Militarism and Foreign Policy :

End the Siege

The WESPAC Committee for Justice & Peace in the Middle East is a group of concerned people from the Westchester County area formed to educate the general community, promote open discussion and dialogue and advocate for just solutions to the current destructive situations in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine/Israel. WESPAC supports the call by over 200 Palestinian civil society organizations for punitive measures including boycotts, divestment, and sanctions to be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian People’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law. We call for an end to all occupations in the region. The committee meets regularly and invites participation from the public. Please contact the office at 914.449.6514 or email [email protected] for more information.

Washington DC, April 23 — Last week, the redacted text of the Mueller Report dropped—into a Capitol Hill that will spend much of the rest of the present Congressional session dealing with its fallout.

Robert Mueller’s investigation was into allegations only of Russian interference in U.S. politics. But at one point his report highlights some highly questionable (Russia-related) contacts that people close to Trump’s transition team had with representatives of another government that has intervened massively in U.S. policymaking in recent years: the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE is a small but very wealthy federation of seven tiny emirates (princedoms) strung out along the coast of the Gulf. Through the wily hawkishness of its powerful Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), the UAE has played a major role in prolonging the war in Yemen, fomenting and supporting the conflicts in Syria and Libya, overthrowing (in 2013) the elected government in Egypt—and in persuading Pres. Trump to walk out of the key de-escalation/denuclearization deal the United States concluded with Iran in 2015.

MBZ may have only the title of “crown prince”, but he has dominated the UAE’s policymaking for more than a dozen years now. And back in early 2015, when the ageing King Salman became king of neighboring Saudi Arabia, MBZ reportedly played a big role in boosting the elevation of one of Salman’s younger sons, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), to the powerful role of crown prince… and we have seen some of the ruthlessness that MBS brought to that role.

Like MBS, MBZ doubtless views himself as a very “modern” crown prince. As part of that, his pursuit of his chosen, ultra-hawkish policies in the Middle East has been accompanied by massive lobbying efforts in Washington, designed to try to keep the world’s sole remaining (if somewhat fading) superpower on his side. So if the Justice Department and relevant congressional committees want to investigate interventions that foreign entities have been making in the US political process, then the role of the UAE government– as well as the Saudi and Israeli governments—should certainly also be examined.

Muzzling the discourse

“Interventions”, in this sense, should include not only direct lobbying for or against various policies but also the attempts these outside actors make to frame, skew, or on occasion outright muzzle the elite discourse in this country. These actors accomplish this in a number of ways, including by hiring PR firms and through the investments they make in various think-tanks… those specifically Washington institutions that generate and support “experts” whose analyses and views then—if the think-tank is successful—get widely quoted in the corporate media, thus becoming part of the country’s “conventional wisdom.”

Over the past decade, the UAE became a big player in the think-tank scene in Washington DC, which had previously been dominated, on matters Middle Eastern, by the large ranks of big, pro-Israeli American funders like Haim Saban—and to a lesser extent by the Saudis.

In the early 2000s Saban, an Israeli-American entertainment mogul (and close Clinton buddy), used his money to take over the previously professional Middle East studies department at the Brookings Institution, which renamed it the “Saban Center”. Saban was the guy who once told an audience in Israel that the “three ways to be influential in American politics,” were “make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets.”  He has also repeatedly said, “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”

Not surprisingly, when MBZ wanted to “be influential in American politics”, he followed as much as he could of Saban’s playbook. Not being an American citizen meant that following some of Saban’s three paths to success was a little harder and more complex—but he had two trusty lieutenants to help him out.

George [not Ralph!] Nader

One was George Nader, a veteran Lebanese-American fixer who has worked for MBZ for many years and who is also a close associate of big GOP fundraiser– and Trump buddy– Elliot Broidy. Section IV (B) 2 of Volume 1 of the Mueller report described how, just a week before Trump’s inauguration, Nader and MBZ had set up a meeting in the Seychelles between Putin intimate Kirill Dmitriev and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, whom Nader thought was close to the Trump transition (and who anyway had a long history of working with MBZ in the UAE.) But Erik Prince apparently demurred from playing any immediate further role in establishing a secret Trump-Putin “back channel.”

Back in the 1980s, I knew Nader as an ambitious young man who cut quite a figure as the editor and publisher of a very glossy, Washington DC-based magazine called Middle East Insight. It carried intriguing interviews with a broad range of movers and shakers in Middle Eastern politics (and was suspected by many of us actual journalists in Washington of being a CIA front.) He and the magazine then dropped out of sight. Child pornography charges were reportedly involved. Years later, he resurfaced in the Czech Republic having been convicted there on several charges of child molestation… More recently, he resurfaced again as a key bagman for MBZ, including in relation to some non-trivial arms dealing.

Last year, after investigators on Mueller’s team subpoenaed the contents of Nader’s phone, he began to sing. (Scores of the footnotes to the relevant section of Mueller’s report are attributed to texts found on Nader’s phone.)

In April 2017, however, Nader was still busy doing his influence-peddling for MBZ. As the AP would later report, that was the month that Nader wired $2.5 million to Elliott Broidy through a company in Canada. The AP’s sources indicated that Nader sent the money to underwrite efforts to win US support for the campaign Saudi Arabia and the UAE were launching against Qatar. Those efforts included a Broidy-funded, anti-Qatar conference held by the ultra-right-wing think-tank, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and campaign donations of nearly $600,000 that Broidy made to anti-Qatar political bodies and campaigns.

Yousef al-Otaiba

Another, even higher-level US bagman for MBZ has long been the UAE ambassador in Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba. He has also worked diligently to follow the Haim Saban playbook for how to win friends and influence policy in Washington—including the campaigns to control think-tanks.

Otaiba was named ambassador in March 2008. Just one month later an associate of Amb. (retd.) Wendy Chamberlain, the head of Washington’s venerable Middle East Institute think-tank, reportedlyreached out to ask Otaiba to support a major MEI capital campaign. Eight years later, Ms. Chamberlain finally got her reply: a $20 million donation from the UAE, which has now nearly finished completion of a large-scale refurbishment of its headquarters.

The past twelve years have seen numerous examples of such think-tank investments being made by rich Arab states—especially by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar. Sometimes, these states followed the path of “capturing”—or, heavily investing in—existing think-tanks, as Saban had at Brookings and Otaiba did with MEI. Or sometimes, they followed the path pioneered in the 1980s by the big, pro-Israeli donor Barbi Weinberg, who worked with former AIPAC staffer Martin Indyk to create her own, wholly new think-tank: the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the FARA-reported influence operations of these three Arab states in 2017-2018 totaled $90.3 million, compared with $63.5 million reported by Israel. Influence operations funded by Israel are of course generously supplemented by those funded by US individuals and entities deeply supportive of Israel, like AIPAC. On many issues, including Iran, the campaigns of Saudi Arabia and the UAE push in the same direction as those of Israel.

In the case of the big Gulf-Arab donors, their battle for influence heated up considerably in mid-2017, after MBZ and MBS decided to try to knock the Emir of Qatar off his throne and divvy up the $320 billion-worth of assets of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund that he controlled. By then, Qatar’s own pet DC think tank, the Arab Center of Washington, was already well established. But Saudi Arabia (which had also invested in MEI, and which also owned and controlled a couple of smaller think-tanks in town) and the UAE then created two entirely new think-tanks to combat Qatar: the Arabia Foundation, and the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. The battle of narratives was royally joined!

(MBZ and MBS overlooked the fact that the largest number of US troops anywhere in the region are deployed in two massive bases in Qatar, and the Pentagon definitely doesn’t want to remove them. So though Pres. Trump expressed some initial support for the Saudi/Emirati plan to unseat Qatar’s Emir, the US government as a whole never followed through.)

Controlling the narrative on Yemen

All these shenanigans on the behalf of the Gulf-Arab super-rich are important– for a number of compelling reasons. First, the investments that all of them have made, over the past several years, have had a strong effect on public understanding of key issues in the Middle East, and on policy. As noted earlier, these issues include Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Iran.

Of these issues, Yemen is the one regarding which these Gulf Arabs have—recently—been least successful in controlling the narrative. Their argument that the Houthi alliance that has controlled the capital, Sanaa, and considerable surrounding areas for many years is illegitimate, is totally controlled by Iran, and is solely responsible for the country’s suffering—and that therefore Americans and everyone else should support the Saudi/UAE alliance that has been battling the Houthis, has finally been exposed on every count. Just last week, finally, the US Senate supported a resolution to end the support the US military has been giving to the Saudi war effort in Yemen. That was a real victory for the antiwar forces. Trump vetoed the resolution, but Sen. Sanders is hoping to win enough support to over-ride the veto. Stay tuned…

But MBS (help from MBZ and the Pentagon, under Obama) launched Saudi Arabia’s large-scale military push into Yemen back in March 2015. It has taken four years for the US Senate to get to where it is on the Yemen issue, which is a shockingly long time. In the meantime, more than 70,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed, and millions more face imminent threats of cholera and starvation.

Secondly, the capture by these ruthlessly ideological forces of so many of the Washington think-tanks that previously had long reputations for fair-minded, objective research means it is almost impossible these days for anyone reading their output—whether directly, or indirectly, through the way they get quoted in the media—to get anything like an accurate picture of the situation in the countries being described.

This applies particularly to Syria, where since 2011 the bought-and-paid-for think-tanks have rigidly suppressed any viewpoints that challenge the view that Pres. Bashar al-Asad is uniquely evil and has to be overthrown. As someone who has worked on Syria-related issues since the 1970s, I have seen this happen at first hand. In my last appearance at an MEI event on Syria, in summer 2011, I pointed out that Pres. Asad still retained considerably more support from Syria’s citizens than the “regime change” crowd claimed, and that the “opposition” was splintered and in disarray. I was right. But MEI notably never invited me back and even refused to host other experts on Syria whom I had suggested for their programing.

Bottom line: If you read something from someone billed as a “think-tank expert” look carefully at their institution’s funding before you judge the value of their work.

And a final takeaway from the whole sorry saga of these Gulf states’ ridiculously large investments in think tanks? Consider the opportunity costs involved. Imagine if these states had spent this amount of money funding some of the sorely-needed debates, studies, or other interventions on the Palestine Question! (Imagine what Mondoweiss, or Just World Educational, or Palestine Legal could do with $20 million…) But no. The institutions that have received hefty Gulf-Arab funding have done pitifully little programing on Palestine, leaving that “field of discourse” open for the Zionists’ continued domination.

So George Nader may have been just a minor bit-player in the Mueller investigation’s saga. But the phenomenon of Gulf-Arab intervention in US politics and discourse that he represented was a much more serious matter.

Helena Cobban is the President of Just World Educational (JWE), a non-profit organization, and the CEO of Just World Books. She has had a lengthy career as a journalist, writer, and researcher on international affairs, including 17 years as a columnist on global issues for The Christian Science Monitor. Of the seven books she’s published on international affairs, four have been on Middle Eastern topics. This new series of commentaries she’s writing, “Story/Backstory”, will have an expanded audio component published in JWE’s podcast series. They represent her own opinion and judgments, not those of any organization.

Article link:

https://mondoweiss.net/2019/04/influence-operations-footnote/

Statement of Solidarity on the Anniversary of Kristallnacht

by Howard Horowitz, member of the WESPAC Foundation Board

Tonight, we will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Great Pogrom, which the Nazis euphemistically dubbed ‘the Night of Crystal’ – Kristallnacht.  This anniversary comes at a moment in history when anti-Semitism is still prevalent, and we are still plagued by evil and hatred (Rabbi Josh Weinberg).

At WESPAC Foundation we remember Kristallnacht and the Holocaust with a message of “solidarity” with all those struggling for justice in these dark times.  Solidarity is uplifting, meaningful and a call to action.  In our thinking about this, let me share with you an excerpt from a post by Robert Herbst of Larchmont, a civil rights lawyer, a peace and justice activist and who identifies as Jewish:

“In the wake of Pittsburgh, there is no Jewish future in turning inward, either physically, spiritually, or politically, here in the United States, or in the Middle East. The insecurities of the nation and world we have made and live in since the Second World War are widely shared by all except those who have accumulated the money and power to escape them. Rather than locking ourselves away, it is to the Others we must turn – white, black and brown, Christian and Muslim, poor, working and middle class – if we are to have any hope of Tikkun Olam.”

There is an urgent and immediate need for a statement of solidarity.  Echoing Charlottesville, there are those among us already muddying the waters claiming “there are bad guys on all sides—left and right.”  We reject anti-Semitism in all its forms and expressions wherever and by whomever it is expressed.  What happened at Tree of Life is Trump-supported, right wing white nationalism, plain and simple.  It has nothing to do with left or anyone else and certainly not anywhere in the struggle for justice in Palestine.

Our struggles are bound up with the many communities facing violence and oppression during these dark times, and we call your attention to just a few of the statements of solidarity that are so needed as we commemorate Kristallnacht.

Out of Our Silos: To Defeat Anti-Semitism, Jews Must Unite With Others Targeted by White Supremacy (Hannah Sassaman, In These Times)

Amy Goodman Interviews Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari of Kol Tzedek synagogue

Palestine Legal Statement on Tree-of-Life-Synagogue

Jewish Voice for Peace:  Together We Heal, United We Fight

https://www.thenation.com/article/the-united-states-was-responsible-for-the-1982-massacre-of-palestinians-in-beirut/

13 September 2018

Twenty-five years on, analysts say Oslo didn’t fail: it offered Israel a formula to block the emergence of a Palestinian state

Jonathan Cook, Middle East Eye – 13 September 2018

There will be no anniversary celebrations this week to mark the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington 25 years ago. It is a silver jubilee for which there will be no street parties, no commemorative mugs, no specially minted coins.

Palestinians have all but ignored the landmark anniversary, while Israel’s commemoration has amounted to little more than a handful of doleful articles in the Israeli press about what went wrong.

The most significant event has been a documentary, The Oslo Diaries, aired on Israeli TV and scheduled for broadcast in the US this week. It charts the events surrounding the creation of the peace accords, signed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington on 13 September 1993.

The euphoria generated by the Norwegian-initiated peace process a quarter of a century ago now seems wildly misplaced to most observers. The promised, phased withdrawals by Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories got stuck at an early stage.

And the powers of the Palestinian Authority, a Palestinian government-in-waiting that came out of Oslo, never rose above managing healthcare and collecting garbage in densely populated Palestinian areas, while coordinating with Israel on security matters.

All the current efforts to draw lessons from these developments have reached the same conclusion: that Oslo was a missed opportunity for peace, that the accords were never properly implemented, and that the negotiations were killed off by Palestinian and Israeli extremists.

Occupation reorganised

But analysts Middle East Eye has spoken to take a very different view.

“It is wrong to think of Oslo being derailed, or trying to identify the moment the Oslo process died,” says Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and former adviser to the Palestinian Authority. “Oslo never died. It is still doing today exactly what it was set up to do.”

Michel Warschawski, an Israeli peace activist who developed strong ties with Palestinian leaders in the Oslo years, concurred.

“I and pretty much everyone else I knew at that time was taken in by the hype that the occupation was about to end. But in reality, Oslo was about reorganising the occupation, not ending it. It created a new division of labour.

“Rabin didn’t care much about whether the Palestinians got some indicators of sovereignty – a flag and maybe even a seat at the United Nations.

“But Israel was determined to continue controlling the borders, the Palestinians’ resources, the Palestinian economy. Oslo changed the division of labour by sub-contracting the hard part of Israel’s security to the Palestinians themselves.”

The accords were signed in the immediate aftermath of several years of a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories – the First Intifada – that had proved costly to Israel, both in terms of casualties and treasure.

Under Oslo, Palestinian security forces patrolled the streets of Palestinian cities, overseen by and in close coordination with the Israeli military. The tab, meanwhile, was picked up by Europe and Washington.

In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper last week, Joel Singer, the Israeli government lawyer who helped to draft the accords, conceded as much. Rabin, he said, “thought it would enhance [Israeli] security to have the Palestinians as the ones fighting Hamas”.

That way, as Rabin once observed, the occupation would no longer be accountable to the “bleeding hearts” of the Israeli supreme court and Israel’s active human rights community.

Less than statehood

The widespread assumption that Oslo would lead to a Palestinian state was also mistaken, Buttu says.

She notes that nowhere in the accords was there mention of the occupation, a Palestinian state, or freedom for the Palestinians. And no action was specified against Israel’s illegal settlements – the chief obstacle to Palestinian statehood.

Instead, the stated goal of the Oslo process was implementation of two outstanding United Nations resolutions – 242 and 338. The first concerned the withdrawal of the Israeli army from “territories” occupied in the 1967 war, while the second urged negotiations leading to a “just and durable peace”.

“I spoke to both Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas [his successor as Palestinian president] about this,” said Buttu. “Their view was that clearer language, on Palestinian statehood and independence, would never have got past Rabin’s coalition.

“So Arafat treated resolutions 242 and 338 as code words. The Palestinian leadership referred to Oslo as a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. Their approach was beyond naïve; it was reckless. They behaved like amateurs.”

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University and expert on Palestinian nationalism, said the Palestinian leadership was aware from the outset that Israel was not offering real statehood.

“In his memoirs, Ahmed Qurei [one of the key architects of Oslo on the Palestinian side] admitted his shock when he started meetings with the Israeli team,” says Ghanem.

“Uri Savir [Israel’s chief negotiator] said outright that Israel did not favour a Palestinian state, and that something less was being offered. The Israelis’ attitude was ‘Take it or leave it’.”

Sympathy with settlers

All the analysts agreed that a lack of good faith on Israel’s part was starkly evident from the start, especially over the issue of the settlements.

Noticeably, rather than halt or reverse the expansion of the settlements during the supposed five-year transition period, Oslo allowed the settler population to grow at a dramatically accelerated rate.

The near-doubling of settler numbers in the West Bank and Gaza to 200,000 by the late 1990s was explained by Alan Baker, a legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry after 1996 and a settler himself, in an interview in 2003.

Most of the settlements were portrayed to the Israeli public as Israeli “blocs”, outside the control of the newly created PA. With the signing of the accords, Baker said, “we are no longer an occupying power, but we are instead present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations.”

Recent interviews with settler leaders by the Haaretz newspaper hint too at the ideological sympathy between Rabin’s supposedly leftist government and the settler movement.

Israel Harel, who then headed the Yesha Council, the settlers’ governing body, described Rabin as “very accessible”. He pointed out that Zeev Hever, another settler leader, sat with Israeli military planners as they created an “Oslo map”, carving up the West Bank into various areas of control.

Referring to settlements that most had assumed would be dismantled under the accords, Harel noted: “When [Hever] was accused [by other settlers] of cooperating, he would say he saved us from disaster. They [the Israeli army] marked areas that could have isolated settlements and made them disappear.”

Israel’s Oslo lawyer, Joel Singer, confirmed the Israeli leadership’s reluctance to address the issue of the settlements.

“We fought with the Palestinians, on Rabin and [Shimon] Peres’ orders, against a [settlement] freeze,” he told Haaretz. “It was a serious mistake to permit the settlements to continue to race ahead.”

Rabin’s refusal to act

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Israel’s south, said the critical test of Rabin’s will to tackle the settlements came less than a year into the Oslo process. It was then that Baruch Goldstein, a settler, killed and wounded more than 150 Palestinians at worship in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

“That gave Rabin the chance to remove the 400 extremist settlers who were embedded in the centre of Hebron,” Gordon said. “But he didn’t act. He let them stay.”

The lack of response from Israel fuelled a campaign of Hamas “revenge” suicide bombings that in turn were used by Israel to justify a refusal to withdraw from more of the occupied territories.

Warschawski said Rabin could have dismantled the settlements if he had acted quickly. “The settlers were in disarray in the early stages of Oslo, but he didn’t move against them.”

After Rabin’s assassination in late 1995, his successor Shimon Peres, also widely identified as an architect of the Oslo process, changed tactics, according to Warschawski. “Peres preferred to emphasise internal reconciliation [between Israelis] rather than reconciliation with the Palestinians. After that, the religious narrative of the extremist settlers came to dominate.”

That would lead a few months later to the electoral triumph of the right under Benjamin Netanyahu.

Demographic differential

Although Netanyahu campaigned vociferously against the Oslo Accords, they proved perfect for his kind of rejectionist politics, said Gordon.

Under cover of vague promises about Palestinian statehood, “Israel was able to bolster the settlement project,” in Gordon’s view. “The statistics show that, when there are negotiations, the demographic growth of the settler population in the West Bank increases. The settlements get rapidly bigger. And when there is an intifada, they slow down.

“So Oslo was ideal for Israel’s colonial project.”

It was not only that, under the pressure of Oslo, religious settlers ran to “grab the hilltops”, as a famous army general and later prime minister, Ariel Sharon, put it. Gordon pointed to a strategy by the government of recruiting a new type of settler during the initial Oslo years.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Sharon and others had tried to locate Russian-speaking new immigrants in large settlements like Ariel, in the central West Bank. “The problem was that many of the Russians had only one child,” Gordon said.

So instead, Israel began moving the ultra-Orthodox into the occupied territories. These fundamentalist religious Jews, Israel’s poorest community, typically have seven or eight children. They were desperate for housing solutions, noted Gordon, and the government readily provided incentives to lure them into two new ultra-Orthodox settlements, Modiin Ilit and Beitar Ilit.

“After that, Israel didn’t need to recruit lots of new settlers,” Gordon said. “It just needed to buy time with the Oslo process and the settler population would grow of its own accord.

“The ultra-Orthodox became Israel’s chief demographic weapon. In the West Bank, Jewish settlers have on average two more children than Palestinians – that demographic differential has an enormous impact over time.”

Palestinian dependency

Buttu pointed to another indicator of how Israel never intended the Oslo Accords to lead to a Palestinian state. Shortly before Oslo, from 1991 onwards, Israel introduced much more severe restrictions on movement, including an increasingly sophisticated permit system.

“Movement from Gaza to the West Bank became possible only in essential cases,” she said. “It stopped being a right.”

That process, Ghanem noted, has been entrenched over the past quarter century, and ultimately led to complete physical and ideological separation between Gaza and the West Bank, now ruled respectively by Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah.

Gordon observed that Oslo’s economic arrangements, governed by the 1995 Paris Protocol, stripped the Palestinians of financial autonomy too.

“The Palestinians did not get their own currency, they had to use the Israeli shekel. And a customs union made the Palestinians a dependent market for Israeli goods and empowered Israel to collect import duties on behalf of the PA. Refusing to transfer that money was a stick Israel has regularly wielded against the Palestinians.”

According to the analysts, those Palestinian leaders like Arafat who were allowed by the Oslo process to return from exile in Tunisia – sometimes referred to as the “outsiders” – were completely ignorant of the situation on the ground.

Gordon, who was at that time head of Israel’s branch of Physicians for Human Rights, recalled meeting young Palestinian-Americans and Canadians in Cairo to discuss the coming health arrangements the PA would be responsible for.

“They were bright and well-educated, but they were clueless about what was happening on the ground. They had no idea what demands to make of Israel,” he said.

“Israel, on the other hand, had experts who knew the situation intimately.”

Warschawski has similar recollections. He took a senior Palestinian recently arrived from Tunis on a tour of the settlements. The official sat in his car in stunned silence for the whole journey.

“They knew the numbers but they had no idea how deeply entrenched the settlements were, how integrated they were into Israeli society,” he said. “It was then that they started to understand the logic of the settlements for the first time, and appreciate what Israel’s real intentions were.”

Lured into a trap

Warschawski noted that the only person in his circle who rejected the hype around the Oslo Accords from the very beginning was Matti Peled, a general turned peace activist who knew Rabin well.

“When we met for discussions about the Oslo Accords, Matti laughed at us. He said there would be no Oslo, there would be no process that would lead to peace.”

Ghanem said the Palestinian leadership eventually realised that they had been lured into a trap.

“They couldn’t move forward towards statehood, because Israel blocked their way,” he said. “But equally, they couldn’t back away from the peace process either. They didn’t dare dismantle the PA, and so Israel came to control Palestinian politics.

“If Abbas leaves, someone else will take over the PA and its role will continue.”

Why did the Palestinian leadership enter the Oslo process without taking greater precautions?

According to Buttu, Arafat had reasons to feel insecure about being outside Palestine, along with other PLO leaders living in exile in Tunisia, in ways that he hoped Oslo would solve.

“He wanted a foot back in Palestine,” she said. “He felt very threatened by the ‘inside’ leadership, even though they were loyal to him. The First Intifada had shown they could lead an uprising and mobilise the people without him.

“He also craved international recognition and legitimacy.”

Trench warfare

According to Gordon, Arafat believed he would eventually be able to win concessions from Israel.

“He viewed it as trench warfare. Once he was in historic Palestine, he would move forward trench by trench.”

Warschawski noted that Arafat and other Palestinian leaders had told him they believed they would have significant leverage over Israel.

“Their view was that Israel would end the occupation in exchange for normalisation with the Arab world. Arafat saw himself as the bridge that would provide the recognition Israel wanted. His attitude was that Rabin would have to kiss his hand in return for such an important achievement.

“He was wrong.”

Gordon pointed to the early Oslo discourse about an economic dividend, in which it was assumed that peace would open up trade for Israel with the Arab world while turning Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East.

The “peace dividend”, however, was challenged by an equally appealing “war dividend”.

“Even before 9/11, Israel’s expertise in the realms of security and technology proved profitable. Israel realised there was lots of money to be made in fighting terror.”

In fact, Israel managed to take advantage of both the peace and war dividends.

Buttu noted that more than 30 countries, including Morocco and Oman, developed diplomatic or economic relations with Israel as a result of the Oslo Accords. The Arab states relented on their boycott and anti-normalisation policies, and major foreign corporations no longer feared being penalised by the Arab world for trading with Israel.

“Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan [in 1994] could never have happened without Oslo,” she said.

“Instead of clear denunciations of the occupation, the Palestinians were saddled with the language of negotiations and compromises for peace.

“The Palestinians became a charity case, seeking handouts from the Arab world so that the PA could help with the maintenance of the occupation rather than leading the resistance.

“Thanks to Oslo, Israel became normalised in the region, while paradoxically the Palestinians found themselves transformed into the foreign object.”

‘There is a life behind

every statistic’

 

The real threat to Israel lies not in acts of

Palestinian violence, but in understanding

that those acts are a response to

occupation and oppression, to injustice

and dehumanisation. 

 

 

 

Sara Roy 

LRB Blog

June 4, 2018

 

Gaza appears sporadically as front-page news in the context of violence and terrorism, as it has with the murder on Friday, 1 June, of Razan Ashraf al-Najjar, a 21-year-old paramedic who was fatally shot by Israeli snipers as she was treating wounded protesters along the fence that separates Gaza from Israel. After a day or two of attention, usually marked by the disproportionate deaths of Palestinians, Gaza recedes from view until the next assault. Israel is part of the story but all too often cast as responding to Hamas aggression, acting in self-defence. Without excusing Hamas for its misdeeds, Gaza’s misery, isolation and hopelessness are primarily a product of Israeli policy. The form of occupation may have changed since Israel’s ‘disengagement’ in 2005, but the fact of occupation has not. One result is the dehumanisation of the men, women and children who live in Gaza, the denial of their innocence and the resultant loss of their rights.

 

I spoke to a friend in Gaza after Israel killed 60 Palestinians on 14 May. He was uncharacteristically subdued, almost inaudible. There were many silences, unusual for our conversations; some of them seemed interminable but I spoke only when spoken to. I had many questions and most remained unasked. The only time my friend became animate was when he told stories about some of the people who had been killed, people he either distantly knew or who were close friends. ‘There is a life behind every statistic,’ he said. He didn’t want to talk about politics; he only spoke about people.

 

One of the people killed on 14 May was the father of a boy whose birthday it was. Another was a 14-year-old boy, whose mother had long suffered with infertility and finally became pregnant with him after nine years of trying. The birth of their son seemed miraculous to his parents. My friend did not say so directly, and I did not ask, but he implied and I inferred that the boy was their only child. ‘He was shot in the head and died instantly. The father collapsed on him. Can you imagine these parents now, having lost their precious boy?’

 

I cannot imagine enduring the loss of a child, especially in such a monstrous way (because he wasn’t Jewish). But the story also speaks to my parent’s story. My mother had a miscarriage in the ghettos of Poland (because she was Jewish) and spent years after the Holocaust trying to get pregnant. My parents always told me that they survived in order to have me.

 

Yet for many Israelis there are ‘no innocents in Gaza’, as the defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said in response to the Great March of Return. His colleague Eli Hazan, a spokesman for Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said that all 30,000 men, women and children who gathered at the Gaza border to protest (the overwhelming majority, non-violently) ‘are legitimate targets’. For too many Israelis and Jews, there are no fathers or mothers or children in Gaza; no homes or nursery schools or playgrounds; no hospitals, museums or parks; no restaurants or hotels. Rather, Gaza is where the grass grows wild and must be ‘mown’from time to time, as some Israeli analysts have put it.

 

How is the rest of the world to think about Gaza, about Palestinians? I ask because the deliberate ruination of Palestine – seen most painfully in Gaza – has been well documented. Yet Israel’s actions have been met, more often than not, with serene indifference and lack of remorse, reflecting, in the historian Gabriel Kolko’s words, the ‘absence of a greater sense of abhorrence’ – or, I would say after 14 May, with little if any abhorrence at all. One need only look at the language used in the American media to describe Palestinians and their deaths. Israeli propaganda dehumanising Palestinians has been enormously successful.

 

Why are so many among us unmoved by the contamination of a water supply that will soon lead to life-threatening epidemics among a population of nearly two million people; by the shattering of a once functioning economy through closure and blockade, depriving at least 45 per cent of the labour force (and more than 60 per cent of young workers) of the right to work – forcing most of them into dependence on food handouts and desperate young women into prostitution? The deprivation is deliberate. What purpose does Gaza’s suffering serve?

 

The real threat to Israel lies not in acts of Palestinian violence, but in understanding that those acts are a response to occupation and oppression, to injustice and dehumanisation. As an Israeli friend of mine once said, the threat to Israel lies ‘in making Palestinians intimate, in seeing the world through their eyes’. Why are we so afraid of humanising Palestinians?

 

The decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, which was driven by Israel and its supporters, should be understood as an attempt to maintain and enforce what Israel sees as its historical right to deny rights to Palestinians. The right to demand rights, which is, fundamentally, what the Palestinians at the Gaza border were claiming, is more threatening than any particular right because it speaks to the agency that makes Palestinians present and irreducible, which Israel has worked so long to regulate and annul. It is the inability to unthink rightlessness among Palestinians that must be maintained as a form of control. The ascription of rightlessness to the other is – and must remain – uncontestable, a clearly established rule that is not restrained by justice. Declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital not only purges Palestinians from the political equation and disendows them of any claims based on justice, but also ensures their continued absence in Israeli eyes.

 

In the immediate aftermath of 14 May, with 117 dead (the number has since risen to 123) and more than 13,000 injured, my friend in Gaza told me that shopkeepers went online to invite people to take whatever goods they wanted for free. Banks announced that they would forgive certain loans.

 

Gaza will not disappear. It will not ‘sink into the sea’, as the late Yitzhak Rabin once wished it would. Gaza is a human rights catastrophe and an ecologic disaster. ‘In a few years,’ Thomas Friedman wrote recently in the New York Times, ‘the next protest from Gaza will not be organised by Hamas, but by mothers because typhoid and cholera will have spread through the fetid water and Gazans will all have had to stop drinking it.’

 

Will Gaza’s mothers then be shot dead for protesting, or will they simply be allowed to die, together with their children, from typhoid and cholera? Or will their protests be heard? The answer will determine our humanity, not theirs.

 

 

Sara M. Roy is an American political economist and scholar. She is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. (Wikipedia)

 

 

Article source: 

https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2018/06/04/sara-roy/there-is-a-life-behind-every-statistic/ 

© LRB Limited 2018 

For all details please visit: https://www.westchestersocialforum.org/

http://www.peoplesworld.org/article/richard-falk-speaks-on-israel-and-the-question-of-apartheid/
 
Richard Falk speaks on Israel and the question of apartheid

Richard Falk. Eric A. Gordon | People’s World

CULVER CITY, Calif.—From 2008 to 2014 Professor Richard Falk served as United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. He dropped a bombshell on his audience when he declared that ending the Occupation, as so many human rights activists around the world seek to do, is simply not the answer, and not enough to address what he has seen and studied for many years.

“Israel has made it clear that the end of Occupation would be the end of the conflict,” he told more than a hundred attentive listeners February 7th at this city’s Culver-Palms United Methodist Church. That would be “a way of finding some measure of normalcy,” he said, and ignoring the problems besetting the 20 percent Palestinian minority within Israel’s recognized borders, not to mention the several million Palestinians—the youngest of them now in the fifth generation since expulsion from Israel in 1948—still confined to refugee camps in the West Bank and in a number of neighboring countries, and also not to mention the uncertain fate of the Gazans if the end of Occupation dealt separately with that million-plus population.

No, Falk, insisted, it is only correct to look at the Palestinians as a coherent people, wherever they live, and not provide tacit consent to the fragmentation both geographical and political to which Israel has subjected them. Viewed in those terms, ending the Occupation alone, without addressing the larger issue afflicting the Palestinian nation, is “a misunderstood pragmatism.”

That larger issue, claims this academic, author of some twenty books, is the structure of oppression itself, including physical displacement and all the policies and practices Israel promotes toward the Palestinian people. “The conflict is not purely territorial,” Falk says. The UN report that he co-authored with Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University, names that structure “apartheid,” meaning “separation” in Afrikaans.

The 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid does not speak only of South Africa. There the term is defined as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

Following Prof. Falk’s formal remarks, a questioner asked if in the case of Israel “apartheid” would be the correct term to apply, since the Jewish population of Israel it itself multi-ethnic and multi-racial, comprising not only Ashkenazic Jews from Northern and Eastern Europe, but Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews from the Mediterranean and Muslim lands, as well as Ethiopian and Indian Jews. Falk responded that Israeli law treats all these Jews the same, entitling them to the same rights and privileges that are denied to Palestinians, such as the sacred “right of return” to Israel by Jews, most of whose ancestors never inhabited Biblical Israel. “The whole rationale of Israel is to be a Jewish state, and they don’t fragment their own identity.”

Richard Falk, 87, is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, where he taught for forty years. He is chairman of both the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and serves on the editorial board of The Nation magazine. Although he retired from formal teaching in 2001, the following year he began a career as research professor at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He currently directs a Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy project.

The professor’s talk was co-sponsored by a coalition of groups inclusive of Muslims, Christians and Jews: L.A. Jews for Peace and the United Methodists’ Holy Land Task Force, along with The Markaz, Friends of Sabeel of L.A. and Orange County, People for Palestine-Israel Justice, Southern California Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, the Orange County Cousins Club, Jewish Voices for Peace, and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP).

The Falk-Tilley report, “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” was released March 15, 2017, under the aegis of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). Its release caused an immediate firestorm, raising accusations of anti-Semitism against the authors (Falk is Jewish incidentally), and providing space for more UN-bashing especially on the part of Israel and the United States. Although the ESCWA countries unanimously endorsed the report, and although the report was issued as representing the view of the authors alone and not the UN per se, it was removed from the UN website under threat of U.S. withdrawal of UN funding; however, it is otherwise available.

Defenders of Israel are particularly sensitive about the word “apartheid,” citing factors that existed in South Africa but which do not exist in Israel, such as separate park benches and Arab representation in the Knesset. But as anyone who follows Israeli politics knows, leading figures in Israeli life, including prime ministers, writers and journalists from both the left and the right, have consistently used this word in Hebrew, addressing fellow Israelis, warning of the consequences of a failure to make peace leading to permanent apartheid. It’s when the word gets uttered in public forums in English that Israelis and their supporters hear the whole Zionist project being attacked. Jimmy Carter and John Kerry are only two American statesmen who have felt the brunt of Israel’s condemnation.
In many other ways Israel has flouted the international community, for example, by referring to the occupied West Bank territories as “Judea and Samaria,” ancient Biblical terms which international law does not recognize as legitimate; and insisting on calling the Palestinians “Arabs,” as if to say they belong in other homelands, not in the Jewish state.

And although there are a few outstanding border questions in the world, there is no other state which doesn’t even claim its final and definitive borders: By creating more “facts on the ground” with each year’s growing settler encroachment on land that would have been the natural Palestinian state, Israel has been pushing steadily toward complete annexation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Israel has tried to politically separate Gaza from the larger Palestinian nation and for now seems to have abandoned that area for Jewish settlement. But at least one strand of thinking in Israel wishes to remove the Palestinians from Gaza one way or another, and free up that land for eventual incorporation into the Zionist state.

The problem of Israel, according to Falk, is that the nationalism born in Europe in the 19th century made its way to the rest of the world by the mid-20th century and helped to create many newly independent countries in the wake of colonialism. But Israel, founded in 1948, came along at the end of the nationalist wave, and the global community had become skeptical of colonial projects in the underdeveloped world.

“The Palestinian people have been made to pay the price for the crimes of the Nazis,” Falk says.

There is an inherent tension, says Falk, between Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state and its claim to be a democratic society. Especially as more and more Palestinians fall under direct or indirect Israeli control in the variously segmented entities between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, the contradiction between these two professed ideals becomes ever sharper.

In almost every case, Falk says, where an oppressed people, with inferior arms and weak social institutions, sets out to oppose their colonial or neocolonial masters, they eventually win. The Palestinians will continue to resist, “and they are right to resist,” he insists. From the Israeli point of view, the resistance is a challenge to the established order and must be put down. The United States, more substantively than anyone else in the world, gives Israel this unconditional mandate.
“Until that mandate is lifted,” says Falk, “there will be no peace. It’s our struggle here to end this destructive policy.”

Patrick Lawrence’s “A Conversation with Richard Falk,” touching on Palestinian rights, international law and world affairs, can be read here. Part 2 of that conversation is here. Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley wrote an “Open Letter to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on Our Report on Apartheid in Israel,” which can be read here.

Yesterday the WESPAC Middle East Committee met and discussed plans for this year’s 70th Nakba Commemoration with the Westchester Palestinian Community.  
 
To gear up for a larger event later this Spring, we will be reading together Susan Abulhawa’s very fine novel “Mornings in Jenin” to better understand the Palestinian narrative.  The committee would like to invite members of the broader social justice community to join with us in this book reading.
 
We will read a third of the novel by the end of February (first 100 pages), and will convene at WESPAC on Tuesday, February 27th at 7pm to discuss the first third of the novel.  The book is available both at local libraries as well as online.  Please let us know if you will be joining us.
 

Reviews

“Every now and again a literary work changes the way people think. Abulhawa…has crafted a brilliant first novel about Palestine… [This] intensely beautiful fictionalized history… should be read by both politicians and those interested in contemporary politics.” –  Library Journal

“This complex story is beautifully told… The perspective is brutal, yet ultimately not without hope… [Abulhawa] draws us into the nightmare of her heroine’s existence with convincing passion.” –  Historical Novels Review

“Illuminating and deeply moving, Abulhawa’s epic resonates with compassion…You can’t ask more of historical fiction.” –  Brooklyn Rail

“Abulhawa’s pathos and mastery enables the reader to taste, smell and grasp the chronicles of Palestine as if one is actually there… Lovely and heartrending, this story is a must-read for those who wish to not only understand the catastrophe of the Palestinians with their heads but with their hearts.” –  Palestine Chronicle

Winner of the USA Book News Best Books Award” – 

A Sustainable US Policy for

North Syria, the Kurds, Turkey,

and Damascus

 Joshua Landis and Matthew Barber

LobeLog

January 31, 2018

YPG_fighters_Raqqa_(December_2016)

Wikimedia Commons

This article is a “part-two” to the previous article “U.S. Policy Toward the Levant, Kurds, and Turkey“ which warned that the United State’s decision to back Kurdish nationalism in Northern Syria in an uncompromising fashion would provoke negative consequences. The push-back against this policy has begun. Turkey’s invasion of Afrin and campaign against the YPG—the U.S. backed Kurdish militia in Syria—is being launched to counter Washington’s decision to stay in Syria and arm and train a Border Guard for the emerging North Syrian state that the U.S. is sponsoring.

U.S. accomplishments in the region now stand thus: No regime change has been effected in Syria. Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq all have pro-Iranian governments and Iran has more influence in the Levant/Iraq than ever before. By promoting Kurdish nationalism to “rollback Iran,” the U.S. has pushed its ally Turkey into the sphere of Russian influence and caused Turkey’s interests to align with those of Damascus. And finally, even the sole partner the U.S. has in the area—the Kurds—are now upset because they’ve lost one of their important homelands in Syria. Such is the price of a policy based around an obsession with Iran.

Trying to play the game of making the Kurds into an obstacle to Iranian influence, the U.S. has now had to sacrifice Afrin in order to assuage Turkey’s ire; simultaneously, it has to convince the Kurds to exercise restraint and not to allow Turkey to provoke them into a strong reaction. If Kurds fight with Turkey in Afrin, it will give Turkey a pretext to attack and invade Kurdish areas further east; this may very well be what Turkey hopes will happen. The PYD will probably get a message from the U.S. urging them not to resist much in Afrin, but the problem facing the U.S. is not over, as Afrin may not be where Turkey stops.

The purpose of the previous post was to highlight several essential points regarding American interests in the region. The theme here is how we are now witnessing the (hopefully reversible) loss of an important U.S. ally, Turkey. After a long civil war that has ultimately boosted Iranian influence and distanced Turkey from the U.S., the U.S. must now think about what it can salvage in terms of its longer-term interests.

U.S. policy should focus on these objectives:

  • Retaining Turkey within its orbit rather than losing it to Russian influence
  • Fulfilling our responsibility to the Syrian Kurds in a way that ensures their safety and future while also assuaging Turkey’s concerns
  • Positioning itself as a mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia rather than going all-in on one side
  • Promoting the recovery and rebuilding of the region, not keeping it broken and poor

How Far Will the U.S. Go in Supporting Kurdish Nationalism?

The U.S. has set up Turkey’s choices thus: either side with the U.S. and the Kurds against Iran and Russia—OR—side with Russia (and thereby Iran) against the U.S. and the Kurds. Of course, Turkey will never compromise on its national interests; the first choice is simply not an option from Turkey’s point of view and the invasion of Afrin underscores that fact. Turkey does not like Iran, but it is willing to throw in its lot with Russia (and by proxy Assad and Iran), in order to protect its own national interests. We are forcing Turkey into the embrace of Russia and Iran; this is the price of promoting Kurdish nationalism to this extreme.

Regarding Damascus’ perceptions, Syria does not want to lose the fertile and oil-rich territories in its northeast. It must rely on those resources to rebuild following this war. A U.S. policy that facilitates the complete secession of Syrian Kurdistan from the state poses a serious risk in the eyes of Damascus.

The U.S. has done the surprisingly unlikely in uniting two enemies against the U.S. itself. Turkey and Syria are not natural allies—they are opponents—yet the direction that U.S. policy has begun taking is driving them together through this shared concern. If the U.S. helps the Kurds take 25% of fertile and oil-rich Syria, we will drive Damascus and Turkey together and they will both oppose Kurdish state-building over the long-term.

In addition to losing our major ally, Turkey, to Russian influence, the fact that the Kurdish project will be opposed on all sides over the long term must be kept in mind. Will this really be the best thing for Syria’s Kurds in the long run? And continuing our current level of support for a Kurdish nationalist project will mean a minimal commitment of 30-40 years, very expensive, with an ongoing presence of U.S. military on the ground. Further, the U.S. will have to be prepared to respond to Turkey militarily if Turkey does not stop with Afrin and continues by bombing other Kurdish areas across the border.

This is a terrible policy and one lacking long-term vision.

What About Our Responsibilities to the Kurds?

The fact that the U.S. helped the Kurdish-led forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to conquer Arab-majority areas north of the Euphrates has created a dilemma. The U.S. cannot now withdraw from those areas without abandoning the Kurds.

Further, the Kurds were the most important ally in Syria in the fight against ISIS and the U.S. now has a duty to protect Kurds from revenge originating with Damascus.

Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds must be aided in coming to an understanding that will promote stability; the U.S. can broker this and help to guarantee it. In this arrangement, neither Turkey, Damascus, nor the Kurds will gain everything they want, but all three will get more than they now have. Already in places like Hasakeh province in northern Syria, the Syrian government and Kurdish authorities have worked out and respected revenue sharing

deals for oil exploitation that have been in effect during the civil war.

The U.S. can help the Kurds make an advantageous deal with Damascus that protects their autonomy. A safe future for the Kurds means a federal region. Of course the Russians and the Syrian government will make demands of their own. Such demands are likely to focus on the economy and sovereignty. The Syrian government is eager to have the main road to Baghdad opened. The U.S. presently blocks it at Tanf in order to stop Syrian trade. The Damascus government will also ask that the U.S. facilitate the opening of the main highway between Damascus and Jordan, which is also blocked by U.S. and Saudi-backed militias. Damascus needs money to rebuild. The U.S. can use its leverage over Syria’s economy to get a good deal for the Kurds. It cannot use that leverage to drive Assad from power. The U.S. does not have enough leverage through control of 28% of Syrian territory to unseat the Assad regime; it does have sufficient leverage to provide security and a useful autonomy deal for the Kurds, who have fought so hard in partnership with the United States to destroy ISIS.

Assad fears and dislikes Turkey, which serves as the main home and advocate of the Syrian opposition. By promoting an understanding between Damascus and the Kurds, the Syrian Kurds would gain a level of autonomy that they did not enjoy before the war. The Kurds will also be able to renegotiate their share of income from Syria’s oil and water from a position of strength.

For its part, Damascus will gain back some of the oil, water, and agricultural resources it needs to rebuild the country and which the U.S. now denies it. It will also ensure the unity of country.

According to this plan, the Turks will gain assurances that the Kurds will not be an independent nation and will not be free to assist the PKK separatists in Turkey militarily. Turkey, for its part, would prefer to stay in the orbit of the U.S., rather than move to Russia’s; an agreement between Damascus and the Kurds that keeps Syrian Kurdistan “Syrian” will allay some of the Turks’ fears, reduce their perceived need to attack more areas inside Syria, and begin to restore Turkey’s relationship with the U.S. Ultimately, all of these approaches will serve the objective of a gradual reaffirmation of the integrity of international borders, which the U.S. has pledged to respect.

By using its leverage to make a deal between Turkey, Syria and the Kurds, the U.S. can maximize its interests in the region. It will guarantee security for the Kurds, promote its counter-terrorism agenda by helping to create jobs and tamp down conflict, and retain Turkey as an ally and friend.

The Alternative

The alternative is for the U.S. to trap itself in a “forever war.” If it decides to support the formation of an independent Kurdish state in North Syria with its own military, Turkey, Syria, Russia, and Iran will be forced together despite their usual rivalries in order to expel America and destroy the new state which threatens the interests of them all. The Kurds will be boycotted and kept poor, just as the US will sanction and boycott Syria in order to keep it poor and weak. Both sides will be losers; both sides will commit themselves to destroying the other; and both sides will destabilize and radicalize the region. America will play a divisive and destabilizing role, rather than a constructive and unifying role. This current policy erodes U.S. influence in the Middle East. Turkey’s invasion of Afrin is only the first salvo.

The consequences of the “rollback Iran” policy have now become evident. This policy will continue to be detrimental to long-term U.S. interests in that it will perpetuate the instability of the region. Maintaining the current approach of unrestricted support for a Kurdish nationalist project at the expense of the national interests of two large states (Turkey and Syria) will mean the loss of an important U.S. ally, ongoing sanctions, fragmented states, American troops in the Syrian desert for years, and so forth. This is a miserable, petty, and destructive path forward. This Iran-obsessed policy may serve Israeli and Saudi short-term interests—it may mollify Washington’s anger at failing to dislodge the Assad government—but it does not serve U.S. interests.

American interests are served by the reconstruction of the region. Promoting stability in Syria and Iraq will enhance long-term U.S. interests through preventing the return of ISIS and promoting the success of American counter-terrorism strategy.

What the region needs more than anything else is to revitalize its economy. But the U.S. must recognize that the only way to do this is to unleash the Iranian economy. Iran is indispensable for the restoration of the region’s economy and only Iran is capable of supporting the level of rebuilding needed after these years of war. This is why I said in the previous post that the unprecedented alignment of the governments of all four countries—Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Iran—presents a new opportunity for stability and recovery in the region.

The U.S. should help promote prosperity in the region, rather than working to inhibit it. Keeping the region fragmented and poor is a recipe for longer-term instability and extremism.

U.S. policy in the region since 2003 has largely facilitated a shift toward Shi’i ascendancy. America has to recognize that Iran has now come out largely victorious in the proxy conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq—and it is the U.S. that has largely helped them win this victory. The U.S. has helped facilitate the emergence of a new level of Shi’i power and has seen Shi’i forces as the champion of American interests, including deposing Saddam Hussein, combatting al-Qaida, and destroying ISIS. Both President Bush and President Obama promoted Shi’i interests, arming Shi’is aligned with Iran to serve in these objectives. The U.S. Air Force pummeled one Sunni city after another: Falouja, Takrit, Ramadi, Mosul, and Raqqa. Now the Shi’is have largely won the battle for preeminence in the Northern Middle East—in no small part because of U.S. support. Washington has built up an army in Iraq that is commanded by Shi’is and is quite sectarian in outlook; consequently it looks toward Iran. It also distrusts Saudi Arabia, which has championed and supported Sunni Arab militias. This is not something that we can undo.

If this region is going to rebuild, the U.S. must recognize that Iran has won this war—and the U.S. must come to terms with the fact that it was its own policies that were largely responsible for that victory. The U.S. will do a disservice to the Iraq-Syria-Lebanon conflict zone if it simply sides with the Gulf States and Israeli interests without long-term foresight. The way forward is to follow the Obama policy of balancing Iran and Saudi Arabia. By doing this, the U.S. can protect Israel and limit any aggression of Iran toward Israel and the Gulf.

Lift sanctions on Iran and proceed with the Iranian nuclear deal. Work to engage Iran. Don’t pursue a policy that alienates our Turkish ally and requires a decades-long commitment for supporting an ethnic-nationalist project that will be opposed by every neighbor of the Kurds—this is a terribly high price to pay in order to gratify Israeli and Saudi interests and a price that Washington will eventually back away from. It will not benefit the Kurds in the long run. They are too poor to stand alone, without a U.S. no-fly zone or a military force paid for by Washington. These expenses are unsustainable. If the Trump administration absorbs costs upholding Kurdish independence that are too high, some future administration will abandon the Kurds, letting them down with a thump. The U.S. must not launch a “forever war.” The moral obligation to the Kurds can be fulfilled by making sure that they strike an advantageous deal with both Turkey and Syria for autonomy and get a healthy share of Syria’s resources. Working for a negotiated solution to Kurdish autonomy, rather than one that alienates the regional powers, isolates Washington, and beggars the Syrian people is in America’s interest.

Joshua Landis is the director of the Center for Middle East Studies and an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Matthew Barber is PhD student at the University of Chicago. Reprinted, with permission, from Syria Comment.

Article source:

http://lobelog.com/a-sustainable-us-policy-for-north-syria-the-kurds-turkey-and-damascus/