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Morning Brief

Israel Holds Third Election in a Year

Israeli voters are headed to the polls yet again, but it’s not likely to break months of political deadlock.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at the Likud party election rally on Feb. 29 in Ramat Gan, Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at the Likud party election rally on Feb. 29 in Ramat Gan, Israel. Amir Levy/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israel holds another election—the third in less than a year, Greek police clash with migrants at the Turkish border, and what to watch in the world this week.

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Will a Third Try Break Israel’s Deadlock?

Israeli voters are headed to the polls today for the third time in less than a year, after inconclusive elections in April and September 2019—leading to months of political deadlock. It doesn’t seem like this time around will be much different: Opinion polls show that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party nor the centrist Blue and White party have enough support to form a majority coalition in parliament.

Like the previous two, today’s election is seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who is running for re-election despite facing a corruption trial in just two weeks. The voters, meanwhile, seem tired of the deadlock and turnout of certain groups, including the Arab minority, could decide the election. But fatigue and coronavirus fears could keep people away from the polls. (The latter became late-breaking election issue on Sunday after a contagion scare in an Israeli mall.)

What’s next? The situation could be resolved if Likud and the Blue and White party agreed to rule in coalition, but opposition leader Benny Gantz says that’s only possible if Netanyahu resigns. If the parties fail to break the deadlock, Israel will quickly face a fourth election. But the country’s 2020 budget hasn’t yet been approved: The longer the stalemate goes on, it could take a toll on the country’s economy and social welfare system.

Can the system be fixed? The ongoing political limbo is unprecedented in Israel’s 71-year history, and it’s complicated by Netanyahu’s looming trial as well as identity-based politics. That makes it difficult for Israel’s proportional system to reach a decisive outcome. Reforms to the premiership could mitigate the problem, Joshua Mitnick reports—and two simple fixes could help end the impasse, as Yohanan Plesner of the Israel Democracy Institute argued in FP in June.

What We’re Following Today

Countries tighten restrictions as coronavirus spreads. Governments around the world are taking action to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Schools in northern Italy remain closed for a second consecutive week. France has temporarily banned large public gatherings—including closing the Louvre Museum in Paris. The United States, meanwhile, has stepped up travel restrictions, increasing screening procedures for travelers from Italy and South Korea. The efforts came as the first death was reported, in Washington state. (Travel has not been restricted between U.S. states.)

The virus outbreak increasingly looks like an economic crisis, with global markets suffering and supply-chain disruptions threatening business activity and profits. Global stock markets are likely to decline further this week—the knock-on effects of China grinding to a halt. U.S. officials have downplayed the market effects, seeking to calm panic.

Europe reacts to Turkey’s open gates. Greece and Bulgaria have sent troops to their borders with Turkey, where hundreds of refugees have gathered after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he would not stop migrants from entering Europe. On Sunday, Greek police fired tear gas at migrants trying to push across the border, as the government said it was suspending asylum applications—a move that breaks with EU law. EU officials have called for emergency meetings to respond to the situation. Erdogan’s decision comes amid an ongoing Syrian government offensive that has killed dozens of Turkish soldiers and displaced around 1 million people in northwestern Syria.

Pompeo predicts Afghan talks to begin this week. After the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday expressed hope that the militant group and the Afghan government would begin negotiations in the coming days. Still, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has rejected a Taliban condition for the talks: the demand that Afghanistan release 5,000 Taliban prisoners. “It is not in the authority of the United States to decide, they are only a facilitator,” Ghani said.

The World This Week

U.K. and EU negotiators meet in Brussels today for the first round of talks over the future of their post-Brexit trade and security relationship. The atmosphere is already tense; U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson summarily rejected an EU demand that Britain stick to certain European standards. The two sides technically have until the end of the year to reach an agreement. This round of talks concludes on Thursday.

On Super Tuesday, more than a dozen U.S. states hold Democratic primaries. Around one-third of delegates are up for grabs, meaning that the results are likely to further narrow the field of candidates. (Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and businessman Tom Steyer have now dropped out.) Former Vice President Joe Biden enters Super Tuesday with momentum after a convincing win in South Carolina, while Sen. Bernie Sanders still leads the delegate count.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies begin a two-day meeting on Thursday in Vienna, as oil prices fall amid fears that the coronavirus outbreak will cause a drop in demand. Several OPEC members, including Saudi Arabia, are weighing further production cuts based on recent data.

Keep an Eye On

Iraq’s political crisis. Mohammed Allawi, designated to be Iraq’s prime minister, withdrew his candidacy on Sunday after a parliamentary vote of confidence in his cabinet was twice delayed amid political disagreements. The president will try to choose a new candidate within 15 days. In the meantime, Iraq could be without a prime minister if Adel Abdul Mahdi—serving in a caretaker capacity since he stepped down amid mass protests last year—also quits today.

France’s pension reforms. French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has announced that the government plans to use a decree to push through its controversial changes to the pension system, avoiding a vote in parliament. Opposition parties had filed 41,000 amendments to the law to try to stall it. The reforms have fueled mass protests and public sector strikes since they were announced late last year.

FP Conference Call—Please join us for a timely FP Insider conference call on Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST on the preliminary Afghan peace deal. What does the agreement mean for the future of the region? FP editor in chief Jonathan Tepperman and experts Peter Bergen, a national security analyst and vice president at the New America Foundation, and Husain Haqqani, senior fellow and director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, take your questions. Reserve your spot now.

Odds and Ends

Can the blimp make a comeback? Despite some skepticism, a handful of companies are looking to bring back blimps, Justin Ling writes in FP. Using airships for cargo may make a lot of sense: They are relatively cheap, can store a lot of material, and emit less greenhouse gases than other modes of transportation. There is one drawback: Helium prices are skyrocketing as supply dwindles.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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