Week of November 18

An Israel Defense Force solider addresses U.S. and Israeli Forces for Exercise Juniper Cobra, Israel, Feb. 23, 2016. Credit: Cpl. Kelly L. Street/Marine Corps

The U.S. military is prohibiting the travel of American troops to the West Bank over security concerns following Monday’s White House reversal of a decades-old American policy that viewed Israeli settlements in the territory as a violation of international law. U.S. European Command was simply following State Department guidance on travel restrictions in Israel, said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Hontz, a spokesman for the command. The U.S. Embassy in Israel released a travel warning Monday for Americans traveling to Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza, cautioning travelers to “maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness in light of the current environment.” The warning suggests that “individuals and groups opposed to the Secretary of State’s recent announcement may target U.S. government facilities, U.S. private interests, and U.S. citizens.” It’s at least the second known instance of the U.S. military having to issue warnings to U.S. service members or tighten security following White House policy announcements regarding Israel; in 2018, there were similar security warnings following President Trump’s controversial decision to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. American troops are stationed in several adjacent countries and also occasionally engage in joint military exercises in Israel. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter said the settlements in the West Bank were inconsistent with international law, and settlements have in the past been described by U.S. officials as illegitimate and obstacles to achieving peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

On Monday, the New York Times and The Intercept published the “Iran Cables,” a series of documents that provide details about Iran’s massive influence in Iraq. Iranian intelligence officers wrote the leaked documents in Iraq for multiple years, though a majority of the documents were from 2014 and 2015. The papers disclose information about Iranian spies “co-opting” Iraqi leaders and inserting themselves into Iraq’s political scene. While the person who leaked the files remains anonymous, they stated their goal is to “let the world know what Iran is doing in my country[,] Iraq.”

Two hostages, an Australian, Timothy J. Weeks, top, and an American, Kevin C. King, were released by the Taliban last week. Credit: Al-Emara via Associated Press

The Taliban released two “Western” hostages on Tuesday after making a deal brokered by the American peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad. The hostages were identified as Timothy Weeks, an Australian professor, and Kevin King, an American professor. Both professors worked at the American University in Kabul and were abducted in 2016. The group has also agreed to release 10 Afghan security force members. In exchange for the professors, President Ashraf Ghani decided to free Anas Haqqani, a “rising star” in the Haqqani Network, and three additional Taliban figures. Ghani stated that his motives were to initiate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Despite Ghani’s high hopes, the Taliban remains adamant about only entering peace talks once the U.S. reaches a troop withdrawal agreement with the group.  

A group of “liberal-minded” Arab thinkers from the Middle East and North Africa came together on Wednesday to urge Arabs to end the longtime boycott of Israel. The group known as the Arab Council for Regional Integration says that the only thing the boycott does for Palestinians and Arabs is harm them while having little effect on Israel. Of the members of the group, one of the most notable is Anwar Sadat, nephew, and namesake of the Egyptian president who signed the first Arab peace treaty with Israel. Following the meeting, many members of the group were called out for suggesting engagement with Israel. While some of the members fear their fate when they return home, they nonetheless welcomed the chance to meet with and hear from other Arabs who share the same dissenting opinion. The council’s members maintain the common demand for a resolution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; they even say that when Israelis are polled on the acceptance by Arab nations, “they’re willing to compromise, even by giving up land.”

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. The indictment came a day after prime minister candidate Benny Gantz failed to form a government. With neither Netanyahu nor Gantz succeeding in forming a unity government, Israelis will most likely head to the polls again. As for Netanyahu’s future as prime minister, there are three possibilities: he’ll remain prime minister, lose the election or go to jail. The cases built against Netanyahu are formed on allegations of “offering lucrative favors to several media tycoons in exchange for favorable news coverage or gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Israel’s attorney general stated that the public interest demands that no one lives above the law. In response to the indictment, Netanyahu rejected the claims and told maintains he “will not allow lies to prevail.” Netanyahu, who became the longest serving Israeli PM in July, is not legally required to resign from his position; however, the Israeli president must decide if he will allow an indicted lawmaker to form a government.  

Tunisia will become the first country in the Arab world to introduce sex education at schools, the executive director of the Tunisian Association of Reproductive health said last week. Speaking to a local news outlet, Arzak Khaneetch said sex education will be introduced in Tunisia in December for students from the age of five. “It’s very important for children to be introduced to sex education so they are aware of themselves and others around them,” she said. The content will be embedded in different parts of the curriculum as opposed to having one subject that is fully dedicated to the discipline. The lessons will emphasize consent and safety, Khaneetch said, and be age appropriate and culturally and religiously sensitive.

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