Posted on June 19, 2013 in Countdown

Are Israelis Serious About Peace?

Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Israel and Palestine this week to try to renew peace talks, a trip that was scheduled for last week but rescheduled when Kerry needed to stay in Washington for debates about Syria. As Kerry works to bring the sides together, though, it has become less clear that Israelis really want a two-state solution. Take comments made by Israeli cabinet minister Danny Danon who recently told an Israeli newspaper “…there is no majority for a two-state solution” in his party, Likud (also the party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor in the current cabinet. Asked about the comments during a subsequent TV interview, Danon refused to back down, saying that Israel should formally annex the portion of the West Bank it wants to keep and negotiate an agreement with Jordan to absorb the remaining Palestinians. Though Netanyahu was quick to disavow Danon’s remarks, large segments of his party, Likud, agree with Danon, not to mention the conservative religious parties that hold important positions in his coalition. Danon’s comments may have been the Israeli version of a Washington gaffe: a politician caught telling the truth. So… who’s ready for some peace talks!?

Weapons to Syria: Fuel on The Fire

Late last week, President Obama announced that the US would provide small arms, ammunition, and possibly anti-tank weapons to “vetted” Syrian rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad. The decision to publicly ally the US with Syria’s rebels has been controversial. On our own blog, the argument was made that the decision is a mistake, likely to pull the US deeper into an intractable sectarian conflict. Proponents of greater US involvement, like the Brookings Institution’s Shadi Hamid, applauded Obama’s move but argued it was not nearly enough to tip the war’s balance in the rebels’ favor. The President’s announcement also inspired an angry outburst from Arab American and Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, who took to Facebook to accuse Obama of arming rebels that “kill Christians and desecrate churches” and to challenge the President to a mano-a-mano debate. As Americans debate the wisdom of choosing sides in Syria, the war there grinds on, with more than 90,000 now dead. In an important move, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced this week that it would extend Temporary Protective Status for Syrians for another 18 months, allowing Syrians currently in the US to remain here. This is an important step, but it does little to halt the fighting in Syria. We hope the President’s next announcement is of a comprehensive plan for peace.

Obama on NSA Revelations: I'm Not Dick Cheney

It appears that Edward Snowden has no intention of dropping out of the news cycle. After revealing last week the disturbing extent of the National Security Administration’s (NSA) surveillance programs, Snowden revealed this week that American and British intelligence had spied on foreign leaders and diplomats during a 2009 G20 summit in London. He also took to The Guardian’s website on Tuesday to defend his leaks in a live web chat, where he covered a wide range of topics and discussed his motivations for the leaks. In Washington, the fallout from his disclosures continued. On our blog, we rounded up a number of legislative responses to Snowden’s revelations. The leaks about NSA’s spying have put many Democrats in an awkward position, defending a program they opposed during the Bush Administration. Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Minnesota Senator Al Franken are among those who objected to similar programs under Bush but now see them as indispensable tools in the fight against terrorists. Check out this Biden – Obama split screen. Meanwhile, in an interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose, President Obama rejected comparisons between himself and former Vice President Dick Cheney. The fact that Obama himself offered, and then rejected, those comparisons might lead one to think the President doth protest too much. We humbly propose a new rule: if a policy requires one to disavow any likeness to Cheney, that policy ought to be avoided.

Egypt in Chaos

Think our politicians have problems coming to consensus on fundamental issues? Well, the divisions among Egyptians highlighted in the new Zogby Research poll make finding consensus in Congress look like a walk in the park. One year ago, 57% of Egyptians said Morsi’s victory was either “a positive development” or “the result of a democratic election and the result need to be respected.” Today, that support has dropped to only 28%, almost all of it coming from his own party. Morsi has lost the rest of the country. As a result, more than 70% of Egyptians are dissatisfied with Morsi’s policies and his performance. Now, let’s try to talk about that in US terms: imagine if President Obama had the support of Democrats, no independents and no Republicans but controlled all the levers of power. Imagine, given how hyper-partisan things are now, how static the state of political affairs would be under those circumstances. Morsi tanking in the polls hardly signals a forthcoming shift in political leadership. Opposition groups are disorganized and lack clear leadership. In fact, the only political figure alive today who inspires confidence in a majority of Egyptians is comedian Bassem Youssef. We’re really not kidding. Jokes aside, things aren’t looking good for Egypt. 40% of the population has no confidence in either the government or any of the political parties. The only institution still trusted amid all this chaos is the Army, with a 94% confidence level. With massive protests planned for the end of the month, its clear Egypt may be headed for yet another dramatic upheaval. Whether it amounts to political change, however, is yet to be seen.

Rep. Gowdy's Immigration Bill Federally Mandates SB 1070

OK, so we thought the whole reason for moving forward with comprehensive immigration reform was to rationalize our nation’s immigration system. Apparently, some members of Congress didn’t get that memo. If you’ve been following the immigration debate in Congress, you’re probably aware that the Republican-led House moved one proposed immigration bill out of committee yesterday. You may not be aware, though, that the House Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (SAFE) Act, H.R. 2278, a dangerous immigration enforcement bill introduced by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and supported by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) also passed out of committee yesterday. So what does the SAFE Act do? It grants states and localities full authority to create, implement, and enforce their own criminal and civil penalties for federal immigration violations. Sound familiar? It’s a lot like SB 1070, the law enacted by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer a few years back with the so-called “Show Me Your Papers” provision. Apparently we need to reiterate why cops and state troopers pulling people over or stopping them on the street because they don’t look American is a problem. It’s important to note that Gowdy’s bill is actually worse than SB 1070 because it isn’t limited to Arizona; it essentially requires every state and countless localities to participate. The bill would also criminalize overnight the 11.5 million undocumented immigrations currently working and living in the US. Gowdy’s bill is eliciting serious public backlash from a number of ethnic communities, including Latinos, Arab Americans, and South Asians, groups that are disproportionately targeted by laws like SB 1070. That’s not good for Republicans, especially since immigration reform was one way the Republican Party planned to increase their appeal with ethnic voters. So far, it doesn’t seem to be working.   

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