Yesterday, I attended a conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center entitled: “Islamic Feminism and Beyond: The New Frontier.” The term Islamic feminism is a relatively new; it started to emerge about twenty years ago. Nevertheless, the issues and actors involved in the movement have expanded greatly and become more complex. The main goals of Islamic feminism are women’s rights, social justice and gender equality for Muslims in the public and private spheres. It aims to modify the patriarchal based society through means such as civic participation, employment, and literacy.
Support for Islamic feminism is drawn from many parties that include secular groups, religious groups, Muslims, and non-Muslims. Due to such a diverse background, there are differing approaches on how to achieve the goals of Islamic feminism. The panel of speakers was diverse as well, comprising of six women specializing in different areas. They were each able to highlight the dynamics of feminism in their respective countries of research, allowing for interesting discussion. (more…)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally met with Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday, after his trip was delayed by the Gaza flotilla raid. The leaders discussed Gaza as well as prospects for a Palestinian state (BBC).
Obama called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable,” and pledged $400 million dollars in aid to the region. The proposed aid package would give $240 million towards investment in home ownership, $75 million towards improving infrastructure, $40 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza and West Bank appeal, and $10 million dollars to enhance the Palestinian economy (Al-Jazeera). As for the logistics of how that aid will reach the area, Obama did not give any details, but it will most likely be filtered through Israel to the PA. He does however have more opinions on how the blockade on Gaza should be altered. He believes the blockade should focus more on arms shipments rather than all goods and people to and from Gaza (Washington Post). (more…)
As early as this Wednesday, the UN could vote upon a new set of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to punish it for continuing its nuclear program. As the vote approaches, US officials are confident that at least twelve states should vote for this new round of sanctions, although Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon are expected to vote against them.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk among the international community warning against sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that the UN should be wary of passing a resolution that is too tough on Iran arguing that “This resolution should not be excessive, should not put Iran’s leadership, the Iranian people in a tricky situation that creates barriers on the way of development of Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy.” This being the case, it is still projected that Russia will vote in favor of sanctions. (more…)
The international community is in a furor after yesterday’s events on the Gaza flotilla that left at least 9 activists dead by the hands of the IDF. Major protests were sparked around the world, from Paris to Istanbul, against the actions of Israel. Strong condemnation was elicited from the UN, though the U.S. had it watered down a bit, Turkish PM Erdogan, who called the raid a “massacre,” the EU, and many other nations. It is clear that most of the world is united such condemnation of Israel, and the state is facing further isolation than ever before.
It is difficult to fathom what went wrong on this humanitarian mission, and the UN has called for an impartial inquiry into the raid. Naturally, there are two differing narratives. The Free Gaza flotilla left Cyprus with the intention of trying to open up three year blockade on Gaza by delivering 10,000 tons of aid. Israel intercepted the flotilla 40 miles away from the Gaza coast, though its formal blockade of Gaza only extends 25 miles off the coast. When the flotilla said its destination was Gaza and would not stop, Israeli forces proceeded to board the ships. Under the UN Charter on the Law of the Sea, a vessel can only be boarded in international waters if it is suspected to be transporting weapons or weapons of mass destruction. Seaborne special forces, which are trained for combat and not crowd control, proceeded to board. (more…)
As George Mitchell has returned fruitless from the first round of proximity talks, prospects for success of the four month long project have already dwindled. A bleak atmosphere of cynicism surrounds Israel and the West Bank, as both Jews and Palestinians believe the talks will be exercises in futility.
The proximity talks seemed doomed from the beginning. The spirit of negotiations was dampened months ago, when in March Netanyahu announced the building of 1,600 new homes in an East Jerusalem settlement, and President Abbas retaliated by announcing that negotiations with Israel would not take place unless there was a freeze on settlement building. However, the subsequent scolding and cajoling by the U.S. resulted in both men decreasing the intensity of their agendas, for the sake of possible negotiations. (more…)
While the Obama Administration has been pushing for a resumption of peace negotiations in recent weeks, Israeli and Palestinian officials have rebuffed these efforts and refused to cooperate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to bow down to international pressure to halt settlement building in East Jerusalem and Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority will not come to the table until Israel vows to do so. The stubborness of both sides has put peace negotiations on hold. But who is really to blame?
The Obama Administration has made it clear to Israel that it must stop settlement construction, and its their refusal to do so will be disastrous to the negotations. And the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has met with American diplomats in Israel in an attempt to encourage the US to continue pressuring Israel. (more…)
During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week, the Israeli PM met with members of Congress as part of a PR offensive to marginalize recent criticism from the Obama Administration over the announced East Jerusalem settlements. In sharp contrast to the insulted frustration echoed by Administration officials in recent weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood by Minority Leader John Boehner and the Israeli Prime Minister while declaring; “We in Congress stand by Israel..In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel.” Obama later met with Netanyahu at the White House without posing with the Israel PM for the cameras.
The House leadership’s public posture shows a clear divide between the Obama Administration’s approach to dealing with Netanyahu and that of Congress. While Administration officials directly deal with the diplomatic consequences of Israeli expansion into Palestinian areas, the House leaders pay lip service to ‘furthering the peace process’ while allocating $3 billion annually to help Netanyahu expand and maintain the settlements. (more…)
This morning I attended a hearing on the Hill to confirm the nomination of the new Ambassador to Syria, Ambassador Robert Ford. This will be our first Ambassador to Damascus in five years, (when in 2005 diplomatic relations became strained following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister), and Ambassador Ford seems perfect for the job. He served as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) to Bahrain, head of the Political Section in Iraq, Ambassador to Algeria, and he is currently DCM in Baghdad. In addition to his experience in the Middle East, he also speaks Arabic and Turkish and seems well versed on the issues facing this troubled region.
The hearing began with a short statement by Chairman Kerry. He started out by bringing up some of the regional issues that Syria has a hand in, including: the flow of fighters into Iraq, the transportation of weapons, the support for terrorist organizations, and the failure to cooperate with the IAEA. And he brought up the importance of negotiations with Israel over the Golan and the need to protect Lebanese sovereignty. But most importantly, he stressed the need for engagement and diplomacy to show Syria the benefits of modifying its behavior. He stated,”…If we do succeed, it could be transformative in galvanizing the Arab-Israeli peace process and dramatically improving the situation for our friends in Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, and the West Bank. In short, this presents us with an opportunity to change the strategic landscape in the Middle East that we cannot afford to ignore.” (more…)
As AIPAC’s annual public policy conference looms in an atmosphere of public tension between Israel and the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) issued a press release urging the Obama Administration to keep any criticism of Israel out of public eye.
After last week’s public relations disaster during Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel, AIPAC has thrust itself into the diplomatic fray between the Obama Administration and Israel’s Likud dominated Government. After heavy criticism from the US Vice President and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the announced Israeli expansion into East Jerusalem, AIPAC is taking exception with the unusual reprimand directed towards the Netanyahu Administration.
AIPAC will be gathering in Washington this Sunday for their annual policy conference, where both Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu are scheduled to speak. In order to defuse any tension casting a cloud over the meeting, AIPAC issued its statement to ensure that US officials refrain from public criticism of Israel, regardless of state policy or action:
“The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State…The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests.”
The statement later implores the Administration to discuss and work out any disagreements behind closed doors, fearing a serious long-term rift unless differences can be smoothed over. Congressman Eric Cantor blamed the Obama Administration for ignoring recent ‘Palestinian provocations’ and stated that the recent outrage directed towards the announced East Jerusalem housing units was ‘irresponsible’.
Despite the official backlash against Israel’s provocative expansion, Prime Minister Netanyahu is attempting to maintain the facade of ‘business as usual’ by continuing the Israeli expansion into East Jerusalem. Israel’s Ambassador in Washington Michael Oren admitted to Israeli diplomats last Saturday that ties between Israel and the United States are at their lowest point in 35 years.