How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?

How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?
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Updated 23 March 2021

How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?

How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?
  • Tuesday’s general election does not guarantee a more decisive result than the three before it
  • The intrinsic instability of Israel’s political system creates nervous anticipation across the Arab region

LONDON: It is not only Israelis who are becoming accustomed to their endless rounds of elections — this week’s being the fourth in two years. The whole region is being forced to consider the impact on Israel’s policies toward its neighbors, especially toward the Palestinians.

The intrinsic instability of the Israeli political system means that whenever an election takes place, it creates anxious anticipation across the Middle East and North Africa, a nervousness arising from the vacillations in Israel’s policies that in turn derive from both the need to lure voters and the constraints of the constant, excruciating and never-ending formations and dissolutions of coalitions.

Tuesday’s general election does not guarantee a more decisive result than the three before it.

In the meantime, the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is conducting both his domestic and international policies not necessarily to serve the interests of the country and its people, but first and foremost to prolong his time in office, and at this stage mainly to escape justice in his corruption trial on three cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

For both the Israeli electorate and for the international community, in the more than four years since the investigation into Netanyahu’s corrupt and hedonist behavior began, it has become almost impossible to discern which of the Israeli government’s policies stem from a genuine strategic outlook and which are merely to serve Netanyahu’s attempt to derail his trial and avert conviction.

Yet, scanning the various possible post-election scenarios, as far as Israel’s policies in the region are concerned, one cannot foresee dramatic changes, whether Netanyahu stays or quits.


* Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud 

* Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid 

* Naftali Bennett, Yamina 

* Gideon Saar, New Hope 

* Ayman Odeh, Joint List 

* Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beytenu 

The great danger is that if Netanyahu remains in office, the trend of decisions taken to divert the course of justice will continue, and this might lead to adventurism and pandering to his right-wing base.

If his time in politics comes to an end after Tuesday’s election, Israel is likely to end up with some species of right-wing government, one which might include more centrist elements, but not necessarily.

Of the three other likely candidates for the prime ministerial role, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, Naftali Bennet of Yamina and Gideon Saar of New Hope, it is only Lapid who might offer a less hawkish foreign policy and one more accommodating towards the Palestinians.

However, considering the other members of what would inevitably be a coalition government, his room to maneuver would be very limited, and even more so if a post-Netanyahu Likud were to be part of that coalition.

Hence, any changes if they take place might be more nuanced in all regards.

Protesters gather during an anti-government demonstration near the Israeli prime minister's residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2021, ahead of the election taking place on March 23. (AFP)

An external observer of Israeli politics might expect the Palestinian issue to be high on the public agenda, if not top of it at election time; however, this is not the case.

The issue has been marginalized in inverse correlation to its importance to Israeli society and is confined to small parties either on the left or those of the Joint Arab List. None of the major parties are prepared to offer an alternative discourse, or to call out the dire conditions under which the Palestinians are forced to live in the West Bank and Gaza.

No party is ready to confront the practical, let alone the moral, implications of the continuous occupation of the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza, which is also a form of occupation.

The conventional wisdom, or rather the collective denial, is that there is no partner for peace on the Palestinian side, and as things stand there is no sense of urgency to enter into genuine peace negotiations, based on a two-state solution and a fair and just resolution of all outstanding issues, including the status of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jerusalem.

Judging by the polls and consequently the different scenarios of a future coalition government, it is possible that those who call for the annexation of large swaths of land in the West Bank — a threat that was halted last summer by the Abraham Accords — might be extremely influential in the next government.

Such elements might push to expand the Jewish settlements, legalize dozens of outposts in the West Bank that even in the eyes of the Israeli government are illegal, confiscate more Palestinian land and generally make the lives of Palestinians as uncomfortable as possible.

An Israeli soldier casts his early vote for the country's upcoming legislative elections, at the Golani military base in Kafr Qara near Haifa, on March 17, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Depending on the composition of the Knesset, there could emerge a more pragmatic government, but one that still would be under pressure to at least maintain the sorry status quo.

A major issue that will be high on the next government’s agenda is Iran, and closely related to it, relations with Syria and Lebanon. For Israel, especially under Netanyahu, the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Tehran was from its outset like a red rag to a bull. It opposed it, never believed that Tehran would adhere to its terms, and saw it at best as delaying rather than preventing Iran’s development of nuclear military capability.

There is a wide consensus in Israel that Iran is posing, if not an existential threat to Israel, then at least a very severe one. The corollary of that is a proactive Israeli approach, whether diplomatically or through covert and overt operations in Iran, Syria and other parts of the world where Tehran operates against Israeli targets.

There might be a more nuanced approach in a government not led by Netanyahu, one that would avoid confrontation with the Biden administration if it is determined to re-join the JCPOA, as long as it offers a more stringent inspections regime and constraints on Iran’s development of long-range missiles.

In this context, any incoming Israeli government will be concerned with the consolidation of Iran’s military presence in Syria and air raids on Iranian targets there will continue, along with attacks on arms convoys bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

A picture taken on March 21, 2021, shows the installation "Speak Out!", consisting of 90 sculpted heads by artist Sophie Halbreich aimed to encourage people to vote, at Habima Square in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. (AFP)

The military build-up of the latter on Israel’s northern border, which includes an enormous arsenal of precision-guided missiles, is a threat that Israel’s strategists take very seriously.

As with Iran’s nuclear program, deterrence, quiet diplomacy and limited operations will remain Israel’s policy of choice. However, should Hezbollah cross a certain threshold, open hostilities remain a real possibility.

Lastly, one of Netanyahu’s rare achievements in recent years has been the normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, adding to the existing informal cooperation with Saudi Arabia, and the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

Maintaining this state of affairs and building on it will be the task of the next government. However, as long as the Palestinian conflict lingers on with no sign of a satisfactory solution, it could always become a spoiler in these regional relations, as we have seen recently with the growing tension between Israel and Jordan.

It is safe to say that in the wake of this week’s Israeli election, we will see more continuity than change as far as the region is concerned, but the composition of the next coalition and the main forces in it may still usher in some changes — for better or worse.


 * Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. Twitter: @YMekelberg

Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib

Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib
Fighters loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government man a position near the frontline facing Iran-backed Huthi rebels in the country's northeastern province of Marib, on June 19, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 25 min 30 sec ago

Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib

Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib
  • Austrian FM: Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia are unacceptable

ALEXANDRIA: Dozens of rebel fighters and Yemeni Government soldiers have been killed during the last 24 hours in fierce fighting outside the central city of Marib as army commanders and officials vowed to defeat the Houthis, local military sources and official media said on Tuesday.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia on Monday night mounted a fresh assault on the internationally recognized government’s forces in Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara areas, west of Marib, triggering heavy clashes that continued until Tuesday afternoon and claimed the lives of dozens of combatants.

The Ministry of Defense said that dozens of Houthis were killed in the fighting and that they lost a significant amount of military equipment.

Meanwhile, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg on Tuesday condemned the relentless Houthi attacks on civilians in Saudi Arabia, describing them as “unacceptable.”

At a press conference with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Schallenberg said Vienna supports developments taking place across Saudi Arabia in several areas.

Prince Faisal said the Houthi militia has regularly rejected initiatives for a complete cease-fire, and always resorted to escalate the situation.

He said Saudi Arabia and Austria share a “similar vision” regarding the region’s stability.

Yemeni state media did not discuss the army’s casualties from the recent clashes, but government supporters on social media have mourned the death of several soldiers and tribesmen.

Fighter jets from the Arab coalition carried out dozens of sorties in Marib and Sanaa, targeting Houthi military reinforcements heading to the battlefields in Marib, killing at least 20 rebels and destroying several military vehicles.

State media on Tuesday broadcast videos showing government forces exchanging mortar and heavy machine gun fire with the Houthis as a large convoy of vehicles rushed to reinforce government troops.

Bodies of dead Houthis were also seen scattered on the battlefield.

Yemeni Army commanders and government officials said that massive military support, logistics and air cover from the Arab coalition have shored up Yemeni government forces and helped thwart relentless Houthi assaults on Marib.

Lt. Col. Rashad Al-Mekhlafi, a military official at the Yemeni Army’s Moral Guidance Department, told Arab News that military operations and airstrikes in Marib have greatly worn down the Houthis, with the rebels losing thousands of fighters, including many senior commanders.

“The Houthi militia has been largely depleted. The Arab coalition warplanes played a vital role in striking its reinforcements and weapons depots and destroying its equipment,” Al-Mekhlafi said.

To seize control of Marib’s oil and gas fields and power stations, the Houthis resumed a major military offensive in February.

The effort has forced thousands of Yemenis to flee their homes amid warnings from local and international aid organizations that the Houthi invasion of Marib would aggravate the humanitarian crisis and trigger a large displacement, with the city hosting thousands of internally displaced people.

The government and military commanders have vowed to push ahead with military operations in Marib until the Houthis are defeated and justice is brought to rebel leaders who ordered attacks on civilians across Yemen.

Yemen’s official news agency reported on Monday that Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed telephoned senior military commanders in Marib to renew the government’s support to troops and allied tribesmen in their “decisive” battle against the Houthis, vowing to punish the Iran-backed force for disrupting peace efforts to end the war and killing and abducting Yemenis.

The Yemeni Army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Sagheer bin Aziz, also said that its troops and tribesmen have high combat skills and morale.

He said they follow military plans and that “the force of arms” alone would put an end to the Houthi militia’s takeover of power.

“They would destroy the capabilities of the Iranian Houthi terrorist militia and force them to surrender by force of arms, as that is the only way to restore the state and end the suffering of our people,” Bin Aziz tweeted.


Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage
Updated 51 min 56 sec ago

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage
  • Family were preparing for journey to Beirut airport to meet father as he returned from working abroad
  • Lebanon facing vast queues for petrol amid fuel shortage and economic crisis

BEIRUT: A Lebanese mother and her four daughters were killed when their car was hit by a military vehicle as they searched for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage.

The family were preparing to travel from southern Lebanon to Beirut airport this week to pick up the daughters’ father, who was expected to fly home from working abroad.

Fatima Koubeissi, her twins Tia and Lia, 4, and her two other daughters Aya, 13, and Zahra, 17, were killed when the military vehicle hit their car from behind on Monday night. Another relative, Hussein Zein, 22, who was driving their car, died on Tuesday from his injuries.

The sisters had not seen their father, Imad Hawile, since he went looking for a job in Liberia five months ago, their uncle Qassim Hawile told Arab News.

Amid a worsening economic crisis, Lebanon is suffering massive fuel shortages with long queues outside petrol stations leading to traffic jams on nearby roads.

Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces [ISF] traffic control section reported a number of recent accidents caused by petrol queues.

The family from Al-Sharqeyye village went searching for petrol on Monday afternoon to prepare for the journey to the airport on Wednesday.

“We have not been able to find petrol across the south,” Qassim said.

ISF’s traffic control said the accident involved five cars and took place on the Jeyye-Saida highway.

A cousin of Fatima told Arab News that the accident happened because of a “vehicle that came in the opposite direction of the road wanting to bypass a queue outside a petrol station.
“They (the mother and four daughters) died on the spot,” he said.

Qassim said his brother contracted malaria during his first month in Liberia and then a second time “so he decided to return for better medication.”

“We did not want my brother to know that his family died in the crash but he saw the news and images on Facebook,” said Qassim.

He said the funeral was expected to take place on Thursday.

The accident happened when their driver saw two BMWs rammed into each other so he stopped but the military vehicle came and hit them from the back, sending it into a pick-up truck, Qassim said.
Civil Defense and Red Cross teams attended the scene and moved the injured and the dead to nearby hospitals.

Petrol stations have been constantly low on subsidized petrol for weeks, but shortages worsened in June as people’s fears of rationing and shortages intensified, leading to a large number of petrol stations closing down.

A number of fistfights, heated arguments and shootings have taken place between irritated drivers.
Last week, three people were injured in an accident outside a petrol station where cars were queueing on the highway connecting Beirut to southern.

Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam

Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam
Updated 5 min 44 sec ago

Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam

Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam
  • Sudan requests UNSC to discuss GERD and ‘its impact on the safety and security of millions of people’
  • Foreign minister is urging Ethiopia to stop the unilateral filling of the dam

KHARTOUM: Sudan asked the UN Security Council on Tuesday to meet and discuss a dispute over a giant dam being built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile, a government statement said.
Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), while the two downstream countries — Egypt and Sudan — are concerned about it and seeking a binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.
Egypt relies on the Nile River for as much as 90 percent of its fresh water and sees the dam as an existential threat. Sudan is concerned about the operation of its own Nile dams and water stations.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mariam Sadiq Al-Mahdi called on the Security Council to hold a session as soon as possible to discuss GERD and “its impact on the safety and security of millions of people,” the government statement said.
In a letter to the council head, she called on him to urge Ethiopia to stop the “unilateral” filling of the dam “which exacerbates the dispute and poses a threat to regional and international peace and security,” the statement added.
Ethiopian officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Sudan and Egypt had already agreed this month to work together on all levels to push Ethiopia to negotiate “seriously” on an agreement, after African Union-sponsored talks remained deadlocked. The two countries called on the international community to intervene.
Earlier this month, Arab states called on the Security Council to discuss the dispute and Ethiopia’s plans to go ahead with the second filling of the dam this summer even without an agreement with Sudan and Egypt.
Ethiopia rejected the Arab League resolution in its entirety, its Foreign Ministry said.
The country previously rejected calls from Egypt and Sudan to involve mediators outside the African Union.
Sudan said earlier in June that it was open to a partial interim agreement on the multibillion-dollar dam, with specific conditions.

Italy is a ‘strategic partner,’ says interim Libyan leader

Italy is a ‘strategic partner,’ says interim Libyan leader
Updated 22 June 2021

Italy is a ‘strategic partner,’ says interim Libyan leader

Italy is a ‘strategic partner,’ says interim Libyan leader
  • During meeting with Italian PM Mario Draghi in Rome, Mohamed Younes Menfi stresses ‘importance of partnership and cooperation’
  • The head of the Libyan Presidential Council visited Italy on the eve of the second Berlin Conference on Libya

ROME: The chairman of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohamed Younes Menfi, considers Italy “a strategic partner for Libya.” During a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in Rome on Tuesday he also stressed “the importance of partnership and cooperation” with the European nation, according to Italian sources.

Menfi also had a lengthy meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella. His visit to the Italian capital, his first official trip to another country since he was appointed in March, came on the eve of the second Berlin Conference on Libya.

German diplomatic sources told Arab News that the main points of final declaration by the conference about the continuing political process should include a call for the immediate withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from Libya, and strong encouragement to Libyan authorities to play their part in ensuring that democratic elections take place in the country by Dec. 24 as scheduled.

According to a press release issued by the Libyan Presidential Council following Menfi’s meeting with Draghi, the Italian prime minister “reaffirmed his country’s support for the political transition in Libya and to the work of the Presidential Council,” and praised the results achieved so far.

Italian sources said that an agreement was reached for greater coordination in matters related to security and to the prevention of illegal immigration from Libya, and Italy has offered to provide further support to help secure Libya’s borders.

The Italian Coast Guard has said that Libya is the main point of departure in North Africa for migrants attempting to reach Italy on often fragile vessels.

UK urged to stand with Iranian people, reject new president

UK urged to stand with Iranian people, reject new president
Updated 22 June 2021

UK urged to stand with Iranian people, reject new president

UK urged to stand with Iranian people, reject new president
  • British Committee for Iran Freedom: ‘Elections in Iran neither free, fair nor representative’
  • Conservative MP urges UK govt to hold Tehran ‘to account for its support of terrorism, systematic human rights abuses’

LONDON: The British Committee for Iran Freedom (BCFIF) on Tuesday urged the UK government to reject newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and campaign for him to face justice for human rights abuses. 

Raisi won the presidential election on June 18, but the BCFIF said in a statement: “Elections in Iran are neither free, fair nor representative. It reflects the will of the unelected Supreme Leader and serves as a process to further strengthen the theocracy’s grip on power to the detriment of the Iranian people.”

It added: “This was made clear again on June 18 as the Iranian people rejected the theocracy in its entirety with a widespread national boycott of the presidential election farce.”

The BCFIF said Raisi “had an extensive role in the regime’s current and past crimes against humanity, including the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners and PMOI (People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran) members and supporters in Iran as well as the killing of 1,500 protesters and torture of thousands of arrested protesters during and after the nationwide protests in November 2019.”

In the week after Raisi’s election victory, Sir David Amess, a Conservative MP and co-chairman of the BCFIF, said: “The people of Iran answered the call by the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) Mrs Maryam Rajavi and completely boycotted the election farce in Iran.” 

He added that the BCFIF supports Rajavi’s call “for Raisi to be investigated and face justice in an international tribunal. This issue must be a priority for the UK Government during the 47th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

Andrew Rosindell, a Conservative MP and member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: “With Raisi as president, the regime is signalling that it will continue its repression, persecution of popular dissent and export of terrorism.”

He added: “It is time for our government to follow the recommendations in our report which includes proscribing the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) in its entirety and taking steps to end the impunity of Iranian officials by holding the regime to account for its support of terrorism and systematic human rights abuses.”