Tag Archives: Israel

Establishing a Truce in the Middle East

Israeli and Hamas negotiators announced an unconditional 72-hour humanitarian cease fire in Gaza, effective from 8am Gaza time Friday. While Israeli forces will remain in Gaza during the ceasefire, both sides have agreed to continue negotiations in Egypt with the goal of reaching a “durable ceasefire.” Two Israeli civilians and 61 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting on the Israeli side. Almost 1,500 Palestinians—mostly civilians—have been killed in Gaza.

Previous efforts to establish a lasting ceasefire have been unsuccessful. Do you think that this effort will be more successful in establishing a lasting truce in Gaza? Why? What conditions are necessary to establish a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East?

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Were the Tel Aviv Flight Restrictions an Embargo?

American and European aviation authorities yesterday issued a directive ordering US and European airlines not to fly to Israel’s David Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. The order was issued after a rocket launched from Gaza landed less than a mile from the airport. Less than a day later, the flight restriction has been lifted. According to some, the Federal Aviation Administration was acting out of an abundance of caution after the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight by pro-Russian separatists operating in eastern Ukraine.

But many critics argued that the flight restrictions represented an effort by the Obama Administration to impose an embargo against Israel. In foreign policy, embargos represent an effort to isolate another country, usually in response to actions to which a country objects. The United States maintains embargos (usually limited to arms and military technology, but sometimes much broader) against 6 countries today. Those against Sudan, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria, are widely publicized. However, the United States continues to maintain an arms embargo against China, imposed in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square indictments of 1989. Embargoes are generally most effective when they are widely enforced by many countries, and because they are diplomatic initiatives, they are generally widely publicized to show a country is taking action.

What do you think? Were the FAA flight restrictions intended to serve as an informal embargo against Israel by the United States? If so, why was the embargo not publicized like most embargoes before it? Could an embargo affect Israel’s military intervention in Gaza? Why?

The Unity Government in Palestine

The Palestinian government welcomed a new unity government, overcoming the longstanding divisions between the two major parties in Palestine, Hamas and Fatah. The new government welcomes 17 new ministers into office, selected as technocrats rather than political leaders. A new election (and accompanying government) will take place in about six months.

While the United States welcomed the announcement and said it would work with the new Palestinian government, the Israeli government responded by announcing a new round of settlements in the West Bank.

What do you think? Will the new Palestinian government be more effective in negotiating with the Israelis and the Americans than the previous government was? Or will progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks continue to be elusive?

Hitting the Reset Button on US-Israeli Relations

Secretary of State John Kerry was forced into damage control mode after off-the-cuff comments warning Israeli leaders that the country risks becoming an “apartheid state” if it continues to fail to address the Palestinian question. The evocation of the phrase “apartheid”—typically used to describe the system of state-enforced racial segregation legally mandated in South Africa until 1994—touched off a firestorm. Critics of Israeli policy, including former President Jimmy Carter, have regularly described Israel as an “apartheid state.” But both the US and the Israeli governments have objected to the term’s use in this context.

Setting aside the question of whether or not the term “apartheid” is appropriate in this context, it seems clear that Kerry’s remarks highlight ongoing challenges in the Obama White House in normalizing relations with Israel. The breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process last week was just the latest example of the slow rate of progress in addressing the question, and highlight in particular the inability of US policymakers to influence both Israeli and Palestinian decision makers as the peace process moves (or does not move) forward.

What do you think? Will Kerry’s comments undermine the Obama Administration’s efforts to move forward with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Hollywood Meets International Relations

Scarlet Johansson, Oxfam SodaStream's Global Ambassador.

Scarlet Johansson, Oxfam’s SodaStream’s Global Ambassador.

Scarlett Johansson quit as an Oxfam Global Ambassador last week, amid growing concerns about her connection with the Israeli company SodaStream. Johansson had held the post with Oxfam for more than eight years, drawing attention to the impact of natural disasters and helping in the organization’s fund raising efforts. But Johansson’s ties to SodaStream, which has a factory in an illegal Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the West Bank, had drawn criticism.

Johansson’s statement, issued Wednesday, said that she had “respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam,” adding that “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising during her tenure with Oxfam.” Oxfam responded with a statement declaring that Oxfam “respects the independence of [its] ambassadors” but noting that “Ms Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.”

Johansson countered, maintaining that “SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.”

Johansson has been critizied as naïve and irresponsible for endorsing SodaStream. But many of the company’s Palestinian employees argue that a boycott of SodaStream and other Israeli companies could have unintended negative impacts on their ability to earn a living.

It’s not the first time that a celebrity has come under fire for their position a global issue. Less than a month ago, Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea—under the self-promoted label of “basketball diplomacy”—was rounding criticized. But many A-listers have used their celebrity to draw attention to important global issues. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon, and others have all used their star power to draw attention to issues they feel strongly about.

What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantages of Hollywood stars campaigning on global issues? Do you think that their celebrity helps or hurts their causes? Why? And with respect to this case, was Johansson right to terminate her relationship with Oxfam in favor of her ties with SodaStream? Why?

Israeli Elections and the Challenge of Parliamentary Democracy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote on Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote on Tuesday.

Elections were conducted in Israel on Tuesday, and the results paint an interesting picture for the future of Israeli politics as well as for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Pre-voting polling suggested that the ruling center-right coalition would be returned to power. But that was not to be. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party won a plurality of seats in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), their right-wing coalition partners suffered sharp setbacks, and progressive center-left parties had an unexpectedly strong showing.

Two questions emerge. First, who will form the coalition. While suffering a sharp setback, it appears that Netanyahu should be able to retain control of the government, albeit the composition of that government remains unclear. Like many parliamentary systems, post-election negotiations are required to form a majority in the government. In these negotiations, parties trade positions and policy promises, all with the hope of influencing decisions by the new government in their favor. The defeat of Netanyahus’s current coalition partners means that he will likely have to find common ground with more centrist parties to form a government.

Two parties performed far better than had been projected in pre-election polling. The center-left Ysh Atid Party came in a surprising second, with 19 seats, while the Labour Party came in third with 15 sets. Any coalition between Likud and the center-left parties would require a radical rethinking of Likud’s platform, particularly around the question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the status of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Given the difficulty of these questions, it seems likely that such a coalition would focus on domestic issues rather than tackle the more difficult foreign policy questions.

What do you think? Will the new Israeli government be more or less inclined to pursue peace talks with the Palestinian Authority? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Iran’s Ongoing Nuclear Ambitions

Satellite image of Iran's Fordow nuclear enrichment facility.

Satellite image of Iran’s Fordow nuclear enrichment facility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday warned that the Iranian government continues to make progress in its effort to boost uranium production and refinement in the country. It noted that Iran has, in the past three months, completed installing new centrifuges in a secret nuclear facility and has refused to provide the IAEA with opportunity to monitor its activities. The IAEA also believes that Iran is trying to destroy evidence of previous nuclear enrichment activities ahead of scheduled IAEA inspections.

International efforts to monitor and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons materials have to-date focused on several resolutions of the UN Security Council, and on international negations between the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany (the so-called P5+1 group) and Iran.

Against the international backdrop, the Israeli government continues to threaten unilateral action against Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, raising the stakes for all parties involved.

The primary challenge, though, is that there appear to be few good options in dealing with Iran. Economic sanctions are already in place and are having a devastating effect on the Iranian economy. There was a glimmer that the sanctions may force the Iranian government back to the negotiating table, but it is not clear whether or not that would happen before Iran developed a nuclear capacity, fundamentally altering the nature of international negotiations.

Covert efforts, including the deployment of computer viruses targeting Iranian nuclear facilities, have appeared to slowed Iran’s progress but have not stopped it altogether.

And a military strike against Iran could create broader challenges in the region, undermining support for US efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and creating uncertainty in global oil markets, threatening the global economic recovery.

What do you think? What is the best option to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Should the United States continue to support international efforts at a negotiated settlement? Should it support Israeli proposals for a military strike despite the economic threat posed by such an option? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.