GZERO Media logo

What We're Watching: UAE-Israel normalization, Lukashenko tightens grip, Philippines to test Putin's vaccine

What We're Watching: UAE-Israel normalization, Lukashenko tightens grip, Philippines to test Putin's vaccine

UAE and Israel strike historic deal: In an historic development, the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to normalize ties. As part of the deal, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to suspend his government's plans to annex swaths of the occupied West Bank in the near term (he made sure to emphasize that the plan was merely on hold, likely a nod to his right-wing base). The peace deal, brokered by the Trump administration, marks the first time that a Gulf Arab state has normalized ties with Israel — though it's widely believed that shared concerns over the threat posed by Iran have led to backchannel cooperation between Israel and the Gulf Arab states. Many analysts, therefore, say that the agreement is largely symbolic, formalizing ties that have existed for years. It's only the third Arab-Israeli peace agreement since Israel's establishment in 1948 (a deal was signed with Egypt in 1978 and with the Kingdom of Jordan in 1994). Two key takeaways: the move gives the Trump administration a big boost before the November 3 elections as he struggles to keep up in the polls. It also reveals that lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue will no longer impede powerful Arab states from establishing formal ties with Israel, long the official position of the Gulf Cooperation Council.


Is Lukashenko turning the tide? The mass protests that have rocked Belarus since last weekend's rigged election have died down over the past two days, in part because of internet shutdowns and a brutal crackdown by riot police. Factory strikes and some smaller protests against police violence persist, but opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya remains in (possibly forced) exile in neighboring Lithuania, and law enforcement appear to be staying loyal to President Alexander Lukashenko, who has run the country of 9.5 million with an iron fist since 1994. What's more, despite the testy relationship between him and Russian president Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin (along with China) appear so far to be still in his corner, while the European Union has threatened to impose further sanctions on Belarus in the near term (though it needs the support of all 27 EU members to do so). Unless the streets can mount a fresh challenge to his rule that undermines the loyalty of his goons and cops, he may well survive this immediate phase of the crisis. Keep an eye on what happens this weekend.

Filipinos to test Putin's vaccine: The Philippines plans to begin testing on its own citizens Russia's new vaccine — dubbed Sputnik V —for the coronavirus in October, after President Rodrigo Duterte accepted an offer to conduct nationwide clinical trials from his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin (presumably in exchange for getting free doses for all 107 million Filipinos once the vaccine is ready for distribution in May 2021). Duterte — who volunteered on live TV to be the first to inject himself with Sputnik V (though he reneged shortly after) — is apparently not concerned about the danger of cutting corners to rush the development of a miracle cure against COVID-19. The Philippines recently overtook Indonesia as the country with the most coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia, amid a second government-mandated partial lockdown of Metro Manila that expires on Sunday. Although Filipinos have yet to have their say on whether they are willing to be tested, popular confidence in mass inoculation is likely to remain low following a botched national vaccination campaign against dengue in 2016 killed several children.

What We're Ignoring

Spain's northwestern Galicia region has banned outdoor smoking — without social distancing — to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Although most scientists believe that smokers can spread COVID-19 droplets when they exhale, it is unlikely that most residents will comply with the restriction in a country where anti-smoking laws and higher prices have failed to curb overall smoking rates, especially among young Spaniards (who are also those most likely to not wear face masks).

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

More Show less

While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

More Show less

Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

More Show less
Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal