The ugly fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force leader, Qassem Soleimani seems to have halted for the moment. But the forces that pushed the United States and Iran to the brink of all-out war this week are still in place. This isn’t an end, just a short break between acts. But the pullback from the brink of war can also present some opportunities.
Iran opened the door to de-escalation and Trump took it, seemingly prioritizing his base’s concern of another U.S. war in the Middle East over the bluster and bad advice of his secretary of state, among other pro-war advisers.
But this relief must be tempered with caution. We may have taken a step or two back from the brink of war, but we’re still perilously close to the edge. The Iran war hawks, neoconservative ideologues, and pro-Likud activists are not going to stop pressing for provocative measures against Iran. Whether they are in the Trump administration or not, the forces that have been pressing for war with Iran must be confronted now, more than ever. We also need to consider the role of local actors and how that might affect both American and Iranian strategy. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
As Israel moves toward its third round of elections in less than a year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is desperate to find a way to hold on to power. More than vain self-interest motivates him now, as he hopes that being a sitting (and re-confirmed) prime minister will make it impossible for him to be tried, convicted, and eventually jailed for the corrupt dealings with which he has been charged.
Netanyahu was doubtless overjoyed to hear that the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague has decided there was sufficient cause to investigate whether war crimes had been committed by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over past five and a half years. The announcement provided him with exactly the kind of target he likes best, one that allows him to claim that Israel is being singled out, persecuted, held to an unfair standard, and all because of antisemitism.
That assertion is absurd on its face, and hardly worth examining. Israel’s human rights record is open for all to see, and it’s not pretty. Moreover, the ICC isn’t investigating Israel; it is investigating the conflict in the occupied territories, and that investigation includes all parties involved. That’s just one of several key points that need to be understood regarding the ICC investigation. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
As President Trump made waves with an executive order meant to stifle speech, action, and education that highlights Palestinian rights, a case that might have been affected by that very order was resolved in Massachusetts. The suit, brought by several anonymous students against the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, attempted to censure the university for hosting a panel that supported the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and to establish that such events were inherently discriminatory and must be forbidden on campus.
The panel, which took place as scheduled on May 4, 2019, featured some of the country’s most outspoken supporters of Palestinian rights and progressive causes, including former Women’s March Co-Chair Linda Sarsour, Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill, musician Roger Waters, and Sports Editor for The Nation Magazine, Dave Zirin. All these people are fierce critics of Israeli policies from a progressive viewpoint.
The event, entitled, “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Rights,” was specifically designed to discuss efforts to stifle criticism of Israel, on campus and beyond. The suit itself, and the effort preceding it to force the cancellation of the event, couldn’t have demonstrated the need for that panel more clearly. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
In the latest reversal of long-standing United States policy in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared this week that Washington no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law.”
Pompeo framed the decision as a “reversal” of Obama administration policy. He said, “[Former] Secretary [of State John] Kerry changed decades of this careful bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements,” referring to a December 2016 resolution in the United Nations Security Council that termed the settlements illegal, which President Barack Obama permitted to pass by abstaining from the vote.
But in fact, Obama had been more tolerant of Israeli settlement than his predecessors. While he talked more often about their being an obstacle to peace, that abstention was the only time in his eight years in office that Obama had allowed a U.N. resolution critical of Israel to pass. By contrast, George W. Bush permitted six UNSC resolutions to which Israel objected to pass. Ronald Reagan permitted twenty.
Obama even vetoed a UNSC resolution whose text was almost verbatim U.S. policy, causing himself quite a bit of embarrassment in the international arena. On another occasion, Israel announced a new and highly controversial settlement in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was in the country. The administration’s reaction was to do a reading of standard talking points and move on.
Distorting Obama’s record affects more than the president’s legacy. It increases the distortion of politics around Israel and its occupation. Obama emphasized actual Israeli security needs, which, in his view, included finding an agreement with the Palestinians, and lowering the temperature between Israel (and Saudi Arabia) and Iran. Trump has focused on crowd-pleasing, grandiose gestures like moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem a move that eliminated any possibility of diplomacy with the Palestinians; or leaving the Iran nuclear deal, which aggravated tensions with Iran, thereby making the environment considerably less secure for Israel. Much like the neoconservative strategies of the early part of the century, casting those who pursue diplomacy as a threat to security allows hawks to get away with making the region less secure for everyone. Read more at LobeLog
For many years, the Israeli government has waged what we might call a campaign of normalization regarding its military occupation of the West Bank. Israel has spared no effort to erase the demarcation between its internationally recognized boundaries—the territory Israel controlled prior to the 1967 war when it captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Heights—and the areas under military occupation.
The effort has never gotten the attention it deserves, and that problem has only gotten worse in recent years as the two-state solution has retreated further and further into the realm of fantasy. Still, its importance remains, whatever ultimate solution one supports. This week, a ruling by the European Court of Justice raised the issue again, and in doing so, clarified the importance of the issue.
The Court ruled that products made in Israeli settlements needed to be labeled as such, so that European consumers could make an informed choice as to whether they wanted to buy them. This is a long-standing regulation in Europe, one which the EU started to enforce in 2015, and which Israel has been fighting all along. The reactions to the latest ruling are typical. Read more at LobeLog