The World Today for February 16, 2017


No Gaps

Right-wing Israelis celebrated after US President Donald Trump sloughed off the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, calling into question years of American policy on the issue.

“This is the end of an era,” said Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who supports new Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. “The Palestinian flag has come down and has been replaced by the Israeli flag.”

As USA Today explained, the two-state solution would create an independent Palestine while a one-state solution would incorporate Israelis and Palestinians into a single country – a tricky proposition, some say, because that scenario could result in Muslim Arabs becoming the majority in the Jewish state.

At the same time, because many believe Israel would not grant Palestinians the same rights as Israelis in a unified country, left-wing Israeli leaders fear the one-state solution could result in an apartheid-like society where Palestinians become second-class citizens and Israelis become their oppressive masters.

Still, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement saying he supported the two-state solution, Reuters reported. Also, Al Jazeera quoted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said “there is no alternative solution” to establishing two states.

Delivered during a joint press conference in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the comments were the latest turn on the roller coaster ride that has been American policy on Israel in the past month or so.

While Trump embraced Israel’s hardline right on the campaign trail, the president has since softened his stance – evidence that the new administration might not deviate as strongly from former US President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies as some anticipated, wrote the New York Times.

Trump has delayed the proposed move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the Israeli capital of Jerusalem. He’s also backed away from his intentions to “rip up” the Iran nuclear deal.

On Wednesday, he called on Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” during the press conference.

“We’ll try,” responded Netanyahu – a remarkable moment given that Netanyahu’s base, including politicians like Bennett, supports expanding their communities on land claimed by Palestinians.

Writing for CNN, Senior Research Fellow Alan Johnson of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre said Netanyahu needed to stand up to allies like Bennett if he wanted to make Israel secure. Otherwise, Israel will risk antagonizing its enemies further, Johnson argued.

Meanwhile, even as Trump and Netanyahu might have altered the gridlock surrounding the Israel-Palestinian question, they too might be surprised soon.

Ireland, for example, is reportedly moving closer to recognizing Palestine as an independent country, a move that would bolster those who charge that Israeli settlements amount to annexations of foreign property.

The Irish know something about two-state solutions. It took a long time, but now it works for them.


An Ultimatum

The US secretary of defense issued a strong-but-vague ultimatum to the other members of NATO, warning them to boost their defense spending or America will “moderate its commitment” to the alliance.

The statement, which was made behind closed doors but then provided to reporters, marks an escalation in Washington’s struggle to ensure that NATO countries spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense – as they have pledged as part of the alliance, the Washington Post reported. Currently, only five of NATO’s 28 countries meet the prescribed minimum: the United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland, Greece and the United States. Germany would have to boost spending by $75 billion a year to meet the target.

“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values,” the paper quoted Mattis as saying.

It’s unclear exactly what “moderating” America’s commitment might mean. But a European diplomat suggested that the implicit threat was that the US would no longer offer an unconditional guarantee of military support against external threats to nations that don’t increase their spending.

Another Reason to Mourn

At least eight women and a child were reportedly killed in an overnight air raid that hit a funeral procession in Yemen.

A spokesman for the Houthi rebels blamed the strike on the rebel-held capital of Sanaa on the US and Saudi-backed coalition, which is fighting on behalf of the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, the BBC reported.

Ten other women were wounded in the alleged attack, which the spokesman said was closely followed by a second strike that hit emergency responders in Arhab, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Sanaa.

The incident follows a raid on a village in central Yemen last week in which a number of civilians died – many of them children. Its target was the house of a suspected leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The US military acknowledged the likely death of civilians in that strike but said further investigation was needed to determine more details.

Overall, Yemen’s war has killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced more than three million people since 2015.

Of Monks and Embezzlement

Thai police raided a Buddhist temple in a bid to capture a monk accused of accepting $40 million in embezzled money.

Thailand’s military government on Thursday invoked an emergency order declaring the area around the temple a “restricted area” and deployed about 3,000 police around the temple’s grounds in an effort to nab Phra Dhammajayo, head of the controversial Dhammakaya sect, the Associated Press reported.

A spokesman for the sect said that Dhammajayo was innocent and criticized the action as heavy-handed. He estimated that 10,000 followers were in the temple.

Many see the prosecution of the monk as politically motivated because the sect’s followers primarily support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by a 2006 military coup. The charges were brought under an anti-Thaksin military government that seized power in 2014 and is seeking to erase his power base, the AP said.

Thursday’s raid was the latest in a series of attempts to arrest Dhammajayo – who has previously been accused of money laundering as well as embezzlement – over the past year.


Be in It to Win It

Some said a Trump presidency would be good for business.

For the international gambling industry, the first few weeks of the Trump administration are paying off big time.

Gambling houses like the UK’s Ladbrokes are taking bets on everything from the length of Trump’s presidency – odds of impeachment are a little worse than even – to which cabinet appointee will leave first, wrote Politico.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is the going favorite to be the next staffer “to quote a fake terror attack” à la Bowling Green, they said.

Betting on politics isn’t anything new, of course. But Trump’s unorthodox style and unlikely victory last November have sparked widespread excitement among gamblers of all stripes, said bookies.

“From a betting perspective, Donald Trump’s presidency has triggered a massive boom for these kinds of markets,” Alex Donohue, the PR manager of Ladbrokes, told Politico. “With Donald Trump, everything he does, it can be turned into speculation, and that can be turned into gambling.”

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