Iraqis vote in parliamentary elections
The BBC, Independent and the Guardian follow the parliamentary elections in Iraq, the first time since mass protests over corruption, unemployment and poor services erupted in 2019. A total of 3,449 candidates are vying for 329 parliamentary seats in Iraq. The election had been due to take place next year but was brought forward by six months in response to the unrest, during which hundreds of people were killed. Turnout was reportedly low at 41 per cent, the electoral commission said, with the lowest turnout in Baghdad. In recent elections, turnout has averaged just over 65 per cent, according to non-profit the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. The old electoral system based on party lists has also been replaced with one meant to help independent candidates. However, the main Shia Muslim blocs that have dominated Parliament since the US-led invasion in 2003 are still predicted to win the most seats.
The Times reports that the first direct talks between US officials and the Taliban since the last American troops left Afghanistan ended up last night without agreement on releasing billions of dollars in frozen assets that the Islamists have demanded to stave off economic collapse. The talks, led by CIA deputy director David Cohen, were held in in the Qatari capital Doha. In what is reported as a wide-ranging dialogue, the two sides discussed the continuing effort to evacuate remaining US citizens from Afghanistan, as well as women’s rights, counterterrorism and the country’s mounting humanitarian crisis.
Power has been restored in Lebanon after a 24-hour shutdown of the country’s energy supply, the BBC and Independent report. The energy ministry says the central bank has granted it $100m (£73m) of credit to buy fuel and keep its power stations operating. The power grid shut down yesterday and officials said it was unlikely to restart for several days. For the past 18 months Lebanon has endured an economic crisis and extreme fuel shortages.
In the Israeli media the visit from outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel dominates the main headlines this morning. Merkel met with Israeli cabinet members, visited Yad Vashem and received an honorary doctorate from the Technion. She said she was proud to accept the award, as a scientist and not only as a politician. She added that science and technology are tools to advance the economy and society, and she praised the Technion for its leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. Israel Hayom quotes at length Merkel during her trip to Yad Vashem, where she placed a wreath and stood in silence on a slab under which ashes from extermination camps, death camps, and other killing fields are buried. Speaking outside the chamber, Merkel pointed to a resurgence of Jewish life in Germany, calling it “an expression of trust (that) compels us to stand up with determination against antisemitism, hatred, and violence every day anew”.
Channel 12 News reports that the government is selecting a team of experts to examine precedent-reaching measures to rein in global social media companies and may seek to hold Facebook legally accountable for posts on its platform. The team, currently being selected by Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, could seek to compel Facebook to reveal its policies on censorship, banning, and how posts are placed in its algorithm – something it is not required to do currently. According to the report, officials will attempt to get Facebook representatives to hold discussions with them to find a solution before progressing ahead with the proposed moves. The idea would be to urge Facebook to take steps of its own to ensure greater transparency and responsibility in its operations, or face government-imposed measures.
In Yediot Ahronot, Nahum Barnea comments on what he describes as the welcome “quiet” of the new government, in contrast with the previous one. He writes: “We are in a process of rehab. In our current situation there would be nothing better than several years of relative quiet. This was the moral justification for Bennett and Lapid’s government of the two extremes.” He cautions, however, that the first cracks are appearing in this coalition government and “the longer this government exists, the bigger the cracks will become. That is the nature of coalition governments … every argument, every problematic subject on the agenda will weaken the glue that holds them all together. It will be harder and harder to maintain the quiet.”
Maariv notes that for the first time since becoming prime minister, Naftali Bennett will appear before the Knesset for a “40 signatures session” forced on him by the Opposition. Bennett will listen to criticism of his government and will have the opportunity to respond. The session was initiated by MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) on the topic of “an antisocial budget that raise taxes and will hurt the weak, the elderly, children, babies, the disabled, farmers and working women and users of public transportation”. The paper also reports that the Ministerial Committee for Legislation threw its support yesterday behind two new bills to formalise the use of cannabis for medical purposes and to allow Israeli citizens to sign organ donor cards using government-sponsored online forms. The first bill will anchor in law the right to use and sell cannabis for medicinal purposes and to introduce necessary additions to existing regulations in order to reduce terrible suffering. The second bill would streamline the process of signing an organ donation card that in turn, could save many lives in Israel. The committee also ratified a proposal to support a proposal tabled by Defence Minister Benny Gantz to provide funding for university tuition for eligible IDF veterans from the Fund for IDF Veterans rather than from donations or requests.
Meanwhile, Israel Hayom quotes from Likud sources who cite some party members that could join the government were it to pass the state budget in November. They mention David Bitan, Haim Katz and Etty Atiya as possible suspects. “After it passes, there will be no threat to the government and it could last a long a time. The coalition will approach opposition members, particularly in the Likud, and make them generous offers that will look attractive compared to the boring opposition. They will talk to them about the end of the Likud era, and tell them that instead of vanishing, they could join the government and be active in Israeli politics,” the Likud sources claim. All three Likud MKs have denied the report vigorously.
Kan Radio News reports that the police want to use administrative detention to fight crime in the Arab sector. That plan has been discussed recently by officials in the Israel Police, the Justice Ministry and the Attorney General’s Office. The plan calls for detaining without charge individuals suspected of murder or of planning to murder someone. It is possible that the attorney general or someone representing him would have to sign any administrative detention orders. However, government sources have objected to the plan and stressed that it would be an extreme step. The Federation of Local Authorities has also criticised the plan and claimed the police were proposing anti-democratic measures, noting that when organised crime raised its head in Jewish-majority cities the police easily brought the problem under control without resorting to measures that violated human rights.
The Jerusalem Post follows former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to the Psagot Winery in the West Bank, the same place where, nearly a year earlier, he announced the US would label settlement products as “Made in Israel.” Pompeo made history when he became the first such senior US administration official to visit a Jewish community in the West Bank. He said yesterday: “We recognised that this is not an occupied nation, this is not an apartheid country. It is a democracy where faiths can be practiced from all of the Abrahamic traditions”. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was also in attendance and said: “This is our land. We have regained the high ground and we shall keep it.” The former prime minister said Jerusalem has “no better ally than the United States”.
The Times of Israel writes that there has been a significant rise recently in the number of children hospitalised with the rare condition of pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome after exposure to the coronavirus. Since the beginning of the month, 35 children have been hospitalised with the syndrome, including a boy aged 6, and a 6-month-old baby. Health Ministry figures released this morning show that 1,457 people tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday. The infection rate remained low, at less than 2 per cent. There are 447 patients in serious condition, 186 of whom are intubated.