In light of the resignation of the National Security Council's Dennis Ross, and as the international community waits for the United Nations to consider Palestine's road to formal statehood, we call upon the Obama administration and so-called Middle East experts advising the various presidential hopefuls to take some introspective "down time." The purpose is to reassess heretofore time-honored policies, practices, political campaign pronouncements, and come up with a realistic and viable way forward.
It is clear that Obama's efforts toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire have been nothing short of a failure. When tallying on to previous failed administration attempts, the cumulative effect has been a clear loss of strategic leverage. This loss is detrimental to the U.S. interest of securing two states living side by side in peace in the region, as well as influencing the likes of Syria and Iran at a critical time. This trend must be reversed and replaced by revitalized action on a critical U.S. national security issue.
TEL AVIV — On any other day, Rothschild Boulevard is known for its hip restaurants, beautifully renovated Bauhaus buildings, and the headquarters of Israel's largest banks. Today, walking down the tent-filled boulevard, one could mistakenly feel as if he or she has landed in the heart of a Middle Eastern Woodstock festival. Couples smoke waterpipes as jazz musicians compete with folk bands for their attention, jugglers play next to political art installations, and people walk by ad-hoc kitchens that offer free food to all. Yet passers by are called to join discussion groups addressing the erosion of the Israeli welfare state, and inside the larger tents talks are given about cartels and corporate accountability. In this Israeli Hyde Park, a new discourse has been ignited. Rather than focusing on security and peace, the conversation centers on social justice, with Israelis articulating their aspiration for a state that cares and provides for all its citizens.
"We want the future they promised us, a future in which we could own a home, give our children adequate education and have a functioning health system," says Efrat Melter, a 34-year-old law student who runs a Facebook gender equality group. "We don't want to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anymore. When doing that we are only throwing sand in our eyes, while the government and the rich are stealing our money and the country's infrastructure." All of a sudden, middle-class Israelis are refusing to play according to their prescribed roles. At least for now, for the duration of this protest, the core issues around which they mobilize are not only the right/left and anti/pro-occupation fault lines that have divided Israeli society for the past decades. Instead, they are now fiercely rallying for economic justice. The enemies are no longer the Palestinians but are instead the "tycoons," Israel's wealthy elite, which is blamed for corrupting politicians into allowing them to form unofficial cartels that keep salaries low and the cost of living high.
To most observers witnessing events in Syria, the goal is clear-cut: end the killing, support democracy, and change the Assad regime -- hoping it will be removed or reformed to an unrecognizable degree. State actors looking at the same reality will often bring a different set of considerations into play, especially if they happen to be neighboring Syria. Israel has had a complicated relationship with the popular upheaval in its northern neighbor -- and, indeed, with the Baathist Damascus regime in general over the years.
As of Sunday, that complexity entered a new dimension. Of course the popular uprising in Syria is not about Israel, nor will it be particularly determined by Israel's response. Nevertheless, Israel's leaders, like those elsewhere in the region, will have to position themselves in relation to this changing environment, and this will, in part, impact Syria's options.
On Sunday, June 5, marking Naksa Day (the Arab "setback" in the 1967 war), protesters -- mostly Palestinian refugees and their descendents -- marched to the Israel/Syria disengagement line representing the border between Syria and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. According to reports up to 22 unarmed Syrian-Palestinian protesters were killed when Israeli forces apparently resorted to live fire (Israeli laid mines may also have been detonated and may have caused causalities, the exact unraveling of events remains sketchy). In most respects, this Sunday's events were a repeat performance of the outcome of May 15's Nakba Day commemorations (which Palestinians mark as the anniversary of their catastrophe in 1948).
The United States may not be able to propose solutions for all the Middle East, but it can prescribe the course of events unfolding in some Arab Spring countries. Case in point: Bahrain.
After thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets in the small Gulf kingdom earlier this year, the Bahraini government's response was brutal and systematic: shoot civilian protesters, detain and torture them, and erase all evidence. On the frontline, treating hundreds of these wounded civilians, doctors gained firsthand knowledge of these abuses.
As part of a Physicians for Human Rights investigation in Bahrain last month, Dr. Nizam Peerwani and I conducted in-depth interviews with 47 medical workers, patients, and other eyewitnesses to human rights violations. We corroborated these testimonies by conducting physical examinations of beaten and tortured protesters and by examining their medical records and X-rays. We also investigated four suspicious deaths in custody.
"Enough we say, the decision belongs to the people of the brotherly Egyptian and Tunisian nations... Turkey shares the grief of these nations as well as their hopes." So-declared a self-confident Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday in his prime-time speech on recent events in the Middle East that received broad coverage regionally. While commentators point to the protests and revolutions in the Arab world as being the most recent example of the crumbling vestiges of the Cold War, the more significant long-term global trend is strangely familiar to the Turks. Protests in Tunisia have already overthrown the rule of a 23 year-old regime and inspired a similar uprising in the form of Egypt's ongoing protest movement. Lebanon's continuing instability and threats of Tunisian-inspired revolutions in Yemen and even Jordan further add to the significance of the moment we are witnessing in the Arab world.
The unprecedented levels and inter-linkages of the protests against the traditional authoritarian regimes represented most starkly by President Mubarak, has brought the Middle East back to a period more reminiscent of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Arab nationalism than anything seen in recent memory.
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.
Yemen's leaders are pushing the United States to increase its military aid roughly 40-fold for their country to fight al Qaeda -- but Yemen isn't just relying on aid to generate cash from the international security threats burgeoning on its lands and seas.
For more than a year, Yemen's financially pragmatic civilian and military officials have been contracting with at least one maritime-security broker to hire out commissioned Yemeni warships and active-duty and armed Yemeni coast guard and navy sailors as private escorts for merchant ships and oil tankers crossing the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden. The cost for Yemen's escort service: up to $55,000 per ship, per trip.
View Foreign Policy's photo essay of the anti-piracy campaign in the Horn of Africa.
KHALED FAZAA/AFP/Getty Images
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