Hot Take: Bennett, Lapid look to move fast to close the deal on government
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t form a government by May 4, so next up is Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Chair Yair Lapid.
Done deal? Lapid already has a pact with Jewish Home Party (Yamina) leader Naftali Bennett to divide the prime ministerial duties, with Bennett going first, in a coalition built on nothing more than a shared determination to end Netanyahu’s run as prime minister — the longest in Israel’s history. That is if they can assemble the coalition.
Closing ranks. It remains to be seen whether Bennett’s far-right constituency will accept a deal with Lapid, the left and likely Arab Knesset members. Yamina Knesset member Amichai Chikli has already resigned in protest to a Yamina alliance with Lapid. Bennett can’t afford another defection. Ben Caspit says Yamina Knesset member and former Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked could be kingmaker or deal-breaker of a Lapid-Bennett government.
Our take: A Lapid-Bennett arrangement would begin on the shakiest of ground and would in some ways remind us of the ill-fated Netanyahu partnership with his rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, last year. Gantz was no match for Netanyahu’s political gamesmanship and never got close to the prime minister’s office. That arrangement’s collapse led us directly to this election and the prospects of another seemingly bizarre alliance. Lapid is to the left of Gantz; Bennett is to the right of Netanyahu. The glue holding Lapid and Bennett together, if they pull it together, is the aim of boxing out Bibi — who, if it happens, would end up as a formidable leader of the Knesset (parliament) opposition bloc and thus be plotting the government's downfall from day one (even while on trial for corruption).
If, if. If Lapid can’t form a government in 28 days, the Knesset will have 21 days to do so. And if that fails, Israel would face its fifth election in three years.
Read more: Mazal Mualem has the latest from Israel here.
Five takes: US-Israel-Iran, Saudi Arabia, Gulf-China, Turkey, Ethiopia-Egypt-Sudan
1. Biden meets with Mossad boss
Ben Caspit reports on what went down in President Joe Biden’s White House meeting last Friday with Yossi Cohen, the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency. Cohen reportedly provided Biden with a summary of Israel’s intelligence on the Iran threat and made the case that returning to the nuclear deal would be a grave mistake.
The meeting, which lasted an hour and was described as “very friendly,” was scheduled at Biden’s request. A senior Israeli diplomatic source explained the US president’s thinking this way: “Biden chose Cohen in order to relay a clear message that the US was not abandoning Israel, that it would never agree to Iran acquiring military nuclear capability and that the return to the agreement is not the end of the world but just the beginning of a process.”
Chances are, that message was poorly received by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But as Caspit points out, Biden is surely aware that Bibi’s days in office may be numbered.
2. Can Saudi Arabia go cashless?
As part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan, Saudi Arabia is betting big on online business and cashless transactions as a way of modernizing the oil-dependent kingdom, creating more jobs for young people and increasing oversight of its economy.
E-commerce giants like Amazon have recently announced plans to expand operations in the conservative Gulf country. Sean Mathews explains that “the unique mix of young consumers (the average age in Saudi Arabia is 31) eager for a tech-influenced lifestyle and a controlling government that wants to bring its economy online has many in the industry eyeing the Arab world's only G-20 member state.”
3. Ethiopia blames clashes on Egypt and Sudan
Ethiopian leaders have accused Egypt and Sudan of fomenting violence in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region, where ongoing clashes between government forces and armed groups have killed more than 200 people. The volatile region is home to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), and as Khalid Hassan writes, officials in Addis Ababa believe the downstream countries are fueling the fighting there to stymie Ethiopia’s filling of the controversial megadam.
The clashes in western Ethiopia come as Washington's special envoy for the Horn of Africa region, Jeffrey Feltman, visits Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan from May 4-13 for meetings that are expected to address a potential US role mediating the GERD dispute.
4. Gulf states rethink use of Chinese vaccines
China’s vaccine diplomacy helped make its COVID-19 vaccines the jab of choice in most Gulf Cooperation Council countries. But after the top Chinese disease control official admitted last month that the vaccines’ efficacy rates are lower than expected, the Gulf states may be forced to rethink their own inoculation campaigns, Sabena Siddiqui writes. After a recent spike in cases, the United Arab Emirates is now recommending a third dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine amid concerns the first two jabs fail to produce enough antibodies. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has widened deployments of the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine.
Just how ineffective are the Chinese vaccines? A trial in Brazil found the vaccine made by the Beijing-based Sinovac has an efficacy rate of 50.7%. For comparison, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have reported efficacy rates of 97% and 94%, respectively.
5. Who knew about Turkey’s passport scheme?
Did senior Turkish officials know that citizens were using so-called "grey passports" — temporary travel documents provided for those who travel abroad to represent Turkey — for personal travel and simply turn a blind eye? Pinar Tremblay takes a closer look at who’s to blame for a yearslong human-trafficking operation, where municipalities allegedly sold special passports meant only for Turks on official government business. The Interior Ministry says at least 804 people used the travel documents to reach Europe and then failed to return home when their “grey passports” expired. One Kurdish draft dodger told Al-Monitor that he paid over 8,000 euros ($9,612) to be smuggled out of the country in 2018.
As the scandal unfolds, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: The “grey passports were real, which means there is some degree of cooperation with different agencies of the Interior Ministry responsible for vetting applicants and providing passports,” Tremblay writes.
One cool thing: Egypt unearths ancient tombs
Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered 110 tombs in the Nile Delta dating back to three different ancient civilizations. Among the tombs from Lower Egypt, the dead were buried in a fetal position with their heads facing to the west, and the remains of a baby were found inside a jar. Other finds included funerary furniture, a set of ovens and stoves, scarab amulets and jewelry made of semi-precious stones.
As Hagar Hosny writes, such antiquities are key to supporting Egypt’s tourism sector, “which has suffered successive blows since the 2011 uprising, the Russian plane crash in Sinai at the end of 2015 and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
What we’re reading: Iraq’s unequal COVID-19 slowdown
Informal workers in Iraq were among the hardest hit by the country’s coronavirus-induced economic downturn, according to survey data collected by the World Food Program and World Bank. More than 31% of Iraq’s salaried workers without written contracts lost their jobs by August 2020. Those working in the government or public sector, by contrast, were most likely to stay employed, and Iraqi men were more likely than women to return to the workforce. The authors warn the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the informal private sector workers will likely exacerbate poverty and inequality in Iraq.