It took Spain four decades to establish relations with the State of Israel, which was created in 1948, and nearly six years to end its recent protracted diplomatic distance with the country. After this long period of frosty relations, Arancha González Laya on Wednesday will become the first Spanish foreign affairs minister to officially visit Israel since 2015.
Relations between Spain and Israel began to deteriorate in 2017 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to take a strong stance against the Catalan separatist movement, which held an illegal referendum on independence in October of that year. Subsequent political crises in both countries, leading to a record number of consecutive elections, further complicated affairs.
But both countries now appear to want to mend ties. Diplomatic sources from Israel say that relations with Spain have improved in recent months. For example, according to these sources, Spain has adopted a more “balanced position” in the European Union, neither defending Israel’s right to expand settlements on occupied Palestinian territory at all costs nor proposing sanctions against Israel under the European Union-Israel partnership agreement.
Diplomatic sources say Israel appears to have appreciated “the different tone” in its communication with Spain
Unilateral steps like those taken by Sweden in 2014 to recognize the state of Palestine without the backing of the European Union have not been followed by Spain or other members of the EU. And it has been six years since Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies, approved with near-unanimous support a non-binding proposal in favor of recognizing Palestine as an independent state, within a two-state solution.
According to these diplomatic sources, Israel appears to have appreciated “the different tone” in its communication with Spain, a veiled allusion to Spain’s recent gestures of rapprochement. Last July, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo condemned antisemitism at the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, which represents around 45,000 people. The deputy prime minister also endorsed the working definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2016. While concerns have been raised that the definition is being used to protect Israel from political criticism, Spain calls it a “useful tool of orientation in education” but not “legally binding,” according to an official document.
Importantly too, Spain abstained this year from a vote to condemn Israel at the United Nations Human Rights Council. In 2018, it was the only EU country to call for an international investigation into the death of 200 Palestinians at the Gaza border, who were killed by snipers from the Israeli army. When the investigation was approved by the UN Human Rights Council, Spain’s ambassador to Israel at the time, Manuel Gómez Acebo, was called to appear before the Israeli Foreign Ministry to receive a formal complaint on the issue.
González Laya’s visit to Israel marks an important step toward improving relations, but it will not be a complete visit. Unlike her predecessor, José Manuel García-Margallo, who was received by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2015, González Laya will be received by the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin. On Thursday, she will travel to Palestine, where she is expected to pass on a personal message from Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Silence on Catalan independence
Diplomatic spokespersons from Israel described the Catalan breakaway attempt in 2017 as “an internal issue that must be resolved by dialogue.” Back in 2013, the then-premier of Catalonia, Artur Mas, said that Israel was “the travel companion chosen by Catalonia at a unique moment,” during a speech at Tel Aviv University.
When the Catalan government approved a unilateral declaration of independence on October 27, Spain called on Israel to express its position on the subject. But it was five days before the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry published an official statement. This ambivalence was further heightened when President Rivlin visited Spain. At an official dinner hosted by Spain’s King Felipe VI, Rivlin opened his speech by saying: “Spain for us is one country and the majesty of the king is a symbol of this unity.”
This timid message was in stark contrast to the statement issued by the US State Department on October 27 that said: “Catalonia is an integral part of Spain and the United States supports the measures adopted by the constitutional government of Spain to maintain a strong and united Spain.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.
World’s poorest bear brunt of climate crisis: 10 underreported emergencies | Global development
From Afghanistan to Ethiopia, about 235 million people worldwide needed assistance in 2021. But while some crises received global attention, others are lesser known.
Humanitarian organisation Care International has published its annual report of the 10 countries that had the least attention in online articles in five languages around the world in 2021, despite each having at least 1 million people affected by conflict or climate disasters.
The findings, from a collaboration between the charity and international media monitoring service Meltwater, highlighted how the accelerating climate crisis is fuelling many of the world’s emergencies, said Laurie Lee, CEO of Care International UK.
“There is deep injustice at the heart of it. The world’s poorest are bearing the brunt of climate change – poverty, migration, hunger, gender inequality and ever more scarce resources – despite having done the least to cause it,” he said. “Add Covid-19 into the mix and we see decades of progress towards tackling inequality, poverty, conflict and hunger disappearing before our eyes.”
The number of people in need of humanitarian aid is expected to rise to 274 million this year, or one in 28 people, and more than 84 million people have been uprooted. Lee highlighted the impact of the UK’s 2021 foreign aid budget cuts, saying that it “resulted in over £166m less in humanitarian aid reaching the 10 countries mentioned in this report compared to 2019.”
First on the list, Zambia has 1.2 million malnourished people and about 60% of the 18.4 million population living below the international poverty line of $1.90 (£1.40) a day. Women produce 60% of the country’s food supply, but families headed by women faced higher poverty rates than those headed by men.
Food insecurity in Zambia has primarily been blamed on prolonged drought, but rising corn prices and flooding have contributed.
Currently in the news amid renewed tension between Russia and the west, in Ukraine, 3.4 million people were in need of assistance in 2021, after years of conflict.
“While a comprehensive political solution for the conflict is still not in sight, people in eastern Ukraine are daily forced to put their lives on the line. Along the 420-km ‘contact line’ that separates Ukrainian government-controlled territory from that of the separatists, the situation is particularly dangerous,” the report said.
Malawi is facing a food insecurity crisis, with 17% of the population severely malnourished. Droughts, floods and landslides have been predicted to worsen over the coming years. Cyclone Idai in 2019 severely affected harvests and left tens of thousands displaced.
“The climate crisis is hitting people here earlier and much harder than the people of the global north,” said Chikondi Chabvuta, advocacy lead for Care International in Malawi. “We are already seeing real-life consequences with delayed rainfall, heavy and destructive rainfall, unpredictable rainfall patterns, infertile soil, destroyed harvests.”
Central African Republic
In Central African Republic (CAR), where civil war has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, half of the population face food insecurity. A ceasefire agreement struck in October 2021 is fragile and more than 700,000 people have been internally displaced – more than half children. CAR is ranked second to last globally on the Human Development Index. “On average, a child attends school for just under four years, and girls for only three,” the report said. About 30% of children are in work.
Poverty, violence and the climate crisis are leading problems in Guatemala, which is on the migratory route to Mexico and the US. Two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day and 38% of the population face food insecurity.
Camps sheltering those sent back by Mexico are overcrowded, meaning many live on the streets, the report said. Guatemala is considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries, with 3,500 murders in 2020 alone. “Although about 3.3 million people in the country rely on humanitarian aid, the frequent occurrence of violence is in many cases a barrier to accessing urgently needed assistance,” said the report.
Nearly 5 million people live under the control of armed groups, and 6.7 million people are dependent on humanitarian aid.
Food insecurity has been blamed on an economic recession caused by the pandemic. It has particularly affected indigenous communities, those uprooted internally and 1.8 million Venezuelan refugees, mainly in northern Colombia.
Ranked as the country gaining the least attention in 2020, Burundi was seventh in 2021 when 2.3 million of the 12.6 million population were in need of humanitarian assistance.
The country secured only 27% of the $195m pledged in aid. Extreme weather, hunger and political unrest were among the challenges faced by Burundians. In a country where 90% of people rely on small-scale agriculture, only a third of land is suitable for cultivation, due to drought, floods and landslides. The report also highlighted structural discrimination against women – 20% of those in Burundi’s decision-making bodies are female, while 60% of the agricultural workforce are women.
Niger is deeply vulnerable to climate disasters. Persistent droughts and recurring floods have had catastrophic consequences: nearly 3 million people rely on humanitarian aid. About 1.8 million children need food assistance and almost half of all children under five are malnourished.
Militias in eastern and northern Niger have caused 313,000 people to be displaced as of last September. “Providing emergency relief is often hindered by the fact that infrastructure is destroyed, operation areas are marked by violence and rural areas are difficult to access,” the report said.
Zimbabwe has acute food insecurity with increasingly extreme climate conditions and economic mismanagement causing 6.6 million people to need humanitarian aid. More than a third of the population (5.7 million) lack sufficient food.
“The harvests in many rural areas are not sufficient to secure basic food supplies and other needs. In these regions, households must rely on local markets when supplies are depleted – but the prices there are unaffordable for many,” the report said.
Poverty and violence have exacerbated the humanitarian situation in Honduras, prompting many to leave for the US. About 70% of the population live in poverty, according to a 2020 study.
There have been problems with farming due to drought, hurricanes and floods. The country has 937,000 displaced people, the highest number in Latin America.
“In Honduras, people therefore often talk about poverty being female, as it is mostly women who stay behind with the children,” the report said.
Polish minister warns of risk of war in Europe
“It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years,” Poland’s foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, who currently chairs the Vienna-based intergovernmental body, said Thursday during the latest round of talks on Russia. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the same day Russia saw no reason for further talks with Nato, as its demands were being ignored.
Covid created 20 new ‘pandemic billionaires’ in Asia, says Oxfam | Global development
Twenty new “pandemic billionaires” have been created in Asia thanks to the international response to Covid-19, while 140 million people across the continent were plunged into poverty as jobs were lost during the pandemic, according to Oxfam.
A report by the aid organisation says that by March 2021, profits from the pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and services needed for the Covid response had made 20 people new billionaires as lockdowns and economic stagnation destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of others.
From China, Hong Kong, India and Japan, the new billionaires include Li Jianquan, whose firm, Winner Medical, makes personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, and Dai Lizhong, whose company, Sansure Biotech, makes Covid-19 tests and diagnostic kits.
The total number of billionaires in the Asia-Pacific region grew by almost a third from 803 in March 2020 to 1,087 by November last year, and their collective wealth increased by three-quarters (74%), the report said.
The report said the richest 1% owned more wealth than the poorest 90% in the region.
Mustafa Talpur, campaigns lead at Oxfam Asia, said: “It is outrageous and highly unacceptable that poor people in Asia [were left at] the mercy of the pandemic facing severe health risks, joblessness, hunger and pushed into poverty – erasing the gains made in decades in the fight against poverty.
“While rich and privileged men increase their fortunes and protect their health, Asia’s poorest people, women, low-skilled workers, migrants and other marginalised groups are being hit hardest,” he added.
In 2020, an estimated 81m jobs disappeared and loss of working hours pushed a further 22–25 million people into working poverty, according to the International Labour Organization. Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific region’s billionaires saw their wealth increase by $1.46tn (£1.06tn), enough to provide a salary of almost $10,000 (£7,300) to all those who lost a job.
Covid has claimed more than a million lives in just Asia, and countless more deaths will result from increased poverty and disruptions to health services. The report said women and girls were more likely to have lost jobs or income. Women are also more likely to work in frontline roles, putting them at further risk; in the Asia-Pacific region, women account for more than 70% of healthcare workers and 80% of nurses.
In south Asia, people from lower castes do the bulk of sanitation work, often without protective equipment, and face poverty and discrimination that prevent them from accessing health services. The pandemic has exacerbated this, said Oxfam.
The wealth gap is set to grow. Credit Suisse forecasts that, by 2025, there will be 42,000 more people worth more than $50m in Asia-Pacific and 99,000 billionaires. The number of millionaires by 2025 is projected to be 15.3 million, a 58% increase on 2020. Both the World Bank and IMF have said that coronavirus will cause a significant increase in global economic inequality.
Talpur said: “The political system is protecting the interests of the tiny rich elite. Governments have consistently failed to work for the majority during the pandemic. It was the juncture of global solidarity, but rich countries and big pharmaceutical companies turned away their faces.”
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