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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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Biden’s Opportunity To Reset Relatons With The Muslim World Begins In Istanbul

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When President Obama delivered his famous speech at Cairo University in June of 2009, it was an historic moment. The symbolism of a sitting U.S President speaking to Muslims, and not about them, was refreshing and enormously impactful. America’s first African American President opened his speech with “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning, between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” 

It appeared to many the world was changing and with American leadership, the global community was embarking on a new era of understanding between East and West.

Obama’s speech hit all the right notes: he acknowledged the contributions of Muslims throughout history. He recognized the common humanity between Muslims and people of other faiths. He disavowed the narrative of an inevitable civilizational divide. And he emphasized the need to support democratic reforms in the Muslim world. He reiterated the right of Palestinians to a dignified living, promised to leave “Iraq to Iraqis,” and sought to prioritize diplomacy over war in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. 

A year and half later Obama’s message would be tested by the Arab Spring. As Muslim communities across the Arab world rose up against autocratic rule demanding freedom and democracy, the Obama White House struggled to support the people. The optimism that followed his Cairo speech had fizzled.  

The pledge to establish a “new beginning” was neglected during Obama’s presidency and then destroyed by President Trump’s divisive policies. Since his inauguration, Trump has taken a wrecking ball to America’s relationship with Muslims at home and around the world. He claimed that “Islam hates us,” and on his first day in office fulfilled his campaign promise to ban visitors from several Muslim-majority countries. On election day this year, he tweeted warning that his rival, Joe Biden, will increase “refugees from terrorist nations.”  President Trump’s one serious claim of progress toward Middle East peace, the Abraham Accords, was viewed by many as little more than a last-ditch effort to deliver a foreign policy victory for Trump in time for his reelection bid. The Accords willfully left out the Palestinians, the most crucial stakeholders in the conflict, leaving a hollow agreement with few guarantees for a lasting peace. 

More than a decade after the Cairo speech, the divide between East and West seems to have only deepened.  Muslims feel the world is at war with them – fueled not only by American military actions but by the continued persecution of Muslims in Burma, Kashmir, China and elsewhere. There is a sense that Islam’s most revered symbols are under attack, and that Muslim identity is suspect in the eyes of many in the West.

However, the picture is not entirely dark. As the Trump era comes to a close, there is an opportunity for President-elect Biden to pick up where Obama left off in 2009: a chance to reset the partnership between America and the Muslim world.  This opportunity passes straight through Istanbul. If in 2009 Egypt represented “the heart of the Arab world”, to reset ties with the Muslim world today, Biden will need Turkey. 

The centrality of Turkey to the Muslim world and The East today is undisputed. Tens of thousands of Muslim dissidents and human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Libya have taken refuge in Turkey.  Istanbul has become a hub of diaspora intellectual activism. Because of a leadership vacuum in the Muslim world, Turkey continues to emerge as the champion of Muslims under persecution, and that role resonates with Muslims around the world. 

Turkey took the lead in launching the Alliance of Civilizations in 2005 to combat extremism and broker deeper understanding between Muslim societies and the West, this project now comprises 146 members including member states and international organizations.  The pluralistic Islam practiced in Turkey today is more representative of Muslim communities around the world and starkly different from the Wahhabi-influenced regimes of the Arabian Gulf, with whom Trump became very friendly during his tenure. 

Turkey is also a critical NATO ally, with the second largest military contribution. Trump’s continual attacks on NATO have challenged and weakened the world’s strongest military alliance. Biden will need Turkey’s assistance to strengthen NATO to meet new regional challenges, especially with Russia, as well. 

Although Turkey’s human rights record is not perfect and its democracy has been tested since the failed military coup of 2016, the government has shown commitment to democratic principles, and its institutions and civil society continue to be lightyears ahead of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle Eastern.

Turkey today can be the bridge between the West and the Muslim World, mending the deepened rift and launching that new beginning promised by Obama eleven years ago.  When Biden used the word inshallah, which means “God-willing” in Arabic, during a presidential debate, Muslims in America and abroad took note. Muslim American turnout in critical battleground states like Michigan was decisive in his favor. Biden should capitalize on the momentum of his gesture to re-engage with the Muslim world and repair America’s image around the world. The destination of his first foreign trip could even be to Istanbul, to listen and to signal change. It would represent the metaphoric start of a new chapter.

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Covid-19 Vaccine: A Mutual Partnership between Morocco and China

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Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Kingdom of Morocco (1958), a strong and rapid strategic development of mutual ties categorized contemporary collaboration.

On August 31th 2020, King Mohammed VI held telephone talks with Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, which falls within the framework of the existing friendship between the two countries, which was strengthened through the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Establishment of the People’s Republic of China. A strategic partnership was signed by the King and Chinese President during the royal visit to Beijing in May 2016.

The phone talks between King Mohammed VI and the President of the People’s Republic of China touched on the development of bilateral relations in all fields, especially political dialogue, economic cooperation, and cultural and humanitarian exchanges. King Mohammed VI and President Xi Jinping also discussed the partnership between the two countries in combating “Covid-19”.

According to Moroccan Newsmedia, Minister of Health Khalid Ait Taleb is expressed his satisfaction with the signing up of a cooperation agreement between Morocco and China National Biotec Group Limited (CNBG) on the COVID-19 vaccine trials. This shared Moroccan-Chinese collaboration will allow the Kingdom of Morocco to be among the prior served in terms of the vaccine against the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, he added, under his Majesty, The Kingdom of Morocco would be able to take part in creating vaccines in sense of the exchange of Chinese expertise. Though, to strengthen the Sino-Morocco strategic partnership, to boost both countries’ international solidarity and promote health cooperation.

The issue of discovering an anti-“Covid-19” vaccine still raises several controversies, and altercations especially since the kingdom of Morocco issued its participation in the clinical trials of the Chinese vaccine, but without giving any details about how these trials were conducted, or, knowing its initial outcomes.

Accordingly, despite those who attempt to question it, China’s vaccines constitute a trendy choice because they are affordable and can be distributed in a substantial and more successful capacity. Yet, several states which face similar economic issues, people, and ambiance-based impediments are likely to see China’s vaccines as the obvious choice. That does not mean it will be the sole state they do trade with, as several of the states have more than one trade partner.

Though, Chinese vaccines have a competitive price and making capacity, allowing developing countries like Morocco a way out of the pandemic as fast as possible. Unlike European companies, is not only about business; China has also agreed to give billions of vaccines.

China has timely released the latest vaccines information, China’s vaccines are gaining international steam and a growing number of states are following up to obtain them. Whilst the achievements of Moderna and Pzifer are widely lauded, in the end, these companies only complete a part of the jigsaw in ending the COVID-19 crisis. Not everyone has the privilege or infrastructure to buy them. Therefore, the accomplishment of SinoVac, CanSino, and SinoPharm are set to play a significant role in making a difference for billions of people around the world.

According to Jamal Eddine Bouzidi, a doctor specializing in chest diseases, allergies, and immunology, president of the Moroccan Association for Fighting Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases, pointed out: “They say that the Chinese vaccine is purely safe, but to make sure of that.” You must wait for a long time because there are side effects that may appear after a period of up to two years or after months at least. Therefore, we might say that it is 100% safe. “

He added, “All vaccines that are produced around the globe go through many phases in the laboratory, then they are analyzed and checked on mammals and followed by humans. And when tested on humans, they also go through three stages; and during each stage, the number” of people subject to testing, so that the effects are discovered. Side effects of the vaccine and its effectiveness. “

Under such circumstances, The Moroccan minister noted that the vaccine, according to the statements of Chinese officials, is successful at a rate of between 97 and 98 percent, and is given in two doses with a difference of 14 days, and the antibodies are manufactured within a month and can sustain in the blood to defend the body for two years. “The vaccine experiments will originally involve volunteers as of next week,” the official said.

Ait Taleb highlighted that the agreements reached will allow Morocco to have its vaccine as soon as possible with the help of our Chinese health expertise. The signing of the agreements will allow Morocco to launch its first experience of clinical trials.

Meanwhile, Al-Bouzidi considered that what is being said is the “only guess”, indicating that the near-term side effects of this vaccine are high temperature, a little fatigue, slight pain at the injection site, and some tremors. The long-term symptoms are not yet known.

As acknowledged by Chinese officials, “Jun Mao” said the signing of the agreements paves the “excellence of strategic relations between China and Morocco in terms of cooperation against COVID-19, which is entering a new phase.” The Chinese diplomat Mao reaffirmed that Rabat and Beijing’s commitment to deepening their cooperation through the clinical trials. He said he hopes the newly-signed agreement will yield “decent results” as soon as possible for the peoples of the two countries.

In conclusion, China has big expectations for the Kingdom of Morocco as the latter has an extreme pond of resources to spur its anticipated vision and China’s economic growth. As a superpower, China’s motive in partnership with Africa through the creation of more legality and impartial world order places the East Asian giant is a powerful stand to provide more substantial aid to Africa under win-win cooperation.

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The Muslim world’s changing dynamics: Pakistan struggles to retain its footing

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Increasing strains between Pakistan and its traditional Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, is about more than Gulf states opportunistically targeting India’s far more lucrative market.

At the heart of the tensions, that potentially complicate Pakistan’s economic recovery, is also India’s ability to enhance Gulf states’ capacity to hedge their bets amid uncertainty about the continued US commitment to regional security.

India is a key member of the Quad that also includes the United States, Australia and Japan and could play a role in a future more multilateral regional security architecture in the Gulf.

Designed as the backbone of an Indo-Pacific strategy intended to counter China across a swath of maritime Asia, Gulf states are unlikely to pick sides but remain keen on ensuring that they maintain close ties with both sides of the widening divide.

The mounting strains with Pakistan are also the latest iteration of a global battle for Muslim religious soft power that pits Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Turkey, Iran, and Asian players like Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Islamic movement.

A combination of geo- and domestic politics is complicating efforts by major Muslim-majority states in Asia to walk a middle line. Pakistan, home to the world’s largest Shiite Muslim minority, has reached out to Turkey while seeking to balance relations with its neighbour, Iran.

The pressure on Pakistan is multi-fold.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan charged recently that the United States and one other unidentified country were pressing him to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Pakistani and Israeli media named Saudi Arabia as the unidentified country. Representing the world’s second most populous Muslim nation, Pakistani recognition, following in the footsteps of the UAE and Bahrain, would be significant.

Pakistan twice in the last year signalled a widening rift with the kingdom.

Mr. Khan had planned to participate a year ago in an Islamic summit hosted by Malaysia and attended by Saudi Arabia’s detractors, Turkey, Iran and Qatar, but not the kingdom and a majority of Muslim states. The Pakistani prime minister cancelled his participation at the last moment under Saudi pressure.

More recently, Pakistan again challenged Saudi leadership of the Muslim world when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi complained about lack of support of the Saudi-dominated Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for Pakistan in its conflict with India over Kashmir. The OIC groups the world’s 57 Muslim-majority nations. Mr. Qureshi suggested that his country would seek to rally support beyond the realm of the kingdom.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a visit to Pakistan earlier this year, made a point of repeatedly reiterating his country’s support for Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute.

By openly challenging the kingdom, Mr. Qureshi was hitting Saudi Arabia where it hurts most as it seeks to repair its image tarnished by allegations of abuse of human rights, manoeuvres to get off on the right foot with incoming US President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, and fends off challenges to its leadership of the Muslim world.

Pakistan has not helped itself by recently failing to ensure that it would be removed from the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force, an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, despite progress in the country’s legal infrastructure and enforcement.

Grey listing causes reputational damage and makes foreign investors and international banks more cautious in their dealings with countries that have not been granted a clean bill of health.

Responding to Mr. Qureshi’s challenge, Saudi Arabia demanded that Pakistan repay a US$1 billion loan extended to help the South Asian nation ease its financial crisis. The kingdom has also dragged its feet on renewing a US$3.2 billion oil credit facility that expired in May.

In what Pakistan will interpret as UAE support for Saudi Arabia, the Emirates last week included Pakistan on its version of US President Donald J. Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

Inclusion on the list of 13 Muslim countries whose nationals will no longer be issued visas for travel to the UAE increases pressure on Pakistan, which relies heavily on exporting labour to generate remittances and alleviate unemployment.

Some Pakistanis fear that a potential improvement in Saudi-Turkish relations could see their country fall through geopolitical cracks.

In the first face-to-face meeting between senior Saudi and Turkish officials since the October 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, the two countries’ foreign ministers, Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Mevlut Cavusoglu, held bilateral talks this weekend, on the sidelines of an OIC conference in the African state of Niger.

“A strong Turkey-Saudi partnership benefits not only our countries but the whole region,” Mr. Cavusoglu tweeted after the meeting.

The meeting came days after Saudi King Salman telephoned Mr. Erdogan on the eve of a virtual summit hosted by the kingdom of the Group of 20 (G20) that brings together the world’s largest economies.

“The Muslim world is changing and alliances are shifting and entering new, unchartered territories,” said analyst Sahar Khan.

Added Imtiaz Ali, another analyst: “In the short term, Riyadh will continue exploiting Islamabad’s economic vulnerabilities… But in the longer term, Riyadh cannot ignore the rise of India in the region, and the two countries may become close allies – something that will mostly likely increase the strain on Pakistan-Saudi relations.”

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