Geopolitics

Israel Election And The World: Netanyahu Or An End To Isolation?

Netanyahu in Washington on March 3
Netanyahu in Washington on March 3
Dominique Moïsi

-OpEd-

PARIS — With just days to go before the Israeli election, it becomes increasingly difficult to predict who will win the race. The latest polls show the center-left Zionist Union candidates Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni leading over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling Likud party. Of course, the country's proportional system means there will always be a coalition government. But will the new coalition lean to the left, as a poll by a Tel Aviv school renowned for its accurate predictions suggests?

Despite — or perhaps because of — Netanyahu's intervention in the U.S. Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, his run for reelection might very well prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

What would happen if power in Israel changed hands? As far as the Hebrew state's image is concerned, the consequences would undoubtedly be positive. But would it have a real impact on the region as a whole? Could we then conclude that Israel's "shift to the right" is not an inevitable fact, the fruit of demographics and of the growing importance of religious officials and Russian immigrants?

The center-left's potential victory, if it materializes, would certainly not be the result of its leaders' charisma. Quite simply, it would be a rejection of Netanyahu. In Israel, as in most democratic countries in the world, people vote first and foremost against somebody.

A negative vote would, as always, be explained in terms of domestic policy rather than foreign policy. We'd like to think that, by potentially sanctioning Netanyahu in the polls, Israelis would mostly want to punish a man who has contributed more than others to Israel's growing isolation, a man who has taken inconsiderate risks, militarily as well as ethically and diplomatically.

Was the invasion of Gaza a success? Has the political risk been minimized, not to mention the casualties, which Amnesty International denounced in its latest report? Is it also reasonable to widen the existing gap between Washington and Jerusalem simply for political reasons?

History's lessons

In The New York Times, a historian recently wrote a piece about the negative 1793 precedent set by Edmond-Charles Genet, the ambassador of a very young French Republic to the United States. His ambition was to force President George Washington's hand by using the considerable pro-French sentiments in Congress to secure America's backing in the war. Washington reminded the French revolutionary envoy that the U.S. president was "the only channel of communication between this country and foreign nations" and that "it is from him alone that foreign nations or their agents are to learn what is or has been the will of the nation." In the end, not only did America not join forces with Paris, but this incident played a role in Britain and the young American Republic normalizing relations.

Of course, these historical references will have no more impact on Israeli voting than on the more pressing issue of the fate of Palestinians. It must be said that the election campaign has shone only for its lowbrowness. Ridiculous scandals have damaged the image of Netanyahu and his wife — everything from their food expenses to their pocketing deposit money from bottles that should have been returned to the state coffers.

But the frivolous side of the debate has only reinforced the contrast that exists between the only democracy in the region and its Middle Eastern surroundings. It's a contrast that, perhaps paradoxically, has only isolated Israel further. What is this democracy — where Google and Samsung are both building development centers — doing in the heart of the Middle East?

A March 17 victory of Israel's center-left coalition would help improve the country's image in Washington, Paris, London, Brussels and even Berlin. But would it lead to real changes, and not just cosmetic ones, in Israeli-Palestinian relations? The answer is very probably "no."

The Palestinian Authority has no real standout leader to take over when Mahmoud Abbas retires. And as for the other regional players — Hamas and Hezbollah, not to mention ISIS — it will make no difference whether Jerusalem's ruling coalition is center-left or center-right. Even as the terrorists increasingly target Jews, both inside and outside of Israel, and even as the creation of a Palestinian state looks more and more like a pious vow that nobody really believes in anymore, the change in Israel's governing majority would be more symbolic than anything else.

And yet symbols are important, and good news is so rare in the region. Netanyahu's possible defeat would signal a rejection of scare politics. But it wouldn't mean a return of hope, a word that sounds very abstract in the Middle East today.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
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