Month in Review: September 2016

Amid all the craziness of the American presidential election, many otherwise noteworthy events occurred this past month which received less attention.  Israel lost one of the last remaining members from its founding era, while the United States decided that individual people may have the authority to sue nations like Saudi Arabia.  This week, we recap these two major events from September 2016.


1) The Death Of Shimon Peres

As one of the last members of the founding generation of the modern state of Israel, Shimon Peres severed in nearly every high ranking position within the Israeli government and remained a prominent figure in Israeli politics until his death last month.  His legacy on the history of Israel and the greater Middle East cannot be understated, and it was a testament to his importance that both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas attended his funeral.  But Peres remains a somewhat controversial figure among many in the region (then again so does nearly every high-ranking Israeli official).

The legacy of Peres is a mix of both military interventionism and genuine attempts at establishing peace.  Peres played a key role in events such as the 1956 Suez Crisis (where the Israelis attempted to seize the Suez canal from Egypt), and the many military operations and escalations between Israel and various Palestinian or Lebanese organizations over the years.  But Peres is also known for his role in some of Israel's top peace agreements.  These include Israel's peace treaty with its Arab neighbor Jordan and the historic Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (this treaty also helped create the Palestinian Authority which remains the contested leadership of the Palestinians today).  However, his attempts at peace via the Oslo Accords have been marred by broken promises between both parties.  Still, toward the end of his life, Peres became especially outspoken about peace and tolerance between Israelis and Palestinians.  But with current negotiations at their lowest point in years, some believe that any meaningful attempts at peace may have died with Peres.

2) Suing Saudi Arabia

September also saw the first example of president Obama having a veto overridden by Congress.  At issue during this political battle is the question of allowing the families of the victims of 9/11 to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for its alleged ties to the al-Qaeda hijackers.  As we've documented before, Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for its unofficial policy of exporting radical ideologies.  There are also very suspicious links between specific individuals within the Saudi government and global radical organizations, so the decision is not completely without merit.  This decision by Congress (which many lawmakers immediately regretted) would make it possible for individual people to directly sue the government of another nation.  This may seem like a judicious decision on the face of it, but there are several legal (and political) problems with this development.

First, the case against the Saudi government itself is difficult to prove.  Though certain individuals within the government (and certain government sponsored charities) have suspicious ties to radical extremist groups, the government itself does not have a policy of directly supporting these groups (at least not ones like al-Qaeda).  Many of the world's worst terrorist groups (al-Qaeda, ISIS, al-Shabab) hold just as much contempt for the Saudi government as they do for Western powers and have launched numerous attacks on targets within the Kingdom as well.  But the more concerning development is the precedent that this decision sets.  Allowing citizens to sue another government in American courts opens the door for citizens of other countries to sue the American government in foreign courts.  Could a Pakistani whose family was killed in a drone strike now sue the United States in a Pakistani court of law?  Nations typically are not bound by the legal systems of other nations, so there is almost no legal mechanism for this to work anyway.  Sure, the United States could attempt to impose a court ruling via diplomatic pressure, but this would mean individual citizens can indirectly apply diplomatic pressure to other countries (something best left to policy professionals).  In all, this seems like more of a symbolic vote than anything else.  But when heading into the last legs of a very contentious election cycle, it's almost impossible to vote against anything that could benefit the families of 9/11 victims.