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Today’s WorldView

Jun 19 2019

BY ISHAAN THAROOR – The Washington Post

Next week, the Trump administration will preside over a summit in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. Dubbed an “economic workshop,” it is aimed at wooing investment for development projects in the West Bank — a key part of building peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the White House believes. Delegations from a handful of Arab governments close to the United States will attend.

The problem is that almost nobody else is buying it. No official Israeli delegation will be present, though a group of Israeli business executives and a prominent retired general will attend. And the conference has been rejected outright by the Palestinian political leadership and virtually the entirety of the Palestinian business community. They view President Trump and his allies as anything but honest brokers after their two-year pursuit of anti-Palestinian policies.

Undaunted, the White House is pressing ahead. In an op-ed published Sunday, Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special representative for the negotiations, said the Bahrain summit was the “opportunity of a generation” and scolded leading Palestinian officials for not “supporting a better future for their people.”

Greenblatt’s chiding echoed the impatience of White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and ostensible lead U.S. envoy on Middle East affairs. In an interview with Axios this month, Kushner said he didn’t care if the Palestinians “trusted” him as an interlocutor. And given all the unilateral actions taken by the Trump administration to undermine the Palestinian cause in the past two years, there is little chance of his earning their trust.

More controversial is Kushner’s indicating that he thought Palestinians were at present not capable of governing themselves. “The hope is, is that over time, they can become capable of governing,” he said, also saying that he wasn’t sure whether they deserve full sovereignty or freedom from Israeli military interference.

To the Trump administration’s critics — and to Palestinians — such rhetoric was telling. Kushner’s remarks were a “prime example of colonial language,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, told a Tuesday briefing organized by the Arab Center Washington. She added that “it’s not just a reflection of a racist, colonial mentality, but a lack of understanding” of the aspirations of millions of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

“This issue is not whether we deserve our rights,” Ashrawi said, “but that we need our freedom.”

The veteran Palestinian academic and rights advocate was speaking to a Washington audience via a video link because the Trump administration last month denied her a visa to travel to the United States. Though the State Department gave no official reason for the denial, Ashrawi said she suspected it was connected to her vehement criticism of Trump administration policies. She described the move as “petty and vindictive.”

The denial is also conspicuous because Ashrawi has been a fixture in the Palestinian establishment and a proponent of the two-state solution long championed by the United States. She has met in Washington with every U.S. administration since that of President George H.W. Bush. Her ostracism, she suggested, is a sign of how profoundly the Trump administration yokes its agenda to that of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and disregards Palestinian grievances.

She added that Kushner and Greenblatt are mistaken if they think any other Palestinian interlocutors beyond the traditional leadership would give them a more generous hearing. “The Palestinian public as a whole is much more inflamed than the leadership,” she said.

The United States has gone from being “extremely biased to being complicit” in the occupation, Ashrawi said, pointing to Trump’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, close the U.S. Consulate that catered to Palestinians and cut funding to Palestinian aid programs. “They are not just apologists” for Israeli hegemony, she said, “but advocates.”

That position was underscored this month by Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Speaking to the New York Times, he said Israel had the right to annex parts of the West Bank. That Friedman, a known proponent of Jewish settlements deemed illegal by international law, would make that comment isn’t so surprising. But it is surprising that the top U.S. official in Israel would. No previous Republican or Democratic administration would have publicly endorsed such a move. But Friedman’s stance reflects the right-wing political status quo in Israel, which is wholly uninterested in allowing the emergence of an independent Palestinian state. And it seems to now also echo the thinking in the White House.

“A not-so-hidden Administration agenda is clearly focused on not just killing the two-state solution (which Trump and company have all but abandoned), but making it harder for succeeding administrations to embrace, which would surely be the case if much of the West Bank is unilaterally annexed to Israel,” wrote Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. diplomat and Middle East negotiator.

Ashrawi said that the Trump administration has “treated one side as definitely inferior.” She likened Kushner and Greenblatt’s commitments to driving economic prosperity in the region to an offer to “make your prison cell a bit more palatable.” And she pointed to myriad earlier diplomatic initiatives that promoted robust economic incentives for the Palestinians but did little to guarantee the political conditions that would end the impasse.

“The issue is not money; the issue is the occupation,” Ashrawi said, reiterating a word that she believes is absent from the Trump administration’s political lexicon.

Even if the White House doesn’t get that memo, many of its domestic rivals now do. A growing number of Democratic presidential candidates have criticized Trump’s wholesale abdication of policy in the region to Netanyahu. In a speech last week, Pete Buttigieg — the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a prominent contender in the crowded field — warned Israel against the annexation of settlements and decried Netanyahu’s turn “away from peace.”

In this, Ashrawi sees progress, noting that “the rules have been broken” in Washington over Israel as Democrats become increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. She urged a potential Democratic president to “be brave enough to undo the damage” of Trump’s policies.

But that’s a political battle for another time. For now, Ashrawi wants Kushner and Greenblatt to know that they won’t be able to force Palestinian acquiescence so easily. “We are not willing to commit collective amnesia or lie down quietly to die,” she said.

  • In a column for The Washington Post written earlier this month, Ashrawi expanded on what she believes underlies her denial of a U.S. visa:

“This response is unlike anything we have seen before. In the United States, there has always been room for dissent and constructive debate among those with differing opinions. Then Donald Trump became president. His administration does not have the tolerance or capacity to engage in fact-based dialogue. It combats meaningful discussion because it has no interest in respectful negotiations and sees no value in international engagement.

“Nowhere is this more visible than in its farcical plans in the Middle East. For more than two years now, Americans and Palestinians who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of justice have watched in horror as the Trump administration distorted the foundations of a credible and lasting peace beyond recognition…

“Through concrete actions, the Trump administration has made it clear that it will not settle for anything less than the Palestinian people’s surrender and the defeat of their struggle for freedom. However, it is ignoring the fact that, although armies and political regimes can be defeated in battle, peoples are never truly defeated.

“Trump and his team do not represent the United States I know. That United States embraces the revolutionary spirit that defeated colonial oppression. It stands for the legacy and continuing work of fearless civil and human rights advocates who challenged segregation, injustice and oppression in the United States and around the world. This is the United States that Palestinians — and anyone else who supports the idea of long-term peace in the region — would like to see once more.”

  • A piece in the Christian Science Monitor highlights the awkward role being played by the Arab governments that have chosen to attend the meeting in Manama:

“Jordan, torn between its allies abroad and stability at home, is trying to forge a third way: using the gathering to push Palestinian statehood back on the agenda.

“Jordan would be the ‘eyes and ears of the Palestinians’ and use the workshop as a platform to promote the two-state solution, Jordanian officials say…

“Jordan and Egypt are the second and third biggest recipients of U.S. aid in the world after Israel; Jordan received $1.52 billion in financial and military assistance in 2018, while Egypt received $1.3 billion. With Jordan facing record 19% unemployment and Egypt battling inflation, and both weathering debt crises, the administration believed neither were in a position to say no to Washington.

“So rather than involve Jordan and Egypt, President Donald Trump and his son-in-law and envoy Jared Kushner have overridden Amman and Cairo and arranged the peace plan directly with Saudi Arabia, as the political force they thought could deliver much of the Arab world.

“To Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the Gulf, the Palestinian issue increasingly has been seen as a stumbling block to forging a closer alliance with Israel in order to counter perceived Iranian aggression in the region.”

  • The United Nations called for an independent probe into the death of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, who collapsed in a Cairo courtroom on Monday. “Concerns have been raised regarding the conditions of Mr. Morsi’s detention, including access to adequate medical care, as well as sufficient access to his lawyers and family, during his nearly six years in custody,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

From my colleagues: “Morsi, who suffered from diabetes and liver disease, was held in solitary confinement for six years. He had complained during earlier court proceedings that he was denied the insulin dosage and special diet he required and as a result had experienced diabetic comas, according to Human Rights Watch. A prison nurse or doctor would occasionally monitor his blood pressure and sugar levels but no additional health care had been provided, and he was forced to buy his own insulin, the group reported. His family said he had lost most of the sight in one eye because of medical negligence.”

  • My colleagues Shibani Mahtani and Rick Noack wrote a handy explainer on how to interpret the dramatic series of events this past week in Hong Kong. After Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam apologized to protesters and appeared to relent on a controversial extradition bill, they ask, did Beijing blink?

“Analysts said Tuesday that the backtracking by Lam and likely also by leaders in Beijing — unusual for the increasingly assertive China — may be due to a number of factors.

“First, Beijing and Lam may have miscalculated. Johns Hopkins professor [Ho-Fung] Hung said that Beijing likely believed it had succeeded in dismantling the ‘most active core of Hong Kong civil society’ in a crackdown following the so-called 2014 Umbrella Revolution. The scale of recent protests likely ‘caught Beijing by surprise,’ said Hung.

“Beijing — which was handed control over Hong Kong from Britain in 1997 — might be playing the long game. Since the handover, Hong Kong has maintained a semi-autonomous status, which has allowed it to have its own, independent justice apparatus. That status is set to expire in 2047, exactly 50 years after the handover from the British.

“Human rights advocates fear that Beijing will push for less autonomy far sooner, and in fact already has. The controversial law proposal to facilitate extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China proves that, they argue. But the timing was not right — at least not yet, said Hung.”

The taxman cometh

For some U.S. citizens, the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts provided an economic boost. But for thousands of U.S. citizens who live abroad, they’ve added to a slow-moving financial disaster. It’s due to a complicated, less-noticed change that was done with corporations in mind, but foreign individuals may feel the hardest impact.

The United States is one of the only two countries in the world that bases its taxation policies on citizenship rather than residence; the other is Eritrea. The practice is a relic of a Civil War-era law, which sought to punish men who fled to avoid joining the Union army. Changes to the U.S. tax system in 2010 have increased its global impact. But the rules and bureaucracy surrounding the process mean that sometimes when tax systems don’t align, it can cause costly and high-profile problems. Boris Johnson, the former British foreign secretary who was born in the United States, renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2017 after paying a hefty tax on a home in London on which he had already paid British property tax.

Then Trump’s tax cuts allowed a one-time tax on assets that U.S.-controlled businesses have accumulated overseas, whether or not they repatriate them to the United States. The aim was to persuade major American firms to bring assets back to America, but it was indiscriminate, requiring huge businesses like Google and small entrepreneurs alike to announce and pay tax on money they had accumulated over decades.

Carrie, a 50-year-old doctor living in Amsterdam says her accountant estimates a U.S. tax bill of at least $107,000 — a sum she fears would wipe out much of the savings designed to send her children to college. Like many, her citizenship is an accident of birth — she was born in the United States when her Dutch parents were living there during a six-month sabbatical from work. Her parents were not U.S. citizens. Neither were her siblings.

Foreign governments are starting to take notice of the situation, but they have little leverage to lobby on behalf of their own citizens. And many are not optimistic about change. The Treasury Department the IRS have limited leeway to change tax rules without congressional approval. And legislative efforts have stalled.

The simplest option for Carrie may be to renounce her citizenship — a growing trend that comes with its own financial burdens. But she hopes to find a way to stay a citizen.

“I love the United States,” she said. — Adam Taylor

In the wake of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s courtroom death, a piece in the New York Times looks at his legacy and whether he will live on as a martyr, and one in the Atlantic notes that while his tenure as president was fraught, it was also one of Egypt’s freest points in history. Meanwhile a column in The Post warns that the departure of the acting U.S. secretary of Defense could make a conflict with Iran all the more likely, and Der Spiegel examines how Europe’s migration policies are endangering migrants.

Mohamed Morsi died in a soundproof cageWhat six years of deliberate and sustained cruelty tell us about el-Sisi’s Egypt.

When a struggling New York writer got offered a lucrative fellowship he’d never heard of he accepted it. This week, he writes in the New Yorker of how the bizarrely flawed program revealed to him the strange world of philanthropic funding and literary prestige. Elsewhere, high school students speak out in The Post about sexual harassment from their peers, and a Jersey Shore fisherman gets more of a catch than he bargained for.

A new challenge is confronting members of the Yazidi community as they try to trace nearly 3,000 Yazidis who remain unaccounted for after the territorial defeat of the Islamic State. Perhaps hundreds of them are children, who are still being hidden by the militants’ families in camps or homes. Snatched from their families at a young and vulnerable age, these children now must undergo the trauma of new separations and new adjustments, after spending some of the most formative years of their lives with the militants. (Alice Martins for The Washington Post)

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