Editor’s Note: This is the latest installation of a new Markaz feature, highlighting news stories from the Middle East and North Africa that are related to national security law. The feature originates with our fellow Brookings blog Lawfare and will appear regularly on both sites.
Despite a vote to end security cooperation with Israel, PA crackdown on Hamas continues: Last week, the Central Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization voted to end security cooperation with Israel to protest Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax revenue. (Under Oslo-era arrangements, Israel collects Palestinian tax revenue and then transfers it to the Palestinian Authority. But in response to recent Palestinian initiatives targeting Israel at the ICC, Israel is withholding the revenue and using it to pay Palestinian Authority debts to the Israel electric company.) A cessation in security cooperation would be a major blow to regional security, likely leading to a rise in terrorism and deep Israeli military entanglements in the West Bank. However, despite widespread attention, the PLO vote is looking largely symbolic. Ultimate authority to implement an end of security cooperation lies with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and this week, a flurry of PA arrests of Hamas members casts serious doubt on whether that implementation will actually happen.
UN envoy and Hamas struggling for formal ceasefire formula: According to Israeli media, Hamas has offered Israel a 5 year ceasefire in exchange for the lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The offer, which comes by way of Western diplomats is now being denied by Hamas spokesmen, and was always unlikely to find many friends in Israel where the blockade is viewed as essential to preventing Hamas from re-entrenching and rearming. At the same time, UN special coordinator for Middle East Peace Robert Serry is reportedly working on his own initiative to get a commitment from Hamas not to open hostilities with Israel for a period of 3-5 years and to allow the Palestinian Authority a free hand in rebuilding Gaza. Neither Israel nor Hamas have reportedly responded to Serry’s proposal.
UN Gaza investigation requests more time: A panel appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate possible war crimes during last summer’s Gaza war has requested additional time from the Council. According to one of the panel’s two remaining members, Mary McGowan-Davis, additional time was needed to accommodate new information and “adjust” the panel’s work after the resignation of its chairman, Canadian law professor William Schabas. Although Israel continues to object to the entire investigation (pointing to the panel’s slanted mandate and the UNHRC’s general fixation on Israel), Schabas in particular had drawn fire for a long career of (occasionally vitriolic) statements highly critical of Israel and its leadership. Schabas finally stepped down last month after revelations that he had an undisclosed prior contractual relationship with the Palestinian Authority.
Suriname president’s son sentenced in New York for Hizballah ties: In one of the United States’ more bizarre counterterrorism trials, the son of the president of Suriname (a small South American republic) has been sentenced to 16 years for trying to provide a base for Hizballah in his home country. Dino Bouterse was arrested in Panama in 2013 and handed over to US authorities for trial in the Southern District of New York on narcotics and terrorism charges.
The Arab League meets in Cairo this week: Among the topics already discussed by the Arab nations’ foreign ministers are a proposed new UN Security Council draft to “end the occupation” and demand an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 armistice lines (including a withdrawal from the Golan Heights) and a call by the league’s Secretary General for the creation of a united Arab force to fight ISIL.
Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a constitutional body of clerics with the authority to appoint and dismiss the supreme leader, has elected Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi to be its new chairman. Many analysts see the election of the ultraconservative Yazdi as a setback for the more moderate factions in the Iranian leadership. As the BBC notes, “It comes at a sensitive time, not just as talks over a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme reach a critical stage, but also as speculation is rife over the health of the supreme leader himself. Publicly discussing his successor is taboo in Iran, but the jockeying for power is clearly underway.”
Algeria’s parliament passed a new law criminalizing domestic violence against women. The Middle East Eye reports that under the law, a husband who has injured his wife could face up to 20 years in prison, depending on the extent of the injuries, and judges can now hand down life sentences for attacks resulting in death. The law also safeguards the financial interests of married women and introduces the concept of harassment. According to the Middle East Eye, the law was “harshly criticised by conservatives as intruding on the intimacy of couples and contrary to Islamic values” but “Justice Minister Tayeb Louha defended the Islamic orthodoxy of the law, concluding that ‘quranic verses protect the honour of women and do not permit’ violence against them.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declared the destruction of Iraqi cultural sites by Islamic State militants to be a “war crime.” His statement followed reports that the group had bulldozed the 3,000-year-old archeological site of Nimrud near Mosul and released a video showing militants smashing ancient artifacts in the Mosul Museum. (However, since the video’s release, art historians and archaeologists have pointed out that some–though not all–of the antiquities destroyed in the video were likely plaster replicas of works that had previously been removed from the museum.) The group has also reportedly destroyed ruins at the ancient city of Hatra, a UNESCO world heritage site. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court includes “Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives” under the category of war crimes.
Egypt will begin the retrial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his sons on corruption charges on April 4. Mubarak and his sons Gamal and Alaa were convicted last year of embezzling $14 million that was earmarked for the renovation of the presidential palaces, but Egypt’s Court of Cassation overturned the verdict in January 2015 and ruled that Mubarak and his sons be tried again.
A court in Oman has sentenced blogger and activist Saeed Jaddad to three years in prison. Jaddad was convicted of “undermining the status and prestige of the state” and of using the Internet and social media to “call for what could undermine public order.” The conviction stems from Jaddad’s involvement in organizing public protests calling for political reform via social media. Amnesty International warned in January that Jaddad’s health was “seriously deteriorating” after he went on a hunger strike to protest his detention.
This post originally appeared on Lawfare.