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Islam and the West ( 19 Oct 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Libya: From Africa's Wealthiest Democracy Under Gaddafi, To Terrorist Haven After US Intervention: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 20 October 2015


New Age Islam Edit Bureau


20 October 2015


Libya: From Africa's Wealthiest Democracy Under Gaddafi, To Terrorist Haven After US Intervention

By Garikai Chengu

French Secularism and School Lunch

The NYT Editorial Board

U.S. foreign policy in a changing world

By John Kerry

Time for intellectual Intifada

By Ramzy Baroud

Two sides to the Syrian conflict

By Syed Mansur Hashim

Mismanaging the Conflict in Jerusalem

By Nathan Thrall



Libya: From Africa's Wealthiest Democracy Under Gaddafi, To Terrorist Haven After US Intervention

By Garikai Chengu

19 October, 2015

Tuesday marks the four-year anniversary of the US-backed assassination of Libya’s former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, and the decline into chaos of one of Africa’s greatest nations.

In 1967 Colonel Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa; by the time he was assassinated, he had transformed Libya into Africa's richest nation. Prior to the US-led bombing campaign in 2011, Libya had the highest Human Development Index, the lowest infant mortality and the highest life expectancy in all of Africa.

Today, Libya is a failed state. Western military intervention has caused all of the worst-scenarios: Western embassies have all left, the South of the country has become a haven for ISIS terrorists, and the Northern coast a center of migrant trafficking. Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia have all closed their borders with Libya. This all occurs amidst a backdrop of widespread rape, assassinations and torture that complete the picture of a state that is failed to the bone.

Libya currently has two competing governments, two parliaments, two sets of rivaling claims to control over the central bank and the national oil company, no functioning national police or army, and the United States now believes that ISIS is running training camps across large swathes of the country.

On one side, in the West of the nation, Islamist-allied militias took over control of the capital Tripoli and other key cities and set up their own government, chasing away a parliament that was previously elected.

On the other side, in the East of the nation, the “legitimate” government dominated by anti-Islamist politicians, exiled 1,200 kilometers away in Tobruk, no longer governs anything. The democracy which Libyans were promised by Western governments after the fall of Colonel Gaddafi has all but vanished.

Contrary to popular belief, Libya, which western media routinely described as "Gaddafi's military dictatorship" was in actual fact one of the world's most democratic States.

Under Gaddafi's unique system of direct democracy, traditional institutions of government were disbanded and abolished, and power belonged to the people directly through various committees and congresses.

Far from control being in the hands of one man, Libya was highly decentralized and divided into several small communities that were essentially "mini-autonomous States" within a State. These autonomous States had control over their districts and could make a range of decisions including how to allocate oil revenue and budgetary funds. Within these mini autonomous States, the three main bodies of Libya's democracy were Local Committees, Basic People's Congresses and Executive Revolutionary Councils.

The Basic People’s Congress (BPC), or Mu'tamar sha?bi asasi was essentially Libya's functional equivalent of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom or the House of Representatives in the United States. However, Libya's People's Congress was not comprised merely of elected representatives who discussed and proposed legislation on behalf of the people; rather, the Congress allowed all Libyans to directly participate in this process. Eight hundred People's Congresses were set up across the country and all Libyans were free to attend and shape national policy and make decisions over all major issues including budgets, education, industry, and the economy.

In 2009, Mr. Gaddafi invited the New York Times to Libya to spend two weeks observing the nation's direct democracy. The New York Times, that has traditionally been highly critical of Colonel Gaddafi's democratic experiment, conceded that in Libya, the intention was that “everyone is involved in every decision...Tens of thousands of people take part in local committee meetings to discuss issues and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.”

The fundamental difference between western democratic systems and the Libyan Jamahiriya's direct democracy is that in Libya all citizens were allowed to voice their views directly – not in one parliament of only a few hundred wealthy politicians – but in hundreds of committees attended by tens of thousands of ordinary citizens. Far from being a military dictatorship, Libya under Mr. Gaddafi was Africa's most prosperous democracy.

On numerous occasions Mr. Gaddafi's proposals were rejected by popular vote during Congresses and the opposite was approved and enacted as legislation.

For instance, on many occasions Mr. Gaddafi proposed the abolition of capital punishment and he pushed for home schooling over traditional schools. However, the People's Congresses wanted to maintain the death penalty and classic schools, and the will of the People's Congresses prevailed. Similarly, in 2009, Colonel Gaddafi put forward a proposal to essentially abolish the central government altogether and give all the oil proceeds directly to each family. The People's Congresses rejected this idea too.

For over four decades, Gaddafi promoted economic democracy and used the nationalized oil wealth to sustain progressive social welfare programs for all Libyans. Under Gaddafi’s rule, Libyans enjoyed not only free health-care and free education, but also free electricity and interest-free loans. Now thanks to NATO’s intervention the health-care sector is on the verge of collapse as thousands of Filipino health workers flee the country, institutions of higher education across the East of the country are shut down, and black outs are a common occurrence in once thriving Tripoli.

Unlike in the West, Libyans did not vote once every four years for a President and an invariably wealthy local parliamentarian who would then make all decisions for them. Ordinary Libyans made decisions regarding foreign, domestic and economic policy themselves.

America's bombing campaign of 2011 has not only destroyed the infrastructure of Libya's democracy, America has also actively promoted ISIS terror group leader Abdelhakim Belhadj whose organization is making the establishment of Libyan democracy impossible.

The fact that the United States has a long and torrid history of backing terrorist groups in North Africa and the Middle East will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore history.

The CIA first aligned itself with extremist Islam during the Cold War era. Back then, America saw the world in rather simple terms: on one side the Soviet Union and Third World nationalism, which America regarded as a Soviet tool; on the other side Western nations and extremist political Islam, which America considered an ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union.

Since then America has used the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt against Soviet expansion, the Sarekat Islam against Sukarno in Indonesia and the Jamaat-e-Islami terror group against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan. Last but certainly not least there is Al-Qaeda.

Lest we forget, the CIA gave birth to Osama Bin Laden and breastfed his organization throughout the 1980's. Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the House of Commons that Al Qaeda was unquestionably a product of western intelligence agencies. Mr. Cook explained that Al Qaeda, which literally means "the base" in Arabic, was originally the computer database of the thousands of Islamist extremists who were trained by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) used to have a different name: Al Qaeda in Iraq.

ISIS is metastasizing at an alarming rate in Libya, under the leadership of one Abdelhakim Belhadj. Fox News recently admitted that Mr. Belhadj "was once courted by the Obama administration and members of Congress" and he was a staunch ally of the United States in the quest to topple Gaddafi. In 2011, the United States and Senator McCain hailed Belhadj as a "heroic freedom fighter" and Washington gave his organization arms and logistical support. Now Senator McCain has called Belhadj's organization ISIS, "probably the biggest threat to America and everything we stand for.”

Under Gaddafi, Islamic terrorism was virtually non existent and in 2009 the US State Department called Libya “an important ally in the war on terrorism”.

Today, after US intervention, Libya is home to the world’s largest loose arms cache, and its porous borders are routinely transited by a host of heavily armed non-state actors including Tuareg separatists, jihadists who forced Mali’s national military from Timbuktu and increasingly ISIS militiamen led by former US ally Abdelhakim Belhadj.

Clearly, Gaddafi's system of economic and direct democracy was one of the 21st century's most profound democratic experiments and NATO's bombardment of Libya may indeed go down in history as one of the greatest military failures of the 21st century.

Garikai Chengu is a scholar at Harvard University. Contact him on


French Secularism and School Lunch


OCT. 18, 2015

France is in the grips of yet another crisis involving the country’s particular version of secularism, known as laïcité. But this time, it’s a food fight. In March, Gilles Platret, the mayor of Chalon-sur-Saône, said the town’s public schools could no longer offer a pork-free option at lunch. The ban took effect after the town’s municipal council endorsed it last month.

Mr. Platret’s absurd argument is that offering an alternative for students who, for religious or other reasons, do not eat pork is “discrimination.” Mr. Platret says ensuring that all children are served the same lunch upholds France’s secular values.

This is worse than disingenuous. Forcing children to choose between eating pork and going hungry is a perversion of the principle of secularism. In fact, making an issue of what children eat for religious reasons is simply one more way to stigmatize and marginalize France’s minority Muslim communities, as well as its Jewish population.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who heads the Les Républicains party to which Mr. Platret belongs, has loudly endorsed the mayor’s ban, calling pork-free lunches a threat to “our tradition, our way of life.” The pork issue is, in fact, a bald attempt by Les Républicains to go after voters who have drifted to the far-right National Front party in the run-up to regional elections scheduled for early December and national elections in 2017.

France’s League for the Legal Defense of Muslims has objected and filed protests with a court in Dijon. The court should rule in favor of the league, though that would affect only Chalon-sur-Saône. Mayors in other towns in France have also taken alternative lunches off the menu.

One solution is a bill being drafted in France’s Parliament to make a nutritionally balanced, vegetarian lunch option mandatory in all French public schools. This makes sense. It would remove the stigma from those students who do not eat pork — for whatever reason — and would prevent mayors from politicizing the issue of what children eat.


U.S. foreign policy in a changing world

John Kerry

19 October 2015

Earlier this week, I visited Indiana University, one of the finest public universities in America, to convey an important message about the United States of America, foreign policy, and about the difference that each of us can make in shaping a better world.

Young people play a central role in advancing American interests, and creating an ever-stronger global community. So it was particularly important for me to talk to this group of young leaders – right in the heart of America – against the backdrop of a growing perception among some that the world is increasingly chaotic, even falling into disorder. I flat out disagree with that notion. That is why I underscored despite the many challenges we face, we have many reasons for confidence. And I see a world that is finding common ground and advancing global policy in four critical areas:

A trade agreement that represents 40 percent of the global economy

The first such area is within the arena of international economics and trade. Earlier this month, our negotiators finished work on one of the most significant trade agreements in history – the Trans-Pacific Partnership, also called TPP.

But why should the American people care? Because three of the United States’ major trading partners – Canada, Mexico19 out of 20 of the world’s consumers live beyond U.S. borders. In order to keep building our prosperity we have to keep opening and expanding overseas markets. That’s pretty simple math. The TPP is a plus economically, but it’s more than just another trade agreement. It is also a real breakthrough in bringing disparate nations together to raise international labor and environmental standards.

Today, 70 percent of U.S. imports cross our borders tariff-free. That’s not the case with all our trading partners. In fact, America’s exporters face a wide range of high tariffs in many TPP countries. That’s what we have to gain from this deal; it will eliminate over 18,000 foreign taxes on “Made in America” products and help our manufacturers, farmers, and small businesspeople to compete and win in fast-growing markets.

Foreign trade should be viewed as an opportunity, not a threat. Globalization is not simply a policy choice on which you can come down one side or the other. It is a force driven not only by technology, but also by the aspirations of people around the world for opportunity and a better life.

But TPP also matters for reasons far beyond trade. The Asia Pacific includes three of the globe’s four most populous countries and its three largest economies. Going forward, that region is going to have a big say in shaping international rules of the road on the Internet, financial regulation, maritime security, the environment, and many other areas of direct concern to the United States.

Remember that, in our era, economic and security issues overlap; we can’t lead on one and lag on the other.

By voting for this trade agreement, the U.S. Congress can reinforce the message that the United States is – and will remain – a leading force for prosperity and security throughout the Asia Pacific. That will be welcome news for our allies and friends, a huge boost for stability in a region vital to our future well-being, and glad tidings for American companies and workers.

A potential climate accord that will require contributions from every nation

A second major area where the world is coming together is on global climate change. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that clean air is better than dirty air. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to know that fourteen of the fifteen warmest years ever recorded have taken place in this century. And you don’t have to be a polar bear to know that virtually every major chunk of ice on Earth is starting to melt.

The scientific debate may have had legitimacy once upon a time, but it’s over. And let me tell you, there’s nothing uniquely liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, American or foreign about wanting to preserve the health of our planet. We’re all affected because we all share the same fragile home.

In just two months, representatives from around the world will gather in Paris to approve what I hope will be by far the most ambitious agreement on global climate ever reached. There are still many issues to be resolved, but the momentum is building.

Skeptics argue that even a strong agreement will likely fall short of what is needed, and they’re right. But if what we agree to in Paris is considered the least we must do, instead of the most we can do; in other words, if we treat it like a floor rather than a ceiling, we can continue on the right path while finding ways to do more. In recent months, we have made big inroads in mobilizing urban and provincial governments worldwide to set their own targets, and both the private sector and civil society are treating this challenge as one we must meet. After all, anything less would be a felony against the future.

A nuclear agreement involving Iran and six very different global powers

A third area where major countries have come together with U.S. leadership is in an historic agreement to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Under the agreement every single one of Iran's potential pathways to a bomb will be blocked. And because of the unprecedented monitoring and verification requirements that are part of the agreement, we will know if the Iranians try to cheat and we will stop them – by re-imposing sanctions and, if necessary, by other means. As a result, Iran has every reason to live up to its obligations, just as it did throughout the negotiating process.

This agreement came together as a result of years of tough diplomacy extending over two presidencies. We began with sanctions, but sanctions were a means not an end. Only by direct negotiations with support from a broad array of partners – including Russia, China, and the leaders of Europe – were we able to convince Iran's top officials to accept the severe limits on their nuclear program that they have.

We are moving now to the implementation stage and it is essential that we maintain our vigilance, our unity of approach, and our common purpose. The Middle East remains a deeply troubled place but every problem in the region would be made much worse if Iran had or was close to obtaining a nuclear weapon. The Iran agreement is the best way to ensure that this possibility is foreclosed now and for all time. And every nation in the region – including our key allies – is safer because of the agreement.

A counterterrorism coalition of 65 members that carries with it the hopes of good and decent people everywhere

The fourth critical area in which the United States and our partners have come together and that is the fight against international terrorist organizations. Along with climate change, this may well be the defining challenge of our generation.

The opposition to international terrorists – whether groups like ISIL (or Daesh) in the Middle East, al-Shabaab in East Africa, and Boko Haram in West Africa – and repugnance at their actions has become a powerful unifying force. As it should be, because the terrorists are committing heinous crimes that include: destroying ancient cultural treasures; attacking schools and butchering teachers; beheading innocent journalists; and literally auctioning off terrified girls in a modern day slave market complete with notarized sales contracts; and using the term “marriage” to describe what is actually systematic rape.

Daesh is doomed to fail, but it has the ability to inflict immense suffering between now and when that failure is fully realized. That is why we must hasten its decline. And we are.

Over the past 14 months, the 65 member U.S.-led Global Coalition has launched thousands of air strikes forcing Daesh to change how it conducts military operations and impeded its command and control. The Coalition continues to strike Daesh targets in both Iraq and Syria, degrading its leadership and putting it under more pressure than ever before.

In Syria, we see a chance to increase pressure on Daesh from more than one direction, especially if Russia makes good on its commitment to help. But the reality is there will be no end to the refugee crisis until there is an end to the conflict. That is and has been our goal. To find a way out of this conflict we have to bring together all who oppose both despotism and terrorism. And the way to do that is through a diplomatic process that gives hope to every Syrian who wants to marginalize the extremists and put in place a government capable of uniting and leading the whole country.

These initiatives are distinct in purpose, but each requires both American leadership and the strong support of our partners. Each is a product of principle and pragmatism, embodying both what we should do and what we can do. And each will have an impact that extends far beyond the headlines of the day.

While we know we must address the immediate crises of the day, our strategy must also lay the groundwork for solutions that will strengthen the community of nations for decades to come. To succeed in that, we must mobilize the help and support of allies and friends across the globe. We must make the best use of every foreign policy tool, from multilateral institutions to the selective and necessary use of force, to uphold democratic principles and strengthen the rule of law. And we must be willing to invest in American leadership like the richly blessed nation we are.

You can read my full remarks at Indiana University here.

John Kerry is the 68th and current United States Secretary of State. He has served in the United States Senate, and was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


Time for intellectual Intifada


20 October 2015

My first stop, after living for 22 years in a refugee camp in Gaza, was the city of Seattle, a pleasant, green city, where people drink too much coffee to cope with the long, cold, grey winters. There, for the first time, I stood before an audience outside Palestine, to speak about Palestine.

Here, I learned, too, of the limits imposed on the Palestinian right to speak, of what I could or should not say. Platforms for an impartial Palestinian discourse were extremely narrow to begin with, and when any was available, Palestinians hardly took center stage.

It was touching, nonetheless. Ordinary Americans, mostly from leftist and socialist groups defended Palestinian rights, held vigils following every Israeli massacre and handed out pamphlets to interested or apathetic pedestrians.

However, after spending almost two decades living in the US, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and traveling across the globe to speak about human rights — starting with Palestinian rights, history and struggle — I began to grasp the seriousness of an unmistakable trend: Where the Palestinian narrative is marginalized and fundamentally misunderstood.

Back in the day, common justifications included: There were not enough Palestinian intellectuals around to speak for themselves; or that the benevolent leftists who took charge of the Palestinian story spent a week in Ramallah and another in Jerusalem, thus they were capable of enunciating the Palestinian experience; or that the struggle of Palestine is part of a larger battle against imperialism, thus one socialist speaker can mention Palestine, along with Cuba, Angola and Indochina in one, all-encompassing paragraph; or that Jewish speakers were more credible, because they are closer to the consciousness of American and western audiences; and so forth.

So it was not uncommon to see an entire two-day conference on Palestine divided into several sessions and many workshops without a single Palestinian on the podium.

Things began to change in recent years, though, especially following the massive shift that the Internet and social media have brought about. However, the frame of mind that neglected or avoided the Palestinian narrative has not been defeated completely.

The problem is not a matter of adding a Mohammed, an Elias or a Fatima on the list of speakers as a token to show that Palestinians are incorporated into a discussion, which is essentially about them, their past and future. It is, rather, the failure to appreciate the authenticity of the Palestinian narrative to the central discourse of the “Palestine-Israel conflict” at every available platform, be it political, academic, cultural, artistic or in the media.

Thanks to the efforts of thousands of people around the world, there has been a solid push to bring the Palestinian to the fore; alas, it is not enough, because the challenge is multi-pronged.

There is a generational gap, where men of past generations think that the most clever way of reaching the hearts and minds of their countrymen is by obscuring the real Palestinian, whose language, historical references, priorities and expectations might be too alien to, say, an American audience. It is best, they believe, to have sympathetic voices, “from the other side,” to address Palestinian grievances.

An equivalent to this would be having sympathetic British, Afrikaans or Germans address the historical plights of Indians, South Africans or Jews and other victims of Nazi atrocities. Not only is it unacceptable, it is also destined to fail.

Even Palestinian themselves, who came from a generation that never stood, or were given the chance to stand at a podium, remain unable to appreciate the value of a genuine Palestinian story, that reflects the language of the fellahin, the refugees and the resisting women and men throughout Palestine and the region. They seek to tell their stories through apologists, “soft-Zionists” and half-hearted supporters because they are defeated psychologically, having been blinded themselves by elitist propaganda that has been churned out over generations. Ultimately this is dangerous as it dilutes the reality of the Palestinian struggle, and distorts authentic history. The media discrepancies are far more pronounced. The moral crisis in mainstream western media on the subject of Palestine requires volumes, and much has, indeed, been written about it. Palestinian intellectuals in that field are either of the “native informants” variety, as described by Edward Said, or are also used and abused, such as being attacked personally for holding the views that they do. Either way, mainstream media has utterly failed to bring about any measurable change in its biased attitude toward Palestine and its long-suffering people.

The struggle in Palestine requires global solidarity, a critical mass of a support base that is enough to turn the tide against the violent Israeli occupation, incorporating governments and companies that currently support, sustain and bankroll Israel’s daily crimes against Palestinians.

Once and for all, there has to be a decisive recasting of roles regarding what solidarity actually means, and how Palestinians fit in as the protagonists of their own story. The first step is that we must learn not to conflate between solidarity and assuming the role of the Palestinian himself or herself.

Palestinian history, from a Palestinian point of view, remains an enigma in the minds of so many Palestinian supporters. That version of the Palestinian narrative, as told by people who lived, experienced and are capable of accurately and clearly depicting their own reality is overshadowed by alternative depictions of that same reality. Once more, imagine the formerly colonized India, Apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany being the subject of this discussion in order to understand the intellectual failure to appreciate the centrality of the Palestinian to the Palestinian narrative, whether deliberately flouted or otherwise.

As Palestinians are once more rebelling against the Israeli occupation, we ought to also confront past misconceptions and mistakes. We live in an age where a generation of well-educated and articulate Palestinians is extensively present in hundreds of top universities, media companies, including in theater, film and every other educational and cultural facet around the Middle East and the world. Palestine, itself, is rife with numerous journalists and eloquent women and men, who can do the Palestinian account much justice.

It is time to give them the microphone, let them speak, and let us all listen. We have 67 years of catching up to do.


Two sides to the Syrian conflict

Syed Mansur Hashim

October 20, 2015

International headlines are full of news, views and analyses on the pros-and-cons of Russia's entry into the Syrian civil war. With more than 70 percent of Russians backing Putin in his Syrian adventure, it is understandable why Russia has gone in with a big bang. While all that is going on, there is of course another side to this whole scenario and which has everything to do with profits, and that is natural gas. Rewind to 1989; two countries viz. Iran and Qatar begin exploration of a gas field buried 3km below the Gulf of Persia with a potential “51 trillion cubic meters of gas and 50 billion cubic meters of liquid condensates, it is the largest natural gas field in the world. Approximately one-third of its riches lie in Iranian waters and two-thirds in Qatari ones,” an article in Foreign Affairs declares.

In 2009, Qatar proposed to build a pipeline that would send their share of the gas through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria to Turkey. The aim was to reach Europe and effectively provide a second source of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the infrastructure which had been built up since '89 and would give Europe a choice to wean itself away from cheap Russian gas. Syria refused to be party to it and Russia wasn't too keen on the project either. Qatar isn't the only player in the Middle East with massive natural gas reserves. Iran is another major contender from the same South Pars/North Dome gas field that Qatar developed and proposed its own pipeline that would take Iranian gas through Iraq and Syria to Europe through the Caspian Sea (falling under Russian sphere of influence). The Iranian proposal met with Russian approval and going by what has been published in international media, agreements were signed in 2012 and required infrastructure were to be completed by 2016.

Coming back to the conflict in Syria, reports of Qatari involvement in funding of groups opposed to the Assad regime surfaced in 2011. Eventually many other players in the region have gotten involved, including the Saudis and Turkey. While Turkey is seemingly aligned to the United States (US) in the fight against IS, it appears that the country is more interested in containing the Kurds than IS. Indeed, the Islamic State (IS) boasts some 30,000 foreign fighters, most of whom have made it to Syria using Turkey as a transit point. The US, which never appeared to have a clear-cut Syria policy, is reeling from a public relations disaster of having funded a ghost army that has cost the US taxpayer $500 million in man and material and produced some 54 “fighters”, who appear to have suffered a 90 percent casualty rate and it is unclear how many are still “fighting”, not to talk about the military arsenal that seem to have walked over to IS.

Enter Russia with some of their latest military hardware and which has gone on a rampage that is heavily reminiscent of the American blitzkrieg which CNN brought to a world audience during the first Gulf war in 1991. Needless to say, it props up both Russian morale and provides a showcase for all these new and untested military equipment, which will undoubtedly help in Russian foreign military sales. Many a political commentator have gone to great lengths to portray Russian intervention in Syria as one that is designed to send a strong message to Washington that Russia demands respect; that it is no longer a unipolar, but a bipolar world, where the US must pay heed to what Russia thinks. All those arguments hold true.

But as history will testify, wars are almost always about profits, human rights seldom figure big in such conflicts. When we talk about natural gas supply to such a big market as continental Europe, what is one regime-change, if it paves the way for billions of dollars of business per annum? While Russia plays hardball and some Arab nations begin arming groups of their choice to take down Russian military assets deployed in the field, the conflict in Syria is evolving from a low-intensity civil war to that of a full-blown proxy war. What has many people worried is that unless a political solution is thrashed out in the near term, this conflict could become another Afghanistan. Indeed, this could be worse than Afghanistan in the sense that IS has demonstrated that it is the true successor of Al-Qaeda. With reports coming in that the Taleban in Afghanistan are now getting “advice” from IS, this militant outfit is well on its way to becoming the king of the global jihadist movement.

It is time to stop fighting. With all major world players actively engaged in Syria, unless leading powers can set aside their differences about which party they will negotiate with, Syria could very well make the Afghan war look like a walk in the park. A united and undivided Syria would be very nice. However, given the bloodletting that has been allowed to go on for nearly five years, a Yugoslavia-type solution may be the next best thing to settle for. But for that to happen, sincere efforts are needed by the permanent members of the UN and their regional allies to come to the negotiating table and thrash out a deal that will be adhered to.

The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star


Mismanaging the Conflict in Jerusalem


OCT. 18, 2015

THE streets of Jewish West Jerusalem are eerie and still. Silence hangs over the city, punctured occasionally by a siren’s wail. Buses are half empty, as is the light rail that runs alongside the walls of the Old City.

Heavily armed security forces, joined by army reinforcements, patrol checkpoints, bus stops and deserted sidewalks. Young men in plain clothes carry assault rifles. The evening news broadcasts images of stabbings and shootings. Among the few shops doing good business are those selling weapons and pepper spray.

In the city’s occupied East, residents are frightened, too. Massive cement cubes block exits from their neighborhoods. Lengthy lines at new checkpoints keep many from their jobs. Men under 40 who were barred from Al Aqsa Mosque on Friday prayed instead behind police barricades in the surrounding decrepit streets.

Last week, an Israeli minister called for the destruction of all Palestinian homes built in East Jerusalem without permits, a threat that targets nearly 40 percent of the city’s Palestinians because of restrictive zoning. Jerusalem’s gun-wielding mayor has called on Israeli civilians to carry arms. Jewish mobs chanting “Death to Arabs” have paraded through the streets.

Palestinian parents keep children indoors, afraid they will be arrested or shot. Nightly police raids visit their neighborhoods. Returning from work in West Jerusalem’s kitchens, hotels and construction sites, some Palestinians seek to protect themselves by wearing yarmulkes. On their cellphones, teenagers watch videos of stabbing attacks and of Palestinians shot at close range.

Several days ago, an East Jerusalem business owner told me that he and his employees were frightened to travel to the West. Like many others I’ve spoken with, he lamented the growing hatred and the killings, but rejected the idea that they had been without purpose. They had made clear to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said, that a red line stands before Al Aqsa; no matter how weak the Palestinian leadership might be, he argued, the people would not allow Israel to restrict Muslims’ access to the occupied holy site, particularly while growing numbers of Israeli activists, some calling for the mosque’s destruction, are permitted to visit under armed protection.

Perhaps most significant, he concluded, the violence signaled that whatever the intentions of their leadership, Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank will not indefinitely extend to Israel a period of calm while no corresponding reduction of the occupation takes place.

The unrest has been sufficiently alarming to induce Secretary of State John Kerry to announce a visit to the region. But it has not brought Israeli leaders to rethink their insistence on never relinquishing East Jerusalem, which includes the Al Aqsa compound, a site also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

Yet the Jewish public’s mood is shifting, as it did during the second intifada. It was during the worst month of those four horrific years, in March 2002, that pollsters found peak Israeli support for the territorial concessions proposed by President Bill Clinton in December 2000, including a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem with sovereignty over the Al Aqsa compound. Last week, about two-thirds of Jewish Israelis surveyed in a poll said they wished to separate from the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, excluding the Old City.

Contrary to claims that Israel’s occupation is growing only further entrenched, the decades since Israel conquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza have been characterized by a slow process of Israeli separation, often reluctant and driven by violence. To date, the unrest has not approached the scale that led successive prime ministers to partial withdrawals: Yitzhak Rabin’s bestowing limited autonomy on Palestinians in parts of Gaza and the West Bank at the end of the first intifada; Benjamin Netanyahu’s pulling out of most of Hebron after the deadly 1996 riots over Israeli excavations beneath the Al Aqsa compound; and Ariel Sharon’s announcing a withdrawal from Gaza during the second intifada.

It was at that time that Mr. Sharon erected the wall and fence separating Israel from the West Bank. Palestinians, like most of the international community, view the wall as an illegal seizure of 8.5 percent of the West Bank, but by the same token, it is now nearly impossible to imagine that any of the 91.5 percent of territory on the Palestinian side of the barrier would go to Israel in a future partition.

It is a deeply regrettable fact that, during the past quarter-century, violence has been the most consistent factor in Israeli territorial withdrawal. That may partly explain why growing numbers of Palestinians support an uprising and demand the resignation of President Mahmoud Abbas, who abhors attacks on Israelis and has presided over nearly a decade of almost total quiet in the West Bank without any gains to show for it.

Last month, a survey of Palestinians found support for an armed intifada at 57 percent (and at 71 percent among 18- to 22-year-old men). Support was highest in Hebron and Jerusalem. Two-thirds of those surveyed wanted Mr. Abbas to resign.

Mr. Kerry is scheduled to have meetings with Mr. Abbas and with Mr. Netanyahu in an effort to achieve their shared goal of restoring calm and returning to the status quo. Violence is politically threatening to both leaders, especially to Mr. Abbas, and both will continue to work to suppress any escalation.

Yet if they succeed only in ending the unrest, they will have merely restored the stasis that gave rise to it. This is what Israelis call “managing the conflict.” There is certainly no guarantee that if the two leaders fail to stop the flow of Palestinian and Israeli blood, things will eventually get better.

But what does seem guaranteed is that most Palestinians will continue to believe that if the occupation is cost-free, there will be little incentive to end it. Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu have taught them that.

Nathan Thrall is a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.