Israel’s Netanyahu returns to power with extreme-right government

Update Israel’s Netanyahu returns to power with extreme-right government
1 / 2
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents the new government to parliament at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Dec. 29, 2022. (AFP)
Update Israel’s Netanyahu returns to power with extreme-right government
2 / 2
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present his new government to the Israeli parliament for a ratification vote. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 29 December 2022

Israel’s Netanyahu returns to power with extreme-right government

Israel’s Netanyahu returns to power with extreme-right government
  • Netanyahu heads a government comprised of a hard-line religious ultranationalist party
  • Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians

JERUSALEM: Israel’s hawkish veteran Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister Thursday after a stint in opposition, heading what analysts call the most right-wing government in the country’s history.
Netanyahu, 73, who is fighting corruption charges in court, had already served as premier longer than anyone in Israeli history, leading the country from 1996-1999 and 2009-2021.
“This is the sixth time I’m presenting a government that I’m heading to get parliament’s support, and I’m excited like the first time,” Netanyahu told the Knesset ahead of his swearing-in ceremony.
Parliament voted to approve his government and elected former minister Amir Ohana as the Knesset’s speaker, the first openly gay occupant of the post.
Netanyahu, who casts himself as the guarantor of his country’s security, stressed that his top goal would be “to thwart Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal” and “ensure Israel’s military superiority in the region.”
But he also voiced hopes of “expanding the circle of peace with Arab countries” following US-brokered normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
Former Israeli intelligence minister Eli Cohen, an architect of the normalization agreements, was named as foreign minister.
Netanyahu was ousted in June 2021 by a motley coalition of leftists, centrists and Arab parties headed by right-winger Naftali Bennett and former TV news anchor Yair Lapid. It didn’t take him long to come back.
Following his November 1 election win, Netanyahu entered into talks with ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right parties, among them Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism formation and Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party.
Both have a history of inflammatory remarks about Palestinians.
Smotrich will now take charge of Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank, and Ben-Gvir will be the national security minister with powers over the police, which also operates in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967.
Senior security officials have already voiced concern over the new government’s direction — as have Palestinians.
“It becomes for Netanyahu’s partners a dream government,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank.
“And one side’s dream is the other side’s nightmare. This government is expected to take the country on a completely new trajectory.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Washington would oppose settlement expansion as well as any bid to annex the West Bank.
But in a statement of policy priorities released Wednesday, Netanyahu’s Likud party said the government will pursue settlement expansion.
About 475,000 Jewish settlers — among them Smotrich and Ben-Gvir — live there in settlements considered illegal under international law.
Analysts said Netanyahu offered the extreme-right vast concessions in the hope he might obtain judicial immunity or cancelation of his corruption trial.
Smotrich and Ben-Gvir “have a very strong thirst for power,” and their priority remains the expansion of West Bank settlements, said Denis Charbit, professor of political science at Israel’s Open University.
The government is the result of “Netanyahu’s political weakness, linked to his age and his trial, and the fact that you have a new political family of the revolutionary right that we had never seen with this strength in Israel,” Charbit added.
Ben-Gvir has repeatedly visited Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam. It is also Judaism’s holiest, known as the Temple Mount.
Under a historical status quo, non-Muslims can visit the sanctuary but may not pray there. Palestinians would see a visit by a serving Israeli minister as a provocation.
“If Ben-Gvir as minister goes to Al-Aqsa, it will be a big red line and it will lead to an explosion,” said Basem Naim, a senior official with the Islamist movement Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip.
Israel and Hamas fought a war in May 202l. This year, other Gaza militants and Israel exchanged rocket and missile fire for three days in August.
In the West Bank, violence has surged this year and many are afraid of more unrest.
“I think that if the government acts in an irresponsible way, it could cause a security escalation,” outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Tuesday, expressing fear over the “extremist direction” of the incoming administration.

Erdogan appoints Hafize Gaye Erkan as governor of Turkiye’s central bank

Erdogan appoints Hafize Gaye Erkan as governor of Turkiye’s central bank
Updated 28 min 23 sec ago

Erdogan appoints Hafize Gaye Erkan as governor of Turkiye’s central bank

Erdogan appoints Hafize Gaye Erkan as governor of Turkiye’s central bank
  • Experts skeptical about whether appointment signals change of economic policy

ANKARA: As part of recently re-elected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempts to overhaul his economic team, the country’s central bank will be governed by a female executive for the first time.

US-based Hafize Gaye Erkan, 41, is Turkiye’s fifth central bank chief in four years, replacing Sahap Kavcioglu, who followed a policy of slashing interest rates despite rising inflation of around 40 percent. Kavcioglu has now been appointed head of the Banking Regulatory and Supervision Agency (BDDK).

Erdogan has always been opposed to interest rate hikes and has focused on economic growth, investment and exports.

Erkan was the first woman under the age of 40 to hold the title of president or CEO at one of America’s 100 largest banks. She has a doctorate in financial engineering from Princeton, and previously worked as First Republic’s co-chief executive officer. She abruptly resigned from that position in December 2021 before the bank was sold. She also worked at Goldman Sachs for almost a decade as a managing director, and was a director at Marsh McLennan. Last year, she was appointed CEO of the real estate finance and investment firm Greystone, a post she resigned in December.

Following her new appointment, there are now 23 female central bank governors around the world.

On Monday, Erkan reportedly met Turkiye’s newly appointed Treasury and Finance Minister, Mehmet Simsek, a former Merrill Lynch economist, in Ankara to discuss her new role.

Simsek told media on Wednesday that Turkiye would now return to economic “rationality” with a “credible program” to address the cost-of-living crisis. However, he also warned there would be “no shortcuts or quick fixes” and asked the public to be patient.

Brad W. Setser, senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, recently calculated that, apart from Turkey’s swap and deposit deals with foreign countries including Saudi Arabia, the central bank has only $30 billion in actual foreign reserves.

Economists believe that Erkan’s appointment may indicate that Turkiye will now follow orthodox economic policies, including interest rate hikes.

The new governor’s policy preferences are unclear, however, as she has previously worked only in the private sector. It also remains to be seen how much independence she will be granted, especially with local elections approaching. In March 2021, former central bank governor Naci Agbal was fired after just five months in the job after he decided to raise interest rates.

Erik Meyersson, chief emerging markets strategist at the European financial services group SEB, said the appointment of Erkan “provides valuable synergies” to Simsek’s attempts to shift policy.

“But, at the same time, the experience of Agbal — and the manner in which his efforts to push policy in a similar direction ended prematurely — does hang like a shadow over the current initiative,” he told Arab News. “The continued presence of Kavcioglu — a figurehead of the devastating policy mistakes of recent years — as head of the BDDK does not provide similar synergies and instead could be a sign of a limited commitment on behalf of Erdogan to the new policy direction.”

The retention of Kavcioglu, he added, “risks becoming an unwanted deadweight to what could otherwise have signaled fresh and significant policy momentum.”
According to Meyersson, one interpretation is that the old economic model that caused so much damage is “more dormant than dead” and is a reminder that “arbitrary rule implies arbitrary and often sudden changes.”

Meyersson believes that markets will likely look to test the extent of the new mandate from the presidential palace, and said that front-loaded rate hikes would be a good start.

“The gap between the policy rate and current inflation is minus 30 percent, and given the low credibility ascribed to the central bank, the real policy rate should increase toward positive territory soon. But that amount of policy tightening is unlikely to have been approved by President Erdogan, setting up Turkish financial markets for further volatility during the year,” he said.

The central bank’s monetary policy committee will have its first meeting under the new governor on June 22, and an increase in interest rates is expected.

Ehsan Khoman, head of emerging markets, ESG and commodities research at MUFG Bank in Dubai, said Erkan’s appointment, coupled with Simsek’s pledges to restore credibility, was a clear signal of a return toward rules-based monetary policymaking to re-anchor inflation expectations.

“Our base case is for a supersized rates hike from 8.5 percent to 20 percent on 22 June — with a likely pre-meeting statement to prepare markets for the start of the hiking cycle — to reach levels that imply positive real rates by year-end,” he told Arab News.

Critically, given Turkey’s past experience with relatively short-lived U-turns in policy regarding interest rates, Khoman said that (gaining) credibility will require patience, though these latest market-friendly appointments should rule out risks related to reliance on less-orthodox measures, including stricter regulations on foreign exchange transactions, to sustain acutely negative real rates.

Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of London-based Teneo Intelligence, thinks that “an outright and fast pivot toward a conventional policy set, especially in terms of monetary policy, remains unlikely.”

He told Arab News: “Erkan’s appointment seems designed to regain credibility in the eyes of foreign investors. But how she will adapt to Ankara’s working culture, where obedience matters, remains to be seen. Also, Erkan has no formal monetary policy experience.

“The appointments are important, but the next crucial step should be the decisions,” he continued.

He also noted that a shift towards orthodox economic policy requires the support of the banking regulator, which is now headed by a loyalist, suggesting a likely return to previous economic policies.

“Turkey’s domestic banks — private and state-owned — are under close political scrutiny and command,” he said.

Israeli troops fire tear gas at Lebanese protesting against border digging

Israeli troops fire tear gas at Lebanese protesting against border digging
Updated 09 June 2023

Israeli troops fire tear gas at Lebanese protesting against border digging

Israeli troops fire tear gas at Lebanese protesting against border digging
  • It prompted the Lebanese army to send patrols to the area in coordination with the UN peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL
  • Residents of Kfarchouba, Chebaa, Kfarhamam and villages around the mostly Sunni town of Aarqoub performed Friday prayers in Kfarchouba to protest against the Israeli operation

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s southern border area near the town of Kfarchouba was tense on Friday as residents protested against Israeli bulldozers operating close to the so-called “Blue Line” that separates liberated and occupied areas.
It prompted the Lebanese army to send patrols to the area in coordination with the UN peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL.
Residents of Kfarchouba, Chebaa, Kfarhamam and villages around the mostly Sunni town of Aarqoub performed Friday prayers in Kfarchouba to protest against the Israeli operation.
MP Kassem Hachem and Sheikh Hassan Dallah, the mufti of Hasbayya and Marjaayoun, criticized the bulldozing by the “enemy” and called on UNIFIL troops “to put an end to the Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.”
Many citizens tried to cross the border line marked by UNIFIL to remove the biggest part of a separating fence, but were met by volleys of tear gas from the Israeli troops.
Mohammed Mortada, Lebanon’s caretaker culture minister, said: “Are the Israelis as stupid as to think that tear gas canisters will stop landowners and right holders from responding to their violations?”
The Israeli army said that it was responding to “riots” and claimed that two Lebanese soldiers “pointed two RPG weapons toward an Israeli patrol” in the Chebaa farms area. There was however no direct confrontation between the two sides.
Ismail Nasser, a 58-year-old retired soldier from Kfarchouba, defied Israeli tear gas to stand in front of a bulldozer and prevent it from digging further.
A video showed Nasser’s actions, with the bulldozer driver trying to move forward and throw dirt at him, before he was pulled away by bystanders.
Nasser said that the land being bulldozed by Israel belonged to him and his ancestors.
A Lebanese security source told Arab News that Israel had been “unusually active” for more than a week in Aarqoub, especially in the hills of Kfarchouba.
“They are trying to change the features of the region by digging trenches and removing rocks in order to extend a new two-kilometer iron fence between the Al-Sammaqah site and Bawabat Hassan adjacent to the Baathael pond in Kfarchouba,” the source said.
The non-demarcated area belonging to the residents of Kfarchouba is about 8 km.
Israeli forces occupied the Syrian portion of the Kfarchouba heights and the surrounding agricultural land in 1973 but withdrew after signing the Agreement on Disengagement with Syria in 1974.
Kfarchouba witnessed a fierce battle in 1976 when Palestinian commandos expelled occupying Israeli forces from the town.
Two years later, Israel invaded the Lebanese border area as part of Operation Litani and occupied several regions including Kfarchouba.
In 2000, the Israeli army withdrew from the majority of the Lebanese southern towns and a withdrawal line — known as the Blue Line — was created.
The Kfarchouba hills and the Chebaa farms were not among the freed regions, as the UN considered their status to be part of a future solution for the Israeli-Syrian conflict.
However, the Lebanese government and Hezbollah declared this region occupied Lebanese territory.
UNIFIL’s spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said: “UNIFIL peacekeepers have been on the ground from the very beginning to ensure that cessation of hostilities is maintained, restore stability and help decrease tension.
“We urge the parties to use our coordination mechanisms effectively to prevent misunderstandings, and violations, and contribute to the preservation of stability in the area.
“UNIFIL is in contact with the parties, and is actively seeking solutions. We call upon both sides to exercise restraint and avoid actions along the Blue Line that may escalate tensions.”
UNIFIL’s yearly mandate is set to be renewed next September. The last renewal included a mandate from the UN Security Council granting greater freedom to operate independently, and without coordinating with the Lebanese army.

Warring parties in Sudan agree to 24-hour ceasefire – Saudi Arabia, US statement

Warring parties in Sudan agree to 24-hour ceasefire – Saudi Arabia, US statement
Updated 09 June 2023

Warring parties in Sudan agree to 24-hour ceasefire – Saudi Arabia, US statement

Warring parties in Sudan agree to 24-hour ceasefire – Saudi Arabia, US statement
  • Parties agreed to refrain from prohibited movements, attacks, use of aircraft or drones, among others
  • Statement warns Jeddah talks may be adjourned if truce is not observed

RIYADH: The warring parties in Sudan have agreed to a 24-hour nationwide ceasefire beginning June 10, a statement from Saudi Arabia and US said on Friday.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America announce that representatives of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) agreed to a 24-hour countrywide ceasefire beginning on June 10 at 6:00 a.m. Khartoum time,” Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted on their social media account.

“The parties agreed that during the ceasefire they will refrain from prohibited movements, attacks, use of aircraft or drones, aerial bombardment, artillery strikes, reinforcement of positions and resupply of forces, and will refrain from seeking military advantage during the ceasefire,” the joint statement said.

“They also agreed to allow unimpeded movement and delivery of humanitarian assistance throughout the country,” it added.

However, the statement issued a warning against the warring parties: “Should the parties fail to observe the 24-hour ceasefire, facilitators will be compelled to consider adjourning the Jeddah talks.”

An earlier truce drawn up by Saudi Arabia and the US fell through after both sides of the Sudanese clashes accused each other of serious violations of the ceasefire.

The White House has warned that sanctions will be imposed against key defense companies and people who “perpetuate violence” in Sudan as the warring sides fail to abide by a cease-fire agreement.

“Once it becomes clear that the parties are actually serious about complying with the ceasefire, the facilitators are prepared to resume the suspended discussions to find a negotiated solution to this conflict,” Saudi Arabia and the US said in an earlier statement.

Sudan descended into chaos after fighting erupted in mid-April between forces loyal to the country’s military Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan and his erstwhile deputy Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Thousands of civilians in towns and villages across Sudan were forced to flee amid worsening conflict in the country, leading to fears of a new global refugee crisis.

Nearly 1.4 million people have been displaced, the UN reported on May 28, raising concerns among Sudan’s neighboring states they may not be able to cope with the influx of people seeking safety and refuge.

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank
Updated 09 June 2023

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank
  • Mehdi Bayadsa was killed by ‘bullets from the occupation (Israel) near the Rantis military checkpoint, west of Ramallah’

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Israeli forces on Friday killed a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry and the army said, with the latter adding that a soldier was lightly wounded.
Mehdi Bayadsa, 29, was killed by “bullets from the occupation (Israel) near the Rantis military checkpoint, west of Ramallah,” the ministry said in a statement.
The military in a statement said it had “neutralized” a Palestinian who had arrived near the crossing point between the West Bank and Israel in a stolen vehicle.
“While IDF (Israeli army) soldiers inspected his vehicle, the suspect attacked an IDF soldier and attempted to steal his weapon,” the army said, adding a “lightly injured” soldier was taken to hospital.
“Following the confrontation, another soldier in the area shot live fire toward the suspect and neutralized him,” the army said, adding that it was “investigating the incident.”
Nearly three million Palestinians live in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967.
About 490,000 Israelis live in the occupied territory in settlements deemed illegal under international law.
Since the start of the year, at least 157 Palestinians, 21 Israelis, a Ukrainian and an Italian have been killed in violence linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources.
The figures include combatants as well as civilians and, on the Israeli side, three members of the Arab minority.

Syrians lose life-saving care as Turkiye halts medical visits

Syrians lose life-saving care as Turkiye halts medical visits
Updated 09 June 2023

Syrians lose life-saving care as Turkiye halts medical visits

Syrians lose life-saving care as Turkiye halts medical visits
  • Seriously ill Syrians in the country’s last rebel bastion of Idlib used to be able to access life-saving care across the border

HALZOUN, Syria: Huddled inside a tent in rebel-held northwestern Syria, Umm Khaled says she fears her baby will die unless she gets specialist treatment in neighboring Turkiye for a congenital heart defect.
Seriously ill Syrians in the country’s last rebel bastion of Idlib used to be able to access life-saving care across the border.
But the main crossing there for medical visits slammed shut after a deadly earthquake ravaged southern Turkiye on February 6, prompting Ankara to prioritize its domestic needs.
Born just a week before the disaster, baby Islam needs urgent cardiac surgery, unavailable in Syria’s war-scarred Idlib region where the health care system fell into further disarray after the quake.
“I watch my daughter suffer and I can’t do anything about it,” said Umm Khaled, showing only her eyes and hands beneath her black niqab.
The 27-year-old said her baby was losing weight and her condition worsening.
Islam often struggles to breathe, and a doctor has warned that repeated such episodes, which put further strain on her heart, could be deadly without an operation or treatment.
But only cancer patients have been allowed to cross into Turkiye after months of waiting — and only since Monday.
“When she cries, she turns blue and her heart beats very fast,” Umm Khaled said, as her three other young children sat on the ground in their tent in the village of Halzoun.
“I hope they’ll open the crossing soon,” she said, baby Islam squirming in her lap.
Doctors in Idlib refer most heart and cancer patients to Turkiye, where they can receive free treatment under an agreement between local authorities and Ankara.
Burns victims, premature babies and people requiring complicated surgery have also been allowed to cross.
But after the quake ravaged health facilities on the Turkish side of the border, Ankara halted medical visits through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing — the sole access point for patients from Idlib.
The border has remained open for United Nations humanitarian aid, goods and even Syrians visiting relatives in the area.
Firas Al-Ali, diagnosed with a benign tumor near his brain in 2017, has undergone surgery and tests in Turkiye, where he usually gets medication and treatment every three months.
He had been waiting for treatment on February 23, but then the earthquake struck.
“Due to the delay, I’m getting pain in my eyes and my head,” the 35-year-old blacksmith said.
“My treatment is unavailable here and if it is, it is expensive and I can’t afford it.”
Rebel-held Idlib is home to around three million people, many of them displaced from other parts of Syria and dependent on humanitarian aid.
Government-held areas of Syria are off limits to civilians from Idlib. The Syrian side of the Bab Al-Hawa crossing into Turkiye is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.
The Syrian American Medical Society runs the only center in Idlib for cancer patients.
Paediatric oncologist Abdel Razzaq Bakur said the clinic lacked diagnostic equipment and medications, and had been overwhelmed by “numerous patients who urgently need to be admitted in Turkiye.”
The children’s ward alone has admitted 30 patients left untreated by the border closure, he said.
Around 40 more “haven’t been getting chemotherapy and their condition is very bad — some risk dying.”
Some families had tried to get medicine from Turkiye or Lebanon, but prices were often prohibitive, he added.
“Most people can’t cover their basic daily needs, so how are they supposed to secure chemotherapy doses?” he asked.
Yusuf Hajj Yusuf, 60, was scheduled to have chemotherapy in Turkiye the day the quake struck and said a recent scan showed his lung cancer had worsened.
He had asked relatives to help pay for treatment in Idlib but “no longer had the strength” to raise funds.
“I was very happy about the reopening of the crossing,” he said.
“After the earthquake, we cancer patients have suffered a lot. We have all been waiting to return to the Turkish hospitals.”