Focal Points Blog

Netanyahu’s Defining Hour

Netanyahu

While the world watches Kiev, the Middle East peace process is once again on the verge of collapse. After almost nine months of feverish efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry, we’re now less than a month away from the deadline for an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. The prospects of reaching any form of agreement in late April are grim, and the current standoff over this weekend’s aborted prisoner release threatens to definitively end this round of talks.

Twenty-six Palestinians prisoners, all of whom had been convicted before the 1993 Oslo Accords, were slated to be released this past Saturday as part of the original agreement reached last July. Now, under increasing pressure from hardline members of the Likud and Jewish Home parties, Prime Minister Netanyahu is demanding that the Palestinians commit to extending the peace process beyond April before he will release this final group of prisoners. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has called these tactics “blackmail” and is unequivocal in his refusal to link the prisoner release to an extension of talks. So we’re back at impasse – an all-too-familiar state for Israeli-Arab peace talks. The indefatigable John Kerry has taken an emergency trip to the region to try to salvage the process; there’s now talk of a broader deal in which the Americans would incentivize Israeli cooperation by releasing Jonathan Pollard, a convicted spy whose actions and long US prison sentence have won him sympathy among Israelis.
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Now’s Not the Time to Go Soft on Robert Gates

Gates, Robert

Many breathed a huge sigh of relief when George Bush appointed Robert Gates secretary of defense. Compared to Donald Rumsfeld, who he replaced, he seemed like the voice of sanity. Then, he authored a much-praised memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Knopf, 2014), in which, for example, he wrote of the Afghanistan War that President Obama “doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Thus did he become another voice, as well: that of frankness in politics. But lest his history become revisionist, we need to remind ourselves of just who Robert Gates was before his image was sanitized.
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If New York City Is the Victim of a Nuclear Attack, It Won’t Be by Nuclear Terrorists

Illustration of a nuclear attack on New York, Colliers, 1950

Illustration of a nuclear attack on New York, Colliers, 1950

At a news conference at the end of Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague on March 25, President Obama sought to put in perspective any threat to U.S. national security that Russia’s annexation of Crimea might pose.

“I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”
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Arab League Summit in Kuwait: Seeking Solidarity?

ArabLeagueSummit

As of now, Kuwait is hosting its first Arab League Summit. The slogan for this year’s Summit is “Solidarity For A Better Future.” Question: will the Kuwait Summit ensure solidarity for the region?

It is a well-known fact that the Arab World has seen its own share of regional alliances formed on the basis of ideological, sectarian and regional dynamics. With the recent cases of the Arab Spring, such dynamism has become all the more complicated and thus, regional solidarity is surely a challenging task to accomplish.
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American Media Distorts Venezuelan Protests

Image Wikimedia Commons

Image Wikimedia Commons

For the last several weeks, much of the American media has been reporting on the anti-government protests occurring in the streets of Venezuela. Many major outlets have depicted Venezuela as being in the midst of a Ukrainian-style revolution. Stories of violent government crackdowns and photos of Venezuelans taking to the streets in droves to topple their democratically elected president Nicolás Maduro have saturated the media, but do those photos and stories represent the full story? Or has the American media been distorting the situation in Venezuela?

On February 20, the New York Times reported that the only media outlet that regularly broadcasted the voices of the opposition was sold last year and since then their news coverage has been softened. The Committee to Protect Journalists took it a step further by writing that nearly all the Venezuelan media has been ignoring the protests because it is all controlled by or allied with the Maduro government.
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Sanctions Against Russia? Good Luck

Uranium, Russian

Now that Crimea has decided to unite with Russia and Russians have welcomed Crimea’s move with happy hearts, the Western half of the world, especially USA and European Union, are talking at length about imposing sanctions on Russia in order to bring Vladimir Putin to his senses. However, the task seems easier said than done — Uncle Sam is simply not in a position to impose long-term sanctions on Russia.

Economic and political ties between the United States and Russia are surely not exemplary. Yet, one key American industry relies heavily on a particular import from Russia: fuel for nuclear power plants.
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Neoconservatives Use Moral Relativism to Blame Progressives for Genital Mutilation

Middle East women

The neo-conservative camp, always eager to wrestle with imaginary positions of their opponents, is now bravely challenging another belief that no one holds, which is that “all cultures are equal.” George Mason University Professor Walter Williams has jumped aboard the “Western values are superior to all others” bandwagon and asks, “Is forcible female genital mutilation, as practiced in nearly 30 sub-Saharan Africa and Middle Eastern countries, a morally equivalent cultural value?” The neoconservative Clarion Project’s Douglas Murray takes the campaign directly to progressives by asking, “How many young girls’ clitorises had to be mutilated while they busily curated their left-wing credentials?”

This arrogant cultural trope is nothing new. The neo-conservatives who brought us the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay have promoted the “inequality of cultures” idea throughout the War on Terror to justify militarism, invasion, torture, and systematic violation of international law. Sliding from “culture” to politics to statecraft, their ideological conceit is that “we,” the West, have an enduring tradition of protecting women, while “they,” the Middle Easterners, are so barbaric that they cut the clitorises off of women, and therefore our “culture” should govern their “culture.” But their sudden passion for Middle Eastern women’s rights—indeed, any women’s rights—must be taken with a shaker of salt. 
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529 Sentenced to Death? Credibility of Egypt’s Interim Government Suffers Another Blow

Egypt law

A court in Minya, 150 miles south of Cairo, reports the New York Times

“… sentenced 529 people to death on Monday after a single session of their mass trial, convicting them of murder for the killing of a police officer in the city of Minya during riots after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, state media reported.”

Of course, it’s questionable that the verdict upheld and the sentencing carried out. The Los Angeles Times reports that “the capital verdict would have to be ratified by the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s top Islamic jurist.”
Nevertheless, it reflects poorly on Egypt’s interim government. In fact, it only makes sense as a public works project intended to provide employment to carpenters contracted to construct all those gallows.

Crimea Joins Russia: What About International Law?

Presidents Obama and Putin

Presidents Obama and Putin

Back on March 4, American President Barack Obama talked about the crisis in Crimea:

“There is a strong belief that Russia’s action is violating international law. I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations, but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.”

On the basis of Obama’s words, one can assume international law to be nothing beyond a set of beliefs that are classified as acceptable or unacceptable, depending on which side of the spectrum one chooses to stand.

As a result, when Crimean voters decided to secede from Ukraine and unite with Russia, what role did international law play in the picture? Again, you cannot properly define something that is viewed as more a matter of ‘strong belief’ than that of ‘codified norms’, but the verdicts and opinions of the International Court of Justice are well worth discussing here.
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Israel’s Bogeyman Ya’alon Strikes Again

Israel Defense Minister Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon

Israel Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon

Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe (Bogey) Ya’alon recently launched another scathing attack on America, its leaders and its world leadership. Speaking at an event in Tel Aviv University, Ya’alon said, among other things that: “Israel can’t rely on weak US to deal with Iran.” He added that: “the US at a certain stage began negotiating with them (Iran, DP), and unfortunately in the Persian bazaar the Iranians were better.” Ya’alon concluded that: “We (Israelis, DP) have to look out for ourselves.”[1]

Ya’alon’s comments created a veritable storm of amazement and denunciations in Israeli political circles and in the media. In a March 19 interview on Israel’s Channel 10, Mr. Raviv Druker, a senior political correspondent for the TV channel, termed Ya’alon’s utterances “insane,” “stupid,” “utterly damaging,” and “Hair raising.”  Druker called Netanyahu’s silence in the latest incident “nothing short of amazing.”
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