Is this the beginning of the end for Israel's Netanyahu?

Protesters holding an image of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pasted with the slogan "NOPE"

"There won't be tricks and there won't be shticks," Israel's forever-Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu said back in March as he tried to convince the up-and-coming centrist opposition party, Blue and White, to join his coalition government.

But since then, the wily prime minister has, in fact, unveiled such a bewildering array of tricks and shticks of his own that he caused the government to collapse, pitching the country into its fourth election in just two years.

Why did the government collapse? The immediate cause was the government's failure to pass a national budget, which by law triggers a new election.


But the budget negotiations didn't collapse on their own — there's a murkier story at play: Netanyahu, Israel's longest serving premier, has been trying to avoid handing over the top job to Blue and White leader, Benny Gantz, which was a condition of the coalition agreement they signed earlier this year. However, critics say that Bibi used a loophole in the deal to sever ties with Gantz — and stop him from rotating into the prime ministership — by stonewalling on the 2020 budget.

For Netanyahu, the stakes couldn't be higher. Come February, testimony will begin in the prime minister's corruption trial, which could ultimately send him to jail. If he loses the top job — as prescribed by his power-sharing agreement with Gantz — he would be vulnerable to prosecution. But leading Israel's government next year would allow Netanyahu to limit his own legal exposure by ensuring the passage of an immunity bill that would shield him from prosecution in three criminal cases. (Netanyahu had previously withdrawn an immunity request amid an ongoing political battle.)

Bibi-fatigue. But Netanyahu's recent politicking hasn't played out as he might have hoped. The defection of his former ally, Gideon Saar, who recently formed a right-wing alternative to Bibi's Likud party, has dealt a significant blow to the PM, as several Likud loyalists have jumped ship to join Saar's mission to unseat their former boss.

Meanwhile, there's much speculation that the former Likud members could form a right-wing coalition with Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu protege who heads his own far-right party and has also put his hat in the ring for the top job. Both Bennett and Saar are hoping to exploit public disillusionment over the pandemic response and economic crisis to unseat a man they believe has put his own considerations ahead of the national interest. "The [Likud] party turned into a cult for one person," Saar recently said.

Indeed, if that were to happen, it would be impossible for the bullish Netanyahu to revert to his old playbook by portraying his rivals as Palestinian-loving "traitors" given their right-wing bonafides.

The centre-left Gantz, meanwhile, is in dire straits. He hemorrhaged support from his broad base after promising not to form a government with Bibi and then doing it anyway.

COVID politics. In recent days, Israelis entered another national lockdown as COVID cases there surged — the country's third since the pandemic began. For many Israelis, both right and left wing voters, it's another stark reminder of the government's inept handling of the pandemic that's plunged the country into its worst economic recession in decades.

But ever the political schemer, Netanyahu managed to get access to the coveted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and Israel has since launched the most ambitious inoculation drive in the world, having administered the first Pfizer dose to 4.4 percent of the population, the most of any country.

But it's unclear whether vaccine politics will get Bibi across the finish line this time. Tel-Aviv based journalist Neri Zilber told GZERO that recent poll numbers suggest that even some diehard Likudniks could finally break away from Bibi. "There is also the economic impact of COVID lockdowns that has hit a wide swath of the public, with the Netanyahu-government (but not Saar or Bennett in opposition) viewed as the main culprits," Zilber said.

How will it play out ahead of the election in March? For now, Bibi's poll numbers remain steady considering the tumult of the past year, though it seems unlikely at this stage that he has a path to forming a coalition government down the track.

"Given the fine margins involved in forming a coalition government," Zilber warns, "it wouldn't take very much to shift the overall race — especially since now, unlike in the past, a rightwing voter has 3-4 credible options from which to choose."

While Israel's prominent political players have a common goal — to get Bibi out — they are competing for the same right-wing anti Netanyahu vote that could end up undermining their mission. Either way, the stakes couldn't be higher for Netanyahu. After 11 years in power, does he have enough tricks and shticks left to avoid downfall?

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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