Almost two weeks into the vicious bloodletting in Libya, it is clear that Muammar Qaddafi believes that he can survive the revolt in his country. Violence and state-sponsored terrorism against innocent civilians is his response to this challenge. Yet he has survived such episodes before and has no reason to believe that he won't survive this one.
Therefore, despite the new sanctions being adopted, which may not be effective at changing Qaddafi's behavior, it's time for President Obama to go even further. Specifically, he must make an overt break from our country's failed experiment of engagement with Qaddafi while also striking aggressively at Qaddafi's money. This means that it's time to immediately put Libya back on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
With the rumblings of fresh protests in Tehran after over a year of relative quiet from the opposition, some members of the US congress, along with several other former officials, appear to be again dreaming of the possibility of a post-theocratic Iran. One significant sign is their renewed push to have the People's Mojahedin of Iran (also known as the MEK) removed from the State Departments list of designated foreign terrorist organizations. Echoing this sentiment last month, former Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, in an event designed to raise support for the MEK's removal from terror list, asked the audience, "Is it even possible to oppose a terrorist state, and be a terrorist yourself?"
No matter how one looks at that question, the answer must be a resounding "yes." MEK is a non-state organization that, at regular intervals over the years, has taken pride in attacks that have left innocent civilians dead. In the lexicon of our times that qualifies as terrorism. With their designation as a terrorist organization currently under review, the larger issue is not just whether the MEK is engaged in terrorism at the moment, but that if the organization is further legitimated by U.S. policy makers, it will prove to be yet another disastrous read by the U.S. government.
Since February 11 when Mubarak stepped down, the Supreme Military Council, which has assumed leadership of Egypt's affairs until such time as free elections are held, has repeatedly and thus far unsuccessfully called on Egyptians to "return to work." It has even threatened to take action against striking workers in the name of national security. The civilian middle-class revolutionaries also seem to be insisting that the striking workers "return to work." Even Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in his February 18 Tahrir khutba before hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, urged striking workers to go home, stating that it is impossible for all demands to be met immediately and counselling them to be patient.
We take billionaire financier George Soros up on the bet he proffered to CNN's Fareed Zakaria this week that "the Iranian regime will not be there in a year's time." In fact, we want to up the ante and wager that not only will the Islamic Republic still be Iran's government in a year's time, but that a year from now, the balance of influence and power in the Middle East will be tilted more decisively in Iran's favor than it ever has been.
Just a decade ago, on the eve of the 9/11 attacks, the United States had cultivated what American policymakers like to call a strong "moderate" camp in the region, encompassing states reasonably well-disposed toward a negotiated peace with Israel and strategic cooperation with Washington: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states, as well as Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey. On the other side, the Islamic Republic had an alliance of some standing with Syria, as well as ties to relatively weak militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Other "radical" states like Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Muammar al-Qaddafi's Libya were even more isolated.
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The crackdown was brutal.
At 3 a.m. on Feb. 17, hundreds of Bahraini riot police surrounded the protesters sleeping in a makeshift tent camp in Manama's Pearl Square. The security forces then stormed the camp, launching an attack that killed at least five protesters, some of whom were reportedly shot in their sleep with shotgun rounds. Thousands of Bahraini citizens gathered in the square on Feb. 15, in conscious emulation of the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, to push their demands for a more representative political system and an end to official corruption.
The tanks and armored personnel carriers of Bahrain's military subsequently rolled into the square, and a military spokesman announced that the army had taken important areas of the Bahraini capital "under control."
If we're lucky this time around, we'll avoid the who-lost-Egypt debate. Hosni Mubarak's decision to step down has pre-empted a catastrophic crisis for Egypt and for American interests. We may not be adept at manipulating Middle Eastern politics; but we're sure experts at beating ourselves up.
Commentators and analysts have argued forcefully that Barack Obama's administration failed to anticipate the current crisis, blew an opportunity by failing to push Mubarak to make significant reforms during the early days of the upheaval, and risked being on the wrong side of history by not being assertive in trying to force Mubarak's removal. But the administration was smart to keep its distance from this crisis.
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It is commonplace for historians to compare revolutions to earthquakes, but the metaphor remains powerful. The Egyptian revolution is much like an earthquake: its epicenter may be Cairo, but its shockwaves have reached all the way to Washington. Since the first crowds began to appear in Tahrir Square, the Egyptian trembler has so shaken the U.S. that small but perceptible cracks have begun to appear in the foundations of America's Middle East policies -- and in the comity of opinion that has guided U.S. views of the region for 60 years. The changes were first evidenced last week, when policymakers, pundits and government officials made the rounds of the Sunday morning television news shows.
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared on CNN, interviewer Candy Crowley was blunt: which side is the U.S. on -- "Mubarak or the people in the streets?" she asked. Clinton laughed slightly, then rejected the question: "Well, there's another choice, it's the Egyptian people," she said. "We are on the side, as we have been for more than 30 years, of a democratic Egypt that provides both political and economic rights of its people, that respects the universal human rights of all Egyptians." Of course, Crowley knew (as we all knew) that if Clinton had been asked the same question just the week before, her answer would have been entirely different: that our friendship with Egypt is based on its peace treaty with Israel, its opposition to Iran and its hostility to political Islam.
Beyond the immediate dilemmas - how and how hard to push Mubarak to stand down, what to say in public versus in private, and how best to pressure the US-backed Egyptian security forces - the transition period that lies ahead for Egypt will hold its own complicating factors for Washington policymakers.
First, it needs to be remembered that this is not primarily about the US (nor should it be), this is about Egyptians empowering themselves. Nevertheless, the US and other international actors will have a role to play and will have to chart a new policy course for relations with Egypt, and this will in no small measure set a trend for the region as a whole.
One minor luxury that the administration should have is that there are not significant or obviously apparent domestic political pressures being brought to bear on this issue. Both parties, Democrat and Republican, have made nice with dictators in the Arab world while paying limited lip service to democracy. There is no victory lap, freedom coupon to clip as was the case in the former Soviet bloc, there is no Arab democracy political lobby, even if the Arab American community will be largely thrilled by what is happening in the region. The one exception to this is the role that some traditional pro-Israel groups may play in urging a go-slow conservatism to a US embrace of change in the Middle East.
The most telling aspect of the anti-regime demonstrations that have rocked the Arab world is what they are not about: They are not about the existential plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation; nor are they at least overtly anti-Western or even anti-American. The demonstrators have directed their ire against unemployment, tyranny, and the general lack of dignity and justice in their own societies. This constitutes a sea change in modern Middle Eastern history.
Of course, such was the course of demonstrations against the Shah of Iran in 1978 and 1979, before that revolution was hijacked by Islamists. But in none of these Arab countries is there a charismatic Islamic radical who is the oppositional focal point, like Ayatollah Khomeini was; nor are the various Islamist organizations in the Arab world as theoretical and ideological in their anti-Americanism as was the Shiite clergy. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt functions to a significant extent as a community self-help organization and may not necessarily try to hijack the uprising to the extent as happened in Iran. And even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is not quite so identified with American interests as was the shah. The differences between 2011 in Egypt and 1978 in Iran are more profound than the similarities.
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Like approximately 99 percent of the Arab world, and the U.S. government, I've been glued to Al Jazeera all morning watching the astonishing images of mass demonstrations and brutal security force repression across Egypt. I'm not going to even try to summarize the course of events thus far -- for now I just wanted to quickly note that the Obama administration needs to get out in front of this very, very soon. Its messaging has been good thus far, consistently and firmly been speaking out against Egyptian repression and in support of political freedoms. The message has been muddied by a few unfortunate exceptions such as Clinton's early comment about Egyptian stability, presumably before she had been fully briefed, and Biden's bizarre praise for Mubarak last night. Despite those false notes, it's been a strong message.... but one which is rapidly being overtaken by events.
The administration has to get out in the next few hours with a strong public statement by a senior official, such as Secretary of State Clinton, which clearly lays out that using violence against citizens is a U.S. red line and which goes beyond "urging" or "hoping" that the Egyptian government responds. It's really important that the United States be clearly and unambiguously on the right side of these events, and not wait and see too long for it to matter. The public message should be paired with blunt private messages to the Egyptian government that there's no going back to business as usual, regardless of whether Mubarak rides out this storm in the short run.
Flickr Creative Commons, January 27, 2011
This week's release of the Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera television might well be a classic example of "burying the lede." While the revelations sparked revulsion among Palestinians about how much their leadership conceded in talks with Israel, for an American reporter the real story of the leaks is not in the West Bank, but in America; the focus of the story is not Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat; it's Barack Obama -- and U.S. special envoy George Mitchell.
A series of core documents of the Palestine Papers (dated September and October 2009) shows just how far the Obama administration has been willing to go to satisfy Israel -- to the point of abandoning prior pledges, international agreements, and American principles. At issue is the U.S.-negotiated "Roadmap for Peace," agreed to by the Quartet (the U.S., European Union, Russia, and the U.N.) in mid-2003. Among other things, Phase One of the "roadmap" envisioned a simple swap: In exchange for an end to violence, the Israelis would freeze all settlement building.
As the Palestinian leadership struggles to contain the damage caused by Al Jazeera's release of leaked documents detailing years of their negotiations with Israel, there is one lesson that risks being buried in all of the current hype. The Palestine Papers, and much of the response to them, demonstrate the increasingly narrow line the Palestinian leadership must walk between satisfying its U.S. and Western benefactors, as well as Israel, and maintaining credibility in the eyes of its own people.
As someone who was involved in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations for many years, including in the development of many of the documents now in question, I have been particularly struck by the extent and tone of the outrage surrounding the leaked documents. For those Palestinians and other Arabs who actively oppose a two-state solution, I can understand and appreciate their outrage over some of the "unprecedented concessions" contained in these documents.
On the other hand, for those who understand the basic requirements of a two state-solution-an outcome most Palestinians and other Arabs still say they favor, even as they remain highly doubtful of the other side's intentions and the ability of their own leaders to achieve it-there hardly seems cause for surprise, at least as relates to the concessions on permanent status issues - if not on other matters.
Call me a foreign-policy geezer, a traditionalist from back in the day. But when it comes to conducting the affairs of the country abroad, particularly toward the seemingly endless, seemingly intractable Arab-Israeli peace process, one historically proven bureaucratic model trumps all others: the willful president empowering the strong secretary of state who, in turn, runs everything.
We don't have that structure now. And although what ails the United States in the Middle East certainly won't be fixed by rearranging the ship of state's deck chairs, it wouldn't hurt, might avoid needless failures, and may even set the stage for some success.
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For the first time since the Oslo peace process started 18 years ago, Palestinian leaders are openly refusing to negotiate with the government of Israel, and U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is doing very little about it. As Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, explained the policy on Dec. 9, "We will not agree to negotiate as long as settlement building continues." The Arab League is backing Abbas in this refusal, says League chief Amr Moussa, because "the direction of talks has become ineffective and it has decided against the resumption of negotiations."
But Abbas himself negotiated with seven previous Israeli prime ministers without such preconditions. For 17 years -- from the Madrid conference of October 1991 through Abbas's negotiations with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which ended in 2008 -- negotiations moved forward while Jerusalem construction continued. Madrid, Oslo I, Oslo II, the Hebron Protocol, the Wye River Memorandum, Camp David, Taba, the disengagement from Gaza, and Olmert's offer to Abbas -- all these events over the course of two decades were made possible by a continuing agreement to disagree about Israeli construction of Jewish homes in Jewish neighborhoods outside the pre-1967 line in East Jerusalem. But now, peace talks cannot even begin. Why the change?
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If the peace process gods have a sense of humor (and history), sometime around next summer -- the 11th anniversary of Bill Clinton's failed Camp David summit -- another Democratic president's peace initiative will be tested.
Right now, the arc of President Barack Obama's peace process efforts (and the other Clinton's, too) is leading inexorably to American "bridging" proposals -- ideas on the core issues meant to literally bridge the gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions -- if not a U.S. plan to reach a framework accord on all the big issues, which would constitute an extraordinary breakthrough. Currently, neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are able to bridge the gaps on Jerusalem, borders, security, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But with the Obama administration's inability to resist engaging, the president might end up in another make or break summit.
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In March 2010, then-CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus set off a storm of protest among neoconservatives when, in his statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he named "insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace" as an obstacle to U.S. goals in the region.
"The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR [area of responsibility]," read the statement. "Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world." At the same time, Petraeus concluded, "Al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas."
While this represented only one of a number of "cross cutting challenges to security and stability" detailed in his statement, Petraeus' analysis was too much for the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman, who quickly issued a scolding: "Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict," said Foxman. "This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive."
That such a carefully calibrated statement of the obvious should draw condemnation from the ADL -- as if the very suggestion that Israel's conflicts could create difficulties for its American patron were itself a form of defamation -- indicates how uncomfortable the notion of "linkage" makes many Israel hawks.
Frustrated by the absence of substantive progress during the latest round of P5+1 talks in Geneva, some Iran analysts would have U.S. policy plunge once again into the murky territory of regime change. Some hope that a military attack might bring about this goal. Others, taking what seems to be the high road, argue that the U.S. should back a people's democratic revolution. This second idea is deeply alluring. After all, it accords with our most cherished ideas while also offering a solution that serves U.S. national interests. What advocate of democracy would not want Iran's Green Movement to prevail? In one fell swoop, its victory would bring to the table legitimate Iranian leaders who keenly defend Iran's right to peaceful nuclear power, but who would also provide a far more constructive negotiating partner for the U.S. and its allies.
The problem, however, is that democratic reform in Iran is a long-term proposition. As a result, it cannot serve as the basis for an effective U.S.-Iran policy. If the Obama White House were to rest its efforts to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons on regime change, it would end up with an Iran policy as incoherent as those of the administrations that preceded it.
A 'peace process' that, from its inception, took Israel's self-definition of its own security needs as the sole determinate of the walls within which any solution for Palestinians was to be conducted, has reached exhaustion. Based on such a reductive premise, its arrival at this deathly nadir, with no more than a prospect of disjointed alleviated occupation, possessing the most hollow trappings of statehood as its final security-led outcome, should evoke no surprise.
The non-solution to which such a premise would take us would defuse nothing: indeed, it might well prove to be the spark that could exacerbate or explode simmering regional animosities -- even if these animosities were not ostensibly linked directly to the Palestinian issue.
Any thought that such a hollowed-out solution -- alleviated occupation, posing as statehood -- will defuse anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world is likely to prove to be resoundingly misplaced. On this, the critics from the political Right are correct: a flawed Israeli-Palestinian agreement, per se, will not drain-off anti-western regional sentiment; it will exacerbate it. It will feed it. But the corollary the Right pushes in its place, that defeating Iran somehow precisely is that elusive magic bullet the West so ardently desires (the key to soothing regional tensions and defusing hostility towards the West) represents an even greater pathology and disassociation from reality. It is one that is no less illusory for having the apparent endorsement of America's Arab clients, whose talk is no more than a reflection back into the looking-glass of American diplomacy, as it stares at its own face.
The Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. hosted a fundraiser at his residence for a neoconservative D.C. think-tank, which solicited donations of $5,000 for invitations to the event. But the think-tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), didn't bother to tell the Pakistani embassy that the event was a fundraiser or that it was sandwiched in the middle of a two-and-a-half day conference on "Countering the Iranian Threat" put on by the group.
"We didn't know at all that they have done this fundraising," Imran Gardezi, a spokesperson for the Pakistani embassy, told the Middle East Channel. "And neither did they share with us that they would be doing this conference. Very frankly, we didn't know about this conference."
Though the dinner appeared in the paper and online conference programs, FDD president Cliff May insisted that the two were unrelated: "The dinner was separate from the conference but it coincided with the conference. Why? Because many friends of FDD were in town for the conference," he wrote in an e-mail to the Middle East Channel. May conceded that his staff may have failed to notify the Pakistani embassy that the group was in the middle of hosting the conference.
Over the past year, the terms of the debate among close observers of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have turned increasingly gloomy: is the peace process dead or merely dying? The U.S. may be about to answer this question: either the peace process will produce an agreement on borders by late February or it will be over. According to widespread news accounts, that is when the U.S. will agree to drop requests that Israel suspend settlement construction. We don't know the fine print of the U.S. pledge -- and in fact, the fine print does not seem to have been written. But if the U.S. really does back off any future requests for a settlement freeze, it is engaged in a very high stakes game of chicken with the peace process. The U.S. ploy has been widely described as a gamble, because even if a 90-day settlement works to secure a border agreement, there are many bridges to cross before a full two-state solution is achieved. But I would go farther than calling the U.S. plan a gamble; it may be close to a diplomatic doomsday device that could bring the current peace process to a full stop.
RAMALLAH and WASHINGTON--When asked at a recent press conference what his strategy in the Middle East will be if the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks founder, President Obama stated that the United States will remain engaged.Though this is encouraging to everyone who lived through the unconscionable violence that filled the vacuum following the collapse of the Oslo Peace Process and the disengagement of the Bush administration, it is nonetheless insufficient if the goal is to produce a two-state solution.
While a firmly non-violent Palestinian leadership and an aversion among the majority of the people toward renewed fighting indicate that a repeat of the second intifada is unlikely, a collapse of the two-state paradigm is not. Beyond the surface-level discrediting of the moderate Palestinian leadership which will ensue if negotiations fail, granting Hamas yet another "I told you so" moment, the dynamics within moderate Palestinian political circles may themselves take a significant turn away from an ideology that, at least in theory, backs a two-state solution.
The rumblings of the largely underground Iranian Green Movement encourage neoconservative pundit Reuel Marc Gerecht. "I think it's the most amazing intellectual second revolution...that we've seen in the Middle East," he told a packed briefing room at Bloomberg's D.C. headquarters last month. But even as he called on President Barack Obama to do more to vocally support the embattled rights movement -- thinly veiled U.S. encouragement for regime change, in other words -- Gerecht pushed for bombing Iran.
Yet Green activists who work on the ground in Iran roundly oppose a military attack precisely because it will undermine opposition efforts. Confronted with their warnings against strikes by his debate opponent, Gerecht was dismissive. He derided dissident journalist Akbar Ganji as "delusional" and spoke in dangerous innuendo about Shirin Ebadi, a human rights lawyer and Nobel laureate."There is a huge difference between what some dissidents will say privately and what they'll say publicly," said Gerecht of Ebadi, "and I'll leave it at that."
A legendary story from our early history has it that Thomas Jefferson so hated John Jay that he ordered Pierre L'Enfant -- the civil engineer who designed our capital city -- to excise any reference to Jay (including "J Street") from his plans. The story is apocryphal, but the history behind it isn't. For Jefferson, Jay was an arch appeaser: his 1795 treaty with Britain provided concessions to a nation we had defeated in our revolution. Jefferson wasn't the only one who hated the treaty. While Jay's agreement was ratified by the Congress, he was burned in effigy by New York and Philadelphia mobs and the treaty so stained his reputation that he was never considered for the presidency. Jefferson didn't make the same mistake. When the Pasha of Barbary demanded ransom for U.S. ships he had seized, Jefferson sent a U.S. naval squadron to punish him. The resulting victory is now celebrated with a half-verse in the Marine Corps hymn (which celebrates the triumph on "the shores of Tripoli") and a knock-out political slogan that energized a nation: "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."
In their article, "US leadership for a solution to the Western Sahara" (FP, November 3rd), Ambassador Ed Gabriel and Robert Holley promote Morocco's views for the way forward on the Western Sahara, the country that Morocco has occupied since 1975. The article urges the US to adopt Morocco's position, which is to offer the Western Sahara "autonomy" under Moroccan sovereignty. It is important to understand how this proposal of autonomy emerged, and how Morocco's continued reliance on it fits within the broader dynamic of the dispute, including the devastating violence unleashed by Moroccan authorities against the indigenous Saharawi people of Western Sahara in recent days.
Fundamentally, the autonomy proposal is completely at odds with the peace agreement (called the Settlement Plan) that the Polisario Front and Morocco signed back in 1991, and which the US endorsed as a member of the UN Security Council. This is the only agreement that both parties have signed in a ‘peace process' that has gone on for more than 20 years. The agreement mandated the holding of a referendum, to allow the Sahrawi people to choose for themselves what they wanted their status to be, including possible independence. This solution was consistent with the way in which other former colonies have been treated under international law; namely, that the people should decide.
With Republicans now sharing the burden of governing in the next Congress, President Barack Obama has an opportunity to define the terms of the Iran debate instead of spending two more years capitulating to a Democratic Congress worried about appearing weak or out of sync with hardliners on the Iran issue.
For a president who ran on the promise of fighting the "smallness" of Washington's political discourse that is unequipped for the immensity of the challenges America faces, few issues suffer more from that "smallness" than the Iran debate. In Washington, when in doubt, Iran saber rattling always seems to pay -- and the implications for our Iran policy could not be more disastrous. Obama had offered the promise of fighting this paradigm and supporting a new strategy of engagement, which is the only effective means to resolve the nuclear issue, address the human rights situation, and create space for pro-democracy activists in Iran.
Unfortunately, instead of fighting the Bush paradigm that rewards policymakers on the basis of bellicosity towards Iran, Obama has by and large perpetuated a political metric that defines success on Iran only in terms of pressure. Only if Obama raises the consequences of the dire alternative to a successful engagement strategy -- war with Iran -- and stakes out a new path to create his own political space for diplomacy, can the president effectively navigate the new reality in Congress and pursue a successful Iran agenda.
Since our tenure at the US Embassy in Morocco (1998 - 2001) and subsequently as advisors to the Moroccan government, we have shared one point in common with Anna Theofilopoulou and Jacob Mundy in their October 27 article on the Middle East Channel, "US Middle East talks -- a model for Western Sahara?" If there is going to be a solution to the three-decades-old problem in the Western Sahara, the US government will have to commit the full weight of its diplomacy and good relations with the various parties to bring this issue to an equitable conclusion. However, our own view on how best to resolve this problem, beyond agreeing on the need for US leadership, differs broadly from Ms. Theofilopoulou and Mr. Mundy.
Contrary to the process advocated by the authors, the framework for such a solution was established during our tenure at the US Embassy in Rabat, when the Clinton Administration, with strong support from then Secretary Albright, initiated a fundamental shift in its policy. This new direction abandoned the futile, decade-long United Nations effort to reach an agreed voter list for a referendum on the future of the territory. Down this road there could be only winners and losers and a guaranteed recipe for continued regional tensions between Morocco and Algeria. Winners and losers would serve neither the US and allied interest in regional stability nor prospects for the kind of Maghreb-wide cooperation and integration now so clearly lacking and necessary in the face of increasing terrorist threats spreading in the Sahel.
GAZA--Israeli soldiers shot a mentally ill Palestinian man in the leg when he ventured near the Erez crossing, in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Last Wednesday, a 65-year-old man was shot in the neck in the same area. A week earlier the soldiers shot a 17-year-old, who entered the 300 to 500 meter "buffer zone" in northern Gaza to collect construction scrap which he hoped to sell for a few dollars. Human rights groups say there is a direct link between these daily shootings and the international community's failure to hold Israel accountable for past violations, especially during its 2008-2009 offensive on Gaza, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, most of them noncombatants. 13 Israelis also died. "The attacks [are] still going on, and the Israelis are taking the same stance as during Cast Lead. They're failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets," said Mahmoud Abu Rahma, of the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza.
Last month, under US and Israeli pressure, the Palestinian Authority (PA), once again delayed the process of accountability. This came at a September 29 vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in which the PA backed a resolution to give Israel and Hamas officials in Gaza six more months to investigate crimes documented in Richard Goldstone's UN Fact Finding Mission report. According to Palestinian and international human rights groups, the Palestinian Authority has decided that the Goldstone report must remain in Geneva, away from the relatively more powerful UN bodies in New York. This is a position identical to that of the US State Department, which wants to keep pressure off Israel during the newly re-launched political negotiations.
The recent decision by the Obama administration to invite Israel and the Palestinian Authority to engage in serious negotiations over the Middle East conflict should be instructive for those interested in resolving one that seems almost as intractable -- the Western Sahara dispute.
Key to this new effort in the Middle East conflict is (1) the U.S. is sponsoring and supporting the talks; (2) the U.S. has demanded that the two negotiate seriously, tackle the difficult subjects that have trounced previous attempts for resolution; and (3) the U.S. has given the two sides a one-year deadline.
Though the fate of the Israel-Palestinian talks still hangs on a knife's edge, a similar attitude on the part of United States towards the Western Sahara dispute might pave the way to a durable solution to one of Africa's oldest conflicts.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon last week, where he spent two days making highly scripted appearances, brought condemnation from Congress and the State Department. The visit was part of the Islamic Republic's ongoing campaign of attempting to strengthen ties not just with Shi'a militants in Hezbollah, but with the Lebanese government.
Hezbollah, which has received assistance from Iran for the past two-decades, has gained in strength since the 2006 Lebanon war and has tightened its control over large portions of Southern Lebanon along Israel's border. But with condemnations of Ahmadinejad's trip to Lebanon, and the near daily warnings about a third Lebanon war, the issue of U.S. military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which has been held up in Congress since August, is becoming a topic of growing importance. And withholding the aid could even be counterproductive to U.S. attempts to contain Iranian influence.
Standing atop the world stage at last month's UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals, a resolute President Obama boldly revealed a core element of his administration's new global development policy--one that would "unleash transformational change." One place in desperate need of that change remains the Occupied Palestinian Territory, a key focus of administration efforts.
"We know," he explained to hundreds of delegates at the General Assembly, "that countries are more likely to prosper when they encourage entrepreneurship; when they invest in their infrastructure; when they expand trade and welcome investment." To facilitate these forces, President Obama committed the United States to partner with countries "to create business environments that are attractive to investment and don't scare it away."
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