- 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.
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.
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)
Leaked Documents and Photos Give Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Xinjiang’s Detention Camps
The so-called vocational schools, which China claims Uyghurs enter willingly as students, oversee their detainees with watchtowers armed with machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as guards instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.
Detained for Growing a Beard
The BBC and a consortium of investigative journalists have authenticated and published a massive trove of leaked documents and photographs exposing the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in unprecedented detail.
According to the outlet, an anonymous source hacked several police computer servers in the northwestern Xinjiang province, then sent what has been dubbed the Xinjiang police files to the scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz, who gave them to reporters.
Among the files are more than 5,000 police photographs of Uyghurs taken between January and July 2018, with accompanying data indicating at least 2,884 of them were detained.
Some of the photos show guards standing nearby with batons.
The youngest Uyghur photographed was 15 at the time of their detention, and the oldest was 73.
One document is a list titled “Relatives of the Detained,” which contains thousands of people placed under suspicion for guilt by association with certain family members. It includes a woman whose son authorities claimed had “strong religious leanings” because he didn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He was jailed for ten years on terrorism charges.
The files also include 452 spreadsheets with information on more than a quarter of a million Uyghurs, some of whom were detained retroactively for offenses committed years or even decades ago.
One man was jailed for ten years in 2017 because he “studied Islamic scripture with his grandmother” for a few days in 2010.
Authorities targeted hundreds more for their mobile phone use, like listening to “illegal lectures” or downloading encrypted apps. Others were punished for not using their phones enough, with “phone has run out of credit” listed as evidence they were trying to evade digital surveillance.
One man’s offense was “growing a beard under the influence of religious extremism.”
The Most Militarized Schools in the World
The files include documents outlining conditions inside Xinjiang’s detention camps, or so-called “Vocational Skills Education and Training Centers.”
Armed guards occupy every part of the facilities, with machine guns and sniper rifles stationed on watchtowers. Police protocols instruct guards to shoot to kill any so-called “students” trying to escape if they fail to stop after a warning shot.
Any apprehended escapees are to be taken away for interrogation while camp management focuses on “stabilizing other students’ thoughts and emotions.”
The BBC used the documents to reconstruct one of the camps, which data shows holds over 3,700 detainees guarded by 366 police officers who oversee them during lessons.
If a “student” must be transferred to another facility, the protocols say, police should blindfold them, handcuff them and shackle their feet.
Dr. Zenz published a peer-reviewed paper on the Xinjiang police files, in which he found that more than 12% of Uyghur adults were detained over 2017 and 2018.
“Scholars have argued that political paranoia is a common feature of atrocity crimes,” he wrote. “Here, it is suggested that the pre-emptive internment of large numbers of ordinary citizens can be explained as a devolution into political paranoia that promotes exaggerated threat perceptions.”
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Newsweek) (The Guardian)
Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China
Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.
Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion
During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.
A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”
“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”
“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.
Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.
Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.
The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.
Biden Sparks Controversy
The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.
“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.
Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”
In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.
Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.
“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”
“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”
“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”
Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.
The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.