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Canada and the Looting of ‘Africa’s Last Colony’ | The Tyee

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Recent legal challenges build on an important ruling from the European Union in December 2016 that any free trade agreement with Morocco cannot include the disputed territories of Western Sahara. Morocco responded by threatening to cut trades ties with Europe.

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3 days ago
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UN last hurdle before Israel can rid itself of the Palestinians – Mondoweiss

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Israeli and US officials are in the process of jointly pre-empting Donald Trump’s supposed “ultimate deal” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They hope to demote the Palestinian issue to a footnote in international diplomacy.

The conspiracy – a real one – was much in evidence last week during a visit to the region by Nikki Haley, Washington’s envoy to the United Nations. Her escort was Danny Danon, her Israeli counterpart and a fervent opponent of Palestinian statehood.

Danon makes Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu look moderate. He has backed Israel annexing the West Bank and ruling over Palestinians apatheid-style. Haley appears unperturbed. During a meeting with Netanyahu, she told him that the UN was “a bully to Israel”. She has warned the powerful Security Council to focus on Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah, instead of Israel.

To protect its tiny ally, Washington is threatening to cut billions in US funding to the world body, plunging it into crisis and jeopardising peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

On the way to Israel, Haley stopped at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, demanding it end its “pathological” opposition to Israel’s decades of occupation and human rights violations – or the US would pull out of the agency.

Washington has long pampered Israel, giving it millions of dollars each year to buy weapons to oppress Palestinians, and using its veto to block UN resolutions enforcing international law. Expert UN reports such as a recent one on Israel’s apartheid rule over Palestinians have been buried.

But worse is to come. Now the framework of international laws and institutions established after the Second World War is at risk of being dismembered.

That danger was highlighted on Sunday, when it emerged that Netanyahu had urged Haley to dismantle another UN agency much loathed by Israel. UNRWA cares for more than five million Palestinian refugees across the region.

Since the 1948 war, Israel has refused to allow these refugees to return to their lands, now in Israel, forcing them to live in miserable and overcrowded camps awaiting a peace deal that never arrives. These dispossessed Palestinians still depend on UNRWA for education, health care and social services.

UNRWA, Netanyahu says, “perpetuates” rather than solves their problems. He prefers that they become the responsibility of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which looks after all other refugee populations.

His demand is a monumental U-turn, 70 years in the making. In fact, it was Israel that in 1948 insisted on a separate UN refugee agency for the Palestinians.

UNRWA was created to prevent the Palestinians falling under the charge of UNHCR’s forerunner, the International Refugee Organisation. Israel was afraid that the IRO, formed in the immediate wake of the Second World War, would give Palestinian refugees the same prominence as European Jews fleeing Nazi atrocities.

Israel did not want the two cases compared, especially as they were so intimately connected. It was the rise of Nazism that bolstered the Zionist case for a Jewish state in Palestine and Jewish refugees who were settled on lands from which Palestinians had just been expelled by Israel.

Also, Israel was concerned that the IRO’s commitment to the principle of repatriation might force it to accept back the Palestinian refugees.

Israel’s hope then was precisely that UNRWA would not solve the Palestinian refugee problem; rather, it would resolve itself. The idea was encapsulated in a Zionist adage: “The old will die and the young forget.”

But millions of Palestinian descendants still clamour for a right of return. If they cannot forget, Netanyahu prefers that the world forget them.

As bloody wars grip the Middle East, the best way to achieve that aim is to submerge the Palestinians among the world’s 65 million other refugees. Why worry about the Palestinian case when there are millions of Syrians newly displaced by war?

But UNRWA poses a challenge, because it is so deeply entrenched in the region and insists on a just solution for Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA’s huge staff includes 32,000 Palestinian administrators, teachers and doctors, many living in camps in the West Bank – Palestinian territory Netanyahu and Danon hunger for. The UN’s presence there is an impediment to annexation.

On Monday Netanyahu announced his determination to block Europe from funding Israeli human rights organisations, the main watchdogs in the West Bank and a key data source for UN agencies. He now refuses to meet any world leader who talks to these rights groups.

With Trump in the White House, a crisis-plagued Europe ever-more toothless and the Arab world in disarray, Netanyahu wants to seize this chance to clear the UN out of the way too.

Global institutions such as the UN and the international law it upholds were created after the Second World War to protect the weakest and prevent a recurrence of the Holocaust’s horrors.

Today, Netanyahu is prepared to risk it all, tearing down the post-war international order, if this act of colossal vandalism will finally rid him of the Palestinians.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

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‘I Did Feel Vancouver Was a Sad Town’

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[Editor's note: Before Greg Girard became a renowned photographer of Asia’s hyper-urbanization, he was a teenager busing from Burnaby to Vancouver, where he’d prowl the streets with his camera. This was Vancouver pre-globalized, pre-glitzified, Terminal City toughing it out on nature’s ragged edge. Girard felt drawn, as he says in the interview below, to “making pictures in somewhat unloved and orphaned places around the city” — many of them at night. His photos from that decade are collected in a new book, “Under Vancouver: 1972-1982,” which launches, with an exhibit, tomorrow, April 22, 2 to 4 p.m., at Monte Clark Gallery in Vancouver.]

David Campany: The oldest images in this book are from 1972. Clearly Vancouver has changed a lot, and large parts of the city would be unrecognizable to someone from the early ’70s. In going back so far, do you recognize the photographer who made these photographs?

Greg Girard: “The mental image of myself when I first started photographing remains pretty clear: taking the bus into town from the suburb where I grew up, walking the downtown streets, hanging out in pool halls and cafes, asking people if they would let me photograph them. This was the early 1970s, but some places looked like the ’50s or earlier — the way people dressed, certain interiors. I don’t know if time lags in the same way today. In Vancouver, it doesn’t seem to. Everything looks pretty much ‘now.’ The big difference is that ‘now’ is far more Chinese or south Asian than it was 40 years ago.

“Someone asked me if it was my early intention to document Vancouver. I don’t think I would have known what that meant at the time. At age 18 or 19, making pictures for posterity was the furthest thing from my mind. And during the 10 years that these pictures were made, that didn’t really change. What did change was my relationship with the city, and the gradual discovery that photography was a good way to separate how things look from how things are.”

Can you elaborate on the impulse to ‘separate how things look from how things are’? One might say that’s almost an anti-documentary impulse.

“I love that term ‘anti-documentary.’ I’m not sure how much it applies to me, though. It reminds me of the approach of certain Japanese photographers from the late 1960s and ’70s: a very subjective, highly stylized, almost novelistic way of picture making.

“A photograph can be about what’s photographed, but also about something more. The tension can come from that interplay between what’s photographed and the ‘something more’ (even though it might not always be intended by the photographer). Sometimes appearances don’t always align with what you know or suspect to be true. Photography seems able to show the surface and peel it back at the same time.

“It’s probably also worth noting that a 10-year span for a young photographer (aged 18 to 28) is a long time. I started out hardly knowing how to frame or expose a photograph, but I eventually got the hang of it, and over time tried to develop something of my own. By the time I left Vancouver in 1982, I’d learned a lot about long exposures at night and what various artificial light sources did on different kinds of film.

“Kingsley Amis wrote that he ‘drinks to make people interesting.’ I worry that photography can be a similar intoxicant; photographing the world to make it interesting.”

Why is that a worry? It seems as good a reason as any. Were you finding the world less than interesting at that time? Was photography a way out of something?

“I understand Amis to have meant a relaxing of discernment. If everybody is interesting, then nobody is interesting. And so it goes with the world.

“My view of Vancouver went through a lot of changes: discovering it as a ‘big’ city when I was young, and then returning to it later after having lived abroad and seeing it in relation to a wider world. At some early point, photography became a way to engage with the world, or make it my own, so to speak. And so, you’re right that photography was a way out of something, but also into something.”

Looking at the pictures now, are you able to see, or recall, what it was that motivated each one? Photographs have a way of masking the intentions that brought them into being. If, as they say, the past is a foreign country, then a photograph can be doubly foreign.

“There was never any intention during this time to make pictures about Vancouver per se. It was where I lived and so that’s where I made pictures. I was probably trying to avoid anything that looked too obviously ‘Vancouver’ in later pictures — hence the anonymous alleys and streets and could-be-anywhere buildings and cars. Which is odd now, because when viewed from the distance of today, they all look quite specifically ‘Vancouver’ to me.”

“As for motivation, especially early on, much of it was strictly physical, if that’s the right word: the way the light was hitting something or someone; the way a person or a building or a street looked. The drama of that. At the same time, the way things looked connected on some level with the way I felt about Vancouver and my place in it. By the end of this period, I was ready to leave, though why I felt that way I can’t really say. But the pictures maybe reflect something of that.

“Looking at these early Vancouver pictures now, there’s something unguarded and direct about them. I had no idea at the time that they would ever be seen, or that I would ever figure out how to have some sort of life as a photographer. But beginnings are like that, I suppose. You have no idea what you’re doing, and you just plunge ahead, trying to distill everything around you and within you, while avoiding thinking too much about the seeming impossibility of it going anywhere.”

That’s interesting. Early work in photography can be pretty fully-formed, because the medium allows it. It’s not like having to learn to play the violin. And photographs can be fully-formed even if the photographer isn’t. Maybe that’s something unique to the medium.

“I might argue that technical expertise and virtuosity still has its place, though the bar for the medium today is comparatively low. Does that make it more like writing, I wonder? In the sense that even if someone can read and write, it doesn’t mean they are a writer. I’m not really a musical person but maybe an early body of work is like an early rock ’n’ roll album — something you can only do when you’re young.”

Yes, I think photography can be like writing in some ways, and not others. I often think about that comparison between early photography and early rock ’n’ roll albums. But if great things can be done so young, what is the mature work of a photographer? Is there such a thing? Can we discern it?

“I wonder if it helps to look at the work of someone who enjoyed little or no recognition during their lifetime. Vivian Maier is an example that leaps to mind, and Fred Herzog, too, in the sense of the late acknowledgement of his work.”

Maier and Herzog seemed fully formed at an early stage in their work, but maybe it’s the disposition toward the world as subject matter that can be mature so early, and the photography more or less follows from that. You mentioned there being a place for virtuosity, and I’d certainly agree. But there is such a thing as virtuoso observation — a photographer who sees the potential significance of an overlooked subject matter, for example, like Walker Evans. Or a photographer like Garry Winogrand, who, in a physiological sense, was able to see so much so quickly.

What’s virtuoso in photography is complicated, because it’s so bound with vision, seeing, recognition. I have the impression these early pictures of yours are a mix. Some are quite raw and direct, and their technical qualities needed to be no more than competent. In others, you’re beginning to explore what a photograph can be as a picture.

“With Winogrand, there’s certainly an element of the physiological as you describe it: not only acute observation but divination almost, matched with a technical virtuosity — of the kind more typically seen in news or sports photography — which he applied to collisions and alignments within the everyday that don’t exist until you photograph them. As for my own work, I felt I was getting into uncharted territory with the night pictures — finding out what the medium could do at night, especially when no obvious light source was visible in the frame — and in making pictures in somewhat unloved and orphaned places around the city.

There’s a kind of alone-ness — I hesitate to call it loneliness — in a lot of your Vancouver photographs. Scenes with just one human figure or none at all. Is this to do with disposition — the young, wandering outsider, seeking subject matter that mirrors his inner state? Or did you feel Vancouver was like that?

“I did feel Vancouver was a sad town. It maybe had something to do with the way the natural beauty surrounding the city was at odds with the more down-at-the-heel parts of town where I was spending time. In those days, Vancouver was more obviously a port town, the last stop at the end of the rail line. ‘Terminal City’ as they say, a place where people ended up. Something that most port cities probably have in common. When Nina Simone did her rendition of ‘Baltimore,’ singing about a ‘hard town by the sea’ where it was ‘hard just to live,’ I felt she was singing about the place I was living. Which might sound odd, considering the Vancouver of today. It would be like a mournful song about Aspen or Honolulu. Though why not? The prettiest places can be the most ruthless.”

Were you working in isolation? Did you have connections with other photographers or artists at this time? And what did you know about photography’s past? Had you seen books or exhibitions?

“I didn’t feel like I was working in isolation. There was a lot to be stimulated by, whether at home or abroad. But, during this decade (1972 to 1982), apart from a few close friends, nobody saw the pictures.

“The earliest photographs I saw presented as ‘photography’ were in magazines like Popular Photography or Modern Photography, and later in Camera Asahi and Camera Mainichi, in Tokyo. Interspersed with camera ads and tech tips would be portfolios by Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Harry Callahan, Duane Michals, Ralph Gibson, and others, lesser known now perhaps: Marie Cosindas, Ikkō Narahara, Eva Rubinstein. I gradually became aware of the history of photography. Not in any systematic way, but over time, I started to see how some of the pieces fit together.

“I lived in Tokyo from ’76 to ’77 and from ’79 to ’80. Photography was a huge part of the cultural landscape: magazines and books and exhibitions; and in advertising: posters in train and subway stations, billboards. One intriguing image/idea after another. The camera manufacturers all had their own galleries, in Ginza or Shinjuku: Nikon Salon, Canon Salon, Minolta Salon, Fuji Salon, and others, like Zeit Photo Salon. (I remember them all as “salons”; some perhaps were “galleries.”) This is where I saw my first photography exhibitions. Some were great, some were of the “camera-club” variety. But the main point is that you didn’t have go to a gallery to see great photography in Japan.

“Shortly before leaving Vancouver again, in 1982, for what turned out to be an almost 30-year period in Asia, I met Vancouver artist Roy Arden, who became a close friend and ally. I kept in touch with him while I was away and followed the evolution of his career and the trajectory of the city, this other Vancouver, one where artists were living and working and gaining attention, as was the city itself.”

Your early Vancouver photographs responded to the presence of various Asian cultures in the city. Was this a result of you having been to Japan in the late 1970s or were these images made before that?

“I think most people were alert to ‘things Chinese’ in Vancouver back then. Classmates in school, Chinese-owned shops and businesses and farms, and the city’s sizeable and very alive Chinatown — probably that all played a part in why I ended up going to Hong Kong in 1974, travelling in that part of the world, becoming curious about Japan and living there in the late 1970s. Yes, after those first visits to Hong Kong and extended stays in Tokyo, I became more attuned to places in Vancouver where that part of the world might show itself: Japanese magazines at Sophia Bookstore, cargo ships on the waterfront, ESL students on Robson Street, and Chinatown a place to get your bearings.”

Nothing dates quite like an automobile. Can you say a little about the prominent place they have in this work?

“The cars might look appealingly retro today, but at the time, they were just beat-up cars that had yet to cross the threshold of retro appeal. I’ll admit to being attracted to their unloveliness, though. The unnatural colour from artificial light and the darker sky made them stand out in a way they wouldn’t have during the day. Which is all to say that the cars perhaps served as a kind of visual shorthand for appreciating the unappreciated, noticing the unnoticed.”

You began making these images the year after Walker Evans had a career retrospective at MoMA, which travelled to Ottawa, but not Vancouver. In the catalogue and press release for that show, the curator John Szarkowski famously wrote: ‘It is difficult to know now with certainty whether Evans recorded the America of his youth or invented it. Beyond doubt the accepted myth of our recent past is in some measure the creation of this photographer, whose work has persuaded us of the validity of a new set of clues and symbols, bearing on the question of who we are. Whether that work and its judgment was fact or artifice, or half of each, it is now part of our history.’ Are you able to say whether you were recording the Vancouver of your youth or inventing it? Or is the uncertainty now part of your, and Vancouver’s, history?

“When I started making these photographs, especially the pictures of people in the mid-1970s, I felt like I was photographing a world nobody knew anything about, apart from the people living it, of course. I was something of an interloper, but my youth protected me. It’s curious to consider these pictures now, practically unseen since they were made, in terms of a Vancouver they might have some potential to invent. Other visual records of Vancouver from this period, whether in newspapers or elsewhere, look quite different to me from the one I lived in and photographed. I sometimes wonder if there might have been another 20-something roaming the streets and photographing at night back then. (And if so I would love to meet him or her.)

“It’s said that all photographs are interesting after 20 years. That notion wouldn’t have meant much to me at the time. All I cared about was seeing how good the pictures were when I picked the film up from the lab. I don’t know if the Vancouver in these pictures is invented or not, but I do recognize it as the one I was trying to photograph.”  [Tyee]

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Trump budget would slash science programmes across government : Nature News & Comment

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Shawn Thew/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

The White House budget plan could face a rocky reception in Congress.

US President Donald Trump released a revised budget plan on 23 May that would cut science programmes across the federal government in 2018. Biomedical, public-health and environmental research would all be pared back.

Those cuts, along with deep reductions in programmes for the poor, are balanced by a proposed 10% increase in military spending. This overall strategy echoes the “skinny budget” outline that Trump released in March, which faced opposition in Congress. Earlier this month, lawmakers approved a 2017 budget deal that increased funding for key science agencies and ignored the president's push for cuts.

“This budget is terrible, and we’re confident that Congress will ignore it,” says Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland.

Here, Nature breaks down the president's budget request.

National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would face a cut of 18% in the Trump plan, from US$31.8 billion in 2017 to $26 billion in 2018. According to budget documents, this would be achieved by “structural changes” to reduce the amount of overhead (known as indirect costs) that the agency pays to grant recipients. Under the current system, individual research institutions negotiate with the government to set the rate at which they are reimbursed for expenses such as administration and the construction and maintenance of facilities. The White House wants one rate for all grantees to mitigate “the risk for fraud and abuse”.

The budget would eliminate the $70-million Fogarty International Center in Bethesda, which coordinates with other NIH institutes to train researchers and health-care providers overseas. The rest of the cuts would be spread relatively evenly across the NIH’s 26 remaining institutes and centres.

The White House plan would create the $272-million National Institute for Research on Safety and Quality, which would receive another $107 million from an established trust fund on patient-centered outcomes research. The institute would study the outcomes of treatments and health services, taking on the role of the independent Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville, Maryland, which would be eliminated.

The Trump budget also includes $86 million for the NIH’s arm of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. And it sets aside $100 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative: a 10-year effort to track the health of 1 million Americans that is scheduled to launch later this year.

Congressman Tom Cole (Republican, Oklahoma), who chairs the US House of Representatives spending subcommittee that funds the NIH, has said that he does not expect that Congress will support Trump’s proposed cuts. Other lawmakers from both major political parties have also come out against the president’s plan for the NIH.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

One bright spot for public health is Trump’s proposal to establish an “emergency response fund” within the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. This would give the department the authority to move up to 1% of its budget to respond to emerging health threats, such as the recent outbreaks of the Ebola and Zika viruses. Much of this work would probably involve the CDC.

Public-health officials have called for such a fund for years. But Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association in Washington DC, says that Trump’s proposal is “a shell game”. The White House wants to slash more than $1.2 billion from the CDC’s budget, with the largest cuts coming from public-health preparedness programmes.

“They dramatically cut the actual operating funds and then create the capacity to go into your pocket, which has much less money in it,” Benjamin says. “It’s smoke and mirrors.”

Food and Drug Administration

The Trump plan would cut government funding for the US Food and Drug Administration by 31% from the 2017 level, to $1.9 billion. That $845-million decrease would be offset by a $1.3-billion increase in the “user fees” that companies pay the agency to review their products. The law that sets the agency's user-fee rate expires in September, and Congress is working on reauthorizing it. Draft legislation released jointly by the House and Senate in April would raise user fees by only $400 million per year.

National Science Foundation

The budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF) would be cut by about 11% from the 2016 level, to $6.7 billion. That would allow the agency to give out 8,000 new grants in fiscal year 2018, about 800 fewer than it awarded in 2016.

Among the NSF’s seven directorates, the largest cuts would come from social and behavioural sciences (down 10.4%, to $244 million), computer science (down 10.3%, to $839 million) and geosciences (down 10.1%, to $1.2 billion).

Biology would see the smallest reduction — 7.1%, to $672 million. The Office of Integrative Activities, which supports interdisciplinary research, would see the largest cut among the agency’s main accounts. Its budget would drop by 26%, to $316 million.

The agency’s Ocean Observatories Initiative, a collection of instrumented seafloor arrays, would be cut by almost 44%, to $31 million. The programme began full operations in June 2016, when real-time data began flowing in after nearly a decade of construction and development.

NASA

Trump requested $19.1 billion for NASA, a 2.8% decrease from the 2017 level. The agency's science directorate would receive $5.7 billion, a drop of nearly 1%.

Within that directorate, funding for Earth science would drop by 8.7%, from $1.92 billion to $1.75 billion. The budget would eliminate five Earth-observing missions, for reasons such as redundancy with other measurements and steep technological challenges. Four of these programmes were targeted for cuts in the March 'skinny budget':

Trump's latest budget would also eliminate support for an instrument intended to measure reflected sunlight and Earth's thermal radiation. The instrument is meant to fly on future weather satellites.

Congress has already rejected Trump's plan to eliminate the PACE mission. Lawmakers set aside $90 million for the programme in the 2017 funding law enacted earlier this month.

The White House proposal would increase support for planetary sciences by 4.5% compared to the 2017 level, to $1.93 billion. Notably, Trump included a $425-million request for a mission to fly past Jupiter’s moon Europa, a perennial darling of Congress. There is no mention of a follow-on lander mission, which some lawmakers have also argued for. The proposed budget also continues funding for ongoing missions such as the Mars 2020 rover, but no additional money to begin developing a follow-on Mars orbiter to replace ageing ones that are currently in orbit.

“I’m disappointed to see that,” says Casey Dreier, director of space policy for the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California. “We’re underinvesting in the infrastructure at Mars.”

Funding for NASA’s astrophysics division would increase by 2.3% from the 2017 level, keeping the James Webb Space Telescope on track for an October 2018 launch. Heliophysics funding would remain flat as the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft, which is designed to swoop by the Sun, moves towards a launch next year.

Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, noted that the proposed science budget would support 60 operating missions and 40 that are under development. “This budget still includes significant Earth-science efforts, including 18 Earth-observing missions in space as well as airborne missions,” he said in a statement.

Elsewhere, NASA would continue to work on its heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. Its education office would be eliminated entirely, however.

Department of Energy

The US Department of Energy would receive $28 billion under the president's plan, a 5.3% reduction from 2016. The department's research programmes would take a much larger hit, however, particularly those focused on clean-energy technologies.

The Office of Science would see its budget cut by 16%, from $5.3 billion in 2017 to just under $4.5 billion in 2018. The biggest decreases by sheer dollar amount would come from basic energy sciences and biological and environmental research, but nearly all research programmes would feel the pinch. The lone exception is advanced scientific computing, which would receive a 16% boost to $722 million.

Funding for advanced energy technologies would drop by nearly $2.2 billion, or 53%. That includes a proposed $1.4 billion cut to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy (ARPA-E), which was designed to pursue riskier projects that could lead to major breakthroughs, would see its budget drop by 93% compared to 2016, from more than $291 million to just $20 million.

The biggest winner at the Department of Energy would be the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), whose duties include overseeing the department's nuclear-weapons programme. The NNSA would see its budget increase by 11% compared to 2016, from $12.5 billion to $13.9 billion. Nearly $1.4 billion of that boost would go to the weapons programme, while nonproliferation efforts would be cut by nearly 8%, to $1.8 billion.

Environmental Protection Agency

The White House proposal would make good on promises to shrink and reorganize the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which would see its budget cut by more than 30% to $5.7 billion. Trump would slash spending on pollution-control programmes and research and development, eliminating about 23% of the agency’s roughly 15,000 staff members along the way.

The budget would overhaul the EPA’s regulatory agenda. It would eliminate funding to implement the agency's strategy to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants — which is known as the Clean Power Plan — and dozens of other pollution-control programmes.

The EPA’s Office of Research and Development, which conducts the bulk of the agency’s research, would receive around $277 million, a reduction of 43% compared to 2017. That figure includes a cut of more than $50 million to the Air, Climate and Energy programme, which would be rebranded as the Air and Energy programme. Overall, the Office of Research and Development would lose 624 full-time positions, which is nearly 35% of its current staff.

The budget would eliminate support for the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay restoration initiatives, and reduce programmes to help states and Native American tribes tackle pollution by cutting more than 23%, to $2.7 billion. Such programmes have been popular among lawmakers in Congress.

A senior EPA official said that the proposed budget, if implemented, would lead to significant lay-offs and challenge the agency's ability to attract and maintain high-quality scientists. The official noted that Congress rejected major cuts to the agency in the 2017 funding deal approved earlier this month, however, and said that employees remain hopeful. "People are hanging in there, with the belief that Congress will come through in the end," the official said.

US Geological Survey

The US Geological Survey would be cut by 13% from the 2017 level, to $922 million. That would include eliminating the entire $8.2-million federal contribution to the fledgling earthquake early-warning system on the US west coast, which gives seconds of warning about incoming ground-shaking to hospitals, transportation networks and other public services. It is a “small, very cost-effective public safety project”, says John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who works on the system. He says that he felt “surprise and dismay” at its proposed termination.

Other programmes would be tightened across the board. Wildlife research would drop by 22% from 2017 operating levels, to $35.5 million, while the project to study and mitigate volcanic hazards would be cut by 14%, to $22.4 million. Environmental-health programmes would drop by 20%, to $17.1 million; among the cuts would be $3.5 million to study the health impacts of pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and other regions.

Mineral and energy resources would get a 2% increase, to $74.4 million.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive nearly $4.8 billion, a decrease of about 17%, or $987 million, compared to 2017. The majority of the cuts would come from the agency's research activities and satellites.

The budget for the satellite programme would fall by $530 million to $1.8 billion compared to 2017. The proposal would cut funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) — a series of polar-orbiting probes that will collect weather and other environmental data — by $221 million. That includes a cut of 51%, or $189 million, for the fourth and fifth satellites in the series.

The agency's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would be cut by $131 million, to $350 million. The White House proposal would also reduce the climate-research budget by more than 19%, to $128 million, while research focused on oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes would be cut by nearly 48%, to $99 million.

The Trump plan would also cut various grant programmes that fund research at universities and other institutions. In particular, the budget would eliminate $75 million for a pair of grant programmes that are targeted at coastal research.

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How Barack Obama learned to love Israel

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(EI Illustration)


I first met Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama almost ten years ago when, as my representative in the Illinois state senate, he came to speak at the University of Chicago. He impressed me as progressive, intelligent and charismatic. I distinctly remember thinking ‘if only a man of this calibre could become president one day.’

On Friday Obama gave a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Chicago. It had been much anticipated in American Jewish political circles which buzzed about his intensive efforts to woo wealthy pro-Israel campaign donors who up to now have generally leaned towards his main rival Senator Hillary Clinton.

Reviewing the speech, Ha’aretz Washington correspondent Shmuel Rosner concluded that Obama “sounded as strong as Clinton, as supportive as Bush, as friendly as Giuliani. At least rhetorically, Obama passed any test anyone might have wanted him to pass. So, he is pro-Israel. Period.”

Israel is “our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy,” Obama said, assuring his audience that “we must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs.” Such advanced multi-billion dollar systems he asserted, would help Israel “deter missile attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza.” As if the starved, besieged and traumatized population of Gaza are about to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Obama offered not a single word of criticism of Israel, of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians.

There was no comfort for the hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza who live in the dark, or the patients who cannot get dialysis, because of what Israeli human rights group B’Tselem termed “one cold, calculated decision, made by Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, and IDF chief of staff” last summer to bomb the only power plant in Gaza,” a decision that “had nothing to do with the attempts to achieve [the] release [of a captured soldier] nor any other military need.” It was a gratuitous war crime, one of many condemned by human rights organizations, against an occupied civilian population who under the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel is obligated to protect.

Michelle Obama, then Illinois state senator Barack Obama, Edward Said and Mariam Said at a May 1998 Arab community event in Chicago.


While constantly emphasizing his concern about the threat Israelis face from Palestinians, Obama said nothing about the exponentially more lethal threat Israelis present to Palestinians. In 2006, according to B’Tselem, Israeli occupation forces killed 660 Palestinians of whom 141 were children — triple the death toll for 2005. In the same period, 23 Israelis were killed by Palestinians, half the number of 2005 (by contrast, 500 Israelis die each year in road accidents).

But Obama was not entirely insensitive to ordinary lives. He recalled a January 2006 visit to the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona that resembled an ordinary American suburb where he could imagine the sounds of Israeli children at “joyful play just like my own daughters.” He saw a home the Israelis told him was damaged by a Hizbullah rocket (no one had been hurt in the incident).

Six months later, Obama said, “Hizbullah launched four thousand rocket attacks just like the one that destroyed the home in Kiryat Shmona, and kidnapped Israeli service members.”

Obama’s phrasing suggests that Hizbullah launched thousands of rockets in an unprovoked attack, but it’s a complete distortion. Throughout his speech he showed a worrying propensity to present discredited propaganda as fact. As anyone who checks the chronology of last summer’s Lebanon war will easily discover, Hizbullah only launched lethal barrages of rockets against Israeli towns and cities after Israel had heavily bombed civilian neighborhoods in Lebanon killing hundreds of civilians, many fleeing the Israeli onslaught.

Obama excoriated Hizbullah for using “innocent people as shields.” Indeed, after dozens of civilians were massacred in an Israeli air attack on Qana on July 30, Israel “initially claimed that the military targeted the house because Hezbollah fighters had fired rockets from the area,” according to an August 2 statement from Human Rights Watch.

The statement added: “Human Rights Watch researchers who visited Qana on July 31, the day after the attack, did not find any destroyed military equipment in or near the home. Similarly, none of the dozens of international journalists, rescue workers and international observers who visited Qana on July 30 and 31 reported seeing any evidence of Hezbollah military presence in or around the home. Rescue workers recovered no bodies of apparent Hezbollah fighters from inside or near the building.” The Israelis subsequently changed their story, and neither in Qana, nor anywhere else did Israel ever present, or international investigators ever find evidence to support the claim Hizbullah had a policy of using civilians as human shields.

In total, forty-three Israeli civilians were killed by Hizbullah rockets during the thirty-four day war. For every Israeli civilian who died, over twenty-five Lebanese civilians were killed by indiscriminate Israeli bombing — over one thousand in total, a third of them children. Even the Bush administration recently criticized Israel’s use of cluster bombs against Lebanese civilians. But Obama defended Israel’s assault on Lebanon as an exercise of its “legitimate right to defend itself.”

There was absolutely nothing in Obama’s speech that deviated from the hardline consensus underpinning US policy in the region. Echoing the sort of exaggeration and alarmism that got the United States into the Iraq war, he called Iran “one of the greatest threats to the United States, to Israel, and world peace.” While advocating “tough” diplomacy with Iran he confirmed that “we should take no option, including military action, off the table.” He opposed a Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah and insisted “we must maintain the isolation of Hamas” until it meets the Quartet’s one-sided conditions. He said Hizbullah, which represents millions of Lebanon’s disenfranchised and excluded, “threatened the fledgling movement for democracy” and blamed it for “engulf[ing] that entire nation in violence and conflict.”

Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.” He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, “Keep up the good work!”

But Obama’s gradual shift into the AIPAC camp had begun as early as 2002 as he planned his move from small time Illinois politics to the national scene. In 2003, Forward reported on how he had “been courting the pro-Israel constituency.” He co-sponsored an amendment to the Illinois Pension Code allowing the state of Illinois to lend money to the Israeli government. Among his early backers was Penny Pritzker — now his national campaign finance chair — scion of the liberal but staunchly Zionist family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain. (The Hyatt Regency hotel on Mount Scopus was built on land forcibly expropriated from Palestinian owners after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967). He has also appointed several prominent pro-Israel advisors.

Michelle Obama and Barack Obama listen to Professor Edward Said give the keynote address at an Arab community event in Chicago, May 1998. (Photo: Ali Abunimah)


Obama has also been close to some prominent Arab Americans, and has received their best advice. His decisive trajectory reinforces a lesson that politically weak constituencies have learned many times: access to people with power alone does not translate into influence over policy. Money and votes, but especially money, channelled through sophisticated and coordinated networks that can “bundle” small donations into million dollar chunks are what buy influence on policy. Currently, advocates of Palestinian rights are very far from having such networks at their disposal. Unless they go out and do the hard work to build them, or to support meaningful campaign finance reform, whispering in the ears of politicians will have little impact. (For what it’s worth, I did my part. I recently met with Obama’s legislative aide, and wrote to Obama urging a more balanced policy towards Palestine.)

If disappointing, given his historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama’s about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power. Palestinian-Americans are in the same position as civil libertarians who watched with dismay as Obama voted to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, or immigrant rights advocates who were horrified as he voted in favor of a Republican bill to authorize the construction of a 700-mile fence on the border with Mexico.

Only if enough people know what Obama and his competitors stand for, and organize to compel them to pay attention to their concerns can there be any hope of altering the disastrous course of US policy in the Middle East. It is at best a very long-term project that cannot substitute for support for the growing campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions needed to hold Israel accountable for its escalating violence and solidifying apartheid.

Ali Abunimah is the co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

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eviatarbach
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US hegemony, not "the lobby," behind complicity with Israel

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What really drives decades of US complicity in Israel’s human rights abuses? (Pete Souza/White House Photo)


Many of Israel’s critics blame an “Israel lobby” for the near-total complicity of the US in Israeli annexation, colonization and cleansing programs in the occupied West Bank. This complicity continues to the present, despite the “row” that erupted after the Israeli government humiliated US Vice President Joe Biden by announcing the construction of 1,600 settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem while he was visiting the country. Indeed, despite the apparent outrage expressed by top White House officials, the administration has made clear that its criticism of Israel will remain purely symbolic. However, as we shall see, the lobby thesis does little to explain US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Years after Noam Chomsky, Stephen Zunes, Walter Russell Mead and many others published their critiques of the Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer “Israel lobby” thesis, many of the sharpest critics of Israel continue to attribute US foreign policy in the Middle East to the influence of the lobby. Given the prevalence of the Israel lobby argument, and the latest diplomatic confrontation between the US and Israel, it is important to revisit the flaws in the thesis, and properly attribute US behavior to the large concentrations of domestic political and economic power that truly drive US policy.

US foreign policy in the Middle East is similar to that which is carried out elsewhere in the world, in regions free of “the lobby’s” proclaimed corrupting effects. The inflated level of support that the US lends Israel is a rational response to the particular strategic importance of the Middle East, the chief energy-producing region of the world. By building Israel into what Noam Chomsky refers to as an “offshore US military base,” it is able to protect its dominance over much of the world’s remaining energy resources, a major lever of global power. As we shall see, those blaming the lobby for US policy once again misunderstand US’s strategic interests in the Middle East, and Israel’s central role in advancing them.

Geopolitics and the US-Israeli relationship

A central claim of the “Israel lobby” thesis is that the “lobby,” however defined, overwhelmingly shapes US policy towards the Middle East. Thus, if the argument were true, its proponents would have to demonstrate that there is something qualitatively unique about US policy towards the Middle East compared with that in other regions of the world. Yet upon careful analysis, we find little difference between the purported distortions caused by the lobby and what is frequently referred to as the “national interest,” governed by the same concentrations of domestic power that drive US foreign policy elsewhere.

There are states all around the world that perform similar services to Washington as Israel, projecting US power in their respective regions, whose crimes in advancing Washington’s goals are overtly supported and shielded from international condemnation. Take for instance the 30 years of US support for the horrors of the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor. In addition to the use of rape and starvation as weapons, and a gruesome torture regime, Indonesian president Suharto slaughtered 150,000 persons out of a population of 650,000. These atrocities were fully supported by the US, including supplying the napalm and chemical weapons indiscriminately used by the Indonesian army, which was fully armed and trained by the US. As Bill Clinton said, Suharto was “our kind of guy.”

Daniel Patrick Moynahan, US ambassador to the UN at the time of the Indonesian invasion, later wrote that “the Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook” to end the butchering of the East Timorese, a goal he carried out with “no inconsiderable success.” Yet this support was not due to the influence of an “Indonesia lobby.” Rather, planners had identified Indonesia as one of the three most strategically important regions in the world in 1958, as a result of its oil wealth and important role as a link between the Indian and Pacific oceans.

In some regions, as in Latin America where US clients like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and terrorist armies like the Nicaraguan contras spent years murdering defenseless peasants demanding basic human rights, the threat is mostly one of “successful defiance;” that is, a country defying US orders and getting away with it. Should the US tolerate one such case, the logic goes, it will embolden resistance to its dictates elsewhere. The danger underlying such defiance — referred to as “the threat of a good example” by Oxfam — is that a country will implement a successful model for independent development, refusing US dictates and seeking to direct much-needed resources to serve the needs of the domestic population instead of wealthy foreign investors.

Such thinking is deeply institutionalized and exhibited by US policy worldwide, going back to the very beginnings of the modern imperial era after World War II. It was clear from early in the war that the US would emerge as the dominant world power in its aftermath, and so the State Department and Council on Foreign Relations began planning to create a post-war international order in which the US would “hold unquestioned power.” One way it planned to do so was gaining control of global energy resources, primarily those of Saudi Arabia, which were referred to at the time as “the greatest material prize in history” by the US State Department.

As Franklin Roosevelt’s “oil czar” Harold Ickes advised, control of oil was the “key to postwar political arrangements” since a large supply of cheap energy is essential to fuel the world’s industrial capitalist economies. This meant that with control of Middle Eastern oil, particularly the vast Saudi reserves, the US could keep its hand on the spigot that would fuel the economies of Europe, Japan and much of the rest of the world. As US planner George Kennan put it, this would give the United States “veto power” over the actions of others. Zbigniew Brzezinski has also more recently discussed the “critical leverage” the US enjoys as a result of its stranglehold on energy supplies.

Thus in the Middle East it is not simply “successful defiance” that the US fears, nor merely independent development. These worries are present as well, but there is an added dimension: should opposition threaten US control of oil resources, a major source of US global power is placed at risk. Under the Nixon Administration, with the US military tied down in Vietnam and direct intervention in the Middle East to defend vital strategic interests unlikely, military aid to pre-revolution Iran (acting as an American regional enforcer) skyrocketed. Amnesty International’s conclusion in 1976 that “no country has a worse human rights record than Iran” was ignored, and US support increased, not because of an “Iran lobby” in the US, but rather because such support was advancing US interests.

Strategic concerns also led the US to support other oppressive, reactionary regimes, including Saddam Hussein’s worst atrocities. During the Anfal genocide against the Kurds, Iraqi forces used chemical weapons provided by the US against Kurdish civilians, killed perhaps 100,000 persons, and destroyed roughly 80 percent of the villages in Iraqi Kurdistan, while the US moved to block international condemnation of these atrocities. Again, supporting crimes that serve the “national interest” set by large corporations and ruling elites, and shielding them from international criticism is the rule, not the exception.

It is no coincidence that the US-Israel relationship crystallized after Israel destroyed the independent nationalist regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser in a preemptive attack in 1967, permanently ending the role of Egypt as a center of opposition to US imperialism. Since before World War II, Saudi Arabia had happily served as an “Arab facade,” veiling the hand of the true ruling power on the Arabian peninsula, to borrow British colonial terminology. With Nasser’s Arab nationalist rhetoric “turning the whole region against the House of Saud,” the threat he posed to US power was serious. In response, the State Department concluded that the “logical corollary” to US opposition to Arab nationalism was “support for Israel” as the only reliable pro-US force in the region. Israel’s destruction and humiliation of Nasser’s regime was thus a major boon for the US, and proved to Washington the value of a strong alliance with a powerful Israel.

This unique regional importance is one reason for the tremendous level of aid Israel receives, including more advanced weaponry than that provided to other US clients. Providing Israel with the ability to use overwhelming force against any adversary to the established order has been a pivotal aspect of US regional strategy. Importantly, Israel is also a reliable ally — there is little chance that the Israeli government will be overthrown, and the weapons end up in the hands of anti-Western Islamic fundamentalists or independent nationalists as happened in Iran in 1979.

Today, with the increased independence of Europe, and the hungry economies of India and China growing at breakneck speed along with their demand for dwindling energy resources, control over what is left is more crucial than ever. In the September 2009 issue of the Asia-Africa Review, China’s former Special Envoy to the Middle East Sun Bigan wrote that “the US has always sought to control the faucet of global oil supplies,” and suggested that since Washington would doubtless work to ensure that Iraqi oil remained under its control, China should look elsewhere in the region for an independent energy source. “Iran has bountiful energy resources,” Bigan wrote, “and its oil gas reserves are the second biggest in the world, and all are basically under its own control” (emphasis added).

It is partially as a result of this independence that Israel’s strategic importance to the US has increased significantly in recent times, particularly since the Shah’s cruel, US-supported dictatorship in Iran was overthrown in 1979. With the Shah gone, Israel alone had to terrorize the region into complying with US orders, and ensure that Saudi Arabia’s vast oil resources remain under US control. The increased importance of Israel to US policy was illustrated clearly as its regional strategy shifted to “dual containment” during the Clinton years, with Israel countering both Iraq and Iran.

With Iran developing technology that could eventually allow it to produce what are referred to in the February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review as “anti-access weapons,” or weapons of mass destruction that prevent the US from being able to freely use force in any region of the world, this is a crucial moment in Washington’s struggle to seize control of Iran. This confrontation, stemming from the desire of the US to control its oil and destroy a base of independent nationalism, makes US support for Israel strategically crucial.

The “Israel lobby” and US Pressure

If we adopt “the lobby” hypothesis, we would predict that the US would bend to Israel’s will when the interests of the two states diverge, acting against its “national interest.” Yet if US policies in the Middle East were damaging its “national interest,” as proponents of the lobby argument claim, that must mean that such policies have been a failure. This leads one to ask: a failure for whom? Not for US elites, who have secured control of the major global energy resources while successfully crushing opposition movements, nor for the defense establishment, and most certainly not for the energy corporations. In fact, not only is US policy towards the Middle East similar to that towards other regions of the world, but it has been a profitable, strategic success.

Indeed, the US’s policy towards Israel and the Palestinians is not to achieve an end to the occupation, nor to bring about respect for Palestinian rights — in fact, it is the actor primarily responsible for preventing these outcomes. To the US, Israel’s “Operation Defensive Shield” in 2002 had sufficiently punished the Palestinians and their compliant US-backed leadership for their intransigence at Camp David. While the Palestinian Authority was already acting as Israel’s “subcontractor” and “collaborator” in suppressing resistance to Israeli occupation, in the paraphrased words of former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s deliberate destruction of Palestinian institutions provided the opportunity to rebuild them, and ensure an even greater degree of US control.

The settlement and annexation programs help guarantee Israeli control over the most valuable Palestinian land and water resources, ensuring Israel will remain a dominant society not easily pressured by its neighbors. To help achieve these goals, the US shields Israeli expansion behind a “peace process” in hopes that given enough time the Palestinians will concede more and more of what was once theirs. The primary concern is to present the appearance that the US and Israel are ardently crusading for peace, battling against those who oppose this noble objective. Though it is true that people across the region are appalled and outraged by Israeli crimes, such anger is a small consideration next to the strategic gain of maintaining a strong, dependent ally in the heart of the Middle East.

The reconstitution of an even more tightly-controlled Palestinian Authority, with General Keith Dayton directly supervising the Palestinian security forces, enabled the US to meet these goals while more effectively suppressing resistance to the occupation. Likewise, redeploying Israeli soldiers outside of Gaza allowed Sharon a free hand to continue the annexation of the West Bank while being heralded internationally as a “great man of peace.”

The treatment of Israel by the mainstream US media is also standard for all US allies. Coverage in the corporate press is predictably skewed in favor of official US allies and against official enemies, a well-documented phenomenon. Thus, proponents of the lobby thesis are missing the forest for the trees. What they see as the special treatment of Israel by the mainstream press is actually just the normal functioning of the US media and intellectual establishment, apologizing for and defending crimes of official allies while demonizing official enemies.

Of course, this is not to argue that there are not organizations in the US, like the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC, that seek to marginalize dissent from Israeli policy in every forum possible. Rather, I am pointing out that the power of these groups pales in comparison to other, far more powerful, interests and concerns. While the AJC or ADL may mobilize for the firing of a professor critical of Israel, for example, that argument is amplified by the elite-owned and controlled press because doing so serves their interests. Likewise, AIPAC can urge unwavering support for Israel on the part of the US government, but without the assent of other far more powerful interests, like the energy corporations and defense establishment, AIPAC’s efforts would amount to little. US policy, like that of other states, is rationally planned to serve the interests of the ruling class.

Israel could not sustain its aggressive, expansionist policies without US military aid and diplomatic support. If the Obama Administration wanted to, it could pressure Israel to comply with international law and resolutions, join the international consensus, and enact a two-state solution. While the “Israel lobby” thesis conveniently explains his failure to do so and absolves US policy-makers of responsibility for their ongoing support of Israeli apartheid, violence and annexation, it simply does not stand up under closer scrutiny.

Stephen Maher is an MA candidate at American University School of International Service who has lived in the West Bank, and is currently writing his masters’ thesis, “The New Nakba: Oslo and the End of Palestine,” on the Israel-Palestine conflict. His work has appeared in Extra!, The Electronic Intifada, ZNet and other publications. His blog is www.rationalmanifesto.blogspot.com.

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