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What We're Watching: Israel's awkward new government, Novavax is ready to play, Spaniards protest pardons

Israel's President Reuven Rivlin sits next to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as they pose for a group photo together with ministers of the new Israeli government, in Jerusalem June 14, 2021.

Is Israel's new government too awkward to survive? Israel's new government was sworn in on Sunday, and for the first time in 12 years, it is not led by someone named Benjamin Netanyahu. Though Netanyahu will remain head of the opposition bloc and leader of Likud, the biggest party in the Knesset, the new government, one of the most ideologically diverse in the nation's history, represents a massive political shift in the crisis-ridden country. The new government's representatives include right-wing nationalists — like Naftali Bennet, Israel's new prime minister — and centrists like Yair Lapid who heads the influential Yesh Atid party and is responsible for bringing the coalition together. For the first time in two decades, the far-left Meretz party will also sit in the government, as will a conservative Arab party, headed by Mansour Abbas, who reversed a decades-old position by agreeing to serve in government with Jewish Zionists in the hopes of delivering for his community. There are plenty of reasons to doubt the longevity of the new government given its incoherent alliances, but on the flip side, these factions — most of which are small and would likely not have made the cut to sit in government without Lapid's deal-making — have incentives to make the government work. The first item on the agenda will be passing a national budget, the first in two years. But with a slim coalition of only 61 out of 120 Knesset seats, pulling this off won't be easy.

Novavax's COVID vaccine does not disappoint: Clinical trial results for the coronavirus vaccine made by US-based Novavax showed it is 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections — and 100 percent effective against serious, life-threatening illness. Novavax says it plans to produce 100 million doses per month by the end of September, and 150 million doses per month thereafter. Low and middle-income countries will be among the first to receive shipments, according to Novavax. Approval in the US may take some time as US regulators may not issue "emergency" authorization the way they did earlier in the pandemic for Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna. However, Novavax will seek approvals also in the EU, UK, India, and South Korea where, for the most part, vaccine rollouts have been weaker than in the US. Scientists say that in addition to offering basic protection, this shot could emerge as one of the most effective "boosters" for those who have already been fully inoculated, because it proved very effective against some variants of concern.

Protests over pardons in Spain: Tens of thousands of Spaniards have taken to the streets of the capital, Madrid, to protest the government's plans to pardon Catalan independence leaders who were jailed for sedition in 2019. Leftwing Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says the move is meant to promote unity in a country where the Catalan independence drive in 2017 provoked a brutal crackdown and constitutional crisis, but critics say he's dangerously pandering to the Catalan nationalist parties whose support his fragile minority government needs. Meanwhile, nationwide, nearly two thirds of Spaniards disapprove of the move, and the figure is almost certainly higher than that among non-Catalans (source in Spanish). The pardons have stoked particular fury among Spain's resurgent far right.


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