Inter Press Service » Peace http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 20 Aug 2014 13:15:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 South Sudan Heads towards Famine Amid ‘Descent into Lawlessness’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Andrew Green http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136125 A woman living in a displacement site in Mingkaman, South Sudan, grinds grain that she received from humanitarian agencies during their monthly food distribution. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in South Sudan and many are now dependent on aid agencies for food, shelter and protection. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

A woman living in a displacement site in Mingkaman, South Sudan, grinds grain that she received from humanitarian agencies during their monthly food distribution. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in South Sudan and many are now dependent on aid agencies for food, shelter and protection. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

By Andrew Green
JUBA, South Sudan , Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Another deadline has passed. But instead of bringing about peace, the leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties have allowed the country to continue its slide toward famine.

Sunday was the deadline for the delegations of President Salva Kiir and his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar to present a final proposal for a unified transitional government that would end eight months of conflict.

Instead, the weekend brought more fighting.

Each new clash exacerbates the country’s already-desperate food security situation. The international community has warned that famine could arrive as early as December. At least 1.1 million people are facing emergency food shortages. And – until fighting actually stops – aid agencies do not have access to tens of thousands of people who need their help.“Attacks on civilians and destruction and pillage of civilian property lie at the heart of how this war has been fought.” -- Skye Wheeler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch

There are no indications from the field that the clashes will stop any time soon. On Tuesday, during a visit of the United Nations Security Council to South Sudan, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power shared reports they had received “of more arms being brought into this country in order to set the stage for another battle.”

Meanwhile, in early August, a local militia group operating outside the command of either of the two forces tracked down and executed six aid workers in Upper Nile state, near the country’s border with Sudan. They chose their targets based on ethnic affiliation, perpetuating the tribal divisions that are driving this conflict.

By the time the two sides finally get to work in Addis Ababa, they may be drafting a solution to a situation over which they no longer have any control.

The now eight-month conflict began as a political squabble between Kiir and Machar over who would control the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party. But it quickly stoked ethnic tensions as it moved across the eastern half of the country. Human rights violations became one of the grim hallmarks of the violence.

“Attacks on civilians and destruction and pillage of civilian property lie at the heart of how this war has been fought,” Skye Wheeler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in an interview with IPS. Patients have been shot in their hospital beds and people sheltering in a mosque and at U.N. bases have been massacred. At least 10,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million more displaced.

Even as violence has become the norm across large swathes of the country, the targeted killings of aid workers and other Nuers living in Upper Nile state’s Maban County may have marked the transition to a more volatile stage in South Sudan’s conflict.

Maban, which hosts tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees, had been relatively untouched by the fighting. But that did not stop a local militia, calling itself the Mabanese Defence Force and with no obvious alliance to either side, from executing the Nuer civilians.

The U.N. Mission in South Sudan warned in a press release that Maban was now at risk of an “ongoing descent into lawlessness” – a lawlessness that, in the absence of a legitimate peace deal, could easily spread to other areas of the country as communities decide to exact their own forms of justice.

“We’ve seen how abuse has driven further violence and more abuses during reprisal attacks directed against civilians,” Wheeler said. The weekend brought reports that another armed group was on the march in Maban, this one to exact revenge for the killings earlier in August.

The consequences of the Maban murders could be further reaching.

The people living in the conflict regions – as well as tens of thousands of displaced – are almost completely dependent on the U.N. and non-governmental organisations for food, shelter and protection.

Humanitarians were already dealing with access issues amid the ongoing fighting, as well as funding shortages. The U.N. estimates aid agencies will need 1.8 billion dollars to reach 3.8 million people before the end of the year. So far they have raised just over half.

And while the situation does not yet meet the technical criteria to be declared a famine, “there is extreme suffering,” Sue Lautze, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation country director, told IPS.

If aid workers become targets, the suffering will get much worse.

In Maban, a team from Medair, a humanitarian group currently providing emergency services in South Sudan, is responsible for operating clean water stations and running other health and hygiene services for the 60,000 people, including Sudanese refugees who live in the Yusuf Batil Camp, as well as members of the surrounding communities. Country Director Anne Reitsema said in an interview with IPS the attacks showed a “total disrespect for humanitarian actors.”

Following the attack, Medair temporarily pulled some staff members out of Maban, though leaving enough people to continue their operations. It’s too early to say when they will return, but Reitsema cautioned that the attack “makes it very hard for us to do our work.” The problem is, there is no one else to do it.

All of this – the increasing violence, the possible famine and another missed deadline – can be used as points “to shame” the two parties into an agreement that finally sticks, according to Jok Madut Jok, an analyst with the Sudd Institute, a local think tank.

It’s already happening. During her visit to Juba, Power said, “We do not see the urgency that needs to be brought to these negotiations.” And the international community has raised the threat of economic sanctions once again.

It’s a strategy that has not yet worked – the United States and European Union have already sanctioned a military leader on each side of the conflict. But neither has anything else the local and international community has tried. Which is why Jok expects more deadlines may come and go without anything being accomplished.

“The peace talks are about what each one of them hopes to walk away with from the peace talks, rather than peace, itself,” he told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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No Victors or Vanquished in Brutal Gaza Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-victors-or-vanquished-in-brutal-gaza-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-victors-or-vanquished-in-brutal-gaza-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-victors-or-vanquished-in-brutal-gaza-conflict/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 21:04:11 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136114 A Palestinian searches through the rubble of his home destroyed by Israeli strikes in Khuza'a, southern Gaza Strip on August 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A Palestinian searches through the rubble of his home destroyed by Israeli strikes in Khuza'a, southern Gaza Strip on August 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

As the dust – and the gunpowder – settles after the month-long devastating conflict in Gaza, there were apparently no victors or vanquished.

Israel, despite its high-tech military force and so-called “pinpoint bombings”, failed to achieve its ultimate objective: annihilate the militant group Hamas."Israel's military, economic, political and diplomatic pressures can stave off the Arab tsunami for some time, but not for long." -- analyst H.L.D. Mahindapala

Instead, it killed mostly civilians, while destroying homes, schools, hospitals, universities and U.N. shelters – acts of potential war crimes that may be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the death toll and destruction as “staggering.”

According to preliminary information, nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been killed – almost 75 per cent of them civilians, including 459 children, he added.

“There were more children killed in this Gaza conflict than in the previous two crises combined,” he told a U.N. news conference Tuesday.

In contrast, the Israeli death toll included 64 soldiers and three civilians, according to Israeli military figures.

“What has been the political value of this fight?” asked Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Connecticut.

He told IPS Israel finds itself isolated and most of the world is disgusted by the carnage, with sympathy for the Palestinian cause at an all-time high.

“The outcome on the political level is as yet unclear. It depends entirely on how the Palestinian leadership behaves,” said Prashad, a Middle East political analyst and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

H.L.D. Mahindapala, a former Sri Lankan newspaper editor and a political analyst based in Melbourne, told IPS Israel has lost its earlier monopoly of power to dictate terms in the region.

The Palestinian response through primitive tunnels has proved that they are a force to be reckoned with, he said. For instance, Israel boycotted talks in Egypt and Hamas forced them to come back by firing rockets and threatening its security, he pointed out.

“Israel was baffled and beaten by the network of tunnels,” said Mahindapala.

The ingenious network was built first as self-defence to beat the Israeli ban on goods. Later it became the best defensive/offensive mechanism which Israeli failed to dismantle despite its claim of ‘mission accomplished’, said Mahindapala, who has been closely monitoring the politics of the Middle East for decades.

Meir Sheerit, a former member of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying the network of tunnels was an intelligence failure on the part of Israel.

“I don’t think our intelligence knew how many tunnels were dug, the location of the tunnels, or how many of them were planned for assault,” he said.

According to Ban, more than 300,000 people are still sheltering in schools run by the U.N. relief agency UNRWA, and in government and private schools and other public facilities, or with host families. At least 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed or severely damaged, he added.

And according to Israeli military sources, Hamas launched about 3,488 rocket and mortar attacks since the conflict began on Jul. 8 compared with 4,929 Israeli military strikes, primarily with U.S.-supplied weapons, against targets in Gaza.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times last week, Ronen Bergman, a senior political and military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, said, “If body-counts and destroyed weaponry are the main criteria for victory, Israel is the clear winner in the latest confrontation with Hamas.

“But counting bodies is not the most important criterion in deciding who should be declared the victor,” he said. Much more important “is comparing each side’s goals before the fighting and what they have achieved. Seen in this light, Hamas won.”

Hamas also waged an urban campaign against Israeli ground forces, inflicting at least five times as many casualties as in the last conflict, and successfully used tunnels to penetrate Israeli territory and sow fear and demoralisation, said Bergman, who is writing a history of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.

The final verdict will depend largely on the outcome of any agreement reached after the peace talks in Egypt.

Prashad told IPS the Gaza war was “asymmetrical and disproportionate.”

This means that tactically there is no question that the main suffering and destruction is on the Palestinian people and on their enclave in Gaza, he pointed out.

The United Nations has made it clear that Gaza’s infrastructure is entirely destroyed, including hospitals, schools, businesses, power, food storage and supply.

“It is a humanitarian catastrophe. So on this level, Israel has won. It has made life unlivable for the Palestinians,” he said.

Israel says that its war aim was to destroy Hamas. It turns out, however, that it has destroyed Gaza once more, he added.

Prashad also said it would be an important gesture to make a full commitment to the ICC and to fully back an investigation to the nature of the war. It is to the benefit of the Palestinians that such an assessment is made, he added.

Mahindapala told IPS, “What the military strategists must realise is that it is not only Israel that is facing defeat but also its greatest ally, America.” If Israel fails, he predicted, the U.S. goes down with it.

“Israel’s military, economic, political and diplomatic pressures can stave off the Arab tsunami for some time, but not for long,” he added.

He said the U.S. and Israel are both in decline and how they propose to manage the new realities without a nuclear holocaust is the next big question.

Israel’s left-wing liberals are too minuscule and weak compared to the conservative hawks, and the main issue is not how Palestinians are going to live in occupied Israel but how Israel is going to live surrounded by a sea of Arabs, he added.

He pointed out the Arab world also must face the new realities. Islam too is facing its biggest challenge.

The crisis in the Islamic world is the crisis of adjusting to the 21st century. It is in transition and the Arab Spring was the first sign of breaking away from Arabic medievalism linked to oppressive authoritarianism. Both go hand in hand, he noted.

“The crisis is in the clash between traditional medievalism and modernism,” declared Mahindapala.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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What’s More Important, the War on AIDS or Just War?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 07:20:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida and Mercedes Sayagues http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136087 The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida and Mercedes Sayagues
JOHANNESBURG/NEW YORK, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

They say there is a war on and its target is the deadly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).   

This war runs worldwide but its main battleground is sub-Saharan Africa, where seven out of 10 HIV positive persons in the world live – 24.7 million in 2013. The region suffered up to 1.3 million AIDS-related deaths in the same year, according to the United Nations.

A ragtag army is fighting the war on AIDS. Sometimes it is comprised of well-dressed aid officials sitting in conference rooms allocating funds. At other times, it deploys shabby foot soldiers – community healthcare workers and AIDS activists – into desolate rural areas with no running water, let alone antiretroviral therapy.

With many competing health problems, funding for AIDS is a growing concern. Yet a look at the defence of budgets of several countries plagued by HIV portrays a startling picture of governments’ priorities, with huge military expenditures belying the argument that the key obstacle to winning the war against AIDS is money.

Nigeria's Military Budget Dwarfs AIDS Budget
 
With an HIV prevalence of three percent, Nigeria has the second largest number of people living with HIV in Africa – 3.4 million in 2012, according to UNAIDS.

Government’s response to the epidemic picked up last year but is still woefully inadequate. Many people are not accessing the treatment and care services they need, or at a steep price. Out of pocket expenditure for HIV and AIDS services accounts for 14 percent of household income, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Nigeria has US$600 million for AIDS until 2015, with donors shelling out 75 percent. This is an improvement: government provided only seven percent of total AIDS funding in 2010, compared to 25 percent now.
 
This year, the government is expected to allocate 373 million dollars to HIV programmes and 470 million in 2015, to meet the target of contributing half of AIDS financing needs.
But it remains to be seen if this will be done. Nigeria has many competing health priorities, and the recent Ebola fever outbreak will require extra funding and urgency.
Meanwhile, the proposed defence budget for 2014 awarded 830 million dollars to the Nigerian army, 440 million to its navy, and 460 million dollars to the air force.
 
In total, the country has allocated 2.1 billion dollars to defence this year, according to the Nigerian Budget Office.
 
This includes 32 million dollars for two offshore patrol vessels purchased from China, and 11.2 million dollars for the procurement of six Mi-35M attack helicopters, according to DefenceWeb.

And, as the 2015 deadline for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals looms large – with donor countries tightening their purse strings – health experts worry about financing for HIV prevention and AIDS treatment after 2015.

New funding for AIDS in low- and middle-incoming countries fell three percent from 2012 to 8.1 billion dollars in 2013, says a joint report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released in June.

Five of the 14 major donor governments – the U.S., Canada, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands – decreased AIDS spending last year.

And yet, while governments claim to be too cash-strapped to fight the AIDS war, funding for other wars seems much more forthcoming.

Spending on arms and on AIDS

Africa will need to do more with less to manage AIDS, concludes a 2013 UNAIDS report entitled Smart Investments.

In Kenya, a funding shortfall is expected soon, since the World Bank’s 115 million-dollar ‘Total War on HIV/AIDS’ project expired last month.

Meanwhile, the country’s defence budget is expected to grow from 4.3 billion dollars in 2012-2014 to 5.5 billion dollars by 2018, as the country stocks up on helicopters, drones and border surveillance equipment, according to the news portal DefenceWeb.

True, Kenya is under attack from Al-Shabaab terrorists. Still, five out of 10 pregnant Kenyan women living with HIV do not get ARVs to protect their babies.

Mozambique’s fighter jets

In Mozambique, a dearth of funding puts the country’s recent military expenditures into a harsh light.

Daniel Kertesz, the World Health Organization representative in Mozambique, told IPS the country’s six-year health program has a 200 million dollar finance gap per year.

Mozambique being very poor, it is difficult to see how the country – with 1.6 million infected people, the world’s eighth burden – will meet its domestic commitments.

“Today, Mozambique spends between 30 and 35 dollars per person per year on health. WHO recommends a minimum of 55-60 per person per year,” Kertesz said.

The same week, the government announced it had fixed eight military fighter jets, which it had discarded 15 years ago, in Romania, and is receiving three Embraer Tucano military aircraft from Brazil for free, with the understanding that purchase of three  fighter jets will follow.

According to a 2014 report by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Mozambique’s spending on state security is expected to rise sharply, partly owing to the acquisition, by the ministry of defence, of 24 fishing trawlers and six patrol and interceptor ships at the cost of 300 million dollars – equal to half the 2014 national health budget of 635.8 million dollars.

 The same week the refurbished fighter jets landed at Maputo airport, the press reported that the main hospital in Mozambique’s north-western and coal-rich Tete province went for five days without water.

Indeed, the country’s public health system is in such dire straits that the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) meets 90 percent of the health ministry’s annual AIDS budget.

Military Spending in Africa
Angola spent 8.4 percent of its 69 billion dollar budget on defence and just 5.3 percent on health in 2013.
In 2013, Morocco’s military expenses of 3.4 billion dwarfed its health budget of just over 1.4 billion dollars.
South Sudan spent one percent of its GDP on health and 9.1 percent on military and defence in 2012.

“The state budget for social programmes is not increasing at the same level as military, defence and security spending,” Jorge Matine, a researcher at Mozambique’s Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), told IPS.

“We have been pushing for accountability around the acquisition of commercial and military ships for millions of dollars,” he said.

A coalition of NGOs has requested the government to explain “its decision to spend that money without authorisation from Parliament when the country is experiencing severe shortages of personnel and supplies in the health sector,” Matine explained.

The coalition argues that, if defence spending remained as it was in 2011, the country would save 70 million dollars, which could buy 1,400 ambulances (11 per district, when many districts have only one or two) or import 21 percent more medicines.

A similar pattern unfolds across the continent where, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military spending reached an estimated 44.4 billion dollars in 2013, an 8.3 percent increase from the previous year. In Angola and Algeria, high oil revenues fuel the buying spree.

The South Africa-based Ceasefire Campaign reported recently that arms deals with private companies are also on the rise in Africa, with governments expected to sign deals with global defence companies totalling roughly 20 billion dollars over the next decade.

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Failing Abuja 

At the same time, the 2001 Abuja Declaration, whose signatories committed to allocating at least 15 percent of gross domestic product to health, has “barely become a reality”, Vuyiseka Dubula, general-secretary of the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign, told IPS.

 “Regardless of our calls, very few countries have even come close to 12 percent, including some of the richer African countries such as South Africa and Nigeria,” Dubula said.

Between 2000-2005, she added, “almost 400,000 people died from AIDS in South Africa; during that same period we spent so much money on arms we don’t need, and one wonders whether that was a responsible [use] of public resources.”

Mozambique is a sad example of Abuja failure. Back in 2001, Mozambique’s health budget represented 14 percent of the total state budget, tailing the Abuja target. It declined to a low of seven percent in 2011 and clawed to eight percent since.

“Financing mirrors the priorities of the government,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s minister of foreign affairs and former minister of health, told IPS. “We have seen that in countries that had the political will to turn around their health sectors, they upscale finance and really invest in the health sector.”

If this is true, the budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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OPINION: Islamic State in Iraq: Confronting the Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-islamic-state-in-iraq-confronting-the-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-islamic-state-in-iraq-confronting-the-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-islamic-state-in-iraq-confronting-the-threat/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 17:23:15 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136075 By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

The Islamic State’s territorial expansion and barbaric executions in Iraq and Syria are a gathering threat and must be confronted. American air bombardment, however, is the wrong course of action, and will not necessarily weaken ISIS or DA’ISH, as it’s known in Arabic.

As a senator, President Barack Obama called George W. Bush’s intervention in Iraq a “dumb war” and promised to end it if he won the presidency. It would be tragic if Obama, in the name of fighting the Islamic State, waged a “dumber” war.In Iraq, the political vacuum, which Maliki inadvertently engineered, contributed to the recent rise and success of the Islamic State.

The Obama administration maintains that its humanitarian intervention and air campaign are aimed at protecting U.S. personnel and preventing human suffering and possible “genocide.” According to some media reports, the U.S. has ordered the evacuation of some of its personnel in Erbil. Yet the administration’s argument that the airstrikes against Islamic State positions near Irbil were requested by the Maliki government, and are hence justified, is unconvincing.

Much of the Islamic State’s anti-Shia and anti-Iran rhetoric may be traced to the conservative, intolerant Hanbali School of Jurisprudence, which underpins Salafi Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. The Islamic State’s ideology justifies the use of violence in the fight against Shia Islam, Iran, the Shia-Maliki government in Iraq and the Alawite Assad regime in Syria.

While the al-Saud regime publicly loathes the Islamic State and correctly views it as a terrorist organisation, Saudi leaders do not necessarily abhor its message against Iran and the Shia. A similar situation prevails among the Sunni al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain.

In Iraq, the political vacuum, which Maliki inadvertently engineered, contributed to the recent rise and success of the Islamic State. Many Sunnis with a privileged past under Saddam Hussein support the group because of its opposition to Maliki’s Shia-centric authoritarian policy of refusing to form a more pluralistic and inclusive government.

Many Shia, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have criticised Maliki’s clinging to power. Sistani has called on the Iraqi people to “choose wisely,” urged Maliki to leave office, and blamed the prime minister for the deteriorating conditions in the country and, by implication, the territorial successes of the Islamic State.

In Syria, the ongoing bloody civil war has given the Islamic State a golden opportunity to fight a non-Sunni regime, especially one that is closely aligned with “Safavi” Iran and its perceived surrogate, Hezbollah. A combination of financial and monetary war loot, contributions from other Sunnis (especially in the Gulf), and initial arming by certain Gulf states, has helped the Islamic State fight effectively against the Syrian regime, the Maliki government, and more recently against the Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq.

Many of these Sunni Muslims view the call for a new caliphate as a return to the Middle Ages. It certainly does not address the endemic economic, social, and political deficits that threaten the future of the region. According to media reports, many Sunnis this past week refused to declare allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a mosque in Mosul despite his call for their loyalty.

Mainstream Sunnis also view the public executions of soldiers and other Islamic State opponents as barbaric and thus repulsive. The Islamic State’s harsh treatment of women and non-Muslim minorities is equally appalling. The application of harsh Sharia punishments or hudud in Syrian and Iraqi areas under Islamic State control has also been condemned by the international community.

The Islamic State and the West

Western countries view the Islamic State as posing three principal threats: a possible collapse of the Iraqi state; increasingly bloody sectarian violence across state boundaries; and continued recruitment and training of potential jihadists coming from the West.

Of the three threats, recruiting Western jihadists should be the key concern for Western security services. Once these young jihadists return to their countries of origin, they would bring with them battle-hardened experience and a radical ideology that rejects Western democratic pluralism.

Jihadist groups have exploited violent sectarianism to spread their message. Regimes in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere have also cynically promoted sectarianism in order to divide their peoples and stay in power.

The Islamic State’s rejection of existing boundaries between Iraq and Syria indicates that the artificial borders set up by the colonial powers under the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 are no longer functional. Colonial demarcation of state borders in the Levant (especially Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine), North Africa, and the Persian Gulf was implemented without meaningful consultations with the populations of those territories.

After WWI, colonial powers either ruled some of these territories directly or by proxy through pliant autocrats and potentates. In an interview with the New York Times this past Saturday, Obama acknowledged this reality and added, “what we’re seeing in the Middle East and parts of North Africa is an order that dates back to World War I [which is] starting to crumble.”

The “crumbling” of state boundaries has started in Iraq and Syria under the Islamic State’s religious veneer of the caliphate, but it will not stop there.

Call for Action

Many Sunnis who support the Islamic State do not agree with its terrorist ideology, religious fervor, intolerant theology, or vision of a caliphate. Their opposition to specific regime policies in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere drives their support of the Islamic State. Combating this gathering threat, therefore, should come from within the region, not through airstrikes or drone targeting, which Obama also acknowledged in the NYT interview.

If the Islamic State’s threat is destined to damage Western interests and personnel in the region, Western countries should take several comprehensive steps to thwart the threat.

First, Western law enforcement agencies should pay closer attention to their own nationals who show interest in joining the jihadists in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the region. They should partner with their Muslim communities at home to address this phenomenon.

These agencies, however, should not target these communities surreptitiously or spy on them. Community leaders should take the lead in reaching out to their youth and dissuade them from volunteering to do jihad regardless of the cause.

Second, the United States and other Western countries should impress on Maliki the necessity of forming a more inclusive government, which would include Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and other minorities. Maliki should heed Sistani’s call and step aside.

Once the Sunni community is provided with a legitimate, honourable, and fair avenue to pursue their economic and political aspirations, they would abandon the Islamic State and similar jihadist groups.

Had Washington reacted more effectively to the recent successes of the Islamic State and urged Maliki to form an inclusive government, there would have been no need for the current air strikes.

Third, following Mailki’s departure, the West should provide sustained military training with commensurate appropriate weapons for units of the Iraqi military, Sunni tribes in al-Anbar Province, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and the Syrian opposition. A weakening of the Islamic State requires the end of Nouri al-Maliki’s rule and the demise of Bashar al-Assad.

Fourth, as radicalism and terrorism have also spread south toward Jordan, Palestine, and Gaza, it is imperative that the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza be extended and the Gaza blockade lifted.

The war in Gaza is not about Hamas, Israeli protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Palestinians in Gaza cannot possibly live freely in dignity, peace, and economic prosperity while languishing in an open-air prison with no end in sight.

Fifth, it’s imperative for the Sisi regime in Egypt to halt the political arrests and summary trials and executions of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and supporters. It should provide the MB the necessary political space to participate in the country’s political life. The regime’s recent banning of the Islamist Freedom and Justice political party is a step in the wrong direction and should be reversed.

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

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Qualified Backing for Obama’s Iraq Interventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/qualified-backing-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qualified-backing-for-obamas-iraq-intervention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/qualified-backing-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/#comments Sat, 09 Aug 2014 00:37:12 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136022 President Barack Obama meets with his national security advisors in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 7, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama meets with his national security advisors in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 7, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 9 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama’s authorisation of limited military action in northern Iraq, announced in a national television address late Thursday night, has so far received support – albeit highly qualified in some cases — from across the mainstream political spectrum.

While Republican hawks have welcomed the move in hopes it may presage a much broader regional intervention in Syria, as well as in Iraq, many Democrats expressed worries that the decision, unless strictly confined to its “humanitarian” objectives, could become a “slippery slope” into a new quagmire just three years after Obama extracted the last U.S. combat troops from Baghdad.“Airdrops of relief aid will save Yezedi lives, but airpower cannot determine Iraq's political future.” -- Harvard Prof. Stephen Walt

“We know that our military intervention will not alone solve the long sectarian and religious conflicts in Iraq,” said California Rep. Loretta Sanchez in reacting to the announcement. “It is essential we avoid mission creep because our men and women in uniform cannot endure another war in Iraq and nor can the American people.”

Obama’s announcement capped a week in which forces of the radical Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) made sweeping gains in northern Iraq, coming within as little as 45 kms of Kurdistan’s capital, Erbil, and triggering a new flood of refugees from predominantly Christian and other minority communities that had been protected by the Kurdish peshmerga militias which withdrew in the face of ISIL’s onslaught.

Particularly dramatic was the plight of tens of thousands of Yezidis, followers of an ancient religion tied to Zoroastrianism, who fled to Mt. Sinjar to escape ISIL’s forces and have been besieged there for days without adequate supplies of food and water.

In his remarks Thursday, Obama cited their plight as one of two main justifications – the other being the protection of the several hundred U.S. diplomatic and military personnel who are based in the Kurdish capital — for his decision to authorise the deployment of U.S. warplanes both to carry out “targeted strikes” against ISIL positions “should they move toward [Erbil],” provide relief to the besieged Yezidis “to prevent a potential act of genocide,” and increase military aid to both the peshmerga forces and Iraq’s army.

He announced that U.S. aircraft had already begun providing “humanitarian airdrops of food and water” on Mt. Sinjar and was consulting with other countries and the U.N. on how best to alleviate the situation, presumably by working with Turkey to open a land corridor for the Yazidis to reach a safe haven across the border.

The Pentagon subsequently announced that it carried out two rounds of air strikes against ISIL targets Friday.

Obama’s actions were offered qualified praise by Republican hawks who have harshly criticised the president for months for not doing more, including using air power, to bolster Iraqi government and Kurdish forces in the face of ISIL’s initial takeover of most of Anbar Province and its subsequent sweep into much of northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

“The President is right to provide humanitarian relief to the Iraqi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar and to authorise military strikes against forces that are threatening them, our Kurdish allies, and our own personnel in northern Iraq,” said Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham in a joint statement. “However, these actions are far from sufficient to meet the growing threat that ISIS [another name for ISIL] poses.”

Calling for a “comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIS,” the Senate’s two leading hawks added that it “should include the provision of mitiary and other assistance to our Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian partners who are fighting ISIS, …U.S. air strikes against ISIS leaders, forces and positions both in Iraq and Syria; (and) support to Sunni Iraqis to resist ISIS.”

“And none of this should be contingent on the formation of a new government in Baghdad,” they added in a slap at the administration’s insistence that U.S. military aid to the Shi’a-dominated government currently headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki be calibrated according to the degree that any new government – whose composition is currently the subject of intense negotiations in Baghdad — demonstrates its commitment to sharing power with the Sunni minority from which ISIL derives its popular support, as well with the Kurds.

But in his remarks Thursday night, Obama insisted that he would stick to his conditions for providing more assistance to Baghdad.

“Iraqi leaders need to come together and forge a new government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis, and that can fight back against the threats like ISIL,” he said. “Once Iraq has a new government,” he added, “the United States will work with it and other countries in the region to provide increased support to deal with this humanitarian crisis and counter-terrorism challenge.”

He also tried to reassure Democrats, as well as a war-weary public, that his latest decisions would not result in a major new military commitment. “As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” he stressed. “The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.”

That declaration did not reassure some, however. While virtually no one criticised the mission to aid the besieged Yezidis, the decision to carry out air strikes was greeted with considerably less enthusiasm among many Democrats and critics of the 2003 Iraq war.

“When we bomb ISIS, which is a horrible group, we have to realise that we are heading down the path of choosing sides in an ancient religious and sectarian war inside Iraq,” warned Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, key sponsor of a resolution that was approved last month by a 370-40 margin in the House of Representatives that requires Congress to authorise any sustained deployment of U.S. combat troops to Iraq.

“The impulse to aid the Yezidis is understandable, but the commitment to help them could easily become open-ended and drag the United States back into the Iraqi quagmire,” Harvard Prof. Stephen Walt, a leading foreign policy “realist”, told IPS. “Airdrops of relief aid will save Yezedi lives, but airpower cannot determine Iraq’s political future.”

While conceding that he, too, was “nervous about what could be the next step that could lead us to get more deeply involved,” another prominent realist and a former top Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, Paul Pillar, the administration’s decision to use airpower against ISIL to defend the Kurds – even if it was billed as protecting U.S. personnel in Erbil – was sound.

“I think the administration is on defensible ground by using lethal force to prevent further inroads against the de facto Kurdish state …while not getting any more deeply immersed in the intra-Arab conflicts in the rest of Iraq that have sectarian dimensions and that can only be a lose-lose situation for the United States,” Pillar told IPS.

“There clearly is a slippery-slope hazard that we have to be mindful of, and all indications are that the administration is very mindful of it.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Happy Birthday “UNO-City” – UN’s Vienna Headquarters Marks 35th Anniversaryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-happy-birthday-uno-city-uns-vienna-headquarters-marks-35th-anniversary/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-happy-birthday-uno-city-uns-vienna-headquarters-marks-35th-anniversary http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-happy-birthday-uno-city-uns-vienna-headquarters-marks-35th-anniversary/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 15:18:47 +0000 Martin Nesirky and Linda Petrick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136007 Credit: United Nations Information Service Vienna

Credit: United Nations Information Service Vienna

By Martin Nesirky and Linda Petrick
VIENNA, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Austrians call it “UNO-City”. The United Nations calls it the Vienna International Centre (VIC). Both names give a hint of the scale and scope of the U.N’s headquarters in the Austrian capital, but not the full story.

As the VIC marks its 35th anniversary, it is worth reflecting on the U.N. family’s work here and its crucial role as one of the U.N.’s four global headquarters.Increasingly, sustainable development is a thread running through the work of all U.N. bodies, including those in Vienna.

The VIC’s three Y-shaped, interlinked buildings are certainly a product of their time. There is a retro 1970s feel to the orange-coloured lifts and to some of the corridors.

Yet the VIC has of course been modernised over the years to host a broad range of major events and more than 4,000 staff working at 14 bodies on topics ranging from nuclear safety to outer space affairs and from combatting drugs and crime to promoting sustainable industrial development and energy.

Six years ago Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean ambassador to Vienna, opened an additional state-of-the-art conference building that he said further underscored Austria’s commitment to multilateralism, a commitment that highlights the country’s neutrality and geopolitical location.

When it comes to news, many people link Vienna with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Yet while it has often made headlines because of Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or Fukushima, the Agency’s work covers much more – including supporting the peaceful uses of nuclear technology in health and agriculture.

Other parts of the U.N. family in Vienna make headlines in their own way.

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation promotes the treaty that bans all nuclear explosions and is establishing global verification to ensure no such blast goes undetected. Indeed, its monitoring picks up not just nuclear explosions such as those most recently conducted by the DPRK but also earthquakes like the one that caused a tsunami to hit Japan in 2011.

Atoms apart, the United Nations in Vienna is well known for its work tackling drugs and crime, including through a network of field offices and through its flagship World Drug Report. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also plays a vital role in promoting security and justice for all.

Increasingly, sustainable development – a top priority for the Secretary-General and Member States – is a thread running through the work of all U.N. bodies, including those in Vienna. The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, whose presence in Austria predates the VIC by more than a decade, is a good example, along with UNODC.

Far newer but weaving that same vital thread is the Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Its headquarters are just outside the VIC in an adjacent emerging office and residential district but it is a dynamically growing organisation that is very much a part of the U.N. constellation.

The U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs is also heavily geared to playing its part in sustainable development as it promotes international cooperation in the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space.

Smaller offices include the U.N. Postal Administration, the Interim Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention (United Nations Environment Programme), the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, the Office for Disarmament Affairs Vienna Office, the U.N. Register of Damage Caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the U.N. Commission on International Trade Law, the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation and the International Narcotics Control Board.

They may not always grab media attention but their targeted technical work has a concrete impact in their respective fields.

The United Nations Information Service Vienna helps to coordinate public information work by those U.N. bodies based in Austria, and is a good starting point for those wanting to know more. It also serves as an information centre for the public, media, civil society and academia in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia, and provides guided tours at the VIC.

In case anyone wonders, the international bodies based at the VIC split the running costs and pay Austria an annual rent of seven euro cents – it used to be one Austrian Schilling. Needless to say, Vienna is enriched by hosting the United Nations – and other international bodies such as the Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

Certainly for the United Nations family, Vienna offers a tremendous venue for technical work, mediation and decision-making that contribute to the global goals of peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. And it is all done in what the Director-General for the U.N. Office at Vienna, Yury Fedotov, likes to call the Vienna Spirit – a spirit of pulling together to decide and then take action.

Next Friday, Aug. 15, a joint-U.N.-Austrian celebration will take place to commemorate the 35th anniversary, which falls on Aug. 23.

Martin Nesirky is Acting Director, United Nations Information Service Vienna.

Edited by : Kitty Stapp

 

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Latin America Closes Ranks in Solidarity with the People of Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/latin-america-closes-ranks-in-solidarity-with-the-people-of-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-closes-ranks-in-solidarity-with-the-people-of-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/latin-america-closes-ranks-in-solidarity-with-the-people-of-gaza/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 23:57:37 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135992 A Jul. 2 march in Caracas in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Similar protests, with signs reading “We are all Palestine”, have been held in other Latin American capitals since Jul. 8. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

A Jul. 2 march in Caracas in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Similar protests, with signs reading “We are all Palestine”, have been held in other Latin American capitals since Jul. 8. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is the region whose governments have taken the firmest stance in support of Gaza in face of the battering from Israel, withdrawing a number of ambassadors from Tel Aviv and issuing harsh statements from several presidents against the attacks on the Palestinian people.

But some experts say that paradoxically, this solidarity has kept this region from playing a decisive role in the international attempt to curtail or resolve the conflict.

“It would be good to take advantage of the geographical distance and the relations with the people of the Middle East to curb the confrontation,” Elsa Cardozo, former director of the Central University of Venezuela’s School of International Studies, told IPS.

Latin America “also has the authority of being a region free of religious conflicts or conflicts revolving around the existence of nations, which puts it in a position to pronounce itself, for example, with respect to Israel’s horrendous attacks on civilian Palestinian targets,” Cardozo said.

But “its militant a priori side-taking undermines the region’s authority to pressure the two sides, because that authority isn’t gained by being biased but by condemning every action of each actor that violates basic rights,” she added.

Since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on Jul. 8, bombing the Gaza Strip, the governments of Argentina, Mexico, Nicaragua and Uruguay have issued statements condemning the bombing, and the Foreign Ministries of Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru recalled their ambassadors from Tel Aviv for consultations.

As far back as Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in late 2008, the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela broke off ties with Tel Aviv, while Cuba severed relations in 1973 and Havana has been at diplomatic loggerheads with Israel and has offered open support to the Palestinian liberation movements.

On Jul. 29, four of the five presidents of the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) released a statement during a summit in Caracas “vigorously condemn[ing] the disproportionate use of force on the part of the Israeli armed forces in the Gaza Strip, force which has almost exclusively affected civilians, including many women and children.”

The declaration also included a condemnation against any attacks on Israeli civilians, and was signed by presidents Cristina Fernández (Argentina), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), José Mujica (Uruguay) and Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela). President Horacio Cartes of Paraguay, another member of the bloc, abstained.

Map of Latin America with few countries coloured white (indicating that their governments have not openly expressed solidarity with Palestine). Credit: Telesur

Map of Latin America with few countries coloured white (indicating that their governments have not openly expressed solidarity with Palestine). Credit: Telesur

During the first four weeks of the war on Gaza, at least 1,830 Palestinians, three-quarters of them civilians, and 67 Israelis, including 64 soldiers and three civilians, have been killed, according to statistics gathered on the ground.

In this region, marches and protests in solidarity with Gaza and the Palestine cause have been held in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela and other countries.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa cancelled a trip to Israel and Palestine scheduled for later this year, saying that his country “has to continue to denounce this genocide that is being committed in the Gaza Strip.”

On Jul. 29, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that his country was putting Israel on its list of “terrorist states” because of the “genocide” and inhumane attacks on the civilian population in Gaza.

On Aug. 4, Mujica, the president of Uruguay, also described the offensive against the people of Gaza as “genocide”, while his foreign minister, Luis Almagro, said the government was reassessing “our diplomatic relations with Israel.”

“Everyone has the right to defend themselves, but there are defences that have a limit, that you can’t do, such as bombing hospitals, children and the elderly,” Mujica said.

Maduro also spoke out harshly against the Israeli offensive, describing it as a “horrible massacre. Those who compare it to the genocide experienced by the Jewish people themselves at the hands of the intolerant right whose maximum leader was [Adolph] Hitler are right.”

In addition, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua announced Aug. 6 in Cairo that Venezuela would ship 16 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza via Egypt, and send funds for the purchase of 15 ambulances, as well as 240,000 barrels of fuel for the rest of the year, based on agreements that will be managed by PetroPalestine.

The minister’s trip to Cairo had the aim of coordinating the aid, reiterating Venezuela’s commitment to the Palestinian population, visiting refugees who have fled the bombings into Egypt, and reasserting his country’s offer to take in Palestinian children orphaned in the last month.

Kenneth Ramírez, president of the private Venezuelan Council of International Relations, told IPS that Venezuela, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, “can contribute to the development of the fossil fuels in Palestine and to transforming them into opportunities for development of the Palestinian people.”

In addition, in the United Nations, where it is a candidate to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for the 2015-2016 period, Venezuela “can contribute to international efforts that could bring about a change in the current dynamic, but to do that it should avoid taking biased stances in this conflict,” Ramírez said.

Milos Alcalay, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the U.N., pointed out to IPS that “in the global organisation, Latin America has always supported the establishment of two states, since 1947, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, unlike Arab countries, which wanted only one state to be formed.

“Unfortunately that balanced position is being pushed aside, and the opportunity for an understanding with all of the parties in the conflict is being lost,” said Alcalay, who is also a former deputy foreign minister.

Latin America “should send a message that it mourns all of the dead, that it condemns Israel’s military actions and the provocations by extremists opposed to it, always with the aim of achieving and bringing about a ceasefire and a path to peace,” he added.

“There aren’t any valid state interlocutors left to mediate, in large part because they are actors who failed in their attempts at mediation and who have taken polarised positions with respect to the conflict in Gaza,” Andrés Serbin, president of the Buenos Aires-based Regional Coordinator of Economic and Social Research (CRIES), told IPS.

Given the failed mediation by the states and the U.N., “the alternative is that of civil society actions. The first efforts focus on early warning systems and prevention, and given the escalation of violence like what we are now seeing in Gaza, initiatives of citizen diplomacy and campaigns aimed at reopening the dialogue,” Serbin said.

Summing up, Ramírez said “Israel cannot continue the war with Hamas without eroding its international legitimacy; and Hamas can’t keep playing with fire, because the permanent division of the Palestinian factions will not help bring about a Palestinian state.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez /Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Israeli Peace Activists Grapple with Dilemmahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-israeli-peace-activists-grapple-with-dilemma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-israeli-peace-activists-grapple-with-dilemma http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-israeli-peace-activists-grapple-with-dilemma/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 12:03:42 +0000 Pierre Klochendler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135981 “Strong together, we love Israel and trust the army” banner in Jerusalem. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS

“Strong together, we love Israel and trust the army” banner in Jerusalem. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS

By Pierre Klochendler
JERUSALEM, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

“Strong together, we love Israel and trust the army” – while a tentative truce takes root, banners adorned with the national colours still dominate cities and highways across the country.

Calling for unquestioned patriotism and solidarity, the embrace is a bear hug in the minds of those who question the merits and morality of Israel’s latest onslaught on Gaza.

It is tough to subscribe to the credo of peace when nationalist emotions are exacerbated by plaintive sirens and the deafening sound of Iron Dome missiles slamming incoming rockets, when rational judgment is mobilised for the war effort and crushes rational assessment of the effect of war.

War is the antithesis of peace is a tautology. Challenged by war, Israeli peace activists grapple with dilemma.... ordinary Israelis took refuge in the safety net of their emotions, seeking comfort in national anxiety, pronouncing moral judgment on the “sanctimonious” critics at home who contest the axiomatic assertion proclaimed time and again that “the Israel Defence Forces is the world’s most moral army”

A war, when launched, must be won. Yet this war results neither in victory nor defeat, is not a war to end all wars, but a war to avoid the next war by means of deterrence, maybe. In war, there is only loss, and losers, peace activists reckon.

If war will not have solved the conflict – it contains the seeds of the next round of violence – peace will, they assert.

But when the cannons roar, peace is silenced.

Stressing that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Peace NGO Forum called for a ceasefire and a resumption of the negotiations towards a two-state solution on Day 22 of the operation.

The Peace NGO Forum is an umbrella platform for Jewish and Palestinian civil society organisations dedicated to peace within a two-state solution to the conflict. The partner organisations, which include the women’s peace coalition Bat Shalom and the Combatants for Peace movement, partake in networking, capacity-building and joint demonstrations,

The belated statement generated by the Israeli wing of the forum exposed the dilemma: “Israelis reserve the right to self-defence and deserve to live in security and peace, without the threat of rockets fired at them and enemy tunnels dug into their midst.”

And so, at its height, the war was justified, enjoying quasi-consensual approval ratings among Jewish Israelis. Social media brimmed with racist, intimidating, “Kill Arabs”, “Kill leftists” comments.

“No more deaths!” On Day 19 of the operation, 5,000 Israelis joined a rally organised by pro-peace civil society organisations. The emblematic Peace Now movement was absent, as was the liberal Meretz party. The protestors dispersed after rockets were fired at the Tel Aviv metropolis.

Succumbing willingly to the 24 hours a day news coverage on TV, ordinary Israelis took refuge in the safety net of their emotions, seeking comfort in national anxiety, pronouncing moral judgment on the “sanctimonious” critics at home who contest the axiomatic assertion proclaimed time and again that “the Israel Defence Forces is the world’s most moral army”.

Left-wing Israelis counter that self-righteousness is intrinsic in such proclamation.

“How can you not identify with our national pain when we’re under threat” is a blame often levelled by right-wingers against fellow Israeli peace activists.

The Israeli public which, in its overwhelming majority, is at the centre and right of the political spectrum, charges that the country is falling victim to ‘victimology’, the victim-focused coverage of the conflict.

Supporters of the peace movement see respect for “human rights as our last line of defence”, as Amnesty International director Yonatan Gher put it in the liberal daily Haaretz on Wednesday. They object to the disproportionate reaction of the military. Israel must understand the weakness inherent in its own military might, they suggest.

The mainstream’s assumption is that peace activists too often give in to ‘the mother of all tautologies’ – that “war is hell” and “evil” and, in essence, a war crime. Any sign of soul searching that this war is not just is resented as vacillation and unwanted self-flagellation.

Peace activists hold Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories as the source of evil.

The 47-year occupation, most Israelis argue, reduces their predicament to a simplistic imagery, because the occupation does not justify the hatred of Israel professed by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, and the repetitive cycle of violence. The occupation continues because peace is unattainable, they stress.

“Try,” retort peace activists, “We’ve proven enough that we’re strong enough to take a risk for peace.”

Israelis have been stuck in this perennial debate for 14 years.

During this time, they have experienced a flurry of conflicts with no end in sight: the 2000-2005 Palestinian Intifadah uprising, the 2006 Lebanon war against Hezbollah, onslaughts on Hamas in Gaza in 2006 (“Summer Rains”), 2008-2009 (“Cast Lead”), in 2012 (“Pillar of Defence”), and now.

Disillusion and despair are all the more potent that, during the years of the Oslo_Accords, a process of mutual reconciliation engaged both Israelis and Palestinians towards tentative recognition of the other’s pain.

With the ensuing confrontations, both people quickly backpedalled to the existential, elemental, dimension of their conflict.

In adversity, it has become necessary for both Israelis and Palestinians not only to exclude any identification with the other’s pain but also to inflict pain on the other as the sole way to assuage one’s pain and deter the other from inflicting pain.

What, however, unifies the overwhelming camp of war supporters and the dedicated ranks of peace supporters is the acknowledgement that the reality is complex.

Mainstream Israelis realise that their argument that an assessment of the situation requires not being focused solely on the body count in Gaza is a lost cause.

Peace activists understand that the threat that triggered Israel’s operation is tangible, but also the direction in which its outcome might be leading, its consequences and implications for Israel, and, by correlation, for the Palestinians and for peace between the two peoples.

Their ideal of co-existence grinded by years of wars, peace activists reject the focus on suffering if it only serves the hackneyed precept that, on one hand, in war, the end justifies (almost) all means, or, on the other, that war cannot be justified.

They draw fine lines between exercising a legitimate right of self-defence against an unwarranted act of aggression and ever greater use of force, and between the morality, rights and laws of war and the wrongs of the Occupation.

And now that the war seems over, they hang their hope on the realisation by their national leaders that they will urgently initiate a bold diplomatic move towards peace with the Palestinians, and will not let the same amount of time since the previous operation be wasted lest the same, recurring, reality blows up in both peoples’ faces.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Atom Bomb Anniversary Spotlights Persistent Nuclear Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/atom-bomb-anniversary-spotlights-persistent-nuclear-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=atom-bomb-anniversary-spotlights-persistent-nuclear-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/atom-bomb-anniversary-spotlights-persistent-nuclear-threat/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 04:00:23 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135976 The atomic bomb dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Credit: Freedom II Andres_Imahinasyon/CC-BY-2.0

The atomic bomb dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Credit: Freedom II Andres_Imahinasyon/CC-BY-2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

It has been 69 years, but the memory is fresh in the minds of 190,000 survivors and their descendants. It has been 69 years but a formal apology has yet to be issued. It has been 69 years – and the likelihood of it happening all over again is still a frightening reality.

As foreign dignitaries descended on Japan to mark the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing Wednesday, the message from officials in the city of Hiroshima was one of urgent appeal to governments to seriously consider the enormous threat to humanity and the planet of another nuclear attack.

Survivors, known here as hibakusha, who have worked tirelessly since August 1945 to ban nuclear weapons worldwide, urged diplomats – including ambassadors from four of the nine nuclear weapons states (United States, Israel, Pakistan and India) – to heed the words of the 2014 Peace Declaration.

Representing the anguished wishes of aging survivors and peace activists, the declaration calls on policy makers to visit the bomb-scarred cities to witness first-hand the lasting devastation caused when the U.S. dropped its uranium bomb (Little Boy) on Hiroshima and its plutonium bomb (Fat Man) on Nagasaki three days later.

The Center for Arms Control and Non Proliferation reported earlier this year that the nine nuclear weapons states possessed a combined total of 17,105 nuclear weapons as of April 2014.
Some 45,000 people observed a minute of silence Wednesday in a peace park close to the epicenter of the bomb, which killed an estimated 140,000 people in Hiroshima before the second bomb claimed a further 70,000 lives in Nagasaki.

The tragic events came as Japan was negotiating its surrender in World War II (1939-45).

The presence of so many survivors, whose average age is estimated to be 79 years, provided stark evidence of the debilitating physical and psychological wounds inflicted on those fateful days, with many hibakusha and their next of kin struggling to live with the results of intense and prolonged radiation exposure.

In a tribute to their suffering, the Hiroshima Peace Declaration states, “We will steadfastly promote the new movement stressing the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and seeking to outlaw them.

“We will help strengthen international public demand for the start of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention with the goal of total abolition by 2020,” the declaration added.

But the likelihood of this dream becoming a reality is dim, with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington reporting earlier this year that the nine nuclear weapons states possessed a combined total of 17,105 nuclear weapons as of April 2014.

The United States, the only state to deploy these weapons against another country, has steadfastly held out on issuing an official apology, claiming instead that its decision to carry out the bombing was a “necessary evil” to end World War II.

This argument is now deeply entrenched in global geopolitics, with states like Israel – not yet a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – vehemently protecting its arsenal as essential for national security in the face of protracted political tensions in the region.

Following Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, which resulted in 1,800 civilian casualties in the Palestinian enclave before a ceasefire brokered by Egypt came into effect Tuesday, some in the Arab community insist that Israel represents the biggest security threat to the region, and not vice versa.

China, a nuclear state with an inventory of 250 warheads and currently embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan, was conspicuously absent from the proceedings.

With run-ins between East Asian nations in the disputed South China Sea becoming increasingly confrontational, peace activists here feel an urgent need to address tensions between nuclear weapons powers, including North Korea.

Professor Jacob Roberts at the Hiroshima Peace Research Institute told IPS, “The call is to ban nuclear weapons that kill and cause immense suffering of humans. By possessing these weapons, nuclear states represent criminal actions.”

He said the anti-nuclear movement is intensely focused on holding states with nuclear weapons accountable for not abiding by the 1968 NPT.

He cited the example of the Mar. 1 annual Remembrance Day held in the Pacific Ocean nation of the Marshall Islands, which suffered devastating radiation contamination from Operation Castle, a series of high-yield nuclear tests carried out by the U.S. Joint Task Force on the Bikini Atoll beginning in March 1954.

Thousands fell victim to radiation sickness as a result of the test, which is estimated to have been 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima blast.

In total, the U.S. tested 67 bombs on the territory between 1946 and 1962 against the backdrop of the Cold War-era nuclear weapons race with Russia.

In a bid to challenge the narrative of national security, the Marshall Islands filed lawsuits this April at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and separately in U.S. Federal District Court, against the nine nuclear weapon states for failing to dismantle their arsenals.

The lawsuits invoke Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which contains a binding obligation for five nuclear-armed nations (the U.S., UK, France, China and Russia) “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

As in Hiroshima, the United States has not apologized to the Marshall Islands but only expressed “sadness” for causing damage. A former senator from the Marshall Islands, Abacca Anjain Maddison, told IPS, “The U.S. continues to view the disaster as ‘sacrificing a few for the security of many’.”

The U.S. is not the only government to come under fire. Hiromichi Umebayashi, director of the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA) at Nagasaki University, is a leading advocate for a nuclear-free zone in East Asia and a bitter critic of the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which is alleged to be currently pushing the argument that nukes are necessary for national security.

Umebayashi is spearheading a campaign to stop Japan’s latest decision to work closely with the United States, under a nuclear umbrella, on strengthening the country’s national defence capacities.

“North Korea’s nuclear threat in East Asia is used by the Japanese government to push for more military activities. As the only nation to be atom bombed, Japan is making a huge mistake,” the activist told IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N.’s “Responsibility to Protect” Another Casualty in Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-s-responsibility-to-protect-another-casualty-in-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-responsibility-to-protect-another-casualty-in-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-s-responsibility-to-protect-another-casualty-in-gaza/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 23:56:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135932 A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a U.N. school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on Jul. 30, 2014. At least 16 civilians, including several children, were reportedly killed and more than 100 people were injured. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a U.N. school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on Jul. 30, 2014. At least 16 civilians, including several children, were reportedly killed and more than 100 people were injured. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

When world political leaders met at the United Nations back in 2005, they unanimously adopted a resolution affirming the principle of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), aimed primarily at safeguarding innocent civilians from war crimes, genocide, mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing.

Since 2006, the 15-member U.N. Security Council (UNSC), the only international body empowered to declare war and peace, has reaffirmed this principle in several military conflicts, including Sudan, Yemen, Mali, Libya, South Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic – and in some instances even authorised military intervention.The U.N. Security Council has only issued a "presidential statement" - far removed from a legally binding resolution either condemning the civilian killings or insisting on both warring parties to end the conflict.

But despite the killings of over 1,800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, in the current conflict in Gaza, the UNSC has remained tight-lipped – and in hiding.

Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, told IPS the United States often speaks of its “special relationship” with Israel “but it has a special responsibility to ensure there is accountability for alleged war crimes.”

He said Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, “has done so much to advance the cause of mass atrocity prevention, but she should lead the Security Council in ensuring that civilians in Gaza get the protection they are entitled to under international law.

“The Israeli government appears to have declared war on U.N. schools and shelters that are housing displaced civilians. Deliberately bombing such places is a war crime,” said Adams.

The UNSC, he said, “must ensure that there is accountability and uphold its responsibility to protect.”

But so far the Council has only issued a “presidential statement” – far removed from a legally binding resolution either condemning the civilian killings or insisting on both warring parties to end the conflict.

According to figures released by the Gaza Ministry of Health, nearly 1,810 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the three-week old conflict while the Israeli death toll is 64 soldiers and three civilians.

The Israelis have been accused of bombing six U.N. shelters, including three U.N. schools, where Palestinians have sought safe haven.

Israel has argued these bombings were a reaction to the Palestinian military group Hamas firing rockets from nearby schools.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has remained cautious in his comments so far, blasted the last attack on a U.N. school as “a moral outrage and a criminal act.”

“Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children,” he said.

The U.S. State Department was equally critical of the attack on schools.

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”

Adams told IPS the responsibility to protect applies everywhere and at all times.

“A stateless Palestinian child has as much right to protection from war crimes as an Israeli citizen of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem,” he said.

In an op-ed piece last week, Adams said the distinction between military and civilian targets is central to international humanitarian law and must be adhered to, regardless of where a conflict is occurring, or whom it is occurring between.

With ongoing rocket attacks on Israel and unrelenting retaliatory airstrikes in densely populated parts of Gaza, both Hamas and the Israeli government appeared to be potentially violating the fundamental laws of war, he noted.

Navi Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said, “If civilians cannot take refuge in U.N. schools, where can they be safe?”

“They leave their homes to seek safety – and are then subjected to attack in the places they flee to. This is a grotesque situation.”

In a statement released Monday, the spokesman for the secretary-general said Sunday’s attack is yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law, which clearly requires protection by both parties of Palestinian civilians, U.N. staff and U.N. premises, among other civilian facilities.

United Nations shelters must be safe zones not combat zones, he said.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites.

“This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman also said the secretary-general is profoundly dismayed over the appalling escalation of violence and loss of hundreds of Palestinian civilian lives since the breach of the humanitarian ceasefire on Aug. 1.

The resurgence in fighting has only exacerbated the man-made humanitarian and health crisis wreaking havoc in Gaza. Restoring calm can be achieved through resumption of the ceasefire and negotiations by the parties in Cairo to address the underlying issues, he added.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Will Climate Change Lead to Conflict or Cooperation?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 18:26:46 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135923 In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

The headline of every article about the relationship between climate change and conflict should be “It’s complicated,” according to Clionadh Raleigh.

Director of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Raleigh thinks that researchers and the media have put too simplistic a spin on the link between climate change and violence.“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” -- Clionadh Raleigh

In recent years, scientists and the United Nations have been increasing their focus on climate conflict. The debate ranges from sensational reports that say the world will soon erupt into water wars to those who do not think the topic is worthy of discussion at all.

Much of the uncertainty over the connection between climate change and armed conflict exists because it is such a fledgling area of interest. According to David Jensen, head of the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme, the relationship between climate change and conflict began receiving significant U.N. attention only in recent years.

“While the debate on this topic started in 2006-2007, there remains a large gulf between what is discussed at the global level and in the Security Council, and what is actually happening at the field level,” he told IPS.

A body of peer-reviewed literature on climate change and conflict has recently begun to emerge, but scientists have discovered that the link between climate change and conflict is more complex than they expected.

“A number of studies have found a statistical link between climate change and conflict, but they tend to focus on a specific area and cover a short time period,” Halvard Buhaug, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo’s Conditions of Violence and Peace department, told IPS. “The challenge is to determine whether these studies are indicative of an overarching, more general trend, which hasn’t been documented yet.”

Much of the nuance behind the climate conflict correlations is lost when technical scientific reports are spread to a wider audience.

Buhaug told IPS that “parts of the public debate on climate change and violence are accurate, but there is an unfortunate tendency, whether by researchers or the media, to exaggerate the strength behind the scientific research and under-communicate scientific uncertainty.”

“In some media reports, phrases like ‘may’ are turned into ‘will’ and the future is portrayed in… gloomy shades.”

Following is a sampling of the back-and-forth debate taking place in the scientific community:

A prominent study by Burke etal. (2009) concluded that rising temperatures would lead to increased battle deaths in Africa. It predicted that if current trends held, increased temperatures would cause 393,000 extra battle deaths in Africa by 2030.

According to Buhaug (2010), the prevalence and severity of African civil wars has decreased since 2002 in spite of increased warming, defying Burke’s hypothesis. In his study, he found no evidence of a correlation between temperature and conflict.

Hendrix and Salehyan (2012) found that extreme deviations in rainfall, whether it was more rain or less rain than usual, are positively associated with all types of political conflict in Africa.

Benjaminsen et al. (2012) found little evidence for claims that rainfall variability is a substantial driver of conflict in Mali.

In 2013, Hsiang, Burke and Miguel published a meta-analysis of 60 studies on the subject in Science. They found that the majority of studies from all regions support the conclusion that climate change does and will lead to higher levels of armed conflict.

In a response in Nature Climate Change, Raleigh, Linke and O’Loughlin (2014) criticized the above study for using faulty statistics that ignored political and historical drivers of conflict and overemphasized climate change as a causal factor.

The debate over whether climate change exists and is human-caused has long been settled by scientists. The debate over whether it will impact armed conflict goes on.

A deeper understanding of the connection between climate change and conflict requires a careful examination of the drivers of violence and the role of the environment in individuals’ livelihoods.

Cullen Hendrix, assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, told IPS that the relationship between climate and conflict is mediated by levels of economic development.

Climate conflict is most likely to occur in rural, non-industrialised regions “where a large portion of the population is still dependent on the natural environment for their income and sustenance,” he said.

In most sub-Saharan African countries, more than two-thirds of the population is employed in agriculture. A change in climate conditions could have negative impacts on stability. However, researchers would emphasise that it is important not to jump to conclusions and assume that climate change will necessarily lead to conflict.

“Almost all of us would acknowledge that other factors such as political exclusion of persecuted minority groups or economic inequalities or weak central government institutions matter more [than climate]” Hendrix told IPS. “But that’s not the same as saying that climate doesn’t matter.”

When asked about the biggest lessons learned during his time with UNEP, Jensen had a similar take. “When you’re trying to rebuild communities and livelihoods, you can’t just focus on a single stress factor like climate change, you have to be looking at multiple factors and building resilience to all kinds of shocks and stresses…including climate change but not exclusively.”

Hendrix expects the next generation of scientific work to examine how drought, floods, desertification and other climate change phenomena could impact conflict “through indirect channels such as suppressing economic growth or causing large-scale migration from one country to another.”

In post-conflict situations and fragile states at risk of climate conflict, governance and land distribution have emerged as key considerations.

“Clarity on land and resource rights is one of the key prerequisites to reducing vulnerability and supporting livelihood recovery,” Jensen told IPS.

Clionadh Raleigh, who is also a professor of Human Geography at the University of Sussex, believes that government land distribution policies are often the real source of conflict, but their impact is obscured by the climate conflict debate.

“If you were to ask somebody in Africa ‘what are the conflicts about here?’ they might readily say something like land or water access,” she told IPS. “But land and water access are almost entirely determined by local and national government policy, so they don’t have almost anything to do with climate.”

Certain leaders have attempted to blame climate change for the consequences of their own disastrous policies, according to Raleigh. Robert Mugabe has blamed Zimbabwe’s famines on climate change, instead of his own corrupt land reallocation policies.

Omar al-Bashir blamed the Darfur conflict on drought instead of the government’s shocking political violence against a large chunk of its population.

While climate change itself is a topic of utmost importance, is it even worth it to talk about its connection to armed conflict? Raleigh doesn’t think so.

“It’s just a simplistic, nonsense narrative that the climate makes people violent,” Raleigh told IPS.

She believes the climate conflict debate falls into a trap called environmental determinism, a school of thought that asserts that climatic factors define human behaviour and culture. For example, it assumes that a society will act in a certain way depending on whether it is located in a tropical or temperate region.  Environmental determinism gained prominence in the late 19th century but soon declined in popularity amidst accusations of racism and imperialism.

“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” Raleigh told IPS.

Buhaug believes the climate change and armed conflict debate does have merit, since most scientists are careful to not ascribe too much causal weight to one particular factor.

However, he does worry that “there is a tendency in research, but especially in the communication of research, to ignore the importance of political and socio-economic conditions and the motive and agency of actors.”

Raleigh, for her part, wishes the whole debate would just go away.

“People have an often mistaken interpretation of what’s going on at the sub-national level, on the local level within African states and developing countries,” she told IPS. “And they just assume that violence is one of the first reactions to societal change, when it is far more likely to be cooperation.”

Environmental cooperation occurs at both the inter-state and local levels, according to Jensen. At the local level, “in Darfur, we see different groups coming together to co-manage water resources.” At the trans-national level, “there’s a lot of talk about water wars between countries, but we often see the opposite in terms of much more cooperation between states over shared water resources.”

Following this line of thinking, the U.N. has tried to expand the climate conflict discussion from focusing on problems to exploring new solutions.

In November 2013, it launched a new website for experts and field practitioners to share best practices in addressing environmental conflicts and using natural resources to support peacebuilding, Jensen told IPS.

Climate change will most likely wreak havoc on the natural world and it may create the conditions for increased violence, but environmental scientists and practitioners agree: the future is not determined.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Israel Lobby Galvanises Support for Gaza Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:06:52 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135825 National Security Adviser Susan Rice was interrupted by a protester who shouted “End the siege on Gaza." Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

National Security Adviser Susan Rice was interrupted by a protester who shouted “End the siege on Gaza." Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

Pro-Israel activists assembled a huge crowd and a long list of congressional leaders and diplomats to declare their unconditional support for Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip on Monday, largely downplaying  tensions between Jerusalem and Washington.

Key congressional figures from both the Republican and Democratic Parties echoed similar views: that Israel was exercising its inherent right of self-defence, that the entire blame for the hostilities lies with Hamas, and reminding the audience, in a thinly veiled message to U.S. President Barack Obama, that Hamas is backed by Iran.Many of the speakers brought up Iranian sponsorship of Hamas, despite the fact that the relationship between them splintered after Hamas declared its support for the rebels in Syria.

Obama was represented at the event here, dubbed the National Leadership Assembly for Israel, by his national security adviser, Susan Rice.

Her address was interrupted by a protester, Tighe Berry, who shouted “End the siege on Gaza,” and held up a sign with the same words. Berry was joined by a handful of protesters outside the building from the pro-peace activist group, Code Pink.

After the protester was removed by force, Rice delivered the White House view that a ceasefire was of the utmost urgency in Gaza and Israel.

“The United States supports an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire,” Rice said. “That humanitarian ceasefire should lead to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the agreement of November 2012.”

That statement was distinct from the Israeli stance and that of almost all of the speakers at this event. Although Israel accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire several weeks ago along similar lines, it is now insisting on first eliminating any tunnels in Gaza which lead into Israel and taking steps to disarm Hamas before halting its operations.

Robert Sugarman, the chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which spearheaded this gathering, set the tone with his opening remarks to the overflow crowd.

“We must continue to support the decisions of the government [of Israel], whatever our personal views may be,” Sugarman said. “And we must continue to urge our government to support [the decisions of the Israeli government] as well.”

While most of the speakers did not state any direct opposition to the Obama administration’s policy, virtually all of them stressed the view that Hamas must be disarmed and that the Netanyahu government must have unqualified U.S. support.

John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one of President Obama’s leading political opponents, came closest to squarely criticising the president, by tying the crisis in Gaza to Iran.

“We will continue to push this administration to address root cause of conflict in the Middle East,” Boehner said. “What we’re seeing in Gaza is a direct result of Iran sponsored terrorism in the region. This is part of Iran’s long history of providing weapons to Gaza-based terror organizations, which must come to an end. Israel’s enemies are our enemies. As long as I’m Speaker, this will be our cause.”

Many of the speakers brought up Iranian sponsorship of Hamas, despite the fact that the relationship between them splintered after Hamas declared its support for the rebels in Syria, fighting against Iran’s key ally in the region, Bashar al-Assad.

Nonetheless, for many of the speakers, the connection provided a bridge to connect the fighting in Gaza to Congress’ scepticism about diplomacy with Iran over the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.

But ongoing tensions between the Obama administration and the government of Israel inevitably made their way into the room.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Dermer tried to balance a conciliatory tone with Israel’s determination to continue its operations in Gaza despite calls from the United States and most of the international community for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

“Israel has uncovered dozens of tunnels whose sole purpose is to facilitate attacks on Israeli civilians. Israel will continue to destroy these tunnels and I’m sure the Obama administration understands this,” Dermer said.

“Everyone understands that leaving these tunnels is like seizing 10,000 missiles and handing them back to Hamas. That is not going to happen. We will not stop until that job is done. Israel believes that a sustainable solution is one where Gaza is demilitarized, rockets are removed, and the tunnels destroyed so Hamas cannot rearm in another year or two. We appreciate that all U.S. leaders have supported us.”

But Dermer also delivered a message of moderate conciliation in the wake of very harsh criticism in Israel of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after the alleged text of a ceasefire proposal from Kerry was leaked to the Israeli media.

“I am speaking now for my prime minister,” Dermer said. “The criticism of Secretary Kerry for his good faith efforts to advance a ceasefire is unwarranted. We look forward to working with the United States to advance goal of a ceasefire that is durable.”

Rice also addressed the criticism of Kerry. “We’ve been dismayed by some press reports in Israel mischaracterising [Secretary Kerry’s] efforts. We know these misleading reports have raised concerns here at home as well.

“The reality is that John Kerry, on behalf of the United States, has been working with Israel every step of the way to support our shared interests. Both in public and private, we have strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself. We will continue to do so and continue to set the record straight when anyone distorts facts.”

Rice’s defence of Kerry did not seem to ruffle many feathers in the audience. But the next day, a new controversy arose in Israel when several Israeli radio stations reported on a leaked transcript of a phone call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. Israel’s Channel 1 reported that Obama “behaved in a rude, condescending and hostile manner” toward Netanyahu in the call.

Both the White House and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office flatly denied the reports.

“[It is] shocking and disappointing [that] someone would sink to misrepresenting a private conversation between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister in fabrications to the Israeli press,” said an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Twitter account.

Identical language was employed by the United States National Security Council over their own Twitter account. “The…report is totally false,” added White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at plitnickm@gmail.com

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Ticking Diplomatic Clock a Cover for Israeli Assaults on Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 23:19:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135819 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists on the hostilities in Gaza Jul. 28, reiterating his call for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in the conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists on the hostilities in Gaza Jul. 28, reiterating his call for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in the conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

As the death toll in Gaza keeps climbing – and charges of alleged war crimes against Israel keep mounting – the most powerful political body at the United Nations remains ineffective, impotent and in a state of near paralysis.

Perhaps by choice.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council (UNSC), the only body representing the international community armed with legally-binding powers, has failed to adopt a single resolution on the three-week- old conflict in Gaza which continues to result in the merciless killings of Palestinians and widespread destruction of homes and schools.U.S. military, financial, and veto power at the Security Council controls what can be done, even in such extreme moments of carnage.

After an unusual midnight meeting, ostensibly meant to display a false sense of urgency, the UNSC agreed Monday to release a so-called presidential statement, dismissed by some diplomats here as a morbid joke.

“Nobody, least of all the warring parties, takes these UNSC statements seriously,” said an Asian diplomat.

A mildly worded draft resolution, co-sponsored by Jordan and the Arab states, has been in circulation for weeks now, but failed to garner enough support to reach the negotiating table.

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya, an e-zine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, told IPS that from the outset of the latest assault on the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders have been clear that their ability to sustain their attacks is dependent on international support.

“It’s what they call ‘the ticking of the diplomatic clock’, meaning the slaughter can continue with impunity only so long as the West remains prepared to extend it political cover,” he said.

The refusal of the UNSC to send a clear message to Israel that the slaughter must stop and there will be consequences if it doesn’t, therefore in practice extends the grace period allotted to Israel to continue its massive bombardments of the Gaza Strip, said Rabbani, who is also a contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report.

This, of course, primarily reflects the support of permanent members U.S., UK and France – but also other members – for Israel’s actions, he said.

All three Western nations in the UNSC have predictably remained supportive of Israel and would not approve any resolutions either accusing Israel of war crimes, imposing a no-fly zone over Gaza or calling for an international commission of inquiry into civilian killings.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has warned that Israel’s continued military assault on Gaza may amount to war crimes, while criticising Hamas for “indiscriminate attacks”.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay said last week.

The 47-member Human Rights Council last week voted for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes in the Gaza conflict. But Israel has refused to cooperate in implementing the resolution which was opposed by a single country: the United States.

Abba A. Solomon, author of ‘The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein’s Speech: The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews’, told IPS, “The United States will not act against Israel in the Security Council because of the well-established leverage of the pro-Israel lobby, both in the U.S. Congress and Senate.”

He said the administration of President Barack Obama is working in a situation in which the U.S. House and Senate passed unanimous resolutions of full support for Israeli military action against Gaza earlier in July.

Since the 1940s, he pointed out, American Jewish organisations have cultivated relationships with elected officials, in the process of seeking and giving political and financial support.

“These organisations have accepted that advocacy for Israeli positions is part of their duties,” Solomon said.

In times of crisis, these relationships are golden for the Israeli government, he added.

In this case, customary U.S. deferral to Israel obstructs what would be humanitarian action, a UNSC resolution to protect a besieged civilian population, said Solomon.

Historically, he noted, U.S. assent to U.N. condemnations of offensive Israeli military actions has been argued against because it would “embolden” whatever Arab opponent Israel is contesting with.

In cases where condemnation is unavoidable, “pairing” with condemnation of Arab actions is insisted upon, said Solomon,
who has done years of archival research on the ways that American Zionism has gained and maintained so much power since the 1940s.

Rabbani told IPS at a time when Israeli leaders are explicitly stating their objective is to inflict such massive damage upon the Gaza Strip that the population will turn against Hamas – and killing civilian non-combatants by the bucketful in what can only be characterised as a pre-meditated and deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure – these states prioritise Israel’s purported right to self-defence above all else.

“To speak of an Israeli right to self-defence under such circumstances, when over 1,000 Palestinian civilian non-combatants have been killed in what can only be characterised as a pre-meditated and deliberate act of mass murder, and when the vast majority of Israeli casualties have been uniformed combatants, is well beyond obscene,” he said.

“It constitutes active support, and therefore direct complicity, in Israeli war crimes – even without taking into consideration the manifold other direct and indirect ways such states are supporting Israel.”

These include massive military, economic and political support, giving settlement products preferential access to their markets, and permitting their citizens to commit war crimes in Israeli uniform, he added.

Rabbani said the role of the UNSC is to preserve and protect international peace and security, and it has once again failed miserably in this task.

And it has done so once again on the question of Palestine, a conflict for whose creation and resolution the U.N. bears a unique responsibility, he added.

“Indeed, this demonstrates once more the incapacity of the UNSC to serve as a meaningful guardian of international peace and security in its current form,” Rabbani said.

Solomon told IPS the U.S. administration has the imperative to avoid accusations in the Senate and House that it has “betrayed” the “most important strategic ally in the Mideast” – Israel.

He said direct Israeli connections with U.S. political figures across the party divide require care in any State Department response to Israeli bombardments of Gaza civilians.

And Republican and Democratic aspiring politicians are taken on Israeli “fact-finding” tours.

He pointed out Palestinian advocacy organisations have not established anything like this degree of ongoing cooperation in the U.S. political scene.

U.S. military, financial, and veto power at the Security Council controls what can be done, even in such extreme moments of carnage.

U.S. cooperation with a binding U.N. attempt to rein in Israeli military action would mean a challenge to a long-established system of beneficial relationships in the American political scene, Solomon declared.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: How to End the Gaza Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:24:27 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135812 A Palestinian family on the street in Beit Lahia in north Gaza after Israel's 2012 bombardment of the besieged coastal enclave. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

A Palestinian family on the street in Beit Lahia in north Gaza after Israel's 2012 bombardment of the besieged coastal enclave. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

As the killing and destruction rages on in Gaza, and as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership exchange recriminations and threats, key regional and world players must accept a central truism: No peace can be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians without including Hamas. The quicker they internalise this fact, the faster the cycle of violence can be broken.

The Gaza wars have failed to liquidate Hamas; on the contrary, Hamas has emerged stronger and better equipped despite the pummeling it frequently receives from Israel.The current Israeli war on Gaza plus the two previous ones in 2008-9 and 2012 have not really been about the perceived existential threat Hamas poses to Israel. These conflicts have been rooted in the failure of the so-called peace process.

At the same time, Israel’s assault on Gaza reflects Tel Aviv’s concern about the region as a whole, not just about Hamas. Such concerns are driven by the rise of Islamic radicalism in Gaza and across the region, the growing influence of right-wing radical Jewish groups and political movements in Israel, the brutal civil war in Syria, the collapsing state structures in Libya and Yemen, a failing state in Iraq, the marginalisation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership in Ramallah, and the fragile political systems in Lebanon and Jordan.

Israeli worries also stem from a resurgent Iran, a potential nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, and the perceived diminishing influence of the United States across the region. Unable to influence these “seismic shifts” in the region, Israel has resisted any long-term workable accommodation with the Palestinians as well as ending its occupation of Arab lands.

The Obama administration and other governments must work to end the 47-year-old occupation of the West bank and the blockade of Gaza. The Gaza Strip is considered the world’s largest open-air prison, blockaded on three sides by Israel and on one side by Egypt. This economic and political encirclement must be broken if the economic and social conditions of Gazan residents are to improve.

Poverty, unemployment, poor health and hygiene, and a lack of power and clean water have generated anger and hopelessness, which have often resulted in the frequent firing of rockets toward Israel. While mostly ineffective, these rockets have terrorised Israeli residents in the southern part of the country. This too must stop.

The bloody confrontations between West Bank Palestinians and the Israeli forces in Jerusalem at the Kalandia crossing, and between Arabs in Israel and Israeli police demonstrate that the Gaza war has spread to other parts of Palestine. This bodes ill for Israel and neighbouring countries.

Israel’s glee at the Egyptian government and media’s enmity toward Hamas is ephemeral and transitory. The Sisi autocratic regime would be unable to withstand its people and other Arabs’ anger at what they view as Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.

Having followed this conflict, including the rise of Hamas, for decades, both in academia and in government, and having briefed senior officials on these issues for years, I argue that long-lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians will remain elusive unless regional and global leaders begin to re-examine their decades-old assumptions about the conflict.

Such a step would be severely criticized by partisans from, and on behalf of, both sides, including many in the U.S. Congress. Therefore, courage, perseverance, and new thinking are needed to empower stakeholders to push the process forward.

Hamas and Israel

Destroying Gaza, killing thousands of innocent civilians, blowing up Hamas tunnels, and liquidating its leaders will not eradicate Hamas or silence its drive against the Israeli blockade. Hamas draws strength not from its religious ideology but from its resistance to the encirclement, which has strangled and impoverished most of the 1.6 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The current Israeli war on Gaza plus the two previous ones in 2008-9 and 2012 have not really been about the perceived existential threat Hamas poses to Israel. These conflicts have been rooted in the failure of the so-called peace process.

The asymmetry between Israel’s military might and Hamas’ weaponry, which includes homemade and home-upgraded rockets, cannot possibly allow Hamas to pose a credible mortal threat to Israel.

The terrorising of civilians along the Gaza-Israel border is abhorrent and must not be tolerated, but it is also not an existential threat to Israel, nor does it justify Israel’s massive bombardment of residential neighbourhoods, hospitals, and schools in Gaza City and across the strip. Israel could easily destroy the tunnels on both sides of the border without destroying thousands of homes and reducing Gaza to rubble.

The Israeli assault could also be seen as a response to the recent reconciliation between the PA administration in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza and the formation of a Palestinian national unity government of technocrats. The support the U.S. and EU showed for the new Palestinian government concerned Netanyahu deeply, and he proceeded to torpedo it. Netanyahu’s Gaza war belies his claim that he was genuinely looking for a so-called Palestinian “partner.”

Precursor to Hamas’ Tunnels

The Bush administration and the Israeli government supported holding elections in Gaza in January 2006, which Hamas won fairly and convincingly. Both Washington and Tel Aviv were stunned by the results and proceeded to delegitimise the election results and torpedo the new Hamas administration.

Gazans voted for Hamas not because of its religious ideology but because of its community service and resistance to the Israeli blockade. The legendary corruption of the PA administration in Ramallah also underpinned the vote for Hamas.

The morning after the election, a few senior members of the Bush administration advocated giving Hamas a chance to engage Israel on practical issues, including travel permits, the power grid, water, and commerce. If Hamas failed to do so within a couple of months, these officials argued, the United States and Israel would pull the rug from under Hamas.

That argument, which according to media reports at the time, was favoured by President Bush, lasted for one day. The counter argument favouring an immediate isolation of Hamas, which was strongly advocated by neoconservatives in the United States and in Israel, carried the day.

The Gaza wars in 2008-9, 2012, and now are arguably a direct result of the refusal of Israel and the United States to accept the 2006 election results and engage Hamas. Had engagement occurred, the living standards of Gazans would have improved markedly; there would have been no need for a “tunnel economy” or a “tunnel military.”

Unfortunately, Israeli politicians today seem to be viewing Hamas and the continued occupation and encirclement through the same narrow prism of 2006.

The Way Forward

In a recent article I argued the two-state solution was dead and called for new thinking. The same applies to the current conflict.

After 47 years of occupation, nine years of blockading Gaza, two intifadas, and three wars, Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States must accept the fact that war, terrorism, and occupation cannot solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With the death of the two-state option, the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River can only be achieved through a new paradigm grounded in justice, human dignity, equality, and tolerance.

Including Hamas in talks for an enduring end to the conflict could be done through a joint Palestinian delegation comprised of the PA, Hamas, and other factions. For this approach to succeed, however, it must include an end to the blockade of Gaza.

Once the two peoples living together embark on this path, they will reject the logic of occupation and terrorism and focus on building a more hopeful future.

For its part, the United States should jettison all futile attempts to push for a so-called peace process. Rather, we should begin serious efforts to help the two peoples operationalise the new paradigm.

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

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Thousands of New Yorkers Protest Gaza Killingshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:41:54 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135759 The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jul 27 2014 (IPS)

Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in multiple protests this past week against the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has left at least 1,049 Palestinians dead and over 6,000 injured since Jul. 8.

Among demonstrators’ many demands was that the U.S. government end its massive flow of aid and arms to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), one of the world’s most powerful militaries.

The Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation estimates that the United States has shelled out over 100 billion dollars’ worth of military and economic aid since 1949.

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

In 2007, the U.S. government pledged to provide 30 billion dollars worth of weapons to Israel in the decade 2009-2018. This year, according to the FY2015 budget submitted to Congress, the Barack Obama administration set aside three billion dollars for military aid.

The protests also had particular significance for New York City, whose former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced in 2011 his support for a 100-million-dollar partnership between Cornell University and Israel’s Institute of Technology (the Technion) that would allow the construction of a state-of-the-art new complex on Roosevelt Island.

 

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

An alliance known as New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) says the Technion is “complicit in Israeli’s violation of international law and the rights of Palestinians”, namely its mandate to develop and design weapons and technologies that are used to enforce the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza.

Among other ‘achievements’, students at Technion were instrumental in creating the remote-controlled Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, the IDF’s weapon of choice in demolishing Palestinian homes; and its Autonomous Systems Program (TASP) was responsible for developing the so-called ‘stealth drone’, capable of carrying two 1,100-pound ‘smart bombs’ for a distance of up to 2,000 miles.

Highly visible at both protests were members of the organisation known as ‘Neturei Karat International: Jews Against Zionism’, who carried signs proclaiming, “Jews reject the Zionist state of Israel and its atrocities”.

A statement prepared by the organisation 'Jews Against Zionism' appeals to world leaders to "stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza." Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

A statement prepared by the organisation ‘Jews Against Zionism’ appeals to world leaders to “stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza.” Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

Others waved placards claiming “New York Jews Say ‘Not in Our Name’.”

Thursday’s action, which brought out over 2,000 people, was part of the National Day of Action for Gaza, endorsed by over 55 U.S.-based human rights groups. The protest followed on the heels of a demonstration by Jewish Voice for Peace on Jul. 22, which saw the arrest of nine Jewish activists for occupying the office of The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in Manhattan.

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

One of the co-organisers of the march, Adalah-NY, handed out leaflets urging demonstrators to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, a non-violent civil society-based campaign modeled on the international boycott movement that was instrumental in dismantling apartheid in South Africa.

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

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OPINION: The Affinity Between Iraqi Sunni Extremists and the Rulers of Saudi Arabiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:58:06 +0000 Peter Custers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135767 By Peter Custers
LEIDEN, Netherlands, Jul 27 2014 (IPS)

Which story line sounds the more credible – that linking the rebel movement ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) to policies pursued by Iran or that linking the Sunni extremist force to Iran’s adversary Saudi Arabia?

In June this year, fighters belonging to ISIS – a rebel movement that had previously established its foothold in the oil-rich areas of north-eastern Syria – succeeded in capturing Mosul, a city surrounded by oil fields in northern Iraq. Ever since, commentators in the world’s media have been speculating on the origins of the dreaded organisation’s military success.

It is admitted that the occupation of Mosul and vast tracts of the Sunni-dominated portion of Iraq would not have been possible except for the fact that ISIS forged a broad grassroots’ alliance expressing deep discontent by Iraq’s minority Sunnis with the policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s government. Nor would Mosul have fallen but for the dramatic desertion by top-officers of Iraq’s state army.

Peter Custers

Peter Custers

Yet various observers have meanwhile focused on the political economy behind the advance of ISIS. Some experts from U.S. think tanks have discussed the likely sources of ISIS’ finance, pinpointing private donors in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Other writers instead have connected ISIS’ reliance on black market sales of oil in Kurdish territory with Iranian exports of crude, described as “illegal”.

I propose putting the spotlight on the methods of war financing used by ISIS, but first it is necessary to highlight the movement’s complete sectarianism.

Soon after the occupation of Mosul, rebels blew up and bulldozed shrines and mosques in the city belonging to Shia Muslims. Pictures on the demolition of these buildings were circulated widely by the world’s mainstream media. Unfortunately, few Western journalists cared to draw attention to the role which destruction of shrines has played in the history of Islam.

Contrary to Catholicism, the veneration of saints at Sufi and Shia tombs and shrines basically reflects heterodox tendencies within the Islamic faith. On the other hand, Sunni orthodoxy and especially its Saudi variety, Wahhabism, either condemns intercession or, at the least, considers the worshipping of saints at tombs to be unacceptable. Islam’s minority of Shias, and its mystical current of Sufism, freely engage in such worship – and this throughout the Muslim world.“ISIS is … a ‘religiously inspired’ Sunni extremist organisation with an utterly secular objective: to control the bulk of oil resources in two Middle Eastern states in order to re-establish acaliphat, an all-Islamic state-entity guided by a central religious authority”

ISIS’ work of demolition in Iraq can in no way be equated with practices of Iran’s Shia rulers. Instead, they express the extremist movement’s affinity with policies long championed by Saudi Arabia. Ever since the founding of the Saudi state, numerous Shia and Sufi shrines have been rased to the ground at the behest of this country’s Wahhabi dynasty.

What does the political economy behind ISIS’ military advance in Syria and Iraq tell us about the organisation’s affinities? First, in one sense, the ISIS strategy might be interpreted as rather novel.

Whereas the extraction of raw materials is a war strategy pursued by numerous rebel movements in the global South – see, for example, UNITA’s extraction of diamonds in the context of Angola’s civil war, and the trade in coltan by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo – rarely has a Southern rebel movement succeeded in turning crude oil into its chief source of revenue.

Indeed, whereas ISIS originally relied on private funders in Saudi Arabia to build up a force of trained fighters, the organisation has consciously targeted regions in Syria and Iraq harbouring major oil fields and (in the case of Iraq) oil refineries. By laying siege to the oil refinery at Baiji, responsible for processing one-third of oil consumed in Iraq, ISIS hoped to undermine the state’s control of oil resources.

Further, some 450 million dollars was stolen by ISIS fighters from a subsidiary of Iraq’s central bank after the occupation of Mosul. This reportedly was all income from oil extraction. Some observers put the cash income which ISIS derives from smuggled oil at one million dollars a day!

ISIS is thus a ‘religiously inspired’ Sunni extremist organisation with an utterly secular objective: to control the bulk of oil resources in two Middle Eastern states in order to re-establish acaliphat, an all-Islamic state-entity guided by a central religious authority.

Yet though ISIS’ methodology of reliance on oil for financing of its war campaigns is novel for a rebel movement, such use of oil is not unique in the context of the Middle East. Ever since the 1970s, most oil-rich countries of the region have squandered a major part of their income from the exports of crude by (indirectly) exchanging their main natural resource against means of destruction – weapon systems bought on the international market.

And while Iran under the Shah was equally enticed into opting for this form of trade in the 1970s, – it is the Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia which all the way through from the oil crisis of 1973 onwards and up to today has functioned as the central axe of such a trade mechanism.

Witness, for instance, the 1980s oil-for-arms (!) ‘barter deal’ between the Saudi kingdom and the United Kingdom, the so-called ‘Al Yamamah’ deal, and the 60 billion dollar, largest-ever international arms’ agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United States clinched in 2010.

Forward to 2014, and an Iraq desperately struggling to survive. A section of the world’s media has already announced its impending demise, predicting a split of the country into three portions – Sunni, Kurdish and Shia. On the other hand, some commentators have advised that the United States should now change gear and line up with Iran, in order to help the Iraqi government overcome its domestic political crisis.

Yet the United States and its European allies for long, too long, have bent over to service the Wahhabi state. Even as Western politicians loudly proclaimed their allegiance to democracy and secularism, they failed to oppose or counter Saudi Arabia’s oppression of, and utter discrimination against, Shia citizens.

For over 40 years they opted to close their eyes and supply Saudi Arabia with massive quantities of fighter planes, missiles and other weaponry, in exchange for the country’s crude. Playing the role of a wise elderly senior brother, the United States has recently advised Iraq’s prime minister al-Maliki, known for his sectarian approach, that he should be more ‘inclusive’, meaning sensitive towards Iraq’s minority Sunni population.

But has the United States’ prime Middle Eastern ally Saudi Arabia ever been chastised over its systematic discrimination of Shias? Has it ever been put to task for its cruel oppression of heterodox Muslims? And has the United States ever pondered the implications of the trading mechanism of disparate exchange it sponsored – for the future of democracy, food sovereignty and people’s welfare in the Middle East?

 

*  Peter Custers, an academic researcher on Islam and religious tolerance  with field work in South Asia, is also a theoretician on the arms’ trade and extraction of raw materials in the context of conflicts in the global South. He is the author of ‘Questioning Globalized Militarism’. 

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Israel’s U.S.-Made Military Might Overwhelms Palestinianshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israels-u-s-made-military-might-overwhelms-palestinians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israels-u-s-made-military-might-overwhelms-palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israels-u-s-made-military-might-overwhelms-palestinians/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 20:44:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135707 The two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians. Credit: Syeda Amina Trust Charity/cc by 2.0

The two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians. Credit: Syeda Amina Trust Charity/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

The overwhelming Israeli firepower unleashed on the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the ongoing battle in Gaza is perhaps reminiscent of the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) when France, the colonial power, used its vastly superior military strength to strike back at the insurgents with brutal ferocity.

While France was accused of using its air force to napalm civilians in the countryside, the Algerians were accused of using handmade bombs hidden in women’s handbags and left surreptitiously in cafes, restaurants and public places frequented by the French."Unless you have been on the street facing Israeli troops in Gaza, or sleeping on the floor under an Israeli aerial assault, as I have several times while delivering aid in 1989, 2000, and 2009, it's impossible to imagine the total disproportion of power in this conflict." -- Dr. James E. Jennings

In one of the memorable scenes in the 1967 cinematic classic “The Battle of Algiers,” a handcuffed leader of the National Liberation Front (NLF), Ben M’Hidi, is brought before a group of highly-partisan French journalists for interrogation.

One of the journalists asks M’Hidi: “Don’t you think it is a bit cowardly to use women’s handbags and baskets to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people?”

The Algerian insurgent shoots back with equal bluntness: “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on unarmed villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims?”

Then he delivers the devastating punchline: “Of course, if we had your fighter planes, it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our handbags and baskets.”

In the current conflict in Gaza, a role reversal would see Hamas armed with fighter planes, air-to-surface missiles and battle tanks, while the Israelis would be hitting back only with homemade rockets.

But in reality what is taking place in Gaza is a totally outmatched and outranked Hamas fighting a country with one of the world’s most formidable and sophisticated military machines, whose state-of-the-art equipment is provided gratis – under so-called “Foreign Military Financing (FMF)” – by the United States.

According to the latest figures, the two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians.

Speaking of the military imbalance, Dr. James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International and executive director of U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS, “Unless you have been on the street facing Israeli troops in Gaza, or sleeping on the floor under an Israeli aerial assault, as I have several times while delivering aid in 1989, 2000, and 2009, it’s impossible to imagine the total disproportion of power in this conflict.

“I saw boys who were merely running away shot in the back by Israeli soldiers with Uzi [submachine guns] and arrayed in body armour, and in 2009 and 2012 at Rafah witnessed Israel’s technological superiority in coordinating sophisticated computers, drones, and F-15s with devastating effect,” he said.

The repeated missile strikes ostensibly targeted youths scrambling through tunnels like rats to bring food and medicine to the trapped population, but often hit helpless civilians fleeing the bombing as well, said Jennings.

He also pointed out that in terms of the imbalance in the number of casualties in this so-called “war”, statistics speak for themselves. However, numbers on a page do not do justice to the up-close reality.

“In my work I have visited wounded women and children in hospitals in Rafah and Gaza City and helped carry out the bodies of the dead for burial,” Jennings said.

When military capabilities are that asymmetrical, he said, shooting fish in a barrel is the best analogy.

As for the largely homemade Qassam rockets launched by Hamas, their ineffectiveness is apparent in the statistical results: over 2,000 launched, with only two unlucky civilians killed on the Israeli side.

“That is far less than the eight Americans killed accidentally last year by celebratory rockets on the 4th of July,” Jennings noted.

The billions of dollars in sophisticated U.S. weapons purchased by Israel are under non-repayable FMF grants, according to defence analysts.

Israel is currently the recipient of a 10-year, 30-billion-dollar U.S. military aid package, 2009 through 2018.

And according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Israel is also the largest single recipient of FMF, and by 2015, these grants will account for about 55 percent of all U.S. disbursements worldwide, and represent about 23-25 percent of the annual Israeli military budget.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst who covers the Middle East and Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS Israel imports practically all its weapons from the U.S. – and this largely consists of sophisticated equipment it does not produce domestically, or equipment it finds more expedient to buy with U.S. assistance funding.

She said despite a proposed shift in emphasis from air and naval power to ground strength, Israel continues to place priority on maintaining air superiority over all its regional neighbours.

The emphasis on air supremacy and strike capability has resulted in an additional order for F-15I fighters to serve as the lead fighter until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is brought into service with the Israeli Air Force (IAF), she said.

Along with its 25 long-range strike F-15Is (Ra’ams), the IAF also has 102 multirole combat F-16Is (Soufas) purchased under the Peace Marble V programme in 1999 (50 platforms) and 2001 (option for a further 52 planes), Auger said.

The F-15I and F-16I jets, some of which are being used for aerial bombings of Gaza, are customised versions of the American fighters tailored to specific Israeli needs.

Israel’s military arsenal also includes scores of attack helicopters.

Auger said the Sikorsky CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter fleet was just upgraded with the IAI Elta Systems EL/M-2160 flight guard protection system, which detects incoming missiles with radar and then activates diversionary countermeasures.

Israel has also completed a major upgrade to its fleet of Bell AH-1E/F/G/S Cobra attack helicopters and its Boeing AH-64A Apache helicopters has been converted to AH-64D Longbow standards.

The middle layer of defence is provided by the upgraded Patriot PAC 2 anti-missile system (PAC 3) and the air force is also armed with Paveway laser-guided bombs, BLU-109 penetration bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits, and GBU-28 bunker busters.

In terms of vehicles, she said, Israel manufactures the majority of its own.

Jennings told IPS two facts are largely missing in the standard media portrayal of the Israel-Gaza “war:” the right of self-defence, so stoutly defended by Israelis and their allies in Washington, is never mentioned about the period in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes and pushed off their land to be enclosed in the world’s largest prison camp that is Gaza.

Secondly, the world has stood by silently while Israel, with complicity by the U.S. and Egypt, has literally choked the life out of the 1.7 million people in Gaza by a viciously effective cordon sanitaire, an almost total embargo on goods and services, greatly impacting the availability of food and medicine.

“These are war crimes, stark and ongoing violations of international humanitarian law perpetuated over the last seven years while the world has continued to turn away,” Jennings said.

“The indelible stain of that shameful neglect will not be erased for centuries, yet many people in the West continue to wonder at all the outrage in the Middle East,” he added.

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Why No Vetoed Resolutions on Civilian Killings in Gaza?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/why-no-vetoed-resolutions-on-civilian-killings-in-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-no-vetoed-resolutions-on-civilian-killings-in-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/why-no-vetoed-resolutions-on-civilian-killings-in-gaza/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 21:27:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135633 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre right) briefs the Security Council on Jul. 10 on the crisis in Israel and the Gaza Strip.  Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre right) briefs the Security Council on Jul. 10 on the crisis in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

As the civil war in Syria continues into its fourth year, the Western nations sitting on the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) have unsuccessfully tried to condemn the killings of civilians, impose punitive sanctions and accuse the Syrian government of war crimes – in four vetoed and failed resolutions.

The United States, France and Britain forced a vote on all four resolutions despite implicit threats by China and Russia, allies of beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to exercise their vetoes. And they did.The question looming large over the United Nations is why China and Russia aren't initiating a new draft resolution condemning the aerial bombardments of civilians in Gaza, demanding a no-fly zone and accusing Israelis of war crimes.

All five countries are veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC.

The vetoes drew strong condemnations from human rights groups, including a coalition of eight non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which described the last veto by Russia and China as “a shameful illustration of why voluntary restraint on the use of the veto in mass atrocity situations is essential to the Council’s ability to live up to the U.N. charter’s expectations.”

But the question now looming large over the United Nations is why China and Russia aren’t initiating a new draft resolution condemning the aerial bombardments of civilians in Gaza, demanding a no-fly zone and accusing Israelis of war crimes.

Such a resolution is certain to be vetoed by one, or all three, of the Western powers in the UNSC, as China and Russia did on the resolutions against Syria. But this time around, it will be the Western powers on the defensive, trying to protect the interests of a country accused of civilian killings and war crimes.

Still, an Asian diplomat told IPS that even if a draft resolution is doomed to be shot down during closed-door informals for lack of nine votes, an attempt could have been made to expose the mood of the UNSC  - just as Western nations keep piling up resolutions against Syria even when they are conscious of the fact they will be vetoed by Russia and China, embarrassing both countries.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS just as the Russians and Chinese have blocked Security Council action regarding Syria’s attacks on civilians in crowded urban areas, the United States has successfully blocked Security Council action regarding Israeli attacks on civilians in crowded urban areas.

Though both involve serious violations of international humanitarian law, precedent would dictate that U.N. action on Israel’s assault on Gaza would be even more appropriate because it is an international conflict rather than a civil war, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

“What is hard to explain is why the Security Council has not been willing to force the United States to take the embarrassing step of actually vetoing the measure, as it has on four occasions with Russia and China in regard to Syria,” he asked.

Ian Williams, a longstanding U.N. correspondent and senior analyst at Foreign Policy in Focus, told IPS the UNSC is determined to prove that governments do not have principles, only interests.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Palestinians have had no sponsors or patrons.

He said even the Russians and the Chinese weigh the strength of the Israel Lobby in the U.S., and increasingly in Europe, and calculate whether it is in their interests to alienate Washington even more.

Since they see few tangible diplomatic, economic or political benefits from backing the Palestinians, let alone Hamas, they allow atrocities to go unchecked in Gaza while raising their hands in horror about lesser, and less calculated, crimes elsewhere, said Williams.

“And the Russians would have to explain why they defend Assad for similar behaviour against his own people,” he added.

Only popular indignation will force the hand of governments – and the French government knows that, which is why they have banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations, he noted.

Addressing an emergency meeting of the UNSC Friday, Dr Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer of the State of Palestine, told delegates the 10-day death toll from heavy F-16 air strikes has been estimated at 274, mostly civilians, including 24 women and 62 children, and over 2,076 wounded and more thatn 38,000 displaced.

These are figures, he said, that could be corroborated by U.N. agencies on the ground.

Mansour accused Israel of war crimes, crimes against humanity, state terrorism and systematic violation of human rights.

But as of Friday, there were no indications of a hard-hitting resolution focusing on the plight of the 1.7 million residents under heavy fire and who are being defended by the militant group Hamas, accused of firing hundreds of rockets into Israel, with just one Israeli casualty.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS that a declaration – adopted at a summit meeting of leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) in Brazil last week – mentions Palestine and Israel in terms of the Middle East peace process, but it does not take a direct position on the ongoing war on Gaza.

“It would have been an apposite place to have crafted a separate and pointed resolution in solidarity with the Palestinians alongside the stated claim to the celebration of the U.N. Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” he said.

He added that it also says something about the lack of confidence by the BRICS members on the Security Council who felt betrayed by Resolution 1973 (on Libya) and did not draft a resolution to call for a No Fly Zone over Gaza based on the principles of Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

The West has drafted resolutions on Syria, knowing that Russia and China would veto them as a way to deliberately put their rivals in a poor light, he added.

He asked why the BRICS states on the Security Council (currently Russia and China) did not produce a resolution to show the world that the West (or at least the U.S.) is willing to allow the calculated slaughter of the Palestinians at the same time as they want to be the ones to arbiter who is a civilian and what it means to responsibly protect them.

This only shows the BRICS states are not willing to directly challenge the West not in a defensive way (by vetoing a Western resolution), but in an aggressive way (by making the West veto a resolution for ending the slaughter in Gaza), he added.

Brazil, the current chair of BRICS, said in a statement released Friday the Brazilian government rejects the current Israeli ground incursion into Gaza, which represents a serious setback to peace efforts.

“Such an offensive could have serious repercussions for the increased instability in the Middle East and exacerbate the already dramatic humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the statement said.

“We urge the Israeli forces to strictly respect their obligations under the International Humanitarian Law. Furthermore, we consider it necessary that Israel put an end to the blockade on Gaza immediately.”

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BRICS Forges Ahead With Two New Power Drivers – India and Chinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 18:07:51 +0000 Shastri Ramachandaran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135604 By Shastri Ramachandaran
NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

The Sixth BRICS Summit which ended Wednesday in Fortaleza, Brazil, attracted more attention than any other such gathering in the alliance’s short history, and not just from its own members – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Two external groups defined by divergent interests closely watched proceedings: on the one hand, emerging economies and developing countries, and on the other, a group comprising the United States, Japan and other Western countries thriving on the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).

The first group wanted BRICS to succeed in taking its first big steps towards a more democratic global order where international institutions can be reshaped to become more equitable and representative of the world’s majority. The second group has routinely inspired obituaries of BRICS and gambled on the hope that India-China rivalry would stall the BRICS alliance from turning words into deeds.The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

In the event, the outcome of the three-day BRICS Summit must be a disappointment to the latter group. First, the obituaries were belied as being premature, if not unwarranted. Second, as its more sophisticated opponents have been “advising”, BRICS did not stick to an economic agenda; instead, there emerged a ringing political declaration that would resonate in the world’s trouble spots from Gaza and Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Third, and importantly, far from so-called Indian-China rivalry stalling decisions on the New Development Bank (NDB) and the emergency fund, the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA), the Asian giants grasped the nettle to add a strategic dimension to BRICS.

With a shift in the global economic balance of power towards Asia, the failure of the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins in spite of conditionalities, structural adjustment programmes and “reforms”, financial meltdown and the collapse of leading banks and financial institutions in the West, there had been an urgent need for new thinking and new instruments for the building of a new order.

Despite the felt need and multilateral meetings that involved developing countries, including China and India which bucked the financial downturn, there had been no sign of alternatives being formed.

It is against this backdrop – of the compelling case for firm and feasible steps towards a new global architecture of financial institutions – that BRICS, after much deliberation, succeeded in agreeing on a bank and an emergency fund.

From India’s viewpoint, this summit of BRICS – which represents one-quarter of the world’s land mass across four continents and 40 percent of the world population with a combined GDP of 24 trillion dollars – was an unqualified success. The success is sweeter for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because the BRICS summit was new Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first multilateral engagement.

For a debutant, Modi acquitted himself creditably by steering clear of pitfalls in the multilateral forum as well as in bilateral exchanges – particularly in his talks with Chinese President Xi Jiping, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff – and by delivering a strong political statement calling for reform of the U.N. Security Council and the IMF.

In fact, the intensification and scaling up of India-China relations by their respective powerful leaders is an important outcome of the meeting in Brazil, even though the dialogue between the Asian giants was on the summit’s side-lines. Nevertheless, Modi and Xi spoke in almost in one voice on global politics and conflict, and on the case for reform of international institutions.

The new leaders of India and China, with the power of their recently-acquired mandates, sent out an unmistakable signal that they have more interests in common that unite them than differences that separate them.

Against this backdrop, Indian Prime Minister Modi’s outing was significant for other reasons, not least because of the rapport he was able to strike up, in his first meeting, with Chinese President Xi. The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

As it happened, Modi and Xi hit it off, much to the consternation of both the United States and Japan. They spoke of shared interests and common concerns, their resolve to press ahead with the agenda of BRICS and the two went so far as to agree on the need for an early resolution of their boundary issue. They invited each other for a state visit, and Xi went one better by inviting Modi to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in China in November and asking India to deepen its involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Modi’s “fruitful” 80-minute meeting with Xi highlights that the two are inclined to seize the opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships towards larger economic, political and strategic objectives. This meeting has set the tone for Xi’s visit to India in September.

Although strengthening India-China relationship, opening up new tracks and widening and deepening engagement had been one of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s biggest achievements in 10 years of government (2004-2014), after a certain point there was no new trigger or momentum to the ties. Now Xi and Modi are investing effort to infuse new vitality into the relationship which will have an impact in the region and beyond.

As is the wont when it comes to foreign affairs and national security, Modi’s new government has not deviated from the path charted out by the previous government. BRICS as a foreign policy priority represents both continuity and consistency. Even so, the BJP deserves full marks because it did not treat BRICS and the Brazil summit as something it had to go through with for the sake of form or as a chore handed down by the previous government of Manmohan Singh.

Before leaving for Brazil, Modi stressed the “high importance” he attached to BRICS and left no one in doubt that global politics would be high on its agenda.

He pointed attention to the political dimension of the BRICS Summit as a highly political event taking place “at a time of political turmoil, conflict and humanitarian crises in several parts of the world.”

“I look at the BRICS Summit as an opportunity to discuss with my BRICS partners how we can contribute to international efforts to address regional crises, address security threats and restore a climate of peace and stability in the world,” Modi had said on eve of the summit.

Having struck the right notes that would endear him to the Chinese leadership, Modi hailed Russia as “India’s greatest friend” after he met President Vladimir Putin on the side-lines of the summit.

India belongs to BRICS, and if BRICS is the way to move forward in the world, then BRICS can look to India, along with China, for leading the way, regardless of political change at home. That would appear to be the point made by Modi in his first multilateral appearance.

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U.S., Obama’s Image Remains Positive Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:53:43 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135566 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

While Republicans and other right-wingers claim that President Barack Obama has inflicted unprecedented damage on Washington’s global reputation, a major new global survey suggests that the image of the U.S. remains generally positive.

The survey, which was based on nearly 50,000 interviews of respondents in 44 countries, found that the U.S. remains substantially more popular than China, widely considered Washington nearest geopolitical rival, in every major region except the Middle East.

A global median of 65 percent respondents said they held a positive view about the U.S., with majorities in 30 of 43 nations (not including the U.S. itself) expressing a favourable opinion.

By contrast, a median of 49 percent said they felt positively about China, while 55 percent said they had an unfavourable view of the Asian giant. The most negative opinions were expressed in Europe and among some of Asia’s closest neighbours, particularly those which are contesting Beijing’s increasingly assertive territorial claims.

As for Obama himself, the first U.S. African-American president remains broadly popular, with a median approval rating of 56 percent – about 15 percentage points higher than in the U.S. itself — with half or more of the public in 28 of the 44 countries expressing confidence that he will “do the right thing” in world affairs.

But, like the U.S. itself, Obama’s image remains poorest in Arab countries, Turkey, and Pakistan. By contrast, Obama’s approval ratings climbed some 10 percentage points (to 71 percent) in Israel between 2013 and 2014.

Indeed, Israel was the only country of 21 nations surveyed in 2009, when he became president and expectations for his tenure were highest around the world, where Obama’s approval ratings improved over the five-year period.

The latest survey, however, also found major plunges in his popularity in Germany and Brazil, compared to 2013, which Pew analysts attributed to revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been conducting major spying operations on the phone conversations of the two countries’ leaders.

It also found a sharp drop in positive assessments of Obama in Russia – down to only 15 percent of respondents – which Pew said was most likely related to the sharp uptick in bilateral tensions over ongoing crisis over Ukraine and Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

The Pew poll, which was conducted between mid-March and early June, is the latest in an annual series that the organisation’s “Global Attitudes Project” has carried out since 2002. The surveys have covered public opinion on a broad range of international issues in as few as nine and as many as 47 each year over that period.

The survey is quite comprehensive in scope, and its results are released in instalments over the summer. Last week, for example, Pew released findings regarding Russia’s global image, which, according to the survey, had suffered in every region of the world over the past year, particularly in Europe and the U.S. where nearly three in four respondents reported unfavourable views of Moscow.

The 44 countries polled in the latest survey, for which full results will be released in stages over the coming weeks and months, included nine European countries – France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, the UK, and Ukraine; seven countries in the Greater Middle East – Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, and Turkey; and 11 Asian nations – Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In Latin America, the survey included Argentina, Brazil. Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela; while seven sub-Saharan countries were surveyed – Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. The U.S. itself was included in the survey.

In addition to comparing perceptions and images of the U.S. and China, the latest showed focused on international reaction to disclosures by former NSA employee Edward Snowden about Washington’s use of electronic surveillance of foreign leaders and citizens, as well as Washington’s reliance on drone aircraft to kill alleged terrorists in foreign countries.

The survey found strong opposition nearly across the board – except in the U.S. itself — to both activities, although it also found little evidence in most countries that they had significantly harmed Washington’s image.

In 37 of the 44 countries, half or more of respondents said they disapproved of drones strikes against suspected terrorists. In 26 countries, more than seven of 10 respondents said they opposed the practice.

As important, perhaps, the survey found that opposition to drones strikes has grown steadily – and significantly in a number of countries, particularly Senegal, Uganda, France, Germany, the Philippines, Mexico, Japan, and even within the U.S. itself – compared to 2013, when Pew asked the same question.

Overall, opposition was found to be strongest in Latin America, the Greater Middle East, Greece, Senegal, Spain, and Japan. On the other hand, pluralities and majorities in Israel, the U.S., Nigeria, and Kenya said they approved of Washington’s use of drone strikes.

As to the NSA’s monitoring activities, majorities in most countries said they approved of efforts to spy on terrorists. At the same time, majorities in nearly all of the countries said they opposed U.S. monitoring of emails and phone calls of foreign leaders, and particularly average citizens. That latter sentiment was particularly strong in Greece, Brazil, Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, according to the survey.

On China’s image, pluralities or majorities in all Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries covered by the survey held positive views. In other regions, however, impressions were far more mixed.

Majorities in the U.S., France, Spain, Poland, Germany, and Italy held said their overall views were negative, while in Ukraine and Russia, nearly two thirds of respondents said they had a positive image of China. The Greater Middle East was similarly split, with the most positive views found in Tunisia and Palestine, while Jordan and Turkey were strongly negative.

Majorities in six of the 10 Asian countries (not including China itself) of up to 78 percent (Pakistan) expressed favourable views, while respondents in the three countries with which China has ongoing maritime disputes – Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan – were strongly negative. In India, where the land border with China remains in contention, a plurality of respondents voiced negative view of their northern neighbour.

The survey found a growing belief — compared to 2008 when Pew asked the same question — that China will eventually replace the U.S. as the world’s greatest superpower or has already done so.

A global median of 49 percent of respondents agreed with that proposition, compared to 32 percent who disagreed. In 2008, just before the global financial crisis that broke out with the collapse of the U.S. investment firm Lehman Brothers, the split was 41 percent who agreed that China would surpass the U.S. and 39 percent who disagreed.

The latest poll found that the view that Beijing will indeed replace Washington as the pre-eminent global power was strongest in Europe (60 percent) and weakest in Asia (42 percent).

The poll also found significant generation gaps on several issues. Younger respondents were found to hold significantly more favourable views of the U.S. than their older fellow-citizens in more than half of the countries, particularly in Asia (including China), Latin America, and Africa.

Similarly, younger respondents also held significantly more favourable views of China than their older counterparts, particularly in Western Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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