Obama’s Iraqi-Syrian quagmire

Al-Qaeda in Iraq, or “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS), to give it its current name, has taken over the city of Mosul in the north. Iraqi forces have retreated in alarm. Thus, without warning, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lost a major oil-producing region and the central refinery in Baiji. Maliki quickly called on US President Barack Obama to assist by bombing the positions of the rebels as they advance on Baghdad, but Obama only reiterated his policy principles as he had expressed them during his last speech at the West Point Military Academy, when he promised the new cadets they would never set foot in foreign lands. The Nobel Peace laureate keeps himself occupied with interesting theories, but Al Qaeda is busy fighting and has managed to spread from Syria to Iraq, in the process effectively eliminating the border between the two states.

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Abu Mazen shuffles the deck

For one short moment, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has managed to bring everyone together – not merely reconciling Fatah and Hamas, but completely uniting the Israeli government which, many thought, was on the verge of collapse. People still remember Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying he’d prefer new elections over the release of Arab-Israeli prisoners, and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett threatening that his party, Habayit Hayehudi, would leave the coalition if any of these were freed. Day and night the teams negotiated – Tzipi Livni, Saeb Erekat and US mediator Martin Indyk – seeking the magic formula which would enable the talks to continue and ensure the government coalition’s unity. Commentators regurgitated the official line that this was impossible, because Abu Mazen was not only insisting on the release of all prisoners as promised, including Israeli Arabs, but also added two new conditions: talks on the future borders and a three-month freeze on settlement construction. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response was immediate: “Abu Mazen doesn’t want peace!”

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Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements: Contending with a regime of work permits and limited rights

Scarlet Johansson did not intend to, but when the Hollywood actress represented SodaStream, an Israeli company operating in the occupied territories, and claimed that the Palestinian workers receive the same full rights as their Israeli counterparts, she raised an international media storm. Responding to criticism that the plant’s location in occupied territory violates international law, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum claimed, “We are very proud of our plant in Mishor Adumim. It must be understood, the plant employs both Israelis and Palestinians. All workers have equal rights. We call this an ‘island of peace’” (from[i] Israel Hayom[/i], 3 Feb. 2014).

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The boycott: To what end?

Until 2008 the boycott against Israel, known also as the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), was a marginal phenomenon. It began on July 9, 2005 when 171 Palestinian NGOs called for a boycott at an economic and cultural level. Over time, the initiative spread beyond the Occupied Territories to the wider world. But the Palestinian Authority (PA), which maintains diplomatic, security and economic ties with Israel, refused to express support (and refuses until now). The world’s governments likewise withheld support. Here and there, a famous singer or actor cancelled a gig in Israel, and demonstrations were held abroad when Israelis performed there, but these did not have an impact on public opinion in Israel, or on its government, which regularly accused the boycotters of anti-Semitism.

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