Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

July 27, 2010

Perspectives on Reconciliation

Today, I attended a hearing on Capitol Hill hosted by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that focused on viable strategies on Afghanistan. It was entitled: Perspectives on Reconcilation Options in Afghanistan.

Panelists included former Ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker, Zainab Salbi of Women for Women International, and Dr. David Kilcullen of the Center for a New American Security.  All were very knowledgeable and experienced, offering their unique perspectives on what should be done to create a stable Afghanistan.

The source of strife in Afghanistan was discussed among the panelists.  All generally agreed that the Taliban is not the only source of instability.  Along with the Taliban, government corruption and a lack of economic development are factors that contribute to the creation of a breeding ground for insurgency.  Due to such a cycle of instability, Dr. Kilcullen emphasized that efforts in Afghanistan should not only focus on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, but also on stability efforts.

Because of the many factors contributing to instability, the panelists generally agreed that a solution to conflict in Afghanistan cannot be merely military in nature.  A political solution is needed, one that focuses on empowering civilians and reforming the government.

Security of civilians must be ensured, and the only way to do so is to have a more capable and less corrupt government.  Unless a credible and legitimate government that is capable of ensuring law and order is established in Afghanistan, the Taliban will keep resurfacing.

Basic rights and access to economic resources are also crucial to achieving stability, as Zainab Salbi stressed.  She argued that if Afghans, especially women, have access to jobs and education, they would not pay heed to the Taliban.  In addition, she argued that Afghans also desire an end to human rights abuses, as well as access to justice.  The reason the Taliban has leverage is because it offers the people financial support and protection, in exchange for patronage.  When another source of support emerges, the people will no longer have to rely on the Taliban.

However, such stability efforts are long-term goals, and may take 12-15 years.  As the U.S. is seeking to withdraw troops in July of 2011, a more immediate solution is desired.  Amb. Crocker discussed the idea of negotiating, from a position of strength, with all interested parties.  He commented on the international dimension of the instability in Afghanistan and the need to engage other countries that have an interest in the stability of Afghanistan, such as Pakistan.  He believes the partnership with Pakistan needs to continue for the sake of security efforts.

And with Afghanistan becoming more nebulous and the insurgency continuing, members of the committee voiced their concerns about U.S. involvement in the issue.  A worried Chairman Senator Kerry asked the panel why Afghans, if they do not like the Taliban, could not fight the Taliban themselves.  The bottom-line answer from the panelists was that in order to quell the Taliban, Afghans need support to become powerful enough to counter the Taliban.  While the Afghans may not like the Taliban, they prefer anyone who can offer them stability.

July 22, 2010

An Arab-Israeli Dialogue for Peace

Several generations have now grown up with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Central to that reality has been the start and stop of Arab-Israeli peace talks, which always seem to take one step forward and then three back.  But in some areas of the world, most recently on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., talks between Arabs and Israelis are continually moving forward with the same message: peace.

Yesterday I attended a discussion hosted by Americans for Peace Now (APN), which featured Ori Nir of APN and Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine. While their speeches, comments, and answers to questions were certainly insightful, the most striking lesson that I left the brown bag lunch with was the plain and simple fact that an Arab and an Israeli could talk with one another and agree upon the most basic desire for anyone involved in the Middle East: peace in Israel/Palestine.

Now, at first that sounds rather silly to come out of such a discussion focusing on this basic and fairly self-evident thought.  However, from my short time working on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and especially how it is approached in the United States, I have found that many people deeply involved in the issue have lost sight of that basic fact.  We all want the same thing.  Jewish Israelis, Arabs, American Jews and Arab-Israelis all deeply desire peace.  The main problem of the specific terms of peace still appears insurmountable at times, but the end goal is a common one.

At the talk, which was open by invitation to interns on Capitol Hill in hopes of inspiring the younger generation to work towards a comprehensive peace, of course the standard topics of two-state versus one-state solution, Hamas, the future of Fatah, Palestinian state-building efforts, the effect of the American government, etc. were all touched upon.  Listening to the complexity of the issue unravel before you, the probability of a successful two-state solution not only seems far off but shrouded in complicating factors and misleading stereotypes held by all sides.  But unlike most talks on this issue that I have attended, I came away from this one optimistic and uplifted by the image of an Israeli and an Arab both speaking passionately about the need for peace – the need not only just for the Palestinians and Israelis, but for all Americans, all Arabs, and the world to realize this peace.

Peace can and must come to pass in this conflict, which has continued throughout not just my lifetime but my parents’ lifetimes as well.  Such a peace can only succeed if all parties stop focusing on what the other side is doing wrong and instead recognize that they are not the only party with dear interests at stake.  I am entirely aware that my statements now are highly idealistic and that peace is complicated by many factors, not least of which is the imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians.  But without reminding ourselves to think of all the interests involved in the issue and the common-held desire to see peace within our lifetimes, I believe that a true, successful peace will be lost.

July 19, 2010

The Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Worst-Kept Secret in the Middle East

Several CNI interns and I attended an event entitled “The Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Espionage, Opacity, and Future” held at the International Spy Museum here in Washington, D.C. The event was organized by  Institute for Research: Middle East Policy (IRmep) and brought together three distinguished panelists to discuss the worst-kept secret in international politics–the existence of an Israeli Nuclear Arsenal.

The panel discussion was frank and deeply informative, bringing together authors Grant F. Smith and Sasha Polakow-Sulansky, and recent CNI Radio: Jerusalem Calling guest John Mearsheimer. The topics discussed ranged from the interpretation of recently declassified documents on the role of American interests in building Israel’s nuclear arsenal to the relationship between apartheid South Africa and Israel.

Perhaps most striking was John Mearsheimer’s realistic analysis of the situation.  Mearsheimer posed four questions:

Why did Israel develop nuclear weapons?
Should Israel abandon its nuclear arsenal?
Is opacity in Israel’s best interest?
Is it in America’s best interest for Israel to have nuclear weapons?

Coming for a realist perspective, Mearsheimer argued that nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrence; he said that if he were a national security adviser to Israel in the 1950s, he would advocate that the state acquire nuclear weapons.

In regards to opacity, Mearsheimer argued that Israel is not fooling anyone with its “strategic ambiguity,” as virtually everyone is aware that Israel is a nuclear power.

The nuclear issue clearly shows a divide in interests between the U.S. and Israel.  “Israel is an albatross around our neck,” he said.  Initially, the U.S. was against Israeli nuclear proliferation in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  If Israel was a nuclear power, it would be difficult to secure a nuclear-free Middle East.

Mearsheimer is not optimistic about the future; he believes the situation will only get worse.  He believes the proximity talks are a charade and that Israel will eventually become an apartheid state.   He articulates his point further in his article in the American Conservative.

When asked by former CNI President Gene Bird what the U.S. can do to prevent another war in the region , Mearsheimer laid out what he believes the Obama strategy should have been: Obama should have appealed to the American Jewish community and emphasized that a two-state solution was in the best interest of Israel.  Instead, he picked a fight with the Israeli lobby, and consequently had to “run up the white flag,” during the recent White House meeting with Netanyahu.

While Mearsheimer’s realist perspective is intriguing and certainly feasible, the future of the conflict does not have to be as grim as he predicts.  Though his analysis of the Obama administration’s strategy and relationship with both the Israeli government and Israeli lobby is spot-on, there are some encouraging aspects of Obama’s policies, notably his willingness to address the Israeli-Arab conflict so soon in his term, unlike his predecessors.

June 24, 2010

Budrus

Yesterday, I attended an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that showcased the documentary “Budrus.

Budrus is a small, relatively unknown Palestinian village located near Ramallah with a population of about 1,500.  The documentary tells the story of the community’s struggle with the state of Israel in 2003 against plans to build part of the separation barrier through the village.  The proposed plan would have surrounded the village and confiscated 40% of the land.

The documentary follows a local leader, Ayed Morrar, who united the community to try and block the plans through nonviolent means.  He brought together an unlikely group, comprising of members of Hamas and Fatah as well as Palestinians, Israelis, men, and women.

Perhaps most crucial was the role of women.  Morrar was unable to mobilize the community until his 15-year-old daughter Iltezam brought women to the movement.  The women would stand in front of bulldozers or lie in front of olive trees, and IDF soldiers did not know  how to deal with them.  The documentary actually shows some soldiers beating women.  As a result, a woman IDF soldier was called in to handle them.

Israelis played a crucial role in the nonviolent movement as well.  Iltezam states how she did not think she would ever have an Israeli friend before; she never knew any, only IDF soldiers.  Morrar, who was at the event yesterday, commented on how through this event, he was able to see the good side of Israelis. He was able to see and meet Israeli that want peace and who want to raise their children in peace based on justice, not peace based on what Morrar calls the relationship between the slave and master.  Israelis are very important in the nonviolent movement, as they give credence to the Palestinian struggle by questioning the actions of their own state.

Also unlikely was the cooperation of Fatah and Hamas members.  Morrar recounted how politics were temporarily put aside, as both parties, even if they differed ideologically, desired the same results.  Politics is indeed an important issue in the struggle for nonviolent protest.  The pockets of resistance in villages such as Budrus do not have any national leadership yet, and the role of the PA in the nonviolent movement is still questionable.

Though the movie documents the struggle of just one village, its message offers hope for what is possible: eventual freedom.  The producers of the film, Just Vision, are trying to spread this message.  Just Vision is currently on a six month promotion tour through the U.S.  For Screenings of “Budrus” in your area, click here.

Spoiler Alert:

In the end, the villagers of Budrus, after 10 months of nonviolent protest, forced the IDF to move the separation barrier out of the village.  They saved 95% of the land, and the barrier was built almost entirely on the Green Line.  Some parts even went into the No Man’s Land area.  However Israel will not acknowledge the efforts of the Budrus villagers.  The official response from the government is that the barrier was not moved because of the villagers’ efforts, but for other reasons.

June 16, 2010

Islamic Feminism

Yesterday, I attended a conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center entitled: “Islamic Feminism and Beyond: The New Frontier.”  The term Islamic feminism is a relatively new; it started to emerge about twenty years ago.  Nevertheless, the issues and actors involved in the movement have expanded greatly and become more complex.  The main goals of Islamic feminism are women’s rights, social justice and gender equality for Muslims in the public and private spheres.  It aims to modify the patriarchal based society through means such as civic participation, employment, and literacy.

Support for Islamic feminism is drawn from many parties that include secular groups, religious groups, Muslims, and non-Muslims.  Due to such a diverse background, there are differing approaches on how to achieve the goals of Islamic feminism.  The panel of speakers was diverse as well, comprising of six women specializing in different areas.  They were each able to highlight the dynamics of feminism in their respective countries of research, allowing for interesting discussion. (more…)

June 14, 2010

Rabbi Speaks on Human Rights and Zionism

Today, Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbi’s for Human Rights gave a lecture at the Middle East Institute concerning the definition of  Zionism and its impact on human rights in Israel and the  Occupied Palestinian Territories. Rabbi Ascherman started off his presentation by explaining the fact that within Israel there is a question over the ideological identity of the state. For quite a while there has been a battle between more right-wing zionists and a more liberal non-zionist left.

Ascherman defined  Zionism as the idea that Judaism is not simply a religion, but that the Jews are a people themselves and that their homeland is in Israel. He also explained that this idea existed long before it was called Zionism, and that this can be seen by the fact that for thousands of years the Jewish Holidays and other aspects of the Jewish calendar have been based upon the agricultural calendar of Israel. (more…)

June 1, 2010

The Gaza Flotilla

The international community is in a furor after yesterday’s events on the Gaza flotilla that left at least 9 activists dead by the hands of the IDF.  Major protests were sparked around the world, from Paris to Istanbul, against the actions of Israel.  Strong condemnation was elicited from the UN, though the U.S. had it watered down a bit, Turkish PM Erdogan, who called the raid a “massacre,” the EU, and many other nations.  It is clear that most of the world is united such condemnation of Israel, and the state is facing further isolation than ever before.

It is difficult to fathom what went wrong on this humanitarian mission, and the UN has called for an impartial inquiry into the raid.  Naturally, there are two differing narratives.  The Free Gaza flotilla left Cyprus with the intention of trying to open up three year blockade on Gaza by delivering  10,000 tons of aid.  Israel intercepted the flotilla 40 miles away from the Gaza coast, though its formal blockade of Gaza only extends 25 miles off the coast.  When the flotilla said its destination was Gaza and would not stop, Israeli forces proceeded to board the ships.  Under the UN Charter on the Law of the Sea, a vessel can only be boarded in international waters if it is suspected to be transporting weapons or weapons of mass destruction.  Seaborne special forces, which are trained for combat and not crowd control, proceeded to board. (more…)

May 20, 2010

Solidarity with Yemeni Women

Today I attended a discussion about Yemeni women at the Woodrow Wilson Center featuring Sultana Al-Jeham, a public policy scholar at the center and Executive Director and Chairwoman of woman’s affairs’ at the Civic Democratic Initiatives Support Foundation (CDF) in Yemen. The  discussion, titled, “Yemeni Women: Challenges and Little Hope,” was indeed a sobering account on the issues affecting Yemeni women.  Yemeni women face problems in the areas of equality, education, health, political participation, poverty and marriage. (more…)

April 5, 2010

CNI Radio: Trip Jennings, Witness to the ‘Nablus Killings’, April 8th

Filed under: Events and appearances — Carlton Cobb @ 4:33 pm

Human rights activist Trip Jennings will be our guest on CNI: Jerusalem Calling this Thursday, April 8th, from 12 noon to 1 pm ET with CNI board member and host Dr. E Faye Williams. Jennings recently returned home from the occupied Palestinian territories where he worked as media coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), an organization which connects the international community to Palestinians working to end the occupation. ISM also advocates the implementation of international law through non-violent direct action.

For months, Jennings lived with Palestinian families forcefully evicted by Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. He was on the ground in Jerusalem’s old city when tensions erupted into violence. Days later he witnessed the notorious Nablus killings. (more…)

March 21, 2010

Senate likely to confirm first Ambassador to Syria in five years

This morning I attended a hearing on the Hill to confirm the nomination of the  new Ambassador to Syria, Ambassador Robert Ford. This will be our first Ambassador to Damascus in five years, (when in 2005 diplomatic relations became strained following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister), and Ambassador Ford seems perfect for the job. He served as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) to Bahrain, head of the Political Section in Iraq, Ambassador to Algeria, and he  is currently DCM  in Baghdad. In addition to his experience in the Middle East, he also speaks Arabic and Turkish and seems well versed on the issues facing this troubled region.

The hearing began with a short statement by Chairman Kerry. He started out by bringing up some of the regional issues that Syria has a hand in,  including: the flow of fighters into Iraq, the transportation of weapons, the support for terrorist organizations, and the failure to cooperate with the IAEA. And he brought up the importance of negotiations with Israel over the Golan and the need to protect Lebanese sovereignty. But most importantly,  he stressed the need for engagement and diplomacy to show Syria the benefits of modifying its behavior. He stated,”…If we do succeed, it could be transformative in galvanizing the Arab-Israeli peace process and dramatically improving the situation for our friends in Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, and the West Bank.  In short, this presents us with an opportunity to change the strategic landscape in the Middle East that we cannot afford to ignore.” (more…)

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