Top of the Agenda: Palestinians Win Upgraded UN Status
The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly (Haaretz) on Thursday to upgrade the Palestinian Authority's observer status to "non-member state" from "entity" in the face of opposition from the United States and Israel. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deemed the vote "unfortunate and counterproductive," while Israel's Ambassador to the UN affirmed that peace could only be achieved through bilateral negotiations. UN envoys said Israel may not retaliate harshly if Palestinians do not seek to join the International Criminal Court (Reuters), where they could accuse Israel of war crimes—a route Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki warned could be taken if Israel continued to build illegal settlements.
"The most intriguing result of Thursday's vote, perhaps, will be the effect on the long-delayed reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas. The latter has been remarkably positive about Abbas' bid, even holding a public rally today in Gaza to show support—a stark contrast to last year, when Hamas officials largely kept quiet and discouraged any public demonstrations," writes Gregg Carlstrom for Al Jazeera.
"The danger for the Israelis is that Abbas will feel impelled to pursue the legal route to regain political credibility. He is desperately trying to recover political face, after his marginalisation during the Gaza conflict at the expense of Hamas. Hamas themselves initially opposed the UN bid, but seem to have tempered their opposition today, in the face of widespread celebrations in the West Bank," writes Gideon Rachman for the Financial Times.
"Of course, if the Palestinians enter the legal battlefield, they, too, risk being accused and prosecuted in the venues where they'd try to target Israelis. There is no guarantee for either side that the ICC prosecutor would follow through on charges. The ICC has procedural obstacles that could head off any prosecution there," writes Joseph Schuman for Reuters.
Japan Approves Stimulus Package
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's cabinet on Friday approved a $10.7 billion economic stimulus package (AFP), more than double an earlier package announced in October, ahead of elections that his ruling party is widely expected to lose.
CFR's Sheila Smith discusses Japan's frenzied election in this blog post.
NORTH KOREA: A delegation of Chinese officials visited North Korea (Yonhap) on Friday and delivered a letter from China's new leader Xi Jinping to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
ASEAN Chief Signals Concern Over China's Ship Patrol
ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said on Friday that China's plan to search ships that illegally enter what Beijing considers its territory in the highly contested South China Sea is a "very serious turn of events," and could escalate tensions (Reuters). Several Asian countries claim sovereignty over the territories and waters, believed to be rich in oil and gas.
CFR's Josh Kurlantzick delves into ASEAN's future and Asian integration in this CFR report.
MYANMAR: Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi publicly criticized (AP) on Friday the forcible crackdown of protestors at a copper mine demonstrating against the environmental and social damage associated with its construction.
Egypt Takes Up Draft Constitution
Egypt's constituent assembly, boycotted by the country's liberals and Christians, adopted a draft constitution (AlJazeera) after an all-night session running until Friday morning. The assembly has been accused of rushing through the approval of the document, which is at the center of a political crisis pitting Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president, against several opposition parties.
CFR's Steven Cook explores Morsi's miscalculation in this op-ed.
UK Withholds Rwanda Aid
The UK announced that it will withhold roughly £21 million in aid to Rwanda after allegations that the country has been backing the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rebels have been fighting government troops (Guardian) in a conflict that has displaced almost half a million people.
MALI: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recommended conditional backing (BBC), not including financial support, for a one-year African Union mission against Islamist militants in Mali, where the army has lost much of the north to the fighters.
Colombia, FARC Conclude First Round of Talks
Colombia's FARC rebels concluded the first round of peace talks (MercoPress) aimed at ending five decades of conflict with the Colombian government, deeming the progress "very good." The parties will return to the table in Havana next Wednesday.
MEXICO: Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who will leave office by Saturday, signed a labor law overhaul (LAHT) on Thursday that introduces new hiring modalities, regulates outsourcing, stiffens fines, and, more controversially, speeds up labor dispute resolutions and open unions to greater public scrutiny.
White House Makes Fiscal Cliff Proposal
President Obama put forward the first offer of the fiscal cliff negotiations Thursday in a plan that includes "$1.6 trillion in tax increases, additional stimulus spending, and a request to permanently raise the government's debt borrowing limit," as well as $400 billion in Medicare savings over the next decade, reports Real Clear Politics. Republicans criticized the proposal, and House Speaker John Boehner said that "no substantial progress has been made."