Posted on September 05, 2014 in Countdown

Three Years to End the Occupation

After Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza, the government turned their attention to the West Bank to stir trouble somewhere else. The government announced a “land appropriation”, i.e. a land grab, that will be used toward settlement construction on Palestinian land and is the largest by Israel in 30 years. The United States declared the move “counterproductive” – no kidding! – and the State Department called on Israel to reverse the decision. UK Prime Minister David Cameron called the action “utterly deplorable”. Disheartened by the U.S. position throughout the Gaza war and Israel’s consistent stalling of peace negotiations, impassioned Palestinian heavyweight Hanan Ashrawi declared that the Palestinians will call for a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set a three year deadline for ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power showed some support for a resolution that would expand on the current ceasefire negotiated by Egypt to make it permanent, but pushed back on the three year deadline proposal. All in all, we can expect a lot of action at the U.N. General Assembly, which begins in a few weeks.

We Have Something for Congress to Do

Congress comes back in session next week. If it means a more crowded D.C. and longer commutes for us, we might as well make some requests for Capitol Hill. Congressional leaders left for the summer without passing the USA FREEDOM Act, which, as you likely know, would lead to more stringent surveillance restrictions and guidelines if passed. A watered down version passed the House in May and Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) unveiled an updated version last month. In a virtual discussion AAI hosted on Wednesday, guest Greg Nojeim from the Center for Democracy and Technology predicted that we have a few weeks to find out if the USA FREEDOM Act will make it to President Obama’s desk. He noted how all Americans can and should make their voices heard. We think making the “do-nothing” Congress do something on surveillance before November is a good thing.

A Strategy is Shaping Up

It’s hard to defend President Obama’s recent statement that "we don’t have a strategy yet" on dealing with the so-called “Islamic State” in Syria. The statement easily became a political talking point and ammunition for the media and opponents of the administration. If anything, Obama’s statement amped up pressure for the administration to provide a way forward on tackling extremism in Iraq and Syria. We are less concerned with not having a fully developed strategy yet, since we’ve seen where bad strategies can take us in the region, but we are worried about the urgency of this growing threat. We also wonder if the press conference was more directed to administration officials like Kerry, Hagel, and Biden, who seem to hope for more urgent action in Syria. Obviously, a press conference is no place to handle divisions within the administration – staying on message about destroying or degrading ISIS needs to be discussed internally. Still, it’s apparent that the President is working hard on a regional coalition against the “Islamic State”. UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Obama are working on the plan, countries like the UAE have put out strong statements, and Saudi Arabia has already arrested 88 suspects this week. Military assistance to Lebanon’s army has increased, and leading clerics and officials in Egypt have demonstrated a willingness to combat the threat. So yes, it seems a plan of action is coming together.

Ferguson Prompts DOJ Investigation

Following the killing of Michael Brown in Missouri, the Department of Justice’s civil rights division will be conducting a civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department. According to the Washington Post, the investigation will “follow a process similar to that used to investigate complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force in other police departments across the country.” We welcome this decision to investigate the crimes and abuses committed in Ferguson and applaud continued reviews by DOJ of police departments for civil rights violations, which now, under Eric Holder, numbers over thirty – more than double the amount under any of his predecessors. This is important oversight that is most welcome. For us, it also begs the question: where is the investigation of the NYPD’s questionable practices, which we’ve continued to shed light on here and here.  An investigation into these practices, other serious cases, and more oversight is imperative. So in sum, a sincere thank you for the Ferguson investigation, now do more in New York.

Let’s Talk About Ukraine

We have a lot of foreign policy issues to worry about already, so you may be wondering why we would bring up the NATO Summit and Ukraine. Bear with us for a little bit – we feel recent events prove that with the right forms of pressure, countries and coalitions can force positive change from obstinate actors. After some hesitance, France moved forward with suspending a $1.58 billion contract to supply two ships to Russia. Combined with strong words from President Obama, it looks like Vladimir Putin took note – on Wednesday, he unveiled a “seven-point peace plan” on a notebook paper after he stepped off the plane in Mongolia. The change in tone is notable, given that Putin’s own spokesman had insisted that Russia was not a “direct party to the conflict” and therefore could take no part in a ceasefire. Sure, the ceasefire needs work and discussions will be underway in the coming days, but the message to us is pretty clear: apply some pressure, get some results. We assume this tactic can be used for addressing other issues and less-than-helpful leaders as well. We’re looking at you, Bibi.

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