What We're Watching: Bibi on trial, Iran nuclear talks resume, Kosovo's election

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in court

Bibi on trial as deadlock continues: One political commentator described it as "the ultimate Israeli split screen." As Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's corruption trial finally kicked off after months of delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, political parties were meeting with Israel's President Reuven Rivlin to "recommend" whether the incumbent PM or the opposition should be given the first shot at trying to form a new coalition government after Israelis recently went to the polls for the fourth time in two years. Back in court, the prosecutor said that the PM made "illegitimate use" of his power to obtain favorable media coverage and other luxury perks, with Bibi responding by calling the trial an "attempted coup." The political temperature could not be hotter right now: though Netanyahu is likely to have the votes to try and form a government in the next few weeks, political stalemate persists, making it increasingly unlikely that he will be able to hobble together a workable coalition. Netanyahu also must appear in court three times a week, a massive distraction as he tries to save his political career. All this comes as Israel tries to revive its post-pandemic economy without a stable government or a national budget. The prospect of a fifth election looms large.


Iran talks finally resume: After months of speculation over how to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the US unilaterally abandoned under the Trump administration, most signers of the pact — France, Germany, the UK, China, and Russia — will meet in Vienna on Tuesday to chart a path forward. But there's a catch: representatives from the US and Iran will be present but they will not meet face-to-face. Why? Because the Iranians still insist that the US immediately lift all 1,600 economic sanctions — worth $1 trillion in economic damages — first. The US, meanwhile, says that the Iranians — who have enriched uranium well beyond the deal's limits in recent years — must fall back into compliance with the accords themselves. The other signatories will try to bring Washington and Tehran closer, but that won't be easy. Trust on both sides has cratered after six years of bluster and confrontation, with the Americans insisting Tehran cease its support of terrorist proxies across the Middle East. But time is of the essence: Iran is set to hold national elections in June and if hardliners win the presidency and parliamentary seats, Tehran could lose interest in engaging with America at all.

Kosovo parliament elects a president just in time: With just one day until a deadline that would have triggered snap parliamentary elections, the tiny Balkan nation of Kosovo's legislators on Sunday elected 38-year old lawyer and activist Vjosa Osmani as president, representing the ruling leftwing nationalist Vetëvendosje movement. The post had been formally vacant since last November when her predecessor stepped down over war crimes accusations. Two prior attempts to elect a president in recent days had failed because boycotts by opposition parties and ethnic-Serb parties prevented the body from reaching quorum. Osmani and Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who founded Vetevendosje himself as an anti-establishment party more than a decade ago, have styled themselves as a younger and more liberal generation of Kosovar leaders. One of the biggest challenges, in addition to a massively struggling economy, is to chart further progress in peace talks with Serbia, which — with backing from China and Russia — still refuses to recognize the independence of its former province. (Kosovo, with support from NATO, declared independence in 2008 after more than a decade of struggle against the threat of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Serb nationalists.) The Trump administration brokered a partial normalization of economic ties last year but deep misgivings remain on both sides.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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