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After Lula: Brazil’s New President signals foreign policy shift

With a more austere approach, Dilma Rousseff has already criticized the same Iranian government that her predecessor was eager to reach out to.

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Anointed by her wildly popular predecessor, Dilma Rousseff's victory in November as Brazil's first female president promised near perfect continuity from the policies of the past eight years. And on the domestic front, the 63-year-old economist is showing all the signs of continuing in the footsteps of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's social and economic development programs, aiming to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015.

The new president may be set to mark a subtle, but potentially important, shift away from Lula on foreign policy. Not only is Rousseff expected to be generally more low-profile and pragmatic, she appears to be shifting Brazil's stance on the ongoing US-Iranian diplomatic standoff.

Rousseff was active in resistance groups fighting against Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1960s, and between 1970 and 1973 she was imprisoned and tortured. As a result of her experiences, she looks set to be less tolerant of governments accused of human rights abuses than Lula, who was on friendly terms with such autocratic leaders as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In an interview with the Washington Post in December, Rousseff distanced herself from Brazil's abstention in a recent United Nations resolution condemning Iran's human rights abuses, including the stoning of people convicted of crimes. "I am not (yet) the president of Brazil, but I would feel uncomfortable as a woman president-elect not to say anything against the stoning. My position will not change when I take office. I do not agree with the way Brazil voted. It's not my position."

Since her election, Rousseff has already publicly criticized Iran for its "medieval" treatment of women. The Iranian government has voiced its displeasure at her repeated references to Iran's human rights situation, in a first sign of tension between the two countries following years of friendly relations during Lula's tenure.

In another sign of a possible policy shift, Rousseff has appointed Antonio Patriota, ambassador to the United States during the Lula administration and married to an American woman, as Brazil's foreign minister. Patriota has a close relationship with Celso Amorim, foreign minister under Lula, so many of his actions will be consistent with the previous government's. But Patriota's appointment may be an indication that Rousseff hopes to reinforce a relationship between Brazil and the U.S. that has cooled in recent years, in part due to Lula's willingness to negotiate with Iran over a nuclear energy deal in 2010.

Still to be determined is the influence that Lula may or may not try to exert over foreign policy decisions, as he is likely to remain involved in international issues, according to Brazilian economic journal Valor. During Lula's tenure, his foreign policy was focused on asserting Brazil's role as a regional leader on the international stage, and was marked as much by his charismatic presence as his administration's policies.

Lula was also known for public comments that occasionally crossed the standard lines of diplomacy. Many of his ‘one-liners' were lost in translation before ever reaching the international community. But a few, including 2009's assertion that blond, blue-eyed people were responsible for the financial crisis, did clear the language barrier to receive worldwide coverage. As one Brazilian reporter wrote earlier this year, "Lula's foreign policy actions leave no doubt as to his disposition to handle delicate global problems with a lightness of vocabulary capable of giving even the most trained diplomat heart palpitations."

Still despite the differences in style and substance, Rousseff's government has largely similar foreign policy goals as Lula's, including obtaining a permanent seat on the U.N."s security council, as well as serving as mediator on key international issues such as the Middle East peace process. Rousseff's lack of experience or the flair of her predecessor may keep her out of the limelight in the early months. But Brazil is simply too big a player for her to stay quiet for long.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Settlers, Prisoners, Resistance: How Israeli Occupation Ties Gaza To The West Bank

The fate of the West Bank is inevitably linked to the conflict in Gaza; and indeed Israeli crackdowns and settler expansion and violence in the West Bank is a sign of an explicit strategy.

Settlers, Prisoners, Resistance: How Israeli Occupation Ties Gaza To The West Bank

Israeli soldiers take their positions during a military operation in the Balata refugee camp, West Bank.

Riham Al Maqdama


CAIRO — Since “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” began on October 7, the question has been asked: What will happen in the West Bank?

A review of Israel’s positions and rhetoric since 1967 has always referred to the Gaza Strip as a “problem,” while the West Bank was the “opportunity,” so that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005 was even referred to as an attempt to invest state resources in Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.

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This separation between Gaza and the West Bank in the military and political doctrine of the occupation creates major challenges, repercussions of which have intensified over the last three years.

Settlement expansion in the West Bank and the continued restrictions of the occupation there constitute the “land” and Gaza is the “siege” of the challenge Palestinians face. The opposition to the West Bank expansion is inseparable from the resistance in Gaza, including those who are in Israeli prisons, and some who have turned to take up arms through new resistance groups.

“What happened in Gaza is never separated from the West Bank, but is related to it in cause and effect,” said Ahmed Azem, professor of international relations at Qatar University. “The name of the October 7 operation is the Al-Aqsa Flood, referring to what is happening in Jerusalem, which is part of the West Bank.”

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