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This Week in the World | 12.11.17

Alexander Voisine December 12, 2017

ISRAEL/PALESTINE

By: Rachel Elliott

Last week, President Trump issued a statement declaring that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would also move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the ancient city. In his statement, the president cited the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act that outlines the move that no president since its passage has enforced. President Trump’s decision and the world response has been rapid, but the process of moving the embassy will likely take much longer. Daniel Shapiro, who served as US Ambassador to Israel under President Obama, said this week it could be a decade-long process. The controversy with this decision is that both Israel and Palestine want Jerusalem as their capital. As it stands now, Jerusalem, though under Israeli control, is divided in half: East and West. This will likely set back peace talks as neither side will concede Jerusalem as the other’s capital in negotiations.

In light of the announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the EU, making it the first visit by an Israeli PM in 22 years. Netanyahu praised the decision and said during his visit that he believes the EU would eventually support the United States’s decision.

President Trump’s decision has over the last week spurred praise from Prime Minister Netanyahu but also ignited protests from Palestinians. World leaders largely have denounced President Trump’s decision, citing it as a setback in hopes for peace. They include leaders of Palestine, Turkey, France, China, Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and the UN. Israeli President Netanyahu and Czech President Milos Zeman have been vocal in their praise of Trump’s decision. The Washington Post alleged that Philippine President Duterte also expressed wishes to move the embassy to Jerusalem, though representatives did not confirm this.

SAUDI ARABIA

By: Alex Voisine

Until this week, movie theaters in Saudi Arabia were banned by the government, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reversed the 40 year ban and immediately began issuing permits for movie theaters to open. The motion to lift the ban on movie theaters comes after a number of other progressive changes to Saudi Arabian laws, including the repeal of a law that banned Saudi women from driving in September. Long ruled by a conservative Sunni Islam religious establishment, under the leadership of bin Salman, the country is gradually adopting a more moderate religious identity and opening itself up culturally to the rest of the non-Sunni world.

The plans to moderate Saudi Arabia’s historically conservative government are part of bin Salman’s Vision 2030, an economic and social initiative that seeks to encourage economic growth by linking Saudi Arabia’s cultural economy to that of the rest of the world. In fact, bin Salman’s goal for the initiative is to increase the amount of money that Saudi Arabians spend on cultural activities from 3% of household income to 6% by 2030. Still, Saudi Arabia remains one of the most gender-segregated countries in the world, and the lack of women participating in the economy is seen to be an economic hindrance that Saudi Arabia is unwilling to acknowledge. Also worth mentioning is an active 1932 law that criminalizes same-sex relations in Saudi Arabia, which goes against attitudes toward LGBTQ+ rights in many other countries around the world, some of whom are economic allies with Saudi Arabia, like the United States.

There still is a long way to go in Saudi Arabia when it comes to gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights, but with bin Salman in power and plans to reverse decades-long conservative laws, Saudi Arabia is quite possibly on its way to greater equality.

Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

UNITED STATES

By: Alice Hakvaag

New York City

At 7:20 am on Monday the 11th, an explosion went off in one of New York City’s busiest commuting hubs. The explosion happened at 42nd and 8th Street, which is near the Times Square subway stop and the Port Authority bus terminal subway station. The device was set off by Akayed Ullah, an immigrant from Bangladesh who had been living in Brooklyn. According to NPR, the explosive was a pipe bomb that had been zip tied to Ullah’s body. Four people in total were injured, including Ullah himself. John Frank was a witness to the event, and told the New York Times that “these incidents are happening too frequently.” In the past year, there have been three major terrorist attacks in New York City. Only Ullah’s attack and the truck accident attack on October 31st can be linked to international Islamic terrorism, while the third was an act of white supremacy. Responding to this incident, New York Senator Cuomo noted that while an attack in a crowded subway is a higher concern for officials, the “reality turned out better than what had been first feared.” Mayor Bill de Blasio said that as of right now, there are no other bombs within the subway and it seems that this attack was only orchestrated by Ullah, who will be prosecuted in federal court.

Photo Credit: Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times

California

Southern California firefighters are struggling to contain the Thomas Fire, which started as a bushfire last week. Due to low humidity and high winds, the fire itself is now larger than all of New York City, and is still only 15% contained. In comparison, there are four other fires currently burning within California, but they are all 80-100% contained and are less than half of the size as the Thomas Fire. California Governor Jerry Brown said that this could become the new normal due to climate change. Heavy, dry winds are spreading the fire much farther than it could reach on its own, and firefighters say that this and the mountainous terrain make the fire hard to contain. So far it has burned 230,000 acres, but there has only been one related death.

SYRIA

By: Alex Voisine

The Syrian Civil War, which started as an uprising in March 2011 and escalated into a full-blown  war involving Russia, the United States, the European Union, Iran, and a number of other countries, has killed an estimated 400,000 Syrians, displaced 5 million more, and has destroyed hundreds of towns and cities. Initially, the war was between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a number of opposition groups who sought to end al-Assad’s presidency and democratize Syria, similar to pro-democracy movements in other Arab countries during the Arab Spring in 2011. As ISIS gained power in Syria during the chaos of the civil war, al-Assad also sought to defeat ISIS. As the war unfolded, the United States and the European Union got involved, at first by sanctioning the Syrian government and then by supporting opposition groups. Russia, who has long supported the government of al-Assad also got involved in the first few months of the civil war, stating that its main objective was to support the fight against ISIS.

The violence and prolonged conflict in Syria has diminished in the past few months, especially following the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa on October 17th, the city that ISIS had previously declared as their capital. However, President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, having gained control over Aleppo last December and maintaining control of it ever since. Al-Assad’s ability to stay in power throughout the civil war is due in large part to support from Russia, and yesterday, December 11th, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Syria to announce the partial removal of Russian troops. The decision by Putin to remove troops from Syria not only signals that the war in Syria is nearing an end, but also that Russia has declared victory in its efforts to keep al-Assad in power. Russia’s efforts to keep its Syrian ally in power gives it significant leverage in the region, which was likely a motivating factor for its involvement in the war.

Though the tensions between Russia and the West have not been eased by the ending of the conflict in Syria, the move yesterday by Putin signals that at least for now, the violence in Syria is expected to decrease. Still, with a strong and vocal opposition movement, the al-Assad regime will likely continue to face pushback.

SWITZERLAND

By: Alex Voisine

The International Olympics Committee, which met in Lausanne, Switzerland last week, barred Russia’s Olympic team from participating in the 2018 winter Olympics in South Korea. More specifically, all government officials are prohibited from attending the Olympics, the Russian flag is forbidden from being displayed at the opening ceremony, and the anthem will not be played. Russian athletes who are invited can still compete, but they won’t be allowed to represent Russia in any way, and must wear a neutral uniform.

Image credit: New York Times

So what did Russia do to deserve such a hefty punishment?

The answer: doping. Doping refers to the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs like steroids, that give users an unfair advantage over those who don’t use the drugs. After a year-long investigation, the International Olympics Committee found Russia guilty of violating Olympics protocol last Tuesday by launching a state-backed doping program, in which it supplied its athletes with illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. Russia was also found guilty of engaging in an overnight operation at the Sochi games in 2014 (in Russia), in which it meddled with 100 urine samples in an effort to make Russian athletes using performance-enhancing drugs appear as if they weren’t. The punishment is one of the most severe punishments in all of Olympics history, indicating the gravity of Russia’s wrongdoings. In addition to being banned from the 2018 games, Russia was also fined $15 million.

As noted above, some Russian athletes who can provide evidence of extensive drug testing that reveals no use of performance-enhancing drugs will still be allowed to compete. But if they win, Russia will not be recognized.

Though nothing has been officially planned yet, there is widespread belief that President Putin will attempt to boycott the 2018 winter games, and may even try to appeal to decision. Still, the investigation, which involved the testimony of a number of whistleblowers who were well aware of the doping program, is widely believed to be bulletproof, and an appeal will likely do little to exonerate Russia.

CHINA

By: Alex Voisine

A leaked document has revealed that China is planning to construct refugee camps on the border with North Korea, signaling its concerns that tensions on the Korean Peninsula may escalate to the point that North Koreans migrate northward towards safety in China. The document revealed that three villages and two cities have begun efforts to construct refugee camps, in the county of Changbai, which has historically received a notable number of North Korean defectors.

Though it is unclear whether or not there will be a war on the Korean Peninsula, which would most likely be between North Korea and the United States, South Korea, and possibly Japan, China’s plans to establish refugee camps are worrisome, and indicate that it has reason to believe the camps are worth investing in. Furthermore, the Jilin Daily newspaper issued a statement instructing Chinese people in the area on how to react in the case of a nuclear attack, according the the New York Times.

China has been less involved in sanctions against North Korea issued by the United Nations and a number of other countries because it fears a situation in which North Koreans would flee northward. The sanctions, which are meant to punish North Korea for its ambitious nuclear weapons program, would be markedly more effective with China’s participation, given that China supplies North Korea with much of its oil. China has declined to get involved though because it sees oil sanctions as a sure way to encourage heavy migration out of North Korea and into China.

All of this comes after North Korea launched an inter-continental test missile in November, which is its most ambitious missile and is believed to be able to reach the continental United States.