Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama conceded that he doubted that significant progress could be made in achieving peace in the middle east. Although he affirmed that engagement would continue, he appeared to suggest that the US lacked sufficient influence on the parties involved to play a decisive role, saying that the US could not ‘impose a solution’ and that both sides in the conflict might decide against a peaceful resolution ‘no matter how much pressure the US brings to bear.’
His comments came on the same day that the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, bitterly criticised a new Israeli ID law. The law, which amends a previous 1969 regulation aimed at stopping the so-called ‘infiltration’ of Palestinian refugees into Israel, states that any inhabitant of the occupied West Bank who does not possess valid identification could face deportation or seven years in prison. The Israel Defence Force, which is responsible for security in the Occupied Territories, has not specified what constitutes valid ID.
Fayyad stated that the order was ‘in every way illegal’. The Gisha Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement, a Tel Aviv civil rights organisation, has also condemned the legislation, saying that it effectively gives the Israeli armed forces carte blanche to deport potentially tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank. The Israeli government has defended the move, saying that the law strengthens the rights of people facing deportation.
The openDemocracy verdict: The current Israeli government could be deemed the most conservative in the country’s history. The Likud party is heir to revisionist Zionism, Yisrael Beitenu a platform for ultra-right ideologues, drawn mainly from the Russian émigré community who arrived in Israel after the fall of communism and have never been properly integrated into mainstream Israeli society. Before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Revisionism’s early activists, including former Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzak Shamir, proposed that Israel should rightfully span both banks of the River Jordan, incorporating the then state of Transjordan.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, as leader of Yisrael Beitenu, has publicly called for a trade of population for territory, transferring Israeli Arabs to the Occupied Territories in exchange for an unspecified territorial concession to the Palestinian Authority. When one bears in mind the ideological background of the two largest factions within the current governing coalition, government pleas that the new law will strengthen the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank seem unlikely. The Gisha Legal Centre’s views, which are echoed by the other nine Israeli human rights organisations that signed a letter of protest against the new law, are more likely to represent the truth; that the regulation represents simply the latest stage of what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
The implementation of this law makes Obama’s unambiguous confession of weakness all the more alarming. His suggestion that the US lacks influence is simply not credible: US direct aid to Israel comprises $3 billion annually, with indirect aid potentially increasing that figure to at least $5 billion. Without this support, the highest amount given to any country by the US, it is doubtful that Israel’s settlement expansion, the biggest immediate obstacle to resuming negotiations, would be financially viable.
An instrument to apply potentially decisive pressure is within the hands of the US president; his announcement on Tuesday was that he is not going to use it, almost certainly due to domestic political concerns. The last president to apply ‘serious’ pressure to Israel was George H.W. Bush, and some analysts speculate that this was a major cause of his failure to win a second term. Until a US president does finally use their influence with Israel decisively, peace will probably remain elusive. By the time such pressure is brought to bear, the new law will have changed the facts on the ground again, to the continuing detriment of the Palestinians of the West Bank.
‘External blast’ sank South Korean ship
Yoon Duk-yong, the chief investigator into the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan on 26 March this year, stated on Friday that it was very likely an external explosion sank the ship. Speaking a day after the raising of the ship’s stern, his comments will fuel further speculation that a North Korean torpedo was responsible for the sinking, which led to the deaths of 38 sailors. The Cheonan was on a routine patrol in disputed waters near the North Korean coast when it sank.
Benazir Bhutto’s death was ‘avoidable’
A UN commission investigating the assassination of the former Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, in 2007 has concluded that her death could have been prevented. The commission heavily criticised the security agencies charged with her protection, citing key failures in this regard as being responsible for her death. It also savaged the subsequent investigation, alleging that the Pakistani police bungled the case because of their fears that Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus was involved in the assassination.
The report has sparked controversy in Pakistan’s political establishment. Senior members of the Pakistan People’s Party, currently led by Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who is also Pakistan’s president, said that the findings were ‘exactly what they had been saying all along’. Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that there would be redoubled efforts to locate the assassins and bring them to justice.
In contrast, Rashid Qureshi, an aide to Pervez Musharraf, who was president at the time of the murder, called the report ‘a pack of lies’, saying that it contained ‘absurd statements’ and was not well conducted. The commission has called for a credible probe into the assassination, stating that the failure of the police to investigate properly was deliberate and due to the pervasive influence of the country’s politicised intelligence agencies.
Ousted Kyrgyz President resigns
Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the president of Kyrgyzstan deposed in a violent uprising last week, has formally resigned following his flight to Kazakhstan on Thursday. Roza Otunbayeva’s interim government stated that he had faxed the resignation overnight, whereupon it was delivered to the government by the Kazakhstan ambassador. The resignation has restored a level of calm to the former Soviet republic, with the threat of civil war now apparently averted. The change in regime bodes well for the United States; Russia had been pressuring Bakiyev to deny the US access to Manas airforce base, which is a key facility in supporting the coalition effort in neighbouring Afghanistan. The new government has committed itself to maintaining the status quo, though with small alterations to the basing arrangement.