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Netanyahu Announces 3-Week Lockdown, Warns it May Last Longer

By Israel Hayom
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday announced that a new nationwide lockdown will be imposed amid a surge in coronavirus cases, with schools and parts of the economy expected to shut down in a bid to bring down infection rates. Beginning Friday at 6 a.m., the start of the Jewish High Holiday season, schools, restaurants, malls and hotels will shut down, among other businesses, and Israelis will face restrictions on movements and on gatherings. "Our goal is to stop the increase [in cases] and lower morbidity," Netanyahu said in a televised statement. "I know that these steps come at a difficult price for all of us. This is not the holiday we are used to." The tightening of measures marks the second time Israel is being plunged into a lockdown, after a lengthy shutdown in the spring. That lockdown is credited with having brought down what were much lower infection numbers, but it wreaked havoc on the country's economy, sending unemployment skyrocketing. The lockdown will remain in place for at least three weeks, at which point officials may relax measures if numbers are seen declining. Israelis typically hold large family gatherings and pack synagogues during the important fast of Yom Kippur later this month, settings that officials feared could trigger new outbreaks. A sticking point in government deliberations over the lockdown was what prayers would look like during the holidays. While the details on prayer during the lockdown were not nailed down in the government decision, there were expected to be strict limits on the faithful. That prompted Housing Minister Yakov Litzman, who heads the United Torah Judaism party, to resign from the government earlier Sunday. Israel has had more than 150,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 1,100 deaths. Given its population of 9 million, the country now has one of the world's worst outbreaks. It is now seeing more than 4,000 daily cases of the virus. Israel earned praise for its initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak, moving quickly to seal the country's borders and appearing to bring infections under control. It has since been criticized for opening businesses and schools too quickly and allowing the virus to spread unchecked. Much of that criticism has been aimed at Netanyahu, who has faced a public outcry over his handling of the crisis and has seen thousands of protesters descend on his Jerusalem residence every week. While lauded for his decisive response following the spring outbreak, Netanyahu appeared distracted by politics and personal matters, including his trial for corruption allegations, as infections rose over the summer. At the press conference Sunday announcing the lockdown, Netanyahu defended his response, saying Israel's economy had emerged from the first lockdown in a better state than many other developed nations and that while cases were high, the country's coronavirus mortality numbers were lower than other countries with similar outbreaks.

"For the past six months, the coronavirus pandemic has been striking at the world. Nearly 30 million people have been infected and close to a million have died," a somber Netanyahu said. "We were the first in the world to understand the magnitude of the threat. Thanks to our decisions, the number of people infected in Israel is low. "Since we were the first to shutter the economy, we could be among the first to reopen it. We have given grants to you, members of the public, and our economy is in a better position than other world economies because we opened it early. We are working tirelessly for you. When we resumed [economic activity] I said this would be like an accordion – the economy will be open when morbidity is low and under lockdown when it's high. Every country that resumed [economic activity] has seen a spike in morbidity and reintroduced restrictions," he explained. Last Thursday, he continued, "Health officials sounded the alarm, saying that morbidity rates required taking serious steps. This is not about the number of beds or ventilators, but a question of burnout on the part of our wonderful medical teams. They also warn of a sudden spike in the number of patients in serious condition, which will result in a high death toll." The second lockdown seeks to curb the virus racing across the country and break the infection chain, the prime minister stressed. "This is why today, the cabinet made the decision to impose a lockdown for three weeks. There is a possibility it would be extended, but right now it will be throughout the holidays. "I promise you – we will get through this together. I urge everyone to adhere to the Health Ministry's directives on wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, avoiding mass gatherings, etc. These are the basic steps and if we fail to observe them another outbreak will happen. If we Coronavirus commissioner Ronni Gamzu said that the government was forced to announce the sweeping lockdown due to the soaring virus rates, adding that the ministers had no choice but to act after some hospital officials warned corona wards were nearing full capacity. The government alone "won't defeat the coronavirus," he stated. "Only you, the public, can defeat the coronavirus. If we do this wisely, we can be done [with lockdowns] in two or three weeks," he said. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that the public will be allowed to gather for prayer services during the High Holidays in a "very limited" fashion, but did not elaborate on the guidelines set for public prayer. "For three months, I tried to avoid a lockdown. I did everything I could so that we could live alongside the coronavirus, with some rules here and there. But under the circumstances that have been created, we had no choice but to vote for a second lockdown," he said, hinting at the public's failure to follow his ministry's guidelines, which is believed to be a major contributor to the spike in infection rates. The health minister said that if Israelis do not keep the rules, "all of this will have been for nothing. We need the public's cooperation." The country's power-sharing government, made up of two rival parties who joined forces in a stated aim to combat the virus, has also been chided for the new outbreak. The government has been accused of mismanagement, failing to properly address both the health and economic crises wrought by the virus and leading the country to its second lockdown. Some government ministers meanwhile have pointed fingers at what they've called an undisciplined public, who they have accused of violating restrictions against public gatherings and mask-wearing.

Netanyahu Enroute to Washington for Historic Peace Deal with UAE, Bahrain

By World Israel News
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's jet is on its way for the U.S. to sign a historic deal with the United Arab Emirates at the White House on Tuesday. Adding to the excitement of Netanyahu's trip was the surprise announcement on Friday by another Gulf state, Bahrain, that it would normalize ties with Israel. The ceremony will thus be a double-billing, both the UAE and Bahrain. "We now have two historic peace agreements with two Arab countries within one month," Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting on Sunday. "I am sure that we all praise this new age… I want to promise you that each and every one of you through your ministries will be a part of it, because this is going to be a different peace. It will be a warm peace, economic peace in additional to diplomatic peace, peace between nations." Netanyahu emphasized when news of the UAE deal broke that it was different from Israel's two other agreements with Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, in that it didn't involve any territorial concessions. The desire for full relations appears to be genuine on both sides. Netanyahu has invited the president of the UAE to visit Israel. According to reports, he has expressed interest in coming to Jerusalem. The details of the UAE deal have not yet been released and there is pressure from both the Right and Left to do so. "If the agreements with the Emirates and Bahrain are so wonderful, there is no reason to hide them from the government, the Knesset and especially from the public," the editor of Makor Rishon, a conservative weekly, tweeted Sunday. The UAE deal appears to have broken the ice in a way that those with Egypt and Jordan did not. Following the news about Bahrain, other countries are reportedly going to follow, including Oman and Sudan. Oman sent a positive signal on its state TV channel, saying it welcomed the Bahrain initiative. In addition, Kosovo announced it will move its embassy to Jerusalem, becoming the first Muslim-majority country to do so. Morocco, while not ready for open ties, may agree to allow direct flights to and from Israel, it was reported on Sunday.

How the UAE-Israel Deal Seeks to Impose a 'Fait Accompli' in Jerusalem

By Middle East Eye (Commentary)
While the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is seen by many as a historic peace deal between the two countries, analysts in Jerusalem say it will bring "everything but peace to the region." A report by Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli organization that tracks developments in Jerusalem that could impact political processes or spark violence, says that the phrasing of an initial joint statement between Israel and the UAE raised fears of restrictions to Muslims' rights to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Israelis as the Temple Mount, while legitimizing Jewish prayers there, in violation of a longstanding agreement. The report looked at a joint statement by the President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on 13 August, which said that "all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Jerusalem's other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths". The ambiguous phrasing led Terrestrial Jerusalem to say that while the statement was most likely trying to convey a major breakthrough whereby Muslims would be allowed to pray at Al-Aqsa, while the status quo at Haram al-Sharif - another Arabic term for the compound - is being maintained, "the truth is precisely the opposite.". "The joint statement makes the agreement serve as a cover of legitimacy and an approval from an Arab Muslim country to limit the [definition] of the Al-Aqsa Mosque to the al-Qibli prayer hall, and to consider the remaining 93% of the mosque's space a different area," Ziyad Ibhais, a researcher on Jerusalem affairs, told Middle East Eye. "This would allow Jewish rituals inside the compound of the Al-Aqsa Mosque." Ibhaisi added that the US administration considers the issue of the Al-Aqsa Mosque a "central element of the UAE-Israel agreement". Jewish tradition has it that the Haram al-Sharif was built where the First and Second Jewish Temples once stood, with some far-right Israeli figures openly advocating for the destruction of Al-Aqsa so a Third Temple can be built in its place. As such, the religious site has long been the focus of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. However, neighboring Jordan remains the custodian of Christian and Muslim holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem. The status quo agreement recognized by Israel and the Palestinian Authority states that while non-Muslims are allowed to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, they cannot worship or pray in Haram al-Sharif. According to Ibhaisi, the use of the term "Al-Aqsa Mosque" by the US administration is an "adoption of an Israeli trick of terminology" to define Al-Aqsa solely as the al-Qibli prayer hall, instead of encompassing the 35.5 acres of the Haram al-Sharif. "This is something the [Israeli] occupation has been enforcing by calling the Al-Aqsa compound the Temple Mount, and considering its squares as public municipal squares not recognized as an integral part of the mosque," he said. "If we put the two texts of the normalization announcement and the deal of the century together, it's not hard to understand what they mean by saying that Muslims will be praying [only] in the al-Qibli chapel with the lead dome," Ibhaisi continued. "Meanwhile, Jews and Zionist Christians will be able to pray in all the Al-Aqsa compound, and the agreement with the UAE will serve as an Arab and Islamic cover for this arrangement." Ibhaisi argued that the UAE-Israel agreement cannot put an end to Israel's violations of Palestinian rights, but will instead mark a "new phase of Judaizing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and turning it into a synagogue". Incursions of Jewish-Israeli settlers in the Al-Aqsa compound first started in the 1980s. While they were initially limited to only a few days a year, they escalated following an Israeli judicial ruling in 2003 arguing that such incursions were merely an "entry of Israeli citizens to a part of their land". The ruling was a turning point in the work of Israeli police. Once tasked with preventing Jews from entering the Al-Aqsa compound except for a few days during the year, Israeli forces were now protecting and securing groups storming the compound. According to Ibhaisi, the Israeli government first attempted to impose a complete temporal division of the Al-Aqsa Mosque during religious holidays in September 2015, when Muslims were prevented from entering the Al-Aqsa compound during the Jewish New Year and Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. As some extremist Jewish groups currently call for the ritual blowing of the shofar in the Al-Aqsa compound on 19 and 20 September during the celebrations of the Hebrew New Year, and offering sacrifices in October, the UAE-Israel deal seems to be an opportunity for Israeli authorities to impose Jewish rituals in the Al-Aqsa. Former PA minister of Jerusalem affairs Khaled Abu Arafa told MEE that Israel's agreement with the UAE could reinforce the division of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and seek to "tempt the UAE" into becoming the custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem instead of Jordan. "Israel has its own agenda regarding its agreement with the UAE," he said. "It will not be satisfied with just a public relations agreement, but will make sure not to spare any effort and to use every line in the agreement to impose a fait accompli at the expense of Palestinians in general, and Jerusalemites in particular." Arafa said that similar agreements with Arab leaders - including the Camp David agreement with Egypt in 1977, the Oslo Accords with Palestinian leadership in 1993, and the Wadi Araba agreement with Jordan in 1994 - all ended up being detrimental to rights and livelihoods of Palestinians. "Israel is reaping the fruits of its relentless efforts since 2010 to change the status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, taking advantage of the improvement in relations and security coordination with Jordan," the former Palestinian minister continued. Khaled Zabarqa, a Palestinian lawyer specialized in the affairs of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, concurred. "Israel used the UAE as a tool to impose its policies in Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque for years, not just since the latest agreement," he said. "Two years ago, the Emirati regime tried to buy a property adjacent to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but the sale process was exposed and cancelled."

According to Zabarqa, organizations linked to the Emirati authorities in Jerusalem used to take advantage of the fact that Jerusalemites felt comfortable dealing with them in order to buy many properties in the city - only to then transfer said properties to Jewish-Israeli settlers with the knowledge of Israeli intelligence. "Israel is using the UAE to mislead Arab and Palestinian public opinion, convince them in favor of normalization and persuade them of the legitimacy of Israeli occupation policies in Jerusalem," he said. "What we fear now is that the UAE will claim to promote religious tolerance to mislead Arabs, taking advantage of the fact that Arab and Muslim sympathy with the Palestinian cause of Jerusalem is primarily religious," Zabarqa added. With the signing ceremony for the UAE-Israel agreement scheduled to take place in the US on 15 September, Ibhais says that the agreement has been a useful cover for Washington, Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. "Trump needs to record achievements in order to enhance his chances of re-election, Netanyahu wants to strengthen his electoral coalition, and the UAE now needs a US-Israeli cover after it has been involved in serious confrontation with all Arab parties aspiring for change," he said. "The agreement is an opportunity for the [Israeli] occupation to enhance its chances of achieving its goals."

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