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Netanyahu’s Time is Running Out

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May 4, 2021, 5:46 AM

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approaches deadline on government formation, Biden increases U.S. refugee cap to 62,500, and Colombia protests continue.

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The Clock Is Ticking on Israel’s New Government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hours to clinch an agreement to form a government before a 28-day mandate expires at midnight tonight.

Netanyahu’s task is to break Israeli politics out of the Groundhog Day loop in which it’s been stuck since 2019, with the three votes prior to March’s general election failing to deliver a stable governing coalition.

The results in March were again inconclusive. No party won an outright majority, and neither of the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs reached the 61-seat threshold necessary to form a parliamentary majority.

Bennett as kingmaker? The balance of power could lie with Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and leader of the hard-right Yamina party. Bennett appears to have refused an initial offer from Netanyahu to hold the position of prime minister on a rotating basis. “I did not ask Netanyahu to be prime minister. I asked him to form a government, which, unfortunately, he cannot do,” Bennett told party members on Monday.

A centrist alternative? Should Netanyahu fail to reach an agreement tonight, he could appeal to President Reuven Rivlin to extend his negotiating window. In the past, Rivlin has proved reluctant to provide a grace period, but, citing the Mount Meron tragedy, Netanyahu could argue that his attention has been elsewhere. The liberal-leaning newspaper Haaretz has argued against giving Netanyahu more time, no matter the reasoning. “The time has come to put an end to Netanyahu’s policy of tricks and shticks,” the paper’s lead editorial said on Monday.

If Rivlin chooses to offer the the centrist Yesh Atid a chance at forming a government, Bennett could again benefit. Party leader Yair Lapid has promised Bennett the first shot at the prime minister’s office, should he join him in a rotating leadership team. “What I offered will be kept, and what Netanyahu offered will never happen,” Lapid told his party on Monday. Lapid has also mentioned the possibility of forming a coalition with the support of two Arab parties that would exclude Bennett.

Driverless mode. With political indecision the norm for the past few years, Israel’s foreign policy has been left on auto-pilot, Shalom Lipner writes, making it even harder for the country to adapt to the changes in U.S. policy under the Biden administration. “A functional government that showed up for work and injected a degree of discipline would go a long way toward improving coordination between Israel and the United States,” Lipner wrote in Foreign Policy in April.

What We’re Following Today

Colombia protests. Mass protests in Colombia sparked by President Ivan Duque’s new tax proposals continued on Monday—a day after Duque withdrew the unpopular measures—and are expected to resume today. Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla tendered his resignation on Monday, saying in a statement that his presence in government would “complicate the quick and effective construction of the necessary consensus.” Although Carrasquilla’s connection with the tax reforms precipitated his fall, he had become a figure of ridicule after he failed to provide an accurate answer for the current price of a dozen eggs when questioned by local media last month.

Protest organizers are pressing their advantage following Duque’s climbdown: on Monday union leaders called for the withdrawal of health reforms, a universal basic income, and the dismantling of the country’s riot police force. According to a local ombudsman, 17 people have died so far in the protests.

U.S. refugee admissions. U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday that he will increase the number of refugee admissions to 62,500 for this fiscal year, in an apparent reversal from a statement in April that his administration would keep the historically low cap of 15,000 refugees put in place by the Trump administration. Although White House officials insist he was misunderstood, Biden had been under pressure from progressive groups and fellow Democrats to increase the cap. In a statement, Biden conceded that the new ceiling would not be reached this year, citing the need to “undo the damage” of the Trump administration.

France’s climate law. The French parliament is set to approve a new climate change law today, as President Emmanuel Macron seeks to bolster his environmental credentials ahead of presidential elections in 2022. The law’s provisions include a ban on domestic flights when the same journey can be made by train in less than two and a half hours; it also introduces “ecocide” as a crime to punish polluters. Environmental groups have criticized the law for not going far enough, with Macron’s own environmental advisory council saying it would “have a potentially limited impact.”

Keep an Eye On

EU-India trade ties. The European Union and India are set to revive talks on a trade deal in a bid to strengthen economic ties as both economies face a pandemic-induced downturn. In a call on Monday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the resumption of negotiations—halted since 2013—which are expected to be announced on Saturday. The talks had previously stalled due to tariff and free-movement disagreements. “There is clear momentum to strengthen our strategic relations on trade, digital, climate change & multilateralism,” von der Leyen tweeted after the call.

Brazil’s COVID-19 inquiry. Two Brazilian former health ministers go before a Senate panel today to provide testimony to a commission of inquiry (CPI) into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and use of federal funds. Henrique Mandetta, who served as health minister in March 2020, and Nelson Teich, Mandetta’s successor one month later, are scheduled to speak. Although down from record highs in March, Brazil’s daily coronavirus caseload remains elevated with an average of roughly 60,000 new cases recorded per day over the past week.

Odds and Ends

Belgium has made a territorial gain over its neighbor after a local farmer moved a centuries-old stone marker delineating the Franco-Belgian border. The farmer, from the Walloon municipality of Erquelinnes, moved the boundary stone roughly two meters to give his tractor easier passage, thereby breaking the Treaty of Kortrijk signed in 1820. After good-natured talks with his French counterpart in the neighboring town of Bousignies-sur-Roc, Erquelinnes Mayor David Lavaux has attempted to head off a diplomatic incident by asking the farmer to put the stone back where he found it. “He enlarged Belgium, he reduced France; it wasn’t a good idea. But I was happy that my town got bigger,” Lavaux joked.

This is not a CAPTIS article. Originally, it was published here.