1. 'Knives drawn' as Netanyahu tries forming government
Complicated, maybe impossible. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got the first shot at assembling a new government following yet another round of inconclusive elections. He has the support of 52 lawmakers out of a needed minimum of 61, but Netanyahu knows gaining the required endorsement of nine more “is going to be complicated, perhaps impossible,” Mazal Mualem writes. The embattled premier is standing trial on corruption charges, and as Ben Caspit puts it, a long list of political foes are “now waiting with knives drawn for him to tumble."
Arab parties hold back endorsements. Israel’s longest-serving prime minister sought to win over Arab voters during the campaign, but Afif Abu Much breaks down why the Arab-led parties — the Joint List and Raam — declined to recommend Netanyahu (or any other candidate) to form the next government.
Bennett, Abbas hold the keys. Netanyahu will devote his time and energy on two key figures: right-wing Yamina party Leader Naftali Bennett and Raam leader Mansour Abbas. Bennett told supporters that he will back a "right-wing" government and turned down a partnership with center-left Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid. Bibi’s broad pitch to Abbas and Arab voters was that "I see myself as the prime minister of everyone." Rina Bassist has the latest.
2. US-Iran: 'new chapter' depends on hotel shuttle diplomacy
The United States, Iran and the remaining parties to the nuclear deal are meeting in Vienna this week for talks aimed at reviving the landmark accord. The US delegation will be in a separate hotel. Iran’s messaging is so far positive. President Hassan Rouhani, still hoping to strike a deal with Washington before he leaves office in June, referred to the Vienna talks as a ‘new chapter.’ But the window of opportunity may be closing with elections in June. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seems unyielding in his demand that the United States must first lift all sanctions, but there may still be some room for a path forward. Ali Hashem has the scoop on rumblings of some backchannel mediation and choreography heading into the talks.
3. Syria's economic turmoil fuels war
As Syria’s economic woes deepen, rival forces are battling for control of critical trade routes. Russia’s recent bombing of Turkish-controlled areas in northern Syria were likely intended as a not-so-subtle message to Ankara, which backs the opposition and is under pressure from Moscow to reopen the strategic M4 highway.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, is pressing Russia and China to allow the UN Security Council to facilitate greater humanitarian access to opposition-controlled parts of Syria. It’s painfully needed: The UN says 13.4 million people across Syria require aid to survive. But from Moscow’s perspective, the flow of humanitarian aid to the Kurdish-held northeast and rebel-controlled northwest would only reinforce the status quo, Fehim Tastekin writes.
4. Saudi Arabia goes big on post-pandemic megaprojects
Private sector firms in Saudi Arabia will pour $1.3 trillion worth of investments into the Saudi economy over the next decade, according to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as part of a plan to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil. But foreign investors have been wary of billion-dollar investments in Vision 2030 flagship megaprojects, including the futuristic city NEOM. As Sebastian Castelier explains, “The narrative of Saudi investments leading the way may be intended to compensate, or overshadow, for the kingdom's inability to meet foreign direct investment targets.”
5. Egypt's fight against female genital mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) remains a problem in Egypt, despite a 2008 law criminalizing the practice. Lawmakers have given preliminary approval to legislation that would impose jail sentences on violators, but there’s skepticism over whether the tougher penalties would actually discourage FGM in parts of the North African country where the ritual practice is common.
The parliament’s move coincided with the death of feminist author Nawal El Saadawi, whose own experience with the procedure “awakened Saadawi's sense of the injustice and violence suffered by women in Egypt's patriarchal society, particularly in rural communities like the one she grew up in,” writes Shahira Amin.