Israel

After Pittsburgh, American Jews face a choice

The lines are starkly drawn in Pittsburgh—and, hopefully, across the country—in the wake of the Oct. 28 synagogue massacre that left 11 dead. Today, President Trump visited the synagogue, and was joined by the Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer. This took place over the protests of Pittsburgh's Mayor Bill Peduto, who asked the White House to delay the trip in light of the sensitive situation in the city. While the rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the massacre site, welcomed Trump, many members of his own congregation clearly dissented. More than 35,000 people signed an open letter to Trump from the local chapter of the progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc, stating: "You are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism." Hundreds demonstrated against Trump's visit under the standard of another Jewish progressive formation, If Not Now, with banners reading "ANTI-SEMITISM = WHITE NATIONALISM" and "ANTI-SEMITISM UPHOLDS WHITE SUPREMACY."

Guatemala: ex-VP sentenced in water scandal

Guatemala’s special anti-corruption Court for High Risk Crimes on Oct. 9 sentenced former vice president Roxana Baldetti to prison for 15 years and six months for her role in the so-called "Magic Water" scandal. The case concerned the awarding of an $18 million dollar contract to decontaminate Lake Amatitlán, an important water source for peasant communities outside the capital. The contract went to Israeli firm M. Tarcic Engineering Ltd. The company claimed it had a "special formula" that could clean the lake within months. An investigation revealed that the "formula" consisted of water, salt and chlorine. The Authority for the Sustainable Management of Lake Amatitlán (AMSA), establsihed by the government to oversee the clean-up, documented illegal dumping of agricultural and municipal waste into the Río Villalobos, which empties into the lake. The UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) supported Guatemalan prosecutors in the conspiracy case against Baldetti and 12 others. Baldetti is also accused of involvement in “La Linea” scandal, in which Guatemalan officials brought imports into the country at a discounted tariff. (Jurist, BBC News, Al Jazeera,Oct. 10; Times of Israel, Prensa Libre, El Periódico, EmisorasUnidas, Guatemala, Oct. 9; Prensa Libre, May 18)

Palestine challenges US embassy move at Hague

The State of Palestine asserted in an application (PDF) submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Sept. 28 that the recent relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem constitutes a breach of international diplomatic law. In support of its claim, Palestine directed the ICJ to multiple UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions affirming the special international regime that applies to Jerusalem and calling on member states to refrain from recognizing Jerusalem as Israeli territory. Palestine argued that establishment of an embassy to Israel in Jerusalem violates provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (PDF) governing activities in the "receiving state."

Syria: reprieve for Idlib; flashpoint at al-Tanf?

The long-feared Assad regime offensive on Idlib province appears to have been called off—for now. After meeting in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed to a "buffer zone" in Idlib—a strip some 25 kilometers wide to separate regime forces in the south from rebel and opposition forces in the north. Although it is being called a "demilitarized" zone, it will in fact be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops. There are numerous unanswered questions. Reports indicated the deal stipulates that "all heavy weapons be withdrawn from the zone"—but does that apply to the Russian and Turkish patrols? It is also mandated that what Putin called "radically-minded" rebel fighters would have to pull out of the zone entirely, which is presumably a reference to the Nusra-affiliated jihadist factions. These factions control parts of Idlib city, and it is not clear if the provincial capital will be included in the zone. (BBC News, Haaretz)

Amnesty calls on UN to ban 'killer robots'

Amnesty International called upon countries to ban fully autonomous weapons systems on Aug. 27, the first day of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems meeting in Geneva. Amnesty states that technology related to advanced weapons systems is outpacing international law. Future technologies may be able to replicate human responses, including "the ability to analyse the intentions behind people's actions, to assess and respond to often dynamic and unpredictable situations, or make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack." A complete ban on fully autonomous weapons is necessary in order to avoid possible "dystopian" futures. Human interaction should be required by law to be involved in the identification, selection, and engagement of targets in advanced weapons.

US threatens sanctions against ICC

The White House announced Sept. 10 that the US will consider imposing sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges and prosecutors if the ICC opens an investigation into the actions of United States service members and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC requested an investigation in November 2017 into alleged war crimes committed by the US in Afghanistan since May 2003, in addition to actions taken by the Afghan National Security Forces, the Taliban and the Haqqani network. In addition to sanctions, the US will consider seeking to have the ICC's powers restricted by the UN Security Council. The US will also seek to strengthen agreements that would prevent other nations from surrendering US nationals to the ICC.

Duterte charged with 'crimes against humanity'

Several Philippine families filed a complaint (PDF) with the International Criminal Court (ICC) Aug. 28, accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of murder during his "war on drugs." The complaint charges Duterte with "crimes against humanity," including extrajudicial killings. This is the second complaint against Duterte filed with the ICC; the first was filed in April 2017. The ICC began preliminary examination in the case in February. Duterte announced the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC in March. In a 15-page letter to the media, Duterte declared that the Philippines will immediately withdraw its ratification of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC and was ratified by the Philippines in late 2011. Under the statute, a member can withdraw no sooner than one year following written notification to the UN Secretary-General. However, Duterte claimed that the agreement was immediately voidable because it was signed fraudulently.

US to reject Palestinian right of return

The Trump administration is to announce a suspension of funding to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA)—and rejection of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. According to Hebrew-language news outlets, the US administration is expected to announce its new policy early September, recognizing the existence of only half a million Palestinian refugees, out of the total of 5.3 million estimated by UNRWA. The US administration intends to form a plan that rejects the United Nations designation under which millions of descendants of the original refugees are also considered refugees. Sources reported that the administration's new policy would "essentially cancel the right of return."

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