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Young Climate Activists Warn Their Elders: Stop Destroying the Planet

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MUMBAI, India — 

After the cops showed up in an urban forest and detained Manisha Dhinde, one of them asked her: “What is this fashion of protesting for the environment?”

“It isn’t fashion,” Dhinde snapped back on that day two years ago. “It is my duty to save trees.”

She was opposing plans to cut down 2,700 trees in order to build a metro train car shed on tribal land in Mumbai. That moment galvanized the petite woman with the deep voice, and now she is aiming to work with marginalized communities across her state of Maharashtra to stop or at least reshape development projects that would harm the environment.

A construction project planned for an urban forest in Mumbai, India, awakened a young woman’s environmental activism.

(Punit Paranjpe / AFP/Getty Images)

“We don’t respect anyone more than we respect nature,” Dhinde, 22, said of the tribes living on shrinking green space in this traffic-congested, air-polluted city.

Dhinde is part of a surge of young environmentalists determined to stave off climate change by challenging the destructive ways of their elders. In Uganda, a climate activist who once worked in her family’s battery supply shop has found international fame for bringing Africa and the Global South into the conversation. In Scotland, a woman who quit college to warn of rising temperatures and a troubling carbon footprint is battling politicians and corporations she accuses of attempting to co-opt and distort the climate change movement.

“It is my duty to save trees,” Manisha Dhinde says.

(Amrita Bhattacharjee)

All three are part of the first generation to come of age at a time when the effects of the climate crisis are already being felt — foreshadowing a perilous future. Their fight is propelled by the technology they have mastered: unparalleled access to information and to one another — thousands of miles but only milliseconds apart on the social media platforms that have heralded their cause. Some, like Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, have become brands themselves, testifying at hearings and admonishing lawmakers and bureaucrats.

Their confrontational strategy is reminiscent of the young antiwar and civil rights protesters of the 1960s. But the existential stakes are much higher today. Disillusioned by economic and political designs that have long favored big industry and fossil fuels over the environment, this generation faces the prospect that entire regions of the world will become increasingly uninhabitable. Their TikTok videos and social media scrolls are a kaleidoscope of climate refugees, sinking cities, parched farmlands and endangered wildlife.

“The planet is warming, the animals are disappearing, the rivers are dying, and our plants don’t flower like they did before,” Txai Suruí, a 24-year-old Indigenous climate activist from the Brazilian Amazon, told world leaders on the opening day of the United Nations COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, this week. “The Earth is speaking. She tells us that we have no more time.”

By any measure, the outlook is grim. Oceans are hotter than they’ve ever been and the rate of sea level rise has doubled since 2006. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere haven’t been this high in 2 million years. More than 1 million plants and animal species are at risk of extinction. No matter what changes are made today, the young will inherit a planet that over the next 30 years will see worsening heat waves, droughts and flooding, according to a recent United Nations report. The effects of greenhouse gas emissions, it said, are “irreversible for centuries to millennia.”

The impact will be most profound for the young in poorer countries. In Africa, where the population is growing at twice the rate as in South Asia or Latin America, and is expected to double by 2050, the number of youths being born into a warming climate is booming. Almost half of the populations of many African countries, including Niger, Mali, Uganda and Congo, are under age 15. Those young are already living through the crisis. Cyclones have torn through the south; desert locusts have endangered the food supply in the east; the Nile River’s water supply is unsteady.

“It’s not the devastation that keeps us fighting. It’s what we see in our minds — the vision, the hope,” said Vanessa Nakate, an activist from Uganda. “Because if there’s no hope, what are we to look forward to?”

::

“It’s not the devastation that keeps us fighting. It’s what we see in our minds — the vision, the hope,” said Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda. “Because if there’s no hope, what are we to look forward to?”

(Esther Ruth Mbabazi)

Nakate was having trouble falling asleep in her sweltering attic bedroom in Kampala. It was 2018, and so hot and dry, farmers had noticed their yields were suffering. Then came the floods. Nakate watched in horror as rising waters and landslides in eastern Uganda drove 21,000 people from their homes. More than 50 people died, including children buried in the mud of an elementary school.

It seemed extreme weather events were becoming more frequent and lasting longer. She asked her Uncle Charles whether she was imagining things. He told her that the world was in trouble.

Nakate was shy and introverted — nothing like the Greta Thunberg she saw on social media. She worried she would be mistaken for a prostitute if she staged a one-woman protest at a busy Kampala intersection. But compelled to act, she enlisted her siblings and cousins and made posters: Nature is life; climate strike now; thanks for the global warming. So nervous she couldn’t feel her legs, she uploaded photos of their six-person strike to Twitter. Thunberg retweeted them, and Nakate’s act of defiance went viral.

A college graduate with a business degree, Nakate became a rare African voice in a chorus of young climate change activists. In early 2020, she was in Davos, Switzerland, sleeping in a tent despite subzero temperatures to prove an energy-efficient point during the World Economic Forum. But it was her skin color, not her environmentalism, that made her famous when she was trimmed out of a photograph with four white activists.

A landslide in eastern Uganda killed dozens of people in 2010.

(Peter Busomoke / AFP/Getty Images)

“They hadn’t just cropped me out, I realized,” she said. “They’d cropped out a whole continent.”

That moment of humiliation in the Alps steeled her. She quickly emerged as a leading critic on the disproportionate impact of climate change on the Global South, or poorer regions outside of North America and Europe. The average person in Uganda, like other African countries, emits less carbon dioxide in a year than a person in the United Kingdom does in just two weeks, she said, but are the first to face extreme economic loss and forced migration.

The rate of sea level rise in countries like Madagascar is above average; more than half of the coastlines of Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast and Senegal are eroding; and thanks to extreme heat and flooding, disease-carrying mosquitoes are inhabiting new altitudes of the East African highlands. In some regions of Africa, the number of undernourished people has increased by almost 50% in the last decade.

A boy walks past a destroyed tomb in a graveyard along an eroded coastline in Bargny, Senegal.

(John Wessels / AFP/Getty Images)

“For our country, drought means hunger, starvation and death,” Nakate said. “We see it as it is — not what’s coming in the future, but what’s here already, right now.”

During the pandemic, she saw it in real time, as Ugandan households under stay-at-home orders were flooded by the rising waters of Lake Victoria. Nakate’s frustration intensified as government officials urged people to follow science in combating the COVID-19 pandemic but, in her view, weren’t following science on climate change.

Vanessa Nakate, right, is comforted by Greta Thunberg at a climate summit in Italy in September.

(Associated Press)

Nakate wears a hoodie, listens to Taylor Swift music and, like others in her generation, has taken much of her advocacy online, communicating through a WhatsApp account tagged with a sunglasses emoji. She believes that social media have helped young people around the world, including in the United States, understand the immediacy of the crisis in her country. Like many of her climate compatriots she has the aura of a tireless prophet, logging thousands of miles to spread her message, most recently traveling to Scotland for the U.N. summit.

She’s published a new book and is keen with a sound bite: “Every activist has a story to tell, every story has a solution to give, every solution has a life to change.”

At home she knows all activism is local and deeds have quiet power. She has taken to installing solar panels in Ugandan schools and meeting with students. She believes girls in particular are the “first responders” to the climate crisis — and, given the current roster, she points out, that’s hard to contest.

“I’d have three children right now if I hadn’t gone to school and researched the environment,” she said. “Climate justice and gender equality are intertwined: If half of all the players sit on the sidelines, our entire planet is going to lose.”

::

It was the evening before the biggest day of her young life, and Lauren MacDonald was having a panic attack.

Her stomach was doing flips and her hands were trembling. Her friends, a group of other young climate activists from around the world, soothed her. Then they stayed up with her until the early morning helping her write and practice the speech that would make her a viral sensation.

“I just want to start by saying that you should be absolutely ashamed of yourself for the devastation that you have caused to communities all over the world,” MacDonald said the next day to one of the world’s most powerful oil men, interrupting an otherwise staid panel discussion on climate change with an all-out declaration of war.

The crowd at the TED Countdown Summit in Edinburgh, Scotland, gasped and Ben van Beurden, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, stared down at his feet. Van Beurden had just spoken at length about his company’s vow to cut its carbon emissions in the coming decades when MacDonald, an activist who had led TED officials to believe she would be giving a more decorous speech, went into attack mode.

“Every single day that you fail to stop making evil decisions is a day that the death toll from the climate crisis rises,” she said.

MacDonald criticized Shell’s continued exploration for new oil and its history of sowing public doubt about climate science, dismissing the company’s carbon-reduction pledge as nothing more than “greenwashing.” She then unhooked her microphone and left the stage.

“Every single day that you fail to stop making evil decisions is a day that the death toll from the climate crisis rises,” activist Lauren MacDonald told one oil executive.

(Alexander Hoyles)

Overnight, MacDonald became another outspoken star of a global movement. While she faced criticism from some corners for not engaging Van Beurden in dialogue at the event last month, many others rejoiced in watching a plucky 21-year-old berate a man whose company is one of the world’s largest producers of CO2 emissions.

Speaking over a video chat a few days later, MacDonald was dazed. “Being elevated to a world stage is very new,” she said from her bedroom in Glasgow, once a major shipbuilding town with smoke-heavy skies. “I feel really blessed, but also very overwhelmed.”

Born in a working-class family, she first learned about climate change in high school when a friend explained why she was vegan. Soon MacDonald had stopped eating animal products and was spending all of her free time organizing climate strikes. She dropped out of university after a few semesters, convinced that activism was more urgent than her studies.

She has confronted powerful leaders before, including Nicola Sturgeon, the head of the Scottish government.

Nicola Sturgeon, the head of the Scottish government, was confronted by climate activist Lauren MacDonald.

(Jane Barlow / AFP/Getty Images)

“I worry every day,” she told Sturgeon in video that went viral, demanding that she commit to opposing Cambo, a new oil field off Scotland’s coast. “I have genuine existential crises when I think about my future.”

Sturgeon appeared moved by the emotional plea. “I hear what you say, and I have a lot of sympathy,” she said. But ultimately she sidestepped the issue of the oil field.

MacDonald says her mental health has suffered — both from anguish about the irreversibly changing world and the feeling that she must carry more of that weight as others look away.

“We need more people to be taking on this burden to share it between people,” MacDonald said.

While people called her brave for challenging Van Beurden, she said the confrontation was painful. “The work that I do and that so many other people are doing is not easy. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

She does the work for her little sister.

“I want to do everything that I can to mitigate like devastation for the people that I love,” she said. “I think that it’s so important to have the audacity to keep trying.”

::

The protest that led to Manisha Dhinde’s arrest in Mumbai just before the pandemic was to oppose a construction project in the Aarey Colony, an urban forest of some 32,000 acres. It is home to vulnerable species — leopards, sambar deer, dozens of types of butterflies — and consists of 27 tribal hamlets, or forest-dwelling communities, including her own.

“The authorities always keep tribals in the dark,” she said of the state’s plan to build the metro train car shed. “We weren’t even asked or considered, even though we live here.”

Even after her arrest — on the way to her school exams — she and others kept at it, attending public hearings and forming blockade chains until the project fell through. That was her first encounter with environmental activism. But the protest to save the forest in Aarey Colony introduced her to other environmental problems in India, a country of 1.4 billion people where some regions have seen temperatures of more than 123 degrees Fahrenheit in recent years.

India’s government officials always keep tribal communities “in the dark,” Manisha Dhinde says. “We weren’t even asked or considered, even though we live here.”

(Amrita Bhattacharjee)

One of those problems is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to connect the capitals of Maharashtra and his home state of Gujarat with a bullet train. It is supposed to run through the tribal district of Palghar — about 75 miles north of Mumbai — and displace 41 villages. Development projects — as they do in many countries — affect the poor disproportionately even as they fell forests, whose trees cleanse carbon from the air, and spoil the land for those who live off it.

Dhinde says that no matter how much the tribal communities resist, they are eventually coaxed into submission. “Tribals never benefit from these projects,” she says. “It is always the large corporations and the state.”

Dhinde is fierce and direct, if not exactly imposing. She’s thin with a deep voice and brisk walk.

She sees the connection between razing trees and the climate. Eccentric weather patterns in India mean consistent losses to agriculture and farmers, on whom India’s rural economy depends, or nearly 70% of the country’s population. Dhinde knows a thing or two about it. During the day she works on her family’s three-acre farm, where they cultivate rice and vegetables, as they have for generations.

Dhinde is part of the Tribal Rights Protection Committee in the Aarey Colony, where she and others research and share the potential consequences of construction projects, ensuring that “every tribal here gets the information that the authorities are trying to hide.” She is also pursuing a degree in social work, confident it will help fight for the most marginalized.

Young environmental activists demonstrate in India.

(Ndranil Mukherjee / AFP/Getty Images)

As the coronavirus continues circulating, the group meets in person only when necessary. But Dhinde keeps the communication strong: She takes pictures for the group’s Twitter page, @ConserveAarey, and Instagram account, @AareyForest, to help share information about the tribal communities across India to ensure their voices are heard.

“Times have changed,” she says of social media. “You realize you are not alone.”

Dhinde, like her counterparts in Uganda and Scotland, knows that, even if the razing halted and carbon emissions ceased today, the effects of past warming would still be felt for decades. She is not fighting a distant abstraction, but rather an altered world whose climate dangers will be with her until she dies.

Parth M.N. is a special correspondent. This is the fifth in a series of occasional stories about the challenges the young face in an increasingly perilous world. Reporting for the series was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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Source: latimes.com

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Looking for a Boost, Taiwan’s Oldest Political Party Turns to the Great-grandson of Chiang Kai-shek

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — 

Between internal strife, muddled campaign messages and a stance on China that has become a political liability, Taiwan’s oldest political party is deep in existential crisis.

The Chinese Nationalist Party, better known as the KMT, or Kuomintang, was founded in mainland China but went into exile in Taiwan in 1949. It ruled the island for 50 years before losing its grip on power.

The party has long pushed for closer ties with China, a position that has increasingly put it out of touch with a younger generation that identifies as Taiwanese and has grown wary of the Chinese Communist Party’s designs on the island.

Now the 110-year-old KMT is looking to a rising star to refurbish its image: Chiang Wan-an, who is favored to become the next mayor of Taipei — among thousands of local offices up for grabs in nationwide elections Saturday.

The charismatic 43-year-old former legislator and lawyer has billed himself as a thoroughly modern figure who can lead the party into the future. He supports same-sex marriage and lowering the voting age from 20 to 18. His handsome looks and young children haven’t hurt his appeal either.

At the same time, he claims deep roots in the party’s past as a great-grandson of the revolutionary Chiang Kai-shek.

It was under Chiang Kai-shek that the party fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party. Waiting to someday take the mainland back, the KMT often using brutal means to suppress any political threats, finally lifting martial law in 1987as Taiwan began to democratize.

Ham radio, a niche hobby among older Taiwanese, has reemerged as a potential wartime tool as China’s military aggression grows.

Now, it’s the Communist Party that wants to retake Taiwan. In the face of growing aggression under President Xi Jinping, who considers the democracy of 23 million a part of China, much of the national political discourse has centered on the best way to defend the island.

President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, was reelected by a landslide in 2020, thanks to growing Taiwanese nationalism and anti-China sentiment. But this year, the KMT has enjoyed a boost of support that could help it clean up in local races.

The mayorship of Taipei is often a stepping stone to the presidency. According to recent polls, Chiang is leading independent candidate Huang Shan-shan, the former deputy mayor of Taipei, and the DPP’s Chen Shih-chung, who as minister of health and welfare oversaw Taiwan’s pandemic response.

“He is the young, fresher and slightly updated face that the KMT needs,” said Lev Nachman, a political science professor at National Chengchi University. “But one candidate does not a successful political strategy make.”

In local elections, cross-strait tensions take a backseat to more immediate concerns. The mayoral candidates have talked a lot about urban renewal, the rising cost of housing, subsidies for young parents and ways to make the city friendlier for pets. Chiang wants to improve health insurance for animals and expand programs to let them ride on public transportation.

He has also sought to capitalize on voters’ dissatisfaction with the Tsai administration, in particular pointing to a lack of transparency in its vaccine rollout early in the pandemic.

“This is a contest of values: democracy against the black box,” he declared at an election rally Saturday night. “Hard work against laziness, integrity against lies, light against darkness.”

In the crowd that night was Mark Chu, a 30-year-old IT worker who found the event to be a moving morale boost for KMT supporters. However, he couldn’t help but notice a distinct lack of people his own age.

“There’s a sense of distance between the KMT and young people,” Chu said. “They’re getting further and further away from mainstream ideas.”

But Chiang has managed to convince Bernie Hou, a 33-year-old public relations worker who has supported politicians from various parties over the years.

His decision to back Chiang is in large part a vote against the DPP for its handling of the pandemic. He also was impressed by Chiang’s performance during the mayoral debate.

“He has all the makings of a capital mayor,” Hou said. “And he looks very good.”

Still, even in local races, the strained relations between Beijing and Taipei are an unavoidable factor.

The ruling DPP leans toward independence for Taiwan and has taken a confrontational stance toward China, an approach that appeals to those who came of age under Taiwan’s democracy and rebuke Beijing’s calls for unification. Those voters are leery of giving too much leeway to an authoritarian regime that has threatened to fulfill its territorial claims by force.

The president, whose term ends in 2024, has recently stepped up efforts to capitalize on those fears. But her calls to resist China have failed to translate into broader support for the DPP this election.

“It’s a tough balancing act,” said Sung Wen-ti, a political scientist with Australia National University’s Taiwan Studies Program. “DPP has been riding on the wave of its Taiwanese nationalism card since 2014 and is inevitably facing a degree of voter fatigue.”

The KMT wants to maintain the status quo of Taiwan’s democratic governance, but favors a friendlier relationship with Beijing. Its support comes largely from older generations, who associate the party with their Chinese identities and mainland roots. A minority within the party still hope to see reunification with China.

As the KMT grapples with how to appease both its traditional base and reach a new one, Chiang could help bridge that gap.

His father Hsiao-yan, a former vice premier and foreign minister, was born with the surname Chang, but he changed it after gathering evidence that he was the illegitimate grandson of Chiang Kai-shek. Though some still doubt that claim, his son changed his last name too.

Older KMT members revere the former generalissimo for his contributions to Taiwan’s industrial development and his experiences fighting Japanese and Communist forces. Younger Taiwanese see him as an emblem of the island’s authoritarian past.

The Chiang Kai-shek legacy has come under greater scrutiny in recent years amid initiatives to compensate the families of victims that suffered under his reign and remove statues glorifying him.

Chiang Wan-an has at times found himself caught in the middle. Earlier this year he advocated for removing Chiang Kai-shek’s name from a famous memorial hall in Taipei. But he dropped the proposal after KMT supporters criticized him for diminishing his own history and Chinese identity.

“Leaning too far into his family background is a risk,” said Brian Hioe, a founding editor of the Taiwan-based media outlet New Bloom. “Now there is much more backlash against these second generations and political dynasties.”

The bigger challenge for the KMT looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election may be persuading voters that it can adeptly navigate cross-strait relations without acceding to pressure from Beijing.

Watching Chiang greet voters in Taipei on Monday, Wendy Chang, a 25-year-old visiting home from studying business in the Netherlands, said he seems more modern than the traditional KMT candidates. Nonetheless, she has a hard time swallowing the party’s friendlier attitude toward China.

“I feel like Taiwan’s elections ultimately are all about cross-strait relations,” she said.

Yang is a Times staff writer and Shen a special correspondent.

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Original Post: latimes.com

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The Times Podcast: Mexico’s Unique, Binational Soccer Fans

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Right now, the eyes of much of the world is on the FIFA World Cup in Qatar as 32 teams fight for national pride. One team is Mexico, whose unique fanbase sets it apart from the world. With loyalties to both Mexico and the United States, it’s a representation of resilience, controversy and so much more.

Today, we examine the phenomenon. Read the full transcript here.

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Original Source: latimes.com

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A New Foreign Policy Headache for Biden As Israel Forms Its Most Right-wing Government Ever

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WASHINGTON — 

The Biden administration is grappling with how to deal with a new Israeli government that will be the most right-wing in that country’s history and may stand in the way of core U.S. goals for the Middle East.

The new government will be led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, who was ousted from the job just a year ago and is on trial for corruption. To regain the position, Netanyahu formed an alliance with controversial political figures known for their extreme anti-Arab views, likely dooming any peace deal with Palestinians.

Dealing with the Netanyahu-led government will pose major challenges for the Biden administration, which desires a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and broader acceptance of Israel in the Arab world.

Republicans in the U.S. who are eager to cast themselves as true friends of Israel are sure to question any Biden administration criticism of the new government.

Netanyahu and the GOP have grown closer over the past decade, undermining decades of bipartisan support for Israel.

In 2015, Netanyahu, whom congressional Republicans had invited to address a joint session of Congress, used the speech to criticize President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Former President Trump moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, delighting Netanyahu. Just this week, Netanyahu delivered a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, a partisan group.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has a long record of extreme anti-Arab rhetoric, is promised the post of national security minister in Israel’s new government.

Netanyahu and President Biden have both said that U.S. support for Israel should remain bipartisan.

Netanyahu’s new allies may make that difficult, however. Some U.S. officials have already privately indicated they will not meet with Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezazel Smotrich, two likelymembers of Netanyahu’s government.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich advocate recognizing illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, where most Palestinians live, and eventually annexing most or all of that territory. They oppose a separate Palestinian state. Netanyahu needs their support to cement a majority in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament. Their support could also help him pass a law that would allow him to dodge his corruption trial.

The two men have also called for a far harsher crackdown on Palestinian militants and their supporters, including strict curfews in Palestinian villages, mass deportations and targeted killings of terrorism suspects. They have advocated making it easier for Israeli security forces to use live ammunition against Palestinian protesters who throw stones.

Ben-Gvir has also expressed affinity for the late ultra-nationalist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose ideology the Anti-Defamation League has described as reflecting “racism, violence and political extremism” and whose organization until recently was listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. government.

For years, Ben-Gvir had a poster of Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli American terrorist and Kahane disciple who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron in 1994, hanging in his home, according to Israeli media. In 2007, an Israeli court convicted Ben-Gvir of incitement to racist violence and support for a terrorist organization.

Israel has sworn in its most religious and right-wing parliament after nearly four years of political deadlock and five elections.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich want to head the ministries of public security and defense, respectively, portfolios that have the closest contact with U.S. officials. On Friday, Netanyahu’s Likud party and Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party announced an agreement for Ben-Gvir to become security minister.

“This country is a democracy that elected a leadership and I intend to work with them,” the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, said in an interview with Israeli media, adding quickly: “That said, we have to stand up for the things that we believe in, that’s what American values are about. We have a very strong ally in the state of Israel, but there will be times when we will articulate where we believe our differences are.”

Nides and other U.S. officials have stated that the two countries’ points of disagreement include expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the possible annexation of the territory.

“The administration will have to decide what the real red lines are,” said Michael Koplow, a senior analyst with the Israel Policy Forum, a U.S.-based pro-Israel organization that advocates the two-state solution. “This will test U.S. boundaries on all fronts.”

Negotiations to form the government are underway and could take days or even weeks. A fair amount of horse-trading is part of the process, so it remains unclear which politicians will assume which posts. Netanyahu offered Smotrich the Finance Ministry instead of Defense, according to Israeli media, but Smotrich has so far given no indication he will budge from his initial demand.

“We provide nearly $4 billion a year to the Defense Ministry … and do we want to put our money in the hands of these guys?” said Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel who now teaches at Princeton University. “I’d say no.”

Netanyahu is reported to be considering Ron Dermer as his foreign minister. Dermer served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States starting in 2013 and through the Trump administration, with which he was especially friendly. He arranged Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress. Dermer’s appointment would be a “poke in the eye” for Biden, Kurtzer said.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defamed his successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, and must pay damages to Netanyahu and his family, a court rules.

Republicans remain eager to criticize anything short of unquestioning support for Israel from the Biden administration. After the Israeli government revealed that the U.S. Justice Department had launched an inquiry into the May killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh near the West Bank city of Jenin, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) demanded Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland and “everyone involved in this debacle” be “fired or impeached.”

Multiple investigations by independent human rights and journalism organizations have concluded that an Israeli soldier probably fired the shot that killed the veteran journalist. Israel eventually acknowledged one of its soldiers was likely responsible. No one has been disciplined.

If the new Israeli government decides to try to annex the West Bank, it would jeopardize the Abraham Accords, a deal brokered under the Trump administration that opened business and some diplomatic ties between Israel and several Persian Gulf states, such as the United Arab Emirates, that had previously refused to recognize Israel’s existence.

The UAE’s entry into the agreement was predicated on Netanyahu, in his previous stint as prime minister, backing away from plans to annex West Bank territory.

“If they push too far, it will foreclose any movement forward” in regional relations, said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. envoy for the Middle East now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Miller thinks Biden and Netanyahu will attempt to avoid overt conflict to safeguard their own domestic and global positions: “Biden wants to avoid a public wrestling match with Netanyahu,” Miller said, while Netanyahu “craves the international stage and is intending to strut on it.”

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Publicly, U.S. officials remain cautious, saying they want to see what kind of government Netanyahu ultimately forms, reiterating their “ironclad” commitment to Israel while emphasizing American “values” that include freedom and prosperity “in equal measure” for Israelis and Palestinians.

“The administration is right to be concerned … and to telegraph those concerns,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview. He is one of several Democratic lawmakers who are firm supporters of Israel but have raised alarms over potential members of the new government. These include Sen. Bob Melendez of New Jersey, who chairs the committee, and California Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Northridge).

But Ben-Gvir further alienated Biden administration officials by taking an electoral victory lap at a memorial service for Kahane, who was assassinated more than 30 years ago.

“Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent — there is no other word for it,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in unusually strongly worded comments. “We remain concerned by the legacy of Kahane and the continued use of rhetoric among violent right-wing extremists,” he said.

Ben-Gvir has reached an agreement with Netanyahu that would allow him to vastly expand police powers and remove officers from oversight by other legal authorities.

Naming a person who has been convicted of terrorism-related charges to head Israel’s national police force has alarmed numerous Israelis.

“It means that the police will become politicized to favor the extreme right,” the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz said in an editorial this week. “Those who are supposed to be safeguarding democracy have turned into soldiers at the service of politicians. That’s what happens when those accused and convicted of crimes take control of the institutions charged with maintaining law and order.”

The prospect of a Ben-Gvir-run police force has also alarmed American supporters of Israel. Ben-Gvir “has promised a no-holds-barred crackdown on terrorism and increased police and border security presence,” Yulia Shalomov, a fellow at the U.S.-based Atlantic Council think tank, said in a recent web appearance. His party “has consistently stoked domestic ethnic and societal tensions,” she said.

Netanyahu’s right-wing partners will also push for other legislation that would not only have an impact on Palestinians and Arabs. They have threatened to criminalize homosexuality and to ban non-Orthodox Jews from Israeli citizenship. Many U.S.-born Jews are members of more progressive branches of the faith, such as Reform or Conservative Judaism, and might not be able to obtain Israeli citizenship under the proposed laws.

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