Focal Points Blog

A Few Things Israel’s Government and Citizens Should Know

The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As the government of Israel casts itself once again in the role of a sole rational, realistic and honest player in the world’s latest theatrical production of “We, the Cynics”, it may be a good time to familiarize the government and people of Israel with a few basic, yet essential, facts of life:

1)   Israel is not free to operate as it wishes, and cannot attack Iran without major international or at least American support. Ranting and raving is fine as a venting vehicle, but anybody with a semblance of a brain in his/her head – hopefully within Israel’s government as well – knows that Israel – like it or not – is a vassal state. Its welfare and well-being, indeed, its very existence, depends on the good will of an increasingly shrinking number of countries, whose patience with Israel is thinning rather fast.
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India’s Dilemma: Accessing Central Asia’s Wealth

India-Kazakhstan map.jpgIn recent years, India has begun to recognize the strategic importance of Central Asia to its national interest. As a result, it has been eager to revive — and upgrade — some of its ancient historic and cultural ties which go back to the 16th century, when the great Mughal Empire was established in Delhi in 1526. Its founder, Babar, came from what is now the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan and was a convert to Islam. However, it is also relevant to note, given India’s current popularity in Central Asia, that prior to the adoption of Islam in the eighth century, Hinduism was one of the dominant faiths in the region. (There are now less than 150,000 Hindus in a region populated by more than 92 million people.  But vestiges of that ancient bond remain.)
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Iran-U.S. Nuclear Deal Signals a Gorbachev Moment for Rouhani

hassan-rouhani-moderate-nuclear-weapons-negotiations-general-assembly-obama

Iran President Hassan Rouhanai. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

So Iran and the United States reached a deal about the nuclear stuff recently. Thus far, I have read many opinions and analyses about this historic event: Israel calls it a mistake of gigantic proportions, US and Iran are claiming it to be a step in the right direction, the rest of the world is watching, commentators and experts are either happy or unhappy depending on their political stance, and so on.

As of now, it is too early to judge whether the nuclear deal between USA and Iran is a good thing to happen or a bad one. However, pros and cons aside, one thing is certain: with the new Rouhani government in place, the Islamic Republic is indeed headed towards some noticeable changes.
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COP19 Summit: Still Rich v. Poor

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks ago, representatives from the “international community” met in Warsaw, Poland, to negotiate an agreement to tackle human-made climate change and its consequences for the world.

The outcome wasn’t as embarrassing as the failure four years ago in Copenhagen, but we’re still far from seeing any serious concerted action to keep climate change at a manageable level.
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Two Women, Catherine Ashton and Wendy Sherman, Key Shapers of Iran Deal

 

Catherine Ashton

Catherine Ashton

The Right Honorable Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland, daughter of a coal-mining father, single mom, and the first person in her family to go to college, climbed into a helicopter last August to visit the deposed President of Egypt, Mohammad Morsi, being held in a secret location. The first Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, and a sophisticated Middle-East hand who had publicly declared her sympathy with the Palestinian cause, she was the only person from the West trusted by the Egyptians to meet with Morsi. Last weekend, “Cathy” Ashton was heralded as one of the top negotiators sealing the first-stage agreement on halting the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

About the same time Ashton was meeting with President Morsi, Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s Undersecretary for Political Affairs, was facing a difficult Senate briefing on Iran, in which she made some rude comments. A long-time Washington insider, lobbyist, Congressional staffer, and consultant, Sherman comes from a prominent Jewish family in upstate New York and is widely considered one of Israel’s most supportive high-level friends. At the same time, she is also known as an experienced and tough negotiator on nuclear issues, a “bad-ass” according to one CNN foreign affairs reporter. As Chief U.S. nuclear negotiator, she joined Ashton in the final talks in Geneva, heading the U.S. negotiating team for the last round.
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Netanyahu May Take Out His Frustration Over Iran Nuke Deal on Israel-Palestine Peace Talks

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

By now you’re all familiar with the provisional deal that the United States and Iran have agreed to about Iran’s nuclear energy program. As with anything like this, due to forces beyond the principals’ control, it’s always, at some level, a zero-sum control. In the New York Times, Mark Landler reports:

“The Palestinian issue is the big casualty of this deal,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former administration official who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Now that they have an Iran deal, over the strong objections of Israel, it’s going to be very hard to persuade Netanyahu to do something on the Palestinian front.”
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Mother Agnes-Mariam Warns That Islamic Extremists Undermine Peace Prospects in Syria

Mother Agnes Mariam

Mother Agnes-Mariam Comes to Denver

Last week Mother Agnes Mariam, mother-superior of the monastery of St. James, the Mutilated in Qara, in the Qalamoun District of Syria, which is north of Damascus, visited Denver as part of a U.S. tour which is taking her coast to coast. She spoke at three public venues in two days and then rushed off to catch a plane to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she also has had several speaking engagements, covered by the Nebraska press.

The Christian Palestinian family of the good mother-superior hails from Nazareth, now in Israel, from whence it was expelled and made refugee in 1948 when Israel was founded. Growing up in Lebanon, she was educated by that country’s Maronite Community. Before entering the Melkite Greek Catholic order, Mother Agnes-Mariam claims to have partnered with a group of American hippies in her youth, she with bible in hand. While little attracted to their hashish smoking, she absorbed their commitment to world peace. 
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China: What Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Israel, and the U.S. Have in Common

The Israeli and Chinese Navies. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Israeli and Chinese Navies. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

If there is a nation (not “state”) that can successfully convince the Arabs, the Jews and the Persians to sit down simultaneously for a talk, it can only be the Chinese. With the historical cultural links and for immense economic interests, China is both eager and able to lay the table.

Having had the 11,179-kilometer (6,946-mile) iron silk road in operation going through Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and China, Beijing is now working assiduously to push for the implementation of the United Nations 80,900-km Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) project which knits 24 countries including Iran, Armenia and Turkey together. Furthermore, the August 2013 opening of the US$500 million Chinese-built port in Colombo, Sri Lanka, represented the first step of realizing Beijing’s vision of a “maritime silk road” between Africa and East Asia, exposing the Arabian Peninsula as a key mid-way security concern. Being blocked by Japan to go eastward, China has tons of reasons to get the west bound roads through and reliable.
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Nuclear Weapons’ Lofty Safety Standards Often Go Unmet

NuclearMissile


Courtesy DIA Historical Collection

In a blog post for his site Defusing the Nuclear Threat, Martin Hellman quoted from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent speech honoring Gen. Robert Kehler, the outgoing chief of STRATCOM, the military command in charge of nuclear weapons, and cyber- and space warfare. “Perfection must be the standard for our nuclear forces,” Hagel said at one point. At another: “there is no room for error.”
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Roma and the American Civil Rights Movement

Michael Simmons

Michael Simmons

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

The comparison has frequently been made between the experience of Roma in East-Central Europe and African Americans in the United States. Roma have likewise suffered from slavery, segregation, rampant discrimination, forced assimilation. They have also campaigned for their civil rights in nearly every country where they live. So far, however, these campaigns have had only limited effect. Although some Roma have achieved social, economic, or political success, the community as a whole remains on the margins.

In 1995, I participated in an exchange between Roma activists and African American veterans of the civil rights movement  in Szentendre, a town outside of Budapest. The two groups shared many stories about their experiences and their respective histories. Often the stories moved in parallel though at a distance of some years. One African American participant, for instance, described the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins at Woolworth’s in 1960. A Roma participant from the Czech Republic told a story about his recent efforts to organize a sit-in in his hometown where several restaurants had put up signs near the entrances barring Roma.
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