Congressman says US foreign policy has ‘blind spot’ on Israel-Palestine conflict

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Updated 02 June 2022

Congressman says US foreign policy has ‘blind spot’ on Israel-Palestine conflict

Congressman says US foreign policy has ‘blind spot’ on Israel-Palestine conflict
  • US Congressman Sean Casten of Illinois said that a real friend to Israel will tell it when it does wrong, such as in examining the killing of Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Akleh
  • Casten urges the reopening of US Consulate to help Palestinians address challenges they face from Israeli settlers and to undermine the influence of Hamas

CHICAGO: American foreign policy has a “blind spot” when it comes to getting accurate information on challenges facing Israelis and Palestinians or achieving peace, Illinois Congressman Sean Casten (D-6th) told Arab News Wednesday.

Elected in 2018 after defeating conservative Peter Roskam, Casten said he saw how the “status quo” provokes extremists on both sides, Hamas and Israeli settlers, during two visits to Israel and later the West Bank.

Casten said he supports a two-state solution but believes it will be difficult to achieve under current circumstances. He stressed that he supports Israel’s right to security in the face of threats from Hamas, as well as the rights of Palestinian civilians, citing the experiences he saw Palestinian farmers face from armed settlers while in Bethlehem last February.

“We had gone in the last time I was there, which was last February. We had gone in and met with several Palestinians. They (Israeli settlers) have got a farm up on the hill above their farm, and it is essentially an outpost with armed settlers who are regularly coming down and shooting their (Palestinian) livestock,” Casten recalled from the trip.

“And we’re sitting there saying we are members of Congress. Why don’t we just walk up? And they were saying no, no… ‘You are going to get shot if you do that, do not walk up there,’ which is weird because normally as a member of Congress, we can go anywhere. We then come back, and we met with Tom Knives, the US ambassador to Israel, who is a lovely guy, and we start telling him about this and it was clear he was not aware of those realities on the ground because as the ambassador to Israel, he cannot travel into that region except in a supervised fashion. And so, we need to have information. We have this blind spot in US foreign policy right now.”

Casten said the situation he saw there reinforced his belief that re-opening the US Consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinian affairs, which is one of the goals of President Joseph Biden, is essential.

“We have Palestinian communities who need representation. They don’t have an embassy anymore. Should we push to create that embassy? That seems like a good thing Congress should do. We’re not taking sides. We are just saying we need to make sure that people [are safe]. We talked to a guy who runs the Hope Flowers School that teaches non-violence in Bethlehem. He doesn’t have anyone to reach out to right now. So, we raise that issue and then we hear, well, ‘Be careful pushing that because as you have seen the Knesset is very divided right now and if you push too hard that might create the rise, the return of the Israeli political right,’” Casten said.

“I am completely in [support] of that (opening the US Consulate). But the challenge is how do we do that in a way that is responsive to the circumstances on the ground there?”

Casten complained that the US understanding of the Israeli-Palestine conflict is dominated by activists on both sides in the US and that a greater effort needs to be made to hear the views of everyone involved to better understand the reality. He said that the US must “understand how it affects the politics on the ground there” in order to address those challenges.

Appearing on “The Ray Hanania Show,” broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, Casten said his experiences showed how one cannot only listen to activists who advocate for their causes but must also hear from others to better understand the hurdles that prevent peace.

“There is so much pressure in our US system to be responsive to US citizens who are advocates for the region. And I think it is so dangerous to only listen to those groups if you haven’t spoken to groups on the ground…I have met with everyone from Prime Minister (Mohammed) Shtayyeh to (President) Mahmoud Abbas to (Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu and (Alternate Prime Minister) Yair Lapid this last time,” Casten said.

“Everybody will tell Americans who are there that the system is very brittle. If you push us too hard, you will see the rise of the right on the Israeli [side], if you push us too hard you will see the rise of Hamas on the Palestinian side. And there is this tremendous pressure that says, ‘Please don’t violate the status quo.’ And yet we all know that the status quo is untenable. I think the surest way to compromise the security of everyone in the region is to continue the status quo where you have a group of people with no property rights and increasingly little hope.”

Casten observed how the recent signing of peace accords between Israel and other Arab states has changed the dynamics of what many Israelis believe is the path to peace.

“The feeling on the ground in Israel, I think there used to be a sense in Israel that there is no path to regional peace without a resolution to the Palestinian issue,” Casten said. 

“And with the passage of the Abraham Accords, with the increasing concerns of a nuclear Iran, the feeling I get on the street when I talk to Israelis over there is that they have almost inverted that until we have regional peace, we don’t need to worry about the Palestinian issue. I don’t know how to solve that. I feel better about our opportunity to solve that when we have more centrist moderate governments. Of course, the Israeli government has been very brittle now for four or five years.”

Casten said he supports the two-state solution but is unsure how it can be achieved in today’s political dynamics.

“I absolutely support it, and I wish I could tell you that I saw a path to getting it done. I don’t know how you have a democratic Jewish Israel that doesn’t have two states with coherent borders,” Casten said.

“I will also share with you, I have yet to meet an Israeli leader who is committed to the idea that they don’t have complete control of security, which is one and one-half states. And I have yet to meet a leader in the Palestinian authority who doesn’t have a business card that doesn’t have a map that runs from the Jordan to the sea.”

Casten also said he was optimistic in cases like the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh that one could criticize Israel without being anti-Israeli. Palestinian witnesses have said they believed the Palestinian-American citizen was killed on May 11 by an Israeli sniper’s bullet, but the Israelis have resisted that conclusion.

“There are a lot of pressures in our domestic politics. But I think we should be able to manage,” Casten said when asked if responsibility for Abu Akleh’s killing will be resolved.

“I have always been partial to that beautiful line of Frederick Douglass when he said that the best friend of the nation is who acknowledges her faults rather than cloak himself in the specious garb of patriotism. He was, of course, talking about America. But I think in the same way, for the United States to be a good friend of Israel, as we are, we also have to be willing to say as your friend, you are not perfect.”

Casten is a scientist, clean energy entrepreneur and CEO who has dedicated his life to fighting climate change. He serves on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and is vice chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship, and Capital Markets.

Casten faces fellow Democrat Congresswoman Marie Newman in the June 28 election primary. Newman did not respond to several requests to appear on the radio show.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit, including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C., including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 p.m. on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show podcast here

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE
Updated 30 November 2022

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE
  • Reduces forex risks, US dollar reliance, says envoy
  • “Landmark model” for other nations if successful

NEW DELHI: The UAE and India are preparing to introduce bilateral transactions using local currencies, New Delhi’s envoy to Abu Dhabi said on Wednesday, with the move expected to boost the free trade deal between the two countries.

The UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner after the US and China, with a bilateral trade volume of $43.3 billion in 2020-21. It is also home to more than 3 million Indian expats, who send billions of dollars in remittances to their families each year.

In February, India and the UAE signed the landmark Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. The pact, which went into force in May, reduces tariffs on almost 80 percent of all goods and provides zero-duty access to 90 percent of Indian exports.

India’s ambassador to the UAE, Sunjay Sudhir, told Arab News that the issue of trade settlements in local currencies was discussed during the 14th India-UAE Joint Commission meeting in Abu Dhabi in September.

Last week, it was also one of the major points of discussion when UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan visited New Delhi.

“Since then there has been progress, a concept paper has been submitted by the Indian side to the UAE side, discussions are ongoing between the Reserve Bank of India and the UAE Central Bank,” Sudhir told Arab News, adding that modalities would be finalized “as soon as possible.”

Trading in local currencies — in the Indian-UAE context the rupee and dirham — not only reduces transaction costs but also frees trade from dependence on the US dollar.

“Trade between India and the UAE is mostly invoiced in dollars, which can be an expensive affair for businesses on both sides, due to foreign currency conversion fees and exchange rate risk,” Anupam Manur, economics professor from the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore, told Arab News.

He said for India it would also ease the pressure on the current account, halt the depreciation of the rupee and the depletion of forex reserves.

“This opens up the possibility of using a common payments system, such as UPI (Unified Payments Interface) to reduce the cost of remittances from Indians in (the) UAE and truly make capital flows easier,” Manur added.

“If the deal to trade in local currencies is successful then this would be a landmark deal and the model can be replicated with many other countries with which India has a strong trading relationship.”

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab
Updated 30 November 2022

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab
  • The project will develop training programs to address biases in communities and classrooms, and prevent discrimination and extremism

NEW YORK: The Muslim World League, in partnership with Teachers College, Columbia University in New York, on Wednesday launched the International Lab for Research and Leadership in Interfaith Collaboration and Coexistence.

Its founders said it aims to be a center of excellence for research, leadership and training to help combat all forms of hate and radicalization based on religion, race or ethnicity.

The Muslim World League has provided a grant to support the work of the lab, which will include the development of innovative, evidence-based training programs to address biases in communities and classrooms, along with the advancement of groundbreaking research to help foster and enhance coexistence and collaboration.

The officials who attended the signing ceremony for the project on Wednesday included Muslim World League Secretary General Mohammad Al-Issa, Teachers College President Thomas Bailey, Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Park East Synagogue Senior Rabbi Arthur Schneier, and members of the US Congress.

“The Muslim World League is dedicated to fighting hate speech and intolerance in all its forms,” said Al-Issa.

“We are honored to support the new International Lab for Research and Leadership in Interfaith Collaboration and Coexistence because it will expand that battle and, through training and research, will help eliminate discrimination and extremism before it can take root in young children.”


Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data
Updated 30 November 2022

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data
  • 61% of Muslims live in the lowest 40% of areas ranked by deprivation
  • Campaigners call on policymakers to end ‘cycles of poverty’

LONDON: The majority of Muslims are living in the areas of England and Wales with the worst levels of deprivation, the UK Office for National Statistics revealed on Wednesday.

Muslims now account for 6.5 percent of the population in England and Wales, some 3.9 million in 2021, according to the latest ONS census. 

However, the data showed 61 percent of them live in the lowest 40 percent of areas ranked by deprivation score, The Guardian reported.

Tower Hamlets, considered one of the most deprived areas, had the highest percentage of Muslims in England and Wales in 2011. The census in 2021 shows that they now account for 39.9 percent of the local population. 

Meanwhile, only 4 percent of Muslims live in the 20 percent of areas least deprived.

Policymakers have been urged to address the “cycles of poverty” that have affected generations of British Muslims, the numbers of which have increased by 1.2 million in the last decade.

Muslim Council of Britain Secretary-General Zara Mohammed told The Guardian: “We’re now the second or third generation (of Muslims).

“There’s more of us here, and yet we’re still in these cycles of poverty and deprivation.

“I think part of that is down to socioeconomic conditions where people are housed, and the economic opportunities available.

“There’s something to really be said about what our politics and policies are doing to help those who are really suffering.

“There’s all these stereotypes and tropes around Muslims, but the reality is that people are actually in cycles of poverty. And these need to be broken.”

Sufia Alam, head of the Maryam Centre and programmes at East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets, told The Guardian: “I have worked for almost three decades in this borough and it’s one of the poorest in London and indeed in the country.

“Even though it’s a rich borough as well as a poor borough: We’ve got Canary Wharf on our doorstep.

“The (census data) are not surprising because of so many factors that we’ve often talked about: Islamophobia, cultural biases that exist, racism within institutions from education all the way to employment.

“I remember talking about the same thing in the 2011 census. Nothing’s really changed.”


Saudi solar project to help Bangladesh meet clean energy goals, mitigate power crisis

Saudi solar project to help Bangladesh meet clean energy goals, mitigate power crisis
Updated 30 November 2022

Saudi solar project to help Bangladesh meet clean energy goals, mitigate power crisis

Saudi solar project to help Bangladesh meet clean energy goals, mitigate power crisis
  • ACWA Power signed power plant agreement with Bangladesh earlier this week
  • Bangladesh has for months been struggling with acute energy crisis

DHAKA: A 1,000-megawatt photovoltaic power facility planned in partnership with a Saudi power giant was expected to help Bangladesh resolve its energy crisis, authorities in Dhaka said on Wednesday.
Bangladesh, which is dependent on imported liquefied natural gas, has been struggling with an energy crisis for the past couple of months.
On Monday, the Bangladesh Power Development Board, an agency under the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power to set up a 1,000-megawatt solar power facility in the South Asian country.
“It’s a first track initiative to resolve the ongoing energy crisis to some extent,” Mohammad Hossain, director general of the BPDB, told Arab News.
He estimated that the project would comprise up to five power plants, cost around $3 billion, and would not take long to complete.
“It doesn’t take much time to implement solar power plant projects ... If everything goes well, we can expect within the next two years that these solar plants will be able to go for production.”
Authorities are now looking for appropriate land where the solar farm could be established.
“It can be on public land or ACWA Power can also propose some private land,” Hossain said. “Based on that we will conduct a feasibility study of the project.”
The facility would also help Bangladesh achieve its target of generating 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2041. With a total installed electricity generation capacity of 25,700 megawatts, the country’s current power generation mix comprises only 3 percent renewables.
“This kind of 1,000-megawatt project will help us to meet the target,” Dr. SM Nasif Shams, director of the Institute of Energy at the University of Dhaka, told Arab News.
“If we can secure this Saudi investment in the renewable energy sector, it will be a very positive thing for Bangladesh.”
The project would not only contribute to Bangladesh’s clean energy goals but also to its energy resilience.
Since mid-July, the government has been resorting to daily power cuts amid high global prices driven up by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Industries have been forced to remain idle for several hours a day as they do not receive sufficient power to run their operations.
In early October, some 80 percent of Bangladesh’s 168 million people were left without electricity after a grid failure, which occurred when more than one-third of the country’s gas-powered units were short of fuel.
“Considering the present situation, it’s difficult to import fossil fuel from foreign countries,” Shams said.
“If we can generate our own energy using renewable sources like sunlight or wind, this is always positive as we don’t have to import fossil fuel. And it’s also environment friendly.”

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine
Updated 30 November 2022

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine
  • Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft
  • "Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU's executive said

BRUSSELS: The European Commission proposed a plan on Wednesday to compensate Ukraine for damage from Russia’s invasion with proceeds from investing Russian funds frozen under sanctions.
Officials in the EU, United States and other Western countries have long debated whether Ukraine can benefit from frozen Russian assets, including around $300 billion of Russia’s central bank reserves and $20 billion held by blacklisted Russians.
Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft.
“Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive said in a statement.
“The damage suffered by Ukraine is estimated at 600 billion euros. Russia and its oligarchs have to compensate Ukraine for the damage and cover the costs for rebuilding the country.”
European Commission officials said that one short-term option for Western nations would be to create a fund to manage and invest liquid assets of the central bank, and use the proceeds to support Ukraine.
The assets would be returned to their owners when sanctions were lifted, which could be part of a peace agreement that ensured Ukraine received compensation for damages.
“It’s not easy so it will require strong backing from the international community but we believe it is doable,” one official said.
With regard to the frozen assets of private individuals and entities, seizing these is usually only legally possible where there is a criminal conviction.
The Commission has proposed that violations of sanctions could be classified as an offense that would allow confiscation.
Von der Leyen also said that the Commission was proposing the establishment of a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, “to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.”
Moscow denies its invasion, which it calls a “special military operation,” constitutes aggression, a war crime under international law.