Renewed Push to Revitalise Abraham Accords

It seems as if the United States has taken another step towards being a relevant player in the Middle East, after an ill thought hiatus, leading to relations with regional players like Saudi Arab hitting rock bottom. The latest American initiative in this regard is through vitalising the Abraham Accords. This may also lead to it normalising its strained ties with Saudi Arabia besides efforts to contain Iran.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the visiting White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan a fortnight ago, in Jerusalem. The two discussed ways to broaden the Abraham Accords and reach a breakthrough that could lead to the normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

After becoming the prime minister for the third time in December 2022, hard-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set normalising ties with Saudi Arabia as one of his two main foreign policy goals. Though the Israelis admit that it won’t be possible if relations between Riyadh and Washington remain tense.

Reports say that Sullivan and Netanyahu also discussed the Iranian nuclear programme, Iran’s actions in the region and its military assistance to Russia in its war in Ukraine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the normalisation process between Israel and its neighbours.

Abraham Accords

The Abraham Accords, which were signed on 15 September 2020, normalised diplomatic relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, and so far have achieved mixed results.

As anticipated, normalisation has opened new opportunities for defence and security cooperation, especially among Israel, Bahrain, and the UAE, which share a common perspective on the security threat posed by Iran.

But there are shortcomings at the level of bilateral cooperation. Most notably, despite the initial goal of the Arab nations, cooperation between Israel and its Arab partners has failed to produce tangible improvements in the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum.

In reality, the Israelis are now, arguably, more cautious about managing relations with the Palestinians to avoid conflict with their newfound Arab partners, affecting trade ties.

The Palestinians have not yet embraced the American vision. 86% of Palestinians believe the normalisation agreement with the UAE serves only Israel’s interests and not their own. There is indeed a possibility that the Palestine quest might be ignored further.

Netanyahu told Sullivan that the latest Palestinian moves in the international arena, especially the Palestinian Authority’s push for the International Court of Justice to issue a legal opinion on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, “are an attack on Israel and oblige us to respond”.

Sullivan also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Abbas is reported to have warned Sullivan that the new Israeli government’s policy could have dangerous consequences and stressed the Biden administration must intervene “before it is too late”.

Abbas told Sullivan that the Israeli government’s policy and the recent sanctions it has imposed on the Palestinian Authority, destroy the way to two-state solution, violate the agreements between the parties and ruin the chances that are left for achieving peace and stability in the region.

Getting the Israeli government and PA agree to any understanding, might be a bit tough, as the issue has many intertwined political and legal elements to be resolved, but on the other hand, Abraham Accords have been a boon to both Israel and other Gulf nations to bolster economic and trade ties.

Economic Growth

Statistically speaking, the Abraham Accords seem to have made a positive impact on entrepreneurs and investors in Israel and the Gulf.

Besides facilitating a pro-business environment in the region, it has indirectly brought positive momentum to deals such as the maritime border agreement between Israel and Lebanon, reached last year, which was mainly driven by local economic interests.

In particular, the economic and trade ties between Israel and UAE have grown substantially, besides notable steps in strengthening the economic relations between both countries, like the decision by the Dubai International Chamber to open up an office in Tel Aviv.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, trade between Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached $212.6 million in August 2022, constituting a 163% increase in trade from August 2021. For the first eight months of 2022, bilateral trade was just over $1.62 billion, constituting a 121% increase in trade from the first eight months of 2021.

Israel’s new Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has said that the volume of trade with Arab countries that normalised relations with Israel under the US-negotiated Abraham Accords in 2020 broke the 10 billion-shekel ($2.8 billion) barrier in 2022. Cohen said the Abraham Accords have dramatically changed the face of the Middle East. He added that a summit would be held in March with other Arab countries to boost regional trade.

Though the Abraham Accords might not have been able to resolve the regional schisms and rivalries, yet they have indeed paved the way for greater economic and trade relations, which seems to be the way forward also.

The writer can be contacted at @AsadMirzaND

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India Israel Relationship

India-Israel Share Strong Relationship: Israeli Envoy To Turkey

Israel’s Ambassador to Turkey, Roey Gilad on Monday said that New Delhi and Jerusalem share a strong relationship, adding further that the cooperation between the two countries has also strengthened.

Speaking to ANI on India and Israel’s relationship after the formation of a new government in Jerusalem, Gilad said, “A strong relationship has been developed between Israel and India in previous decades. It’s on the leadership level as well. Cooperation between India as a global superpower and Israel as a regional superpower has risen too.”
Recently, a general election was held in Israel where Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies won enough seats to form a majority government in Israel’s parliament.

During an early morning speech at a victory rally in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, “We have received a huge vote of confidence and we are on the verge of a very big victory.”

Israelis headed to the ballots in the unprecedented fifth election since 2019, as the country’s political system has been immobilized for almost four years. The parliament has 120 seats.

Over 6.7 million eligible voters cast their votes in 12,495 ballots, according to figures issued by the Central Elections Committee. Some 18,000 police officers were deployed throughout the country to prevent fraud attempts, manage traffic and keep security.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, sought to return to power with his right-wing Likud party and a far-right and Jewish ultra-Orthodox coalition.

India and Israel share a warm relationship. India announced its recognition of Israel on September 17, 1950. Soon thereafter, the Jewish Agency established an immigration office in Bombay. This was later converted into a Trade Office and subsequently a Consulate. Embassies were opened in 1992 when full diplomatic relations were established.

Since the upgradation of relations in 1992, defence and agriculture formed the two main pillars of bilateral engagement. In recent years, relations have rapidly grown across a broad spectrum of areas.

India is the only country where Israel has the position of Water Attache to help share Israeli best practices and technologies for advancements in India’s water management sector. (ANI)

Read More: https://lokmarg.com/

News Wrap

Five things that happened last week (And what to make of them)

How healthy is Vladimir Putin? What happens if he dies suddenly?

As Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine enters the ninth month and shows no sign of an early end, there is speculation about whether the West (read: the US and its allies) can set the stage for negotiated settlement to the war. Given the relentless attacks by Russia that can seem far-fetched as of now but many observers feel that it could be the only logically plausible solution. But, equally, there is huge speculation about another matter: Vladimir Putin’s health.

The Russian president, who turned 70 last year, has always been portrayed as a macho strong man. Photos of him bare-chested on horses, hunting with rifles, or swimming in icy seas have conjured up an image of a physically rugged man. The fact, however, is that he may not be that.

At 5’7”, Putin is actually quite diminutive–not the big man that he is portrayed in larger than life photographs. Moreover, he may be suffering from serious health issues. According to emails purportedly leaked to the media about the Russian supreme leader’s health, Putin may be suffering from pancreatic cancer that has been spreading to other organs in his body and which could prove to be fatal. Besides, according to the emails, Putin may also be suffering from early stages of Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. In recent photographs Putin’s hands seemed discoloured and black, further fuelling speculation about his health.

If these leaked emails are correct and if indeed Putin is suffering from health issues that can turn fatal, what could happen if he suddenly dies? Geopolitical experts are debating this question and the answer is not so obvious.

First, according to Russian law, if Putin dies or is unable to continue in office, the Federation Council or Senate will have to call for fresh presidential elections within 14 days. In the meantime, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin would become interim president. However, Mishustin is not close to Putin nor is he likely to be a candidate in case there is a fresh election for the president’s post.

Instead, many believe that Putin’s exit could see the emergence of a power struggle. Putin has been president since 2012 (and before that he was also president between 2000 and 2008). So his vice-like grip over Russia’s governance, foreign policy, and virtually everything else has been a long-lasting one. That means opposition against him is totally hobbled. And that also means there is no obvious successor to him. However, many speculate that defence minister Sergei Shoigu, 67, could be one of the most likely contenders for president in a post-Putin scenario.

Some others predict that if Putin departs, Russia’s conservative elite–including business leaders–could regroup. Many of them, at least initially, were not so happy about Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine. And many of them feel the sanctions against Russia have debilitated the economy seriously–a fact that they think Putin has not accorded enough attention to.

Although all of this is in the realm of speculation, if Putin departs, many think that with him his “historical mission” that fuelled the attack against Ukraine could also peter out.

Netanyahu’s return and what it means for Israel and the world

Benjamin “Bibi” Netyanahu has been Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, having served from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009 to 2021. Now he has won another term by winning an absolute majority in Israel’s general elections last week. This time Netanyahu, 73, has won on the wings of a right-wing bloc, a coalition of parties whose ideologies range from Netanyahu’s own conservative Likud party, which won 32 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, to the extremist party Religious Zionists.

The significant thing is that the Religious Zionists managed to garner double the support it got in the previous elections. The Religious Zionists comprise a cocktail of extreme right-wing ideologues with their hallmarks being Jewish supremacists, anti-Arab sentiment and homophobia. Three parties make up the Religious Zionists platform: the supremacist Jewish Power (in Hebrew, Otzma Yehudit), the National Union, an alliance of smaller right-wing parties, and the anti-LGBTQ party, Noam. The Religious Zionists increased the number of seats they won from six to 14 this time and that was what gave Netanyahu victory.

Even as Netanyahu began his talks over the weekend to form a coalition government, there is no doubt that the extreme right will play a critical role in whatever configuration emerges in power. Western observers, particularly in the US, are still unsure about what this could mean. For one, it is unlikely that they would take easily to talks with ministers representing the far right with whom even Netanyahu does not share common objectives except the opposition to the creation of a separate Palestinian state.

Cut to India. Netanyahu and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi have enjoyed a rapport for years. During his previous stint as prime minister of Israel, India forged deeper bilateral ties with Israel. It is expected that the two countries will continue to build stronger ties. For India, it means trade and know-how benefits but also strategic advantages in a world where its own diplomacy has been led more by pragmatism than ideological concerns. 

Kejriwal and the politics of pollution

’Tis the time of smog in Delhi. Last weekend as the Air Quality Index rose to cross 250 in Delhi, it was a sense of unwelcome deja vu for the megacity’s residents. As the weather cools down, Delhi’s air pollution levels soar. For many years now, it has also led to a blame game. The Delhi state blames the Centre for not finding a solution and vice versa.

The smog that envelops Delhi’s atmosphere is often blamed on stubble burning by Punjab farmers. Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has in the past blamed that and not Delhi’s own industrial emissions from factories, burgeoning traffic, and so on, for the high levels of air pollution.

Ironically, this time the shoe is on the other foot. Punjab is a state that is governed by Kejriwal’s party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and if it is stubble-burning by that state’s farmers that is a prime cause of pollution in Delhi, is it not the responsibility of the government of that state, which is run by the AAP, to think of ways to stop that? That was the sentiment expressed by the government of Haryana, another northern state that is beleaguered by air pollution. It would be interesting to see how Kejriwal and his government in Punjab react. 

Elon Musk and his ongoing saga at Twitter

Even if you’re not a big Twitter aficionado, the ongoing events at the social media platform could provide fodder for entertainment. It began recently when the billionaire considered the richest man in the world, Elon Musk (net worth: est. $203 billion) bought the platform for $44 billion.

Immediately after buying the company, Musk walked into Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco carrying a bathroom sink and declared: “Let it sink in.” He then sacked the top four honchos at Twitter and paid them each $120 million.

That is the kind of drama that we have come to associate with the rich tycoon. Besides Twitter, Musk owns Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company, which do everything from building electric cars, building rockets and brain chips to digging tunnels. 

At Twitter, Musk recently changed the descriptor of his handle (@elonmusk with 114 million followers) to Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator shortly after he faced widespread criticism of some of his announcements, chief among them was his plan to charge a fee of $8 a month for users to retain the “blue tick” that one can get for a company-verified account. The proposal has led to uproarious protests from many who feel this can enable people or organisations who use social media for trolling or propaganda to be able to “buy” credibility. Others are of the opinion that Twitter being a for-profit enterprise should be free to choose whatever business model suits it.

Meanwhile in India, Twitter fired most of its employees. Reports suggested that Twitter fired 180 of the 230 employees that it had in the country.

Is Mastodon the new Twitter?

Heard of Mastodon? No? Well, it has been around since 2016 and is a small social media network with limited success… till recently. Media reports suggest that Mastodon is seeing a rise in the number of people ditching Twitter to join the platform.

Mastodon has similar looks to Twitter’s and has gained 230,000 users since Musk bought Twitter. And although it is tiny still–with just 655,000 active users each month compared to Twitter’s daily active monetizable users numbering 238 million–social media analysts expect it to grow into a sizable niche player. Will Musk’s loss be Mastodon’s gain? We have to wait and watch.

Benjamin Netanyahu Israel's election

4 Rockets Fired From Gaza After Netanyahu Wins Israel Election

Shortly after Benjamin Netanyahu won Israel’s election, four rockets were fired and one of which was intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.

Initially, the Israeli Defence Forces said that they were not clear about the Iron Dome system but later on confirmed their statement, The Times of Israel reported.
After 9 pm, the incoming rocket sirens alarmed the towns of Kissufim, Ein HaShlosha, and Nirim, near the Gaza border, as one rocket was launched from the Strip.

Till now, there are no reports of casualties after the rocket attack, reported The Times of Israel.

About an hour later, three more rockets were launched from Gaza at southern Israel, but fell short in the Strip, the military said.

Earlier, a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad was killed during an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin, according to The Times of Israel.

In a joint statement, the IDF and Border Police said Farouk Salameh, who was identified as a “commander” in the terror group, was involved in killing a veteran police commando earlier this year and had been planning further attacks.

This comes after Netanyahu and his allies have won enough seats to form a majority government in Israel’s parliament. The result will not just secure Netanyahu’s comeback, but underscore the country’s rightward shift, reported NBC News.

“We have received a huge vote of confidence and we are on the verge of a very big victory,” Netanyahu had told his supporters during an early morning speech at a victory rally in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid also congratulated former PM Netanyahu.

Lapid told Netanyahu, he’s instructed all departments of the Prime Minister’s Office to prepare for an orderly power transfer.

“The State of Israel is above any political consideration. I wish Netanyahu luck for the sake of the people of Israel and the State of Israel,” Yair Lapid said, according to Times of Israel.

Israelis headed to the ballots in the unprecedented fifth election since 2019, as the country’s political system has been immobilized for almost four years. The parliament has 120 seats.

Over 6.7 million eligible voters cast their votes in 12,495 ballots, according to figures issued by the Central Elections Committee. Some 18,000 police officers were deployed throughout the country to prevent fraud attempts, manage traffic and keep security.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, sought to return to power with his right-wing Likud party and a far-right and Jewish ultra-Orthodox coalition.

Netanyahu had served as prime minister for 12 consecutive years before being ousted in June 2021 by a cross-partisan coalition led by current PM Yair Lapid. (ANI)

Read More:https://lokmarg.com/

Benjamin Netanyahu Returns To Power In Israel

Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday congratulated former PM Benjamin Netanyahu on victory in the national election as final results showed that the pro-Netanyahu bloc had got 64 Knesset seats, Times of Israel reported.

Lapid told Netanyahu he’s instructed all departments of the Prime Minister’s Office to prepare for an orderly transfer of power.

“The State of Israel is above any political consideration. I wish Netanyahu luck for the sake of the people of Israel and the State of Israel,” Yair Lapid said, according to Times of Israel.

Netanyahu and his allies have won enough seats to form a majority government in Israel’s parliament. The result will not just secure Netanyahu’s comeback but underscore the country’s rightward shift, reported NBC News.

“We have received a huge vote of confidence and we are on the verge of a very big victory,” Netanyahu had told his supporters during an early morning speech at a victory rally in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Israelis headed to the ballots in the unprecedented fifth election since 2019, as the country’s political system has been immobilized for almost four years. The parliament has 120 seats.

Over 6.7 million eligible voters cast their votes in 12,495 ballots, according to figures issued by the Central Elections Committee. Some 18,000 police officers were deployed throughout the country for preventing fraud attempts, manage traffic, and keep security.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, sought to return to power with his right-wing Likud party and a far-right and Jewish ultra-Orthodox coalition.

Netanyahu had served as prime minister for 12 consecutive years before being ousted in June 2021 by a cross-partisan coalition led by current PM Yair Lapid. (ANI)

Read More:https://lokmarg.com/

Israeli Elections: Dwindling Popularity Of Netanyahu

The Israeli parliament was dissolved in December 2020 on the advice of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who wanted to improve his party’s position in the legislature, and the nation went for early elections in March 21, the fourth in two years. In the proportional representative system of parliamentary democracy, in Knesset, a house having 120 seats; no single party by itself has ever got 61 seats to obtain a simple majority. Likud, a Right wing ruling party has lost six seats from the earlier 36 and along with allies, has once again fallen short of nine seats by securing a total of 52 seats. The political instability in Israel is likely to continue in the near future.

Netanyahu has been the youngest ever and the longest serving Prime Minister of Israel since 2009. Bibi, as he is affectionately called, comes from an affluent secular Jewish family, and was based both in Jerusalem and Philadelphia. While he was born in Jerusalem, he graduated from high school in US and returned to Israel to join Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in 1967; after the Six Day War, and took part as a team leader in Yom Kippur war of 1973.

He was also wounded in 1972 during Operation Isotope and returned to US for doing college after his military service. He became a technocrat after doing Bachelor and Master of Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Benjamin Netanyahu is the younger brother of Yonnie Natanyahu, a national hero who was commander of the Special Forces in raid at Entebbe airport to release the hostages in July 1976. Yonnie was the only fatal casualty in the mission.

Based on his worldwide exposure and command over English language, Bibi Netanyahu was appointed Permanent Representative (ambassador) of Israel to UN in 1984 and was elected to Knesset on return to Israel in 1988. Netanyahu was appointed as Israeli’s youngest PM ever, in 1996, after he led the Likud party to power as the Chairman for three years from 1993 onwards. An articulate and wily leader, he has steered Israel through tough times, three wars and the economic boom that Israel has witnessed due to its technological prowess especially in information technology, defence industry, cyber security and drip irrigation.

Netanyahu is also the first PM in harness who has been indicted for bribery and corruption in November 2019. He was officially charged of deception and breach of trust and bribery. For the last two years, Bibi’s sole aim has been to stay in power and thereby avoid being tried by the court of law. He has been an advocate of one state theory and has encouraged new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem thereby shrinking the areas that were to be given to the Palestinian state as per the UN-sponsored Two Nation Theory wherein equal contiguous amount of areas were to go to both Israel and Palestine with the latter having Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem. Nationwide rallies and protests have been held urging Netanyahu to resign while his own party has held rallies to support him.

ALSO READ: Palestine To Hold National Elections After 16 Years

Netanyahu had two concurrent tenures with President Obama in power in the US and both held opposing views on the modus operandi of handling the Palestinian conflict resolution. Thanks to the Jewish lobby in the US which supported the election of President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, an American Jewish businessman and his special envoy for the West Asia peace process; in the last four years, President Trump gave unstinted support to Israel and almost buried the Two Nation Theory, which simply means that the Palestinians will never get a separate state of their own.

Under Trump, the Israelis got a moral ascendency by US recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a fact all his predecessors desisted. As per the UN, Jerusalem is supposed to remain an international city. In 2020, thanks to Kushner again, peace treaties were signed between UAE and Israel and Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both the Arab countries have recognised Israel and have commenced diplomatic and economic relations with Israel giving a death blow to the cause of return of Palestinian refugees and formation of a Palestinian state as per the Two Nation Theory.

A large section of populace is fed up of successive elections and ongoing corruption charges and would like to see Netanyahu go. Unfortunately, there is no leader of the same stature as Bibi either in the Likud party or in the opposition. The closest who comes to fill in his place is Benny Gantz of Kahol Lavan (White and Blue) Party, the present Defence Minister who has been the erstwhile CDS of IDF and has acceptance of a large section of population who has been looking for a change in government. Yair Lepid of Yesh Atid-Telem Party who has secured 17 seats is another leader who may also lay a claim for the top job in the anti- Netanyahu camp.

ALSO READ: Israel UAE Sign Abraham Accord

The Israeli parliament, the Knesset has 120 seats conforming to the biblical tradition of an assembly of 120 scribes, sages and prophets. The members are elected for a four-year term from a single, nationwide, electoral district. To form the government a coalition must come up with 61 seats. Interestingly, in the previous elections, both Netanyahu and Gantz (of Blue and White or Israeli Resilience Party) with allies had 60 seats each and then formed a national government that did not last long.

While Netanyahu (Likud 30) with the three religious parties with Right-wing leanings namely Shas (9),United Torah Judaism (7) and Religious Zionism (6) can muster 52 seats, he will still have to woo his old ally cum competitor Naftali Bennett (Yamina -7) and Unites Arab List (4).

The anti- Netanyahu bloc with Benny Gantz or Yair Lapid as the leader have 57 seats and they also need to get Yamina (7) or United Arab List (UAL) / Raam Party (4) headed by Mansour Abbas, to their camp.

Naftali Bennett (Yamina) and Mansour Abass (UAL) who have not shown their hand so far with 11 seats amongst them are going to be the King makers. The Arabs (UAL) in Israel are 20 percent of the population and the Ultra Orthodox Jews (Hardim) are 10 percent.

Even if Netanyahu is once again able to stitch an alliance with 61 seats, it is not likely to be a stable government and the political situation in Israeli will still be in a limbo till the next elections. A new inclusive national government with fresh leadership, new ideas and centric orientation, can only bring in political stability. It is about time Bibi Netanyahu recognises the writing on the wall and hang up his political boots with grace or whatever is left of it. Whoever forms the Govt, has to deal with post COVID-19 problems of slowdown of the economy and the loss of jobs that many Israelis are reeling under.

(Lt Gen Ike Singha was the Head of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission between Israel and Syria on Golan Heights)

Modi breaks protocol to receive Netanyahu

Teen Murti roundabout named after Israeli city Haifa

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar underlined that Modi had departed from protocol to receive Netanyahu. “The visit is a fitting culmination to the silver jubilee year of the formal relationship (between India and Israel).” This is the first visit to India by an Israeli Prime Minister since Ariel Sharon came in 2003. Modi tweeted: “Welcome to India, my friend… Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close relationship between our nations.” The Prime Minister’s Office said: “A special welcome for a special visit… Modi personally receives Israeli PM at Delhi Airport.” Netanyahu and Modi are expected to discuss a variety of subjects related to bilateral relations and the global situation. The Israeli leader, accompanied by dozens of Israeli businessmen, will visit the Centre of Excellence in Agriculture at Vadrad in Gujarat and interact with business leaders in Mumbai. He will also go to the Taj Mahal city of Agra. (IANS) // ]]>