Bibi’s Bid Backfired

Bibi’s Bid Backfired

With 95 percent of the votes counted, Israel's election still hasn't yielded much clarity about who will be running the country. If it feels like we've been here before that's because we have — this is Israel's second vote in five months. Back in April, voters just barely gave Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu's Likud party the most votes, but he failed to form a government, and called a do-over rather than let his chief rival, Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, try to form a government of his own.


Did his move pay off? One Haaretz reporter summed it up best: "Nobody won, but Netanyahu definitely lost."

What happened? Neither Netanyahu's Likud party nor Blue and White has a clear path to attaining a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. As of now, Likud is projected to win 32 seats, trailing Blue and White's 33. Both parties have teamed up with others to strengthen their negotiating positions: Netanyahu would command a 56-seat bloc of right-wing and ultra-orthodox parties, while Gantz's center-left grouping would pick up 44 endorsements for prime minister. Meanwhile, the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties has 12 seats, making it possible that an Arab Israeli could become opposition leader for the first time in Israel's history.

Avigdor Lieberman, kingmaker? This spring, it was Avigdor Lieberman, a wily far-right secularist, who doomed Bibi's chances of forming a government by defecting from the Likud-led coalition. After yesterday, he is a potential kingmaker again: his party, appealing largely to Russian-speaking Israelis, has currently won a crucial eight seats, which will be coveted by both Netanyahu and Gantz.

What happens next?

A unity government — A coalition made up of both Blue and White and Likud remains likely. But there are many forms such a government could take. Who would serve as prime minister? Will Likud depose Netanyahu this time around? Gantz says he will not serve in a unity government with Netanyahu so long as the Likud leader remains implicated in corruption scandals. If a unity government is the outcome, pull up a chair and get comfortable – coalition talks could take weeks, if not months.

Netanyahu forms a single right-wing bloc — Netanyahu has already reached out to his natural coalition partners – right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties – suggesting that he's working towards preventing a "liberal, nationalist" coalition that Gantz would hope to lead. If Netanyahu can win them over, he would have the biggest bloc, improving his chances of forming a government.

Center-left government — Gantz could bridge the gap needed to form a minority government with support from the Arab parties, but neither side seems enthused about that prospect. If it happens, it would be an extremely tenuous coalition.

Election 3.0 — It's the option that nobody wants, but if deadlock persists, Israel could head for its third election in just 12 months. President Reuven Rivlin has said he will do everything in his power to avoid another election, but that would require some parties to compromise. And lack of compromise is what led to repeat elections in the first place…

Would any of this change Israel's foreign policy? Probably not much. Benny Gantz would certainly offer an opportunity for Israel to reset its relations with countries disaffected by Netanyahu's cozying up to illiberal nationalist leaders. (Think of this "warm embrace" with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro or Bibi's affection for Hungary's Viktor Orban.) But Gantz is a former army chief whose actual views align closely with Netanyahu on many foreign policy issues, including the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. On the Palestinian issue, Gantz recently echoed his rival on annexing part of the West Bank, leading Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh to conclude: the difference between Gantz and Netanyahu is like the "difference between Pepsi Cola and Coca-Cola."

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U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in a White House handout photo as he speaks with European leaders about Russia and the situation in Ukraine during a secure video teleconference from the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2022.

Western powers claim that they present a united front against the Kremlin’s current threats in Ukraine. But clearly there are reasons for doubt. President Joe Biden provided more last week when he appeared to question whether NATO would in fact act with “total unity” if Vladimir Putin orders Russian troops across the Ukrainian border.

Do Western allies really agree on a common approach to keeping Russia out of Ukraine? What are the major points of contention among them?

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Beating China at AI | GZERO World

The US and China compete on many fronts, and one of them is artificial intelligence.

But China has a different set of values, which former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is not a big fan of — especially when those values shape the AI on apps his children use.

"You may not care where your kids are, and TikTok may know where your teenagers are, and that may not bother you," he says. "But you certainly don't want them to be affected by algorithms that are inspired by the Chinese and not by Western values."

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Russia & China vs “the West”

Russian President Vladimir Putin attempts to shake hands with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, June 5, 2019.

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Russia and China have always had a complicated relationship. They almost went to war over a border dispute in 1969, and have historically regarded each other as neither friends nor enemies, but rather competitors for influence in Asia and elsewhere.

But that all started to change in 2014, the year Moscow and Beijing saw a US hand in the revolutions that prompted Russia to seize Crimea from Ukraine, and China to crack down on umbrella-wearing protesters in Hong Kong. China is increasingly thirsty for Russian oil and natural gas, and both have a common interest in standing up to “the West.”

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are now showing off their authoritarian bromance in the face of growing animosity from the US and its allies over flashpoints such as Ukraine and Taiwan.

We know how much of the West views Russia and China. But how do Russia and China view the West? Here's a hypothetical recent catch-up video call between BFFs Putin and Xi.

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The Graphic Truth: Coups ain’t what they used to be
Gabriella Turrisi & Paige Fusco

Rebel soldiers have ousted Burkina Faso's democratic government in the first military coup of 2022. Last year, soldiers also seized power in Myanmar, Mali, Guinea and Sudan. But attempts around the globe in recent decades have become both less common and less successful. That's partly because the end of the Cold War diminished outside superpowers' interest in backing coups against governments they didn't like. Here's a look at the historical record.

What We’re Watching: Burkina Faso coup, China’s “pure” internet, Thailand decriminalizes weed

Captain Sidsore Kader Ouedraogo, centre, spokesman for the military government, with uniformed soldiers from the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration or MPSR, announces on a television studio that they have taken power in Burkina Faso.

Radio Television du Burkina (RTB)/Handout via EYEPRESS

Another coup in volatile West Africa. Monday’s military coup in Burkina Faso is the fourth armed takeover of a West African government in just 17 months. As in neighboring countries like Mali — which has had not one but two coups since 2020 — it will be hard for outsiders, like the African Union and the regional group ECOWAS to reverse this assault on an elected government. Why? For one thing, al-Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated militant groups are winning battles with soldiers and killing civilians in barely governed parts of Burkina Faso. For another, more than 1.5 million of the country’s 21 million people have been forced from their homes since 2018. Street protests in major cities and mutinies in military bases have made clear in recent months just how unsustainable Burkina Faso’s security situation has become. Events in Mali, Niger, and Guinea have followed a worryingly similar pattern, and the Ivory Coast and Benin also face growing jihadist threats. We’ll be watching to see whether Burkina Faso’s junta has more success than the government it ousted in beating back jihadist attacks and restoring security to the country — and what happens if it doesn’t.

China's internet "purification" campaign. Xi Jinping doesn't like big celebrities — other than his famous singer wife — because they often show off their expensive lifestyles online, encouraging Chinese youth to worship money instead of the ruling Communist Party. That's why ahead of next week's Lunar New Year, the government plans to take down celebrity fan groups and censor influencers whom Xi regards as "unpatriotic." What's more, minors will no longer be allowed to become online influencers. The campaign is part of Xi's broader "common prosperity" vision to combat rising wealth inequality in China, which has prompted a surge of charitable giving by tycoons, especially tech billionaires. It has also canceled celebrities who flaunted their wealth or embarrassed the CCP by doing things like visiting a Tokyo shrine that holds the remains of World War II criminals, acquiring foreign citizenship, or using a surrogate to have a baby born in the US. Keep all of this in mind if you're an aspiring influencer in China.

Thai stoners rejoice. On Tuesday, Thailand became the first Asian country to decriminalize cannabis by dropping it from its list of banned substances. This is a very big deal for a country known for some of the world’s toughest anti-drug laws, including the death penalty for anyone caught with even small amounts of certain narcotics. Still, a tangle of laws related to cannabis leaves unclear whether recreational use and possession will be prosecuted. For now, the percentage of THC — the psychoactive compound in cannabis that makes you high — must be under 0.2 percent. In recent years, Thailand has relaxed its policy on so-called soft drugs, first legalizing medical marijuana and later kratom, a popular plant-based mild stimulant and painkiller. But the country still has a big problem with addiction to hard drugs — especially yaba (crazy pill), a highly addictive combination of methamphetamine and caffeine sourced from the lawless border areas of neighboring Myanmar.
Hard Numbers: Oz buys Aboriginal flag, Malawi vs corruption, ISIS human shields, Boris the party animal

Children hold an indigenous flag at a Black Deaths in Custody Rally at Town Hall in Sydney, Saturday, April 10, 2021.

AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

14: The Australian government paid $14 million for the copyright of the Aboriginal flag so that anyone can display it without fear of being sued. Indigenous artist Harold Thomas created the flag 50 years ago as a protest image; since then, it has become the dominant Aboriginal symbol and an official national flag.

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Russia's Actions Towards Ukraine Are Strengthening NATO | World In :60 | GZERO Media

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on Russian escalation of Ukraine strengthening NATO, omicron and the end of COVID-19, and on the most recent military coup in West Africa — Burkina Faso:

How will Russian escalation of Ukraine strengthen NATO?

Well, NATO over the last 10, 20 years even was increasingly beset by problems. You had the US unilateralism focused more on Asia. You had the old mission of defending against the Russians less relevant. The French wanting strategic autonomy. Macron leaning into that. Now, of course, Merkel's gone, too. But the proximate reality in danger of the Russians invading Ukraine, actually, as much as the Europeans are more dependent on the Russians for their economy and their gas, they're also more concerned about Russia in terms of national security. That has driven a lot of coordination, including announcements of a lot more troops and material from being sent by NATO states to Ukraine and also to defend NATO borders, like in the Baltic states as well as Bulgaria and Romania. I would argue that what Putin's been doing so far has had no impact greater than bolstering NATO, and it's one of the reasons why I'm skeptical that a full-on invasion is something that Putin has in the cards because that would frankly do more than anything else out there to make NATO, focused on Russia, a serious and going concern.

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