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Muslims who saved Jews from Holocaust Honored (& Case of Albania)

Fri, 5 Feb 2016 - 12:28am

Interfaith Peacemakers | – –

[N.B. The interfaith ‘I am your Protector” Campaign, founded by Dani Laurence, last week commemorated in several cities the Muslims who saved Jews from the Holocaust.

Laurence told Alarabiya, “”The way Muslims are often portrayed in the media, public discourses can lead to fear and hatred. I Am Your Protector highlights Muslim Protectors and gives a platform for people to create posters of Protectors on our website.”

The mirrored posting below from Interfaith Peacemaker focuses on the Albanian Muslim community’s heroic actions in this regard. – J. C. ]

Albanian Muslims During the Holocaust:
Astounding Resistance to the Nazis

For many years the heavy curtain of Communism shrouded Albania from the view of the rest of the world. When that curtain was lifted in 1991 amazing stories emerged about the role of Albanian Muslims saving Jews during the Holocaust that swept across Nazi-occupied Europe.

When the German Nazi army occupied Albania it wasn’t long before the Albanians were ordered to surrender their Jewish citizens . . . That prompted a massive movement among Albanians from top officials to grassroots villagers to shelter Jews. Most of those engaged in the movement were Muslims. Hospitality is a deeply held value for Albanians, so they went to great lengths and took personal risks to shield the Jews from the Nazis. Non-Jewish Albanians would steal identity cards from police stations for Jews to use. The Albanian underground threatened to execute anyone who turned a Jew in to the Nazis. Jews from Serbia, Austria and Greece found refuge in Albania.

As astonishing as this may sound: Not a single Jew from Albania ended up in the concentration camps.

Dr. Anna Kohen, speaking at a Holocaust remembrance in New York City talked about her family fleeing to a mountain village. They all took Muslim names. She said, “Everyone in the village knew they were Jews, but not one person betrayed them.” Her family’s story was repeated again and again throughout Albania.

Sulo Mecaj, a farmer from the village of Kruja who sheltered 10 Jews in his attic, was asked what would happen if the Nazis burned down his house with the Jews inside. “My son will go into the attic with the Jews and suffer their fate.” At the end of World War II there were more Jews living in Albania than at the start of the war, the only country in Europe where this happened. “”

Faith as well as culture played a major role in this life-and-death hospitality. Shyqyri Myrto helped Josef Jakoel and his sister Eriketa evade Germans going house to house searching for them. He said, “Our Muslim religion says we must help someone who is in danger in difficult times.”

His friend Bequi Qogja said, “We all have one God, and he has commanded us to help others. It’s the same thing Jesus said, that Muhammad has commanded, and actually your Moses said the same thing.”

Commemoration

Albanian protectors of the Jews were named in the “Rescuer’s Wall” at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in 1995. Albanian Muslim names are inscribed at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem with the “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Via Interfaith Peacemakers

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Michel Reymond: “2016 01 27 I am your Protector – Geneva Event”

Rubio wants to give each millionaire $220K by Eliminating Taxes on Stock Earnings

Fri, 5 Feb 2016 - 12:09am

Chuck Collins | Inequality.org | – –

Bad tax policy ideas never die, they just get recycled.

The latest retread is GOP candidate Marco Rubio’s proposal to entirely eliminate taxes on capital gains income.

A preferential tax rate on capital gains has always been a staple of GOP tax policy. But only the brazen few have proposed completely abolishing it.

When Steve Forbes ran for President in 2000, his flat tax proposal excluded income from capital. At the time, Mitt Romney complained, “The Forbes tax isn’t a flat tax at all — it’s a tax cut for fat cats!”

As Josh Barro pointed out in The New York Times, other GOP presidential candidates have proposed reducing capital gains, but not eliminating it. He said:

The mainstream Republican position on capital gains has long been that they should be taxed at a low rate, but not zero. In 1996, Mr. Romney was supporting Bob Dole, the eventual nominee, whose campaign platform called for a 14 percent tax rate on capital gains. In 2003, President George W. Bush signed a law setting the rate at 15 percent, a policy that John McCain proposed to continue if elected in 2008. (The current maximum rate on capital gains is 23.8 percent, after tax increases that took effect in 2013.)

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, the Rubio tax play would give taxpayers in the richest 1 percent an average tax cut of more than $220,000.

Free market anti-tax advocates consider income from investments to be more virtuous than income from work, hence the preferential tax treatment.

One concern they raise is that capital gains may be a form of “double taxation,” as the corporate entity may have already paid taxes. But there is no fundamental principle of taxation that money should not be taxed at different junctures and transfer points. My employer is taxed, my income is taxed, and the candy bar I buy with my income is taxed.

However, if I bought a share of Berkshire Hathaway stock in 1976 for $89 (if only I had!) and I sell it today at its appreciated price of $190,396, I have a substantial capital gain. There is no double taxation here—I have not paid a nickel of taxes on this gain.

Another presumption is income from assets is a form of “capital formation” that is used for productive investments that foster economic growth. But there is no guarantee that the concentrated wealth of the 1 percent will be more productively invested than thirty working class people putting their paychecks in a community-oriented bank or credit union.

For tax purposes, we should treat all income the same, whether from capital or wages –and tax it through a graduated income tax system. Low-income retirees will pay low rates on their investment income. Higher income Berkshire Hathaway investors will pay a higher percent when they sell their stock.

If we did this, raise capital gains taxes to be equal to income tax rates, we’d see revenue jump by $600 billion over ten years. That sounds a lot better to be than digging an $11.8 trillion dollar hole, as Rubio’s plan is projected to do.

Via Inequality.org

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Face the Nation on CBS from Last Year: “Marco Rubio pans Obama’s call for higher capital gains taxes”

Saudi Arabia ‘Ready’ to send Thousands of Ground Troops to Syria

Fri, 5 Feb 2016 - 12:02am

TeleSur | – –

The Saudi military said it is ready to contribute thousands of troops to Syria as part of the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State group coalition.

Saudi Arabia, already involved in a large aerial and ground operation in Yemen, said it would be willing to send more ground troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State group Thursday.

“The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against the Islamic State group) may agree to carry out in Syria,” military spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri said during an interview with al-Arabiya TV news.

Meanwhile, Saudi sources told The Guardian Thursday that “thousands of special forces could be deployed, probably in coordination with Turkey.”

Saudi Arabia is already part of the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria, yet Aisiri said his government believes “that aerial operations are not the ideal solution and there must be a twin mix of aerial and ground operations.”

Both countries are committed to the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have grave doubts about the prospects for a political settlement of the crisis without further military pressure on Damascus. Saudi Arabia and Turkey set up a military coordination body a few weeks ago.

Despite an increasingly strained relationship with the U.S.—especially over the nuclear deal with Iran, the Saudis’ strategic rival—the Kingdom is keen to do more to demonstrate its readiness to fight terrorism. Saudi Arabia has been repeatedly targeted by Isis in recent months and is often accused of being an incubator for violent extremism.

Asiri said the “progress” his military made in Yemen would free up troops for deployment in Syria.

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen kicked off in March last year against the Yemeni Ansarullah rebels, also called Houthis, who took over the country and ousted the U.S. and Saudi ally President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

According to the United Nations, more than 3,500 civilians have been killed as a result of the Saudi-led war to oust the Ansarullah rebels, who took over the country and ousted U.S. and Saudi ally President Hadi back in January 2015.

The Saudi comments come a day after the U.N. suspended a third attempt at Syrian peace talks between the warring sides amid the opposition’s refusal to participate without a pre-talks cease-fire by Syrian and Russian forces.

TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Alarabiya: “Asiri: Saudi Arabia ready for ground operations in Syria”

Obama Condemns hatred of Muslim-Americans, Affirms their Importance to Nation

Thu, 4 Feb 2016 - 4:46am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Obama spoke Wednesday at a Baltimore mosque in an explicit pushback against the hatred for Muslims being promoted by billionaire real estate developer Donald J. Trump and others among the Republican presidential candidates.

Trump has scapegoated all Muslim-Americans for the violence committed by a tiny fringe. He has called for Muslims to be excluded from coming to the United States from abroad, and said he would “look into” closing all US mosques. All Christians are not tagged with the killings at Planned Parenthood, but because Muslims are a minority about whom there is much ignorance in the US, the trope of collective guilt hasn’t been immediately rejected by most Americans. I hope that Obama’s speech will change that.

Obama slammed Trump’s rhetoric as inexcusable and said it had no place in the United States:

“And of course, recently, we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country. No surprise, then, that threats and harassment of Muslim Americans have surged. Here at this mosque, twice last year, threats were made against your children. Around the country, women wearing the hijab — just like Sabah — have been targeted. We’ve seen children bullied. We’ve seen mosques vandalized. Sikh Americans and others who are perceived to be Muslims have been targeted, as well.”

Threats were made against their children . Anybody listening to that who has children of their own, or nieces and nephews etc., should get chills on hearing those words. They are a sign of a society beset by thugs.

Obama pointed out that American Muslims are our physicians and our community leaders.

In fact, there are about 800,000 active physicians in the US and 20,000 of them are Muslims, or about 2.5 %.

Obama went on to root American Islam in American history. He pointed out that many (as many as 20%) of African slaves brought to this country were Muslims, and they built the United States. We have some Arabic documents about their experiences written by some of them in their American exile (some had been elite in places like Senegal or Mali or Nigeria before being kidnapped). The president might have added that some significant number of the Hispanic settlers in the Southwest were Spanish of Arab/Berber and Muslim heritage. Although their families or they themselves were coerced into converting to Catholicism, they often kept some secret Muslim beliefs and rituals. We know about historical persons of this sort right from the 1500s. I was born in Albuquerque, N. M., a major American city with an Arabic name (likely al-Barquqi or the owner of an apricot orchard).

Here’s another fact: Islam has always been part of America. Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim. And even in their bondage, some kept their faith alive. A few even won their freedom and became known to many Americans. And when enshrining the freedom of religion in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, our Founders meant what they said when they said it applied to all religions.

Back then, Muslims were often called Mahometans. And Thomas Jefferson explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all faiths — and I’m quoting Thomas Jefferson now — “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan.” (Applause.)

Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran. Benjamin Franklin wrote that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.” (Applause.) So this is not a new thing.

I’ve been pointing to texts like those for years. It is clear that the Founding Fathers simply had nothing against Islam and Muslims, as Enlightenment deists, and that in fact it was an important case for them in their imagination of the expansion of liberty. That is why Franklin says “even if”.

It is true that there were no Muslim signers of the Declaration of Independence or of the Constitution, but that was because they did not form part of the British landholding elite of the Thirteen Colonies, not because they weren’t here and productive. in the mid-1700s, Muslim slaves from West Africa taught the Europeans in the Carolinas how to better grow rice innovated in ironsmithing, and introduced the swept earthen floor. They were not recognized as free citizens in the Constitution written by the landholding white elite, but they made an enormous contributions to the health and well-being of that society. They are a key part of the people’s history of the United States.

The silly Glenn Beck riposte about the US having gone to war against the Barbary Pirates doesn’t deserve an answer. The Founding generation of Americans knew the difference between fighting some corsairs and fighting a whole faith. That is, before the last decade most American political figures of any weight knew what prejudice and stereotyping are.

Obama went on to point to the long history of Muslim worship in the US:

“Generations of Muslim Americans helped to build our nation. They were part of the flow of immigrants who became farmers and merchants. They built America’s first mosque, surprisingly enough, in North Dakota. (Laughter.) America’s oldest surviving mosque is in Iowa. The first Islamic center in New York City was built in the 1890s. Muslim Americans worked on Henry Ford’s assembly line, cranking out cars. A Muslim American designed the skyscrapers of Chicago.

In 1957, when dedicating the Islamic center in Washington, D.C., President Eisenhower said, “I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution … and in American hearts…this place of worship, is just as welcome…as any other religion.”

I’ve visited the mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, perhaps the oldest one in continuous operation.

I met a resident of Dearborn once of Lebanese Shiite extraction whose ancestor came to the US in the 1880s. The man went out west and became a cowboy. We don’t usually think about the Lebanese Shiite cowboys. Of course, many cowboys were African-Amrericans, and some of those of Muslim background, who contributed their own specialized knowledge to that craft.

As I mentioned in Engaging the Muslim World , Eisenhower saw Muslims as key partners in the Cold War and was unhappy when pilgrimage to Mecca fell off, so that the US State Department actually gave money to improve the railroad to Mecca.

Obama roundly condemned Islamophobia and fear-mongering against Muslim Americans. Perhaps that is the most important thing he could do as president, simply to say that prejudice and discrimination are wrong and to tell the Muslim-Americans that they are an important and accepted part of the American fabric.

” Some of them are parents, and they talked about how their children were asking, are we going to be forced out of the country, or, are we going to be rounded up? Why do people treat us like that? Conversations that you shouldn’t have to have with children — not in this country. Not at this moment.

And that’s an anxiety echoed in letters I get from Muslim Americans around the country. I’ve had people write to me and say, I feel like I’m a second-class citizen. I’ve had mothers write and say, “my heart cries every night,” thinking about how her daughter might be treated at school. A girl from Ohio, 13 years old, told me, “I’m scared.” A girl from Texas signed her letter “a confused 14-year-old trying to find her place in the world.”

These are children just like mine. And the notion that they would be filled with doubt and questioning their places in this great country of ours at a time when they’ve got enough to worry about — it’s hard being a teenager already — that’s not who we are.

We’re one American family. And when any part of our family starts to feel separate or second-class or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation. (Applause.)

It’s a challenge to our values — and that means we have much work to do. We’ve got to tackle this head on. We have to be honest and clear about it. And we have to speak out. This is a moment when, as Americans, we have to truly listen to each other and learn from each other. And I believe it has to begin with a common understanding of some basic facts. And I express these facts, although they’d be obvious to many of the people in this place, because, unfortunately, it’s not facts that are communicated on a regular basis through our media.”

Obama did not name Trump, but he was stepping into the breach with all his personal charisma and charisma of office to be the anti-Trump.

It was an important moment in American history, and one that historians will long note and analyze. It will not end the current wave of Islamophobia, but it is the lengthiest and most thoroughgoing speech ever given by an American president about the importance of Islam and of Muslim-Americans to the United States. Above all, it was a decent speech, which restored some decency to our public discourse at a time of casual racism and unchallenged fascist sentiments being spouted by lesser men, by demagogues and psychopaths, who threaten our society with division and the creation of second-class citizens and a new Jim Crow. Obama is a symbol of how we got past the original Jim Crow. We will not be dragged back to that, no matter how many billions proponents of such reactionary politics may have.

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Related video:

The White House: “The President Speaks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore”

Poll: Most Americans Want Redistribution Of Wealth

Thu, 4 Feb 2016 - 2:14am

Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola | (The Young Turks Video Report) | – –

“Now that Bernie Sanders knows that people will show up and vote for him in large numbers, the attacks from the mainstream and right have begun. But it turns out that his ideas are incredibly popular. Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola (ThinkTank), hosts of the The Young Turks, break it down. . .

“Bernie Sanders wants a political revolution. And most Americans think one might be necessary, according to a new poll conducted by Morning Consult and Vox.

Fifty-four percent of respondents to our online poll — which reached a sample of 1,884 registered voters nationally from Friday, January 29, through Sunday, January 31, 2016 — agreed that a “political revolution might be necessary to redistribute money from the wealthiest Americans to the middle class.” Just 30 percent said they disagreed.

Liberals and liberal-leaning demographics were most likely to agree with the statement. But majorities of independents, white voters, evangelicals, and even Tea Party supporters in our sample agreed too — showing that redistribution may no longer be a dirty word in American politics.

Of course, keep in mind that responses to a poll statement in a vacuum may differ quite a bit from how people will feel after hearing political debate and messaging from both sides.”

The Young Turks: “Poll: Most Americans Want Redistribution Of Wealth”

Let’s Talk About Bernie Sanders and the Middle East

Thu, 4 Feb 2016 - 1:34am

By Derek Davison | Lobelog | Foreign Politicy in Focus | – –

On foreign policy, the Vermont independent’s “political revolution” hasn’t done much to distinguish itself from Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Foreign policy has taken a backseat to domestic issues in the Democratic primary thus far.

There are two explanations for this. One is that the Democratic base simply doesn’t see foreign policy — apart from “terrorism,” which at least has a foreign policy component to it — as a key issue. The other is that neither of the party’s two remaining contenders has much to gain from any kind of detailed scrutiny of their own policies and records.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as Eli Clifton pointed out at LobeLog, is a hawk.

Although she often touts her foreign policy experience in general terms and has been increasingly comfortable attacking Senator Bernie Sanders from the right on foreign policy issues in recent weeks, her overall foreign policy views are substantially to the right of the average Democratic primary voter. This stance will do little to hurt her (and may even help) in the general election against a Republican nominee who will surely be more hawkish. But for now, at a time when she can’t afford to alienate any potential primary voters, she has little to gain from a thorough foreign policy debate.

For Sanders, the issue is more straightforward. Foreign policy simply isn’t an area in which he’s particularly comfortable. Nor has he paid much attention to the matter, or at least he didn’t before his candidacy really began to gain at the polls.

When he comments on foreign policy at all, Sanders often steers the discussion to topics like inequality, which he frequently discusses in a domestic context, or to questions of judgment rather than specific policies. He has, for example, cited Clinton’s 2002 Senate vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq (Sanders, then in the House, voted against the authorization) as an example of her poor judgment — the same issue that played such a large role in Clinton’s 2008 primary loss to Barack Obama. He’s even gone so far as to compare her to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Clinton’s usual response to this attack — that then-President-elect Obama obviously trusted her judgment enough to ask her to become his secretary of state — is somewhat blunted by an examination of her record in that office, which includes a disastrous intervention in Libya, a failed surge in Afghanistan, the now-defunct “reset” with Russia, and a muddled (at best) response to the Arab Spring.

The issue of judgment is entirely fair and may even be the key foreign policy factor for voters to weigh, given that a president will inevitably be expected to react to events that were unforeseen during his or her campaign. But it is troubling that so little attention has been paid to the issue of foreign policy, and that so little is known about what both of these candidates plan to do should they become president. This is particularly so for Sanders, whose limited foreign policy record doesn’t even give us much from which to extrapolate. Foreign policy is important, obviously, but it’s also one of the few areas where a Democratic president will be able to actually accomplish anything, in the face of a Congress that will likely be at least partly controlled by a resistant Republican Party.

With all that in mind, then, what can we make of Bernie Sanders’s foreign policy positions, particularly with respect to the Middle East? Let’s examine his views on six major issues: Israel-Palestine, the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and climate change.

Israel-Palestine

In contrast to his consistently left-wing views on many issues of domestic importance, Sanders’s positions on Israel-Palestine have evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view) from heterodox support for an independent Palestinian state to a far more politically mainstream, generally pro-Israel stance.

In 1988, when Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he called for the United States to use its influence to “demand that these countries sit down and talk about a reasonable settlement which will guarantee Israel’s sovereignty, which must be guaranteed, but will begin to deal with the rights of Palestinian refugees.” In 1991, then-Congressman Sanders voted in favor of withholding tens of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel unless it agreed to stop settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza.

Indeed, Politico reported recently that due to Sanders’s past support for an independent Palestinian state, his past criticism of Israel, and some of his recent remarks on Iran (see below), “Sanders is still not considered an ally by Washington’s pro-Israel community.” In 2014, Sanders was one of only 21 senators who refused to co-sponsor a lopsided Senate resolution that condemned Hamas’s role in the 2014 Israel-Gaza war while saying nothing about the massive Palestinian suffering caused by Israeli bombing. Certainly compared to Clinton, whose ties to pro-Israel mega-donor Haim Saban are well known, Sanders is not a favorite of the AIPAC crowd.

However, Sanders has never strayed all that far from the traditional American policy of support for a two-state solution, and in recent years his criticism of Israel seems to have been muted. His 2014 vote notwithstanding, Sanders defended, even in the face of hostile constituents, the country’s incredibly destructive bombing campaign in Gaza. More recently, in October, the Sanders campaign removed a pro-Palestinian student activist group from one of its rallies, although it later apologized for having done so.

Sanders’s more moderate recent views on Israel, although probably not costing him much support, are out of step with those of his mostly young supporters. Polls show that American support for Israel is lowest among young people.

The Islamic State

On the one foreign policy issue that Democratic voters care about, Sanders has offered little that differs from Clinton or the Obama administration.

He opposes the direct engagement of U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS, but then again so do Clinton and Obama (although Obama’s deployment of special operations forces arguably contradicts his words). Instead, like Clinton, Sanders has argued that a regional coalition, with American support, must confront ISIS. In a speech in November, Sanders laid out this philosophy. Here’s how CBS reported it:

“A new and strong coalition of Western powers, Muslim nations, and countries like Russia must come together in a strongly coordinated way to combat ISIS, to seal the borders that fighters are currently flowing across, to share counter-terrorism intelligence, to turn off the spigot of terrorist financing, and to end support for exporting radical ideologies,” the Vermont senator said Thursday during an address at Georgetown University.

Sanders pointed specifically to counties like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates — “countries of enormous wealth and resources” — to join the coalition.

“Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them,” he added. “As we develop a strongly coordinated effort, we need a commitment from these countries that the fight against ISIS takes precedence over the religious and ideological differences that hamper the kind of cooperation that we desperately need.”

One can take issue with some of the details in Sanders’s speech. For example, “turn[ing] off the spigot of terrorist financing” is more relevant to fighting a network like al-Qaeda than a state-like entity such as ISIS, which derives a large portion of its financing from “taxing” (or, more accurately, extorting) money from the people living in the territories it controls.

But what really sticks out here is that Sanders isn’t really offering anything new, or any plans to achieve what the Obama administration hasn’t. Washington has been trying to build a regional coalition, but the disparate elements that would need to come together for such a coalition to really succeed — Turkey; the Kurds; Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies; Iran; the various factions fighting the Syrian, Yemeni, and Libyan civil wars; Iraq’s sectarian militias and its Shiite-dominated government; Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, and so on — are too focused on fighting each other to worry about fighting ISIS.

How would President Sanders overcome those challenges? It’s not clear — though, to be fair, it’s not clear how any American president could.

Syria

With all due respect to the chaos and suffering caused by the ongoing civil wars in Yemen and Libya — both of which ISIS is exploiting — Syria’s civil war has been far more critical to the group’s rise. Negotiating an end to that war is not only a humanitarian imperative but essential to the mission of weakening and ultimately eliminating ISIS as a threat.

A President Sanders would indeed approach this conflict somewhat differently from a President Clinton. In the past several weeks, Clinton has suggested on multiple occasions that the United States and its coalition partners should institute a no-fly zone over Syria, a policy that, if enacted, would put the U.S. at risk of a military confrontation with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Russian patrons. Sanders opposes the idea of a no-fly zone, as does President Obama and the Pentagon. They argue that imposing a no-fly zone would be risky and require large numbers of those ground troops that Clinton doesn’t want to involve.

Apart from the dispute over the no-fly zone, however, Sanders hasn’t said much about what he would do to try to bridge the seemingly unbridgeable divide between Syrian rebels (backed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Gulf states) and Assad (backed by Iran and Russia) over Syria’s (and specifically Assad’s) political future. Absent some kind of breakthrough on that front, negotiating an end to the war will be all but impossible. Again, it’s not entirely clear what any president could actually do in this regard.

Iran

The contrast between Clinton and Sanders is a bit starker on Iran.

Sanders has argued that “what we’ve got to do is move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran.” This is virtually the same sentiment that President Obama has expressed on a number of occasions.

Sanders didn’t call for opening an embassy in Tehran tomorrow. Literally, he said “Can I tell that we should open an embassy in Tehran tomorrow? No, I don’t think we should.” But that didn’t stop the Clinton campaign from distorting his remarks in precisely that way in order to attack his supposed “naivety.” Clinton made virtually the same argument, in a similarly misleading way, about Barack Obama’s naivety during the 2008 primary, and yet Clinton now counts the nuclear deal, a fruit of Obama’s willingness to negotiate even with “enemies,” as a diplomatic success.

During a debate in November, Sanders did say that “the Muslim nations in the region — Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan — all of these nations, they’re going to have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground. They are going to have to take on ISIS.” This could be construed as a call for more Iranian involvement in Syria, even though Iran and the U.S. — to say nothing of Iran and the Saudis or Turkey — are on opposite sides when it comes to Assad’s future. But the context makes it pretty clear that this was just a restatement of his (very vague) “coalition” program to combat ISIS, not (despite the Clinton campaign’s spin) a comment in favor of Iran’s current role in Syria.

Saudi Arabia

Sanders, perhaps reflecting an uncertainty about the nuances of Middle Eastern regional politics, has spoken frequently of the need for countries like Saudi Arabia to get more involved in Syria and in the anti-ISIS fight.

But as Vox’s Zack Beauchamp writes, the Saudis and their fellow Gulf states have arguably done too much on both fronts, aiding some of the most extreme elements within the Syrian rebellion and helping to create the chaos on which ISIS thrives. Asking these countries to “put some skin in the game,” as Sanders has done, misses the point entirely. They have been putting skin in the game — and that’s part of the problem. To be fair, Sanders has pointed out that “we have concerns about Saudi Arabia,” but that may be the understatement of the campaign.

In general, Sanders appears to have an odd soft spot for Middle Eastern autocrats that contrasts with his message of leftist populism. Also in that November debate, he referred to Jordan’s King Abdullah as “one of the few heroes in a very unheroic place.” Abdullah is an absolute monarch who, although not as repressive as, say, the Saudi regime, has been cited by international NGOs for suppressing freedom of expression within Jordan. Sanders’s affection for Abdullah is not as disconcerting as many Republicans’ love for Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, but it’s still a bit troubling.

Climate Change

The impact of climate change on issues like food prices and migration is one of the contributing factors behind Arab Spring protests in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, upheavals that in hindsight have caused far more instability and suffering than they’ve alleviated. Further rises in food prices and the onset of water shortages will likely contribute to more instability in the decades to come. Sanders has been explicit in acknowledging the link between climate change and national security. But sheer voter indifference has meant that neither his campaign nor Clinton’s has spent a great deal of time on the issue.

Derek Davison is a Washington-based researcher and writer on international affairs and American politics.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus
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Related video added by Juan Cole:

DMRegister: “Sanders on foreign policy and the Middle East”

Pentagon, running out of Smart Bombs, will Double anti-ISIL Budget

Thu, 4 Feb 2016 - 12:59am

TeleSur | – –

Despite the deep social and economic issues President Barack Obama is confronted with, military expenditure was conceived as a priority.

The Pentagon plans to spend four more times in [Europe] defense in 2017 than in 2016 in order to have sufficient military capability to support to its European NATO allies, the U.S. government revealed Tuesday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said his department would seek a US$582.7 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1, arguing the country had entered a new strategic era.

“Today’s security environment is dramatically different than the one we’ve been engaged with for the last 25 years and it requires new ways of thinking and new ways of acting,” he said to an audience at the Economic Club of Washington.

Since Crimeans voted to reunify with Russia in 2014, the Pentagon has considered Moscow a growing security challenge.

“We should make clear that America will stand firm with its allies in defending not just NATO territory but also shared principles of international law and order,” said Carter.

The Pentagon will use the massive extra cash to quadruple military spending in the Baltic region, where they will channel US$3.4 billion. This fiscal year, the Pentagon has set aside US$789 million for that area. The sum will mainly be used to boost military training.

As well as Russia, China has also been included in what Washington calls growing security challenges, which, in Carter’s opinion, legitimizes the Pentagon’s significant investment of US$71.4 billion in research and development against alleged threats.

“Key to our approach is being able to deter our most advanced competitors,” Carter said. “We must have—and be seen to have—the ability to impose unacceptable costs on an advanced aggressor.”

Last but not least, the U.S. military budget allocated to fight the Islamic State group will double next year, reaching US$7.5 billion.

Carter explained that the U.S. was running out of smart bombs and laser-guided rockets, which have been used abundantly against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, adding they will allocate US$1.8 billion to 45,000 more.

However, the total increase in next year’s budget is considered insufficient by Republican lawmakers, who said President Barack Obama had failed to use the authority he has to further boost war funding this year, as he only asked for US$60 billion.

“The president’s response to a security environment that is quickly degrading is to further cannibalize (meaning reducing to minimum) our military capability,” Representative Mac Thornberry, the chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

The final 2017 budget will be formally announced next week.

Via TeleSur

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

DoD News: “Carter Outlines Five Challenges for Budget Planning”

Israel Continues to Spray Crop-killing Chemicals on Gaza Farmlands; Cancer Fears

Thu, 4 Feb 2016 - 12:11am

By IMEMC | – –

Israeli planes have reportedly sprayed chemical substances on farmlands across the besieged Gaza Strip, killing off the crops in the already impoverished Palestinian territory.

Several farmers informed that Israeli planes had sprayed their lands with pesticides, in the area between (Kissufim, and Srij) east of al-Qarara village, northeast of Khan Younis, according to Al Ray correspondence.

Witnesses pointed out that the Israeli occupation aircraft were spraying pesticides inside the border fence, and were hovering on low level .

The continuing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is putting the lives of people at risk, taking a heavy toll on the enclave’s agriculture sector.

Farmers are struggling to meet growing demands of 1.8 million Gazans who are living in the tight grip of the Israeli siege. They face many challenges due to shortages in farming equipment and more importantly, approved pesticides.

Due to the decline in production and Israel’s ban on the entry of basic commodities, Gazan farmers have resorted to the use of banned chemical substances to maximize crop yield. This poses a serious health hazard to both farmers and their consumers.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has expressed concerns over the excessive use of toxic pesticides by Gaza farmers.

Many medical experts in Gaza are worried about a rise in the number of registered Gazan cancer patients, especially in the agricultural areas.

They warn that children are more susceptible to diseases, such as leukemia, than adults in such regions.

Related: Israeli Army Admits Destroying Crops in Gaza

The Gaza Strip has been under Israel’s blockade since June 2007. The crippling siege has caused a decline in living standards as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment and unrelenting poverty.

Israel launched its latest war on the Gaza Strip in early July of last year. Nearly 2,200 Palestinians, including 577 children, were killed in Israel’s 50-day onslaught. Over 11,100 others – including 3,374 children, 2,088 women and 410 elderly people – were also injured.

Via IMEMC

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: “‘Gaza to be unlivable by 2020”

Gazans Are Struggling to Stay Warm This Winter (AJ+)

Wed, 3 Feb 2016 - 12:00pm

Al Jazeera+ gives viewers a look into the daily lives of people living in the Gaza Strip. Israeli policy has led to interesting adaptations by the Gazans.

Is the future Socialist? Bernie Sanders swept 84% of the Youth Vote in Iowa

Wed, 3 Feb 2016 - 4:34am

TeleSur | – –

Sanders captured the youth vote in Iowa. However, youth voter turnout was down 4 percent from when President Barack Obama ran in 2008.

In what the Iowa Democratic Party is calling its closest-ever vote, there is one demographic that was far from close: young voters. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders swept the under-30 demographic, winning 84 percent of their votes, and 54 percent of 30-45-years-olds.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, did well among older voters, CBS reports, winning 58 percent of 45 to 64-year-olds and 69 percent of those over 65.

Overall, the vote was a virtual tie, with both candidates receiving over 49.5 percent. Clinton’s 0.3 percent lead will translate into 699.57 state delegate equivalents to Sanders’ 695.49. Under-30 voter turnout failed to reach 2008 levels when President Barack Obama first ran for office. Had youth voter turnout matched 2008 levels, which accounted for 22 percent of the vote, Sanders would have won Iowa.

Nevertheless, Sanders is calling for a raw vote count and that the counts still to take place in Iowa take place in an “honest” manner.

Via TeleSur

—–

TeleSur: ” Bernie Sanders Sweeps 84% of Youth in Iowa”

The Final Breakup of Iraq? Barzani calls for Kurdistan Referendum

Wed, 3 Feb 2016 - 4:26am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani, has called for an immediate non-binding referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan over whether its people want to secede from Iraq and form an independent Kurdish state.

A delegation from the KRG visited Baghdad yesterday, as well, headed by Barzani’s son.

Rudaw satellite television reported, according to BBC Monitoring,

“1.0130 Iraqi PM Haydar al-Abadi tells Kurdistan Region delegation headed by PM Nechirvan Barzani that there is no enough funds to assist the region in financial crisis; Abadi does not approve referendum in Kurdistan Region on independency; Abadi has asked the delegation for assisting Iraqi government in the liberation process of Nineveh Governorate.”

So the Baghdad government immediately said no to this referendum. But it could not offer any funds to Iraqi Kurdistan (because of the collapse of oil prices), and pleaded for the help of the Peshmerga in liberating Mosul from Daesh. No wonder Barzani feels in a strong position a the moment!

In summer of 2014, after Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) took Mosul and detached northern and western Iraq from the rule of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, Kurdistan Regional Government head Masoud Barzani called for a referendum “within 6 months” on the independence of Kurdistan. His argument was that his region no longer had a border with Iraq proper, only with Daesh, and that since Iraq de facto lay in pieces, the Kurds’ own aspirations may as well be achieved.

US President Barack Obama appears to have prevailed on Barzani to put away those plans for a referendum, in return for US air support in the struggle of the Peshmerga (the Kurdistan national guard) against Daesh. We haven’t heard much about the referendum until Tuesday.

It may be that Barzani now feels strong enough to buck the US (which is inclined to defend the national interest of allies in Baghdad and Ankara despite Washington’s close working relationship with the KRG). The US and Baghdad need the Peshmerga for the planned offensive against Daesh in Mosul later this year or early next, and perhaps Barzani is counting on being cut slack for that reason.

Turkey is extremely threatened by the specter of Kurdish nationalism and separatism, since it has a large Kurdish population of its own in eastern Anatolia and could be dismembered by a South Sudan scenario. Iran is also worried about Kurdish separatism, since it has its own province of Kurdistan, where some 4 million people live. Damascus is too weak to do anything about it, but it too would be opposed to an independent Kurdistan. Syrian Kurds in any case say they want a loose federal state in Syria where their Rojava or Kurdish super-province would have substantial states rights.

Barzani said Tuesday that now is the time for such a referendum: “The time has come and the conditions are appropriate now for the Kurdish people to take a decision via referendum regarding its future.” He added, “The referendum does not mean announcing the establishment of a state, but rather means that we would know the will and opinion of the people regarding independence. The Kurdish political leadership must implement the will of the people at the right tie and under the appropriate conditions.”

Al-Hayat points out that in recent years Iraqi Kurdistan has attempted to reinforce its semi-autonomy from the national Iraqi government via an oil pipeline through Turkey through which it can export petroleum independently of Baghdad.

Barzani said, “If the Kurdish people wait until someone else comes to offer them the right to self-determination, as a bestowal on them, then independence will never be achieved.”

Rudaw news agency reports his further remarks:

“It is clear to all that this region and Kurdistan in particular was divided without regard to the will of its indigenous people which in turn led to a hundred years of troubles, war, denial and instability. . . Those who caused this division know very well what a big mistake they made, but they are not ready to admit their political failure of the last one hundred years . . . It is not fair to discard the rights of the Kurdish people for political reasons or to appease others. Would they allow themselves to stop the rights of their own people? Kurdistan has every geographic, historic and human factor just as Scotland, Catalonia, Quebec and others do. The same way people in those places have the right to decide their future the Kurds too have that right and this is not open to argument.”

Al-Hayat says that Barzani’s critics are charging that his call for a referendum is a stunt whereby he is seeking to unite the very divided Kurds behind him. Barzani’s term as president actually ended last year, but no new elections have been held and he continues to cling to power.

Canada offers world example in integrating Syrian refugees

Wed, 3 Feb 2016 - 2:08am

By Sarantis Michalopoulos | ( EurActiv.com ) | – –

While EU politicians are still bickering over their share of the burden of refugees in Europe, Canada is seeking ways to rapidly integrate 25,000 Syrians into its society.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels last week, David Manicom, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada, explained how his country managed to address the refugee crisis by building up permanent structures and institutions.

The government in Ottawa is committed to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February 2016. The number is small compared to the number of people arriving in Europe, but the total population of the North American country is only around 36 million.

Currently, Canada has accepted more than 13,000 Syrian refugees on its soil and the rest of the 12,000 are expected at the end of the month – while by the end of 2016 the country is planning to host between 35,000 and 40,000 refugees.

The Canadian “philosophy’

Manicom noted that the issue of successful integration of refugees in Canada is important in terms of respecting the country’s values.

“We take integration very seriously. We want to be respectful of people’s tradition, but we are a democratic society […] women should be treated equally in society and workplace,” he noted, adding that the Syrian population is quite diverse.

He continued, saying that all refugees have support services available to help them learn English and French, and prepare for employment.

“Behind refugee resettlement for Canada, a fundamental philosophy is the integration into employment and communities […] it’s the best way to build communities.”

Screening abroad

The Canadian official said his country is in close coordination with the governments of Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

There are special reception centers in Montreal and Toronto receiving 400-500 refugees everyday by aircraft.

All the security, medical and other screening take place “abroad” with the cooperation of the International Organization for Migration and other logistical organisations to deliver orientation services before the refugees depart.

Every refugee is, also, interviewed in detail by specialised visa officers and comes through a thorough security check.

Upon their arrival in Canada, the refugees become permanent residents, and therefore, can travel freely in the country.

Regarding their distribution within the country, Manicom said that the main objective is to avoid putting a family in an isolated situation.

“If we can bring two brothers in one city, there is no reason not to do it,” he stressed.

Private sponsorship

Private sponsorship is a key element for the refugee resettlement programme of Canada, which can be supported by individuals or organisations offering help for housing, clothing and food.

A number of organizations have signed sponsorship agreements with the Government of Canada to help support refugees from abroad when they resettle in Canada.

These organizations are known as sponsorship agreement holders. They can sponsor refugees themselves or work with others in the community to sponsor refugees. Most sponsorship agreement holders are religious, ethnic, community or service organizations.

Another rapidly growing and promising for the future model is the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program.

“It’s a 50-50 cost sharing arrangement between the government and the private sector,” he said.

The goal of this programme is to engage in a three-way partnership among the Government of Canada, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and private sponsors.

The UNHCR identifies the refugees, the Government of Canada provides up to 6 months of income support through a Resettlement Assistance Program, while private sponsors provide another 6 months of financial support and up to a year of social and emotional support.

Last but not least, is the Syrian Family Links initiative. Through this initiative, Syrians in Canada can identify family members who are refugees in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey and help link them with local sponsorship groups in Canada who are seeking someone to sponsor.

Safe pathways

Asked by EurActiv to comment on the current refugee crisis deadlock in Europe, the Canadian official said that it would not be appropriate to have a strong opinion, but noted:

“There is one clear lesson: If you don’t provide safe and legal pathways people will pursue dangerous and illegal pathways.”

He explained, though, that this was a huge challenge and a difficult task for the political leaders.

The official added that Canada was a federal state and had the experience of reaching the consensus for the refugee programmes.

Manicom underlined that throughout history immigration has never stopped and, thus, permanent structures need to be created in order to address it.

“The international community has dealt with many immigration flows in many parts of this world […] the current refugee crisis is of large scale but not larger than the scale of Afghanistan,” he stated.

Via EurActiv.com; by Sarantis Michalopoulos

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AJ+: “First Canadian Winter For Refugee Kids”

Could Saudi Arabia’s grip on oil prices bring Russia to its knees?

Wed, 3 Feb 2016 - 1:04am

James Henderson | (The Conversation) | – –

When Saudi Arabia led an OPEC decision to end a restraint put on oil production in November 2014, it marked the beginning of a new era in oil economics. It has given us a tumbling oil price, prompted huge losses and job cuts at oil firms like BP and might yet give us economic and political drama in the heart of Moscow. To understand why, it’s worth drilling down to the start of the whole process, and the costs of getting oil out of the ground in the first place.

Historically, the OPEC cartel of oil-producing nations has been able to manage oil prices because of the lack of flexibility in global supply. The whole business of setting up wells, operating pipelines and building rigs entails large and long-term investments which makes producers slow to respond to price movements. And a small cut in OPEC supply can have a significant impact on the global oil price.

The advent of the US shale oil boom changed this dynamic. The industry has lower fixed costs but higher variable costs and is more like an industrial process than a major one-off investment. That makes it more responsive to price movements and more flexible in adjusting short-term output.

Overall though, shale is a relatively high cost source of oil, especially compared to Middle East production. As a result, when US shale threatened OPEC’s market share, the cartel allowed a position of global oversupply to develop. It was a simple trick: make oil prices fall to make shale unprofitable.

The chart below is a useful guide to how production costs stack up as production heads towards 100m barrels a day (which is pretty much where we are now). Focus on the blue square in the bottom left, which shows onshore Middle East production costs at as little as US$10 a barrel, while US shale (the purple block) can come in at more than US$70.

Rigged game

The plan to cripple shale oil production has certainly had a significant effect. The price of benchmark Brent oil has fallen from a high of US$115 a barrel in mid-2014 to a low of US$27 in January 2016.

However, the reaction of producers to this collapse, in particular in the shale fields of the US, hasn’t been as dramatic as you might think; business has carried on. What is evident is that supply continues to outstrip demand and, according to the International Energy Agency, will carry on doing so throughout 2016, putting even more pressure on the oil price.

Oil supply and demand projections for 2016 in millions of barrels a day.
IEA Oil Market Report January 2016, Author provided

So, why haven’t US producers been laid low given that the oil price has already fallen below the cost of shale oil production? There are a number of answers. The first is that many companies managed to hedge their production when prices were higher, selling future supplies of oil at a high enough price keep profits coming in. A second is that many got bank loans to pay for investment. Loans need to be repaid, and so lower oil prices led to a need for higher output at almost any price.

A third, and important reason, is that the cost of US shale production has decreased thanks to efficiency gains, a focus on the most productive regions and a drive to sharply reduce costs. In some regions the cost of production has hit as low as US$30 a barrel.

Russia pressure

Low-cost producers have troubles of their own. Oil revenues are a major plank of many countries’ budgets. Oil exports account for over 60% of export revenues, on average, for OPEC countries and account for as much as 90% of Saudi budget revenues. In Russia they account for around half of total federal budget revenues and a similar amount of total exports. Any fall in prices can lead to both fiscal and budget deficits.

Time for another chart then, which shows the “fiscal breakeven” oil price per barrel for a variety of producers. The key observation is that all are above US$60 per barrel, with Saudi Arabia and Russia at around US$100.

Fiscal breakeven oil prices per barrel.
IMF, Deutsche Bank, Author provided

Despite this apparent pressure, the gap between breakeven and actual price can be sustained – at least for a while. Both Saudi Arabia and Russia have built up significant currency reserves during the period of high prices which are now being used to finance a budget deficit and sustain spending.

Russia though is reaching the limits of its reserves (at the current rate of spending the funds allocated to deal with a low oil price will be exhausted by early 2017). Currency devaluation is a blunt tool for Russia and others to consider, but it too can help by reducing costs in dollar terms.

That said, a tipping point may now have been reached. The bankruptcy of US oil producers has begun as banks begin to call in loans, new financing gets harder to find and hedging programmes expire, leaving producers fully exposed to a lower oil price. Many OPEC countries have begun to despair that no end of the current oil price slump is in sight. And perhaps most interesting of all, it appears that Russia is becoming increasingly desperate to coordinate a production cut with OPEC, in stark contrast to its previous reluctance to engage with the cartel.

It may just be, then, that a US$30 oil price has brought many producers to their knees, with the resulting possibility that the majority of OPEC countries, plus Russia and the US, may all be set to reduce output in 2016 and bring the oil market back into some form of balance. Only Saudi Arabia, with the largest financial reserves (about US$600 billion at the last count) and an avowed strategy to maintain market share, appears firm in its resolve to maintain production and brutally test the economic robustness of its major competitors.

James Henderson, Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews Business: “Russia to talk to OPEC about pumping less oil to boost prices”

“Ai Weiwei Will Not Let You Forget About Europe’s Refugee Crisis (AJ+)”

Wed, 3 Feb 2016 - 12:24am

AJ+ | (video News report) | – –

Ai Weiwei reminds the world about the ongoing refugee crisis sparked by a mass exodus of peoples from Syria, who are fleeing a land mired in conflict.

1. Report by Al Jazeera+

See also:

2. Channel 4 News:

“Sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei say they’re disappointed with the response so far – and called for more imagination and humanity.”

Channel 4 News: “Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor walk to help refugees”

Palestinians Need a Strategy & it must Achieve their Rights

Wed, 3 Feb 2016 - 12:21am

By: Amal Ahmad | al-Shabaka | Ma’an News Agency | – –

The Palestinian people began the New Year facing a bleak political situation, with a weak and compromised leadership, a geographically and administratively fragmented people, and a civil society increasingly marked by individualism and loss of political anchor. The state-building project that promised so much in the 1980s and 1990s is fast losing adherents – a recent poll revealed that nearly two-thirds of Palestinians no longer believe it is practical even though 137 countries now recognize Palestine. Yet little has emerged by way of an alternative political goal that enjoys popular support.

This commentary argues that the current political weakness of the Palestinian people derives in large part from the absence of strategic thinking, despite some organized efforts in this regard including by the Palestine Strategy Group and Masarat, for example. Yet it is vital that Palestinians strategize with or without the political factions within and outside the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO): Without a clear and agreed strategy, some of the tools and tactics being adopted risk draining energies and proving ineffective or producing unwanted results.

Advancing Strategic Analysis

Sound strategic thinking rests on an accurate assessment of the existing political environment, including the opportunities and challenges both internally and externally. For Palestinians, it is particularly vital to accurately assess the strategies of the Israeli state because it is the stronger party that largely defines the scope and direction of the conflict. It can be argued that a main reason Oslo was a political disaster was because Palestinian leaders, incompetent and desperate for a solution, took at face value Israel’s professed interest in the creation of a Palestinian state and worked towards that political goal. This miscalculation and the concessions that followed have proven catastrophic for the bargaining power of Palestinians, for their unity, and for their ability to formulate a cohesive national strategy.

It is past time to recognize that Palestinians are in a no-state solution in which Israel hopes to contain them for as long as it takes to achieve its ultimate vision. That vision is one of different (and greater) rights for Jews versus non-Jews, with a Jewish majority in the land under its direct control. The Israeli strategy for the fulfillment of its vision has been largely consistent since it occupied the Palestinian territory in 1967: To contain Palestinians by rejecting final status arrangements, whether Palestinian sovereignty in two states or equal rights in a single bi-national state. I have argued previously that the de facto customs union imposed by Israel on the Palestinians is a concrete illustration of Israel’s intention to maintain this no-state solution. Palestinian actions, resistance, and any future negotiations should be informed by this reality.

Given that Israel’s strategy is predicated upon fulfilling rights for Jewish Israelis and settlers and limiting them for Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the occupied territories, then a Palestinian rights-based strategy could be particularly effective in exposing and challenging Israel’s plans. In such a strategy the Palestinian political goal would shift from statehood, an unrealized project that obfuscates Israel’s strategy on the ground, to a struggle for human rights — political, civil, economic, social, and cultural. Palestinian rights may be achieved in a number of national arrangements, one or two states or a confederation.

Besides confronting the Israeli national project at its core, a Palestinian rights-based strategy offers several distinct advantages. It provides a set of guiding principles for the struggle; it narrows the differences between Palestinians in the occupied territories and within Israel; and it resonates with an international discourse on rights and anti-racism that is very difficult to dismiss, helping to forge strong alliances in support of the struggle.

Any successful strategy must not only accurately assess Israel’s motives and identify the weak points in its armor; it must also garner consensus in the Palestinian community. This is a difficult challenge, in part because of the fragmentation of the Palestinian people but also because of the deep attachment to the idea of a Palestinian nation state despite the unrealized two-state solution. It is therefore important to try to reconcile a politically sound strategy with Palestinian nationalist sentiment to the extent possible. Arguments for a rights-based approach, for example, may need to emphasize that relinquishing the focus on statehood does not mean relinquishing ties to the land and to examine the ways in which the narrow conflation of nationhood with statehood can be transcended.

Adopting Tactics for Results

The fastest, safest, and most efficient way to promote a national strategy is through a more representative — and effective — political system. In the absence of prospects for effective and non-compromised leadership within the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) or for the Palestinian people at large, this becomes a difficult task. In the interim, Palestinians can draw on some of the tools developed by existing institutions and networks in Palestinian and global civil society to advance strategic thinking and action, with the hope that steps in the right direction will hasten or complement the formation of a new leadership.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement remains the most powerful civic tool for framing the Palestinian struggle in the language of rights and for challenging Israel’s repression on the basis of apartheid. BDS is well known for the costs it regularly exacts on the occupation, but the movement’s far greater importance lies in the philosophy and the vision it provides. It offers a discourse that many Palestinians can relate to, that the world can empathize with, and that does not get stuck in the labyrinthine discussion of solutions and endgames. It also goes straight to the heart of Israel’s vision for the region; Netanyahu was not being dramatic when he dubbed the BDS movement a “strategic threat” to the Israeli national project given its racist and colonial-settler form. Even though the BDS campaign faces limitations within the occupied territories due to the OPT’s structural dependency on the Israeli economy, the fact that the language of rights is becoming more mainstream is an encouraging sign. Adopting the discourse of BDS and launching BDS campaigns on campuses and in local councils, business boards and other institutions is a concrete step to helping Palestinians resist apartheid and move closer to realizing human rights.

Palestinians can also capitalize on existing legal frameworks that directly address human rights and the rule of law. Legal tools already available to the Palestinian people include the International Court of Justice’s 2004 advisory opinion on the Separation Wall, which reinforces the international consensus that settlements are illegal under international law. Such tools can be leveraged to point out to third states that their involvement with Israel compromises their legal authority and to demand that these states uphold international law by suspending trade or treaties with Israel so long as it maintains its apartheid regime. Palestine’s membership of the International Criminal Court may also offer tools to challenge Israel’s human rights violations, but it is important to be realistic and to continue to marshal international support.

Within the OPT, cycles of confrontation with the occupier also help to break the monopoly over politics held by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and may help to hasten and legitimize the search for alternative strategies. The recurrent waves of anger redefine the relationship of Palestinians to the Israeli state as one of conflict rather than “understanding” and often openly call for a cancelation of the Oslo Accords. While, as noted in a recent Al-Shabaka roundtable, the ability of these waves to achieve political goals is very limited due to weak organizational capacity as well as to backlash from the PA and Israel, they still provide a radical discourse shift and serve to unify, if only symbolically, the message of Palestinians.

Crucially, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who have been marginalized by the PLO and the PA in the search for statehood, would stand front and center of a rights-based approach. Indeed, this explicitly underpins their struggle for justice and equal rights within Israel. Moreover, their close contact and familiarity with the Israeli state and their accumulated struggles within it represent a major source of strategic understanding that other Palestinians can tap. Some have not only noted that this is a still underutilized source of Palestinian agency but have even argued that, with the formation of the Joint List, the Palestinian people should look to the Palestinian political parties in Israel for leadership. Palestinians in the occupied territories, in refugee camps, and in the Diaspora would do well to more seriously examine the links they can forge with their counterparts “inside” and to adapt some of those experiences and tactics to their domestic environment, where possible and appropriate.

At the same time, and as noted above, the lack of a strategy poses risks in terms of not knowing what type of tools and tactics to avoid. Although recognition of Palestine as a state opened the door to the ICC, rallying for membership as an observer state at the UN or for verbal recognition of statehood by third states carries serious risks. It conceals the reality that Israel’s strategy is to make such a state impossible. It also validates the defunct model of Oslo and undercuts the argument that Israel is responsible for the rights of the population it occupies and oppresses. Other risk-laden tactics include mobilizing for elections for the Palestinian National Council, a body that has had limited effectiveness. Nor are democratic elections that enshrine the rule of undemocratic parties or that occur amid an absence of a national strategy particularly desirable.

Similarly, the institution-building approach adopted in recent years, by which aid is funneled into a purported state-building project, has proven fragile and unrealistic. Instead, it must be recognized that Israel’s current strategy of containment prevents not only an independent Palestinian state but also a viable Palestinian economy. More work is needed on the ways in which the no-state solution keeps the Palestinian economy dependent, unproductive, and structurally backward. At the same time, it remains critically important to provide jobs for Palestinians not as development under false pretenses but to support steadfastness and to keep Palestinians in Palestine.

To sum up, the issue is not whether certain tools and tactics are good or bad in principle but whether they directly confront or actively obscure the existing political reality and whether they advance or hinder a specific strategy meant to address that reality. This brief discussion is offered as a contribution to the process of identifying such a strategy, one that can unite the Palestinian people behind a struggle that effectively challenges Israel’s vision for an apartheid regime.

The views expressed in this article are the authors and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.

This analysis was originally published by Al-Shabaka, an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law.

Amal Ahmad is an Al-Shabaka Policy Member and Palestinian economic researcher. Amal interned at the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute in Ramallah before completing a Master’s degree in development economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Her work focuses on fiscal and monetary relations between Israel and Palestine; she is also interested in the political economy of development in the broader Middle East.

Via Ma’an News Agency
——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Middle East Monitor: “Palestinian member of Knesset speaks out against Israel’s crackdown on Arab citizens”

Foreign Policy Winners and Losers in Iowa

Tue, 2 Feb 2016 - 4:36am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Iowa Caucus voters likely voted mainly on domestic policy issues, though security and terrorism have been a big part of the campaigns as well. Now that the smoke is clearing, it is worth considering the foreign policy implications of the winners of the primary.

Iowan conservatives awarded the victory to Ted Cruz. Cruz has pledged to carpet-bomb eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq to get at Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), leveling e.g. Mosul (a city, in 2013, of 2 million, i.e. the size of Houston). Cruz also hinted that he might drop a nuclear bomb on eastern Syria (he wondered if the desert sands would glow thereafter). The population of al-Raqqa Province in eastern Syria before the rise of Daesh was roughly 900,000, of whom I figure a good half have fled the brutal rule of the phony ‘caliphate’. The province is thinly populated. The capital, also called al-Raqqa, probably had a population of 220,000 before Daesh took it. My guess is that at least half the people have run away. In any case, a nuclear bomb would kill everyone left in al-Raqqa and the radioactive fallout will likely land on Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey– American allies.

On the other hand, Cruz is sanguine about allowing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to remain in power.

So Iowans chose the Mad Bomber over everyone else.

The second place was taken by that yuuuge loser, Donald J. Trump. Me, I like people who don’t come in second place. Trump advocates turning Syria over to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump wants to start major trade wars with Mexico and China. He wants to abrogate the Iran deal and take over Middle Eastern oil from its owners. He will charge Saudi Arabia for supplying it with an American security umbrella.

Third place went to Marco Rubio.

Marco Rubio has said of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), “This group needs to be confronted and defeated. They are not going to go away on their own. They’re not going to turn into stockbrokers overnight or open up a chain of car washes. They need to be defeated militarily, and that will take overwhelming U.S. force. ” He insults Iran’s Shiite Islam.” Rubio wants to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as soon as possible. Rubio wants to exclude Syrian refugees from the US, except for Christians, orphans and the elderly.

Rubio’s major backer is corrupt Likudnik casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who also gave us Bibi Netanyahu, so he would further crush and immiserate the Palestinians.

They gave fourth place to Dr. Ben Carson. It is genuinely difficult to know what Carson’s policies are, since he is a confused conspiracy nut. I mean moreso than the first three. But anyway he is not going to be president.

Neither in all likelihood are the first three. They’ve alienated the Latinos, African-Americans, women, gays, non-religious, youth, and other major constituencies. To win they would have to get the three million votes out there that Mitt Romney couldn’t. Instead they’ve chased those 3 million away again plus lots of others. Romney would have done worse if Latino youth had voted in greater numbers (as they did in 2008), and the word is that Trump has galvanized them to register and participate in this one. W. called the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign a “seven-spiral crash.” This one has more spirals.

Iowan Republicans gave short shrift to the least hawkish and interventionist Republican candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, though I argue that he is more hawkish and interventionist than he is typically depicted.

As for the Democrats, whatever the final vote tally they more or less tied. So Iowan Democrats can’t make up their minds between a dovish Sanders who opposes most interventions in the Middle East and the more hawkish Hillary Clinton. But note that both support the Iran nuclear deal and neither would put ground troops into the Middle East. Both are therefore way less hawkish than most of the Republican candidates.

So, to sum up. Iowa Republicans had difficulty making up their minds between crazy and completely insane. More reasonable conservatives like Kasich and Paul were dismissed from the field.

Iowa Democrats just had difficulty making up their minds, though there was a powerful generational divide, with young Dems going for Bernie and those over 45 favoring Hillary. Since, with the exception of 2008, most elections in the US are dominated by older, wealthier voters, that is bad news for Bernie in my view.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBSN: “Ted Cruz delivers victory speech in Iowa”

Fears of Trafficking: 10,000 Refugee Children Missing In Europe

Tue, 2 Feb 2016 - 2:55am

AJ+ | (Video News Report) | —

“At least five children and 34 adult refugees died after their boat capsized off the Turkish coast. But for the children who make it to Europe, life on land is not necessarily safer than the sea.”

AJ+: “10,000 Refugee Children Missing In Europe”

Also-Ran Trump urges Thugs to Knock ‘the Crap’ out of Protesters, will cover Legal Fees

Tue, 2 Feb 2016 - 2:26am

Cenk Uygur | (The Young Turks Video Report) | – –

“Donald Trump has encouraged his followers to commit violence before. Now he’s taking it up a notch, offering to pick up the tab for any lawsuits incurred while beating down protesters. Cenk Uygur, host of the The Young Turks, breaks it down.

“Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told the crowd gathered at his campaign rally on Monday to “knock the crap” out of anybody who threw a tomato at him.

Trump said the event’s security staff told him there was a risk people would throw the juicy fruit.

“So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them,” Trump said at his rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“I will pay for the legal fees. I promise,” he added. “They won’t be so much because the courts agree with us too.”

The Young Turks: “Trump: Knock The Crap Out Of Them, I’ll Pay For Lawsuits”

Iran Dragooning Thousands of Undocumented Afghans as Cannon Fodder in Syria

Tue, 2 Feb 2016 - 2:08am

Human Rights Watch | – –

(New York) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has recruited thousands of undocumented Afghans living there to fight in Syria since at least November 2013, Human Rights Watch said today, and a few have reported that Iranian authorities coerced them. Iran has urged the Afghans to defend Shia sacred sites and offered financial incentives and legal residence in Iran to encourage them to join pro-Syrian government militias.

Human Rights Watch in late 2015 interviewed more than two dozen Afghans who had lived in Iran about recruitment by Iranian officials of Afghans to fight in Syria. Some said they or their relatives had been coerced to fight in Syria and either had later fled and reached Greece, or had been deported to Afghanistan for refusing. One 17-year-old said he had been forced to fight without being given the opportunity to refuse. Others said they had volunteered to fight in Syria in Iranian-organized militias, either out of religious conviction or to regularize their residence status in Iran.

“Iran has not just offered Afghan refugees and migrants incentives to fight in Syria, but several said they were threatened with deportation back to Afghanistan unless they did,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “Faced with this bleak choice, some of these Afghan men and boys fled Iran for Europe.”

Iran hosts an estimated 3 million Afghans, many of whom have fled persecution and repeated bouts of armed conflict in Afghanistan. Only 950,000 have formal legal status in Iran as refugees. The Iranian government has excluded the remainder from accessing asylum procedures, leaving many who may want to seek asylum undocumented or dependent on temporary visas.

Funerals for Afghan fighters killed in Syria are frequently held in Iran, sometimes attended by Iranian officials. While Iran officially claims that thousands of Afghans living in Iran have volunteered to join the militias, their vulnerable legal position in Iran and the fear of deportation may contribute to their decision, making it less than voluntary. Many said that the threat of arrest and forced conscription in Iran was an important contributing factor in their decision to leave Iran.

Among the cases documented by Human Rights Watch are a 17-year-old Afghan boy who was detained in Tehran with his 17-year-old cousin. The first boy was forced to go to military training and then fight in Syria against his will. His cousin, deemed unfit for military service, was deported. Others were two brothers, ages 32 and 20, and a 16-year-old boy, all of whom were detained in Tehran and coerced to fight in Syria or face deportation.

Other Afghans told Human Rights Watch that they had been detained by Iranian authorities and given the choice between deportation and fighting in Syria, and had chosen deportation. Still others said they had volunteered to receive military training or to fight in Syria on Iran’s behalf, although they cited the need to regularize their status in Iran as an important factor in their decision.

While Iranian law allows conscription by the Iranian military, it is limited to Iranian nationals. The conscription of anyone else, including Afghan nationals, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps falls outside the conscription allowed by Iranian law, and is thus arbitrary.

Six of those interviewed said that Iranian forces had trained them or their relatives in military camps near Tehran and Shiraz in 2015, and four had fought in Syria for pro-government militias commanded by Iranian officials. Two of the six had joined voluntarily, while the other four said they or their relatives had been coerced or forced to fight.

They said that based on their own experience fighting in Syria and information from others who had fought in Syria, Afghan fighters organized and commanded by Iranian military officials were fighting in many areas of Syria, including Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Deir al-Zor, Hama, Lattakia, and in areas near the Syrian border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. They said that their Iranian commanders had forced them to conduct dangerous military operations such as advancing against well-entrenched ISIS military positions with only light automatic weapons and without artillery support. They said that in some instances, Iranian commanders threatened to shoot them if they failed to obey orders to advance under fire.

Read the whole thing at Human Rights Watch

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Link to Tolo video news report (Dari Persian only)

After Prisoner Deal, Iranian Nobelist Calls on Tehran to ‘Make Peace With Its Own People’

Tue, 2 Feb 2016 - 1:49am

Global Voices Online/ International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran | – –

While expressing joy at Iran’s recent release of four imprisoned Iranian-Americans, Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi has called on the Iranian government to “make peace with its own people,” now that it has shown the ability to negotiate and compromise with its adversary, the United States.

“The Iranian government has made peace with a country that was its enemy for 37 years and I cannot help wonder why it cannot make peace with its own people,” the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner said in her January 18, 2016, open letter to President Hassan Rouhani.

If the Supreme National Security Council can release a journalist who has been taken hostage as ‘sweetness’ for reconciliation with the US, why can it not release a university professor and a female artist, such as Zahra Rahnavard? If the Judiciary can release Saeed Abedini, whose crime was his religious belief, due to his dual nationality, why does it not take any action to facilitate the release of Mehdi Karroubi whose only crime was to protest [the 2009] election’s results? If Mr. Zarif could negotiate with superpowers, such the US, to release some Iranian businessmen from US prisons, why does he not do the same for prisoners of the 2009 events?

Ebadi, who is the founder of the Center for Supporters of Human Rights, added: “The Supreme Leader, the Judiciary, the Supreme National Security Council and yourself are well aware that in the absence of an independent judiciary, political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are deprived of a fair trial and, in fact, they are held hostage by the security forces.”

Ebadi’s letter was in response to the US-Iranian prisoner exchange on January 16, 2016. The government in Tehran released four Iranian-Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who had been held in prison for 18 months on politicized charges. In return, the US pardoned, and in some cases commuted, the sentences of an Iranian and six Iranian-Americans.

Ebadi criticized President Rouhani’s record on human rights and said in remarks directed at him, “I am sorry that other prisoners who only hold Iranian citizenships should remain in prison. Have you forgotten your oath to preserve the Constitution? Which political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Iran have been tried openly and in the presence of a Jury?”

“I hope the day to make peace with Iranian people will come soon and on the ‘sweetness’ of that day we may witness the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Iran,” she concluded.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, one of Global Voices’ partners, also issued a statement calling on Iran to free the many prisoners of conscience held in Iranian jails for their peaceful activism and beliefs:

Now, many Iranians are asking if Iran’s rulers will ever make peace with their own people, and release hostages held by the security forces, including Omid Kokabee (a young genius), Abdolfattah Soltani (a lawyer), Narges Mohammadi (a civil rights activist), Bahareh Hedayat (a student rights activist), Issa Saharkhiz (a journalist), Saeed Madani (a political activist) and dozens of other prisoners?

A version of this post originally appeared on iranhumanrights.org and was published at Global Voices in collaboration with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Via Global Voices

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Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate