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Israeli Knesset Likely to Dissolve as Extension Vote Fails

Israel appears to be heading for its fourth election in two years as an automatic dissolution of the Knesset looms.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference with U.S. presidential adviser Jared Kushner in Jerusalem on December 21, 2020.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference with U.S. presidential adviser Jared Kushner in Jerusalem on December 21, 2020. RONEN ZVULUN/X90084/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israel’s government is on edge as deadline looms, more countries shut borders to the United Kingdom amid new coronavirus mutation, and what to watch in the world this week.

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Israel Headed For New Elections In New Year

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israel’s government is on edge as deadline looms, more countries shut borders to the United Kingdom amid new coronavirus mutation, and what to watch in the world this week.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Israel Headed For New Elections In New Year

Israeli lawmakers have until midnight tonight to broker an agreement on a budget or face an automatic dissolution of parliament and snap elections, likely to be held in March.

A vote taken late Monday night to postpone tonight’s deadline failed in the Knesset, reflecting the tenuous nature of the alliance between Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White. Speaking to the press on Monday while White House adviser Jared Kushner looked on, Netanyahu blamed Gantz for causing “unnecessary elections” because of the internal pressure he faced within Blue and White.

New challengers. If Israel is to face its fourth election in two years, it will again be under a new political landscape. The expected March vote will come after the start of Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial and will likely feature New Hope, the party of Gideon Saar, a former Likud member who failed to oust Netanyahu in leadership elections last year. Despite the new challenge, polls still favor Likud to win more seats than any other party—but Saar’s breakaway party would make it hard for Netanyahu to form a majority coalition.

A white flag for Blue and White? Whether Gantz’s Blue and White remains a political force is an open question. Formed in fierce opposition to Netanyahu only to join him in government, the party is enduring “the most rapid write-off in Israeli political history,” Anshel Pfeffer writes in Haaretz. Blue and White is bleeding members, and according to current polls would struggle to breach the 3.25 percent vote threshold to enter parliament.

As Joshua Mitnick wrote in Foreign Policy earlier this month, the Israeli public may have grown weary of the near-constant electioneering. “The price of a fourth election since the start of 2019 is likely a lower voter turnout,” Mitnick writes.

The World This Week

On Tuesday, Dec. 22, a joint U.S.-Israeli delegation, including White House advisor Jared Kushner, will travel on the first commercial flight from Israel to Morocco following a deal announced earlier this month that normalized relations between the two countries.

A 48-hour suspension of all travel from the United Kingdom to France, announced on Sunday in response to the new variant of the COVID-19 virus identified in the United Kingdom, is set to expire.

Wednesday, Dec. 23 is the deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to veto the National Defense Authorization Act, the bill funding U.S. defense operations for the coming year.

Trump has threatened to veto the bill over lawmakers’ refusal to include a provision striking Section 230 of the Communications Act, a law which Trump believes stifles conservatives on social media platforms. Trump is also upset at a provision in the bill that would rename U.S. military bases currently named after generals who fought against the government in the U.S. civil war. If Trump does issue a veto, an override vote in Congress is expected to be scheduled.

On Thursday, Dec. 24 new Moldovan president Maia Sandu is expected to be sworn in. Sandu defeated incumbent Igor Dodon in the Nov. 15 runoff and has since faced opposition from parliament.

Lawmakers voted to move authority over the intelligence services from the presidency to parliament, a move that Sandu railed against, saying it was a reaction to her anti-corruption pledges.

On Sunday, Dec. 27, general elections take place in Central African Republic and Niger. Both countries will vote to elect a president as well as a new National Assembly.

Countries across the European Union are expected to begin COVID-19 vaccinations following the approval of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine by European regulators.

What We’re Following Today

Congress passes relief package. The U.S. Congress passed a $900 billion coronavirus relief package, the second largest in U.S. history, late Monday night. The 5,593-page bill now goes to President Donald Trump’s desk, where he is expected to sign it. Among its many provisions, the bill includes a $600 dollar check for Americans earning less that $75,000 in 2019 and an extension in federal unemployment benefits.

Despite the stimulus, the bill also includes a further extension to some tax breaks, likely setting up a headache if lawmakers decide to become deficit hawks during the Biden administration: Tax provisions in the bill would cut revenues by $150 billion, the Washington Post reports.

The coronavirus mutates. After more than 30 countries banned flights from the U.K. following the identification of a new, more transmissible, COVID-19 variant, the World Health Organization has said that much remains unknown about the virus mutation’s effects on current treatments and vaccines. Medical authorities are already studying the effect the mutated virus has on the antibodies of those already immunized or recovered from the previous coronavirus strain. The variant has so far been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Australia.

Romania’s new government. Romania will form a new government after three center-right parties agreed to a coalition deal that would see National Liberal Party (PNL)—a surprise second place finisher in Dec. 6 elections—retain power, albeit without Ludovic Orban at its head. Per the terms of the agreement, Finance Minister Florin Citu is to be nominated as prime minister. The Social Democrats (PSD) will stay in opposition despite winning 30 percent of the vote—the most of any party.

They will be joined on the opposition benches by the far-right Alliance for Romanian Unity (AUR), which won 9 percent of the vote despite only being established as a party last year.

Keep an Eye On

Kenyan doctors join strike. Kenyan doctors have joined the country’s clinicians and nurses working in public health facilities on a nationwide strike over working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The doctors union—which called the strike on Monday—have used the example of Stephen Mogsu, a 28-year-old medical intern who died of COVID-19, to bring awareness to their cause, launching the strike from his hometown in Kisii county. Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe told local governments over the weekend to begin advertising job vacancies to replace those on strike, further angering health care workers.

JCPOA countries reaffirm commitment. The foreign ministers of Iran, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China, and Russia issued a joint statement on Monday renewing their commitment to the Iran nuclear deal, opening the door for President-elect Joe Biden to reenter the agreement. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned Iran against making moves in the coming weeks that would jeopardize a U.S. return to the deal. “To make possible a rapprochement with the U.S. under Biden, there should be no further tactical maneuvers of the kind we’ve seen too many of in the recent past,” Maas told reporters.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Saheb Sadeghi explains how Biden can outmaneuver hardliners in Iran (and at home) to steer the United States back toward the Iran deal.

North Korea trade. North Korea’s trade with China has collapsed in recent months, according to official data from China’s customs office cited in the Wall Street Journal. Trade in October was worth just $1.7 million, a 99 percent drop based on the same month in 2019. Overall, trade between the two countries has decreased by 75 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year. Experts point to strict coronavirus restrictions on both sides of the border as the underlying reason for the drop.

Odds and Ends

Conversations with a killer. Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny appears to have outed one of his poisoners in audacious fashion, by getting a member of Russia’s security services to admit to the act in a recorded phone conversation. Navalny is reported to have spoofed his phone number so a call to FSB agent Konstantin Kudryavtsev appeared to come from an internal FSB landline, and impersonated a senior official.

Kudryavtsev then proceeded to tell Navalny the details of the botched poisoning, including a trip to the Siberian town of Omsk to treat Navalny’s clothes so that the nerve agent Novichok would not be detected.

Top spin. Global tennis star Novak Djokovic has lent his star power to a town in Bosnia which claims to be home to the world’s oldest pyramid, despite the groans of archaeologists. The town of Visoko sits in the shadow of Visocica Hill, a sharp-edged flatiron mountain resembling a pyramid formed by geological activity.

The town’s dubious claim to fame has been pushed by Bosnian-American businessman Semir Osmanagic, who invited Djokovic to visit. Djokovic reportedly meditated in tunnels under Visoko that Osmanagic claims were made by ancient people thousands of years ago.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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