Just Foreign Policy News
December 11, 2009
Can Arlen Specter End the War in Afghanistan?
Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter has emerged as one of the most vocal opponents in the Senate of the President’s military escalation in Afghanistan. His Democratic primary opponent, Joe Sestak, supports the war and supports the escalation. If peace advocates turn the Pennsylvania primary into a referendum on the war, it could have national impact, like the 2006 showdown between Lamont and Lieberman over Iraq.
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1) U.S. groups that raise money for extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank continue to enjoy tax-exempt status in the United States, even though their actions violate international law and contradict U.S. government policy, write Andrew Kadi and Aaron Levitt in the Guardian.
2) A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports that appointees to the U.S. government have to pass a "pro-Israel litmus test" – even if their government posts don’t concern U.S. policy in the Middle East, notes Stephen Walt at his blog at Foreign Policy.
3) Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan warned Israel not to use its airspace to attack Iran, Al Bawaba reports. "If Israel were to violate Turkish airspace in order to conduct reconnaissance operations on Iran, Ankara’s reaction would resemble an ‘earthquake’," Erdogan told an Egyptian newspaper.
4) Admiral Mullen said that as a result of the Afghanistan "surge," the US Army will have to delay plans to allow war-weary soldiers more time at home between combat tours, AFP reports. Mullen acknowledged that while the Marine Corps will reach in 2010 the Pentagon’s goal of increasing "dwell time" to two years at home for every year deployed, "it’ll take a couple more years to do that" for the army.
5) Afghanistan’s Western backers increasingly favor postponing the nation’s parliamentary election, scheduled for May, the Wall Street Journal reports. The minimum delay, if it occurs, is likely to be until August 2010. Many Western diplomats favor pushing the parliamentary vote to mid-2011, when a military surge could produce a more secure environment in areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban managed to disrupt the voting in August. This would present a constitutional problem as the country will remain without a valid legislature for more than a year. Russia, India and Turkey have indicated they oppose such a delay.
6) The Palestinian government announced it is enforcing a boycott of goods made in Israel’s West Bank settlements and has confiscated more than $1 million in merchandise from shops and companies, AP reports. A ban of goods made in Israel would violate interim peace accords, but the international community agrees with the Palestinians that Israel’s West Bank settlements are illegal. Several European countries are also making efforts to boycott settlement products.
7) The Lebanese Parliament overwhelmingly approved a national unity government on Thursday that would allow Hezbollah to keep its weapons, AP reports. Hezbollah says it must retain its weapons to fight off any future Israeli threat and persistent violations of Lebanon’s airspace. Prime Minister Saad Hariri formed his 30-member cabinet a month ago, and last week it permitted Hezbollah to remain armed under the new government’s policy platform.
8) Opposition groups are threatening to disrupt Haiti’s upcoming legislative contests over allegations that election officials are stacking the deck in favor of President Preval’s party, AP reports. Opponents are upset over the disqualification of about 15 rival political groups ahead of the Feb. 28 elections, including ousted former President Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas. Aristide called the decision an "electoral coup d’etat." Some supporters have called for a boycott. Lavalas also boycotted Senate elections from which they were excluded earlier this year. Turnout was extremely low. Even supporters of President Preval’s previous Lespwa movement who did not follow Preval to his new Unity party have also been disqualified by the electoral council.
9) Ecuador said U.S. intelligence from inside Ecuador was used to plan a 2008 bombing by Colombian troops that killed a top FARC commander inside Ecuadorean territory, Reuters reports. A report prepared by the Ecuadorean government says U.S. forces then based in Manta helped Colombian troops target Raul Reyes. "The strategic intelligence processed at the base in Manta was fundamental in tracking down and locating Raul Reyes as the primary target," the report says. "The Manta pact, aimed at controlling drug trafficking, went beyond its purpose."
10) Ecuador is using the WTO TRIPS agreement to issue compulsory licenses in order to manufacture and import generic and affordable medications, Upside Down World reports. Ecuador’s Intellectual Property Institute says the decision will significantly reduce the cost of medicines, noting that in 2002, after a local lab requested a license to produce a GSK-patented antiretroviral, the British company cut the price from $350 to $60. IEPI says the average cost of medicine drops over 90 percent when the market is open to competition.
11) The UN called for the Colombian government to improve protection measures for the indigenous population following a sharp increase in violence against the minority groups in 2009, according to Colombia Reports. The UN Human Rights Office in Colombia released statistics showing that 94 indigenous Colombians were murdered between January and October 2009, a 64% increase from the first 10 months of 2008.
1) The US cash behind extremist settlers
The Hebron Fund is raising vast sums for Israeli settlements that violate the Geneva convention, with little scrutiny
Andrew Kadi and Aaron Levitt, Guardian, Tuesday 8 December 2009 12.30 GMT
[Kadi is a member of Adalah-NY: The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East. Levitt is a member of Jews Against the Occupation-NYC]
Last month, a Brooklyn-based non-profit organisation called the Hebron Fund, which supports Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied city of Hebron, held a fundraiser at the New York Mets’ stadium, Citi Field.
The fundraiser went forward despite calls for its cancellation from grassroots human rights organisations from the US, Palestine and Israel. The fact that the Hebron Fund likely raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for extremist Israeli settlers at a major US venue with little public scrutiny is a troubling sign for those who hope that the US can play a constructive role in achieving a just peace in the Middle East.
Perhaps more worryingly, according to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius: "A search of IRS records identified 28 US charitable groups that made a total of $33.4m in tax-exempt contributions to settlements and related organisations between 2004 and 2007." Some of the larger organisations, including Friends of the Ateret Cohanim and Friends of Ir David, both leading the Jewish settler takeover of Palestinian East Jerusalem, are based in New York City.
Israeli settlements violate the Geneva convention’s prohibition against an occupying power transferring its population into occupied territory, and Israeli settlement expansion directly contradicts the US call for a settlement freeze.
Hebron’s Jewish settlers, who are supported by the Hebron Fund, are openly fundraising in New York City. Under the protection of the Israeli military, they are expanding settlements in Hebron’s Old City and driving out the Palestinian residents.
[…] Though the Hebron Fund tells the IRS that its purpose is to "promote social and educational wellbeing", in 2008 Baumol assured New York radio listeners: "There are real facts on the ground that are created by people helping the Hebron Fund and coming to our dinners."
A 2007 appeal explained: "Dozens of new families can now come live in Hebron … waiting for you to be their partners in the redemption of Hebron."
Baumol dedicated the 2009 fundraiser to protesting at "racist limitations, led by President Barack Obama on Jewish growth".
[…] Non-profit organisations like the Hebron Fund play a substantial role in fuelling the Middle East conflict, but largely fly under the radar in the US. They brazenly hold public fundraisers, and the media generally ignore them. Major US advocacy organisations that claim to oppose Israeli settlements typically fail to criticise them. In one rare mainstream media report, David Ignatius highlighted the US government’s self-defeating policy, writing that "critics of Israeli settlements question why American taxpayers are supporting indirectly, through the exempt contributions, a process that the government condemns".
Until the public, advocacy groups, media and the US government scrutinise and rein in settlement non-profits like the Hebron Fund, policy statements about peace in the Middle East will do nothing to stop the daily violence and dispossession suffered by Palestinians.
2) Ha’aretz says U.S. officials face ‘pro-Israel’ background check
Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, Fri, 12/04/2009
There is an amazing story in Ha’aretz today on the "pro-Israel" litmus test that determines who is permitted to serve in the United States government. Here’s the sort of lede you’re not likely to read in the New York Times or Washington Post:
"Every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community. In the case of Obama’s government in particular, every criticism against Israel made by a potential government appointee has become a catalyst for debate about whether appointing "another leftist" offers proof that Obama does not truly support Israel."
The story goes on to rehearse what happened to Chas Freeman (whose appointment was derailed by the Israel lobby because he voiced a few mild criticisms of Israel’s behavior) and reports that similar complaints are now being raised against the appointment of former Senator Chuck Hagel. Even more bizarrely, the Zionist Organization of America and other rightwing Jewish groups are complaining about the appointment of Hannah Rosenthal to direct the Office to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism. Why? Apparently she’s been involved with J Street and other "leftwing" organizations that ZOA et al deem insufficiently ardent in their support for the Jewish state, and has suggested that progressive forces need to be more vocal in advancing the peace process.
One has to feel a certain sympathy for Ms. Rosenthal, who is forced to defend her own appointment by telling an interviewer: "I love Israel. I have lived in Israel. I go back and visit every chance I can. I consider it part of my heart. And because I love it so much, I want to see it safe and secure and free and democratic and living safely."
These are fine sentiments, but isn’t it odd that she has to defend her qualifications for a position in the U.S. government by saying how much she "loves" a foreign country?
3) Erdogan warns Israel over use of Turkish airspace to attack Iran
Al Bawaba, 10-12-2009 , 13:22 GMT
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday warned Israel not to use its airspace to attack Iran. "If Israel were to violate Turkish airspace in order to conduct reconnaissance operations on Iran, Ankara’s reaction would resemble an ‘earthquake’," he said during an interview with an Egyptian newspaper.
Erdogan noted that Israel has never entered Turkey’s airspace, "if it happened, the consequence would be terrible." The Turkish leader advised Israeli authorities not to use relations with Turkey "as a card to wage aggression on a third party." According to him, Israel could not cherish hopes to participate in future joint military exercises after "sweeping" the people of the Gaza Strip. "We cannot challenge the feelings of the Turkish people, who were greatly affected by what happened during the aggression on Gaza," the Turkish Premier stressed.
4) Afghan Buildup Means More Strain On US Army: Mullen
AFP, Thu Dec 10, 9:19 pm ET http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20091211/wl_sthasia_afp/afghanistanunrestusnatomilitaryinsurgency_20091211022004
Washington – As it mobilizes for an Afghanistan troop buildup, the US Army will have to delay plans to allow war-weary soldiers more time at home between combat tours, the chief military officer said.
Admiral Mike Mullen acknowledged that while the Marine Corps will reach in 2010 the Pentagon’s goal of increasing "dwell time" to two years at home for every year deployed, "it’ll take a couple more years to do that" for the army.
Senior commanders have struggled to ease the strain on the army and the marines amid rising rates of depression, divorce and suicide believed to be fueled by repeated deployments.
Veterans groups have pushed the administration to expand dwell time and Pentagon studies have shown that soldiers who spend more time at home between deployments report fewer mental health problems.
5) West Urges Afghanistan To Delay Election
Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2009
Kabul – Afghanistan’s Western backers increasingly favor postponing the nation’s parliamentary election, scheduled for May, fearing that another traumatic – and potentially fraud-marred – campaign will undermine the coalition’s counterinsurgency strategy and create a new round of political turmoil.
The decision on when to hold the parliamentary poll rests with President Hamid Karzai’s administration and the Independent Election Commission he has appointed. However, the U.S. and its allies have a crucial say: Holding the vote will be virtually impossible without international funding and the security assistance provided by U.S.-led coalition forces.
Afghanistan’s presidential election in August undermined Western efforts to stabilize the country: Almost a million votes cast for Mr. Karzai were thrown out as fraudulent, and his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, refused to participate in the runoff, accusing election officials of bias in favor of the incumbent. Parliamentary elections, with hundreds of candidates, are likely to be even more contentious.
"The question now is – should we go first for reforms, or carry on with another election that will probably turn out to be even more problematic than the presidential one?" a senior Western diplomat said. "And can we afford to divert troops to provide security for the election instead of conducting operations?"
[…] The U.N. Security Council so far hasn’t given the U.N. mission the go-ahead to prepare for the parliamentary elections. The discussions among the U.S., European nations and other partners about postponing the Afghan vote are still in a preliminary stage, with the broad consensus emerging that the May date is unrealistic, diplomats say.
The minimum delay, if it occurs, is likely to be until August 2010. Many Western diplomats, however, favor pushing the parliamentary vote to mid-2011, when a military surge recently ordered by President Barack Obama is expected to produce a more secure environment in areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban managed to disrupt the voting in August.
This would present a constitutional problem as the country will remain without a valid legislature for more than a year. Countries such as Russia, India and Turkey have privately indicated they oppose such a delay, a Western diplomat involved in the negotiations said.
The election is likely to become a key issue at the international conference on Afghanistan scheduled for January in London. A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Kabul, John Groch, said "the entire nature and timing of the election is an Afghan matter."
Some Afghan parliamentarians say that despite the challenges, the vote must be held on time – if only to keep Mr. Karzai’s power in check. "I can understand the international agenda, which has counterinsurgency as its top priority," said Afghan lawmaker Shukria Barakzai. "But, as a young democracy, we need an election. The parliament’s term is over, and we need it to be able to act as a strong institution."
6) Palestinians boycott Israeli settlement goods
Mohammed Daraghmeh, Associated Press, Tuesday, December 8, 2009 1:11 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/08/AR2009120801390.html
Ramallah, West Bank – The Palestinian government announced Tuesday that it is enforcing a boycott of goods made in Israel’s West Bank settlements and has confiscated more than $1 million in merchandise from shops and companies.
Israeli products, including those made in settlements, are commonplace in the West Bank, either for lack of a Palestinian-made alternative or because consumers prefer them to local goods. As a result, previous Palestinian efforts to stem consumption of Israeli-made goods have failed.
The confiscation of settlement products, which began in November, marked the most serious government effort to date to enforce a boycott. Palestinians consider Israel’s continued settlement expansion as the biggest obstacle to eventual independence and say Israel’s recent pledge to curtail construction is insufficient.
About 300,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements and another 180,000 in east Jerusalem – land the Palestinians seek for their state.
[…] Palestinian Economics Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh said the boycott of settlement products is long overdue. "Consuming settlements’ products is wrong, nationally, economically, politically, and must stop right away," Abu Libdeh told a news conference at the Information Ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
He said about $1 million worth of merchandise were seized in November, another $66,000 on Monday evening and that the campaign would continue. Targeted items include juice, canned goods and cosmetics.
A ban of goods made in Israel would violate interim peace accords, but the international community agrees with the Palestinians that Israel’s West Bank settlements are illegal. Several European countries are also making efforts to boycott settlement products.
7) Lebanon Vote Lets Hezbollah Keep Weapons
Associated Press, December 11, 2009
Beirut – The Lebanese Parliament overwhelmingly approved a national unity government on Thursday that would allow Hezbollah to keep its weapons, despite strong criticism from pro-Western lawmakers angry at the militant group’s refusal to disarm.
The vote in Parliament was a further indication that Hezbollah would continue to defy a United Nations resolution calling for it to give up its weapons, which include rockets that can reach deep into Israel. "Why do some Lebanese have the right to have weapons while others don’t?" asked Sami Gemayel, a Hezbollah critic who is a member of the right-wing Christian Phalange party.
Elie Keyrouz of the right-wing Lebanese Forces group said Hezbollah’s weapons "no longer have any justification" after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, which ended 18 years of occupation.
Hezbollah says it must retain its weapons to fight off any future Israeli threat and persistent violations of Lebanon’s airspace.
After Hezbollah’s military prerogatives were challenged in May 2008, the group and its allies seized much of west Beirut, setting off the worst internal clashes since Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. The violence led to a power-sharing agreement that enshrined a cabinet veto for Hezbollah and its allies.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri formed his 30-member cabinet a month ago, and last week it permitted Hezbollah to remain armed under the new government’s policy platform. The Western-backed coalition, led by Mr. Hariri, holds a slight majority in Parliament.
8) Electoral Frustrations Threaten Haiti Vote
Associated Press, December 10, 2009, 1:06 a.m. ET http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/12/10/world/AP-CB-Haiti-Elections.html
Port-Au-Prince, Haiti – Opposition groups are threatening to disrupt Haiti’s upcoming legislative contests over allegations that election officials are stacking the deck in favor of President Rene Preval’s party in a bid to boost executive power.
Frustrations center on decisions by the nine-member, presidentially appointed provisional electoral council seen as giving an unfair advantage to Preval’s newly created Unity party, which in just weeks has absorbed Cabinet ministers, the presidents of both parliamentary chambers and almost half the members of the lower house.
Opponents are especially upset over the disqualification of about 15 rival political groups ahead of the Feb. 28 elections, including ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas. Some allege Preval is attempting to load parliament with allies to push through constitutional changes or even seek another term.
"The game is rigged," former presidential candidate Evans Paul, a leader of the newly created Alternative coalition, told The Associated Press. "The only way to confront Preval’s plan is to mobilize the population."
The electoral council has not fully explained the disqualifications or addressed other allegations. A council spokesman declined requests to comment.
[…] Lavalas supporters have also decried the electoral council’s decision. Aristide broke a months-long public silence to criticize his party’s exclusion in a radio interview, calling the decision an "electoral coup d’etat."
Some supporters have called for a boycott. Lavalas also boycotted Senate elections from which they were excluded earlier this year. Turnout was extremely low.
Unity replaces Preval’s previous Lespwa movement, a loose organization created to win him the presidency in 2006. Recently converted Unity legislator Guy Gerard Georges, whose previous Union party was also disqualified by the council, said the new party paid members’ $1,200 election inscription fee and would likely help finance their campaigns.
Most Lespwa members, including Preval, were either former Lavalas activists or had served under Aristide. But over the course of Preval’s second, nonconsecutive term, the soft-spoken leader has drifted far from supporters of Aristide who helped push him to victory, and now he has cut ties with his own movement as well.
Lespwa members who did not follow Preval to the new party have also been disqualified by the electoral council.
If Unity secures majorities in the February election, its members are widely expected to push through constitutional amendments to expand executive powers. The current 1987 constitution severely limited government and executive powers in the aftermath of the decades-long Duvalier dictatorships.
9) Ecuador says U.S. helped Colombia plan ’08 bombing
Hugh Bronstein, Reuters, Thursday, December 10, 2009 8:34 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/10/AR2009121003199.html
Quito – U.S. intelligence from inside Ecuador was used to plan a 2008 bombing by Colombian troops that killed a top FARC guerrilla chieftain inside Ecuadorean territory, the government said on Thursday.
A 130-page report prepared by the Ecuadorean government says U.S. forces then based in the Pacific coast town of Manta helped Colombian troops target Raul Reyes, No. 2 commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The March 2008 bombing, carried out in an Ecuadorean border area called Angostura, triggered a diplomatic crisis in the region. Ecuador and Colombia are just now reestablishing diplomatic ties severed by Quito after the raid.
Ecuador has since ended its Manta cooperation agreement, prompting Washington to sign a deal with Colombia in October allowing U.S. forces to carry out anti-drug operations from seven Colombian military bases.
"The strategic intelligence processed at the base in Manta was fundamental in tracking down and locating Raul Reyes as the primary target," the report says. "The Manta pact, aimed at controlling drug trafficking, went beyond its purpose."
Several left-leaning Latin American governments object to the new U.S.-Colombia pact. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez warns it could set the stage for a U.S. invasion of his country.
10) Ecuador Uses WTO Rules To Make Medicines More Accessible
Cyril Mychalejko, Upside Down World, Wednesday, 09 December 2009
[…] On Oct. 26 President Correa announced that he would use the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS agreement to issue compulsory licenses in order to manufacture and import generic and affordable medications, saying that access to medicines is a "human right."
Ecuador’s constitution states that "health is a right ensured by the State" and that the government must "ensure availability and access to quality, safe and effective medicine, regulate the commercialization thereof and promote domestic production and use of generic drugs that meet the epidemiological needs of the population. In access to medicines, public health interests shall take precedence over economic and commercial interests."
The decision was praised by UNASUR’s Ministers of Health at a meeting in Quito last month.
[…] Andres Ycaza, president of Ecuador’s Intellectual Property Institute (IEPI), believes that President Correa’s decision will significantly reduce the cost of medicines. He noted that in 2002, after a local lab requested a license to produce a GSK-patented antiretroviral, the British company in turn cut the price from $350 to $60.
"High costs, insufficient production and a lack of research have contributed to the fact that millions of people do not enjoy equitable access to medicines in developing countries such as Ecuador," said Ycaza.
There are 2,214 patents that the Ecuadorian government will review to determine whether it is necessary to produce generics domestically, or import generic versions from other countries. Ycaza said Ecuador would pay royalty payments between 0.5 percent and 3 percent. According to IEPI, the average cost of medicine drops over 90 percent when the market is open to competition.
"This sets a useful global precedent," said Peter Maybarduk, an attorney with Essential Action. "As more drugs fall under patents the probability of monopoly drug pricing grows greater and greater."
[…] "We’re hopeful Ecuador will serve as an excellent example for countries in the region and around the world who are promoting access to medicines," said Essential Action’s Maybarduk.
11) UN demand increased protection for Colombia’s ethnic minorities
Ashley Hamer, Colombia Reports, Thursday, 10 December 2009 08:56
The UN on Thursday called for the Colombian government to improve protection measures for the indigenous population following a sharp increase in violence against the minority groups in 2009.
The UN Human Rights Office in Colombia released statistics on Thursday showing that 94 indigenous Colombians were murdered between January and October 2009: a 64% increase from the first 10 months of 2008.
The Colombian representative for the Human Rights High Commission, Christian Salazar, declared that in "2009 we have observed a worrying increase in murders of indigenous people," reported news station Radio Santa Fe. "[These figures] thus demand that the Colombian State urgently double their efforts to implement safety plans as a mechanism to protect the country’s ethnic minorities," stressed Salazar.
The UN statement also called on the Colombian government to obey the order of the Constitutional Court – which oversees compliance with the Constitution – in order to "develop the construction of ethnic safety plans for the protection of 34 indigenous peoples," which "requires … dialogue with indigenous peoples."
Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities are subject to increasing persecution by protagonists in Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict."In particular, the Awa people (who live in the southern Colombia) have suffered alarming levels of massacres, threats, displacement and confinement this year," the UN report asserted.
In August, twelve members of the Awa were murdered by unknown assailants, and in September a further five were killed. Those responsible have yet to be brought to justice.
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