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Significant Middle East Developments
Egypt. Tens of thousands of protesters poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square today to demonstrate against Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and the draft constitution that was approved late last night by the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly. The proposed document is slated to go to Morsi tomorrow for his approval and an announcement of a date for a popular referendum. More than two hundred thousand people took to the streets on Tuesday against Morsi’s decree last week that granted him and the constituent assembly the power to operate outside the purview of judicial review. Despite Morsi’s decree, the Supreme Constitutional Court is set to rule on Sunday whether or not to dissolve the Constituent Assembly. It is not clear what impact such a move would have on the proposed draft constitution.
Palestine and Israel. The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly yesterday to upgrade Palestine to the status of non-member observer state. There were 138 votes in favor, 9 against and 41 abstentions. The United States and Israel led the vocal minority against recognition that included Canada and the Czech Republic, while the United Kingdom and Germany abstained. France led a contingent of EU countries in favor of the upgrade. Before the vote, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN body in strong language, saying: “What permits the Israeli Government to blatantly continue with its aggressive policies and the perpetration of war crimes stems from its conviction that it is above the international law and that it has immunity from accountability and consequences. This belief, unfortunately, is bolstered by the failure by some to condemn and demand the cessation of its violations and crimes and by positions that equate the victim and the executioner.” Following the vote, Secretary of State Clinton called the move “unfortunate and counterproductive.”
Today, in retaliation for the Palestinian move, Israel’s inner cabinet approved the construction of three thousand new housing units in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, including in the critical area known as E-1 that connects Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. The White House immediately called the settlement move “counterproductive,” reiterating longstanding U.S. opposition to building at E-1, and said that it could make it harder to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
Syria. Fighting between rebels and regime forces continued today near the Damascus International airport, disrupting flights in and out of the country after violence closed the airport yesterday. The government apparently cut off the country’s internet services yesterday and today, stoking fear that the regime may be ramping up for an even greater escalation. The Syrian opposition has reportedly made significant gains fighting in recent weeks, including overrunning military bases and striking targets in Damascus with greater frequency. U.S. officials have said that Washington is moving closer towards recognizing the Syrian opposition. An announcement to that effect may be made when Secretary Clinton attends the next Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco on December 12.
While We Were Looking Elsewhere
Kuwait. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Kuwait City today in protest of tomorrow’s national assembly election. The opposition is boycotting the election, angry over the emir’s decision last month to change Kuwait’s multi-vote system in which everyone could vote for four candidates to a one-vote-one-person system.
Jordan. Protests against fuel price hikes erupted in Amman today following Friday prayer. Former prime minister Ahmad Obeidat joined the protesters while urging them to focus on reform, saying “We did not come here today to flex muscle. We came here to defend our constitutional rights. We will stick to our demand of reforming the regime.”
Iran. The U.S. Senate approved new sanctions on Iran today, despite White House objections that the new penalties may undermine sanctions already in place. New sanctions will target Iran’s energy, ports, shipping, and shipbuilding sectors, as well as the metals trade. Meanwhile, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltaneih, said today that if bombed, Iran could withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
This Week in History
Yesterday marked the sixty-fifth anniversary of the UN vote to partition the territory of Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (Transjordan, originally part of Palestine, had been established in 1946). On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 181 calling for the establishment of two independent states, one Arab and one Jewish, with a special international regime for the city of Jerusalem. Britain, which had occupied Palestine in 1917 and governed it under a League of Nations mandate, turned to the UN in February 1947 asking it to recommend a future course of action. The subsequent Special Committee on Palestine made two recommendations: a majority report recommended partition, and a minority recommended a federal state. The majority plan was approved on November 27 by a vote of 33 in favor, 13 opposed, and ten abstentions. The resolution recommending partition was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine but rejected by the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee. Civil war broke out immediately between the two communities in Palestine, turning into the first full-fledged regional war in May 1948 when British forces evacuated Palestine and the Jewish community there declared independence. The 1947 resolution formed the basis for Israel’s independence, and was cited by the PLO in 1988 as the basis for Palestine’s Declaration of Independence. Yesterday’s General Assembly resolution granting Palestine non-member observer state status at the United Nations cited Resolution 181 as one source for its basis.