred cow of the Israeli military “into part of election campaigning.”

He says it is now the “hour of truth” for the coalition. “In light of recent conduct I am doubtful there is justification for this partnership to continue,” he says.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in the Knesset building, on March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu on Saudi trip: ‘I haven’t commented on such things, won’t start now’

Prime Minister Netanyahu makes his first comments on his reported to trip to Saudi Arabia yesterday.

“For years I have not commented on such things and I won’t start now,” he says at the start of the Likud faction meeting.

“For years I have not spared any effort to strengthen Israel and widen the circle of peace.”

Israel and Saudi Arabia have been widely reported to share clandestine ties for years, but have had no formal relations.

Netanyahu: Shameful of Gantz to use IDF as political battering ram

Netanyahu comments on Gantz’s decision to launch a probe into Israel’s controversial purchase of German submarines under the prime minister.

“It’s shameful that Gantz is using the IDF as a political battering ram,” he says.

Likud in a statement says “all enforcement officials have stated time and again that Prime Minister Netanyahu had no connection to the affair.”

It claims the defense minister’s committee is biased and will arrive at “predetermined conclusions.”

An Israeli submarine sails during Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, April 19, 2018. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Bank of Israel governor: Imperative to pass 2021 budget as soon as possible

Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron says it is imperative to pass a budget for 2021 “as soon as possible.”

Speaking to the Knesset’s Finance Committee, Yaron says “the problem of uncertainty in Israel is critical.”

The prime minister and his Likud party have insisted that the 2021 budget be delayed due to the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Critics say this is a stalling tactic as the premier seeks to use the budget next year to maneuver toward new elections.

Governor of the Bank of Israel Amir Yaron attends a press conference on March 31, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Russia fines Pussy Riot activists for hanging pride flags

Russian courts fine two Pussy Riot activists for hanging rainbow flags on several government buildings last month to mark President Vladimir Putin’s birthday.

On October 7, Putin’s 68th birthday, members of the anti-Kremlin punk group draped the flags associated with LGBT pride on buildings in Moscow including Russia’s Supreme Court and the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Two Moscow district courts hand Pussy Riot activists Maria Alyokhina and Veronika Nikulshina fines of 15,000 rubles ($198) and 10,000 rubles ($132) respectively for their roles in the stunt, lawyer Sergei Telnov says.

“We will definitely appeal these decisions in Moscow and if they don’t overturn them, in the European Court of Human Rights,” Telnov says, noting that the Moscow courts charged the activists with violating Russia’s legislation on mass gatherings.

— AFP

Egyptian singer summoned to court over photo with Israeli celebrity — reports

An Egyptian pop star caught on camera with an Israeli celebrity in Dubai has been summoned before a court to explain himself, according to Egyptian media reports.

Mohammad Ramadan, a megastar whose songs have dominated the Egyptian charts for years, did not seem to expect the outrage his selfie with Israeli musician Omer Adam would generate.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Arabic-language page shared the photo, which promptly went viral. In his defense, Ramadan explained on Facebook that he does not care about “religion or citizenship or gender” when someone asks to take a photo with him.

Ramadan has been accused of “provoking the Egyptian people” and will be brought before a court for a hearing next month.

— Aaron Boxerman

US official: Saudis constantly weighing whether to normalize with Israel

A senior US official currently visiting Israel says Saudi Arabia is constantly weighing whether to normalize relations with Israel, arguing that the kingdom’s plans to open itself up to the world would require it to join the so-called Abraham Accords.

In a briefing to Israeli journalists in Jerusalem, US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper refuses to comment on reports about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman yesterday in Saudi Arabia. But he shares some of his impressions of having just been in the country before coming to Israel this week.

“After meetings with my Saudi interlocutors, I can affirm for you that the conversation about Saudi Arabia’s consideration of the Abraham Accords is ongoing. And it’s one that doesn’t just reside in the national-security space,” he says. Riyadh is working on implementing sweeping reforms in the framework of its so-called Vision 2030 plan, Cooper says.

This June 23, 2018, photo shows a general view of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

“When looking at how to implement the strategic ends of Vision 2030 — to be more present in the community of nations and to bring the community of nations to Saudi Arabia — one has to include the Abraham Accords in that conversation.”

The interest in normalizing ties with Israel is shared by “different types of populations and constituencies across Arab states,” Cooper says. “There are also some interesting generational perspectives,” he goes on, adding that many young people in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have been surprisingly supportive of their respective government’s agreements with the Jewish state.

“There are some people-to-people aspects here that are going above and beyond what ministers probably anticipated. It’s a welcome response but it’s one that is also observed in other capitals.”

— Raphal Ahren

In odd tangent, Netanyahu says ‘women are animals with rights’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave something of a rambling, odd statement about violence against women earlier, in which he ended up saying that “women are animals… with rights.”

Netanyahu was speaking at a conference at the Knesset on stopping violence against women. Trouble appears to have started when the prime minister said women “are not an animal you can hit.” Presumably realizing this would not go over well, he added: “And today we say you don’t hit animals either.”

Perhaps he should have stopped there, but he went on.

“We understand there is understanding and there is intelligence and there is cognition and there are feelings for animals,” he said.

“We are rightfully compassionate toward animals… We are compassionate toward animals — women are animals. Children are animals. Animals with rights, and this matter needs to pass from the world and I hope we don’t see these shocking things.”

Everybody got that?

Israelis to temporarily be allowed to travel to Gulf without applying for visa

The Foreign Ministry says Israel and the United Arab Emirates have agreed on a plan that will allow Israelis to travel to the Gulf nation within days, even without visas.

The two nations have agreed on a visa-waiver program but that will take some time to take effect.

In the meantime, the ministry says, the countries have agreed that Israeli airlines will be granted permits to enter the UAE for all passengers on their flights via an electronic process.

Iraq arrests IS ‘administrative chief’ at Baghdad airport

Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service says it arrested the “administrative chief” of the Islamic State group after his arrival at Baghdad airport.

The man, known as Abu Naba, was detained in October as he was “getting into a taxi, just after landing in Baghdad,” CTS spokesman Sabah al-Noaman says.

Describing him as a “major target,” Noaman says Abu Naba had been steering financial support to IS, organizing meetings and relaying messages between jihadist members.

— AFP

Health Ministry said to warn against return of grades 5-6 to school in 31 towns

The Health Ministry warns ministers ahead of a coronavirus cabinet meeting against reopening grades 5-6 tomorrow in 31 communities, Walla news reports.

Fifth and sixth graders are slated to return to class tomorrow in accordance with a cabinet decision next week. Health officials warn 31 towns are currently experiencing high infection rates and expanded school studies must not be allowed there.

TV: Israel set to receive hundreds of thousands of Pfizer vaccines by next month

Israeli will receive several hundred coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer by next month, provided regulators clear it for use, Channel 12 news reports.

It says Jerusalem is expected to get between 200,000 and 500,000 doses (two doses are required for every person).

The report says medical teams will be the first to be inoculated. The majority of the population, it stresses, will not be vaccinated this winter.

A top Health Ministry official tells the network: “The early arrival of such a large batch of vaccines will have a positive effect on the fight against the pandemic this coming winter.”

Heather Lieberman (L), 28, receives a trial COVID-19 vaccination shot from Yaquelin De La Cruz at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, on August 13, 2020. (Chandan Khanna/AFP)

British PM: Escape route from virus is in sight

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson expresses optimism for an end to coronavirus restrictions as he announces the lifting of measures in England from early next month.

“Christmas cannot be normal and there’s a long road to spring. But we have turned a corner and the escape route is in sight,” he tells parliament.

“We must hold out against the virus until testing and vaccines come to our rescue and reduce the need for restrictions,” he adds.

In this file photo taken on November 10, 2020, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives back at Downing Street in London after chairing the weekly cabinet meeting (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

— AFP

Supreme Court won’t intervene in plea deal for soldier who killed Palestinian

The Supreme Court has rejected a petition to re-examine a plea bargain by an Israeli soldier given three months of community service for the wrongful shooting of two Palestinians, one of whom died.

Alaa Raida, 38, was shot in the stomach by an Israeli soldier who incorrectly believed him to be throwing stones, seriously wounding him. Ahmad Manasrah, 23, arrived on the scene with several friends and attempted to help Raida before being shot and killed by the same soldier.

Ahmad Manasrah, 22, who was shot dead by an Israeli soldier on March 20, 2019, in an undated photograph. (B’Tselem)

“There’s no doubt that this is a difficult event, whose consequences were tragic. Nor does anyone dispute that in retrospect this turned out to not be a terror incident,” Justice Menachem Mazuz writes in the court’s ruling.

But the court says in its ruling that established precedent has imposed strong procedural limits on its ability to interfere with the decision by military prosecutors to seek such a low sentence.

“In this circumstance, there is no justification for judicial interference in the [prosecution’s] decisions and in their considerations,” Mazuz says.

— Aaron Boxerman

Biden nominates Blinken for secretary of state, Kerry as climate change envoy

US President-elect Joe Biden is filling out his administration with key picks for his national security and foreign policy teams.

Biden officially nominates Antony Blinken as secretary of state in his administration.

John Kerry will lead the incoming administration’s effort to combat climate change. Alejandro Mayorkas will be nominated as the secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

Former US secretary of state John Kerry speaks at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit, on October 1, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Blinken worked as Biden’s national security adviser in the Obama administration. He also served as deputy NSA to the president and deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration.

In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, Blinken, who is Jewish and the stepson of a Holocaust survivor, highlighted the incoming administration’s commitment to Israel’s security, and said it could review a massive arms deal to the UAE as part of preserving Israel’s Quantitative Military Edge.

— with AP

Health Ministry: 536 new virus cases diagnosed today so far

The Health Ministry releases its latest coronavirus data, showing 536 new cases have been diagnosed today so far.

The number of active COVID-19 cases stands at 8,489, of a total of 329,823 since the pandemic began. Of those sick, 296 are in serious condition (115 on ventilation) and 88 are in moderate condition.

The death toll stands at 2,810.

TV: Security officials angry after PM flies to enemy state, telling no one

Security officials are angry at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flying to Saudi Arabia without informing top officials or the knowledge of the military, Channel 12 reports.

The premier’s military attaché, Avi Bluth, also did not inform IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi.

The network notes that the prime minister departed without informing much of the country’s leadership to a country that is currently designated an enemy state.

He also did not designate anyone as his stand-in.

Should anything have happened while the prime minister was away, or to the prime minister, much of Israel’s leadership would have been caught entirely by surprise.

Report: Israel, US hoped PM-MBS meet would yield public Saudi statement on normalization

Channel 12 says there was an expectation in the US and Israel that Netanyahu’s face-to-face meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman might yield a public Saudi declaration on normalization between the countries. However, that plainly did not happen.

A senior diplomatic source tells the network: “Despite Netanyahu and Pompeo’s efforts at persuasion, the Saudis made clear that they are not yet ready to take an additional step, and therefore nobody should expect another normalization ceremony in the near future.”

In this photo from November 27, 2018, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pictured while meeting with the Tunisian president at the presidential palace in Carthage, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis. (Fethi Belaid/AFP)

The Saudis cited domestic public opinion challenges, among other factors, the TV report says.

The network also says Saudi Arabia has been angered by news of Netanyahu’s trip leaking to the media.

Coronavirus ‘out of control’ in Gaza, hospital official says

The mounting number of coronavirus infections in densely-populated Gaza is spinning out of control, Palestinian health officials warn.

“The virus is spreading and the situation is getting out of control,” says Dr. Ahmad al-Jadba, an official at Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

The health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory of two million inhabitants declared a record 24-hour high of 890 new cases between Friday and Saturday.

Palestinian children attend a kindergarten while wearing face shields due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Gaza city on November 23, 2020. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)

The cumulative number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic stood today at 15,450, including 70 deaths.

“The number of intensive care beds is very limited, as are medicines,” says Mahmud Al-Khazindar, director of a private hospital in Gaza.

“If the number of cases increases, a choice will have to be made between the care of the elderly, the young, and patients with another disease,” he warns.

— AFP

Jordan’s Abdullah tells Biden he hopes to ‘bolster strategic partnership’

US President-elect Joe Biden speaks on the phone with Jordanian King Abdullah II.

Abdullah “expresses keenness to continue bolstering the strategic partnership between the two countries to expand cooperation, in service of mutual interests and regional security and stability,” according to an official statement from his court.

Jordan’s King Abdullah delivers his speech at the European parliament, in Strasbourg, eastern France, January 15, 2020. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

Coronavirus czar said to back opening schools fully where infections low

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash has proposed fully reopening schools in communities with low infection rates, while carrying out regular tests, Ynet reports.

Meanwhile Education Minister Yoav Gallant proposes grades 7-12 return to school in half-classes, with students at school at least two days a week.

Knesset passes bill to freeze expected rise in salary of MKs

The Knesset passes a bill to freeze an expected rise in the salary of MKs.

Lawmakers’ wages are adjusted at the beginning of each year, in accord with the average national salary. This coming January would have seen a big jump of some NIS 6,500 ($1,900) per month, as the average salary dropped this year, due to many low-earning workers being laid off during the pandemic.

The MK salary will now remain at NIS 45,000 ($13,400) a month.

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