Talking Points

Thousands of refugees sleep rough after their Lesbos camp burnt down. PHOTO: Anna Pantelia
  1. Germany offered to take in thousands of refugees stranded in Greece
  2. Aleksei Navalny awoke from coma; details of his poisoning emerged
  3. Johnson government suffered a humiliating resignation
  4. WHO warned we are still "at the beginning" of the pandemic
  5. Vaccine nationalism ran rampant; rich nations buy half the stock
  6. Donald Trump accused of sexual assault for the 26th time
  7. Breonna Taylor's family received a $12m settlement
  8. Fake news spurred vigilantism from armed Oregonian militias
  9. Oracle and ByteDance got closer to sealing the TikTok deal
  10. Naomi Osaka and Dominic Thiem won at Flushing Meadows

Deep Dive

The US West Coast goes up in smoke. PHOTO: AFP / Getty

This week the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed a peace deal with Israel under the watchful eye of Donald Trump. It's been described as "historic" and "a watershed moment". On closer inspection, it simply entrenches the new reality of a Middle East that has dispensed one regional rivalry for another.

Pax Americana

Peace deals between Israel and its Arab neighbours are rare occurrences. This one was signed by Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Emirati foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and Bahraini foreign minister Abdullatif Al Zayani. It was a fittingly sunny day when they stepped out of the White House to announce a deal that would provide a "new dawn" for the region. President Trump cheerfully proclaimed, " The Abraham accords will serve as a foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region, something that no one thought was possible." We're not convinced that it is possible for these countries to have signed a peace deal given they've never been at war. But, language gripes aside, could it be that the presidential son-in-law Jarred Kushner has instilled a new sense of Pax Americana in the famously volatile region?

Let's look at the beneficiaries and ostensible losers of the deal. Israel is the primary 'winner' of the grandiosely-named Abraham accords, as it has effectively voided the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. That Arab League pact placed prerequisites on normalised ties with Israel: a full withdrawal from the territories seized after 1967, a "just settlement" with Palestinian refugees, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. Israel has agreed to none of these, and still got the signatures. In reality, since 2002 it has rapidly expanded its occupation and eliminated the prospect of a Palestinian capital by encircling East Jerusalem with settlements. A total capitulation like that hardly inspires confidence in the Emirati and Bahraini negotiators. More to the point, the deal actually leaves the door open for Israel's planned further annexation of the Jordan River Valley and more land in the West Bank. Not a bad deal, indeed.

Who else comes out on top? Netanyahu has earned himself a respite in the media after a disastrous 18 months (3 inconclusive elections, fraud trials, and a pandemic), while Trump enters the final stretch of US elections with the new epithet of "peacemaker". The UAE and the Bahrain – both countries with leaders that do not have to worry about trifling matters like elections – have proven themselves a constructive partner to American interests in the region. And, crucially, they've also opened up Israel as a trading partner , which is undoubtedly the key attraction for the Gulf states.

$100m lemons and losers

The superficial losers of the deal are the Iranians. Trump railed against the " tyrants of Tehran " during a televised meeting with Netanyahu after the signing. The president warned the Islamic Republic that he would sell F-35 fighter jets (yes, the ones that don't quite work) to the "great warring nation" of the UAE. Now, the UAE is a lot of things, but proficient at conflict is not one them (the catastrophe of the Yemen civil war being an obvious case in point). In dangling the F-35s before the press Trump accidentally aggravated a fault at the heart of the deal; Israel opposes the sale as it erodes their air superiority in the region (they themselves have bought 20 F-35s). But, Trump's own-goal brag aside, at its core the deal represents a strategic setback for Iran, which faces an ever-closer union of enemies across the Gulf and in Israel.

However, the real losers are the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza . Kushner expanded upon what he saw as the primary motive for the deal, "This will reduce tension in the Muslim world and allow people to separate the Palestinian issue from their own national interests and from their own foreign policy, which should be focused on their own domestic priorities". Reducing a military occupation to an "issue" is a neat piece of semantics and a breathtakingly cynical statement. It's no secret that the leadership of most Arab countries have, for decades, viewed Palestine as a stranded asset – an unwanted inheritance from earlier generations. The reluctance to provide any meaningful support to Palestine (for fear of provoking America) has been a source of great shame. And so, by isolating the Palestine "issue", the Arab signatories have permission to ignore it.

Palestinians, many of whom consider the deal a betrayal, have been dealt out of the game entirely. How did Gazans adapt to the new peace? As the deal was announced in Washington, a handful of rockets were fired towards Israel, and Israel bombed 10 sites in the coastal enclave in response. The same as it ever as.


Worldlywise

All's fair in Venus and Mars. PHOTO: BGR

Firing a rocket at the goddess of love

Women are not from Venus, but something might be. This week a team of international scientists – lead by Cardiff University's Jane Greaves – revealed in Nature Astronomy that Venus may host life. Not on the 465ºC surface, but in the highly-acidic clouds that trap all that heat in the atmosphere. It's actually rather temperate 35km up, and it is there that the team discovered the presence of phosphine (PH3) . This molecular gas is considered a key 'biosignature' as it is produced naturally by anaerobic organisms like bacteria and microbes on Earth. The team believe that phosphine is present in large enough quantities to be a signal of possible life in the Venusian clouds. Cool, right?

Naturally, we're all very excited to get a closer look at the cloud decks that wreathe the second rock from the sun. As it quite helpfully happens, a European Space Agency probe is due to do two fly-bys of Venus in the next two years. The second pass will bring it within 550km of the surface. NASA is making noise about its own mission to Venus, but they'll need to get a wriggle on as the New Zealand-based Rocket Lab already has a launch planned for 2023. The private company will self-fund and launch their own rocket and probe; if successful this would mark a watershed moment in the privatisation of the space sciences. Whoever gets there first, they'll have to contend with an irate Moscow, which this week claimed that Venus is a " Russian planet ".

What does this all mean for life on Earth? Well, the 2020s may not be a great time to be studying theology, but you've got a few years head-start on the Rocket Lab mission if you opt to retrain. Let's hope that if humans do find some form of life that we don't commit the colossal errors that we do on this planet and accidentally snuff it out.

Believe me. PHOTO: Stefan Rosseau

Suga high office

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has voted for Yoshihide Suga to replace the ailing Shinzo Abe as prime minister. The former has been a life-long ally and advisor to the latter. He is a known quantity in Japan; an operator adept at shepherding government policy and an able media spokesperson. But, there are lingering questions as to whether a career politician is the right successor to the forceful Abe, especially given the coronavirus pandemic, the delayed Tokyo Games, and the threat of a prolonged recession. How he handles these issues will reveal whether he mimics Abe's longevity or that of his predecessors (in the 00's Japan had seven PMs in as many years). W e'll know soon enough whether the addition of Suga can sweeten the bitter pill of Japan's coronavirus recovery .

He takes the reins from Japan's longest-serving continuous premier, a man whose rather muted exit from politics suggested the decline of a much less capable figure. Abe's far-reaching 'Abenomics' plan helped lift Japan out of the mire of Ushinawareta Nijūnen – two decades of miserable stagflation. It wasn't all high-spending; Abe's reforms cut to the very culture of Japanese society, expanding the social-welfare net to allow women the chance to enter the work force (they did, en masse, though have yet to break through the glass ceiling of cabinet). He raised Japan's standing in the region without ever managing to change the country's constitution (a bellicose pet project), although still allowed the country to be drawn into a small trade war with Seoul. A mighty figure in modern Japanese politics. What kind of leader will his deputy be?


The Best of Times

The New York Philharmonic: al fresco. PHOTO: AFP

Genius in a bottle

Tengku Mohamad Ali Mansor has spent years trying to rid Malaysia's beaches of washed-up bottles . He took a novel approach: turning rubbish into a museum full of art. Why has he spent 15 years of his life cleaning up the beach? In his words, "Allah knows what I am doing. I do this because I love this world".

Companionship living

It is not exaggerating to say that loneliness kills the elderly. It contributes to a vastly higher risk of physical and mental ailments ranging from heart disease to Alzheimer's. Despite all of this, it is extremely simple to solve, and the Swedish housing experiment of Sällbo shows how: creating multi-generational housing with shared facilities so that the elderly and the young can coexist. Have a read of this fantastic initiative – there is so much to learn.


The Worst of Times

The man who set off a forever war. PHOTO: Kinimasa Mayama

Northern heatwave

A Japanese police officer wipes away sweat from their face due to the searing heat. The Northern Hemisphere recorded its hottest summer ever this year — with temperatures in June, July and August 1.17°C above the 20th century average. August alone was the 2nd warmest August globally on record and the entire year is on track to be one of the hottest. The climate crisis has well and truly taken hold of our planet.

Forced hysterectomy allegations

Whistleblower Dawn Wooten speaks at a press conference outlining horrific allegations, namely that a number of immigrants held at a US detention centre have allegedly been illegally sterilised by forced hysterectomy . When interviewed by a whistleblower, some were confused when told a hysterectomy had been performed on them — as if unaware of the procedure. A report by a local human rights watch also alleges immigrants were refused coronavirus tests, and that medical records were shredded and fabricated. They remain allegations as little evidence has been procured to support the claims – keep an eye on this story as it develops.


Weekend Reading

The image

In February the pro-surfer Maya Gabeira surfed this 73.5ft monster. Despite the feat, her recognition was delayed because the mens and womens competitions use different methods for measuring wave height. This created the absurd scenario where the male winner received more accolade for surfing a 70ft wave! No longer: we've finally recognised that Gabeira out-surfed everyone in the world. Photograph supplied by The Atlantic.

The quote

" He's taking something (that) you know, gives him some clarity, or whatever. "

Donald Trump alleged that Joe Biden is taking performance-enhancing drugs to sharpen him up. We're not entirely opposed to that, given that neither candidate is exactly firing on all cylinders .

The numbers

25

- The world has lost 25 years’ worth of progress in global health in 25 weeks, says the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Report. As a result of the pandemic, the world is faced with ‘mutually exacerbating crises’ of increased poverty, further inequality, and economic decline. A cycle which can only be broken once the pandemic ends. It’s an uphill battle after an uphill battle.

$200b

- The total value of US tariffs on Chinese goods that have been declared illegal by the World Trade Organisation. Not that anyone will listen. Despite its scale, the ruling (and the body behind it) won’t bring an end to the row between the countries: the WTO’s weakened state means no final, binding verdict will arise. And so, the US and China are free to retaliate and appeal tariffs as much as they’d like.

The headline

" South Dakota Attorney General claimed he hit a deer, but actually killed a pedestrian " The Independent .

The special mention

Facebook finally found some content it wants to moderate: messages debating political issues posted on internal staff message boards.

A few choice long-reads

  • Facebook and the White House have built an alliance of convenience during the Trump administration — despite its complexities. Businessweek explains how Facebook has come to rely on Trump.
  • Between reduced demand from a pandemic, and shifts to renewable energy, oil is facing an unprecedented slump which it may not recover from. The Economist provides insight on what a 21st century without oil may look like.
  • China and the US have spent years in a constant to and fro of threats, tariffs, and intimidation — in the name of decoupling their ties. Foreign Affairs poses one huge factor against why the countries should halt their tiff.

Tom Wharton

@trwinwriting