Saturday, January 16, 2021

From Ian:

Bret Stephens: Memo to President Biden: Please Don’t Mess Up the Abraham Accords
Where does the creation of a Palestinian state rank on this list of American priorities? Not high, in the final analysis. There’s a shopworn argument that the failure to “solve” the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is a major reason for ideological extremism and jihadist terrorism. Yet to the extent that extremists and jihadis care about, and act upon, their Palestinian grievance, it’s to destroy Israel in its entirety, not to create a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one. There is also an argument that a Palestinian state of some kind will be necessary to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character. But even if one concedes the point, it’s an argument about Israeli interests, not American ones.

The upshot is that the infatuation so many U.S. policymakers have with Palestinian statehood has disserved American interests in myriad ways.

- It confuses a vital national interest with a political wish—in this case, the wish of American presidents like Bill Clinton and secretaries of state like John Kerry to be lauded as peacemakers.
- It wastes the White House’s political capital and diplomatic time.
- It perpetuates the damaging myth that the plight of the Palestinians is the gravest in the region—to the detriment of other Middle Eastern people, such as the Kurds, who have fared far worse at the hands of Turks, Iraqis, and Syrians alike.
- It perpetuates the false notion that a solution to the Palestinian issue would somehow solve everything else.
- It allows the Arab world to go on asking “Who did this to us?” rather than “What did we do wrong?”—thereby fostering a mindset of blame-avoidance, conspiracy thinking, and political prevarication.
- It plays into the propaganda of America’s radical enemies, led by Iran, that Israel’s behavior, rather than their own, is the chief source of turmoil and injustice in the region.
- It asks that this same ally, Israel, weaken its defenses and take the proverbial “risks for peace,” when what America most needs from Israel is a strong country that can defend itself, come to the aid of its neighbors, provide the U.S. with critical intelligence and tactical know-how, and serve as a bulwark against the region’s radicals.
- It puffs the vanity of Palestinian leaders and encourages them to pursue maximalist demands and reject every compromise, since it is only through the perpetuation of conflict that they remain relevant actors on the world stage. The paradox of the Palestinian issue is that the greater the public and diplomatic attention paid it, the harder it is to solve.
- It stands in the way of full normalization of ties between Israel and Arab states by tying normalization to demands that Israel cannot safely meet, such as relinquishing the Jordan River Valley or allowing the descendants of Arab refugees from 1948 to return to Israel.
- It feeds anti-Semitic stereotypes. As one French ambassador put it not long after 9/11, “All the current troubles in the world are because of that shitty little country, Israel. Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?”

In sum, not only did the Obama administration harm U.S. interests and values by overworking the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it harmed Israeli, Arab, and even Palestinian interests as well. Could the Trump administration do better?

To its credit—and to the pleasant surprise of some of its critics, including me—it did, in spades.
Biden Doesn’t Need a New Middle East Policy
As with the past eight U.S. presidents, much of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy was dominated by the broader Middle East. Despite talk of ending “forever wars” and pivoting to Asia, core national interests have repeatedly drawn the United States back to the region.

In many ways, Trump’s priorities in the Middle East differed little from those of his two predecessors: eliminating weapons of mass destruction, supporting U.S. partners, fighting terror, and facilitating the export of hydrocarbons. In other ways, however, his administration—in which I served as envoy for both Syria and the coalition to counter the Islamic State (also known as ISIS)—oversaw a notable paradigm shift in the U.S. approach to the region. Both U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama pursued transformational campaigns in the Middle East based on the erroneous belief that by burrowing politically and militarily into states there, the United States could address the underlying causes of Islamist terror and perpetual regional instability.

Although Trump’s real policy views were often difficult to divine, his administration took a different tack, with clear results. By keeping American aims limited, responding to imminent regional threats but otherwise working primarily through partners on the ground, Trump avoided the pitfalls encountered by his predecessors while still advancing American interests. For all the partisan rancor in debates about foreign policy today, this new paradigm should—and likely will—continue to define U.S. policy. It offers the best option for containing challenges in the Middle East and prioritizing geopolitical challenges elsewhere.

Most new administrations issue a National Security Strategy and then quickly shelve it. But the 2017 document drafted by the White House offered a novel blueprint for U.S. policy in the Middle East and one that the Trump administration generally followed. Overall, the strategy called for shifting focus from so-called endless wars to great-power competition, primarily with China and Russia. For the Middle East, that first principle meant avoiding entanglement in local issues while still pushing back on near-peer and regional dangers. In practice, this amounted to containing Iran and Russia while smashing serious terrorist threats.
Biden Administration Tells Israel It Will Continue to Pursue Normalization With Arab Countries: Report
The incoming Biden administration has told Israel that it plans to continue pursuing normalization agreements with Arab countries, according to a report from journalist Barak Ravid in Walla News.

“I do not think it is possible to reverse the relations that have been established between Israel and the Arab states in recent months,” Israeli Foreign Ministry official Eliav Benjamin told Ravid. “We’re in touch with Biden’s staff and what we have heard is that they are in favor of the normalization process, and that they are willing to continue it and we will work with them on that.”

Brokered by the Trump administration, the Abraham Accords saw normalized relations between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan — the first such deals since the Jewish state’s peace accord with Jordan in 1994.

“Some are more prepared and some less prepared,” Benjamin also said. “I expect more countries to join — I do not know if it will be in weeks or months, but there will be more”

President-elect Joe Biden praised the agreements in a Sep. 2020 statement, as a candidate, saying, “I welcome the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain taking steps to normalize ties with Israel … It is good to see others in the Middle East recognizing Israel and even welcoming it as a partner.”
Report: Biden team already holding talks with Iran on US return to nuclear deal
Officials in the incoming Biden administration have already begun holding quiet talks with Iran on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and have updated Israel on those conversations, Channel 12 News reported Saturday.

The network gave no sourcing for the report, and no details on what was allegedly discussed.

US President-elect Joe Biden has indicated his desire to return to the accord, while Israel is pushing for any return to the deal to include fresh limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terror and destabilization around the world.

On Wednesday, Walla News reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is assembling a team to strategize for the first talks with the Biden administration on Iran’s nuclear program.

The team will include officials representing national security elements, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the military, the Mossad spy agency, and the Atomic Energy Commission, the report said, citing unnamed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu is considering appointing a senior official to head the team and to serve as an envoy in talks with the US on the Iranian nuclear program, the report said.

US to Move Israel Under Central Command, Alongside Arab States Facing Iran
The Trump administration will move Israel to the U.S. Central Command, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, allowing for greater cooperation with other Arab countries against Iran.

Previously, US military responsibility for Israel fell under the European command, avoiding interactions between the country and its Arab foes. But as relations have warmed with states like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, pro-Israel groups have advocated the restructuring.

“On the ground, it reinforces the Abraham Accords’ message of growing Middle East unity against Iran’s nuclear and regional threats,” said Jonathan Ruhe, director of foreign policy at the The Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), to The Algemeiner Friday.

JINSA began lobbying for the move nearly three years ago, Ruhe said, but gained traction during the past several months in both the US and Israel. “It also paves the way for much more effective, region-wide defense cooperation against Tehran’s proliferation of increasingly precise missiles and drones, as well as upgrading America’s prepositioned weapons stockpile in Israel with much-needed precision guided munitions,” he added.

The move comes during President Donald Trump’s final days in office, in which the administration has made several foreign policy decisions designed in part to set the table for his successor. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that the al-Qaeda terrorist group had established a new base of operations in Iran, while on Wednesday the Treasury Department levied new sanctions against foundations controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Seth Frantzman: Regional ramifications as Trump seeks to include Israel in CENTCOM
CENTCOM was concerned that Iranian-backed forces might target the US if they viewed the US as complicit in the airstrikes. Media in Iraq fed this rumor, claiming that the US had carried out various airstrikes. The US denied they had a role.

In June 2018 an airstrike targeted pro-Iranian groups in Syria near Albukamal and the Iraqi border. “No member of the US-led coalition carried out strikes near Albukamal,” Major Josh Jacques, a US Central Command spokesman, told Reuters. Yet Syrian state media said that US-led coalition aircraft “had bombed a Syrian army position near the Iraqi border, causing deaths and injuries,” Reuters noted.

These incidents show that CENTCOM is already tied up with responding to questions about incidents in the region. CENTCOM also has a good relationship with Israel. McKenzie has visited Israel and also warned Hezbollah about an attack on Israel. Former CENTCOM head Joseph Votel also visited Israel in 2018 and 2019. He spoke about the close relationship with Israel, even though it was ostensibly outside his area of responsibility, when he had a hearing in the US Senate Armed Services Committee in 2019.

“If we withdraw precipitously from the region, we would risk the reemergence of ISIS, squandering gains made in Iraq, destabilizing Jordan and increasing the pressure on [Jordanian] King Abdullah, and allowing Iran and its proxy to become further entrenched, thereby posing a greater threat to Israel.”

Votel spoke to The Jerusalem Post in February 2020 and suggested Israel should “lay off” and scale back airstrikes in Iraq. Haaretz reported on Thursday that Iranian redeployment in Iraq was linked to a major airstrike this week in Albukamal. This points in increased tensions in the region.

An Israel that is under CENTCOM, where it de facto already operates, may not change a regional relationship that takes for granted Israel’s role in the region. It will likely facilitate and increase the work with the UAE and Bahrain in the wake of the peace deals. In response, Gantz said that he is “glad that following weeks of dialogue between our defense establishments, including with former defense secretary, Dr. Mark Esper, and chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs Gen. Mark Milley, the Pentagon has moved military overview of Israel to Central Command, which includes other countries in the Middle East.

“This shift will further boost cooperation between the IDF and US armed forces in confronting regional challenges, along with other friends whom we share interests.”
FDD: On the Same Page: America’s Middle East Allies and Regional Threats
The historic Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain was the first in a new wave of normalization agreements where Israel and Gulf countries have united around common interests and aspirations. Mutual concerns about the regime in Iran as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State have driven enhanced cooperation.

How will the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel work together to counter these common threats? What is the trajectory of Israel’s ties with the rest of the Arab world and who is aiming to derail this progress? What impact might the new administration in Washington have on the changing regional landscape?

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies hosts the UAE’s Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba; Bahrain’s Ambassador to the US Abdulla R. Al Khalifa; and Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer for a discussion with FDD Chief Executive Mark Dubowitz.

Despite Trump's behavior we Israeli's must remember who had our back
As for Israel, hakarat hatov – gratefulness, entrenched in Jewish tradition – is called for today. Despite Trump’s unpresidential behavior, we, as Israelis, have a lot to be grateful for. The Jewish people, especially those living in the Jewish state, should not forget who had our back.

President Trump recognized the obvious: Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital. He accepted that the Golan Heights are an integral sovereign part of Israel and squashed Hillary Clinton’s once surreal call that the strategic and biblical land be given to Assad. Trump recognized the legitimacy of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria and engineered the Abraham Accords, in which four important and influential Arab nations normalized peaceful relations with Israel.

Those are historic achievements that not only pave the way for wider peace and prosperity in the region but help isolate the tyrants in Tehran. Indeed, Trump pulled America out of president Obama’s dangerous nuclear deal with Iran and alienated its terrorist regime. It would be utter blindness for President-elect Biden to go back to appeasing Iran, but if he chooses to do so, the coalition formed by the Abraham Accords can cooperate and will be able to competently confront that challenge. For all that, and more, President Trump deserves our gratitude.

Many Israelis were rooting for Trump’s reelection, but Israel was a side issue at best in the 2020 elections. The American people have spoken. Israel should thank the man who had its back and wish President-elect Biden all the best in serving America and its shared democratic values with Israel.
US support for Israeli airstrikes in Syria has been important recently
In a recent article at Foreign Affairs, the former American envoy on Syrian policy notes that the “US-supported Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in the country further limited the [Syrian] regime’s military options.” James Jeffrey, the envoy, was key to US policy in the last several years and he backed Israel’s efforts as well as Turkey’s role in Syria. He left office after Trump lost the election last year.

Jeffrey also told Jared Szuba in an interview at Al-Monitor about the US support for Israeli airstrikes in Syria. “The US only began supporting that when I came on board. I went out there and we saw Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and others, and they thought that they were not being supported enough by the US military, and not by intelligence. And there was a big battle within the US government, and we won the battle. The argument [against supporting Israel’s campaign] was, again, this obsession with the counterterrorism mission. People didn’t want to screw with it, either by worrying about Turkey or diverting resources to allow the Israelis to muck around in Syria, as maybe that will lead to some blowback to our forces. It hasn’t.”

Jeffrey sees Israel’s campaign against Iran as part of a multi-pillar US strategy in the region that worked between 2018 and 2020. “So you throw all those together — the anti-chemical weapons mission, our military presence, the Turkish military presence, and the Israeli dominance in the air — and you have a pretty effective military pillar of your military, diplomatic and isolation three pillars.”

In addition, after airstrikes last week on Iranian targets in Syria near the Iraqi border “an unnamed senior US intelligence official told the Associated Press that the air strikes had been carried out with intelligence provided by the US and that they had targeted warehouses being used as part of a pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons. The warehouses also served as a pipeline for components that supported Iran's nuclear programme, according to the official,” the BBC reported.
Pics with Mossad chief, settlement wines: Pompeo’s departing pro-Israel posts
With less than a week remaining in office, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter to boast of his perceived accomplishments as top US diplomat, and has talked up President Donald Trump even as he bleeds support following the storming of the US Capitol last week.

From Tuesday through Friday, Pompeo issued a stream of posts highlighting pro-Israel moves advanced by the Trump administration and other measures he moved forward as secretary of state.

Pompeo is reportedly considering a run for president in 2024, and as an evangelical Christian, he would likely rely on the support of both his own religious community as well as the broader pool of conservative, pro-Israel voters.

Some critics accused Pompeo of inappropriately campaigning for his personal benefit from an official government account, instead of his own private account.

The dozens of posts from the secretary of state’s official government account included a photo Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, standing alongside his wife Aya, Pompeo, and the top diplomat’s wife Susan.

There were also photos of Pompeo visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Yad Vashem and West Bank settlements.

“L’chaim to Pompeo wine!” he wrote in one post that included a picture of several bottles of a blend named in his honor by the Psagot winery located in the West Bank on land Palestinians claim as their own.
Trump gives top award to Morocco’s king for normalizing with Israel
US President Donald Trump has awarded a top US honor to King Mohammed VI of Morocco, citing his decision to begin normalization of relations with Israel.

The Legion of Merit is a rarely awarded decoration that can only be bestowed by the president, and typically on heads of state or government of other countries.

The honor comes after the United States in December recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory, including the disputed area between southern Morocco and Mauritania. Morocco, in turn, agreed to resume partial diplomatic ties with Israel in the near future, establish direct flights between the nations, and promote economic and technological cooperation.

Trump has sought to make bolstering regional support for Israel as a countermeasure to Iranian aggression a signature foreign policy legacy of his administration.

King Mohammed was not in Washington to accept the award. Morocco’s ambassador to the US, Princess Lalla Joumala, accepted it on his behalf in a private ceremony, according to a White House statement.

Trump in his final days in office has spent time honoring friends and allies with the presidential awards.
UAE rabbi speaks of Emirati Jewish community and ‘historic time’
Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie’s connection to the Jewish community of the Emirates (JCE) has come a long way since he first visited the United Arab Emirates just two years ago.

In 2019, Abadie led the community in completing a Torah scroll dedicated to the Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan—a gesture with a vision of fostering tolerance within the country, and foreshadowing the Abraham Accords and peace treaty between the UAE and the Jewish state a year later.

He visited 10 months later to present the scroll to the sheikh in Abu Dhabi and began to advise the community, which later asked Abadie to become the resident and senior rabbi, to take care of the religious and spiritual needs of the community, and represent them to the government and the Jewish Diaspora.

Abadie, born in Lebanon and living there until he was 10, later moved to Mexico and then to New York City to attend Yeshiva University. He is both a rabbi and a physician. After serving as rabbi at the Edmond J. Safra synagogue, founding the School of the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan and heading the Jacob E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University, he relocated to Dubai to serve as the community’s senior rabbi in 2020.

Abadie, who now has residency in the UAE, is working to establish interfaith dialogue, as he is no stranger to the Emirati way of life.

“I speak the language and I understand the culture, and the Arab mentality and Islamic tradition as well. I lived among them for 10 years, grew up eating their food and listening to their music. It has given me an advantage to break barriers here by seeing eye-to-eye with locals,” he told JNS.

UNRWA 'mistakenly' gave Palestinian kids textbooks calling for jihad
UNRWA made the statements Thursday following a report published a day earlier by the Jerusalem-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School, or IMPACT-se, saying the books went to hundreds of thousands of students in the Palestinian Authority and Gaza. Many seem to be based on Palestinian Authority resources. Some mislabel Israel as “Palestine” or erase the country from maps of the Middle East.

One Arabic grammar booklet features phrases like “Jihad is one of the doors to Paradise.” Another reads that “The Palestinians are lions in fighting the enemies.” One book has a poem about how “a raging fire awaits the Occupation,” while another states that “The motherland is worthy of any kind of sacrifice” and “the Enemy [committed] heinous offences against … the mujahideen,” Arabic for anyone fighting a jihad, or holy war.

A ninth-grade social studies booklet accuses Israel of deliberately polluting Palestinian territories and spreading disease by dumping radioactive and toxic waste, the report said.

UNRWA spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that these and other texts were “not in line with U.N. values” and “mistakenly included” as the agency rushed to supply students teaching aids during the COVID-19 lockdown. Alrifai also said that UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, will shortly launch a “self-learning platform.”

A U.N. Human-Rights Expert Speaks to a Genocide-Denying Website
In the latest episode demonstrating how authoritarian regimes and their advocates have weaponized the U.N. system, Alena Douhan, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures, granted an interview this week to a fringe website that peddles genocide-denial content.

As I noted in my previous writing about Douhan’s work, her role was created by a 2014 U.N. Human Rights Council resolution authored by Iran and pushed by China, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, and others. Since its creation, the office has served as an attack dog that acts on behalf of those regimes to inscribe a perverse understanding of sanctions and human rights into the international legal lexicon. As the watchdog group U.N. Watch has pointed out, the previous holder of the position, Idriss Jazairy, a former Algerian U.N. representative, fought to silence other U.N. human-rights rapporteurs.

Douhan, a professor at Belarusian State University, is the second person to hold the role, and since starting the job in March, she’s granted several interviews to the state-run media of Belarus, Iran, Russia, and China. In these interviews, she dismisses Western-backed sanctions as detrimental to the well-being of the people of the targeted countries.

Her interview with the Grayzone (Max Blumenthal) on Thursday marks a new low. Her argument, condemning the new U.S. sanctions targeting the Assad regime, is nothing out of the ordinary for her. What’s most revealing, however, is her willingness to speak to the Grayzone at all.

The website has earned a reputation for pugnaciously defending the perpetrators of mass atrocities. Its series denying the existence of concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang region promotes falsehoods that echo Chinese government talking points (indeed, Chinese diplomats regularly cite Grayzone articles to falsely claim that Uyghurs are not being arbitrarily detained and forced into slave labor). These claims misrepresent the research that shows that some one million individuals have been sent to these 21st-century gulags, and they elide the other evidence that proves this, such as the testimony of victims, satellite imagery, and leaked Chinese government documents. There’s no way around it: The Grayzone peddles genocide denialism.

Israel edges closer to 4,000 coronavirus deaths
More than two million Israelis have been vaccinated - 205,000 with both doses - but still the Health Ministry plans to push to extend the lockdown by another week.

The cabinet will convene on Wednesday to discuss the Health Ministry’s proposal; the ministry claims that another week is needed to get the reproduction rate down to one. The reproduction rate (R) is the number of people a sick person infects.

Blue and White and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) ministers, however, are reportedly against the plan. Blue and White wants a commitment that haredi schools will be closed and the haredim want their schools to open. Blue and White ministers also want to make a final decision based on how many at-risk people have been vaccinated with both doses by the end of the week.

Recall, the lockdown started on Thursday, January 7 at midnight and is due to be lifted this coming Thursday, January 21, at the same time, meaning whatever decision is made on Wednesday will be finalized at the last minute.

Meanwhile, the number of new cases per day remains high and the death toll is climbing.

On Saturday night, Israel edged closer to 4,000 people dead from the virus. With 44 people dead over the weekend, the death toll was 3,943 at press time.
Bedouin youth repair a cemetery that was vandalized in a TikTok video
Bedouin youth restored the cemetery in Nevatim after it was vandalized earlier this week by youth who filmed the destruction and posted the vandalism on popular social media application TikTok.

Students from the "Stars of the South" school came to the cemetery the day after the vandalism to repair the damage, clean the area and repaint the fence.

Bedouin youth restore the cemetary in Nevatim after it was vandalized (Stars of the South). Bedouin youth restore the cemetary in Nevatim after it was vandalized (Stars of the South).

"I was happy that the Stars of the South program, an amazing program of young Bedouin leadership, volunteered to come and fix the cemetery in coordination with the council," said Nir Zamir, the head of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council.

"They showed us that there is another way - we can work together, to strengthen the neighborhood, to work hand in hand for a better Negev for us all."

Stars of the South is a Jewish-Bedouin organization acting to develop a new generation of Bedouin leadership and improve the daily reality of Israel's Bedouin community, with a particular focus on the community in the south of Israel. The organization aspires to develop leadership, self-fulfillment and social activism among Bedouin youth.
Palestinian factions to meet in Cairo to prepare for general elections
Representatives of several Palestinian factions including Fatah and Hamas, are scheduled to meet in Cairo this week to discuss preparations for holding general elections for the first time since 2006.

On Friday evening, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the elections for the PA presidency, parliament and the PLO’s legislative body, the Palestine National Council (PNC), will be held in three phases.

Abbas’s announcement was made in a decree he issued after meeting in his office in Ramallah with Palestinian Central Elections Commission chairman (CEC) Hanna Nasir.

According to the decree, the parliamentary election for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) will be held on May 22, the presidential election on July 31, and the PNC election on August 31.

The PLC represents only Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while the PNC also represents those living abroad.

Palestinian sources said that the decision to hold new elections was made as the PA leadership prepares to engage the incoming US administration of President-elect Joe Biden and resuming peace talks with Israel.

The planned elections will be the first since 2006, when the PLC poll resulted in a Hamas victory, triggering a bitter and bloody power struggle between the Islamist movement and Abbas’s Fatah faction.

The dispute reached its peak in 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, ending Abbas’s rule over the coastal enclave, home to some two million Palestinians.

Since then, the 132-member PLC has been effectively paralyzed due to the ongoing Fatah-Hamas rift.
PA: Abbas rival won’t be allowed to run in Palestinian election
Deposed Fatah operative Mohammed Dahlan will not be allowed to run in the upcoming Palestinian presidential election, because he is a convicted criminal, two senior Palestinian officials said on Saturday.

Dahlan loyalists, meanwhile, welcomed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to call new elections and said that they intend to participate in the electoral process.

They warned that Dahlan supporters would run in an independent list if the Fatah leadership refuses to include them in its list for the parliamentary election.

It’s worth noting that divisions and bickering in Fatah were one of the reasons why the ruling faction lost the parliamentary election to Hamas in 2006.

The election for the parliament, known as the Palestinian Legislative Council, is scheduled to be held on May 22. The presidential election will be held on July 31, according to a decree issued by Abbas on Friday evening.

In 2016, a Palestinian Authority court in Ramallah sentenced Dahlan (in absentia) to three years in prison after finding him guilty of embezzling $16 million. Dahlan has denied the charges.
Pakistan military: Fence bordering Afghanistan nearly done
Pakistan's military said Monday it has nearly completed a fence along the border with Afghanistan, which Islamabad says is necessary to prevent militant attacks from both sides.

Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar, spokesman for Pakistan's armed forces, said more than 83% of the fence along the 2,611-kilometer (1,622-mile) border with Afghanistan — known as the Durand Line — has been completed.

The remaining work at the country's western border was expected to be completed by the middle of the year, he told a televised news conference in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Pakistan says it is erecting the fence to stop the movement of Pakistani Taliban, remnants of al-Qaida, and other foreign militants who prior to the fence's construction could easily launch cross-border attacks on both sides. It was easier for militants to return to Afghanistan after launching attacks inside Pakistan, Pakistani officials say.

Authorities said fencing at the border with Iran in southwestern Baluchistan province is also underway to check smuggling and militant activity.

Afghanistan has never recognized the border, which runs through the Pashtun heartland, diluting the power of Afghanistan's largest ethnic group on both sides.
European gov’ts warn Iran’s latest move has ‘grave military implications’
Iran’s move towards producing uranium metal could only be used to produce weapons, the governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom warned in a statement on Saturday.

“Iran has no credible civilian use for uranium metal,” the group, known as the E3 in the context of the Iran nuclear deal, warned. “The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications.”

The E3 statement came after Iran notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Wednesday that they would begin research on producing uranium metal, which Tehran claimed was meant to provide fuel to a research reactor in Tehran.

The IAEA said: “Iran informed the Agency in a letter on 13 January that ‘modification and installation of the relevant equipment for the mentioned R&D activities have been already started.’”

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the 2015 Iran deal is known, blocked the production or acquisition of plutonium or uranium metal or their alloys for 15 years. Iran would have been able to begin to research producing fuel based on uranium metal in 2025 if the other partners to the agreement would agree to it.

France, Germany and the UK said it is “deeply concerned” by Iran’s preparation to produce uranium metal.

Belgian Jews Outraged as Flemish Parliament Honors Nazi Collaborators
Jewish community leaders in Belgium have expressed outrage at the publication of an official brochure that “glorifies” two collaborators with the Nazi occupation during World War II.

A statement on Thursday from the Belgian Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations (CCOJB) protested that “in the monthly magazine financed by the Flemish Parliament, and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this important institution in our country, two of the most important figures of Nazi collaboration are being honored.”

The two collaborators — Auguste Borms and Staf De Clercq — were described by the Belgian newspaper De Standaard as “notorious Nazi sympathizers,” who were now being honored by Flemish parliamentarians for their role in “shaping the emancipation of language and people” in the Flemish region of the country. 25,000 Belgian Jews were deported by the Nazis to the Auschwitz extermination camp

“The honoring of these collaborators of the Nazi regime is scandalous,” Yohan Benizri, president of the CCOJB, declared in a statement.

He continued: “Belgian Jews, and all democrats, have had enough. We already suffer from worrying about our safety and seeing our children exposed to increasingly unbridled antisemitism.”
UK Man Who Delivered Nazi Rant on Plane Journey From Poland Avoids Jail
A British man who engaged in a tirade of racial abuse punctuated by Nazi salutes while on a flight from Poland in Oct. 2019 has avoided a jail sentence.

Louis Mann, 28, had travelled from Warsaw in Poland to Liverpool in England when he spouted the horrific rant in front of Holocaust victims, the UK newspaper Metro reported.

Liverpool Crown Court was told how Mann was a medical student studying in Poland, had mental health difficulties and had been groomed by far-right extremists.

Prosecutor Zillah Williams said: “The defendant was a passenger on a Wizz Air flight from Poland, Warsaw, to Liverpool on October 19, 2019. The flight arrived at Liverpool John Lennon Airport at 5.37pm.”

She said the offense for which Mann was charged took place when the flight had landed in Liverpool. “The flight was full and passengers reported that during the flight Mr Mann had had to be repeatedly asked to sit down, to fasten his seatbelt and to refrain from making rude and offensive gestures,” Williams explained.

Mann then began what was described to the court as a “tirade of racial and religious abuse by words and gestures.”

“He was standing in the aisle of the flight making a Nazi salute and was shouting: ‘Anglo-Saxon race, we are superior,'” Ms Williams said.
Shaken to the core: the untold story of Sidney Nolan at Auschwitz
Few artists have captured our history as forcefully as Sidney Nolan. His most iconic works – from a stylised Ned Kelly to the doomed explorers Burke and Wills – are synonymous with Australian modernism. And yet there are aspects of Nolan’s own history that remain virtually unknown. One of the most significant but little known chapters of his life began in January 1962, with a visit to Auschwitz in the company of Al Alvarez, friend and poetry editor of London’s Observer newspaper.

Nolan had been commissioned to illustrate an article Alvarez was writing on Nazi concentration camps but Auschwitz shook him to his core. He found himself unable to paint it and the encounter shaped his imagery throughout the years that followed.

As early as 1939, while still living in Melbourne, Nolan first painted the darkness of concentration camps. Prison Camp was brushed over a newspaper photograph of Buchenwald inmates wearing black and white striped uniforms. Nolan recorded his depth of feeling on the back, writing ‘‘Camp ... Tears (St Kilda Beach)’’.

In 1944 he painted Lublin, an image of the Polish city that before World War II had been an important centre of Jewish culture. By the end of the war, the Jewish population had been almost entirely eradicated. The Nazis had established a ghetto within the city limits to house forcibly relocated Jewish and Polish families. Overcrowding, disease and a deliberate policy of starvation sapped their strength as they waited to be shot in the forest or packed shoulder to shoulder in the gas chambers of Majdanek, Sobibor or Belzec.

Nolan’s Lublin featured two buildings pierced by square windows. Each window trapped a single distraught face below or beside a row of chimneys, stark reminders of the crematoria that ringed the city. When he gifted the work to the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1974 Nolan added a second title – Baroque Exterior – the name of an Ern Malley poem whose first lines read: When the hysterical vision strikes/The facade of an era it manifests/Its insidious relations./The windowed eyes gleam with terror.

By June 1955 Nolan was living in London, where he saved several disturbing newspaper articles between pages of his diary. They detailed horrors of the Holocaust that were still being revealed. ‘‘Alleged ‘Bargain’ with Nazis over Hungarian Jews,’’ one headline shouted, describing the collaboration and corruption that had ‘‘filled train after train’’ with 500,000 Jews and sent them to their deaths at Auschwitz. Two years later, on the back of painted heads behind bars, he made himself a note: ‘‘Do European Scene of Camps on scale of Lascaux’’, drawing parallels between prehistoric paintings of extinct animals in the French cave system and the human extinctions of Poland and Germany.

In early 1961, the capture of one of the Holocaust’s most notorious figures, Adolf Eichmann, provided a catalyst for Nolan’s journey to Auschwitz.
In this Holocaust film, a Jewish inmate makes up a language to survive
For a movie about the Holocaust, the Belarussian film Persian Lessons has some comic potential. Set in a concentration camp somewhere in Western Europe, it involves a Jewish inmate who survives by giving Farsi lessons to a Nazi officer who dreams about opening a restaurant in Tehran.

One problem: The inmate doesn’t speak Farsi. Instead he comes up with his own language and teaches it to his captor, trying not to raise suspicions.

If that sounds like a comedy of errors, it’s no accident. Persian Lessons is based on a short story by the screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase, who specializes in tragicomedies. Der Spiegel describes Kohlhaase as a master of “dialogue jokes.”

But Persian Lessons is a somber thriller about surviving while obtaining justice against the odds. And the film sets itself apart from others in its genre in how it puts a deeply human face not only on the victims, but on the perpetrators as well.

Belarus submitted the movie for Oscar competition because it was filmed there, but it was disqualified from competition because it’s not actually about that country. Cohen Media Group acquired the North American rights to Persian Lessons but has yet to begin distributing the film there.

The film, which is mostly in German (and fake Farsi), begins in a truck packed with Jewish men being driven to an execution site. One man offers Gilles, a young Belgian Jew, an expensive-looking book in Persian in exchange for Gilles’ sandwich. Shortly after the transaction is made, the men are taken to the place of execution. With nothing to lose, Gilles tells the Nazi soldiers he is in fact Persian, not Jewish, and presents the book as proof.

He can hardly believe his luck when the soldiers decide to keep him alive because their commander is looking for a Farsi speaker.

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