Mehdi Hasan, the Huffington Post UK's political director, debunks 11 myths about Gaza, Hamas, and Israel, with some information from our Gaza/Israel briefing.
Read more at Huffington Post UK.
Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/Flickr
The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.
Mehdi Hasan, the Huffington Post UK's political director, debunks 11 myths about Gaza, Hamas, and Israel, with some information from our Gaza/Israel briefing.
Read more at Huffington Post UK.
Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/Flickr
Why overtime in nuclear talks with Iran is better than game over | Ali Vaez
Ali Vaez is Crisis Group’s Senior Iran Analyst.
After nearly three weeks of round-the-clock negotiations to achieve a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States, joined by its major allies Britain, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China — the P5+1 — chose to extend the current agreement for four months and continue negotiations.
Skeptics in both the U.S. and Iran have already started accusing each other of negotiating in bad faith and seeking only to buy time. Some in the U.S. Congress are even trying to pass legislation that will torpedo the diplomatic process.
They are wrong. There are many reasons it was a wiser choice to extend these talks rather than quit and go home.
First, the talks were deadlocked mostly as a result of brinkmanship that stemmed from the looming July 20 deadline. Each party had put out maximalist opening gambits, dug its heels in and hoped that the other side would budge at the 11th hour. Each also incorrectly assumed that the other was desperate for a deal. Thus, no one blinked. With that miscalculation behind them, the parties can now pursue a more realistic, clear-eyed approach.
Second, the U.S. and Iran were smart not to be pressured into quickly concluding a bad deal, because ultimately only a good deal will be sustainable in the long run. It is preferable that negotiators take time to work through an accord’s complicated technical and political aspects and ensure that its implementation be as smooth as possible. It is better to continue negotiating than for a deal to ultimately collapse because the parties were rushed by an arbitrary deadline.
In addition, more time could help the main stakeholders, Iran and the U.S., prepare their people for a compromise. In the past few weeks, both sides publicly postured in order to strengthen their hand at the negotiating table. But with no agreement achieved, they only diminished their room for maneuvering. They must now walk back from the less realistic positions they took during their brinksmanship — lest domestic politics trump their national interests and nonproliferation norms.
The fact that the process continues despite such major obstacles testifies to the parties’ desire to reach agreement. But while political will is essential, it is not enough. If Iran continues to insist that it wants to retain and eventually increase its enrichment capacity and the P5+1 insist that Tehran should roll back and constrain its program for decades, talks will go nowhere. Iran should show more flexibility on reducing its enrichment program in the agreement’s early phases, when its fuel needs would still be minimal, in return for flexibility on allowing the program’s gradual growth. Increases could be pegged to objective measures, such as the amount of time that the United Nations nuclear watchdog requires to give Iran’s nuclear program a clean bill of health. Instead of trying to force the other side to agree with their fixed positions, negotiators should strive to broaden available options, a process that needs time.
Finally, extending the talks is much better than the alternatives: a return to an escalating cycle of more sanctions and more centrifuges, an Iranian bomb or bombing Iran. At the very least, a breakdown now would reduce the chance of success later, as it would erode trust, discredit politicians who are deeply invested in diplomacy and harden positions.
The region and the world are better off thanks to the interim agreement that Iran and the world powers signed last year. The parties, despite the extra time added to the clock, might not be able to reach a compromise that protects everyone’s core interests, contains Iran’s nuclear program and rehabilitates the country’s economy and international standing. But with the costs of failure and the benefits of success so high, they should stay on the field.
ORIGINAL COMMENTARY (Al Jazeera)
Photo: European External Action Service/flickr
Israel Says That Hamas Uses Civilian Shields, Reviving Debate | Anne Barnard and Jodi Rudoren
Militant rockets can be seen launching from crowded neighborhoods, near apartment buildings, schools and hotels. Hamas fighters have set traps for Israeli soldiers in civilian homes and stored weapons in mosques and schools. Tunnels have been dug beneath private property.
With international condemnation rising over the death toll in Gaza exceeding 650 in the war’s 16th day, Israel points to its adversaries’ practice of embedding forces throughout the crowded, impoverished coastal enclave of 1.7 million people.
“Hamas uses schools, residential buildings, mosques and hospitals to fire rockets at Israeli civilians,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Canadian counterpart in a call over the weekend, according to a statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office. “Hamas uses innocent civilians as a human shield for terrorist activity.”
Nothing is ever so clear in the complex and often brutal calculus of urban warfare. There is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack — the legal definition of a human shield under international law. But it is indisputable that Gaza militants operate in civilian areas, draw return fire to civilian structures, and on some level benefit in the diplomatic arena from the rising casualties. They also have at times encouraged residents not to flee their homes when alerted by Israel to a pending strike and, having prepared extensively for war, did not build civilian bomb shelters.
FULL ARTICLE (New York Times)
Photo: Tijen Erol/flickr
Old Scores and New Grudges: Evolving Sino-Japanese Tensions
Beijing/Tokyo/Brussels | 24 Jul 2014
The deterioration in relations between China and Japan has spiraled beyond an island sovereignty dispute and risks an armed conflict neither wants. A November regional summit is a fence-mending opportunity – if the two countries’ leaders rise above nationalism and manage multiple flashpoints.
Politically viable options to bridge the wide gap on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute remain elusive. New frictions have arisen: China’s declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) above the East China Sea deepened Tokyo’s anxiety that it desires both territory and a new regional order; Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and statements that suggest a retreat from past apologies for the Second World War atrocities reopened old wounds. Asia’s two most powerful countries increasingly prioritise defence build-up over diplomacy. Their law-enforcement vessels, navies and military planes engage in frequent and risky encounters at sea and in the air. Old Scores and New Grudges: Evolving Sino-Japanese Tensions, Crisis Group’s second report on the deteriorating relationship, analyses events, actors and dynamics that complicate ties and impede diplomacy.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
“China should calm anti-Japan rhetoric, delink wartime history from the islands dispute and open senior political channels to Japan” says China Analyst Yanmei Xie. “Japan should avoid actions and comments suggesting revisionist history views”.
“November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit is a chance for the two leaders to meet and smooth troubled waters”, says Daniel Pinkston, North East Asia Deputy Project Director. “Both countries should seize it”.
Why Triumphant Jihadis In Iraq Will Help Assad Crush Opposition In Aleppo | Noah Bonsey
Noah Bonsey is Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Syria.
The world’s most feared jihadi group, the Islamic State (ISIS), is parlaying its dramatic gains in Iraq into Syria. Already flush with cash and weapons, ISIS stands to receive another, invaluable windfall in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city prior to the war. Regime forces there are on the verge of encircling opposition militants. Their success in doing so would benefit ISIS as much as it would Bashar al-Assad, throttling the more moderate rebel enemy both share.
ISIS’s recent victory in eastern Deir al-Zour province — where it defeated a rebel alliance including jihadi rival Jabhat al-Nusra, and where it now controls all major oil fields and most population centers — enables the group to turn its attention elsewhere. Having gained resources and freed up manpower, ISIS can move to retake ground lost to rebel factions in and around Aleppo in early 2014.
Rebels there, weakened by that battle and the regime’s simultaneous campaign that exploited it, lack the organization and resources to halt the regime’s progress in severing rebel supply lines. Should ISIS escalate against rebels in the northern countryside, as the regime attempts to besiege their allies inside the city, it could potentially deal a terminal blow to the rebellion in Aleppo. ISIS would likely regain valuable territory along the Turkish border, positioning itself to attack the pragmatic rebel factions that dominate Aleppo’s western countryside and much of Idlib province.
Aleppo is the Prize
Given Aleppo’s importance in the war with the regime, the defeat of anti-ISIS rebels there would shatter the backbone of the mainstream armed opposition. In seeking the destruction of the mainstream opposition, as in so much else over the past year, regime and ISIS interests coincide.
For the former, it would render the possibility of an effective Western-rebel partnership even more remote, leaving the regime as the lone apparent alternative to ISIS rule. For the latter, it would create a vacuum in the anti-regime struggle that ISIS would seek to fill, hoping to eventually redeem its reputation among anti-Assad Syrians by emerging as their defender of last resort.
ISIS recently authored this very playbook in Iraq. There, in 2007, as in Syria in 2013, ISIS’s authoritarianism within opposition strongholds alienated civilians and turned rebel allies into foes. This fueled a backlash that eventually, with American help, drove the jihadis to the verge of defeat. Yet, in Iraq, ISIS — known then as the Islamic State of Iraq — laid the groundwork for its reemergence through lethal campaigns targeting the Sunnis who had turned against it.
It was helped by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose desire to monopolize power proved devastating to the cohesiveness, influence and credibility of any alternative Sunni leadership. The result, ultimately, is the current scene in Iraq: many who once fought ISIS now cheer it, or assist it by default, in their struggle against Shia-dominated forces that are viewed as corrupt occupiers by much of the Sunni population.
Turning from Iraq to Syria
The potential for ISIS to engineer a similar resurgence in Syria is real. Should it succeed, ISIS would be well-positioned to present itself to Sunnis in the region at large as the only remaining force with the strength to oppose reviled regimes in Baghdad and Damascus.
The American role in supporting rebels may be the key variable here. Recent, modest shifts in the U.S. approach have helped improve coordination among the opposition’s main regional backers (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey), resulting in a drop in support to leading Islamist factions. But efforts to increase assistance to more moderate rebels remain hamstrung by familiar problems: the limited capacity and geographic scope of groups meeting Washington’s criteria; the parsimonious support delivered to rebels on key fronts, including Aleppo; and the regime’s freedom to bomb indiscriminately from the sky.
Although the current U.S. approach seems to aim solely at keeping rebel forces alive, it is on the verge of failing to do so. The U.S. has consistently avoided tough decisions in Syria, preferring supposedly lower-risk options that in practice contribute to the jihadi ascent. It did the same in Iraq during the past several years. If the outcome there is any indication, the need for a coherent American policy in Syria today is truly urgent.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE (Huffington Post)
South Sudan Ceasefire in Tatters as Rebels Try to Retake Former Headquarters | Samuel Oakford
Defying a ceasefire agreement, rebels in South Sudan launched intense attacks over the weekend on the northeast town of Nasir in an attempt to recapture their former base of operations.
“This attack is a clear violation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement,” the UN Mission in South Sudan said in a statement released Sunday, referring to a January pact that has been all but ignored by both sides in the conflict. Between steady eruptions of violence, the rival forces had recommitted to the pact in May and again in June.
The rebels, who became known as the “Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition” after breaking away from government forces in December, were originally headquartered in Nasir, which is located in a predominantly Nuer area near the border with Ethiopia. Fighting has since fallen largely along ethnic lines, pitting mostly Dinka forces loyal to President Salva Kiir against Nuers nominally led by Riek Machar, Kiir’s former vice president.
FULL ARTICLE (VICE News)
How the West Chose War in Gaza | Nathan Thrall
Nathan Thrall is a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.
As Hamas fires rockets at Israeli cities and Israel follows up its extensive airstrikes with a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, the most immediate cause of this latest war has been ignored: Israel and much of the international community placed a prohibitive set of obstacles in the way of the Palestinian “national consensus” government that was formed in early June.
That government was created largely because of Hamas’s desperation and isolation. The group’s alliance with Syria and Iran was in shambles. Its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt became a liability after a July 2013 coup replaced an ally, President Mohamed Morsi, with a bitter adversary, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Hamas’s coffers dried up as General Sisi closed the tunnels that had brought to Gaza the goods and tax revenues on which it depended.
Seeing a region swept by popular protests against leaders who couldn’t provide for their citizens’ basic needs, Hamas opted to give up official control of Gaza rather than risk being overthrown. Despite having won the last elections, in 2006, Hamas decided to transfer formal authority to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. That decision led to a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, on terms set almost entirely by the P.L.O. chairman and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza under the new one, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt that bar most Gazans’ passage to the outside world.
Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served Israel’s interests. It offered Hamas’s political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.
Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel’s security establishment objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace.
Still, despite its opposition to the reconciliation agreement, Israel continued to transfer the tax revenues it collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf, and to work closely with the new government, especially on security cooperation.
But the key issues of paying Gaza’s civil servants and opening the border with Egypt were left to fester. The new government’s ostensible supporters, especially the United States and Europe, could have pushed Egypt to ease border restrictions, thereby demonstrating to Gazans that Hamas rule had been the cause of their isolation and impoverishment. But they did not.
Instead, after Hamas transferred authority to a government of pro-Western technocrats, life in Gaza became worse.
Qatar had offered to pay Gaza’s 43,000 civil servants, and America and Europe could have helped facilitate that. But Washington warned that American law prohibited any entity delivering payment to even one of those employees — many thousands of whom are not members of Hamas but all of whom are considered by American law to have received material support from a terrorist organization.
When a United Nations envoy offered to resolve this crisis by delivering the salaries through the United Nations, so as to exclude all parties from legal liability, the Obama administration did not assist. Instead, it stood by as Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for the envoy’s expulsion on the grounds that he was “trying to funnel money” to Hamas.
Hamas is now seeking through violence what it couldn’t obtain through a peaceful handover of responsibilities. Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets. Patients needing medical care couldn’t reach Egyptian hospitals, and Gazans paid $3,000 bribes for a chance to exit when Egypt chose to open the border crossing.
For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it’s worth risking more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change that unacceptable status quo. A cease-fire that fails to resolve the salary crisis and open Gaza’s border with Egypt will not last. It is unsustainable for Gaza to remain cut off from the world and administered by employees working without pay. A more generous cease-fire, though politically difficult for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would be more durable.
The current escalation in Gaza is a direct result of the choice by Israel and the West to obstruct the implementation of the April 2014 Palestinian reconciliation agreement. The road out of the crisis is a reversal of that policy.
ORIGINAL COMMENTARY (New York Times)
Photo: Israel Defense Forces/flickr
Haiti Déjà Vu
Borrowing from Yogi Berra, when it comes to elections in Haiti, it is déjà vu all over again. The country’s political elite is embroiled once more in a controversy that has delayed parliamentary elections for three years, still arguing over the composition of its electoral council (CEP) and the content of an electoral law.
Secretary of State John Kerry just pulled off a compromise to save Afghanistan’s elections from yielding widespread violence. He might considering doing the same in Haiti. Here’s why.
The terms of one third of the 30-member Senate were up three years ago and the Senate has been crippled ever since. The second ten Senators’ terms will end by the end of this year. So too the terms of the 99-member Chamber of Deputies as well as the 142 mayors and members of local councils. The latter are functioning extra-constitutionally because they should have faced election more than three years ago.
As Crisis Group warned a year ago in its report, Haiti is now facing the specter of an elected president ruling by decree next January because everyone else’s terms will have ended. That would not be very democratic and donors will argue that their funds cannot flow to Haiti if that situation occurs.
Who is to blame? The political and economic elite bear a share of the blame. They are the ones who either lead parties, finance candidates, hold office or call the shots from behind the scenes. They have declined to carry out commitments made in more than one church-sponsored dialogue for a compromise CEP and a required electoral law. Some of the current parliamentarians may rightfully fear that they will lose their seats once elections are held.
But they are by no means alone. President Martelly has not been willing to make the compromises required to ensure an election occurs. Some of his coterie seem to be relishing the thought of ruling by decree come next January. The business elite, which finally seems to be coming together to do more than lament the current situation, has allowed the situation to fester.
In the absence of parliament passing an electoral law, President Michel Martelly has gone ahead and set the election date for 26 October by executive decree and the still not fully constituted CEP has set dates for parties and candidates to register. But four of the country’s major political movements with perhaps the largest number of supporters refuse to participate arguing that the agreement on a consensus CEP has not been met. They charge that new members named by the President to the CEP have not been the product of a political consensus.
The international community supports a 10-year old UN peacekeeping force and still finances substantial earthquake reconstruction aid for Haiti whose economy and government institutions were fragile even before the earth opened on January 12, 2010. Yet it has failed to harness its political resources to convince Haiti’s leaders to hold the required elections.
A civil society and church-managed negotiation — or more accurately the most recent such effort — achieved a breakthrough on 19 March when an agreement was reached between President Martelly and a portion of the opposition. However, the agreement did not include the signatures of key opposition parties including Inite, the party of former President Rene Preval; Lavalas, the party of former President Jean Bertrande Aristide; or the traditional opposition parties of OPL and Fusion.
A key point of the El Rancho agreement was the formation of a balanced CEP and its absence is now being argued by the opposition as the justification for abstention. Yet, those parties also seem committed to an illusion that the international community will move to oust Martelly if the opposition does not participate in the elections. That is not going to happen.
High-level US, UN, French, Canadian, and Brazilian leaders, public and private, need to come together again to urge the president and the opposition to agree now on a consensus, balanced CEP and an electoral law. And Secretary of State John Kerry might carry that same message on a visit to Port-au-Prince, which thankfully is a lot closer than Kabul.
Otherwise, there will be no elections in 2014, a president will be ruling by decree in January, street protests and violence will follow, and for the long-suffering people of Haiti, it will be déjà vu all over again.
Mark L. Schneider is Senior Vice President of the International Crisis Group and Special Advisor for Latin America and Tim Carney, former Ambassador to Haiti and Executive Vice President of the now-dissolved Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.
Photo: European Parliament/Flickr