Israel moves to new leadership | Daily News

Israel moves to new leadership

Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem - DNA
Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem - DNA

Israeli opposition parties have reached an agreement to form a new government that would end Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as prime minister.

An eight-faction coalition opposed to Netanyahu has been formed. Under a rotation arrangement, the head of the right-wing Yamina party, Naftali Bennett, would serve as prime minister first, before handing over to the Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, who leads the centrist Yesh Atid party, and was called to form a new government, after the failure of Netanyahu.

Mr. Netanyahu, however, attacked the new “left-wing” government as “dangerous”.

But the agreement must still be approved by the Knesset, or Parliament – if it is approved, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and a diverse array of partners spanning the Israeli political spectrum will take the helm.

Netanyahu, desperate to remain in office while he fights corruption charges, is expected to do everything possible in the coming days to prevent the new coalition from taking power.

Israelis eyed the end of the Netanyahu era Thursday, after a motley alliance of parties from across the political spectrum agreed to form a government to unseat the veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On paper, the prospective coalition commands a slender majority in Parliament, giving Netanyahu time to woo potential defectors among those ranged against him.

With the threat of possible jail time hanging over him in his ongoing trial on corruption charges, the 71-year-old incumbent is unlikely to give up without a fight and analysts warned a messy battle could yet lie ahead before his record 12 straight years in office come to an end.

The new coalition would see the religious nationalist Naftali Bennett serve as prime minister for two years before Lapid, a secular centrist, would take the helm.

Lapid, 57, a former TV presenter who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, put his own prime ministerial ambitions on hold to broker the coalition deal. “I promise that this government will work in the service of all of the citizens of Israel, those who voted for it and those who did not,” he wrote on Facebook.

Bennett, 49, an estranged former protege of Netanyahu, has said: “Four elections ... have already proven to all of us that there is simply no right-wing government headed by Netanyahu. It is either a fifth election or a unity government.”

For the first time in Israeli’s history, the embryonic coalition also includes an Arab Israeli party, the Islamic conservative party Raam. It released pictures of its leader Mansour Abbas signing a coalition agreement alongside Bennett, a staunch supporter of the Jewish settler movement.

Israel’s latest political turmoil adds to the woes of Netanyahu, who is on trial for criminal charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust while in office -- accusations he denies. If he were to lose power, he would not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity, and would lose control over certain Justice Ministry nominations.

The last-minute talks also follow a flare-up of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which ended after 11 days of deadly violence with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on May 21.

US spying on Europe

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have said they expected the US and Danish governments to present explanations over allegations of spying by Washington on European allies with Copenhagen’s aid.

“This is not acceptable between allies, and even less between allies and European partners,” said Macron after a French-German summit meeting held via video conference between Paris and Berlin.

“I am attached to the bond of trust that unites Europeans and Americans,” Macron said, adding that “there is no room for suspicion between us.”

“That is why we are waiting for complete clarity. We requested that our Danish and American partners provide all the information on these revelations and on these past facts. We are awaiting these answers,” he said.

Giving her position, Merkel said she “could only agree” with the comments of the French leader.

In an investigative report on Sunday, Danish public broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR) and other European media outlets said the US National Security Agency (NSA) had eavesdropped on Danish underwater internet cables from 2012 to 2014 to spy on top politicians in Germany, Sweden, Norway and France.

The NSA was able to access text messages, telephone calls and internet traffic including searches, chats and messaging services -- including those of Merkel, then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and then-Opposition Leader Peer Steinbruck, DR said.

Merkel said at the summit that she was “reassured” by statements by the Danish government, especially Defence Minister Trine Bramsen, condemning such actions.

“Apart from establishing the facts, this is a good starting point to arrive at relations that are truly based in mutual trust,” she said.

Mali crisis

West African leaders decided at an extraordinary summit on Sunday to suspend Mali from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bodies, after a second coup in nine months by the poor Sahel country’s military, but stopped short of reimposing sanctions.

The putsch had sparked warnings of fresh sanctions and deep concerns over stability in the volatile Sahel region.

Ten regional heads of state and three foreign ministers attended the summit in the Ghanaian capital Accra, with former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan serving as mediator in the crisis.

“The suspension from ECOWAS takes immediate effect until the deadline of the end of February 2022, when they are supposed to hand over to a democratically elected government,” Ghana’s Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey said after the meeting.

The final declaration called for the immediate appointment of a new civilian prime minister and the formation of an “inclusive” government.

Mali’s new President Colonel Assimi Goita had arrived in the Ghanaian capital Accra on Saturday for preliminary talks. Goita led the young army officers who overthrew Mali’s elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last August, over perceived corruption and his failure to quell a bloody jihadist insurgency.

After the takeover, the military agreed to appoint civilians as interim president and prime minister under pressure from ECOWAS. But later, soldiers detained transitional President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, releasing them on Thursday while saying that they had resigned.

ECOWAS issued sanctions against Mali after the August coup before lifting them when the transitional government was put in place. The 15-nation bloc had warned of reimposing sanctions on the country, as have the United States and former colonial power France.

Mali is among the world’s poorest countries, and the previous ECOWAS sanctions hit it hard.

China - birth rate

China has announced that it will allow couples to have up to three children, after census data showed a steep decline in birth rates.

China scrapped its decades-old one-child policy in 2016, replacing it with a two-child limit which has failed to lead to a sustained upsurge in births. The cost of raising children in cities has deterred many Chinese couples.

The latest move was approved by President Xi Jinping at a meeting of top Communist Party officials. It will come with “supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country’s population structure, fulfilling the country’s strategy of actively coping with an ageing population and maintaining the advantage, endowment of human resources”, according to Xinhua news agency.

But human rights organisation Amnesty International said the policy, like its predecessors, was still a violation of sexual and reproductive rights. Some experts were also sceptical of the impact. “If relaxing the birth policy was effective, the current two-child policy should have proven to be effective too,” Hao Zhou, a senior economist at Commerzbank, told Reuters news agency.

In fact, many are asking how a three-child policy might mean more children when the two-child version didn’t and why birth restrictions have remained here at all given the demographic trend.

Generations of Chinese people have lived without siblings and are used to small families - affluence has meant less need for multiple children to become family-supporting workers, and young professionals say they’d rather give one child more advantages than spread their income among several kids.

The government’s move in 2016 to allow couples to have two children failed to reverse the country’s falling birth rate despite a two-year increase immediately afterwards.

China’s population trends have over the years been largely shaped by the one-child policy, which was introduced in 1979 to slow population growth. Families that violated the rules faced fines, loss of employment and sometimes forced abortions.

US democracy in peril?

Joe Biden warned in a speech commemorating America’s war dead on Memorial Day that US democracy was “in peril” and called for empathy among his fellow citizens.

Speaking at Arlington National Cemetery, the US president, joined by First Lady Jill Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris, paid tribute to America’s war dead whom he described as making the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of democracy.

But he added that US democracy was itself in danger. “The mission falls to each of us, each and every day. Democracy itself is in peril, here at home and around the world,” he said, adding: “What we do now, how we honour the memory of the fallen, will determine whether democracy will long endure.”

Biden’s speech played out against a tumultuous time in American politics, with the anti-democratic trend of the Donald Trump administration, and the January 6 attack on the Capitol in Washington DC by a Trump-supporting mob.

It also comes at a time of civic unrest sparked by largely rightwing protests and widespread demonstrations against racism and police brutality.

Biden centred his speech on the ideals of a democracy that thrives when citizens can vote, when there is a free press and when there are equal rights for all.

“This nation was built on an idea,” Biden said. “We were built on an idea, the idea of liberty and opportunity for all. We’ve never fully realized that aspiration of our founders, but every generation has opened the door a little wider.”

Republican state legislatures have passed local voting laws aimed at restricting voting access that civil rights advocates say are aimed at communities of colour.

The President said: “We owe the honoured dead a debt we can never fully repay. We owe them our whole souls. We owe them our full best efforts to perfect the union for which they died.” He said the nation must honour the sacrifices of generations of service members “by sustaining the best of America while honestly confronting all that we must do to make our nation fuller, freer and more just.”

“Empathy is the fuel of democracy,” the President said. “Our willingness to see each other not as enemies, neighbours, even when we disagree, to understand what the other is going through.”

He spoke of the rising wave of autocratic rule across the world and said that “liberation, opportunity, justice are far more likely to come to pass in a democracy than an autocracy.”

“This nation was built on an idea, the only nation in the world built on an idea. Every other nation is built on ethnicity, geography, religion, etcetera. We were built on an idea, the idea of liberty, an opportunity for all,” Biden said.

Glasgow - trees

Councils in Glasgow, Scotland have pledged to plant 18m trees – equivalent to 10 trees for every resident – as the city prepares to host a global climate summit later this year.

The Clyde Climate Forest (CCF) project hopes to increase tree cover in urban areas of Glasgow to 20%, and ensure that a fifth of the region’s rural landscape is forested or planted with native woodland over the next decade.

Glasgow is the host city for the Cop26 climate talks in November, when world leaders are expected to set much tougher targets to combat global heating, as evidence grows that the world is close to breaching the 1.5C limit agreed in the Paris Climate Treaty in 2016.

The summit had intensified pressure in Scotland for far more radical action to combat climate heating, by cutting emissions and moving to a zero-carbon economy, but also preparing for extreme weather being forecast.

Eight local councils in the greater Glasgow area have signed up to the climate forest target, thought to be one of the most ambitious of any city region in the UK. Until 2018, Scotland as a whole failed to meet the government’s annual tree-planting targets.

Màiri McAllan, the Scottish Environment Minister, said: “Tree planting is key to tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss and there is tremendous support for it across Scotland. The Clyde Climate Forest taps into this and the benefits will last for generations.”

Afghan people

The US and Britain are moving to enable the Afghan people who worked with the US and UK troops as interpreters and other support services to settle in the US and the UK, amid rising fears for their safety as foreign forces leave Afghanistan, by September this year.

The US is “rapidly” making plans to evacuate Afghans who worked for the American military ahead of September’s troop pullout, a top general has said.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen Mark Milley said a “significant” number of interpreters and other employees could be targeted by Taliban militants. As many as 18,000 Afghan nationals have applied for US visas to immigrate to the US under a special programme.

“We recognise that there are a significant number of Afghans that supported the United States and supported the coalition, and that they could be at risk,” Gen Milley said in remarks his office released on Thursday. “A very important task is to ensure that we remain faithful to them, and that we do what is necessary to ensure their protection and, if necessary, get them out of the country if that is what they want to do.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it was “only right” to speed up the plans with former Afghan staff at risk of reprisals from the Taliban and other armed groups in the country.

“With Western powers leaving, the threat is increasing, including targeted attacks by the Taliban,” Wallace said. Local staff who served with British forces had “sacrificed a lot to look after us and now is the time to do the same”, he added.

More than 1,400 Afghan interpreters and their relatives have already moved to Britain under a resettlement scheme. The government says about 3,000 more are expected to come under new rules which broaden eligibility and make it easier for people to bring their families with them.

Britain and other NATO members have been under pressure from campaigners to relocate the thousands of local staff who served with them during two decades of conflict. In Afghanistan, former workers for the alliance have warned that they, and their families, will be targeted by the Taliban ahead of a United States deadline to remove the 2,500 troops and 16,000 civilian contractors.

COVID politics

As the COVID-19 continues to spread in many countries, it is also causing much political activity critical of governments handling the pandemic, as seen in Brazil, where pot-banging protests erupted across several cities this week, with protesters taking to the streets across the country over President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far killed almost half a million people here.

The last few days have been rocky for the government of the right-wing leader, whose popularity had already been flagging amid persistently high daily COVID-19 deaths and cases.

On Wednesday alone, almost 100,000 Brazilians came down with the coronavirus and 2,507 died, according to government data. Earlier in the day, the nation’s Supreme Court authorized a criminal investigation into Bolsonaro’s environment minister for allegedly interfering with a police probe into illegal logging.

On Saturday, thousands participated in protests in at least 16 cities across the country, which were organised by leftist political parties, unions and student associations.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, thousands of mask-wearing people blocked one of the largest city’s avenues, while a large balloon depicted Bolsonaro as a vampire.

Some protests, like the one in Rio de Janeiro, included images of former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has emerged as Bolsonaro’s main challenger in the nation’s 2022 election, wearing the presidential sash.

The spread of the virus in India, with reduced numbers especially in the cities, has also led to increased political protests, against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Bharatiya Janata Party led by him.

WHO has renamed the COVID-19 variants with Greek letters to avoid stigma - Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta. WHO has announced a new naming system devised for so-called variants of interest and variants of concern, with important mutations. India recently strongly objected to the variant most found in that country being called the Indian variant. From now on the WHO will use Greek letters to refer to variants first detected in countries like the UK, South Africa and India.

The UK variant for instance is labelled as Alpha, the South African Beta, and the Indian as Delta.

China - ‘New Image’

China’s president has said he wants the country to “expand its circle of friends” by revamping its image.

President Xi Jinping told senior Communist Party officials it was important to present an image of a “credible, loveable and respectable China”, according to a report by state-run news agency Xinhua.

China has faced criticism over human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minority group and the crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners, among other issues.

It recently denounced US efforts to further investigate whether COVID-19 came from a Chinese lab, accusing the Americans of “political manipulation and blame shifting”.

Mr. Xi told officials on Monday it was important for China to tell its story in a positive way.

“It is necessary to make friends, unite and win over the majority, and constantly expand the circle of friends [when it comes to] international public opinion.”