The Week in Review: 29/06/2020

Students don't follow the news as much as they should. This isn't a sweeping generalisation. In reality, it's clear to see why - newspapers are full of complex language, and aren't concise. Likewise, online subscriptions to the Economist, Financial Times, or similar, are costly and arguably don't fall into the 'priority' section of a students' budget. That's why I started The Week in Review articles - to offer students a free, easy-to-follow summary of the previous week's main news headlines. Commercial awareness is becoming an ever-increasingly important trait desired by recruiters, and so, by reading this series of articles, you'll know what's going on in the world without ever having to damage your bank account or bore yourself to sleep. Enjoy!

  1. V-Shape Recovery in Britain

In the last few months, analysts and economists have thrown around terms such as V-shaped, U-shaped, L-shaped, W-shaped, and even Kangaroo-shaped, when referring to the recovery of economies. The V-shaped is the most desired, as it suggests a quick bounce back to normal levels of economic activity. Although fears had driven economists to believe that a V-shaped recovery is most unlikely in Britain, given the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic, new figures last week showed that "more than four out of every five local authorities in Great Britain have seen death rates fall back to or below normal levels."

Similarly, as of Saturday, England's hospitality industry (pubs, restaurants, hotels, etc) was allowed to reopen its doors to the public for the first time in several months. Many questioned whether this decision by Boris Johnson was too early and uncalculated (i.e. that he did it in order to save the economy rather than for any scientific/health reasons), and the likelihood is that there will be a second spike in Covid-19 infections across the region. However, with many businesses back to work and open to the public across a range of industries, "the recovery in the UK economy is already taking shape nicely...[and] looks increasingly like a V."

This is great news for Great Britain...or is it? Retail sales increased by 12% from April to May, which is a very positive sign, especially given that in a recession, people are usually less likely to spend money on retail (i.e. fashion), as they have less real disposable income (hence why retail is usually one of the worst affected industries in an economic downturn). Moreover, as aforementioned, the majority of companies are now back to work, and employees are increasingly coming off their furlough scheme. However, figures emerged last week that evidenced that the economy shrank by 2.2% between January and March, which is worse than initially estimated. January to March (also referred to as Q1 of the year) marked the worst quarterly performance in the UK since 1979. Following this, it is forecast that economic activity will have shrunk by between 15-20% in Q2 (April to June) - an unparalleled decline in British history.

News also surfaced this week, rather alarmingly, of a local lockdown that will occur in the city of Leicester. The infection rate in the city is three times higher than that of the next-worst affected city. Leicester's garment industry and clothing sweatshops that offer terrible working conditions have been blamed for the local surge in cases and infections. However, it highlights the flaws in Boris Johnson's centralised Covid-19 action plan, and further local surges and lockdowns could have an impact on the speed and shape of the economic recovery in the country. If you want to learn more about Leicester's local lockdown, click here and here to read two great articles.

Only time will tell if Britain will see a V-shaped economic recovery, or if it will be hampered by a second wave of the pandemic. What is clear is that, following the Q1 results and Q2 forecast, it seems that things can only get better (we hope)!

2. Israel's Annexation Plan

Discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is challenging at the best of times. It is hard to find a neutral source who does not ardently defend one side or the other based on a religious or historical right to claim their land as rightfully theirs. For years, the two sides have engaged in battles over their true right to the land in the Middle East. Without delving into too much detail, Israel believes it has a complete and just right to exist on the land it currently occupies (and the wider territory that it seeks to claim), given its history and affinity to the area that dates back to biblical times. The same goes for the Palestinians. Multiple peace deals have been rejected by the Palestinian side over the last few decades, and conflict and violence has defined the region for years.

What's happening now?

Well, recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out his plan to annex territories in the West Bank that he believes are rightfully Israeli territories. This was due to commence on July 1st. Annexation occurs when a state unilaterally proclaims its sovereignty over another territory, and more importantly, it is forbidden under international law. A recent example was Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Bibi Netanyahu's annexation plan entails annexing up to 30% of the current West Bank territory, where the Israelis have already established pockets of settlements throughout the land. In return for the annexation of areas of the West Bank, significant portions of Israeli land near the West Bank and Gaza would be offered up to become part of a future Palestinian state, in a two-state solution. It is controversial and illegal, and has drawn significant criticism from international leaders.

What makes this news story relevant?

Last week, over 100 Jewish judges, legal scholars, and lawyers from around the globe have warned Netanyahu and the Israeli government of the dangers of annexation, and have encouraged the PM to "follow the path of the law." Jordan, one of only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, has stated that it would be forced to review its relations with Israel if the annexation plan goes ahead.

Does it stand a chance of happening?

Without backlash and conflict, no. Plans have been proposed in the past, but have quickly been rejected and withdrawn, given the illegality of the idea. However, Donald Trump is a supporter and ally of the Israeli state, and, as part of his Peace to Prosperity plan for the region revealed in January, he encouraged Israel to "incorporate" the settlements.

Netanyahu is clearly eager to continue with this proposal as quickly as possible - to strike while the iron is hot. He is most likely aware that, if he waits much longer, Donald Trump may be beaten in the next U.S. presidential election, which could see Joe Biden (or Kanye West) overturn the annexation plan.

A closing note

StandWithUs (an Israel advocacy organisation that recognises the dangers of annexation): "Opponents of applying Israeli sovereignty argue that it is equivalent to annexation, harms Israeli security and international standing, and endangers Israel's survival as a Jewish and democratic state. Many Israeli national security leaders and others are concerned that annexation would lead to renewed conflict with Hamas, end any hope of a peace agreement, and cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse, forcing Israel to take responsibility for the daily needs of millions of Palestinians in the West Bank. They believe Israel would have to erode its existence as a Jewish state by offering citizenship, or give up on democracy by ruling over Palestinians without giving them a right to vote. Some suggest that annexing limited territory could be justified, but only after sustained efforts to bring Palestinian leaders to the negotiating table around the US peace plan. Many opponents also believe annexation would damage Israel's relations with Jordan, Egypt, and other Arab states, and lead to popular unrest that may destabilize their governments (particularly in Jordan, which has a large Palestinian population). Furthermore, they argue that Israel's bipartisan alliance with the US, relationship with diaspora Jewry, and ties to Europe and other states around the world would suffer significantly as a result of such a move."

Whatever happens next, as a global community, we can only hope that a peaceful and prosperous solution is found quickly for all parties involved, and that there will be no more Arab-Israeli conflict.

It is important to educate yourself on the issue, without lending yourself to factually incorrect statements and biases. Find truly factual accounts from both sides and don't be swayed by popular media without questioning its source or figures.