Bibi in a fix over key ally

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Israel’s Attorney-General tells PM Netanyahu to fire key ally Aryeh Deri for his criminal conviction

Israel’s Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara has requested Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire his key ally Aryeh Deri after the Supreme Court disqualified Deri from serving as a cabinet minister for his criminal conviction.

The Israeli top court ruled on Wednesday that Aryeh Deri, the influential leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, cannot serve as a minister because of his conviction in February 2022 for tax fraud.

In a letter made public, Baharav-Miara told Netanyahu that he “must act in accordance with the ruling and remove him (Deri) from his positions in the government.”

Netanyahu must appoint someone else to lead the Health Ministry and Interior Ministry, positions currently held by Deri, Baharav-Miara said in the letter, adding Netanyahu himself cannot hold these posts because he is facing a criminal trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu has not announced yet if he would fire Deri, a long-time ally and close associate.

Aryeh Deri, leader of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox party of Shas. (Photo: Instagram)

Deri’s Shas became the third largest party in the parliament after winning 11 seats in parliamentary elections last November. If Netanyahu loses its support, he might lose his majority in the parliament as his far-right coalition only has 64 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

In Wednesday’s ruling, 10 of the 11-judge panel said the appointment of Deri was “extremely unreasonable,” citing mainly his recent conviction as well as a three-year prison sentence he was given in 2000 for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Shas rejected the ruling as “political” and “a witch hunt.” Justice Minister Yair Levin also denounced the ruling in a statement as “absurd.”

The legal decision deepens an already unprecedented rift between the new hard-right government and the judiciary over the government’s reform plan to weaken the Supreme Court.

Abbas’s plea to US

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the U.S. government to intervene to stop the Israeli new government’s measures against the Palestinians before it is too late.

Abbas made the remarks during a meeting held at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

While calling on the U.S. to intervene to stop what he termed as “the Israeli government’s extremist measures,” Abbas accused Israel of destroying the remaining chances for peace and stability in the region, according to WAFA.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Abbas briefed Sullivan “about the destructive measures and crimes that the new Israeli government is taking with the aim of destroying the two-state solution and the signed peace agreements,” according to the report.

The Palestinian leader said the U.S. should stop Israel’s unilateral measures and violations, including the expansion of settlements, killings, storming of Palestinian cities and towns, and deducting Palestinian tax dues.

“The Palestinian leadership will not accept the continuation of these Israeli crimes and will confront them and defend the rights, land, and sanctities of the Palestinian people,” Abbas told Sullivan.

Abbas stressed the importance of the U.S. fulfilling its commitments to preserve the two-state solution, stop settlement activity, and maintain the legal and historical status quo in Jerusalem.

He also called on Washington to reopen the U.S. consulate office in Jerusalem and reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, which was closed during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s tenure.

Since early January, the tension between Israel and the Palestinians has been rising. Around 17 Palestinians have been killed, and dozens of others were injured by Israeli soldiers since the start of the year, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Palestinian officials have warned against the Israeli escalation against the Palestinians, particularly after the formation of the new Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is the most rightist in Israel’s history.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said he met visiting U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and explored ways to forge official ties with Saudi Arabia.

The two discussed “the next steps to deepen the Abraham Accords and expand the circle of peace, with emphasis on a breakthrough regarding Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

The Abraham Accords are a series of normalization deals signed in 2020 in which the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco agreed to establish official ties with Israel, breaking the country’s relative isolation in the Middle East.

Upon his return to office last December, Netanyahu declared that he wish to form diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, a move that he hopes will “bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Netanyahu and Sullivan also discussed “joint efforts to stop the Iranian nuclear program and Iran’s actions in the region,” the office said.

Sullivan is the most senior U.S. official to visit Israel since Netanyahu’s new extreme-right government was inaugurated last December. The swearing-in of this coalition government, which includes ministers who advocate the annexation of the occupied West Bank and voice anti-Arab rhetoric, has caused discontent in the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

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