Some needed positive news came from the Middle East on Wednesday when King Salman of Saudi Arabia announced that the country will allow women to drive cars beginning in June 2018. The prohibition is considered a social issue in the kingdom, as there is no actual law or religious edict that prohibits it. For years, the topic has been the center of extensive debate in government, media and social circles. The bold move marks the latest in a string of social and economic reforms underway in the country.
The Palestinian Authority has been allowed to join Interpol, the international police organization despite significant diplomatic pressure from the United States and Israel. Israel argued that Palestinian inclusion in Interpol would endanger Israeli military officials and politicians, who could face arbitrary international arrest orders, and would put at risk classified intelligence shared among the organization’s 192 member states, allowing it to be transmitted to Palestinian terrorists. Israel argued that the Palestinian Authority does not meet Interpol’s requirements to qualify as a state. In 2012, the U.N. General Assembly elevated the Palestinian Authority’s observer status from “entity” to “non-member state,” similar to the Vatican.
Israel’s leadership is likely to also be unhappy to learn that the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner began sending letters two weeks ago to 150 companies in Israel and around the world, warning them that they are about to be added to a database of companies doing business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The letters alleged that said these firms were doing business in the “occupied Palestinian territories” and could thus find themselves on the UN blacklist for companies acting in violation of “internal law and UN decisions.” The letters, copies of which also reached the Israeli government, request that these firms send the commission clarifications about their business activities in settlements. Of the 150 companies, 30 are American, and a number are from countries including Germany, South Korea and Norway. The remaining half are Israeli companies. Companies contacted include Caterpillar, Priceline.com, TripAdvisor and Airbnb. The Trump administration is trying to work with the UN Commission on Human Rights to prevent the list’s publication.
Several people have been arrested in Egypt on charges of debauchery and “promoting sexual deviancy” after photographs emerged of fans holding up a rainbow flag at a Mashrou’ Leila performance last week. The Lebanese band is known for its anti-establishment positions on a range of issues which has led to its being banned from a number of Arab & Muslim countries. The display of the flag was a rare public show of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the conservative Muslim country. The crackdown has since expanded to include activists and others not present at the concert.
And, on Friday, in a surprise compromise, the top United Nations human rights body decided to establish an international team of experts to examine abuses in the Yemen war and seek to identify those responsible. The decision capped an intense spate of diplomacy that spared Saudi Arabia, which has led a deadly bombing campaign in Yemen for more than two years, from a formal panel of inquiry like the one investigating the war in Syria. The 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted the decision by consensus after three weeks of day-and-night negotiations over one of its most fiercely contested resolutions. Saudi Arabia had successfully blocked Dutch calls for an international inquiry into the war in Yemen last year. There were unconfirmed reports that the Saudis had threatened to retaliate against states that supported the Dutch position.