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Trump "blackmailing" Palestinians with financial aid threat

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Donald Trump may be a world of chaos all by himself, but the world beyond Trump is changing in dramatic ways, often with little notice. We’d like to tell you about it and we’re keeping track of these global changes, from the incremental to the monumental, so that you don’t have to.

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Palestine — January 3

Trump "blackmailing" Palestinians with financial aid threat

Palestinian leaders claimed Wednesday Donald Trump is holding them hostage and using the U.S.’s financial muscle to force them into talks with Israel.

“Trump won't vanquish us,” Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti said, hours after Trump threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinian Authority for failing to enter negotiations with its neighbor.


“With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

The president’s outburst came hours after Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told reporters the U.S. would be withholding all aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the body that deals with Palestinian refugees.

“The President has basically said he doesn’t want to give any additional funding, or stop funding, until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table,” Haley said.

The U.S. was the agency’s top donor in 2016.

Barghouti claimed the White House threat to withhold aid was coordinated with Israel.

Echoing Barghouti, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the powerful Palestine Liberation Organization, said Wednesday Palestine “will not be blackmailed.”

“President Trump has sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice,” Ashrawi said according to the PA’s official media outlet Wafa. “Now he dares to blame the Palestinians for the consequences of his own irresponsible actions.”

Relations between Washington and Palestine soured last month when Trump moved to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, sparking condemnation across the Arab world, and much of the West.

— David Gilbert

Iceland — January 2

Iceland is now slapping fines on companies that pay women less than men

Paying a woman less than a man is now illegal.

Well, it is in Iceland, at least. On Monday, the island nation became the first country in the world to enact a national law penalizing companies that don’t offer pay parity.


While several countries — including the United States — say it’s illegal to pay a woman less simply because she’s a woman, few meaningfully enforce those anti-discrimination measures. Iceland’s law, however, has teeth. Companies with more than 25 employees will face fines if they can’t demonstrate that men and women receive the same salary for the same job.

“There is a standard which we have already taken up," Icelandic Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson said of the measure last March, "but not all are following it."

When it comes to equal pay, Iceland has been a global leader for years. The island country routinely placed at the top in rankings of countries dedicated to closing the gender gap, and the nation has pledged to erase the gender pay gap by 2022. Despite its global standing, pay inequality remains a persistent problem for Iceland: Women make up about half of the membership of the country’s parliament and half of Icelandic companies’ boards, yet they still earned between 14 and 20 percent less than their male peers in 2015.

"Women have been talking about this for decades and I really feel that we have managed to raise awareness,” Dagny Osk Aradottir Pind, a Icelandic Women's Rights Association board member, told Al Jazeera. “And we have managed to get to the point that people realize that the legislation we have had in place is not working, and we need to do something more.”


— Carter Sherman

Egypt — January 2

Bitcoin should be banned by Islam, says Egypt’s Grand Mufti

Trendy digital currency Bitcoin has been on a white-knuckle roller coaster ride of valuation swings lately. Now, one group of influential leaders is increasingly calling on their 1.8 billion followers to jump off: Muslim clerics.

The latest call came from Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam, who issued an official fatwah Monday, declaring trading in Bitcoin to be the equivalent of “gambling,” which is forbidden in Islam, “due to its direct responsibility in financial ruin for individuals,” Egypt’s Ahram reported.

Similar statements were issued from top religious figures in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The Grand Mufti of Egypt said that the “currency’s risk as well as its high profit potential undermines Egypt's ability to maintain and stabilize its own currency.”

He added Bitcoin can have a “negative effect on its dealers’ legal safety, possibly due to failure to publicly disclose such operations.” That lack of disclosure can lead to an "ease in money laundering and contrabands trade.”

In November, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, a state organization that deals with religious matters, said Muslims shouldn’t use cryptocurrencies because they're open to speculation. In December, Saudi cleric Assim Al-Hakeem slammed Bitcoin as “an open gate for money laundering, drug money and haram money.”


Of course, some in the Middle East seem to think cyber currencies are actually a great idea. Last year, a software venture company based in Dubai called ArabianChain Technology launched its own digital currency, called DubaiCoin-DBIX.

— Greg Walters

Iran — January 2

Iran protests enter sixth day — at least 21 killed

Protests across Iran entered their sixth day Tuesday, with at least 21 killed so far in the uprising against economic conditions — nine in violence Monday night, including a child.

Tens of thousands of Iranians are estimated to have taken to the streets in recent days, with hundreds arrested in demonstrations that span at least 12 towns and cities across the Republic.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke out on the protests for the first time Tuesday, blaming the regime’s international “enemies” for challenging the “progress of the Iranian nation.”

Read more: Everything you need to know about the Iran protests

— Paul Vale