The World Today for May 13, 2024

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Drawing in Pencil

ISRAEL/ GAZA

Rebuilding Gaza after Israel’s devastating military operations in the Palestinian territory since Oct. 7 could cost $50 billion.

“We have not seen anything like this since 1945,” said United Nations development program director Abdallah Al Dardari, according to Al Jazeera. “That intensity, in such a short time and the massive scale of destruction. All investments in human development … for the last 40 years in Gaza have been wiped out. We are almost back in the eighties.”

Around 70 percent of Gaza’s housing is gone. Almost 40 million tons of debris litter the enclave. The destruction will impede children’s education, public health gains, and other signs of civilization. The beginning of the recovery process alone is expected to take three years, as displaced folks settle down in temporary housing before reconstruction that could last for decades. Many, furthermore, will never fully overcome the trauma stemming from the attack on Oct. 7 and Israel’s response, added UN officials.

The Palestinian economy, which includes the West Bank and Gaza, has contracted by almost 27 percent since that date, when Hamas, which controls Gaza, and its allies killed 1,200 people, mostly Israeli civilians, and kidnapped 253 others. Gazan officials say that Israeli forces have killed more than 35,000 people, including thousands of children, while Israeli officials say they had killed 14,000 Hamas fighters, reported Agence-France Presse and the Times of Israel.

The question is who will come up with the money to repair these wounds. Presumably, countries in the Persian Gulf, like Saudi Arabia, will help: Saudi leaders recently gave $40 million to the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency to help Gazans, for example, noted Reuters. The aid helped stave off famine in the territory.

Meanwhile, elites throughout the Middle East, Europe, and the United States are discussing how to reverse Gaza’s fortunes. They want the territory to become a commercial hub of tourism and trade on the Mediterranean Sea, wrote the New York Times. Plans for a port, desalination plant, new healthcare facilities, and a transportation corridor between Gaza and the West Bank are among their ideas.

That would follow Palestinian statehood, these elites say. On Friday, the 193-member UN General Assembly voted 143 to 9, with 25 abstentions, to grant new “rights and privileges” to Palestine and called on the Security Council to reconsider its request to become the 194th member of the UN.

Between these elites and their dreams stands Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, who has been criticized at home and abroad for continuing to lack a plan for the “day after.” The prime minister has made it clear that the enclave must be “demilitarized” before reconstruction can commence, reported Axios.

Over the weekend, Israel widened its military operation in Rafah, where more than one million people had sought refuge, in spite of warnings from the US and other allies to refrain from doing so, the Washington Post reported. It also said about 300,000 Palestinians have fled toward Mawasi, a stretch of land near the sea in the southern part of the territory that has been designated a humanitarian zone. Egypt, on Sunday, said its decades-old peace treaty with Israel is at risk because of the operation.

At the same time, instead of creating a plan for Gaza, Netanyahu would also place restrictions on the region. He would create a buffer zone within Gaza to prevent Hamas attacks in the future, control the Egyptian border, “de-radicalize” schools and other institutions, and replace UN agencies that he feels have aided and abetted Hamas.

Netanyahu is unlikely to get his wish list, says former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, writing in Haaretz.

Instead, as Israel continues to mull a ceasefire deal that Hamas accepted last week, he says that the war is already in effect over – even though Netanyahu is “deliberately and knowingly foiling” any chance of reaching such a truce deal.

But he adds: “Anyone who thinks that it’s possible to return (the hostages) without a clear and total cessation of the war is deluding himself and the Israeli public … Preparations must now be made for withdrawing from the Gaza Strip while handing control over to a multinational force, preferably one composed of soldiers from Arab armies,” he continues, “accompanied by a statement of (Israeli) willingness to embark on negotiations over a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

No to Peace

ARMENIA

Tens of thousands of Armenians protested in the capital Yerevan demanding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation because of his proposal to bring peace with neighboring rival Azerbaijan, Politico reported.

Riot police established barriers between protesters and government buildings as more demonstrators poured into the capital over the weekend. On Monday, officials said 88 people were arrested for disobeying police orders and attempting to block streets in Yerevan, Agence France-Pressed noted.

Meanwhile, protest leaders called for new demonstrations on Monday.

The demonstrations were sparked by Pashinyan’s proposal to return four border villages to Azerbaijan, in an effort to foster peace between the two long-time rivals and comply with international law.

However, opposition leaders and citizens – including those in the affected regions – view the move as a capitulation to Azerbaijan and a betrayal of Armenian interests.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the two former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh – a majority-ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

Armenia gained control over Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories after a war in the 1990s, but a 2020 conflict saw Azerbaijan reclaim them.

Following a one-day military operation in September, Baku gained complete control over the region, leading to the displacement of nearly 100,000 ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

On Saturday, foreign ministers from both nations concluded two days of negotiations in Kazakhstan aimed at securing a lasting peace treaty between the two countries. However, both sides released statements acknowledging remaining differences and the need for further negotiations, according to Radio Free Europe.

Incoming Curveball

KUWAIT

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmad Al Jaber dissolved parliament over the weekend, citing ongoing political deadlock that has led to four elections in four years in the oil-rich Gulf country, the New York Times reported.

On Friday, the emir said parliament would be suspended for four years, complaining that the political turmoil between parliament and government required “hard decisions to save the country.”

He also suspended a number of articles in the constitution, adding that the transitional period – typically a parliamentary term – will be used to review “all aspects of the democratic process” in Kuwait.

Sheikh Meshal’s move came a little more than a month after Kuwaitis voted for a new parliament, and less than a year after he came to power following the death of the former emir.

Political gridlock has become common in Kuwait over the past five years, with recurrent parliamentary polls and cabinet resignations that have made it difficult for officials to implement their agendas.

Parliamentary suspensions have happened only twice in Kuwait, in 1976 and 1986.

While not a full democracy due to its hereditary monarchy and its ban on political parties, the Gulf nation stands out in a region for maintaining some democratic norms: Kuwait’s parliament holds substantial power compared with neighboring monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia.

Lawmakers can publicly question ministers, influence the state budget and approve the appointment of the crown prince – the country’s next ruler.

In his Friday address, Sheikh Meshal blamed unknown political actors for interfering “with the heart of the emir’s purviews and meddled in his choice of a crown prince.”

Some Kuwaitis welcomed the recent suspension as a way to overcome the political gridlock, but others and some political observers cautioned that the emir’s decision “threatens to make Kuwait as authoritarian as the other Gulf monarchies.”

Analysts expressed concern about the potential constitutional amendments that could curb the power of the legislature, and also how domestic dissent would be treated in the next four years.

A Dialogue of One

MALI

Participants in Mali’s national dialogue proposed extending the rule of the military junta for three more years, prolonging the country’s lagging transition to democracy since the army’s 2020 coup, Reuters reported.

The military has governed Mali since the takeover, but tensions have risen in recent months after the junta failed to keep its promised timeline to return to constitutional rule.

Led by Col. Assimi Goita, the military government had promised to hand over power through elections to be held last February, but later postponed the vote indefinitely citing the country’s deteriorating security situation, Agence France-Presse added.

The national dialogue culminated Friday with a series of recommendations, including extending the junta’s rule and allowing Goita to run in any rescheduled elections.

Even so, an alliance of political parties and civil society groups boycotted the dialogue and accused army officials of exploiting it to stay in power.

Last month, authorities suspended all party political activities after silencing opponents, journalists and human rights activists.

Observers noted that another delay underscores further democratic backsliding in Mali, as well as other countries in West and Central Africa that have experienced coups in recent years.

Mali has been grappling with violence since 2012 when Islamist militants seized control of a rebellion led by nomadic Tuareg groups in the country’s Saharan region.

The Tuaregs had voiced grievances of governmental neglect and aspired for autonomy in the desert territory they refer to as Azawad.

DISCOVERIES

Wall Runners

Humans are preparing to go back to the Moon in the next few years, but those lunar adventures will come with a series of problems, including extremely low gravity.

Astronauts lose bone and muscle mass without normal gravity, so scientists recently came up with an ingenious idea to keep humans fit and healthy in the Moon’s low gravity, the Guardian reported.

In their study, a research team proposed that lunar explorers could employ the use of a “Wall of Death,” a large wooden cylinder used by stuntmen to perform gravity-defying vehicular acts.

For their experiment, they used a 33-foot-wide wall of death and a bungee cord suspended on a crane. The cord allowed the researchers to simulate lunar gravity by taking five-sixths off their body weight.

They then would run around the wall of death for a few minutes at the start and end of each day.

Treadmill data collected from the experiments showed that the method created enough lateral force – or “artificial gravity” – to keep bones and muscles strong and maintain good nervous system control.

“I’m amazed that nobody had the idea before,” said lead author Alberto Minetti. “This could be a convenient way to train on the Moon.”

Minetti and his colleagues proposed that astronauts could be housed in circular habitats to practice this exercise, instead of transporting a massive wall of death to the Moon.

Some researchers welcomed the findings as promising, but noted that astronauts will need to employ other exercises to better live and operate on Earth’s satellite.

Others also wondered if it would be possible to install such large running tracks in the early lunar habitats.

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