June 30, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 2,590,582 (+1.63%)
  2. Brazil: 1,368,195 (+1.79%)
  3. Russia: 640,246 (+1.05%)
  4. India: 566,840 (+3.38%)
  5. UK: 313,470 (+0.27%)
  6. Peru: 282,365 (+1.05%)
  7. Chile: 275,999 (+1.48%)
  8. Spain: 248,970 (+0.08%)
  9. Italy: 240,436 (+0.05%)
  10. Iran: 225,205 (+1.14%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

ISRAEL

Playing With Fire

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to annex Palestinian territories in the West Bank as early as July 1.

He says it would secure the country’s eastern borders for the first time. He maintains that the  Jewish settlements in the West Bank like Bet El and Shiloh are “an integral part of the historic Jewish homeland.” He argues that Israel should annex the area known as Judea, south of Jerusalem, since “we’re called Jews because we’re the people of Judea.”

The proposal is controversial, however, because it would extend the Israeli government’s sovereignty over the Jewish settlements many view as illegal: These were established in the territories in the years after Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967. While Israel has incorporated the territories in a de facto sense, the United Nations, European lawmakers and others insist that the Palestinians have the right to exercise sovereignty over their land.

Israel, grappling with the pandemic and the economic fallout from it, has chosen this moment to move forward on the annexation for a strategic reason: Some in Israel believe that it is this moment – because US President Donald Trump is the most pro-Israel president in recent history – that is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to carry out measures that were unacceptable to previous US administrations, the Guardian wrote. Because Trump may not win reelection in November, pro-annexation factions want to move fast.

Meanwhile, the idea is also very complicated.

As the Jewish Telegraph Agency explained, the American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is now brokering a deal with Netanyahu and his coalition partner, Benny Gantz, on the annexation.

Friedman’s involvement shows that annexation is an American issue as well as a Middle Eastern one. Republican lawmakers in the US Congress have lined up behind the idea, the Hill noted. “As you know well, the Palestinians have rejected Israel’s bids for peace, time and again,” they wrote in a public letter recently.

Some wonder whether America’s involvement is a ploy to pressure the Palestinians into accepting President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the region or whether the peace plan is a ploy to expedite annexation, the New York Times wrote. Under Trump’s plan, Israel would annex around 30 percent of the West Bank while the Palestinians would create a new entity on the 70 percent that would be left.

Unsurprisingly, Palestinians aren’t keen on either side of the question. Thousands recently protested against the plan in Jericho, Al Jazeera wrote. And Israeli soldiers recently clashed with Palestinian anti-annexation protesters at Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus, too, United Press International reported.

Also underscoring the international quality of the crisis, United Nations Peace Envoy for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov as well as European Union, British, Chinese, Russian, Japanese and Jordanian diplomats also attended the rally. Many of those foreign governments have threatened Israel with sanctions if the annexation proceeds. Arab leaders have also warned that the move would severely set back or even destroy diplomatic ties between Israeli and regional governments.

Some Israelis, including Jewish settlers, are also leery of annexation, said the Washington Post. They fear that Netanyahu might grant concessions to the Palestinians, like creating a full-fledged Palestinian state in areas outside the settlements.

Other Israelis told National Public Radio that they would prefer not to annex some of the West Bank now because they might seek to take it all later.

Meanwhile, Israeli demonstrators turned Trump Square’s fountain in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv blood red to denounce the annexation, one of a wave of protests against the plan in recent weeks, Israel’s Haaretz reported.

“The annexation will cost us in blood,” graffiti scrawled in front of the fountain read.

“The fear of terrorist attacks in our childhood will never be forgotten,” demonstrators told Channel 12 News.

“There are steps that can’t be taken back,” they added. “Annexation will bring upon us a security and economic disaster, and all this because of politicians playing with fire at the expense of civilians in a time of economic crisis.”

WANT TO KNOW

FRANCE

Marianne Turns Green

France’s Greens made big gains in local elections Sunday that were marked by a record-low turnout and the failure of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party to garner significant support, Agence France-Presse reported.

Preliminary results showed that the Europe Ecology – The Greens party is set to take over key cities such as Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg and other cities. In Marseille, France’s second city, the Greens won the most seats on the local council and could secure the mayorship later this week, Forbes wrote Monday.

And in Paris, Socialist incumbent mayor, Anne Hidalgo, won reelection: She had the backing of the Greens for her signature policies aimed at reducing air pollution and boosting space for bicycles and pedestrians at the expense of cars.

Macron acknowledged that the elections were marked by a “green wave,” expressing concern at the high abstention rate – estimated to be about 60 percent. Sunday’s vote was the first time that Macron’s party, Republic on the Move, had competed in nationwide local elections since bursting on the scene shortly before national elections in 2017.

Sunday’s elections were the second round of voting after the March 15 elections failed to bring about a decisive outcome. Originally, it was scheduled for March 22 but was delayed due to lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The elections were also a “symbolic” victory for the far-right: Marie Le Pen’s National Rally claimed a win in the southern city of Perpignan – the first far-right takeover over of a French city of more than 100,000 inhabitants since 1995, the Local reported Monday.

PAKISTAN

Symbolism and Terror

Separatist gunmen attacked Pakistan’s Stock Exchange in the city of Karachi Monday, killing three before security forces subdued all four attackers, the New York Times reported.

The separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) from the troubled southwestern province of Balochistan claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Pakistani officials. Authorities said that the attack was symbolic and aimed “to hit the icon of Pakistan’s economy and economic activity.”

Officials believe that the BLA received support from “hostile intelligence agencies”: India’s Research and Analysis Wing is one of their primary suspects, Reuters reported.

Separatists have been fighting for years in resource-rich Balochistan, complaining that its gas and mineral wealth is being unfairly siphoned off by Pakistan’s other provinces. The BLA has also targeted Chinese projects in the region that are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Pakistan has been wracked by separatist and Islamist violence over much of the past decade: This month, a little-known separatist group killed four people, including two soldiers, in the southern province of Sindh, which surrounds Karachi.

POLAND

Surprise, Surprise

Polish incumbent President Andrzej Duda won the first round of voting in Sunday’s presidential elections but is not the shoo-in many had believed he would be for the second round, Politico reported Monday.

Exit polls showed that Duda of the nationalist, ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party won nearly 44 percent of the vote, while his left-leaning rival, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, received 30.4 percent of the vote. Final results are expected Tuesday.

Duda had expected to win the first round but the coronavirus pandemic delayed the original May 10 vote, which gave the opposition Civic Platform the chance to replace their previous lackluster candidate with Trzaskowski – who ran a more aggressive campaign.

With no candidate securing more than 50 percent, the upcoming poll sets up a clash about Poland’s future.

Duda’s reelection will ensure that the PiS continues its controversial changes to the country’s judicial system as well as laws that impact the media, both of which have sparked concerns in the European Union that Poland is becoming increasingly illiberal.

Trzaskowski said he would veto illiberal laws should he become president. The PiS lacks a majority in parliament to override a presidential veto.

The second round is scheduled for July 12.

DISCOVERIES

Peeking Under the Mantle

Scientists have found giant structures more than 1,800 miles deep within the Earth at the boundary between the planet’s core and mantle, New Scientists reported.

The structure – known as an ultra-low velocity (ULV) zone – was enormous: It had a diameter of more than 600 miles and nearly 16 miles thick, researcher Doyeon Kim and his team wrote in their study.

Kim’s team came across one megastructure while studying 7,000 records of seismic activity from earthquakes that occurred around the Pacific Ocean between 1990 and 2018.

Using an algorithm designed to find trends in large astronomy data sets, they identified the gargantuan object beneath the volcanic Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

Their investigation also revealed that a previous ULV zone below Hawaii was much larger than previously believed.

The authors are still unclear about the composition of these structures, speculating that they are chemically distinct from Earth’s mantle, or have different thermal properties.

Kim explained that the study helps explain more about our planet’s mantle and how these structures formed and changed over time.

“(The) Earth’s mantle is where the convection is occurring, and it is actually the driving mechanism for hotspot volcanism as well as plate tectonics,” he said.