16 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


Amona settlers reject relocation plan

PNN/ Bethlehem/

Israeli media on Wednesday said that the 40 Amona families have rejected an Israeli government plan to be relocated from their houses.

According to the Jpost, the offer, proposed by Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett and approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was to “relocate the homes to abandoned Palestinian property on the same hilltop, where the West Bank outpost of Amona is currently located.”

However, the settlers said  the offer was so full of holes it was like “Swiss Cheese” and provided a solution for only a quarter of the families, and that they were prepared for a solution of rebuilding new homes on the same hilltop, and not destroying the current structures until the new ones had been completed.

The controversy over Ammona started in 2014 when the Israeli High Court of Justice had  ruled that the outpost must be demolished by December 25, 2016 because they were built without permits on private Palestinian property.

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Op. Trump’s win has emboldened racists in Israeli government

Benjamin Netanyahu met Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York in September. (CNN)

Benjamin Netanyahu met Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York in September. (CNN)

Senior Israeli government officials see Trump’s victory as a free rein to finally bury the two-state solution. They should think seriously, however, about what could come next.

By Dr. Saeb Erekat- PNN/ Ramallah/
Last week’s election of Donald Trump has sent shock waves throughout the world. In the U.S., it has emboldened some far-right elements of American society to express their racist sentiments more openly. In Israel, it has emboldened some far-right elements of Israeli society to express their racist sentiments more openly. The difference is that the far-right elements in Israeli society are senior government officials, who see Trump’s victory as a free rein to finally bury the two-state solution. They should think seriously, however, about what could come next.

Only hours after the result was announced, several Israeli officials went as far as declaring that “The era of a Palestinian state is over.” Others called upon the U.S. to break with international law and international consensus in order to recognize the illegal Israeli annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem. This should come as no surprise, since it represents the Israeli official position, but should be a cause for serious attention by the international community. Rather than preparing for any peace proposal, the Israeli government spent the eight years of Obama’s presidency expanding settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes and denying basic human rights, through a whole host of oppressive policies.

During attempts to relaunch negotiations, Netanyahu refused to so much as share a map showing Israel’s proposed borders or to discuss any other final status issues, including Jerusalem and refugees. Instead, he preferred to focus on a PR campaign aimed at blaming the victims and distracting the public, while buying time for more settlement construction. Time and time again, the Israeli government has refused to honor its obligations under prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements that have been already signed and ratified by their own parliament.

Enjoying an unprecedented culture of impunity, Israeli officials ignored the calls of their closest ally to give peace a chance, and continued with their political program of turning all of historic Palestine into one single state with two systems, one for Jews and one for non-Jews.

Israel’s reaction to Donald Trump’s election only reaffirms that Tel Aviv is not interested in ending the occupation.

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US politics >>

President Barack Obama says the US will retaliate against Russian cyber-attacks during the presidential election. Speaking in an interview aired on National Public Radio on Friday, Obama says he has spoken to Vladimir Putin about the issue. The CIA says it has evidence that Russia intended to influence the US election in Donald Trump’s favour

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David Friedman is fervent critic of ‘two-state solution’, backs an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and once represented Trump’s failing hotels

David Friedman, Trump’s pick for Israel ambassador, has more recently served on the president-elect’s Middle East advisory team.

David Friedman, Trump’s pick for Israel ambassador, has more recently served on the president-elect’s Middle East advisory team. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump has named a bankruptcy lawyer who represented the president-elect over his failing hotels in Atlantic City, as the new US ambassador to Israel.

David Friedman, who had more recently served on the president-elect’s advisory team on the Middle East, said that he looked forward to delivering Trump’s pledge to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there. The move would be a highly controversial, symbolic and potentially explosive gesture in the Middle East, as the status of Jerusalem is one of the issues in long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Friedman serves as president of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions, which funds settlements in the West Bank. He disagrees with the general international consensus that the settlements are illegal and he opposes a ban on settlement construction on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. And he has long supported an undivided Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Previous Republican presidential candidates have promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but have reneged on the promise out of fear of repercussions in the Arab world. The Palestinians also view Jerusalem as their capital and earlier peace negotiations had envisaged a divided city.

Friedman is also a fervent opponent to another orthodoxy of US foreign policy, the “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which the territory would be shared.

“That’s the ‘two-state solution’ – an illusion that serves the worst intentions of both the United States and the Palestinian Arabs. It has never been a solution, only a narrative. But even the narrative itself now needs to end,” Friedman wrote on the website for the religious Zionist network, Arutz Sheva.

The Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, described Friedman’s views as being on the far right of the Israeli political spectrum, more hardline than prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

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Scientists stepped outside their comfort zones to protest the attacks they face from the incoming administration

Scientists hold signs during a rally in conjunction with the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, in San Francisco. The rally was to call attention to what scientist believe is unwarranted attacks by the incoming Trump administration against scientists advocating for the issue of climate change and its impacts.

Scientists hold signs during a rally in conjunction with the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, in San Francisco. The rally was to call attention to what scientist believe is unwarranted attacks by the incoming Trump administration against scientists advocating for the issue of climate change and its impacts. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and for scientists, these are desperate measures.

Tuesday in San Francisco’s Jessie Square, approximately 500 people gathered for a ‘rally to stand up for science.’ Many of the attendees were scientists who had migrated to the rally from the nearby Moscone Center, where some 26,000 Earth scientists are attending the annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference this week.

This was an unusual activity for scientists to participate in; after all, they’re often accused of remaining isolated in the ivory towers of academia. Scientists generally prefer to focus on their scientific research, use their findings to inform the public and policymakers, and leave it to us to decide what actions we should take in response. In fact, one of the keynote speakers at the rally, Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes made that exact point:

We don’t want to be here. We want to be doing the work we were trained and educated to do, which is science … but we are at a moment in history where we have to stand up.

As Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb noted, with the appointments made thus far by the incoming Trump administration, science is under attack and scientists feel compelled to protect their research, and their ability to keep doing it. Cobb also called on more of her scientific colleagues to step outside their comfort zones and engage in activism:

The rally followed other recent efforts by scientists to advise the Trump administration and reassure the public. For example, over 800 Earth scientists and energy experts signed a letter urging the President-elect to take six key steps to address climate change:

1) Make America a clean energy leader;

2) Reduce carbon pollution and America’s dependence on fossil fuels;

3) Enhance America’s climate preparedness and resilience;

4) Publicly acknowledge that climate change is a real, human-caused, and urgent threat;

5) Protect scientific integrity in policymaking; and

6) Uphold America’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.

Over 11,000 women scientists also signed a pledge committing “to build a more inclusive society and scientific enterprise.” The leaders of 29 scientific societies signed a letter encouraging Trump to appoint a “nationally respected” science advisor with sufficient expertise.

And more than 2,300 scientists, including 22 Nobel Prize recipients, published an open letter with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) urging the Trump administration and Congress to set a high bar for integrity, transparency, and independence in using science to inform federal policies. UCS plans to act as a watchdog protecting science and scientists during the Trump Administration, as it did during the Bush administration.

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A pipeline to bring gas to Europe from central Asia has attracted companies with historic connections to cartels and the mafia, says Bankwatch report

The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline’s managing director, Kjetil Tungland.

The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline’s managing director, Kjetil Tungland. The 3,500km pipeline is seen as an energy security safeguard by EU leaders. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Europe’s development banks are proposing some of their biggest investments – currently more than $6.8bn (£5.5bn) – for a gas pipeline being built by several firms with historic links to cartels, corruption and the mafia, according to a new report (pdf).

The 3,500km “southern gas corridor” project is seen as an energy security safeguard by EU leaders, and should begin ferrying gas to Europe from Azerbaijan by 2020.

After the European commission listed it as a “priority” project, the European Investment Bank (EIB) proposed a record €2bn (£1.7bn) cash injection for the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline and €1bn for a Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline Project.

The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is also considering a €1.5bn loan.

Three of the Italian firms hired to build the $45bn pipeline have had past mafia connections, according to Italian prosecutors cited in the Bankwatch report.

A subsidiary of the Bonatti company, which is building around 760km of the pipeline, was barred from public contracts bidding after being served with a “mafia disqualification” notice by Italian police in 2010. And two employees of Bonatti subsidiaries in Sicily were jailed for mafia associations last year. Bonatti declined to comment on the Bankwatch report.

The European commission temporarily halted €13.5m of regional funds to Greece last summer, after a state competition committee accused three of the companies building the pipeline there of cartel involvement, including Ellaktor.

Leonidas Bobolas, Ellaktor’s CEO, had a European arrest warrant taken out against him in May. His lawyers said that no charges had yet been pressed against their client, but that a misconduct inquiry by the Greek prosecutor’s office is ongoing. Bobolas also recently appeared on the “Lagarde list” of tax evaders; his lawyers said that this issue had been finally and irrevocably dismissed following an administrative settlement with the Greek tax authorities 18 months ago.

The EBRD said it could not comment on the cases without seeing the report. “We, of course, always carry out strict due diligence before any project,” Anthony Williams, the bank’s head of external relations, told the Guardian. “No decision either way has been made in the case of this particular investment.”

But public money is also being readied for the project from beyond Europe. The World Bank is reportedly putting the finishing touches to a $1bn loan this month, while the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has approved $600m of revenues.

The Asian Development Bank last week signed off on another $1bn loan to expand Azerbaijan’s source Shah Deniz gas field, which will be run by BP, ahead of the pipeline’s construction.

Azerbaijan has an atrocious human rights record, which has been criticised by western governments. But it is also thought to possess up to 2.5tn cubic metres of natural gas, enough to provide Europe with a fifth of its gas needs in the decades ahead.

That has spurred interest from international finance institutions keen to invest in a “bridge” fossil fuel – such as natural gas – pushed by oil companies as “the key energy for a low carbon future”, although such claims are contested.

The European commission has estimated that improved energy efficiency measures could reduce Europe’s gas imports by 174m tonnes of oil equivalent annually by 2030, around 20 times more than the projected import volumes from central Asia.

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The world’s oldest known seabird has laid an egg at the age of 66

Photograph: Dan Clark/USFWS/AP

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