Subscribe to our Newsletter


click to dowload our latest edition

Finally … Israel forms a government

After the longest political deadlock in Israeli history – more than 500 days – the country finally has a new government. With 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers, it’s the most bloated government to date.

Published

on

Featured Item

PAULA SLIER

Coming at a time of crushing unemployment (an estimated 25% of Israelis are jobless in the wake of coronavirus) critics complain that several portfolios were especially created to satisfy coalition promises made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His party and that of Blue and White – headed by his rival-turned-partner, Benny Gantz – are on an almost equal footing. Their blocs have a similar number of ministers and virtual veto power over the other’s major decisions. Gantz and his allies received major ministries as a solace to those Blue and White supporters who were dismayed that the two had formed a unity coalition.

The good news is that the coalition is stable. Nearly the majority of Knesset (parliament) members are ministers, deputies, or senior officials. In this way, it has a built-in vote of confidence.

But there is deep distrust between the opposing camps which has given rise to doubts about how they can govern together.

They’ve agreed that for the first 18 months, Netanyahu will be prime minister; after that it’ll be Gantz’s turn. But most Israelis don’t believe that Netanyahu will vacate his office and hand it over to Gantz in spite of what the 14-page agreement between the two leaders stipulates. As it is, even after the rotation, Netanyahu will retain the position of “alternate” prime minister and be allowed to remain in the prime minister’s residence in Balfour Street in Jerusalem.

Three-quarters of the government is made up of right-wing parties who feel no real allegiance to Gantz. This ensures Netanyahu that he is likely to remain the most powerful and influential figure even when Gantz is heading the government.

Among the challenges facing the new government is dealing with the economic crisis wrought by COVID-19. Israel fared better than Western Europe and the United States, but hasn’t been able to escape the financial downtrend. On the defence front, the Israeli army will need to balance its budgetary demands with the economic crunch. The foreign ministry also has its hands full. It needs to rehabilitate its status after not having a full-time minister for years and suffering from a lack of prestige and budget. The ministry also needs to “sell” Israel’s plan to unilaterally annex the Jordan Valley and all settlements across the West Bank to the international community that is against it.

Late on Tuesday night, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came out vehemently against the proposal, announcing that Ramallah would no longer be bound by agreements it has signed with Israel and the United States.

As part of American president Donald Trump’s Mideast plan, the proposal envisions handing 30% of the West Bank to permanent Israeli control. Netanyahu said in a speech late last month that he was “confident” he could annex occupied territory with the support of Washington from 1 July. Last week’s visit to Jerusalem by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a message that Netanyahu was free to do as he saw fit.

Pompeo said, “The Israeli government will decide on the matter, on exactly when and how to do it. I hope the Palestinians understand that peace is good for them.”

But the Palestinians are enraged. Jordan’s King Abdullah has warned that if Israel annexes the area, it will lead to a massive conflict with Amman. The international community is opposed, including the US public at large and the American Jewish community.

Some observers suggest that Netanyahu used the promise of annexation as an election pitch, but he knows that if he follows through on it, he will also need to agree to the rest of Trump’s deal – founding a Palestinian state on the remaining two-thirds of the West Bank. This raises questions as to whether he really intends to annex, as his nationalist base will never support such a Palestinian state. Nonetheless, they are pushing for annexation before the US election in November as concern grows that Trump could be replaced by Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic candidate, who has stated he opposes unilateral annexation.

Gantz, who was army chief during the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, isn’t expected to emerge as a dove in the security cabinet. There is broad consensus amid Israeli leaders that their key fights are countering Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and Iran and its proxies in Syria.

But there are issues on which Gantz and his team might generate a moderating influence. The newcomers might be willing to take a more diplomatic approach in the efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, especially if Biden replaces Trump. Biden is likely to push for the nuclear deal.

One last thing to watch. This coming Sunday, Netanyahu’s trial begins. He faces accusations of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, all of which he denies. As an indicted prime minister, he has to step down only when he’s convicted, and only after that conviction is upheld through the appeals process. The legal process might last as long as two years. Three elections later, and Netanyahu remains in the driving seat, just like he’s been for four previous governments.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Featured Item

Closer ties between Zim and Israel rattles ANC

Published

on

Zimbabwe and Israel have had full diplomatic relations since 1993, but further overtures by our northern neighbour to the Jewish state could cause conflict with South Africa, particularly certain factions in the African National Congress (ANC).

According to an article by Carien du Plessis published on News24 on Wednesday, 3 February, “Zimbabwe has been seeking closer ties with Israel in the hope of securing more investment and doing away with sanctions. This move has caused unease within the ANC, which has a pro-Palestinian stance, although it’s unlikely the party will act on it.

“The ruling party [in Zimbabwe], ZANU-PF, has historically positioned itself as pro-Palestinian, but Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s latest move closer to Israel represents a change in policy direction,” Du Plessis writes.

She reports that although the head of the ANC committee on international relations, Lindiwe Zulu, said that, “We cannot interfere with the sovereign decisions of the governing party of any other government”, there have been divisions within ZANU-PF and within the ANC about the Israel matter.

“A pro-Palestine lobby within the ANC wants South Africa’s governing party to take a more hardline approach to its Zimbabwean counterpart, while the pragmatists prefer not to push this issue for diplomatic reasons,” Du Plessis says.

Darren Bergman, the shadow minister for international relations and cooperation and a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum Human Rights Committee, didn’t mince his words about South Africa’s response.

“The people of Zimbabwe are suffering. The internal affairs of Zimbabwe couldn’t get South Africa to act, the situation in Zimbabwe couldn’t get South Africa to act, but the relationship with Israel gets South Africa to act,” he said.

“This is a sinister situation that must make the SADC and African Union [AU] question what exactly South Africa’s situation is with regard to the Middle East,” Bergman said.

“It’s one thing to have an opinion and a position, but it’s another to keep a hard-pressed, almost spiteful stance at all times that can actually harm and injure the people and the continent. To this I would say that South Africa should show diplomatic constraint, and hold back.”

One of Mnangagwa’s recent moves to improve relations with Israel is the appointment last year of Israeli national Ronny Levi Musan as honorary consul of Zimbabwe to Israel.

The Afro-Middle East Centre reported in October 2020 that, “Musan has set plans into motion for Mnangagwa’s official visit to Israel. His activities in Zimbabwe include collaboration with Pentecostal churches to push for Christian support for Israel. Zimbabwe’s honorary consul is also pushing for Israeli businesses to invest in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, and he recently announced the intention to open an Israeli academy of agriculture in Zimbabwe. On the diplomatic front, Israel hopes that Mnangagwa will follow the example of his Malawian counterpart, Lazarus Chakwera, who announced plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem.”

Musan told the SA Jewish Report he had worked in Africa for the past 20 years to strengthen links between churches and the Holy Land. “About five years ago, I was invited to visit Zimbabwe which lasted about two weeks. I tried to do everything possible to connect Zimbabwe to Israel on a practical level. After the first visit, I visited Zimbabwe several more times, and met a number of ministers and church leaders, and just fell in love with the place.

“From there, it continued through my activities with the Israeli foreign ministry and the foreign ministry in Zimbabwe to promote diplomatic relations between the countries.” He was eventually appointed to this role.

“My main responsibility is to do everything possible in every field to bring knowledge and support from Israel to Zimbabwe, and vice versa. The main issue is technology in the field of agriculture, education, and innovation. These are the cornerstones that will return the crown to Zimbabwe as the ‘grain basket of Africa’.”

Local political analyst Daniel Silke says that Zimbabwe’s overtures to Israel “could well be an attempt by Zimbabwe to follow the Sudan example, in which currying favour with the United States via the channel of restoring relations with Israel allows the country to receive assistance and perhaps even escape some of the worst sanctions. But, of course, [former US] President Donald Trump is no longer in the White House. Whether this will have any traction with Joe Biden, who I think will be a lot more critical of the Zimbabwean regime, remains to be seen.”

In terms of the impact it could have on South African-Israel relations, Silke says, “Many other African countries are forging their own path in terms of relations with Israel. For President [Cyril] Ramaphosa, it’s a difficult balancing act given the demands from within his own party. But I don’t think South Africa has any leg to stand on in terms of interference with any country which wishes to forge some sort of close relationship with the Jewish state. As head of the AU, Ramaphosa is again in a tough position because of the changing dynamics across Africa, but I don’t think it’s an issue that will really get much attention.”

Rowan Polovin, the chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, says, “We see this as a positive development, particularly for Southern Africa, which is part of the momentum that is being created by the Abraham Accords.

“Northern Africa has been very much part of the momentum. In the southern region, Malawi, which is diplomatically and geographically close to South Africa, has signalled its intention to open an embassy in Israel. If all this has an impact on South Africa’s neighbours, then South Africa will see the benefits. It’s very hard to ignore the importance of building ties with Israel, which has so many solutions for African issues, particularly water, electricity, agriculture, and security. Notwithstanding the noise that the ANC might make, ultimately it’s positive.”

Continue Reading

Featured Item

Just how successful is Israel’s vaccine push?

Published

on

Israel is reporting promising initial results from its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the fastest in the world.

The first official findings released by the health ministry show that only 0.04% of people caught the virus a week after their second dose, and a mere 0.002% needed hospital treatment.

Clalit, the country’s largest health service organisation, has also released its preliminary data. It compared 200 000 people aged 60 and over who’ve been vaccinated with 200 000 similar unvaccinated older adults. It found that the rate of those who tested positive dropped 33% among the vaccinated 14 days after they received it. No decline was seen in the unvaccinated.

Maccabi, another healthcare organisation, saw an even larger drop. Infections decreased 60% among 430 000 people 13 to 21 days after they received the vaccine. The data also suggested the vaccine was 92% effective, close to the 95% efficacy claimed by Pfizer.

Israeli researchers are conducting more in-depth analysis, and point out that real-world effectiveness of vaccines is often lower than the efficacy seen in clinical trials due to a number of factors.

But experts warn that this data has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal so it should be viewed with some caution.

There are also various factors that could be influencing the results. The current lockdown and behaviour such as travelling and gathering less, wearing masks, and greater physical distancing might be decreasing infections.

The first people to receive the vaccine were mostly from vulnerable populations, so they are more likely to take precautions which could also skew the data.

In spite of the encouraging news, the death toll from COVID-19 continues to climb. Of the 4 816 fatalities at the time of writing, 30% occurred in January when the vaccination rollout was already in full swing. The government blames this on the more transmissible British variant of the virus, especially among children. According to Clalit, when the vaccination campaign started in late December, the new variant caused 30% to 40% of infections, whereas now that figure has doubled.

As for the South African strain, there are currently 80 detected cases in Israel, and there is concern that the vaccine isn’t as effective against this variant. A number of Israelis who previously had COVID-19 have been re-infected with the South African strain, with the most recent case identified two days ago.

Compounding the situation is the flagrant disregard by the ultra-Orthodox community, that comprises just less than 13% of the population, for lockdown rules. Since the start of the pandemic, one in five ultra-Orthodox has tested positive.

Many in the community doubt the safety of the vaccine or believe the country’s citizens are being used as guinea pigs to test its efficacy. Prominent rabbis have also said that communal prayer and study needs to overwrite lockdown concerns.

Last Sunday, 31 January, thousands of ultra-Orthodox mourners, many without masks, crowded together to attend two funerals of famous rabbis who died from coronavirus. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been criticised for not cracking down harshly enough on the community for political reasons – he needs their votes in the upcoming 23 March election.

Residents of Tel Aviv spoke to the SA Jewish Report, complaining that the actions of the ultra-Orthodox were forcing the whole country to go repeatedly into lockdown, and it wasn’t fair. It’s no surprise thus that the latest word from the government is that the current – third – nationwide lockdown may not be Israel’s last.

Many Israelis want cities and towns to once again be divided into red, orange, yellow, and green zones and scales of restrictions to be put in place accordingly. This would mean those who obey the restrictions wouldn’t have to pay the price of those who don’t.

In recent days, there’s also growing concern in some quarters in Israel that because the mass vaccination campaign is running in parallel with an active coronavirus outbreak, it could lead to an “evolutionary pressure” on the virus in which it would ultimately become immune to vaccination. Doctors are suggesting that in future, people will need to take an annual anti-COVID-19 jab, much in the same way the annual flu injection is taken.

But for now, the race to innoculate everyone is on. Among the first to be injected were people aged 60 or older. More than two-thirds of this age group have already received the required two doses. Up to 200 000 people are being injected each day, and the vaccine is now available to anyone over the age of 35. High-school students aged 16 to 18 are also included in the hope that they will be able to sit for exams. It seems Netanyahu is on track to fulfil his promise of innoculating five million of the country’s nine million citizens by the end of March.

To date, just more than one in three Israelis has been inoculated – about 1.7 million of them twice. Because this is a far higher fraction than anywhere else in the world, it makes the country a test case for the international vaccine push.

Continue Reading

Featured Item

The right to demonstrate, even during lockdown

Published

on

Israelis are being allowed out of their homes in full lockdown to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi), who is viewed by many on both sides of the political spectrum as corrupt.

This freedom in a lockdown which ordinarily limits you to being no more than one kilometre from your house is based on the country’s constitutional right to protest. On bridges, at junctions, and outside Bibi’s house in Jerusalem, daily protests occur, resuming after Shabbat goes out on Saturday night.

Lech! Lech!” (Go!) is shouted loudly – which is also the name for the movement against Netanyahu.

There are some staunch Likud followers who scream, “Arafat and Rabin sold out the country,” prompting laughter amongst some demonstrators, who point out that their arguments are old and outdated. Demonstrators including doctors, lawyers, pilots, accountants, and students point out that this isn’t about the Israel-Palestine issue, it’s not about being leftist or rightist, but about ethics and bringing to justice an allegedly corrupt prime minister.

The protestors are passionate, some defying orders not to camp outside Bibi’s residence. At 21:30, police order the drums, trumpets, and whistles to cease. The protestors obey, but continue to demonstrate quietly, so as not to disturb the Jerusalem neighbourhood.

Then, at about 23:00, carrying Israeli flags in blue and white and others in red and white, the protestors pack up and go home to lockdown.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Naale Elite Academy

Trending