Israel-Palestine peace talks, this time it’s (not) different

    One would consider it a very peculiar time to try to re-ignite the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, since not only is the issue so complex and there are some irreconcilable differences, but there is also turmoil in the region, which makes things even more complicated. So why is Obama pushing this now?

    In the relatively short span of time the conflict in Syria, it has accumulated more deaths than the entire Israeli Palestinian conflict, compared with the tactics, duration versus body count and likelihood to continue there should be no doubt, which of the two conflicts should be dealt with first. Also, not too far from there Egypt, a country of approximately 80 million people, is facing bankruptcy and instability, there are already deaths in the streets as they struggle for some form of democracy and there is no sign of a slow down, if anything, the animosity is growing and the Islamists fighting in the Sinai peninsula is increasing. If those conflicts are not dealt with, it will continue to spill to neighbouring countries and many Muslims will die as well as suffer poverty and displacement. Yet if you try to find the official American policy on these conflicts, you would struggle, as there is very little said and even less done (at least publicly).

    Many Americans welcome a president that is not keen to jump into another foreign war, which would no doubt cost billions of dollars, result in American casualties and may damage further the American reputation around the world. However, a lack of an American response leaves the space open for intervention by other players, which is why  Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Russia and even China getting involved in the Syrian conflict. The involvement of foreign powers and lack of the US’s participation, is undoubtedly damaging the American reputation, since they are seen as a weak country that has abandoned its policy of supporting democracy around the world. Another damage to the reputation was no doubt a rookie mistake of defining a red line for the intervention in Syria, i.e. use of chemical weapons, and then not following through it. It is already bad practice to publicly define a red line, since essentially you are revealing your position as well as committing yourself to an action determined by the other side, but to then falter and find excuses is a much worse outcome then keeping quiet all along

    Yet with all that going on in the Middle East, Obama has decided to get his Secretary of State to concentrate his efforts on trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by getting the sides to sit down at the table again.

    One of the reasons for the timing could be the assumption that because of the Syrian war, which has caused a disconnect between Hamas and  Iran and Syria and following the fall of Morsi, which to an extent supported Hamas, the organization is at its lowest point and this could be the best time to reach an agreement and drive Hamas out of the picture.

    It is true that this is a good reason and the timing is crucial, however, the external circumstances bring with them more complications than opportunity. For example one of the burning topics, which is the right for Palestinian refugees and their offsprings to return to the land. Until the situation in Syria stabilizes, there is little chance that anyone would agree their fate. There is no guarantee that Assad’s regime wouldn’t simply commit massacres in the refugee camps (as have been reported to be done already) or for the Sunnis to fully accept them. Until their situation is resolved, the conflict cannot be truly resolved, as until they are accepted as full-fledged citizens in the different countries there would always be a yearning to return (or in most cases move) to the land. 

    The other issues is the security of Israel, while Islamists are taking positions in both Egypt and Syria there is no guarantee for Israel’s security. Defining the borders and letting the Palestinians guard them is not an acceptable option for Israel. Israel is already dealing with a situation in Gaza, in which, even if Hamas tries to avoid conflict, it claims it cannot control the rogue groups who continue firing rockets. Learning from that dynamics between small groups and government, means that allowing the replication of this situation on the 67 borders is not something Israel could ever accept.

    The instability in the area is also a factor in the sense that whatever agreement is reached it would have to be backed by the neighbouring states. They would have to first accept the deal and then guarantee that they would not act against it. For example it shouldn’t be taken for granted that Egypt, Jordan and Syria would agree to any movement of people into or out of their territory as a result of sorting out the refugee problem. Nor should it be assumed that the resource allocation such as water and land is automatically accepted either. The question of Jerusalem is also an issue that needs to be approached carefully with the neighbours, who consider it a holy Muslim site and may worry how their consent to an agreement determining its fate, might be perceived in the Arab world.

    One of the other external influences is the intervention of the EU, which was extremely unwelcome by Israel. The new EU policy was an attempt to push Israel into the negotiations, by trying to wither any attempt to grow a business outside of the 67 borders. On the face of it, it looks like a reasonable demand, however, when one looks carefully one would understand the irrelevance and damage this policy is doing. The irrelevance is because the borders have not been determined yet, so they would potentially be boycotting and therefore destroying businesses, which might sit in legitimate future Israeli land. The damaging effect is even greater, since while the owners of these places are Israeli, the workers tend to be Palestinians, so as these factories close more Palestinians would go unemployed and it was done in such a way that Israel is not obliged in any way to increase the working visas of Palestinians inside of Israel, therefore leaving Palestinians worse off. The other damage this policy is doing is destroying the only islands of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. There is no love between the two groups, but a shared goal and reliance on each other does contribute to stability.

    One more factor which has been pushed a side for now in both initiating the talks and unfortunately by the mainstream media is the strong opposition of Hamas to any talks. Hamas is still in control in Gaza and gaining popularity in the West Bank. It is true that it is going through a difficult financial crisis, but it is not down yet and reports have already come out of Hamas is reconciling with Iran, which would mean more financial support and no agreement to any deal reached unless Iran agrees to it too (not very likely prospect under any condition). It must also be remembered that the Fatah leadership involved in the talks are mainly old men in their 70’s and do not necessarily represent the entire Palestinian people, certainly not the more religious groups.

    So, while the motives to kickstart the peace talks are dubious, the timing is difficult and there is really no breakthrough in any of the core issues that have caused the failure of all other talks, it is still a positive move to get the sides talking, which would hopefully get both sides one step closer towards a future agreement. One notable difference this time though is that these talks are not taking center stage, in the news broadcasts around the Western world for example, this hardly made it into the headlines, whereas a decade ago, not a single reputable broadcasting company would have dared not start the news with such developments possibly overshadowed only by a local disaster.

    It will be interesting to see what the news will bring 9 months from now, however, I don’t think that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians believe that the conflict is really going to be resolved that quickly


Al Qaeda’s Justification

    Following the US’s assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the US’s foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, is once again taking center stage at debates. There is a reoccurring argument, which states that Al Qaeda was formed as a retaliating force to the West’s foreign policies (especially the US) and that the war on Afghanistan was wrong to initiate, since the Taliban would have delivered Bin Laden to US custody, if only, the US could provide evidence that he was behind the 9/11 bombing, as they requested at the time.

    Surprisingly a large number of people subscribe to these arguments or at least feel strongly that the US shares as much responsibility for the situation. This behaviour could be the result of the West’s democracy and free speech, which has given people the freedom to consider these claims, while not fearing persecution or even for publically doubting their governments’ motives and directly accusing them of moral wrongdoing.

    The open attitude of the West to freedom of speech, which it holds as one of the pillars of a free society has created an acceptance to misinformation and misleading by presentation of facts out of context. There is a layer of political correctness that created a gap in common sense. In this space shoddy figures strive, as the self-deprecating antigovernment narrative always finds enough audience rewarding its promoter both financially and with publicity.

    While criticising our representatives is our main defence to fend off our exploitation, it is important to understand to whom we might be lending our support and therefore question the other side equally.

    Al Qaeda was formed in 1988, well before the Afghanistan or Iraq war. It bases its ideology amongst other things, on the writings of Sayyid Qutb, which believed that the Muslims have a duty to follow strict Islamic law by creating a Muslim state and ridding their world of Jews and Orientals. In a fatwa issued in 1996, Bin Laden argued that the US must be driven out of Arab land and all the governments cooperating with the West such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be overthrown and replaced with one ruler over the entire region.  Achieving these goals would allow the Muslims to once more establish a Caliphate, which in essence would be an empire with no national borders stretching on all Arab land run by one man with divine authority, the Caliph.

    The reasoning behind the war on the West has evolved over the years. In the same Fatwa in 1996 Osama and Al Qaeda declared that the reasons for the need to fight the West are (besides of the existence of the Jewish state, Israel, on Arab land) the “…massacres in Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, the Philippines, Fatani, Ogaden, Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya, and Bosnia-Herzegovina…” However since 9/11, when Al Qaeda achieved the public exposure it was seeking, the reasoning for the attacks focused on Israel as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, which unsurprisingly are controversial issues that separate people in the same way that liberals have a different view of life than conservatives. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that Al Qaeda’s “marketing” of their ideology was tweaked, in order to apply pressure on the topic, which would widen the gap of the two beliefs and ultimately increase the convictions of their sympathisers, most of which were young Muslims or people with resentment to the government.

    Regarding the claim of the Taliban turning in Bin Laden, it is necessary to examine Bin Laden’s relationship with Afghanistan’s ruling party, which has always been close. Bin Laden claimed that the Taliban rule has made Afghanistan into a model Muslim state, governed by Sharia. Under the Taliban, pre-9/11, Al Qaeda was given free reign and established training camps, where most terrorist received their training and inspiration for attacks on the West. Given that fact, it is absurd to think that there was any substance behind the claim that the Taliban would have delivered Bin Laden into the US hands, had the US only been able to provide enough proof that Bin Laden was behind the attacks.

    The other criticism often thrown at the US is that it is their imperialistic nature that Al Qaeda opposes. However any anti-Empire person looking onto Al Qaeda to dispel this notion, shouldn’t side with Al Qaeda on this matter, as Al Qaeda openly seek to create a Muslim Empire. Furthermore, one of Al Qaeda’s grievances was the establishment of a Christian rule in East Timor, ignoring the fact that it is a region with a clear Christian majority, which wanted to break away from bigger Muslim Indonesia.

    Last but not least, it should never be overlooked that Al Qaeda’s ideology seeks to obliterate millions of people’s rights and freedoms. As no doubt a true Muslim state under Sharia does not support democracy, does not allow women’s education or equality, believes that homosexuality is punishable by death as well as other laws, which the West finds as human rights violations. For anyone that would use the claim that most Muslim countries propagate this attitude anyway, it has been made very clear recently by the uprisings that this is not the will of the people and Al Qaeda would most certainly stop this situation from evolving into the Middle East democracies that its people seek and are for which they are willing to risk their lives.

    Therefore anyone that believes that Al Qaeda’s anti US motives are justified and believe that the solution would be for the US to leave the Middle East, should ask themselves, who would benefit from this action and more importantly, whether they truly believe that this would be the last time Al Qaeda disrupts  the Western world.