Arab parties could be kingmakers in Israeli politics: Experts

Arab involvement could be instrumental in ending Israel’s political deadlock. (AFP/File)
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Updated 08 April 2021

Arab parties could be kingmakers in Israeli politics: Experts

  • Parliament member: Arab community has ‘huge potential to influence’
  • Country gripped by political stalemate after fourth election in two years

LONDON: After two years and four elections, there appears no end in sight to the political turmoil engulfing Israel, but amid the uncertainty, Arab parties have emerged as unexpected political kingmakers.

At an online event hosted on Thursday by think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Ruth Wasserman Lande, a former member of Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) for the Blue and White Party, said Arab parties have unexpectedly found themselves in a position of power after the country’s March election ended in yet another political stalemate.

During the election, she added, “for the very first time the Arab electorate, having been relatively ignored for the last decade at least by the Netanyahu-led government, suddenly became courted, and ironically the biggest courter was (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu himself.”

She said because of Israel’s coalition-focused political system, Arab parties such as Ra’am, known as the United Arab List in English, could have a disproportionate impact on politics despite controlling just four Knesset seats.

“Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am Party, is potentially the maker of kings, or the breaker of kingdoms, at this particular moment,” Lande added.

On Tuesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin acknowledged that no party leader had “a realistic chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the Knesset.”

But despite this, he invited Netanyahu to try to form a government, saying he had a “slightly” better chance than his rival Yair Lepid of successfully negotiating a coalition.

Lande said Abbas’s support, or lack thereof, for Netanyahu’s coalition either “makes it or breaks it.”

She added that the saga demonstrates the potential of the Arab electorate to shape Israeli politics from the inside — a capacity hampered by its low turnout in national elections.

“The Arab community and the Arab potential electorate in the past years — I’m talking about very many years — has been very apathetic in terms of its participation in national elections. That’s very unfortunate because they have a huge potential to influence,” she said.

“If a greater Arab voter turnout becomes a reality, the potential of the Arab street to influence the Israeli political system inherently is huge, because a small party can make a huge difference.”

Arab involvement could be instrumental in ending Israel’s political deadlock, Ksenia Svetlova, a former Knesset member, said at Thursday’s event.

“This time the Israelis went to the polling stations again, and the only question they focused on wasn’t foreign policy, the Abraham Accords, the Palestinian conflict or even coronavirus,” she added.

“They were all secondary to the only issue that’s at the center of everyone’s attention: Are you for Netanyahu or are you against Netanyahu? Society is very conflicted … It’s divided on the question of who’ll lead the country.”

Svetlova said this division has created a rift in Israeli politics that has led to a stalemate on many issues of significant national importance.

“It seems that the Israeli government is actually running away from difficult decisions, whether its state and religion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the groaning social and economic gaps in society,” she added.

“We see a great fault in the process of decision-making. You can’t advance issues during election campaigns and without a budget approved by the Knesset.”

She said a prime example of this deadlock is seen in the Netanyahu government’s handling of allegations of war crimes against Palestinians in the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.

“Yesterday, Israel apparently found out that it has to react to the developments in The Hague. Only yesterday, it held a discussion at the highest levels on how to respond — the same goes for the new American policy vis-a-vis Iran,” she added.

“The process of decision-making is non-existent anymore in Israel. This is the consequence of the political stalemate in Israel.”


Guelleh re-elected president of Djibouti with 98.58% of vote: official count

Updated 10 April 2021

Guelleh re-elected president of Djibouti with 98.58% of vote: official count

DJIBOUTI: Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for a fifth term as president of Djibouti with more than 98 percent of the vote, according to provisional results announced by Interior Minister Moumin Ahmed Cheick Friday night.
“President Ismail Omar Guelleh obtained 167,535 votes, which is 98.58 percent,” he told public broadcaster RTD, adding that confirmed results would be released soon by the Constitutional Council.


US put forward ‘very serious’ ideas to Iran on reviving nuclear deal: official

Updated 10 April 2021

US put forward ‘very serious’ ideas to Iran on reviving nuclear deal: official

WASHINGTON: The United States offered “very serious” ideas to Iran on how to revive a nuclear deal during talks in Vienna but is waiting for Iran to show the same “seriousness,” a US official said Friday.
“The United States team put forward a very serious idea and demonstrated a seriousness of purpose on coming back into compliance if Iran comes back into compliance,” the official told reporters as talks broke for the weekend.
But the official said the United States was waiting for its efforts to be “reciprocated” by Iran.
“We saw some signs of it but certainly not enough. There’s still question marks about whether Iran has the willingness to... take the pragmatic approach that the United States has taken to come back into compliance with its obligations under the deal,” he said.
President Joe Biden supports a return to the 2015 agreement trashed by his predecessor Donald Trump under which Iran drastically scaled back nuclear work in return for promises of sanctions relief.
Iran has demanded that the United States first lift all sanctions imposed by Trump, which include a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it falls back in line with obligations it suspended.
The US official indicated that the major stumbling block in the initial talks was not the order of compliance but rather which sanctions were under discussion as Iran is demanding an end to all US restrictions.
Iran’s position is “not consistent with the deal itself because under the deal the US retains the right to impose sanctions for non-nuclear reasons, whether it’s terrorism or human rights violations or interference with our elections,” the official said.
“All sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA and are inconsistent with the benefits that Iran expects from the JCPOA we are prepared to lift. That doesn’t mean all of them because there are some that are legitimate sanctions,” he said, using the acronym for the accord’s official name.
Iran refused to meet directly with US negotiator Rob Malley during the talks led by the European Union, whose envoys shuttled between the two sides in different hotels. Talks are set to resume in the same format next week.

Video shows Israeli police beating lawmaker at protest

Updated 09 April 2021

Video shows Israeli police beating lawmaker at protest

  • Police seen punching lawmaker Ofer Cassif and trying to put him in a headlock
  • Jerusalem's police chief has ordered an investigation into the incident

JERUSALEM — A video circulating online shows Israeli police punching a member of parliament and wrestling him to the ground at a protest against planned evictions in east Jerusalem on Friday.
The video shows a scuffle between Israeli police and Ofer Cassif, the only Jewish member of the Joint List, an alliance of Arab parties in Israel’s Knesset.
The police can be seen punching him and trying to put him in a headlock before dragging him to the ground. One of the officers can later be seen briefly kneeling on his chest.
Cassif was left with a swollen eye, his shirt torn.
Ahmad Tibi, a fellow lawmaker from the Joint List, was among those sharing the video of the scuffle on Twitter, calling it a “brutal assault” and a violation of parliamentary immunity.
Israeli police said in a statement that Cassif attacked the policemen, who used “reasonable force” in response and released him as soon as they identified him as a member of parliament.
It said Jerusalem’s police chief, Doron Turgeman, has ordered an investigation into the incident.
Cassif was taking part in a weekly protest in the mostly Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where rights groups say dozens of people are at risk of being evicted after a long court battle with Jewish settler groups.
Jewish and Palestinian activists have been holding small weekly protests against the threatened evictions.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and annexed it in a move not recognized by most of the international community. Israel views the entire city as its unified capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.
An Israeli court recently ordered the eviction of 58 people, 17 of them children, from seven houses in Sheikh Jarrah, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now.
The families are Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation who Peace Now says took up residence in the neighborhood under an agreement with Jordan, which controlled east Jerusalem from 1948 until 1967.
Peace Now says settler groups are pushing for their eviction by arguing that the land belonged to Jews prior to 1948. Israel supports the return of Jews to lands they lost in the 1948 war while barring Palestinians from doing the same.
Some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war. They and their descendants now number more than 5.8 million and are scattered across the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Their fate is one of the most divisive issues in the Middle East conflict.


German firms unveil lavish post-blast Beirut port plan

Updated 09 April 2021

German firms unveil lavish post-blast Beirut port plan

  • Plan put forward by two German firms envisions moving port activity away from city centre and re-urbanising damaged areas
  • German team admits corruption that has defined Lebanese politics for decades was an obstacle

BEIRUT — A German delegation on Friday unveiled a spectacular multi-billion-dollar project to rebuild Beirut port and its surroundings but admitted it was contingent on far-reaching government reforms.
Swathes of the port and adjacent neighborhoods were destroyed when fire ignited poorly stored ammonium nitrate on August 4, causing one of the world’s largest ever non-nuclear explosions and killing more than 200 people.
The ambitious German project was met with skepticism by some observers who argued Lebanon’s leaders were showing no sign of providing the most basic conditions for foreign investment.
The plan put forward by two German firms envisions moving most port activity away from the city center and re-urbanizing the most damaged areas.
Speaking at a press conference in Beirut, Colliers Germany managing director Hermann Schnell listed “affordable housing for families, green space and good infrastructure” among other features.
The project envisions beaches and a “central park” alongside restored architectural heritage, all wrapped in a plan that would generate 50,000 jobs and billions in profit.
The German pitch saw an “opportunity for a new city,” mapped out in a presentation that featured what it said were successful examples of redeveloped ports in cities like Cape Town, Bilbao and Vienna.
Lars Greiner of Hamburg Port Consulting (HPC) said the concept would “develop the port precinct of Beirut into a world class, state-of-the-art port” that would be more automated, cost-efficient and ready for regional trade growth.
The private initiative is the first large-scale, comprehensive plan after last year’s blast and has the support of Germany, whose ambassador attended the press conference.
Other international players are also working on alternative or complementary proposals.
French shipping giant CMA CGM, which leads container operations in Lebanon, submitted its own master plan in September.
“Such a huge project... can only be built if there is accountability and transparency,” German ambassador Andreas Kindl said at the news conference.
The project envisions the creation of a trust overseen by independent international appointees to manage funding from the European Investment Bank and other investors.
“I don’t see these proposals... becoming reality anytime soon,” economist and anti-government activist Jad Chaaban told AFP.
“Who today is prepared to invest one penny in a country whose collapse is in full swing, which has no government and defaulted on its debt?“
The German team admitted the corruption that has defined Lebanese politics for decades was an obstacle.
“What’s on the table is incredible... The only thing that you really need to do is make sure that there is transparency, that’s it,” HPC managing director Suheil Mahayni told AFP.
“We don’t dream, we have a clear vision... But if some pre-conditions are not fulfilled and don’t allow full transparency, it’s not going to work,” he said.


Iraq toughens coronavirus restrictions ahead of Ramadan

In this Sunday, March 28, 2021 file photo, people wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 10 April 2021

Iraq toughens coronavirus restrictions ahead of Ramadan

  • Public commitment toward heeding virus prevention measures ‘almost non-existent in most regions of Iraq’
  • Iraq began administering vaccines in late March, but rollout has been slow owing to low demand

Iraqi authorities on Friday locked down entire neighborhoods in Baghdad and said it would shut down shops employing people who have not been vaccinated, as it grapples with its highest coronavirus caseload yet.
Ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins next week and is normally accompanied by family gatherings and mass prayers, concrete barriers have been placed across the capital.
An 8 p.m. curfew has been in place for several weeks, alongside a 24-hour curfew on the two weekend days of Friday and Saturday, and the measures will remain in place during Ramadan.
But since February 2020, masks and other protective measures have been largely shunned by citizens, while people have flouted curfews to gather in large numbers, including for pilgrimages.

BACKGROUND

The number of cases detected daily has hit new highs, peaking at up to 8,500, compared to 6,500 two weeks ago.

The concrete barriers were put in place at the request of the anti-coronavirus governmental committee, after a sudden rise in COVID-19 cases.
The number of cases detected daily has hit new highs for several consecutive days lately, peaking at up to 8,500, compared to 6,500 two weeks ago.
Iraq has long grappled with medicine and hospital shortages, undermining care for those who fall seriously ill with the disease.
The country of 40 million inhabitants has received nearly 400,000 vaccine doses so far, mainly through the Covax program, which is supporting lower and middle income nations to procure vaccines.
But many Iraqis are opposed to vaccination. The Health Ministry announced on Friday that it would “close commercial centers, shops, restaurants and private medical centers where employees have not been vaccinated.” It also called on travel agencies to avoid “selling plane tickets to anyone who does not have proof of vaccination.”