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Factal Forecast: Israeli-Palestinian tensions soar following deadly raids, Biden delivers State of the Union, and EU ban on Russian diesel fuel begins

Joe Biden at the 2021 State of the Union.

Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

A wave of violence in Israel and the West Bank left nearly 20 people dead last week, including nine killed in an Israeli Army raid in Jenin and seven killed in a mass shooting in East Jerusalem. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Agnese Boffano discuss how the recent tension is more than just a flare-up.

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of Feb. 3-10
A Look Ahead

Feb. 5 – U.S. Secretary of State to visit China

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China on Sunday amid rising tensions between the two countries after former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year.

What’s happened so far 
This visit follows President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali in November 2022. Blinken said that the meeting serves to follow up on the previous discussion and hopefully move forward on lines of communication between the two parties. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said China hopes to create a positive result for both countries through dialogue. However, she emphasized that Taiwan is the “redline” and a core issue of the U.S.-China relationship.

The impact 
Analysts are expecting to see a stronger push from the United States for China to make clear its stance on the Russia-Ukraine issue. But with disagreements over Russia’s war against Ukraine, Taiwan, human rights and restriction on chip exports, many are doubtful that the visit could resolve the tension between the two countries.

Feb. 5 – Ecuador referendum 

Ecuadorians will vote Sunday on constitutional amendment proposals and in local representative races. 

What’s happened so far 
The referendum will consist of eight questions on issues like security, the environment, political representation and control mechanisms in the administration. Among the proposals debated around the constitutional reform are those concerning the reduction of representatives in the national assembly, the imposition of a national quota to allow the creation of new political parties and the extradition of Ecuadorian nationals accused of drug trafficking crimes. Voters will also choose new councilors for the Social Control and Citizen Participation Council, 46 provincial officials, 221 mayors and more than 4,000 rural representatives.

The impact 
The outcome of the referendum will be a defining sign of the public’s approval of President Guillermo Lasso’s administration, who called the vote in November 2022 amid a crisis of popularity and a wave of gang violence (member’s link) that transcended from the country’s prisons into cities. According to recent polls, the majority of Ecuadorians agree with the proposed constitutional amendments. The critical voices rejecting the initiative argue that the reform does not tackle ongoing problems like unemployment, criminality and poverty levels.

Feb. 5 – EU ban on Russian diesel fuel begins  

Starting Sunday, the European Union will cut even more ties with Russia by banning the importation of diesel fuel and other products made from crude oil in its refineries.

What’s happened so far 
The EU and United Kingdom have already significantly cut shipments from Russia since the war in Ukraine began nearly a year ago. The bloc, however, has been slower to wean itself off of Russian energy. Russian seaborne crude oil imports weren’t fully banned until December. Ahead of that deadline, countries’ use of Russian crude slowly tapered off. But over the past few months, countries have ramped up Russian diesel purchases and stockpiles due to a lack of alternatives. Nearly half of the continent’s cars run on diesel. 

The impact 
The EU ban could mean even higher diesel prices. Europe will need to fill the gap somehow, so it may turn to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. That means higher shipping costs that need to be offset. Russia may try to export its diesel to other parts of the world, namely Latin America and Africa. That could lead to political ramifications for those countries.

Feb. 6 – NHS strike in U.K.  

Ambulance workers and nursing staff at NHS trusts across England and Wales will strike Monday in the largest day of industrial action in the history of the healthcare service.

What’s happened so far 
At least 30,000 nurses and more than 12,000 ambulance workers are expected to participate in strike action organized by the unions Unite, GMB and the Royal College of Nursing. Nursing staff will provide cancer, critical care and pediatric services in areas affected by the strike action, but routine appointments and operations will likely be canceled. A spokesperson for U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the strikes “disappointing.” 

The impact 
Further strike action by ambulance workers is planned for several dates in February and March as the government and unions show no sign of reaching a resolution over pay. The British Medical Association is also balloting junior doctors over a 72-hour strike action in March. 

Feb. 6 – Indian Supreme Court hears cases against ban on BBC doc  

India’s highest court will take up petitions on Monday challenging a government order to block the sharing of clips from a BBC documentary on deadly 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat and the role of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi while serving as the state’s chief minister.

What’s happened so far 
Government officials have blasted “India: The Modi Question” as a “propaganda piece” while invoking emergency powers to censor clips on social media. Efforts to screen the production at several universities across the country have been met with resistance from authorities, including clashes involving police and dozens of arrests.

The impact 
Critics have called the actions by the Indian government an attack on press freedom in the country, while BBC has defended its documentary as “rigorously researched.”  

Feb. 7 – U.S. State of the Union 

President Joe Biden will deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, the second of his administration.

What’s happened so far 
Newly-elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy extended the invitation in mid-January for Biden to give the traditional address, normally held in the first weeks of a non-inauguration year. With Republicans controlling the House and the Democrats the Senate, this will be his first to a divided Congress. 

The impact 
Biden is expected to list his accomplishments from the past year and outline his vision for the coming one, with a likely emphasis on the economy and the ongoing battle over the debt ceiling which shows no signs of nearing a consensus. The parents of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by a group of Memphis police officers in January, are expected to attend with Biden highlighting the issue of police brutality.

Feb. 8 – Sri Lankan government announces new policies  

On Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe will announce a new set of policies after suspending parliament.

What’s happened so far 
Wickremesinghe suspended the country’s parliament Saturday without a direct reason, saying the government would announce a plethora of long-term policies. The policies, set to be implemented until 2048, will aim to tackle the crippling economic crisis facing the country after widespread civil unrest and riots that ultimately ousted former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July 2022. The policies could include cutting military and governmental spending significantly. 

The impact 
The suspension of parliament allows Wickremesinghe to review the economical future of a country mired with political and social unrest. Meetings were convened prior to the suspension of parliament in relation to the Tamil minority, a long-standing conflict paralleled by a civil war that ended in 2009. Some semblance of an agreement with the Tamils will be touted as a success, but it remains unclear how the country will respond to the new policies and what effects they will  have on the economy and country’s crippling debt.

Feb. 8 – Founding anniversary of North Korea’s army  

Satellite imagery suggests North Korea is preparing for a military parade in Pyongyang, likely for the 75th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army on Wednesday, just after a reported coronavirus lockdown in the capital city. 

What’s happened so far 
While North Korea has not publicly acknowledged a coronavirus lockdown took place in Pyongyang, Russia’s embassy confirmed an “intensified anti-epidemic period” from Jan. 25-30, citing a notice from North Korea’s Foreign Ministry. Neither North Korean or Russian authorities explicitly acknowledged a coronavirus outbreak, instead referring to “respiratory diseases.”

The impact 
North Korean military parades are usually an opportunity for the country to show off new weapons development, and major weapons tests are often conducted in conjunction with holidays and anniversaries. Analysts also said North Korea may be ready to conduct a nuclear test since the Punggye-ri test site was restored last year, though some experts say there are no signs of an imminent test as of mid-January.  

Feb. 10 – Brazilian president visits White House 

Newly-elected Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will visit the White House on Friday following an invitation by U.S. President Joe Biden.

What’s happened so far 
Biden’s invitation came after supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed government buildings in Brasilia shortly after Lula took office. Biden condemned the violence and the attack on democratic institutions and said he hoped Lula’s visit would give the leaders a chance to discuss topics such as climate change, economic development, peace and security. The trip to the United States will be one of Lula’s first since taking office following the heated election race in which he beat Bolsonaro with 50.8 percent of votes.

The impact 
Lula’s visit will aim at showing support for the newly-elected president following a tight election race and a tumultuous beginning of his tenure. Tensions are particularly high as the government suspects several security forces and government officials assisted what it has called a failed coup attempt. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has remained in Florida on a tourist visa since the end of 2022. Questions have swirled around the reasons behind his “exile” in the United States since Lula took office, and if he intends to return to Brazil anytime soon.

What Else Matters

A fire burns in the foreground as people on a street run away. In the distance more people are gathering, looking at the fire.
Israeli forces conducted a large-scale raid in the northern West Bank town of Jenin last Thursday. At least nine people were killed and more than a dozen others were injured. (Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit photographer)

Israeli-Palestinian violence 

Israeli forces conducted a large-scale raid in the northern West Bank town of Jenin last Thursday, resulting in the death of nine people and injury of more than a dozen others. While Israel claimed to be targeting “wanted persons,” Palestinian health authorities allege at least two civilians, including a 60-year-old woman, were fatally shot. The Palestinian Authority operating across the occupied West Bank announced it would “end security coordination” with Israel as a result. The day following the deadly raid, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem fatally shot seven Israelis at the Neve Yaakov settlement before being killed by Israeli forces. Although Hamas and other militant organizations praised the attack, no group has claimed responsibility.

Watch for: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Israel this week did not yield any significant geopolitical developments, with the official reiterating the Biden administration’s commitment to a “two-state solution.” Israeli raids have in recent months intensified considerably, however, with at least 35 Palestinians killed in such operations in January alone, according to the Palestinian health ministry. In response to the Neve Yaakov attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announced plans to expedite gun licenses in an effort to add “thousands of gun-carrying citizens,” raising the potential for more conflict in areas including occupied Palestinian territories, where Israeli settlers enjoy the same laws and rights as citizens living in Israel.

Tyre Nichols death aftermath 

Memphis officials released four videos last Friday showing the brutal and fatal beating Tyre Nichols received from multiple police officers after a traffic stop on Jan. 7. The footage sparked immediate outrage as it showed officers punching, kicking, clubbing and pepper spraying Nichols as they shouted contradictory orders. Tensions were already high prior to the videos’ release, due in part to photographs showing Nichols’ injuries and because Memphis Police were relatively quick to fire five officers who were subsequently charged with second-degree murder. In the hours and days following the videos’ release, peaceful protests took place in multiple cities across the country, with few instances of property damage. Two more officers have been disciplined and three emergency responders fired in connection to Nichols’ death. 

Watch for: While much of the initial reaction to the videos had focused on the actions of the five officers charged with Nichols’ death, there are now questions about the medical response as well. The situation has also led to renewed pressure on Congress to take up police reform, including calls from Nichols’ family for lawmakers to bring back the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Additional protests are also possible.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Feb. 3-10 

Feb. 3

  • EU-Ukraine summit

Feb. 4

  • Venice Carnival begins
  • World Cancer Day

Feb. 5

  • Ecuador referendum election
  • U.S. Secretary of State Blinken in Beijing
  • EU ban on Russian diesel fuel begins
  • Cyprus presidential election

Feb. 6

  • EU general affairs council meeting
  • UK ambulance workers strike
  • French refinery workers strike
  • Ethiopia referendum on creating 12th regional state

Feb. 7

  • Biden State of the Union address
  • New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern resignation

Feb. 8

  • Sri Lanka announces new policies after suspending parliament
  • North Korean military founding anniversary
  • Indian Supreme Court hears case against ban on BBC documentary

Feb. 9

  • Special European Council on migration
  • Mexico central bank policy meeting

Feb. 10

  • New York Fashion Week begins
  • New Bank of Japan governor expected
  •  Brazilian president visits White House

Feb. 11-17 

Feb. 12

  • Super Bowl LVII

Feb. 13

  • Human Rights Council meeting
  • Second round of ELN negotiations in Mexico

Feb. 14

  •  German president visits Cambodia

Feb. 15

  • US appeals court weighs NCAA case over pay for athletes
  • EU gas price cap can be triggered

Feb. 16

  • Elections in Tripura, India
  • Berlin International Film Festival begins

Feb. 17

  • Libya’s Arab Spring revolution anniversary

Feb. 18-24 

Feb. 18

  • Nigeria general election
  • Crypto exchange Coinbase halts Japan operations

Feb. 19

  • British Academy Film Awards

Feb. 21

  • EU energy ministers meet in Stockholm
  • Mardi Gras

Feb. 24

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will visit New York to speak at UN General Assembly

Feb. 25-March 3 

Feb. 25 

  • Nigerian House of Representatives election

Feb. 27

  • Human Rights Council meeting

March 1

  • G20 foreign ministers meeting in New Delhi
  • EU defense ministers meet in Stockholm

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