Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears in today’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, CNN’s three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.
A shocking 48 hours of violence – bloody even by the standards of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – followed immediately by a fortunately timed flying visit from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, focused the eyes of the world on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week.
He looked back without blinking.
Sitting down for an exclusive interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he signaled clearly that it is extremely unlikely Israel and the Palestinians will make any measurable progress toward a long-term peace anytime soon.
Netanyahu made clear that while he’s “open” to negotiations with the Palestinians and is willing to cooperate with them on security matters, not much else will move.
Netanyahu has never been a full-throated supporter of a two-state solution, weaving in and out of different definitions of what that would mean. But in recent years he’s settled on the idea that he’d be open to a Palestinian state – as long as it has no military or security power, an arrangement that would have no parallel among modern sovereign states.
“I’m certainly willing to have them have all the powers that they need to govern themselves, but none of the powers that can threaten us,” Netanyahu told Tapper in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
He did provide some new details about his conversations with President Biden on the matter, explaining he once told Biden, “[A]ny final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would have Israel controlling security – overriding security responsibility in the area west of the Jordan.
“I said, you can’t divide who controls the airspace [between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean]. You have to cross it. It takes two minutes for an airplane to cross it. So what, one minute Israel controls it and the other minute the Palestinians? Of course, it’s not workable.
“He said to me, as others have said to me – ‘you know, but that’s not perfect sovereignty.’
“And I said, you’re right. But – I don’t know what you’d call it, but it gives them the opportunity to control their lives, to elect their officials, to run their economy, to run their institutions, to have their flag and to have their parliament, but we have to have overriding security control.”
Most Palestinians would view that arrangement as a continuation of the current occupation – and an unacceptable starting point for peace negotiations.
Tapper pressed Netanyahu over accusations that Israel is engaging in collective punishment of Palestinians in the wake of two shooting attacks targeting Israelis around Jerusalem that killed seven and wounded five. Measures announced by the Israeli cabinet in response included issuing more gun permits for civilians, increasing security for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and pushing draft legislation that would possibly revoke the Israeli residency of families of those accused of engaging in or supporting terrorism.
Netanyahu claimed he doesn’t “believe in collective punishment,” although most human rights organizations call actions targeting the families of attackers exactly that.
“It’s not targeting family members. It’s targeting family members who were involved in the terror acts or supported it after the act was done … I think that disincentivizes the terrorists,” Netanyahu said.
The legislation to revoke residency of families of attackers will likely face legal challenges, something Israeli human rights organization HaMoked has already vowed to do.
Netanyahu made clear to Tapper: His priority is normalization with Arab nations before peace with the Palestinians.
After the success of the Abraham Accords, Netanyahu told Tapper he wants to expand the countries in what he calls the “circle of peace,” with his top objective being Saudi Arabia.
For years, peace with the Palestinians was seen as a precondition for any normalization agreements between Arab countries and Israel. But Netanyahu argued the Abraham Accords changed the game.
“I think that the way we’re going to succeed is not let the Palestinian tail wag the body of the Arab world,” he said.
“If we make peace with Saudi Arabia – it depends on the Saudi leadership – and bring, effectively, the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end, I think we will circle back to the Palestinians and get a workable peace with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said.
But with rising and concerning levels of violence from all sides, a far-right Israeli government in place under Netanyahu, and a Palestinian Authority led by an increasingly unpopular President Mahmoud Abbas, that may be an overly optimistic game plan.
US cautions Israel on policies, urges Palestinians to improve governance and accountability
Blinken on Tuesday called for Israelis and Palestinians to de-escalate, stop violence and reduce tensions after a meeting with Abbas in the West Bank. He cautioned against Israeli moves including “things like settlement expansion, the legalization of [Israeli settler] outposts, demolitions and evictions [of Palestinians from their homes]disruptions to the historic status of the holy sites and of course incitement and acquiescence to violence.”
- Background: Blinken’s visit comes after Palestinians and Israelis suffered significant bloodshed last week. Thursday was the deadliest day for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in nearly two years, followed by a shooting near a Jerusalem synagogue Friday night, which Israel has deemed one of its worst terror attacks in recent years.
- Why it matters: Fears had been growing that the situation in Israel and the West Bank could spiral out of control and Blinken’s visit was expected to calm tensions. Blinken asked senior State Department officials to remain in the Middle East to help assist with steps that both Israel and the Palestinians have suggested to him “to lower the temperature.”
Abu Dhabi’s IHC to invest $381 million in Adani Enterprises following damaging short seller report
Abu Dhabi’s International Holding Company (IHC) on Monday announced that it would invest 1.4 billion dirhams ($381 million) in India’s Adani Enterprises’ follow-on public offering . The investment comes after the Indian conglomerate’s market value plummeted around $70 billion following a damaging short seller report.
- Background: This is IHC’s first investment of the year, and second investment deal with Adani Group after last year’s 7.3 billion dirhams ($2 billion) investment in the group’s companies. One of India’s largest multinational conglomerates, Adani and its owner Gautam Adani – one of Asia’s richest men – were caught in the crosshairs of a research firm that accused the conglomerate and Adani himself of pulling off “the largest con in corporate history.” The report and the selloff it sparked erased some $70 billion in market value across Adani Group companies. Adani said it complied with all local laws and had made the necessary regulatory disclosures.
- Why it matters: The investment deal comes as IHC aims to increase its global acquisitions by 70% in 2023. Abu Dhabi’s largest listed company, IHC’s market value more than doubled last year. It is chaired by Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the influential UAE national security adviser and a brother of the UAE’s president.
Iran, Russia link banking systems amid Western sanction
Iran and Russia have connected their interbank communication and transfer systems to help boost trade and financial transactions, Reuters cited a senior Iranian official as saying on Monday, as both Tehran and Moscow are chafing under Western sanctions. Iran’s Central Bank chief Mohammad Farzin welcomed the move. “The financial channel between Iran and the world is being repaired,” he tweeted.
- Background: Since the 2018 reimposition of US sanctions on Iran after Washington ditched Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the Islamic Republic has been disconnected from the Belgium-based SWIFT financial messaging service, which is a key international banking access point. Similar limitations have been slapped on some Russian banks since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
- Why it matters: Since the start of the Ukraine war, Tehran and Moscow have acted to forge close bilateral ties as both capitals attempt to build new economic and diplomatic partnerships elsewhere. With deepening economic misery, many Iranians are feeling the pain of galloping inflation and rising joblessness. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Monday that the establishment faced “a tangible welfare and livelihood problem” that could not be cured without economic growth.
The turnout in Tunisia’s parliamentary runoff elections on Sunday, Reuters cited the country’s electoral commission as saying. President Kais Saied on Monday blamed the low turnout on hatred among voters of the parliament, calling it “an institution of absurdity and a state within the state.” His critics said the turnout was evidence of public disdain for his agenda and seizure of powers, and opposition parties called for his resignation.
Passengers were left disappointed last weekend after spending more than 13 hours in the air on a flight that never landed at its intended destination.
Emirates airline had to return to Dubai on its way to Auckland, New Zealand, on Friday when the destination city’s airport closed due to flooding.
The Airbus A380 superjumbo turned back upon reaching west of Indonesia, more than a third of the way to Auckland, a map from flight tracking site Flightradar24 showed.
New Zealand’s biggest city has been inundated with record rain. An estimated 240 millimeters of rainfall (9.8 inches) – equal to an entire summer’s worth of rain – fell on Auckland Friday, making it the city’s wettest day on record.
The rain caused widespread travel disruption over the weekend. More than 2,000 people stayed overnight Friday in the airport’s terminals due to the flooding, the airport said. Domestic flights resumed Saturday but the international terminal was not operational until Sunday.
Emirates resumed the Auckland route, its longest at 14,200 kilometers (8,800 miles), in December after an almost three-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The flight takes between 16 and 17 hours and is among the world’s longest nonstop commercial routes.