Will Netanyahu Survive?
Plus: Trump slaps tariffs on Mexico and weighs in on British politics, and the other stories we're following today.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israel sets a date for a new election, Trump slaps tariffs on Mexico, and Saudi Arabia calls on Gulf countries to take a strong stance against Iran.
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What to Expect from Israel’s New Vote
After Israeli lawmakers voted to dissolve parliament on Thursday, the country is set for a new election on Sept. 17—five months after the close April vote that appeared to set up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a fifth term. The vote to dissolve parliament before Netanyahu could form a government marked a first for Israel.
Netanyahu has vowed to win again in September, but whether he can is far from certain. Analysts say the prime minister emerges from the political chaos in a weaker position. He could be challenged by Avigdor Lieberman, the one-time ally who wouldn’t compromise over legislation on ultra-Orthodox conscription to form a coalition. And Netanyahu still faces indictment in a corruption scandal that cast a shadow over the April election.
What now? Netanyahu will remain in power at least until the new election, and he and will become the country’s longest-serving prime minister in July. FP has a guide to Netanyahu’s career—and what might come next.
A growing deficit. A second election means that Israel’s government will likely not be able to rein in its growing budget deficit. Budget negotiations usually happen during the summer, and the new government was expected to raise taxes and decrease spending.
The end of the U.S. peace plan? Senior White House advisor Jared Kushner met with Netanyahu during a trip to Jerusalem on Thursday to rally support for the economic part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan. But the decision to hold another election this year could put an end to its political initiative, Joshua Mitnick reports for FP.
Until September, Netanyahu will likely distance himself from any engagement with the Palestinians in order to court his base. “I think that they have to put the plan on ice for the foreseeable future,” an observer tells Mitnick. The plan has been in the works since Trump took office in 2017.
What We’re Following Today
U.S. hits Mexico with tariffs. Trump announced that he will slap a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican goods entering the United States until the Mexican government halts illegal immigration. The U.S. government is slated to start implementing the policy on June 10 and increase tariffs if the flow of migrants doesn’t stop. “White House officials did not immediately explain how driving up the cost of Mexican goods might stem the flow of migrants,” the Washington Post noted.
Trump weighs in on Brexit and Huawei before U.K. visit. U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing for a state visit to Britain next week amid the country’s ongoing political crisis. He reportedly plans to threaten to halt U.S. intelligence sharing with Britain if the U.K. government allows the Chinese company Huawei to build part of its 5G network.
While he did not endorse a successor to British Prime Minister Theresa May, he referred to pro-Brexit contenders Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson as “friends” on Thursday. Fears of a no-deal Brexit—currently the default if no agreement is approved by Parliament before Oct. 31—are growing due to ongoing deadlock in the House of Commons.
Saudi Arabia takes firm stance against Iran. At emergency meetings with other Gulf countries on Thursday, Saudi King Salman called for a unified message on Iran amid security threats in the region. The summit followed drone strikes on Saudi oil installations and attacks on tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia says that Iran ordered the drone strikes, an accusation it denies.
El Salvador’s new president. Nayib Bukele, who ran a presidential campaign that promised to tackle the violence and corruption that drive migration, takes office Saturday in El Salvador. His immediate challenges will be addressing pervasive crime and a sluggish economy. Bukele plans to push for an international corruption commission similar to those once enacted by Guatemala and Honduras.
Tragedy in Budapest. Hungarian police arrested the Ukrainian captain of the tourist boat that sank in the Danube River in Budapest, killing seven South Korean tourists. Seven people survived and 21 remain missing. Authorities said there is little hope for any more survivors.
Keep an Eye On
Murder and scandal in Tehran. Iranians have been shocked and captivated by the story of former Tehran mayor and Education Minister Mohammad Ali Najafi, who has confessed to murdering his second wife, Mitra Ostad. Najafi, a respected reformist politician and MIT graduate, appeared on state television the day after the killing—an unusual occurrence in Iran. Adding to the intrigue, a handcuffed Najafi told reporters that his wife had been in contact with intelligence agencies and he’d seen proof on her phone. His confession has been viewed by millions online and set off a wave of conspiracy theories. “Many ordinary people and reformist politicians question if it is part of a plot to neutralise a potentially popular presidential candidate,” according to the Financial Times.
Hong Kong’s extradition bill. Hong Kong says it will make changes to a controversial bill that would allow extraditions to countries without formal agreements, including mainland China, on a case-by-case basis. Critics and democracy activists say the concessions don’t go far enough in limiting China’s reach in Hong Kong and have called for the legislation to be thrown out.
Hardline Buddhist protests in Myanmar. Hundreds gathered on Thursday at Myanmar’s holiest Buddhist site to protest an arrest warrant for the ultranationalist monk Ashin Wirathu, wanted for sedition after criticizing the civilian government—specifically, the leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Wirathu is supportive of the military and has frequently targeted the Rohingya minority in his speeches.
Brazil’s economy. Brazil’s economy is shrinking for the first time since 2016, when the country was in a recession. Economists are reading the numbers as an early indicator of the country’s performance under President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, and say they could suggest a risk of another economic downturn.
Balochistan. China’s Belt and Road Initiative runs through Balochistan, a province in southwestern Pakistan, where it has brought significant investment and new visitors. But violence in the province is on the rise and Chinese nationals are being targeted, Muhammad Akbar Notezai writes for FP.
Odds and Ends
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner are among those headed to the Bilderberg Meeting, a secretive, elite gathering held in Switzerland this weekend that is often picketed by conspiracy theorists.
A Thai government spokesman said this week that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha recommended George Orwell’s political allegory Animal Farm as a “book that leaves important lessons on how to live life.” Critics of the junta government in Thailand responded by staging a reading of the work in a public park.
On Thursday New Zealand unveiled its $2.5 billion “wellbeing” budget, an approach described by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as a global first. Of the earmarked funds, over $1.2 billion (NZ$1.9 billion) is allocated for mental health services over five years. That is a record in New Zealand, which has one of the world’s highest suicide rates and a shortage of mental health workers. The budget also earmarks funds to alleviate child poverty and address domestic violence. “Today’s budget shows you can be both economically responsible and kind,” Ardern said.
Later today on FP’s podcast, First Person: Yousef Bashir, the author of The Words of My Father: Love and Pain in Palestine, grew up in Gaza and was shot by an Israeli soldier when he was 15 years old. He sits down with deputy editor Sarah Wildman to share the story of how he came to believe that peace with his Israeli neighbors is the only option.
That’s it for today.
Correction, May 31, 2019: A previous version of this newsletter misidentified the Saudi king. He is King Salman, not King Mohammad bin Salman.