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Archive for February, 2009

Music and Tennis Offer Differing Persepctives on Israeli-Arab Relations

February 20, 2009 Leave a comment

With a right-wing government forming in Israel and violence continuing in Gaza, prospects for peace between the Jewish state and the Palestinians seem to be dimming. Yet against this backdrop, the selection of a Jewish-Arab duo to represent Israel in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest offers a ray of hope for peaceful coexistence.

The selection of the Jewish-Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, who goes by the name Noa, and the Arab-Israeli singer Mira Awad to represent Israel  marks the first time an Arab will sing for Israel in the highly popular musical competition, which will occur in Moscow in mid-May. Noa and Mira Awad have previously performed together (Click her to see the duo on YouTube), and they told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that they plan to perform a song with lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic and English at the competition to emphasize the importance of coexistence.

“Some people will see an Arab girl who looks Jewish and a Jewish girl who looks Arab, which is what we are,” Nini told Haaretz in an interview. “Maybe it will open some people’s minds.”

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17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan

February 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Fulfilling a campaign plan and meeting widespread expectation, President Obama has decided to send about 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, Politico reports.

Obama cited a direct threat to the United States from Al Qaeda as part of the rationale for his decision.

“The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action,” Obama said, announcing the deployment in a written statement. “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border.”

Obama said he approved a request from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade later this spring, and an Army Stryker Brigade and the support forces later this summer. He said the upcoming drawdown in Iraq allows him to move more troops into Afghanistan.

Obama has announced a 60-day review of his Afghanistan policy but had to order up these forces sooner because units need to train for their new mission, and commanders want them in place ahead of the traditional fighting season as the weather improves.

This development should come as a surprise to no-one. The security situation in Afghanistan has been going downhill for some time, with the New York Times reporting a40% jump in civilian casualties in 2008. This news follows fast on (but is almost certainly not in reaction to) an opinion piece written today by Major General Jim Molan of Australia, who was chief of operations of the multinational force in Iraq in 2004-05, in which he calls for a major increase in the size of the NATO force in Afghanistan.

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Pakistan Deals with the Taliban, Obama Remains Silent

February 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Three days ago the Pakistani government made headlines when it announced a deal that it would accept a system of Islamic law in the Swat valley and effectively concede the area to Taliban militants. While the Obama administration has remained silent on the issue, officials have admitted that it is a major setback for U.S. goals and an admission that the Pakistani government is incapable of defending the western part of the country from the encroaching Taliban.

While this accord seems to fly in the face of the Obama administration’s goals in the region, two days have passed and a Washington Post article reports that the accord seems to have stalled, perhaps due to pressure from the West.

The government’s position on the deal remained unclear, creating further anxiety. President Zardari, reportedly under pressure from the West, went a second day without signing the pact of making public the details of the law system.

Some local leaders in Swat accuse the national government of sabotaging their chance for peace with the Taliban in the valley. However, despite claims that the inhabitants want peace at any cost, there remains uncertainty as to whether the Taliban will abide by the accord.

In the Swat Valley, a second day of confusion and uncertainty about the pact passed Wednesday, with rising hopes and a jubilant peace march among the local population, followed by the brutal killing of a Pakistani TV journalist, Musa Khan Khel. He was apparently seized and shot by fighters while covering the peace march, despite a Taliban offer of a 10-day cease-fire while elements of the accord are implemented.

While Obama’s recent announcement that he will be sending an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan indicates the seriousness with which he is tackling the war, the situation in Pakistan is outside of the U.S. military’s domain. The U.S. has to rely on air strikes from drones and the Pakistani military but the recent accord made with the Taliban in the Swat valley seems to be a blatant attempt on behalf of the Pakistani government at appeasement, risking legitimizing the militants and complicating the U.S. mission in the region.

Delegations from Pakistan and Afghanistan will arrive next week in Washington for high-level talks, but between now and then, the remainder of the 10-day implementation period for the accord will elapse, making the next 7 days critical in shaping how the Obama administration will react.

–Ella Lipin, Trinity ’10

Implications of the Israeli Election for George Mitchell’s work

February 14, 2009 1 comment

His second day in office, President Obama appointed former senator George Mitchell as the American special envoy to the Middle East, indicating he wanted to make the region a top priority on his foreign agenda. But a perceivable shift to the right in Tuesday’s election results in Israel may hinder Obama’s hopes for a swift peace between Israel and Palestine, Griff Witte and Glenn Kessler report in The Washington Post. Aaron David Miller, former U.S. peace negotiator, puts it this way:

This is like hanging a “closed for the season” sign on any peacemaking for the next year or so.

Kessler and Witte write that although the results themselves remain incomplete, the anticipation that an Israeli government “uninterested in peace talks” will emerge to form a governing coalition is strong. The gains of the ultra-nationalist party Beiteinu and Israel’s right-wing Likud party don’t seem to bode well for Obama’s immediate agenda.

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U.S. and E.U. on Israeli Elections

February 13, 2009 Leave a comment

As Israel’s political contenders Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu are sprinting for the finish line, both the United States and the European Union watch on with a careful eye.

Livni, of the centrist Kadima party, has claimed a victory in the general election. However, her rival, Binyamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party, has also declared himself triumphant. According to the BBC, the Kadima has the upper hand–albeit by only one seat in the Knesset. This has only electrified the process of jockeying for power, and talks of coalition formation thickens the already dense Israeli political atmosphere.

Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, Haaretz, has reported that the U.S. the E.U. have both expressed a firm desire for a Kadima-Likud coalition.

The U.S. official position is that it looks forward to “working with any government,” but in back-channel messages the Obama administration has made it clear it would like to see a unity government in Jerusalem over a narrow right-wing government which would in all likelihood result in a freeze in peace talks with the Palestinians.

In a move that would be have been deemed quite uncharacteristic several months ago, the E.U. has adopted a similar position.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief says a new unity government of Israel’s Kadima and Likud political parties would help Mideast peace talks.

This intensified push for sustaining and substantiating the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians is perhaps evidence of a revitalized relationship between the U.S. and the E.U. It will be interesting to follow the contours and effects of these positions on Israeli policy.

Jonathan Cross, Trinity ’10

Categories: Israel-Palestine Tags: , ,

Is it possible to exit Guantanamo gracefully?

February 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Following President Obama’s announced plans to shut down Guantanamo within a year, the ability, or lack thereof, of Saudi Arabia and Yemen to successfully reform terrorists (two former detainees at Guantanamo have appeared in a recent video released by Al Qaeda) has been seriously questioned. While this issue has received a good deal of press coverage, the plight of the many prisoners who have already been declared innocent also stands to present a substantial challenge to the new administration.

Joshua Kurlantzick, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace addressed this issue in a lengthy article in Abu Dhabi’s The National, focusing on the specific case of 22 Uighar detainees. Uighars make up a substantial Muslim Turkic population in western China, where they regularly suffer abuse at the hands of the Chinese government out of fear of a possible separatist movement. The Uighars, however, are among some of the most pro-American Muslims in the world. These 22 prisoners were picked up in Afghanistan and shipped to Guantanamo, where, despite having been proven innocent by the Pentagon in 2005, they remain locked up:

They remained there because, in those intervening years, Washington realised the real problem with the Uighurs, one that will confront Barack Obama as he tries to figure out how to close Guantanamo Bay: What do you do with men you’ve branded as terrorists, once you realised they’re not?

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Obama on Iran

February 10, 2009 Leave a comment

All the buzz in the media is about the stimulus package, but after President Obama’s speech last night, the second question from the White House press corps was actually on Iran.

The question about Iran, from Karen Boeing of Reuters, took me by surprise: Everyone has been focusing very much on domestic policy for the last week, and the only news out of Iran has been the announcement that former president Mohammed Khatami would challenge his flamboyant successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Anyway, here’s Boeing’s question:

Question: Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to shift gears to foreign policy. What is your strategy for engaging Iran? And when will you start to implement it? Will your timetable be affected at all by the Iranian elections? And are you getting any indications that Iran is interested in a dialogue with the United States?

Obama didn’t say much that he hasn’t said before. He did close with this statement, though:

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