The World Today for February 22, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

ISRAEL/PALESTINE

Couscous and Quagmires

An argument recently erupted on social media after Virgin Airlines offered a “Palestinian couscous salad” on a flight menu.

The BBC reported that pro-Israel activists called for a boycott of the British carrier for pandering to Palestinian sympathizers.

“I thought this was an Israeli salad,” wrote a supporter of the Israeli Advocacy Movement on Facebook.

Virgin Airlines took the item off its menu, triggering outrage from Palestinian activists.

“Trying to wipe #Palestine off the map isn’t enough for #Zionists; they have to wipe #Palestinian off the #menu too,” wrote a Twitter user.

If they can’t agree on salads, how can Israelis and Palestinians avoid the serious flare-up of violence that many voices say is in the offing?

Both Hamas in Gaza and Israeli authorities – two groups rarely on the same side of any question – fear a massive uprising that could see thousands of Gazan civilians rushing the Israeli border.

Such a demonstration would illustrate Hamas’ lack of control and force Israeli troops to decide whether they should mow down hungry women and children in defense of their country.

“You have a desperate feeling here,” Sami Obeid, a news radio analyst, told the Los Angeles Times, adding that Gaza was “the biggest jail on Earth.”

Hospitals in Gaza are barely running, 12-hour power failures are routine, the water is “almost entirely undrinkable,” raw sewage covers beaches, and Israeli officials are bracing for a cholera epidemic, the New York Times wrote.

In the West Bank, people are angry with Fatah, the party that runs the Palestinian Authority, for cooperating with Israel on security issues as part of peace deal dating from the 1990s. Al Jazeera reported that mourners recently kicked a Fatah official out of a funeral for a young man killed by Israeli forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is having trouble, too. He’s facing graft allegations that might lead to his political demise, according to the Jerusalem Post.

It’s therefore unclear who might participate in discussions between the two sides to broker peace.

President Donald Trump’s decisions to hold back $65 million from UN aid for Palestinians and to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel have also undermined America’s position as an intermediary, analysts argue.

Trump’s alleged plan to rearrange the Israeli and West Bank map, giving the Palestinians a piece of Egypt in the northern Sinai, also seems far-fetched, especially in light of Egyptian outrage last year over giving some land to Saudi Arabia.

Russia and India might step in. In the New York Review of Books, Bernard Avishai, a visiting professor of government at Dartmouth, suggested confederation between Israel and Palestine as the only way forward.

Those ideas may seem out of left field. But novel thinking might be the only hope when even couscous divides two proud peoples.

WANT TO KNOW

PAKISTAN

Sharif Don’t Like It

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may well have the refrain of The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” running through his head today.

The country’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that he cannot lead his party, either, following his ouster from power last year over accusations of corruption, the New York Times reported. That leaves his governing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz scrambling for a leader, despite having passed a law that would have allowed Sharif to continue at the helm.

Sharif’s image was tarnished by accusations that he had stashed money offshore that didn’t gel with his income as a public official. But the Supreme Court ousted him last year for not declaring a salary from one of his son’s companies – which Sharif said he never received.

Though its foreign minister has said it’s already off the hook, Pakistan faces a possible rebuke from the Financial Action Task Force this week for failing to stop the flow of money to terrorist groups. Sharif claims the country’s military-intelligence complex is behind the actions against him.

NIGERIA

Unsafe at Any School

The Nigerian military rescued 76 schoolgirls and recovered the bodies of two others after a Boko Haram attack that was a grim reminder of the terror group’s abduction of more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014.

“Everybody is celebrating their coming with songs and praises to God almighty,” Reuters quoted a parent of one of the rescued girls as saying. However, at least 13 students (more than 50, according to the New York Times) may still be missing, and the agency wasn’t able to confirm how two of the girls died.

Police and state officials said on Wednesday that there was no evidence that the girls had been abducted. Nigerian authorities often deny or downplay Boko Haram attacks.

The 2014 Chibok abduction drew global attention to Nigeria’s nine-year war against the terror group, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden.” More than 20,000 people have been killed and two million forced to flee their homes as a result of the conflict.

FRANCE

Mixed Messages

French President Emmanuel Macron continues his push to replace Germany’s Angela Merkel as the de facto leader of the European Union. But France presents mixed messages as to what direction the leader is headed.

This week, a French official told Reuters that Macron has won the support of 25 of the EU’s other 27 members for his plan to hold democratic debates over the future of the bloc later this year – recently winning over Poland but still working on Hungary and the Netherlands.

The debate is intended to limit the influence of eurosceptic populists, who are gaining power around the bloc. But the ardent europhile has almost simultaneously unveiled a new immigration bill that domestic critics say will lead to thousands of deportations – a move arguably more in line with those same eurosceptics’ ideas.

The draft law criminalizes illegal border crossings, doubles the time that failed asylum seekers can be held in detention to 90 days and halves the amount of the time applicants have to mount appeals, reported The Local.fr – a web portal for expatriates living in France.

DISCOVERIES

Butterfly Effect

Sticklers for punctuation rules, rejoice – a missing comma in a local statute resulted in a multimillion-dollar payout for employees, the New York Times reported.

It all began with the “Oxford comma,” the divisive final comma in a series of related terms.

According to a state law in Maine, workers who put in over 40 hours per week must be paid 1.5 times their hourly wage for the additional hours, subject to a series of exemptions.

In a dispute over whether a dairy company in Portland, Maine, had to pay drivers extra for overtime, local courts were unclear whether to side with the company or drivers – all because of a missing comma in the law’s list of exemptions.

The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the missing punctuation created enough uncertainty in the matter to side with the drivers. As a result, the dairy settled out of court to the tune of a $5-million reimbursement.

The law was then promptly amended to avoid any future ambiguity.

Both parties were satisfied with the outcome, the New York Times reported, with David G. Webbert, the drivers’ lawyer, stating the missing punctuation made all the difference.

“That comma would have sunk our ship,” he said.

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