20 December 2018   Leave a comment

US President Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria has been greeted with shock by many members of his own party. All the evidence suggests that Mr. Trump did not consult with party members, members of his Administration, or with his advisors about the decision. Senator Corker (R-TN) said: “I’ve never seen a decision like this since I’ve been here in 12 years where nothing is communicated in advance, and all of a sudden this type of massive decision takes place.” Senator Sasse (R-NB) said: “The President’s generals have no idea where this weak decision came from: They believe the high-fiving winners today are Iran, ISIS, and Hezbollah. The losers are Israel, humanitarian victims, and U.S. intelligence gathering. A lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented.” On the other hand, Russian President Putin praised the move as “correct.” More worryingly, Turkey threatened to “bury” Kurdish forces, the most effective and loyal US ally in Syria. One interesting fact is that Mr. Trump’s decision came a day after a telephone conversation with Turkish President Erdogan. The timing makes me suspect that a deal was made to persuade Turkey not to make further evidence available concerning the murder of Jamal Kashoggi, an incident that threatens Mr. Trump’s aspirations for a Saudi role in a Middle East peace process. But the decision also boosts Iran’s influence in the Middle East, an outcome that likely frightens Saudi Arabia. Finally, Mr. Trump’s rationale for pulling the troops out–that ISIS has been defeated–is likely not true.

North Korea issued a statement which suggests that the process of denuclearization pushed by the Trump Administration will never occur:

“When we talk about the Korean peninsula, it includes the territory of our republic and also the entire region of [South Korea] where the United States has placed its invasive force, including nuclear weapons. When we talk about the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it means the removal of all sources of nuclear threat, not only from the South and North but also from areas neighboring the Korean peninsula.”

The statement calls into question the whole process of negotiations between the US and North Korea since it is highly unlikely that the US would ever agree to remove its troops from South Korea. Nor is it likely that South Korea and Japan would ever push for such a settlement. The Asia Times considers the statement to be the end of the process:

“Make no mistake: This is serious. It is not a simple disagreement over nomenclature. It makes starkly clear a divergence of opinion not only over what denuclearization is, but to whom it applies.”

It is difficult for me to imagine any move that the US could make to restart the negotiations under these terms. Perhaps South Korea can persuade the North to alter its stance, but the price for that change would be very high.

There is an effort in the US Senate to include language in the must-pass spending bills that would penalize individuals or corporations that support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. In 2016 the United Nations passed a resolution which would identify companies that were operating in what the UN calls “Occupied Territories” (the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip). Israel does not consider these territories to be “occupied” (instead using the phrase “disputed” territories) and the US changed its long-standing (since 1967) policy of identifying those territories as “occupied” in 2017 when it dropped the phrase “Occupied Territories” from its State Department Human Rights Report on Israel.

But the international community disagrees with this position. The International Court of Justice articulated the international law on occupied territories in 2004:

“…under customary international law as reflected (…) in Article 42 of the Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land annexed to the Fourth Hague Convention of 18 October 1907 (hereinafter “the Hague Regulations of 1907”), territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army, and the occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised. The territories situated between the Green Line (see paragraph 72 above) and the former eastern boundary of Palestine under the Mandate were occupied by Israel in 1967 during the armed conflict between Israel and Jordan. Under customary international law, these were therefore occupied territories in which Israel had the status of occupying Power. Subsequent events in these territories, as described in paragraphs 75 to 77 above, have done nothing to alter this situation. All these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories and Israel has continued to have the status of occupying Power.

The BDS movement is an attempt to persuade businesses not to invest in the Occupied Territories as a way of establishing the rights of Palestinians in those territories.

Everyone should decide whether or not to support the BDS movement. What I find very troubling is the attempt to make support for the movement illegal. According to Igor Derysh:

“The Intercept reported that 26 states, including New York, California and Texas, have legislation in place barring state contractors from supporting a boycott of Israel, while 13 other states have similar bills pending.
Texas’ recently-passed law led to residents affected by Hurricane Harvey being forced to sign a pro-Israel pledge in order to get disaster relief funds. Earlier this year, Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist for an Austin school district, lost her job for refusing to sign a pro-Israel oath as part of her new contract.

The oath required her to pledge that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”

Peaceful political action should never be made illegal. I am certain that the Alabama state legislature would have loved to have made the boycott of the Montgomery bus system illegal and Rosa Parks would have defied the segregation laws in vain. Making peaceful political action illegal only legitimates the status quo.

Posted December 20, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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