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Forecast: Tensions surge in the West Bank, German chancellor visits White House, and NATO talks with Finland and Sweden

Demonstrators walk through the streets of Paris holding signs.

Week of March 3-10

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.

At least three people, including two Israeli settlers and one Palestinian, were killed during surging violence last weekend in the West Bank. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Agnese Boffano discuss how Israel and Palestine are responding to the rising tensions. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

A Look Ahead

March 3  – German Chancellor Scholz to visit White House  

Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Schulz and U.S. President Joe Biden will meet at the White House on Friday.

What’s happened so far 
Following the anniversary of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, both parties will discuss a range of topics, including transatlantic security, support for Ukraine and their continued cooperation economically and through trade. Earlier this week, U.S. officials claimed there was a disagreement with Germany on sending tanks to Ukraine, saying Germany would not send Leopard II tanks unless the United States also delivered Abrams tanks, something Germany denies.

The impact 
Cooperation between Germany and the United States is typically a smooth relationship, but the occasional political or economic dispute has occasionally put them at odds. Aside from the tank issue, Germany will also seek to address the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, and more specifically, how some policies are giving companies in Mexico and Canada an advantage over their European counterparts. It is yet to be seen whether the United States will make more public statements regarding these two diplomatic issues.

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March 4  – China’s ‘Two Sessions’ begin 

China’s top annual parliamentary meetings will begin this Sunday. Major leadership transitions, including Xi Jinping’s precedent-breaking third term as the country’s president, are set to be finalized. 

What’s happened so far 
Xi is virtually guaranteed to secure an unprecedented third term as China’s president during this year’s Two Sessions, after abolishing term limits in 2018 and winning a third stint as the Communist Party’s leader at the party congress in October. These annual meetings will be China’s first since the country’s dramatic lifting of “zero-COVID” measures in early December and come amid rising global tensions over surveillance balloons and China’s ties to Russia

The impact 
The National Party Congress is fundamentally a rubber-stamp legislature and the Consultative Conference is an advisory body without much influence, so major political surprises are unlikely in the next week, with the Chinese Communist Party’s priorities largely decided during last year’s party congress. “Intensive” and “wide-ranging” institutional reform are on the agenda, and the upcoming leadership shuffle will be something to watch, with Li Qiang and Ding Xuexiang expected to be named the country’s next premier and executive vice-premier respectively. 

March 5 – Macron concludes four-nation Africa tour  

French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Gabon, Angola, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo through Sunday as he seeks to restore France’s tattered relationship with parts of the African continent. 

What’s happened so far 
This will be Macron’s 18th trip to Africa since taking office and his second in this term. In a speech shortly before his departure, Macron announced a further scaling-back of the French military presence in Africa, with existing bases to be co-run with host nations. In the same speech, Macron heavily criticized the presence of the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group in Africa, calling it the “life insurance of failing regimes” and refusing to allow France to be a “scapegoat” for the ongoing Islamist insurgency. 

The impact 
Macron is keen to emphasize France as a partner in the environmental arena and is expected to announce an agricultural accord to improve domestic food production while in Angola. The final stop of the tour, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is also designed to demonstrate Macron’s willingness to mediate in the conflict with Rwanda over the latter’s support for the M23 rebel group.

March 7 – French pension reform strikes  

Railway workers unions have agreed to hold another wave of rolling strikes on Tuesday against French President Emmaunel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age.

What’s happened so far 
Macron wanted pension reform in his first term, but delayed the plan because of the coronavirus pandemic. The current plan, backed by him and Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne, raises the retirement age from 62 to 64 and requires workers to contribute for an additional year. French citizens responded with a first wave of labor action on Jan. 19, shutting down public services and bringing more than 1 million people to the streets. Strikes have continued through February despite lower attendance. In particular, French aviation has seen cancellations and delays as air traffic controllers joined the fight.

The impact 
Despite 67 percent of the French public opposing reform, the government has made only small tweaks to the law in order to win support of Les Republicains in a parliamentary vote. At this point in the legislative process, the bill has been sent from France’s lower house, or National Assembly, to its upper house, or Senate, where debate can continue until Mar. 26. French railroad workers will join Parisian transport and sanitation staff in the upcoming round strikes, and delays are expected across the country. Like former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Macron’s approval ratings have fallen because of the unpopular pension reform. 

March 7 – New Zealand census 

New Zealand’s census day is Tuesday. The survey is conducted every five years and applies to everyone in the country at the time, including visitors.   

What’s happened so far 
While people have until Tuesday to complete their forms, the process is well underway as census operations went live on Feb. 13. The government said the count will help with decisions on public funding, “especially in areas of health, education, housing, and transport” and is the primary source of information used for deciding the number of general and Māori electorates.   

The impact 
This census comes as some regions of New Zealand continue to recover from Cyclone Gabrielle, which left at least 11 people dead and eight others missing. Accordingly, officials are still working to determine the most appropriate approach for conducting the census in areas devastated by the storm.

March 9 –  Turkey NATO bid talks with Finland and Sweden  

NATO accession talks for Finland and Sweden will resume Thursday in Brussels.

What’s happened so far 
Finland and Sweden broke decades of policy last year by applying for NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey has thus far refused to allow Swedish accession, which has in turn held up Finland’s. Sweden, in particular, has drawn Turkey’s ire over what Ankara claims is Stockholm’s harboring of Kurdish groups Turkey considers to be “terrorists” as well as protests they consider to be hate crimes that are covered under Swedish free speech laws. 

The impact 
Turkey remains one of two NATO countries that have not ratified Finland and Sweden’s accession bids alongside Hungary, with Budapest possibly due to hold a parliamentary vote in late-March. NATO members are hoping that Turkey and Hungary will move to approve Helsinki’s and Stockholm’s bids by July when NATO is due to hold a summit in Vilnius. Finland, meanwhile, has already begun the process of hardening its border with Russia.

March 10 – British prime minister visits France  

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday for the 36th British-French bilateral summit.

What’s happened so far 
The two leaders are expected to discuss strategies to reinforce cooperation in foreign policy, migration, security, the economy, climate and energy. This is the first summit between the two nations since 2018 amid years of tensions over maritime borders, fishing rights after the implementation of Brexit rules and a migration crisis at the English Channel. The meeting also comes after the European Union and the United Kingdom reached a new deal on the Northern Ireland protocol, a key aspect in the souring of relations between Britain and France because it established new maritime borders and customs that increased bureaucracy and controls in products traded with EU nations.

The impact 
The new Northern Ireland deal will likely contribute to a more productive summit between the countries. France has reiterated the importance of resolving issues posed by the protocol to start rebuilding relations with the U.K. This summit also symbolizes a first step from Sunak to regain trust from France after a series of public spats between Macron and former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

What Else Matters

Two people in business suits stand at identical podiums in front of UK and EU flags in a grand room, under a large chandelier.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced earlier this week that a deal has been reached between the U.K. and EU on the Northern Ireland protocol, which sets trade rules post-Brexit.
(Photo: Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street)

West Bank incidents

Two Israeli settlers were fatally shot on Sunday by a suspected Palestinian gunman near the West Bank town of Hawara. Shortly after the shooting, a large group of settlers entered the Palestinian town and were seen throwing stones and setting buildings and cars on fire, with Haaretz reporting at least 35 homes were burned. The Palestinian Health Ministry said one person was fatally shot and at least 98 others were treated for gas inhalation. This latest series of shooting and settler attacks also comes days after one of the deadliest Israeli raids in nearly 20 years, which left 11 Palestinians, including civilians, killed in Nablus.

Watch for: Although Hamas has praised the shooting of two Israeli settlers, no group has claimed responsibility. Israel’s defense minister called for a reinforcement of security across the West Bank following last weekend’s events, with further Israeli military raids expected as the search for the suspect continues. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Sunday evening’s settler attacks, criticizing the military for “failing to protect Palestinians” in an area that falls entirely under Israeli control. While the United States has said it “expects” Israel to prosecute the settlers involved in the “rampage” of Palestinian homes and vehicles, human rights organizations point out that charges are only pressed in about 4 percent of settler violence cases.

EU and U.K. reach Northern Ireland trade deal 

A deal has been struck between the United Kingdom and European Union, potentially ending a post-Brexit trade spat over Northern Ireland that has strained their relationship. The “Windsor Framework” deal, designed to be a lasting fix to the Northern Ireland protocol, would allow goods flowing from the rest of the U.K. into Northern Ireland to move largely unchecked as part of a green lane, eliminating a de facto internal trade barrier. Goods flowing into the EU would be in a red lane and be subject to customs checks. The framework contains an emergency brake clause that could see a veto on new EU laws that apply to Northern Ireland.

Watch for: Parliamentarians are expected to have their say on the deal, but a vote so far hasn’t been scheduled. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to win over Northern Ireland’s conservative Democratic Unionist Party, which opposes any deal that in any way separates it from the rest of the U.K. They are expected to reach a collective decision in the coming days, but Sunak hinted he might press on without their support. The opposition Labour Party said it would support the deal, likely guaranteeing its passage, but a sustained bout of opposition from the DUP and Conservatives could sink Sunak as leader of his own party, even if the framework has enough votes to pass.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

March 3-10 

March 3

  • French President Emmanuel Macron visits Angola and Congo
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visits White House

March 4

  • China’s ‘Two Sessions’ begin

March 5

  • Estonian Parliament election

March 6

  • Germany’s association of local utilities VKU hosts a conference in Berlin

March 7

  • Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia Election
  • France pensions reform strike
  • EU informal meeting of defense ministers 
  • New Zealand census
  • Imran Khan to appear in court for not declaring valuable presents 

March 8

  • Portuguese doctors’ strike
  • International Women’s Day

March 9 

  • EU informal meeting of trade ministers
  • EU Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting
  • NATO talks with Finland and Sweden resume
  • Imran Khan to appear in court for attempted murder and terror case

March 10

  • British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will visit France for British-French summit

March 11-17

March 11

  • India governorship and state assembly elections

March 13

  • Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change meets in Switzerland
  • Eurogroup meeting
  • Junior doctors in England strike
  • Scotland’s SNP party leader vote begins

March 14

  • EU Economic and Financial Affairs Council meeting

March 15

  • British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt presents the UK government’s budget

March 16

  • New Czech President Petr Pavel will visit Poland
  • France’s Hollande and Sarkozy to be questioned by National Assembly commission on energy sovereignty

March 17 

  • OSCE foreign ministers will meet in Vienna, Austria
  • St. Patrick’s Day

March 18-24 

March 18 

  • Black Sea grain deal expiration

March 19 

  • Kazakh House of Representatives election
  • Montenegro referendum election

March 20

  • EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting
  • Voter registration begins in Liberia

March 23

  • TikTok CEO testifies before U.S. Congress

March 25-31 

March 25 

  • New South Wales state election

March 29

  • Nigeria census

March 30

  • Palestine Land Day

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