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Iran condemns Bahrain’s plan to normalize ties with Israel

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Saturday strongly condemned Bahrain’s plan to normalize relations with Israel, calling it a shameful and ignominious move by the Gulf Arab country.

Bahrain’s announcement Friday followed a similar normalization agreement last month by the United Arab Emirates, a fellow U.S. ally. The two Arab nations’ establishment of full relations with Israel is part of a broader push by the Trump administration find common ground with countries that share U.S. wariness of Iran. Tehran’s arch rival Saudi Arabia may also be close to a deal.

In a statement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Bahrain’s normalization “will remain in the historical memory of the oppressed and downtrodden people of Palestine and the world’s free nations forever.”

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard also denounced Bahrain’s move using similar language, calling it a betrayal of the Palestinian people and a “threat to security in West Asia and the Muslim world.”

The agreements by the UAE and now Bahrain are a setback for Palestinian leaders, who have urged Arab nations to withhold recognition until they have secured an independent state. The Palestinians have seen a steady erosion in once-unified Arab support — one of the few cards they still held as leverage against Israel — since President Donald Trump began pursuing an unabashedly pro-Israel agenda.

The Foreign Ministry statement also said Bahrain’s government and the other supporting governments would be held accountable for any act by Israel that causes insecurity in the Persian Gulf region.

The island of Bahrain lies just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, and is among the world’s smallest countries, only about 760 square kilometers (290 square miles). Bahrain’s location in the Persian Gulf long has made it a trading stop and a naval defensive position. The island is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and a recently built British naval base.

Like Iran, Bahrain’s population is majority Shiite, and the country has been ruled since 1783 by the Sunni Al Khalifa family.

Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Bahrain’s rulers have blamed Iran for arming militants on the island. Iran denies the accusations. Bahrain’s Shiite majority has accused the government of treating them like second-class citizens. The Shiites joined pro-democracy activists in demanding more political freedoms in 2011, as Arab Spring protests swept across the wider Middle East. Saudi and Emirati troops ultimately helped violently put down the demonstrations.

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Israel wages war of semantics over West Bank ‘Area C’

Jerusalem (AFP) – To the United Nations, “Area C” is Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. But Israel, which aims to annex parts of the territory, is waging a war of semantics over its status.

Pro-Israel NGOs and more recently a government agency are using email and social media to take aim at foreign media about their “biased” grammar when describing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But rather than trying to impose the biblical “Judea and Samaria” term used by Israel for the West Bank, the reproaches focus on the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s.

As part of these interim Israeli-Palestinian agreements, the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. The first two zones constitute around 40 percent of the territory and were due to be largely under Palestinian jurisdiction.

Area C was to remain under full Israeli control, with the intention of Israel transferring part of the zone to the Palestinians under a final agreement.

But peace talks collapsed and Israel now intends to annex its settlements and the Jordan Valley — which lie in Area C — and could set such plans in motion from July 1.

Annexation forms part of a broader US peace plan unveiled in January, which paves the way for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state in the remaining territory.

Currently more than 450,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, alongside more than 2.8 million Palestinians.

Washington is now proposing a 50-50 split of Area C, separating around 300,000 Palestinians who live there from the settlers whose homes would become part of Israel.

Yossi Beilin, one of the Israeli negotiators of the Oslo accords, said that Area C was intended to become “part of Palestine” in a final deal.

Viewing Area C now as Israeli territory “abuses the Oslo agreement”, he told AFP, by turning something “interim” into something “forever”.

Beilin said the Israeli right believes they are being “very generous” in proposing to divide the area in two.

“They don’t understand why the world is against it,” said Beilin, who has served as a minister for the left-wing Labor party.

– ‘Disputed’ land? –

The West Bank was ruled by Jordan following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and Amman later annexed the territory, in a move never recognised by the international community.

Israel drove out Jordanian forces in the 1967 Six-Day War and sees the land as “disputed”, opposing the term “occupied”, which is widely used in international media.

An Israeli government official recently told a European correspondent to abandon the phrase “occupied Palestinian territory”.

Foreign media including AFP describe Areas A, B and C as Palestinian territories, referring to the region as the “occupied West Bank”.

The United Nations special envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, clarified to AFP that Area C is “considered occupied Palestinian territory”.

But efforts by an Israeli government department to seek out journalists on social media — telling them to scrap the term — have escalated in recent weeks.

“I believe this public nitpicking on Twitter is a new phenomenon,” said Glenys Sugarman, former director of Israel’s Foreign Press Association.

“I handed over the FPA towards the end of last year — I was not aware of anything like this by the GPO,” she said, referring to Israel’s Government Press Office.

The GPO, which is linked to the prime minister’s office, acknowledged “occasional engagements with incorrect/inaccurate/biased reports in the media”.

The government department stressed, however, that it was not “the GPO’s role” to clarify Area C terminology ahead of Israel’s possible annexation.

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Israel army says targets Hamas infrastructure after rocket fire

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Israel retaliated by air and tank fire Monday against Hamas positions after rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, the army said.

The tensions came after Gaza rulers Hamas called for unity among Palestinians and “resistance” against Israeli plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli army said that a rocket had been fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip “into Israel”, the first such act in more than a month.

“Airplanes targeted Hamas infrastructure” in southern Gaza and “tanks targeted (its) military posts,” the army said.

Palestinian security sources confirmed that Hamas targets had been hit.

Earlier on Monday, senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil told a news conference “we call for the annexation project to be confronted with resistance in all forms”.

“We call on our people to transform this hardship into an opportunity to get the Palestinian project back on track,” Bardawil said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aims to begin a process of annexing West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley from July 1, as part of a US peace initiative.

Deep divisions remain between Islamist movement Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, but Bardawil called for a “union of the political class”.

“It is the duty of each free Palestinian citizen to rise up against this flagrant aggression on our land,” he said.

Bardawil called for a meeting between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which includes various other Palestinian groups.

Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, after ousting forces of president Mahmoud Abbas in a near civil war among the Palestinians.

Both the PA and Hamas stand opposed to annexation in the West Bank, which forms part of a controversial peace plan unveiled in January by US President Donald Trump.

The initiative paves the way for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, but on reduced territory and without key Palestinian demands such as a capital in east Jerusalem.

Israel’s intention to press ahead with annexation has been met with warnings from the United Nations that such a move would likely spark violence.

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Israel set for unprecedented third election amid political gridlock

Israel is heading towards an unprecedented third election in one year after both Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival failed to form a government and were unable to agree a deal for a unity coalition.

As a midnight deadline passed, there was no last-minute deal between the two sides and MPs instead voted through a bill to send Israelis to the polls for a third time in 11 months on March 2, 2020.

By a vote of 94 in favour to none opposed, lawmakers approved a motion dissolving parliament and setting the new election date.

Mr Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue & White party, blamed each other for what has become the worst stalemate in Israeli political history.

Mr Gantz said the prime minister was dragging the country into new elections to try to win a Right-wing majority which would grant him immunity from the criminal corruption charges he faces. He denies wrongdoing. 

“It now seems that we will be going into a third election cycle today because of Netanyahu’s attempt to obtain immunity,” Mr Gantz said. 

Mr Netanyahu said Mr Gantz and his allies had never seriously entered into negotiations on a unity government.

“It’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government,” he said. 

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Recent UN vote not a shift in Canada’s ‘steadfast’ support for Israel: Trudeau – National

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a recent vote to support a UN resolution endorsing Palestinian self-determination is not a shift in Canada’s policy against singling out Israel for criticism on the international stage.

Trudeau made the remarks Monday at a menorah lighting on Parliament Hill, where about 100 parliamentarians and members of the Jewish community gathered to mark the upcoming Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Canada’s view on Israeli settlements in West Bank unchanged, despite U.S. policy shift

Trudeau says he met before the event with Jewish community leaders who expressed their concerns about the United Nations vote in late November.

He says he heard similar concerns from other parties and from members of his own caucus.

The resolution was part of a group of motions brought every year at the United Nations which critics say single out Israel for the ongoing conflict with Palestinians.

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Protest turns violent during pro-Israel event at York University

Protest turns violent during pro-Israel event at York University

For more than a decade, Canada has voted against the resolutions but Trudeau says Canada felt it had to change course on that one resolution, in order to emphasize its support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I hear you,” Trudeau told those gathered around the menorah. “I understand that many of you were alarmed by this decision. The government felt that it was important to reiterate its commitment to a two-states-for-two-peoples solution at a time when its prospects appear increasingly under threat.

U.S. reverses position on Israeli settlements, angering Palestinians

“But let me be very clear. Our enduring friendship with Israel remains. We will continue to stand strongly against the singling out of Israel at the UN. Canada remains a steadfast supporter of Israel and Canada will always defend Israel’s right to live in security. And we will always, always, speak up against anti-Semitism at home and abroad. You have my word.”

Canada was roundly criticized for the November vote by Israel, the United States and many within Canada, with several critics accusing Canada of voting with the majority in order to secure a UN Security Council seat next year.

Canada returned to its practice of voting against other resolutions critical of Israel in votes taken this month.

U.S. no longer considers Israel settlements illegal

U.S. no longer considers Israel settlements illegal

At the menorah lighting, Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer both denounced recent incidents of anti-Semitism aimed at Jewish students at York University, the University of Toronto and McGill University.

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“They were made to feel uncomfortable because of their identity, because of their support of Israel,” Trudeau said.

“Calling into question Israel’s right to exist or the right of Jewish people to self-determination is promoting anti-Semitism and that’s unacceptable. We will never, ever be silent in the face of such acts. Hatred has no place in Canada and we will continue to condemn it.”

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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Israeli PM Netanyahu defiant after being charged with corruption | Israel News

A defiant Benjamin Netanyahu rejected all allegations of fraud on Thursday, vowing to stay on as the leader in Israel despite being indicted on a series of corruption charges.

Netanyahu denounced what he called the “false” and “politically motivated” allegations, hours after being charged by the attorney general with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denied all wrongdoing.

“What is going on here is an attempt to stage a coup against the prime minister,” Netanyahu said. “The object of the investigations was to oust the right-wing from government.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced the indictment earlier on Thursday, calling it a “heavy-hearted decision” based only on solid legal evidence.

But Netanyahu said the investigators “weren’t after the truth, they were after me”.

In a 15-minute speech, Netanyahu railed against his political rivals and state institutions, accusing the police and judiciary of bias. The veteran politician argued it was time for an “investigation of the investigators”.

He vowed to continue on as prime minister despite potential court dates and intense political pressure.

“I will continue to lead this country, according to the letter of the law,” he said. “I will not allow lies to win.”

Political chaos

The charges raise more uncertainty over who will ultimately lead a country mired in political chaos after two inconclusive elections this year. 

Israeli law does not require Netanyahu to step down from the post of prime minister if indicted. The entire process of an indictment and trial could take two years.

As prime minister, he would only be forced to resign from the post if he is eventually convicted, where he could face up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine for bribery charges alone, while fraud and breach of trust carry a prison sentence of up to three years.


Hugh Lovatt, an Israel-Palestine analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the indictment may still not be “the end of the story”.

“Israel will now have to brace for a political roller-coaster ride over the coming months. Now more than ever Netanyahu will be fighting for his political and personal life,” said Lovatt.

What are the charges?

In February, Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery, following up on police recommendations.

The investigations were listed as Cases 4,000, 1,000, and 2,000.

The allegations against Netanyahu range from receiving gifts worth thousands of dollars to a deal to change regulatory frameworks in favour of a media group in exchange for favourable press coverage.

Case 1,000 alleges Netanyahu and his wife wrongfully received gifts from Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, as well as from Australian billionaire James Packer, in return for political favours.

The gifts included champagne and cigars, according to reports.

In Case 2,000, Netanyahu is suspected to have struck a deal with the owner of Israel’s daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth to receive favourable media coverage in return for legislation that would slow the growth of competing newspaper Israel Hayom.

Of the investigations against Netanyahu, Case 4,000 is seen as the most serious.

He is alleged to have negotiated with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israeli telecommunications giant Bezeq, to get positive coverage on his Walla! news site in exchange for policies benefitting Bezeq.

Wide-reaching impact

The attorney general’s decision is expected to have a wide-reaching effect not just on the embattled leader but on Israeli politics in general, as the country has been without a government for nearly a year because of political infighting.

Neither Netanyahu nor his centrist rival Benny Gantz has been able to form a coalition government following deadlocked elections in September, with the country edging closer to a third election within 12 months.

Gantz’s Blue and White party has said it will not sit in a government whose leader is facing such charges.

“A prime minister up to his neck in corruption allegations has no public or moral mandate to make fateful decisions for the state of Israel,” the party said after the announcement by the attorney general in a statement.

“There is concern, whether or not the charges prove to be true or without merit, that Netanyahu will make decisions in his own personal interest and for his political survival and not in the national interest.”

‘Sad day for Israel’

Gantz said on Thursday the indictment was “a very sad day for the state of Israel”.

The indictment might permanently damage 70-year-old Netanyahu’s political career and cause allies to break away from him, whereas a reprieve would likely give him a new lease of life.

The right-winger Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009, is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and dominates the country’s political scene.

The other thing is the political question: whether given the seriousness of these charges, will he be able to maintain his support, especially within his own Likud party?” said Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from West Jerusalem. 

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