Knesset approves new coalition, ending Netanyahu’s long rule

Knesset approves new coalition, ending Netanyahu’s long rule
Israeli demonstrators gather near a screen showing a projection of the faces of the heads of a new coalition government. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 13 June 2021

Knesset approves new coalition, ending Netanyahu’s long rule

Knesset approves new coalition, ending Netanyahu’s long rule
  • Sunday’s vote, passed by a 60-59 margin, ended a two-year cycle of political paralysis
  • Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, remains the head of the largest party in parliament

JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament approved a new coalition government on Sunday that sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into the opposition after a record 12 years in office and a political crisis that sparked four elections in two years.
Naftali Bennett, the head of a small ultranationalist party, was sworn in as prime minister after a narrow 60-59 vote in parliament. But if he wants to keep the job, he will have to maintain an unwieldy coalition of parties from the political right, left and center.
The eight parties, including a small Arab faction that is making history by sitting in the ruling coalition, are united in their opposition to Netanyahu and new elections but agree on little else. They are likely to pursue a modest agenda that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the US without launching any major initiatives.
Netanyahu sat silently during the vote. After it was approved, he stood up to leave the chamber, before turning around and shaking Bennett’s hand. A dejected Netanyahu, wearing a black medical mask, briefly sat in the opposition leader’s chair before walking out.
Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, remains the head of the largest party in parliament and is expected to vigorously oppose the new government. If just one faction bolts, it could lose its majority and would be at risk of collapse, giving him an opening to return to power.
The country’s deep divisions were on vivid display as Bennett addressed parliament ahead of the vote. He was repeatedly interrupted and loudly heckled by supporters of Netanyahu, several of whom were escorted out of the chamber.
Bennett’s speech mostly dwelled on domestic issues, but he expressed opposition to US efforts to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
“Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” Bennett said, vowing to maintain Netanyahu’s confrontational policy. “Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action.”
Bennett nevertheless thanked President Joe Biden and the US for its decades of support for Israel.
Netanyahu, speaking after him, vowed to return to power. He predicted the incoming government would be weak on Iran and give in to US demands to make concessions to the Palestinians.
“If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country in our way,” he said.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said the new government will likely be more stable than it appears.
“Even though it has a very narrow majority, it will be very difficult to topple and replace because the opposition is not cohesive,” he said. Each party in the coalition will want to prove that it can deliver, and for that they need “time and achievements.”
Still, Netanyahu “will continue to cast a shadow,” Plesner said. He expects the incoming opposition leader to exploit events and propose legislation that right-wing coalition members would like to support but can’t — all in order to embarrass and undermine them.
The new government is meanwhile promising a return to normalcy after a tumultuous two years that saw four elections, an 11-day Gaza war last month and a coronavirus outbreak that devastated the economy before it was largely brought under control by a successful vaccination campaign.
The driving force behind the coalition is Yair Lapid, a political centrist who will become prime minister in two years, if the government lasts that long.
He called off a planned speech to parliament, instead saying he was ashamed that his 86-year-old mother had to witness the raucous behavior of his opponents. In a brief speech, he asked for “forgiveness from my mother.”
“I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it’s time to replace you,” he said.
The new government is expected to win a narrow majority in the 120-member assembly, after which it will be sworn in. The government plans to hold its first official meeting later this evening.
It’s unclear when Netanyahu will move out of the official residence. He has lashed out at the new government in apocalyptic terms and accused Bennett of defrauding voters by running as a right-wing stalwart and then partnering with the left.
Netanyahu’s supporters have held angry protests outside the homes of rival lawmakers, who say they have received death threats naming their family members. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service issued a rare public warning about the incitement earlier this month, saying it could lead to violence.
Netanyahu has condemned the incitement while noting that he has also been a target.
His place in Israeli history is secure, having served as prime minister for a total of 15 years — more than any other, including the country’s founder, David Ben-Gurion.
Netanyahu began his long rule by defying the Obama administration, refusing to freeze settlement construction as it tried unsuccessfully to revive the peace process. Relations with Israel’s closest ally grew even rockier when Netanyahu vigorously campaigned against President Barack Obama’s emerging nuclear deal with Iran, even denouncing it in an address to the US Congress.
But he suffered few if any consequences from those clashes and was richly rewarded by the Trump administration, which recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, helped broker normalization agreements with four Arab states and withdrew the US from the Iran deal.
Netanyahu has portrayed himself as a world-class statesman, boasting of his close ties with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has also cultivated ties with Arab and African countries that long shunned Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.
But he has gotten a far chillier reception from the Biden administration and is widely seen as having undermined the long tradition of bipartisan support for Israel in the United States.
His reputation as a political magician has also faded at home, where he has become a deeply polarizing figure. Critics say he has long pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy that aggravated rifts in Israeli society between Jews and Arabs and between his close ultra-Orthodox allies and secular Jews.
In November 2019, he was indicted for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. He refused calls to step down, instead lashing out at the media, judiciary and law enforcement, going so far as to accuse his political opponents of orchestrating an attempted coup. Last year, protesters began holding weekly rallies across the country calling on him to resign.
Netanyahu remains popular among the hard-line nationalists who dominate Israeli politics, but he could soon face a leadership challenge from within his own party. A less polarizing Likud leader would stand a good chance of assembling a coalition that is both farther to the right and more stable than the government that is set to be sworn in.


France starts supply bridge to help Tunisia cope with virus

Tunisia's President Kais Saied speaks with reporters in the capital Tunis on July 23, 2021, during a ceremony to receive French aid to combat COVID-19 in the presence of France's minister (unseen). (AFP)
Tunisia's President Kais Saied speaks with reporters in the capital Tunis on July 23, 2021, during a ceremony to receive French aid to combat COVID-19 in the presence of France's minister (unseen). (AFP)
Updated 43 min 18 sec ago

France starts supply bridge to help Tunisia cope with virus

Tunisia's President Kais Saied speaks with reporters in the capital Tunis on July 23, 2021, during a ceremony to receive French aid to combat COVID-19 in the presence of France's minister (unseen). (AFP)
  • Tunisia has reported more deaths per capita in the pandemic than any African country and among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks

PARIS: France has established a “maritime bridge” to provide COVID-19 vaccines and medical oxygen to Tunisia, which is in the midst of one of Africa’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.
In the past five days, France has flown 1.1 million vaccine doses to the North African country, French Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne told France-Info radio.
The French navy shipped three huge containers of badly needed oxygen on Thursday, the minister tweeted.
Of the vaccines, 800,000 doses came from French stocks, but Paris is also using the COVAX mechanism, the UN-backed program to provide shots to poorer countries, Lemoyne said.
He did not specify which type of vaccines were sent.
The sea shipments are expected to continue until mid-August, bringing in equipment, masks and other needed material to help Tunisia cope with a sharp rise in infections and hospitalizations.
Other countries in Europe and elsewhere are pitching in to help Tunisia pull out of its health crisis.

FASTFACT

The French navy shipped three huge containers of badly needed oxygen on Thursday, Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne tweeted.

Tunisia has reported more deaths per capita in the pandemic than any African country and among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks.
The country, which has a population of less than 12 million, has recorded more than 18,000 virus-related deaths in all, according to the Health Ministry.
Tunisian President Kais Saied ordered the military on Wednesday to take over management of the national response to the pandemic.
Last week, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi ordered governors of nine regions to requisition private hospitals for COVID-19 patients when public hospitals run out of oxygen, the TAP news agency reported. Tunisian hospitals have faced acute shortages of oxygen, staff and intensive care beds, and less than a tenth of the population are fully vaccinated.
In Tunisia’s Mediterranean resort of Sousse, exhausted medics struggle to stem surging coronavirus deaths, desperately monitoring oxygen supplies beside patients’ beds, while on the beach tourists relax in the sun.
“When you are told, ‘in three hours, there is no more oxygen’, it is stressful,” said Khaled Ben Jazia, head of intensive care at the hospital in Sousse, southeast of the capital Tunis.
“Two days ago, there was only an hour of oxygen left. Can you imagine the disaster if we ran out? I’ve never been so stressed ... we were all with bottles at the bedside of patients just in case.”
At the hospital, medics waited anxiously for the truck fetching fresh oxygen bottles to return.
“When we heard the siren of the escort accompanying the truck, it was such a relief,” Ben Jazia said.
After more than a year of intense work coping with the pandemic, medical staff are worn out.
On Wednesday, the prime minister’s announcement that hospital staff would not be able to take any leave sparked anger.
“We are holding up, but the situation is precarious, given the lack of human resources and logistical support,” said Zied Mezgar, head of the emergency department in Sousse hospital.
“The disaster will not come from the influx of patients, but from the exhaustion of caregivers.”
Despite the crisis, the country remains open to visitors and there is no quarantine for people — vaccinated or not — arriving with tour operators.
At the Bellevue Park hotel in Sousse, life at the Mediterranean resort seems to be going on almost as normal.
“I had my two jabs,” said Doris Brecking, a 71-year-old German tourist tanning by the pool.
“In the hospital, there are sick people, but here at the hotel, everything is fine with the health rules ... I am not afraid.”
France, where many tourists come from, has placed Tunisia on its travel “red list,” but allows people who have been double vaccinated to go there.
“The urge to come back here was too strong,” said French tourist Stephanie Wilmert, a beautician from Luxembourg.
She has been vaccinated, but said she was still cautious.
“We sometimes say, ‘it’s good, it’s over’, but no, it’s not over at all.”
Away from the crisis of the pandemic, Tunisia is trying to support the crisis in tourism, a economic pillar making up around a tenth of GDP.
“We must adapt,” said Nizar Marghli, director of the Bellevue Park hotel, where turnover has been slashed by a third.


Iran is ‘water bankrupt’, says former regime environment official

Iran is ‘water bankrupt’, says former regime environment official
Updated 57 min 8 sec ago

Iran is ‘water bankrupt’, says former regime environment official

Iran is ‘water bankrupt’, says former regime environment official
  • Mismanagement is to blame and much of the damage is irreversible, according to exiled minister Kaveh Madani
  • Days of protests over water shortages have rapidly evolved into anti-regime demonstrations across the country

LONDON: Iran is “water bankrupt” due to years of mismanagement by the regime, according to an exiled member of Tehran’s environmental ministry. The result is the severe water shortages that have triggered days of unrest and violence.

Scientist Kaveh Madani, Iran’s former deputy environment minister, told The Times newspaper that all sources of water are running dry, including rivers, reservoirs and groundwater.

The collapse of these essential systems even prompted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to admit that the protesters might have a point. “We cannot really blame the people,” he said of the thousands of Iranians who have taken to the streets in Khuzestan Province in recent days to protest against the shortage of clean drinking water. At least eight protesters have been killed in the regime’s crackdown on the demonstrations. It has been reported that a police officer was also killed.

According to Madani, who now lives in the US, the crisis is of the regime’s own making.

“The system is water bankrupt when consumption is more than renewable water availability,” he said, adding that years of regime mismanagement is to blame.

In particular, he said, the availability of cheap fuel has proved to be more of a curse than a blessing in its effect on the water industry. With the cost of energy so low, cheap electricity has been used to pump huge amounts of groundwater to help expand the country’s agriculture sector.

Iranian citizens burn tires and wood to block roads as they protest against water shortages in the southwestern province of Khuzestan on July 17, 2021. (Screengrab from video shared on social media)

This has had a devastating effect on water reserves. Groundwater levels are now so low they are having an effect observable from space: NASA has said the loss of the weight of so much water has affected the region’s gravitational field.

In addition, since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Islamic Republic has built about 600 dams across the country, mainly to provide hydroelectricity for the country’s 80 million or so inhabitants. This energy comes with a hidden cost. Experts told The Times that reservoirs in hot and arid parts of Iran lose so much water to evaporation — about 2 billion cubic meters a month — they are a significant part of the problem.

Combined with what has been the driest year in half a century, these factors have caused “irreversible” damage to Iran’s water infrastructure, according to Madani.

“Iran cannot fully restore its wetlands, aquifers and rivers in a short period of time,” he said. “So, it has to admit to water bankruptcy and stop denying that many of the damages have become irreversible.”

Madani was an academic at Imperial College London when he was recruited in 2017 to be the deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment. His appointment offended hard-line elements within the regime, however, and he was detained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, accused of spying, and eventually forced to leave the country.


Morocco’s navy rescues 368 migrants bound for Spain

Morocco’s navy rescues 368 migrants bound for Spain
Updated 23 July 2021

Morocco’s navy rescues 368 migrants bound for Spain

Morocco’s navy rescues 368 migrants bound for Spain
  • Migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were rescued between Tuesday and Friday
  • 2,087 migrants died trying to reach Spain by sea during 2021’s first six months

RABAT: The Moroccan navy this week rescued 368 migrants including three children as they were trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Spain, the official MAP news agency said Friday.
It said the migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were rescued between Tuesday and Friday when their makeshift boats, including rubber dinghies and kayaks, ran into difficulty.
Last week Morocco’s navy reportedly rescued 344 migrants in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
Migrants in the North African country often try to reach the Spanish mainland via the Mediterranean, while in the Atlantic Ocean they make for Spain’s Canary Islands.
A total of 2,087 migrants died trying to reach Spain by sea during the first six months of 2021, roughly the same number as during all of last year, a migrant rights group said earlier this month.
Spanish interior ministry figures show that between January 1 and June 30, a total of 12,622 migrants arrived in Spain by sea, almost twice as many as those who made the crossings last year.


Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics
Updated 23 July 2021

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics
  • The Israeli army said two soldiers were also "lightly injured" in the violence
  • Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Beita to protest against the nearby outpost of Eviatar

BEITA, Palestinian Territories: More than 140 Palestinians were hurt Friday in clashes with Israeli troops in the flashpoint West Bank village of Beita, medics said, during protests against an illegal Israeli settlement outpost.
The Israeli army said two soldiers were also “lightly injured” in the violence.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Beita, located in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to protest against the nearby outpost of Eviatar, an AFP correspondent said.
The area has seen regular demonstrations against settlement expansion on Palestinian land.
The Israeli army said that “over the last several hours, a riot was instigated in the area of Givat Eviatar outpost, south of Nablus.”
“Hundreds of Palestinians hurled rocks at IDF (army) troops, who responded with riot dispersal means,” it said in a statement, adding that the two “lightly injured” soldiers were taken to hospital.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 146 Palestinians were hurt during the clashes, including nine by live fire, 34 by rubber-coated bullets and 87 by tear gas.
Jewish settlers set up the Eviatar outpost in early May, building rudimentary concrete homes and shacks in a matter of weeks.
The construction came in defiance of both international and Israeli law, and sparked fierce protests from Palestinians who insisted it was being built on their land.
But following a deal struck with nationalist Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government, the settlers left the outpost on July 2, while the structures they had built were to remain under army guard.
Israel’s defense ministry said it would study the area to assess whether it could, under Israeli law, be declared state land.
Should that happen, Israel could then authorize a religious school to be built at Eviatar, with residences for its staff and students.
Around 475,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967.


Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM
Updated 23 July 2021

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM
  • The crown prince congratulated Bennett on assuming the position of Israeli PM
  • Bennett congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and wished him continued health and happiness

DUBAI: The crown prince of Abu Dhabi received a call from the prime minister of Israel on Friday during which they discussed cooperation between the two countries.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Naftali Bennett also discussed regional and international issues of common interest and efforts to achieve peace and prosperity regionally and internationally.
Bennett congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and wished him continued health and happiness, and the UAE and its people further progress and prosperity.
Sheikh Mohammed thanked the prime minister and expressed his hopes that peace and prosperity prevail for all of mankind.
The crown prince also congratulated Bennett on assuming the position of Israeli prime minister and expressed his aspiration that the UAE and Israel would work together toward peace, stability and development for the benefit of the region and the world.