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Will Biden Push Back After Israel Labeled Rights Groups Terrorists?

Israeli officials come to Washington to justify a decision that has been roundly condemned by the international community.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A view of construction work in the Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev, near the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, on Oct. 5.
A view of construction work in the Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev, near the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, on Oct. 5. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israeli officials head to Washington to justify the terrorist designation of six Palestinian civil society organizations, Iran signals a return to nuclear negotiations, and Big Oil CEOs face the U.S. Congress.

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Bennett and Biden at Odds Over Palestinian Rights

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israeli officials head to Washington to justify the terrorist designation of six Palestinian civil society organizations, Iran signals a return to nuclear negotiations, and Big Oil CEOs face the U.S. Congress.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Bennett and Biden at Odds Over Palestinian Rights

Israeli officials touch down in Washington on Thursday for talks with the Biden administration as the two countries appear increasingly at odds over the treatment of Palestinians.

The meeting is meant to reassure U.S. officials of secret intelligence that explains Israel’s decision to designate six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist groups.

The visit comes as the Israeli government has taken steps to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, the first round of new construction to take place since an ideologically diverse anti-Netanyahu coalition came to power.

Both moves have been met with international condemnation, including from the Biden administration, with State Department spokesperson Ned Price saying this week that the United States was “strongly opposed” to new settlement expansion and was effectively blindsided by the decision to blacklist the Palestinian civil society organizations.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s approach to the Palestinians closely mirrors that of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, as Steven A. Cook argued in September in Foreign Policy, but the prevailing sense of a new dawn in U.S.-Israel relations following Bennett’s rise underscores “how much tone seems to have superseded substance in the bilateral relationship.”

A rightward shift in Israeli politics means the issue of Palestinian rights is given short shrift, said Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. “There’s a new consensus in Israeli politics, which is Palestinians don’t matter,” Elgindy told Foreign Policy, adding that as long as there are no external costs or consequences imposed, Israeli politicians are happy to weather any storm of international criticism.

On the U.S. side, pressure from Republicans—and a significant number of Democrats—to follow Israel’s lead, no matter the direction, makes the likelihood of any pushback from U.S. leaders beyond strongly worded statements unlikely.

If the designation is followed to the letter, Israel could begin treating the six Palestinian groups it now deems terrorist organizations the same way it treats Hamas and other militants. In a less dramatic scenario, it means those organizations face imminent closure.

For Elgindy, Israel’s new designation of the Palestinian organizations is a test of whether the Biden administration is willing to take the steps necessary to defuse the situation.

“Imagine a world where there are no watchdog groups in Palestinian civil society. Imagine the kind of repression that we’re going to see from both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority if there’s nobody reporting on it because everything’s been shut down. It has really huge implications.”

Elgindy worries that if this sort of overreach by the Israeli government “barely registers on this administration’s radar,” then Israel will continue to overreach. “Is there a tipping point for the administration?” he said. “What is that tipping point? Does it even exist?”


What We’re Following Today

Back to Vienna? Iran is prepared to return to the nuclear negotiating table in Vienna by the end of November, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani said on Wednesday. The announcement came after Bagheri Kani, who would serve as Iran’s chief negotiator, met with Enrique Mora, a senior EU diplomat in Brussels. Bagheri Kani said the exact date for the talks would be finalized “in the course of the next week.” The talks in Vienna will continue to follow an “indirect” format with no face-to-face talks between U.S. and Iranian negotiators.

Iraq’s recount. Iraqi election workers will continue a manual recount of ballot boxes from Babylon and Baghdad following the country’s parliamentary elections on Oct. 10. Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance won the most seats in the initial count, but complaints from the Fatah Alliance, which suffered heavy losses, spurred the recount.

If Sadr’s group maintains its 73 seats and eventually negotiates a majority, that could be good news for U.S. policymakers, as FP’s Anchal Vohra explains. Sadr’s popularity as a national figure means he’s one of the few politicians who can handle the messy tasks of reforming Iraq’s sectarian quota system on political offices and containing Iran-backed militias. “Muqtada al-Sadr is not America’s man, but neither is he Iran’s,” Vohra writes.

Big Oil on Capitol Hill. Top executives from the world’s major oil firms, including the CEOs of ExxonMobil and Chevron, face a grilling from U.S. lawmakers on Thursday as they appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform over what the committee has billed as “their organization’s role in supporting disinformation and misleading the public to prevent action on the climate crisis.”

Democratic lawmakers intend to follow the example of the Big Tobacco investigations in the 1990s by building a case over the course of the next year.


Keep an Eye On

Sudan’s coup. The World Bank has paused payments to Sudan in the wake of its military takeover, piling more pressure on coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan after the United States announced it would freeze aid earlier this week.

The announcement came as internal resistance to the power grab has grown, with Sudanese pilots, doctors, central bank employees, and workers at the state oil company all going on strike. The civil disobedience campaign is expected to peak on Saturday, when a planned “march of millions” takes place.

Poland vs. the EU. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will fine Poland $1.2 million per day in an effort to force Polish officials to abide by EU calls to dismantle a controversial Supreme Court disciplinary chamber, which critics say undermines judicial independence. In July, the ECJ ordered Poland to suspend the chamber, but it is still operating. Last week, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the chamber would be abolished as part of other reform efforts, but the government has yet to announce a timeframe.


Odds and Ends

As Japan prepares for its House of Representatives elections on Sunday, spare a thought for the election workers of Ota, a city 50 miles north of Tokyo.

After Prime Minister Fumio Kishida surprised observers by bringing up the election date to Oct. 31, city employees in Ota were forced to spring into action to make sure its 100,000 voters could cast ballots safely amid coronavirus fears. The solution? Rather than disinfect pencils used to mark paper ballots, as was done in April’s mayoral elections, Ota will instead distribute 100,000 individual pencils for voters to use at their voting station and then take home. There’s a catch, however: The pencils don’t come pre-sharpened, leaving the city’s civil servants to finish the job—even during their breaks.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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