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The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 172

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 172, December 8, 2022

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. In this week’s headlines: Sudanese protesters demand transitional justice and highlight key issues that still need to be addressed as a framework deal to pave the way for eventual civilian rule is reached, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken warns the returning Netanyahu over potential annexation in the illegally-occupied West Bank, and incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock defeats Republican challenger Herschel Walker in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff election.

Reaction to Framework Transition Deal in Sudan

Sudanese pro-democracy protestors continue to demand transitional justice as an initial agreement between military and civilian leaders is made. (Photo from AP)

Sudanese Protesters Demand Transitional Justice and Highlight Key Issues That Still Need to be Addressed as a Framework Deal to Pave the Way for Eventual Civilian Rule is Reached

A recent framework deal reached between the Sudanese military and civilian leaders has been met with renewed protests, as pro-democracy demonstrators demand transitional justice and highlight other key issues that still need to be addressed. The agreement is aimed at ending the more than a year-long standoff between security forces and the political class, after the military coup and takeover which took place in October of 2021. Many of the protestors and critics fear that this deal gives the army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a powerful paramilitary group, a way to circumvent any consequences from their brutal suppression and killing of protestors during the military coup and its aftermath. The crimes committed against protestors by the security forces include assault, rape, and murder. At least 120 people have been killed during anti-coup protests. Sudan’s resistance committees say that this deal will restore the partnership between the political and security elites, betraying what the people truly want. “We believe that if there is no justice, then the killing will continue,” said Ahmed Ismat, a spokesperson for the Khartoum south resistance committees. “We are just repeating the same cycle.”

Many international observers, including the United Nations, have touted the agreement as a positive step towards restoring the democratic transition process in Sudan. The settlement would usher in a two-year transitional period ahead of the elections. UN Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey has called it a “credible path to a final agreement.” Despite the optimism from some outsider observers, there are those in Sudan that are concerned that the lack of transitional justice and security sector reform will just continue the same cycle that Sudan has been going through since the deposal of former dictator Omar al-Bashir from power back in 2019. This has consisted of civil unrest, human rights abuses and violations against civilians by security forces, and transitional periods that have been derailed and interrupted by military coups and power grabs.

Former Sudanese despot Omar al-Bashir was overthrown by the military after months of protest in 2019. The military announced that there would be a transitional period, but this was interrupted by another military coup led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. The new agreement is just the latest event in a long period of instability for Sudan. This instability also comes as hundreds of people are being killed in tribal fighting in neighboring South Sudan. With no government intervention, it is unlikely that the killing will stop. There have even been multiple instances where the government aided the killing with no repercussions or accountability provided.

Though any agreement offering the prospect of increased stability should be celebrated, the demands for transitional justice should not be sacrificed for the sake of this framework deal. Without accountability, the bad actors involved in both the government and military will continue their abuses against the people of Sudan. There can be no true stability while this abuse is taking place. The best step forward would be to initiate an agreement that implements avenues for the people of Sudan to get the justice they deserve and hold human rights abusers accountable. This could be either incorporated into the current deal or created as a separate one. It is paramount that the people’s voices are heard if Sudan wants to truly transition into a functioning democracy. This would also be an important step in restoring the people’s faith in the government.

Blinken Warns Netanyahu Over Potential Illegal Annexation

Blinken made the remarks at the J Street national conference this past Sunday. (Photo from AP)

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken Warns the Returning Netanyahu Over Potential Annexation in the Illegally-Occupied West Bank

In remarks made this past weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned soon-to-be returning former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against settlements and potential annexation in the illegally-occupied West Bank. Peace and social justice activists are understandably concerned that the return to power of criminally-indicted Netanyahu and his new extreme far-right coalition government could escalate tensions and incite further illegal Israeli settler violence in the West Bank. This is especially true considering the alarming make-up of the anticipated incoming coalition government and its array of troubling figures and officials. Despite this legitimate unease, Blinken expressed that the Biden administration would ultimately engage with the new government based on “its policies rather than individual personalities.” This comes amid reports, however, that the White House has held recent high-level meetings to discuss its approach toward the new Israeli government and the prospect of not engaging with some of its most bigoted and extremist ministers.

In the weeks since the November 1st Israeli election, peace advocacy groups have urged the Biden administration to not deal with controversial figures in the new Israeli coalition government such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich – both bigoted Jewish supremacists and extremists. It has been pointed out how the U.S. State Department has a strong case to consider potential ministers like Ben-Gvir and Smotrich as persona non grata for diplomatic interaction and engagement. Ben-Gvir has a long history of deplorable behavior, including being an active proponent for the violent eviction of Palestinian residents from their generational homes and as a supporter of Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers back in 1994. Ben-Gvir has even been convicted in Israeli courts for inciting racism and supporting terrorist supremacist groups. Smotrich heads the Noam Party, an aggressively bigoted group, and both his and Ben-Gvir’s expected roles as ministers in the new Israeli coalition government has elicited concern regarding the extent to which this will incite further violence and discriminatory policies against Palestinians.

Blinken’s recent remarks are a clear indication that the Biden administration acknowledges, and is highly aware of, the concerns that the new Israeli coalition government could push for the initiation of further destructive behavior like new unlawful settlements and potential annexation in the illegally-occupied West Bank. Additionally, the recent news of sensitive meetings on how to approach the new government further crystalize this as well. In fact, there are indications that the rise of extremist far-right groups as key coalition members has “triggered debate about the implications for Israel’s democracy, its ability to manage tensions with Arabs and Palestinians, and its relations with the United States and other countries.” Senior U.S. officials from an array of government agencies are believed to have been involved in these recent meetings, highlighting the scope of concern surrounding the figures that are anticipated to hold notable ministerial positions in the new Israeli coalition government. So far, there are suggestions that the Biden administration may not engage directly with controversial individuals like Ben-Gvir and Smotrich.

The manner in which U.S. officials deal with all aspects of the new Israeli coalition government and the nature of the policies that the latter enacts remain to be seen, but one thing that is for sure is that many will be keeping an eye on and eagerly awaiting to see what transpires with this in the coming weeks and months ahead.

U.S. Senate Runoff Election in Georgia

Warnock’s victory means that Democrats are no longer reliant on Vice President Harris’ tiebreaking vote and now have an outright majority of 51-49 in the U.S. Senate. (Photo from AP)

Incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock Defeats Republican Challenger Herschel Walker in Georgia’s U.S. Senate Runoff Election

This week, the midterm election season in the United States officially came to a close, with the final race for a U.S. Senate seat being decided. Incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock won re-election in a runoff against Republican candidate Herschel Walker. With 99% reporting, Warnock won with 51.4% of the vote, while Walker had 48.6%. Warnock’s victory now means that Democrats will enjoy an outright 51-49 majority in the Senate, no longer being reliant on U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote as was the case previously when the upper chamber of Congress was evenly split at 50-50. In Georgia elections, a runoff between the two leading candidates is initiated if no candidate wins 50% or more of the vote – which is what transpired back in early November to trigger the runoff election. Raphael Warnock also had a higher percentage of votes then as well. The Senate majority will give Democrats more bargaining power and provide them with the opportunity to block certain legislation that Republicans in the House attempt to push through.

Many political analysts and prognosticators had predicted that Republicans would do very well in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections. This was based on polling and the historical precedent that the party the incumbent president belongs to usually loses a significant number of seats in both chambers of U.S. Congress. This historical trend, along with high inflation and economic underperformance led many to believe that Democrats were going to lose badly. Most Republicans were expecting to win the House by a large margin and pick up the Senate as well in what they were calling an anticipated “red wave.” However, surprisingly, Republicans only gained a razor-thin margin in the House and actually lost a net seat in the Senate. This has caused a lot of finger-pointing in the Republican Party as they scramble to find out why they underperformed so badly. While Republicans are still searching for answers, one thing they have already begun to blame is poor candidate choices. Many of the candidates that underperformed were Trump-aligned extreme conservatives. The number of extreme Republican candidates could be at least partially attributed to Democrats’ risky strategy of funding extreme Republican candidates during primaries in order to have a better chance of winning the general election. This strategy could have backfired, but seemed to have paid off. Another contributing factor to the Republicans’ underperformance was the high turnout of young voters, many of whom seemed to be motivated by the recent removal of federal protection of abortion rights with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Lastly, and maybe most significantly, the negative Trump effect appears to have played a notable role as well, with many of the candidates endorsed by the former president suffering electoral defeats.

The Warnock win in Georgia means that U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will not be tied up in the Senate breaking ties between an evenly split chamber, which would have likely been a common occurrence, allowing her to focus on other policy matters. This runoff was a big win for Democrats, as Georgia has traditionally been a conservative and red-leaning state. Some political experts had pointed to Warnock’s initial special election victory over Kelly Loeffler as a sign that Democrats can certainly compete in Georgia.

The make-up of the incoming Senate could take a lot of bargaining power away from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who has broken away from the party many times on bills that they have attempted to pass – especially environmental protection bills. Raphael Warnock’s win may also have an effect on the potential to pass bipartisan pieces of legislation, giving Democrats more power to negotiate compromises with the Republican-led House.