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The new government agreement in Israel

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 “Bibi” Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, will remain in post for another 18 months.

All this happens while “Benny” Gantz – former Chief of Staff of Tsahal from February 2011 to February 2015, and son of a Jewish woman who escaped from the Bergen Belsen concentration camp and survived the Holocaust – will start off by serving as deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister in the next Israeli government.

Based on the deal signed, he will later take over as Prime Minister in October 2021 for another 18 months.

Binyamin Gantz graduated from Bahad 1, the Israeli Officer School of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), and was made a company commander in the Paratrooper Brigade. He rose steadily through the ranks and led several military structures, including the  Shaldag  Special  Air  Force  Unit,  the Judea and Samaria Division, as well as the Northern Command. He graduated in History from the University of Tel Aviv and got a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Haifa, as well as a Master’s degree in national resource management from the U.S. National Defense University.

In modern times, the great statesmen were often also –  and above all – great military leaders: just think of Charles De Gaulle, Winston Churchill or even an extraordinary figure like General Marshall, the theorist of the post-war economic plan for Europe named after him. After retiring from the Army, Gantz founded the Pnima movement along with other colleagues.

The Pnima executives include Rabbi Shai Piron, as well as many former generals  of  Tsahal,  senior  officers,  magistrates  and  important businessmen.

In 2018, Gantz ran for the first time for a seat at the Knesset, with an alliance named Hosen L’Ysrael, literally “Israel Resilience”.

The current government deal signed between Netanyahu and Gantz provides for an accurate 50% division of government positions between the two sides, namely Gantz’s new Kahol Lavan and Netanyahu’s Likud parties.

Gantz’ alliance can also count on the often vociferous Labour Party as an ally.

Gantz has also announced that it will appoint an Arab Israeli, not member of the Knesset, as Minister and that, however, he will not appoint any vice- Ministers.

The Likud Party has been assigned the post of Speaker of the Knesset, that will most likely be taken over by Yariv Levin, a man who has always been very close to Netanyahu.

Furthermore, based on the government deal signed, Netanyahu himself has the right to  appoint four  Ambassadors to  important Missions and positions. Probably these new diplomats will be above all important members of the Likud Party and the posts already envisaged by Netanyahu in the deal signed with Gantz could be the Israeli Ambassadors to the United Nations, Great Britain, France and Australia.

Each  of  the  two  signatories  of  the  government  deal  will  have  the Chairmanship of seven Knesset Parliamentary Committees.

The so-called ‘Norwegian law’ will continue to apply, It is a law which enables Ministers, deputy Ministers and government members to quit the Knesset, thus enabling the next candidates on their party’s list to enter, but permits them to return to the legislature if they quit the government.

Five members of Gantz’s coalition, Kahol Lavan, and only two members of the Likud party are expected to resign in line with this “Norwegian law”.

So far, however, Gantz’s Parliamentary group has not liked the deal with Netanyahu at all.

Gantz himself said that some of his colleagues would “prefer a fourth election  rather  than  a  compromise  deal”.  This  applies  to  two  of  his  important members of Parliament, namely Yair Lapid, former founder and leader of Yesh Atid, the “Blue and White” Alliance, and Moshe Ya’alon, former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces.

Another bilateral agreement reached by the two leaders is that no legislation unrelated to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic will be brought  before  Parliament  for  a  period  of  six  months  without  full agreement between the two political groups.

For his part, Netanyahu will anyway be allowed to advance legislation to annex Jewish settlements and other land in the occupied West Bank that the Palestinians already consider part of a future State, in line with the peace plan unveiled by U.S: President Trump last January.

Therefore, Gantz has already lost a good number of his supporters, within his party and his coalition, former militants and parliamentarians who do not accept any deal with Netanyahu that they believe is only aimed at temporarily  sparing  the  Likud  leader  the  experience of  a  trial  that  is expected to be long and far from easy for “Bibi” Netanyahu.

Gantz maintains, instead, that in very difficult times, with a pandemic already hitting the Jewish State, it is necessary to be united, even with the Likud leader, and immediately give Israel a new government in full swing.

The U.S. Ambassador to Israel has already said he is “delighted” by the agreement between the two leaders, while the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Mohammed Shtayyeh, spoke of an Israeli government devoted solely to the annexation of the aforementioned West Bank’s territories.

Netanyahu, however, has stated he will propose legislation for the annexation of the West Bank as of June 1, 2020, but only if there is explicit support from the U.S. Administration.

A clear result reached is that Netanyahu will easily have the possibility to postpone the next Court hearings.

His trial, however, will start officially on May 24, 2020.

The current Public Prosecutor will remain in office only for the next six months.

The judges have already agreed with the government that there will be no major events during the coronavirus pandemic.

Furthermore, again based on the government deal signed, Netanyahu will be entitled to an official residence as Prime Minister.

It should be recalled that Gantz broke the unity of his “Blue and White” coalition to propose a government deal to the Likud leader, mainly based on the need to curb the pandemic and put an end to the sequence of inconclusive elections – three in a very short lapse of time – which would never lead to a clear winner.

But it was precisely Gantz who run his last election campaign in March on the very issue of Netanyahu’s definitive exclusion from power.

Furthermore, “Bibi” Netanyahu has largely stopped even the legislation designed to improving Israelis’ protection from the coronavirus pandemic, since he has never asked for the creation of a real majority at the Knesset.

Again based on the government deal signed, the next six months will be fully devoted to the legislation designed to tackling the coronavirus pandemics, while any other political issue to be submitted to Parliament will require a prior agreement between Gantz and Netanyahu.

Some people – even in the media circles that are the most polemical in attacking him – have said that, despite the loss of some support within his coalition, Gantz has anyway shown strong leadership, which is particularly appreciated by the Israeli voters.

According to the deal signed, Gantz will replace Netanyahu as Prime Minister in 18 months’ time.

Are we sure, however, that there will be no impediment? Possibly a law to be voted immediately before the change in Premiership – of which later the opponent may be accused on grounds of dirty play and moves within the Knesset? Or a Parliamentary conflict on some issues, which is always possible?

Or again the pressure of left-wing voters within Gantz’s coalition, precisely pushing him to leave the alliance? No one can currently predict it.

As already mentioned, in the next government, Gantz’s allies will have the Foreign and the Justice Ministries, while Netanyahu’s party will have the Finance Ministry and the post of Speaker of the Knesset.

Obviously   “Bibi”   Netanyahu’s   politicking   experience   cannot   be compared with Gantz’s. The latter has just been elected and has no strong base in Parliament. Hence the manoeuvring ability of the Likud leader will likely be much greater than the ability of the former opposition leader, while the coalition created by Gantz is, in fact, in a phase of internal break- up.

However, the date of trial for the current Likud leader is certain, namely May 24, 2020.

Nevertheless, although Netanyahu has ultimately not managed to pass legislation protecting him from criminal proceedings, he is still indirectly very powerful, also as far as the judiciary is concerned.

Again based on the deal signed with Gantz, he has the possibility of vetoing the appointment of the next Attorney General and of the Public Prosecutor, and can also choose half of the members of the Parliamentary technical committee that selects judges.

Has “Bibi” already won? We cannot predict it yet. Probably, his heaviest card will still be the annexation of some areas of the West Bank areas and- as he said during his election campaign – also of the Jordan Valley.

It is also likely that, once the trial pressure on Netanyahu has eased, the government may even be able to go on peacefully.

Clearly all the thoughts of the Likud leader are focused on the issue of his judicial future.

Polls show that the citizens are happy to finally have a government, but there are subtle signs of rejection of the unusual large size of government, with 32 Ministers that will increase to 36, and 16 deputy Ministers – a huge government that is unprecedented in Israel’s history.

It should be recalled that, when Gantz started negotiations with Netanyahu, he had been recommended and then almost appointed as Prime Minister by 61 of the 120 members of the Knesset, and he himself was the leader of a coalition made up of 33 MPs.

Now that he is only the opposition leader, Gantz – who has been left alone by some of his supporters, such as Ya’alom and Lapid – has a party of his own that counts only 15 MPs.

He enjoys the support of two Labour activists, namely Amir Peretz and Itzhik Shmuli, although we do not know to what extent this support is stable. Nevertheless, there is not yet any clear definition of “equal representation” between  Gantz’s  and  Netanyahu’s  teams  –  equality  to which, however, reference is often made in the deal.

Furthermore, if Netanyahu is found guilty, new elections are the only solution envisaged by the deal.

We can also wonder what would happen if the criminal Court extended its proceedings beyond 18 months. No one knows.

Moreover, if the Likud leader does not want to hand over power at the end of the 18 months, he could always call new elections. He can do so.

Again based on the deal, however, in this case Gantz would immediately become Prime Minister and keep his post for only three months. The procedure, however, shows great signs of unconstitutionality.

There is also the issue of the 1,800,000 Israeli Arabs who have the right to vote, and could even be sensitive to Netanyahu’ sirens. Netanyahu is the only one who could alone silence the religious parties that have always supported him and could still support him, if the Likud leader widened his government basis, with one of his manoeuvres, possibly even supporting an economic agreement favourable to a part of the Arab voters in Israel.

Furthermore, it is good to see how the tension on the figure of Netanyahu will be able to mobilize both the religious parties and the political area that has always supported the Likud party and could probably be gathered again by somebody linked to Netanyahu and acting in his name.

It is therefore a complex agreement, much of which will be decided by the quality  of  the  legislation  designed  to  fight  against  the  coronavirus pandemic and by both signatories’ Parliamentary politicking.

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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Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war

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After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.

This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies.  This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.

A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.

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First Aid: How Russia and the West Can Help Syrians in Idlib

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Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Julien Barnes-Dacey*

The next international showdown on Syria is quickly coming into view. After ten years of conflict, Bashar al-Assad may have won the war, but much is left to be done to win the peace. This is nowhere more so than in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people who now live under the control of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) with external Turkish protection and humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

The question of humanitarian access into Idlib is now emerging as a central focus of new international politicking. In so doing, this small province could be pivotal to the future of the larger stalemate that has left the United States, Europe, and Russia locked in an unwinnable status quo.

Russia has said that it plans to veto an extension of cross-border UN aid delivered from Turkey, authorised under UN Security Council resolution 2533, which is up for renewal in July, potentially depriving the population of a vital lifeline amid desperate conditions. Moscow says that all aid should be channelled from Damascus via three new government-controlled crossing points to the northern province. Western governments, to say nothing of the local population, are sceptical, given the Syrian government’s hostility towards the province’s inhabitants. For its part, the UN says that cross-lines aid cannot compensate for a closure of cross-border access.

As ever, the two dominant players—the US and Russia—are talking past each other and are focused on countering each other’s moves—to their mutual failure. It is evident that US condemnation and pressure on Russia will not deliver the necessary aid, and also evident that Russia will not get its wish for the international recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian government by vetoing cross-border access. While these will only be diplomatic failures for the US and Russia, it is the Syrian people who will, as ever, pay the highest price.

But a mutually beneficial solution to Idlib is still possible. Russia and the US, backed by European states, should agree to a new formula whereby Moscow greenlights a final one-year extension of cross-border aid in exchange for a Western agreement to increase aid flows via Damascus, including through Russia’s proposed cross-lines channels into Idlib. This would meet the interests of both sides, allowing immediate humanitarian needs to be met on the ground as desired by the West, while also paving the way for a transition towards the Damascus-centred international aid operation sought by Moscow.

This imperfect but practical compromise would mean more than a positive change in the humanitarian situation in Idlib. It would demonstrate the ability of Russian and Western actors to work together to reach specific agreements in Syria even if their respective approaches to the wider conflict differ significantly. This could serve to reactivate the UN Security Council mechanism, which has been paralysed and absent from the Syrian track for too long.

To be sure the Syrian government will also need to be incentivised to comply. Western governments will need to be willing to increase humanitarian and early recovery support to other parts of government-controlled Syria even as they channel aid to Idlib. With the country now experiencing a dramatic economic implosion, this could serve as a welcome reprieve to Damascus. It would also meet Western interests in not seeing a full state collapse and worsening humanitarian tragedy.

The underlying condition for this increased aid will need to be transparency and access to ensure that assistance is actually delivered to those in need. The West and Russia will need to work on implementing a viable monitoring mechanism for aid flows channelled via Damascus. This will give Moscow an opportunity to push the Syrian regime harder on matters of corruption and mismanagement.

For its part, the West will need to work with Moscow to exercise pressure on Ankara to use its military presence in Idlib to more comprehensively confront radical Islamists and ensure that aid flows do not empower HTS. A ‘deradicalisation’ of Idlib will need to take the form of a detailed roadmap, including that HTS comply with specific behaviour related to humanitarian deliveries.

Ultimately this proposal will not be wholly satisfactory to either Moscow or the West. The West will not like that it is only a one-year extension and will not like the shift towards Damascus. Russia will not like that it is an extension at all. But for all sides the benefits should outweigh the downsides.

Russia will know that Western actors will respond to failure by unilaterally channelling non-UN legitimised aid into the country via Turkey. Russia will lose the opportunity to slowly move Idlib back into Damascus’s orbit and the country’s de facto partition will be entrenched. This outcome is also likely to lead to increased instability as aid flows decrease, with subsequent tensions between Moscow’s allies, Damascus and Ankara.

The West will need to acknowledge that this approach offers the best way of delivering ongoing aid into Idlib and securing greater transparency on wider support across Syria. The alternative—bilateral cross-border support—will not sufficiently meet needs on the ground, will place even greater responsibility on Turkey, and will increase the prospect of Western confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime.

Importantly, this proposal could also create space for wider political talks on Idlib’s fate. It could lead to a renewed track between Russia, the US, Turkey and Europeans to address the province’s fate in a way that accounts for Syria’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty on the one hand and the needs and security of the local population on the other hand. After ten years of devastating conflict, a humanitarian compromise in Idlib will not represent a huge victory. But a limited agreement could still go a long way to positively changing the momentum in Syria and opening up a pathway for much-needed international cooperation.

* Julien Barnes-Dacey, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

From our partner RIAC

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Iran’s Impunity Will Grow if Evidence of Past Crimes is Fully Destroyed

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No reasonable person would deny the importance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. But that issue must not be allowed to continue overshadowing Iran’s responsibility for terrorism and systematic human rights violations. These matters represent a much more imminent threat to human life, as well as longstanding denials of justice for those who have suffered from the Iranian regime’s actions in the past.

The Iranian people have risen multiple times in recent years to call for democratic change. In 2017, major uprisings broke out against the regime’s disastrous policies. Although the ruling clerics suppressed those protests, public unrest soon resumed in November 2019. That uprising was even broader in scope and intensity. The regime responded by opening fire on crowds, murdering at least 1,500. Amnesty International has reported on the torture that is still being meted out to participants in the uprising.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and human rights organizations have continued to repeat longstanding calls for increased attention to some of the worst crimes perpetrated by the regime in previous years.

Last year, Amnesty International praised a “momentous breakthrough” when seven UN human rights experts demanded an end to the ongoing cover-up of a massacre of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.

The killings were ordered by the regime’s previous supreme leader Khomeini, who declared that opponents of the theocracy were “enemies of God” and thus subject to summary executions. In response, prisons throughout Iran convened “death commissions” that were tasked with interrogating political prisoners over their views. Those who rejected the regime’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam were hanged, often in groups, and their bodies were dumped mostly in mass graves, the locations of which were held secret.

In the end, at least 30,000 political prisoners were massacred. The regime has been trying hard to erase the record of its crimes, including the mass graves. Its cover-up has unfortunately been enabled to some degree by the persistent lack of a coordinated international response to the situation – a failure that was acknowledged in the UN experts’ letter.

The letter noted that although the systematic executions had been referenced in a 1988 UN resolution on Iran’s human rights record, none of the relevant entities within that international body followed up on the case, and the massacre went unpunished and underreported.

For nearly three decades, the regime enforced silence regarding any public discussion of the killings, before this was challenged in 2016 by the leak of an audio recording that featured contemporary officials discussing the 1988 massacre. Regime officials, like then-Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi, told state media that they were proud of committing the killings.

Today, the main victims of that massacre, the principal opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), are still targets of terrorist plots on Western soil, instigated by the Iranian regime. The most significant of these in recent years was the plot to bomb a gathering organized near Paris in 2018 by the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The Free Iran rally was attended by tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from throughout the world, as well as hundreds of political dignitaries, and if the attack had not been prevented by law enforcement, it would have no doubt been among the worst terrorist attacks in recent European history.

The mastermind of that attack was a high-ranking Iranian diplomat named Assadollah Assadi. He was convicted in a Belgian court alongside three co-conspirators in February. But serious critics of the Iranian regime have insisted that accountability must not stop here.

If Tehran believes it has gotten away with the 1988 massacre, one of the worst crimes against humanity from the late 20th century, it can also get away with threatening the West and killing protesters by the hundreds. The ongoing destruction of mass graves demonstrates the regime’s understanding that it has not truly gotten away with the massacre as long as evidence remains to be exposed.

The evidence of mass graves has been tentatively identified in at least 36 different cities, but a number of those sites have since been covered by pavement and large structures. There are also signs that this development has accelerated in recent years as awareness of the massacre has gradually expanded. Unfortunately, the destruction currently threatens to outpace the campaign for accountability, and it is up to the United Nations and its leading member states to accelerate that campaign and halt the regime’s destruction of evidence.

If this does not happen and the 1988 massacre is consigned to history before anyone has been brought to justice, it will be difficult to compel Tehran into taking its critics seriously about anything, be it more recent human rights violations, ongoing terrorist threats, or even the nuclear program that authorities have been advancing in spite of the Western conciliation that underlay 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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