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Elections and the future Israeli government

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Today, April 16, 2020, the negotiations between Gantz, former IDF Chief of Staff – who had been entrusted by the old Speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, with the task of forming a government – and the current Prime Minister Netanyahu have broken off.

In the last elections held on March 2, 2020, Netanyahu’s Likud won 36 seats, while the political List led by Gantz obtained 33seats.

At least until yesterday night, the only possibility was to accept – as, in fact, happened – a generic national unity government between Gantz’s Party, Hosen L’Yisrael (literally “Israel’s Resilience Party”), and Netanyahu’s Likud. A pact with a two-year “rotation” between the two Prime Ministers and the two Parties.

Both politicians tentatively agreed to rotate as Prime Minister, with Netanyahu serving for half of the full term, i.e. two years, and then Gantz serving for the remaining term. In the interim period, Gantz would be Foreign or Defence Minister, or he would anyway have a very important post.

Meanwhile Gantz, who was also Speaker of the Knesset, would give up the post of successor to the previous Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, to sit in the “national unity” government formed between his party and the Likud.

 Initially, the offers made by the Likud leader for a national unity government were accepted only cum grano salis by Gantz, who believed that a national unity government was particularly necessary to coordinate the actions to fight against the COVID-19 epidemics.

  It should obviously be added that, in such a sensitive political situation, many doubts are emerging also on the partners’ mutual reliability or on the solidity of their Parliamentary groups that could possibly break apart, in the Likud’s case, if Netanyahu pressed too much for avoiding the investigations and trial on charges of corruption regarding him – which is, in any case, an unavoidable issue in the negotiations between the two Parties – or if Gantz pushed too much for an agreement with the Likud, whatever it takes – a policy line that might displease a large part of his Party and his Parliamentary alliances.

 Therefore, a new general election is highly likely in Israel and we will see what the prospects are for the various Parties.

Hence what are the prospects, as they have been analysed by many Israeli politics experts?

 There is, initially, the prospect of a government with the Likud alone, which, however, has only 58 votes available, with at least 62 members of the Knesset who will never vote for it. Moreover, 72% of Israeli voters think that the issue of Netanyahu’s trial is fundamental to determine the next Parliament’s complexion.

 Any defectors? It is always likely, when the government sirens begin to sing their melodious and irresistible song.

 The 11 opposition parties, however, are united by deep dislike for the Likud leader.

 Israel’s Basic Laws also enable the potential Prime Minister to have not an absolute, but a relative majority.

 Netanyahu has 58 sure votes available, but abstentions (and only them are enough) could even lead him to a possible, but knife-edge majority.

 There is also the possibility – already tested in the past, but that we believe now remote – of a coalition government between the two major parties, namely the Likud and Gantz’s Israeli Resilience Party.

On the very night of the March elections, the Hosen L’Ysraelleader rejected the idea of an alliance with Netanyahu, demanding that the Prime Minister stood trial. As we all know, however, things went otherwise.

 There would also be the possibility of a Likud-Kahol-Lavan government, the “Blue and White” political alliance between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh AtidParty (literally “There is a Future”) and former Finance Minister in Netanyahu’s government from 2013 to 2014.

With a government led by Netanyahu. The “Blue and White” alliance is certainly linked to the majority party of Benny Gantz, but there are also Yesh Atidled by Yair Lapid and Telem (Tnua Leumit Mamlakhtit, literally the “National Statesman-like Movement”), a movement in remembrance of a truly great Israeli military leader and politician, my old friend Moshe Dayan.

 Another possibility – if there are no elections, which are ever terribly closer after last night’s failed agreement – is a government that could be a “broad-based coalition government” that we in Italy know all too well.

 The idea was put forward by Gantz, certainly to weaken the Likud and its leader-Premier (since 11 years) and place them in a sort of “safety belt” basically favourable to the “Blue and White” political coalition.

The idea, however, was not liked by Shas, an old party founded in 1984 and representing the Sephardic, Haredi and Mizrahi Jews, nor by the United Torah Judaism Party, a traditional ally of the Likud. Hence, for the time being, this option is not feasible.

Gantz, however, could form his minority government with his “Blue and White” coalition (33 seats) and with Yisrael Beitenu, (literally “Israel our Home”) a right-wing and anti-Islamic party born to oppose religious Zionism.

Yisrael Beitenu has currently seven seats in the Knesset.

A probably very soft participation of some Arab parliamentarians in the Knesset may even be currently possible.

Gantz could even play the card of a minority government, according to the old Israeli tradition, which has always seen – with one single brief exception – governments with an absolute majority of Parliamentary votes.

 In fact, the opposition to Netanyahu has a 62 to 58 majority in the Knesset.

 The only party excluded from this possible government complexion would predictably be Yisrael Beitenu, but there is also the possibility that even a part of the Likud move away from “Bibi” Netanyahu.

 There are no explicit signs of this split yet, but some important Israeli newspapers are talking about this possibility.

Certainly for Gantz there would also be Yamina, the right-wing political alliance led by Naftali Bennett, which has 6 seats only.

Shas and the other religious party will certainly not break their pact with Netanyahu and they will also agree with the Israel Beitenu leader, Liebermann, who – indeed – also said he no longer wants to deal with religious parties.

Hence currently there are not the numbers for a minority government led by Gantz. This government, however, could be formed if Netanyahu were to give up power and release the full potential of Likud’s current alliances.

 The current Prime Minister, however, has two problems: firstly, to remain Prime Minister when the trial concerning him begins, possibly thinking that his role could influence or intimidate the judges. Therefore Gantz has been forced to accept a role as Prime Minister after Netanyahu two-year Premiership – and I believe this suits him.

Secondly, the Likud leader also wants the government to be formed anyway and as soon as possible, which could be a good card even in the hands of Gantz and his “Blue and White” alliance.

On the other hand, however, the Likud and its Prime Minister do not absolutely want a minority government led by Gantz that would relegate them to the opposition, and would be personally dangerous for Netanyahu.

 What if there were a government led neither by Benny Gantz nor by “Bibi” Netanyahu?

 In other words, the Likud leader could tell the leader of the “Blue and White” coalition that his party is still the most voted and stable in the Knesset and he could assign the Premiership to another figure, but only from his own party, thus stopping the two-year rotation mechanism and proposing to Gantz to merely take up an “important” post in the next government, as one of the many allies of the coalition led by him.

Off the record, Gantz has never really believed in a normal premiership rotation after the first two years of the “great coalition” government between the “Blue and White” alliance and the Likud.He has probably never trusted Netanyahu – maybe not even on a personal level – but, if the current Prime Minister were condemned in Court, his chances to decide the “new” Likud Prime Minister and the rest of his government team would be very low.

 Netanyahu, however, has never named a successor, nor has he ever indicated any of his Cabinet Ministers as primus inter pares in the Likud Party and in governments.

 There is also the possibility that Netanyahu himself may sign an agreement with the Court – a deal whereby he should resign as Prime Minister, in exchange for a much “softer” judgment than expected, which would enable him to run for the premiership in future governments and would leave him with a lot of money spared, instead of paying high fees to his lawyers.

Currently no one can predict the outcome, but nothing is impossible in such a complex context as Israeli politics.

What about a new election, which is ever more likely after last night’s choices?

 The Central Elections Committee has already begun preparations for the next elections, which should be held on September 6.

 The State is going ahead with last year’s spending forecasts – hence many of the Administration’s semi-private activities must proceed with extra-budgetary funds, especially in the Covid-19 emergency phase which, as is said in Israel, has so far led to an immediate 23% increase in public costs.

 A network of private support that is already in crisis, which could cause difficulties for the religious parties, which are loyal allies of Netanyahu’s government.

 The only one who could be happy with new elections is Netanyahu, who would remain in power for further key months, and could even hope for an ope legis delay in his trial.

A particularly complex factor in the Israeli political system is its wide range of parties.

Nine of the eleven political Lists and real Parties are represented in the Knesset and the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is already a very serious matter.

In 2019 the unemployed people were approximately 157,000, but it is currently estimated that they are already half a million.

 Israel has a very large current account and balance of payments surplus, as well as very large foreign currency reserves and a public debt that is still 60% of GDP. Its banking system has a big amount of capital and liquidity available.

 Therefore, the time of financial and economic stability in the Covid-19 crisis phase is very long, certainly longer than in any other EU country. However, a strategic and another strictly economic consideration need to be made.

 Firstly, from a geopolitical viewpoint, the situation in Syria and in the Lebanon could worsen, and a country living on a monthly 1/12 of the 2019 budget liquidity cannot afford exceptional military spending, even now that it would be needed.

The other Arab and Islamic countries, although facing a severe Covid-19 crisis, can still pour social anger into an external enemy.

 Secondly, if the political crisis were to reoccur after the elections of September 6, the instability of the Israeli government would become an important variable in the Iranian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Egyptian strategic equation.

In any case, even though all these countries are facing the Covid-19 crisis, it would not be an easy situation for Israel. And a sequence of targeted attacks, inside and outside the Jewish State, would have to be taken into account.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Iraq: Three Years of Drastic Changes (2019-2022)

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When the wave of the protests broke out at the beginning of October 2019 in Iraq, the Iraqi politicians did not realize the size of the gap between the demands of the protesters which were accumulated more than seventeen years, and the isolation of the politicians from the needs of the people. The waves of the protests began in a small range of different areas in Iraq. Rapidly, it expanded as if it were a rolling snowball in many regions of Iraqi governorates. Moreover, the platforms of social media and the influencers had a great impact on unifying the people against the government and enhancing the protest movement.

Al Tarir Square was the region where most protesters and demonstrators were based there. At that time, they stayed all day in this region and set up their tents to protest and demonstrate against the public situation of their life.

The protesters demanded their looted rights and asked for making economic reforms, finding job opportunities, changing the authority, and toppling the government presided by Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. The protest stayed between ebb and tide, pressuring the political authority in Iraq.

A new period began in the history of Iraq where clashes between the protesters and the riot forces broke out in Al Tahrir Square and many governorates in the south of Iraq. Tear gas and ductile bullets were used against the protesters to compel them to retreat and disperse them. But the protesters insisted on continuing their demands. Many protesters were killed and wounded due to the intensive violence against them. The strong pressure with falling many martyrs gave its fruit when the Iraqi representatives of the Parliament endeavored to achieve the protesters’ demands by changing the election law into a new one. On 24 December 2019, the Iraqi Parliament approved of changing the unfair Saint Leigo election law into the open districts. The new law divided Iraq into 83 electoral districts.

Moreover, this violent protest led to the collapse of the Iraqi government presided by Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi. He was compelled to resign by the end of 2019. Many political names were nominated by the Iraqi politicians but the protesters refused them all because they were connected with different political parties.

Finally, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who worked in the Iraqi Intelligence Service and had no party, was nominated by the politicians to be the new Prime Minister. He was well-known for ambiguity and far from the lights of media.

Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has become the Prime Minister in March 2020. The protests were over at the beginning of April 2020. With the taking of responsibility of helping Iraq, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi promised the protesters, who were called “Octoberians”, to hold a premature election, and the election was fixed on 10 June 2020.

Many politicians tried to postpone or cancel the premature election. Under their pressure, the premature election was postponed and fixed on 10 October 2020. During Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s period as a Prime Minister, he opened new channels with the Arab states to enhance the cooperation and held many summits to support Iraq in the next stage.

Attempts to postpone the premature election by the Iraqi politicians were on equal foot, but all these attempts failed and the election occurred on the due time.

Before the election, many Octoberians and influencers encouraged the people not to participate in the election. On the day of the election, it witnessed low participation, and people were convinced of not happening any change. These calls gave their fruits in the process of elections in Iraq where the election witnessed very low participation, and most Iraqis refused to participate and vote to the nominees even though there was a new election law. When the elections were over, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Iraq announced that the results would be within two days. After announcing the results of the election partially and defeating many political factions in the Iraqi arena, many convictions were directed to the commission, and it was convicted by fraud and manipulation with the results. This aspect affected the activity of the Commission and led to put great pressure on it. After two weeks of pressure and convictions, the final results of the elections were announced and many political elite Iraqi leaders were defeated gravely.

The results of the election gave a new start through new leaders who were supporting the October revolution that happened in 2019. And most names of these winning movements and alliances were inspired by the October Movement. Those, who represented October Revolution, were also convicted by other Octoberians that Octoberian winners in the election deviated from the aims of the October Revolution.

A new struggle has begun between the losers in the election and the new winners who will have the right to be in the next term of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Representatives. Moreover, many independent individuals won in the election, and the conflict would deepen the scope of dissidence between the losers and winners. Finally, all raised claims of election fraud have not changed the political situation.

The final results of the election had been announced, and the date of holding the first session of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives was fixed to nominate and elect the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives.  The Shiite Sadrist movement, which represents 73 seats, has wiped out its competitors. This aspect has compelled the losing Shiite competitors to establish an alliance called “Coordination Framework” to face the Sadrist movement, represented by the cleric Sayyed Muqtada al-Sader. On the other hand, Al-Takadum Movement (Progress Party), represented by the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives, Mohamed Al-Halbousi, has taken the second rank with 37 seats.

The final results of the election had been announced, and the date of holding the first session of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives was fixed to nominate and elect the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives.

Finally, the first session of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Council was held. Mohamed Al-Halbousi has been elected as the spokesman of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Council. During the next fifteen days, the president of the republic will be elected.

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China-US and the Iran nuclear deal

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian that Beijing would firmly support a resumption of negotiations on a nuclear pact [China Media Group-CCTV via Reuters]

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with  Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.  Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.

A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for  strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.

During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.

The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said

‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’

The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.

During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.

The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC,  Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.

In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.

Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.

The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.

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Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?

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Image source: atalayar.com

“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!

The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force! 

Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.

The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.

Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.   

The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.

The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.

The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.

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