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Netanyahu Wins Re-Election as Israeli Prime Minister

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  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been re-elected Prime Minister of Israel after his opponent, Benny Gantz, conceded Wednesday.
  • Netanyahu and Gantz both received 35 seats, but Netanyahu will still win because the smaller parties that are expected to back him and build a coalition would give him more than 61 seats needed to form a majority government.
  • With Netanyahu’s victory essentially secured, he will likely try to pass a law giving him immunity from indictments against him, and try to annex the West Bank.

Netanyahu Victorious

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been re-elected, despite preliminary exit polls showing him in a dead heat with his opponent Benny Gantz.

With around 97 percent of polls reported, both Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White party have each received 35 out of a total 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Source: Google

Neither party has won an outright majority, which is common in Israeli elections. In order to become Prime Minister, the party leaders now have to build coalitions with the smaller parties in order to put together a majority of 61 seats.

In this case, a group of right-wing parties that are expected to back Netanyahu have already won a total of 65 seats, which means that if all of those parties coalition with Netanyahu as predicted, he will have a majority over the center-left bloc.

Tuesday night, before all the polls were in, both men declared victory.

Gantz called the election a “historic vote” and urged Netanyahu to step down, saying, “Elections have losers and elections have winners. And we are the winners”

Netanyahu took to Twitter shortly after to say that the Likud had “won a definite victory.”

Source: Benjamin Netanyahu

Then on Wednesday, Gantz officially conceded the election. Although the polls still showed both parties tied with 35 seats, Gantz acknowledged that the Blue and White party did not have enough votes.

“At the moment, with the blocs, this is the reality,” said Gantz, “The war is not over.”

Now, Netanyahu will have 42 days to build a coalition of parties to get that 61-seat majority, and it seems likely that he’ll be able to do that pretty easily.

What Happens Next?

While Netanyahu is essentially guaranteed to be re-elected, there are still a few steps that have to be taken.

Regardless of how many seats Netanyahu ultimately gets, this election is still considered a major setback for both him and the Likud Party.

Now, the new Blue and White party is positioned to be the main opposition party to the right wing, a role that was previously held by the Labor party.

Already this election represents a huge shift in Israeli politics, and although Netanyahu will probably still be Prime Minister, he has come out of this election significantly weathered and with less support from the Israeli people.

Many Israelis have said this election was the dirtiest and most divisive race in the country’s history.

With Netanyahu poised to continue as Prime Minister, there are two main things to look out for moving forward.

Indictments

The first and most immediate issue will be the indictments against Netanyahu.

Back in February, Israel’s attorney general announced that he intended to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

Intended here is the keyword, because in order for charges to actually be brought against Netanyahu, he has to have a hearing first.


Netanyahu requested that the hearing happen after the election because he was worried evidence could leak. The Justice Ministry agreed and said the hearing will take place no later than July 10.

These charges against Netanyahu come from three different cases. One of the cases alleges that he illegally accepted $264,000 worth of gifts from tycoons in exchange for lobbying, and the two others claim he traded favors to get positive news coverage from an Israeli newspaper and a website.

Netanyahu, of course, has denied the allegations, notably calling them “fake news.” Despite all of this, he is still incredibly popular in Israel, and his Likud party has dominated Israeli politics for the last decade.

However, following the announcement of the indictments, the newly formed Blue and White Party started to gain popularity in the polls.

Now that the election is over, the evidence from those cases, which Netanyahu requested to have kept under lock and key until after the election, will now to be given over to lawyers in the case.

This means that if some the evidence is leaked, Netanyahu could face reports that could hurt his reputation in the 42 days he has to assemble a majority government.

If he does succeed in building a majority, he is expected to try to pass a law that would give him immunity from being prosecuted while in office. Even if that law does not get passed and he is indicted, he does not legally have to step down.

With all that said, if he is indicted on criminal charges, his coalition could fracture and he could lose his majority, which in turn could lead to a new Likud prime minister or even entirely new elections.

West Bank

The second thing to look out for concerns Netanyahu’s last-minute campaign promise to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

It is hard to overstate how massive this move would be.

If Israel annexes the West Bank, they would be asserting their control over land that most countries consider to be legally owned by the Palestinians.

This move is largely deemed to be illegal under international law, and would immediately destroy Israel’s relations with many countries. Those countries include Arab dictatorships that have been working with Israel against Iran, which would create a huge crisis for Israel in the Middle East.

Most significantly, the move would be catastrophic for the Palestinians. It would certainly represent the strongest rejection of a two-state solution by an Israeli prime minister in recent history. Palestinian leaders have already called the vote an “endorsement for oppression.”

To make matters even more high-stakes, the future indictments and the annexation could be connected.

It is possible that Netanyahu could promise the far-right parties that want to annex the West Bank that the annexation will happen if they vote in favor of an immunity bill. If that happens, he would not only be protected from facing charges, he could also turn a temporary occupation of Palestinian land into a sovereign part of Israel permanently.

Right now, the stakes are incredibly high, and a lot is still up in the air. The international community will have to wait and see what another term of Netanyahu will bring.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (The New York Times) (Haaretz)

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U.S. Charges Venezuelan Leader With Drug Trafficking, Narco-Terrorism

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  • The Department of Justice announced criminal charges against Venezuelan leader Maduro and about a dozen others.
  • The charges include narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking, and others.
  • The move marks the second time a foreign head of state has been indicted on drug charges in the U.S. and shows a significant escalation in the U.S. pressure campaign on the Maduro regime.

Maduro Charged

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and 14 others, including senior regime officials, with narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking, and other charges in a sweeping indictment unveiled Thursday.

The indictment, which was announced by Attorney General William Barr, accuses Maduro of conspiring with the Columbian rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces, known by their Spanish acronym as FARC.

FARC is a U.S.-designated terrorist group that has long secured its funding by smuggling cocaine.

“For more than 20 years, Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the FARC, causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities,” Barr said in a press conference Thursday morning 

“The scope and magnitude of the drug trafficking alleged was made possible only because Maduro and others corrupted the institutions of Venezuela and provided political and military protection for the rampant narco-terrorism crimes described in our charges,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York, who joined Barr via teleconference to make the announcement.

“As alleged, Maduro and the other defendants expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and wellbeing of our nation,” Berman continued. “Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon.” 

The charges also pertain to Maduro’s alleged leadership of a drug-smuggling cartel called the Cártel de Los Soles, or the Cartel of the Suns, according to a press release from the DOJ.

According to the release, Maduro has served as one of the leaders of the cartel since 1999. In that time, Maduro “negotiated multi-ton shipments of FARC-produced cocaine” and directed the cartel to “provide military-grade weapons to the FARC.”

He also facilitated “large-scale drug trafficking” with Honduras and other countries, and “solicited assistance from FARC leadership in training an unsanctioned militia group” that essentially functioned as an “armed forces unit” for the cartel. 

U.S. Ramps Up Efforts

Very notably, the release also said that the State Department was offering rewards of up to $15 million for information that could lead to the capture and arrest of Maduro.

While it remains unlikely that he will be arrested and actually see the inside of a courtroom in the U.S., the charges are still quite significant for several different reasons.

First of all, it is incredibly rare for the U.S. to indict a foreign leader on drug charges. According to the Miami Herald, it is only the second time the U.S. government has filed criminal charges against a foreign head of state.

Second, it marks a very serious escalation on the part of President Donald Trump and his administration in their pressure campaign on Maduro and his regime.

The U.S. and about 60 other countries have refused to recognize Maduro as the rightful leader of Venezuela after he was re-elected as president last year in an election widely considered illegitimate.

That prompted both a large protest movement and opposition leader Juan Guaidó to declare himself the true leader of the country. But Maduro has held onto power while the people of Venezuela continue to suffer.

The U.S. has slowly ramped up the efforts it’s taken against Venezuela, first imposing sanctions on individuals, then expanding those to a full-blown embargo on oil— Venezuela’s biggest resource.

The U.S. has also broadly moved to lock Venezuela out of the American financial system altogether. 

Venezuela & the Coronavirus

While the U.S. has taken these steps gradually over the course of the last year, the new charges represent a big jump and raised some questions about timing.

Venezuela’s protests movement, which once seemed to be making headlines everyday, has died down in recent months. Efforts to organize and demonstrate against the Maduro regime have also been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The country has reported 106 confirmed cases, and like other countries, the pandemic has also significantly weakened Venezuela.

But Venezuela is particularly vulnerable. With its economy in shambles and its hospital system collapsed, the country was already facing severe medical supply shortages, dilapidated equipment, and unsanitary conditions in hospitals even before the coronavirus outbreak.

Now, the pandemic threatens an already dangerous situation.

Many reporters questioned Barr’s timing with the new charges amid the pandemic. Barr said the case had been in the works for a long time and the announcement was merely a coincidence. 

“We moved on these cases when we were ready to do it,” he said, adding that he felt the move was “good timing” for the people of Venezuela.

“They need an effective government that cares about the people,” he said. “We think that the best way to support the Venezuelan people during this period is to do all we can to rid the country of this corrupt cabal.”

Maduro, for his part, rejected the charges before they were even announced. 

“There’s a conspiracy from the United States and Colombia and they’ve given the order of filling Venezuela with violence” he wrote on Twitter. “As head of state I’m obliged to defend peace and stability for all the motherland, under any circumstances.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (The Miami Herald)

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Spain Surpasses China in Coronavirus Deaths

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  • Spain officially surpassed China in its number of coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, with over 3,400 fatalities reported. 
  • The country has seen tragic fallouts from the pandemic, including elderly people being found abandoned and even dead in nursing home beds.
  • In Madrid, an ice rink is being converted into a makeshift morgue and an exhibition center is being turned into a hospital. 
  • Some Spaniards are not obeying stay-at-home orders, which is frustrating officials. Similar frustrations from leaders are being seen in Italy, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus deaths.

Spain Suffers from Coronavirus

Spain’s coronavirus death toll officially surpassed China’s on Wednesday after the country registered an overnight increase of 738 new fatalities. The total number of coronavirus deaths in Spain has reached 3,434, while China’s is at 3,281, according to The New York Times.

The European nation is facing bleak realities as over 47,600 cases have been reported and the disease continues to wreak havoc. When soldiers were sent to disinfect nursing homes, they found elderly residents left unattended and some even dead in their beds, Spain’s defense minister María Margarita Robles Fernández told the Spanish TV channel Telecinco on Monday.

According to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, caregivers have walked out of these homes when the virus has been detected, and some have expressed their frustrations about working in high-risk conditions without adequate protective wear. 

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the conditions of these facilities, according to El Pais.

And as of this week, an ice rink in Madrid is being converted into a makeshift morgue as funeral homes are overwhelmed by those left dead from the virus.  

Also in Madrid, an exhibition center — typically used for trade fairs — is being turned into a hospital. It is expected to have over 5,000 beds, including 500 in an intensive care unit when completed, according to reports

Medical facilities in the worst-affected areas have already been short on beds in ICUs, and some health care staffers have said that elderly people who have lost their lives could have been saved if there wasn’t a lack of ICU space. 

But Spanish officials have denied this claim.

“Some units are under a lot of stress, but we haven’t reached that point in Spain,” Ricard Ferrer, chairman of the Spanish Society of Intensive and Critical Care Medicine, told The Wall Street Journal

Spain’s Response Against the Outbreak 

Spain is 11 days into a 15-day nationwide lockdown that will likely be extended further. 

The government has faced criticism for not acting quickly enough, as Spain has seen a dramatic increase in cases over the past two weeks, but Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has argued that he acted in accordance with advice from scientific experts. 

The government is also resisting pushes to make the lockdown more strict by banning all nonessential activities, which would close down many factories and offices in an already-struggling economy.

“Our measures are among the most drastic taken in the European Union,” Health Minister Salvador Illa told reporters on Monday, adding that the challenge is to make sure citizens obey the already-existing restrictions. “We know it’s tough but it is the only path to the defeat of the virus.”

One significant characteristic of Spain that is worsening the problem of the virus is the country’s socially-oriented culture, which citizens have seemed slow to give up. Since the lockdown began, authorities have found about 60,000 people disobeying the restrictions on going out, and have arrested about 500, according to The Wall Street Journal

But just as in other nations hit hard by this pandemic, glimmers of hope and joy have been seen despite the devastation citizens are facing. One notable example of this is a video from Mallorca that went viral. The clip features police singing and dancing in the street for families stuck inside. 

Italy’s Struggles Rage On

Now Italy remains the only country that has seen more coronavirus deaths than Spain, with a staggering 7,503 fatalities as of Wednesday, according to John Hopkins University. Total cases in Italy are at 74,386.  

Italian leaders are facing their own struggles to maintain control over their country’s lockdown. Antonia Decaro, mayor of Bari, was shown on camera personally yelling at people in public to go indoors. Other leaders have released videos of themselves scolding their citizens for not complying with the stay-at-home ban. 

It’s clear by their stern messages that the officials are not taking this lightly.

“This is like a war bulletin because we are in a real war,” Massimiliano Presciutti, Mayor of Gualdo Tadino, said in a Facebook video on Friday. “And now I turn to you…You need to stay home! Don’t you understand that people are dying? Four hundred people are dying a day!”

“Hundreds of students will be graduating… I hear some want to host a party,” Vincenzo De Luca,  president of Campania, said. “We’ll send armed police over, and we’ll send them with flamethrowers.”

Nine EU nations, including Spain and Italy, have called on the EU to raise funds through a “common debt instrument” to handle both the health and economical fallouts from the pandemic.  

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (Reuters) (BBC)

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Trump Points Blame at China as New Reports Explain Coronavirus Spread

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  • The New York Times created a visual timeline depicting how rapid travel and slow global responses aided the coronavirus’ ability to quickly become a pandemic. 
  • This comes as a Reuters report revealed that a potentially key China-based CDC employee was removed from their post in July. That job could have been crucial in relaying information about the virus to the United States.
  • The elimination of that position also highlights divisions between the Trump administration and China as the two blame each other for the virus’ spread.

Coronavirus Timeline

As an unfinished puzzle mocks you while you stare out the window, dreading your next grocery store run, one question is probably sitting on your mind: how did we get here?

Well, on Sunday, reports from the New York Times and Reuters began to answer that question. The reports created key timelines and noted new details that explain how the world came to face the coronavirus pandemic. The Times created a visual timeline that starts at the virus’s beginnings in Wuhan, China, before breaking down its international reach.

According to the Times, a handful of cases from a seafood market quickly turned to dozens by the end of December. At the time, doctors only knew that patients had a type of viral pneumonia. But even in December, the number of cases could have been exponentially higher. 

“The true size of the outbreak was much larger even then — an invisible network of nearly 1,000 cases, or perhaps several times more,” the Times wrote. 

China first alerted the World Health Organization about public risk on December 31, calling the disease preventable and controllable. This alert came on the eve of a crucial turning point for the virus: traveling for Lunar New Year. On January 1, there was extensive travel from Wuhan and throughout China. Throughout the whole month of January, about 7 million people left Wuhan. 

This infected thousands of travelers and started local outbreaks all over China. By February 4, areas that were centers for travel were seeing outbreaks of their own. The Times said that 85% of virus-carrying travelers may have gone undetected.

International Spread

All of this led to the end of January, when Wuhan was put on lockdown, travel bans were getting set in place, and international spread picked up. Still, even though countries other than China were now taking measures of their own, the damage had already been done.

“It was too late,” the Times report said. “Outbreaks were already growing in over 30 cities across 26 countries, most seeded by travelers from Wuhan.” 

By March, the virus had made its way to Italy, South Korea, Iran, and more. China was no longer the driver of its spread and was actually beginning to see a decline in cases as it increased isolation, tracing, and testing.

The United States, however, has had slim testing in comparison. By the time the country was beginning to respond, major cities already had outbreaks. Like the outbreaks before it, the ones in these areas were “once again outpacing efforts to stop it.”

China-Based CDC Position Removed

On top of this rapid and uncontained spread, a Reuters report indicates that key communication between the United States and China may have been lost. The U.S. got rid of a CDC position in July, just months before the outbreak. According to Reuters, that job belonged to Dr. Linda Quick. Quick was an epidemiologist that trained Chinese field epidemiologists who were sent to the “epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases.”

According to several sources in their report, Quick’s position could have been essential in relaying news about the outbreak from on the ground in China at an earlier time, then developing a quicker response. The CDC, however, said her elimination did not stop the spread information and “had absolutely nothing to do with CDC not learning of cases in China earlier.”

Still, cases of the disease began popping up at least in December in Wuhan. Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human services said he first learned of the virus in early January. A former CDC director maintained to Reuters that if the role existed today “it is possible that we would know more today about how this coronavirus is spreading and what works best to stop it.”

Trump Vs. China

Reports over the past several days also indicated that there could be another factor in potentially lagging information between the United States and China: President Donald Trump.

Dr. Robert Fontaine, who served in that now-removed adviser position years ago, told Reuters that tensions between the Trump Administration and Chinese leadership have grown over the past year, damaging their ability to work together. 

“The message from the administration was, ‘Don’t work with China, they’re our rival,’” he told the outlet. 

On par with that messaging, many experts have claimed that the United States’ relationship with China has weakened since the outbreak. Trump and other officials have repeatedly called the coronavirus “the Chinese virus,” a phrase that has been condemned for being stigmatizing and racist. Despite criticism, the administration has defended the phrase, which works hand in hand with Trump’s efforts to blame China for the severity of the outbreak. 

Trump has pointed fingers at China for not stopping the virus’ spread and travel sooner, among other lagging responses. China, however, has thrown the blame right back, criticizing U.S. leadership for not taking it seriously, even though there were global warnings.

This divide is approaching at an incredibly consequential time. China and the U.S. are the two largest economies in the world, both facing varying levels of uncertainty because of this pandemic. Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper, a fellow in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations told The Hill that as they toss blame back and forth, things may only get worse. 

“This is one of these catastrophic, earth shattering moments that have the potential to pull two otherwise rivals together to provide necessary leadership at a time of crisis and it appears to be pushing them even further apart,” she said.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Reuters) (The Hill)

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