Weekly News 12 – 16 November 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs
Monday 12 November 2018
Italy: Renegade General Khalifa Haftar has arrived in the Italian city of Palermo to attend an international conference seeking to explore a new United Nations road map for Libya. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his Tunisian counterpart, Beji Caid Essebsi, are among a number of leaders who also arrived in Palermo at the behest of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. The Palermo conference aims to bridge the divide between secularist Haftar, believed to be supported by Russia, Egypt and France, and the UN-backed government of Fayez al-Serraj, who counts the Italians among his closest western supporters.
It also seeks to bring to the table the warring factions and get them behind a new UN plan for a national conference and elections early next year in a “Libya-led, Libya-owned process”. (Al Jazeera)
Tuesday 13 November
UK: Theresa May summoned her cabinet to an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon to sign off her long awaited final Brexit deal, prompting hard-Brexit Tories to call for senior ministers to stand up and block it. The critical meeting is the culmination of months of negotiations and will see May’s senior ministers consider whether they can personally endorse the agreement that the prime minister has been able to reach. If the meeting concludes successfully, the government will publish the 400-page plus legal withdrawal agreement, the outline political declaration covering the future relationship between the UK and the EU and some accompanying explanatory material. Documents were expected to emerge in the early evening. That will trigger the beginning of the process in which May will have to sell the deal to her party, to parliament and the country and in the process maintain her premiership.
A backstop is deemed necessary to avoid a hard border in Ireland if the UK and the EU cannot agree a free trade agreement by the end of the Brexit transition period in 2020. May has proposed a UK-wide backstop that would result in the whole country remaining in a customs union with the EU.
If the cabinet agrees the plan on Wednesday, the EU expects to hold a special Brexit summit on 25 November, with EU affairs ministers likely to prepare the ground at an extraordinary meeting on 19 November. (The Guardian)
Macedonia: Macedonia’s former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has reportedly fled to Hungary after failing to show up to begin a two-year prison sentence.
In a Facebook post, Mr Gruevski said he was in Budapest and had requested “political asylum”. Hungarian authorities have not confirmed his asylum application.
The former premier was due to begin a term in prison for corruption from 9 November but did not surrender himself. Police ordered his arrest on Monday.
Earlier this year, a court in the Macedonian capital Skopje found he had unlawfully influenced officials over the purchase of a luxury bulletproof Mercedes Benz.
Mr Gruevski was forced from office in 2016 over a wire-tapping scandal. (BBC)
EU: Angela Merkel has said EU leaders should one day consider “a real, true European army” shortly after Donald Trump ramped up a Twitter attack on Emmanuel Macron over the same idea. The chancellor said the idea would complement Nato, but gave no details on when the ambitious idea could become reality. Her words echoed those of the French president, who in an interview said Europe needed to better defend itself.
Trump took umbrage at what he saw as a call by Macron for a European army as protection against the US, conflating earlier comments from the French president on cyber threats. The US president escalated his attack on Tuesday with a number of insulting tweets. (The Guardian)
Israel: Israel and the Palestinian factions agreed to a cease-fire that would follow the agreement the two sides reached in 2014, a diplomatic source told Haaretz on Tuesday evening after three days of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The situation remains very precarious and can blow up again,” the foreign source who is involved in the agreement added. (Haaretz)
Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza have locked themselves into an escalating firefight, launching scores of bombings and reprisal attacks in violence sparked by a botched Israeli special forces raid miles inside Gaza on Sunday evening.
The United Nations and Egypt, which works as an interlocutor between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, were struggling to broker a ceasefire, as Israeli civilians hid overnight in shelters from relentless rocket barrages and Palestinians cowered in basements from thundering airstrikes.
Late on Tuesday, Hamas and other smaller militant groups released a statement saying they had accepted an Egyptian-mediated agreement to halt fire. However, it was not clear if the deal would hold and there was no comment from Israel. (The Guardian)
Italy: Premier Giuseppe Conte said after a Palermo conference on Libya that “we leave Palermo taking with us a feeling of confidence” for giving “a prospect of stabilisation” to Libya. He said “we mustn’t delude ourselves, but important premises have been laid in this path”.
Conte shrugged off the fact that Turkey had abandoned the conference, saying this “does not change the positive climate”.
United Nations Libya envoy Ghassam Salamè thanked Italy and Conte for organising the Libya conference, “which has been a success”.
Security and human rights were at the center of the meeting Tuesday morning, diplomatic sources explained.
Libya’s stability, the same sources stressed, is key for Libya as well as for Italy, due to the risk of terrorists infiltrating the country through migrant routes. (AnsaMED)
Wednesday 14 November
UK: Theresa May said she believed with “my head and my heart” that her Brexit deal was the best one for Britain, after securing the backing of her ministers for it during a five-hour cabinet meeting.
In a brief statement outside 10 Downing Street, the prime minister said her cabinet had taken a “collective” decision to press ahead with the deal – which she will then have to bring back to parliament for approval. The final deal, to be put to MPs, will include the full text of the political declaration on Britain’s future trading relationship, some aspects of which have not yet been negotiated.
Cabinet ministers have only seen a seven-page outline of this political declaration, along with a document of more than 400 pages setting out the withdrawal agreement – effectively the divorce terms.
Several Brexiter ministers were unhappy about the terms of the deal. (The Guardian)
Israel: Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced his resignation and his Yisrael Beytenu party’s withdrawal from the coalition at a press conference in the Knesset Wednesday.
“I am indeed here to announce my resignation from the position of defense minister,” Liberman said, immediately after a faction meeting. (The Jerusalem Post)
Thursday 15 November
Brexit: May addresses MPs amid resignations following cabinet’s decision to support draft version of Brexit deal. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned just before 09:00 GMT. Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey followed an hour later.
European Research Group of Tory MPs to submit letters calling for confidence vote in Theresa May’s position.
Junior Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara, junior Brexit minister Suella Braverman, two parliamentary private secretaries, and two other aides have also stepped down.
Theresa May tells the Commons that “British people want us to get this done”
Mrs May announced the draft EU withdrawal agreement on Wednesday evening. (The Guardian)
Khashoggi case: Saudi Arabia’s deputy public prosecutor has said the kingdom is seeking the death penalty for five people who have been accused of carrying out the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Shaalan al-Shaalan told a news conference in Riyadh on Thursday that Ahmed al-Assiri, the kingdom’s former deputy head of intelligence, dispatched a team to Turkey to persuade Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia.
He said after “talks with him failed”, the head of the Saudi team in Istanbul ordered that Khashoggi be killed.
The 59-year-old then died from a lethal injection and his body was dismembered and taken out of the building, he said. (Al Jazeera)
France: A French court has cleared an ex-government minister of rape and sexual assault charges made by two former employees.
The women alleged that Georges Tron – then mayor of Draveil, a town outside Paris – and a female councillor, Brigitte Gruel, had assaulted them between 2007 and 2010.
Ms Gruel has also been cleared of all charges. Both denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Tron resigned as a junior minister when the allegations surfaced in 2011.
“I’ve had seven extremely difficult years. I think of my family. I know my fate is in your hands,” Mr Tron told the court before the decision to clear him was made, Europe 1 reported.
Prosecutors had called for him to be jailed for six years and for Ms Gruel to get four years. (BBC)
Russia: Russia’s repeated arrests of opposition leader Alexei Navalny are politically motivated, the European court of human rights (ECHR) has ruled, in a sharp rebuke of the Russian authorities that is sure to provoke anger in Moscow.
In a ruling released on its website, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that seven arrests of the Russian corruption whistleblower dating from 2012 to 2014 were politically motivated under the terms of the European convention on human rights, to which Russia is a partner.
The arrests were aimed at “suppressing political pluralism”, the ruling said. In a final, binding decision, the court’s grand chamber ordered Russian authorities to pay €63,000 (£55,600) in compensation for moral harm, material damages and court costs. (The Guardian)
Israel: In his first public appearance since the Gaza ceasefire, Naftali Bennett reiterated his ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint him as defense minister. Two days earlier, Avigdor Liberman resigned from his post as defense minister, throwing Netanyahu’s coalition into a spiral of uncertainty.
Stopping short of explicitly saying that his Bayit Yehudi party will leave the coalition if he is not appointed, Bennett said that he wants to be appointed defense minister so Israel could go back to winning.
“There is something to do,” Bennett said. “I told the prime minister yesterday to appoint me defense minister so Israel can back to winning.” If Bennett is not appointed defense minister, Bayit Yehudi will withdraw from the coalition. After losing Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, Netanyahu would be left with 56 seats in his government. (The Jerusalem Post)
Friday 16 November
Brexit: Leading Brexiteers in the cabinet have rallied behind Theresa May amid attempts to unseat her by Tory MPs.
Michael Gove said he “absolutely” had confidence in Mrs May as he confirmed he would not be following several other ministers out of the door. And Liam Fox urged MPs to support the PM’s draft Brexit agreement, saying a “deal was better than no deal”.
It came as more Conservatives expressed unhappiness with Mrs May’s leadership and urged a confidence vote. (BBC)
Israel: Israel is due to hold elections early next year after the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lost his defence minister and talks broke down in his coalition government on Friday, a source close to the cabinet told the Guardian.
Netanyahu had met the education minister, Naftali Bennett, who wanted the defence ministry post in the rightwing government, but the meeting ended with a decision by cabinet members to hold national polls, which were previously due in November 2019.
During a frantic few hours ahead of the country shutting down for the Friday night sabbath, ministers rushed to make media statements before the holy day of rest. Government figures would agree on a date on Sunday, the Bennett source added. The minimum election campaigning period is 90 days, meaning polls will not take place until next year. Observers expect the vote to be held between March and May, while Netanyahu might push for a later date. (The Guardian)
Spain: The death toll from a migrant shipwreck off Caos de Meca (Cadiz) on November 5 has risen to 20 after another body was found on Friday morning, Guardia civil sources deployed in the operation said.
The body was found on the beach of Marisucia, near the lighthouse of Trafalgar and the site of the shipwreck. A total of 22 people, including several minors, survived.
The pilot and co-pilot of the boat, on which over 40 Moroccans were travelling, were arrested by national police on charges of violating the rights of foreign nationals. (AnsaMED)
Saudi Arabia: Funeral prayers have been held in absentia for slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in the Saudi city of Medina, two of the holiest places of Islam. (Al Jazeera)