Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the country’s third round of elections since the government dissolved in 2018 gives him yet another chance to form a government, something he’ll likely try to do before his criminal trial starts on March 17.
Overshadowing it all is the uncertainty of the novel coronavirus that has spread to Israel and continues to inflict devastating economic damage while the nation prepares for quarantine.
Early Results Indicate Victory for Netanyahu
The first election results from Israel’s Central Election Committee show Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party with an early lead over opposition party Blue and White in Israel’s third election in a year.
Likud’s victory is a strong indicator of public support for the country’s longest-serving prime minister in an election that has been called a referendum on Netanyahu’s leadership. He has held on to power despite numerous corruption charges and deep divisions in parliament that have repeatedly prevented him from successfully assembling a governing coalition. On top of those failures, Netanyahu’s struggle to resolve the security situation on the Gaza border without scaling up to a full war with Hamas has fueled a strong center-right movement led by Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.
In the last election, Blue and White emerged with the slimmest victory over Likud, but the neck-and-neck results didn’t allow either party a majority or enough power to form a government. Even with Likud’s slightly larger margin of victory in this election, Netanyahu still won’t hold the necessary sixty-one seats to hold a majority in the Knesset. That puts Netanyahu in a familiar conundrum. He must negotiate with other parties to form a coalition that holds enough seats to form a majority to build a government. This hasn’t worked before, and every failure only extends Israel’s longest time without a government in history. Israel hasn’t had a proper coalition government since December 2018. The subsequent three elections have failed to break the stalemate dividing Israeli politics and cast a cloud of uncertainty over the nation’s security strategy.
Despite the dismal track record, sources inside Likud are optimistic that coming ahead in the third election will allow Netanyahu to quickly form a coalition, possibly even before he faces his criminal trial on March 17, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Despite the election fatigue facing Israelis, the latest polls are reporting that 71 percent of Israel’s eligible voters came to the polls this election, up from 69.8 percent in the previous election.
Israel Promises COVID-19 Vaccine, Faces New Cases
At least twelve Israelis are now infected with the viral COVID-19 coronavirus that has swept the world and faltered the global economy.
The global tally stands at 90,933 infected, 47,984 recovered, and 3,117 deaths. As those numbers continue to rise, Israeli scientists promise the development of a vaccine to fight the deadly virus. Coincidentally, a team of researchers at MIGAL Research Institute in Israel had already been researching a vaccine for a strand of coronavirus found in poultry for four years, and after a slight adaptation for the novel COVID-19 coronavirus say that they can start producing a vaccine in the next eight to ten weeks.
“Given the urgent global need for a human coronavirus vaccine, we are doing everything we can to accelerate development,” said MIGAL Galilee Research Institute CEO David Zigdon. “Our goal is to produce the vaccine during the next eight to ten weeks and to achieve safety approval in 90 days.”
The vaccine would provide the world with a tool to fight the virus that has advanced nearly unchecked across the globe due to its high contagiousness and ability to spread from non-symptomatic carriers for around two weeks. However, the roughly three-month timeline before the production of a vaccine is too long to stem the spread of the virus.
Nearly 100,000 have been confirmed infected in approximately nine weeks, and the virus is spreading exponentially. The New Yorker cites Marc Lipsitch, a Harvard epidemiologist and the director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, estimated that between 40 percent and 70 percent of the world’s roughly five billion adults will get the virus.
A tiny percentage of those infected are in Israel, mostly coming from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship held off the coast of Japan. Israel has been the most proactive country in the fight against the virus going so far as to quarantine hundreds of students and citizens who had possible contact with carriers and training hundreds of medical staff and first responders on how to treat carriers properly. But one case is casting uncertainty over even the strictest measures.
“Over-preparation is better than lack of preparation,” Netanyahu said. “To date, Israel has been more stringent than any other country, and we will continue to do what is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus in Israel.”
Israeli El Al Airlines canceled a slew of European flights due to declining demand caused by fears of the spread of the coronavirus within Europe. The airline has already canceled all flights to virus outbreak regions of Hong Kong, China, and Italy, and more travel restrictions are expected. The economic impact of the travel interruptions threatens to damage El Al irreparably.
The airline is preparing a plan to dismiss up to a thousand of the company’s 6,300 permanent and temporary staff, and last week announced that it expects revenues to drop by $50 million to $70 million between January and April.
The economic burden falls on other Israeli sectors as well, especially those reliant on imports. As global trade is impacted, the Finance Ministry forecasts that different scenarios could see Israel’s economy lose NIS 3.6 billion ($1 billion USD) to NIS 14 billion ($4 billion USD).
Included in Israel’s dozen cases is an IDF soldier who contracted the disease after encountering a confirmed carrier of the novel coronavirus.
The Jerusalem Post reports that she contracted the virus working in the same store as another coronavirus patient who got it in Italy. Over the weekend, more than 300 other soldiers were quarantined due to their risk of exposure in Israel and after returning from other hotspots around the world, such as Italy or Korea.
A New Development
The Jerusalem Post reports that Shimon Dahan, one of the Israelis who returned from quarantine in Japan, was presumed to have been recovered from his infection on the cruise ship. But after his return to Israel on commercial flights, he developed coronavirus symptoms again, a worrying new behavior from the virus.