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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).

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele is an unusual politician. The 39-year old political outsider boasts of his political triumphs on TikTok, dons a suave casual uniform (backwards-facing cap; leather jacket; tieless ), and refuses to abide by Supreme Court rulings.

Bukele also enjoys one of the world's highest approval ratings, and that's what helped his New Ideas party clinch a decisive victory in legislative elections on February 28, securing a close to two-third's supermajority (75 percent of the vote had been counted at the time of this writing).

His triumph will resonate far beyond the borders of El Salvador, Central America's smallest country, home to 6.5 million people. Now that Bukele has consolidated power in a big way, here are a few key developments to keep an eye on.

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Now that millions of high-priority Americans have been vaccinated, many people in low-risk groups are starting to ask the same question: when's my turn? Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious diseases expert, has an answer, but probably not the one they're hoping for: "It probably won't be until May or June before we can at least start to get the normal non-prioritized person vaccinated." On GZERO World, Dr. Fauci also addresses another burning question: why aren't schools reopening faster? And while Dr. Fauci acknowledges that reopening schools must be a top priority, he has no quick fixes there, either. In fact, that's kind of a theme of the interview.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Dr. Fauci's Pandemic Prognosis

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

I thought I would talk today, I haven't spoken much about former President Trump since he's no longer president and I intend to continue that practice. But given this weekend and the big speech at CPAC and the fact that in the straw poll, Trump won and won by a long margin. I mean, DeSantis came in number two, but he's the Governor of Florida, CPAC was in Orlando, so that's a home court bias. In reality, it's Trump's party. And I think given all of that, it's worth spending a little bit of time reflecting on what that means, how I think about these things.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

Quick Take