The group of eight parties from all over the political spectrum has just enough seats for the necessary majority, and any last-minute defections would cause the deal to fall apart.
Israel’s New Coalition, Explained
A group of Israeli opposition leaders announced Wednesday night that they had reached an agreement to form a coalition government and oust Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister.
Currently, the group is composed of eight political parties from the hard right, the left, the center, and one Arab party.
A much more logical coalition would be composed of the parties on the right. That cannot be formed without Netanyahu’s Likud party, which is the largest of the conservative parties by far. However, many of the prime minister’s previous allies — led by the hard right leader Naftali Bennett, who formerly served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff — have abandoned him in favor of the new coalition.
The significance of this move is contextualized well by The New York Times, which explained that the effort “would be akin to Mitch McConnell abandoning Donald Trump to work with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Chuck Schumer — and Ocasio-Cortez and Schumer saying yes.”
If the deal is finalized, it would form a government of political opposites that agree on very little beyond the sentiment that Netanyahu needs to go and that his efforts to stay in power after four failed elections in two years are hurting the country.
Also of note here: if the government assumes office, it would mark the first time an Arab party is part of the ruling coalition.
As for how power would be divided up under the agreement, Bennett would serve as prime minister for two years. After that, center-left opposition leader Yair Lapid would take the position.
In order to keep their tentative coalition together, the two leaders have promised to focus on issues where the diverse groups could reach compromises at the beginning, such as education and infrastructure.
They would, by contrast, avoid divisive areas, such as new policies on Israeli-Palestinian issues, where the views of the eight parties range from religion-centered advocates of Jewish settlements in the West Bank to secular leaders who support an independent Palestinian state.
Keeping the coalition together will be tenuous, and nothing is set in stone.
While the opposition leaders have outlined a deal, it still needs to win a vote of confidence in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, before the coalition can take over as the new government.
That creates a very precarious situation because if a deal is made, the new group would hold the barest majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. As a result, if just one party defects before the vote of confidence, the whole agreement could fall apart — a move that could very well pave the way for a fifth election.
Netanyahu and his remaining allies plan to capitalize on this key factor. The speaker of the Knesset, Yariv Levin, is an ally of Netanyahu and is expected to use parliamentary procedure to delay the vote by at least 12 days.
That extra time will give the embattled leader a chance to lobby and pressure party leaders in the coalition who are still on the fence about forming such an ideologically divided government — a campaign he has already begun.
On Thursday, Netanyahu made it clear that he intends to fight on, taking to Twitter to list concessions that he claimed the right and center parties made to gain the Arab party’s support.
“All right-wing Knesset members must oppose this dangerous left-wing government,” he wrote.
As for if his pressure campaign will work, it all comes down to a cost-benefit analysis of whether this coalition is worth the risk.
Many of the leaders are uncomfortable working with each other and have made serious compromises to even reach an agreement on a coalition goverment. The alternative, however, is likely another election cycle, during which Netanyahu would keep power.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.