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Netanyahu’s Rivals Plot New Government

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israeli opposition parties near coalition deal, China allows three-child families, and the world this week.

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Lapid and Bennett Inch Toward Coalition Deal

Benjamin Netanyahu’s days as Israeli prime minister may soon be officially numbered after opposition parties appeared close to reaching a coalition agreement to form a new government.

According to Israeli media, Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party—the largest party in the coalition, is expected to inform Israeli President Reuven Rivlin by Wednesday afternoon that he has the seats and backing necessary to end Netanyahu’s government and avert a fifth election in nearly two years.

The breakthrough comes after weeks of negotiations that almost collapsed during Israel’s 11-day campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Under the terms of the coalition deal, Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yamina party, will become prime minister in a rotation agreement with Lapid. The proposed government is likely to receive the tacit backing of Mansour Abbas’s United Arab List, although a previous demand by Abbas for a deputy minister position has been shelved.

Bibi’s last stand. Netanyahu is expected to go down swinging. In a televised address on Sunday, he accused Bennett of committing “the fraud of the century” by agreeing to join Lapid’s coalition. Bennett and Yamina ally Ayelet Shaked have reportedly been assigned an increased security detail in the face of right-wing outrage at their apparent betrayal. Lapid said his fellow coalition leaders were “being threatened with murder and violence” for trying to bring about a new government.

Speaking on Monday, Lapid outlined his pitch for new leadership. “A week from now, the State of Israel can be in a new era. Suddenly, it will be quieter. Ministers will go to work without inciting, without lying, without trying to instill fear all of the time,” Lapid said.

Not so special. Regardless of who is in charge of the country, Stephen M. Walt argued the U.S. approach to Israel needs recalibrating. “The benefits of this policy are zero, and the costs are high and rising,” Walt wrote. In Foreign Policy, he outlined the strategic rationale for a shift—from allowing the United States to better claim the moral high ground to freeing up U.S. concerns for larger foreign-policy challenges. “Instead of a special relationship,” Walt wrote, “the United States and Israel need a normal one.”

The World This Week

On Tuesday, June 1, OPEC+ oil ministers meet virtually to discuss oil production trends.

Estonia assumes the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council for the month.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Costa Rica to “engage with senior leaders from Central America, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic as well as Costa Rican government officials and civil society,” according to a State Department statement.

Wednesday, June 2 marks the final day for Yair Lapid to inform Israeli President Reuven Rivlin of his ability to form a government before a midnight deadline.

On Thursday, June 3, a hearing takes place in the case of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who appeared last week in court for the first time following the country’s Feb. 1 coup.

On Sunday, June 6, Mexico elects a new Chamber of Deputies, the country’s lower house, for three-year terms.

Peru holds a runoff presidential election following the April 11 first round. Leftist Pedro Castillo faces right-wing Keiko Fujimori, with a recent poll showing Castillo has a two-point lead over his rival.

What We’re Following Today

China’s three-child policy. China will allow married couples to have three children, up from a previous limit of two children, in a bid to reverse its declining population trend. The decision was announced on Monday following a meeting of China’s Politburo chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The new policy will also include education and housing supports to offset high child care costs. In a further attempt to retain a pool of workers, China’s retirement age will be raised gradually, the Politburo said. China currently has one of the world’s lowest retirement ages: 60 for men and 50 for women.

Congo killings. At least 55 people were killed in overnight attacks near two villages in eastern Congo, close to the border with Uganda. Congolese officials blamed the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist insurgent group deemed a foreign terrorist organization by the United States in March. The group killed more than 850 people in 2020, according to the United Nations. At the beginning of May, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi declared a state of siege across the affected regions, surging troops in a bid to quell violence.

North Korea’s missile warning. North Korea warned the United States on Monday that relaxing South Korea’s missile limits could lead to an “acute and unstable situation” in the region. “The termination step is a stark reminder of the U.S. hostile policy toward (North Korea) and its shameful double-dealing,” said Kim Myong Chol, an unofficial mouthpiece for Pyongyang, in a statement issued by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The United States recently lifted a 500-mile range restriction on South Korea’s missile program, in place since 1979. South Korea’s industrial ability to ramp up new missile production “could lead to an arms race with devastating implications,” Donald Kirk wrote last week in Foreign Policy.

Peru’s COVID-19 review. Peru updated its official COVID-19 death toll on Monday, almost tripling its previous figure to 180,764 deaths. The revised numbers means Peru now has the highest death toll per capita of any country over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. “We think it is our duty to make public this updated information,” said Peruvian Prime Minister Violeta Bermúdez when announcing the new data. Peru’s government initiated the review because a lack of testing prevented an accurate count. The new figure matches up with Peru’s excess death figure: the difference between 2020 deaths and death rates seen in previous years.

Keep an Eye On

Undiplomatic cables. Denmark faces awkward questions from some of its neighbors after an investigation revealed the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) used a Danish hub for undersea data cables to spy on senior officials in Sweden, Norway, France, and Germany. Danish state broadcaster DR broke the news, which came from a 2015 internal report by the Danish Defence Intelligence Service on its partnership with the NSA. “Politically, I consider it a scandal,” said Peer Steinbrück, a former German opposition politician targeted by the NSA operation while French Minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune said the news, if verified, could lead to “some diplomatic protests.”

Iran’s nuclear omissions. Iran has not provided an explanation for traces of uranium found at three undeclared sites, an International Atomic Energy Agency report stated, creating potential tensions during ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna. “After many months, Iran has not provided the necessary explanation for the presence of the nuclear material particles at any of the three locations where the Agency has conducted complementary accesses (inspections),” a report by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi seen by Reuters said. The discovery of the particles almost led to an official censure by the IAEA’s board of governors in February but was shelved after Iran and the IAEA agreed to a temporary inspection agreement.

Lebanon’s economic crisis. Lebanon’s economic collapse could rank within the top three “most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century,” according to a new report issued by the World Bank. The report cites the “brutal and rapid” contraction of Lebanon’s GDP, which dropped from $55 billion in 2018 to $33 billion in 2020. “The social impact of the crisis, which is already dire, could rapidly become catastrophic,” the report noted, as more than half of Lebanon’s population is already living below the poverty line.

Odds and Ends

Finland’s top three spot in Transparency International’s corruption perception index could be in peril after police opened an investigation into the office of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin following a news report she was illegally claiming $365 in monthly expenses for her family’s breakfasts while at her official residence.

Marin has defended the practice, saying she inherited it from her predecessors. “As prime minister, I have not asked for this benefit nor been involved in deciding on it,” Marin said on Twitter, adding she would stop claiming the benefit while the investigation took place.

Detective superintendent Teemu Jokinen said the probe will focus on the actions of staff in Marin’s office and “in no way relates to the prime minister or her official activities.”