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JFP 2/21: Hagel attacked for allegedly warning of apartheid in Israel
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 21 February 2013 - 9:45pm
Just Foreign Policy News, February 21, 2013
Hagel attacked for allegedly warning of apartheid in Israel
Go Straight to the News Summary
I) Actions and Featured Articles
Scott McConnell: The Hagel Foes' Self-Defeating Witch Hunt
A clip from Bill Maher's show drives home McConnell's point: Maher says that the statements of Republicans suggest that they are controlled by the Israeli government, and the audience applauds.
Atlantic: Palestinian Filmmaker Detained on His Way to the Oscars
"5 Broken Cameras" director Emad Burnat: "Last night, on my way from Turkey to Los Angeles, CA, my family and I were held at US immigration for about an hour and questioned about the purpose of my visit to the US. Immigration officials asked for proof that I was nominated for an Academy Award for the documentary '5 Broken Cameras' and they told me that if I couldn't prove the reason for my visit, my wife Soraya, my son Gibreel and I would be sent back to Turkey on the same day... Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout the West Bank."
Trailer for the film, which is available on Netflix, at the Atlantic link.
BBC Video: How sanctions deprive Iranians of basic medication
Iranian companies importing medicines are now having major problems finding banks to process payments. That is forcing many people to go to unusual lengths to get the most basic drugs.
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Background: Could We Move Dianne Feinstein on CIA Oversight?
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1) The latest right-wing attack on Chuck Hagel claims that in a 2007 speech at Rutgers, Hagel "basically said" that Israel "was risking becoming an apartheid state if it didn't allow the Palestinians to form a state," notes David Weigel at Slate. Weigel then "unearths" the following damning Hagel quote from 2010: "As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state." Oops! That was Ehud Barak, speaking in his capacity as Israel's defense minister.
2) The Washington Post is surprised by the 'mysterious' high cost of gasoline in the US but does not mention that the US government, at the insistence of the Israel lobbies, reduced Iran's petroleum exports by 40% in 2012 by strong-arming countries to leave it in the ground and not import it on threat of US sanctions, writes Juan Cole in Informed Comment. The Neoconservatives behind the largely congressionally-led financial blockade against Iran's oil exports promised the policy would not harm the US economy because Saudi Arabia would be willing to pump extra petroleum to cover the Iranian shortfall. But
3) Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has claimed that pending "sequestration" cuts to the Pentagon budget will "put the nation at greater risk of coercion," notes Michael Cohen at the Guardian. But although Dempsey claims that the danger of sequestration to national defense on a scale of 1 to 10 is a 10, he was unable in recent congressional testimony to identify a single country that could exercise "coercion" against America after March 1. The Pentagon, which prides itself on its ability to meet every challenge it is assigned, should be able to figure out how to squeak by on $500 billion a year, Cohen argues.
4) Sen. Lindsey Graham says that in order to avoid the looming sequester budget cuts that would, he said, "destroy" the military, we should instead eliminate healthcare to the 30 million Americans who are covered under Obamacare, notes Thom Hartmann. Instead of taking healthcare away from millions of Americans, lawmakers should kill the F-35 joint strike jet fighter, Hartmann argues. The Pentagon is facing $500 billion in budget cuts over ten years if the sequester goes into effect. That's about the amount left in the Pentagon budget for the F-35.
5) Rep. Conyers and four other Members of Congress sent a letter to the UN Ambassador Rice encouraging her to urge the UN to ensure full funding and speedy implementation of a new initiative aimed at eliminating cholera in Haiti. "We are … concerned that nearly two months after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced his initiative to support the plan, only 10 percent of the funding has been secured and only one percent of this funding has been pledged from the United Nations itself," they wrote.
6) Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails refused meals in solidarity with four hunger-striking detainees, and supporters held protests in the West Bank, the New York Times reports. Palestinians and international organizations have expressed growing concern over the deteriorating health of the hunger strikers, who are protesting the terms of their detention. Middle East "Quartet" envoy Tony Blair called on Israel to respect the rights of all prisoners in accordance with international standards, adding, "This issue needs to be resolved quickly in order to avoid a tragic outcome which has the potential to destabilize the situation on the ground." The latest hunger strikes have renewed fears of widespread unrest if a hunger striker dies in prison, the Times says.
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said he had been appealing to the Israel authorities to help defuse the growing crisis. "The situation on the ground now is really like a pressure cooker," Erekat said. "I urge Israel to release these people. The last thing we want is for things to get out of hand before President Obama visits."
7) Western leaders appear lackadaisical about striking a deal with Iran, writes Yousaf Butt in the National Interest. As the New York Times recently reported, "Obama's aides seem content with stalemate." If Iran's nuclear program is truly the concern that has been claimed, then the West should be willing to put real sanctions relief on the table in order to get a deal.
8) At an event at the Wilson Center, Siamak Namazi presented findings of a study on the role of sanctions in creating shortages of life-saving medical supplies and drugs in Iran, the Wilson Center reports. The study found that, despite existing provisions meant to facilitate humanitarian trade, unilateral sanctions by the US and Europe are causing disruptions in the supply of medicine and medical equipment in Iran. Namazi said sanctions are affecting the supply of the most advanced medicines, providing relief in the most dire cases of illness, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and hemophilia. Most of the US, European, and Iranian pharmaceutical representatives he interviewed found that Western sanctions were the greatest obstacles to humanitarian trade with Iran.
Namazi gave three recommendations to alleviate the medical shortages in the country. First, he argued that existing contradictions in the legal structure must be removed to permit humanitarian trade. Second, the financial institutions must be reassured that there will be no punitive actions taken against them if they trade with Iran. Lastly, Namazi argued, Iran must be given a narrow ability to receive hard currency solely for the purchase of Western medicine and medical treatment.
9) A Human Rights Watch report calls Mexico's anti-drug offensive "disastrous" and cites 249 cases of disappearances, most of which show evidence of having been carried out by the military or law enforcement, AP reports. HRW called it "the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades."
1) Hagel, Israel, "Apartheid"
David Weigel, Slate, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013
The diligent Alana Goodman is out with another story about an old Chuck Hagel speech that might or might not have included controversial words. Last week, it was the account of an attendee at a 2007 Rutgers speech who heard Hagel say that the State Department was an adjunct of the Israeli foreign ministry. It was a paraphrase, not a quote, but it was good enough to inspire a letter to Hagel from two Republican senators.
Today, Goodman reports on another Hagel speech, also at Rutgers, in April 2010. The source is a "pro-Israel activist" named Kenneth Wagner who literally tattled on Hagel, in real time, by emailing "a contact at AIPAC."
"I am sitting in a lecture by Chuck Hagel at Rutgers," Wagner wrote in the email. "He basically said that Israel has violated every UN resolution since 1967, that Israel has violated its agreements with the quartet, that it was risking becoming an apartheid state if it didn't allow the Palestinians to form a state. He said that the settlements were getting close to the point where a contiguous Palestinian state would be impossible."
The headline, here and at Jennifer Rubin's Right Turn, is the "Apartheid" bit. "Does this fundamentally shift the playing field?" asks Rubin. "Requests for comment from Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) were not answered." You simply can't use "apartheid" and "Israel" in the same sentence.
Unfortunately for the nominee, I've obtained a quote from Hagel saying this in February 2010:
"As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."
My mistake! That wasn't Hagel. That was Ehud Barak, speaking in his capacity as Israel's defense minister. If we accept the text of the email, Hagel didn't accuse Israel of being or becoming an apartheid state. Wagner has Hagel saying that Israel risk[ed] becoming an apartheid state if it didn't allow the Palestinians to form a state, and saying that two months after Israel's former PM and contemporary defense minister had said it.
But maybe this was an extreme, unacceptable comment. After all, someone in the audience got irked about it and emailed AIPAC.
2) WaPo says Gasoline Price Increase Mysterious, Ignores US blockade of Iran Oil!
Juan Cole, Informed Comment, 2/20/2013
The Washington Post is surprised by the 'mysterious' high cost of gasoline in the US but does not mention in this article that the US government, at the insistence of the Israel lobbies, reduced Iran's petroleum exports by 40% in 2012 by strong-arming countries to leave it in the ground and not import it on threat of third-party US sanctions.
Petroleum prices are at near-historic highs this winter. The average for gasoline in the US has jumped to $3.75 and it is much, much higher in Europe. The price of petroleum as a primary commodity is not a very complicated calculation- it is just supply and demand. The world is producing roughly 90 million barrels a day of oil. The world wants all of that and more, and hence the price is high. If Iran's one million barrels a day - which the US has forced countries in Europe and elsewhere not to buy- were on the market, the price would be less. (There is a little twist in that sulphur-heavy, 'sour' crude is more expensive to refine into gasoline, so taking 'light sweet' oil off the market and trying to replace it with sour crude from e.g. Nigeria is costly).
Ironically, the high petroleum prices produced in part by the blockade of Iran oil sales cushion Iran's government from the sanctions, since what oil it does sell goes for high prices and feathers the ayatollahs' nests. Over time, some Iranian exports may be taken over by the private sector, which is not subject to the same sanctions as the government-owned enterprises.
The Neoconservatives behind the largely congressionally-led financial blockade against Iran's oil exports (mandated by last year's National Defense Authorization Act) promised that the policy would not harm the American economy because Saudi Arabia would be willing to pump extra petroleum to cover the Iranian shortfall. The Saudi ability to replace Iranian exports in the medium to long term, however, is doubted by many analysts, and Saudi exports fell slightly in the last quarter of 2012 from last summer's heights. There was also a strike at a plant in Libya, and continued security problems for exports in northern Iraq. Not to mention that Syria and South Sudan exports have been halted by political upheaval, and that technical problems reduced the UK's North Sea production.
Moreover, world demand is not stable, as the Neocons appear to have thought, and the prospect of an economic upturn in Asia this year will cause more petroleum to be used, increasing demand and magnifying the effect of the reduction of Iranian exports. Even the expectation of an upturn puts prices up on speculation.
Having West Texas crude go for nearly $100 a barrel is certainly a drag on the US economy, and as WaPo notes, it is hurting a lot of American workers and businesses. Polls show that drilling for oil in the US, even with environmentally dubious methods such as hydraulic fracturing, is popular with the US public. What they don't seem to realize is that our sanctions on Iran are the same as closing down a sixth of US production.
Why WaPo and many other American news sources more or less cover up the effect of the US war on Iranian petroleum exports in keeping world oil and gasoline prices high is what is mysterious to me.
3) America's military can handle anything... except a budget cut
The military's scare tactics on spending cuts are grossly misleading and show a Defense Department unwilling to evolve
Michael Cohen, Guardian, Wednesday 20 February 2013 15.19 EST
On 1 March, the most dreaded word in Washington will become a fiscal reality - sequestration. Just those four syllables are enough to send chills up the spine. The across-the-board spending cuts will impact a host of federal agencies, but especially the Defense Department. It will become the law of the land, plunging the nation into a bleak, dystopian future in which (possibly) the rivers will boil over, locusts will consume the nation's agricultural bounty, and cats will sleep with dogs. America will almost overnight be reduced to a second-rate power, quickly to be overrun by hordes of foreign insurgents empowered by America's retreat from the global stage.
Obviously, I am exaggerating. But only sort of. If you listen to American's military leaders talk about the impact of sequestration, you might be convinced that, in fact, the sky is falling.
According to the nation's highest-ranking soldier, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, sequestration will "put the nation at greater risk of coercion". This is actually tame when compared to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's prediction that sequestration would "invite aggression". His deputy, Ashton Carter calls sequestration and the possibility of a year-long continuing resolution to fund military operation as "twin evils". In the words of Chuck Hagel, the man likely to replace Panetta, the spending reductions would "devastate" the military.
The uniformed military is no less ominous in its warnings. Admiral Jonathan Greenert, head of US Naval Operations, says the cuts will "dramatically reduce: our overseas presence; our ability to respond to crises; our efforts to counter terrorism and illicit trafficking" and "may irreversibly damage the military industrial base". General James Amos, Commandant of the Marin Corps goes even further, in warning that a failure to properly resource the military will put the "continued prosperity and security interests" of the United States at risk.
This is threat-mongering that gives threat-mongering a bad name. While one can reasonably argue that sequestration is a brain-dead method of cutting Pentagon spending (it is) the rhetoric of the Joint Chiefs is so over the top it should give every American pause - not only in its confidence about the supposed adaptability of our armed forces, but also in the unseemly public relations game being played here.
In reality, the cuts to the Pentagon budget, while significant, would return the United States to budget levels that it last reached in…fiscal year 2007. That was a year in which the US was fighting a war with more than 100,000 troops in Iraq and also fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Today, there are no US troops in Iraq, and the US war in Afghanistan is quickly winding down. Was the US at such grievous risk then, too?
Moreover, the reduced military budget, which will be a bit below $500bn would as Chuck Spinney points out in Time be at the same level it was during the Truman Administration - a period when the US faced off against an actual great power adversary, the Soviet Union and had 300,000 US troops deployed on the Korean Peninsula fighting off the Chinese.
The notion that the US military cannot protect the nation with a budget of half a trillion dollars seems beyond far-fetched. What takes it into the land of the surreal is that today the US faces a very different global environment than it faced 60 years ago. In fact, as I've argued before, the world today is safer than it has ever been. Wars and, in particular, inter-state conflicts have declined dramatically. The United States faces no contender to the role of global hegemon; no military competitor and no great power enemy. The closest thing the US has to a foreign rival would be a China, and currently the US spends more on defense research and development than Beijing spends on its entire military.
It is striking that even though Martin Dempsey claims that the danger of sequestration to national defense on a scale of 1 to 10 is a 10, he was unable in recent congressional testimony to identify a single country that could exercise "coercion" against America after 1 March. That baton was apparently handed to Army Chief of Staff, Ray Odierno who claimed, "the greatest threat" (greatest!) to our national security "is the fiscal uncertainty resulting from the lack of predictability in the budget cycle."
The military has long bragged about its ability to respond to whatever challenge it is given by its civilian leaders. Can-doism is the espirit de corps of our nation's protectors, but by Odierno's argument, budget uncertainty is apparently the Kryptonite to our military Supermen. If the US military can't reduce its budget right now, when the US is ending its overseas wars and when the country faces no serious security threat, then the Pentagon budget can never be cut.
What makes the Pentagon's argument so doubly frustrating (and borderline malicious) is that to avoid having to make tough choices about defense priorities, the Joint Chiefs is instead making dramatic budget cuts intended to scare Congress. These include curtailing training exercises for 78% of the Army as well as a host of other cutbacks; a nearly 20% drop in flying hours for Air Force pilots ; widespread furloughs of civilian workers; and the Navy has announced plans to postpone the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman to the Persian Gulf and suspended repairs to other ships.
However, as a recent Congressional Research Service report points out, the military is going above and beyond in proposing a 20% cut to its operation and maintenance budgets even though a smaller cut would be possible if the Pentagon ax was directed elsewhere. In fact, according to Winslow T. Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information, and a frequent critic of military spending, even after the sequester:
"Air Force funding for aircraft will increase by $829m; Navy shipbuilding will have $155m more than requested for 2013 waiting to be spent, and the weapons and tracked combat vehicles account in the Army budget will have $404m too much."
It's a bit hard to square those facts with Dempsey's recent assertion that "it would be immoral to use the force unless it's well-trained, well-led and well-equipped." In fact, a military intent on avoiding cuts to the operations and maintenance and the readiness of its troops could look elsewhere - places like the $32bn it is planning to spend on nearly 2,000 new ground combat vehicles, the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ship or even the bloated 4,000 man staff in the Joint Chiefs of Staff office.
4) The F-35 Folly: How Our Own Fighter Jets Are Killing Us
Thom Hartmann, The Daily Take, Tuesday, 19 February 2013
The F-35 joint strike jet fighter is one of the costliest weapons programs in human history, with each plane costing $90 million and the project taking more than a decade to complete.
The price tag of the entire program has nearly doubled since 2001, coming in at a staggering $396 billion dollars. And, thanks to a number of production delays and safety concerns, that price tag is still rising.
When you combine the price tag of the program with Government Accountability Office estimated operating and maintenance costs of the planes- the total cost of the program reaches over $1 trillion.
And here's the really tragic and absurd part of this story. Thanks to the decade of delays, the technology in the F-35, once thought to be the best of the best, is now outdated.
The F-35 program is one of several in the current Pentagon budget that is stuck in the last century, and has failed to adapt to changes in modern day warfare.
Yet, Pentagon officials, like current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, are still pressing for nearly 2,500 of these absurdly expensive and already-obsolete F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
At a press conference in Ottawa, Canada last Spring, Panetta told reporters that, "As part of the defense strategy that the United States went through and has put in place, we have made very clear that we are 100 percent committed to the development of the F-35. It's a fifth-generation fighter, [and] we absolutely need it for the future."
What Panetta didn't point out is that over the course of the F-35 program, the world has changed. The F-35 is supposed to be the future of U.S. tactical airpower, but the fact is the entire program is a relic of the Cold War. Rather than face the current threats of today, like cyber warfare, we continue to pour billions, and potentially trillions, into the bottomless pits of projects like the F-35.
On March 1st, if lawmakers fail to reach a new federal budget deal, the automatic sequester cuts will go into effect. Under these cuts, a variety of federal agencies and programs will lose funding, including the Pentagon. If those sequester cuts go into effect, the Pentagon will face more than $500 billion in spending cuts.
Cue Republican war hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham. Appearing on Fox News Sunday over the weekend, Graham said that, in order to avoid the looming sequester budget cuts that would, he said, "destroy" the military, we should instead eliminate healthcare to the 30 million Americans who are covered under Obamacare.
Instead of taking healthcare away from millions of Americans, lawmakers in Washington should kill the zombie of the F-35.
The Pentagon is facing $500 billion in budget cuts if the sequester goes into effect. And, amazingly, that's about the amount left in the Pentagon budget for the F-35.
The fact of the matter is eliminating the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program really won't put a dent in America's military power.
As Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan, one of the few Republicans in favor of defense cuts, put it, quote, "We are spending maybe 45% of the world's budget on defense. If we drop to 42% or 43%, would we be suddenly in danger of some kind of invasion?"
5) Conyers, Members of Congress Urge Rice to Organize Support for UN Cholera Initiative
Office of Rep. John Conyers, Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Washington - Today, Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and four other Members of Congress sent a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, encouraging her to urge the United Nations to ensure full funding and speedy implementation of a new initiative aimed at eliminating cholera in Haiti.
This letter follows a letter sent last July, in which Conyers and 103 other Members of Congress encouraged Rice to urge the United Nations to take a leading role in addressing the cholera crisis.
The Members specifically argued that every effort should be made to ensure the cholera initiative is funded adequately and implemented without delay:
"We are, however, concerned that nearly two months after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced his initiative to support the plan, only 10 percent of the funding has been secured and only one percent of this funding has been pledged from the United Nations itself. The United Nations has a special responsibility to ensure this plan is funded and we need your assistance in ensuring that cholera is indeed eliminated from the island of Hispaniola."
The Members also ask that every effort be made to ensure that assistance is prioritized for vulnerable Haitians and that "local communities and organizations be closely consulted during the implementation process."
The letter was also signed by Representatives Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Frederica Wilson (D-FL).
You can read the full text of the letter below.
February 19, 2013
The Honorable Susan Rice
United States Ambassador to the United Nations
Permanent Mission to the United Nations
799 UN Plaza
New York, NY 10017-3505
Dear Secretary Rice:
We are writing to thank you for your efforts to organize a robust international response to the cholera crisis in Haiti and to urge you to ensure that the United Nations continues to take a leading role in addressing the crisis by funding and implementing the cholera elimination initiative organized by the UN Secretary General without delay. We believe that it is paramount that the plan prioritize assistance for the most vulnerable Haitians, help the Haitian government attain the capacity necessary to maintain the plan's infrastructure sustainably, and that local communities and organizations be closely consulted during the implementation process.
As you know, the cholera epidemic continues to pose a major challenge to Haiti's health authorities, and continues to kill Haitians at an alarming rate. While the significant actions of Haitian authorities and international actors - including $95 million in emergency support by the United States - have helped reduce fatality rates significantly, cholera was still responsible for the deaths of 900 people last year. This past December, 193 Haitians died of cholera, a 190 percent increase in fatalities compared to December of 2011.
In November of last year, the media reported that a plan to eliminate cholera in Haiti was being developed jointly by the Haitian government and international and U.S. agencies. The plan apparently places major emphasis on helping Haiti acquire adequate water and sanitation infrastructure, widely considered to be the only effective means of ridding Haiti of cholera. News reports suggested that the plan was on the verge of being launched, but many weeks later there is still no sign that implementation of the plan has begun.
Although the United Nations has failed to take formal responsibility for introducing cholera to Haiti, it is clear that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has taken important steps. We thank you for the key role you and your staff played in encouraging the Secretary General's office to adopt an initial set of significant measures.
We are, however, concerned that nearly two months after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced his initiative to support the plan, only 10 percent of the funding has been secured and only one percent of this funding has been pledged from the United Nations itself. The United Nations has a special responsibility to ensure this plan is funded and we need your assistance in ensuring that cholera is indeed eliminated from the island of Hispaniola.
As you know, the cholera situation in Haiti has generated worldwide concern. Over 28,000 people from around the world have signed an on-line petition urging the Secretary General "to lead international efforts to mobilize the funds and technical resources required to achieve this urgent task in the shortest time frame possible." In order for the United Nations to maintain its credibility around the world, it must get this right. This means a fully funded initiative that focuses on marginalized populations and is implemented with the input of local communities and organizations.
All too often important development projects for Haiti are launched with much fanfare, but then are never executed or are quickly abandoned. This cannot be allowed to happen with the current plans to assist Haiti in eliminating cholera. Without effective follow-through on these plans, Haiti will be burdened with this deadly epidemic for the foreseeable future. If these plans are effectively executed, however, the payback is enormous: not only will the country be finally able to control cholera and other water-borne diseases; it will also finally achieve the basic standards of health and hygiene enjoyed by nearly every other nation of this hemisphere.
We therefore respectfully reiterate our request for you to continue urging the Secretary General and other key U.N. actors to take action to rid Haiti of cholera as quickly as possible. We also request that you provide Congress with regular updates on the status of the plan to eliminate cholera, and on the process by which the U.N. is ensuring that the plan will be adequately funded.
6) Palestinians in Prisons Refuse Meals in a Protest
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, February 19, 2013
Jerusalem - Hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails refused meals on Tuesday in solidarity with four hunger-striking detainees, and supporters held protests in the West Bank, as the Palestinians sought to pressure Israel before President Obama's visit to the region next month.
About 500 inmates in two prisons returned their meals in what was intended to be a one-day protest, said Sivan Weizman, a spokeswoman for the Israel Prison Service. She added that the four longer-term hunger strikers were in satisfactory condition, and that none were now hospitalized. Three are in a prison clinic.
But Palestinian representatives of the prisoners and international organizations have expressed growing concern over the deteriorating health of the hunger strikers, who are protesting the terms of their detention. One of them, Samer Issawi, has refused food, existing on water and nonfood supplements, for much of the past 200 days, according to groups following his case. Two others who were detained in November are said to be refusing medical treatment or the provision of supplements like vitamins and minerals.
Qadura Fares, the president of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, based in Ramallah, said he had received reports that all four were in serious condition and that their lives were in danger.
The envoy of the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers, former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, issued a statement on Friday calling on Israel to respect the rights of all prisoners in accordance with international standards, adding, "This issue needs to be resolved quickly in order to avoid a tragic outcome which has the potential to destabilize the situation on the ground." The quartet is made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
About 4,500 Palestinians are being detained in Israel, about half of them convicted of planning or carrying out attacks against Israelis. The prisoner issue is an emotional one in Palestinian society that touches many families. Last year, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held a hunger strike that lasted weeks, demanding improved conditions and an end to incarceration without formal charges or a trial, known as administrative detention. Fears of widespread unrest if a prisoner died were averted after the prisoners signed an agreement with the Israeli authorities.
But the latest hunger strikes have renewed those fears. Over the past few days, Palestinians have held rallies in support of the prisoners in several West Bank cities. On Tuesday, scores of protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers outside a military detention facility on the outskirts of Ramallah for the second time in a week. Some of the protesters had set out from outside the Ramallah office of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Two of the hunger strikers, Mr. Issawi and Ayman Sharawna, were serving long terms in Israeli prisons before they were released early, in October 2011, as part of an exchange for a captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. They were rearrested last year after Israel said they had violated the terms of their early release.
Both had served several years of their original terms of about 30 years by the time they were released in the Shalit deal.
Israel has not given details of the alleged violations that led to their rearrest, but under a special military order, the two could be forced to serve the rest of their original sentences, amounting to 20 years or more for each of them. Several human rights lawyers said they were planning to file a petition in the Israeli Supreme Court on Wednesday against the military order, which allows for a special military committee to send released prisoners back to serve out their original terms based on secret evidence.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, said he had been appealing to the Israel authorities to help defuse the growing crisis. "The situation on the ground now is really like a pressure cooker," Mr. Erekat said in a telephone interview from Ramallah. "I urge Israel to release these people. The last thing we want is for things to get out of hand before President Obama visits."
The two other hunger strikers, Tariq Qaadan and Jafar Ezzedine, are being held in administrative detention.
In addition, the Palestinian leadership is demanding the release of 123 Palestinian prisoners who have been held in Israeli jails since before the Oslo peace accord was signed in 1993.
7) Make Tehran a Serious Offer
Yousaf Butt, National Interest, February 20, 2013
Western leaders appear positively lackadaisical about striking a deal with Iran. As the New York Times recently reported, "Mr. Obama's aides seem content with stalemate." If the alleged threat from Iran's nuclear program is so urgent that the United States - or Israel - would even consider military action, why is stalemate in negotiations satisfactory? Is the administration seriously worried?
After much haggling, the great powers - the so-called P5+1, the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany - will meet with Iran in Kazakhstan next week to discuss Iran's nuclear issues. Last time the P5+1 powers talked with the Iranians, Iran was only offered access to some meager civilian-aircraft parts in exchange for them making serious concessions on their nuclear program. No big surprise that Tehran didn't bite. They see their nuclear program as perfectly legitimate and are demanding a serious quid pro quo for reining it in. Their primary objective in any deal is at least some lifting of the harsh sanctions placed on their economy.
The most serious issue about Iran's nuclear program is their enrichment of uranium to 20 percent. Building up this stockpile goes a long way towards having the fuel needed for a nuclear bomb, should they decide to kick off a weaponization effort in the future. This is not to say that that is what they are intending to do. And, of course, there are many additional steps needed to make a viable, deliverable nuclear device. But gathering the required fuel is certainly one of the big hurdles in gaining a latent nuclear weapons capability. Every missed opportunity for striking a deal with Iran allows them to continue enriching more uranium. The West should not miss another opportunity to curb Iran's 20 percent enrichment.
If the P5+1 are really as as worried as they claim to be, these nations should do what it takes to get Iran agree to this. And if it means putting serious sanctions relief on the table - as the Iranians have been asking for - then so be it.
There is no evidence to indicate that Iran is currently developing nuclear weapons - in fact, the U.S. director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has a "high level of confidence " that they have made no such decision. Yet there is no reason not to strike a deal with Iran on suspending their 20 percent uranium enrichment, especially since they are amenable to such a bargain. The future trajectory of Iranian politics is uncertain, with new presidential elections due to take place in June. Given that presidential candidates are officially vetted by the Guardian Council, it is possible that the next president may be even more hardline than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Indeed, in most countries where the middle class is suffering under foreign-imposed hardships, the tendency is to elect more nationalistic and hawkish leaders. Witness Germany in the 1930s, for instance. And when Russia and Argentina went through a similar economic meltdown about a decade ago - as Iran is going through now - their people voted in more nationalistic leaders: Vladimir Putin and Néstor Kirchner.
Even though the Supreme Leader holds the real power in major nuclear decisions and has indicated he is firmly against nuclear weapons, it still makes sense to try to curb Iran's enrichment work. And sanctions relief would be a small price to pay to get this concession from them.
In fact, it is possible that one of Iran's goals in continuing to enrich to 20 percent is its usefulness as a bargaining chip to exchange for sanctions relief. They may see enriching to this level as the only remaining leverage they have to get the sanctions removed. What are perceived in the West as being provocative steps towards a nuclear weapons capability may just be negotiating strategy to get the draconian sanctions removed. As Greg Thielmann, a former official with the State Department's intelligence branch noted recently, "I wonder if they wanted to get more negotiating leverage, demonstrate their technological prowess, but did not want to fulfill the most alarming predictions of those who argue that Iran is intent on breaking out."
By yielding on the sanctions, the P5+1 would merely be undoing some of the restrictions it recently put in place. So the P5+1 don't even need to offer Iran any real "carrots" to gain their cooperation - we merely need to suspend using some of our sticks. Pierre Goldschmidt, the former deputy director of the Department of Safeguards at the IAEA has proposed a "temporary amnesty" for Iran which may be a sensible way of winding down the tensions and the seed of a breakthrough.
Unfortunately, having successfully hobbled Iran's economy, the P5+1 powers appear to believe that they are negotiating from a position of power. As Peter Jenkins, the former UK ambassador to the IAEA put it, the "tendency is still to demand that Iran abandon the production of 20% enriched uranium and close the Fordow plant, and to offer little in return. Positions are distorted by seeing Iran as a guilty party, fortunate to be given a chance to build confidence that it intends to be a virtuous global citizen if ever it is granted release from the shackles of sanctions." But this attitude may be somewhat delusional. It is the Iranians that are accumulating the potential bomb fuel. They too may be thinking that they are negotiating from a position of power.
But stalemate is not in the West's favor: the longer the sanctions stay in place, the more the position of the P5+1 nations will worsen. Iran keeps collecting more and more 20 percent enriched uranium, but time is not on Washington's side for another reason. An EU court has recently struck down (for the second time) the legality of some of Europe's bank sanctions on Iran. As allies get weary, it may become more difficult to present a united face in enforcing the sanctions regime.
And contrary to expectations, sanctions are not leading to some groundswell movement to oust the Supreme Leader's regime. To the contrary, recent polls show that Iranian people blame the foreign powers imposing the sanctions much more than their own government, and continue to favor their nuclear program. Ironically, the sanctions are directly benefiting the officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) because they control much of the Iranian black market. And since the regime has placed price controls on many staples and basic services, it has made itself indispensable for the continuing affordability of bread, meat, cooking oil, and transport. An Iranian activist summed it up well, "People are becoming more dependent on the government for everything. Why would they rebel against this government?"
Sanctions are also punishing and disempowering precisely the people who oppose the current government. The politically progressive and enlightened class, who until recently could afford to travel abroad for work and higher education, are now basically in survival mode.
The sanctions are also helping China obtain oil at below-market prices. Beijing has exploited Iran's economic isolation to drive a harder bargain, pressuring Iran into cheaper prices and even carrying out barter deals with substandard goods.
So let's tally it up: sanctions have helped China get cheap oil, enriched the officers of the Revolutionary Guards, solidified the population's dependence on the regime, and hurt the enlightened middle class who could bring about true democratic reform. It's a no-brainer: the P5+1 have to be much more willing to yield on sanctions relief in order to get Iran to suspend their 20 percent enrichment work. As Suzanne Maloney of Brookings suggests, "The incentives must be more persuasive than the paltry offers the United States has made to date."
In the past, the P5+1 have indicated that there would be "consideration" of easing sanctions "later," after Iran made concessions. This has obviously not been a recipe for success: the reciprocity needs to be simultaneous. There needs to be a symmetry of compromise by both sides.
There appears to be a striking cognitive dissonance between the pronouncements of the alleged mortal threat posed by Iran's nuclear program and the foot-dragging approach to doing something about it in negotiations.
A sign of successful negotiations is the no one gets everything they wanted - concessions have to be made by both sides. If the P5+1 leaders really are as worried about Iran's nuclear program as they claim to be, then they need to show it by making serious concessions. If they don't want to give up a few sanctions to obtain Iranian cooperation on this important issue, the inexorable conclusion is that they are not truly concerned about Iran stockpiling more 20 percent uranium, and that the sanctions are probably in place in some vain hope of regime change via collective punishment.
The P5+1 can show their true concern over Iran's nuclear program on February 26 in Kazakhstan by being serious and putting some serious sanctions relief on the table to rein it in.
Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, is professor and scientist-in-residence at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
8) Sanctions and Medical Supply Shortages in Iran
Darya Razavi, Woodrow Wilson Center, February 08, 2013
Siamak Namazi, a Dubai-based consultant and former Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, presented his findings on the role of sanctions in creating shortages of life-saving medical supplies and drugs in Iran.
On February 8, the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a discussion, "Sanctions and Medical Supply Shortages in Iran" with Namazi. Suzanne Maloney, a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, commented on Namazi's presentation. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, moderated the event.
Namazi presented the outcomes of a recent study carried out by a team of Iranian consultants, which found that, despite existing provisions meant to facilitate humanitarian trade, unilateral sanctions by the United States and Europe are causing disruptions in the supply of medicine and medical equipment in Iran. Namazi went on to explain that sanctions are affecting the supply of the most advanced medicines, providing relief in the most dire cases of illness, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and hemophilia.
This crisis, Namazi emphasized, was not an intended consequence of the sanctions regime. However, the sanctions have created bottlenecks in the banking facilities necessary for trade, and they have caused a scarcity in the hard currency needed to trade with European and American manufacturers. He also acknowledged that Iran has intensified the problem with its own mismanagement. Nonetheless, he maintained that most of the American, European, and Iranian pharmaceutical representatives with whom he interviewed found that Western sanctions were the greatest obstacles to humanitarian trade with Iran.
Namazi explained that the existing legal provisions that allow for humanitarian trade are flawed because they make it all but impossible to do so by blacklisting Iran's main banking infrastructure. In addition, most international banks will not trade with Iran because they fear the ramifications associated with violating U.S. sanctions. Humanitarian trade in Iran has been greatly reduced, and the few banks that continue to trade with the country are experiencing delays because they cannot handle the volume of trade and the long list of filing requirements. In addition, the sanctions have caused a shortage of the hard currency needed to pay American and European pharmaceutical companies. Presently, the majority of European and American pharmaceuticals that sell their goods to Iran do so under cash-advance terms.
Namazi concluded that there are definitive "winners" and "losers" in the medical shortage crisis in Iran. The "winners" are the Indian and Chinese pharmaceutical companies who now supply most of Iran's medications, the smugglers and black market dealers, and government-owned businesses. The "losers" are the Iranian people, the American and European pharmaceutical companies, and the independent private sector of importers and manufacturers in Iran.
Namazi ended the discussion by providing three recommendations to alleviate the medical shortages in the country. First, he argued that existing contradictions in the legal structure must be removed to permit humanitarian trade. Second, the financial institutions must be reassured that there will be no punitive actions taken against them if they trade with Iran. Lastly, Namazi argued, Iran must be given a narrow ability to receive hard currency solely for the purchase of Western medicine and medical treatment.
9) Human rights report: Mexico disappearances during drug war 'a crisis ignored'
Associated Press, February 20
Mexico City - A Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday calls Mexico's anti-drug offensive "disastrous" and cites 249 cases of disappearances, most of which show evidence of having been carried out by the military or law enforcement.
The report says the enforced disappearances follow a pattern in which security forces detain people without warrants at checkpoints, homes or workplaces, or in public. When victims' families ask about their relatives, security forces deny the detentions or instruct them to look for their loved ones at police stations or army bases.
Human Rights Watch criticizes former President Felipe Calderon for ignoring the problem, calling it "the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades."
An email asking for comment and sent to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where Calderon is a fellow, was not immediately answered Wednesday.
While the report acknowledges that current President Enrique Pena Nieto inherited the problem, it says he should act urgently "in cases where people have been taken against their will and their fate is still unknown."
A civic organization released a data base late last year that it said contained official information on more than 20,000 people who had gone missing in Mexico over the previous six years.
In posting the date base on its website, Propuesta Civica, or Civic Proposal, said the information was collected by the federal Attorney General's Office during Calderon's recently ended administration.
The missing include police officers, bricklayers, housewives, lawyers, students, businessmen and more than 1,200 children under age 11. They are listed one by one with such details as name, age, gender and the date and place where the person disappeared.
Among the examples cited by Human Rights Watch is evidence suggesting that marines detained about 20 people in three northern border states in June and July of 2011. Though it denied abducting the victims, the Navy later acknowledged it had contact with some before they disappeared.
In one such case, Jose Fortino Martinez Martinez was sleeping with his wife and four children at their home in the northern border town of Nuevo Laredo when he was woken by the sound of his door being knocked down. That night in June 2011, eight masked men burst into his bedroom carrying automatic rifles and bulletproof vests with "Marina," Navy in Spanish, written on them.
Martinez, 33, was taken away by those men, according to the several of his neighbors who testified at the time. Although Naval officials denied arresting him they said weeks later that they would investigate if marines were involved. So far, nothing is known of Martinez's whereabouts.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Mexican government take concrete steps to change security procedures, including issuing new rules that require that detainees be taken immediately to prosecutors' offices and not be held at military bases or police stations.
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