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Israel to Hold Fresh Election After Netanyahu Fails to Form Coalition

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  • Israel’s Parliament voted to dissolve itself and hold new elections on Wednesday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet the deadline to form a new coalition government.
  • Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition was primarily due to his inability to reconcile a bill being debated by two factions of his right-wing bloc, that would require ultra-orthodox men to enlist in the military.
  • Netanyahu was also unable to get support from the centrist Blue and White Party, which refused to form a government with a leader facing indictments.

Israel Election Take Two

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet the deadline to form a coalition government Wednesday, prompting Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, to dissolve itself and call for new elections.

This incident marks the first time in Israel’s history that a prime minister-elect was unable to form a coalition government after an election, as well as the first time that a prime minister-elect dissolved a Parliament that had only been sworn in a month earlier. The new elections will be held on Sept. 17.

On April 9, Netanyahu’s Likud Party beat the opposition Blue and White Party and it’s leader Benny Gantz by a fraction of a percent. In fact, the election was so close that both parties ended up getting the exact same amount of seats, with each receiving 35 out of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

Source: Wikipedia

Neither party won an outright majority, which is common in Israeli elections. In order to become prime minister, party leaders are required to build coalitions with other, smaller parties to piece together a majority of 61 seats.

Usually, the party with the most seats is given the first chance to form a government, but because Netanyahu and Gantz were tied, the decision came down to whoever had the best chance of getting enough support from other parties to build a government.

Because bloc of right-wing parties that were expected to back Netanyahu won a total of 65 seats, Gantz conceded the election. Netanyahu then was given a maximum of 42 days to build a coalition government.

How Did We Get Here?

After the election in April, Netanyahu seemed unstoppable, calling his win “a definite victory.”

Despite how close the election was, Netanyahu was expected to easily form a coalition government, which would usher in his fifth term and make him the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu’s assumed success begs the question, what went wrong? Netanyahu biggest problem came down to a political dispute between two parties that were essential to building a right-wing bloc: the secular ultranationalist party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and the two ultra-Orthodox parties, the Shas and the United Torah Judaism.

All three of those parties were expected to back Netanyahu, and he needed all three to get a majority in the Knesset. However, politics got in the way when Netanyahu was unable to resolve a rift between Yisrael Beiteinu and the ultra-orthodox parties that all came down to a single bill regarding military requirements.

Under current conscription law, most Israeli citizens are required to enlist in the military once they are 18. However, Ultra-Orthodox men who study the Torah are currently exempt from military service.

The proposed bill would change that by requiring ultra-Orthodox men to participate in Israel’s mandatory military conscription. Unsurprisingly, the ultra-Orthodox parties were against the bill and wanted Netanyahu to change it.

Efforts to change the bill, however, were thwarted by the former defense minister and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, Avigdor Lieberman, who did not want any changes to the bill. Lieberman had promoted and strongly supported the bill, arguing that all Israeli citizens should be required to serve in the military.

Lieberman gave Netanyahu an ultimatum: he and his party would join Netanyahu’s coalition, as long as the bill stayed in its current form. This move essentially put Netanyahu in a lose-lose situation.

He could either pass the bill as-is and get Lieberman’s support but risk losing some of the essential 16 seats belonging to the ultra-orthodox parties, or, he could compromise with those parties and lose the five seats Lieberman’s party would bring, which were necessary to give Netanyahu the majority.

Either way, Netanyahu would not get enough seats.

However, the Likud party claimed it had already secured 60 seats, meaning they just needed one more seat to get a majority. This prompted Netanyahu to look to the opposition parties. Here, Netanyahu’s legal problems came into play.

Netanyahu currently faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust from three corruption cases, all of which he has denied.

While he still managed to maintain power in the election in April despite those charges, they still hurt his chances of forming a government with opposition parties, specifically the Blue and White, which refused to form a coalition government with a prime minister facing indictment.

What Next?

Netanyahu’s failure to build a coalition raises questions about his future battling the corruption charges and indictment.

That is primarily because it will stop his party’s efforts to pass a law that would give him immunity from prosecution. Right now, the corruption hearing is set for early October.

However, because the elections are not until September 17, and whoever wins will almost certainly need time to build a coalition government, there is a possibility that there will not be a government when Netanyahu goes to his hearing.

That said, it is unclear whether or not the new elections will push back Netanyahu’s hearing.

Regardless, it is still not over for Netanyahu– at least not yet. While he and his party are not secured a win in the next election, running again is still a better alternative for him.

If Netanyahu had not called for Parliament to be dissolved and triggered new elections, then Israel’s ceremonial president would have given the opportunity to form a coalition to another candidate.

At least this way, Netanyahu still has another shot, strategically speaking. Of course, that opens Israel up to a groundhog day scenario where Netanyahu wins the most seats or is the most likely to form a coalition again, and then they would face the same problems.

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

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Netanyahu Indicted for Bribery, Fraud, and Breach of Trust

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  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted on three corruption charges.
  • The announcement comes just one day after his rival Benny Gantz failed to form a government.
  • Gantz had been given the opportunity to form the government after Netanyahu had failed to do so twice before following two separate elections over the course of five months.
  • Israel’s Parliament now has 21 days to form a majority, or it will head to a third election in less than a year.

Netanyahu Indicted

Israel’s attorney general announced Thursday that he was indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, making it the first time in Israel’s history that a sitting prime minister has been indicted.

The indictments levied against Netanyahu stem from three different cases.

One case claims that Netanyahu illegally accepted $264,000 worth of gifts from tycoons in exchange for lobbying. The two others allege that he traded favors for positive news coverage from an Israeli newspaper and a website.

Netanyahu denied the allegations, calling them “fake news” and saying the claims against him were a politically-motivated “witch hunt” run by the left and the media.

The indictments come at a time when Israel is already in a period of unprecedented political turmoil. 

Series of Elections

Over the last eight months, Israel has seen two elections and three failed attempts to form a government.

During the first election in April, both Netanyahu’s Likud Party and opposition leader Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party both won 35 seats in Israel’s 120-seat Parliament, meaning neither party won an outright majority of 61 seats.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first chance to form a government by building coalitions with the smaller parties to make a majority.

When Netanyahu failed to build a coalition, he proposed and passed a bill to dissolve parliament and hold a second election in September rather than give Gantz or someone else a chance to form a government.

In the resulting September election, Gantz barely edged out Netanyahu, with the Blue and White Party receiving 33 seats to the Likud’s 32.

Netanyahu & Gantz Both Fail to Form Government

Despite the fact that Netanyahu won fewer seats and had already failed to form a government a few months before, Rivlin still chose to give him the first shot at making a government again.

This time, instead of trying to build a coalition with smaller parties, Netanyahu decided to try to form a unity government, under which he and Gantz would come up with an agreement to share power and then pool their seats to make a majority.

But Gantz said he would not form a unity government with Netanyahu as the leader of the Likud as long as Netanyahu faced indictment, and Netanyahu refused to step down as the party’s leader.

As a result, on October 21 Netanyahu announced that he had again failed to form a government and Rivlin handed the mandate over to Gantz, who was then given 28 days to complete the task. 

On Wednesday, just hours before the deadline, Gantz announced that he too had failed to build a government.  Speaking yesterday, Gantz slammed Netanyahu for his insistence that he maintain his right-wing, ultra-religious bloc rather than trying to create a unity government.

“I will not cooperate with an effort to turn the majority of the people to a hostage being held by a small group of extremists,” he said. “I will not be prepared to impose a radical agenda on the majority of the people who have chosen differently.”

Netanyahu hit back at Gantz, saying that he had been “willing without preconditions to enter immediate discussions with you, even tonight, to form a unity government.”

He went on to say that Gantz’s failure to build a government is his own fault, and accused him of being willing to work with Arab lawmakers, who Netanyahu called “terror supporters.”

The Kingmaker

However, there is also a third player that has been absolutely key in everything that’s been going on and the repeated failures to form a government: Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the secular ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party.

Lieberman was once a Netanyahu ally and even served on Netanyahu’s cabinet in multiple positions, but last year he denounced Netanyahu, citing the prime ministers growing dependence on ultraorthodox parties.

Lieberman’s decision not to form a coalition with Netanyahu after the first election was ultimately the reason why Netanyahu was unable to form a majority.

In the aftermath of the second election, he has again found himself as kingmaker because he was basically the only chance for Netanyahu and Gantz to form a majority without building a unity government.

If Netanyahu had the support of the religious parties, Lieberman’s seats could give him a majority. If Gantz had the support of the more left-wing parties as well as the Arab party, the Arab List, Lieberman’s seats would also give him a majority. 

But Lieberman refused to work with either the ultraorthodox religious parties or the Arab List, so that was that.

Israel & Netanyahu’s Chaotic Political Future

With the series of unprecedented developments over the last few days, Israel’s political future remains up in the air. 

Now, Israel’s Parliament will have 21 days to get a majority to support Gantz, Netanyahu, or a third candidate. 

If the Parliament can not cobble together a majority in the next three weeks, then Israel will automatically be headed to its third election in less than a year, which would likely happen in March.

Many experts believe that a third election is the most likely scenario.

As for Netanyahu, he will technically remain as prime minister until he steps down or another is chosen.

While he is not legally required to step down unless convicted, that is only because a prime minister has never been indicted before, and while Israel has a law that requires indicted ministers to resign, whether that law applies to a prime minister has not been tested. 

Already there are reports that several lawmakers have said they are going to petition the Supreme Court to remove him from office.

Even if Netanyahu does not step down, some experts believe the indictment could make it far more difficult for him to retain power.

While some have also pointed out that he largely kept his popularity with his base in the last two elections even with the charges against him, polls have shown that an official indictment would change the minds of many, including right-wing voters.

Others have also speculated that this could be the final straw for the other parties and could push them to coalition together to dump Netanyahu and avoid a third election.

If Netanyahu were to win, he faces a new legal problem: It will be the first time a candidate is under indictment, which raises questions about whether or not the president would even give him a shot at forming another government. 

Even before the indictments, there was some talk in his own Likud party wanting to change leadership after Gantz failed to form a government, and on Thursday a lawmaker in the Likud called for a primary contest for prime minister within the party and said he would be a contender.

See what others are saying: (The Times of Israel) (The Washington Post) (Vox

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Protests in Iran Continue As Government Shuts off the Internet

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  • Massive protests have been going on in Iran since Friday after the government said they would hike up fuel prices by as much as 300%.
  • The government responded to the protests by launching a widespread internet blackout all over the country, making information about the protests and violence difficult to obtain.
  • Iranian officials have said that only 12 people have died, but international organizations and Iranian journalists said the numbers are much higher.
  • The Trump administration said it supports the protests, but many have called its claims hypocritical, noting that the sanctions on Iran have played a huge role in the country’s economic downturn.

Protests Break Out

Nationwide protests have erupted in Iran over the last few days, prompting the government to shut down the internet in almost all of the country.

The demonstrations first started on Friday after the Iranian government announced that it would hike up fuel prices from between 50% to as much as 300%.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that the increase would raise up to $2.55 billion that would be handed out to about 60 million of Iran’s poorest people.

But because the country only has around 80 million people total, many have argued that the government was basically making everyone pay more for gas to just give that money back to most of the population.

The move was also significant because gas is incredibly cheap in Iran, which has the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves. Before the price hikes, people were only paying about 25 cents a gallon for gas.

Even though the new prices are still lower compared to global gas prices, it is a big deal for Iran where many people are struggling due to economic downturn and high inflation.

Similar to other recent protests in countries like Chile and Lebanon, a single decision by the government to raise prices on a population that was already hurting was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Like those other protests, that decision prompted much broader demonstrations against economic issues and corruption.

Following the government’s announcement, drivers abandoned vehicles on highways and protesters took to the streets, blocking roads. While protests in some areas have been largely peaceful, others have become violent.

In some places, protestors set fires and ransacked gas stations, banks, stores, and government buildings. Demonstrators also clashed violently with security forces who responded by using teargas.

Those clashes reportedly escalated Saturday, with some reports that the security forces were opening fire on protesters.

Internet Blackout

The full extent of both the protests and the violence is not currently clear because of the government’s internet blackout.

Iranian officials first imposed the sweeping internet restrictions on Saturday, and they have remained in place since then.

Internet monitoring service NetBlocks described the shutdown as “near-total.”

Oracle’s Internet Intelligence described it as the “largest internet shutdown ever observed in Iran.”

Government officials in Iran said Tuesday that they would gradually lift the block once they were sure the internet would not be “abused” during the protests.

A judiciary spokesman also said Tuesday said that the protests had died down, but there are some conflicting reports as to the validity of that claim, as well as other statements made by the government.

Iranian officials have said that 12 people have been killed, including both civilians and security forces, but others say those numbers are much higher.

The United Nations reported that “dozens” have died, while Amnesty International said the number was more than 100, based on credible sources.

Iranian journalists have also reported that there have been well over 100 shootings by the security forces.

But internet blackout makes it uniquely difficult to know what the correct numbers are. 

The blackout is also unique compared to other recent protests— specifically similar ones in Iraq and Lebanon— where social media has been essential in organizing demonstrations and sharing what is going on with the rest of the world.

United States’ Unique Role

In addition to the internet blackout, there is another aspect that sets apart the protests in Iran from other global protests over the last few weeks and months: the role that the U.S. has played.

Many of Iran’s economic problems have stemmed from the heavy sanctions the U.S. has placed on Iran. 

The U.S., under the Barack Obama administration, had previously lifted sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal aimed at curbing Iran’s civilian nuclear program.

But in May 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew from that deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, including sanctions on their oil exports, which is a huge sector of their economy.

Since then, the Trump administration has continued to ramp up those sanctions, arguing that a “maximum pressure” campaign is more effective to crackdown on Iran’s government.

Many economists and human rights activists have said that the sanctions actually end up hurting Iran’s civilian populations more than they hurt the government.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the protests in a tweet on Friday where he told the people of Iran that “the United States is with you.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned Pompeo’s tweet. In a statement, a ministry spokesperson said that Pompeo’s remarks were “hypocritical” because of the role the U.S. sanctions have played in the country’s economic problems.

“It seems weird to [be] sympathizing with a nation suffering from the US’ economic terrorism and the same person who has already said that the Iranian people should be starved to surrender,” the spokesperson said.

But the Trump administration seemed to double down on its position in a statement released by the White House Sunday.

“The United States supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them,” the statement said. “We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators.”

Many people criticized the White House response, also arguing that the U.S. is partially to blame for Iran’s economic problems, and accusing the administration of painting the protests just as demonstrations against the government when that is only part of the equation.

Some pointed out that the Iranian government implemented the fuel price hike in the first place as part of a broader plan to mitigate the huge economic hit from U.S. sanctions, as well as to help the millions of Iranian civilians who have been hurt by those sanctions.

Iranian government officials for their part have continued to downplay the protests. 

During a televised statement Sunday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so.”

The Ayatollah also said that he still supports the price hike, saying that it “must be implemented” — which is meaningful because he has the final say.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps warned protesters Monday that they will take “decisive” action if the unrest continues.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)

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Protesters Trapped at Hong Kong University After Another Weekend of Violence

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  • Hundreds of protesters are trapped at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University as police surround the campus following a series of violent weekend clashes.
  • Several religious leaders and lawmakers fear Hong Kong may soon see an incident similar to 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre as they wait to see if mainland China will order the widespread use of live rounds.
  • On Monday, Hong Kong’s High Court ruled the October ban of face masks unconstitutional after Chief Executive Carrie Lam enacted the ban last month so police could better identify protesters.

Students Trapped on University Campus

Hundreds of protesters remain trapped on Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University Monday after a violent weekend of police clashes that resulted in police completely surrounding the campus. 

Earlier in the day, protesters attempted a mass exodus to flee the university, but they were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. One reporter described the situation as no less than 10 minutes of nonstop tear gas. 

Some protesters were arrested in the clash, but many were also reportedly forced back onto campus.

The clash occurred after protesters ignored riot police’s warnings to leave unarmed at an approved exit zone. Many attendees, however, feared they would be arrested if they used that exit. 

Clashes like this over the weekend led to dozens being admitted to the hospital, with four in serious condition.

Students Protest at PolyU

The situation began last week when students began the protest at PolyU. Those protests originally started peacefully, but many protesters prepared for violence by making Molotov cocktails.

Those students then reportedly practiced by throwing them in the school’s empty pool. Other students reportedly practiced using catapult-style slingshots and bows and arrows. 

On Saturday, clashes erupted as police started advancing on PolyU. In a scene that has become increasingly common over the last few months, riot police fired tear gas and water cannons while protesters shielded themselves with umbrellas and boards. Those protesters then hurled bricks and Molotov cocktails in retaliation.

Bricks continued to fly well into Sunday morning when protesters flung them at residents who were trying to clear a road.

Also Sunday morning, there were some reports of Chinese soldiers in riot gear monitoring the situation from the base of the university. On Saturday, the Chinese government deployed soldiers into the territory for the first time in the protests nearly six-month history, though that deployment was mostly part of an effort to clean up and clear streets.

Sunday evening, protesters fired catapults and bows and arrows from rooftops, with one arrow reportedly striking an officer in the calf. Later, protesters set fire to a bridge that connects the university to a train station. 

Into the night, PolyU administrators asked protesters to end the violence and leave the campus.

“The university is gravely concerned that the spiraling radical illicit activities will cause not only a tremendous safety threat on campus, but also class suspension over an indefinite period of time,” a university statement reads.

Outside the campus, Hong Kong legislator Ted Hui tried to negotiate with riot police by trying to ask police to allow protesters on campus to leave. Police denied the request and Hui was later pepper-sprayed.

https://twitter.com/HongKongFP/status/1196055332490891266/photo/1

Protesters Set Fire to Armored Vehicle and Ask for Support

The same night, police attempted to enter the campus by using an armored vehicle. That vehicle charged a barricade protesters had set up on a bridge, but it reversed course as protesters set it on fire using Molotov cocktails. 

Students then rushed another armored vehicle following that clash.

All of that happened while students airdropped messages to each other asking protesters to recruit even more protesters to then surround the police.

“The effort to surround the police at PolyU from all four corners is our final hope,” one message read.

It later seemed that message worked because five other significant protests in the city all popped up in an attempt to draw police resources away from the university. Notably, there were reports of some medical professionals being arrested, presumably by riot police. 

In a video statement, police said they would use start live rounds on rioters if they continued using lethal weapons to attack officers. Police then tried to storm the campus again but protesters set the entrance on fire.

At the same time, a handful of protesters managed to escape the university on motorcycles.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy lawmakers and religious leaders on the streets urged people to rescue those inside of PolyU because they said that they were afraid the situation could turn into a new Tiananmen Square.

In 1989, the Chinese government ordered the military to use live rounds on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. While the Chinese government reported that only a few hundred died, other estimates climbed well into the thousands.

A few hours later in a video, the president of PolyU tried to de-escalate the situation, saying he had negotiated a suspension of force with the police but only if protesters left campus and turned themselves in.

“The main goal is to protect the campus and prevent people from getting arrested,” one PolyU alum said.

Before last week’s clash between riot police and protesters at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, it had been an unspoken rule that police didn’t go on college campuses. In that sense, students had been able to feel safe and to talk openly.

Face Mask Ban Overturned

Also on Monday,  Hong Kong’s High Court struck down a ban that barred protesters from wearing face masks.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam enacted the ban in October in a move she had hoped would de-escalate the situation and make it easier for police to identify individuals. 

In its findings, the court said the ban violated Hong Kong’s constitution, known as the Basic Law.

It also said that the ban was too vague and that it endangered the ability of the Legislative Council to make laws.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Axios) (South China Morning Post)

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