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Reconfiguring The Arab Region And Its Global Space: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 22 October 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

22 October 2015

 Reconfiguring the Arab region and its global space

By Raghida Dergham

 Has the Syrian cause been sold?

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

 Has Israeli-Palestinian violence crossed the point of no return?

By Yossi Mekelberg

 Palestinian protests: Rocks, knives and cameras

By Diana Moukalled

 Assad summoned to Moscow

By Dr. Theodore Karasik

 Ankara Has To Get Real In Syria

By Semih İdiz

 Europe’s Refugee Saga

By Mustafa Aydin

 The 100-year Intifada

By Ramzy Baroud


Reconfiguring the Arab region and its global space

Raghida Dergham

 21 October 2015

How is the Arab region realigning itself in light of the new regional-international alliances and what is its place in the international landscape, beyond the traditional classification of the region in terms of its economic role and the huge security challenges it faces led by ISIS and its ilk?

When raising this question, and because of the overt Russian military intervention in Syria now, the Syrian issue becomes one of major importance in the future of the region and global relations, led by U.S.-Russian relations. However, Syria in reality is not the only benchmark by which we should gauge the realignment of the Arab region in the international arena, while the intent is not to bypass at all raging crises and conflicts, such as those in Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, nor latent ones such as those in Lebanon, Egypt, or Tunisia.

The intent is that the re-alignment requires long-term strategies that accompany the necessary immediate-term ones to end the conflicts, because they pose serious obstacles to the growth and development of Arab societies, which would help take young people towards fulfilling normal aspirations, instead of falling victim to polarization, extremism, and terrorism.

A summit of the Beirut Institute in Abu Dhabi held this week brought together several prominent intellectuals and strategists from around the world to discuss what the new realignment requires and what mechanisms should be established to build a positive framework in the Arab region, covering regional and international relations as well. The summit saw many boldly admit American, Russian, and Arab mistakes, but went beyond diagnosing and confessing to failed policies and their repercussions, to discussing ideas regarding what should be done in earnest.

The conversations tackled Arab-Iranian, especially Saudi-Iranian, relations; Gulf-Russian relations, which continue to develop despite differences and drawbacks; and the future of Arab-American relations after the current administration and in light of President Obama’s policies.

Full disclosure: I am the founder and executive chairperson of the Beirut Institute, an Arab think-tank. The summit, which was held last weekend in the UAE capital, had support from the host country and brought together senior officials, ministers, former heads of state, and leaders of intellect, politics, and arts from around the world. Several prominent figures from the Arab world sit on the board of the independent think tank, information about which can be found on and via Facebook and Twitter.

Syrian tragedy

Naturally, the Syrian tragedy currently overshadows all other crises, despite the importance of what is taking place in Yemen, Libya, and Iraq. The main question here is this: Is Russia in the process of successfully altering internal Syrian equations, and what does Russia really want? Does the United States or the Gulf bless what Russia is doing? Or is Russia being lured into a quagmire in Syria?

It is indisputable that the absence and reluctance of the Obama administration to engage in Syria has encouraged Moscow to fill the vacuum, with Russia now repositioning itself in the Middle East. Washington may not mind for Moscow to occupy an exceptional strategic position through Syria, because the Obama administration has decided that the U.S. interest lies in pivoting east, away from the Middle East.

The official Russian pretext for the intervention in Syria is an official request for help from the “legitimate” government in Damascus. Moscow rightly argues that the United States did not question the legitimacy of the Syrian government when it signed agreements over the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal in the wake of a U.S.-Russian agreement, when Obama famously backed down from his “red lines”. Moscow is right because that agreement, which Washington signed through the Security Council, meant that Obama and Washington had backtracked from considering that Assad has lost his legitimacy as Obama had previously said.

At the Beirut Institute, the discussions during the public and closed sessions argued that the Russian intervention in Syria could have been a positive development, if military activities were coordinated on the basis of political understandings. According to one figure closely familiar with Obama’s policies, these understandings would not mind if Russia gained a leading, permanent position in Syria as a foothold in the region. However, President Putin would be mistaken if he believes that Washington would consent to maintaining Bashar al-Assad a permanent president atop the ruins of Syria. For one thing, this would implicate the United States in a confrontation that it does not need with an important segment of the Arab peoples and important nations that the United States still maintains strategic relations with, such as Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, talk about “Afghanization” emerged on many occasions during discussions at the summit. It is clear that the U.S. administration would not be able to disengage militarily from Syria, while Russia’s forces strike the Syrian opposition to rescue the Assad regime, under the pretext of crushing ISIS or al-Nusra Front. One of the participants, a senior military man, said something to the effect of: if you attack our men, we will attack yours. In other words, Washington, should it decide to, could reach Moscow’s men in Syria, and the men of Iran and allied Hezbollah.

Not long ago, U.S. Stinger missiles were being used by mujahidin in Afghanistan to shoot down Soviet planes. Today, U.S. TOW anti-Tank missiles are being used against Syrian regime armor. The difference is important today, because Washington is not targeting Moscow in the Syrian airspace, yet the TOW missiles are a turning point that goes beyond the program of training the armed Syrian opposition.

Not hiding concerns

Some Russians are not hiding their concerns regarding what they see as Vladimir Putin’s adventurism, declaring war on Sunni extremism when there is a large Sunni Muslim minority in his country, which is also surrounded by five Muslim-majority republics. He is also partnering up with Iran and Hezbollah on the ground, which also plays into the hands of those Sunni extremists bent on revenge. Even if the speculation that Russia intends to curb Iranian incursions in Syria are true, this remains a huge gamble.

Some say that Putin is falling into a U.S. trap, blinded by his arrogance. These voices say that Putin would be making a grave mistake if he did not accept Saudi and Gulf overtures calling him to be vigilant, and offering him to regain influence in the Arab region provided that he stops reducing Syria to the person of Bashar al-Assad. These nations are extending an olive branch to Russia, at a time when Putin is resorting to the gun. These countries want to save Syria – and Russia – without demanding Putin disengages with Iran, proceeding from their pragmatic thinking and their quest for good strategic, economic, and political ties.

This pragmatism and the quest for new, creative ideas were clear at the sessions of the Beirut Institute. Some spoke of practical steps to establish new structures for inter-Arab work, Arab-regional work, and Arab-international work. Specific recommendations will be issued based on the results of the brainstorming that took place at the summit.

The Beirut Institute Abu Dhabi Summit Declaration dealt with issues that similar conferences did not tackle. For example, the declaration urged Arab nations to join the ICC, to strengthen accountability and end impunity. Indeed, prosecuting the Israeli occupation and its violations is possible after the State of Palestine joined the Rome Statute, becoming a party to the ICC.

The declaration stressed the need for multilateral efforts to end the conflict in Syria, including developing a clear vision for the post-conflict phase and establishing a Gulf fund to help rebuild infrastructure destroyed in the years of the war in Syria and other countries, such as Yemen, Libya, and Iraq.

The declaration also stressed the need to achieve regional economic development through a comprehensive plan, including establishing a regional proactive fund headquartered in the GCC for future development. This is in addition to expediting the promotion of Arab mutual relations and moving forward with efforts meant to establish a new regional order that can deal with various challenges, such as state and non-state terrorism, the refugee crisis, and economic disintegration. The declaration stressed the need for diversifying sources of income, and promoting economic, political, and security institutions in the region, adopting successful models such as ASEAN.

The declaration also called for intensifying efforts to seriously address the Palestinian question on the basis of the two-state solution, in order to reach a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon.

With regard to youth, a call was made to launch an intensive campaign to integrate Arab youths economically, through a new approach based on technology to create job opportunities and spur entrepreneurship, in tandem with education and apprenticeship to employ graduates as part of developing a new digital economy and infrastructure.

The conferees, through the declaration, also called for strengthening regional administration and the rule of law, and for efforts to be stepped up to empower women as natural antidotes to extremism, in addition to including the private sector in political discussions. They also stressed the need to strengthen accountability and achieve real progress against corruption.

Because of the tragedies, instability, anxiety, frustration, and fear afflicting the region, the summit called for establishing a new institute to train Arabic-speaking psychologists to address the repercussions of trauma in the Arab region.

The talk about the realignment of the Arab region in the international arena is not purely political. It requires non-traditional thinking to develop creative solutions for the future, in partnership with new generations, away from isolationism. The Beirut Institute Abu Dhabi Summit launched this debate, and the debate will surely be continued.

Raghida Dergham is Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat, the leading independent Arabic daily, since 1989. She writes a regular weekly strategic column on International Political Affairs. Dergham is also a Political Analyst for NBC, MSNBC and the Arab satellite LBC. She is a Contributing Editor for LA Times Syndicate Global Viewpoint and has contributed to: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and Newsweek Magazine. She serves on the Board of the International Women's Media Foundation, and has served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University's Institute for Transregional Studies of the contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. She was also a member of the Women's Foreign Policy


Has the Syrian cause been sold?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

21 October 2015

The idea that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will remain in power has worried many. It has been commented on recently by the Saudi, Turkish, French and Russian foreign ministers. The Assad regime and its allies are repeating it in the context of suggesting that their rivals have submitted, and that Russian intervention has changed the course of the war. So is Assad really staying?

He governs less than a third of the country, and has a small army and security apparatus. More than 12 million Syrians have been displaced, while 5 million have fled the country. There is nothing left of the elements of a state. Assad stays among tombs as he confronts thousands of rebels. On the practical level, as a ruler he exists only in the statements of his allies Russia and Iran.

In addition, it is untrue that Russian intervention in Syria has granted Assad a chance to stay. The Russians are all he has left. He has unsuccessfully used his security forces and thugs. He then resorted to the Lebanese party Hezbollah, which has extensive experience in militia warfare. That also failed. Then the Iranians came to his aid but failed. Assad also resorted to Iraqi and Afghani militias, without achieving progress on the ground.

Assad’s departure

Russia then got involved with its air force and missiles, but the result has been no better. This week, Russian operations focused on Latakia, which until recently was a safe zone for Assad. He is not worth the price being paid by his allies and the Syrian people, and contrary to what he and his supporters think, there is no hope of him staying.

Even the Iranians, who are the most keen to keep Assad in power, are aware of the impossibility of him staying. However, they want to control the course of negotiations and decide the fate of future governance in Syria. They want to assign another Assad, a leader who will follow their orders so they can dominate a strategic geographic area from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, and besiege the Gulf.

The Russian stance developed following the visit of Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as Moscow began to talk about negotiating to establish a transitional phase. It is expected that there will be disputes over many details, such as the composition of the transitional government, the roles of the military and security institutions, and when Assad will depart.

It is impossible for him to resume as a legitimate president. The Syrian cause has not been sold, and it is not fit to be sold.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.


Has Israeli-Palestinian violence crossed the point of no return?

Yossi Mekelberg

 21 October 2015

As much as the recent outburst of killing between Israelis and Palestinians over the last fortnight is tragic and saddening, it should not have surprised anyone. Unless one was on a visit to a different planet for some time, or in complete denial, one could and should have seen this brewing for a long while.

Unfortunately, many members of the Israeli political system, as much as ordinary Israelis, made a consciousness decision to live in their own cocoon. They have been deliberately ignoring the dire implications of the current political impasse, which fails to bring a fair and just end to their conflict with the Palestinians.

There has been a complete and utter denial of the growing frustration among many Palestinians, especially youth. The unbearable life of privilege and prosperity on one side of the Green Line since 1967, has been in stark contrast to life under occupation and oppression on the other.

This accumulated anger, in a very asymmetric conflict, was another outbreak of violence waiting to happen. Tensions surrounding Temple Mount have surely been a trigger, admittedly a very important one, for the violence we are currently witnessing. Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the innumerable other issues at the heart of this bloody battle between the two people.

Needless to say, though probably it still needs to be said, understanding what is behind the recent surge of violence does not equate in any shape or form justifying it.

Loss of life

However, concentrating on the loss of lives among Jews and ignoring the loss of lives, in much higher numbers, among Palestinians also distorts understanding of the current situation. Looking at the profile of most of the Palestinian attackers, mainly using knifes, reveals that most of them are youth from East Jerusalem, with no affiliation to any recognised groups, or previously involvement with militancy. It is a spontaneous reaction to the hopelessness that has spread among Palestinian youth who saw their aspirations for self-determination dashed. Instead of being granted the opportunity of participating in building their own independent Palestinian state, they are witnessing the further expansion of Jewish settlements and outposts. They suffer from Jewish terrorism with little protection from the Israeli government. Their economic prospects are far from being promising, and they have consequently also lost trust in their own leadership to steer them to a better future.

Much attention is paid to the stabbing of Israelis in the streets, but as much as it is dreadful and causes genuine angst among Jews in Israel, this is carried out by a handful of people. Obviously this, or harming a religious site sacred to Jews, is not the answer to their suffering, and regrettably results in more violence, bloodshed and harsh measures against the Palestinians in the occupied territories. The real manifestation of Palestinian anger is in the mass demonstrations, mainly in different parts of East Jerusalem.

To be sure, incitement by certain Palestinian political and religious vested interests contributed to the outbreak of the current round of violence. Even President Abbas, usually a source of moderation and level headedness, got carried away with his own rhetoric, especially regarding Israel’s apparent attempts to change the status quo on Temple Mount. He should have known that this delicate issue should be handled with the utmost caution. His exasperation with the current Israeli government is understandable. Nevertheless, the explosive situation requires extreme care, otherwise it might end in a full-blown Palestinian uprising—such a move could risk Abbas’ shaky position of leadership too.

Prime Minister Netanyahu for his part is out of sorts, relying on shallow and inflaming rhetoric, and devoid of constructive policies. He may not intend to change the praying arrangements on Temple Mount, but he has allowed a gradual increase in the number of Jews able to pray there, a departure from the agreed practice. He was also weak, hesitant and slow in ordering members of his own coalition to avoid their provocative visits to Temple Mount. He typically delays or avoids necessary decisions for domestic political consideration, resulting in dire consequences.

Understandably, the Israeli government is required to reassure its citizens of their personal safety and security. However, the measures it is taking are short term and will lead to more bloodshed, while also compromising a final status solution. A panicky Israeli government makes it permissible to shoot any Arab who seems to ‘behave suspiciously.’ Jewish citizens are encouraged to carry arms, ignoring the high likelihood that in the current atmosphere this may not necessarily result in stopping terrorist attacks, but could end in the killing of innocent people. For the more extreme among the Jewish society, such as the reportedly murderous members of Price Tag, this may serve as a licence to harm Palestinians.

One of the measures suggested by the Israeli security establishment, with increasing support from the Israeli government, could lead to the de-facto division of the city. In order to curb violence in Jerusalem and its spread to Jewish residential areas, the imposition of a curfew on East Jerusalem was suggested, as well as preventing its residents from crossing into the western side. Ironically, the present Israeli government, the most religious-nationalistic government in its history, is the one that might end in dividing Jerusalem. The only reason this division should occur, is as part of a peace agreement, which would bring an end to the conflict. Such a peace agreement could have recognised the mutual legitimate claims of Israelis and Palestinians as having a stake in a city that represents their religious heritage and national aspirations.

Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.


Palestinian protests: Rocks, knives and cameras

Diana Moukalled

21 October 2015

The young Palestinians protesting against Israeli occupation and are arming themselves with rocks and knives and using their phones to document their activity have been described as the post-Oslo Agreement generation. The third intifada, as it's being called, is being documented online. Visual images are the weapon that Palestinian protestors are using to expose Israeli violations.

There's a Palestinian attempt to invest in these images - whether obtained from phones or from surveillance cameras which Israel has set up to monitor the Palestinians' movements and which now have become a tool to document what is happening. This is what has made Israel confiscate several surveillance cameras.

Israel has also officially requested YouTube and Facebook to remove videos that show Israeli settlers' and soldiers' violations against Palestinians. Popular protests have erupted in the West Bank garnering the attention of many, while social media networks have led to an increase in Palestinian anger thus triggering more protests. Meanwhile the momentum of the Israeli wave of hatred against Palestinians and Arabs has also gained pace as the Israeli society currently witnesses an upsurge in anti-Arab remarks. Some Facebook pages clearly reflect the anti-Arab opinions of many Israeli settlers and right-wing parties.

This time it's a war of photos.

For example, when the Palestinians published photos showing Israelis beating up an injured kid and insulting him, the Israelis responded by showing photos of Palestinian attacks, including stabbing and car ramming.

At first, the photos showed Palestinian men and women smiling as they were being arrested during protests. These smiles reflected defiance and insistence to confront Israel. We've also seen photos of young men snapping a selfie as they're throwing rocks at Israeli forces. Another picture showed a young Palestinian man dancing as Israeli security forces stood near him. Then came the photos and videos showing the Israeli army’s acts against Palestinians. A lot of the footage showed violations against children.

Meanwhile, many Palestinians have, through social media, voiced their desire to alter their image stating that there's a need to actually show the world that they're recent escalations from their side has been a form of voicing their anger.

Palestinians are this time trying to reclaim their image; however this image, whether it's the young man snapping a selfie or dancing or the young woman throwing rocks at Israelis, is no longer dominating the scene like it was at the start of the recent escalation.

Of course, considering history, the Palestinians are the weakest party and are the victim here. The number of Palestinians that have been killed, injured and detained in these recent protests further strengthens this point.

Therefore, Israel is still showing it has the upper hand here. However, it's important to note that this recent Palestinian manifestation of anger is not controlled by any Palestinian party. These protests came as a result of chronic Palestinian desperation and Israel's undermining of all options to compromise amid an increase in settlements and the adoption of additional security measures. What now pressures the Palestinians is the regional and international decline in interest in the Palestinian cause, as this grants Israel a green light to practice its oppression.

This reality must push the Palestinians to reconsider their acts of violence – acts which almost entirely dominate the image of the Palestinian protests.

Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.


Assad summoned to Moscow

Dr. Theodore Karasik

 21 October 2015

On Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad travelled to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The visit, anticipated for months, occurred three weeks into the Kremlin’s aerial and sea campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other extremist groups.

It marks Assad’s first foreign visit since the 2011 uprising in Syria began. His last visit to Moscow was that same year. That Assad felt comfortable enough to travel outside Syria direct to Russia is notable. With Russian and Iranian support, Assad felt that his core allies in Damascus - his immediate family and the intelligence services - are in control.

However, Assad literally snuck out of Syria with no reports of his trip, and took a Russian jet. Also, it should be noted that his wife Asma was not in Damascus at the time. She was in Jableh, a few miles away from the Russian air base in Latakia. Perhaps the ruling couple fear they may not be allowed to return.

Russia’s position regarding Assad and Syria’s future was evident at the meeting. Putin repeated what he has said all along, that there would be an eventual need for a political settlement to the conflict. That Russia has come to save Syria from itself is salient: Putin has said when “healthy forces” are ready to negotiate, there will be an election with a transition away from Assad to another leader.

War on terror

“The attempts by international terrorists to bring whole swathes of territory in the Middle East under their control and destabilize the situation in the region raise legitimate concerns in many countries around the world,” said Putin.

“This is a matter of concern for Russia too, given that sadly, people from the former Soviet Union, around 4,000 people at least, have taken up arms and are fighting on Syrian territory against the government forces. Of course, we cannot let these people gain combat experience and go through ideological indoctrination and then return to Russia.”

In other words, Russia will stay in Syria until the latter stops being an incubator or launch pad for global extremism. Western estimates on the fight against ISIS and other extremists are in the two-decade range. Moscow has not released a timetable yet. Perhaps that is a smart move.

At their meeting, Assad expressed appreciation for Putin’s support, and affirmed the desire for an eventual political settlement: “The whole people wants to take part in deciding the fate of the state, not just the ruling group.” Mention of the ruling group is an important indicator that Assad is kissing the ring on Putin’s finger for saving his family and close colleagues.

Converging plans

Assad’s surprise visit is all about timing. In the past few days, Turkey said Assad could keep “the powers of the presidency for six months before retirement.” Such talk plays into Russia’s role as negotiator for Syria’s political future, and fits perfectly with the Kremlin’s plans.

Moreover, Assad’s visit fits into U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s plans for talks on Syria that must involve a transition plan. It is important to remember that Kerry stands outside conventional wisdom in Washington.

After Assad’s visit, Moscow moved quickly to announce its next steps. The defense minister announced more measures for the Russian presence in Syria, including “to create conditions for the settlement of the conflict.”

With the establishment of a base in Latakia, there may be further on-the-ground requirements that Russia will direct the Syrian army and its allies to fight. Significantly, Assad is said to have requested more military involvement from Moscow. Whether that request involves special forces, possibly from Chechnya, remains to be seen.

On Thursday, a Russian parliamentary delegation headed by Dimitrii Sablin will meet with Assad to assess the situation in Damascus, and how to launch a transition process. In May, Sablin headed a delegation to Syria that met officials and representatives of religious communities.

Assad’s visit is an important marker that Moscow’s intervention in Syria is about to enter a new stage. The Russian general staff have said sorties will increase dramatically. There are also indicators that the battle for Aleppo will commence soon, with the build-up of thousands of Iranian-linked forces with the Syrian military. The pieces for the transition are coming together on the Kremlin’s orders.

Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans.


Ankara Has To Get Real In Syria

 By Semih İdiz


Our own Serkan Demirtaş is one of the best connected journalists in Ankara. This is what makes his article on Wednesday important. It reflects Ankara’s delusions with regard to Syria, showing it is guided more by wishful thinking than anything else.

Demirtaş cites a Turkish source who maintains that Washington has received Turkey’s messages about Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara considers to be a terrorist organization, “loud and clear.” 

This group is currently allied with the U.S. against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “We have raised this question to them: Are you opting for a 2,000-strong PYD force over the 700,000 or 800,000-strong, second most powerful army in NATO?” the source said. 

The source also claimed that the American side admits they were not fully aware of all links between the People’s Defense Units (YPG), the armed wing of the PYD, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) until they received Turkish intelligence proving this.

In fact these links were known to all, even without intelligence from Ankara. The source also claimed the American side admits now that the U.S. strategy of fighting ISIL was “short-sighted,” and sees that this has enabled the PYD to turn the situation to its own advantage.

“There is this misperception that the PYD is fighting effectively against ISIL. In fact, it is al-Nusra that has been harming ISIL the most. Are we also going to arm them? This is what we are asking the Americans,” the source is reported as saying. 

The suggestion that al-Nusra should be armed in this case, rather than the PYD, is a cynical challenge at best. But it could also be an expression of a deep-felt desire. This group was listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. much to Ankara’s annoyance at the time.  It was only after pressure from Washington that Turkey also listed it as such.

Some Western diplomats believe al-Nusra is still receiving clandestine assistance from Turkey. Even if this is not true, one has to admit that the suppositions cited by the source talking to Demirtaş are no less speculative than this claim.

Demirtaş’s source also believes that Russia will never risk confrontation with Turkey because of the strong and important bilateral relationship. Russia will not put itself into such a position, however, because it would mean confronting NATO.  The supposed influence of the “strong and important bilateral relationship” between the two countries, on the other hand, appears exaggerated.

Moscow knew Turkey’s positon on Syria all along, and this did not prevent it from getting militarily involved to shore up Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even though it was aware that this would annoy Ankara deeply. As for the vast economic and energy interests between the two countries, these cut both ways.

The results of my soundings among Western diplomat circles do not tally with what Demirtaş’s source is saying. Open remarks by State Department and Pentagon spokespersons also indicate that Washington is not prepared to give up on the PYD or YPG at this stage.

As to the rhetorical remark about “preferring the PYD to NATO member Turkey,” this is an argument Ankara has been using for some time. According to my Western sources, this argument might have been valid if Ankara were fully in tune with NATO on the need to prioritize the fight against ISIL.

It was, after all, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter who not so long ago said Turkey had to do more in this regard. One could argue, therefore, that if Turkey’s commitment against ISIL was more convincing, the U.S. might have had less need for the PYD.

Looking at the picture as it really is, and not as some Turkish official would like it to be, one is reminded again of how important it is for Ankara to get real and recalibrate its Syrian policies, instead of floating notions clearly aimed at a domestic audience that is increasingly wary of the cost of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s misguided policies.


Europe’s Refugee Saga

By Mustafa Aydin


The European Union has been struggling to cope with the steady influx of people fleeing from turmoil, conflicts and harsh conditions in the Middle East, Africa and Asia for years. But the matters came to a tipping point after mainly Syrian and Afghan refugees pushed their way onto the EU over the summer amid several drowning incidents in the Mediterranean Sea.

However, the EU is not alone in this latest crisis, which has already become the biggest refugee movement in Europe since World War II. In fact, neighboring countries have been shouldering the main burden of the people fleeing from unstable regions. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Turkey is currently hosting more than 2 million refugees just from Syria alone, while Lebanon hosts over 1 million and Jordan hosts 600,000, but they have received little support from the international community.

EU members started to consider policy options to cope with the crisis only after the waves of refugees crossed the Balkans toward Germany and Western Europe. So far, no durable solution has been found and the EU remains typically divided. The current EU asylum policy, the so-called Dublin System, is ineffective with the inherent weakness of delegating all the responsibility to deal with an emerging problem to frontier countries.

Although the EU decided on Sept. 22 to relocate 120,000 refugees from Greece and Italy to other members (the United Kingdom opted out of sharing the burden), it remains a cosmetic touch, solving nothing. Along the way, Germany has suspended Schengen rules and Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia have closed their borders to try to limit the daily refugee flows.

While these unilateral crackdowns are damaging the EU’s main values and principles, the European Council decision on Oct. 15 to cooperate with third countries to stem the flow, strengthen the protection of the EU’s external borders and ensure the return of refugees demonstrated yet again a very Euro-centric approach to a global problem.

As the crisis and pressure at home grew, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Turkey on Oct. 19 to ask for Turkey’s cooperation in curbing the refugee flow toward Europe. Although she reiterated her longstanding objection to Turkey’s full membership in the EU ahead of her visit, Turkish leaders immediately tied the issue with the membership process.

When they met in Istanbul, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stipulated four demands in return for Turkey’s support to Europe: The opening of several chapters for negotiation, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, substantial additional financial support by the EU, and extending invitations to Turkish leaders for EU summits. Although Merkel has pledged her personal support for these demands, it is the European Council that will ultimately decide, and some members have already registered their unease at linking the Turkish membership process with the refugee crisis.

On the other side, while the proposed 3 billion-euro aid package as part of an “EU-Turkish Joint Action Plan” might assist Turkey’s efforts to improve existing refugees’ living conditions in Turkey and prevent the flow of people in the short-run, it will not resolve the problem completely. For that, the EU has to come up with a comprehensive common strategy rather than try to buy the goodwill of the transit countries with promises.

Clearly, combining the refugee crisis with the strategic interests and political concerns of transit countries and EU members without addressing its root causes and humanitarian aspects will not solve the problem; it will only postpone it.


The 100-year Intifada

Ramzy Baroud

21 Oct 2015

As a Palestinian uprising gathered momentum last week, I sat for hours listening to and recording the story of Ahmad al-Haaj, an 83-year-old Palestinian refugee from the village of al-Sawafir. He has been living in Gaza since 1948. Listening to Al-Haaj's memories, my thoughts swayed between the past and the bloody reality of the present.

Ever since I took on the task of recording a people's history of Palestine over ten years ago, a tragic theme has permeated all of my books and most of my articles. I have been confronted with stories of loss and displacement time and again. Ordinary Palestinians have been retelling the same story for generations.

Few outsiders have ever connected narratives from Gaza, Jenin, Deir Yassin, Dheisheh, Sabra and Shatila, Yarmouk, Jabaliya and a thousand other locations. Stories from Palestine are rarely a cohesive intellectual and historical unit that can be separated or selectively analysed.

Following every major event in Palestinian history, Palestinians are expected to learn to coexist with whatever new reality is shaped or determined by Israel. Not only were Palestinians expected to let go of Haq Al-Awda - their right of return - altogether, but their own self-proclaimed president, Mahmoud Abbas, publicly conceded his own right to do so, too.

'Selling out' Palestinian rights

Abbas was hardly the first Palestinian leader to freely compromise Palestinian rights. The series of concessions predates the Oslo peace process. Palestinian political elite have historically maintained their position at the helm of Palestinian society.

They have never possessed any moral qualms with the notion of "selling out", a term used by many Palestinians themselves. Successive leaderships cleverly navigated their politics under the Ottomans and coexisted with British colonialism, Jordanian hegemony, the Egyptian military administration, and, more recently, with Israel, which was established on top of Palestinian ruins.

Al-Haaj's story pertained to his exile from his beloved village, the existence of which was first documented in the early 16th century. Al-Sawafir was subsequently burned to the ground by Zionist militias in 1948. His narrative is largely confined to the neighbouring villages that, at the time, were also the limits of his world's geography.

The defining event that led to his exile was the defeat of Beit Daras, a nearby but larger village inhabited by Palestinian fellahin, or farming peasants. The peasants were the majority of Palestinians, teetering between poverty and extreme poverty; some of them owned land, others worked as cheap labourers on the land of wealthy Palestinians. But they were always and would remain the heart of the resistance in Palestine. Indeed, in Beit Daras, they fought until the last bullet. What followed was a massacre that remained largely untold:

"The Zionist militias' convoys eventually returned - this time with a vengeance. They struck at dawn and charged against the village until the early afternoon. The village was surrounded from all directions, and all roads leading into it were cut off to ensure that the fellahin fighters didn't come to the rescue. Although by then the fighters in Beit Daras had acquired up to ninety rifles, the invading militias amassed an arsenal of modern weapons, including mortars, machine guns mounted on top of fortified vehicles, and hundreds of fully armed troops."

"The militias moved in, executed whoever survived the initial onslaught - civilians and all. The rest escaped running through burning fields, tripping on one another while being chased by sniper bullets. The massacre instilled fear and horror, especially as the death toll had reached 300 in a village population that once barely totalled two thousand."

Long-standing oppression

Al-Haaj could have been talking about any other village or refugee camp. There are many similarities between the stories I have recorded in my book "Searching Jenin", which details the military onslaught and massacre in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002, and the horrific events that took place in Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014.

Only the technical details have changed since 1948; the reasons behind the slaughter remain the same - the racist discourse that compels the current violence employed by Israelis and their leaders today, and that of their ancestors for much of the last century. The compromising, self-serving nature of the sanctioned Palestinian leadership and the elitist class it serves also remains the same.

The Palestinians fighting back in the streets of Jerusalem, or al-Quds, the West Bank and Gaza today are the descendants of a generation that once led an uprising and a rebellion that lasted for three years, starting in 1936.

Many of those mostly poor and illiterate fellahin peasants, possessed a degree of political consciousness that allowed them to sustain an uprising against vicious British colonialism and Zionist violence. It is those same fellahin who fought in Beit Daras and all the Palestinian villages in 1948 who have been fighting ever since.

The current Intifada in Palestine cannot be separated from the past or reduced to a simple term linked to a failed peace process. It is a rebellion which is rooted in a much deeper and larger context, and that has to be appreciated in its entirety.

True, little has changed in Israel's colonial endeavours and its propensity for violence remains bound by racist discourse. At the same time, little has changed in the Palestinian will to fight back, because they must, and always have.

Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of His latest book is "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story".