Morning news brief
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
One of the harshest charges levied against Israel in its war with Hamas is that the country's committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. That's South Africa's accusation being heard at the U.N.'s International Court of Justice.
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
And today, the judges are deciding whether to issue a call for Israel to stop its military campaign in Gaza. It wouldn't be a final ruling in the genocide case, but a provisional order. Israel rejects South Africa's allegation of genocide. Meanwhile, in Gaza, the vast majority of the population is internally displaced, with no way to escape bombardments more than three months into this war - violence sparked by Hamas' attack on Israel.
FADEL: NPR's Lauren Frayer is in London and following all of this, and she joins me now. Good morning, Lauren.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning.
FADEL: OK. So bring us up to speed on the case before the court right now.
FRAYER: Yeah. So this was a complaint brought by South Africa alleging that Israel's conduct constitutes genocide under international law. Both sides presented their arguments to the court two weeks ago. South Africa's attorneys began by condemning the Hamas attack on Israel. Twelve hundred people were killed, more than 200 taken hostage on October 7, according to Israel. But then South Africa's attorneys went on to argue that Israel's military response to that attack has gone way beyond warfare to genocide. More than 26,000 people have now been killed in Gaza, according to health officials there. And one of South Africa's lawyers, Adila Hassim, told the court this.
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ADILA HASSIM: This killing is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life. It is inflicted deliberately. No one is spared, not even newborn babies.
FRAYER: South Africa's lawyers gave detailed, often graphic descriptions of the devastation civilians have suffered in Gaza during this war - under bombardment, struggling with shortages of food, water, fuel, medicine. Almost the entire population of, as you mentioned - of - 2-plus million Gazans have been displaced from their homes. During this war, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have quoted verses from the Hebrew Bible calling for the utter destruction of Israel's enemies, and South Africa says that demonstrates genocidal intent.
FADEL: So, as I mentioned, Israel has rejected this allegation. I mean, if you could give us the details of how Israel has responded.
FRAYER: Israel's attorneys pushed back very hard. They acknowledge that civilians in Gaza have suffered terribly but insist civilians are not Israel's target, that the main enemy is Hamas, which Israel accuses of using civilians as human shields, of embedding its fighters in schools and hospitals. One of Israel's attorneys, Tal Becker, told the court that if the term genocide applies to anyone, it applies to militants who've called for the destruction of Israel.
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TAL BECKER: Israel is defending itself against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations whose brutality knows no bounds.
FRAYER: Israel's attorneys cataloged efforts they say Israel's made to warn civilians in Gaza to flee before their neighborhoods were attacked. Israel says it's permitting aid shipments into Gaza of food, water and medicine. But the U.N. and aid agencies have said it's not enough. So Israel basically says there's no genocidal intent on its part.
FADEL: And really quickly, this provisional order later today, what could it be?
FRAYER: It will not be a final determination on the question of genocide. It could order all parties to stop the fighting. But Prime Minister Netanyahu has said this court will not stop him from his goal of destroying Hamas.
FADEL: NPR's Lauren Frayer in London. Thanks, Lauren.
FRAYER: You're welcome.
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FADEL: A high-stakes will-they, or won't-they is happening on Capitol Hill.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Senate negotiators say they're finalizing the details of a bipartisan agreement on immigration reform. But after months of negotiating, the potential deal could topple just before crossing the finish line as Republicans decide if they should defy former President Trump, who has demanded a hard-line Republican solution at the border.
FADEL: NPR's Eric McDaniel is here in the studio and has the latest. Hey, Eric.
ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Good morning.
FADEL: Good morning. So where does the deal stand? These talks have been going on a long time, but now negotiators say they're very close to some sort of bipartisan agreement on a proposal. That's notable - right? - in and of itself.
MCDANIEL: Yeah. I agree. So Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma has been the chief Republican negotiator. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, an independent, former Democrat, has been involved. Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut is the point person for Democrats. And they have worked, by all accounts, pretty tirelessly on this since the fall, with preliminary talks happening as early as last spring. Murphy told me yesterday that the policies here, what's involved, is basically decided. Now they're dealing with dollar amounts and finalizing text.
And part of the reason we're seeing a bipartisan framework here, bipartisan negotiations at all is, well, the same reason we usually see them in Congress, which is a consensus that the problem's now too big to ignore. There are an all-time record number of people presenting themselves to border protection agents, often more than 10,000 a day, to put in asylum claims. And the system just isn't set up to deal with that, as it stands. It's worth remembering that Republicans also told Biden that the only way to get a deal on Ukraine aid, something that's important to him, Israel aid, was to address the crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico. Biden agreed to that, which is how all of this got linked together.
FADEL: And there are also political reasons, though, to link these issues, right?
MCDANIEL: Right. It's a pretty common strategy in Congress to link things together that people feel strongly about. That way, if you're a lawmaker, maybe you can overlook your hangup about some details or policies that you care less about in order to get the whole package through.
FADEL: Right. Now, there is some uneasiness on the part of Republicans.
MCDANIEL: Right. It was a little kind of - folks were on tenterhooks yesterday on the Hill, and I think we'll have to wait and see where things end up. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, acknowledged in a closed-door meeting with his Republican colleagues that this could be a politically hard vote. He supports the deal. But GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump has said he opposes it. And in the House, where this was always going to be sort of a long shot just because of the dynamics in that chamber, there are immigration hard-liners, much like Trump himself, for whom any deal with Democrats won't go far enough. You know, it's just not worthwhile. And with a narrow majority, they don't want to risk opposing Trump, which is a bit like kicking a hornets' nest for a Republican lawmaker.
Say, he backed a primary challenge or somehow otherwise opposed you, and they might not want to send it through. So we're in this weird position. Republicans want to see the text of the deal, weigh whether they're going to take a policy win, i.e. securing the border, and risk a potential Biden political win - credit for that deal, taking action on immigration reform. It's all in open question. Many Republicans really do earnestly want to see something like this get through, want to send money to Ukraine. But as ever, there are other political concerns involved.
FADEL: OK. So what's next? When's this going to be a deal, if it's going to be a deal?
MCDANIEL: Well, we have to wait for the text. Kyrsten Sinema told reporters yesterday in a rare gaggle that we could see this as early as next week. We want to see what the reforms are, to see whether Republicans react positively to it once they've actually seen the policy, and to see if there are defections from the left. This thing needs 60 votes in all to pass the Senate.
FADEL: All right. NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel. Thanks, Eric.
MCDANIEL: Yeah. My pleasure.
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FADEL: The Biden administration announced today that it will pause approval of new natural-gas export facilities.
MARTÍNEZ: That's so The Department of Energy can review whether these plants are in the public's interest, especially given their outsized contribution to climate change. The decision comes as Louisiana has been moving forward with what would be the country's largest natural-gas export terminal.
FADEL: Halle Parker, with member station WWNO in New Orleans joins us to discuss this. Hi, Halle.
HALLE PARKER, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.
FADEL: So how big of a decision is this?
PARKER: Well, I would say it's huge. You know, over the past few years, there's been this, like, massive, rapid buildout of new natural gas terminals in the U.S., so much so that the U.S. is now the world's largest exporter of gas. And the projects that are being built right now could almost double U.S. export capacity by the end of the decade, even without the 17 other proposals that are in front of the Energy Department. And, you know, here in Louisiana, we've really been ground zero for this expansion that the gas industry is proposing - well, us in Texas - and this decision would start to slow that development down. On a call yesterday with reporters, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm put it this way.
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JENNIFER GRANHOLM: A lot has happened in the past decade since this program was created, and we need to have an even greater understanding.
PARKER: So this pause gives the Biden administration a chance to review what the impacts of this buildout have been, whether that's economically on public health, and also when it comes to addressing planet warming emissions that cause climate change.
FADEL: And how is the gas industry responding to the pause?
PARKER: Well, you can say they're up in arms.
PARKER: Industry groups argue this decision could hurt relationships with allies, like Europe, that started importing more gas from the U.S. after the Ukraine war began. They're framing this as Europe needs this gas to survive. And industry groups say this flies in the face of Biden's promises back in 2022, when he pledged to supply countries. But I will say that's not entirely true. Numerous studies and senior administration officials say the pipeline of projects that are already underway are enough to meet those energy needs.
FADEL: Now, climate activists are applauding this decision. What are you hearing in Louisiana?
PARKER: Well, this kind of pressure has been building for months, as national environmental groups have ramped up their own campaigns against this expansion for natural gas exports. Just last week, I was at a protest in New Orleans, and hundreds of people, from fishermen to climate activists, across the Gulf Coast came together - people like Roishetta Ozane, who's been opposing this project for years. She says this decision signals the Biden administration is finally listening, and the president is delivering exactly what they've asked for.
ROISHETTA OZANE: There's still some big things that we're working on, but in this moment, we are celebrating. We're breathing a little easier.
PARKER: Yeah. Ozane says they're playing a long game. And they're going to look to ensure that the people that are most affected by these plans are included in the Department of Energy's review.
FADEL: So this is a pause. I mean, how long does this go on? What happens next?
PARKER: Yeah. So the Energy Department is going to start this review of the proposed natural-gas export projects. But senior administration officials say it's not clear how long this review will take. The pause is going to last as long as the review takes, but it will likely go through November and the election.
FADEL: That's Halle Parker with member station WWNO. Thanks, Halle.
PARKER: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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