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Will France Abandon its Opposition to Unilateral Recognition of a Palestinian State?

France’s President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a tribute ceremony at the Halle aux Grains in Toulouse, southern France, on March 20, 2022. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

JNS.orgWill France recognize an independent Palestinian state? That question has taken on an added urgency in the last week after Spain and Ireland, members of the European Union, along with non-E.U. member Norway, announced that they were doing exactly that.

Securing French recognition would be a game-changer in terms of the E.U.’s relationships with Israel and the Palestinians. So far, 10 of the E.U.’s 27 member states have recognized an independent Palestine. However, six countries in that grouping—the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania—did so long before acceding to E.U. membership, when they were still satellite states under the boot of the Soviet Union; these days, they are visibly more supportive of Israel than the E.U. states in Western Europe. The remainder—Sweden, Cyprus, and now Spain and Ireland—therefore look like a conspicuous minority going against the grain of E.U. policy. If Belgium, Malta and Slovenia also announce recognition, as is expected in the coming weeks, the pro-Palestinian E.U. states will look less isolated, but they will still have a good deal of work to do in terms of changing the bloc’s policy overall.

France, a founding member of the European Union and a heavy-hitter when it comes to foreign and defense policies, would therefore be the feather in the Palestinian cap were Paris to follow the examples of Madrid and Dublin. Certainly, there is growing pressure within France, particularly from its vocal left-wing parties and its growing Muslim community, in favor of recognition. In some ways, the current debate is less about the wisdom of such an action and far more about its timing.

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron, who was strongly supportive of Israel in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in southern Israel, repeated an earlier claim that recognition of an independent Palestine was no longer a “taboo” for his country. “There are no taboos for France, and I am totally ready to recognize a Palestinian state,” he said during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz. But, he emphasized, “I think this recognition must be at a useful moment … I will not do an emotional recognition.”

Separately, France’s Foreign Minister, Stephane Sejourne, made a similar point, but unlike Macron, openly criticized Spain and Ireland, insinuating that both were engaged in grandstanding with little thought for the implications of their decision. France supports a two-state solution to the conflict, Sejourne said, and “the issue of recognition will, of course, come into that.” But, he went on, “the concern now—which I have clearly shared with my Spanish and Irish counterparts—is what happens the day after recognition: How diplomatically useful is it?” France was not willing to indulge what Sejourne termed “political positioning,” exclaiming before an assembled group of reporters: “Tell me, what exactly has the Spanish recognition changed a day later in Gaza? Nothing!”

France is making these calculations on two levels. The first concerns the conflict directly; if two states is the goal, then that should be negotiated rather than cajoled by individual states engaging in unilateral recognition. That is also the position of Germany, the other great power in the European Union, and Berlin, fearful of undermining its post-World War II Staatsräson (“reason of state”) support of Israel, remains reluctant to travel down the Spanish and Irish path. France doesn’t march in lockstep with the Germans, but Macron’s government can be expected to liaise with their German colleagues closely before any change in policy is made public.

The second level concerns France’s place in the world. There has always been tension between its desire for a more integrated European Union, especially on security issues, and its historic emphasis on the importance of national sovereignty. The French desire for independence in foreign policymaking led former President Charles de Gaulle to withdraw from NATO’s command structure in 1966, and it took France more than 40 years to eventually reintegrate. But even within NATO, France makes sure to carve out its own position, as most recently illustrated by Macron’s call for greater support for Ukraine even as other members of the alliance, including the United States, are wary of further antagonizing Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s regime. In such a context, it’s quite possible that France would recognize an independent Palestine but not in the same manner as Ireland and Spain, perhaps by setting goals for the Palestinian Authority to meet before it does so.

Yet the French debate isn’t restricted to the corridors of power or the think tanks issuing position papers on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden, Macron has tried to steer a middle path between a democratic state, and a gang of rapists and murderers seeking its destruction. Both leaders have achieved the same result: an Israel increasingly tired of second-guessing their next moves, and large swathes of the Arab world demanding more punitive action, such as an arms embargo, condemnation at the United Nations, and, of course, recognition of Palestine. And both leaders are facing loud calls from legislators and sections of public opinion to bolster the pressure on Israel.

Since Oct. 7, Paris and other cities in France have witnessed large pro-Hamas demonstrations in the streets and on campuses with all their attendant problems: genocidal calls for Israel’s destruction, and attacks on Jews and Jewish-owned property. The day after the Spanish and Irish recognition announcement, far-left members of the French parliament brandished Palestinian flags and demanded that France sever commercial ties with the Jewish state. One of them—David Guiraud, who earlier this year shared antisemitic memes on social media—even went as far as physically assaulting a pro-Israel Jewish Parliament member, Meyer Habib, calling him a “pig in the mud of genocide” for good measure.

Should this agitation continue, Macron may feel obliged to echo Biden in trying to mollify the pro-Hamas mob. The French government will also be aware that ministers meeting at the most recent session of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council warned Israel that it could face sanctions if it continues its operation to destroy Hamas in Rafah—a statement that Ireland’s foreign minister found most satisfying. If France does waver, then Israel will be more reliant on Germany, Italy, Greece and the Eastern European states to fight its corner within the European Union, its largest trading partner.

The United States could make an important contribution to these deliberations by explicitly stating that recognition of an independent Palestine is both a reward for the atrocities of Hamas and a major blow to a negotiated settlement. But that, sadly, is unlikely for as long as the Biden administration continues with its strategy of slowly chipping away at Israel’s ability to defend itself, politically and diplomatically.

The post Will France Abandon its Opposition to Unilateral Recognition of a Palestinian State? first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

The post One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial

A Russian secret court found U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, accurately called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”

Gershkovich, a 32-year-old Jewish American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.

He was the first U.S. journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many U.S. and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Gershkovich did not commit any crime and has been wrongfully detained.

“We are pushing hard for Evan’s release and will continue to do so,” Biden said in a statement. “Journalism is not a crime.”

Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.

Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”

The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count towards the 16-year sentence.

Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.

“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.

“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”

Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”

Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.

Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.

The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.

Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.

Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.

Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.

‘WRONGFULLY DETAINED’

Gershkovich, his newspaper and the U.S. government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington was working every day to bring home Gershkovich, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and other Americans.

He declined to go into details when asked why Putin would reach a deal on Gershkovich’s release ahead of the U.S. election.

“Any effort to bring any American home is going to be part of a process of back and forth, of discussion, potentially of negotiation,” Blinken said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“Depending on what the other side is looking for, they’ll reach their own conclusions about whether it meets whatever their needs are, and we can bring someone home – and I don’t think that’s dependent on an election in the United States or anywhere else,” he said.

Mark Warner, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, called Gershkovich’s sentence “outrageous,” and said he thinks “it’s clear that the Russians view Evan almost as a bargaining chip at this point.”

Speaking in an interview with Reuters, Warner declined to discuss whether efforts are underway to arrange an exchange for Gershkovich’s release, but said “all options have to stay on the table” with regards to how the Biden administration responds.

Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.

At court appearances over the past 16 months – most recently with his head shaven – he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.

Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.

The post Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will headline a fundraiser in Massachusetts on Saturday as President Joe Biden faces continued pressure from fellow Democrats and big money donors to end his floundering campaign.

Biden and top aides on Friday vowed to continue with the campaign, even as major donors signaled they were unwilling to open their checkbooks unless the 81-year-old president stepped aside.

The crisis-in-confidence in Biden’s ability to win has placed a huge spotlight on Harris, widely believed to be the most likely replacement if he steps down.

Her fundraising events, including the one on Saturday in Provincetown, Massachusetts are getting added interest from donors who want to signal they are willing to coalesce around her potential bid for the White House, according to three Democratic fundraisers.

More than one in 10 congressional Democrats have now publicly called on Biden, who is isolating at his Delaware home with a case of COVID-19, to drop out following a disastrous debate last month against Republican former President Donald Trump that raised questions about the incumbent’s ability to win the Nov. 5 election or carry out his duties for another four years.

Biden’s campaign hoped to raise some $50 million in big-dollar donations in July for the Biden Victory Fund but was on track for less than half that figure as of Friday, according to two sources familiar with the fundraising efforts.

The campaign called reports of a July fundraising slump overstated, noting that it anticipated a drop-off in large donations due to vacations. It said the campaign still has 10 fundraisers on the schedule this month.

Harris assured major Democratic donors on Friday that the party would prevail in the presidential election as more lawmakers called for her running mate, Biden, to stand down.

“We are going to win this election,” she said on a call arranged on short notice to calm donors, according to a person on the call. “We know which candidate in this election puts the American people first: Our president, Joe Biden.”

Harris attended the call “at the direct request of senior advisers to the president,” one of the people said, an account confirmed by another person familiar with the matter.

The post VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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