Israel signs détentes; protests in Belarus
The obvious place to start our weekly foreign affairs newsletter in the week following the US election is with Israel and Belarus... welcome to issue #1!
Oh hi there! We didn’t see you come in, but now you’re here, welcome… sorry, say again? Oh this little thing? Oh this is just our new newsletter that we’re sending out. It’s basically two stories from the world we think are important that we summarise and contextualise. It will be regular, so you can show off at d̶i̶n̶n̶e̶r̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶t̶i̶e̶s zoom quizzes and we’ll also include some reading links in case you’re a keen bean, which it seems you are, given you just came in without knocking.
Who are we? Nosy…. but okay. We’re two former diplomats who served in Israel and China respectively. Both of us left that life to go and study some more because our complicated prediction models suggested 2020 was 94% likely to be the best year ever. We forgot to carry the 1, but the model is all fixed and ready to go for realz now.
Enough of this lightly irreverent banterous introduction and down to brass tacks (not ‘brass tax’ btw just in case you thought the saying was about wanting to have serious conversation about levies on metal alloys like we definitely didn’t). Here’s our first edition and a chance for you to read about something other the US election. Please do drop us a note to tell us how to make it useful for you.
1. Normalising Ties with Israel is the New Norm
In September 2020, the UAE finally accepted Israel’s friend request - a country which it has historically blocked. Bahrain followed suit, then Sudan joined the club.
Some might see these Trump-brokered agreements for Arab states to normalise ties with Israel as a mere US election stunt, but the events are actually a “yuge” deal for Middle East geopolitics. With the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan normalising tie with Israel (and five more deals reportedly in the works), there’s renewed speculation that the region is one step closer to finalising the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) between Israel and Palestine. In reality, it’s never been further away.
Hang On, What’s the Big Deal?
Unlike the rest of us, Israel is actually having a great 2020.
Having been politically isolated in the Middle East since 1948, the Jewish state has only had two friends – Egypt and Jordan, both brokered through US mediation. Despite open hostilities with other neighbours, Israel built close “under the table” intelligence ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE thanks to shared enemies in Iran and ISIS.
Though cooperation was thick, Arab states strongly resisted openly acknowledging their Israeli ties for fear of being viewed as betraying the Palestinian cause for statehood. Hence, the UAE-led open recognition of Israel – including economic and political links marks a new chapter for Middle East geopolitics.
What About the Palestinians?
Understandably, the Palestinian Authority has been less than impressed by the UAE-led détente with Israel. For the Palestinians, a key leverage in the MEPP negotiations had been preventing Israel from having normalised relations with its neighbours.
More than anything else, the recent moves highlight that the Palestinian issue no longer remains a core national security issue for many Arab States. Attracted to the promise of US sanction relief, weapons sales (F-35 fighters up for grabs!), economic opportunities and Israeli high-tech, the Palestinian fight for statehood and finalising MEPP look to be issues that may remain shelved, yet again.
Read More Here:
2. Remember Belarus?
We'll forgive you for answering "ehhhh I think so". The protests that broke out in Minsk in response to their rigged presidential election feel like they happened years ago; it was actually mid-August. And yes we all know it's 2020 and time is merely a construct, but still... when a popular, widespread and internationally recognised movement for a more legitimate election process grinds to to a stalemate this quickly, it's not great for democracy anywhere.
August 9 (election day)
Alexander Lukashenko has always been a Moscow backed dictator but this vote rigging was brazen, even for him. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (say it 3 times fast, or even once slowly) the main opposition candidate left for Lithuania claiming she feared for her life. And she was only running in her husband's place because he was imprisoned in May. She's now on Russia's most wanted list, but that's unrelated for sure.
August and September
For weeks following the election, protests and riots occurred across the country, the biggest in the capital Minsk. Rallies of 250,000+ people and nationwide strikes occur, while famous images of paramilitary forces abducting folks off the streets hit the news. But by September the heat (and media coverage) is waning. Prominent protestors continue to be arrested but some international organisations recognise Tsikhanouskaya as an 'interim' leader of Belarus.
Rallies and protests are sporadically continuing (Belarussians are a determined people it would seem) but the situation is essentially a stalemate.
'How to Prop Up your Proxy Puppet and Influence People' by Putin, et. al
Belarus is another proxy battlefront along the frontier of the Russian sphere of influence that's as old as.... Ed Sheeran. NATO has long given Putin a reason to abuse Xanax so it’s utterly unsurprising that he’s all over his boy next door to make sure ‘democracy’ doesn’t inch closer to Moscow. Ed note - Russia's economy is smaller than Canada's and we think we'd all be better off with Trudeau shirtless on a horse projecting his power but that's neither here nor there.
So, are mass protests kind of useless now? Hong Kong, the US, Bulgaria, Romania, Venezuela, Syria have all had major outbreaks of civil unrest that have kind of gone nowhere (don't @ us, we're not saying they're not important).
Is the new playbook for authoritarians dealing with dissatisfaction from pesky citizens to just, brazenly ignore them? Respond with some violence, lock up the ringleaders, promise to pay off your security tsars for their loyalty and then, stick your fingers in your ears and ride it out. We all like to focus on flashy shows of decline like financial crises or... Trump, but is the real decline of liberalism the waning power of public protest to actually change things in the near term?
Update: in a late entry for The 2020 Excellence in Trolling Award, President Lukashenko has apparently condemned the US presidential election as a “travesty of democracy". Lol.
Our ‘Follow to Not Follow’ 💊
Make social media great a….. ugh enough of that. Let’s all agree to go back to a world before it was fine to end thoughts with “SAD!”.
We think the power of the internet is how easily you can, should you so choose, get outside your groupthink bubble. It is exceedingly regrettable that Twitter employs the term ‘followers’. Well-curated internet diets can help you be quite the opposite.
To that end, try ‘following’ Naval Ravikant. He’ll help you shine a light on your mental blind spots.
You’re still here…? We’re shocked! And flattered - thank you for sticking with us.
We know we said we would avoid discussing the US elections - but, boy do we have an exciting new issue in store for you. In the next newsletter, we’ll address the elephant in the room - Trump or rather the imminent lack of him (or not?) and whether that will actually change anything…