OurWeek In Politics (7/15-7/22/18)

Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week

1. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Meet in Helinski For Controversial Summit

President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week in a controversial summit in Finland.

Amid chaos following his week-long European trip and the ongoing investigations into allegations that the Russian government colluded with his 2016 Presidential campaign, President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir in Helinski, Finland on July 16 in their first-ever summit meeting. The summit marked the first official meeting between the leaders after previous unofficial talks between Trump and Putin at the 2017 G20 conference in Vienna. In addition to meeting with Putin, Trump also met the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in the Presidential Palace. Some of the topics Trump pledged to discuss with Putin include the ongoing Syrian Civil War, the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the steadily declining relationship between the US and Iran, and measures to reduce the threat of nuclear war between the US and Russia.

The summit between President Trump and Putin was wrought with controversy from the moment of its announcement. On June 14, a group of leading Senate Democrats urged Trump to forgo meeting Putin face-to-face and instead called on the President to work to remove the Putin regime from power and pressure the Russian government into stopping their supposed malign activities on the world stage. The letter was written by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and endorsed by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and many others. Additionally, Trump tweeted on the morning of the summit that the relationship between Russia and the US has “never been worse,” blaming the declining relationship on “foolishness and stupidity” on the part of the US, and referenced the ongoing Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, calling it a “witchhunt”. Trump also indicated his inclination to accept Putin’s denial of Russian interference, saying “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

The Helsinki 2018 meeting began with Niinistö officially welcoming Putin, followed by Trump. The bilateral discussions between Putin and Trump mainly took place in the Finnish Presidential Palace, with Trump and Putin met with only interpreters present. The bulk of the meeting was conducted in secrecy, leading to much confusion and questions regarding the content that was discussed. In the closing press conference press conference, Trump and Putin praise each other and appeared to be in broad agreement on all policy issues. Much to the shock of Western observers, President Trump exonerated Putin of interfering in the 2016 election, directly going against the overwhelming consensus in the intelligence community that Russia indeed interfered in the election and potentially swayed the vote in as many as ten states. Trump also used the press conference to criticize the ongoing investigation into his campaign by Special Counsel Robert Muller, calling it a “partisan witch-hunt.”

Overall, the reaction to President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin has been negative. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called it a “sad day for America,” and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) called for American interpreter Marina Gross, who sat in on the private meeting with Putin, to be questioned before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Additionally, many Republicans strongly criticized President Trump. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) claimed Trump “made us look like a pushover,” whereas Senator Ben Sasse called Trump’s remarks “bizarre and flat-out wrong.” 2008 and 2012 Republican Presidential Nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney also condemned the meeting and the President’s actions. Romney said Trump’s siding with Putin rather than US intelligence agencies was “disgraceful and detrimental to our democratic principles”, while McCain called the summit “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Despite the overall negative reaction to the summit by political leaders of both parties, President Trump’s approval rating among Republican voters increases in the wake of the summit, with many of his strongest supporters expressing the belief that Russian collusion in the 2016 Election was a positive turn of events.

2. Violence and Turmoil Threatens Pakistan’s Unstable Political Situation

Amid a hotly-contested general election, several events this week threaten to further destabilize Pakistan and prevent the country from exiting a long period of political turmoil.

Several events this week have threatened to upend the already unstable political situation in Pakistan. On July 19, Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan from 2013 until his removal from office in 2017, returned to his country to begin serving a ten-year prison sentence. In a July 6 court decision, Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in prison and handed an almost $11 million fine over corruption charges related to his family’s purchase of overseas properties. His daughter Mariam Nawaz was also found guilty and is facing seven years in prison and a $2.6 million fine. Her husband Captain Safdar has received a one-year jail sentence. All three have been barred from engaging in politics for 10 years and four properties in London will be confiscated by the Pakistani state, according to the verdict.

The return of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan occurred amid a heightened level of violence and turmoil facing the country in the wake of the bombing of a political rally in Baluchistan province on July 15, as well as tensions surrounding the upcoming general elections on July 25. Th suicide bomb attack resulted in the deaths of nearly 150 people and injured 186. Nawabzada Siraj Raisani, who was campaigning for an assembly seat in Balochistan, was killed in the bomb blast along with dozens of others. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in an email, stating that the attack was meant to intimidate the Shi’a Muslim community of Pakistan and discourage their participation in the political process. The Balochistan government announced two days of mourning and political parties in the province announced the suspension of political activities in the aftermath of deadly suicide bombing.

Despite the ongoing tensions within the country, many observers feel that the July 25 general election has the potential transform Pakistan for the better and allow the country to at last gain a sense of stability after nearly 4 decades of military rule. “For the first time in our history, fair elections are going to be held,” stated Fawad Chaudhry, a spokesman for the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party. As campaigning enters the final stretch, charismatic populist and former cricket star Imran Khan and the deposed leader’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, have emerged as the two frontrunners. Additionally, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 29-year-old son of former leader Benazir Bhutto, is also attracting widespread support, seeking to reestablish his family’s party as a viable political force. Most polling suggests that the election is too close to call, and could result in coalition negotiations which will ultimately leave Bhutto Zardari’s smaller party with the balance of power.

3. Israel Launches Broad Air Assault in Gaza Following Border Violence

Israel resumed its sustained siege against Gaza this week with the commencement of a sustained bombing campaign.

On July 20, the Israeli government launched a large-scale attack against Hamas in the Gaza Strip after a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier along the border fence during a day of escalating hostilities. Successive explosions rocked Gaza City at nightfall, and the streets emptied as warplanes struck dozens of sites that Israel said belonged to Hamas. Israeli military analysts said the aerial assault was one of the most intense since a cease-fire ended 50 days of fighting in the Gaza Strip in 2014. The ferocity of the bombings raised fears that the hostilities could spiral into an all-out war that will further devastate the Gaza Strip. After nearly seven hours of siege by the Israeli government, a Hamas spokesman announced that the cease-fire had been restored with the mediation of Egypt and the UN. At least four Palestinians were killed by initial Israeli artillery and tank fire. Hamas said that three of the four were members of its military wing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel Isreali Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman defended the actions by their government, warning of the commencement of a major siege of against the Gaza Strip unless Hamas ceases its supposed attacks against Israeli targets. Additionally, US Ambassador to the UN Nikk Haley and Senior Advisor to the President Trump Jared Kushner enthusiastically defended the Israeli government, stating that Netanyahu and Lieberman acted appropriately and that their actions will increase the chances for peace in the Middle East. On the other hand, Nickolay E. Mladenov, the United Nations special coordinator in the Middle East, had urged the Israeli government and Hamas “to step back from the brink” in a strongly worded post on Twitter on Friday night. “Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right NOW!” he wrote. “Those who want to provoke #Palestinians and #Israelis into another war must not succeed.”

4. Israel Passes Controversial “Jewish Nation-State” Law

Amid much criticism, the Israeli Parliament passed the “Jewish Nation-State” Law on July 19.

On July 19, the Israeli parliament adopted a controversial and bigoted law defining the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people, provoking fears it will lead to blatant discrimination against its Palestinian citizens. The legislation, adopted by a relatively close 62 to 55 margin, makes Hebrew the country’s national language and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest. The bill also strips Arabic of its designation as an official language, downgrading it to a “special status” that enables its continued use within Israeli governmental and educational. “This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset after the vote. The nation-state bill was first introduced in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a member of the Likud Party and a center-right conservative. The main goal of the law was to establish the unique Jewish right to an Israeli homeland as one of Israel’s constitutional rules. When the final version passed this week, Dichter declared that “we are enshrining this important bill into a law today to prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizens.”

Overall, the reaction to the new Israeli law has been mixed. In addition to praise among conservative Israeli politicians, noted American White Supremacist and Fascist political activist Richard Spencer endorsed the law. “I have great admiration for Israel’s nation-state law, Jews are, once again, at the vanguard, rethinking politics and sovereignty for the future, showing a path forward for Europeans,” Spencer stated in a press release. On the other hand, countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and even Israeli ally Saudi Arabia denounced the law, stating that it is discriminatory against Israel’s large Arab minority and threatens to further Israel’s reputation as an “apartheid state.” Additionally, several liberal Jewish leaders and orgnizations expressed outrage with the law. “The damage that will be done by this new nation-state law to the legitimacy of the Zionist vision … is enormous,” wrote Rick Jacobs, the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, in a press release. J Street, a liberal Zionist organization, called it “a sad day for Israel and all who care about its democracy and its future.”

the author

Matt is a graduate of Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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