Newsletter

The Unusual Result of Israel’s Election 2021

Israel’s fourth election in the past two years held on 23rd March is best to be described as an impasse and paving no clear way towards attaining majority. As votes have been counted, the political gurus are struggling to find a formula that the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, locally known as Bibi, might use to magically accumulate 61 seats that are required to form a government.

The elections held in the past two years were all about him, as a means of securing power and for the sake of his political survival in the country. The political pundits of Israel have divided the parties contesting elections for 120 seats of Knesset into two blocs: pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu. Both blocs lack clear victory to form a government and notably, these blocs are barely unified internally. This is the reason why the media houses and other analysts in the country are envisaging fifth elections in-country in the coming summer. Understanding Israel’s politics has always been an arduous task for the outsiders unaware of local political culture.

For years, factors such as extremist ideology, religiously motivated groups, and especially demographics have been impacting Israel’s general election results. Irrespective of the final vote count, which will not mystically alter the election results, horse-trading and dealing and wheeling are going to being immediate. It is anticipated that after the elections the promises made during the campaign are likely to be shattered and rivals might end up forming coalitions to attain a certain degree of power in government. What makes this election different from those held in the past two years is that now the right-wing and the far-right are divided with former Netanyahu allies.

Former allies are seen to be parting ways and making new political alliances. The pundits have labeled Mansour Abbas, who leads Islamist United Arab List (UAL) as a kingmaker, whose 4 seats can help Netanyahu secure the required 61 seats in the parliament. Yamina Party’s Neftali Bennett is seen to be another kingmaker, who has been successful in securing seven seats. In last year’s March elections, Netanyahu avoided far-right politicians, but this year’s situation is different as he sees himself in a stronger position of negotiating with them. Although Netanyahu’s party lost some ground but unexpectedly managed to emerge as the largest party by securing 30 seats. The real test for Netanyahu would be reconciliation with the far-right religious factions and perhaps forming an alliance with the Islamist UAL.

Bezalel Smotrich, a prominent religious Zionist leader remarked that he would not allow the formation of a government with the support of the Islamist UAL. Mansour Abbas has not yet stated his stance on supporting the far right for forming the government, but a prospect of such an alliance is expected however in exchange for improved services for the Arab community settled in Israel.

A very crucial matter that was absent from the election campaign was the prospects of reviving the peace talks with Palestine. Netanyahu used the successful vaccination scheme of COVID-19 as an accomplishment to secure votes but this was shadowed by what Israeli people believe to be a sluggish response and mismanagement of the pandemic, which also proved detrimental to the economy. Moreover, Netanyahu is under trial for corruption charges and accepting bribes for his political survival. Netanyahu might be able to gather parties to form a government through a coalition but it will be fragile and unreliable thus likely to break up soon.

On the other hand, if by some miracle the anti-Netanyahu camp is able to form a government with the support of like-minded factions, it will be the beginning of a new era and departure of a person who since the 1990s has been dominating Israel.

Suez Canal: A Giant Ship blocking the Canal

One of the world’s strategic shipping canals, the Suez Canal, was blocked by a giant Japanese-owned Ever Given cargo ship, 1,400-foot long weighing 200,000-tons, for nearly a week.

The ship was operated by Taiwanese company Evergreen Marine and obstructed at an angle in Egypt’s Suez Canal on March 23, 2021. The blockade initiated a major cargo ships jam causing billions of dollars of trade to be delayed in efforts to refloat the vessel. As per Leth Agencies, 367 vessels were trapped along the canal including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels.

The blockade invited global attention as authorities and workers were carrying out a rescue mission to refloat the vessel to unblock the waterway. As per NBC News,” Dredgers worked over the weekend to dislodge the stranded vessel, shifting some 27,000 metric tons of sand to a depth of 60 feet. A total of 14 tugboats were conducting pulling maneuvers from three directions to dislodge the ship.” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi commented, “Today, Egyptians have been successful in putting to an end the crisis of the stranded ship in the Suez Canal, despite the enormous complexity surrounding the process.” The blockage caused the oil prices to augment and disturbed the global supply chain which also put companies at risk of facing costly delays, especially with COVID-19 restrictions.

The shipping resumed through Suez Canal on Monday as the skyscraper ship refloated with help of tug boats that moved it slowly in the center of the canal and the ship started moving at the speed of 1.5 knots (2.8kmph). The ship was repositioned and inspected for seaworthiness. There is a sense of relief among the authorities and workers but another challenge looking straight in the eyes is the congestion of ships that the blockade has caused. Suez Canal authorities have decided that stranded vessels would be allowed to pass through the Canal on a first-come-first-served basis and there might be some exceptions to particular ships depending on what kind of goods are on board. There had been no reports regarding pollution or cargo damage, and initial investigations had ruled out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding last week.

Other than the economic and financial jolt, this situation raises another concern; security. It was highly possible that ships could have been exploded or damaged by radical groups. This could have caused another challenge globally. Authorities must be prepared in the future for situations that are not only on the contours of economy and finance.

Pakistan Bangladesh Ties

The Pakistan-Bangladesh relationship is weighed down by history. But if bilateral ties are to progress, both Islamabad and Dhaka must look forward instead of living in the painful past. Improvement in bilateral relations can be reactivated which in turn can help create a more integrated and peaceful South Asia.

Government to promote trade relations with Bangladesh, said that “Bangladesh is one of the top destinations for exports of Pakistan. Trade between Pakistan and Bangladesh has always been in favor of Pakistan”. While giving a breakdown of exports and imports of the past five years, the minister told the parliamentarians that both countries had total trade of $700.39 million in 2019-20, wherein Pakistani exports amounted to $654.79 million and import from Bangladesh stood at $45.60million. “Even though trade remained in surplus this year too, the overall trade including both exports and imports decreased in the wake of Covid-19, the economic fallouts of which remained palpable throughout the world since February 2020,” the ministry stated.

Both the countries had a total trade of $806.75m in 2018-19, $805.00m in 2017-18, $678.43m in 2016-17, $763.08m in 2015-16 and $769.53m in 2014-15. The government of Pakistan has included Bangladesh in List ‘A’ countries from October 2019 which has facilitated the travel of Bangladeshi businessmen to Pakistan. Pakistan’s major exports to Bangladesh include woven cotton fabrics, cotton yarn, raw sugar, raw cotton, tanned leather, machinery, and its parts, and synthetic fabrics including silk and woolen. Islamabad has been actively pursuing to build better ties with all neighboring countries, particularly Bangladesh. The removal of visa restrictions for Bangladeshi citizens and steps to improve trade ties signify Pakistan’s efforts in this regard. Pakistan’s President Dr. Arif Alvi recently expressed Islamabad’s desire to boost bilateral ties with Bangladesh at all levels. Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh Imran Siddiqui also stated that the country is eager to boost economic ties with Bangladesh with the resumption of direct flights and establishing maritime connectivity.

Pakistan’s main items of imports from Bangladesh are raw jute, tea, and mate, yarn & thread of synthetic fibers, and tobacco. A congratulatory letter from Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the occasion of Pakistan’s National Day is another sign of improvement in relations between the two countries. Though the relations between the two countries have remained tense for the last many years, now, close people-to-people contact will heal the wounds of the past.




Newsletter

U.S.-Russia: Blame Game

U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia for the poisoning of the opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Russia has claimed that the imposed sanctions arehostile anti-Russian lunge. Earlier, U.S. blamed Russia meddle in the presidential elections to ward former president Donald Trump.

The assessment was made in a 15-page report into election interference published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Russia labeled the claims as “baseless”. U.S. intelligence report also stated that some of Trump’s top allies were involved in being a helping hand to Moscow to amplify the prerogatives against Biden. The report said Moscow sought to “push influence narratives” that included misleading or unsubstantiated claims against Biden “to US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, including some close to former President Trump and his administration.” It was said that Putin was “probably” fixed the campaign to boost Trump and emasculate Biden. U.S. officials claimed that they also noticed efforts made by Cuba, Venezuela and the Lebanese group Hezbollah to sway the election. The U.S. officials further added that “in general, we assess that they were smaller in scale than those conducted by Russia and Iran”. US intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller formerly established the claim that Russia also interfered in the 2016 US election to boost Trump’s candidacy with a campaign of propaganda aimed at harming his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton”. Biden recently made a statement that Putin will pay for what he tried to do with U.S. elections if the claims made in U.S. intelligence report confirmed. While giving and interview to George Stephanopoulos, Biden said, He will pay a price. We had a long talk, he and I, when we – I know him relatively well. I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions against four Russian senior official because it has made serious interventions in U.S. national affairs. The U.S. commerce department added that “it was also tightening sanctions on some exports to Russia in response to the March 2018 poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England with a military-grade nerve agent”. In an answer to the claims and sanctions made, the Kremlin extended their message to U.S. that the intelligence report has absolutely no foundation. No evidence has been provided to back those allegations. The Kremlin also warned the U.S. that any additional sanctions will be detrimental to the U.S. – Russia ties.

North Korea Disregards US Talks for Denuclearization

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicated that North Korea might be engaged in nuclear fuel reprocessing which raised concerns in Pentagon.

The Head of Intelligence of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, said that the nuclear activities of North Korea can be a way for the country to get attention of the new Biden Administration and use it as a means to bargain on sanctions relief. In a virtual conference about technology and security Studeman told the participants that, “We have our eye on this. And it is deeply concerning where North Korea wants to go.” The Director General of IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi commented that North Korea has been active at Yongbyong and Kangson nuclear facilities. He indicated about operationalization of a steam plant which serves as a radiochemical laboratory. Previously North Korea used its Yongbyong radiochemical laboratory to reprocess plutonium from a reactor to develop a nuclear bomb. After the statements made by Grossi, the American Head of Intelligence Studeman said “If that is true, then that could put us into a different level of tension with Korea.”

The Biden Administration is currently reviewing the US-North Korea policy laid down by the former President Trump. All measures previously taken by former President Trump were futile in persuading Pyongyang to give up their nuclear weapons. Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State said that an approach to North Korea could involve either more sanctions or some unspecified diplomatic incentives. He further added that the nuclear program is “a threat to the region and to the world.” Blinken emphasized on multilateral engagement with South Korea, Japan and other regional and international allies to achieve denuclearization of North Korea. On the other hand, North Korean diplomat labelled US attempts to initiate contact as “cheap trick” and such calls would not be responded unless American administration did not drop its hostile policies. This statement by Choe Son Hui, the vice minister of North Korea Foreign Affairs was the first formal rejection of tentative measure taken by the US administration. According to Choe this is a cheap trick of US to gain some time and influence public opinion. In a statement given to news agency, he elaborated, “What has been heard from the U.S. since the emergence of the new regime is only lunatic theory of ‘threat from North Korea’ and groundless rhetoric about ‘complete denuclearization.”

The stance of North Korean administration is that no dialogue with US will be possible until they do not roll back their hostile tactics, and any attempts from US in future will be ignored/ U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits to South Korea alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are expected to engage with Chinese officials to discuss standoff with North Korea. The peace talks with North Korea, especially to persuade it to give up nuclear arms have been stalled since 2019. Blinken has made it very clear that pressure and diplomatic options are both available to North Korea, and what approach US would adopt will depend on the policy review. Analysts have been debating about the possibility that if the United States and its allies should settle for a deal which would freeze North Korea’s nuclear activities in return for easing up sanctions to thwart its arsenal from mounting.




International Webinar on “Pakistan’s Middle East Policy: Bilateralism vs. National Interest”

Pakistan House organized a one-day International Webinar on 13th of January 2021 on “Pakistan’s Middle East Policy: Bilateralism vs. National Interest” General Phil Jones (retd.), former Chief of Staff NATO, Syed Muhammad Ali, Read More…




International Webinar on: “Dividends to Pakistan’s Economy from Afghan Peace: Challenges and Opportunities”

Pakistan House organized a one-day International Webinar on 3rd of November 2020 on “Dividends to Pakistan’s Economy from Afghan Peace: Challenges and Opportunities “. H.E. General Ehsan Ul Haq, HI (M) NI (M) (Retd), Chairman Pakistan House graced the occasion as the Chief Guest. Read More…