Tag Archives: United Nations

Ceasefire, What Ceasefire?

The UN backed six-point ‘Annan Plan’ for Syria is ‘on track’, according to Ahmed Fawzi, a spokesman for Kofi Annan, despite the continuation of violence throughout a number of cities in Syria. Whilst it has been acknowledged that the signs of progress, and indeed cooperation from the Assad regime, have been rather small, there still seems to be an expectation that the Annan plan is the best possible option with which to go forward. At least for the time being.

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With Impunity

When  the uprisings started in Syria, just over a year ago, the regime denied that any such movement had started to swell up amongst the ranks of the Syrian people. It was easy to see why they would be in denial; between Bashar Al Assad’s slow moving reforms, an attempt to placate a population so often restless under his father’s rule, and the unrelenting comprehensive system of torture employed against any dissidents, those who were not so enamoured with their leader were at least fearful of voicing their opinions against him.

The outside world, too, for a time believed that the uprisings were nothing more than a faded mirror image of what was happening in the rest of the Arab world – a few isolated groupings trying to seize the regional momentum to push personal agendas. For state leaders in the United States, the UK and across Europe, their involvement in Libya meant that accepting that the uprising was factional, regional, and minor fitted better with their strategic military capabilities – with active engagement in two conflicts, in Afghanistan and Libya, they were not able to, nor were they prepared to, stretch themselves any further than they already had. The result was that the international community, its eyes turned towards its interests in Libya and elsewhere, largely ignored the increasingly bloody violence that was smouldering in Syria’s cities and the outskirts of Damascus.

When it did finally wake up to the fact that the conflict in Syria was not only more serious than they had first anticipated, but that it was also fragmenting along sectarian lines, there was a timid showing from the Arab League who made statements against Assad, and sent observers to the country, before trying to persuade the United Nations Security Council to step in and take action. But even then only in the form of selective sanctions.

By this time thousands of Syrians – military personnel, civilians, men, women, children and the aged – had lost their lives through gun battles which would erupt spontaneously in a suburb of Damascus, in the centre of Homs or Hama or Daraa, or through the torture and imprisonment dealt out by the Mukhabarat (Assad’s Secret Police) by anyone who voiced disagreement with the regime – notably this also includes children from the age of ten.

The regime weren’t even trying particularly hard to cover up the fact that the violence was happening, noting that the deaths had occurred, but asserting that it was limited to the suppression of extremist Islamist rebels. Throughout this time, and right up until Libya found closure with the death of Muammar Gaddafi, it didn’t really matter what Assad said – no journalists were in the country and, again, no one was really listening.

Then, towards the end of last year and after Gaddafi’s death – recorded as so much of that conflict was by crude camera phone video – the world finally woke up to the fact that Syria’s internal conflict was spiralling out of control. As already highlighted above, the response was still tepid, but as action started to slow in Libya US, UK and French rhetoric in particular started to acquire the sharp tones of impatience with the slow moving international efforts. The Arab League’s insistence that the UN acted in this matter, possibly out of concern for the impact on their own domestic situations just as much as the civilians suffering the brutal force of Assad’s military outfits, was not enough to get the gears in motion – however – as they ground to a halt with Russian and Chinese spanners thrown into works.

Now, as it stands, the international community are toothless – sanctions without Russia (Syria’s chief source of weaponry) and China (where Syria acquires the majority of its imported non-military goods) are a waste of time, and a military solution in a region that is currently chaotic in some corners, petrified of revolution in others, and has Israel and Iran staring at each other over nuclear potential, is simply not viable without creating a perfect storm for widespread and enduring sectarian conflict. What is more, there is not even a truly identifiable opposition with which to negotiate, to recognise, or even to support – with many different factions battling each other as much as they are battling the military mechanisms of Assad’s regime. For this to change, and it must change soon, a number of things have to happen.

First, the anti government forces in Syria need to form a single viable council or leadership group that acts as an umbrella group for all the disparate groupings that currently fight in amongst each other as much as they fight regime forces. This will not be easy, and it must find common ground and a common idea of what comes after the regime, not simply a path to its downfall, to avoid the country falling into chaos if the Assad regime does fall. This will provide a diplomatic core for the opposition which will offer an alternative instrument of government for the international community to back and rally around, but it will also ensure that grievances by and against opposition troops are addressed.

Second, once this entity has been forged, Russia and China must recognise that it is important to make new ties with the new representative body – in a similar way the international community did with Libya’s NTC – and resist blocking any movement in the United Nations. If they do not, it may be that frustrated members start acting outside of the organisation and end up risking a polarising of more than just Syria’s domestic situation. Worse, however, is if they do not act without the United Nations, and stand back to let the situation unfold by itself. The violence and torture against Assad’s opponents has increased dramatically since the failed UN resolution was vetoed, and the longer the international community stands by the more Assad will feel he can act with impunity.

Being Irresolute

The rapid movement of the United Nations diplomacy machinery in response to the brutal suppression of protest movements in Libya, by Gaddafi loyalist forces, seemed to set a precedent in international diplomacy. Of course there were obvious restrictions to this, the permanent members of the Security Council will never be likely to take up action against Saudi Arabia, with its lion’s share of the world’s petroleum supplies, and, despite the growing protest movements amongst their own populations, Russia and China are protected from any Security Council resolutions by their veto as permanent members.

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The Exchange Rate

Gilad Shalit, the most high profile prisoner in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, will be released at some point over the next week. In exchange, 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, currently residing in Israeli prison cells, are to be released in stages with female prisoners – all 450 in Israeli custody – being given priority on the time scale. The huge number of prisoners given to the Palestinians, not all of which will be given leave to remain in Israel of the Palestinian Occupied Territories, signifies the growing importance to the Israeli government, and more particularly to Netanyahu, that the hostage situation involving Shalit should be resolved. Whilst it may seem absurd to some that so much is being put at stake to secure the life of one Israeli Soldier, the implications of his release, and the manner in which both sides conduct themselves through the remainder of the deal’s delivery, have hugely wide-scale implications.

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The Power of Boycott

Legislation passed by the Israeli Knesset last week made it illegal for anyone living in the Israeli territories to actively boycott goods made in the settlements. As part of the law, settlement-based producers are able to sue those who are, or have, boycotted their products without having to actually provide tangible evidence of damages to their business which, given the complexities of domestic trade within Israel, would be almost impossible t0 prove or at least allocate blame to a specific quadrant of society. All that has to be proved, in any cases brought forward, is that there was an intent to do economic damage by organised boycott. This begs the question then, how effective are boycotts in establishing political change?

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Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

After a month of focus around the North-Western regions of Libya, where the Liberation Forces have been slowly advancing from the West towards Tripoli, the fight seems to be erupting in the East again, in the oil-port of Brega. This advance on Brega by Gaddafi forces earlier this week was a surprise for two reasons: first, because the city lies so far to the East, and second, because it’s unusual these days to hear anything of Gaddafi’s troops advancing. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Palestines

News of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, the two elected halves of a Palestinian National Authority Government, was met with almost universal apprehension by the international community and Palestinians alike. Israel, fearful of a side that could finally negotiate itself into a stronger position, condemned the move. The United States barely fluttered in what were supposed to be the winds of change, and across Europe there was a mix of disdain for Hamas and desire for a resolution. There was, though, some hope that this would end the ongoing disunity, and that yet another round of negotiations with Israel would be attended by both factions in a much needed showing of unity.Today though, the meeting that was scheduled for the negotiations has been postponed. Not in itself a damning statement, until you add the word ‘indefinitely’ to the end.

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Idle Hands

Unemployment in the UK, as of May 2011, was 7.7 percent. People are still losing jobs, and many are contemplating the possibility of unemployment over the next year as the true effects of the recession are felt, with cutbacks and redundancies still expected across the board. This is a statistic that everyone in the UK watches closely, and on a month by month basis furrowed brows keep tabs on the fluctuation as an indication of how the economy is growing – or not. But while this is a very real issue in the UK, these rates pale in comparison to those experienced by those living in the Gaza Strip.

In Gaza, according to a report by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the level of unemployment has risen to 42.2 per cent. That is almost half of all Gaza Palestinians out of work, and proportionately over five times the amount of people unemployed in the UK. This is not a situation caused by city bankers’ greed, though, nor is it particularly due to international trends. The fact that few people can find work in Gaza is due to the fact that businesses, and whole communities, are being stretched beyond breaking point by the Israeli blockade of the Strip.

With restrictions on the movement of material goods into the territory, private businesses have suffered immensely. With very little to trade, and little access to any outside markets, businesses struggle to keep afloat, let alone maintain steady employment. Ironically, despite the blockade’s intention to weaken the Hamas Government in the territory, the public sector under Hamas is the one area which is showing signs of economic growth. Since 2007, the number of people employed by the public sector in the Gaza Strip has increasedby one fifth.

This, of course, is certain to act in favour of Hamas as the mass unemployed of Gaza locate the source of their economic predicament squarely at the feet of Israel, whilst seeing the only sources of income in the area derived from Hamas itself: the great giver of employment; the great defender of Palestine; the great defier of Israel. This, in turn, will hand even more of the cards to Hamas as their employers, and their families, become more dependent on their ability to provide income.

The idle too, and by all accounts there are many in the Strip, will turn to Hamas and against Israel. The more desperate a person is, and the less they have to lose, the more likely they are to be brought to radical persuasions. With the continued stripping of the Gazan Palestinian’s dignity, as well as their economic well-being, the Israelis are helping to propagate violence as a product of desperation. Men, unable to find work, will turn their attentions to other, perhaps more violent, pursuits. Children growing up surrounded by the desperation of jobless parents become radicalised by their experiences of poverty under occupation. The insistence of Israel on keeping the Palestinian peoples down on their knees and with empty bellies will serve only to ensure another generation of occupied peoples will more than willing to join another intifada. They are, in short, ensuring the continuation of conflict.

They are not, however, the sole controlling actors in this situation. After the ousting of President Mubarak in February, Egypt started to make motions easing the restrictions across its border with the Gaza Strip. Whilst this currently only allows civilian passage through the border passing, not material or traded goods, this may start to alleviate some of the unemployment situation as some start looking for employment in neighbouring countries. As the Palestinian National Authority Government in West Bank begins the long process of reconciliation with Hamas, their partners in the Gaza Strip, the promise of a more stable Gaza may herald a more fluid exchange of goods and personnel across the border.More goods, and more trade, means more jobs, and a higher standard of living for all the people in the Gaza Strip. It will, inevitably, reduce radicalisation and provide more people with a dignified living wage.

Israel’s policy of ghettoising the Strip is backfiring, showing as it does no evidence of weakening Hamas, only the rest of the population. If Israel is to retrieve anything from this situation they have made for themselves they must start to ease the blockade on all borders for tradable goods, because the only way of keeping the Palestinians ‘occupied’, they must be able to resume some semblance of a normal, working life. The devil may not make work for idle hands, but Hamas certainly will.

How To Move A Mountain

The reception was always going to be warm for Netanyahu at the US Congress, but then, these are friendly waters. Support for the state of Israel amongst US voters is pretty much a no-brainer if you look at it in terms of demographic. The number of Jewish citizens in the United States is double that of those adhering to Islam, and the jewish-Israeli lobby is one that is renowned for being both exceptionally wealthy, and for having huge reach into the depths of the US governing institutions – particularly at the highest levels. The Islamic and Arabic lobby, on the other hand, is non-existent, and  even if there were one reception would be extraordinarily frosty as a huge proportion of the United States, as ill informed as it may be, associate Islam and the Arab world with acts of terrorism committed by extremists and resistance against US forces in the Afghan and Iraqi wars. Whilst these acts are committed in the name of Islam, there are no strong a decisive voices to counter this, at least none with the courage to do so.

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Target Practice: Why Assassinating Gaddafi is a Viable Solution

After the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, and the subsequent occupation of both of these countries by ‘international’ – but mainly anglophone – states, the notions of regime change, of political interference, and of military interventionism sent half the world reeling in disgust. There were abundant arguments emanating from both sides of the political spectrum who felt – and still feel – that the presence of these states as occupation forces in these two predominantly Islamic countries is abhorrent. The right wingers, gagging for a good war but only if it brings in enough profit, started to reason that the losses – both in human life (though only those of the troops they sent) and financially – were causing more problems than they were returns. The left wingers, ranging from absolute pacifist to people who simply didn’t want to aggravate two already volatile political situations, weren’t inclined to get involved in a war that would hurt more people than it would help, and felt queasy at the mention of oil reserves – or indeed George W. Bush.

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