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Biden urges Netanyahu to rethink plan

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The White House said Biden reiterated US concerns about the measure to roll back the judiciary’s insulation from the country’s political system, in a call a senior administration official described as ‘‘candid and constructive’’.


Middle East pact bad for Israel, US

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It would be hard to overstate the strategic significance of the weekend announcement of a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the remarkable diplomatic coup the accord represents for China, which brokered the deal.


U.S. links Israel visa-waiver to West Bank travel for Palestinian-Americans

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JERUSALEM, Jan 18 (Reuters) – The United States expects Israel, under a visa-waiver deal being discussed between the allies, to enable free passage for Palestinian-Americans into the occupied West Bank, the U.S. ambassador said on Wednesday.

Among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, the West Bank has seen a surge in violence over the past year. It is peppered with Israeli military checkpoints and patrols.

Ambassador Thomas Nides said he expected an announcement soon on whether the number of Israeli applicants refused recent requests for U.S. visas had been kept to 3% or fewer, as required for a waiver deal. Israel would also have to ratify such a deal.

“Number three, we have to be clear about reciprocity. Reciprocity will mean that Palestinian-Americans will be able to freely travel from Detroit to (Israel’s main airport) Ben-Gurion to Ramallah,” Nides told Ynet Radio, referring to the West Bank hub city that is the seat of Palestinian government.

“And Americans who live in Ramallah will be able to go from Ramallah to Ben-Gurion back to Detroit,” he said.

“When we get all those pieces working together, hopefully, then Israelis will not have to stand in line ever again to get a tourist visa – a visa to come to the United States.”

Asked whether Israel was preparing special provisions for Palestinian-Americans to pass through its West Bank checkpoints, a military spokesperson said: “We have nothing new to relay.”

In an estimate that it says is based in part on U.S. census data, the Arab American Institute Foundation puts the number Palestinian-descended Americans at between 122,500 and 220,000.

The Office of Palestinian Affairs in the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for the number of Palestinian-Americans domiciled in the West Bank.

Some U.S. officials have privately put that number as being in the tens of thousands. The overall Palestinian population in the West Bank is 3.2 million, according to a Ramallah census.

In the Ynet Radio interview, Nides did not mention any arrangements for travel to the Gaza Strip, another Palestinian territory which Israel withdrew from in 2005 and which is now controlled by Hamas, an Islamist group blacklisted by the West.

There are a few hundred Palestinian-Americans living in Gaza, according to anecdotal accounts that Reuters could not immediately verify. Israel and neighbouring Egypt keep tight controls on the enclave’s borders, citing security needs.

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Article source: Reuters

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000


I once ran Human Rights Watch: Harvard blocked my fellowship over Israel

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I once ran Human Rights Watch. Harvard blocked my fellowship over Israel

Kenneth Roth )

I was told that my fellowship at the Kennedy School was vetoed over my and Human Rights Watch’s criticism of Israel

Tue 10 Jan 2023 22.08 AEDT

During the three decades that I headed Human Rights Watch, I recognized that we would never attract donors who wanted to exempt their favorite country from the objective application of international human rights principles. That is the price of respecting principles.


Yet American universities have not articulated a similar rule, and it is unclear whether they follow one. That lack of clarity leaves the impression that major donors might use their contributions to block criticism of certain topics, in violation of academic freedom. Or even that university administrators might anticipate possible donor objections to a faculty member’s views before anyone has to say anything.

That seems to be what happened to me at Harvard’s Kennedy School. If any academic institution can afford to abide by principle, to refuse to compromise academic freedom under real or presumed donor pressure, it is Harvard, the world’s richest university. Yet the Kennedy School’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, vetoed a human rights fellowship that had been offered to me because of my criticism of Israel. As best we can tell, donor reaction was his concern.

Soon after I announced my departure from Human Rights Watch, the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy reached out to me to discuss offering me a fellowship. I had long been informally involved with the Carr Center, which seemed like a natural place for me to spend a year as I wrote a book. So, I accepted in principle. The only missing step was the dean’s approval, which we all assumed would be a formality.

Indeed, in anticipation of my stay at the school, I reached out to the dean to introduce myself. We had a pleasant half-hour conversation. The only hint of a problem came at the end. He asked me whether I had any enemies.

It was an odd question. I explained that of course I had enemies. Many of them. That is a hazard of the trade as a human rights defender.

I explained that the Chinese and Russian governments had personally sanctioned me – a badge of honor, in my view. I mentioned that a range of governments, including Rwanda’s and Saudi Arabia’s, hate me. But I had a hunch what he was driving at, so I also noted that the Israeli government undoubtedly detests me, too.

That turned out to be the kiss of death. Two weeks later, the Carr Center called me up to say sheepishly that Elmendorf had vetoed my fellowship. He told Professor Kathryn Sikkink, a highly respected human rights scholar affiliated with the Kennedy School, that the reason was my, and Human Rights Watch’s, criticism of Israel.

That is a shocking revelation. How can an institution that purports to address foreign policy – that even hosts a human rights policy center – avoid criticism of Israel?

Elmendorf has not publicly defended his decision, so we can only surmise what happened. He is not known to have taken public positions on Israel’s human rights record, so it is hard to imagine that his personal views were the problem.

But as the Nation showed in its exposé about my case, several major donors to the Kennedy School are big supporters of Israel. Did Elmendorf consult with these donors or assume that they would object to my appointment? We don’t know. But that is the only plausible explanation that I have heard for his decision. The Kennedy School spokesperson has not denied it.

Some defenders of the Israeli government have claimed that Elmendorf’s rejection of my fellowship was because Human Rights Watch, or I, devote too much attention to Israel. The accusation of “bias” is rich coming from people who themselves never criticize Israel and, typically using neutral sounding organizational names, attack anyone who criticizes Israel.

They don’t want less criticism of Israel. They want no criticism of Israel.

Moreover, Israel is one of 100 countries whose human rights record Human Rights Watch regularly addresses. Israel is a tiny percentage of its work. And within the Israeli-Palestinian context, Human Rights Watch addresses not only Israeli repression but also abuses by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Hezbollah.

In any event, it is doubtful that these critics would be satisfied if Human Rights Watch published slightly fewer reports on Israel, or if I issued less frequent tweets. They don’t want less criticism of Israel. They want no criticism of Israel.

The other argument that defenders of Israel have been advancing is that Human Rights Watch, and I, “demonize” Israel, or that we try to “evoke repulsion and disgust”. Usually this is a prelude to charging that we are “antisemitic”.

Human rights advocacy is premised on documenting and publicizing governmental misconduct to shame the government into stopping. That is what Human Rights Watch does to governments worldwide. To equate that with antisemitism is preposterous. And dangerous, because it cheapens the very serious problem of antisemitism by reducing it to criticism of Israel.

The issue at Harvard is far more than my own academic fellowship. I recognized that, as an established figure in the human rights movement, I am in a privileged position. Being denied this fellowship will not significantly impede my future. But I worry about younger academics who are less known. If I can be canceled because of my criticism of Israel, will they risk taking the issue on?

The ultimate question here is about donor-driven censorship. Why should any academic institution allow the perception that donor preferences, whether expressed or assumed, can restrict academic inquiry and publication? Regardless of what happened in my case, wealthy Harvard should take the lead here.

To clarify its commitment to academic freedom, Harvard should announce that it will accept no contributions from donors who try to use their financial influence to censor academic work, and that no administrator will be permitted to censor academics because of presumed donor concerns. That would transform this deeply disappointing episode into something positive.

  • Kenneth Roth served as executive director of Human Rights Watch from 1993 to 2022. He is currently writing a book


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Article source: The Guardian, 11/1/2023

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000
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Peril of ignoring the Middle-East

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The peril of ignoring the Middle East

Walter Russell Mead

  • 7:26PM JANUARY 10, 2023

( )

As White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan prepares to visit Israel this month, he will encounter unexpected areas of strategic convergence between Israeli and American concerns. With Tehran’s utter rejection of Biden administration efforts for conciliation and its wholehearted embrace of Moscow, US and Israeli views of Iran have become more aligned.

But even as the strategic gap has narrowed, the moral gap is widening. The new Israeli government’s positions — on settlements, the Palestinian Authority, secularism, amending the Law of Return and changing the balance of power between the Israeli Supreme Court and the Knesset — all run counter to Biden administration policy preferences as well as the deeply held social and cultural beliefs of many American liberals and Jews.

Already one Israeli minister has visited the holy site known to Muslims as the Haram Al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The new government has restricted the display of Palestinian flags on public land, withheld revenue from the Palestinian Authority, blocked Palestinian construction activity, and cut the travel privileges of Palestinian dignitaries. As tensions rise on the West Bank, Biden officials resent what they see as gratuitous Israeli actions that could set off another round of conflict.

Meanwhile, the entire Middle East is in flux. Higher energy prices have sent floods of cash into the region, boosting the confidence of local rulers. China is working to raise its economic and political profile in a region essential to its future. The United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Russia are looking to thwart US policy in Syria, perhaps leading to the consolidation of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The diplomatic balance is changing in other ways. The long European romance with Iran is cooling as the regime’s brutality at home and its collusion with Russian aggression in Ukraine sour European hopes for profitable and peaceful relations with the mullahs. A massive scandal over alleged Qatari influence-peddling in the European Parliament has stunned the Brussels establishment and at least temporarily dented the ability of Qatari diplomats to lobby against Israel, against Israel’s conservative Arab allies, and for a policy of conciliation toward Iran.

Mr Sullivan’s visit comes after a 15-year decline in America’s regional influence. Israelis, Arabs, Iranians and Turks all have less respect for American power — and therefore less regard for US wishes — than they did in 2008. President Barack Obama’s waffling and President Donald Trump’s incoherence left regional powers deeply sceptical about American wisdom and stability.

The Biden administration faces a real dilemma. Feeling overstretched against Russian aggression in Ukraine and Chinese ambition in the Indo-Pacific, the White House wants to minimise its exposure to the Middle East. Yet the region is too important to ignore — and the more the US withdraws, the more influence it sheds. As America becomes less relevant, regional actors feel free to make more decisions that Washington dislikes, effectively undermining U.S. influence around the globe.

Ironically, after progressives in the US spent decades denouncing America’s pro-Israel bias and its anti-democratic alliances with authoritarian regimes across the region, it’s precisely the Palestinians and human-rights campaigners who are the biggest losers from the American withdrawal. Weaker than the Israelis, the Palestinians desperately need outside mediators to coax concessions from Jerusalem that the Palestinians can’t extract on their own. The Americans, for all their faults from a Palestinian viewpoint, have a stronger commitment to Palestinian statehood — and the Palestinian Authority — than most Arab rulers do. And human-rights and democracy activists get more space when Arab governments either fear American displeasure or hope to win Washington’s support.

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For now it is Saudi Arabia and the UAE, not the US, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks about most as he struggles to balance the demands of his radical coalition partners with Israel’s national interests. Mr Netanyahu wants to extend the Abraham Accords, not break them, and he needs to take Arab concerns on board as he crafts his policies on settlements and the Haram al-Sharif.

If Mr Biden wants to restore American influence in the region, he can still do so. The price, however, is what it has been for the past 15 years. A resolute and effective US policy to disrupt Iran’s ability to threaten its Arab neighbours — if combined with measures to ensure that Israel and its friends can, if all else fails, take military action to block Tehran’s nuclear program — would put the US back at the centre of Middle Eastern order.

The cost of influence is high, but impotence is more expensive in the long run. If Mr Sullivan’s message to Jerusalem is that Mr Biden is ready for serious engagement along these lines, the response in Israel and beyond will be greater attentiveness to American concerns. Otherwise, Israel and its neighbours will continue to make decisions with less concern for American interests — and the Biden administration will struggle to manage the consequences.

The Wall Street Journal

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Article source: The Australian, 11/1/2023

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Politics spills into stadiums at World Cup

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In Qatar, Middle East tensions spill into World Cup stadiums

ByMaya Gebeily and Charlotte Bruneau

November 29, 2022 — 2.42pm,      The Age

Doha: The first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East has become a showcase for the political tensions criss-crossing one of the world’s most volatile regions and the ambiguous role often played by host nation Qatar in its crises.

Iran’s matches have been the most politically charged as fans voice support for protesters who have been boldly challenging the clerical leadership at home. They have also proved diplomatically sensitive for Qatar which has good ties to Tehran.


Pro-Palestinian sympathies among fans have also spilt into stadiums as four Arab teams compete. Qatari players have worn pro-Palestinian arm-bands, even as Qatar has allowed Israeli fans to fly in directly for the first time.

Even the Qatari Emir has engaged in politically significant acts, donning a Saudi flag during its historic defeat of Argentina – notable support for a country with which he has been mending ties strained by regional tensions.

Such gestures have added to the political dimensions of a tournament mired in controversy even before kick-off over the treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ rights in the conservative host country, where homosexuality is illegal.


The stakes are high for Qatar, which hopes a smooth tournament will cement its role on the global stage and in the region, where it has survived as an independent state since 1971 despite numerous regional upheavals.

The first Middle Eastern nation to host the Cup, Qatar has often seemed a regional maverick: it hosts the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas but has also previously had some trade relations with Israel.

It has given a platform to Islamist dissidents deemed a threat by Saudi Arabia and its allies, while befriending Riyadh’s foe, Iran, and hosting the largest US military base in the region.


Tensions in Iran, swept by more than two months of protests ignited by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested for flouting strict dress codes, have been reflected inside and outside the stadiums.

“We wanted to come to the World Cup to support the people of Iran because we know it’s a great opportunity to speak for them,” said Shayan Khosravani, a 30-year-old Iranian-American fan who had been intending to visit family in Iran after the Cup but cancelled due to the protests.

But some say stadium security have stopped them from showing their backing for the protests. At Iran’s November 25 match against Wales, security denied entry to fans carrying Iran’s pre-Revolution flag and T-shirts with the protest slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” and “Mahsa Amini”.

After the game, there was tension outside the ground between opponents and supporters of the Iranian government.

Two fans who argued with stadium security on separate occasions over the confiscations said they believed that policy stemmed from Qatar’s ties with Iran.

A Qatari official said “additional security measures have been put in place during matches involving Iran following the recent political tensions in the country.”

When asked about confiscated material or detained fans, a spokesperson for the organising supreme committee referred inquiries to FIFA and Qatar’s list of prohibited items. They ban items with “political, offensive, or discriminatory messages”.

Controversy has also swirled around the Iranian team, which was widely seen to show support for the protests in its first game by refraining from singing the national anthem, only to sing it – if quietly – ahead of its second match.

Quemars Ahmed, a 30-year-old lawyer from Los Angeles, said Iranian fans were struggling with an “inner conflict”: “Do you root for Iran? Are you rooting for the regime and the way protests have been silenced?”

Ahead of a decisive US-Iran match last week, the US Soccer Federation temporarily displayed Iran’s national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic in solidarity with protesters in Iran.

The match only added to the tournament’s significance for Iran, where the clerical leadership has long declared Washington the “The Great Satan” and accuses it of fomenting current unrest.

Palestinian flags, meanwhile, are regularly seen at stadiums and fan zones and have sold out at shops – even though the national team didn’t qualify.

Tunisian supporters at their November 26 match against Australia unfurled a massive “Free Palestine” banner, a move that did not appear to elicit action from organisers. Arab fans have shunned Israeli journalists reporting from Qatar.

Omar Barakat, a soccer coach for the Palestinian national team who was in Doha for the World Cup, said he had carried his flag into matches without being stopped. “It is a political statement and we’re proud of it,” he said.

While tensions have surfaced at some games, the tournament has also provided a stage for some apparent reconciliatory actions, such as when Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani wrapped the Saudi flag around his neck at the November 22 Argentina match.

Qatar’s ties with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt were put on ice for years over Doha’s regional policies, including supporting Islamist groups during the Arab Spring uprisings from 2011.

In another act of reconciliation between states whose ties were shaken by the Arab Spring, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shook hands with Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sissi at the opening ceremony in Doha on November 20.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a political scientist at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the US said the lead-up to the tournament had been “complicated by the decade of geopolitical rivalries that followed the Arab Spring”.

Qatari authorities have had to “tread a fine balance” over Iran and Palestine but, in the end, the tournament “once again puts Qatar at the centre of regional diplomacy,” he said.

Article link:
Article source: The Age, 30/11/2022

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Biden urged to threaten Israel weapons halt over far-right concerns

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Biden urged to threaten Israel weapons halt over far-right concerns

Pair urge president to withdraw military support to Netanyahu’s coalition government if Palestinians are expelled or land annexed    

Chris McGreal

Thu 1 Dec 2022 05.15 AEDT  (The Guardian)

Two former senior US diplomats have made a highly unusual call for the Biden administration to cut weapons supplies to Israel if the incoming far-right government uses them to annex Palestinian land, expel Arabs or finally kill off the diminishing possibility of a Palestinian state.

Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel under George W Bush, and Aaron David Miller, a US Middle East peace negotiator during several administrations, have called for what they described as an “unprecedented and controversial” break from America’s largely unconditional military and diplomatic support for Israel if “the most extreme government in the history of the state” pursues the stated aims of some of its members.

The pair warn that these could include “efforts to change the status of the West Bank”, in effect a warning against partial or wholesale annexation of Palestinian land to Israel. They also warned against increased use of force against Arabs in the occupied territories and Israel by incoming ministers who have espoused openly racist views, escalating settlement construction, and moves “to build infrastructure for settlers that is designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution”.

“Israel should be told that, while the United States will continue to support its ally’s legitimate security requirements, it will not provide offensive weapons or other assistance for malign Israeli actions in Jerusalem or the occupied territories,” the pair wrote in the Washington Post.

Kurtzer and Miller also called for Washington to end its almost total protection of Israel in diplomatic forums, including the UN security council and the international court of justice, if its government takes “actions that deserve to be called out and condemned”.

The US almost always vetoes UN security council resolutions critical of Israel with a notable exception in 2016 when the Obama administration declined to block a resolution demanding an immediate halt to Israeli settlement construction.

“For a US president to put pressure on a democratically elected Israeli government would be unprecedented and controversial,” wrote Kurtzer and Miller. “But Israel has never before embarked on such a dangerous course. Political will matters, and this is a moment for Biden to show American strength and resolve.”

The pair said that pressure is warranted because the new coalition government under Israel’s incoming prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has “brought to life the radical, racist, misogynistic and homophobic far-right parties”.

They noted that the new administration will include a “convicted inciter of hatred and violence” against Arabs – Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the Jewish Power party – as minister of national security “with far-reaching authority for the West Bank, Jerusalem and mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel proper”.

Israel’s outgoing defence minister, Benny Gantz, has warned that Ben Gvir’s authority over the border police in the West Bank will allow him to establish “a private army” in the occupied territories. The border police is armed with American weapons.

The new government is also expected to include Bezalel Smotrich, “who has called for the expulsion of Arabs”. He is likely to have authority over the Civil Administration, which governs the West Bank. Gantz warned that would amount to “de facto annexation” of the occupied territories.

“Biden should also make it clear to Israel that his administration will have no dealings with Ben Gvir, Smotrich or their ministries if they continue to espouse racist policies and actions,” Kurtzer and Miller said.

Kurtzer and Miller also called for Washington to pressure the Palestinians to hold elections and to “curb violence and terrorism”.

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Article source: The Guardian, 1/12/2022

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000