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Israel’s election threatens extra of a lifeless finish

Here is today’s foreign policy mandate: Israel goes to the polls, western nations impose sanctions against Xinjiang White House official and envoy Roberta Jacobson goes to Mexico.

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Israel hopes for a decisive result

The Israelis are voting today in an unprecedented fourth election in two years as Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to extend his record as the country’s longest-serving prime minister.

A deeply divided electorate stands in his way. Polls show a close connection between a pro-Netanyahu bloc of religious and right-wing parties and a less ideologically coherent anti-Netanyahu bloc that includes its right-wing rivals.

Neither grouping appears poised to hit the 61-seat threshold required to win a government majority, which means today’s results are likely due to even tighter profit margins: whether the smaller parties voting for one of the Crucial to both coalitions is to exceed the 3.25 percent threshold required to fill the seats in the Knesset.

The status of Israel as the fastest vaccine dealer in the world and the associated gradual economic reopening have brought Netanyahu few new admirers. Around 20,000 people gathered near the Prime Minister’s official residence on Saturday to protest his rule, one of the largest demonstrations in the past year.

What has changed since the last time? Benny Gantz’s centrist blue and white alliance is a pale shadow of his former self. Due to its dissolution, only four seats are likely to be won. Gantz’s loss is likely to be Likud defector Gideon Saar’s gain, as the former minister’s New Hope party will get around 10 seats in their first election.

Israeli Arab parties that were previously united under the Common List are also fragmented, with the United Arab List running alone. Its leader, Mansour Abbas, has been shy about which bloc he will support, although his party has to hit the 3.25 percent threshold first.

Democratic fatigue. Given that it is likely to come to a standstill, the Israeli public could be forgiven for something wrong. A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that only 37 percent of Israelis were optimistic about the future of democratic governance. This represents a decrease of 17 points since Israel first opened a carousel for elections in April 2019. IDI President Yohanan Plesner wrote for foreign policy between the April and September 2019 elections, proposing two simple electoral reforms to end the impasse.

What we are following today

The Saudi minister floats the ceasefire in Yemen. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Monday offered to lift a blockade of Houthi-held ports and airports in Yemen and resume political negotiations if the group agrees to a ceasefire. Yemen’s internationally recognized government has welcomed the Saudi proposal, although the Houthis appeared skeptical. “The ideas put forward have been debated for more than a year and there is nothing new,” said Muhammad Abdussalam, a Houthi spokesman, on a Houthi-affiliated television station in Yemen.

Massacre in Niger. The Nigerian government issued a revised death toll on Monday from fatal raids on three villages in the southwest of the country. At least 137 people were killed in the raids, the government said, while previous reports from local officials put the death toll at at least 60.

The attacks are the latest challenge to newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum’s pledge to tackle insecurity in the country after ordering military reinforcements for the Tillaberi region following a March 15 massacre. The entire Sahel has suffered badly from the ongoing violence to displace 2 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Xinjiang sanctions. The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada on Monday imposed coordinated sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The moves were against high-ranking Xinjiang officials, including Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, and Wang Junzheng, the former Xinjiang Party’s deputy secretary.

Beijing responded with its own sanctions against a group of European lawmakers, including Reinhard Butikofer, chairman of the European Parliament delegation in China. Beijing also imposed sanctions on Adrian Zenz, a German researcher who wrote foreign policy about sterilization plans in Xinjiang last July.

White House envoy to Mexico. Roberta Jacobson, the White House coordinator for the US-Mexico border, will meet with Mexican officials today as the Biden administration seeks the support of their neighbor in dealing with the increasing numbers of migrants attempting to enter the US .

Jacobson will also travel to Guatemala to meet with local officials to “address the root causes of migration in the region and build a more hopeful future in the region,” a White House spokesman said. A recent analysis by the Pew Research Center found that Mexican migrants made up 42 percent of those detained by U.S. customs agents in February, while those from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras made up 46 percent.

Keep an eye out

WHO chief criticizes the introduction of vaccines. The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Monday classified the state of global vaccine distribution as “grotesque” and criticized the rich countries for entering into bilateral contracts with vaccine manufacturers instead of participating in the global COVAX initiative.

Tedros praised South Korea for waiting for vaccines through COVAX even though it had the resources to go direct to manufacturers. Tedros also praised the highly competitive AstraZeneca as the “only company committed not to benefit from its COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic,” noting that it was the only vaccine developer to license its technology to other companies.

Rohingya settlement fires. At least 20,000 Rohingya refugees in a camp in Bangladesh had to flee after a fire spread in makeshift houses. The third fire the camps saw in four days. It is believed that at least five people, including three children, died in the flame. The causes of the fires are not yet known. Saad Hammadi, a South Asia activist with Amnesty International, said the frequency of the fires was “too random, especially when the results of previous investigations into the incidents are unknown and repeat themselves”.

The Netherlands is still under strict coronavirus lockdown, but that didn’t result in 1,500 people gathering in the town of Biddinghuizen for a music festival on Saturday – all with no social distancing protocols or masks in sight.

The Back to Live festival is an brainchild of the Dutch government and the country’s events sector as authorities look for answers on what the country’s future might look like after the coronavirus. As part of the precautionary measures taken by the organizers, festival-goers had to submit a negative coronavirus test 48 hours beforehand and submit another test five days later.

The Saturday meeting was the seventh test event and the results so far have been positive. “Of the more than 6,000 people who have participated in these events so far, we have only found five who may have been infected during or around the time of the events,” Andreas Voss, member of the Dutch research team, told Deutsche Welle.

That’s it for today.

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Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

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