Monday, May 23, 2011

Beat Goes on in West Bank; New Challenge in Iraq

Obama speech or no Obama speech; borders, shmorders . . . business as usual in the West Bank.  The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israel defense ministry has approved the construction of 294 new housing units in Beitar Illit, the second-largest colony in the West Bank.  This on the heels on the heels of authorizations only two months ago for new construction of at least 390 housing units in West Bank settlements, including 200 in Modi'in Illit, 100 in Ariel, 40 in Ma’aleh Adumim and 50 in Kfar Eldad.  This, of course, pre-empts any negotiation about these settlements - all of which, again, are illegal according to international law.

Meanwhile, Bibi is preparing his speech before Congress, to be delivered Tuesday (the speech, that is; not Congress. Congress was delivered to Bibi years ago). The word seems to be that he may include a few surprises, but that he may hold off from challenging Obama any more. Not that he'd need to.  As Reuters reports, House Republicans are on the job:
 Republicans in Congress, including House leaders, are not about to drop their criticism of the Democratic president's newly articulated Mideast vision. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said Monday that Obama's comments on Middle East borders left "most Americans ... just questioning what kind of strategy there is. It doesn't make sense to force a democratic ally of ours into negotiating with now a terrorist organization" about land swaps. Cantor was referring to a unity deal last month between Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement and Hamas, an Islamist group viewed by the United States as a terrorist organization. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch's office says he will introduce a resolution that it is not U.S. policy to have Israel's borders return to the boundaries of 1967. Israeli officials said they expected Netanyahu to deliver several "surprises" in his address to Congress on Tuesday, but they declined to elaborate, saying he would likely be working on a final draft up until the last minute. . . .

And, get this:
The official Israeli statement on Netanyahu's speech noted that he is "among the few world leaders, who include Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Yitzhak Rabin, invited to address Congress for a second time."


In Iraq, meanwhile, one of the Middle East's other "democracies" - this one installed by Uncle Sam himself - keeps taking hits to its stability (more violence in Kirkuk).  Bombings and assassinations have marked almost every day over the last month, motivated perhaps to create fear ahead of the impending US withdrawal.  (In fact, at least one report suggests that attackers may be hoping that their mayhem will force the US to stay.)

But Kuwait may be about to land a hugely crushing blow to Iraq's recovery. As reported in The National, the Kuwaitis are moving ahead on the construction of a new port facility on Bubiyan Island, in effect, beating the Iraqi government to the punch.  The Iraqis have been laying plans for their own new port for quite awhile, but according to The National, delays resulting after the March 2010 election (when it took Iraq months to decide on a new government, still under construction), as well as the corruption endemic in the Iraqi government, enabled the Kuwaitis to get out in front.  The Iraqi government is furious:
Iraqi politicians and community leaders have accused Kuwait of deliberately stealing their idea in order to hamstring Iraq's economic recovery after decades of war and sanctions.

Zuhair al Araji, a parliamentarian with the Iraqiyya bloc from Basra, 550km south of Baghdad and the city that was most likely to benefit from the proposed port, said: "I'm sorry Kuwait has taken the decision to turn against Iraq. They are destroying the Iraqi economy."

Mr Araji and others said they are convinced Kuwait pushed forward on their own port as a way of punishing Iraq. Under former leader Saddam Hussein, Iraq invaded the much-smaller and less-militarised Gulf kingdom in 1990. Kuwait insists the new port is part of its own strategic plan for itself becoming a major shipping hub in the region.

Relations between Baghdad and Kuwait city have been strained, with various peaks in tension as the various claims are pushed.

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al al Maliki has now set up an emergency committee to negotiate over the port with Kuwait.

Iraqi economists have estimated the country's current deep-water port, Um Qasr, located nearby on Iraq's short coastline, will also be severely affected if a more-modern Kuwaiti competitor is built.

"We hope this issue can be dealt with properly and quickly, said Mr Araji, the Basra MP.

"The Iraqi economy is in a state of collapse and it is in everyone's interests, including Kuwait's, to fix it," he said.


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