Chatter: Pressure mounts on Israel over settlement plans




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Need to know:
Ban Ki-moon warned Israel days ago that the world wouldn't accept new settlement building, and he was right.

The United Nations, US, Russia, UK, France and Germany have all condemned Israel's decision to build 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which was announced within hours of the UN voting to recognize Palestine as a non-member state. Today London and Paris summoned Israel's ambassadors to protest, with Britain promising a "strong reaction" if the plans aren't scrapped.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, says Israel will carry on building everywhere it's in its "strategic interests" to do so. He might want to rethink whatever that strategy is: Ban Ki-moon warns that going ahead with the new homes will deal "an almost fatal blow" to any remaining hopes of peace.

Want to know:
Allies say the darndest things, don't they? It's bad enough when your pals threaten to violate international law and build new settlements; imagine if they said they'd flout UN Security Council orders and launch a long-range rocket.

That's the uncomfortable situation in which North Korea's few friends find themselves, after Pyongyang announced this weekend that it would be testing its latest rocket sometime between Dec. 10 and 22. OK, so the last one barely got off the ground, but it's still a deliberately provocative move.

China and Russia, two of the rare countries still talking to North Korea, today urged it to reconsider. "We hope all sides can be calm and restrained and not take any moves to worsen the problem," said Beijing. Because that's how these things usually go.

Dull but important:
The UN's World Conference on International Telecommunications opens today in Dubai – and the stage is set for a showdown over who should control the internet.

For the next 11 days, thousands of delegates from 193 countries will attempt to thrash out a new draft of the treaty that governs international telecoms regulation. It was last revised way back in 1988 – i.e., pre-world wide web – and is long overdue an update to reflect today's very different (virtual) reality.

The US and EU, backed by internet giants including Google and Microsoft, have accused certain countries – (cough) Russia, (cough cough) China – of seeking to push through clauses that will allow governments greater control of the net. But the UN's telecommunications agency says the status quo favors rich nations and corporations, and it simply wants to create a level online playing field.

The conference continues until Dec. 14.

Just because:
Guns make the world go round. From Mexico's drug violence to conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, the global trade in small arms is helping fuel violence around the world.

In a new series, GlobalPost looks at the sources and effects of the booming weapons business. At the center of it all is the United States. America's seemingly insatiable appetite for guns is spurring production in Europe, where the financial crisis is magically easing governments' guilty conscience over selling dangerous weapons; and in Russia, where the US is one of the few remaining markets for once lucrative Russian guns.

But the US is also the world's top exporter of weapons – sometimes to some very shady customers. And where the US won't sell, China will. One estimate says the world's legal small arms trade alone is worth as much as $8.5 billion per year. But the true cost of proliferation could be far, far higher.

Strange but true:
Pickpocket primary school: nope, it's not Fagin's latest venture, but a real (and, we trust, non-thieving) place in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province.

Bambinkuzu, as the school is called in Zulu, is one of several local institutions ordered to change their name by authorities who deem the monikers "inappropriate" or "uninspiring." Others soon to be hastily repainting their signs include Mgwazeni ("stab him") High School, Tilongo ("prison") Primary School, and Mathangetshitshi ("thighs of a virgin") High School.

"Uninspiring"? Doesn't sound like it. A little too inspiring? Perhaps.